Popular History

The overarching principle guiding my work as an historian is similar to that which girds my journalistic work: to uncover and bring to the general media’s attention forgotten or overlooked episodes in American and European history.

Thus, to cite two examples of my pop historical oeuvre the attached feature about the “secret lives” of Tallinn Hotels, including the infamous Hotel Viru, where the KGB used to maintain a listening post and every room was bugged during the last two decades of “the Soviet time,” which was published in In Time magazine, the in-flight publication of Estonian Air, as part of my occasional series for that excellent publication, “Estonia: Lost and Found;” and the piece about the hurricane of 1938 which devastated the Northeast coast, which I wrote for The Fire Island News, when I was staff historian for that resort island publication; and the profile of Franchot Tone, the great all but forgotten star of Mutiny on the Bounty and Three Friends and other Hollywood vehicles from the 1930s and 40s, which I originally wrote for Cornell Alumni News (but which was mangled in the publication).

Occasionally I also like to essay “memory pieces.” Witness the essay about Woodstock, on the occasion of the 1994 reprise of that lovefest for Hudson Valley Magazine, to which I have also been a past contributor, about how I was not nostalgic for the old over-romanticized peace and love days; and the admittedly wistful feuilleton about the 1968 Newport Folk Festival, the last of the “real” Newport festivals, i.e., the ones you had the ferry to, an event that I genuinely am nostalgic for, and which is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming premiere issue of Arcadia Magazine; and perhaps my two favorites of the bunch, my evocation of Fire Island during the 60s that I spent the better part of the summer of ’87 unearthing and burnishing for The Fire Island News, and “The Good Times,” the piece about the year that the English writer Elspeth Huxley spent as an undergraduate at Cornell, back in the days when Risley College was a dormitory for women and Cornell football games were national events, that was the first piece of pop history I wrote, for the Alumni News, way back in 1976, and which allowed me to relive those fascinating times vicariously, perhaps the greatest privilege of the gallivanting popular historian.