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Alfred W. Thompson, A Halt at the Outpost, British occupied New York City in the Revolution until 1783

A long established American holiday on the eve of winter to give thanks to family and friends for an abundant harvest. Myth has the pilgrims creating this annual feast, but the Yankees of the Plymouth Colony were not long on ceremony, more inclined to hard work, plenty of which was required to scratch out the semblance of European civilization living on the largest wilderness yet encountered in the 17th century. The real roots of Thanksgiving lie in the cessation of hostilities of the American Revolution as British forces yielded their last bastion on the now United States, New York City on November 25, 1783. Very few images remain of that era, as many of the buildings and most of the farms north of lower Manhattan all the way to the Croton River were burned during the conflict.

thanksgiving 2Dykeman Mansion, Built just after Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783

Much like Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman these ancestral ghosts haunt the Hudson River Schools art painted on that same land fifty to a hundred years after the Revolution. Sadly many of the places the artists painted as well as too many Revolutionary War battlefields have long since been paved over. One egregious example is the Dutchess Mall in Fishkill, NY built atop a farm that served as the Fishkill Depot for the continental Army in the Revolution. It was where all of those wounded in the flight from New York and the Battle of White Plains went to recuperate, or die. During the excavation for that mall in the late 1970’s human remains were found along with archaeological artifacts dating to that era. Archaeologists estimate three hundred soldiers were buried in this the United States first military graveyard. Thanks to Valley Forge National Historic site already eighty five names have found identifying those soldiers who died barefoot and in the cold unsure of the outcome they threw their lives into. Relatives of this writer were found through the records of Valley Forge National Historic Site.

thanksgiving 3Sanford Gifford, Hook Mountain on the Hudson Major Andre walked here seeking the HMS Vulture Ship anchored here briefly before fleeing south

thanksgiving 4Modern Day View showing vista and what used to be a dump to the right

Pennsylvania too buried its past. On the shore of the Delaware River one can find the remains of the American army camp from December 1776. It was found sixty to seventy years later when canal diggers encountered mass graves of soldiers, those left behind at the time of the battles of Trenton and Princeton, too ill to travel, who died and were buried in unmarked graves, utterly ignorant of the wars outcome. Despite its glorious associations, this state park slides into melancholy when one realizes they walk atop an unmarked graveyard. No wonder there weren’t any picnickers there when I passed through.

thanksgiving 5Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware

thanksgiving 6Washington's Crossing State Park, PA, on the Delaware True location found by Canal dig discovery

Vanished history.

“Politicians have short cultural memories, they are chips to be played in backroom deals”

Robert Hamilton Boyle

Impressed by the words above from my childhood as my father litigated the defence of Storm King Mountain from the Industrial depredations of Consolidated Edison to build the Worlds largest pump storage power plant in Storm King Mountain, a place painted by the Hudson River School situated between Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh and the little fort down the river today known as West Point. The case my father fought wound its way through the courts until it was finally settled in 1981, having established that utilities can not simply condemn land with unique aesthetic and historical concerns which became precedent to deny the permit for the plant’s construction.

thanksgiving 7Frederic Church, West Point on the Hudson, 1881 Painted one hundred years to the day after Yorktown

thanksgiving 8Modern Day, saved from Industry by the Environmentalists

Merely because one place was saved does not mean others were safe. In the past twenty years this writer has identified hundreds of locations where American art and history overlap in ways not recognized, nor protected. This effort reached a high water mark when I was asked to address Congress regarding a proposed Hudson River School National Park in February of 2013.

thanksgiving 9George Catlin, West Point, 1825

thanksgiving 10George Catlin, Mandan Village, 1832 Lewis and clark, Corps of discovery wintered here in 1804

thanksgiving 11Mandan Village decimated by small pox, yet the Foundations remain

Go I did to Washington, but along the way, I created a GPS program that could show each member of the New York State congressional delegation where the artists painted in their district. This overlay spans New York State from Montauk to Niagara Falls, and covered every district in the state. The bill cleared the Senate but awaits House action. In an effort to expand the appeal of the subject it was noted that the artists of the Hudson River School were in effect the fathers of the National Parks movement, the following was what was I wrote for a plaque in the same Rayburn Congressional Office Building:

The later days of the Hudson River School endowed this nation with a wonderful gift, visions of a landscape, so magical on canvas of places out west so wild and extreme, a skeptical United States Congress took swift action to protect from future development vast areas like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Yosemite was first such area, brought to Congress’ attention in 1864 by the paintings of Albert Bierstadt, but with the Civil War as a distraction and the planned transcontinental railroad yet to be built, any administration of it got deferred by letting the state of California look after it until the Federal Government could decide what to do with that unusual but far off property. The template for that came just three years after the 1868 link up of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, when in 1871 the Hayden Expedition was hired by the Department of the Interior to survey lands north of the Union Pacific railroad to find out geologic minerals could be extracted to pay off the vast sums borrowed to pay for the railroad’s construction. The Hayden Expedition met up at Promontory Point in Utah in 1871 then headed north to Idaho and east to what would become the state of Wyoming. Almost as an afterthought Hudson River School artist Thomas Moran was added to the Hayden expedition to work with photographer William Henry Jackson, so that both of them could show the Department of the Interior what exactly lay out west. Stories, words and numbers pale into insignificance compared to what a picture in color can do to show the magic of certain places, and in the winter of 1872 Thomas Moran stunned Congress with his epic painting, “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.” Congress was so surprised, not only did they immediately buy the painting, they enacted legislation for the world’s first National Park. Eventually Yosemite, Sequioa, and the Grand Canyon became parks too, but their discovery, promotion and protection, were the dying gasps of the Hudson River School as it faded into aesthetic obscurity.

I am not sure how successful we will be in preserving these sacred places and vistas of American History, but at least with this program I wrote, nobody can plead ignorance as to these locations. Now called iTours this GoogleEarth map overlay works on PC’s, Android Pads, Android cell phones and even iPhones of the i4S vintage as long as GoogleEarth is previously loaded onto the operating system. Brown may be down in the art market, but seeing the images of where these artists painted America, atop their very location, it is like seeing ghosts return and for that moment, they would surely be proud.

To see the American Version of iTours, a GPS Guide to where the artists painted from Sea to shining sea, click here

To see the European prototype of iTours, a GPS Guide to where the master painted on that side of the Atlantic, click here

The Thomas Moran painting seen below is the very first painting to directly create a National Park, what other sites may be protected, if only we know they exist. I hope you enjoy this program which took several years to create.

thanksgiving 12Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872

Respectfully Submitted

Alexander Boyle

About the Author

Robert Alexander Boyle

Robert Alexander Boyle

 Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, CT where he majored in History. Prior to graduation he co-authored the seminal book Acid Rain in 1983. Alex has worked for the Metropo...