Saturday, November 6, 2010

Doodle Dandy

The Spirit of the 1776-Sheva Apelaum

Doodle Dandy
Doodle doodle doodle dandy
Cornstalks, rum and homemade brandy
Indian pudding and pumpkin pie
And that will make the Yankees fly!
And ev'ry Yankee shall have on his back
A great big pumpkin in a sack,
A little molasses and a piece of pork
And away we'll march straight to New York!

This song was sung by American troops (Yankees) as they marched from Newburgh to New York City, shortly after the British wee defeated and agreed to evacuate the city. 

Jeff Davis at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration

On November 25, 1783 George Washington entered the city from the north and made his way down Broadway towards the main city fort (Castle Clinton).  If you are in the area of Union Square park, you may want to check out the statue of General Washington. I think it looks very much like the statue of Marcus Aurelius that I once saw in Rome.

Marcus Washington statue at Union Square park-Sheva Apelbaum Left: Marcus Aurelius. Right: Washington.

Washington’s entry into the city was delayed until the  British flag could be taken down. In a final act of defiance, the redcoats nailed the Union Jack on a flagpole in the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan. They broke, the pole cleats, removed the flag halyards, and greased the pole so no one would be able to climb it. 

1732 The Battery Flag-Sheva Apelbaum View of the Battery Flag in 1732

After a number of men attempted to climb the 60 foot flag pole but failed, a nineteen year old veteran sergeant, John Van Arsdale, tried climbing it free style, but he failed as well.  The story goes that Van Arsdale refused to accept defeat and instead came up with a plan, people were sent to Peter Goelet’s hardware store in Hanover Square and purchased a rope, saw, cleats, nails, and a hammer. Van Arsdale proceeded to climb the pole using a tall ladder and hammering the cleats for steps as he went up.  He fixed a pulley and rope to the top of the pole, removed the Union Jack and gave the rope to Lieutenant Anthony Glean who raised the flag, just in time as the British fleet sailed out of sight.

The Battery Flag-2 Sheva Apelbaum The Battery Flag-Sheva Apelbaum 
Arsdale’s climb and The Battery Flag around 1790

John von Arsdale continued to raise the flag each year until he was 83.  After his death, his son David took over the responsibility and continued to do so until he reached the age of 87.  After his death the responsibility was passed on through the family.  This went on until around 1880, when two of Arsdale’s descendants, Christopher R. Forbes and Charles B. Riker, had a confrontation with a man named Colonel Asa Bird Gardiner. 

Asa Bird GardinerColonel Gardiner was known for his fantastic fibs.  He is said to have awarded himself a Congressional Medal of Honor for a Civil War battle that he was never part of and to have claimed that his descendents fought on Washington’s side, when in fact they where Loyalists.

Colonel Asa Bird GardinerGardiner, titled the “a snake in the grass” by the media and his opponents, claimed to represent the Society of the War of 1812.  He said that the his society was designated by the Board of Alderman to raise the flag in Battery Park on Evacuation Day and in fact had indeed raised the flag on the previous Fourth of July.

This started an outrageous screaming match. Mr. Riker  cried: “That is a lie!”  and insisted  that the Society of the War of 1812 was a fake organization.

Riker argued that the right to raise the flag on Evacuation Day should stay in his family, and that no “Society of the War of 1812” should be allowed to stop that long and well earned family tradition.

The hearing ended with Riker and Forbes winning, but it was a bittersweet victory. Two years later, the privilege was taken away permanently from Arsdale’s descendents. As the 1892 version of the New York Times wrote:

Members of the war veteran organizations persisted in their complaints against the policy of allowing one man to enjoy all the honors afforded by these patriotic occasions, and the early in the present month the Park Commissioners decide to make this flag raising a city affair, and ordered that hereafter on National holidays the flag be pulled to the top of the Battery flagstaff by employees of the Park Department.

President Clausen announced that all patriotically inclined individuals and organizations were at liberty to assemble on the Battery at sunrise and celebrate the Evacuation Day flag raising in any lawful way they desired. David Daly, a tool man employed by the Park Department, waded through the snow on the Battery early yesterday morning accompanied by two or three early risers, and made everything ready for the hoisting of the National colors. Just as he was about to raise the flag, Charles B. Riker, an elderly descendent of the daring Van Arsdale of Revolutionary days, appeared.

Grasping the halyards with Daly, Mr. Riker helped to pull the flag to the top of the pole. As the Stars and Strips floated out on the early morning breezes the enthusiastic old man proposed three cheers for the flag and led in the cheering with much vim. Soon afterward Christopher Forbes reached the spot, and the two Van Arsdale descendents congratulated each other that at least one member of the family had taken a hand in the raising of the flag”.

The John Van Arsdale Affair-1 The John Van Arsdale Affair-2 The John Van Arsdale Affair-3 
NY Times Articles

In 1863, President Lincoln made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation and as both events fall on November 25, the public celebration of Evacuation Day eventually slowly disappeared. 


  1. Very well researched Sheva - I am impressed!
    I have this life motto for myself: What you do do right and as good as you can! It seems you stick to that too!

  2. Thank you so much Yael, I love your motto, and I will gladly try to make it my own!