Two women of Wilmington, Delaware

Celeste Gentieu (1879 – 1971) lived a life bookended by the Civil War and the Vietnam War. A fitting memorial to the Civil War gave her purpose, and the cultural dichotomy of the Vietnam War shot her down. She was a first-generation American and a patriot, because her French immigrant father fought in the Civil War and it affected him and in turn, every member of the new American Gentieu family for their entire lives. Celeste was the fourth child and the first daughter, and as the longest-lived of the six siblings, lived to be 91. Unfortunately she was ridiculed to death by the conflicted press of 1970; her rightful legacy erased. It was through Celeste’s efforts spanning thirty three years of her life that a monument to the last living Civil War union soldier was created and installed at Gettysburg, in 1956.

The Auxiliary

Celeste’s father, Pierre Gentieu was an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic, (GAR) Smyth Post #1, in Wilmington. In1898, when his sons were around age 20, he helped them form the Appomattox Camp #2 Sons of Union Veterans (SUVCW). In 1900, Celeste, age 21, became a charter member of the Appomattox Camp #2 Auxiliary — the women’s part of the group that started as the Women’s Aid Society many years before, attached to the GAR and the SUVCW. In 1906 and again in 1916 she was elected the president of the Auxiliary’s Department of Maryland.

The Appomattox Camp #2 SUVCW in 1914. The women of the Auxiliary are posed behind the men in a carriage, similar to Felix Nadar’s placement of women on a pedestal in his Pantheon Nadar of 1854.*
Celeste on her way to work, posing by her Chevy in front of her Riverview Ave. home in 1923.

Like her father and each one of her siblings, Celeste worked for DuPont. She lived in the family home, and when her father retired from DuPont in 1912, they moved from Henry Clay village to Riverview Avenue. Her mother died in 1925.

Around 1923, Celeste dreamed up a plan to dedicate a monument to the last living GAR member. Because she lived with her father, she was particularly sensitive to the affect the Civil War had on him. She would hear his stories about the Civil War and witnessed how much the GAR meant to him.

Pierre Gentieu died in June 1930. In August 1930, Celeste was elected National President of the Auxiliary of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

The Banner, September 1930

During her year as National President, Celeste collected $11,000 towards the monument, which 26 years later, commissioning the sculptor, Avard Fairbanks, would cost $19,000. She continued to work on the monument until completion. In 1955, after Albert Woolson, drummer boy of the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment, became the last living veteran, he posed for the artist in his hometown of Duluth. Woolson died on August 2, 1956. Three weeks later, Celeste supervised the forging of the life-size statue at a bronze factory in Corona, New York. Celeste unveiled the statue at Gettysburg on September 12, 1956.

Celeste Gentieu and Mary Barlow, Celeste’s longtime companion and fellow Auxiliary member who had the title of being her “personal assistant,” with cat, McKinley, 1931.

Pierre wrote in his will that as long as Celeste remained unmarried, she could continue to live in the Riverview Avenue house after he died – otherwise, the property would be sold and proceeds would be split evenly between the siblings. Pierre died in 1930.  Celeste lived in the house until moving to a rest home in 1964.  Perhaps because of animosity over a few thousand dollars of inheritance, Celeste was the brunt of family jokes. After her sister Jessie died in 1956, no one seemed to look after her.  “I think we were very unkind to Aunt Celeste,” said Norman Gentieu, son of Joseph, during an oral history interview that I conducted in 1999.

And then there is Dorothy Hilyard.

In 1965, the Auxiliary honored Celeste with a marble bench in her name placed next to the Woolson monument at Gettysburg. Someone was thinking of her, and that someone was Wilmington’s second National President from the Appomattox Camp #2 Auxiliary (who had served in 1961-62), Dorothy Hilyard. She had been quite active in the Auxiliary since 1938. She also worked on the Wilmington Memorial Day parade for 67 years. She may have been going strong in 1965, but by 1997, Dorothy Hilyard would be reduced to being merely a little old lady with a grandfather in the Civil War.

Dorothy Hilyard may not have been Joe Biden’s press secretary like John Flaherty was, but she worked on the Wilmington parade for 67 years.

The 2019 Sons of Union Veterans, Appomattox Camp #2 of Wilmington, Delaware have morphed from being the noble group of real sons and daughters of Celeste’s generation and into a misogynistic group of opportunistic elderly male Civil War veteran data collectors. (They have lost all of my respect after a recent personal experience with them.)** The vice commander, Ken Finlayson, skipped over Dorothy Hilyard’s 67 years of service when he planned a special mention of the currently active Memorial Day parade committee member, former press secretary to Joe Biden, turned lobbyist, John Flaherty, for a particular presentation. He compared Flaherty’s 20 years of parade committee service to Frank Gentieu’s 28 years, as if Flaherty had only eight years to beat the record. In their world, women don’t count.

Frank Gentieu was also the first commander of the Appomattox Camp, in 1898. In my conversations with Finlayson, he made a big deal of Frank and his brother George, while Celeste’s dedication and long-term accomplishment of placing a Civil War memorial bronze statue to the last living Union veteran at Gettysburg barely got a footnote.

Celeste’s accomplishment was not only of important historical significance, it was also a poignant personal tribute to her father, with whom she lived until he died at the age of 88. Celeste heard all of her father’s stories, and experienced with her father the deep meaning of the Civil War and the effect it had on his life and on the lives of everyone in their family.

What happened to the women? I asked the 2019 vice commander Finlayson. They fizzled out in the Fifties, he said. Not true, I have discovered. The Appomattox Auxiliary was active well beyond the 1970’s. The national and regional organization of the Auxiliary still exists. They raise money for the care and maintenance of the Gettysburg monument.

In the 1997 News Journal’s condescending article about Dorothy Hilyard, who was 79 at the time, Family Pride inspires her Memorial Day, pictured above (click on the image for full article), erroneously states that the park bench was placed in honor of Frank Gentieu, not Celeste!

Hilyard and her late husband, Winford, donated a  memorial bench in the National Cemetery in memory of Frank Gentieu, who was the son of a union veteran and served many years as chairman of the Wilmington parade.

Last of the Blue and Gray by Richard Serrano

In a 2013 book, Last of the Blue and Gray, the author refers to the statue of Albert Woolson in the very first paragraph on the very first page 

Because everyone said he was the last surviving member of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union veterans once nearly half a million strong, they erected a life-size statue of him on the most hallowed ground of that entire horrible conflict – Gettysburg.

“They.” The statue is referred to again on page 115, discussing the Sons of Union Veterans at a ceremony displaying a bust of Woolson in 1954 to be installed in the rotunda of Duluth City Hall, and the sculptor Avard Fairbanks is there —

Fairbanks spoke too; he had just been commissioned for another sculpture of Woolson, this one to be a life-size work commemorating both Woolson and the Grand Army of the Republic. It was to be placed at Gettysburg, the watershed spot in the war.

The single mention of women in the book reveals an appropriation taking place in 1955:

Cora Gillis [secretary of the GAR] continued to write from Washington, warning Woolson of internal squabbles among competing Sons and Daughters organizations that honored Union veterans: “The Sons have the idea that because they are the men in the family that they should run everything, and we don’t agree with them.”

The Sons of Union Veterans are mentioned seven times in this recent book, with only this tiny reference to women:  a “squabble” taking place with the men – which was more like thievery. The author brushed it over without getting into detail – heck, what’s 33 years of one woman’s devotion to a project. Just women, merely squabbling. In this contemporary book of Civil War history written by a man, women are insignificant pronouns who squabble and men get all the glory.

That’s how women get erased in history.

R.I.P. Celeste

This interview of Celeste at age 90 appeared in The Feminine Side section of Wilmington’s The Morning News. I’m sure they meant well, making fun of an old woman, the last of the Civil War generations, how quaint.  The story is disrespectful, and it contains a fundamentally incorrect fact — Pierre did not fight in Appomattox, Appomattox is the name of the Auxiliary Celeste belonged to. And perhaps she didn’t like Nixon but was being loyal to the party  by saying she didn’t want to cause any harm by saying anything negative. But whatever. This was during the Vietnam War. The Associated Press syndicated the feature, and it was picked up all over the country, a little abridgment used as a filler on the society and wedding announcement pages, killing her, and then continuing to rub it in after she died. Rubbing, rubbing, rubbing, until she was completely erased. Half of Celeste’s obituary was about her father.

The Morning News, Wilmington, Delaware, Tuesday, May 26, 1970 (The Feminine Side section)

The Morning News, Wilmington, Delaware, Tuesday, February 23, 1971

In stark contrast to Celeste’s old-age interview in the press is the old-age interview of her father, Pierre Gentieu at age 87.

A photocomposition of the Albert Woolson statue at Gettysburg, pointing to a plaque with Celeste’s name. I’m holding a photo of Celeste, who was a champion trapshooter.

*Pantheon Nadar, 1854, France, click photo to see the women on the pedestal.

Pantheon Nadar

** The 2019 Appomattox Camp #2 Sons of Union Veterans use individual Civil War veterans for ceremonies without asking permission from the family. They are men in the twenty-first century invading and appropriating sacred ancestor space as if these men, in the name of the former Grand Army of the Republic, have some claim to Civil War veterans and their graves. Written in the Appomattox Camp #2’s 2018 press release for one such ceremony:  “The Sons of Veterans are the legal successor to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and were granted receivership of all GAR dedicated soldier burial plots in Wilmington.” However, the GAR never owned burial plots, so apparently the 2019 SUVCW is attempting to rewrite history, taking Civil War veterans and their legacies and shaping them for their own selfish purposes.

The Appomattox Camp #2 Sons of Union Veterans ignored my long email dated June 20 expressing my serious concerns. That’s how respectful they are of my great great grandfather, who they used in their ceremony this year. They should have asked permission. Asking permission would mean they’d have to pay some respect. To a woman, no less.


Not our tribe

The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, of New Haven, Connecticut (who were white men), employed 300 Native Americans (not the Kickapoo tribe) to put on a “traveling Indian medicine show” while they sold what has been termed “snake oil” in the name of “the Indian way of life.”

The Kickapoo tribe originated in the southern Great Lakes region, mainly the land between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. During the French and Indian War, the Kickapoo tribe was an ally of the French, and settled in the area of Fort Detroit in the early 1700’s. Eventually they were shipped to Oklahoma.

In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 made it illegal for the company to use “Indian” in the name of any product or advertisement.

This image of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show is taken from the original glass plate negative made by the photographer, my ancestor, Pierre Gentieu, c. 1900. I photographed the deteriorating original glass plate negative approximately 100 years later.

Jeep Administration Building Implosion

April 14, 1979

Jeep officials said the building was too expensive to keep, that they needed the parking spaces.  It was 64 years old, built in 1914, and had been vacant for five years. The demolition was announced less than 60 days before the implosion date.

We were all so disappointed. To think what a beautiful, distinctive, classic and uniquely famous building was being torn down for a parking lot. Dare I say, it would have made a fabulous local art and industry museum, or maybe a community art center, at the very least!

As the Jeep Administration Building in Toledo, Ohio was being made ready to blow up, the classic, 63 year old Waldorf Hotel on Summit Street and Madison Avenue was being torn down, to make way for a bank.

Tommy was a punk rock drummer in a Detroit band. And quite the great drummer, at that. He seemed like the perfect metaphor of the pending doom – he was like the dynamite that was going to blow up the building. Out with the old, in with the new, rock and roll style. I thought punk was the perfect answer to disco.

I asked him to make some pictures with me inside the building in February and March, culminating somehow by getting onto the roof of the building, where Tommy stood on a ladder over West Toledo, and then posed on the building’s edge in an oxygen tent, like a punk angel overseeing the Jeep factory buildings, with the Toledo skyline on the horizon.

One day nearly two years after this shoot, Tom said to me, I’m moving to New York, do you want to come? Of course I said yes. We’ve been together ever since. Tommy (his drummer name, his real name is Tom), the proverbial dynamite of the Jeep Administration Building implosion, turned out to be the spark that changed my life.

We actually moved to New York on April 13, staying at a New Jersey hotel that night before we drove over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan and down Broadway on the morning of April 14, 1981, exactly two years after the implosion Jeep Administration Building. It didn’t even cross our minds at the time. We were, after all, two nonchalant punk brats. In fact, not until right now have I ever realized what a fortuitous day that was for us.

Hotel Waldorf’s replacement — the Toledo Trust Bank building, oh-so-modern, but now is a building owned by Promedica whose headquarters is in the old steam plant building behind it on the river. The building now features a steak restaurant on the ground floor, where the tellers used to be.
Hotel Waldorf opened in 1916. It was famous for its marble lobby and for being fireproof.
Wrecking ball meets Hotel Waldorf, March 1979
View from the roof of the Jeep Administration Building, March 1978. The little clump of buildings in the center of the horizon is downtown Toledo. All those factory buildings shown here and more to the right were demolished in 2002 and 2006. All that remains is a single smokestack to mark the spot.

Is life the car or the road?

There’s a car involved (a Jeep) there’s a road involved (40 years so far), and there’s some dynamite, in the form of a couple of beating hearts (or is it music?) …. today is much more than just the 40th anniversary of the Jeep Administration Building implosion.

But we are still sorry to see it go.

Joe Schneider, photographer and baby handler

The other night at a party I mentioned that I used to photograph babies in New York. (When pushed, I will admit it.) The man I was talking to said that he lived in New York when he was a baby, and that he was photographed for a baby product ad in 1972. I made a wild guess that the photographer was Joe Schneider, which he later confirmed, after texting his mother. (And she remembered! To think, that a baby photographer could make such an impression on a mother as to be remembered more than 40 years later!)

Joe Schneider was the go-to baby photographer from the 1940’s to the 70’s. When he stopped photographing in the 1980’s, he continued to work as a baby handler.  I landed my first big commercial shoot in 1986, which was for Baby Fresh, and having a big advertising budget, I hired Joe Schneider as a baby handler. I learned a few things from him too — most notably, the magic of Cherrios, which forever remained a staple in my studio and was often the secret ingredient to a successful shoot!

I was oblivious then to what Joe Schneider seems now to be most famous for — using Marilyn Chambers as a mother model on the package of Ivory Snow, when right after that, she went on to become a famous porn star!  You have to start somewhere!

Joe Schneider in his studio doing his thing, 1954. Photo by Peter Stackpole for Life Magazine.
Joe Schneider, 1986, on my lightbox posing as a well-behaved baby should.
Joe Schneider directing the baby as I photographed for Baby Fresh, 1986.
One of the Baby Fresh ads we did that day.
Photo by Joe Schneider, on the Ivory Snow box, 1972, with photo of Marilyn Chambers on right. The models in the two ads, his and mine, are kind of similar! Casting for my photo was chosen by the ad agency, J. Walter Thompson. Guess Marilyn Chambers as mother model was still an inspiration 14 years later, in 1986.
Marilyn Chambers, porn star, and the Ivory Snow box on which she was a young mother model, Google Images screenshot, 2019. (click to enlarge)

Defending the Great Lake Erie

It’s a sad day when we the citizens of Toledo have to take it upon ourselves to vote on whether or not we should protect our huge wonderful life-giving nurturing Great Lake Erie from poisonous nitrogen and phosphorus dumping. But that is our task on Tuesday, February 26, 2019. Our elected representatives won’t do it.

Toledo had a national emergency in August 2014 when the city of Toledo admitted that the water was so toxic, we couldn’t drink it for three days. Four and a half years later, we drink water we buy at Aldi’s, hoping we won’t get cancer or some other dreaded disease from the toxic environment that nobody seems to want to take care of.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights

Believe it or not, Toledoans are voting on whether we have the right to defend our Great Lake Erie from harmful, poisonous dumping. Which is one way of saying enough is enough to the harmful effects of corporate greed, industrial dumping and fertilizer run off into our lake and the water we drink. We are water too. We are the lake, the lake is us.

Corporate Greed: we are but laboratory rats in their experiment
I am the lake, the lake is me. Ouch! They chopped my head off.

Le Monde:  In summer, from space, large portions of Lake Erie take on fluorescent tints. This is not particularly good sign….

Happy Birthday, Pierre

Photo by Anonymous: Felix Nadar’s second ascension of Le’ Geant in Paris on October 18, 1863 (my mother’s birthday), shown aside a regular size balloon to contrast its gigantic size, on the ground where the Eiffel Tower now stands, Champ de Mars. Le’ Geant floated all night, but in the morning, it infamously landed (by crashing across the countryside in a high wind for 30 minutes, no one escaped injury) in Hanover, Germany (where King George V took them in). Nadar’s efforts to advance aviation were praised by Jules Verne, who in his next novel, modeled the main character Ardan after Nadar in Journey From The Earth To The Moon, where he was sent to the Moon in a cannon!

A coincidental cannon, Civil War style, c. 1863. So close in the universe; so far across the world.

I’m probably not the only one wishing Pierre Gentieu (1842-1930) a Happy Birthday today, January 26 – as if I knew him personally – he would be 177 years old!  After all, Pierre owned the entire set of Jules Verne’s approximately 30 science fiction novels, translated into English (when you just know he read the books in French!) so it’s no wonder to find him projected in our hearts and our minds one hundred years later.

Consider this 1863 Parisian balloon scene and how different it is from the photo of the firing of the cannon, happening concurrently across the ocean. Imagine Pierre in 1863, age 21, as a carefree bohemian in Paris drawing satirical cartoons for underground papers, writing poetry, hanging out in salons, exploring his creativity, and perhaps he went ballooning.  But instead he sailed to America, fought in the war to abolish slavery, married Binie Weed from New Canaan Connecticut, and Voila! Here we Are!

So Happy Birthday to Pierre, who spoke French (and English), stood up for his principles, fought in nine Civil War battles, and knew quite well that there was a more progressive use for the cannon than as exemplified in the photo above.  At 177, he may or may not have gone to the Moon (who can really say), but astrologically, he is definitely completing his sixth Saturn return. (I checked his chart!) That is one wise old great great grandfather.

Pierre in 1863

Winter Solstice

On the day we left for good, it was Winter Solstice, the best light of the year. When I came in that morning, the window light was touching the far wall. I photographed it at about 10:10, when the light from the east just happened to be centered on the well-worn floor. I went outside and photographed the building from every angle as if by doing so I’d take it with me.

“This loft has beautiful light,” my neighbor down the hall commented. I thought back to the first thing he ever said to me. The loft has beautiful light. Every day for ten years, each time I opened that door in the morning and found that empty space flooded by sunlight ready for me to transform it into something great because I was so fortunate to have it, I felt that beautiful light.

I looked around for one last time. The light streamed absolutely parallel down the length of the loft. I left at 2:20, the exact time of the winter solstice, I heard later on the news.

That sun in the studio—stripes of pure bright even light, straight through the south windows and up the 80 foot length of the open loft touching where my desk used to be. I’ll never forget that blazing sun. I could have left after the sun went down, to experience once more the light in its full cycle, reaching and embracing its way around the large empty space, then settling in the strange orange spectrum of sodium vapor street lamps that came on so early that time of year. I could have bathed in golden darkness one last time. But I left at the moment of Winter Solstice. I left my studio glowing at the best moment on the best day of the year.

380 Lafayette St. 5th Floor (corner of Great Jones) NYC