My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 20, 2013: Still Studying: Foshay Tower

[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this series, I’ll highlight—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. Add things you’re learning or have recently learned for a weekend post that’ll teach us all, please!]
On the building and enterpreneur that bring an American icon to life.
The Midwest in general, and Minnesota in particular, occupy important places in Jay Gatsby’s story. F. Scott Fitzgerald himself had been born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the state’s capital and the twin city to Minneapolis; while Fitzgerald gives Gatsby an unspecified North Dakota birthplace, he has him attend college (briefly) at Minnesota’s St. Olaf College. And while Gatsby spends the rest of his tragically short life running away from those Midwestern origin points, Nick Carraway argues in the book’s concluding moments that the story has been a profoundly Western (by which, given the locations to which he’s referring, he means what we would call Midwestern) one.
I’ve recently learned about a Minneapolis history that reverses Gatsby’s geographic trajectory but seems in many ways to mirror his identity. Wilbur Foshay, born in upstate New York, moved to Minneapolis in the 1920s to pursue his dreams of wealth and success, and like Gatsby he embodied those dreams in a spectacular, garish edifice. For Foshay that building was not a mansion but a skyscraper, Foshay Tower; modeled after the Washington Monument, an early encounter with which Foshay credited with inspiring his dreams, the Tower was completed in 1929, at a dedication ceremony that included a march written for the occasion and conducted by John Philip Sousa. And Foshay’s dreams crashed as suddenly and nearly as dramatically as Gatsby’s: first with the Great Depression, which began only months after the dedication and left the Tower unoccupied; and then with a famous trial in which Foshay was convicted of mail fraud (for running a pyramid scheme) and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Foshay’s story doesn’t end there—President Roosevelt granted him a partial pardon, commuting 10 years off the sentence—and I’m interested to learn more about what seems to me just as iconic a story of the 1920s and the American Dream as Fitzgerald’s novel. America is full of such complex and compelling identities and stories—enough to spend a career AmericanStudying them! Next subject I’m still studying tomorrow,
PS. So what are you still studying?

1 comment:

  1. I have had a longstanding interest in Italian American city gardens and in fig trees in particular. Italian immigrants grew an amazing array of old world plants in their back yards to support their cooking and eating traditions, including tomatoes (of course), basil, garlic, other greens, peppers, eggplant, and lots of other stuff. Many (possibly most) of them had a fig tree growing in the back corner. Because figs are fussy about climate, preferring their native Mediterranean or California temperatures, they are hard, but not impossible to grow in the Northeast. I've read numerous stories about preparing the fig tree for winter, a procedure that typically involved either burying the tree in a pit of mulch or taking it inside. So a year ago, I ordered a little fig tree for myself from Logee Nursery to see what all the fuss was about. I had eaten fresh figs in Italy and loved them, but wanted to taste a fig right off the tree, my own tree. My little fig tree was unfortunately left out a bit too long last fall and dropped all of its leaves. At the time, I didn't realize that this was normal, but I didn't give up on my little upright (now) stick. I nursed it along all winter, certain that it was dead. Suddenly, with the return of light last spring, I noticed activity, buds even. It leafed out and by late spring had even produced a tiny fig! The fig has been growing all summer, turning a dark purple color, and I have been watching carefully for signs of interest from my local chipmunk population, gently squeezing the little fig and waiting for exactly the right degree of softness. Today was the day. I picked the fig, halved it, and was thrilled to see its interior pink figginess. I photographed it, quartered it, and ate it. If I had been more patient, I would have paired it with some prosciutto and a bit of homemade ricotta, drizzled with olive oil. But I wasn't. It was delicious as is!

    Now on to the learning part. The fig story continues because my sister just presented me with another fig tree, a birthday gift, and it is much larger than my original tree and has about ten little figs on it. So today, I spent the morning searching for fig videos on YouTube to learn how best to care for this addition to my fig family. I learned that dropping leaves is normal, and that if you have a tree, you can even cut off the leaves to make your figs ripen before frost. I also learned various ways of wrapping the tree for winter, something any self-respecting Italian-American gardener already knows how to do. Finally, I learned that there is a whole world of fig-growing folks out there who have lots of advice for a fig newbie. I feel like I have just joined a new community that has long roots in the foodie world. Maybe some day I will even have figs to share!

    Note: it always amazes me when my antennae are in tune with those of others. I just realized that there was an article on figs in the NYT last Friday, the day after my birthday fig tree arrived. Check it out: