Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Every time Pete and I have the opportunity to chat with our friends who frequent The National Hotel, we;re treated to yet another little mystery being solved--or perhaps a new one beginning, to which we need to apply ourselves to try to investigate. I have personally been the recipient of mounds of information, generously gifted to me by many of you who frequent The National Hotel. I am in awe of the verbal historical knowledge that so many of you are able to impart, and of the artistic component that seems to be woven into the fabric of Frenchtown. I've witnessed this myself during our Thursday Open Mike Nights in The Rathskeller Pub Lounge and our Sunday musical afternoons...but that's for another post.

Several months ago, one of our regular and loyal supporters, Chris Poh, shared with us some information about an important literary figure, James Agee, who was apparently a regular at The National Hotel while he wrote one of his most important works, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, recognized by the New York School of Journalism and the New York Public Library as one of the 20th century's greatest literary works. He spent several months in Frenchtown, and frequented The National Hotel, and it looks like wrote a great deal while he stayed in our town. Chris believes that it's very likely that given Agee's writing style, that he might have been sitting at the Bar while penning this great literary work.

I tell you, every day I learn more and more about The National Hotel. What is so wonderful is how open everyone is about its history, its roots, and the people (famous and not-so-famous), who frequented our establishment. It's like putting together a puzzle, where you know you are missing many little, but critical pieces, and although there are tiny wholes throughout the finished product, and you can make out the shape of the picture, each day you find just one more odd-shaped piece that fits perfectly and brings another dimension to that picture. That's what it's like when I hear another detail, another historical fact, another story about a family who used to come by, who used work here, who used to be a part of The National Hotel. It really lifts your spirits and enlightens us as to how much we still have to learn about this grand old building.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men apparently grew out of an assignment from a magazine, and it also features the photography of Walker Evans, who is best known for his work documenting the Great Depression. Evans has permanent collections at different museums and has even the subject of retrospectives at institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But what brings this home for me, is the fact that he was one of the screenwriters who adapted the 1935 novel, The African Queen, by C.S. Forester, into a movie. Wow! This 1951 film, of the same name as the novel, was one of my father's favorite movies. He loved the plot, he loved the actors (and who wouldn't, when it featured Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, among others). Humphrey Bogart received the Academy Award for Best Actor, his only Oscar for his performance in that film. This brings back so many memories!!!

How appropriate to put all this together in my mind, to learn and want to research more about this famous writer, not just because of my own personal interest in The National Hotel, but also because the Oscars are right around the corner...12 days and counting, according to the news.

Stop by The National Hotel and share some more stories, some other bits and pieces of what makes this establishment so important to our community. This grand old building is a center-point for so many people today...but just imagine what it was decades ago...I just can't help but wonder what other stories are yet to be told. Do you have any you'd like to share?

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