Monday, November 19, 2018

History Comics Club: Connecting Students to the Heritage One Panel at a Time

Clermont is an inspiring place. On any given summer morning, you’ll find painters in the parking lot, carefully unloading their oil paints and easels, trekking down the sheep fold to capture views of the Hudson that have inspired artists for centuries. Countless couples choose the views of the mountains and gardens as the backdrop for wedding photos that will grace their walls for a lifetime. On the walking trails, DSLRs are more commonly strapped to necks than scarves are draped-- a quick search on Instagram will reveal just how many iPhone photographers capture small moments on the grounds every day.
The natural beauty of Clermont is ever-present and well known. The Livingston family, from The Chancellor to Alice, worked hard to make the grounds and buildings beautiful, impressive, and inspiring to friends, family, visitors, and passersby.
But, personally, I find the stories inside the house just as inspiring as the grounds surrounding it.    
History Comics Club: Origins
Hi! I’m Emily!
Proof that you can in fact be addicted to a historic site.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, I attended Junior History Club at Clermont for the first time. I had been to other history-based summer camps before, but none of them grabbed me the way Clermont did. Looking back, I see it was the narrative: Clermont tells the story of 7 generations of an unimaginably complex and interesting family, with the point of entry being two little girls who, a century ago, were about your age and had pets and played with dolls and did kid things that kids still do today. Back in the early 00s, the narrative at Clermont was the most kid-accessible one I had come across, and it immediately endeared me to the story. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I’d come back every year, as a camper, then a camp counselor, and eventually a tour guide. I’d write and illustrate stories that were clearly derived from the history of Clermont as well as the grounds.
Nowadays, I’m the Education Assistant and Camp Director at Clermont State Historic Site. I’m also a professional comic artist and author.
The Birth of History Comics Club
The inspiration for the program came from, well, inspiration! Clermont is an inspiring place, and I
knew from my own experience that this was a wonderful way to get kids invested in local history. With the motto of “Connecting students to their heritage, one panel at a time” we started History Comics Club at Germantown Central School in the fall of 2016. Since then, we’ve run 8 History Comics Clubs at local schools and libraries, served 4 summer camps, and one field trip. In total, the program has worked with about 800 students in the Hudson Valley, ranging from second graders to seniors in high school.
2018 has been our most exciting year by far.
This year, we ran 5 History Comic Clubs, the most we’ve ever done!
Students created biographical comics following the lives of Livingstons.

Others created fantastic adventures about the dogs of Clermont throwing parties and running detective agencies.

For the first time ever, History Comics Club had a booth at a convention!
The Hudson Children’s Book Festival hosted us. We gave out nearly 200 copies of student work.
The success of History Comics Club created a professional spin-off series called Captain Clermont! Written by curator Geoff Benton and illustrated by Kevin Nordstrom

Finally, HCC made it’s debut at New York Comic Con!

I hosted a panel at NYCC for education professionals about History Comics Club this past October!
About 50 people packed into a small classroom at NYPL. It was a wonderful experience.
It’s been a wonderful year for History Comics Club. We just started another Club yesterday with a record number of students. They spent the day reading student work and learning about the Livingstons. As they left, they excitedly told me about who they connected with and why (Margaret Beekman, Katharine, and Punchy are always popular.) We live in a time where being a comic fan has never been so acceptable or accessible, while history is so easily rewritten or brushed aside. I’m overjoyed to see so many young people taking a genuine interest in both.

We already have two History Clubs planned for this winter and summer. if your school, library, or organization is interested in hosting one, feel free to reach out to me via email:


Monday, November 5, 2018

The Boy in the Solider's Coat: Eugene Livingston and the Civil War

         The American Civil War was hell. Per the American Battlefield Trust there were more than a million casualties during the war. 620,000 men died because of battle or disease. Most of these men didn’t die the quick, painless, glorious deaths so often seen in paintings and movies. They died screaming for their mothers on bloody, stinking battlefields or feverish in sick bed slowly succumbing to disease. Such is the story of Eugene Livingston.
Aryyl house in 1869
          Eugene Livingston was born on January 6, 1845 in Philadelphia. His parents were Eugene Augustus Livingston and Harriet Coleman. Eugene Augustus was the son of Robert L. and Margaret Maria Livingston, He would have spent at least part of his childhood at Arryl House, formerly the home of his grandfather Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and now the home of his brother, Montgomery Livingston.
          Eugene Augustus and Harriet soon made a home at Teviot, the Hudson River estate immediately south of Clermont. Harriet gave birth to a daughter they named Mary Coleman Livingston. Unfortunately, Harriet died shortly thereafter. Eugene Augustus married Elizabeth Rhodes Fisher in 1851.
          At the same time the country was falling apart. Following the election of 1860 and the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as president, eleven southern slave holding states illegally withdrew from the union and revolted against the United States.
Eugene Livingston's enlistment record from the National Archives
          The war was expected to end quickly but after a humiliating defeat at the First Battle of Manassas the Union ramped up recruitment for the army as well as production of war materials.
          On February 1, 1862, the younger Eugene enlisted in the 95th New York Infantry and was mustered in that same day. He lied about his age. He was 17 but his enlistment record says he was 21. We do not know what inspired Eugene to enlist. Perhaps he felt strongly about saving the Union or ending slavery. Perhaps he was worried about being called a coward if he did not fight. Perhaps he was inspired by stories of his famous ancestors. Whatever his reasons, Eugene gave up his life of comfort and safety on the Hudson River to join a brutal war.   
Monument to the 95th Regiment at Gettysburg
The 95th would go on to see some of the most intense fighting of the Civil War. They served at; The Second Battle of Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania and Appomattox. Eugene saw none of this. 
         On March 8, 1862 Eugene posed for a photo in uniform. Ten days later his regiment finally left New York City. They were assigned to help defend Washington D.C. Shortly after arriving in the capital Eugene fell sick with Tuberculosis. On April 27, 1862, he was discharged from the army with a surgeons’ certificate of disability.
Eugene Livingston
          Eugene never recovered his health. He returned to his father’s house, Teviot, hoping the country air would cure his consumption. It did not. On Wednesday December 31, 1862 Eugene died at Teviot, a week short of his 18th birthday.

In the untimely loss of your noble son, our affliction here, is scarcely less than your own. So much of promised usefulness to one's country, and of bright hopes for one's self and friends, have rarely been so suddenly dashed, as in his fall.

Abraham Lincoln, May 25, 1861 Letter to Ephraim D. and Phoebe Ellsworth