Farewell, Amy Kaplan, author of “Black and Blue on San Juan Hill” and inspiration for “Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story”

Farewell, Amy Kaplan, author of “Black and Blue on San Juan Hill” and inspiration for “Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story”

Cultures of United States Imperialism, Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease, Editors, Duke University Press, 1993

Four years ago, I sent the University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Amy Kaplan my screenplay, Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story, about the Spanish-American War (1898), Stephen Crane who reported on the war for New York newspapers, and an imagined making of America’s first feature film.

In my note, I explained that her groundbreaking 1993 essay  “Black and Blue on San Juan Hill” in the collection she co-edited, Cultures of United States Imperialism, sparked my fascination with the Spanish-American War and its literary productions — culminating in a thesis, several articles and — in an unlikely twist — the screenplay in which the movie within the movie is titled Black and Blue on San Juan Hill.

(left) from Cultures of United States Imperialism [David Kramer’s collection] See “Black and Blue on San Juan Hill” [scanned at CUNY]

In 1993, the paradigm shifting Imperialism became an instant classic, landing on the shelves of academic libraries and English and American Studies graduate reading lists. Kaplan’s vivid story takes us to the battlefields of Cuba where the Old World Spanish soldiers are routed by brown Cuban insurgents, black American troopers and Theodore Roosevelt’s white Rough Riders. We also meet the novelists/war correspondents Crane and Richard Harding Davis who have starring and secondary roles in Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story.

In his introductory essay, “New Perspectives on U.S. Culture,” Donald Pease outlines Kaplan’s thesis:

Cultures of United States Imperialism, Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease, Editors, Duke University Press, 1993 (p.31) See “Black and Blue on San Juan Hill” [scanned at CUNY]

In layman’s terms, the Cuban Campaign became a stage to display national re-unification 33 years after the Civil War and 21 years after the end of reconstruction. In 1898, southern boys and northern boys marched and fought together, even a few aging Union and Confederate officers were hauled out for the occasion. At the same time, as Pease notes, this symbolic reunification between the white North and the white South also worked to further marginalize black Americans.

(For extended discussions of the upsurge of violence against blacks following the war, see Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Griggs’s Imagined War of 1898” (David Kramer, War, Literature and the Arts (2013) and Twentieth Century Literature Criticism (2016) and 121 years ago when the Rochester press condemned the Wilmington, North Carolina race riots. And the Douglass Monument)

In my note to Professor Kaplan asking if she might read the screenplay, I mentioned that, unlike readers who might lack a solid historical understanding of the war, she would feel entirely at home. I didn’t elaborate on the story line, but hoped she would find the plot device clever.

Historically, Crane’s time in Cuba exacerbated his tuberculosis that took his life at only 28. Kaplan would know that literary scholars often wonder, what would Crane have written had he lived? Could he have matched or eclipsed The Red Badge of Courage?  Kaplan would know that the Cuban Campaign was the first war filmed. In my version, Crane is the the vitagrapher following Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill, where I imagine Crane filming the black troopers saving the Rough Riders from destruction. In “Black and Blue,” Kaplan discusses at length the belittling of black heroism in the climactic battle.

(top left) The original movie camera carried up San Juan Hill by Mr. Smith following Colonel Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in 1898 from Smith, Albert E. in collaboration with Phil A. Koury, Two Reels And A Crank Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1952. [Held at and scanned courtesy of the Art & Music Library, University of Rochester] (top right) Painting by Charles Johnson Post (1898). In Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story: New and Improved, I imagine the figure waving a flag is Crane leading the charge. (bottom) David Kramer, The Wells-Brown Room, Rush Rhees library, the University of Rochester. Just SOME of Crane’s books kept in the stacks, 1/22/16

In my re-imagining, Crane returns to New York with his footage, and instead of writing the next great American novel, Crane creates the first great American movie.

Professor Kaplan wrote back that she looked forward to reading the screen play, though I don’t know if she did. A couple of years later, I edited and produced a far more readable version.

On Sunday, I decided to send her the revamped version.

11/29/20 Ouch on those typos.

I was surprised to receive a Mail Delivery Subsystem message. Had Kaplan moved to a new institution? I googled her name and found this sad note on the Duke University Press website:

Duke University Press, August 2020

On July 30th, Professor Kaplan died, at only 66. The field of American Studies lost a pioneer and a giant. Her students no doubt lost an inspiration.

I never met Professor Kaplan and only had that one email communication. But I felt like I lost a fellow traveller. We had both sojourned to the dusty shelves of the E700’s and gathered our information before the internet existed. We were both captivated by this quasi-war that produced more novels, short stories, memoirs and monuments than the number of American soldiers killed in action: 368 and at least one screenplay.

Farewell, Amy


Paul Auster’s “Burning Boy” and how you can make $ reading “Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story”

“Mr. Crane’s Vivid Story:” New and Improved

On Spanish-American War monuments in Rochester. And remembering the Buffalo Soldiers on Veteran’s Day

121 years ago when the Rochester press condemned the Wilmington, North Carolina race riots. And the Douglass Monument

Celebrating the 120th Otis Day and finding the site of the General’s farmhouse in Gates

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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