The Times-Picayune is marking the tricentennial of New Orleans with its ongoing 300 for 300 project, running through 2018 and highlighting 300 people who have made New Orleans New Orleans, featuring original artwork commissioned by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune with Where Y’Art gallery.
On April 10, 2018 they profiled our founder, historian Stephen Ambrose. We are proud to share this with you today.
First, he chronicled history. Then, he made history.
By Mike Scott
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
The icon: Stephen Ambrose.
The legacy: Stephen Ambrose was already a noted historian by 1990, having served as the official biographer of President Dwight Eisenhower, penned a three-volume biography of President Richard Nixon and, among his major success to that point, published “Undaunted Courage,” a best-selling book about the Lewis and Clark expedition. But over glasses of sherry in his New Orleans backyard in 1990, the UNO professor got an idea: Why not take the artifacts he had collected over the years while interviewing World War II veterans for various projects, and build a museum around them? What is now known as the National World War II Museum would open on June 6, 2000, becoming not just a center for scholarship on the war but one of the city’s leading tourist attractions.
The artist: D. Lammie Hanson.
The quote: “He was kind of America’s historian. He personified what he loved most about America — this robust, muscular, positive man who was always so optimistic and had such enthusiasm for life.” — Broadcaster Tom Brokaw, on Stephen Ambrose
- Stephen Edward Ambrose was born Jan. 10, 1936, growing up as the son of the town doctor in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
- The young Ambrose initially considered following in his father’s footsteps, but he decided to change course after taking an American history class at the University of Wisconsin.
- Ambrose earned his bachelor’s degree in history at Wisconsin, then moved on the Louisiana State University for his master’s. He would return to Wisconsin for his doctorate.
- He taught at a number of schools but spent most of his career at the University of New Orleans, where he worked from 1971 until his retirement in 1995. There, he founded the Eisenhower Center for American Studies to further his work, and which would serve as an incubator for the National World War II Museum.
- He was known as something of a gonzo historian. When he wrote about Crazy Horse and Custer in the 1970s, he grew his hair long and wore fringed buckskin. When he wrote about D-Day, he paid multiple visits to Omaha Beach. And when he wrote about Lewis and Clark, he embarked upon an expedition to re-trace part of their journey.
- One of the secrets to his success: He knew well how to spin a yarn. “I’m a storyteller by training and inclination,” he once wrote.
- In was while talking with Eisenhower that Ambrose learned of, and then shared, New Orleans shipbuilder Andrew Higgins’ instrumental role in the war. “He’s the man who won the war for us,” Ambrose memorably quoted Eisenhower as having said.
- “(Ambrose) was the most popular-selling historian of the 20th century, among the ranks of Barbara Tuchman, Arthur Schlesinger and, earlier in this century, Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager,” said Douglas Brinkley, Ambrose’s hand-picked successor at the Eisenhower Center. “Only a handful of historians are really known by the American public and are household names.”
- In the last year of his life, Ambrose was accused of plagiarism after he apparently lifted passages from others’ work. He defended his scholarship, however, as did others. “I really think the plagiarism charges were a blip on his radar screen,” Brinkley said. “It was unfortunate that the amount of attention it got overwhelmed the body of his work.”
- Ambrose died Oct. 13, 2002, of lung cancer at his home in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. He was 66. Among the attendees of a private funeral service in Bay St. Louis were actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg, who worked with Ambrose on various TV and movie projects and who were supporters of his efforts with the museum.
- A public memorial was also held on the steps of the museum Ambrose helped found. Among those to speak at the service were former President George H.W. Bush, TV news anchor Tom Brokaw and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
- A stretch of Interstate 10 stretching from the Mississippi/Louisiana line to its intersection with Mississippi 43 has been named Stephen Ambrose Memorial Highway
Source: The Times-Picayune archive