BRIAN LAMB: Mike Hill, author of ”Elihu Washburne.” We’re going to get to that in a moment, but I want to show the audience this little recorded clip, to start with,
MIKE HILL: OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MCCULLOUGH: I don’t know how to quantify it … hundreds of pages of -- typewritten pages.
LAMB: Do you do it here in town? Did you go to the Library of Congress to do it?
MCCULLOUGH: Well, I do it at the Library of Congress with Mike Hill who works with me or Mike takes -- makes transcripts -- transcriptions of it from the Library of Congress, particularly transcriptions of letters because he’s much better at reading handwriting than I am and very fast on the computer typing it up.
So he will often spend days at the Library of Congress or the Archives transcribing these newspaper accounts or the letters. But then I have to go through them and decide, I want this or I’ll use that or what or I need more of such and such and I -- there were times when we’d both go together, to look at things.
I couldn’t do what I do without him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: The Mike Hill. After all these years of …
HILL: Oh, thank you Brian.
LAMB: ... hearing your name. What’s that all about?
HILL: Well, it’s actually, it’s a -- it’s a -- it’s a good sense of kind of the process that David and I go through, in terms of the researching a book and so forth and then with some of the other authors that I work for.
And it’s a very evolving organic process and it is so much fun to do it on a daily, daily basis.
And one of the wonderful things working with David is on an ongoing basis that he is -- we’ll talk maybe once every day, once every other day or whatever and he’ll always talk about this is where I’m going, this is where I’m heading. Here’s some of the characters I’m interested in and it always gives me a wonderful sense when I’m doing something in the Archives or whatever, what he’s interested in and what to look for and the number of times that he will have put something in my head that I would never have thought of or to look for, it’s something where that conversation will trigger something and I’ll be able to provide something for him.
The perfect example was, on ”The Greater Journey” book he was working on the Samuel Morse story and we were talking and he said, you know, I have seen some photographs of him but it’d great to have a description.
And he said, when you go to the Library of Congress which is where his papers are, he said, ”See if his passport is there,” and I’m thinking to myself, ”It’s not going to be there.” I never would’ve thought that.
So next day I went up there, looked in the finding aid, and sure enough here was his passport and he was able to come up with a great description of Morse for the book.
So it’s an evolving process and its one of those things where, particular with David that you -- that emails and so forth just won’t do it. You have to really be able to have that conversation either face-to-face or over the phone and he’s very good about that and the way that that guides me in terms of what I do for him and obviously for the other authors.
LAMB: Well for a moment let’s listen to Evan Thomas who was here just a couple of weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EVAN THOMAS: He goes out, he does advanced work. He went out to Abilene and met the staff. He puts together a briefing book for me on what I need to know. He does an enormous amount of Xeroxing, he’ll do that kind of stuff but he’s the kind of guy who -- I really -- he’s a good friend of mine and he knows what I -- the way I think and what I’m looking for and the two of us, we went out to Abilene together. He has a good eye, I trust him, he’s careful and thorough and all the years he’s worked with me, never complained and I know from talking to other historians, Michael Beschloss has used him, Jon Meacham has used him, lots of historians have used him, he’s really good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Yes. Why is, why do they feel so strongly about you?
HILL: Oh my gosh. You know, I don’t know. I just -- I -- the only thing I can say, is, that I have been just so lucky and fortunate to be involved with so many of these wonderful authors and so many great projects. And it’s something that I’ve really loved doing and to work with them and to go through the -- as I’ve described before, the process with the author, this is what I’m looking for and one of the things that Evan mentioned when we went out to Abilene, we were out there I think for 10 days at the Eisenhower Library which is a wonderful, wonderful Archive and every morning at breakfast over coffee we would talk about and strategize for the day, navigate, what didn’t he have, what should we look at and so forth and then we would both divvy-up the tasks for that particular day and so forth.
So it’s something that I love and I’ve been very fortunate.
LAMB: Where do you live?
HILL: Live in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
LAMB: How long have you been there?
HILL: Been there since about 1994, so quite a while.
LAMB: Fifty-five miles south of Washington?
LAMB: When did you first meet David McCullough?
HILL: I first met David -- and that’s how this whole journey began.
I was -- I was actually working up on Capitol Hill and I was going through a little bit of a tough time in my -- in my personal life and I was getting a little bit of, I would say, kind of stale with politics and so forth.
And I happen to be -- and I’ve always been interested in history and biography and so forth and I happen to be reading David’s ”Great Bridge” book about the Brooklyn Bridge, which you know, and I finished that and I was so taken by it and the way that he conveys stories and characters and so forth and then just the beauty of the writing, that I went out and got ”Mornings on Horseback” about young Theodore Roosevelt.
Which again was just so -- I was just so taken by the beauty of the book, so I was trying to figure out you know, I -- thinking to myself, you know, I need to make some changes in my life. I need to do something and what would I like to do?
And all of a sudden, I just like, you know, if I can work for David McCullough, an author who does history like this, it would be just the greatest thing, I would work for free.
So I found out that he lived on Martha’s Vineyard, no address and so it was one of those things where I hesitated and I thought, you know, if I don’t send this letter, you know then nothing is going to happen. And if I do and something comes out of it, it would be pretty neat.
So I sent the letter off and didn’t hear anything for about six weeks or so and I basically had totally forgotten about it.
And I got home one day and there was a letter from David and he basically said I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner but I’ve been moving to Washington, I’m going to be hosting a series for PBS Smithsonian World and I’m also working on a book about Harry Truman.
LAMB: What year this would’ve been?
HILL: This would’ve been -- oh my God, ’80, ’83, ’83 …
LAMB: And who were you working for on the Hill?
HILL: I was working for Bob Torricelli. He was -- he was in his first term in Congress in the House.
LAMB: From, New Jersey?
LAMB: And what were you doing for him?
HILL: I was his Press Secretary. And so David said in the letter, you know, call me tomorrow at the Smithsonian offices and we’ll get together.
So I called him the next day and he said, let’s have lunch and so we had lunch a couple days later and I came in and sat down, and I was nervous as can be and he said, ”I’ve tried some researcher before, it hasn’t quite worked out but I’m willing to give you a try. I insist on paying you and let’s give it a try.”
And so, as I said he was working on Truman at that point, so he gave me some assignments and some of those were at the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress, so I went off and worked on some of those. And then about every other Saturday, I would get together with him and it was the most amazing experience, tutorial experience, I’ve ever had in my life where he would say, ”Now what have you found?” and I would go through some of the things and he said ”Well, did you look at this collection?” or ”Did you look at this?” or, you know, ”Check out, see if there’s a newspaper account of this…” whatever.
So we would go through this for about every other Saturday and it was just the beginning of a wonderful, wonderful experience.
LAMB: How often have you turned people down? I don’t need to know who they, are?
LAMB: And if you do, what’s the reason?
HILL: I try not to ever and the only time that I have and the only reason is, if I am -- have too much going on at one time. If I -- because I’ve been very fortunate to be able to have multiple projects, book projects going on at various times and as you can well imagine, that each book is going through a different phase, that some are beginning which is a huge rocket then you reach -- reach the middle level and then when they get towards the end, everything goes up again.
So the only time I’ve turned anything down is when I had too much going and the reason for that is because anybody that I’m working for, they rightfully deserve absolutely full attention and that I have always tried to do that. And sometimes it’s, if I say I can’t do it now, they’ll say ”Well, let’s see where we are in a couple months and maybe we can do that” or maybe I can do some little stuff but it’s mostly just that there is too much going on and I don’t want to miss-serve.
LAMB: How much of your living since 1983 has been this kind of work? And I would say compared to what else you’ve done.
HILL: Yes. I would say it’s been it’s been the majority of it and David has been the -- for lack of a better word, the patriarch, the constant in all of that. And so he is the kind of the major client or author that I worked for but when he’s in between a book, again I’m, you know, fortunate to have been able to work on some other projects but then also even when he’s not working on a book, he’s doing speeches or he’s doing some other things and he’ll say -- he’ll call up and say, ”Hey, can you find me some little things here, some tidbits for the speech or whatever.”
So it’s been a pretty, pretty full-time, overly full-time.
LAMB: Who pays you for these jobs?
HILL: The author does, the individual author, not the publisher, the individual author.
And it’s the -- the arrangement varies from project to project. It’s -- it could be a monthly, hourly, daily rate. Some of the authors, they’ll -- we agree on a total figure for the book and then I’ll get some up-front and then I’ll get some at the back end and so forth. So it varies from author to author.
LAMB: You popped up again. Here is somebody named Dorie, that was here talking about how her book.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: You referenced a fellow named Mike Hill in the book?
DORIE MCCULLOUGH LAWSON: Yes. Mike Hill is a researcher and I hired Mike to help me go -- he did a lot of the roadwork. He was out going around making copies of letters and he would send me enormous binders. ”Here are all the letters of John Dewey, to his children.” ”Here are all the Laura Ingalls Wilder letters.” And he did most of the travel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: How did that happen?
HILL: Well, what happened was that David had finished the ”John Adams” book and so there was obviously going to be a period there where he was going to be on book tour and so forth and then trying to figure out what he was going to do next.
And Dorie at that point was -- had came up with this really wonderful idea and it was really one of the most favored books that I worked on because of the diversity of the characters and so forth.
LAMB: What was it about?
HILL. It was a -- it was called ”Posterity” and it was a collection of letters of famous Americans to their children. And the cast of characters in the book is just -- is just remarkable as you as you know.
So she came up with this wonderful idea and got a contract and she asked me if I would -- I would help her out and I said, ”Of course.”
So it was, as I said, it was a wonderful experience because it took me to so many archives and so many collections and so many people that I never would have had any knowledge or association with and it was just a great -- and she’s a wonderful person to work for, that there would be letters where I would find, ”I think, oh this is the greatest letter. This is a shoe-in and this is going to be in the book.”
And she would look and she would say, ”Well, that’s not really where I want to go” and that -- but the collection she came up with was just fabulous.
LAMB: And she’s his daughter?
HILL: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: And his booker?
HILL: Exactly and absolutely yes. And she’s great. And she’s a great friend. She’s a great friend, great family friend.
LAMB: So now all of a sudden, there is a book I have on my lap here, Michael Hill’s name is on it.
LAMB: Who is Elihu Washburne?
HILL: Well, the nutshell of the story of Washburne is that he is an American who came from very impoverished conditions in Maine, in New England.
Grew up very, very poor, his father was not a very good farmer.
He tried a general store and really didn’t make a go of it.
And Washburne worked his way up, went to Harvard Law School and then at the urging of one of his brothers, emigrated out West to Illinois, to Galena, where the lead mine industry was in its hey-day.
He arrived after about a month’s journey by ship, by stagecoach, by train and arrived in this -- on steamboat in this muddy mining town. Boarded himself in a log cabin, established a law practice in a log cabin and then slowly worked his way up as a -- and became a very successful lawyer in Galena.
And then got involved politically, ran for Congress, served for eight terms and then befriended Abraham Lincoln, obviously from Illinois and then Ulysses S. Grant also from Galena and went -- as they rised (sic) -- were on the rise, Washburne stayed with them, was a very close, close confidant, colleague during Civil War.
And then after Grant was elected President, he initially appointed Washburne Secretary of State. And at that time, Washburne became very, very ill. His family actually feared for his life.
So after about 10 days, he submitted his resignation to President Grant, just saying, ”I just don’t think I’m physically up to the demands of the job.”
LAMB: He had been confirmed as Secretary of State?
HILL: Yes he had been confirmed.
LAMB: And 10 days into it?
HILL: Ten days into it, he -- and he had been ill, almost immediately after the -- he’d been appointed.
And so Grant regretfully accepted his resignation. And so then over the next several months he regained his health, which was always very fragile. He regained his health and so Grant then offered him the position as Minister to France, Ambassador to France.
And Washburne at that point was tired of the political intrigue and fighting of Washington, obviously his health was still frail and he felt going to Paris was going to be, a wonderful, almost ceremonial job. He said at one point that he thought, the ceremonial functions, social functions were going to be about the worst, most burdensome things he was going to have to go to and also put him closer to the Carlsbad where he would go for the water treatments for his health.
So he accepted...
LAMB: What was wrong with him by the way?
HILL: He had a whole series of illnesses which again, came back throughout his life but particularly during the siege and the Commune.
LAMB: In Paris?
HILL: In Paris. He sensed that it was -- a series of illnesses that developed early on when he was in Galena. He said that he had contracted malaria when he was there. So he was constantly battling a whole series of fevers, cold sweats, he complained about spinal problems and so forth and back problems and so forth, high -- and as I said high fevers and so forth.
So he had a whole series of illnesses. He went even to some of the physicians in Paris and they couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with him and he at one point said that all doctors were hum-beggar -- humbug anyway.
So he accepted the position to Paris, again, thinking that this was going to be a delightful, wonderful experience for himself, for his wife, who was of French ancestry, and for -- and a great place for his children.
And little did he know that after year of being there, that he was going to be caught up in one of the most horrible, savage, brutal, bloody periods of French and European history in the 19th century.
LAMB: So when was the moment that you were introduced, to this man?
HILL: It was when I was working with David on the -- on ”The Greater Journey” book and...
LAMB: Those were the people that ran from the United States to Paris and lived there and educated themselves?
HILL: Exactly. In the 19th century and what happened was that, David had reached about the point where he was talking about, ”How am I going to do the Franco-Prussian War?” and so forth, because that, as we know, was such an important part of French history.
So he said, ”Well, find out who the Ambassador was for -- to Paris from the United States at that point, maybe there’s a story there.”
So I was -- I said fine. So I poked around a little bit and I find out that it was Washburne and he’s -- and he -- and so he said, ”Where are his papers?”
And I said, ”Up in the Library of Congress.”
And he goes -- he said, ”Well go up and see what’s up there.” So I went up there and started looking in the papers and started finding out the unraveling of this wonderful story, not only about his early life but then about his time during the war, the Franco-Prussian War and then the siege and then the Commune.
And in the midst of that, we -- of going through the letter books which we just thought were letter books...
LAMB: Are these the actual books or you were getting copies of them?
HILL: Well there’s two things which was problematic at -- for a while, was that the letter books are these letterpress copies, the equivalent of a -- of a 19th century Xerox or carbon paper.
The letter books at the Library of Congress are letterpress copies of his outgoing correspondence but then also the diary entries.
And when we figured out that these diary entries were intermixed in with all the other letters, like you would find a couple of diary entries and then you’d have to go true pages of letters and then you come up with some more. It took us a while to figure out what was going on here.
Once we figured that out and we -- but we knew they were letterpress, David said, ”Well, where’s the original diary?”
And it took us a while to figure that out and there is a huge collection of family papers or Washington papers up in Livermore, Maine where the Livermore Homestead is.
LAMB: Where is that by the way, in Maine?
HILL: That is Livermore, Maine. That is, maybe about a half hour northwest of Augusta.
LAMB: The capital?
HILL: Yes, of Maine, I’m sorry.
LAMB: It’s all right. No, before you go on, let’s...
LAMB: When David McCullough was here for his book ”The Greater Journey,” he -- we -- it’s a whole chapter on Mr. Washburne?
LAMB. Let’s watch what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCULLOUGH: His sense of duty was amazing and admirable in the extreme.
But also, I think he felt a strong sense of duty to keep that diary.
He would come in after a terrible day, of seeing the most heartbreaking and sometimes nauseating experiences and acts of human savagery and sit down at one o’clock in the morning and write long entries in superb English.
The use of -- the command of the language, it’s humbling. And here was a man who never really had an education, as we would call it today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: So you went to Livermore, Maine and found the actual documents?
HILL: Yes. What happened was is -- when we were working our way through the letter books that Jeff Flannery at the Library of Congress who is a great friend of David’s and has been so helpful to both of us, found an obscure entry in the guide saying that there were papers up at Livermore including the diary, so I thought, ”Well, maybe it’s up there.”
So I called up there and I spoke with one of the folks up there and they just really didn’t know exactly what they had up there. They knew that there was a huge collection.
So after about a month or so, David said ”Well, we’re just going to go up there.” So we went up there and we spent a wonderful, glorious day there and as we were going down through the boxes of archives in the basement of the family library there, we stumbled across the actual pages of the diary.
And when I was working on this book, made a point of taking what -- the typescripts that I had produce for David, for his book and compared it against the original of there, just to make sure that there weren’t any additions or whatever that needed to be made.
But it was pretty much -- that was the original up there and the letterpress copy was down here.
LAMB: So you just happened on it?
HILL: Just happened on it. We went up there and we started -- and there was just a huge mass of boxes. And it’s not just Elihu’s papers up there. It’s also his -- the -- all members of the family. So there’s pictures of there, there is the Grant’s commission of Washburne as Secretary of State, the original is up there. There are letters from Grant to him. There are huge scrapbooks of calling cards that they collected while they were in Paris.
So it was a massive collection that they didn’t really have a sense. And so we just started poking around and then all of a sudden we came across it.
LAMB: Well in the foreword, David McCullough writes about that time...
LAMB. ... he says, ”a banquet feast of material, at one point our heads were spinning...”
LAMB: ... ”so that we had to go outside and sit under a tree to calm down.”
HILL: Yes. We did. It was...
LAMB: People that read these books may not understand why you got so excited. Can you explain why?
HILL: Well he did because, one that we had finally found the original. And not only that but then, everything else that we found, as part and parcel of it, that we found family letters that were not down here, which David used and I integrated, some of these in here.
So we just found -- as he said, a banquet feast. It was -- it was -- it was from his standpoint, it was an author’s, from a researcher’s point of view, it was like finding the mother lode. It was like finding a lode of gold. And we knew that there was a lot more in there and there was.
And also on that day, yes, I just remember it was unbelievably hot and so there we were, just trying to take it all in.
LAMB: So again when did you decide that you wanted to do a book and how did that happen?
HILL: Well what happened was that after ”The Greater Journey” came out...
LAMB: And when was that?
Michael Hall: ... that was two years ago. That David felt that the Washburne diary was something that really -- that the totality of it and the letters and so forth, that it was something that was really important to do on its own.
And so he went to his editor and Bob Bender and Jonathan Karp...
HILL: Simon & Schuster. At Simon & Schuster -- and raised the idea with them about publishing the book, his diary and the letters independently. And David said, ”And I think you should get Mike to do it.” And so they said fine, sounds good.
And so then David called me that day and said, ”I’ve just had a meeting with Bob Bender and Jonathan Karp at Simon & Schuster and they want you to do the Washburne diary book.”
And I was just taken aback. I thought, I thought, I -- this was just going to be a tough one to do because I’d never really done anything like it before.
So I said, ”Sounds great, sounds great. That’s wonderful. Thank you very much.”
And he was so gracious and wonderful about it and that -- so he said, ”Call Bob Bender.”
So I called Bob Bender and I said, ”Bob, I’m -- this is terrific.”
And he said, ”We’re very excited about it.”
And I said, ”But Bob,” I said, ”To be honest with you, I’m not sure I can pull this off. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
And he’s so wonderful. And he so calmly said, ”I know you can do it. You can do it.”
And I said, ”Thank you.”
And so the -- we worked out the details and the next day I just started working on it and just started putting it together and it was terrific.
So they really took a risk. And it was terrific both David and Simon & Schuster.
LAMB: So if you had to point out a couple things in this book that really gets your attention, what would it be?
HILL: Good question. Two things, Washburne himself, I think the -- what he went through and what he accomplished during the siege and the Commune, he didn’t have to stay. As a matter of fact, he was given the option by the -- his successor, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, to leave. And all of the major Ambassadors, when the out -- when the war broke out, actually left Paris and he was given the option to leave and he said, ”No. I’m going to stay here,” because at that point the French had issued an expulsion order for all of the German residents who were in Paris because of the outbreak of the war.
LAMB: Let me stop you just for a second.
LAMB: This was in July of 19 -- of 1870?
LAMB: And describe just briefly, the Franco-Prussian war. What was the issue? And who was -- who was fighting?
HILL: Right. What happened was that there’s a whole series of causes that really brought it about. That -- the external cause was that Chancellor Bismarck from Prussia was at that point trying to assemble the German Empire of a series of disparate Prussian and German states.
LAMB: And where was Prussian then?
HILL: Prussia was -- would’ve been -- would’ve been west of France.
LAMB: On the border?
HILL: Right. And by doing that, by trying to assert and create this Empire, this of course was going to upset the balance of power and threaten the strength of France. So the Emperor, Napoleon III, at that point and a lot of the -- a lot of his advisors and so forth and the press in France were getting very threatened and upset by these designs of Prussia and Bismarck.
So what happened was that -- and that that point, the Emperor Napoleon was old, he was worn-out, he was actually -- he was actually quite ill, that he was forced by a lot of his advisors and by the press to undertake this war, to try and -- to try and reassert the balance with Prussia.
They declared war in July 1870. And it was a huge mistake because the French Army was totally ill prepared. They were outmanned, outgunned and right after the outset of the war, the Prussians basically just moved into France and then eventually got to the outskirts of Paris and because of the fortresses around Paris, they couldn’t -- they couldn’t penetrate those.
And so Bismarck made a decision to basically lay siege to the city, basically cut it off, trying to starve it out and then ultimately try and bomb it into submission.
LAMB: But Ambassador Washburne stayed there...
LAMB: And everybody, all the other Ambassadors from other countries left.
HILL: The major Ambassadors, right. There were some others of some of the minor countries stayed on but he was the major country Ambassador, stayed there.
The Papal Nuncio stayed, they’re the representatives of the Pope, because he becomes important later, because of the Archbishop and so forth.
But virtually -- the British Ambassador left. And he stayed and he had the option and he stayed and did a wonderful, noble, job.
LAMB: Go back to what we were talking about...
LAMB: ... and that is, why would somebody care about this? And what was it again? You started to tell it...
LAMB: ... that you got interested and you said that’s really something.
HILL: Right, two things. One was what he went through during the siege and the Commune. And he was -- he was sick, his life was threatened, he was separated from all of his family except for his son, Gratiot, which was the other really wonderful story that I got very interested in was that, and it’s a wonderfully touching story.
Can you imagine a father undergoing these -- involved in these circumstances, where your life is threatened, the city is being bombed, you’re being starved out and so forth and having your eldest son at your side throughout the entire -- the entire ordeal and how proud he was of Gratiot, of...
LAMB: You’re saying Gratiot and he was called Grack?
HILL: It was his nickname, right.
HILL: And what a wonderful thing for him and how proud he was. And Gratiot when his father was ill, he would not only help out with some of the diplomatic legation responsibilities. As a matter of fact at one point, there were 56 Americans that Washburne was able to get out through the siege lines and Washburne was so ill that day that he sent his son and Wickham Hoffmann, one of his secretaries, to escort them out.
Gratiot also would go to the battlefield and help bring back some of the wounded, when the French Army was trying to break out of the siege lines and at one point one of the French soldiers died in his arms. So it’s a wonderful, wonderful relationship between the two.
And then Washburne the -- as David mentioned in that clip, was that he stayed and he didn’t have to and because he saw it as his duty, to protect not only the Americans there but to try and help the Prussians and to do whatever he could in this horribly savage, nightmarish situation.
LAMB: One of the things that got my attention was the -- was the brothers, the...
LAMB: ... the Washburne brothers. Explain that?
HILL: Right. Despite the fact that they all came from very modest, impoverished circumstances, the family itself was extraordinary.
And he had -- he had several other brothers who were extremely successful on their own.
And the three brothers were -- the oldest was Israel, who became one of the original founders and according to legend, he was the one who coined the term, The Republican Party, that he was a -- served as a member of Congress from Maine, became Governor of Maine, I believe. And then his brother Cadwallader, who was one of the founders of General Mills and was a Congressman from Wisconsin and became Governor of Wisconsin and then another younger brother William, who became a Congressman from Minnesota and Senator from Minnesota.
At one point I believe the period was 1855 to ’60 or ’61, three of the brothers were all serving in Congress together.
LAMB: And Elihu, you say, was a Congressman for...
LAMB: ... for eight terms?
HILL: Eight terms, exactly.
LAMB: From what, state?
HILL: From Illinois, from Galena’s district.
LAMB: Any family like this in our history? That have four brothers total that served in Congress?
HILL: I don’t -- I -- not that I’m aware of in terms of that total number.
The only families that I can imagine that would be -- there were the two Kennedy brothers who were in the Senate at the same time.
LAMB: Is there a -- has there being a book written about all the Washburnes?
HILL: There’s actually -- there’s a wonderful book that was done ages ago and I cannot remember the publication date, by a fellow named Gaillard Hunt, which he does chapters about each of the brothers and it’s a really wonderful book.
And then another book, which came out most recently, by an author in Maine, Kerck Kelsey, did a book about the Washburne family.
LAMB: There’s an awful lot more we can talk about with Mr. Washburne but there are a lot of other authors you’ve worked with and I want to -- I want to, first of all, let me show the picture that you provided us, of you sitting on the bench, back to back...
HILL: Oh, sure.
LAMB: ... with David McCullough: Where is this and why this picture?
HILL: I love this picture. It’s in Paris and its -- and he, Rosalee and I were there...
LAMB: Rosalee is his wife?
HILL: His wife, Rosalee, were there and we were obviously going to see all the historic sites, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ house, and so forth, and one of the things that we did that was fabulous, that I that I just loved and I love about this job, was that David wanted to go from where Washburne’s house would’ve been located in Paris and walk the distance where the Legation was....
LAMB: Legation is what?
HILL: ... is the -- was the, in effect the American Embassy in Paris.
And so we went up to where the house would’ve been located and then he, Rosalee and I walked from there to where the Legation would’ve been. And he asked me to read entries from the letters and the diaries describing what was happening during various parts of the siege and the battle.
And I remember walking by the Arc De Triomphe and reading an entry about Washburne seeing artillery shells explode near there. And it was one of the most wonderful experiences that -- and that’s part of what I love about this job, is connecting with the past, through seeing and being at places.
This photograph we were walking around and we were in a park and David and I sat on this bench, just to, kind of take it all in and Rosalee stood up with the camera and she saw this and she took the picture and I just love it. It’s just -- it’s too …
LAMB: I know you like David McCullough. We like -- he’s been here many times, we’ve talked...
HILL: Big fan of you.
LAMB: ... but what was it? What is it that led 60 minutes, a couple of weeks ago, to do two weeks of David McCullough? One before the election and one after the election, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before. What do you think it is that appeals to so many people?
HILL: I think it’s his authenticity and his -- and his enthusiasm and his care about this country and what it is and what it should be. His -- as you know, Brian, his passion about history and history education, is just a gospel that he talks about everywhere.
His love of libraries, public libraries and archival libraries, and I think it’s just that genuine sense of -- that he has about -- and love of this country and that it’s conveyed in what he’s tried to do with his books, to tell this story of so many of these great Americans.
And one of the great joys he has is uncovering a character to like Elihu Washburne that a lot of people didn’t know anything about and bring in it -- that heroic story to the forefront.
LAMB: Who is the second -- if you work for him first as a research assistant, who was the second author you worked, for?
HILL: The second would’ve been Evan Thomas. And the first book I worked on with Evan was the ”Robert Kennedy” book.
LAMB: How did that happen?
HILL: I actually had met Evan and talked to him about -- and I was a big fan of his books too, I had read his, ”Edward Bennett Williams” book which is a wonderful biography of the Washington lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams.
And then also I’d read ”The Wise Men,” the book he co-authored with Walter Isaacson, which is, again, a fabulous book. And so, Evan at that point, was just finishing up the CIA book, ”The Very Best Men” and he was about to embark on the Bobby Kennedy book.
So we met and talked about it and he said, ”Well, let’s give it a try” and so I started going up to the Kennedy Library.
LAMB: Tell us something that is different working for Evan Thomas than working for David McCullough?
HILL: Oh, God, everybody is different. You know, I -- well the only thing really different and this is not -- although you work around it -- and that’s the one thing, is -- with different authors is adjusting to styles and so forth.
With David, as I mentioned before, that we talked maybe about every other day, and he’ll say this is where I’m going and so forth. Evan will have those conversations more periodically because, when I first started working for him, he was working for Newsweek and so he had a full-time job.
So the biggest difference is that, he has another life and part of my job or role is, is to try and allow him to do both of those lives.
And -- but as I mentioned, you know, out at Galena -- not Galena, in Abilene, that every day you sit and you talk about where you’re going, what are we doing. And he will -- he would send me emails or he’d call and say, ”Let’s have coffee” and we’d do that.
So the biggest thing is, is just, David does it full-time. Evan at that point was doing obviously a whole variety of other things.
LAMB: How often did you ever find yourself, in the last 30 years, in a one spot for 10 days like that?
HILL: Let’s see. Not very often. That was a long -- that was a long spell. The trips in Paris were I think, five, seven days or so.
LAMB: What’s the farthest you’ve gone, for any research?
HILL: The farthest would be, probably -- well -- would definitely be, farthest east would be Paris. I did go to Oxford and do some research for Michael Korda on his ”Lawrence of Arabia” book, which was a huge thrill to work on that book.
LAMB: We had Michael Korda here a couple of times. Here’s a recent cut of his ”Eisenhower” book. I’ll ask you about him.
HILL: Oh, sure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Michael Korda: One of the fascinations to me in writing this book, was to explore the relationship, of course, between Ike and other people, between Ike and Marshall, between Ike and Mamie, which was a fascinating marriage, between Ike and Churchill, between Ike and Montgomery, and also between Ike and MacArthur because Ike spent seven years or when somebody asked Ike, if he knew General MacArthur and how well he knew him.
Ike replied, which was very unlike Ike, ”Yes, ma’am. I studied drama under General MacArthur for seven years.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Michael Korda, former editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster. What was your experience with him?
HILL: Well I -- I worked with Michael on -- a little bit on the ”Eisenhower” book and so I actually -- the first time I went out to the Eisenhower library would’ve been when he was working on that. And then the second book that I worked on with him was ”Lawrence of Arabia” book and he’s now working on a biography of Robert E Lee, as we speak.
Michael is just wonderful. He is so smart, charming and wonderful and he’s been so -- he and his wife Margaret have been so wonderful to me and one of the greatest stories, if I can, just tell you real quickly about Michael was when he started the ”Lawrence of Arabia” book, he was talking about sending me over to the Oxford Archives, to look at the Lawrence papers over there.
And just as we were talking about the trip, the recession hit and I had figured up how much it was going to cost to -- for me to go over for -- on his behalf to do that.
So I was up at his house, up in New York and we were talking and he said, ”Now, going England.”
And I said, ”You know Michael, I’m not sure we should be talking about this. We’re in the middle of a recession. It’s going to cost a lot of money for you to send me over to Oxford to do this.”
And I said, ”Maybe we should just hold off and just not go ahead because it’s going to cost a lot.”
And he looked at me and he said, ”Of course not. Of course you’re going to Oxford and you’re going to do this research.”
And then I said, ”Well, wonderful.”
And then I said, ”Well then maybe we shouldn’t go out to dinner tonight.”
And then he said, ”Of course we’re going out to dinner.”
And he said, ”And we’re also going to have a glass” -- have a -- ”... we’re also going to have a bottle of wine.”
And he said, ”Let’s go to dinner and then you’re off to Oxford.”
LAMB: Here’s another author that you were with, this gentleman was here in 2004, Nathaniel Philbrick.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NATHANIEL PHILBRICK: It began August 18th, 1838, left the Norfolk Navy Yard, six vessels, 346 men, making it one of the largest voyages of discovery in the Western world.
I mean, this was a huge undertaking, for a small -- a big country but with a small Navy. And they were to go around the world, they would eventually cover 87,000 miles, crisscross the Pacific and venture down to really no -- down to the bottom of the world, towards Antarctica, where no one knew really what was down there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: What did you do for him?
HILL: I met Nat through a mutual friend of David’s and mine, Bill Fowler, who used to be head of the Mass Historical Society. And I met Nat and I helped him initially on the book that he was referring to, the Charles Wilkes Expedition ”Sea of Glory” book.
And then subsequent to that, Nat started working on a book about Custer’s Last Stand. So I worked with Nat on that, wonderful experience...
LAMB: We have a picture of the two of you. Where is this picture?
HILL: This is a -- this is photograph of he and I on horseback, actually on the Little Bighorn battlefield.
And Nat went out several times and I went out with him a couple times and we drove all over the area, actually from where Custer left and followed his whole path to the battlefield.
And then Nat came up with the idea to ride it on horseback to get a whole different perspective of the battle and so he hired some horses and we got on horseback and rode the battlefield for a couple of hours and it was a fabulous experience.
And it’s one of the things that -- one of the great things that, I’m fortunate, is to -- and all of these authors do, is that they love to the extent that you can, is to go see where these events took place, to go see where the people live, to go to the battlefields.
I know when I was helping Evan on the ”Sea of Thunder” book, that we went up to the USS New Jersey in Camden, which was Halsey’s Flagship and we toured the ship, saw the state rooms and so forth. And it’s something you really can’t -- you can’t see or feel unless you go there and to the extent that you can, it’s the best thing.
LAMB: This is not about a book but we have a picture of you and your brother and another person on the Providence. What’s the Providence?
HILL: The Providence is a -- is a replica of John Paul Jones’ first command and it’s located up in Providence Rhode Island and when Evan was working on the John Paul Jones book, he found out about this ship and wanted to get the experience of what 18th century sea life was like.
So he went up for a couple of days and stayed on board -- they will allow you to actually stay on board, work as a member of the crew, climbed, the mast and so forth and they’ll go out on cruises.
So he did it and then I thought that would be fabulous to do that, so my brother and I and nephew actually signed up as a member of the crew for several days and we stayed on board, climbed the mast, ate the food, my nephew did weather reports for the Captain and it really was a wonderful experience.
LAMB: What year was that?
HILL: That would’ve been, oh my, gosh, I want to say, maybe ’90 or no. No, no, about 2003, 2004.
LAMB: What does your brother, do?
HILL: My brother is a county tax assessor up in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.
LAMB: I’m going to rattle off names and just get you to reflect a little bit on what you did for them. Sally Bedell Smith?
HILL: I helped Sally on a book she did about the Kennedy White House and also a book that she did about -- a little bit on the book she did about the Queen.
And the Kennedy White House book one -- of the great things that we found for that was a diary down at the Virginia Historical Society: David Bruce, who was the Ambassador to Great Britain at that point. It’s one of the most fabulous diaries I’ve ever found.
HILL: Why? He knew everybody. He saw everybody. He had one of the greatest diplomatic careers of the 20th Century. His diaries were candid, colorful, and smart. He knew Hemingway, he knew everybody. It’s just one of those …
LAMB: A book for Mike Hill out of this, that diary?
HILL: That’d be -- well actually, Nelson Lankford who was curator -- who is curator, he actually did a book of the World War II diary of David Bruce but there’s certainly potential for another one, yes.
LAMB: We have so far to go and so little time. Jeff Shesol?
HILL: Jeff Shesol, I helped him out on his ”Supreme Power” book about Franklin Roosevelt and the court packing.
LAMB: Mark Salter, who did a lot of writing for John McCain?
HILL: John McCain. Yes, wonderful guy, great friend. He and Senator McCain came up with an idea to do a book about great decisions in American history and actually Jonathan Karp, hooked me up with the Senator and Mark and -- about doing some research to help Mark and the Senator for background.
LAMB: Your memory, what’s your memory about that experience?
HILL: Oh it was fabulous -- with, Mark Salter?
HILL: Oh, fabulous.
LAMB: Something specific?
HILL: Again, it was a cast of characters that I had no experience with and also Mark was really good about saying, ”You come up with some characters for the book.”
And so I would go out and do some research and find some tough decisions and say, ”You might want to take a look at this and …”
LAMB: Can you remember a character you found?
HILL: I guess the one Robert Gould Shaw, I think was one that wasn’t on the initial list and ended up in the book.
LAMB: Geoffrey Ward?
HILL: Geoffrey Ward is a longtime friend and he is an author, historian in his own right, also does a lot of work with Ken Burns and I met Geoff through Ken Burns. s
LAMB: And what did you do for Ken Burns?
HILL: I worked on the ”Civil War” PBS series.
LAMB: The original series, what, 20 years ago, or so, or more?
HILL: Yes, the late 80s, early 90s.
LAMB: How did you get that?
HILL: That was actually through David. I had been working for David for about a year on the ”Truman” book and one day he called me and said, ”There’s this young documentary film producer by the name of Ken Burns, who I’m doing some work with on some of the his films ’Statue of Liberty’ and ’Huey Long’” and he said, ”He’s just about to embark upon a series about the Civil War.”
And he said, ”I think you should meet him.”
And I said, ”Great.”
I hadn’t heard of Ken and so I called him. We met in Washington, he told me about this very wonderful, ambitious series and so I started working on that.
LAMB: What did you learn about Ken Burns that we might not know?
HILL: His genius. His creative genius. Not only working in ”Civil War” but then on the ”Baseball” film with him and then on, spotty from there. Is, sitting in the -- in the editing room with him and him looking at a scene and being able to say, ”Cut these frames out of here. We need more here. We need more music here. This narration isn’t working.”
His ability to, to basically make a film out of various elements and also his ability as an interviewer, I remember on the ”Baseball” film going down to Florida, when he interviewed Ted Williams and it was a nerve-racking experience before we went down there and Ken was just fabulous with him, when he interviewed Ted Williams.
LAMB: Here is Mike Hill, somebody you know well, in 1987, on this network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: But then you also have resolutions introduced, Senator David Pryor introduced the sense of the Senate resolution that there be no more sense of the Senate resolutions. You had Andy Jacobs introduce a resolution that the -- that after close examination that the major cause for congressional inefficiencies were the elevators in the Longworth Building.
So you have a whole series of -- you had the resolution that Senator Moynihan introduced, when the Hart Building Annex was under construction, that the plastic be put back on the building because it was so -- it was such an eyesore.
So you have a lot of the humor which actually came through legislation and resolutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: You were here at that time for, ”Will the Gentleman Yield?”
HILL: Yes. Ah, those days.
LAMB: A book?
HILL: It was. It was a compilation of humorous speeches from the House and the Senate, humorous resolutions throughout history that had been introduced in Congress.
And I did that with a friend by the name of Bill Hogan and it was a -- it was a fun, kind of a lark experience that we did, sold maybe 10 copies.
LAMB: 1975, Kent State University, Political Science. 1980, University of Akron, School of Law...
LAMB: 1995 Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Masters of Public Affairs.
LAMB: Ten years in politics. Tell us about that.
HILL: I started when -- as an intern, Washington intern, when I was at Kent State and I initially interned for Congressman John Seiberling from Ohio and then the following summer I interned for Walter Mondale when he was in the Senate, in 1974.
And then I kept in touch with the Mondale people and then when he was vice president, they asked me to work in the Press Office. I believe that started in ’79, 1979, so I was just getting ready for the election, 1980.
So I kind of put the whole law thing on career -- on hold and worked in the Press Office with Al Eisele and Maxine Isaacs and just loved working for Vice President Mondale and he’s just the greatest -- the most wonderful, wonderful fellow.
LAMB: OK. Somebody who’s watching says, ”I think I’d like to live the life of Mike Hill.”
Recommendation, what is it that you do that people really like? And you know that by now what they really like. What does it -- what advice do you have to people that would want to do this kind of work?
HILL: It took a while to get going with it but it’s -- I have -- I feel I have one of the greatest jobs in the world.
And not only have I had the opportunity to be associated with so many, fabulous, brilliant, creative, authors, filmmakers and so forth but then the experiences of feeling and connecting with history.
As I mentioned before, that there is one of the -- two of the great delights of this, is to go into an archive and feeling the actual letters or diary of somebody. Going to the Mass Historical Society and Celeste Walker handing me John Adams’ actual diary and holding that, going to Dartmouth and looking at Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ original letters, going to Paris and walking where Washburne and his son walked, going to the Little Bighorn battlefield, going -- again, going on the Providence, it is so much fun.
And also it’s a constant discovery, I...
LAMB: But what is -- what’s the -- what’s the trick serving the people that asked you to do this research? Where can you go wrong?
HILL: You can go wrong by assuming that they might not be interested in something. And my view is always either ask if you’re interested or in doubt -- when in doubt take it down.
You can -- I guess that’s the biggest thing is, missing something. And one of the things that David taught me, very early on, was to engage the archivist in the library -- librarians in the process. Tell them what you’re doing because I’ve heard a lot of stories from archivists and librarians that authors and historians will come in and they are very focused on what they want to do but the things we found just by talking to archivists is really pretty remarkable.
LAMB: So how do you know when David McCullough is mad, angry, irritated?
HILL: You don’t. You just, he’s -- he’s always so wonderful, to me and...
LAMB: Is he a perfect human specimen?
HILL: As close as I -- as close as I know and there’s things about his generosity that people, I don’t think know about him, that -- and his public service, without being in office, that -- I think there is a great story.
LAMB: Is he working on another book?
HILL: He is and I know you worked him over pretty good last time he was here and he didn’t crack. But I talked to him before I came on here and he said it was OK to tell you.
The way it’s looking now, is that the narrative arc of the book would start is the early age of infancy with the Wright Brothers doing some of their early tests outside Paris in 1908, 1909.
And then as aviation exploded, not only as a technological instrument but also as a cultural icon, take that obviously then through World War I and the American aviators who fought overseas and how aviation then converted into this instrument of war.
And then take it forward out of the war into the 20s and then the arc would begin to taper off with Lindbergh landing in Paris, in May 1927.
And the narrative arc, all along the way, kind of what he did with ”The Greater Journey,” would have a wonderful cast of characters including -- as it looks now and as he found with ”The Greater Journey,” more will surface. Edith Wharton is a huge character, Theodore Roosevelt, William Scheier later will be a huge character, Charles Lindbergh and many artists, writers, Thorton Wilder, William Faulkner as he progresses through the narrative.
And he is so excited about this book and I’m so excited and then he’s under way and we’re having a great time so far.
LAMB: What’s the year? When do we expect this book?
HILL: You know, I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think he’s talking about maybe three years in the process, but I don’t know for sure.
LAMB: Mike Hill, author of ”Elihu Washburne: The Diary and Letters of America’s Minister to France During the Siege and Commune of Paris” and research assistant extraordinaire, thank you very much for joining us.
HILL: Thank you Brian, it was a lot of fun. I appreciate it.