history


19
Dec 19

May the mamma mia be with you, neighbor

Got it a little present last night at the hardware store. We needed parts, and this was one of the next things I was going to acquire anyway.

It was this or a router. And I think I’ll use a Kreg jig kit more often. Because, having spent more than a few minutes on Pinterest, I have come to realize that the entire DIY industry is entirely a front to prop up sales of Kreg products. But now I can make pocket joinery and there’s a custom drawer build in my future. (When I finish another pre-existing project or two.)

This morning I repaired two panels of my folks’ fence that were felled in Monday’s storm. It seems as if this fence has been there a while. It was, in fact, in the yard when they bought the place. And it seems that if a determined wind blows through the neighborhood one or more of the brackets holding one or more of the panels is going to fail. So they are replacing the thing bit by plastic bit, basically.

These two will, hopefully, be some of the last repairs required on this fence before they replace the whole thing. We’re down to spare part repairs, otherwise. As with anything, you get better at it over time. That first panel, on the left, took a long while. The second one went much faster because I knew what I was doing. Not, necessarily that I knew how to do it right, mind you.

Still, I’m not going to become a fence installer when I grow up.

We went to the movies this evening. While I was out wrapping up the day’s run the women in my life decided we should see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It’s a fine movie, but you should definitely read the article first.

While we’re standing in line at the concessions stand — where you buy tickets now because box offices are for oldz, and movie theaters are full of cost efficiency consultants these days — we saw this. Two of the three kids working working behind the counter were fussing with one, and off to the side I saw the price. Someone said something snarky. Probably it was me. The Yankee, always ready for a joke, gave me the I-have-a-reply look and her line let me say “Of course I’m not going to buy one because I’m a grownup.”

The guy in front of us looked back over his shoulder and smiled: Ha! Good one! And then he bought one.

He also asked them to not fill it with popcorn and his drink.

I bet he could have purchased the same thing at Bed Bath & Beyond for half the price. (It’s in the Beyond section, if you were wondering.)

We visited a downtown Italian restaurant for dinner this evening. We’ve been there before, and it hasn’t let us down yet. You’d think, Italian? In small town Alabama? Yes, my friend, but this is Florence.

An Italian immigrant named Ferdinand Sannoner, of Livorno, surveyed all of this land 200 years ago and he named it after Florence, which is just 50-some miles from his hometown. Part of his payment was in land. He died and is buried in Memphis, where his grave sat unmarked for almost 120 years. Today his old property, here, is home to the public library, and a very short walk away is the restaurant where we had dinner. Maybe he’d like that. Maybe he’d like the food. Who can say what a man born in 18th century Italy who lived in the 19th century American southeast would like today.

He’d probably think this was cool, though:

Well, once you explained who Hemingway was. Elvis? Transcends time. That’s the only way we can keep the artful graffiti honest. The restaurant was established in 1996.

I wonder what was there before that. Someone break out the ouji board. Let’s ask Sannoner.


13
Nov 19

Historic parchment

Seventy-five years ago today Indiana awarded alumnus Ernie Pyle an honorary doctorate. He grew up not far away, attended school here, worked at the campus paper, left a bit early for a professional newspaper job.

He’d said “(M)y idea of a good newspaper job would be just to travel around wherever you’d want to without any assignment except to write a story every day about what you’d seen.”

A decade after that he got to go on the road and write all of those columns that made him mildly famous before the war. It was there that blogging began.

Anyway, when the war came, one of the most well known domestic reporters would become the best known war correspondent, first in Africa, then Europe and everywhere he went, really. He was beloved, because he wrote about the GIs and the Marines, and not about all the generals. He lived it with the soldiers and sailors. It was tough for him, just as it was for all of those in the fight. They loved him because they thought of him as theirs.

And in November of 1944 his alma mater gave him a lovely little sheepskin. He belonged to Indiana first.

He would become something more than an accomplished and famous alumnus. The journalism people at IU, over the years, essentially canonized him. For decades they worked in Ernie Pyle Hall. Outside the new building is the famous statue. And his desk today sits one floor above my office. (I used to be one floor above that desk, but they moved me for reasons that still surpass understanding.)

On this floor there’s a display with some of Pyle’s personal effects, on loan from owners or university collections.

Here are his medals, and a not-often circulated photo of Pyle and Generals Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower.

Of Bradley, Pyle wrote in September of 1944:

He is so modest and sincere that he probably will not get his proper credit, except in military textbooks.

But he has proved himself a great general in every sense of the word. And as a human being, he is just as great. Having him in command has been a blessed good fortune for America.

Here’s Pyle’s entrenching tool. They said that the writer was the foot soldier’s best friend. But they also say that a soldier’s best friend is the earth. And this is what Pyle would have used to dig holes for cover, for sleep and so on. It’s not difficult to see that spade, in hand, digging frantically into all different types of soil and sand. It’s easy to see the wear on that handle and wonder about the fear and worry that any man would have felt when they had to dig and dig and dig.

He wrote about being a part of the tragedy of Operation Cobra, which brings home the importance of all of that digging.

In 1943 Pyle wrote a column calling for combat pay for members of the infantry, airmen, after all, were granted “flight pay.” Soon Congress voted for an increase in pay of $10 a month for combat infantrymen. The law was entitled “The Ernie Pyle Bill.”

Pyle was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Correspondence that year, for “distinguished war correspondence during the year 1943.” He typed some of his work on this very typewriter:

Of course he also wrote in his letters, and perhaps in his columns — it gets hard to recall directly from memory, because his style was the same in a letter to his friend or to readers or to his colleagues — about his typewriters. A true devotee of his craft, he thought of his tools.

This is what he wore in Europe. The standard issue field jacket. He didn’t have a rank, but on the left shoulder was a simple patch: war correspondent.

And his passport is there as well.

He received that honorary doctorate 75 years ago today. The next April he was killed in the Pacific, and we all lost a talented scribe.


8
Nov 19

Today we partied like it’s 1899

I’m flipping through a 50-year-old periodical. My grandparents leafed through this same book. That’s how I came to have it. It sat in storage for decades and then I got to go through a bunch of things and sometimes that’s how things of no real value are inherited. Some night in an Alabama spring, perhaps, my grandfather read some of these articles, whichever ones might have interested him. I’m taking pictures of the ads with the supercomputer I carry in my pocket. (I wonder what he’d think of that.) So, you know, the same experience.

Anyway, you can check out some of these images too. We’re about halfway through this last copy of Reader’s Digest. Click the book below if you’ve been following along.

To see all of the parts of this issue I’ve photographed, click here. To see all of my grandfathers books that are, so far, on the site, start here.

Sometimes red lights aren’t a bad thing. I had just enough time at this one to see this, decide it would be a good idea to capture the moment, and then make it happen.

That’s just a thing we do now. The technology isn’t terribly impressive at this point. That we can do it is a minor modern miracle, really, but we seldom even acknowledge that these days. What’s impressive is that we sit there thinking Should I? Is it worth it? What’s impressive is how quickly we’ve adjusted and adapted to do that.

Sort of like electricity. Sure, that’s my great-grandparents wonder, and your birthright, but you only think that because it is there every day, all day. We lost power on campus today, and the hard-working electricians from the power company didn’t get the entire outage restored until late in the evening.

I was watching a group prepare a television program when everything went off. They ended up doing it with field equipment and lots of batteries. I checked in on a handful of students who were about to record some podcasts, but they were out of luck. I visited with an instructor who was set to deliver a big social media lecture with videos and slides and, oops. She did the whole thing in the dark, students looking for examples on their laptops, eyes occasionally darting up to the power icon. I gave a tour of the radio station to a high school student, using flashlights. I sat in the dark at the end of the day and caught up on a few emails, also with my eyes darting up to the laptop’s battery icon. Welcome to Indiana University, in the 19th century. Except it is nothing like that.

A view from the parking deck this morning:

That tree is pretty incredible, but I bet it will be hardly recognizable by the next time I have a chance to check on it again.

I’m proud of this tree. The leaves show up early in the spring and they’re staying for as long as possible. Not like those maples, quitters that they are.

The still-novel-to-me parking deck foreground shot:

I just looked up at this one and thought the lights and colors made for good lines:

Speaking of maples, this Red maple is probably the last one still trying. But the green is gone, the yellow is giving ground. The seasons must grind to a halt.

The Red maple, then, is nature’s traffic light. And next week, winter will be here. Until April.

Probably the next time I show you the River Jordan, it’ll be frozen.

It’s diminutive for a river, I grant you. I prefer the previous name anyway: Spanker’s Branch. Maybe there was someone named Spanker, maybe parents spanked their kids for getting in the creek. No one knows why it had that name. But from such harmless mystery good lore can emerge. As it is we have to say: Jordan was a 19th century president who didn’t think a building should be named after him, so he said just name the creek after me and by the 1920s people were calling it the Jordan River casually, and it was formally renamed in the 1990s.

Spanker’s Branch is the better name, then.

But what’s even better is the weekend. And I hope you have a great one!


30
Oct 19

This week we show color

Since this week we’re using color as the gimmick here, I suppose this post is in the “These colors don’t run … but I do” category.

So I’m walking in the building today and I just casually pass by the Ernie Pyle display case. And I thought, this shouldn’t be a thing you don’t even think about. It isn’t a shrine, but Ernie is sort of the patron saint of the journalism program here. He grew up not far away, attended school here, dropped out his senior year to go write at a commercial paper and then built, one column at a time, one of the most successful careers of the mid-20th century. He was killed in the Pacific near the end of World War II and he’s venerated here, almost 80 years later.

Just sitting there, is the man’s typewriter.

I believe that’s one of his domestic machines. He perhaps wrote tons of self deprecating letters and some of his better stateside professional work on this. It’s next to his medals and diplomas and books and his action figure — this is a journalist with an action figure — and some other personal effects.

Here’s the left shoulder of his European field jacket. You can still see the sweat and dirts ground into the collar. But the patch is interesting of its own accord.

Someone had to stitch that as a part of the war effort. How many of those did they make? And who sewed that on the jacket? How many of those did they make? And what did the men who saw them on other men’s soldiers think?

We know what they thought of Ernie Pyle. They absolutely loved him. They loved him because he wrote about the men, not the generals, and he endured the unendurable with them. The work he did meant it was an inevitable byproduct.

These colors I saw while running today:

It was the neighborhood 5K. It was cool, but not so bad that you minded once the heart rate got up, but you noticed it when you got the full sweat. In the last mile I saw this balding tree. The winds are coming in tomorrow. None of these trees will look the same by the weekend.

But look what the sky did in that photo. More accurately, look at what my phone’s processor did to the background of the photograph when I stopped for three seconds to frame up the shot in the third mile of my run. It’s a grey sky, but we’ve got a white one here. Which, hey, snow is also in the forecast tomorrow …

Snow. October. People are going to hear about this.


9
Oct 19

Spanning the generations

Here are a few more student productions:

These are from last night. They’re starting to get the hang of this. They’d probably be even better if I didn’t manage to get in the way here or there.

I could show you other videos that other people have made, some truly stellar work is floating around. But, instead, I’m going to go back to the 1930s. I’m reading (still) Frederick Lewis Allen’s Since Yesterday. It’s a good book, but it is like that bit of steak that just won’t get chewed up to a size that’s safe to swallow. The 1930s, which is the focus of this story, just … keeps … going. Imagine how it must have felt to live through that decade.

But the Kindle says I’m 70-some percent through the book, and we’ve got to a happy subject for a change, the big boom of radio.

Allen cites a Depression-era Harper’s Magazine story which recorded there were 17 symphony orchestras in the United States in 1915. By 1939, Allen tells us, there were over 270. This surge was brought on because of the huge boom in radio. (In 2014, Wikipedia tells me, there were 1,224 symphony orchestras in the U.S. not including our many modern youth orchestras.) Music programming was a popular choice and radio helped contribute to a successful, nationwide musical education, that is, perhaps, peerless.

Part of that success is owed to a program called The NBC Music Appreciation Hour. This show, conducted by Walter Damrosch (a famed composer), was broadcast from 1928 to 1942. During the thirties, an estimated seven million children heard the show weekly, in some 70,000 schools nationwide.

The show also aired on Saturdays in Nashville. It was the lead in for WSM’s weekly barn dance. Once, in 1928, Damrosch said ‘there’s no room in the classics for realism.’ George Hay, who was on his way to becoming a legend in country music and the host of the barn dance, came on right after and said his show was full of realism.

“The program which just came to a close was devoted to the classics. Dr. Damrosch told us there is no place in the classics for realism. However, from here on out for the next three hours, we will present nothing but realism. It will be down to earth for the ‘earthy’.”

That’s how the Grand Ole Opry it’s name. DeFord Bailey, a Tennessee-native and the grandson of slaves, played the first song after Hay’s speech, a song that would soon become a classic, Pan American Blues:

Bailey was a multi-instrumentalist, and they say he was impressive on most everything he played. He was an Opry Star for about 13 years, and he toured the country. They fired him in 1941, ostensibly over some licensing issue, but if you read about it you get the sense there was a lot more, and a lot less, to the story, which wouldn’t surprise anyone. Bailey stayed in Tennessee, but didn’t play much publicly after that. He did come back much later for an Old Timer’s Special. Here’s a clip, two full generations after he kicked off the Opry:

Watch him. He doesn’t move. There’s no fanfare. There’s just that sound.

Sound defined everything.

Last week I reviewed a paper on the “Forgotten history of South Carolina radio.” It was about the 1920s and the stations that came and went, mostly in the low country. I loved the paper. I wanted it to do more, even as it did enough. It’s papers like that which sometimes make me wish I’d been a historian. But, then, I realize if there’s ever anything I want to learn about, I can just open someone else’s book and they’ve already uncovered the mysteries. Do you want to know about the first football game broadcast in South Carolina? This paper has it:

On October 7, 1923, the Charleston News and Courier reported that WSAC had carried live, play-by-play coverage of the September 29 Clemson-Auburn football game from Clemson’s Riggs Field. Since there is no record of any previous, live broadcast of a sporting event in South Carolina, the distinction of being the first plausibly belongs to WSAC. W.E. Godfrey termed the broadcast a success (the game’s final score was 0-0) and said that WSAC would provide play-by-play coverage of other Clemson home football games that season. The professor added that it was likely that WSAC would soon become a “popular station.”

The Clemson student paper, which at one point wrote about their team as “The Jungaleers” wrote about the game extensively. It’s a slow load, but if you’re into this sort of thing, you should give it a try.

Anyway, the mystery in this particularly scholarly paper that I was reviewing for a conference was how those early local Carolina stations later gave way to colonial programming from out of state. The answer, as ever, is economics. That station that started in a furniture store, or the one that was just a front to sell radios and a few other examples, are remembered as brief fly-by-night operations. None of them seemed to last more than two or three years. There were signal problems to contend with, as was the case in much of the country back then since the government wildly underestimated the booming growth of radio in every sense. And even the towns of South Carolina were rural enough that they didn’t get linked into the growing national networks until much later. By then the local stations were gone, the big signals were coming in from cities out of state and that’s your colonial broadcast. Without reading a complete history, I’m guessing it probably didn’t start stabilizing for local broadcasters until the early 1940s, or perhaps the 1950s. That’s just the story of broadcasting in the South.

But the 1930s in South Carolina radio would be intriguing too. A couple of quick searches showed me that some key names from some of those early 1920s stations wound up running other projects, creating and building stations that would ultimately become broadcasting staples in the palmetto state.

Maybe the 1920s and 1930s radio is an interesting tale in any state. Maybe I should look that up and pretend to be a historian.

Or I could make these connections:

Maybe in ninety years or so someone will look at podcasts the same way. Maybe someone midway through the 22nd century will figure out how to power up, convert and encode YouTube videos and start stumbling on some of these things we are doing today. Maybe they’ll think highly of us.