Sep 21

We count our Olympians on this site

Another Tuesday, another Olympian comes into the studio to take part in an IUSTV shoot. Just another day at the office.

That’s Andrew Capobianco, who won the silver in the 3-meter synchronized diving in Tokyo, and he goes to school at IU.

Capobianco tells us about a cool tradition you don’t hear about all that often.

He’s talking about his Olympic diver partner Michael Hixon, and Hixon’s former dive partner Sam Dorman.

The full interview will be in a program you can see online a bit later this week.

Today’s pocket square combo:

Also, here are a pair of my new, bespoke cufflinks I made this summer.

Pretty snazy, huh?

More videos and fashion and such tomorrow.

If you have some more time to kill right now, though, there’s always more on Twitter and check me out on Instagram, too. Speaking of On Topic with IU podcasts, and, oh hey, did you know that Phoebe and Poseidon have an Instagram account? They do. Check them out.

Aug 21

Back to the year 1921

Let us once again go back in time, to see if anything interesting was in the paper 100 years ago today. And there’s … not a lot … that captures our eye these years hence. Sometimes a slow news day here is matched by a slow news day then. It isn’t exactly the planets aligning, but it could seem close enough if you wanted to think that way. The better read is that probably no one feels like doing more than necessary in the middle of an August heat wave.

So to quickly gloss over the day’s lead story from the August 26, 1921 edition of The Birmingham News

That’s the West Virginia Mine Wars, a series of strikes, skirmishes, kerfuffles and outright battles that ranged through the 1910s and early 1920s. At the first of August a police chief and his deputy were killed by hired gun thugs when they were going to trial for a violent shootout earlier in the year. That was a tipping point. For weeks miners started arming themselves, and moved to just outside the state capitol. The firing was just starting again when they put this paper together. Thousands of union miners and another few thousand police offers, militia and others were clashing. President Harding was tinkering with the idea of martial law. National Guard were standing ready to be shipped in. Today they call it the Battle of Blair Mountain, which ended on September 2nd, and it claimed about 130 lives. It wound up being a defeat for the miners, and union membership plummeted. Ultimately, the mine owners success helped lead to a larger, stronger movement in many other industries. This was nearing the end of the West Virginia violence. Within the next decade, though, the unrest and violence spilled over into eastern Kentucky.

Anyway, inside the paper … a very vague ad on page three.

This makes sense if you are of the time. Lots of ads, across the country. You’re meant to see it as a seal of approval.

Text of another ad, from elsewhere at about that same time reads, “Like all thoroughbreds the Pup is inclined to be exclusive. He will talk for only one clothing store in each city. And that’s got to be a good one. He symbolizes the live successful merchant — and he is always on the job.”

That we don’t have more in this ad is likely a teaser. Maybe the Pup was just coming into the market.

Knowing, as we do, what was to come in just a generation, this was probably a good idea.

That was page four. She was launched on the first of September. The next month a new treaty went into effect, so the battleship was never actually completed. The Washington was sunk in late 1924 as gunnery practice. It took several days to sink her, and the analysts decided the armor was inadequate.

This standalone photograph is on page 10.

You won’t be surprised to learn that there are people who track presidential pets.

This advertisement really strikes a tone, doesn’t it?


This is an interesting ad during Prohibition.

These days that address is a parking lot.

I’m not saying these jokes are funny, but on a full page of comics, these are perhaps the best two for modern eyes.

This was a great downtown store. A.B. Loveman’s Dry Goods Emporium was founded in 1887 and soon became the Loveman, Joseph & Loeb when Moses Joseph and Emil Loeb came on board.

When you saw this ad in your 1921 paper, you were reading about the largest, most magnificent department store south of the Ohio River. Most of the store destroyed by fire in 1934, but they rebuilt on the same location. They expanded across town and the state, until they went bankrupt in 1979 and closed the next year.

Today, the beautiful old store is still for kids, even those bursting through the roof. The Loveman’s building is home to the state-of-the-art McWane Center.

It is a terrific museum.

And that’s it for today, and a century ago. Come back tomorrow, for more tomorrow, and probably some history that’s a bit more recent.

Aug 21

Deadline reporting, 100 years ago today

I saw a note that yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the wedding of Ruth Stephenson and Pedro Gussman, and the murder of Father James Coyle in Birmingham. If those names don’t jump out at you, well, it’s been 100 years, so let’s take a look.

Ruth Stephenson was 18-year-old when she married Pedro Gussman. He was 24 years her senior and, perhaps most importantly, Catholic. The young woman had converted to Catholicism that spring and that bit of running family tension aside, things seemed better on this warm August Thursday. There were clouds in the sky, and a chance of rain for the coming weekend, but the storm had already arrived. At about 6 p.m., Ruth and Pedro were wed. An hour later the priest who married them was dead. Father James Coyle, an Irish priest who’d been in Birmingham for the better part of 17 years as a broadly respected pillar of the community by then, conducted the ceremony.

Soon after, at around 7 p.m., the bride’s father, Edwin Stephenson, a barber and itinerant Methodist Episcopal preacher, walked into the priest’s rectory and shot him.

People all over town knew that much, or some amount of it, before the paper showed up the next day, I’d bet. This was the front page they read 100 years ago today.

I don’t know, Mister Coroner, but the secret was out. My friends and historically generational counterparts at the News made sure of that. This is what they knew by the time they put that paper to bed.

Two witnesses separately said Edwin Stephenson walked into the rectory and, with hardly any time passing to allow for conversation, they heard gunshots. Another witness saw Stephenson beforehand and said he’d looked pale and nervous. Two police officers on patrol nearby heard the gunshots and ran toward the sound. They caught Stephenson a block away. He was trying to get into the nearby courthouse to turn himself in. He handed over his weapon — different stories in this edition disagree on the caliber of the gun. The sheriff had already testified. The suspect’s wife, and bride’s mother, was summoned. Distraught, she saw her husband. She blamed all of this on the Catholic church. There was plenty of quotes and efforts made to knock down this statement. Her husband, the shooter, was allowed to comfort her.

The bride and groom found out the father of the bride killed their priest during their bridal dinner, at a home 1.2 miles away, with the Badgers. Gussman and Mr. Badger were close friends. He’d lived with them for a time. Mrs. Badger picks up the story about their unexpected guests.

“We had already had our supper, but we prepared one for them, and we had a very jolly meal together, chaffing with the couple about the secrecy of the marriage. They were in high spirits.”

“Then after supper we all walked down to the store and bought some drinks. We came back to the house and sat down on the porch.”

A police detective walked into that same store and called in to the police department. A store clerk overheard that side of the conversation and told the cop that the young woman was just two doors down the street. So the officer went over and broke the news: your dad killed the priest who married you.

“I just can’t believe it. I don’t believe my father could have done such a thing,” was what her dinner hosts, the Badgers, recall her saying. The bride is now crying hysterically. They left by cab 10 minutes later, destination unknown.

The paper, meanwhile, has gotten reaction from civic leaders and faith leaders, both Catholic and Protestant. The archbishop was due in later that night, coming up by train from Mobile, 260 miles away. Reporters sought out people who could say that they’d ever heard the priest mention the reverend, or vice versa. No one could.

They had a reporter at Stephenson’s first interrogation. He complains of a head and back injury. He tells the officers that Coyle hit him and that it was self defense. Said he had lawyers in mind. Also in the paper are vivid descriptions of Coyle’s fatal wounds. He made it to the hospital in six minutes, we learn on the front page. On page two we learn he died on the operating table.

The News also immediately started working on the backstory. The subhead was “Trouble Long Standing” and it delves into the young woman’s early interest in Catholicism, that time she’d disappeared to Chattanooga, how her mother had once taken her to Texas for a long trip in the hopes of breaking up what they thought were “wrong influences.” They note that the father had spent all of the afternoon before, looking for her, trying to get the police to help him search the convent and so on. This was a running drama.

It’s just incredible, incredible deadline reporting from The Birmingham News. I see one glaring typo and one logistical inconsistency. Everything else looks solid.

How long the romance had brewed between bride and groom we don’t know here. Some time after the fact you learn that they’d known each other for about five years. Mr. Stephenson had hired Gussman for some housework.

He had a preliminary hearing two weeks later. Ruth testified that he had often made threats against her new husband’s life.

Edwin Stephenson, was a member of the Klan. So was his judge. Four of his five lawyers were in the Klan. A young Hugo Black, an eventual U.S. Senator and Supreme Court justice and future Klan member himself, was on the defense counsel. The Klan — which by then was playing the part of being a fraternity of “patriots” intent on protecting themselves and one another against threats from others — immigrants, Blacks, Jews, Catholics — paid for the defense.

The trial began October 17th and ended on Friday, October 22nd. The daughter appeared in court at the end, said to be the first time she’d seen her parents since the shooting. She kissed her father. In his closing argument, Hugo Black said the jury should return a fair verdict without regard to any fear that Birmingham might receive a black eye.

He was acquitted by one vote.

The next day, 60 miles away, Emmett O’Neal, a former governor, a progressive, told an audience:

“So it would seem that, after reading the verdict in the Stephenson case, a jury in Jefferson County has made an open season in Alabama for the killing of Catholics. Ladies and gentlemen, our wealth and resources will be but dross in the balance, if human life can be taken without cause or provocation on account of religious belief. It is said that our criminal laws and administration have broken down. I can not subscribe to that opinion. Our criminal laws are sufficient but the defect is in their administration. The time has come in Alabama when we should select as judges of our criminal courts men who are able, courageous and learned lawyers, and not merely self-seeking politicians. The chief cause of the conditions that now confront us is largely due to a spirit of religious intolerance and bigotry which seems so widespread in this county … Let no man fear that the eternal principle of civil and religious liberty upon where our free institutions are founded can ever be successfully attacked by zealots or misguided fanatics.”

Wikipedia notes:

The outcome of the murder trial for Father Coyle’s assassin had a chilling impact on Catholics, who found themselves the target of Klan violence for many years to come. Nevertheless, by 1941 a Catholic writer in Birmingham would write that “the death of Father Coyle was the climax of the anti-Catholic feeling in Alabama. After the trial there followed such revulsion of feeling among the right-minded who before had been bogged down in blindness and indifference that slowly and almost unnoticeably the Ku Klux Klan and their ilk began to lose favor among the people.”

Oh, and the Stephenson-Gussman marriage ended even before the trial began. Whatever else might have been going on between them is likely lost to history, but surely the stress of the trial played into it. By the first week of September, she’d left him.

Ruth Stephenson ultimately moved to Chicago and remarried. She died of tuberculosis in 1931, at 28. Her ex-husband, Pedro Gussman, survived her by three years, and died in 1934 at 56. Her father, Edwin Stephenson, died at 86, in 1956. Ruth and her mother are buried in the same Birmingham cemetery. Father Coyle was laid to rest there as well. Ten miles away, at another cemetery Edwin Stephenson and Pedro Gussman are interred near one another.

It’s a sad tale that echoed through several decades, as trauma and notoriety often do. In 2012, the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church held a service of reconciliation and forgiveness. The story has been retold in a few books, at least one poem and, someone is writing fan fiction online, apparently. Also, this very year, Coyle’s grand-niece, Sheila Killian published her debut novel which deals with some of this family history.

Here’s your kicker. On page 19 of that paper, from 100 years ago today, you’ll find this brief.

W.F. Winters, now there’s a story …

Aug 21

Ernie Pyle Day

Five years ago, I took this photograph. This is Ernie Pyle’s statue, just outside of our building on the IU campus.

These days, the celebrated reporter’s desk is one floor above my office at The Media School. He’s the patron saint of journalism around here. Today is now recognized Ernie Pyle Day, and this is the fourth one. (Today is his birthday.)

Today, to the literal minute, I took this photograph of the Ernie Pyle statue. Not much has changed. In some respects, a lot of things have changed.

But things are changing still. That’s the way of it.

Eight years ago this very week we visited The Newseum, it was still in D.C., and we saw Pyle’s old Corona typewriter. He carried it into Europe and the Pacific islands and typed his World War II stories right there.

Now this typewriter, Pyle’s Underwood, is on display here in Franklin Hall. That and more of his effects, his field jacket, his entrenching tool, a pipe and other items, are on display just around the corner.

Happy Ernie Pyle day.

Jul 21

Links of the day

We did it last week, and that went well, so let’s return to the simple link post in a good long while. So let’s do that. Here are a few items that have been in my browser(s) today.

This story is 1.3 million years in the making.

Archaeologists in Morocco have announced the discovery of North Africa’s oldest Stone Age hand-axe manufacturing site, dating back 1.3 million years, an international team reported on Wednesday.

The find pushes back by hundreds of thousands of years the start date in North Africa of the Acheulian stone tool industry associated with a key human ancestor, Homo erectus, researchers on the team told journalists in Rabat.


Before the find, the presence in Morocco of the Acheulian stone tool industry was thought to date back 700,000 years.

The dating is something there, isn’t it? It almost doubles the local timeline. If you aren’t paying attention to archeology news, that seems improbable, 1.3 million years. But not too long ago a team led by scholars from Stony Brook and Rutgers, pushed the timeline in Kenya back to 3.3 million years and Australopithecus afarensis or Kenyanthropus platyops.

The use of the word “industry” in that Al Jazeera story, the first one, also stands out.

It’s one thing to use a rock, but to make it into something useful — something we’d later recognize — is another. And then! Then, to be able to teach that skill to others, so that they can make more axes or spears or knives, maybe in exchange for something else, I suppose that’s industry. That’s civilization. And this one is apparently 1.3 million years old.

I’m sure you saw the new CDC guidance, which is still somewhat muddled. Maybe before we’re through the second year of the pandemic they’ll get their health and crisis comms in order …

Anyway, they’re recommending masks, even for the vaccinated (yes, even for you) if you live in a place where the Covid case load is rated as “substantial” or “high.” Really this is an actuarial exercise, with an element of risk assessment to it. Let’s all assume we have some understanding of percentages and risk aversion and game theory — sorta the same way we decide whether we’re going to drive over the speed limit speed the next time we go somewhere. It’d probably just be safer to driver more carefully every time. Same with masks!

Anyway, substantial and high are what you’re concerned with in NPR’s handy little tool. Just type in your county and you’ll get a read on the local happenings.

The change to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking guidelines came after pressure from many outside experts. The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in a news briefing that new evidence showed delta was more transmissible than previously understood.

“This was not a decision that was taken lightly,” Walensky said. She noted that new data from outbreak investigations show that, rarely, vaccinated people can still get infected and spread the virus to others.

“On rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others,” she told reporters when announcing the new guidelines. “This new science is worrisome and, unfortunately, warrants an update to our recommendations.”

(Every county I’ve ever lived in, ever, is in one of those two categories right now.)

Wear a mask.

This is one of those local women dominates at Olympics stories.

They have trained together, raced together, wept together. Now they will swim together – in adjacent lanes – for an Olympic medal.

Bloomington workout partners Annie Lazor and Lilly King advanced Thursday morning to the final of the 200-meter breaststroke at Tokyo. They will be underdogs against South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker, who challenged the world record in heats and semifinals.


“It’s going to be awesome, this is what we have been training for the whole time we’ve been training together,” King said. “So I’m really excited.”


Last month’s Olympic Trials was the first meet for Lazor since her father, David Lazor, died April 25. He was 61.

“The last couple of months I’ve been going through trying to achieve the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me while going through the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Lazor said in Omaha, Nebraska.

“Sometimes my heart, for the first few weeks, it felt like I was choosing grief that day or choosing swimming that day. There was no in-between.”

Update: How cool is this?

Used to be that the athletic performance was what I watched for. Now it’s just the reactions after the events, the culmination of all that work, and the joyous celebrations that come from people who’ve devoted themselves to something so difficult. I guess that means I’m getting older.

Just not 1.3 million years old. Yet.