history


26
May 21

I promise, you will not see this coming

Yeah, this is one of those old newspaper sort of days. Because we were supposed to go for a bike ride, but that got curtailed by schedules. And so I ended up waiting for the UPS delivery of a package that required the acknowledgement of a human being and bad UPS jokes. Our guy in brown is a pleasant fellow. Easy patter, quick smile and a don’t-you-know-it-pal’o’mine attitude.

I resolved myself to not ask if they’d been keeping him busy, my usual in to regular work patter when someone is on the job. Oh sure, if I saw the guy socially it’d be different — “What do you do? What are the three things wrong with your business? And how is it beating up on the competition?” sort of stuff. But while the guy’s working, all of that seems weird. And it seems like a tired remark to get into the “How are they working ya?” stuff just now, particularly for services like that. I think we all know the answer.

I thought about pulling up the day’s stock reports just to see how Brown was treating him, but I’m glad I didn’t. They’re down just now, FedEx and DHL are both up.

Now, you’d think that idle stock chatter might be too much; the guy wants to get on the road, get this route done, and get home for the evening. You’d be right. I’m sure he did, and I’m sure he was thinking about all of that, too, when he launched into a 90-second bit on British humor, Dr. Pepper and two jokes about my last name.

I hope all the perishable goods had been delivered by then. I was standing in the shade, it was early evening, but the sun was warm and he’s using carbonation puns to see if I’m ready for a Red Dwarf joke.

More than you know, pal’o’mine. I had a friend in college who was a close and careful watcher of that show, and she kept me in the know.

Anyway, let us look back one hundred years into our past. This is the front page of my hometown paper. Not the one where I am now, because they don’t have one from 100 years ago, and none of those ancient names mean much to me anyway, but at least some of the things in this 26-page tome are familiar. And if you were going to read it, pack your lunch.

We won’t examine the stories, because most of them won’t mean much to you or me today. A lot of it is national copy. On the front page there are only two local items, one about the weather (it was hot) one of those took place in Washington D.C., a spat about future road plans. There are several mentions in the broader issue about roads. Seems what they had in 1921 was a mess. And automobiles needed better roads. Funny how some stories never change.

Elsewhere in this edition, there’s a fair amount of small-town happenings, high school class graduations and so on. And there’s a fair amount of passive writing. Conferences were held, and that sort of thing.

So let’s just skim through a few fun advertisements that catch the eye. Like this one.

Which, honestly, I had to read three times before I was convinced it wasn’t a sales pitch for hats. No, it’s for collars, because they were sold separately, remember. And the hats and ties were just implied.

And if you didn’t have shoulders or the rest of a body, like this poor guy, well, you get all that’s your own miserable problem, Bub. Sorta like where you’d go to buy the Lion collars. It’s a mystery to modern eyes.

No mystery here! Get your dry goods at Steele-Smith!

This is the 1st Avenue location, but everyone knew that by then. Their 2nd Ave store burned down a few years prior and there was a movie theater at that location by the time you saw this ad.

This is the location of that second store. The barbed wire on the roof says a lot about the recent years.

I’ve found older ads that show us Steele-Smith was around in at least 1903. And I’ve found a lot of court cases that the company was involved, most about debts owed. There are a lot of variations of the Steel-Smith name — dry goods, cloak, boots — which is curious. It seems Steele-Smith itself went bankrupt in 1924, owing banks some $2,061, or about $32,000 today.

This one was the most interesting one to me. Sounds lovely, and I had no idea about this.

So I went to the wiki, where almost every word was a revelation, which is odd, considering I worked in that spot for eight years.

Some things never change, though I suspect modern medicine has made it to a point that we could see these two lads successfully separated.

That’s the only issue here. Look, step closer to the wall and you can reach the cooling pie tin. What is this? Amateur hour?

Anyway, that flour distributed had just opened their doors the year before. Their location is a parking lot now, serving two closed businesses and the police headquarters. Not sure when Jones-McGrail Flour called it quits, or when flour distribution in general went the way of the buggy whip, but they do shop up in the next few years of phone books.

Speaking of books … this guy’s story winds up on the back pages. The section isn’t labeled “A Yankee Did A Thing,” but it may as well be. William Moulton Marston invented something legitimate. This is basically the systolic blood pressure test, which gets rolled into the modern polygraph.

And if the name William Moulton Marston means anything to you, you’re probably a comic book reader. He was the person who, 20 years after this story, created Wonder Woman. And now that Lasso of Truth is starting to make a bit more sense, isn’t it? He said his wife and his other wife were the inspirations. They were a thruple. And now that Lasso of Truth is starting to take on all kinds of other connotations. The two women also worked in his scientific areas of interest, but he tended to get more of the, retrospectively, for their work. And now those feminist themes Wonder Woman imparts really bring it on home.

Wonder Woman’s invisible plane, I’ve just read, is an allegory. And when you put that and all of the permutations of the plane together, well, that seems alright for a comic book tale.

I honestly didn’t crack open the old newspaper website thinking I would wrap this up suddenly interested in critical-cultural examinations of Wonder Woman, but I also didn’t expect to learn about Edgewood Lake, or that Raymond Rochell, a once-prominent soft drink bottler figured into that environmental project. (He’s in that issue of the paper three or four different times for different reasons.)

And if you don’t think I spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to tie Wonder Woman to either Rochell or Edgewood, you’re sorely mistaken. I mean, sure, she might have liked Orange Crush or 7-Up or even Grapico back in the day, but she’s clearly a Dr. Pepper fan, now.


15
Apr 21

Let’s go back in time

I had a fine meeting with a lovely gentleman yesterday. And that meeting has somehow carried over into this afternoon. But at least the company is nice. And there a few emails and my computer froze in a way that took some doing to remedy and, finally and importantly, I had to write a letter of recommendation for a star student. And if nothing else today was good I hope that letter was.

And then I went into the television studio and watch the sports folks put together two nice little shows and then sat back and watched the seniors run things and wondered, not for the first time, why we let them graduate just as they are really coming into their own.

There are always leaders, of course. And there are always people willing to take useful information from them and they all have agency and they work together, but if you get to see people grow in those important years, you really see some visions come together. It is, I think, the confluence of knowing what they want to do next and understanding how to do it. It’s the transition from commodity to normal good, the maturation from student to professional.

And that’s when we send them out into the world. Why can’t we keep them two or three more years? The things we could accomplish if they all enrolled in grad school.

Let’s look back to this same date, 106 years ago. Clear your calendar, you’ll be here for a few minutes.

I was going to pick a different year, but this story was a big part of why I went with 1915. This child had ambition, argumentation and no problem giving dad the slip.

I enjoy the earnestness of the story, and the eloquence of the child.

“I have been wading in the dusty road and have had a dood time,” he said. And his shoes looked it.

Dood time is probably a typesetting error rather than a phrase of the day, and I’m sorry I’ve ruined that for you. Anyway, H.R. Barrow only shows up a few times in the paper beyond the performance of his professional duties. He gets bought out in 1917. A month or two earlier he rolled his horse-drawn hearse after a service. Maybe that’s why he left the business. The new guys, local boys done good, advertised motorized ambulances. And in the fall of 1915, just when Mr. Barrow’s friends were tiring of hearing about Jack’s wandering adventures, the roof of their house caught on fire.

What’s with that kid?

No word on whatever became of Jack as he experienced the roaring twenties as a teen and so on. We’re thinking he had a dood time, though. We must always think this of young, adventurous, Jack. Young, adventurous — and have we ruled out pyromaniac? — Jack.

Also on the front page, the Dixie Highway plans:

You don’t often hear about this, by name, anymore. The road was going to stretch from the south side of Chicago to Miami. Then Michigan got added, within a week. The designers wanted to serve as many towns as possible, so there’s an eastern route and a western route. Some of these roads are still in service today. Some parallel the modern U.S. Highway 31, or run near the I-65 corridor or the old Federal Highway, U.S. Route 1. In Kentucky it’s still called the Dixie Highway. And the part of it that runs through this part of the world is something you endure to reach Indianapolis.

On the inside of the paper there is more on these new fangled things, highways:

You have to remember that Eisenhower’s famed (and brutal) coast-to-coast journey was still four years in the future. This is very cutting edge stuff, these highways.

It would be another century, December 2015, before the first interstate finally opened here, however. Take that as a statement for whatever it is worth.

This is front page news, and if you can’t see it, then you’re not ready for community journalism in any era.

Lauron and Rosa had five children, including Henry. At least three of them lived and died here. Henry passed in 1949.

Also on the front page:

A quick search doesn’t give game-by-game results from the early part of the 20th century, but the team went 2-7 that year, so it’s a safe bet they might not have one both of those games. Which is a shame, because the team might have been bad, but they looked great.

How do you lose games when you’ve got swag like that?

Now here’s a term you don’t hear anymore:

Blind tigers, or blind pigs, are carnival-style promotions. “Come in and see the blind tiger!” By which the person meant, “I’m giving away free hooch.” You assume there was a donation somewhere, or you paid handsomely for a bar stool or a bad sandwich or something.

Indiana went dry in 1918, two years ahead of the 18th Amendment kicking in. So maybe the local area was dry. Maybe it was just bootlegging for the sake of bootlegging.

Hurst, I learned from a later edition of the paper, was …

a son of Mack Hurst the man who blew up the house on the corner of Seventh and Morton streets with dynamite, killing himself and daughter. Young Hurst has made the same threat against his wife for disclosing his guilt of the blind tiger charge.

Bootlegging couldn’t have been that good to him. He couldn’t afford a lawyer! Nevertheless, he’s threatening to blow people up. Real pride of Indiana, that guy.

Meanwhile, part of an ad on page two. Countless men!

And 1.4 million tires. How is it that they have the units sold, but not the customers? Let’s do the basic math here. If everyone bought a complete set, that’s 369,970 customers. Of course it wasn’t four-apiece. Remember, the roads and the highways and byways still left something to be desired. There were a lot of flats is what I’m saying. It could be that we are talking 1.4 million customers. Which is still not … countless.

But “countless” sounds good, especially when it’s right next to a number.

Norine Dodds was, I believe, a teacher. I’m not sure what became of her.

And I want you to notice that they just bought a volleyball. The net, you imagine, they had to save up for, special. Or maybe they made their own. But, in another example of how their time was similar to ours, but not ours, the sport of volleyball had only been around for about 20 years. Basketball, just four years older, was thought by some businessmen and older YMCA members to be too vigorous. One mustn’t work up a sweat. So a man named William Morgan designed the game to be a combination of basketball, baseball, tennis, and handball. And here, when the young ladies at the local high school put their pennies together to obtain a ball, the game was still in its relative infancy. The rules weren’t uniformly formalized for another 14 years. Someone in the Philippines, while Nodds was writing this little blurb, was developing the spike.

Sorta makes you wonder how these kids went around with their new volleyball, and what they wound up doing with it.

Wanda Mottier was the daughter of David Mottier, who ran the botany program at IU for about 40 years. He’d also done his undergraduate work here and is regarded as one of the first people to advocate for preserving the woodland campus aesthetic.

If that’s true it was an excellent choice on his part. I submit as evidence these four photographs I took just outside of our building during a seven-minute break between tasks.

Mottier was on the faculty until the late 1930s.

Maybe somewhere in these woods there’s a tree he knew.

Maybe somewhere out there we could find leaves and shade we owe to him.

Also, this same paper notes that tomorrow, April 16th (albeit in 1915) was Arbor Day. The paper demanded that you plant a tree. We mark Arbor Day this year on April 30th.

Anyway, his daughter, Wanda, would later marry a doctor and they later retired from Indianapolis to Florida in the early 1960s. She passed away down there and is buried up here.

I found her Florida home on Google Maps. Nice, humble little post-war subdivision. Three beds, two baths, built in 1958, meaning they built it or moved in soon after. Plenty of room in the backyard to pass around a volleyball. There’s a giant oak tree out front today. The tree has a wonderful looking tire swing on it.

In my mind Wanda planted that tree and thought of her dad whenever she looked out the two picture windows of her home.


11
Feb 21

I went back 11 years to jump back 82

Somewhere in all of my feeds, someone today discovered Radio Garden. Someone is always discovering Radio Garden. It’s a place where you can listen to almost any sort of radio station in the world. If there’s a stream, there’s a way. It’s a fascinating idea portrayed in a Google Earth-style interface, and it’d be easy to while away several hours and learn about other places or get homesick as you like.

It’s a fascinating online experiment. And, like any online experiment, it always feels like a proof of concept, like a demo. And, like any online experiment, you always want a little more. I want not only every radio station, but old feeds, as well. I’d like to hear the personalities I knew when I listened all the time, and when they were in their primes. I would like to hear the people from places I’ve only heard about. I’d like to make sure none of audio ever made it onto the site.

I’ve lately been going back through the “Memories” function of Facebook. I’m deleting dumb things, removing useless items and typos and laughing at how bad cell phone cameras were in 2009.

On this day, in 2009, I apparently discovered A Day in Radio. You can hear what was going into the ether in 1939. As I noticed when I discovered that site 11 years ago now, and I would note once more, the 1939 newscasts have this horrible pull of history. The newsman is superb. It is riveting, knowing what is to come; knowing what you can’t tell them, what they can’t prevent.

I suppose it’s like that all of the time. It’s easy to develop a mistaken impressions, when you learn about things as thumbnail sketches over a great distance of time, that a lot of what happens happens in isolation. It’s a surprise, a shock to the system. Who could have seen that coming!?

This first ran in a small town weekly.

But, as it often turns out, a lot of people aren’t completely surprised by the developments of the day, if they paid attention. And many people did! The war in Europe and the madness in Asia were front page news, of course. The newsreels were doing their best to keep people informed, and that was working. You could tell an American in 1939 about Pearl Harbor and they’d most likely wonder what a Pearl Harbor was, but they knew about Japan. On this day in 1939 the newspapers talked of Japan seizing islands, increasing tensions between Germany and the British over the Spanish Civil War, a bunch of new planes going to London via the lend-lease program.

The tea leaves were there. Maybe they always are. Or maybe history is unfair like that. You sometimes had to do more than skim the big headlines. Meanwhile, the decision makers were getting ready. The world was mourning the death of a pope, Congress wanted to reinsert itself into foreign policy and stories like this were popping up more frequently.

And in California …

That’s the famed P-38.

Makes you wonder what we’re paying attention to, doesn’t it? What we don’t understand because we don’t enjoy a holistic view, or, worse, what we’re missing altogether while we’re in our apps and reality TV.


20
Jan 21

Inauguration Day, riding with Bo

There was something pointed and determined and grim about the inaugural. They are, by design, designed in certain ways. And the impressive thing about this particular speech was that it hit all the hallmarks in keeping with the formula, so as to not sound as out-of-left-field as the previous one, and yet, it took it’s own tone. A historical one, in a way. Which is obvious, you might say, because these speeches are written for our contemporaries, but also our posterity. And that is true.

Today’s speech, though, seemed like a tone from a different time. This was an early nation kind of speech. It’s themes were humility and the continuation of our style of government. It was not global, but looking inward and to our own society, focusing on work, health care, safe schools, the coronavirus. It was foundational, and attitudinal, warning against the bitter extremes “anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence.”

A speech such as this finds its themes formed by the world around them. So you must think of the capitol city as it is today, the country and the mood of it as it is today. That’s how the text sought to strike a balance between basic aspiration and some more densely brooding spirits of the dangers to democracy, pinned with the needs to preach unity and togetherness.

It was a speech out of time, and a speech absolutely for the time. What an unusual time.

It will be interesting, and important, to see how this inaugural speech is viewed through the long lens of time. But for now, today, it does feel as though a tiny bit of breath you’ve somehow held onto for some time can now, finally, at last, be exhaled.

This evening we had the chance to go on a bike ride with a hero and a celebrity.

Bo had, you can tell, already warmed up a bit. And that is why he took off and left everyone. Never mind the fact that he’s 58 and is bionic. Bo can absolutely fly on a bicycle. If this was about anyone who isn’t already a superhuman, I would suspect video game shenanigans.

Put it this way. On this ride there were 49 Strava segments and I PRed 31 of them. I had the ride of the year — indeed, the ride of the last several years. I never had a chance stay with the lead groups. Never. None. And Bo was somewhere out ahead of all of them. Except for The Yankee. She was in front of him at some point, of course. But he was also answering questions from people on the ride. The same old questions, with charm and good cheer.

(You should not try the bat breaking trick(s) at home.)

Years ago there was a video of two sports reporters who took a bat out back of their newspaper and tried to do everything they could think of to break a bat like Bo Jackson. It looked painful. They looked silly, which they embraced. And they failed. I can’t find the video anymore.

Anyway, this wasn’t a nostalgia trip, this is a fund raising exercise. Good cause? Great cause.

This is the 10th anniversary of Bo Bikes Bama, and the second year with the Zwift installment, apparently. Zwift have become big supporters of the fast man who’s well up the road.

Where can you donate? So glad you asked. Over the years these bike rides and the surrounding efforts have raised more than $2 million for the Alabama Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund. Bo Jackson’s efforts in the community have helped bankroll relief projects, the construction of 68 safe rooms and developed other disaster preparedness resources.

There’s no group ride this year, owing to the pandemic. But there is a ride from home fund raiser and another Zwift ride, in April. I plan on being easily dropped in that one, too.

Goodnight, Bo.


7
Jan 21

Sing and sing and sing and sing

I finished reading Jon Meacham’s Songs of America. Yes, Tim McGraw is listed as a co-author. He did contribute some sidebars. They were included in the book. For the most part it wasn’t clear why. Meacham doesn’t need the help with history, and maybe twice McGraw contributed something to our understanding of the music. (And he’s certainly capable of doing that, but it didn’t really pay off here.

It was a lot more like the guy at the next table over just offering his opinion on a song you just played him. Maybe he knows it well. Maybe it sparks a memory from long ago. Maybe he’s hearing it for the first time. And he figures, well, since you’re talking about it and played it for him, he should probably offer a paragraph or two of thoughts on the matter.

And that’s what Tim McGraw did. I wondered how this arrangement came to be. It’s Jon Meacham. Which kinda diminishes McGraw, who has three Grammy wins and 17 other nominations among his other honors. He knows music, this is not a matter of dispute. He’s apparently written five other books, and one of those was a bestseller. But here, why was he here if a few sidebars was all he was going to contribute.

And then, at the end, they mention it. They are neighbors.

Anyway, it was an interesting book. You’re going to learn about songs you know. You’re going to discover important songs you haven’t even heard of before. Here are two little excerpts, from Meacham.

Susan B. Anthony had gone down to vote in the 1872 Grant-Greeley election. She was arrested and taken before a federal judge. The judge asked her if she had anything to say after her conviction for … voting.

Ward Hunt was on the U.S. Supreme Court. History doesn’t remember him especially well. He didn’t let her testify, read aloud his pre-written opinion, told the jury how to vote and immediately overturned motions for appeals. Anthony was charged with a fine. She told the judge she would never pay. She never did. Probably you’ve never heard of Judge. Hunt. Everyone learns about Susan B. Anthony, even if only a bit, in grade school.

Just go ahead and play this video while you read the text in next image.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Marian Anderson’s participation in a concert at Constitution Hall under a “white performers-only” policy. Ultimately, a lot of DAR members left the organization, including Eleanor Roosevelt who would get the ball rolling for this Easter concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The contralto was in full force, a global star. No one knows how many thousands or millions listened on the radio, but one of the estimated 75,000 there in person was said to be 10-year-old Martin Luther King. (I’ve seen one reference on this, but I am struggling to find more.) He’d speak in front of Lincoln 24 years later, of course. She sang from the same spot that day, too.

Senator Mike Braun is from Indiana, and I have a question for him and the others who found themselves in this rickety position this week regarding the cynical political pandering of which he was a part. This was his message last week, and for quite some time:

And then yesterday happened — prior to which he was face-to-face with people in a way that rarely happens and he formalized his Arizona objection — but after the deadly assault, he wrote this:

So, senator, do us all a favor and explain this. You were certain, prior to the seditious raid on the U.S. Capitol, that this objection was something that needed to be done. Now, not at all. You withdrew your objection to the formal vote certification. So which is it, senator? Did you feel the wind change? Or are you that easily persuadable?

And which, in your estimation, is a better attribute for a United States senator?