history


18
May 22

The year was 1961; do not enter business with Willie’s wife

We haven’t read any old newspapers recently. Let’s go back 61 years, to northwest Alabama. This is The Florence Herald, which we have examined here from time-to-time in the past. Some of my family would have read this paper. Indeed, there’s a brief mention of my great-great grandfather here in a legal notice. And some of the family names appear in some of the local correspondence. But let’s look at the really fun stuff from the weekly, which was published on Thursday, May 18, 1961.

There’s a fair amount to get through over your second coffee. Let’s dive in. This is the lead local story, in a paper that was helping its community celebrate the centennial of the Civil War.

The Reynolds Metals Company, founded in Kentucky in 1919, was a big, big deal. They originally supplied the wrappers for cigarette and candy companies and in the 1920s took over Eskimo Pies because of the foil. They were growing quickly, and in a few more years a few more acquisitions the original U.S. Foil Company became Reynolds. They moved HQ to New York, and then to Richmond. Soon they were mining bauxite, and they opened the plant mentioned here in 1941.

Just before the United States entered the war, R.S. Reynolds ramped up production. He was in aluminum, after all, and he saw a need. Now the second largest producer of basic aluminum in the U.S., Reynolds was key in aircraft production, among other things. A lot of that was rolled out right there. They kept growing after the war, indeed they snatched up six government defense plants that were up for disposal. Reynolds later expanded into non aluminum products such as plastics and precious metals, introducing Reynolds Plastic Wrap in 1982. Odds are you’ve got some of their product in your kitchen cabinets.

The company took out a full page ad in this same issue of The Florence Herald thanking their employees and the community. “Surely the only thing which can surpass our first 20 years at Listerhill will be our next 20 years,” was the last line over R.S. Reynolds’ name. Indeed, they put 37 more years into the area.

When they sold to Wise Metals in 1998-99, there were 1,600 people working at the plant. A global concern picked up Wise in 2015, it was an eight-figure deal. The company is still in operation there, still employing more than 1,200. They recycle and make aluminum cans.

I don’t know if you noticed that story about “Viet Nam” that was set just below the Reynolds piece, and the English standalone photo It’s 1961, and there’s so much patriotic optimism in that story.

Below the fold on the front page …

So it is an interesting time in local and national politics. I shared with you one of the bullet points from Harold S. May’s front page column.

Dude.

May wrote in this same format every week. I looked ahead. “What has Mr. Average Citizen done to deserve it? All of us will suffer alike,” wrote the columnist in the next issue. The columnist — who had served on the Florence Housing Authority and was the chairman of the local board of education — made another, terrible convoluted mention two weeks out, until, finally, he moved back to his local observations and recycled bon mots.

“The wife with plenty of hose sense never becomes a nag,” was one of the lines just above the condemnation above.

It’s a fascinating column in its own way, if you can overlook the regrettable parts.

Finally, according to the search function, he ran this same ad the next three weeks. And then, apparently, never again. There’s a story behind this.

Sadly, we’ll never know it.


5
May 22

A light day

Ever get fundraising letters and emails from your alma mater(s)? This 1922 copy circulated in newspapers around Alabama, a sad story that came from one of my alma maters, and it is more impactful than all of those donation letters.

This was part of an important campaign for my alma mater. Auburn was in a deep economic hole compared to the other schools in the state, which had been uniquely successful in creating a deep economic hole for all of its schools anyway. So all that spring of 1922 they prepared for this campaign that they hoped would raise $1 million dollars which would equal … quite a few more million these days.

It was a substantial ask, am ambitious plan and, if you’d be willing to listen to the whole of the tale I can draw a pretty clear line between that campaign and the institutional politics that still appear there, 100 years on.

Ralph Boyd appears in the papers one time before this syndicated piece, in a small brief about his death in Montgomery that February. His last surviving sibling passed away in 2017.

And here he is the year before, somewhere in this group photograph from the 1921 Glomerata, the university’s yearbook.

In the 1922 yearbook there’s a mention of the Greater Auburn campaign. They called it the greatest thing Auburn had ever undertaken. But there doesn’t seem to be a mention of young Ralph Boyd in that edition.

So there’s not much here today, but I did run across that, which is really an excuse to share the greatest century-old graphic you’ve ever seen.

That’s recyclable, is all I’m saying. It’s also amusing that they were using the Auburn name in the university’s campaign efforts, a formal usage if you will, decades before they changed the institution’s name.

Something a little fun … Penn & Teller!

And something amazing … The Punch Brothers!

More tomorrow, I assure you.


15
Apr 22

One more day of looking back

There is great virtue in this capacity we have to remember things. It is probably a byproduct of the ability to learn things. And communication, verbal and otherwise, easily comes from there. It’s not enough to have the experience of a predator scaring you or harming you or getting in the thick of things. You have to learn he’s a predator, and remember that for the next time, and so on. There’s a lot of learning required in that phrase, and so on. So you keep accumulating knowledge. Then, it seems wise to pass it along to the family clutch and beyond.

We just keep accumulating and sharing knowledge and, over time, that’s how institutions are made. You can’t have habits and cultural institutions without memories, after all. That, and reasoning, is how we got smarter: Don’t eat that, because Grog did, and then he doubled over and died. Then Jork did, too. After Arussa got sick, we noticed a pattern. So don’t eat that.

Memories are like that, but they have limitations. You simply can’t live in them. Life is for moving forward.

He said, while inviting you to briefly rehash the day, revisit last month, and consider books written about events in previous centuries.

One of those days where I had to leave one studio to go to another studio, to go back to the first studio.

Then I did that thing where one meeting ran long and into another meeting and so on, for a while. And then back to the studio for this or that, and more meetings.

The only thing missing was a high volume of email.

I’ve gotten four-weeks of blog content out of our Cozumel vacation, let’s wrap this up with one more miniature photo-dump. This is not a food blog, of course, because food photography is harder than it looks. But eating in Cozumel was amazing. I’ve been thinking about the tacos and sopas every day since we left.

Those both came from this place, which we sadly only visited once.

Just down from our condo rental there was a roadside shack that more or may not have been a gimmick for the gringos, but it was delicious. We ate lunch there three times. None of that is pictured, since it was a bit of a quick hit-and-run thing between dives. The sopas were incredible. We also visited a few other small holes in the wall, and one nice tourist restaurant that was good, until it wasn’t.

I have a “friend” who was at a baseball game on a beautiful spring day and, thinking he’d rub it in that he was somewhere I’d rather be, and that I was in Bloomington, he sent me a photo. But I just happened to be standing right here at the time …

… and, for once, I won the point. And all I had to go was visit a tropical destination.

One more view, a little closer to the beach.

Let’s catch up on some books, before I forget to remember once again. I wrapped this book up sometime last week. It’s a collection of essays, written by academic historians, discussing lesser known people involved with varying aspects of the American Revolution. Most of the subjects I’ve never read about, so this was an insightful read all the way through. And it answers the question “What would I have been in that period of history?”

I’m reasonably well-read and educated, here, but there? I’d probably have been stuck in a life as a farmer or leatherworker, without a lot of opportunity for upward mobility. It’s a classist society after all, the 18th century. You’ll revisit that a lot here.

Alas, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

That’s a good book. Deeper than a Wikipedia entry, not as intense as a monograph, and it covers a lot of different types of people in several places in one important period.

I read this one this week.

This is a curated collection of recollections of the Allied liberation of western France. You normally see this from the American or, perhaps, the Canadian or British perspective. This is about the locals. Roberts, herself an esteemed historian at the University of Wisconsin weaves it all together, but the meat of the book is the collection of interviews she’s assembled. Most of these memories are compiled from people who were children, or young adults, in the 1940s, and many of them have the softened glaze of time. So they’re precious and valuable. And, like any memory, they are distinct right up to the point where they aren’t. Plus, I don’t know if you knew this, there was a war going on around them. So there’s that, too. As always, you want more, until you get enough. And when you’ve had enough you might realize this was too much of that one thing. But what about this other? Memories are like that, too.


16
Feb 22

The downhill of Wednesday

Another day hanging out with the great Ernie Pyle. I wonder what he’d say to me today, if he could.

He’d say “I’m almost 122 years old. What do you want from me? And why are you hanging around this statue anyway? Maybe you could go write something.”

The joke is on him. I’m mostly editing today.

I had to give a tour today, actually, and I walked our guest by the little display of Ernie Pyle artifacts, which is when I always say he grew up in a small place about 80 miles to the west. His dad was a tenant farmer there, and the town of Dana was bigger then (population 893) than it is today (population 570).

Then, as now, it’s a sleepy rural community. Today Dana is still a farming community, but maybe also a commuter’s exurb.

If you travel down Maple Street, the one road that the Google Maps car visited in Dana in 2008, you’ll see this.

I did not mention that to our visitor from Chicago, but only because I had to discuss the Roy Howard papers, the Cold War photographs and the paintings from the university’s collection that adorn nearby walls.

A look in the control from this evening’s sports shoots.

They produced two shows tonight, of course. The highlight show, which included segments on the upcoming games, a historic Black Hoosier athlete and this week’s athlete of the week.

They’ve been adding all kinds of elements to that show. And, of course, there’s also the talk show. They discussed Indiana baseball and Indiana softball, which are both kicking off their seasons this week.

Those two shows will be up later this week, and I’ll share them here.

Until then, here’s a look at a few of the other IUSTV shows that they’ve put online in the last day or so. (They keep very busy!)

Here’s the pop culture and campus events show. There’s a subtle little thing in the interview that most people won’t catch, but I was especially proud of, and a new segment that’s just about jokes.

And here’s the news show. I think everything in this episode was done in one take. Easy, casual. Just needs more.

And here’s the film show, which I teased in this space last week.

And that gets us through most of the day, which was an easy 10-hour work day. After the last few works of busyness two 10-hour days in a row doesn’t seem that challenging.

If you find yourself saying things like that “You must ask yourself, ‘Why?’

I will celebrate by reading myself to sleep. Back to reading Kluger. I got this book for Christmas a few years ago. I read most of it last year, but set it down for some reason or another. As I wrote about a third of the way through it …

I’m in the last 50 or so pages now, and we’re actually in the trial. This is an insightful treat. It’s early-18th century colonial America, the printer has published some mean things about a governor and that’s against the rules in a way that seems draconian to modern American sensibilities. But we learn that, even then, the legal system of the day was still wrestling with the philosophical nature of truth. How can you decide what libel is without understanding what truth might be. It’s a narrowly defined world.

Kluger has the records of trial, and he’s quoting the lawyers verbatim. Some of the themes they were wrestling with then are reflective of the arguments being made right now in Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times. Whereas today it seems the court is weighing what appears to amount to negligence brought on by deadlines against the legal concept of libel, the judges in the Zenger trial are tasked with trying to decide whether carefully written and coded letters published in a backwater colonial newspaper could cause a king to lose confidence in his government officials.

The way the law was framed and the arguments made in such a way that the king seems was a delicate flower, and that his fragility was to be protected at all times. A convenient political and legal cover of the times, I’m sure. The published letters weren’t about the king, but rather about his appointed governor of New York (who was often appointed just to get him out of London, it seems). And since, as Kluger demonstrates, the governor was slotting judges into this trial in the hopes of getting a desired outcome, maybe the letter writers had a point.

Gov. Cosby had been a military officer of some success, married well, and then worked his way up to being appointed the governor of a small Mediterranean island. A personal gains scandal eventually followed him there, and in New York and New Jersey there were salary issues, and oppression and some land problems. Typical colonial stuff, the things that, just a generation later, led to revolution. So you wonder what became of all of these people’s grandsons.

Oh, the letter writers were some of Zenger’s legal representation.

There’s not a moment of Euro-American history in New York that doesn’t work like this, I’m convinced.


15
Feb 22

I created a new banner, just for this

Another full day today. Meetings in the morning, studio in the evening, writing and editing and social media in between. Your standard-issue 21st century media expert type day. More on some of that in a moment.

Let’s visit with the cats, since I neglected this site’s most popular feature yesterday. (If you’re new, this is obvious, right? Cats, the web, etc.)

Phoebe is hard at work.

You have never seen a cat relax as hard as she does. There’s a certain intensity to her lazing about, and her stretches, and her naps.

Poseidon found a bird. He will not let us hear the end of it.

I need some things to drown out the cat, basically. Fortunately, I have some video for you. Here’s a Valentine’s Day dating show some of the students shot last Friday.

I’m not sure if that one was rigged or not. But, as ever, I hope for a followup piece, just to find out how the date experience went. (If I read, in 20 years, how this show made for lifelong friends or started a family or something, I don’t want it to be a total surprise, you know?)

We’re all about trying new things and putting everybody to work, and that means a lot of new shows. This is the third new sports show of the year.

And if I can remember correctly, that’s 11 new shows I’ve helped or watched the students launch over the years. At least seven of them are still running. That’s a nice success record, and the success is entirely to the students’ credit.

Tonight, the news division was in the studio to shoot two shows — two of the three oldest continually running shows they produce. We have a freshman delivering the weather.

How cool is that?

We’ve had three primary atmospheric science students delivering weather forecasts for the last several years. All three of them had landed meteorology jobs before they graduated. One had her job waiting for her after her junior year! Another is working now as a broadcast meteorologist. And, maybe, in three or four years we’ll be saying similar things about the new crop of atmosphere scientists. And, to think, that weather segment started as an experiment, too.

Speaking of freshmen, this guy is too. I’ve done this long enough to see people who could work at this craft and turn it into a career. I’ve watched people who give it a try because they were curious, people who do this stuff because it’s fun, or people that find they don’t like this type of work after all (an incredibly valuable learning experience). I’ve also done this long enough to know that, every so often, you can see a person who you know is going to be great. This young man is closer to that last group than any of the others.

What you do in those instances is you try to take credit for all of their success.

I finished The Women Who Wrote The War last night. Nancy Caldwell Sorel published this in 1999, and from this distance it somehow seems a bit older, still.

But this is a fine book woven full of individual anecdotes. Sorel pulled from primary sources and she interviewed correspondents decades after the war. There are some great gems in here. These reporters were bold, and sometimes felt they had to be even more than their male colleagues. In a war zone, that would heighten the danger, right? Some of these names you may know. It’s hard to be interested in journalism and not be familiar with Martha Gellhorn, but a lot of her contemporaries are due to be lost to history, which is a shame.

Take this woman. Ten million people read her in almost 200 papers across the country. She was the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany in 1934 and was one of the few women news commentators on radio during the 1930s. Her work made her influential. Her stances and her influence sometimes made her a controversial figure. For a time she was called “the First Lady of American Journalism.” Have you ever heard of Dorothy Thompson?

To say that she could write is almost cheapening the power of words.

Have you ever heard of Lee Miller? This book introduces you to her. She was a New York fashion model in the 1920s. She became a photographer in Paris and, during World War2 she shot for Vogue, covering the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. Also, at the end of the war, she used Hitler’s bathtub.

I am mostly struck by how modern that room looks, or how little they’ve changed in the last 75 years.

I could tell you more tales, but Sorel will do it better. If you like those two little stories, scroll back up and buy the book.

And now the hard part is deciding what book to start next. I have an entire book case of Books To Be Read. It is stuffed to overflowing and there’s a small stack growing next to it. There are also about four dozen books on my Kindle app. I want to read them all, but which one first?

These are the dilemmas that I must work through.