Tag Archives: Milwaukee

Tony and Farm Boy Records

“It’s work, son,” Father said. “That’s what money is; it’s hard work.”

― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy

Tony Lee was born to a farming family in rolling rural piedmont country, hidden away in North Carolina’s Lincoln County.  He grew up fast, tall, strong and lean, and went on to set a remarkable and little-known Major League Baseball record that will probably never be broken.

There are many a story of country boys making it big in baseball.  I’ll touch on three of the best known.

Mickey Mantle grew up in rural Oklahoma, along old Route 66. Who knows how many records Mickey Mantle would have set if he hadn’t taken to the bottle? Still, he hit 536 home runs in total – this during an era when baseball players, on average, hit homers only about 60 percent as often as today – and yet “The Mick” stands at #18 on the all-time home run list.  More than a few above him took steroids and should thus be disqualified.

Bob Feller grew up a farming country boy in Iowa.  Playing his entire career with the Indians, and coaching for them until his death at 92, he probably had the fastest fastball in the Majors during the 1940s. He led the league in strike outs seven times (twice in the 1930s as a teenager!). Over a stellar career, Feller amassed 266 victories.  He surely would’ve reached the magical 300 milestone had he not served 3-1/2 years in World War 2 in the prime of his career.  Or, if the Indians had had a slightly better team; they compiled mostly mediocre records in those years, but did manage to win the World Series in 1948. For the five full years of his career that sandwiched his military service he averaged 24 wins a season.  Projecting a bit, that would put him around 350 wins for his career. 

And finally, perhaps the most famous to baseball fans, is pitcher Denton True “Cy” Young.  He grew up working his family’s farm in rural Ohio.  His frame took on great strength and his mind a determined, stern discipline. When baseball found him, he could throw the ball so hard he was nicknamed “Cyclone”; or “Cy” for short.  With a career of just over two decades that spanned the turn of the 20th century, Young won an astounding 511 games at the Major League level – a record that will never be broken.  Since 1956 the Award for the Best Pitcher in each league has been named after him.

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In this time of Covid, I’m not following sports much. Heck, until recently there wasn’t much to follow. But even with this rump of a baseball season coming to its tinny crescendo I have been unable to avert my eyes from box scores and standings completely. 

It’s a lifelong habit and I guess I owe it to my dad.  I can remember him taking me to watch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field during the summer of 1961.  Billy Williams hit a home run.  I could barely follow the game – long periods of sun-drenched boredom with brief moments of athletic excitement where the players and ball moved so quickly that I had little idea what was going on.  All I knew before this was dad tossing whiffle balls to me – as I tried to make contact with a plastic bat – and a cheezy glove that he tossed balls into.  Me, thinking I could catch, or hit! Ha. God Bless him. God blessed me with him.

Within a few years he taught me how to track a game.  How to keep score.  Tricks to playing each position (‘ twas clear from early on I’d never be a pitcher) and what to anticipate what could happen on each at-bat, on each pitch.  I guess he thought I had “Mickey Mantle” potential, as he had me swing from both sides.  Eventually I took to swinging only lefty – even though I am right-handed and right-eyed – which was fine with me.  Billy Williams – who won Rookie of the Year in 1961, later won a batting title, and had become my favorite player – swung the same way, lefty, despite also being right-handed.

Back to 2020. So, I’m tracking some baseball stats this odd year-of-covid, like I always do. This, despite the fact that I’m inclined to believe that nothing about this year should even count.  But, I can’t help myself.  Reasons it shouldn’t count?  Doubleheader games are only 7 innings;  extra innings start off with a runner on second;  and the biggest reason is that even the NL is using the Designated Hitter (DH), which means that – except in the most unusual of circumstances – pitchers don’t have to bat.  Guess I’m just a traditionalist.

One thing I noticed through most of this weird 2020 season is that hitting and run production seem down.  Until a few weeks ago batting averages across both leagues were at historic lows.  And pitchers don’t even have to bat! Run production (scoring) was down only slightly, because players are still hitting home runs at nearly historically high rates.

There was a blip for a few weeks recently when scoring and hitting went way up. Teams started putting up double-digit tallies. In one single day (Sept 9) during that stretch the Brewers scored 19 runs in a game. And the Braves scored 29! In one game. During that Braves explosion, Adam Duvall hit three home runs, one of them a grand slam, and knocked in 9 runs.  This statistic, 9 RBIs, tied a Braves franchise record. Plus a grand slam. [RBI is Run Batted in].

And my mind drifted back to 1966……

Baseball recruiting started to get aggressive in the late 1950s.  For example, Tony Lee Cloninger, a lanky farm boy from North Carolina, was signed to a professional contract by the Milwaukee Braves in early 1958.  For that, he received a signing bonus of $100,000.  That was a lot of money. He had not yet graduated from high school.

Milwaukee. I lived just outside that Midwest city from Christmas week 1962 until the summer of 1974.  Even though my first love was the Cubs, I could not help but follow the local Braves, as news of them was always in the newspapers. And of course, my sports-minded friends all followed them.  So, I certainly knew of Tony Cloninger.

In fact, several superstars, future Hall of Famers, played for the Milwaukee Braves back then – Aaron, Matthews, Torre, Spahn – and I remember watching them all play at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Cloninger set several team records.  He recorded the modern-day era for most wins in a season by a Brave – 24 wins in 1965 – which matched the count put up by Johnny Sain in 1948 (when the team was in Boston), and years later by John Smoltz in 1996.  Not even the great Brave and Hall of Famer Warren Spahn ever won so many in a season.

Cloninger also threw one of MLB’s few Immaculate Innings (9 pitches, 3 strikeouts) in 1963, a feat that had only been achieved 13 times before.  (As an indicator of how the game has changed – so many more home runs and more strikeouts – it’s been done 87 times since).

1965 was a strange year for the Milwaukee Braves.  The ownership was trying to move the team to Atlanta.  Fans still loved the Braves, but there definitely were some hard feelings.  The case even went to the courts, as the city tried to keep them.  Despite a good record and performance by stars – not just Cloninger’s 24 wins; three Braves ranked in the league’s top ten for home runs: “Hammerin’ ” Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthew and Mack Jones – attendance dwindled to a dismal 555,000, lowest in the entire major leagues.  I can’t blame the fans for not supporting a team that doesn’t love its home city.

Cloninger was a bit of free-spirit, at least on the pitcher’s mound, I would guess, and his career numbers support that theory.  In his great 1965 year (and the next year too), Cloninger led the league in Wild Pitches and Walks issued. During 3-1/2 seasons in the minors he steadily averaged about 7 walks per nine innings: a horrendous ratio at almost any level, especially as a professional. But he also showed a ton of potential and promise. He was promoted to the major league club, the Milwaukee Braves, in the middle of the ’61 season, just shy of 21 years old. He was probably an early poster-child for the term “effectively-wild.”

1966.  Now the Atlanta Braves were hopeful for their prospects, based on a new location, their promising second half of 1965, and a roster full of stars, including Tony Cloninger as their #1 pitcher.  Unexpectedly, both Tony and the Braves got off to a cool start and were definitely under-performing.  For the July 4th weekend, they traveled to San Francisco, to play the first place Giants – they were also loaded with future Hall of Famers.  Prospects didn’t look good.

On a Sunday afternoon, July 3, Tony Cloninger – a much better than average hitting pitcher – pitched for the Braves.  Back then, we Milwaukee-ites all still followed the Braves rather closely – as there was no professional baseball team in Milwaukee to replace them yet (the Brewers arrived in 1970), and we still knew all the Braves’ players, and most (except me) disliked the rival Cubs in nearby Chicago. But we didn’t get a newspaper delivered on Independence Day, July 4th. What happened on July 3rd?

It was not until July 5th that I read what Tony Cloninger had accomplished.  The details were scarce, since the sports section had to cram two days’ worth of news into a single Tuesday edition, typically a publication day of diminutive size.

I first scanned the July 4th results (for some cruel scheduling reason the Braves had to fly all the way to Houston to play an afternoon game the very next day in the new Astrodome against the lowly Astros) and noted that the they had eked out a win.

Then, …  some numbers from the previous day’s box score literally jumped off the pages.  Holy cow! The Braves beat the first place Giants by a score of 17-3.  Tony Cloninger pitched a complete game for the win, and he hit not one, but two, grand slams.  I could not believe my eyes.  A late game single brought his RBI total to 9 for the game.  These are astonishing batting feats for any player, almost unbelievable!! But for a pitcher?  Typically, the lightest hitting player in any lineup.

Tony Cloninger, mid-1960s

Not sure if it was that day or the next, but I remember the Milwaukee Journal showing a grainy photo of Giants’ great Willie Mays looking up helplessly, as a ball Cloninger had clobbered soared over his head, near the fence in Candlestick’s center field. Gosh, I wish I had started saving newsworthy magazines and newspapers a bit earlier.  I’d love to have that now.

This was the first time in National League history that a player had ever hit two grand slams in one game.  And, I’ll repeat myself: by a pitcher no less.   [It has only happened only twice since, with Fernando Tatis hitting two in the same inning(!), in 1999.  It has been accomplished 10 times in the American League.] This has never been accomplished by a pitcher.  Never.  Before or since.  And it never will be done again, especially with the NL contemplating permanent use of the Designated Hitter – which means pitchers practically never, ever get to bat.

The Braves 1966 season improved thereafter, partly due to changing managers (from Bobby Bragan – loved that name – to Billy Hitchcock).  On the flip side: The Giants’ season sort of collapsed.  And the Dodgers (again, sigh) raced on to the National League pennant, with one of the better pitching  staffs in baseball history, led by Sandy Koufax (who promptly retired, aged only 30, when he was at the top of his game, after the Dodgers surprisingly lost the World Series to Baltimore, swept 4-0, at season’s end).

Tony “the farm boy” Cloninger had been experiencing some shoulder and elbow problems. He was a power pitcher, with a great fastball and nasty slider; both can be very tough on the body. 1966 was still a reasonably good season for him (he finished 14-11) and he was still the Braves #1 pitcher.  But that was the beginning of the end.  Even at age 25 his rugged farm-hardened body could not stand up to the rigors of tossing so many innings.  He pitched for several more years, posting only fair results, at best, and he was traded around a couple times.

With his bonus money and salary, Cloninger had been buying up farmland in his native Lincoln County.  He battled on for a few years, then struggled mightily through the first half of the 1972 season, whereupon he promptly retired mid-season, just before his 32nd birthday. Tony returned to his beloved rural homeland; he began settling in at his farm and its bucolic setting in the North Carolina Piedmont.

Cloninger compiled a career MLB record of 113-97. He once made the league top 10 in strike outs. Good, but not nearly good enough for the Hall of Fame.  He’s also regarded as one of the best hitting pitchers of all time.  Still not good enough to technically be in the Hall of Fame as an individual. But, photographs of him made that day in 1966 are there in the Hall.  As is the bat he borrowed from teammate Denis Menke, the one he used to hit the two grand slams.  They should be: it is a record which will never be broken by any player. Nor will even be tied, by a pitcher.

Cloninger couldn’t stay away from the game forever.  In 1988 he took up an invitation from the New York Yankees to join their coaching staff…starting in the minors and ending up with the major league team. Later he switched over to the player development staff with the Boston Red Sox.  I believe he was still with the BoSox when he passed away, just a couple years ago, in the summer of 2018, aged 77.

Tony, thanks for the memories.  You’re a good old farm boy who did well in the world.

Thanks for reading.  Cheers.

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Local Lexicon

Wow! I received some well-deserved corrections from you readers of my last essay: a bio on songstress Bobby Gentry and a review of her most famous song.  Thank you!  It turns out that the use of “dinner” for the mid-day meal extends through northern rural America from Ohio to Montana as well as the South. In fact, one reader who grew up in the Cleveland metro area informed me of this! I knew that some rural areas of Indiana, West Virginia and Missouri say “dinner.” Wow. Thanks all for the corrections and information.

Public drinking contraption is called a ______?

As long as we’re on regional word usage.  What do you call this common device shown in the photo?  On account of response to concern over the novel coronavirus, it has been eight weeks since I’ve seen one of these actually functioning anywhere.  Their usefulness is surely missed in many public areas.  Hydration is important! 

Some say it is a “water fountain.”  Some call it a “drinking fountain.”  As with dinner vs. lunch, what name you call this device varies by region across the country.  What do you call it?

As you ruminate on that, let’s consider the Kohler family, of Wisconsin.

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Johann Michael Kohler emigrated to the United States from Austria, with his large brood of children and new bride, his second, around 1854.  His oldest son, and fourth child – Johann Jr – was 10 years old.  They settled in Saint Paul, the capital city of Minnesota Territory, some four years before Minnesota became a state. In fact, its Twin City, Minneapolis, across the Mississippi, was a mere fledgling: just a few houses, an original platting and the old Fort Snelling. St Paul was already over 4,500 souls.

St Paul was a like many new, inland, booming US cities of the era, such as Milwaukee, St Louis, and Chicago.  Immigrants from almost anywhere in Europe could easily feel at home: their native language was spoken at church services and theatrical productions, was read in newspapers, and used to discuss current events over a cup of coffee (or a glass of beer).  [OK, Catholics, constituting the vast majority of Austrians, even today, would have used mostly Latin in church]. And opportunity abounded.

The name of Kohler presents perhaps a fleck of interest here. In some cultures, particularly those with roots in Germanic and English lands, the family name often designates a skilled trade. This commenced in medieval times, as the importance of tracking families grew: recording land, taxes, and military service. In English, think of surnames like Baker, Smith, Cook, Fowler, Taylor, Mason.  Not hard to guess what those professions are.  Back in the day many families took their name from their ancestral trade, passed from generation-to-generation. 

The name Kohler probably was Anglicized upon immigration and certainly came from Köhler: a charcoal burner.  (In England, the name would be Collier. Neither that popular, but Collier did leave its name on a line of Encyclopedias.)

Charcoal burners were considered a lowly profession. They marched through their lives in exquisite solitude, collecting and piling wood, then turning it into charcoal with a careful, slow, low-temperature semi-burn, either in heaps of carefully assembled wood mounds, or in crafted kilns. It was an important profession: Charcoal was necessary as a heat source in smelting, forging, and smithing of many metals – from basic iron and copper to precious metals like silver.  It was also used in glasswork.

Schnepfau, Austria: in one of countless fertile Alpine dairy producing valleys

So, historically, the Kohler’s family ancestors would certainly have been charcoal burners.  As the Industrial Revolution matured, the significance of the role of charcoal burner decreased, even though charcoal remained extensively necessary.  This precipitated a move to industrial scale production of charcoal. At some point, the Kohler family left their namesake’s profession; Johann Kohler, the elder, is listed as a Dairy Farmer from Schnepfau, Austria; that’s high up in a valley above Bregenz, near Lake Constance (Der Bodensee).  Upon settling in Minnesota, he resumed this occupation.

From our travels and hikes, the alpine valleys of Austria are utterly drenched with countless dairy cows, almost regardless of slope; one hears cowbells ringing and echoing off every hill, dale, and ridge.  Often the isolated and remote dairy farmhouses serve double-duty as guest houses, where a trekker can rest their feet, quaff a crisp refreshing beverage – and sometimes even get a meal, or a room for the night.

Dairy farming – for those who don’t also provide respite to travelers – is quite accommodating to the less gregarious and socially-oriented person, but not so much so as charcoal burner. 

So, why leave?  Well, there was much general disappointment in Europe after the failed attempts to liberalize governments in the widespread Revolutions of 1848.  Other than that, people left for America because they could.  My mother’s ancestral male-side left Germany at this time (also for Minnesota), and a generation later, my father’s maternal-side did, too (for Chicago).  It was a good call for most who came to the US. My mom recalled her father and uncles speaking German around the house decades into the 20th century.

John Kohler, Jr — founder of The Kohler Company

In any case, a few years after settling into St Paul, Johann the younger – Johann, Jr, and now going by John Kohler, Jr – started to make his own way in the world.  His early schooling was there in St Paul. The eager and aspiring young Kohler picked up a variety of jobs there.  At 18, he moved to Chicago, to study at Dyrenfurth’s College, the first business college in Chicago, and certainly the closest to St Paul. 

The rapidly growing Chicago would be his hometown for a few years, as he took on more ambitious jobs – from merchant to traveling salesman. Kohler developed a sense of purpose, willpower and world-view that set him apart from his ancestral recluses.

The young, eligible, well-connected and well-traveled John Kohler, Jr met the acquaintance of a lovely young lady, Elizabeth “Lillie” Vollrath, some four years his younger.  Lillie, a first-generation immigrant from Rheinland, Germany, happened to hale from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, some 50 miles north of Milwaukee.  They shared a mother tongue. 

In the similarly immigrant-rich city of Sheboygan, where German and Polish were as likely to be heard on streets as English (and that, often with an Irish accent), Lillie’s father, Jacob Vollrath, owned substantial interests in local manufacturing businesses, including two iron and steel foundries.

John and Lillie were married in 1871, in her hometown, and settled there. John was given a small interest in one foundry, probably as a wedding gift, and a job there as well.

We are now well on our way to telling the story of “what to call that convenient public area drinking device.”  Many who are familiar with such water-spewers, and the Kohler name, might well know the story already. Especially those who live in, or were raised in, Wisconsin. But first we must separate fanciful fiction from the rest of the story.

A couple years later it’s 1873 and a great financial panic strikes brutally with icy indifference.  Across Europe and North America economies collapse. With weak, or non-existent, central banks the holes open deep, wide, and quickly.  It mercilessly lasted for several years.  It was so devastating that the crisis was called “The Great Depression” up until the 1930s.  Then, of course, that title was supplanted by the economic abyss of the ‘30s. With that lost decade, the numbing economic circumstances commencing in 1873 passed to the brink of historical oblivion, surviving now with the mere understated label of “Panic.” 

But the Panic was grave: It nearly ruined the implausibly colossal Krupp manufacturing empire in the newly united Germany. 

Panic. Depression. Prices collapsed. Currency depreciates. Cash flow seizes up. Businesses flounder, especially those leveraged with credit, as debt must be paid back with more valuable currency – and at a time with decreased receipts.  

With his employer’s iron and steel business staggering (coincidentally, Krupp’s major product was also steel) young John Kohler saw an opportunity.  He made an offer to purchase his employer’s entire operation.  Vollrath and his partners were ready to sell and get out with their skin. Kohler joined in ownership with a small team, led by him; but he was majority owner of the firm. Before the decade flipped to the ’90s he would own it all.

One of the reasons historical economists provide for the panic was the massive over-building of railroads. The US was on a rail building spree. With bank and investor support, based on expectations of an ever-expanding economy, and the need for transportation to support it, railroad lines and networks grew stunningly and precipitously in the years after the civil war.  This was perhaps, an example of malinvestment: money so cheap, and/or optimism so great, that capital which could have been either saved or conservatively invested chases after bigger returns, blind to risk. As railroads require vast amounts of steel (locomotives, boilers, tenders, cars, rails, depots), and capital to expand, it’s no surprise that many steel vendors found themselves in trouble.

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Initially making farming implements, Kohler’s company soon got into manufacturing bathroom fixtures: a product line for which they are still known around the world today.  What came to be known as the “Kohler Company” (now based in the adjoining community of Kohler, not Sheboygan) is one of the largest and most successful privately family-held companies in the world. Their first great leap forward came from an idea probably fetched from family members over on the Vollrath side. Vollrath’s main business concern (also in iron and steel) had been experimenting with adding enamel to the surfaces of products. Kohler began doing the same thing with items such as tubs and sinks around 1878.  Their great bathroom and plumbing business was born; and has since grown to be an extensive world-wide enterprise.

And now for the story of the drinking fountain.  Or the water fountain.  Call it what you will.

However, if you are very special – if you were raised in some very specific geographic areas, or spent many years there – you call this device a “bubbler.” 

The largest of these special locales is a sort of L-shaped region.  One leg of the “L” goes from Madison, Wisconsin, almost due east to Oconomowoc, about 2/3 the way to the Milwaukee city limits. From there the north-south leg goes up to Green Bay. The width of each leg, varies along their lengths, but is generally approximately 60 miles. Within this “band” the use of “bubbler” is nearly 100% among locals. The L spreads out into a bean shape if predominant use of bubbler is included, say over 50%; but definitely not beyond the western shores of Lake Michigan, and certainly never, never south across the Illinois state line. Say it there and, if you’re lucky, they look at you like you’re from a distant country. If you’re not lucky, you’ll be ID’d as a cheesehead and taunted with detestation, in ways that only people from Chicago-land (i.e. long suffering Bears fans) can administer.

Map is approximate, but fairly accurate for bubbler. The “heart of bubbler land” is the L described in the text.

Two other tiny US regions also call it a “bubbler”: Most of Rhode Island and slivers of eastern and southern Massachusetts, reaching in a few areas into New Hampshire.  (Actually, they probably say “bubb-lah”, but the root and idea are the same).

I left Milwaukee nearly 46 years ago; I still instinctively want to call them bubblers.  I’ve forced myself to say “drinking fountain,” for clarity (see Colorado, on map).  But in the company of other native Wisconsinites I drift autonomically: it’s a “bubbler.”

A commonly repeated legend about the bubbler moniker and the Kohler Company lives on, percolating outward from this special L-region, and re-energized with every local re-telling.  It seems that in 1888 a Kohler employee named Harlan Huckabee invented a device that would provide a small fountain of water, shooting up a few inches, from which a passerby could easily dampen their parched palettes by putting their pursed lips to the airborne stream and drawing it in.  The fountain made a “bubbling” sound, with water gurgling up and splashing back down; hence the device that made the sounds was called a “bubbler.” Kohler trademarked and patented the device. And successfully marketed it as such – a bubbler – coast to coast and then internationally.

This is oft repeated fable is largely false.  But repetition of falsehoods somehow makes them more credible.  Followed politics at all?

Yet, there is a strong Kohler and Wisconsin connection.  Kohler had been making a similar device since about 1900.  And it was indeed called the bubbler.  And it did make a bubbling sound (like a small brooklet) as the water shot up a couple inches for the quenching of thirst.  But there was no Harlan Huckabee, and no 1888 invention. The word and name bubbler were never trademarked nor patented by Kohler.

Yet, by 1900, the word “bubbler” for a drinking device had indeed already been around for a few decades. So, what happened?  As Beth Dippel of the Sheboygan Sun reports from her deep research:

“Wisconsin was filled with one-room schools in the late 19th Century, and each school had a pretty standard set of furniture and equipment, including portraits of Washington and Lincoln, blackboards, the old pot-bellied stove, maybe a globe and some type of container for drinking water. One container frequently used was the Red Wing Stoneware Co.’s ceramic water cooler or water ‘bubbler’ made as early as 1877. They came in three-gallon and five-gallon sizes and were prized possessions of schools.”

Sheboygan Press [1]

When students filled a cup for drinking, air would move up through the cooler and make a “bubbling” sound.  And kids in many schools called it just that: a bubbler.

Kohler’s product took the local popular school-children’s name for a drinking device.  By the 1910s a new design had modified the basic design.  Shooting the water straight up was considered unsanitary, since unconsumed water, which had touched lips, fell back onto the spout.  Most devices now shoot an arc of water, as shown in the first figure.  This invention was not from Kohler, but they adopted it and continued successfully selling “bubblers”, although they now didn’t make quite as much of a bubbling sound.

Kohler Family Plot, Kohler, Wisconsin — company founder, John Kohler, Jr passed at a mere 56 years old, in 1900, leaving a long-lasting family legacy

The product sold well for decades, and the name “bubbler” traveled with it, all the way to the east coast.  Hard to imagine residents of Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia being anything but confused today if you were to ask them how to find the nearest “bubbler.”  But once upon a time they did call it that.

From vernacular studies, about 4% of Americans call it a bubbler, or a water bubbler. I find that ridiculously high, but perhaps “water bubbler” bumps it up a few points. I’ve never met a single person from outside Wisconsin (or who didn’t live there a spell) have the faintest notion what a bubbler is.  Some 33% call it a drinking fountain.  The rest, a whopping 63%, call it a water fountain.  The last one, water fountain, seems silly to me; that’s a place to toss coins for wishes, or to take off your shows, roll up your pants and take a forbidden dip, or – more scandalously – fish out those coins.

Words change. They come and go.  Regions are particular.  Pop or Soda? But the name “bubbler” lives stubbornly in its homeland – that is, much of southern and eastern Wisconsin – as well as pockets of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

Well, that was a mouthful.  Now I need a drink of water.  Where’s the bubbler?

Popular T-shirt in much of Wisconsin: “Bubbler” is secret code for “I’m from Wisconsin” … in RI and Mass it would be “Bubb-lah”

And a Kohler is no longer a charcoal burner.  It is a fine, respectable bathroom fixture.

Happy public drinking.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2020

Footnotes and bibliography below.

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

Afterward:  Vollraths

The Vollrath name and family business remains prominent in Sheboygan, however.  One of Vollrath’s other businesses lived on and is a prominent manufacturer of commercial restaurant and food services equipment: still in the metal implement business.  Since the Kohlers and Vollraths are multiply intermarried (in fact, after Lillie died leaving Kohler 6 children; he then married her younger sister and one more: he would go on to lead the Kohler dynasty into the 20th century), the current generations sit on each other’s boards of directors.  There is a beautiful 26-acre park along the Lake Michigan shore in Sheboygan named for Vollrath, who donated the land and funded its early development.

The Kohlers are, of course, gigantic in Wisconsin.  The family has provided two state governors (not to be confused with the Kohl family, and the Kohl’s chain of stores).  In fact, founder John Kohler was once mayor of Sheboygan. Kohlers have gotten into the golf business, starting locally with two gorgeous links/dunes courses, one near and another along Lake Michigan: Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits. These have hosted multiple major golf championships.  They’ve also expanded into the golf hospitality business, owning and running the famous Old Course Hotel in Saint Andrews, Scotland.
If you get to the area, drop by the Kohler museum in Kohler. And, if it’s summer, try to take in a festival in Sheboygan. It doesn’t matter what festival: there will be really good bratwurst, plenty of beer, friendly people … and bubblers.

[1] https://www.sheboyganpress.com/story/news/local/2014/10/31/sheboygan-history-bubblers/18254395/

Of Disruptors and Keyholes

Recently the brand new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, suspended parliament at a moment in history that portends a possible keyhole event: a “Hard Brexit” is about to occur.  Technically the term is prorogue.  That is to say: “Johnson has prorogued Parliament.”  He simply sent them home for a few weeks.  Although not all that uncommon for a new government – it comes shortly after his placement as PM – the timing has made many Brits uncomfortable, to say the least.

One supposes that my writing has been sort of prorogued of late – not much publishing anyhow.  I don’t think many readers are uncomfortable about that. 

You can look back through a keyhole, but you can’t go back through one

I have a pair of terms for events that are so transformational that things can never return to the way they were; not even ways of thinking can return: Wormholes and Keyholes. Either way, when we pass through them – either as individuals, families, communities, cultures, countries or the entire world – a new reality emerges.

A possible alternative to keyhole and wormhole is “Rubicon”; or the full phrase “crossing the Rubicon.”  Way back in 49 BCE, a Roman general named Gaius (of the patrician clan “Julia”) took his powerful and famously successful army across the River Rubicon. When he did, he also created a keyhole through which he, his army, and Roman culture passed and could never return.

Rubicon: Reality was irreversibly changed.  A civil war ensued.  At its conclusion, there was no more Roman Republic, although it had endured nearly 500 years with a slight flavor of democracy.  It was replaced with the Roman Empire, to be led by a sovereign head of state named “Caesar” (the first one being the aforementioned general).

“Crossing the Rubicon” is a term that means total commitment, and no turning back. You’ve gone through the keyhole. Although, for Julius Caesar, there was an strong element of personal choice in the matter. That’s not always the case.

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Using the theme of keyholes, I will touch upon many a quaint and curious story of forgotten lore [1], including brief biographical glances at the lives of three individuals.

These are but three people among countless.  Passing through the same keyhole in history.  An entire nation of millions was transformed by that keyhole, through which nothing – no person and no part of American culture – could return to their previous state … forever transformed. These three people made history because of their transformations – and society’s – brought about by a major disruption to American national culture.

  1. Hattie had a sweet personality and an even sweeter voice.  And she had a quality of magnetic personality mixed with pizzazz, or panache.  Today the name “Hattie” is rather obscure – in fact, it almost completely disappeared in the 1950s and ‘60s.  It was not an uncommon name at all across American cultures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Hattie Caraway (ARK) was the 1st woman elected to the US Senate, in 1932. Our Hattie was born in Wichita, Kansas, to parents who had been slaves.  Although the name Hattie would later virtually disappear, her own name would not.
  2. Born and raised of pure German descent, Henry hailed from the German neighborhoods on the southside of the great beer-making city of St Louis.  But he usually went by the nickname “Heinie” (or “Heine”), since it was German and rhymed with his last name: Meine.  Of course, it was Americanized to “High-nee My-nee”; you can’t get a much more memorable name.  Nonetheless, he’s virtually forgotten, although Heinie came through the keyhole and left his name in the record books. 
  3. A first generation Italian-American, he preferred to go by “Al” rather than his given “Alphonse.”  Born and raised in Brooklyn, he’d make his name in Chicago. Known for many things – including feeding over 100,000 Chicagoans each day during the Great Depression’s early years –  Al was not known for being very faithful to his wife. That’s too bad, because she was extraordinarily faithful and loyal to him.  At least he was loyal: he treated her well and never spoke poorly of her. That, and his Depression-era food lines, are among the few good qualities we can credit to him.
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On a geological scale, the biggest disruptor to life on earth was almost certainly when the 12-mile diameter Chicxulub Asteroid slammed into the earth at 40,000 kilometers per hour, near the Yucatan peninsula (modern day Mexico) about 66 million years ago.  Scientific estimates of the energy released approached one trillion (1,000,000,000,000) Hiroshima atomic bombs.

The asteroid event is probably the biggest reason, among many, that between 99.9% and 99.999% of the all species that have ever lived are now extinct.

Dinosaurs had ruled the earth; they had for some 250 million years through advanced evolution which tracked the earth’s warming climate. (Consider how far humans have evolved from advanced apes in less than 1/1000th the time).  For most of those many millions of ”dinosaur” years, the earth was generally a very warm, even rather tropical, CO2 rich environment.  Literally, in a very few years (perhaps a handful) all had changed.  The world, relatively speaking, became a frigidly cold “ice box.” 

The asteroid, as agent of disruption, had altered reality so suddenly, and so irreversibly, that the world and its reality was forever immediately changed.  We should be thankful.  That stupendously, mind-boggling cataclysmic event permitted the survival and prominence of tiny mammals – and eventually to us: we humans and our many friends like horses, dogs, cats – over dozens of millions of years.

I should hesitate to even suggest candidates for “disruptors” in the human era – especially in our post-industrial age era.  But, eventually we must get to our three protagonists:  Hattie, Heinie and Alphonse.  Therefore, I submit some examples, starting with —ta da – the internet.  It has spawned on-line commerce and “the sharing  economy.”

The “sharing economy” starts with the simple idea that we, as humans in a free-market economy, have assets that are lying dormant. In economists’ terms: non-performing assets.  Our houses. Our cars. Our time.  The sharing economy idea suggests we can put those assets to work. Over just a very few years, this simple idea has disrupted how we consume, travel, commute and vacation.  Many of us now think of Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, CrowdFunding as powerful and preferred alternatives to “traditional business models.”  The value of Taxi Cab medallions in New York City has fallen by some 85% since their peak value of $1.3 Million in 2013. Entire industries must now behave differently – or die.

The sharing economy has been co-joined on the internet with our lust for connectivity and ease. Amazon has put booksellers out of business. Thanks to the internet, we often now shop in the comfort of our homes, in front of our computers – often clad only in our underwear (if we are dressed at all – sorry for the visual).

Merchandise is delivered to our front door, sometimes within hours – while many old and drab strip malls slowly, silently go vacant and “turn-over”, their dull slots replaced by the equivalent of pre-human mammals that are mostly just cheap “creature comforts”: nail salons, micro-liquor stores, tattoo and/or piercing parlors, micro-breweries, tobacco-friendly stores, massage parlors, pot shops (where legal), second-hand and antique shops, etc. And that’s if the vacant spaces are filled at all.  There is no telling which will survive to coming generations, if at all: evolution, disruption and their effects have their ways of being unpredictable… that is their very nature. [2]

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In American culture, looking back over the past 125 years, or so, I cannot think of any more forceful disruptor – outside of the Internet, the Depression, and the Great Wars – than Prohibition.

Prohibition. The 18th Amendment. The Volstead Act. The culmination of decades of effort by the Temperance Movement, the Women’s Movement, and Cultural Conservatives. 

I’m sort of a fan of Prohibition. Why? It was, in effect, a vast significant social scientific experiment.   It made being anti-government-control very cool.  It made counter-culture cool. It made “shoving it in The-Man’s-face” cool.   For many cultural icons and movements – from the obvious, like craft beer brewing and craft alcohol distilling, to the Beatniks, to Elvis, to The Stones, to Jay-Zee, to tattoos, to piercings, to sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll, sexual licentiousness, the prevalence of Sugar Daddies, and even NASCAR, (America’s most popular spectator sport) – Prohibition helped paved the way.

To me, on balance, those are good things. But every die comes with many sides: it also gave more profit and respectability to the mafia and the underworld. 

Our protagonists: In order of how famous they are today:

#1. In 1913, Young Al dropped out of school at 14, after slugging his teacher.  He then worked odd jobs while falling in with various young gangs of hoodlums.  Eventually, he got connected to the local mobs, and began working his way up the mob ladder – getting a nasty razor gash across a cheek in one episode – before finally getting in so much trouble that he was sent off to a different “branch of the business” in Chicago, along with his wife (the one he was not quite “totally committed” to) and young son.

Propitious timing: Prohibition was about to start.  Chicago is where Alphonse – Al Capone and Scarface to us – made it big. Really big.  Prohibition provided almost unlimited opportunity to make money … either through booze itself or through protection schemes.  Capone inherited the top position of a major Chicago crime syndicate, at age 26, when boss Johnny Torino retired and went home to Sicily.

After various deals and “take outs”, like the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, Capone’s gang ruled supreme in Chicago and Cook County. 

Al Capone, king of Chicago ~1926-1931

“Scarface” (a nickname he hated) escaped criminal conviction many times.  But Prohibition Agent Elliot Ness and the government finally got him on income tax evasion; his lifestyle and braggadocio were just too conspicuous during a time such as the Great Depression.  Yes, he daily fed many thousands in the early years of the Depression.  But everything ended on October 17, 1931, when Capone was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.

While in prison – eventually at Alcatraz – Capone’s old cronies in the Chicago mob did quite well.  But he didn’t fair so well himself, even though he was released for “good behavior” after serving only about 7 years of his term.  It turns out his good behavior was probably because he developed advanced dementia caused by syphilis. Evidently it had been attacking his nervous system since his teens – considering that his only son, Alphonse Jr, was born with congenital syphilis.

Capone’s wife, Mae, remained loyal, and took great care of him until his demise, in 1947, only one week after his 48th birthday.  He was probably not aware of that or much else, as he was given to talking to inanimate things and people not present.  Their son Al Jr, an only child – who lived quite deaf since infancy on account of surgery for syphilis-caused infections – changed his name to “Albert Brown” in 1966, to distance himself from the infamy of his father. “Brown” was an alias his father had sometimes used.

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2) In 1895 came Hattie McDaniel into this world. She was the 13th and last child born to Susan and Henry McDaniel, both former slaves. Her father was a freed slave, who fought in the Civil War and suffered the rest of his life from war injuries.

Originally from Wichita, Kansas, the family moved to Ft Collins, then Denver, Colorado seeking opportunity – as Henry had a difficult time with manual labor on account of his war injury – about the time young Hattie was 5 or 6.  There, in school and in church, her phenomenal musical skills were discovered. 

By age 14 she had a professional singing and dancing career … and she also dropped out of Denver East High School.  As feature vocalists for various bands, mostly Blues, Hattie had made something of a name for herself.

In 1930 she found herself in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as part of a traveling theatre troupe on the Show Boat production. Then, disaster:  The Depression struck. The show and tour were abruptly canceled, leaving Hattie and the rest of the cast abandoned … and nowhere near home.

Hattie found employment as a restroom attendant at Club Madrid, a not-so-secret speakeasy run by Chicago gangster Sam Pick, just outside Milwaukee’s city limits, and just across the county line. Why there? Because that jurisdiction was largely rural and had virtually no police force. Prohibition was still in effect. 

Club Madrid was famous for great entertainment, as well as a great stash of alcohols.  It was a place to visit and be seen for politicians, high rolling businessmen and other wealthy gangsters.

Word had gotten around Club Madrid that Hattie was extremely talented; but Madrid was a “whites only” establishment. They kept her in the restroom.  Until one night when an act didn’t show.  Desperate to keep the lubricated and influential guests engaged, Sam brought out Hattie.  She brought the house down … and did so for over a year.  Her income and notoriety soared.

Whereupon her skills as a performer were noticed by Hollywood.  She’d go on to a rich film career of over a decade, most notably as Mammy in Gone With the Wind.  In perfect Hattie pose and poise, she was virtually “playing herself” as the only truly likeable and reasonable person in the entire saga. 

Hattie McDaniel was honored by the US Post Office with her image on a stamp, 2005

For that performance she was justly awarded an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.  Hattie McDaniel was the first Black to receive an academy nomination, and the first to win an Oscar.  Bravo Hattie.

She remained popular, and used that popularity to serve in World War II, entertaining troops and performing at War Bond rallies. 

At the end of the war the role of blacks in America was about to dramatically change. Truman integrated the military with a stroke of his pen.  There was a loud popular cry to end the stereotyping of black characters as obsequious, simple-minded submissives in movies. The cry was heard.  Unfortunately for Hattie, she had already been well typecast into such roles, and her Hollywood career faded.

Not so for radio, and Hattie signed on to play a maid on the nationally popular regular radio show Beulah.  Another first: she was the first black to have a weekly appearance on any media. [3] Her years were running out, however.  Too young and too late she was discovered to have breast cancer, and she succumbed in 1952, aged only 57.

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And #3. Henry “Heinie” Meine is surely the least famous of the three who actually achieved a significant level of fame.  Born in Saint Louis in 1896, he was a sports enthusiast who took to baseball well.  He played a lot of local sand-lot and then semi-pro ball as a young man, mostly as a spit balling pitcher.

By 1920 word got around that he was pretty good – especially with his favorite pitch: the spitter. He’d been noticed by legendary scout Charles “Charley” Francis Barrett, and he was signed to a minor league contract with the St Louis Browns of the American League.  In 1922 he was called up briefly to his hometown Browns and pitched in one single game — a mop up effort in a late season blow out.  Unfortunately for Heinie, the spitball had been outlawed as an unfair pitch; and was now being enforced. His major league career seemed over.

He bounced around the minor leagues for a while, gaining a reputation for a “rubber arm”; he was kind of an energizer bunny, as he regularly pitched 250-300 innings a season during those years in the minors. Finally, Meine just gave up, retiring at the end of the 1926 season after learning he’d be demoted to the Single-A level for the 1927 season.  It seemed he had no path to the majors, especially without his spitball. There were other options: he intended to make money in his beer-happy hometown of Saint Louis running a Speakeasy. Prohibition provided opportunity.

Like Pick’s Club Madrid,  Meine’s “soda bar” was located just outside the city limits, in a German neighborhood that was known for some reason as Luxemburg. His drinking establishment was so popular, he got the nickname “Duke of Luxemburg.”

When other major league teams came to Saint Louis (the city had two teams then, so it was often), Luxemburg was a frequent stop for refreshment.  After a few drinks the players often teased him about being a good minor league pitcher, but not being good enough to make it in the majors.

This was motivation. He’d show them! After a layoff of nearly two years, Meine returned to baseball. He was determined to make it as a “control pitcher”, one who could make the ball move any direction, who could constantly change speeds and hit any spot on the edge of the strike zone.  He became an early effective “junk” pitcher. He didn’t strike out many batters; they just hit soft grounders and popups. After a couple minor league seasons, he was eventually acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

As a 33 year-old rookie, Heinie Meine made his major league debut in 1929.  Unheard of even in those days.  After two moderately successful and contentious seasons with the Pirates (including missing much time with a bad case of tonsillitis) he set the baseball world on fire in 1931, leading the league in wins and innings pitched. A phenomenal record for a Pirate team that managed only 75 wins against 79 losses that year.

Henry “Heinie” Meine

Meine was a holdout for the 1932 season – one of the first to successfully do so – demanding more money.  Starting the season over a month late, after a contract renegotiation, he still managed 12 wins and nearly 200 innings.

But Meine was now approaching 37 years old.  His rubber arm was wearing out.  Still, he managed 15 wins and 207 innings in 1933, impressive totals for any age in any era. All the league’s pitchers with more wins than Meine were aged 31, or younger.

The next year, 1934, would be his last, as Meine was getting past his prime.  He still put up a winning record, at 7-6, but he knew the end of his career had come. If he’d stayed for just a small part of the next season, he’d have seen a national superstar who was well past his prime have one last unlikely and very dramatically successful day at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. A very wobbly 40-year old Babe Ruth hit three home runs in one game in late May … the last three he’d ever hit. Then promptly retired a few days later.

But by then Meine had already retired to run his saloon business full time.  With Prohibition over and his reputation for Gemütlichkeit, Meine’s career as saloon keeper was safe for years to come. And with some thanks to Prohibition and the customers who teased him, he had made his place in baseball’s record books.

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Well dear readers, that was quite a ramble. Perhaps even a Keyhole for you.

I was long overdue for an essay and had a lot of thoughts in my head to somehow string together.

I hope you feel fulfilled and inspired, or at least changed for the better. 

Peace

Joe Girard © 2019

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing me at Joe@Girardmeister.com.

[1] With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe fans.  Lifted almost verbatim from verse #1 of “The Raven.”

[2] Strip Malls have a rather interesting history in the US (and Canada).  Briefly: The preponderance of Strip Malls exploded in the 1950s in North America, along with the expanding post-war economy and our love affair with cars.  Ubiquitous on the edges of urban areas, and within the new suburban areas, they were a “strip” of available business spaces in a single building with parking in front.  Sometimes “L-shaped”, they lined major and semi-major roads, near residential areas, but seldom near central business districts.

They provided convenient, if not “drab”, space for respectable businesses like pharmacies, butcher shops, barbers, and sellers of fresh produce and groceries … where everyone seemed to know everyone else and friendly chit-chat was interwoven with business. In an America that no longer exists.

But cars got bigger and ever more plentiful.  Available parking for strip malls was too small. So then came the “Big Box” strip malls, with huge parking lots anchored by one or two major retailers, like Walmart, or Home Depot.  The small strip malls lost business, tenants and most public interest.  Also came the super malls … and strip malls were just so-o-o 1950s and ‘60s.

If not already scraped away, strip malls still exist, but ever more with spaces that are vacant, or populated by the likes of businesses I listed above. Always drab.  Always an eyesore.

[3] At about this time, only about 10% of US homes had televisions. Nearly 100% had radios, and people built their daily schedules around radio shows. By 1960, this had reversed: nearly 90% had TVs, and Americans lives revolved around their favorite shows, on only 3 networks.

Regarding Strip Mall history: One of the better sources I found was here.

Other stuff:

Heine Meine Biography: https://everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/Heine_Meine/

Popularity of name “Hattie”: https://www.behindthename.com/name/hattie/top/united-states

Crockett to Court-Martial

“Be sure you’re right, and then go ahead” – Davey Crockett

Any American kid who grew up in the 1950s or ‘60s knows that line from the theme song to the Davey Crockett television series.  Davey Crockett, played by Fess Parker, was the quintessential American Frontiersman – self-reliant, painfully honest, honorable, and capable at every conceivable skill. The line was taken from a supposed direct quote by Davey Crockett. 

Perhaps unusual for a frontiersman born and raised in the rugged, untamed Appalachian Mountains: Crockett became an early vocal defender of Native Amerindian rights.  First as one of America’s most celebrated “western” heroes, and then as an elected member of the Tennessee state legislature, and finally as a Congressman in Washington, DC. Crockett had little success in promoting his beliefs or recruiting others to share them. Amerindians have inalienable rights, too; yet no government instituted by man was able to secure them. The “Indian Wars” and westward relocations of tribal nations continued.

As congressman, Crockett was twice defeated for re-election, mostly because of fellow Tennessean Andy Jackson and his Democratic Party’s anti-Amerindian views. [Aside: it is awfully shameful that the image of such a racist man is on one of our most commonly traded pieces of currency: the $20 bill. I say: get Harriet Tubman on there ASAP].   Shortly after his second Congressional defeat, Crockett abandoned his native country and went to Texas where he hoped to help build a more free and liberal country from the ground up.  It was time to fight another revolution.  He probably wanted to get land, too. 

He was sure he was right.  He went ahead.  In early 1836 Crockett found himself in the Texas frontier, at a compound that had long ago been a Catholic mission called Mission de San Antonio de Valero – a place that came be known as The Alamo.  One of America’s most loved heroes and admired adventurers did not make it to age 50.
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I thankfully still have many memories of growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin besides simply watching TV shows like Davey Crockett. Some memories are of the many place and street names.  I was recently reminded of the prevalence of the name “Mitchell” during a trip to Milwaukee, on the occasion of a class reunion for the 45th anniversary of our high school graduation.

I probably first became aware of the name “Mitchell” when the domes at the Mitchell Botanical Gardens, near Mitchell Park, were completed in the 1960s.  Along the Menomonee River, south of the I-94 corridor and just a few miles from downtown, the domes are a beautiful landmark as you make your way through the area, easily visible from the Interstate. 

The Domes at the Mitchell Park Conservatory [Photo courtesy of Park People of Milwaukee. Here under Fair Use]

It was probably about the summer of 1968 when my folks took my siblings and me there, sometime shortly after the domes were were completed. There were six of us kids, the youngest born in January, ‘68; my parents were quite brave. I remember being so very impressed with the huge glass dome structures. They seemed enormous! I wandered off from my family, trying to read all the labels … eventually getting very bored and sleepy.

Before moving away in 1974 I don’t recall noticing any Mitchell name prevalence: but there is also Mitchell Street, Mitchell Boulevard, the Mitchell Street Neighborhood and, of course, Mitchell Field Airport, which serves as Milwaukee’s commercial and international airport.  There are probably more.

The Michell Domes, Botanical Gardens and Park are named for the donor of the land upon which the park, and later Botanical Gardens, were built: John Lendrum Mitchell. 

John L. Mitchell was born and raised in Milwaukee in a very wealthy family, owing to the business success of his father, Alexander Mitchell.  The elder Mitchell had immigrated to Wisconsin from Scotland, becoming the wealthiest person in Wisconsin principally through his ownership and leadership success in banking and The Chicago, St Paul & Milwaukee Railroad (AKA “The Milwaukee Road”), one of the most successful and far-flung railroads from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries.

One of The Milwaukee Road’s logos

John served in Wisconsin’s 24th Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, alongside Arthur MacArthur, Jr. 

Awarded the Medal of Honor during the war, MacArthur, Jr later fathered Douglas MacArthur … a curious coincidence, we will soon see.  Well, John Mitchell made his way into politics, first holding the Congressional seat his father had held (Wisconsin’s 4th CD) and later representing Wisconsin in the Senate. 

In December, 1879, while living in Nice, France, John Mitchell and his wife Harriet welcomed their first child into the family – a son whom they named William.  He would be the first of ten.

Described as small, wiry and fearless, young “Billy” (as he came to be known) grew up speaking French as well as English, and also was able to communicate in German, Spanish and Italian. He had his own nannies, but they could not keep up with his high energy and antics. Always bright and ambitious, his education took him to the nation’s capital in DC (where his father was serving as a Senator), to Columbian College — later renamed to George Washington University.  But, he dropped out in 1898 to join the Army and fight in the Spanish-American War.

Billy took to the military life well and made it his career.  His intelligence and capabilities always caught the attention of higher officers, and, in 1913, that resulted in a chance appointment to the US Army General Staff.  This is where Mitchell really got exposed to Aeronautics … the art of flying.

Seeing the almost infinite potential of flight, especially in combat and for reconnaissance, Mitchell “caught the bug,” and it seems at this point his tendency toward brash behavior started to manifest itself.  In 1916, Mitchell, anxious for action and opportunity, quit the General Staff and simply assumed command of Army Aviation until a commander could be appointed and placed in command.

He desperately wanted to pilot himself, but the Army would not train him.  He was too old, they said, at 36.  So, he took lessons on his own, at his own cost, and on his own time.  Now flight qualified, and with a war going on in Europe, Mitchell was anxious for adventure and bristled at being under anyone’s command who did not see the future as he did.  In 1917 he asked for leave to visit the front as an observer.  It was granted. Four days later the United States entered the Great War.

Mitchell continued to learn as much as he could about flight and its uses in warfare, constantly pressing British and French pilots for intelligence, able to discuss technology and tactics in their mother tongues. Although denied overall generalship of US air flight, it was he who discovered from the air the size and direction of the last great German attempt to win the war in July, 1918. And he led the largest air force in the world up until that time – some 1,500 aircraft – in fighting back that salient.

The war soon ended. Mitchell, now a war hero and with a field promotion to Brigadier General, returned to the States more convinced than ever of the significance of air power.  The Great War was certainly not “the war to end all wars.” There would be more great wars, and his country must be prepared.

Billy Mitchell: Aviation Visionary

He pestered everyone he could think of – from military brass to politicians – to get more emphasis on developing the science and technology of flight. The way he saw it: the significance could not be underestimated; its potential was endless.  Literally, the sky was the limit. 

He maintained this enthusiasm despite losing his brother John L Mitchell, III in a plane crash in France, during the war.  He used it as a selling point: planes could have been made better, thus they had to be.

Mitchell was sure he was right.  And went right ahead … finally getting an opportunity (through congressional intervention) in the spring and summer of 1921 to demonstrate the ability of aircraft to sink naval craft.  The climax of the demonstrations was the aerial attack on the seized German battleship, Ostfriesland.  During the “exhibition”, Mitchell and his men violated the rules of engagement by flying lower and dropping larger bombs than permitted.  Nonetheless, Mitchell won the day and the argument, much to the chagrin on Navy staff and military brass.  The Ostfriesland, defenseless and immobile the entire time, went to the bottom of the sea.

Despite the contested “successful” demonstration, the development of American military flight technology – for speed, altitude, payload capability and safety – languished.  Mitchell continued to pester everyone. 

Finally, at his wits’ end due to a series of deadly military flight accidents, he decided to go dangerously ahead.  He was sure he was right.  By this time, September, 1925, Mitchell was now only a Colonel (he had permanently lost his wartime General rank) and had been “put out to pasture” at a Texas Army base … coincidently located in San Antonio, not far from the Alamo. 

What did Mitchell do?  He publicly and openly defied military leadership, and in statements to the press, he called them “incompetent, criminally negligent and nearly treasonous.”  The bodies of many of his fellow military aviators, he said, were buried because of “official stupidity.” Mitchell was sure he was right, and he had simply run out of buttons to push.  He went ahead with open defiance of his superiors.

The military is all about obedience.  And such acts of insolence cannot go unprosecuted, or unpunished.  The court-martial of Billy Mitchell is the most famous court-martial in United States history, and one of its most famous trials, too.

Mitchell’s jury included General Douglas MacArthur, the son of his father’s Civil War army friend. Some further irony and coincidence:

“ … a senior officer should not be silenced for being at variance with his superiors and with accepted doctrine.” – Gen’l Douglas MacArthur, jurist in the Court Martial trial of Billy Mitchell.

Mitchell had already prophesied many fantastic things, many of which he repeated at his trial.  For example:

  • The use of aircraft to fight forest fires
  • The importance of air control in battle 
  • Transcontinental flight in mere hours
  • Trans-oceanic flight
  • The end of naval battleships, since they could be sunk with a tiny fraction of the cost to build them (via air power)
  • The significance of aircraft carriers
  • The creation of national military Air Forces totally separate from the Army and Navy  
  • Indeed, he even foretold of Japanese aircraft surprising and sinking American battleships in Pearl Harbor at dawn someday, perhaps just a few years hence.

Many testified on his behalf during the 7-week trial, which became rather a media spectacle. This included America’s most famous “ace”, Eddie Rickenbacker, and one of its most recognized congressmen, Fiorella La Guardia.

Despite all the testimony and a strong defense that substantiated the veracity of Mitchell’s claims, he was found guilty.  For sentence, he was suspended from active military duty for five years without pay (which President Coolidge, as Commander-in-Chief and President amended to half-pay).  Nonetheless, Mitchell resigned from the Army a few months later, spending the rest of his life – free of military chain-of-command – attempting to promote air power.

He died ten years later, his visions largely still unrealized, in 1936, aged only 56, from heart ailments and flu complications … after having some success persuading FDR to begin investing in national air power.  He is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, near his father and grandfather in the Mitchell family plot.

“On March 17, 1941, the Milwaukee County Board voted to change the County airport’s name to Billy Mitchell Field. It is a source of pride for Milwaukeans that our main airport is named in honor of General William Mitchell, who, though impatient with those who did not share his beliefs, nevertheless retained until his death his boundless faith in aviation’s future which he so unerringly visualized.” (Mitchell Airport History Website)

Just outside the Mitchell Field terminal is a retired B-25 bomber. Design and development of the B-25 began in 1938, more than three years before the US entered WW2, thanks mostly to Germany’s growing belligerence and Mitchell’s earlier lobbying of congress and the president.  The plane was named the “Mitchell” and flew in every theater of operation during WW2; most famously, 16 Mitchells took off from the deck of the carrier Hornet to bomb Tokyo in The Doolittle Raid of April, 1942.

Mitchell B-25, medium range bomber, in front of Mitchell Field Airport, Milwaukee

The name of the airport, with its Mitchell B-25 out in front, is testament and monument to Milwaukee’s pride in her visionary native son. Mitchell is considered the “Father of the American Air Force.”


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My wife and I made a stop by the Mitchell Domes while in Milwaukee earlier this summer. To the domes that are named for the park, that is named for the father of Billy Mitchell.  I hadn’t been in them in about 50 years, back when they were brand new.  While inside, a large thunderstorm moved over the area as we looked at flora from around the globe.  It got very dark.  It rained very hard.  Water came dribbling in, through cracks in the domes, and the leaks collected in many dozens of puddles. Sadly, the domes are in serious disrepair. 

Dark gloomy clouds and uncontrolled rain puddles are a fair metaphor for the domes themselves.  Milwaukee is in a crisis over what to do.  I imagine that Billy Mitchell fought feelings of despair, too, but then rallied to the very end.  I hope Milwaukee can rally and “go ahead” to save the domes.  They were visionary in their time, too.

Within the Domes: walkway with brick commemorating visionary dome architect, Donald Grieb

While strolling through the domes – dodging drips and puddles – thinking about the amazing Milwaukee Mitchell family, I couldn’t help thinking about my own family and the sunny Sunday my parents took me there, so long ago, when they were shiny and new.  Thanks mom and dad for taking us there.  You were good parents in countless ways.  You even let us watch Davey Crockett on TV… after our homework was done.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2019

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing me at Joe@Girardmeister.com.

Letting Go

I can vividly remember the house I grew up in, in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee,Wisconsin.  It still amazes me to no end that my parents raised six kids in that tiny rambler.

White and blue, with a modicum of brick façade, it sat, conveniently, part way up a gently sloping hill.  It was downhill from our house, along North 49th street, down to “the creek” where 49th stopped for a few blocks and you had to turn onto Churchill Lane.  The creek, in turn, flowed from there a mile or so to the Milwaukee River: that brown, slothful, murky body of water that I sometimes walked to for fishing — until I turned 16 and needed a fishing license. Along the creek friends and I would sometimes plunge in to catch frogs and crawdads.  I guess that’s what young boys do. It’s astonishing I didn’t get ill more often.

I called the hill convenient.  That’s because the gentle slope helped all of us learn to ride a bicycle.  Each of us progressed from trike to bike, with training wheels of course.  Day by day dad would raise the training wheels until we could demonstrate that we’d keep our balance without the wheels touching pavement very much.  Then one training wheel would come off.  We were on parole.  After another few days, or a week, the big day came: dad took off the other training wheel.

This is where the hill came in handy.  You need a bit of speed — especially as a beginner — to steadily balance a bicycle.  The hill helped.  The hill plus dad, running alongside for 50 or 100 yards, holding the bicycle, helping with speed and balance.  Back up the hill we’d walk, pushing the bike. Then again. Then again.

Each successive iteration dad held the bike less firmly, until — finally — he was just trotting alongside … smiling widely.  He did this for each of six children.

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My wife and I had three children, whom we raised in two different houses in Colorado.  Each house sat on a street partway up a slight hill. How convenient.

Those were some of the simplest, yet happiest, moments of fatherhood.  I can still see myself, thinking of my dad’s beaming face, trotting alongside each child.  Did they know how loved they were?  In their own joy and pride … could they sense any of the same in me?

Finally it is time.  You let go.

Sometimes they still fell, or forgot how to use the brakes, scraped their knees and hands.

Then you meet them at their needs.  Retreat to simply running alongside, or gently holding.

And finally it is the last time.  You let go.  One last time.  You stop running after them…

You smile, knowing that they, with their back to you — swerving wildly — are probably smiling too.

____________________________

That was decades ago. They are all grown now. I’m pretty good by now at letting go. There are still a few things I should let go of.

But those memories?  Never.

Joe Girard © 2017

Six Kids, Spring 1968

Simply Degenerate

Date line: April, 2015.

My wife and I made a little getaway to Missouri this past February. If you’ve been there in winter, there’s a good chance you’ll understand why I often call it “the state of Misery.” Anyhow, en route from Saint Louis to Hannibal we spent time in the formerly not so well-known — but now very well-known — community of Ferguson, Missouri.

Two rounds of riots there in 2014 resulted in multiple cars and buildings being burned. Businesses were ruined. These riots were the aftershocks from (1) the killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, and (2) the Saint Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to NOT indict said police officer Darren Wilson.

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

Ferguson Brewery, Ferguson, MO

We found the community of just over 20,000 to be really quite delightful. Churches and grocery stores and homes of all sorts: like you’d expect anywhere else. We stopped in at the Ferguson Brewing Company, a cheery micro-brewery with a full kitchen and pub menu. There we enjoyed lunch and a beverage. The place was hopping, and the beers we selected were hoppy too. The patrons were mostly pale faced, but scattered about were ebony and ivory-skinned customers, even sitting at the same tables.

We made it a point to drive through the sections of town where buildings and been torched – destroyed by fires from the riots. Laundromats, liquor stores, auto parts stores, restaurants. Pretty much without rhyme or pattern, concentrated mostly in two different parts of the city. Actually, some destruction spilled over into nearby Dellwood, MO.

We stopped at the spot where young Mr. Brown was killed. Even in February, six months after the shooting, there was still a memorial to him there, on Canfield Drive, near Copper Creek Court.

We felt it important to spend some time there: to contemplate the location and its significance. It’s only a few blocks from the Ferguson Market, on Florrisant Avenue.

[What city has TWO major streets near each other with the same name? In this case “Florrisant.” Oh yeah, Atlanta. Almost every other street is named

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Michael BrownMemorial, Canfield Dr, Ferguson, MO

Peach Tree.]

The Ferguson Market is where the petty theft – and physical abuse of a 120-lb weakling store clerk by 290-pound Mr. Brown – occurred that resulted in Officer Wilson locking onto a young man of Mr. Brown’s description. That theft occurred about 10 minutes before their most unfortunate fateful rendezvous.

This was all brought freshly to mind for me a few weeks ago during the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness.

“What?”

Right. The College basketball national championship tournament. Why? Because white people riot too, and for really, really stupid reasons. Over and over again.

Kentucky was the odds-on favorite to win the championship. Basketball is religion in Kentucky. The Lexington-based school has won 8 National championship titles, including as recently as 2012. They’ve been runner up twice, including 2013, and National semi-finalists, an additional four times, to my counting at least, including 2011.

That’s a pretty impressive record, given that there are, oh, I don’t know, something like 400 colleges and university basketball teams competing at the Division-I level.

But this year they lost to Wisconsin in the National semi-final match. Which means if there are 400 schools, their basketball team is better than 398 of them. So what did their fans in Lexington, Kentucky do after the semi-final match? They rioted. Burned cars. Trashed buildings. Barricaded the streets. Fought Police.

Really? — Really.

And this is nothing new. Last year, 2014, Kentucky made it all the way to the National Championship game and lost to Connecticut. Guess what?

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Ah, precedence.

In 2012 Kentucky made it to the National semi-final. That time they defeated in-state super-hated arch-rival Louisville. Kentucky won the game. Win? They won? Yes, they won.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

Two nights later Kentucky was in the National championship match and won, defeating Kansas. This time another win!! A National Championship. Oh the glory.

The fans in Lexington rioted.

More precedence.

Back in 2011 Kentucky was defeated in the National semi-final by Connecticut (a bit of a nemesis) …

Yes, you guessed it …

The fans in Lexington rioted.

You know. Just the basic stuff. Burn cars. Tear down light posts. Throw rocks at police. Vandalize buildings. Mug passers-by.

You’d think the police and city fathers in Lexington would be a bit wise to the whole thing by now.

What is weird is that the fans are mostly well-lubricated white people rioting because the mostly black student athletes performed so well that their expectations were that they would win a Nation championship … or else. Or else what? We’ll riot either way.

In 2013 Kentucky’s record was not good enough to even get into the championship tournament (a fate that befalls the vast majority of teams). So, Kentucky pretty much sucked that year … at least by Kentucky standards. Guess what? NO RIOTS! Go figure.

White people rioting for stupid reasons (or no reason) is nothing new. Even in my current “home” metro area – Denver, CO – fans rioted when the Colorado Avalanche won the NHL’s (National Hockey League) Stanley Cup in 1996. Sure this was the first major championship in Colorado. That warrants a riot. (#sarcasm).

The next year the football Broncos won the Super Bowl. No riot. But then they won their second straight Super Bowl, 1998, … more riots. Really? Yeah. Let’s get really pissed and burn some sh*t. No riots when the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup again in 2001. A whiff of sanity.

They don’t riot for no reason in Milwaukee. Or in the whole state of Wisconsin.

I do remember the summer riots of 1967: Barricades in the street. Our humble suburb blocked off at the municipal city limits. Restrictions on gasoline sales: it had to go right into auto tanks; not into portable tanks. People who wanted to mow their lawn (pre-electric mowers) had to bring the grass-cutter right to the gas station.

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

A permanent scar on our country and on our memory. Newark, NJ, 1967

It was a time of tremendous social unrest – upheaval – and Milwaukee was not spared. Those ’67 riots were not senseless or without reason. They were tied in with the civil rights movement, disappointment with lack of progress from the ’64 Civil Rights Acts, and the move toward freedom of expression, and of course the anti-war movements of the ‘60s. There were a shocking 159 riots in the United States in 1967. One Hundred and Fifty-nine. Mostly race related, they broke out in LA, Cleveland, Minneapolis, everywhere it seemed. The most violent were Detroit and Newark. Too vivid. Too vivid. I remember this gruesome Life Magazine photo from the Newark riots. Burned into my RAM.

The causes, racial participants, locations and provocateurs of these riots were far ranging. From Encyclopedia.com:

“… the year 1967 ended with a final act of violence in late October, when antiwar protesters from around the country moved on Washington, D.C. Those who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on 21 October were largely white, largely middle class, largely educated, and formerly mainstream in their politics. But, when U.S. Army units met them with fixed bayonets, they took to the streets of the capital in an out-break of destructive rioting and constructive confrontation, and 650 were arrested.”

Fixed bayonets for those expressing freedom to assemble? Freedom of expression? Hell yeah, riot. We don’t turn the military on the public in the US. Riots!

Still, I don’t think that places like Wisconsin or Minneapolis have experienced totally pointless riots, like Lexington. And Denver. Maybe I’m wrong. But I doubt it.

I’ll get in trouble for this, but I can’t help but wonder if this behavior doesn’t carry some sort of genetic pass-me-down from each area’s ancestral settlers.

Wisconsin was mostly settled by the “quiet disciplined” sort. Mostly Germans. Many Poles and Norwegians. Some English, with their stiff upper lips. Work hard. Don’t make a fuss. Stick to your own business and do it well. Get it done and move quietly along to the next thing. “Don’t rock the boat” type of settlers.

Early Irish and Scottish immigrants to the New World were largely unwelcomed by the English and moved west, settling in the rugged Shenandoah and Appalachian Mountains. When the Cumberland Gap popped open they began moving into the territory that would become the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.

I’m not calling the Scots and Irish “rioters” (in fact, I love them, their culture and sense of humor), but they probably don’t have a reputation for spontaneously breaking into (a) drink, (b) song, (c) dance, and (d) fight for no reason. Germans, Poles, Norwegians … they just don’t do that. Ok, maybe they do the drinking part. ☺

Before I get in any more trouble, I’ll close with saying that Wisconsin lost in this year’s (2015) NCAA championship match to Duke University – after defeating Kentucky in the semi-finals. I’ll admit to being partial, but there were many questionable calls during the second half. It seemed that every 50/50 out-of-bounds ball was awarded to Duke, and Wisconsin frequently fouled Duke players with their chins, foreheads and eye-brows.

Nevertheless: There were no riots.

Wisconsin fans did not riot when they beat Kentucky in the semi-final, nor when they lost to Duke in the final.

For emphasis: Last year, 2014, Wisconsin made it all the way to the semi-finals, losing to Kentucky (by one point!, 74-73).

There were no riots.

Meanwhile, in late 2014, while overwhelmingly mostly peaceful riots were going on around the entire country in sympathy with the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson, something weird was going on in Keene, New Hampshire. Keene State College – mostly white, upper class privileged kids – had their annual Pumpkin Festival.

Yes. You guessed it. … Riots broke out.

Riots broke out.

Drunken brawls. Random fires and mayhem. Burned and overturned cars. Vandalized buildings.

The media are deluding us.

Well, New Hampshire is the “Live Free, or Die” state.  Love the motto.  Hate the riots.

Wishing you peaceful, riot-free and headache-free spring, summer and fall.

Peace,
Joe Girard © 2015

[1] Encyclopedia.com: 1967 Riots. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401803621.html

Milwaukee – Melting Pot within the Melting Pot

 

December, 1962.  Christmas week.

 

I was 6 years old, halfway through the first grade, with three younger siblings.

 

My parents must have been crazy.  Or maybe moving the family with four little children made them crazy.

 

I could not remember ever being so cold, even though I was running a torrid fever and with a dreadful sore throat.

 

That was my first experience of Milwaukee.

 

————

 

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things…”
Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking Glass

 

Preface:

Since experiencing a violent car crash seven months ago, I’ve spent quite a bit of time resting, recovering and reflecting.  Like the Walrus and the Carpenter, I’ve thought on many things. I’ve reflected on my life. I’m reminded again that it is temporary.

I’ve contemplated on not a few parts of my life, what I’ve experienced, what I’ve learned, and what it all means.  I remain a committed skeptic and agnostic, yet I’m more open to new possibilities.  I’m more aware of mankind’s struggles, even down to the individual level.

And some thoughts turned to my youth – those formative years.  I pondered how I could weave my youth – or more precisely, my hometown as a child – into my current running theme of early 20th century history, especially the period 1900-14, which I call the Edwardian/Pre-war era.

This is a sort of Thanksgiving essay.  I’m so very thankful for the support I’ve received from my wife, family and friends – and at work.  And so very thankful that recovery continues to reach new levels.

  • During a very, very relaxing week in Calgary to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with our son and new daughter-in-law (Mazel Tov!) I was able to begin to stitch together some patches of memories, some research and facts into a working outline.

  • During this US Thanksgiving week, I’ve finally felt well enough to work that patchy outline into an essay about my boyhood memories and my boyhood hometown and state: Milwaukee & Wisconsin. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It is a bit longer than my usual works.

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Overview:

The United States, despite its disgraceful xenophobic phases and elements, has quite rightly been referred to as The Great Melting Pot.  Her welcome to arrivals from around the world – who come with different values, cultures, beliefs and languages – is renowned.  They continue to be  welcomed to a land that makes individual rights superior to the will of the majority; and individual rights superior to the will the state. [1] Her welcome is inscribed upon the colossal statue of the Roman goddess Libertas – that 19th century gift from the French – that looks out over New York harbor to hopeful, dreamy immigrants: “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free!”[2]

 

In this, the 7th essay discussing the significance of events during the Edwardian/pre-war ear (approximately 1900-1914), we’ll investigate this Melting Pot phenomenon in the state of Wisconsin, and especially its largest city, Milwaukee.

 

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1. Milwaukee, 1960s – the Catholics

 

 

I think it was December 26, 1962.  We arrived in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, a small suburb that abuts Milwaukee’s northern limits: six of us packed in a station wagon, bundled and huddled together against the bitter cold – twelve degrees below zero.  Gosh, I was sick with a rotten cold, and miserable … and lonely; we’d left all my friends behind.  Some boys in the new neighborhood were eager to make my acquaintance.  They’d have to wait; about two weeks later another arctic front dropped the temperatures into the minus 20s, and I just could not shake that awful cold.  But, patience paid off: the group of young lads accepted me as if I’d been there all along, and 52 years later I still have friends among them. [1]

 

The Girard family soon added two more children. We resided in Milwaukee until the day Nixon became the first (and hopefully only) US president to resign the office, in August, 1974.  Just over 11-½ years.  Milwaukee is the city of my childhood and childhood memories.

 

Upon settling in Milwaukee, we quickly became part of a local Catholic community, Our Lady of Good Hope – affectionately called OLGH. I was enrolled mid-school-year in the 1st grade at its parochial school, staffed mostly by nuns from the Sisters of (I think) the order of Saint Francis.

 

Not many school years rolled by before I became aware of the wide array of surnames.

  • There was O’Shea and Collins and McCarthy and FitzGerald and Riordon.
  • There was Kaminski and Lezniak and Jabloski and Lesznewski.
  • There was Schmidt, … and Ritter and Rector and Kohlschmidt and Mueller and Messmer and Bessmer. And Schroeder and Vogel, too.
  • A Vincenzi, D’Amato, Fiorenza, and Pucci and Puccinelli and Sardinia.
  • Even a Martinez family, decades before the great influx of Hispanics

All of these families came from very different places! Not all Catholics are the same! They all have different backgrounds and stories. For some reason this was a revelation to me.

_____________________________________

 

2. Milwaukee Immigration

 

European immigrants were drawn to Wisconsin and Milwaukee even during its simple beginnings in the 1830s and ’40s.  Conveniently located in America’s vast fertile heartland, with the best natural harbor on Lake Michigan’s western shores providing transportation [1] through the Great Lakes – and via the Erie Canal to the eastern states and the world – and then via the railroad explosion, Milwaukee provided what immigrants always wanted: freedom with a wide open chance to succeed, to ascend, without any pretense required, and without anyone really caring where you came from or what you thought.  As long as you were willing to work.

 

Immigrants continued to roll in throughout the 19th century.  By the dawn of the new century, Milwaukee was the country’s 14th largest city – its population nearly 300,000, over 80 percent of whom were either immigrants or first generation Americans.  If you were to overhear random denizens having a conversation in their first language, there was a 50-50 chance it would not be English; almost as likely was German [2]. After that, Polish, Norwegian and Italian. The ethnic cultures, habits and cuisine that still makes Milwaukee and Wisconsin famous – sausage, beer, cheese, a card game named Sheepshead (Schafskopf) – were well established by this time.

 

In 1901, when baseball expanded to have a second Major League – the American League – Milwaukee was deemed significant enough to be awarded one of the founding franchises: the original Milwaukee Brewers.  The stands at the Lloyd Street stadium, between 16th and 18th streets, were seldom very full; despite a well-developed network of citywide streetcars, they were unable to attract many of the hard working immigrants who hadn’t quite taken to baseball yet, and had better things to do: like pursue opportunity.  Milwaukee was decades away from being able to support a major league team.  They finished dead last in the American League and drew fewer than 2,000 patrons per game.  The Brewers left the next year for St Louis to be renamed the Browns. [3]

_____________________________________

 

3. Milwaukee 1960s and ‘70s – the Jews

 

In the 7th grade I started a part time summer job: caddying at a local golf club.  In the 8th grade I was recruited by an Irish-Catholic friend to move my caddy career to another nearby golf club, Brynwood Country Club.  Brynwood was an almost exclusively Jewish club, and I subsequently worked on and off there for the next four and a half years.

 

I had not met many Jews, but I considered myself pretty aware of Judaism through extensive religious, as well as history, education at OLGH.  Still, I had regarded Jews as all, more or less, the same.

 

At Brynwood I again became aware of the wide variety of surnames.

  • There was Berlin, and Stein; Wagner and Bernstein; the Grossmans and the Reismans; Adler and Ackerman; several Siegels, Epsteins and variations on Meier. Rosen and Rosenberg and Rosenthal.
    • I’d studied enough to know these were all German names.
  • Then: all the Levin, Levine and Levy families.
  • But what about Schlimovitz, and Markovitz and Hurwitz and Abramowitz?
  • And then the Razansky, Lewinsky and Posen and Posner families.

All of these families came from very different places! Not all Jews are the same! They all have different backgrounds and stories. For some reason this was a revelation to me.

_____________________________________

 

4. Milwaukee Immigration – the Jews

 

Jews also came to Milwaukee from Europe, almost since the city’s very beginnings in the 1840s, and throughout the 19th century.  Most came from Germany.  They were intelligent, and used the precise, sharp, hard guttural consonants of a well-educated and well-spoken German.

 

Although never more than 2 or 3 percent of the city’s populace, and usually much less, they had considerable influence as entrepreneurs and professionals – starting businesses, practicing law and engineering. They considered themselves German, and integrated well within the disciplined, hardworking, generous German-speaking non-Jewish Milwaukeeans.

 

Things began to change dramatically in the 1890s and early 1900s.  Pogroms in Central and Eastern Europe motivated many Ashkenazi Jews to leave their homelands and towns and come to America – and to Milwaukee.  Think “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Not as economically well-off or educated, and speaking a slang-ish “soft” dialect loosely based on German, but about as much like German as Ebonics or Creole Pidgin is to English, they were not accepted by the educated, sophisticated and integrated Jews of the time.

 

Adding to the new arrivals’ assimilation problem, most established Midwest Jews practiced Reform Judaism, modifying their customs and practices to fit with the rapidly evolving American times.  The Ashkenazi arrivals were mostly Orthodox; their religion literally directed and permeated every detail of their lives.

 

As the century changed from 19th to 20th, so too did attitudes toward the newly arrived Jews change, and by the mid-decade of the 1900s, new arrivals were accepted and supported by the local established Jews. They too became educated and entrepreneurial; became high achievers who contributed significantly to the greater community of Milwaukee, and the world.

 

Let’s take a brief look at three such local Jewish families to close out this glimpse through the Time Machine: the Mabovitch, the Kohl and the Binsock/Feingold families.

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5. Goldie Mabovitch

 

Moshe Mabovitch knew he and his family had to move far from their home, near Kiev, Ukraine.  They needed to emigrate desperately.  The Jewish community had been victims of oppressive laws and pogroms.  But they needed money.

 

Moshe left in 1903, and – after a stint in New York – moved to Milwaukee in 1905, finding a steady job in the railroad yards.  By 1906 he’d saved enough to buy interest in a small grocery store on Milwaukee’s north side, and saved enough to move his family there, too.  They set about building a new life for themselves and their three daughters: Sheyna, Goldie and Tzipke. Five other siblings had not survived childhood.

 

Education was paramount, even for girls; it meant better opportunity.  Goldie especially excelled, achieving top-of-class status at the Fourth Street Grade School [1] – despite speaking English as a fourth (or fifth) language, and learning that language only after arriving, at age eight.

 

Goldie went on to Milwaukee’s North Division High School, doing well enough – despite taking time off to visit her married sister Sheyna in Denver – to gain entrance to the Milwaukee State Normal School (teachers’ college) on Milwaukee’s north side (This is now the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, UWM)

 

A few years later, Goldie married Morris Meyerson (Mazel Tov!), whom she met while visiting her sister, who was recuperating from tuberculosis in Denver.  In an ironic twist, she had left Milwaukee at age 14 because her mother was pressuring her to get married.  After meeting Meyerson, she returned to North Division to graduate, and then married Meyerson in her parents’ living room. They had two children … but none of this is what Goldie is known for.

 

Goldie’s experience with oppression led to her indomitable desire for a Jewish homeland. Well, one thing led to another, and – to make a very long story short – in 1949 “Goldie” Mabovitch Meyerson was elected to the parliament (Knesset) of the new nation of Israel.  In 1956, as the government’s Foreign Minister under David ben-Gurion, she agreed to a request to take on a Hebrew last name. She took Meir, which means “illuminate.”

 

Golda Meir of course went on to become Prime Minister from 1969-74, only the third democratically chosen female head-of-state in the modern era.[2] Meir led her county through the crises of the Munich Olympics and Yom Kippur War.

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6. The Kohls

 

I met Maxwell “Max” Kohl, and his three sons (Herbert “Herb”, Sidney “Sid” and Allen) during my five summers working at Brynwood Country Club. All were very pleasant, if somewhat reserved.

 

As a youth, Max lived in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had mostly been historically Polish.  Although a mere teenage lad and a non-combatant, Max was captured by Russian soldiers during World War I and spent most of the war as a prisoner in Siberia.  After returning home – which had become repatriated to the resurrected nation of Poland – he immigrated to the US in 1921 when he was twenty. [1]

 

Settling in Milwaukee, Max met and married Mary Hiken, a Russian-Jewish immigrant.  They worked hard and saved enough money to set up a small neighborhood grocery store.  Then another, and another.

 

By the end of World War II the country was primed for economic explosion on many fronts.  “New” and “big” meant better: from cars, to neighborhoods and houses, to travel.  Max Kohl was ready with an idea he had experimented with in his small stores: the self-serve Supermarket, each with a stand-alone deli, bakery, and even butcher and, eventually, floral departments. The first Kohl’s supermarket opened in Milwaukee in 1946.  By the 1970s some sixty iconic stores, with their arched facade, spread out over Wisconsin – as well as a few in northern Illinois and Indiana.

 

[One last autobiographical note: I worked in a Kohl’s grocery supermarket in fall-spring 1973-‘74.]

Classic Kohl's Supermarket Facade

Classic Kohl’s Supermarket Facade

 

In 1962, the Kohl family also began opening a string of general merchandise stores.  By the time I met them, around 1970 or ’71, sons Sid, Allen and Herb were managing the business, Max was in semi-retirement, and the controlling interest in the business was being sold off for many millions of dollars.

 

Herb and Allen stayed on to manage the business until 1979, when the family became fully financially divested from the Kohl’s label.  In 1985, when the Milwaukee Bucks (Milwaukee’s National Basketball Association franchise) threatened to leave the city, Herb Kohl wrote a check to buy the team.  It turned out to be quite a bargain, at only $18 million.  (He sold the franchise in 2014 for $550 million). Allen stayed with the new Kohl’s company as an executive, helping manage the company’s booming department store expansion from coast to coast to become America’s largest retail store chain, currently with over 1,100 stores in 49 states.

 

Of more consequence, however: Herb Kohl served as one of Wisconsin’s two senators, representing the state in Washington for four terms. He was elected in 1988, 1994, 2000 and 2006, declining to run in 2012. He’s tied for 2nd with Alexander Wiley at 24 years of senate service; only William Proxmire has served longer in the Senate for Wisconsin.  With nice bookends, Kohl campaigned in 1988 on the theme “Nobody’s senator, but yours”; and announced his retirement saying: “The office doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and there is something to be said for not staying in office too long.” [2]

_________________________________

7.  The Binstock/Feingold Family

 

Around 1900, the Binsock family immigrated to the US from Poland [1] settling in Memphis, TN. The Feingolds arrived from Russia, settling first in New York, later in 1917 in Janesville, Wisconsin.  Their first generation children, Sylvia and Leon, met – like Golda Meir and Morris Meyerson – in Denver, Colorado.  Unlike the Meyersons, they were married there, too, in Denver; my current home metro-area.  Mazel Tov!

 

Leon and Sylvia relocated to Leon’s boyhood town, in Janesville, about 70 miles southwest of Milwaukee, near Wisconsin’s southern border with Illinois, in the 1940s.  Janesville, as a rich agricultural center, was important enough to Milwaukee that a wood-plank road was built between them in the mid-19th century.[2]

 

Leon practiced law; Sylvia worked in the township land office.  Four children arrived, including two sons: David and Russell.  David, the oldest, influenced Russell to be interested in politics…which he had some success at.

 

In 1992, Russell “Russ” Feingold was elected to represent Wisconsin in the US Senate.  He vowed to never take a cent of Political Action Committee money; and he didn’t.  He was re-elected twice, in ’98 and ’04, serving a total of 18 years, before being defeated in 2010 by Ron Johnson. He was a very principled and humble senator, and both he and Wisconsin can take pride in his service. (There are some highlights of his career in the footnotes). [3]

 

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8. Wrapping Up

 

Even with the great numbers of Jews in places like New York, New Jersey and Florida [1]<, there must be something special about Wisconsin, that melting pot within a melting pot. For it was Wisconsin that became – at the same time as California – the first state to have both senate seats held by Jews.[2]  And it was Milwaukee, Wisconsin that provided the fertile setting for a little immigrant Jewish girl to blossom and eventually become a head of state – the first female head of state of a western nation.

 

_________________________________

 

 

Perhaps, then, it comes as no surprise that Emma Lazarus – the great American poet who penned the lines “Give me your tired, your poor” with which the Statue of Liberty welcomes immigrants – was Jewish, from Sephardic descent.

 

Gazing back through the decades, I’ve grown to be proud of my childhood hometown.  It is a special place within a special country: where anyone, including immigrants and their descendants can ascend to dizzying heights within one or two generations.  Let’s keep it that way.

 

Shalom Havarim!

 

Joe Girard ©  2014

 

Footnotes:

Overview:

[1] First ten amendments, and amendments thirteen, fourteen and fifteen, to the Constitution of the United States.

 

[2] From the Sonnet “The New Colossus”, by Emma Lazarus:

 

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

 

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

 

  1. Milwaukee, 1960s – the Catholics

[1] Boyhood friendships: Friendship 50.  https://sites.google.com/site/girardmeister2/friendship-50

 

  1. Milwaukee Immigration

[1] Milwaukee’s natural harbor (and other stuff) … http://www.themakingofmilwaukee.com/history/

[2] 38% 1st tongue German speakers in 1900.  Wisconsin German Land and Life; Heike Bungert, Cora Lee Kluge, and Robert C. Ostergren; by Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies, 2006

Several thousand more were from Switzerland, mostly from German speaking Cantons. http://csumc.wisc.edu/mki/Ethnic/ethn-his.html

About 20% of Milwaukeeans were Polish Immigrants or 1st generation Poles in 1900.  www.themakingofmilwaukee.com/people/stories.cfm,
However it is difficult to give accurate numbers, since Poland did not exist as a state from 1795 until 1918. Because of German and Austro-Hungarian dominance, many spoke German well enough to pass as Germans to English speakers.

 

[3] The Saint Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954, becoming the Orioles and still retaining its American League affiliation.

Curious side note: in 1901 the original American League had a Baltimore franchise named the Orioles.  They moved to New York in 1903, becoming the New York Highlanders, and, eventually, the New York Yankees.

 

In 1901, the Milwaukee Brewers finished 48-89; a win ratio of only 0.350 – horrible. In the dead ball era, they gave up an average of over 6 runs per game, perhaps doomed by a fielding percentage of only 0.934.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/MLA/1901.shtml

 

  1. Milwaukee 1960s and 70s – the Jews
  2. The Jews

 

  1. Goldie Mabovitch

[1] This school is now named “Golda Meir Elementary School”

[2] Indira Gandhi of India and Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Ceylon preceded Meir as democratically chosen female heads of state

 

  1. The Kohls

[1] Some sources say Maxwell Kohl arrived in the US in 1924, some say 1921.  For instance, his bio in the Milwaukee Journal, when he passed away in 1983.

[2] Odd Herb Kohl note: at college (University of Wisconsin) roomed with boyhood friend, Bud Selig, now the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Selig is also Jewish.

 

 

  1. Binstock-Feingold Family

[1] Actually from the Polish speaking region of Galicia — a small kingdom near the junction of Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia and Hungary — with bits of Romanian culture thrown in.  Under Austro-Hungarian rule at the time, it was willfully and administratively economically depressed so as to avoid industrial development, and instead be a breadbasket for the rest of the empire. Most Jews in Galicia were not just Orthodox, they were Hasidic.

Galicia ceased to exist as a political entity of any sort at the end of World War 1.

 

[2] The entire route of the Janesville-Milwaukee wood-plank road still exists today.  Most of the length is still named “Janesville Road”, shortened from the original name “Janesville Plank Road.”  The diagonal section within Milwaukee County was renamed Forest Home Avenue in 1871. Plank roads went out of style in the 1860s, as railroad became more efficient, reliable and widespread.

[3] Although a loyal Democrat — a friend to hard working families — Feingold held some principled positions that many current Republicans can appreciate (besides not taking PAC money.)

  • He was the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act, seeing within it the possibility of an unrestrained police state — perhaps portending the massive invasive spying of the NSA exposed about 10 years later by Edward Snowden.
  • He voted against No Child Left Behind on the principle that local control of schools was much preferable to big central government control.
  • He teamed with Republican John McCain to get the McCain-Feingold Act passed; a gallant and ultimately failed attempt to get much of the dirty money out of politics.
  • Feingold always had the lowest net worth of any senator, returned all his pay raises to the treasury, and left as he came in: humble, of simple means, unapologetic and owing no one anything.

 

 

  1. Wrapping Up

[1] Jewish population by state: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/usjewpop.html

— Wisconsin is near the bottom at 0.5%; California near the top at 3.2%

— Top two are: New York, 9%; New Jersey 5.7%

Nationally it is about 2%

 

— By pure numbers

  1. New York, 1.8Million
  2. California, 1.2Million

 

 

[2] Wisconsin is tied with California as the first state to have two Jewish senators.  In January 1993 Barbara Levy Boxer was sworn in as California’s 2nd Jewish senator, joining Diane Goldman Feinstein — who was seated the previous November to complete Pete Wilson’s term — on the same day that Russ Feingold was sworn in.

Later, Connecticut had two Jewish Senators from Jan 2011 to Jan 2013 (Lieberman and Blumenthal; Lieberman retired in Jan 2013; Blumenthal is still in the Senate).