Tag Archives: St Louis

Driving Me Dazy

Driving on highways is different wherever one travels.  The US has large expanses of land, and most major cities have many miles between them, hence national highways are sort of laid out and numbered in a grid pattern.  Look at national maps for even the largest European countries, like France and Germany, and it can look like that pot of spaghetti you spilled on the kitchen floor while trying to “help” your mom when you were 9 years old.

United States Interstate traffic carries ~25% of all vehicle miles, and ~80% of all commercially transported product, by value

It’s OK.  You felt bad when you spilled dinner, but mom made it a learning experience and you are a better person for it.  Now we’re going to make a little sense of those European “spilled spaghetti” highway maps.

Although these countries individually generally do not lend themselves to a US-style grid and grid-number system, both because of history and geography, they do indeed have patterns.  These are not very useful, if you want my biased opinion.  Well, perhaps useful for rote memorization.

European countries all have several “levels” of highway, just as in the US.  And each level will carry different amounts of traffic, depending on demand and the level.  For example, in the US, the Interstate Highway system has very high demand, and has the highest standard.  Although comprising only about 1% of all US highways by mileage, the Interstate highways carry 25% of highway traffic by vehicle miles.  That’s astounding.  A little more on this later.

I’ll use the two largest European countries, France and Germany, as examples here (um, “largest” not counting Russia).  Each also, naturally, has multiple levels of highway.  Or Classes.  Each has an “A”, or top level “motorway.”  In Germany the A stands for Autobahn.  Of course.  In France it is A for an Autoroute.  These are limited access, high speed, and high standard roadways; in France there is often a toll involved – and they are quite expensive. 

Each has a second-tier highway as well. In France, it’s the N highways, or Route Nationale.  Germany’s second-tier are “B” (which makes more sense, B following A), for Bundesstraßen – or Federal Roads.  These are often quite nice as well.

Speaking of expensive. Beware of radar speed detectors, especially on the B or N roads.  Speed limits rise and fall rapidly around mid- and smaller-sized cities.  Where it falls suddenly – often with scant warning – there is almost sure to be an automatic radar speed detector. If you flinch when you see a sudden flash (usually blue), you’ve been nicked. Your car rental company will make sure you get all of these resulting traffic tickets, while the ticket processing fees are inevitably pinned to your credit card.  Sneaky European bastards. You can generally ignore the tickets themselves; they make nice wallpaper, or fire starters, tools to study another language, whatever. (I hear Italy is the absolute worst). The money grabbers, er, ah, traffic officials will try to collect for about 6 months.  Ignore them. They will give up…eventually. But the processing fees for the car hire company are unavoidable. Those cost about $25 a pop.

As much of the highway patterns initially look like spilled spaghetti to an American European-car-vacation beginner, one cannot imagine at first that there is a numbering pattern.  The routes generally link larger cities and often follow – or run roughly parallel to – centuries’ old trade routes.  Often newer, higher standard “A” routes run near the “B” or “N” routes, but bypassing the snarled urban areas. But … an actual numbering pattern?

France’s Autoroute (A) network. Spokes leading to/from Paris

Well, of course there is a pattern.  We are talking Germans here.  How could Germans not have a pattern? And the French would hate to be outdone by their European rival brother. 

Germany’s single digit Autobahn A highways are border to border (except 2, apparently)


In both countries highway number sequences are assigned by region.  It’s that simple.  In France, the major highways near Paris seem to get most of the lower numbers; and they sort of radiate out from there, like crooked spokes on a banged up old bicycle wheel.  In Germany the single digit “A” autobahn highways have single digit numbers if they run across the entire country – border-to-border, so to speak.  The rest are assigned by region: for example, any Autobahn in Bavaria has an ID number in the 90s.

Yet, the Europeans have demonstrated a sort of “Highway-Pattern-and-Numbering-Envy”.  “Envy of whom?” you ask.  Of course, the United States.
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In September 1925 – nearly a century ago – a small committee of national highway officials met at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown St. Louis. One of their tasks? To assign numbers to the new federal highway system. Other related tasks involved national highway standards: e.g. widths, grades, surfaces, signs and markings. This would become the US Highway system.

Until then, as in Europe, major roads – and later highways – followed older trails: in the US either old Amerindian, pioneer or fur trade routes. And, to make it complicated, each state had their own system for numbering highways (sometimes letters or names), even if  they “linked up” with a highway in an adjoining state.  They were twisted too; they often directed motorists on less than efficient paths, in order to promote commerce in remote, but politically well-connected, towns and villages. [many US highways retain these rather anachronistic vestiges, wandering through downtown and business sectors of towns, villages and cities].

Well, in what seems to have been accomplished in a single day, September 25th, a small committee of five Chief State Engineers (from Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina) devised the US Highway numbering system.  With few exceptions, it’s still in use today. 

Ah, the beauty, power and efficiencey of small but powerful committees.  China, anyone? Anyhow …

These mighty five decided that highways leading mostly north/south would be assigned odd numbers, with the lowest starting along the east coast. These odd-numbers would increase as you moved west, with the highest odd-numbers being along the west coast. The longest and/or most important N/S routes would end with the number five.

Routes that went mostly East/West would be assigned even numbers; with lower numbers in the north, and increasing to larger numbers in the south.  The longest and/or most important E/W routes would end with the number zero. For example: the first transcontinental highway, also called the Lincoln Highway, was US Highway 20. 

The beloved and ballyhooed highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, which we know as “Route 66”, was originally to be numbered Route 60.  But Kentucky governor William Field wanted the more important sounding 60 to run through his state. Route 66 is officially retired, but signs and the famous song still commemorate “66”, and its representation for our attraction for the open road.

This is the US Highway numbering system still in use today.

A few decades later, in the 1950s, when President Eisenhower got the nationwide super highway system approved (the so-called Interstate Highway System, officially called the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways”) the numbering scheme for the new system was kept more or less intact.  With one major twist.

Key to Interstate Highway numbering: these shown end in 5 or 0; to they go border to border, or sea-to-sea, or sea-to-border. See extra figure in footnotes.

To avoid number confusion with the US Highway numbers, the lower numbered North/South Interstate routes would be in the west, instead of the east, increasing as the numbering moved east.  And the lower numbered East/West routes would be in the south, instead of the north, increasing as the “grid” progressed north.  [They wanted no number ambiguity or confusion, which was possible in the middle of the country: fly-over country. So they made a rule that there are no duplicate US numbers and Interstate numbers within the same state. This is the main reason there is no Interstate 50 or 60. And the north/south number confusion was solved by having so many highways in the more densely populated east.]

Although mainly sold as something to facilitate national defense, the Interstate system by far has had its greatest effect on commerce, and next tourism. Up to 80% of the nation’s commercial product (by value and mile) is moved to market, or between suppliers and factories, along Interstate highways. Its effect on individual or family travel: Driving across many states, or the entire nation, has been a summer vacation right-of passage in many families for decades. Many commuters use it as well.

US Highways (left) and Interstate Highways (right) have different markings and colors. US 40 (or Route 40) runs near Interstate 70 (or I-70) across much of the country, from the east coast, across the Rocky Mtns to Utah.

A few asides on the numbering systems. [Recall there is a difference between US Highways (often called “Routes”) and Interstate Highways.]

(1) The US coastal highways do not follow the “5” designation for major N/S routes: US 1 runs along the entire east coast, with US 99 and 101 running along, or near, the west coast. Neither end in a 5. [See add’l map in footnotes].

(2) Three-digit US highway numbers show highways that are sort of alternates to the original: for example, US 287 which passes through my neighborhood, goes north/south through the same regions as US 87.  Both go from the CAN-US border in Montana down to the Texas gulf coast. Both US 85 and US 285 also pass near our home. 85 goes from the US-CAN border in North Dakota all the way to the Mexican border in El Paso; 285 branches off from 85 in Denver and winds down to dusty west Texas as well.

(3) For the Interstate system, three digit numbers generally indicate loops or by-passes if the first digit is even (I-405 loops around Seattle, but otherwise is on the I-5 path) or, if the first digit is odd, it denotes spurs that shoot out to facilitate transport and commerce (I-190 in Chicago connects I-90 to O’Hare airport).

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The United Nations was formed in 1945 at the close of World War 2 to help countries peaceably work together.  Well, in short order the UN had a commission for pretty much everything.  One of those was the UN Economic Commission for Europe (or UNECE). 

Around 1950 the UNECE looked first at the many highways in Europe, noting that they – like in the US before the 1925 St Louis Commission – often changed identification as they crossed boundaries. National boundaries in the case of Europe.  They noticed the numbering systems were messy and inconsistent. They also anticipated economic growth as recovery from war progressed, which would require more and better roads.  The vision was vast, eventually reaching from the UK and Ireland (island nations!) to Central Asia, and beyond … almost to China. A potential for a vast grid and simple, consistent numbering based on the cardinal directions! To wit: Copying the US approach.

These are the “E” highways shown on maps.  It is a separately numbered set of highways, much more often than not simply using existing highways. The “E” numbers were just placed alongside the “A” — and in some cases the “B” or “N” — numbers on signs and maps.

With some exceptions, they followed the US example for the “E” highways.  Generally North/South are odd; East/West are even. They have secret codes for loops and spurs and local funkiness, just as in the US. The “E” highways are generally “A” class: that is, limited access and high speed.  Yeah, there are exceptions, and lots more tedious details, but it’s kinda cool that this system extends from Ireland to Kyrgyzstan. In fact, the E 80 goes from Lisbon to Tokyo!

E highways even span the the North Sea (although the UK refuses to implement them; the M, for Motorway, system is quite satisfactory — you know: Brexit, not using the Euro and all that).

The E network throughout Europe and much of Asia, with numbering patterns based more or less on the US highway system

A consistent and logical numbering system for a huge grid of highways. Says the US: You’re welcome.  Bitte sehr.  Prego.  De nada. Molim.  Hey, have fun with it.  It’s working for us. Hope it continues to work for you.

Until next essay, I wish you safe travels with simple and uncomplicated maps and highways. Yes, even with simple easy to understand highway numbering, keep your GPS/SatNav on and up-to-date.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2020

Note of thanks to John Sarkis for his St Louis history blog, which provided many details and inspired this essay.

For my European friends and family — feel free to make corrections, additions or suggested edits in the comments on the A, B, E, N parts of the essay.

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

Extra figure showing US vs Interstate Numbering scheme.

US routes have low numbers in north and east.
Interstate numbers have low numbers in south and west.
US 10 used to run to Seattle, but was gradually replaced and de-commissioned as I-90 was completed in segments.

Baseball: Reflecting on some April History

I guess every baseball fan knows that this past weekend, on April 15, the sport “celebrated” Jackie Robinson Day — the day in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in a major league baseball game.

I put “celebrated” in quotes, because it is also a muted acknowledgement that baseball’s major leagues shut blacks out of participation for some 80 years until then … much to both their great loss and their fans’ loss.

Last summer my wife and I visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.  I knew many of the names, but seeing them displayed Hall of Fame-style was very powerful.  Rube Foster, Satchel Paige, the two “Bucks”, Buck Leonard and Buck O’Neil, Josh Gibson.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum entry

Josh Gibson, oh my gosh Josh.  Gibson hit so many home runs, about 800, that fans and sportwriters who had seen them both play often referred to Babe Ruth as “The White Josh Gibson.”  And he accomplished that while playing catcher, without a doubt the most physically demanding defensive position. And quite likely the most mentally demanding, as well. It was with a bit of a heavy heart that Robinson, and those blacks who soon followed, broke into the majors in those years.  Josh Gibson got a brain tumor and eventually died quite young, aged only 35, of a stroke from complications in January, 1947 … just months before Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  As the tumor started affecting him several years before — well …. there’s no telling how many more home runs he could have hit.  Or if he’d even made it to the Major Leagues, too.  <Sigh.>

As the current baseball season is already some three weeks old, modern baseball fans might wonder what took the Dodgers so long to play Robinson. Well, April 15th was Opening Day back then.  And anyone watching the weather throughout the Midwest and Northeast this spring will understand why.  Baseball is a summer game and it is pretty stupid to be playing all those games with temperatures in the 20s and 30s and snow flying around — in nearly empty stadiums.  Not to mention making for dangerous travel (lots of team buses back then).

Even with a “later” mid-April start, they pretty much had the entire season wrapped up — World Series and all — by the close of the first week in October; when the weather was usually still quite pleasant.  Compare that to today when the threat of snow and freezing weather is almost as bad at the close of the season (often the first week of November) as it is at the season’s opening.

Baseball is a summer game. How did they do it? Back then they only played 154 games a season (162 now) and had scheduled double-headers throughout the season. Most teams played as many as 25% of their games as double-headers well into the late 1950s. And playoffs weren’t the four or five week elimination ordeal they are now, with nearly one-third of teams making it to the playoffs instead of only two.

I well remember the joy of double-headers as a boy, two games in the hot sun with dad, lots of hot dogs and peanuts, yelling and screaming.  Trying to keep a score card. Watching scores from other games around the country on the outfield scoreboard. Game one in the early afternoon — noonish — and game two only 30 or 40 minutes after the last out of game one, barely long enough to re-chalk and drag the infield — in the late afternoon.  Falling asleep on the way home…. memories.

Well, speaking of history, April 17, 1945 is quite a famous day in baseball history, especially for St Louis Cardinal fans.  I’ve borrowed the following from a post by John Sarkis, who has given me permission to “lift” his work. He writes regularly regarding St Louis regional history.

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April 17, 1945, Albert “Red” Schoendienst played his first game in a Cardinal uniform. The Hall of Fame second-baseman from nearby Germantown, IL would play for the Redbirds for 15 seasons, the New York Giants for two years, and the Milwaukee Braves for four seasons before returning to the Cardinals for three years of limited action. As a player, coach, or manager he wore a major league uniform more than 70 consecutive years, and is currently the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On that same day native St. Louisan Harry Carabina, who became known as Harry Caray, made his debut as a Cardinal broadcaster. With the Cardinals and Browns sharing Sportsmans Park, the schedule provided that one of the teams would always be home, which allowed Harry to broadcast both Cardinals and Browns home games that season. He became a full-time Cardinals broadcaster in 1947. After being fired by Cardinal owner Gussie Busch, Caray spent 1970 calling Oakland Athletics games, then joined the Chicago White Sox in 1971. After 11 seasons on Chicago’s Southside, he moved to Wrigley Field in 1982. Harry suffered a stroke on Valentine’s Day, 1998, and passed away two days later.

Also on that day, the Brown’s legendary one-armed outfielder, Pete Gray, made his major league debut, getting one single in four at-bats off Les Mueller of the Detroit Tigers. As the MVP in the Southern League, Gray’s contract was purchased for $20,000 from the Memphis Chicks and he was called up as many of the regular major-leaguers were serving in the war. He had his best day in the majors on May 19, playing in Yankee Stadium and collecting five hits and two RBI as the Browns swept the Yankees. He was sent back to the minors when regular players began returning from overseas. Playing left and center field for the Browns, he appeared in 77 games, batting .218 with a .958 fielding percentage. Pete Gray, the only one-armed person to ever play in the major leagues, died on June 30, 2002. His glove is in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.

(Thanks John!)

[Editor notes.

There have been a very few other players who were similar to Gray, but having most of an arm yet no hand.  Most notably I remember one-handed Jim Abbott throwing a No-Hitter!!

Checking the almanac, the Browns played that game at home.  So Harry Caray called the game. ]

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Joe Girard © 2018

I got a name

Like the pine trees lining the winding road,
I got a name, I got a name.
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad,
I got a name, I got a name.
And I carry it with me like my daddy did… 
— Songwriters: Charles Fox, Norman Gimbel
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
(made famous by Jim Croce)

Yes I have a name.  And this is how I came to receive it.

My father was named Donald Joseph Girard.  As my name is Joseph Donald Girard, one might easily imagine — as I did for years — that I simply have his name, turned around a bit.  I was an adult before I learned “the rest of the story.”

My mother was a Catholic nun for about a year and a half.  That’s an important part of the story.  But first we must touch upon her biography a bit.

She was the youngest of three children from a broken and very dysfunctional family.  After the divorce, her mom and sister emigrated to the US from Canada (illegally overstaying a visa, by the way — an illegal immigrant; a Dreamer) when she was age 11. They struggled with poverty and moving from house-to-house through her difficult pubescent and adolescent years.  She has confided that she lost all interest in religion, faith and lived with a gray set of morals.

Always a “connector”, she had formed a few close friendships with girls who seemed to have their “stuff together.”  Two I can recall — because they remained life-long friends — were Lorraine and Joan. Both sweet ladies, whom I got to know much later, and both Catholic.

My mom came to the realization she needed some direction in her life.  She started occasionally attending Catholic church with her friends and took to it well.  More frequent attendance and instruction in the faith followed.  Then full conversion. It’s said that “There is no believer whose belief is stronger than that of a convert”; and that was certainly true of my mother.

A few years later she entered the convent, first as postulant, then as novitiate. She took the vows of service and poverty, donned the habit, took a new name (Sister Mary Lourdes) and began her new life.

It was — up until then — the most wonderful thing that had happened to her in her life.  A new city where she was welcomed (St Louis).  A loving, caring, generous faith community.  A beautiful Convent, with her own room (although tiny), where she wouldn’t have to move every few months. Having given up money and possessions and image — well — she didn’t have to worry about those danged things anymore. A world of possibility and freedom and love opened up to her that she couldn’t even have otherwise imagined.

It lasted just over a year until she had her doubts.  After a period of counseling and meditation she became our own version of Maria, from The Sound of Music.  She left the order before taking her final vows. Something else was calling her.

Whereupon she returned to her previous hometown (Chicago) and took up the life of a single woman again.  But this time dedicated to virtue and service, with a clear direction on morals.

A few years later she was whisked off her feet by a very good dancer.  A witty, charming, energetic nice young man, with a promisingly budding career, and at least a nominal commitment — at the time — to the same Catholic faith.  Heck, they met at a CYO dance (Catholic Youth Organization).

The relationship soon got serious, and they began discussing kids.  In that regard, she had only one criterion.  The first son, if they were so blessed, must be named Joseph.

Now I can tell you why that name was her firm choice.  The name of the Order that so transformed her life was … The Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet.

My parents remained loyal to each other the rest of their lives.  They remained loyal to the church.  They remained loyal to St Joseph, donating to many different charities named after him, including Little Sisters of the Poor, whose patron saint is St Joe.  [1]  [2]

I’ve carried my name proudly.  I’m not Catholic — or even very religious — anymore. Yet I have kept a little plaque of St Joseph the Carpenter up in my room for many decades, wherever I go. It was a gift from my mom when I was a lad. I keep it as a reminder of the loyalty and commitment of my parents. And why I have my name.  And what I have to do.

Plaque of St Joe. I’ve taken it to every bedroom I’ve had since I was about 9 or 10 years old. Thanks Mom.

I must be loyal to my parents by living a life they would be proud of.

Well that’s my blubbery autobiographic piece. Sorry for any apparent “virtue signaling.”

Peace

Joe Girard © 2018

[1]  My mom passed in 2006.  My dad’s devotion to St Joe and my mom continued, as he wrote these checks until he passed in 2014.

[2] Some of these charities are now supported by my wife and me.

 

On Paternal Ancestry

On Progeny and patrimonial lineage

A Girl named Poppy

CNN has been sporting quite a few interesting documentaries recently: Steve Jobs, Life Itself (Roger Ebert), the Sixties, the Seventies, The Black Panthers. Last month they aired a different kind of documentary; it was comprised of a dozen or so “shorts.” Each segment was a story by one of their news anchors on the topic “The Person who Changed my Life.”

Unfortunately, I did not see most of the segments. I did see the one by Poppy Harlow. I was moved by whom she identified as “the person who most changed my life”, and the story she told about him and their relationship. That person was her father, who died when she was still a young teen. It’s a very good production video of a touching story; a success story that is both likely and unlikely.

Poppy Harlow: CNN Anchor

Poppy Harlow: CNN Anchor

Likely: we all “like” to think that success can, in most cases and in some way, be traced from a parental influence. Unlikely: Poppy’s career turned out to be nothing like her father’s. You can watch the video here. Poppy Harlow: The Person who Changed my Life.

It reminded me of several other stories that I’ve been holding onto for no particular reason, except to maybe share them here. I won’t say these are similar to Poppy’s story, but they are not all that different either. I will limit them to a total of a mere three segments. (And a very brief fourth follow-up).

  1. “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
    – Howard Beale (Network) –> watch the
    Mad as Hell Scene.

If you haven’t watched the iconic 1976 movie “Network”, then watching the scene via the link above is probably all you need in order to get an excellent cultural reference. It applies as much today as ever. It will probably always be “timely.”

Peter Finch as Howard Beale: "I'm as Mad as Hell! And I'm not gonna take it anymore!"

Peter Finch as Howard Beale: “I’m as Mad as Hell! And I’m not gonna take it anymore!”

Peter Finch’s (1916 – 1977) portrayal of crazed news anchor Howard Beale in “Network” earned him an Oscar: the Academy Award for Best Actor. The award was posthumous; he died suddenly – age only 60 – of a heart attack January, 14, 1977, two and a half months before that year’s Academy Awards ceremony. He was the first person to be awarded an Oscar posthumously for an acting performance.[1]  

Finch’s award for “Network” was no fluke. Before that he had earned five BAFTA awards for Best Actor (that’s British Academy of Film and Arts). He was also nominated by both the British and American Academies for several other prominent awards.

The effect of Finch’s patrimony is difficult to ascertain, but it is very interesting to investigate.

Australian George Ingle Finch had a very successful career as a chemist. Among his achievements: developed an improved catalyst for synthesis of ammonia; conducted groundbreaking research into solid state physics, surfaces and thin films, electron diffraction, electron microscopy; and the electrical ignition of gases. In 1944 he was recognized with the Hughes Medal of the (British) Royal Society. He was president of the esteemed Physical Society of London 1947-49. And yet, this is not what he is most known for, nor (probably) his greatest effect on young Peter Finch.

In 1914 Finch the elder was in London, where he was doing research at the Imperial College of Science and Industry. That’s where and when he met Alicia Fisher, daughter of a Kent barrister. Soon after World War I broke out he was assigned to the Royal Field Artillery. Sometime shortly after the start of his military service, in 1915, George and Alice were wed. [As an Australian he was still a subject of the crown, and duty-bound to serve].

While George was away, Peter was conceived. He arrived September 28, 1916 – with George obviously still away. Officially named Frederick George Peter Ingle Finch – perhaps in a way to honor Alicia’s absent husband – he went through most of his life as Peter.

When George returned there were some accounts to settle. He soon divorced Alicia and, with his sister, took full legal custody of Peter. Shortly thereafter young Peter was sent off to France to live with relatives, where he was mostly reared by George’s mother – Peter’s putative grandmother. In the meanwhile George had some dreams to fulfill. He wanted to be a mountain climber.

Those were still the days of the great British adventure; adventure as experienced by, and performed by, the privileged gentry. Yes, the British gentry, of which Finch was certainly not a part. Sailing the world, going to the Yukon gold rush, safaris in Africa, climbing mountains – these were things done with as much creature comfort as possible. Often smoking cigars, dining on quail and herring, sipping brandy, while attired in tweed – that was how to adventure. At least the British gentry’s mode.

That was not how to attack a beast like Everest. Finch joined the Alpine club and set out to join three attempts to make the ascent of Everest in the 1920s with the much more famous climber, the legendary George Mallory.

Finch was an outsider, a colonial farm boy. He had done some climbing in the Alps while studying in Zurich before getting his post at Imperial College. For the Himalayas he brought oxygen canisters, which came in at a hefty 16kg for eight hours supply. On the second British Everest attempt in 1924, Finch was allowed on the ascent team; he made the highest effort on Everest to that date, over 27,000 feet. (Everest tops out at 29,028 ft; that’s 8,848 m). He might well have summited, had he not felt compelled to assist an enfeebled novice companion back to safety.

Finch was, in the eyes of many experts, the best technical climber of his time, despite it being merely a hobby, and he not being a gentlemen. He was sneered upon as a country boy, a colonialist, and an outsider who would “cheat” by using oxygen. He was left off the other two ascent attempts.

In the end, Finch was right. [2]

And in the end, it’s hard to know his influence on his “son”. When Peter was 10, George fetched him up and took him back to Australia. Peter always knew that George openly denied that Peter was his biological son.[3] He also knew of his “father’s” attempt at Everest, and his contributions to science – although George was never much recognized for either until later in his life, when Peter was already well on in his acting career.

The younger Finch’s career started out as bumming across Australia during the Great Depression with a traveling troupe, picking up odd acting roles. During World War II he served in the Army, manning an anti-aircraft gun to fend off Japanese during the bombing of Darwin, and serving in the Middle East.

He didn’t let the war slow him down much: he produced, directed and acted in plays for the troops. When the war was over, his career only delayed a bit, he hit the ground running, took every opportunity, worked hard, and became one of the most famous actors of all time: British, Australian, or, of the world.

  • 2. “Tell yer uncle why there ain’t no snow in California”
    — “Don’t look at me! I didn’t take it!” – Cousin Peal and Jethro (Beverly Hillbillies)

 

1960s sitcoms. They were corny. Some were corny and popular. Among them, “The Beverly Hillbillies” was regularly the top rated TV show in America. During its eleven year run it was only occasionally bumped from #1, usually by The Ed Sullivan Show.

The adorable Donna Douglas, who played Ellie Mae Clampett on the show, passed on about a year ago (January, 2015) at age 82, leaving Max Baer, Jr (Jethro Bodine) as the last living member of the cast.

Both skilled and successful actors, Douglas and Baer would end up with constricted acting careers, as they were so very type-casted by their successful roles on Beverly Hillbillies. [Although Douglas made a 1959 pre-Hillbillies recording in The Twilight Zone episode “The Eye of the Beholder”, wherein she played a woman undergoing a surgery to have her appearance fixed so that she would look more normal. The surgery was a failure: she was just as beautiful after the bandages were removed. The episode was not shown until 1960. — Yes, Donna Douglas, even as Ellie Mae, was inherently beautiful.]

As a Beverly Hillbillies side note and question: can anyone provide an accurate description of the familial relationships between Granny, Uncle Jed, Ellie Mae, Jethro, and Aunt Pearl? (Whom did I forget? Was some sort of incest implied?)

Hopelessly typecast, Douglas more or less gave up acting when the series ended in 1971 and moved on to a successful career as a Gospel singer and inspirational speaker.

Baer, however, did not give up the camera.

Sports enthusiasts might recognize the name Max Baer as a former World Heavyweight Boxing champion. A big brute of a man, with a literally deadly right hand, Max Baer, Sr was indeed the Heavyweight Boxing Champion. That would be “Jethro’s” real life father.

Max Baer, Sr was one-quarter Jewish – acquired from his half-Jewish father. Although he rarely practiced Judaism, he eventually decided to embrace it as a public gesture, nonetheless.

Baer broke into worldwide recognition as a champion contender just as Adolf Hitler assumed the German chancellorship, and ultimately the dictatorship, of Nazi Germany. He became a bona fide contender when the beat the great German boxer, Max Schmeling, in June 1933. Schmeling was a recent (although not current) heavy-weight champion. He was the reigning German Heavyweight champion.

Max Baer, Sr, in his Star of David embroidered boxing trunks. I think this is the fight with Max Schmeling

Max Baer, Sr, in his Star of David embroidered boxing trunks. I think this is the fight with Max Schmeling

Baer was disgusted by the warmth and favoritism shown by the Jew-hating Hitler and the Nazi party apparatus toward Schmeling. Baer was willing to make a public statement, and so he began wearing a very prominent Star of David on his boxing trunks for matches. He started wearing the Star for the match against Hitler’s favorite, Schmeling. And he continued to do so. He was wearing the Star of David embroidered trunks when he won the World Heavyweight Title a year later, June, 1934, when he defeated the then current title holder, Prima Carnera.

And he was wearing the Star, 364 days later, when he lost the title in The Cinderella Match against Irish-American New York longshoreman, James (Jimmy) “Cinderella Man” Braddock.

Unfortunately the otherwise terrific movie about that fight (The Cinderella Man) casts Baer in an extremely negative light. However, it was based partly on fact: Baer considered part of the job of boxing champ to be an entertainer, and he could be pretty darned silly when in that role. The movie played up the goofy and obnoxious role-playing of Baer (in an obvious shallow attempt to get viewers to appreciate underdog Braddock all the more). The movie also failed to prominently show Baer’s trunks, and their plainly visible Star of David. (Blame that on the producer, Ron Howard — Opie).

Shortly after Baer Sr’s boxing retirement, World War II broke out for the United States. Baer served as a physical conditioning trainer for the US Army Air Force. He continued to sporadically act in films (he had started in 1933) and served as celebrity referee for boxing matches.

In November 1959 Baer was in Hollywood for several television commercials (they were done “live” in those does – very few 2nd takes). While shaving at the Roosevelt Hotel, Baer felt a chest pain. He called the front desk, asking for a doctor. They told him they’d send a “house doctor” right up. Ever playful, Baer replied: “No dummy, I need a people doctor.” In hospital later that morning he was joking with doctors when … a second attack hit him. “Oh God, here I go …”

He was only 50 years old. (I am often humbled by how people achieved so very much … and then died … far younger than I am now). His son Max Jr would be making his first appearance on TV in just a few weeks, under contract with Warner Brothers, with whom he would eventually star in The Beverly Hillbillies. Baer, Sr is rated #22 in Ring’s list of all-time boxers. He is among a very few boxers who’ve won by knock-out over 50 times. Two deaths are attributed to his mighty right arm. He was devastated by each.

Max Baer, Jr -- as Jethro Bodine on Beverly Hillbillies

Max Baer, Jr — as Jethro Bodine on Beverly Hillbillies

Max Jr’s career after the Beverly Hillbillies remained in the entertainment industry. Hopelessly typecast by his role as Hillbilly Jethro Bodine until 1971, his acting career was largely over. After that he wrote, produced and directed movies, including “Macon County Line”, in which he also played a rare serious role. That movie made $25 million for an investment of just over $100,000 – a record ratio that lasted until the Blair Witch Project (1999).

He also had the idea of turning popular songs into movies. It was Baer, Jr who came up with turning Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe”, a hit ’60s song, into a cinematic feature. [The lyrics are below… if you’d like to follow along while listening).

In retirement, Baer continues to make a few TV appearances and has long been attempting to develop a casino in Carson City on the Beverly Hillbillies theme. It has been fraught with legal issues and odd competition.

 

  1. Do I dare
    Disturb the universe?
    In a minute there is time
    For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
    – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

William Greenleaf Eliot died January 23, 1887 in St Louis, Missouri. He founded the first Unitarian Church west of the Mississippi in 1837, at the corner of 4th and Pine – perhaps 1000 ft from where the famous Gateway Arch has stood since 1964. Outgrowing that location, in 1852, Eliot led the congregation in building and moving to a larger worship space at 9th and Olive. This is only a few blocks from where the stately Post Office and Customs House, and the Library, would be built decades later; those still stand. In 1880, Eliot again led the building of a new Church, at Locust and Garrison. This site was on the Register of National Historic Places. It unfortunately suffered a devastating fire in 1982, and was completely razed in 1987.

St Louis Unitarian Church -- on National Register of Historic Places, until its demise

St Louis Unitarian Church — on National Register of Historic Places, until its demise

That’s just the beginning of William Eliot’s curriculum vitae and significance to St Louis. He’s most notable for founding Washington University in St. Louis (initially called Eliot Seminary). He was influential and critical to founding many civic institutions, including: the St. Louis Public School System; the St. Louis Art Museum; the Mission Free School; the South Side Day Nursery; and the Western Sanitary Commission that provided medical care and supplies during the Civil War. He also contributed to the development of the Colored Orphans’ Home, Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home, Memorial Home, Blind Girls Home, Women’s Christian Home, and many other charitable institutions.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson visited St. Louis, he had the opportunity to meet Eliot and subsequently called him “the Saint of the West.” Besides founding Washington University in 1853, Eliot donated generously to its construction and served as chancellor from 1870 to 1887.

In 1859 William Eliot founded Mary Institute, a school for girls which he named after his daughter, who had died very young. It is now part of the co-educational Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MISLCDS).

Same Church, after the tragic fire.

Same Church, after the tragic fire.

It’s hard to know the further effect he had on American culture and literature. In fact, his effect on world culture and literature. Why? William Eliot was also the grandfather of Thomas Stearns Eliot, who was born the year after William’s passing. Going by his initials, T.S., Eliot is renowned in his own right as one of America’s and the world’s most acclaimed poets, essayists, playwrights and literary critics.

It’s hard to imagine young Thomas, spending his youth going between St Louis and New England (due to family ties in the Boston area) and not being very aware of his grandfather’s contributions to society. Frail as a child, “Tom” turned to literature, embraced it, and found inspiration in fellow Missourian, Samuel Clemens.

I’ve read, recited and committed to memory quite a bit of verse over my many decades. Poe, Frost, Longfellow … even Lewis Carrol. And yet, somehow, I’ve not connected much with Mr Eliot the younger. As an aerospace engineer and amateur historian, perhaps I can be forgiven.

As a sop to fellow enthusiasts of the 1904 World’s Fair: As a teen, young Tom attended the Fair – it was in his hometown, after all. The 47-acre Philippines Igorot “village” living exhibit inspired him to write some short stories and poems. This experience also probably influenced his decision to pursue anthropological studies at Harvard – where his grandfather’s name still stood large. [4]

Yes, perhaps I can be forgiven for not taking to Eliot’s writings. T.S. eventually turned away from much of what his grandfather was proud of. In 1910 he moved to Paris; then, in 1914, to England. And there he stayed. He eventually gave up both his Unitarian faith and US citizenship, becoming both Anglican and a subject of the crown.

T.S. Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature, as a British subject, in 1948.

  1. Depression Youth; Military Service

My wife and I think of, and talk about, our fathers quite often. They had a lot in common. Both grew up in humble households during the Great Depression. It’s easy to see that this helped make them thrifty, resilient and loyal. They both served in the US military in the ‘40s, Audrey’s dad in the US Navy – in fact a Pearl Harbor Survivor; my dad in the occupation of Japan. It’s easy to see how this helped mold them into the prototypical “Greatest Generation” male: the strong quiet type; able to lead and command; yet equally capable of following and taking orders: organization men. They each loved their family and country dearly, loyally, sincerely … yet often from a reticent and in-charge position and point-of-view.

For the rest of their lives, they felt it was a duty to stay very informed on current events, and they loved to encourage discussion that swirled around world events – including past and current.

I have no idea how our three children’s lives will play out … hopefully very long after we are gone. I’d like to think that there is something of the following in them, and that – in some way – part of it comes from their parents. Just as we received something in this regard from our parents:

  • Inner Strength and Self-Discipline
  • Loyalty and Love
  • Kindness and Compassion
  • Service and Simplicity
  • Living in the Moment
  • Honesty and Humility
  • Graciousness and Generosity
  • Patience and Perseverance
  • Forgiveness and Fortitude

 

Obviously no one is perfect. I certainly am not; neither is my wife. Neither were our fathers. Still – we cling to the positive influences and traits … and gently release the rest. Life is too short to be concerned with anything else.

And I wish the same strengths and virtues for you and yours.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2016

email joe: Email Joe (for addition to email list, or discussion not related to this post.  Comments can be added below)

 

Footnotes:

 

[1] Heath Ledger duplicated this sad/happy circumstance, passing on before he could be receive the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as The Joker in 2008’s Batman sequel “The Black Knight.” Ledger died from a prescription drug overdose (likely due to abuse from ongoing viral infections and insomnia issues). Ironically, both Ledger and Finch were Australian. Ledger was only 28.

 

[2] The air pressure at 28,000 ft elevation is only one-third that at sea level. That means 67% less oxygen for the lungs while working severely hard at steep ascent grades. Famed Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, were the first humans to summit Everest, in 1951. They used supplemental oxygen, as have the vast majority of those who’ve successfully achieved the full ascent.
The first summit without oxygen was not until 1978. In 2013, a total of 658 climbers attained the summit; only 9 did so without oxygen. There were also 8 deaths.

 

[3] Finch’s biological father was Wentworth Edward Dallas “Jock” Campbell, an Indian Army officer. Alicia Fisher Finch later married Campbell in 1922. (what’s with the Brits and all those middle names?)

[4] The St Louis 1904 Exposition was huge. Hyuge. Just the Igorot Village living exhibit was larger than many famous World’s Fairs … e.g. The complete 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (which gave us the Space Needle and the Monorail) was only 32 acres … vs the Igorot village at 47 acres … the whole 1904 Fair covered nearly 1280 acres (two square miles)!

Final notes: You can watch The Twilight Zone episode online (The Eye of the Beholder). It’s easier to listen to Bobbie Gentry singing Ode to Billie Joe … one of my favorite Ballads (right up there with “West Texas Town of El Paso.” If you do, here are the lyrics so you can follow along.

 

 

And just for grins….

Ode to Billy Joe

(written, sung and performed by Bobbie Gentry)

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay.
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat.
And mama hollered out the back door: “y’all, remember to wipe your feet!”
And then she said, “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge.
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And papa said to mama, as he passed around the black-eyed peas:
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please.
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow”
And mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow;
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge.
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show.
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece o’ apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right.
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now ya tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And mama said to me, “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite.
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today.
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way …
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge,
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe.
‘n’ Brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo.
There was a virus going ’round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring,
And now Mama doesn’t seem to wanna do much of anything.
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

 

 

Morton: Hart to Smith


By 1950, the effervescent consumption potential of the world’s largest single national economy — the United States economy — had been restrained like over-carbonated champagne in a bottle for two decades. At first the role of cork was filled by The Great Depression, then the Second World War, and finally, by massive demobilization of the armed forces, and conversion of industry from war to a peace time economy.

That cork was creeping out, the bubbly about to spew forth. One way that was beginning to occur was manifest in the strong desire to live outside of the urban jungles; to move outside of the cramped, dirty confines of cities like New York, Chicago, St Louis. And yet, not move so far away that they couldn’t commute to the jobs that stayed in the cities … that is, commute via that great symbol of personal freedom of the era: the automobile.

In metropolitan areas where open available spaces were relatively close, brand new planned suburban communities sprang up in land that was previously agricultural, or wooded, or simply empty. The prime example of this was the Levittowns built by the  Levitt Company  in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Some large cities had established communities – usually small simple towns or hamlets – that were only close enough to be suburbs when highways and expressways were built to ease motor transportation to and from the cities.

Welcome to Morton Grove (Illinois)

Welcome to Morton Grove (Illinois)

One of these towns was Morton Grove, Illinois, located some 14 miles or so North-northwest from Chicago’s central Loop. The Eden’s Expressway – which was soon incorporated into the Interstate Highway system as I-94 a few years later – ran north across Cook County, and by 1951 connected Morton Grove to Chicago.

In the decade of the 1950s the population of Morton Grove more than quintupled, from about 4,000 to over 20,000 by 1960. I was one of those “newcomers”; so were my parents, soon followed by two sisters. Just a few months before my birth, in September 1956, my parents bought a humble, tiny ranch home in one of those planned neighborhoods. It was my first home, my sisters’ first home, and the first home my parents owned.

Morton Grove’s population has remained relatively flat since then; I suppose we are part of the reason for that too. With a fourth child now in tow, we moved at Christmastime, 1962, to a suburb of Milwaukee.

The area that would become Morton Grove was first settled by whites of European descent in the 1830s by Germans and English. The population remained low, about a hundred or so, until 1872, when a spur of the Milwaukee Road Railroad came, thanks to the vision of New York businessman and financier, Levi Parsons Morton. The grateful residents named their locale after him.

[Morton would go on to serve as Vice President of the country, getting elected in 1888 with president Benjamin Harrison. Oddly, Morton would be much better remembered than he is – even better than the town that bears his name – had he accepted an earlier offer to run for Vice President with James Garfield, in 1880. For, in September 1881 Garfield was killed by deluded assassin Charles Guiteau. Morton would have ascended to serve as 21st president; instead it was Chester Arthur.]

After the railroad came, the Morton Grove area began to attract a few more settlers, and commercial businesses, including the Poehlmann Brothers greenhouse company. They achieved worldwide attention and acclaim when their Poehlmann Rose won First Prize at the 1904 World’s Fair, in St Louis. This would not be the first star Morton Grove sent to St Louis.

The community had grown to about 500 when it was formally incorporated as a municipality, the Village of Morton Grove, in 1895.

____________________________

A couple years before I arrived, another lad moved to Morton Grove, adding to its ’50s boom. James “Jim” Warren Hart was born just north of Chicago, in Evanston, in 1944. His father died when he was only seven. His mother remarried and they moved in with his stepfather in nearby Morton Grove. A bit on the small side for a football player, his stepdad encouraged him to give it a try – even forcing him out of the car on one occasion to partake in a junior football skills competition. Jim first started playing football as a freshman at Morton Grove’s high school, Niles West. A competitive athlete, Jim earned letters in baseball and track, although, conspicuously, not in football.

Undeterred, Southern Illinois University offered him a scholarship to play football. A small school that competed in lower divisions at the time, Jim was their quarterback for most of the years 1963-65, amassing, at that time, a school record 3,780 passing yards.

Coming from a small school, playing a short, weak schedule — and with a losing record — it was no surprise that Jim was undrafted by any National Football League team. He signed a contract to try out with the nearby Saint Louis Cardinals.

Jim Hart, St Louis Cardinals (Displayed under the Fair Use Doctrine).

Jim Hart, St Louis Cardinals (Displayed under the Fair Use Doctrine).

In sports, it is as near a certainty as possible that undrafted free agents don’t make the team in the NFL, especially at quarterback. Jim made the team.

___________________________

Jackie Smith was born in 1940, in southern Mississippi, in tiny Columbia (thirteen years later Walter Payton was born there). As a boy, his family moved a few miles south, across the state line to Louisiana, to another small obscure town, Kentwood, LA.

It was at Kentwood High School that Jackie ran track; he began trying out for football as a sophomore. Due to injuries, his entire high school football career amounted to a mere five games. Most of the time, he admitted later, his play was so goofy that the other teams never knew what he was doing. He didn’t learn any fundamentals of the game.

He was recruited to run track at Northwestern Louisiana State University (now Northwestern State University). They could only offer him a half scholarship. If he played football too, he could get a full scholarship. So he played football.

He did not have an impressive college career, but he displayed enough speed and determination that he impressed a Saint Louis Cardinals scout. They took a chance and drafted him in the 10th round in 1963. 10th round draft choices have as much chance of making the team as an undrafted free agent. Jackie made the team.

________________________________________________

By 1967, Jim Hart had worked up from sixth string to starting quarterback for the Cardinals. Jackie Smith was the regular tight end. Two unheralded athletes, with unimpressive football backgrounds, competing at the highest level of football.

Jackie Smith, St Louis Cardinals

Jackie Smith, St Louis Cardinals (Displayed under the Fair Use doctrine)

For eleven seasons they played together, putting up electrifying numbers. During this period they helped transform the game of football. With contemporaries like quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath, and other tight ends like Mike Ditka and John Mackey, they showed how exciting and entertaining a more wide-open style of offensive football could be.

Unfortunately, Saint Louis often had poor talent teams in that era, but with a wide-open air attack that thrilled fans (they were then known as the “Cardiac Cards”) the league saw what football could be. At that time receivers were mauled at the line of scrimmage, their legs often cut from under them at the line. Quarterbacks were regularly severely roughed well after the ball was thrown. Tight ends were for blocking.

Jackie Smith was strong enough and fast enough to block linemen and linebackers. Yet with his track speed he could get open, and with his soft hands he could catch passes. With his physical and mental toughness he punished defensive backs who tried to tackle him. This is the prototype of tight ends we know 40 and 50 years later, but it wasn’t always like that.

For three successive magical seasons, 1974-76, under head coach Don Coryell and his “Air Coryell” approach, the Cardinals won 10, 11 and 10 games; at that time the regular season was only 14 games. Still, the Cardinals only made the playoffs two of those seasons, and never won a playoff game with either Hart or Smith on the roster.

Jim Hart was inducted to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. He was a four-time All Star and NFL Offensive Player of the year, in 1974.

Jackie Smith is in the NFL Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and the St Louis Walk of Fame. He was a five-time All Star.

If and when you watch a football game these days, and you see receivers getting open off the line, tight ends catching passes, when you see a defensive holding call on a receiver, when you see a roughing-the-passer call, know that this goes back to the Smith-Hart era, and other similar brave players of the ‘60s and ‘70s, who showed how fun and exciting a wide-open game could be – even when they got physically punished for doing it. It wasn’t until later that rules were changed to protect players and promote this more exciting style of football.

_______________________

I guess if there’s a moral it’s that your past doesn’t define your future. And anyone – anyone – can change the trajectory of history. Sports can be a great metaphor for life that way.

A corollary is that when choosing teammates, when hiring to fill a position, — and you have the long term in mind — choose for potential and heart, not for how impressive the resume looks now.

If there’s a second moral, I guess it’s that Americans’ appetites for excitement and freedom in life (cars, travel, suburbs) are reflected in their desire for excitement, creativity and freedom in sports, however they choose to enjoy them.

Wishing you peace and bravery. If you can have only one, pick bravery.

Cheers,

Joe Girard © 2015

 

[1] Jim Hart went back to Southern Illinois for several years to serve as Athletic Director, after a short career as a sportscaster. He remains married to his wife, his college sweet”hart”, for nearly 50 years.

[2] At the time of his retirement, Jackie Smith was the NFL’s all-time leading receiver for tight ends. He was only the third tight end inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, after Ditka and Mackey. He’s led a quiet retirement, and started a small business building one-man fishing boats.

[3] This essay is a (very rambling) response to Adam’s comment to an earlier essay: Week in New England, and a Quandary

[4] The Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1988. The current NFL franchise in St Louis is the St Louis Rams.

[5] Morton Grove lies within Niles Township, and is/was part of the township’s school district.

Dewey felt Bluey


When Dewey Felt Bluey (And Harry Didn’t)

Guest Essay. By John Sarkis 2015 ©

November 3, 1948 – 67 years-ago today, President Harry Truman boards his train at St Louis Union Station, and is handed a copy of the Chicago Tribune, bearing the headline, DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

Probably the most famous election headline ever -- Dewey Defeats Truman, 1948

Probably the most famous election headline ever — Dewey Defeats Truman, 1948

As the incumbent President, Truman covered more than 22,000 miles, making 271 speeches in his “whistle-stop” election campaign. But FDR’s previous Vice-President, Henry Wallace, had decided to enter the Presidential race on the Progressive ticket. And Democratic Governor, Strom Thurmond (SC), was running on the “State’s Rights” ticket, also known as the Dixiecrats. So with the party divided into factions, most polls and political pundits were predicting an easy Dewey victory. As a U.S. District Attorney, and later as special prosecutor, Dewey came to prominence by his pursuit of organized crime figures, Dutch Schultz and “Lucky” Luciano, as well as white-collar crime figures, including sending the former President of the New York Stock Exchange to prison. [editor’s note: Take that, current DOJ).

For those of us not alive at the time, it might be hard to understand, but Thomas Dewey was the American Hero of his day, considered second only to Charles Lindbergh in popularity. Several movies, and a top radio show of the day,”Gang Busters”, were modeled after his career. Having been the Governor of New York since 1943, he had been the Republican nominee in the previous election, which had been FDR’s narrowest victory.

After voting in the city of Independence, MO, the Truman family spent the night in Excelsior Springs, where Harry went to bed early. Based on the results available at that time, Truman assumed he would lose.

Editors of the Chicago Tribune assumed the same, and with their regular staff on strike, the first-edition deadline was even earlier. Managing editor J. Loy “Pat” Maloney had to make the headline call, and he relied on the record of Arthur Sears Henning, the paper’s longtime Washington correspondent. Henning said Dewey would win. When they realized their mistake, the papers were recalled, but it’s estimated 150,000 made it into circulation, including those headed to St Louis.

_________________________________________________________________________

John Sarkis posts regularly at the Facebook page for “St. Louis Missouri. History, Landmarks & Vintage photos”
John is a native Saint Louisan, is retired, and now lives in Kirkwook, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis.

Editor’s further notes: I know about the fractured ticket, the Dixiecrats and Dewey’s “Rock Star” status.  However, the strike at the “Trib” makes the story of the headline more understandable.  — JG

Beautiful Miss Audrey


Beautiful Miss Audrey

Guest Essay.  By John Sarkis 2015 ©

Few today are familiar with the name Audrey Munson, but depending on your age and location, it’s likely you’ve seen her image hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Audrey Munson, the "American Venus"

Audrey Munson, the “American Venus”

In today’s terminology, Audrey would be considered a supermodel, and quite possibly, the first in America. Born in upstate New York, her divorced mother moved the two of them to New York City when Audrey was fifteen. After a chance encounter with a local photographer, she soon found herself modeling for the top civic artists in the country. And as a result, her likeness can be found in museums and municipal buildings around the country, on canvas and in sculpture. But it was Adolph Weinman who immortalized her. A sculptor by trade, Weinman produced two of the most iconic coin designs in U.S. history, using Audrey Munson as his model.

1916-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar, obverse (w/ Audrey Munson as Liberty)

1916-S Walking Liberty Half Dollar, obverse (w/ Audrey Munson as Liberty)

The Walking Liberty half dollar, minted from 1916-1947, shows Lady Liberty, draped in the American flag, striding toward the rising sun and a bright future. His other coin, which many mistakenly called the Mercury Dime because of its wings, was actually a Winged Liberty, with Lady Liberty wearing a hat with wings, symbolizing one of our basic rights, freedom of thought.

Utilizing her fame, Audrey went to Hollywood, where she starred in four silent films [1]. This was before the industry adopted the Motion Picture Code, and many films of the day, including Audrey’s, featured nudity. Which finally leads us to the local [St Louis] connection of this story.

_____________________________________________________________________

1916 Mercury Head (Winged Liberty) Dime, Obverse

1916 Mercury Head (Winged Liberty) Dime, Obverse

October 1, 1921 — 94 years-ago this month, Audrey Munson was appearing at the Royal Theater, 210 N. Sixth Street, St Louis, Missouri, where her movie, “Innocence” was being shown. The movie began by showing many of the statues for which she had posed nude, including some which had been exhibited at our 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. [2] Following each statue, were scenes of Miss Munson dancing, fully clothed. But in her personal appearance, she wore a gauzy drapery, posed on a platform under spotlight, in front of the screen. She remained fully covered until the last pose.

Seated, with her back to the audience, she lowered her drapery, exposing her back. She and the theater owner were arrested; the film confiscated. They were charged with conspiracy to commit acts injurious to public morals. Unbelievably fast by today’s standards, the trial was held later that week. After viewing the film, and hearing testimony, the Jury was only out five minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty. Afterward, Munson said, “Clothes we began to wear only when guile and evil thoughts entered our heads. They do harm to our bodies and worse to our souls.”

Sadly, Audrey’s life unraveled when she could no longer find modeling work, and the following year she attempted suicide. Spiraling into depression, she was committed to a psychiatric facility at the age of 39, where she remained for the last 65 years of her life. She passed away in 1996, at the age of 104.

_________________________________________________________________________

John Sarkis posts regularly at the Facebook page for “St. Louis Missouri. History, Landmarks & Vintage photos”
John is a native Saint Louisan, is retired, and now lives in Kirkwook, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis.

Editor notes:

[1] IMDB lists only three movies for Miss Munson, failing to include Heedless Moths, a sort of autobiography of Miss Munson herself (although she doesn’t play herself) and in which she appears in several scenes in various stages of undress.

Audrey Munson in "Innocence"

Audrey Munson in “Innocence”

The movie cited here (Innocence) does not show up on IMDB or her biography. But surely it was filmed and presented, for here is an advertisement I found from a 1922 Duluth, Minnesota newspaper, the Duluth Herald.

So, perhaps she was in at least five movies.

[2] Also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
Audrey Munson could not have posed for the actual statues seen at the 1904 Fair; she was only 12 or so as the sculptures were being made, and hadn’t yet been “discovered.”  As most statues were made of temporary materials, including staff, she had likely posed for re-sculpturing of many of them.
Munson did model for statues at the 1915 San Francisco world’s Fair, the Pan Pacific Exposition.

That’s the $pirit!


That’s the $pirit!

Guest Essay.  By John Sarkis 2015 ©

October 17, 1974 — 41 years ago this month, The Spirits of St Louis basketball team played their first home game, marking the return of professional hoops, after the St Louis Hawks had moved to Atlanta in 1968.

Logo — Spirits of St Louis, ABA basketball franchise

Logo — Spirits of St Louis, ABA basketball franchise

I could mention the team’s budding young stars, as well as their misfits, or how it helped launch the career of their play-by-play broadcaster, recent Syracuse University student Bob Costas [1]. But in the stories I write, I try to tell of lesser known facts, that most aren’t aware of. So this isn’t so-much about the team, but rather, their owners. And what most — not only in the sports world, but throughout all businesses — consider to be the best business deal of all time.

Many who are younger, or aren’t basketball fans, might not remember when there were actually two professional basketball leagues operating in the United States, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the American Basketball Association (ABA). The ABA was started in 1967 as an attempt to end the NBA’s monopoly on professional basketball, and at the time, posed a significant challenge to the NBA’s dominance. ABA team owners started an all out salary war by offering young players larger contracts than their NBA counterparts could afford, and introduced new ideas since adopted by the NBA, like the three-point line and the All Star Game dunk contest.

Brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna were sons of Latvian immigrants who had settled in New Jersey in the 1930s. Their father ran a textile business which both brothers later took over, until they sold the company in the early 1960s. Ozzie and Dan then started their own business that eventually became one of the largest manufacturers of polyester in the world. Dan Silna, a lifelong basketball fan, attempted to purchase the Detroit Pistons for $5 million, but their offer was rejected. So instead, they purchased the ABA’s Carolina Cougars in 1974, moved the team to St. Louis, and renamed them the Spirits.

At the time, most ABA teams sensed there would be a merger with the NBA, and by moving the team to St Louis, the largest market without professional basketball, the Silnas felt this enhanced their chances of joining the enlarged league. But with attendance averaging about 2000 a game, and the highest salary structure in the sport, the team was losing money.

After the 1975-76 season, four of the former ABA teams were absorbed into the NBA, but St. Louis and the Kentucky Colonels weren’t included. Kentucky owner John Y. Brown took a $3 million settlement. But the Silnas bargained for more. To keep the St. Louis owners from fighting the merger in court, the NBA and the St. Louis team owners forged what turned out to be an incredible deal. The Silnas agreed upfront to a $2.2 million cash payment, and a one-seventh share of the TV revenue from the four ABA teams going in the NBA – the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. These payments would be made “in perpetuity”, meaning – FOREVER.

At the time, the TV contract was worth almost nothing. But with the sport growing in popularity, broadcast rights are now in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

They have no association with the sport, and most don’t even know who they are. But for nearly 40 years, the Silna Brothers have walked to their mailbox nine times a year to pick-up checks from the NBA totaling nearly $300 million.

Always a thorn in the side of the NBA, they have repeatedly tried to reach a cash settlement with the brothers, and last year, an agreement was reached. It was reported that the NBA would give the brothers a one-time cash payment of $500 million, to end the contract. [2]

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John Sarkis posts regularly at the Facebook page for “St. Louis Missouri. History, Landmarks & Vintage photos”
John is a native Saint Louisan, is retired, and now lives in Kirkwook, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis.

editor note [1] — Bob Costas did not earn a college degree, dropping out of Syracuse university, first to do broadcasts for the Syracuse Blazers, a minor league hockey team. His drop out was complete, when, at age 22, he got the opportunity to do play-by-play announcing for the Spirits.  A native of New York city, born and raised, he also considers St. Louis warmly as his co-hometown.  [St Louis Magazine, July, 2013: Q&A with Bob Costas, by Wm. Powell –> http://www.stlmag.com/Q-A-A-Conversation-With-Bob-Costas/]

[2] Silna-NBA Deal reached: http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/nba-silna-brothers-settle/2014/01/08/id/545903/