The roads of the people

This might or might not be any comfort to the special task force that has recommended fuel tax increases to raise money to maintain our roads and bridges, and build new ones where necessary.  But it might add some context to their work.

A century ago, Governor Elliott Major made his farewell address to the General Assembly.  In his first year in office, 1913, he had issued a proclamation declaring there would be two “Good Roads Days” in Missouri.  By the time he left office, fifteen other states had held annual “Good Roads Days.”  Major thought those special occasions had helped push Missouri to making “more progress in the construction and maintenance of good roads in the last two years than it has in any period of ten years preceding.”

Now, there’s a goal for today’s Missourians!

A century ago, Governor Major thought Missouri’s dirt roads were the most important ones in the system.  Today we might refer to those roads, years from the time when they were dirt, as our farm-to-market roads. But Major’s point about the importance of those roads has a lot of validity today.

In some ways, his message in 1917 is pretty close to the message we could hearing this year—with some modern language.  Here’s what he told the legislature:

The public highways of the country have ever marked by distinct epochs its civilization, and agricultural and commercial progress. It has marked it in the life of Missouri and of the American Republic. Until the highways stand abreast our broadest civilization, we will not be living up to our best privileges and the highest standard we can maintain in our civic and commercial life. We need to continue the construction, improvement and maintenance of our dirt and our hard surface roads. The dirt road, however, is the most important of all the roads. It constitutes ninety per cent of the road mileage of the State, and will continue so to do for many years to come. It is the real road of the people and the great highway of commerce.

We are in favor of the construction and maintenance of macadam, rock, concrete and other high-grade roads because every road that is constructed and passes through a section of country that produces something is an internal improvement of inestimable value. While we favor the construction of these splendid traffic ways, yet these are not the roads which mean most to the whole people. It is the dirt road, representing the first leg of the journey and over which moves the traffic of the State that serves us most; the road which enables the producer to bring more products to the railway stations and to the first markets of the country; the road which enables him to double the size of the haul and make the transit in less time, save wear and tear on harness and wagons and the lives of horses; the road that would bring additional hundreds of  thousands of acres under cultivation; the road that would increase the value per acre of all the lands through which it passes; the road that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in shrinkage in the delivery of live stock; the road that will increase the attendance in the public schools of the country; the road that will lessen that part of the cost of transportation which begins at the producers’ door; the road every tendency of which is to improve community life and make it better morally, civilly and commercially.

There are bad dirt roads and good dirt roads. Bad dirt roads are a liability, good dirt roads are an asset. Missouri can not afford bad dirt roads, but it can afford good dirt roads. The dirt roads reach out into country life like tentacles and over them are moved the products representing the real commerce of the country, and their improvement will mean more to the State and Nation than any other one internal achievement which can be brought about. We can not make all the roads in Missouri high-class roads, but we can make all the bad dirt roads good dirt roads, and in the meantime construct as many high grade roads as possible. ,

Missouri has 63,370 miles of unimproved dirt roads and 54,264 miles of improved dirt roads. We have 3,420 miles of gravel roads, and 1,417 miles of macadam roads. ‘We have 570 miles of sand clay roads, and 700 miles of roads made from chats. We have about 400 miles of patent surface and other miscellaneous roads, making the grand total in the commonwealth over 124,000 miles. Last year there was placed upon these highways betterments valued at approximately $8,000,000. Under the new inter-county-seat drag law, we have about 10,000 miles of inter-county-seat roads, regularly dragged by the State, and upon which during the biennial period the State will have expended more than $225,000 for this purpose, while the people themselves have placed thereon special betterments in the sum of $1,500,000. ‘

The general state road fund law (Article 5, Chapter 121, R. S. Mo. 1909) should be amended so the moneys going into that fund may be used, if necessary, in securing the moneys the federal government may wish to give, meet expenses of convicts when working on or building public roads, or used to meet other important and necessary contingencies which might arise in road construction. It goes without saying that the federal government will give special aid, but it may require the states or the people to expend dollar for dollar. Should this be true, then with the general state road fund statute amended, Missouri can be the first state to receive the federal moneys. It would be well if the committees on roads and highways would, in a limited way, revise the road laws. The laws upon the subject are too numerous and confusing, and this Legislature can render a good work in revising same.

And here we are a century later hoping we can have enough transportation funding to match available federal funds.  The total mileage in our transportation system would astonish Major and the legislators of 1917 and thousands of those miles are the former dirt roads that the counties used to drag.  The amount the state spends on the system might be greater than they could comprehend although still not enough.  Convicts no longer provide free labor to build our roads and although we have more than twenty-five thousand convicts, they would not be nearly enough to give us the system we need.

Roads remain today as they were in Major’s time, links “to improve community life and make it better morally, civilly and commercially.” The language might seem a bit expansive in this Twenty-first century, but the point is the same.  A good transportation system is essential for many different purposes.  And the funding to capitalize on that essentiality remains as vital today as it was when dirt roads were the people’s roads.

To paraphrase Governor Elliott Major: “Bad roads are a liability; good roads are an asset. Missouri cannot afford bad roads, but it can afford good roads.”  We’ll be waiting to see the strategy that will convince tight-fisted Missourians they can afford good roads—or alternately, that they can’t afford not to have good roads.

Still Radio

I sat down at my computer early one morning when this came in that twilight between sleep and wakefulness. It has been polished a little in the days since.

I wrote my first story for a radio newscast in the fall of 1962 and I voiced my first newscast at 11:55 p.m. in January or February of 1963. I had been taught by, among others, a professor who is in the Missouri Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame, Dr. Edward C. Lambert, the founder of the broadcast journalism sequence at the University of Missouri. My first station manager is in the Hall of Fame, Mahlon Aldridge, of KFRU in Columbia. I was introduced for the newscast by an announcer who is a member of the Hall of Fame, Ray Rouse. Sometimes at my first station I filled in on sportscasts for Larry Zimmer, whose long career as announcer for the Colorado Buffalos and Denver Broncos football games put him in the Colorado equivalent of the MBA Hall.

For eleven years I was a voice in Columbia, then Jefferson City and for more than forty years I have been a voice throughout a state and at times a voice in other parts of the nation and the world, the supervisor and then an employee of another member of the Hall of Fame, Clyde Lear.  Even today, retired from the daily pressure cooker of a radio newsroom, I remain a participant in the medium, a contributing editor to The Missourinet. The two stations where I learned that radio would be my life are now just two formats in a building in Columbia. One of those stations used to operate in Jefferson City but is now just another property in a mega-radio conglomerate.

I have one of the great old upright radios in the library in my basement.  I turned it on once many years ago just after I got it and have not turned it on since because what comes out of it today does not go with that radio. I despair sometimes for the medium and I fear for our nation when the federal body regulating broadcasting continues to move to kill the diversity of voices in our communities in television as well as in radio.

There once was magic in the boxes that can pull ghosts out of the sky (as the play “Voice of the Prairie” puts it) and there still is, but in too few places.  Let us hope for a re-birth, somehow, of that magic.

 

I am Radio

I am the voice in the morning

In cities large and small,

In the country, high and low,

Telling you to dress for hot or cold, wet or dry.

I am the voice that is the neighbor you cannot see,

The friend you never meet,

Telling you important things:

Where the traffic is,

Where the detours are,

What the city council did,

What the school board intends,

When the civic club peanut sale is.

What the hot lunch is at school

Or the senior center.

I am the one you take to the basement

when the tornado sirens blow,

the trusted,

always present voice,

the voice of danger and of safety.

I am radio.

I am the one that tells you

What the high school team did last night,

What the major league team did;

The NFL, NHL, the NBA did.

I tell you the about the world—

What’s happening inside the beltway,

In space over our heads,

Across the Atlantic,

Along the Pacific Rim,

The Mediterranean coast,

In the sands of deserts

the damps of the tropical forests,

and your own back yard.

I am radio,

the image-maker

The words and the sounds

That let you see in your own mind

places and events—

the green of a diamond

and the white of its base paths,

The soaring arc of the ball headed for the crowd,

The hardwood floor,

the net that snaps as the ball goes through,

The chilly grass marked by yard lines,

the sounds of struggle and impact

and movement left to right on the dial.

I am the sound of sharpened metal on ice,

The crack of the puck off the stick.

As well as the rattle of gunfire in a besieged city,

Grief and joy,

The maraschino cherry

landing on a mountain of whipped cream

floating in a Lake Michigan filled with hot chocolate.

I am radio.

I am direction.

I am “Down the stretch they come!”

The market is up.

The politician who reaches across the aisle.

I am mathematics.

“40, 30, 20, 10, Touchdown!”

I am drama.

“Yesssss!” and “He SCORES!!!”

I am “Suspense,”

And “Inner Sanctum”

And warnings of war.

I am the voice of democracy and decency,

The voices of your town

Preaching the message

Sharing recipes,

Selling things on the trading post

Expressing opinions.

I am your voice.

I am radio

I am the past.

The Harding-Cox election returns,

Vincent Lopez

The A&P Gypsies

The velvet voice of Vaughn DeLeath

Paul Whiteman

Amos & Andy,

Lum ‘n’ Abner,

Fibber and Molly.

I am Charlie, the ventriloquist’s friend.

I am horror.

“Oh, the Humanity!”

Or “Now is a good time to switch off the radio,

for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald.”

“President Kennedy is dead.”

And I am hope:

“The only thing we have to fear,

is fear itself.”

“I have a dream.”

“That’s one small step for a man,

one giant leap for mankind.”

I was born of a desire to bring

The city to the country.

I remain the voice of the farmer,

The teller of market prices,

The forecaster of crops.

I am the Dow Jones numbers,

The reporter of prosperity

And collapse,

Of city crime

And rural struggle.

I am radio.

I am imagination.

Lake Woebegone, Minnesota,

where it’s always a quiet week.

Pine Ridge, Arkansas,

where the Jot ‘em Down Store was the place to be.

Grinder’s Switch,

where there was a lady greeter who said,

“How-DEEE!”

Metropolis, Gotham, Summerfield,

Rushville Center, Town Hall Tonight,

and a Dodge City that never was.

My places and my people are what your mind

Shows you they are.

I am heroes—

The Lone Ranger

The Green Hornet

The correspondent under fire

on the front line,

The reporter who will not be intimidated

in the political arena.

I am the villain—

The demagogue and the dictator

The manipulator and the huckster

Selling snake oil

In potions and politics.

Goat glands, Sal Hepatica and Ipana

Healing cloths and Hadacol,

Simple solutions

To complex world problems.

I am radio.

In places I am homogenized,

No longer OF a community,

but just IN a community,

not a station,

but just another format

in a building full of formats.

Some say I lost my soul when

towns became “Markets, “

When stations became only “properties,”

and when the neighbors on the air

talking to us about us

became strangers on the satellite

talking of division and distrust.

When corporate profits

Snuffed out community service

And killed the diversity of voices.

And in too many places, they are correct.

But in some places my heart remains strong,

There, I am still your neighbor,

Still the one who tells you the weather,

Let’s you hear the high school games,

Who tells you of the council, the school board,

The county fair, and the peanut sale.

I have been written off,

Pronounced dead,

Outmoded,

Old-fashioned,

Immaterial,

Uncompetitive,

Low-tech.

But I have not gone away.

I have not died.

I have reinvented,

Reinvigorated,

Restored myself.

Who knows what I am to become?

I remain

The voice in your bedroom,

information in your bathroom,

news at your breakfast table,

a companion in your car.

From midnight to midnight.

I remain.

I am radio.

Never before in the history of the world—

Only a small percentage of visitors to Missouri’s Capitol get to go up to the Whispering Gallery, a place where a person can stand facing the wall and whisper something that is clearly heard by someone facing the wall on the other side of the gallery.  It is unlikely that those who have been there or those who have noticed from their position far below the railing high up in the dome that is the gallery’s home have ever heard that the Missouri Capitol Whispering Gallery was unique in the history of architecture when it was designed.

Never had anything like it been done before.  And as far as we know, the story has never been told before. Or if it has, it hasn’t been told for a long, long time.

Deep in the files of the Capitol Commission Board at the Missouri State Archives is a letter written September 29, 1924 by Egerton Swartwout, the architect whose firm designed our capitol, a few days before the building’s dedication in 1924.  This letter, as is the case with so many of his letters, is an incredibly human document these ninety-plus years after that event.  In it, he recalls his company getting the bid to design the building, the struggles with the contractor over the stone to be used, and other issues that had to be dealt with.  Toward the end of the fourth-page of the five-page letter, he writes of his partner, Evarts Tracy, who had left the firm to help create the Army’s Camouflage Corps during World War I and who had died in Paris in 1921 while helping the French with their postwar reconstruction effort, “Poor Tracy, he was extremely interested in the Capitol and very proud of it and one of the things that appealed to him particularly was the whispering gallery, the only one, by the way, that has ever been made artificially, or rather made on purpose, and that was done by Professor Sabine.   Poor chap, he is dead now but he talked to me about it often and mentions it in his Memoires…”

That mention sent us off in search of Wallace Sabine and his memoirs.  Wallace Sabine was a physics professor at Harvard when Tracy and Swartwout were students there.  When Harvard built the Fogg Auditorium, the school quickly learned the audience could not hear what was being said on the stage and asked Sabine to find out why.  Sabine’s research made him the father of architectural acoustics. The measurement of sound absorption today is the Sabin.  When Tracy and Swartwout were designing the capitol in 1913, they sought Sabine’s advice for ways to make sure members of the House and Senate could hear the speakers in their cavernous, stone-lined chambers.  The sound-absorbing curtains and fabrics in both chambers, including in the ceilings, are the result of Sabine’s study of the original plans.  Some old timers your reporter talked to a long time ago recalled that debate could be heard in the pre-public address system days quite well.

Sabine was only fifty when he died in 1919. His successor at Harvard as the Hollis Chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, Theodore Lyman, edited a volume of Sabine’s papers and speeches and even some unpublished presentation, one of which was about whispering galleries.”

Sabine began that paper, “It is probable that all existing whispering galleries, it is certain that the six most famous ones, are accidents; it is equally certain that all could have been predetermined without difficulty and like most accidents could have been improved upon.”  There six he wrote about in his paper were the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington, The vases in the Salle Des Cariatides in the Louvre in Paris, St. John Lateran in Rome, the Ear of Dionysius at Syracuse, and the Cathedral of Girgenti.  Statuary Hall in our nation’s capitol was the original chamber of the United States House of Representatives until it was outgrown.

Eighteen pages into his discussion of whispering galleries, the father of architectural acoustics wrote that the whispering gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London could have been more efficient had the walls been “slightly, indeed almost imperceptibly curved.” And then he continues, “Such a gallery will be in the dome of the Missouri State Capitol, a gallery unique in this respect that will have been planned intentionally by the architects.”

By the time this paper was published in 1921, editor Lyman added, “The building is now complete. One of the architects, Mr. Edgerton [sic] Swartwout, reports that the whispering gallery in the dome exactly fulfills Professor Sabine’s prediction and has been the cause of much curiosity and astonishment.”

There was some technical stuff in the paper that explained why our whispering gallery works so well and was better than any of the “accidental” ones in previous world history that we won’t get into.   But the fact remains—-

The Missouri Capitol’s whispering gallery was the first one in the entire history of world architecture that was designed specifically to be a whispering gallery.

We just dug that story out in the last ten days or so to put in the next capitol book (don’t ask us when it will be out—maybe 2019 if things work out but look for it when you see it).  But we couldn’t wait that long to tell it.  We’ve known our capitol is an extraordinary place.  But this feature puts it on a whole new scale.

There have been several intentional whispering galleries built in this country and internationally since then.  But the Swartwout/Sabine Whispering Gallery in the Missouri Capitol was the first of its kind.

Ever.

Next time you’re in the rotunda. Look up.  Climb up, if you have permission.  And step through a door to world architectural history.

(The photo is from the blog, “Opulent Opossum,” by Julianna Schroeder, who said some nice things about the Capitol art book back in 2011.  She was a great editor to work with.)