Notes from the road–November

(Tick line, Kansas)—Trivia question:

What was the tick line?

Nancy and I crossed it a few days ago on our ten-day excursion to and from Colorado, where we spent Thanksgiving helping our son and his family move into a new house.

Kansas had a tick line.

In the years right after the Civil War, there was a shortage of beef in the northern states.  At the same time, Texas had millions of cattle and no significant market for them. But a lot of those cattle were infested with ticks that killed Kansas farmers’ dairy cows, leading the legislature to pass a law basically banning Texas cattle east of Topeka, an area that was filling up with new farmer-settlers.

A nice tourism magazine we picked up in Abilene tells the story of one Joseph G. McCoy, an Illinois fellow who realized Texas’ two-dollar-a head cattle were worth twenty times that much in Chicago and set out to find a place west of the tick line where trains could haul those infested longhorns to Chicago for slaughter, eliminating contact between them and the Kansas dairy cows.

McCoy settled on Abilene, then a place of “about a dozen log cabins and dugouts” where one entrepreneur was trying to solve the community’s prairie dog overpopulation problem by selling pairs of them to tourists for five dollars.  The town fathers sold McCoy 480 acres of land that became the destination point for those desperate Texas cattle-raisers. The cattle drives enabled Abilene to flourish—but it did so at the expense of a Missouri city. The unsigned article in the Abilene Chamber of Commerce magazine is a little condescending on this point:

Herds were transported in 1866 to Sedalia, Missouri along the first cattle trail.  Why Sedalia isn’t genuinely recognized as the first Cowtown of the West is because very few cattle herds actually made it to their destination.  There were a series of hillbillies guarding the Southern border of Missouri to ensure that the Texas Longhorns carrying the deadly tick fever were not going to cross over. Several drovers lost their lives in an attempt to break through the Missouri wall.  The Sedalia trail was also a nightmare even without the coonskin-capped border patrol because the path would send the drovers through the Ozark Mountains, which isn’t exactly the Rockies, but it wasn’t the best to run thousands of cattle.  Beyond the Ozarks, there was always a possibility of Indian raids in which there were still tribes looking around to establish their dominance in the Wild West even though the government had forced many Native Americans out to unwanted lands.

We suggest the MISSOURI Chamber of Commerce, or at least the Sedalia Chamber, might find itself sipping from the cup of umbrage at that characterization.  Coonskin-capped border patrol?  Hillbilly guards?   Hmmmmmphhhhhhh!

About three-thousand cattle were being brought into Missouri from Texas in the pre-Civil War years but the Texas ticks were hurting Missouri cattle, leading to a proposal in the 1855 legislature to ban diseased cattle from Missouri.

Sedalia, however, became a point for Texas cattle, particularly after the railroad reached there in 1860.  And when the KATY railroad built a line from Sedalia to Texas, the city became a major watering stop for the steam-powered trains that hauled cattle to Chicago in the post-Chisholm Trail days.

But when Joseph McCoy set up shop in Abilene, Sedalia’s development as THE western cattle trail head quickly ended.

The Texas cow boys (it was two separate words in those days) drove a couple million head of cattle up the Chisholm Trail from San Antonio to the railroad at Abilene from about 1867-71. By then, those bothersome Kansas farmers who had learned that winter wheat could flourish in Kansas and argued their land had become too valuable to be tromped on by ticky Texas Cattle, had expanded operations and the tick line kept getting moved farther west and other towns, including rip-roaring Dodge City, had become the cow towns of American West fame.  On March 7, 1885, Kansas enacted a strict quarantine banning Texas cattle everywhere except for December, January, and February—the cold weather months when tick-borne diseases were less likely.

By then the cow boys didn’t need to go to Kansas because the railroads had gone to Texas, including the KATY with its links to our own Abilene-maligned Sedalia.

(Concrete, America)—Covered a lot of miles on I-70—a road that makes any state boring except Missouri, where lax billboard standards just make the state look boring AND trashy—on that trip.

Saw a lot of hybrid vehicles on the road with us including a few Teslas and, as frequently happens, wondered about where they go to recharge.

We recalled that one of the diesel cars we owned years ago had a book in the glove compartment listing gas stations with diesel pumps for cars—they were kind of rare in those days—and we wondered if anybody provided a source for electric car owners that listed places where they could plug in.

Turns out there are at least two sources: Ameren.com and solvingev.com.  Might be kind of nice in MODOT had a webpage with the same information.   But the two sources that we looked at a minute ago show there are a LOT of places to plug in, power up, and go on (kind of a modern Timothy Leary phrase).  And the increasing number reflects the changes that are gaining momentum in our transportation system.  Doesn’t solve the pothole problems, though.  That might be a challenge for the legislature: figure out the equivalent of a gas tax on EV battery fill-ups.

A few years ago we suggested to a national motel chain that it might pick up a lot of customers if it had charging stations for overnight guests.  Still a good idea although we have yet to see a motel with a charging station.

(Wakeeny, Kansas)—This. place. is. starting. to. feel. weird.  Regular readers might recall that last summer we stopped at a motel in this town of fewer than 1800 people three counties away from the Kansas/Colorado border and ran into someone who recognized us from the time many years ago when he worked at the Capitol while I was scratching for news there.  This time we stopped and the young lady behind the desk was from Boonville and used to listen to “Across Our Wide Missouri,” the daily historical program we still do on the Missourinet.

I don’t know, after this, how often we want to stop at Wakeeney in the future.  It’s starting to feel a little Twilight Zoneish, like we’ll wake up some morning and be the only people in the town and we won’t be able to get out.

(Mailbox, Mo.)—Stopped at the post office and picked up our mail held for the last ten days.  46 things.  Ten were catalogs although we were surprised that only one was from L. L. Bean, which usually seems to send us a new one every three days, or from the Duluth people who are almost as prolific.  Of the 46 pieces of mail, only four were personal (cards or letters) unless you count the three bills.  Eleven were solicitations, usually reminders that it’s getting late in the year and you better donate to our cause so you can beat the IRS.  Eight were non-catalog ads, including one from Barnes and Noble which seems to have forgotten that it closed its store here months ago (we also get a lot of email solicitations from Sears, which took their store away from us months ago, too).

Less than ten percent of our mail was from people contacting people.

(Stamp Counter, Mo.)—Mailed a letter the other day and stuck one of those “Forever” stamps on it—you know, the one that’s good no matter what this month’s postage rate is. (We include this in the “notes from the road” entry because we drove to the nearest postal facility to mail the letter instead of raising the flag on the mailbox on the curb.)  The idea came to mind that the postal service should change the image on future “Forever” stamps.    It should be a

Snail.

Why I’m thankful today

It was Thanksgiving Day fifty years ago.  It’s Thanksgiving Day today.

I’m giving thanks for lugging a trombone around for many of the years of the past half-century.  I’m giving thanks for someone who sees cobwebs where I’d never notice them, for someone who says the yard needs improving when I think mowing is good enough, for someone who forced me to accept broccoli a long time ago, for someone who’s been the reason I’m always glad to walk into the house no matter where in the world I’ve been or what I’ve done.

A long time ago my parents got a letter saying I’d been on a date with a girl named Nancy and saying they might be hearing more about her.  I used to carry her trombone to the Missouri Tiger basketball games because she was in Marching Mizzou, which during basketball season was Sitting at the End of the Court Mizzou.  It took a while for things to get serious, couple of years maybe, but personal gravity eventually worked its miracle.

I used to do a “good music” show on a radio station in Columbia, “Matinee at Midnight,” from midnight to 4 a.m.  It was, in those days, the kind of stuff intended to help fog up the windows of cars parked in secluded spots in the Columbia area. Listeners probably figured something was going on when they started hearing Frank Sinatra sing more frequently than the normal music schedule would suggest:

If I don’t see her each day, I miss her
Gee, what a thrill each time I kiss her
I’ve got a terrible case
On Nancy with the laughin’ face

She takes the winter and makes it summer
But summer could take some lessons from her
Picture a tomboy in lace
That’s Nancy with the laughin’ face

Have you ever heard mission bells ringin’?
Well, she’ll give you the very same glow
When she speaks, you would think it was singin’
Just hear her say hello

I swear to goodness you can’t resist her
Sorry for you, she has no sister
No angel could replace
Nancy with the laughin’ face

Keep Betty Grable, Lamour, and Turner
She makes my heart a charcoal burner
It’s heaven when I embrace
My Nancy with the laughin’ face

I never thought of her as a “tomboy in lace,” and she does have two sisters and the first two lines of the last verse stuff about Grable, Lamour, and Turner doesn’t apply (though they probably did for Frank), but the rest of the song pretty much summed things up.  By the time I discovered this song on one of Sinatra’s albums, I was a gone goose.

We got married on Thanksgiving because a college kid and good friend, Jim Pirner, would be home from MU for the long holiday so I could take off four days from the radio station to get married and honeymoon in romantic St. Louis.   In November.

The Hanson farmhouse on a hill outside Rolla was a pretty busy that day with my parents, Nancy’s sisters, and members of the small wedding party spending Thanksgiving Day before that evening’s event.  That evening we all went to the chapel at the Rolla Presbyterian Church for a modest wedding presided over by the minister there and the minister from our student group at the First Christian Church in Columbia. Nancy wore a white wool suit, which was mentioned in the newspaper write-ups in Rolla and back home (for me) in Sullivan Illinois. I wore a three-piece Montgomery Ward blue suit which got no mention whatever in the newspapers. I think we still have those outfits somewhere but they have shrunk a lot in these five decades.

My mother, who enjoyed wearing formals at Eastern Star ceremonies, was disappointed that we were (as she put it) more interested in getting married than in having a wedding.

I don’t know that we thought much about the future although I did calculate how old we’d be when we had been married fifty years.  Nancy and I have ridden the crest of time’s wave and here we are, exactly as old as I calculated we’d be back in 1967.  We’ve had our adventures along the way—buying our first house, deciding we had to get out of the old pile because the winter heating bills were bigger than the mortgage and the water and electrical problems were far beyond our income level to fix, producing a couple of children who have grown up to be smart and handsome adults with families of their own, rafting the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon and hiking out from the bottom to the top of a hot July 5th, finding and mapping ancient pueblos and cliff dwellings in the Four Corners region,

hiking around at Machu Picchu (it’s in the Andes Mountains behind her in the picture), getting face to face with one of the giant tortoises on a Galapagos Island, walking on a glacier at Skagway, following Lewis and Clark’s trail to the Pacific and the Oregon Trail back home, dealing with a ruptured appendix and a broken ankle.  And we can hardly wait until next Spring when we head to Africa.

Here’s another example of how special our lives together are.  We often have driven across Kansas, and do it at least a couple of times a year now that our son lives with his family in Longmont, Colorado, a half-hour north of Denver.   Neither of us minds driving across Kansas.  We swap off every couple of hours which keeps things from being monotonous.  But we’ve decided there must be a mutual genetic disposition toward Kansas.  One side of Nancy’s family has farmed near Larned for more than a hundred years—there are even buffalo wallow in the pastures.  Both sides of my family were from northern Kansas, near Beloit and both of our families were living out there before the Indians were gone.

When navigation systems became options for automobiles, I told dealers I didn’t need one because I had one sitting in the passenger seat with a map in her lap.  We have navigation systems in our cars now.  But Nancy still has a map.  Even on I-70 going across Kansas when getting lost is not an option.  She’s kept me on course in more ways than one and not always on trips.

Seven or eight years ago Nancy heard a city concert band was being formed for people who used to enjoy being in a band in high school or college.  So I’m still carrying her trombone and she is having a good time playing in a band again.  And it’s a good band.

No, it has not just sped by.  It’s been fifty years.  This is our 18,264th day since we put gold rings on each other’s third fingers, left hands (counting leap days).  When we think of all the times we’ve lived through, all the things we’ve done, all the places we’ve been, the children we’ve seen become great grownups, we know that fifty years has been, well, fifty years—a not insignificant length of time.

We don’t mind being as old as we are—although it does give us pause to realize our daughter and our son are plunging toward middle age, which signifies that we must be old, whatever that means.

There have been a lot of those 18,000-some nights when one of my last thoughts has been a little prayer of thanks that we are ending the day beside each other, as we have been beside each other for these fifty years.

Some of you who check in on these entries know how blessed I have been. A girl named Nancy who spent the first 13 years of her life on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and thinks cold weather is pretty good and Missouri Augusts are insufferable has stayed married to an Illinois boy who loved baling hay on the hottest days of summer and despises winter (although not so much since retirement means staying out of it a lot of the time) for half a century.

Before our household went from two to four, we had season tickets for a few years to the American Theatre in St. Louis, a place now gone but a place where we saw the touring companies of Broadway plays.  One of our favorites was, and is, I Do! I Do! The musical was based on Jan deHartog’s play, The Fourposter. Tom Jones wrote the book and lyrics and Harvey Schmidt wrote the music. We sat in the fifth row to watch the original cast members—Mary Martin and Robert Preston—portray a fifty-year marriage.

Broadway musicals had hit songs that made the popular music charts in those days.  Ed Ames hit the Billboard charts with the song Robert Preston sang:

Sometimes in the morning when shadows are deep
I lie here beside you just watching you sleep
And sometimes I whisper what I’m thinking of
My cup runneth over with love

Sometimes in the evening when you do not see
I study the small things you do constantly
I memorize moments that I’m fondest of
My cup runneth over with love

In only a moment we both will be old
We won’t even notice the world turning cold
And so, in these moments with sunlight above
My cup runneth over with love
My cup runneth over with love
With love

Toward the end of the play the characters, Michael and Agnes, look back on their marriage and then look ahead in a tune called “Roll Up the Ribbons.”

Michael-Roll up the ribbons, fold up the papers
Stow all these things away!
This day is done, and another is on its way.
Agnes-Pack up the present; look to the future.
One thing I know is true.
The best day of all is the day that is on its way.
Both-Waiting for you.
The best day of all is the day that is on its way.
Agnes-Waiting for you.
Michael-Waiting for you.
Both-Waiting for you.

So here we are, two Thanksgivings half a century apart.

Forget the Thanksgiving Pilgrim stories.  Nancy and I have lived our own story for fifty years now and it has been good.  And I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I will wake up next to her on the day that is on its way knowing that my cup still runneth over.

Now, if I can get her attention, I’d like a little more gravy.

 

 

 

 

U. S. Grant and Jeff Davis together at the state capital. During the war

U. S. Grant was in Jefferson City. So was Jefferson Davis. Davis gave Grant orders to get out of town.  Grant was on a train about an hour later.

Swear to God, it’s true.

If you know a little bit about Missouri’s Civil War history, you know that U. S. Grant’s first command was as a Colonel in charge of the 21st Illinois Infantry dispatched to rescue another Illinois unit surrounded by Confederate forces on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad near Palmyra, Missouri.  His unit arrived after the attack, stopped in Palmyra for a few days before moving to guard the reconstruction of a destroyed bridge over the Salt River. A couple of weeks later, Grant was ordered to attack a Rebel unit encamped near the small town of Florida.  Grant didn’t find Harris and went back to the bridge after overnighting in the small town.

Grant was named commander of a sub-district and ordered to headquarters in Mexico. It was there, several weeks later that he learned—by reading it in a newspaper—that he had been promoted to Brigadier General and had been ordered to take command of the southeast Missouri district. Upon arrival in Ironton, he met Colonel B. Gratz Brown whose troops’ ninety-day enlistments were running out or had run out. “Brown himself was gladder to see me on that occasion than he ever has been since,” wrote Grant later, undoubtedly reflecting on Brown’s post-war rise to the governorship and his vice-presidential candidacy against Grant’s effort to win a second term as President.

Within ten days, however, he was ordered to St. Louis where he was told to take command of the northwest district, including Union forces occupying Jefferson City.  He succeeded Colonel James Mulligan and found the troops “in the greatest confusion, and no one person knew where they all were.” Plus, the town “was filled with Union fugitives who had been driven by guerilla bands to take refuge with the National troops.”  He was ordered to organize an expedition to remove money from banks in Boonville, Chillicothe, and Lexington before rebels could get it.

But about a week after his arrival, he looked through his office door and saw Jefferson Davis striding toward him.  Davis handed him an order relieving him from command in Jefferson City and ordering him to St. Louis without delay. There undoubtedly were some people in the presumably southern-leaning town of 3,100 who enjoyed the irony of Jeff Davis replacing the commander of the occupying federal force.

Colonel Jefferson C. Davis was an Indiana native. He inherited a force of about 12,000 soldiers in northeast Missouri. By late September he had as many as 20,000 troops under his command, a buildup in response to reports General Sterling Price had about 16,000 men south of the Osage River and was thinking about attacks on Jefferson City, Boonville, or Lexington. One of the first things Davis did was organize his troops in and near the town to build fortifications.  While they proved unnecessary in 1861, their strengthened presence was important three years later when Price did move on Jefferson City.

Davis developed a plan to move against Price’s forces and state commander John Fremont approved them.  But Fremont never provided boats or teams necessary to launch the offensive.  He was frustrated when Price took Lexington and Mulligan’s 3,500-man force shortly afterwards because he thought the results would have been different if Fremont had given him the means to attack Price first.

About then Fremont ordered a reorganization of the southwest department and ordered Davis to the Springfield area where the next March, the Union Army moved south and defeated the South at the Battle of Pea Ridge, ending Confederate hopes of holding Missouri.

By then U. S. Grant had moved to Cape Girardeau and had started building the reputation that put him in charge of operations at Vicksburg in 1863, eventually to his command of the Army in the East, the surrender of  Lee and the end of the war in that theatre, and, ultimately, the Presidency.  The war limped on for several more weeks in the West and, some say, is still being waged socially today.  The other Jefferson Davis did not dissolve the Confederate government until almost a month after Appomattox.

Now-General Jefferson C. Davis operated in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee after leaving Missouri.  While in Kentucky, he shot and killed another general in a dispute. No charges were filed.  He became part of Sherman’s March to the Sea.  After the war, He became the first commander of the Department of Alaska after our purchase of it from the Russians in 1867. He established a fort at Sitka and ordered all Russian residents to leave their homes so Americans could move in.  He commanded forces in Oregon and California where his campaign against the Modocs forced their surrender.

Davis was back in Missouri where he helped keep the 1877 Railroad Strike in St. Louis from turning violent.  He died two years later in Chicago, a year before Grant lost a bid for the nomination for a third term as President.

Grant died in 1885, the year his family’s financial future was secured by the publication of his memoirs by Charles L. Webster & Company, an arrangement brokered for Grant by former (briefly) Confederate soldier Samuel Clemens, who had been born in the small town of Florida that had been, for one day, the headquarters of Grant’s first command.

Oh, how Tom Benton would love to wade into this!

Indiana University has decided that its students should no longer be forced to attend classes in a room that contains part of a large mural painted by Missouri’s Thomas Hart Benton in 1933, three years before he painted the mural at the Missouri Capitol.

An online petition had demanded removal from a classroom of the offensive section of the mural, which shows, amidst a lot of other things, a Ku Klux Klan rally with a burning cross. The university won’t remove it.  But the chancellor has decided the university won’t “force” students to see it—and, of course, ponder what it’s about.

The mural was created for the Indiana building at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, billed as “The Century of Progress.”  The entire mural is 230 feet long and fourteen feet high. It’s so big, much bigger than our capitol mural, that it is housed in three buildings on the campus at Bloomington, Indiana.

IU’s Provost, Lauren Robel, says in part of a 1,902 word statement, “While I believe that we can and should educate the public and our community about the murals, that intellectual work can and should take place in a context that does not involve the captive audience of classes devoted to other subjects.”  So, starting with the next semester, Room 100 in Woodburn Hall will be put to “other uses.”

The Indiana mural generated a certain amount of controversy from the start. Lawrence County (Indiana) Historical Society President Zora Askew said the mural “should offend the sensibilities of every Hoosier who has resect for the hardy pioneers from the East, West, North, and South that came to form the melting pot now known as Indiana.” State conservation director Richard Lieber, who supervised the mural’s creation, claimed the Klan had no significance in the state.  Benton wrote in his first autobiography, An Artist in America, that he arranged a happy hour with some legislators and invited Lieber, rigging the meeting so someone would ask if he thought the Klan was important to Indiana history. Benton responded that he was doubtful but appealed to the legislators. “They being newly-elected Democratic politicians, while the Klan business occurred under Republican auspices, promptly informed me that it was of immense importance and had nearly ruined the state,” Benton wrote. “When they got through airing the importance of the Klan, I shouldn’t have dared to leave the organization out of the factual history of Indiana.”

This writer would like to see Ms. Robel discuss the shutdown of the room as a classroom with Mr. Benton who has, fortunately for her perhaps, been dead since 1975.  But when he finished his Missouri mural in December, 1936, he faced severe criticism from people who didn’t like some of the things in it–a baby’s naked bottom, a depiction of bank and train robber Jesse James, an illustration of the violence of Missouri’s guerilla warfare (including a lynching) during the Civil War, the portrayal of a slave sale, and particularly a depiction of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast.

His critics felt the unsanitary parts of history had no business being on display in our state capitol that is otherwise decorated with depictions of Missouri’s more noble or victorious moments.

He didn’t give an inch to them.

The House Lounge for many years was a place where captive audiences often met. The House Appropriations Committee, particularly, used to hold its hearings there. State department representatives were forced to sit in a room surrounded by images that might make them “uncomfortable” and justify their budget requests, a process we guarantee you was much more uncomfortable than the images on the walls. The use of the room for hearings was abandoned in 1980 not because anybody was traumatized or might have been traumatized in some way, but because smoking was banned in the room because of the damage and potential damage to the mural.

Discomfort is a big reason for the decision, however, at Indiana University.  The university apparently doesn’t want any of its students in these post-Charlottesville days to be discomfited by a mural showing a part of Indiana’s history.

Indiana University historian James Capshaw is discomfited by those who try to link the panel to Charlottesville. He told the Star, “It’s not like a Confederate monument that was erected in the 19-teens or ‘20s that was specifically to enforce Jim Crow practices and basically put blacks in their place again…It’s very different from what’s going on in Charlottesville and other places.”

Roble seems to sympathize somewhat with Capshaw’s view that the mural should be discussed in the proper context but she says teachers don’t like time to be taken away from their courses to explain the significance of the mural segment. Furthermore, she maintains, such sessions haven’t worked.

The Indianapolis Star has reported a petition campaign was started by a 32-year old former IU student now living in Florida who said the school “has a responsibility to do something to address student and faculty discomfort,” although the newspaper reports she didn’t recall hearing much about the mural when she was a student in Bloomington. But now she has referred to the mural segment as “a symbol of hate” and worried that “something as simple as a picture can sometimes, to some people, be justification for those kind of acts.”  She wanted to have the panel taken down. In fact, she suggested the entire mural be removed from the campus and put in a museum “for educational purposes,” a place where it could become “a learning opportunity” instead of just “sitting in a classroom” (where, we note, educational purposes are practiced and learning opportunities are a constant).

A petition reflecting her concerns was circulated on campus in August. It got more than one-thousand signatures.

—on a campus that had more than 43,000 students for the start of the 2016-17 school year, with record numbers of minorities.

We haven’t seen the 2017-18 final fall enrollment figures. We also haven’t seen any breakouts of those thousand-or-so students showing how many of them have or have had classes in that room and how many of those who did were so distracted by Benton’s reference to the era when the Klan was a powerful political force in Indiana—as it was a force in 1920s Missouri—that it disrupted their school work.

Apparently the school’s VP for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs carried no weight in the discussion.  James Wimbush, reports the newspaper, said the panel does not violate the university’s diversity statement: “It does not glorify or celebrate this particular dark episode of the KKK in Indiana, but instead shows that the state’s past has shameful moments the likes of which we do not want to see again, ever.”

And Benton, who believed history had to be taken “warts and all,” would probably appreciate his comment that, “It’s important to understand the state’s history—the good and the bad.”   Wimbush said the mural segment offered a teachable moment.

But instead of using it to teach, the university is going to shield its students from the opportunity to learn a lesson available for eighty years from Benton’s painting.

Roble, by the way, ruled out covering the panel with cloth because would amount to censorship.  Apparently making sure students are not exposed to it during their classes is not.

We do not intend to try to get inside Benton’s head and divine today what he would argue specifically with Roble’s decision.  He did, after all, defend the rights of institutions to do with their public art what they wished.  He went in 1954 to Lincoln University in Jefferson City for a meeting of the National Conference of Teachers of Art in Negro Colleges where he was asked, “Does the public have the right to criticize the symbols of a mural or maybe erase it off the wall?”   He responded:

It boils down to whether the public has the right to destroy the work of an artist…It was never, in ancient times or medieval times, believed that an institution which didn’t like a picture didn’t also have the right to get it out of the way…The question of the property value in works of art is a difficult one to decide even today. Current educated sentiment seems to be with the artist—that is, if the artist puts his soul into a thing, it is believed the average buyer hasn’t the right to destroy it…Certainly, if the majority of the people in a community object to a mural, I really don’t see what the artist can legally do to keep them from boarding it up, or tearing it down, or doing whatever they want with it…Has the community the right to get rid of something it doesn’t like?  Well, generally, even in the most liberal society, I’d say the answer would be “Yes.” 

Benton’s 1954 response would seem to support Roble’s 2017 decision. But, based on his defenses of his Missouri mural, he might question whether the rationale behind letting a few petition-signers representing only a small, small part of the student body make the entire university overly sensitive when public dialogue is so badly needed in the face of events in Charlottesville and elsewhere.

“The purpose of a work of art is not so much to tell what the artist’s thoughts were as to stimulate thoughts in those who view it,” Benton wrote in 1940. “A cartoon tells a specific story and lasts a day—a work of art tells as many stories as there are people to see it. It lasts by that power to continually stimulate…”

We are left to wonder how putting Benton’s painting out of sight and out of mind for young people whose lives going forward desperately need the stimulation of history, “warts and all,” serves education’s oft-stated goal of creating a thinking, responsible society.

(The writer of this entry is the author of Only the Rivers are Peaceful: Thomas Hart Benton’s Missouri Mural, published in 1989.  The photograph of the classroom is from the Indiana Daily Student newspaper. Benton is from Angiesdiay.com.)

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We do not intend with this entry to diminish the extensive thought process behind Provost Robel’s decision, but only to question the decision—as Benton questioned the inclinations of those who sought to keep the public from thinking about the issues raised in his Missouri Capitol mural.  In fairness to her, we offer from the September 29, 2017 edition of The Indianapolis Star her entire memo:

Dear IU Bloomington Community,

I write to discuss the Benton Murals. In 1933, Thomas Hart Benton was commissioned by the State of Indiana to create the Indiana Murals for the Chicago World’s Fair. This work, which has become Benton’s most enduring artistic accomplishment, contains a self-portrait embedded in the panel entitled “Indiana Puts Her Trust in Thought.” Some eight decades after their creation, the murals serve as a vivid reminder of the strength and resiliency of a community that puts its trust in thoughtful reflection and dialogue about its past, present, and future.

I apologize in advance for the length of this communication, but the subject is complicated, the history is long, and the factors to be balanced are many. I therefore put my trust, as always, in your willingness to think carefully with me, and look forward to the discussion and ideas I am sure this letter will spark.

Herman B Wells brought the Benton Murals to the Bloomington campus several years after the World’s Fair. At the time, the IU Auditorium and several other buildings around the Fine Arts Plaza were under construction, and Wells saw the murals as ideal centerpieces for a burgeoning campus arts district. As a result, Indiana University is now steward to this astonishing and celebrated work of art, a 22-panel mural sequence displayed in three separate venues on the campus. Two of those spaces, the IU Auditorium and the IU Cinema, are performance and artistic venues. One, Woodburn Hall 100, is currently used as a large classroom.

The classroom contains a panel of the murals that has repeatedly sparked controversy, as it includes a depiction of a Ku Klux Klan rally and a burning cross. The imagery in that panel, entitled “Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press,” has been controversial since its creation. Benton’s intent was to show the role that the press had played in battling the Klan through exposing the Klan’s corruption of and infiltration into all levels of Indiana government in the 1920s. At the time of the mural’s creation, many opposed Benton’s decision to include the Klan, because they did not want to portray Indiana in a negative light, and the memories of the Klan’s political influence were still raw. Benton, however, overcame this opposition, and maintained artistic control. He believed that his murals needed to show all aspects of the state’s history, even the ugly and discomfiting parts, so we could confront the mistakes of the past.

Understood in the light of all its imagery and its intent, Benton’s mural is unquestionably an anti-Klan work. Unlike statues at the heart of current controversies, Benton’s depiction was intended to expose the Klan’s history in Indiana as hateful and corrupt; it does not honor or even memorialize individuals or the organization as a whole. Everything about its imagery—the depiction of the Klan between firefighters and a circus; the racially integrated hospital ward depicted in the foreground suggesting a different future ahead—speaks to Benton’s views. Every society that has gone through divisive trauma of any kind has learned the bitter lesson of suppressing memories and discussion of its past; Benton’s murals are intended to provoke thought.

Throughout history, art has served many purposes, often to lift up and honor a subject but also at times to call attention to something that is deserving of our condemnation. It is a mistake, therefore, to assume that a depiction of an historical event is the same as honoring it. Picasso, for example, depicted the horrible bombing and destruction of the village of Guernica in one of his most famous and admired paintings. It shows the consequences of the fascist bombings of a Basque village not to glorify that tragedy but to condemn it. That painting now serves as a powerful anti-war and anti-fascist work of art. It does so by depicting and calling our attention not to what we are honoring but to what we are condemning. I believe the same can be said for the Benton murals.

Nevertheless, the imagery in this panel of the murals is vivid, startling, and disturbing; and to reach the conclusion I just stated about the meaning of the mural requires work and time studying the mural and its interrelated images. Like most great art, Benton’s murals require context and history. Many well-meaning people, without having the opportunity to do that work, wrongly condemn the mural as racist simply because it depicts a racist organization and a hateful symbol.

However, even with the proper information and education, many students still feel strongly that a Klan rally and burning cross looming over their classes seriously impedes their learning. For some of our students, the burning cross is a symbol of terror that has haunted their families for generations. For others, the robed Klansman has figured in personal family or community tragedies and anguish. These reactions are absolutely reasonable on their face, and as Charlottesville shows, they are not ancient history. They have to be reckoned with, but it is far from clear that the reckoning should be an inevitable part of a class in finite mathematics, macroeconomics, organic chemistry, or gross anatomy and physiology—all classes taught regularly in this space—particularly since the burden of that reckoning inevitably falls more heavily on students whose race or religion have made their families the historical targets of the Klan.

Every few years, since at least the 1980s, the campus has grappled with the presence of the Benton Murals in Woodburn. We are entrusted with the preservation of this important work of art, yet we must also do everything possible to promote a civil and inclusive campus that provides equal opportunity for all to learn. What to do?

This question becomes especially urgent whenever events such as the march of white supremacist groups in Charlottesville and the current national debate over Confederate monuments occur. These broader conversations become deeply local, and we must come to a decision as a community on how to handle public art and memory as it pertains to the Benton Murals on our campus. On at least eight occasions since the 1980s, diverse committees of faculty, students, and staff have considered the issues raised by the controversial panel. Our campus has held town halls, symposia, and conferences to discuss the panel and its impact, including just this week a faculty-led discussion organized by PACE on “Art, Public Memory & Racial Justice.” Such efforts have consistently led to the conclusion that we need to do what Indiana University does best: educate. We have called on our community to educate through discussions of history, art history, African American and African Diaspora Studies, American Studies, and every discipline that touches on how a controversial and anti-racist piece of art should be contextualized and understood.

I agree that the proper response to the Benton Murals is education, and I have been the beneficiary of a review of the work of all of these previous efforts. However, most committees have concluded that this education needs to be done in every class taught in Woodburn 100. As a result, well-intentioned efforts to require ameliorating discussion of the murals there have foundered, and ultimately been abandoned, multiple times. Instructors without appropriate academic backgrounds feel unprepared for the discussion that should surround such a sensitive set of issues, and unhappy to be taking class time for discussions that have nothing to do with the subject of the class and everything to do with the room it is in. Students are captive audiences in Woodburn 100, and those with repeated classes there resent the repeated discussions related to the classroom art, as opposed to the subject-matter of their classes.

The murals cannot be moved. Benton painted them using egg tempera paint, which has become extremely fragile over time. Moreover, the space in Woodburn 100 was designed specifically to house the two panels that now hang there, and they were installed in such a way that moving them would almost certainly cause irreparable damage. Nor does the notion of covering them with a curtain accord with our responsibility as stewards of this precious art. Covering the murals feels like censorship and runs counter to the expressed intent of the artist to make visible moments in history that some would rather forget. Furthermore, covering the murals during class periods would leave them hidden for the vast majority of time and create a situation in which the decision to uncover them could be used by some as a symbolic act in support of the very ideology the murals are intended to criticize.

However, there is nothing sacrosanct about using Woodburn 100 as a classroom. While I believe that we can and should educate the public and our community about the murals, that intellectual work can and should take place in a context that does not involve the captive audience of classes devoted to other subjects. Therefore, Woodburn 100 will convert to other uses beginning in the spring semester 2018.

We have determined that we can accommodate almost all (and perhaps all) the classes typically taught there as early as this spring in other locations without a loss of classroom capacity, and we will certainly be able to accommodate them all elsewhere by summer. Like the other two venues in which the murals are displayed, Woodburn 100 can usefully serve other purposes, such as a gallery space and public lecture space, that are more conducive to teaching about the mural. Indeed, many departments and faculty members have expressed a need for more such spaces on campus, and Woodburn 100 offers a ready-made solution. Its adjacency to the arts corridor makes it particularly conducive to these purposes and will also allow us to install interactive media that can educate those who come for the gallery space or for other events. We could also put this art in conversation with other pieces of art the campus owns or could borrow, which would allow us to much better use the murals’ potential for education and engagement than the current configuration allows. I believe that repurposing the room is the best accommodation of the multiple factors that the murals raise: our obligation to be a welcoming community to all of our students and facilitate their learning; our stewardship of this priceless art; and our obligation to stand firm in defense of artistic expression. I invite community members to think creatively about how best to use this repurposed space to engage with the issues the murals present.

The Benton Murals are a national treasure. They depict the social progression of Indiana history—including, explicitly, the promise and hope of racial integration and a free press arising out of the fight against the political influence of the Klan—through the visceral and powerful vision of one of the most significant artists of the period. Indiana University is the steward of this incredible public art, we are bound to protect it and educate the world about it, and we will do so in ways that are pedagogically appropriate. Our primary mission is to teach students to think critically and deeply about the world, and great art is an important route to that end. We will continue to strive for this ideal, and challenge each other to think intensively and critically about art, history, diversity, and inclusion, and what it means to be a citizen of this university, state, and the world. Benton’s work deserves no less.”

— Lauren Robel, executive vice president and provost

 

 

 

Folk lore

Several good stories about the Missouri Capitol were dispatched to the cutting-room floor when the original 727-page typescript of the next Capitol book was pared down to a size the publisher can handle and this is one of them. Well, actually, two.

This particular segment is only sixteen lines long.  The story behind it is much longer, as you will see if you endure the telling of it all the way to the end, and a forerunner to the today’s highways and transportation issues.

(“The cutting-room floor” is a movie industry term that refers to the footage that is cut out of the final version of the film during the editing process.  But you probably already knew that).

One of the stories began with an old postcard. Old postcards can be fascinating reading. Many are pretty mundane but sometimes the brief messages on the back are flash views into someone’s life and there have been times when I’ve gone to the internet to see if I can track down the person who received the card all those years ago or the person who sent it to learn the story to which the brief message refers. Sometimes the reader of the back of an old postcard can mentally create a scenario around that message.  Robert Olen Butler did that several years ago in his book, Had a Good Time: Stories from American Postcards. It’s a fun read.

But the postcard that led to the following story that has wound up on the new Capitol book’s editorial cutting-room floor had nothing on the back.  The front did have a short message, mentioning that Governor Joseph Folk was standing on the front steps of the capitol, the one that burned a few years later.  He’s the one on about the fifth step who appears to be talking to a bearded man named Ezra Meeker.

One of the stories here  is of the image and the other is the sixteen lines about Folk that have been excised from the new book.

This postcard shows Meeker’s covered wagon next to one of the first automobiles in Jefferson City.  Old Ezra was a heckuva guy.  His legacy is the Oregon Trail.  And Joe Folk has legacy in Missouri transportation history.

Ezra Meeker, his wife of one year, Eliza, their newborn son, Marion, and his older brother, Oliver, went west from Iowa to Oregon with an ox team in 1852. The trip took six months.   Ezra became the first postmaster and the first mayor of Puyallup, Washington and he and Eliza raised five children.  A sixth died in infancy.

When Ezra was seventy-five years old, he became convinced that the Oregon Trail and its stories were being forgotten as plains farmers plowed up its ruts and communities were built over sections of it.  He decided the way to bring that part of our history back to public attention was travel it backwards.  He got a couple of oxen named Dave and Twist, a collie dog named Jim, and a covered wagon and retraced his path of a half-century earlier.  He encouraged the communities he visited to put up monuments marking the trail.

Twist died in Nebraska, perhaps having eaten something poisonous, and Meeker replaced him with another ox named Dandy.  By late November, 1907, Meeker was in Washington, D. C., where he showed his wagon to President Roosevelt and spent more than a month urging Congress to mark the Oregon Trail.

He left D. C. in January, 1908 and went into winter quarters in Pittsburg until early March.  By then, Congress was considering a bill to spend $50,000 to mark the trail. Other legislation called for a federal-state partnership to build a national highway along the Oregon Trail as a memorial road.  He got a frosty reception from the Mayor of St. Louis and left after staying a few days, “greatly disappointed.”

“I had anticipated a warm reception. St. Louis, properly speaking, had been the head center of the movement that finally established the Oregon Trail. Here was where Weythe, Bonneville, Whitman and others of the earlier movements…had outfitted, but there is now a commercial generation, many of whom that care but little about the subject.”

He did, however, find some ‘zealous advocates’ of the effort to mark the Trail, including the automobile club and the Daughters of the American Revolution.” His drive from St. Louis to Jefferson City “was tedious and without results.”  But, “Governor Folks came out on the state house steps to have his photograph taken and otherwise signified his approval of the work, and I was accorded a cordial hearing by the citizens of that city,” he wrote in his 1916 book.

And that’s what we see on that postcard.  Dave and Dandy, the wagon, a car, and Governor Folk talking to Meeker, who made it back to Seattle, Washington on July 18, 1908.  He travelled the Trail again by oxcart, 1910-1912, and by 1916 he was writing, “A great change has come over the minds of the American people in this brief period of eight years.  Numerous organizations have sprung into existence for the betterment of Good Roads, for the perpetuation of ‘The Old Trails’ and the memory of those who wore them wide and deep.”

Ezra traveled the Oregon Trail for the last time in 1924—by airplane, when he was 93.  He died in December, 1928, about three weeks short of his 98th birthday.

Now we switch focus a little.

The Good Roads movement traces its beginnings to a 1902 proposal to build a memorial road from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville.  By the time Ezra Meeker started his second trip on the Oregon Trail, numerous local efforts to establish a good roads program were underway, leading to the national good roads movement.  Richard Weingroff of the Federal Highway Administration wrote that one of the pioneering efforts was the National Old Trails road, “an outgrowth of two movements in Missouri.”  The first of those efforts was promotion of a road linking St. Louis and Kansas City.  The second of those movements was spearheaded by the DAR to mark the Santa Fe Trail.  “In the summer of 1907, Governor Folk…expressed an interest in a cross-State macadam highway,” he wrote.

But, actually, Folk had spoken on the subject earlier when he announced in August, 1906, a plan to finance road development in Missouri, first linking Kansas City and St. Louis and a second road from the Arkansas border to the Iowa border.  He said he would ask the 1907 legislature to require Missouri dramshops to pay a state license fee of $200 a year.  The Automobile magazine commented in its August 23 issue, “As there are 650 saloons in Kansas City alone, it may be easily seen that the revenue derived would be large.”  Folk told a group in Kansas City, “It is my view that the highway department of the state should be organized after the same manner as the public school system, to the end that there may be good roads in every portion of the commonwealth.”

And this is where we finally get to the sixteen lines that won’t be in the book—and the story of Folk’s misadventures behind the wheel of an automobile, as reported by The Cole County Democrat on June 20, 1907.

Folk, who had called in his 1905 inaugural speech for a constitutional amendment setting a tax to finance a road building system in Missouri, was the first Missouri Governor to call for a cross-state highway which led the State Board of Agriculture’s Highway Department to suggest three routes.  His interest in roads might have motivated him to become the first sitting Governor to drive a car, secretly negotiating an outing with Ed Austin, the commissions clerk in the Secretary of state’s office.  Austin drove about four miles from the capitol on a road known as “Ten Mile Run,” then switched seats with Folk, who “proceeded to violate the speed limit going down the very first hill,” as newspaper reporter Charles B. Oldham reported.  Folk estimated they had been traveling at least thirty miles an hour. But by the time the car reached the top of the next hill “it was not traveling at the rate of a mile a week.”

He also observed that no court of justice would fine him for the speed he made going down hill, because the machine was not obeying his will.

While this conversation as going on the automobile stopped to listen.  The Governor could not make it start.  Mr. Austin commanded it to go, but it refused to budge.  When he had worked an hour on the intestines of the vehicle, the Governor inquired the distance from town. 

Mr. Austin thought that as the bee would fly, it was about four miles.  Just then the vehicle commenced throbbing and sputtering.  The Governor yanked the lever about and they went straight into a deep ditch.  The occupants did not take the usual time to alight.  As the ground was soft, neither was injured.

Meanwhile, some parties in town had learned of the departure of the two gentlemen, and a relief party was fitted out in charge of Col. Wm. Irwin.  When they reached the Governor and Mr. Austin the latter were still working to get the vehicle out of the ditch.

The relief party came to their assistance and presently got it back on the highway.  The Governor consented to ride back to town in the automobile, providing the relief party would follow immediately in the rear with a buggy.  In this way the party reached home safely.

The three-road idea also went into the ditch during Folk’s term but was pulled out by his successor, Herbert Hadley.

 We don’t know if the car next to Meeker’s wagon in that April 1908 postcard is Austin’s car.  But it might be. Pictures of REOs from 1907-08 show cars looking like that one and steered with a lever, not a wheel.  The REO was built by Ransom E. Olds, whose cars later became, of course, Oldsmobiles.

It’s a little hard to pinpoint where Folk’s great adventure happened.  Jefferson City developed a North and a South Ten Mile Drive as it spread west. North Ten Mile Drive became Truman Boulevard in the Capital Mall area.  But the area in 1907 was ‘way out in the country, so far out that the state’s chief executive would be away from the public eye when he tried out Ed Austin’s contraption.

Old postcards.  Love the stories they tell.

Notes from the road: Solving a great musical mystery

(Boston)—The locals warn out-of-towners to forget about trying to drive in historic downtown Boston.  Traffic is terrible. Roundabouts are hopelessly confusing.  The old streets are narrow and leave strangers bewildered.  Better, they say, to stay in the suburbs and ride the subway into the heart of the city or catch a Gray-Line Tours bus if you want to see the many historic sites in one day.

Those who choose to ride the subway buy fare cards that are inserted into slots that open the gates to the platforms.  The fare cards are known as “Charlie Cards” (which you might want to remember for a trivia contest sometime).  They’re called Charlie Cards in memory of the hapless, trapped, subway rider named Charlie who became world-famous, thanks to a 1949 campaign song for a progressive mayoral candidate who campaigned against the city’s complicated subway fares which included an “exit fare,” a way to increase the taxes without changing the fare collection system at the start of the trip.  The Kingston Trio made it a hit song in 1959.

It tells the story of Charlie, who paid his dime at the Kendall Square Station then changed lines so he could reach Jamaica Plain, a place founded three centuries earlier by Puritans looking for land to farm and eventually became one of America’s first streetcar suburbs. But when he got to “JP,” as local folks call it, he did not have the extra nickel to pay his exit fare, dooming him to roam beneath the streets of Boston forever because “he couldn’t get off of that train.” His devoted wife went each day at the Scollay Square Station (pronounced “Scully” by the natives) and waited for the train to slow down enough that she could pass him a sandwich through an open window. At least, that’s how the song tells the story.

One of America’s great mysteries is why she never gave him a nickel when she gave him the sandwich.

We have done some historical research on that issue because it has bothered us, too, for decades.  We think we have uncovered the entire story in the microfilm room of the Beacon Hill Metropolitan Library, which is a short distance from the former Bull & Finch Pub that is now called “Cheers” because it was the prototype for Sam Malone’s tavern in the television show; its entrance was featured in the show’s opening.  The story found in the records of the Beacon Hill Democrat-Challenger, a long-dead newspaper, turns out to be a rather sordid matter.  But it does have a happy ending because Charlie, in real life, did get off of that train.

Charles J. Faneuil was a descendant of Peter Faneuil, the merchant who in 1740 built a market house that became the centerpiece of the early Boston independence movement.  Despite his historic family name, Charles was a middle-class bookkeeper for a suburban department store.  He was a solid and dutiful husband who left each morning and came home each night from his apparently dead-end office job that paid him enough to keep food on the table and a two-year old car in the driveway.

Mrs. Charles J. Faneuil, born Ann Revere Adams, was a descendant of two early Boston families whose “old money” was spent several generations previous to her marriage to Charles.  They had three children, Samuel Adams Faneuil, Betsy Ross Faneuil, and James Otis Faneuil.  Ann was a housewife but longed to be part of Boston’s upper social strata made up of descendants whose “old money” still existed and had multiplied because it was not squandered by previous generations. She yearned to be part of the kind of organizations that would refer to her as “Mrs. Charles Faneuil” instead of “Ann Faneuil,” as her friends did in the Tuesday Evening Mahjong Society.  In time she came to see her husband as an adequate provider but someone who would never give her a chance to live her dream.

The first public indication that the domestic life of Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Faneuil was not all peaches and cream (and sandwiches handed through subway car windows) is the notice that Mrs. Faneuil had filed for divorce, charging desertion and abandonment of family.  She claimed Charlie had willfully absented himself from the family home by intentionally taking only a dime with him when he left for work that morning, knowing that he would need another nickel not only to get to work but would need another dime and a nickel to ride the subway back home that evening.  She suggested in her filing that Charlie did so because he had become enamored of one Theodora Williams, whose friends called her “Teddy,” a fellow rider on the subway. And she claimed that Teddy did not loan her husband a nickel, either, because she didn’t want him to leave the train so she could make sure he would be there for her.

The case was filed for Mrs. Faneuil by Quincy Kennedy Kerry, the Faneuil family attorney, whose main reason for representing the family was his attraction to Ann Revere Adams Faneuil. When he had heard of Charlie’s predicament, he had visited Ann to express his sympathy and found her surprisingly willing to accept it, not knowing that she—weary of being a simple housewife and child-raiser—had fantasized about what life would have been like if she had married a lawyer many years ago, instead of good old steady Charlie, and how nice it would be to dine at the club, wear elegant clothes, and travel to beautiful places that lawyers like to visit.

Charlie learned of the action when he read about it in a discarded copy of the Democrat- Challenger that he found on a seat in his subway car after the morning rush hour.  The news stunned him.  He did not know Teddy although he thought she was a fellow passenger during baseball season when she rode the train to Fenway Park. Teddy worked at the will-call window of the ticket booth.  They had hardly spoken other than an occasional “good morning” when she took a seat across from him. In fact, she had shown no interest in having a conversation.

That’s when it also dawned on him that divorce was a reason why Ann never put a nickel in the sandwich bag and, further, never put an additional fifteen cents in it so he could get home.  He had many times regretted not grabbing some extra change from the dish on the table by his front door as he left that fateful morning and had been grateful that he found the dime that he had left in the pocket the last time he wore those pants. Not until he got aboard the train did he discover there was not a nickel in that pocket, too. He would have said something to Ann during the sandwich deliveries, but she always timed her delivery so it happened as the train began to move again, leaving no time for discussion.

Teddy learned about the divorce filing when she heard some of the other girls in the ticket office chattering among themselves that same morning.  “Charlie who?” she wondered.  She also wondered if it might be the strange guy she sometimes saw in the subway who always wore the same increasingly rumpled suit and, in fact, seemed to smell bad in the few times she had been forced to sit across from him.  His hair was much too long and his scraggly beard had not filled out well in the weeks—or was it months?—since she had first noticed him.

Charlie also worried that he had lost his job because of his growing list of absences. His mood darkened in the next few days, likely driven by increasing hunger and his deepening concern about his job, to the point that he was thinking of leaving the train without benefit of nickel by throwing himself onto the tracks from the rear car and lying there until the next train ended his misery.

But that was when conductor H. W. Longfellow (his friends called him “Hank”) noticed Charlie’s state and took the steps that saved his life.  Charlie and Hank had formed something of a bond on the long low-passenger hours during the day shift when Longfellow worked. Longfellow, feeling some responsibility for Charlie’s situation because he was the conductor who told him “one more nickel” arranged for Evangeline’s Pizza to deliver one of its specialties to Charlie each day at the Scollay Square Station, a savvy move for Evangeline’s because the story of Charlie was starting to gain some public attention and Evangeline’s got some great public promotional value out of being Charlie’s food supplier. Longfellow also brought a pillow and some blankets from home for Charlie to use at night to sleep with at least a little comfort. Longfellow has come in for some criticism because in all the time Charlie was trapped on the train, Longfellow did not loan him a nickel.  But it was strictly against MTA policy for conductors to give nickels to passengers who claimed to have “forgotten” to bring one from home. The authority knew that it soon would be dealing with hundreds of “forgetful” passengers if it let its conductors loan nickels or even to let a passenger promise repayment on the next trip.  Employees who showed such kindness had been known to be kindly excused from their jobs, a circumstance Longfellow could not risk because he had a wife and family, too.

But Hank had something else that became important in the long run.  Hank knew a lawyer.

Hugh Louis Dewey was an ambulance-chasing attorney whose grandson, Hugh III, became nationally famous as the busy attorney for two Italian brothers who ran a car-repair shop in suburban Cambridge where they purportedly “fixed” cars they had never seen after diagnosing the problems during a telephone call without consulting maintenance manuals. When Huey Louie Dewey, as he was known in the office on Harvard Square, got involved, the case really got juicy.

Dewey could have paid Charlie’s exit fare to get his client off the train but he advised Charlie to continue to ride while Dewey called the local press and arranged for some sympathetic news coverage. Charlie’s story took up two full pages of the Sunday feature section of The Democrat-Challenger, including pictures of Charlie with his now-long hair and beard and later, clean shaven, trimmed, and wearing a new suit—all of this provided by Dewey to show the man Charlie had become since his wife took up with the family lawyer and stopped providing nickel-free daily sandwiches and then showing him as the man he once was and could be again.

Dewey hit Mrs. Faneuil AND lawyer Kerry with an alienation of affection suit and, since Mrs. Faneuil didn’t have any money, asked for substantial damages from Kerry, whose law firm was one of the upper-crust firms in the city.  If it had been in Memphis, and if John Grisham had been writing novels when all of this was going on, Kerry’s law firm would have been the prototype for a best-selling novel.

And Charlie DID get off of that train. He did not, in fact, “ride forever beneath the streets of Boston,” nor was he “the man who never returned.”  Folk song stories, one must remember, are just stories, not history.

Dewey eventually provided the nickel for Charlie to pay the exit fee a week after the big newspaper article. He was put up in a motel while he waited for the lawsuits to work their way through the courts and while he looked for a new job.  His friend, Longfellow, convinced his MTA bosses to hire Charles J. Faneuil temporarily as the company’s first passenger-relations agent. The move garnered some positive publicity for Charlie and the as well as a modest income so he didn’t have to live on Evangeline’s pizza anymore. It also scored some public relations points for the MTA, which had been pilloried by the Democrat-Challenger, and avoided a lawsuit threatened by Dewey alleging Charlie’s continued presence in the subway constituted a form of kidnapping and the exit tax was a form of ransom.

Dewey also rushed to Fenway Park to meet with Teddy Williams and sign her up for a separate lawsuit accusing Ann and lawyer Kerry of libel.  She also wanted damages for pain and suffering caused by extensive office gossip.

It took about eighteen months for all of this to work itself out.  Charlie did not contest the divorce although he did fight Ann’s efforts to get alimony and child custody.  The judge ruled that Charlie had not abandoned Ann. In fact, the judge said, Ann—by ending the sandwich supply runs—had abandoned Charlie and in doing so had endangered his health. Therefore, said the judge, she was an unfit parent and the children were given to Charlie.  She was allowed to keep their house into which Quincy Kennedy Kerry moved after a respectful interval.  He, however, turned out to be only a member of his law firm and not one of the top partners whose memberships at exclusive clubs were picked up by the firm.

Teddy Williams settled out of court for ten-thousand dollars and a public apology from Ann and Quincy.  She and her partner, Dorothea “Dix” Hancock, used the money to open what became a successful wedding cake business in the Back Bay area.

By the time H. W. Longfellow retired from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the MTA of folk song fame, had become the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

And Charlie?  He left his job at the MTA when the suburban department store gladly rehired him as an assistant manager, thinking it could capitalize on his notoriety.  He was the store manager when he retired.  The three children grew up to be good citizens and showed no scars of the split-up of the family. By then Charlie had married a widowed high school social studies teacher, had slipped from public view, and was living quietly in a middle-class Boston neighborhood. He refused to take part in the changes at the MTA. “I’m so tired of hearing that damned song,” he once confided to his wife.

On December 4, 2006, the MBTA ended its exit fares and began using “Charlie Cards.”

That afternoon, two elderly men got their cards from a machine and used them to go through the gate to the platform. Charlie Faneuil and Hank Longfellow took a ride to the Harvard Square Station.  Nobody noticed them.   No newspaper photographers were there.  Nobody wrote about them in the next day’s newspaper.  When they got off the train, they caught a cab for a short ride to 73 Hamilton Street, a place known as the Good News Garage, where a couple if Italian guys claimed to have fixed Charlie’s car, a 1960s Dodge Dart. It had 21,294 miles on the odometer, not many miles for a car so old.

That’s because, of course, Charlie rode the MTA.

(photo credits: MBTA, etsy.com)

Their World

One of our favorite events each year is the beginning of college careers.  There is so much those young students know that their parents and grandparents don’t know.  And there is so much they DON’T know that we do.

We who watch them set sail on this new adventure are reminded of that each year by the Mindset List compiled at Beloit College in Wisconsin.  This year is the twentieth anniversary of the list which provides “a look at the cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of students” that take their first steps on our college campuses each year.  We suppose it also could be something of a gauge of what society, media, schools, and parents have taught them in their first eighteen years.

Ron Nief, now the publicist emeritus for the college, who started circulating the list widely in 1998, was joined by humanities professor Tom McBride and, in 2016, Charles Westerberg, who received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from the University of Missouri. (They’re McBride, Westerberg,and Nief, L-R, in the picture)

This year’s Mindset List tells us that these new students, during their early kindergarten careers, saw—again and again—the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.  They are more likely to think of Harry Potter than John Lennon when they see wire-rimmed glasses. “Selfies” with celebrities are more important than autographs.  Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” has always been “the only news program that really ‘gets it right.’”  Saturday morning cartoons shows are something they know nothing about but they’re big fans of the Sunday night “Animation Domination” on FOX.  Hong Kong has always been part of China. Joe Camel never encouraged them to smoke. Nicotine has always been an addictive drug.  If the students are at Baylor, there has been student dancing throughout their lifetimes. Cloning has always been fact. There has always been a WNBA. “Chicago” has always been a Broadway hit. Netscape probably has never been their web browser.

And there’s more of the list at https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/previouslists/2018/.

We thought it might be interesting to look at the first list, from 1998 because some of the students going to college this fall are children of the students who were part of that first list.  The 1998 list said, for instance:

Students did not know Ronald Reagan had ever been shot. They didn’t remember the Cold War. There had only been one Pope. They had never been afraid of a nuclear war and “Day After” was a pill rather than a post-apocalyptic movie. They didn’t remember the Challenger explosion. The expression, “You sound like a broken record” had no meaning to them (perhaps because they had never owned a record player). The special effects of “Star Wars” were pathetic. They had always had cable; there had always been VCRs, and they had never played Pac-Man. They had always known where the Titanic was.

That’s for starters.

The list has its critics, the strongest—perhaps—being the counter “Beloit Mindlessness” which charges the annual list is “a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations, insulting to both students and their professors…” To each his own, we suppose.

In its own way, whether you consider them merely entertaining or useless or useful in knowing what to talk about with your children or your students, these lists provide us with annual markers of our changing world.

For those of us with some years on us, they also remind us of things we couldn’t have imagined when WE moved from high school into young adulthood, things we were yet to hear and learn, and how much we have become history.

For instance—

When my generation entered college we had a high-tech machine into which we inserted a piece of paper.  And when we hit a key on our keyboard, a letter immediately appeared on the piece of paper in front of us.  We didn’t need to hit “print (two or three times),” and then go to another machine to get what we’d written.  And if the power went out, the machine kept working.

I’ve run into some of the people who are the topics of this year’s Mindset List whose eyes widen a little bit when I describe that wondrous machine. They’ve never heard of it.  Or seen one.

Long before there was Apple, you see, there was Royal.  I keep it within arm’s reach.

(Photo taken in the old Missourinet newsroom by Steve Mays a long time ago)

 

The friend who could have launched the missile

History sat down next to me one day not long ago and told me how it almost started World War III.

History, in this case, is named Ron LeVene.  We grew up together, hung out together, and got into occasional trouble together in the small town of Sullivan, deep in the heart of the corn and beans country, the flat land of central Illinois.  We were the children of the Cold War, the kids who saw the “Duck and Cover” movies when they weren’t funny.

When we were four years old, the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated in New Mexico (on my birthday) and a month later, two more detonations destroyed cities and ended a war. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called “father of the Atomic Bomb,” recalled, “We knew the world would not be the same.”  Oppenheimer said he thought of the Hindu Scripture from the Bhagavad-Gita, “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

When we were in the second grade, the Soviet Union set off its first A-bomb.  In the fifth grade, the United States touched off the first hydrogen bomb. We were freshmen in high school when the Soviets exploded their first H-bomb.

We moved through our high school years with Hollywood giving our world post-atomic apocalypse films such as Godzilla, the story of a prehistoric beast awakened by atomic testing in the Pacific, and Them!, about giant ants created by atomic testing in the western desert, or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, a giant dinosaur frozen in arctic hibernation released and revived by an atomic bomb above the Arctic Circle, and The Fiend Without a Face, an invisible creature that fed on nuclear radiation and ate human brains and spinal cords to help it reproduce.

They’re laughable today for their dialogue and animations but they scared the Hell out of a generation living in the post-Hiroshima decade, especially kids.

The year Ron and I graduated from high school, the movie based on Nevil Shute’s novel, On the Beach, hit the screens with a still-haunting message from its last scene, “There is still time..brother.” The year we reached voting age, we watched tensely as Soviet ships moved toward Cuba in the face of warnings by President Kennedy that they would be attacked if they did not turn around. And as our generation was finishing college or serving as young soldiers while Vietnam became a life-sucking quagmire, we watched Fail Safe, about American planes mistakenly sent to bomb Moscow and the awful decision a President makes to atone for that mistake, and Doctor Strangelove, the classic satire that was all too serious.

We did not know that our friend Ron was becoming part of the real world of atomic warfare.

And one day he would be caught in circumstances that almost made film fiction become cataclysmic fact.   Stay with us; you’ll see him tell his story in a little bit.

What few people realized during these years was that Presidents and the Pentagon were dealing with end-of-the-world-as-we-knew-it scenarios. Today, with inflammatory actions on the Korean Peninsula and instability in the White House, the military successors of Ron LeVene might be asking themselves what they might be called to do.

Eric Schlosser wrote in New Yorker magazine on the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Strangelove that President Eisenhower struggled with who should control our country’s nuclear weapons. Ultimate control rested with the President.  But if there was an emergency and the President could not be contacted, he decided, the Air Force could use nuclear rockets fired from jet interceptors to down Russian bombers on their way to attack this country—and a few commanders could use bigger nukes for direct attacks if time and circumstance did not allow for specific Presidential clearance.

Eisenhower feared there might be a real General Jack D. Ripper (of Dr. Srangelove fame) who could go rogue, but he knew a worse alternative would be to fail to respond to a Soviet attack on this country or an all-out Soviet invasion of Europe. So he delegated authority to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to act under extreme circumstances when the President was not available to make the ultimate decision.

A stunned John F. Kennedy learned of the arrangement shortly after taking office. He and his advisors decided to put coded electric locking devices on NATO’s nuclear weapons. The weapons could not be fired without the proper code used only with permission of the White House. But here at home, the Navy and the Air Force refused to put those switches on the weapons they controlled. “The Joint Chiefs thought that strict military discipline was the best safeguard against an unauthorized nuclear strike,” wrote Schlosser. “A two-man rule was instituted to make it more difficult for someone to use a nuclear weapon without permission.”  In those days, two people had to unlock the weapon. Each would have half of the code.

That was the situation on that day about forty years ago when Ron and his deputy, Lt. Bruce Olson, suddenly were faced with their greatest responsibility—and their greatest fear..

Ron retired from the Air Force a year or so later.  He lives in Florida now but came back to Illinois a few days ago for an interim mini-class reunion and we had him record the story of a guy from a small Illinois town who faced being part of an event that would have ended life as we knew it then and know it today.

We are old men now. And we pray that the young men and women of today, wherever they are in the world, who have the power at their fingertips that Ron and his deputy had live to become old people telling stories, too.

Dogs and a frog; life after journalism

Drew Vogel was one of the Missourinet reporters who bedeviled Governor Teasdale throughout his four years in office.  We’ve kept in touch through the years.  Drew has been a nursing home administrator in Ohio for a long, long time.  He recently told me, “When I quit doing news I didn’t miss being on the radio, or reporting; what I missed was the creative high I get from writing.”

Most of Drew’s creativity is spread among Facebook friends—your friendly correspondent doesn’t do Facebook, claiming he has a life to live.  Here’s something Drew recently wrote that will bring back some memories to most of the demographic that stumbles over these entries:

Guess what year this is.

The South Tower of the World Trade Center is topped out.  Richard Nixon announces he will become the first U.S. president to visit China. Jeff Gordon is born. Coco Chanel dies.

Army Lieutenant William Calley is sentenced to life in prison for the My Lai Massacre.  Amtrak begins. Nikita Khruschev and James Cash (JC) Penney die. Justin Trudeau is born. 

Charles Manson and his “family” are sentenced to death for the Tate-La Bianca murders. Apollo 14 and 15 make moon landings. Snoop Dog and Kid Rock are born. Duane Allman dies. 

The Attica Prison riot breaks out in New York. Evel Knievel sets a world record by jumping over 19 cars on his motorcycle. Bobby Jones and Audie Murphy die. Pete Sampras is born.

The New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers. Walt Disney World opens in Florida. Lance Armstrong is born. Louis Armstrong dies.And “JEREMIAH WAS A BULLFROG!”

The year was 1971.

We witnessed Three Dog Night in concert at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati last night.

I’ve seen acts at the Taft over the years—Phantom of the Opera, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton when she was still with Porter Waggoner, George Carlin and a great bluegrass show featuring Jim and Jesse and the Osborn Brothers.

I introduced a number of country acts at the Taft when I was a disk jockey. But this was my first rock concert there.

Three Dog Night?

They were really pretty good.

OK, I’m from that era, but they really can still rock, even though the original members are approaching three-quarters of a century in age.

Two of the founders are still in the band. Lead guitar Michael Allsup is 70. Lead singer Danny Hutton will be 75 soon. 

Three of the original seven have gone to that big recording studio in the sky. 

…he was a good friend of mine

I never understood a single word he said

But I helped him drink his wine.

If you are a person less than a certain age, you may not be familiar with the history of Three Dog Night, but you probably have heard its music.

There’s Jeremiah—the song is actually called “Joy to the World.”  “One.”  “I’ve never been to Spain.”  “Eli’s Coming.”  “Celebrate.” “Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.”

Good stuff, even today. And they did all their hits last night. All of them.  They’ve had so many they don’t have to go outside their playbook. 

Between 1969 and 1975 the band had an amazing 21 records on the Billboard Magazine Top 40. “Joy to the World” turned gold two months after it was released and ultimately sold five million copies.

“Black and White” and “Mama Told Me” reached #1 as well.

Neither Credence Clearwater Revival, nor the Eagles, comparable groups of the era, had a #1 during that time and both had fewer appearances in the Top 40.

In fact, the Beatles only had five songs in the Top 40 from 1969 to ’75 but they had disbanded in 1970.  Elvis only had 14 Top 40 appearances and one #1 in that timeframe.

And he always had

Some mighty fine wine.

When we entered the Taft, the usher asked if we would be drinking any alcohol. Gail said no. I said I might have a glass of wine. She stamped my hand.  Didn’t ask for ID, not that I expected to be carded, but she did tamp my hand. 

Strange, very strange.

The crowd was largely people who had been teenaged-to-young adults when Three Dog Night songs were hits. In other words, 60 and 70-something folks like Gail and me.

However, they were a tech savvy bunch. Instead of “flick the Bic” on romantic songs, they used the flashlights on their Androids.

Thank goodness, no one showed up dressed in “period costume.”  No bell bottoms or Roman sandals.

I did see one guy who looked a lot like John Gotti. The Teflon Don was of that era. You don’t suppose he slipped away again, do you?

If I were the king of the world,

Tell you what I’d do.

I’d throw away the cars and the bars and the wars.

And make sweet love to you.

Oh, I did see a couple of tie-dyed T-shirts that covered bulging bellies. The Guys’ hair was mostly short—what there was of it.

One or two fellows had long-enough-to-be-ponytailed locks, but with bare skin topping off the doo, it amounted to a Friar tuck-goes-hippie kind of a look.

You know I love the ladies.

Love to have my fun

I’m a high life flyer and rainbow rider.

A straight shootin’ son-of-a-gun.

The ladies had hair issues, too. It was either white or dyed so it wouldn’t be white. More than a few were in the size 18-22 category.

Joy to the world

All the boys and girls

There actually were a few boys and girls—young people likely brought by their grandparents. 

But, not many.

If you herded all of them together I doubt there would have been enough to fill up a 1962 psychedelic-painted peace sign=embroidered VW bus.

Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea

Joy to you and me.

So, what about Jeremiah?   You’ll be happy to know that he didn’t croak.

He didn’t donate his legs to a garlic and butter-filled skillet.

In fact, he was the encore finale.

When the keyboard hit the first few notes of Joy, the crowd—those who still could—jumped to its collective, orthopedic-clad feet and loudly sang along with the boys.

Forty-six years after Jeremiah made the scene, he still brings Joy to the world.

 

Missouri’s first air mail

Email.  Snail mail.   Remember AIR mail?

At least one generation has never known a time when someone would pay extra for a letter to be stamped “Air Mail” when it had to get a long way away, fast.  Every now and then we still see a now-ancient attempt at humor—a mail box on a tall pole above the regular mailbox. The upper box is labeled “air mail.” But an increasing number of people passing by have no idea what it’s all about.

We got a snail mail letter a few days ago from Elvin Smith in Macon, who had heard our Across our Wide Missouri radio program story about the nation’s first air mail flight, suggesting we look into the story of the nation’s first air mail flight by airplane (as opposed to hot air balloon), which he said happened in December, 1912 on a biplane flight between Callao, Bevier, and Macon.

The problem with writing something was the “first” is that different people have different interpretations of “first.”

Some say the first air mail fight in this country carried one letter in 1793—from George Washington in Philadelphia to whomever owned the property where the balloon came down. That was all of thirteen miles.

The first official airmail flight is considered to have been another balloon flight that began in Lafayette Indiana in August 1859, but was terminated by weather at Crawfordsville, thirty miles away. The mail went to New York by train. The National Postal Museum put out a stamp several years ago commemorating that flight.

But we Missourians know the postal service was wrong. Six weeks before that puny little hop in Indiana, four men in St. Louis climbed into the basket hung below a balloon of varnished Chinese silk, carrying a bag of mail, and headed for New York.  They suffered from the altitude (two miles), went through a frightening storm over Lake Erie and Niagara Falls, and eventually came down into a tree near Henderson, New York, almost one-thousand miles from St. Louis. They had averaged about fifty miles an hour.

A lot of folks know that Charles Lindbergh flew the mail from St. Louis to Chicago for a while, crashing a few times along the way—which didn’t discourage him from thinking he could fly from New York to Paris.  The Postal Service says the first regularly scheduled airmail service in this country was a route linking New York City, Washington, D. C., and Philadelphia in May, 1918.

Elvin believes the three cities linked on the first REAL air mail flight were Callao, Bevier, and Macon, Missouri on December 4, 1912.

Young aviator Ralph E. McMillen (shown with his wife about 1909)  was flying a Curtiss Model D pusher plane that he had purchased from Glenn Curtis, himself, after graduating from the Curtiss Flying School, a competitor to the Wright Brothers school, when he arrived at the United Aviators field in the northern part of Macon, Missouri on November 29, 1912.  He flew from there, over Bevier, and landed at Callao, about nine miles west.

He was flying with one leg tightly strapped into an iron “trough,” the result of a crash in May while giving flights in Perry, Iowa.  His passenger that day panicked when they were up about 125 feet and grabbed the control wires. McMillen was unconscious for four days with two broken legs and busted ribs among other injuries. The passenger also survived.

The Macon newspaper praised him as “a skilled bird-man,” a man of “splendid courage and self-confidence.”  His historic airmail flight came a few days later, on December 4 when he flew from Callao with a “large package of letters” addressed to Macon residents.  He dropped a package at Bevier. He didn’t get all the way through to Macon on the first flight.  Clouds forced him to return to Callao in the morning after package-drop at Bevier.  But the afternoon turned clear and he flew straight to Macon in about half an hour, the last five minutes spent circling the town.

The accounts say he set a record by climbing to 8,000 feet although he cruised at 2,000. “By travelling at great elevation it gives the aviator better control of his craft, should the engine balk or anything happen; he could pick out his place to alight, and descend slowly, while at an altitude of 100 or 200 feet the craft would select its own place to light,” said the Macon Republican.

The next week, on December 10, he made a successful twenty-mile flight north to LaPlata.  He decided to follow a Wabash passenger train between the two towns so he couldn’t get lost, which excited the train passengers, who got off at stops in Axtell and Love Lake to watch him flying overhead.  Passengers wanted the train to pause in LaPlata so they could watch McMillen land, but the trainmaster was afraid such a stop would put the train off-schedule.

Maconians who thought they were seeing, and reporting on, the first airplane-mail flight didn’t know, however that a pilot named Fred Wiseman had carried three letters from Petaluma, California to Santa Rosa on February 17, 1911.  And the first airmail delivery under the authority of the postal Department had been made by Earl Ovington in his French Bleriot XI on September 23, 1911, when he flew from Garden City, New York to Mineola, two miles away.  He pitched the mail bag filled with 1,280 postcards and 640 letters out of the plane at an altitude of 500 feet.  It burst on impact, scattering the cargo all over the place, but at least it was delivered. One of the letters in the bag was addressed to Ovington.  It was from the Post Office Department and it christened him “Official Air Mile Pilot #1.”

In fact, it appears there were a lot of air mail flights in 1912.  A webpage (http://www.aerodacious.com/PIO1912.HTM) has photos about numerous flying exhibitions throughout the nation, almost all of them involving mail.

So Ralph E. McMillen wasn’t the first in the nation to make an airmail flight in a plane.  But he was ONE of the first, and his flights from Callao to Bevier to Macon is the first such flight IN MISSOURI—until somebody comes along with information to the contrary.

Many of the stories of those early aviators and their accomplishments that fired the imaginations of their witnesses and led to the airline industry we know today are lost to history. Elvin’s note has enabled us to bring McMillen out of the lost pages of our past and recall him as part of an important era in our country.

And we have found there’s quite a bit more to his story.

McMillen was born in Perry, Iowa. He was one of the first speeders on the early dirt roads near there before he headed to San Diego to the Curtiss School.  His Curtiss pusher arrived in Perry on a train, disassembled on May 11, 1912.  Gerald Meyer reports McMillen put it together and took it up for the first time two days later for a fund-raising promotion for the city fire department.  The crash that left him with broken legs and ribs was the very next day, May 14. He didn’t fly again until September 5 when a huge crowd at Grinnell watched him stay in the air for 24 minutes and reach 5,000 feet.

He barnstormed during the next couple of years before joining the Nebraska National Guard where he became the only pilot for the new Aviation Corps, the first such outfit in the country. (The photo dates from that time)  He practiced bombing with fake bombs on the state capitol (this was six years before Billy Mitchell proved bombs from airplanes were good tactical weapons) and once hit a moving street car.  He also made night flights, practiced early aerial photography, and developed reconnaissance and aerial delivery systems. Some took to calling him “World’s Greatest Aviator.”   Others have referred to him less grandly as the “One Man, One Airplane National Guard.”

He wanted to fly air support for Pershing’s troops on the Mexican border but the Army refused to let him go because of his 1912 injuries. He continued to make exhibition flights in the four-state area until September 2, 1916 when his plane lost power 1,200 feet above a crowd near St. Francis, Kansas.  Captain Ralph McMillen was 27 when he died that day.

The Nebraska Adjutant General’s office remembered two days later, “His service has been of most unusual value to the Guard of this state, being characterized by ready tact, unfailing courtesy, and indefatigable willingness to work.  He was universally liked and respected by his brother officers and comrades who will greatly miss his ready wit and sunny disposition.”

Meyer has written that the Nebraska Aviation Corps was disbanded soon after that.  The state didn’t have a National Guard air unit for another thirty years.

So Elvin’s tip about a piece of history didn’t turn out quite the way we thought it would. But if not for his snail mail, we wouldn’t have discovered a broader piece of our national past.

At least, we have the story about MISSOURI’S first air mail flight by plane. And we’ve remembered the courageous young man who died creating a significant part of our lives today.

Thanks, Ervin.

(photo credits: Mailbox, carmaro5.com; McMillen and wife and picture of people holding back his airplane before takeoff, earlyaviators.com; McMillen and friends in front of airplane, DOMmagazine.com; headon view from 1916, Nebraska State Historical Society)