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)

Story-tellin’

One of the great things about being a journalist is the stories people tell you, often stories that aren’t exactly “news,” but are interesting enough that you file them away to tell to others later. In my case, I used to have in the newsroom several boxes carrying the ghoulish label, “Prospective Death Box.”  Through the years my staff and I put recordings of interviews, speeches, and events into that box so we would dig them out and play parts of them back in our coverage of the death of a prominent person or the anniversary of an important event.

Some of those recordings are, as far as I know, the only preserved telling of a story, the only known recording of an event, the only sample of someone’s now-stilled voice.

One of those recordings is of the only man ever to serve three terms as State Treasurer.  He did it in the days when the Treasurer could not succeed himself, which makes his service even more remarkable.

M. E. Morris was a Dadeville native—southwest Missouri’s Dade County—who founded in 1928 the People’s Bank in Miller. He was elected to the Missouri House for the first of his two terms in 1932, after which he became the CEO of the Trenton National Bank. He left the bank in 1945 to become Commissioner of the state Division of Finance.

When the 1945 Constitution created a new agency for collecting taxes, the Department of Revenue, Morris became the first Director of Revenue for Missouri, serving under Governor Phil Donnelly.  This was in the days when Governors could not succeed themselves and therefore keep patronage-appointed department heads so when Donnelly left office, Morris ran for and was elected State Treasurer for the first time.  He could not succeed himself but fortunately Donnelly decided he wanted to be Governor again, so when Donnelly became Governor a second time, Morris became Revenue Director again.  When  Donnelly’s second term ended, Morris ran for Treasurer and won a second term.  The Revenue Director while Morris was in his second term was Milton Carpenter who became the state Treasurer in 1961, at which point, Morris replaced Carpenter as Revenue Director under Governor John Dalton.  When Carpenter’s term ran out, Morris ran again, and won a third term as state treasurer.

He retired from state government after almost 25 years as either revenue director or state treasurer, a pretty remarkable career that few people recognize.

Name recognition is important in politics and M. E. Morris felt he had a leg up on any candidate.   Although known as M. E. to the press, and “Monty” to friends, his real name, you see, was MOUNT ETNA Morris.

On March 23, 1984, a little more than four years before he died, I went to his home in Jefferson City to interview him for my book about Thomas Hart Benton.  The interview was pretty frustrating because Morris had little information to offer and furthermore spoke in a slow, low, halting voice and provided no useful details.  At the end, however, I asked him to explain how he got the name “Mount Etna.”  I listened back and transcribed it. And here, from his lips to my ears, from my keyboard to your eyes, is what he told me:

“Seems there was a Welsh captain on a ship, sailing ship, of course, back in the Mediterranean back in the old days, and he was off the coast of Sicily.  A storm came up and he was about to lose his ship, did lose his bearings.  Mount Etna was in eruption at that time, there on the coast of Sicily there.  So he got his bearings from the stream of lava flying up over there.  Got his bearings and saved his ship.  So when he got back home, his first boy baby, he named him Mount Etna.  That name has been in our family for many years.

“And I know about four or five Mount Etna Morrises are buried in south Missouri there.  That’s where they finally hung up.  In fact I sent a check this morning to the old Morris Cemetery down in the county just this morning.  They’re getting ready for Decoration Day down there. 

“My grandmother’s name was Mount Etna Morris.  That’s where the name originated.  It’s a good story.  And as far as I know it’s a true story because there’s been some Mount Etna Morrises in the past.  I know where four of them are buried. 

“I told that story many times in campaign speeches just so they would remember it.”  

Let’s face it, if you’re a voter and you go into the booth aren’t you more likely to remember a man named for a volcano than somebody named Smith, Or Jones, or whatever?

Mr. Morris died in 1988, at the age of 87.  I doubt there are many recordings of his voice, let along many, or any other, recordings of the story of his name.

I intend to donate these recordings to the audio history collection of the State Historical Society.

———————–

As I was writing the book about the art of the Capitol, it dawned on me late in the process that I had not written about the three paintings in the Senate Lounge of Senators A. Clifford Jones, Richard Webster, and Michael Kinney.  In writing the story of Kinney, I recalled that I had on tape a fascinating story about him that Webster had told me.

Michael Kinney served 56 years in the state senate, longer than any legislator in the nation served in one chamber of any state legislature.  He was a Democrat from the rough and tumble “Kerry Patch” Irish neighborhood of St. Louis once dominated by two Irish gangs, the Hogans and Egan’s Rats, a group that’s been described as “the first full-time gangsters to make regular headlines.”   He succeeded his brother, Thomas, an Irish tavern-keeper known as “Snake,” who handled the political issues for the gang before he died in 1912 during his second term in the Senate.

Michael served until he lost a primary bid for re-election in 1968.  He seldom spoke in the Senate and when he did his voice was so soft that many of his colleagues could not hear him in those days before there was a public address system. But his seniority and his knowledge of Senate procedure gave him great power throughout his career.

He sponsored many bills that became laws in his career, the one that is his most visible legacy being the one that created the state cancer hospital in Columbia.  For most of three decades he was part of a Senate triumvirate that exerted enormous influence.  He, Senators Michael E. Casey of Kansas City, who served from 1909-1944 after serving six years in the House, and Senator Joseph Brogan of St. Louis, who was in the Senate from 1909 until his death in 1940, were Presidents pro Tem four times among them and chaired powerful committees throughout their careers.  The St. Louis Globe-Democrat said Casey “was the spellbinder of the group…Brogan..was the witty, nimble floor fighter, while Senator Kinney was the subtle, behind-the-scenes diplomat, string-puller and compromiser.”

Senator Webster, who was from Carthage, was in the House before moving across the rotunda to the other chamber.  He remembered when he and Kinney were on a conference committee of House and Senate members working on a compromise of a bill that had passed both chambers in different form and Webster—then in the House—was complaining about Governor Forrest Smith.  Kinney told him, “I’ve told every House member and every Senate member that’s arrived on the scene and got mad at whoever the Governor was, ‘He’s just a Governor.  Those fellows come and go.’”

Webster remembered that Kinney sat on a high stool in his office at 7 a.m. each day of the legislative session, stripped to his waist with a table cloth wrapped around his neck while his grandson-in-law, State Auditor Haskell Holman, shave him.  Kinney sat with his back to the open door.

“If you looked, you’d see a bullet hole in his back, “Webster told me.  It was a scar that Webster said remained from an assassination attempt during an Irish gang war.  Kinney was shot four times—in the chest, both arms, and in the jaw—in 1924.  He later identified a police photograph of a recaptured escaped mental patient as the man who shot him.  But there was considerable doubt even then that Kinney told the truth.  Although suspicions lingered for decades that his near-assassination was part of the heated rivalry between the Rats, of which Kinney remained a part, and the rival Hogans, Kinney never commented about the issue publicly.” 

Privately, though, according to Webster, he did talk about it.  And Webster told me about one of those conversations in the privacy of Kinney’s office.

“Someone would say, ‘Senator, do you remember a fellow named Jimmy O’Brien?’  And he would say, ‘Jimmy O’Brien.  He was a nice fellow.  Whatever happened to him?’”

“Well, what had happened to him was that Mike Kinney could never identify his assailant although his assailant was about three or four feet from him when he fired the shot.  But a month later, Jimmy O’Brien did rise to the surface of the Mississippi River.”   

There is, as far as I know, no other telling of that story except for the version Richard Webster related on tape to me that day.

Another case of the journalist collecting the first draft of history.

——————

I have in my tape library several hours of Senate floor debate in which one of the greatest Ozark story tellers ever to serve in the legislature embarked on some of his long, windy expositions on some subject that might or might not be related to the issue at hand.  There is no doubt that many of the stories Danny Staples told were pure fabrications or old jokes recycled for the moment.  But many of his stories came straight from his early life as the son of a grocery-store owner in rural southeast Missouri.

In March, 2002, the Senate was working on an election reform bill triggered by some of the big problems at the polls in St. Louis in 2000.  Staples launched into a story that was not particularly original except in the telling.

“I’m not going to say what country it was because I don’t think the statute of limitations have run out yet. But I can remember full well an old boy that was a sheriff down in one of the southeast counties.  And this young, handsome, debonair, good-lookin’ candidate was running against the incumbent state senator down there.  And the old retired official down there had named his successor and they came in and they both liked this young, handsome, debonair good-lookin’ fellow that was running the incumbent.

“One night it was raining, two days before the election, and the old man and the boy, his protégé, were out in one of those famous Civil War cemeteries down there in southeast Missouri.  One of them had a flashlight; the other one had a legal pad and a pen. And they were taking names off the Civil War cemetery headstones, been there since 1865.

“They were voting absentee ballots for this young, handsome, debonair challenger of this old retiring state senator. 

“And…the old official that was retiring had the flashlight and he was looking at a headstone there in the middle of the night and it was weather-beaten; it was worn from the hail, from the wind, from freezing rain, and the atmosphere.  And the young official that replaced the old official looked at him and said, ‘Hey. Pop, we can’t get the name off this headstone.  It’s been worn out. It’s no longer legible.  Let’s move over to the next one.’  The old man looked at the boy, and he says, ‘Cubby, this man has got just as much right to vote as this man.’’   

“That’s the way you run an honest election.”

Staples told the Senate after that, “You don’t need laws on the books to protect the innocent.  We only need laws on the books to protect those that would be corrupt and greedy and grafty in the greatest society in the world, and that’s the electoral process.”  I have read the transcript of that remark time and again and I’ll be darned if I can figure out the logic in it.

Staples usually tipped off his storytelling by asking a Senator who was handling a bill, ‘Would be interested to know, Senator….” Even if the Senator was NOT interested, Staples would proceed to inform him—and everybody else.

He decided to tell another story during this particular debate but the other senator—Doyle Childers who later became director of the Department of Natural Resources under Matt Blunt—answered “No, Senator, at this moment I’m not interested to know that, but thank you Senator.” At which point Staples stopped trying to debate and just asked to speak on the bill.

“Mr. President, it comes to my remembrance and my recollection now that they had another election in southeast Missouri…One day down in southeast Missouri, the day after the election, this man about fifty years old was sitting on the courthouse steps.  He was crying.  Tears rolling down his face.  A business partner of his walked by and he said, ‘What’s wrong?  Has there been a tragedy?’  He said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Yesterday was election day.’  He said, ‘My daddy’s been dead for nine years.  He come home and voted yesterday, didn’t even stop to see momma and I.’” 

(The Senate dissolved into laughter for several seconds on both sides of the aisle.)..

Staples went on:  “Now, I’ve won ten elections and lost one.  There was never voter fraud in the 20th Senatorial District.  Oh, sometimes we Democrats voted on Tuesday, sent out a press release, the Republicans would vote on Wednesday.  But the polls weren’t open on Wednesday as you well know. So the Democrats always won.”

Term limits finally got Danny Staples—one of the many egregious shortcomings of that misguided concept that relies on public apathy and civic irresponsibility for its support—after twenty years in the Senate preceded by six years in the House.  Not long after he was forced out of office, Danny Staples and his wife were getting ready for a trip.  He had taken the family motor home to town to get it all cleaned up and fueled up.  He drove it home and dropped dead of a heart attack on July 22, 2002. The legislature has been far too serious since he left.

We journalists not only get to witness events as they unfold and capture the stories that people tell in that process, the journalist also comes across long-forgotten stories in the course of our curiosity. I don’t remember how I stumbled on this last story but I filed it away, knowing I’d have a chance to tell it to somebody sometime. And son-of-a-gun, here is that opportunity.

Missouri history has LOT of wonderful animal stories.  Here’s one.

Many years ago I knew the first three-time Speaker of the House.  He served in the 1930s, was the Speaker for three of his four terms, and one night my longtime friend Clyde Lear and I sat down with him after dinner and recorded him telling some stories.   He told us about a day that the House and the Senate met together to see a special guest who was multi-lingual, including Morse Code, and apparently was clairvoyant to boot.

His name was Jim. Jim the Wonder Dog.  Folklorist and folk song-teller Bob Dyer wrote a song about “Jim, Jim, Wonderful Jim.  Never was a dog smarter than him.” At least not according to Bob Dyer.

Former House Speaker John G. Christy, who later was Mayor of Jefferson City for twelve years, recalled that there was no way Jim’s owner, Sam VanArsdale, could have given the dog any signals that day in the House of Representatives when—during an informal joint session—he was told in Morse Code to find the man known as the “Beau Brummel of the House.”   Jim trotted down the main aisle, paused, then turned in and wound his way through a row of desks and put his paw on the leg of a state representative who WAS known as the Beau Brummel of the House.  He was also told to find the sponsor of the horse racing bill, and he picked that man out from the crowd in the House Chamber.  That’s another story I recorded more than 35 years ago.

I love the way Bob Dyer concluded his song about Jim:

“So the next time you hear about man’s best friend,

            Think about that wonderful dog named Jim.

            And remember,

            Dogs can be just as smart as some humans are….dumb.”  

God gave people one mouth and two ears for a reason. Journalists are blessed by working in a profession that relies on that statement and having the tools to capture the stories that prove its truth.

 

A t-shirt, a tweet, and history

Seen at a truck stop in Effingham, Illinois:

A grey T-shirt with the pictures of former Illinois Governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan and the words, “Illinois, Where our Governors Make Our License Plates.”

For historical accuracy, future t-shirts might include Governors Otto Kerner, Jr. (mail fraud), and Dan Walker (bank fraud) among those whose careers took them from having license plate number one to a place where they wore a number stitched onto their clothes.  Walker capitalized on his name by walking the state during his 1971 gubernatorial campaign, inspiring Jackson County, Missouri, prosecutor Joseph P. Teasdale to become known as “Walking Joe Teasdale” during an unsuccessfully 1972 primary campaign for governor.  Teasdale didn’t walk as much during his successful 1976 campaign, but supporters wore lapel pins showing a shoe with a hole in the sole, an idea borrowed from a pin used by Adlai Stevenson in his 1952 Presidential campaign.  Stevenson was a Governor of Illinois who did NOT go to prison. Instead, he went to the United Nations as United States Ambassador during the Kennedy/Johnson administrations.  He is remembered for the dramatic moment when he unveiled aerial photographs of Russian missile installations in Cuba and directly asked Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin if the country was installing nuclear missiles there and proclaimed he would be waiting “until hell freezes over” to get an answer.

It was Stevenson who proposed the agreement that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis—our removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey (they were obsolete anyway) if the Soviets took their missiles out of Cuba, a deal that did not become public for many years.  He knew that some of President Kennedy’s advisors would consider him a coward for making such a suggestion, but he commented, “Perhaps we need a coward in the room when we’re talking nuclear war.”

Wonder how many people who see those t-shirts ever think about all the real history behind the sardonic message on them and the resonance some of that history might have in today’s world.

We stopped for fuel in Effingham on our way back from watching the first Japanese driver win the Indianapolis 500.  By then, a Denver sportswriter had taken to Twitter to say he was uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the race on Memorial Day weekend because of the death of one of his father’s Army Air Corps colleagues in the Battle of Okinawa.  He later issued a public apology and noted his father had flown many missions including unarmed reconnaissance missions over Japan during World War II.  But the Denver Post has fired him.

We resist today writing of Twitter’s capacity to bring out the worst in us—and the best although your observer considers it generally to be “The Theatre of the Inane”—and others have written about the decency of Takuma Sato (who is celebrating at the “Kissing the Bricks” post-race ceremony at the start-finish line) who has spoken of his concern about a quarter-million people in his homeland who are still suffering from the earthquake and tsunami a few years ago.  Instead we refer you to an entry in the old Missourinet blog that we posted three years ago about a place 225 miles or so southeast of Denver that tells a different story from the unfortunate Denver tweets.

http://blog.missourinet.com/2014/09/30/summits-sewers-and-students/

History has many parts.  As we see in this year’s story of the Denver sportswriter and in the 2014 stories of high school students and a high plains historical site, there often are shadows over it.

There is danger lurking whenever any of us try to distill the past or the present into 140 characters.

 

When the legislature rioted

Veteran observers and participants of the Missouri governmental process can cite times when disorder was the order of the day—or the hour.  We recall the night Rep. Elbert Walton climbed on top of his desk to shout for recognition from a Speaker who wasn’t going to give it to him while the rest of the House was in disarray, too. We remember when sessions ended at midnight, usually with one last appropriations bill to pay for the programs that had been enacted during the session racing the clock and clerks dashing back and force between the chambers as time ran out.   But this is the story of an event that in its time was so wild that it made national headlines and has never been rivaled since. It was the day the House and the Senate in joint session

Rioted.

We told the story a month ago about why you and I will have the chance to elect a U. S. Senator next year.  The legislature used to meet in joint session to do that.  We told the story of the fight to get rid of Thomas Hart Benton in 1851 in which Henry S. Geyer was elected on the fortieth ballot in a joint legislative session, cast during a ten-day stretch.  That was nothing compared to this.

It is 1905, forty years after the end of the Civil War.  For thirty of those years, former Confederate Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrell has been one of our U. S. Senators.  Although many names are part of the official record of this event, only four are the key players in today’s story: Cockrell, a Democrat; Republican St. Louis businessman Thomas K. Niedringhaus, son of a former congressman and the choice of the Republican caucus; St. Louis Railroad contractor and Republican Richard C. Kerens, the choice of some dissident Republicans; and Former two-term Republican Congressman William Warner, who also had been the Kansas City Mayor, the loser of the 1892 Governor’s race to William J. Stone, and at the time of these events, the U. S. Attorney for Western Missouri. Warner had been a Union Army Major in the Civil War.

The legislature in 1905 was narrowly Republican and the Republicans split between Niedringhaus (right) and Kerens, who had been political antagonists in seeking control of St. Louis and state Republicans for a long time. The joint caucus nominating Niedringhaus had been a rowdy affair culminating in Representative Oliver Grace of St. Louis—who was standing on his chair–telling caucus chairman Alonzo Tubbs, a Representative from Gentry County, “You have my utter contempt as chairman,” to which Tubbs responded after a couple of minutes of yelling and shouting, “I am more than sorry to have the contempt of such a distinguished gentleman as now stands before me.” That spirit hung over the rest of the contest.

Senators would walk over to the House chamber (this 1899 photo, which hangs in a Capitol hallway today, captures how the chamber would have looked in 1905) each morning for a joint voting session. A simple majority of those voting was all it took to elect a U. S. Senator.  The first vote was taken on January 17. The winner needed 89 of the 176 votes cast.  Niedringhaus was two short.  Cockrell had 53.  Kerens had six.

Other votes were taken on the 19th, 20th, and 23rd.  They tried twice on the 24th and single times on January 25, 26, 27, 30, and 31, the tenth day of voting. The legislature in 1851 had made it decision on the tenth day. But the 1905 legislature was only on its twelfth ballot. Niedringhaus had 63 of the 69 votes needed (the number of legislators voting fluctuated from day to day—only 108 members voted on the 30th, for example), Cockrell had 68, one short, and Kerens had settled in at a dozen.  Warner’s name had not shown up in any of the votes.

Twenty votes were held, one each day, in February except for the fifteenth when there were to ballots, Cockrell getting 73 and 72 votes. Niedringhaus getting 65 and 64.  Kerens held his dozen.  Warner still was not a factor.

The deadlocked lawmakers reached the first of March facing adjournment at 3 p.m. on the eighteenth. As often happens, the clock became the gauge on the political pressure cooker.  Deadlocks begin to dissolve as the time pressure increased and hours before adjournment wound down.

Kerens picked up three to five votes in the early going, which meant only that Niedringhaus still wasn’t going to get the majority. Votes on March 2, 3, 6, and 7 were still deadlocked.  But on March 7, William Warner got two votes.  He kept them on the second ballot taken that day.  And on the next day when the legislature roared past the fortieth ballot that had determined the 1851 election, and on the ninth.  He picked up one more on the tenth but lost it on the eleventh, the day of the forty-fourth ballot.

The forty-fifth ballot on March 13 showed Cockrell with 72, six short.  Niedringhaus had 54 and Kerens sixteen.  Warner still had three.   That night, Republicans caucused to try to agree on a new candidate that would please the Niedringhaus men if he should step aside.  But after eleven caucus ballots, Warner and Sedalia businessman John H. Bothwell were deadlocked.  Tubbs, as chairman, suggested dropping both of them and moving to former Representative Seldon Spencer of St. Louis. The discussion was acrimonious but the caucus agreed to put Spencer forward the next morning.

Warner two of his votes on the first ballot on the fourteenth, then had no votes on the second ballot that day as Spencer surged to 61 votes, then 64.  But Kerens still controlled things with seventeen, then sixteen votes.

Warner had no support in both ballots taken on the fifteenth with Cockrell remaining six votes short each time and Spencer making no progress. Warner had only one or two votes on the three ballots taken on Thursday, the sixteenth as the Spencer boom ended and the Nedringhausen men reclaimed his position. Two Republicans, including the House Speaker David Hill of Butler County, announced they would vote for Cockrell, the Democrat, if the Republicans could not unite.Some Republicans started to think again of Warner as a compromise candidate.  But Nedringhaus and Kerens would have to release their pledged delegates.

March 17, the next to last day of the session, and desperation clearly was settling in.  Three ballots that Friday morning saw Cockrell still six votes short.  But Warner moved from three to eleven votes.  The joint session recessed until 7:30 p.m. and came back for the fifty-sixth ballot.  They voted five times that night.  On the third of those ballots, the fifty-eighth of the contest, Niedringhaus dropped back to twelve. Warner suddenly was at 62 with Cockrell still six votes short. Warner had 65 on the next ballot and on the final vote that night, he was at 68.

The last day was the most chaotic day in Missouri legislative history since the night Confederate-leaning Governor Sterling Price fled back to Jefferson City after peace talks had broken down in St. Louis, organized a late-night session of the legislature, and fled from the city, never to return hours before Union troops seized the town.

One account about the 1905 events says, “It seemed probable (at the start of the day) that the state would be without a second senator.”  Niedringhaus had asked his friends to support Warner. Kerens had been publicly silent. When the roll call came for the first ballot, Senator Edward H. Baumann, the first Republican to vote, went to Warner.  But Senator Ezra Frisby stayed with Kerens as did Senators Josiah Peck and Senator Hugh McIndoe as the Kerens men left Warner, for whom they had voted Thursday night.

The first ballot of the day showed Cockrell (right) with 83 and Warner with 64. Kerens was back in the contest with 21 and Niedringhaus had faded to five. The second ballot showed Warner picking up two, Kerens losing one. Niedringhaus was down to three.    Warner was up to 68 on the next ballot. Cockrell still had 83.  The sixty-fourth ballot, then the sixty-fifth.  An effort to dissolve the joint session, to give up, failed. A motion to recess for half an hour also failed.

The sixty-sixth ballot, the sixth of the day:  Cockrell 83.  Warner 66. Kerens 19.

Then all Hell broke loose.

We have pieced together accounts from The St. Louis Republic, The Kansas City Star, The Washington Post, The Sedalia Democrat, The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, The St. Louis Star, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch,   and The Jefferson City Daily Democrat-Tribune to describe the unparalleled events (before or since) that happened next.

It was customary in the reporting in those days not to mention the first names of the participants (“Thomson of St. Louis” for example).  We’ll add the first names to the account as we put the elements together.  If the narrative seems jumbled at times, remember something important.  Members of the press were seated at tables at the front of the chamber, in front of the Speaker’s dais, as the 1899 picture shows.  They found themselves in the middle of a situation that exploded from a tense political standoff into a political riot. We can only imagine them scribbling frantically in their notebooks, perhaps at times ducking and dodging whatever and whomever came their way.  Please try to understand why this old reporter has several times thought, “God! What an experience it would have been to cover THIS!!”

The whole city and the members of the Legislature, especially, have been in a feverish condition of anxiety and nervousness since the close of last night’s session. Long before the time arrived for the members of the Senate to enter the hall of the House, the hall was crowded to suffocation and the Senators had difficulty in securing seats. In fact, some of them were obliged to stand during the proceedings.  Wives and daughters and lady friends of members were packed in between members’ seats. The space outside the railing was so jammed that it was difficult for the Senators to make their way to their place.  The little gallery up aloft was packed to its utmost capacity.    

Everybody knew that the Democrats had agreed on a policy of obstruction, and Republicans, suspicious of each other, were afraid of a trap, and yet afraid to act in haste.  The roll call to determine if there was a quorum present proceeded slower than it ever has before.  Roach of the Senate, a Democrat, killed time with industry, and the Democratic clerks seemed anxious to follow his example.  Women filled the aisles and kept talking until the chairman had to ask them to be quiet enough to let the members hear when their names were called.

When the sixtieth ballot was taken Friday night, all of the Kerens men were voting for Warner and the Niedringhaus men were divided between Niedringhaus and Captain Henry King of St. Louis. This morning Mr. Niedringhaus went to each of his friends and personally asked them to vote for Warner.  With some of them he had to talk for a long time.

When the first ballot was begun, the sixty-first taken, Senator Edward H. Baumann, the first Niedringhaus vote, cast his ballot for Major Warner.  Baumann is a St. Louis senator who has been a “last ditch” Niedringhaus man, and his vote meant that Niedringhaus was going to Warner. Senator Ezra H. Frisby, who casts the first vote for Kerens men, voted for Kerens, as did Senator Hugh McIndoe. (Editor’s note: The early votes indicated the Kerens supporters were not yet giving up the control they had exerted on the process since that first ballot in January.) 

 Representative L. C. Detweiler of Laclede County declared, “I think we have delayed it long enough. It is time to elect a Senator. I hardly know who to vote for, but I will vote for Maj. William Warner.” Representative William Godfrey of St. Louis followed, proclaiming, “Fifty and five times have I voted for the caucus nominee.  Now I want to elect a senator and I am going to vote for a man who, like myself, wore the blue and fought for the honor of his country. I vote for Warner.”

 Representative Oliver J. Grace took the floor and after talking at some length in explanation of his position, he exclaimed, “We want a Senator of the highest type, one who stands high. I therefore cast my vote and will keep casting it until hell freezes over and even then I will stand on the ice and cast my vote for that grand old man, Richard C. Kerens.” The Democrats cheered. At the beginning of his speech, Grace said he had something in his system that he wanted to get out.  “I guess the gentleman got it out all right,” said Lieutenant-Governor John C. McKinley when Grace had concluded.

Representative F. M. Harrington said he also would get something out of his system: “I am not like my friend Grace; I don’t expect to find a place where water never freezes. I vote for Maj. William Warner.” Representative Lawrence Lewis of Crawford County: “I have voted loyally for the nominee of my party up to this time. I believe that now we should center our forces on a man we all know will be an honor to the party and to the state. I vote for Warner.” Rep. William C. Marten of St. Louis said he was sacrificing a great deal when he voted for Warner.  He and Lewis had been among those who had refused to switch on Friday night. St. Louis Rep. Charles Schueddig, another Niedringhaus supporter on Friday night, switched to Warner saying, “I wish to show that I am not a last ditcher.” Another Niedringhaus backer, Rep. Albert R. Thomson, told the session, “I had made up my mind to go down to the ditch with the caucus nominee, but after his pleading with me for a solid hour to-day to elect a senator, and at his request, I vote for Major William Warner.” Rep. Eugene Dauer of St. Louis never left Niedringhaus and absolutely refused to do so.

Senator Edward H. Bauman was the first Republican Senator whose name was called to vote for Warner. He has been a staunch Niedringhaus supporter.  He was followed by Senators Charles w. Clarke, Josiah Peck and John D. Young. Senator George W. Riechman remained with Niedringhaus. Every mention of Warner’s name drew enthusiastic applause and the shift showed in the tally upon completion of the afternoon’s first round: Cockrell 83; Warner 64; Niedringhaus 21; Kerens 15; Bartholdt 1; Peck 1.  Total voting 175; Cockrell had needed 88, so the balloting would go on.

After the sixth ballot, only four Niedringhaus men stood out, the same number as on the previous three ballots.

It was about 1:40 o’clock when the sixth ballot was tabulated and the rumor soon spread that Col. Kerens would make a formal announcement of his withdrawal. When the silver-haired veteran appeared in the chamber the spectators rose and cheered wildly. He walked down the center aisle with Senator J. W. Peck of Atchison County. Behind them was Representative James H. Richardson, a Kerens supporter from Kansas City. 

The thing that made election possible to-day happened yesterday when Kerens consented for his forces to go to Warner in the night session.  Up to that time he had only consented to let Parker have his vote in a combine with some Parker men.  But Representatives James H. Richardson and Harry R. Walmsley and other Kansas City men who had begged Kerens to go to Warner were reinforced when Homer Mann (Editor’s note: Mann was not a member of the legislature but was described in one account as Kerens’ “closest lieutenant.”) told Kerens that his friends in Western Missouri demanded that Warner be given some votes. (Warner supporter) E. L. Morse of Excelsior Springs told Kerens the Third district demanded a chance for Warner. Then Kerens said, “Vote for Warner tonight.”  By voting for Warner they put Niedringhaus in a bad position. There could be no excuse for letting this legislature adjourn without electing Warner when he could have elected him.  Niedringhaus saw it himself, but many of his friends did not and he failed to grasp the opportunity last night, but this morning he handed the same proposition back to Kerens with interest. Kerens held his forces out (on the first ballot). While the second ballot was in progress, the tip was they would go to Warner on the fourth.  Then, they put it back to the fifth.  On the sixth the Kerens men shook their heads.   They could not see a solution and knew that to go home now was political ruin. While the sixth ballot was in progress, Dr. A. C. Pettijohn, a Linn County Representative, made his last appeal to Kerens. In that last conference with Kerens there had come a time when a timid man would have given him up.  He was not ready to throw his forces to Warner, Pettijohn said, “I have come for the last time to ask it,” and went away.  That left Homer Mann and Vincent Kerens with him. Mann said, “Elect Warner and the public will say you have done well.  Let him be defeated today and you send your friends in our part of the state to political destruction.  Make a speech, withdraw in favor of Warner, and let’s have a hot finish to this fight.”

Pettijohn…came back with tears in his eyes, an expression that chilled the hearts of Warner’s best friends, the bearer of bad news to his associates. For a few minutes faces turned white as the word was passed around. It looked like failure. Five minutes later Home Mann…came back from the Kerens camp with an expression on his face that told of a change in prospect.  The roll call was nearly finished when Mann whispered to a reporter for The Star, “The old Colonel is going to elect Warner and we’re going to have a hot finish.” It changed the whole appearance of the (Kerens) men.  Mann dashed out of the hall again.  A crowd blocked the door.  In the center was R. C. Kerens. 

In the dense crowd…could be seen the peculiar silver hair that would distinguish “Dick” Kerens anywhere his face had ever been seen.  Kerens has hair that is really nearer the color of bright new silver than gray.  He stood in the rear of the hall just inside the door while the clerks made the tally. 

The vote was announced: Warner, 67; Cockrell 83; Niedringhaus 5; Peck 1; Kerens 19.

Then he started down the aisle and as the members caught sight of him a mighty shout went up.  He was cheered to the echo when he walked to the desk of the presiding officer and stood close to Chairman McKinley, the president of the senate.  No one doubted his purpose.

Senator Frank McDavid, Democratic whip, anticipating the vote shift that would defeat Cockrell at last, moved that the joint session dissolve.  The Republicans tried to prevent Lieutenant Governor John C. McKinley from recognizing McDavid, but the presiding officer did so.  McDavid demanded a roll call.

Republicans tried to get McDavid to withdraw his motion.  Some of the misinformed Democrats made the same request, but McDavid insisted.  Roll call proceeded with difficulty, but the Kerens men had their cue and beat the motion.

Confusion was on every side, when Mr. Kerens arose.  His friends yelled. Kerens looked ashy pale.  “Just a moment, gentlemen of the Joint Session,” he began, “and gallantry requires me that the ladies are also present. I do not need to say to you that I am a Republican.  My record speaks for that.  We are here to perform a duty. This General assembly is Republican.  It is your duty to elect a United State Senator.  I say let it be a Republican (cheers).  If this majority of the Assembly wish to name Major Warner of Kansas City, I say, repeating what I said last night, God speed the action!  Elect him if you can do so.”

The action of Kerens, the man who instigated the bolt from Niedringhaus…was a distinct surprise to all—even his own followers being astonished and thrown into uncertainty. Kerens played fast and loose with his men and his men are very angry and indignant that he should have placed them in the predicament which he did without their knowledge or consent, while he had held them apart all the time heretofore, and made them suffer whatever of stigma and mud-throwing fell to the lot of the alleged bolters. 

The scene in the House when Kerens made his speech has never been rivalled in recent times.  Men, women, and children stood in their seats and yelled like mad persons. Hats were thrown in the air, papers sailed about the room, and it was a scene of wild celebration and joy. The Democrats who had been counting on “filippino” votes possibly to elect Cockrell were in confusion.  They raged about the floor and held conferences in every corner. Before the enthusiasm created by Kerens had had a chance to take effect and create a stampede, Senator Dickinson of Henry County, moved that a recess of thirty minutes be taken.  The chief clerk of the House tried to tell McKinley that no business had been transacted and that the motion was out of order.  McKinley ruled that the motion was in order, and upon Senator Clement Dickinson‘s demand ordered a roll call.  The motion was defeated

McDavid tried to gain recognition to make another motion. McKinley refused to recognize him, and McDavid appealed from the decision of the chair.

Then pandemonium broke loose. For more than half an hour, the House chamber, where the joint session was held, was in the possession of a mob of legislators who seemed to have lost all control of themselves. Members ran down the aisles yelling for order, while others were demanding recognition from the chair.  Such a scene of disorder has probably never before been witnessed in the Missouri legislative halls.

 It was nearly 2:30 and only a half hour to the time set for final adjournment.  A custom has grown of stopping the clock on the east wall of the House just prior to final adjournment, and some of the younger members thought that the clock was vital to holding the session.

A few Democrats stood under the clock to prevent its being moved, more as a joke than anything else. The Republicans immediately became excited. A man with kinky hair and dark face carried a ladder into the hall close to the clock. But it never reached the clock.  The guard pounced upon him and took the ladder away.  Republican members came to the rescue and there was a general tussle and some blows were struck before the ladder was carried back to the rear of the hall.  Rep. W. P. Houston of Cass grabbed it and threw it out of the window.

The same magnetic influence that draws a duck to water leads a Kansas City Democratic politician in the direction of trouble.  Joe Shannon and Representative Michael Casey were soon in the thick of the throng.  Seeing there was no hope of getting at the clock, which stood twelve feet above their heads, to turn it back, Representative Stewart threw a book at it and broke the glass front, but did not stop it.  Someone else threw an orange which brought a pile of shattered glass to the floor.  Republicans picked up file books and began throwing at the clock. The glass was broken, but the pendulum kept swinging.

Rep. James Stewart of Warren County picked up ink bottles out of the desks and started throwing them at the clock.  Ink was scattered over ladies’ dresses, desks, the floor and the wall around the clock.  People yelled and the ladies shrank toward the middle of the House. Then Rep. William Godfrey, an old man, member from St. Louis threw an ink well that smashed the pendulum and stopped the clock. The dial and hands were still intact. (Another account said Stewart finally hit the pendulum to stop the clock). That part of the House looked like a cyclone had struck it.  Two windows were smashed. Chairs and desks were broken.

Representative J. T. Wells of Dunklin (Dem.) seized a chair and walked across a dozen desks holding it high over his head. He failed to reach Godfrey, so he made a dive at Stewart, but before he could strike, he had been seized by other Democrats.  He was too late. The clock had been stopped.

Representative Michael Casey, of Jackson had found a pole used to raise and lower windows and climbed on a desk from which, while attention was attracted to another part of the house, he had deftly turned the hands of the clock so that they read one minutes after 3.  With that for an excuse, a score of Democrats started trouble with the clerks, again snatching away the half-finished roll call.  The chairman was pounding fiercely with his gavel and trying to make people sit down. It did no good.  For just a minute it looked as if a general fight would be precipitated, for Peck, Baumann and others of the heavyweight class of Republicans were fighting their way to the desks and there was a fight going on at each side of the presiding officer’s desk. It was a silly performance, worthy of the worst fight in the most disreputable ward of any large city.

Meanwhile, down in the center of the House, Chief Clerk Benjamin F. Russell was trying to call the roll.  Senate Secretary Cornelius Roach, when Senator McDavid appealed from the decision of the chair, refused to proceed until some semblance of order had been restored.  Pandemonium was on every side.

Russell finally grabbed a senate roll call and began shouting the names. It was almost impossible to hear Russell’s shouting and absolutely impossible to hear the responses, hardly any of which were made. Yet Russell proceeded with the mock roll.  Rep. Austin W. Biggs of St. Louis, Homer Mann, big Senator Baumann, and other Republicans surrounded him, fearing that the roll would be snatched by the Democrats. 

McKinley pounded the desk for order, with his gavel until he split the gavel block into four pieces. He kept shouting for decorum, and ordered the sergeant-at-arms to clear the lobby and the aisles.  He could not make any impression on the mob.  They tried force and persuasion but it was all to no purpose.  “The sergeant-at-arms will arrest every member of the assembly and take him to his seat!” shouted McKinley, but his order was ignored.  “Appoint ten sergeants-at-arms!” shouted Senator Baumann. “I will be one and I will arrest them.”

Of course, while this was going on in a crowded part of the room, there was plenty of others taking minor parts and some few members will go home with black eyes. Nor was the affair without interest to the rest of the big crowd that packed the hall. Everybody was standing up and a good many were on the desks.  Senator Nelson, having disposed of the man with the ladder, headed a small party that undertook to drag President McKinley from the chair. Republicans fought them back.

Dave Nelson in a short time became persuaded that Rep. Edward H. Bickley of St. Louis was shouting responses.  He yelled to Bickley to quit.  Bickley laughed and Nelson began running around the end of the long journal desk and up to the space behind Russell. Senator Frank Farris and Senator William R. Kinealy of St. Louis grabbed him.  He fought like a mad man, but with the assistance of others, he was quieted, while Bickley made his escape in the back of the hall. Senator Nelson of St. Louis caught Speaker Hill around the waist and attempted to drag him from the rostrum. Senator Kinealy stopped Nelson who returned to his seat.

The Nelson episode was only an incident in the rapid mock roll. The General assembly was by this time in a state of confusion…Leaders yelled “Don’t vote!  Don’t vote!”    It was disgusting to the calmer heads of the Assembly, and to none more than the President Pro Tem Emmet Fields of the Senate, who went up to the Speaker’s chair and mounted his desk.  Speaker Hill stood beside him, two big men, more than six feet tall and each weighing nearly 250 pounds.

They waved their arms up and down and tried to quiet the mob.  Russell had already finished his mock roll, putting down the Republicans as voting for Warner, and the Democrats for Cockrell.

McKinley was powerless to handle the situation and Senator Emmett B. Fields of Linn, president pro tem of the Senate, assumed the chair. He did this of his own volition and mounted the Speaker’s desk, standing on the gavel block. 

Then…Fields, Democrat, stood on the desk in front of McKinley and begged the Democrats to hear him. A big man with an imposing figure standing on the gavel block, a commanding face, Senator Fields raised his arms over the tumultuous throng.  Thus he stood for some seconds without stirring a word.  The crowd looked at him. Immediately the noise began to abate. And when it had almost ceased, Fields spoke: “I yield to none in my Democracy,” said Fields.  “Let me add that after a record of thirty years I hope that we will conduct ourselves as gentlemen of the General Assembly.  Let us proceed in order.  Let the roll be called and not a mock roll.  We can do this and complete this work as it should be done.” 

Rep. Kratt C. Spence of Stoddard stood on a desk and yelled for order until he was asked to sit down.  Then the roll was called by Senate Secretary Cornelius Roach and Chief Clerk Russell.

In the House, Bittinger and Grace refused to vote.  Dauer of St. Louis voted for Niedringhaus.  The other Kerens men and all of the Republicans who had been for other candidates voted for Warner. Senators Kinealy, Kinney, and Nelson, Representatives John Hennessy and Michael F. Keenoy of St. Louis, all Democrats, voted for Niedringhaus.  This was a filibuster scheme to stem the tide. But it was of no avail.

The Niedringhaus Senators voted to a man for Warner.  (Democrat) Senators Thomas Kinney and Nelson of St. Louis tried to keep up the courage of the Niedringhaus men by voting for the Republican nominee.  “He has been my friend for fifteen years.” Said Kinney. “It is the first time I have ever voted for a Republican.” 

Senators Michael F. Keeney and John M. Hennessey, Jr., of the Fourth ward followed Kinney’s lead.  Rep. James C. Gillespy of Boone voted for William H. Wallace of Kansas City.  All of them changed their votes before the ballot was announced.  Of the Republicans, Dauer of St. Louis voted for Niedringhaus and refused to change his vote.

Rep. Grace of St. Louis, an original Kerens man and bolter, who had declared on his first vote to-day that he would stay with Kerens “until hell froze over and then stand on the ice,” changed to Warner.  It made the vote Warner 91, Cockrell 83, Niedringhaus 1. Absent: Rep. Thomas L. Viles of Stone.

It was just 10 minutes to 3 o’clock when Major Warner was declared elected. Senator John F. Morton of Ray secured recognition and said, “I wish every Democrat in Missouri could have been here to-day and witnessed these scenes.  They have been a disgrace to the State and like results at another general election will produce the same sort of scenes.  I move that this joint Assembly do not dissolve.”

Before the motion was put, Grace of St. Louis moved three cheers for Kerens.  Rep. James H. Whitecotton of Monroe followed for Cockrell.  Hill for Warner and Thomson for Niedringhaus.  All were given a vim and the joint session stood dissolved.

Even the yelling during the rough house and the cheers that went when Maj. Warner’s selection was announced did not equal the noise made this time.  Members tore their bill files apart and fluttering bills filled the air like huge snowflakes. 

As the members filed out the sound of a cannon shot was heard.  It was Col. Fred Buehrle firing a salute from one of the cannons on the capitol lawn for the new senator from Missouri.

Warner issued a statement a short time later he said, “I shall go into office with but one pledge—and that to the people. Their interests shall never be subservient to the interests of the party.  In politics I am a stalwart Republican and an admirer of the personality of President Roosevelt, so far as it is announced.  It will be my aim to build up the party and to eliminate factions.  I have never kept books on politics and am too old to begin now….there will be no kitchen cabinet between me and the citizens.”

The next day, several visitors dropped in on Warner at his Kansas City home.  He laughed when some his guests told how the House clock was destroyed, especially when some of his Republican friends suggested they buy the broken clock and give it to him as a souvenir.

Newspaper headlines reflected the chaos of that day. “Wildest Disorder…Physical violence resorted to,” said the Post-Dispatch. Which headlined another story with “Scene of Turmoil and Disorder Unprecedented in the History of the State’s Legislature.” The St. Louis Star referred to a “Scene of Wildest Excitement.”  The Burlington Hawkeye in Iowa called it an “uproar.”  The Galveston Daily News, from Texas said “Disgraceful Rioting Scene” in its headline.  The St. Louis Republic told readers, “Major Warner Elected Senator as Republicans Riot on Floor.”

Senator Cockrell took the news of the final result calmly.  A few days later he went to work at the Interstate Commerce Commission under an appointment from President Theodore Roosevelt.  He became part of a commission in 1911 to negotiate the boundary between the state of Texas and the Territory of New Mexico.  President Wilson named him to the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications for the War Department, a position he was holding when he died at the age of 81 in 1915.

Senator Warner served only one term. He returned to his law practice in Kansas City, became a member of the Board of Managers for the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and also served on the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications as a civilian. He was 76 when he died October 4, 1916.  He was succeeded by James A. Reed, the last U. S. Senator from Missouri elected by the legislature.

Richard C. Kerens, who had been a contractor for the Overland Mail before moving to St. Louis, where he was involved in railroad construction, became the American Ambassador to Austria-Hungary 1909-1913, a year before the event that began World War I.  He died exactly one month before Warner, September 4, 1916.

Thomas K. Niedringhaus continued to be a prominent businessman in St. Louis and a prominent figure in St. Louis Republican politics until his death October 26, 1924 at 64.

The Kansas City Star editorialized during the long struggle that Missouri had become a “powerful object lesson in favor of the popular election of United States Senators.”  The newspaper felt the campaign “has proved that men who are good lawmakers are utterly incapable as senatorial electors.”  The Star called on the state to enact its own popular election law because Congress was not likely to change the federal Constitution in the foreseeable future “to make impossible another fiasco like that which has this year brought discredit and humiliation to the state.”

On March 7, 1913, Missouri became the thirtieth state to ratify the federal amendment allowing citizens to elect their U.S. Senators.  William Joel Stone became the first popularly-elected Senator in 1914.  He died before his term was completed and Xenophon Pierce Wilfley was appointed to take his place. Wilfley lost a primary election to finish the Stone term to former Governor Joseph Folk who then lost to Judge Selden Spencer, who served until his death in 1925.

Today, Claire McCaskill serves in the “riot seat” seat once held by Senators Cockrell and Warner.  Roy Blunt traces his line in the Senate back to Stone, Wilfley, and Spencer.

The Missouri Capitol, where all of these events happened, was destroyed by fire on February 5, 1911.  A new capitol was built 1913-1917.

March 16, 1917 marked the centennial of the legislature meeting for one day in the still-uncompleted building, so members not coming back in two years could say they had served in the new capitol.  The first full legislative session in the new capitol began in January,1919.

In the entire history of the present capitol, nothing has matched that March day in 1905.

 

A “terrorist attack” at the Governor’s Mansion

One of the first questions asked after one of today’s violent episodes that leaves people dead and injured is “Was this a terrorist attack?”   We are not the first generation to ask that question by a long shot.  There always have been terrorists, real and imagined. And sometimes, as is often the case today, a terrorist or suspected terrorist is identified with a faith tradition.

Herewith, we offer a story of a “terrorist attack” at the home of Missouri’s governor, told on behalf of one Phillip Thomas Miller, whose friends called him “P.T.”  He was once the warden of the state penitentiary and is credited with creating a policy that would let convicts have their sentences reduced by one-fourth (in his time) if they behaved themselves in the prison.  He thought it would be good for the discipline inside the walls if inmates have a substantial reason to obey the rules.

But before P.T. Miller was the warden of the penitentiary, he was considered a terrorist.

Miller moved to Jefferson City when he was about sixteen years old.  He died sixty-two years later in the same house in which he had lived since he moved to the capital city.

Charles B. Oldham told of Miller and the “terrorist attack” in one of the 1914 series of articles on prominent early residents of Jefferson City.

A “swell ball” was held in the original Governor’s Mansion in the late 1830s, before the first capitol (it was known as ‘The Governor’s House” originally) burned down in 1837.   As Oldham told the story, referring to Miller:

He was then quite a youngster and clerk for his uncle in the latter’s store.  Mr. Miller and some boys with whom he associated were considered too young to invite to the ball, but his uncle, John Miller, and his aunt were there, as were all the men and women of any prominence in Jefferson City.  Mr. Miller and his companions could look on from a distance, and that was all.  They were chagrined and made.  It was proposed that some trick be played upon the merrymakers and soil their fun.  In looking about for means of carrying out their intentions, Mr. Miller suggested that he could open his uncle’s store and procure some gunpowder and make a big noise near the Mansion and frighten the ladies out of their wits.

One plan after another was devised and abandoned until finally Mr. Miller suggested that some ten or fifteen pounds of gunpowder should be tightly wrapped in twine with a fuse attachment.  This was done, and Mr. Miller and one other boy deposited the layout near one of the windows on the south side of the Mansion, ignited the fuse and scampered.  When the explosion occurred, every window in the south side of the Mansion was broken and it rained pieces of twine over many acres of ground.  The women screamed, fainted and did other things common to the feminine mind in such emergencies to show their fear.  The men, too, were frightened, for this incident occurred at a time when the Mormons were troublesome in this state and threatening.  The men immediately imagined that the Mormons were trying to blow up the Mansion.  The ball came to an end immediately, for the women demanded franticly that they be taken home forthwith.  Mr. Miller’s uncle was sheriff of the county at that time and he made a good thorough investigation of the grounds.  The thousands of pieces of twine string puzzled him for a time, but presently he made up his mind that the whole affair was a badly planned joke and that his nephew was at the bottom of it.

Mr. Miller and his companions were badly frightened when they realized what they had done, and although his uncle accused him that night of being in on the plot, yet he would not admit as much until he was assured that no one had been hurt, as was true. 

The old capitol burned shortly after that. Months later, armed conflict broke out in northwest Missouri between Mormons and non-believers. Governor Boggs issued the order telling the Mormons to get out of Missouri or face extermination.

The Governor’s Mansion became the temporary quarters during the Civil War of Colonel Henry Boernstein after Union troops ran Confederate-sympathizing Governor Claiborne F. Jackson out of town.  It was replaced by the present mansion in 1871.

And P. T. Miller?  He became an upright man in every respect and a good example to the rising generation. He was a good business man, a good official, and a good writer.  Everybody knew him who had any acquaintance to the city and everybody liked him for his many and good qualities and sterling worth.

The boy who set off a bomb at a time when there were fears of terrorism 180 years ago died an honored man in 1895.

(Photo from the Cole County Historical Society)

God forbid that I should become so much a party man…

The hardest part of doing research in the newspaper library of the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia is staying on task. Every newspaper is full of distractions.  While scouring The Missouri Intelligencer and Boon’s Lick Advertiser looking for something about the Missouri legislature in 1830, this newspaper archaeologist came across a couple of letters reprinted from the Jackson Gazette in Tennessee.  Reading letters such as these reminds us of the elegant style of expression and courtesy that was common in many letters of the time.  And more.

Getting a contract to print the federal laws was important in the early days of newspapering. It was a basic income when newspapers were small operations in small frontier towns. When the Gazette was notified by Secretary of State Martin Van Buren that its contract would be given to a rival paper, the editor asked his congressman to change Van Buren’s mind—even though the newspaper losing the contract had been a strong opponent of the Congressman. But like all things governmental, you can be against it until you need it.

The congressman told Van Buren his constituent learned “without knowing why or wherefore, the printing of the laws of the United States have been taken from him and bestowed upon another.”  He felt “authorized to enter my protest against the manner in which your authority has been exercised.” He was not going to compare the merits of the two editors involved. “No, sir,” he said, “I should blush to find myself drawing distinctions upon mere party grounds. If I were to do so, I should be compelled to approve your choice.”  The defrocked editor had not supported him while the new publisher had, but fairness was more important than partisanship:  “The editor upon whom you have conferred the trust has been uniformly my friend, and to him I acknowledge myself under many political obligations.  But to witness so uncertain a state of things is to weaken the confidence of the citizen in his government, or the consistency of those who administer it.

“For corruption and crime, or for either, an officer should be removed.  But, Sir, is the doctrine to be established that for either a former or an anticipated difference of opinion, a man is to be proscribed?  If so, the triumph of virtue is wholly doubtful and the range of favoritism may be made as wide as the universe.

“Sir, I had supposed that before you would make material changes in my district, you would, according to custom, condescend to consult me.  I surely have more opportunities of understanding the interests of the people of the Western District of Tennessee than yourself; I hope that I am sufficiently devoted to those interests not to misrepresent them.”

He complained the losing editor had been the first editor in the town and was a great friend of President Jackson, who the Congressman considered a “firm and undeviating friend.” He considered Van Buren’s actions a “great interference” in his district.

He wrote to the Jackson Gazette editor two days later, March 5, 1830, that he heard of the change “with great astonishment” and he had not written his critical letter to Van Buren to gain favor with the editor.  “It is because I wish justice done to every man and under all circumstances.”  But he doubted he would get a response.

The Congressman was a firm Jacksonian.  “I have fought under his command—and am proud to own that he has been my commander. I have loved him, and in the sincerity of my heart I say that I still love him; but to be compelled to love everyone who, for purposes of aggrandizement pretend to rally round the ‘Jackson Standard’ is what I can never submit to.”

He underlined that profession by saying, “I am a party man in the true sense of the word; but God forbid that I should ever become so much a party man as obsequiously to stoop to answer a Party purpose.”

He assured the editor he had nothing to do with Van Buren’s “unjustifiable business” of taking away the printing contract.  “I am indignant at seeing a set of men, whether in elevated or humble status, pursuing with such madness the very course of intolerance and proscription which they have so long and so loudly (and as they informed me so justly) condemned elsewhere.”

We don’t know if the Gazette ever got the government printing contract back, but later that year it changed names and eventually merged with another paper that winked out well before the end of the decade.

The Congressman’s career reflected his antipathy to being a “party man.” Despite his professed affection for Jackson in his letter, he had become an ANTI-Jacksonian Democrat by the time he was elected to his second term, during which he was dealing with the editor at home. He had lost his bid for a third term in the months before the correspondence but two years later was elected to his third and final term before being defeated in a bid for a fourth.

Exactly six years to the day Congressman David Crockett wrote of wishing for “justice done to every man and under all circumstances” and who proclaimed he would not accept demands to be a “party man,” nor would he support those who pursued intolerance after “so long and so loudly” opposing it, he watched from the fortified San Antonio de Valero mission as Santa Anna’s massive army moved into position for an attack.  The courageous former congressman died the next morning, 181 years ago today.