Maybe a little bigger government makes sense

But there are those who will say bigger government NEVER makes sense.  Don’t go off in a huff, though, if you’re one of them. Take a deep breath, let the blood pressure drop a notch or two, and consider the words of Governor Guy B. Park who told the legislature in his second (and last) biennial message on January 6, 1937:

When the boundaries of our counties were fixed by the Constitution of 1875 (editor’s note—that was the Constitution in effect in 1937), time and distance were the principal consideration. The boundaries were probably determined on the basis of how long it would take a resident to ride his horse from his home to the county seat, transact his business and get back in time to milk the cows.  As a matter of practical economy and common sense, it would be the better part of wisdom to materially increase the size, thereby reducing the number of counties. Should that be done, the local county government would be as close to the people in point of time as they were in 1875.  In order to accomplish this, an amendment to the Constitution would be necessary, and I recommend that you adopt a resolution submitting such an amendment to the people of the state.

Governors could make such suggestions in the days when the Constitution forbade them from seeking re-election.  And members of the legislature then, as now—particularly those from some of the counties likely to be affected—knew they would be greeted by pitchfork-carrying constituents if they went home after voting for such an idea.

Here we are, eighty-one years after Park’s speech and 157 years after Worth County became the last county created in our state, and we have twenty-five counties populated by fewer than ten-thousand people and six more who are just barely at ten-thousand.  That’s more than one-fourth of our counties, a lot of them in the sparsely-populated northern counties.  Seven counties have fewer than FIVE thousand residents. Worth County struggles to stay above two-thousand.

It’s been almost sixteen decades since Missouri honored some kind of hero or notable citizen or family member of an early settler by naming a county for them.   But we’ve had plenty of heroes since then, plenty of famous people who are better known than the people whose names adorn many of our counties.  Who was Dade after all?  Or Holt or Knox or Sullivan or Schuyler or, well, Worth?

Naturally, combining small counties or changing their names will generate a lot of hostility.  We’re a pretty territorial species.

But that doesn’t mean that Guy B. Park didn’t have a good point that has only gotten better.

(We wrote at some length about this more than two years ago when a longtime friend passed along a propose map of new counties.  If  you go back to Dec. 19, 2015, you’ll find that proposal along with some of the same musings in this column.  But maybe it is an idea worth bringing up more frequently than once every eighty-one years.)

Capitol credit

State Senate leader Ron Richard has had a goal for the State Capitol for a long time and he’s hoping his last year in the legislature is the year that goal is reached.  And it should be.

Richard loves the Capitol as the symbol of a state’s greatness and power, of its stability and beauty.  But he has watched as the Capitol has deteriorated during his almost sixteen-year career and how appropriations that have finally started providing some rehabilitation of the now century-old building are not nearly enough to get the job done.

He has seen the state struggle with meeting its budgetary responsibilities for education, health and mental health, social services—you name it.  And as the state has struggled to meet those responsibilities, the state’s greatest symbol has deteriorated.

Millions are being spent as a continuation of exterior restoration that has been underway for about three years.  Some critical problems in the basement have been attacked. But millions of dollars more are needed to do what needs to be done now and to meet the costs of ongoing expenses later.

Richard has been hoping to get a bill passed setting up a tax credit program that would encourage people and organizations to donate money to fix our Capitol.   He is the sponsor of one of two bills in the Missouri Senate addressing the problem.  While he could be putting the muscle of his position behind his own legislation he has decided to let Senator Dan Hegeman from the northwest Missouri community of Cosby carry the issue.  The bill already is out of committee and is ready for Senate debate. It started the week twenty-seventh on the debate list, a good position for early approval.

It’s Senate Bill 590 for those of you who keep score. It does two things.  It creates tax credits for people who donate to restoration and repair work at the Capitol complex, and it creates tax credits for those who want to contribute to restoration and repair work on other public buildings.

A lot of deep-pocket people and companies have representatives in the capitol hallways every day that Richard, Hegeman, and their colleagues on both side of the rotunda are meeting.  It would not be surprising if those hallway denizens carried word back to their employers that their workplace needs some help.  Some of the money raised can be used to increase general public awareness of the need for donations for which private citizen-donors would get credit on their state taxes.

Richard has several times shared this dream with your correspondent and it’s time the dream comes true.   Richard already has created a legacy as the only person in the almost-two century history of the state to serve as the leader of the House and the leader of the Senate.  But that accomplishment is more a legislative distinction.  Leaving behind a program that can raise money for the capitol’s upkeep is the more important thing.  It could be a legacy.

But times have changed a little since Ron Richard first established this goal.  Historic Tax Credits are not as popular as they once were.   The legislature established caps on those tax credits a few years ago—no more than an aggregate total of $140 million.  That cap drops to seventy-million dollars on July 1.  Local historic preservation organizations can point to buildings and districts in their communities that have benefitted from those tax credits.  Now, as the cap is cut in half, there could be two new causes trying to attract tax credit seekers.

Historic preservation tax credits aren’t very sexy.  Some lawmakers question whether they create enough new jobs to justify the reduction in state revenue that they produce.  Others with little interest in history might see little value in them to begin with.

But they ARE important.  They’re important for the towns where we live because they encourage us to think of how far we have come while making sites usable, even inhabitable.  They’re important for our capitol, a place intended to inspire those who visit and who serve there.  The fact that some who visit and who serve do not find the intended inspiration cannot be an excuse to let our capitol decline into a symbol of decisions not made, responsibilities not met, and needs not acknowledged.

Our capitol is better than that.  And the Richards dream and the Hegeman legislation is the best chance for our lawmakers to prove it so.   We hope they don’t miss the chance this year.

Are you smarter than a third grader?

We wrote this a year ago and put it in storage until we needed it.  We noted the other day that Representative Dean Dohrman has introduced a bill requiring people wanting to graduate from college to score at least seventy percent on a civics test before they can get their diplomas. He says he hopes the bill spurs greater civic education in our colleges.

That has led us to dig out this piece:

Suppose you had to take a test to be a Missouri voter.  More important, suppose those wanting to hold public office, particularly the six statewide offices and legislative positions, had to pass this test. Be honest, now, those of you who have taken oaths of public office—How many of you would be where you are now if you had to match this third-grade requirement (We, personally, would be a little nervous if we had to do this)?

And for those who voted to elect these folks, could you have voted if you had to prove competence to deal with these issues?  It’s kind of a lengthy examination.  Extra paper will be allowed.

Explain the major purposes of the Missouri Constitution. Explain and give examples of how laws are made and changed within the state.

Examine how individual rights are protected within our state. Explain how governments balance individual rights with common good to solve local community or state issues.

Explain how the State of Missouri relies on responsible citizen participation and draw implications for how people should participate.

Describe the character traits and civic attitudes of influential Missourians. Identify and describe the historical significance of the individuals from Missouri who have made contributions to our state and nation.

Explain how the National Anthem symbolizes our nation. Recognize and explain the significance of the Gateway Arch and the Great Seal of Missouri and other symbols of our state.

Analyze peaceful resolution of disputes by the courts, or other legitimate authorities in Missouri. Take part in a constructive process or method for resolving conflicts.

Describe how authoritative decisions are made, enforced and interpreted by the state government across historical time periods and/or in current events.

Identify and explain the functions of the three branches of government in Missouri.

Describe the importance of the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition of Lewis and Clark. Evaluate the impact of westward expansion on the Native Americans in Missouri. Discuss issues of Missouri statehood.

Describe the migration of Native Americans to Missouri prior to European settlement in the state. Describe the discovery, exploration and early settlement of Missouri by European immigrants. Describe the reasons African peoples were enslaved and brought to Missouri.

Examine cultural interactions and conflicts among Native Americans, European immigrants and enslaved and free African-Americans in Missouri. Examine the changing roles of Native Americans, Immigrants, African Americans, women and others in Missouri history.

Examine changing cultural interactions and conflicts among Missourians after the Civil War.

Discuss the causes and consequences of the Dred Scott decision on Missouri and the nation.

Explain Missouri’s role in the Civil War, including the concept of a border state. Describe the consequences of the Civil War in Missouri including on education, transportation, and communication.

Compare and contrast private and public goods and services. Define natural, capital and human resources. Define economy. Explain supply and demand.

Conduct a personal cost-benefit analysis.

Define taxes and explain how taxes are generated and used.

Explain factors, past and present, that influence changes in our state’s economy.

Read and construct historical and current maps.

Name and locate major cities, rivers, regions, and states which border Missouri. Describe and use absolute location using a grid system.

Identify and compare physical geographic characteristics of Missouri. Describe human geographic characteristics of Missouri.

Describe how people of Missouri are affected by, depend on, adapt to and change their physical environments in the past and in the present.

Describe how changes in communication and transportation technologies affect people’s lives.

Identify regions in Missouri. Compare regions in Missouri. Compare the cultural characteristics of regions in Missouri. Explain how geography affected important events in Missouri history.

Research stories and songs that reflect the cultural history of Missouri.Describe how people in Missouri preserve their cultural heritage.

Identify facts and opinions in social studies’ topics. Identify point of view in social studies’ topics.

Present social studies’ research to an audience using appropriate sources.

Whew!!

How can anybody be expected to know all this stuff?  Aren’t you glad you’re not an immigrant seeking American citizenship? Actually, immigrants don’t have to go through all of this stuff.

But Missouri third-graders do.

What you’ve just read are most of the Missouri Department of Education’s grade level expectations for third grade social studies students and their teachers.  How well students perform under these guidelines determines how competent they are considered to be and, by reflection, how competent their teachers are.

The impetus for this goes back more than two decades, to 1996, when the Show-Me Standards were developed to gauge student performance.  The Show-Me Standards were replaced by the Missouri Learning Standards that were required by the legislature to be written because the legislature didn’t like the Obama Administration’s Common Core approach.  The MLS are pretty close to Common Core, though. The state education department says the standards “are relevant to the real world and reflect the knowledge and skills students need to achieve their goals.”  The department also says they work best when administrators, teachers, students and parents share the goals.

This state is big on “local control,” so the standards do not require local districts to closely adhere to them. Districts can still make their own decisions about textbooks and teaching strategies and curriculum. But they’re measured on a standard gauge.

Your observer/historian was chatting with another observer/historian in a local coffee shop a few days ago about these standards and we agreed on a regrettable fact about them.

These are standards for third graders.  The teaching of Missouri history used to be done in the fourth grade but the department has moved that teaching back to grade three now.

Consider this, then (we admitted it kind of scares us): Missourians went to the polls in November, 2016 and elected people who are in office today who have had little education in Missouri history since third or fourth grade and whose teaching in Missouri government was limited to elementary school or maybe a poli sci class in college.  State law requires American history and United States government courses in high school (but no world history or government studies is required in this undeniable era of globalization).

But there is also this:  Both of us believe it takes extraordinary people to turn written goals into personal learning for fifteen to thirty children of incredibly diverse personal and cultural backgrounds every day in our classrooms.  Our lamenting the fact that a lot can happen in the decade from the time one is an eight-year old third grader and when one is an eighteen-year old first-time voter is in no way intended as a swipe at the public education system.  Neither of us could confidently assume that today’s decisions and situations would be better if the study of yesterday’s decisions and situations were fresher in the minds of those who voted and those who were elected. But it would help, we thought, if learning and voting were closer together.

How would we cure that problem?  When we considered all the things our school systems have to do and all of the problems students bring to school with them, we have to confess neither of us is close to an intelligent solution.

But wouldn’t it be nice if all of us, voters, candidates, office-holders alike, had to be as smart as third graders?

The roads of the people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still Radio

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

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

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

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

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

 

I am Radio

I am the voice in the morning

In cities large and small,

In the country, high and low,

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

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

The friend you never meet,

Telling you important things:

Where the traffic is,

Where the detours are,

What the city council did,

What the school board intends,

When the civic club peanut sale is.

What the hot lunch is at school

Or the senior center.

I am the one you take to the basement

when the tornado sirens blow,

the trusted,

always present voice,

the voice of danger and of safety.

I am radio.

I am the one that tells you

What the high school team did last night,

What the major league team did;

The NFL, NHL, the NBA did.

I tell you the about the world—

What’s happening inside the beltway,

In space over our heads,

Across the Atlantic,

Along the Pacific Rim,

The Mediterranean coast,

In the sands of deserts

the damps of the tropical forests,

and your own back yard.

I am radio,

the image-maker

The words and the sounds

That let you see in your own mind

places and events—

the green of a diamond

and the white of its base paths,

The soaring arc of the ball headed for the crowd,

The hardwood floor,

the net that snaps as the ball goes through,

The chilly grass marked by yard lines,

the sounds of struggle and impact

and movement left to right on the dial.

I am the sound of sharpened metal on ice,

The crack of the puck off the stick.

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

Grief and joy,

The maraschino cherry

landing on a mountain of whipped cream

floating in a Lake Michigan filled with hot chocolate.

I am radio.

I am direction.

I am “Down the stretch they come!”

The market is up.

The politician who reaches across the aisle.

I am mathematics.

“40, 30, 20, 10, Touchdown!”

I am drama.

“Yesssss!” and “He SCORES!!!”

I am “Suspense,”

And “Inner Sanctum”

And warnings of war.

I am the voice of democracy and decency,

The voices of your town

Preaching the message

Sharing recipes,

Selling things on the trading post

Expressing opinions.

I am your voice.

I am radio

I am the past.

The Harding-Cox election returns,

Vincent Lopez

The A&P Gypsies

The velvet voice of Vaughn DeLeath

Paul Whiteman

Amos & Andy,

Lum ‘n’ Abner,

Fibber and Molly.

I am Charlie, the ventriloquist’s friend.

I am horror.

“Oh, the Humanity!”

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

for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald.”

“President Kennedy is dead.”

And I am hope:

“The only thing we have to fear,

is fear itself.”

“I have a dream.”

“That’s one small step for a man,

one giant leap for mankind.”

I was born of a desire to bring

The city to the country.

I remain the voice of the farmer,

The teller of market prices,

The forecaster of crops.

I am the Dow Jones numbers,

The reporter of prosperity

And collapse,

Of city crime

And rural struggle.

I am radio.

I am imagination.

Lake Woebegone, Minnesota,

where it’s always a quiet week.

Pine Ridge, Arkansas,

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

Grinder’s Switch,

where there was a lady greeter who said,

“How-DEEE!”

Metropolis, Gotham, Summerfield,

Rushville Center, Town Hall Tonight,

and a Dodge City that never was.

My places and my people are what your mind

Shows you they are.

I am heroes—

The Lone Ranger

The Green Hornet

The correspondent under fire

on the front line,

The reporter who will not be intimidated

in the political arena.

I am the villain—

The demagogue and the dictator

The manipulator and the huckster

Selling snake oil

In potions and politics.

Goat glands, Sal Hepatica and Ipana

Healing cloths and Hadacol,

Simple solutions

To complex world problems.

I am radio.

In places I am homogenized,

No longer OF a community,

but just IN a community,

not a station,

but just another format

in a building full of formats.

Some say I lost my soul when

towns became “Markets, “

When stations became only “properties,”

and when the neighbors on the air

talking to us about us

became strangers on the satellite

talking of division and distrust.

When corporate profits

Snuffed out community service

And killed the diversity of voices.

And in too many places, they are correct.

But in some places my heart remains strong,

There, I am still your neighbor,

Still the one who tells you the weather,

Let’s you hear the high school games,

Who tells you of the council, the school board,

The county fair, and the peanut sale.

I have been written off,

Pronounced dead,

Outmoded,

Old-fashioned,

Immaterial,

Uncompetitive,

Low-tech.

But I have not gone away.

I have not died.

I have reinvented,

Reinvigorated,

Restored myself.

Who knows what I am to become?

I remain

The voice in your bedroom,

information in your bathroom,

news at your breakfast table,

a companion in your car.

From midnight to midnight.

I remain.

I am radio.

Never before in the history of the world—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever.

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

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

We’ll get around to it eventually. Maybe.

Let us not cast stones at Jefferson City for being a town that likes to talk about things for a long time before doing them.  This is, after all, a government town where many of its citizens spend their days in cubicles, and those citizens are masters at conducting meetings and talking about things and making reports and then putting the reports on shelves until they have another round of meetings.  You probably have heard of the new task force that studied state transportation needs and financing of them—five years after another task force studied state transportation needs and financing of them?

While doing some research at the State Historical Society the other day, I came across a newspaper article headlined, “Mrs. Jas. Houchin Starts Movement for $50,000.00     Y. M.C.A. in Jefferson City.”   It was October, 1915.

The organization of a Young Men’s Christian Association and the construction of a well-equipped building as its headquarters is the plan which Mrs. James A. Houchin has conceived and will carry out within the next year, probably within the next few months.

She already had put down five-thousand dollars on a lot.  “I believe the building should have a gymnasium and a swimming pool.  It will maintain a library, reading rooms and a basketball court,” she said.  She was impressed with the YMCA in Sedalia which had bedrooms on its third floor to rent to club members.

Mrs. Houchin died in 1924.  Jefferson City finally formed its “Y” in 1970.

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We are still waiting on another idea, though.  The Daily Capital News on June 7, 1923 carried a letter on the front page from local lawyer and legislator A. T. Dumm saying it was time the people of the capital city built a convention hall.  Dumm was the president of the Commercial Club—which later was the Chamber of Commerce—and was a member of the state constitutional convention that had recently met.

Editor Capital News:  Responding to your request for a suggestion for the advancement and betterment of Jefferson City, I beg to suggest, for the consideration of your readers and the community, the idea of a convention hall. 

I think we have reached a point in our growth and population where we might confidently launch such an enterprise and that it is highly desirable if not absolutely necessary must be evident…

Jefferson City, like every other city of its class and consequence, must be prepared to meet the demands and requirements, not only of its own people, but of those who, through business or pleasure, become our guests. 

We pride ourselves on the fact that we are the capital of a great state, but we should have a personality and an individuality of our own and not be dependent upon the state for the means of hospitality and entertainment for our visitors.  Outside of the two great cities, we are fast becoming the convention city of the state, and our importance in this respect will increase with every passing year.

A Convention Hall, centrally located, built and paid for by our own people, for the free use of our people and those who come to the capital, would, in my opinion, result in a great increase of our civic pride and advertise us throughout the state more favorably and extensively than any other single factor except good streets in the city and good roads leading to the city.

His friends called him “Tom,” because of his middle name.  He died in 1930.

It took fifty-five years for Mrs. Houchin’s dream of a YMCA to materialize.  It’s now ninety-four years and still talking since Tom Dumm voiced his hope.

Notes from the road–November

(Tick line, Kansas)—Trivia question:

What was the tick line?

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

Kansas had a tick line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snail.

A 95-year old observation whose time might have come

We are four years away from the centennial of Missouri’s centennial.  Missouri’s bicentennial of statehood also will be the centennial of the Missouri Centennial Road Law.   Not everybody thought it was a good idea then. One editor C. G. Sagaser of the  Huntsville Herald might have been something of a seer when he wrote in his June 10, 1921 edition about an upcoming special session of the legislature that would decide how Missouri’s road system would materialize.

Momentum had been building for a decade to develop a system of hard-surface roads.  Voters in 1920 approved a $60 million dollar bond issue to finance those roads.  The legislature and the governor decided to wait until the summer of 1921 to make that decision.

Four days before the session began, Sagaser said, “Something is about to take place in Jefferson City which means more to Missouri than anything which has happened in the past half century…It is up to this special session to say whether this hard surface road building shall be postponed until road material prices have had an opportunity to decline, or whether we shall blindly proceed to hand out this $60,000,000 at once…”

Then there’s another proposition:  Do we want hard surface roads at all?  I certainly have my doubts about their desirability.  If the legislature will postpone any action on the road building program for two years, we shall then have an opportunity to more thoroughly study and acquaint ourselves with the history of hard surface roads in other states, which would assist us in arriving at a conclusion as to what kind of hard surface roads we want, if any at all. (We have added that emphasis for this entry.)

“…The professional politician does not desire a delay in the road building program, because it would give the people too much time to think things over…It has been a long time since Missouri had a state-wide system of hard surface roads, and we have all lived and been a very happy and cheerful race of people, therefore, we should easily be able to live two years longer without even thinking about hard surface roads.

“And when the machine politician talks about ‘hard surface roads,’ he means concrete roads. The hand of the cement trust is plainly visible. I expect the whole thing to terminate in a gigantic steal if it is put through.

“…I say frankly to the people of Missouri that a system of concrete roads will work havoc with us as a state.  In a few years they would become impassable, owing to our financial inability to maintain them.

  There may be states sufficiently wealthy to maintain a general system of concrete roads, but one thing is certain—Missouri is not included among such states.” 

The legislature met for several weeks in the hot and stuffy Capitol before finally compromising on a system of 1,500 miles of roads of a “higher type than claybound gravel” connecting the population centers.  But one-third of the bond money plus $6,000 a mile from the other two-thirds of the bond issue would be used for secondary roads important to farmers.

It was the kind of legislative compromise that used to be possible—an agreement nobody really liked but something that was acceptable.  The Centennial Road Law of 1921 was the beginning of our 32,000 mile state highway system.

But sure enough, as C. G. Sagaser noted ninety-five years ago, the specter of impassibility looms today owing to our financial inability to maintain them.

Our former press corps colleague, David Lieb of the Associated Press, wrote an excellent analysis earlier this week pointing out that our transportation department not only doesn’t have enough money to build roads and bridges, and make comprehensive repairs on our roads and bridges, it’s having to dip into its capital improvements budget to pay off the latest big bond issue approved several years ago to re-surface our deteriorating highways and replace hundreds of dangerous bridges.

A special committee has been looking for solutions in the interim between legislative sessions and a possible fix is expected to be put on the list of bills to consider next year.

The question then will be whether Sagaser is still right with another observation: “There may be states sufficiently wealthy to maintain a general system of concrete roads, but one thing is certain—Missouri is not included among such states.” 

Really?   Still?    Is Sagaser right after all, these ninety-five years later?

 

 

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

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

Swear to God, it’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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