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

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

Swear to God, it’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He didn’t give an inch to them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear IU Bloomington Community,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lauren Robel, executive vice president and provost

 

 

 

Folk lore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now we switch focus a little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old postcards.  Love the stories they tell.

Notes from the road: Solving a great musical mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo credits: MBTA, etsy.com)

Notes from the road—August, 2017

(Anywhere, Indiana)—When we fueled up in Terre Haute a few days ago, we paid ten cents more than we would have paid on June 30.   That’s because Indiana increased its fuel tax by ten cents a gallon on July 1.

It’s nice to see that the people of Indiana, a state many of us would consider pretty conservative, have increased their gas tax for their transportation system.  By a dime.  That’s more than Missourians have considered for more than half of the lifetime of today’s youngest voters.  Missouri has another committee that is going to talk about the issue.  Again.  It’s been only a few years since a special committee spent weeks talking about state transportation funding before failing to convince voters to support its idea.  We talk.  Indiana builds.

(Wakeeney, Kansas)—This shrinking Kansas farming community is four counties east of the Colorado border, a motel stop on Interstate 70 where the Motel 6 is a decent place for travelers headed home from Denver and its environs—or wanting to rest after the long miles from Missouri.

Your chronicler of the current scene had just finished his motel breakfast, was looking at the rack of promotional brochures for the deepest hand-dug well and the biggest ball of twine and other more impressive Kansas attractions (we LIKE Kansas, by the way) when we heard someone call our name.

Somebody knew us at the Motel 6 in Wakeeney, Kansas, for crying out loud!

It was Paul Woody, a young man who was a member of Governor Bob Holden’s staff and then was a policy and communications advisor for House Democrats. He’d left Jefferson City in 2005, gone to law school, run unsuccessfully for state rep a couple of times, and now is a lawyer in St. Charles.  He and his family were headed home from a visit to the mountains.

Wakeeney, Kansas!!!!

(Somewhere, Indiana)—We bought a couple of lottery tickets in Indiana.  Buying lottery tickets isn’t something we do every week.  We only buy them when the jackpots coincide with our level of greed. We wonder how many folks think their luck will change if they change the place they buy their tickets.

Hasn’t worked for us, either.

But we figured a major change of location such as Indiana was worth the, uh, gamble.  As we were boring out way across Illinois, the thought occurred that buying a winning ticket in Indiana would mean that we would pay a bunch of taxes there, not in Missouri.  We’d help support Indiana institutions and services, not ours.   We debated whether buying the ticket in Indiana was irresponsible, that as a Missourian we owed it to our home state to support ITS institutions and services.  But Guilt had quit hitchhiking by the time we reached Effingham.

And the good news, we guess, is that we have learned we won’t be paying millions of dollars in taxes in Indiana anyway.

(Somewhere, northern Illinois)—A reminder that sports is the toy department of life, and not as serious as we want to make them sometimes, comes in the story of Steve Bartman.

The Chicago Cubs have given a World Series champion’s ring to Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan. Not one of those things like the Cardinals are handing out to the first x-thousand fans coming through the gates now and then.  This is the real thing, so big he might have to use his left hand to raise his right hand for shaking purposes in social settings.

Who is this Bartman guy?   Just the one who might have cost the Cubs a National League pennant fourteen years ago, the then-young fellow who reached for a foul ball during the 2003 playoffs, leading to umpires ruling he had interfered with the right of a Cubs fielder to make a catch.  The Cubs after that lost the lead and their chance to play in the World Series.  Cubs fans—much as Cardinals fans still turn purple at the mention of Don Denkinger’s name—have never forgotten what he did.  He got death threats.  He became the object of long-term ridicule.

Now, the owners of the Cubs say it’s past time to forgive and forget. “While no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade, we felt it was important Steve knows he has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organization,” said a team statement.

Bartman released a statement in response saying he was “deeply moved and sincerely grateful” for the recognition.  “I am relieved and hopeful that the saga of the 2003 foul ball incident surrounding my family and me is finally over,” he said.

And then he continued with thoughts that speak beyond the playing field: “I humbly receive the ring….as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society.  My hope is that we all can learn from my experience to view sports as entertainment and prevent harsh scapegoating, and to challenge the media and opportunistic profiteers to conduct business ethically by respecting personal privacy rights and not exploit any individual to advance their own self-interest or economic gain.”

The Cubs have done something classy for Steve Bartman.  Don Denkinger is 81 now, these thirty-two years after Cardinals fans started speaking his name in derision.

In both instances—Bartman and Denkinger—their actions are not what caused the Cubs or the Cardinals to lose.  The Cubs failed to make the plays to win their game.  The Cardinals disintegrated in the next game.  The Cubs have said it’s time to quit whining about a fan who wanted to catch a foul ball.  We wonder if the Cardinals and their reputedly best fans in baseball  will ever do something to say it’s time to quit ridiculing Don Denkinger.

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)

Signs of our times

Two geezers were having lunch the other day at a local restaurant/craft beer emporium and the conversation turned to the Five Man Electrical Band.   Right away, you know these two brilliant conversationalists had to be geezers because they immediately remembered the group’s biggest hit, Signs, which reached number three on the Billboard chart in 1971.

Metrolyrics has this version of the lyrics (which we are using because it cleaned up one line):

And the sign said “Long-haired freaky people need not apply” So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do” So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!” Whoa-oh-oh

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house “Hey! What gives you the right?” “To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in” “If God was here he’d tell you to your face, man, you’re some kinda sinner”

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read? You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat You ain’t supposed to be here The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside Ugh

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray” But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all I didn’t have a penny to pay So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine” Woo

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Five Man Electrical Band—uh—disbanded (add that to the list of old jokes such as “Old doctors never die, they just lose their patients,” and other puns about the ends of careers) in 1975, so you know that these two guys still without hearing aids but still WITH most of their teeth, quit being young in every place but their own minds a long time ago.

One geezer hauled out his pocket encyclopedia/camera, a device usually marketed as a telephone but which he seldom uses that way, and showed the other geezer a picture he took of a sign at a tourist junk shop in Limon, Colorado a few days earlier and suggested there are many venues where this sign should be posted:

Both geezers reflect that the sign is highly reminiscent of the four-way test of the civic organization, Rotary International, which is:

Is it TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

But then, Geezer one did the two-fingery thing on the encyclopedia/camera screen to widen out the image to show two other signs on either side of the “Think” sign.  The expanded image seems to capture the contradictions in our social dialogue, which too often take the shape of individual diaTRIBE.

To save you the trouble of doing your own two-fingery thing to expand the image, we’ll tell you that the sign on the left says, “If you can read this you are in range,” and shows an apparent double-barreled shotgun, and the sign on the right says “The average response time of a 911 call is 23 minutes. The response time of a .357 is 1400 feet per second.”

The other two signs might be true and helpful—somehow. We suspect they are seldom necessary. They aren’t real inspiring except in a pretty anti-social sort of a way.  And forget about kindness.  But in years to come they will provide fodder for sociologists, psychiatrists and other “ists” studying the American mind in the late Twentieth and early Twenty-first Centuries.

Geezer One saw another sign a few days earlier at Dot’s Diner, a sandwich place in Nederland, Colorado—a few miles above Boulder—where the proprietors think the music of the Grateful Dead is appropriate background for a meal.  The sign wasn’t mean or threatening.  It just asked people to respect other diners who were having their sandwich with a Touch of Grey, or their omelet with Sugar Magnolia.

Maybe Geezer One was just feeling mellow during his lunch because he’d just ridden a pig on the 1909 restored carousel that is Nederland’s biggest attraction.  A fellow named Scott Harrison had rescued the carousel from the scrap heap and had spent more than twenty-five years carving all of the creatures for it.  The Carousel of Joy, it’s called.  And you are NOT too old to enjoy riding it and listening to the original Wurlitzer mechanical band organ as you go.

The discussion reminded one of the geezers of the kindly little signs that vanished from our roads about the time the interstate highway system came along.  The last Burma-Shave signs went up in 1963.  You might find a few in museums here and there today.  Some thought they were distractions to drivers and made the two-lane roads they populated less safe.  But now in these days with the pleas for drivers to ignore the distractions of Facebook, or Twitter, or the telephone itself—-at the same time that cars all have video screens in the middle of the dash loaded with all kinds of information—the concerns about Burma-Shave signs seem mild.

Some of the signs, in fact, promoted highway safety.  Frank Rowsome, Jr., put out a little book in 1965 that contained all of those messages, The Verse By the Side of the Road.  It has all of them, including the first ones in 1927. All had the company name at the end of each series and most promoted using the product when you were shaving with a blade.  But some were highway safety messages:

Don’t Lose/Your Head/To Gain a Minute/You Need Your Head/Your Brains Are In It

Or:

Dim Your Lights/Behind A Car/Let Folks See/How Bright You Are.

Then there was:

Thirty Days/Hath September/April/June And The/Speed Offender 

Would signs like those do as much good, or more good, on our highways than the electric signs telling us how many fatalities we’ve had each month, or reminding us to buckle up?   Or maybe they’d make some good light-hearted but meaningful reminders.  And monotony-breaking moments on the crowded, straight-as-a-string interstates.

Perhaps something such as:

Buckle Up/Don’t Be Silly/Don’t Be Under/A Stone With/ ACarved Lilly/MODOT.

If you have some Burma-Shave inspired signs that you think would be useful for MODOT, or that would meet the four-way test for general civil discussion, send them along in the “comments” section below.  If they meet our standards of civility (as we outline on this page) we’ll post them.  And then you can tell your friends YOU are a published poet!  A Roadside Laureate!

(Burma Shave sign image by G. D. Carrington)

Walls, doors, and a big creepy thing: Notes from the road, June edition

We’ve been on the road, observing places and meeting people, poring over old newspapers, talking to groups, reading things.  Stuff like that.  It’s good to get away from the political center of things for a while.

Spoke to a convention of state geologists in Branson the other day.  Never talked before to so many people with rocks in their heads.

For those who think there’s never anything new, we offer this note from the Jefferson City Capital News of September 11, 1910:

“The government is planning to build the longest fence ever constructed in the world.  It will extend from El Paso, Texas to the Pacific coast, more than 1,000 miles and will divide the United States and Mexico.  The fence will be of barbed wire.  Work will begin in a few weeks.”

Speaking of walls, we were looking through a recent edition of Archaeology magazine and its article on Hadrian’s Wall, the wall built by Roman Emperor Guess Who.   Trivia question:  How many miles long was (is) Hadrian’s Wall?

The Great Wall of China is 5,500.3 miles long.  Just saying it is impressive.  But let’s put it another way.  If the Great Wall of China were straightened into one segment and moved to the western city limits of Jefferson City and we started driving on it toward China, we would be able to get 82% of the way there

Hadrian’s wall would stretch from Jefferson City to Lamonte (between JC and Knob Noster).  73 miles.

Here’s a nice place to eat in Cape Girardeau.  But it would not be wise to become too enamored of its fine adult beverages while you are there and wait until your bladder was sending such urgent messages that you don’t have time to read some signs and your mind is no longer agile enough to understand them.

Katy O’Neill’s Public House in historic downtown Cape, is at the bottom of a hill. If you go there and your thinking is not as acute as it was before you began to socialize, make sure you read and comprehend the signs.

(They’ll get bigger if you click on them, at least here)

We do wonder, however, why it’s not still St. Patrick’s Day in both rooms.

—–

We’ve checked out the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art on Bentonville, Arkansas.  We were told that some of the snooty art folks on the east and west coasts have their noses out of joint because Alice Walton, who dreamed up this place, had the nerve to keep so much great art out here in flyover country, and particularly in such a Podunk place as Bentonville.  We were reminded of a comment made by Dr. John Pickard (for whom Pickard Hall is named at the University of Missouri), the chairman of the commission that hired the artists to decorate the capitol.  He complained that lot of eastern artists weren’t big enough to see over the Allegheny Mountains.  This was in the days well before we were flyover country.  But Doc P. and Alice W. had it right.

We recommend a trip to Crystal Bridges which is, itself, a work of art.  And it has a very nice restaurant.  If you are a little jittery about arachnids, you might want to close your eyes and have someone lead you into the museum….

The sculpture is by Louise Bourgeois and it’s called “Maman.”  Linda DeBerry, writing for the Crystal Bridges website, says the thirty-foot-tall spider carrying 26 marble eggs is a tribute to her mother.  After you get over your initial shudder at that thought, understand that, as DeBerry writes Bourgeois claimed “The spider…was not an ominous or frightening figure, but rather a representation of the protection and industry of her own beloved mother, who repaired tapestry for a living and died when the artist was 21.” Bourgeois said, “The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

Uhhh-huh.

Hold up your hand if you ever thought of YOUR mother this way.

Spider-mom aside, don’t be afraid to go to the Crystal Bridges museum.  It’s spectacular.  You are likely to spend enough time looking at the art and sculpture in the museum’s galleries—and at the Frank Lloyd Wright house that was moved there piece-by-piece that you’ll need lunch or dinner. We thought the food was good.  And before you leave town, fill up the car at a gas station in Bentonville.  It was a buck-98 the day we were there, seventeen cents less than the stations in Jefferson City, where gas prices tend to be suspiciously high most of the time.

Bentonville is an okay place.  Pretty much a company town, as is Jefferson City.

Chatting at the Y the other day about baseball’s desire to shorten the games.  Curtailing visits to the pitcher’s mound.  Requiring pitchers to throw the ball in a certain amount of time.  How about restricting the number of adjustments to batting gloves?  Limiting the amount of time batters can excavate a place for their back foot?

All of that is just playing games with the game. Here’s what would shorten games: Limiting the number of commercials between innings.  And during pitching changes.

Not likely to happen, of course.  The Game, whether it’s baseball or basketball or football—any game that is not continuous, long ago abdicated its right to its own clock when it decided to accept big broadcasting fees.

I think I just nibbled a little bit on the hand that used to feed me.

Didn’t get to see any of the Congressional baseball game on the in-room teevee while we were gone.  Wonder if the Cardinals had any scouts in the audience looking for bullpen help.

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.

 

The emerging crisis

Analysis of any number of mass events in human history will turn up any number of causes but beneath the surface motivations, the root cause is often—in one way or another—resources.

Exploration is often motivated by a search for resources: silk, gold, oil, slaves.  Wars often are the result of a search for resources or access to them.  Religious activity is often motivated by resources or the lack of them.

Our social and archaeological visits to the Southwest that have generated those evaluations and have exposed us to a coming crisis is shaping up there today—and there are signs that the crisis is not in that part of the country alone.  There are worries in Missouri already.

Our work in finding and recording ancient pueblo societies in the Four Corners area has involved an exploration of their movements and the reasons for their movements as well as the apparent reasons for some of their behaviors.

The ancient pueblo people who created the cliff dwellings and their fates appear less mysterious than popular culture portrays when the archaeological evidence is examined.  Your correspondent has no scholarly credentials to offer to this discussion, but we have listened to and read numbers discussions by scholars.  (Kind of like, “I’m not an archaeologist but I stayed at a hotel full of them once” type of thing.)

One line of thought is that those people a thousand years ago left the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings area and the great cities such as Chaco Canyon’s communities because they used up the resources.  A combination of increased population produced by improved diets and a 45-year drought forced people to abandon their river-valley dwellings and move to alcoves in cliffs that were more secure in increasingly troubled times and offered better protection for the food supplies they harvested in the valley and on the cliff tops.  As things became more desperate there seemed to have been a rise in religious activity, some of it sacrificial, in an effort to please the gods that had withdrawn the means of survival for some reason.   At the same time, the various competing societies became more militant and combative in their quest for the limited resources available.

It’s a human story repeated many times throughout the world.  The availability of resources motivates us as a species, often in ways that overcome reason and humanity.

There are those who think a crisis that could produce conflicts at various levels is shaping up with water. We already are seeing skirmishes.  You might have noticed some already.  Some old-timers will recall the upheaval that was caused by a proposed South Dakota plan to pump water from the Missouri River to Wyoming’s coal-producing areas where it would be mixed with coal to produce a slurry that would flow in another pipeline to powerplants in the southeast.

The issue is growing serious in the Southwest again.

The newspaper in Casa Grande, Arizona that we read a few days ago carried an Associated Press story that the flow of the Colorado River, “the most important waterway in the American Southwest,” is almost twenty percent less than it was before a drought now in its eighteenth year.

Researchers Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, in The Journal of Water Resources, note seven states and part of Mexico are served by the Colorado’s 246,000 mile basin.  The area includes forty million people and 6,300 acres of farmland.  But the two great impoundments from which water is drawn by various communities and other entities are stressed.  They find water storage levels at Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, and at Lake Powell, behind the Glen Canyon Dam is  forty-two and forty-six percent.  There are fears that Lake Mead could drop so far that cuts will soon have to be made in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, the first states to feel the shortage under multistate water use agreements.

(How far has the water level in Lake Mead dropped?  Consider the town of St. Thomas, Nevada.  It was flooded in 1938 by water backing up behind Hoover Dam.  At one time, water about sixty feet deep covered the tallest remaining structures on the site.  Today, you can walk the streets of St. Thomas, Nevada again.  It’s on National Park Service Land.)

What’s causing this?  Udall and Overpeck say precipitation was 4.6 percent below historic averages in the fifteen years through 2014.  The temperatures during that period were 1.6 degrees above historic averages.  That, they calculate, amounts to about two-thirds of the decline.  They think most of the rest is the result of a warming atmosphere that causes more evaporation from the snowbanks, plants, and soil.

The long-term outlook:  Rain and snowfall will have to increase by FOURTEEN PERCENT FOR THE REST OF THE 21st century to offset the effect of anticipated rising temperatures.

Arizona is considering what to do.  Reporters Ethan Millman and Morgan Wheeler of the Casa Grande Dispatch wrote in the same issue that Arizona leaders have started a push to abolish a 2001 prohibition against letting some people drink recycled wastewater by the end of the year.  A state regulatory council has to approve the plan to turn toilet, shower, and other treated water used for drinking. Officials know a substantial change of public perception will be needed and the recycling is more likely to be used in smaller towns rather than the major cities of Tucson and Phoenix.

Reclaimed water already is vital to a major part of Arizona’s popularity.  They write that eighty million gallons of reclaimed water is used on the golf courses of just one county, Maricopa, home of Phoenix, EVERY DAY.  A ski area near Flagstaff makes snow out of it.  One vineyard uses it to irrigate the grape plants that ultimately produce wine.

Not a worry in Missouri?  Oh, but it is.

And if it were not for federal laws four or more decades ago there would be major, major problems.  The Clean Water Act forced cities to stop dumping sewage directly into our rivers and their tributaries.  So, in truth, Missourians already are drinking former sewage that was processed before it went into the rivers and is processed when it is drawn out of them.  We who live along the river cannot collect enough rain water nor drill enough deep water wells to sustain our homes, our businesses, and our health without those processes.  Or our golf courses.

The Corps of Engineers worries about the inflow of water from the Missouri River upstream mountain-snowmelt and precipitation—but those areas also are dealing with long-term drought.  The impoundments on the Missouri not only provide commercial value in the Dakotas and Montana, they also provide the water needed to maintain navigation on the Missouri and, ultimately, on the Mississippi Rivers that is vital to a major segment of our economy.

Then there is this:

We started seeing news reports in August 2009 that the Ozark Aquifer is drying up. A United States Geological Survey report that month that a four-year study at Missouri Southern State University indicated the aquifer could go dry in places “if demand increases by as little as one percent annually over the next 50 years” and that it could be emptied near some cities.  Among the first to feel the shortage: Carthage and Noel, towns with industries that use a lot of water.  Joplin and Miami Oklahoma would be next, then Pittsburg, Kansas.

The study covered 7,340 square miles in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. As of 2006, eight-seven percent of the water drawn from the aquifer was used in Missouri—

8,531,520 cubic feet per day. There are about 7.5 gallons in each cubic foot of water.

A year later, John Goldsmith at Emporia State University reported groundwater in the

region’s aquifers was being polluted by coal beds in the Tri-State area and other factors. But industry and state government actions were slowing the contamination.  Remediation and cleanup, he said, is expensive and difficult.

John Thomas, who bills himself on his website as “The Mad Hedge Fund Trader,” wrote in 2010, “If you think that the upcoming energy shortage is going to be bad, it will pale in comparison to the next water crisis.”

We spend a lot of time discussing this or that crisis here or in another nations. But we have one developing right under our feet.  And unlike those ancient people of the Colorado plateau, we can’t just walk away to another place.

(photo credit: raisethestakes.com)