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williamlambrecht
Sep 23, 2022
In What Are You Writing?
Editor's note: In his quest to present the hidden gems of his native Midwest, Illinois writer Doug Kamholz sticks close to home, which is fine with us because we, too, come from these fertile Illinois lands he writes about. Indeed, we visited them this month, and as we gazed out on sun-drenched corn from horizon to horizon, we recalled Carl Sandburg's words about Midwesterners blessed with vision from these wide-open prairies. by Doug Kamholz A longtime friend was kvetching about how dull it looked out all her windows in Tremont, Illinois. This Moxie means to spur you to vacation in central Illinois or, more likely, construct a “Put a Pin in It” where you live. Let’s say you are just south of Peoria and don’t want to travel more than two hours to anywhere. You might start by imagining this (or any) little village as the center of a clock. On Tremont’s clockface, somewhere between noon and one is LaSalle. You can have a mule-powered ride down and back up a section of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. You can board a 60-passenger packet boat while a trusty mule, probably not named Sal, trods a path beside the water pulling a line tied to the bow. The I&M has nothing to do with connecting Illinois and Michigan but rather links Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, and that connects the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River. The I&M’s 96 miles joined about 3,000 miles of waterways built during the early 1800s. By mid-century the iron horse had put Sal’s pals out to pasture. Moving a bit past one o’clock on the Tremont Timex is Starved Rock State Park which dates from 1911 and is the state’s second oldest. The name comes from a gruesome tale of inter-tribal warfare, not that anybody has found one shred or shard of evidence of starvation atop this 125-foot sandstone butte jutting out toward the Illinois River. However, there are many other parky treats: trails, waterfalls, dining and lodging. Plus there is another treasure right next door, one much less known and traveled. Matthiessen State Park was once a private preserve along the Vermilion River. It is now the scaled down Illinois version of Wisconsin Dells, though there are no amphibious ducks to ride nor any Tommy Bartlett Water Show antics. Rather a human-made waterfall creates an upper and lower dells (or dalles if you are French). There is a fun trail that steps rock to rock across the water, and a well-maintained paved walkway all around both the upper and lower dells. Up the road, come October, Utica holds its 52nd annual burgoo festival. Burgoo is sort of a Midwestern squirrel hunters’ stone soup and is loved by many, whatever is in that pot. Coming around to two is Dwight, now a burg of about 4,000. Full disclosure demands I confess this was my favorite town when I was a Chicago-to-Springfield docent for the National Park Service on Amtrak. Dwight’s fame is from the Keeley Institute, an early proponent of alcoholism as a curable disease. This legacy includes a mammoth pillared building downtown currently used as a developmental disability residence facility. But you can still enter the lobby and mezzanine where there are five exquisite stained glass windows, pictured above, meant to represent humans’ five senses destroyed by excessive drinking. On the same main street is a 1906 bank by Frank Lloyd Wright with a fireplace, not a vault, as its centerpiece. A couple blocks away is the historic Oughton farm whose owners were partners in the lucrative Keeley institute. A couple family members served in the Illinois General Assembly but it was a grandchild Diana who gained the most fame. She was a child of privilege. She went east to Bryn Mawr in the ‘60s but then moved to Ann Arbor to bolster anti-war Students for a Democratic Society. Her politics grew more militant; she joined the Weather Underground and died from an explosion in a clandestine New York City bomb factory. Also at two but closer to Tremont is Pontiac, home of perhaps the best of several Route 66 museums scattered from Chicago to LA’s Santa Monica pier along The Mother Road. (I may be biased as they have the most stuff from my late friend Bob Waldmire, pen-and-ink artist of the asphalt.) Pontiac boasts an old Chautauqua grounds with a swinging bridge. There is a car museum called Pontiac-Oakland, but Pontiacs came from a factory on Oakland Street in Pontiac, Michigan. Even closer to Tremont at about four o’clock is Bloomington-Normal, our state’s own Twin Cities. (As an Illinois kid I thought Minnesota had stolen the name from us.) The McLean County Museum, housed in an old and filigreed courthouse, is fine and farm-focused, just as it should be sitting near the most fecund earth on earth. Not far east of those Twin Cities, outside Le Roy (pronounced LEE-roy) is a wind farm that sits on what was the western shore of Lake Chicago, the older and larger precursor to Lake Michigan. At five on our clock is Atlanta. They have worked hard to make their little town inviting, serving up several murals by the world-famous Walldogs who have enlivened small-town buildings with about 800 artworks across the U.S. Atlanta is home of Dawes Elevator, at the top of this post, a finely restored example of what in our nation’s grain belt are called prairie skyscrapers. Also downtown is Atlanta’s unusual octagonal public library. One nearby storefront has been converted into a pinball arcade with machines from various decades offering the most fun you can have with a roll of quarters. Also at five but a bit farther toward the clock’s edge is Decatur, known for its frequent aroma of a thousand loaves of rising bread dough. It’s really corn and soybeans being processed. Having community-minded residents, including Warren Buffett’s son Howard, has helped create, among other improvements, an inviting string of attractions side-by-side: a children’s museum; a zoo; and a quite new sculpture park, all along the south shore of Lake Decatur. Downtown the Gin Mill’s silky lobster bisque is so popular they make it all year. A bit west of the city-center there is a well-known street, Millikin Place, with impressive architectural homes from end to end designed by Marion Mahony Griffin and Frank Lloyd Wright. Due south of Tremont, or six o’clock, is Springfield, where we locals say you can Link On Abe all over the place. Our treasures are pretty well known. A new one is The Route Museum, still in its infancy in finding ways to tell the story of African Americans along Route 66, which came right through town from its inception in 1926. Moving around to eight o’clock we have Jim Edgar Panther Creek Conservation Area. If you are seeking topography that seems states away from central Illinois without going to the north or south ends of our state, this will do the trick. Fifty years ago Commonwealth Edison bought out adjoining farms for a power-generating plant. Forty years ago they abandoned the whole idea, so Illinois ended up with 16,550 acres of undulating prairie and hill country, now a wilderness wonderland. Rare plants such as the small white lady’s-slipper orchid thrive here as do 87 species of breeding (not just stopping by) birds. Coming to nine o’clock on our Tremont Timex is Macomb with its Western Illinois Museum and downtown square that was the original model for what we now know as the game board for Monopoly. Macomb native Elizabeth “Lizzie” Magie invented The Landlord’s Game in 1903 and was paid $500 for what Parker Brothers has collected many millions even if they never passed GO. Civil rights hero C. T. Vivian grew up in Macomb where his family found less racism than in Missouri. Vivian, who died in 2020, was known as the field marshal for Martin Luther King, Jr. Western Illinois is often called Forgotonia for lack of state attention and funding. It has some up-and-down topography, and that made it ripe for engineer corps training in WWII. The U.S. Army quickly displaced enough farmers to make 18,000-acre Camp Ellis east of Macomb which also quickly became a POW camp that housed up to 5,000 German prisoners. And meandering through Forgotonia is the namesake of Edgar Lee Masters’ most famous literary work, Spoon River Anthology. An hour before high noon on our clock is Bishop Hill, once a breakaway Swedish religious commune and now a state historical site. Lutheran dissident Eric Jansson led 400 Pietists to the Illinois prairie in 1846. Four years later he was murdered and, as Kurt Vonnegut says, so it goes. Bishop Hill still stands as an alive place, vibrant — as these girls celebrating St. Lucia's Day attest — where goods and meals still lean Swedish. Each summer has its Chautauqua. A couple Augusts ago it was singer Jenny Lind, radical Joe Hill, poet Carl Sandburg and a few other famous Swedes come to celebrate the town’s 175th birthday. In December it’s Santa Lucia with dangerous young blondes wearing candles. (Well the blondes themselves may not be dangerous but their candle-lit headdresses are.) Finally due north of Tremont is Peoria, an old river town on the Illinois. Here are a couple lesser known features that definitely play in Peoria. Commonly called the Ag Lab, this fine Art Deco style edifice is where they figured out how to rapidly create millions of doses of penicillin for the Allied war effort in the 1940s. It is also where they store a little bit of everything from Ebola to LSD. Here is one last treasure: There are a few remnants of the work of an Italian stone cutter around town including the fancy work on the facade of the Grand Army of the Republic hall, what’s left of an old bridge and Joseph Petarde’s own unique home at 623 Fairholm in Averyville, where it is said his wife would only use the back door because of the stone nude carved on the front. So to borrow from and tweak Billy Joel . . . I’ve seen all the movie stars In their fancy cars and their limousines Been high in the Rockies under the evergreens But I know what I’m needing And I don’t want to waste more time I’m in a Prairie State of mind.
Miles With Moxie VIII: More to Lincoln Land than Abe  content media
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williamlambrecht
Aug 19, 2022
In What Are You Writing?
Editor's Note: No, that's Mick Jagger beneath the Gateway Arch, not Doug Kamholz. But like Mick, Doug has been hanging out in St. Louis. (Doug knows something about rock & roll, too). In his latest quest to present gems from Midwestern "flyover" lands to coastal snobs, Doug offers tips about history and happenings in the famous river city. by Doug Kamholz “Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, Meet me at the fair,” sang lilting Judy Garland in a 1944 movie. Here’s one attraction at that 1904 World’s Fair: A thousand Filipinos lived in a 47-acre preserve with one tribe, Igorots, scheduled to kill and eat a dog every day. So here we are, taking our turn about another major Midwestern city. St. Louis is most famous these days for a honkin’ big arch and a storied baseball team. Other wonders await us, some lesser-known ones, along with important chapters in the history book of actual American life. Let’s get the famous stuff out of the way. The immense croquet wicket on the Mississippi riverbank has come to symbolize St. Louis. Officially the Gateway Arch, it invites America to step onto Thomas Jefferson’s 1803 Louisiana Purchase and into The West. Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen designed it. Nobody died building it. At 630 feet, it’s the world’s tallest arch. It’s as wide as tall. Its two legs had to be within 1/64 inch when they met at the top. It opened in 1965. Forty blocks of St. Louis were destroyed for it. It’s very shiny. You can ride to the top observation deck where you get that sense of Jason Isbell’s lyric: From the sky we look so organized and brave. In 2009 the Mississippi Overlook Park opened right across the river from the arch. Its 40-foot high deck has spectacular views of the river and city, but many people are afraid to go to hardscrabble East St. Louis. Well, except maybe for the casino. Play ball! The St. Louis Cardinals are a National League baseball team and the most storied franchise in major league baseball outside of the New York Yankees. The Redbirds were the first club west of the Mississippi. Second only to those Big Apple Pinstripers, the Cardinals have won 11 World Series titles and 23 National League pennants. Let’s see. The first major-leaguer to play wearing eyeglasses was a Cardinal. That was George “Specs” Toporcer back in the 1920s. St. Louis had a second MLB team, the Browns, who lost the 1944 World Series to the Cardinals in what was called the “Streetcar Series.” How romantic. These days a cross-town championship would likely be dubbed the “Uber Series.” How different. Now moving on, first to City Museum. Oh, how plain. A city, with a museum. So what? Here’s what. It’s a 600,000 square-foot playground housed in an old shoe factory. Every inch and every adventure is a recycled and repurposed piece of St. Louis including two abandoned airplanes. On top of the tenth story is a Ferris wheel some traveling show left in a parking lot. You can spiral back down much of those ten stories on the slide I believe was used by workers to send boxes of finished shoes to shipping. I came home after my first visit to City Museum and looked for similar wonders elsewhere. But, alas, only in St. Louis. This steam-punk wonderland came from the late Bob Cassilly, a world-acclaimed sculptor. It opened in 1997 full of tunnels, mosaics, building pieces, colors, industrial parts, wavy lines, circus shows and a functioning old shoelace machine. It’s a hoot for all ages. Literally attached to City Museum via closed and cluttered above-ground walkways is the Last Hotel, the only hotel I know of that uses footwear humor in its name. A last is the wooden foot-shaped form around which leather is worked in shoe-making. (It apparently derives from the Old English “laest” or footprint.) A century ago City Museum was the International Shoe Company, then the world’s largest, turning out 50 million pairs a year. To oversee and showcase its wares, the company hired architect Theodore C. Link to design its ten-story headquarters. Boasting fine stonework, metalwork and terrazzo floors in Sullivanesque style with added Art Nouveau details, this masterwork opened in 1909. It has recently been reborn as the 142-room boutique Last Hotel. (Question for careful readers: When the shoe building went to new owners, how did Doug keep himself from saying it had been resold?) T. C. Link had local street cred because, in 1894, he designed the magnificent Union Station, soon to become one of the nation’s busiest terminals. Built in high-towered Romanesque Revival style, its vision is well displayed across a 20-foot span of stained-glass called the Allegorical Window. Three Greek goddess-type women appear. The hometown one in the center looks a bit smug while her sisters east and west look west and east toward Miss Mid-America. St. Louis train traffic grew into the 20th Century with the World’s Fair and then peaked in World War II when as many as a million men and women a week passed through the cavernous midway and out to the train shed where 32 tracks and platforms were walled with glass and ornamental wrought iron. Above was the Grand Hall waiting room with its 65-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling, its two-ton chandelier and that Allegorical Window. Times change. The chandelier and wrought iron were sacrificed to the war effort. Times changed again. Rail travel succumbed to road travel. On Halloween in 1978 the last passenger train labored out of this St. Louis crown. While Amtrak now operates a few blocks away, Union Station tries and tries again to get on track in the 21st Century. That Grand Hall is now the lobby of an upscale Hilton Curio Hotel, recently joined by a 120,000 square-foot aquarium. (All Aboard for Rails to Snails!) Right across Market Street from Union Station is a greensward. It marks the west end of an almost uninterrupted esplanade running 16 blocks and ending at that very shiny arch and that famous river. Splayed along two blocks of that stretch is about the most inventive, inclusive and delightful public project I have seen in a long while. Citygarden opened a dozen years ago as an urban oasis, half sculpture and half botanic park. Two dozen world-class sculptures punctuate the place, and you can get right up to them. Heck, there’s a sideways head you can walk into. There’s water, water everywhere, and while there are safety advisories, nobody was goofy enough to think you were going to keep kids out of any of it. The general design mimics Missouri geology. The north edge is elevated with limestone bluffs; you can observe from up there and dine. The art-strewn middle has pasture paths and a long pool, complete with waterfall. The south edge, along Market Street, is more the damp lowlands with a big splash pad and other wet fun. (Also, tucked away near that color-changing splash pad is a ground-level, metal marimba you can dance on like the keyboard Tom Hanks played in Big.) There are no gates at Citygarden, though it is officially closed from ten at night to six in the morning, so it is hard to say how many millions have wandered through. Speaking of millions, it took about thirty to put this place on the map, and that’s not counting some more millions for the 24 sculptures. But even at a much more modest scale and cost, other cities can look at Citygarden as land use that both excites and calms, where all are invited, many enlivened and some go home with wet socks. Now let’s go wet to dry, but only for a moment in history. One hundred and two years ago, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect: Prohibition. Still (well chosen word there, Doug) you could consume alcoholic beverages but none could be made, sold or transported. Certainly this had varying effects in various places. In St. Louis in 1920, 50,000 workers made beer in dozens of breweries. Most closed their doors within months. Those lost jobs along with more from bars and beer gardens cut deep in the city. There was also a nativist aspect to prohibition as it came after waves of German immigration, with St. Louis a major destination, and World War I “anti-Hun” sentiments. My final history chapter is likely unknown to almost all. (Please let me know if this is not news to you.) St. Louis is the only U.S. city ever taken over by Marxists! Lawyer and professor Mark Kruger dug into a passing reference to a worker takeover of the city and found a mother lode of Marx. His book is The St. Louis Commune of 1877: Communism in the Heartland. Kruger found those same waves of German immigrants and the fairly common Marx-inspired Workingmen’s Party groups some of them formed. While it was not those groups who mainly organized a raft of railroad worker strikes across the land in July of 1877, they were happy to lend hands and up the ante. In St. Louis they called for more strikes at more workplaces. The result was, according to Kruger, the first general strike in American history. The Workingmen’s Party seized the moment, set up headquarters, elected leaders, established security for property and made themselves more powerful than official officials. Kruger concludes: “And it made it the only city in American history to ever be ruled by communists.” A week later it was over. St. Louis and Missouri state forces quashed the commies and jailed their leaders. According to Kruger, those leftists weren’t looking for overthrow but rather for social reforms such as shorter workdays and an end to child labor. (Here’s a bump note for St. Louisphiles: The famed Veiled Prophet Ball and Parade, recently protested and now subdued, was born some months after that rebellion and celebrated its defeat. The first chosen Veiled Prophet was the police commissioner who help suppress the strike.) Oh, wait, let me throw in the St. Louis Zoo here at the end. It is big. It is famous. It is free. So now having mentioned the Arch and the Zoo, I have done St. Louis A to Z.
Miles With Moxie VII: Doug Says Meet Him in St. Louis content media
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williamlambrecht
Jul 22, 2022
In What Are You Writing?
Editor's note: Illinois writer Doug Kamholz promised us travel gems, like this vessel from heaven at the Antique Boat Museum on the St. Lawrence at Clayton, NY. What we didn't expect was a primer on keeping your spouse happy on the highway while traversing swaths of America. by Doug Kamholz Of course you know the phrase “singing a different tune.” Well, that stuff’s about to get real. Fortunately you will not be subjected to my caterwauling; my lovely wife Sheila Walk cannot say the same. OK, let’s say your traveling companion is less than thrilled at a multi-day car trip. What to do? This was the riddle I had to solve. My first attempt was heading southwest from our Illinois home to Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas. (For some unfathomable reason we thought Fourth of July would be a dandy time to go to a desert). This trip would cross five state lines: Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and then the state of inescapable blistering heat. So with a couple days of sharp-eyed shopping, I assembled five appropriate gifts including an Eric Clapton CD (long before his COVID nuttiness) and a bubble gum baseball card featuring pitcher Bob Walk who may or may not be her relative. Each time we entered a new state Sheila got a gift. Sometimes it was only a couple hours until the next gifting; sometimes it was the next day. But it worked! A few years later we were heading to California (or for our purposes, eight states away). By this point in our marriage, Sheila had found the command “NO presents!” to issue previous to all my gallivanting. So I needed a new tact. When we crossed into Iowa she received the first of eight envelopes. Each one had a state’s name on the outside. Each one contained a piece of prose or a poem with our new state as a theme. Our last crossing, for example, brought forth a bit of history on the ill-fated 1846 Donner Party in part because it stepped off from Springfield, as had we. (Both wealthy Donner brothers, George and Jacob, farmed near here.) Going west worked well, too. I recommend this for traveling companions who are not the principle drivers and who tend to repetitions of “Are we there yet?” Last fall was going to be a challenge. The destination was Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine. Now we are up to nine state lines plus a bonus to be revealed later. What to do? What to do? Well, as you can deduce from the opening paragraph and my theme for this month’s Moxie, it was going to be a new song for every new state. Not just any song, but one that used the name of the state we were entering. I was off to the internet when Sheila was not around. Here goes. (With some exceptions, I felt obligated only to sing enough of these tunes to get to the name of the state. I do love her, after all. And the sooner that state name appeared, the better.) Cruising east out of Illinois into the Hoosier State, I had the quickest way to deliver my first mini-concert: “Gary, Indiana, Gary Indiana, Gary, Indiana,” I warbled in my best Professor Harold Hill Music Man/con man voice. Three Indianas in the first six words. Later in the day, Sheila heard, “Why, oh why, oh why oh / Why did I ever leave Ohio / Why did I wander / To find what lies yonder” though in fact we had just gotten there. It’s from a movie with Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams, but I remember it best sung by Doris Day, a Cincinnati native. The next day we cut to the northeast, hugging the Keystone State’s 40 miles of Lake Erie coastline. Crossing the border an hour or so out of Cleveland, Sheila heard, “Strike up the music the band has begun / The Pennsylvania Polka /Pick out your partner and join in the fun / The Pennsylvania Polka.” And I kept going long enough to include my favorite line: “Everybody has a mania / To do the polka from Pennsylvania.” After overnighting near Erie, PA, and venturing to beaches on the far reaches of Presque Isle in the Great Lake, we pushed on to my one and only deceit. All these songs of all the other states were about a whole one fiftieth of the country, for example Indiana or Ohio. Certainly The Empire State offers such tunes. Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” comes to mind. But I cheated. This number’s New York really refers to our largest city. I cheated for a chance to sing the very first adult secular song I remember (and one appropriate from me to my audience of one): Around the world I’ve searched for you I’ve traveled on, when hope was gone, to keep a rendezvous I knew somewhere, sometime, somehow You’d look at me, and I would see the smile your smiling now It might have been in County Down, Or in New York, in Gay Paree, or even London Town No more will I go all around the world For I have found my world in you As you might imagine, this one went over rather well. And that’s a good thing as it had to last almost a week while we went gawking at wooden boats and architecture and suffrage history and a friend’s Cooperstown opera house, ending with good time with good friends who saw us off across Lake Champlain by ferry to the widest part of Vermont. My selection for our first New England state was a wellspring for this whole musical atlas thing,with “Yankee Lady” sounding in my ear. The late Jesse Winchester is one of my generation’s great songwriters. In this song he extols the state’s virtues: “I lived with the decent folks in the hills of old Vermont / Where what you do all day depends on what you want.” He nods to Vermont’s beauty as well as youth’s wanderlust: “An autumn walk on a country road / And a million flaming trees / I was feeling uneasy / Cause there was winter in the breeze.” In the end his Yankee Lady loses to his urge for going. It’s a story many of us can tell wistfully now that we’re wiser. Later that same day we traversed the skinniest part of New Hampshire. Here I utterly failed. You’d think somebody would have penned some lyrics saying “I am chilled and dew-damp, sir / Camped out here in New Hampshire" or perhaps "Wool abounds from new lambs' shear / on small farms of New Hampshire." But, no. So what Sheila got was only part, thank goodness, of the poem "New Hampshire" by Robert Frost which goes on for more than 3,000 words at the end of which the poet pointedly tells us, "At present I am living in Vermont." Crossing into our destination state I sang delightful strains of Roger Miller's "King of the Road." Miller describes his travel as "Third boxcar, midnight train / Destination Bangor, Maine" while we were on our way to a cottage a tad more commodious (and costly) than Miller's "eight by twelve four-bit room." A week later, after Sheila's cute little ears recovered, we headed west toward home with hardly any new states to celebrate in song. First was Massachusetts, which is the title of a Bee Gees song that pines "the lights all went down in Massachusetts," supposedly a heartfelt retort to all those going-off-to-California songs of the era. My rendition was so bad Sheila, a child of the '70s, could not recognize the number. Next we just clipped the northwest corner of West Virginia, a state I dearly love, to borrow Jimmie Rodgers' singing about Texas. I just couldn't leave its musical appearance to John Denver. He places the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River in West Virginia where they only barely are. And really, any valid song about the Mountain State has to have some pathos. I chose another late great from my generation and someone I got to know a little personally: U. Utah (Bruce) Phillips. He wrote "The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia / Are the nearest place to heaven that I know" while recounting remorse that times are so hard he cannot stay, but rather must join that sad economic exodus: "I'll move away into some crowded city / In a northern factory town you'll find me there . For this troubled life is more than I could bear." On our last day on the road, the homestretch into Illinois, I serenaded Sheila with one final song, that aforementioned bonus, a traditional folk tune collected by poet Carl Sandburg in his wonderful 1927 anthology The American Songbag. It uses an old spelling and outlandishly promotes our Prairie State. The lyrics tell that Adam, upon seeing El-A-Noy, would surely think it was the garden he played in as a boy. Sheba, coming upon this land and feeling joy, would declare herself the queen of El-A-Noy. And so on. Here's the chorus: So move your fam'ly westward, Good health you will enjoy, And rise to wealth and honor in The state of El-A-Noy. That's one way to sojourn with a song in your heart. Travel well. Be well. Thanks for coming along.
Miles With Moxie VI: Taking to the Highway with Song content media
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williamlambrecht
Jun 20, 2022
In What Are You Writing?
(Editor's Note: Illinois writer Doug Kamholz refuses to abandon his quest for little-known travel gems, particularly of the archaeological variety, Now he's surveying outposts along America's longest river in a report that connects the dots between Malcolm and the Corps of Discovery. Note that William Clark, not Doug, was the poor speller). by Doug Kamholz. From Thomas Hart Benton’s shocks of corn to one Black Power shocker, the western edge of Iowa has those plus very weird dirt and a jaw-dropping Lewis and Clark story. With apologies to 1959 and the late Frankie Ford, Won’t You Let Me Take You on a “C” cruise? We start at the lower end in southwest Iowa, swoop down and left, just touching Omaha, then shoot up to Sioux City and finally make a last arc back east. Harlan is a small town with a couple stand-out features. My friend Ted envisions Harlan as rows of modest bungalows, each with a gigantic mailbox out front since it seems half our checks for magazine renewals get mailed there. More personally Harlan is home to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, designed by Proudfoot & Bird in 1900. Finely detailed and lovingly preserved, this intimate house of worship is the oldest structure deemed by Iowa architects as one of the 50 best - five per decade – from the 20th Century in the Hawkeye State. (It took a dozen years for me to see them all.) Sweeping an hour or so to the southwest, my wife Sheila and I were checking into an over-the-budget hotel in Omaha just across the Missouri River border into Nebraska a few years ago. At the desk she was perusing one of those cartoonish city maps drawn up for tourists. This one had a big empty swath, about in the middle of town, with one historical note: Birthplace of Malcolm X. Malcolm X!? In Omaha? Who knew? Malcolm Little (the slave surname he changed) was born almost a hundred years ago, on May 19, 1925. His whole neighborhood has long been demolished and left empty, but the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation has a place next to it. That address wasn’t on the cartoonish map so we just drove into the area and spied Aframerican Book Store, whose owner set up our visit. Here's a funny thing: To fund the Foundation, they sold about six vertical feet of soil to a local bank that needed fill, but, hey, it’s still the ground that was under Mr. X’s boyhood home. Back into Iowa and heading a hundred miles north, every inch under our feet is part of the world’s largest deposit of a fairly rare soil called loess (pronounced “Luss”). It is an aeolian (windborne) dust mixture of sand and silt with a bit of clay. All along Iowa’s side of the Missouri River, western desert earth blew in and piled up over tens of thousands of years. By now erosion has sculpted gentle 200-foot hills, some bordered by sets of wide terraces called cat steps. Tooling along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway makes a day of smiles. To see a lesser version of these deposits, you could go to China, where the color of loess gives the Yellow River its name. Just a few miles south of Sioux City is a double monument to Lewis and Clark's 1804-1806 Corps of Discovery Expedition. High on a river bluff stands a literal monument, a 100-foot sandstone obelisk, centerpiece of a 23-acre National Park Service site. It marks the final resting place of Corps member Sergeant Charles Floyd, Jr. He died on August 20, 1804. Leader William Clark wrote: “Serj. Floyd died with a great deal of composure. Before his death he said to me, ‘I am going away.’ This man at all times gave us proofs of his firmness and determined resolution to doe service to his countrey . . .“ The second monumental sense is this: Sgt. Floyd’s was the one death among about 40 Expedition members over 28 months and 8,000 miles to the Pacific and back. [A personal digression: Lewis and Clark’s travels are historic inspirations for going on the road. But for me it was my unmarried aunts. Dee Kamholz was my dad’s younger sister. Margaret Glave was the daughter of Fred, the widower my grandmother married years after my dad’s dad died. Margaret and Dee had jobs and vacationed together in the 1950s. When they got home they would haul their slide projector and screen around to relatives’ homes. They showed us Bryce Canyon or ocean shores or towering sequoias or somewhere far. I couldn’t wait to grow up and go.] Now it’s on into Sioux City for art plus two stunning architectural wonders of the Midwest. First let’s go play in the park. The Missouri River runs the south edge of Sioux City, Iowa, from west to east so one is generally headed uphill moving north through town. At the entrance to Grandview Park there is still a rise blocking any view of a deep amphitheater beyond. But as you top that rise, more and more arcs of a gleaming pure white rainbow appear. It is the Band Shell, a 6,000-seat Streamline Moderne beauty opened in 1935 with a stage big enough to showcase a hundred musicians. Downtown is Woodbury County Courthouse, often called the largest Prairie Style building in the world. There is not an inch of this 1918 masterpiece that is less than thrilling (and that includes a cramped walk through the former combined jail and morgue, spots probably not on the regular tour). In its stunning interior rotunda, four 50-foot murals by Illinois artist John Norton celebrate civic duty and life. Next your eyes move to gleaming white terracotta, exacting brickwork, a bright tile mosaic fountain backsplash and up to an artglass dome. It never stops and is one of the half-dozen most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Another gem of the Midwest gets its own room over in the Sioux City Art Center. Iowan Grant Wood (1891-1942) is most famous for his 1930 American Gothic; it stars at the Art Institute of Chicago. But his championing Regionalism, the Midwest’s only major art movement, burst on the scene with Corn Room, a multi-canvas wide sweep across rich farm fields and now across three quiet, calming museum walls. (And for an echo of last month’s “Miles with Moxie,” Wood ran Iowa’s Federal Art Project for part of the 1930s.) On the last long curve it’s up and out of Sioux City heading over the top to the upper end of our “C.” What we once called folk art is now vernacular art, and enough vernacular art in one place is an art environment. Art environments are often a mix of obsession and inspiration. West Bend, Iowa, has a big one. The Shrine of the Grotto of Redemption covers city blocks. Father Paul Dobberstein began piling up rocks and gems and statuary in 1912. He didn’t stop for 42 years. Then he died. It took others another 50 years to finish the place. But there it is, always open, always free. To paraphrase Mr. Dylan, now everybody can get stoned. -30 - Postscript: To see a companion photo album of 12 shots featuring some of this month’s location, those of you with access to Facebook can search for Douglas Kamholz, then click Photos (next to Posts, About and Friends) and click again for Albums and then one last click on the one entitled MOXIE SKIRTS THE MISSOURI. Alternately, you can see a magazine-layout version on this piece accompanied by a few photos by going to newbaybooks.com and finding the Forum section. All my “Miles with Moxie” works are there.
Miles With Moxie: Lewis & Clark & Malcolm X content media
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34
williamlambrecht
May 27, 2022
In What Are You Writing?
(Editor's note: Somehow, peripatetic Illinois writer Doug Kamholz keeps finding wonders to see that haven't occurred to the rest of us. Who figured out that post offices and government buildings have fabulous art we need to see? Doug did, and in his newest post, he tells us how it came about and he even shows us how to find the 13 places in Maryland, and priceless art across America, to take in.) by Doug Kamholz Serendipity in the dark COVID cloud found more dads with kids in parks and home projects finally finished. On the recreation front, my wife Sheila and I, masked and distanced, found stirring art in area post offices. You can too! Please slog through some perfunctory bureaucracy so we can get to the good stuff. The Great Depression spawned huge public works between 1933 and ‘43 as government scrambled to get our basic needs met. These are generally known as New Deal or WPA (Works Progress Administration) or WPA-era programs. Some involved various arts. One had three names: the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture which became the Treasury Section of Fine Arts which was later shortened to simply The Section. It awarded commissions through competitions to acquire original art for installation into public buildings. I’ve got more details later but that’s quite enough for now. Whew! Probably ten years ago I was dawdling in a state-sponsored artisan shop in southern Illinois. I bought a slim booklet called A Guide to Depression Era Art in Illinois Post Offices, by Mary Emma Thompson, Ph.D. It sat unexamined (as books sometimes do) for quite a time. But a couple years ago the damndemic brought it to the fore. Now before I go on with this Prairie State adventure, you need to know there may well be some Mary Emma Thompson-type in your state who did just what she did. Even if not, rest assured that going to this internet site will get you every P.O. art location in your state. And I am confident you will find the same joy Sheila and I have felt 40 times standing in front of these public wonders. (OK, it's true. There have been a couple duds along the way.) We have another 30 to see for the complete Illinois trove. Our method works best in smaller places, of which there are plenty. We plot a route to half a dozen or so towns with post office art fairly close to one another. We check P.O. street addresses. We see which ones might close for lunch. We hop in the car and go. Let's take Staunton, Illinois, for example, about an hour south of where we live. Chances are great there is a parking space near the front door. Stop the car. Climb the steps. Don your mask. Step inside. In this case see the $800 commissioned "Going to Work" by Ralf Hendricksen, a typical daily scene in coal country with five hardhatted men heading to the mine. One miner's wife is there with a concerned look, historically sadly justified, and a boy totes his dad's lunch bucket. All five faces are set and serious. Rare here are depictions of two African Americans in the crew, though this painting comes 20-some years into the Great Migration when six million Black people came north. Joy and celebration reign on the P.O. wall a couple hours southeast of Staunton, over in McLeansboro. Their wide mural paints a carnival atmosphere with two, count 'em, two, balloon salesmen, as folks gather on the fairgrounds to witness the town's first airmail delivery in 1912. Artist Dorothea Mierisch was paid $700 for her oil on canvas. Of course there is little chance you are going to show up in Staunton or McLeansboro. My intent is to illustrate, so to speak, the range and mission of these artworks as well as tell you there are some right down the road from wherever you are reading this. Writ larger, this and other art programs paint a picture, so to speak, of one part of how our nation responded to a devastating crisis. The art program for post offices and public buildings was small, totaling $2.5 million for 1,100 murals and 300 sculptures. The larger Federal Arts Project spent $35 million to support artworkers. Your state likely has a trove of those, too, stowed in state museums and public universities. Part of those funds furthered careers of photographer Dorothea Lange and painter Jackson Pollock. Also there was a Federal Writers Project with a budget of $27 million. One of its proudest products was a set of guides to all 48 states and then-territorial Alaska. You can travel vicariously by reading any of them for free online here and get a detailed sense of America almost a century ago. Illinois had a particularly strong Federal Writers Project. Check out some of my state's participants: Nelson Algren, Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Saul Bellow and "Studs" Terkel. All this public art and literature money was a small slice of an $11 billion New Deal/WPA budget that put 8.5 million jobless folks back on payrolls, mostly doing manual labor. Back to the P.O. Just as all those WPA state guides speak of another time, visiting post offices in your area will conjure the same. Many in small towns are similar, all built around 1930. Step across deep red floor tiles that turn halfway up the walls. See the crafted wood framing doors and business windows. Watch the glint of gold lettering spelling out Postmaster or Money Orders or C.O.D. Some still rent their original banks of brass or bronze P.O. boxes just like my dad visited every day in Rockton, Illinois. Of course some post offices have been replaced, but their Depression-era art may have been rehung in a new (and much less interesting) building. Mural themes often showed Americans at work or leisure. Depictions of harsh realities of the times were not favored, and community members often had veto power in this quite democratic civic program. Nonetheless, it it is hard to miss the influence of Diego Rivera and that Mexican social realism mural style. In all, about 850 artists, including 162 women and three African Americans, won post office commissions. Again I have the pandemic to thank for moving me to various fairly quick, inexpensive and low-contact adventures. (Though several times young postmasters and postmistresses have been happy to learn about what is on their walls; some have photocopied their page in our little guidebook.) Here's a secret before I go. If you ever see a sizable piece of art in a gallery or museum with a weirdly out-of-place black or blank rectangle across the center of the bottom, you will know that mural once caressed the top of a postmaster's office door. It's been fun playing post office with you. Travel well and, as the Irish say, safe home. Postscript 1: To see a companion photo album of 12 shots featuring some of the art described this month, those of you with access to Facebook can search for Douglas Kamholz, then click Photos (next to Posts, About and Friends) and click again for Albums and then one last click on the one entitled MOXIE GETS P.O.’d. Postscript 2: I offer this short apology to my readers in Africa, Asia and Europe to whom pretty much none of this month’s subject applies, though I guess I could say that about any “Miles with Moxie.”
Miles With Moxie: In Post Offices, Forever Artwork Along With Forever Stamps content media
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28
williamlambrecht
Apr 27, 2022
In What Are You Writing?
(Editor's note. In his latest dispatch, peripatetic Illinois writer Doug Kamholz reveals hidden haunts in Ohio in his search for lesser-known Midwest gems. Who knew Ermal Fraze invented the pop-top? Or that cool cowboy Hopalong Cassidy was an Ohioan?) by Doug Kamholz I can try to remember, as an old song advises, when I was a young and callow fellow. On runs from college to my sweetheart’s, I sliced through Mid-Ohio with nary a sideways glance. Now comes great pleasure atoning for folly. There is a band of wonders across Ohio that goes from blueberry pancakes in an 1802 mill to Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl ,where they serve champagne sherbet. It’s 150 miles that go from Abe Lincoln to Louis Sullivan, from cowboy Hopalong Cassidy to astronaut John Glenn, from Orville and Wilbur to Frank Lloyd. Ohio’s state capital, Columbus, is about in the middle of all this. The capital’s Capitol — now gorgeously restored (see stained glass above) — happens to be the only place outside Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln paused to publicly orate on his way to assume the presidency, and where a mere fifty months later his body lay in state on his way home to assume the tomb. (As residents of Springfield, Illinois, we are obligated to shoehorn Abe into pretty much everything.) The Buckeye State also is called “Mother of Presidents” as seven were born there, so Columbus is heavily coated in U.S. history. On the edge of town there’s a living history farm, and right downtown is a plant-based version of George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte, featuring 54 life-sized topiaries. Our Mid-Ohio swath starts at Richmond, Indiana. For decades Richmond built most of America’s school buses, so just before hitting Ohio’s state line you saw a vast yellow sea of them from the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70. I had a friend, Neil, whose night job here in Springfield was cleaning school buses. We always called Richmond “Neil’s Nightmare.” Moving east, first is Dayton with its (locally-appropriate-adjective) top-flight art institute. As for those bachelor brothers Wright, we know too little about the only college-educated sibling in the family. Katharine got a degree from Ohio’s very progressive Oberlin College, ran the boys’ bicycle shop when they were off playing with airplanes and was their savvy media-handler when they got off the ground, so to speak. But the truly important Dayton inventor was, of course, Ermal Fraze. After getting caught short at a picnic without a church key, he went and created the pop-top. Thanks, Erm! Just 20 miles east is Antioch College, proudly clinging to its long leftist legacy. Coretta Scott is an alumna from 1951. Her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave Antioch’s commencement address in 1965. The school has spurred a lively village called Yellow Springs, full of artisan shops and bookstores. (And yes, Dave Chappelle lives nearby so he hangs out in town.) Before departing, one might walk a while among 400-year-old trees in Yellow Springs’ thousand-acre Glen Helen Preserve and then make just a few more miles east to Clifton, home to the pancake haven that is Clifton Mills. The Little Miami River cascades into a narrow gorge in Clifton and hits perfect speed to power grinding wheels. Of five mills that stood along a single mile of riverbank, those for wood, wool and paper are gone. But one still grinds corn, wheat and rye. You can tour the lowest of the five-story structure to see its stone wheels and wooden chutes. But upstairs is where plate-sized flapjacks are served while laughing water dances over paddles of a tall decorative wheel just outside big windows. Almost every place I am writing about is within a few miles of I-70. Here’s a minor exception. My wife spotted tiny red letters on the Ohio map (Yes, an actual paper map) saying “Nat’l Afro-American Mus.” only ten minutes farther south from the pancakes. It turns out there are two Historically Black College and University sites, unusual for being in the north, at Wilberforce, Ohio. Central State’s campus houses the museum. It opened in 1988, long before the now-more-famous one appeared on D.C.’s National Mall. While there we saw an exhibit on Afrocentric comic books including a rare surviving copy of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, a 16-page history of and guide for non-violent civil rights protest. In 1957, Fellowship of Reconciliation printed and shipped 250,000 copies to churches and other groups. The museum’s research found that distribution at least sometimes came with a warning to burn or destroy the comic after studying it, as possession might endanger the reader’s personal safety. Due north from Wilberforce and on the other side of I-70 is Springfield and a personal story. While touring the newly restored Frank Lloyd Wright house east of the city center (and Wright’s only Prairie Style home in Ohio) I learned that Burton J. Westcott, who hired Wright, also invented a car and put his name on it. I learned there was one right downtown in the county museum. So I went to see his 1920 cream and black Touring Car model. Heading for an exit I spied two elderly docents shuffling my way. Being too polite to outrun them, I let them catch up. They had one question: Have you been to the military exhibits? I was just on my way, I lied. Let us guide you, they offered. So off we went through narrow winding corridors filled with the most common relics of war from 1861 on. When we got to WWII, there was a case with a set of fatigues, metal ammo boxes and other paraphernalia. Across from that was a case devoted to WAC nurses featuring hospital whites and medical stuff. It was there they stopped and told me those were their own uniforms from when they met serving during “the big one” in our U.S. Army. I will never forget the pride and the love in their eyes. On our last run through Springfield, my wife Sheila (above) and I visited Hartman Rock Garden, what Roadside America calls “a happy architectural jumble of patriotism, education, history, religion, and popular culture.” Over the last decade of his life, H.G. “Ben” Hartman (1883-1944) turned his corner-lot yard into an art environment, a fantasy land built with several kajillion stones from a nearby creek. Among his many creations are Noah’s ark and Lincoln’s tomb. While we were there some decked out teenagers showed up for their prom pictures. Our other exception to the I-70 corridor is 40 miles north of Springfield in Sidney. Two of the last works by great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan were financial buildings in Ohio. They often are called jewel boxes because of their modest size and exquisite detail. Sullivan designed Sidney’s Peoples Federal in 1917. It remains an independent bank. It is sheathed in blue-green glass and tapestry brick detailed with marble and terra cotta. If that’s not enough, right across the street is The Spot, a classic diner heavy with red Naugahyde, neon, Formica, chrome, cool lettering and warm pie. We now head back to I-70 East for a 90-minute drive past Columbus to Newark and Ohio’s other jewel box. This 1915 bank, known as “The Old Home,” is nearing total restoration after decades when it was a meat shop, an ice cream parlor or just empty. Now it’s only months until every Sullivan mosaic and mural will greet visitors again. The Old Home is set to become the new home of a non-profit promoting Licking County. More generally, this town of 50,000 folks bubbles with community pride and products of that pride. From artful streetscapes to academic scholarships, Newark and Licking County are hard at and good at the work of improvement. (This year there’s a community survey asking simply what one thing do you think would improve life for others here.) Newark was also the home of Heisey Glass, well-known for treating employees well and making cute colored-glass animals plus much more. The owner’s grand home is now a museum to his craft. And just south of town is Dawes Arboretum, a 2,000-acre wonderland where I saw my first and only Silver Ghost Lacebark Pine. Wowser! Nearing the end of this Mid-Ohio jaunt is the town where Mr. and Mrs. Grey named their fourth child, a boy, Pearl. As he grew into an author of wild west adventures, he figured something a bit more manly might sell better. So he took his hometown’s name and became Zane Grey. However, Zanesville’s real fame is pottery. Revered twentieth -century brands such as Roseville and Weller were fired from southeast Ohio clay. The Zanesville Museum of Art displays the story of this one-time world center of clayware. Second-hand shops down on Main Street now can set vintage values on what were everyday-priced and all-American themed housewares. There is even Vasehenge, a circle of 18 six-foot flower pots. And Vasehenge stands at one of three ends of the town’s unusual Y Bridge across the Muskingum River. Just up from another Y Bridge arm is Tom’s Ice Cream Bowl. (It’s also four minutes off and back on I-70.) Tom’s came around in 1948 and still serves fine scoops including that aforementioned champagne sherbet. There is a drive-through but the window is still an actual window. Tom’s early-‘50s menu reads like they invented it all: “Use our Phone-In Window,” they excitedly advise. They promise that only ten minutes later you can arrive at their “Drive-In Window. Never Leave Your Car.” (I’m amazed there are no exclamation points!) After dessert, just a few miles farther east is Concord and astronaut John Glenn’s boyhood home, now a National Park Service site. I’ve never been, but I did hear a good story. One passenger on a bus tour was so tied to her conservative politics that she refused to step off and put her foot on Democratic ground. Our final stop is Cambridge, home to another hallmark of the last century, Cambridge Glass. Their pieces, opaque or translucent colors as well as crystal clear, seemed to occupy many family china hutches and Sunday dinner tables. Cambridge Glass has a museum where docents are eager to explain the subtle Scottie Dog ear-flap alteration from 1924 to 1925. On the way into town is (not a Y but) an S bridge, part of the National Road which started in Maryland in 1811 and went as far west as Illinois. When it got to a creek at an angle, for engineering reasons that are beyond me, it made sense to build a curve on both sides of the water; hence what is currently more than 200 years old still stands pretty sturdy though now only for pedestrians. For those of a certain ilk and age, perhaps the real star of Cambridge is William Lawrence Boyd, much better known as Hopalong Cassidy, a mid-century western hero who made 66 movies along with TV and radio shows. He called Cambridge his hometown. It may indicate the size of his surviving fan base that the only collection of “Hoppy” stuff (and there was a ton of it) was in the back of a junk store that burned down a few years ago, so that section has been x-ed out in the local Hopalong Cassidy Trail brochure. But for our purposes, let’s put Hoppy on his white horse Topper and let him ride on east, away from the setting sun all the way to the other end of Mid-Ohio at the bridge over the Ohio River and into Wheeling, West Virginia, where the Buckeye Hoppy says “So long, buckaroos!”
Miles With Moxie: Ohio's Band of Wonders content media
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51
williamlambrecht
Mar 25, 2022
In What Are You Writing?
Editor's note: Folks are traveling again, and Illinois writer Doug Kamholz, in the latest installment of his Midwest quest "for hidden gems," as Bob Dylan would say, takes us to a place where masters of architecture performed dozens of tricks. (Photos by Don Nissen.) The best-kept secret in the Midwest is a small city an hour south of Indianapolis. It places sixth on an important list after Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. That city is Columbus, Indiana, home to fewer than 50,000. That list is one ranking architectural significance across these United States. Of course if modern architecture isn’t your cup of tea, you won’t like these stories. (And let us hope that was the last of my architecture jokes.) Just how any modest burg could rate so high on any national list guarantees my interest unless it was a ranking of most polluted water or highest murder rate or, say, largest Beanie Baby collection. I also want to know how one distinction affects the rest of community life. We’ll get back to that. (ranking, not Beanie Babies) First Christian Church, designed in 1942 by Finnish-American Eliel Saarinen, started the architecture adventure in town. It is among the first religious buildings done in Modernist style, its buff brick and limestone resting under a 166-foot campanile or bell tower. Saarinen helped his son, Eero, on the St. Louis Arch in the 1960s. I. M. Pei, perhaps best known in the U.S. for Cleveland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, designed the Columbus public library in 1969. This and First Christian alone would signify greatness. In Columbus they are two of 97 works by world-class architects. And these two are right across the street from each other with a 20-foot, sandcast bronze Henry Moore sculpture rising in a plaza between. (A comparable Moore bronze sold in 2016 for $33 million.) The biggest names have come to Columbus to make civic buildings, schools, churches, fire stations, plants, parking lots and a park. Everywhere, wood and stone and metal are crafted with such a human touch in such a human scale it’s easy to think it would bleed if you nicked it. Remember that scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy tornado-spins down from Kansas all sepia and then steps out her farmhouse door into that full-color Land of Oz garden? Well, crossing over Flatrock River on a beautiful steel-cable-strung bridge at the edge of central Columbus delivers that kind of drama. Your first mile or so after exiting I-64 is a chock-a-block gauntlet of chain-brand beige. Then riverside trees. Then the bridge. Then the Hoosier State’s own “Over the Rainbow.” It is visitors’ good fortune that seeing many of these jaw-drops is pretty easy. A step-up from just plain “Looky There!” is a $3 guide for walking and wandering around town. You could rent an audio device to enhance your “Looky There!” You could spring for a walking-tour guide who would say, “Looky Here!” What I keep going back for is the $25 bus tour from the well-run visitors center so I can get up close and inside stunner after stunner. For a break from buildings, go hang out in Mill Race Park along the Flatrock River on the west edge of downtown. It’s 85 acres of typical park stuff but with a twist; it’s all on a floodplain so almost nothing touches the ground. For example, water passes easily in the bathroom. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. What I mean is the walls stop a foot short of the concrete floor. On top bright red pipe frames the facility with an obvious “M” roof line on one side and an equally obvious “W” on the other. This is still the Midwest, so nothing around Columbus is all that hoity toity. There’s a grade school with long and bright-colored tunnel-connectors between its sections and levels. How could you not call it what students call it: the Hamster Cage? Eliel Saarinen gathered all of North Christian Church, picture left, under a shallow six-sided roof and a slender 192-foot spire. It’s locally known as the Oil Can as it surely resembles a spring bottom oiler, that common little household device that squirted oil when you pushed in its underside. (I remember my dad had one. When used, the spring bottom made a mellow plunk-plunk sound.) Prominent downtown is the four-story county jail’s large, white, wire-mesh recreation dome. Of course it’s called the birdcage. (Jail. Bird. Cage.) Chicago’s Harry Weese designed the bank beneath with crenelated towers on each corner. Evoking castle battlements, the tops of walls look like lower teeth with some missing and were likely meant to symbolize the bank’s security. But folks in Columbus thought the whole building looked like a dead horse, its four stiff legs pointing skyward. (That “dead horse” has recently been transformed into a coffee shop. And the horse, of course, has a drive-though.) Again recall that you don’t have to travel borough to borough in New York City or Nob Hill to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to see these wonders. The whole city is less than half the size of Washington, D.C. Think of being in an excellent art museum with a Picasso in front of you and a Rubens, a Michelangelo and a couple Monets just down the hall. Returning to architect Weese, Washington’s underground D. C. Metro is perhaps his best known project, but his several buildings in Columbus put us on the tracks to where it all began. J. Irwin Miller (1909 – 2004) was well-born, well-learned and well-heeled. Through family ties he became head of Cummins Engine Company, world leader in diesel technology and located in Columbus since it began in 1919. As a parishioner in 1940, he helped convince the famed Eliel Saarinen to build a new First Christian Church sanctuary. Fifteen years later the young Cummins Foundation started offering to pay all architects’ fees for any public building in Bartholomew County. Weese and Miller went to Yale. Weese became the go-to guy for 16 projects in Columbus including Cummins factory buildings while the foundation’s work forged forward to employ most of the last century’s great architects; this philanthropy continues today. (Starchitect Frank Lloyd Wright is absent from Columbus as his personal morality was off-putting to the community.) Outside of business, Miller was the first layman elected president of the National Council of Churches and a major organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. He did say there was a selfish motive to hiring world-class designers beyond being a fan of Modern style; he said he hoped it would help attract the better and brighter to Columbus to make both Cummins and the town more successful places. The one-name film director Kogonada directed his feature film Columbus in 2017. It is a multi-award-winner in which the title city’s buildings are as much stars as are actors. South Korean Kogonada had once visited Columbus on a family trip and wanted to film there. His characters’ lives parallel what he said about the place in an interview: “For me, the town is a testament of this pursuit to find meaning inthe construction of space, in the relationship between absence and presence . . “ All this makes Columbus worth a visit. Here are a few details from my last time there. I always go for ice cream at Zaharakos — locals just call it the Greeks — on the main drag since 1900. You could think of it as an exquisite museum, with sprinkles! On that same street I bought a suit jacket at Dell Brothers, operating since 1916. A few days later my salesman, with the family name Dell, sent me a thank-you note in the mail. My wife and I have driven all over town, and that pride of place stretches block after block, neighborhood after neighborhood, wealthy to working-class. You can see answers to what creates life of community and quality of life. One last time, on the scale of un-discovery there may be no more shiny, multi-faceted nugget than Columbus, Indiana.
Miles With Moxie: The Best-Kept Secret in the Midwest (Hint: It's in Indiana) content media
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williamlambrecht
Feb 28, 2022
In What Are You Writing?
Editor's Note: This the first installment of an occasional series by Illinois writer Doug Kamholz in his "search for a gem," as Bob Dylan put it, in his travels. Easterners typically sniff at the offerings of Flyover, America — that vast swath of civilization that stretches between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. But Doug makes it his business to find marvelous places therein off the beaten track, but never "over-hyped, over-priced underwhelming big attractions." You will see that he has done so in a recent trip to the Flint Hills tall-grass prairie in Kansas, a state that that has as much to do with Western lore as the American West, as Doug tells us. Doug was born in the Midwest and says he's "happy to be living here at age 75." His work has included journalism, peace activism and university teaching. Do enjoy. Miles With Moxie: No. 1— The Flint Hills of Kansas Cattle herded down a hillside in the middle of Kansas seems hardly anybody’s idea of a vacation centerpiece. However, it was ours. And we were thrilled. And not alone. Cowgirls and cowboys crest a rise in the middle distance. In early evening light they drive hundreds of white-faced Herefords and red Angus across our view. That view is blocked a bit by three billowing sides of a days-old stage where the Kansas City Symphony has come to play for a few thousand of us spread out on a pasture slope in the middle of 10,000 square miles of tallgrass prairie. Music mixes with hoofbeats, and there are smiles all around. These are the Flint Hills. They make a hundred-mile-wide swath of eastern Kansas that stretches 250 miles from Manhattan south to the Oklahoma state line. Below that they are called the Osage Hills, headquarters to the tribe of the same name (and a destination for another day). Visitors are wise to start at the stunning new Flint Hills Discovery Center on the south edge of Manhattan where both the science and the seasons of Midwest prairie are well-displayed. Then it is to meander the hundred miles of scenic Highway 177 as it unfolds its curves and crests that put you smack dab in the middle of a landscape painting by Thomas Hart Benton. The draw to this almost treeless undulating land is in part its rarity. The Nature Conservancy, which operates an excellent Visitors Center (including American bison) on the scenic highway, counts less than four percent of the world’s tallgrass prairie still waves, and most of that is here in the Flint Hills. Another draw is an equation I apply to many places I travel. Divide how stunning the beauty or cultural significance of a place is by how well or little it is generally recognized by the traveling public. So a relatively un-famous wonderful spot scores big. And larger scores multiply how happy the locals are that you were smart and adventurous enough to choose to peruse their beloved piece of the world. Now here’s a sneak-peek into the future: Young prairie grass is tasty; you can make weapons out of flint; and nobody will ever put a plow into these hard-baked hills. But let’s back up many thousand years. [WARNING! The paragraph below contains hard sciences, specifically geology and botany.] During the Permian Period shallow seas covered Kansas. The aftermath of those eons is layers of limestone and shale full of prehistoric aquatic fossils close to the land’s surface. Thin topsoil over hard rock means trees can’t put down roots to anchor themselves. However, slender tallgrass roots called rhizomes can wriggle their way through porous stone. Reaching ten or twelve feet deep and branching sideways, they can and do nourish abundant tall prairie grasses — big bluestem, Indiangrass, little bluestem and switchgrass — which grow up to eight feet above ground. Also, as these layers of limestone erode, fragments of flint — a kind of dense quartz also called chert — accumulate. [Whew! OK, back to the soft sciences: history, culturalanthropology and then vacationology.] About 13,000 years ago several Mississippian tribes shared these bison-rich Flint Hills hunting grounds, though Kaw (or Kanza or Kansa) predominated. Arrowheads and spears made of flint can be chipped to sharp points, so we can safely assume folks were excited to find much of it among the hills’ rubble. (I would like to observe here that they were animated with the flintstones, but my editor wife will probably veto that line.) Each year Kaw burned thousands of acres of prairie. They had learned from lightning that fire induces new grass to grow, and then bison come for those young sweet shoots. Life went on like that for a good ten thousand years. These days there is an emerging, albeit belated recognition of the brutality visited on tribal people in the Plains after European invaders arrived. White people first showed up from Spain in the 1500s. Finding no gold, they went south to conquer Mexico. Of course more white people showed up as years passed. Part of what I want readers to know is that in the 1800s Kansas was what we call the Wild West, and that sense has never left. TV’s Matt Dillon was marshal of Dodge City, not somewhere in the far Southwest. The real Wyatt Earp, an Illinois boy, worked as a lawman in Dodge City and Wichita. Jesse James hold-ups? Billy the Kid’s famous jailbreak? The Marlboro man? Kansas, Kansas, Kansas. Same for cowboy boots and cowboy hats. And where did all those buffalo roam and deer and antelope play? Those are words from Dr. Brewster Higley (or Highley) out of Smith County, Kansas. Our last time in the Flint Hills celebrated the 200th birthday of the Santa Fe Trail. For most of my life, that historic path always had Rawhide trail boss Gil Favor (and a young Clint Eastwood) driving cattle north to market while meeting families — always boys with sticks and girls in gingham — moving west. All of that is almost all wrong, but the real Santa Fe Trail story is better than fiction. In short it was our young nation’s first overland international trade route. It was primarily a highway of commerce, and two-thirds of it — 750 miles — stretched diagonally across Kansas. Wheel ruts from wagons that trekked it still can be found, often preserved and protected. Starting in 1821, dry goods, household items, hardware, whiskey and a wide variety of manufactured wares went from Missouri to the adobe buildings that made up Santa Fe. Hides and mules — those famous Missouri mules — came the other way along with Mexican gold and silver coins. Revenue grew to almost half a million dollars in the 1840s. There could be a Santa Fe Trail only after Mexico revolted because Spain and frowned on trade with the U.S. The Flint Hills loom large in trail history. In Council Grove, one of two principal towns in the area, traders made pacts with Osage and Kaw for safe passage along the Santa Fe, and tribes were involved in buying and selling along the way. Many traders made multiple trips out and back; it was a two-month trip each way. My wife and I went to a lecture about women on the trail. Some found good reason to rejoice. “I breathe free without that oppression and uneasiness felt in the gossiping circles of a settled home,” Susan Shelby Magoffin wrote in her trail journal. “Oh, this is a life I would not exchange for a good deal!” These sojourns even had their own language. “Follow the tongue” meant pointing the lead wagon’s tongue at the North Star when halting for the night in open country so they would head in the right direction the next day. Heyday for the Santa Fe ended with our war with Mexico, disputed lands in our Civil War and most dramatically with the coming of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad on February 11, 1859. Of course Council Grove and Cottonwood Falls celebrate their places in Flint Hills history. You still can eat at Hays House, opened in 1857 (though breakfast may be better down the street at Saddlerock Cafe). Or 25 miles down the scenic highway, you can have one of those touted Kansas steaks at Grand Central Hotel and Grill where, as the name implies, you can stay. Back up in Council Grove and right downtown is the Cottage House, dating from 1867. There are plenty of spots for lodging and camping in the area. Our nights were in an old converted barn called Tired of the City. The Cottonwood River ran right below our windows. The Flint Hills is home to many places that teem with the history and culture of various peoples who live and lived there. There are strolls around towns and hikes in the countryside. We drove off one June-green day deep into that countryside and found ourselves crossing onto open range. This is still grazing land. Plows can’t cut it. Cattle ranching is king, and to this day they burn more than two million acres in spring exactly as the Kaw taught them. We shared miles and miles of gravel roads with hundreds of herds of cattle as well as other wildlife. Every moment in these low, overlapping mounds is rich with a profound sense of place. Recently, right along the Neosho River in Council Grove, the community built an outdoor amphitheater (borrowing Greek earth-and-stone methods which seem to last a couple thousand years). Michael Martin Murphey, a big supporter of the Flint Hills, played its inaugural performance. (Most of us got back to our cars before a late-evening downpour!) “The Flint Hills don’t take your breath away; they give you a chance to catch it,” says Jim Hoy, a fourth-generation resident who teaches at nearby Emporia State University. The scene at the beginning of this writing is from an annual event called Symphony in the Flint Hills. Back in 2006 rancher Jane Koger wanted to celebrate her terrain so she hosted 3,000 guests at her place, and the summer concert has grown from there with a different ranch each summer and the Kansas City Symphony happy to hop into a caravan of white vans for their one-night offering of European and American music rooted, so to speak, in rural land. We heard “The Magnificent Seven,” the movie theme composed by Bernstein and Phillipe as well as “Divertimento in F Major” by Mozart, which he intended for outdoor festivals. Our 2021 crowd was COVID-reduced to 5,000, a couple thousand fewer than normal. The afternoon of the big day offers lectures and covered wagon rides and reasonably priced rental chairs for the hillside performance. And then the sun slants. And then the herd comes over the rise. And later, carefully timed with the setting of the sun, we stand and belt out all the verses to the Kansas state song, “Home on the Range.” With all that, who could possibly say a discouraging word? — 30 — Postscript 1: Of course these travel pieces could be dotted with links offering more wisdom than I can. But they won’t. I wish my writing to be for eyes, minds and hearts, not phones. There is an exception, though. Upon returning home, I sometimes recap adventures as Facebook photo albums (never with more than 21 images). If you have a FB page, you can access this one by searching for Douglas Kamholz, then Photos, then Albums and then click on the one entitled “VACATION, yes! But in KANSAS?” Postscript 2: Today’s mailing is a special case. Kansas songwriter Kelley Hunt has composed an homage to the very lands lauded in this month’s “Miles with Moxie.” Her song “Heartland” is used in the documentary film shown at the Flint Hills Discovery Center (which includes narration by Lyle Lovett, Michael Martin Murphey et al.), and you can hear it (with all its schmaltz) here:
Doug Kamholz's 'Miles With Moxie': (Visit Kansas? Are You Nuts?) content media
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williamlambrecht
Jan 20, 2022
In What Are You Reading
Maybe after years in the newspaper biz I need titles and headlines to tell me what’s to come. So I was disappointed that in Amor Towles’ latest novel, The Lincoln Highway, the cross-continental road named for the 16th president from my home state was an afterthought. I had a bit of trouble with characters. An eight-year-old named Billy who provides the intellectual underpinning for the book? A fast-talking New York teen called Duchess who uses words like “deign” and “visage” but can’t read? And then there’s Towles’ punctuation: Instead of quotation marks, passages with utterances begin with M-dashes (—), an unending source of irritation. That said, I consider The Lincoln Highway — all 576 pages of it — worth reading. Especially if you have plenty of time. No, it’s not as good as Towles’ previous novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, the kind of book holds its place on the nightstand long after its finished. Lincoln was No. 4 this week on the New York Times (hardcover) bestseller list, which might or might not tell you something. (I give Towles credit for sending buyers on his website to Indie bookstores). A bit of what goes on: It’s 1954 and 18-year-old Emmett Watson heads home to Nebraska after being released from a work farm. His father has died and the family farm has been foreclosed, leaving Emmett and little brother Billy to fend for themselves. The plan is to head to California in Emmett’s Studebaker to find their mother, who disappeared eight year earlier. Things change when Duchess and Woolly, fellow teens from New York with heaps of issues, hijack the plot — and the Studebaker — sending the action eastward. And assortment characters — actors, prostitutes, an evil minister and a heroic Black fellow named Ulysses — take the stage. The book proceeds to a fairly dark ending in upstate New York. Along the way, the Studebaker changes color.
Final Take: 'The Lincoln Highway' a Good Story Flawed content media
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williamlambrecht
Jan 07, 2022
In What Are You Reading
I'm also wondering what I will think when I've conquered 600 pages of Amor Towles' latest book, The Lincoln Highway, which starts out in Midwestern terrain I know better than Towles. Not long ago I read Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow, a novel that takes place in the early decades of the 20th century when Russia was ablaze with revolution. The suffering and upheaval of that era was barely an afterthought in the book, which takes places in a grand Moscow Hotel, the Metropol, where an aristocratic "former person" has been sentenced to house arrest. Count Alexander Rostov lives decades in this majestic edifice with its secret rooms and culinary delights, thoroughly adapting to his diminished circumstance by becoming head waiter in the hotel's elegant restaurant. Rostov is surrounded by friends, lovers and a talented daughter he never expected to have. He's a lover of literature and fine wines, a wise tactician who thoroughly outwits the revolutionists who think they've locked him up forever. In his experiences are lessons on making the most of what we have. I read A Gentleman in Moscow before I knew much about Towles. He was a Wall Street research analyst with a zillion-dollar firm who always wanted to be a writer after majoring in English at Yale. He has plenty of experience in opulent settings; A Gentleman in Moscow came into focus for him when he was on a business trip in a swanky Russian hotel. (Could he have been advising oligarchs?) Towles' life experience makes me wonder if he will pull off The Lincoln Highway, released in October. (I'm 100 pages in and not sold.) The book ostensibly is about a road with Lincoln's name (one of America's early transcontinental roads) and a 10-day journey by several fellows. (I prefer having women among a book's main characters.) Having grown up in Lincoln Land (Illinois) and lived a decade in Springfield — home to all things Abe, including his home and his tomb — I'm also a tad suspicious of slapping Lincoln's name on this book. In The Lincoln Highway, I'm still in Nebraska (the characters are soon to head East), and thus far Towles' depiction of farmers and rural life seems cliche'-ish. We'll see what a writer accustomed to wealth does with the character of a farm-raised young fellow ready to start his life after being released from a Kansas penal farm.
What Would Abe Think of 'The Lincoln Highway'? content media
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williamlambrecht
Oct 27, 2021
In What Are You Writing?
Editor's Note: M.L. Faunce is the author of My Date With an Oyster and Other Stories of a D.C. Girl Discovering Chesapeake Country. She is featured above, in pink, along with New Bay Books publisher Sandra Olivetti Martin, at a book release party in June, 2021, near M.L.'s home in Gulfport, Fla. Because of illness, she was unable to join in the ongoing Calvert Library workshops analyzing Ross Gay's "Book of Delights" — and getting our own delightful moments in print. I was honored to read aloud from an M.L. essay advising how people can open the door to regular writing. Uncle Willie's Oyster Roast by M.L. Faunce During the fall when I was young, my Uncle Willie would have oyster roasts on his and Aunt Mary’s farm in Indian Head, Maryland. Oysters were shoveled into a wood fire, then dumped on a long table just as they started to open. It was every person for themselves as my aunts/uncles/cousins scrambled for the hot oysters. Nothing thrills a kid more than a roaring fire under the stars—and then you get to indulge (tepidly first as a kid). Later, move over!
M.L. Faunce's Delight: Uncle Willy's Oyster Roast content media
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williamlambrecht
Oct 26, 2021
In What Are You Writing?
In Calvert Library-New Bay Books ongoing writing workshops, Dotty Holcomb Doherty's delight was experiencing sensory (and muscle) memory from auditory stimulus. Dotty is the author of New Bay Books-published Buoyant: What Held Us Up When Our Bodies Let Us Down — described by Tom Horton as “a quietly heroic tale of two women’s voyages through disease and dying, interwoven with voyages upon Chesapeake creeks.” Doherty, of Annapolis, is a former teacher and self-labeled "jock," in addition to being a “birder, wildlife photographer, writer, Quaker, poet, paddler, rower, gardener, knitter, Girl Scout leader and sunrise-watcher." Learn more at dottyholcombdoherty.com. Her Delight, titled "My Violin," describes a rekindled relationship between a human and a musical instrument. It’s been four decades, but I finally got my violin repaired. As I draw the rosined bow across the open strings to tune them, my ear remembers and can detect the variations in tone, my fingers recalling the delicacy needed in turning the pegs to make necessary adjustments. Flipping through old music, I search and find a piece easy enough to try. Ave Maria. My ear distinguishes out-of-tune from in-tune as I read the music and move my fingers up and down the strings, the bow pulling the music into the air. Vibrato. I remember! Scales. So familiar! I began playing in the third grade, and continued in orchestras and symphonies through high school, but in college, opted to concentrate on sports. Today, I feel I have opened a part of me that’s been closed. Laughing over my mistakes and lack of practice, I try and try again, playing stanzas until they feel natural and sound pure. The journey of memory and possibilities has begun.
It Could Happen to You: Dotty Doherty's "My Violin" content media
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williamlambrecht
Oct 23, 2021
In What Are You Writing?
(Editor's note: Calvert Library and New Bay Books are two workshops into our discussion of Ross Gay's bestseller "The Book of Delights" and chronicling our own delightful joys in everyday life. Join us in this forum now or register here for our third workshop, on Nov. 1, at the public library in Prince Frederick. *The Swing" This past weekend we drove to Charleston, South Carolina to help our daughter and her husband attend a wedding by being grandparents to our six-month-old Isla. We stayed in a lovely old house on Spring Street, turned Air BnB, with a wide side porch with a large swing tied to the high ceiling with ship’s rope. That quickly became Isla’s happy place, the only place where she would nap, draped across whoever had her at the time. I was the swing discoverer, having always been partial to them, and took her there the first afternoon. The weather was fine, the sun warm, the breeze just enough to whisper the leaves. I held this warm, compact bundle with the bright, bright blue eyes and sang every song I knew. Gradually, the eyes drooped closed, her body relaxed into mine, and she drifted away lulled by the swing. I drifted with her, reflecting that there was no place on earth I would rather be. That night when her parents came in, she awoke and cried loudly, inconsolably, unceasingly. In the wee hours, I went and got her to give her parents some rest. Isla was wide awake, as was I: a pair of night owls. We had the most delightful, non-verbal conversation in the dimness of the streetlights. She learned to high five and was so pleased with herself. I thought, how enchanting, and how delightful to have company in my insomnia.
More Flash Prose Fun: Sherrod Sturrock's "The Swing" content media
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williamlambrecht
Oct 19, 2021
In What Are You Writing?
With the Calvert County (MD) public library, New Bay Books publisher Sandra Olivetti Martin has been leading writing workshops focused on Ross Gay's "The Book of Delights," a bestseller. In October, two ZOOM workshops were held and a third Online & In-Person session is scheduled for Nov. 1. You can register here. The Book of Delights was selected by Maryland Humanities as the title for 2021, aimed at bringing together diverse readers statewide through the shared experience of the same book. The book features Gay's short essays, written most days in a year's time with the goal of finding delights in everyday existence. Writers in the Calvert library workshop are producing their own delights by practicing Gay's approach and discipline. Here are some we're proud of. We invite yours. Janice Lynch Schuster The sky is autumn pink But the trees are summer full I cannot catch the light With my camera To show you So let these few words remind you How we woke in cold October To the sky on fire with sun Norma Allen Lesser In the morning I move from the bedroom to the room with morning music and light. The tree outside the window is still bright green and protects me from the view outside. I remember when that tree was a mere skinny stick in the ground. After a few seasons there was young fragile baby green leaves, then strong bold teenaged leaves. Now I think my tree has stopped growing tall, the leaves are robust but in a few weeks they will turn yellow, then brown and be gone. In a few weeks, human time, in universe time merely a nano second. And through the thin brown branches, my view will return. Susan Nolan Not all princesses need rescuing. Holly had spent her formative years in a boarding school where she had gained few practical skills. I had grown up in a household where women cooked, cleaned and mostly, complained. Yet there we were: me with a screwdriver in hand and her reading aloud from the owner's manual of a 2010 Ford Escape. Within minutes, we had changed the light bulb and in doing so, fixed the blinker. We were free to make left turns safely. At night, we raised our Chardonnay-filled tumblers and congratulated each other for exceeding our girlhood expectations. Sally Schofield In Georgetown Hospital’s cold holding area, I was waiting to be called for my MRI test, when a kindly orderly came by and offered me a toasty, snuggable blanket, straight out of a warming cabinet. What a sensual delight! We got to talking and when I learned that he was from Liberia, I mentioned my trip to Africa. It opened up a door to an excellent conversation in which we shared our awe and excitement about the wonders of Egypt. Emmanual then started telling me about some of his adventures in the Middle East, when the radiologist showed up to escort me to the Imaging room. WelI, I was quite put-out at the interruption, sorry our chat had to end! What started out as a long, boring wait in a chilly, uncomfortable space, turned out to be a delight! Janice Lynch Schuster Early morning at the pool, swimming laps and kicking with the board, watching how others enter the water. I enter like a seal or a walrus, sliding down the edge of the wall feet first and completely, no dawdling for me lest the water be cold and take my breath away. Each swimmer has her own approach--some dip a toe in, then dive into the deep end. Those in the shallow water (like me) often swing their arms once or twice and jump. Others dip a toe, sense the cold, and wait a few moments, standing on the edge and surveying the twenty or so lanes of other swimmers, moving quietly along. Sooner or later, everyone must go all in. No one turns around once they have come this far.
In Our Writers' Words, Finding Life's Delights  content media
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williamlambrecht
Dec 30, 2020
In What Are You Writing?
I wrote this story about the first of 16 national political conventions I covered, first as an Illinois reporter and then based in Washington. It was just after 4 AM in Detroit on the opening night of the 1980 Republican National Convention. My employer at the time, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, still was an evening paper, which meant a 6AMish deadline and all-night hustling to fill the vast spaces in papers then with horizons to match. When you dispatched all or most of your eight-strong Washington bureau, Statehouse reporters from Missouri and Illinois, a columnist, an editorial writer, and a photographer or two, and set aside most of Page One and two pages inside for jumps and eight or a dozen more convention stories, reporters had work to do. Me? I didn’t have to worry about whether Ronald Reagan would pick Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, or Donald Duck for a running-mate. I was the Springfield, Illinois guy, tasked with shadowing Lincoln-Landers and gathering scraps for the Washington bureau, where I would land in a few years. In Detroit, the multitudes of reporters, picture-snappers, broadcast yappers and techies of an earlier vintage committed most of their acts of journalism in Cobo Arena, situated along the Detroit River. Fittingly, the hall was named after a lifelong Republican pol, Albert Cobo, who’d died of a heart attack after losing his race for governor. His namesake edifice, though not even as old as me at the time, already was afflicted with Detroit decay, its green granite walls slimy. That July morning, in the last hours before sun-up, I was seated at a banquet table in front of my imposing Tele-Ram Portabubble, seeking painfully to legitimize nuggets from GOP partying the night before. The Portabubble was ugly indeed, Rambler gray with a screen the size of a Sunbeam bread slice. I took solace in knowing that it possessed “magnetic bubble memory,” which, I hoped, would help me recall something remotely newsworthy. I would beat out something on its “alpha-numeric keyboard,” perhaps deploying my optional “plug-in personality module” – which, as I understood it, produced prose that matched the mood. Then I would stuff a telephone in built-in rubber couplers to send paragraphs winging to St. Louis at 300 baud. I could hunt down a beer from the all-night bar and smoke from the free cigarette packs piled in the reporters’ lounge, and the copy would still be heading west when I got back. I grew confused at first. Something was pressing against my left leg, something large, squirming and fighting for space. Had some reporter succumbed to the brain-numbing pageantry? Given up in despair after trying to pump gas into a piece about Michigan Rep. Guy Vander Jagt’s keynoter? I looked down. In a single movement, I leaped onto my metal folding chair. ​ ​ Later, I would be chagrined at my behavior. Being cool was the goal of my youth. Cool Hand Luke, Marvin Gaye cool. “Kookie, Kookie lend me your comb” cool. Words always spoken in a moderate, low voice. Never acting like a wet-pants editor. In Cobo Arena that night, or morning, cool I was not. “RAT,” I yelled. “BIG… FUCKING… RAT,” I went on, staring down at a furry mass lodged between the leg of my chair and a box of printer paper, tail aimed skyward. Given that Detroit was host at the moment to half of the nation’s political establishment,  it would be appropriate to deploy a rat metaphor. Truth be told, the politics we see today, the soul-less, kill tactics from venal politicians and their borderline insane strategists, had not yet been invented. We’d seen backroom shenanigans and pranksters like Dick Tuck, who ordered a train to move out of the station in California with Richard Nixon still speaking from the caboose. But vicious politics wouldn’t come along until later in the decade, advanced toward today’s industrialized level by Terry Dolan, who masterminded the National Conservative Political Action Committee. It’s hard to ratchet up ill will toward Dolan, who apologized for his transgressions, among them perverting campaign finance law, shortly before he died, of AIDs, at 36. But history will note his hypocrisy (“Our nation’s moral fiber is being weakened by the growing homosexual movement," he once said) and how his virulent attack ads financed via the forerunner of today’s dark money. Perhaps he deserved to lose his 1970s race for National Republican College Chairman – to a young fellow named Karl Rove. Still atop my chair, on my left, editorial writer Jim Lawrence, who had journeyed up river for the show, jabbed at his own Portabubble keyboard, no doubt scorching Republicans for being Republicans in an editorial for his unabashedly liberal newspaper. Unlike me, Jim, with his ascot and zillion-thread cotton shirts, was really cool. He’d raced sports cars, by God! When he died in the 1990s, he’d written 11,800 editorials, which comes to one every day for 32 years and four months. Spanking his Portabubble, a cigarette holder between his lips, Jim did not look up despite my screeching description of the creature that looked to be climbing up my leg. “How big is it?” he asked, with the same voice he’d use sizing up the length of an editorial. There would be many more conventions, 16 all told, in which I was on the griddle most nights turning out either the main story or an analysis I hoped wouldn’t embarrass me any more than usual. Strangely, what I recall from many of those nights is the technology of the day, which often proved as challenging as a deadline. The Portabubble would swiftly be junk, like the 50-pound Xerox Telecopier (Hunter S. Thompson’s mojo wire) before it. I’d drag its dented metal suitcase on train trips between Springfield, Illinois and Chicago, kicking it for fun. It was, in fact, a portable fax machine and, as I recall, it took seven minutes for a single typewritten page (yea, you toted a typewriter, too) to scroll around and around before something in St. Louis spit out my paragraphs. After the Portabubble came the Radio Shack TRS 80-100, which earned every bit of its (choose your epithet) Trash Eighty sobriquet. “Filing time” had meaning back then, unlike now when a candidate’s words, analyzed in the time it took for them to be uttered, take flight into the Twitterverse. The Trash Eighty was a bold little unit; a notebook pioneer it was, but torturing with its puny, liquid crystal display. In the half-hour or so filing time, not always was the Trash Eighty alone in evil-doing. Often, it was its sidekick, those acoustic rubber couplers, dull black and with the look of props at a drag queens’ convo. You’d slap those cups on both ends of a pay phone receiver, beg for good fortune, and listen for that faint, piercing hum, like a dog’s whistle, hoping like hell you kept hearing it. But these were sunny days for me with my Lucky Couplers, which slept by the pillow in hotel beds in their cerulean blue box. Hearing anguished cries and cursing at deadline time, I would rush forward and offer my luckies to fellow travelers betrayed by their sets of couplers. My hallowed gear more than paid for itself later for at hotel bars. I recall nothing as fondly amid the cavalcade of laptops since; the notebooks, subnotebooks, convertibles and laplets, with ever brainier processors. (There was the balky, plastic relic that got so hot it started melting, sending hormone-disrupting dioxins wafting across the room.) The Internet and its instruments are changing the newspaper game so swiftly that what gets written here shortly will be passé. A colleague among Washington correspondents remarked recently, “It feels like a month-to-month deal now,” an expression of vulnerability with diminished ad revenues and greed back home. Early in the days of change, I consulted Tom Abercrombie, a venerable journalist and fellow Chesapeake Bay denizen. Tom, who died in 2006 at 75, had retired not long before as a National Geographic reporter and photographer. He was famous for his exploits, one of the first reporters to the South Pole. He and his photographer wife, Lynn, were the first American journalists let loose in Marxist South Yemen, the part of the world that burns hot today with terrorist passions. Tom survived plane crashes and buz kasha in Afghanistan, demented games of polo chasing a dead goat on biting, kicking horses. He nearly died in Tibet running from the Chinese Army. Tom’s was an era of fat journalism with spending an afterthought.  For an assignment in Wyoming, he rented a 40,000-acre ranch. Told the magazine needed a major piece on Alaska, Tom knew immediately what to do: He bought an airplane, a Cessna 180, with floats. He put it on his expense account. The problem didn’t arise until well after he finished the assignment, flew all the way home to Maryland and parked the aircraft at his dock on the West River, south of Annapolis. Guess I should sell the plane, he thought. He did so, at a profit, which confounded the bean counters. “Hell of a nice plane,” he said, eyes twinkling above his white beard. Tom and I were talking one day about technology, surrounded by history and artifacts that some might regard as odd. There was, for instance, 12th century B.C. Egyptian sarcophagus. And agate-eyed monk’s skull, its top sawed off for drinking blood. Another thing or two you wouldn’t find in the home of many journalists: A shrunken head and a tusk-like, two-foot-long walrus penis, serving at the moment as a dictionary bookmark. Quite a large dictionary. The subject got to the topic of newspapers and magazines pulling in their horns. Big papers closing bureaus; smaller papers closing their doors. Reporters taking buyouts and stories getting shorter, or going untold. Tom Abercrombie offered a tonic to journalists worried about what lay ahead amid the pop-and-fizz of online “content. The click-whoring for survival by once-great papers. Attention spans diminished like that shrunken head. “It doesn't matter whether you send it out by satellite or with a runner at the end of a forked stick,” he said. “It’s still the same mission. Somebody's got to go find out what the story is, and tell that story.”
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