JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, August 16, 2013


I begin our story not where it began, nor, unfortunately, where it ended. Instead we begin just after eleven in the morning, Friday, June 20, 1913, with 29 year old Heinz Schmidt bounding up a staircase, carrying a heavy briefcase in his left hand. In his right hand he carried a gun.  The first person Heinz met at the top of the stairs was Maria Pohl She had never seen him before but he looked agitated, so she started to ask what was wrong. Without a word, Heinz pushed a Browning semi-automatic pistol into Maria's face. Instinctively Maria ducked, and when the gun went off it sent a .9mm lead pellet at 1,150 feet per second a quarter of an inch past her right ear. Maria continued her ducking movement, pushing open the door of classroom 8a. She locked the door behind her. Frustrated, Heinz pushed on the unlocked door of classroom 8b. He burst in upon 60, five to eight year old girls of Mrs. Pohl's class. He was the only adult in the room. He opened fire.
In 1884 French chemist Paul Vielle (above)  mixed nitrocellulose with a little ether and some paraffin and produced what he called pourdre blanche – white powder. When ignited it was three times as powerful as black powder, gave off very little smoke, left little residue behind to clog machinery, and would not ignite unless compressed. Thousands of gunsmiths scrambled to take advantage of Vielle's smokeless powder, in particular a mechanical genius, the son of a gunsmith, living in Ogden, Utah: John Moses Browning.
In Mrs. Poole's classroom, on the mezzanine level of the St. Marien Shule (St. Mary's School) in the Bremen, Germany, the Catholic girls were screaming, and diving under tables. One was heard to cry out, “Please, Uncle, don't shoot us.” But Heinz was not listening. He fired until his gun was empty, then reloaded a new clip, and continued firing. Two of the girls were shot dead on the spot, Anna Kubica and Elsa Maria Herrmann, both seven years old. Fifteen other girls were wounded. When his gun jammed,  Heinz pulled from his bag yet another Browning model 1900 semi-automatic pistol. In the momentary lull, the girls rushed out of the classroom, trying to escape down the stairs.
When John Moses Browning's own son asked if the old man would have become a gunsmith if his father had been a cheese maker, John pondered the question for a moment before admitting he probably would not have. Then he burst out laughing and assured his son, “I would not have made cheese, either.” But John's Mormon father had been a gunsmith, and a good one. And John was a better one, so famous he would eventually be known as “The Father of Automatic Fire.” He would hold, in the end, 128 patents and design 80 separate firearms. One website contends, “It can be said without exaggeration that Browning’s guns made Winchester. And Colt. And Remington, Savage, and the Belgium firm, Fabrique Nationale (FN). Not to mention his own namesake company, Browning”  John Browning developed the Browning Automatic Rifle (the BAR), used in two world wars, as well as both the thirty and “Ma-Deuce” fifty caliber machine guns still in use by the US military, almost century later, all of which he sold to the U.S. government for a fraction of their royalty value. But in the beginning, his most profitable work was his invention of semi-automatic pistols.
Heinz ran after the girls, firing from his fresh pistol - he had eight more in the bag, and a thousand rounds of ammunition. Eight year old Maria Anna Rychlik died at the top of the stairs. In her panic, little seven year old, Sophie Gornisiewicz, tried to climb over the stairwell banister. She slipped and fell and when she landed, Sophie snapped her neck. Following the screaming children, fleeing for their lives, Heinz ran down the first flight of stairs to the landing.
John Browning never worked from blueprints. In his own words, “A good idea starts a celebration in the mind, and every nerve in the body seems to crowd up to see the fireworks.” John would sketch rough designs of the tools he would need to make his gun, to explain them for assistants and lathe operators. Between 1884 and 1887, he sold 20 new designs to Winchester firearms. Explained one of the men who worked with him, “He was a hands-on manager of the entire process of gun making, field-testing every experimental gun as a hunter and skilled marksman and supervising the manufacturing. He was also a shrewd negotiator. He was the complete man: inventor, engineer and entrepreneur.”
On the landing, Heinz paused to lean out a window and fire at boys, who were running away from the school. He wounding five of them. A carpenter working on a nearby roof was hit in the arm. Several apartments in the line of fire were penetrated by shots from Heinz Browning guns. But as he paused to reload, the gunman was now interrupted when a school custodian named Butz landed on his back. The two struggled for a moment until Heinz shot the janitor in the face. Grabbing his brief case still heavy with guns and ammo, Heinz ran back up the stairs.
Browning's design philosophy on reliability was simple. “If anything can happen in a gun it probably will sooner or later.” In his new ingenious blow-back pistol, the breech which received the bullet's propelling explosion was locked in place by two screws. Instead, the “action” which converted the recoil was a reciprocating “slide”, attached front and rear to the gun's frame. When the gun was fired the barrel and slide recoiled together for two-tenths of an inch, and then the barrel disengaged from the slide. The barrel swung downward clearing the breech, so the spent shell casing could be ejected.
As Heinz reached the top of the stairs again, stepping over the bodies of the wounded girls, he was confronted by a male teacher, Hubert Mollmann. They struggled for a moment before Heinz shot him in the shoulder. Mollman fell, but the teacher still clawed at the shooter, tackling him and bringing him to the floor. Kicking free, Heinz sat up and shot Mollmann in the stomach. Heinz then stood over the moaning instructor, reloaded, picked up his brief case, and waked quickly down the stairs for a final time. Outside, a crowd of neighbors and parents had just reached the school.
The retreating slide compresses a recoil spring. Once fully compressed, this forces the slide back. As it does it strips a new round off the top of the magazine and rejoining the barrel, slides the new round against the breech. The gun is now ready to fire again. All that is required it to pull the trigger again. When the Belgium firm Fabrique Nationale tested a Browning prototype in 1896, it fired 500 consecutive rounds without a failure or a jam, far superior performance to any other gun then on the market. In July of 1897 FN signed a contract to manufacture the weapon, and over the next 11 years would sell almost one million of the small lightweight pistols to European military - and some 7,000 to civilians.
Cornered at last on the ground floor of the school, Heinz was swarmed by men, pummeling and beating him to the ground. The briefcase was wrenched from his grip, and the Browning pulled from his hand. The crowd dragged him outside and there the beating continued. It seems likely he would have been lynched, had not the police arrived to place him under arrest. As they dragged him off to jail, Schmidt called out, “This may be the beginning, but the end is yet to come.”
The United States Army liked the Browning 1900, and its improved model 1903. But they wanted more stopping power. So John Browning went back to his work bench and within a few months redesigned the weapon to fire a larger, forty-five caliber round. That weapon, the Browning model 1911 pistol, would be the standard American military pistol until it was replace by a 9mm weapon in 1985. Interestingly, when John Browning died of hear failure at his work bench (above), on November 26, 1926, the weapon he was designing would evolve into the gun that replaced the Browning 1911. In his obituary, it was said of John Browning, “Even in the midst of acclaim, when the finest model shops in the world were at his disposal, he preferred his small shop in Ogden. Embarrassed by praise, indifferent to fame, he ended his career as humbly as it started.”
The attack on the St. Mary's School in Bremen lasted no more than fifteen minutes, from first shot to last. During that time, Heinz Schmidt had fired 35 rounds. Eighteen children had been wounded, and five adults. Three girls had died instantly of gunshot wounds. Little Sophie with the broken neck, died within a day. Four days after the bloodbath, the four little girls were buried. Three thousand marched in their funeral procession (above) . Four weeks later, the fifth victim, five year old Elfried Hoger, succumbed to her wounds an died. All that has changed since 1913 is the technology used to design and make guns.  And yet we continue to pretend that nothing has changed.
“This may be the beginning, but the end is yet to come.”
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I might say the weather was prophetic. A thunderstorm blew in that Tuesday morning, June 14, 1949 before dawn. It must have felt a relief at first, breaking a ten day dry spell. But when the thunder faded, the sky remained so uninviting that only 7,815 showed up at the corner of North Clark and West Addison, to file into Wrigley Field. Last place Chicago was hosting fourth place Philadelphia, but the real draw was the first return of two popular players, first baseman Eddie Waitkus, and pitcher Russ “Mad Monk” Mayer, who had both been traded to the Phillies the previous December. At first it seemed unlikely the ex-Cubs would get their revenge, but after noon the clouds parted, and by game time the sun was driving temperatures into the low eighties.
“Rowdy Russ” pitched his typical game. While there were no temper tantrums this time, the scowling screw ball pitcher went eight and two-thirds innings, gave up ten hits and made two wild pitches, while allowing only one walk. Eddie, who was such a good defensive player he was known as "the natural",  also rose to the occasion, going two for four, with a walk, and he scored twice. The Cubs staged a ninth inning rally on two solo home runs, but 2 hours and 12 minutes after it began, the Phillies had won 9 to 2, improving their record to 29 and 25, while the Cubs sank to a dismal 19 wins against 32 losses. As morality plays go it was a very satisfying for the pair of exiled heroes. But it was only the opening act.
Two miles north of the ballpark, the Edgewater Beach Hotel (above) had opened on Chicago's North Shore in 1916, just in time for the Roaring Twenties. With a thousand rooms and twelve stories over looking Lake Michigan, a private beach, tennis courts, swimming pools, a golf course, hiking and riding trails, a five star restaurant, and sea plane service to the downtown Chicago lakefront, the Spanish stucco hotel was the Midwest coast du jour for a decade. During the thirties, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw played in the outdoor and the indoor ballrooms, and were broadcast over the hotel's own radio station – WEBH. However the depression eventually grew so great it forced the owners to sell, and by 1949, 'The Sunrise Hotel” was an aging dame, concealing the mends in her petticoats - hiding the truth that fame and fortune, and youth and health are merely temporary distractions.
The Phillies team bus got back to the Edgewater at 5349 North Sheridan by four, and after showering, Russ met with his parents and his fiance Dorthy, who had driven the 80 miles up from their homes in Peru, Illinois. Eddie joined them taking a cab to a restaurant. Eddie Sawyer, the Phillies manager, had set a ten o’clock curfew. Although Myer usually paid little attention to such restrictions (one teammate admitted he roomed only with Russ's bags), this night he and Eddie made the check in. After escorting Dorthy and Meyer's parents to their room, the ball players returned to their own quarters in room 904. There they discovered a note addressed to Eddie, taped to the door.
Written on hotel stationary, the note read: “Mr. Waitkus; It's extremely important that I see you as soon as possible. We're not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about. I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain it to you. As I am leaving the hotel the day after tomorrow, I'd appreciate it greatly if you would see me as soon as possible. My name is Ruth Ann Burns, and I am in room 1297a. I realize this is a little out of the ordinary, but as I said, its rather important. Please come soon. I won't take up much of your time, I promise.”
Eddie would say later he thought the note was from an old girl friend from his hometown of Boston. But whatever his reason, instead of just calling the twelfth floor room, despite the late hour, Eddie decided to go there directly. It was about eleven thirty, and another thunderstorm was ripping the darkness, when 29 year old Eddie Waitkus stepped off the elevator on the twelfth floor.
The door of room 1297a was opened by a tall, dark haired young woman, who introduced herself as Marry Brown. She told Eddie, “Ruth Ann will be back in a few minutes. Why don't you have a seat.” Eddie squeezed past the fold out bed in the small room (above). As he sat in a nondescript chair (right)  he noticed three empty drinking glasses sitting on the dresser (left) – a daiquiri and two whiskey sours. Eddie realized with a start the woman was staring at him. He remembered, “She had the coldest looking face I've ever seen.” And then he realized the woman was holding a rifle. As he stood up, she shot Eddie in the chest.
The bullet drilled through Eddies' right lung, causing it to collapse, and lodged in the muscles of his back, next to his spine. Stunned, Eddie asked the woman, “Oh Baby, what did you do that for?” As he fell the blinding pain hit him. And as he struggled to catch his breath, Eddie heard the clinking of the telephone dial. After a moment, he heard the woman's voice. “I've just shot a man, in my room” she said. Then she hung up, walked out and waited beside the elevator for the police to arrive. When the attendants carried Eddie out of the room, Rowdy Russ heard his friend Eddie asking, over and over, “Why?”
The shooter willingly identified herself as 19 year old Catherine “Ruth” Ann Steinhagen (above), a typist for the Continental Casualty insurance company. She told the detectives, “I went to Cubs Park and watched Eddie help the Phillies beat the Cubs 9 to 2. It was wonderful.” But then she said, “If he had just walked into the room a little decently, I would have told him to call the police. However he was too confident. He swaggered.” Asked to describe her relationship with Eddie, Ruth Ann said, “I just became nuttier and nuttier about the guy. I knew I would never get to know him in a normal way...Then I decided I would kill him. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I would kill him.” She added, “I'm sorry that Eddie had to suffer so, but I had to relieve the tension that I have been under the past two weeks.”
The cops checked out Ruth Ann's apartment, at 3600 North Lincoln Avenue, where it crossed North Addison. From the Brown Line station on the corner, her apartment was less than five minutes from The Loop, where CC Insurance had their offices. It was also less than half a mile west of Wrigley Field, where Ruth Ann had been a regular during the 1948 season, attending 50 games – before Eddie had been traded to Philadelphia. And on the walls of Ruth Ann's room, the detectives found a shrine to Eddie Waitkus, a collage of photos cut from magazines, and newspaper clippings, even on the ceiling above her bed.
Her mother admitted the girl had developed an obsession with the Boston native, even regularly eating baked beans. Ruth Ann studied Lithuanian, because Eddies' parents had immigrated from that nation. In 1948, when Ruth Ann started setting a place for Eddie at the family dinner table, her parents sent her to a psychiatrist. She told the doctor, “I used to go to all the ball games to watch him. We used to wait for them to come out of the clubhouse after the game.” When Eddie was traded to Philadelphia, Ruth Ann cried “day and night.” As spring training approached in 1949, she moved out of the family home to her Lincoln Avenue apartment.
At her arraignment on June 30, 1949 – 17 days after the shooting - Dr. William Haines diagnosed Ruth Ann as suffering with schizophrenia, and her lawyer affirmed that she was “unable to cooperate with counsel in her own defense”. Judge James McDermott committed her to the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane at Kankakee. 
Meanwhile, Eddie had suffered through four surgeries, and came close to dieing more than once. But he was young, in good shape, and his combat tour in the Philippines in 1944-45, where he had earned four Bronze Stars. had left him disciplined. He would miss the rest of the 1949 season, and he never again achieve the .306 batting average he had achieved by June 14, 1949. But on opening day of the 1950 season, the Philadelphia first baseman went three for five.
Ruth Ann spent three years in Kankakee, repeatedly under going electroconvulsive shock therapy, as well as hydro and occupational therapy. In April 1952 the doctors deemed her to be “cured”. The prosecutors office asked if Eddie want to pursue a case against Ruth Ann, and he said no. Ruth Ann was never tried for her shooting of Eddie Waitkus. When the 22 year old was released into the custody of her parents (above), Ruth Ann told reporters she was going to go to work at the Kankakee hospital as a physical therapist, but she never did.
Most of the Edgewater Hotel was demolished in 1968, leaving a single pink colored apartment tower, and the once private beach. The site is now Park Tower Market.
Eddie retired in 1955 at 35 years of age, with a life time batting average of .285. He had married one of his nurses, and they had a son. For many years he was an instructor at a Ted Williams baseball camp, teaching future major league players. But Eddie also showed the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, from his war experiences and his shooting at the Edgwater. He became an alcoholic, and a recluse. Said his son, “His nerves were shattered for awhile...and he didn't recognize the problems, but they hampered him for the rest of his life.” Edward Stephen Waitkus died of esophageal cancer on September 16, 1972, at just 53 years of age.
Catherine Ruth Ann Steinhagen lived quietly with her family in a nondescript north west Chicago home until her parents died in the early 1990's. Her sister died there in 2007. Just after Christmas of 2012 Ruth Ann fell in her home (above), hit her head and suffered a subdural hemotoma. She died on December 29 in the Swedish Convent Hospital, at 5145 N. California Avenue, two-and-a-half miles north of Wrigley Field, and about two miles west of the old site of the Edgewater Beach Hotel. She was 83 years old..
The incident inspired the book and film “The Natural”. But as you can see, legend often has only a passing acquaintance with reality. And reality, often has only a passing acquaintance with  legend.
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Sunday, August 11, 2013


I mentioned earlier in these essays on the election of 1828 that it was the first million dollar campaign for President in American history, and the first campaign in which the jackass was used as the symbol of the Democratic Party (above, “Jackass Jackson”). But thanks to the elimination of many limits on male suffrage, it was also the first time the public (or half of it) became an active participant in the selection of their chief executive. Voter turn out in 1824 had been about 357,000. In 1828 it would nearly triple,  to over one million (being still fewer than 6 in 10 eligible voters). And this growth spurt was adroitly exploited by Jackson's campaign manager, Martin Van Buren. Eight years hence, in 1836, when Van Buren ran for President himself, it would be “The Red Fox of Kinderhook” who would popularized the use of “OK” in English (“Old Kinderhook”). So it should come as no surprise Van Buren also played a part in naming the mass of average voters he manipulated in 1828.
Many historians have noted the way Van Buren created the impression of inevitability of Jackson’s election, using newspapers, parades and rallies. He also insisted on the universal repetition of the word “reform”,in speeches, handbills and even campaign songs - without specifying what it meant. In this “morality play” Jackson (above) was of course the hero. He was just an average Joe, like the average voter, with a few holes in his education, and a little quick to get angry with the mendacity of government bureaucrats. And the villain of this performance was equally obvious - John Quincy Adams.
John Quincy (above) defined himself to his long suffering wife, “I am certainly not intentionally repulsive in my manners and deportment.” But intentional or not he was a stuck up prig, more proficient in the stilted world of 18th century diplomacy, than speaking in public in his own high shrill voice. The nicest thing you could say about John Q. was that he meant well. But even in a world without mass media, in the generation before even photography, the public recognized his reserve, even in his reprinted speeches, and in the language friends and enemies used to describe him. Ralph Waldo Emerson said Adams took his tea with “sulfuric acid”. Van Buren did not invent Adam's acidic image, but he did build on it. In personal correspondence Jackson derisively called his opponent “Johnny Q”. And Van Buren ensured that Jackson's supporters copied him, through broad sheets, hand bills, newspapers and “stump speeches” for the three long years of the campaign.
So it was in the election of 1828 that the average voter received his moniker – John Q. Public. The snide inside joke about one snobbish politician became, by familiarity, by repetition and loss of context, the name for a mass of persons. By using the phrase the speaker or writer acknowledges with a smirk that there is really no such thing as an average person, even while referring to them.  John Q. Public came into existence with John Q. Adams, but out lived him by almost two hundred years. Only when broadcasting (newspapers and books) morphed into narrow-casting (Internet), did the inside joke finally fade away.
I wish the campaign of 1828 had ended as melodramatically as the 2012 campaign, with Karl Rove's meltdown on FOX News - “I think this is premature.” Instead, the campaign described by Niles Weekly newspaper as the “the most rude and ruthless political contest that ever took place in the United States”, dripped to a close like a leaking facet, in a string of  24 separate drips. Of the 12 million Americans in 1828, there were 4 million John Q. Publics who were qualified to vote, meaning they were exclusively male, almost exclusively white, almost entirely Protestant and still largely property owners. It seemed that most Americans, the most powerful in particular, just didn't trust John Q. Public to govern.
The system left behind by the founding fathers in 1789 was designed to function in a narrow homogeneous environment. When Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1787, that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing...” he was speaking of the 1,200 farmers in central Massachusetts who took part in Shay's Rebellion. But that stunted uprising was not about over turning the social order. It was male Protestant property owners protesting high taxes, just as their fathers had. That was the kind of rebellion Jefferson had in mind. And for all the talk about the revolutionizing effect of the frontier in America, in 1828 the population center was still south of the Mason/Dixon line, and well within 200 miles of the Atlantic ocean. The social structure of America was shifting, but slowly.
Ten states in 1828 allowed universal white male suffrage, eight states limited voting to tax payers, and five still imposed a property qualification. In several states Adams supporters tried to require voters to display an ability to read. But Jackson supporters were able to nullify that restriction by adding the stipulation that if your grandfather could read, then you would be accepted as qualified. This accepted the vote of uneducated whites while blocking otherwise qualified free born African Americans. And thus was born the idea of a current conditions being “grandfathered in” under new regulations. The outrider remained little  Delaware, which still denied the vote to the poor, the middle class, Catholics and Jews. Even the concept of “the popular vote” was new in 1828 – the phrase had first been used by Representative George McDuffie from South Carolina just two years earlier. And the secret ballot was unheard of, as yet. Like minded voters often marched to the polls en mass, where they publicly declared their choice (above). And that led to some very unpleasant situations.
A visitor to a Tennessee village on the evening of November 14th, 1828, the last day for voting, found it largely deserted. The male residents, it seemed, were out hunting two of their neighbors, who had spoiled the town's Jackson unanimity by casting two lone ballots for John Quincy Adams. “As the day wore on, the whiskey flowed...and the result was a universal chase after the two voters, with a view to tarring and feathering them. They fled to the woods, however, and were not taken.” In New England, the same intimidation was seen against those who dared to vote for Jackson
The end of the campaign began on Friday October 31st with voting in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Then on November 3rd Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia cast their ballots. On November 4th through November 14th, ,voters in Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Vermont had their say. New Jersey voters cast their ballots on November 4th and 5th . And on November 19th it was the turn of Rhode Island, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maryland. In Delaware, where John Q. Public had almost no voice at all, the campaign was so hushed, respectful and dignified that many failed to even noticed there was an election.
But none of these voters were casting ballots for President or Vice President. In 14 states the voters chose electors state wide, whose names and loyalties to either Jackson or Adams were listed on the ballot. In New York, each congressional district's  voters separately picked the electors, and then the electors elected two additional electors. But in Delaware and South Carolina, the legislators chose the electors, providing an additional layer of authority between John Q. Public and the vital choice of a new executive. Then on December 3rd , 1828, the electors gathered in their various state capitals to directly cast their votes for President and Vice President. It was too convoluted to be called a democracy, but a sort of hybrid, democracy lite. In any case, the results were finally reported to Washington, D.C. on February 11th, 1829. That night a cheerful mob sauntered into the unguarded White House to examine the furnishings, and had to be lulled back outside with free punch.
It was a good election for John Quincy Adams. He won two more states than he had in 1824. But the electorate had more than doubled, and Johnny Q's support had not. The result was that once again John Q. Adams lost the popular vote, as he had done in 1824. But this time he lost in a land slide, winning just 44% of the popular vote (500,000) to Andrew Jackson's 56% (642,000 votes) - a 12 point margin. In the electoral college it was even more decisive - 278 for Jackson, to 83 for Adams. And regionally the results were telling. Jackson won every state south of the Mason/Dixon Line, and the frontier bordering the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers. Johnny Q won every northern state, except Pennsylvania, which gave Jackson over 100,000 votes, and Van Buren's New York. The nation had taken the first step on the road that led to Fort Sumter, in April of 1861.
Secretary of State Henry Clay, whose deal making in 1825 had fueled the political debacle, grew increasingly despondent as the disaster approached. He could not even work up an anger when Adams (above) refused an invitation to speak at the opening of the first section of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, saying he considered such politicking undignified. "Adams", wrote Clay, "would rather be right than be President." It was a choice ambitious American politicians would have to make every four years for the next two hundred years. And the cost of deciding to pay that price would be painfully apparent to winner Andrew Jackson,  just before Christmas of 1828.
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