Friday, January 24, 2014


I understand why Theodore Roosevelt (above) acted like such a jackass on September 3rd, 1902. He was in shock. He had received a head injury, and a bad leg wound. He had just come within a hair's breath of being killed. A man he knew well had died. Another man was badly injured. So it was understandable if Roosevelt wanted to punch the man he assumed was responsible. Except even after time and distance should have allowed the 26th President to see his mistake, he refused to reconsider. So events that afternoon seemed to confirm Republican boss Mark Hanna's assessment of “Teddy” as a “damn cowboy”. Hanna had never intended that Roosevelt should be President, and he would not have been except William McKinley, who was supposed to be President, had refused to listen to a voice of caution.
See, McKinley (above), who just starting his second term as President, thought the people loved him, when in fact most of them were just being polite. His secretary, George Cortelyou, knew how many people McKinley's policies had driven to desperation, and had twice removed the hand shaking receiving line at the Pan-American Exposition from the President's schedule. But McKinley kept putting it back. Thus, nobody was more surprised than William McKinley, when poor, mad, unemployed Leon Czolgosz put two bullets point blank into McKinley’s self-satisfied brisket. And then, rather than wait for a real surgeon to arrive, the President insisted on being operated on by Dr, Matthew Mann, who was a gynecologist. When the real surgeon showed up he was at least smart enough to wash his hands of McKinley, who died of infection a week later, September 14, 1901.
That left the new President (at 42, the youngest President and the richest, worth $200 million) facing a huge problem. Over May and June of 1902 more than 100,000 coal miners walked off the job. They were not coming back until management recognized their union, gave them an eight hour work day, and safer working conditions. The mine owners (the coal trust) would rather pay to have the strikers shot than pay them more to work. While the strike caused some immediate economic “dislocation”, it would not create real hardship until winter, when the average American home would be frozen solid. Teddy knew he was going to need the American people to trust he would deal with the strikers and the mine owners fairly and firmly. So in late August of 1902 he took a tour of New England, where the cold would hit the most people first, to lay the foundation for his bargaining position.
First stop was Hartford, Connecticut on August 22nd, where Theodore became the first President to publicly ride in an automobile (it was electric!). Then he headed north through Rhode Island to Boston, and up to Maine, speaking several times a day before crowds of 100, 1,000, 5,000, even 10,000 people at a time. Then he swung south again, through central Massachusetts. For a week Teddy zig-zagged north and south across New England, weaving the pattern of his case for compromise. “The great corporations,” he said in his stump speech, “...are the creatures of the state, and the state not only has the right to control them, but it is in duty bound to control them....The immediate necessity in dealing with trusts is to place them under the real, not the nominal, control of some sovereign....in whose courts the sovereign’s orders may be enforced.”
And that was why, on the sunny pleasant Sunday morning, the third of September, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt (he hated being called Teddy) riding in a magnificent black four seat horse drawn landau, arrived in the small industrial town of Pittsfield, in the center of Berkshire County, far western Massachusetts. Most of the town's 23,000 residents were on hand at nine that morning in the Commons Park to cheer short speeches by Roosevelt and Massachusetts Governor Winthrop Crane, and Mayor Hezekiah Russel, a local industrialist. But sitting on the platform beside the mayor were the men who really ran Pittsfield, whose fiefdom actually spread across a huge chunk of New England, the owner-directors of Stanley Electrical Manufacturing Company.
Inside the brick walls of their plant 1,700 men and women toiled twelve hours a day, six days a week, building industrial transformers, which were used as far away as California, and as near as the Berkshire Street Railway Company - owned by most of the same men and the New York New Haven And Hartford Railroad. Berkshire was formed just the year before, with the merger of eight separate urban electric trolley lines, 150 miles of track, power lines, generators and transformers reaching across five states to form a single urban commuter line. Stanley workers paid a toll to the factory owners just to reach the factory where they labored without representation. Roosevelt could have ridden that line the sixty miles all the way to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he was to make his final speech that night to a crowded coliseum.   Instead he went by carriage. That choice, while more familiar and a statement of independence, would threaten his life.
Just about ten that morning the President, his secretary George Cortelyou (still on the job), and Governor Crane pulled away from the Commons on South Street followed by three or four other carriages. They were heading for Lenox, six miles away, and a scheduled noon speech. Controlling the four white horse team pulling the landau was the Governor's driver David Pratt. Riding next to him was a 6'4” 260 pound Scotsman, Secret Service Agent William “Big Bill” Craig. Two days earlier the blond haired blue eyed Agent Craig had told a reporter for The Worcester Telegram, “Too much caution cannot be taken to keep the crowds back from the (horse) teams and the President.”
It had been the intention of the directors of the Berkshire Railway and Stanley Electrical to travel with the President, but there was a delay while Conductor James Kelly did his best to herd his bosses to their seats. They were fifteen minutes late when 48 year old motorman Euclid Madden pushed the control lever to drive the trolley down the rails running in the center of South Street. Almost immediately, the bosses began urging Madden to go faster.
A mile south of town, on what was now called the Pittsfield Road, the Presidential carriage climbed Howards Hill, past the turn off to the Pittsfield Country Club. Crowds were thinner now, but there were still knots of people cheering and applauding as the Presidential party rode by. Then the road curved down and to the right, along the eastern slope of 1,200 foot high South Mountain, to the west of the highway. It must have been a relief to be out of the foul smelling industrial town, surrounded by farm land, and fresh air. The only sound would have the rhythmic plop-plop of the horses and the occasional greeting from the thinning throng. As Roosevelt's carriage neared the bottom of the grade, the turn tightened, to cross a dry creek bed. And it was here the dusty Pittsfield Road crossed the trolley tracks.
It was a matter of physics. The descent added momentum, the weight of the trolley added more. A carriage could slow to one or two miles an hour, but to widen the curve for the heavier trolley, the tracks angled first to the left edge of the road before cutting to the right side at the apex, then crossing the traffic lanes again to the left, completing the turn. And because the road was turning as it descended, and was lined with trees, Euclid Madden could not see the carriage until he was almost upon it. Nor could the occupants of the carriage see the trolley bearing down on them. It must have been the ringing bell, sounded by a desperate Madden, that provided the last minute warning. It was just about 10:15 a.m.
As the carriage passed over the tracks the trolley car smashed into the left front, shattering the wheel, and hurling the carriage into the air. Closest to the impact, Agent Craig (above)  was thrown off his elevated seat, and fell directly under the wheels of the oncoming car. Sliding across the the Agent's shoulders and chest, the machine ground him up against the rail. He was killed instantly. Driver Pratt tumbled into the air, struck the rear of the a horse before landing on the roadway, dislocating his shoulder and bruising his face
At the moment of impact Governor Crane stood up, and was propelled clear, landing relatively uninjured twenty feet away. Landing on the roadway, Secretary Cortelyou struck his head on a rock, , opening a wound which left him barely conscious. President Roosevelt was tossed from the left side of the carriage, landing on his cheek, cutting his lip open, and cutting and bruising his left leg. Three of the horses panicked, dragging the carriage forty feet from the impact, until witnesses rushed to hold them. The horse first struck, was down, screaming in agony.
Governor Crane raced to help the President to his feet. Together they assisted Secretary Cortelyou, who was bleeding profusely . Then, according to eyewitness Frederick Clark, Roosevelt stormed toward Motorman Madden, who was by now standing in front of his trolley. They exchanged what was described as “heated words”. No punches were thrown, and a witness later testified that Madden remained respectful in the face of the infuriated amateur boxer President. Eventually, passengers and bystanders stepped between the two.
They put the injured horse out of its misery. They took the injured humans to a nearby home to tend to their wounds. And then, half an hour late, Roosevelt made it to tiny Lenox (above). The Washington, D.C. Citizen newspaper  reported, “In front of the Curtis Hotel a vast crowd had congregated, and when (Roosevelt) drove up there was the silence of death...Pale, covered with dust, his eye blackened from the bruise, his cheek swelling visibly...“My friends,” he said, “there has been an accident. One of our party has been killed. He was William Craig of the United States Secret Service. I had come to have for this man a genuine admiration, not alone for his rugged honesty and for his loyalty to me, but for the devotion and the love which he showed for my children. I beg of you that there be no cheering and no demonstration of any kind. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the greeting which you have given me.”
The newspapers were calling for Madden and Kelly's heads. On October 15 they were both charged with “unlawful acts” leading to Agent Craig's death. However they were released on bail just two weeks later. It seemed the directors of Berkshire had come to realize the defendant's testimony about hectoring executives and demands for more speed could be damaging to their image, and the company posted the $7,500 bond Then, according to the National Railway Historical Society newsletter, when both defendant's pleaded guilty to manslaughter in January of 1903, Berkshire paid the fines, and continued Madden's salary during his six month sentence (Kelly's sentence was suspended). Immediately upon his release, the father of five was reinstated to his old position. The Rochester Democrat commented, “This seems to be a light punishment for so grave an offense, assuming that Madden was guilty at all.”
William “Big Bill” Craig was the first Secret Service Agent to die while protecting the President, and was buried (above) in Chicago's Oak Woods Cemetery.  Theodore Roosevelt tried to charge ahead with his life, but his negotiations to end the coal strike had to done from a wheel chair as bacteria had invaded his inured bone, causing the leg to swell and abscess to form. Still, on October 23rd, the strike ended, saving the winter for most families. A new six man arbitration board allowed the owners to pretend they were not talking with the union, but the ten hour work day became nine, and it seemed progress was possible, maybe even inevitable. The mine owners prediction of doom should the miners win did not come to pass. But for the rest of his life, Theodore Roosevelt suffered from flareups of osteomyelitis, the infection in his leg.
A year after the accident, Stanley Electrical was bought by Westinghouse, which actively discouraged any other companies from settling in Pittsfield. This meant that when the multinational moved most production over seas in the late 20th century, and closed the Pittsfield plant, the community was staggered. Unemployment drove most of the population away. Poverty and drug addition destroyed much of what was left. And the only industry thriving in Pittsfield, today is the environmental cleanup of dioxins used in building transformers. However, building on the yearly Tanglewood Music Festival, the community is attempting to transition to a tourist based economy.
Look, I understand why Theodore Roosevelt acted like a jackass that Sunday Afternoon. He needed the emotional release. But there was no justice in Pittsfield, before or after the accident. There was only life – messy, unresolved and unsatisfying. And the lesson of Pittsfield, I think, is that best you can hope for in this world, is not to win – none of us ever win more than temporarily  – but to make progress. Progress is all that matters, because progress is hope.  And hope is victory.
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Note: Photo of damaged carriage provided by Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I find it interesting that during the “carboniferous age”, our planet was far more flammable than it is today. About 420 million years ago the air was made up of 40% oxygen, compared to today’s 20%.  All this “extra” oxygen came from the exultation of plants which had run such a riot over the earth that they laid down the vast coal beds which we mine today. But this plant-foria also left behind extensive beds of charcoal, hinting at vast forests that had burned before they could become coal. Today, dead wood burns at 150 F. But with twice the oxygen available, that flash point must have been reduced to within a few degrees of the high temperature of a hot summer’s day. The Silurian Age was, in short, a global tinder box, a hell on earth. It was not the kind of world a little bear cub could survive in for very long.
More recent charcoal records tell an equally interesting story. It seems that before the twentieth century there were a greater number of forest fires in North America than since. As long as there was a frontier, flames were used to conquer the land. Native Americans burned swaths of grasslands and forests to trap prey, and Europeans burned them to convert woods into farms and grazing lands. But with the closing of the American frontier – which happened in 1880 according to Professor Jackson Turner - all the land in America became property. It was owned by somebody or some corporation or the government. It was then that fire became not a tool but a threat. It was a brand new way of thinking about fire. For the first time in history humans had made the moral judgment that fire was usually a bad thing.
In 1891, the Forest Reserve Act was signed by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison. It put 13 million acres of forest under Federal protection, so it could be managed to maintain water drainage and lumber sources. Wildfires still remained largely beyond human control, even when humans had started them. In Yellowstone, America’s first National Park, only those 6 to 10 wild fires each year which broke out along the roads were combated, while the 35 fires in the back country each year started by lightning were allowed to burn themselves out. Then came the drought year of 1910.
They called it The Great Fire. It was started by lightening on August 20th, with 2,000 fires already burning in the forests of Idaho and Montana. Three million acres burned, as did the towns of Avery, Falcon and Grand Forks, Idaho, De Borgia, Haugan, Henderson, Saltese, Taft and Tuscor, Montana. The smoke was seen as far away as Watertown, New York. Eighty-six humans were also killed, including 28 members of “The Lost Crew” of firefighters.
That fall Henry Graves, Chief of the Forest Service, decided the key to fighting wildfires was the quick arrival at the fire by an adequate, trained force of fire fighters, armed with the proper equipment. And by 1935 enough resources had been committed to this fast response that the new Chief, Ferdinand Silcox, could order that all wild fires reported must brought under control by 10:00 a.m. the very next morning. By 1939 the Forest Service had even established “Smokejumpers”, men who would parachute into remote back country and with shovels and hand axes, isolate a wild fire and tamp down any smoking embers. And that was when the story turned Hollywood.
On August 13, 1942 Walt Disney released his fifth animated feature film, “Bambi”. In the climax of the movie the adult Bambi and his father struggle to survive a raging forest fire. The Forest Service thought they had a good fit with that dramatic sequence and rented Bambi for use on wildfire warning posters. Unfortunately the movie was a disappointing dud financially, when the forerunners of the NRA protested this “insult to American Sportsmen,” since the movie showed hunters shooting Bambi’s Mommy. Disney decided to withdraw the characters for the duration of World War Two, which meant that the Forest Service had to go looking for another animated spokes-figure.
At the time the most famous firefighter in America was “Smokey” Joe Martin of the NYFD, who had just died in October of 1941, at 86. So the Adverting Council, which drew up the posters for the Forest Service, decided any new spokes-figure should be named for him. The very first poster of the new figure was released on August 9, 1944. It showed Smokey Bear (No “The” in the name) wearing blue jeans and a Forest Rangers’ hat, pouring water on a campfire. Three years later they added the caption “Remember, Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”
On Thursday, May 4th, 1950, sparks from a camp stove started a fire in the Capitan Mountain Range, of the Lincoln National Forest in northern New Mexico. It eventually burned 17,000 acres. One of the crews sent to deal with the conflagration was a unit out of Fort Bliss, Texas. Over a couple of days, while they worked, the men saw a black bear cub running around in the burning forest, and finally, on May 9th, they were able to capture him. He seemed to have been abandoned, was about 3 months old, and was burned and badly singed.
The crew named him “Hotfoot Teddy” and turned him over to local veterinarian Edward Smith, his wife Ruth, and their two children, 15 year old Donald and four year old Judy. Everybody fell in love with Hotfoot, except Judy, who according to her brother, kept expecting the bear to bite her. And yet it was Judy who was used as a prop when the photographer from Life Magazine showed up to take pictures of the little bear with the bandaged feet.
Over night the little cute bear cub had his own comic strip and his own cartoons at the movies. The Forest Service recognized the value of Hotfoot, and he was flown to Washington, D.C., rechristened “Smokey Bear”, and given his own cage at the National Zoo. And there he resided, loping back and forth on his still tender feet until 1976, when he died at the ripe old age of 26. They buried the old guy back in New Mexico, in the forest of his birth. And about the time he died, so did the moral judgment about forest fires being bad.
As the Smokey Bear baby-boomers grew up, a more nuanced vision of fire in the wilderness has taken root. The Forest Service no longer uses the phrase “Forest Fire”, exchanging it for “Wildfire.” In 1965 , 94% of the public approved of the under control by 10 a.m. policy. By 1970 that percentage had fallen to 46%, and by 2004 only 6%. Part of that was probably the cost of fighting the fires; in an average year over 84,000 wildfires burn over 3 million acres, at a cost of over $540 million, and the lives of 16 firefighters.
There is the perception that these numbers are going up, and but it is hard to measure that based on something less than a century of hard data. After all, the “Great Fire” of 1910 burned 3 million acres by itself. In 1988 Yellowstone Nation Park suffered 99,000 acres burned, 36% of the park. But nobody remembers the 1910 fire. Everybody remembers the fire of 1988. That’s human nature, and will never be cured. But...
...British and American statistical studies have come to the conclusion that the fire season has gotten longer by 78 days since the 1970’s. Anthony Westerling of the Scrips Institution summed up the situation this way; “With the snowmelt coming out a month earlier, areas then get drier earlier overall...There's more opportunity for ignition.” As Thomas Swetnam, of the University of Arizona has pointed out, “Lots of people think climate change and the ecological responses are 50 to 100 years away. But...it's happening now…”
So poor old Smokey was lucky he was not born fifty years later, or he would have been in real trouble. That little cub had few tools for dealing with a fast moving forest fire, and none for climate change - but then neither do we. I mean, could we deal with twice the oxygen level that we have now? It would be helpful, I think, to remember we are not worried about climate change because of what it might mean for Smokey, or even Bambi. We should be worried about what it means for us.
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Sunday, January 19, 2014


I wonder what went through Sister Aimee's mind in the days after she drowned., when she realized she had to go back to Los Angeles.  I do not believe for one second her story of being kidnapped. But that leaves the question, not of what she was doing for the five weeks of her mysterious disappearance - we can assume she was doing the everything not allowed by her religion - but rather how she conceived the story she came up with. Like everyone else who does something stupid, Sister Aimee had no trouble justifying her fabrication. The great Catholic thinker St. Thomas Aquinas defined a lie as a statement at variance with the mind, meaning truth is anything you believe in, a philosophy useful for every saint caught sinning. At least for awhile.
“Oh, have you heard the story of Aimee McPherson?
Aimee McPherson, that wonderful person,
She weighed a hundred eighty and her hair was red
She preached a wicked sermon, or so the papers said.”
Ballad of Aimee
Aimee's story never wavered, once she walked out of the desert and into Agua Pietra on Wednesday, 23 June, 1926. She always repeated it verbatim, always refusing to allow questions to interrupt the flow of her story. “I sent my secretary to the hotel to phone the temple” she began, adding she then went into the water for another swim. As she was rising out of the surf a couple named Rosie and Steve approached, saying they had a dying child in a car nearby, who needed Sister Aimee's ministrations. She went willingly, and was guided to a parked car near the Ocean Park Bathhouse (above), where the minister was violently shoved inside and drugged. When she awoke several days later Steve told her, “You've taken enough of our girls from us, so turnabout is fair play.” After several days of waiting for a response to their half million dollar ransom note, they took Aimee for an all day drive, ending in a little adobe desert shack, where they were joined by a large Mexican man named Felip.
“Now, Aimee built herself a radio station
To broadcast her preaching to the nation.
She found a man named Armistead who knew enough
To run the radio while Aimee did her stuff.
After briefly releasing their frustrations by torturing their victim with a lit cigar butt, the men disappeared. Then Rosie - or so the story ran - left to buy cigarettes. Once alone, Aimee spotted an opened can of varnish in a corner of the shack. She “wormed” her way over (above) and “commenced the awkward endeavor of cutting the rope on the can's edge.” Aimee said she figured it was about 11:30 in the morning when she was finally free. Outside, she ran until she collapsed, rested and then ran again. She kept running until she reached Agua Prieta, over twelve hours - and twenty miles - later. Or so Aimee said.
“Now, they had a camp meeting out at Ocean Park
Preached from early morning 'til after dark.
Said the benediction, then folded up the tents,
And nobody knew where Aimee went.”
Later that morning, while a cab was driving Sister Aimee the few hundred yards across the border to the Calumet Hospital (above) in Douglas, Arizona. the Agua Pietra Police Chief, Silverrio Villa, followed Aimee's trail four miles, where he found “a small shack...Tracks made by her shoes were found all around the shack but not beyond, though a search was made as far as Gallardo, nine miles away.” Doctors told the Arizona Daily Star there were burn marks on her fingers, binding marks on her wrists and ankles, and there were blisters on the bottoms of her feet..
“Now, Aimee McPherson got back from her journey,
She told her tale to the district attorney.
Said she'd been kidnapped on a lonely trail.
And in spite of all the questions, she stuck to her tale.”
Told her mother and daughter would be arriving by train in the morning, Aimee responded, “Won't it be grand when my mother gets here. I can hardly wait to see her.” Then she suddenly asked, “Do you think I will be welcomed back?” She need not have worried. There were thirty thousand cheering believers waiting for her arrival (above) at Los Angeles Union Station two days later. The L.A. Fire Department showed up in their dress uniforms, an airplane flew overhead and dropped rose petals. Hearst Gossip columnist Louella Parsons lead a large press contingent. Perhaps a hundred thousand of the devout lined Glendale Boulevard (renamed the “Avenue of Triumph”) to welcome Aimee back to her temple (below).
“Well, the Grand Jury started an investigation,
Uncovered a lot of spicy information.
Found out about a love nest down at Carmel-by-the-Sea,
Where the liquor was expensive and the loving was free.”
However, the cops were suspicious about Aimee's story, even before they heard it. When word of her suspected drowning broke, an off duty Culver City police officer reported he had seen Sister Aimee riding in the front passenger seat of a sedan, heading away from the beach, just half an hour after she supposedly drowned. His wife backed up his story. Acerbic L.A.historian Louis Adamic, who regularly called the evangelical preacher the “Queen Aimee of Moronia.” reacted to tale of desert survival by writing, “Aimee was no more kidnapped than I am an incognito shah of Persia.”
“They found a little cottage with a breakfast nook,
A folding bed with a worn-out look.
The slats was busted and the springs was loose,
And the dents in the mattress fitted Aimee's caboose.”
The reporters noticed that the colors on Sister Aimee's dress (above), in the closet of her room in the Calumet Hospital, had not faded in the sun, despite her half day hike. Nor did her corset bear any sweat stains, nor the dress scars after stumbling for hours (half in the dark) through a desert populated with plants covered in hypodermic sharp needles and stiff oily razor sharp leaves. The dresses' collar and cuffs were as pure and white as if they had just come from a laundry. She was not sunburned, her lips were not cracked, and the hospital was not treating her for dehydration. And then there was the watch. When they interviewed the miracle woman reporters standing two feet from her bed could see none of the alleged bruises on her wrists or ankles. Her feet may have been covered with blisters, as she claimed, but her shoes (below) were not even scuffed. In fact, closer inspection revealed grass stains on the insteps. Residents confirmed there was no grass within a hundred fifty miles of Douglas, north or south of the border.  
 “Well they took poor Aimee and they threw her in jail.
Last I'd heard she was out on bail.
They'll send her up for a stretch, I guess,
She worked herself up into an awful mess”
When newsreels of Aimee's home coming appeared in Los Angeles movie theaters, they were greeted with cat calls and loud booing. A beat up model T Ford was spotted around town with a message scrawled across the back in chalk, “I ain't Aimee, so I'm still missing.” Also missing was the gimpy legged married gentleman (below) who had been the chief engineer at Aimee's temple.
Now, Radio Ray is a going hound;
He's a-going yet and he ain't been found.
They got a description, but they got it too late.
'Cause since they got it, he's lost a lot of weight.
Kenneth G. Ormiston had been hired in February of 1924 to help Sister Aimee set up her new radio station, KFSG, (for 'Kall' Four Square Gospel), at the Temple on Glendale Boulevard. In addition to all the technical work required, Kenneth also spent hours in the isolated third floor radio room, coaching the 35 year old Aimee on transferring her impassioned theatrical performances into the confines of radio. She was often heard giggling to Ken's quick and irreverent wit during pauses in her broadcast sermons. He had left the station in January of 1926, amid rumors of a romantic entanglement with "the world's most pulchritudinous evangelist". After her drowning, naturally the cops wanted to speak to him, but it was two weeks before he came in for an interview. Then he had immediately disappeared again. And the feeling among the cops and the press was, there was a connection between these two vanishing people.
Now I'll end my story in the usual way,
About a lady preacher's holiday.
If you don't get the moral then you're the gal for me
Cause there's still a lot of cottages down at Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Pete Seager “The Ballad of Aimee Mcphearson” 1926
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