AUGUST   2020


Friday, November 27, 2015


I know of only two moments that justifies the sin of pride. Both are a Horace Mann moment, the first, of course, when you have “won some victory for humanity”, and the second is when a child raised by you does the same. Consider the example of Philip F. O'Hanlon, who in his own life achieved wealth and professional and public recognition. In 1886, right out of N.Y. University Medical School, this sixth generation physician became the head of surgery at the new Gouverneur Community Hospital, on Manhattan’s lower east side.. He was appointed the State Medical Examiner in 1891, and in 1895 became New York City Coroner and Police Surgeon. The later two posts made him famous, and his testimony front page news in several big murder trials. But it was as a father that Philip O'Hanlon won his greatest victory for humanity, because his daughter was Laura Virginia O”Hanlon.
Laura Virginia (above, she was named after her mother), was born 20 July, 1889, the same year the family leased a larger home, at 115 West 95th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, just a block west of Manhattan's Central Park. It was a relatively new brownstone, with a red brick front and peaked roof, having just one previous owner. As she reached the age of reason, she decided she preferred the name Virginia. And in the late summer of 1897, Virginia approached her father with a simple but profound question, belying her innocence and tender age. 
Fifty years later Virginia remembered the event this way: “Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn't any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject....It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in “The Sun”. Father would always say, “If you see it in the The Sun, it's so,” and that settled the matter. “Well, I'm just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,” I said to father. “He said, “Go ahead, Virginia. I'm sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.”
Consider for a moment this privileged Victorian child, Virginia O'Hanlon  (above) -  the daughter of a well known community leader in New York City. At eight years of age she knew children who were less fortunate than herself,  knew them well enough to talk with them, to share the theology of childhood. She was raised in a home in which the family shared knowledge, and the joy of discovery. Parents and their only child learned together. And she was encouraged to seek truth on her own.
So early in September of 1897, Virginia wrote the following letter. “Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.” Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” She mailed it to The Sun newspaper offices, at 280 Broadway, New York City.
The Sun (“It Shines for All”) had been published in New York since 1833, but in 1868 it acquired its most famous editor, Charles Anderson Dana (above). Under Dana “The Sun” was a strongly Democratic newspaper, and “a newspaper man's newspaper”, and first of the modern newspapers, introducing editorials, society news, and human-interest stories, along side the “hard news”,  all squeezed into eight pages or less, two editions every weekday, and recently even a Sunday edition, with a circulation at its peak of 130,000.  Dana collected about him young, talented writers, and who followed his concisely stated revolutionary approach to news: “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”
But as Dana aged, “The Sun” became “notoriously inconsistent”. Others improved upon his method, like Joseph Pulitzer at the “New York World”, and built larger circulations, like William Randolph Hearst via his “Yellow Journalism”. By Charles Dana's death in 1897, and his replacement by his son Paul, “The Sun” had slipped to fourth along Newspaper Row (aka Park Row, above ) in lower Manhattan - “The World”, “The Tribune”, “The Times” and now lastly “The Sun”.
It was one of Dana's talented young writers, now an editor, Edward Mitchell, who was the father of modern Science Fiction. And in early September Mitchell handed Virginia O”Hanlon's letter to a 58 year old editorial writer, Francis Pharcellus Church (above). He was a Columbia graduate, who had reported on the horrors of the Civil War. With his brother, Church co-founded two successful magazines. According to Mitchell, after reading Virginia's letter  “At first he pooh-poohed the subject a little. Then he took it, and in a short time handed me (the) article” And on September 21, 1897 in a standard 500 word unsigned editorial, printed in the middle of page seven, the journeyman writer responded to the little girl's letter.
“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age...Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence....Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus...Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
The letter was not an instant phenomenon. It was not until the 1920's that the newspaper began to reprint it annually. But by 1930, “The Sun” was receiving over 163,000 requests for reprints every year. Since then it has appeared in thousands of newspapers and books, decade after decade , and remains the most reprinted editorial in the English language. But it was not until after his death on April 11, 1906, that The Sun broke their own rules and named Francis Church as the author. Church never married and had no children. He is buried in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
In 1898, young William Randolph Hearst, in building his own newspaper empire, drove America into war with Spain. Virginia's father, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, volunteered as lieutenant in the Medical Reserve Corps. He survived that service, and was listed as still alive in 1920, and still living on 95th street, although now on the south side of the street.
Virginia O'Hanlon  (above) received her B.A. from Hunter College in 1910, a Master's in Education from Columbia University in 1912, and the same year she began teaching underprivileged grade school children in New York City schools. In 1913 she married Edward Douglas, but he abandoned her just before she gave birth to her daughter, Laura Temple Douglas, in March of 1914. She was eventually promoted to principal, and in 1930 was even awarded her doctorate from Fordham University. Her dissertation was titled “The Importance of Play.” Her daughter had seven children.
One of those grandchildren, Virginia Rogers (above, with Virginia), remembered as a child visiting her grandmother in New York City. “Gram was a lady. Very elegant. She would dress up to go across the street (to the) office. At Christmastime, there would be literally box-loads of mail addressed to my grandmother.” Another granddaughter said, “She was a woman ahead of her time.”
Virginia never took credit for the column her letter inspired. She told her nephew, James Temple, “All I did was ask the question. It was Mr. Church who did something wonderful.” Virginia told an interviewer, Church's column “gave me a special place in life I didn’t deserve. It also made me try to live up to the philosophy of the editorial and to try to make glad the heart of childhood.
What Virginia did was to teach at Brooklyn’s P.S.401, which held classes for chronically ill children confined at home or in hospitals. Eventually she became a principle at the school. Shortly before she retired she wrote another letter, this one addressed to the “Children of Yesterday.” She pleaded, “Some little children doubt that Santa still lives because often their letters ...never seem to reach him. Nurses in hospitals know who some of these children are. Teachers in great city schools will know others....Won’t you try to seek out these trusting children of today and make sure that their letters in some way reach Santa Claus so that “he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.” Laura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas had made that her life's work, finally retiring in 1950.
Nine years later she moved to North Chatham, 15 miles south of Albany, New York, to live with her daughter. During the Christmas holidays in 1969, heart problems forced Virginia to be admitted to the Columbia Memorial Hospital, in Hudson, New York. There she was visited by Santa Clause (above), disguised as John Harms, a hospital maintenance man, who often visited patients. He kissed Virginia on the cheek, and she whispered in his ear that she still believed. Virginia died, in the Barnwell Nursing Home, in Valatie, N.Y., on 13 May, 1974.  She was 81 years old.
Her original letter, which the newspaper had returned, was saved in a scrapbook by a granddaughter and somehow survived a house fire. Today, the brownstone at 115 West 95th street (above), is occupied by The Studio School, where children from “an economically diverse student body” (20% receive financial aid), “ learn to value intellectual and creative ideas, and to take pleasure in the process of discovery.” The school maintains a Virginia O’Hanlon Scholarship Fund to help students with financial needs.
Late in her life, Virginia wrote the following. “Those whom Santa visits think of Christmas as a beautiful, sacred occasion which it should be — but today seldom is. But for every child tucked into bed Christmas night with his new toy, there are hundreds, no thousands, who huddle in ragged bed clothing sobbing in the night at a fate at best cruel.” And Virginia asked us all to “Remember the children at Christmas.”  
Will you?  Please.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


I don’t understand why anyone believes any of the popular myths about Thanksgiving. The truth is our Puritan forefathers were a humorless bunch who showed their devotion to God by going hungry, not by eating. They would have considered our average Thanksgiving dinner an insult to God. Their God was not interested in contentment, just punishment and fasting. And the only feasts they had were in the late  summer, when food was plentiful. By late November they were already deep into their grain stores, and watery stew. They would only say thanks if they were staving to death!
The real mother of Thanksgiving was actually the widow who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and other innocent poems, Sarah Hale. She was the 19th century version of Martha Stewart. For forty years Sarah was the editor of the prestigious “Godey’s Lady’s Book” magazine. And each November Sarah would bombard her 150,000 subscribers with recipes for Roast Turkey, Turkey stuffing, Turkey gravy, and Turkey stew. Now a lot of selling and some kitchen chemistry was required because 19th century turkeys were scrawny and almost exclusively dark meat. Sarah championed turkey because her middle class homemakers were on tight budgets, and per pound the randy, strutting bird-brain turkey cost less than half what a chicken might.
But the real revolution came when, in 1934, the United States Department of Agriculture discovered the key to making turkeys palatable; artificial insemination. In 1932, before the breeding revolution, the average American ate just two pounds of turkey a year. Today, that amount is closer to twenty pounds. Turkey farmers across America, are very thankful for that big government intervention. So are most turkey eaters, although they don't seem to know it.
But the increased popularity of turkey has come at a price - no sex for the turkey. Today’s buxom white breasted Tom Turkey is too obese to climb atop an equally buxom white breasted hen. Without human intervention, the Thanksgiving turkey would have have gone extinct - Ah, ceste se la guerre. But this brings us to my real topic, which is the year when Thanksgiving became a real de la guerre; 1939
It was the third year of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second term as president. And Republicans were determined (read terrified) that he might want a third term. However they were not in a good position to prevent it, holding only 177 seats in the House of Representatives (to 252 Democrats) and a paltry 23 seats in the Senate (to 69 Democrats). But then in August, Roosevelt handed Republicans an early Christmas present.
In July Franklin had received a visit from Fred Lazarus (above), head of the Federated Department Stores, the single biggest retail chain by volume in America. He controlled Macy’s and Bloomingdales department stores in New York City, Filenes in Boston, and Strauss in Brooklyn. Fred pointed out to the President that in 1939, November would have five Thursdays; the second, the ninth, the sixteenth, the twenty-third and the thirtieth. And Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation calling for a day of Thanksgiving -  first issued after the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and re-issued by Presidents every year since - specifically designated Thanksgiving as the final Thursday in November. That final Thursday would be, in the case of 1939,  the 30th . The previous time Thanksgiving had fallen on the fifth Thursday in November had been 1933. 
That year the Christmas shopping season, which traditionally began the day after Thanksgiving, was just 20 shopping days long, and had proven disastrous for retailers. Of course, there had been the Great Depression that year, but retail business folks are like farmers, they always worry about the rain. Did it come too early, or too late? Is it too much, or too little? Anyway, Lazarus wanted Roosevelt to move the Turkey Day back one week, to give merchants another week to tempt their customers into spending on Christmas. The President had also heard from lobbyists at the National Retail Dry Goods Association, as well as executives from Gimbels and Lord & Taylor.
Being a long time politician, Roosevelt listened to the business community. And at a Press Conference held August 14th, he said, “I have been hearing from a great many people...complaints that Thanksgiving came too close to Christmas”. Roosevelt reminded the press corps that Thanksgiving was still not an official holiday, and that each year the President picked the date for it. And, since business "experts" believed that adding another week to the shopping season would increase sales by 10%,  Franklin announced that this year of 1939,  he was moving Thanksgiving to Thursday, November 23rd., the fourth Thursday in November.
The first alarm went off  the very next day, when Fred Lazarus ran into his younger brother Simon. Simon Lazarus was ranting over the change because it had disrupted his Ohio State Universities’ Thanksgiving day football game. “What damn fool got the president to do this?” Simon barked at his brother, who, in fact, was the damn fool himself. But that was just the beginning.
The Republican attorney general for Oregon, turned to poetry. “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November; All the rest have thirty-one; Until we hear from Washington.”  A shopkeeper in Kokomo, Indiana preferred to protest in prose. He put up a sign in his window which read, “Do your shopping early. Who knows, tomorrow may be Christmas.” 
Republican Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire urged the President to simply abolish winter by fiat. And Methodist minister Norman Vincent Peal got very outraged, charging it was  “…contrary to the meaning of Thanksgiving for the president of this great nation to tinker with the sacred religious day with the specious excuse that it will help Christmas sales. The next thing we may expect Christmas to be shifted to May 1st to help the New York World’s Fair of 1940.”  Did anybody point out to Norman, that the bible never mentioned which Thursday Thanksgiving should fall on?
Twenty-three governors went with the President’s switch, and twenty-two did not. Texas and Colorado couldn’t make up their minds and recognized both days as the holiday in question, although the Republican Governor of Colorado, Ralph Carr, announced he would eat no turkey on the 23rd. 
The 30th was labeled as the Republican Thanksgiving, while the 23rd became the Democratic Thanksgiving, or, as "Nucky" Johnson, the recently indicted Republican mayor of Atlantic City called Franklin Roosevelt’s holiday, “Franksgiving”.
There were a few real problems hidden under this haze of invented political outrage. Calendars could not be changed in time for the 1939 switch over. And schools were suddenly uncertain of vacation schedules. Some families found their bosses forced their holiday dinners to be split between the two dates. But it turned out that the real problem had been identified by Simon Lazarus, the angry brother - football.
The headline in the New York Times said it all; “PRESIDENT SHOCKS FOOTBALL COACHES” The coach of Little Ouachita college in Arkansas warned, “We'll vote the Republican ticket if he interferes with our football.'” Chairman of the Athletic Board at New York University wrote to Roosevelt, “…it has become necessary to frame football schedules three to five years in advance, and for both 1939 and 1940 we had arranged to play our annual football game with Fordham on Thanksgiving Day…” And then Roosevelt had changed the date!
A Gallup poll found that 62% of Americans wanted the President’s decision reversed. But it was too late for Roosevelt to change his mind in 1939. And FDR was too stubborn to admit defeat in November 1940, which also had five Thursdays, and was a Presidential election year. Despite the addition of even more politics into the mix, nine states switched from the Republican Thanksgiving (the fifth Thursday) to the Democratic one (the fourth Thursday) in 1940. 
That left just sixteen celebrating the “old” Thanksgiving. And that seems to have been enough of a victory for Roosevelt, that looking ahead to November 1941 (which surprisingly also had five Thursdays), he asked New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to study the sales figures. Was that extra week of shopping really helping the economy? In fact it had, but not very much; certainly not enough, considering all the angst and confusion the move had cost.
In early May of 1941, LaGuardia’s report informed the White House that “the early Thanksgiving date has not proved worthwhile".  So on  20 May 1941, Roosevelt set Thanksgiving 1941 back to the last Thursday in November. And in a rational world, that would have settled that. But, of course, politicians are not rational beings.
Being lawmakers the politicians in the House of Representatives decided to get involved by writing a law. House joint resolution 41 justified itself by pointing out that there was nothing to designate the day as a holiday except the annual President's Proclamation (which Roosevelt had mentioned at the start of this mess!). Henceforth, said the Representatives, the last Thursday in November would legally be Thanksgiving. But when HR 41 got to the Senate, those gentlemen felt compelled to improve upon it.  

They did this by changing one little word. Thanksgiving would now be not the last Thursday in November as the House had intended, but the fourth Thursday in November. As Connecticut Senator John A. Danaher pointed out, in four out of five years, the last Thursday in November was the fourth Thursday in November, anyway. The House went along and Roosevelt signed the new law into effect on December 26, 1941. And amazingly, since that date, the Republicans had been determined not to notice that Roosevelt and the merchants had won.
No matter what conservative or liberal sympathizers may chortle about on their blog posts, the merchants' got their earlier date for Thanksgiving, and that extra week of Christmas shopping..  They got it by allowing the politicians to choke on their own press releases. Money always wins every political argument. And most moral arguments, too.  And the great political storm of 1939 - 1940 seems quaint and gentle, in a world where the Christmas shopping season begins shortly after Halloween! .
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Sunday, November 22, 2015


I have to wonder what the thoughts were of the Japanese emissaries, as they arrived back in le Shima Island. Were they seeing their lives as sacrificed in the service of their country? Were they daunted by what the future might hold for Japan, for them? Were they encouraged by the firm courtesy they had found in Manila? The long flight back to la Shima for them must have been a flight in the dark, across the sunny western Pacific.
Then, upon landing back at le Shima, there was bad news. The Betty damaged upon landing was not yet ready for a return flight to Japan. Within the delegation suspicions were raised about possible American sabotage. Quietly, all documents related to the surrender arraignments were divided between the two aircraft,  for safe keeping.
Late in the afternoon the single Betty carrying the head of the delegation, General Torashiro Kawabe (above), and seven other members of the group, lifted off from the le Shima airstrip.
They were accompanied by American fighters for a short time before continuing the flight back to Japan alone. It had been an emotionally exhausting forty-eight hours. They had been, and remained, in constant fear of being shot down – by fanatics from either side. And then there had been the uncertainty of what to expect from the enemy, along with the shame and humiliation of having to help their nation surrender to the hated Americans. It is no wonder that shortly after the plane left the ground General Kawabe and the other passengers fell asleep.
And then, just after midnight, Tuesday, 21 August, one the pilots woke up his passengers to inform them that a fuel tank had sprung a leak, and one engine had begun to miss...and they were losing altitude and were about to crash into the dark ocean. Life jackets were quickly pulled on.  All of the surrender documents were given to Foreign Ministry representative, Katsuo Okazaki, because he had once been a swimmer in the Olympics (in 1924!).
Then, before they were really ready, the plane slammed into the ocean. The passengers were thrown about the cabin as the plane bounced once, and again, off the wave tops, until suddenly it stopped, and seemed to settle for a moment into the waves. Both pilots rushed from the cockpit, and while one tried to calm the passengers, the other ripped opened the rear door. Water rushed into the cabin and the pilot leaped out…into waist deep water. Somehow the crew had managed to bring their injured aircraft back right to the shore line of Japan.
Through twenty feet of surf was the beach in front of the tiny village of Hamamatsu, about 130 miles south of Tokyo. The passengers quickly waded to dry land. A fisherman was rudely awakened and reluctantly enlisted to show the soaked delegates to a telephone. A call to a nearby air base provided transport back to the capital, where, at last,  half of the required documents arrived just seven hours behind schedule.
The next morning the second Betty, carefully repaired by the Americans, made an uneventful flight back to Japan with the other half of the surrender documents.
And on Sunday, 2 September , 1945, crash survivors General Kawabe and Katsuo Okazaki (above, front row) stood on the deck of the USS Missouri to sign the surrender documents -  another emotionally exhausting day.
What had been settled in Manila, in simple direct conversations, was that all Japanese soldiers would be disarmed by their own officers all across China and Burma and Japan, before Allied troops arrived in their area. But when the Americans (or British or Australians) did arrive, the arms were then turned over to them - another compromise.
It was not the draconian surrender required in the Potsdam Statement, but rather a compromise, because suddenly peace was more important than complete and unconditional surrender.
The Russians did not abide by the American/Japanese ceasefire. They were still grabbing Japanese territory, right up until the surrender was signed. Their occupation of the Northern Japanese islands was the event, not the atomic bombs, that shook both the U.S.'s and Japan's narrow view of the conflict. and the compromise by these two is what stopped the Soviets before they could grab a share of the main Japanese home islands. Both partners in the Pacific bloodbath came to the realization that the issue was not just victory and defeat, but what sort of victory, and what sort of defeat.
So the speedy U.S. occupation of Japan was now the allied interest of both winner and loser. The entrance of a third party - The Soviet Union - had broken off the blinders. On the American side the hunger to humiliate the Japanese was sublimated by the practical pragmatic desire to stabilize Japan as quickly as possible.
And at 9 AM, on Tuesday 28 August, an advance party of 150 communications engineers landed at Atsugi Naval Airfield, 20 miles southwest of Tokyo. They were the first Americans to land in Japan, and they were met by disarmed and obedient Japanese soldiers and sailors. Three hours later 38 C-54 transports arrived with security forces, supplies and equipment required to prepare the airfield for the arrival of U.S. forces. And then, on Wednesday 30 August  the main occupation began. One C-54 carrying 44 men landed every three minutes, bringing in over the course of the day over 4,200 combat ready troops of the 11th Airborne division. At the same time men of the 6th Marine division landed without opposition at Yokosuka Naval base. The entirely peaceful occupation of Japan had begun two days before the peace treaty was signed aboard the battleship Missouri. That occupation would continue, peacefully, until 1951.
The Second World War in the Pacific was finally over. Two icons of a by gone era, McArthur and Hirohito, posed for the image to mark the end of a war neither had clearly understood.  But at least the mass murder had stopped, for awhile. The atomic bombs alone had not ended the war, but they had contributed to the end. And once again victors and vanquished had learned anew, that no matter how unconditional the victory, no matter how total the defeat, no war ends without talking to the enemy. The sooner the talking starts the sooner the ending comes. And the victory in this war, like victory in all wars,  required courage and conversation and compromise, despite what you might have heard elsewhere.
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