Category Archives: History

An ounce of prevention

I’m just shy of half way through Destiny of the Republic. Garfield has had one bit of luck before derangement wins the day. His self-appointed tormentor Senator Conkling, a preening bully of a man, has just overplayed his hand right out of the United States Senate. What should be the path to well deserved reform and fame for the President will soon give way to what I found when I moved to North Mankato in 1963. Oblivion.

That fall I began three ignominious years at Garfield Junior High. No one called it that. It was always “North Mankato Junior High” the martyred President having been all but forgotten in the intervening 84 years. Within three months of my enrollment a fourth President would be assassinated.

Destiny has done a wonderful job of describing Garfield’s addled assassin Charles Guiteau. The Congress had made Garfield all the new President all the more vulnerable by cutting the Secret Service’s budget by half shortly before Garfield took office. Their job wasn’t to protect the President anyway back then. They were set up to go after counterfeiters.

Lincoln had been murdered fifteen years before. William McKinley would be murdered twenty years later and Teddy Roosevelt would be saved the same fate when a fat little speech in his breast pocket stopped a bullet not long afterwards. It was a bad run of luck for Republican Presidents.

I mentioned the importance of perspective in the last post. I am annoyed by the vast unexpected sums that are being required to protect our new President and his globe hopping family. There has been a whole raft of news stories on that subject. I have little choice but to support what it takes to keep our President safe. I’m pinning my hopes on impeachment but until then I am relying on Seth Meyers.

Snakepits

I was desperate not to sit at home all day and read and a Park Point walk beckoned. It was a little breezy on the shore when I started so I moved to the inland trail and found this little garter snake. I think this is only the second time since I moved to Duluth 43 years ago that I’ve seen a snake. I found a redbelly snake with my kids up by the Pigeon River when they were little. I think I took a picture, or tried to, of that one as well.

I know gartersnakes are not uncommon because Claudia told me Minnesota Power had troubles at sub stations when garters overwintered in them in huge groups and occasionally slithered into the works and shorted out whole neighborhoods.

Speaking of snake-pits the latest history of Republicans, Destiny of the Republic describes the war between “Stalwarts” and “Halfbreeds.” The halfbreeds were sort of the equivalent of today’s RINO’s and like them their nickname wasn’t one of their choosing. While both sides of the party were ungenerous to the South the Stalwarts were all big business and Spoils system oriented.

The Halfbreeds would ebb and wane they gravitated towards all manner of populist parties in the decades ahead but in 1880 when the Party nominated James Garfield it was the Halfbreeds who had the upper hand. I should have been so lucky.

This is a ripping good book and its author, Candice Millard, also wrote another highly regarded book that I’ve often thought would be interesting to read, “The River of Doubt.” That one is about Teddy Roosevelt’s near suicidal exploration of a tributary of the Amazon after he lost the 1912 three way race that put Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the Oval Office. As my eight loyal readers no doubt recall I’m in the midst of reading books about the politics of my Grandfather’s youth. I have wondered for years whether my Grandfather supported the liberalish Teddy Roosevelt or William H. Taft who the conservatives found more acceptable in that race. I have my suspicions but I’m looking for something definitive – maybe I’ll find it in the many letters I copied and brought back from the Kansas Historical Society but have yet to dig into.

Reading these books is helping me put the 2016 election in perspective. My early years during the Cold War were a time of relative restraint once Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy was humiliated out of politics. There is something in people that drives them to divide themselves up and blow their differences of opinion out of all proportion.

A few days ago I reread the 22nd Amendment to check on the limits of Presidents. I couldn’t recall if it only forbade Presidents from serving a consecutive third term or any third term. I was wondering if Obama could serve a non-consecutive term like Grover Cleveland did after our four years of Trump are over. Sadly, that’s it for Obama. The Republicans who were outraged by FDR’s 4 consecutive terms got the 22nd Amendment passed in March 24, 1947, two years after Franklin Roosevelt’s death.

What I’ve learned from my recent reading is how often presidents in my Grandfather’s Era flirted with a third term. Teddy did, Wilson did and Ulysses S. Grant was willing to serve a third term as well. Lots of Republicans in the Reagan years wished the 22nd Amendment had never passed.

False Memories

I finished yet another book today, Mr. Speaker. Its the second book covering American politics leading up to my very Republican Grandfather’s adulthood.

Thomas Reed is described by some as one of the most important politicians that American’s have never heard of. He was a loyal Republican (hence the tie to my Grandfather) and he is famous for fixing the House of Representatives which had descended into a long Era of gridlock following the Civil War. In many ways the two political parties have changed markedly since then. Reed for his part resigned because he opposed the Spanish American War. That put him at odds with most of America at the time and his own Republicans.

I was interested in his expertise with Parliamentary procedure which is something that was missing at School Board meetings in my first couple of years back on the School Board. On Deck, Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard about the assassinated James Garfield, which will probably be followed by Karl Rove’s history of “the first modern presidential campaign” in 1896 that elected William McKinley who also was stopped by an assassin’s bullet.

Oh, and I almost forgot the title of this post – “False memories.” I wrote a couple of years ago that I’d first read about Thomas Reed in John Kennedy’s 1955 classic “Profiles in Courage.” As I finished Grant’s book on Reed today I was very curious to reread what JFK had to say about Reed’s courage. I found the paperback I’d re-read in 1995 (its on my reading list) and discovered in its heavily yellow-markered and separating pages that JFK made no mention of Reed in Profiles. I checked the index – nada. I skimmed a couple chapters of that Era to see if he was mentioned. No way.

Dammit!

Ideas when they are like mosquitoes

I’ve been spilling my thoughts out the past couple days with the same sort of orderliness one slaps oneself while standing in a swarm of mosquitoes. Reading four non-fiction books in short order has only added to the swarm of ideas that I’ve been swatting at. The 1920 Book has taken me through the GOP’s Chicago convention and dropped me off in San Francisco about to follow the Democrat’s quagmire. The book on China today left me with a rebuttal of sorts to my recent suggestion that a China that can’t take a joke (or criticism) can’t hope to surpass America. In fact, the last chapter described a millennial who has been dissing Chinese culture and politics for eight years and has a huge following on the Internet. Of course, the Chinese Communists are now insisting on choosing Hong Kong’s new leader twenty years after Britain handed its old colony back to the Mainland. (Claudia reminded me that we were in England with our kids when that took place.)

Today, I hope to get two things done. I’d like to read some more about 1920 America. In much the same way that visiting Israel last year put a match under my toes to finally read the Old Testament I’m getting more serious about reading good historical books about every decade from my Grandfather’s birth in 1887 until my youth when he advised me never to vote for a Democrat.

To that end I have a number of books I’d like to dig into. Next I may read the rest of Mr. Speaker. I only got through the first 79 pages of the 378 page tome five or six years ago…wait…Ah my search engine found it….three years ago. Thomas B. Reed brought order to chaos during the Gilded Age taking an unruly House of Representatives, not unlike today’s, and putting it to good use before its members spit him out like a prune pit. This was a time when America had relatively weak Presidents and the Robber Barons were in charge. Reed has always interested me since Junior High when I read John Kennedy’s spare history Profiles in Courage and saw Reed awarded one of JFK’s nominations for greatness.

The other thing I’d like to do is find the bass parts for tomorrow’s sing-a-long at St. Scholastica. They are on the Internet and I’d like to get in a little practice. I have the sheet music but I learn better by ear.

I also have to add one more post about another difficulty the old Red Plan school board has placed on the current board’s shoulders. That’s next.

Keeping one’s perspective while confronting local and national crisis

Tonight I plan to attend a fun event at Denfeld, its annual Speech “Concert.” This will be easier for me because Claudia will be home late tonight after returning from her Seminary classes in the Twin Cities. I figure this will help remind me that I have some responsibilities here in Duluth and can’t spend all my time dismayed by National events. Likewise on Saturday I plan to attend the second annual Bringthesing event up at St. Scholastica. I had a great time singing there last year.

Its not as though I can escape, or want to escape, my concerns as a school board member. Yesterday I had two long conversations regarding the District’s future, upcoming elections, and the issue I raised at the end of the last school Board meeting – how we might face the possibility of searching out new leadership should that be our lot. Its just that I feel at times like a soldier in a trench with an oncoming tank to the front and an airplane strafing the trench coming from the side. Somehow I have to prepare for both simultaneously.

(please excuse this pause – my hungry yellow cat Moloch just jumped on my desk to let me know he’s hungry. I’ll have to give him false hope that I will feed him by rushing downstairs and then shutting the door on him when he follows me out. Otherwise he’ll bop my hand for the next hour until I’m ready to oblige him)

Sorry Moloch.

I’d like to pontificate about this NY Times column by Nicholas Kristoff: “There is a Smell of Treason in the Air”

In one of my conversations an old timer said the times we are living in are just like the 1960’s. Well, my truncated Paranoia series had that idea in mind and raised that thought but compared today’s headlines with the 1920’s. Or maybe we are revising the 1940’s movie Casablanca . Remember when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) said: “…I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”? Well, my hill of beans is the Duluth Schools and it does count.

BTW I found the quote in this site devoted to the best lines of dialogue in the movie. This is one of Hollywood’s greatest movies. I recently read that during the Movie’s flashback scene of the Germans marching into Paris one of the cast members, who was there when it really happened, burst out in uncontrollable sobs at the memory during the shoot. Also, evil Major Strasser in the movie was Conrad Veidt who in real life had escaped Nazi Germany before taking on the role. There were many other refugees from Europe on the set as actors and extras adding gravitas to the movie’s completion.

As for the nefarious treason that columnist Kristof writes about; he take his readers back to 1968 when friends of the Nixon campaign lobbied to delay a peace settlement in Vietnam. Kristof notes that it has been confirmed in the last month that Richard Nixon ordered the attempt. There have been no smoking guns until now. I agree that this was far more heinous than the Watergate Break-in that cost Nixon the Presidency. I feel obligated to pursue the Trump/Putin inquiries with a vengeance and thank God for Trump’s “loser” Senator John McCain for arguing that Congress isn’t fit/suited to conduct such an inquiry. To paraphrase Heraclitus, “the only thing that doesn’t change is change.”

Oh my head is full….ouch, ouch, ouch.

Time for me to go back to 1920 where a crowded field of Republican Presidential candidates (Just as in 2016) is about to give way to a second rater, albeit a “kind” man – Warren G. Harding.

Oh, and there’s this from the Trib today on Denfeld High School. Its an initiative I support but without the additional financing that I want the school to have. I’m still working on that.

And I just remembered one more item that has me thinking. Its one more bit of evidence that helps explain the Trump vote. Its about the reversal of the long time trend toward longer lives. White people seem to be dying of despair. They aren’t dying in socialized Europe. Maybe we can thank the Republican nanny state fighters.

Paranoia Pt 4 China’s turn….Aw to heck with this topic.

In Chinese the character for “Crisis” is the combination of the symbols for danger & opportunity. I once asked a friend to draw the character for me for use in my old Website.

While Claudia cooked me lunch I continued reading from the Book Age of Ambition. Its chapter 9 echoed the threatened paranoia of Post World War One America.

Ah, but I have twenty minutes to get to tonight’s school board meeting. I’ll continue this later. We had a calm meeting. I’ll let Loren comment on it in a week or two if he wishes. Chair Kirby was very pleased it only took three hours. I was glad to get home in time two watch most of “The Americans.” Its a Cold War tale on Russian spies in Reagan America in its fourth season. Its hard to believe that looking back it was more reassuring to have Brezhnev in charge of Russia then than Putin in charge today. Of course the Ruskie’s themselves are now looking back to the murderous Stalin with nostalgia. I can almost forgive some addled Americans for cheering on Trump today – almost! Now back to the China of today.

China today is surging ahead in fast forward while the US seems to be circling some drain like the Romans on the cusp of the Gothic invasions.

Aw crud. Yesterday I woke up in a lather to write about Paranoia from several perspectives. Now, 24 hours later, I don’t so much have writer’s block as I do thick fingers that lost hold of a thread. [My Buddy] replied to the second Paranoia post with one word, “Oy.” I don’t blame him. So I am crawling out of this tangle of tangents that have lost their urgency. I gladly leave them to my eight loyal readers as proof of my limitations. Just understand that I believe ignorance and paranoia go hand in hand and I’ve been reading about several histories which have reinforced that conclusion for me.

If you want to see what I just typed as my thought process lost its steam you are welcome to waste your time reading them. Continue reading

Paranoia Pt 3 Sacco and Vanzetti

Last night I read something new about an old legal case that had liberals undies in a bunch back in my college days. Sacco and Vanzetti were two anarchists who were found guilty of murder and executed in 1927. Their convictions raised hackles then and on until today with many advocates saying one of them at least was almost certainly innocent. A similar advocacy for with wife of Julius Rosenberg continued until recent years.

Chapter 9 of 1920 was all about the excesses of the nation’s police in deporting dangerous foreigners from America during our enthusiasm for making the world safe for democracy. While I was looking up news stories for my grandfather from the years he enlisted to fight in World War I kept smiling at a series of stories about the patriotism of the Swedish community of Lindsborg near my Grandfather’s home in Kansas. It was painfully obvious that the Kansas Swedes were taking great pains to prove they weren’t disloyal Germans. It was doubly ironic to me because my Grandfather’s German-American mother had said she didn’t wan’t her sons to marry any dirty Swedish girls from Lindsborg. Obviously it was my Grandfather’s lineage that should have come under closer scrutiny when he volunteered. His soon to be Sister-in-law had to give up teaching German in deference to America’s surge toward nationalism.

It would be impossible for me not to think of today’s America while reading about my Grandfather’s America. And yet…

The “new information” about Sacco and Vanzetti in David Pietrusza’s 2007 book was from a book written by Paul Avrich published in 1991. In a nod to another historian Pietrusza said of Avrich that he was the “foremost expert” on the case. He then said that Avrich had determined who placed the humongous bomb on Wall Street that killed thirty people including banking magnate J.P. Morgan’s secretary. The last I’d heard that identity was still unknown after a hundred years.

In fact, the entire chapter was eye opening when it came to the ruthlessness of our government’s rooting out suspect people and detailing the extent of anarchist’s (that Era’s terrorists) bomb throwing extravagance. As is the case today, it made American’s paranoid in an all too familiar way.

I’m now persuaded to believe that Sacco and Vanzetti were bad guys. I am heartened that even then, 97 years ago, such luminaries as eventual Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter, argued that the government’s heavy-handedness was wrong. The days of Trump will be limited too. Yes, their will be Breitbarts calling out the dogs of war and yes, there will be bad guys who aren’t caught. This is history come to life, or at least to reincarnation.

“Best of Enemies” – Still a good movie 55 years on

I have mentioned the old David Niven flick Best of Enemies half a dozen times now in the blog. It is not to be confused with the more recent movie chronicaling the several decade-long feud between conservative icon William F. Buckley and his liberal alter-ego Gore Vidal.

Well, as with the Coach Klar posts my recollections proved faulty. The Italian and British soldiers did switch sides being captors and prisoners but there were no German Armies that brought them together. Their battles took place in an even more remote theater of the African War than the Sahara. This story was placed in Ethiopia. After years of looking for the movie I discovered over the weekend that someone uploaded it to youtube in the last year. Its free to watch although it was broken up into two halves. I presume this was done to more easily upload it.

The movie came out in 1961 when I was ten and I’m sure that when I watched it on television it was in black and white and cut down from the letterbox format to a squarish size to fit on our old tv.

There was an third force that upended the Brits and the Italians but it wasn’t the Wehrmacht. It was the Ethiopians themselves. In case anyone is inclined to search it out I won’t offer any further spoilers.

I enjoyed the movie this time too but I enjoyed it as much for its historical perspective. In the real war there would have been no love lost between the two European powers but by 1960 Great Britain and Italy were allies not enemies. You see much the same generosity of spirit in American movies set in post war Japan that were filmed in that Era. The old hostilities were being smoothed over even though plenty of American And British soldiers had deep scars from their encounters with the Japanese and other members of the Axis.

On the day that President Trump will give his first speech to Congress…

… I was fixing old posts. One of them was this short post from JANUARY 23, 2012. Richard Nixon’s simple explanation for why America should have two political parties reaching for the center instead of the periphery demonstrates the wisdom he had and that he ignored in order to become President in 1968.

Today the Bernie Sander’s diehards are hoping to do to the Democratic Party what the Tea Party did to the Republican Party. Break it.

From that post:

In 1959, Vice-President Nixon, speaking to members of California’s Commonwealth Club, was asked if he’d like to see the parties undergo an ideological realignment, the sort that has since taken place, and he replied, “I think it would be a great tragedy . . . if we had our two major political parties divide on what we would call a conservative-liberal line.” He continued, “I think one of the attributes of our political system has been that we have avoided generally violent swings in Administrations from one extreme to the other. And the reason we have avoided that is that in both parties there has been room for a broad spectrum of opinion.” Therefore, “when your Administrations come to power, they will represent the whole people rather than just one segment of the people.”

A change of subject-

If I was going to squander my Saturday afternoon blogging it was to be on the MSBA conference but that may end up being a very short post mentioning a few highlights.

One of the things which I intended to report was unrelated. It was my drawing close to finishing the Old Testament which I began to read a few pages at a time over a year ago after my return from Israel/Palestine.

I woke up in the middle of Thursday night and couldn’t sleep so I waded through about thirty pages of the Minor Prophets. I have two of the twelve left or about 12 pages of Old Testament. I think about Trump and the GOP a lot when I read the Bible.

I’ve decided to postpone digging into the New Testament for a little while. I think it would be worthwhile to start from the beginning but I want to start writing that book on my Grandfather so I need to pack up a few distractions. That includes a devilishly hard jigsaw puzzle that no one wanted to help me with during Christmas. I carefully put it away about one fourth done to resume at Thanksgiving.

I have also added a distraction and a fairly big one at that. Claudia and I decided to travel to China this summer. We’ve already paid for it so I hope Trump doesn’t provoke a war. I chose a date to travel that will allow me to file and run for the School Board. Once again we intend to do some reading to prepare and even some study of the Chinese language – online mostly.

I read a short contemporary novel out-loud to Claudia already and she is plowing through Chinese novels. We didn’t get very far on a book by Simon Winchester who has written some great histories.

Coincidentally, I read today’s obituary of a remarkable Chinese economist who lived to age 111 and who simplified the Chinese language so that China could challenge the rest of the world. He got no thanks for it, of course. As is all too common in China no good turn goes unpunished.

MY most enjoyable MSBA convention ends

The image below helps cleanse Lincolndemocrat after the previous post.

I jotted down titles for about ten posts I wanted to write through the School Board conference which ended at noon on Friday. It remains to be seen if I will get around to any of them. I snapped this pic of our key note speaker, retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Alan Page.

Thirty years ago he also spoke to the MSBA Conference. That was 1987 which was a pivotal year for me. I was sacked from my last teaching job. We moved to our current address. I made my first “public” snow sculpture. I began thinking seriously about running for the school board. I told my Father this in his last few days of life just after telling him I’d lost my third teaching job then “softening” this with the preposterous notion that I was thinking about running for the school board. It was a futile attempt to cheer up a dying man whose oldest son had just been fired for the third time in a short, disastrous teaching career. He told me solemly that he wondered if I had “will to fail” which broke my heart and caused me many years of deep self reflection. Then my Dad died during one of the most beautiful autumns I’ve ever experienced. My Dad used to pile us into the car to visit Hiawatha and Olathe, Kansas, to marvel at the sugar maples turning red.

I used to watch Alan Page with my Dad but only in the playoffs where the “Purple People Eaters” couldn’t quite lift the Vike’s to a Superbowl victory in four attempts. As a college kid I was aware that Alan Page and the other Vikes drank at Mankato’s downtown bars where my future mother-in-law met and dated one of the coach’s who were using the state college’s facilities to train in the pre-season. Page was famous for carrying a huge purse like bag over his shoulders to the bars. Trust me, no one made fun of a people eater wearing a purse. Besides it was the “Age of Aquarius.”

I love to tell people that I threw a glass of water on Page. Then I explain:

The first time I ran across Page was at one of the earliest Grandma Marathons while Page was still a Viking. Claudia and were out near the Northshore mostly oblivious of the tiny new Marathon’s progress when we drove past a table on Hwy 61 just out of Duluth. We had already noticed other such tables on London Road loaded with water-filled cups for the Marathoners. No one was manning the table as a couple of runners were jogging up in the distance. For the heck of it we pulled over to hand the cups to the stragglers. One of them was Page who was running against the wishes of the coaches who didn’t want him running off any of his massive tackling poundage. As I lifted a cup to him he said, “throw it on me.” I didn’t argue.

Page read a thoughtful, sober-minded speech about his growing up in the shadow of the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, with no childhood thoughts of a football career. Instead, Page, a 70-year-old like Donald Trump, recalled the impact of Brown vs. Board of Education on him as a black kid. (a frequent subject of this blog) Page told anyone who asked him that he intended to be a lawyer. (He probably has pre-law books in the handbag he took into Mankato’s bars)

During training camps his coaches did their best to “educate” their rookies by requiring them to the NFL playbook together. Justice Page told us that the hardest words in these book were “tackle,” “defense,” and “offense.” He recalled how six of the ten recent college graduates on the team struggled. It left Page to ponder their betrayal by an educational system that insured them a poor future after their star turn in the NFL.

Page also mentioned his thirty year old educational foundation which has spent $13 million to get struggling kids to and through college. In thirty years its helped 6000 kids.

He said he was distressed by America’s turn to Trump and alluded to the Trump Empire’s long legal fight to keep its apartments segregated in the good old days. Page is building bridges while Trump is building walls.

Melania

A family member recently Facebooked a Fake news story about the 700 Club’s smarmy Pat Robertson. In it Pat was accused of disparaging a sleveless dress worn by Michelle Obama while heaping praise on a semi nude pic of Melania Trump. Didn’t happen!

I thought I might have referred to a similar story in a previous blog post although it might have been a reply to an email. There was a story about Trump’s wife starting her career in America as an escort. If I mentioned it on my blog a cursory search doesn’t seem to have revealed the allegation.

Melania was born in the old Yugoslavia of my youth. After I moved to Northeastern Minnesota I became aware of the various slavic peoples of that nation who settled in the Iron Mining regions. When, after Rudy Perpich’s term as Governor, Yugoslavia broke up the first area to secede was Slovenia the most prosperous part of the nation. The Range had is share of Slovenes.

I regard our new first Lady as an interesting, if nontraditional, addition to the roll-call of First Ladies. She came here to take advantage of the beauty industry and she married a rich man I’ve never respected. The latter point is irrelevant to this discussion although not to my blogging in general.

Because my Father inculcated a love of Geography in me early on I was aware of “Trieste” the major city of Slovenia which has been contested between the Italians and Slavs for a very long time. Before I set out for Duluth forty years ago one of my Mother’s best friends and a business partners was a woman whose Mother was an Italian woman born in the City. In fact, Daria’s Mother never learned English and spoke Italian in her inner city Italian neighborhood for the rest of her life.

Daria was not a supermodel and she wasn’t “Slovenian.” She was a wonderful person and, like Melania, I would never blame her for anything her husband might have done.

But Melania is on a ride she never planned for. After reading the Snope’s correction I got curious about the much talked about photo shoot in GQ. I wondered if the January 2000 Issue with Melania on the cover had raised in value since November. I checked Ebay out. No Kidding! I’ll bet they only get more expensive as the Trump year’s continue.

The Big Short

I put this movie in my memory bank over the last year when some economic analyst on NPR gave it a big thumbs up. Last night I saw that it was available on Netflix and Claudia and I watched it. It was Economics made fun and every bit as disgusting as a Zombie Apocalypse movie.

The Housing meltdown roughly coincided with the start up of the Red Plan and its purveyors shared many similarities to the get off scott-free, big money folks who pushed replacing almost all our facilities at a single stroke. They got rich and left the District to draw down its reserves, cut teachers, and compound it all by sucking millions of dollars annually out of our local tax levies in the General Fund to pay off Red Plan borrowing. Their supporters herd-like thinking reminded me of the people in the Big Short who stood back in disbelief as investment bankers cost six million Americans to lose their homes.

I’ve mentioned this before but that meltdown was part of the reason I had a heckuva time fighting the Red Plan. My family got caught up in the housing mania and a massive loan was taken out on my Mother’s house even though it was only a decade away from being paid off in full with very modest house payments. I’ve recently patched up my differences with the family members who lost that house and left me to spend months and months trying to get City Bank and Wells Fargo to let us short sell the house at a loss (for the banks) who eagerly permitted the misguided loan to go through. Our “short sale” took my brother and me months of calling the banks daily to find a human behind a phone. It was all I could do to find time for two simultaneous battles. When the sale neared completion and I finally pulled out of the Red Plan fight I took a vacation with Claudia. I faxed the last papers to the bank while traveling through, Lincoln, Nebraska, on our way to the Colorado Plateau. I was desperate to get out of town. I was so worn out that I got violently ill at the Grand Canyon. One morning Claudia heard an elk bugling outside our cabin and she thought it was me in my deaths throes. That’s what you get for burning your candle at two ends.

This post needs a good editing but that can wait. Claudia and I are going out to see Hidden Figures. That should be a good film too.

Editing is now complete…….

Hidden Figures is great.

Bleeding Kansas


This is one of my Mother’s paintings. Its called “Lilly White Town.” She painted it to symbolize the new world we had moved to when we left Kansas and my Dad began teaching business law at Mankato State. It was a different world where some of my new school mates took to calling me “reb” because they thought my Kansas accent was a southern accent.

When I moved from Topeka, Kansas, to Mankato, Minnesota in 1963 to start junior high school I left a classroom in which there were as many black kids as white kids. My new school had never seen a single black child in a hundred years.

The fellow I call “my Buddy” likes to send me emails calling be a “bigot.” He also calls me a “race hustler.” This is a person I once teased when I discovered he wrote a civil rights rule for a municipality back in the day. I don’t think that when he calls me names he means that I am prejudiced against white people although its likely he thinks I’m guilty of “liberal guilt.” This is a term used by “conservatives” who also like to call liberals “bleeding hearts.” Liberals are supposed to be driven by guilt to rectify old wrongs by accepting the blame for them. This is what Jesus did when he “died for our sins.” How dare libs take on a Jesus complex.

Well, of course, this self righteous attitude would rankle. The equally dim “conservative” reaction goes something like this: “Don’t blame me and don’t expect me to apologize. I never owned slaves. The Civil War is over. Move on. And for your information – just because I’m white doesn’t mean I got any privileges handed to me.” I suspect, but can not prove, that all this goes through my Buddy’s head when he calls me names.

After the Herculean multi-year task of putting 40 years accumulated paperwork in some sort of order in my attic office I’m sitting with a floor completely free from boxes, folders and piles of documents. There are just a handful of items within reach of my clean desk. One of them is the book, Bleeding Kansas, I ordered recently after spotting it in the Kansas City Library.

Its one of the books I plan to consult as I write about my Grandfather, George Robb, next year. His father settled next to a black former slave eighteen years after the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act.

Long time readers of this blog may remember my past references to my Grandfather’s ties with his neighbor the ex slave and my Grandfather’s service with black soldiers in World War 1 and maybe even the black maid my Mother hired to take care of him when he became infirm.

I think I’m the perfect person to talk about race. I think my Mother suffered from a little guilt where race was concerned. The painting at the beginning is evidence of this. The schools she attended were segregated until she got to junior high school. The Civil Right’s movement was going full bore when she was a young mother. Then she moved to Mankato at its height where there was precisely one black resident among 40,000 locals. He was Dr. Boerboom a veterinarian.

I, on the other-hand got the benefit of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, another frequent topic in this blog. These were my classmates in sixth grade before I left Topeka for lily white Mankato.

In many ways attending school with so many black kids inocculated me from thinking of them as a sterotype. They were individuals and I can understand how and why the 8% of blacks who voted for Donald Trump might have justified voting for man I consider an amoral, race-baiter.

Standing next to me at the top left is the only other Harry I knew growing up, Harry O’Neil. I vividly remember watching him round third base on our elementary playground after he lofted a kickball way into the outfield and looking over his shoulder to make sure he could run to home plate. A split second after he turned his head forward to run into home he smacked into an immovable six-inch-wide tether-ball poll that the Topeka Schools had inconveniently placed on the path from third base to home. He lost his incisors.

On the other end of the top row is Cynthia Robinson. What an annoying girl. She insisted she had another last name that belonged to her real father. There was a divorce or something going on. She was a tattle tale and a religious scold. She once tried to get my favorite teacher Mrs. Criss to kick me off a science club for some infraction. When she overheard me say something she disapproved of she grandly told me that if I ever took the Lord’s name in vain he’d strike me dead on the spot. I took great delight in looking up to the heavens and shouting to God to kill me. Poor Cynthia could only tell me reproachfully that God would oblige me but do it in his own good time when I least expected it. To my delight God has been in no hurry to expedite her prediction.

There’s Sherman a couple rows below me. I remember Mark Knickerbocker telling everyone with great enthusiasm, when Sherman showed up in sixth grade, what a cool kid he was because Mark had known him at a different school years before. My first interaction with Sherman was after school when he snatched my folder of artwork and proceeded to dump the pictures I’d made out to blow around on the playground.

I remember Vicky Bryant who is not in this picture because she was sent to Mrs. Muxlow’s sixth grade class where all the smart kids ended up. (Mr. Ross taught the losers although at the time I thought it was simply the luck of the draw that had separated me from so many of my friends) I invited Vicky to the cool Halloween Party my Dad organized for me in our basement. She was outgoing, smart, friendly and one heck of an athlete.

I passed some of these black kids houses on my way to school next to “Tennessee Town.” Some of them had 12 siblings and lived in tiny rattle trap houses propped up on cement blocks. Leslie Lewis was one of them. She was an Amazon who my Mother thought was becoming quite mature while I only saw her as a goofy giantess. I remember quiet studious black girls from middle class families who were too dignified for me to get to know. Thinking back on it I suspect there was a powerful incentive for them to protect their dignity by having as little to do with dangerous white people than they absolutely had to.

The five years I spent at Loman Hill Elementary School were like an inoculation against white cluelessness. It didn’t make me a champion for civil rights (which I think I am) but it gave me the sense that no one should be stereotyped based on the color of their skin. Heck, only a handful of my black classmates were really dark. A lot of them were much lighter skinned and represented a lot of white genetics. Gotta love the one drop rule.

Among my many finds in the Kansas State Historical Museum Archives was a paper my Grandfather wrote about James H Lane. I have yet to read it and fully expect to learn more about Kansas History as I write a book about my Grandfather. I think America is in the midst of a new Come to Jesus movement where race is concerned. I think that sharing what I know of my Grandfather’s experiences could give us a new perspective and help us move on. If nothing else writing it will help me sleep better at night.

A little historical digging

I found my Great Grandfather Thomas Robb’s farm home on Google Earth yesterday. You can see its right angles hiding in a grove of trees in the picture above which I copied. In a wide field image you can see the Smokey Hill River bending around it to the west (left) This screen capture shot shows that you reach the farm by the Lapsley Road. Larry Lapsey was my Great Grandfather’s neighbor a former escaped slave who reached Salina, Kansas during the Civil War and found the area settled with folks who had dug “bank” houses into the hillside. Thomas Robb, eventually built this now abandoned house and my Grandfather being the youngest of six siblings was the only child not born under the sod. I visited the wreck ten years ago and have heard that it has since been torn down.

I have two sources of information on Larry Lapsley. The first is a speech my Grandfather wrote for a long time literary organization in Topeka, Kansas called the Saturday Evening Literary Club and the second is a reprint of the story Lapsley told a young neighbor girl which was reprinted in a Kansas Historical Quarterly.

Pantle, Alberta, editor. “The Story of a Kansas Freedman.” Kansas Historical Quarterly 11 (November 1942): 341-369. Larry Lapsley’s story of his escape from slavery during Civil War and settlement in Saline County.

I don’t know which was written first. I suspect my Grandfather’s speech led to the later publication.

Long time readers will know that I am in a lather to write a book about my Grandfather. I recently organized the last of the personal correspondence I copied in Topeka chronologically. I’ve nibbled at the reading and keep making interesting discoveries which cry out for follow-up research. For instance, my Grandfather’s closest sibling in age, Bruce Robb, wrote him shortly after it was apparent that his little brother George had survived the war albeit shot up. In that letter Bruce asks lots of geopolitical questions. What did George think of the abdication of the Kaiser, How were things in France, and then mentions he has just read William Allen White’s book The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me I knew of White but had never heard of this book. Its not listed on White’s Wikipedia Page but it must have gotten into the public domain because I found it on the web along with its light-hearted illustrations of White and his fellow Kansas newspaper editor, Henry, as they take a tour of the Western Front before the Armistice.

William Allen White was the publisher/editor of the Emporia Gazette who parlayed his small town writing into a nationally recognized force. He was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s muckrakers. He earns many mentions in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit about TR, William H. Taft and the progressive journalists of the turn into the 19th century.

Over the past year I’ve wondered if White ever wrote about my Grandfather’s war experiences. The answer seems to be yes and no. The White book talks about the military hospitals the publishers visited on their tour. My Grandfather spent November and December recovering in those facilities although I’m sure the two didn’t meet there. Later when my Grandfather was appointed the the post as State Auditor of Kansas every newspaper in the state had to mention his war experience and White’s Emporia Gazete was no exception. The Gazette is one of the most completely available Kansas newspapers on Newspapers.Com. and I’ve printed out many of the Gazette election stories that mention my Grandfather.

One of the little treasures I discovered during that period of hospitalization was a letter to my eventual Grandmother, Winona McLatchey (they would wed six years later). He had met her in the Iola, Kansas schools and she was one of a couple women he coresponded with during the war. In the letter he describes being “grooved” by a bullet or shrapnel. He makes what must have been a hideous injury sound like a flesh wound. In the medical reports he had an internal infection perhaps peritonitis that sounded a lot more severe than he described.

I have a couple particularly areas I’d like to emphasize in any book I crank out. For one thing I’d like to emphasize the less blood thirsty partisan divide my Grandfather experienced and secondly his thoughts on black/white relations.

Lately I’ve had a hard time sleeping through the night because I wake up to stew about national politics. Perhaps that’s an improvement. For much of my first three years back on the Duluth School Board it was Board politics that kept me sleepless.

Some of our most disagreeable Presidents have been our most productive. Woodrow Wilson who my Grandfather lamented voting for in 1916 is a case in point. I’ve just been reading about Woody again in a book I bought a couple years ago by David Pietrusza. Its called “1920 The Year of the Six Presidents.”

1920 would see the Wilsonian dream fade and the beginning of three straight Republican Administrations in the Roaring Twenties. If my Grandfather had been willing to entertain some political heresies in his youth he would become a confirmed Republican during this decade. Being selected by three successive Republican presidents in a row to serve as the Postmaster of Salina, Kansas, cemented that loyalty. Here’s one of three certificates in the Kansas Archives to attest to this. They have one for Harding and Hoover as well.

I started Pietrusza’s book last night after reading a couple chapters of the prophet Ezekiel. I got a better night’s sleep thinking about past presidents than future ones.

The wrong lessons from our history

Donald Trump reads no books. His history is heavy with whatever lessons he learned at someone’s knees about the America First Committee which had no appetite for confronting Nazi Germany.

His minions have raised the example of the internment of Japanese American Citizens in World War II as an example of how we might deal with Muslims in America.

As reported here a couple hours ago I know of one Medal of Honor recipient who would roll over in his grave at Salina, Kansas’ Gypsum Hill Cemetery if he heard that. Maybe we can send the Gold Star Kahns to one and shut them up.

Here’s the Blue Star flag my Grandfather’s parents put up when he went off to fight in the Great War.

And here’s my grandfather’s helmet which hung in his entryway from the garage for the last ten years of his life. Now its in an exhibit in the Kansas State Historical Society where others can gawk at the bullet entry and exit holes and marvel that George Robb came home to tell the tale.

Generosity and trust 2016 and on Aug. 29, 1942

I mentioned the magnanimity and solidarity of Duluth’s students yesterday particularly at Denfeld with its post-it note campaign started by its student rep on the Duluth School Board Johanna Unden. Today the DNT has another wonderful story confirming the class and thoughtfulness of our students, this time at East High. Shanze Hayee, a freshmen, found other students to join her in wearing a hijab an Islamic scarf that makes many Westerners nervous.

I’ve made much of my Grandfather, George Robb, in this blog. I’d like to share a letter I just received from his old Alma mater, Park College, in Missouri yesterday. It comes from the time following Pearl Harbor when American-Japanese were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. My grandfather was asked by the college’s president if it would be wise to enroll some of the Nisei as students during this time of war. Here is what he wrote:

Here’s an enlarged image:

Rhinocerous

Rhinocerous

Whether President Elect will attempt to rule like an autocrat remains to be seen. He ran as a demagogue. I expect that he will attempt to persuade the public as a demagogue when things aren’t going his way. I hope I’m wrong.

In any event I think this NY Times piece demonstrates my thinking. Contrast the current Republican President Elect with my grandfather’s Republicanism in the previous post to get a sense of how deep my feeling’s run.

Veterans Day 2016

These were given to me on Veteran’s Day when the Philip Billard VFW Post 1650 of Topeka, Kansas, honored George Robb on the 99th anniversary of Armistice Day. I gave this speech for the occasion:

I would like to begin by thanking Andy Olson for inviting me to speak on this Veterans Day in memory of my grandfather George Robb a humble recipient of the Nation’s Medal of Honor. For years I have wanted to write a book about my grandfather. And this week in Topeka while rifling through the archives of the Kansas State Historical Museum I have discovered so much new information that I think that my wish will be far more likely to become reality.

My grandfather began a short lived diary upon setting out to New York City for embarkation to the trenches of World War 1. It began like this:

“On the 28th of December 1917 the author of this diary arrived in New York City over the Pennsylvania line.”

“He left his home in Salina Kansas on the morning of December 19th at 2 o’clock a.m. He could not help but wonder as he set forth for the station WHEN he would see that home again and what experiences he would meet with in the meantime but he could not help but feel that whatever they might be he would move equal to them – he MUST move equal to them for his for his home folks sent him forth, with expectation and full confidence that he would be a real Soldier and Home Folks are under no circumstances to be disappointed.”

I knew my grandfather was a very big deal starting at a very tender age when I would fall and scrape my knee and come to my mother crying. She would tell me “Harry, you’re grandfather was shot in the war and he didn’t cry.”

As time passed I would grow in awe of his reputation for courage, honesty, modesty and one other quality I had only heard about from my Mother – George Robb’s ability to write a good letter. Until Andy Olson arranged this little gathering I hadn’t read more than one example of such. Over the past 2 days I have copied a thousand of them at the Kansas state archives all left to the state by my Mother Georganne and her sister Mary Jane.

I will read one of them to you at the conclusion of this speech.

One of the first lessons I learned from my grand father was of humility. You can’t read any account of my Grandfather in the newspapers without their mentioning that he didn’t want any fuss made about his Medal of Honor. If I ever had any doubts about his worthiness they have been laid to rest after several month’s reading and research. In my estimation  George Robb was eminently  worthy of the Medal of Honor that was bestowed upon him.

Although I do not have time to elaborate now I’ll mention 4 related moments of his life and Kansas experience. 1. His next door neighbor in Assyria Kansas in childhood was an escaped slave. 2. He served as a white officer in the storied 369th Infantry a unit whose soldiers were composed of African American soldiers. 3. His study of history was such that he understood better than almost anyone else the role that African-Americans have played in defending this nation. And lastly, While living in Topeka his grandson (speaker points to himself) was one of the first to experience the new world after Brown vs. Board of Education when Loman Hill Elementary welcomed the students from the segregated Buchanon Elementary. All of these circumstances concerning my Grandfather have played a large part in my life and my thoughts and have continued so to this day.

If you check the files at the Historical Society you will find the speech that George Robb delivered to Topeka’s famous Saturday Evening Literary Club written about the time that Harry Truman integrated the United States armed forces.

He laid out all of the arguments that have been given by white politicians to dismiss the ability of African Americans to fight in the armed forces. He knocked them aside one by one. And of course there was his service in the trenches and his first-hand observation of his fellow black countrymen as they faced death at the hands of a determined enemy.

My grandfather was a man of his time as well as a man ahead of his time. I believe that he was trying to tell his fellow white Topekans to be comfortable at the prospect of black men serving with their sons in the United States military.

To reassure his audience he suggested that African-Americans were not yet equipped to be officers but that was years ago. Today, I can’t help but imagine my grandfather looking down from heaven much gratified to see that the Commander in Chief of today’s Armed Forces is half African-American just as I am gratified  that, like me, President Obama’s mother was a Kansan and a white one at that. 

In light of our nation having endured one of its most divisive presidential elections I should mention one more thing about my grandfather. He liked Democrats even while he did everything he could to make sure they wouldn’t make a hash of the nation or the state of Kansas.

All of us would benefit from George Robb’s example as we move into the future. Much remains to be done to heal our wounds just as it was the case in my grandfather’s boyhood with Jim Crow and the denial of voting rights to most African Americans.

Upon returning this week to bury myself in the state’s archives concerning George Robb I had a couple of other things on my wish list. I wanted to visit my paternal grandmother’s old grade school now the sight of the Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site.  I only got there with 25 minutes to spare of their opening hours yesterday. As brief as that stop was I was brought to tears listening to the voices of hate I remember  from my childhood coming from some of our Nation’s political leaders broadcast from a powerful display. In many ways they were tears of satisfaction comparing the state of America today with the conditions in my grandfather’s lifetime.

As you veterans know the integration of America’s military has had no small role in our progress.

As I  left the Historic Site I craved a dinner at Bobo’s Drive Inn which I remember fondly from my childhood. On the way to that restaurant I passed by the Stormont Vale Hospital where my brother and sister were born. As I approached the hospital I could see a dozen police vehicles lights flashing hugging the side of 8th Street. On the other side of the street people were holding up cell phones taking movies. Of course, I had to crane my neck to see. I saw a man the color of one of the non commissioned soldiers in the 369th Infantry lying on the curb surrounded by a dozen policeman. I did not watch the news last night so l do not know what transpired. It was a sobering reminder of the progress we have yet to achieve today.

At the beginning of this little speech I told you many of the reasons why my grandfather, George Robb, is worthy of the honor bestowed on him today 99 years after the end of World War 1. I told you I’d always heard he wrote a damn fine letter. Yesterday I read parts of a great many damn fine letters. I’d like to leave you with the letter he wrote to my mother who was a newlywed living with her husband in Arkansas City where I would be born about one year later.

This letter was a revelation to me. I have read many of the speeches my grandfather wrote and they were academic, proper and forbidding. I never got a letter quite like this and I can’t imagine many other fathers writing a letter to their daughters shortly after their marriage quite like this one. I hope you enjoy it.

But first I should preface this letter with this information. This was 1949. My Rock ribbed Republican grandfather had endured 20 years of Democratic Leadership by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. He hated it. And yet as my mother told me George Robb liked Missouri’s Democrat Harry Truman. It was a different age. Here’s the letter:

Mrs. Dan M. Welty 
501 North B Street
Arkansas City, Kansas

Dear Mrs Welty,

I take my Pen in Hand to indulge in some congratulations. I congratulate you upon having successfully navigated 21 years of democratic rule. With all those years upon your shoulders you should have the wisdom of a hoot owl.

I congratulate you upon being the daughter of Mrs. Robb and the sister of the globe-trotting Mrs. Sage.

I congratulate you that your father has not been in jail recently.

I congratulate you upon having a handsome husband. Feed him well so that he may remain sleek and and pleasing to the eye.

If there is anything else upon which I should congratulate you, let me know and I will be glad to fill in the gaps.

Your aunt Mae recently underwent a very romantic experience. One of the nights when it was about 6 below, at 4 o’clock in the morning her telephone rang. She got out of bed and paddled over the icicles in her bare feet to the phone. On the other end of the line and inebriated voice said, “Is Dorothy there?” Your aunt said, “To whom do you think you are talking?” The Jolly chap replied “Wake up the other girls. I have a couple of friends who want to be entertained.”

I do not exaggerate when I say that “Madam” Peppmeyer poked his eyes out of the phone and then threw scalding water upon him.  In fact, her vocabulary became so heated that the next morning the company found two or three telephone posts burned to the ground. I also congratulate you on your aunt, but it would seem to me that that was rather an abrupt and unsympathetic way to greet romance. No doubt had your aunt been sweet twenty-one instead of seventy-six she would have been a bit coy with the poor chap.

On the morning of the 10th, I will stand up your mother and Edith and have them sing “Happy birthday” to you.

Sincerely yours,

Pop

May we all face our uncertain  future with such good cheer. That will be a little easier knowing that the defenders of our Nation’s military are composed of such as George Robb. I thank you all for your service and for remembering on this 99th Armistice Day one of your best and our nation’s best, my Grandfather 1st lieutenant, George Seanor Robb.