NOVEMBER 6, 2018: IT WAS GREAT FUN

Alice In Donaldland, A Conclusion of Sorts

“Off with her head,” shouted the Queen upon seeing Alice.  Alice, undeterred, walked right up to the Queen and introduced herself.

“MDGA,” said the Queen.

“Why your majesty, what big hands you have.”

“All the better to grab — ”

“Enough, enough,” said the Walrus, who had suddenly appeared. “This negativity gets us nowhere.”

“What do you mean?” asked Alice.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of noble things.  Like election day and making choices, and voting, you ding-a-lings.”

“The sad truth is,” said the Cheshire Cat, whose head had appeared and now hovered above them. “an estimated 60 percent of us won’t vote at all.”

“That’s terrible,” said Alice.  “We should be ashamed.”

“Off with their heads,” added the Queen.

 

It Was Great Fun

Cole Porter was a prolific American composer, penning one popular song after another during the mid-20th century: Begin the Beguine, I Love Paris, Don’t Fence Me In, True Love, Anything Goes, to name just a few.  And the song with these words:
So goodbye dear and amen,
Here’s hoping we meet now and then
It was great fun, but it was just one of those things.

 

 

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NOVEMBER 2, 1887: ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE

Wild and crazy entrepreneur, P.T. Barnum was known for bringing audiences such high-brow entertainers as Tom Thumb, the Feejee

Jenny Lind (50-kronorssedel)
Jenny Lind (50-kronorssedel)

Mermaid, and Zip the Pinhead. As he said, “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” and “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But Barnum went all respectable in 1850 when he booked one of the most celebrated singers in Europe, the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind, for a series of 150 American performances. Without even hearing her sing, Barnum contracted to pay her an amazing $1,000 per performance.

Born Johanna Maria Lind in 1820, Jenny became famous in Sweden and throughout Europe during the 1840s. She was still  pretty much unknown in the United States, but that was about to change as Barnum put his promotional prowess to work. “A visit from such a woman who regards her artistic powers as a gift from Heaven and who helps the afflicted and distressed will be a blessing to America. It is her intrinsic worth of heart and delicacy of mind that produces Jenny’s vocal potency.”

Barnum’s relentless publicity made her a celebrity before she even arrived. As a result of what the press called Lind Mania, her initial appearances were in such demand that Barnum auctioned tickets. Her tour was such a rousing success that, after just a handful of performances, she renegotiated her contract with Barnum, with him willingly giving her a percentage of ticket sales in addition to her original payment per performance. He still cleared close to a half million dollars himself.

For her part, Jenny found Barnum’s over-the-top commercial promotion of her distasteful, and they parted ways in 1851, though still on friendly terms. She continued touring in the U.S. until May 1852. By the time she left for home, she had reached super-stardom here, and her performances had established opera as a lasting form of entertainment in the U.S.

Jenny Lind died on November 2, 1887.

 

OCTOBER 22, 1883: WHEN THE FAT LADY SANG

WHEN THE FAT LADY SANG

In April of 1880, a group of 22 men met at New York’s Delmonico’s restaurant. These were men of considerable wealth – Morgans, Vanderbilts, Roosevelts – nineteenth century industrialists, bankers, and builders.  Nevertheless, they were men excluded from the inner circles of the One Percent, because they were not “old money”: they were the nouveau riche, “brazen new money.” They met that April with the goal of upsetting the Big Apple cart.

 

 

The Academy of Music opera house was the opera venue in New York City; subscribers to its limited number of private boxes represented the highest stratum in New York society.  And it was a place where the old money families had circled the upper crust wagons. Tired of being excluded, the insurrectionists at Delmonico’s determined to build a new opera house that would outshine the old Academy in every way. The new theater would include three tiers of private boxes in which New York’s powerful new industrial families could flaunt their wealth and reinforce their social prominence. Their vision became reality on October 22, 1883, when the Metropolitan Opera opened for business with a production of Gounod’s Faust.

 

The Academy of Music’s opera season folded just three years after the Met opened.  The building became a vaudeville house.  One hundred and thirty years later, The Metropolitan Opera is the largest classical music organization in North America, presenting more than two dozen operas each year in a season which lasts from late September through May. The operas are presented in a rotating repertory schedule with four different works staged each week. Several operas are presented in new productions each season, while the balance are revivals of productions from previous seasons — in all, over 200 performances in a season.

 

And today’s audiences are a blend of old money, new money and no money at all.

 

What’s Opera, Doc?:  A Wretched Richard Cheat Sheet

I’ve found that when I speak to friends, acquaintances, or strangers on street corners about opera, their eyes glaze over (or they run away).  I see this as a fundamental lack of understanding on their part, rather than any tediousness on my part.  The road to opera should not be paved with jagged rocks.  It should be an easy ride, a gentle ride.

Opera is really not that difficult.  Pretty much every opera goes something like this:  The Tenor loves the Soprano.  The Soprano loves the Tenor.  Should be easy – a couple of arias and they live happily ever after.  But the Baritone also loves the Soprano.  Here come the drama, here come the drama.  The Soprano’s daddy, a Bass, promises her to the Baritone – it’s never clear why; it just seems that daddies are not keen on Tenors.  Of course, everyone on stage (except maybe the chorus) is now heartbroken, angry or lustful.  They sing of their sadness, anger and lust, and Act One ends.

Act Two is all about mistaken identities.  To have a secret rendezvous with the Soprano, our Tenor will pretend to be her uncle, another Bass.  Because she suspects the Tenor of being unfaithful with a Mezzo-soprano, the Soprano will pretend to be her own sister and attempt to seduce him.  The Baritone will pretend to be a vagabond and attempt to seduce the chorus.  The audience will pretend to know what’s going on, except for a guy in the fifth row who will attempt to seduce the stranger next to him.

In Act Three, everyone is revealed for who he or she really is. The old Bass is subject to ridicule, and the Baritone is banished. The Tenor and Soprano consummate their love in the opera’s signature aria.  Then they die.  That’s pretty much it – unless it’s Wagner, in which case, you have valkyries and giants and dwarves, and pretty much everyone wears horns and marches off to Valhalla.

Here are the plots of a few popular operas to illustrate:

Carmen – A passionate gypsy seduces a young soldier, tosses him aside for a matador, then she dies.

Madame Butterfly – An American naval officer seduces an innocent Japanese geisha.  She has his kid.  He dumps her.  She dies.

La Boheme – Young bohemians fall in love. He’s a poet; she has tuberculosis. They enjoy Paris. She dies.

Rigoletto – A nasty nobleman seduces his hunchbacked jester’s innocent daughter. The jester tries to get even.  She dies.

So you see, it’s really just gratuitous sex and violence with beautiful music.  And that’s still rock and roll to me.

 

OCTOBER 5, 1983: BURPING IN POLITE COMPANY

Cheap Halloween Thrills

In 1984, Ghostbusters was the most expensive comedy ever filmed. Wildly successful, it paid for itself and then some. Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and Harold Ramis are the titular paranormal investigators/exterminators. They have their hands full: An ancient Babylonian demon (channeling himself through Sigiourney Weaver) has unleashed an entire army of nasty spirits on New York City.  It’s a wild, over-the-top comedy, ranked number 28 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

BURPING IN POLITE COMPANY

Noted American businessman and inventor, Earl Silas Tupper died on October 5, 1983. He was buried in a 100-gallon Tupperware container whose lid was “burped”to get an airtight seal before being lowered into the ground. Thousands paid their respect at a memorial Tupperware Party held earlier.

For indeed this was the man who invented and gave his name to Tupperware, a line of plastic containers in an almost infinite array of shapes and sizes that changed the way Americans stored their food. Tupper invented the plasticware back in the late 30s, but it didn’t really start worming its way into every household until the 50s when Tupper introduced his ingenious and infamous marketing strategy, the Tupperware Party. This clever gambit gave women the opportunity to earn an income without leaving their homes and to simultaneously annoy their friends and relatives.

tupper1

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The rock musical Hair has played pretty much continuously since its Broadway debut at the Biltmore Theatre in the late 60s, its mix of sex, drugs and rock and roll more or less guaranteeing hairan avid following. It’s been translated into many languages and produced throughout the world. But back on October 5, 1967, it looked a lot like a colossal failure.

After rejections by producer after producer, the musical was accepted by Joseph Papp, who ran the New York Shakespeare Festival, to open the new Public Theater in New York City’s East Village for a six-week engagement.

Hair depicts a group of hippies living the bohemian life in New York City, rebelling against the Vietnam War, conservative parents and other societal ills while diving into the sexual revolution and the drug culture. Its protagonist Claude must decide whether to resist the draft or give in to conservative pressures and risk his principles (and his life) by serving in Vietnam.

Production did not go well. Perhaps the theater staff was too close to conservative America; the material seemed incomprehensible, rehearsals were chaotic, casting confusing. The director quit during the final week of rehearsals and the choreographer took charge. The final dress rehearsal was a disaster.

But the show did go on. Critics were not particularly kind, but it found an audience. During the six-week engagement, a man from Chicago was attracted to the show by its poster with a picture of five American Indians on it. He thought Hair was all about Native Americans, a favorite subject of his. He was surprised to discover it was actually about hippies, but he nevertheless liked it so much that, he bankrolled its move to a discotheque in midtown Manhattan. The show had to start at 7:30 pm instead of the normal curtain time of 8:30 and play without intermission so dancing could begin at 10 pm. But Hair was getting closer to Broadway.

In 1968, the play’s creators reworked it into the musical that everyone knows, adding additional songs, the infamous nude scene, and an upbeat ending — it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

 

OCTOBER 3, 1874: PATHETIC EARTHLINGS, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE

PATHETIC EARTHLINGS, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE

Although the name Charles Middleton (born in Kentucky, October 3, 1874) doesn’t invite instant recognition, his face — or at least one of his faces — certainly does. He worked in vaudeville, on the legitimate stage, and in traveling circuses before striking out as a motion picture actor in 1920. His career took off when sound came to the movies, thanks to a deep, menacing voice that dripped villainy.

To many generations he will always be the villain he played for the first time in 1936, one of film’s most notable nasties — Ming the Merciless. The evil enemy of the entire universe first appeared in the serial Flash Gordon, battling wits with Buster Crabbe’s Flash. He reprised his role in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).

Middleton appeared in 200 movies. He died in 1949.

Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would’ve hidden from it in terror.

Cheap Halloween Thrills

If Ming doesn’t get us pathetic earthlings, these guys might. There’s something terribly strange going on in tiny Santa Mira, California. Friends and loved ones have suddenly become emotionless body doubles, all thanks to those strange pods that have been popping up everywhere. Kevin McCarthy has discovered the truth, an alien invasion of human duplicates. Trouble is, no one believes him. As much a horror film as sci-fi, the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is also a political allegory with most of the scariness in its theme.

1 The Shining
2 The Exorcist
3 Beetlejuice
4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

 

Scared Shepless

Standing on a chair to reach the microphone, the ten-year-old kid was as nervous as a chicken surrounded by dumplings.  After all, it was his first time in front of an audience, and the folks at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show looked like one pretty tough audience (nobody had told him to imagine them naked).

It was all his fifth-grade teacher’s fault; she was the one who had pushed him into this appearance after hearing him sing Red Foley’s “Old Shep” one morning during prayers. The kid was praying now, Shepdogpraying he wouldn’t pee the pants of his spiffy little cowboy outfit. He did make it all the way through “Old Shep” that October 3 in 1945. And he came in fifth place in the competition, winning five dollars and a free pass to all the fair rides.

A few months later, for his eleventh birthday, his parents gave him a guitar. He had wanted a rifle (you’ll shoot your eye out, kid).

But he did apply himself to learning the guitar with the help of his uncle Vester and the pastor at the family’s church. Then when he was twelve, his mentor arranged an on-air performance for him. This one didn’t go so well; this time he was “scared Shepless.” and unable to sing.  Fortunately, he was able to overcome his fear and sing the following week. And he went on to have a decent career singing.  As an adult, he returned to “Old Shep” and pretty much conquered it.

SEPTEMBER 29, 1913: AND THAT SPELLS GLADIOLUS

AND THAT SPELLS GLADIOLUS

“G-L-A-D-I-O-L-U-S,” said 11-year-old Frank Neuhauser with just a bit of apprehension. After all, eight of the final nine competing super-spellers had crashed and burned before Frank faced his inquisitor. His spellingspelling was right on; he was the winner of the first ever National Spelling Bee, the last kid standing out of some two million competitors. His victory earned Frank $500 and a meeting with President Calvin Coolidge. Fortunately, the President did not ask him to spell “executive privilege.”

It was a big time for a little boy. Folks in his hometown Louisville held a parade in his honor. Schoolmates gave him a new bicycle.

That was back in 1925. Today, the bee, now known as the Scripps National Spelling Bee, features 11 million children in local contests throughout the United States and abroad. The field is reduced to some 270 finalists who convene in Washington for two days of competition.

Frank Neuhauser who was born on September 29, 1913, went on to become a successful patent attorney. During his later years, he was frequently a guest of honor at the spelling bees. He died in 2011 at the age of 97.

The National Spelling Bee has certainly become more challenging over the years. One might argue that Frank Neuhauser’s “gladiolus” was a piece of cake — or, for that matter, “cerise” in 1926 or “knack” in 1932. Try “syllepsis” from 1958 or “esquamulose.” There’s “vivisepulture” from 1996 and “appoggiatura” from 2005 — words our spell checker couldn’t handle.

Sing Cowboy, Sing

If you were a cowboy with the name Orton Grover, you’d probably change your name. Orton did, and became a legendary singing cowboy gene-autry-quotes-2with the more melodic name Gene Autry. Born September 29, 1907, Autry became a major presence in the movies and on radio and television, beginning in the 1930s and stretching into the 1950s.

He was the ultimate straight-shooter — brave and honest with impeccable manners and good posture. He distilled his philosophy into the Ten Cowboy Commandments:

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

Autry was also influential in the evolution of country music, his movies bringing cowboy music to a national audience with hits such as “That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “South of the Border,” and “You Are My Sunshine.” He also owned such Christmas classics as “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

And no, we did not forget his signature song:

 

Aunt Nancy’s Burden, Part 4: Helping Uncle Ed Along

On Tuesday, Uncle Ed sat alone next to the pool, drinking his morning coffee and reading his Daily News. Aunt Clara watched him from the shadows near the house, watched him all the way through the comics, the sports section and two gossip columns. Then she began to newsick3tiptoe purposefully toward him. As she picked up speed and began her lunge, arms extended in shoving position, her glasses slipped from her nose, and she just barely overshot her target. Her target looked up to see her sailing over him into the pool. He thought about trying to rescue her as she thrashed and screamed in the deep end of the pool but instead shouted: “Nancy, your sister’s in the pool. She may be drowning.”

After the lengthy resuscitation, performed with aplomb by the village rescue squad, Aunt Clara went to bed and stayed there.

Until Wednesday. On Wednesday, Aunt Clara watched Uncle Ed from her upstairs bedroom window. Aunt Joan and Aunt Nancy sat at the picnic table hoping she was all right after the ordeal of the previous day. Aunt Clara was just fine. She had found Uncle Stan’s old rifle down the basement, had figured out, over several cups of coffee, how to put bullets into it, and now gleefully aimed it at Aunt Nancy’s Burden. Having never held a gun, much less fired one, it isn’t surprising that Aunt Clara’s aim wasn’t the best.

Her shot rang out. Aunt Joan screamed and clutched her foot. Once again, the rescue squad performed admirably, scurrying poor Aunt Joan off to the emergency room, the other two aunts along for the ride, doing their best to convince all concerned that it was just a stupid accident and not worth reporting to anybody official. Aunt Joan was treated and released.

Thursday afternoon, the aunts sat sullenly and silently at the picnic table. Uncle Ed worked at his crossword puzzle. A new chill in the air said that summer would soon come to an end. Suddenly they saw Uncle Ed’s head list lazily to one side. The puzzle fell from his lap. His arm hung limply at his side, fingertips just inches from the pencil that lay on the ground.

“It’s happened,” whispered Aunt Joan.

“You mean . . .?” whispered Aunt Clara.

“Oh dear,” sniffed Aunt Nancy, a little knot in her stomach and tears in her eyes, even though a great burden was being lifted from her shoulders. Aunt Clara walked over and shook him a few times. He didn’t respond.

The village rescue squad was there in less than ten minutes hovering over him, employing their life-saving techniques. The aunts stood a few feet away, watching. Then from within the cocoon of paramedics, they heard Uncle Ed bellow: “What the hell are all you people doing on top of me?”

The chill in the air had been an accurate harbinger of summer’s retreat, and during the next few weeks, it became steadily more pronounced, so much so that Aunt Nancy went to the back closet to haul out winter blankets and wardrobes. Aunt Nancy prided herself on looking for the silver lining in the gloomy gray storm clouds of her pitiful existence. And staring into her closet she could at least be thankful that she already had Uncle Ed’s winter coat.

That was 2008. Aunt Clara joined Uncle Edwin in 2010, and Aunt Joan followed in 2011. Aunt Nancy is still fetching beers.

Aunt Nancy’s Burden is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories.

 

SEPTEMBER 12, 1970: TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

Richard Nixon called him the most dangerous man in America, an honor usually reserved by Republicans for figures such as Charles Darwin and Barack Obama. Timothy Leary wasn’t always so “dangerous.” He had a distinguished military service and academic psychology career timothy-leary-until he started thinking way outside the box, promoting the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. It was your basic slippery slope, as he quickly evolved during the wild and woolly 60’s to a self-described performing philosopher and hippie guru. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD with such heady concepts as space migration and intelligence increase. Eventually, it was all about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.

As a result, Leary also came to spend more time in jail than out of it, becoming intimate with 36 prisons throughout the world. In January 1970, he received a 20-year prison sentence for a pair of earlier transgressions. Upon his reporting for prison duty, Leary was given a series of psychological tests meant to help determine what work duties he was suited to. Having himself designed such tests, he found it quite easy to manipulate the results so that they would show him to be a model citizen with an interest in forestry and gardening, pursuits that would conveniently keep him out of doors.

Leary was assigned to work as a gardener in a minimum security prison. On September 12, 1970, leaving a farewell note, he climbed over the prison wall along a telephone wire to a waiting pickup truck supplied by the Weather Underground. For $25,000 (paid by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love), the weathermen smuggled Leary and his wife out of the United States and into Algeria. From there, they traveled to Switzerland, Vienna and Beirut. In 1972, they headed for Afghanistan which had no extradition policy with the U.S. Unfortunately, they traveled aboard an American airline, and were arrested before they could deplane.

Leary was returned to prison where he remained until his release in 1976. He died in 1996.

Come Together

“Come Together,” written by John Lennon, became a big hit for the Beatles and an anti-war anthem. It was originally written as a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s aborted run for governor against Ronald Reagan.

Said Lennon: “The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; “Come Together” was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, “Come Together,” which would’ve been no good to him—you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?

 

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 2: My New Playmates

One Thursday afternoon Bessie, Cora and I were having tuna fish and mustard sandwiches, the only way they ever served it.  Wilhelm came by with the scarf draped around his shoulders that indicated he was going out for a walk, kissed Bessie on the forehead, and said:  “Cora, I’m going out twinsfor a short walk with Walter and Elliot.”  Bessie’s face tightened right up so it was even harder than Ludwig the Rock; Cora just sighed and shook her head.

“That’s what I want to do,” I said.

“What do you want to do, dear?” asked Cora.

“Go outside and see some friends.”

“But you don’t have any friends around here,” said Bessie.

“That’s what I want,” I said, a little petulantly.  “Some friends around here, someone to play with.”

“Poor dear,” said Cora. “A boy your age does need someone to play with, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does,” I said, poking my finger into my tuna to make little tunnels.

“Oh my,” said Cora.  “I wonder if maybe we could just . . .”

“Cora,” Bessie said in a voice that was probably as firm as Edward G. Robinson’s.

“Oh Bessie,” said Cora.  These twin fortunetellers were having a complete conversation just using each other’s names, and I didn’t have a clue to what they were saying.

“Cora,” Bessie reiterated.

Cora sighed.  “All right, Bessie.”  End of conversation. Certainly enlightening.  Bessie smiled a grim smile and picked up the empty plates and the scarred remnants of my tuna sandwich.  She gave Cora one last meaningful look and marched out of the room.  I knew it was time for Mrs. Halloran who came every Thursday at two for news of her husband, Warrant Officer Warren Halloran, who was in the Philippines and probably having an affair with a nurse.

I studied Cora’s face for insight and she did her level best to remain expressionless and enigmatic.  She failed miserably, and I was able to figure out that she had some plan for finding me playmates that Bessie didn’t approve of.

After ten minutes of an intensive, intimidating ten-year-old stare, Cora broke.  “If you could play with anyone you wanted to,” she said with a lot of hesitation, “who do you suppose you’d choose.”

“You mean someone who doesn’t live in this neighborhood?”

“There aren’t many children your age in this neighborhood,” said Cora.

“Someone from my own neighborhood?”

“Perhaps.”

“Someone from very far way?”

“I suppose.”

“Someone I didn’t even know, like someone in the movies?”

“Someone like Shirley Temple?”

I made a face.  “Someone like the Little Rascals, maybe.”

“Little Rascals,” Cora mused.  “I guess I could conjure up a rascal or two.”  And so Cora had me concentrate very hard, with my eyes closed tight, on the ones I wanted to play with.  And after a minute, she’d say:  “I see them now.  I see who you want to play with.”  She’d sometimes tell me I was thinking of so-and-so, usually a name I’d never heard of, but it didn’t matter.  If I thought hard enough, she’d conjure up the person I was thinking of, and we’d pass many Tuesdays and Thursdays playing together.  And my playmates became more and more fanciful.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” Rick would say to me before he sent me off into the cutthroat-filled streets of Morocco with a highly secret document.  Or I might be called on to kick some wicked witch butt for Dorothy and her inept companions.  Capturing big cats with Clyde Beatty, searching catacombs for Count Dracula’s casket, watching the crazy world from under Harpo’s overcoat — there wasn’t much I didn’t do those Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sometimes when taking a break from my own frenzied activity, I’d listen in while Bessie and Cora told the young military wives their fortunes, and I sensed a change taking place.  One day, Bessie spoke to a young woman about something called a fraulein and sent her away crying.  But it was Cora’s fortunes that were changing the most.  Her futures had always been so bright, so happy — something to look forward to.  Now they were about making the best of bad times and being strong for the kids.

continued

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories 

 

SEPTEMBER 8, 1892: PLEDGE, SALUTE, SING OUT THE CHORUS

salutePLEDGE, SALUTE

Daniel Sharp Ford was a bit of a flag-waver. He thought the country needed a little more patriotism, and so launched a crusade to get flags into every school in the country. As the owner of the magazine Youth’s Companion he had a ready-made platform for the promotion of his ideas. As part of his patriotism package, he asked a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, to create a pledge to the flag of one’s country, a pledge that could be used throughout the world.

Bellamy came up with a pledge that was simplicity itself, and Ford published it in the September 8, 1892, issue of his magazine. The Pledge of Allegiance, as it was called, read:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The pledge was incredibly popular, repeated in schools, public gatherings, government meetings, in Congress. However, Ford and Bellamy found it awkward that folks just stood there while pledging, so they came up with a nifty salute. Pledgers would face the flag, extend their right arm forward and slightly upward — the Bellamy Salute.

Years passed and folks were happily pledging, but then the tinkering began. In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States” were added, thanks to the efforts of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution who fretted that immigrant children might be confused about just which flag they were pledging allegiance to. A year later, the worriers added “of America.”

Then the Bellamy Salute came under fire; it looked a little too much like the German Nazi salute.

Come 1954, Congress got into the act, adding the words “under God” as a way of thumbing their noses at those godless communists, and giving the pledge its current form.

SING OUT THE CHORUS

BelafontecalypsoHarry Belafonte is an American singer, songwriter, actor, activist, and of course the King of Calypso. His third album, Calypso, hit the top of the charts on September 8, 1956, and had everyone singing out the chorus “Day-o.” It became the first album by a single artist to sell a million copies. In addition to “Day-o (Banana Boat Song),” the album included such calypso standards as “Jamaica Farewell,” “Man Smart,” and “Will His Love Be Like His Rum?” Discerning readers will note that some of those calypso standards serve as titles for short stories included in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean.

SEPTEMBER 6, 1916: THIS LITTLE PIGGLY WIGGLY

THIS LITTLE PIGGLY WIGGLY

Before September 6, 1916, if you needed groceries, you would head to your local store and present your list to the friendly grocer standing behind the counter. The grocer would then fetch the items you requested. This could be time consuming and of course you always ended up behind the person who didn’t have a proper list or felt the need to chat for a bit. Clarence Saunders changed all that when he opened the very first Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tennessee. In his amazing store, you could wander throughout four aisles gathering your own goodies at your own pace, pausing to study the nutrition labels if you wished, or zipping through at a breakneck pace. The store’s 605 items were carefully organized into departments of like products. You worked your way through this shopping wonderland to where a cashier waited to check you out.

Saunders patented this self-service concept which was also known as a groceteria, and during the next few years issued franchises to hundreds of grocers throughout the Midwest and South. This little Piggly Wiggly went to market and grew up into an empire of 2,660 stores with annual sales of $180 million.

Saunders of course grew wealthy as well, but wouldn’t you know it he got greedy. He attempted to play funny with Piggly Wiggly stock, squeezing short interest and tripling its price. The stock exchange folks got wind of his scheme, and Saunders got caught, losing $9 million as a result. His company was broken up with stores being sold to such other players as Krogers and Safeway.

Saunders attempted to stage a comeback with fully automated grocery shopping in his Keedoozle stores but the concept failed to catch on (or was it the name? Would any serious shopper admit he or she was going to run down to the local Keedoozle?). Saunders died in 1953. A replica of his original store has been constructed in the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium.

Ernest Tubb (1914-1984)

Known throughout his career as the Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb was a pioneer of country music who helped to popularize the honky tonk style with his major 1941 hit “Walking the Floor Over You.” His career went on to span another four decades. He died on September 6, 1984.

 

SEPTEMBER 2, 1838: LEI LADY LEI

LEI LADY LEI

Her name didn’t exactly come tripping off Hawaiian tongues, but the islands’ last queen, Lydia Kamehameha Liliuokalani was a beloved leader during her short royal stint. She became queen in 1891 upon the death of her brother King David Kalakaua.

Liliuokalani-hero-H

Government ministers demanded that Liliuokalani immediately sign an oath to uphold the constitution that had been previously forced upon her brother. It pretty much made her queen in name only. She tried unsuccessfully to form a cabinet several times. She drafted a royalist constitution but it went nowhere. Finally, just two years later, pro-American forces overthrew the government and named as president Sanford B. Dole, a name that lives on in infamy and pineapples.

Liliuo — we’ll call her Lydia — petitioned President Grover Cleveland who said the coup was probably illegal and certainly not very nice. But Dole just thumbed his nose at the pronouncement. Eventually, after an attempted uprising for which she was blamed, Lydia was placed under house arrest. During her confinement, she penned Hawaii’s most famous song, “Aloha Oe” (other than Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” perhaps).

Lydia Kamehameha Liliuokalani was pardoned in 1896 and died in 1917 at the age of 79.

 

tHE cAT cAME bACK

In 1813, Londoners were amazed to see, floating down the Thames River toward London Bridge, a large bowl with a passenger on board — a tortoiseshell cat, quite relaxed and seemingly enjoying the journey. As she approached the fall, onlookers were certain she would be overturned and thrown into the water. But she stayed seated and, to loud cheers, deftly shot the center arch with as much dexterity as a white water kayaker.

A young boy in a boat having observed this feat rowed toward her and lifted her into his boat. He discovered a parchment scroll hanging from a collar around her neck. The note stated that if she should reach London safely she should be taken to a Mrs. Clarke in Highstreet who would reward the person delivering the cat. The boy conveyed the cat to Mrs. Clarke who gave him half a crown. Mrs. Clarke was well aware of the circumstances of the cat’s arrival, the voyage having been the result of a wager between two Richmond gentlemen. With precious little to do, it would seem.

Carry a Big Shtick

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Minnesota State Fair On September 2, 1901 in which he publicly used the phrase with which he would always be associated:  Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.  Four days later, President William McKinley was shot by an assassin and following his death eight days later, Roosevelt became President.

My father always wanted to be the center of attention.  When he went to a wedding, he wanted to be the bridegroom.  When he went to a funeral, he wanted to be the corpse. — Alice Roosevelt Longworth