Monday, November 24, 2014

Plumed Knight

"Like an armed warrior, like a plumed knight, James G. Blaine marched down the halls of the American Congress and threw his shining lance full and fair against the brazen forehead of every traitor to his country and every maligner of his fair reputation." Robert G. Ingersoll, nominating Blaine for President at the 1876 Republican National Convention

Nicknamed “The Great Agnostic,” Robert Ingersoll was the most famous orator and freethinker of the post-Civil War years.  In “The great Infidels” he ridiculed the Christian concept of hell, writing, “All the meanness, all the revenge, all the selfishness, all the cruelty, all the hatred, all the infamy of which the heart of man is capable, grew blossomed, and bore fruit in this one word - Hell.”
“The Plumed Knight,” Senator James G. Blaine of Maine, was the most colorful politician during America’s Gilded Age and would have made a dynamic president, in contrast to the weak Republicans and lone Democrat who occupied the White House between 1876 and 1892.  Blaine had enemies within his party, however (the so-called Stalwarts, led by Roscoe Conkling) and, dubbed a “Half Breed” for his inclination to compromise when it was in the public interest, was tainted by scandal regarding his connections to business interests.  One opponent claimed that he “wallowed in spoils like a rhinoceros in an African pool.”  Twice Secretary of State during the 1880s, he favored American economic and diplomatic expansion into Latin America.  Born in western Pennsylvania, he graduated from Washington College at age 17 and worked as a teacher and newspaper editor before running successfully for Congress in 1862.
I found Dave Serynek a book about President Benjamin Harrison by Homer E. Socolofsky and Allan B. Spetter from the U. of Kansas Press American presidency series.  An Indianapolis lawyer and dour Presbyterian whose grandfather William Henry took the oath of office in 1841, exactly 48 years before he did, Benjamin Harrison was a high tariff Old Guard Republican.  The authors struggle unconvincingly to refute the common impression of Harrison as a mere cipher.  He received the Republican nomination as a compromise candidate after 1884 candidate James G. Blaine decided not to run again.  During the Chicago convention, Blaine was in Scotland at Andrew Carnegie’s castle. Before the eighth ballot roll call the steel baron had Blaine cable party leaders that Harrison was acceptable to the two of them. 

In 1888 Harrison defeated incumbent president Grover Cleveland despite receiving 100,000 fewer votes, carrying New York by a razor-thin margin after dirty tricksters persuaded enough Irish Catholics that Cleveland was pro-British.  When Harrison thanked Providence for the victory, Pennsylvania boss Matt Quay quipped that the fool would never know “how close a number of men were compelled to approach the penitentiary to make him President.”

Four years later, with labor and farmer unrest reaching a fever pitch and the country lurching toward a Depression, Harrison, the last Civil War general to occupy the White House, lost a re-election bid to former president Grover Cleveland, who carried both New York and Harrison’s home state of Indiana.  During Harrison’s final weeks in office he tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to approve the annexation of Hawaii after sugar interests abetted by American Minister John L. Stevens, illegally ousted Queen Liliuokalani. 
Statue of Queen Liliuokalani with Iolani Palace in background
Socolofsky and Spetter wrote:
  “In a somewhat surprising move, which estranged his children, the former president married Mary Lord Dimmick, the widowed niece of the first Mrs. Harrison, early in 1896.  A daughter, Elizabeth, was born in February 1897  (the old lecher must have had some lead left in the pencil).  Four years later, after a bout of pneumonia, Harrison dies, on 13 March 1901.”
Francis Folsom Cleveland
Lecherous Grover Cleveland in 1873 allegedly forced himself on Maria Halpin and after she gave birth to a son, had her committed to a lunatic asylum and the baby to an orphanage. Meanwhile, he became enamored with 11 year-old Frances Folsom, the daughter of a friend who died in a carriage accident.  He arranged to become administrator of her estate, proposed to her while she was in college, and married the 21 year-old, 27 years her junior, in a 1886 White House ceremony.

At Miller Bakery Cafe Friday I joined Ron Cohen and Steve McShane, who had gathered to sign pre-ordered copies of “Moonlight in Duneland.”  We talked about university characters of years past, including Sociologists Barry Johnston and Bob Lovely and IUN’s “Plumed Knight,” Economist Leslie Singer.  Ron brought up John Dustman, who in his Human Sexuality class passed around dildos and took students to an adult bookstore and a nudist colony.  Dustman volunteered to participate in a spring fundraiser where students would try to dunk him.  In and out of water so many times he ended up suffering a mild heart attack.  Ron mentioned that another year a student got thrown from a bouncy “Magic Castle,” leaving him paralyzed after someone jumped in unexpectedly.

I made pancakes and bacon for James before driving him to bowling.  In an eighth grade History role-playing exercise on the 1787 Constitutional Convention he was New Jersey delegate Oliver Ellsworth.  A lawyer who had previously represented his state in the Continental Congress, Ellsworth favored a unicameral legislature with each state having equal representation.  On the Committee of Five that wrote the first draft on the Constitution, Ellsworth proposed that the national government be designated the United States.  For that alone, Ellsworth deserves a place in history books.

Dave met us at Camelot.  Looking tired from having announced a basketball game the previous evening, he thinks he is the cause of a recent IHSAA resolution designed to prevent home announcers from being partial to their team.  Last year at Sectionals, the Munster coach had complained about him when his Mustangs played at East Chicago Central. Referees seem to like what he does and let him do his thing unless a coach complains.

At Corey Hagelberg’s invitation I sold “Gary’s First Hundred Years” at the Miller Beach Holiday Market at Gardner Center.  I invited Anne Balay and Ken Schoon to join me with their Region books.  Most vendors had already set up when I arrived at 10:30, and crowds were steady throughout the afternoon.  The Bakery CafĂ© sold three kinds of soup and another vendor offered delicious tacos for two dollars apiece.  Anne, who really needed the money, sold about a dozen books, and I gave those buyers a free copy of volume 43, that has “Steel Closets” on the front cover and a photo of Anne on the back.

Anne brought a large plate of tasty, homemade oatmeal and cranberry cookies and offered them free of charge.  A kid in charge of a popcorn machine took one, then another, allegedly for his sister, and was soon back for two more.  When he returned a fourth time, I told him to bring us popcorn in return.  He came back with two plastic cups and said, “That will be two dollars, please.”  I told him, “No it won’t,” we’re doing a trade for the cookies.  With that, he grabbed his seventh and eighth cookie and never came back.  The popcorn was pretty tasteless.
Former IUN chancellor Peggy Elliott was Ken Schoon’s tenth and eleventh grade English teacher.  She had planned to come to Horace Mann’s fiftieth reunion but cancelled due to a family emergency.  Ken’s senior year she recruited him for the school literary magazine, which was a big boost to his confidence.  She’s moving back to Indiana and has a son here in the Region.

Anne Karras bought my Gary book.  When I last saw her, she was upset because she had just moved husband Ted, who has had Alzheimer’s for about nine years, into an assisted living facility.  She told me Ted is thriving in his new environment, playing bingo and even singing (he has a great voice).

Realtor Gene Ayers purchased “Steel Closets” and brought several potential customers to our table.  One who recently moved from Chicago to Indian Boundary Road wanted to know the derivation of the name.  Ken Schoon, who wrote about the subject in “Calumet Beginnings,” explained that it had been the boundary line between the territories of Indiana and Michigan until 1816, and the area north to Lake Michigan belonged to the Potawatomi until ceded to the state of Indiana in 1826, in what was termed the Ten Mile Purchase.

Judy Ayers has cookbooks compiled by area church groups that had belonged to her recently deceased mother.  I encouraged her to donate them to tha Archives.  We already have a few, and they’d make for an interesting exhibit, maybe around Easter.  Judy and George Rogge were born on the same day in Gary Methodist Hospital. 
An African-American exhibitor was wearing a black Kankakee Valley H.S. hoodie with the school mascot, a Kougar, on the back.  He had no affiliation with the school but picked it up because he liked the color and design.

On the way home I drove to the old Swedish cemetery behind Pepe’s between 12 and 20 to make sure I was describing to Jerry Davich how to find it.  He subsequently posted a photo of it on Facebook. 

In “The carpenter nails it” P-T SALT columnist Jeff Manes profiled builder Pat Lee, a Miller mainstay who grew up in East Gary, graduated from Andrean, and worked five years at U.S. Steel’s Tube Works as a draftsman before starting his own business.  Lee told Manes:

I wanted to work outside and I wanted to work with my hands. I pretty much taught myself to be a carpenter. The first phase of the growth of this company was small residential jobs, room additions, basements — stuff like that. Back in those days, when we did a room addition, we did it all. We’d go out and dig the foundation with shovels, we’d pour the concrete, lay the block.  As the jobs got bigger, we started to sub the work out. We started building big, custom-made homes. We just morphed into bigger and bigger projects. In ’73, I took my general contractor’s test here in the city of Gary and passed it. I’ve been a licensed general contractor in the city of Gary ever since. We now have licenses in all the surrounding municipalities, too. We did that for a long time. [Then] we morphed into project management and construction management.”

When Pat and wife Karren were dating, they’d drive to Miller and vow to live there some day.  He thought the secret to Miller being such a tight-knit, cohesive community is access to the beach, telling Manes:

  In the other lakefront communities, the access to the beach is restricted and you don’t have the melting pot mix we have here. I think we have this eclectic, diverse community because every north-south street in Miller is public access to the beach. Everybody can get to the beach, every block.  Consequentially, you’ve got a carpenter sitting in his lawn chair next to a real estate developer who is sitting next to a local artist with a lawyer over here and a steelworker over there and college professors interspersed.”

The Hagelbergs came over for bridge after having a Thanksgiving dinner at the Hobart Unitarian Church.  Toni was the big winner, and we had supper at Applebee’s. A 72 year-old member of Dick’s congregation, in apparent good health, suffered a stroke and fell down a flight of steps. Before he died, Dick and other church choir members sang to him and he indicated with his eyes and finger that he was alert enough to appreciate the gesture.

Now that I’ve been relegated to the role of spoiler in Fantasy football, I defeated nephew Bob and in fact scored more points than any of the seven others.  LeSean McCoy and T.Y. Hilton finally had big games in the Eagles and Colts victories over mediocre opponents. 

Recently deceased filmmaker Mike Nichols (“The Graduate,” “Silkwood”) founded “The Midnight Special” in 1953 on Chicago’s WFMT-FM station.  It opened with Leadbelly’s rendition of “The Midnight Special” and featured, in Nichols’ words, “folk music and farce, show tunes and satire, odds and ends.”  Mike Bayer loved the radio show and turned me on to it.   Nichols, who went through periods of depression during the 1950s, only lasted a year before the station replaced him.

The “Final Jeopardy” category was British music during the 1990s.  The question asked for a group that a critic called the most important social phenomenon since John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  I guessed U2, but the answer was the Spice Girls.  Nobody got it correct.

At Westchester Library I checked out “Tudors” by Peter Ackroyd.  On the back cover a reviewer for Standpoint wrote: “Ackroyd has a matchless sense of place, and of the transformations of place across long stretches of time.”  That is a good description of the historian’s task: recording change over time.

Alissa landed in Ankara, Turkey, on the first leg of her European business trip visiting schools that have exchange programs with Grand Valley State.  We were happy to get a Facebook photo she took as her plane was approaching the airport.  It brought back memories of when I attended an oral history conference at Bogazici University (formerly Robert College, Attila Tuncay’s alma mater) and stayed at a place named Superdorm.  Perhaps during his final six months Vice Chancellor Malik could work to build up IUN’s overseas program.  Universities have discovered that attracting foreign students is a moneymaker.  One necessity would be a dorm, which could go along Thirty-Fifth Avenue.

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