Monday, January 26, 2015


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  Buckminster Fuller (below)

Best known for the geodesic dome and Dymaxion car, futuristic architect Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was a nonconformist who twice got expelled from Harvard.  An environmentalist concerned about sustainability, he coined the word “ephemeralization,” which basically meant doing more with less.  The concept Dymaxion derived from the words dynamic, maximum, and tension.   Fuller liked people to call him Bucky and kept a diary (he called it a Dymaxion Chronofile) throughout his life, explaining: I decided to make myself a good case history of a human being going through the era from the Gay 90s, as far into the twentieth century as I might live, and it meant that I could not be judge of what was valid to put in or not. I must put everything in, so I started a very rigorous record.”

At the Gary YWCA I spoke to about 75 UIC grad students in Urban Planning whose class project is to come up with redevelopment ideas for Gary’s Midtown District.  Professor Janet Smith, who studied under Earl Jones, invited me for pizza beforehand and was pleased to receive a copy of “Gary’s First Hundred Years.”  Kyle Terry, who works part-time as a “Policy Fellow” for the city of Gary, greeted me warmly, as did Carol Brown of the University of Chicago abandoned buildings project.  There were a total of nine speakers.  Janet Smith put me in a group with Indiana Landmarks field director Tiffany Tolbert and Reverend Chet Johnson of New Tabernacle Baptist Church, who discussed Fuller Center for Housing, which has built or rehabbed several local dwellings and has ambitious plans to revitalize the neighborhood where Michael Jackson grew up.

After describing resources at the Calumet Regional Archives, including Dolly Millender’s pictorial history of Midtown, I mentioned that nearby was the site of one of the most famous schools in the world, Froebel, “Gary’s immigrant school.”  A few blocks to the east, I added, was one of the most innovative social settlements for African Americans, Stewart House, which aided “Steel City” newcomers during the 1920s and victims of the Great Depression during the 1930s.  I touched on Roosevelt School’s fabled history and Vivian Carter’s career as deejay, record storeowner, and founder of Vee-Jay Records.  I mentioned how Richard Hatcher dreamed big when he ran for mayor against the Democratic machine and described his vision for a Civil Rights Hall of Fame for Gary. 

I expressed the hope that they, too, would dream big and not only try to save landmarks still in existence such as St. John Hospital but even perhaps champion the building of replicas of Froebel and Stewart House for use as museums and community centers.  Though Midtown has suffered from middle class black flight, many Froebel and Roosevelt graduates still care about their roots and return for church and school functions.  Identifying myself as a practitioner of history from the bottom up, I exhorted them to involve the community and solicit its perceived needs.

I joined Fred and Diane Chary’s Trivia Night team at Temple Israel, along with  David and Michael Chary and Communication professor Evelyn Bottando.  We finished fifth out of 24 tables and would have won “survivor” had we known the number of states that have legalized marijuana (4 – we guessed 7) or the name of the former FBI director who died last year (James Schlesinger).  I wasn’t very helpful but did know Don and Phil Everly, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” and the three brothers who were catchers in World Series games, Puerto Ricans Yadier, Jose, and Bengie Molina.  Jack Weinberg and Valerie Denney were on a team called The Marxists, while the Spicer brothers’ table dressed as Trivia Knights of the Roundtable.  Regarding a question about the three families (Adams, Roosevelt, and Bush) who produced two presidents, Ron Cohen and I both pointed out that the Harrisons, William Henry and Benjamin (both Hoosiers), deserved recognition.
Alexis Bratsakis, Steve Spicer; below, Martha Bohn, Jim Bratsakis, Gabriel Staht
As Judge James Moody prepares to sentence former Lake County surveyor George Van Til, Rich James of The Times, in a column entitled “Van Til has suffered enough already,” argued that he should not have to go to prison for something virtually every officeholder does and that it would serve no purpose.  He wrote:

He won’t be remembered for the many drainage projects that have some living without fear of future flooding.  He won’t be remembered for bringing towns together to solve water woes that a single town couldn’t handle on its own.  He’ll be remembered as a politician who departed on the wings of public corruption. That’s sad, especially given his life’s work.
Last May James asked, “Why did the Feds make a spectacle of [George] Van Til?” He wrote:

I have covered dozens of these arraignments over the years. From a news standpoint, they are routine and boring.  For Van Til, it was dehumanizing.   Instead of being allowed to routinely walk into the courtroom, Van Til was offered up for public ridicule.  After being held in a jail cell, Van Til was shackled hand and foot, connected to a chain around his waist, and led into the courtroom.  Yeah, he was pretty much treated like Hannibal Lecter – the worst of the worst.
The guy who put on the shackles said it was ‘procedure.’ He lied.  In all the many arraignments I have covered in federal court, no defendant was ever been brought into the courtroom in cuffs and leg irons.
I don’t know about Van Til’s guilt or innocence.  But, I do know the feds owe him an apology. They owe the rest of us an explanation.”

The question remains: who had it in for Van Til?  He had many friends who’ve written testimonials on his behalf but at least one enemy who had the ear of the U.S. Attorney.

In class Nicole Anslover discussed why western states such as Wyoming and Utah allowed women to vote a half-century prior to passage of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.  She showed part of a documentary about sharpshooter Annie Oakley, who hunted game to support her impoverished family and became a headliner in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show. 

If time allowed, I’d have mentioned “Stagecoach Mary” Fields, born a slave and just the second female postal service mail carrier.  Six feet tall, a cigar smoker, and skilled marksman, Fields, according to one admirer, “fought wolves, trudged through freezing rain, drank hard, brawled harder, and revolted against every cultural stereotype the planet had to offer.”  When Montana passed a law to forbade women from entering saloons, the Mayor of Cascade granted her an exemption.  Some historians claim she was a lesbian, but hard evidence of that is nonexistent.  Unlike some western women, she did not try to pass as a man.

Ann Fritz held a gallery reception for talented ceramist Mathew Groves, who teaches at Loyola, was on hand to talk about his sculptures.  They were colorful, expertly done, and engaging.  Also there was fellow ceramist Amber Ginsburg, who had a "Tea Party" show last year.

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