Thursday, March 5, 2015

Atomic Tattoos


“When there's a doubt within your mind
Because you're thinking all the time
Framing rights into wrongs
Move along, move along.”
“You Are a Tourist,” Death Cab for Cutie

Gary native James Taylor, a Cleveland dermatologist, inquired about blood type tattoos in Lake County between 1951 and 1953.  The idea was to prepare for a nuclear catastrophe and also to facilitate creating an emergency blood bank should the need arise.  Other than Northwest Indiana, the only other place where such a program was implemented was in two Utah counties.  Tattoos approximately three eights of an inch in length were drilled onto on the left side of one’s chest near the armpit.  Northwestern Medical School professor Andrew C. Ivy first designed the program for Chicagoans, but Northwest Indiana proved to be more receptive, initially as a volunteer experiment.   First carried out at the 1951 Lake County Fair, medical units operated in Hobart elementary schools before tackling Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting institutions.

Jim Taylor wondered how the units cleaned the needles between subjects since it was “a potential way for all kinds of disease transmission - hepatitis, STD’s and a host of other blood borne pathogens.”  Jim provided a link to a Conelrad civil defense website that contains an article entitled “O.K. Blood Type Tattoo as Aid in Atom Attack.”  Surprisingly, it includes this recollection by my neighbor Marcia Gaughan:

I was in the first grade at the Whiting, Indiana primary school in the spring of 1953. The experience was so horrendous that I remember, in detail, everything that transpired.
First, we were given permission slips to take home for our parents to sign. There was even a charge for the procedure--50 cents. On the day of the ordeal the first thing that happened was that we stood in a long line to have our thumbs pricked with a needle. They then squeezed our blood onto a 3"x5" card that had three circles on it, each circle containing a different drop of fluid and, ultimately, a drop of our blood. This must have been how they determined our blood type. After the fluid and blood had enough time to dry, the cards were put into a plastic sleeve and given to us. (I kept mine for years but finally threw it away when I found it in a desk drawer decades later).
At some point we were also given a metal dog tag on a chain and told that we were to wear the dog tags all the time (presumably so that our bodies could be identified after a nuclear attack.) The dog tags had our name, blood type and RELIGION and maybe our address embossed in raised letters. We then took the dog tags and the 3"x5" cards into a large room that had about 20 little chairs in a line along the wall leading to an area behind a curtain. We were told to sit in the chairs.
The kid closest to the curtain was told to go inside the curtained area, and the rest of us moved up one chair closer. We then heard a buzzing sound similar to a dentist's drill, and a lot of screaming and, a few minutes later, the kid emerged from behind the curtain, crying, and then next kid took his place. The wait probably took about an hour, and as we inched closer and closer to the curtain, we had to witness each of our classmate's enter the curtained area and come out crying, so you can imagine how frightening it was.
Once behind the curtain I had to take off my clothes above the waist and show my card and dog tag to the two people in there. One held me still and the other stuck what looked like a power drill into my left side, turned it on and held it there for a minute or two. Naturally I was screaming and struggling just like the other kids before me.
I still have my atomic tattoo (O-); but, as I grew it got distorted, so it's pretty illegible today. The tattoo caused a lot of comments during bikini season after I went to college and later moved to Ohio, where no one had seen anything like it. I have met people from Hammond, Hobart and Gary who have atomic tattoos, and most can vividly remember the day it happened to them because it was such a terrible experience.
 I have heard that one of the reasons they pulled the plug on it was that some of the children had blood types that did not match either of their parents, so the guys who were thought to be their fathers... uh..really weren't, so in the interest of family unity they decided to nix the whole thing. Thank goodness.

While the program appears not to have been mandatory, I’m certain there was great pressure on parents to have their children comply.  Miller realtor Jean Ayers, who has a tattoo, heard that some Jewish parents objected because it was reminiscent of concentration camp procedures.

Fred McColly has commenced a March journal with a photo of U.S. Steel’s coke battery, slated to close in two months, putting about 300 out of work.  Fred asked: “So, are the unions pernicious monopolies that have priced themselves out of the job market or is U.S. Steel on a union busting and cost cutting spree?”  My answer: the latter.  East Chicago Ameristar casino workers are also on strike to protest severe health insurance coverage cutbacks.  BP oil workers and retired steelworkers joined their picket line, urging customers to boycott Ameristar.

In the Post-Tribune IUN librarian Tim Sutherland discussed an effort by Indiana Republican legislators to eliminate funding for INSPIRE, a website that enables libraries across the state to provide free access to scholarly journals.  Sutherland told reporter Cristin Nance Lazerus: “About 80 percent of what you discover on INSPIRE is not available elsewhere.  The cost comes to about 17 cents an article.  Basically, it’s benefitting all of the people in Indiana.”  After library officials and genealogists put up a fuss, funding for INSPIRE was reinstated.

Telling Steve McShane’s students about radical attorney Paul Pavlovich Glaser, I included information about wife Sarah, who helped him escape being exiled to Siberia after he plotted against Czar Nicholas II.  Neighbor Polly McNough, whom I interviewed 40 years ago, recalled his being an expert horseman who rode in Fourth of July parades and liked his tea Russian-style, in a glass with jelly on the bottom.  In a government document entitled “Investigation of Strike in Steel Industries: Hearings Before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor” (1919), an informant reported that Glaser spoke at the mass rally that provided the excuse for anti-union Mayor William Hodges to request federal troops.  I got a nice round of applause (that’ll get me to return). 

After delicious ham soup and tossed salad Toni and I called granddaughter Victoria in Grand Rapids to wish her a happy fifteenth birthday.  Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated wrote that Judy Garland, whose given name was Frances Ethel Gumm, was from Grand Rapids but Minnesota, not Michigan.  When Judy was four, the family moved to California following rumors that her father, a theater owner, was buggering young male ushers.
 from left, Danielle Zandstra, Nicki Monahan, Grayce Roach

The Lady Redhawks’ season ended with a hard-fought overtime loss to Northern New Mexico College on the visitors’ home court.  Nicki Monahan was AII (Association of Independent Institution) conference player of the year, while Danielle Zandstra won defensive honors and Grayce Roach selected freshman of the year.  Coach Ryan Shelton deserved to be named coach of the year.

Ron Cohen pointed out that a Krispy Kreme bakery in the English city of Hull cancelled a promotion for KKK (Krispy Kreme Klub) Wednesdays in the face of complaints about KKK being the abbreviation for Ku Klux Klan. Talk about Klueless.

I asked Joe Pellicciotti if he’d be leaving the Region after he retires in June.  Not right away, he thought, although he has family ties in Seattle.  Pretty cool place, I said, and he nodded in agreement.

Jean Poulard wondered why flags were at half-staff.  It was to honor longtime State Senator Mary Landske of Cedar Lake, who died at age 77 from lung cancer.  Fellow legislator Earline Rogers praised Landske for being bipartisan, rare for Republicans these days.  “We were always able to come to an amicable agreement,” Rogers declared.  Like her friend and fellow Republican moderate Ed Charbonneau, Landske voted against the 2012 Right To Work law and a measure designed to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

IUN custodian James Hill competed in AAU youth basketball against former Bowmen coach Marvin Rea, recently fired despite having led the charter school’s basketball team to two state titles.  Hill went to several Gary schools before a welding teacher at Gary Career Center turned his life around, enabling him to learn a skill and gain confidence and self-respect.

In “Remembering Strawberry Fields,” Mary Matury Gibson tells of attending her fiftieth Lowell High School reunion:  “One of the boys who was very popular in high school was saying how hard it had been in our class for him and others who were gay.”  Gibson hadn’t realized any of them were gay.  Unfortunately for historians, the author changed the names of people and places, but her description of her old homestead, located between Highway 41 and the Illinois state line, visited 50 years later, rings true.  She wrote:

“The house at Strawberry Fields still stands, but it looks empty, stark, and lonely.  The fields no longer contain the beautiful, fragrant strawberry rows that once brought fame to the Rosario family and my pa, the Strawberry King.  I closed my eyes.  I took a deep breath.  I caught a fleeting whiff of the blossoms that haunt my dreams.  When I opened my eyes, it was gone.  I looked around and saw old, dead grass on the hills.”

Jeff Manes profiled labor activist Sameerah Ahmad, like Mary Gibson a Lowell grad.  Sameerah grew up in Shelby and identified herself as “a queer woman of color from a working-class Muslim family.”  She added:  “I’ve always been a fighter.  Hey, I’m Palestinian-Irish.  I don’t have much tolerance for inequality.”  Her dad is a chef at Aladdin Pita in Merrillville, where her uncle, the former owner, was murdered.  In school, Sameerah told Manes, she not only “learned early on that racism, bigotry and ignorance existed, but [that] there was a great divide [because] Shelby is more of a working-class community than Lowell.”

Among the 19 Valpo Welcome Project oral histories listed under “sexual orientation” one entitled “Fuels My Ball of Fire” is by the co-president of the campus LGBT group Alliance.  It contains this quote: “I’ll see people down the hallway, and they’ll walk out a door because they know who I am.  They don’t want to ‘catch the gay.’”  Once he was walking near Roosevelt Road and Lincolnway in Valparaiso when people in cars shouted insults such as “Fag” and “Go back home.” 

Engineers swept the Legends, composed of guys nicknamed (as shirts indicated) Coach, Sweetness (for Walter Peyton), Ko Boss, Buddha, and Double Check.  Two years ago, the Legends were league champs, but several members, including Anthony Forbes, formed a second team, dubbed, with typical Region verve, “Da Legends.”  After I clinched the only close game with a double, Robbie said, “Way to go, Jimbo.”  I was surprised and pleased he called me Jimbo.  Mel Nelson has an “atomic tattoo” from when he attended Tolleston.  His dad, a pipefitter, worked for an East Chicago company that furnished pipes for Whiting oil refineries.  Back home, I put on “Codes and Keys” by Death Cab for Cutie and celebrated with a couple Coors stubbies.

1 comment:

  1. oddly enough my brother attended Tolleston High School and he has an atomic tattoo as well.

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