Thursday, October 28, 2021

Hairy Gertz and the 47 Crappies

“Crappies are a special breed of Midwestern fish, created by God for the express purpose of surviving in waters that would kill a bubonic-plague bacillus. They have never been known to fight, or even faintly struggle. I guess when you’re a crappie, you figure it’s no use anyway.” Jean Shepherd, “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” The title character in Jean Shepherd’s “Hairy Gertz and the 47 Crappies,” about 12-year-old Ralph fishing on Cedar Lake with his dad and a half-dozen of the Old Man’s drinking and bowling buddies, is a notorious dirty joke teller, often involving men of the cloth, wanton women, and Eastern European bartenders. Out on the lake Gertz had plenty of time to spin one after another that were “rotten to the core,” with the Old Man vainly cautioning that there was a kid in the boat. One, for instance, about a Hungarian who had a cross-legged daughter and a bowlegged dachshund, Ralph couldn’t understand, but he knew it was pretty disgusting from his companions’ reaction. Vic (my Old Man) had a friend who seemingly an endless supply of jokes, most of them not fit for mixed company, as the saying went in my youth. Vic always feigned embarrassment when the guy launched into one in my presence. While I rarely hear raunchy jokes anymore, having retired from my bowling league, they appear to be, according to steel mill folklore, a staple of daily life at work and in Region taprooms. A few years ago, I was keynote speaker at a one-day conference in Cedar Lake and chose to discuss the various vicissitudes the community has undergone from its pioneer days, through the tourist boom of a century ago, followed by the Great Depression, the emigration of industrial workers from Kentucky and Tennessee during the war, and the resultant pollution of the lake from a variety of waste products, and the more recent gentrification following incorporation. I spoke about the many famous bands that performed at the Midway Ballroom and quoted from “Hairy Gertz and the 47 Crappies,” first published in Playboy, which Shepherd introduces with this exchange between Ralph and childhood friend Flick, now a bar owner, reminiscing about a girl who moved out to Cedar Lake: Ralph: “Cedar Lake! I haven’t heard of Cedar Lake for years! The Dance Hall! The roller rink! The Smell! Is it still out there, Flick? How is Cedar Lake?” Flick paused meaningfully in his swabbing, savoring to the full his next statement. “Cedar Lake. It’s the first time I heard of ‘em doing it to a lake. It’s Condemned!” Acknowledging Shepherd’s tendency toward hyperbole, I got laughs when I read this passage describing the water where 17,000 Region fishermen had gathered: “It is composed of roughly ten percent waste glop spewed out by Shell, Sinclair, Phillips, and the Grasseli Chemical Corporation; twelve percent used detergent; thirty-five percent thick gruel composed of decayed garter snakes, deceased toads, fermented crappies, and a strange, unidentifiable liquid that holds it all together. No one is quite sure what that is, because everybody is afraid to admit what it really is. They don’t want to look at it too closely. So this melange lays there under the sun, and about August it is slowly simmering like a rich mulligatawny stew. The natives, in their superstitious way, believe that it is highly inflammable. They take no chances.” About a decade ago, Greg Reising asked me to participate in a Miller Beach Aquatorium fundraiser: members would read selections by their favorite authors. Naturally, I chose “Hairy Gertz and the 47 Crappies.” It went over so well that I was asked to do an encore the following month, enabling me to finish the memorable story, where the men arrive home with their catch and celebrate their “primal victory over the Elements” by smoking cigars and drinking yet more Blatz beer, as Ralph cleans the 47 crappies. Here’s the final paragraph: “Somewhere off in the dark the Monon Louisville Limited wails as it snakes through the Gibson Hump on its way to the outside world. The giant Indiana moths, at least five pounds apiece, are banging against the window screens next to my bed. The cats are fighting in the backyard over crappie heads, and fish scales are itching in my hair as I joyfully, ecstatically slide off into the great world beyond.” When I first read “Hairy Gertz and the 47 Crappies,” I had no idea what the Gibson Hump was. It turned out to be a Region railroad yard, roundhouse, and coaling station where locomotives are serviced, repaired, and stored. While less than 200 roundhouses are still in use in the United States, the Gibson yard is still active. The Monon railroad once ran trains back and forth from Chicago to Indianapolis with a stop in Cedar Lake, enabling people from those cities to spend a day, weekend or longer at one of the town’s resort hotels or cottages.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Acceptable Men

Acceptable Men “Gary Works is situated on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, with hardly a single elevation to break the wind between it and the North Pole. In January, working out-of-doors much of the time as motor inspectors, we feel the cold to our bones, no matter how many layers of silk, wool, and down we wear.” Noel Ignatiev, “Acceptable Men: Life in the Largest Steel Mill in the World” An idealistic “Red Diaper Baby,” who as a youth helped his father before breakfast seven days a week deliver copies of a Yiddish-language Communist Party newspaper, Freheit, Noel Ignatiev quit college after his junior year and, a member of the ultra-leftist Sojourner Truth Organization, became a factory worker, hoping to convince Black workers to rise up against a capitalist system that exploited and oppressed them. His unfinished memoir (he died two years ago) describes working at U.S. Steel, beginning in 1972, the year Gary mayor Richard Hatcher convened the Black National Political Convention at West Side High School. He trained under a Black motor Inspector named Jackson, who showed him the ropes, including how to minimize the chances of serious injury under truly dangerous conditions, and, incidentally, taught him to play duplicate bridge; the two of them competed in games against Black social workers and teachers that included the Mayor’s wife Ruthellyn Hatcher. Wary of industrial unionism as a path to progress, Ignatiev learned that Blacks members were confined to the worst jobs due to the principles of division seniority and separate tracks for production and maintenance workers. He wrote: “Gary Works ran seven miles long and two miles deep. Moving from east to west, the divisions ran from crude (the coke plant) to finish (the rolling mills), from dirty to comparatively clean, and from black to white.” Ignatiev’s descriptions of mill culture reminded me of folklorist Richard Dorson’s “Land of the Millrats,” as he relates stories of pilfering, sleeping on the job, nicknames (Big Cat, Polecat, Roto-Rooter, Slick, Big Hickey, and Little Hickey), and Old Timers, such as a Greek immigrant who talked about growing olives and cooked pigeons he captured on the rafters of the repair barn. “Acceptable Men” concludes with the author taking advantage of an opportunity - denied to his co-workers – to transition into academia, followed by this paragraph: “On the 200th anniversary of the Republic, Gary Works management decided to clean up some areas, build walkways, and throw open the gates to public tours. People from all over the world came to wonder at the ‘Industry that made America great.’” I recall how those Bicentennial tours were extremely popular- and how misleading they were. There was little resemblance to the description of Charles Dickens, quoted by Ignatiev, that it was “hell with the lid off.” I went on guided tours of Inland and Bethlehem Steel’s facilities that were similarly sanitized. Michael Goldfield, author of “The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s,” wrote: “Noel Ignatiev’s combining of the technical details of steel making, irreverent comradery, accounts of racism both in the plant and in the country as a whole, with damning matter-of-fact indictments of the company’s total lack of concern for the safety of its workers, makes this a must read for all who want deeper insights into U.S. society and capitalism in general.”

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Steel Shavings

Steel Shavings “As a result of grinding, drilling, filing, and boring, all day, every day, the steel manufacturing process generates scrap metal shavings that can be recycled and used in many ways, including in filters and cleaning agents.” Gardner Metal Recycling the early 1970s, when Ron Cohen and I started Steel Shaving magazine with the intention of publishing IUN student family histories, the steel industry was still labor intensive and a source of good paying union jobs. Most of our students, many the children of immigrants, came from steel-working families, so “Steel Shavings” seemed an appropriate title for our venture – and still does as I am preparing volume 51. Representative of our early efforts was Margene Milisavljevich’s account of her Serbian-born parents Stanoje and Eleonore. Stanoje arrived first in 1952, working at a crap job in Chicago until a distant cousin found an opening for him at Gary Works. A year later, he was able to send for his family. Margene wrote: “Stanoje’s job at the mill enabled him to provide for his family very comfortably. They lived in a nice home, owned a car, and, perhaps most important, always had enough to eat. They all had known what it meant to be hungry, and Stanoje vowed never to let his family go hungry again.” From time to time, I get requests for back Shavings issues. Many are officially out of print; but with one exception (“Steelworkers Fight Back: Rank and File Insurgency in the Calumet Region during the 1970s,” several hundred of which were purchased at discount by Eddie Sadlowski, who shared the cover with fellow union leader Jim Balanoff) I can usually scrounge one up for somebody whose loved one or relative is in it. I recently mailed off the Cedar Lake issue to California. Jesse Salomon generally wants several copies of “Froebel Daughters of Penelope” every few years. The other day I received a request from the husband of Jennifer Borkowski for “Tales of Lake Michigan and the Indiana Dunelands” and decided, reluctantly, to part with one of my four personal copies. Jennifer had interviewed Joe Demkowicz about pier fishing and wrote, “Fishing began at the age of four or five for Joe, first at Buffington Pier and the Edison plant and then at the Whiting lakefront and the barge canal. Joe and his friends would spear carp with archery equipment or use them for target shooting. No one minded; they ate trash and were sometimes referred to as “garbage fish.” He claims the carp sometimes weighed 30 or 40 pounds and looked like great sharks coming at you.” Perch were also plentiful then, gathering in schools attracted to the warmer water near shore. Joe Demkowicz recalled catching two or three hundred perch in a full day. Some people used double hooks and would pull out a pair at a time. Demkowicz told Jennifer: “We would go early in the morning, fish all day, and by the time we were through, have enough fish for the winter.” I was shocked to read in the Post-Tribune that Wirt graduate and Miller mainstay Eric Reaves died at age 59. Recently a member of Gary mayor Jerome Prince’s administration, Reaves, along with Bill and Karren Lee, cofounded the Miller Beach Art and Creative District along Lake Street and helped acquire through a donation the old Miller Drugstore and then convert it into the Michael J. Gardner Center. A eulogy honoring Reaves from that organization called Reaves a visionary and iconoclast who “was able to eject disruptors [and] in his own way was a disruptor himself, but he was a happy disruptor and he was our disruptor.” George Rogge, whom Reaves succeeded as head of the Miller Citizens Corporation, told reporter Carole Carlson: “He was smart, and he never saw color in any way, shape or form. He was a wild horse that had to be tamed, an earth mover. He made people work and he made things happen. If you’re in his way and don’t want to work, he mows you over.” Four years ago, I published a piece in Steel Shavings that Eric Reaves wrote after Philandro Castile was shot to death in a St. Paul suburb after police pulled him over for a broken taillight. Asked for his identification, the 32-year-old was mortally injured while reaching for his wallet as his horrified girlfriend recorded the scene. Minnesota governor Mark Dayton stated flatly that such a scenario would not have happened had the driver not been Black. Reaves observed: ANY life that is lost as a result of terrorism, racism, sexism, gay bashing or for any reason is one too many. I fear for my son and young nephews and secondarily myself on a daily basis. I pray that they are never stopped and the incident escalates into death. I cannot count the times I have been stopped for DWB, Driving While Black. Having a gun drawn on me is one of the most unnerving experiences of my life, one that I will never forget. My proclivity to date outside my race only exacerbated the stops, as the officers generally asked, “Ma’am, are you OK?” Many officers asked the young lady to step out of the car for a verbal scolding for dating a black man (when I was younger, they always threatened to take them home to their parents to ensure that the daughter would stop this behavior). It also never helped that I was driving a Mercedes Benz (mom’s) that clearly had to be stolen. I am 50+ and I am tired of racism on any level.

The Borrowed Years

“In May of 1941 the war had just begun The Germans has the biggest ships, they had the biggest guns The Bismarck was the fastest ship that ever sailed the sea On her deck were guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees” Johnny Horton, “Sink the Bismarck” In 1960, my senior year at Upper Dublin High School, country singer Johnny Horton’s hit reached number 3 on Billboard’s Top 50. Never mind historical inconsistencies (the war in Europe had begun in 1939) and the fact that many Americans mistakenly believed that U.S. vessels had downed the battleship (spoofed by Homer and Jethro in “We Didn’t Sink the Bismarck”), it was a successful follow-up to Horton’s 1959 saga “The Battle of New Orleans.” In the Banta Center library I found Richard M. Ketchum’s 900-page tome “The Borrowed Years, 1938-1941: America on the Way to War” (1989). I decided I’d skip the chapters on foreign policy and just read ones on domestic life. The author, like my dad Vic, grew up in the Pittsburgh area, hard hit by the depression but during the late 1930s such a soot-darkened place that cars and trolleys kept their lights on during the day. Bingo, invented in 1929 by Edwin S. Lowe, was a popular diversion employed by churches and charities as a fund-raising tool. Ketchum mentions Black blues singer Bessie Smith bleeding to death in Tennessee after an auto accident because a hospital available to Black patients was so far away. Ketchum’s mother wouldn’t allow Richard’s fourth-grade friend, Sylvan Jubeliver, to come to their home because he was a Jew; and the author describes how the passenger ship St. Louis carrying a thousand Jewish refugees, some of whom later died at the hands of the Nazis, wasn’t permitted to land in a U.S. port. Unlike my father’s family, that was hard-hit by the Great Depression, Ketchum’s father’s advertising agency, Ketchum, McLeod, and Grove, managed to survive, enabling Richard, 16 in 1938 to attend Shady Side Academy and then Yale (Vic would have turned 22 in October 1938, and graduated from Pitt after securing part-time work in the steel mills). George Ketchum remained a rock-ribbed Republican, and his son was invited to several debutante parties in June of 1940 before taking a summer job on the TAT ranch in Wyoming. In a chapter titled “’the finest party I ever attended,’” Echoing the opening lines of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, Ketchum wrote: Ah, but those were grand times – maybe even the best of times if you were lucky enough to have been born at the right moment, in the right place, in the right circumstances. Europe was ravaged by barbarians, America’s underprivileged were jobless and hungry, much of the world was at war, but a Pittsburgh boy whose family had managed to survive the Depression more or less intact could drive through a mill town’s silent slums, en route to the country club to play tennis and swim, and scarcely notice the lines of gray figures patiently shuffling toward the soup kitchens, or the shabby houses where women and children sat on rotting doorsteps, staring at an alien world with eyes that knew no hope. I know, because I was one of the lucky few. Ketchum recalled nights dancing to big bands, most memorably to Benny Goodman’s swing music at Kennywood Park and debutante parties lasting well past midnight. One night around 3 a.m. he and four buddies in a two-toned Buick convertible pulled into a White Tower on North Craig Street, and Richard ordered two hamburgers costing five cents apiece and a milkshake. Ketchum speculated that the man who served them had learned to expect “just about anything - the drunk, the panhandler, the stick-up man, the pre-dawn visits by prep-school boys in dress suits” and whose chief concern “was whether the customers paid before leaving.” On December 7, 1941, Ketchum was in New York City staying at the apartment of his girlfriend Barbara “Bobs” bray and her sister Louise. He was working on a Yale senior thesis about the history of the new Yorker. He heard about Pearl Harbor on the radio while drinking a hot chocolate at a soda fountain. Ketchum wrote: “As in millions of homes tat night, we talked the hours away, for the first time contemplating a future in which the two of us might be separated for long periods, though we would not admit to the unspoken fear beneath the surface – the possibility that I might go off to war and not come back. It never occurred to us that what lay ahead would prove to be the great divide for our generation – not only a chasm that would swallow up some of our closest friends, but the demarcation line against which we would measure time and change ever afterward, as the Civil War and the First World War marked them off for our great grandfathers’ and fathers’ generations.” Using information gleaned in “The Borrowed Years,” I sent this email to Susan McGrath: “Having been born Feb. 24, 1942, which I have to repeat every time I pick up pills at CVS Pharmacy, I figure I was conceived in May 1941, the month “Citizen Kane” opened in theaters, Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was number 1, and the British sank the Bismarck after it had sunk the British cruiser HMS Hood, killing over 1,400 on board. Fifteen-minute radio daytime serials (dubbed soup operas because so many sponsors made products aimed at housewives) were the rage (‘The Goldbergs’, ‘Just Plain Bill,’ ‘The Road to Life,’ ‘Big Sister,’ Myrt and Marge,’ and many more). In the afternoon they gave way to kids’ shows such as “Little Orphan Annie’ and ‘Jack Armstrong – All-American Boy.’ At 7 o’clock came the top-rated comedy ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy,’ with white actors Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll posing a Black folks. In sports Joe DiMaggio began his 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’ batting average reached .400.” Susan replied: “I have a number of friends who remember our fathers ‘going to war.’ Gayle Jenkins lived over a bakery with her two sisters. We all talked of writing a book about how things were for us war babies. We were all born 9 months after our fathers left. My brothers, mother, and I moved into what became the Rising Sun Hotel in Telford PA. It was not an Inn when we either rented it or bought it. My aunt who had an enormous influence on our lives, lived with us and probably bought the place. I was about one year old but have very fond memories of that time. My aunt taught school in Philadelphia and had many interesting leftist friends stay with us. The women really took over our feminist household. My father was sent to Hawaii to make relief maps for the war effort.” I wrote back: “My dad, Vic, was a chemist and his work was deemed vital to the war effort. I think he regretted not serving. Hawaii would have been an ideal place (after Pearl Harbor, that is) to be stationed. A friend, John Haller, who is a couple years older than I, recalls being at an army base ceremony at war’s end when all the adults closed their eyes during a prayer. When his parents opened their eyes, they discovered to their horror that little Johnny must have discovered wads of gum on the bottoms of folding chairs and had about a half-dozen of them in his mouth.” At Banta Center Chris Prohl and I finished in the middle of the pack at duplicate bridge but had one memorable hand against the winning East-West pair, Wayne Carpenter and Dave Bilger. Carpenter, a former steelworker, is a ruby life master, having earned over 1,500 master points (in contrast I have about 70). After they had a top board against us for being the only pair to bid and make game, Chris and I bid 4 Spades, vulnerable. Because they weren’t vulnerable and had both been biding Diamonds, Dave bid 5 Diamonds, figuring they could go down 3 Doubled and still lose fewer points than if we made game. Chris, however, bid 5 Spades, Dave doubled, and I made all but one trick. I held the Ace of Diamonds, got trump out, and then set up four Club tricks after losing the Ace. Bigler recalled that I had interviewed him three years ago and mentioned him in a subsequent Steel Shavings. He was a student at IUN and got stuck there during the blizzard of 1967. He was working at the mill and had a student deferment because he was carrying 12 credit hours. His second semester an instructor had such a heavy accent, Dave couldn’t understand him. His adviser said he could drop the class and take it later. After he followed suit, he got drafted since he no longer was a full-time student. He when into the air force, something he doesn’t regret, and completed his degree decades later after a career with U.S. Steel. He became a special education teacher at Hobart, and from his sunny personality and self-confidence, I’m certain he was a good one. Here what I wrote about his bridge career: Bigler learned bridge at a young age from his parents and played related games in college, including euchre, bid whist, and a similar Serbin version, but he didn’t again take up the card game seriously until invited to join a Bridge O Rama in Portage. Henceforth, in retirement, he and Chuck Briggs formed a successful partnership. Dave enjoys teaching bridge to beginners and introducing them to area games. He’s been involved in Little league baseball for 30 years and on the Hobart school board since 2003. I gave Bigler a DVD of our interview, deposited a second one in the Calumet Regional Archives, and at his request burned one for his grandson.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Town and Gown

“I occasionally daydream about winning the lottery and using the money to shore up support for international students and contribute to other worthy causes crippled by the pandemic.” Hugh McGuigan

With VU professor Liz Wuerffel and Welcome Project assistant and filmmaker Carmen Vincent videotaping, I interviewed Hugh McGuigan at his Valparaiso home. For a quarter-century McGuigan directed Valparaiso University’s Global Education program, both for VU students seeking to study overseas and international students from all over the world, including Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Namibia, Bolivia, China, Mexico, and elsewhere. A large proportion enrolled in the VU’s Engineering program and, almost without exception, excelled academically.

Hugh grew up in Minnesota and after graduating from college and a stint in the army, he continued his education while working in international programs. He came to VU from Lake Land College in Mattoon, Illinois, after meeting future wife Sandy, who worked at the university. He built up the program to such an extent that when he semi-retired (he still helps out and occasionally teaches a course), it took two full-time administrators to replace him. McGuigan was particularly proud of international programs that involved the community, including an annual celebration of diverse cultures that involved entertainment and exotic cuisine to which local schools and civic groups were welcome. Hugh often spoke to clubs such as the Rotary and Kiwanis about global education opportunities and involved local eateries such as Don Quijote in providing food for special occasions. He was particularly passionate in arguing that we all are global citizens and that cultural exchange is invaluable for promoting international understanding and civility. Afterwards we enjoyed blueberry muffins that wife Sandy had made, and they told us about a Thanksgiving dinner where they hosted 18 international faculty and their families, including young children, giving rides to those without cars, picking up dinners at Strongbow’s Restaurant, and explaining the various traditional holiday foods, such as turkey (most guests favored the dark meat) and cranberries (one guest poured gravy on his and seemed to enjoy it – I like turkey gravy on anything). Afterwards, Liz and I commiserated that the anecdote wasn’t on tape, but we plan on interviewing Sandy at a later date.

Hugh McGuigan and I both attended Saturday Evening Club (me via zoom since Alissa and Beth were visiting for the weekend). Speaking from Florida was former IUN medical school director Pat Bankston on the need for humility, civility, and reason in our present polarized age of rampant tribalism. He began with the Charles Dickens quote from “A Tale of Two Cities,” that this was the best of times (i.e., rapid development of the anti—COVID vaccine) and the worst of times (some Republicans making vaccine and mask mandates a partisan issue). Bankston quoted a former SEC member who repeatedly claimed that we were going to hell in a hand basket. He used the phrase “exhausted majority” to describe those like himself tired of the vulgar and overheated political rhetoric. The phrase reminded me of Nixon’s use of “silent majority” a half—century ago, but when it came my time to speak I noted that despite efforts by Trump and his minions to demonize anyone who disagrees with them, more unites Americans than divides us. I concluded, “Count me among the exhausted majority.”

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Gary Chamber meeting

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them,” James Baldwin I was asked to participate in a meeting at the Gary Chamber of Commerce at the Centier Bank Building, located at 504 Broadway in downtown Gary. The purpose was to suggest content for a talk local representative Ben Clement would be giving on “Black Excellence” at the annual conference of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA). Jená Bellezza, COO of the Indiana Parenting Institute, had arranged for a Gary speaker to be on the agenda, and Chamber director Chuck Hughes had organized the meeting. As a Gary historian, I was to come up with names of people who might be highlighted. Prior to the meeting, I made a list of possibilities in the categories, of officeholders (A.B. Whitlock, Richard Hatcher), clergymen active in civil rights (Julius James, L.K. Jackson), athletes (Olympian champ Lee Calhoun, gridiron star George Taliaferro), entrepreneurs (Andrew Means, Vivian Carter), educators (Roosevelt teachers Ida B. King, Anne Thompson), social workers (John Stewart, Thelma Marshall), actors (William Marshall, Avery Brooks), labor leaders (George Kimbley, Curtis String), and singers (Michael Jackson, Deniece Williams). One of Gary’s first “skyscrapers, built in the 1920s, the bank building hadn’t changed much since I last paid a visit to meet former student Jacqueline Gipson for lunch when the VU Law School graduate was working for the Legal Aid Society, only I was told to park, not in the multi-story garage evidently no longer in use, but in a lot next to the building and north of the Housing Authority headquarters that once was the grand Hotel Gary and now housed seniors. In the mid-1970s, while researching Gary’s history at the public library on Fifth Avenue, I’d often have lunch across the street at the YMCA cafeteria in a building now belonging to the Boys and Girls Club. Oldtimers would eat at a large round table; I’d join them and ask them about the Prohibition Era, when Capone mobsters cooled their heels at the Hotel Gary and the town was wide open when it came to speakeasies and brothels. A dentist named E.C. Doering had his office at what was then the Gary National Bank Building and once cleaned my teeth there. I arrived early, and Chuck Hughes explained photos lining the walls, including one of a champion Biddy Basketball team, circa 1960, containing both Hughes and Region native Gregg Popovich (the two are still close friends) and a collage of a reunion Hughes organized honoring the two all-Black teams that vied for the 1955 IHSAA championship, Indianapolis Crispus Attucks and Gary Roosevelt. Among the honorees were former foes Oscar Robertson and Dick Barnett, who both went on the star in the NBA. A group shot Hughes was particularly proud of brought together boxing legends Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Muhammad Ali. Once the meeting began, it became obvious, given the 20 minutes allotted for the talk, there’d only be time to highlight a few people. I suggested the theme “On Their Shoulders” and that Ben Clement might mention how African Americans during the Great Migration came to Gary to work in the mills and, despite facing school segregation, many of their children and grandchildren went on to productive lives, including Vee-Jay Records cofounder Vivian Carter, the daughter of steelworkers and restauranteurs, whose success with hitmakers such as the Spaniels and Jimmy Reed inspired the Jacksons and other local performers. I also brought up Thelma Marshall, a teacher and social workers who ran the Children’s Home for orphans and whose son William, a beneficiary of the Roosevelt School auditorium curriculum, became a Shakespearean actor. Finally, I brought up the Taliaferro brothers, Claude and George, products of Gary Roosevelt, one a longtime local teacher and coach, the other a football legend at IU and the NFL, who in retirement moved back to Bloomington and was active both in campus and civic affairs. Jená recorded the meeting for Ben’s benefit, and I told him he was welcome to run his remarks by me if he so desired. Today I visited Jonathan Briggs’ freshman seminar to distribute Steel Shavings magazines (volume 49) that I will be discussing next week when I speak to the class about the history of IUN. I told students that colleague Ron Cohen and I founded the magazine almost 50 years ago in order to publish student’s family history articles, that most of our students came from steelworker families who’d emigrated to the Calumet Region within the past two generations, mostly from Europe, Mexican, and the American South. Both Ron and I believed in the validity of regional history “from the bottom up,” as the phrase went, that is, emphasizing marginalized groups such as women, Latinos, African Americans, and union workers under-represented in traditional textbooks. I noted that while the content of the magazine has fluctuated over the years, volume 49, for example, being basically my journal for 2019, it still contains student work and is committed to social history from the bottom up, in short capturing “Life in the Calumet Region” as it has changed over time.

Monday, August 30, 2021

"Legendary Lloyd" McClendon

“It was an almost out-of-body experience as a youngster to be able to do that, and now I’ve learned to appreciate it more as an adult.” Lloyd McClendon

Fifty years ago, my first summer in Gary, Lloyd McClendon led a team from the “Steel City” to the Little League finals in Williamsport, PA, against a squad of suspiciously mature players from Taiwan. Leading up to the championship game, the 12-year-old had hit two home runs against teams both from Kentucky and Madrid, Spain. In an interview the Taiwan manager claimed that his pitcher, Chin-mu Hsu would pitch to McClendon because it would be dishonorable to walk him intentionally. In the first inning Hsu walked the Basemore brothers, Ralph and Vincent; then on the first pitch McClendon hit his fifth straight round tripper. His next four at bats in what proved to be the longest game in Little League history at 9 innings, he was issued intentional walks. Hsu, who was taller than the five-foot four McClendon with a high leg kick that resembled Juan Marichal, went on to strike out 22 batters as his team notched the score in the sixth and won it going away, 12-3, in the ninth.

McClendon went on to play for Gary Roosevelt, whose coach, Benny Dorsey, named him team captain his freshman year. After an all-state career, he obtained a scholarship to Valparaiso University, where he was a league MVP. He ultimately enjoyed an eight-year career as a major league player, his most productive season being in 1989 with the Chicago Cubs, with whom he hit 12 home runs; in the NL championship against San Francisco, he went 2 for 3 as a pinch hitter. McClendon then had a long career as a coach and manager. In 2013, after Seattle named him their skipper for the upcoming season, Seattle Times reporter Geoff Baker looked back on the 1971 exploits of “Legendary Lloyd,” interviewing teammate Carl Weatherspoon, who told him that there were more than a half-dozen Little League organizations in Gary back then, including their Anderson Field league, and that steelworkers such as his and Lloyd’s dad encouraged kids to get into baseball and let them stay outside after dinner because neighborhoods were safer then. “We all played in the streets until dark,” Weatherspoon recalled. Sunday’s NWI Times front page article by David P. Funk emphasized that Gary’s 1971 squad was the first all-black team to play in the championship. McClendon told him, “You’re 12 years old. You don’t think about economics or racial factors, what it does for a city on so many fronts. You just strap it on and go out and have fun.” Prior to the game, TV announcer Tim McKay and Yankee great Micky Mantle interviewed him. McClendon said, “That’s one of my most cherished memories of everything that happened there. I was terrified. I tried to run past them. I was like, ‘My God, that’s Mickey Mantle.’” Third baseman Roy Lawson, whose father Jesse was the head coach, recalled that few balls were hit to him because opponents couldn’t catch up to Lloyd’s fastballs. After Lloyd weakened in the ninth and left the game, his father and Coach Lawson told him how proud they were of him. McClendon remembered: “What they did for me in that moment defined who I was to become, not only as a baseball player but as a human being and a man of character.”

Second baseman Marcus Hubbard, who batted clean-up behind McClendon, saw himself as a second lead-off batter because Lloyd’s drives generally cleared the bases ahead of him. One thing that impressed Hubbard is how boisterously all-white teams they’d defeated from Maine and Kentucky and their fans cheered for them. When the team returned to Gary, the city arranged a parade in their honor, and the celebrities rode on top of a firetruck down Broadway and were greeted by Mayor Hatcher and Governor Edgar Whitcomb. Said Hubbard, “We didn’t realize until on our way back how proud the city was.”