Friday, March 24, 2017

Surviving the Great China Earthquake

In 1976 the Chinese Government invited a group of Congressional staff members to visit. I was chosen to be part of the delegation.  The prospect was exciting -- exactly how exciting I had no idea.

On our second night in Beijing staying on the 8th floor of the Peace Hotel, shown left, July 28, our group of about ten, with escorts, were treated to dinner at one of the city’s famed restaurants in which every course employs some part of the duck.   Ours, as I recall, was called the “Sick Duck Restaurant,” because it was located near the main hospital.   Appropriately, I was sick that night with terminal indigestion, having eaten much too much fatty duck, and was staggering from the bathroom back to bed when the most deadly earthquake of modern times and one of the three most deadly in recorded history, struck at 3:42 a.m.

Above is a chart of the severity of the shake on the Richter Scale – at the epicenter 8.2., in Beijing, a 6. It would become known as the Tanshang Earthquake for the major Chinese city it destroyed, killing up to half a million people – the devastation shown below.  Although we were 140 kilometers from the epicenter the earthquake made an indelible impression.

It began with a series of blinding flashes in the sky; white, yellow and orange balls of light exploded everywhere.  My first thought was that the Russians had attacked China with nuclear weapons.  My second was:  “Those bastards--why did they have to wait until I got here.”  My next thought was:  “How the hell do I get home?”  My fourth:  “No way.”

As soon as the lights stopped, the room began shaking and a deafening noise like a dozen out-of-control locomotives filled the air.  My roommate, Dick Moose, shouted, “It’s an earthquake.  Get under the bed.”  I made an attempt but the bed was only five inches off the floor and my hind end would not fit under no matter how frantically I struggled.  I lay flat on my ailing stomach, with only my legs protected, and said a simple prayer:  “Lord, stop the earthquake or we’re all dead.”

According to the Marine guard at the U.S. Embassy, the shaking lasted for 45 seconds -- it seemed more like an eternity.   When it stopped, Dick -- who kept his wits about him-- yelled, “We have got to get everyone out of here.”  Luckily we both had flashlights, bought in Japan after Dick remarked something about the lights always going out in Asia.  We dressed quickly, pulling on pants and shoes, and set out to round up others in our party.

We were on the 8th floor and except for our lights, it was pitch dark.   I gathered a group of three or four and by flashlight we slowly made our way down the stairs.  One woman had hold of my arm so tightly that the marks of her nails remained in my skin for several days.  We assembled along with dozens of other hotel guests on the front lawn of the hotel.  In the photo right I am on the right, still wearing my pajama tops. We never went back to our rooms.  Our hosts, fearing we would be hurt in an aftershock, packed for us and brought us our clothes.   Ambulance sirens wailed constantly.  Everywhere Chinese by the hundreds were streaming into the streets.

As daylight appeared, it became clear that damage was light in Beijing despite the severity of the quake.  During the day as we moved about the city the demeanor of the people was remarkable.   Residents had been ordered out of their homes for fear of aftershocks.  Everywhere families were busy along the sidewalks constructing lean-tos made from telephone poles and blue plastic tarpaulins.  As the shelters were completed, mattresses and cooking pots were added.  Mothers nursed babies, students read books, and dinner proceeded almost as if nothing unusual had happened.  Despite the heavy rains that fell that day, Chinese stoicism seemed universal.

Our hosts informed us that our trips to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall had been canceled and that instead the next day we would be transported by train from Beijing to points south and west.   We were given a choice of sleeping accommodations for the night:  The soccer stadium, our automobiles, or mattresses on the floor of the ballroom of the defacto U.S. Embassy. (Full diplomatic relations had not yet been restored.)  Without hesitation we chose the Embassy, shown here.

 Even before the earthquake the U.S. Ambassador had planned a cocktail party for our group at the Embassy that evening, inviting high level Chinese officials who could speak English.  Among them was Tan Wen-Sheng, the U.S. educated protégé of Madame Mao who became “Honey Huan,” a character in the Doonesbury comic strip.  I was conversing with her when, some 15 hours after the initial quake, an aftershock registering 7.1 on the Richter scale jolted the room, sent table lamps flying, and pictures pitching perpendicular to the wall.   Although well fortified by martinis by this time, I was aware that the ground I was standing on had turned to jelly.  Abruptly, the party ended.

That night as we lay to sleep on bare mattresses, I could feel each aftershock through the ballroom floor.   At about midnight came a sharper than usual shock.  Instantly I was drenched in sweat.

The day after the earthquake a train was ready to take us to Honan Province south of Beijing.  It was stocked with the two provisions we had ordered:  plenty of beer and yellow-meat watermelon. Thus provisioned, we were hustled out of the capital city. Days of perspiration were to follow, not from anxiety, but from the extreme and unrelenting heat of July in East Central China.  Referencing a popular food product our delegation adopted the name “Shake and Bake.”

Postscripts:  The earthquake lights have been remarked on by many observers to the Tanshang disaster.  They show up in only the most violent quakes and until the 1960s when actually photographed in Japan, as shown here, they were considered mythic by scientists.   Various theories of their origin exist, but one that seems most plausible involves quartz-bearing rocks.  Those rocks are known to generate an electrical charge when subjected to extreme mechanical stress.   As shock waves rolled out from the epicenter, the rocks were squeezed, resulting in the bright flashes.   Still, however, our Chinese hosts seemed to enjoy hearing my story about mistaking the earthquake for a Russian nuclear attack.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Drinking and Hunting: A Sequel

 In February and March of 2016 I posted two articles entitled, “Booze and Bullets:  Mixing Whiskey and Hunting” and “Brews and Bullets:  Mixing Beer and Hunting.”  Both focussed on the frequency with which liquor and beer advertisements featured their products within a hunting motif.  As expressed by the bumper sticker above, drinking and hunting have a definite intimacy.  In the year since I have been able to gather other ads that make the point and present them here.

For example, John Ellwanger, a German immigrant who began his career as a delivery boy in a Dubuque, Iowa, dry goods store, and went on to become a wealthy whiskey wholesaler, featured a hunter in his sign for “Old Knapsack Rye.”  Given the startled look on the face of nimrod, my guess is that he has a flask in his own knapsack and has been reminded to take a swig.   Ellwanger used his resources from selling whiskey to become a leading business and political figure in Dubuque during the late 19th Century and into the 20th.  
Theobold & Son of Columbus, Ohio, left less to the imagination by their saloon sign for their flagship brand, “Old Coon Sour Mash.  Above is the image of two hunters in the twilight with coon dogs and dogs who have treed a small raccoon that is looking at them intently, obviously with some apprehension.   The hunters, however, seem transfixed on a bottle of whiskey that one of the men is offering the other.  The dogs seem disinterested in the quarry.  It may be that Old Coon has saved the hide of the treed coon.  The Theobolds were in business from 1860 to 1916 when Ohio voted to go “dry.”

This next image similarly leaves little to the imagination.  In this ad we see a hunter, shotgun at the ready, who has taken out a flask and is pouring himself a “snort” in the midst of his quest for game.  The text tells the story:  “A good time coming”  The only thing a sportsman enjoys more than the anticipation of Cream of Kentucky “Thee” Whiskey.”  This libation was a proprietary brand of the I. Trager Company of Cincinnati.  The company was being supplied by the Old Darling distillery of Prestonville, KY. and was in business from 1887 to 1918.

The three images above were from pre-Prohibition liquor outfits but even after repeal, the juxtaposition of whiskey with hunting continued.  At left is a flask  and label of Huntsman Straight Bourbon that was the product of the Wisconsin Liquor Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Here two hunters are about to join their dog by crossing a fence, a gun seemingly dangerously placed.  It suggests that the two have been nipping at their “Huntsmen” already.  Whatever outfit was behind this whisky long since has left the Milwaukee scene.

While the letterhead from R. B. Grainger Distilling Company does not overtly feature hunting, the Kansas City, Missouri, pre-Prohibition liquor house flyer that follows leaves nothing to the imagination.  It offers the public the a “handsome TRAVELERS FLASK with ALUMINUM DRINKING CUP with some extra fine OLD  R.B. GRAINGER Straight Kentucky Whiskey….This beautiful FLASK always comes in handy and they are especially convenient for your hip pocket when fishing and hunting….”   This firm appeared in business directories from 1912-1917.

The Bernheim Brothers and their I. W. Harper whiskey brought us the most subtle whiskey cum hunting image with the saloon sign shown here.  It has all the   familiar accessories of the well-decorated hunter’s cabin, replete with pelts, guns,  boots and a dog.  The I.W. Harper sign is hung discretely from trophy antlers and a wicker covered I. W. Harper jug — like one I used to own — sits awaiting on a table.  The colorful lithograph on tin is entitled “Here’s Happy Days.”

This hunting scene of a hunter who apparently has killed seven ducks with one shotgun blast was one of a series of post-Prohibition hunting ads featuring Paul Jones whiskey, a brand created by Jones who began his career as a liquor salesman and expanded to be a major force in the distilling industry.  After his death the family sold the brand to the Seagram’s people who likely were responsible for this ad.  The message here is that the whiskey had become five times more popular than before — apparently not “impossible’ like a single shot taking down seven fowl at once.

Another post-Prohibition ad series features “Sunny Brook,” a whiskey that originated in 1891 with the Rosenfield Brothers in Chicago.  The brand gained a national reputation during the late 1800s and early 1900s only to be stopped by National Prohibition.  At the time of Repeal in 1933 the Rosenfields sold the distiller and brand name to American Medical Spirits and later National Distillers who ran a series of ads with hunting motifs.

Now we turn from booze to brews.  I am particularly fond of this image of a hunter who is resting after a day of one kind of sport and moving on to another, one that has him chatting up the comely saloon waitress.  The look between them is entrancing.  Less so is the rifle, presumably loaded, idly placed at the edge of a round table and a dog that bears no resemblance to a hunter.  Schlitz, whose sign brags that it made Milwaukee famous, no longer exists. 

Another Wisconsin beer that is no longer extant is Gund Beer of La Crosse.  This pre-prohibition saloon sign depicts “A Wisconsin Deer Hunt…The Return…Two Bucks.”  The reference is to the price for a case of Gund.  Only one dead buck is shown, ready to be gutted skinned by firelight by a gleeful hunter with a Gund in his hand.  His companions are celebrating nearby.  Once more we are looking at the artful lithography on tin available to breweries to gift watering holes that featured their beers.  
This addition of another ten whiskey and beer ads to those already posted provide ample testimony to the strong links that have existed for time immemorial  between alcohol and hunting — a relationship as fresh as the present.  The moral is:  If you don’t have a gun, stay out of the woods during hunting season and maybe even if you do.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Yellow Cab — Then and Now

Not long ago I watched a rerun of a Red Skelton movie (1950) called “The Yellow Cab Man,” a film l had first seen as a freshman in high school.  The plot was slightly bizarre but much of Skelton humor had me smiling.  Even so, the thought occurred that in the age of Uber, Yellow and other cabs may becoming relics of technological progress.  Relics fortunately leave artifacts, however, and with Yellow Cab, they are numerous.

Yellow Cab was a taxicab company founded in Chicago in 1910 by John D. Hertz.  Its beginning years were fraught with violence as the organization was involved with Chicago mobsters and a bitter rivalry with Checker Cab during that period was characterized by firebombings, shootings and even deaths. Eventually Yellow Cab franchises had covered much of the Nation.  The companies advertised aggressively, often using items such as paperweights and pocket mirrors to remind customers of their services. 
Here are two paperweights from Yellow Cab.  The one top contains only a telephone number that appears to be a Baltimore exchange.  The second, below, carries no city identification but 0research indicates is from Detroit.  I have been unable to identify the make or model of these taxis.  For a while those vehicles were made in the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company, founded by Hertz in 1920.  From 1921 it manufactured cabs and light trucks and by 1924 recorded more than $4 million in earnings.  The next year the company sold out to General Motors.
Competition for manufacturing cabs subsequently came from the Ford Motor Company.  It produced a vehicle identified as the “135-A Taxicab”  for two years beginning in 1928.  There was room for four passengers, three passengers in the rear seat and one on a folding jump seat. Each Taxicab also was equipped with an internal wall section separating the passengers from the driver. The internal wall had a provision for a speak easy section for communications from passengers to the drivers.  

Detroit Yellow Cab consistently advertised its rates, claiming on the weight that they were 30% lower and on a pocket mirror that they: “Always have been and always will be…” the lowest in town.  A  celluloid mirror from Sioux City, Iowa, advertised a 50 % lower fee.  It also suggested: “Let us haul your baggage.”  That is puzzling:  If a customer was traveling and had luggage, would he or she not want it along for the cab ride?  Two addition pocket mirrors were issued by Yellow Cab Companies in Baltimore, Maryland, at left and Muskogee, Oklahoma on the right.

The Chicago Yellow Cab, was responsible for a clever fold-out advertisement.  The driver was seen initially sitting behind the wheel looking out at potential customers.  When opened, the driver has emerged and is holding the door for a patron.  Given the attire of the average cab driver I encounter today, this one looks like he just was discharged from the Prussian army.  The hat, the uniform, and above all the tall boots have a distinctive militaristic look.

The company also believed in signs.  These were available for use by local Yellow Cabs across the country.  Above is one made of 22 gauge steel, about two feet long.  Unusually, it shows a passenger, a well-dressed business man who is smoking a cigar and holding a briefcase.  While many ads from the Yellow Cab look orange to me, the tin sign right clearly is yellow.  Although I have not identified the city, it was one where a “heated car” might have considerable appeal.
The final Yellow Cab artifact is an ash tray.  It also features a yellow Yellow.  My  research indicates that it was issued by a taxi company in San Diego, California.  These artifacts make take on new meaning as the passenger business changes drastically as the result of cell phones. Yellow has split into multiple companies across the country but continues to face challenges. In 2015, the Yellow Cab of Chicago, the granddaddy of them all, filed for bankruptcy.  Last year San Francisco’s Yellow Cab did as well.  I suspect more failures will come.

Friday, February 10, 2017

My Hollywood Daze

As a youngster my family twice visited California to see relatives.  They had personal contacts that resulted in memorable trips to Hollywood.  On one we heard a live broadcast of “Blondie and Dagwood” and got to meet Penny Singleton, the Blondie of radio and movies.  Another time we had our own personal tour of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot that ended with my sitting in the office of a senior MGM vice president where he encouraged my interest in journalism.

Little wonder then that as a teen I was addicted to movie magazines and could recite the life and times of even obscure supporting actors and actresses.   Oh yes, as encouraged, I did become a journalist.  After a stint as a police reporter on the Springfield Ohio Sun, I advanced to general assignment reporter with a talent for doing feature stories.  In the latter mode I had my first journalistic encounter with a Hollywood star.

He was Basil Rathbone, whose movies still appear regularly on Turner Classic Movies.  Born in South Africa in 1892 he first achieved notice as a Shakespearean actor on the London stage.  In some 70 motion pictures he frequently played a suave villain, such as Sir Guy of Gisbourne who sought the death of Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) in the 1938 film of the same name.  He became most famous for the hero’s role of Sherlock Holmes in a series of films and on radio.

When I encountered him he was 78 years old.  His career was winding down, but he apparently needed money, and it brought him to -- of all unlikely places -- Springfield, where he read to the locals in his highbrow British accent from Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and other favorites.  We met in the bar of his hotel.  He did not offer to buy, but was polite and answered my jejune inquiries without flinching.  He died seven years later.

My feature writing followed me to the Milwaukee Sentinel where I became the designated interviewer of movie stars, of varying renown.  My favorite was an encounter with Pat O’Brien, who had been born and raised in Milwaukee.  He had more than 100 film credits, often playing Irish and Irish-American characters including priests, cops, reporters and soldiers.

At the end of his career O’Brien and his wife of many years, Eloise, toured in the play “On Golden Pond,” including a stop in Milwaukee.  I met him as he stepped off a train to a waiting entourage, spouting quips left and right.  Spotting me for an fellow Irishman, he asked:  “Sullivan, do you know the definition of an Episcopalian?”  No, I stammered.  “A lapsed Catholic who knows some Latin.”

Shaking loose of some of his well-wishers, O’Brien invited me to join him in his limousine for a ride to the hotel while we conducted the interview.   Somehow our trip took us on a “long cut” through his old neighborhood in St. Rose’s Parish and past a barbershop owned by an old friend. The actor reminisced all the way — making my story.

Another movie star that visited Milwaukee that year was Deborah Kerr,  famous for her role as Anna Leonowns in the film, The King and I.  Born in Scotland in 1921, she was a consummate actress nominated for the Academy Award six times and winning many acting awards.  She will forever go down in film history for her steamy kissing scene in the Pacific surf with Burt Lancaster in “From Here to Eternity.”
She was appearing in Milwaukee in an award-winning play called “Tea and Sympathy.”  It was about a very understanding older woman who takes a young man to her bed to prove to him that he is not gay.  Ms. Kerr (“Call me Deborah”) very graciously received me back stage for the interview wearing a loosely tied silk kimono.  I fell instantly in love.  My euphoria dissipated quickly, however, when she introduced me to her husband who was accompanying her on the tour.

My encounter with Gordon McCrae was less successful.  He arrived in Milwaukee for a stage appearance after successes in Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, playing the cowboy Curly in “Oklahoma,” and the seaman Billy Bigelow in “Carousel.”  I was prepared for a productive encounter.  Instead, I found him to be conceited and almost hostile , apparently not happy to be in chilly Wisconsin rather than in sunny California.  His responses to my questions were perfunctory and I came away with a lame story.

Brigid Bazlen arrived in Milwaukee at age 17 with an ocean of hoopla and a half dozen flacks, all bent on making her the next Elizabeth Taylor whom she remotely resembled.  She had just come from the playing the role of Salome, headhunter of John the Baptist in the biblical epic “King of Kings.” 

“Precociously attractive,” according to one reviewer (read nicely-formed breasts),  she was besieged by reporters, making my attempts for a one-on-one impossible.   An open bar at the site and multiple martinis were more than ample consolation.  My resulting story was quite colorful if less than fully coherent.   The critics were scathing about Bazlen’s next film performance and she retired from movies in her late 20s. Sadly, in 1988 at age 44, after suffering amputation of a leg, she died of cancer.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Typewriter: Its Origins, Relics, and DNA

It is said that those of us who count our ancestry from Europe can count on having in our DNA makeup traces of Neanderthal humanoids, now extinct.  Similarly, typewriters, revolutionary in their time, will someday be only images in textbooks or on relics like the artifacts shown below.  But the DNA of the typewriter will live on for years to come.

The first commercially practical typewriter was invented in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I could look out the window of the newspaper on which I was employed and see a plaque that stood on the place where his workshop had been.  In the development phase when his keys kept jamming Sholes fixed the problem by making sure that common letter pairs like “t” and “h” were not adjacent on the keyboard.  The result was the QWERTY arrangement that has morphed over to computers.  Many have sought to improve on Sholes’ configuration of letters but none so far have been accepted.

This brings us to the paperweights and other artifacts that early manufacturers employed to advertise their “take” on the writing machine.  The Calligraph, making its appearance in 1880, was the third typewriter to be sold in the USA.  An odd looking machine, the initial version wrote in capital letters only and had uneven printing quality.  Subsequent Calligraphs wrote in both lower and upper case letters, had a renewable ribbon, and featured improved printing. Nevertheless, the machine went out of production in 1896.

The Smith Premier, shown here on a pocket mirror, made its appearance in 1890.  It was a full-keyboard typewriter made by the Smith & Brothers gun factory in Syracuse, New York.  Instead of the levers used on earlier machines, this typewriter was designed with cranks and rods that could be adjusted for control.  The Smiths issued several models, the last being in 1908.  Shortly thereafter the company went out of business, its brand name bought by the Remington Typewriter Company.

As early as 1896, Woodstock, Illinois, became known for typewriters made by by the Emerson Typewriter Co.,  When it became financially distressed after issuing a 1909 model called “Standard and Visible Typewriter,” Emerson sold it to Sears-Roebuck.  Advertised as a $50 machine “that compares in every particular with a $100 machines,” the department store partners completed a $40,000 factory in Woodstock. It named their company “The Woodstock Typewriter Company.”

Also shown on a pocket mirror, North’s typewriter was manufactured in Hatton Garden, London, England.  First issued in 1892 the North machines had its type bars standing in a pair of semi-circles that struck down at the patent from behind.  This rear down-strike was an effort to create a more visible type sheet by preventing the typebars from obstructing the view of the typist.  This strategy led to other complications and the machine found little commercial success.  The company folded in 1905.

Having seen above the ultimately failed efforts to bring a commercially viable machine to the public, we turn to Remington, a name that long was associated with typewriters and other office equipment.  Sholes and his partners proved to be less than canny businessmen and sold their patent for $12,000 to investors who in turn made a production agreement with E. Remington & Sons Co., then famous for making sewing machines.  From a factory in Ilian, New York, in 1873 the first Remington typewriters went into production.  It was the first machine to incorporate a shift key that allowed use of both upper- and lower case letters.  Incorporating the QWERTY keyboard, it was a hit with the public.

In 1886, E. Remington & Sons sold its typewriter business to a group of former employees calling themselves the Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Co., with the rights to the Remington name.  By 1902 the owners had changed the name to the Remington Typewriter Company.  Their machine became the prototype of all the typewriters to come.  Over the years, the company issued a number of advertising items, many with the slogan, “To Save Time Is to Lengthen Life.”

The Underwood Company beginning in 1874 made typewriter ribbons for Remington.  When the latter decided to make their own ribbons, the founder, John Thomas Underwood, decided to make his own machines.  A company model issued in 1900 has been described as “the first truly modern typewriter” and propelled Underwood in its heyday to becoming the world’s largest typewriter manufacturer.  Its Hartford, Connecticut factory could turn out one typewriter a minute.  The company merged with Olivetti in 1963.

The Royal Typewriter Company emerged 1904, boasting its origins in a workshop in Brooklyn where Edward B. Hess and Lewis C. Myers had developed an improved machine. Convincing a wealthy financier to back them, they launched the firm to great success over the years. Their typewriter featured numerous innovations including a friction-free one-track rail to support the carriage, a improved paper feeder, better typebar and good visibility of typed words. Shown here on a pack of matches, Royal today survives as the maker of general office equipment.
The more modern typewriter shown here on a paperweight was the product of  Smith-Corona.  This company originated in 1886 when four Smith brothers who owned a gun factory in Syracuse, New York, financed a typewriter invented by one of their employees, Alexander T. Brown.  It sold so well that the Smiths stopped making shotguns and concentrated on Brown’s machine.  With the success of its Corona model in 1914, the company reorganized in 1926 and became known primarily as the maker of portable typewriters.

The origins of the typewriter help us remember that often with a mechanical innovation a period of trial and error occurs as the public decides which brand is the most useful.  Many early manufacturers fall out and their models disappear;  a few others survive for years until a new innovation makes them obsolete.  Then  their advertising artifacts take on new meaning and importance as collectible relics.  Note that many typewriter companies featured advertising on pocket mirrors.  That makes sense when one remembers that it was women who largely were using the machines and more likely to look at their faces during the day.  Finally, while buggy whips and hoop skirts may have become extinct, the DNA of the Sholes machine lives on — even as I write this post on my QWERTY keyboard computer.