Friday, January 24, 2020

Dr. Seuss, Horton, Who-ville and Climate Change

Forward:   This is my third post on Theodore Geisel, better known as “Dr. Seuss.”  My first, “Dr. Seuss Sells the Sauce,” (July 3, 2010) featured Geisel’s early career when he drew beer and whiskey ads.  The second, “When Dr. Seuss Shot Down Lucky Lindy,” (July 16, 2016) displays his later work as a political cartoonist taking on the pro-Nazi movement, centered around aviator Charles Lindbergh, in pre-WW II America, This current post was occasioned by my seeing the motion picture developed from Seuss’s famous children’s book, “Horton Hears a Who.”  The theme takes on new meaning in our time of climate change.

The original Dr. Seuss story was written in 1954 and dedicated to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura,” dean of Doshisha University in Kyoto.  It followed an extended trip Geisel made to Japan and has been seen as a subtle reference to the effects of nuclear weapons.  The movie, made more than a half-century later, elaborates on the original to bring new messages to the fore.

The story:  A speck of dusk is adrift in the air in a jungle setting. The dust speck floats past Horton the elephant and he hears a tiny yelp coming from it. Suspecting that an entire society of very small creatures are living on that speck, he catches it and places it on top of a flower.  Thus, we are introduced to Who-ville, a microscopic idyllic village that seemly has existed for centuries.  Who-ville’s Mayor smugly can trace his ancestry back to a caveman.

But the Mayor is worried. Since the Who universe began to drift, the city has begun experiencing strange phenomena — changes in the weather and violent shakings.  When he tries to warn the citizens and have them retreat into shelters, he is opposed by the scheming Chairman of the Town Council who in effect calls the warning a hoax.  The Mayor also has learned from Who-ville’s only scientist how small their universe really is and that if Horton does not find a “safer more stable” landing place, Who-ville and all its inhabitants will be destroyed.

Speaking through an amplifying device, the Mayor convinces Horton to find such a location and in the book tells him:
“My friend,” came the voice, you’re a very fine friend,
You’ve helped all us folks on this dust speck no end.
You’ve saved all our houses, our ceilings and floors,
You’ve saved all our churches and grocery stores.”

What the Mayor fails to realize is that “it’s a jungle out there” and many of Horton’s fellow animals are just as intent on destroying the speck as Horton is to protect it.  They snatch the clover and speck away from the elephant and a vulture drops it into a field.  The result is damage to the town but nothing catastrophic.  Not being able to hear the Whos, the skeptical animals are about to drop the speck into boiling oil when the message gets through and Who-ville is saved.

At the conclusion of the movie the narrator (Charles Osgood) points out that Horton’s jungle and the earth, like Who-ville, are specks floating in a giant universe.  My own thoughts take the Who-ville story futher.  The Council Chairman is like President Trump and other climate change deniers.  For short term political advantage (e.g. courting the coal industry) they are willing to sacrifice valuable time and even the future of the Earth.  Dr. Seuss’s jungle for me is the rest of the universe — chaotic, unforgiving and no help in a planetary crisis.  In that sense we are all Whos, but without a Horton to save us.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Drinking and Hunting — One More Time

Forward:  Regular readers of this blog will recall my fascination with the concept of advertising whiskey, beer and other alcoholic beverages with hunting motifs.  Although examples have been greatly reduced in the years since National Prohibition shut down the legitimate liquor trade in 1920, many of the earlier ads are still around to remind us of the close identification of drinking and hunting in an earlier day.  My three earlier posts are referenced below. 

The first example here is from a saloon sign entitled “Old Joe Perkins.”  It depicts a hunter, shotgun in hand, who apparently has just riddled a trio of quail.  His retriever, having dutifully has brought the bagged prey to the feet of his master, now has gone afield to fetch something else.  By enlarging the shot we can see that the dog is carrying a bottle of whiskey in his mouth — Old Joe Perkins.  This brand was the product of the Perkins & Manning Distilling Company of Owensboro, Kentucky.  The sign likely dates from the mid-1910s and recently sold at auction for $510.

The next example is also a saloon sign, issued by the Rheinstrom Bros., a liquor house in Cincinnati.  The sign depicts four hunters ranged around a table with their dogs at their feet, apparently having shot a covey of birds.  One of them is sitting on a barrel that advertises “Old Joe Clayton,” one of a blizzard of whiskey brands issued by Rheinstrom.  Three of the men have their shotguns at the ready, apparently in the hope of a passing flock, while being served glasses of whiskey by a genial black gentleman, apparently the proprietor of this roadside log cabin saloon.  Rheinstrom Bros. claimed founding in 1876 and closed in 1917 when Ohio went “dry.”

While a hunter contemplates the dead deer at his feet, an angler returns to camp with a hefty stringer of fish.  A shot glass of whiskey — “Humbolt Rye” — is there to greet the fisherman;  the hunter has already downed his drink.  Meanwhile other men are readying the fire.  Fish on the menu tonight.  Humbolt Rye and this saloon sign both were the product of the P. J. Bowlin Liquor Company of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  This liquor house was founded in 1904 and went out of business about 1916.   The whiskey apparently was named for Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), the famous Prussian explorer, naturalist and geographer.

On a damaged saloon sign is the image of two duck hunters poised to fire from a flat bottomed boat.  One man is standing with his legs positioned to brace him against the recoil of the shotgun.  Not a good idea.  The sign was issued by the Mallard Company, an outfit that operated in  Baltimore the early 1900s.  The firm was not named for the duck but for Charles and Ira Mallard, respectively president and vice president. 

Another St. Paul liquor dealer with hunting on his mind was A. Hirschman.  He advertised his “Minnesota Club” a serving tray that featured a woodlands scene in which two dogs are leading a hunter, shotgun at the ready, through some tall grasses where there may lurk a grouse or woodcock.  This alcoholic libation carried the slogan, “The Perfect Whiskey.”

In addition to advertising through saloon signs and serving trays, whiskey dealers used a range of items for marketing purposes.  A favorite was the watch fob, a giveaway that would allow a customer attaching it to his pocket watch to be a walking advertisement.  The fob above, showing a hunter and his dog on brass, was the product of Schiller Bros., a Kansas City liquor wholesaler and proprietor of “Old Sunny Times” whiskey.  In another marketing gambit, Schiller Bros. as a means of reaching the African-American community offered photos of Booker T. Washington as a premium.  Schiller Bros.  stopped when Washington objected.

By far the most colorful and artistically interesting sign advertises “Champion Mike Whiskey,”  the product of the Russell, Olcott Company of Milwaukee.  The
Illustration is of a dog, presumably Champion Mike, with a dead mallard duck still in its jaws, ready to add it to a pile of other indeterminate dead birds.  The breed is a curly-coated retriever, described by enthusiasts as:  “…Among the oldest of the retriever breeds, is a famously versatile gundog and peerless swimmer. Poised, proud, and wickedly smart, the Curly is a thinking person’s retriever who will never quit before you do.”  

Founded in 1913 and later to become a liquor behemoth, Schenley Distilling Co. of Chicago featured a hunter of an earlier day with a muzzle loaded rifle, a buckskin jacket and a coonskin cap.  This pioneer has seen a primitive sign for “Old Schenley Whiskey” nailed to a tree and, apparently with little else to do, has stopped to admire it, intoning “I’ve Struck the Trail.”  

Note:  My three previous posts on hunting and alcohol were as follows: “Booze and Bullets:  Mixing Whiskey and Hunting,” February 13, 2016;  “Brews and Bullets:  Mixing Beer and Hunting,”  March 15, 2016; and “Drinking and Hunting:  A Sequel,” March 10, 2017.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Revisiting the Senegal River and Manantali Dam

The photo above is of a major dam above the Senegal River in Mali, North Africa, known as the Manantali.  In 1993 Carl–Dieter Spranger, then Minister for Development Assistance for Germany, a country that had co-funded the project, called Manantali an "act of economic and environmental nonsense.”  This is the story of how my partner and I played a role in assuring that U.S. foreign aid funds were withheld from the Manantali Dam.

The early to mid 1970s had brought drought, abject poverty and starvation to what is known as Sahelian Africa.   The world development community responded with relief aid and sought longterm solutions to the region’s water problems.  Two high-ranking USAID officials were awarded the Rockefeller Prize for an ambitious series of water-related engineering projects, among them the Manantali Dam on a tributary above the Senegal River.  Strong momentum had built within the Ford Administration for a contribution of $36,000,000, for the dam and associated works.

In November 1975, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee directed my partner, John Chapman “Chips” Chester and me to visit a number of African countries and report on Peace Corps and USAID assistance programs in West Africa.   Among specific assignments was to assess potential American participation in the construction of the Manantali and its downstream works. 

Through our advanced research on the Manantali and associated “irrigated perimeters” proposed at Matam in Senegal, we found that USAID’s enthusiasm was not shared by all in government.  Two relatively low-level specialists at the Federal Bureau of Reclamation had done a study that warned against letting politicians and technocrats dictate solutions.  Such decisions, they wrote, “would meet the needs of everyone involved, except the people and cultures directly impacted….”

Keeping those ideas in mind, we visited Senegal, downriver from the proposed dam and site of the Matam project.  A photo shows us with our vehicle and entourage furnished by USAID.  Chips is far left; I am far right.  Our first stop was San Louis, at the wide mouth of the Senegal River.  The city is seen here in the distance across the bay. 

In San Louis, we stayed at the Hotel la Residence, shown here, and met with Sahelian officials, all of them enthusiastic for the projects, but fuzzy on details, including the fate of the 10,000 people estimated to be displaced from their ancestral lands.

The next several days were spent moving slowly but steadily up the Senegal River, a waterway that narrows significantly as one moves inland.  We were driven to Matam, the proposed site of the irrigated perimeters and taken to a nearby irrigated plantation, shown here, where rice was being grown on land that earlier only cropped dry land millet for the local farmers.

Along the way we met a German agricultural engineer who had been brought in to assess the functionality of the irrigated perimeters.  He told a story of disastrous consequences from creating the dikes (called “polders”) to contain the irrigation water.  The earthworks had attracted thousands of snakes and, afraid, people refused to work in the fields.  Crews were dispatched to kill the snakes.  As a result, rats proliferated and their holes undermined the dikes, rendering many unusable.

With those and other troubling information from our investigation we returned to Washington to cast doubt on the desirability of the Manantali and associated works, reporting:  “Our findings indicate it would be premature for the United States to make a major pledge of funds….”   We added that USAID should proceed with funding of the irrigated perimeters and the Manantali only after Congress had an opportunity for further review and could act on the proposed commitment.  

Faced with important opposition in Congress and elsewhere, the Ford Administration subsequently decided against a commitment of funds.  I gained a lifelong enemy, one of the USAID Rockefeller Prize winners, who now found his dream project stymied.  Others in the donor community went ahead, however, built the dam and constructed the other works. After reading the German minister’s statement that opens this post recently, forty-five years removed from our investigation, I did some additional research.

Only the power generation of the Manantali Dam has met expectations.  However, the increased availability of power did not translate into financial benefits because the three governments involved — Senegal, Mali and Mauritania — pay only about half of the required toll for electricity.  Agricultural benefits have fallen short of expectations and cereals production in the region actually has fallen.  

More important have been the environmental and social impacts.  Incidence of waterborne disabling and sometimes fatal diseases like schistosomiasis have increased substantially.  Moreover, only a few of the 10,000 farmers turned off their ancestral lands were ever compensated with land irrigated by the Manantali reservoir.  The fears expressed in the Bureau of Reclamation study and echoed in our 1975 report had come to pass.  I take no joy in that, but have great sympathy for the disease victims and dispossessed farmers.  There is pride, however, in having helped stop American participation in “an act of economic and environmental nonsense.”

Note:  The reference for our House Foreign Affairs Committee report is “U.S. Development Projects in West Africa, Report of a Staff Survey Mission,” 94th Congress, 2nd Session, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., March 22, 1976. 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Nevada Desert Shrine to the Lowly Beer Bottle

Consider the beer bottle, when drained of its contents is known popularly as a “dead soldier.” It is an item when stripped of its label is as featureless as a fencepost, an artifact disdained by collectors whose hearts otherwise beat faster at the sight of an elaborately embossed glass container.  Yet in a Nevada desert adjacent to Death Valley stands a shrine to that lowly bottle — a structure composed of more than 50,000 beer bottles, as shown below on a postcard view.

It was built by a saloonkeeper named Tom Kelly in Rhyolite, Nevada, a gold rush boom town of the early 1900s.  Kelly’s choice of building materials was driven by a lack of good local timber.  He chose  bottles, he said because “it's very difficult to build a house with lumber from a Joshua tree." Beer bottles were particularly common in Rhyolite, a town that boasted dozens of saloons.  Kelly collected and used an estimated 51,000 bottles to construct his house of glass.  The saloonkeeper laid the bottles on their sides, with the bottoms facing out, and mortared them together with adobe mud. 

For his building materials, Kelly could thank Adolphus Busch, the founder and moving force behind the Anheuser Busch brewery in St. Louis, Missouri.  Perhaps wiser than other brewers of his time, Adolphus, shown here, understood that in the small and often isolated mining camps and towns of the Old West dwelled the wealth and future population growth of the United States.  He literally flooded the mountains, deserts and plains with his golden liquid.  Busch ads emphasized bringing the bottled brews by mule train over the hills and through the valleys, led by cowboys in ten gallon hats and riding while horses.  Actually by the 1900s railroads reached many Western locations, including Rhyolite.

Busch was passionate about beer bottles. In order to keep up with his brewery production he had an ever increasing need for glass containers.  Once he was even forced to import them from Germany.  To be assured of a supply Adophus formed a series of companies to manufacture bottles.  In 1886 he bought a glass works in Belleville, Illinois, changing its name to his own.  

Subsequently he incorporated the Adolphus Busch Glass Manufacturing Co. in St. Louis, buying the Belgian Pavilion at the New Orleans Louisiana Purchase Exposition and fitting it out as his glass factory, shown here  As a result, the principal base marks found on the bottles Kelly used in his walls were the “AB” of Anheuser Busch.

Almost as numerous in the house are beers with a “R&CO” mark and a number.  Those were from the Reed & Company’s Massillon, Ohio, Glass Works, founded in 1881.  This company specialized in supplying beer bottles to western breweries and Adolphus was a major customer.  All the bottles used would now be well more than 100 years old.

Estimates differ widely on how long it took Kelly to build the three room, L-shaped dwelling.  Some accounts say five months, others more than a year.  He is believed to have spent about $2,500 on the building with most the money going for wood trim and fixtures.  Whatever Kelly’s original intention, by the time the building was finished he had a new idea.  Whether it was his advancing age, the foresight to see the future of Rhyolite, or another reason, upon completion Tom decided to capitalize on the widespread attention the house had attracted and raffle it off. 

The lottery was won by locals named Bennett, three of the family shown here. They lived in the bottle house from 1906 until 1914.  Shortly after Rhyolite regressed to a ghost town.  Through it all, however, Kelly’s shrine to bottles survived.  In 1925 Paramount Pictures chose the scene for the filming of two movies called “Airmail” and “Wanders of the Wasteland.”  The studio repaired the roof of the bottle house and after filming was completed donated the property to a  Nevada historical preservation group.  That organization operated the site as a museum until 1953 when the house was sold to a couple who ran it for a few years as an antique store.

In recent years the building has remained standing, although empty, and a tourist attraction for those willing to drive off Nevada State Route 374 to what remains of Rhyolite for a look at the world’s largest collection of old beer bottles.  Kelly’s building in the desert has become a shrine to that most neglected of “dead soldiers.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Great Lakes Steamship Race

The recent release of the motion picture “Ford vs. Ferrari,” based on the race car rivalry of the two automotive companies at Le Mans in 1966, has reminded me of the intense excitement races between two major competitors can engender with the public.  The “Great Steamship Race” on Lake Erie in 1901 between the “City of Erie” and “Tashmoo” is a prime example.

The initial irony of this race is that both contestants were the brainchild of a single marine engineer, architect and designer.  Shown left, he was Frank E. Kirby, born in Cleveland, Ohio, who migrated to Detroit, Michigan, where he became a major figure in shipbuilding. Said an effusive contemporary biography:  “Nearly one hundred of the largest craft upon our grand rivers and noble rivers are of his architecture and design, marvels of their kind and monuments to his ingenuity and skills.”  They included the City of Erie shown below in a postcard view plying Lake Erie.

Shown left under construction, The City of Erie, was launched in 1898 by the Detroit Dry Dock Company for the Cleveland Buffalo Transit Company. It is shown left under construction.  The City of Erie's usual route was from Cleveland to Erie Pennsylvania, and on to Buffalo, New York. It was nicknamed the "Honeymoon Special" from the number of newlyweds who travelled to Buffalo, bound for Niagara Falls.

The Tashmoo was built two years later at a Michigan shipyard for Detroit’s White Star Line and launched on December 31, 1899. Tashmoo was nicknamed the "White Flyer" and, because of the number of windows on the ship, the "Glass Hack.”  As shown here on a White Star Line flyer, the Tashmoo's regular route was the sixty miles from Detroit to Port Huron, Michigan, making several stops along the way.  The photo below shows it leaving  port with hundreds of passengers.  Note that roundtrip tickets cost only 75 cents.

The idea for a race arose in 1900 when two steamships on Lake Michigan engaged in a friendly duel and a Chicago newspaper branded both as “fastest on the Great Lakes.”  That claim was disputed vigorously in other newspapers.  The president of Detroit's White Star Line offered $1,000 to any ship that could beat the Tashmoo in a race. Shown here, J. W. Wescott, president of the C&B Transit Co. accepted the challenge. The course agreed on was 82 nautical miles (152 km; 94 mi) long, following the City of Erie's regular route from Cleveland to Erie.

News of the race engendered tremendous excitement, not only around the Great Lakes but nationwide.  The Detroit Free Press branded it the “greatest steamboat contest in the history of American navigation.”  The amount of money bet on the race was estimated to reach $100,000 — equivalent to at least $2.2 million today.  Michigan bettors were known to have plunked down at least a quarter of that amount.  Which ship Frank Kirby might have favored has gone unrecorded.

On the day of the race thousands of people lined the shores of Lake Erie from Cleveland to Erie.  Thousands more crowded the railings of boats, large and small, anchored on the water along the race path.  A photo shows the steamers facing off as the gunshot signaling the start was anticipated.  The longer Tashmoo is far left, City of Erie next to it.

The race was timed with the City of Erie moving first.  But the faster Tashmoo soon overtook its rival steamer and passed it.  The Detroit Free Press described the scene below decks on both ships:  “It was an awful strain on the crews of both boats,  For five hours the engine room crews were shut in a hell hole….The heat was terrific….Strong men, subjected to the intense heat, became weak as babies, yet when told to surrender their shovels to others, refusing as they struggled gamely on.”

As the race progressed and the ships were out of sight of the shore, however, Tashmoo slowed, reputedly because the wheelman was not accustomed to steering only by compass.  The City of Erie steamed past.  With the shoreline visible again, the Tashmoo rapidly gained ground until an overheating condenser slowed it a second time.  In the end, the City of Erie won the race by a mere 45 seconds.  Tashmoo, however, was reckoned the faster steamer.  Some blamed its loss as a jinks for being named for a doomed harpooner in Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

There was no return match although the Michigan owners asked for one.  Cleveland’s Wescott refused, clearly understanding what the outcome might be.  Both steamers went back to their usual routes, serving on the Great Lakes for decades.  Their racing days over, each ship would have its travails.

In December 1927, Tashmoo snapped its moorings during a storm and headed up the Detroit River.  Damaged and repaired, it later hit a submerged rock in the St. Marys River as it was leaving Sugar Island, Michigan.  Able to evacuate passengers in Amherstberg, Ontario, it sank in eighteen feet of water and, as shown below, later towed to the scrapyard.  In 1985 Tashmoo was named to the National Maritime Hall of Fame.  A glass paperweight memorializes the vessel.

City of Erie also met with ill fortune.  In September 1909, it collided with and sunk a schooner, T. Vance Straubenstein. Three people on the smaller ship drowned.  The steamer was retired from service in 1938 and scrapped in Cleveland in 1941.

Described in the press as “Two Freshwater Greyhounds,” City of Erie and Tashmoo represented the apex of steamship travel — and witnessed its decline. The coming of the automobile opened up new and more flexible travel options for millions of Americans.  The steamers had taken almost five hours at top speed to go 94 miles.  Soon motors cars could make it in two. Never again would a steamship race attract national attention.  As “Ford vs. Ferrari” reminds us, gasoline-powered races soon would prevail.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

McSorley’s Painterly New York Saloon

In 1975, during a three month period working in New York City,  I ventured over to McSorley’s Old Ale House for lunch, having read Joseph Mitchell’s well-known book on the saloon.   At the time I was aware of the several paintings of the famous watering hole by New York artist, John French Sloan,  I was unaware then, however,  that a number of Sloan’s artist contemporaries also had memorialized McSorleys. 

First, a bit about Sloan (1871-1951).  He is best known for his urban genre scenes and ability to capture the essence of neighborhood life in Gotham City.  Sloan, shown here, has been called "the premier artist of the Ashcan School who painted the inexhaustible energy and life of New York City during the first decades of the twentieth century.”  As shown above and in paintings below, McSorley’s not only was his regular drinking establishment but a favorite scene to paint.  Above is Sloan’s “McSorley’s Bar, 1912.”

In a painting called “McSorley’s Cats,”  Sloan captured John McSorley, the founder of the saloon at 15 East Seventh Street, in scene with the owner’s rat-catching pet cats.  McSorley had arrived in America in 1851 at the age of 18.  The date on which he started his saloon is in dispute.  McSorley gave it as 1854 but others date it to 1865.  As in the beginning, the establishment still serves only ale and beer with its food, never the hard stuff.  As shown below, Sloan also could capture quiet moments as in “McSorley’s Back Room.”

Sloan’s fellow Ashcan School member, George Luks (1867-1933), also painted a scene at McSorley’s.  Known for his depiction of New York City life, Luks's work typifies the real-life scenes painted by the Ashcan School artists.  At McSorleys, as shown below, the artist has captured figures at the bar, one smoking, the other reading a newspaper.  Behind them a bartender is at work.

Reginald Marsh (March 14, 1898 – July 3, 1954) was an American painter born in Paris, most notable for his depictions of life in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. Jobless men are subjects that appear repeatedly throughout his work.  He often worked in pen and ink and in ink wash drawings.  Here he has captured a scene in McSorley’s where a gent likely down on his luck has stopped for a beer and is trying to warm up in New York’s frigid winter by hugging the saloon stove.

Perhaps the most unusual artist to paint the interior of McSorleys was Childe Hassam.  Frederick Childe Hassam (1859 – 1935) was an American Impressionist painter, noted for his urban and coastal scenes.  After living in France for some years, Hassam and his wife returned to the United States in 1889, taking residence in New York City. Hassam began to paint urban scenes, often using a palette of blacks and browns (considered "forbidden colors" by some Impressionists) to create his paintings.  This is evident in the dark hues Hassam used in his image of a lone drinker at McSorley’s bar.

Another artist who chose McSorley’s was Louis George Bouché (1896 – 1969), an American painter with whom I was earlier unfamiliar. Very little has been written about him.  Born in New York City, Bouché spent many years abroad and returned to teach at the Art Student’s League in New York.  A friend of Reginald Marsh, his art is not easily categorize.  Below he has captured the McSorley bar scene somewhat as Sloan had done earlier.

The cartoon of McSorley’s below is by Don Freeman (1908-1978), once a student of John Sloan at the Art Student’s League.  Freeman was known for carrying a sketchbook with him wherever he went. His images depicted New York City, the faces of the people he observed on the streets, and citizens down on their luck.  His pen and ink drawing here depicted some well known McSorley customers.  Note that Freeman included the potbellied stove and the cats.

My own memory of lunch at McSorley’s is dim.  I remember having a corned beef sandwich on rye that was mediocre and a glass of ale that was good.  The place seemed a bit dark and dingy, and with my historical interest satisfied, I never went back.  Below is a photo of the saloon interior as it looks today.  The bar, clock, stove, light fixtures — appear as they did in the past.  One major change:  A female bartender.  Women were not allowed in McSorley's until August 10, 1970 and it took a lawsuit to force their admittance.