Sunday, July 19, 2015

A bit about Dillinger

Firepower made Dilly dangerous.
It has been said that John Dillinger is a product of an environment and social fabric that he was born to inhabit.

Dillinger, despite his protestations in letters and interviews, was basically just a "bad seed" who was nurtured in a time when breaking the law was sometimes considered the only real alternative to a life in poverty -- a different kind of prison.

Dillinger, for all the excitement and thrills that surrounded his short reign of terror in 1933-34, is emblematic of what millions of Americans probably wanted to do themselves:

Break the back of the robber baron.

It takes a step or two before Dillinger becomes part of the Hoosier history, though any analysis of the 1920s will make it clear that crime and desperation were rampant during that time. What put Dillinger in prison was his unwillingness to endure his future without fighting back.

And for that, many called him a hero, a Robin Hood with a machine gun.

What Dillinger had was arrogance, ambition and a disregard for decency.

The oncoming depression that crippled the planet in 1929 had begun long before that on Indiana's farms and factories. As the wealthy got wealthier, the working conditions in the towns and countryside got worse.

Most who farmed the land were tenants and they lived largely off what they grew. It was seldom enough.

In the factories, laws regulating hours, wages, conditions ... largely ignored by a government too predisposed to present itself as having controlled the evils of drinking.

When the crash came in October 1929, the tenant farmer and the laborer found they had something in common with the landowner or the factory owner:

They were all out of work.

Nobody had a clue.

Discussion of the causes and effects of the Great Depression are extensive. I won't evaluate those works because it's relevant only to illustrate life in the world of a criminal like John Dillinger.

The Indianapolis-Mooresville man was once called "Public Enemy No. 1" by a feisty FBI agent named Melvin Purvis. Dillinger had gone to jail in 1924, given 10 years for pistol-whipping and robbing a Mooresville man.

Dillinger was not a model prisoner at Pendleton, was sent to Michigan City ostensibly to play shortstop for the prison's baseball team ... and to learn how to be a much better criminal. He learned well, made alliances who were loyal to him until the end, and he came out of Michigan City to face a world he could not understand.

Elliot Gorn, whose book "Dillinger's Wild Ride," captures the events that began in 1933:

"A 30-year-old ex-convict with an uneven work record and a dishonorable discharge from the military did not stand much of a chance in the labor market, particularly as hard times ground on."

Dillinger was a disaster.

He turned to crime, blamed everyone else for causing it ... and finally decided that he was going to be the best bank robber in history after some frivolous claims to his family that he had learned his lesson and would try to go straight.

Arguably, he succeeded -- as a bank robber.

Dillinger rampaged across five states before he was gunned down on July 22, 1934, outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, ratted out by Anna Sage, a Romanian-born prostitute.

It is estimated that the authorities spent $2 million tracking down Dillinger. The feds and the news media fed into the frenzy. The public was mesmerized.

And many who were suffering silently were rooting for Dillinger and the other bank robbers of the time, not so much that these criminals were taking what they didn't deserve, but that they were taking from people who had been stealing in the first place.

Farm foreclosures, bankruptcies ... the poor did not profit. The capitalists did.

And many people became "communists" as a result.

I can't find any evidence to suggest Dillinger spent any time in Franklin County, though he did have allies and underworld connections in Hamilton, Ohio.

As an aside, it's known that the "other" Public Enemy No. 1, Al Capone, drove from Chicago to Cincinnati on occasion, taking U.S. 52, the main street of Brookville. Perhaps Alphonso stopped for dinner?


Van Camp
Virgil Davis, in his 1958 work that coincided with the 150th anniversary of the settlement of Brookville, condenses the Roaring Twenties to a few sentences.

"The Twenties, with radio, the Charleston, miniature golf, get-rich-quick schemes, coon-skin coats, the flappers and the Babbits whose provincial minds would finally contribute to financial disaster, were endured.

"Brookville and the county was shocked on Aug. 20, 1923, when Sheriff William Van Camp was murdered by two hoodlums in a woods near Mt. Carmel. The murderers were never apprehended."

2018 addendum: A 1924 newspaper account reveals that the killers were indeed apprehended. Burton Carter and Eugene Webb, who were already in prison in Ohio, were indicted and convicted. They had been sentenced for bank robbery that occurred after Van Camp's death. Justice indeed moved swiftly.






WHAT'S A BABBIT? (Wikipedia) 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

When the Depression really started -- the 1920s

Farming was hard work, often unproductive.
The strange decade of the 1920s could easily be defined as a time when good intentions usually led to bad results.

A brief period of uncertainty that followed World War I was quickly settled when the nation's spiritual, moral and political leaders decided that America was better off if it was managed by ... well, nobody in particular. Grand ideas don't need real support, it was believed.

So the people who rose to the role of manager were often less concerned with the outcome than with the process. Theory could simply be implied because anything else was morally wrong, so the thinking went.

The long-range agenda was to make America 100 percent pure, strong and righteous.

Soon, work began to come to the larger towns and cities, giving rise to a form of prosperity that one could never imagine. It seemed as if Brother Billy Sunday's prediction had come true, that the end of the sale of alcohol would indeed turn jails into factories, that "Hell would forever be for rent."

Unless you lived in rural America.

There, life was still not so grand. The Great Depression had already begun in rural America and it would endure for 20 years.

The Roaring Twenties became essentially the product of an Eastern society that had little or no bearing on how rural whites from Indiana were faring amid what seemed to be an economic boom. Rural blacks weren't even part of the conversation.

Life would be far worse in some parts of Europe, namely Germany, which absorbed the blame for World War I.

As America turned its resources toward controlling two obvious vices -- immigrants and alcohol, the country's political leaders all queued up to pad their prestige. Not much got done. Roads were not paved, schools were not built, and virtually no energy was directed toward the poor.

Of which there were many.

But nobody was buying or selling booze, and the "normalcy" that the Warren Harding administration promised was in full swing.

Meanwhile ...

Elliot Gorn, who wrote a fascinating study of Depression-era John Dillinger ("Dillinger's Wild Ride", 2009) explores some of the conditions that allowed such a criminal to exist.

While most of Gorn's book deals with a single year in which Dillinger ran rampant, some of his assertions help clarify the world that Dillinger knew, as well as the villain himself.

"The early 1930s were a good time to be robbing banks in the Midwest, especially Indiana. Robberies doubled in the state in the 1920s, and the number rose higher with the onset of the Depression (1929). Officials blamed indulgent parents, lax discipline in schools, the erosion of public morality induced by motion pictures, and new technology that produced cars, highways, and machine guns."

Yeah, just like the 1970s, the 1990s and the 2000s.

People were robbing banks in Indiana because they were poor. In those days, bank robbery was not considered a federal crime. Often, robbers could actually get away with the loot.

Gorn identifies some of the more practical causes of an increase in crime, part of it related to the propped-up myth that the shady Ku Klux Klan essentially wielded enough power to control the criminal forces of the state. Arguably, there is some evidence to defend that point of view, though only in highly selective moments.

Law enforcement wasn't considered as useful, since the root of crime -- the evil liquor -- had been abolished. Indiana police were outgunned by the bank robbers.

The era of the running-board gangster would emerge from that, though it hardly illustrated life in rural Indiana, which would have included the Whitewater valley.

Dillinger, who will be explored in another blog item, can scarcely be identified as a victim of the time. Millions of boys suffered in poverty, and no others emerged to become "Public Enemy No. 1."

But the 1920s is a world that includes two Americas -- and the one most recognizable in the Whitewater valley had little to do with flappers, speakeasy bars and the Charleston.




Friday, July 17, 2015

Kenesaw and the '19 Reds

Arguably the 1920s are the most fascinating years in American history, excluding perhaps the time of the Civil War.

The '20s are the first decade of enforced morality, brought about by what seemed to be unconnected events.

The end of World War I gave rise to a new generation of Americans who saw an opportunity to mold morality and impose their own values on the citizenry. Not all of that was bad and much of it was good-intentioned. There was just a little bit too much of it.

A ruling in 1921 defined in succinct terms where we were headed with our morality.

A spitfire Tennessee judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who had built a powerful reputation as a bench mediator in labor cases, expelled eight members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team for gambling away their chances of winning the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.

The so-called "Black Sox" scandal was far-reaching and dips into some dark alleys, curious corners and complicated road maps, but it set a pattern for American social justice for a decade to come.

America was prepared and eager to have rules made and enforced to regulate their behavior. Perhaps the suffrage of women played a role in it, and doubtless ... it did.

But soon gambling would be ridiculed and regulated just as the sale and consumption of alcohol would be ridiculed and regulated.

Landis is a fascinating study in the conservative voice that emerged in the 1920s.

Baseball had always been a fertile ground for gamblers and it's estimated that many thousands of games were fixed in the 40 or so years that the sport had been considered "professional."

The 1919 World Series between the White Sox and Reds had been heralded as one between the two best-ever teams in Major League history. The 1918 season had been a disappointment after President Woodrow Wilson shortened it in deference to the war effort.

A year later, attendance was at record levels and dozens of new stars, including "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and Babe Ruth, had emerged.

The Sox were highly favored to beat the Reds, managed by Pat Moran and led by Edd Roush. As a way of improving profits, the series was increased to 9 games.

As the series approached, word got out about a possible fix, and the rumor inevitably proved true, though nobody was able to prove it.

That's the short course on the scandal.

The owners of the various 16 teams decided they wanted to end such bad publicity and hired Landis to oversee events. Landis was strongly moral and headstrong.

Historian Paul Gardner wrote that "baseball had for some time been living uneasily in the knowledge that bribes were being offered by gamblers, and that some players were accepting them. The players knew it was going on, and the owners knew it was going on."

Other events were transpiring in New York, where the upstart Yankees had just bought Babe Ruth's contract and were building a palace for baseball called Yankee Stadium.

The balance of power in baseball was in Chicago. Not good, the East Coast investors said. Baseball needs to move its center to New York.

So as pressure came down the following summer, the Yankees were edgy about their chances. The White Sox and Cleveland were leading the pennant race.

"Shoeless Joe" Jackson
With only a few games left in late September, the eight players were oddly indicted for gambling and immediately suspended by Sox owner Charles Comiskey. The Indians won the pennant. Two months later, Landis was hired to be baseball's first commissioner.

He had unlimited power and banished the eight Sox players. (Later, he banned or suspended several other players -- including Ruth -- for various offenses deemed "not in the best interest of baseball.")

In 1921, the Yankees, entrenched in their brand new massive ballpark, began a reign of dominance in the American League. The White Sox were banished to the desert for nearly 40 years.

For their part, the Reds players were frequently asked if they noticed anything. With some exceptions, most of them asserted that they had WON the World Series and that the Sox had not THROWN it.

History tells a different story.

Landis would set the standard for autocratic rule in baseball for decades to come.

It was a notion that would spread its tentacles over much of the nation's morality for another 10 years.

And it would create some strange heroes.



1919 REDS

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Franklin County town trivia

1856 map shows towns that might not exist today.
Vas you effer in Philanthropy?

How about Sentinel?

If you have been to Philanthropy, you probably passed through Sentinel to get there.

Or so asserts August Reifel in his 1915 history of Franklin County.

Those two towns exist today but you won't know them by those names.

As you might not in several other communities in Franklin County, some of which were never platted in the first place despite good intentions.

Lucky for us, we only have one name for Fairfield and we know right where it ... was.

Reifel's history cites nearly 40 planned communities in the area south from Connersville to Dearborn County that either never truly existed or lasted only until the families who lived there decided to do something else with their free time.

Most likely, you've heard of Old Bath, which is really Coulter's Corner, two miles west of Regular Bath. Blooming Grove was originally known as Greensboro, alternatively as Greenbrier. (At one time, there was another "Bath" just north of Fairfield, which eventually just became Bath Springs.)

Some other interesting towns:

Cedar Grove was once known as Rochester, and Whitcomb was originally platted as Union.

Blue Creek eventually became Klemme's Corner and Duck Creek Crossing evolved into Metamora.

Sprinkle in some places that are generally known but hardly towns -- Sharptown, Highland Center, Yung, Rockdale ...and if you've been to Palestine, you've been to Wynn. Same place.

At one time, the area including Connersville was in Franklin County so a few platted towns that didn't develop are located in Fayette County, including Darlington, New Washington, West Union.

Ferona, Franklin, St. Bernard, Lebanon and Sabina never took root in Franklin County, though many of these non-towns were victims of the name game. They could plat all they wanted, but there was not going to be two towns in Indiana named "Lebanon."

Not having a post office or a way to get there was often a deal-breaker.

No one seems to know why such towns were promised, never platted, or why anybody even bothered in the first place.

Union County has similar dots on the map, such as Scratch Gravel, Salem, Philomath, Contreras, Charlottesville.

Google can pinpoint most of them, oddly.

Reifel says Franklin was close to being a town and there is evidence that freed slaves were being given a chance to move there, a plan that never really amounted to much. It's in Butler Township.

St. Bernard boasted a sawmill.

There was also apparently a North Vernon in Franklin County. What it became is uncertain.

We are also sad to hear that Ceylon never amounted to much, after Thomas Anderson bought the place and renamed it Andersonville.

Other chunks of farmland became part of Brookville over the years, such as Buncombe and Butler's Run, or Stavetown.

And somebody evidently decided "Kokomo" was a good name for a Franklin County town. We'll have no luck finding it.

That brings us to Sentinel (Mt. Carmel) and Philanthropy (Scipio.)

Happy motoring.

By the way, do you know the directions to Baltimore?


Reifel goes into some detail about the planned community of Baltimore that was designed to profit from the immense economy of the lucrative Whitewater Canal. Reifel calls it a "paper town ... it never passed beyond the plat stage and the subsequent flamboyant description of the proposed town in the papers when its lots were opened for sale."

Evidently the developer propped up something pretty amazing in trying to sell Baltimore to investors along the canal.

"Probably no town in the county was ever pictured in more glowing terms than that laid out by James Conwell in 1836."

Conwell advertised in the newspapers that he had available for sale about 300 lots, situated on the Whitewater River.

Conwell's plea was succinct. "For many years past, the subscriber (Conwell) has been urgently solicited to lay off a town at this point, and dispose of lots; but has always heretofore refused on the ground of his irreconcilable aversion to trifling country villages, whose population is too frequently composed of the idle, dissolute and intemperate portions of the community."

In other words, Conwell was determined to build an upper-class town that had substance, growth potential and did not include drunken bums or sinners.

Indiana's internal improvements program was in full gear, and the seemingly endless supply of wealth to be had from the canal gave Conwell added ammunition.

His sales pitch was loaded with superlatives, citing "natural advantages it possesses, others that will render it a point of great importance for business of every kind, and secure the erection of a town not surpassed by many."

Conwell's mills did, for a time, generate considerable business in carding and fulling wool, a tannery and a lucrative blacksmithing business, as well as grain and saw mills.

The pitch went on to say that "during the last 16 years that the subscriber has resided in this neighborhood ... but a single death has occurred during that time."

Conwell hoped to build Baltimore as the canal system grew. Conwell apparently believed his industrial park would endure and grow and with it, his dream town of Baltimore. He acknowledged that there was talk of a railroad but dismissed it in his appeal to land speculators. "The White Water canal will be the obvious channel through which this immense trade will pass."

If you were interested, sobriety and good moral character were necessary. No gin mills were in the plan, but seminaries would be welcome.

A third of the purchase price was necessary immediately.

Conwell eventually just called the place "Laurel."

Devil's Brew -- Part 4

So, in the end ... who profited from Prohibition?

Oddly, it was government.

Dan Okrent, in his study of the Volstead Act in "Last Call," asserts that the end of Prohibition effectively did what the repealed act intended:

It reduced the amount of alcohol that Americans consumed.

During Prohibition, in the early years, Americans naturally drank less, but as time went on, thirst re-emerged as speakeasy operators began to profit from a natural propensity for people to want to have fun. Illegal booze fueled the legend of such gangsters as Al Capone.

And a lot of alcohol was not only illegal, it was sometimes fatal. Alcohol poisoning was not rare.

In truth, the end of Prohibition came when the federal government, groping for new tax revenues, needed a way of kicking business in the ass.

Prohibition was useful in another way, since it showed that the government could control the lives of its citizens, even if the citizens threw a temper tantrum over it.

When Volstead was repealed, governments stepped in and introduced liquor laws that controlled consumption, sales, hours ... all sorts of rules that had not existed before Prohibition. In that respect, Okrent concludes:

"In enacting their own dry laws, some states encouraged a hybrid drinking culture incorporating Prohibition's pieties, Repeal's realities and a bizarre set of signifiers specially their own."

In some dry areas of the south, profit could be made in selling whiskey to anybody but the people who lived there. Many areas of heavily-Christian South remained dry long after Volstead's repeal ... and some still are. Jack Daniel makes whiskey in Lynchburg, Tenn., a town where its residents couldn't even buy the stuff.

As well, Okrent concludes, the passage of the 18th Amendment and its subsequent repeal in the 21st Amendment showed that Americans could be ruled by their own leaders, something that had been alien to many in the pioneer areas of Indiana. From that emerged a long series of influential voices, many of whom are nothing more than footnotes to the story.

The dots that connect from 1913, when the federal income tax was adopted, through the trying times of World War I, and into the 1920s, Okrent summarizes:

"The wholesale enactment of national criminal laws during Prohibition gave rise to post-Repeal federal statutes addressing kidnapping and bank robbery; on the other hand, the manifest failures of federal Prohibition enforcement enabled the states to hold on to most of their authority over enforcement and administration of criminal law."

The voice of the states was clear, particularly in matters surrounding school desegregation. Foes of integration simply argued that a national policy regulating the morality of the states was a recipe for failure. The connection seems vague, but policy often is the result of unrelated arguments brought together by a common event.

When Volstead was repealed, the states enacted their own unique laws regulating the sale and consumption of liquor, which would likely never have occurred had they not been forced to accept it on a national scale.

Statistically, one study showed that Americans actually consumed less alcohol after Repeal than during the years when all of it was illegal. And the trend continued for several decades until the late 1970s when several states lowered the drinking age from 21 to 19 or 18. Once those laws were repealed, consumption again declined.

The logic that allowed teens to drink was winding. If one was eligible to serve in the military at age 18, the thinking went, then those people should be given the vote. Good idea. But, if one can vote, then one is logically an adult, right? Good, let 'em drink.

After the highway carnage ballooned, the states were essentially told to raise the drinking age or forfeit highway money.

The federal government does indeed hold the hammer at times.

Future arguments over the legalization of various drugs will bring Volstead into focus again.

History has a way of identifying the winners and losers. Often, they are one and the same.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Devil's Brew -- Part 3

Sunday as a ballplayer
The day the tap was turned off was the day Billy Sunday became the most respected man in America.

Billy had won the good fight and he was not about to let anybody forget it.

Sunday was one of the most charismatic figures of the entire era that had begun in earnest in 1874. Billy was a big-league baseball player in the 1880s and was probably considered a little below average in talent. He was, however, a fast runner and stole a lot of bases. He also made about $3,500 a year to play baseball, which was far and excess of what the average baseball fan earned.

Along the way, he found his calling, hung up his spikes and sent about preaching about the evils of strong drink.

Sunday claimed that too many players of his time, free to roam the country without direction, had turned to booze, which ruined their careers and lives. He decided to step up, fight back. So he became a preacher, almost as an epiphany.

According to Daniel Okrent, in a comprehensive book on Prohibition called "Last Call," Sunday came upon his decision on the spur of the moment.

"Sunday had always been religious but in 1888, while he sat on a Chicago curbstone with some other players, hymns from a nearby mission caught his ear and his heart. Turning to his teammates, he said he really didn't want another drink and then went across the street and found shelter in the stainless calm of the mission."

He spent 40 years in the pulpit, addressing an estimated 100 million people. That's probably an exaggeration.

When Prohibition became law in January, 1920, Sunday allegedly addressed a throng of 10,000 in a church in Virginia:

"The reign of tears is over," he told the Norfolk flock. "The slums will someday be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corn cribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will forever be for rent."



No sooner had the Volstead Act become law than the pro-booze forces began working to repeal it. In the meantime, lawlessness was the word in Chicago, the "town that Billy Sunday could not shut down," according to Frank Sinatra.

A pro-liquor Senator from Missouri named James A. Reed, a Democrat, generously called Volstead "a burner of witches" and "executioners." Reed was not the most genteel of spokesmen for the anti-Prohibition cause, which set the movement back from time to time. Eventually, however, more cautious political figures joined the fray and, little by little, they managed to erode the Prohibitionist lobby. But it would take another decade.

Bootlegging, the Prohibitionists said, was largely the domain of the immigrant factions in the country, which played nicely into the xenophobia that had allowed the Ku Klux Klan to emerge in Indiana. Bootlegging was a business that had no rules. It was a difficult business to quantify.

Xenophobia was a driving force in most social movements of the 1920s, and a number of immigrant "reforms" were shoved through Congress, feeding off a fear of aliens.

Inevitably, what doomed the "drys" was the sad fact that most of them were "wet" part of the time. And they got cocky.

Writes Okrent: "When the WCTU, confident of their final victory over alcohol, declared war on Coca-Cola, derision came from the formerly friendly."

Wrote one critic:

"At the spectacle of men returning home, sodden with Coca-Cola, to beat their wives, (or) the sight of little children tugging at their fathers as they stand at the Coca-Cola bars long after midnight ... we remain unmoved."

Eventually, even the "drys" realized there was profit in booze and many of them were caught red-handed, either drinking the stuff, providing for parties and gifts ... or profiting from its sale.

In the end, those who wanted Volstead repealed found sufficient resources and political clout ... as America lost its taste for Coca-Cola.  In 1933, Volstead was repealed.

More than anything, an economic phenomenon conspired to shove weary Americans over the line about legislated morality.

It was called the Great Depression.


Known to millions of school kids as Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman is legendary for having walked across Ohio and Indiana, allegedly planting thousands of tree seeds that would be left for ... um, apple pies.

Chapman, born in 1774 in Massachusetts, is credited with having a dream that if he planted enough apple trees that no one would ever go hungry. Failing that, McDonald's came along a few years later and finished the job, producing a rather decent apple turnover.

The fact is that most of Chapman's early apples were generally inedible. But when fermented, they became quite drinkable. In some seasons when corn mash was in short supply, a barrelful of Applesauce kept the doctor away.

Orchard cider was commonplace in rural Indiana. Chapman was more than willing to help get them going, though his eventual business plan was much more robust and lucrative.


Devil's Brew -- Part 2

The adoption of the federal income tax in 1913 should have been a dead giveaway that prohibition of alcohol was on the horizon, according to essayists of the day.

Progressives in the 1800s, led primarily by the Golden Orator, the crusader of all crusaders, William Jennings Bryan, had lobbied for the abolition of liquor in a number of formats. Until 1913, the government's taxation process was irregular. Government didn't actually DO much in those days, and it derived a large part of its income from federal excise taxes on booze.

A booze tax went back to the days of the Whiskey Rebellion, in the colonial times. Even George (I'm on the dollar bill) Washington helped secure that tax.

But a tax on income? The idea wasn't original.

Prohibitionists, led by the voices of Bryan and other faith-based progressives who believed in a stronger federal government, realized that if liquor were no longer being sold, the tax money it yielded would dry up and blow away.

Support for a federal income tax came generally from states who figured to suffer less from it ... that being places where income was typically lower. Those were also states where prohibition of liquor was more strongly supported.

Agricultural states, southern states, western states.

But it was a certainty that something to replace a federal liquor excise tax would be needed after prohibition occurred. The key word is "after" in the placement of details.

The movement toward abolition of consumptive alcohol was apparently a certainty and it would simply be a matter of time before it was the law of the land.

The insertion of the world war slowed the process but not the fervor. The income tax was ratified by the states, and the industrial regions were hardest hit, initially.

Actually, there had been other income taxes levied on Americans, one of them during the Civil War, but the law was repealed when it was no longer deemed necessary.

Other income tax laws usually fell victim to the Supreme Court, one that would have tacked an income tax onto a tariff bill.

According to government studies of the 16th Amendment that ratified the income tax in 1913, the whole of the process was something that had gone awry.

The progressive Democrats were lobbying for new changes in a tariff law and the conservatives weren't in favor of that. So the conservatives in 1909 promoted a constitutional amendment to enact an income tax. They assumed the amendment would fail and derail the tax, once and for all.

The vote on the amendment went through the usual channels and was somehow approved by the states four years later.

The income tax law initially had virtually no impact on most Americans, who earned too little to even bother with it. As time dribbled on, that would change radically as inflationary wages began to creep into the system.

But the tax was constitutionally in place and allowed the progressive Prohibition forces to redouble their efforts to have liquor taken off the menu. After all, the government now had a legitimate way of raising revenue even without a booze tax.

The impact of the tax, who supported it and why, as well as its ups and downs, all related in ways that eventually greased the path toward social reform. The end of World War I modified the attitudes of millions of Americans who suddenly saw the United States as the ascendant nation on the planet.

Doing the "right thing" was an easy sell. America had prevailed in global conflict.

Daniel Okrent, in "Last Call," explains one theory:

"For at least two elements of the Prohibition army the struggle for an income tax was an appealing cause, irrespective of the alcohol question. For the progressives, it was an obvious way to enhance the power and effectiveness of government. For many of the racially motivated prohibitionists of the South, whose populist anger was monochromatic but nonetheless real, it was a way to avenge Reconstruction by striking back at the economic and political imperialists of the North."

As well, Okrent writes:

"And to those in the dry movement who understood political and governmental reality, imposition of an income tax was also an absolutely necessary step if they were going to break the federal addiction to the alcohol excise tax."

It would be another 7 years before the 18th Amendment was ratified.

By the way, between the 16th and 18th Amendments ... the 17th, that modified the Constitution in 1913 to allow for the direct election of U.S. senators. Prior to that, senators had been chosen by state legislatures. 



Devil's Brew -- Part 1

Earlier blog items explored some of the nuances surrounding the consumption of alcohol in rural Indiana.

We learned that corn, as a farm product, served many uses. It was currency, as was the whiskey it helped produce. Whiskey was a part of America's culture in the 19th century. It was used to obtain land from the native tribes, who somehow found liquor to be their undoing.

But whiskey consumption and its resultant abuse was not limited to Indiana and nearby Ohio. (Ohio is nearby for those who don't know where Indiana is located.)

In fact, an area east of Cincinnati is perhaps one of the most logical focal points of the turning point that changed America from a nation of alcohol abusers to what might have been the most bizarre social experiment in Western cultural history:


There are interesting links to Prohibition that begin much earlier than 1920, when the 18th Amendment (Volstead Act) was ratified by the states. Not surprisingly, those links lead us back to immigration, the first World War, the Ku Klux Klan and other spellbinding phenomena.

The right of women to vote would be part of that.

And to Ida Husted Harper, who was a pivotal figure in that fight. Husted Harper, born in Fairfield, is directly linked to the temperance movement, due to her association with women who were strident social reformers. Her essays dabbled in the topic, at least. Blog items about Husted Harper can be found in the index on the right.

Daniel Okrent, who wrote a comprehensive novel, "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition," entertains some fascinating theories about how Prohibition came about and what emerged from it.

Naturally, Okrent doesn't do much exploration of how whiskey consumption and prohibition affected Fairfield and the Whitewater valley, but various 19th century histories confirm that the production and sale of alcohol did occur in Fairfield, though there was no tavern in the town or township in the second half of the 20th century.

If somebody was making booze in the hills, nobody mentioned it.

Okrent offers this theory: Temperance movements had come and gone over the last quarter of the 19th century, and most opposition came, oddly, from the "ranks" of immigrants -- namely the Irish Catholics and German Lutherans. I can't find a specific reason why those groups, including the Italians and Eastern European Slavs, fought against prohibition.

One would assume that their native cultures were more closely connected to wine consumption. The Irish came to America with the reputation of misusing alcohol. The stereotype was apparently somewhat accurate, if their politics on the topic mattered. Germanic peoples have always been famous for their love of beer.

In any event, it isn't difficult to draw lines among the dots with relation to the rise of right-wing Protestant movements. That would include the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan, though this blog item is not about the Klan.

Instead, it is about the temperance movement that Okrent generally pins to an event in Hillsboro, Ohio, in the winter of 1874. Hillsboro, about 50 miles east of Cincinnati, had been visited by a traveling moralist named Dioclesian Lewis, who was selling a book and a few social reform ideas.

Lewis met with a group of Hillsboro women who had evidently wearied of the sloven drunkenness of their husbands ... and from this meeting emerged an unusual voice.

'Mother' Thompson
Eliza Thompson, a housewife, mother of 8, devout Methodist ... and a woman who found herself being  the focal point of a temperance crusade that would eventually include Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose legacies would be more known for women's suffrage than prohibition.

In any case, Okrent writes: "The rise of the suffrage movement was a direct consequence of the widespread Prohibition sentiment." Even Ida Husted Harper had written on that subject, claiming that the right for women to vote was less important than ending the scourge of drunkenness.

Husted Harper would later modify that point of view.

Some historians have concluded that had the drinking problem been resolved in the 19th century, women would have been content with that -- and that the suffrage issue would not have emerged until much later, if at all.

But the temperance movement gained in strength through the efforts of conservative Protestant churches and elected officials who profited from that support. As World War I approached, the battle over booze would be set aside, but it would come four-square into the nation's moral conscience after 1919.

Okrent insists that Prohibition wasn't something that just happened; instead, it was something that could not have been avoided.

The Volstead Act "changed the way we live, and it fundamentally redefined the role of the federal government."

The push for Prohibition had been years in the making. One unrelated step led to another, beginning in 1913 when the government implemented a way of collecting income tax. After that, the money one earned became money the government wanted.

Oddly, the people who supported states rights were also those who were strongly in support of Prohibition, at least in conversation.

Okrent writes:

"In 1920 could anyone have believed the 18th Amendment ostensibily addressing the single subject of intoxicating beverage, would set off an avalanche of change in areas as diverse as international trade, speedboat design, tourism practices, soft-drink marketing, and the English language itself? Or that it would provoke the establishment of the first nationwide crime syndicate, the idea of home dinner parties, the deep engagement of women in political issues other than suffrage, and the creation of Las Vegas?

If there was a still up in the hills near Brookville ... ah, history.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Indiana and the Klan -- Part 2

Hiram Evans, middle, at a D.C. rally. Walter Bossert is in the suit.
D.C. Stephenson's control of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan and resulting control of Indiana politics in the early 1920s is partly the result of his ability to harvest the discontent that naturally flourished inside an organization so diverse.

Stephenson had gotten into an argument with Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans over a number of matters, including disagreement over whether the KKK should indeed go forward on a plan to purchase Valparaiso University and convert it to a Klan college.

Evans didn't agree to financing the gesture even though Stephenson claimed the deal was all but done.

Other matters here and there, and Stephenson resigned his post as Indiana's Grand Dragon in the fall of 1923. He had other fish to fry anyhow and was more interested in king-making than serving as a feudal leader.

Up stepped a man to replace him as Grand Dragon -- Walter Bossert.

Bossert, born in Brookville, had become a pretty good lawyer, dabbled a little in Republican Party politics in the early 1900s and had become a prosecuting attorney in 1916. He rose to a leadership role in the party and, sensing where his future lay, began to move in and out of Klan circles while staying in touch with Evans, who ran the national organization in Atlanta.

Later, Bossert set up a law practice in Liberty but his selection as Indiana's Grand Dragon allowed an ongoing feud to rattle inside Klan leadership. Stephenson opposed Evans and Bossert, though early on, the three were united in their agenda.

William Lutholtz, in his "Grand Dragon" (1991), asserts that Bossert's title came with significantly less clout than Stephenson wielded. Stephenson had, in fact, orchestrated the election of Ed Jackson as governor and, as a result, was able to have key governmental appointees steered toward Klan policy.

Those included prosecutors, mayors, county political party chairmen, directors of school boards, and even congressmen.

Klan-backed candidates often won easily in political primaries, splitting the vote, identifying regions of strength and weakness, allowing for allocation of resources into churches and community centers ... all aimed at boosting the Klan's image as a "non-violent, patriotic, American fraternal organization."

The goal was to protect the white Protestant from the evil outsider, the "papists" from the Vatican would would force us to become Catholics ... or worse, forced to marry negroes or speak some foreign language. ...

Stephenson and his Klan allies simply led the charge, and found easy pickings among people who feared what the Klan told them to fear. Opponents were shouted down or ridiculed out of public office.

Church leaders were given free Klan memberships and were often blessed with monetary donations.

From an old clipping of Franklin County news reports from Laurel:

"Klansmen in gift to Laurel church. Twenty members of the K.K.K. appeared Sunday and present the pastor for $50. Twenty members ... traveling in four automobiles, appeared at the Christian Church here ... and said this to the church, 'May the work of your church continue to be an inspiration to the people.' "

In another report, "The Klan appeared at the Laurel Methodist Church and left a letter for the pastor. The letter contained a donation to the church."

In dozens of churches in hundreds of towns, the Klan preyed on the notion that God's work was being done through their combined leadership.

Oddly, the Klan's unofficial anthem was "Onward Christian Soldiers," sung today with zeal in millions of churches without any idea of its relationship to the organization.

As for Bossert, after the Klan's reign ended with the conviction of Stephenson, he went back to Liberty and resumed his law career. He tried to seek public office a couple of times but was unsuccessful.

Others who benefited from Klan support included a young lawyer from Brookville -- Ralph Eugene Updike. Updike had been elected to the General Assembly in 1922 as a Republican with Klan blessing. In 1924, he got more Klan support and won handily in a 7th District primary, then an election in November without much opposition.

"Cousin Ralph" Updike served two terms in Congress before losing in 1928. His Klan affiliation didn't follow him around. He became a federal prosecutor after that, and served with honor in the Marines in World War II. He died in 1953 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

He went to school in Whitcomb.

Text of Cousin Ralph's race banning bill
"Cousin Ralph" has one distinction. While in the state legislature, he played off Klan "patriotism" and introduced a bill in 1923 that outlawed the running of the Indy 500 on Memorial Day. His logic was that the race was an insult to the men who had so gallantly served and died in the Great War.

The bill roared though the legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Warren McCray,who feared it would not pass constitutional muster. It is worth noting that McCray was staunchly anti-Klan and was essentially ruined politically by the Klan in the 1924 gubernatorial election.

McCray, who did everything else wrong while he was governor, including being thrown out of office and spending 10 years in prison for embezzlement and mail fraud, wrote in his veto message: "Patriotism consists of proper respect and observance of law, and any laws enacted that do not create such respect, or that bear the impression of class discrimination defeat the very purpose for which they were intended...."

But it did prove that the Klan could, with the right leverage, modify the lives of Hoosiers.

D.C. Stephenson had boasted being "the law in Indiana."

For a time, he was.


It has been estimated that as many as 350,000 Hoosiers were either members of the Klan or approved of its activities.

The Klan, in its heyday, implemented the construction of segregated high schools in Gary (Roosevelt), Evansville (Lincoln) and Indianapolis (Attucks) ... playing on fears that the colored people would introduce incurable diseases into the schools and would erode the educational process due to their inability to learn.

Catholics were similarly demeaned as being devoted to the Vatican, which the Klan said had intentions of buying out the U.S. government and running our world from Rome.

Jews were just attacked as they always were, and it's not a coincidence that the Knights of the Golden Circle, a euphemism for the KKK in Europe, had allied itself with the German National Party, also known as the Nazis.

Immigrants were labeled as interlopers bent on undermining our liberty and freedom. Many who had come to America after the war had been Orthodox, which the Klan easily interpreted as "Catholic." They took jobs in factories and settled in enclaves. They just looked fishy.

When D.C. Stephenson was convicted of murdering Madge Oberholtzer in 1925, he decided to sell out his fraternal organization. As the resultant investigation grew, membership in the Klan declined. The Indiana phenomenon was unofficially at an end. Most who had been members were apparently just forgiven, since it was never clear who actually supported the Klan. Opposing the Klan was seldom practical.

The Klan still exists. Its message is vaguely the same as it was in 1921.

BOSSERT (Wikipedia)



Stephenson lived large in the Irvington section of Indianapolis.

Warren McCray
Ed Jackson
Madge Oberholtzer

Indiana and the Klan -- Part 1

The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana in the early 1920s would seem, on first glance, to be something out of a made-up story. After all, the Klan was no longer even functional. It had existed in the years after the Civil War to intimidate black people.

As time went on, the organization ceased to exist in any significant numbers. It was dead in the water, or so we thought.

But a series of events conspired to re-fuel the Klan's message, much of which dealt with the end of the first World War. It was called a renewed pledge toward "Americanism" that had been practical and valuable in sustaining U.S. patriotism in what was deemed the "war to end all wars."

The government even passed sedition laws forbidding speech condemning the war, clearly unconstitutional but seldom challenged. When the war ended, the fever subsided.

But the Klan, in the South, saw a way of re-energizing, sensing a way of building a power base for zealots.

To make the argument work, enemies were necessary. So ... well, foreigners and Catholics were easy targets. If you spoke in a foreign accent, you were probably not 100 percent American. And the Catholics were run by the Pope, who was probably going to take over the country and run it from the Vatican.

So ... immigrants, Catholics ... don't forget the Jews ... and the colored people.

That's enough. Just heap on the patriotism and the Christian Protestant (White) topping, and the membership began to grow.

How that gets to Indiana is a bit more complicated, but along the way, a man named David Curtiss (D.C.) Stephenson heard the message. He was a liar, a con man, a drunk, a womanizer, a thief ... and he had a real good idea how to profit from things that were happening.

So he landed in Evansville in 1919 or so, got involved in the lucrative coal business and proceeded to convince people that he had clout with top-level people. He was good at talking. He wanted political power, since he had come from poverty and was angry that the poor were mistreated so by government.

The Klan, which was trying to extend its reach into the Northern states, happened to learn about the interesting stories Stephenson was telling, and recruited him to help build a "Klaven" in southwestern Indiana.

A long series of peculiar events conspired to give Stephenson a larger power base than he probably deserved but the end result was that the Klan found fertile soil in Evansville. From there, Stephenson worked his unusual magic and by 1921, he had made major inroads into Klan growth in Indiana.

A book by M. William Lutholtz, "Grand Dragon" (1991) goes into great detail about Stephenson's ability to build Klan strength in Indiana.

"What made Stephenson think he could sell the Klan in Indianapolis? Was there anything unique about Indiana in the 1920s that made the state ripe for the phenomenal impact of the Klan? Stephenson might have been just as successful in some other state. But the fact remains that he found his greatest success in Indiana."

Reasons were easy to identify on even a cursory glance.

"The natural disposition of so many Hoosiers of that period to be joiners contributed to Stephenson's success.  Hoosiers in the 1920s were eager to become part of some organization, any organization. The Klan satisfied that need, and Stephenson simply happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Oversimplification? Perhaps.

Indiana was rural, and its nature was more traditional, Protestant, inclined to distrust Catholics and foreigners. Why?

"Some Hoosiers harbored strong nativist fears about foreign ethnic groups and religions."

As a Midwestern state, the presence of foreigners and Jews made them stand out, therefore being suspect. The "colored" component was easy to identify, though blacks were insignificant in numbers in Indiana until the mid-20s when they began to come north to work in factories that had begun recovering from the slowdown just after the war. Rural poverty in the South was the key reason.

As blacks began to arrive in larger numbers, the Klan was able to play on that aspect of its message. It was easy to inspire whites to fear the influx of so many "niggers and wetbacks."

"The Knights were successful in recruiting members in Indiana because ithey found fertile soil in this rurally-oriented, native American (white, Protestant) stronghold ... it found ready acceptance among Hoosiers who were confused by change and angry over what they felt to be a breakdown in authority."

In any case, the Klan's reach stretched into nearly every corner of the state. In another entry, we will learn why it mattered to Franklin County.

Stephenson, for his part, remains a fascinating character in state history, even past his conviction for murder that eventually was the undoing of the Klan in Indiana.

Lutholtz explains:

"Stevenson had joined the Klan primarily to organize a political power base. His first connection with the Klan stemmed from his efforts to carve himself a niche in local politics. He did not join the Klan because it was the Klan. He Joined because it promised him a way to build his own power group. Had the Rotary, the Elks, the Moose or the Odd Fellows offered him a similar chance, he probably would never have bothered to join the Klan. It was just the right organization for him at the right time."

To be sure, Stephenson was a Socialist early on, then a Democrat, then a Republican. Political parties were just names to him and to the Klan during its reign. They supported candidates who agreed with them or, at worst, didn't disagree. Party labels meant nothing. "Americanism" fueled their machinery.

Klan operated on a national agenda, with some of its leaders in Atlanta primed to become THE source of political power in America, though an actual Klan Party was never generally accepted.

Lutholtz's book is chock full of anecdotes, chilling stories and details. I will touch on some of it, with the caveat that an opposing point of view is probably difficult to locate.

It is also known that the Klan operated openly in Ohio, Michigan and Illinois without the apparent control over government that it wielded in Indiana.


In 1925 Stephenson was tried and convicted of second-degree murder in a notorious abduction, rape, and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, a state education official. His trial, conviction and imprisonment ended the portrayal of Klan leaders as law abiding. 

Denied a pardon by Gov. Ed Jackson, in 1927 he started talking with reporters of the Indianapolis Times and released a list of elected and other officials in the pay of the Klan. This led to a wave of indictments in Indiana, more national scandal, the rapid loss of tens of thousands of members, and the end of the second wave of Klan activity in the late 1920s.

Stephenson was eventually paroled in 1950 from state prison in Michigan City, violated its terms, went back to prison, was paroled again in 1956 and eventually moved to Jonesboro, Tenn., where he died in 1966.



After the war -- unrest, confusion

War victory celebration
The world that remained at the end of World War I was, depending on where you were, a conflux of bittersweet events.

Clearly the impact in Europe was different from that of rural Indiana, but the resultant unrest, chaos or change was impossible to ignore.

Short-term, there was an economic downturn but it appears the recession was more a product of American condition than fiscal uncertainty. In short, the country's manufacturing base wanted to make and move goods, so it did.

Most Americans were still too poor to buy the stuff. An automobile or refrigerator was still far outside the confines of the average rural Indiana budget.

In Washington, President Woodrow Wilson was replaced by Warren G. Harding. Harding had no policy and no intent on forming a legacy. He was essentially installed as president and he designed as his motto, a "return to normalcy." He was far from a consensus choice by the Republicans. He also died in office, replaced by Silent Calvin Coolidge, who might have even been less inspiring.

What had emerged during and after the war was more disconcerting, and was probably the result of a perfect storm of circumstances.

It's worth noting that in the 1920 presidential election, a Socialist-labor advocate from Terre Haute named Eugene B. Debs garnered 3.5 percent of the popular votes, suggesting unrest was afoot. Debs was in prison at the time, for speaking out against the war in 1917. Yes, that was illegal then.

The impact of all this does indeed reach into the Whitewater Valley and the complexities reveal that not many Hoosiers of good standing were untouched.

Far away, in the South, a new form of unrest was brewing -- the Ku Klux Klan was reorganizing, offering a new policy and a new agenda. Within a couple of years after the war ended, the Klan's message would come booming into Indiana and a decade of shame would evolve.

Why Indiana? Why not?

Actually, Indiana is one of several states where the Klan flourished in the 1920s, but Indiana is perhaps the only state to actually admit to it. Other states pretend it wasn't happening there, but it is known that the KKK wielded enormous clout in Indiana; it's unclear how much power they had elsewhere, though they were heavily invested in Chicago politics.

The Klan's role in Indiana cannot be understated, and the reasons why it flourished in the Hoosier state are easy to understand.

There is something to be learned from it, and we're not getting very far in that area.

In the end, the simple analysis of the end of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression a decade later: America fought the great fight to preserve its way of life, and when it came home, it learned that its way of life wasn't working very well.

There were those who spoke softly and firmly about how to address that.

Hoosiers listened.



Saturday, July 11, 2015

Labor and what we became

Lewis W. Hine's collection on child labor,
an Indiana glass factory

Indiana's development as an industrial center after 1880 is hardly anecdotal to the events that would transpire a few decades later at the conclusion of World War I.

To get from Point A to Point B, we need to take a snapshot look at Hoosier life as it transitioned from a purely agricultural state to something much more diverse.

As the railroads began to put their tracks through anything that contained two telephone poles and a post office, so came with it industry.

Lots of it. Even the Whitewater valley had its share, including Connersville, known then as a vital hub of commerce. The rails allowed workers some flexibility in going from rural areas into the towns to find work ... work that would be demanding, bordering on cruel and in some cases, life-threatening.

A well-organized book called "Indiana in Transition, The Emergence of an Industrial Commonwealth," by Clifton J. Phillips, is chock full of details.

The book was published in 1968 by the Historical Bureau and the Indiana Historical Society. (It's one volume in a set, but I didn't see any others.)

Phillips has the data. "Working conditions in this period (around 1880 forward) paralleled those found in other industrializing regions. Long hours and low wages sum up much of the story ... in the first two or three decades after 1880."

The average work week for a factory laborer was probably 60 hours, those making cement, wood pulp, corn products, paper, roofing. Steel mill workers could do 7-day shifts, often 10 hours at a time. Steel made the globe revolve. Autos, ships, rail lines ... virtually everything came from Gary.

Labor unrest was bound to follow, but organized unions were still in the future. Most labor strife was violent and often was counterproductive.

Phillips says the state legislature began to take the labor problem seriously around 1890 but was largely unable to enforce an eight-hour day. Most workers were still regulated by company rules. Work the hours or go elsewhere.

Building trades fared better but they held the hammer, so to speak, by controlling contracts on many public structures, such as bridges or corporate buildings. Fill-in labor was reluctant to challenge that clout.

By the turn of the century, legislative control over child labor had become effective and as factories became more diversified, they found a need for more skilled workers who could add leverage to better pay and shorter hours.

The glass industry that emerged in the 1890s led the way in training specialized workers, though unskilled laborers were still left with 12-hour days, mainly because the pay for unskilled labor was substantially less.

Women's pay was horrible though more began to work outside the home. Conditions were frequently deplorable. There is little evidence that this bothered anybody.

"Not until 1913 did the General Assembly create a commission on working women to investigate the hours and conditions of labor of women in the state," Phillips writes.

The legislature took a long hard look at the report and did ... nothing.

Paying the workers was sometimes a crap shoot, Phillips adds. Sometimes, pay would be monthly, or irregularly, or sometimes doled out instead of awarded as a regular reward for services rendered.

Laws changing that came around 1890.

Understandably, Indiana's industrial base was quite diverse, ranging from coal in the southwestern corner, to shipping on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan, where steel and iron work reigned.

The emerging auto industry followed the carriage era, and the gas boom across the central part of the state led to dozens of diverse companies. Indiana did it all, and grew more wheat and corn than almost anybody on Earth.

The average annual earnings for an Indiana family in 1894:

Less than $300 a year -- something close to abject poverty.

By 1900, it began to change.

"Wages in general rose gradually in the early years of the 20th century and spectacularly after the outbreak of the first World War."

Phillips's data shows that the average annual wage went from $490 in 1899 to $576 only 10 years later ... and it nearly tripled in 1919, mostly due to inflation. Higher than the national average, nearly equal to that of other neighboring states.

It is the war that inevitably interests us, because events leading up to it and resulting from it are partially what define Indiana as a state. The Whitewater valley is not exempt from that.

Working in the factories was not for the faint of heart. Factories were often poorly ventilated, poorly heated or lit, dangerous and unsanitary. One door in and no other doors out.

Child labor did, however, decline greatly in the first half of the century, ostensibly replaced by women who worked for about the same wage.

Steel mill rig, Gary around 1910
Militant labor movements began to find new alliances as membership grew, adding financial resources to the conversation.

By 1915, labor in Indiana had drawn the line. It endured, prospered and took aim on growth.

By the middle of 1917, things would change. Labor calmed down. The desire to win the war had replaced any selfish urge to argue with the company over working conditions.

America's entry into World War I was scarcely the economic driver that resulted from the "Rosie the Riveter" phenomenon a few decades later, but the first war did stabilize industry. Working to win the war was considered patriotic.

As well, the U.S. involvement in the war was of relatively short duration -- about 18 months, so the need to re-tool for war materials never came about. World War I was a trench soldier's war, not a tanks-and-ships war.

After it ended, Indiana's role in history would change permanently. Despite the mystery, it does indeed make social sense if not moral sense.

And with it came a new and divisive concept of government. Socialism.



Friday, July 10, 2015

The Great War -- Part 2

War poster reprints can be found.
The enormity of the global conflict known as World War I has been documented and updated. Despite that, it's awe-inspiring stuff. It will also be difficult to separate the war and its consequences from some other apparently unrelated history of the time just after the 20th century began.

Key word here is: Apparently.

Literally thousands of men could be killed in a single battle that could rage for days, even weeks. At times, both sides would declare a truce so that the dead men and horses could be buried.

The sheer magnitude of the war was something those who recorded its first history could scarcely fathom, but they believed that the world had learned its lesson. It was, according to the British upon their decision to join the fighting: We must win the war to end all wars.

About thirty percent of Europe's male population was killed or wounded. Many others simply disappeared. It seemed in aftermath that there was nobody left to fight a war. Perhaps the plan indeed had worked.

America's involvement was comparatively small, a little over a year. "Over There" was the theme. The U.S. would send troops to Europe, kick some German ass and come home, just like it was planned.

The whole of the war had started on that premise, with the leaders of the reigning royal houses all convinced that they would just go off and have a war, the generals would excel and at the end, they would have a grand gala celebration.

Virgil Davis, in his 1958 study of the war as it affected Franklin County:

"In World War I, 24 boys from Franklin County gave their lives in the service of their country. Of these, several died in the hospitals during the great influenza epidemic of 1918. This epidemic resembled the cholora epidemic of 1849, since it struck not only the soldiers but the home front."

Bullets and unseen creatures. Twenty-four.

Davis goes on:

"The first boy to lose his life from the county was Bernard Hurst of Oldenburg."

Hurst is remembered for having the Brookville American Legion Post 77 named in his honor.

Along the way, various relief agencies were activated, and included dozens of local volunteers who led war bond rallies. The voluntary rationing of fuel and leather products was a national affair.

There is no intent here to evaluate the causes or effects of the war, other than to acknowledge it as an integral part of the time.

We know what came afterward, and generally why, though much of what we think we understand about the post-war world is somewhat shallow and short-sighted.

Another history, a 1925 Atlas (referenced in an earlier entry) has a somewhat somber entry that's worth adding. It was written by a soldier named Albert Eldon Sellers, a Franklin County man who was serving in the war in Europe in 1918.


He called me "Kamerad"
That whining Hun with bloody hands,
I ought to shoot him where he stands, 
You woman-raper, murderer, brute!
Aha -- you're too dam low to shoot.

Don't call me "Kamerad."
Me who has fought you clean and fair,
You crucified me pal out there
And now you call me "Kamerad."

Danny was me pal.
We hiked together through the Texas sand,
He took me back when I could hardly stand
The last long mile. He nursed me when I fell
Beneath the Caisson and cracked me shell.
Danny shared with me
His last thin dime -- his pack of cigarettes,
He's gone West now, and went with no regrets,
You Hun! You killed me comrade!

You killed me Danny,
Danny me pal, me bunkie all the way
From the Border to the trenches, till the day
You got him and shot him and he fell.
You're no "Kamerad" o'mine, you imp o'hell!
Don't call me "Kamerad."
You're dirty to the core!
Your hands drip blood. Your heart is black and more!
And yet you call me "Kamerad."





On a more personal level, one of my grandfather's brothers, Jacob Kunkel, was killed in the war. I've snipped a memorial insertion from the 1925 Atlas that explains.

The Great War -- Part 1

WWI Doughboys, in downtown Indy, 1919
The Brookville Public Library contains a book that I originally thought would kick open some doors to the history of Fairfield of the 20th century.

The book, an Atlas of Franklin County, dated 1925, is a peculiar publication. It's bound, is about 18 inches by 24 (I don't measure things often) and it's maybe 100 pages long.

I opened it thinking it would reveal life in the Whitewater valley as we would know it after the turn of the century.

Instead, it has page after page of names ... names of men who were eligible for, were drafted into, or volunteered to serve in the U.S. military during World War I.

The war had been over for about 7 years. The details were intriguing, complete and ... frankly, a little frightening. Names of men from as far west of Brookville as Columbus or Greensburg.

On and on, the pages went, telling where men had been recruited, where they were stationed, and inevitably where they served. Later in the book, there were items on those who did not return.

Mixed in with this, as a token effort to assert that it was indeed an Atlas of Franklin County, maps of all the towns. Street maps.

No stories on commerce or social life in the valley, as had occurred in a couple of other older atlases that spent time exploring the biographies of those who could afford to have one published.

The curious part was that the war had been over for SEVEN YEARS and, one assumes, that the publishers of this Atlas deemed it necessary to somehow record all this information for posterity.

No wonder. World War I was an event unlike any other in history. It wasn't called World War I then ... it was the Great War.

The last of its kind.


I've found a lot of documents that detail life in the Whitewater valley during that war, and it's safe to say that the conflict did more than just touch a few lives.

But it evidently took seven years to compile all the information that the Atlas contains, and one would assume that the publishers found a compelling need to scrap the fluff. The war had been fought, and won.

Evil had been vanquished.

Or so they believed.

Virgil Davis, who compiled his own history of the valley in 1958, writes this in an essay:

"All wars are tragic but World War I was doubly so for Franklin County.Beginning in the 1830s the county had seen a large migration of Germans bringing with them the customs and culture of their "Fatherland" and enriching us thereby.

"They settled principally in the southern and southwestern sections of the county and in Brookville. There they established their churches, schools and villages. St. Peters St. Mary's-of-the-Rock, Cedar Grove, Oak Forest, and particularly, Oldenburg, became German centers and there the old world customs and languages were preserved until well within the 20th century."

Davis has the benefit of experiencing the next world war in 1939.

Davis is taking us in a unique direction in relation to the first world war.

Anti-German sentiment was not only prevalent but encouraged. The German settlements of Franklin County endured a national distrust. Yet, the county was quite diverse and, according to Davis, much more tolerant than in other parts of the country. That's his impression.

"Although we experienced some 'war hysteria' when we attempted to stamp out all evidence of our German heritage (by substituting 'Liberty cabbage' for sauerkraut and forsaking the language in church services) we soon regained our sanity, and gave living proof that, although we might cling to the German culture and customs, our basic loyalty was to the 'new country' and not to the 'Fatherland.' "

I've never heard that Hoosiers of German heritage were badly mistreated, though there were stories of verbal abuse.

What happened after World War I is more disturbing, but that will be part of a separate blog entry.

Meanwhile, the 1925 Atlas of Franklin County has yielded some compelling stories. Later on those.



Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hoosier Hysteria

Wingate won the state title in 1913 and again in 1914.
As the first decade of the 20th century ended, two entertainment realities were in evidence: There would be a 500-mile car race in Indianapolis ... and it would be hard to get a ticket to watch the local high school basketball team in action.

The Indy 500 has been explored in another blog ABOUT CARL FISHER,  though I have learned that the race itself was not considered popular by the moneyed class of the early 20th century. Instead, it was viewed as banal, appealing only to the lower classes.

It's nice to know that Indiana, in 1912, had an upper crust.

Not so true with basketball, however.

As an aside, Indiana's love of basketball is a legend that has outlived its truth. There is empirical evidence to show that the popularity of the high school-level sport began a gradual decline in the late 1960s, attributed to the closing of the hundreds of small township schools and the creation of larger, less appealing consolidations.

That is not, however, the point of this blog item.

What is the point is that as Indiana became more homogenized in the 1910s, communities found a central focus in their schools.

One thing leading to another, somebody had decided to take James Naismith's creation to another level. Peach baskets, be damned ... somebody made a couple of iron rims and tacked them up in the school cafeteria.

A game was held.

As luck would have it, somebody challenged the school down the road to a game, and history was about to be made.

Details, yarns of great adversity, challenge and the picket fence aside, high school basketball became a lifestyle of its own inside an imaginary triangle stretching from Lafayette south to Crawfordsville, and eastward to Lebanon.

It was inside this triangle that the first high school basketball powerhouses thrived. Crawfordsville won the first tournament, in 1911, over Lebanon. Tossing in Wingate and Thorntown over the next few years, the power base was clear.

But the immense popularity of the sport could not have been fully anticipated. After Crawfordsville won the first title over Lebanon, the state athletic association (formed in 1903, oddly) agreed to govern the sport, and basketball soon became most important event in the state.

Carl Fisher wasn't bothered by that.

A billion books have been written about the history of basketball in Indiana, and glowing claims of its importance fall into disbelief. Indiana just had more enthusiastic fans than other places did, though most top colleges recruited heavily in Indiana and the state's reputation for producing top talent endured well into the late 1970s.

Nobody seems to know why, though Indiana was appealing to some of the top coaches. Players excelled because, well ... that's just what they did.

Those early years were part of a culture in Indiana that spoke to a more rudimentary form of entertainment. It wasn't like the symphony was playing a concert in Brownsville.

Brownsville did win a sectional tournament in 1946, in case you cared.

Brookville's earliest success came in 1916, when it reached the finals of a 16-team field before losing to Vincennes.

The non-homophobic Franklin Wonder 5 (1920)
James B. Madison, in writing "The Indiana Way" in 1986, explains some of the sport's appeal. "Basketball was especially important to the small towns and rural townships. Because it required relatively few players and because skills could be developed with only a ball and a hoop above a barn or garage door, every school had the chance to compete."

And ...

"Basketball often seemed a fairy-tale sport with a timeless form and ritual that created shared emotions and bound individuals in a community that seemed to transcend everyday life."

The game was largely played only by whites and the few African-Americans who did play often faced bias and ridicule.

While basketball held sway in rural towns, as the 1920s approached, so did the birth of college football, fueled mainly by the exploits of Knute Rockne at Notre Dame.

Indiana was indeed finding time for leisure as the state's centennial approached in 1916.