Great obits, tribute: The Scoop on obit author Amanda Lewis

March 13, 2013

The Scoop, a blog of the Dallas Morning News, followed up on that great obit of Harry Stamps.  Reporter Eric Aasen tracked down Amanda Lewis, Stamps’s daughter, and the author of his obituary, which the Biloxi Sun-Herald judge “best ever.”

Harry Stamps and his daughter, Amanda Lewis

Harry Stamps with his daughter, Amanda Lewis, at her wedding in Dallas. Lewis wrote the great obituary for her father published last week in the Biloxi Sun-Herald. Photo from Amanda Lewis, via The Scoop

“He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [Vi-e-na] sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread.”

Lewis tells The News she started writing the obituary Thursday morning, when she began the long drive from Dallas to Mississippi. She says her mother had given her some highlights, some bullet points in order to write the standard small-print farewell. But that’s not the kind of obituary she wanted to write.

“I don’t understand why people do a résumé for an obituary,” says Lewis. “It never captures the spirit of the person. My dad had such a big spirit. He had such a big personality. And I didn’t think listing where he went to college and his résumé would do him justice. I liked the idea of setting it up as kind of a contrast where at first you think it’ll be a pretentious obituary — everyone’s great when they die in an obituary — and then I tried to use what would have been his sense of humor to describe my dad. And clearly it worked. I was pleased with it.”

So was everyone else.

Aasen had a couple of great photos to add  (and it ran in this morning’s edition of the newspaper, too).

My father told the story of attending the funeral for a woman who had a bit of a checkered past, as he would euphemistically tell us, and who did not get along with everyone.  He said the pastor, delivering a eulogy, talked of fine Italian tapestries, famous for brilliant colors and even silver and gold used as thread.  “In every fine Italian tapestry, there are black threads woven in, to contrast with the silver and gold,” the pastor said.  “And so it was with the life of this woman.”

Some tributes to the departed capture their spirit — think of Teddy Kennedy quoting  a paraphrase of Bernard  Shaw at the funeral of his brother Robert.  Tributes provide deep, lasting memories, or change events on their own, sometimes.

Harry Stamps’s obit was a great oneI’ve posted two others that I think produced more smiles than tears, and I know there are other obituaries out there that are worthy of reading, spreading the news about, and perhaps, emulation.   Know of any?

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Great obits: Val Patterson, Salt Lake City

March 12, 2013

A nice guy by all reports – but not a Ph.D.

Not that he cheated to get it.

It’s a great story, and it unfolded only in the obituary he wrote for himself.  The obituary ran in The Salt Lake Tribune, from July 15 to July 22, 2012.

Val Patterson

Obituary

1953 – 2012

Val Patterson

Val Patterson, 1953-2012

I was Born in Salt Lake City, March 27th 1953. I died of Throat Cancer on July 10th 2012. I went to six different grade schools, then to Churchill, Skyline and the U of U. I loved school, Salt Lake City, the mountains, Utah. I was a true Scientist. Electronics, chemistry, physics, auto mechanic, wood worker, artist, inventor, business man, ribald comedian, husband, brother, son, cat lover, cynic. I had a lot of fun. It was an honor for me to be friends with some truly great people. I thank you. I’ve had great joy living and playing with my dog, my cats and my parrot. But, the one special thing that made my spirit whole, is my long love and friendship with my remarkable wife, my beloved Mary Jane. I loved her more than I have words to express. Every moment spent with my Mary Jane was time spent wisely. Over time, I became one with her, inseparable, happy, fulfilled. I enjoyed one good life. Traveled to every place on earth that I ever wanted to go. Had every job that I wanted to have. Learned all that I wanted to learn. Fixed everything I wanted to fix. Eaten everything I wanted to eat. My life motto was: “Anything for a Laugh”. Other mottos were “If you can break it, I can fix it”, “Don’t apply for a job, create one”. I had three requirements for seeking a great job; 1 – All glory, 2 – Top pay, 3 – No work.

Val Patterson

Val Patterson, 1953-2012

Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest.  Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters “PhD” even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I’m sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well, and were well engineered, and I always made you laugh at work. Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland – you can now throw away that “Banned for Life” file you have on me, I’m not a problem anymore – and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.

To the gang: We grew up in the very best time to grow up in the history of America. The best music, muscle cars, cheap gas, fun kegs, buying a car for “a buck a year” – before Salt Lake got ruined by over population and Lake Powell was brand new. TV was boring back then, so we went outside and actually had lives. We always tried to have as much fun as possible without doing harm to anybody – we did a good job at that.

If you are trying to decide if you knew me, this might help… My father was RD “Dale” Patterson, older brother “Stan” Patterson, and sister “Bunny” who died in a terrible car wreck when she was a Junior at Skyline. My mom “Ona” and brother “Don” are still alive and well. In college I worked at Vaughns Conoco on 45th South and 29th East. Mary and I are the ones who worked in Saudi Arabia for 8 years when we were young. Mary Jane is now a Fitness Instructor at Golds on Van Winkle – you might be one of her students – see what a lucky guy I am? Yeah, no kidding.

My regret is that I felt invincible when young and smoked cigarettes when I knew they were bad for me. Now, to make it worse, I have robbed my beloved Mary Jane of a decade or more of the two of us growing old together and laughing at all the thousands of simple things that we have come to enjoy and fill our lives with such happy words and moments. My pain is enormous, but it pales in comparison to watching my wife feel my pain as she lovingly cares for and comforts me. I feel such the “thief” now – for stealing so much from her – there is no pill I can take to erase that pain.

If you knew me or not, dear reader, I am happy you got this far into my letter. I speak as a person who had a great life to look back on. My family is following my wishes that I not have a funeral or burial. If you knew me, remember me in your own way. If you want to live forever, then don’t stop breathing, like I did.

A celebration of life will be held on Sunday, July 22nd from 4:00 to 6:00 pm at Starks Funeral Parlor, 3651 South 900 East, Salt Lake City, casual dress is encouraged.

Online condolences may be offered and memorial video may be viewed at www.starksfuneral.com.

These little snippets of history delight historians, though many of them are so fantastic they make newspaper obit writers frazzled trying to track down the facts.


Great obits: Harry Weathersby Stamps, Long Beach

March 12, 2013

Alerted by a Tweet from Matt Soniak:

Several blogs and other sites, and the Biloxi Sun-Herald, say this is the best obit ever.  It’s a very good one, in any case.

Harry Stamps and wife Ann, in Long Beach, Mississippi

Photo from the SunHerald: PHOTO COURTESY AMANDA LEWIS Harry Stamps stands with wife Ann at their Katrina-damaged home in Long Beach. Stamps wears his famous grass-stained Mississippi State University baseball cap Read more here: http://www.sunherald.com/2013/03/11/4521106/best-obit-ever-harry-stamps-obituary.html#storylink=cpy

At the Biloxi SunHerald.com:

Harry Weathersby Stamps

December 19, 1932 — March 9, 2013

Long Beach

Harry Weathersby Stamps, ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013.

Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated). For his signature bacon and tomato sandwich, he procured 100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer’s black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee’s Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription. As a point of pride, he purported to remember every meal he had eaten in his 80 years of life.

The women in his life were numerous. He particularly fancied smart women. He loved his mom Wilma Hartzog (deceased), who with the help of her sisters and cousins in New Hebron reared Harry after his father Walter’s death when Harry was 12. He worshipped his older sister Lynn Stamps Garner (deceased), a character in her own right, and her daughter Lynda Lightsey of Hattiesburg. He married his main squeeze Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, almost 50 years ago, with whom they had two girls Amanda Lewis of Dallas, and Alison of Starkville. He taught them to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful. He took great pride in stocking their tool boxes. One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President.

He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [Vi-e-na] sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread.

He excelled at growing camellias, rebuilding houses after hurricanes, rocking, eradicating mole crickets from his front yard, composting pine needles, living within his means, outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness, and reading any history book he could get his hands on. He loved to use his oversized “old man” remote control, which thankfully survived Hurricane Katrina, to flip between watching The Barefoot Contessa and anything on The History Channel. He took extreme pride in his two grandchildren Harper Lewis (8) and William Stamps Lewis (6) of Dallas for whom he would crow like a rooster on their phone calls. As a former government and sociology professor for Gulf Coast Community College, Harry was thoroughly interested in politics and religion and enjoyed watching politicians act like preachers and preachers act like politicians. He was fond of saying a phrase he coined “I am not running for political office or trying to get married” when he was “speaking the truth.” He also took pride in his service during the Korean conflict, serving the rank of corporal–just like Napolean, as he would say.

Harry took fashion cues from no one. His signature every day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam’s on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?) that were always paired with a grass-stained MSU baseball cap.

Harry traveled extensively. He only stayed in the finest quality AAA-rated campgrounds, his favorite being Indian Creek outside Cherokee, North Carolina. He always spent the extra money to upgrade to a creek view for his tent. Many years later he purchased a used pop-up camper for his family to travel in style, which spoiled his daughters for life.

He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words “veranda” and “porte cochere” to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart. In reverse order. He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil’s Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest.

Because of his irrational fear that his family would throw him a golf-themed funeral despite his hatred for the sport, his family will hold a private, family only service free of any type of “theme.” Visitation will be held at Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home, 15th Street, Gulfport on Monday, March 11, 2013 from 6-8 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make a donation to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (Jeff Davis Campus) for their library. Harry retired as Dean there and was very proud of his friends and the faculty. He taught thousands and thousands of Mississippians during his life. The family would also like to thank the Gulfport Railroad Center dialysis staff who took great care of him and his caretaker Jameka Stribling.

Finally, the family asks that in honor of Harry that you write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Saving Time. Harry wanted everyone to get back on the Lord’s Time.

View & sign register book @ www.bradfordokeefe.com
Read more here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sunherald/obituary.aspx?n=harry-stamps&pid=163538353&fhid=4025#fbLoggedOut#storylink=cpy

Yeah, but wouldn’t it have been funny to have held the funeral at the local links?  Just give the address, say nothing about golf, and don’t let anyone mention the venue.  They’d have talked about it for years.


Millard Fillmore: Still dead, still misquoted, 139 years later

March 8, 2013

Millard Fillmore wax head

A wax likeness of Millard Fillmore’s head, appearing to be for sale for $950.00 back in 2007. Did anyone ever buy it? Yes, it does bear an unusual resemblance to Tom Peters.

March 8, 2013, is the 139th anniversary of Millard Fillmore’s death.  Famous lore claims Fillmore’s last words were, “The nourishment is palatable.”

What a crock!

Manus reprints the text from the New York Times obituary that appeared on March 9:

Buffalo, N.Y., March 8 — 12 o’clock, midnight. — Ex-President Millard Fillmore died at his residence in this city at 11:10 to-night. He was conscious up to the time. At 8 o’clock, in reply to a question by his physician, he said the nourishment was palatable; these were his last words. His death was painless.

First, I wonder how the devil the writer could possibly know whether Fillmore’s death was painless?

And second, accuracy obsessed as I am, I wonder whether this is the source of the often-attributed to Fillmore quote, “The nourishment is palatable.” Several sources that one might hope would be more careful attribute the quote to Fillmore as accurate — none with any citation that I can find. Thinkexist charges ahead full speed; Brainyquote removed the quote after I complained in 2007. Wikipedia lists it. Snopes.com says the quote is “alleged,” in a discussion thread.

I’ll wager no one can offer a citation for the quote. I’ll wager Fillmore didn’t say it.

Let’s be more stolid:  The quote alleged to be Fillmore’s last words, isn’t.  No one says “palatable” when they’re dying, not even the man about whom it is claimed that Queen Victoria pronounced him the hansomest man she ever met (just try tracking that one down), and whose strongest legacy is a hoax about a bathtub, started 43 years after he died.  No one calls soup “sustenance.”

The alleged quote, the misquote, the distortion of history, was stolen from the obituary in the New York Times.  Millard Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

What were Millard Fillmore’s last words?  They may be buried in the notebook of one of his doctors.  They may be recorded in some odd notebook held in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, or in the Library of SUNY Buffalo, or in the New York State Library‘s dusty archives.

But the dying President Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

Millard Fillmore: We’d protect his legacy, if only anyone could figure out what it is.

This is partly an encore post, based on a post from 2007.

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Writing down the history: NAACP wants your story about Dr. King

January 20, 2013

I get earnest, interesting e-mail, too.  Ben Jealous from the NAACP wrote today:

NAACP

Ed,

Tomorrow, we pay homage to one of America’s most righteous defenders and promoters of civil and human rights: the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King was an incredible man who changed the course of American history. He inspired millions to stand up in peaceful protest against discriminatory laws and fought for the greater good of all humanity.

Dr. King’s spirit lives on. After his assassination, millions of people picked up the torch and continued to fight for a better future, carrying our shared movement for social justice into the present day.

To celebrate his life and legacy, we’d like to hear from you. Tell us how Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. impacted your life and your work.

Did you take part in marches, rallies, and activist work in the 1950s and 1960s? Tell us about it. Have you heard stories about friends or family members who marched with or met Dr. King? We want to hear them.

And if, like me, you weren’t yet born in the 1960s, we want to hear from you, too. Tell us how Dr. King’s work and message has inspired you to fight for civil and human rights today.

Together, we can build a portrait of the impact Dr. King has had on NAACP supporters and America at large. I hope you’ll help us by sharing your story today:

http://action.naacp.org/Impact-of-MLK

Thank you,

Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO
NAACP

Crowd-sourcing history.  Great idea.  I hope they get a great product.  Why don’t you contribute?

More:  

English: Photograph of Rosa Parks with Dr. Mar...

Rosa Parks with Dr. Martin Luther King jr. (ca. 1955) Mrs. Rosa Parks altered the negro progress in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, by the bus boycott she unwillingly began. Photo from the U.S. National Archives record ID: 306-PSD-65-1882 (Box 93). Source: Ebony Magazine, via Wikipedia


Dallas honors assassin’s second victim, policeman J. D. Tippit

November 21, 2012

Forty-nine years.

That’s how long it took people in Dallas to get around to erecting a memorial for police officer J. D. Tippit, killed in the line of duty on November 22, 1963.

07-27-2011 Colo Bend to 6th Floor, Pentax K-10 158 - 10th & Patton in Oak Cliff, where J. D. Tippitt died

Residential street in Oak Cliff, a section of Dallas, Texas, where police officer J. D. Tippit died on November 22, 1963; photo from July 27, 2011.  Officer Tippit was discovered about the location of the Crime Watch sign.

For the first 20 years, most people probably thought the idea too raw, to mark the place where Officer Tippit died.  More recently people complained that there was no other memorial to Tippit, whose actions may well have smoked out the assassin of President John F. Kennedy that day.

With pressure from the Dallas Police Department, and assists from the Dallas Independent School District, the marker was installed on school property at the intersection, across the street from the spot where Tippit was shot.

Tippit died near the intersection of 10th Street and Patton Street, in Oak Cliff, a section of Dallas across the Trinity River from downtown.

Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit's patrol car, on E. 10th St, in Dallas, on November 22, 1963

Wikipedia caption to Warren Commission photo: Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit’s patrol car, on E. 10th St, in Dallas, on November 22, 1963 – now via Mary Farrell Foundation.

Dallas ISD’s Adamson High School is about two blocks away, to the northwest; the campus has been expanded to come within a block of the site.  The marker sits next to tennis courts recently installed by the district, in a small park cut out from the athletic complex.  Dallas ISD acquired many of the residences in the area.  Renovations in the past two years included closing part of 10th Street west of Patton.

A brighter though still-somber mood pervaded the marker’s dedication on November 20, 2012.  About 200 people gathered for the ceremony, including a lot of police officers and school officials.

Roy Appleton described it at a blog of the Dallas Morning News:

Brad Watson, a reporter for WFAA-TV, Channel 8, questioned the lack of recognition for Tippit in a broadcast two years ago. Michael Amonett, then president of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League, took up the cause, with help from Farris Rookstool III, a Kennedy assassination historian.

The school district provided the land. And the Texas Historical Foundation donated $5,000 to the project.

The crowd of about 200 people Tuesday included Tippit’s widow Marie; his children, Allan, Brenda and Curtis Tippit; his sister Joyce DeBord; other family members; and police officers past and present.

Standing and sitting under a cloudless sky, they watched members of the Adamson ROTC present the colors, heard the Dallas police choir sing God Bless America and listened while speakers praised the slain officer and his family.

Watson covered the ceremony for his station.  The ceremony might be noted for its lack of higher dignitaries; it was a working cop’s ceremony, with Dallas Police Chief David Brown being the top rank present.

2012-11-20 Tippitt Memorial 013  Marie Tippit answers questions, dedication of marker to her late husband, J. D. Tippit - photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

Marie Tippit, officer Tippit’s widow, answered questions from a reporter Tuesday at the dedication of the marker to her husband. Photos by Ed Darrell except where noted.

2013 is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in Dallas.  Proponents wanted to get the tribute to Officer Tippit installed in time for the anniversary year.  Particularly with the aid of scholars at the 6th Floor Museum, tourists and historians have been retracing routes taken that day 50 years ago, the parade route of President Kennedy from Love Field, with the emergency reroute to Parkland, and the route Oswald is thought to have used to flee after the shooting, from the Texas School Book Depository, through the bus station, across the Trinity River to his boarding house in Oak Cliff, and from there to the Texas Theater where he was captured.

2012-11-20 Tippitt Memorial 017 plaque honoring J. D. Tippit, photo by Ed Darrell

Plaque from the Texas Historical Commission explaining the history of the spot in Oak Cliff where Officer Tippit confronted suspected assassin Lee Oswald.

Particular striking in this history is the role played by ordinary citizens — Officer Tippit on his rounds, witnesses in the surrounding homes and the people who used Tippit’s radio to notify Dallas Police of Tippit’s shooting (in an era before cell phones, and probably before most local phone lines even had Touch Tone™ dialing), the alert salesman at the now-defunct Hardy’s shoe store, and the ticket seller at the Texas Theater who phoned police after Oswald stiffed the theater on a ticket price.

2012-11-20 Home and Tippitt Memorial 036 Street sign at 10th and Patton, site of confrontation between Lee Oswald and Officer Tippit - photo by Ed Darrell

Even the street signs and stop signs have been updated at 10th and Patton, the site of the new historical marker.

Hardy’s Shoe Store was a Quinceanera dress shop in 2011 and may have gone through other incarnations since 1963.   Assassination histories note that students playing hooky from W. H. Adamson or Sunset High Schools were in the Texas Theater when Oswald was arrested, though most of them ran out to avoid being questioned by police and outed for having skipped school.  Adamson’s campus is greatly expanded recently.

But for the intervention of ordinary citizens along the path, it is entirely conceivable that the assassin of the president of the United States might have gone undetected long enough to dispose of evidence that linked him to the crime, or escaped from the country.

My students over the past five years, all residents of Oak Cliff, knew very little about the Kennedy assassination, nor especially the links to Oak Cliff.  We need to do a better job as parents, teachers, newspapers, broadcast organizations, community associations and municipal government, in preserving and commemorating our local histories.

2012-11-20 Tippitt Memorial 019 Marie Tippit next to the memorial plaque to her husband, Officer J. D. Tippit

Marie Tippit standing next to the historical marker for her husband, J. D. Tippit, at the marker’s dedication, November 20, 2012.

2012-11-20 Tippitt Memorial 030 crowd devoid of dignitaries - Brad Watson at right

Other than the police chief and a couple of Dallas ISD board members, the crowd was pleasantly devoid of dignitaries; it’s a monument to a working man doing his job. WFAA Channel 8 reporter Brad Watson is the tallest man on the right; his reports several months ago spurred the action to carve out the memorial site from Dallas ISD-acquired land, greatly boosting the work to get a marker put up.

2012-11-20 Tippitt Memorial 037 Dallas Police cruiser 2012, at site of 1963 shooting - photo by Ed Darrell

History of technology: Compare this photograph of two Dallas police with the photo of Officer Tippit’s car earlier in this post. This squad car comes equipped with full-time dash-mounted cameras, instant radio and computer links; police also carry their own personal communication devices, such as the pink smartphone being used to photograph another officer. The car itself carries the phone number for emergency calls, and some carry the URL of the Dallas Police website. The traditional lights atop the car in Dallas have been updated to LEDs, which did not exist in 1963. How many other significant changes in technology can be found in these photos?

2012-11-20 Tippitt Memorial 039 10th St at Patton, Oak Cliff, Texas, at Tippit ceremony 11-20-2012 - photo by Ed Darrell

Dallas school district construction changed much of the neighborhood over the past five years; note the absence of trees shading the street that were present in 1963; they may have been elms struck down by blight decades ago.  Compare this photo with the first photo in this post, taken about 16 months earlier.

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Quote of the moment: Walter M. Miller, Leibowitz’s shopping list

October 22, 2011

Cover of Miller's Canticle for Liebowitz

Cover of Miller's Canticle for Liebowitz

“Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels—bring home for Emma.”

- Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz


Memphis Public Library assembling history of 2011 floods

June 28, 2011

Here’s a good idea:  The Memphis Public Library is putting together an archive on the 2011 floods in the area, we learn from the Memphis Daily News:

St. Mary’s Senior Helps Library Build Flood Archive

St. Mary’s Episcopal School student Ellery Ammons is devoting her summer break to helping the Memphis Public Library & Information Center build an archive documenting the Mid-South floods of 2011.

Ammons, an employee of the Shelby Forest General Store owned by her parents, is also a Girl Scout, working toward her Gold Award.

Recognizing the need to document this year’s historic deluge, the high school senior decided to take on the tasks of soliciting, cataloging and archiving community photos to create the 2011 Flood Collection.

She plans to create a digital archive of flood photographs to provide future generations with an accurate record of the floods that ensued when the Mississippi and its tributaries overflowed in Memphis and the surrounding areas this past spring.

Library digital projects manager Sarah Frierson said she’s delighted to have the extra hands in the history department, saying the collection “will be a wonderful complement to the library’s existing Mid-South Flood Collection, which documents the floods of 1927 and 1937.”

The Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, 3030 Poplar Ave., is seeking photo donations to add to the 2011 Flood Collection. Donations, which will become part of the library’s permanent collection, can be brought to the history department on the main library’s fourth floor or e-mailed to Flood2011.Photography@gmail.com.

– Aisling Maki


Terrible plunge of BBC News

May 28, 2011

BBC Radio News logo

BBC Radio News logo

3:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time.  In Barcelona, Spain, London’s Wembley Stadium, Manchester United and Barcelona(Spain) tangle for the Champions’ League trophy.

BBC News?  This is the order of the stories:

  • In Afghanistan, the national police chief was murdered by a suicide bomber
  • In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was fined $90 million for interfering with business by cutting phones and internet
  • Yemen’s got trouble
  • Palestinian independence got support from the Arab League, meeting in Doha, Qatr
  • U.S. President Obama ended his tour of Europe in Poland, with a pledge of friendship
  • In Moscow, Russian, gay rights demonstrators were attacked by a mob led by people who said they are members of the Russian Orthodox Church
  • Barcelona leads Manchester, 3 to 1, with minutes to play

I’m not usually one to complain, but doesn’t it appear BBC News has its priorities wrong in this order of stories?


Robert Johnson’s centennial, May 8: Memorial to the blues

May 8, 2011

May 8, 2011, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of bluesman Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson, hat and guitar

Robert Johnson -- one of two known photographs of the Delta blues legend

In a fitting tribute to Johnson and an important coming-of-age coming-to-senses moment, First Presbyterian Church in downtown Dallas announced plans to save the old Brunswick Records Building at 508 Park Avenue, a site where Johnson recorded songs in 1937 that changed the blues, changed recording, and left us a legacy of Johnson to study from his short life.

(On at least one day of those 1937 recordings, Johnson could have brushed shoulders with the Light Crust Doughboys, the Texas Swing legends, who were recording in the same building.  The Doughboys set their own pace and gave birth to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.  Two of Texas’s greatest music legends, in the same building on the same day, both just stepping on the platform of the train to immortality.)

Saving 508 Park Avenue vexed Dallas for a couple of decades.  First, blues is not the music of Dallas cognescenti, though the world class musicians in town including Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Jaap van Zweden tend to support the eclectic music scence and honoring musicians of all genres (and Texas is loaded with different music genres).  Second, while Park Avenue may have been a bustling business district adjunct once, Dallas’s city center suffered 50 years of decline after school desegregation.  Parts of downtown and Uptown begin to look prosperous again, but the southern peninsula of the city, away from the now-packed-with-performance venues Arts District, a freeway and ten blocks away from Uptown, with its back up against another freeway, part of Interstate 30 and the famous Dallas Mixmaster.

508 Park Avenue, Dallas, Robert Johnson's early recording site, photo by Justin Terveen for the Dallas Observer

508 Park Avenue, Dallas, Robert Johnson's early recording site, photo by Justin Terveen for the Dallas Observer

Plus, the building is directly across the street from the Stewpot, a kitchen operated by First Presbyterian Church to serve Dallas large and unfortunately thriving homeless population.

Who wants to renovate an abandoned building that has homeless people as scenery for the better part of the day?

Big news this week:  508 Park Avenue was sold to First Presbyterian, who have plans to save the building (and recording studio!), add a performance amphitheatre at one end of the block, and a park at the other.  This is people-friendly development well ahead of its time — there is not a resident population in that part of the city to support such a venue — yet.

Last summer, it was the neighbors, First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, who made an offer to buy 508 Park Avenue and the adjacent building and empty lot. But the deal was contingent on the city allowing the church, which also operates the Stewpot, to tear down an unrelated building next door, at 1900 Young, and replace it with an outdoor amphitheater for church socials and concerts. The Landmark Commission went into last Monday’s meeting with angels on one shoulder and devils on the other: The commission’s task force suggested approval; city staff, denial. The latter would have sent 508 Park Avenue back into purgatory.

But Landmark OK’d the plan, and the church says it will restore 508 Park Avenue to its former glory, inside and out—including the construction of a real recording studio where Johnson once sat and played “Hell Hound on My Trail.”

The church promises: It has musicians lined up to participate, but it can’t yet reveal who. The church promises: 508 Park Avenue will be resurrected.

One hell of a birthday gift for a man who supposedly sold his soul to the Devil.

The second authenticated photo of blues legend Robert Johnson

The second authenticated photo of blues legend Robert Johnson

So, on Robert Johnson’s 100th birthday (assuming he wasn’t really born in 1912 . . . another mystery for another time, perhaps), the news is that the legendary bluesman who burned out like a shooting star helped save one of the few examples of art deco building decoration in Dallas, when a group of Christians who help the homeless, decided to step in an update their downtown Dallas campus.

Every step of the way, it’s an unlikely story.  Truth is, in this case, much, much stranger than fiction.

Ovation Music released to YouTube the video of Eric Clapton playing and singing “Me and the Devil,” at 508 Park Avenue, in the same room where Robert Johnson sang for a record early on.  Johnson recorded the song at that same location on Sunday, June 20, 1937.

508 Park Avenue, Dallas, is already a memorial to Robert Johnson, to the blues, and to the city where these early blues hits were made.  The struggle remains to make the memorial accessible, and not threatened with destruction.

More, resources: 


The Egyptian Revolution will be Tweeted as well

February 12, 2011

Not only broadcast, but Tweeted, too.  From Dave Does The Blog:

RT @mhegi: Uninstalling dictator COMPLETE – installing now: egypt 2.0: █░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░░ #egypt #jan25 #tahrir#

Hey, I’m not that tech savvy — I had to think about that for a minute myself.  Quick:  Can you define “hashtag” to your grandmother?

Shouldn’t it be more like “Egypt 10.0?”


Wikipedia loses Sen. Arthur V. Watkins – can you help with the rescue?

May 30, 2010

Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins on the cover of Time Magazine, 1954; copyright Time, Inc.

Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins on the cover of Time Magazine, 1954 (copyright Time, Inc.) Can Wikipedia find enough information here to add to Watkins's biography? Are we really to believe a Time cover subject has disappeared from history?

Utah’s Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, a Republican, made the history books in 1954 when he chaired a special committee of the U.S. Senate that investigated actions by Wisconsin’s Sen. Joseph McCarthy with regard to hearings McCarthy conducted investigating communists in the U.S. Army.

This is all the biography at Wikipedia is, now, in May 2010:

Arthur Vivian Watkins (December 18, 1886 – September 1, 1973) was a Republican U.S. Senator from 1947 to 1959. He was influential as a proponent of terminating federal recognition of American Indian tribes.

[edit] References

  • Klingaman., William The Encyclopedia of the McCarthy Era, New York : Facts on File, 1996 ISBN 0816030979. Menominee Termination and Restoration [1]

[edit] External links

What is there is of little use.  It doesn’t even mention the work Watkins is most famous for, the brave action that brought him fame and electoral defeat, the censure of Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare.  As a biography, it’s insultingly small, trivial, and misleading.

Here in Texas we have a school board that wishes to promote Joe McCarthy to hero status, to sweep under the rug the actual history of what he did, the inaccurate and vicious claims he made against dozens of people including his own colleagues in the U.S. Senate.  Good, readily available biographies of the people who stopped McCarthy, and good, readily available histories of the time can combat that drive for historical revisionism.

Wikipedia, in its extreme drive to prevent error, is preventing history in this case.  Wikipedia is no help.  For example, compare the article on Watkins with the article on Vermont Sen. Ralph Flanders, the man who introduced the resolution of censure against McCarthy. Flanders’s article is enormous by comparison, and no better documented. Why the snub to Watkins?

It’s odd.  Here I am providing a solid example of the evils of Wikipedia to warm the cockles of the heart of Douglas Groothuis, if he has a heart and cockles.   Facts and truth sometimes take us on strange journeys with strange traveling companions, even offensive companions.  Ultimately, I hope Wikipedia will wake up and choose to reinstate a useful and revealing biography of Watkins, to make Groothuis frostier than usual.

What to do?

Here is what follows, eventually below the fold:  I’ve copied one of the old biographies of Watkins from Wikipedia. Much of the stuff I recognize from various sources.  If there are inaccuracies, they are not intentional, nor are they done to impugn the reputation of any person (unlike the purging of Watkins’ biography, which unfortunately aides the dysfunctional history revisionism of Don McLeroy and the Texas State Soviet of Education).  I have provided some links to on-line sources that verify the claims.

Can you, Dear Reader, provide more and better links, and better accuracy?  Please do, in comments.  Help rescue the history around Sen. Watkins from the dustbin.

Will it spur Wikipedia to get its biographer act together and fix Watkins’s entry?  Who knows.

Here is the Wikipedia bio, complete with editing marks, and interspersed with some of my comments and other sources:

”’Arthur Vivian Watkins”’ (December 18, 1886 – September 1, 1973) was a Republican [[United States Senate|U.S. Senator]] from 1947 to 1959. He was influential as a proponent of terminating [[Federally recognized tribes|federal recognition]] of [[Native Americans in the United States|American Indian]] [[Indian tribe|tribes]] in order to allow them to have the rights of citizens of the United States.

Watkins’s life is available in basic outline form at a number of places on-line.  A good place to start is with the biographical directory of past members available from the U.S. Congress.  These sketches are embarrassingly short, but Watkins’s entry is four times the size of the Wikipedia entry, with about 20 times the information.  There is the Utah History Encyclopedia, with an article by Patricia L. Scott.  Her biography is copied by the Watkins Family History Society.

Watkins was born in [[Midway, Utah]]. He attended [[Brigham Young University]] (BYU) from 1903 to 1906, and [[New York University]] (NYU) from 1909 to 1910. He graduated from [[Columbia University Law School]] in 1912, and returned to Utah. There he was admitted to the bar the same year and commenced practice in [[Vernal, Utah]].

He engaged in newspaper work in 1914 (”The Voice of Sharon”, which eventually became the ”Orem-Geneva Times”, a weekly newspaper in [[Utah County, Utah|Utah County]].) [Sharon is an area in what is now Orem, Utah; the local division of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is called the Sharon Stake, where Watkins was a member. ]In 1914 Watkins was appointed assistant county attorney of [[Salt Lake County, Utah|Salt Lake County]]. He engaged in agricultural pursuits 1919-1925 with a <span style=”white-space:nowrap”>600&nbsp;acre&nbsp;(2.4&nbsp;km²)</span> [[ranch]] near [[Lehi, Utah | Lehi]].

Watkins served as district judge of the Fourth Judicial District of Utah 1928-1933, losing his position in the [[Franklin Delano Roosevelt|Roosevelt]] Democratic landslide in 1932. An unsuccessful candidate for the [[Republican Party (United States)|Republican]] nomination to the Seventy-fifth Congress in 1936, Watkins was elected as a Republican to the [[United States Senate]] in 1946, and reelected in 1952. He served from January 3, 1947, to January 3, 1959. An [[Elder (LDS Church)|elder]] in [[The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]], Watkins was widely respected in Utah. {{Fact|date=August 2007}}

In 1954, Watkins chaired the committee that investigated the actions of Wisconsin Senator [[Joseph McCarthy]] to determine whether his conduct as Senator merited censure. As Chairman, Watkins barred [[television]] cameras from the hearings, and insisted that McCarthy conform to Senate protocol. When McCarthy appeared before the Watkins committee in September 1954 and started to attack Watkins, the latter had McCarthy expelled from the room.

This material comes from an oft-repeated, probably cut-and-pasted story, such as this biography of Watkins at the alumni association of his old high school, the experimental Brigham Young High.  It is confirmed in a thousand places, and one wonders why Wikipedia thought it undocumented, or inaccurate.  See Time’s contemporary report, for example (with a co-starring turn from a young Sen. Sam Ervin, D-North Carolina — the man who would later chair the Senate’s Watergate hearings).

The committee recommended censure of Senator McCarthy. Initially, the committee proposed to censure McCarthy over his attack on General [[Ralph Zwicker]] and various Senators, but Watkins had the charge of censure for the attack on General Zwicker dropped. The censure charges related only to McCarthy’s attacks on other Senators, and excluded from criticism McCarthy’s attacks on those outside of the Senate.

Watkins’s appearance on the cover of Time was the October 4, 1954, edition, reporting McCarthy’s censure.  The story accompanying that cover is here.  The Senate Resolution censuring McCarthy is designated as one of the 100 most important documents in American history by the National Archives and Records Administration — see the document and more history, here.  See more at the Treasures of Congress exhibit’s on-line version.

McCarthy’s anti-communist rhetoric was popular with Utah’s electorate, however. Former [[Governor of Utah|Utah Governor]] [[J. Bracken Lee]] took the opportunity in 1958 to oppose Watkins for the nomination in the senatorial election. Though Watkins won the Republican [[primary election|primary]], Lee ran as an [[independent (politics)|independent]] in the [[general election]]. This caused a split in the Republican vote and allowed Democrat [[Frank E. Moss]] to win the seat. Lee went on to a long career as [[mayor]] of [[Salt Lake City, Utah|Salt Lake City]]. Moss served three terms in the Senate, losing to Republican [[Orrin Hatch]] in 1976.

I’m not sure why Wikipedia’s editors rejected that historical paragraph.  Most of the points can be confirmed on Wikipedia, just following who sat where in the Senate.  Time Magazine covered the election shenanigans of 1958, with an article, “Feud in the desert,” detailing the fight between Watkins and Lee — July 14, 1958.

Watkins served as chair of the [[United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs|Senate Interior Committee Subcommittee on Indian Affairs]]. He advocated [[Indian termination policy|termination]] of [[List of Native American Tribal Entities|Indian Tribal Entities]] in the belief that it was better for tribal members to be integrated into the rest of American life. He believed that they were ill-served by depending on the federal government for too many services.

Watkins called his policy the “freeing of the Indian from wardship status” and equated it with the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves during the Civil War. Watkins was the driving force behind termination. His position as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Indian Affairs gave him tremendous leverage to determine the direction of federal Indian policy. His most important achievement came in 1953 with passage of House Concurrent Resolution No. 108, which stated that termination would be the federal government’s ongoing policy. Passage of the resolution did not in itself terminate any tribes.

That had to be accomplished one tribe at a time by specific legislation. The [[Bureau of Indian Affairs]] (BIA) began to assemble a list of tribes believed to have developed sufficient economic prosperity to sustain themselves after termination. The list was headed by the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. One reason the BIA chose the Menominee was that the tribe had successful forestry and lumbering operations which the BIA believed could support the tribe economically. Congress passed an act in 1954 that officially called for the termination of the Menominee as a federally recognized Indian tribe.

Termination for the Menominee did not happen immediately. Instead, the 1954 act set in motion a process that would lead to termination. The Menominee were not comfortable with the idea, but they had recently won a case against the government for mismanagement of their forestry enterprises, and the $8.5 million award was tied to their proposed termination. Watkins personally visited the Menominee and said they would be terminated whether they liked it or not, and if they wanted to see their $8.5 million, they had to cooperate with the federal government{{Fact|date=February 2009}}. Given this high-handed and coercive threat{{POV assertion|date=June 2009}}, the tribal council reluctantly agreed.

To set an example, Watkins pushed for termination of Utah Indian groups, including the Shivwits, Kanosh, Koorsharem, and Indian Peaks Paiutes. Once a people able to travel over the land with freedom and impunity, they were forced to deal with a new set of unfamiliar laws and beliefs. He terminated them without their knowledge or consent.

After Watkins left the Senate, he served as a member of the U.S. Indian Claims Commission from 1959 to 1967. He retired to Salt Lake City, and in 1973, to Orem.

In 1969 Watkins published a book about his investigation of McCarthy, ”Enough Rope: The Inside Story of the Censure of Senator Joe McCarthy by his Colleagues: The Controversial Hearings that Signaled the End of a Turbulent Career and a Fearsome Era in American Public Life”, (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1969).

It’s astounding to me that mentions of Watkins’s book would be struck by Wikipedia, as if it were questionable that Watkins and the book ever existed.  Did the editor who cut that reference doubt sincerely?

Former Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, R-Utah, signing his book "Enough Rope" at Sam Weller's bookstore, Salt Lake City -- 1969?  Utah Historical Society

Caption from the Utah Historical Society: Arthur Watkins (seated, center), a United States Senator from Utah, is shown here at a book signing for his book, "Enough Rope" at Sam Weller's Bookstore."Enough Rope" was a book about Joe McCarthy and the red scare. Rights management Digital Image (c) 2004 Utah State Historical Society. All Rights Reserved. (use here allowed by UHS, for education)

State and local historical groups curate remarkable collections of images, now digitized and available free, online.  The Utah Historical Society offers a wealth of images in their collection.  Among them, we find a 1969 photograph of former-Sen. Watkins at a book signing at Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore, the Salt Lake City monument to bookophilia and still one of the best bookstores in the world.  (Mormons read a lot, but Weller’s is not an official outlet of Mormon ideas; the store is a bastion of learning in a learned culture that pushes the envelope by challenging that culture at many turns; Weller’s bookstore is a nightmare to people who wish to cover up history).  Watkins is the guy seated at the table signing books — the other two men are not identified.  What more proof would one need of the existence of the book?

The book is referenced at the U.S. Congress biographical guideYou can find it at Amazon.com, though you’d have to buy it used or remaindered (hey! Call Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore!)

A project of the [[United States Bureau of Reclamation|U.S. Bureau of Reclamation]], the Arthur V. Watkins Dam north of [[Ogden, Utah]], created Willard Bay off of the [[Great Salt Lake]]

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Christopher J. McCune, “The Weber Basin Project,” Historic Reclamation Projects Book; accessed May 29, 2010.  Scientific Commons lists Watkins’s papers, at Brigham Young University.  That listing can lead you to the Western Waters digital library, which contains an astonishing amount of information, including photos and newspaper clippings.   Watkins’s lifelong work in water and irrigation was the spur to name the BuRec dam after him.  (The Western Waters Digital Project is a good exemplar of the exquisite detail possible in a publicly-available, online archive.)

Watkins died in [[Orem, Utah]].

His son, Arthur R. Watkins, was a professor of German at [[Brigham Young University]] for more than 25 years.

I offered material to Wikipedia’s article on Watkins more than two years ago, when I discovered the article was little more than a repeat of the Congressional biography guide.  At the time I had a couple of inquiries from reporters and others watching elections in Utah, especially the reelection of Orrin Hatch, to the seat Watkins held (from 1946 to today, that seat has been held by just three people, Watkins, Ted Moss, and Hatch).  It was historical curiosity.

Recently in Texas we’ve seen that absence of good history can lead to distortions of history, especially distortions in the history to be taught in public schools.  It would serve the evil ends of the Texas Taliban were Arthur V. Watkins to be “disappeared” from history.  (See this astoundingly biased account from a guy named Wes Vernon; according to Vernon, McCarthy was improperly lynched.)

Let’s not let that happen, at least, not at Wikipedia.

_____________

Update: A reader more savvy than I in the ways of Wikipedia has restored most of the old biography.  Now it’s an effort to beef up references.

Wow.  Ask, and it’s done.  Good friends make things much better.

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Naomi Oreskes: The lecture Lord Monckton slept through, which he hopes you will not see

October 23, 2009

Here’s another example of where historians show their value in science debates.

Naomi Oreskes delivered this lecture a few years ago on denialism in climate science.  Among other targets of her criticism-by-history is my old friend Robert Jastrow.  I think her history is correct, and her views on the Marshall Institute and denial of climate change informative in the minimum, and correct on the judgment of the facts.

You’ll recognize some of the names:  Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, S. Fred Singer, and William Nierenberg.

Oreskes details the intentional political skewing of science by critics of the serious study of climate warming.  It’s just under an hour long, but well worth watching.  Dr. Oreskes is Professor of History in the Science Studies Program at the University of California at San Diego.  The speech is titled “The American Denial of Global Warming.”

If Oreskes is right — and I invite you to check her references thoroughly, to discover for yourself that her history and science are both solid — Lord Monckton is a hoaxster.  Notice especially the references after the 54 minute mark to the tactic of claiming that scientists are trying to get Americans to give up our sovereignty.

Nothing new under the sun.

“Global warming is here,  and there are almost no communists left,” Oreskes said.

Nudge your neighbor:

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We become the ephemera of history: ‘Only the privileged few of us get to be fossils’

October 21, 2009

From “Whose father was he?” a four-part essay on tracking down the story of three children whose photograph was discovered on the corpse of a Union soldier killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, in 1863:

Perhaps more than any other artifact, the photograph has engaged our thoughts about time and eternity. I say “perhaps,” because the history of photography spans less than 200 years. How many of us have been “immortalized” in a newspaper, a book or a painting vs. how many of us have appeared in a photograph [32]? The Mayas linked their culture to the movements of celestial objects. The ebb and flow of kingdoms and civilizations in the periodicities of the moon, the sun and the planets. In the glyphs that adorn their temples they recorded coronations, birth, deaths. Likewise, the photograph records part of our history. And expresses some of our ideas about time. The idea that we can make the past present.

The photograph of Amos Humiston’s three children — of Frank, Alice and Fred — allows us to imagine that we have grasped something both unique and universal. It suggests that the experience of this vast, unthinkable war can be reduced to the life and death of one man — by identifying Gettysburg’s “Unknown Soldier” we can reunite a family. That we can be saved from oblivion by an image that reaches and touches people, that communicates something undying and transcendent about each one of us.

And the footnote, number 32:

[32] I had an opportunity to visit the fossil collections at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. It was part of a dinosaur fossil-hunting trip with Jack Horner, the premier hunter of T-Rex skeletons. Downstairs in the lab, there was a Triceratops skull sitting on a table. I picked it up and inserted my finger into the brain cavity. (I had read all these stories about how small the Triceratops brain had to have been and I wanted to see for myself.) I said to Jack Horner, “To think that someday somebody will do that with my skull.” And he said, “You should be so lucky. It’s only the privileged few of us who get to be fossils.”

See Errol Morris’s whole series, “Whose father was he?” at the New York Times blogs:

  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Five)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Four)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Three)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Two)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part One)

  • Economics: Tracking layoffs

    January 28, 2009

    Economics students doing reports or projects on employment or unemployment rates?

    Need something depressing?

    Check out Layoff Daily.

    Let’s hope they run out of news, very, very soon.

    Tip of the old scrub brush to Californian in Texas.


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