Dallas history, tonight! Bob Reitz at Half Price Books

December 28, 2017

History teachers, and parents of students — and students (why shouldn’t you direct your own learning?) — note this event TONIGHT.

Dallas historian Bob Reitz presents “Collectible Conversations: The History of Dallas in the 50s and 60s,” at Half Price Books’ mothership at 5803 E Northwest Hwy (just off the Dallas Parkway).

Reitz is an old friend, curator of Circle 10 Council, BSA’s Harbin Scout Museum, housed at Camp Wisdom on Redbird Lane — a greater resource since the National Scout Museum decamped from Irving in September. He’s a homegrown Dallas boy, loaded with history of the tumultuous two decades from 1950 to 1970

Half Price Books’s blog featured an interview with Bob, which I crib here for your convenience (and to preserve it!):

For the December presentation in our monthly Collectible Conversations series at the HPB Flagship in Dallas, we welcome Dallas historian Bob Reitz. Reitz will discuss his growing up in Dallas in the 50s and 60s using books as his reference points. Bob gave an earlier Collectible Conversations talk specifically about his life in bookstores and his 37 books about bookstores from his collection.

Coll Conv 8 31 3

We asked Bob to give us a little preview of his upcoming talk.

When did you first feel that Dallas in the 50s and 60s was a special place and time?
In January of 1954, my father’s insurance company transferred him to Dallas from upstate New York. We had a new house built in the Casa View section of northeast Dallas. Cotton fields were being plowed under to create homes for newly returned servicemen beginning to start families after World War II. I started first grade and finished high school living in the same house. I still have a small group of friends from these times. Growing up, it seemed normal to have new movie houses, drive-ins, libraries, swimming pools and a thriving downtown. I never realized as a kid what we had in these unique and special times.

I’ve always thought that besides your family, your neighborhood makes the biggest difference in your life. I didn’t grow up smelling salt water from the ocean or seeing snow-covered mountains on the horizon. I grew up on the rolling blackland prairies in a large urban city straddling the Trinity River.

I know you own many books on the subject. Is there one that may best encapsulate the era for, say, a 20-year-old reader from Milwaukee?
Probably the most thoughtful book about this era in Dallas is by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright (who graduated from Dallas’s Woodrow Wilson High School). The cover of his book In the New World:  Growing Up with America from the Sixties to the Eighties (1989) reads: “It’s both a story of one man’s coming of age in 1960s Dallas and a provocative account of the end of American innocence, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights era.”

Were there any particular events of the 50s or 60s that made the biggest impression on you?
One significant event took place in August of 1960 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Five thousand Scouts camped on a hill overlooking White Rock Lake. I had never seen so many Scouts in one place at one time—lines of tents covered the sloping hill in the middle of the city. Today, there is a sign on the slope designating the location as Scout Hill.

The rest of the world probably thinks of President Kennedy’s assassination as the most important event that occurred in Dallas in the 60s. Are many of your books primarily or partially about that event?
I was a junior in high school on that fateful November 22, 1963. I was finishing lunch when a student ran in and said, “The president has been shot, the president has been shot!” They moved us into the auditorium and by 2 p.m. they dismissed classes for the day.

We stayed glued to the television for the next week, witnessing the supposed ineptness of the Dallas Police play out on national TV, including the on-air killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by night club operator Jack Ruby. In the end, the police did pretty well. They caught Oswald within two hours, but Dallas became the laughing stock of the whole nation.

The Kennedy assassination spawned a couple of excellent novels of the era: Libra by Don DeLillo (1998) and November 22 by Bryan Woolley (2013). Author Norman Mailer wrote a telling non-fiction book, Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery (1995), covering the early life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Also in my collection is the book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi (2007). He concludes that Oswald was the lone gunman and destroys every one of the conspiracy theories.

Another book that agrees Oswald was the lone gunman also asserts that the darkest days of Dallas were caused by local ultraconservatives, such as oilman H.L. Hunt, former Army general Edwin Walker and national congressman, Bruce Alger. That book is Nut Country: Right Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy, by Edward H. Miller (2015).

In your previous Collectibles Conversation presentation, you referred to many Dallas bookstores in whose aisles you lost yourself. How big a role did its bookstores play in your understanding of Dallas history?
Dallas bookstores and libraries have been important throughout all my life. When I was small my dad drove my sister and me to the Lakewood Theater on Saturdays to watch a double feature movie and the cartoons. Afterwards we walked across the street to the Lakewood Library, which allowed us to call home (in the pre-cell phone era). While waiting for dad to come, we checked out lots of books.

Closer to home, I was part of the opening of the Casa View Library, which in 1964 set a national record of checking out over 9,000 books in a single day! In appreciation of the library’s influence in my life, I have put together twenty exhibits at the downtown Dallas Library on a wide variety of subjects, all from my personal book collection.

As a young teenager, I could visit Harper’s Used Books in the Deep Ellum section of downtown Dallas. My primary goal was to collect old Boy Scout Handbooks. What I found was so much more. A college student visited the same bookstore a couple of years before me. He became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Larry McMurtry, of Lonesome Dove fame. McMurtry wrote about the changes that occurred as Texas changed from a rural to a mostly urban economy.

My experiences in bookstores have enriched my life and broadened my perspective on how I grew up in Dallas and what I can give back to the cultural life of the city.

Want to hear more from Bob about life in Dallas in the 50s and 60s?  Join us at the HPB Flagship in Dallas for Collectible Conversations: 1950s and 60s Dallas Through Books on Thursday December 28 at 6 p.m.!

Steve is the”Buy Guy” at Half Price Books Corporate.

via Collectible Conversations: The History of Dallas in the 50s & 60s Through Books

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Annals of Global Warming: Mexican plums blooming early in Dallas

February 17, 2017

Spring comes a few hours earlier every year as the planet warms; plants that used to blossom in March and April, now blossom in February. Mexican plum blossoms in Dallas, Texas, February 17, 2017. Photo by Ed Darrell, please share with attribution

Spring comes a few hours earlier every year as the planet warms; plants that used to blossom in March and April, now blossom in February. Mexican plum blossoms in Dallas, Texas, February 17, 2017. Photo by Ed Darrell, iPhone 6; please share with attribution.

Spring comes earlier every year in Dallas. Our Mexican plums used to blossom in March and April; for the past three years, we’ve had blossoms well before spring even comes. Last year we had a cold snap that took the young fruit out, after a premature blossoming.

It’s a sign of creeping global warming. Every year I marvel at Al Gore’s powers to convince our Mexican plum to blossom early, part of the “global warming conspiracy” so many fear.

That is, this is a symptom of global warming that cannot be faked, that is from observation, and not from models.

With flowers on fruit trees come hopes of a bountiful harvest. Dreading the underlying meaning of such an early blossom does not change our hopes, nor the birds’ hopes, for a good plum harvest.

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Quote of the moment: Ann Richards, open doors of government, let people in

February 1, 2017

Texas Gov. Ann Richards in the Governor's Office, with the motorcycle she got on her birthday. Texas State Library image.

Texas Gov. Ann Richards in the Governor’s Office, with the motorcycle she got on her birthday. Texas State Library image.

Sarah Weddington wrote:

Ann now rests at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Her grave marker reads, “Today we have a vision of a Texas where opportunity knows no race, no gender, no color—a glimpse of what can happen in government if we simply open the doors and let the people in.”

Weddington wrote a remembrance to Richards in The Texas Observer, October 12, 2012. This quote comes from Richards’s speech at her inauguration as Texas Governor, January 15, 1991.

Richards served Texas as governor, 1991 to 1995.

Let the sunshine in, then!

Texas Gov. Ann Richards's grave marker in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas, reverse. Quote comes from her 1991 inaugural address. Image from Findagrave.com

Texas Gov. Ann Richards’s grave marker in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas, reverse. Quote comes from her 1991 inaugural address. Image from Findagrave.com

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Texans fly U.S. flags today in honor of Texas statehood

December 29, 2016

First class postage stamp showing U.S. and Texas flags together, issued for the Texas Statehood Centennial, in 1945. Yes, first class postage was three cents. Wikipedia image.

First class postage stamp showing U.S. and Texas flags together, issued for the Texas Statehood Centennial, in 1945. Yes, first class postage was three cents. Wikipedia image.

Congress approved Texas’s petition to join the union on December 29, 1845. Texas joined the United States of America 171 years ago today.

KWTX Channel 10 News described the process in 1845:

On December 29, 1845—171 years ago today—the U.S. Congress voted to annex Texas, eight years after statehood was first proposed. In June 1845 the Texas Congress voted in favor of annexation and on July 4, 1845, a convention of elected delegates followed suit. A popular vote in October ratified the document, which the U.S. Congress accepted on December 29, 1845, making Texas the 28th state. Texas President Anson Jones handed over control of the new state government to Gov. James Pinckney Henderson on February 19, 1846.

Engraving of Texas President Anson Jones lowering the flag of the Republic of Texas, to be replaced with the flag of the United States, on December 29, 1845, after Congress accepted the annexation of Texas into the Union. Texas State Library image.

Engraving of Texas President Anson Jones lowering the flag of the Republic of Texas, to be replaced with the flag of the United States, on December 29, 1845, after Congress accepted the annexation of Texas into the Union. Texas State Library image.

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President Obama orders flags to half-staff, honoring Dallas shooting victims

July 8, 2016

U.S. flag flying at half-staff over the North Portico of the White House. (Undated photo)

U.S. flag flying at half-staff over the North Portico of the White House. (Undated photo)

President Barack Obama ordered U.S. flags to be flown half-staff through sundown, July 12, to honor Dallas shooting victims.

Proclamation from President Barack Obama:

Presidential Proclamation — Honoring the Victims of the Attack in Dallas, Texas

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
A PROCLAMATION

As a mark of respect for the victims of the attack on police officers perpetrated on Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Dallas, Texas, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, July 12, 2016. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.

BARACK OBAMA

# # #

In a separate action, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ordered Texas flags be flown half-staff. Patrick issued the order because Gov. Greg Abbott is traveling out of state.

U.S. and Texas flags at half-staff at the offices of the Longview News-Journal, in Longview, Texas, July 8, 2016

U.S. and Texas flags at half-staff at the offices of the Longview News-Journal, in Longview, Texas, July 8, 2016


New London’s 1937 school disaster, remembered on Twitter today

March 18, 2016

Bridge City resident Richard Schur's mother, Luna Louise Hudson, was a student at the New London School when it exploded on March 18, 1937. Hudson had missed school that day because she couldn't find one of her shoes, but her brother, Elisha, died in the explosion. Photo taken Wednesday 3/9/16 Ryan Pelham/The Enterprise

Bridge City resident Richard Schur’s mother, Luna Louise Hudson, was a student at the New London School when it exploded on March 18, 1937. Hudson had missed school that day because she couldn’t find one of her shoes, but her brother, Elisha, died in the explosion. Photo taken Wednesday 3/9/16 Ryan Pelham/The Enterprise, Beaumont, Texas

Some do work to keep the history alive. Good on them.

Have we learned? How do we explain the explosion in West, Texas? How do we explain the general lack of attention to school facilities nationally?

Did we forget?


Forgotten disasters in U.S. schools: March 18, 1937, New London, Texas, gas explosion

March 18, 2016

Most high school history students don’t know about it.  Most high school history students in Texas don’t know about it.

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

I wonder, sometimes, how many Texans remember at all.

I wonder, too, if there are lessons to be learned from the New London tragedy, while the nation debates what to do to prevent recurrences of school shootings.

No one in New London, Texas, bore ill-will towards children, or schools, or other New Londoners. Some good came of the disaster, but as we’ve seen, with animosity towards schools and school safety in Texas today, and a lackadaisical approach to dangerous substance control and accident prevention in West, Texas, and other places, lessons learned were not learned well.

The deadliest disaster ever to hit a public school in the U.S. struck on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas explosion destroyed the new school building at New London, Texas, killing about 300 people — 79 years ago today.

The remains of the London School after the exp...

The remains of the London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937. Mother Frances Hospital archives

Noise from the blast alerted the town, and many people in the oilfields for many miles.  Telephone and telegraph communication got word out.  Oil companies dismissed their employees, with their tools, to assist rescue and recovery efforts.  Notably, 20-year-old Walter Cronkite came to town to report the news for a wire service.

Investigation determined that a leak in a newly-installed tap into the waste gas pipe coming from nearby oil fields probably allowed natural gas to accumulate under the building.  A spark from a sander started a fire in gas-filled air, and that in turn exploded the cavern under the school.  School officials approved the tap to the waste gas line to save money.  (Hello, Flint, Michigan!) Natural gas is odorless.  One result of the disaster was a Texas law requiring all utility natural gas to be odorized with ethyl mercaptan.

Though the Great Depression still gripped the nation, wealth flowed in New London from oil extraction from nearby oil fields.  The  school district completed construction on a new building in 1939, just two years later — with a pink granite memorial cenotaph in front.

Today, disasters produce a wealth of litigation, tort suits trying to get money to make the injured whole, and to sting those at fault to change to prevent later disasters.  In 1937 official work cut off such lawsuits.

Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. The state of Texas and the Bureau of Mines sent experts to the scene. Hearings were conducted. From these investigations, researchers learned that until January 18, 1937, the school had received its gas from the United Gas Company. To save gas expenses of $300 a month, plumbers, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and superintendent, had tapped a residue gas line of Parade Gasoline Company. School officials saw nothing wrong because the use of “green” or “wet” gas was a frequent money-saving practice for homes, schools, and churches in the oilfield. The researchers concluded that gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. Green gas has no smell; no one knew it was accumulating beneath the building, although on other days there had been evidence of leaking gas. No school officials were found liable.

These findings brought a hostile reaction from many parents. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages. Few cases came to trial, however, and those that did were dismissed by district judge Robert T. Brown for lack of evidence. Public pressure forced the resignation of the superintendent, who had lost a son in the explosion. The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education. A cenotaph of Texas pink granite, designed by Donald S. Nelson, architect, and Herring Coe, sculptor, was erected in front of the new school in 1939.  (Texas Handbook of History, Online, from the Texas State Historical Association)

Of about 500 students, more than 50% of them died.  Once the new school and memorial were built, and the law passed requiring utilities to odorize natural gas so leaks could be detected earlier, survivors and rescuers rather shut down telling the history.  A 1977 reunion of survivors was the first in 40 years.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

Because of that scarring silence, the story slipped from the pages of most history books.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospital treated the victims; a 2012 film from the hospital offers one of the best short histories of the events available today.

New London, and the New London Museum, work to remember the dead and honor them.  Work continues on a film about the disaster, perhaps for release in 2013:

Now, more than 75 years later, the London Museum, across the highway from where the original school was destroyed, keeps alive the memory of much of a generation who died on that terrible day.

This video was produced by Michael Brown Productions of Arlington, TX as a prelude to a feature documentary on the explosion and its aftermath which is planned for
the spring of 2013.  . . .

www.newlondonschool.org/museum

What are the lessons of the New London Disaster?  We learned to remember safety, when dealing with natural gas.  A solution was found to alert people to the presence of otherwise-odorless, explosive gases, a solution now required by law throughout the U.S.  Natural gas explosions decreased in number, and in damages and deaths.  Wealthy schools districts, cutting corners, can create unintended, even disastrous and deadly consequences.  Quick rebuilding covers the wounds, but does not heal them.

Remembering history takes work; history not remembered through the work of witnesses, victims and survivors, is quickly forgotten — to the detriment of history, and to the pain of the witnesses, victims and survivors.

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion. Photo from Texas Bob Travels.

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Houston’s KHOU-TV produced a short feature on the explosion in 2007:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


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