Other recent columns

September 13, 2017
 
by James Smart

Sing along with birds who know the words
There was an article in a magazine about new scientific studies which show that birds have remarkable cognitive skills. One type of bird brain that gets studied a lot is Psittacidae, which includes parrots, parakeets and the like.
            One researcher had a Gray Parrot that developed a vocabulary of more than 100 words, and could assemble them into simple sentences. It made me recall some birds I have known.
            A friend of mine taught his parrot to say to anyone who got too close, “Stand back! I’m an eagle!” The same bird included in his repertoire, “I can talk. Can you fly?”
            There’s a sad story about one precocious parrot. This was about 75 years ago, so I guess it isn’t unkind to tell it now. A family my mother knew had a parrot that could speak lots of words. Every morning, the mother of the family would call her son’s name up the stairs to wake him up. Soon, the parrot began calling him, too. After a while, his mother didn’t bother to holler for her son. At the right time every day, the parrot would yell his name over and over.
            Then, the son died. But the parrot called for him at the same time every morning, over and over, impatiently. The family had to give the bird away.
            My earliest experience with birds was with my grandmother’s canaries. She had three through the years.  They were all named Dickey.  And they all tweeted their little yellow heads off.
            One died when I was a little boy. I remember the solemn back yard burial, and going down town on the elevated to a Market St. shop near Second St. to buy a replacement. Another died when I was in my teens, and she bought a third.
            There were radio programs for canaries in those days. One live program from Chicago on Sunday afternoons, called American Radio Warblers, featured 10 canaries singing while an organ played.
             I would swear that there were daily canary broadcasts, also. An Internet search doesn’t reveal any, and if Wikipedia never heard of it I must be wrong, right, folks?
             But I insist that in the Thirties, a bird food company sponsored singalong broadcasts for canaries. It consisted of many canaries singing while background music played. Grandmom’s second canary, the most accomplished of the three, sang along with the birds on the radio.
             Not only sang, but got excited shortly before the program started, couldn’t wait to join in his with his brothers on the radio (only male canaries sing), and followed along with their warbling.
             The scientists who study canaries (except for a few who disagree) say that male canaries learn their songs from their fathers, in the first five or so weeks of their lives, and create a melody they think will best attract the lady canaries.
             A lot of the research on canary singing was done by the Max Planck Gesellschaft in Germany. I wondered why an institute named for a theoretical physicist was interested in tweety-birds. It seems that scientists there study genetics, and found that a gene designated FOX2, which has a lot to do with humans learning and speaking language, is also found in song birds.
            So, if some ornithological Dr. Frankenstein finds a way to cross a parrot that learns words with a canary that learns melodies, we might have a bird that can sing the tune and the lyrics.

* * *

September 6, 2017

by James Smart

Let’s all tear down some statues we hate
The recent tumult and shouting about statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate icons all emphasized slavery and rebellion, but missed one aspect of the Civil War that was important then: individuality of the states. The war twisted the concept of states’ rights into meaning only the right to own people, but there was more to it.
          The men who wrote the Constitution saw themselves as creating a central government to unite a separate group of states and commonwealths in ways that being united was beneficial, but some worried about giving up too much local autonomy to the unified government.
          It wasn’t easy. A bunch of European countries just tried to do it; you’ve read about the Brexit mess, right?
          Interests tended to vary in, say, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania or Virginia. Citizens in the Southern states were particularly worried, about retaining slavery, even though it was one of their slave-owning boys who had notified King George that it was self-evident that all men were created equal.
          That’s why the Constitution, ratified in 1788, was stuck with the provision that “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight.”
          It’s also why the tenth amendment, tacked on in 1791, says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
          When people in those days said states, they were thinking of them like independent countries. That’s hard to grasp, these days. Citizens felt loyalty to the area they lived in. Texas and California had even been independent republics at one time.
          In those days, they said “The United States are...” Now we say, “The United States is…”
          Robert E. Lee was one year old when the Constitution stopped the importation of “such persons” as the law makers delicately called slaves. The slave owners couldn’t import them after 1808; they had to breed them.
           Lee was a Virginia aristocrat, connected to old families. Two of his ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence. His father, “Light Horse Harry” Lee, was a hero of the Revolutionary War.
          He attended West Point, and established his military reputation on the battlefields of the war with Mexico. He was superintendent of West Point from 1851 to 1855.
          When the trigger-happy South Carolinians fired on a federal fort in their harbor and touched off the Civil War, the Lincoln administration asked Lee to command the federal forces. He said no, because he would not fight against his fellow Virginians. It was the Army of Northern Virginia that he commanded.
           If Lee had accepted command of the federal army, it might be some other southern general whose statues are being attacked. Stonewall Jackson, maybe? And Grant’s tomb wouldn’t be nearly as big.
           But the haters – there are so many of them – would still be busy, north and south, white and black, Democrat and Republican, male and female, straight and gay, young and old, poor and rich, and, oh, don’t forget to hate every religion but your own, if not all of them.
            Don’t worry. Trashing statues will solve it all.

* * *

August 30, 2017

 by James Smart

Penn’s Landing? don’t hold your breath
 Planning to redo the Delaware River waterfront must be a good idea. We do it so often.
            The city has just begun the first work on the latest project to reupholster the river front, tearing down some street ramps to make way for a $225 million cover over I-95 and Columbus Blvd. between Chestnut and Walnut Sts., which it is said will become a park in 2021.
             I’ve written about Penn’s Landing plans before, and said that the idea of a lively, lovely new river front sounds good. But I won’t hold my breath.
            You see, 2021 will be just about 56 years since the first time the city started renovating the waterfront. I remember when the first compulsion to glamorize the river bank began, with a plan to tear down the dismal row of old freighter piers and spend $85 million on a 25 story port office tower at Market St., surrounded by museums, restaurants, offices, a hotel, a boat basin with historic ships, and a walkway along the river.
            Mayor Richardson Dilworth presided at the start of demolition of the first three piers in January, 1962. (We’ve had eight mayors since then. Jim Kenney was three years old.)
            Ten months later, new Mayor Jim Tate kicked off demolition of three more piers. The planned port tower, it was said then, would be 30 stories, and the cost would be $100 million.
            In 1965, more piers were demolished. In the Fall of 1966 was announced the beginning, on the 30 then bare, muddy acres, of a $240 million development including that 30 story tower, a hotel, office building, restaurant, museum and shopping center. It would be completed by 1975.
            In 1967, the riverfront was filled in, and there was another groundbreaking. Three more piers were removed in 1968. The walkway was finished in 1969.
            A new plan was unveiled in 1970. At the end of 1972, Mayor Frank Rizzo announced that the city was looking for a developer. One was chosen in 1973. He quit in 1974. In 1977, the city looked for a new developer.
            In 1983, a local architectural firm unfurled unpleasant plans for two high-rise and five low-rise condominium buildings, right on the water’s edge. In the late 1980s, a big partnership threatened to erect a sprawling residential, office building, hotel and restaurant complex.
            I lost track of the assorted plans in the 1990s. In 2000, a retail development including every major department store you could think of was going to begin in August. Construction of aerial cable cars over the river began, but died in 2004, leaving that huge $18 million concrete arch that’s near the current demolition.
            While all of these things were not happening, various uncoordinated landscapings and sculptures and monuments and skating rinks and plazas and historic ships and all sorts of odds and ends have come, and some gone, and the waterfront has incidentally become a very pleasant and lively area while the city leadership was occupied with announcing plans.
            Lots of people enjoy doing lots of things on Penn’s Landing, and most of them probably don’t know that the city government traditionally thinks that some major overhaul of the area is a necessity.
            So, work has started on an improvement due to be ready in 2021. And we’re promised that greater things will follow. I suggest that you don’t hold your breath. I know I plan to exhale regularly.

* * *

August 23, 2017

by James Smart 

Thoughts about a non-Chinese stuffed bear

The Chinese government has banned Winnie the Pooh from social media, because web users were making fun of what they find is a resemblance of Pooh to the Chinese president Xi Jinping.
          I was a big fan of Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the books by A. A. Milne when I was a kid. I studied photos of President Xi, and fail to see any resemblance to a stuffed toy bear. But I am not Chinese, and have no plans to become one in the near future, so who am I to judge?
          Much of Milne’s humor depended on English language concepts that I suspect would be hard to translate into Chinese. When Pooh’s friend Owl tried to make a happy birthday banner and spelled it HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH, I have a feeling it would not render neatly into Mandarin.
          Winnie the Pooh has been seized by the Disney empire and reduced into excessively Disneyfied cuteness. I first read the comical originals when I was seven and eight years old, and A. A. Milne’s humor was a bit more sophisticated than Mickey Mouse and his ilk.
          Milne wrote novels, plays and magazine pieces by the dozens, but became best known for his children’s fantasies based on his son, Christopher Robin, and Christopher’s toys, with the main character being Winnie, a stuffed bear.
          A biographical movie about Milne is due in theaters in October. It and the Chinese connection reminded me of a famous copy of “When We Were Very Young,” the first book to mention Pooh. It had been autographed by Milne, in typical whimsy, to Elliot Beach Macrae, the American publisher of the Pooh books. It said:
          Though Beach Macrae be bald or grey,
          Or Elliot Beach be a little of each,
          Whatever his age, I still shall say.
          Good luck to Elliot Beach Macrae.
          A web search for that autographed book’s whereabouts found a London book seller offering it for sale for 10,000 pounds! (That’s about $13,000 in Benjamins.)
          I was given “Winnie the Pooh” for Christmas when I was seven, and “The House at Pooh Corner” the next year. I was an early reader, and my father allowed me, or indeed encouraged me, to read grown-up stuff, so at that age I was devouring the three daily newspapers, and also working my way through some Mark Twain, Dickens, and current novels, along with dopey kid stuff with titles like  “Buddy on the Farm” given me by well-meaning aunts.
          One evening, I was on the sofa reading the end of “Pooh Corner.” Christopher Robin, around my age, was explaining to his stuffed bear and other toys that he would soon have to leave them and go on toward grown-up things.
          I got the message that A. A. Milne was sending, and realized that toys would ultimately be put away and I was heading for continued school, and then work, and a more serious future. And I felt a tear go down my cheek.
          When my great-grandson is old enough, maybe I’ll read Winnie the Pooh’s adventures to him. I won’t tell him that Pooh looks like the president of China.

                                                               * * *​
August 16, 2017
 
by James Smart

The little house on Washington Square
Those inclined to fret about it are fretting again about the Dilworth House, which has sat quietly out of place for 60 years on Sixth St. across from Washington Square.
          For 15 years or so, the house’s future has been planned and unplanned and planned again. Should it be demolished, preserved, altered? There have been legal questions, court arguments, and clashing opinions among the owner, city planners and the neighbors in Society Hill.
          The owner, city agencies and local people with opinions don’t seem to know what to do with the little house, standing in a spot where 2017 real estate thinking would put a big condominium tower.
          The house is a curiosity because it was built in 1957 by then Mayor Richardson Dilworth to demonstrate his faith in the reupholstering of the then run-down neighborhood.
          The house’s charming 18th centuryish design, though, violated the declared principal that no fake Colonial or Federal period architecture would be allowed, so as not to detract from the hundreds of real antique houses being preserved in the Society Hill redevelopment.
          The mayor hopped to Washington Square from Rittenhouse Square. He formerly lived on St. James Place near 22nd St., in one of the big old row mansions there. He needed to accommodate four children from his first marriage, plus his wife and two children from her former marriage, plus two more children from their marriage.
          The new house was stuck, slightly incongruously, between the Athenaeum and Lippincott Publishing.
          The Athenaeum was founded in 1814 to collect material on American history and “useful arts,” and leans heavily on material concerning architecture and interior design. The three story building was erected on Washington Square in 1847, right next to a tiny eastern piece of St. James Place.
          During the disputing about the fate of its neighboring area, the Athenaeum folks still welcome researchers, although I don’t know whether they offer them a glass of sherry as they once did.
          When the Dilworth family moved in next door in 1957, a huge grandfather’s clock on an Athenaeum stair landing struck loudly through the party wall at all hours. It was moved at the eight Dilworths’ request.
          On the other side of the Dilworth House is what is now the Lippincott condominiums. It was built in 1904 by the J. B. Lippincott Co., a publishing company founded in 1836.
          The company had a complicated history of mergers and name changes, but by the end of the 19th century was one of the largest publishers in the world. Lippincott’s monthly magazine was published from 1868 to 1914, and it was a major publisher of text books and medical journals.  In its day, Lippincott published such authors as Conan Doyle, Kipling, Jack London and Mary O’Hara. It was publisher of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” After some modern mergers, it is now part of a Dutch company.
          Its sprawling five story former office building fronting on Sixth St. became 33 condos in 2004. Next door, in its shadow, the little three story orphan Dilworth house gently decomposes, with paint flaking off the shutters of windows blanked with plywood, waiting to be replaced by a condo tower or something equally annoying.
          It’s a strange urban dilemma in an ever-changing city, a type of problem that never would have been imagined by the Free Society of Traders investors in London when the society owned the hill and vicinity, 335 years ago or so.



August 9, 2017

 by James Smart

The process of reviving a dead computer
Our computer quit working one morning. (I’ll pause briefly while you gasp and murmur little expressions of sympathy and horror.)
            It was a disastrous inconvenience that past generations couldn’t conceive, something like if my great-grandfather’s horse had broken a leg. But we couldn’t shoot the computer.
           We disconnected all the carefully-labeled cables from the back of the device, and took it to a Guy Who Fixes Computers. He discovered that inside the thing, something we never heard of was not doing something we don’t understand.
            He kept it overnight, and next day we retrieved it with the Fixer Guy’s assurance that all was well, and a large bill.  We hooked it up and turned it on, and (hooray!) the files were there and everything was working. With one terrible exception. We could not access our e-mail.
            Thus began the inevitable dreaded phone calls. A company I shall call One, our long-time provider, had recently given up e-mail, and we were using a company I’ll call Two.
            I telephoned Two. The robot there wanted me to tell it the problem, but didn’t understand my several variations on “can’t get mail,” “mail won’t open,” e-mail is kaput,” “ain’t no e-mail,” etc.
            Finally, a live person reluctantly decided to listen to me. She said I should call Company One.
           After talking to several people, at different phone numbers, at both companies, without success, I was given the number of a man at Company One who barked orders, but genially, probably a retired Colonel. He took control of my screen, quickly put me through several steps, and at last I was getting my e-mail.
            Until next day, when the new sign-on method didn’t work. I tried calling the Colonel’s number, but the line was always busy.  So I tried company Two, and connected with a very pleasant woman in India. She said she saw my problem and could help me, but first I had to prove my identity. She agreed with me when I told her my name, e-mail address, home address and so forth.
            “Now,” she said, “I’ll need your mother’s middle name.”
            “You mean her maiden name,” I corrected.
            “No,” she said, “her middle name.”
            I told her I wasn’t sure, but guessed it was my grandmother’s name. She said that was wrong. I asked her if she actually has a middle name for my mother on record, and she said she has.
            I told her that nobody in my entire life has ever asked me for my mother’s middle name, on the phone with an e-mail provider, or on a street corner, or anywhere else.
            She said she couldn’t help me if I couldn’t confirm my mother’s middle name, and sounded exasperated at dealing with a stupid person like me.
            I called the Colonel’s phone number four more times before I finally got an answer. It was a woman this time, but she had that same former military style. “We’ve been having a lot of trouble like this,” she said. “What e-mail access would you like?” She set it up instantly.
            I have a new sign-in to receive my mail now. Curiously, I still seem to be getting all my mail from the old Company One address anyhow. Will everything keep working? To quote the late Frank E. “Tug” McGraw, Jr., “You gotta believe.”
            If you happen to know my mother’s middle name, keep it to yourself.

* * *

August 2, 2017
 
by James Smart


Looking for the inventor of the wheel
The elegant magazine published by the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. recently had an article in which four experts on such things speculated on when, why and how somebody invented the wheel. Whoever it was, his patent has probably expired.
            Wheels are one of those inventions we just take for granted, such as language, walking, fire, arguing, scratching and dozens of other things people have done since people, themselves, were invented.
            It seems that it was generally accepted that wheeled vehicles started rolling in Mesopotamia around 2900 B. C. But some recent investigators claim that some wagons were wheeling in the Carpathian Mountain region of Hungary way back in 3600 B. C.  Scientists looking for early wheels have come up with ancient pictures, models and hunks of wheels in Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and here and there, and, I have a feeling, some seem anxious to prove that Europeans had wheels first.
            The men in the magazine article seem mainly interested in wheels for transportation purposes, and barely mention the potter’s wheel, which goes back to Sumer in the south of ancient Mesopotamia; today, that would be Iraq and Kuwait.  Those laptop wheels have been found dating to around 3500 B. C.
            The article suggests that  vehicle wheels did not becoming practical until there were good roads, and that Europe’s roads were poor from after the fall of Rome, around the fifth century A. D., until 1600 or so. But one source I checked says that the oldest known constructed roads were in Iraq, with stone streets in Babylon and Ur going back to about 4000 B. C. So why did nobody think of wheels?
            Also, the ancient Incas in South America built 20,000 miles of roads up and down the continent, but didn’t have anything on wheels. They knew about wheels, but for some reason never used them for transport.
            So, who invented the wheel? Were logs somehow used to roll objects, and the idea of cutting logs in slices popped into the mind of some prehistoric, or maybe a slightly historic, inventor?
            Contemplating how the wheel concept might have occurred to some brainy guy 5000 or 6000 years ago brings up the idea of drawing a circle. The wheel inventor might have had to do it, on a piece of wood or a flat rock.
            It has been surmised that some creative ancient Sumerian or Carpathian was fascinated to notice that his pet goat, tied by a rope to a central stake, wore a perfect circle in the grass when it paced around that central point. (He would probably point this out to his ancient wife, who would probably say, in their ancient tongue, “Don’t you have something better to do?”)
            Is it really important to know who invented the wheel? It might be pleasant if someone discovered a story of a fellow like Archimedes jumping out of his bathtub and running round hollering “Eureka!” because he just made the first wheel. But it’s not going to happen.
            Who invented cooking? Chairs? Modesty? Shoes? Hugging? We’ll never know.
            Nor are we likely ever to learn who spoke the first word, or, perhaps more important, who understood him.

* * *​

July 26, 2017

 
by James Smart

Coming soon: Agent 007, Bond: Jane Bond

There are reports that the next movie about Agent 007 is going to have women as hero and villain, with Jane Bond pursuing a female Dr. No.

            Presumably, this is a Hollywood attempt to portray women’s equality with men. But will Jane Bond earn 80 cents for every dollar James Bond does?
            And, could this be a trend? Will classic films be remade with heroines replacing the heroes?
            We may soon have Tarzana of the Apes swinging through the jungle trees. Charlotte Holmes and Nurse Watson may pursue Professor Mary Arity along the foggy streets of London.
            Princess Charming could wake up a sleeping dude named Whitney Snow. In “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Esmerelda could rescue Quasimodo from the hateful mob.
            Many of the classics could be reworked, such as  “The Three Musketrettes,” “The Godmother,” “Citizen Jane,” “Florence of Arabia,” “Queen Kong,” and “Ben Him.”
            The Center for Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State University (you knew there had to be an organization like that, didn’t you, gang), laments that out of the 100 top grossing films of 2016, women accounted for 4% of directors, 11% of writers, 19% of producers, and 3% of cinematographers.      
             In the content of the films, women made up 29% of leading roles, and 32% of overall speaking characters. Women and men make up the total U. S. population at just about half and half, if that comparison means anything here.
             Hollywood has a gimmick, vaguely related to introducing Jane Bond, of coming up with lady superheroes such as Wonderwoman, Supergirl, Batwoman, and many others; consult any 12-year-old comic book aficionado.
            But that’s not the same as movies representing the sexes equally. If a film or play or book or any fiction tells a story correctly, equality or balance doesn’t always work. You could make Romeo the girl and Juliet the boy without upsetting reality, but a film about the Battle of Chickamauga with half of the army played by women just wouldn’t work.
            If some overly-enlightened film director decided that the modern thing to do was to have half of the army played by women, would he be likely to pay the women less than the men? Maybe he could make the men the Confederate half and the women the Union half, and pay the women less because they lost.
            There is another aspect of male and female relationship in the workplace beside salaries. Even in our theoretically enlightened age when women are CEOs of several giant corporations, there are still men with a deeply engrained belief that their gender is number one. Among that group is a subset that considers itself a herd of Romeos and all women potentially part-time Juliets.
            Those recent big shot television executives who got a lot of bad publicity for harassing young female subordinates still think they were just behaving normally, even if they were paying the women the same as young men in equivalent jobs.
            The whole problem is difficult to reconcile. It may be that equality of the sexes could never be truly achieved until men can have babies. And in the confused way sexual matters seem to be these days, some scientists somewhere may be working on that.

* * *

July 19, 2017

 by James Smart

The strange case of the unwanted hyphen

The number of our house is 511. It seems like a simple number. How could it cause confusion?
            We found out how, about 20 years ago. One day, the letter carrier delivered some large boxes to our door. They were addressed to an ambulance company, at our address.
            I called the telephone information number, and asked if Bell had a phone number for such an organization. (It was still Bell then. Verizon was still on the horizon.)
            Bell had a number. I called. I told the guy who answered about the packages. I got the feeling that he thought it was my fault that I had received his packages.
            The explanation was that he had established his ambulance service in a large building five blocks away on our street. His building spanned addresses number five through number 11. He was using the address “5-11.”  Postal Service sorting equipment had apparently never been informed about hyphens.
              He asked me if I would bring the boxes over to him. I shrugged, although he probably wasn’t aware of it over the phone, and said okay. He was a new neighbor, after all, and I knew what a headache it is to move to a new location, even without ambulances.                                                                                                                                                                   
            He said thanks when I delivered the boxes, but didn’t seem amused, or even much interested, in the mix-up.
            Thus began a flow of misdirected letters and packages. Our regular letter carrier caught on right away, and often informed me that he had intercepted some misdirected mail. On his days off, we got the wrong mail, sometimes with the hyphen and sometimes without.
            The confusion extended beyond the Postal Service. One day, I noticed out the window that two men with clipboards were wandering around the driveway and the lawn. I went out and asked, “Can I help you?”
            “Where do you keep the ambulances?” one of them said.
            We also had occasional pizza delivery persons and salespeople ringing the doorbell. Most such folks seemed to feel that it was I who was annoying them.
            We talked to the Post Office manager, who tried valiantly to straighten things out, without much cooperation from the ambulance man. The ambulance company finally went out of business, and after a few years the misdirected mail became a rarity, although we still get an item or two a year, including pathetic, though official, pleas for one of the employees to pay his back child care support.
            But wait. Why am I bringing this up now? Because the other day, we got in the mail a letter for a real estate company, addressed to 507. There is no 507, but we’re the closest thing to it. Our regular letter carrier was away, and the substitute took a stab at solving the problem.
            Apparently, a new business has moved into that building, and isn’t content to be merely number five. It wants to be 5-7, or 507. I sent the envelope back to the Post Office with a note. I hope the situation can be fixed to the satisfaction of all concerned.
            Or at least, I hope those new people don’t order too many pizzas.

* * *

July 12, 2017
 
by James Smart

We still use good old QWERTYUIOP
 It’s strange that with all of today’s texting and typing on hand-held electronic communication devices and ultra-modern computer keyboards, most thumbs and fingers are using something like the QWERTY  arrangement of letters that started back when Rutherford B. Hayes was president.
            People had been trying to invent something like a typewriter for 100 years, but the first ones that old guys like me used came along in the 1870s. There are variations of the facts, true of any good piece of history, but it seems that Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of a group of typewriter inventors, designed the first QWERTY keyboard.
            It is said that the letters were arranged so that the keys with the most used letters were not next to each other and wouldn’t get stuck together..
            Sholes and his associates sold their 1868 patent to the Remington company, which manufactured firearms. If formerly the pen had been mightier than the sword, the time had come for the typewriter to rival the gun.
            I learned to type on my aunt’s turn-of-the-century Remington. The keys came up from below to strike the paper on the roller, and you had to lift up the carriage to see what you had written.
            At about the same time as the typewriter was arriving, Otto Mergenthaler was inventing the Linotype machine that set type for printing presses, eliminating the letter-by-letter setting by hand. The Linotype keyboard did not start QWERTYUIOP etc. etc. It began etaoinshrdlu. There was no shift key to make capital letters; capitals had separate keys.
           The arrangement was said to be the order in which letters are most frequently used in the English language.
           Mergenthaler was a German immigrant, trained as a watchmaker, living in Baltimore when he first began trying to build a typesetting machine in the 1870s. Whitelaw Reid, editor of the New York Tribune, somehow got wind of the project, and Tribune writers had an early model working in 1886.
          The complex machines lined up brass molds of the letters, into which hot lead was poured to created lines of type. If an operator made a mistake, he often ran his fingers over the keys, creating a line that included “etaoinshrdlu” and thus could be easily found and discarded. Etaoinshrdlu became as famous as QWERTYUIOP.
          Printing industry legend says that Mergenthaler got the idea of the brass molds for letters from the wooden molds German bakers use to make springerle, German Christmas cookies.
            When I started in the newspaper vocation, about the time Harry Truman was nominated for his second term, typewriters chattered in The Bulletin newsroom and Linotypes clattered on the floor above.
In my early days there, I watched as the writers bid farewell to an old timer who was retiring. He had been pounding a newsroom typewriter every work day for some 40 years. His colleagues presented him with a farewell gift: a typewriter. 
            Today, most creation of the printed word, on paper or on a screen, is done electronically, but it still involves the use of human fingers (or thumbs), and good old QWERTYUIOP.
            Linotypes are mostly found in museums, and that may be true for most typewriters. Sometimes I think I belong there, too

* * *

.July 5, 2016
 
by James Smart

The coming world of artificial intelligence
 Looking back at all the things that have changed in my lifetime, I began wondering what my little great-grandson will look back on when he is my age. He will be my age in the year 2104!
            In my lifetime, the world has seen such things as the splitting of the atom, travel in space and to the moon, television, electric guitars, jet airplanes, the Frisbee, electronic computers and the Internet, digital cameras, and hand-held devices that communicate, entertain, guide and inform.
            It looks as though the technology that will dominate his lifetime will be artificial intelligence.
            People like to use the word robot. Many folks, particularly of my generation, tend to think of robots as replicas of human beings. The word “robot” in that sense came from a 1922 play by Karel Cepak, a Czech playwright, about humanoid artificial workers. A similar word for worker is in several Slavic languages.
            But robots don’t have to be simulated people. Human workers are being replaced regularly, all over the world, by machines that do formerly human jobs but are designed to do the jobs, perhaps better than people.
            I’ve read that South Korea now leads the world in having automated factories. There, one industrial worker in 21 is a robot. (The United States is eighth.)                                                                                                                                                                    Robots, or artificial intelligence (AI for short), can now be made to do things or know things. Cell phone users with services like Siri or Alexa can ask just about any question and get an answer. Computerized machines can take over human tasks. But human beings have to design, build and program them.
            By the time my great-grandson is my age, robots will likely replace bus drivers, barbers, trash collectors, store clerks, tax accountants. . . Stop, it's scary.
            And will AIs be able to create other robots?  Will AIs be able to make decisions? If they depend on humans for input, could two different AIs make different decisions based on the same input? If so, we’re back to human intelligence again.
            If AIs eventually are intelligent enough to design other AIs, will they reach a stage where they can be happy? Be angry? Sense danger? Know right from wrong? Have a sense of humor? Imagine something?
            Will AIs be creative? Can a mass of wires and a stew of algorithms produce an electronic Mozart? Shakespeare? Einstein? Gandhi? Hitler?
            Isaac Asimov, in a science fiction story 75 years ago, introduced his Three Laws of Robotics:
          “1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
          “2. A robot must obey  orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
          “3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”
            Asimov died 25 years ago. I haven’t read all of the hundreds of books he wrote (has anybody?), but I often wondered whether he would include a robot replacing a human worker in a factory as a violation of his First Law.
            Those robots in South Korea don’t know they’ve replaced humans. Their “brains” are designed to do only one thing. 
            Scientists couldn’t design a robot newspaper columnist. Could they? When my great-grandson is my age, he’ll know the answer .

* * *

June 28, 2017
 
by James Smart

Time for the television news: over to you
 We don’t watch much television these days. I do like to watch the late news at 10 or 11 o’clock. Those anchor persons are right about everything.
            I know that because, when they switch over to some poor reporter standing in the middle of a snow drift or down the block from a car crash, the reporter always says, “That’s right. Jim,” or “That’s right, Roger.”
            I had editors in the newspaper trade who were always right, too, but we never had to tell them with hundreds of people watching. Now, I can sit in the living room and play editor, and criticize television reporters.
            It’s great fun for a superannuated newshound like me to relax in the recliner and grumble when a guy reporting live from the scene of the story, with no chance to check on details, makes a mistake.
            When that big train wreck happened in my boyhood neighborhood in 2015, I could watch a TV reporter standing on Frankford Ave., just below the bridge over the Frankford Creek, near what the railroad people call Frankford Junction, and mutter sourly when the reporter said he was in Port Richmond.
            In my years as a newspaper reporter, we had time to ask questions on the scene, then phone a rewrite man, who gave the story to an editor and then a copy editor, and somebody was likely to spot anything wrong.
            I still read the newspaper every morning, and that’s different than watching TV news. For one thing, I can skip the advertising. Don’t tell any of my friends or former colleagues that I said that, and especially don’t tell the publishers of this newspaper. They want all of us to read every word of every advertisement.
            And newspaper advertising has lots of advantages over television advertising. You can’t re-read a television advertisement if you wanted to. You can’t cut out a TV ad and save it.
           And many things are advertised in the newspaper that you don’t see on television. Real estate, for instance. And dogs, underwear, garage sales, used cars, movie theaters, grass cutters, beauty parlors and repairmen for whom no job is too large or too small.
           During the late night news programs, the advertising seems to be mostly automobiles, and mattresses. There is one couple that has been in bed in a mattress commercial almost every night, it seemed for months. He points out to her that if they bought a new mattress, they could stay in bed longer. She seems to consider that a good idea, but somehow, they never get around to it, and there they are, every night, lolling between the weather report and the weather forecast.
          Then, there are the automobile dealer’s ads. Most of the sales pitches are presented by a young woman who prances toward the camera among the cars on the dealership’s floor. They all look pretty much alike, and walk and talk the same way. I suspect that there is a charm school somewhere that teaches them the accepted method of car-hustling and rents them out to the dealers.
          In between the commercials and the overelaborate weather reporting, we get some news, seen behind a reporter from about a block away or from a helicopter hovering way overhead. And I watch with the childish hope that some night, when the anchor person turns the screen over to a reporter on the street, the reporter will respond, “Well, no, Jim, that’s not exactly right.”

* * *

June 21, 2017
 
by James Smart

The origins of a beleaguered public park
There has been much media attention to the appalling narcotics addict situation in Philadelphia’s McPherson Square and its library. The story has gone nation-wide.
        Most readers of this web site probably have never been to McPherson Square. It interests me because I love Philadelphia history, and because I grew up about 10 blocks north of there.
          The site of McPherson Square has a long history. Actually, I have found two interesting histories for it. You can take your pick. (That’s what historians often do, but don’t tell them I said so.)
          Some sources say that a fellow named Joran Kyn arrived on the Delaware River in 1643, a year before William Penn was born. He was a Swedish soldier, who came here with Gov. Johan Printz in the days when the Swedes were running things. Kyn later founded Upland, which became Chester.
          Printz gave Kyn about 200 acres of land out in the wilderness, around a low hill in the fork of two streams. When the English took over, Joran Kyn changed his name to George Keen. His great-great-great grand-daughter, Margaret Stout, in 1782 married William McPherson, and they built a mansion on that property owned by Mary Keen, her mother. They called it Stouton.
          Or, you may like this story better. A Swede named Peter Laicon settled on that land, called Poor Island, in 1681, just before William Penn took over the area. Laicon’s two daughters both married Keens, and one of their grand-daughters was the Margaret Stout who married William McPherson. 
          There’s no doubt that William McPherson was one of two sons of Capt. John MacPherson (spellings vary), who built Mount Pleasant mansion on the Schuylkill, still standing in Fairmount Park. Capt. John got rich as a privateer, seizing French ships. He was a writer, inventor (with a patent on a “bug-proof bed”) and compiler of the first Philadelphia street directory, among many varied achievements.
          When the Revolution erupted, his son, John, joined the American army and was killed in the attack on Quebec in 1775. His other son, William, was a British army officer, who then tried to resign. He was wounded at the Battle of Monmouth before he finally was released and joined the American side.
          William and Margaret built Stouton mansion in 1782, where the library now stands. Margaret died there on Christmas day, 1797. In 1803, William married Elizabeth White, widowed daughter of William White of Philadelphia, America’s first Episcopal bishop.
          William died in 1813. The land surrounding the mansion was sold off gradually through the years, and the family moved away. The last occupants of the house and surrounding buildings were the Webster family, who had operated the farm on McPherson land since 1806. John H. Webster became prominent in the community; a school is named for him.
          In 1893, a granddaughter of William McPherson sold the mansion and its existing grounds to the city for $74,546. The public park opened in 1895, and the mansion opened as a library in 1898, with 4,000 books.
          The old mansion was demolished in 1915, and replaced in 1917 by a new library funded by millionaire Andrew Carnegie, who was financing libraries all over the world.
          When Joe Clark was mayor, it was still a respectable public square. By the time Bill Green III was mayor, Hollywood filmed a lurid and disturbing movie called “Fighting Back” in Philly, about brutal vigilantes attacking neighborhood thugs; it depicted addicts in McPherson Square. How would we explain that to Joran Kyn?

* * *

June 14, 2017

 by James Smart

Memories of the traditional news release
While throwing away some very old papers, I came upon a bunch of news releases, and wondered about how such things are handled in these days of Twitter and e-mail and web sites and other voodooish electronic mysteries. When I started in the word-manipulating industry, back in the Truman administration, news releases were always on paper.
           They were documents of information that a person or organization wanted to be published. They were usually created by public relations writers in companies or ad agencies.
            In varied periods of my erratic career, I have read, written, rewritten, edited and/or thrown away thousands of them. Many contained valuable information. Many others were mediocre attempts to get publicity.
            In the Evening Bulletin newsroom in the mid-twentieth century, an editor would occasionally toss a news release on a writer’s desk and say something like, “Give me a 12-head on this.”
            The document would be on the letterhead of an advertising agency. It would have been duplicated by something like a Mimeograph, Ditto printer or Hectograph.  (If you don’t know what they were, don’t worry. It’s all right to be young.) The Xerox was still only a gleam in Chester Carlson’s eye.
            At the top, the paper would say “For Immediate Release.” There would follow an announcement that the Ajax Bifurcated Ferrule Co. of Manayunk was sponsoring the annual Greater Manayunk Accordion and Piccolo Symphonette concert on Saturday. In about 1,000 carefully crafted words it would give the time and place of the event, information about the participants, details of the music to be played and of the refreshments to be dispensed, and an enlightening history of the accordion.
            And a 12-head, in Bulletin typographical lingo, meant that the writer should condense the publicity masterpiece to one paragraph.
            The Bulletin, and I suppose most big newspapers, rarely ran a news release as written, no matter how usable.
            It always amazed me that big corporations, when they had something to say that was actually news, would send a release that required calling them to clarify something or get a vital fact that was left out.
            Most advertising and public relations agencies had writers who produced usable material. I often felt bad when a nicely crafted article by a writer who knew his trade was given to me to redo.
            I often thought, when required to rewrite a well-done release, that PR writers should always do the release the second best way, so it could be rewritten the best way for publication.
            And it was always fun to brighten up a dull one. Once about 60 years ago, an editor gave me a release from the telephone company, announcing that the new phone directories were about to be delivered, and asked, “What can you do with this?” I did some thinking and some research, and got an idea.
            (I’ve lost the original, but recreated this slightly abbreviated 1977 directory version for a writing class I was teaching.)
            “What has 19 wings and only seven feathers, 12 heads and 39 hands, is 11 inches high, and is coming to your house next week?
            “The answer: the Bell of Pennsylvania 1977 White Pages Telephone Directory.
            “The 19 Wings, from Beth Wing to Woo Wing, will be found on page 977. The Feathers are on page 279, the Heads on 393 and the Hands on 380.”
            It made the front page.

* * *

June 7, 2017

by James Smart 

A woman who swallowed some big bucks
There was a short item in a news magazine a couple of weeks ago that said a woman in Colombia ate $9,000. Her husband found that she had hidden money from him. When he demanded a share, she began eating $100 bills, according to the article.
            She soon was having pains and was taken to the hospital, where, said the article, $5,700 was removed from her stomach in good condition. The rest of the bills were ruined by “gastric fluids,” a surgeon reported.
            This left me puzzled. The ingested currency was described in U. S. dollars. Was she really hoarding our kind of money?
            The basic Colombian bill is the peso, which tends to waver a bit in value, but recently has been rated at approximately 3,000 pesos equaling one of our dollars. If she ate $9,000 worth of pesos, that would equal about 27 million in our dollar bills.
             I assumed that if she used local money, she probably did her cash swallowing in bills of higher denominations. On line, I found pictures of some Colombian bank notes, and they do look tasty, if one feels the need to eat them.
             I would recommend the bluish pastel 20,000 peso bill, which has a picture of Julio Garcia Armero, a Colombian astronomer, on one side, and the moon on the other. Each bill is worth about $9.70 American.
            After reading about the incident in the magazine, I checked on the Internet. Most sources reported the amount devoured as $7,000. Many also specified that amount as coming in U. S. dollars. One TV network made it $9,400. The overall reporting was rather, to quote an old Pennsylvania Dutch acquaintance, “slip-slop.”
           A British news service on-line claimed that “she swallowed around 57 hundred dollar notes,” and illustrated the report with a stock-photo of a pile of $100 Ben Franklins.
           A Canadian news site called Global News had photographs of surgeons admiring, spread out on a table, the actual bills pulled from the woman’s innards, and they were U. S. hundreds.
            The British report quoted a surgeon from the University Hospital of Santander, who said that the money was neatly wrapped in rolls. Most were extracted from an orifice opened in the stomach, he said, “through which some extra rolls were found in the intestine, which advanced to the colon, the lower part of the intestine, in order to be evacuated by normal means through the patient’s intestinal movements.”
            He did not estimate the value of the money, presumably additional to the identified $5,700, that will arrive by those normal means, or guess its likely condition.
            I became curious about the name of the hospital, and learned that it is not related to the bank from Spain that has popped up in our area. Santander is a city in Spain.
            It is also the name of a Colombian department (like a state) in the Andes, probably named for Francisco de Paula Santander, an early 19th century Colombian political leader.
            Its citizens, known as Santandereanos, are known for being grouchy and outspoken, though very gentle and friendly. One of their local food delicacies is hormingas culonas, which is roasted ants.
            Adding to the unpleasantness of researching the woman who ate the money, when I investigated the situation by typing “woman eats money” into Google, that all-knowing source also offered to provide me with information on “woman eats baby,” “woman eats cat hair,” “woman eats mouse,” and “woman eats mattress.” I declined the opportunity.

* * *

May 31, 2017


 by James Smart

An actress’s unusual visit to Philly
Dina Merrill, the actress, died last week, at age 93. Reading about it stretched my memory back to about this time of year in 1961, when I spent a morning with Ms. Merrill.
      My memory gets thin when it stretches long, but as I recall it, Max Miller, the long-time local United Artists movie publicist, called me. A film entitled “The Young Savages” was coming to town, about teen-age street gangs in New York.
“Variety,” the show business trade journal, described it as "a kind of non-musical east side variation on ‘West Side Story.’"
       Three former New York gang members had been recruited to act in the film, with Burt Lancaster playing a lawyer and Dina Merrill his wife. The ex-hoodlums were here for publicity. I had written a long series about Philly gangs a couple of years before; would I like to interview these tough guys?
      Better than that, I said. Let’s take them out to meet some local gang leaders and let them compare notes.
      Max was enthusiastic. Nothing phased him. He was legendary in his professional circles for the time that a Pennsylvania Railroad conductor at 30th St. Station refused to allow him to board a train to New York with the canine film star Rin-Tin-Tin and Rinty’s owner. No dogs were permitted but guide dogs. Max went out and bought a pair of dark glasses. They got on the next train unchallenged.
      So, Max was ready when I arrived on the appointed morning with a couple of Police Juvenile Aid Division cops to take the New Yorkers to the meeting. They were also ready. So was Dina Merrill, who had decided to come along, over the objection of a nervous Hollywoodish publicity man.
      We disembarked outside the schoolyard of a junior high, where some boys were playing basketball and waiting to watch the proceedings. One of the newly-minted actors shook hands with a Philadelphia street gang administrator who identified himself as Poggie. (He spelled it for me when I asked.)
      Poggie received Ms. Merrill graciously when she stepped out of the car briefly. She had a scarf tied over her head, preserving her hairdo for a reception scheduled for later at City Hall. (Her parents were millionaires; their Florida home is now President Trump’s.)
      The gangsters engaged in a long discussion of the intricacies of social life in a system where any stranger entering another organization’s neighborhood faced the possibility of having his lip fattened, at the very least.
      They also agreed that there were more constructive activities than what then was known as “bopping.”  A few basketballers drifted over to listen in on the discussions, and occasionally chimed in with comments.
      I tagged along when Ms. Merrill and the New York kids were later received by the members of the mayor’s adult gang in the Mayor’s Reception Room. The New York gang leader turned actor was suspicious of the gilt-framed portraits of former mayors that lined the walls.
      “Man,” he whispered, “these pictures got moveable eyes and people are watchin’ us from back of ‘em”
       Now, 56 years later, I have no idea whether those gang members went on to lead pleasant and productive lives, or wound up in the slammer. I would assume that the incipient actors moved onward and upward, and hope the same for Poggie and his associates.

* * *

May 24, 2017
 
by James Smart

Gentrification: how neighborhoods change
The word “gentrification” is used around Philadelphia a lot these days. A dictionary defines gentrification as “the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.”
        It also offers the definition “the process of making a person or activity more refined or polite,” but let’s not get into that.
       Gentrification has become the more or less polite word for the process of a builder or “developer” (whatever that really means) marching into a neighborhood populated by people who have low incomes, dark complexions, foreign languages or other unfortunate handicaps (excuse the sarcasm,) and rebuilding the area with houses the inhabitants can’t afford, to lure in buyers who, well, maybe, “conform to middle class taste.”
        It’s a good way for builders and architects and real estate people to make a living. And all concerned seem to accept the process. Does any developer ever put modest-priced houses, expensive houses and multi-million dollar houses on the same block?
        When they were building Levittown in Lower Bucks County back in the Fifties, I asked one of Bill Levitt’s operatives why the higher priced Country Clubber and Colonial models were all in one area and the lowest priced Levittowner models in another, and he replied, “Because doctors don’t want to live next to plumbers.”
        But there is more to a changing neighborhood than that. And most neighborhoods where the more affluent are now easing out low income residents had once before been more affluent and in turn had declined.
        The rise of new technology has changed many Philadelphia neighborhoods. It was common in past generations that grown-up children wanted to live near their parents, and in some areas that still is true. Many old neighborhoods have many-generationed inhabitants.
        But consider the house in which I grew up. It was built more than 130 years ago. Electricity was an afterthought; there were few outlets, and none in the kitchen. Modern building codes made new wiring impossible in the brick walls. (I wonder what the folks do who live there now. And will gentrification strike them some day?)
         After World War II, suddenly most people could have, and wanted, electric washers, dryers, stoves, irons, toasters, mixers, air conditioners, radios, phonographs. Young families moved out, to new houses in new neighborhoods or new suburbs, because they could not live 20th century lives in a 19th century house. Lower income immigrants and minorities moved in. It was the opposite of gentrification.
         Another variation of so-called gentrification is the obliteration of neighborhoods by hospitals and universities, which has been happening slowly and gradually for 50 or 60 years.
        The so-called Millennial generation is developing a different life style with changing attitudes and changing requirements. Perhaps economic, racial, ethnic and cultural differences won’t mean so much now, although there still seem to be plenty of assorted bigots running at large.
        Obviously, what our society likes to call gentrification is much more complicated than that dictionary definition. And it makes me wonder, probably naively, what would happen if a developer built a new neighborhood that had a mix of houses of different sizes, amenities and prices, where, unlike that real estate guy’s opinion, doctors would live next door to plumbers.

* * *

May 17, 2017
 
by James Smart

You’re entitled to everyone else’s opinion

There was an interesting incident in the column-writing trade a couple of weeks ago, involving readers’ reaction to opinion. It started when Bret Stephens, who had stopped opinionating for the Wall Street Journal, wrote his first outburst for the New York Times. Many loyal readers of the Times must have been immediately suspicious. Could the Times have accidentally let in the door a writer prone to conservative cogitations?
          His column intimated that some callous activities of the human race may contribute to global warming. Disturbed defenders of truth (Conservative) began contacting the Times to inquire why a blatantly wrong thinker (Liberal) was allowed on the premises.
          Many of the complainants included the long-favored threat of the disgruntled newspaper reader: “cancel my subscription.”  A few days later, either fuel or water was thrown on the fire by Dick Polman, well known in Philly, who wrote an on-line column defending Stephens. 
          I was interested in his comments about folks who expect newspaper operatives to be devastated by the threat of the canceled subscription.
          Polman, himself a Liberal, I think, pointed out that subscription cancelers “basically embraced the notion that a single piece on climate change cancelled out the acres of space that Times reporters have devoted to detailing the perils of climate change.”
          It always puzzled me that so many people want, and seem to expect, to agree with and like everything they read in a newspaper. As a columnist in the old Bulletin back in the Sixties, I often heard from a reader who said that he or she had always read my columns and loved every one, but disagreed with yesterday’s column and therefore would never read it, or The Bulletin, again.
          Why did those people feel that canceling the paper was necessary because of one small disagreement? My wife and I disagree occasionally, but we haven’t cancelled our marriage license.
          When an irate reader blasted me on the telephone and said he was going to cancel his subscription, I sometimes said, “Hold on, and I’ll transfer you to the circulation department.” Nobody ever took me up on that.
           I often made the mistake of trying to give both sides of a situation in a column. I don’t remember ever getting thank-yous from those on both sides of a column subject, but I occasionally got letters from both sides of an argument that each accused me of being biased toward the other.
           Curiously, I got more complaints from historians when I wrote about history than from politicians when I wrote about politics. Successful politicians develop thick skins. Some historians believe no one without a degree should write about history. And in Philadelphia, you can write a wisecrack about somebody as far back as the 17th century and get a nasty complaint from a relative.
          Polman’s piece about Stephens suggests that lately, “We’re suffering outrage overload.”  The Internet, Facebook and such advanced forms of rudeness make it easier to denounce writers’ opinions. Comments on web sites tend to be light on grammar, spelling and syntax but heavy on venom and formerly unprintable words.
          You won’t find all that garbage in a newspaper. (Should I say, usually, or not yet?) If you disagree with any of this, please don’t cancel your subscription. We can’t be wrong all the time.
                                                          * * *
May 10, 2017
 
by James Smart


Ready for a Semiquincentennial? 
The year 2026 is coming along soon, and inevitably, some Philadelphians are thinking about celebrating. It will be the 250th birthday of the United States of America, inevitably to be referred to by some folks as, Lord help us, the Semiquincentennial.
            Philadelphia celebrating the events of 1776 every 50 years is now a tradition, although after big plans and a big to-do, Philadelphians tend to lapse into arguing about whether each was a success.
            The city leaders had big plans for the 50th anniversary in 1826, although big was a lot smaller in those days. There was a military parade in the morning, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence in Independence Square at 1 P. M. There were political meetings and dinners in various parts of the city.
            City Council appropriated money for a huge fireworks display to take place in the square where City Hall now stands. About 50,000 people showed up at Broad and Market and Broad and Chestnut. (The city’s population in the 1830 census was just over 80,000.)
            But some of the main fireworks pieces exploded prematurely on and off all day. “There was a meager show in consequence,” a historian reported later, “and the persons present were much dissatisfied.”
            When the Centennial came along in 1876, the city outdid itself. The. Civic leaders put together, in Fairmount Park, 450 acres of huge buildings with 30,864 exhibitors of culture and industry from 50 foreign countries and 17 of the 38 states.
            The attendance, May to November, was nearly 10 million admissions, garnering $3,813,749. (Philadelphia’s population then was about 800,000.)
            But there were those who declared it a failure, and accused crafty Philadelphians of taking advantage of ignorant foreigners and domestic rubes. Some Western states couldn’t see what was in it for them, and Southern unreformed Confederates called it Yankee insolence. New York newspapers poo-pooed it steadily.
            Next came 1926, and the Sesquicentennial International Exposition, generally considered a disaster. Planning started late. Fairmount Park and the Parkway were rejected as sites, in favor of fields from 10th to 23rd Sts. between Packer Ave. and the Navy Yard.
             It was mostly swampy land controlled by political bosses, the Vare brothers. Fill was trucked in from the ongoing excavation of the new subway on N. Broad St.
             There were five large exhibition halls, plus buildings representing 31 of the 48 states, and an amusement area that took advantage of the boggy terrain with a Venetian canal attraction. Many South Philly teenage boys got summer jobs as gondoliers.
              A “High Street” was built with replicas of Philly’s major historic buildings, a bit odd when visitors could see the real thing. A demonstration of motion pictures that talked didn’t get as much attention as a huge livestock show.
              An estimated 50 million people lived within 500 miles of the Sesqui, but only 6,400,000 attended, (4,622, 211 paid.) It didn’t help that there was rain on 107 of the 184 days of the event.
              Perhaps the major benefit was the 100,000 seat stadium, which lasted until 1991. Pageants and sports were held in it during the Sesqui. The big event was the Gene Tunney vs. Jack Dempsey heavyweight championship fight, with 135,000 attending. Among the celebrities on hand were Franklin D. Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, Mae West, Andrew Mellon, Florenz Ziegfeld and Leopold Stowkowski.
              In 1976, we did it again, with the Bicentennial celebration. But that’s a story for another day.


* * *

MAy 3, 2017

 
by James Smart

A historic TV building’s end is near
It’s been reported that the Comcast folks plan to move television channels NBC 10 and Telemundo 62 down town when they finish scraping the sky with their new 1,200-foot headquarters. The present nearly 100,000 square foot complex on City Line will be sold for redevelopment.
            That pioneering structure houses lots of ghosts of TV history. It was built in 1952 to house WCAU Channel 10, then a CBS affiliate owned by the Evening Bulletin newspaper company. It was the first structure in the United States built specifically for television broadcasting.
            The station had gone on the air in 1948, and was broadcasting from WCAU’s 1622 Chestnut St. radio headquarters, and from remote locations. Before television, WCAU radio had belonged to the morning Philadelphia Record newspaper and brothers Isaac Levy, a lawyer, and Leon Levy, a dentist.
            When the Record folded in February, 1947, The Bulletin acquired the station. The Bulletin company already owned WPEN, an old radio station, and had rights to channel 10 in the new TV industry. The newspaper sold WPEN to the Sun Ray drug store company, but kept the television channel. It became the third affiliate of the new Columbia Broadcasting System, headed by William S. Paley, a cigar company executive and brother-in-law of the Levy brothers.
            WPEN radio had been the voice of The Bulletin. There was no “all news, all the time” station in those days. Most stations’ news came in short periodic reports read by announcers off the Teletypes of news services.
            The Bulletin in the Thirties offered regularly scheduled radio news programs originating from an office in the back of the Bulletin newsroom. News was written and broadcast by a five-man staff headed by Harold Hadley, a concise writer with an authoritative voice.
            After the acquisition of WCAU, the radio news operation moved to the station’s Chestnut St. headquarters. Early television programs originated there when Channel 10 started up on May 23, 1948.  Channels 3 and 6 were already on the air, 3 at 17th and Sansom and 6 at 46th and Market. There was no coast-to-coast TV until 1951.
            Channel 10 blossomed when the City Line studios opened in 1952. An example of what could be done there was “Action in the Afternoon,” a live half hour daily Western soap opera that ran for a year in 1953. It was directed by Dick Lester, who later went to England and directed The Beatles’ first movie.
            The main street of an Old West town was built in the parking lots; interiors of a saloon and other cowboyish rooms were in the studios. It was all live broadcasting then, including horseback chases and gun fights.
            That was in the days before videotape, and of large, bulky cameras that trailed thick, heavy cables, with rotating turret lenses, no zoom lenses. The pictures they produced were black and white.
            In 1953, a new Philco TV with a then giant 21-inch screen would cost you $229.95 (more than $2,000 in today’s money.)
              Channel 10 moved its tower in 1957 from atop the PSFS building to a 1,200 foot tower in Roxborough. In 1958, The Bulletin sold WCAU to the CBS network. In 1995, in a complicated swap, 10 became an NBC affiliate and 3 went to CBS. In 2011 and 2013 deals, Comcast acquired NBC.
            It’s very different now, but Channel 10 old-timers still talk about the day when a stagecoach got loose and rolled out of the “Action in the Afternoon” set and smashed into a station employee’s sports car in the parking lot. What did he tell his insurance company?

* * *

April 26, 2017

by James Smart  


Live, from 1863, it’s a boozy general
April 27 is Ulysses S. Grant's 195th birthday. I’m a life-long admirer of his, sharing his birth date. And I’ve been thinking about Grant and about “Saturday Night Live.” I’ll tell you why.
​​          Grant's reputation is odd.
        He aspired when he was young to be a mathematics professor, was an accomplished watercolorist and  a skilled horseman, led the victorious army in the Civil War, overcame corrupt associates and Southern opponents as President and fostered two seminal civil rights bills and subdued the Ku Klux Klan, and wrote the best-selling nonfiction book of the 19 th century.
        Yet mention his name, through his lifetime and up to last week, and someone is likely to identify him, “He was a drunk.”
        Grant drank too much on occasion, especially when he was a lonely young officer stationed on the West Coast, which in those horse-drawn days was like being on the moon, separated from his wife and two young sons back in Missouri. 

         But it’s just in recent years that biographers and historians have been telling the story of that Yazoo River steamboat ride.
          Sylvanus Cadwallader, a Chicago Times reporter attached to Grant’s headquarters in 1863, years later spun a wild  and almost comic tale about Grant going up the Yazoo River in Mississippi by steamboat to see if Confederate troops were moving toward Vicksburg, then under siege by the Union army.
        According to Cadwallader, Grant was drinking heavily. The captain locked the bar room door and claimed that the key was lost. Cadwallader took Grant to his stateroom, where he found many bottles of liquor and began throwing them out the window into the river. Grant went to sleep.
        Next morning, the ship was docked. Grant went ashore, drank with some officers, got drunk again, borrowed a horse and went off on a wild ride, followed by Cadwallader and cavalry. Cadwallader described Grant galloping through camps, scattering campfires, and careening over bridges, startling sentries. He was finally overtaken, persuaded to take a nap, and later removed by an ambulance wagon.
        It was a funny story, too long to tell fully here. But it’s the only account of Grant ever going on a bender. Arguments persist about whether it ever happened.
          Cadwallader wrote his manuscript about the war in 1897. It sat in the Illinois State Historical Library and was read mostly by historians until it was published as “Three Years with Grant” in 1955, 70 years after Grant died.
       Stories about Grant’s drinking, in his own time, were happily received and recounted by Southerners and Democrats. But that story never surfaced.
         Charles A. Dana was a war department observer on the scene of those Yazoo River activities. Dana later became a journalist nastily critical of Grant as president. On Grant’s birthday in 1891, as editor of the New York Sun, Dana wrote an article headlined “General Grant’s Occasional Intoxication,” and said Grant was often “stupidly intoxicated,” yet made no mention of Cadwallader’s reported drunken escapade.
         In modern times, Bruce Catton, a North-leaning Grant biographer, dismissed the story. Shelby Foote, a Southern historian, believed it.
      But I’m thinking of “Saturday Night Live.” If you watch that TV show, can’t you picture Alec Baldwin impersonating a drunken President Grant telling that Sylvanus Cadwallader story? Live from Illinois, it was Saturday night. 

                                                                   * * *

April 19, 2017

 by James Smart

On Columnist’s Day, I am a columnist
April 18 is National Columnist’s Day, a date selected years ago by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists because it was the day in 1945 that Ernie Pyle, a famous columnist during World War II, was killed by Japanese gunfire on a little island off Okinawa.
            The leaders of the society have proposed that, to highlight the diversity of columnists today with all the blogging and Twittering and such on-line electronic non-newspaper publishing, members create an “I Am a Columnist” pronouncement and post it to social media.
            They tell what hash tags to use and how to tag the society’s group on Twitter or its Facebook page.
            Now, I maintain a web site for my columns and other effusions, but I’ve been a newspaper and briefly magazine columnist, with my words applied to paper with ink, since the Eisenhower administration, and I am not inclined to start fussing with all that new media. Twittering is for sparrows.
            I was a month short of 29 years old when, after 11 years on the staff, I wrote my first column for the old Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, may it rest in journalistic peace. I wrote six a week for eight years, while our circulation was around 700,000, largest evening paper in the nation. I wrote fewer over the next six years, and then went on to other jobs, including some other columning.
           I’ve produced this weekly column for the last 25 years. There have been only eight years since 1959 that I haven’t been writing a column for some publication or another.
          There are all sorts of columns: offering advice, instruction, information, analysis, humor, and about love, politics, etiquette, woodworking, health, entertainment, gossip, automobiles, fashion, you name it.
          People used to call my kind of column in The Bulletin a human interest column. I was never sure what that meant. I made many friends, many I never met, and a few enemies from whom I heard all too often.
          Readers would write to tell me their troubles. I was a guy who came into their house every day and told them things, so people wanted to have their side of the conversation.
          Once, an old man I never met found among his late wife’s possessions a love letter he had written to her when they were dating many years before. His grown children weren’t interested in it, so he sent it to me.
          And there was a little girl whose teacher had given her class a vocabulary list and told them to find the words in a newspaper. She asked me please to use all the words in a column. I did. It wasn’t easy.
          Columnists who write about specific things may not have the same relationship with readers. And I suspect that columnists using the modern electronic media get instant, short, mostly clichéd responses. Or an emoji. Ugh!
          I hope the Columnist Society folks don’t mind if I don’t join in this century’s electronic methods of proclaiming my columnisthood. I guess I’m too old for it. I’m too old for a lot of things, and the number increases regularly.
          I don’t know how many other last century columnists are left, who grudgingly abandoned the typewriter for the computer and rely on a spell-checker to catch our little blunders instead of a guy with a green eye shade and a pencil.
          But I’m still here, and, for the record, I Am a Columnist.

* * *

April 12. 2017

 
by James Smart

Two tales of undocumented immigrants
With all the crying and decrying going on about immigrants, legal and illegal, I thought I’d tell the story of two immigrants. One was the father of one of my old high school buddies. I’ll call him Theo. The other was my wife’s father. I’ll call him Bill.
          Theo came to the United States from Ukraine in November, 1922, entering in the port of Seattle. There was some confusion about his passport, but he moved on with his life.
          No one seemed to worry about his status when he enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1923. He served for two years in the cavalry, and was honorably discharged. He came to Philadelphia, married a lovely American-born Ukrainian girl, and began studying law at Temple University.
          At some point, he had a controversy with a member of the Ukrainian community, and his rival reported to immigration authorities that he was an illegal immigrant. On Jan. 26, 1928, Federal agents arrested him and began arrangements for deportation.
          On Feb. 8, Theo appeared in Federal Court to appeal the U. S. Immigration order to deport him. With him were his wife and his six month old son.
          He was represented by Adrian Bonnelly, a lawyer who years later would be long-time President Judge of Philadelphia’s Municipal Court. Bonnelly was a New York born immigration specialist, who came to Philadelphia in 1912 as an investigator for the U. S. Immigration Service to look into Italian immigration violations in South Philly. In private practice later, he settled Mohawk Indian immigration problems on the Canadian border, and was given the honorary title “Chief Gray Hawk.”
          Theo sued his accuser for libel. The situation dragged on through the courts. Finally, on June 29, 1929, Bonnelly got a ruling from Federal judges that there was a three year limit for the start of deportation proceedings. Theo, who was already working in a law office and studying for his Bar examination, was allowed to become a citizen.
          Now, about Bill. He was a British merchant seaman from the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. He jumped ship in New York in 1935, and got a job behind the counter at Nedick’s fast food place on Broadway. Later he became superintendent of an apartment house, with an apartment included.
          At a dance at the Central Park band shell in 1936, he met a girl who had grown up on the plains of North Dakota. They were married and had two daughters. At his wife’s urging, he took a writing course at Columbia University. He had only an eighth grade education, but he told the college his records in England were lost in bombing. He sold his first short story to the Saturday Evening Post.
          When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, he decided to enlist in the U. S. Navy. The recruiting officers discovered that he was an illegal alien, and turned him in. There was a hearing, and it looked as though he would be deported.
          But he wrote a beautiful letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife, outlining the absurd unfairness of the situation. He was soon notified that he would not be deported.
          A quarter century later, working as a writer for NASA, he wrote manuals used by astronauts on moon flights.
          I wonder what President Trump would think of those two illegal aliens?

* * *

April 5. 2017

 by James Smart

Our prehistoric ancestors caught kissing

Some paleontologists have announced a study that found that some Neanderthal persons may have been vegetarians, and that they may have known about medicinal substances.
       The magazine that reported this called it “a groundbreaking study.” That is no surprise. It’s my impression that the best way to find a Neanderthal is to dig one up.
       Some Australian scientists analyzed the dental plaque in the teeth of three Neanderthals who lived between 42,000 and 50,000 years ago. That’s a rather long between, though almost certainly before dental floss was invented.
       Teeth are frequently all that’s left of a prehistoric individual; they apparently last longer than other hunks of anatomy.  The examiners of those prehistoric choppers found that one Neanderthal from Belgium ate mostly meat from wild animals, but two from Spain dined on moss, pine nuts and fungi.
       One of the pre-Spanish citizens also was found to have used a poplar tree bark that contains a substance related to aspirin, and a mold used to make penicillin.
        But the finding that interested me, mentioned almost incidentally by the magazine, was that in the teeth of one Neanderthal was found mouth bacteria from a Homo Sapiens mouth.
        I wrote a column about Neanderthals more than 20 years ago, telling how archeologists poking around in a cave in the Neander Valley in Germany in 1856 found a 35,000 year old skull. Ultimately, bits and pieces of 30 Neanderthal skeletons turned up, and a lot of scientific folks decided that they were the remains of ancestors of Europeans and were not related to other people, and had never lived with Homo Sapiens.
        Some scientists claimed that the Neanderthals practiced religion, because they buried their dead. I was never convinced about that proof of religion. I’ll bet that if a dead Neanderthal were lying around the cave for a few days, even an atheist would want to bury him.
        Then, genetics came along, and some biologists studied Neanderthal genes and claimed that the Neanderthals were not anybody’s ancestors, which started some expert arguing. Since more recent scientists began rooting around in the DNA of long-deceased folks, there are now reports that Homo Sapiens, ancestors of modern man, frequently interbred with the old Neanderthal types.
        What interested me most was that the three Neanderthals whose teeth were examined had mouth bacteria that was acquired from Homo Sapiens. This would occur, say the experts, either from sharing food, or from kissing.
        One of the authors of the study said that this indicates that relations between modern humans and Neanderthals were probably “much more friendly than anyone imagined.”
        Various articles on the subject say that 20 percent of the Neanderthal genome is found in modern humans. “Genome” is defined as “the haploid set of chromosomes in a gamete or microorganism, or in each cell of a multicellular organism.” I don’t really understand that, but most people who do probably don’t know who was in command at Fort Donelson when Gen. Grant besieged it in 1862, so I figure we’re even.
        But forgive me for being bemused about romance between 42,000 and 50,000 years ago. I’m picturing “Romeo and Juliet” with a Neanderthal Romeo and a Homo Sapiens Juliet. 

* * *

March 29, 2017


by James Smart 


Memories of a rope mill and a school
A dash of elated nostalgia sloshed in my brain a couple of Sundays back, when I saw a color photo of Schlichter’s mill as the centerpiece of an article by Inga Saffron, the high priestess of Philly architecture old and new, in that big newspaper down town. It seems the Schlichter site might get gentrified.
            I began my education in the George L. Horn Public School at Frankford and Castor Aves., and the rear of that elegant stone school is across narrow Coral St. from that mill. In those days, it was Schlichter’s Jute Cordage Co., a rope maker.
            I managed to swallow the annoyance that the headline writer of the on-line version of the article called it a North Philadelphia factory. We used to have schoolyard arguments over whether the school was in Richmond or Harrowgate, but nobody even thought about North Philadelphia. The Richmond kids said the border was Frankford Ave., but we Harrowgaters said it was Amber St.
            The old school still stands there. It has been a lot of things in recent years, sometimes a school, sometimes a warehouse for city records, once even police vice squad headquarters, and occasionally had a big “For Sale” sign on it.
            Through all that, it retains its dignity. It’s on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It was built in 1903. The architect was Lloyd Titus, who designed the Art Alliance and Franklin Field. He did 25 Philadelphia school buildings, including another stone castle I attended later, Northeast High School at 8th and Lehigh, now the site of a boring small shopping center.
            Harrowgate kids went to elementary school for years at the old I. P. Morris School at K and Atlantic Sts. In the 1890s, my great-grandparents on my mother’s side were the custodians of Morris School.
            After the first Webster School was built further south, the Morris schoolhouse was converted into two dwellings. My grandfather on my father’s side lived in one for many years.
            George L. Horn and his brother, Phillip, were druggists at Fourth and Poplar in the mid-19th century. In 1859, George was elected to the board of directors of the Twenty-Fifth Section, School District of Philadelphia, and devoted time to the public schools for 40 years. He also dealt in real estate.
            About 1900, he either gave or sold the land next to his house to the city. The school that bears his name was under construction when he died at age 77. His death certificate lists his occupation as “gentleman.” His four-story brick house is still there on Frankford Ave.
            They were making rope at Schlichter’s while I was a pupil at Horn School. But the old stables of the mill were being used by the city for trash collection wagons and the teams of giant horses that pulled them.
            There were two large rectangular ponds between Coral St. and Schlichter’s building. Late in the afternoon, trash collectors would arrive and unharness the horses, who would immediately frolic like overweight colts and plunge into the cold water pond for a swim, before trotting around to the stables.
           Sitting in the row of desks near the windows in seventh grade, I could watch them, craning my neck a bit and hoping that Mrs. Gotwals, our drill-sergeantish teacher, didn’t notice.
          What was then Schlichter’s may now become something fitting the 21st century. It won’t be as pleasant as Schlichter’s turreted mill, or those horses.                                                                                                                                                                                    * * *                              

 ​March 22, 2017


by James Smart


The curse of the six-armed robot

The movie and television dramatizers seem to have decided that the major threats to the future of humanity are creatures from other planets, vampires, werewolves, zombies or robots. They turn out constant scenarios about such annoyances.            I don’t worry about the possibility of those supernatural or unnatural troublemakers ever becoming reality, especially since the modern creators of scenarios about such malevolent beings have strayed so far from the classic beginnings of their ilk, in tales so much better told by H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Mrs. Shelly and other imaginators.
         Modern film makers have distorted the concepts of horror movie characters that have removed all the perverse charm my antique generation found in Lugosi vampires, Karloff monsters and mummies, Chaney Jr. wolf-persons, and those zombies who didn’t nibble brains as today, but threw nifty fire-lit voodoo dance parties.
          Robots in 1930s and ‘40s movies were usually just automated tin men. They were rarely as frightening as the monsters Hollywood produced.
          But robots are real, and constantly getting more so. This was brought home to me by a little 50-word item in a news magazine. It reported that a German-made robot broke its own world record by solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in .637 seconds. Don’t miss the decimal point in front of that number.
          Compare that with the blink of an eye, which runs about .1 to .4 of a second, according the Harvard Database of Useful Biological Numbers. That’s pretty blinking fast.
          That robot can identify the color on each square of the little cube, use a special algorithm in its electronic brain, and twist the cube to line up its colors in 24 moves.
          Now, somebody had to infuse that algorithm into the robot’s brain. That’s consoling. But here’s what worries me. That robot has six arms!
          I’m not saying that I could do any better, Rubik-wise, if I had six arms. But somehow, like most of us human persons, I picture your typical robot to be at least a little humanoid, clicking the cube with a decent number of hands and fingers.
          Now I realize that robots can be bolted together with extra arms. They may not just replace human beings in the work place. One of them might replace a whole crew.
          It’s no more “You hold a wrench on the bottom pipe, Harry, and George, hold one on the top, and Max, you hold the light, and I’ll stand here and scratch my head and supervise.” One multi-armed robot will handle the whole job, while the crew takes a driverless Uber down to the automated unemployment office.
         Think what a six-armed robot could do. One six-armed robot could perform Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 with two arms handling the piano, two others the violin and the last two the cello. Imagine the restaurant hostess saying “Table for six? Let me show you to our robot section, where our six-armed autoserver Electro-Pierre will wait on you.”
          Six-armed robots would make great house painters, supermarket cashiers/baggers, cow milkers, short order cooks, day care center kiddie controllers, trash collectors, soccer goalies, fruit pickers, railroad conductors, ball park hot dog vendors -- think about it.                                                                       
          If you have a job for which you often wish you had more than two hands, maybe you should start to worry. And if you’re a film producer, you might start thinking about a production called “Curse of the Six-Armed Robot.”
        Maybe I’m safe for a little while. I haven’t heard of any plans for robot newspaper columnists.

* * * 

March 15, 2017

 by James Smart


Travelling with the kings of Arabia

A short item in a news magazine reported that King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia left home for a nine day trip to Indonesia with some 500 pounds of luggage, and other necessities, including two Mercedes limousines. The airplanes were loaded by 572 air freight handlers.

            The article didn’t say how many planes were involved, or how many people were going on the little trip. I would suspect that the king took along one or two wives among the necessities.
            I tried to imagine what I would pack for a nine-day trip if I were a multi-billionaire. How many pairs of socks? It’s warm in Indonesia; will I need a sweater?    
            I couldn’t find any more information on his baggage and companions. Nor could I get a fix on exactly how much money he has. His family’s total worth is estimated at about $1.4 trillion. A ten year old estimate said that there are ten billionaires in the family.
           There was mention of King Salman’s 300 foot yacht that sleeps 30 with a crew of 20, and that he employs hundreds of bodyguards.
          Want a clue about the king’s life style?  Photos of President Obama visiting the king in his Erga palace in Riyadh showed, on the table between them, a Kleenex tissue dispenser that was gold plated.
            But about royal travel, on record are details of President Roosevelt’s meeting with King Salman’s father, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, in February of 1945. They were going to meet on an American warship in the Great Bitter Lake, an appendage of the Suez Canal, when Roosevelt was on his way home from meeting with Stalin and Churchill at Yalta.
            An American destroyer went to pick up the king at Jidda, a port on the Red Sea. He showed up with an entourage of about 200 men and several women, a huge amount of gear and a herd of sheep.
            The American captain persuaded him to leave all the women behind, and allowed 48 men to come aboard, including six giant Nubian bodyguards with swords, and several cooks. The cooks took care of slaughtering and cooking the sheep, since ibn Saud’s religion didn’t allow him to eat meat that wasn’t freshly killed. The king’s men rolled out carpets on the deck, and pitched a large tent in which the king slept. He had never been on a ship before. Sand was more his style than water.
            The current king is one of the sons of Abdulaziz, who organized the country as we know it and assumed the throne in 1935, becoming the overseer of the sacred Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina, and also of an awful lot of oil.
           There have been seven kings since then, all of them his sons. When Salman bin Abdulaziz passes on, the next king will likely be a grandson.
            Today’s royal family is more modern, of course. And it’s huge. There are family homes and family owned resorts all over the world, and family members in European and American colleges. There’s a family school for princes and princesses, and even a family jail for princes and princesses who don’t behave themselves.
            There’s a slight chance that the next king will be an astronaut. One of ibn Saud’s grandsons, Sultan bin Salman, became the first Muslim to fly in space, on the Space Shuttle Discovery in June, 1985. He was officially a mission specialist, and deployed one of his country’s ARABSAT satellites. He didn’t take a quarter ton of luggage with him. Or any sheep.

* * *

March 8, 2017


by James Smart


Thoughts invoked by some assorted facts

I keep running into new facts every day, and in most instances I feel as though I might be better off not knowing them.
            One of the facts I noted in the past few weeks was that the eight richest persons in the world are worth as much money as the 3.6 billion poorest. An unrelated study said that at 38 elite universities, such as Penn, Princeton and Yale, more students came from the top one percent of the income scale than from the bottom 60 percent.
            It sounds like a problem for a math class: if the eight richest persons gave half of their income to the poorest half of the 3.6 billion poorest, how many more poor people could go to Ivy League colleges?
            Then, there was a study of 16,000 Americans over 19 years old that found that those who regularly ate hot peppers were 13 percent less likely to die during that period than those who didn’t. And several studies have reported that people tend to grow happier with age, particularly after they are 80 years old.
            Those facts would make it seem like a good idea that anyone who has a baby should feed the kid hot peppers regularly until he or she is 19 years old. From there to age 80, peppers would be optional.
            Another fact is that the number of Americans killed by lightening dropped from about 400 annually in the 1940s to only 23 in 2013. That’s an especially significant statistic when you check the population of the United States, which, of course, I instantly did, and consider that the number of citizens in 1940 was only 132 million, while it had grown to 316 million, lightning targets one and all, in 2013.
            The immediate possibility is suggested that persons who eat hot peppers for 19 years don’t get struck by lightning. Or perhaps that all those happy people over 80 don’t attract thunderbolts.
            Another set of facts, published by a British newspaper, said that President Obama played 306 rounds of golf during his eight years in office. President Eisenhower, says the article, did the most golfing of an eight-year presidency, an estimated 800 rounds.
            Presidential golfing seems to concern many people more than what the presidents accomplished in governing, and supposed statistics differ. One television commentary on this vital subject claimed that Woodrow Wilson whacked more golf balls than Eisenhower, crediting Wilson with 1,200 rounds.
            Other students of the subject object that Wilson was in office only about 3,000 days, and think that the 1,200 figure seems unlikely. But he did play almost daily, even in snow. Today, President Trump has a good start on beating the Eisenhower number of rounds,
           William Howard Taft (1909-1913) was the first president to play golf, and only Hoover, Truman and Carter did not. U. S. Grant had tried golf once, recommended by a friend as good exercise. He took several mighty swings, hitting either the ground or thin air, and gave up, telling his friend that it was indeed good exercise, but he failed to see the purpose of the ball.
            Yet another fact to mull over is a finding that major league baseball teams have lower batting averages and pitchers give up more home runs on road trips, especially traveling west to east across two or more time zones. I didn’t try to find out if that works only with visiting teams. When the Phillies fly home from Los Angeles, wouldn’t they be affected the same way as the Dodgers are when they fly here?
            And how about these facts?  Twitter posted 300,000 tweets daily in 2009, and now it’s 500 million; Facebook had 150 million users then, and now has 1.79 billion!       
            Twitter with its brief messages makes me think of telegrams with their brief messages, when I was young. In February, 2006, Western Union discontinued its telegram services. Those ancient tweets were delivered to your door by a kid on a bicycle. That’s a fact.

* * *

.March 1, 2017


by James Smart

New planets far away, relatively speaking

Space-watching scientists have announced that seven planets have been detected that are sort of earthish. Recent generations that have been indoctrinated by floods of science fiction are all aflutter.

            But folks who deal in science fact are quick to point out that these planets are 40 light years away. That means that a spacecraft chugging along at the speed of light, which, last I heard, is 186,284 miles per second, would take 40 years to get there.
            Nobody has ever gone anywhere quite that fast. The International Space Station goes around the Earth in its orbit at a speed of about 17,150 miles per hour, roughly five miles a second. NASA’s Solar Probe Plus, scheduled for launch in August, 2018, to orbit around the Sun a mere four million miles out, will mope along at a dinky 450,000 miles per hour.
            Obviously, we, the human race, have a way to go to get up to a speed that would take someone to visit those newly discovered planets. And according to Einstein and other geniuses of that ilk, nothing can go faster than the speed of light.
            Light speed can be problematical. One serious mathematician’s web site recently devoted a page to analyzing a scene in the latest Star Wars movie, in which Han Solo had to make a tricky landing at the speed of light. The scientist concluded that the feat in the film was impossible.
            But, hey, this was Han Solo, applying Hollywood science, not that dull old Einsteinish stuff. Next, some spoilsport meteorologist will be proving that the tornado couldn’t have blown Dorothy to Oz.
            The problem with accelerating toward 186,000 miles a second is that as a spacecraft (or a dining room table or can of pea soup or anything zapped into space) gets close to the speed of light, with relativity, you’ve got your time dilation and your length contraction.
            With time dilation, clocks on a fast-moving spacecraft would tick more slowly than an observer's clock on Earth. With length contraction, objects would be shortened in the direction that they are moving with respect to the observer.
            An astronaut’s heart beats like a clock ticks, with other body functions keeping time. His length is, well, his length, depending how he’s pointing, I guess.
            If Einstein and those other relativity dudes aren’t joshing us, the astronaut would get longer and not age as fast during the flight. So, if I understand the scientists’ thinking, which is possible though not certain, when they got back to Earth (also possible but not certain) the astronauts would return to normal length, but their bodies would not have aged as much as if they had stayed home.
           This seems to mean that astronauts on a long, but not too long, trip through space would come back not having aged as much as people the same age who stayed home. If the trip were too long, who knows what shape they would be in?
            I assume that a human heart can slow down only so much before it’s not doing its job. And I’m not sure how long a body can stretch, relativistically or otherwise. I don’t know whether Einstein had anything to say about that, but he was a physicist, not a biologist.
            When I was a student of sorts in Northeast High School, there was a photo on the wall of the physics laboratory showing Einstein visiting the lab when it was installed, back in 1934. I entered high school 10 years before Einstein died, and a month after the atomic bomb made the periodic table of elements on the lab wall much out-of-date. The world seems to keep changing, almost at light speed.
                                                                          * * *
 February 22, 2017

 by James Smart

Any birthday with dancing suited George
February 22 is George Washington’s birthday. It used to be a holiday, back in the days when holidays were allowed to pop up willy-nilly on any day of the week, and had not been squashed into Mondays no matter what the date.
            Abe Lincoln’s birthday was the 12th, but it has been blended into Washington’s and Mondayed. Now we have a President’s day, which includes any old president you’d like, from Millard Fillmore to Chester A. Arthur to James A. Garfield who was only president for six months.
            Washington’s Birthday was the most complicated, because they changed the calendar so that he seemed to have two birth dates. It was all Pope Gregory XIII’s fault.
            The world had been calandering along with a system proclaimed by Julius Caesar, two years before he went down to the Roman capitol and got fatally stabbed in the rotunda. His calendar had 12 months of either 30 or 31 days, except February, which had 29. The new year started on March 25.
            Most Europeans were satisfied with that for about six centuries. But in the year 1582, Pope Gregory decided that the Julian calendar was off a bit, and told everybody to skip 11 days to agree with astronomy. So they did.
            Except Queen Elizabeth, whose daddy had not got along well with popes. So when George Washington was born, the British were still using the old Julian calendar.   
           He was born on Feb. 11, old calendar style. Then, King George II decided to catch up with the rest of the world, and decreed that the day after Sept. 2, 1752, would be Sept. 14. And he updated New Year’s Day, so 1752 began on March 25, but ended on Dec. 31.
            Think about the confusion this caused. With George Washington, the question was whether his birthday should be observed on Feb. 11 or Feb. 22.
            I don’t know which he celebrated with Martha and the family. It’s on record that an army band serenaded him at Valley Forge on Feb. 22, 1778. But in 1781, Count Rochambeau, commanding French troops in Rhode Island, wished him happy birthday on the 11th.
            In 1790, George’s secretary, Tobias Lear, in a letter to Clement Biddle of Philadelphia, favored the 11th in spite of the change, and said that “the almanack makers have generally set it down opposite to the 11th” in the new style calendar. (Biddle had named his son, born Feb. 21, 1779, after George.)
            But two years later, Lear wrote to Thomas Jefferson that “the President considers the 22nd day of this month as his birthday.”
            George’s friends knew that he loved to dance, and knew how to celebrate his birthday. Francis T. Brooke, a Virginia lawyer, described in 1784 a ball on Feb. 22nd at which George did “a minuet with some lady,” and then “danced cotillions and country dances” with “one or more of the most beautiful and attractive ladies.”
            It was decided officially in 1790 to observe his birthday annually with a ball. Philadelphia celebrated on the 11th, and New York on the 22nd, and George cut a rug at both of them.
            In his diary, George mentioned “an entertainment” for his birthday on Feb. 22nd, 1797. The next year, his diary on Feb 12th mentioned attending a birthday ball given by the citizens of Alexandria, Virginia. He danced at another in Philadelphia on the 22nd.
            Attendees at that type of 18th century shindig might start about 7 P. M. with light food and dancing, sit down for supper from 10 to midnight, and then resume dancing into the wee hours. George Washington was known to have once danced non-stop for three hours (with one of his generals’ wives.) He didn’t care which date someone picked for a birthday party. He probably would have danced on Lincoln’s birthday, too.

* * *

February 15, 2017

 
by James Smart

Hat smashing and ghosts at the Bourse

A new owner is going to upgrade the old Philadelphia Bourse, on Fifth St. below Market, with its shops, offices and food court. One local reporter recently recalled, with restrained nostalgia, his first visit there on a sixth grade class trip some 25 years ago.   I’m up on him there, being old enough to remember the Bourse when it was still the headquarters of the commodities traders of Philadelphia’ investment community, which is what it was built to be in 1895.
            As a teenage copy boy at the old Evening Bulletin in the late 1940’s, I often ran errands from our offices at Juniper and Filbert Sts. to our reporter stationed at the Bourse. I wish I could remember his name. (I probably will tomorrow.)
            The main floor of the building then was divided by fancy wooden railings into work spaces for the commodities dealers. There were boys posting prices on blackboard charts, phones ringing and men shouting to each other.
            The property on Fifth from Market to Chestnut first belonged to Richard Sparks, who in 1716 bequeathed it in his will to the Seventh Day Baptists for a burial ground. In 1810, the volunteer Harmony Fire Co. built a firehouse on the unused south part. Stephen Girard bought the whole tract in 1822 and tried to evict the firemen. Girard died the next year, and there was much legal fussing for years between firemen and Baptists. In 1859, the bodies were removed from the few graves and sent to New Jersey.
            The Bourse was built by George E. Bartol, a grain exporter, to give his business community a headquarters, which it was for about 65 years. The architects were the Hewitt brothers, who did some major buildings in Chestnut Hill, and also the Bellevue-Stratford.
It was one of the first steel-framed buildings, being built at the same time that the then world’s tallest building, our City Hall, was going up stone by stone. Another hi-tech feature was a pneumatic tube system that connected with the main Post Office at Ninth and Market.
            It brought together the stock exchange, cotton exchange, drug exchange, maritime exchange, milk exchange, petroleum exchange and other financial trading.
            The business world changed, and the Bourse gradually became just another office building by the 1960s. In 1979, the late developer Ken Kaiserman bought the building and started its modern use.
            And gone was the old tradition of hat smashing. A custom somehow began that Sept. 15 was the day men put away their summer straw hats and began wearing felt hats. The Bourse became the local center of the idea that any straw hats still on heads on that date had to be removed and smashed.
            This turned into an annual free-for-all at the Bourse, with otherwise staid brokers tackling their straw hatted brethren and destroying their chapeau. Long-time leader of the movement was William P. Brazer, known as Sir Billy, a feed and grain merchant from West Philly.
            Sir Billy annually distributed notices about the September deadline, so both avid hat-bashers and defiant hat-wearers were ready for the morning of chasing, wrestling and general mayhem that disrupted the otherwise dignified commodities exchange.
            The Philly custom died away, because of a gradual change in headwear styles, and of the bad influence of the New York hat smashers, who developed into roaming gangs attacking straw wearers randomly. There was a huge hat-smashing riot in New York in 1922, and a straw hatter was beaten to death there in 1926.
            When Ken Kaiserman remodeled the Bourse in 1979, a workman, who didn’t know about the old cemetery, refused to work in the building after, he claimed, he had been confronted by two men in colonial uniforms who appeared “kind of fuzzy.” Do the new owners’ upgraders know about that?


* * *  

January 8, 2017


 by James Smart


Funny stories, Pennsylvania Dutch style
My column about languages a couple of weeks ago mentioned Pennsylvania Dutch. That attracted an elaborate e-mail from Frank Kessler, president of the German-Pennsylvania Association. He told me all sorts of sources for learning the language, which he reports is spoken by more than 450,000 people in the U. S. and Canada, about 130,000 of them in Pennsylvania.
            It reminded me that one characteristic of the many Pennsylvania Dutch folks I’ve encountered is their sense of humor. Old timers love to tell funny stories about their difficulties pronouncing Englische words (pronounced “verds”) and odd ways (pronounced vays”) of expressing themselves.
           There’s the joke (pronounced “choke”) of the man telling his friend how he is doing with pronouncing the points of the compass: “I can say norse und souse visout no trouble, but I shtill don’t say vest wery vell.”
            Or the fellow who explains about his new baby daughter, “Vee vas going to call her Chanice, but vee don’t say our chays so vell, so inshtead vee called her Wiola.”
            It’s not only pronunciation that distinguishes der Pennsylvania German sprooch. Some local idioms are well-pronounced but unique. For instance, if you are on vacation, in the Dutch country you’re on your off. When you come home, your off is all.
            Which brings to mind the Philadelphian who stopped at a diner near Lancaster, looked at the menu, and told the waitress he would like some shoo fly pie.
            “I’m sorry,” she said “The pie is all.”
            “All what?” asked the puzzled man.
            “All ower,” said the waitress.
            “All over what?” asked the man.
            “All ower viss!” said the exasperated waitress.
            I heard of a man who pulled in at a gas station, in pre-self-service days, and waited for a man in a chair near the door to come a-pumping. But the man shouted, “I ain’t here. And the fella what is here is out.”
            And there was a driver at a crossroads who asked farmer nearby which road was the best way to Emmaus. “Vell,” said the farmer, “vee has got two vays. They is bose the same far, but vunn is more da hill up.”
            Or, a Deutscher enters the local barber shop. A customer is in the chair, and another man comes in behind him. He tells the barber he’s going next door to buy a cigar, and the barber says “Yah.”
            When he comes back, the man who was behind him is now in the chair.
            “Look, vunce!” he complains. “If I come in and I go out, did I vent?”
            “Vell,” says the barber, “you vas, but you ain’t.”
            That type of humor may be an acquired taste. In upper Berks County, a bit more worldly northern habitat of the Pennsylvania Dutch, there used to be stories known as Fred and Louie jokes. Louie owned a bar. Here’s a sample:
            A traveling salesman visiting the bar asks Louie, “How many doors are there to this place?”
            “Three," says Louie. “The front door, the side door und the back door.”
            “No,” says the salesman,” there are four. The front door, the side door, the back door and the cuspidor.”
            “That’s a goot vun,” says Louie. Then, Fred walks in.
            “Say, Fred,” says Louie. “How many doors are there to this place?”
            “Three, says Fred. “The front door, the side door and the back door.”
            “No,” chuckles Louie, "there are four.  The front door, the side door, the back door und that spit box

down dere.”

* * *


 February 1, 2017
 
by James Smart


​Rittenhouse Square, before wall sitting

There has been a fuss recently about people who insist on sitting on the walls in Rittenhouse Square, instead of on the dozens of benches the overseers of the park have thoughtfully provided for their posteriors.
            Some of the news purveyors insist on calling it Rittenhouse Square Park, a redundancy that annoys old Philadelphians. Next, will we have Logan Square Circle Park, and maybe Betsy Ross House Historic Building?
            One local writer, obviously a transplanted foreigner, reported that the square was named for the Rittenhouse neighborhood, just the opposite of reality.
            For those who need to be told, William Penn, when he was inventing the city in 1683, decreed that there would be a central square, where City Hall now looms, and squares in the locations that now bear the names Franklin, Washington, Logan and Rittenhouse.
            I presume that nearly anyone can identify Ben and George. Logan Square honors James Logan, William Penn’s secretary among many other accomplishments. I haven’t heard of any wall-sitting problems in his square.
            David Rittenhouse was a colonial astronomer, mathematician, clock maker, and the first director of the United States Mint in 1792. He made the country’s first coins by hand, from melted-down tableware donated by President Washington.
            The seven acre square was remote from the built-up part of town when Rittenhouse’s name was hung on it in 1825. The first mansion in the transformation to a ritzy neighborhood was built in 1840 at what is now 1811 Walnut St. by James Harper, a brick maker and former Congressman. It became an elite men’s club, the Rittenhouse Club, in 1875. A new façade was stuck on it in 1901.
            An 1840 map shows that the blocks facing the square on the south were built up between 17th and 20th Sts, from Spruce to Locust. From Locust to George St. (now Sansom) was open space, as was the block between 18th and 19th. From 19th to 20th was also built up. On the skinny block between the square and 20th was one building, facing 20th.
            That’s modern street names. In 1840, streets west of Broad still were numbered from Schuylkill Front St., at the river, eastward to Broad, where they met the numbers from Delaware Front coming the other way.  So 20th St. was Third, and 17th was Sixth.
            A wooden picket fence was around the square then. In 1852, that was replaced by iron railings. Trees and grass grew indiscriminately. For a while, an enclosure in the center of the square held a small herd of deer. Gates on the sides were locked at dark by a watchman, who first rang a warning bell. 
            Holy Trinity Church was erected on a vacant lot at 19th and Walnut in 1857. The rector, the Rev. Phillips Brooks, wrote the words to “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” in 1868. The music was by the choir leader, Lewis Redner, a real estate agent.
            Notre Dame Academy took over a brickyard on 19th St. in 1867, and was there for 100 years. The Rittenhouse Hotel is on the site now.
            Elaborate houses proliferated early. After about 50 years, vogues changed. Wealthy folks were moving to the Main Line, or living in expensive apartments in new high rises across from the square.
            Perhaps the major old mansion still standing is the 132-year-old Van Rensselaer house at 18th and Walnut, now an Anthropologie store. One room has an imported ceiling with about 100 medallion portraits of, I think, Doges of Venice. Other facades and houses of the posh era are visible, particularly on the street called Rittenhouse Square, off the southwest corner of the square.
           The present configuration of the square itself was designed in 1913 by Paul Cret, whose other creations include the Memorial Arch at Valley Forge, the old Barnes Foundation in Merion, the Rodin Museum on the Parkway, and guess what? The Henry Avenue Bridge.

* * *

January 25, 2017

 by James Smart

Why is bad behavior now entertainment?

Is technology beginning to cause people to confuse reality with the new electronic media? Murderers and rapists announce their crimes, with pictures, on Facebook or Twitter. College boys show the world photos of girls molested at fraternity parties, or freshmen athletes being abused by teammates. Teenagers send out naked pictures of themselves on line or smartphone. Adults offer narcotics for sale, or solicit a hireling to kill someone.
            We read about such behavior, and wonder, don’t they know that hundreds, maybe thousands of people can see these things on computers or phones? Do they believe that recording and broadcasting a deed that one would expect they would want to conceal somehow makes it harmless?
            It’s easy to think they are a little bit stupid. But I’ve been wondering; could it be that the constant onslaught of information, or sometimes nonsense that poses as information, can tip a brain toward confusing the real from the not real that floods our minds these days.
            In the movies, on television, in video games, there is a continual flow of negative images and information. In so-called entertainment, and in video games, all sorts of anti-social activity and even evil is depicted incessantly. In the video games, players actually take part in the violence and destruction.
            At the same time, television and internet news reports show images from security cameras and bystander’s phones and news photography of crimes being committed, of firearms in deadly use and of senseless brawls in progress. Who knows what mechanism in some people’s brains can’t handle the distinction between the fictional violence and the real?
            Someone might say that there have always been media that are a bad influence on society. Magazine articles and social scientists and preachers in pulpits have always denounced the latest form of mass entertainment for its negative impact. Television was blamed when it was new, and before that radio, and also comic books, and a few generations back, dime novels.
            I can imagine some 16 th century moralist denouncing Shakespeare’s plays as a bad influence on youth. But there is a difference, somehow, in seeing actors recreating the bloody deeds of a Macbeth in the artificiality of a stage.
            Even movies, where the onlooker sits in an auditorium full of people, or television, where the images are in the viewer’s own home, are not the same as the private, personal qualities of Facebook or material and messages seen on a smartphone.
           Discussions about the subject have psychologists writing about “inability to understand the new social norms” and such stuff, but isn’t it the technology itself that causes the confusion?
          All the recent hoorah about fake news in the political world, and people willing to believe the worst nonsense about one candidate and to dismiss the negatives about the other, are facilitated by the use and misuse of these ever-evolving, easily employed media.
            Yet kids who are technologically savvy and know how to do all sorts of wonders with computers and smartphones, as well as mature public officials and academics, naively expose their own misdeeds. They surely know that there are entities out there is the cybersphere who not only can read their transmissions, but can detect who they are, where they are and what they’re doing. There is no privacy in this new world.
            The easy technical ability to expose our darker angels seems to cause some people to lose any sense of modesty, guilt or responsibility. How do we explain to those folks that life is real, and turning it into a picture doesn’t turn it into an entertainment? 

* * *

 January 18, 2017

by James Smart 

How to say “Attention” in 20 languages
My health insurance dispenser, with its occasional report on what the medical industry is doing for me, or to me, includes a long list of the foreign languages that folks can call to get information by telephone in their native tongue. Or somebody else’s native tongue, if they want to.
            I saved a few of the lists, just for the novelty. They include a lot of languages I can identify, because they use the same alphabet we English readers do, such as Spanish, French, German, Italian and Polish.
            They also include languages that use other alphabets. I can identify some of those, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, although I have no idea how to read them.
            And then there is Russian, and the Cyrillic alphabet, invented by St. Cyril and St. Methodius, two Christian missionaries to the Slavic countries in the Ninth Century. People who have a very nice language but use it only for talking always disturb missionaries, and missionaries who are amateurs at linguistics proceed to create an alphabet for them.
            Missionaries have dropped some peculiar written languages on unsuspecting populations. I’d include Cyrillic, with elaborate letters, (33 in use now, I think). and Hawaiian, with only 13 letters heisted from the English alphabet to pronounce everything.
            Also, the insurance company offers telephone help to speakers that write in characters which are utterly incomprehensible to most Americans, such as Arabic, Hindi, Persian and Cambodian.
            Then, getting interested in the subject, I noticed that reports from Medicare mailings offer similar multilingual lists of how to call for information. The latest one I received gave the message in only 15 languages, including English, but it contained one in Armenian, which the insurance languages did not.
            Medicare also led each how-to-call listing with the name of the language, such as Deutsch, Italiano, Polski, and “Kreyol (Haitian Creole.)” The insurance company sometimes identified the languages, sometimes not, but used the anglicized spellings of German, Italian and Polish.
            The insurance lists did include Navajo. I wonder how many Navajo speakers there are in this area. It was omitted from the list that came in last month’s mailing.
            Each message began with the word “Attention.” In most languages, the spelling was related to the English word: attenzione in Italian, atencao in Portuguese, and Atensyon in Tagalog (the language of the Philippines.) In Polish, it was uwaga. German was achtung. 
            I was also surprised to see Pennsylvania Dutch on the list. In the earliest version I saved, the word “Attention” was translated as “Geb Acht.” In the next one, it was changed to “Bass Uff.”
           Here is something I know a little about. I understand all of the phrases my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother would say to a little boy. I remember the up-country Deitsch instructions to be quiet, sit down, eat all your dinner, shut the door, and other decrees I will not attempt to spell.
          “Bass uff” sounds reasonably imperative, but I don’t recognize the command. One of my regrets is that I didn’t learn much German when I had the chance. My grandmother’s father came from Germany, and her mother was Pennsylvania Dutch, and she spoke both species of the language.
           I recall being perhaps four years old, give or take a runny-nosed, short pants year, when Grandmom and I walked, right after breakfast nearly every morning, to the bakery on the corner. While Grandmom and Mrs. Houser, the baker, had a long discussion in German about the activities of the neighbors and the condition of the world, I sat on the edge of the counter and sloppily chewed on a zwieback.  I could have learned to speak German, if I had paid attention. Or geb acht. Or bass uff.

* * *

Jamuary 11, 2017


by James Smart

Remembering a teenage singer from Philly
The recent deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, got me thinking about their father and husband, Eddie Fisher, and his early years in Philadelphia.
       I first became aware of him about 1946 or so, when he sang and acted on “The Magic Lady Supper Club,” a 15-minute dinner-time program a few evenings a week on WFIL radio, sponsored by the Lit Brothers department store.        My best friend in high school and I often went down town to radio stations, to watch disc jockeys or local entertainers broadcast.
       Edwin Fisher’s parents were Russian; the name originally was Tish. His father was a leather worker who made luggage. The family was struggling. He and his two brothers slept in one bed; his four sisters slept in another one. For the Lits broadcasts, Eddie walked up to the station in the Widener Building at the corner of Juniper St. and S. Penn Square from his home at Fifth and Shunk Sts. in South Philly.
      When Skipper Dawes, the producer of the show, found out that Eddie walked about 40 blocks to WFIL, he began giving him two trolley tokens daily. He was the only “paid” member of the cast.
      But local radio had lots of live programming in those days, and Eddie soon was a paid singer on several shows, some under the name Sonny Edwards. I occasionally watched him sing in the studio of a Saturday morning teenage radio show conducted by band leader Paul Whiteman.
      The only other “Magic Lady” performers I recall meeting were Joey Forman, who became a comedian and later was on television with Mickey Rooney, and Fred Bonaparte, the only African American on the program. Fred was then, like me, a student at Northeast High School.
      I encountered Fred frequently through the years. He served in the Air Force, and then became an advertising salesman for The Philadelphia Tribune. He later moved to the newsroom, and was city editor for about 10 years. Then he joined the Evening Bulletin advertising department. He now lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia, last I heard.
      Eddie Fisher and his powerful voice went on to national fame. In July of 1947, he performed at the then new Latin Casino night club, near 13 th and Walnut, when he was only 18, but had already begun to make his mark. In the 1950s, he had 22 hit records.
      In 1962, I was a columnist for the old Evening Bulletin, and Eddie was to sing at the Latin Casino, then in Cherry Hill. Guys there arranged to surprise him with a visit from Mrs. Paula Kartman, who had been a friend of his sister, Janet, and had hung out with them and Joey Foreman in Thomas Jr. High.
      Eddie was in an orange terrycloth robe when we popped into his dressing room after his performance. He paused for a moment, and then said, “My gosh! Paula Fromowitz!” (her maiden name.)
      Eddie visited his family here often, with a wife. He had five of them, not all at once. Perhaps it’s poor taste to mention just now, but his old Philadelphia friends said that Debbie Reynolds didn’t blend in well with Eddie’s Philly friends and relations. They found her a bit snooty, to use an old row house word.
      Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie’s successor, seemed to fit in better, visiting cordially with the Philly folks and eating with Eddie in less fancy restaurants. It became national news in 1960 when she fell coming down the steps of Smylie’s Restaurant at Roosevelt Blvd. and Rhawn Sts. She was treated at Nazareth Hospital. Her ankle wasn’t broken, but it got a lot medical attention and publicity.
      Eddie Fisher died in 2010. I’m sure that some of his relatives are still in the Philadelphia area. I wonder if any of them sing.

* * *

January 4, 2017

 by James Smart

Raising a family on Mars won’t be easy
When I was a senior in high school, I read a short story in the Saturday Evening Post magazine by Robert A. Heinlein, one of the best science fiction writers of that era. It was called, “It’s Great to Be Back,” and told of a scientist and his family who had spent several years in a colony on the Moon, and were returning to Earth.
            I was reminded of that story when I read an article in the Fall issue of Ad Astra, the magazine of the National Space Society, about the problems humans will have raising children on Mars.
            The author is identified as an oral pathologist. It might seem that he would be more expert about talking on Mars than having children there, but he must know his stuff or the folks at the NSS wouldn’t let him in the door.
            At first glance, the article seemed a little premature. We haven’t had anyone stay on the Moon longer than about 75 hours, on the last Apollo mission in December of 1972, hardly long enough to produce any children.
            But while the NASA rocketeers are still planning to get back to the Moon, there is even more interest in getting some live people to Mars. The novel and movie “The Martian,” about an astronaut stranded on Mars, was very popular. It showed his clever struggle to survive, and you knew he was going to succeed, because, hey, it was Matt Damon.
            That situation wasn’t the same as the eventual setting up of a Martian colony, where scientists will be busy doing whatever it is scientists do when you stick them on the surface of another planet, working in perhaps a radiation-proof laboratory, and going home in the evening (they have evenings on Mars, don’t they?) to a radiation-proof cottage for dinner with the wife and Mars-born kiddies.
            The Ad Astra article warns that a steady shower of cosmic rays and gusts of slar particles will be the biggest threat to inhabitants. It is estimated that a three-meter deep layer of Martian dirt on and around a dwelling will provide maximum shielding from cosmic rays, but the steady rain of radiation, even inside protected structures, can have long-term health effects such as cancer or damage to the central nervous system.
            Three pages of the magazine are full of carefully explained, though unintentional, reasons why you might not want to raise a family on Mars. For instance, the gravity there is only 38 percent of Earth’s. So, a 7.5 pound baby born on Earth would weigh only 2.9 pounds on Mars. Weaker bones and muscles may occur. Reduced gravity can also affect cell structure.
            Martian days are longer than Earth days, and there are other annoying differences. If this all sounds stressful, it is. Space station occupants have been found to have high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their blood. People on Mars will presumably be similarly stressed.
            In the Heinlein story, the family from the Moon, where gravity is 16.6 percent of Earth, has trouble adjusting when they arrive on Earth. On landing, their little girl stands for a moment, then collapses, crying.
            “Born on the Moon?” a space pilot asks. “She’ll have to learn to walk all over again.”
            I asked my high school physics teacher some questions about space travel, wanting some facts about rocket propulsion and orbital mechanics and such ideas from science fiction. He shrugged me off.
            “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “You won’t live to see anything like that.” Fifteen years later, men were orbiting the earth.
            Now, NASA is saying that humans will be trudging around on Mars by about the year 2030. I won’t be around, but my children possibly, and my grandchildren almost certainly, will watch the first Mars landing on television. Depending on relative distances, it will take from four to 16 minutes for the picture to get here.

* * *

December 28, 2016

 by James Smart

White beard? Red suit? Must be Santa
Just before Christmas, a man with a white beard was asked to leave an amusement park in Texas because little children thought he was Santa Claus and were causing disturbances. The man was not wearing a red suit. The beard was enough identification.
            I wondered whether the red suit, without the white beard, would also have excited the little kids. Clement Clark Moore, possibly the definitive Clausologist, described St. Nicholas in his poem as “dressed all in fur from his head to his foot.”  That may have been his work clothes, more suitable for chimneys. (I guess he liked to soot himself.)
            But that red outfit has become so standard that a man so dressed would be thought of as Santa Claus without his beard.
            We human beings, being born naked, have come to recognize or identify people by their clothing. Some countries and nationalities have traditional costumes.  We can tell police officers, military and naval personnel by their uniforms, and priests by their collars or cardinals by their hats.
             Baseball players and football players and other athletes have different uniforms. Sports fans wear replicas of the shirts of their favorite players, because the uniform is a part of the player’s identity.
             Nurses and doctors in hospitals have uniforms. One local hospital I know of, and probably others, have different color uniforms for doctors, nurses, lab technicians, floor sweepers and other staff positions. Years ago, one Philly hospital ordered the staff in the psychiatric ward to stop wearing traditional medical garb and wear normal clothing, because the old notion of the man in the white coat coming for you had become an unfortunate cliché that upset some patients. I don’t know if this is true in other hospitals, because I haven’t been in a mental ward recently. I hope that doesn’t surprise you.
             We make assumptions about people because of their garb. The Smothers Brothers, back in the Sixties, explained the fact, in a satirical version of the old Western song, “The Streets of Laredo.” They sang, “I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy. . .” and later advised, “If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too.”
            They were good at presenting unique truisms. They also did a song about a worker in a candy factory who fell into a vat of chocolate. He shouted “Fire!” and his colleagues came and rescued him. They asked why he had shouted fire, and he explained, “Nobody would have come if I shouted chocolate.” But I digress.
            A man in a traditional ten-gallon Stetson looks like a cowboy to Americans. Fancy boots and a certain cut of shirt and pants help the image. On the streets of Philadelphia, he would stand out. On the streets of Laredo, or Dallas, he would not.
            A curious thing about uniforms is that while they announce an identity or function of the wearer, they sometimes make him or her somewhat invisible, too. A man in full football gear, with team uniform, helmet, shoulder pads and all that stuff could stand on the sidelines in a stadium unnoticed, although it could be somebody’s drunken uncle who had devised a way to sneak there. A similarly dressed man walking through Rittenhouse Square would attract attention.
            In one of Gilbert K. Chesterton’s mystery stories, entitled “The Invisible Man,” four witnesses had been in eyeshot of a building during the time a murder was committed, and all of them swore that nobody had entered or left the place. Father Brown, Chesterton’s clerical detective, correctly deduced that the murderer was a uniformed letter carrier, whose routine comings and goings in each building on the block didn’t register with the witnesses.
            If he had a white beard, he might have sneaked in unnoticed down the chimney.

* * *

December 21, 2016

 by James Smart

Christmas in Philadelphia a Century Ago
For some unaccountable reason, I got the notion to investigate what life was like at Christmas time 100 years ago.
            Christmas day was a Monday, which made Saturday the 23 rd more like Christmas Eve. There were shopping crowds on the streets and in the street cars. The railroads and express companies had heavy loads of packages to deliver. The express companies had hired 2,000 high school boys and college boys part time.
            The Post Office hired 1,000 extras. Because they were federal employees, they would work on Sunday, otherwise illegal in Pennsylvania.  The railroads added extra cars to handle the unusual number of travelers.
            The police stations had parties Saturday afternoon to give neighborhood children toys and gifts donated by district merchants. A few put on shows, or showed motion pictures. The Salvation Army gave out Christmas dinners to needy families at Musical Fund Hall at 8 th and Locust Sts.
            In the clear but chilly evening, crowds gathered to sing carols at neighborhood Christmas trees. Among the large crowds of carolers was the estimated 2,000 outside the six-year-old Frankford High School at Harrison and Wakefield Sts. The biggest was 4,000 carolers including choirs from 10 churches in Black Oak Park, at 50 th and Pine in West Philadelphia. (It has been renamed Malcolm X Park.)
            In Washington, President Woodrow Wilson and his wife and two daughters walked over from the White House to the Treasury Department, where daughter Margaret, from the steps, led a crowd of several thousand carolers.
            It was a tense time in Washington. Most of Europe had been at war for nearly two years. Wilson had proposed the idea of a league of nations to promote peace. There was debate over whether a president could commit the U. S. to such an organization, or whether Congress must do it.
            Some American troops spent Christmas along the Mexican border, during an attempt to capture Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa.
            Sunday was a quiet Philadelphia Sabbath. On Monday, cold and windy Christmas day, charitable activities began again. The battleship South Carolina, berthed at the Navy Yard, had dinner and gifts for 200 needy children. A choir of 50 nurses sang carols in every ward at Philadelphia General Hospital.
            Various organizations distributed toys, candy and clothing in Masonic orphanages, at Children’s Hospital at 18 th and Bainbridge, and to families of men who were prisoners in Eastern State Penitentiary.
            Philly got back to normal after Christmas. A meeting of businessmen was scheduled for Thursday to discuss the plan of building a bridge over the Delaware River to Camden. Fidelity Trust Co. bought a row of houses on the northeast corner of Broad and Walnut and planned to build an office building there.
            Stetson Hat Co. workers got a holiday gift. At a company meeting, it was announced that their work days would be reduced to eight hours, only 48 hours a week for the same wage.
            So, life went on as 1916 ended. Photoplays were silent; tickets for D. W. Griffith’s blockbuster film “Intolerance” were as much as $1.50, three times a normal movie.           Recorded music, on wind-up phonographs, was home entertainment. A few homes had radios. Broadcasts were infrequent, and earphones were needed. In four months, the U. S. would get into the war, and it would be made illegal for a private citizen to own an operative radio.
             A first class stamp cost two cents, about 47 cents in today’s money.  Bread was about seven cents a loaf, eggs 34 cents a dozen, milk nine cents a quart delivered to your doorstep by horse and wagon. Christmas turkeys at the Reading Terminal market were 45 cents a pound.

* * *

December 14, 2016

 by James Smart

All the fake news that’s not fit to print

Much has been written recently about the proliferation of fake news reporting, particularly during the presidential election media circus.
            In the December newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (we’re the ones over in the corner of the newsroom, staring into space), Suzette Standring, former president of the NSNC, wrote a cautionary article about the problem of falsities presented as news, which columnists often encounter.
            She mentioned how our modern Googlism era allows folks to “type in a key word and read a lie. (Maybe there’s hope yet for print newspapers.)”
            Her pathetically optimistic but unlikely parenthetical suggestion got me thinking. What the electronic means of communication, available to everybody and anybody, has done is take away the place of the journalist as a reliable authority.
            For a couple of hundred years or so, most Americans got their news from newspapers. Radio news is less than 100 years old, TV news even younger.
           In 1963, a year I cleverly selected because I happen to have a 1964 World Almanac, the old Evening Bulletin claimed 709,751 circulation, The Inquirer 604,828 and the Daily News 318,507. There were many suburban small dailies and large weeklies.
           Today, says Google, the Inquirer sells only 158, 546 copies daily, and the Daily News 97,694. The Bulletin is gone. There is more TV and radio news, of varying quality.
          The big sources of news today are Twitter, Facebook, and other media that are airborne, like influenza and anthrax. Floating electronically through the air to hand-held devices and computer screens are such peddlers of dubious information as Infowars, which has maintained that global warming is a myth, Obama wasn’t born in America, and, according to Dana Milbank’s Washington Post column, that there are juice boxes bearing mysterious chemicals in a plot to make children gay.
          Headlines such as “Obama Birth Secrets Revealed” or “Terrorists Have Infiltrated U. S. Government,” generated on the LibertyWritersNews site run by two guys in Long Beach, California, lure thousands of people to click on.
          A hotbed of fake or exaggerated reports flooding American so-called social media during the Trump-Clinton spitting match was in central Macedonia, of all places. I didn’t think anything interesting happened in Macedonia since Alexander the Great left town.
          Suzette’s article listed more than 30 fake news sites, and many other unreliable web sources, that can be found at www.fakenewswatch.com.
          These types of enterprises thrive because the more visitors they attract to their web effusions, the more money they make from the attendant advertising. There’s big money in startling “news.” Frightening headlines and presumed exposes lure readers.
          The possibilities came to a boil during the fanatic hatred that oozed between the Trumpites and the Clintonites. Both sides of that fracas seemed to think the news media were biased against them. That may be good. As a columnist, I always enjoyed it when letters from different readers accused me of being on opposite sides of a subject.
         In the old days, there were not dozens of fake newspapers. Print journalists were trained, encouraged and expected to report news without bias or opinion. Most of them at least tried.
         Today, any uninformed, opinionated, or just plain stupid writer can easily disseminate the most incorrect or even malicious information to thousands of people.
         What the world needs now may be some old-fashioned journalists to supervise what is “published” on the new “type a key and read a lie” media.

* * *

December 7, 2016

by James Smart 

Will Shakespeare, insult champion
In a mail-order catalogue of gift items, I saw a coffee mug that was covered with imprinted Shakespearean insults. The Bard was an all-time champ of name-calling and down-putting, but I’m not sure why anyone would want samples on a mug.
           On the omniscient Internet, I found quite a few sites devoted to Shakespeare’s insults. One of the favorites, it seems, was uttered in “Henry IV,” when Falstaff snarled at Mistress Quickly “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”
            Like much of Shakespeare’s writing, it helps to understand it if you happened to be born in the 16 th century.
A scullion was a menial kitchen servant. The experts believe that fustilarian comes from Middle English “fusty,” meaning moldy or stinky, but say that the first recorded use was by Will Shakespeare himself. I’m not sure how a catastrophe gets tickled, but Shakespeare presumably knew.
            No matter what you think of that tirade of Falstaff’s, it was one heck of an insult. In the same play Falstaff says to a woman, “There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.”
            An interesting Elizabethan insult comes up in “Romeo and Juliet,” when one guy bites his thumb toward another. It was the equivalent of the middle finger’s use in our era.
            Macbeth, when he doesn’t want to hear that an army is about to attack his castle, calls the servant who brings him the bad news a “cream-faced loon” and a “lily-livered boy.”
            He tells the poor kid, who is pale with fright, to “Go prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, a bloody idea for improving his complexion. He also calls him “patch,” which meant “fool” or “clown.”
            In one on-line discussion of Shakespearean insults, someone mentions “What, you egg!” as an example. I would hardly consider that an insult. The fellow who says that is an assassin sent by Macbeth to murder Macduff’s family.
           Macduff’s young son gets off a good one himself, calling the murderer a “shag-haired villain.”  The murderer, as he stabs the poor kid, then pulls one of Shakespeare’s more feeble and badly-timed puns, and says, “What, you egg? Young fry of treachery.”
          The boy expires, moaning, “He has killed me, mother.” When we studied “Macbeth” in high school, the big joke was to eliminate the comma between “me” and “mother.”
           Hamlet did a good job of insulting crotchety old Polonius, without using any fancy jargon obscure to our modern vocabulary. The old guy annoys him by interrupting him to ask what he’s reading. Hamlet tells him, “Slanders.” He then sarcastically outlines such “slanders” as that old men have grey beards, wrinkled faces, “a plentiful lack of wit,” and other things that apply to poor Polonius. He finally reassures him that he could be “old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.”
          But old Will Shakespeare wins the insult championship of the 16 th century in “King Lear,” when the Earl of Kent calls Oswald (omitting a few phrases not suitable for this refined newspaper) “a knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave; a glass-gazing, superserviceable finical rogue, a one-trunk inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in a way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward. . .”
            Let’s stop Will there. If you would like more Shakespearian insults, you might have to buy one of those coffee mugs.

* * *

November 30, 2016

 by James Smart


The Sunday before that Day of Infamy
 Next week, on Dec. 7, much will be written about the 75 th  anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that lurched the United States into the World War then in progress. I was in sixth grade then, and remember it well.
        Folks today tend to think of that day as a total surprise. For those of us who read newspapers and listened to radio commentators back then, it wasn’t really unexpected.
        To refresh my memory, I looked up the edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer exactly a week before the Pearl Harbor bombing, Sunday, Nov. 30, 1941. Newspapers then were typically eight columns wide, each column two inches. A three-deck headline stretched across the top of the front page. It blared:
               May Be at War in Year, Roosevelt Says; 
               Japan Threatens to Drive U. S. From Asia;

               Russians Recapture Rostov, Nazis in Flight.
         The Russians and Germans were fighting in Ukraine. Tank battles were reported in North Africa. The Germans had invaded France, and a front page story said that, because two German soldiers had been killed in a bombing in a Paris restaurant, henceforth any French citizen on the street after 6 P. M. would be shot.
          Also on page one, a report from the Inquirer’s Washington Bureau was headed: “Japanese Break Near; Hope of Avoiding War is Virtually Given Up.” And an Associated Press dispatch from Tokio (as it was being spelled in those days) said that Premiere Hideki Tojo had declared that Japan would purge British and American influence from Asia “with a vengeance, for the honor and pride of mankind.”
          A page five article said that American naval forces in the Pacific were operating on a “combat reconnaissance” footing. Another story said that about 18,000 men of Pennsylvania’s 28 th Division were in North Carolina taking part in massive army maneuvers.  Philly’s First City Troop was there as part of the 104 th Reconnaissance Regiment, the army’s only unit still on horseback.
          Registration for a draft had begun in October of 1940.
          The up-coming week had been declared “Defense Week.” It had begun with ringing of church bells that Sunday morning. Daily patriotic parades and pageants were scheduled every day for various parts of the city and in schools and colleges. On Tuesday evening, there would be an “aerial incendiary bomb” demonstration in the 15 year old 100,000 seat Municipal Stadium in South Philly
           The Army-Navy Game had been held in the stadium the day before. Vice President Henry Wallace and his wife attended, as did President Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor.
           A photo spread described how The Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone was building tanks. The Inquirer was soliciting donations for a “Smokes for Yanks” fund to supply cigarettes to soldiers “on defense posts outside the continental borders.” The government was selling “U. S. Defense Savings Bonds”; the logo bore a “V for Victory,” although victory over whom was not specified.
           Headlines through the following week told more about the Japanese government’s grumbling and threatening. So I really wasn’t surprised on the next Sunday. I was on the sofa, reading the Sunday paper, The Record, with music on the radio. An announcer broke in and tersely reported that Japanese airplanes had bombed Hawaii.         
            I went to the kitchen and told my mother and grandmother, “I think we’re in the war.” But they were busy doing things that mothers and grandmothers do on a Sunday afternoon.

* * *

November 23, 2016


 by James Smart


We’re on our way to a cashless society
Technology keeps getting more technological all the time, and sometimes I wish it would just cut it out for a while. I have been informed by my bank that, if I want to, I can arrange to have the bank’s telephone system recognize my voice when I call. I won’t have to bother with any passwords or account numbers or my name or any other old fashioned stuff.
            At about the same time, a Roxboroughite who has been reading my columns since the Eisenhower administration kindly sent me some information about a trend to do away with money.
            Paying with credit cards instead of cash has been with us for quite a while. But now, with home computers and the Internet, and particularly with all the hand-held communicating devices, loaded with apps that allow funds to be tossed around electronically, wrinkly old paper currency is being used less and less.
            In Sweden, my correspondent’s material reveals, cashlessness has hit the point where trains and busses take only credit cards, restaurants refuse real money, shops put up signs saying “We Don’t Accept Cash,” and about half the country’s bank branches don’t allow deposits or withdrawals of coins or bills. Street robbers use devices to transfer funds from the victims' phones.. Church ushers take up collections the same way. Beggars have their apps ready for donations.
            Such countries as Belgium, India and Kenya are close to similar cashless. And we’re approaching it in the United States. A survey in 2014 found that more than half of Americans under age 30 preferred cards and electronic transactions to cash.
            The mysterious sources who keep track of such things claim that there is about $4,000 in paper money currently in circulation for every man, woman and child in the United States. I don’t have my four grand of cash, and I’ll bet you don’t, either.
            Yet in the last 20 years, the amount of currency in circulation has nearly tripled. It’s said to total about $1.4 trillion. About $70 billion is in bank vaults. The average American carries about 30 bucks in his or her wallet. Only one in 20 has more than $1,200 at home.
            Where’s the rest? Mostly in $100 bills, say the experts. The number of those nice portraits of Ben Franklin in circulation has quadrupled in recent years, perhaps half of them being in foreign countries. They are convenient ways to move and store large amounts of money undetected.
             A suitcase full of $100 bills is a lot of money. It’s a handy conveyance for international oligarchs and shady wheeler-dealers, high-level drug dealers and such types. Even Russian and Arabian big-time crooks favor U. S. currency.
            Here I am, with no hoard of Benjamins, and with an old guy’s dislike of the idea of  paying bills by having my electronic device moving my money through the air to somebody else’s device.
            And how do you leave a tip in a restaurant with an electronic device? Are the world’s pizza delivery people and parking lot attendants going to need electronic tip receivers?
            And now my bank wants its telephone to recognize my voice if I call up. I’m not sure what is the advantage of having a machine recognize my voice. What will happen if I ask it, “How are you today?”
            But how did the bank announce this latest technological wonder? By U. S. Mail. On a piece of paper. In an envelope withh a stamp on it..

* * *

 November 16, 2016
 
by James Smart

Take a deep breath of freshly canned air

 An Englishman in Beijing, the capital of China, has gone into business putting air in cans, and selling them for four bucks each to foreign tourists to take home, and to Chinese who live in other countries and enjoy an occasional whiff of their old home town. Not because it’s good air. Because it’s awful.
            Beijing’s average daily air pollution is about four times the permitted daily maximum recommended by the World Health Organization. I’ve read that the U. S. Embassy there maintains what it calls the “Beyond Index” of pollution, listing such measurements as “Crazy Bad.”
            Statistics in various sources vary as much as the ingredients of chow mein, but it seems that Beijing has maybe 25 million population in 6,000 square miles, and is  full of coal burning factories and houses, about five million exhaust-spilling motor vehicles, cigarette smokers galore, and many citizens who insist on breathing out as often as they breathe in.
            Cans of fresh rural air have been on sale in Beijing for some time, as a sort of joke, to give Beijingers a chance to sniff the real thing occasionally. Canned Irish, French and Canadian air are also available.
            So an Englishman there got the idea to reverse the gimmick, and can some of the polluted Beijing air, so traveling citizens could take it along when in countries with unfamiliarly fresh air, to make them feel at home, breathing-wise.
            In our capital, Washington, the air pollution recently has been rated from good to moderate. (Is that moderately good or moderately bad?) Chinese visitors now can bring along a can of Beijing pollution for nostalgic sniffing purposes.
            The canned air process suggests some interesting possibilities. Maybe our local tourism promoters should consider canning some Philadelphia air for tourists to take home to Des Moines or Louisville or London or Tokyo or Malvern.
            A container of genuine air from such landmark buildings as Independence Hall or the Betsy Ross House or Mario Lanza’s birthplace might be big sellers. And canned air from anyplace in town might tempt visitors from Beijing to buy a whole crate of Philadelphia air and ship it back to China, to be let loose at an appropriate time and place where a breath of fresh American air would be appreciated.
            Some Philadelphia odors might be unsuitable for canning. Certain neighborhoods have, or have had, odors that might make good contents in cans that could be opened for folks who now live elsewhere and would enjoy some good local inhaling. I suspect that the Italian Market must have always made its olfactory presence known in South Philadelphia. Hispanic and Asian aromas have blended in with those of  that vicinity in recent years, which may or may not be appreciated by connoisseurs of odorized air.
            Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone had had the foresight to fill cans in the past with air from neighborhoods that have since changed? Modern Manayunk residents would probably find a big difference in a can of today’s Main St. air with a can of air from the days when textile mills and the canal were the basic influence on the air.
            Cans of air from the refineries on the lower Schuylkill years ago would be distinctive. And I remember fondly, though only a passer-through of the area, the pleasant aroma from that huge plant at the upper end of the Roosevelt Boulevard where Nabisco baked its cookies.  If anyone has a can of that air, I’d love to take a sniff. So, probably, would be a citizen of Beijing.

* * *

November 9, 2016

by James Smart

A meditation on why pants come in pairs
It occurred to me while I was putting on a pair of pants that I didn’t know why we call a pair of pants a pair. They are only one garment, so why are they a they and not an it?
       Now we are getting into the field of grammar, a cognitive area where I always tread lightly. When I graduated (or was graduated) from high school, I got an award for English, but passing tests on the subject was easy. As a writer, though, and I had already sold writing to magazines by then, I often felt that grammar did not always serve me well in expressing myself. That was because I was a smart-aleck kid. Working for a newspaper with a big corps of copy editors later straightened me out.
        Which has not much to do with pants. Some sources say that pants at one time were made in two parts which were put on separately. One source claims that the word comes from either Pantaleon, king of Bactria in the Second Century B.C, or from St. Pantaleone, who was martyred by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the Fourth Century. But I find no information about either of those gentlemen’s garments.
        The Oxford English Dictionary, the King Kong of dictionaries, smugly describes “pants” as “a vulgar abbreviation of pantaloons,” dismisses it archly as “chiefly U. S.,” and employs British slang to declare it “shoppy” for “drawers.”  
They blame the first use on “O. W. Holmes, 1848.” That would be Holmes the poet; his son, Holmes the Supreme Court Justice, was only seven in 1848.
        “Pantaloons,” the Oxfordians say, comes from a Venetian character in Italian comedies, traced to the 16 th century. They found “pantaloons” applied to various kinds of trousers in various eras
        But plurals are universally peculiar. Consider measles. Is measles itchy? Or are measles itchy? Does each individual measle itch?
        Or scissors. They are one object, but we call them pairs. Has anyone ever seen an individual scissor?  Glasses, for your eyesight, are another single object that is designated a pair. 
        And then, there are things that the lords of grammar have decided are their own plurals. One sheep is a sheep, and more than one sheep are still sheep. The same is true of fish, deer, and buffalo.  And even people. The plural of you is you, unless it’s youse or ya’ll.
        One report on the subject says that the phenomenon happens to animals whose names have double vowels or double consonants. But that doesn’t explain why two giraffes are not just giraffe, or why two gooses are geese but two mooses are not meese. Or why if you see a mouse in your house, you probably have mice, but not in your hice.
        When you come upon hippopotami, which I hope you rarely do, the understanding is that the Romans, who inflicted really disturbing grammar on people who spoke Latin, stuck that ending on words like hippopotamus to indicate the plural. 
         But whose idea was it, anyway, to do that sometimes in English and sometimes not? The plural of circus isn’t circi. A camera focuses, it never foci. 
        And English has sensibly made the plurals of opera and opus to be operas and opuses. Otherwise, an eight act opera might be an octopus.
        Then, we have man and men, woman and women, but child and children. Who stuck that R in there?
        I’m sure that someone (or someones?) among the vast body of readers of this weekly meditation is, or are, already composing a letter explaining the linguistic convolutions that cause all of this type of phenomenon (not phenomenons.) But I’m happy contemplating these questions. Scholarly disquisitions on the subject are no fun.

* * *

November 2, 2016

 by James Smart

The long saga of Franklin Town in town
Plans have been announced to revive Franklin Town, a redevelopment project that was announced in 1971 and scheduled to be finished in 1980. Some of it happened, and some didn’t.
          The late Jason R. Nathan, who had been Federal Housing and Urban Development chief for six eastern states, had the brainstorm to reupholster 22 blocks northwest of City Hall into a $400 million super-neighborhood he called his “new town in town.”    
          The plan would begin by replacing 11 acres of parking lots, 115 small businesses and 120 residences. There was talk of a town square and parks and walkways, and of a boulevard heading diagonally northwest from 18 th and Race Sts.
          The project was sponsored by Smith, Kline & French laboratories, I-T-E Imperial Corp, an electrical equipment manufacturer, Philadelphia Electric Co., Korman Corp. builders, Butcher & Singer brokerage and Girard Bank. Most of the area belonged to those companies; the last 11 acres were acquired by the Redevelopment Authority.
          About 150 working class families in the area saw their houses torn down. They were offered $4,000 down payment on a new place, or relocation into old houses owned by the Redevelopment Authority elsewhere. Few were happy. At least one man had to be removed forcibly from his home.
           By 1976, a 21-story apartment house had been erected at 20 th and Hamilton, with new “replacement housing” next to it, for the displaced. Other new houses were built nearby. But much of the demolished area was still parking lots.
           Then, in 1978, there was another outburst of Franklin Town activity. The same corporate sponsors popped up with the same enthusiasm. Jason Nathan was back. Ground was being broken between 16 th and 17 th Sts. overlooking the Vine St. canyon, for the Franklin Plaza Hotel and the Smithkline Building (the same firm without French.)
          In 1983, Logan Square East retirement high rise was built. Franklin Town advocates were pointing out that, hey, they had said from the beginning that this was a 10 year project. Jason Nathan died that year, at age 84.
          The world keeps changing. The backers of the new town within town have mostly left town.  SmithKline is now GlaxoSmithKline based in London. I-T-E belongs to Siemens, I think. Philadelphia Electric is part of a Chicago company. Butcher & Singer belongs to a subsidiary of Wells Fargo. Girard Bank became Mellon, which became part of Bank of New York. Only Korman is still its old self.
           The hotel is now a Sheraton. A developer is turning the Glaxo building into One Franklin Tower. Logan Square East became The Watermark at Logan Square.
Now, three residential towers are going up in the area, with a total of 1,376 units. The Archdiocese is talking about building two more tall stacks of dwellings just to the east.
          And they’re spelling Franklintown as one word now, rather than two. Maybe there will finally be a new town in town.

* * *

October 26, 2016

 by James Smart

A young reporter among the paratroopers
 Looking through a box of old papers I facetiously call files, I came upon material from an assignment when I was young reporter, which was entertainingly different from the usual crimes, fires, accidents and dull speeches. I was sent to cover three days of paratroop maneuvers.
         The Evening Bulletin was interested because members of the 512 th Troop Carrier Wing, a Philadelphia area reserve unit, were going to do some of the piloting for massive exercises of the 82nd Airborne Division.
         Before dawn on a day in August, 1956, I drove down to New Castle County Airport in Delaware, where the 512 th was then based, to catch a TC-47 (like a civilian DC-3)  the local fliers were taking down to Pope Air Force Base, just north of the paratroopers’ base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
         At the fort, about 60 men from newspapers all over the country 10were checked in and given a briefing by an officer on what was going to happen. He also advised us that we were going to be annoyed extensively by gnats, chiggers and other small bugs, and repellent was available at the Post Exchange. And he suggested that if we were out in the field, and looked up and saw a soldier or a vehicle or a howitzer coming down in a parachute, we should get out of the way.
         Next, members of the press gathered for lunch. The working reporters and photographers from big papers were heftily outnumbered by executives from small papers who took advantage of the free trip. They would be supplied by the army with pre-written copy to send home with their by-lines, and would spend much of the action on the officers’ golf course or in the officer’s club bar.
         Frank Rosen of the Inquirer and I were assigned adjoining rooms in the BOQ (that’s Bachelor Officers Quarters.) We were awakened at some awful hour before dawn by a bugler blasting reveille at the end of the hall.
         Hitching a ride toward the action, I befriended a photographer from Newsday on Long Island, one of the few other men who were actually going out in the hot, sandy field where it would rain troopers.
         We talked to a sergeant with a clipboard, checking off each soldier who boarded a plane. The reason, he explained, was to keep men who had already jumped from trying to sneak back and jump again. They loved it that much.
         The local reservists flew 30 of the 61 flights, getting the opportunity to pilot the 108 foot wing span C-46 planes that helped dump streams of about 8,000 regular army troopers into the sky.
         We had been told how the rip cord of the parachute was automatically pulled as the soldier stepped out of the plane, grasping the two large D-rings on the pack on his chest. He was to count 10 and look up. If he didn’t see his open chute, he pulled the D-rings and deployed an emergency chute.
         As we trudged along, we saw a jeep coming. A private was driving. A sergeant with a clipboard was sitting on the back of the passenger’s seat, his feet on the seat. On the side of the jeep was a stenciled sign: “Parachute Malfunction Chief.”
          We waved him down and asked him what his duty was. “If one of them chutes don’t open,” he said, “it’s my job to find out why.”
           I learned later, talking to some of the paratroopers, that they had a macabre joke: “You jump, count to 10, and look up. If you don’t see a chute, you count to 10 and look up again. If you don’t see a chute, you report to the malfunction chief.”
           I came home a couple of days later, happy that the most likely accident in my job was a paper cut.


* * *

October 19, 2016

by James Smart

Engravers also toiled on Jewelers Row

The current fuss about the intrusion of a large box of domiciles in little Jewelers Row got me thinking about another breed of craftsmen on the block, besides diamond cutters and watch repairers and such. The street could also be Engravers Row.                      

          For 175 years or so, engravers have been at work on the 700 block of Sansom St., and not just jewelry engravers putting initials in wedding rings. From the mid-19 th century until modern times, dozens of engravers have worked there. In the old days, many produced print copies of paintings, and printing plates for books and magazines.
          One of the most notable was John Sartain, who was a painter himself, and a director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and on the board of what is now the Moore College of Art. But he was also a pioneer in making engravings used in printing. He was sometimes referred to as the father of American mezzotint engraving, a method of producing a printing plate that had smooth light and dark areas, without dots or lines.
          Sartain created the fashion plates for Graham’s Magazine, one of the major periodicals of the 1840s and thereabouts. When he drew male models among the elegant pictures of women in the latest fashions, he often put on the men the face of a buddy of his, also on the Graham’s staff, named Edgar Allan Poe.
          I’m not sure exactly where Sartain’s studio was. City directories of the time list it at 40 Sansom St., but that was the old, less systematic street numbering. But it was in what is now the 700 block.
          In modern times, along with engraving businesses of all sizes, the giant Beck’s Engraving Co. grew at Seventh and Sansom. The address was on Seventh, but through the years Beck’s took up a lot of space here and there on buildings in Jeweler’s Row.
          Beck’s became huge, and had operations in New York and elsewhere. It prepared the printing for such publications as the Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic. The company also engraved the printing “cuts” for a publication I edited 70 years ago (yes, really,) the Northeast Megaphone, our high school newspaper. The gracious Beck people treated us teen-age budding journalists as though we were professionals and valued clients.
          A few years before that, I worked for a Sansom St. engraver. A neighbor of ours was an owner of an engraving firm that, though small, did some high level work, such as engraving the printing plates for a South American country’s currency.
          His Sansom St. firm had a contract with the Navy to engrave extremely precise calibrations on brass rings with a black finish. The rings had something to do with submarines. I was not told much, but I guessed that they were parts of torpedoes, because the Navy ordered an awful lot of them, so they were probably used up excessively.
          The rings had to be heated, and white enamel applied that filled in the engraved calibrations so the numbers and lines stood out. Our neighbor hired me to do the job, when needed, after school.  It provided a few welcome bucks to a junior high pupil like me.
          Out the back window of his second floor workshop, I could watch, in a window below in another building, a jeweler who sat motionless, with a magnifier on one eye and a green eye shade, poise rigidly with a mallet over a diamond in a vise, and suddenly tap it to make a precise cut.
          I was definitely on Jeweler’s Row, but the engravers had their row, too.


* * *

October 12, 2016 

by James Smart

Diamonds are Forever, north of the border

A small item in the business section of a newspaper said that the DeBeers company has opened the world’s largest new diamond mine in 10 years. And it’s in Canada.
         I don’t know much about diamonds. I was born and raised in an economic bracket where de beers were sold in de taproom, not a jewelry store. When I see mention of a diamond mine, I think of Africa, not the frozen North.
         But this mine, named Gahcho Kue, is Canada’s fifth operating diamond mine. The name, in the local Deni Native American language, means “Place of the Big Rabbit.” I will refrain from creating a lame pun about rabbits and carats.
         Looking into the project, I found that I know less about diamonds in mines than about diamonds on engagement rings. Reports on the new mine talk about DeBeers sampling the kimberlite pipes. The mine has four of them.
         Kimberlite, I learned, is a kind of rock that develops in the earth’s crust in vertical formations called pipes, which occasionally erupt upwards. They usually contain diamonds. The name comes from the town of Kimberly, South Africa, where the first large scale diamond mining began in 1869.
         The DeBeers brothers owned the earliest mines. Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia) and bequeather of the Rhodes Scholarships, formed the DeBeers company. The history of diamonds is too complicated to unravel here.
         But Philadelphia has a peculiar importance in the world of diamonds. DeBeers was a client of the venerable N. W. Ayer & Son advertising agency in Philadelphia.
         DeBeers was looking for a slogan that would emphasize the attachment of diamonds to romance. The Philly advertising writers had a knack for memorable slogans. Ayer writers created, for example, “When it rains, it pours” for Morton’s salt, “Be all that you can be” for the army and “Reach out and touch someone” for the phone company.
         A prominent search web site says an Ayer writer thought up “I’d walk a mile for a Camel” for the cigarette, but my wife, who worked for Ayer for some time, says the agency never took tobacco clients. Guess which source I believe.
         But there’s no question that the late Mary Frances Gerety, of Wayne, PA, was the Ayer writer who, in 1948, produced the DeBeers slogan: “A Diamond is Forever.” Advertising Age, the Madison Avenue’s trade journal, proclaimed it the number one advertising slogan of the 20 th century.
         Diamonds became a sensation in the late 19 th century, and by about 100 years ago had become the official token of a woman being engaged to be married.
         Their significance was emphasized in a 1907 hit song my grandmother thought was funny. Women then favored big hats decorated with a stuffed or fake bird. The song, called “The Bird on Nellie’s Hat,” told of a poor dope dating a goldigging girl, and the bird on her hat sang a repeated commentary of their relationship at the end of each verse. The last verse ended:
       “’Well, but how about the diamond engagement ring? Of course,’ said Willie, ‘you’ll return me that.’
       “’Well, he don’t know Nellie like I do,’ said the saucy little bird on Nellie’s hat.”
         I wonder what Nellie and her bird would have thought if the diamond had come, not from exotic Africa, but with some of the new brand names such as Canada Mark Diamonds, Eskimo Arctic Diamonds or Polar Bear Diamonds.
                                                            * * *
.October 5, 2016
 
by James Smart


Should politician be an occupation category?
 Katie McGinty is running for election against Sen. Pat Toomey, and the Republicans are berating her for making lots of money in periods when she was not holding a government position, especially money from a company that she brought to the state while she was its secretary of environmental protection.
            It’s a complicated argument, and I will not attempt to unravel it. I am not a political reporter, I am a columnist, expected to produce opinions, not dull old details. But the situation troubles me in two ways.
            First, isn’t it to be expected that McGinty would, when not on the state payroll, look for employment in her fields of know-how and experience, with contacts she had made in the industry? She has degrees in chemistry and law. Perhaps instead she should have sent her resume to Dow, or set up shop and pursued ambulances.
            The politicians think she should stick to her trade, and that her trade is politics. I have been in a similar position, when I left a newspaper job and became vice president of a public relations agency. Some of my newsroom friends considered me a traitor to my class.
            I had to explain that I was not qualified to be a supermarket clerk or a proctologist or a tuba player or for any other skilled craft, but had to find something compatible, such as writing news releases instead of news articles.
            This leads to the second issue in this political argument. The politicians seem to feel that there is something wrong with a person doing real work between such a position as chief of staff to the governor, which McGinty previously was, and running for office.
            I have the notion, probably absorbed in a junior high school civics class, that our elected officials were supposed to be normal persons, with typical lives and careers, who ran for office to do their part in our government by the people.
            Our first president was a wealthy plantation owner, but he took time off to be commanding general of the revolutionary army, and later was elected to head the government. He put in a hefty expense account for his army activities, and complained when he wasn’t paid promptly as president, but I doubt that he ever considered himself a politician by profession.
            Being president is a bit different these days, but on a less elevated level we like to believe we elect more or less ordinary citizens to run our governments. In McGinty’s and Toomey’s Pennsylvania, the General Assembly (the legislature’s official name since 1776), has 263 members. They are paid $85,236 a year, plus some perks. They meet in the capital frequently through the year, and most of them spend a lot of time there and at home on committees, handling matters for constituents, and assorted duties. There’s not much time to be an ordinary citizen.
In Wyoming, on another hand, the 90-member legislature meets not more than 40 days in odd numbered years and 20 days in even-numbered years, with rare exceptions. Members get $150 per day salary when in session, plus a $109 per diem, and some expenses. You can bet those folks have other jobs.
            Should there be such an occupation as full-time politician? Or should elected officials be part-timers who take time off from their regular careers to pass laws that paid professionals enforce? Katie McGinty is the daughter of a cop and a waitress, but she became a millionaire in her business endeavors between government jobs. Now she can afford to be an elected citizen. And, I guess, a politician.

* * *

September 28, 2016

by James Smart


Oh, say, can you stand, or kneel, or sit?
 All the recent fussing and discussing about whether citizens should stand or sit or kneel or do hand-stands or assume some other posture during the playing or singing of our National Anthem has caused me to ask myself some questions.
            Why do nations have anthems? Why is “The Star Spangled Banner” ours? And why do nations have flags, and why are flags potent symbols?
            A dictionary says that an anthem is “a song of loyalty or devotion, as to a nation or college: a national anthem.” “The Star Spangled Banner” doesn’t have much to say about loyalty or devotion. It’s about a flag that survived a battle.
            Francis Scott Key didn’t think he was writing an anthem on Sept. 14, 1814. He was writing an eye-witness poem about an enemy attack on an American fort, and the symbolic value of a striped banner with 15 stars having survived it.
            Key didn’t have much to feel good about. The British army had just chased the President out of Washington, set fire to the new capitol and president’s mansion, and were bombarding Fort McHenry from Baltimore Harbor.
           They were using frightening new technology. They were shooting bombs with timing devices that didn’t burst until they hit their target, though many prematurely burst in air. They were launching fiery rockets, the 10 year old invention of Sir William Congreve, like the ones the British had used against Napoleon’s army earlier in the year.
            I don’t think it was Key’s idea that somebody should set his poem to the tune of an old song, but somehow, it caught on. It stayed popular as a patriotic song. Newspaper accounts in the 1860’s describe bands playing “The Star Spangled Banner” as soldiers marched off to the Civil War. The song was only 50 years old then, and there were many veterans of 1814.
            It was often played at official and patriotic events. But so was “America,” alias “My Country, Tis of Thee,” written in 1831 to the melody of Britain’s “God Save the King” (or Queen, as necessary), written in 1745. So was “America the Beautiful,” words 1893 and tune 1910.
            Most countries have anthems. Many have changed theirs, through the years. Most describe the country’s beauty or spirit or characteristics. The only one I know besides ours that recalls a military past is France’s “Le Marseillaise,”, written in 1792 during their revolution. It advises citizens to form battalions to oppose the ferocious soldiers who are coming to cut the throats of their children and friends.
            It was in 1931 that Congress, for whatever reason, proclaimed “The Star Spangled Banner” to be our national anthem. How the required standing up and hat removing became the practice immediately in schools, in public meetings and at sporting events, I don’t know.
            The message of “The Star Spangled Banner” is poetic, but says little about the nation. Why does snubbing it make a statement?
            Francis Scott Key didn’t write an anthem. Irving Berlin wrote anthems. “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” tell stories that honor their subjec.
.          His “God Bless America” is an anthem. But Congress would neverdare to make  it official, because of its religious first line and the Constitution’s first amendment.
           Demonstrative ignoring of our so-called anthem may give its supporters and its opponents an opportunity for much anger and insulting, back and forth. But it’s a free country, as we like to say. You may do as you please during “The Star Spangled Banner.” And it will keep on waving.


* * *

September 21, 2016
 
by James Smart

Memories inspired by a mayor’s statue

 Recent demands that Frank Rizzo’s statue be removed from in front of the Municipal Service Building have a certain irony, since it is located near another sculpture that figures into Rizzo lore.
       The 40-foot Jacques Lipchitz sculpture “Government of the People” stands since 1976 on the plaza east of where Mayor Rizzo’s bronze likeness waves at City Hall. When Rizzo first saw the two-foot-high model of the proposed Lipchitz work, he commented, “It looks like a plasterer dropped a load of plaster.”
       Rizzo’s critics and enemies groaned and guffawed. They saw it as another instance of his ignorance and malevolence. But if they had asked members of the city’s art community, they would have found many local artists who heartedly agreed with Rizzo that the statue was ugly.It was referred to in some artists'circles as "the turd in the plaza." Rizzo’s critics also seemed unaware that a year before the Lipchitz work was installed, Rizzo enthusiastically called “beautiful” an ultra-modern Louise Nevelson sculpture created for the Federal courthouse at 6 th and Market.
       That’s how it was with Frank Rizzo. His detractors found him consistently uncouth and possibly evil. His admirers found him a dynamic champion of the common man.
       To evaluate Rizzo’s personality, consider an episode in 1973, when Rizzo was feuding with Democratic Party chairman Pete Camiel. (Rizzo liked to point out that one could phone Camiel by dialing “k-o-r-r-u-p-t.”)
       Camiel said that Rizzo tried to make a political deal with him in a men’s room of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. Rizzo denied it. They took a lie detector test.
       "If this machine says a man lied, he lied,” Rizzo told reporters before the test. Rizzo flunked. He was unrattled. At a press conference, he asked, “What’s the big deal about lying in a bathroom?”
        I first met Frank Rizzo in early 1955, when, as a young Evening Bulletin reporter, I started occasionally working the four to midnight police beat. We had men in radio cars in each of the seven police divisions during the day in those days, but at night, when we weren’t publishing, just one man was on the street.
         I wanted to meet Capt. Rizzo, already a semi-legend. There was the story often told, with variations, that as a young patrolman, he broke up a brawl and arrested seven sailors single-handed. And the sailors complained that he was excessively brutal to the whole bunch of them.
         I visited his domain, the 19th District police station on the northwest corner of 12th and Pine Sts. I introduced myself, and Rizzo was cordial and chatted for a while. But while I was talking to some cops outside his second floor office, I heard him ask, “Is that little creep from the Bulletin still out there?”  As I encountered him many times through the next 36 years before he died, I often wondered if he knew I heard that.
         When Rizzo’s racial views are brought up, now 25 years after his death, I often think of Tony Fulwood, who died last year. He was an African American, a police officer, one of the few men bigger than Rizzo. 
         Rizzo picked Tony to be his bodyguard when he became deputy police commissioner, and as commissioner and mayor, Tony was with him daily. Tony was later bodyguard for Lynne Abraham and Ron Castille.
         At a nine-alarm fire in a South Philly refinery in 1975, an explosion sent Mayor Rizzo and his entourage running. Rizzo stumbled, and Tony fell on him, breaking his hip. Those present saw tears running down big Tony’s face as medics took his injured boss away.
          These meagre reminiscences barely help to describe or explain the man depicted by that statue. If anything can.


​* * *

.September 14. 2016
 
by James Smart

A remembrance of grade school days past
Seeing all the recent advertising of back-to-school supplies, I began ruminating about what school supplies were like in the bygone days when I was in grade school, and in days even bygoner than that.
       When I started first grade and fell in a six-year-old’s species of love with my lovely blonde teacher, Miss Oeschlager, there were no such things as calculators, ball point pens, transparent tape, or yellow sticky notes.
       My grandmother had walked me down to Woolworth’s to buy one of the so-called copy books, with a black and white marble patterned design printed front and back. I don’t know where she got the idea that I needed one. When she went to elementary school, in the 1880s, the approved writing surface was a slate.
       That was still true when my mother and her big sister were in grade school in the first decade of the 20 th century. I still have their slates, about 8 by 10 inches, with wood frames. I don’t know if they supplied their own chalk.
       Let me tell you what a city school was like in the Thirties. If you already know all this, either you are rather old, a condition I admit to, or you have an annoying grandfather like me who talks about the past.
       I don’t remember in what grade they started us using pens. The teacher who introduced us to that adult writing implement gave us instructions to have our mothers make a pen wiper for us, by assembling a multi-decked stack of small cloth squares fastened together by a button sewed in the center.
       That hadn’t changed since my grandmother’s school days. It was assumed that everybody had a mother at home, who sewed, and had cloth and button and needles and thread and could easily sew together a standard pen wiper.
       The school provided the ink. It came in big bottles. There was an ink well inset in the upper right corner of each desk, and a designated pupil came around with the big ink bottle to fill the wells in which we dipped our pens.  Blotters were provided by local businesses, post card sized absorbent paper with advertising on the back.
       The desks had ornate cast iron legs, fastened to the floor. There was a fold-down wooden seat, and the wooden desk itself had a lift-up top covering storage space for books, pencils, pens, and whatnot.
       The schoolyard of that city school was paved with concrete. There were a couple of swings; falls from them on the concrete was good for a fracture or two among classmates every year.
       At recess, we played assorted games, including one that was done on a layout we put down in chalk, with bottle caps snapped by fingers sent from one block to another. Girls jumped rope incessantly.
       We walked to and from school, and walked home for lunch, and back. I don’t think any school officials ever asked how many kids went home at lunch time to an empty house, ate lunch left for them in the refrigerator or ice-box, and maybe listened to the National Farm and Home Hour on the radio until it was time to go back. (Television was a rumor then.)
       I remember the tales my parents and grandparents told about the past, and wish I could remember more. Now I am close to being a great-grandparent. Some people express little interest in the past, and are bored by such reminiscences.
       An old-timer once grumbled to me, “If you don’t care where you’ve been, all you’ve got is now. I hope now is good enough.”

* * *


September 7, 2016

 by James Smart


Bad guys from comic books beat Ben Hur
There is another new movie in the theaters that is based on comic books. It seems to me that until recent years, books that were adapted into movies were usually novels, often great ones.
            And we still have them. A film version of “Ben Hur” is in the theaters now. “Ben Hur” was the best-selling novel of the 19 th century. It has been made into a film five times, the first one in 1907.
            That’s not counting an animated version, or a television mini-series. There was even a Broadway stage version in 1899, with horses pulling chariots on a treadmill in front of a moving backdrop.
            The original book title was “Ben Hur: a Tale of the Christ.” It was a religious book, however moving and exciting were some elements of it. But as a motion picture, it is best remembered for its smash-up chariot race.
            Hollywood masterminds often turn out versions of the life of Christ and other Biblical stories, but always step carefully because they want to sell tickets to viewers of other faiths, or none. I’ve read that Jesus gets a bigger role in this “Ben Hur” than in the well-known Charlton Heston 1959 version.
            I haven’t seen it yet, and am not criticizing it. What is interesting is that it seems to be a failure. “Variety,” the entertainment industry’s trade journal, estimated that it will lose $100 million dollars.
            And what is the current film that is raking in the big bucks? “Suicide Squad,” which got mediocre reviews but has already made more than $600 million. It’salso  based on a book, too: a comic book.
            It’s full of comic book characters, many of them bad guys. I haven’t seen this film, either, but it takes place in the DC Comics world, the world patrolled by such assorted heroes as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash, and other such super-powered individuals.
            There are equally powerful villains in the comic book world. The premise of the “Suicide Squad” film is that since Superman died (which I hear he did in the last big Hollywo

od comic book extravaganza of computer generated imagery) there aren’t enough superheroes to combat all the supermalefactors.
            So the government rounds up all the second tier superpersons it can find, mostly anti-social if not downright evil, and forms them into a squad to fight crime and unpleasantness. I take it that readers of comic books, and aficionados of related movies, will recognize these characters, and will enjoy seeing them thus turned loose.
            Maybe I’m an old-fashioned softy, and/or take these things too seriously, but I find it a bit dismaying that the tale of Judah Ben Hur learning about peace and forgiveness is outperformed in attracting a movie audience by the story of society being protected from villains by folks who are almost as villainous.
            It’s a scary thought that this fantasy concept might reflect the real world.   Here we are, with American voters trying to decide which presidential candidate they dislike the least. And officers of the law being perceived by many to be as wrongly quick on the trigger as armed criminals.  And newcomers to the land of the free being hated, not welcomed. And a wealthy one percent of the populace accumulating wealth while the government reports that nearly 15 percent of American families have what is delicately labeled “food insecurity,” the bureaucrats’ euphemism for near starvation.
            Sometimes it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. In the fantasy world of comic book characters, it may not matter. But in the real world, we’re a little short of heroes with super powers

          Maybe Superman is really dead.

* * *

.August 31, 2016

by James Smart 
Two kinds of fearless outdoor boyhoods
James Campbell, a columnist in the Los Angeles Times, wrote about indications that children don’t spend enough time outdoors these days. “Many children now spend less than 30 minutes per week playing outside,” he reported. There’s nothing like that kind of statistic to get one of us columnists going.
      “Statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency suggest that adults, too, spend 93% of their lives inside buildings or vehicles,” he lamented.
      What’s worse, he indicated, is that many people today are afraid of the outdoors. He said that the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” the psychiatrists’ repair handbook, categorizes such fears as “natural environment phobia.”
       I looked for that phobia in DSM-5, as the reference book is known down at the shrink shop, and also in DSM-IV (they formerly used Roman numerals,) because I have a phobia known as “fear of getting something wrong and receiving 27 snotty letters and e-mails.” I couldn’t find it, but it’s too nifty a fact to omit.
       I remember reading during World War II that when natives were relocated from the Aleutian Islands to mainland Alaska, many had never seen a tree, and were terrified and refused to walk near them.
       Part of the problem these days is that the parents are the fraidy-cats. They are afraid to let their kids run around outside unsupervised, because they might be robbed, kidnapped, assaulted, run over by a vehicle, shot, bitten by an animal, converted to an alternate religion, or whatever.
       I agree with Brother Campbell that things were different in our respective childhoods, when we were free to go out, wander around, and appreciate our environment unafraid.
       Where we part ways is that he is an outdoorsy sort of guy. His latest book is “A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild.”
       In his dissertation on kids outdoors, he writes: “The childhood I had wandering through the woods and fields near my home unsupervised from morning until dark today seems like a lost world.”
       My lost world was a working class Philly neighborhood. When I reached school age, in about Roosevelt’s second term, I would start out on a nice summer morning with the understanding that I would be back by dinner, and meander through row house streets, back alleys, and blocks of factories in industrial Kensington.
       Maybe I would head out Tioga St. There were railroad tracks down the middle then. When I got to where Delaware Ave. ended, I could head north up the river to see what was happening at the Sewage Treatment Works, where the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks swung around from Frankford Junction and across the long drawbridge to Jersey, at the mouth of Frankford Creek.
       Or I could head south to where the Reading Railroad poured coal trains onto the fan of 25 or so piers that poked out over the water.
       Once a month, my Grandmother would give me the gas bill, the electric bill and the telephone bill, with appropriate cash, to hike to K&A where those companies had offices.
        Or I could ramble north to Juniata’s parkland, across the Tacony Creek and through the Friends Hospital grounds to Roosevelt Blvd. All of these and other routes involved random diversions into side streets, back driveways and typical city sites and sights. A straight half mile could become a wandering ten, and never the same route back home.
       No woods and fields. Lots of textile mills and junk yards. But nobody told me to be afraid.

* * *

August 24, 2016
 
by James Smart

With job searches, maybe even names matter
With all the ongoing quarreling and snarling about race relations, I thought I had heard it all. Then, I saw a small item in a magazine about a study that found that job applications signed by names that seemed to be African American were rejected or ignored more often than “whiter” sounding names.
         I checked on line, and found that another survey, announced by the University of Missouri last May, reported the opposite; there was no difference in responses.
        The negative study mentioned in the magazine was made way back in 2003 by the National Bureau of Economic Research, when 5,000 resumes were sent out answering ads for various white collar jobs. The results found that applications with white-sounding names got about one call back for every 10 resumes, while the black-sounding names had to send 15 resumes to attract one call back.
        That study has been cited regularly ever since. A University of Virginia student on a CNN political program just last March referred to it as though it were recent.
        A factor in this subject is, what is an African American name? The 2003 study used last names. Critics of that replied that 90 percent of people with the last name Washington are black and 75 percent of those named Jefferson are black.
        And the real spoiler in comparing the studies is that the later study stressed first names. I’m not sure which of the study groups would have been more confused if confronted by a Tyrone Goldberg, or a DeShawn O’Brien.
        Experts on such matters have written loads of information and conjecture about how African-American names have developed since Emancipation. That’s not a very long time; both of my grandfathers were born before Emancipation.
        The first enumeration of all African Americans by individual family member’s name was the 1870 census
        A list published about 10 years ago said that the five most common names for African American girls were Imani, Ebony, Shanice, Aaliyah, and Precious. For boys, DeShawn, DeAndre, Marquis, Darnell and Terrell.
        Some of the American name sources seem obvious. Names with African roots are less familiar. There are an estimated 1500 to 2000 African languages, not counting imposed European languages and Arabic. The continent of Africa is about three times bigger than the United States, and has about 50 countries, many of them full of tribal and regional languages besides the principal ones.
        Names are applied in many ways, with many meanings. When Kwame Nkrumah became first president of Ghana in 1960, Americans learned that the name Kwame, in the Ashanti Twi language, meant that he was a boy born on a Saturday. (A girl would be Amma.)  Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is Kofi because he was born on Friday.
        My favorite African name, which has a little French tucked into it, was Felix Houphouet-Boigny, first president of Cote d’Ivoire back in the Nineties. The name was bestowed on him by a witch doctor, to be repulsive to evil spirits who had beset his family. Houphouet means “cesspool.”
        I enjoy a 50 year old story, which has nothing to do with names. Houphouet-Boigny, a cultured, educated physician and former deputy to the French National Assembly, was asked by an insensitive young white American reporter, “Are there still cannibals in your country?”
        “No,” Houphouet-Boigny replied suavely. “We ate the last one months ago.”

* * *

August 17, 2016
 
by James Smart
The preacher who became Captain Noah

Captain Noah died last week at age 90. Much was written about him and his nationally popular children’s television show. Little was mentioned about the captain’s life before he launched his Ark at age 41. Old timers remember him as the Rev. W. Carter Merbreier, a flamboyant and outspoken Lutheran minister.
          I first encountered Carter in the early Fifties when I was a reporter for the Evening Bulletin, and he was new pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church at Broad and Mt. Vernon Sts.
          Carter was self-proclaimed Police Department chaplain, prowling around major crime and fire scenes in his clerical collar and a hard hat stenciled “Chaplain.” He  organized the Legion of Cornelius, a police officers’ religious group.
          He also held 1 A. M. Sunday services in the lobby of the old Randolph Theater on Chestnut St. near 12th, for actors, chorus girls, muscians, waitresses, theater workers and such night owls..
          The former St. Matthew’s edifice is now occupied by the Old Zion Lutheran congregation, which dates to 1742. In the Sixties it was on the edge of a seedy neighborhood. I had dinner with the Merbreiers in their residence one evening. Under each leg of the dining table was an old tuna can filled with insecticide, to keep the roaches from running up
          Meanwhile, the Rev. Ross Stover, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, was building a magnificent new place of worship where Roosevelt Blvd. stopped dead at Broad St., with a 100-foot tower, 170 stained glass windows, and amenities including a roller skating rink.
          Ross Stover was pastor of the Lutheran Church in Wapakoneta, Ohio, before coming in 1918 to Philly’s Messiah, which was founded in 1870 and was then at 16 th and Jefferson Sts. He was one of the first ministers anywhere to use that new medium, radio. Billed as “That Sunny Man of God,” he attracted a big following.
          He held his first massive Easter morning sunrise service in 1935 in the Temple University stadium at Cheltenham Ave. and Vernon Road, capacity 30,000, built in 1928 (and demolished in 1996.) An estimated 75,000 attended. Later sunrise Easter services were held in front of the new church, with the Boulevard for several blocks turned into a parking lot and worshipers listening on their car radios.      
          Stover moved into the new ulta-modern Messiah building in 1952. Ill health forced him to retire from the ministry in 1962. Messiah’s leadership recruited Carter Merbreier. 
          The 1200-seat sanctuary’s theatrical-style equipment was perfect for Carter’s dramatics. Parishioners got used to seeing live donkeys or sheep when relevant to a sermon. Brides were illuminated by overhead spotlights as they came down the aisle.
          Controversy and publicity became constant. The first, in 1963, was a sermon mentioning that he disliked the “in lieu of flowers’ notice in obituaries. Please send flowers, Carter appealed; their presence was needed. Florists everywhere took up the cry, and his plea was mentioned in Time magazine.
          Through the Sixties,Carter was a media presence locally, guesting on radio and television. He became nationally known when his ongoing campaign against pornography included a controversial 1963 bonfire of books magazines in front of the church.
          Theologically, he was recognized for publicly criticizing such national celebrity religious leaders as Bishop James Pike and Norman Vincent Peale for modern views he considered near heretical.
          In the Columbia Ave. riots of 1964, two days in which 341 people were injured and 225 stores destroyed, he was everywhere, ministering to cops, firemen and hapless victims.      
          And in 1965, Carter was at last officially appointed to be police chaplain by Commissioner Howard Leary, and made an honorary deeputy commissioner.
          In 1967, Carter and his wife, Pat, started an early Sunday morning religious TV show for children. In 1970, the program became daily, and W. Carter Merbreier sailed away into a new career. That may be all he’s remembered for, but his life before the Ark would fill a book. 

* * *

August 10, 2016


by James Smart

Police and guns in old Philadelphia
All the recent fuss about guns, and about police officers shooting and being shot, got me thinking about how we came to the accepted, every-day existence of a police force. And of lots of guns.
            The word police, in the way it’s used today, is relatively new. It trickled from Latin to Greek to Old French to English, and was applied variously to persons or groups who governed in some way, but were not full-time enforcers.
            In early Philadelphia, with Quakers in charge, there was an antipathy to the idea of armed civil law control. The Mayor and City Council organized a system of watchmen to patrol the streets, and constables to arrest the arrestible, but they were not an organized force. Citizens were drafted to take turns at duty, and heavily fined if they refused.
            William Penn was back in England when an early suggestion was made of arming the watch, because of “great disorders lately committed.” Penn had appointed John Evans, son of an old friend, as governor. Evans, not a Quaker, declined to arm city watchmen, but organized a militia that he felt could be called on to handle any law enforcement problems.
            This led to a famous incident in 1701 when Gov. Evans and William Penn, Jr., both known as rowdy carousers, got into a nasty argument over the Evans militia plan with three guys in Enoch Story’s Tavern in Coombs Alley, near Second and Arch. A constable, a night watchman and Story were beat up badly. An alderman who arrived and broke up the affray gave Billy a thrashing. He claimed later that he didn’t know it was the proprietor’s son.
            It has never been clear to me how law-breakers were apprehended in those days. There are plenty of descriptions of citizens being found guilty of this and that, and being punished by whipping, hanging, and being locked up in jails. There are few descriptions of arrests.
           Perhaps the best account of how a police department as we know it evolved is in Howard R. Sprogle’s book “The Philadelphia Police, Past and Present.” It was written in 1887.
           Sprogle considered the start of the police as 1850, when the Pennsylvania Legislature devised a Philadelphia Police District that would include the city itself and the thickly populated adjacent suburbs of Northern Liberties, Southwark, Spring Garden, Richmond and Penn.
          That was during the one short term of Mayor Joel Jones, a mostly forgotten Democrat whose term wedged in between the usual Whigs. In 1854, the city absorbed all of Philadelphia County.
          Cops in those early days resisted the idea that they should carry firearms. In the mostly racial riots of election day, 1849, when two men were shot dead, the police were unarmed.
            In 1881, Samuel G. King became the last Democrat elected mayor until Joe Clark in 1952. According to Sprogle:
“Soon after Mayor King’s inauguration he learned, by the sentiment of the press, that parents and others were much concerned by the rapid growth of the evil custom of carrying concealed deadly weapons. He issued an order to arrest all persons so carrying them, under any circumstances. Even his police were not allowed fire-arms while on day duty.”
            But Sprogle describes cops and criminals exchanging shots in those days, and in the 1884 carpet weavers’ strike in Kensington, both police and strikers used firearms.
            What would Howard Sprogle and Mayor King have thought if they could read today’s shooting-of-the-day headlines?

* * *

August 3, 2016 

by James Smart
Following a fox in the e-mail age
Late one morning, I happened to be looking out the window and saw a scruffy gray fox trotting briskly along the bushes at the rear of our back yard. In 30 years in this house, I’ve never seen a fox go by.
          We are only four blocks from the edge of the Wissahickon woods, and have been visited by our share of critters. Raccoons and possums have been regular trash can inspectors after dark, and there was a time when deer depredated among the flowers and hosta every so often.
          We hadn’t seen a deer in the yard in several years, though, until the last couple of months. Recently we have been visited by some demure young lady deer, who look up from nibbling our hosta and seem puzzled and annoyed when we suggest, loudly, that they have lunch elsewhere.
          One afternoon, we found a momma deer introducing her two Bambi-esque fawns to our back lawn. When yelled at, she led them away through the rear bushes with dignified indignity.
          I’m sure that the deer have ambled through all the back yards down the block, but folks in those houses mostly are not home during the day. Also, most critters, including deer, more often drop by in the middle of the night, so their appearance doesn’t become a neighborhood event.
          But that fox was different. It stirred up some mild excitement on the block. Not many years ago, it might have resulted in a bunch of telephone calls. When I was a kid, it would have resulted in much discussing over back yard fences.
          In this age, it lit up the e-mail system. The first alarm was raised at 1:15 P.  M., when a woman two houses west of us e-mailed the 21 neighbors on her list that she had just spotted what she thought was a gray fox with mange in the yard of the house that’s between us.
          The fox was sunning itself, she reported, and scratching continually. She included some scary information about mange from a web site. She had called Philadelphia’s Animal Control number, but was put on hold and had to leave.
          At 1:29, a woman further west, who had not seen the fox, e-mailed a “Yikes!” on the subject. She appreciated the heads-up, but had no fox information to contribute.
          The lady of the house behind us then took up the cause, and at 1:43 reported that she had reached Animal Control, who directed her to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The game commission adviser assured her that the fox was behaving normally and was not dangerous.
          Then came a 3:08 e-mail from the neighbor in whose yard the fox had done its sunning and scratching before ambling off. She had just got home and read the battery of e-mail about what she had missed.
          I first looked at my e-mail at 4:15, and though first to see the wayfaring fox, was the last to check in with an e-mail report.
          Later, I had a conversation on the subject with the man who lives five houses west. He had read all the e-mails, but we communicated in the old fashioned way, on the corner, while I was out for a walk, and he was walking his dog.
          From the evidence, we concluded that the fox had discontinued his sunning and scratching, and had exited southward and crossed the street. Maybe some people on the next street then had a similar fox-watching experience. I don’t know, because, in this technologically bloated era, I wouldn’t hear them hollering “shoo, fox!” I’d have to know their e-mail address.

                                                                 * * *​
.July 27, 2016


by James Smart


​​An Abe Lincoln convention speech
 The first Presidential nominating convention held in Philadelphia was in 1848, when the Whig Party assembled in the Chinese Museum at Ninth and Sansom Sts.  One of the 280 delegates was a tall, skinny, clean-shaven politician from the frontier state of Illinois. His name was Abraham Lincoln.
            Philadelphia was full of political celebrities. Gens. Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, former Sen. Henry Clay and Sen. Daniel Webster were here. Sam Houston, senator from the State of Texas and former president of the Republic of Texas, was here. Even Gen. Lewis Cass, the recently nominated Democratic candidate, was in town.
            But 39-year-old Abe Lincoln was no celebrity. He was a new Congressman from Illinois. He was living with his wife and two kids in a boarding house in Washington, so you know he wasn’t staying in any fancy hotel here.
            Maybe he visited some of the historic sites, or took a horse-drawn Fairmount omnibus or a Schuylkill steamboat out to that famed suburban picnic ground, Laurel Hill Cemetery.
            I hope he wasn’t one of the delegates who patronized the performances of the Model Artistes, in a ten-pin alley at Callowhill St. and Dillwyn St. (now Orianna,) when the cops raided it for putting on indecent tableaux. (These shows of scantily clad actors and, especially, actresses, posed in classic scenes, were all the rage in New York, and subject to police raids there, too.)
            On Saturday, June 10, 1848, the big auditorium was packed at the Chinese Museum. The building was built in 1838 to house a collection of 10,000 Chinese artifacts assembled by Nathan Dunn, a Philadelphia businessman who had spent 15 years in China. The Chinese exhibits were moved to London in 1841. The two-story, 238 by 70 foot building was used for balls, banquets and meetings. The first Philadelphia Flower Show was held there. The building and the whole block burned down in 1854.
             An estimated 5,000 men were elbow-to-elbow in that 1848 Whig convention. Delegates kept asking the chairman what happened, because men in parts of the room couldn’t hear. Reporters often missed the names of speakers and could only paraphrase the speeches.
            The reporters from Philadelphia’s seven daily papers, and such out-of-town journalists as Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune, sat at tables supplied with paper, inkstands, sand for blotting, and pitchers of ice water.
            Zachary Taylor, a hero of the War with Mexico that had ended just five months before, was nominated on the fourth ballot.
           Then, a delegate from Illinois made a short speech, in a high-pitched voice and a backwoods accent, which had the delegates laughing and cheering
            As reported in the year-old Cummings Telegraphic Evening Bulletin, “A delegate arose and said he was a live Sucker from the Sucker State, and only wanted to say that, as far as Suckerdom was concerned, that place was as dark as Egypt in Loco Focoism.” (Loco Focos was the nickname of a radical Democratic Party faction.)
            They had to fight against fearful odds in Suckerdom, the newspaper account of the speech went on, but the speaker believed that all opponents could be “licked jist as easy as old Zack’ry licked Santa Anna. Let us all pull together and we’ll lick ‘em clean out of their boots.”
            The Bulletin reporter didn’t get the name of the fellow from Illinois. But that had to be Abe Lincoln.

* * *

July 20. 2016
 
by James Smart

What makes the world go round, or flat
There was a lot of attention paid last month in news magazines and on TV and the web about a family argument in Ontario, Canada, that resulted in a fight and a fire. The argument was over whether the earth is round or flat.
            The brouhaha took place in a campsite. I learned the word brouhaha on a vocabulary list is high school, and now, when I’ve been collecting Social Security for 20 years, is the first time I ever used it. But this was a genuine brouhaha. A guy who maintained that the earth is round got so angry with those present who insisted that it’s flat, he started tossing the campers’ gear into a fire, including a propane tank. It got so out of hand that the fire department was needed and the cops were summoned.
            Everyone who wrote about the incident expressed profound astonishment that there was anyone who still believed that the earth is flat.
            I thought the roundness of the planet was fairly well established. But looking into the subject, I find that there is a Flat Earth Society with a very nice web site, which says that associate membership is free, just for applying by postal card. Full membership gets a membership card, a certificate and a medallion, for a small donation.
            Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any address mentioned to send that card, or donation. Maybe I just didn’t look long enough. The society’s “Flat Earth Today” web site goes on for so long that it could probably go around the world a couple of times. Flatly, of course.
            The original idea that the world is round is credited to Pythagoras, a Greek philosopher who was born on the Island of Samos about 570 B. C. He is the guy who thought up the Pythagorean Theorem, which insists that in a right-angled triangle, the area on the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.
            That theorem was learned by all students who ever had the study of geometry inflicted on them, and was subsequently forgotten by most of them. Or maddeningly, the theorem has stuck in their heads, but they can’t remember what the heck a hypotenuse is.
            Wikipedia, a source of overabundant information on the Web, claims that it was Diogenes Laertius who reported that Pythagoras was “the first Greek who called the Earth round.” I think that was the same Diogenes who carried a lantern in the daytime to look for an honest man, and lived in a barrel. We heard about him in elementary school, before we had to deal with hypotenuses.
            That violent argument over the shape of the Earth took place in Brockville, Ontario, a town right across the St. Lawrence River from New York State, just a bit upstream from Lake Ontario and opposite a few of the Thousand Islands.
            After the flat-versus-round ruckus, Ronald Sajac, a columnist for the Brockville Recorder, contacted a guy in England from the Zetetic Council, an organization dedicated to supporting folks who have strong beliefs that are contradictory to accepted opinions.
The British protector of flatness proponents told Sajac that he could probably “sway your columnist’s opinion on cosmology, with enough time.” Sajac wrote that “He would not sway me on cosmology, even after several beers,” a staunch Canadian response.
            I’m inclined to feel the same way. But maybe somebody should ask the astronauts on the International Space Station to take a good look out the window. Just in case.

* * *

July 13, 2016

 by James Smart

Noah’s Ark and some modern copy cats
Building replicas of Noah’s Ark seems to be a popular activity. An animal the Ark has now that it didn’t have originally is copy cats.
      There were news reports last month that a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark collided with a Norwegian Coast Guard vessel in Oslo harbor. No animals were aboard, so I guess the ark’s owner wasn’t expecting a flood.
           The ark was being towed to its summer location. From what winter location, the news item didn’t say. It is one of two arks built by a Dutch carpenter, using the specifications from the Bible’s Book of Genesis.
            It’s a museum, and usually has statues of tigers, a giraffe, an elephant and a bison aboard, as well as live rabbits, peacocks and pheasants
            On July 7, the people who created the Creation Museum in Kentucky launched “Ark Encounter,” a theme park with what they say is “the most authentic full-size replica of Noah’s Ark in the world.” It’s huge and elaborate.
            Kennywood amusement park near Pittsburgh has had a non-full size Ark since the Thirties. For many years, it was entered through the mouth of a large whale, which seems to drag in another part of the Bible. It has been rebuilt for this season, and I don’t know if there are any animals inside.
            I have read that there is a full scale Ark in Hong Kong, and there are reduced scale or partial Arks here and there. There have also been Arks built as movie sets.
           But I don’t know about claims of full size. God gave Noah pretty good instructions, as reported in the Book of Genesis.
           “Make thee an ark of gopher wood,” He instructed (as translated by King James’s committee 405 years ago.) “Rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.
           “And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be 300 cubits, the breadth of it 50 cubits, and the height of it 30 cubits.
           “A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.”
            From what I have read, the cubit is a bit variable. It was the distance from the elbow to fingertip (or sometimes to wrist.) Apparently, any arm would do.
           The Near Eastern or Biblical cubit is usually estimated as approximately 18 inches. That would make the Ark about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high.
            By contrast, the battleship New Jersey, parked across the river in Camden, is 887 feet by 108 by 28. The “Welcome,” the ship that brought William Penn and 100 settlers to Philadelphia in 1682, was about 120 feet long and 24 feet wide.
           There are all sorts of opinions and guesses and absolute certainties to be found in books and on line about the ark (yet nobody seems to know what gopher wood was.)
           As for the animals, Noah’s instructions at first were to take “two of every sort,” male and female, “every living thing of all flesh” including “every creeping thing of the earth after his kind.”
           Later, the rules were changed, and Noah was told to take clean animals by sevens, and unclean (unfit to eat) by twos. I decline to get into a discussion about diet and/or religion here.
           But I suppose we should all be thankful that it was an empty Ark that the Norwegian ship bashed into, so there wasn’t a huge rescue operation necessary to save “every creeping thing of the earth” from drowning.

* * *

July 6, 2016
 
by James Smart

A handshake with Lafayette in Philly
As Independence Day paraded onto the calendar, I got to thinking about Lafayette’s visits to Philadelphia in 1824 and 1825, when he revisited his sites during the Revolution, and about a handshake I got not long ago.
            He was Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, born in France in 1757 to an aristocratic military family. A 15 th century ancestor served beside Joan of Arc.
            He showed up in America to help out with the Revolution, and George Washington made him a general. He was only 19. He was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine.
            He went home to France and served in the government, before and after a pause of a few years in an Austrian jail while French citizens got their revolution out of their system.
            In 1824, President James Monroe invited him to visit the United States on its 50th birthday. He did, going to all 24 states. Crowds turned out to cheer him.
            Lafayette arrived at Staten Island on Aug. 15, 1824. He toured the Revolutionary battlefields, and visited former President John Adams in Massachusetts. He spent most of September traveling around New York state.
            On Sept. 27, the First City Troop and other cavalry met Lafayette and his party at Morrisville and accompanied him to Philadelphia. Infantry units joined them at the stone bridge over the Pennypack. They passed through Frankford, and spent the night at the Arsenal.
            In Philadelphia in the morning, Lafayette was greeted by a huge parade, and a ceremony outside Independence Hall, under a ceremonial arch that spanned Chestnut St. at Fifth St., designed by architect William Strickland.
            The story is told that Lafayette commented that the old hall looked somewhat ratty, which it did. The original tower had rotted away. The embarrassed city would hire architect John Haviland to create the existing tower.
            For a week, the visitor was honored by groups including school children, former Revolutionary army officers and Masons, and was given banquets, balls and receptions.
            He then spent October, November and December gadding about the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland, dropping in on Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, addressing Congress, visiting President Monroe at the White House, and attending more banquets and balls.
            During the next six months or so he toured all the Southern states, and returned to New England. He was in New Jersey in July.
            On July 16, he arrived back in Philly, his entourage taking over the whole Franklin House hotel on Walnut St. across from Washington Square. There he dined with Mayor Joseph Watson and city officials and notables on the 18 th, and attended a concert.
           He rode up to Mount Airy on July 20, had breakfast at the Chew house, and went on to Chestnut Hill. On the way back, he attended a Masonic lecture at Wyck, Reuben Haines’s house in Germantown, which had just been remodeled by architect Strickland.
            After some further perambulating around the country, Lafayette celebrated his 68 th birthday on Sept. 6 at a banquet in the White House with the new president, John Quincy Adams. On Sept. 7, he sailed for home aboard the Navy frigate USS Brandywine.
            Oh, and that handshake. When I first met the late Philadelphia architect Horace W. Castor about 50 years ago, he said, “You just shook a hand that shook a hand that shook hands with Lafayette.” He wasn’t kidding. His teenage grandfather ran out to Lafayette’s carriage as it rumbled through Frankford and shook the general’s hand. So, it wasn’t really long ago.

* * *

June 29, 2016

 by James Smart

Tales about newspaper men, and booze
Some folks are excited about the new possibility of buying wine in a supermarket. This would puzzle citizens of many more enlightened states. Those of us who grew up with the State Store system don’t think it’s odd, but those from out-of-town seem to find it hard to grasp.
            Back in the 1950s, there was a television series called “The Big Story.” Each week, it dramatized a true account of a newspaper reporter who helped police somewhere solve a crime.
            Once, Nate Kleger, a reporter from the Philadelphia Bulletin, was a chosen subject. Researchers from the TV show came to town to interview people and study the city. A few background scenes were filmed here, though most were done in New York, some in a studio.
            One February evening in 1956, we drudges of the Bulletin night staff gathered around the newsroom TV to watch the show. It was reasonably realistic, although the actor who played Nate was young and handsome, and Nate was in his forties and (if his family will forgive me) a bit homely.
            The backgrounds looked like Philly, the police cars and uniforms seemed authentic, and everything was fine until a shared guffaw went up from our newsroom audience. There was TV’s Nate, on a supposed Philadelphia street, standing in front of a shop with a neon-tube sign in it that said “LIQUOR.”
            In those days, many newspaper reporters could remember Prohibition. They had plenty of tales to tell about the days when Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick brought in rough-and-ready Marine Corps General Smedley D. Butler to lead the police in battling illegal liquor sales.  Butler took the job seriously, and horrified the mayor by doing things like shutting down the Ritz Carlton and Bellevue-Stratford for selling liquor. He lasted only two years.
            Old-time reporters told a favorite, possibly true, yarn about Butler and booze. In 1925, one of the first ever live radio broadcasts of a football game was made of a game between the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University.
            One of the reporters from the city’s newspapers working that Saturday in the reporters’ room City Hall, room 619, brought in a radio. He also brought a long single-wire antenna, a necessity for radios in those days.
            The wire was strung across the room. The signal was weak, and somebody suggested putting the radio on the window sill, and hanging the antenna out the window, which overlooked City Hall courtyard. The reception was good there, but there was static when the antenna wire blew around. It needed a weight on the end. Someone found the very thing in a desk drawer: an empty whiskey bottle. It was tied to the antenna, and lowered out the window.
            The reporters didn’t know that the bottle was dangling just outside the upper part of Smedley Butler’s office window below. Neither did Gen. Butler; his back was to it.
            Then, some women arrived from the thoroughly anti-alcohol Women’s Christian Temperance Union, for a meeting with the general. They were horrified to see the evil container hanging outside. So was Butler. He sent some of his rugged cops upstairs. They smashed in the door to Room 619 (though it wasn’t locked) and confiscated radio, antenna and bottle.
            For some 30 years, before it was finally replaced, reporters showed the repaired scars on the door to Room 619 and told that story.

* * *

June 22, 2016

by James Smart

 Tell your dog to buckle up in the car
  A recent issue of the Consumer Reports magazine had an article warning consumers who own dogs, (though, I hope, never consume them) that it’s important to have safety restraints in their motor vehicles for their dogs, or anybody else’s dogs, just as they do for human passengers.
            The article mentions a bunch of suitable pet carriers and a couple of brands of fasten-down harnesses. Fastening down the dog is as much for the humans’ safety as the dog’s, the article points out. If the vehicle stops short, an unrestrained dog might not. Bad enough to be in a collision, without getting walloped in the back of the head by Fido.
            During my lifetime, I have had two dogs and two children, in an era when seat belts were not common, much less mandatory. We fortunately never had an incident when restraints on the children were needed.
            The dogs, being constructed differently than the kids in mind and body, did tend to leap back and forth from back to front seat, with additional leaping when we had a station wagon.
            My first dog was a smart and civilized dog. I often thought that she would make a good Boy Scout, since she observed most of the Scout laws we used to recite in meetings of Troop 330: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, kind, obedient, cheerful. Clean, not so much, and there were three laws, thrifty, brave, and reverent, she had no opportunity to try out.
            In the car, she was generally as well behaved as the children. She did get excited, with some barking and jumping, when she saw some dogs, but not all, in passing cars, and also certain roadside sights, particularly cows.
            She was perceptive. There was a certain intersection in our area where I could take one of three branches. One road led to the veterinarian. When we approached that point, the dog would begin the tremble. If we took a non-vet road, the shaking stopped immediately. On the road to the vet, she shivered all the way and all through the visit, until we were on the way home.
            When it was just the two of us in the car, she usually stood on the back seat with her chin propped on the back of the driver’s seat, her nose near my shoulder, watching the road. One night, on a dark and hilly road we often traveled, we came up out of a dip in the road and saw headlights headed straight for us.
            I pulled into a field and avoided a collision. The dog sat in the back seat for the rest of the ride home. Ever after that, day or night, when we came to that dip in that road, she would retreat to the back seat and lie down until we passed the scary point.
            She wasn’t perfect. She loved cars, and would hop into one at every opportunity. Once, my sister pulled into our driveway for a family get-together. My sister got out of the car, and opened the rear door.
            At that moment our dog came barreling across the lawn, lured by that open door. She leaped into the car. That would have been all right, except that she landed in two trays of deviled eggs, neatly lined up and covered with plastic wrap.
            It was a minor disaster no seat restraint would have prevented. But you might want to look into a seat belt for your dog, anyway.
            The magazine didn’t go into possible seat restraints for cats, but I doubt that the cat exists that would put up with one. And if you have a pet snake, you’re on your own.

                                                                       * * *
June 15, 2016


 by James Smart
Where an art collection might have been

A few weeks ago, Inga Saffron, the Pulitzer-winning architecture critic at that big newspaper down town, wrote about the imminent demise of the Health Center at Broad and Lombard Sts. She called the building an “important midcentury gem.”
            She also said that it “would make a great location for a contemporary art museum.” There’s a bit of historical irony there. The site nearly was an art museum.
            I’m not sure what was on the southwest corner of Broad and Lombard prior to 1854, but in that year the congregation of the First United Presbyterian Church built an edifice there, moving from Fourth and Walnut. They were there until 1910, when they moved to 52 nd St. and Chester Ave.
            A large house, which in modern street numbering would be 506 S. Broad St., was built behind the church. Sometime in the 1880’s, John Graver Johnson bought it to house his growing art collection.
           Johnson was a Philadelphia lawyer. In his New York Times obituary, Johnson was described by a British lawyer as “the greatest lawyer in the English-speaking world.” He turned down two presidents who wanted him on the Supreme Court, because he couldn’t afford the decrease in income.
            In 1900, Francis T. Sully Darley, a well-known musician, built a huge four-story mansion next to Johnson’s that would acquire the street number 510 S. Broad. When the church moved, and there were plans to build a theater at the corner, Johnson worried that a theater next door would be a fire hazard. In 1915, he bought the mansion at 510 and moved his art collection into it. The house at 506 was bought by W. Harry Baker, chairman of the Republican State Committee, and it was GOP state headquarters for 14 years.
            John G. Johnson died in April, 1917. The great lawyer’s will left his multi-million dollar art collection to the city, with the explicit proviso that it would remain publicly displayed in his Broad St. mansion.
           But the city was planning to build an art museum on the new parkway, and performed years of legal finagling to move the collection there, for good, demonstrating that politically-motivated Philadelphia judges could bust the will of even the greatest lawyer. (Or art collector. Does Albert Barnes come to mind?)
            The Johnson mansion became a Works Project Administration headquarters in the Thirties, and a United Service Organization servicemen’s club in the Forties.
            On the corner, the theater was built in 1919; first called the Dunbar, then the Gibson, then the Lincoln, offering African American stage shows and films, and Yiddish theatre for a while in the Forties. It closed in the Fifties.
            The City Planning Commission proposed to build the Health Center there. Plans had already been drawn, and the theater and old GOP house had been demolished, when City Council in 1956 approved acquisition and destruction of the Johnson mansion. The plot needed enlarging, because Ed Bacon and his merry band of planning commissioners wanted to widen Lombard St. into a multi-lane highway.
           The Health Center would be set back. The space in front of it could be a parking lot until the highway was perpetrated, Bacon said. That was 60 years ago. The expressway never happened, as you may have noticed. The parking lot is still there.
            To get an idea of what the Lombard expressway would have been like, look at Vine St. While you’re there, drop in at the Art Museum and see John G. Johnson’s collection

* * *

.June 8, 2016

by James Smart
Days of no kindergarten, or taxed soda

Reading all the recent controversy and carrying-on about Mayor Kenney’s plan to tack a fee on soft drinks to pay for pre-kindergarten schooling made me harken back, and it’s a long harken, to when I was of kindergarten age, J. Hampton Moore was mayor and a 12-ounce Pepsi cost a nickel.
            In those benighted days, preschool consisted of my parents reading to me, and my grandfather playing grown-up board games with me and telling me about his father’s adventures in the Civil War. My great-grandfather was in the Union Army, and my father was in the Hosiery Workers Union, and the difference between types of unions was an early preschool lesson.
            I never went to kindergarten. I’m not sure why. I would like to believe that my parents thought it would be a waste of my time, and I’m sure I would have thought so. I had one close friend and several other neighborhood friends to do things with. I don’t remember much of what we did, but it took up a lot of time.
           My five and six year old friends on the street would join me in sympathizing with the unfortunate kids who “had to go to kindergarten,” in the same way as in summer we missed the kids who “had to go to camp.”
           And one aunt took me downtown to the movies frequently, and another aunt took me camping with her Girl Scout troop. And I had to drop in on my other grandfather, who was a night watchman at Goldenberg’s and brought home peanut chews. How could I fit in kindergarten among my normal activities?
            I’m not knocking kindygarden, as we pronounced it then. I’m sure that many kids weren’t as lucky as I was, and needed to be kindergartenized.
            When first grade came along, and I had to start learning what somebody somewhere had ordained everybody should learn, I found that some kids who had gone to kindergarten were ahead of me, and some weren’t.
            The word kindergarten was coined in 1840 by a German who wanted to cultivate little children like plants, in a childrengarden. Der kinder of Philadelphia were already being gardened by then.
           A book called “The Public Schools of Philadelphia,” published in 1897, tells that in 1828, a decade after the first few free public schools were started in the city, the establishment of “infant schools” was authorized by act of state legislature. There had been preschools run by organizations called Infant School Societies, which leaned more toward moral and religious teaching than the ABCs.
           Starting in 1881, infant schools spread all over the city, supported by private contributions and managed by an organization called the Sub-Primary School Society. Children as young as four could “graduate” to the Primary schools.
           In 1887 the kindergartens (there were 32 then) were made part of the school system. By 1895, there were 118 kindergartens in Philly, with 160 teachers and 5,500 children.
           It wasn’t until 1895 that Pennsylvania made school attendance compulsory. The law applied to children from eight to 13, to be taught “the common English branches of learning.” Those branches, I suppose, were reading, writing, arithmetic, a little history, a little poetry, a little music.
          My grandparents had five or six years of school, my parents eight or nine. My grandchildren have college degrees. Maybe in the 21 st century, pre-kindergarten is needed as a start, with a PhD at the other end. And taxed soda in between.

* * *

June 1, 2016

 byJames Smart
A Philadelphia journalist turns 100

 On June 12, my friend John Koenig, Jr., will be 100 years old. His remarkable life as a journalist has taken him elsewhere, but he has maintained an abiding affection for Philadelphia, Northeast High School, Temple University, Long Beach Island and the old Evening Bulletin.
            John grew up at Front and Clearfield Sts. Like many elderly Philadelphia men (including me), he credits much of his success in life to his days at Northeast High, at 8 th and Lehigh.
            He was captain of the swimming team at Northeast, which trained, and swam in interscholastic meets, at the old North Branch YMCA at Germantown and Lehigh Aves. (After practice, he likes to recall, the swim team often adjourned to the Keystone Theater across Lehigh Ave. for a movie matinee.)
            Upon graduation from Northeast in February, 1934, John’s championship swimming earned him an athletic scholarship to Temple. He also became the Evening Bulletin’s part-time campus sports correspondent.   
             When he got his degree, he was hired by The Bulletin, and put on its radio news staff. In those days, local announcers read radio news taken from wire services or even local newspapers. The Bulletin in 1940 or ’41 pioneered with news on Bulletin-owned WPEN that actually emanated from the paper’s newsroom.
             Then came Pearl Harbor. John enlisted in early 1942, and served with the Army Air Force Ninth Bomber Command in England. He was discharged in November, 1945, and returned to The Bulletin.
             The Bulletin acquired WCAU when it bought the old Philadelphia Record in 1947, and sold WPEN. John was on a staff of five, turning out WCAU news scripts seven days a week from the back of the Bulletin newsroom.
             In 1949, John took a job with the Associated Press in Harrisburg. He worked in the AP newsroom in Philadelphia in 1955 and ’56, and then was assigned to Washington. He covered the capital for 31 years, under seven presidents. In his spare time, he traveled extensively, and wrote freelance travel articles for newspapers here and there.
             In 1962, he married Marie Lowe Hodgson, who was chief diplomatic correspondent for the U. S. Information Agency and Voice of America.
            John now lives in a leafy suburb of Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia. Marie’s family came to Athens in 1839, and is long connected with the 230-year old university, including the Hugh Hodgson School of Music and the Marguerite Thomas Hodgson Chair of Equine Studies.
             In recent years, John’s eyesight is failing. The Veterans Administration supplied him with a device that “reads” books and papers and projects them on a large screen. Using that magnifying machine, he laboriously writes long letters to old friends, and still reads such publications as the New York Times and The New Yorker. In letters to me, he reminisces about Philadelphia of his youth, and asks about what’s happening here now. He often discusses his favorite writers, ranging from John O’Hara to Wodehouse to Boswell and Johnson.
            As he reaches his 100 th birthday, I hope I have adequately saluted an admirable Philadelphian, and wish that everyone could read the three-inch-thick folder of letters I received from him through the years. Happy birthday, John.

* * *

May 25, 2016


by James Smart
Generations and technology, old and new

Much his written these days about how difficult it is for older people to adapt to the new technologies. Some senior citizens get overwhelmed by the onslaught of e-mail, the Web, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, eBay, Instagram, Skype, Xbox, and on and on with the other blessings technology has showered on us.
            But there’s another side of this dilemma. Young people get bewildered and bemused when they encounter former technologies that the old folks took for granted. 
            The oddity of this psychological phenomenon came home to me in an unexpected way when a workman, maybe about 40 in age, came into our house for a small repair job. He followed me down the stairs to the cellar, and I pulled the string hanging down that lit the light bulb above.
            He had a mystified expression on his face. He finished his work, and then preceded me toward the steps, saying “I’ll go first, and let you do whatever you do with the light.”
            His perplexity reminded me of when my granddaughter, when she was a little girl, saw a dial phone in our house and asked, “How does that work?
           The young folks can snicker at us codgers when we have a hard time dealing with computers and iPhones and GPS tracking devices, but they don’t have to learn to use the old stuff. If they were forced to use a coal furnace, or an automobile without an electric starter, or a telephone with human operators to get the number for them, they’d have a thing or two to learn.
           In doing historical research, I have come across many examples of people being puzzled by new technology. I once came upon a letter to the editor of an 1825 newspaper that said, “I have read that a railroad is being built here. What is a railroad?” There is a story about the beginnings of the telegraph in the 1850s, when a woman came into a railroad station and told the telegrapher there that her husband was working at the next station down the line. Would he be able to send her husband’s lunch to him by telegraph?
          I remember my grandmother, seeing a television turned on for the first time, asking of the face on the screen, “Now, can he see us?”
         My grandmother is a good example of someone who had to learn about many new technologies. She was born before the Wright brothers flew and before Marconi made his first radio signals, and lived to watch on television as men landed on the moon.
         Think of the new technology that bombarded her life. Automobiles. Electric lights. Telephones. Furnaces operated by thermostats. Radio. Television. She was always a little suspicious of the telephone, which was invented when she was one year old. She would answer and take messages, but I doubt that she made many calls in her life.
         Yet she welcomed some new technologies. When the family bought a house with gas lights in 1921, she had electric lights installed. The wires were run through the old gas pipes. She had an indoor bathroom put in, with bathtub and toilet. No sink; there was already a sink in the kitchen.
         Just after World War II ended, aluminum storm windows and screens became popular. She bought them. Insulation was recommended. She had the stuff blown in under the roof.  But an electric doorbell, to replace the knob, cord and pulleys that rang the cowbell dangling in the hall? She just didn’t like the idea.
         Grandmom died the year before e-mail was invented. I would love hearing her opinion of that.

* * *

May 18, 2016

 by James Smart

An editor and writer mulls over some words

Editors tend to form opinions and prejudices that writers have to live with. Ask any writer. I’ve been both a writer and an editor at different times through the years. When I read newspapers and magazines, I mutter about things they do that I would not if I were editor.
      There are certain perfectly good words that become suddenly and briefly popular. When they begin to pop up in three or four articles per issue, I would ban them briefly. Right now, the over-used word or words are icon, or iconic. Watch your daily newspaper or the news magazines, and see how often “iconic” appears.
      I would rule out misuse of the word eponymous. I’m old fashioned, and stick to the definition, straight from Merriam-Webster: “of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named.”
      These days, it’s more and more accepted that “the eponymous Oprah Winfrey Show” means a show named after its star. But the true meaning of eponym is “a word taken from the name of a person.” For instance, Sam Maverick was a Texan about 140 years ago who refused to brand his cattle. Allesandro Volt, James Watt and Andre Ampere gave their names to electrical measurements.
      Other names that became part of the English language include boycott from Charles Cunningham Boycott, an Irish politician; chauvinism from Nicolas Chauvin, a Frenchman; guillotine, from Joseph Guillotine, its inventor; lynching, from Charles Lynch, an 18 th century Virginia judge.
      I maintain that those are real eponyms, and those other things are merely self-titled. Copy editors and English teachers may give me an argument. They’ll say the language is ever-changing because of usage. I’ll buy that. I’ve seen some words get beaten into another shape.
      Epitome, for instance. In high school, that was defined as “a part typical of the whole.” Current dictionaries offer such definitions as “the typical or highest quality,” and common usage is something like “the absolute best.” Slide back through Latin into Greek, and it was originally something like “to reduce.” Who knows what we English speakers will do to it next?
      But eponym (a distant Greek cousin of epitome) actually meant something like “giving one’s name to something” way back when, so I’m sticking with the original.
      A different type of problem that would bug me as an editor is the euphemisms (more Greek) used to describe public toilets. Newspapers and magazines these days use many words that were considered inappropriate in print not many years ago, but editors and writers still dread the fairly innocent word toilet.
        Recent news headlines mentioned a girl assaulted in “a high school bathroom,” and disagreement over transgender use of public “bathrooms.”  Come on, fellows. Nobody takes baths in those bath rooms, or rests in most rest rooms, either.
         Modern dictionaries define a toilet as the appliance itself, but also allow the word’s use for a room, building or cubicle containing said appliance.
         My wife lived in London for a while, years ago, and she still speaks of going to the loo. She tells me that the word loo transitioned humorously in British slang from water closet to Waterloo to loo. Maybe our sensitive newspapers should adopt that word. Headline writers love short words.
                                                                                 * * *
 May 11, 2016

 by James Smart

The spirit of a complex statesman
 A photograph in a newspaper a couple of weeks ago showed Vice President Joe Biden stepping out of a giant C-17 Globemaster military transport in Baghdad. Above the doorway of the plane was painted, in fancy lettering, “The Spirit of Strom Thurmond.”
            Whoa, I thought, or similar mental effusion to that effect. You see, I am an old guy, and of the Northern persuasion, and when I hear the name of Strom Thurmond, my first thoughts go back to the 1948 Democratic Presidential Convention.
            It was here in Philadelphia, and I was there, very marginally, as a copy boy of the Evening Bulletin, running errands back and forth between the Bulletin building across from City Hall and the office that Bulletin reporters were using in the old Convention Hal near 34 th and Spruce.
            The Democrat leadership, in their party platform, included a plank, only 165 words out of 4,236, calling for equal rights for all races, creeds and colors to live, work, vote and have protection under the law.
            That caused most of the Southern delegates to walk out of the convention. They started their own States’ Rights Democratic Party, which became known as the Dixiecrats. And they nominated, for president, the governor of South Carolina, Strom Thurmond.
           He made his views clear: “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.”
           He was never a racist, he explained. He was just against too much authority of the federal government. And he did later soften his views on civil rights through the years (sometimes whether he liked it or not.)
          No matter what anyone thought of his opinions, he was a remarkable man. He was born in 1902, and lived to be 100. He was governor of South Carolina from 1947 to 1951, and U. S. Senator from 1956 to January, 2003. He was a Democrat until 1964, then became a Republican when Barry Goldwater ran for President.
           His personal life was unusual. He was married the first time, while governor, at age 44, to a 21-year-old girl he met when he was one of the judges who picked her as Miss South Carolina. She died when she was 34. In 1968, when he was 66 and a Senator, he married another Miss South Carolina, age 22.
           Shortly after Thurmond died in 2003, it was revealed that he had an African-American daughter, born in 1926. She was a 16-year-old servant in his home, when he was 22.
           But what about Joe Biden? Was it a coincidence that he was on that airplane? Maybe. But to my surprise, I learned that Biden and Thurmond had adjoining offices as senators. They became friends despite ideological differences, and Biden gave a eulogy at Thurmond’s funeral.
           Biden told many stories that day. He obviously had watched Thurmond ease cautiously into an unfamiliar new era. At one point, Biden said:
          “And over the years, I remember seeing a lot of change, including the number of African-Americans on his staff and African-Americans who sought his help.
           “For the man who will see, time heals, time changes, and time leads him to truth. But only a special man like Strom would have the courage to accept it, the grace to acknowledge it, and the humility in the face of lasting enmity and mistrust to pursue it to the end.”
            I’ll take Joe Biden’s word. The Strom Thurmond I remember from 1948 moved reluctantly into a changing world. Okay, fly with his spirit, Mr. Vice President.

* * *

May 4, 2016


by James Smart


Farewell to the great Procrastinator
My old friend Les Waas died on April 19. He did so many unusual things in his 94 years, I can’t fit them all in one column. He was probably most widely known as the founder of the Procrastinators Club of America, and its perpetual president. They never got around to having an election.
      Les could have been in the costume business. His grandfather and father ran Waas & Son at 11 th and Sansom Sts. for a century, renting costumes to theaters, Halloweeners, Mummers or whatever.
    But World War II came along, and Les was soon piloting huge C-47 airplanes over the Pacific. After the war, he went to work for an advertising agency, then started his own agency. He did commercials for radio and then new television, and developed a knack for musical jingles. ive Me a Little Kiss-ling’s Sauerkraut” became classic, and his “Everybody Who Knows Goes To Melrose” is said to be the longest running radio jingle ever, for 35 years. He wrote the tune that emanates incessantly from Mr. Softee ice cream trucks in warm weather.
     When singing call letters were a fad among radio stations, Les made money producing them. I sat one morning in a recording studio and watched Les conduct a male quartet, repeatedly till they were perfect, singing “double-you-tee-oh-peee, Wash-ing-ton.”
      More seriously, Les originated the plan, quickly adopted by radio stations, of giving schools numbers to be announced when there were closings because of snow. Previously, announcers read long, boring recitations of the names of schools.
      But, back to the Procrastinators. They got around to having Christmas parties in spring, and picnics in winter. (Such events raised money for charity.)
      They were activists. They picketed a restaurant, objecting to early bird specials. The club petitioned the National Organization of Women to change its acronym from NOW to LATER.
      In the era of anti-war demonstrations, they demonstrated against the War of 1812, with signs reading “Hands Off Lake Erie” and “Give Up the Ship.”
      A great moment in procrastination came when the organization went to London in 1970 and picketed the Whitechapel Bell Foundry because of that defective Liberty Bell it sent us in 1752. The foundry folks invited them in for tea, and said that they would repair the bell if, under the terms of the warranty (which must have blown overboard during shipping,) it was returned in its original container.
      On April 17, 1968, Phillies opening day at Connie Mack Stadium, the Procrastinators met at Broad and Pattison, where the construction of Veterans Stadium had not been finished on time, and consumed hot dogs while listening to the game on the radio.
      When not procrastinating, another of Les’s activities was his annual April Fool’s Day appearances on radio talk shows as State Rep. Donald Swerbitz, who gave his proposals for various sorts of goofy legislation. Perhaps best known was his proposed law that every citizen should wear a plug in one nostril, thus cutting air pollution in half.
      Les ran for the Pennsylvania legislature in 1978, in a rare outburst of seriousness, though he did hold a $100 a plate fund raiser with tickets for $15, “an 85 percent discount.” (He lost.)
      His friends could tell you about his annual wacky Christmas cards, all too complicated to explain here.
      Les Waas is gone now. He always used to say that the Procrastinators Club had millions of members; it was just that most of them had put off paying dues yet. So you see, we’re all members of the Procrastinators Club.

                            * * *
April 27, 2016

by James Smart

Fondly remembering an old time reporter
 Back in the days when the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin was the largest evening newspaper in the land, one of its most colorful reporters was George R. Staab.
            George worked at The Bulletin for 39 years. He was a Kensington kid, and a Northeast High School product, although he didn’t graduate; he claimed he resigned. He was well read, and good at his craft. He affected a grouchy, iconoclastic persona, with an odd wit and a propensity to coin off-beat phrases.
            He seemed to have a slight knowledge of several languages, could play several instruments, could sing operatic arias (badly, but he knew the words) and could discuss just about anything.
            When I was a young reporter I often encountered older cops who remembered George from 25 years past and chuckled when they asked about him. He was considered eccentric even then.
           He feigned disdain for his own profession. Once, a stranger at the bar in Cavanaugh’s, across the street from The Bulletin, heard George expounding sourly on some subject, and asked what he did for a living. George replied, “I’m a professional liar.”
            But he treated his position as a journalist as equal to anyone. A story I cannot confirm, but hope is true, is that once, at one of the annual Bulletin Forums that brought assorted big shots to Philadelphia, George was on a reporters’ panel interviewing a line-up that included Senator Hugh Scott and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.
           George addressed a question to Scott. Dulles began to reply. George interrupted the secretary of state, “I wasn’t talking to you, sonny.”
           I once heard him ask Eugene Ormandy, “How long have you been leading the town band?”
           George had his own whimsical vocabulary. A hospital was always “the pest house.” City Hall was “the stone pile.” He affectionately described the McLean family, owners of The Bulletin, as “oatmeal eating Presbyterians.” He covered the labor unions in the 1960s, and referred to them as “agonized labor.”
          Near the end of his career, he was assigned to the military beat. He explained how to become known and develop sources. Arriving at a military installation, he claimed, hewould park in an empty space designated for the highest officer he could find. This usually resulted in a search for him that made him known as that reporter who parked in the colonel’s space, and junior officers became his friends.
          When I was given a column to write, turned loose to produce an article daily, George gave me one bit of advice: “Jimmy, be a furnace, don’t be a skyrocket.” Maybe that’s why I never burned out.
          For many years, George lived on Midvale Ave. in East Falls. He somehow got hold of an old firehouse bell, the kind that rang the alarm box numbers when he was a young reporter. When you pushed his doorbell button, the fire bell inside chimed the house number.
         George never said anything so prosaic as “when I’m dead and gone.” It was always, “When you fellas are hanging your heels over the curb outside Oliver Bair’s on account of Staab...”
         George died in 1969. The viewing was, yes, at Oliver Bair’s. Bill Forsythe, another old Bulletin hand, reminded me of George’s phrase. So we stood outside the funeral parlor and talked for a while, with our heels hanging over the Chestnut St. curb.

* * *

April 20, 2016
 
by James Smart
Jonathan gets a bath after 184 years

A short item in a magazine reported that a tortoise named Jonathan, who is 184 years old and lives on St. Helena Island, was recently given the first bath of his life. The item was only about 100 words long, and left me with a number of questions.
            I tried to look into the subject, and found that tortoisology is rather complicated. Tortoises’ bathing habits, if they have any, don’t seem to be very well documented.
            Tortoises are inclined to live a long time. I suppose they do everything slowly, including aging. A tortoise that was said to be 255 years old died in 2006 in the zoo in Kolkata, India, possibly from shock that they changed the spelling from Calcutta.
            Jonathan and several other elderly tortoises were brought to St. Helena in 1882 from the Seychelles, which is a clump of 115 islands off the coast of East Africa and has always had a bunch of giant tortoises on the premises. I’m not sure why some were relocated to St. Helena.
            St. Helena is a five by 10 mile island in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 2,500 miles east of Rio de Janeiro and approximately in the middle of nowhere. Since the 16 th century, it has been a designated hangout for ships, on and off, of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English.
            After the British Waterlooed Napoleon in 1815, they stuck him on St. Helena, where he couldn’t get in any more trouble. (He said he liked the coffee there.) The French government owns the house where Napoleon died on that otherwise British island.
            As for Jonathan, in 2008 a British newspaper published a story about a photograph from the Boer War, taken on St. Helena about 1900. Next to a prisoner of war (presumably incarcerated there, a la Napoleon) was a tortoise believed to be Jonathan. It was estimated that he was then 70 years old. That seems a dubious way to estimate identity and age.
           The St. Helena folk’s new airport will open soon, and they hope that someone from the royal family will come to dedicate it. Nothing official has been announced, but St. Helena people thought they had better make Jonathan presentable, just in case.
            For some perspective, in case you need some, when old Jonathan was hatched, presumably in 1832, the population of the United States was about 13 million. There were only 24 states.
            It was the year that the Democratic Republican Party, which had elected every president since Thomas Jefferson, renamed itself the Democratic Party as it renominated Andrew Jackson for a second term.
           Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was not renominated, and resigned after the election. He was replaced by Martin Van Buren.
            Samuel Francis Smith wrote the “My country, ‘tis of thee” lyrics to the tune of “God Save the King” (who was William IV then.)
            Thomas “Daddy” Rice was a popular singer and comic who performed in black face as a character named Jim Crow, and put a phrase into the American idiom.
            It was 1832 that the U. S. Army discontinued daily liquor rations for the troops.
            And little Jonathan-to-be was a baby tortoise, unaware that he might need a bath in 184 years or so. 


 * * *

 April 13, 2016

by James Smart
The family that owned the Temple campus
Temple University has its collective mind set on building a huge stadium on what it calls its Philadelphia campus. That campus has been creeping all over North Philly for years.  
       A map from 1942 shows Temple occupying the fractional block from Broad St. back to dinky Park Ave. between Berks and Montgomery, plus one small building across Berks. It has spread to have buildings in an area mostly from Diamond to Oxford streets between 11 th and 16 th, but with its farthest property poking north to Susquehanna Ave. and south to Jefferson
       Seems like a large chunk of real estate. But if you could go back to, say, 1805 (though I don’t recommended it,) you would find most of North Philadelphia east of Broad St. with one owner, the Masters estate.
       It’s odd how little the Masters family is remembered. The borders of their holdings were too wildly irregular to spell out here, but stretched roughly from Broad St. to Frankford Ave. and down the river to Poplar St., and on the north touched Berks and Norris Sts.
       Thomas Masters was mayor of Philadelphia from 1707 to 1709. He acquired properties in the Northern Liberties as early as 1715, and his son, William, acquired more.
       William’s daughter, Mary, married Governor Richard Penn, William’s grandson. They lived at 5 th and Market, on the site of the house later occupied by President Washington. In 1777, Congress wanted to send a peace proposal to London. Richard volunteered to take it (a smart move, with the Revolution and all.) With him to London went his wife, Mary, and her sister, Sarah Masters. They never came back. In 1795, Sarah married an Irishman named Turner Camac, a lieutenant in the British army, just back from 10 years in India.
       Things had settled down in the new United States by 1804, and Camac came to Philadelphia to manage all the leases and debts and confusions of the vast real estate holdings that were now his wife’s. They owned the east half of the Northern Liberties District of Philadelphia County, which was bounded by the Wingohocking and Frankford Creeks and Vine St., from Germantown Road to the Delaware.
        In the 1800 U. S. Census, Northern Liberties was the sixth most populous city in the nation, population 10,718. (Philadelphia was second, with 41,220.)
       The Camacs had a city house on Third St. below Spruce. They lived mainly in a house  at what was then called Green Spring, between the present Berks and Montgomery near the present 11 th St. They later replaced it with a mansion they named Woodvale.
       Turner Camac got involved in canal building. In 1817, he established a line of wagons and a chain of ice houses across New Jersey to transport fresh fish to Philadelphia.
       Camac died in 1830. His family went on to be prominent in Philadelphia. During the Civil War, Dr. William Masters Camac, Turner’s grandson, turned the Woodvale house into the 50-bed Officers’ General Hospital. The 66 th and 67 th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments camped on the estate in 1861 and 1862.
       The house was torn down in 1869. The estate became called Camac’s Woods. It was used as a public park for a while; cricket, baseball and boxing matches were held there.
       Dr. Camac lived in various parts of the city, as did his son, also a William, who was an architect who worked with the famous Frank Furness. At the end of the 19 th century, the Camacs had a big house in Roxborough, near the present Northern Children’s Services, and one of the Williams was a vestryman at St. Timothy’s.
       Camac’s Woods is a dim memory now, and I’m not sure where the site of Woodvale would be in the modern Temple University campus. Anderson Hall, maybe?

                                                     * * *
April 6, 2016

by James Smart
Remembering an old-time photographer
L
ooking through some old photos from days of journalistic yore at the old Philadelphia Bulletin, I came upon a picture of Sonnee Gottlieb, a news photographer. It shows him getting ready to photograph hockey star Bobby Clarke and Mayor Frank Rizzo, sometime in the 1970s. Sonnee is holding his celebrated Beilttog camera.
      Sonnee had a colorful career. Some tales told about him tend to vary, and he occasionally did some of the varying.
      He was born in Brooklyn in 1912. His name was Sol, but the nickname Sonnee was applied to him. He always spelled it with two E’s. I know nothing of his youth, but in his early twenties he got a job as a messenger for Hearst’s International News Service in New York, and in 1939 became a photographer for International News Photos. 
      The war started, and in 1942 he became a combat photographer in the Army’s War Still Picture Pool. He was sent to North Africa and then France, and in later years often displayed a picturesque round scar on his side. One story said it was from shrapnel, and another was that it resulted when a tank ran into his jeep.
      Another yarn, for which I can’t vouch, was that he had accompanied famous columnist Ernie Pyle. After the German surrender, Pyle was sent to the Pacific. Sonnee wanted to go with him, but was brought home. Pyle was killed on a South Pacific Island.
      After the war, Sonnee was moved to the International News bureau in Philadelphia. Some of his noteworthy photography included Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier at the Atlantic City Race Track in 1955 and 1966: “Over here, hon. Yo, Prince.”
       He covered several Miss America pageants, notably 1952, when Marilyn Monroe was grand marshal of the Miss America parade. I’m not sure about this story, but I’ve heard that Marilyn was in a chair, in a low cut blouse, surrounded by reporters and photographers. Sonnee spotted an eight foot stepladder nearby, moved it next to the crowd, and over their heads took an overhead photo of Marilyn’s cleavage that became a sort of classic.
      One thing I do know is that Sonnee’s 1952 Christmas card showed a photo of a smiling Marilyn snuggling with Sonnee in a cheek-to-cheek embrace; he looked happy but abashed, and was clutching his Speed Graphic camera.
      When INS folded in 1958, or maybe before, Sonnee joined The Bulletin. He often was accompanied by his tiny dog named Vero, a Manchester terrier, I think. If Sonnee had Vero with him in the office, the dog was so small that Sonnee would let him sit in a desk drawer while he talked to me. Vero was widely admired, and his fans made clothes for him: jackets, sweaters, a fur coat, a tux, even an Atlantic City Life Guard uniform
      Sonnee retired to Florida in 1977, and died in 1989.
      Oh, and about that Beilttog camera mentioned at the beginning. Sonnee used to grumble about well-heeled amateur photographers (a dentist or a lawyer, he would mutter) who saw his mundane newspaper camera and say, “Oh, I have a $5,000 Hasselblad 1600F.”
      Finally, Sonnee got a Bulletin engraver to create an elegant little metal nameplate that said “Beilttog,” and applied it to the front of his camera. It was amazing, he said, how the amateurs avoided discussing cameras, rather than admit they knew nothing about his exotic Beilttog camera.
      Beilttog is Gottlieb spelled backward.

* * *


March 30, 2016
 
by James Smart


The man who invented the cowboy hat
This year is the 150 th anniversary of the Stetson Hat Co., which was once one of Philadelphia’s manufacturing giants. There is still a company making Stetsons, but it’s not like the old days when John B. Stetson ran things.
            John B. was born in 1830, the son of a North Jersey hat maker, and learned the trade early. But as a young man, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and moved west for his health. 
            He saw that cowboys and other dwellers of the plains and mountains wore generally crummy hats, derbies and straws and fur, often vermin infested. He used his hatter’s skills to make felt out of fur, and designed a hat useful for outdoorsmen, with a wide brim for shelter from sun and rain, and a crown that could be used as a bucket.
            The demand for the “cowboy hat” grew, and has never stopped. In 1866, Stetson moved to Philadelphia and began mass producing his Western hats, as well as hats for city dwellers. He operated in several locations, but by 1895 had settled on a triangle of land on the southwest corner of Fourth St. And Montgomery Ave.
            When John B. died in 1906, his company had expanded around that neighborhood until, by the 1940s, its 6,000 or so employees occupied two dozen buildings covering the block from Columbia Ave. (now Cecil B. Moore Ave.)  to Montgomery Ave., from Germantown Ave. to Fourth St., plus a half block north of Montgomery, as well as the Stetson Hospital across Fourth St. and a full-block employee baseball field between Third and Fourth from Montgomery Ave. to Berks St.
           And those last two locations are examples of something that made Stetson, and his successors, somewhat unique. Stetson provided multiple benefits for his workers. The hospital offered a family health plan for 25 cents a month. There was a life insurance plan, a pension plan and paid vacations, not usual in Stetson’s day. There was a Stetson building and loan association for employees. There was a 5,500-seat auditorium, a chapel, a Sunday School, day care for workers’ children, a library and reading room, a gymnasium, scheduled dances, and citizenship classes.
           John B. expected in return that his workers should lead lives free from the evils of alcohol, tobacco, swearing, gambling and other bad habits. Pledges in the early days were written into apprenticeship agreements.
            Even while the company produced more and more Stetsons, which was all you needed to call that western hat, it began making more and more citified men’s hats, and also women’s hats. But tastes in headgear changed through the years, and both men and women began going hatless more often.
            There is an often expressed theory that when President John F. Kennedy usually went hatless, it influenced younger folks to do the same in the 1960s. But I know that about 1950 or so, if you watched the Stetson workers getting off the No. 50 trolley in the morning outside the plant, you would see both men and women remove hats from their paper lunch bags and put them on their heads, staying in fashion until they were in sight of the hat works.
            The Philadelphia Stetson plant closed in 1971. Newer buildings occupy the site. John B.’s mansion at 17 th and Spring Garden Sts. is condos now. The company has gone through various changes, and Stetson hats are now manufactured by Hatco, Inc., in Garland, Texas. If you want to look like a cowboy, you still need a Stetson.

                           * * *
March 23, 2016

by James Smart 
An exhibit salutes our fashionable ladies
An exhibition called “Philadelphia in Style: A Century of Fashion” is currently on view at the Michener Museum in Doylestown. I haven’t seen it, but the fashion editor of that big newspaper down town wrote a nice article about it.
          The major feature of the display is 34 examples of Philadelphia women’s clothes from 1896 to 1993, demonstrating that Philly was a center of fashion in those days.
          History is more my thing than women’s clothing, but it’s good to see Philadelphia get its due as a former center of women’s fashion. The city’s influence on style began before the period the exhibit covers, when Louis Godey started publishing his magazine, Godey’s Ladies Book, in 1830.
          Godey’s included short stories, poetry, book reviews, music, and articles on food and cooking, sewing and knitting, houses and furnishings, child raising and other women’s concerns. But the most popular content was fashion: what were the latest trends, and what were well-known women wearing. The correspondent “Alice in Washington” kept Godey readers aware of what the First Lady and the women of Washington wore to the glamorous events in the Capital.
          And the main feature was the monthly full-color plates of the latest evening gowns, day wear, riding attire, house dresses, all the newest designs for the prosperous woman to consider and the average woman to dream about.
          In the post-Civil War era, Godey’s had the largest magazine circulation in America. Largely responsible for that was Sarah Josepha Hale, a Boston editor Godey lured in 1836 to his offices at 6 th and Chestnut Sts., where she edited the magazine until she died in 1878, a few months after Godey’s death.
          Mrs. Hale’s taste in fashion and views on women’s rights influenced a generation. But oddly, she is usually best remembered as the author of the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
          New York gradually became the glamor city, and Godey’s stopped publishing in 1898. But Philadelphia had no shortage of wealthy women, from old families or the wives of businessmen and industrialists, who expected to be dressed in the best.  Private dressmakers served high society, but so did such purveyors as John Wanamaker and Strawbridge & Clothier.
          Wanamaker, 100 years ago, give or take, had stores in Paris and London, which sent home the latest fashions from Europe. In the first Strawbridge store at 8 th and Market, from 1870 until it was gradually rebuilt in the 1930s, high fashion customers were accommodated in an elegant private lounge that included areas where dresses could be tried on and viewed in daylight, gas light and, eventually, electric light.
          Readers in East Falls may have been puzzled by that fashion editor’s article stating that Julia Rush Biddle, who in 1964 was inducted into Vanity Fair’s International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame, was married to T. Charlton Henry, “for whom Henry Ave. was named.”  Mrs. Henry, who was born in 1886 and died in 1978, did live to be considered the grand dame of Philadelphia fashion. (She was also great-great granddaughter of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.) But it was her husband’s grandfather, Alexander Henry, after whom Henry Ave. was named. He was a mayor of Philadelphia, as were other men whose names adorn the streets of East Falls: Conrad, Fox, McMichael, Stokley, Vaux.
          Anyway, I probably won’t get to Doylestown to see the fashion exhibition. Too bad. I like that museum because I can see James Michener’s work room enshrined there, with manual typewriter and odds and ends of manuscript, and think presumptuously, hey, I’m a writer, too.

                              * * *
March 16, 2016

 by James Smart
Some questions about driverless cars
More and more seems to be written every day about driverless automobiles. Articles in magazines and newspapers, and pictures on TV news programs, tell us about the wonderful new world of the personless horseless carriage.
            Within a year or two, or any day now, or before we know it, automobiles will become more auto than ever, and the world will be a better place because driverless cars will be so much better than driverful cars that there will be virtually no accidents, no stupid driving, no road rage, and the automotive angels will sing.
            You see, the driverless car is equipped with cameras and sensors and other spooky electronic paraphernalia that keep it from running into anything or going too fast, and a computer brain that also gets input on weather conditions, traffic delays, and global positioning data that tells it where it is and where it is going.
            We will all be safer, happier, and able to eat, sleep, read, text, shave, knit, or any number of things drivers heretofore could not, or at least should not, do.
            When I read glowing articles about these approaching wonders, I feel the presence of high-priced public relations agencies in the background. While we are being apprised of the safer and easier motoring of the robot vehicles, I am left with a bunch of unanswered questions, unless I just haven’t read the right articles.
            For one thing, won’t the driverless car make it easy for many people to live without owning a car? We already have the Uber-like systems where a person uses his hand-held computer device to call for a car, and the nearest one answers. Will there be companies that have driverless cars cruising around cities, or perhaps parking themselves in any convenient legal parking space, to answer the summons of folks who need them?
            So, you get in a driverless car, and you program the GPS to take you to the house of a friend who lives on a city street that is always solidly lined with parked cars. The car would let you off there, I guess, and then wander away until it found an empty space somewhere, and then wait there for you to call it.
            There are many types of vehicles that don’t fit into the optimistic view of driver-free transportation. How would a driverless school bus work?
            Driverless fire engines might be a good idea. The address of the fire gets entered into the system and the GPS guides the equipment to the location. But some decisions must be made when the vehicles arrive that go beyond driverlessness.
            Police cars with robotic drivers would be okay most of the time, but will there be a “follow that car” button to push that locks the pursuer on the tail of a fleeing car doing 65 in and out of city streets? Driverless vehicles presumably will be able to communicate with each other, and give right of way to police cars, fire apparatus and ambulances.
            Driverless buses? Will they sense people waiting on corners? Will wise-guy kids then stand on the corner until the bus stops and then run away laughing? Can an automated system handle all the situations that come up on buses?
            But perhaps the biggest question is this: What will happen during the period, possibly not many years away, when driverless cars, with all their perfect traffic decisions and impeccable driving habits, are on the road with the rest of us stupid, or at least imperfect, human drivers, whom God carelessly neglected to equip with electronic sensors, digital cameras and GPS guidance systems?


                           * * * 
March 9, 2016


by James Smart

Blue Jeans Williams and the rise of denim

 A gang of nine armed robbers wearing ski masks raided a fashionable clothing store down town, a few weeks ago, and made off with thousands of dollars’ worth of jeans. That’s right, items that used to be plain old work pants, but are now sometimes haute couture, which is French for “expensive.”
            I looked into the history of jeans, because, like most men who are old enough to remember when boys wore knickers, I still vaguely feel that jeans are “work pants.”
            They were often called levis when I was a kid. A fellow named Jacob E. Davis actually patented “blue jeans” in 1873. He was a tailor who got the idea of making heavy-duty pants with copper rivets at vital points in the seams. He presented his idea to Levi Strauss, an immigrant German manufacturer in San Francisco.
            The rest is history, except that folks began calling the pants levis. I couldn’t find an explanation of why they weren’t called jacobs
            The legendary cotton cloth into which Jake and Levi stuck the copper rivets is said to have originated in Genoa, Italy, and was used for work clothes by sailors in the Mediterranean. French sailors bent the word Genoas into genes, which became jeans.
            In the city of Nimes in France, weavers tried to turn out an improved version of jeans, and the name of the heavier cloth “de Nimes” (from Nimes) compressed into denim.  Another version of the blue-dyed cloth was said to come from the city of Dongri, near Mumbai in India, so the word dungarees popped up in English.
            No matter what people called them, those blue died pants went digging with the gold prospectors, plowing with the farmers, riding with the cowboys, getting greasy with the railroad builders,
            And if anything else was to make them famous, it was Blue Jeans Williams. His real name was James D. Williams, of Monroe City, Indiana. He was born in 1808, son of a farmer, who was 20 when his father died and he took over the family farm.
            He married Nancy Huffman when he was 23, and they eventually had seven children. Williams became prominent in Democratic politics. Nancy mostly stayed home and ran their 3,000 acre farm. While her husband was politicking, he dressed the same in Indianapolis as at home, and became called Blue Jeans Williams.
            He was elected to the Indiana House in 1844, moved on to the state Senate from 1860 to 1872, served in the U. S. House in 1875 and ’76, and then was governor of Indiana from 1877 to 1880.
            His rival for governor was Benjamin Harrison, who was elected president of the United States in 1889. A New York newspaper wrote that “Harrison dresses in Broadway fashion.” But a farmer with 3,000 acres was a rich man, and Blue Jeans Williams dressed as he pleased. He had elegant suits tailored of denim, with silk linings in the jackets.
            He probably would have been amused to know that big city teenagers in the 1950s and beyond would begin proudly wearing jeans with dramatic fading and holes in knees. And the recent armed theft of valuable blue jeans might have amused him.
            Once, when decrepit jeans were first becoming the fashion, a young woman stopped me in a store on a Saturday and asked me how I got my jeans so wonderfully worn and faded. I told her that the secret was to wear them working in the garden every Saturday for about 15 years. She thanked me, and went away looking puzzled, and a bit sad

* * *

.March 2, 2016

by James Smart
 
It’s election time for us, the people

It seems that we’re going to have a presidential election one of these days. And the sooner, the better. I’m not sure anybody is in charge right now, down there in Washington. Congress is generally ignoring the President
          We’re short a Supreme Court Justice at the moment. The Constitution says that the President should pick a new one. You remember the Constitution? It is full of rules that some politicians find annoying.
          Some Republicans say that the President should not decide on a new Justice, but should wait until after the election so that the people can decide. I thought it was the people who elected the President we’ve got.
          I also thought that it was another bunch of us, the people, who wrote the Constitution. They called themselves “We, the People of the United States.” But they were a long time ago. Maybe we’re smarter now.
          And it may not matter much who gets named to the Supreme Court, anyhow. A Gallup Poll taken last summer said that 29 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of the late Justice Scalia, 27 percent had an unfavorable opinion of him, and 32 percent said they never heard of him.
          Also, the Constitution (that, again) suggests that the President present his budget to Congress about now. The Congressional committees who should work on the budget have declined to schedule an appointment with him to chat about it.
          Some Representatives would like to postpone everything, except maybe their salaries and bargain-price haircuts, until we the people maybe elect a President they like.
          So, while our Representatives continue to represent only people they agree with, the nation prepares to choose a President by holding elections, caucuses, coin tosses or Lord knows what. These are preceded by televised debates, the ultimate reality TV show, “America’s Next Top Chief Executive.”
          The debates, though whether they are really debates is debatable, entertain voters in each state before they elect delegates to party conventions, which in turn will, in November, elect members of the Electoral College who will elect the next President, according to the rules laid out in that bossy Constitution.
          The election system that evolved and has served us reasonably well for many years is supposed to result in selection of party candidates, especially for the two major parties. But the politicians have managed to subvert that. There are now, here and there, open primary elections, where Democrats can choose to vote in a Republican primary and vice versa. This allows for glorious opportunities to distort the system.
         There are also, in some states, superdelegates, empowered to vote at the political conventions any darn way they, or party big shots, please, no matter who won in their primaries. And the members of the Electoral College, who in practice usually vote for the winners of the election in each state, could legally vote for any candidate they please. There goes that Constitution again.
           So for about eight months, we will continue with the debating and insulting and explaining and other political pastimes on television and in the newspapers and magazines, while Mr. Obama haunts the corridors of the White House.
           I call him Mr. Obama because when I started in the newspaper trade, at the old Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, it was that genteel publication’s policy, and many other papers, that the only men called Mister in print were the President, clergymen, and ordinary men in their obituaries. It was a sign of respect for the Presidential office. Does anybody still have that?
                                                 * * *
 February 24, 2016

by James Smart
A raccoon’s Florida cousin makes news

An item in a news magazine reported, “A 99-year-old Florida woman woke up with a kinkajou -- a rain forest dwelling cousin of the raccoon –sleeping on her chest.” That was all.
            Florida is too large a location, under the circumstances. Was she at home in bed? On a park bench? Under a tree? In a tree? Was she sleeping in a rain forest? Florida has a few. Possibly both she and the kinkajou are rain forest dwellers.
           And what the heck is a kinkajou, anyway? I’ve heard of them, and I’ve encountered many raccoons around here, but I didn’t know our raccoons had relatives in Florida.
           The all-seeing, all-knowing sources on the Internet say that the kinkajou’s Latin name is Potos Flavus, which sounds very impressive, like a Roman emperor. A typical adult kinkajou weighs about 10 pounds. That doesn’t sound very heavy, but then, I’m not quite 99 yet, and never had a kinkajou, or any other kind of critter or its cousin, curl up on my chest while I was sleeping.
          Kinkajous are nocturnal carnivores that eat mostly fruit, which seems perverse. They have big eyes, two foot long tails, and brown wooly coats with a gray undercoat, and live in forests from Mexico to Brazil or thereabouts. They are related to olingos and cacomisles, and if you try to tell me that you know what they are, I won’t believe you,
          My further investigation revealed that the 99-year-old woman was in her bed in her bedroom in Miami. When she awoke and found a snoozing kinkajou on her chest, she screamed. The kinkajou took off and hid in the attic of the house.
          A friend downloaded kinkajou calls from the Internet, and lured the animal into a cage. Local animal authorities thought it was someone’s pet. That proved to be right. The owner read about the incident, and came for his pet. It had got loose when staying with friends while his house was being repaired.
         One article about the incident said that a kinkajou “looks like a cross between a raccoon and a monkey.” That’s quite an exaggeration
         I’ve frequently set out a humane trap, the object being removal of groundhogs that enjoy trying to create a cave under the house. Often, overnight, the trap nabs a possum, a cat, or a raccoon. All of them are eager to be let out, so they can run off and resume being nocturnal.
        But I’m cautious with raccoons. If one seems possibly rabid, which I hear happens occasionally, I make sure that he heads for the bushes, and not for me.
       A few years ago, I was walking on one of the trails along the Wissahickon, when I came upon a raccoon. It was about noontime, and he should have been curled up asleep in some bunker. He was sitting in the sunshine, at the entrance to a burrow under an overhanging rock. Saliva or something, possibly rabies juice, was trickling from his mouth. He seemed to give me a raccoonish smile.
       I passed by, but kept looking back. My intention was that if he started to run, I was going to start to run faster. But he stayed there, and watched me until we lost sight of each other.
       I’ve wondered ever since if I had escaped a bite of rabies, or hydrophobia, as my grandfather used to call it. At least, the drooling little fellow didn’t seem inclined to curl up on my chest.

* * * 

February 17, 2016

by James Smart
The city is coming back, as always

 Philadelphia has been named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (known to its friends as UNESCO.) This puts us on a list of 1,031 international sites, along with Jerusalem, Paris, Timbuktu and Sighsoara (in Romania) to name but a few.
            The UNESCO web site says that Philadelphia was registered in 1979. Is that an indication that it has taken Philadelphians that long to believe it?
            Almost simultaneously, something call Lonely Planet proclaimed Philly the best place in America to visit. This was greeted with the usual bewilderment of those local citizens who have nothing good to say about their city, but are likely to assault you if you say the nothing good first.
            The city’s movers and shakers, who tend to do both of those things cautiously, are elated, of course. Philadelphians need to be reassured regularly by outsiders that the city is historically important, culturally significant and a nice place to live.
            Newspaper writers historically like to declare that Philadelphia is “coming back.” They usually cite some local bad stuff, and indicate that anything new in town is an improvement. What Philadelphia pundits pronounce as overcoming of past deficiencies, most cities call progress.
            I’ve been around the figurative block a few times, and I’ve observed some supposed civic come-backs before most current reporters on the subject were born.
            I remember watching in fascination in September, 1947, when two floors of the Gimbels Department Store at 8th and Market were taken up by the Better Philadelphia Exhibit.
            Hot-shot young architects and city planners, Edmund Bacon, Oskar Stonorov, Louis Kahn and other eager visionaries, erected a $340,000 spectacle that began with a display of the neighborhoods of the city in a series of illuminated panels showing how they evolved through the centuries.
            The major attraction was a giant model of the city as it was then. Sections of the map-like model slowly flipped over, one by one, to show what the same areas would (or could) be like in 35 years, with a mall in front of Independence Hall, an inviting river front, and neighborhoods with modern houses and park land.
            The December 1947 issue of “Architectural Forum,” a professional journal, ran an article with the headline, “Philadelphia Plans Again.”
            That 35 years in the future was 1982. By the time we reached that year, Ed Bacon and Vincent Kling had wasted the major opportunity suggested by the 1947 display, by using the cleared blocks of the old Pennsylvania Railroad “Chinese Wall” to erect uninspired cubes of stunted skyscrapers, and Bacon had stopped speaking to his buddy Willard Rouse because Rouse wanted to put up buildings taller than revered City Hall.
            The population of the city in 1947 was about 2.5 million, and critics grumbled that it was overcrowded. We came back from that. In 1982 the population had shrunk to about 1.7 million, and the critics then haw-hawed that we were losing population. We are now possibly coming back again, from that.
           Meanwhile, folks from such places as Kansas and Greece and Merchantville, N. J., keep visiting us, and we still have more original colonial and Federal era buildings than Williamsburg, a plethora of museums of all sorts, a restaurant renaissance, and universities swarming with that newly popular breed, the millennials.
           We also have a troubled school system, crime, political shenanigans and other big city problems. In other words, the latest things to come back from. And UNESCO likes us.


* * *

February 10, 2016


 by James Smart
Three Men on a Horse, an 80 year ride

 In an article about old movies, I was shocked to read that it’s the 80 th anniversary of “Three Men on a Horse,” a comedy by John Cecil Holm, a Philadelphia writer and actor. Eighty years go by fast when you’re having fun. And that show was fun. The play was first performed on Broadway in 1935. A movie version was produced in 1936.
            It’s the tale of   a mild-mannered greeting card verse writer who has an uncanny ability to pick winners of horse races, although he never wagers. Some gamblers kidnap him, resulting in an odd situation and a lot of funny dialogue.
            Under the tutelage of legendary director George Abbott, the play ran for nearly two years on Broadway. It was revived four times in New York through the years, plus a couple of musical versions. It was performed regularly by little theaters, summer theaters and amateur groups. It was done as the annual Senior Class Play at Northeast High School when I was a student there.
            It was also produced in Germany, Japan and Norway. Holm saw it in London and Paris.
            Holm often came back to Philly. He grew up at Hamilton St. and Lancaster Ave. in Powelton, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1928. His father was an electrical engineer.
            I interviewed him once, in 1962, when he came to town to have surgery at Lankenau Hospital in June, and then acted in a show at the old Playhouse in the Park in August. In September he was backstage at the Erlanger Theater, sitting in on rehearsals of “Let It Ride,” a musical version of “Three Men Etc.,” which was in turn based on a version called “Banjo Eyes” done by Eddie Cantor in 1941.
            For the younger readers, let us pause to explain that the Erlanger was a lavish theater at 21 st and Market Sts., built in 1927 and demolished in 1978. It had ornate marble lobbies with crystal chandeliers, a grand staircase, smoking lounges and 1,890 seats in the auditorium. Some of the earliest talking movies were shown there, and a generation later, pre-Broadway try-out productions of such musicals as “My Fair Lady” and “West Side Story” played there.And Eddie Cantor was a popular singing and dancing comedian of the Twenties and Thirties, who had large, popping eyes that accounted for the title “Banjo Eyes.”
            That show was to open a tryout in Philadelphia in December, 1941, just after Pearl Harbor was bombed. John Cecil Holm was hanging out at the rehearsals. A rumor was going around the city that the Nazis were going to bomb the East Coast.
            “I went into Eddie Cantor’s hotel room,” Holm told me. “He was shaving. I said, ‘There are a thousand German planes supposed to be on their way to bomb New York and Philadelphia. What shall we do?’
            “Eddie said, ‘We can’t do anything. We’ve got a two o’clock rehearsal.’”
             Shortly after my interview with him, Holm played a role in “Mr. President,” Irving Berlin’s last musical, on Broadway. Holm died in 1981 at age 76, at his home in Westerly, Rhode Island. 
             His play “Gramercy Ghost” is another staple for little theater companies. He wrote other plays, and some books. He wrote for the movies, too, including the story of “Best Foot Forward,” a 1943 Lucille Ball film.
             But “Three Men and a Horse” is his most durable creation, including  the 1957 West German version, “Drei Mann auf einem Pferd,” and the 1969 French “Trois Hommes sur  un Cheval.”

                                                        * * *
 February 3, 2016

by James Smart
Some secret things you may not know

The people who know things, and you and I don’t, seem to be proliferating again. They have always been with us, but today, Facebook and Twitter and the Web are substituting for the grubby old guy who used to whisper in your ear at the corner taproom.
            Did you know? Bernie Sanders is a Communist. Hillary is bisexual. Trump’s wife is a Commie from Slovenia. Obama’s wedding ring is engraved “There is no god but Allah.”
            If you believe those revelations, you’ll really like the news that Queen Elizabeth II has announced, “Should Mr. Trump be elected, we will take back America by force and place it once again under colonial rule.”
            You don’t have to track down the neighborhood crackpot to keep up with these things. Check them out on the Web.
            There, you’ll also learn that the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were staged by the government to advance the anti-gun movement.
            Some folks have reported seeing unmarked black helicopters again. Those choppers were popular in the mid-1990s, when folks claimed to see them flying over their towns. They also saw truckloads of U.N. troops coming down back roads, as President Bill Clinton conspired to establish a one world order.
            Those were the days when Charlton Heston was president of the American Rifle Association, and popularized the idea that he would give up his gun only when it was pried from his cold, dead hands.
           I belonged to the NRA for a while in those days. I enjoyed their magazine, and when I joined they sent me a nifty black cap with lots of gold braid. I quit renewing because a local woman, a volunteer, I guess, kept phoning me about my membership and sobbing hysterically as she warned of the government’s planned seizure of our weapons.
           I wonder if she ever saw the movie “Men in Black,” in which a guy says to a huge space alien, “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." The alien says, “Your proposal is acceptable,” and swallows the guy.
            There are possibilities more dire than being disarmed. There is always somebody predicting the imminent end of the world. And there are always people who believe the prediction.
            If you research the subject a bit on the Internet today, you will find predictions that that the world will end on June 6, instigated by Barak Obama, who is the Anti-Christ; or on Oct. 29, when an asteroid will destroy the world; or on an unspecified date when the European nuclear research particle collider in Switzerland will somehow make the whole world go blooey; and there’s more.
            Many seemingly normal folks often believe such prophecie. Remember Harold Camping?
           He was a preacher who had a radio program on 150 stations when he predicted that the end times of Christian theology would begin on Sept. 6, 1995. It didn’t. He apologized for his erro; the end would come on May 21, 2011. It didn’t. Whoops! No. The date was Oct. 16. It wasn’t. But his predictions got lots of media attention all over the country, and were widely taken seriously.
           Camping died on Dec. 15, 2013. He lived long enough to observe the fuss made over the fact that the ancient Mayan calendar said the world would end on Dec. 12, 2012. It didn’t.
           Harold Camping’s recorded voice can still be heard on the radio. Nothing has been heard from the ancient Maya lately. 
                                                      * * *
 January 27, 2016
 by James Smart


When the Christmas tree lasted till Easter
As I begin to write this meditation, the Christmas tree is standing over in the corner, dutifully flashing its lights. It should have gone away with the trash collectors a week or two ago, but we hate to see it depart, leaving us with gray, undecorated winter.
            I just asked my wife if I should remove the lights (delight it?) and put it outside. She said no, let’s keep it for another week. It’s so cheerful.
            It’s not a very big tree, just about my height. We haven’t used the big artificial tree for the last two years. It reached the ceiling, and also had reached the time when it was too much effort to handle it. Our granddaughter just bought a house, and she will adopt it.
            The last real Christmas tree we had was in 1987. My wife was having some knee problems, and was using crutches. We sloshed around a muddy lot, and toted away a yucky wet evergreen, with the usual nuisance of getting it fastened to the car.
            It had to be watered regularly, yet dropped needles unabashedly, and made a mess when being hauled out to the curb in January. The next December, we looked for an artificial tree.
           The one we found was remarkably realistic. It was not hard to assemble, and when not on duty it was packed in a big carton and stuck in the cellar.  I paid $317.99 for it, which seemed like a lot of money. But I devised an amortization table, which I don’t quite understand now, but if I recall, I consulted my son, who has a degree in math, and  I’m pretty sure I worked it out right. My figures show that after 10 years, the tree was worth $31.80, and by now has depreciated to $11.36. You can’t buy a tree like that for 11 bucks.
           As the current little real tree’s franchise expires, I think of the family tale my mother told annually as she got older, about the family’s Christmas tree management when she was a little girl. In her girlhood home in those days, the tree was erected in the parlor, which was kept closed in the cold months except when company came.The tree was decked with ornaments. There were no lights. The house had gas lights, but no electricity. Candles were too dangerous in a wooden house.
          After Christmas, the tree remained in the closed-up parlor and was kept well-watered until Easter. Then, my grandfather’s brother Theodore, “Uncle Dory” to my mother, came down from Montgomery County with his wife and two sons, for a combined holiday visit. Winter traveling from the country to Harrowgate in the big city was too cold in a horse drawn conveyance. Presents were exchanged, and dyed hardboiled eggs were distributed, and the Christmas tree did its duty as a decoration.
         Those annual combined festivities were more than 100 years ago. It was in 1915 that my grandfather and his brother had a disagreement over their mother’s will, and never spoke to each other again. The city folks went back to having more normal Christmas and Easter observances, but there was always a tinge of sadness in the air.  
         It was more than 50 years, when the feuding generation was long gone, before my mother and aunt got together with their two male cousins from the country. They and their respective spouses became good friends, and would laugh when they recalled those days when the city folks’ Christmas tree stayed trimmed until Easter. 
        Our little Christmas tree is still blinking over there in the corner. What is the date of Easter this year?

                                                         * * * 
January 20, 2015

by James Smart

 Au revoir to a venerable French name
The DuPont Co. is going to blend with the Dow Chemical Co. which already has absorbed Rhom & Haas, and then the mixture will separate into three new companies, in some sort of chemical-like financial reaction. It’s sad to lose the DuPont name, a company 300 years old.
            The founder was Eleuthere Irenee du Pont de Nemours, who was born in France in 1771. (There should be diacritical marks over a few of the e’s in his name here and there, but I don’t want to annoy the typesetter.)  Nemours is a town in northern France, on the Loing River that runs into the Seine. The town has a bridge, “pont” in French, and thus, the family name.
            His father was Pierre Samuel du Pont, a politician, writer and editor. In 1784, Pierre Samuel had something to do with writing the Treaty of Paris, the agreement between Great Britain and the new United States that ended our Revolution. The new French king, Louis XVI, rewarded the du Ponts by elevating them to the royalty.
            At 16, Irenee began studying chemistry in the Paris laboratory of Antoine Lavoisier, the chemist who had figured out and named oxygen and hydrogen. Lavoisier also discovered nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.
           Irenee got married in 1791. It was two years after the storming of the Bastille, and the French Revolution was in full force. Lavoisier went to the guillotine. The du Ponts were arrested, forgiven and arrested again as the whims of the new government shifted. Ultimately, the elder du Pont got government permission to go to America and perhaps start a French settlement. In October of 1799, the family sailed.
            They settled in a house on the New Jersey coast, nine miles from New York. In 1801, Irenee decided to put his knowledge of chemistry to use. With $36,000 invested by 18 shareholders in France, he decided to manufacture gunpowder.
 Irenee found a 95 acre farm on the Brandywine Creek in Delaware. He, his wife and three children moved into an old farmhouse there in 1802, and he built his first mill there. The first powder was sold in 1804.  
            Folks from the old Farmers Bank of Delaware, which in modern times became part of Girard Bank Delaware and then Mellon Bank and now Citizens Bank, told a tale that when the bank was founded in 1807, that young Frenchman asked for a loan. He was turned down. What sensible banker would finance a powder mill, which was likely to blow up any moment?
            Eleuthere Irenee du Pont died in 1834. The company became a giant, always with du Ponts in the leadership. When Irenee’s grandson, head of the company, died in 1902, there was a crisis. Most family members were doing other things, and were ready to dissolve the company.
            Three young du Pont cousins offered to take over. They had little to invest, but printed up attractive stock certificates and handed them out to any relatives who wanted them.
            Du Pont not only survived, it became a major institution that gave the world nylon, Kevlar, Tyvek, and other chemical wonders, and today is a $35 billion company. There are some 3,500 living du Pont family members around the world, most of whom don’t know one another. They no longer run the company, but Forbes magazine in 2014 listed them as the 13 th richest family in the U.S.
            And the family has given the public Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, the Hagley Museum, and other odds and ends of history and culture. The du Pont name won’t be forgotten.

* * *

January 13, 2016
 by James Smart
Weather tales for future grandfathers
 Young men destined to become old guys who will like to talk about the weather are being treated fairly well by the 21st century. A favorite topic for old men traditionally has been that they remember a day when snow came up to an elevated area of their anatomy, or a summer so hot you could fry eggs on the sidewalk.
          This generation of geezers-to-be have, already, a little to brag about to their eventual grandchildren. The first 15 years of the century have been producing weather records of one kind or another.
          We had the all-time Philadelphia snowfall record on Feb. 5 and 7 of 2010, a brag-worthy 28.5 inches that you young fellows may save, to tell your grandsons about the terrible driving conditions you endured. They’ll probably say, “Oh, cars had to have people driving them back then?”
          Four of the 10 deepest Philadelphia snows have been since 2001, and in a decade and a half, we’ve had some record breakers in just about every weather category.
          We just finished the warmest December ever (average temperature 51.2}, and before that the second warmest November (53.2). We have had none of the city’s coldest days yet in this century, but in 2010 we had the snowiest winter and also the hottest summer ever.
         Looking over a list of assorted Philadelphia weather records, I find that 25 of the 30 records listed were set since the year 2000.
          Speaking on behalf of all the other grandfathers and other elderly fossils, I can remember (here he goes} being pulled by my aunt in a sled over city sidewalls covered with snow that came up came up to the seat of the sled. I won’t speculate on my age at that memory, but it was in the single digits. What year? I’ll let you guess.
         A bit later, we had the Valentine’s Day blizzard in 1941. It wasn’t even in the top 10, depth wise, but it blew into big drifts.
I have old black-and-white home movies my father took when he and his pals tried to get to their job in the suburbs, and were blocked by drifts as high as the car.
          We actually got time off from elementary school. We had walked to school through snow in other years, though perhaps not that deep. We made good use of our time, of course. When the snow plows created a four-foot high snow bank along one side of the street, the neighborhood boys dug a tunnel through it that went quite a distance down the block.
          My grandmother, whenever there was a snow fall of any consequence, always told us once again her tale of the blizzard of 1888. The snow wasn’t officially very deep, only 10 inches in Philly, but the blasting wind was creating huge drifts. It was strong enough to nearly blow away a slender 13-year-old, but she dutifully fought her way against the wind over the slippery sidewalks to the textile mile where she worked.
          She was the only girl who showed up. Her boss, Mr. Blood, was there. He looked at the wet and shivering kid, and said, “Lizzie, you’re foolish. Go home.” But he made her a cup of tea first. Then she battled her way back home through the blizzard.
          That blizzard hit the East Coast on March 10. The day before, the temperature was in the fifties. It can happen when we don’t expect it, and there’s plenty of this century left, to give some current generations a few tales of snow or some other record weather to tell their grandchildren.
 

                         * * *
January 6, 2016
by James Smart
 Taking a walk on God’s treadmill
 My wife and my doctor, two persons our culture requires me to listen to and take seriously, both tell me that I should walk at least 20 minutes a day. On a rainy or bitter cold day, that means 20 minutes on the treadmill.
                Walking has always been a favorite activity of mine. As soon as I had my mother’s permission to cross the street, I assumed that the authorization covered any street that required crossing, and often meandered all over the neighborhood for hours.
          As time went by, growing up interfered with the amount of time devoted to random wonderings, but the ability to take long walks was often useful. For instance, during a transit strike years ago, I showed up at my girlfriend’s house as usual on a Wednesday evening. The five mile walk was the first and possibly only thing I ever did that impressed my father-in-law to be, who would use his car to drive a half block to the mail box.
          In more recent times, living about a mile from the Wissahickon woods, I have had the opportunity to roam on the  trails up and down both sides of the creek, sometimes being alone for hours. Often, I encountered other walkers. Fellows on bicycles went roaring past me. I frequently met people with dogs. Folks on horseback came along. Some were friendly, most were indifferent, some thought the park belonged to them and a mere walker was an annoyance.
          I used to see a lot of deer, and a lot of chipmunks. There don’t seem to be as many of either anymore. I know that human beings, a species not native to the Wissahickon, have been shooting the deer occasionally, which may explain their diminished numbers. I haven’t heard about anyone thinning the chipmunk herd; maybe they’re moving to the suburbs.
          We did have a couple of deer in our yard last month, so some of them are still around. Chipmunks are regulars in our yard. I guess they enjoy scrambling around our garden in the same way I enjoy walking in their woods.
          But walking on the street is equally edifying. You see the neighborhood much differently walking three miles than driving them at 25 or 30 miles an hour. Or even faster, as some nuisances enjoy doing.
          You see things you never noticed before, in gardens or on houses,that you can’t appreciate while driving. You go along streets you never were on before. This year I saw daffodils blooming on Christmas day. I wouldn’t have noticed them from an automobile.
                                                   * * * 
December 30, 2015
by James Smart


The turn of the century: the previous one

Recently I bought something from a company whose letterhead said it was founded at the turn of the century. Do they mean it is 15 years old?   
      Folks in the 20 th century got used to calling 1900 the turn of the century, the end of the “Gay Nineties.” As we approach another New Year’s Eve, I got a notion to look up what it was like when that century turned in 1899.
      Sunday, Dec. 31, 1899, was a cold day. As midnight approached, a raucous crowd gathered around the new City Hall, then the tallest building in the world, waiting for the illuminated faces of the year-old clock on the tower to reach midnight.
      At 2:20 P. M., the clock had stopped. The compressed air pipes that controlled the hands had frozen up. A crew from Johnson Electric Service Co., who had installed the clock, got it running by 4.30. {The one-year warranty would expire at midnight.)
      Five minutes before midnight, all lights on the Hall, the gas street lights and lights on surrounding buildings were turned off. At midnight, searchlights around the tower flashed. A cheer went up from the crowd.
      Four varicolored fireworks displays lit up the Hall, ending with pyrotechnic letters spelling “Happy New Year 1900”. It was the work of Professor Samuel Jackson, the fireworks manufacturer, unfortunately best remembered because his factory at 10 th and Reed Sts. in South Philly, making cartridges during the Civil War, blew up in 1862, killing his son and 15 employees.
      In South Philadelphia, the number of Mummers on the streets was small.  The newspapers speculated that this 300-year-old tradition seemed to be dying.
      A more sedate crowd of prominent citizens gathered in Independence Hall, where the Liberty Bell was tapped 124 times, one for each year of independence, then 19 times to number the new century. The big bell had apparently not been affected by its trip to Atlanta for the Cotton States Exposition in 1895.
      Some of that group undoubtedly went to the elegant Bingham House hotel on the northwest corner of 12 th and Arch Sts. for their New Year’s Eve dinner. The menu began with blue point oysters. Next, consommé, followed by a choice of salmon, lobster or sweetbread, with olives, coleslaw and salted almonds.
      Then, choice of prime rib, with mashed potato and peas, or turkey, with cranberry sauce, cauliflower hollandaise and asparagus.
      Now, take a break to sip the hotel’s New Year’s Punch. Next, quail, with blackberry jam, and a tomato salad. At last, pick your dessert: plum pudding, cherry or mince pie, fancy cake, or strawberry ice cream, plus fruit, nuts, raisins and Bree and Roquefort with crackers. And coffee.
      The orchestra was probably playing such dignified popular melodies as “Hearts and Flowers,” “Whistling Rufus,” or Victor Herbert’s “Gypsy Love Song.” In places with smaller and cheaper menus, the band would more likely do Chauncey Alcott’s new hit “My Wild Irish Rose,” or “Maple Leaf Rag,” or “Hello, ma honey, hello ma baby, hello my ragtime gal”. That song referred to trendy technology: “send me a kiss by wire” and “telephone and tell me I’m your own.”
      Some people argued that the century began in 1901, not 1900. The city appeased them by dressing City Hall in lights on Dec. 31, 1900, with midnight fireworks. And on Jan. 1, 1901, the Mummers proved they weren’t declining by staging a city-sponsored parade up Broad St. A year-old group was invited to take part, but declined. They called themselves a string band.

                                                                                     * * *
December 23, 2015
by James Smart
 A leap in the cost of lords a-leaping
 The chief investment officer of the PNC Bank asset management group in Pittsburgh has issued its 32 nd annual estimate of the current market value of all the gifts listed in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song. If you haven’t ordered your partridge and pear tree yet, be aware that the whole megillah (to use an old Christmas expression) will set you back $34,131.
          That’s only a 0.6 percent increase of last year’s price. The only items that increased from last year were the partridge with attached pear tree, the two turtle doves, and the 10 lord’s a-leaping.
          Partridges have gone up from $20 to $25, says the banker, because they are increasingly popular as gourmet food. I haven’t noticed any partridges on the poultry counter at the Acme, but the price for a partridge sounds pretty steep. Maybe I’d just perch a chicken in my pear tree.
          Pear trees have gone up from about $188 last year to $190 this year. The report doesn’t say how tall the tree would be, or how many pears it might produce.
          Turtle doves increased 11.5 percent. The reason given is higher grain prices that affected feed costs. It’s said that the bird’s name comes from its song, which sounds like “turr turr.” If it said “peep peep,” it would be a people dove.
          A problematic estimate is the cost of the lords, whose charge for a-leaping is said to have gone from $5,348 last year to $5,509 this year. The banker blamed increased labor costs.
          The only place I can think of where you can hire a lord would be in England, where the House of Lords is the upper chamber of Parliament. I don’t find any record of a cost-of-leaping increase there.
         The 650 members of the lower chamber, the House of Commons, earn (or at least collect) 74,000 pounds annually, plus expenses. (A British pound equals $1.50 these days.)  But the lords get no salary. Besides a lot of perks, they receive 300 pounds for each day they attend. They may choose to take a reduced attendance allowance of 150 pounds. (I wonder how many lords leap at that odd deal?)
          There seems to be no official rate for leaping. Of the 822 current lords, there are 26 bishops of the Church of England, probably too dignified for leaping. There are 92 hereditary lords, which might include a few leapers, but probably not for hire. The Queen appoints the others. Among the lords are 213 members of the Labour Party. Whether they are responsible for the increase in labor costs is not clear.
          The song doesn’t specify what sort of leaping is expected. I had always assumed the leaping might be a hop into the air, heels clicked together and down again. But giving the matter some thought, I realized that the track-and-field style high jump or broad jump might be what the partridge buyer had in mind.
         There have always been problems with estimating the costs of the 12 days of gifts. For instance, the eight maids a-milking obviously require eight cows. That would run up the bill quite a bit. The seven swans a-swimming would need a pool, pond or some kind of water available.            
          The nine ladies dancing are estimated at $2,635, or about $239.50 per lady, not a bad per diem, I guess. The banker got his information about the dancing rates from the Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadanco. Did he think that dancing is better in Philly than Pittsburgh? Or cheaper?

                   

                        * * *
December 16, 2015
by James Smart
Darkness at noon in downtown Philadelphia
There have been quite a few unseasonably warm days recently. That’s nice.  And we are not getting the awful soot-filled fog that has people in Beijing, China, gasping and wearing masks, and needing the lights on at mid-day.
Years ago, Philadelphia had similar problems, although Chinese cities are much bigger, and they still have lots of coal burning, emitting its sticky smoke into the atmosphere.
      When I was a little boy, most of the home heating was done with anthracite coal, and Lord knows what the black stuff was that came out of the factory chimneys. Fastidious Kensington housewives cleaned their outside windowsills and white marble front steps almost daily to remove the airborne sticky coal residue.
      The soot was its worst about 100 years ago. The day that was famous to that generation was March 1, 1917. My mother remembered it well.
      There was a low, mile-thick cloud cover with cold temperatures below and warm temperatures above, and a rainy 100 percent humidity, with all the industrial smoke and soot mixed in.
      There was a little gleam of daylight at dawn, but it started to get dark about 10 o’clock, and by 11 o’clock, lights were coming on. By noon, it was dark as a moonless midnight.
      Lights began to push yellow glows into the cold rain from stores and office buildings and electric signs. City Hall’s windows were all alight, a rare sight, since the building was little used at night. The spotlights that illuminated the tower were on, but didn’t pierce far into the blackness. City officials hesitated to light the streets lamps, so it was actually darker than night on city streets.
      Trolley cars coming in from the north and northeast said it was still fairly light up there, but they had to turn on their electric lights as they rolled into center city. Policemen were stopping automobiles on the downtown streets and telling them to get out and light up their lamps. Cadillac had introduced the first electric lights on cars in 1912, but there were still plenty of autos with hand-ignited oil or acetylene lamps.
      The superintendent of schools announced that schools would close in the afternoon. The Poe School at 22nd and Ritner Sts. dismissed the pupils early, because it was the only public school without lights. It was built in 1913, and wired for electricity, but the Philadelphia Electric Co. had not yet run lines into that neighborhood. Boys from the Penn Charter School at 12 th and Market Sts. went out on their lunch hour and bought candles.
      People called newspapers and went to churches to ask if the world was ending. It wasn’t, and next day was just a normal rainy day. (The details of the 1917 smog attack came from old newspapers.)
          As for warm days in winter, the warmest November day in Philly was Nov. 1, 1950, when the thermometer hit 89. The warmest December days were 73, on Dec. 4, 1998, and Dec. 7, 1959.  The coolest summer day ever was Aug. 29, 1986, when it hit 44.
      Weather experts seem more interested in big summer heat waves and unusual snowstorms in the usually warm months  than summer lows and winter highs.  But if we have a warm day on Christmas, I’ll keep in mind an old photo I have of my Grandfather shoveling deep snow in his Philadelphia yard on a bright, sunny Easter Monday, 1917.

                      * * *
December 9, 2015

by James Smart
Nibbling fish fingers under a potato tree
 An item in a magazine mentioned that a British study found that about 15 percent of young adults didn’t know that pork comes from pigs, and thought that fish fingers were actually fingers of fish. I did some checking on the Web, and found out about the survey.
            It was sponsored by the Rowse Honey Co., of Wallingford, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, a 77 year old beekeeping establishment that was bought by an Irish cracker company this year. One out of eight victims of the survey thought that Mr. Rowse and his associates had to squeeze the bees to get the honey out.
            The Rowse people interrogated a bunch of Brits from 16 to 24 years old. One person in seven thought that potatoes grow on trees, and many were variously confused about the origins of pork chops and veal. A good 20 percent said that fish fingers were, what else? Actual fingers of fish.
            On the surface, this must seem distressing in a land where some folks eat a dish called fish fingers and custard. (It started on the Dr. Who television series, but let’s not digress.)
            In meandering through the information wonderland of the Web, I found that similar research was conducted two years ago by the British Nutrition Foundation, which is not a government entity. It’s based in London, dedicated to educating the public about food and nutrition, and has been accused of a tinge of prejudice, since it is supported by many of the major food companies.
            The Nutrition Foundation in 2013 surveyed 27,500 children, age five to 16, all over the UK. (I didn’t find the number of kids the beekeepers questioned.) It reported that 29 percent of primary school children thought that cheese comes from plants, 10 percent of secondary school pupils believed that tomatoes grow underground, and 19 percent thought potatoes grow on bushes or trees.
           And 18 percent of the primary school kids were not so stupid as to think that fish have fingers. They said that fish fingers come from chickens.
            The more recent study by the beekeepers created quite a buzz in the British media. I stopped counting at 20 the number of British reports on the subject, but it was covered by such London newspapers as the Mirror, Telegraph and Express, a web site called Smashing Life, and the news operation of  BT, a sort of counterpart of our Comcast.
            One has to wonder how Philadelphia kids would do in answering questions about food sources. Would they be like the city fellow in a comedy movie a few years ago, on a farm for the first time, who asked the farmer whether some chickens running around were original recipe or extra crispy?
            But a question lies begging behind these surveys. Does it really matter whether children know the source of their food? If someone found Philadelphia school kids giving answers similar to the British students, and was amused or dismayed, he might try some follow-up questions.
            That might reveal that they know how to text, Twitter, friend you on Facebook, download computer games, stream movies from Netflix, and do lots of such 21st century hocus pocus that an old guy like me doesn’t even know about.
            And they would snicker at adult ignorance exactly as we adults are amused by someone who thinks potatoes grow on trees. Or fish have fingers.

                        * * *
December 2, 2015

by James Smart  
Minimum wages, the old days and now
There are all kinds of articles being written, and demonstrations being demonstrated, about the complaint that the current minimum wage is too minimum. Some folks suggest $15 an hour.
          The problem makes an old guy like me look back through the figurative mists of time to when I had my first job. I won’t count summer on my uncle’s farm, when I was 14, because wages and hours on a farm depend on the needs of assorted animals and grains and vegetables, and wages are what the farmer can afford; the wages tended to be short, and the hours long.
          When I was 15, an old family friend got me a summer job as a stock clerk in the business where he worked. I was doing what was nominally a man’s work. But World War II was just winding down (yes, I’m that old), and most men were in the service.
          So I was earning $25 a week, twice the minimum wage. It was the same amount my mother was then making and supporting a family of four. The boss, being short-handed, on some days would ask me and another under-age employee to clock out, but keep working for an hour or two, quite illegally. He paid us in cash “under the counter.”
          I kept five bucks for myself, and was pleased that I could turn $20 or more over to my mother. But things were different then. We didn’t have an automobile to support. (A new car would have cost maybe $1,500; gasoline was about 20 cents a gallon.) Trolley fare was two tokens for 15 cents.
  City wage tax was one percent. There was no sales tax A first class postage stamp cost three cents. A movie was 50 cents or so. I don’t remember the monthly payments for electric, gas, phone and water, or the cost of coal for the furnace.
Radio was free. There was no television, no cable, no internet, no apps or expensive computer games and equipment.
     Eggs were about 50 cents a dozen, butwe got them and other things from my uncle, the farmer. A quart of milk was about 15 cents. Coffee was about 30 cents a pound, five pounds of sugar was about 50 cents. Of course, sugar, coffee and other things were rationed because of the war, but that’s another story.
          By the next summer, the war was over, kids my age weren’t needed, and it was back to the farm. But let’s jump ahead to 1948.
          The minimum wage was 30 cents an hour. I started my newspaper career as a copy boy at the old Evening Bulletin for $25 a week, twice the minimum. The minimum went up a nickel soon after, but I was still ahead of the minimum.
          Two years later, I had been given a couple of raises and was making $30 a week. Then generous old Harry Truman got the minimum raised to 75 cents an hour.
          I went to my boss and said that I didn’t usually believe in asking for a raise, expecting pay to go up based on  performance, but I had been there for two years, and suddenly someone who was there for two days was making the same amount I was.
          “You’re right, Jimmy,” he said, and the next pay day I started getting a 10 percent raise. I was making 33 bucks a week.
          The minimum wage was a fairly new idea then, only about 10 years old. If anyone had suggested then that in the early 21st century, workers would be asking for $15 an hour minimum, we would have said, “Hey, that’s 600 bucks a week; you’ve been reading too much science fiction.”

                                               * * * 
November 25,  2015


by James Smart                                                  

A lot of peculiar things going on in the world
Are there really a  lot of peculiar things going on in the world, or are people just different now that we’ve stumbled into the 21st century?
            Back around Halloween, a faculty member who monitored a student residence at Yale University announced to students that she was not going to impose any rules on them, but asked that they avoid wearing any costumes that were offensive.
            Some of the students were outraged by this terrible insult to their exalted position as Yalies. They shouted and cursed at the faculty member and her husband, and demanded that she resign from her position. How dare she suggest that they try not to be offensive?
            Some other students who defended the faculty member were denounced and, in one example of the classiness of that ancient Ivy League institution, some students who stood up for her were spit on. I wonder if the spitters then marched off singing their ancient but inoffensive anthem “Bulldog, bulldog, bow wow wow, Eli Yale”?
            Meanwhile, in a school in Ohio, a first grade pupil got suspended for going through the motions of pretending to shoot an imaginary bow and arrow in the school yard at recess. The school officials said that their policies prohibited even pretended or imitated violence.
            The kid probably didn’t know the policy. If he had suspected that he was going to be sent home because of some simulated archery, he might as well have gone all the way and pretended he was firing a horse pistol, or even a howitzer.
            Maybe he will grow up and go to Yale, where he can pretend to be William Tell in full costume with actual bow and arrow, and denounce any faculty member who tries to disarm him.
            Then, as I was reading articles about the small turnout of voters in the mayoral primary election, about voter apathy in the United States in general, and accusations that voter registration laws were being manipulated to exclude minority voters, I came upon a report from India.
            There, it seems, there are accusations that party that came to power in the national government last year is trying to disenfranchise what we would call the low income voters. In India, where the ancient caste system makes people who are born in different castes hereditarily stuck there, the lowest caste is traditionally called the Untouchables.
            In several states there, the upper crust Hindus have been denying the poor Untouchables the right to run for office with the qualification that candidates must have a working toilet in their home.
            I’m not sure why I feel that the above situations are related, except for a kind of annoying absurdity. I suggest that the positions should be rotated, just for fun. The Yale students will be required to prove they have access to a working toilet on Halloween. The first graders in that Ohio school will demand that their teachers resign for interfering in their lives. The Untouchables in India can pretend to be using bows and arrows, like American Indians instead of Indian Indians.
            Are there really a lot of peculiar things going on in the world, or are people just different now that we’ve stumbled into the 21st century?

* * *

November 11, 2015
 
by James Smart

Biting the Wax Tadpole, and other oddities
A book catalogue came in the mail, and I looked through it. I knew I wasn’t going to buy anything. There are already too many books in our house, and I’m afraid that adding one more would create a critical mass and the whole place would melt down and turn into a library.
        But then I began to spot some interesting things. There was a book titled “Biting the Wax Tadpole.” For only $3.98. The temptation was great. Who wouldn’t want to own a book called “Biting the Wax Tadpole”?
        The book is about language and discusses how names in one language are abused when somebody tries to convert them to another language. It seems that when Coca-Cola was first inflicted on China, a translator thought that Coca-Cola sounded like “ke-kou ke-la.” And in Chinese, “ke-kou ke-la” means “biting the wax tadpole.”
        (If any reader who happens to be Chinese disagrees with that, I’d appreciate being informed, because it sounds too goofy to be true.)
         Then, I found that somebody has created a new edition of Ambrose Bierce’s book “Write It Right.” Ambrose Beirce is one of my all-time favorite writers. One of his short stories was one of the first “grown-up” pieces of writing I ever read, in one of my aunt’s books, and I became an instant fan..
         Beirce was one of the first modern newspaper columnists, but that came later. His fiction was masterly. You want Civil War stories? Read his; he was there. You like horror stories? Read his; they’ll keep you up nights.
         Or try his “Devil’s Dictionary.” It’s from the 1880s, and very dated, but it has some nifty definitions, such as “Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.”
        But don’t read “Write It Right” until you have read his good stuff, or preferably, read a biography of him. He was a cranky, super-opinionated know-it-all, and “Write It Right” is so fussy and narrow-minded about English usage that reading Beirce’s harsh dictums might make a writer give up writing, or perhaps change languages.
        He is correct, if pedantic, when he tackles the ancient problem of “who” versus “whom.” But he loses my sympathy when he grumpily insists that one may never call a beard whiskers. “The whisker is that part of the beard that grows on the cheek,” he declares. “ I must remember to tell my barber that.
        Beirce wrote the book in 1909, when he was getting old, and I suspect he was getting a lot of his prejudices and annoyances off his chest before he died. If he ever did die; He just plain disappeared in 1912. (Another reason to read his biography.)
        Then, another book in the catalogue intrigued me. It is called “Everything Explained Through Flow Charts,” a frightening concept. It is described as the creation of Swiss scientists at the University of Helsinki, which gives the impression that either the book is not serious, or the scientists are terribly lost.
        The book offers such valuable information as tips for world domination and alien pickup lines. It also claims to reveal “which religion offers the best afterlife.” Could it be the heaven in which whiskers grow on chins as well as cheeks, and the favorite beverage is “Biting the Wax Tadpole?”

* * *

November 4, 2015
by James Smart

Sleeping like a prehistoric ancestor
Several publications ran articles recently about a study that claimed to find that modern people do not get less sleep than our prehistoric ancestors. The researchers reported that the average guy 10,000 years ago, give or take a fortnight, got six-and-a-half hours a night, compared to seven or eight hours average for people today.
            The scholar from UCLA who headed the investigation wrote in a biology journal that to compare our current sleeping habits with those of ancient snoozers, the team looked for groups today who live the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of folks way back when. They found three tribes who still operate that way — one each in Tanzania, Namibia and Bolivia.
            The scientists studied the sleeping patterns of 94 members of the 21st century hunter-gatherers over a three-year period. They concluded that it is incorrect for us 21st century worker-purchasers to believe that our forebears went to bed at sundown and got up at dawn.
            I have a few questions. Isn’t 94 a rather small sample to represent the sleeping habits of all members of those three contemporary tribes, much less every prehistoric citizen who ever hunted and gathered for a living?
            And isn’t it some fancy question-begging to assume that everybody these days believes that prehistoric people got more sleep than we do?
            They lacked some of the causes of staying up late, such as Colbert, passing motorcycles or YouTube. They surely shared some of our era’s sleep-interrupters, such as babies, snoring and loud neighbors.
            And they may have had things that deprived someone of sleep that we no longer deal with, such as taking turns staying awake in case a saber-toothed tiger came along.
            Then, there is the highly likely difference a whole bunch of centuries make. No hunter-gatherer has to worry about those saber-toothed tigers these days, but in Namibia you could be awakened by an elephant on your doorstep, I think.
            Average hours of nightly slumber is a narrow sample of behavior, but those researchers seem to me to have discovered that prehistoric people were not much different than someone like me, even though I hunt with a computer keyboard and gather at the supermarket.
                                                     * * *
October 21, 2015


by 
James Smart 

The big story on Action News, in 1815

Reading the newspapers and watching the television news programs, I see the usual world affairs and politics and other assorted turmoils. It’s the stuff historians will be writing about for the next generation.
            But the things that get talked about the most seem to be the shootings and missing children and robberies, which will be only fodder for statistics not long from now. And I began to wonder whether it wasn’t always that way. There were always wars and politics and other serious stuff in progress, but the day-to-day happenings were on folks’ minds, though they’re now forgotten.
            So I had a notion to look back a bit, and see what the news was in Philadelphia in the past. I did some reading about 1815.
            In January, the Delaware River was frozen, as usual. There was some excitement when an African-American company of U.S. soldiers marched across the ice to Jersey.
            On Jan. 1, Robert Fulton, who was building those new-fangled steam boats in New York, offered to make a steam-powered torpedo boat for Philadelphia, but the city declined. War with England was on since 1812. Defense was on the city’s collective mind. The British had attacked Baltimore and Washington, and it could happen here.
            The war actually ended on Jan. 8, when Gen. Andrew Jackson’s troops walloped the British army, but that was in New Orleans, and the first report didn’t reach Philadelphia until Feb. 5, when the new frigate USS Guerriere, lying in the frozen Delaware, somehow got word and fired a salute.
            Official news of the signing of a peace treaty with England arrived on Feb. 13, and Mayor Bobby Wharton announced that there would be a general illuminations. The won was ablaze with oil lamps, candles and bonfires.
            On the Fourth of July, there were parades and parties and banquets, with many toasts made to Gen. Andy Jackson. Most Philadelphians had never heard of him before his victory down South. Citizens were reading with disturbed fascination the tales of returning prisoners of war who were locked up in rotting hulks of ships. And of the Dartmoor massacre, where, claimed American survivors, British guards had fired on some prisoners without provocation, killing five and wounding 33.
            Turner Camac’s fish market was a sensation. The millionaire had set up a chain of ice houses from the Jersey shore, where relays of ice wagons bro8ught fresh fish to the city. City Councils asked the legislature for permission to make country people pay rent when they brought their produce into the city to sell, but Harrisburg (state capital for only three years) upheld the out-moded anti-Philadelphia law.
            So what were Philadelphians talking about? The murder of Capt. John Carson by Lt. Richard Smith.
            Carson married Ann Baker, daughter of a naval captain, in 1801. He went off to war in 1812. When he returned in January, 1816, he found that his wife had sold their house, opened a china shop, claimed to be a widow, and married Richard Smith in October, 1815.
            Carson agreed to forgive his wife, if Smith would leave the city. Smith declined the offer emphatically by shooting Carson dead. A jury sentenced him to hang. Before he was executed, Ann hired two men to kidnap Gov. Snyder and hold him until Smith was released. They were caught, and went to jail for a while.
            Even in those days, war and politics were almost incidental to what would today be the Big Story on Action News

* * *

 October 14, 2015


 by James Smart
This man’s name is Long and Complicated
There have been some news articles recently about a man in England who had trouble with his Facebook account because his name is Long and Complicated. That’s not a description of the type of name. It is actually the guy’s name. In 2007, William Wood had his name legally changed to Long and Complicated.
            Complicated (I don’t know him well enough to call him Long) has a driver’s license, a passport, credit cards and all sorts of documents to prove that his name is Long and Complicated. On his driver’s license, last name comes first, and it says plainly that his last name is Complicated, and his first name is Long and.
            Facebook finally straightened out the problem, and I suspect that Complicated enjoyed every minute of it. The situation attracted more attention than a guy named William Wood is likely to.
            It’s not nice to make fun of someone’s name, but people who change their names to something unusual are usually looking for attention, and usually get it. When an odd name has been bestowed by the person’s parents, that’s a different problem.
            The late Joe Reichwein, an Evening Bulletin editor, kept a small notebook for years, in which he recorded unusual names. Rules for inclusion in his records was that the name had to have appeared in print, and if local, should be found in the telephone directory.
            I wish I could remember more of the names Joe listed, but only a few remain in my aging brain. There was a man named Darwin L. Mushrush, I recall. There was Dewey Admiral, and Jonah Whale.
            A Philadelphia name that was in the same attention-grabbing league as Long and Complicated was the late Hubert Blaine Wolfe­schlegel­stein­hausen­berger­dorff. The name supposedly referred to an ancestor in Germany who lived in a stone house in the town of Bergersdorff and was in charge of beating off any wolves who showed up.
          Mr. Wolf etc. etc. liked to claim that his name was merely a short version of a 26-word full name, each one starting with a different letter in alphabetical order. Let’s not get into that.
As simple old Wolfe­schlegel­stein­hausen­berger­dorff, he first attracted attention in the late 1930s as the longest name in the Philadelphia telephone directory. I’m pretty sure that he worked hard at being noticed.
         The late Frank Brookhouser, then an Inquirer columnist, mentioned in 1952 that Wolfy had become the longest-named registered voter in Philly.  Frank accidentally omitted the letter U in the steinhaus part of the name. Wolfe­schlegel­stein­hausen­berger­dorff, who was a typesetter by trade, complained about the typographical error, the correction was noted by Time magazine, and Wolfy’s national recognition had begun. He appeared on the “I’ve Got a Secret” television show in 1955 and again in 1958. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the longest name in the country.
        When I was an Evening Bulletin columnist in the 1960s, he occasionally tried to get a mention from me. He was living at 11th and Walnut then, if I recall.  I may not remember the address correctly, but I’ll never forget the name. It’s long and complicated, but it’s not Long and Complicated.

* * *

October 7, 2015

by James Smart

The Battle of Germantown (or Mt. Airy)
It’s October again, time for the folks in Mt. Airy to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Germantown. The annual festivities were held last weekend at Cliveden, the mansion that was at the dramatic center of Gen. George Washington’s biggest mistake.
            The mansion was considered to be in Germantown until a few decades ago, but the Mt. Airy people somehow maneuvered the accepted boundary down to Washington Lane. I was consulting about neighborhood boundaries for the Inquirer news staff a decade or two ago, and when I mentioned that Cliveden was in Mt. Airy, one editor declaimed that he was born in Germantown and Cliveden was unquestionably in Germantown, and stomped angrily out of the meeting.
            The Battle of Germantown really did start in Mt. Airy, at the estate of Judge Thomas Allen, now the site of the Lutheran Seminary. (Judge Allen, loyal to King George, was in exile in Virginia.) The first shot was fired by a British outpost at the Allen house.
            In October of 1777, most of the British occupying army was in Philadelphia, busy annoying the citizens and trying to blast down Fort Mifflin so the British fleet could come up the Delaware.  About 10,000 soldiers were in Germantown, tearing down fences and appropriating material to set up encampments in the nearby fields.
            Lord William Howe, the British commander, was comfortably headquartered in Stenton mansion, with his amiable companion, Mrs. Joshua Loring of Boston. British units were here and there, mostly in a defensive line below School House Lane.
            Gen. George Washington and his slightly smaller army were camped in the Skippack Creek area. The commander was working on an attack plan, a pincers movement based on the plan used by Scipio Africanus against Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae in 216 B. C. 
            Putting it simply, the divisions of Gens. Wayne and Sullivan were to come down Ridge Pike. Gen. Armstrong was to go down the west side of the Wissahickon, and cross it at its entrance to the Schuylkill, where Hessian troops were camped under command of Col. Ludwig von Wurmb.
           Greene and Stephen’s divisions were to come down Skippack Pike, Gen. Conway was to move in front of Wayne and Sullivan and attack the British left flank. Gen. McDougall was to move in front of Greene and Stephen. Gens. Nash, Maxwell and Stirling were to come down Skippack Pike as reserves. Gens. Smallwood and Foreman were to swing through Jenkintown and back toward Germantown’s Market Square in the British center.
            Movement was to be silent; British pickets would be taken out by bayonet. At precisely 5 A. M., the battle would begin.
            Well, Sat. Oct. 4 was dark and foggy. On Germantown Ave. at what is now Allens Lane, British pickets heard Anthony Wayne’s cavalry charging noisily down the road, and fired a signal cannon, the first shot of the battle. Smallwood and Forman’s men wandered around Jenkintown, and barely made it to the battle in time to retreat. Greene’s local guide got lost. Stephen got lost because he was drunk (and was later court-martialed.)  Gen. Casimir Pulaski’s cavalry, assigned to run messages between the advancing units, didn’t show up because the general took a nap in a farmhouse and overslept. Wayne’s men shot at Greene’s men in the fog.
            Gen. Washington decided to waste the whole day besieging a few hundred British soldiers at Cliveden. Finally, the Americans retreated and everybody called it a day and went home.
                                                           * * *
September 30, 2015


 by James Smart

Is an invisibility cloak coming? We’ll see
 T
hree scientists at the University of California in Berkeley say they have successfully tested material that could make an invisibility cloak. The stuff is made of microscopic rectangular gold blocks that conform to the shape of an object and render it undetectable with ordinary light.
            A key word here is “microscopic.” So far, the object they have made invisible is too small to be seen with the naked eye, so unless we have the equipment to not see it for ourselves, we have to take their word that they can’t see it when they should.
            They have wrapped the tiny irregularly shaped object with their invisibility material, and the cloak rerouted light waves away from the object, making it invisible. The material the cloak is made of is only 80 nanometers thick. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, so I don’t think there will be any usable invisibility cloaks on the racks at Jos. A. Bank’s any time soon.
            The creators say that their material eventually will be used to conceal large objects, and mentioned military uses. I tried to imagine two invisible armies trying to attack each other. Or, invisible cops sneaking up on invisible miscreants. Or invisible purse snatchers grabbing and running.
            Being invisible has intrigued people for years. I guess the best known invisible man was the one created by H. G. Wells, in his novel written in 1897. The first movie based on his novel was made in 1933. A succession of movies about the invisible man (and one woman) followed, each getting farther away from the H. G. Wells character, who was nasty and going crazy from the effects of the invisibility juice he had injected.
            Also in the 1930s and ‘40s, radio had The Shadow, a chap named Lamont Cranston, who was usually visible. When some investigating or crime-fighting was called for, he became invisible, often scaring the dickens out of assorted villains.
The radio Shadow was loosely based on a more visible Shadow in a big-selling series of detective magazines. The character was invented in 1931 by Walter Gibson, a Germantown native and Northeast High School graduate, who at his peak turned out more than a million words of detective fiction a year.
            At the beginning of each program, an announcer explained something like: “many years ago in the Orient, Cranston learned the power to cloud men’s eyes so that they could not see him.” (Women’s eyes were presumably included.)
            The announcer also mentioned that the only person who knew Cranston’s secret was his lady friend, “the beauteous Margo Lane.”  The radio Margo was a sophisticated aide to The Shadow; in the magazine novels, Gibson made her a ditzy girl who suspected Cranston was The Shadow but never could catch him at it.
            Our generation has its own invisibility cloak, where else but in the Harry Potter novels. The magical garment is woven from hair of the Demiguise, a creature that looks like a silvery-haired monkey, and becomes invisible when frightened.
            I just bought a 13 page book for 99 cents on Kindle. It’s “How to Become Invisible: Learn to Walk Among People Undetected,” by Kevin Dill. He gives three simple steps. I’ll try it. So, if you don’t see me someplace, you’ll know it’s me.

* * *

September 23, 2015

by James Smart

 Where column ideas come from
A question that people have asked me over the years is “How do you get the ideas for your columns?” I was asked about that particularly often in the days when I turned out columns six days a week, Sunday through Friday, for the old Philadelphia Evening Bulletin
            I occasionally gave talks to high school journalism classes, writers groups, and other seekers of truth, who had a serious desire to learn the secret formula.  You can’t admit to such hopeful inquiry, “Golly, I really don’t know.”
            One answer I often gave was, “You can’t walk down the street and not see at least one interesting thing in a day.” Some of the crowd usually looked a bit doubtful, while others nodded sagely.
            I had a longer answer, and it was absolutely true. “I get suggestions for columns from other newspaper people, from readers, from friends, from strangers in Horn & Hardarts, from my mother, from my grandmother’s insurance agent; I don’t have time to get ideas myself.”
            I wasn’t kidding about the insurance man. Once, we moved into a new house. When the telephone was installed, the first incoming call was from a guy who asked if I was the columnist. He got my number from the information operator. He said he was formerly my grandmother’s insurance agent, and had a suggestion for a column topic.
             And I wasn’t kidding about walking down the street and stumbling on something interesting. It happened regularly, for which a columnist had to be devoutly thankful. One such moment I recall was in the mid-Sixties. I was walking past the brand new Hopkinson House on Washington Square, and saw a fellow on a scaffold in the lobby, dabbing at a sculpture on the wall.
            I went and chatted with the unkempt workman. He explained what he was doing. I asked if he was a sculptor. He said yes. I kept asking questions, and he sighed, hoping this nosy person would go away, and admitted that he was the architect of the building, Oskar Stonorov. Bingo! This was developing into tomorrow’s column.
            Stonorov warmed up when I told him that my father had been a member of the Federated Hosiery Workers Union, for whom he had designed the then ultra-modern Carl Mackley Apartments in Juniata in the early Thirties. (I didn’t tell him that my father had considered moving there, but decided against it when  Stonorov led a tour of Soviet Union architects through the Mackley, showing an example of housing for American workers. Dad muttered about those blankety-blank Reds.)
            One of my favorite columns was about a man named Emil Rost. I still remember his name. I was wandering around in Fishtown, sometime in the Sixties, watching work crews demolishing buildings to make way for I-95.
            The first few houses on the street I was strolling, Palmer St., I think, had been torn down. A man was coming out of what had become the last house on the row. I talked to him about his situation, and he pondered whether it would not have been better to have the highway project buy and remove his house, too.
            The first sentence of my column next day was something like this: “Emil Rost is a lucky man. They didn’t tear down his house. Soon, he’ll be able to listen to the traffic on an expressway from Maine to Florida roar past his bedroom window.”
            That’s how column ideas emerge. And if I can’t think of a good topic, I could always write a column about where ideas come from. Like this one.
                                  * * *

September 16, 2015

by James Smart
Fighting the robocallers, Texas style
Dave Lieber, an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and 10 years on the Inquirer staff, now writes a column for the Dallas Morning News. It’s one of those columns that answers readers’ complaints about the government, businesses and other such annoyances.
      He delves into many problems that I don’t have the energy or incentive to pursue. One nuisance he tackled recently was those phony robocall telephone solicitations. There are quite a few persistent though recorded salespeople who intrude on us regularly.
      There’s the woman who says she’s from the credit card company; she doesn’t say which one. Another woman wants to talk to me about my electric bill. A man with a cheerful middle aged voice calls to tell me that my shipment is ready; of what, he doesn’t mention.
      A couple of different voices ask, every so often, if our house has a security system. They don’t mention whether they want to sell us a burglar alarm or would like to drop in if we don’t have one. (We have one, fellas.)
      We have also, according to the recorded sales call folks, won a number of sweepstakes we never heard of or trips to places we don’t particularly want to go.
      Then, there are the live, unrecorded persons, with accents that suggest they may be in Mumbai or Ahmedabad, who warn that our computer in sadly afflicted, but imply that they can correct this if we give them some personal Internet information.
      Why, we ask ourselves or others who may be equally exasperated, doesn’t the telephone industry protect us from these intruders? The government, Dave Lieber wrote, gave phone companies permission two months ago to do more to stop illegal telemarketing calls. He did the leg work, using phone and computer legs these days, and asked them how they’re doing.
      AT&T people told him they have Web pages that offer call blocking features; Dave says he already knew they didn’t work well.
      A Verizon spokesman claimed the company fears the risk of wanted calls being accidentally blocked, such as calls from emergency service providers.
      Now, I ask you (and Dave would, too, if he were here): in an era when technology companies make phones that record messages and take pictures, and instruments that give directions to a destination or look up information on any subject, how can the telephone companies tell us with a straight electronic face that they can’t do anything about unwanted anonymous sales calls?
      And might I suggest, though Dave didn’t: could it be that the telephone providers aren’t anxious to eliminate all those bothersome unwanted calls because they make a lot of money from them?
      Dave Lieber points out that 45 state attorney generals signed a letter to the major telephone companies, asking them to “act without delay” on the matter. That was eight weeks ago. Our harried Pennsylvania attorney general signed the letter, taking time off from monitoring her jolly crew’s porno e-mail. Dave’s own state attorney general didn’t sign, but Texas really still thinks it is a separate country, anyway.
      There are a lot of tips on fighting the robocallers in Dave’s Aug. 29 column, more than I can fit in here. You might check with him at davelieber.org. Tell him Jim Smart sent you.

* * *

September 9, 2015
 
by James Smart
The new world of comic book heroes

Comic book superheroes aren’t what they used to be. For one thing, the comic books they populate have exploded into the movies.
     The film “Guardians of the Universe” cost $195.9 million when it was made last year, and in its first six months took in $774.2 million at the box office. One of its wisecracking, gun toting heroes was a talking, gun toting raccoon. He appears in comic books, too; in the movie, actor Bradley Cooper, of Philadelphia, provided his voice.
      Hollywood has been pumping out expensive Superman movies and Batman movies with astonishing frequency in recent years, and their popularity doesn’t seem to wane. Mixing a whole bunch of assorted fantastic heroes together on film has also become popular.
      I was a little boy when Superman and Batman were first conceived. I managed to extract a dime from my father occasionally, and so I bought a copy of “Action Comics” of June, 1938, which introduced Superman to the world, and of “Detective Comics” May, 1939, when Batman first appeared. I should have saved them. A copy of that 1938 Superman first edition sold last year for $3.2 million.
     Superheroes always have secret identities. Superman was a newspaper reporter who when necessary would jump into a telephone booth and change into his superclothing. He’d never find one today. I always wondered what became of all the clothes he left behind. I hope the telephone company donated them to Goodwill.
     Captain Marvel was my favorite when I had a dime to invest. He first appeared in Whiz Comics in February, 1940. I couldn’t relate well to Superman, who came from another planet, or Batman, who was actually a millionaire with a butler.
     Captain Marvel was Billy Batson, a teenage boy who sold newspapers on the street. A mysterious man had taught Billy that when he hollered “shazam,” he would turn into Captain Marvel. I even shelled out an extra 10 cents to send for a glossy full-color portrait of the Captain, which I stored inside my copy of “Robinson Crusoe” I was reading at the time. (I still have the book, and the picture.)
     One of the few mystifying evil powers that even comic book superheroes cannot overcome is litigation. Superman’s people accused Captain Marvel’s people of copycatism, and the arguing was dragged through the courts for years, long after I had outgrown comic books.
     The superheroes have all gone into the movies, big time. They are still in books, which can cost you nearly four bucks or more these days. DC Comics (DC stood for Detective Comics) still has Batman on the payroll, and has somehow coaxed Superman to join him.
     The world has changed, and the rival Marvel Comics company, which originated many superheroes, is now part of the Disney empire. Its new leadership continues to pour out gazillion dollar movies, with all kinds of heroes with peculiar superpowers. There’s now also a superhero Internet presence I declined to investigate.
     In 21st century comic books, they have created a Spider-Man who is half Puerto Rican and half African American, a female arachnoid character named Spider-Gwen, and a Captain America who is African American. There is a Ms. Marvel who is a Muslim teenager from Jersey City.
     And Captain Marvel has become a woman! At least they didn’t make him (or her) a raccoon.

                                      * * *


September 2, 2015

 by James Smart
Who cares where presidents were born?   
Among the mostly meaningless disputing going on about presidential nominations, possibly the dumbest one is the argument over the birthplace of the assorted candidates.  There are people who would like to be chief executive who have unusual names and sometimes odd complexions, which worries a lot of red-blooded Americans.
     People who demand presidents firmly rooted in good old American soil now face such contenders as Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada. His father was from Cuba, but his mother was from Delaware.
     Or Marco Rubio, whose parents came from Cuba; he was born in Miami, which has become almost a part of Cuba.  Bobby Jindal’s parents are from India, but he was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
     The U. S. Constitution says that “no person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.” Folks of the latter group are no longer with us.
    That sounded nice and simple when the Constitution was created in 1787. Only eight of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were born overseas: four in Ireland, two in England, one in Scotland and one in the West Indies.
     As the United States became a great melting pot of nationalities, disputes about citizenship went on for years. But political parties were not inclined to nominate presidential candidates who didn’t seem like good, flag waving, all American boys.
     The issue came to a head when. Chester A. Arthur ran as vice presidential candidate, with James A. Garfield for president, in 1880. I don’t think there was much grumbling about Arthur as vice president. He was a prominent Republican who had held government jobs, but never ran for office.
     Then, Garfield was assassinated in 1881. When Arthur assumed the presidency, political opponents began rumoring that he had been born in Canada, not in Fairfield, Vermont, as he had claimed. His mother was born in the United States; his father was born in Ireland.
      What should have been the last word came in 1898, when the Supreme Court ruled that a child born in the United States automatically became a citizen regardless of the parents’ citizenship status. That decision was made in the case of a born American citizen named Wong Kim Ark. He was not running for president.
     Some folks would like to change that rule, especially Donald Trump, who was born in Queens, New York. I’m sure that makes him a real American. My wife was born in Queens. Don’t tell Donald, because it would worry him that her father was an illegal alien. He was a merchant seaman from the island of Guernsey, in the English Channel, who jumped ship in New York back in the Thirties.
     One other potential presidential candidate who got into ethnic controversy was Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who happened to mention casually that she had a Cherokee ancestor. That seemed possible, since she was born in Oklahoma City, in an area full of folks with Native American ancestors, some going back to the 1830s, when the U. S. Government relocated most Eastern Indians out to the Oklahoma territory.
     Until I began writing the foregoing rumination, I had never thought about the status of Native Americans as birthright citizens. Sitting Bull should have run for president.

                                                     * * *
 August 26, 2015

 by James Smart
Peace: the Divine Lorraine comes back
T
he recent publicity about plans to restore the old Divine Lorraine Hotel on N. Broad St. mentions its origin as a luxury apartment building in 1894, but not much is said about Father Divine, the man who put the “Divine” into the name.
      I call him a man, though his followers believe he was a deity “in bodily form,” one of his favorite phrases. Those of us who are old enough remember him as the picturesque leader of what became an unlikely international movement.
      I won’t go into the confused details of his early history. He was an African-American evangelist who first attracted attention with his smiling revelation that he was a manifestation of God on earth in Sayville, New York, in about 1919.
      In 1932, he moved his base to New York City. He made national headlines in 1942 by buying a 500 acre estate on the Hudson River across from the ancestral home of then President Roosevelt.
       The same year, he came to Philadelphia. By that time, he had missions in Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, and converts in Canada, England, France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. His specialty was long, elaborate sermons.
      One reason his Peace Mission Movement attracted attention was that it paid cash for everything. Thousands of dollars came from small donations. At times, long lines of his followers, colloquially called “angels,” lined up outside a building being bought, clutching small bills to pay for it.
      When he hit Philadelphia, Father bought not only the Lorraine Hotel, but the Tracy Hotel on 36th St. near Chestnut, and many properties around the city. I don’t recall ever being inside the Divine Lorraine, but was inside the Divine Tracy when I was an Evening Bulletin reporter in the 1950s, and it was as fine a hotel as you could imagine. Rooms then were 50 cents a day, $2.50 a week, about one-tenth of a comparable commercial hotel. A good dinner in the dining room was a quarter
      The hotels employed many of Father Devine’s angels, as did his other facilities around town. And it went beyond hotel services. At the Tracy, one could get typing, photocopying, fax service, automobile license plates, tax preparation, and Notary service.
      But customers had to abide by Father Devine’s International Modest Code. Men and women were housed on different floors. Signs in all of his buildings instructed: “Peace. No smoking, no drinking, no profanity, no vulgarity, no undue mixing of the sexes, no receiving of gifts, presents, tips or bribes.”
      His training schools prepared people for work as housemaids, custodians, office workers and many other jobs, and angels were in demand because of their adherence to Father’s code. Their honesty was so scrupulous that you might see a classified ad in “The New Day,” Father Divine’s weekly newspaper, offering to return two pennies found on a sidewalk to the person who lost them.
      “Peace” was the universal greeting among Father Devine’s angels. The greeting “hello” was frowned on because it had “hell” in it. (In New York, the angels called Amsterdam Ave. “Amsterbless.”) At Father’s Mission Training School at Broad and Catherine, a sign on one of the double front doors said, “Peace. Please Use Other Door.”
      His angels assumed such quaint new names as Precious Love, Truly Blessed and John Joyful. He married one, Bright Angel, an attractive blonde, in 1953. He departed his bodily form at his Gladwyne mansion in 1965, age probably near 100.
                                                 * * *
 August  19, 2015

by James Smart
One last battle, after the Revolution

     When we learned about the Revolutionary War, our teachers told us that on Oct. 19, 1781, Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered the British army to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, and the American colonies were free to become a new nation. That’s true.
     But history tends to be messy, and some folks just never give up. The official peace treaty wasn’t signed until Sept. 3, 1783, British troops didn’t leave New York City until November, 1783, and there was some fighting in the interim. There was still plenty of animosity between Loyalists (loyal to King George, that is) and the victorious Rebel colonists.
     I bring this up today because Aug. 19, 1782, is the 233rd anniversary of what is said to be the last combat of the Revolution, the battle of Blue Licks. The battlefield is on the Licking River in the northeast part of Kentucky, in colonial times part of Virginia. A troop of about 50 American and Canadian Loyalists and 300 Native Americans from several tribes ambushed 182 local militiamen.
     The Loyalists were led by William Caldwell, Simon Girty and Alexander McKee, all Pennsylvania born and with connections to Native Americans. Caldwell had a son born to a Mohawk woman. Girty had been kidnapped as a little boy and raised for seven years as a Seneca. McKee’s mother was raised by Shawnees.
     The American Rebels were led by Col. John Todd, born in the part of  Philadelphia that is now Montgomery County, who became a Virginia lawyer and was great-uncle of Mary Todd Lincoln; Lt. Col. Stephen Trigg, a Virginian, commander of the local militia; Col. Robert Patterson, born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and Lt. Col. Daniel Boone, born in a Quaker family near Reading, Pennsylvania, who founded the first settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains, had many dramatic experiences during the Revolutionary War, and later variously became legendary.
      Caldwell’s men had attacked a local settlement and been driven away. Todd’s militia went after them. The Loyalists had left an obvious trail. Boone, schooled in frontier and Indian ways, thought it was too obvious, anticipated a trap and advised waiting for reinforcement.
      But Major Hugh McGary, a six-foot, red-haired Irish immigrant Virginian,  more than disagreed. He shouted, “Them that ain’t cowards, follow me.!” Most of the men immediately followed him.
      “We are all slaughtered men,” Daniel Boone muttered as he joined the ill-advised attack.
      The Rebels reached the top of a hill. The superior Loyalist force was spread out in ravines on the other side. Todd and Trigg were shot dead. Boone ordered a retreat, mounted the saddle of a passing empty horse, and shouted to his 23-year-old son, Israel, to do the same, only to see him struck dead by a rifle ball in the neck. There were 72 Rebels killed, 11 captured; seven Loyalists killed, 10 wounded.
        Boone escaped. In November, he was with the 1,000-man army that crossed the Ohio River and pushed the Shawnees and Loyalists out of the area, without a battle.
       You missed the annual observance of the battle last weekend at Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park in Kentucky, but they’ve already scheduled next year’s events for Aug. 20 and 21, 2016. Don’t miss the tomahawk throwing contest.


* * *

August 12, 2015

 by James Smart
Do know-it-alls really know-it-all?
     A recent issue of The Week magazine, which collects and digests material from just about every publication you could think of, from the New York Times to Hospodarske Noviny in the Czech Republic, had an article about a study that indicates that some people who seem to know it all, don’t. That was disturbing from the start, since The Week, itself, seems to know it all.
     The study claimed to catch experts pretending to know things that sound like subjects in their field, when the subjects were actually invented by the sneaky researchers. The report says that 100 volunteers were questioned about various disciplines such as biology, literature and personal finance.
     When people from varied fields were questioned about 15 different economic terms, people who were supposed to be economics authorities were far more likely to say that they were familiar with “pre-rated stocks” and “fixed rate deductions”, phrases invented by the conductors of the study. The same was true with responses from specialists in all fields.
     This would seem to indicate that many experts on one thing or another need to be looked upon with suspicion. Did your literature professor really read all those books he forced on you, or was he just winging it? Did Einstein pull that E equals mc squared stuff out of his hat, and just snicker while everybody else tried to figure it out? When you type some obscure query into Google, does some dude in the back room there just make up the answers, chortling as he works?
     But wait. Is 100 a large enough sample to prove something like this? And how were the volunteers recruited? People who volunteered to have the extent of their knowledge questioned might just be the type who wanted to show off their supposed erudition, and to be adept at faking it.
     This study was conducted by researchers at two universities, Cornell and Tulane. When Ezra Cornell founded his university, he emitted the oft-quoted proposal, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any subject.” Sounds like the kind of operation that would attract ersatz know-it-alls.
     Tulane University began as the University of Louisiana, but closed during the Civil War (when Louisiana guys were possibly out shooting at Cornell guys). After the war, the school was rescued financially by Paul Tulane, who was sort of the John Wanamaker of New Orleans. Did Cornell and Tulane have an equal number of volunteers? Did one university have more experts than the other pretending that they knew the phony topics?
     It would also be interesting to know what area of knowledge the different self-anointed experts represented. Did the math and science people fake their knowledge more than the arts and letters people?
      And what have we learned about know-it-allism? Presumably, these volunteers believe that they are experts in their fields, and so do their contemporaries, employers, students, friends and relations. Why were they so easily entrapped? Was the cause egotism, insecurity, overwhelming belief in their own omniscience?
     If called upon to answer my questions raised here, I suspect that you don’t have any answers. But, it doesn’t matter. Just do what a lot of experts do. Just fake it.
                                                * * *

August 5, 2015

by James Smart
Running for president on the front porch
It will be 15 months until we will be going into a polling place and electing a president, yet, at this moment or thereabouts, there are five Democrats and 17 Republicans who have announced that they are running. That was the numbers the last time I counted, but potential candidates, including some you have actually heard of, keep piling on, so the total may have increased by the time you read this.
       Most of these folks have been traveling around the country, spending a lot of time and money, telling voters in various states how they would do their presidenting if they had the chance, when they probably should be staying home and doing whatever job they have now.
       The situation got me thinking about the old days of the so-called “front porch campaigns.” There were once candidates for the presidency who just stayed home, and anybody who wanted to hear what they had in mind about running the government would have to drop by and ask.
       Now, when folks running for president could communicate with the voters by television, radio, e-mail, Twitter, wireless telephone, and all sorts of fancy methods that didn’t exist in the days of William McKinley, they are out there wandering all over the continent to personally bend the ears of the citizens.
      I single out William McKinley because his name usually comes up connected to the phrase “front porch campaign.” He was not the first or only president who got elected by just staying home. James A. Garfield did it in 1880, six years before McKinley. Benjamin Harrison did it in 1888, and Warren G. Harding did it in 1920.
      Somehow, McKinley’s front porch seemed to impress journalists and historians more than the others. His house in Canton, Ohio, had a very nice porch. In September, 1896, groups of Republicans from here and there began arriving in Canton by train. If the group was big enough, they would get an escort from local politicians, with bands, and would march from the railroad station to McKinley’s porch, cheering as they passed his mother’s house and often getting a wave from her. His trademark pink carnation in his lapel, McKinley made non-stop speeches and shook lots of hands.
      Ida McKinley sometimes served lemonade to the crowds. The visitors repaid her shabbily by ripping pickets from the McKinley fence for souvenirs, until the fence was gone.
      The first Pennsylvania delegation, on Sept. 12, was a special 33-car train carrying the steel workers from the Carnegie Mills at Homestead, just four years after the historically nasty union strike there. They marched through the streets with deafening bands.
      The McKinley advisers made one concession to the then latest communications technology. A motion picture was filmed of McKinley and his secretary, George Cortelyou, walking in the McKinley front yard. The brief scene didn’t show the front porch.
      McKinley’s rival, William Jennings Bryan, traveled the country by train and made some 600 speeches. McKinley spent twice as much money as Bryan, including distributing 200 million pamphlets (more than five times the U. S. population.) He won on his porch.
      William McKinley became our 25th president. In 1901, he was assassinated. The McKinley Presidential Library in Canton tells his story. The famous porch, and the rest of the house, was torn down in 1930.

* * *

July 29, 2015

by James Smart
Old firehouses and little boys’ dreams
           The 120-year old fire house in Chestnut Hill has been put on the list of historic places, so now nobody can alter it or tear it down. That must evoke mixed emotions in the guys in Engine 35.
             I’m sure they like serving in the oldest fire station in Philadelphia. But the doorframes of the old stone building are not wide enough to handle most modern fire fighting vehicles, which tend to be wider than horses. The crew can barely ease the equipment they have now into the station.
            Reading about the old firehouse reminded me of a situation I ran across four years ago when I was researching the year 1876 in Philly for my 2011 book “Adonijah Hill’s Journal” (shameless plug). In March and again in April of 1876, William Johnson, Chief Engineer of the Fire Department, asked City Council for an appropriation to replace the hand pumpers with chemical pumpers in Roxborough, Chestnut Hill and Kingsessing.
            Hand pumpers were pulled by one hoseman, who also had a hose carriage to handle. He had to ask the help of neighbors when a fire occurred.
A steam pumper, which the big fire companies used, would be better, but would require horses, and more men. Chemical engines created the water pressure with chemicals, and were all the rage in that era, although they went out of favor eventually. City Council turned the chief down.
            In material I have about the old fire department, I couldn’t find much about the Roxborough fire station. I have an 1873 annual report of the Fire Department, which shows William Warren, age 29, at Hand Engine Station B, Ridge Ave and Fountain. There is a long list of equipment, from suction engine and hose carriage to one iron bedstead and three spittoons.
            I don’t know when Roxborough got more modern equipment, but I found that from 1927 to 1951, the local station was in an old school house at Eva and Dearnley Sts., and I think the building is still there. In about that same period, the Chestnut Hill station had a huge and ornate police station next to it, torn down in about 1951.
           It’s hard sometimes to research the old volunteer fire companies. Some of them, including Manayunk, just called themselves by the area name: Manayunk Fire Company. Most of them liked to pick fancy names. Roxborough called itself Rittenhouse for a while, and another Roxborough company was the Good Intent. Chestnut Hill had briefly the Congress Hose Company. The city created the professional, paid, fire department in 1871 and abolished the volunteers, something most of the volunteers didn’t take very well.
            I was enamored as a little boy of my Uncle Bill, a career fireman. He was a tillerman, the guy who steered the rear end of the old engines.
          At some kind of open house or something, when I was about four years old, I rode around the block on his lap at the rear steering wheel on a hook and ladder. Later, my father held me and we slid down the traditional brass pole in the fire house.
          Many little boys my age dreamed that they would be a firefighter when they grew up, but I had a personal reason to think that. Then, when I was nine, Captain William Smart had a heart attack and died, in the firehouse at 7th and Diamond Sts, and I mournfully lost my little boy enthusiasm for a firefighting career.

                                                        * * *
July 22, 2015
by James Smart
The kid from Kansas who found Pluto
     In all the articles I read about our spacecraft intruding on the planet (or not) Pluto, there wasn’t much mention of Clyde Tombaugh. He was acknowledged as discoverer of Pluto in 1930, but that was about it.
     Time magazine did acknowledge that he was “an Illinois farm boy who talked his way into a job at Arizona’s Lowell Observatory, even though he’d never been to college.” 
     That’s true. Clyde Tombaugh had no degree. But he had an education. He gave it to himself, down on the farm.
     Clyde was born in 1906 in Streator, Illinois. After he was 16, he lived on a farm near Burdett, Kansas, which is 59 miles west of Great Bend, which is 95 miles northwest of Wichita. Current population is 248. There’s a historical marker about Clyde in Burdett, in the little park out by the water tower.
     As a boy, he got interested in astronomy. You can see lots of stars on a dark night, out there on the plains.  His father encouraged him, and presumably financed astronomy books, and mirrors for telescopes Clyde built out of odds and ends of farm equipment. The mirrors are important parts of telescopes, and Clyde produced them by hand.
     I knew guys like him when I was a kid, here in Philly. Ed Bailey, an astronomer at the Franklin Institute, lived a few squares from my house. He had several local boys interested in making their own telescopes, and gave them mirrors that had to be delicately ground with fine abrasives. You would see fellows walking down the street or sitting on a bench in Harrowgate Square, rubbing a potential telescope mirror.
     In 1928, Clyde Tombaugh sent some sketches of planets, which he had made using a nine-inch telescope he built himself, to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, asking for some advice from the astronomers. As it turned out, he was just the fellow the Lowell scientists were looking for. Their new photographic telescope was working fine. Working with the photos was a boring task.
     They couldn’t offer much in wages. The late Percival Lowell had left his million dollar estate to the observatory he had founded, but Lowell’s wife had contested the bequest, and most of the money was gone. Here was a smart kid who knew one planet from another, and would work cheap. They signed him up.
     Clyde had never been far from home. He endured 28 hours in a Santa Fe Railroad car seat to Flagstaff, Arizona. Dr. Vesto Slifer, the observatory director, met him at the station. The drive to the observatory impressed young Clyde, as they passed through a yellow pine forest, a novelty to a western Kansas plains dweller.
     The astronomers had evidence that there was a ninth planet out there, and put the kid to work looking for it. He spent long hours of many days studying photos of the sky, comparing two exposures taken several days apart, looking for a tell-tale shift in one of the points of light that would be that new planet.
     On the afternoon of Feb. 18, 1930, he spotted the sought-for image. He called his superiors. They studied photos for weeks, and then announced the discovery of the new planet. Clyde Tombaugh became famous. He was given a scholarship to the University of Kansas, and got a degree, befitting somebody who discovered a planet


                                     * * *
July 15, 2015

 by James Smart
An oddball idea for that $10 bill portrait
     There has been a lot of discussion about whose picture should be on a $10 bill. Alexander Hamilton currently has that honor, and if there is any rationale for picking portraits to be on currency, Hamilton deserves to be there. He was our first Secretary of the Treasury, and created our monetary system.
      He also had a terrible childhood and an unfortunate death. Hamilton was born sometime around 1755 on Nevis Island in the British West Indies, to a married woman whose husband was not the father. The outraged husband threw her out, and she and the baby moved in with a guy named Hamilton, who soon abandoned them, though they took the name with them.
     Alexander was a smart kid, and when he was as young as 11 he was working as a clerk. His boss was so impressed by the brilliant boy that he and a local clergyman raised the money to send him to New York, to attend King’s College. (The name of the college was later changed to Columbia, when kings became unpopular in these parts.)
     Hamilton was a major figure in the American Revolution and the founding of the U. S. government. But politics were even uglier in those days than ours. Hamilton wrote some criticism of Vice President Aaron Burr, who challenged him to a duel. On July 12, 1804, Burr shot Hamilton dead.
     So Hamilton earned his place on the $10 bill. Maybe they should promote him, and stick him on a higher denomination bill. They could move him to the $10,000 bill, which I don’t think is actually produced any longer.
     The $10,000 bill is currently occupied by Salmon P. Chase, who was Abe Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury. Chase was born in 1808 on a New Hampshire farm, but his strong intellect took him to Dartmouth College at age 16, where he was graduated in two years. He spent several years as a teacher in Washington, got into politics, and became Secretary of the Treasury in the new Lincoln cabinet of 1861.
     Philadelphia journalist Alexander K. McClure called Chase “the most irritating fly in the Lincoln ointment.” Chase disagreed with Lincoln regularly, and Lincoln rejected his annual offer to resign in 1862 and 1863. In 1864, the President finally accepted. I don’t think many of us would miss Salmon if he was replaced on the $10,000 bill.
     Another issue is the popular demand that the new portrait on currency be a woman. Such names as Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt have their advocates. May I suggest, as an antidote to all the accomplished women who have been suggested, we decorate the $10 bill with the image of Bess Truman.
     Mrs. Truman was not impressed by her husband being President of the United States. She stayed as much in the background as possible. She took part in the social activities expected of occupants of the White House, but seemed generally disinterested.
     Bess stayed home in Independence, Missouri, as often as possible. She once, after much cajoling, agree to have a press conference. She asked for written questions, and sent back written answers. Among her most cogent replies were “yes,” “no,” and “no comment.”
     I maintain that Bess Truman represented the old-fashioned idea that the President of the United States is just a slightly more than ordinary fellow, elected to lead a country in which any baby born today could grow up to be president. And maybe have his or her portrait on a $10 bill.

* * *

July 8, 2015
 by James Smart
The problem of flying that rebel flag
T
here has been much hand-wringing and emotional fussing recently about the old flag of the Confederacy, which is seen by some Americans today as a symbol of the lost attempt of their noble ancestors to form a separate Southern nation, and seen by others as a symbol of today’s latent racial discrimination and even hatred.
     Now, there is a sudden rush to eliminate the Confederate flag and symbols, as though that would flush out some of the generations-old discrimination.
     It is a peculiarly American dilemma, although similarities of it echo across the sea from South Africa. It is the remnant of attitudes that egotistically cause people to divide skin colors and different cultures into proud and aggressive separate races, even after it became obvious that there can be only one race, the human one.
     I look at my own household. Here am I, great-grandson of Pvt. George W. Hartley, 28th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, who survived the mayhem of the Civil War (his two brothers did not). Here is my wife, great-granddaughter of Pvt. John Delence Egbert, 16th Missouri Regiment.
     Both men were doing what they thought was right when they marched off to war 150 years ago, under two different flags. Was there shame in what either of them did, or what they believed? If so, that's not our problem. We cannot choose our ancestors, or change their opinions.
     But family is family. If I were a South Carolinian, I would probably hang a picture of my gray-uniformed great-granddaddy in the parlor, even if my living relatives and I had shaken off the soul-warping attitudes of the past,
     Now that I’ve said all that, the arguments may start. If we supposedly enlightened 21st century Americans can go beyond the hatreds of the past, does that mean that the Confederate flag should be banned, or that it should be tolerated?  The former is the current choice.
      Is there an analogy here with the despised swastika flag and symbol of the Nazis and their terrible, lethal prejudices? The Germans have outlawed it. They want to reject the evils of the death camps in the same way Americans want to reject the evils of slavery.
     There were trials after World War II that led to execution and imprisonment of Nazi leaders. After the Civil War we had the trial of the Confederate commander of the brutal Southern prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia.
     But for every leader and organizer of slavery and Nazism, there were also thousands of little guys who had been soldiers because they somehow had to be, who trudged home to pronounce themselves veterans and resume real life. Some might reject the ideals they fought for, some not.
     Men who fought on both sides of the Civil War were to be admired, though the ideals behind their battles might not. But the whole mess has trickled down through the generations, and innocent people have died again, not on a battlefield or in a prison camp, but in a prayer meeting. It will take more than abolishing a flag to solve the problem.

                                                                                   * * *

July 1, 2015 
by James Smart
I decided to be six foot two    

Our often goofy culture has suddenly discovered that you can be whatever you want to be. A former male Olympic medalist and father of a prominent family has decided that he is a woman, and praise flows in commending him or her for the decision. A dispute arises over whether a vaguely biracial woman is African American or white, and her choice of the former is cited as proof that you are what you say you are.
     It’s the latest freedom in the Land of the Free. Americans are popping up all over the place and declaring that they are something other than they seemed to be born.
     These are adults, making adult decisions. But if our changing times make it common for sex changes, we may soon come upon the situation arise at the very beginning,
     “Is it a boy or a girl?” asks a friend.
     “We’re going to wait,” says the new father, “until it gets old enough to decide for itself.”
     Personally, I have spent quite a few years being what seems to be the consensus of what I am, and never felt any discontent with my gender or race.
     Choosing one’s own race wanders into so many complications and disagreements that I will avoid discussing it, but go ahead and change, if you want. It’s freedom.
     And as this new burst of freedom seems to be generally accepted, it should be extended to other personal characteristics than merely sex and race. For starters, how about age?
     A free born American should be allowed to pick his or her age. There are many young people who would choose to be older if they could. Driving, drinking, joining the army and many other activities depend on age If you can decide what sex or race you are, why not age?
     There are many older people who would enjoy the freedom to announce that they are younger. What right do any of us demand that they must be totally chronological?
     This could, I admit, cause a bit of confusion. But I presume that adjustments are allowed in these decisions of what we are. If a person can announce a switch of gender and be accepted in the new role, it would seem that he or she or her also has the right to go back, and then maybe forth, depending on circumstances.
     It can be scheduled, so that a person  can be male on odd numbered days and female the others, or alternate gendered by week, month or years. These are freedoms that our Founding Fathers never dreamed of. I’m sure it never occurred to them that they were free to decide to be Founding Mothers if they wanted to.
     And there should also be freedom of height. If a little guy like me decided that he is actually six-foot-two, what right do the rest of us have to say otherwise. The man has the freedom to choose.
      My draft card from many years ago says that I was five-foot-seven when I was 18. I would have preferred any number of available heights, but we were bound to the tape measure in those benighted days. Now, with the new burst of freedom, we should be allowed to adopt a height we feel more comfortable with. This is the 21st Century,

* * *

 June 24, 2015

by James Smart
Watching the feathered backyard visitors
     There don’t seem to be as many birds hanging around our patio this year. Maybe some of them didn’t survive that harsh winter.
     By this time of year, we usual have a half dozen gold finches lunching at the thistle feeders. We’ve seen only two.
     A few mourning doves usually are waddling around, picking up feeder fallout. This year, only one or two. Chipmunks (yes, I know they’re not birds) have taken over the clean-up duty. And sparrows are there. There are always sparrows.
     We were rejected as host to a wren family his year. It’s my understanding that in the spring, a male wren builds two or three elaborate nests of twigs, leaves, bits of string and any other appropriate material. Then, he brings his lady love around to pick one. The others are abandoned.
     There is a flower pot that hangs beside our front door. Every year, a gentleman wren works hard at his architectural project. Some years, there is much coming and going in the pot. Then a couple of eggs appear. There is much cheerful chirping, and excited scolding if we come too close. Finally, the little family moves on to wherever wrens go. This year the pot was empty.
     We haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet. Their favorite food in our yard was a clump of verbena, and it didn’t come up this year, after maybe 20 years or so. Perhaps another victim of the frozen winter. Maybe something will bloom later that the hummingbirds will enjoy.
     In the 29 years we have lived here, we have seen a remarkable number of different birds. I am an indifferent sort of bird watcher; I don’t stalk the Wissahickon looking for them. But I have a copy of Peterson’s “Birds of Eastern and Central North America” beside my usual chair. I’ve kept a list birds I’ve seen there, plus some I saw in the trees and flying overhead, and one I’ve only heard, an owl.
     I don’t know what dedicated bird watchers consider a good score, but I have 36 birds on my list, here in a yard a mile or so from the Wissahickon. All the regular guys, of course: sparrows, robins, cardinals, blue jays, juncos, chickadees. It’s a long list.
     Then, there are the unusual visitors. One day, I heard an odd rat-a-tat-tat outside, and investigated. High up in a hemlock was an apparition: a huge woodpecker, black and white with a bright red hat. Peterson’s book told me it was a pileated woodpecker. Merriam Webster told me that pileated means “having a crest covering the pileum.” It said that the pileum is the top of a bird’s head. The specimen that visited us was one impressive bird.
     We had a wild turkey strutting up and down the yard one day. And an occasion hawk drops by.
There is a big bush beside the house, and a flock of sparrows likes to sit inside it and make noise. One day, a hawk floated down and sat on a low tree limb opposite the bush. I watched and waited.
     Suddenly, whamo! The hawk launched himself like a cannonball, right into the bush. The bush exploded with sparrows, headed in every direction. The sparrows emerged and peeled off, and I don’t think anything came of the whole episode. Probably an everyday event in bird land, but a nifty moment for a human being to see.


                                                          * * *

June 17, 2015
by James Smart
The perils of a walk around the block

    Some peculiar things have been happening in American life. Parents are being accused of child neglect because they allowed their kids to walk around neighborhood streets unattended by an adult.
     A large amount of worry-wartism, busybodying and self-appointed child protection seems to have arisen. I’m glad it wasn’t like that when I was a boy, endangered of being swooped up off the sidewalk while I was on the way to the American Store at the corner because my grandmother sent me to buy a sack of flour.
    Now, if somebody spots a four year old kid strolling on the street at 2. A.M, there’s most likely something amiss. But I don’t understand anyone who considers it a case of child abuse when parents let a 10-year-old walked around the block on a nice day.
     Yes, bad things can happen. We have all read articles about kidnapping, mistreated children and what-not. But child abuse is rare, and self-styled protectors of kids can be peculiarly obnoxious.
      There was a case in Chicago in which a woman let her three children play in a park across the street from her house. She could see them out a window. Some self-appointed guardian of youth called the cops, and the woman was found guilty of child neglect. (Maybe the solution to this sort of thing is to eliminate parks and playgrounds.)
      In many situations, police officers spot kids walking down the street, more or less in the manner kids have done since streets were invented, If the cops found the situation disturbing, they could take the kids home. Instead, they haul them to the police station, always an uplifting experience.
     Corollaries to this type of thinking are incidents of children being left unattended at home, and children being left in parked cars.
     All of this has led to magazine articles and television discussion on such subjects as when is a child old enough to walk down to the corner store for a Popsicle, or to be left alone at home.
     I even read about a woman who saw a little boy playing alone in a yard, grabbed him up, took him home and called the police about this case of child neglect. Her act of benevolence sounds like kidnapping to me.
     This has turned into a very complex social situation. Let me throw in the related over protected children when they get older. Birthsay parties get more elaborate these days. USA Today newaspaper says that the average high school prom this year cost $1,139.  Senior class trips, 50 years ago more likely to be a day at Bear Mountain, N.Y.,  now are weeks in Orlando, New York, and even France or Greece.
     Is it wonderful that we have reached a stage of affluence that so many of today’s parents can handle the expected social necessities of their kids? Yes.
     Is it wonderful that 16-year-olds get to drive their own automobiles? Yes. Is it also wonderful that little kids today get to places like Disney World? Yes.
     And as I think about how we provide today’s children with such rewarding experiences, I get a feeling, nostalgic, old fashioned, a bit confused.  It’s a hope that nobody told them they were too young to walk around the block.

* * *

June 10, 2015
by James Smart
Discussion: When is a horse ever a vehicle?
            I’ve been reading some columns I wrote 20 years ago or so, and it seems to me that there were more funny things to write about then. One column was about a fellow down in Pike County, Kentucky who was fighting a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
           What he was operating while intoxicated was a horse.
            The Kentuckian maintained that a horse is not a vehicle. “She’s got a mind of he own”, he said of his horse, Mabel. “I don’t think a vehicle has a mind.”
            Indeed, he said, he had often gone home astride Mabel after imbibing too much at a local drinking establishment, and always got there safely because Mabel, unlike your average motor vehicle, operated automatically.
            “I’ve even passed out in the saddle before,” the accused rider reported. “She knows the way home.”
            It does seem possible that, if there are folks who are compelled to drink and drive, it is better for society that they drive a self-directed vehicle that doesn’t have to be steered or braked.
            When I was a small boy, we lived next door to a huckster. He traveled the streets in a horse-drawn wagon, selling vegetables and fruit. On Monday through Thursday, he arrived home about sundown in respectable fashion, driving the two horses up to his gates and then leading them into the wagon yard.
            Fridays were different. The horses would come clopping along the street, pull up outside the wooden fence, and wait patiently for a member of the family to open the gates and let them in. The driver, if he could be called that on those occasions, would be lolling on the driver’s seat, snoozing peacefully.
            Maybe I misjudged the situation. Maybe he was just exhausted from the week’s commercial travail. But it was my childhood impression that on Fridays, he stopped off at some refreshment purveyor’s on the way home and consumed excessive quantities of hearty liquids.
            And the horses knew the way home. I don’t know how far they had to come, but they traveled the city streets weekly with no known incident, and got their owner back to his family safely. If he had been at the wheel of a motor truck, it would probably have concluded most Fridays mashed against a pole somewhere.
            Those memories led me to sympathize with the inebriated horseman in Kentucky. It seems to me that a horse is only a vehicle when someone is telling it what to do. If the person in the saddle is semiconscious, due to injudicious imbibing or for any other reason, and the horse is proceeding on its own recognizance, the person can hardly be awarded either credit or blame, and the horse should be commended for showing more responsibility than the rider.
            Some of the facts in the Kentucky case can confuse the issue a bit. When a Kentucky state trooper, who was in an automobile (unquestionably a vehicle) started to pursue Mable, she galloped away, ran headlong into a tree, and landed on top of her rider.
            If that was the result of the rider’s faulty navigation, Mabel did at the moment qualify as a vehicle. If Mabel acted her own accord, that “mind of her own” was not making the best decisions under the circumstances. I wonder if anybody gave Mabel a Breathalyzer test?
                                              * * *
June 3, 2015
 by James Smart
A happy 25 years visiting Review readers

      It suddenly popped into my aging brain that an anniversary just stumbled past. I’ve been writing this column in The Review for 25 years.
     I think the date of the first column was April 25, 1990. I can’t check that because my records of the 1990s are now packed away in big, heavy file boxes and the doctor warns me not to lift anything heavy.
     The journalistic world is exasperatingly different today, since the electronic goblin began shooting bits and bytes and texting and Google into the newspaper world, discombobulating the days when telephones were still telephones and Spam was still meat.
     In 1990, The Review was the Roxborough-based 88 year old flagship paper of the Intercounty Newspaper Group. The late Dick McCuen had bought up a couple of dozen weekly papers. My column was appearing in newspapers in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, and several New Jersey counties. We wrote on typewriters then. Our telephones had cords anchoring them to small areas. Photographers used cameras, not phones.
     Community papers and small town papers had a different relationship with readers than most do today, although I suspect there are still many old fashioned papers in less urban areas,
     In these past 25 years, television, the Internet, social media, and changes in the worlds of both journalism and advertising have taken their toll on old-time journalism. None of the on-line sources seem inclined to give definite figures, but there is no doubt that newspapers are closing all over the country.
     As a guy who worked for the nation’s largest daily evening paper, The Evening Bulletin, I was used to having the most up-to-date facilities. I became an admirer of the great work done by small papers with limited staff and resources. Usually there was a hard working savvy editor at the top.
     With The Review, the editor was the late Charlie Johnson. For many years, Charlie worked a very early shift at The Bulletin, then came up to Roxborough and produced  one the best weeklies in thee area.
     Another editor I admired was the late Art Thompson, who edited the century-old Delaware Valley Advance in Langhorne, Bucks Count, and later moved the paper to Newtown and the Advance of Bucks County.  I enjoyed dropping in on the office of the DVA, as the locals called the paper. It was in an old schoolhouse, a quaint microcosm of the huge news rooms of the Bulletin or Inquirer. When you brought in some material for the paper, the nice lady at the front desk put the copy in a wire bask and rand a bell. The basket was hauled up through an opening in the ceiling. You could hear the Linotype machine clattering up there.
     Yes, it’s a different world now than that era when I wrote my first Review column 25 years ago. I intend to keep it up. Whether that’s good news or bad news is your decision.




May 27, 2015

by James Smart

Paranoid patriots vs. Obama and the Arabs
      Those of you who can remember way back to the Bill Clinton administration may recall the black helicopters. Folks with backwoods mentalities and fear of elite Easterners were convinced that men in black New World Order choppers were going to swoop down on God-fearing patriots, seize their rifles, truck them off to concentration camps and take Charlton Heston’s gun from his cold, dead hands.
     As far as I know, the Washington storm troopers never got around to doing all that. But recently, a new manifestation of Constitutional paranoia has oozed into the news.
     In July, the Army, Navy, Marines, Air force and just about every uniformed federal organization plans to hold a month-long multi-state training exercise, spread across seven states. The exercise, as the military mavens like to call this kind of extravaganza, will be performed mostly in Texas.
     The operation has been named Jade Helm 15. I’ve read quite a bit about it, and nowhere have I learned the origin of that name. The reason Texas was chosen for the military hootenanny, along with chunks of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, is because that’s where the wide open spaces are. Troops can ramble around, blowing up lots of things, without causing the disruption if they tried it in Delaware or Rhode Island.
     But some Texans who are sturdy defenders of their Constitutional rights against the evil establishment in Washington think that the whole thing is a plot to invade Texas, disarm its righteous citizens, and, presumably, convert them at gun point to Obama-loving Democrats.
     The governor of Texas, caught in an awkward position, has ordered the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on the invaders. (That’s not the National Guard; State Guards are military units that operate under the sole authority of a state government. Pennsylvania’s was disbanded at the end of the Korean War.)
     The kind of mild lunacy that fears the forcible Obamazation of Texas has another terrifying worry that didn’t exist until recently. There are Muslims creeping into our country and trying to establish sharia law.
     A speaker at the National Rifle Association annual meeting, a few weeks ago, warned that Muslims were taking over towns and establishing Islamic law, which doesn’t blend well with the Constitution.
He described riding with a Detroit Metro cop. They came to a street where the signs ahead were all in Arabic, including street signs. The police officer said he could not go in there. Obviously, the guy concluded, Muslims had seized control.
     What most certainly happened was that they had come to the border of Dearborn, where Detroit cops don’t go. The reason he saw the Arabic signs was that one-third of Dearborn’s 95,000 population is Arabic. If you dropped this guy at 10th and Race, he would probably conclude that the Chinese government had invaded Philadelphia.
     There are nine mosques in Dearborn. There are seven Christian churches. Many Arabs are Christians. The police chief of Dearborn in an Arab. Sharia law is not in effect.
     This nonsense started five years ago, when one of those satirical Internet news sites ran a tongue-in-cheek report that Dearborn had adopted sharia law. FOX TV news people, and one CBS commentator, took it seriously for a while. I don’t know how they feel about Jade Helm.

                                             * * *
May 20, 2015
by James Smart
 Philadelphia’s own Battle of Waterloo

There will be a lot of commemorative fussing about this time next month in Belgium and other places because of the 200 th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington put Napoleon Bonaparte out of business.
      The bicentenary of the European battle made me recall Philadelphia’s own Waterloo, about 100 years ago. Old timers, when I was a grade school kid, often reminisced about the gang from Waterloo St.
     The 2500 block of Waterloo St., west of Front and Huntingdon, ran where the Waterloo Playground is now, I think, but 100 years ago it was a street of ratty little row houses, and headquarters of a tough street gang that called itself The Battle.
     Willie John Maguire and his brother, Rocks Maguire, were the leaders of the group. Their favorite pastime was fighting. They had particular animosity toward the Charter St. Cleavers, a belligerent gang that ruled the petty crime and cheerful rioting just east of Kensington Ave.
     Politics had a lot to do with the rivalry. Willie John Maguire was a committeeman. The Cleavers enjoyed coming into Waterloo St. and taunting the Maguire boys, particularly after pay day on Saturday nights. Followed by an evening of refreshment at a local bar.
     The cops at the 18th District station at Fourth and York Sts. were familiar with their foot patrolmen losing control of the melee, and with bored sighs would send a wagon down to “the battle” to gather up the usual participants. They would be discharged by the magistrate in the morning, insincerely apologetic but, at least, sober.
     Those loosely organized neighborhood gangs were the bane of the Police Department in the late 19th century. Walls and fences were graffitied with painted gang names, identifying their turf. The names were more ominous than the gang’s activities: Killers, Blood Tubs, Rats, Bouncers.
     One of the first, and most famous, or infamous, of the street gangs was the Schuylkill Rangers, who hung out at 23rd and Market Sts. The Rangers specialized in raiding ships on the Schuylkill waterfront in the years before the Civil War. Finally, a concerted effort by the police, with one patrolman stationed at every block from Fairmount to the Navy Yard, subdued the Rangers’ activities.
     Criminal activities by gangs went out of style about the time of World War I, but fighting, a la Waterloo St., remained popular. In the former Rangers’ domain along the Schuylkill, the boys from the Devil’s Pocket neighborhood, below Lombard St., didn’t get along with the residents of Flatiron, south of them.
     There were brick yards along the river, which provided plenty of ammunition when the Flatties and the Pockets decided to battle. It was traditional that before one neighborhood attacked the other, a boy would run through the streets repeatedly shouting “Yay-yay! Yay-yay!” This was the warning for residents of the streets to close the shutters on their row house windows, to avoid the glass being shattered by an errantly heaved brick.
     Gangs in the 20 th century were different, somehow. The Green St. Counts of the 1950s, motorcycle gangs, and various neighborhood gangs were seriously criminal, and neighborhood gangs “rumbled” against each other with deadly intent. I’m out of touch on such matters these days. Maybe the 21 st century will be calmer.


* * *
May 13, 2015 
by James Smart
When Committeemen were Wizards of Oz

 The primary election is going to be performed any day now, and all the Committeemen and Ward Leaders, who seem a lot like regular people most of the time, are now in full engagement. If you are a registered Democrat or Republican, you elected your local Committeepersons last May, and they elected Ward Leader among themselves.
            If you don’t know you did that, don’t worry. You’re not alone. But your local Committeeperson and Ward Leader have a lot of experience, knowledge and well-honed prejudices when it comes to how the city is run.
            I guess it’s still that way. But when I was a little boy, and the grand old Republican political machine was in full gear in Philly, it seemed to me that the local Committeeman was a mysterious power, like the Wizard of Oz. We’re talking the 1930s here.
            In those days, I heard it said by adults, and therefore believed, that a man couldn’t become a Police Officer or Firefighter without the Republican Committeeman’s okay. It was said that Committeemen attended roll call at police stations to keep an eye on their favorites.
            I heard it said, and believed, that if a Democrat moved into a house in our neighborhood with a traditional old brick sidewalk, he would be visited by the Republican Committeeman, and if the meeting didn’t go well, the city would notify that he had to put in an expensive concrete sidewalk. (We didn’t call them sidewalks then; they were pavements, pronounced “paymint.”)
            Those things may have been rumors or legends or something, but there were some manifestations of Committeeman importance that I can certify as real. Our local Republican Committeeman had a goldfish pond in the fenced-in back yard of his row house. Republicans’ kids were often invited to come in and see the fish. Democrats’ kids were never admitted.
            I was allowed to see the fish pond, but the Committeeman made it clear that only one of my parents was registered Republican, so my eligibility was due to his kindness of heart. He never told me which parent was registered which way, and little kids don’t ask questions. I still don’t know, but I can guess.
            Then came a dramatic night in the family history. My father went to a union meeting. Afterward, he and a friend apparently stopped somewhere for a beverage or two, not a usual activity for him. Walking homeward, they came upon some trash on the street that included an orange crate and some trash cans.
            With wooden slats from the crates for swords and trash can lids for shields, they engaged in a noisy duel. Somebody called the cops.
            Dad telephoned from the police station. Mother took the news with annoyed aplomb. And she knew what to do.  She called the Committeeman. He accompanied her to the police station, and vouched for my father’s better behavior. They released Dad on something called “a copy of the charge,” and as far as I could tell from my six-year-old vantage point, the whole thing blew over.
            But the incident left me with respect for the powerful wizard, our Committeeman, and with a bemused new perspective on my father.

* * *

May 6, 2015
by James Smart
Danger: Student caught reading on school bus
There was a minor uproar a few weeks back about a situation in Canada, when a school bus driver told an eight year old passenger that she was not allowed to read a book on the bus. This presented me with lots of material for some heavy duty pondering.
       I have little personal experience with school buses. I attended elementary school in the pre-World War II years, in a blue collar Philadelphia neighborhood. We walked to school, walked home again for lunch, then walked back when the mill whistles blew, as did many of our fathers.  
       The only school bus rides we got were on field trips, such as a visit to the city’s “model farm” deep in South Philly, where the nice ladies who were our teachers showed us city brats what chickens and cows looked like. We never disillusioned them by telling them that we could find lots of chickens in back yards a block or two from the school. There were no neighborhood cows that I recall, but I could have found them a goat.
       But I can understand the parental outrage that ensued last month when the little girl was ordered to put her book away. What other intellectual exercises would the bus driver forbid? Reciting the multiplication table? Spelling words out loud?
       I would like to know what the little girl was reading. “War and Peace”? “The Cat in the Hat”?  “Fifty Shades of Grey”? “Cinderella”? “Taxidermy Made Simple”? “St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians”?
       This incident happened in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, just north of the Vermont border, known for its annual hot air balloon festival.  So, the little girl was probably reading in French, and my examples don’t apply.
       The school board backed the driver, saying that he or she has command of what goes on in his vehicle.  The explanation of the rule is that a book can be dangerous. Another child might stand up to see what the girl was reading, fall when the bus hits a bump, and suffer a fractured clavicle. An accidental poke in the eye by the corner of a book could be grievous.
       So, has SEPTA heard about this? Maybe our transit authority authorities might consider banning book-reading on buses. There are a lot of litigious-minded riders out there; after a bus collides with something, there often are more folks with a resulting kink in their L-5 vertebrae than there seemed to be on the bus. A carefully-staged eye poke by a copy of “Every Fifteen Minutes” by Lisa Scottoline, plus a good lawyer, could mean a big cash settlement.
       I didn’t check with the Philadelphia schools to see if there is a policy about reading on school buses; from what I hear, they can’t afford any books anyway.
       From the educator’s point of view, I would think there might be rejoicing to hear that a student in 2015 was actually reading a book, a genuine book, voluntarily, on a school bus or anywhere else. Most kids today won’t touch a device that doesn’t have a screen, on which a finger dragged across it does what once was the laborious action of turning a page.
       I encountered a young man recently who was walking while holding a paperback book cradled in both hands, in front of his face, the way most people these days hold their Apple iPads. I said, “I see that you’re using one of those hand-held paper devices.” He looked puzzled for a moment, then said, “Yes, I guess I am.” I didn’t ask him where he had to put the battery.
                                                                                        * * *
April 29, 2015
by James Smart
An old list of historic science sites
 The Philadelphia Science Festival that is now in progress all over town reminded me of a tour of historic science sites I wrote back in 1968. A series of walking tours on various themes ran in the Sunday Bulletin. I co-authored each one with an expert on the subject.
            For the science tour, I enlisted Dr. Joseph S. Hepburn, then archives researcher of the Franklin Institute, a brilliant scholar who had more degrees than a thermometer. He was in his eighties then.
            On the week we were to work on the tour, he had an accident, a broken hip if I recall. I visited him in the hospital, and said we would postpone the project. No, no, he said. On a sheet of paper, with pencil, strictly from memory, he listed 21 locations as stopping points on our walk.
            The space I had for that tour article was four times the size of this column, so I can’t go into all the interesting detail, but the walk started at City Hall. When that site was Centre Square, Benjamin Latrobe designed America’s first waterworks there in 1799.
            A block south at Broad and Chestnut, Samuel Wetherill produced the country’s first white lead, and revolutionized paint production. Around the corner at Juniper and Chestnut Sts. then location of the U. S. Mint, Joseph Saxton, a mint worker, read an article about a new European invention. He duplicated it with a cigar box, a magnifying glass, some silver and some chemicals, and with it took America’s first photograph.
            At 1111 Chestnut St., in 1878, Thomas Cornish set up Philadelphia’s first telephone exchange. On the west side of Ninth St. above Chestnut is, some historians say, the place where Ben Franklin flew his famous kite. Across Ninth St., Oliver Evans built the first horseless vehicle in 1805, a steam-powered dredge that rumbled through the streets and into the Delaware River.
            Near Seventh and Chestnut in 1832, Matthias W. Baldwin built the first American locomotive. Also on Seventh, the Philadelphia History Museum is in the building that housed the Franklin Institute from 1826 to 1933. The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (now University of the Sciences) was where the old Lits building now stands, from 1832 to 1868.
            David Rittenhouse, pioneer astronomer, lived on the southeast corner of 7th and Arch, from 1770 to 1789, then moved to the northeast corner. 
            The Philadelphia College of Dental Surgery was founded in 1852, the Philadelphia Dental College at 10th and Arch in 1863. The former became part of the University of Pennsylvania in 1909; the latter joined Temple University in 1907.
            The northeast corner of Fourth and Race was the site of Edward Penningtion’s sugar refinery, probably the first, from 1807 to 1826. On the southeast corner was the Provosts’ House of the University of Pennsylvania, where early chemistry classes were taught in the 1770’s.
            On the north side of Arch between Front and Second from 1815 to 1826 was the first home of the Academy of Natural Sciences, the first such organization in the nation. On the river at the foot of Arch was where John Fitch tested the first steamboat on July 20, 1786.
            I’m running out of space, and we’re only up to number 15 on Dr. Hepburn’s list. Some folks will find all this boring, I’m sure. But it’s somehow pleasant to know where things used to be. Things that are there won’t always be there, but things that used to be will always used to be.

* * *

April 22, 2015
by James Smart 
Why don’t overseas visitors favor Philly?
     A travel magazine listed the top 10 U. S. cities that were visited by tourists from other countries in 2013, the latest data. Philadelphia wasn’t one of them.
     New York was first, of course. There are certain cities in the world that it seems everybody wants to see. New York, London, Paris, Rome and a few other cities are what I might as well call iconic, since the words “iconic” and “icon” are being worn out by newspaper writers in recent months.
     In this country, New York has become the most impressive to Europeans. It had nearly 10 million foreign visitors.
     So what attracts foreign visitors? Miami was next, with four million. Los Angeles was third: it’s got Hollywood; then came Orlando; it’s got Disney. Then came San Francisco, which has developed its own mystique.
     Las Vegas was sixth; it’s got vice. Next, Honolulu, with beaches and hula, Washington, the capital, and Chicago and Boston, well known big cities. Philadelphia is a well-known big city, too. Why don’t the overseas travelers flock here?
     For many years, Western European visitors to the U. S. dominated, most coming from the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Those countries continue to be well represented, but the big explosion now is in visitors from India, China and elsewhere in Asia
     In recent years, the number of foreign tourists in Philadelphia annually runs at bit shy of 700,000, keeping us just out of the top 10.  They come mostly from the afore mentioned, and lately we’re seeing the increase increase in folks from Asia.
     There are plenty of international students in Philly. Penn usually has about 5,000, Temple 2,000. We could hope that they go home and tell their friends and neighbors, “You really should visit Philadelphia some time.” Does anybody ever suggest that to them?
     The reasons folks choose to travel to a distant place are often nebulous and personal. Many years ago, I struck up a conversation with a man from Greece, in Independence Hall. He was fulfilling a dream from boyhood, he said, to visit the place where modern democracy was created, since he came from the land where ancient democracy was born. He had read more about Thomas Jefferson and the activities of our founders than the average American visitor taking selfies with the Liberty Bell.
     The only other destination on his itinerary was New Mexico and adjoining states. He wanted to see the ruins of the Anasazi culture, whose rocky dwellings were being developed about the same time in just before the Christion Era as his ancient Greek ancestors were putting together the first vestiges of democracy.
     Also many years ago, a friend of mine was visited by his aunt from Germany. He took her to Independence Hall, which she knew nothing about and wasn’t impressed. Then he took her to Elfrreth’s Alley, which she pronounced boring. She said she could see little old buildings any time at home; she wanted to see modern architecture and skyscrapers. He sighed, and took her to New York.
     I’m not sure what we can learn from this. But we have a barrow-load of art, culture, restaurants and other goodies. Somebody in Paris or Mumbai or Shanghai might be interested, if we could get their attention.

* * *

April 15, 2015

by James Smart
Some tales of old-time Philly mayors
Philadelphia is on the verge of electing another mayor. There have been 98 men who held the job, and when I read about them, it’s the little, non-political, non-governmental things that I enjoy.
       The first mayor, appointed by William Penn in 1701, was Humphrey Morrey, who grazed his sheep along Walnut St, until development forced him to move out to Cheltenham. His wife was part white, part African American and part Native American. It is said that he was the great great great great grandfather of Paul Robeson, the singer and actor.
       John Barker, a Revolutionary War general, was elected mayor in 1808, 1809 and again in 1812. He was known for making political speeches laced with vulgarity and profanity. An opponent denounced him for “employing language at which a Hottentot would blush, a Christian tremble.”
       John Morin Scott was mayor in 1841. One day, a man entered the mayor’s office in City Hall, at Fifth and Chestnut Sts., and fired a pistol at Mayor Scott’s back. The pistol ball struck the leather patch where his suspenders crossed, and he escaped with only a bruise.
         Richard Vaux, who served from 1856 to 1858, had long, flowing gray hair, and a long beard that he tucked down the front of his shirt. He took an ice cold bath every day at 5 A. M., before breakfast. He lived to be 82.
       Three-term mayor William S. Stokley was in office from 1879 to 1881. He was a candy manufacturer, but didn’t like his nickname among the press and politicians, Sweet William. Stokley took personal charge of the police department, and was known to walk up to a patrolman on the street, demand his badge and fire him on the spot if the cop had done something the mayor considered inappropriate.
         In 1880, the Democrats pulled an upset and elected Samuel G. King by a small majority. In 1884, the Republicans ran William B. Smith, who was known principally for being one of the most fashionably dressed politicians. He won by 82 votes out of 158,962.  When he left office, he went to work selling men’s clothing in a department store.
       When Samuel H. Ashbridge was elected mayor in 1899, the old story goes, he said to a crony, “I shall get out of this office all that there is in it for Samuel H. Ashbridge.” He issued city contracts for horse feed to the highest bidder, paid three times the going cost for road work, and presumably made all of his favorite contractors happy, and possibly generous.
       Thomas B. Smith had the distinction of being the only mayor of Philadelphia to be charged with murder in office (so far.)  He was elected on his 46 th birthday, Nov. 2, 1915. In the 1917 primary election, two Republican factions, the Vare brothers’ followers and the Bois Penrose followers, both had city Council candidates on the ballot in the Fifth Ward.
       At 10. A M., hired thugs invaded the polls at Sixth and Delancey Sts. An Assistant District Attorney was blackjacked, and a police officer who tried to break the up fight was shot and killed. The Penrose candidate, six policemen, five thugs and Mayor Smith were arrested. The mayor was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. He was tried and acquitted.
       Mayors seem more normal these days. The Hon. Michael Nutter’s only oddity is that while he was in college, he worked as a disc jockey under the name Mix Master Mike.    

* * *

April 8, 2015 
by James Smart
Close encounters of the pothole kind
            You want to hear about potholes? I’ll tell you about potholes.
            As the pothole season was just coming into bloom, a few weeks back, we started off for a medical appointment and got two blocks from home when the right front tire walloped an unavoidable crater and went flooey. This soon involved recruiting a neighbor for immediate transportation, getting my son to help get the mashed tire to a tire dealer, and various complications.
            A nuisance, but, hey, it’s pothole time in Philly. We got back on the road again.
            A couple of weeks later, I was on my way to have lunch with some former colleagues from. the late lamented Evening Bulletin. This time I was 10 miles from home when a vicious pothole assaulted the same wheel.
            I managed to pull off into a side street, and called the insurance company’s roadside assistance number. I spent a nice afternoon chatting with pleasant young women who called every so often to assure me that help was on the way. But they were overwhelmed with similar problems, and they were taking care of accidents first,
            There was the temptation to point out that what happened to me was an accident, too. But I understood their point of view.
            A decade or two ago, I would have got out the jack myself and just put the spare wheel on. But I have reached a stage in life where the list of things that I can’t do, and/or shouldn’t do, has additions to it with annoying frequency.
            It was four hours before I was on my way again. The next day, I visited my friendly local auto repair establishment, a good old fashioned shop on a side street, the kind of place that still calls itself a garage. The fellows there fixed me up with a real wheel and tire again.
            Here’s where the story gets hard to believe. Five days later, we were returning from a medical appointment, and, what? No! It couldn’t happen. Wham! The right front wheel located a pothole again, and gently deflated.
            I pulled off the road, turning into the parking lot of a big chain drug store. We were a little closer to home, so we called a guy we know who does towing. I asked him if he would put on the spare, and he said no, but he knew somebody who would. Give me your phone number, he said, and I’ll call him, and let him call you.
            Okay. We waited. The phone rang. A woman asked exactly where we were in the parking lot, because someone was there looking for us. At that moment, a fellow came along and spotted our flat-tired vehicle.
            He said he would be happy to put on our spare, and take care of the attendant problems. He asked for my keys.
            “You’re going to drive on that flat? I asked.
            “Trust me,” he said.  So we got into the car, and he backed out of the parking space, headed to the entrance where I had come into the lot, and drove straight across the road, directly into the entrance to his automobile repair service parking lot. I have driven on that road hundreds of times through the years, and never noticed that a car repair place was there.
            All is well with our automobile again. We have become extremely sensitive to the presence of potholes. But we’re sure that we could not possibly, ever, by the wildest chance, have a fourth unpleasant encounter with a pothole.
            Could we?

                                                          * * *
April 1, 2015
by James Smart
 A 250 year old pretzel is no April Fooling
Recent archaeologic news from Bavaria, in case you haven’t been keeping up, is the discovery of a 250 year old pretzel. Archeologists came upon the pretzel while digging around on the site of an 18th century bakery in Regensburg, a nice old town with the inevitable picturesque cathedral, and an elegant 12th century stone bridge that Crusaders used to cross the Danube on their way to grab up the Holy Land (and maybe buy a pretzel on the way.)
     The ancient pretzel is now on display in the Regensburg Historical Museum. It is really only a fragment, the upper half of the original, and is somewhat burned. In fact, it’s black. But that helped preserve it.
     One Bavarian scientist enthused that in her 30 years in the archaeology business, she has never before found an organic object.
     Like all devout Philadelphians, I have a life-long interest in pretzels, particularly the doughy, big-salted models, painted with mustard, that sold for a penny when I was in first grade and go for a dollar now that I am on Social Security.
     And it seems somehow appropriate to write about this latest advance in pretzelology on April Fool’s Day, because making jokes about pretzels got me in a bit odd trouble about 50 years ago.
     My memory of the details are vague. (My memory of last week isn’t so hot, either.) But I think the late Bob Menafee, a radio talk show growler, and some equally late writers I knew at Philadelphia Magazine, had been razzing me for devoting too much space to the history, philosophy and poetic lore of a subject as trivial as soft pretzels.
     I responded with a spoof that I never imagined anyone would take seriously. Modern scholarship, I wrote, has traced the soft pretzel back to the very beginning of time. It is written that Adam and Eve weren’t allowed to eat apples; nothing was said against soft pretzels.
      Noah took two soft pretzels on the ark. One salted and one plain.
      Fossilized soft pretzels have been dug out of the LaBrea Tar Pits. Paleontologists have identified them as the Missing Link from which both types of modern soft pretzels evolved: the spacious-holed Pennsylvania Dutch variety, and the Philadelphia type, with little, squinty holes.
      In ancient Egypt, I wrote, according to inscriptions carved inside the great pretzel-shaped pyramid at the El Pretz oasis, soft pretzels were entombed with pharaohs, to munch on while on the way to the spirit world.
      Not much is known about soft pretzels among the ancient Greeks, I reported, because pretzels were eaten only on Mt. Olympus. Later in Rome, the letters SPQR on the legions’ banners stood for Softus Pretzelus Quaeso Reddere (loosely translated, “I beg you to give me some soft pretzels.”)
      I said Columbus sought trade routes to the mythic pretzel islands. And where would a French peasant get cake? I asked; what Marie Antoinette actually said was, “Let them eat pretzels.”
     When Ben Franklin arrived in Philly, it wasn’t two rolls he bought. At Second and Market? It had to be pretzels.
     And on and on. I didn’t dream that anyone would believe any of it. But I got letters and phone calls, picking out specific “facts,” ignoring the rest, and correcting me (either patiently or angrily) or asking me for sources and more information.
     It was all a joke, folks, honest. But the Bavarians really did find a 250 year old pretzel. Even though this is

April Fool’s Day.

* * *

March 25, 2015

by James Smart

After 179 years, Ledger first editions are rare

Advertised for sale on eBay recently are what are represented as copies of the first edition of the Philadelphia Public Ledger newspaper, dated March 25, 1836. If one of them is what it seems to be, that’s a rare bargain at any price.
            I’m a bit out of touch, but the last I heard, there are only three authenticated copies of that first Public Ledger in existence. Our Free Library of Philadelphia has one, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania has one, and the University of Syracuse has one.
            The Ledger was founded as a penny newspaper, when others were selling for as much as five cents, and struggled along until 1864, when it was bought by George W. Childs and Anthony J. Drexel. Under Childs’ leadership, it became a major American newspaper.
           After Drexel died in 1901, the Ochs family, owners of the New York Times, owned it briefly. Cyrus Curtis bought it in 1913, and also bought the Inquirer. In 1934, the Morning and Sunday Ledger was absorbed into the Inquirer. (Curtis also started publishing an Evening Ledger in 1914, and continued it until December, 1942.)
          The problem with finding a rare Ledger first edition is this: six times through the years, the Ledger reprinted that first four-page edition and distributed the replicas for promotional purposes. The first souvenir reprint was put out by the Ledger in 1873, printed on thin white paper. On the railroad advertisements on the first column of page one, a man was added on the platform of two depicted locomotives, and the front and back wheels of the locomotives were made equal in size.
          Similar reprints on darker paper were distributed at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, and again in 1886 for the newspaper’s 50th anniversary and in 1906 for its 70th anniversary.
          In 1926 at the Sesquicentennial celebration, reprints were given out that have no man on the locomotive platform, though the wheels are the same size. Also, at the bottom of the last column of the last page is an asterisk.
          The final reprint was distributed in 1936 by the Inquirer, two years after it took over the Ledger. There are two asterisks at the bottom of the last column.
          I’ve seen one reprint, probably the 1926 version, that has “Facsimile of First Issue of the Public Ledger” plainly printed at the top of page one. The American Society of Newspaper Collectors has Ledger reprints on its “hit list” of the most reproduced historic newspapers
          Through the years, people have occasionally come upon one of the reprints, saved by some old timer in the family, and thought they had a real 1836 first edition, but the last authenticated copy I know of was presented to the University of Syracuse by an alumnus in 1965. It was a peculiar coincidence, because the late Wesley C. Clark, then dean of the Syracuse School of Journalism, had been a staff member of the old Philadelphia Bulletin, and had written its article about the demise of the Ledger in 1934.
          The images of the alleged original Ledger that are listed on eBay are not 100 percent clear, but it looks to me as though those locomotive wheels are the same size. If you happen to have a genuine 179 year old Ledger lying around the house, with no men on the locomotive platforms and uneven engine wheels, you have a treasure.

* * *

March 18, 2015 
by James Smart
Pick whatever gender appeals to you
 
A few weeks ago, there were reports that at the City University of New York, an Interim Provost sent a memo telling the faculty of the Graduate Center to refrain from addressing students with the prefixes Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Messages addressed to students should use the full name. The memo said that the school seeks a “gender-inclusive learning environment,”
 I pondered whether to write about this sensitive subject, but decided it was worth considering, in this liberated era where folks now forthrightly designate themselves as male wives and female husbands,
          Being an old guy, I’ve been having problems with such things way back to the time our feminist mavens decreed that Ms. was somehow preferable to old fashioned Miss. The annoyance when that began was that all of us, but particularly men, seemed to be expected to know automatically the status and preference of women, who often responded peevishly if you guessed wrong.
            If our ever-mutating society now allows us to choose our own gender, regardless of any physical evidence of one kind or another, that’s fine with me. All I would ask is forbearance from those who have made some alter-gender choice. Many people in situations like this will expect others to get that gender preference right the first time, without any needed input.
            What I read about the CUNY memo didn’t mention whether the dictum included students addressing faculty.  Calling someone Professor Smith or Dr. Smith would avoid misspeaking, but the ordinary teacher has no title other than one we all can have. The safe thing will be to use the full name.
            As our great land of freedom continues to come upon new and unique freedoms, I would ask only of folks involved in the current gender Mixmaster, or any other social differences, to return my toleration of them with some tolerance from them if I happen to violate some 21 st century tenet I may not have heard about yet.
            I recall starting a consultant job some years ago, and working on the first day at a desk with no telephone. A young woman in the next cubicle kindly offered to let me use her phone. I made a call and left a message, saying, “I’m not at home; don’t be surprised if a girl answers the phone.”
            My new associate heard me. She stood up and gave me a stern look.
            “I am 32 years old,” she said, “and I object to being called a girl.”
            “I’m very sorry,” I said, “but I have a daughter who is 32 years old, and when she was born and the obstetrician showed her to me, he didn’t say ‘It’s a young woman.’”
            My critic laughed, and we’ve been friends ever since. She has never questioned my gender.
            And as we slide cautiously down this latest slippery politically correct slope, maybe I should put in a word for us old people. Age is as tender a condition as gender, to some people. It is meant well when the ticket-taker at Citizens’ Bank Park calls me “Pops,” or the girl (sorry;  young woman) in the Acme asks, “Do you need help with those bags, sir?”
            Many retailers that offer senior citizen discounts ask if the customer is 65 or better. That’s very cute, but if they’re looking for really better, they should go in the other direction.
            Maybe the City University of New York should check and see if the faculty and students should be allowed to pick their own ages, as well as their genders.

* * *

March 11, 2015

by James Smart
Ain’t isn’t necessarily wrong

It has been more than two years since David Skinner wrote his book, “The Story of Ain’t: America, It’s Language and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published.” It’s almost as big as your typical dictionary, and it unravels a dense and complex story.
      When Webster’s Third New International Dictionary was published in 1962, a great brouhaha, and a few ordinary hahas, broke out among scholars, newspaper editors, writers, educators. linguists and lexicographers, because the revered dictionary admitted that many Americans used the word ain’t,
      As Skinner points out in his book, the word ain’t was in the previous Merriam Webster edition, in 1934, and there was not much of an outcry. Maybe in 1934, most lexicologists, professors, linguists and stuffy newspaper editors were busy creating city guidebooks books for the WPA, or selling apples on street corners.
      By the 1960s or so, the word collectors-at Webster’s Third  concluded that the world was ready to be told that people of the better sort sometimes utter that despicable contraction. The editors made some improvements in arrangement and methodology from the previous edition, which some dictionary-huggers loved, and other hated
      The popular news media generally ignored the more serious and important ideas the new dictionary offered. They were interested only, it seemed, that the low-brow favorite word ain’t  was officially implanted among the nearly half million words defined in the book.
      Language mavens weighed in with journal entries, magazine articles and op-ed pieces. Some were intransigent in wanting to ban use of the word altogether. Many admitted that the word was, indeed, used by all sorts of Americans, and should be smugly tolerated.
      The lexicologist and linguists, self-anointed priesthood of the language, disagreed here and there, but were mostly broad-minded about the controversy.  Lexicologist is often defined in dictionaries as a writer, compiler or editor of a dictionary. It seems to me that lexicologists tells us what a word means, and how to spell it. A linguist tells us where the word came from, and why it’s a word in the first place.
      Skinner’s book on everything that happened during the creation and criticism of Webster’s Third takes a complicated subject, and leaves it that way. While delving into the dictionary world’s operations rivalries and personalities, he frequently wanders off into amusing biographical information and other marginal tales.
      I was interested in this book because I recalled interviewing Raymond Rhine in 1962 He was in Philly because Burroughs Corp. in Radnor hired him to teach grammar to engineers. Rhine had been one of the 58 assistant editors of Webster’s Third (a level below 12 associate editors.)
        He had some amusing anecdotes about life at the dictionary works that I vaguely remember.  I thought I might be able to find my notes of that interview, 50 years ago, but  those notes are not findable.
        I remember his story of a woman who wrote to the company to complain that the 1934 edition had given alternate definitions for the same word. (I can’t remember the word.) Rhine sent a reply, patiently writing about shifting usage, and how words take on alternate meanings, etc. The woman replied, “What do you mean, you don’t know the exact meaning? You had it in your 1904 edition!”
        Ain’t that awful?

* * *

March 4, 2915

by James Smart
Old-time neighborhood names come and go
A well-known local freelance writer wrote an article in a well-known local daily newspaper last week about an organization that was founded in 1915.  “The neighborhood wasn’t even Northern Liberties” when the group started, he said.
     Now, everybody makes mistakes, and everybody can’t know everything, so I am not being critical, just puzzled. It’s odd that people don’t seem to notice, or much care, where place names come from.
     Many people will think of Blatstein before William Penn when the name Northern Liberties comes up, especially folks new to Philly, real estate operatives, possessors of advanced degrees in subjects such as epistemological contextualism or Ming dynasty textiles, and others with burdensome intellectual distractions.
     I suppose that there are citizens who, if asked “Why is Philadelphia called Philadelphia?” might reply, “Uh, I dunno,” but they’re not writing for the local papers. I hope.
     The name Northern Liberties is almost as old as the name Philadelphia itself. One of William Penn’s offered real estate deals was that buyers of acreage inside the city (between Vine and South Sts.) would receive a parcel of Liberty Land in Philadelphia County, north of town. References to “The Liberties” pop up in the earliest real estate documents, circa 1683.         
     An early example of how it was supposed to work came in March, 1681, when Penn signed a deal with some Englishmen who had organized the Free Society of Traders. They had enlisted about 225 investors to create a 6000 pound fund. With that, the Society bought all the land from river to river between Spruce and Pine Sts. (The Society’s Hill was on the east end.)
     That entitled the society to 20,000 Liberty acres. They chose an area where a wide creek flowed into the Delaware. The legal arrangement with Penn designated the land a Manor of Frank, giving the society government-like control. That’s probably why the creek and the settlement around it became called Frankford.
     The Society got busy, and by 1684, there was a tannery, a grist mill, a sawmill, a glass factory brick kilns, and, believe it or not, a whale fishery. But rumbling started about December of 1682 from other land owners about the elaborate special deals Penn was making with the Society. The Pennsylvania General Assembly refused to recognize the society’s charter, law suits blossomed here and there, and the Free Society collapsed in 1684. Frankford and the Hill are still with us.
     William Penn, back in England, before a stroke caused his memory to begin to fade in 1712, at age 68, would recognize many names of Philadelphia neighborhoods in use today. Roxborough, Germantown, Byberry, Moreland, Moyamensing, Oxford. Passyunk. Kingsessing. Lower Dublin.
     In the first U. S. Census in 1790, the list of most populous cities ruled New York city No. 1, and Philadelphia city No. 2. In 6 th place was Northern Liberties township, PA.
     Some old names faded away, and then came back. Only old-time Philadelphians remembered the name Society Hill in 1860, but in the 1960s it was revived. People who grew up before World War II never heard of Center City. It was Downtown, and even people who lived in South Philly considered a trip to Market St. as going down town.Who started calling it Center City?

      If somebody tried renaming Roxborough, what would happen to him?

* * *

 February 25, 2015

by James Smart

Girard’s dying change of his school site
The old Stephen Girard block, from Market to Chestnut St. between 11 th and 12 th, is being torn down, to be replaced by some fancy new commercial buildings. I wonder what Monsieur Girard would think.
            Girard bought that block in 1807 to be the site of the boys’ school he intended to bequeath to the city. It still belongs to his estate, An 1807 map indicates one large building on the southeast corner of 12 th and Market, although written accounts indicate other small buildings on the property that were rented out.
            The mansion was built by John Dunlap, an Irishman born in 1747 who came to Philadelphia to be an apprentice to his uncle William, a printer. John Dunlap grew up to be a newspaper pioneer, publishing a weekly paper in 1771 and a daily in 1774. As official printer of the Continental Congress, he produced the first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence.
            Dunlap bought the tract from Richard Penn, William Penn’s grandson, and built the mansion in 1790. He had subscribed money to build a waterworks in 1801 in nearby Center Square (where City Hall now stands), so he got water free. When he installed a fancy fountain in his garden, the city began charging $24 a year.
            After selling to Girard, Dunlap continued living at 12 th and Market until he died in 1812. He may have moved to a back building, because the French legation to the infant U. S. government was housed in the mansion from 1792 to 1795, including the infamous Edmond-Charles Genet, French minister to the United States, who spent a lot of time trying to stir up a war between the U. S. and England.
            Stephen Girard came here from France in 1776, and the French admired him, the richest man in America. When the British walloped Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, a bunch of French refugees descended on Philadelphia, some looking for business deals and some free loaders. Assorted Bonapartes and other French expatriates hung out in the old Dunlap place.
            One incognito French wheeler-dealer who pestered Girard was Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and for a while King of Spain when things were going well for the family. Joseph would have bought the Market St. block, but Girard said that the only price he would accept would be the land entirely covered with silver dollars – stood on edge.
            On Dec. 22, 1830, Stephen Girard, age 80, was hit by a wagon while crossing Second St. near his bank on Chestnut. He was in bed for three months. He returned to business, but his health was failing. He had written a complicated will, leaving money to friends and relations and benefiting Philadelphia in many ways.
            He had second thoughts about 12 th and Market as the site of the school his bequest would establish. In June, 1831, Girard bought the old Pool place, a 45 acre, 17-cow dairy farm on the Ridge Road just outside the city limits. It was the site of Oswald Pool’s mansion, Pool Hall, which the British army had burned down in 1777. There had been 10 owners since then. Girard added a codicil to his will, designating that as the school site.
          At 4 P. M. on Dec. 26, 1831, during a howling blizzard, Stephen Girard died. He was worth about $7 million, equal to about $190 million today.

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February 18. 2015

by James Smart
A man whose passion was being a spectator
The first time I ever saw Harry Lukens, he had a rolled-up copy of The Evening Bulletin sticking out of his coat pocket. He is one of the many unusual Philadelphians I knew, and wrote about, and remember fondly.
       Harry was a neighbor of my wife’s family. I was walking with my future bride on a summer day, when we were still in high school, and Harry came along. He was wearing a gray fedora hat, a seersucker suit, white shirt, thin black tie, white socks and brown leather sandals. He had a brown leather briefcase in one huge hand, and three grapefruits in the other. From his side suit coat pocket, a copy of The Evening Bulletin stuck out.
      When I began working at The Bulletin, a couple of years later, I found that Harry knew many old-time Bulletin reporters. He was quick at making friends, and he befriended reporters on the scene where things were happening. That’s where he loved to be.
      He had started out as a bookkeeper, and ultimately became controller of a big metal office furniture company. But being a spectator was his passion, and he always managed to find the time and money to do it.
       He was aboard the last ferry to Camden. He was on the last train out of the old Broad Street Station.  He stood in the rain to watch President Hoover inaugurated. He went to every Army-Navy, Penn-Navy and Notre Dame-Navy football game.
      Not many new buildings were erected in Philly without considerable silent amateur supervision from Harry Lukens. Once, he stood patiently until the small hours of the morning, watching railroad workmen trying to swing a huge girder across Vine St. north of the Reading Terminal. They didn’t get it done, so Harry was back the next night.     
      Events, scheduled like the World Series or unscheduled like fires and disasters, were like magnets to Harry. Sometimes the spectacle came to him accidentally; he once saw a triple horse dead heat at a race track.
      When I wrote a column about his spectating hobby in 1959, he had been to seven All-Star Baseball Games in a row. He hadn’t missed a World’s Series game for 16 years.
      When he was standing in the ticket line in Boston for the first game of the 1948 World Series (Cleveland Indians beat Boston Braves, four games to two), he got talking to the men near him, one from Boston, one from New York and one from Chicago. They hung out together, and for many years after that, they arranged to sit together at every World Series game.
      I didn’t keep track of Harry’s persistent spectating as time went by. Any time I did encounter him, he had stories to tell of his latest adventures, his freckled face beaming a satisfied grin.
      I think it was 1971 that Harry died, at age 69. His son Ronny and I were early at the funeral home for the viewing.
Ronny looked at his father in the coffin; the familiar cheerful grin was there.  “I never saw Pop without a Bulletin in his pocket,” Ronny said.
      He went out to a newspaper box on the corner, bought a paper, folded it neatly and put it in its familiar place. So, the last time I ever saw Harry Lukens, like the first time, he had a rolled-up copy of The Evening Bulletin sticking out of his coat pocket.

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   James Smart's Philadelphia