Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Heroes We Should Not Forget

 

Hays, Kansas Fire Station
Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Always on the lookout for Kansas history, I spotted this statue at the Hays, Kansas Fire Station.  As I wandered back into the corner of the station, I noticed a Plaque.  

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick


The plaque  was a "Memoriam of Our Fallen Firefighters," and the two names on the plaque--Stephen H. Tourtillot and Nicholas Arnold--shared a common date.  After doing some research, I learned that the date was the day they died in the line of duty as firefighters for the city of Hays.
In searching to learn more about the two men, I discovered that they are honored at the Kansas Firefighters Museum, a museum of which I was unaware.  

I learned that the last horse drawn fire station built in Wichita, Fire Station #6 was completed in 1909, and had 2 horses, Tom and Dick, and four fire fighters.  When Wichita became an all motorized fire department, it was the first such fully motorized fire department in the U.S. and the second in the world.  With no longer a need for a horse drawn Fire Station, #6 was used for other purposes, and in the 1980s it became a storage facility.  


Faced with the possibility of abandonment, Station #6 was rescued in 1993 when the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County formed the "Friends of Engine House No. 6" with the idea of restoring it as the Kansas Firefighters' Museum.  In 1994 it was placed on both the Registers of the Kansas and the National Historic Places.  Both Stephen H. Tourtillot and Nicholas Arnold are recognized in those places.
 
Both of these men died while fighting a fire at Ninth & Oak streets in Hays.  According to the Fire Fighters' Museum, they were killed when 3 Standard Oil gas lines exploded.  Also killed were six bystanders, and 150 others were injured.

I will close by quoting from the obituary for Stephen H. Tourtillott, published in The Hays Free Press.  "Monday morning he left home for work and with his usual energy at the call of duty entered into the work of trying to save the property around the burning tanks.  He was one of the victims of the explosion.  He was carried to the hospital where all was done that love and skill could do but he left this world of sorrow at 11:15 that afternoon.  He is survived by his wife, four children, his father and four brothers and their families."

Everyday, somewhere, firefighters face danger, trying to save us and our property.  I chose to do the research and share the story of these two men as a way to thank so many firefighters who have faced danger to protect us, sometimes at the cost of their lives. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Bravo for the New Kansas State Fruit

 

Copyright by artist, Lyn Fenwick






Did you know that in April of 2022 Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed House Bill 2644 making the Sandhill Plum our Official State Fruit!  Those of you who follow my blog already know that I am a great fan of the humble sandhill plum.  Past blogs have shared my jelly making, and in 2019 I entered my pastel painting titled "State Fair Jelly" at the Kansas State Fair.  It didn't win a ribbon but it garnered many comments from fellow sandhill plum lovers!

Naturally, as a sandhill plum enthusiast, I was thrilled by the Governor's choice.  But I was also surprised that Kansas had not already selected the Kansas State Fruit.  We have young Kansas students to thank for bringing that omission to the Governor's attention.  Apparently there were a few other nominees for the honor, but the sandhill plum won by a landslide.

I began to wonder what other fruits might have been chosen, and the one that quickly came to mind was the mulberry,  We had mulberries at the farm when I was a child, and because I ran around everywhere in bare feet, the soles of my feet were always stained with the purple mulberry juice that carpeted the ground under the trees.  I learned why mulberry trees spread so easily.  Mulberries are wind pollinated, they are not particular about poor soil, buds develop in later spring and are rarely affected by spring frosts, and they tolerate drought. 


My 2021 jelly making


There were other nominees, but some of those were eliminated because they were not native to Kansas.  I am certain that the early homesteaders found sandhill plums on the prairie when they arrived, because Isaac Werner, my prairie bachelor, wrote about them in his journal.  Isaac also had a peach orchard, but he planted it.  He tried to plant apples, but that was not successful, although there is a mention of one apple tree in his journal, so one tree among the dozen he ordered may have survived.  His garden also contained melons, but they were cultivated from seeds he bought.

Other native fruits existed in Kansas, but many of those are native only to a certain part of the state.  Some are very difficult to raise, particularly the PawPaw tree.  After doing the research about the few other fruits native to Kansas, I agree that the sandhill plum was the best choice--although I admit that I am prejudiced.  

This year there are absolutely no sandhill plums in our pasture.  I have seen some blooming bushes along roadsides, so I have no explanation for the absence of plums in our pasture.  We did have late snows, and I also wonder if the extremely strong winds might have interfered with pollination.  Fortunately, we still have jelly from last year's canning! 

Congratulations to local school children in our area who were part of the selection of our new state fruit!  
  

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

An Air Base Becomes a Municipal Airport


As a child, I remember driving far to the east of what is now Highway 281 in order not to pass through the military base a few miles north of Pratt.  However, by 1962 the former B-29 training base had become Pratt's Municipal Airport, and the special edition Pride Magazine proudly declared "While its airport is not as fancy as some in larger cities, Pratt is proud to claim one of the best- equipped small-town airports in the Midwest...[with] two long runways, both hard surfaces, plenty of hangar space (even for overnight transient aircraft) and complete facilities for major engine and airframe overhaul."  The article added, "In addition there is a lighted runway, beacon, courtesy car and a certified radio repair station."

Jim Newhouse managed the airport at that time, and also operated Pratt Air Service.  The article admitted that "air traffic is never very heavy" but touted the unicom radio and the two long runways of 6,000 and 4,000 feet.

Ted Turner's plane on the Pratt Runway

Today the airport remains a valuable asset for Pratt.  The 1962 article mentioned that "some 20 aircraft owners make use of the facility, and local pilots continue to utilize the airport and house their planes there."  That continues to be true today, and in addition, planes from across the nation land there.  During hunting season, another growing business in the region, hunters often fly in to hunt.

The history of the Air Base and the men and women who served there are honored today at the airport,  which includes not only the museum housed in the former parachute building but also descriptive signs around the airport identifying locations and the structures and purposes of those places during war time.

An exhibit at the Pratt Airbase Museum

Part of the mission of the museum is to record interviews of people who served at the base during World War II.  Although the museum is operated by volunteers, there are very professional and educational exhibits to be seen.

The Pratt Airport remains something of which the community can be proud, convenient for local pilots and those passing through. From the original purpose as a military base to  its present use, the air port remains an asset for Pratt and surrounding communities.  Today the fixed base operator is Randy Huitt, following in the footsteps of his father, Mr. Curt Huitt.

                             
 


 


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Irene's College Cup--A Mother's Day Tribute

 

I have reached the age of accumulated things.  My husband and I are both collectors, but we were never ones to buy things just because they were currently popular.  We bought things we wanted to live with for a long time.  However, if you live long enough, it is inevitable that you will collect much more than you need.  We have reached that age and need to decide what should be gifted or discarded.  Like many of our friends, we are finding that difficult, because the value of so many of our things is a matter of memories.

One of those things is the decorative Custer Hall mug that belonged to my mother-in-law.  She had already been widowed twice when my husband and I married, the first time having been left to raise two little boys alone, and the second time having thought she had found a husband to enjoy the rest of a long life together, only to be widowed again after a few happy months. 

Of course, we realized her sadness, but perhaps we were too young to fully understand her courage.  At the time of her second marriage, she had given up her job to move to a new town.  With the sudden death of her husband, she had to turn away from the plans they had made together to make new plans for herself.  That decorative Custer Hall mug is a symbol of her courage.  She decided to go to college.

To be honest, today I see it as courageous, but as a young bride having my mother-in-law join us at college wasn't quite what I had in mind.  Today, I see it differently, and that is why I struggle to know what to do with her mug.

It had been a long time since high school for her, and stepping back into a classroom was challenging.  Her grades weren't great, but she persevered.  Then, she discovered a way to make it all work.  She continued to take a few hours, but she became a dorm mother at Custer Hall.  The transition from a coed with gray in her hair to a dorm mother was a better fit.  

Today, each year hundreds of people over the age of 50 go back to school.  Some get degrees to change careers and others choose to explore long-held passions that had to be deferred until retirement.  That was not common when my mother-in-law began her college career.  She had been a working mother when that was less common--although mothers at that time certainly had important responsibilities that did not include a pay check.  My mother-in-law had the responsibility of parenting alone and being the sole bread winner. 

The idea of senior citizens continuing their studies is fairly common today, and if not directed toward a degree then for other reasons.  Some places offer senior citizen tuition waivers.  Other seniors return primarily to enjoy campus amenities.  In fact, in some places, retirement communities are planned nearby the university.  Some schools offer classes just for seniors, and there are also opportunities for online courses.  I have now taught two virtual Osher classes, a program designed for continued learning for people 50 and older.

But in my mother-in-law's era, what she did was unusual and brave.  For me, her Custer Hall mug is like a trophy, awarded for her courage and determination to push sadness and disappointment out of her way and get on with life.  

With Mothers' Day not far away, being on May 8th, this seemed like a good time to share my mother-in-law's story and the symbol of her courage that I see when I look at the Custer Hall Mug. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Dial Phones Arrive!

 I cannot but wonder how many people are still living who remember the old crank phones and the party lines.  Our ring was 2 longs and a short:  rrrrrring, rrrrrrrrg, ring.  When our phone rang, all of the phones on the party line rang, but only the family whose number had rung was supposed to pick up the receiver.  Sometimes, that was too tempting to lonely neighbors eager for some gossip, and my Great-aunt Abbie was one of those lonely people.  An often told story in my family involved Abbie and her nephew Ray, who lived just a quarter of a mile down the road and who shared the party line with his aunt.  He was on a long distance business call and was having trouble hearing.  When an additional receiver was off the hook, the quality of the transmission was reduced.  Patiently, he said, "Please hang up, Auntie.  I'll call you when we finish and tell you what we said."  My great aunt's loneliness and curiosity often tempted her to eavesdrop on the party line, and her nephew understood.  As the family story was told, Abbie did hang up, and he did call her for a chat when his call was finished.

On the other hand, the party line had a valuable benefit.  The emergency ring could be dialed to bring everyone to the phone without having to dial each one on the line to spread a warning or ask for help.  In the county, that could quickly bring help to put out a fire or help someone who was injured or ill.


  However, this blog is about the new dial phone building under construction in Pratt, Kansas in 1962, as described in the special Pride publication.  Southwestern Bell had acquired the Pratt exchange in 1953, which at that time handed 3,370 telephones.  Three years later that number had grown to 3,914, an increase of 16%.  With construction of the new dial phone building anticipated for 1957, Pratt center could handle long distance calls for Coldwater, Greensburg, Protection, Coats, Cullison, Haviland, Iuka, Mullinville, Preston, Isabel, Sawyer, Cunningham, Ford and Wilmore.  

Pratt was quite proud of its new dial phone building under construction at 5th and Ninnescah Street!  The total gross expenditure for the building, dial equipment, landscaping, and installation of dial telephone would be about $920,000, according to the construction manager out of Wichita.  The building was to have an air conditioning system, a full basement underneath, and was constructed so that a second story could be added to allow future expansion "if Pratt continues to grow."

Today we pick up our smart phones and give little thought to the wonder that it is.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Long Distance Phone Calls

 

As I was exploring the 1962 Pratt Pride magazine I noticed this ad for long distance phone call service.  I could not help but smile.

In my family, long distance phone calls were reserved for very specific purposes--good news and bad news.  You could expect a phone call on your birthday or to share the excitement of a new birth in the family or to deliver a compliment for a special achievement.

On the other hand, if a long distance voice was heard on the other end of the line and there was no known good news explanation for the call, your heart skipped a beat.  Had someone been hurt?  Was someone in trouble?  Were they sick?

Unless you are of a certain age, these responses to a ringing phone will make no sense, and perhaps my family was more thrifty about spending unnecessary money, but those memories were called back to mind by the 1962 add.

To complete the story I must include the small hour glass filled with sand that always sat on the desk beside the phone.  I think it took about 3 minutes for the sand to go from one side to the other in the hourglass, and good news or bad, in my family 3 minutes were regarded as sufficient to deliver either one!  The little red hour glass in the photograph is the one that my family always set by the phone.


When my husband and I returned to the farm about two decades ago, we were in a dead zone for wireless phone service, so we connected the long unused rural phone line.  With no one living in the farm house for many years, reconnecting wasn't simple.  It was discovered that the buried line to our house had been cut by deep plowing by a neighboring farmer .  Once that was repaired, we were back online.  We added a phone upstairs, something my parents had never had, and the contractor build a recessed alcove in the wall to hold the new phone.  I found a modern phone that was designed to look like an old fashioned 'candle stick' phone that fit snugly in the alcove.  A young visitor, who had only used a cell phone, noticed the replica phone and exclaimed, "Oh look, an old fashioned phone."

At the time, I laughed to myself, since she had overlooked the 'modern' dial in the base of the phone.  However, the joke was really on me, since dial or no dial, the phone really was 'old fashioned' to her, since she had never used a dial, and it would soon be obsolete to us, when cell phone service was eventually available at the farm. How quickly the world changes from one generation to the next!  My memory even goes back to the old-fashioned crank phone party line of my childhood!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Tons of Ice!

Lynda & Jerry

It isn't as if we no longer stop for a bag of ice at the convenience store.  We still do.  It is just less frequently that we stop to get enough to keep our cooler cold for a long afternoon at a picnic, with enough extra to keep the huge container of ice tea cold too.  Air conditioning seems to have practically eliminated the wonderful picnics I remember from my youth.  

I'm not sure the exact occasion pictured above, but I suspect it might have been a 4-H tour from farm to farm to see the livestock raised by 4-Hers for the County Fair, judging from the water tank and gate in the background.  Church picnics, Mothers' Club picnics, family picnics, picnics between baseball games...summer was filled with excuses to get out of the sultry house and find a shady park for a picnic.

Our family often headed for the Pratt Lake, hoping to stake out a claim on a nice shady place below the dam.  But, on the way into Pratt, we would stop first at Bettis Ice Company Plant on North Main.


 I don't really remember much about the plant itself, because I was much more excited about getting to the picnic, but the gentleman who helped my father get the ice could have been Henry Bettis.  According to the article in the 1962 special Pratt edition, 60 tons of ice were produced daily at the Bettis company.  They shipped to many nearby towns and their ice was used to ice freight and passenger trains of the Rock Island Railroad.

In his interview, Mr. Bettis, owner and manager of the ice plant, said that their plant was one of the first in Kansas to push the packaged ice business fifteen years before his interview, meaning sometime about 1947.

Air conditioning is wonderful, and I would not want to give it up, but I can still recall fondly those picnics at the Pratt Lake, when you needed to get there early if you wanted a good spot below the dam.  Above the dam, cars came and went, pausing to watch the water skiing on the lake, and we kids would certainly have gone up there to watch the skiers too.  It was a busy place, both above and below the dam.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Pratt County 4-H Clubs of 1962


 The Pratt Pride magazine of 1962 devoted a large article to the role of 4-H Clubs in Pratt County, consisting at that time of 356 young members among 12 organized clubs throughout the county, with 96 adults involved in leadership posts.

The first 4-H memberships in Pratt County, organized in 1927, by 1962 had involved 6,331 boys and girls, although technically the early clubs were called "Project Clubs."  Those organizations became 4-H Clubs in 1931.  Each community could decide the projects their club would offer.  While rural clubs might focus on livestock and poultry, clubs with more urban members might focus on other projects.  In either case, the rules required that the young members do most of the project work themselves and keep their own records.

Listed in the article were agricultural and home economics, junior leadership, bees, rabbits, tractor maintenance, home grounds beautification, soil conservation, and wood working.  Also mentioned were developing personal confidence by participation in demonstrations, project talks, and skits.

The clipping at the beginning of this post appeared in the "Pratt Tribune" showing the chicken dinner hosted by the 4-H clubs for Pratt Businessmen.  Notice the reference to "business men," although there must have been several business women in Pratt at that time.

I did not have livestock.  My projects were cooking, sewing, and home improvement.  I do recall giving a demonstration describing how to select items for a first aid kit, which I carefully packed into a tin lunch pail.  I also remember the emphasis on learning how to conduct a meeting with the proper motions, seconds, and voting.  As an adult sitting through a few meetings, I sometimes wished those adults conducting the meeting had benefitted from the same 4-H training I had received.

Our club particularly enjoyed music, whether it was square dancing or singing.  The quartette pictured at right consisted of four Byers classmates--Helen, Judy, Cheryl, and Lynda.  Our serious pose was intended to depict a Barbershop Quartette.

I also remember the dances at the fairgrounds, with 4-H members from all the clubs in the county attending.  I think we learned the bunny hop and the schottsche, as well as various square dances, but whatever the dances were, we had fun.

This past Christmas we were surprised by a knock on our door one evening for the delivery of a Christmas ornament decorated by the local 4-H club.  The traditions live on!
  

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Pratt, Kansas has Always Supported It's Libraries


Pratt, Kansas has supported its libraries from early years, getting its start in 1909 when the Coterie Club, a local study group, offered its library to the city, offering its 1,700 books to the city in exchange for a commitment from the city to keep the library open daily, provide a free public reading room, and include free reading for the county as well as the city.  The offer was accepted and in May of 1910, on September 14, the new Public Library in the ground floor of the Court House opened.

By 1961 the library collection had expanded to 153,214 books, pictures, clippings, classical records, and films.  There were 403 adult and 330 children new borrowers registered, as well as 160 new rural patrons, part of the 6,027 total registered borrowers.  Of the 36,000 books available for loan, about one-third were loaned each month.  Librarian Miss Johnson indicated that local patrons read about an average of 12 books per year from the library. 

One of those rural patrons may have been me.  Until my grandmother's death when I was five, we tended to shop in St. John, where she lived, but after her death, we shopped in Pratt most Saturdays, and I was a regular at the library. 

The city provided $10,000, and county provided $7,000, and gifts to the Library added another $308.70.  Also included in their budget were fines ($1,011.25), fees ($64.) and  charges for lost books ($33.85.)  The Library Board Members were:  Mrs. Paul Tupper, John H. Calbeck, Eldon Green, Miss Johnson, Dr. Julia Barbee, Miss Flavel Barner, Mrs. Don Brown, John Megaffin, and Jess Kennedy.

(I cannot help but notice as I share this information that many of the ladies are identified by only their last names, or if married, only by their husband's given name instead of their own.  That practice drives people trying to search their families' genealogy on the maternal side crazy, but it was very common even into the later decades of the 1900s!)

Today we have the beautiful library pictured at the top of this blog, recently renovated, and located next to the Vernon Filley Art Museum, making joint efforts to celebrate the arts possible!  

Kids at the Pratt Library
The Mission Statement of the Library states:  "The Mission of the Pratt Public Library is to foster lifelong learning by providing materials and services which will serve the educational, cultural, professional, and recreational needs of the community."

For more than a century, Pratt, Kansas has recognized the importance of supporting the cultural needs of the community.  The Library continues to perform its role in that commitment. 




Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Larned Opera House and the Ghosts of Past Performers

 

Close-up of the Larned Opera House
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

As the razing of the 1886 Opera House commenced its final performance, the stage became an outdoor theater for the first time, a gaping hole in the center of the wall where the stage had been.  On the west side of the stage, old posters advertised the entertainments of the past, and my imagination focused on the image of the Victorian actress with her pompadour hairstyle.  Was the ghost of the actress hiding somewhere inside the undemolished part of the opera house, or had she moved on with the rest of the cast as the train carried cast, costumes, and sets to their next performance somewhere down the line?  The sight of the demolished Opera House could not help but stir my imagination.

While I do not know the name of the girl with the pompadour hairstyle, nor the name of the play in which she may have performed, I do know, thanks to the advertisement for The Great Train Robbery at left, that the now famous movie did play in the Larned Opera House.

That movie has become legendary, claiming many titles, some of which it does not deserve, such as the claim that it was "the first western" and even the "first story film," neither of which is accurate.  However, The Great Train Robbery was a   wildly popular movie.  It was not a movie as we think of movies today.  As the Larned ad states, "new pictures" and "new illustrated songs" have been added, and this was possible because the pictures themselves did not move.  The story line and the music tell the story, with fixed images appearing one after another on the screen.

The iconic image from this movie is of actor Justice D. Barnes pointing his gun directly at the camera and firing.  The frightening impact on the audience was the sense that a man had suddenly appeared and shot them!  Interestingly, the theater had the option of using the picture of Barnes firing into the crowd at the start of the firm or at the end.  Either way, apparently it created a sensation with audiences! 

Although the pictures were still, some were hand colored, for example with puffes of smoke.  While we have become jaded by the amazing special effects in today's movies, for those early theater goers, the sound and the surprise were enough to frighten them.

BANG!



The next time you approach the corner of 4th Street and Broadway the Opera House will no longer be standing, and perhaps even the pile of rubble will have been taken away.  Yet, there will still be a few people who remember the old Opera House, maybe even a few who remember it before its sad decline.  Gradually most of the old opera houses have disappeared.  Even many of the movie theaters that followed them are disappearing.  Yet once, the Larned Opera House was the Price of Larned!




P.S.  I have blogged about other Kansas Opera Houses.  You may want to do a search to discover those previous blogs.



Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Final Performance--The Larned Opera House

Photo Credit:  Great Bend News


Even after the once famed Larned Opera House was no longer used, it displayed remnants of the architectural details from its 1886 origins, when four Larned men decided to construct a lasting entertainment venue for their community.  Once the decision to build was made, they did not scrimp on making it magnificent, with large cathedral windows, ornate parapet along the roof edge, with corbelled corners.  The second-floor interior contained a semi-circular auditorium, divided into orchestral, dress circle, parquet and balcony seats.  There were four private seats on each side of the stage, and cherry-wood trim emphasized the painted scenery.  The stage was described as "the largest in Kansas," and the entire building was lit by gas-light.

Sadly, by 2022 the elegant Victorian structure had deteriorated to the point that it was dangerous.  The City Council was compelled to do something, but not everyone agreed just what that should be.  To give the citizens an opportunity to express their views, a poll was taken:  20.83% wanted the building repaired at the cost of the owners; 39.58% wanted the building razed at the cost of the owners; 18.75% wanted the building repaired at the expense of the city; and 20.83% wanted it demolished at the cost of the city.  If it were destroyed, nearly 3/4th wanted no compensation for the various owners, some of which had active businesses in the lower floor, but 26.53% believed owners should be compensated.  Obviously, there was no single majority among the Larned citizens about how to proceed.   

Yet, a decision needed to be made.  The decision was made to raze the once grand old building, which had become so unsafe that even the inspectors were reluctant to move through the entire building, described as being "in emanate danger of collapse."  One tenant had made repairs to his portion of the property, but he agreed to "do what's best for the community." 

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick





As we entered Larned from the south, we were taken by surprise, not having been aware of the decision to raze the old opera house.  Although I was never inside the Opera House, even I could imagine the history--the remaining soldiers from the old fort riding into town for some entertainment, the early homesteaders dressing up for a special occasion at the theater, the performers arriving by train with their costumes and props to get ready for their performance.

Isaac Werner occasionally traveled to Larned, and in his journal he mentioned the novelty of arriving under lighted streets.  He also mentioned one trip to Larned to sell trees from his farm and discovering that the Governor was speaking that evening.  He had written in his journal that he wanted to stay to hear the Governor but felt it was necessary to start toward home before dark, getting a bit closer so that the remainder of the journey could be shortened for the following day.  But, surely Isaac would have admired the beautiful exterior, and perhaps he had even slipped inside to view the interior.  

If only those old bricks could have called out the names of performers and sweethearts and politicians who had frequented the Opera House as the bricks tumbled to the ground.  What stories they might have told.   

More about the Larned Opera House next week.

 


 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Getting the News

Early Newsboys selling papers
 
In Isaac Werner's day Newspapers were extremely important.  In cities there were morning and evening editions, with special editions if something important happened.  For those who did not live in cities, like Isaac, their local weekly newspaper brought not only local news but also stories rewritten from the city newspapers.

A century later, with radio and television, we were able to get our news more quickly, but local newspapers remained important.  My family subscribed to four different newspapers at least some of the time while I was at home--Pratt, St. John, Hutchinson, and the weekly Macksville paper.

At the close of the day, the family watched the CBS station hosted by Walter Cronkite, who was such a familiar and trusted newsman that he acquired the nickname of 'Uncle Walter.'

Times have obviously changed, and today newspaper are struggling.  Those changes have brought us immediate access online, as well as television news.  But, one of those changes is the blurring between newscasters and commentators.

To understand the difference between those two roles let me first share the Journalist's Code of Ethics.

1.  I shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis.  I recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly.

2.  I shall not violate confidential information on material given me in the exercise of my calling.

3.  I shall resort only to fair and honest methods in my effort to obtain news, photographs and/or documents, and shall properly identify myself as a representative of the press when obtaining any personal interview intended for publication.

4.  I shall refrain from writing reports which will adversely affect a private reputation unless the public interests justify it.  At the same time, I shall write vigorously for public access to information as provided for in the constitution.

5.  I shall not let personal motives or interests influence me in the performance of my duties; nor shall I accept or offer any present, gift or other consideration of a nature which may cast doubt on my professional integrity.

6.  I shall not commit an act of plagiarism.

7.  I shall not in any manner ridicule, cast aspersions on or degrade any person by reason of sex, creed, religious belief, political conviction, cultural and ethnic origin.

8.  I shall presume persons accused of crime of being innocent until proven otherwise.  I shall exercise caution in publishing names of minors, and women involved in criminal cases so that they may not unjustly lose their standing in society.

9.  I shall not take unfair advantage of a fellow journalist.

10.  I shall accept only such tasks as are compatible with the integrity of my profession, invoking the 'conscience clause' when duties imposed on me conflict with the voice of my conscience.

11.  I shall comport myself in public or while performing my duties as journalist in such manner as to maintain the dignity of my profession.  When in doubt, decency should be my watchword.

Without commenting on my observations of how well today's journalists are adhering to their Code of Conduct, I will only say that we have come a long way from 'Uncle Walter,' but it is significant that the ideals of the Journalists' code remain.

What has crowded into "news" is commentary rather than journalism.  There are many problems as a result, and at the top of the list is that many people do not recognize the difference. To balance this consideration of journalism and commentary I would like to be able to include the Commentators' Code of ethics.  Unfortunately, I have not found any such Code for Commentators.  That in itself says a lot.

Newspapers have long had Opinion Columns, clearly identified as such.  Perhaps a good place to start considering how commentators became so prevalent is with the coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial.  Many people followed that closely, and commentators were used to help explain legal rules of evidence.  Since then, the use of Commentators has only grown.

In today's competitive world of news reporting, often reporters and journalists are dealing with incoming news in real time.  They are trying to report the news when they lack the needed expertise on the subjects.  In the past they would have been expected to research what they needed to know, but real time reporting does allow time for research.  To help with that problem, experts are often sitting beside them to offer such explanations as historic comparisons, related political issues, laws, previous court rulings, and countless other matters.  Who are these "experts" and what is the extent of their expertise?  Most of the time, we do not know.

There is a huge difference between a Commentator with a knowledge of the topic under discussion vs. a Commentator lacking adequate knowledge of the topic or spouting his or her opinion rather than sharing informed knowledge to help journalists and viewers better understand the issues being reported.  Even a knowledgeable commentator must be aware of speaking beyond his or her expertise or wandering off into opinion. 

If journalists have chosen to be guided by a Code of Ethics, shouldn't those Commentators who are  willing to present themselves as experts in their fields also be willing to accept a Code of Ethics for Commentators?

 Here are some suggestions to consider:

1.  Lawyers are familiar with the duty to avoid a conflict of interest.  Should a commentator consider whether he or she can avoid a conflict of interest regarding the subject or the person involved, and either recuse themselves or at least disclose the potential conflict.

2.  If a commentator has gained his or her expertise through the person about whom the topic concerns, how should that impact any confidentiality the person may have expected?

3.  If a commentator puts him or herself out there as an expert, shouldn't the training, experience, education, or whatever is regarded as creating expertise be disclosed.

Americans value freedom of speech, and it is a right to be protected.  However, some commentators take that freedom as the right to express their opinions about whatever they choose, and they occupy settings that give the impression of expertise they may not have.

The importance of Americans being well informed in our complicated world is obvious.  Reflecting on ways to protect our access to information without exposing us to misinformation in disguise is a challenging issue but remains one worth trying to protect. 

There could be no better example of the importance of journalism than events happening right now throughout the world.  Yet, when I began drafting this blog, there was no invasion of Ukraine.  The reality is that the need for journalists is always essential, and the importance of accurate reporting and commentary never disappears! 

 



Wednesday, February 23, 2022

1962 Pratt Great Books Club was Serious!


 My encouragement to set a reading goal for yourself for 2022 was pretty simple compared to this serious Pratt group from 1962!  The group began four years earlier, yet as they gathered in the Pratt Library in the Fall of 1962 they were still enthusiastic about their self-education course sponsored by the Great Books Foundation.  The course was free, and the approach was not to discuss the books themselves at their meetings but rather to let a different reader lead the discussions focused on problems raised by the participating members.

The group met twice a month, pursuing a program intended to last 10 years.  Although the Great Books Foundation did train leaders and would supply informational materials, the group itself selected the books they wanted to read.  

As this Pratt group began their fourth year, these are the books they had selected:  "Ancient Medicine," Hippocrates;  "Republic," Plato; "Confessions," St. Augustine; "Novum Organum," Bacon; "Metaphysies," Aristotle; "Philosophical Dictionary," Voltaire; and "The Brothers Karamazo," Dostoyevsky.

Their 10-Year Study of Great Books was obviously serious business!  Interestingly, Isaac Werner, my Prairie Bachelor, had some of those books in his library. 

The newspaper article closes with the explanation that the fifth year class had already completed the above listed books and would be reading their own selections, with the following authors:  Plato; Aristotle; St. Francis; Dante; Tocqueville; and Melville.

Perhaps some of the people in the photograph can be identified, but I am certainly impressed by the aspirations of those Pratt readers of 1962!

   

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Nellie Bly's Famous Story

 


Perhaps the most famous female journalist of the late 1800s was Nellie Bly, not because of her successful Trip About the World, described in last week's blog, but rather because of her courage in exposing the disgraceful treatment of women in a "Lunatic Asylum."  After some initial success as a journalist, Nellie wanted to work in the city where a journalist could become famous.  She headed to New York, but she struggled, trying to find a newspaper that would give her a chance. She had an idea, and she took it to perhaps the most powerful newspaper editor in America, Joseph Pulitzer of the "New York World."  Nellie proposed going undercover to be admitted to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island.  Recognizing what a story that would be, Pulitzer agreed.


First Nellie had to feign insanity in order to be admitted to the Asylum as a patient.  Using a mirror, she practiced deranged expressions.  Once she felt able to play the role, she checked into a working class boarding house, waiting until bedtime to start her act.  Having convinced the other boarders that she was crazy, Nellie faced her next test when they called the police, and her act was again successful.  Her next challenge was convincing a judge, who then ordered her to be examined by several doctors.  Once the doctors had pronounced Nellie insane, she was committed to the Asylum.

Charles Dickens had visited in the 1840s, and he described the conditions.  "...everyone had a lounging, listless, madhouse air, which was very painful.  The moping idiot, cowering down with long disheveled hair; the gibbering maniac, with his hideous laugh and pointed finger; the vacant eye, the fierce wild face, the gloomy picking of the hands and lips, and munching of the nails:  there they were all, without disguise, in naked ugliness and horror."

Yet, when Nellie Bly was admitted, she said, "From the moment I entered the insane ward on the Island, I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of insanity.  I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life.  Yet, strange to say, the more sanely I talked and acted, the crazier I was thought to be by all..."  She described rotted food, cruel attendants, and cramped and diseased conditions, and she believed there were patients with whom she talked that were as sane as she was.  Sadly, it was a time when an inconvenient wife or a dependent elderly person that had become a nuisance to the caregiver might be delivered to the Asylum.

Nellie Bly wrote:  "What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment?"  She described, "...take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading material and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane."

With the help of Pulitzer, Nellie was released after 10 days, and her newspaper expose, later published as the book, "Ten Days in a Mad-House," led to a grand jury investigation and increased financial budgeting.  While her expose did gain fame for Nellie Bly, it also brought attention and changes to the abuses at the Asylum on Blackwell's Island. 
   

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Around the World Many Times

1873 1st Vernes book


 In 1872, French author Jules Verne published "Around the World in Eighty Days," creating the memorable character Fhileas Fogg, an Englishman who makes a wager that he can go around the world in 80 days, with his French valet Passepartout.  The book has inspired many adaptations, among them the 1965 movie starring David Niven as Fogg, the Disney movie with Steve Coogan as Fogg, and the current Masterpiece serial, with David Tennant, among many other versions.

Jules Verne





However, the inspiration for Verne's book may not have come from simply his imagination.  An Italian traveler named Ciovanni Francesco Gemell Careri wrote a book in 1699 titled "Voyage Around the World."   In 1871 the Union Pacific Railroad Company published a description of routes, times, and distances describing a trip around the globe in 77 days and 21 hours.  In 1869 the periodical 'Le Tour du monde' published a short piece titled "Around the World in Eighty Days," but even that referenced the Nouvelles Annales written by Conrad Malte-Brun, who died in 1826, and his son, who died in 1889.

Verne's book has challenged many people to pick up the gauntlet.  In 1928, a 15-year-old boy, sponsored
by a Danish newspaper, made his own race, which was published in a book titled "A Boy Scout Around the World.  A sailing competition now awards the Jules Verne Trophy to the boat that sails around the world without stopping and with no outside assistance in the shortest time.  In 2009, 12 celebrities formed a relay to raise money for the charity, Children in Need.  These are only a few examples of challenges inspired by Verne's book.


However, I am going to share the race of a specific woman named Nellie Bly.  Actually, her given name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran, but the first newspaper editor to hire her named her Nellie Bly.  Aspiring to succeed in the big city of New York, Nellie proposed to Joseph Pulitzer in 1887 to replicate Verne's 80-day race around the world.  Her trip of 24,899 miles used steamships, railroads, and the White Star liner, "Oceanic," dressing for her adventure in a single dress, an overcoat, several changes of underwear, carrying a travel bag for toiletries, and with a hidden bag tied around her neck containing bank notes and gold.  She completed the race in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds!

Next week's blog will share an even more dramatic challenge accomplished by the courageous Nellie Bly.        


Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Most Readers Have Favorite Authors, #4

 


It isn't easy to select a favorite author or a favorite book, but I do have a favorite.  I have written about Harper Lee before.  "To Kill a Mockingbird" is often spoken of as a book for young readers.  Yes, teachers often include it for their junior high students, but more accurately it is a book for all readers, in my opinion.  

The New York Times chose to celebrate its 125th Year of the Times Book Review's existence by asking readers to nominate their favorite book.  "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee was chosen as the Best Book of the Past 125 Years.  I am thrilled.  I have recommended that book to so many people, and I particularly urge anyone considering law school to read it before they begin and read it after they are licensed to practice.  If they still think it is a youth book, they probably should read it a third time.

In an essay, NYT editor Molly Young began with these words, "When you revisit in adulthood a book that you last read in childhood, you will likely experience two broad categories of observation:  'Oh yeah, I remember this part,' and 'Whoa, I never noticed that part.'"  Her wonderful essay continued with sharing the things she missed and why it was worth revisiting.  She describes what impressed her most:  "...which is how keenly Lee recreates the comforts, miseries and banalities of people gathered intimately in one little space."

In the announcement of the selection, the New York Times explained the process for the selection.  More than 1,300 books were nominated.  Of that number, 65% were nominated by only one person.  Of those nominating a book, only 31% of them saw their book included in the list of 25 finalists.

Another interesting discovery is that certain authors were particularly popular.  Three authors had seven of their books nominated.  Those authors are John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner.  Another group of three had five of their books nominated.  Those three authors are James Baldwin, Margaret Atwood, and Virginia Wolf.  They also mentioned Joan Didion, who recently passed away, who had four of her books nominated.  Of course, I would like to have seen Willa Cather among those authors named for having several books nominated.

If some of you are still making your New Year's Resolution reading list, you might consider these authors and the idea of reading several of a single author's books.


Or, you might consider the top five books nominated in the NYT Anniversary vote,  listed from 1-5 are:  Harper Lee, "To Kill a Mockingbird," J.R.R. Tolkien, "Fellowship of the Ring," George Orwell, "1984," Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," and Toni Morrison, "Beloved."

Some of my favorites included among the other finalists are:  "All the Light We Cannot See," by Anthony Doerr, "Lonesome Dove," by Larry McMurtry, "The Grapes of Rath," by Steinbeck, "Charlotte's Web," by E.B. White, and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by Rowllng.  There are a few more that I liked at the time I read them but can no longer remember why, and one I tried my best to read and finally gave up.

The link to the NYT article, including the essay by Molly Young referenced in this blog, is https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/12/28/books/best-book-winners.html 

 


Wednesday, January 26, 2022

So Many Choices, Where Do I Start? New Year's Reading Resolution 3

Photo Credits:  Lyn Fenwick
Like Thomas Jefferson, "I cannot live without my books."  My New Year's Resolution should be--and is to some extent--"I resolve to read books in my library that I have not made time to read."  Some of you know that I collect illustrated children's books, and I have read most of those.  There are still a few classic books in that collection that I have not read.  Reading those classics is at the top of my list.  I love history, and I have particularly collected books by and about American presidents.  For some surprising reason, I am also interested in W.W. I, and there are a few books of that category that I have not read.  My New Year's Resolution is to spend more time reading and less time wasted, and even if I keep that resolution, I am sure I will have unread books as 2022 ends.


When I made my Millenium List, I still believed that if I carefully selected a book as worthy of reading, I should finish it.  I no longer adhere to that creed.  Life is too short to read every great book, and it is not my responsibility to every author to finish their book!  However, it is my responsibility to search out wonderful books and try to read as many of them as I can.

A good place to start is with book lists prepared by serious readers, book sellers, publishers, and friends whose reading acumen you respect.  The internet has many book lists that are easily available.  For example, Amazon has a list titled "100 Books to Read in a Lifetime" complied by their editors.  Of course, they would like for you to buy those books from Amazon, but there is no requirement that you do.  They also have lists for specific types of books, such as Childrens, Mysteries, Biographies & Memoirs, and more.

If you prefer novels, "Time" has a list prepared by Critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo with what they consider the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.  They list the books alphabetically by title, rather than ranking them from best to "barely made it on the list."  Modern Library has a list titled 100 Best Novels, which is a 'ranking' list.  Good Reads is another source with more current and popular rankings.


Obviously, I lean heavily on the classics that have retained their popularity longer than a few years, but there are wonderful books being published all the time.  I also tend to read all the books written by my favorite authors, once I become a fan.  It is no secret that I have been a Willa Cather fan since I sneaked a book out of a box of books my brother brought home from college when I was eight.  It was "My Antonia," and I also favor "O Pioneers," and "One of Ours," although they are not necessarily the ones critics rank highest.  I also like Barbara Kingsolver, and I have read all of her books. The first months of Covid I decided to read all of the "Harry Potter" books chronologically.  That was great fun.

Whether you join a Book Club, decide to read Children's Classics to your children, select a particular historic period or a favorite author to read everything that author has written, I hope you consider making your New Year's Resolution for 2022 a commitment a read more books.  I'd love to hear from you to learn what you are reading!  I am just finishing "If, The Untold Story of Kipling's American Years," so I think I will take a second look at my beautiful copy of "The Jungle Book," illustrated and signed by Robert Ingpen, and another publication of that book illustrated by Don Daily.

Next week I will share a memory of my favorite author.   


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Why Should I Read? New Year's Resolution Part 2


 

Remember when reading was fun!  Your New Year's Resolution should be about rediscovering the fun of reading.  And, there is no reason why your reading resolution could not be a family project.  Reading with children reinforces the idea that reading is fun and important.

33% of H.S. Graduates never read another book the rest of their lives.

However, assuming your resolution to read more books is going to be solitary reading, there are many good reasons for you to make a New Year's reading pledge.  I will share just a few of those reasons.

42% of college grads never read another book after college.

Last week's blog described two friends who read to relax at bedtime in one case and to just pass the time without any particular reason in another case.  There is nothing wrong with reading to reduce stress.  Personally, even if I am reading to relax, I still prefer to read something of value to me, so  I keep a book of poetry beside my bed which serves that purpose well.  The rhythm of poetry and the shorter length, which makes it easier to find a stopping place, are both reasons why poetry is especially restful and relaxing.  Often the substance of the poems offer content for reflection as I fall asleep.  In a similar category, reading can be inspiring, whether read at bedtime or any other time.  Reading about the achievements or courage or good deeds of others can be an inspirational reason for reading.

The more a child reads, the better they are able to understand the emotions of others.


Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Three hundred years ago, Joseph Addison described another important reason for reading:  "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."  Studies have shown that reading really does increase the blood flow and improves connectivity in the brain.  It is not just what you learn by reading but also an actual physical impact.

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

Obviously, reading can provide information that can alter your thinking.  Right now, with health issues limiting travel, we can still learn about other people and other places through books.  Books can even take us back in history.  Mark Twain wrote that history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.  Instead of every generation needing to learn hard lessons for themselves, reading can spare the mistakes and build on the achievements.

70% of U.S. families have not been inside a bookstore in the past 5 years.

Children are not alone in benefitting from reading books that challenge their imaginations.  Fiction authors of the 1800s are believed to have inspired and challenged inventors and scientists who read their books and made fantasy into reality.  How many young boys credit reading a book about an athlete as what made them believe they too could run faster, jump higher, or enter a sport that they believed had been closed to them because of a disability or their color or financial limits.  How many people have built something or written something or baked something or explored something because they were inspired by a book they read, and age need not be a barrier to readers inspired by a book. 

I do not know the source of the statistics I quoted.  Frankly, I hope they are wrong, because I cannot imagine not wanting to continue reading for a lifetime.  But, I do know that other sources support the severe reduction in reading, and I know too many bookstores closed because people stopped buying books.

Whether you read to relax, to be inspired, to be educated, to learn, to improve something about yourself, to gain confidence--and I am not referring to "self-help" books but rather well written books that appeal to you for many reasons, I hope you believe that reading is worth making time to read.


Thank you to Kansas for recognizing Kansas authors & books about Kansas.

And thank you to Libraries and librarians for all they do to encourage reading!