Category Archives: History

Engaging Conversation

On a whim, while traveling a few weeks ago, I forwarded to my husband a notice about a public conversation at Goose the Market, one of our favorite speciality grocers in Indianapolis. I was in a hurry and didn’t look closely at the details of the event or even when it was. It was one of those moments where I thought that if I didn’t respond then, I wouldn’t get back to it while tickets were still available, so I told T to “buy them if you think it will be interesting”. I should be more cautious about those spur of the moment decisions, especially when it involves not consulting a calendar. (There is a story about a opera and a graduation conflict that I’ll keep for another time. Anyone want to buy tickets to The Ring cycle?) In this case, however, there were no conflicts and I’m glad that it worked out because it was a fun and engaging evening.

“Chew on This: Moonshine and Morality” was sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council. A group of 12 gathered at Goose, to chat about the issues presented in Ken Burns’ recent series “Prohibition“. There were similar groups that met at several other venues around the city.

What a great idea! One of the things that I liked the best about this is that it was a random group of people. Other than my spouse, I didn’t know anybody. We discussed Prohibition — the rise of the movement, the failure of the law, and the repeal of the amendment — and what government restrictions on individual freedoms mean when there are differing views of “morality”. Mostly we talked about this in terms of illegal drugs, underage drinking laws, smoking and prostitution. But we touched on other issues too: Who gets to decide on liberties? Can some liberties be restricted? Where does the ‘slippery slope’ begin? What happens when groups don’t compromise and discuss? This last issue, and a wider discussion on single issue politics, as suggested by Burns’ film would be an interesting topic to focus on in a similar venue — and something that could be talked about for a long time.

I liked this format and would certainly consider participating in another “Chew on This” chat in the future. It’s what diverse communities should do frequently: hold civilized discourse on issues.

Once the government begins forbidding things, then someone will come along and say, “I got it. Step around the corner” from Prohibition, a film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Someone’s trash is another’s book treasure

This afternoon, I went to Snootyville to meet a friend for lunch. S’ville has recently created an ‘arts district’, complete with Disney-esque exteriors on the buildings, planned architecture designed to make the main drag looks charming, vintage, old, although it is not. Nestled in between two of the newer buildings is the real deal that housed an antiques market: an old building, with painted brick, creaky floorboards, and an all too obviously underpowered air conditioner. Either they own the building or have an extended lease, because this building doesn’t look like it belongs with the new galleries, bistros and townhouses.

I’m not an antique buyer and recently had to endure, while on a long trip across the country with my sister, entering many of the moldy, dust-filled places throughout Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina. Most antique stores sell overpriced junk, or are so cluttered as to put me immediately on sensory overload. So, I’m not sure what inspired me to even think about stepping into the store. But, since my tourist visa was good for the entire afternoon, I thought I’d take a few minutes to browse.

Book treasure!

Being a peruser of both cookbooks and cocktail recipes, I couldn’t pass by Irvin S. Cobb’s Own Recipe Book. I had no idea who Cobb was until I looked him up in Wikipedia and was surprised to find out that at one time he was the highest paid newspaper reporter in the country and was the author of over 60 books and 300 short stories. This book, published in 1936, was written as a promotional piece for Frankfort Distilleries at the end of Prohibition. This, on the front piece, charmed me:

Containing authoritative directions for making 71 famous drinks, together with a rollicking dissertation of the joys of King Bourbon and its Brother Rye, by the famous Kentuckian.

The commentary on the drink recipes persuaded me to buy. How can you resist a book that indicates that after 4 drinks of something called a Silver Fizz, “…it is advisable to go to bed. P.S. Put handgrips on the bed.” Or that proclaims that a Whiskey Sour (my favorite drink) is “…one of the world’s grandest pick-me-ups“.

The next treasure trove I stumbled upon, in the hot attic of the store, yielded me three small pamphlets. The December 1910 edition of The School World: Birds and Poets, apparently once owned by a proud J. C. Murdock, who wrote his name in it a few times and also took a stab at translating a bit of Latin.

Veni, vedi, vici

The next find was Three Thousand Miles Between, by a Professor J. Raymond Schutz of Manchester College, Manchester, Indiana. Published in 1924, it is claimed, by its author, to be a

“chance product”…[N]ot a traveller’s guide, nor …a student’s text. It is rather a popular presentation of experiences, sights, and impressions of an amateur European traveller.

Included are 100 observations of the author that “…epitomize the essential differenes between Europeans and ourselves.” This should be fun to read!

Chester Brown was the apparent owner of The Snow Image, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1896. Chester took good care of his book, although he wrote his name at the top of several of the pages.

My name is Chester Brown and I approve this book!

My last stop before the cash register, though I should have kept walking because I already had enough, netted me two more books, a 1905 Composition and Rhetoric text and a pictorial history of World War I.

The dedication in the text book:

To Marcia Stuart Brooks whose teaching first demonstrated to the authors that composition could become a delight and a pleasure…

made it irresistible.

Liberty’s Victorious Conflict is 128 pages of photograph reprints from journalists covering all fronts in The Great War. Each is accompanied by captions. I’m sure I will spend hours pouring over this one. Who knew that we tried to disguise soldiers as rocks by wrapping them in sheets and putting a potato sack over their heads?

This both fascinates me and makes me think of a scene in GalaxyQuest.

The caption reads: This man is wearing the costume for rock-camouflage. Of course, it does not deceive when he’s in the open, but if he gets into position alongside a rock he looks its twin brother.

>What Middletown Was Reading 100 Years Ago

>Being a lover of books, I’m often intrigued by old books. Deep within the pages, between the dust and the type, untold stories linger: Who owned this book? Did the reader like it, cherish it, recommend it to others? Would the original reader’s reactions be similar to mine? Did the author ever imagine that someone might read it 50, 100, 125 years later?

Thanks to some library serendipity, library record books from 1894 – 1902 belonging to the Muncie Public Library have been re-discovered and are now the focus of a research project of the Center for Middletown Studies of Ball State University. While the project won’t uncover what an individual reader thought of a book, it will provide analysis of reading habits and book-borrowing in a Midwestern town at the turn of the century.

“Middletown” was a sociological study of a ‘typical’ American town conducted in the 1920’s in the East-Central Indiana town of Muncie. In the years since, additional studies have been done, making Muncie one of the most studied towns in the country. How fitting it is, then, that these records have been found and can provide researchers with information on reading habits 100 years ago.

For more information, check out the Center for Middletown Studies and read Professor Frank Felsenstein’s article What Middletown Read recently published in the Ball State Alumnus magazine. It was Felsenstein’s discovery that lead to this project which intends to digitize the library ledgers and create a database for further study.

>Neo-Con Bashing, or Are We at Peril of Losing Our Democratic Soul?

>Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, Jimmy Carter, 2005.

Former President Jimmy Carter’s latest book presents the argument that the effect of the current ‘conservative’ movement in American politics undermines the values upon which America was founded and is taking the United States on a radical departure from core democratic values. Carter states up front that political values cannot be separated from one’s moral belief system. He is unapologetic about his Christian beliefs defining him; these beliefs, he explains, are the foundation of his political views. His traditional Christian view — a perspective he argues is mainstream — is very different from the minority Fundamentalist view that dangerously dominates today’s political landscape. Rather than ‘conservative’, Carter posits, it is a radical attack on the beliefs the Founding Fathers presented in the guise of traditional values and righteousness.

In a series of essays Carter addresses the often volatile and polarizing political issues of our time: abortion, equality regardless of gender, race or sexual preference, separation of Church and State, terrorism, human rights, nuclear proliferation and the environment. In each essay he presents a traditional Democratic stance and describes how his personal Christian values support that position. Intertwined with summarizations of the religious values that constitute his moral center is discussion of relevant events from Carter’s presidency and his humanitarian work at the Carter Center during his post-presidential years. After establishing his framework for each issue, he presents the actions and decisions of the Fundamentalists and Neo-Cons that are counter to this position. Rather than present the opposites as Republican or Democrat, he argues that his position is ‘traditional’ while the current Republican party has moved to a radical Fundamentalist position that is contrary to mainstream Judeo-Christian beliefs. The difference between the two positions is clear.

While Carter at times writes in detail about the issues, presenting both facts and antidotes to support his argument, the book falls short of making its point fully. Too much attention is paid to events Carter has been personally involved with and how those efforts are at odds with political decisions being made today. While the contrast is evident, Carter’s book fails to present the long view. The effect of this is that the book feels like merely an attack on the policies of the Bush administration and the efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention, rather than an argument that the underpinnings of American democracy are at stake. The reader can’t help but understand that this was Carter’s goal, but he doesn’t provide enough insight or historical perspective to convince a “non-believer” — or maybe even a centrist who doesn’t see all issues as Red State vs Blue State — of the errors of the ways of the Neo-Cons. In an effort to make the book a readable, accessible work, Carter is often too superficial and thus seems only to present the liberal Sky Is Falling line that a few misguided ideologues are the source of the imminent downfall of America.

Carter’s position is not flawed; it simply doesn’t go far enough to pinpoint how our values are ‘endangered’ and that the consequences of current political decisions are not something that might be easily reversed by the next political wind to take hold in Washington.