By Sarah Barringer Gordon

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Nov 17, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)

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“What We Owe Jehovah’s Witnesses”

By Sarah Barringer

Gordon


In a landmark decision written by Justice Robert Jackson and announced on Flag Day,
June 14, the Supreme Court sided with the Witnesses. "To believe that patriotism will not
flourish if
patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is
to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds," Jackson said. "If
there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is th
at no official, high or petty, can
prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or
force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

Jehovah's Witnesses were unlikely champions of religious f
reedom. The sect's leaders
denounced all other religions and all secular governments as tools of the devil, and preached the
imminence of the Apocalypse, during which no one except Jehovah's Witnesses would be
spared. But their persistence in fighting in t
he courts for their beliefs had a dramatic impact on
constitutional law.

Barnette

is just one of several major Supreme Court decisions involving
freedom of religion, speech, assembly and conscience that arose from clashes between Jehovah's
Witnesses and go
vernment authorities. The Witnesses insisted that God's law demanded they
refrain from all pledges of allegiance to earthly governments. They tested the nation's tolerance
of controversial beliefs and led to an increasing recognition that a willingness to
embrace
religious diversity is what distinguishes America from tyrannical regimes.

The Witness sect was founded in the 1870s, and caused a stir when the founder, Charles
Taze Russell, a haberdasher in Pittsburgh, predicted the world would come to an end in

1914.
Russell died in 1916; he was succeeded by his lawyer Joseph Franklin Rutherford, who shrewdly
emphasized that the Apocalypse was near, but not so near that Witnesses didn't have time to
convert new followers, which they were required to do lest they

miss out on salvation. This
"blood guilt" propelled in
-
your
-
face proselytizing by Witnesses in various communities on street
corners and in door
-
to
-
door visits. Soon the sect developed a reputation for exhibiting
"astonishing powers of annoyance," as one
legal commentator put it.

Rutherford ruled the Witnesses with an iron fist. He routinely encouraged public displays
of contempt for "Satan's world," which included all other religions and all secular governments.
At the time, the number of Witnesses in the

U.S.

roughly 40,000

was so small that many
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Americans could ignore them. But in Nazi Germany, no group was too small to escape the eye of
new chancellor Adolf Hitler, who banned the Witnesses after they refused to show their fealty to
him with the mandator
y "Heil Hitler" raised
-
arm salute. (Many Witnesses would later perish in
his death camps.) In response, Rutherford praised the German Witnesses and advised all of his
followers to refuse to participate in any oaths of allegiance that violated (in his view)

the Second
Commandment: "Thou shall have no Gods before me."

With conflict looming around the world in the 1930s, many states enacted flag salute
requirements, especially in schools. The steadfast refusal of Witnesses to pledge, combined with
their refusa
l to serve in the military or to support America's war effort in any way, triggered
public anger. Witnesses soon became a ubiquitous presence in courtrooms across the country.

The relationship between Witnesses and the courts was complicated, in part becau
se of
the open disdain Rutherford and his followers displayed toward all forms of government and
organized religion. Rutherford instructed Witnesses not to vote, serve on juries or participate in
other civic duties. He even claimed Social Security numbers
were the "mark of the beast"
foretold in Revelations. The Catholic Church, said Rutherford, was a "racket," and Protestants
and Jews were "great simpletons," taken in by the Catholic hierarchy to "carry on her
commercial, religious traffic and increase her

revenues." Complaints about unwelcome public
proselytizing by Witnesses led to frequent run
-
ins with state and local authorities and hundreds
of appearances in lower courts. Every day in court for Rutherford and the Witnesses' chief
attorney, Hayden Covin
gton, was an opportunity to preach the true meaning of law to the judges
and to confront the satanic government.

In late 1935, Witness Walter Gobitas' two children

Lillian, 12, and Billy, 10

were
expelled from school in Minersville, Pa., because they balke
d at the mandatory recital of the
Pledge of Allegiance, and a long court battle ensued. When

Gobitis v. Minersville School
District

(as with

Barnette
, a court clerk misspelled the family surname) made its way to the
Supreme Court in the spring of 1940, Rut
herford and Covington framed their argument in
religious terms, claiming that any statute contrary to God's law as given to Moses must be void.
The Court rejected the Witnesses' claim, holding that the secular interests of the school district in
fostering
patriotism were paramount. In the majority opinion, written during the same month that
France fell to the Nazis, Felix Frankfurter wrote: "National unity is the basis of national
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security." The plaintiffs, said Frankfurter, were free to "fight out the wise

use of legislative
authority in the forum of public opinion and before legislative assemblies."

In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Harlan Stone argued that "constitutional guarantees
or personal liberty are not always absolutes…but it is a long step, a
nd one which I am unwilling
to take, that government may, as a supposed educational measure…compel public affirmations
which violate their public conscience." Further, said Stone, the prospect of help for this "small
and helpless minority" by the political

process was so remote that Frankfurter had effectively
"surrendered…the liberty of small minorities to the popular will."

Public reaction to

Gobitis

bordered on hysteria, colored by the hotly debated prospect of
American participation in the war in Europe
. Some vigilantes interpreted the Supreme Court's
decision as a signal that Jehovah's Witnesses were traitors who might be linked to a network of
Nazi spies and saboteurs. In Imperial, a town outside Pittsburgh, a mob descended on a small
group of Witnesse
s and pummeled them mercilessly. One Witness was beaten unconscious, and
those who fled were cornered by ax
-

and knife
-
wielding men riding the town's fire truck as
someone yelled, "Get the ropes! Bring the flag!" In Kennebunk, Maine, the Witnesses' gatheri
ng
place, Kingdom Hall, was ransacked and torched, and days of rioting ensued. In Litchfield, Ill.,
an angry crowd spread an American flag on the hood of a car and watched while a man
repeatedly smashed the head of a Witness upon it. In Rockville, Md., Wit
nesses were assaulted
across the street from the police station, while officers stood and watched. By the end of the year,
the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that 1,500 Witnesses had been assaulted in 335
separate attacks.

The reversal of

Gobitis

in

Barnette

just three years later was remarkably swift
considering the typical pace of deliberations in the Supreme Court. In the wake of all the
violence against Witnesses, three Supreme Court justices

William O. Douglas, Frank Murphy
and Hugo Black

pub
licly signaled in a separate case that they thought

Gobitis

had been
"wrongly decided." When

Barnette

reached the Supreme Court in 1943, Harlan Stone, the lone
dissenter in

Gobitis
, had risen to chief justice. The facts of the two cases mirrored each other
, but
the outcome differed dramatically. Most important, in ruling that Witness children could not be
forced to recite the pledge, the new majority rejected the notion that legislatures, rather than the
courts, were the proper place to address questions in
volving religious liberty. The "very purpose"
of the Bill of Rights, wrote Justice Robert Jackson, was to protect some issues from the majority
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rule of politics. "One's right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of
worship a
nd assembly, may not be submitted to vote….Fundamental rights depend on the
outcome of no elections." Jackson's opinion was laced with condemnation of enforced patriotism
and oblique hints at the slaughter taking place in Hitler's Europe. "Those who begin
in coercive
elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters," Jackson wrote.
"Compulsory unification of opinions achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard." Religious
dissenters, when seen from this perspective, are like the canary
in the coal mine: When they
begin to suffer and die, everyone should be worried that the atmosphere has been polluted by
tyranny.

Today, the Witnesses still proselytize, but their right to do so is well established thanks to
their long legal campaign. Over

time they became less confrontational and blended into the
fabric of American life.

In the wake of the

Barnette

decision, the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance continued to
occupy a key (yet ambiguous) place in American politics and law. The original pled
ge was a
secular oath, with no reference to any power greater than the United States of America. The
phrase "under God" was added by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Dwight
Eisenhower on Flag Day, June 14, 1954. Eisenhower, who had grown

up in a Jehovah's Witness
household but later became a Presbyterian, alluded to the growing threat posed by Communists
in the Soviet Union and China when he signed the bill: "In this way we are reaffirming the
transcendence of religious faith in America's

heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly
strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resources
in peace and war."

Eisenhower's political instincts for the ways that religion functioned in American life
were finely honed: Support for the amendment to the Pledge of Allegiance was strong, including
an overwhelming majority of Catholics and Protestants as well as a majority of Jews. According
to a Gallup survey, the only group that truly opposed the change w
as the smattering of atheists.
In a country locked in battle with godless communism, a spiritual weapon such as an amended
pledge that was not denominationally specific made sense. Only after the intervening half
-
century and more does the "Judeo
-
Christian"

God invoked in the pledge seem less than broadly
inclusive.


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Public Enemies & Keystone Cops

By Peter Carlson


The moonless night was pitch

dark but the G
-
men shut off their headlights as they
approached a rural Wisconsin inn called Little Bohemia. They didn't want John Dillinger and his
gang of bank robbers to see them coming. When the feds slipped quietly out of the cars, guns
ready, they s
potted three men hustling out of the darkness and into a Chevy coupe. The Chevy's
lights flashed on, music blared from the radio and it took off.

"Stop!" the G
-
men yelled. "Federal Agents!"

The car kept going. The feds unleashed several bursts of fire from

their Tommy guns.
The Chevy's windshield shattered, its tires popped and it rolled to a halt. Inside, one man was
dead and two were badly wounded. None was Dillinger. The three men were local workers who
happened to stop at the inn for a drink.

At the sou
nd of gunfire, the real bank robbers inside Little Bohemia bolted, darting out
doors and leaping from windows, shooting as they fled. The G
-
men responded by blasting the
lodge, then turning to fire at the cars as they raced away from the site.

When the sho
oting stopped and the smoke cleared, one federal agent was dead and two
lawmen lay wounded while Dillinger and his cronies slipped away unscathed.

It was April 22, 1934, and once again the elusive John Dillinger had escaped his pursuers,
making monkeys of
the cops who'd been chasing him for months.

Seventy
-
five years ago this summer, Dillinger and a dozen other outlaws were the stars of
the Great Depression's greatest show

a cops
-
and
-
robbers soap opera complete with blood, sex,
death, money and amazing, hai
r
-
raising escapes. Newspapers, eager to cover their exploits,
invented colorful nicknames for them

"Gentleman Johnny" Dillinger, "Pretty Boy" Floyd,
Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, "Ma" Barker, Bonnie and Clyde, and "Baby Face" Nelson.

They were bank robbers, which

was not an un
-
popular occupation in 1934. In the depths
of the Depression, bankers were even less beloved than they are in 2009. In the '20s, banks
speculated in stocks, then went bust, leaving depositors high and dry. In the '30s, banks
foreclosed on far
mers who'd been devastated by drought, forcing thousands off their land. By
1934 many Americans smiled when banks got robbed, and in movie theaters, audiences
applauded when newsreels showed pictures of Dillinger.

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"You robbed the bank, did you?" a North Da
kota farmer asked a member of Ma Barker's
gang. "Well, I don't care. All the banks ever do is foreclose on us farmers."

The savviest bank robbers knew how to capitalize on their Robin Hood appeal. When the
governor of Oklahoma offered $1,000 for Pretty Boy

Floyd's capture, Floyd wrote a letter of
protest: "I have robbed no one but the monied men."

The famous criminals of the '30s differed from the celebrated crooks of the pre
vious
decade. The gangsters of the '20s were men of the sinful cities, many of the
m immigrants. The
bank robbers of the '30s were country boys and girls, all
-
American bands of homegrown
sociopaths from the heartland.

Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd was an Oklahoma farm boy who robbed small
-
town banks,
survived several shootouts with lawmen a
nd liked to hide out with his Oklahoma relatives,
drinking Choctaw beer and baking pies.

"Ma" Barker was a short, dumpy Oklahoma farm wife who wore overalls, liked jigsaw
puzzles and raised four sons, all of them criminals. J. Edgar Hoover described her as

a "vicious,
dangerous and resourceful criminal brain" but that was just propaganda. Neither Ma nor her sons
were very bright. The real brains of their gang was Karpis, a Kansas kidnapper with a scary stare
that earned him the nickname "Creepy."

"Baby Face

Nelson," a member of Dillinger's gang, was born Lester Gillis, son of an
Illinois tannery worker. As a teenage mechanic, he fixed cars, then started stealing them, and
earned his nickname when a woman he'd robbed

who happened to be the wife of Chicago's
m
ayor

told a reporter "he had a baby face."

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow grew up in the slums of Dallas, children of poor
farmers who'd moved to the city. Clyde ushered in a movie theater, played the saxophone and
burglarized stores. Bonnie waited on tabl
es, read movie magazines and longed for excitement.
"Haven't been anywhere this week," she wrote in her diary in 1928. "Why don't something
happen?" They met in 1930, fell in love and drove aimlessly around America with their pet
rabbit Sonny Boy, robbing
stores and rural banks. They might have remained obscure petty
crooks if police hadn't raided their hideout in Joplin, Mo., in 1933. In the shootout, Clyde and his
brother killed two cops before the gang escaped, leaving behind a camera containing pictures

of
Bonnie and Clyde smooching and fondling guns. Printed in countless newspapers, the photos
made them famous.

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But not nearly as famous as Dillinger, whose career in crime was wilder than anything
Hollywood could concoct. Son of an Indiana grocer, Dilling
er took to crime in grade school,
forming a gang called the Dirty Dozen and heisting watermelons. He dropped out of school,
joined the navy, then deserted. Back home, he mugged a grocer and was sentenced to 10 to 20
years in prison. After nine years, he wa
s paroled in May 1933. A month later, he gathered some
friends and robbed a bank. The gang made off with $10,600 and celebrated by robbing a grocery
store and a pharmacy that night.

Dillinger used his loot to bribe somebody to smuggle guns to his pals in
prison. In
September, they escaped, only to learn that Dillinger had been locked up in Lima, Ohio. So they
stormed the jail, killed a sheriff and freed him. Then the reunited outlaws raided two police
arsenals, stealing guns, ammo and bulletproof vests.

So
on the well
-
armed gang commenced robbing banks. In October 1933, they hit one in
Greencastle, Ind., emptying the vault of nearly $75,000. In November, they raided one in Racine,
Wis., wounding a teller and a cop and escaping in a blast of gunfire. In Janua
ry 1934, after a
three
-
week vacation in sunny Florida, they hit a bank in East Chicago, Ind., stealing $20,000. A
cop fired at Dillinger, hitting his bulletproof vest. Dillinger was unhurt, but the cop was killed
with a blast from a Tommy gun.

Now wanted f
or murder, Dillinger fled to Tucson, where he was recognized, captured,
shipped to Indiana and locked in the Crown Point jail. There, the warden let reporters interview
Dillinger, who joked about his crimes.

"How long does it take you to go through a bank?
"

"One minute and 40 seconds flat," he said, smiling.

The reporters loved Dillinger's bravura performance and lamented that a murder
conviction would send the wonderfully colorful character to the electric chair. But that didn't
happen. On March 3, 1934, D
illinger, waving a pistol, captured Crown Point's warden and
several guards, locked them in a cell and fled in the warden's car. Before leaving, he showed
them his gun. It was a fake that he'd carved out of wood.

"You should have seen their faces," Dilling
er wrote in a letter to his sister. "Ha! Ha! Ha!"

Dillinger wasn't the only one laughing. Newspapers mocked America's hapless cops and
prison guards. The snickering incensed J. Edgar Hoover, who was then the obscure head of the
Justice Department's obscure

Bureau of Investigation. Hoover saw Dillinger as a way to win
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publicity and power for his little outfit. He ordered his Chicago bureau chief, Melvin Purvis, to
find the infamous outlaw.

But Purvis and his G
-
men proved inept. They raided the wrong apartmen
ts in Chicago
and Minneapolis, and when they hit the right apartment in St. Paul, Dillinger escaped in a blast
of Tommy gun bullets. Then came the debacle at Little Bohemia, which ended with a G
-
man and
an innocent bystander dead and Dillinger's gang still

at large. Two weeks later, they robbed yet
-
another bank, this one in Fostoria, Ohio.

"COMIC OPERA COPS," read a headline in the

Milwaukee Sentinel
.

Reporters speculated that Hoover might be fired for the botched job. He wasn't. Instead,
he doubled the si
ze of his anti
-
Dillinger squad and dubbed the outlaw "Public Enemy Number
One," a phrase the newspapers loved.

Hoover also offered a $10,000 reward for information on Dillinger's whereabouts. That
did the trick. A Chicago madam named Anna Sage informed Pur
vis that her roommate was
Dillinger's girlfriend. Sage said she was going to the movies with the happy couple the next night
and agreed to wear a bright orange skirt so the G
-
men could pick her out of the crowd.

When Dillinger walked out of the Biograph Th
eater with the two women on Sunday, July
22, 1934, he looked around, saw a bunch of men staring at him and reached for his .38. The G
-
men instantly blew him away.

The news spread fast, crowds flocked to the Biograph and souvenir
-
seekers dipped
handkerchief
s in the blood on the sidewalk.

In Washington, Hoover promised that the law would soon catch up with the rest of
America's infamous bank robbers. He was right. Bonnie and Clyde were already dead, riddled
with dozens of bullets in an ambush in Louisiana in
May. In October, G
-
men led by Purvis
gunned down Pretty Boy Floyd. A month later, the feds killed Baby Face Nelson in a gunfight
that left two G
-
men dead. In January 1935, the feds managed to corner Ma Barker and her son
Fred in a Florida cottage and blew
them away.

By then, only one of the "public enemies" was still at large

Creepy Karpis. Hoover,
who'd been mocked because he'd never personally made an arrest, was determined to collar
Creepy himself. In April 1936, G
-
men informed their boss that they'd fou
nd Karpis in New
Orleans. Hoover immediately flew down so he could join the squad that nabbed Creepy as he sat
in a parked car.

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"Put the cuffs on him, boys," Hoover said.

Alas, nobody had remembered to bring handcuffs. An embarrassed agent used his tie to
bind Creepy's wrists. The headline in the next day's

New York Times

read, "KARPIS
CAPTURED IN NEW ORLEANS BY HOOVER HIMSELF."

The era of the bank robbers was over but their legends lived on. Like Jesse James, Billy
the Kid and other Wild West desperadoes,
the '30s outlaws became part of pop culture.
Hollywood has produced three movies called Dillinger and two called Baby Face Nelson. Pretty
Boy Floyd's story was chronicled in a Woody Guthrie song, a Larry McMurtry novel and at least
three films, one starrin
g Fabian. Bonnie and Clyde were immortalized in a Merle Haggard song
and a blockbuster 1967 movie starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. Their stolen, bullet
-
ridden "death car" is still displayed in casinos. Shelley Winters played Ma Barker in the 1970
m
ovie

Bloody Mama
. The rock band Jesus Lizard cut a song called "Karpis." And the Indiana
Welcome Center on Interstate 80 houses the John Dillinger Museum, where visitors can buy a
keychain decorated with a replica of Dillinger's famous wooden gun.

This sum
mer, the big
-
budget movie

Public Enemies

features Johnny Depp as Dillinger,
Giovanni Ribisi as Karpis, Stephen Graham as Nelson and Channing Tatum as Floyd.

But posthumous fame is a thrill that nobody lives long enough to enjoy. The real winner
of the '30s

"war on crime" was Hoover. When that war began, he and his little investigative
bureau were virtually unknown. When it ended, Hoover and his newly re
-
named "Federal Bureau
of Investigation" were famous, hailed in newspapers, radio shows, comic strips and
James
Cagney's hit movie

G
-
Men
.

The debacle at Little Bohemia could have cost Hoover his job but he was a genius in the
arts of bureaucracy and public relations and he convinced Congress to grant him more money,
personnel and power. For the next four decad
es, he reigned as the undisputed dictator of a law
enforcement agency that frightened criminals, spies, dissenters, congressmen, even presidents.

A few weeks after Dillinger's death, Hoover ordered his underlings to create a display
outside his office

a gl
ass case containing the bank robber's gun, straw hat and death mask. The
strange shrine remained until Hoover died in 1972.

When the director was an old man, an interviewer asked him to name his greatest thrill.

Hoover didn't even have to ponder the questi
on. "The night we got Dillinger," he replied.

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Uneasy About Alcohol
-

America and the Booze Question

By Peter Carlson



Hard drinking is a tradition that came over on the Mayflower. 400 years later we're still
struggling to find a balance between
revelry and righteousness

When the news arrived from Utah, cannons boomed in New Orleans, sirens howled in
San Francisco, boats in New York harbor blasted their foghorns and the finance committee of the
Chicago City Council adjourned to a tavern so the pol
s could quaff a snort of legal booze for the
first time in 13 years, 10 months, 18 days, 7 hours and 27 minutes.

It was Dec. 5, 1933

75 years ago this fall

and the news that sparked the momentous
national celebration was the long
-
awaited passage of an amen
dment to the United States
Constitution: Utah voted to become the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, which repealed
the 18th Amendment, which had banned the production and sale of alcoholic beverages across
the land since 1920.

"Prohibition is dead!"

an electric sign in Times Square announced, and a mob of 10,000
roared its approval. "A thousand bartenders reached in unison for the Scotch, rye or gin," wrote
reporter John Lardner, "and 50,000 customers bumped elbows for the honor of absorbing the
firs
t legal drink."

In Manhattan, a joyous crowd celebrated by lynching an effigy of "Old Man Prohibition"
from a flagpole on Broadway. In Chicago's Drake Hotel, a scantily clad woman popped out of a
10
-
foot
-
tall champagne glass as drinkers cheered. In Boston,

revelers wandered from saloon to
saloon, singing off
-
key renditions of old drinking songs or engaging in what the Boston Globe
described as "sidewalk displays of wrestling ability and hog
-
calling."

But revelry did not rule everywhere. In many places, incl
uding Georgia, Kentucky and
Washington, D.C., booze was still banned by state or local laws, which tended to throw a wet
blanket on the festivities. In Atlanta, the celebration of Prohibition's demise was not nearly as
spirited as the celebration of its bi
rth nearly 14 years earlier, when, the Atlanta Constitution
reported, "The Anti
-
Saloon League, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and other dry organizations
paraded on Peachtree to Five Points, where old John Barleycorn was burned in effigy."

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Today, the long
, bitter conflict between "dry" and "wet" Americans seems quaint and
absurd, a strange tale from ancient history. But that colorful clash illustrates an enduring aspect
of American life, a conflict between two sides of our national personality

the secular
"pursuit
of happiness" versus the religious pursuit of righteousness. America's epic battle over alcohol is
one of the divisive cultural issues that have periodically roiled American politics, like slavery
and segregation or the more recent controversies o
ver gay rights and abortion.

Getting drunk, plastered, loaded, tanked, sloshed, smashed, stewed and stoned is an old
American tradition. But so is preaching fiery sermons against "demon rum," attacking saloons
with hatchets and enacting laws to prevent you
r neighbors from getting drunk, plastered, sloshed,
smashed, stewed and stoned.

The story of alcohol in America is an inspiring tale of courageous men and women who
ventured across stormy seas, conquered a teeming wilderness, created a great nation and
built an
awesome industrial colossus

and did it all while knocking back heroic quantities of strong
liquids.

Booze came to America aboard Mayflower. Like most British ships in 1620, Mayflower
carried more beer than water. One reason was that beer was safer

than water, which was often
contaminated with noxious wastes. Another reason was that passengers preferred to pass the
tedious nine
-
week voyage in a pleasant beer buzz.

The Pilgrims drank so much beer on Mayflower that they'd almost run out by the time
th
ey reached America, and they may have landed at Plymouth simply because they didn't have
enough beer to fuel the search for a better place. "We could not now take time for further search
and consideration," one passenger wrote, "our victuals being much spe
nt, especially our beere."
Not long after landing, the Pilgrims began making wine out of wild grapes. They served it to the
Indians at the first Thanksgiving, although you probably didn't hear about that back in
kindergarten.

The Puritans are not known as
party animals, but they arrived in Boston in 1630 on a ship
that carried plenty of beer

and 10,000 gallons of wine. Despite their well
-
deserved reputation
as killjoys, the Puritans didn't oppose drinking, they merely opposed drinking too much. "Drink
is in

itself a good Creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness," wrote Increase Mather,
the famed Puritan preacher, "but the abuse of drink is from Satan."

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All over the colonies, settlers quaffed vast quantities of this "good Creature of God."
When t
hey could get it, they drank imported wine, brandy and port, but such luxuries were
expensive and tended to mysteriously disappear en route from England in accidents attributed to
"leakage." Consequently, thirsty colonists began making booze out of just ab
out everything, as
recounted in this little ditty from the 1630s:


If barley be wanting to make into malt,

We must be content and think it no fault,

For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips,

Of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut
-
tree chips.


Among the most

popular concoctions in colonial
-
era taverns was a drink called "Flip."
The bartender filled about two
-
thirds of a mug or pitcher with beer, added a dollop of rum,
sweetened the cocktail with sugar, molasses or dried pumpkin and then stirred it with a red
-
hot
poker, which made the drink bubble, gurgle and steam. Good for what ails you, especially on a
cold winter's night.

Tea is the beverage most commonly associated with the American Revolution, but beer
and rum are far more deserving of that honor. Even th
ough Samuel Adams was a devout
Congregationalist (see "The Revolutionary Gospel According to Samuel Adams," p. 42), he
recruited his Sons of Liberty in Boston taverns, causing Tories to mock him as "Sam the
Publican." And the patriots who dumped British te
a in Boston harbor had fortified themselves for
their mission by downing several bowls of rum punch. Later, General George Washington
boosted his troops' morale with a daily ration of rum. "The benefits arising from the moderate
use of strong Liquor," he e
xplained, "have been experienced in all Armies and are not to be
disputed."

Unlike today's milquetoast pols, America's Founding Fathers were eager tipplers. James
Madison liked to start his day with a tumbler of whiskey. John Adams breakfasted on what his
son described as "a large tankard of hard cider." Washington owned one of Virginia's most
productive whiskey distilleries. Thomas Jefferson was an avid wine connoisseur and so was
Benjamin Franklin, who wrote an ode to drinking that concluded with this lov
ely couplet:

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That virtue and safety's in wine
-
bibbing found

While all that drink water deserve to be drowned.


One of the first crises of the newborn United States of America was caused by whiskey

or, more accurately, by a whiskey tax. In 1791 Congress vot
ed to tax whiskey, which proved to
be extremely unpopular, particularly in the Appalachian Mountains, where whiskey
-
making was
not only a passion but a major source of cash income for subsistence farmers. In 1794, near
Pittsburgh, a motley army of tax prot
esters rebelled, attacking courts and tarring and feathering a
tax collector. President Washington responded by personally leading a militia army to put down
what came to be called the "Whiskey Rebellion."

By then, nearly every American farm contained a si
zable apple orchard

not to make
apple pie but to make hard cider, which was the country's most popular beverage, guzzled daily
by young and old alike. "In rural areas, cider took the place not only of wine and beer but of
coffee and tea, juice and even wat
er," wrote culinary historian Michael Pollan. "Indeed, in many
places cider was consumed more freely than water, even by children."

The cute little tykes would knock back a tumbler of hard cider with breakfast and then
proceed off to school with a pleasant

buzz, and nobody worried that it would ruin their chances
to get into Harvard, perhaps because Harvard served hard cider in its dining halls.

In the early 1800s, Americans drank more booze than at any time before or since

more
than five gallons of pure al
cohol per person per year. (Today's figure is about two gallons per
adult.) "Americans drank at home and abroad, alone and together, at work and at play," wrote
historian W.J. Rorabaugh in his classic 1979 book, The Alcoholic Republic. "Americans drank
bef
ore meals, with meals and after meals. They drank while working in the fields and while
traveling across half a continent."

Meanwhile, America's native
-
born hard drinkers were joined by hordes of hard
-
drinking
European immigrants who brought the alcoholic
crafts of their native lands

Scots
-
Irish
distillers, German brewers and Italian winemakers, each contributing another ingredient to
America's melting pot or, in this case, to America's cocktail shaker.

As Americans moved west, the first sign of civilizatio
n in many new towns was a
saloon

or several saloons. In 1876, for example, Dodge City, Kan., contained 1,200 people and
19 saloons. Western saloons sold liquor, of course, but they also served as restaurants, dance
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halls, casinos, brothels, courtrooms, pos
t offices, funeral parlors and, on Sunday mornings,
churches.

Saloons also provided their customers with cultural offerings, some better than others.
"At the upper end of Main Street is a one
-
horse beer hall, called by courtesy a concert garden,
where a pi
anist and violinist have performed so far without getting shot
," reported the Anaconda,
Montana,

Standard in 1897. "Occasionally a woman, whose face would stop a freight train and
voice would rasp a sawmill, comes out and assists the pianist and violinist
in increasing the
agony."

But America's firewater was not always sold in saloons and frequently wasn't even
marketed as liquor. Much of it was bottled in patent medicines bearing such wonderful names as
"Kickapoo Cough Syrup" and "Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegeta
ble Compound" and promoted as
healthful elixirs.

Sold in drugstores and advertised in traveling "medicine shows," patent medicines were
touted as cures for everything from colds to cancer. Actually, they cured nothing but they did
provide relief from physi
cal, mental and spiritual pains with the same secret ingredient found in
whiskey

ethyl alcohol. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, advertised as a cure for "female
complaints," contained 18 percent alcohol. Peruna, America's most popular patent medicine, was
28

percent alcohol. Hostetter's Celebrated Stomach Bitters contained 47 percent alcohol

more
than your average whiskey

and was said to have steadied the nerves of Union soldiers at
the

Battle of
Gettysburg
.

Paine's Celery Compound, advertised as a "Nerve Tonic and
Alternative Medicine," contained a mere 21 percent alcohol, but the booze was fortified by a
dose of cocaine, which no doubt contributed to its popularity.

"More alcohol is consumed in
this country in patent medicines than is dispensed in a
legal way by licensed liquor vendors," Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote in his famous 1905
Collier's magazine exposé of the hidden ingredients in patent medicines, which influenced the
1906 Pure Food and Dr
ug Act.

Part of the popularity of patent medicines was their appeal to a growing segment of the
American population

prohibitionists. In fact, a patent medicine called "Old Dr. Kaufmann's
Great Sulphur Bitters," which contained 22 percent alcohol, targeted
prohibitionists with ads
featuring an endorsement by Mrs. S. Louise Barton, "An Indefatigable and Life
-
Long Worker in
the Temperance Cause." For prohibitionists, such patent medicines were a godsend, enabling
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them to stay pleasantly (but respectably) tipsy

while toiling in the great national crusade to rid
America of the demon rum.

Prohibition is incontrovertible proof that you don't have to be drunk to come up with a
really, really bad idea. Stone cold sober but intoxicated on the powerful elixir of righte
ous
idealism, American prohibitionists believed that the demon rum and its church, the saloon, were
the world's prime sources of evil. "When the saloon goes," said Ernest Cherrington, a leader of
the Anti
-
Saloon League, "the devil will be ready to quit."

The American temperance movement is as old as America itself, but it became a political
force in the mid
-
1800s, fueled in part by a bias against immigrants, including Irish and Italian
Catholics, who were stereotyped as shiftless alcoholics. After the Civi
l War, it spawned two
powerful groups

the Prohibition Party and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, whose
slogan was "For God, Home and Native Land."

The WCTU's most famous member was Carry Nation, a Kansas minister's wife, who led
bands of women into
saloons, where they sang hymns to the patrons and greeted bartenders with
a cheery "Good morning, destroyer of men's souls!" When those efforts failed to dry out Kansas,
Nation prayed to God for direction and was awakened by a heavenly voice saying, "Go to

Kiowa." She went to the town of Kiowa, where she invaded three saloons, smashing the liquor
bottles with rocks. Soon, she replaced the rocks with a hatchet and became famous, traveling
across America, smashing up saloons with her trademark wrecking tool.
Arrested dozens of
times, she paid her fines with money raised by selling little souvenir hatchets.

But it wasn't the antics of Carry Nation who won the fight for prohibition; it was the
political savvy of the Anti
-
Saloon League, which added clout to the c
rusade for salvation of
individual drunkards by strong
-
arming government officials. Founded in 1895, the league
pioneered many of the techniques now used by modern advocacy groups. Working through local
churches

generally rural Methodist or Baptist churche
s

it raised money, endorsed candidates
and successfully lobbied for laws banning liquor in many towns and counties. In 1905 the league
demonstrated its growing power by defeating Ohio Governor Myron Herrick, who had thwarted
the league's legislative agenda

an upset that terrified wet politicians.

In 1913 the league kicked off its drive for a constitutional amendment prohibiting liquor
with a march on Washington and a massive letter
-
writing campaign that flooded Congress with
mail. The amendment failed in 19
14, but gained strength during World War I, when the league
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exploited America's anti
-
German hysteria by deliberately associating beer with German
-
American brewers. "Kaiserism abroad and booze at home must go," declared the league's general
counsel and wily

Washington lobbyist, Wayne Wheeler.

It worked. Congress passed the amendment in 1918, and the states ratified it so quickly
that America's wets barely had time to finish their drinks and start fighting back. When the new
law went into effect on January 17
, 1920, evangelist Billy Sunday held a funeral for John
Barleycorn in Norfolk, Va. "The slums will soon be a memory," he predicted. "We will turn our
prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs….Hell will be forever for rent."

Alas,

it didn't work out that way. Prohibition not only failed to eradicate slums and
prisons, it even failed to curtail drinking, a pastime that now took on the allure of a forbidden
thrill. Booze was smuggled into the country on "rumrunner" ships, cooked up i
n countless illegal
distilleries, breweries and bathtubs and sold to eager customers in illicit saloons known as
speakeasies.

New York City, which had 15,000 legal saloons before Prohibition, soon had 32,000
speakeasies. They came in infinite varieties, an
d two news
papermen described a few dozen in
their 1932 guidebook, Manhattan Oases. The oases ranged from the prosaic Log Cabin
("designed for the visiting Shriner") to the seedy Julius's ("as weird as a witch's Sabbath and as
noisome as the psychopathic w
ard at Bellevue Hospital") to the elegant 19th Hole ("a nice
hideaway for bond salesmen and their customers' wives").

Prohibition made selling booze a crime, which naturally attracted criminals to the
business. Gangsters battled for control of the liquor t
rade, and the winners became big
businessmen, millionaires with bribe
-
bought political power. The most famous was Al Capone,
who survived a gang war that created 500 corpses to become one of the most powerful men in
Chicago. "Somehow I just naturally drift
ed into the racket," he told an interviewer from Liberty
magazine in 1931. "And I guess I'm here to stay until the law is repealed."

Dry forces were confident that the law would never be repealed. "There is as much
chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendm
ent," said Senator Morris Sheppard, "as there is for a
hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail."

Propelled by overwhelming public opinion against Prohibition, a hummingbird reached
Mars on Dec. 5, 1933, and celeb
rations broke out across America.

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"Downtown bars were lined five and six deep," the Chicago Tribune reported the next
day. "'Sweet Adeline' and other old favorites rang in many of the bars as morning neared. Wags
made frequent requests of musicians for the

WCTU song, 'It's in the Constitution and It's There
to Stay,' but nobody could remember the tune."

Repeal did not set off a wild national bender, as some dries had predicted, but it did result
in one permanent change in American drinking habits: Respectab
le women began patronizing
bars. "Women Flock To Bars As The New Wet Era Opens," the Chicago Tribune reported.
"Many women are crowding up to be served, something considered not quite right in the days
preceding prohibition."

Before World War I, the saloon

was largely a male outpost

one reason many women
supported Prohibition. But after repeal, women, who'd recently gained the right to vote, seized
the right to drink in public.

In 1935, two years after repeal, two middle
-
class alcoholics with wonderfully Am
erican
names

Bill Wilson and Bob Smith

founded an organization that proved far more effective
than Prohibition in combating drunkenness. Wilson, a former Wall Street whiz kid, and Smith, a
doctor, named their group "Alcoholics Anonymous" and it has spread
around the world, helping
millions of alcoholics kick the habit.

These days, American liquor stores are packed with a dazzling variety of beverages,
ranging from gourmet single
-
malt Scotches and domestic and imported wines, to neon
-
colored
concoctions like

MD 20/20 Blue Raspberry, and new alcoholic "energy drinks" like Joose, which
mixes booze with caffeine, ginseng and tropical fruit juices. But the United States is, statistically
speaking, a nation of moderate drinkers, ranking somewhere around 20th in su
rveys of
worldwide per capita alcohol consumption, depending on how the data is calculated.

Although our intake is far behind most European countries, American life is suffused
with booze. We drink at weddings and wakes

and sometimes at baby showers, bapti
sms,
graduation parties, anniversaries and funerals. We drink to celebrate our triumphs and drown our
sorrows

but also just to unwind after another dull day at work.

The influence of alcohol on American culture is so widespread as to be incalculable.
Much
of America's greatest literature was produced by alcoholics and hard drinkers

Ernest
Hemingway, William Faulkner, Edgar Allen Poe, Eugene O'Neill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack
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London, Jack Kerouac and Sinclair Lewis, whose classic 1927 novel about a corrupt e
vangelist
begins: "Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk."

Much of America's best art has also been produced by hard drinkers, including Jackson
Pollock, who enjoyed spilling paint but not his beloved whiskey, and

Robert Rauschenberg, who
claimed that he drank a quart of Jack Daniels a day, which might explain why he once made a
sculpture by sticking a stuffed goat inside an old tire.

Jazz, America's classical music, was born in the bars and brothels of New Orleans

and
came of age in Prohibition speakeasies, including the most famous speakeasy of all, New York's
Cotton Club, whose house band was Duke Ellington's orchestra. And American popular songs
contain nearly as many references to booze as they do to love or lu
st:


Roll out the barrel…

It's another tequila sunrise…

Whiskey river, don't run dry…

Wasted away again in Margaritaville…


Alcohol has spawned many of the iconic characters in American pop culture

the
cowboy knocking back a shot of Red Eye, the hard
-
drink
ing private eye, the cynical reporter
with a bottle in his bottom file drawer and, of course, the anonymous protagonist of a million
jokes that begin, "A guy walks into a bar."

The United States is a sports
-
mad nation, and our sports are intimately connect
ed with
alcohol. We drink a beer while eating a hot dog at baseball games and sip a Bloody Mary while
tailgating at football games. World Series winners celebrate by pouring champagne over their
teammates' heads. And stock car racing

which came into its ow
n as a sport after World War
II

was created by moonshiners.

In the southern Appalachians, the culture of moonshine never died out, nor did the desire
to avoid paying tax on it. Moonshiners souped up their cars so they could outrun

federal "revenuers" on tw
isty mountain roads and, in the 1940s, the National Association for
Stock Car Auto Racing began organizing races on dirt tracks. "About all your good dirt track
drivers were involved in moonshine," Junior Johnson, the famous NASCAR driver, told me in an
in
terview in 1999. "That's kind of the way it started."

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At NASCAR's first official race in 1949, most of the drivers had learned their craft
hauling whiskey. Six years later, Johnson, then one of NASCAR's biggest stars, was arrested
while tending his
father's illegal still in North Carolina and sent to federal prison. When he got
out, he started racing again, won the 1960 Daytona 500 and became a folk hero. In 1986
President Ronald Reagan pardoned Johnson for his moonshine conviction. By then, NASCAR's

outlaw image had helped to make it a major spectator sport.

"I think it did appeal to people," Johnson told me. "I think the exposure of you being a
good moonshiner and having the fastest car of anybody

it was sort of a glorified thing, like
Babe Ruth hit
ting his 714th home run."

Last year, Johnson, now age 77 and retired from racing, returned to his first love

making whiskey. He began marketing a legal, 80
-
proof concoction called Midnight Moon, which
he proudly describes as the "best 'shine ever."

It just

might be the perfect beverage for drinking a toast to the grand and goofy history of
booze in America.

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How the West was Spun
-

Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show

By Stephen G. Hyslop




When fabled bison hunter William "Buffalo Bill" Cody first
staged his Wild West show
in 1883, he needed more than heroic cowboys, villainous Indians, teeming horses and roaming
buffalo to transform it from a circus into a sensation. He needed star power. And there was one
man who guaranteed to provide it: the Siou
x chief widely blamed for the uprising that
overwhelmed George Armstrong Custer's 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn only a
decade earlier. "I am going to try hard to get old Sitting Bull," Cody said. "If we

can manage to
get him our ever
lasting f
ortune is made."


It took two years, but Cody finally got his man. In June 1885, Sitting Bull joined the Wild
West show for a signing bonus of $125 and $50 a week

20 times more than Indians who served
as policemen on reservations earned. Buffalo Bill recko
ned his new star would prove to be an
irresistible draw. With the Indian wars drawing to a close, and most Plains Indians confined to
reservations, Buffalo Bill set the stage for a final conquest of the frontier. Since accompanying
an army patrol as a scou
t shortly after the Battle of Little Bighorn and scalping the Cheyenne
warrior Yellow Hair, he was known as the man who took "the first scalp for Custer." As the man
who now controlled Sitting Bull, he symbolically declared victory in the war for the West
and
signaled a new era of cooperation with the enemy. Cody excluded the chief from acts in which
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other Indians made sham attacks on settlers and then got their comeuppance from heroic
cowboys. All Sitting Bull had to do was don a war costume, ride a horse
into the arena and brave
an audience that sometimes jeered and hissed.

Sitting Bull's mere presence reinforced the reassuring message underlying Cody's Wild
West extravaganza, as well as the Western films and novels it inspired, that Americans are
generous

conquerors who attack only when provoked. At the same time, Cody's vision of the
West spoke to the fiercely competitive spirit of an American nation born in blood and defined by
conflict on the frontier, where what mattered most was not whether you were r
ight or wrong but
whether you prevailed. The lesson of his Wild West was that sharpshooting American cowboys
like Buffalo Bill could be as wild as the Indians they fought and match them blow for blow. The
real frontier might be vanishing, but by preserving

this wild domain imaginatively and reenacting
the struggle for supremacy there, he gave millions of Americans the feeling they were up to any
challenge.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West depended on Cody's ability to draw shrewdly on his frontier
experiences to ma
ke himself a commanding figure. He earned his nickname, he claimed, by
killing 4,280 buffalo during an 18
-
month stint for the Kansas Pacific Railroad in the late 1860s.
Indiscriminate hunting was encouraged by the army as part of a campaign to wipe out buf
falo
herds that gave subsistence to free
-
roaming Plains Indians. The Indians did not take well to
having this food supply annihilated. Cody told of being chased once by 30 Indians on horseback.
Cavalry guarding the tracks came to his aid, and together they

killed eight "redskins," he said,
expressing sympathy only for a horse one of the warriors was riding, killed by a shot from his
trusty rifle Lucretia: "He was a noble animal, and ought to have been engaged in better
business."

Later in life Cody mused th
at Indians deserved better. But his early exploits on the Plains
and his autobiographical account of those feats, designed to portray him as a classic frontier
enforcer, came first. His crowning claim involved the rescue of a white woman from the clutches
of Indians. In July 1869, he was serving as a scout for the 5th Cavalry when it surprised hostile
Cheyennes in an encampment at Summit Springs, Colorado Territory, where one white woman
held captive was killed in the ensuing battle and one rescued. Officia
l records give credit for
locating the camp to Pawnee scouts

who volunteered to serve the army against their traditional
tribal foes

and make no mention of Buffalo Bill. But Cody boasted of killing Cheyenne Chief
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Tall Bull during the engagement after creep
ing to a spot where he could "easily drop him from
the saddle" without hitting his horse, a "gallant steed" he then captured and named Tall Bull in
honor of the chief.

This fabricated tale demonstrated Cody's knack for translating the grim realities of Ind
ian
fighting into rousing adventure stories in which he symbolically appropriated the totemic power
of defeated warriors by claiming their scalp, horse or captives, much as Indians did in battle. But
he took care to distinguish his bravery from the bravado

of warriors who refused to fight fair and
targeted women and children. Left unmentioned in his account of the Battle of Summit
Springs

which, like the Battle of Little Bighorn, he incorporated as an act in his Wild West
show

was that women and children we
re among the more than 70
Cheyenne

killed or captured.

After returning with the cavalry from Summit Springs to Fort Sedgwick in Colorado,
Buffalo Bill met Edward Judson, who was looking for Western heroes to celebrate in the dime
novels he wrote under the
name Ned Buntline. His fiction did so much to create and inflate the
reputation of Buffalo Bill that actors were soon playing him on stage. "I was curious to see how I
woul
d look when represented by some
one else," Cody recalled, so while visiting New York
in
1872 he attended a performance of

Buffalo Bill: The King of the Border Men

and was called on
stage. He soon realized that he could succeed in the limelight simply by being himself, or by
impersonating the heroic character contrived by Buntline.

"I'm not

an actor

I'm a star," he told an interviewer soon after making the transition
from frontier scout to itinerant showman. Crucial to his ascent to stardom was his awareness that
he needed to become something more than a stereotypical Indian fighter or "scou
rge of the red
man." He never renounced that role and continued to bank on it throughout his career, but his
genius as an entertainer lay in softening his own image

and that of the Wild West

just enough
to reassure Americans that the conquest he dramatized

was a good clean fight that had redeeming
social value without robbing this struggle for supremacy of its visceral appeal.

Buffalo Bill's first appearance on stage in Chicago gave little hint of the bright future that
awaited him in show business. He and
other ornery frontiersmen blasted away at Indians
ludicrously impersonated by white extras in a murky plot concocted by Buntline. One reviewer
called the acting "execrable" and concluded that such "scalping, blood and thunder, is not likely
to be vouchsafe
d to a city a second time, even Chicago." Nonetheless, the show proved
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commercially successful, and Buffalo Bill made $6,000 over the winter, substantially improving
his take in seasons to come by forming his own troupe called the Buffalo Bill Combination.

For several years, he combined acting with summer stints as a scout or guide, honing his
skills as an entertainer by conducting wealthy dudes from the East and European nobility on
hunting expeditions and diverting them with shows of skill that sometimes
involved Indians
hired for the occasion. Buffalo Bill enjoyed "trotting in the first class, with the very first men of
the land," and came away convinced that a Wild West spectacle involving real cowboys and
Indians could appeal to all classes and become,
as it was later billed, "America's National
Entertainment."

Other showmen of the era tried to mine that same vein by mounting Wild West themed
circuses in which sharpshooters and bronco
-
busters demonstrated their skills. But when Buffalo
Bill launched his
Wild West show in 1883, he set his aim higher. He wanted an epic production
with theatrical flair that defined the West and drew viewers into it. After a lackluster first season,
marred by his drunken escapades with a fellow sharpshooter and business assoc
iate named Doc
Carver, he teamed with Nate Salsbury, a shrewd theater manager, and hired director Steele
MacKaye to make the production more than a series of stunts by creating a show within the show
called

The Drama of Civilization
. First staged in the wi
nter of 1886 in New York's Madison
Square Garden, where it was viewed by more than a million people, the pageant was set against
painted backdrops and included four acts that purported to represent the historical evolution of
the West from "The Primeval Fo
rest," occupied only by wild Indians, to "The Prairie," where
civilization appeared with the arrival of wagon trains, setting the stage for further progress in the
form of "The Cattle Ranch" and "The Mining Camp."

The elaborate staging fulfilled Buffalo Bi
ll's stated goal of offering "high toned"
entertainment, but the acts themselves suggested that the coming of the white man had done little
to tame the Wild West. The climactic mining camp episode included a duel between gunfighters
and an attack on the De
adwood Stagecoach by bandits, playing much the same role as that
performed by marauding Indians in other performances. In the grand finale, the mining camp
was blown away by a cyclone, suggesting that if wild men did not defeat those trying to civilize
the

West, wild nature surely would.

At heart the Wild West extravaganza was less about the triumph of civilization than
ceaseless struggle in which "barbarism and civilization have their hands on each other's throat,"
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as one observer put it. Cody could not af
ford to become so high toned that he robbed the show of
the smoke and thunder that many came to see, and he surely welcomed notices like that from a
reviewer who promised the public that "Buffalo Bill's 'Wild West' is wild enough to suit the most
devoted a
dmirer of western adventure and prowess." At the same time, Cody promoted the show
as family entertainment, suitable for women and children. By hiring Annie Oakley, whom Sitting
Bull nicknamed "Little Sure Shot," Cody graced his cast with a deadly shot who

was so demure
and disarming that spectators who might otherwise have been scared away by gunplay were as
eager to attend as those for whom fancy shooting was the main draw.

European blue bloods also found the show enchanting. In 1887 Buffalo Bill and an
e
ntourage of 100 whites, 97 Indians, 180 horses, 18 buffalo, 10 elk, 5 Texan steers, 4 donkeys
and 2 deer traveled to England to help celebrate the Jubilee Year of Queen Victoria. In addition
to staging twice
-
a
-
day shows during a five
-
month stay in London f
or crowds that averaged
around 30,000, the Wild West troupe gave a command performance for the queen in which the
Prince of Wales and the kings of Belgium, Greece, Saxony and Denmark rode around the arena
in a stagecoach with Buffalo Bill fending off marau
ding Indians from the driver's seat. In the
process, Buffalo Bill's pop interpretation of the American frontier was validated as high culture
and for the next five years the Wild West toured the major capitals of Europe.

Despite his warm reception througho
ut Europe, when Buffalo Bill brought the show
home in 1893 he was shunned as too commercial by the organizers of the Columbian Exposition
in Chicago, a grandiose celebration of civilization in America that featured 65,000 exhibits in an
array of gleaming B
eaux Arts buildings dubbed the White City. Undeterred, Buffalo Bill camped
out across the street and drew an audience that summer of more than 3 million people, including
a group of historians who took a break one afternoon from a conference at the exposit
ion to see
the Wild West show and later that evening heard their colleague Frederick Jackson Turner
deliver his landmark essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History."

Turner portrayed the settling of the West as a largely peaceful process,
in which the
availability of "free land" on the frontier served as a safety valve, releasing social tensions by
providing fresh opportunities for Americans who might otherwise have been stifled in their
ambitions for a better life. But Cody, for all the hi
storical distortions in his show, hit on a
fundamental truth that eluded the erudite Turner: There was no free land. Everything that
American settlers claimed, from the landing at Jamestown to the closing of the frontier in 1890,
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was Indian country, wreste
d from tribal groups at great cost. Buffalo Bill's Wild West remains
with us to this day because he recognized that fierce competition and strife had as much to do
with the making of America as the dream of liberty and justice for all.

Ultimately, it was I
ndians who lent an air of authenticity to Buffalo Bill's Wild West. He
could not hire Indians without the government's permission and faced scrutiny and criticism from
officials who argued that his show displayed Indians as bloodthirsty warriors while the
government was trying to convert them to a peaceful, productive existence. But he was keenly
aware of their importance to the production and tried to ensure they were well treated. Luther
Standing Bear, a Sioux who served as chief of the Indian performers
on one European tour,
expressed gratitude for the support Buffalo Bill showed when he complained that Indians were
being served inferior food. "My Indians are the principal feature of this show," he recalled
Buffalo Bill telling the dining steward, "and th
ey are the one people I will not allow to be
misused or neglected."

Black Elk, whose dictated reminiscences to poet John Neihardt were published in 1932
under the title

Black Elk Speaks
, shared Luther Standing Bear's appreciation for the way he and
other performers were treated by Buffalo Bill, or Pahuska (Long Hair). When Black Elk wearied
of life on tour and said he was "sick to go home," Buffalo Bill was sympathetic: "He gave me a
tic
ket and ninety dollars. Then he gave me a big dinner. Pahuska had a strong heart."

But Black Elk's memories of the show itself were more ambivalent. "I liked the part of
the show we made," he said, "but not the part the Wasichus [whites] made." Like other
Sioux
hired by Buffalo Bill, he enjoyed commemorating their proud old days as mounted warriors but
seemingly recognized that their role was defined and diminished by what whites made of it.
Describing the command performance of Buffalo Bill's Wild West for

Queen Victoria, he
recalled that she spoke to Indian performers after they danced and sang for her and told them
something to this effect: "All over the world I have seen all kinds of people; but to
-
day I have
seen the best
-
looking people I know. If you b
elonged to me, I would not let them take you
around in a show like this." Whether or not she spoke such words, Black Elk evidently felt that
"a show like this" did not do his people great honor.

The willingness of proud warriors who once resisted American
authority to join Cody's
show demonstrated that they were capable of adapting to the modern world. Yet the conventions
of the Wild West relegated them to the past, a vanishing world of tepees, war bonnets and scalp
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dances that was the only Indian culture m
any whites recognized. One chief who toured with
Cody, Iron Tail, was said to be a model for the Indian Head nickel, with a bonneted warrior on
one side and a buffalo on the other

icons that became cherished as distinctively American only
when the way of l
ife they represented was on the verge of extinction.

Sitting Bull, whose appearance in the show prompted many other Sioux to join the
traveling troupe, epitomized the wide gulf between the myth perpetuated by Buffalo Bill's Wild
West and the harsh reality
Indians faced with the closing of the frontier. By all accounts he got
on well with Cody. But he hated the hustle and bustle of Eastern cities and only stayed with the
show for four months. In the years that followed, government officials grew concerned ab
out the
emergence of the Ghost Dance, a messianic religious movement on the reservations that
promised Indians who joined in the ritualistic dance eternal life in a bountiful world of their own,
where they would be reunited with their lost loved ones and a
ncestors. Reports in late 1889 that
Sioux who joined this movement were wearing "ghost shirts," which they believed would protect
them from bullets, increased fears among authorities that the movement would turn violent.
When Sitting Bull began encouraging

the Ghost Dancers, Maj. Gen. Nelson Miles called upon
Buffalo Bill to find him and bring him in, hoping that the chief would yield peacefully to a man
he knew and trusted.

Cody headed west to Bismarck, N.D., in December 1890 and reportedly filled two
wago
ns with gifts before setting off in his showman's outfit to track down Sitting Bull on the
Standing Rock Reservation. The escapade is clouded in legend and it remains unclear whether or
not Cody was serious about trying to arrest Sitting Bull. In any case
he got waylaid by two scouts
working for the Indian agent James McLaughlin, who wanted credit for corralling Sitting Bull
himself. This was no longer Cody's show, and it would play out as a reminder of the grim
realities that underlay his rousing performan
ces.

On December 15, McLaughlin sent Indian police to arrest Sitting Bull. A struggle ensued,
and shots were fired. Sitting Bull was killed instantly. His son, six of his supporters and six
policemen also died. Two weeks later, fighting erupted at nearby W
ounded Knee Creek on the
Pine Ridge Reservation between a band of Sioux caught up in the Ghost Dance movement and
troops of Custer's old regiment, the 7th Cavalry, after soldiers grappled with a deaf young Indian
who refused to hand over his gun. When the
shooting stopped, 25 soldiers and about 150 Sioux,
many of them women and children, lay dead. In the words of Charles Eastman, a mixed
-
blood
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Sioux physician who searched among the victims for survivors, Wounded Knee exposed the
lurking "savagery of civiliz
ation."

The massacre marked the tragic end of the real Indian wars.

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The Whole World Is Listening: WHAS Radio Coverage of the 1937 Ohio River Flood

By Chris Chandler



Hundreds dead; hundreds of thousands homeless; entire cities emptied and virtually
obliterated by one of the century's worst killer storms

all while millions of Americans followed
the drama from their living rooms, over the airwaves. Nearly 70 years before Hurricane Katrina
grabbed national and international headlines, the devastating Oh
io River flood of 1937 became
the great broadcast media event of its time.

The historic disaster, which killed 385 people in a swath from Pittsburgh to Paducah and
caused a half
-
billion dollars in damage, was a major milestone for a still
-
young industry ca
lled
radio. The fledgling medium best known for

Amos 'n' Andy
, dance music and daytime soaps
suddenly faced its first genuine life
-
or
-
death national crisis

one with no certain outcome or end
date, and one for which no template or format existed from past e
xperience. Broadcasters
invented, improvised, begged, borrowed and pillaged even as rising floodwaters

and history

swirled around them. The results attained near
-
mythical status in the region, and became a major
(if largely unheralded) influence in forging

techniques and traditions that broadcast journalists
employ to this da
y.


January 1937 was already a soggy one in the Ohio and lower Mississippi valleys;
eventually, rain would fall 27 of 31 days. At 11:29 a.m. on Thursday, January 21, station WHAS
in
Louisville, Ky., broadcast its first flood warning. Still, as with Katrina seven decades later, the
scope of the crisis was understood only slowly, as what first seemed a serious, but hardly
historic, flooding rain de
-
veloped into an unending torrent. The
precipitation that began falling
on January 21 simply did not stop, and by the 24th, the crisis was dire enough that the date is
remembered even now as "Black Sunday." "We thought it was the end of the world," Ohio
broadcaster Ruth Lyons remembered in 1957
. In Cincinnati the river was 25 feet above flood
stage, and a massive fire threatened to engulf the city. Leaking gasoline gushed through flooded
downtown streets, and three dozen fire companies made a stand near the Crosley Radio plant as a
nationwide au
dience followed the drama via Cincinnati's WLW reports broadcast over the NBC
network:

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The Ohio River continues to rise at approximately 3/10 of a foot per hour…rains up and
down the river from Pittsburgh to Louisville are continuing….The fires which threa
tened the
entire western section of Cincinnati this morning are reported under control at this hour, although
reports are reaching us constantly of huge gasoline tanks being torn from their foundations in
various parts of the community and spewing their hi
ghly inflammable contents over the
floodwaters to be spread over large areas….Traffic across the suspension bridge connecting
Covington, Kentucky with Cincinnati has for the time being been suspended….The floodwaters
have been closing the approaches on bot
h sides of the river….There's a most urgent need for
food, clothing, and shelter. Medical supplies are also needed.

To the south of Cincinnati, flood damage had doused most of the electricity in Louisville
and rendered the police radio inoperable. With com
mercial broadcasting suddenly the only
method of contact between emergency agencies, rescue crews, desperate refugees and the outside
world, WHAS station executives made an unprecedented decision to abandon all commercial
programs and broadcast only emerge
ncy announcements for the duration. Thousands of dollars
in lost revenue aside, there seemed little choice. The number of distress messages reaching the
station had mushroomed into the thousands, arriving by telephone, telegraph, ham radio and
simple word
of mouth. The messages were frantically typed and edited in a cold, oil
-
lamp
-
lit
office, then "chased" to announcers waiting before the microphone, and broadcast by flickering
gaslight.

Fire patrol boats operating south of Broadway are ordered immediately
to Third and
Breckinridge! All available boats are needed there at once!…Milk is needed for nine babies at
missing persons bureau at 1010 South Third Street…power boat, please deliver…Urgent! Fifty
refugees must be moved immediately by boat from 1023 West
Madison Street! This is
imperative!

It was, in retrospect, often as tedious as it was historic. The tree
-
hugging, temper
-
flaring
histrionics that sometimes accompany modern storm coverage were nowhere on display here.
There was no time, no inclination, no
instinct for grandstanding. Nor was there the technical
ability. "Today, media relies a lot on the sound bites and interviews," said Mike Martini of
Cincinnati's Media Heritage broadcast archive and museum. "They really didn't have the
technology at that t
ime to do a lot of the sound bites, so they might talk for three or four minutes
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without taking a breath." And even that proved a challenge. WHAS announcer Foster Brooks
delivered one report while dangling from a telephone pole, the swollen Ohio raging ben
eath him.

Station secretary Catherine Steele's situation was "precarious" as well; she was breathing
fumes from gasoline heaters, with nearby stacks of paper creating a perpetual fire hazard.
Typhoid shots were ordered for those hardy enough to remain on d
uty. "The people were calling
for help, asking for boats to be sent and asking advice," Steele remembered in a 1957 flood
anniversary program. "One woman, I will never forget her, she says 'Lady, my husband is out of
town and I have five children! What do
you think I should do?'…Everything happened so fast,
and the water came up so fast."

Engineer Carl Nielsen remembered "going to the Sears store on Broadway with the store
manager and rowing up and down the aisles trying to locate battery radios, dry cell b
atteries, and
storage batteries….It dawned on us that some of the workers at the studio would need winter
clothes to keep warm, since we had no heat in the building." Even after discovering some of their
own homes were completely underwater ("I left the wi
ndow open," cracked one technician), the
Louisville staffers never wavered. "They made the difference," said Rick Bell, author of

The
Great Flood of 1937: Rising Waters, Soaring Spirits
. "They were literally directing relief crews
and rescue crews to indiv
idual houses. Day and night, over and over, you heard these messages."

The emergency broadcasts continued, in an urgent but near
-
hypnotic monotone drone, for
1871⁄2 uninterrupted hours over WHAS alone. "Seven people marooned on house top on Lower
River Roa
d…can't hold out much longer!…City Hall calling. 50 children marooned at church.
Get them out immediately!" The station later estimated that 115,000 separate flood bulletins had
been broadcast into remote areas via loudspeakers on trucks and even airplanes
, and rebroadcast
on other stations around the country and on the BBC in England.

Relief donations arrived from as far away as France and Belgium. Broadcasters in the
United States rushed donated equipment to the flood zone, competition now completely
aban
doned. Stations in Nashville and Indianapolis joined Lexington and Covington, Ky., on the
"Volunteer Inter
-
City Network for Flood Relief," sharing information and technical facilities.
Powerhouse WSM in Nashville surrendered its frequency and transmitter t
o WHAS after the last
electricity flickered and failed in Louisville. Days earlier, the stations had been cutthroat
archrivals; now, a single, precious telephone line to Nashville was all that prevented Louisville
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disappearing from the air. WSM's own on
-
ai
r request for refugee information produced 15,000
responses.

Ham radio operators from Memphis to Paducah to Baltimore sent word on evacuees' fates
("W9CXG, Paducah, Kentucky, calling WREC shortwave") to any possible receiver. With the
Ohio now an astonishi
ng 38 feet above flood stage in parts of the valley, evacuation and
devastation created 200,000 refugees in Louisville alone, and smaller river communities such as
Paducah, Ky., and Cairo, Ill., were completely empty. The flood saga had become a nationwide

sensation. By January 27, the NBC network had broadcast some 70 emergency reports, including
this one from Peter Grant of WLW:

We learn that 7,500 of Dayton's 10,000 population are homeless. We learn that 75% of
the city is underwater…entire city blocks o
f homes have been swept down the river and will
never be found. The city of Dayton, Kentucky, is absolutely without clothing and bedding….The
Spears Hospital at Dayton had 100 patients at the time the flood reached Dayton's streets…they
were taken to the D
ayton, Kentucky, high school. In this school in the last few days, we learn
that a dozen babies have been born and several operations performed….Churches are
overflowing with Dayton's refugees. There is plenty of food available, but no water. Dayton,
Kentu
cky needs water, clothing and bedding at once. Cincinnati's chief worry tonight is water

water for drinking purposes and for fighting fires….A big fire now in this area might prove a
major catastrophe. Cincinnati remains on an emergency holiday basis. No b
usiness was
transacted today for a third successive day…this holiday will continue until the city can put its
house in order.

Inevitably, there were also moments of humor. Surviving photographs from the station
show that male WHAS staffers never abandoned
their suits and ties for work, even at the height
of the crisis. They simply accessorized with hip
-
waders and galoshes. A Louisville rabbi
broadcast to the world barefoot and wrapped in a pink blanket, after his boat capsized en route to
the station, drenc
hing his clothes. A WHAS staffer snapping "Boy! Boy!" to get an assistant's
attention later discovered the "boy" was a top company executive, old enough to be her father,
but nevertheless pliantly obeying the orders of his "boss."

WKRC, Cincinnati, broadca
ster (and later WLW mainstay) Ruth Lyons recounted losing
seven pounds running up and down stairs, sleeping atop a desk with telephone phone books for
pillows and "bathing" in two gallons of clean water she'd managed to collect in a hotel bathtub. It
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didn'
t matter. "We realized this was the greatest crisis that Cincinnati had ever faced," she
recalled. "We felt this was the thing that we must do." The most notorious incident came on
January 28, when network commentator Floyd Gibbons, broadcasting CBS'

Your
True
Adventure

program direct from WKRC, caused a nationwide panic by ignoring his script and
instead enacting a ludicrous melodrama in which the radio station was destroyed, flood waters
pouring into the studio and drowning switchboard operators at their
posts. Thousands with loved
ones in the Ohio Valley were not amused.

That the anecdote recalls similar alarmist falsehoods in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath

rapes and murders in the Superdome; hundreds of corpses at a New Orleans high school

is no
isolated
coincidence. "There were all of these really erroneous national news reports that 900
bodies were seen floating," said author Bell of the 1937 flood. "None of that happened." In fact,
the flood had become one of the first examples of the "bigfoot": nationa
l anchors "parachuting"
into a big story and creating a presence at the scene, but often lacking the sources and perhaps
desire to separate fact from rumor. "It was a pivotal event," said Mike Martini, and one that
influenced radio journalism's development

in other ways. Broadcasters "realized they're not in
direct competition with newspapers, but rather they augment the newspapers. They provide
immediacy."

Indeed, a seesaw battle for news supremacy had raged between print and broadcast media
for most of th
e 1930s, with radio timidly ceding the advantage in almost every case. The
networks at one point even allowed wire services to ration how much copy they could air, and
when. But with power failures and distribution breakdowns knocking flood
-
region newspape
rs
almost completely out of commission, and with thousands of lives quite literally resting upon
their performance, local radio broadcasters simply ignored the previous constructs and did what
they believed necessary. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the net
works followed their lead.

Conventional wisdom holds that Edward R. Murrow and his network colleagues invented
broadcast journalism with their work in the days just preceding World War II; in fact, Murrow
and his "boys" were building upon the foundation la
id by men and women in Louisville,
Cincinnati, Nashville and elsewhere, covering such stories as the Ohio River flood. Most notably
(and most grievously ignored by contemporary historians), stations including WHAS and WREC
arguably invented the concept of
marathon continuous coverage, abandonment of scheduled
programs and commercials for days on end during a major crisis. It was a costly and intimidating
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undertaking that the national networks were either too frugal or too unimaginative to emulate
until the
death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt almost a decade later, in 1945. Blanket
multiday news coverage of John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 and the September 11, 2001,
terror attacks followed the blueprint drafted in January 1937. So did cable news'

sustained vigil
in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

While it took years to sort out these historic implications, the visceral impact of the flood
coverage was instantly clear. Awards and accolades seemed to fall from the sky once the crisis
eased. The
CBS network presented dramatic reenactments of its stations' behind
-
the
-
scenes
efforts. Individual announcers saw their careers blossom: Cincinnati's Peter Grant was now a
household name; Louisville's Foster Brooks later became a nationally known entertain
er. Even
poetry honored the broadcasters' achievements: "Their messages brought prompt relief/To
thousands in distress/So let us not forget the boys/Of W.H.A.S." The stanza likely won no
trophies at the poetry contest, but

it made its point. Said Bell, “
I
don't think radio has ever meant
that crucial a difference to that large a number of people

certainly not before, and maybe
since." Those who heard the flood broadcasts remembered them to their graves; even 70 years
on, the solemn intonation "Send a boat!"

is instantly recognizable Kentucky slang for an
emergency.

For almost seven decades, the original flood broadcasts were believed lost, though recent
years have produced some happy discoveries. In 2003 an actual WHAS flood recording was
discovered in a pri
vate collection in Connecticut, via a station in Maryland. Of the eight
-
day
continuous Louisville broadcast, only this single 15
-
minute segment is known to survive.

In 2005 an invaluable oral history recorded by WHAS employees in 1957 turned up in a
box at

the station, moments before it was tossed into the trash. And Cincinnati's nonprofit Media
Heritage rescued and preserved the NBC network material quoted above. Together, these audio
documents provide a long
-
impossible glimpse into one of the seminal mome
nts in the history of
the Ohio Valley

and America's broadcasting industry.

While innovation may have devolved into cliché over the generations, the lineage
remains unmistakable: The local TV reporter who'll clutch a tree trunk in howling winds this
hurrica
ne season

perhaps as interested in getting the network recruiter's attention as in
imparting useful information

descends in spirit directly from Foster Brooks of WHAS,
grasping a phone pole with one hand and a microphone with the other, during those dark d
ays of
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1937. These radio pioneers invented journalistic standards and techniques still in practice during
Katrina, in 2007 and onward. Their work should not be forgotten.

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The Fox Sisters: Spiritualism's Unlikely Founders

Originally published by

American History

magazine.



Whether skeptic or believer, few Americans have been able to ignore the phenomenon
known as spiritualism


the belief that spirits can communicate with the living, usually with the
help of certain sensitive individuals called mediums. During the last half
of the 19th century,
some Americans believed that the strange rappings heard in early séances were a spiritual
telegraph, the otherworldly equivalent of Samuel F.B. Morse's new invention. Others insisted
that the noises were a sleight