John F. Kennedy, Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents, Sports

Do You Remember January 22, 1973?

jan 23, 1973

Original publish date:  January 22, 2019

Were you alive on January 22, 1973? If so, consider this a reminder, if not, let me show what a typical day was like for a late-stage Baby Boomer like me. January 22, 1973 was a Monday in the Age of Aquarius. All in the Family was # 1 on television and The Poseidon Adventure was tops at the box office. Carly Simon was riding the top of the charts with her hit song “You’re so vain.” A song that has kept people guessing who she’s singing about to this day. Is it Warren Beatty? Mick Jagger? David Cassidy? Cat Stevens? David Bowie? James Taylor? All of whom have been accused. Carly has never fessed up, although she once admitted that the subject’s name contains the letters A, E, and R.

carly-simon-no-secrets
The month of January 1973 had started on a somber note with memorial services in Washington D.C. for President Harry S Truman on the 5th (he died the day after Christmas 1972). Then, Judge John Sirica began the Nixon impeachment proceedings on the 8th with the trial of seven men accused of committing a ” third rate burglary” of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate. Next came the Inauguration of Richard Nixon (his second) on the 20th. Historians pinpoint Nixon’s speech that day as the end of the “Now Generation” and the beginning of the “Me Generation.” Gone was JFK’s promise of a “New Frontier,” lost was the compassionate feeling of the Civil Rights movement and LBJ’s dream of a “Great Society.” The self-help of the 1960s quickly morphed into the self-gratification of the 1970s, which ultimately devolved into the selfishness of the 1980s.

563bb348b534c.image

The line between want and need became hopelessly blurred and remains so to this day.
Twelve years before, John F. Kennedy decreed, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” On January 20th, 1973, Richard Nixon, purposely twisted JFK’s inaugural line by declaring , “In our own lives, let each of us ask—not just what will government do for me, but what can I do for myself?” At that moment, the idealism of the sixties gave way to narcissistic self-interest, distrust and cynicism in government of the seventies. Although it had been coming for years, when change finally arrived, it happened so fast that most of us never even noticed.
January 22nd was warm and rainy. It was the first Monday of Nixon’s second term and it would be one for the books. That day, Nixon announced that the war in Vietnam was over. The day before, his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese politburo member Lê Đức Thọ signed off on a treaty that effectively ended the war; on paper that is. The settlement included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam. It addition, the United States agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and advisers (totaling about 23,700) and the dismantling of all U.S. bases within 60 days. In return, the North Vietnamese agreed to release all U.S. and other prisoners of war. It was agreed that the DMZ at the 17th Parallel would remain a provisional dividing line, with eventual reunification of the country “through peaceful means.”
That same day, the United States Supreme Court issued their landmark decision 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Better known as Roe v. Wade. Instantly, the laws of 46 states making abortion illegal were rendered unconstitutional. In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s right to privacy extended to her right to make her own medical decisions, including having an abortion. The decision legalized abortion by specifically ordering that the states make no laws forbidding it. Rove V. Wade came the same day as the lesser known ruling, Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), which overturned the abortion law of Georgia.

roe_wade-56a1c43b5f9b58b7d0c267d6

The Georgia law in question permitted abortion only in “cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility of severe or fatal injury to the mother.” Other restrictions included the requirement that the procedure be “approved in writing by three physicians and by a three-member special committee that either continued pregnancy would endanger the pregnant woman’s life or “seriously and permanently” injure her health; the fetus would “very likely be born with a grave, permanent and irremediable mental or physical defect”; or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.” Only Georgia residents could receive abortions under this statutory scheme: non-residents could not have an abortion in Georgia under any circumstances. The plaintiff, a pregnant woman known as “Mary Doe” in court papers, sued Arthur K. Bolton, then the Attorney General of Georgia, as the official responsible for enforcing the law. The same 7-2 majority that struck down a Texas abortion law in Roe v. Wade, invalidated the Georgia abortion law.
The Roe v. Wade case, filed by “Jane Roe,” challenged a Texas statute that made it a crime to perform an abortion unless a woman’s life was in danger. Roe’s life was not at stake, but she wanted to safely end her pregnancy. The court sided with Roe, saying a woman’s right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Dozens of cases have challenged the decision in Roe v. Wade in the 46 years since the landmark ruling and the echoes of challenge are heard to this day.

kevin-swanson-talks-about-the-coming-45th-anniversary-of-roe-vs-wade-and-other-predictions-for-2018
And what did Nixon think about that day’s ruling? The same Oval Office taping system that would bring about his downfall in the Watergate Scandal recorded his thoughts on Roe V. Wade for posterity. “I know there are times when abortions are necessary,” he told aide Chuck Colson, “I know that – when you have a black and a white, or a rape. I just say that matter-of-factly, you know what I mean? There are times… Abortions encourage permissiveness. A girl gets knocked up, she doesn’t have to worry about the pill anymore, she goes down to the doctor, wants to get an abortion for five dollars or whatever.” Yep, that was the President of the United States talking. And his day wasn’t even over yet.
At 3:39 p.m. Central Time, former President Lyndon B. Johnson placed a call to his Secret Service agents on the LBJ ranch in Johnson City, Texas. He had just suffered a massive heart attack. The agents rushed into LBJ’s bedroom where they found Johnson lying on the floor still clutching the telephone receiver in his hand. The President was unconscious and not breathing. Johnson was airlifted in one of his own airplanes to Brooke Army General hospital in San Antonio where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Johnson was 64 years old. Shortly after LBJ’s death, his press secretary telephoned Walter Cronkite at CBS who was in the middle of a report on the Vietnam War during his CBS Evening News broadcast. Cronkite abruptly cut his report short and broke the news to the American public.

lbj_library_blog_main_horizontal
His death meant that for the first time since 1933, when Calvin Coolidge died during Herbert Hoover’s final months in office, that there were no former Presidents still living; Johnson had been the sole living ex-President Harry S. Truman’s recent death. Johnson had suffered three major heart attacks and, with his heart condition recently diagnosed as terminal, he returned to his ranch to die. He had grown his previously close-cut gray hair down past the back of his neck, his silver curls nearly touching his shoulders. Prophetically, LBJ often told friends that Johnson men died before reaching 65 years old, and he was 64. Had Johnson chosen to run in 1968 (and had he won) his death would have came 2 days after his term ended. As of this 2019 writing, Johnson remains the last former Democratic President to die.

c58048yuyaaidhr
L-R-Haldeman-Ehrlichman-Kissinger-Nixon-Sec. of State Wm. P. Rogers

Nixon mentioned all of these events (and more) on his famous tapes. All the President’s men are there to be heard. Along with Colson, Nixon talks with H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman (whom ha calls a “softhead” that day), Bebe Rebozo, Ron Ziegler, and Alexander Haig. Haldeman is the first to inform Nixon of LBJ’s death in “Conversation 036-051” by stating “He’s dead alright.” For his part, Nixon states in “Conversation 036-061” that it makes the “first time in 40 years that there hasn’t been a former President. Hoover lived through all of 40 years” and then refers to the recent peace treaty, “In any event It’ll make him (LBJ) look better in the end than he would have looked otherwise, so… The irony that he died before we got something down there. The strange twists and turns that life takes.”

s-l300
Another event took place that night to round out the day, but unlike the others, you won’t find mention of it on the Nixon tapes. In Jamaica, a matchup of two undefeated heavyweight legends took place. Undisputed world heavyweight champion Smokin’ Joe Frazier (29-0) took on the number one ranked heavyweight challenger George Foreman (37-0) in Jamaica’s National Stadium. Foreman dominated Frazier by scoring six knockdowns in less than two rounds. Foreman scored a technical knockout at 1:35 of the second round to dethrone Frazier and become the new undisputed heavyweight champion (the third-youngest in history after Floyd Patterson and Cassius Clay). This was the fight where ABC’s television broadcaster Howard Cosell made the legendary exclamation, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”
“This is a peace that lasts, and a peace that heals.” Nixon announced to the American people the next day. The announcement came exactly 11 years, one month and one day after the first American death in the Vietnam conflict: 25-year-old Army Specialist 4th Class James Thomas Davis of Livingston, Tenn., who had been killed in an ambush by the Viet Cong outside of Saigon on Dec. 22, 1961. For you budding numerologists out there, that translates to 11-1-1. It was all downhill from there. LBJ’s death precipitated the cancellation of several Inauguration events and a week later, on January 30, former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy, James W. McCord Jr. and five others were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. The dominoes were falling and eventually “Down goes Nixon! Down goes Nixon!”

Assassinations, John F. Kennedy, Politics, Presidents

A Christmas Car Bomb For JFK. Part II

kennedy car bomb attempt ii

Original publish date:  December 20, 2018

The Secret Service alerted Palm Beach police to be on the look out for Pavlick’s 1950 Buick. Around 9 p.m. on December 15, he was arrested as he entered the city via the Flagler Memorial Bridge onto Royal Poinciana Way. Palm Beach motorcycle police officer Lester Free stopped the light colored Buick for driving erratically on the wrong side of the road and for crossing the center line. When Free called in the license plates authorities realized they had Pavlick. Squad cars sped to the scene and surrounded the dynamite laden car and arrested the feeble old man without incident.
Once in custody Pavlick begin “singing like a bird.” He unashamedly admitted to his plans and detailed his movements and activities. Pavlick told the arresting officers, “Joe Kennedy’s money bought the White House and the Presidency. I had the crazy idea I wanted to stop Kennedy from being President.” When the Secret Service learned those details the agency was shocked. Secret Service Director U.E. Baughman later said it was the most serious assassination attempt since militant Puerto Rican pro-independence activists stormed the Capitol in an attempt on President Harry S Truman on November 1, 1950.
An Associated Press dispatch, dated December 16, 1960, announced: “A craggy-faced retired postal clerk who said he didn’t like the way John F. Kennedy won the election is in jail on charges he planned to kill the president-elect. Richard Pavlick, 73, was charged by the Secret Service with planning to make himself a human bomb and blow up Kennedy and himself.” It was only then that the public learned just how close Pavlick came to killing Kennedy.
kennedy-presidency-almost-ended-before-he-was-inaugurated-2Because Pavlick didn’t get near Kennedy on the day he was arrested, the story was not immediate national news. The story of Pavlick’s arrest happened the same day as a terrible airline disaster, known as the TWA Park Slope Plane Crash, in which two commercial planes collided over New York City, killing 134 people (including 6 on the ground). The plane crash story, the worst air disaster in U.S. history up to that time, occupied the national headlines and led the television and radio newscasts.
The media was laser focused on the crash’s only survivor, 11-year-old Stephen Lambert Baltz who had been traveling alone on his way to spend Christmas in Yonkers with relatives. The boy was thrown from the plane into a snowbank where his burning clothing was extinguished. Barely alive and conscious, he was badly burned and had inhaled burning fuel. He died of pneumonia the next day. The assassination plot quickly faded from public attention.
Initially, Pavlick was charged with attempting to assassinate the new President. Pavlick told reporters that he was looking forward to the trial as an opportunity to voice his theories about the rigged election, Kennedy was a fraud and that he (Pavlick) was simply a patriot trying to save the Republic. For his part, Kennedy remained nonplussed about the attempt to kill him. On the day of the incident, JFK held a news conference outside his Palm Beach “Winter White House” to introduce his choice for Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. The sympathetic Kennedy urged the Justice Department, headed by his Attorney General / younger brother Bobby, not to bring Pavlick to trial. Political adversaries theorized that Kennedy and his advisers worried that a trial might turn Pavlick into a hero for right wing causes and may even inspire copy cats.
ar-812049453On January 27, 1961, a week after Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States, Pavlick was committed to the United States Public Health Service mental hospital in Springfield, Missouri. He was indicted for threatening Kennedy’s life seven weeks later. The case would drag on for years without resolution. Belmont Postmaster Thomas M. Murphy had been promised that he would remain an anonymous informant, but was quickly identified as the tipster by the media. At first he was hailed as a hero and his boss, the Postmaster General, commended his actions. Congress even passed a resolution praising him. But then, fervent right wing publisher William Loeb of the Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire’s influential state-wide newspaper, began defending Pavlick. Turns out, Loeb held many of the same opinions about Kennedy as the would-be assassin.
richard-paul-pavlickLoeb very publicly protested that Pavlick was being persecuted and denied his sixth amendment right to a speedy trial. Loeb’s newspaper disputed the insanity ruling and insisted the defendant have his day in court. Once the newspaper took up Pavlick’s cause, Murphy and his family began receiving hate mail, death threats and anonymous phone calls at all hours of the day and night accusing him of helping to frame Pavlick and for “railroading an innocent man.” The abuse continued for years after Murphy’s November 14, 2002 death at age 76. Even today, the surviving Murphy children are targeted by right-wing groups whenever the case gets a new round of public attention.
Charges against Pavlick were dropped on December 2, 1963, ten days after JFK’s assassination. Judge Emett Clay Choate ruled that Pavlick was incapable of telling right from wrong-the legal definition of insanity-but nonetheless ordered that the would-be assassin remain in the Missouri mental hospital. The federal government officially dropped charges in August 1964, and Pavlick was released from custody on December 13, 1966. Pavlick had been institutionalized for nearly six years after his arrest, and three years after Oswald killed John F. Kennedy.
After his release, Pavlick returned to Belmont. He began parking in front of the Murphy house seated in his car for hours every day watching it. But since there were no laws on the books against stalking in 1966, police could do little to inhibit the suspicious activities. Pavlick always denied any malicious intent and was never found to be armed. Belmont police officers would park their squad cars nearby to keep an eye on Pavlick, sometimes for several hours at a stretch. If the officer was called away, the family felt unsafe. Pavlick continued his old habit of letter writing and phone calling media outlets and government officials with rants proclaiming his innocence yet strangely justifying his actions. Pavlick died at the age of 88 on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1975 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Manchester, N.H. He remained unrepentant to the end.
Pavlick is unique among Presidential Assassins (would-be and otherwise) for one reason: his age. Of the four successful Presidential assassins, Lee Harvey Oswald was 24; John Wilkes Booth, 26; Leon Czolgosz was 28 when he assassinated William McKinley, and Charles Guiteau 39 when he murdered James A. Garfield. Of those unsuccessful few, Richard Lawrence was 35 when he attacked Andrew Jackson, John F. Schrank was 36 when he shot Teddy Roosevelt, Giuseppe “Joe” Zangara was 32 when he attempted to assassinate then-President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme was 27 and Sarah Jane Moore 45 when they individually tried to shoot Gerald Ford and John Hinckley Jr. was 25 when he shot Ronald Reagan. Richard Paul Pavlick was 73 years old at the time of his attempt.
gty_jackie_kennedy_011_nt_131017_9x14_1600In today’s 24-hour-a-day, scandal-driven media environment, it is hard to believe that an incident of this magnitude would go unnoticed. Or would it? Sure, we all know about the very public assassination threats and attempts once they are out in the open. But what about those threats that are never reported? In Pavlick’s case, the public learned about it from the would-be assassin himself. He was proud of his plans and, after capture, boasted about it to anyone that came within earshot. The answer can be found in the name of the organization protecting the President: The Secret Service is, well, secret.
Although records prior to the “information age” are hard to come by, former Secret Service Agent Floyd M. Boring (who worked for three presidents and was with Franklin D. Roosevelt when he died at Warm Springs, Georgia) stated that during the period 1949–1950, the Secret Service investigated 1,925 threats against Harry S Truman. Another study, in the September 7, 1970 issue of Time magazine, claimed the number of annual threats against the President rose from 2,400 in 1965 to 12,800 in 1969.
The Secret Service does not generally place a number on the threats they receive, nor do they feel the need to investigate each and every one nowadays. On June 1, 2017 CBS news reported “Threats against President Trump for his first six months in office are tracking about six to eight per day…It’s about the same number of threats made against former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush while they were in office.” Another report contrarily states that President Barack Obama received more than 30 potential death threats a day. That was an increase of 400% from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush. A recent news story reported that In the first 12 days of Donald Trump’s administration, 12,000 assassination tweets alone were recorded. The vast majority of the tweets are jokes or sarcastic jibes, but still, that is a BIG number.
Today, Presidential death threats are handled by approximately 3,200 special agents and an additional 1,300 uniformed officers guard the White House, the Treasury building and foreign diplomatic missions in Washington. So it can be assumed that these crackpots in search of lasting infamy are a lot more common than we think and will, sadly, continue to pop up from time-to-time. The best we can hope for is that the vast majority will remain unknown and forgotten. Like Richard Paul Pavlick.

Assassinations, John F. Kennedy, Politics, Presidents

A Christmas Car Bomb For JFK. Part I

kennedy car bomb attempt i

Original publish date: December 13, 2018

I’m not the only “History Nerd” in my family. A while back, Rhonda asked me to to tell her the story about the “Kennedy Car Bomb.” What? I replied. I have NO idea what you’re talking about, but, DO go on. She then outlined the story about a 73-year-old postal worker who hatched a plot to kill President-elect John F. Kennedy back in December of 1960 to keep the “Catholics” from taking over the world. This Saturday marks the the 58th anniversary of the arrest of Richard Paul Pavlick, a retired United States postal worker from New Hampshire whose name is familiar to only the most dedicated assassinologists out there.
Pavlick was born on February 13, 1887, in Belmont, New Hampshire. Belmont was also known as Upper Gilmanton in reference to the town of Gilmanton located four miles away. Gilmanton is best known for two pop-culture references. First, it was the model for the scandalous New England town setting for both the novel and the Soap Opera “Peyton Place” and was in fact the birthplace of the story’s author Grace Metalious in 1964. And second, Gilmanton is the birthplace of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes (Herman Webster Mudgett) on May 16, 1861.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, Richard Pavlick was appointed postmaster at one of several branches in heavily Irish Catholic, Democratic Boston, Massachusetts. Pavlick owed his appointment to President Calvin Coolidge, a fellow New Englander. Pavlick, a loyal Republican, hated Catholics and Democrats with a burning passion. And most of all he hated Boston’s powerful Fitzgerald and Kennedy Families. After he retired in the 1950s, Pavlick spent most of his days writing enraged and belligerent letters to public figures, magazines and newspapers.
73-year-old Pavlick, like all assassins (would-be or otherwise), was a nobody from 117308037_1402438300nowhere. He lived alone and had no family to speak of. Locals in his hometown of Belmont remember him for his angry political rants and public outbursts at local public meetings. After accusing the town of poisoning his water, Pavlick once confronted the local water company supervisor with a gun, which was then promptly confiscated. His central complaint was that the American flag was not being displayed appropriately. He often criticized the government and blamed most of the country’s problems on the Catholics. But the perpetually grumpy, prune-faced Pavlick focused most of his anger on the Kennedy family and their “undeserved” wealth.
Pavlick’s hatred toward the Kennedy clan boiled over after the close of the 1960 election when John F. Kennedy defeated Republican Richard Nixon to become President of the United States. JFK’s election sent Pavlick to new heights of paranoid rage. At that moment, Dick Pavlick determined that Kennedy would never serve a single day in office. Pavlick became convinced the pope would be running the government from Rome. He started to make comments like “someone should shoot him (Kennedy) before he takes office.” One witness heard Pavlick say, “The Kennedy money bought him the White House” and that Pavlick “wanted to teach the United States the presidency is not for sale.”
Pavlick signed over his run-down property to a local organization known as the Spaulding Youth Center, packed everything he owned into the back of his 1950 Buick and left town. Soon, Thomas M. Murphy, Belmont’s 34-year-old U.S. Postmaster began receiving bizarre rambling rant postcards from Pavlick stating that soon, the town would hear from him “in a big way.”
It had been almost a century-and-a-half since New England had produced a U.S. President (John & John Quincy Adams) so Granite Staters took a keen interest in their new Commander-in-Chief from Massachusetts. Postmaster Murphy was concerned at the strange tone of the postcards, so he did what postmasters do; he began looking at the postmarks. Murphy noticed that the postmarks were from communities where Kennedy had recently visited and the dates coincided with those visits. Murphy contacted a local police officer named Earl Sweeney, who then contacted the Secret Service.
The Secret Service uncovered several rambling, vaguely threatening letters which Pavlick had sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Later, agents discovered that not only was Pavlick stalking Kennedy on the campaign trail, he had also visited the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port, cased the house in Georgetown and traveled south to the family winter quarters at Palm Beach. Along the way, Pavlick photographed the Kennedy homes, cars, family and friends, all while checking out JFK’s security. When agents interviewed locals they learned about Pavlick’s explosive temper and worse, that Pavlick had recently purchased enough dynamite which, according to a Secret Service official, was “enough to blow up a small mountain.” They immediately put out a nationwide alert for Pavlick with descriptions of him and his Buick.
Shortly before 10 a.m. on December 11, 1960, Kennedy was in Palm Beach, Florida preparing to assume the office of the President by deciding on his Cabinet selections and working on his Inaugural address. Unbeknownst to the President-elect, Pavlick had shadowed Kennedy south with the intention of blowing himself up and taking JFK with him. His plan was simple and deadly. He loaded his car with 10 sticks of dynamite, packed them into the body of the car and wired them to a detonator switch within easy reach of the driver’s seat. Then, he parked outside the Kennedy’s Palm Beach compound, positioned his car near the door and waited. His plan was to sit tight until Kennedy left the house to attend Sunday Mass at St. Edward Church and then ram his car into JFK’s limo in a Kamikaze attack.
gettyimages-89859906Luckily for Mr. Kennedy, fate stepped in to save the day… and the President-elect’s life. Kennedy did not leave his house alone that morning. Much to Pavlick’s surprise, JFK opened the door holding the hand of his 3-year-old daughter Caroline alongside his wife, Jacqueline who was holding the couple’s newborn son John, Jr., less than a month old. While Pavlick hated John F. Kennedy, he hadn’t signed up to kill Kennedy’s family. So Pavlick eased his itchy trigger-finger off the detonator switch and let the Kennedy limousine glide harmlessly past his car. No one realized that the beat-up old Buick and the white haired old man in it was literally a ticking time bomb. Pavlick glared at the car as it slipped away and decided he would try again another day. Luckily, he never got a second chance.
Over the next few days, Pavlick planned his next opportunity to kill the Catholic President. Pavlick came up with a brand new plan. This time, he would enter St. Edward Church wearing a dynamite vest and explode it during Mass the next Sunday. Apparently the thought of killing innocent bystanders was no longed a concern. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to kill JFK and take as many Catholics with him along the way. A couple of days later, while visiting the inside of the church to scout it’s lay out, his disheveled appearance and suspicious behavior aroused suspicion. He was escorted out of the church and the incident reported to the police. The Secret Service now knew that Pavlick was definitely in town and actively pursuing Kennedy. But one problem remained. Where was Richard Paul Pavlick?
Next Week: PART II

Abe Lincoln, Assassinations, Auctions, Museums, Politics

Abraham Lincoln’s Hat Needs You!

hat_and_gloves_together

Original publish date:  September 3, 2018

Attention Hoosiers, Abraham Lincoln needs your help. More specifically the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in Springfield, Illinois is appealing to all friends of Mr. Lincoln to lend a hand in their hour of need. Last week I traveled to the ALPLM to speak with the State Historian of Illinois and Director of Research and Collections, Dr. Samuel Wheeler. Although his title and resume may sound imposing, “Sam” is a breath of fresh air for the Lincoln historical community. Dr. Wheeler’s appearance is immediately disarming, his countenance inviting and friendly. Sam breaks the long-established mold of the elderly historian whose gray hair, Meerschaum pipe and leather-elbowed corduroy jacket are calculatedly designed to intimidate. Sam’s youthful appearance and ready smile invite everyone to come, sit and talk history for awhile.

wheeler
Dr. Sam Wheeler

Dr. Samuel Wheeler is the tenth State Historian in Illinois history and when you consider that 2018 is the state’s Bicentennial year, you may deduce that they choose their historians carefully. Sam’s specialty is the cool stuff: the history of Illinois, the Civil War Era, and the Life and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Wheeler’s life mission is to protect, preserve, and promote history through education. During his three years at the helm, he has devoted much of his time to assisting other museums, libraries, historic sites, documentary projects, and historical societies. He regularly speaks to diverse audiences across the country, writes for scholarly journals and popular magazines, and offers commentary to newspaper, radio, and television outlets. In short, Dr. Wheeler is a busy man.
The subject of my visit is a topic that has occupied social media, blog spots and chat rooms for the past few weeks. The ALPLM is in danger of losing some of its most precious Abraham Lincoln relics and associative memorabilia. If the ALPLM cannot satisfy a substantial financial liability by October 2019, priceless Lincoln relics will have to be sacrificed to meet their obligation. Meaning that these items will likely end up in the private collections of millionaires never to be displayed publicly again. While the amount of the liability, $9.7 million is staggering, Dr. Wheeler points out that “if we could just get every citizen of Illinois to donate one dollar each, we would wipe out that debt in no time.” Sam continues, “and if you could get Indiana to pitch in the same, we can keep the collection open for generations to come.”
LogoThe ALPLM’s “problems” began back in 2007 when it purchased the famous Taper collection for $23 million. “The collection is amazing,” says Sam, “the Lincoln top hat and bloodied gloves seem to be the items that resonate most with people, but the collection is much more than that.” Dr. Wheeler says that the uniqueness of the Taper collection centers around its emphasis on assassination related items, a field that had been largely ignored by Lincoln collectors at that time of its assemblage. The collection was created by Louise Taper, daughter-in-law of Southern California real estate magnate S. Mark Taper. She created the exhibition The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America which was at the Huntington Library from 1993–1994 and at the Chicago Historical Society from 1996-1997.
According to the ALPLM’s website, “Louise Taper amassed the largest private collection of Lincolniana in more than a half-century, highlighted by 1 of 3 stovepipe hats known to have belonged to Lincoln; the earliest of his boyhood sumbook pages, ca. 1824-1826; and more than 100 letters or notes in the hands of Abraham or Mary Lincoln. Also among the 1,500 items in the collection are manuscripts by friends and contemporaries, personally owned books and clothing or other accouterments, prints, broadsides, newspapers, artworks, period photographs, and assassination-related materials.”
The ALPLM acquired the Taper Collection two years after they opened the $150 million facility on April 19, 2005. To blunt public charges that the ALPLM had bit off more than it could chew, Dr, Wheeler compares the museum to a 13-year-old child. He states, “Not too many 13-year-olds have got it all together. We’ve matured a lot in the last two years.” Sam notes that in those two years, the ALPLM has streamlined much of their operation citing as examples that more of the collection has been digitized for research and the museum’s six research rooms have been pared down to one.
Presidential-Museum-CreditALPLM3“Bottom line,” Sam says, “we need to keep the collection here. That is our first priority.” It is easy to see how important this collection is to Dr. Wheeler by simply watching his eyes as he speaks. To Wheeler, the collection is not just a part of the museum, it is a part of the state of Illinois. Sam relates how when he speaks to groups, which he does quite regularly on behalf of the ALPLM, he often reaches into the vault to bring along pieces from the Taper collection to fit the topic. “People love seeing these items. It gives them a direct connection to Lincoln.” states Wheeler.
When asked if he has a particular favorite from the Taper collection, Dr. Wheeler smiles and says, “I’m particularly drawn to the gold cufflink that Lincoln was wearing at Ford’s Theater that night.” However, Sam is quick to point out that what makes the Taper collection so special is the depth of quality it represents. The collection contains Mary Lincoln’s hand fan carried to the theater that night, locks of hair from members of the Lincoln family, and the oldest piece of writing by Abraham Lincoln known. It is a page from 15-year-old Abraham Lincoln’s 1824 schoolbook whose content Dr. Wheeler can recite by hear. “Abraham Lincoln is my name/ and with my pen I wrote the same/ I wrote in both haste and speed/ and left it here for fools to read.”
Dr. Wheeler also informs that the Taper collection contains a treasure trove of letters written by John Wilkes Booth and his entire family as well as the ring J.W. Booth presented to his fiancée Elizabeth Sumner. “We also have stage costumes and the handwritten character sketch for John Wilkes Booth’s role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth,” says Wheeler. “Our main objection for the collection, is that we keep it in the public realm. That is imperative.”
The Lincoln Library foundation recently said, “If the foundation is not able to secure commitments in the very near future to retire most-if not all-of the remaining $9.7 million debt, it will have no choice but to accelerate the possibility of selling these unique artifacts on the private market-which would likely remove them from public view forever.”
gettyimages-468377946Hoosiers may ask, why doesn’t the ALPLM just ask the state of Illinois for the money? After all, with 300,000 visitors annually, the Lincoln Library Museum is one of the most popular tourist sites in the state of Illinois and is prominently featured in all of their state tourism ads. Well, the state is billions of dollars in debt despite approving a major income-tax increase last summer and as of the time of this writing, has yet to put together a budget. To the casual observer, one would think that financial stalemate between the state and the museum would be a no-brainer when you consider that the ALPLM has drawn more than 4 million visitors since opening in 2005. The truth is a little more complicated than that. Illinois State government runs and funds the Lincoln library and museum. The separately run foundation raises private funds to support the presidential complex. The foundation, which is not funded by the state, operates a gift store and restaurant but has little role in the complex’s operations, programs and oversight.
Aside from the items previously mentioned, the Taper collection, which numbers over 1500 pieces, also includes a pair of Lincoln’s eyeglasses and his billfold. The Taper collection includes about 100 Mary Todd Lincoln letters, giving the Lincoln presidential library a total of 500-out of only 600 in the world.
Museum officials are sorting out which Taper collection items were donated and transferred to the state, and what might end up for sale-if it should come to that. One item that won’t be on the auction block is the state’s rare copy of the Gettysburg Address, written in Lincoln’s own hand. Luckily, the document wasn’t part of the Taper purchase. The state’s collection of Lincoln artifacts, tens of thousands strong, draws researchers from across the globe and gives the public a chance to see up close the man many Americans feel was the greatest President in U.S. history.

xpnjZclgoiaRQsS-800x450-noPad
Carl Sandburg and Marilyn Monroe

The Taper collection also included a dress worn by 1950s movie star Marilyn Monroe, an admitted “fan girl” of the 16th President. The blonde bombshell’s dress was considered a non-Lincoln item that potentially would fetch big bucks to help pay off the loan. Perhaps to show that they were serious, in late July the ALPLM sent Monroe’s slinky black dress off to a Las Vegas auctionhouse, where it fetched $50,000 from the lucky bidder. Also sold were seven original photographs of Monroe, which sold for $3000 each. However, an original bust of Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg failed to sell. All proceeds from the Julien’s sale went towards the outstanding debt. Hopefully Lincoln relics will not be next up on the auction block.

5a83618b0f123.image
Author Doris Kearns Goodwin

Dr. Wheeler is doing his best to get the message out. Aside from his normal 60 hour work week he spends nights and weekends all over the state and country talking about Lincoln, the museum and sounding the alarm to save the collection. The museum is getting help from cherished friends like Doris Kearns Goodwin who will be speaking at the ALPLM on October 29 with “proceeds from this event to benefit the campaign to secure a permanent home for Lincoln’s most personal effects comprising the Taper collection.” Interested and concerned Hoosiers can help by visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library website at http://www.alplm,org and there is a “Save the Lincoln Artifacts” go find me page on the web.
If every Hoosier would chip in a few bucks we could honor our state’s favorite son and help our neighbors in Illinois at the same time. Skip that latte for Lincoln. Snap off that sawbuck for the rail splitter. Honest Abe is depending on you.

Politics, Television

What’s the matter with Minnesota?

What's the matter with Minnesota image

Original publish date:  December 7, 2017

Al Franken resigned this week. The Democratic Senator from Minnesota left office under a cloud of sexual misconduct accusations that surfaced in the autumn of last year. It was the end of a fairytale career by the former Saturday Night Live comedian who first came to Washington DC after a narrow victory in 2008. Narrow might be too tame a word to describe Franken’s surprise win. He won his seat by the scant margin of 312 votes out of nearly three million votes cast. I asked then, and with the news of Franken’s resignation, I will ask again, what’s the matter with Minnesota?

zdownload
Minnesota Senator Al Franken.

I am a native Hoosier who has followed politics all my life. I know that, in the arena, Midwestern states follow observational patterns that earn reputations. Indiana is the cradle of Vice-Presidents, Ohio is the home of Presidents, Illinois Governors go to prison and Minnesota elects unconventional candidates. I guess when you are talking about the state that gave us Prince, Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, Charles Schulz, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roger Maris, Wolfman Jack, Jane Russell, Billy Graham, Charles Lindbergh, Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, Dr. Demento. Fred Zollner of the Zollner Pistons, unconventional may be the watchword. Don’t forget, Minnesota was also home to Paul Bunyan, the Jolly Green Giant and Rocky and Bullwinkle.
z 1101600201_400To be sure, Minnesota has given us very normal politicians like Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey and Jimmy Carter’s Vice-President Walter Mondale and Senator Eugene McCarthy. All 3 men ran for President (Humphrey and McCarthy against each other in 1968) and all 3 men lost. Although mainstream, all 3 were unconventional in their own ways. McCarthy was the grandfatherly looking darling of the Anti-Vietnam War Hippy protesters, most of whom were one third his age. Humphrey was a peace seeking dove who became the hawkish voice of the LBJ administration during the Vietnam War. And Mondale was the first to chose a woman as his running mate (Geraldine Ferraro 1984).
z 1101840618_400You may not realize just how prolific Minnesota has been in baby boomer’s collective national political conversation until you realize that Mondale, McCarthy or Hubert Humphrey were on the Democratic ticket as candidates for President or Vice President in the 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 elections. Minnesota is known for a politically active citizenry, with populism being the driving force among the state’s political parties. Minnesota has consistently high voter turnout, in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, 77.8% of eligible Minnesotans voted – the highest percentage of any U.S. state or territory – versus the national average of 61.7%.
To understand what’s wrong with Minnesota, we must first understand the North Star State’s Democratic party. But, although Humphrey, McCarthy, Mondale and Franken were all elected as Democrats, officially, Minnesota does not have a Democratic Party. In Minnesota, the party goes by a different name: the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL for short. Formed by a merger of the Minnesota Democratic Party and the social democratic Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party in 1944, Minnesotans claimed that although their state may have space for a thousand lakes, there wasn’t room for two left-of-center political parties. Although the Farmer-Labor Party achieved great success in the state, electing a number of statewide candidates, including the rabble-rousing Gov. Floyd Olsen, Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey and Minnesota Attorney General Walter Mondale, the party eventually merged with the Democrats. Today, Minnesota Democrats identify themselves as “DFLers”
z 44830_lgThe history of Minnesota electing non-conventionals goes back to 1876 when the state elected John Pillsbury as their 8th Governor. Name sound familiar? Yes, he was the namesake of the Pillsbury doughboy and served from 1876 to 1882. He died in 1901. Following the food theme, Minesota also elected Frank B. Kellogg tot he Senate in 1916. No, he wasn’t the cereal guy, but he did become Secretary of State, British Ambassador and a Nobel Prize winner in 1929.
z 30520_lgThen came (and came-and came-and came) Harold Stassen, Minnesota Governor (it’s youngest ever) from 1939 to 1943. Stassen was a candidate for the Republican Party nomination for President nine times between 1944 and 1992 (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992). He never won the Republican nomination, much less the presidency; in fact, after 1952, he never even came close, but continued to campaign actively and seriously for President until just a year before his death. When you add Stassen’s name alongside those of McCarthy, Mondale and Humphrey, a Minnesotan was on the ballot for every Presidential election for six decades.
z Jesse_Ventura_FullThen came Jesse Ventura. The former navy seal turned pro wrestler known as “The Body” was born James George Janos in Minneapolis in 1951. In the Minnesota gubernatorial election of 1998 he was elected the 38th Governor of Minnesota and served from 1999 to 2003 but did not seek a second term. Ventura ran as a candidate for the Reform Party of Minnesota. Ventura went on to gain the highest approval rating of any governor in Minnesota history, with some polls ranking his public approval as high as the 73% in 1999. Ventura is widely regarded as one of the first candidates to effectively use the Internet in a national political campaign.
The last name on my list of unconventional Minnesota candidates is the very first name mentioned in this article: Al Franken. Alan Stuart “Al” Franken (born May 21, 1951) first gained notoriety in the 1970s and 1980s as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live. Franken, along with his stand up partner Tom Davis, was one of the original SNL writers back in 1975. Born in New York City, Franken moved to the Twin Cities after attending Harvard College. Franken received seven Emmy nominations and three awards for his television writing and producing but his most famous character was self-help guru Stuart Smalley.
Franken has acknowledged using cocaine and other illegal drugs while working in television, stating that he stopped after John Belushi died of an overdose in 1982. In 1995, Franken left the show in protest over losing the role of Weekend Update anchor to Norm Macdonald. In 1995, Franken wrote and starred in the film Stuart Saves His Family, based on his SNL Stuart Smalley character. The film was a flop and its aggregate rating of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes is one of the all-time lowest.
z 9780440504702Franken then hosted a nationally syndicated, political radio talk show, The Al Franken Show, and authored six books, four of which are political satires critical of conservative politics. The success of his radio show and books led Franken to run for the U.S. Senate. Franken’s narrow victory was challenged but upheld. The most famous incident that emerged revolved around a ballot that would come to epitomize Franken’s victory. It was a ballot that had been marked twice, once for Franken and once for a write-in candidate known as “Lizard People.” This ballot gained infamy, not only for the absurd nature of a vote being cast for Lizard People but also for whether it should be counted for Franken or for lizard people. Eventually, the ballot was thrown out altogether. Franken was sworn into the Senate on July 7, 2009 (seven months after the congressional session had started) and was re-elected to a second term in office in 2014.
How can this state of 5.5 million people resting closer to Canada than Washington DC be so politically relevant yet so quirkily unconventional? Minnesota is the 12th largest but only the 21st most populated, dontcha know. Minnesota is made up of 13,136,357 acres of total surface water, more area than the size of Hawaii and New Jersey combined, yet they can claim more golfers than any other state in the union. Uff da! The Gopher state’s official bird is a loon, Skol! So, seriously, what is the matter with Minnesota? The world may never know. One thing’s for sure, Minnesota has led the league unorthodox political relevancy for most of our lives. Do I think that reputation will continue in the 21st century? You betcha.

 

Civil War, Gettysburg, Politics

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part I.

James_Longstreet
General James Longstreet

Original publish date:  June 8, 2018

Visiting Gettysburg has been a constant in my life for nearly 30 years now. If you are a fan of American history, there is no better place for you than Gettysburg. Although it’s been 155 years since the last shots were fired, the landscape of Gettysburg is ever changing and the battle goes on. In the three decades since I first visited the Borough, (in Pennsylvania, they are called Boroughs, not towns) I’ve seen battles over towers, casinos, cycloramas, visitor centers, hotels, railroads, Harley Davidson’s and monuments. And the one thing I’ve learned from all of them is that there’s always a story behind the story.
This is a story about a General, a monument, an artist and one of the most interesting women you’ve never heard of. And, like the battlefield itself, this is a story of duty, devotion, romance and controversy. Confederate General James Longstreet is a name familiar to all students of the Civil War. Longstreet, born January 8, 1821, looms large among the luminaries of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy but most likely not in the way you might think. The Lost Cause was a misguided Victorian Era view of the war that downplayed slavery and lionized the Confederate military resulting in a movement to glorify the Confederate cause as a heroic one against great odds despite its defeat. The ideology continues with the modern day Confederate monument debate I’ve written about in past columns.

lee-and-longstreet-10709161246_9f5baf6452_o
Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet at Gettysburg.

Longstreet was the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his “Old War Horse.” He served under Lee as a corps commander in the venerable Army of Northern Virginia, participating in many of the most famous battles of the Civiil War. Longstreet’s most controversial service was at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, where he openly disagreed with General Lee on the tactics used in attacks on Union forces, most notably, the devastation of Pickett’s Charge.
A month after Gettysburg, Longstreet requested and received a transfer to the Western Theatre just in time for the Battle of Chickamauga. Despite the ineptitude of Commanding General Braxton Bragg, Chickamauga became the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater and Longstreet deserved and received a good portion of the credit. Longstreet’s enmity towards Bragg ultimately resulted in his return to Lee’s army in Virginia where he soon found himself squared up against his best friend on the Union side, Ulysses S. Grant. Both men served together during the War with Mexico and both served as best man for their weddings. The two men were so close that Longstreet called Grant “Sam” and Grant called Longstreet “Pete”. As further proof of the strong connection between the Generals, Grant married Longstreet’s fourth cousin, Julia Dent, on August 22, 1848.

jUhz9f0
General James Longstreet

When Longstreet found out that Grant had been elevated to command of the entire Union Army, he told his fellow officers that “he will fight us every day and every hour until the end of the war.” Longstreet’s attack in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 6, 1864) helped save the Confederate Army from defeat in his first battle back with Lee’s army, but it nearly killed him. The General was wounded during the battle when he was accidentally shot by his own men while reconnoitering between lines. The friendly fire incident took place about 4 miles away from the place where Rebel General Stonewall Jackson suffered the same fate a year earlier.
A bullet passed through Longstreet’s shoulder, severing nerves, and tearing a gash in his throat. General Micah Jenkins, who was riding alongside Longstreet, was also shot and died from his wounds. Longstreet’s wound caused him to miss the rest of the 1864 spring and summer campaign, He rejoined Lee in October 1864 and served admirably during the Siege of Petersburg, the defense of the capital of Richmond, and the surrender at Appomattox. As Lee considered surrender, Longstreet told his commander that he though his friend Grant would treat them fairly, but added, “General, if he does not give us good terms, come back and let us fight it out.” General James Longstreet was a man of contradictions whose story was about to get way more contradictory.

495px-General_James_Longstreet
General James Longstreet Circa 1866

After the close of the Civil War, Longstreet angered his former countrymen by daring to criticize Robert E. Lee, campaigning for Ulysses S Grant and assimilating to life in the Union. In Southern eyes, Longstreet committed blasphemy for critical comments he wrote in his memoirs about General Lee’s wartime performance, by joining Lincoln’s Republican Party and voting for U.S. Grant (twice!) and for accepting work as a diplomat, civil servant, and administrator in the reunified Federal Government of the United States.
However, anti-Longstreet feelings were not just limited to his fellow countrymen. When the “Reconstructed Rebel” applied for a pardon from President Andrew Johnson he was refused, despite a personal endorsement from Union Army General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson reportedly told Longstreet in a meeting: “There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble.” Luckily for Longstreet, the Radical Republicans in the US Congress hated Johnson more than Johnson hated Longstreet and they restored the General his rights of American citizenship in June of 1868.

ooa90271f9
General James Longstreet Circa 1876

Leaders of the Lost Cause movement cited Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg as the main reason for the Confederacy’s loss of the war. When Grant appointed Longstreet as surveyor of customs in New Orleans in 1868, his old friend General D.H. Hill said: “Our scalawag is the local leper of the community.” When Northerners moved South for financial gain, they were called Carpetbaggers, Hill wrote that Longstreet “is a native, which is so much the worse.”
In 1868, the Republican governor of Louisiana appointed Longstreet the adjutant general of the state militia and by 1872 he became a major general in command of all militia and state police forces within the city of New Orleans. Longstreet continued his role as an anathema to his former Confederate colleagues when he led African-American militia against an armed force of 8,400 members of the anti-Reconstruction White League at the Battle of Liberty Place in New Orleans in 1874. Longstreet commanded a force of 3,600 Metropolitan Police, city policemen, and African-American militia troops, armed with two Gatling guns and a battery of artillery.
The White League charged, causing many of Longstreet’s men to flee or surrender, the General rode to meet the protesters but was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner. Federal troops were sent by President Grant to restore order. There were casualties of 38 killed and 79 wounded. Longstreet’s role in this racial battle sealed his fate among his former countrymen. This sad episode ended his political career and he went into semi-retirement on a 65-acre farm near Gainesville, where he raised turkeys and planted orchards and vineyards on terraced ground that his neighbors derisively named “Gettysburg.” A devastating fire on April 9, 1889 (the 24th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox) destroyed his house and most of his possessions, including his personal Civil War documents and memorabilia.
General-LongstreetThe attacks on Longstreet began in earnest on January 19, 1872, the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth and less than two years after Lee died. In a speech at Washington College, former Rebel General Jubal Early exonerated Lee for the defeat at Gettysburg: Early said Longstreet was late. Early claimed Longstreet’s delay on the second day somehow led to the debacle on the third. The following year at the same venue, Lee’s artillery chief William N. Pendleton, charged that Longstreet disobeyed an explicit order to attack at sunrise on July 2. Although both allegations were false, Longstreet failed to rebuke them publicly for three years. The delay damaged his reputation, and by 1875, the Lost Cause mythology had taken root.

1264pre_60f10a35e87b603
General George Pickett

Perhaps the most astonishing of these Longstreet attacks came from a very unexpected source. The widow of his friend George Pickett. Longstreet and Pickett had enjoyed a long, close association stretching all the way back to their service together in the Mexican War and their association to West Point. Longstreet served with distinction in the Mexican–American War alongside many of the men he would find himself fighting with (and against) at Gettysburg. In the Battle of Chapultepec on September 12, 1847, he was wounded in the thigh while charging up the hill with his regimental colors. As he fell, he handed the flag to his friend, Lt. George E. Pickett, who carried it on to the summit.
In the winter of 1862, during a scarlet fever epidemic in Richmond, Virginia, three of the four Longstreet children (Mary Anne, James and Augustus Baldwin) died within eight days. The blow was almost too much for Longstreet. An aide noted that his “grief was very deep,” while others commented on his change in personality. Because the Longstreets’ were too grief-stricken, it was General George Pickett (and his 16 year-old future bride LaSalle Corbell) who made the burial arrangements. Pickett shared Longstreet’s condemnation of Robert E. Lee’s actions at Gettysburg openly stating “that old man (Lee) had my Division slaughtered.”
Pickett went on to a less than stellar financial career in the insurance business and never forgave Lee for destroying his division (and career). He lived the final years of his life quietly and modestly, farming and battling declining health. Pickett rarely spoke publicly about his war experiences and died on July 30, 1875, at the age of fifty. After Pickett’s death in 1875 Pickett’s third wife LaSalle began to write and lecture about her famous husband. While her general husband had spent his last years brooding about the disastrous charge that bore his name, his financially burdened widow decided to make the most of an opportunity.
In an attempt to revitalize his memory, she traveled around the country lecturing about her famous husband in an attempt to transform him into the hero of Gettysburg by way of the Lost Cause. Often, Pickett’s enhancement came at the cost of Longstreet’s reputation. It is ironic that Pickett should benefit at the expense of his friend and mentor, James Longstreet. Her tales of her husband’s life & times were highly romanticized and exaggerated making it hard to separate fact from fiction.

george_pickett
General George Pickett and LaSalle Corbell Pickett 

LaSalle Corbell Pickett authored the celebratory history “Pickett and His Men” (1913), which historians claim was plagiarized, and two collections of wartime letters (1913, 1928), which historians claimed were fabricated. Nevertheless, her image of her husband at the moment his charge began—”gallant and graceful as a knight of chivalry riding to a tournament,” whose “long, dark, auburn-tinted hair floated backward in the wind like a soft veil as he went on down the slope of death”—has stuck in the American imagination. And her letters have been cited in works as diverse as Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel “The Killer Angels” (1974) and Ken Burns’s documentary “The Civil War” (1990).
It would take a century of slow reassessment by Civil War historians to restore General James Longstreet’s reputation. Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel The Killer Angels, based largely on Longstreet’s memoirs and later made into the film “Gettysburg”, helped restore Longstreet’s reputation. Military historians now consider Longstreet among the war’s most gifted tactical commanders on either side of the Civil War. Part of that reassessment is due and owing to a child bride, a gifted artist and one of Gettysburg National Battlefield’s newest monuments.
NEXT WEEK: PART II of General James Longstreet at Gettysburg.

Politics

Otis Cox. Auditing a lifetime of public service.

Otis article
Otis E. Cox-Indiana State Auditor from 1982 to 1986.

Original publish date:  August 30, 2012

I received a phone call from an old friend the other day with some shocking news. One of my heroes and mentors in life, former Indiana State Auditor Otis E. Cox, called to tell me that he and his lovely wife Pat were moving from Anderson to Fishers. You may wonder, why is THAT shocking? Well, its shocking to me because Otis E. Cox is as much a part of Anderson as the Wigwam gym (home of all those great Anderson Indians basketball teams), Gene’s root beer stand (home of the Spanish Dog with cheese) and Lemon Drop drive-in (home of the legendary onion burger). Otis Cox might as well be “Mr. Anderson,” at least in my mind. No matter where I go or who I meet, seems everyone has ties of some sort to Anderson.

Otis and Pat have lived in Anderson all of their lives. Otis for 71 years and Pat for considerably less than that. He graduated from Anderson high school and followed that up by graduating from the General Motors Institute (now known as Kettering University). Otis, a Democrat, was elected Madison County auditor in 1976 and again in 1980. He was then elected State Auditor in 1981 serving in that post from December 1,1982 to November 30, 1986. Upon leaving office in 1986, Otis went back to his hometown and ran for Mayor of Anderson in 1987 losing by a  mere 94 votes. An astonishingly thin margin in a city of 60,000+, but Otis, true to his humble personality, eschewed a recount on the grounds that “the people had spoken.” Otis would win re-election to the post of Madison County Auditor in 1992, a generation after first attaining the post in 1976. In 1996 and 2000, Otis served as a Madison County Commissioner before retiring in 2004.

IMG_0935
I wore this back in 1982 campaigning with Otis in what seemed like every county in Indiana. Lots of miles, lots of heat and lots of rain on this thing.

I first met Otis as a young collector of political memorabilia just barely after I got my driver’s license. He was always honest, patient and kind with this tinhorn, just learning the ropes of collecting history and participating in the Indiana political process. When he was elected State Auditor, Otis kindly appointed me as one of his deputies at the Indiana Statehouse. A post I held from 1982 to 1985. At that time, Otis E. Cox was 4th in line of succession to the Governor’s seat and the highest ranking Democrat in the state.

Otis counted among his deputy auditors; Mary Moriarty (Adams)-District 17 City Councilwoman, Nancy Michael-former 44th district State Representative and Mayor of Green Castle, & Ed Mahern-longtime 97th district State Representative who holds the singular distinction of being the very first babyboomer born in Indianapolis (arriving two seconds after Midnight on Jan. 1, 1946). Otis Cox helped mold the future of Indianapolis politics for decades to come and his strength of leadership resonates in the Capitol City to this very day. During all those years in office in the State Capitol, Otis dutifully went home each night to Anderson in Madison County.

I drove up to Madison County last week to sit and reminisce with Otis and Pat about old times, politics and their next move in life. Otis is what most would call a loyal “Yellow Dog Democrat”, a political term applied to that part of the electorate who vote solely for Democratic candidates. It is believed that the term originated in the South after Republican president Abraham Lincoln led the Union against the Confederacy to describe those voters who would “vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican”. The term is now used to describe any Democrat who will vote a straight party ticket under any circumstances.

PO-dukakis-bentsen-button_busy_beaver_button_museumI often tell friends that I won my wife Rhonda’s heart back in 1988 when I walked into her store wearing a Dukakis / Bentsen for President campaign pin during the election. She gasped and asked me, “Where did you get that?” to which I reached into my pocket, pulled an identical pin out and presented it to her. Pat tells a similar story about meeting Otis for the first time in the early 1960s. “He walked up to me and asked me if I voted for John F. Kennedy” to which I answered “No.”  He asked me “Well, why not?” and I said, “because I wasn’t old enough.” From that point on, the pair were inseparable while working for LBJ, RFK, McGovern culminating with Otis himself being swept into office with the Jimmy Carter election in 1976.

The Cox’s fondly recall that 1976 election, Otis’ first, with several humorous stories about the role Anderson and the state of Indiana played in the Carter victory. “In 1976, there were several people running for the Democratic nomination. Hubert Humphrey, Sargent Shriver, George Wallace, Walter Mondale, Scoop Jackson, Fred Harris, Robert Byrd, Lloyd Bentsen, Birch Bayh, and of course, Jimmy Carter. ” Otis says, “They were all planning to come to Indiana for the primary, back then the Indiana primary really meant something, not like today. All of the candidates advance people were frantically calling Madison County Democrats to find places for these guys to stay. Everyone chose a candidate and Jimmy Carter was the last on the list. A friend of ours took the Carter’s in, (much to the later chagrin of all who’d chosen another candidate), and you know, Jimmy Carter stayed friends with them for decades afterwards. Even invited them to their home in Plains, Georgia whenever the couple traveled down to Florida.”

 

s-l225
Jimmy Carter-Larry Conrad-Otis Cox 1976 campaign pins.

Otis was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1976, 1980 & 1984. I asked him about the upcoming conventions to which he replied, “It’s not the same today as it was back then. There are no races anymore. Everything is decided before the convention. It’s more of a formality now than a real convention. In 1980 we had the Carter versus Ted Kennedy fight at the DNC and in 1984 there was the Mondale versus Jesse Jackson delegate fight. Gary Hart was still mixing into that convention as well.” Otis says, “Now its all cut and dried. The Republicans won’t even seat the two delegates pledged to Ron Paul at their convention this week.”

I asked Otis about his time as State Auditor. He smiles that trusting smile that helped sweep him into office back in 1982 and replies simply, “I enjoyed the time I spent there.” When asked if he’d run for office again, he flatly says, “No” then stops and reflects a moment before adding, “Well, if I were twenty years younger, sure.” He talks about the changes he’s seen in the political system during his lifetime of public service. Otis is startled today by the lack of cooperation between members of opposing parties at every level of government. “When I was in the State Auditor’s office both parties worked together, they strive for it. Even though I was the lone Democrat, the other offices bent over backwards to help me. Especially the Governor’s office, whatever we needed, they provided. No questions asked. Mind you, this was on a daily basis. You just don’t see that today at any level.” remarks Otis.

I asked the former State Auditor and his bride how they felt about leaving the only place they’ve ever called home. After all, the Cox’s are moving from a county that many consider to be one of the state’s most economically depressed to a county that is often ranked as one of the most prosperous in the nation. After all, Madison County’s unemployment rate at is nearly 2 points higher than the national average, job growth is 6% lower than the national average, individual income is over $5,000 less than the national average and median household income is over $ 14,000 less than the national average. On the other hand, Hamilton County’s unemployment rate at is nearly 2 1/2 points lower than the national average, job growth is nearly 1% higher than the national average, individual income is over $ 10,000 more than the national average and median household income is a staggering $ 30,000 above than the national average. Although separated by an insignificant distance, that’s a significant lifestyle change.

“Well, we’re not really leaving Madison County,” Pat says “Our friends are here, our bank is here and our doctors are here.” Pat volunteers her time at St. John’s hospital in Anderson (where both of my children and my wife were born). She donates her time making floral arrangements for the patients and plans to continue her duties there. “It’s actually about the same commute for me, 15-20 minutes depending on traffic,” Pat says “Traffic can be bad, but I’m going the opposite direction. I’m going out of Hamilton County when everyone else is coming in.”

Otis Cox will always retain his love for Madison County but laments the loss of industry to the city and county of his birth. “Sadly, the manufacturing industry is gone and I don’t see it coming back.” he says. The automotive industry has a long association with the city; at one time employing some 25,000 auto workers in nearly twenty different General Motors affiliated plants located all around Anderson, trailing only Flint, Michigan in that regard.  Pat chimes in, “We just lost the Emge meat packing plant (on west 8th street), it’s so sad.”  Ever the optimist and booster for his birth county, Otis points out, “But things are looking up, we got the Nestlé’s plant and 300 new jobs a few years back.”

Otis and Pat are moving to be closer to their adult kids, Angie and Chris, who live in the Noblesville / Fishers area. The Cox’s are moving to Britton Falls, a Del Webb adult resort community for ages 55-and-over located near Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers. Otis proudly chirps, “It’s just like going on a vacation.” He looks forward to no more yard work and no more stairs in their new ranch style home. He continues, “But Anderson will always be home. I will miss Anderson.”

I asked Otis if he had any regrets from his decades of public service. He pauses, leans back in his chair, places his fingertips together with his index fingers brushing the tip of his nose as his thumbs gently touch his chin, “Yes, I had one regret.” he replies. “When I was commissioner, I was always sorry that I couldn’t get a couple roundabouts built in Anderson at places I felt needed them. But you know, now that I’m spending so much time in Hamilton County (which has well over 100 roundabouts) I’m getting sick of seeing them.” followed by a hearty laugh from the man who was once the most powerful Democrat in the State of Indiana. Well, Otis, if that’s your only regret from all those years of public service, I’d say you’ve served your city, county, and state well. Enjoy your retirement my friend, you’ve earned it.