Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Medicine, Pop Culture

The Red Stripe Iron Lung legend.

Original publish date:  May 7, 2020

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Last month the General Motors Kokomo plant began mass production of the Ventec Life Systems V+Pro critical care ventilator under contract to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The announcement stirred up memories of World War II plant production in paces like Indianapolis, Anderson, Marion, Muncie, Fort Wayne and other Hoosier cities and towns. The news also stirred up memories of a subject I’ve written about before: Polio. Perhaps America’s last great pandemic fight. I traveled down to Warm Springs, Georgia a decade ago to visit the campus of the Polio hospital there and met with several former patients, doctors and nurses along the way.

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General Motors Ventec Life Systems V+Pro critical care ventilators

One of the subjects I meant to cover, but never got around to, was an urban legend from my childhood. Now seems as good a time as any to cover it. In 1927, cigarette manufacturers introduced new cellophane packaging for their over-the-counter individual packs of cigarettes. Along with the cellophane came a red waxed “paper” opener strip around the top of the pack to tear open the wrapper. Those red stripes have all but disappeared from cigarette packs today, but for over 60 years, they were as ubiquitous as the pull tab on a pop top can.

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Rolls of Red Tear Strips for Cigarette Packs.

For many years, the legend was that if you saved the “red tear strip” on your cigarette wrappers you could redeem them later in life to use for time on an iron lung machine should you ever get Polio, lung cancer or any other health problem that might require you to use the machine. The red tear strip may have been the very first of the so-called “redemption rumors” that have been floating around as urban legends since before the Civil War. Redemption rumors usually claim that corporations will exchange product packaging material (bar codes, can tabs, gum wrappers, cigarette packages, etc.) for medical equipment (wheelchairs, iron lungs, dialysis machines, etc.) donated to hospitals or individuals.
z s-l400The big problem with these rumors is that they are not tied to the companies that actually have such programs, so that they motivate people to collect huge numbers of bottle caps, empty packets and the like to no avail. The biggest companies are usually the most frequently targeted, recent years those have been mostly soft drinks, beer, cigarettes, and tea. Sadly, before kidney dialysis came along you typically were told to save cigarette packs to earn time on an iron lung. z imagesKnowing the damage smoking causes to the lungs, these red stripe redemption rumors truly proved to be a “sick bargain”.
Most redemption rumors were false, but not all of them. From 1948 till 1979 the makers of Vets Dog Food made a one to two cent donation to train seeing-eye dogs for every Vets label redeemed. z 2b2a6e631f3a51c1e7d80a92a61ff9e5Today Heinz baby food labels can be redeemed to benefit children’s hospitals and Campbell’s soup labels can be used to buy school equipment. In Indianapolis, funds received from the recycling of pop tabs add up to between $30,000 and $50,000 annually for Riley Children’s Hospital. All this money helps with the operating expenses of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Indiana and traditionally covers the cost of operating 3 rooms in the House for an entire year. With redemption rumors, it can sometimes be hard to separate fact from fiction.
The Red Stripe / Iron Lung legend went nowhere and resulted only in kitchen drawers full of angry little strips of blood red cellophane exploding and filling the air every time a drawer was opened too quickly; static electricity causing them to adhere firmly to every flat surface in sight. The legend took root during the height of the Polio epidemic in the 1930s, 40s and 50s when images of helpless little children confined in menacing looking steel tubes viewing life only through the confines of a tilted rear view mirror placed inches above their chin were routinely found in every newspaper and magazine of the day.
z 166832_originalEven though it was a hoax, it didn’t mean it was a bad idea. In the 1950s, the Betty Crocker franchise started a coupon program run by General Mills. Most folks redeemed the coupons for kitchen utensils, but beginning in 1969 General Mills OK’d several fundraising campaigns in which coupons were used to purchase some 300 kidney dialysis machines. The company soon stopped dialysis drives due partly to complaints that it was “trading in human misery.” The program ceased operation in 2006.
Humans, like most mammals, breathe by negative pressure breathing in which the rib cage expands and the diaphragm contracts, expanding the chest cavity. This causes the pressure in the chest cavity to decrease, and the lungs expand to fill the space. This, in turn, causes the pressure of the air inside the lungs to decrease (it becomes negative, relative to the atmosphere), and air flows into the lungs from the atmosphere: inhalation. When the diaphragm relaxes, the reverse happens and the person exhales. If a person loses part or all of the ability to control the muscles involved, breathing becomes difficult or impossible.
Due to the eradication of Polio in most of the world, the iron lung has become largely obsolete in modern medicine. Not to mention, superior breathing therapies have been developed and modern ventilators, like those General Motors is creating in Kokomo, are more efficient at a fraction of the cost and size. Although a common sight to our grandparents generation, the iron lung is unfamiliar to our modern eyes. An iron lung is a ponderous sight to behold, as is the patient contained within it.
z ironlunglgThe most common iron lung, known as a “Drinker respirator”, was designed to provide temporary breathing support for people suffering paralysis of the diaphragm and intracostal muscles, which are essential for respiration. Developed in 1929, it came to be an important tool for the care of sufferers of paralytic polio. Strictly defined, “the iron lung is a large horizontal cylinder, in which a person is laid, with their head protruding from a hole in the end of the cylinder, so that their nose and mouth are outside the cylinder, exposed to ambient air, and the rest of their body sealed inside the cylinder, where air pressure is continuously cycled up and down, to stimulate breathing. To cause the patient to inhale, air is pumped out of the cylinder, causing a slight vacuum, which causes the patient’s chest and abdomen to expand (drawing air from outside the cylinder, through the patient’s exposed nose or mouth, into their lungs). Then, for the patient to exhale, the air inside the cylinder is compressed slightly (or allowed to equalize to ambient room pressure), causing the patient’s chest and abdomen to partially collapse, forcing air out of the lungs, as the patient exhales the breath through their exposed mouth and nose, outside the cylinder.” (The Iron Lung, Science Museum Group, Kensington, London, England, U.K)

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Room Sized Ventilator.

In some cases, especially during the height of the Polio epidemic, larger “room-sized” iron lungs were also developed, allowing for simultaneous ventilation of several patients at once (each with their heads protruding from sealed openings in the outer wall), with sufficient space for a nurse or a respiratory therapist to be inside the sealed room, attending the patients. Rows of iron lungs filled hospital wards during the 1940s and 1950s, helping children and some adults, with bulbar polio and bulbospinal polio. A polio patient with a paralyzed diaphragm would typically spend two weeks inside an iron lung while recovering. The iron lung was used on patients before they were able to recover and either breathe on their own, or with the use of assistive respirators.
z im-73301By 2018, there were only 3 of these 700 pound behemoth iron lung machines operating in the United States. Some machines have a tray that slides out of the tube, others require the patient to climb into the bed of the pod, upon which the patient lays and is then pushed into the machine. The patient’s head is the only part of the body visible once the machine is closed, and the neck collar is adjusted to keep it airtight. Since the head is exposed, patients can eat and drink in the machine but, since both are done while laying down, swallowing can be a challenge and must be done carefully. Since the machine is pushing / pulling the patient, swallowing must occur while the machine is breathing out. Coughing and sneezing can be a challenge since both are involuntary and cannot be properly timed with the rhythm of the machine. The mechanics are under the bed, which produces a vibrating sensation for the patient.
z gettyimages-3331901Today’s ventilators, like those being made in Kokomo right now, are much more portable and are mostly described as “breathing machines” that can be carried as easily as a briefcase. For extreme breathing cases, smaller single-patient iron lungs, known as “Cuirass ventilators” (named for the Cuirass, a torso-covering body armor worn by armored knights), are used. The Cuirass ventilator encloses only the patient’s torso, chest or abdomen, but otherwise operates essentially the same as the original, full-sized iron lung. The lightweight variation of the cuirass is a jacket ventilator or poncho / raincoat ventilator, which uses a flexible, impermeable material (such as plastic or rubber) stretched over a metal or plastic frame placed over the patient’s torso.
Tracy Hamilton Talking on the TelephoneAnd, although the idea of the old fashioned iron lung mostly only survives in the collective public memory of baby boomers, the COVID-19 pandemic has revived some interest in the device. Thanks to the internet, public safety scams and urban legends proliferate our life daily. As silly as the idea of saving red stripes from packs of cigarettes to exchange for time in iron lungs sounded to the enlightened twenty years ago, when viewed through the periscope of new age social media theory today, it fits right in. And Covid-19 has reignited fears of epidemics past including Polio and the Spanish Flu (which allegedly originated in Kansas by the way). So, in short, there is nothing new under the sun and the takeaway from all of this is that, hopefully, this too shall pass.

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Indianapolis, Pop Culture, Travel

Where have you gone Mr. Bendo? A Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Mr. Bendo at Ralphs Muffler shop

Original publish date:  June 20, 2011              Reissue: April 30, 2020

To many Hoosiers, summertime conjures up images of cozy family car trips spent searching for the odd and unusual sites that allow us all to forget about life for awhile while providing memories that will last forever. Don’t let today’s high gas prices keep you from enjoying that summer road trip. The average price for a gallon of gas hovers around $3.80—that’s lower than a month ago, but about a dollar more than last year at this time. Yes, gas expenditures can add up quickly, but don’t let that deter you from jumping in the car and driving all over our fair state.
Most of you know that I have a particular affinity for the Historic National Road. My love for the Road is rooted in the roadside Americana sights I remember from my childhood cleverly designed to draw my eyes towards them like a beacon on the horizon. I suspect that many of you can easily remember those larger than life roadside attractions that used to dot our cityscape like Mr. Bendo, the giant muffler man and the TeePee restaurants. Most of these old landmark roadside attractions have been torn down or rotted away, but a precious few still stand as a testament to a simpler era.
z SAM_0050These unique roadside attractions began popping up along our highways in the 1930s and flourished into the 1960s. But the 1950s were their heyday. The Ike Era fifties was the decade of car culture; gas was cheap and families took to the open road, many for the very first time. The US interstate highway system was authorized in 1956 and construction began almost immediately in many states. Until then, families relied on connecting state road systems that took them on meandering journeys through big cities and small towns alike.
Beginning in the 1940s, roadside attractions started to spring up around the country in an effort to lure visitors to stop based on the exterior appearance alone. In the days before air conditioning and drive-through restaurants, the promise of free ice water and clean restrooms was a sufficient lure. However, in an effort to make themselves standout from the ever-crowded landscape, some roadside attractions began to feature exotic animals, games, quirky shopping or just really big things–such as the world’s largest advertising mascot signs.
z 7374044e29c0c9fe7eaffa4bc3b43652Although modern construction has ensured that you are never far from fast food and gas, if you drive highway 40 today, it is easy to imagine how that drive must have felt back in the day. Today, driving along many of Indiana’s classic highways (Michigan Road, Brookville Road, Washington Street, Lincoln Highway) traces of old gift shops, restaurants, amusement parks and motels dot the landscape. Many of you can easily recall the giant TeePees that crowned the roof of the aptly named “TeePee” restaurants on the grounds of the state fairgrounds and on the cities southside. For me, I’ll always remember the giant coffee pot that formed the roof of the “Coffee Pot” restaurant in Pennville near Richmond on the National Road.
z 0ea70e6809d2cc438252268b0bc6d223But, who remembers the “Mr. Bendo”, the muffler man? These giant statues routinely stood outside auto shops, usually with one arm outstretched while towering over the road with a muffler resting in his curved hand. Spotted in various incarnations all over the United States, these advertising icons were extraordinarily popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Legend claims that all of the original Muffler Men came from a single mold owned by Prewitt Fiberglass (later International Fiberglass). The first Muffler Man was allegedly a giant Paul Bunyan developed for a café on Route 66 in Arizona. Later incarnations were Native Americans, cowboys, spacemen and even the Uniroyal girl, who appeared in both a dress and a bikini. These behemoths either elicited fear or joy, but never failed to spur the imagination. Locally, you can find one of these “Mr. Bendo” statues at 1250 W. 16th St.
Today, you can get in the car and drive around Indianapolis in search of these classic old statues along with other oversized oddity signs. There are many websites and clubs devoted solely to cataloging and photographing these roadside oddities for posterity. Most of these Hoosier relics are outside of the city limits proper, but they can be found easily on a one-tank-trip. By the way, most importantly, bring your camera. Here is a partial list of these roadside oddities to give you a place to start.
z Warm-Glow2Closeby, there is a giant Uncle Sam and his two smaller nephews on Shadeland Ave (between Washington St and 10th). There are two giant globes, one on Michigan Road on the way to Zionsville and the other near the pyramids visible from the interstate. There is a large dairy cow on South Shortridge Rd (between Washington St and Brookville Rd) sitting behind a 10-foot chain link fence topped with barbed wire and guard at the gate. There are two large swans in the middle of ponds, one on Mitthoffer (Between 21st St and 30th St) and the other on Pendleton Pike. Incidently there is a big fiberglass cow at 9623 Pendleton Pike near the afore mentioned swan.
z e5df8b44d78817301a4bfadcf066fe45The old Galyan’s bear statue sits on the edge of the Eagle Creek Reservoir. When Dick’s Sporting Goods purchased Galyan’s, the company donated the statue to the City of Indianapolis. There are two huge bowling pins, one at Woodland bowl on the northside and the other at Expo bowl on the southside (visible from I-465). Don’t forget about the giant dinosaurs hatching from eggs at the Children’s Museum on the corner of 30th and N. Meridian Streets near downtown.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there is the world’s largest toilet in downtown Columbus, part of a giant house display. Once you make it up to the top floor of the “house”, you can jump in the toilet and slide down to the bottom. Near Centerville, there is a giant candle visible from I-70. In Fortville on the Mass Avenue extension (Highway 67) there is a giant pink elephant wearing eyeglasses and drinking a martini. In Franklin, a furniture store at 4108 S. US Hwy 31 has a towering chest of drawers and what they claim to be the world’s largest rocking chair.
z mr-happy-burger-1If you’re traveling to Logansport, you can visit three giant statues in the same town; Mr. Happy Burger on the corner of US Hwy 24/W. Market St. and W. Broadway St. features a fiberglass black bull wearing a chef’s hat and a bib as does the Mr. Happy Burger located at 3131 E. Market St. along with a giant chicken statue at 7118 W. US Hwy 24 (on the north side) that you can see from the road. Muncie has two giants; A big fiberglass muffler man stands alongside the scissor-lifts & heavy equipment in the Mac Allister rental lot at 3500 N. Lee Pit Rd. and a Paul Bunyan statue is the mascot of a bar named Timbers at 2770 W. Kilgore Ave.
z giant-sneaker-at-a-shoe-store-in-new-castle-indiana-BMA2NHThere is a car-sized basketball shoe at the Steve Alford All-American Inn on State Road 3 in New Castle and you can visit the towering, thickly-clothed “Icehouse man” painted in cool blue colors, the mascot of a bar named Icehouse at 1550 Walnut St. in New Castle. A balloon-shaped man with a chef’s hat, known by locals as “The Baker Man” is perched atop a pole with his arm raised in a friendly wave at 315 S. Railroad St. in Shirley, Indiana. And of course, who can forget the giant Santa Claus that greets visitors to Santa Claus, Indiana.
z INNCAicehouse03I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, perhaps many, but if this list helps stir up some old roadside memories among you, or better yet, gets you charged up to take an inexpensive holiday in search of roadside oddities, well, then it was a worthwhile read.

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Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Hollywood, Pop Culture

Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

McCarthy

Original publish date: February 6, 2011           Reissue Date: April 16, 2020

September 11 is an important date in this country. Its a date as important to our generation as December 11, 1941 (Pearl Harbor) and November 23, 1963 (John F.Kennedy’s assassination) were to the two generations preceding ours. It is the date the date of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in New York City. However, it has another meaning to me. On September 11, 2010, Kevin McCarthy died. Kevin McCarthy was an actor, a character actor to be precise. You’ve seen his face in countless films over the past half century but probably never knew his name.
Midwestern born McCarthy appeared in over two hundred television and film roles and an equal number of stage plays and productions for over a half century. For his role in the 1951 film version of Death of a Salesman, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year . However, I remember McCarthy for his starring role in the original 1956 version of the classic Sci-Fi / Horror movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, a film with a strong Cold War Era Anti-Communist theme.
z Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers_(1956_poster)I had the opportunity to meet Kevin McCarthy in Chicago back in 1992 and he was gracious enough to sign a photo for me. It remains a cherished possession. Not only was he a great actor, he was a cousin of former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy and one actor Montgomery Clift’s best friends. I could not help but smile wryly when I learned of McCarthy’s death last year on 9/11. He lived to the ripe old age of 96 (we should all be so lucky) and lived a life that most of us can only dream about. The irony of his dying on 9/11, one of the most controversial politically charged dates in American history, was not lost on me. For “Invasion of the body snatchers” remains one of the most controversial politically charged movies of all-time.
Invasion is based on the novel “The Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney and was first featured in several installments in Saturday Evening Post magazines in 1954-55. It stars Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, and Carolyn Jones (Morticia Addams of the Addams Family). The screenplay was adapted from Finney’s novel by Daniel Mainwaring, along with an uncredited Richard Collins, and was directed by Don Siegel. The film is the first and most critically acclaimed of the novel’s four film adaptations to date.
z 2070005Invasion of the Body Snatchers was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The American Film Institute ranked “Invasion number nine on its “Ten top Ten” best ten films in the science fiction category. The film ranked number 47 on AFI’s “100 Years… 100 Thrills”, a list of America’s most heart-pounding films.
Set in the fictional town of Santa Mira, California (In the novel, the town is Mill Valley, north of San Francisco), McCarthy plays Dr. Miles Bennell, a local doctor who finds that several of patients are accusing their loved ones of being impostors. Assured at first by the town psychiatrist that the cases are nothing but “epidemic mass hysteria,” Bennell soon discovers that the townspeople are being systematically replaced by perfect physical duplicates, simulacrums grown from giant plant-like pods (found in basements, automobile trunks, a greenhouse, and on a pool table). The Pod People are indistinguishable from normal people, except for their lack of human emotion. The Pod People work together to secretly spread more pods which the film explains grew from “seeds drifting through space for years” in order to replace the entire human race.
The film climaxes with Bennell and a friend attempting to escape the Pod People, intent on warning the rest of humanity. While they hide, the doctor’s friend played by actress Dana Wynter fights an overwhelming urge to sleep and when she briefly doses off, she is instantly transformed into one of the Pod People. With the Pod People close behind, Bennell runs onto the highway frantically screaming about the alien force which has overrun the town to the passing motorists and (in a moment that is considered a breaking of the Fourth Wall) looks into the camera and yells, “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next!”
z 0_1u3JgAt04c6rLwF9Bennell is picked up by the police and questioned in a clinic. The policemen in charge do not believe his account until they receive news of an accident in which a truck carrying strange giant bean pods is opened. The police are quick to alert the authorities; the message has been received, but the actual end of the story is left open. What cannot be denied is the central theme of the heroic struggle of one helpless but determined man of conscience, a small-town doctor (McCarthy), to vainly combat and quell a deadly, indestructible threat. An oft repeated theme of Sci-Fi films of today
The film had a few preliminary titles: Sleep No More, Better Off Dead, and They Came From Another World before the final choice was made. At first, studios considered established Hollywood stars like Gig Young, Dick Powell, Joseph Cotten for the male lead. For the female lead, Anne Bancroft, Donna Reed, Kim Hunter, and Vera Miles were initially considered. However the lower budget led producers to cast two relative newcomers in the lead roles: McCarthy and Wynter. The film was shot in just 23 days between March 23, 1955 and April 18, 1955 by working a six-day week with only Sundays off. The final budget was $382,190. When released in 1956, the movie made over $1 million in its first month and over $2.5 million in the USA for the entire year. British ticket sales raised that figure by a half million dollars. When the film was released, many theatres displayed several of the pods (made of paper) in theatre lobbies along with lifesize cutouts of McCarthy and Wynter frantically running away from a mob.
The film was originally intended to end with Miles screaming hysterically as truckloads of pods pass him by. The studio insisted on adding an ending that suggested a more optimistic outcome. The studio tried to get Orson Welles to voice the preface and a trailer for the film, but was unsuccessful. The film holds a 97% “Fresh” rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. In recent years, critics have hailed the film as a “genuine Sci-Fi classic” and one of the “most resonant” and “one of the simplest” of the genre. Even though the movie has no monsters, minimal special effects, no overt violence, and no deaths. The BBC wrote, “The sense of post-war, anti-communist paranoia is acute, as is the temptation to view the film as a metaphor for the tyranny of the McCarthy era.”
z unnamedThe film is widely viewed as an indictment of McCarthyism and the Red Scare Anti-Communist Era. The unmistakable metaphor: the turning of people into soulless doubles while they sleep represents the dangers faced of America turning a blind eye to McCarthyism. Over the years, others have interpreted the film as a metaphor for the loss of the individual in modern mass civilization, or paranoia about the spread of socialistic Communism, or blacklisting of Hollywood, or as a representation of the loss of personal freedom in the Soviet Union, or the spread of an unknown malignancy or virulent germ (a metaphor within a metaphor about the fear of annihilation by ‘nuclear war’), or of bland conformity in postwar Eisenhower-era America. Still others argue the film is an indictment of the damage to the human personality caused by ideologies of Right versus Left, a theme that resonates today.
One of the things I loved about Kevin McCarthy is that he often said that he felt that the film had no political allegory at all, at least not by the actors or filmmakers. McCarthy backed it up by stating that in his talks with novelist Jack Finney, he too professed that there was no intended specific political allegory in the book.

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Donald Sutherland

The producer of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers was Walter Wanger, a man not free from personal controversy himself. Wanger had just been released from prison for attempted murder after serving a 4-month jail term for the 1951 shooting of the lover of his unfaithful movie-star wife, Joan Bennett. Wanger’s attorney successfully offered a “temporary insanity” defense resulting in the light sentence.
The psychological sci-fi film was re-made three times starring Donald Sutherland, (1978), Gabrielle Anwar 1993 and Nicole Kidman (2007), although well-made, the remakes were inferior to the original, as were the lead star. The original 1956 film received no Academy Award nominations but has become more and more revered and distinctive as time passed.

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Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy would go on to make film cameos in other sci-fi films including: The Howling (1981), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Innerspace (1987), and a memorable appearance as his Dr. Bennell character (now elderly) in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) that appeared clutching a seed pod repeatedly muttering “You’re next.”
I think that the reason this movie spoke to me in particular and resonates in my memory today is the time frame that I associate it with. I saw the film in the late 1960s an era framed in my mind by political mistrust, conspiracy theories and assassination. Everything from who killed Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy to whether the moon landing was real or staged in a Hollywood studio to whether or not the Beatles Paul McCartney was alive or dead seemed to be surrounded by cover-up and controversy. This movie with its Zombie-like alien invaders bodily brain-washing their naive, unsuspecting victims could be conformed to any theory, right or left. As a child of the ’60s, this movie spoke to me like no other.
Meeting Kevin McCarthy was a lifetime thrill. I think often of McCarthy’s eloquent speech from the movie describing the shocking changes he’s seen in his fellow citizens, “I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn’t seem to mind…All of us – a little bit – we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear.”
Followed by an unconvincing sales pitch by an antagonist colleague to McCarthy’s character, “Less than a month ago, Santa Mira was like any other town. People with nothing but problems. Then, out of the sky came a solution. Seeds drifting through space…Your new bodies are growing in there. They’re taking you over cell for cell, atom for atom…they’ll absorb your minds, your memories and you’re reborn into an untroubled world…Tomorrow you’ll be one of us…There’s no need for love…Love. Desire. Ambition. Faith. Without them, life is so simple, believe me.”
z bodysnatchershedAnd whenever I wish, I can conjure up an image in my mind of the wide-eyed sweat and grime covered face of McCarthy as a crazed prophet of doom pointing directly into the camera desperately speaking his warning to humanity: “Look, you fools. You’re in danger. Can’t you see? They’re after you. They’re after all of us. Our wives, our children, everyone. They’re here already. YOU’RE NEXT!” Rest in Peace Kevin McCarthy.

Civil War, Hollywood, Indianapolis, Wild West

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Part II Buffalo Bill on Mass Ave June 11 1913 Photo courtesy Lilly library Indiana University
Buffalo Bill on Mass Ave. June 11, 1913. Photo courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Original publish date:  April 9, 2020

We’re all cooped up, trying to avoid the Coronavirus by surfing the net, checking social media and (gulp) shopping on-line. Hoosiers are stressing out bandwidth capacity like a hippo in bicycle shorts by binge watching every form of entertainment available on line. So, I have decided to help alleviate your boredom by giving you an article full of dates, names and events to Google. After you read this shorter than normal offering, do yourself a favor, search the names listed here and lose yourself in history. You’ll be amazed, intrigued and informed at the same time. This week’s offering: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Indiana.
z 599b30744ef58.imageBuffalo Bill Cody was the real deal-he had fought Indians, hunted buffalo, and scouted the Northern Plains for General Phil Sheridan and Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer along America’s vast Western frontier. He was a fur-trapper, gold-miner, bullwhacker, wagon master, stagecoach driver, dude rancher, camping guide, big game hunter, hotel manager, Pony Express rider, Freemason and inventor of the traveling Wild West show. Oh, yeah, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872 for, unsurprisingly, “Gallantry” during the Indian Wars. His medal, along with medals of 910 other recipients, was revoked in February of 1917 when Congress retroactively tightened the rules for the honor. Luckily, the action came one month after Cody died in 1917. It was reinstated in 1989.
z Oakley-gallery-03But Cody’s biggest achievement came as the wild west frontier he had helped create was vanishing. Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” shows featured western icons like Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Frank Butler, Bill Pickett, Mexican Joe, Adam Bogardus, Buck Taylor, Geronimo, Red Cloud, Chief Joseph, Texas Jack, Pawnee Bill, Tillie Baldwin, Bronco Bill, Coyote Bill, May Lillie, and a “Congress” of cowboys, soldiers, Native American Indians and Mexican vaqueros. Movie stars Will Rogers and Tom Mix and World Heavyweight Champion Jess Willard kicked off their careers as common cow punchers for Buffalo Bill. Cody performed for Kings, Queens, Presidents, Generals, Dignitaries and just plain folk in small towns, at World’s Fairs, stadiums and arenas all over the world.
Jess WillardDuring the late 19th century, the troupe included as many as 1,200 performers.The shows consisted of historical scenes punctuated by feats of sharpshooting, military drills, staged races, rodeo events, and sideshows. Real live Native American Indians were portrayed as the “Bad Guys”, most often shown attacking wagon trains with Buffalo Bill or one of his colleagues riding in and saving the day. Other staged scenes included Pony Express riders, stagecoach robberies, buffalo-hunting and a melodramatic re-enactment of Custer’s Last Stand in which Cody himself portrayed General Custer.

Part I Buffalo Bill posterBy the turn of the 20th century, William F. Cody was probably the most famous American in the world. Cody symbolized the West for Americans and Europeans, his shows seen as the entertainment triumphs of the ages. In Indiana, entire towns turned out to see the people and scenes they had read about in the dime novels and newspaper stories they grew up on and continued to read daily. Buffalo Bill’s performances were usually preceded by a downtown parade of stagecoaches, soldiers, acrobats, wild animals, chuckwagons, calliopes, cowboys, Indians, outlaws and trick shooters firing off birdshot at targets thrown haphazardly in the air. In 1898, admission to the show was half-a-buck for adults, two bits for children under 9. The Buffalo Bill show traveled by their own special train, usually arriving early in the morning and giving two shows before packing up to travel all night to the next town.
z 1573376According to the official “Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in Golden, Colorado” website, from 1873 to 1916 William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody appeared in Indiana 155 times, touring 38 different Hoosier cities. Some of those cities are obvious, some obscure. Anderson (3 times), Auburn, Bedford, Bluffton, Columbus, Crawfordsville (2 times), Elkhart (3 times), Evansville (12 times), Fort Wayne (12 times), Frankfort, Gary (2 times), Goshen (2 times), Huntington, Kendallville, Kokomo (4 times), La Porte, Lafayette (14 times), Lawrenceburg, Logansport (8 times), Madison, Marion (3 times), Michigan City, Muncie (7 times), New Albany (3 times), North Vernon (4 times), Peru, Plymouth, Portland, Richmond (8 times), Shelbyville, South Bend (8 times), Tell City, Terre Haute (17 times), Valparaiso, Vincennes (4 times), Warsaw (2 times), Washington and of course Indianapolis (19 times). Strangely, although Buffalo Bill appeared in the Circle City more than any other during his career, his tour did not stop here for his final tour in 1916. preferring instead to swing thru the far northern section of our state on the way to Chicago.
oakleyz-buffalo-bill-wild-west-feature-2_show_02.jpg__2000x1326_q85_crop_subsampling-2_upscaleBuffalo Bill traveled with five different shows during his lifetime: 1872 – 1886: Buffalo Bill’s Combination acting troop / 1884 – 1908: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West / 1909 – 1913: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East / 1914 – 1915: Sells-Floto Circus and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West / 1916: Buffalo Bill and the 101 Ranch Combined. By the end, Buffalo Bill had to be strapped onto his saddle to keep from falling off (after all, he was over 70-years old at the time). Despite the perceived exploitation of his Wild West Shows, Cody respected Native Americans, was among the earliest supporters of women’s rights and was a pioneer in the conservation movement and an early advocate for civil rights. He described Native Americans as “the former foe, present friend, the American” and once said that “every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government.” He also said, “What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have. Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay.”
z 12883335_1Although many reports make it seem that Buffalo Bill died a pauper, at the time of his death on January 10, 1917, Cody’s fortune had “dwindled” to less than $100,000 (approximately $2 million today). So you see, there is more to Buffalo Bill Cody than meets the eye. Although often portrayed in pantomime as a grossly exaggerated caricature of a buckskin clad circus act, he really was the real deal.

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