History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Let's elevate music rather than sports

Last spring we attended two major instrumental music concerts at Morris Area High. The cavernous Morris Area concert hall is of course a wonderful backdrop for this. I couldn't have dreamt of such a facility when I was a kid.
I actually performed at what we have come to call "the old elementary auditorium." That of course has been closed for several years. The old art deco auditorium is set to be razed with the rest of that mess, probably for a cost that will go beyond whatever was estimated.
I put "old elementary auditorium" in quotes because for most of its history, it served all public school grads. If you peruse an old "Iwakta" at the dentist's waiting room, you see that "the old school" was once proudly put forward as "Morris High School."
I remember as a kid attending track meets at the football field area.
The music concerts we attended this past spring got me realizing just how beneficial and healthy these programs are. It would be nice to see less drop-off in participation in band through the years (i.e. as a given grade gets older).
We hear so much about sports. There is a "sports section" in the newspaper, suggesting sports is worthy of such great focus. We see parents wearing those pins on their shirts with photos of kids wearing their sports uniforms. It's nice for parents to be proud of their kids participating in whatever activity. The problem with sports is that it rewards the biggest, strongest, fastest and best-coordinated kids, with these attributes in many instances (at least) being God-given, not so much nurtured through learning and commitment.
A kid can find his place in band without being big, strong or fast.
I think the media defer to sports largely because they ape what they see at the macro level. So many of us follow the Twins and Vikings. If the Star Tribune has a sports section, such a section must be apt for our local paper. We might not stop to think that big-time sports, even Division I college sports, exists in a world apart. It can be brutal and unforgiving for the participants, with much of that pain out of view. Youth sports in our communities are on a totally different plane. Is it healthy? Football definitely isn't.
All the empirical evidence suggests football should simply be pushed aside. Would it be hard? Let's just substitute soccer. Soccer would attract a lot of boys are aren't capable, or who aren't interested, in knocking the teeth out of an opponent. Football has tremendous legacy momentum behind it. That's the biggest problem now. The general population loves consuming football. The answer might come when lawyers and insurance companies eventually do their thing. I think they can be counted on to do that. Don't leave it for the "fans" to show wisdom.
Parents of junior high-age boys will eventually show the wisdom. Parental instincts of love and protection will overcome that legacy power of football. If we don't see signs of this starting this fall, then my faith in humanity will have been reduced.
Attending band concerts is so enlightening. It's such a gentle and obviously enriching activity. It deserves more attention and promotion relative to sports.
We see more and more communities developing artificial turf football facilities. The reason a game was shifted from Sauk Centre to Morris last fall, was Sauk Centre's process of installing their artificial turf field. Can these fields be easily converted to soccer? And even if they could be, is there any reason soccer can't just be played on glorious green grass? Will these communities, once the artificial turf fields are in place, exert pressure to ensure enough boys keep coming out for football to ensure viability of the sport? They will have a vested interest in the sport.
Alert: There will be pushback from the lawyers and insurance companies. What an unnecessary conflict to see unfolding. Can football really be changed to make it sufficiently safe? The pundit George Will is skeptical. Are referees really prepared to throw penalty flags for tackling too low or making helmet-to-helmet contact? Don't a lot of these calls require tremendous subjective judgment? Don't football players make moves that are lightning-fast and impulsive? Can a player hold back on making a play a certain way, when they know that "way" makes a difference in terms of preventing or scoring a touchdown? At the pro level, can we count on refs throwing the flag when Adrian Peterson puts his head down at the end of a 30-yard run?
Hasn't there been resistance in hockey to efforts to try to make the game safer? Wasn't there a tussle about rules adjustments in the wake of that kid in the Twin cities who got paralyzed? Paralyzed! Really, should we as a society court any risk at all, of this kind of tragedy happening in an organized activity for kids, an activity having the community's imprimatur?
We hear about all the controversy at Morris Area High over a ban on hats. Maybe something else should be banned.
Let's see the humanities accented instead of sports. In the past this suggestion would be pie in the sky - nice in theory but not attainable, because we get such obvious thrills from sports. I say, the spectators be damned. We as a society have to move forward. I think it's happening, albeit slowly.
In the meantime let's celebrated band and pack the Morris Area concert hall! We're looking forward to the fall concerts.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Turok, Son of Stone" truly ennobled Native Americans

The cesspool of 1970s thinking suggested that comic books were trash. A college professor would scoff at this literary form and scoff at my use of the term "literary form."
The intelligentsia of our society scoffed at a great many things in that era. I remember a professor scoffing at the "Hardy Boys" series of books for kids. Let's not forget "Tom Swift" too. If something was commercially popular, it was scoffed at. The voices of common sense seemed muffled in the 1970s.
Perhaps my criticism is directed mainly at college campuses. But perhaps our whole society was adrift to a degree, burned by the Viet Nam War and other troubling things (stagflation?).
In the current age in which we're all empowered by tech and the Internet to impress our own ideas, we can unabashedly state what we like. I'd like to trumpet the quality and imagination behind "Turok, Son of Stone." It was an adolescent delight of mine to follow this Gold Key comic. I can't quite shake some of the old defensiveness talking about this. A comic book? To heck with the defensiveness. Comics like "Turok" and "Magnus, Robot Fighter" did a lot to advance my literacy in my youth. Such entertainment outside the classroom was indispensable.
A progressive college teacher from those old days should actually have been impressed by "Turok." Let's examine why. We see Turok, a wise father figure type of man, with his youthful brother Andar, trapped within danger. Somehow these Indians have ended up in an isolated valley that is a total world apart. It's Jurassic Park many years before the novelist Michael Crichton gave us that story. Jurassic Park totally captivated us with the concept of humans among dinosaurs. That story theme was anything but new.
Many kids became fascinated as Turok and Andar made their way among creatures they called "honkers, hoppers, flyers and sea demons." The velociraptor which came to be so well-known through "Jurassic Park," was called a "screamer."
College teachers of yore would admire the resilience of Turok and Andar who are pre-Columbian Indians. The indigenous civilizations are as-yet undisrupted. Turok and Andar are Kiowa Indians.
In total contrast with traditional popular entertainment which has Indians disadvantaged because of their "primitiveness," Turok and Andar are actually more advanced than the other humans they come upon. The Lost Valley has humans that are early in the ladder of development. They are dangerous. While I'm not sure they were actually cannibals, they remind me of the cannibals in the Robinson Crusoe story. You get the feeling that even though Crusoe is seeing other humans, he isn't, really. He's still isolated.
Turok and Andar get no comfort being around these other humans. The two have wandered into a savage prehistoric land they call Lost Valley and are cut off from their homeland and people. They wander, encountering cave men and hungry prehistoric creatures, trying to get out.
Our heroic Kiowa warriors adapt, discovering toxic berries which they can smear on the tips of their arrows, stunning and killing even the nastiest dinosaurs. The berries seemed to work almost too well, becoming a magical, almost instant way of stopping those big, dangerous beasts.
I have stated before that the artwork for many comic book covers, "Turok" a prime example, was terrific. It would be effective as stand-alone art. Of course, college art teachers, at least the ones I remember, would be harrumphing and even laughing. The profs I remember laughed at a lot of things, especially if it came from popular culture like Leroy Nieman. I think today, those instincts have lessened. Our teachers have changed through either pressure or enlightenment, to respect art and culture that may have been parlayed into profit for the creators.
Artist Alberto Gioletti did a lot of the work with "Turok, Son of Stone." We can credit Paul S. Newman, not to be confused with the actor, for a lot of the writing. Newman was a wellspring of creativity for the comic book industry. "Turok" was his longest-running series, of 26 years.
I am most familiar with the Turok storyline as it existed in the 1960s. It did get some major tweaks or revising through the years. Gold Key was one of several publishers handling Turok, the others including Dell, Whitman, Valiant, Dark Horse and Acclaim. The whole story had such staying power, I'm disappointed it couldn't leap onto the big screen with the same acclaim as what greeted "Jurassic Park."
"Turok" is a story empowering Native Americans, showing them at the top rather than lower down on the developmental ladder. It shows them industrious and resilient as Native Americans having no distraction of Europeans around them. This is North America in its proud, unadulterated, long-ago incarnation. Whites not only had an invasive effect, they spread disease, wiping out huge swaths of the indigenous people.
Turok and Andar are pure heroes. They come across as compassionate too.
How did the seeds get planted for this story? Why come up with a premise of two Indians in a "lost world" of dinosaurs? The mind of Gaylord DuBois can be credited. He visited the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico and became intrigued. He came to envision his "lost valley" which he in fact placed in New Mexico.
DuBois was an early writer for "Turok, Son of Stone." My, his idea had staying power. By the 1990s, when I of course had become detached from comic books, "Turok" had taken on quite a different tone and backdrop as a "Valiant" publishing line character. Now our heroes are surrounded by demons, dinosaurs and even space aliens! The concept of time itself is different in this land. Time has no meaning! We learn of a cosmic anomaly that has time moving in a self-contained loop. Millions of years pass in the outside world, while inside, time barely moves! There's a villain called "Mothergod" who operates out of the "lost lands."
The story seems to get a little crazy, as this "mothergod" outfits dinosaurs with intelligence-boosting implants! They become "bionisaurs" (the actual term used, not passing spell-check of course). At this point I might not blame a college prof or anyone else chuckling a little. But this is not the "Turok" that I came to know and enjoy.
The Valiant comic incarnation has a "final battle" between Mothergod and the Valiant Universe heroes. The lost lands begin to fade away. Our friends Turok and Andar are tossed into a post-apocalyptic "future Earth," and a group of bionisaurs makes this transition with them. If you think all this sounds like a drug-infused fantasy, I won't blame you. Perhaps a whole new generation of youth - and of course, generations think differently - understands and was captivated by the new premise. I'm left behind, I guess, preferring the more conventional framework of storytelling as represented by the 1960s Gold Key chapter.
Continuing with the Valiant incarnation, Turok and Andar become hunters contending with demons and aliens that exist in the future world. We also see "high-tech future warriors." Mothergod has succeeded to a large extent and is trying to hunt down our heroic Turok and Andar. Amazing imagination! The college profs who always used to admire literature that was socially uplifting and enlightening, should have seen merit in the comic book. But it was a comic book. The knee-jerk reaction among them would be to show derision. A pox on them.
The likes of Turok and Andar along with Magnus of the "Magnus, Robot Fighter" comic series, enriched my youth and greatly advanced my grasp of writing and the English language. This went light years beyond any "suggested literature" put forth not only by college teachers but by public school teachers. How else would I know the definition of "snafu" or "doomed?"
Another favorite of mine was the "Sergeant Rock" series based on World War II. Remember the machine guns that would go "rat-tat-tat?" I'm a little ashamed remembering Sergeant Rock because WWII reflected so much of the dark side of human nature, and it was real, not the wild product of a writer's imagination like "Future Earth" with bionisaurs.
Comic books were an essential, actually indispensable part of the literacy strides I made as a kid. I am unabashed talking about it. And I don't give a darn about what the intelligentsia in our society (less empowered today) thinks about it. Turok and Andar were amazing. "Turok, Son of Stone" remains impressed on my mind.
Trivia question: What sound did the dinosaurs often make? Answer: "Runk." Oh, and what sound did the robots in "Magnus, Robot Fighter" make when they were being beaten? Answer: "Squeee!" Sometime in the future I'll write about "Space Family Robinson" too (similar but distinct from "Lost in Space").
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Magnus," "The Time Machine" & "Timeline": boffo

My favorite futuristic story is probably about "Magnus, Robot Fighter." This was a comic book series of my youth. I was fascinated by the imagination, the artwork - everything about it. It wasn't as well-known as it deserved to be. Magnus is a human who battles robots in the year 4000.
What would it be like to time-travel to 4000? Will we find a world like that portrayed in "Magnus," a megalopolis stretching across the North American continent? The wealthier people have a soft and complacent air. Then we have the "gophs" who are less-educated but more hardy. Such speculation about the future of humanity can go in many directions.
A time-travel story gives the author a platform to share his vision of where time is taking us. We can thank the one-of-a-kind H.G. Wells for really establishing this genre. Wells penned his compelling tale in 1895. His novel "The Time Machine" became a movie in 1960. The full name of the movie was "H.G. Wells' The Time Machine."
This story went in quite the different direction from "Magnus, Robot Fighter." Will tech refinement rule or will there be regression? My generation, the boomers, became very familiar with the movie because it got shown on network TV during the '60s. The same can be said of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "War of the Worlds." Thus we were drawn into the world of sci-fi. Television itself gave us "Star Trek."
The imagination knows no bounds with such stories. George Pal was the Hollywood talent who gave us "The Time Machine" and "War of the Worlds." As a kid I found the "Morlocks" in "The Time Machine" terrifying. I probably needed the light left on in my bedroom for a few nights. The story begins in Victorian England and has Rod Taylor as "H. George Wells" dabbling in time travel. It was Taylor's first lead role in a feature film. His character is part of a social circle of men.
He lays out his thoughts about time travel, discussing time as "the fourth dimension." He demonstrates what he says is a miniature time machine. We soon learn he has the full-size version. The reaction is skeptical with the exception of one friend, David Filby. David has an open mind and seems to represent the kind of friend who simply has faith.
"The Time Machine" won an Oscar for its time-lapse photographic effects. A highlight of this movie, its signature scene perhaps, is the Taylor character looking across the street at a department store mannequin as he travels into the future. The fashions evolve. He makes stops in the years 1917, 1940 and finally 1966 when mankind is besieged by the nuclear threat. Air raid sirens are blaring. People are retreating into shelters. The nuclear holocaust unfolds.
H. George Wells escapes in his machine just in time. The nuclear explosion has resulted in a volcano spewing lava that envelopes the time machine. H. George Wells spins into the future, having to wait for erosion to free him. He emerges in the very distant future, viewing a world that is anything but a megalopolis. No robots to deal with. The atmosphere is primitive. Humans have developed in two directions. The above-ground "Eloi" are passive. They are actually like free-range cattle for the underground "Morlocks."
The lead female character in the movie is wonderfully played by Yvette Mimieux. She is an "Eloi" who becomes connected to the Taylor character. Eventually we learn the Eloi aren't in a dead-end direction. The Taylor character helps them re-awaken survival instincts. One of the most riveting scenes is where a young male Eloi forms a fist, as if he's realizing such an impulse for the first time, and fights back versus a stunned Morlock. We get a hopeful vision about humanity.
George Pal wanted to see a sequel to "The Time Machine." He passed away before it could be produced. Anytime a sequel is contemplated, the original must have been pretty good. Indeed, the time travel concept seems perfect for a "franchise" of movies, the kind of thing Hollywood likes these days. Time travel opens up vistas of storytelling. You can go back in time as well as forward.
 
Crichton's take on time
The movie "Timeline," made in 2003, might have been the start of a franchise. It had a good start as it was based on a Michael Crichton novel. That would appear to be a blessing, though we learn it was not an automatic blessing. "Timeline" didn't follow in the footsteps of "Jurassic Park." I had already read lukewarm reviews when I attended a showing of  "Timeline" in Alexandria.
Having read the book, I was eager to see the movie regardless of how well it had been received. Maybe it was good my expectations were low. I liked the movie and am rather surprised how it was panned by critics. Richard Donner directed "Timeline."
The basic story: Archaeologists are sent back in time to rescue their professor from medieval France in the middle of a battle. Crichton imagines time travel as a process that takes a toll on the human body. This time machine damages DNA and internal organs. You can get by if you don't overuse it. Donner wanted to limit the use of CGI. We see Medieval re-enactors doing battle.
I'm especially fascinated by the "trebuchets" we see in the movie. A trebuchet (pronounced "tre-bu-SHAY") is a siege machine which was used in the Middle Ages. The defenders of a castle shout out "trebuchet!" as the first projectiles get flung. These projectiles can weigh up to 350 pounds and they slam into enemy fortifications at high speeds. Whoa! So effective were they, their usefulness was noted long after gunpowder had been developed. "Timeline" shows the old weaponry most effectively.
The trebuchet is a type of catapult that works by using the energy of a raised counterweight to throw a projectile. A sling has a pouch containing the projectile. The power source is most basic: gravity! Eventually this device gave way to the cannon. These are the kind of tech developments we as a society should frown upon, of course.
Time travel stories can share the moral dilemma of whether to share advanced knowledge or tech with people of long-ago times. The "Star Trek" movie about time travel had this element. So does "Timeline" in which the professor shares about "greek fire." He is being held captive by the English. The French with their catapults are nearing the gates. Greek fire is an incendiary weapon, effective even on water. The East Romans used it in naval battles to great effect.
Eventually the French do win in the siege shown in "Timeline." I found Crichton's book to be very compelling through roughly the first half, which is why I just had to finish it. I found the later portions of the book to be far less effective, as the story seems to descend into a cliche-like ending for a time-travel story. It's almost as if Crichton, who really was a genius, was in a hurry to finish it. Perhaps he was eager to get the movie deal arranged.
As always, Crichton delved into complex science deeply. A focus: quantum technology. He suggested that "time" as we grasp it doesn't really exist and that we're just passing from one dimension into another. There are countless dimensions. He suggested that no one could really change history. That's because the major forces of history are too powerful for a mere individual or two to make any difference. Anyone who tried might be written off as a lunatic.
What kind of world awaits us in the distant future? Is it a primitive type of place, coming about because of catastrophic war that sends us back to the Stone Age? Are we headed to a vast metropolis like "North Am," the backdrop for the fascinating "Magnus, Robot Fighter" comic book? It's hard enough predicting where the stock market will be six months from now. No one could have imagined Facebook in the 1970s.
Where the future takes us, heaven only knows. As for the past, it makes us hang our head about all the wars and suffering, how the Indians were encamped outside Fort Snelling and basically left to die, for example.
Maybe it's best to not know what the future holds.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 15, 2013

Streets of west Morris seem a step backward

A grand Victorian-style home of west Morris (B.W. photo)
I remember a slogan for the town of Johnson MN: "Where the pavement ends and the west begins." I'm pretty sure that slogan was promoted by an establishment called "Andy's Pop Store." It's the kind of establishment that would have fit right in on Route 66.
I got to remembering the slogan Sunday (7/14) as we made our weekly jaunt through west Morris. We visit friends at West Wind Village. It's no routine matter driving from Pacific Avenue to WWV. We finally decided our usual street was no-go. So I looked for an alternative street. Not much better if at all. The solution will probably be to avoid Pacific Avenue completely. We can get on Park Avenue from the highway or from West 5th Street.
You may be aware that many of the streets in west Morris are in just awful shape. They are so deteriorated, they hardly seem like paved streets at all. Potholes are a ubiquitous annoyance. You have to slow to a crawl. You steer frantically as if you're trying to avoid land mines. You feel concern for the condition of your car as you cover such terrain. Indeed, it practically seems as though "the pavement ends" as you leave Pacific Avenue (and go west).
Pacific itself has never been a prize-winner of a road. Morris was originally set up for Pacific and Atlantic to be co-equal. The plan was similar to how Benson turned out. Morris backed away and settled on Atlantic Avenue for the heart of the business district. This isn't to say west Morris didn't have its attributes or its heyday. Going back over a century, west Morris was actually associated with great prosperity. The status of Pacific Avenue was apparently not a factor.
West and east Morris came to have nicknames based on their perceived level of prosperity. I have always been a little puzzled hearing about this chapter of Morris history. First we had the nickname "Piety Hill" which denoted the west. It grew out of the fact the three English-speaking churches got established there. These were the Congregational Church, the Episcopal Church and the Methodist Church. I'm a little puzzled because I don't notice anything like a hill in west Morris. Perhaps the term was just grabbed out of pragmatism.
Along came a fellow named John House, a successful implement dealer, who lived on the east side. He decided we needed a dichotomy. If the west was "piety," well then let's call the east "poverty." Hence, "poverty hill." There is a much more discernible hill on the east side than west. The old public school capped the elevation. That old school, now home to pigeons and Lord knows what else, is set to be razed any day now, I guess. It's about time. I told Bob Welle of Fergus Falls Monuments that I hope he isn't downwind when it happens.
Welle's business occupies the old Stark's Grocery. I told Mr. Welle that Stark's is where I obtained most of my once-massive baseball card collection. A fellow sold that collection on commission for me in the 1980s for a considerable amount of $. The baseball card market has deflated because of saturation. I bought my cards as a kid (a nickel a pack which included a hard stick of gum) with no thought to them becoming collectibles. We were always looking for Twins of course (like Zoilo Versalles).
So, east Morris was once "poverty hill." Not the kind of nickname you'd like to bandy about a lot. I'm reminded of Burlington IA which has a park called "Mosquito Park." (Maybe they've changed it by now.) There was an element of jest in offering a term like "poverty hill."
Seriously, there was an element of competition between east Morris and west Morris. I sense nothing of the sort today. I just think there ought to be grave concern about the state of many of the streets of west Morris. Maybe horses will become the more practical means of transportation there.
The early days of Morris saw the so-called Yankees (not to be confused with the baseball players) settle on the west side. They attended those three English-speaking churches. The Congregational Church was located across from the Carnegie Library. That church is now gone, and the library is now the museum. The more recent European immigrants settled on the east side of Morris. They attended churches using their native languages or the Catholic Church which used Latin for worship.
"Status" accrued from living on the west side. Morris was home to several members of the state legislature in those olden times. All opted for "Piety Hill" (west) as their home neighborhood. Let's recall who these distinguished gentlemen were: Representatives J.D. Good, H.H. Wells and L.C. Spooner; and Senator E.J. Jones.
The "Yankees" had natural advantages. We can also call them "old-stock Americans." They had no special adjustments. English was already their language. They in fact established the culture that others had to adapt to. These Yankees had their origins from England or the British Isles. Some even had a family tree going back to the Mayflower. I believe former Morris mayor Lee Swanson can trace his lineage back to that seminal settlement.
The Yankees of 19th Century Morris respected Puritan ethics. They largely set cultural standards. The east side got the original courthouse which had an auditorium. The likes of Ignatius Donnelly and Knute Nelson gave addresses there. Donnelly gave us the dream of "Nininger."
The late 19th Century, which stood as Morris' first chapter, wasn't all work and no play. There were lawn socials, whist parties, formal dinners and dancing through the night! Civilization was quite possible without cable or satellite TV, or Facebook either for that matter. We read of a gala open-air party that included a hundred Japanese lanterns.
Oh, but the adversity in those times could be ample. I wrote recently about the grasshopper invasion of 1876, from the perspective of both Morris and Cold Spring. "Rocky Mountain grasshoppers" were sheer invaders. Oh, there were blizzards. Prairie fires too. Nevertheless, Morris residents in the 1880s began putting up large and quite opulent homes. I wrote recently about one such home, likely the most noteworthy old home in Morris: the home (originally) of Lewis Stanton. Yes, it was in the "Piety" (west) side of town, along Park Avenue which in those days was the most grand drive in Morris. Another significant early home was that of farm implement dealer A.A. Stone.
The prosperity of that time owed itself partly to the good reputation of the Morris school, we learn. The Lincoln School was an early school in Morris. Click on the link below to view a picture of it from the Minnesota Digital Library.
 
I attended the school called "Longfellow" on the west side (grades 1-3). It was there I was informed of the assassination of JFK. Word came from my third grade teacher Lillian Peterson, now Lillian Ehlers, who has been blessed by living over age 100. She lives at West Wind Village and we often see her to say hello and to chat.
The Morris newspaper of the 1880s made note of all the budding developments. It made note of the building boom. Also, of that "splendid school." And, the "various church accommodations." The paper lauded our town for its "desirable society and good police regulations." And then there's this sentence: "We were going to say fourthly the good condition of our streets, but we guess we won't."
I guess we won't in the year 2013 either.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Our grand Stanton House has connections to greatness

The Stanton House, Morris, pictured in winter
Four blocks from the U.S. capitol, you'll find Stanton Park. Stanton College Preparatory School is located in Jacksonville FL. There's a Stanton County NE. The name is preserved even though the individual seems to have faded into the mists of history.
Edwin M. Stanton was a highly accomplished American in the 19th Century who helped preserve the Union. Abraham Lincoln came away with iconic status for doing that. Winning the Civil War is not a task that can fall on one man's shoulder's, though. Edwin Stanton was secretary of war under Lincoln during that tragic but (apparently) necessary test for the young U.S. nation. Alistair Cooke called the war "a firebell in the night."
Just recently there was a big-screen cinematic release called "Lincoln." He became the face of the Union side. But Stanton seemed a most essential right-hand man. And, we ought to care out here in West Central Minnesota. Edwin had a son named Lewis who came out here and helped give Morris its early personality. If my research is correct, Lewis must have been very young when coming here, like just out of high school. I have heard that Morris was judged a good place for him to live based on climate. He had some health issues.
It's hard to find much detailed information about Lewis. But he left behind a house that stands as his symbol. It's one of the several grand Victorian-style houses that were built here in the 1880s, a prosperous time. The houses were built like fortresses which was no coincidence. The outside world still had its share of dangers. We were a rough-hewn nation as you proceeded west.
You should know the Stanton House still stands. You can see it straight ahead as you turn off Pacific Avenue and head toward West Wind Village. Indeed, it still looks very grand. It dates back to 1880. It came to be known as "the Chimneys," along with the rather disparaging "Stanton's folly." Perhaps it was more ostentatious than needed? More trouble than it was worth?
I have been inside this grand old mansion. I interviewed a couple of exchange students there in my work for the local print media. I found the house to be quite agreeable in all respects. It's on Park Avenue in west Morris. Park Avenue had a grand and prestigious place in Morris' early history. It was the ideal place to take a buggy ride on a summer evening. Pacific and Park were the main arteries going through west Morris.
West Morris seems to have been planned with 90-degree angles not very much in mind. Whatever, it has blossomed into a quite fine place for many Morris residents to live. (I took a photo once of the infamous "five-way intersection.")
West Morris had the greater prestige in the days when Morris had the well-understood dichotomy of "east side" and "west side." People of English stock tended to settle on the west side. They had a natural advantage with their mastery of the English language. Non-English speaking immigrants tended to settle on the east side.
Today the old residential core of Morris is all quite homogeneous. If anything, it has a problem with aging homes. I suppose the main "prestige" is projected now by those new additions out on the eastern fringe, out toward the bypass and river. Our civilization plods along.
I predict that with our aging population and smaller families, small houses will become more trendy.
 
Edwin Stanton: dynamic person
The father of Lewis Stanton had the kind of life that should keep his name more high-profile. History can be odd in how it bestows attention. For example, the Union Civil War General name of George Thomas should be much better-remembered than he is. Another example is Edwin Stanton.
Edwin was an Ohio native and began his political life as a lawyer in that state, and as an antislavery Democrat. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1847 and to Washington, D.C. in 1856. In 1859 he was the defense attorney in the celebrated trial of Daniel Sickles, who would become a Union general. Sickles was tried for murdering his wife's lover (son of Francis Scott Key, incidentally). Sickles was acquitted after Stanton used the insanity defense which was then barely established.
Stanton was appointed U.S. attorney general under President James Buchanan. His adventures continued as he was sent west, way west of Morris, as he became an agent for land claims in California. The year: 1858. It was the year Minnesota became a state. In California Edwin broke up a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government of vast tracts of land.
Edwin developed a rock-solid commitment to preserving the Union. He is credited for influencing Buchanan's position away from entertaining thoughts of secession or perhaps accommodating it. Those thoughts instead gravitated to denouncing secession as unconstitutional and illegal. Such a commitment put Stanton in Lincoln's inner circle of public servants who would make the maximum commitment toward preserving the Union.
Stanton in fact became old Abe's closest advisor. He took the helm as Lincoln's secretary of war on January 15, 1862. He rolled up his sleeves for administering the huge (and presumably bureaucratic) war department. He was wary about any officers who were suspected of sympathies for the South. Lincoln said "without him, I should be destroyed." Stanton made a political switch, becoming a Republican.
The so-called "rebellion" of the South was put down, albeit with tremendous cost, sacrifice and tragedy. Indeed, a "firebell in the night."
The messy business was hardly over, though. How to come together again? In this respect Stanton fell into a deep conflict situation. He disagreed with the new president, Andrew Johnson, whose chief fame was - you're well aware if you stayed awake in history class - getting impeached.
Those were the days of "the bloody shirt." Politicians waved it, figuratively speaking, as a way of affirming the Union's efficacy. Johnson's problem? He seemed a little lenient. Stanton disagreed with Johnson's plans to readmit the seceded states to the Union without guarantees of civil rights for the freed slaves. Slavery! It must have gotten established here under the guiding hand of the Devil. The Civil War was the bloody price we paid.
We have a wonderful monument in Morris to the commitment of the Union cause: the Sam Smith statue at Summit Cemetery.
President Johnson tried to force Stanton from office in 1867. Stanton refused and the U.S. Senate stood behind him. Stanton had a central role in trying to impeach Johnson. The president escaped ouster by a single vote in the Senate.
Stanton went back to the legal profession after his significant government career. Ulysses Grant appointed Stanton to the Supreme Court but Stanton died four days after he was confirmed by the Senate. He was the second American other than a president to be on a U.S. postage stamp, good ol' Ben Franklin having been the first. It was Franklin, you might recall, who wanted the turkey, not the eagle, to be the national symbol. ("Turkeys are industrious.") This seven-cent stamp was issued in 1871.
Lewis was part of Edwin's second family. Edwin was first married to Mary Lamson in 1836. To that union two children were born. They resided in Cadiz OH. Mary died in 1844. Edwin married Ellen Hutchinson in 1856. This marriage was blessed by four children, Lewis coming along in 1862 (when the war's fury was at its height). The other three children were Eleanor (born in 1857), James (1861) and Bessie (1863).
What a tremendous mark Edwin left on our still-young nation. It was Edwin who gave the famous quote as Lincoln passed away: "Now he belongs to the ages." We can say the same of Edwin and his unflagging moral convictions, sharp legal mind and hesitance to compromise. I hope the 19th Century stays well preserved in Morris historical annals. Just close your eyes and imagine you're guiding a horse and buggy along Park Avenue on a nice still summer Sunday.
Click on the permalink below to see a vintage photo of Morris' Stanton House, from the Minnesota Digital Library.
 
I'm wondering if maybe Michael Eble's art students at UMM could begin doing paintings of scenes from Morris' past, to complement the current subject matter they portray? Old photos from the digital library would be the guide. How about the alfalfa arch?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, July 1, 2013

Iowa case of Melissa Nelson gets curiouser

Will Melissa Nelson finally succeed with her grievance?
It's Brent Musburger redux. A few months ago I wrote a commentary in the wake of ol' Brent's drooling over a female in the stands. Alabama was playing Notre Dame. Musburger had a frame of mind about women rather typical for someone his age.
Oh, the frame of mind hasn't vanished completely. Cultural norms and attitudes don't change all that abruptly. But let's be blunt: Our manner of evaluating the opposite sex has evolved, and done so very constructively.
We have seen a retreat of what I'd call the "rat pack" set of attitudes. You remember, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. et al.? We can look back at all that as rather cute and innocuous. It seems harmless now that it's gone. Drooling over women with "curves." The "36-24-36" mystique. "Blonde bombshells." And along with that, an affinity with alcoholic drinks. Staying up late. Sharing off-color jokes.
We do see remnants of all this stuff. I just didn't expect to see it coming from an organization like the Iowa Supreme Court. Perhaps they all had their cocktail glasses handy as they rendered their judgment that put this all-male body in the news. Otherwise, who the heck would care about the Iowa Supreme Court? We're talking about "the woman fired for being too irresistible." It's almost embarrassing to write about.
Musburger is just an entertainer trying to make football interesting from his broadcast booth. We can be amused. A state supreme court is supposed to be an august body soberly weighing things. But this court has "stepped in it." A few days ago we learned they have had to take steps to try to backtrack. A sex discrimination lawsuit may have new life now. Maybe now it will be decided on the proper criteria, not as if the "rat pack" were occupying those chairs. Come to think of it, didn't Sammy Davis Jr. do a "here come the judge" routine on "Laugh In?"
It's rare for justices to grant petitions to rehear a case. But the Iowa Supreme Court, giving a definite impression of being beleaguered, has withdrawn its original judgment, unanimous no less, made in December. This is about the woman "fired because of her looks." You might say "you can't make this stuff up." The court will not hear new evidence. But we're likely to see a new opinion.
The decision to grant a re-hearing wouldn't happen unless someone was considering "changing his mind." The woman getting all this undesired attention is Melissa Nelson. She's actually a married mother of two. Based on the facts of this story, you might expect Nelson to look like Pamela Anderson Lee. Pamela represents the old, steadily declining template for how men, especially lecherous men, judged women. My headline about Musburger talked about "babes." This is how men used to talk. Some still do, just like some still smoke, drink and swear.
We eagerly looked for a photo of Nelson to see what kind of "bombshell" she might be. This in and of itself was degrading. It subjected her to disrespectful scrutiny. So, she has already suffered.
Is she "good looking?" I don't care. I don't wish to test my criteria for making such a judgment. The (lecherous?) men on the Iowa Supreme Court have no business doing so either. If they could all just suppress their hard-ons for a few seconds, we'd all be better off. Iowa can seek better ways to get in the news. Come to think of it, Iowa stumbles in this regard.
The Iowa caucuses might be their biggest claim to fame. Poor Iowa. After weeks of breathless media coverage focusing on the jockeying of the various candidates in Iowa, we got the climax of Mitt Romney being announced as the GOP winner. Albeit this was by a narrow margin, so narrow as to be called a "statistical tie" by Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC. As time went on we heard rumblings about how things may not have been completely in order with the Iowa GOP. Finally there was the revelation: It was Rick Santorum, not Romney, winning those pivotal caucuses.
I suppose Romney was sort of "anointed" by the GOP powers-that-be from the beginning, right? The Republicans are like that: the nomination goes to the guy whose "turn it is." It was Romney. But I resented the trainwreck that was the Iowa GOP caucuses. Thanks for nothing.
And now we can say "thanks for nothing" to the Iowa Supreme Court. The justices will try to put Band-Aids on an open wound. The public reaction to the December decision has been negative. Our judicial system is not insulated from public opinion.
Melissa Nelson spent ten apparently happy years as a dental hygienist for Dr. James Knight. This was until Dr. Knight blindsided her with a pink slip. Nelson was judged a "threat to his marriage."
Those rat pack justices ruled that Dr. Knight was within his legal limits because "the firing wasn't based on gender." Stu Cochrane is trying to put on a game face as Knight's attorney. It's like the attorney for the guy who tried to sue Minneapolis blogger John Hoff. We all knew the original judgment in that case was going to get overturned. It took a while but it got overturned. What should have been judged as a defamation case turned into "tortious interference." I felt tortured, just as I do now observing that beleaguered Iowa Supreme Court.
Six months before the firing, Dr. Knight and Nelson began exchanging text messages but it seemed quite innocuous, as the texts pertained to work and family matters such as children's activities. Indeed, men and women can have relationships that don't have sex as a component. Not all of it was innocuous. On one occasion the dentist sent a text asking how often Nelson experienced an orgasm. She didn't respond but didn't complain. Was the onus on her to complain?
Dr. Knight's wife also worked at the practice. She discovered the text messaging and ordered her husband to fire Nelson. Oh my, the couple consulted the senior pastor at their church, apparently a Brent Musburger type, and he said Nelson "should be fired to protect (the Knights') marriage."
Dr. Knight reportedly told Nelson's husband "she's a big threat to our marriage." What a bizarre story. Can't a sound marriage withstand some outside stimuli? The dentist feared he might attempt an affair with Nelson if the two remained professionally associated.
The Iowa Supreme Court reasoned in its "tortuous" (not tortious) way that sexual harassment wasn't the issue because the real issue was "emotions tied to a specific relationship and not based solely on a person's gender." Nelson earlier this year had asked the court to reconsider. On Monday, June 24, Chief Justice Mark Cady signed an order resubmitting Nelson's lawsuit for consideration by the court. There will be no further oral arguments or additional input from Dr. Knight. It's just a re-evaluation now.
What pushed the justices off the plane of sound reason in the first place? The ACLU applauds the re-consideration. The ACLU argues that while you don't have the right to dress any way you want at work, you have "the right to be a woman."
Nelson's suit says she was fired based on Dr. Knight's "irresistible attraction to her." The justices originally said "civil rights laws seek equality, but the firing doesn't jeopardize that goal." Juxtapose this sterile reasoning with how Dr. Knight acknowledged that "he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing." This kind of language is right in line with the "rat pack." It's a little charming or amusing if you look at it in an outdated context.
Musburger's comments were likewise, if you view him as a mere entertainer, supplying "color" for a sport, football, which itself might be outdated because of the exploding revelations about its health dangers.
Our world and civilization continually evolve. The criteria by which a certain category of men evaluated women can be dismissed. Maybe the Iowa Supreme Court is getting the message. As for the Iowa GOP, it's probably hopeless.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com