Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Boring" history? Not when you dig in.

Quincy Koons does some research
My niece, Quincy Koons, spent a day recently with me in the Union Station archive, and we had fun digging through old city directories, old maps, old newspapers and so on.

"We'll hunt treasure," was how I put it, and we did, and had a great time.

One thing she said surprised me. "History is boring," she said, but she meant the history classes she takes at school.

She's right, though. I remember my history classes. We studied kings and Roman emperors, explorers and soldiers, inventors and warriors. I know who invented the cotton gin (Eli Whitney), the date of the battle of Hastings (1066) and the Roman emperor who converted his entire country to Christianity (Constantine.)

And I also remember, too, being bored.

Bored by the Crusades?  Well, yeah. I went to Catholic school where, amid the usual flurry of dates and names droned out by nuns, the Crusades were presented as some sort of grand noble march to "free" the Holy Land.

The nuns forgot to mention all the pillage and rape, the endless looting, the intrigue and double dealing, the conquest and defeat and suffering that is the part of any huge cultural clash.

Heck, did you know that the real-life model for Dracula was involved in the clash between Islam and Christianity that we still see today?  Talk to me about a guy who impales whole towns full of people, lengthwise, on wooden stakes just to prove he's bad, you will have my interest.

A 1942 map of the war teaches real-life geography
And that's the point. History has all the cool stories, but you have to get away from leaders, from politics and famous people to tell them. Sadly, far too many history books today don't do that. But it is the stories of the ordinary people, the people who did the suffering and fighting and bleeding and dying, where the real fun is.

Here at Union Station we have piles of boxes of stuff that was donated by ordinary people. When I told Quincy we'd spend the day treasure hunting, even I didn't know what we'd find in some random box.

A scary news story
First I showed her a Polk City Directory of Ogden in 1942. I explained how those directories showed not just names and addresses, but who was employed where, the names of people's spouses, where they lived and even a bit about how well they were doing economically.

It can also show who lived at every address in that year, I said, and Quincy immediately wanted to know who lived where she lives now. Easy to do -- just look up the street number, there was the name. We found out that the guy worked as a gardener at the old Dee Hospital, which used to be at Harrison and 24th, right down the street from her house.

Quincy was fascinated -- a connection to the past living right where she does!

Cover of the scrapbook
We pulled down a storage box I've never looked at labeled "World War II scrapbook." Inside was a treasure indeed, and one that Quincy, who is 12, could certainly relate to.

When World War II started in 1941, Reed LeRoy Roberts was a 13-year-old student in Grant Ward, Idaho. He was learning geography in the one-room school house, so the teacher told him to clip out stories about the war from the Ogden Standard-Examiner, following the war as it progressed.

Grant Roberts --  Reed's son? -- donated the scrapbook to us for safe keeping and it is a treasure. Reed clipped out stories, maps, cartoons and pictures. He wrote commentary on what he was learning.

Sure, you could find exactly the same stuff by going through microfilm of the paper, but the scrapbook personalizes it. You see what a 13-year-old Idaho kid saw, through his eyes. You learn what he learned. You are inside his head.

Quincy loved it. She paged through, picking out headlines, pictures, cartoons. She shot about 100 pictures with my digital camera. She compiled enough stuff to do a special report on her visit to her history teacher.

But she left still thinking history is boring. Which -- the way it is too often taught and written -- it is. But not when you dig in and find the fun stuff.

The allies rally against Japan

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Racism on the Rails? That Era's Zion Curtain.

Union Station Red Caps.
We all know that legally enforced apartheid -- separation of the races -- was common in the United States, including Utah, until the 60s, at least.

OK, longer.  We still have racism today. Ask any black person.

Ogden sees many remnants of this racism. Much of the city's black population, in the 1950s, lived west of Washington Boulevard. You can say "well, they worked for the railroads so they lived close to work," and you might be right, except in the 1950s the city was "red-lined." That line went right down Washington Boulevard. How do I know this? In 1978, when I was looking for a place to live in Ogden, a real estate person told me so in so many words.

They city's central business district was the same way. The south side of 25th Street was where the black businesses were, the north side was for the white. Never the twain met. The Porters and Waiters Club on 25th Street (south side) hosted world-famous black jazz performers in the 1940s because it was the only place in Utah where they were allowed to find a good room to sleep in.

But that was then. This is now and I have to admit, I am like most folks, I find it easy to let the mind drift and pretend that things weren't really so bad "here," where I am, that folks "here" were kinder and more intelligent and so on and so forth that the folks "there," wherever that is.

And then BAM!, it hits you in the face.

So I'm looking through railroad cookbooks. Why?

The railroads used to run really well-appointed dining cars on their passenger trains. How well-appointed? Real silverware, real tablecloths, real china plates and elegant glassware.

There are some amazing recipes in these things. If you could order it at a 5-star restaurant in New York, you could order it on the train. Oysters Rockefeller, prime rib, three kinds of clam chowder, whatever. The variety of foods on the menu boggles the mind.

Union Station Red Caps in 1946. Their "place" was set down
in rules and regulations.
We have a couple of these cookbooks, which are really manuals for the operation of the entire dining car, so they go beyond just preparing food. They also have detailed rules for operating the dining car, including personnel management.

And right here on page 10 of the 1927 "Regulations and Instructions, Dining Car Service" put out by the Office of the manager, Dining Car and Hotel Department, Ogden, UT., of the Union Pacific Railroad System, is this little nugget on where and when staff could eat:

"Train Employees (colored employes excepted) ... may be served at any time after the start of the meal when there are vacant chairs, and they can be served without inconveniencing or delaying service to passengers.

"Colored Employes will ordinarily be served coffee and rolls at 6:30 a.m. and supper at 5:00 p.m., they to finish and be out of diner by 7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. respectively, when regular calls are made for passengers. Breakfast and luncheon will be served them after passengers have been taken care of for those meals.

"Colored employees will be served at tables next to pantry, which sections have draw curtains for separating those tables from balance of dining room when in judgement of steward it is desirable to do so from standpoint of passengers observation, etc., and which applies particularly to breakfast and dinner service to colored employes in advance of regular call for passengers."

So, got that?  White employees can eat during regular meal times, with the passengers, as long as the passengers can find a seat first.  White employees may be seen by the passengers. White employees are just fine to have around.

"Colored" employees, on the other hand, must eat quickly, quietly, and as much as possible out of sight of the passengers, especially during breakfast and dinner, when their appetites might be upset by the mere sight, the reminder of existence of, black folk.


A "Zion Curtain" for race instead of booze.

That's how it was folks.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Heap Big Talking Papoose" Bryan Visits Ogden and Union Station

William Jennings Bryan is famous for his "Cross of Gold" speech and portrayals of him in the film "Inherit the Wind," but few know, or care, that he could really rouse a crowd, if not an entire city, just by the power of his voice and presence.

He did precisely that to Ogden on July 21, 1897.
The Standard in 1897 made its political stance clear on its masthead.

Oh what excitement! Bryan had unsuccessfully run for president in 1896, but was still the darling of the Democratic Party. He was touring the country, fighting for "bi-metalism," a policy that linked the value of silver to gold at the ration of 16:1, which sounds boring (and is now, to be honest) but the monetary policy, if not the entire economy, was at stake.

It's complicated -- you can read the wikipedia article on it here (click) and even listen to him give a bit of the speech here (click) --  but the bottom line was that bi-metalism would mean more money in circulation, which proponents said would improve the economy. Bankers resisted bi-metalism because a strict gold standard gave them more control over the economy.

The Ogden Standard was fiercely in favor of bi-metalism because it was felt it would help the state's agriculture, at that time a major industry. When Bryan came through town on a speaking tour, then, Ogden -- which was also a Democratic stronghold -- pulled out the stops.

The entire town was invited to come to Union Station to greet him. A parade took him to the home of D. H. Peery which stood at the corner of 24th and Adams Avenue. Crowds fill the city's opera house, which stood where the later Orpheum Theater and, now, the Utah State Office Building, stands.

What a circus.

"A procession was formed with the Ogden City Brass Band in the lead," reported the Standard. "and the party was driven direct to the residence of D. H. Peery, Sr., who had placed his palatial residence at the disposal of Mr. and Mrs. Bryan. ... On either side of the carriages occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Bryan were platoons of bicyclists and following them came citizens in carriages. They came up 25th street with carriages three abreast,the sidewalks and streets lined with a cheering mass of humanity. The carriage line reached half a mile..."


The Standard hailed Bryan as "the next president" even though he had just lost the election eight months before. More than 5000 residents went to the reception. The theater itself was packed. William Glasmann, who also happened to be owner and publisher of he Standard, was the master of ceremonies.

Bryan's speech was almost entirely transcribed by the Standard, quite the feat by whoever had to take the dictation and then write it all. There were no tape recorders then, but stenographers could keep up with anyone.

Reading the speech, even in your head, you can get a hint of the power he could wield with his voice and language. Politicians today read texts carefully vetted by an army of writers and focus groups, a process that guarantees a bland performance by even the best orator -- as President Obama, sadly, proves every time he opens his mouth.

Bryan, who was from Nebraska, hailed from an era when speeches were spoken with power, force and meaning.  The story doesn't mention it, but I'd bet he didn't even have notes, let alone a teleprompter.

"Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: In talking to you tonight upon the subject of bi-metalism, I want you to understand that it is not my thought that you need to be convinced on the subject because I know that the people of this state have it fixed in their minds and are acquainted with the arguments which support our position,"  and then went on for several thousand more words, mostly, he said, just to reinforce their beliefs, to make them more ardent in their support.
 "No man can afford to rob his neighbor, either upon the highway or by legislation because he can never repay in money for the scorn, contempt and hatred cast upon him for his actions," Bryan concluded. The paper reports a call for "three cheers"  was like "wildfire, closing the meeting in a blaze of glory."

After the speech Bryan visited a nearby camp of the Washakie Indians, who made him an honorary member of the tribe. Glasmann introduced him by saying "Great Chief Washakie, I have with me a visitor who came from a country many moons away. He desires to make the acquaintance of the tribe of the Washakies. I take pleasure in presenting 'Heap-Big-Talking-Papoose of the Platte."

Heap Big Talking Papoose? Gotta love that, eh?

Bryan getting on a train in Ogden. This is the only photo the Union Station Archive has of his visit.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Dear Rob Bishop: Quit Wasting Time.

The House of Representatives, continuing it's policy of wasting everyone's time, voted yesterday, yet again, for the 56th time, to repeal "Obamacare."

Washington Post Columnist Dana Milibank had a great take on it today -- these votes are so pro-forma that even the Republicans are bored. (click)

With Congress  up to nothing, I was inspired to write to my own congressman, Rep. Rob Bishop, who I used to think had his heart in the right place, at least, but now I'm not so sure.

Still, you go to war with the congressman you have, not the one you want.  Here's my letter. If you want to do the same, click on this link ---- LINK --- and do the "contact me" thing.

Dear Rob,

I note with some dismay that the House of Representatives voted, yet again -- 56 this time? -- to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

I assume you voted for it because news reports say all the GOP voted for it. Whether you did or not, I have to express my dismay that you guys are, once again, wasting time.

There is lots to do, but all I am seeing is these time-wasters. Abortion bills, pipeline bills, this. Really?

May I please note that the late and much honored Betsy Lockhart, former Speaker of the Utah House, was one of the signers of a letter to the editor in your local paper, the Standard-Examiner, calling on Congress (which means you) to approve some sort of Immigration Reform?  This letter ran in the S-E last year. It was signed by all the leaders of both houses of the Legislature. So far you've done nothing.

I note the GOP is adamant to oppose President Obama's own steps in this regard, but I have yet to see House GOP counter-proposals.

Congress has yet to take action on the military situation in the Middle East. President Obama is sending increasing levels of involvement back to Iraq, and back to the Syrian-ISIL areas, and it is Congress' role to approve or deny him the power to do this.

I strongly believe we should not be involved at all,  that we should pull our forces out and let the middle eastern nations deal with their own mess. I am extremely distressed that Congress seems to be OK with letting the President do whatever he wants over there.

It doesn't matter what I think, it does matter what Congress thinks. When will you act?

As to the ACA/Obamacare, there are several reasons why I wish you'd find something else to do.

For one, it is NOT federal health care.  I wish it were and that it were a single-payer system. If the GOP were to propose replacing it by dropping the eligibility age for  Medicare to zero, I'd vote GOP for the rest of my life.

Absent a replacement, may I note, Rob, that I am on the Union Station Foundation board of directors in Ogden. We run Union Station for the city. We employe a number of people at Union Station, none of whom we can afford to give benefits.

Several of them now have medical insurance because of the ACA.

A couple weeks ago my wife and I had dinner at Two-Bit Street Cafe on 25th Street, and I strongly urge you to give it a try next time you're in town. The food is excellent and the owners, Penny and her husband, are a strongly local business, dedicated to making it on their own, pillars of the community.

While eating we chatted with Penny, who said she finally, at last, has been able to buy medical insurance, "Thank you Obamacare," she said.

So if you are going to repeal the ACA, Rob, please come to Union Station and tell our employees that you are canceling their medical insurance. Then go over to Two-Bit Street, have lunch (I'll buy!) and tell Penny the same thing.

I might suggest telling her after she cooks your food. When she gets mad she doesn't do her best.

Charlie Trentelman

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Wartime Sacrifice -- Yeah, they used to do that.

World War II consumer pledge
Back  in 2001after 9-11, President George W. Bush was asked what Americans could do to support the effort.

"Go shopping," was his answer, and went on to discuss how the health of the American economy was critical, how we couldn't let terrorists keep us from living our normal lives, and so on.

I suspect he also wanted folks to shop so the economic activity would both make folks happy and provide taxes to pay for the war. Raising taxes, asking actual sacrifice, seems to be anathema to politicians these days, no matter what.

This had an unfortunate side-effect: Americans have not had to sacrifice for this war. A vast majority view it as nothing more than noise,  like peanut butter commercials.

O, yes, families of the 5,000-plus killed have sacrificed a bunch. And the families of the soldiers, airmen, Marines and seamen who've served in the wars have. Friends, relatives, too. But even adding all that up, I would wager fewer than 10 percent of Americans have been directly touched.

WWII booklet to rally public
support for the war effort
The standard-issue American with no direct family involvement - folks like me - has had it easy. My taxes haven't gone up, my ability to buy toys has not gone down. The supply of the food, clothing and modern gadgets so critical to my American Way of Life has never been interrupted or restricted in the least.

Does it have to be this way?

I have no idea.

How you can help win!
My father, who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, was a bit dismissive of the rationing and other limitations put on folks during that scuffle. Some of the restrictions were mostly to make people aware, he said, not because of some dire shortage.  Was he right?

I know they rationed gasoline, not because gasoline was short (the US was a major producer then, too) but because driving wore out tires and rubber WAS short. Drives for scrap metal were an essential part of the war effort -- I saw one news article warning that the nation's supply of scrap was down to two weeks -- because scrap was a lot more easily converted into tanks and guns than iron ore was.

The nation's economy was different back then. World War II was war on a national scale. The entire resources of the country had to be shifted to war production from the very small pre-war state to enormous wartime state. That shift in national resources was bound to create shortages, changes, and disruptions.

Fighting the war at home
These days we already have a massive wartime infrastructure. The US spends more on the military than any ten other nations on the planet, combined. We're used to it. It's what we do, war or no war.

It's hard to see how they could change things.

That makes possible war without general immediate sacrifice. We'd all be better off if we weren't spending all that money on defense, but shifting a substantial portion of it back to peacetime production would, again, cause massive disruptions, job changes and so on. Look what just the demise of the Space Shuttle has done to Box Elder County.

How did they get the nation to go along with the changes the first time? What sort of national campaign would they have to run to make a similar shift today palatable?

These exhibits here are a hint. They made it a matter of patriotism, of national pride. The logic of living a thrifty life anyway is good, but showing how it can help win the war is even better.

In our collection here at Union Station we've got this nifty little booklet from a local natural gas company that talks about the "consumer pledge" and gives hints on how to conserve precious resources for the war effort: Don't toss leftovers, save fats for bomb production, learn to cook tougher cuts of meat, learn to get the most nutrition from your food.

There's a big section on maintaining your refrigerator and other home appliances and tools. It takes 600 refrigerators to make one tank, we are told, so make that fridge last!

Compare that to today where I was told, in all seriousness by the nice folks at Sears, that no matter what I did, I could count on my brand new fridge dying in 10 years because that's just how they're made
these days.

We also have a little 4-page recipe booklet published in 1941 by Family Circle with lots of information, and recipes, for sending goodies to our boys in the military training camps. This was in August of 1941, before Pearl Harbor, but a lot of folks forget that the US was already ramping up its war footing in 1941. Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack, but war was no surprise.

They were the ways, big and small, that folks at home supported the war, and they did. Bond drives
paid a third of the cost of the war. People scoured fields for milkweed to make life-vests for pilots. People sorted and fiddled with ration coupons and shortages and regulations because that was what it would take.

What would it take to rally the population today, to get it to buy war bonds and pay higher taxes, to endure shortages and husband resources?

More important, does any politician believe in a particular war they want to fight so much that they're even willing to try?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Amazing Treasures That Just Show Up

Some days you dig and dig and dig and never know what you found, if anything. The purported grave of Alexander the Great is one such experience. (click).

Then there's the opposite: You walk into the office and there's a treasure, just sitting there.

In this case, it was a miniature version of a steamer trunk, about 6 inches wide and 18 inches long, green with brass-colored edging. Tracy Ehrig, our business manager, was in the fault where we keep all our artwork and said it was just sitting there.

Who put it there? No clue. Union Station has been owned by Ogden since 1978 and in that time has had several directors. The last one, Bob Geier, said he has no memory of this little trunk. Tracy, who has been here a number of years, didn't know about it either.

No number on it to indicate it was ever received officially. No record in our files. It's just: Here.

What's in it. Wow, cool stuff.

There's a bunch of newspapers from Omaha, Nebraska, dated 1944, a few magazines from 1949, several WWII ration books with stamps still inside, a book that helps someone in the navy recognize naval vessels from their silhouette, and a bunch of letters and a telegram.

There's a band that would have been pinned around a soldier's arm with "S.P." on it, for "shore patrol," the navy's cops. There's a black silk band with "US Coast Guard" written on it.

The interesting thing is none of this stuff is local to Utah. The letters are either mailed to, or from, Omaha addresses. The telegram is from Gentry S. Cannon who is wiring home from San Francisco on April 14 that he'll be home Sunday the 16th at 6:45 p.m, which puts the telegram in 1944. An envelope shows Gentry  in the Navy, serving on the USS Cambria, so he is probably coming home on leave.

(A side note to some folks today who may not know what a telegram is: Back before instant messaging, and when telephones were an expensive novelty that many folks did not have, a way to send word quickly to someone was a telegram.

(It was like you see in Western movies where a telegraph operator taps out morse code on a key, but by the 1940s it was more modern. You paid by the word, your message was typed or keyed into a teletype machine like a typewriter, it came out of another teletype machine at the receiving end where the message was pasted, or copied, onto a piece of paper and delivered to your recipient.

(As telephones became more common, telegrams lost favor. Now Western Union mostly just sends money for people.)

All this stuff is great fun, but also educational. The envelopes only contain receipts or bills, but those are a window into daily life in the 40s. Gentry Cannon was paying on a loan to the State Finance Company in 1945. He paid $15.83, which included 74 cents interest and $15.09 on the principal of the loan. It may seem funny to be borrowing less than $100 in the first place, but back them $75 was a decent week's wages, about the same as borrowing $1,000 today.

I love this book recognizing ships. It has a "Restricted" classification, meaning I shouldn't let it fall into enemy hand, I guess. On the other hand, all the ships in it are long gone. The Scharnhorst and Tirpitz didn't last the war.

There's a fun booklet called "The Home Volunteer's Defense Manual" full of advice on how you, as a consumer, can help win the war by -- get this -- being thrifty.

Remember how, when the so-called "War On Terror" started after 9-11 President Bush said the thing Americans could do to help was "go shopping." Spend money, burn up the credit cards, boost the economy to generate taxes?

During WWII it was the opposite. The production of war materials and weapons was a very real thing to civilians because the entire resources of the nation were put to the effort. The book notes that it takes the steel of 500 refrigerators to make one Army battle tank, and we needed all the tanks we could make, so it has advice on how to make your fridge last longer.

Ditto on preparing tough cuts of meat, using up leftovers, making home tools and appliances last longer, and on and on. Everything made a difference. People were urged to save cooking fats to make bombs with.

So it's a box full of really interesting stuff. I could spend a day reading the newspapers, which are all about the D-Day invasion. I need to research those ration stamps and see what one could buy with them.

Meanwhile, we'll be formally adding the whole to our collection. It may have just showed up, but it's staying here now.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

TBT- 100 years ago around Union Station

Throwback Thursday on Facebook is a time of old pictures, mostly, so here's a few from Ogden's Union Station going back quite a ways.

This one, showing our Grand Lobby, breaks my heart. Would you look at those chandeliers? Gorgeous things.

A few of of thought this picture had been photoshopped, but no. This is an actual historic photo, courtesy of the Union Pacific's history library, showing the Union Station's lobby as it looked when the place was finished, 90 years ago.

Those amazing chandeliers lit the lobby for years and years. What happened to them?

We'd love to know. I am told they were shipped out to be refurbished and never came back. Melted down for the war effort during WWII? No clue.

We are working to put a few of those benches back. We'll never have them all -- a lot are gone, and we need the space clear for events -- but two will be there on a permanent basis, both for the historic value and, frankly, just a good place to sit.

One was returned from restoration in December and the second will be back this month. We'll be announcing its coming with great fanfare, of course. Watch this space.


From the Jan. 8, 1915 Salt Lake Telegram
Ogden's downtown is beyond family friendly these days, with cafes and even a maternity shop. But it wasn't always so. The area's rough reputation was well-deserved. The street was so tough that one preacher even suggested someone dig a tunnel under it, all the way from Union Station to Washington Boulevard, just so travelers wouldn't have to see all the shenanigans going on.

100 years ago today Edward Hart found out the hard way. He was standing at the intersection of Commercial Alley (now Kiesel, I think) and 24th Street when someone hit him on the head, stole his money -- $20 was a sizable sum back then -- and gold watch, and ran off.

The police found the watch in a pawn shop, where it had been sold for $6.