A Closer Look At Some Not-So-Happy Days

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 17

A Closer Look At Some Not-So-Happy Days

This is Part 17 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on
information, concepts, and commentary introduced in earlier entries in the series,
and thus it is most effective to read the material sequentially from the beginning.

Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1



Russian Atomic Bomb Test: “Joe-1”


Headlines: September 23, 1949

“Now that Russia has the atomic bomb,
the world is in an armament race driving us to destruction.”

Billy Graham, Los Angeles Crusade, September/October 1949

Headlines about the explosion of the first Russian atomic bomb reached the American public on September 23, 1949. Fortuitously, Billy Graham started the first big Crusade of his career just two days later, in Los Angeles, California.



Billy lost no time in appropriating the Russian menace into his Crusade sermons. If some unconverted folks in his audience had been carelessly thinking they had plenty of time in life to “get right with the Lord,” he made sure they understood that their time for dilly-dallying had been cut short. The world might go up in smoke any time now.

Economic Fears

As noted in earlier entries in this blog series, Corporate America had been organizing efforts since the 1930s to somehow mesh their own interests with the interests of religion in America. By 1949 they had been attempting for close to two decades to convince pastors across the nation, and evangelists like Billy, to promote to their flocks the notion that totally unfettered Capitalism was the Bible Way of economics. And that Capitalism and Christianity hand in hand were the key elements to true American Patriotism. They had long been trying to press this point by continual attacks on the New Deal programs and policies that had been instituted by Franklin Roosevelt.

Billy Graham had been an easy target to convince, and he had absorbed the Corporate message practically into his pores. One London newspaper dubbed him “The Big Business Evangelist” in the 1950s. Billy regularly renounced any government restrictions or interference in economic affairs as being “socialism.”

There was just one problem with this emphasis on the New Deal in October 1949. The Bomb. Russia Had The Bomb! And while Crusade audiences might have been expected to be intrigued by rants against government programs that smelled of “creeping socialism,” who had time to care about socialism when the specter of nuclear annihilation hovered over America once Russia Had The Bomb?

Most people born in the 1970s or later have a very dim idea of just HOW pervasive and intense concern was about The Bomb in the 1950s and early 1960s. It’s not something you hear much about in nostalgia regarding those allegedly Happy Days. Richie Cunningham and The Fonz never talked about the bomb.


Danny and Sandy and their friends in the Grease movie never sat around discussing the bomb.


Andy and Barney and Gomer never fretted over The Bomb in Mayberry.


Yes, if you believed the nostalgia promoted on-screen about the 50s and early 60s, you’d never know The Bomb existed.

But it did. As you will see from this plaintive teen love ballad of that era.

“Fallout Shelter”

Singer: Billy Chambers    Composer: Bobby Braddock
Year: 1962


Mom and Dad and I were getting ready for the game
I couldn’t play tonight, you know, my leg’s still kinda lame
And then I heard my mother call out our Savior’s name
I looked to the east and the sky was filled with flames

Then Dad said don’t worry, we don’t have to be scared
We’ve got our new fallout shelter waitin’ for us there
When I told Dad I’d go get you, he said don’t you dare
There’s no room for your girl, son, that just wouldn’t be fair

I’d rather die with you than live without you
And I hope that you feel the same.

Then I thought of all the happy times that we had spent together
And the way we pledged our love to each other forever
Could I be there in that shelter with you out here
Rather than hold you in my arms? No, my darlin’, never

Old Uncle Ben, everybody’s friend, sits in there with his gun
The streets are all deserted now, did you see those people run?
You hold my hand, I understand the sickness has begun
And if we live or if we die our hearts will beat as one.

I’d rather die with you than live without you
And I hope that you feel the same.


A while back I discovered a website called “Atomic Platters” that features Nuclear Bomb-themed music from the Cold War era, with history and commentary about the items featured.


Here’s what that Atomic Platters site had to say about Fallout Shelter by Billy Chambers. (There were other songs by the same name.)

Pop culture historians and music scholars have long noted that the so-called teenage ‘death’ songs of the late 1950s and early 1960s (1959’s Teen Angel, 1960’s Tell Laura I Love Her, 1962’s Patches, etc.) were, in effect, allegorical Bomb songs. These dire, yet catchy songs about train accidents, car wrecks and double suicides channeled the atomic angst of America’s youth into mainstream hit singles.

The unforgettable 1962 release Fallout Shelter takes a more direct approach in conveying the fears of teenagers everywhere over nuclear annihilation. Its melodramatic storyline of a boy who wants to share his family’s shelter with his girlfriend and his father’s intervention is a perfect blending of elements from the overt and the allegorical/subtle Bomb song.

And with the tune’s lyrics about radiation sickness and fire-filled skies some might argue that the subtle route would have been the more profitable one. But then this particular non-charting record was written by a 21-year-old man who was more obsessed with impending hydrogen doom then he was in cracking the Top 40.

However, Bobby Braddock, the songwriter and producer of Fallout Shelter, admitted in an interview that drugs may have exacerbated his World War III mania: “To be very candid, I was a musician going through serious psychological problems due to an overdose of speed [amphetamine] at the time and I was quite paranoid; I had tried to talk my parents into having a fallout shelter built—I remember we went to a place that built them and looked at their model.”

A secondary, non-amphetamine induced inspiration for his song, according to Braddock, was a 1961 episode of the ‘The Twilight Zone’ (The Shelter) in which a false attack alert throws a small community into chaos with a neighbor’s shelter becoming a flashpoint of mob violence.

Not familiar with that classic T-Zone episode? Here’s a brief overview of the plot.

The Shelter

Season 3, episode 68, aired 9/29/61

It is a typical evening in a typical suburban community. At the residence of physician Bill Stockton, he enjoys a birthday party being thrown for him by his wife Grace and their son Paul. Also at the party are Jerry Harlowe, Bill’s brother-in-law; Frank Henderson and Marty Weiss, Bill and Jerry’s former roommates; and the wives and children of Jerry, Frank and Marty. Bill is well-known and liked by this gathering; he attended the State University with Marty, Frank and Jerry. Moreover, Bill has repeatedly administered to the health and well being of each one of said guests, and/or delivered their children. Everyone is especially friendly and jovial, even when mention is made of Bill’s late-night work on a fallout shelter which he has built in his basement. Suddenly, a Civil Defense (CONELRAD) announcement overheard by young Paul, is made that unidentified objects have been detected heading for the United States. In these times, everybody knows what that means: nuclear attack.

As panic ensues, the doctor locks himself and his family into his shelter.


The same gathering of friends becomes hysterical and now wants to occupy the shelter. All of the previous cordiality is now replaced with soaring desperation; pent-up hostility, searing racism and other suppressed emotions boil to the surface. Stockton offers his basement to the guests, but the shelter itself has sufficient air, provisions and space for only three people (the Stocktons themselves). The once-friendly neighbors don’t accept this; they break down the shelter door with an improvised battering ram.


Just then, a final Civil Defense broadcast announces that the objects have been identified as harmless satellites and that no danger is present. The neighbors apologize for their behavior; yet Stockton wonders if they have not destroyed each other – and themselves – without a bomb.


This theme of violence and shelters didn’t show up just in drama and popular music:

Gun Thy Neighbor

Following President John F. Kennedy’s Berlin crisis speech on July 25, 1961 that featured prominent and alarming references to nuclear war and civil defense, the topic of shelter morality entered the national discussion. Indeed, Time magazine published a remarkable article entitled “Gun Thy Neighbor” in its August 18, 1961 edition that reflected hard-line attitudes on shelter defense. One quote in the story came from an unnamed Chicago suburbanite:

“When I get my shelter finished, I’m going to mount a machine gun at the hatch to keep neighbors out if the bomb falls. I’m deadly serious about this. If the stupid American public will not do what they have to to save themselves, I’m not going to run the risk of not being able to use the shelter I’ve taken the trouble to provide to save my own family.”

The Time article concludes with quotes from a gaggle of religious representatives (two Lutherans, an Episcopalian, a Methodist, a Catholic and a Baptist) opining on the morality of shelter defense. With one exception, pacifism was the standard line coming from these holy men.

However, a few weeks later, another holy man weighed in with an opposing viewpoint on the pages of the Jesuit magazine, America (National Catholic Weekly Review). In fact, Father L.C. McHugh’s opinion piece (“Ethics at the Shelter Doorway,” America, September 30, 1961) cites the Time article as his impetus for writing.


Father McHugh took particular exception to the following quote in the Time story from the Reverend Hugh Saussy of the Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia: “If someone wanted to use the shelter, then you yourself should get out and let him use it. That’s not what would happen, but that’s the strict Christian application.”

Father McHugh belittles the moralist argument against defending one’s shelter in his piece and asserts that “unjust aggressors” should be “repelled by whatever means will effectively deter their assault.” Ironically, the editors of the magazine sought to soften the priest’s uncompromising position on shelter defense by offering this ridiculous and baseless line in the accompanying writer’s biography: “Our guess is that Fr. McHugh would be the first to step aside from his own shelter door, yielding space to his neighbor.”

(I’m suspicious those editors were mistaken. Have a listen to a short clip from Father McHugh from back then…who, if he were still alive, would no doubt be very enthusiastic about the rise of “Stand Your Ground” laws in the land…)


Coincidentally, the night before the publication date of Father McHugh’s controversial article, the CBS television network broadcast the famous episode of The Twilight Zone written by Rod Serling entitled “The Shelter.” This harrowing story about a homeowner locking his frenzied neighbors out of his shelter after an announced UFO sighting crystallized the shelter debate better than a thousand dueling op-ed pieces. And, in true Serling fashion, it is the behavior of the whole human race, not just the shelter owner and his neighbors, that wind up looking bad.

Father McHugh’s article spurred the shelter debate further and various newspaper articles commented on his unlikely position. In a September 27, 1961 New York Times piece by John Wicklein the paper called upon Rabbi Herbert Brichto, a professor of the Bible at the Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion for an opinion the America magazine article. Rabbi Brichto responded that “…preparation for an atomic war, such as building fall-out shelters, is immoral. The moral thing is not to prepare for survival of a fraction of the human race, but to put all our efforts into avoiding such a catastrophe.”

And Time magazine re-entered the fray in their October 20, 1961 issue by quoting a rebuttal to McHugh’s position from Washington, D.C.-based Episcopal Bishop Angus Dun: “I do not see how any Christian conscience can condone a policy which puts a supreme emphasis on saving your own skin without regard to the plight of your neighbor. Justice, mercy and brotherly love do not cease to operate, even in the final apocalypse.”

So well publicized was Father McHugh’s article that even Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy referenced the priest in an internal White House policy discussion on the issue of private versus public shelters. In Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s JFK administration memoir, A Thousand Days (Houghton Mifflin, 1965, page 749), RFK is quoted as saying in a forlorn voice, “There’s no problem here — we can just station Father McHugh with a machine gun at every shelter.”

According to Schlesinger and other sources, it was during the McHugh-inflamed controversy that President Kennedy opted for shifting the administration’s support toward public shelters. Private shelters were never outright discouraged, but it was in late 1961 that the first iconic yellow and black National Fallout Shelter Signs started appearing on public buildings. The debate was effectively over.


Since little tots of five and six and seven years old weren’t likely to be either watching Twilight Zone on TV or listening to Teen Death Songs on the radio, you might think they were spared from noticing the gradually increasing angst over The Bomb that started with Russia setting off Joe-1 in 1949.

You would think wrong. The Authorities just “came at” America’s youngest set a bit differently with Atomic concerns.

If you grew up in the 1950s, you’d be well familiar with lots of cartoon characters, from the cartoon shorts at the theater that preceded the movies. There would be Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and many more.


And, in fact, your own grandchildren would be likely familiar with these same exact characters. There are seldom any Looney Tunes shorts being played before movies these days, but the Looney crowd has made their fortune on TV and in feature films in recent decades.

But if you are a Baby Boomer “Child of the 50s,” like me (I was born in 1946), there is one cartoon character you may remember, that neither your children nor grandchildren have ever heard of. He had a very short heyday—only one “starring role.” He was Bert the Turtle.


No, Bert didn’t star on the big screen. Nor on TV. He starred in a 1952 film (and related comic book) that was instead played on 16mm projectors in classrooms all across America, teaching little kids what to do if they were faced with a nuclear attack by America’s enemies on our own turf.



In the film, Bert, an anthropomorphic turtle who walks on his hind legs, is harassed by a cheerful, naughty monkey who keeps trying to catch Bert out of his shell and explode a firecracker right in his face.  But Bert keeps spotting the danger in time. As soon as he does, he “ducks” by dropping down to all fours, and then “covers” by pulling his head and legs into his shell. And Bert’s urgent admonition to the kiddies watching is to “Duck and Cover” themselves if they see the flash of a nuclear bomb, or hear a siren warning one is coming. If you want to take the time, you can see in Bert in action in his 10 minute film, still available on Youtube.


Bert was part of an effort by the Federal Government to provide “emergency preparedness” information to the public as part of the Civil Defense program spawned by the US-Russia arms race. Under this program, the average American, from Kindergartener to Senior Citizen, was encouraged to take an active part in dealing with the Threat of Nuclear War. Kids were taught that their main responsibility for preparation was to learn to duck and cover. If they were at school when an attack came, they were to Duck under their desks, and Cover their heads.


As you can see in the picture below, some younger students didn’t quite “get it” without a lot of practice.


There was one other thing some could do to be even more prepared. I didn’t know about this until a few years ago when I was sorting through the belongings of my late mother in law after her death. She was a packrat who kept just about every scrap of paper that entered her house, and a whole lot more. In among the boxes of clutter I found the following little gem.


This was the card that came with my husband George’s dog tag.  No, he was never in the armed forces. And besides, at the time this card was issued by his grade school in Lansing, Michigan, he was likely only 8 years old or so.

Instead, these were dog tags issued by many schools around the country in the early-to-mid-1950s to all students. The tag bore their name, year of birth, blood type and Rh blood factor, a “religious code,” and an “individual identification number” issued to them by the company providing these tags. The tags were to be worn ALL THE TIME by the children on a chain around their neck, just like Army personnel. And for the same purpose as men on active duty overseas in war zones … identification of an injured or dead body! If the Big Bomb went off and ducking and covering didn’t work, rescue workers would be able to identify the injured student and know what blood type to give, or if the child was closer to Ground Zero, searchers days or weeks later could identify the charred remains. (And know what kind of religious funeral to give the body.)

There were lots of other little daily life hints that kept the nuclear threat before the public, from tots to senior citizens.

For instance, starting in 1953, the AM station dial on every radio produced in America (including vehicle radios) had odd little triangle marks—just after the number 6 and the number 12. Like these…






Early in the “Cold War”, there was concern that enemy bombers could simply home in on American cities by tuning in to specific broadcast radio and television transmitters. At the time, certain 50 kilowatt AM broadcast stations were still clear channel, the only stations in the nation at night on specific frequencies.

The 1951 solution to the problem was called Conelrad which stood for CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation. Conelrad was “devised to provide radio communications in a national emergency while denying enemy bombers the use of radio beams as an aid in finding targets. This is accomplished by having television and FM stations cease their regular transmissions and selected AM stations to go to either 640 or 1240 KHz.”

In an alert, with broadcast stations transmitting only on either 640 or 1240 KHz, no directional aid would be available to an enemy bomber. Emergency information for the public would be broadcast on those frequencies.

Radios beginning with model year 1953 are marked with little CD triangles at 640 and 1240 on the AM broadcast dial. The CD stood for Civil Defense or Conelrad.


(Conelrad was phased out in 1963, replaced by the Emergency Broadcast system.)

Through most of the 1950s, the advice on “duck and cover,” although admitted privately by experts to be very unlikely to provide any real survival benefits in the event of an actual nuclear attack, was drummed into the heads of many school children across the country. The reason? It was part of a goal of the federal government to provide what was described privately among the authorities as “emotion management” to the populace.  It gave children the illusion that there really was something tangible they could do to help themselves in a nuclear attack. And the continual practice sessions for ducking and covering gave them a focus for nervous emotional energy. Thus feelings of anxiety and panic would be minimized.

At first very little was done to help find “things to do” for adults in a similar vein. Although individual “family bomb shelters” were mentioned early on, few people in the early 1950s took the suggestion seriously. But once both the US and Russia had successfully tested thermonuclear H-bombs in the Megaton range, and were obviously planning on continuing their Cold War arms race, the mood changed. In fall 1961, President John Kennedy focused the attention of the entire nation on the idea of Fallout Shelters.

Kennedy on Civil Defense (1961)

In a September letter published in Life magazine, Kennedy advised readers on survival tips. The article entitled “You Could Be Among the 97% to Survive If You Follow Advice in These Pages” was an unrealistic assessment of the likelihood of survival. Kennedy’s science advisers informed him that his analysis would provide false hope, but Kennedy insisted that as long as some were saved, it was worth it.


“Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be inhabitable. Every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.”

Despite the unlikely success of the program, Kennedy urged governors to take civil defense seriously and instructed the Pentagon to create a pamphlet discussing the steps to take for survival. In its draft form, its suggestions — just like Kennedy’s article — were unrealistic. Even more troubling, only the affluent were able to build fallout shelters, and newspapers reported on the buildup of weapons among New Jersey and California suburbanites who were preparing to fend off nearby city dwellers from using their shelters.


Kennedy gave a national speech on the same topic in October, 1961, and only weeks later it became obvious that he needed to be taken seriously.



On 10/30/61 the Russians tested the largest nuclear bomb ever exploded (including to this day!), a monster H-bomb nicknamed Tsar Bomba. It exploded with 50 Megatons of force (3,000 times as strong as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima)—and it could have released 100 megatons, but the Russians chose to “power down” the impact before detonating it. (The largest US bomb ever exploded was Castle Bravo, in 1954, with a force of only 15 Megatons.) The mushroom cloud from the Tsar Bomba reached 40 miles high, the flash from the blast could be seen 620 miles away, and the force of the explosion broke window panes farther than 500 miles from the test site where it was detonated.

In the shadow of such an apocalyptic weapon, it didn’t take long for shelter construction to become widespread.

When bomb shelters were all the rage

Civil defense officials talked confidently of group shelters for 50 million people, but in the new suburban communities the nervous were taking survival into their own hands. Bomb shelters costing from $100 to as much as $5,000 for an underground suite with phone and toilet were selling like hotcakes.

Wall Street investors said the bomb shelter business could gross up to $20 billion in the coming years (if there would be coming years).

Survival stores around the nation sold air blowers, filters, flashlights, fallout protection suits, first aid kits and water. General Foods and General Mills sold dry-packaged meals as underground rations.

Families with well stocked shelters lived with the fear that after a nuclear attack they’d be invaded by an army of friends and neighbors who neglected to build bunkers of their own. Many ordered contractors to construct their shelters in the dead of night so nosey neighbors wouldn’t see. One owner assured his neighbor that the bomb shelter he was building was really a wine cellar.

Civil defense films assured the public that simple precautions like walled-off basement corners stocked with two weeks rations and a radio tuned to Conelrad, the new emergency network, would help them survive a nuclear attack. But the government warned that a shoddy homemade shelter could broil its occupants “to a crisp” or squeeze them “like grapefruit.”


… Major airlines, Detroit automakers, IBM, the phone company and Wall Street planned employee shelters. The Federal Reserve designated banks for postwar check cashing, and a farmer in Iowa built a fallout shelter for 200 cows.

…  A year later, the Cuban Missile Crisis would shove the world to the brink for 13 agonizing days. Newspaper headlines blared warnings of impending annihilation. “Highest Urgency, Kennedy Reports,” “Invasion Possible, Air, Sea and Ground Forces Ordered Out for Maneuvers,” they cried.

But the bomb never dropped.

The world heaved a sigh of relief as the Soviets backed off. And as the immediate peril of nuclear holocaust began to fade, Americans began to accept that fallout shelters probably did little to protect them from nuclear disaster. The backyard bomb shelters became wine cellars, fruit cellars, or just quietly filled up with water.

Government officials acknowledge that over the last several decades they have quietly been discarding nearly a half-century of old foodstuffs and other supplies stocked for survivors of a nuclear war. The olive green canisters of water and food rations stamped with official civil defense markings have been discarded, donated or sold off.

Experts can’t agree on how well these shelters would protect occupants from radiation but they can agree that there were other problems to worry about. Most shelters didn’t have sufficient air-handling devices. Body heat alone could significantly raise the temperature during the two weeks people were told to remain in their bunkers after a blast. Many people could end up dying, not from radiation poisoning, but from old-fashioned heat exhaustion or suffocation.  (Fifties History)

Even the toy-makers of America were in on the “emotion management” movement…check out this 1962 doll house with its very own bomb shelter nestled under the family deck. It came complete with “supplies” painted on the walls, and little plastic cots and other accessories to make it feel just like home.


The theory seemed to be that getting to PLAY “surviving nuclear holocaust” brought the idea down to an emotionally manageable level.

The craze for fallout shelters eventually faded, but before it did, one record company found a way to make some money off the paranoia.


If the Bomb Falls: A Recorded Guide to Survival

[ 1961, TOPS Records ]

Released shortly after JFK’s Civil Defense appeal to America in the pages of LIFE magazine, this chilling spoken word LP was issued complete with a bonus insert manual on how to construct a “Family Fallout Shelter.”

SIDE ONE, “What to Do In Case of Nuclear Attack,” opens with a CONELRAD alert signal and is followed by the no-nonsense narration of David Wiley: “The threat of nuclear warfare is a threat to all of us. How can we live with this threat? Our best life insurance may be summed up in four words: Be Alert, Stay Alert. This will take some doing on your part. It will take ingenuity, it will take fervor, it will take the desire to survive. And it need not take a lot of money. All you’ll need is shelter and common sense.”

SIDE TWO, “Supplies Needed for Survival,” offers a litany of items required to wait out World War III: “…cups, napkins, matches, pocket knife, battery-powered radio and extra batteries, human waste can, recreational and spiritual supplies, a bible, books, cards and games…

And here’s where some of the “adult emotion management” came in. For this LP included the following advice:

By all means provide some tranquilizers to ease the strain and monotony of life in a shelter. A bottle of 100 should be adequate for a family of four. Tranquilizers are not a narcotic and are not habit forming. Ask a doctor for his recommendation.”

Although it seems the record company wasn’t quite clear on the concept … for they also added to the angst with some of the ominous wording on the LP. You can download some brief clips at these links:

You’ll Die!!

Just Terror


Yes, given the tenor of the times, it would certainly have been understandable that many religious preachers and evangelists of this period would have used the anxiety over Russia attacking America with The Bomb as a “tool of evangelism.” That is what I assumed for a long time.

I assumed wrong.

Oh, I am sure that some fellows did indeed use the specter of a nuclear holocaust as a prod in their preaching at times, especially whenever some big news hit the headlines, like the explosion of the Russian H-bomb. But in my recent research I was startled to discover that a significant proportion of what has seemed in hindsight to be religious fervor of that time, affected by the role of Russia in the Cold War, wasn’t really as a result of fear of Russia’s  bombs.

It was related to Russia, indeed. But not to their bombs. For you see, the Corporate Backers of the move to connect Christianity to corporate interests, to identify True Christian Patriotism with Small Government and Unfettered Capitalism, evidently could not find a way to weave nuclear fears into their plans. So they found a different way to use Russia.

I found that the underpinnings of their efforts show most clearly in a quote from teen-heart-throb singer Pat Boone, in a speech he gave in 1961 (the same year he had a big hit with the novelty song “Speedy Gonzales”.) He obviously had more on his mind some of the time than April Love.



I would rather see my four daughters blown to heaven in an atomic blast
than caught in the hell of a Communist United States.

And Pat wasn’t speaking of a United States “subjugated through war” by the Russians, part of a Russian Empire led by a Russian totalitarian dictator. You’ll notice he doesn’t even mention Russia by name at all. For, you see, the corporate leaders of America weren’t concerned about the Russian military, or even Russian Communism.

Pat was speaking at a 1961 Anti-Communism convention in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena before a standing-room only crowd of 16,000. The sessions were broadcast on TV to an estimated audience of 3 million.

He and the other speakers at that convention(including Hollywood luminaries such as Roy Rogers and Ronald Reagan)—and their corporate sponsors—were concerned about a “home grown revolution” in the United States that would lead to an American Communist nation. And they managed during that era to so inflame the fears and attitudes of much of “evangelical America” regarding this topic that the fallout (to use a Cold War term…) has continued to this day.

The rallying cry that brought evangelical Americans into the “right wing politics” fold back in the 1950s and early 1960s had nothing to do with the modern outcry against legalized abortion and gay rights. Those issues weren’t a factor in American life in that era. Roe v Wade didn’t legalize abortion until 1973. And gays were almost all still “in the closet” during that era, when even the federal government had a policy of firing any employees who were discovered to be gay.

The rallying cry that brought Religion and Politics together in that era was against what huge numbers of Evangelicals were led to believe was an imminent threat of American democracy being destroyed by an American communist movement.

Now mind you, I was aware of the anti-Communist furor leading up to the Army-McCarthy hearings in the early 1950s. But I must admit I have been very naïve…thinking that this faded with the condemnation of McCarthy by a Senate vote in 1954. I guess I’m not the only one who has been naïve, though. The History Channel website has an overview of the McCarthy Red Scare era, which includes this comment…

“The climate of fear and repression linked to the Red Scare finally began to ease by the late 1950s.”

I have found that this might have been true in some circles in America. But in Evangelical circles and among the politicians and corporate backers who were ready to feed the paranoia of anti-Communist rhetoric to  those religious folks, the climate was just heating up in 1960!

The rallying cry and rhetoric was ultimately wildly successful, and nurtured a relationship that has lasted to the present between many…if not most… Evangelicals, Right Wing politicians, and corporate capitalist interests. A relationship that ultimately played a large part in electing a most decidedly Un-Evangelical man as president in 2016.

More about this coming soon in the next installment of this series:

Selling Fear Religion

But before you go…here’s a moment of levity to clear your palate of the grimness of the Cold War…


Posted in 1950s, cold war, religion and politics, russia, Trump presidency | Tagged , | 1 Comment


Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 16


This is Part 16 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on
information, concepts, and commentary introduced in earlier entries in the series,
and thus it is most effective to read the material sequentially from the beginning.

Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1

 An earlier entry in this blog series introduced the fact that there are several “dirty little secrets” behind what is now viewed with nostalgia by many Evangelical Christians as an amazingly “Christian” era of the US in the 1950s and early 1960s  that they yearn to return to—even if they weren’t even born yet when that era ended. Many have put their hopes in Donald Trump’s administration to make it possible to put programs and policies in place that will allow the nation to once again become God’s Country like they assume it was in those Good Old Holy Happy Days.


August 21, 2015:Trump campaign rally in Mobile, Alabama

The first Dirty Little Secret was introduced in the most recent entry in this series, Manufacturing Revival. That entry discussed and carefully documented the following:

Dirty Little Secret #1 regarding the “spiritual revival” of the 1950s: The Revival was not at all a true grass-roots revival of “interest in the Bible,” or the spread of a sense of earnest repentance of personal sins and desiring salvation through Jesus Christ of masses of people.

The Dirty Secret is that it was a superficial stirring of emotions of the masses, very deliberately coordinated and staged by those with a political/economic agenda and bank-rolled by the Deepest Pockets in America. (Those bank rollers included the heads of huge corporations such as General Motors, Chrysler, Republic Steel, National Steel, International Harvester, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sun Oil, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet, Hilton Hotels, Kraft Foods, and United Airlines.)

The Dirty Secret is that these forces carefully constructed a false connection between the teachings of the Bible and the economic theories and interests of unfettered capitalism, ultimately attempting to equate Christianity with Capitalism in the minds of the public. And then they used that false connection to equate unqualified endorsement of unfettered Capitalism with “True Godly Patriotism.”

These same Deep Pocket People (DPP) had manufactured everything from Quaker Oats to steel girders, cigarettes to soap, washing machines to automobiles. And they and their Madison Avenue counterparts had created sophisticated psychological methods to sell all these things. They now turned to manufacturing a revival… to sell a self-serving version of religion.

In order to “sell” this revival, the DPP needed to set up an adversary toward whom prospective converts could vent their ire, and blame for the danger of America losing its “freedom” and rejecting its “spiritual roots.” That enemy was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. (Yes, condemning this adversary continued long after Roosevelt’s death and the end of the Depression and WW2.)  By the late 1940s they seldom “named” this enemy…instead they made vague references to the horrors of “socialistic policies”…such as Social Security and governmental regulations backing worker’s rights to collective bargaining. Such policies were darkly hinted to be undergirded by a rejection of God.

Just to clarify, for further consideration of this topic:

Capitalism: an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

Unfettered Capitalism: A situation in which there is extremely minimal or NO interference by national or local governments in any aspect of private trade and industry, no attempt to in any way interfere with the decision-making processes of private owners. (To “fetter” someone or some thing is to restrain them in some way from totally free movement.)

(The article linked here provides a brief overview of the reasons a government might have for at least minimally  “fettering” capitalists: “The Risks of Unfettered Capitalism.” )

Communism is usually considered to be the opposite of Capitalism.

Communism: an economic and political system in which the government, supposedly representing all the people of the society, owns the means of production and trade, and supposedly distributes all assets to the citizens equally as needed.

There is a distinct implication that under Capitalism, every individual is free to acquire and keep private property through personal effort. And that under Communism, the rights of private property are minimal.

The issue under debate in the United States has long been whether “we the people” should have the right to agree, through our votes, that there is value in establishing governmental restrictions on certain aspects of Capitalism.

In other words, should a company have a right to produce and sell a product, knowing that it has unseen hidden dangers (such as many “patent medicines” sold widely in the 19th century that included toxic ingredients)?


June 3, 1905 Collier’s magazine exposé on the toxic patent medicine epidemic

Should companies be able to freely sell items that are not at all “as advertised” (such as the many “adulterated” products sold widely in the 19th century like flour cut with sawdust or milk cut with powdered chalk)?




1820 British book by Fredrich Accum,
giving advice to the common man on conducting tests on processed foods

Are we required to just let “the free market” take its course, and either hope the company gets a conscience and stops doing these things, or that consumers “figure out on their own” which products may be a problem and just quit buying them?

There is no logical reason why the imposition of some restrictions and regulations on such things that would “promote the general welfare” (per the Preamble to the Constitution) ought to interfere, in general, with the Capitalistic basis of the economy.

The question has also been whether “we the people” should have the right to agree through our votes to the establishment of  “government-owned and/or run” projects and services that would “promote the general welfare”…such as old age pensions, basic healthcare for all citizens, and help to the poor so that all Americans would have at least basic food, clothing, and shelter.  There is no logical reason why this ought to interfere either, in general, with the Capitalistic basis of the economy.

But the notion of the superiority of Unfettered Capitalism insists that both of these propositions must be rejected. According to this dogma, only the unshackled profit motive can yield true prosperity.


This cheery 1937 “public service announcement” billboard (standing behind a breadline for African Americans affected by a massive flood in Louisville KY) was part of a National Association of Manufacturers pro-capitalist (and anti-New Deal) propaganda campaign.

Problems with dangerous products? Caveat Emptor is the mantra… “Let the buyer beware.”


Problems with the labor force? There should be absolutely no interference between the huge corporation that is selling  a product and the people it hires to do the actual work of producing the product. If the corporation can find people willing to work, under dangerous conditions, for a wage that cannot possibly sustain a family, then it should be left alone to reap the profits it can make out of such an arrangement. The worker is always free to leave…and find another dangerous job at slave labor wages. Any interference by “collective bargaining” or setting of minimum wages or the like is considered damaging to the long-term economy…which will yield prosperity for all eventually if the Profit Motive is allowed to be King.


(That premise worked real well for miners like this little fellow, who worked daily from 7 AM to 5:30 PM.)

And this one…


Yes, the notion of the superiority of “unfettered Capitalism” has long insisted that a national government is better off keeping hands totally off the production and distribution of goods, and letting Greed be the sole driving and guiding force for the economy. And this is the notion that drove the Industrialists of the 1940s to get on board the plan to promote Unfettered Capitalism to the public as God’s Way, the Bible Way… the American Way. As seen on more NAM billboards from that era.




(That last billboard, from the same era, was likely NOT placed by the National Association of Manufacturers!)

Over the years, this approach has been dubbed “Christian Libertarianism.” As the Wikipedia article on the topic puts it, “…Christian libertarians may consider Jesus as the greatest libertarian in history.”

This public propaganda program was to be implemented in particular by recruiting the pastors, evangelists, and other religious leaders of the various religious groups in America to spread this Americanized Gospel. As documented in the previous blog entry Manufacturing Revival, by the 1950s they succeeded in this to an amazing degree.

And one of their biggest successes was to influence, clear from the ground floor of his national ministry, the perspective of the rising religious star, Billy Graham.


Billy Graham, Washington DC, 1952

The most important clergyman for Christian libertarianism, though, was the Rev. Billy Graham. In his initial ministry, in the early 1950s, Mr. Graham supported corporate interests so zealously that a London paper called him “the Big Business evangelist.” The Garden of Eden, he informed revival attendees [in 1952 in Washington DC], was a paradise with “no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.” In the same spirit, he denounced all “government restrictions” in economic affairs, which he invariably attacked as “socialism.”  [Source]

And he declared bombastically  that “organized labor unions are one of the greatest mission fields in America today” …while at the same time failing to identify the class of owners and managers as another of the greatest mission fields.

In 1952, Mr. Graham went to Washington and made Congress his congregation. He recruited representatives to serve as ushers at packed revival meetings and staged the first formal religious service held on the Capitol steps. That year, at his urging, Congress established an annual National Day of Prayer. “If I would run for president of the United States today on a platform of calling people back to God, back to Christ, back to the Bible,” he predicted, “I’d be elected.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower fulfilled that prediction. With Mr. Graham offering Scripture for Ike’s speeches, the Republican nominee campaigned in what he called a “great crusade for freedom.” His military record made the general a formidable candidate, but on the trail he emphasized spiritual issues over worldly concerns. As the journalist John Temple Graves observed: “America isn’t just a land of the free in Eisenhower’s conception. It is a land of freedom under God.” Elected in a landslide, Eisenhower told Mr. Graham that he had a mandate for a “spiritual renewal.”

But then Ike dropped a bombshell…

Although Eisenhower relied on Christian libertarian groups in the campaign, he parted ways with their agenda once elected. The movement’s corporate sponsors had seen religious rhetoric as a way to dismantle the New Deal state. But the newly elected president thought that a fool’s errand. “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs,” he noted privately, “you would not hear of that party again in our political history.” Unlike those who held public spirituality as a means to an end, Eisenhower embraced it as an end unto itself. [ibid]

From that time on, many of the Christian libertarian leaders and their Deep Pocket supporters still tapped into residual anti-New Deal feelings in some quarters in their efforts to merge the interests of Religion and Big Business. But if they were to reach the widest audience (and get help from big names like Ike) they realized that they needed to identify and point the masses to a more contemporary “prime adversary” for the masses to fear, and toward which they could vent their ire, and blame for the danger of America losing its “freedom” and rejecting its “spiritual roots.” Conveniently, a very BIG one was available. Russia.


Russia had been an ally of America in WW2. And, truth be told, did the lion’s share of the work… and did the lion’s share of the suffering on a massive scale…to defeat Nazi Germany. Yet that work and suffering brought results not from superior technological military power, but from sheer numbers of Russian citizens by the tens of millions who could be pressed into the war effort. Russian deaths during the war, both military and civilian, are estimated to have reached somewhere between 20 and 40 million people.

It was the American military that bedazzled the world with its technological power, fueled by the massive buildup of the “arsenal of democracy” in the US, everything from tanks and bombers to aircraft carriers…





…to the newly minted Atomic Bomb at the end of the war. Yes, we were the world’s biggest and baddest. Number One…the ONLY one, when it came to being a Nuclear World Power.

At the time we were the only nation with nuclear capabilities. But this was not because we were the only nation that had been working on such “terrible” weapons. US leaders suspected from US spy efforts that they were in a frantic race with Germany to see whose scientists could unravel the mystery of “splitting the atom”… and use the knowledge first to build a “terrible destructive agent.”

There is little doubt that if the Germans would have managed to pull off such a coup, they would have brandished the weapon before the astonished eyes of the world, and the history of civilization would have been quite different than it has turned out to be in the 21st century.

Instead, the US really did “beat the Germans to the punch.” But the US never used the weapon on the German front of World War 2…Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, two months before the first Terrible Agent was tested and found ready for use.

US scientists began serious work on a nuclear bomb in 1941, just months before the US entered the war.

In August 1939, prominent physicists Leó Szilárd and Eugene Wigner drafted the Einstein–Szilárd letter, which warned of the potential development of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type”. It urged the United States to take steps to acquire stockpiles of uranium ore and accelerate the research of Enrico Fermi and others into nuclear chain reactions. They had it signed by Albert Einstein and delivered to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.


(Einstein had added his own comments: “A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might well destroy the whole port with some of the surrounding territory. Letter from Albert Einstein to U.S. President Roosevelt in 1939)

Roosevelt called on Lyman Briggs of the National Bureau of Standards to head the Advisory Committee on Uranium to investigate the issues raised by the letter. Briggs held a meeting on 21 October 1939, which was attended by Szilárd, Wigner and Edward Teller. The committee reported back to Roosevelt in November that uranium “would provide a possible source of bombs with a destructiveness vastly greater than anything now known.”

Briggs proposed that the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) spend $167,000 on research into uranium, particularly the uranium-235 isotope, and the recently discovered plutonium. On 28 June 1941, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8807, which created the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD),with Vannevar Bush as its director.

This led directly to the establishment of what was dubbed the “Manhattan Project.”


Sign leading into the Oakridge TN location of Manhattan Project work

At a meeting between President Roosevelt, Vannevar Bush and Vice President Henry A. Wallace on 9 October 1941, the President approved the atomic program. To control it, he created a Top Policy Group consisting of himself—although he never attended a meeting—Wallace, Bush, Conant, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and the Chief of Staff of the Army, General George Marshall. Roosevelt chose the Army to run the project rather than the Navy, as the Army had the most experience with management of large-scale construction projects. He also agreed to coordinate the effort with that of the British, and on 11 October he sent a message to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, suggesting that they correspond on atomic matters. [ibid]

Four years later, the scientists involved in the project had indeed created the prototype of “an extremely powerful bomb of a new type.” In an extremely powerful instance of understatement, those involved in the project nicknamed the creation “the gadget.

A test of The Gadget was arranged for July 16, 1945, in the desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, at the Alamogordo Test Range, in the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of the Dead Man) desert. (Now the White Sands Missile Range.) The code name for this test—in a powerful instance of irony—was “Trinity.” Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army Corps of Engineers, director of the Manhattan Project oversaw the test.

At 05:30 on 16 July 1945 the gadget exploded with an energy equivalent of around 20 kilotons [20,000 tons: 20KT] of TNT, leaving a crater of Trinitite (radioactive glass) in the desert 250 feet (76 m) wide. The shock wave was felt over 100 miles (160 km) away, and the mushroom cloud reached 7.5 miles (12.1 km) in height. It was heard as far away as El Paso, Texas, so Groves issued a cover story about an ammunition magazine explosion at Alamogordo Field. [ibid]



The Genie was out of the bottle, and it would not be returned. You can experience a tiny bit of the real-life drama of the moment in this short clip from a BBC docudrama about the Trinity explosion, which includes actual footage of the real blast in the background behind the actors.


Confident that The Gadget worked satisfactorily, and with the end of the War with Japan not clearly in sight, the extremely controversial decision was made to use two similar gadgets on the (primarily) civilian population of two large cities in Japan.

Less than a month after the Trinity test, an August 6, 1945, an Atomic Bomb code-named “Little Boy” was exploded over the Japanese city of Hiroshima (population approximately 350,000). It yielded the destructive power of 20 thousand tons (20KT) of TNT


Little Boy ready to be loaded into the bomber Enola Gay


A rare color image, taken by a 16 mm movie camera aboard a B-29 dubbed The Great Artiste, shows the first atomic weapon exploding over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. 

Before and after pictures of Hiroshima from the sky show the effects of Little Boy.



And from the ground it is even more obvious how little was left standing.


The plan was to detonate a second bomb, code-named “Fat Man” (with the same 20KT destructive power) three days later, on August 9, over the city of Kokura.


The actual Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki assembled and ready for combat.

But as the plane with the bomb neared that city, a cloud cover prevented effective implementation of bombing plans, and the plane headed instead to the secondary target that had been decided on, the city of Nagasaki (population approximately 240,000).


Before and after photos of Nagasaki from the sky show the effects of Fat Man.


But the photos above only show primarily the damage to “man-made structures.”  Not shown is the effect on the (mostly civilian) population of humans.

Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day. The Hiroshima prefecture health department estimated that, of the people who died on the day of the explosion, 60% died from flash or flame burns, 30% from falling debris and 10% from other causes. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness.

Six days later, on August 15, the government of Japan announced its surrender to the Allies.

It was undisputed at this point that the US had the biggest, baddest weapons in the world. And no doubt most Americans were convinced that from this point on we had nothing to fear from anyone!

But, as it turned out, this reputation didn’t last long. And the rival to fear in the Atomic Race was not Germany after all. It was our US ally in WW2, the Soviet Union.



“I begin to believe in only one civilizing influence—the discovery one of these days
of a destructive agent so terrible that War shall mean annihilation
and men’s fears will force them to keep the peace”.

English author Wilkie Collins, 
writing at the time of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

It took only 75 years for Collins’ speculation to come to fruition.

And his comments are recognized as probably the earliest reference to the concept dubbed during the Cold War as “Mutual Assured Destruction.”  MAD.

From the Wiki article on Mutual Assured Destruction:

In August 1945, the United States accepted the surrender of Japan after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Four years later, on August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union detonated its own nuclear device. At the time, both sides lacked the means to effectively use nuclear devices against each other. However, with the development of aircraft like the Convair B-36, both sides were gaining a greater ability to deliver nuclear weapons into the interior of the opposing country.

The official nuclear policy of the United States was one of “massive retaliation”, as coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower‘s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, which called for massive attack against the Soviet Union if they were to invade Europe, regardless of whether it was a conventional or a nuclear attack.

From that point on, both nations entered an “arms race” that was much like kids playing “king of the hill.” Both kept making bigger and better bombs and testing them…sometimes secretly, sometimes with great fanfare.

And for a while it certainly wasn’t clear if Wilkie Collins’ theory, later dubbed “Mutual Assured Destruction,” would work …before the world WAS indeed annihilated. For by October 22, 1961, American President John F. Kennedy read the following statement to the assembled nation in front of their television sets–at home or in public places like the tv sales floor of a department store pictured below–at the peak of the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”

It shall be the policy of this Nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.

I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations. I call upon him further to abandon this course of world domination, and to join in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man. He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction—by returning to his government’s own words that it had no need to station missiles outside its own territory, and withdrawing these weapons from Cuba—by refraining from any action which will widen or deepen the present crisis–and then by participating in a search for peaceful and permanent solutions.

“The Abyss of Destruction.”

Pretty strong words! The US had fought in WW1, according to President Woodrow Wilson, to “make the world safe for democracy.” But obviously that hadn’t worked.

So we’d fought WW2 to finish the job. And finish it we thought we did, with a display of power the likes of which the world had never seen. It must have seemed, to the average citizen, that after we dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and brought the Japanese to their knees, SURELY the world was safe now. America would be the policeman of the world, since it was the nation with the Biggest Billy Club. In fact, the only nation with that Club.

So how did we manage to get from there in 1945 to the edge of the “Abyss of Destruction” a mere 17 years later?

From the Wikipedia entry, History of Nuclear Weapons

The Soviet Union was not invited to share in the new weapons developed by the United States and the other Allies. During the war, information had been pouring in from a number of volunteer spies involved with the Manhattan Project (known in Soviet cables under the code-name of Enormoz), and the Soviet nuclear physicist Igor Kurchatov was carefully watching the Allied weapons development. It came as no surprise to Stalin when Truman had informed him at the Potsdam conference that he had a “powerful new weapon.” Truman was shocked at Stalin’s lack of interest.

The Soviet spies in the U.S. project were all volunteers and none were Russians. One of the most valuable, Klaus Fuchs, was a German émigré theoretical physicist who had been a part in the early British nuclear efforts and had been part of the UK mission to Los Alamos during the war. Fuchs had been intimately involved in the development of the implosion weapon, and passed on detailed cross-sections of the “Trinity” device to his Soviet contacts. Other Los Alamos spies—none of whom knew each other—included Theodore Hall and David Greenglass. The information was kept but not acted upon, as Russia was still too busy fighting the war in Europe to devote resources to this new project.

But once the war was over, the Russians hurried to begin making use of all of that Spy vs Spy information.


(Speaking  of Spy vs Spy…those classic cartoon characters debuted in January 1961 in Mad Magazine—creator Antonio Prohias had only months earlier fled from his native Cuba under threat of arrest—or even  execution—for  his satirical parodies of the new Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.)

And the Russian scientists were quick learners.

Two days after the bombing of Nagasaki, the U.S. government released an official technical history of the Manhattan Project, authored by Princeton physicist Henry DeWolf Smyth, known colloquially as the Smyth Report. The sanitized summary of the wartime effort focused primarily on the production facilities and scale of investment, written in part to justify the wartime expenditure to the American public.

The Soviet program, under the suspicious watch of former NKVD [the Soviet Secret Police] chief Lavrenty Beria (a participant and victor in Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s), would use the Report as a blueprint, seeking to duplicate as much as possible the American effort. The “secret cities” used for the Soviet equivalents of Hanford and Oak Ridge literally vanished from the maps for decades to come.

And it only took them four years…some of it taken up with some bumbling of their efforts…for the Soviets to duplicate what was in the Report.


On August 29, 1949, the effort brought its results, when the USSR tested its first fission bomb, dubbed “Joe-1” by the U.S. [in reference to Joseph Stalin], years ahead of American predictions.


 Joe-1 with chief designer

The news of the first Soviet bomb was announced to the world first by the United States, which had detected the nuclear fallout it generated from its test site in Kazakhstan.[ Joe-1 had a yield of 22 KT of TNT, very similar to the US Trinity and Fat Man bombs.]

The loss of the American monopoly on nuclear weapons marked the first tit-for-tat of the nuclear arms race. The response in the U.S. was one of apprehension, fear, and scapegoating, which would lead eventually into the Red-baiting tactics of McCarthyism. Yet recent information from unclassified Venona intercepts and the opening of the KGB archives after the fall of the Soviet Union show that the USSR had useful spies that helped their program, although none were identified by McCarthy.

In order to test the effects of the new weapon, workers constructed houses made of wood and bricks, along with a bridge, and a simulated metro [electric railway] in the vicinity of the test site. Armoured hardware and approximately 50 aircraft were also brought to the testing grounds, as well as over 1,500 animals to test the bomb’s effects on life. The resulting data showed the RDS explosion to be 50% more destructive than originally estimated by its engineers.[ibid]

And the race was on.

The news of this frightening development was released to the US public in screaming headlines on September 23, 1949.


Just two days later, on September 25, Billy Graham started the eight weeks of his first great revival, in Los Angeles, as the news of the Russian test raced around the world. Said Billy during the revival, “Now that Russia has the atomic bomb, the world is in an armament race driving us to destruction.”

Although Billy tended to regularly hammer on aspects of the policies and programs of Roosevelt’s New Deal throughout his preaching career, in the early 1950s he couldn’t help but realize that his audience might often have their minds more on Stalin’s New Bomb than on American politics and economics and the old New Deal. So why not use that angst to nudge more people out of their seats at a revival to walk down to the stage and give their heart to the Lord so that their Eternal destination was assured if The Worst soon ended up happening? From that point on the Cold War with Russia became a repeating theme in his messages too.

And eventually the corporate titans who supported his ministry  (along with that of James Fifield and other “Christian Libertarians”) in the hopes of melding religion and economics to their advantage, also understood that playing to the fears of the masses about the Russian threat would be useful also. No reason that Roosevelt, the New Deal, politics, religion, economics, and the Russians couldn’t all be skillfully stirred together into a nice stew that would give Unfettered Capitalism a distinctly Christian flavor.

More about this in the next entry in this blog series:

A Closer Look at Some Not-So-Happy Days



Posted in 1950s, cold war, religion and politics, russia, Trump presidency | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Manufacturing Revival (Dirty Little Secret #1)

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 15

Manufacturing Revival (Dirty Little Secret #1)

This is Part 15 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on
information, concepts, and commentary introduced in earlier entries in the series,
and thus it is most effective to read the material sequentially from the beginning.

Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1


The previous entry in this blog series introduced the fact that there are several “dirty little secrets” behind what is now viewed with nostalgia by many Evangelical Christians as an amazingly “Christian” era of the US in the 1950s that they yearn to return to—even if they weren’t even born yet when that era ended. Many have put their hopes in Donald Trump’s administration to make it possible to put programs and policies in place that will allow the nation to once again become God’s Country like they assume it was in those Good Old Days. This blog entry explores the first of those dirty little secrets.


January 28, 1986
Response to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that morning

Many readers of this blog likely remember the cartoons of Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette, especially the poignant one above. In addition to his editorial cartoon career, Marlette was famous for his long running cartoon strip, Kudzu, featured in many papers from 1981 until his untimely death in a car accident in 2007 at the age of 58.

One of the most popular characters in the strip, which was set in a small town in North Carolina, was Southern Baptist preacher the Reverend Will B. Dunn.


A 1988 book collection of Will B Dunn strips. The cover spoofed
Pat Robertson’s campaign that year for president, during which the televangelist 
famously stated, “I am not a televangelist.” (Because of the scandals 
surrounding televangelists at the time, he preferred to dub himself a 
“religious broadcaster.”)

For any Doug Marlette fans out there, you might be interested to know that his nephew, Andy Marlette, who has a very similar artistic style, is now an up-and-coming editorial cartoonist himself. And he has brought Will B Dunn out of retirement and put him back to work.


During the long Kudzu run, Rev. Dunn had many humorous escapades, but one of the most entertaining  “running gags” was his desire to start a “ministry to the fabulously well-to-do.” Although he did count local tycoon Big Bubba Tadsworth as a parishioner, that was as far as his plans got.  He just couldn’t fire up his congregation with enthusiasm to “bring a wealthy friend to church” every week.

I bring Rev. Dunn up because I want to share information about a real-life counterpart who succeeded where Will B failed. The Rev. James Fifield Jr. was so successful at ministering to the well-to-do that he was publicly dubbed in the press as the “Apostle to Millionaires.”


The previous entry in this blog series briefly introduced Fifield as the speaker who electrified an audience of wealthy men in 1940. To recap that occasion:

IN DECEMBER 1940, MORE THAN five thousand industrialists from across America took part in their yearly pilgrimage to Park Avenue. For three days every winter, the posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel welcomed them for the annual meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

That year, the program promised a particularly impressive slate of speakers. Corporate leaders were well represented, of course, with addresses set from titans at General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Mutual Life, and Sears, Roebuck, to name only a few. Some of the other featured attractions hailed from beyond the boardroom: popular lecturers such as noted etiquette expert Emily Post, renowned philosopher-historian Will Durant, and even Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover.

Tucked away near the end of the program was a name that few knew upon arrival but everyone would be talking about by the week’s end: Reverend James W. Fifield Jr.

And what was Fifield’s electrifying message?

Decrying [Franklin Roosevelt’s] New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms,” the minister listed a litany of sins committed by the Roosevelt administration, ranging from its devaluation of currency to its disrespect for the Supreme Court. He denounced the “rising costs of government and the multitude of federal agencies attached to the executive branch” and warned ominously of “the menace of autocracy approaching through bureaucracy.”

His audience of executives was stunned. Over the preceding decade, these titans of industry had been told, time and time again, that they were to blame for the nation’s downfall. Fifield, in contrast, insisted that they were the source of its salvation.

“When he had finished,” a journalist noted, “rumors report that the N.A.M. applause could be heard in Hoboken.” With his speech at the Waldorf-Astoria, Fifield convinced the industrialists that clergymen could be the means of regaining the upper hand in their war with Roosevelt in the coming years. As men of God, they could give voice to the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated solely by self-interest.

This blog entry will go a bit deeper into just why and how Fifield planned to pull this off, and what a vital role this agenda played in the supposed “great religious revival” of the 1950s that so many modern Evangelicals point to as part of the “Great America” of that Holy Happy Days era that they expect the administration of Donald Trump to restore.

Fifield, born in Chicago in 1899, became an ordained minister in 1924. By 1934, he headed out to the Promised Land of California, where he found the perfect niche for his ministerial aptitudes: He was installed as the head of the venerable First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the oldest Protestant congregation in the city, founded in 1867. In 1932 the congregation had undertaken to build a new church building, and found itself in hot water about the time Fifield arrived.


The First Congregational Church was at the time heavily indebted due to the costs of a cathedral-style building which had a 176 foot high tower, more than 100 rooms, auditoriums, and a gymnasium. The church had 1,500 members at Fifield’s arrival, but after Fifield initiated a major increase in activities membership rose to over 4,500 in the beginning of the 1940s and the debt was paid off in 1942. [And the congregation ended up by 1943 as the largest Congregational Church congregation in the world.] The members of the First Congregational Church were mostly among the wealthy, giving Fifield the nickname “The Apostle to Millionaires”.  [Source]

He had a couple of other nicknames too… “The 13th Apostle of Big Business,” “Saint Paul of the Prosperous.” And in addition to outright millionaires, he and First Congregational also appealed to big-name celebrities, such as Charlton Heston…


…who joined the church in 1956 shortly after finishing filming The Ten Commandments, and regaled his new pew-mates with an oration from the pulpit of many of his Moses lines from the movie. In addition, his son, who played baby Moses in the movie, was baptized by Fifield.

Princeton history professor and author Kevin Kruse, in his highly-acclaimed 2015 book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, explains what about Fifield endeared him so much to his parishioners—what made him succeed in attaining Will B Dunn’s dream job:

The minister was well matched to the millionaires in his pews. Politically conservative but doctrinally liberal [he was recorded as preaching that reading the Bible was “like eating fish—we take the bones out to enjoy the meat. All parts are not of equal value”], he crafted an interpretation of the Bible that catered to his congregation. Notably, Fifield dismissed the many passages in the New Testament about wealth and poverty, and instead assured the elite that their worldly success was a sign of God’s blessings.

Soon after his arrival in Los Angeles, Fifield founded Spiritual Mobilization, an organization whose mission was “to arouse the ministers of all denominations in America to check the trends toward pagan stateism, which would destroy our basic freedom and spiritual ideals.”

“Pagan Stateism” was a conservative code-word phrase for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The theory of Fifield and his fellow-travelers, in the move to meld religion and capitalism that arose in the 1930s/40s, involved an interpretation of the Bible that insisted that an individual “rises to heaven or falls to hell” based on his own character.  And …

They say the free market is just like that. You succeed, you fail, on your own. In their eyes, the state meddles with that purity. That’s the natural process. That’s the godly process. So anything that is working against the system that God himself must have set up, the system of individual merit, must itself be ungodly.  [SOURCE]

So any programs or policies or regulations established by a government to help the poor, or the elderly, or workers, or the unemployed and so on…is “pagan,” not godly. It is something humanly-devised by “the state” rather than springing straight from “the God-given individual freedom” of every (white male…) citizen to succeed solely on his own merits of drive, perseverance, cleverness…whatever. It would seem from the writings and preachings of many of these zealous promoters of “Spiritual Mobilization” that giving anyone other than the totally starving even a crust of bread was to take from him the opportunity to pull himself up by his own bootstraps so that he might deserve God’s blessings.

Even beyond this, ANY concern for the poor and needy should only expressed through individual, personalized, one-to-one “acts of charity.”  Or through a local outreach of “group charity” set up by churches. Efforts by any government to get involved in any kind of “social welfare” program was viewed as an attempt by that government to just centralize its power and destroy true democracy. And any attempt by “liberal” religious organizations to support coordinated efforts by governments to relieve the suffering of the afflicted (suffering which was widespread and unrelenting during the depths of the Depression) was scorned as attempts at promoting the despised “Social Gospel.”

And thus Fifield began his “Spiritual Mobilization” outreach in the mid-1930s.

The organization’s credo reflected the common politics of the millionaires in his congregation: Men were creatures of God imbued with “inalienable rights and responsibilities,” specifically enumerated as “the liberty and dignity of the individual, in which freedom of choice, of enterprise and of property is inherent.” Churches, it asserted, had a solemn duty to defend those rights against the encroachments of the state. [Kruse book]

I had never heard of James Fifield before reading the Kruse book. Most of my readers likely haven’t heard of him either. So it might be tempting to assume he just had a narrow, local effect in his efforts way back when. That would be to assume wrong. (His name is still reverently invoked in Conservative circles to this day.)

Fifield quickly brought the organization into national politics, gaining attention from leading conservatives across America who were eager to enlist ministers in their fight against the New Deal. Former President Herbert Hoover, deposed by Roosevelt and disparaged by his acolytes, advised and encouraged Fifield in personal meetings and regular correspondence. “If it would be possible for the Church to make a non-biased investigation into the morals of this government,” Hoover wrote the minister in 1938, “they would find everywhere the old negation of Christianity that ‘the end justifies the means.’”

In October 1938, Fifield sent an alarmist tract to more than 70,000 clergymen across the nation, seeking to recruit them in the revolt against Roosevelt. “We ministers have special opportunities and special responsibilities in these critical days,” it began. “America’s movement toward dictatorship has already eliminated checks and balances in its concentration of powers in our chief executive.” Finding the leaflet to his liking, Hoover sent Fifield a warm note of appreciation and urged him to press on.

And Hoover wasn’t just a fluke.

Within a few years, the minister had the support of not just Hoover but an impressive array of conservative figures in politics, business and religion—“a who’s who of the conservative establishment,” in the words of one observer. As Spiritual Mobilization’s national ambitions grew, Fifield searched for more sponsors to finance the fight. In the mid-1940s, he won a number of powerful new patrons, but none was more important than J. Howard Pew Jr., president of Sun Oil.

I’d never heard of Pew, either…but he was also to play a very pivotal role in the rise of the melding of American Evangelical Christianity and American Conservative Politics.


Tall and stiff, with bushy eyebrows, Pew had a stern appearance that matched his attitude. He had previously been involved in anti-New Deal organizations like the Liberty League and now believed the postwar era would witness a renewed struggle for the soul of the nation. Looking over some material from Spiritual Mobilization, Pew decided the organization shared his understanding of what was wrong with America and what needed to be done. But to his dismay, the material offered no agenda for action whatsoever, merely noting that Spiritual Mobilization would send clergymen bulletins and place advertisements but ultimately “leave details” of what to do “to individual ministers.”

Pew thought this was no way to run a national operation. “I am frank to confess,” he wrote a confidant, “that if Dr. Fifield has developed a concrete program and knows exactly where he is going and what he expects to accomplish, that conception has never become clearly defined in my mind.”

If Spiritual Motivation was to help save the nation from Socialism or worse, it would need Pew’s help. But what kind of help?

If Pew felt Fifield’s touch had been too light, he knew a more forceful approach would fail as well. In February 1945, famed industrial consultant Alfred Haake explained to Pew why NAM’s [National Association of Manufacturers] own outreach to ministers had failed. “Of the approximately thirty preachers to whom I have thus far talked, I have yet to find one who is unqualifiedly impressed,” Haake reported. “One of the men put it almost typically for the rest when he said: ‘The careful preparation and framework for the meetings to which we are brought is too apparent. We cannot help but see that it is expertly designed propaganda and that there must be big money behind it. We easily become suspicious.’”

Well, that’s exactly what it was…propaganda backed by Big Money! But Pew and his cohorts were sure that this was a GOOD thing, not an EVIL thing. They just needed a better way to “sell it” to the masses of ministers as something quite different from self-serving propaganda.

If they wanted to convince clergymen to side with them, industrialists would need a subtler approach. Rather than treating ministers as a passive audience to be persuaded, Haake argued, they should involve them actively in the cause as participants. The first step would be making ministers realize that they, too, had something to fear from the growth of government. “The religious leaders must be helped to discover that their callings are threatened,” Haake argued, by realizing that the “collectivism” of the New Deal, “with the glorification of the state, is really a denial of God.” Once they were thus alarmed, they would readily join Spiritual Mobilization as its representatives and could then be organized more effectively into a force for change both locally and nationally. [ibid]

And this ploy worked amazingly well.

Reverend Fifield worked to make Spiritual Mobilization out of the ranks of the clergy. The growing numbers of its “minister-representatives” were found in every state, with large concentrations in industrial regions like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. They were overwhelmingly Protestant, though a scattering of priests and rabbis allowed the organization to present itself as part of the new spirit of “Judeo-Christianity.” In the previous decade, this innovative “interfaith” approach had taken shape as a way for liberal clergymen to unite in common social causes. Now, in the postwar era, conservative organizations such as Spiritual Mobilization shrewdly followed suit.

The organization grew rapidly. In February 1947, Fifield reported that in three years he had expanded the mass of their minister-representatives from an initial 400 members to more than 10,000 [!!!] in all. He set them to work spreading arguments against the “pagan stateism” of the New Deal. “It is time to exalt the dignity of individual man as a child of God,” he urged. “Let’s redouble our efforts.”

And the redoubling succeeded.

Clergymen responded enthusiastically. Many wrote the Los Angeles office to request advertised copies of Friedrich Hayek’s libertarian treatise The Road to Serfdom and anti–New Deal tracts by Herbert Hoover and libertarian author Garet Garrett.

Armed with such materials, the minister-representatives transformed secular arguments into spiritual ones and spread them widely.

“Occasionally I preach a sermon directly on your theme,” a Midwestern minister wrote, “but equally important, it is in the background of my thought as I prepare all my sermons, meet various groups and individuals.”

Everyday activities were echoed by special events. In October 1947, for instance, Spiritual Mobilization held a national sermon competition on the theme “The Perils to Freedom,” with $5,000 offered in prize money. The organization had more than 12,000 minister representatives at that point, but it received twice as many submissions for the competition—representing roughly 15 percent of the entire country’s clergymen.  [Source]

And as the enthusiasm among the ministry built, that “behind the scenes” funding by Big Money came rolling in.

Pew once again set the pace, soliciting donations from officials at 158 corporations. “A large percentage of ministers in this country are completely ignorant of economic matters and have used their pulpits for the purpose of disseminating socialistic and totalitarian doctrines,” he wrote in his appeal. “Much has already been accomplished in the education of these ministers, but a great deal more is left to be done.”

Many of the corporations he contacted— including General Motors, Chrysler, Republic Steel, National Steel, International Harvester, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sun Oil, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey, and Colgate-Palmolive-Peetwere already contributing the maximum allowable annual donation. Other leading businesses, from US Steel to the National Cash Register Company, had donated in the past, but Pew hoped they would commit to the limit…

Of course, with this much “action” going on, it drew attention from the opposite side of the aisle.

The success of Spiritual Mobilization brought increased funding, but also the scrutiny and scorn of progressives. In February 1948, journalist Carey McWilliams wrote an acidic cover story on it for The Nation.

“With the ‘Save Christianity’ and the ‘Save Western Capitalism’ chants becoming almost indistinguishable, a major battle for the minds of the clergy, particularly those of the Protestant persuasion, is now being waged in America,” he began. “For the most part the battle lines are honestly drawn and represent a sharp clash in ideologies, but now and then the reactionary side tries to fudge a bit by backing movements which mask their true character and real sponsors.”

“Such a movement is Spiritual Mobilization.” McWilliams explained to his readers the scope of its operations, noting that it now had nine organizers working in high-rent offices in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and had distributed hundreds of thousands of pamphlets by pro-business authors for free. But no one knew who was funding the operation, McWilliams warned.

There had only been vague statements from Fifield that “non-ministers who have a common stake in the American and Christian traditions cannot contribute service” and that it was “only natural that they give substance instead.” In McWilliams’s withering account, Fifield came off as a charlatan who prostrated himself before the “apostles of rugged individualism” to secure his own fame and fortune and, in return, prostituted himself for their needs. [Kruse book]

In 1949 Fifield moved from the printing press to the airwaves. First came a 15-minute radio program titled The Freedom Story. A short dramatic presentation was followed by commentary by Fifield. Spiritual Mobilization was able to place this program on stations free of charge, allegedly as a way for stations to fulfill mandated “public service requirements.” But in order to do this, a few changes had to be made. Fifield had intended to directly attack the Democrats in the scripts for the show, but was advised by his lawyer to dial it back a bit and imply, more than state, his concerns. He was encouraged to use examples in the news from socialist and communist countries when possible. It would be easy enough to subtly imply in the commentary that the US might be headed toward similar situations here.


Just as with the explosive growth of firing up ministers across the land for The Cause, the radio program also took off like gangbusters.

… Fifield noted in March 1949. “We are expecting to be on one hundred fifty radio stations by June.” A year later, The Freedom Story was broadcast on a weekly network of over five hundred stations; by late 1951, it aired on more than eight hundred.

(By 1956, about the time Fifield ended broadcasting the Freedom Story radio program, he started a weekly 30 minute television show to spread the same message, titled “The Lighted Window.” I’m sure that he didn’t attract as large a nationwide audience as Billy Graham or Bishop Sheen, but his show was no doubt popular in certain circles. )

A new monthly magazine titled Faith and Freedom soon joined the radio program.


It pitched itself as being “created by ministers for ministers,” but actually the content was mostly written by professional conservative authors…including at one point, Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Engels Wilder. Once she had helped her mother as co-author of the Little House on the Prairie series, she turned her writing skills to attacking the New Deal and its “creeping socialism.” But the articles by Rose and others were guided by a principle laid out by Haake:

 “The articulation should be worked out before-hand, of course, and we should be ready to help the thinking of the ministers on it,” Haake noted in one of his early musings on Spiritual Mobilization, “but it should be so done as to enable them to discover it for themselves, as something which they really had believed but not realized fully until our questions brought it out so clearly. I am sure we may not TELL them: not as laymen, or even as fellow clergymen. We must help them to discover it themselves.” [ibid]

By 1951, Fifield and his compatriots were moving full steam ahead with their plans.

IN THE SPRING OF 1951, Spiritual Mobilization’s leaders struck upon an idea they believed would advance their cause considerably. To mark the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, they proposed for the week surrounding the Fourth of July a massive series of events devoted to the theme of “Freedom Under God.” According to Fifield’s longtime ally William C. Mullendore, president of the Southern California Edison Company, the idea originated from the belief that the “root cause of the disintegration of freedom here, and of big government, is the disintegration of the nation’s spiritual foundations, as found in the Declaration of Independence. We want to revive that basic American credo, which is the spiritual basis of our Constitution.”

To that end, in June 1951, the leaders of Spiritual Mobilization announced the formation of a new Committee to Proclaim Liberty to coordinate their Fourth of July “Freedom Under God” celebrations.


6/7/1951: Rev. Fifield and his buddies issue a formal announcement
of the forming of the Committee to Proclaim Liberty

The committee’s name, they explained to a crowd of reporters, came from the tenth verse of the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, in which God instructed Moses that the Israelites should celebrate the anniversary of their arrival in the Promised Land and “proclaim liberty throughout all the land and to the inhabitants thereof.” This piece of Scripture, organizers noted, was also inscribed on the crown of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

The irony of this, to anyone who knows their Old Testament, is that the “liberty” proclaimed in the Bible celebration was one of forgiving debts, of freeing of bondservants, and of families able to reclaim property that they had lost through debt in the past! It had absolutely NOTHING to do with “freedom” and “liberty”…to build industrial and banking empires.

In fact, the same passage in Leviticus that talks about this celebration of freedom even goes farther:

Leviticus 25:35-37

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit.”

It is painfully obvious that the folks with Spiritual Mobilization had no REAL interest in “biblical economics.” They just wanted to cherry-pick a passage that met their needs for pageantry and propaganda.

Given the “biblical theme” of the planned event, one might expect that it had been organized by religious organizations. Not so.

Although the committee claimed to seek a spiritual emphasis for the upcoming holiday, very few religious leaders actually served in its ranks. Indeed, aside from Fifield and his longtime friend Norman Vincent Peale, the founding ministerial members of the committee included only a liberal Methodist bishop, G. Bromley Oxnam; the Catholic bishop of the Oklahoma City– Tulsa diocese; and a rabbi from Kansas City. The true goal of the Committee to Proclaim Liberty was advancing conservatism.

No, the festivities were not organized or led by ordained ministers exhorting Americans to “turn to God,” accept Jesus as Lord, or anything of the kind. It was organized and led by conservative celebrities.

Its two most prominent members had been brought low by Democratic administrations: former president Herbert Hoover, driven from the White House two decades earlier by Franklin Roosevelt, and General Douglas MacArthur, removed from his command in Korea two months earlier by Harry Truman. These conservative martyrs were joined by military leaders, heads of patriotic groups, conservative legal and political stars, right-wing media figures, and outspoken conservatives from the realm of entertainment, such as Bing Crosby, Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan.

But the majority came from corporate America. J. Howard Pew was joined by other business titans, such as Conrad Hilton of Hilton Hotels, B. E. Hutchinson of Chrysler, James L. Kraft of Kraft Foods, Hughston McBain of Marshall Field, Admiral Ben Moreell of Jones & Laughlin Steel, Eddie Rickenbacker of Eastern Airlines, and Charles E. Wilson of General Motors.

[Eventually sponsors also included]  Harvey Firestone, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag, Henry Luce, and J. C. Penney, as well as the less well-known heads of US Steel, Republic Steel, Gulf Oil, Hughes Aircraft, and United Airlines.

Other conservative leaders of organizations were also deeply involved.

The presidents of both the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers served, as did the heads of free enterprise advocacy organizations such as the Foundation for Economic Education and the Freedoms Foundation. As a token counterweight to this overwhelming corporate presence, the Committee to Proclaim Liberty included a single labor leader: Matthew Woll, a vice president with the American Federation of Labor, but more important, a lifelong Republican well known for his outspoken opposition to industrial unions and New Deal labor legislation.

So what part would the plain old average citizens of the US play in this splendiferous plan?

As the Fourth of July drew near, the Committee to Proclaim Liberty focused its attention on encouraging Americans to mark the holiday with public readings of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. The decision to focus solely on the preamble was in some ways a natural one, as its passages were certainly the most famous and lyrical in the document. But doing so also allowed organizers to reframe the Declaration as a purely libertarian manifesto, dedicated to the removal of an oppressive government.

If you have actually read the Declaration, you would know that it was most decidedly NOT a “libertarian manifesto.” But other than maybe for a civics class in high school, long ago forgotten after graduation, few Americans had any memory of just what the whole thing said.

Those who read the entire document would have discovered, to the consternation of the committee, that the founding fathers followed the high-flown prose of the preamble with a long list of grievances about the absence of government and rule of law in the colonies. [!]

Among other things, they lambasted King George III for refusing “his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good,” for forbidding his governors from passing “Laws of immediate and pressing importance,” for dissolving the legislative bodies in the colonies, and for generally enabling a state of anarchy that exposed colonists to “all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

In the end, the Declaration was not a rejection of government power in general but rather a condemnation of the British crown for depriving the colonists of the government they needed.

In order to reframe the Declaration as something rather different, the Committee to Proclaim Liberty had to edit out much of the document…

But given the tendency of many citizens to read little in their daily lives other than best-selling novels, newspaper headlines and short articles, Reader’s Digest (a pointedly conservative magazine which had been around since 1922 and was the best-selling consumer mag on the market) and the funny papers, they were safe in betting few people had any idea what the Declaration actually said, and would not notice the difference in the carefully edited “reader’s digest version” being promoted by Spiritual Mobilization.

The committee’s corporate sponsors took out full-page newspaper ads to promote this pinched interpretation of the Declaration. The San Diego Gas & Electric Company, for instance, encouraged its customers to reread the preamble, which it presented with its editorial commentary running alongside.

The ad urged readers to make their own declaration of independence in 1951. “Declare that government is responsible TO you— rather than FOR you,” it continued. “Declare that freedom is more important to you than ‘security’ or ‘survival.’ Declare that the rights God gave you may not be taken away by any government on any pretense.”

Actually, that ad sounds strangely like parts of the Inaugural Address of Donald Trump in 2017!

For some reason, utility companies seemed to really get on board this conservative agenda.

Other utilities offered similar ads. The Detroit Edison Company, for instance, quoted at length from a Clarence Manion piece first published by the original Heritage Foundation. “Despotism never advertises itself as such,” Manion warned. “By its own sly self-definition it may label itself ‘democratic,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘liberal,’ ‘humanitarian,’ or ‘fraternal.’ Those who oppose it will be called reactionaries, fascists, and other ‘bad names.’” The Utah Power & Light Company, meanwhile, cut right to the chase in a full-page ad with the alarmist headline “How many ‘Independence Days’ have we left?”


The utility company implored readers to “pray for help in maintaining man’s closeness to God, in preserving man’s God-given rights and responsibilities against those who would make you dependent upon a socialistic, all-powerful government.”

The Committee to Proclaim Liberty particularly aimed at getting the cooperation of ministers in promoting this event. Press releases were sent that local ministers could provide to their local papers, just filling in their own name in the blank: “The purpose of the Committee,’ the Reverend _________ declared, ‘is to revive a custom long forgotten in America— spiritual emphasis on the 4th of July’”).

And once again they sponsored a sermon contest.

The seventeen thousand minister-representatives of the organization were encouraged to compete for cash…

First place in the sermon competition went to Reverend Kenneth W. Sollitt, minister of the First Baptist Church of Mendota, Illinois. Published in the September issue of Faith and Freedom, his sermon bore the title “Freedom Under God: We Can Go on Making a God of Government, or We Can Return Again to the Government of God.” As the title suggested, it was an extended jeremiad about the sins of the welfare state. Reverend Sollitt decried the national debt, growing federal payrolls, corporate taxation, government bureaucracy in general, and Social Security in particular, while still finding the time and imagination to use the parable of the Good Samaritan as grounds for a diatribe about the evils of “socialized medicine.”

When the Fourth of July came, no one involved was disappointed…

… The program itself lived up to the organizers’ expectations. Cecil B. DeMille worked with his old friend Fifield to plan the production, giving it a professional tone and attracting an impressive array of Hollywood stars. Jimmy Stewart served as master of ceremonies, while Bing Crosby and Gloria Swanson offered short messages of their own.


The preamble to the Declaration was read by Lionel Barrymore, who had posed for promotional photos holding a giant quill and looking at a large piece of parchment inscribed with the words “Freedom Under God Will Save Our Country.”

So…what is Dirty Little Secret #1 regarding the “spiritual revival” of the 1950s? The fact that it was not at all a true grass-roots revival of “interest in the Bible,” or the spread of a sense of repentance of personal sins and desiring salvation through Jesus Christ of masses of people.

The Dirty Secret is that it was a superficial stirring of emotions of the masses, very deliberately coordinated and staged by those with a political/economic agenda and bank-rolled by the Deepest Pockets in America.

The Dirty Secret is that these forces carefully constructed a false connection between the teachings of the Bible and the economic theories and interests of unfettered capitalism, ultimately equating Christianity with Capitalism. And then used that false connection to equate unqualified endorsement of unfettered Capitalism with “True Patriotism.”

These same Deep Pocket People had manufactured everything from Quaker Oats to steel girders, cigarettes to soap, washing machines to automobiles. And they and their “Madison Avenue” assistants had created sophisticated psychological methods to sell all these things. They now turned to manufacturing a revival… to sell a self-serving version of religion.

Yes, the 1951 national  Freedom Under God Fourth of July celebration was a smashing success, but only a foretaste of the blitzkrieg that the Christian libertarians planned for the decade. More about that continuing onslaught in the next blog entry:


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Dirty Little Secrets

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 14

Dirty Little Secrets

This is Part 14 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on
information, concepts, and commentary introduced in earlier entries in the series,
and thus it is most effective to read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1


“You go and tell that goddam minister that if he gives out one more story about my religious faith I won’t join his goddam church!”
(President Dwight D. Eisenhower to his Press Secretary, Jim Hagerty, 1953, regarding the pastor who just recently baptized him.)

“Oh, goddammit, we forgot the silent prayer.”
(Eisenhower remark at a cabinet meeting, early 1950s.)


That the 1950s and early 60s have a reputation as God’s Era, with America swept by religious fervor and thereby blessed by God with wealth and prestige, is undeniable. You can read about it all over the Web in 2017, usually from authors wistful that they are no longer surrounded by such a pious citizenry.


Off to the Church of Their Choice

Patriotic writings from that time period often referred to the US as God’s Favored Nation, with a mandate to evangelize the world…and some even literally referred to President Eisenhower as its “High Priest”…the epitome of godliness.  He had a carefully groomed public face of a man of deep spirituality


Ike and Mamie…with the “goddam minister” who baptized him…


However, peeking behind the scenes and finding quotes from Ike like those above can leave one with just a bit of Cognitive Dissonance. Not just about Ike, but about the whole public face of America as a Holy Nation. As it turns out, digging a little deeper than that COULD leave one with not just dissonance…but disillusionment.  But few seem to have the time to do any digging. Just passing along Facebook memes extolling the past keeps most folks from ever having to face any such disillusionment.


I’ve been doing some digging. Here’s one of the items I’ve looked into.


Amazon.com Description:

The assumption that America was, is, and always will be a Christian nation dates back no further than the 1930s, when a coalition of businessmen and religious leaders united in opposition to the FDR’s New Deal. With the full support of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, these activists—the forerunners of the Religious Right—propelled religion into the public sphere. Church membership skyrocketed; Congress added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance [1954] and made “In God We Trust” the country’s official motto [1956]. For the first time, America became a thoroughly religious nation.



Provocative and authoritative, One Nation Under God reveals how the comingling of money, religion, and politics created a false origin story that continues to define and divide American politics today.

Here’s a quip from a magazine interview with the author.

Salon Magazine interview, 2015

In 1949, some of the country’s top advertising executives launched a national marketing campaign. They weren’t selling a physical product. They were selling religion. Before long, the Religion in American Life campaign was placing close to 10,000 newspaper ads per year, coordinating national radio marketing, and putting up thousands of billboards, all intended “to accent the importance of all religious institutions as the basis of American life.” Major corporations bankrolled the effort.



We tend to imagine public expressions of faith as rising spontaneously from the American people, for good or for ill. When a politician says “God bless America,” she’s trying to sound like a populist, not like a corporate pawn. But as Princeton historian Kevin Kruse details in a new book, “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America,” our country’s religious slogans owe more to corporate campaigns than they do to grassroots work.

As Kruse argues, in the wake of the New Deal, business leaders linked Christianity, Republican politics and libertarian economics, helping drive a wave of public piety in the 1950s. The decade gave us our national motto, In God We Trust (born in 1956), and a new line in the Pledge of Allegiance, “one nation under God” (dating to 1954, this American tradition is [only] as old as Burger King and Denzel Washington). [Source]

This process didn’t start in 1949, though. It can be traced back directly to 1940, as outlined in Kruse’s book.

IN DECEMBER 1940, MORE THAN five thousand industrialists from across America took part in their yearly pilgrimage to Park Avenue. For three days every winter, the posh Waldorf-Astoria Hotel welcomed them for the annual meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

That year, the program promised a particularly impressive slate of speakers. Corporate leaders were well represented, of course, with addresses set from titans at General Motors, General Electric, Standard Oil, Mutual Life, and Sears, Roebuck, to name only a few. Some of the other featured attractions hailed from beyond the boardroom: popular lecturers such as noted etiquette expert Emily Post, renowned philosopher-historian Will Durant, and even Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover.

Tucked away near the end of the program was a name that few knew upon arrival but everyone would be talking about by the week’s end: Reverend James W. Fifield Jr. Ordinarily, a Congregationalist minister might not have seemed well suited to address the corporate luminaries assembled at the Waldorf-Astoria. But his appearance had been years in the making.

For much of the 1930s, organizations such as NAM had been searching in vain for ways to rehabilitate a public image that had been destroyed in the crash [of the Stock Market in 1929] and defamed by the New Deal. In 1934, a new generation of conservative industrialists took over NAM with a promise to “serve the purposes of business salvation.” “The public does not understand industry,” one of them argued, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”

Accordingly, NAM dedicated itself to spreading the gospel of free enterprise, hiring its first full-time director of public relations and vastly expanding its expenditures in the field. As late as 1934, NAM spent a paltry $ 36,000 on public relations. Three years later, the organization devoted $ 793,043 to the cause, more than half its total income that year. Seeking to repair the image of industrialists, NAM promoted the values of free enterprise through a wide array of films, radio programs, advertisements, direct mail, a speakers bureau, and a press service that provided ready-made editorials and news stories for seventy-five hundred local newspapers.



Ultimately, though, its efforts at self-promotion were seen as precisely that. As one observer later noted, “Throughout the thirties, enough of the corporate campaign was marred by extremist, overt attacks on the unions and the New Deal that it was easy for critics to dismiss the entire effort as mere propaganda.”

All that was about to change. Business was about to “get religion.”

…When Roosevelt launched the New Deal [1933], an array of politically liberal clergymen championed his proposal for a vast welfare state as simply “the Christian thing to do.” His administration’s efforts to regulate the economy and address the excesses of corporate America were singled out for praise. Catholic and Protestant leaders hailed the “ethical and human significance” of New Deal measures, which they said merely “incorporated into law some of the social ideas and principles for which our religious organizations have stood for many years.” The head of the Federal Council of Churches, for instance, claimed the New Deal embodied basic Christian principles such as the “significance of daily bread, shelter, and security.”


FDR signs the Social Security Act, 1935

Throughout the 1930s, the nation’s industrialists tried to counter the selflessness of the Social Gospel with direct appeals to Americans’ self-interest but had little success.

Accordingly, at the Waldorf-Astoria in December 1940, NAM president H. W. Prentis proposed that they try to beat Roosevelt at his own game. With wispy white hair and a weak chin, the fifty-six-year-old head of the Armstrong Cork Company seemed an unlikely star. But eighteen months earlier, the Pennsylvanian had electrified the business world with a speech to the US Chamber of Commerce that called for the recruitment of religion in the public relations war against the New Deal. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” Prentis warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.”

The speech thrilled the Chamber and propelled Prentis to the top ranks of NAM. His presidential address at the Waldorf-Astoria was anticipated as a major national event, heavily promoted in advance by the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live over both ABC and CBS radio. Again, Prentis urged the assembled businessmen to emphasize faith in their public relations campaigns. “We must give attention to those things more cherished than material wealth and physical security,” he asserted. “We must give more attention to intellectual leadership and a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”

But a speech by an industrial leader could not be expected to carry much weight outside his own peer group. To give “spiritual credibility” for this message to a wider audience, a spokesman from the Spiritual World was needed.

…James W. Fifield Jr. was on hand to answer Prentis’s call.


Handsome, tall, and somewhat gangly, the forty-one-year-old Congregationalist minister bore more than a passing resemblance to Jimmy Stewart. (His politics resembled not those of the actor’s famous character George Bailey, the crusading New Deal populist in It’s a Wonderful Life, but rather those of Bailey’s nemesis, the reactionary banker Henry Potter.) Addressing the industrialists at the Waldorf-Astoria, Fifield delivered a passionate defense of the American system of free enterprise and a withering assault on its perceived enemies in government.

Decrying the New Deal’s “encroachment upon our American freedoms,” the minister listed a litany of sins committed by the Roosevelt administration, ranging from its devaluation of currency to its disrespect for the Supreme Court. He denounced the “rising costs of government and the multitude of federal agencies attached to the executive branch” and warned ominously of “the menace of autocracy approaching through bureaucracy.”

His audience of executives was stunned. Over the preceding decade, these titans of industry had been told, time and time again, that they were to blame for the nation’s downfall. Fifield, in contrast, insisted that they were the source of its salvation.

From Villains to Heroes in one day. It must have been a heady experience indeed.

“When he had finished,” a journalist noted, “rumors report that the N.A.M. applause could be heard in Hoboken.” With his speech at the Waldorf-Astoria, Fifield convinced the industrialists that clergymen could be the means of regaining the upper hand in their war with Roosevelt in the coming years. As men of God, they could give voice to the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated solely by self-interest.

In doing so, they could push back against claims that business had somehow sinned and the welfare state was doing God’s work. While Roosevelt had joked that the Liberty League was concerned only with commandments against coveting and stealing, conservative clergymen now used their ministerial authority to argue, quite explicitly, that New Dealers were the ones violating the Ten Commandments.

In countless sermons, speeches, and articles issued in the months and years after Fifield’s address, these ministers claimed that the Democratic administration made a “false idol” of the federal government, leading Americans to worship it over the Almighty; that it caused Americans to covet what the wealthy possessed and seek to steal it from them; and that, ultimately, it bore false witness in making wild claims about what it could never truly accomplish. Above all, they insisted that the welfare state was not a means to implement Christ’s teachings about caring for the poor and the needy, but rather a perversion of Christian doctrine.

In a forceful rejection of the public service themes of the Social Gospel, they argued that the central tenet of Christianity remained the salvation of the individual. If any political and economic system fit with the religious teachings of Christ, it would have to be rooted in a similarly individualistic ethos. Nothing better exemplified such values, they insisted, than the capitalist system of free enterprise.

In other words, according to their version of the Gospel, Jesus Himself endorsed unfettered Capitalism, condemned such things as “social safety nets” like Social Security—and even public works programs such as the CCC—as destroying “personal initiative” (in the old, the feeble, the starving, and the destitute??).

migrant mother




God would surely be against unions, since they interfered with a corporate leader’s power to do as he pleased to fulfill his plans. And God gave evidence of His approval of unfettered capitalistic economic methods by “blessing” industrialists—and bankers, and stock brokers and their peers—with wealth.

And any attempt to interfere in any way with the freedom of the wealthy to be led by the Profit Motive was ungodly and a tool of the devil.

But this re-imagining of the “true nature” of the “Biblical basis of American economics” didn’t emerge from careful examination of the Bible, from theological studies at religious seminaries, nor from discussions among clergyman of various denominations at the grass roots level. It emerged in the rarified air of the exclusive circles of the American business elite and the pastors who served them what they wanted to hear.

And more importantly, the “national revival” of Church Going and Public Piety that eventually formed around these economic theories in the 1950s was not a “spontaneous eruption” of renewed religious feeling and spiritual faith. Both the theories, and the implementation of their propagation to the citizenry of the US (and the religious manifestations among the masses that resulted from their efforts) were the direct result of public relations persuasion, subtle propaganda, and not-so-subtle badgering by the national outreaches of organizations formed by “Corporate America”… Big Business, with the cooperation of a significant proportion of religious leaders in the nation. (And the cooperation of a lot of Madison Avenue ad men.)

Dirty Little Secrets

Behind the “Standard Narrative” about the piety of America in the 1950s and early 60s, and about the “astonishing revival” of interest in religion that characterized that period, lie what I have termed a collection of four “Dirty Little Secrets.”  The façade seen in illustrations from that era belie the reality of these secrets.

church family

Upcoming entries in this blog series will examine these four Dirty Little Secrets in detail and with documentation.

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows—and their legions of followers—have bought into that Standard Narrative. They believe that the US reached a peak in its growth as a Great and Godly nation in the 1950s, fell soon after that from God’s favor, and needs to be “restored” to that status so that God’s blessings of prosperity could be once again bestowed on the nation. And they believe that President Donald Trump and his administration are now God’s tools to bring about that restoration.

Yes, they want to recreate the Holy Happy Days of the 1950s, not realizing that they were neither… as holy or as happy as so many have been led to believe.

The upcoming entry in this series will investigate the first of those Dirty Little Secrets…

Manufacturing Religious Revival


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A Fair to Remember

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 13

A Fair to Remember

This is Part 13 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information,
concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus
it is most effective
to read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1
At the end of each entry you will find a link to the next part of the series.

I have long had a fascination with the historical “World’s Fairs” that took place in America starting with the Centennial International Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia…




That was the first “Official” World’s Fair held in the US. The emphasis was of course on the astonishing progress of the US as a nation over the 100 years since its founding. But it also included individual exhibition buildings for 11 other nations, and 26 of the 37 U.S. states at the time. Many “firsts” were on display:


First monorail


First telephone (Bell showing it to Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil)


The arm and torch of the “still in progress” Statue of Liberty,
sent over by France as part of the effort to raise funds to pay for
the pedestal and eventual installation of the statue (1886).


Remington typewriter


Heinz Ketchup
(bottle from the 1880s)

Hires Root Beer
(Ad from the 1880s–yes, you made your own, like making Kool-Aid)

My favorite World’s Fair was the gigantic one in Chicago in 1893, planned to coincide (within a year) with the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s supposed “discovery” of America in 1492. Thus it was dubbed the Columbian Exposition.



In the midst of reading about that Fair, I came across a description of a book written just six years before the Fair that I had never heard about before. While the Columbian Exposition looked at “the present,” exhibiting the latest and greatest accomplishments of man at the time, this book was, in essence, a Victorian futuristic Sci-Fi book, titled Looking Backward. The premise sounded fascinating, so I ordered a copy.

Looking Backward: 2000-1887 is a utopian science fiction novel by Edward Bellamy, a lawyer and writer from Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts; it was first published in 1888. According to Erich Fromm, Looking Backward is “one of the most remarkable books ever published in America”.

It was the third-largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It influenced a large number of intellectuals, and appears by title in many of the major Marxist writings of the day. “It is one of the few books ever published that created almost immediately on its appearance a political mass movement”. In the United States alone, over 162 “Bellamy Clubs” sprang up to discuss and propagate the book’s ideas. Owing to its commitment to the nationalization of private property, this political movement came to be known as Nationalism, not to be confused with the political concept of nationalism. The novel also inspired several utopian communities. [Wiki]

The premise of the book is sort of like the Rip Van Winkle story. Bostonian Julian West falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000. He finds that during his nap, the US has been transformed into a “socialist utopia.” And basically the rest of the book just follows him around as he explores this new environment—which is a manifestation of author Bellamy’s aspirations for how things “ought to be” in American society.  West’s “host,” Doctor Leete, explains the underlying theories of how and why the society works. This includes…

…drastically reduced working hours for people performing menial jobs and almost instantaneous, Internet-like delivery of goods. Everyone retires with full benefits at age 45, and may eat in any of the public kitchens. The productive capacity of America is nationally owned, and the goods of society are equally distributed to its citizens. [ibid]

Dr. Leete describes the “credit card” (yes, that is the word Bellamy came up with in 1887) issued to every member of American society in 2000:

“A credit corresponding to his share of the annual product of the nation is given to every citizen on the public books at the beginning of each year, and a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it. This arrangement, you will see, totally obviates [eliminates] the necessity for business transactions of any sort between individuals and consumers. Perhaps you would like to see what our credit cards are like.

“You observe,” he pursued as I was curiously examining the piece of pasteboard he gave me, “that this card is issued for a certain number of dollars. We have kept the old word, but not the substance. The term, as we use it, answers to no real thing, but merely serves as an algebraical symbol for comparing the values of products with one another. For this purpose they are all priced in dollars and cents, just as in your day. The value of what I procure on this card is checked off by the clerk, who pricks out of these tiers of squares the price of what I order.”

Oh…yes. We’re familiar with this in 2017! It’s not really a “credit” card … it’s a Debit Card.

Edward Bellamy was what is often referred to as a “Christian Socialist.”

But this blog entry isn’t about him. It is about his cousin, Francis Bellamy. Who was also a Christian Socialist—and a Baptist minister. Edward and Francis worked together on many Socialist projects.

[Francis] Bellamy was a Christian Socialist who “championed ‘the rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources, which he believed was inherent in the teachings of Jesus.’” In 1891, Bellamy was forced from his Boston pulpit for his socialist sermons [he evidently openly described Jesus as a socialist…], and eventually stopped attending church altogether after moving to Florida, reportedly because of the racism he witnessed there. [Wiki]

In 1892, Francis Bellamy was working for a popular magazine aimed at youths and families, titled The Youth’s Companion. This magazine was one of the largest-circulation mags of its type in the country (450,000 or so circulation). The owner was Daniel Ford, and his nephew James Upham was head of the magazine’s “premium” department.

Both Daniel Ford and James Upham were leaders in the use of premiums. The Companion was the first magazine to use effectively the device of giving premiums for annual subscriptions, a practice it began under Daniel Ford’s leadership in the late 1860’s. This premium system probably reached its highest development under his nephew, James Upham, who used the American flag as one of many premiums in promotion campaigns. Premiums were given to new subscribers, old subscribers for renewals, and to subscribing clubs and institutions like schools and churches.

By the time of Upham, subscribers could buy many items from the Premium Department. For over a half century, The Companion issued, in late October, a “Premium List Number” containing pictures and descriptions of many different types of goods. This premium number was in many ways the predecessor of the mail order catalogue of Sears and Roebuck. The premiums included laying hens, microscopes, singing canaries, steam engines, 93-piece dinner sets, pedometers, watch fobs, clothes, tools, sewing machines, church bells, pianos, toys, stoves, bedsteads, furniture, silverware, moccasins, Jack knives, lockets, cameras, pictures, and books by Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy, Gladstone, and Tennyson. [Source]

Around 1888, Upham came up with the idea to encourage schools across the land to display the US flag, either on an upright flagpole in the school yard or on a flag staff projecting from the building. Conveniently, the Companion’s premium department was prepared to sell flags of all kinds and sizes…including the perfect size to display for such a purpose.

By 1888 he had launched his School Flag Movement not only to sell flags but also to raise the level of patriotism in the schools. His promotion often would take the form of an advertisement in the magazine.

One very successful ad urged the student to write the Companion for one hundred cards bearing the inscription: “This Certificate entitles the holder thereof to one share in the patriotic influence of a Flag over the schoolhouse.” These cards, sold by the pupil at ten cents each, brought in the ten dollars to buy a flag sold from the Premium Department. The Board of Education was asked to furnish the flag staff. This plan, supported by spirited literature, resulted in about twenty-five thousand schools buying the American flag in the year 1891 alone. [ibid]

Up until this point, the only institutions that regularly flew the Flag daily were military installations. Moving beyond the use of magazine ads to promote the school flag idea, Upham solicited the endorsement of the National Education Association and the US Government. What in Upham’s background fed his enthusiasm for this project? It seems to be commonly attributed to the fact that he was a dedicated member of the Masons.

Upham was a Knight Templar in the Masonic “Converse Lodge” in Malden (the Converses were a wealthy local family). The Order of Knights Templar, also known as the American Rite, is the highest order in the York Rite, the largest Masonic organization in the United States. This is the equivalent in prestige to a Thirty-Third Degree Scottish Rite Mason, the top of the Masonic hierarchy.

…To exaggerate only slightly, many of the Masons believed that the United States of America, itself, was the Mason’s greatest creation. Many of the founding fathers were Masons, including “Brothers” George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Monroe. The great Supreme Court Justice, John Marshall, was also a Mason. By the turn of the century, almost half of the American Presidents had been Masons, including Garfield, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft. The three-time Democratic presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, was also a member.

The promotion of secular state run education, as against church-run education, has been an important factor in Masonic history. The modern public school movement in the United States has had a no more consistent supporter than the Mason. Masons believed that there is an essential link between freedom and education and that this linkage requires support for a free, non-sectarian school system. Masons seek to inculcate the ideals of Freemasonry and of “Americanism” into local, state and national affairs. They strive to preserve the fundamentals and principles of the American government, to promote moral values, and to develop America spiritually. [ibid]

So Upham was gung-ho to promote his brand of patriotism in the US Public School system.

The US Congress had agreed in 1890 to sponsor the World’s Columbian Fair in Chicago. Upham came up with the idea of linking this to a “National Public School Celebration” to be held simultaneously in schools all across the US on October 12, 1892. Upham was able to persuade the leadership of the Fair to hold a major ceremony on that date at the fair, with the same exact “program” to be followed in schools across the land.

Plans had long been underway for the Columbian Exposition to start in 1892. But as 1891 progressed it became obvious that the grandiose building plans were going to take longer to complete. Still, work was progressed far enough by October 1892 for an official initial “opening ceremony” to be held on October 12, while work continued so that the fair could officially open in May 1893. One of the centerpieces of that ceremony was to be the National Public School Celebration.

And that’s where Francis Bellamy enters the picture. Upham and the people helping him plan the ceremony, that was to be printed in the magazine and distributed nationwide to schools, envisioned a ceremony that would everywhere feature a flag-raising, followed by every group of children reciting a pledge to the flag.

youths companion

Francis Bellamy, Christian socialist, was the author of that pledge. In its original form, used at the nationwide ceremony that year, it read:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands,
one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

(The wording was changed in 1923 from “my Flag” to “the flag of the United States of America” to make sure new immigrants would not subconsciously think of the flag of their country of origin when reciting the pledge.)

While composing the wording for the pledge, Bellamy had considered including the slogan of the French Revolution, (in English) “liberty, equality, fraternity.” But he realized that many among the southern contingent of educators…superintendents and such…who were supporting the program, might be offended and probably balk at the use of the words “equality” and “fraternity” as applying to African-Americans (…and women.) So he back-pedaled and stuck with just “liberty and justice.”

I must admit I find it somewhat amusing that most folks don’t realize that the author of the Pledge was envisioning a Socialist Republic when he penned the words that they now recite!

The campaign was a rousing success, and hundreds of thousands of children joined their voices in the Pledge for the first time on October 12, 1892, at exactly the same time as the ceremony proceeded at the grounds of the Columbian Exposition, with Bellamy and Upham there to lead it. And the ritual was so well-received that most schools continued the practice to start their day from then on.

Yes, the Columbian Exposition, like the Centennial Exposition, had many “firsts” also:

The first Ferris Wheel (designed by Mr. Ferris—it was to be the impressive “centerpiece” for the Fair, vying to out-do Mr. Eiffel’s Tower, that had been designed as the centerpiece for the 1888 World’s Fair in Paris )


It was 264 feet tall, comparable to a 20-story skyscraper!


It didn’t have basket seats…it had enclosed “cars” that were comparable in size to a small street trolley. Each had 38 rotating seats, plus standing room, such that each could hold 60 people. And there were 36 of these cars, so its total capacity was 2,160. An average of 38,000 passengers a day rode the wheel.

The first “Midway”


That midway with the cotton candy and tilt-a-whirl at your county fair? It gets its name from the Midway Plaisance connected to the Columbian Exposition. (Plaisance is a fancy French word meaning something like “Pleasure Ground.”) The Midway Plaisance was a one-mile “extension” from the main fairgrounds.  And it ended up being the most popular and profitable part of the Fair…in spite of the fact that many of the Fair’s organizers had hoped to avoid having such a “low-brow” feature at their high-brow Fair. The main fairgrounds featured gigantic, splendiferous faux-white-marble buildings designed to look like classical European architecture.


And low-brow it was. The Midway was home to a boisterous, noisy hodge-podge of all sorts of games, rides, food concessions, exotic displays and entertainment from foreign countries, wild animals (and…peep-show stereoscopic machines that, for a nickel, showed 3-D photos of totally naked ladies (!)… ). By consigning these things to The Midway, they were kept separate from the supposedly more “educational” and “respectable” main fairgrounds. Including…

The first Belly Dance in America. This 1896 video by Edison shows one of the dancers who first performed what was soon referred to as the Hootchee Cootchee (and later dubbed the Belly Dance) in a stage show in the Streets of Cairo attraction on The Midway Plaisance in 1893. She and other dancers with her troupe would have performed the very same type of dance at the Fair. It’s not clear just which one was first given the nickname, “Little Egypt,” but a whole legion of “Little Egypts” eventually appropriated that name and soon spread through the land performing at fairs and carnivals and dance halls…and sometimes Bachelor Parties. Like the infamous one in 1896 hosted in New York city by the nephew of PT Barnum, where one of the Little Egypts danced totally nude–and thus the party was raided by the New York police vice squad!


Although the items below were not quite as exciting as Little Egypt, they were also “firsts” at the Fair.

The first “pressed penny” machine…just like you see now at places like Disney World.


The first time Gold Medal Flour was available to the public by that name…because the manufacturer renamed it after it received a gold medal at the Fair.


The first time Pabst Blue Ribbon beer was available by that name… also because its manufacturer renamed it because it was awarded a blue ribbon at the Fair.



The first time Heinz Ketchup was introduced to the public.


The first time Hires Root Beer was introduced to the public.



And now you know that another “first” introduced at the 1893 Fair was the Pledge of Allegiance.

Oh… and still another “first” at the Fair was the salute to the flag, used in that original ceremony.

Upham himself came up with the idea that a ritual “gesture”—a salute to the flag—would be needed for use with the pledge. And he evidently choreographed that gesture. In the official program for the celebration, Bellamy provided the description for this salute, which for many years was dubbed “The Bellamy Salute” as it was connected with the pledge written by Bellamy:

“At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”

And so here you have it, the salute to the flag in schools across the land, as seen, for instance, in this ceremony in 1915.


Or as practiced by this group in 1900.


Or by this group of “colored” children at their own segregated school in 1900.


Or by the students in these two groups, from undated pictures.


bellamysalute unknown

Those undated pics would have to have been taken before December, 1942. Because by that point too many folks were noticing the painfully obvious similarity between the Nazi salute—seen in so many photos and newsreels in American theaters and newspapers—and the Bellamy Salute.

hitler school 1934

German School 1934


Hitler Youth 


Hitler public appearance


Hitler inspecting Hitler Youth group

The US Congress amended the Flag Code on December 22, 1942, to replace the stiff-armed salute with the “hand over the heart” salute for civilians.



For many, if not most, Americans, the “ritual” of reciting the Pledge seems to be innocuous at least, and sentimentally and inspiringly patriotic at best. For most… but definitely not all.

Indeed, there have long been groups in the US who were opposed to the pressure, particularly on children, to recite the pledge in schools, often because of religious scruples.

In 1940 the Supreme Court, in “Minersville School District v. Gobitis,” ruled that students in public schools, including the respondents in that case, Jehovah’s Witnesses who considered the flag salute to be idolatry, could be compelled to swear the Pledge. A rash of mob violence and intimidation against Jehovah’s Witnesses followed the ruling. [Wiki]

In other words, it wasn’t just legal sanctions that pressured these folks and led to violence against them…it was rabid “nationalistic” fervor of common citizens. How sad.

Walter Gobitis was a recent convert to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Gobitis was inspired by stories of other Jehovah’s Witnesses who challenged the system and suffered for it, and decided to make a stand himself and instructed his children not to pledge allegiance when at school.

Minersville, Pennsylvania was predominantly Roman Catholic and there was significant animosity towards the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Tensions were already high before this case arose and many viewed this as one way to get back at the troublesome Witnesses. As a result, his children were subjected to teasing, taunting, and attacks from the other kids. For Lillian, this meant giving up her status as class president and losing most of her friends. “When I’d come to school,” she said, “they would throw a hail of pebbles and yell things like, ‘Here comes Jehovah!’ Billy’s fifth grade teacher attempted to physically force his arm out of his pocket to make the requisite salute.

A local Catholic church started a boycott of the family store and its business dropped off. Because of their eventual expulsion, their father had to pay for them to enroll in a private school, resulting in even more economic hardship.

At first the school board was in a quandary because the law did not provide penalties for those who refused to pledge. Finally, though, the school board got permission to punish the Gobitis children and expelled them, without appeal. [Source]

I personally find the conclusions of the Supreme Court (in an 8-1 vote), voiced by spokesman Felix Frankfurter at the time, to be incomprehensible in light of the concept of religious freedom!:

Frankfurter wrote that the school district’s interest in creating national unity was enough to allow them to require students to salute the flag. According to Frankfurter, the nation needed loyalty and the unity of all the people. Since saluting the flag was a primary means of achieving this legitimate goal, an issue of national importance was at stake.

The Court held that the state’s interest in “national cohesion” was “inferior to none in the hierarchy of legal values”.

“National unity is the basis of national security. To deny the legislature the right to select appropriate means for its attainment presents a totally different order of problem from that of the propriety of subordinating the possible ugliness of littered streets to the free expression opinion through handbills.”

Weighing the circumstances in this case, he argued that the social need for conformity with the requirement was greater than the individual liberty claims of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He emphasized that “Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs.”

Frankfurter further wrote that the recitation of a pledge advanced the cause of patriotism in the United States. He said the country’s foundation as a free society depends upon building sentimental ties.

The flag, the Court found, was an important symbol of national unity and could be a part of legislative initiatives designed “to promote in the minds of children who attend the common schools an attachment to the institutions of their country.”

The ruling was made on June 3, 1940. It’s repercussions across the land were almost immediate. [ibid]

The ruling set off a quick firestorm of persecution across the country. Sometimes literally:


On June 9, a mob of 2,500 burned the Kingdom Hall in Kennebunkport, Maine. On June 16, Litchfield, Illinois police jailed all of that town’s sixty Witnesses, ostensibly protecting them from their neighbors. On June 18, townspeople in Rawlins, Wyoming brutally beat five Witnesses; on June 22, the people of Parco, Wyoming tarred and feathered another.


Kennebunkport Kingdom Hall

American Legion posts harassed Witnesses nationwide. For example, on June 27, members of the American Legion forced Witnesses from a trailer camp in Jackson, Mississippi and escorted them across state lines to Louisiana, where they were “…passed from county to county, finally winding up in the vicinity of Dallas, Texas.” A Nebraska Witness was castrated. Little Rock Witnesses were beaten with pipes and screwdrivers. West Virginia Witnesses were forced to drink castor oil and then tied together with police department rope. Witnesses were jailed for sedition, jailed for distributing literature, jailed for holding a parade, jailed for canvassing without a license.

The American Civil Liberties Union reported to the Justice Department that nearly 1,500 Witnesses were physically attacked in more than 300 communities nationwide. One Southern sheriff told a reporter why Witnesses were being run out of town: “They’re traitors; the Supreme Court says so. Ain’t you heard?”

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt appealed publicly for calm, while newspaper editorials and the American legal community condemned the Gobitis decision as a blow to liberty. [ibid]

Yes, to make sure that everyone pledged allegiance to a flag that was supposedly a symbol of a country and government dedicated to “liberty and justice,” it was necessary to force them to perform this “civic ritual” under pain of taking away their liberty and justice–and the risk of bodily harm.

Gratefully, the ruling was changed only three years later. But I’m suspicious that this did little to calm down the “popular” persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who refused to participate in the Pledge ceremony.

In 1943 the Supreme Court reversed its decision, ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that public school students are not required to say the Pledge, concluding that “compulsory unification of opinion” violates the First Amendment.

In spite of this ruling, clear back in 1943, “popular” sentiment against any religious objectors who have scruples against saying the Pledge still remains in some quarters seventy years later. But at least you don’t hear of too many cases of physical violence against them these days.

 But why do I bring up this little history of the Pledge in the midst of discussing Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows?

As noted in previous entries in this series, those Bedfellows are made up of voters from a strange hodge-podge of diverse conservative evangelical groups. All are infuriated at the Supreme Court rulings of the 1940s-1960s that, from their point of view, “kicked God out of the public schools of America.” They are placing their faith in Donald Trump to right these egregious wrongs. But in the midst of that anger, they are all really pleased with a development in the 1950s that went against the tide of what they view as “anti-Christian” governmental rulings.

In 1954, with the endorsement and urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Congress passed a bill adding the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. For generations who have grown up since that time, going to schools where the Pledge was recited every morning, it might seem that those two little words had always been there. Most Americans are not really aware of the origins of the Pledge itself, including its composition by a Christian Socialist! But many politically-active evangelical Christians are aware of the addition of the reference to God in the 1950s. It is one of the factors that reinforce in their minds just how “overtly Christian” the nation was in that decade, and how important it is for Donald Trump to push through the necessary changes in government to restore the nation to the national, widespread Christian piety that it had in that glorious past.

But, just as many are not aware of when and how the Pledge was created, most are also unaware of just HOW and WHY the change to the Pledge came about in the 1950s. The next entry in this series will explore those circumstances. Stay tuned for


The Dirty Little Secret


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“The Way We Weren’t”

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 12

The Way We Weren’t

This is Part 12 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information,
concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series,
and thus it is most effective
to read the material sequentially from the beginning.

Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1
At the end of each entry you will find a link to the next part of the series.

I never did get around to seeing the 1973 Barbra Streisand/Robert Redford The Way We Were movie. But anyone old enough to have been around during that era surely remembers the classic theme song by the same name, sung by Barbra. It was a huge hit at the time, named the Billboard Magazine top song of 1974, and “went platinum” eventually, selling over 2 million copies. It has long since become a cultural “pop standard” song.

Its popularity can in part be attributed to Streisand’s usual powerful delivery, and the haunting melody. But I’m suspicious it is also in part because of the poignant lyrics…that many listeners can identify with. Starting with the opening two lines:

Mem’ries light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored mem’ries of the way we were

Why “water-colored” and “misty”? Because even a harsh scene like a broken-down house or an auto junkyard, if rendered by a painter in pale water colors and as if seen through a watery mist—would lose all its harsh edges and jarring details! It can even take on a beauty of its own…especially if, as seen in a misty, water-colored memory, that run-down house has the gentle representation of some beloved person like a grandma standing on the porch.

A while back, I found a long-lost 1952 photo of my grandparents’ northern Michigan farmhouse in a jumbled box of old photos, the only photo I have of it. I probably hadn’t seen that photo since my childhood! My memories of visiting that house in that year, when I was six years old, have long included sitting in a porch swing, on a wide, wrap-around porch WAY high off the ground, that was big enough to comfortably seat my whole extended family on porch chairs to enjoy the gentle coolness of a summer evening and chat. The porch was so high I couldn’t have safely jumped down from it, and thus I have always pictured railings all around it to keep me safe. To get down to the yard to go catch fireflies with my older siblings on a 1950s summer’s eve, I would have needed to scamper down the wide steps leading down from the front of the porch, that were so clear in my mem’ries.

If asked to describe the building, I would have seen in my mind’s eye a cheerful, brightly painted (probably white), expansive two story house (my bedroom when I visited was upstairs looking down over that porch). My misty mem’ry of Grandma and Granddad’s house looks very much like this farmhouse I found just now with a Google image search.

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In fact, adding the softening “watercolor effect” to my mem’ry (via photoshopping…) leaves what’s long been in my mind something more like this:

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Imagine my shock when I found the photo of the actual down-at-the-heels old house (probably built in the 1920s or so) as it looked in the 1950s.

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After seeing this photo, I guess it was indeed two-story, and sprawling a bit, and there is the upstairs front window of the bedroom I remember looking out. But that is NOT a cheery building! It is dark and bleak. That’s probably my Grandma Irene on the porch—which was certainly not nearly big enough to seat my family comfortably. There are no railings and no steps and no porch swing at all, and I could easily have jumped down from that porch to the yard even as a little girl.

I like my misty, water-colored mem’ries of the farmhouse, better than the vastly inferior reality. I have similar misty mem’ries of other things from my “Fifties Happy Days” youth, that all too often have to be readjusted when I see real photos of what it was REALLY like. I think most Baby Boomers have similar misty mem’ries of their own childhood and teen years. Nothing wrong with that, when it is involved in little features of our own family nostalgia.

The problem comes when we utterly refuse to admit that some things we think we remember are incorrect, including practically glorified memories about the wider society and culture of the time, even when faced with reality. And when we pass our incorrect inflated memories on to later generations, who may end up basing “real world” decisions in the 21st century on our claims.

There are a lot more important factors about the 1950s than the look of my Grandma’s farmhouse, that have been filtered through water-colored mem’ries. Or, in some cases, filtered through outright efforts of certain people and groups who deal in misinformation…or disinformation.

Did, for instance, the Warren Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 regarding “government-guided” prayer and Bible reading and “religious exercises” in schools have a devastating effect on society? Did those rulings lead to most families and youth of the time being drastically degraded almost overnight from fine, upstanding examples of Christian Living as they had been in the 1950s and before, to degenerate hedonists? All because those decisions “kicked God out of the schools” and implied to Him that no one wanted His interference anymore?

To read the claims of many modern evangelicals, that we need to “Make America Christian Again” (along with making it militarily and economically Great again) one would think that indeed, the Warren Court was a tool of the Devil to bring about the near-destruction of an almost idyllic US society. And only a coalition between Donald Trump and his Strange Bedfellows can restore the Land to its former glory.

Let’s part some of the mists shrouding the reality of the Happy Good Old Days, look at some actual photos and documentation, and see what we might see.

There seems to be a prevalent conviction among the nostalgic that the nature of marriage and family life in the 1950s and early 60s lined up throughout most of society with what you see on re-runs of old TV shows of the time. There is a particular nostalgia for the warmth of the marriage shown on I Love Lucy, and the patriarchal benevolence and respect for the dignified family role of fathers shown on Father Knows Best.


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So let’s take a brief look at these two upstanding/outstanding examples of what family life must have been like back in the heyday of when America was Christian and Great.

From the time the new I Love Lucy show hit the airwaves in 1951, Lucy and Desi were The American Ideal, the role models, of a loving couple. On TV, and in real life. EVERYBODY loved Lucille Ball. Especially, it seemed obvious, her doting husband of a decade (who played her fictional husband on the show), Desi Arnaz. The whole nation practically shut down every week as the latest episode of I Love Lucy was broadcast. Especially the episode that was aired on the date on which Lucy gave birth, in real life, to the couple’s second child, Desi Arnaz, Jr.

The episode in which Lucy gives birth [to the baby called on the show “Little Ricky”], “Lucy Goes to the Hospital”, first aired on January 19, 1953, which was the day before the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower as President of the United States. To increase the publicity of this episode, the original air date was chosen to coincide with Lucille Ball’s real-life delivery of Desi, Jr. by Caesarean section. “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” was watched by more people than any other television program up to that time, with 71.7% of all American television sets tuned in, topping the 67.7 rating for the inauguration coverage the following morning.  [Source]

The couple and their sweet little daughter (born just weeks before the first episode of the show) and young son were featured regularly on covers and in photo spreads in national magazines—and even comic books—giving the public a glimpse of the ideal family life they could aspire to.


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Except…everything in those pictures was already a misty, water-colored façade.


 On March 3, 1960, a day after Desi’s 43rd birthday (and one day after the filming of Lucy and Desi’s last episode together), Ball filed papers in Santa Monica Superior Court, claiming married life with Desi was “a nightmare”and nothing at all as it appeared on I Love Lucy.  On May 4, 1960, just two months after filming that episode (the final episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour), the couple divorced.  [Source]

The fictional couple you saw on the show were not a “reflection” of the real home and family life of the famous couple, as you might think from seeing all those magazine spreads. The life displayed on the show was pure fiction. From the earliest years of their marriage, in 1941, Desi Arnaz had been a confirmed  womanizer, and by the time of the I Love Lucy show his private life was one never-ending round of drinking, gambling, and women when not “on set” filming the show.

People Magazine bio of Desi and Lucy  1991

[A potpourri of comments by people who knew them:]

Jim Bacon, veteran Hollywood reporter for the Associated Press: The big problem with their marriage was that when Desi would get drunk, he was wild. If he was out carousing, he wouldn’t call in one whore, he’d call in 18. One night when I was with him in Palm Springs, he didn’t do anything but sit on the floor naked and sing “Babaloo” with all these whores around.

Bob Weiskopf [screenwriter and producer]: Basically, Desi’s attitude was, “What the hell’s the matter? I love her. When I go out with women, they’re usually hookers. Those don’t count.”

Jim Bacon: Lucy put up with it quite a bit, but then it just became too embarrassing. Especially when he got arrested on Hollywood Boulevard. That was sometime in the ’50s. The cops picked him up, drunk, standing in front of this whorehouse, singing Cuban songs.

Bart Andrews [author of books about Lucy]: She told me that by 1956 it wasn’t even a marriage anymore. They were just going through a routine for the children. She told me that for the last five years of their marriage, it was “just booze and broads.” That was in her divorce papers, as a matter of fact.

Keith Thibodeaux, who played Little Ricky on the I Love Lucy show:  [At their home] there was always tension. One time Desi Jr. and I were playing in the backyard, and they were in the guest house. We heard a lot of loud arguing and cursing and glass shattering and screaming, and we were scared. Desi Jr. turned to me and said, “There they go again.” I was about 9,10 years old.   [Source]

If the family life on I Love Lucy didn’t really reflect the life of the actors in the real world of the 1950s, how about the family life of “Jim Anderson,” actor Robert Young’s alter-ego on the Father Knows Best show (1954-1960)?

When reminiscing about how godly and wonderful the society of the 1950s was, lots of folks with roots in that era will point to their memories of Father Knows Best as an example of how things were, and how far we’ve come from that ideal.


Jim and Margaret Anderson and their children, Bud, Betty, and little Kathy were touted back at the time as the perfect models for us all. And continue to be touted by some folks clear into the present as the perfect models to go back to, as part of Making America Great again, restoring “True Family Values.”

The problem is, Jim, who supposedly Knew Best, and his wife and offspring weren’t a family of the ‘50s. They were fictional characters! Invented by writers in Hollywood.

They weren’t the “typical” family of the day. They were what I’ve come to call a Disneyfied version.

The show began in 1954, just a year before Walt Disney introduced the nation to his own “pseudo memories”…misty, water colored mem’ries…of his childhood hometown.

Mainstreet USA as seen in Disneyland and the later Disney parks such as this one in France…


…was created as an idealized version of Walt’s childhood hometown, Marceline, Missouri. A VERY idealized version. For here is the unvarnished, un-water-colored, un-mistied up Marceline of the period when he lived there.


The Disney Imagineers who designed Main Street, USA, were trying to create a popularized Utopian environment. The word “Utopia” was invented by author Thomas More for his 1516 book titled Utopia, by combining the Greek words for not and place—it is “no place.” A “Place that Never Was.” The Disney version was based on Walt’s pseudo-memories of a Place that Never Was.

And this is surely true of the fictional Anderson Family—it was the Family That Never Was.


Because the REAL people who populated the screen sets for the show during its run from 1954 to 1960 were nothing like the Andersons. Elinor Donahue (daughter “Betty”) and Jane Wyatt (wife “Margaret”) managed to escape major issues. But the stories of the rest of the cast make it clear that the show wasn’t reflecting real life.

Robert Young (“Jim”): Young suffered from alcoholism and depression off screen during the show’s run. He had a nervous breakdown in 1966 and it took him nearly 4 years to recover.  He attempted suicide in 1991.

Lauren Chapin (“Kathy”—called “Kitten” on the show by her dad): In real life, Lauren, born in 1945, had a hellish home life, as briefly described in this review of her 1989 autobiography:

An astounding 20-year drug trip through hell, riveting from first word to last. In the Fifties and Sixties, Chapin was famous as Robert Young’s snippish and pesty younger daughter Kathy on Father Knows Best. Her real-life mother and father separated because of her mother’s alcoholism, and mother remained with Lauren and her two brothers. Mother was a vicious harpy and life with her sheer hell. But even before the divorce, Lauren as a three-year-old was sexually abused by her father, who fondled her while watching TV. Then at seven Lauren landed her TV goldmine job and, with her child actor brother, supported the family. But life with mother was a raging inferno and at 11 Lauren ran away to live with her remarried father and got court protection from her mother. However, Dad was soon up to his old TV tricks with his aging daughter and for years disgusted and terrified her with his demands.

So Lauren ran off again, to marry a kid she didn’t love, then was taken in by a supercharming pimp hairdresser/drug-dealer, who got her hooked on heroin and had her turning tricks for $1000 each. Pimp Eddie was soon breaking her ribs and kicking her apart for not earning enough–and the rest of Lauren’s tale is simply hair-raising, with vile, nutty killer Eddie and his .375 Magnum being the easy part. [Source]

Intermixed in all that, she suffered 8 miscarriages and two serious attempts at suicide. The first was a failed attempt at hanging herself on the rack in her clothes closet in her teen years. The second:

“While on drugs one night, she sought to exorcise her demons with a meat cleaver and was found by the police “wandering down Hollywood Boulevard, delirious and with my left hand almost severed. They took me to the hospital and managed to save my hand, but I have no feeling in it.” [Source]

Early on she may have been “turning tricks” for $1000, but that didn’t last long:

At first, men would pay handsomely to sleep with “Kitten.” Eventually, she descended to working the street, servicing 30 to 40 men a night for as little as $5 a trick. [Source]

And the money she earned from her stint on Father Knows Best?

By the time she was eligible for her $90,000 TV earnings, held in trust, her mother, an alcoholic suffering from TB, had sued her for the money. Lauren settled the case out of court and emerged with just $19,000. [Source]

Gratefully, Lauren Chapin had a “religious conversion” experience in 1979 that turned her life around, and is reported to be doing well now at age 71.

Billy Gray (“Bud”): Billy was born in 1938, so when the show ended he was about 22. In 1962 at age 24, Billy was arrested and sent to jail for a while for marijuana possession. (He is reported to have publicly admitted to using weed heavily since age 14.) Although he was never again in problems with the law for drug matters, that single incident plagued him for years in terms of getting other acting roles.

Billy (now 79 years old) was probably the most honest critic of the show, insisting in interviews in later years that it was NOT either a good role model for families, nor an accurate reflection of family life and society in general in the 1950s. Here are some excerpts from a 1983 interview with Billy:

I wish there was some way I could tell the kids not to believe it. The dialogue, the situations, the characters, ­ they were all totally false. The show did everyone a disservice. The girls were always trained to use their feminine wiles, to pretend to be helpless to attract men. The show contributed to a lot of the problems between men and women that we see today. . . . I think we were all well motivated, but what we did was run a hoax. ‘Father Knows Best’ purported to be a reasonable facsimile of life. And the bad thing is, the model is so deceitful. It usually revolved around not wanting to tell the truth, either out of embarrassment, or not wanting to hurt someone. If I could say anything to make up for all the years I lent myself to (that), it would be, ‘You Know Best.’  [Source]

But is it fair to expose what was going on (behind closed doors)  in just those particular settings? Perhaps the people involved weren’t living up to the fictional depiction of family life in the shows. But was that just because they were immersed in the “entertainment industry,” which had long had a bad reputation that didn’t line up with “respectable society”?
From 1955 through 1964, I lived in a small town in northern Michigan named Traverse City. We had moved from Ohio to Traverse just as I went into the fourth grade. Virtually everyone else in my grade school had lived there since birth. As with many such small towns, it is hard for “outsiders” to be integrated into the community. Thus even after living there for eight years, I never felt as if I “belonged.” And thus I never knew much about the “home lives” of the kids I saw every day at school.

My own extended family had many “issues” and relationship problems, everything from alcoholism, divorce,  and adultery to mental illness. But since I was seldom around the families of my classmates, I developed a perspective that my family must be unique…and all these others were “picture perfect.” They were, in essence, all living in Richie Cunningham’s Happy Days world!

After I moved away to college, and never went back to visit any of those folks, that perspective never changed. Until recently. Facebook is an amazing resource for getting in touch with the past! Just in the past year, I’ve gotten back in touch with three women who had been in my classes in Traverse in grade school and high school whom I hadn’t heard from since the 1960s. We’ve swapped memories and stories.

I was open about my own nuclear and extended family’s struggles back then. And one of the women startled me when she described attending the reunions of our high school class, the most recent our 50th in 2014. There she talked more deeply with some of our old classmates than she ever had in the past. She was one of those people who had lived in Traverse since birth. But I found out even THOSE people didn’t really know much about what was going on in the home lives of our classmates back in the 1950s and early 60s! Just as I had, she had assumed the home lives of all our classmates were picture-perfect. But after I shared my own private stories, she wrote back:

You’re right, there was a lot of stuff happening behind doors in TC. That post war era, without help [for returning WW2 vets] adjusting back into family life. I’ve been amazed how many have talked about the alcoholism & abuse that was happening in their home.

No, serious family problems in the 1950s were not limited to the families of celebrities.

But surely, some modern evangelicals would argue, at least the fact that viewers of the 1950s soaked up the Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy shows enthusiastically is an indication that the average American of the time had a strong preference for entertainment with wholesome Family Values. Add to that the enthusiasm of so many for the broadcasts of Billy Graham and Bishop Sheen. And don’t forget to factor in the popularity of the wholesome, fresh-faced, squeaky-clean, prim and proper TV persona of singer Dinah Shore on her very popular musical variety show sponsored by Chevrolet that ran from 1951 to 1957!

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She’d ended every show with her unforgettably perky version of the theme song “See the USA in Your Chevrolet!”

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If you’re way too young to remember her show, or if you are old enough to have nostalgia about it, click on the Play button below and get just a tiny taste of her girl-next-door simple, sentimental sweetness in a short clip from a January 1952 Dinah Shore Show.

Yes, if all you ever saw of TV musical variety show entertainment in the early to mid-50s was old clips of the Dinah Shore Show, you’d surely be convinced that public taste was indeed very respectable and genteel in those Clean Good Old Days.

But don’t dig too deeply on Youtube for samples of 50s popular entertainment or your bubble might be burst…for instance, when you stumbled across the other main female variety show star of the era…Dagmar.

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Dagmar’s name was indelibly connected with automobiles too. But not in the way Dinah’s was. To this day, “vintage car” aficionado guys are enthused to appreciate autos from the Fabulous Fifties with… Dagmar Bumpers.

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Dagmar bumpers is a slang term for chrome conical shaped styling elements which began to appear on the front bumper/grille assemblies of certain American automobiles following World War II. They reached their peak in the mid-1950s.

The term is derived from the notable physical attributes of Dagmar, a buxom early 1950s television personality known for low-cut gowns and pronouncedly conical bra cups. She was amused by the tribute.

As originally conceived by Harley Earl, GM Vice President of Design, the conical bumper guards would mimic artillery shells. Placed inboard of the headlights on front bumpers of Cadillacs, they were intended to both convey the image of a speeding projectile and protect vehicles’ front ends in collisions.

As the 1950s wore on and American automakers’ use of chrome grew more flamboyant, they grew more pronounced.

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The black rubber tips they gained on the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham and other models were known as pasties.  [As seen in the pic below…if you aren’t familiar with the term, pasties are what burlesque show strippers wore on the tips of their breasts in situations where laws forbade fully topless “entertainment.” ] (Source)

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Looks like some car owners were even inclined to embellish their Dagmar Bumpers’ pasties with another accessory common to burlesque shows… tassels.

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Yes, at the exact same time that TV audiences were all ga-ga over Dinah Shore’s demure persona and modest wardrobe, a huge proportion of those same audiences were equally ga-ga over Dagmar’s…alternative attributes.

But just who was Dagmar?

Her real name was Virginia Egnor Lewis. Born in 1921 in West Virginia, she had married and moved to New York in 1941. For the next decade she had various jobs in modeling and minor roles in Broadway productions. Then TV burst on the scene. One of the earliest comedy-variety shows on NBC was a late-night show called Broadway Open House, which debuted in 1950 hosted by popular MC Jerry Lester. One of the people he hired for the cast of the new show was Virginia.

… [Lester] renamed her Dagmar. …As Dagmar, Lewis was instructed to wear a low-cut gown, sit on a stool, and play the role of a stereotypical dumb blonde. With tight sweaters displaying her curvy 5′ 8″ figure (measuring 42″-23″-39″), her dim-bulb character was an immediate success, soon attracting much more attention than Lester. Lewis quickly showed that regardless of appearances, she was quite bright and quick-witted. She appeared in sketches, and Lester made occasional jokes about her “hidden talents”.

Her appearances created a sensation, leading to much press coverage and a salary increase from $75 to $1,250. With Dagmar getting all the attention, Lester walked off his own show in May 1951, and Dagmar carried on as host. On July 16, 1951, she was featured on the front cover of Life, and the show came to an end one month later.

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LIFE proclaimed  Dagmar to be “a national institution.” And a 1950s poll of editors voted her to be “the most photogenic girl on TV.”

I don’t doubt Virginia Egnor Lewis was a bright woman, comedically talented. But it would be naïve in the extreme to assume that her popularity would have been the same without her decidedly un-Dinah-Shoreish, Dagmar Bumper characteristics.

Dagmar became one of the leading personalities of early 1950s live television, doing sketch comedy on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater, the Bob Hope Show, and other shows.

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In 1952, she hosted the short-lived, late Saturday evening Dagmar’s Canteen (which aired on NBC at 12:15 am Eastern Time, unsponsored), in which she sang, danced, interviewed servicemen, and performed comedy routines. The basic premise of the show was that servicemen from the audience were given roles to act alongside Dagmar in sketches.  [Source]

Click on the PLAY button below to juxtapose Dinah Shore’s demure TV performance of “It’s a Lovely Day,” shown in the clip above, with a much less demure performance by Dagmar , also in 1952, of song titled “Ballin’ the Jack” on her Canteen show.

I think many Baby Boomers around my age (I was five years old when the Dinah Shore Show started) look back on their childhoods with either “blinders” on their memories that allow them to see only a very narrow field of vision of the past…


…or wearing “Rose-Colored Nostalgia Glasses”!  Glasses that can even make bleakness look rosy.


Part of the problem is perhaps that they WERE young children during those early and mid 1950s. They weren’t adults or even teens, and thus a lot of the strong sexual “innuendo” on TV, such as in Dagmar’s performances, was lost on them. And of course, their parents would have not taken them to adult-themed movies.

Unless they were nosy like I was (poking around in closets and drawers in their dad’s bedroom…), they also wouldn’t have discovered that their Happy Days Era Dad may well not have been as pure-of-mind and heart as Richie Cunningham’s dad Howard…for after all, Playboy magazine wasn’t invented in the Swingin’ Sixties, a product of the supposed slide into sleaziness invited by the Supreme Court school decisions. Its first issue, with a totally full-frontal nude centerfold of Marilyn Monroe from a 1949 photo-shoot, came out in 1953!


And then there were these ads, part of a series promoting, of all things, Griffin shoe polish (!) from magazines in 1956-1958.






I suppose those ads didn’t show up in the Saturday Evening Post, but were created for the burgeoning “men’s magazine” trade of that time. And Griffin wasn’t the only company that understood that sex sells just about anything…


I had no clue who “Sabrina” was until looking her up on Wiki just now. She was evidently  a 1950s British version of Dagmar.  As the ad claims above,  she used her “projection equipment” to sell projection equipment. Among lots of other things.


Norma Ann Sykes (born 19 May 1936), better known as Sabrina, was a 1950s English glamour model who progressed to a minor movie career. Her main claim to fame was her hourglass figure of prodigious 41-inch breasts coupled with a tiny 19-inch  waist and 36-inch hips.
Sabrina was one of “a host of exotic, glamorous (British) starlets … modeled on the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Lana Turner”

Even after all these years, she still has a big fan base on the Internet, including in Australia. I’m assuming many of them are aging Baby Boomer men with misty, water-colored mem’ries of the scantily-clad heroine of their youth. As the online “Encyclopedia Sabrina” website puts it…

Norma Ann Sykes D.Litt (Hon) is the voluptuous British lass who became Sabrina and accomplished above the hips what Elvis accomplished below.

She is the Cheshire cheese-cake pinup, actress, singer, cabaret star, publicity pioneer, and sex-queen who didn’t like to be touched.

She was a ‘dumb blonde’ who was a genius at self-promotion, an ill-educated teenager because of lengthy hospital stays, and an honorary Doctor of Letters with an impossibly-proportioned figure.

A victim of polio, mocked for her lack of talent and excess of bosom, she became an international phenomenon who dated princes; charmed dictators, the public and cynical reporters; and generated more myths, lies, legends and throbbing memories than anyone else of her era.

Sabrina even one-upped Dagmar in getting vehicle parts named after her–“Sabrina’s” were protuding parts of both a British truck…and British Hawker Hunter fighter planes.

Yes, Sabrina was part of that genteel, modest, Christian Era of the 50s too. Of course, this was in Britain, but the UK had long been viewed as being more “dignified” than the US, especially back in those days. And the reality is that Sabrina didn’t come to TV fame until 1955…the US beat UK TV to the punch with Dagmar clear back in 1951. But Sabrina quickly caught up…

If you want to see the first face of modern British celebrity culture you have to go back to the evening of 15 February 1955 and comedian Arthur Askey’s BBC television series Before Your Very Eyes. That night millions of viewers saw something they’d never seen before: television’s first sex symbol in action. She was a young, busty, peroxide blonde in a tight black dress making her television debut. Viewers watched in amazement as she slid off a sofa, walked towards the camera, and then slowly turned sideways to reveal the mountain range of her magnificent cleavage. One can only imagine the effect on the families watching: a collective gasp of wonder. Men would fidget on the settee; teenage boys would blush and women would go and put the kettle on.  [Source]

Does anyone have any doubt that she would have had the same effect on men and teen boys in America? Press the PLAY button below and you can get a short glimpse of Sabrina in action, in an ad selling Automotive Lubricants.

Dagmar and Sabrina and all their scantily-clad, excessively endowed sisters were particularly fodder for the “men’s magazines” of that era.  I’m suspicious many, if not most, kids’ dads of the time had a stash of these under the bed mattress or in a dresser drawer under their socks. Some of these publications focused on “true” (or pseudo-true) violent war memoir stories,  and dangerous outdoor adventure stories with vicious wild animals…with illustrations of half-naked babes thrown in as spice on occasion. Others were more narrowly focused on those half-naked babes in “pin up” poses. The most adventurous such dads may have rushed out to buy Playboy, the “New Guy on the block” in 1953.  It had the best in the way of actual photos, especially with that Centerfold.

But it cost a bit more (50 cents), and had all that “intellectual” stuff to actually read if you were so inclined. For 25 cents and less reading effort, anybody’s dad could afford the trashy men’s mags that had sleazy stories and luscious realistic (well, cartoonic reaistic) artwork of scantily clad women. Yes, most weren’t nearly as explicitly raunchy as what men can purchase at Truck Stop magazine stands today—the ones back in the 50s would have been what is now called “soft porn.” But I can guarantee that most would still curl the toes of the average mom in a 21st century evangelical household if she caught her husband or teen sons hiding some under the mattress!
There was Stag magazine, that had been in print since the 1930s.


Its publisher successfully sued Hugh Hefner over the name of his planned magazine…Playboy was originally going to be titled Stag Party!

There were many, many of these magazines, with names like TRUE, True Men, Cavalier, For Men Only, Man’s Life, Man’s Action, and on and on and on.

But of course, that’s MEN. Surely at least the women of that era were mostly prim and proper, and uninterested in anything sexual outside of their own marriage?

It’s kind of difficult to maintain that illusion when you consider…Peyton Place.


Peyton Place is a 1956 novel by Grace Metalious. The novel describes how three women are forced to come to terms with their identity, both as women and as sexual beings, in a small, conservative, gossipy New England town, with recurring themes of hypocrisy, social inequities and class privilege in a tale that includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust and murder. It sold 60,000 copies within the first ten days of its release and remained on the New York Times best seller list for 59 weeks.

The novel spawned a franchise that would run through four decades. Twentieth Century-Fox adapted it as a major motion picture in 1957, and Metalious wrote a follow-up novel that was published in 1959, called Return to Peyton Place, which was also filmed in 1961 using the same title. The original 1956 novel was adapted again in 1964, in what became a wildly successful prime time television series for 20th Century Fox Television that ran until 1969, and the term “Peyton Place” – an allusion to any small town or group that holds scandalous secrets – entered into the American lexicon.  [Source]


A week before it hit bookstores, on September 24, 1956, it was already on the best-seller list, where it would remain for half a year. In its first month, it sold more than 100,000 copies, at a time when the average first novel sold 3,000, total. It would go on to sell 12 million more, becoming one of the most widely read novels ever published. During its heyday, it was estimated that one in 29 Americans had bought it—legions of them hiding it in drawers and closets due to its salacious content.

I saw one “nostalgia piece” on the Web where a fellow confessed that he and his teenage buddies of that era would sneak their moms’ copies of Peyton Place out of the house, and get together and read the “dirty parts” out loud to each other at all-guy parties. I’m going to guess that this was not unique to just that group of young men. I’ll bet it happened all over the country!

Yes, just like Playboy, the Peyton Place phenomenon was also not spawned by the Sexy Sixties, but by the allegedly prim and proper Fifties. And it would be pathetically naïve to think that those first 100,000 people who read it that first month—and the millions more later—were all men. Sorry, younger generation folks…your grandmas and great grandmas were scooping up their own copy and breathing heavily while reading it too. I was only ten when the first edition came out, so I didn’t get caught up in the first wave of readers. But by 1962 I was 16 and old enough to go out to the bookstore on my own.  I bought my own paperback copy (and brought it home and promptly hid it under a chair cushion in my bedroom.)

And why should anyone be surprised that both men and women of the 1950s had salacious interests? Many Boomers look back on the misty mem’ries of movies they saw in the 1950s and tend to remember just Family Friendly ones like Old Yeller and The Ten Commandments and Singin’ in the Rain.



They seem to totally forget hits such as these below, that were loaded with sexual innuendo and scantily clad beauties…





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And, as mentioned in an earlier entry in this series, there was a huge spate of sex-themed films in the 50s that were aimed particularly at teens.







Many later generations of evangelicals seem determined to believe that their own dear ol’ grandad and grandma of the post-war baby boom generation, and great-granddad and great-grandma of the Depression and World War 2 “Greatest Generation,”  were perfectly pious adult gentlemen and proper ladies back in the 1950s, because America Was Christian back then. They refuse to even try to imagine that their grandparents or great grandparents might have had lustful interests. Because if that were so…maybe there IS no era that we could “go back to” that was truly pure and pious and great! Maybe we’d have to just realize that human nature has been pretty much the same throughout human history. Maybe every generation has had… The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. And the Trashy…

In fact, in spite of the huge efforts of the Religion in American Life organization (described in an earlier entry in this series) to make sure everyone went to The Church of Their Choice every Sunday morning, might it be possible that this was the “aim”… but not the reality? Even Norman Rockwell gave a hint of this little secret on a Saturday Evening Post cover in 1957:


And maybe, just maybe, a significant percentage of those who DID go to church on Sunday—under peer pressure, or out of a desire to be part of a social circle that might enhance one’s social status in a community…had spent Saturday night watching a sleazy movie or reading Peyton Place. Attendance at a one hour ritual on one morning a week really is no “proof of piety” at all.

As a matter of fact, even singing innocuous songs on TV for an hour is no particular “evidence” of what a public personality is really like. Take Dinah Shore for instance…I watched her show for several years as a child. But I never saw her like THIS:

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And I never realized until recently what her…ahem…social life out in the real world was like until reading up on her bio recently. Dinah was her stage name. She was actually born “Fannye Rose” to Russian-Jewish immigrant shopkeepers in 1916. After a rough youth including a bout with polio and the death of her mother when she was 16, she broke into show business in New York.

In her early career, while in New York, Shore was briefly involved with drummer Gene Krupa. After Shore relocated to Hollywood, she became involved with James Stewart and it was rumored that a Las Vegas, Nevada, elopement was aborted en route. Shore’s flirtation with General George Patton was commented on when he escorted her for a portion of her tour to entertain the troops in Britain and France during World War II.

Shore was married to actor George Montgomery from 1943 to 1962. She gave birth to daughter Melissa Ann, now known as Melissa Montgomery, in January 1948. She later adopted her son, John David “Jody” Montgomery. The author of Mr. S, Frank Sinatra’s longtime valet George Jacobs, claimed Shore and Sinatra had a long-standing affair in the 1950s. After her divorce from Montgomery, she briefly married Maurice Smith. Romances of the later 1960s involved comedian Dick Martin [of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In], singer Eddie Fisher, and actor Rod Taylor.

In the early 1970s, Shore had a long and happy public romance with actor Burt Reynolds who was twenty years her junior. The relationship gave Shore an updated, sexy image, and took some of the pressure off Reynolds in maintaining his image as a ladies’ man.

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The couple was featured in the tabloids and after the relationship cooled, the tabloids paired Shore with other younger men, including Wayne Rogers, Andy Williams, Iggy Pop and “Tarzan” actor Ron Ely. In her later years, Shore also dated novelist Sidney Sheldon, Dean Martin, and former New York Governor Hugh Carey.  [Source]

Yes, Dinah Shore was not actually the prim, proper little lady singing cheery songs that are part of my misty, water-colored mem’ries of the 1950s. That was just a very, very tiny glimpse of a very tiny portion of her life. She was that way for one hour on TV a week for six years. The rest of the time she was not necessarily a role model for every evangelical Christian mama’s daughter! As you can see in this photo, no doubt from the period in which she was involved in a romance with Dick Martin:

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Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, (Episode 87, February 8, 1971):
“Dinah Shore plays a stripper in a mod salute to the working girl.”

After sorting through the reality behind many of my own memories of the 50s for several years now, through the magic of the huge collection of information, photos, and videos on the Web, I have become convinced that for most of us, that classic song needs a new ending…

Misty water-colored mem’ries

Of the way we WEREN’T

In the next entry in this series, we will explore why it is so important to Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows that they ignore–or refuse to even consider–the reality that America was neither truly great, nor truly “Christian” in the 1950s. Stay tuned in the near future for…

Mr. Johnson’s Amendment

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Bible Riots??

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 11

Bible Riots??

This is Part 11 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary
that can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on information,
concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus
it is most effective
to read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the first entry in the series, Part 1
At the end of each entry you will find a link to the next part of the series.


The previous entry in this series explored the circumstances which surrounded the Supreme Court decision (Engel v Vitale) in 1962 that concluded that it was unconstitutional for governmental authorities such as local boards of education to compose “prayers” and establish, either by requirement or by custom, the practice of group recitation of those prayers in public schools. To this day many evangelicals insist that this decision “kicked God out of the schools,” and forbade children and teens from praying at school.

As documented in that entry, this is not a valid representation of reality. Any young person can pray silently at any point in the school day, of course! And individuals and small groups of children and teens can choose to pray out loud in situations…such as “saying grace” at lunch time…that are not disruptive to those around them—and do not seek to force others to join them. Large groups are free to gather outside the school building before classes are in session, such as the common “See You at the Pole” gatherings organized by Christian students and held at the school flagpole any time of the year.


And children and teens can organize religious clubs to meet in school classrooms after school, where they can freely read and discuss the Bible and pray together. To emphasize one more time—the prohibition of the Engel v Vitale decision was regarding “the government” attempting to establish some religious activity in the setting of the public schools…where young people are a “captive audience.” If the “expectation” is that a whole group of students in a class will participate in such an activity, even making a “special exemption” for children who wish to “opt out” of doing so does not solve the problem of subtle coercion. It leaves them open to subtle—or not-so-subtle—ridicule or harassment by other students, and even teachers and school administrators.

In addition, the previous blog entry clarifies that the Warren Court’s decision in 1962 was not a startling, radical change from historical precedent in the United States. In spite of claims that “required religious exercises” had been practically universal across the land since the founding of the nation, the reality was that it had been an issue before many courts for many years.

As public schools evolved in the post-Revolutionary War period, there was a general attitude of indifference toward religion among the American public. While the Bible was often used in schools as a reader and speller, formal daily prayers and devotional readings were held sporadically, often only when a local clergyman visited a school…Rather, the move to require prayer and Bible reading in the public schools didn’t gain steam until the Civil War era, and even then didn’t generally manifest itself in law until early 1900s:

Prior to 1900, only Massachusetts had a law on the books dealing with prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Between 1910 and 1930, seventeen states and the District of Columbia passed similar laws. The movement to get these ordinances on the books was spearheaded by a powerful lobby of conservative church groups, led by the National Reform Association.

Critically, these practices were soon challenged in Court as violating the freedom of religion provisions of various state Constitutions. In 1910, for example, an Illinois Supreme Court struck down religious exercises in its public schools. Wisconsin ruled such exercises unconstitutional in 1890 and Nebraska did the same in 1903…In total, the issue of religious practices in public schools came up in 22 state courts before 1962, with those practices being struck down in eight cases and upheld in 14.  [Source]

In fact, a previous major court ruling in 1948 (prior to “The Warren Court”) titled McCollum v Board of Education (of Champaign IL) had decided that “The use of public school facilities by religious organizations to give religious instruction to school children violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” It was in response to a relatively new phenomenon:

In 1940, interested members of various Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths formed an association named the Champaign Council on Religious Education. This association obtained permission from the Champaign Board of Education to offer voluntary religious education classes for public school students from grades four to nine. These weekly 30- and 45-minute classes were led by clergy and lay members of the association in public school classrooms during school hours. [Source]

The suit that ended up in the Supreme Court in this case was brought by a mother whose son was “ostracized” for not attending such classes.



So First, McCollum v Board of Education in 1948 had ruled against religious organizations operating in the public schools.  Second, Engel v Vitale in 1962 had ruled against governmental/school authorities establishing prayers for students in public schools.  We will now take a look at the Third case in the three-piece set of much-reviled “religion in schools” court decisions, titled “Abington v Schempp.”  From the point of view of many evangelicals, this was “the last straw” in an insidious effort by evil forces to destroy the very foundation of American society.

But things are not always as they seem.

First, what was Abington, and who was Schempp?

Abington stood for the Abington Township School District of Pennsylvania. (Abington Township, pop. 55,000 or so in 2010,  is a township made up of 15 small suburban, unincorporated communities just north of Philadelphia.)


Edward, Sidney, Roger, and Donna Schempp
(See photo of eldest son Ellery Schempp below) 

Schempp was Edward Schempp, husband of Sidney and father of three children (Ellery, Roger, and Donna) who attended school in the Abington Township School District. The Schempp family were members of a local Unitarian-Universalist church. This denomination had just formed in 1961 by a consolidation between the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association. Although the consolidation was recent, the roots of both of the groups go way back in American history. The first Universalist Church in America had been established in 1793, right after the founding of the country. The first Unitarian congregation in the US was organized in 1774, before the Revolutionary War, and the American Unitarian Association was formed in 1825.

Because many Unitarian-Universalists have many beliefs that run counter to the understanding of evangelical Protestantism, they are often viewed by evangelicals as being some sort of “radical modern liberal” sect that just formed in recent times to rebel against what evangelicals view as “Christian orthodoxy.” But as you can see from the dates of those origins in the US, they actually have a history much longer than many American religious groups and movements… including Pentecostals and “Fundamentalists,” which both developed as active movements around the turn of the last century.

The Schempp family’s personal religious convictions included teaching about the Bible to their children, although the U-U does not adhere to a position of “inerrancy of the Bible.” Just as most Protestant groups such as the Baptists and Methodists do not accept portions of the Bible as “applying to Christians” (such as restrictions against eating certain types of meat…or stoning adulterers or young women who are found to not be virgins on their wedding night) U-U believers accept parts of the Bible as wisdom to be followed, and other parts as not applicable.

And that brings us to Edward Schempp’s son Ellery.

For, you see, the case that brought before the Supreme Court the issue of mandatory Bible readings and “religious exercises” in public schools wasn’t “started” by a group of ACLU adults in some office in Big Bad New York City nefariously deciding to “take the Bible out of the schools.”  It was started by the individual, personal efforts of 16 year old high school student Ellery Schempp in a small suburban area near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.



Supreme Court ruling 50 years ago set modern course for religion in public schools

Matthew Brown  6/14/2013

Ellery Schempp knew he could get into trouble.

The studious 16-year-old wanted to make a point that a Pennsylvania law mandating a morning religious devotional in his homeroom class violated his First Amendment right to religious freedom. So, on a chilly Monday morning in November 1956, as an Abington High School classmate began reading 10 verses from the King James Bible, Schempp quietly read a copy of the Quran he borrowed from a friend. But he didn’t catch his teacher’s attention until he remained seated while everyone else stood to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

“I was a bit naïve,” recalls the now-72-year-old [in 2013] retired physicist. “I thought it was so transparent that these Bible readings and prayers violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment that when we pointed this out, the grown-ups would set it right.”


But instead of his teacher, principal and guidance counselor, who had Schempp sit outside the office during the morning ritual for the rest of the school year, the grown-ups who addressed the problem were nine U.S. Supreme Court justices who ruled on the matter 50 years ago on June 17 [1963].

So what prompted this young man to his little personal “act of defiance”?

In the 1950s, during the era of McCarthyism and the Cold War, religion became for many a defining characteristic of what it meant to be American. “One nation under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, “In God We Trust” was adopted as the nation’s motto and a National Day of Prayer was enacted.

In this climate, Schempp and a few of his classmates met weekly at each other’s homes to discuss things that were important to them, from dating to social issues. The gatherings were initiated by an English teacher, whom Schempp credits with getting him to think critically about conscience and ethics.

At one of the sessions, Schempp sparked a lively discussion when he brought up how the mandatory daily [King James Version] Bible reading and prayer bothered him and appeared a clear violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits government endorsement of a religion.

“Some defended it on the basis of tradition and that society evolved from Christianity. A lot of Jewish kids were uncomfortable reading the parts about Christmas and Easter,” he recalled, also noting that the Catholic students complained they were taught a different version of the [Lord’s] prayer than what they were forced to recite at Abington High.

For Schempp, the reading he had participated in for more than 10 years had become meaningless, with classmates taking their turns stumbling through passages they randomly picked from a book they seldom read. He recalled a time when students found it funny to rattle off 10 verses of biblical genealogy describing who begat whom. Schempp took his turn at humoring the class by once reading a suggestive section of the Song of Solomon.

“What started to bother me is it took on a kind of silliness,” he said.

As a result of that discussion session, Ellery and a few of his classmates made plans to protest by not standing up for the prayer. The idea of bringing the Quran was Ellery’s… “”I knew absolutely nothing about Islam … I had never met a Muslim. So, it was purely by accident,” he said of picking Islam’s holy book.” A friend’s father just happened to own a copy of the Quran, so he borrowed it to make his own point about religious diversity: “Unitarians have a long history of standing up for individual conscience.”

But when the students informed their parents of their plans, all the other kids eventually backed out as their parents did not approve.  Ellery’s parents, however, reacted differently.

Schempp’s parents, however, were more supportive when he expressed his concerns to them the day before his protest on the drive home from a long Thanksgiving weekend at his grandmother’s house.

And after the protest, when Schempp told his parents during dinner that he had been sent to the principal’s office for not participating in the Lord’s Prayer, his dad suggested he write to the American Civil Liberties Union to request its help and advice.

Ellery Schempp grabbed a piece of his father’s company letterhead, on which he typed out a brief request that the Philadelphia office of the ACLU challenge the constitutionality of the law.

“I thank you for any help you might offer in freeing American youth in Pennsylvania from this gross violation of their religious rights as guaranteed in the first and foremost amendment in our United States constitution,” Schempp confidently concluded his letter.

The ACLU agreed to help, and they challenged the practice in district court in Pennsylvania, winning the case.

During the first trial in federal district court, Edward Schempp and his children testified as to specific religious doctrines purveyed by a literal reading of the Bible “which were contrary to the religious beliefs which they held and to their familial teaching” . The children testified that all of the doctrines to which they referred were read to them at various times as part of the exercises. Edward Schempp testified at the second trial that he had considered having his children excused from attendance at the exercises but decided against it for several reasons, including his belief that the children’s relationships with their teachers and classmates would be adversely affected.

The school board appealed. It took seven years for the case to reach all the way to the Supreme Court (during which period Ellery graduated from high school, and thus his younger siblings took up the position of testifying to their own involvement in the mandated exercises in the Abington schools.)  Once the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, it was consolidated with another case from Maryland with similar complaints. In that one, brought by the well-known Madelyn Murray (O’Hair) against a Baltimore school system, a lower court had ruled in favor of the school system, agreeing that their required recitation of the Lord’s Prayer was constitutional. Since the issue of the constitutionality of mandated school Bible readings and religious exercises such as recitation of the Lord’s Prayer was what was at question in both cases, the Murray case was “folded in” to the Schempp case. At question: Whether the schools’ practices violated the religious freedom of students as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. After deliberation, the ruling was issued on June 17, 1963:

The Court found such a violation. The required activities encroached on both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment since the readings and recitations were essentially religious ceremonies and were “intended by the State to be so.” Furthermore, argued Justice Clark, the ability of a parent to excuse a child from these ceremonies by a written note was irrelevant since it did not prevent the school’s actions from violating the Establishment Clause. [Source]

Justice William Brennan of the Court added an extensive “concurrence” to the decision, which included these thoughts:

Justice Brennan took great pains to also show that many states, such as South Dakota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Ohio and Massachusetts, had already enacted and revoked laws similar to Pennsylvania’s by the first half of the 20th century. In addition, many political leaders including attorneys general and presidents like Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt insisted that “matters of religion be left to family altars, churches and private schools” and “[It] is not our business to have the Protestant Bible or the Catholic Vulgate or the Talmud read in [public] schools“.

Brennan’s concurrence also recognized the plurality of religious thought in the nation as basis enough for restriction of church and state relations. He cited this lack of appreciation of that pluralism as the “basic flaw” of Pennsylvania’s Bible reading statute and Abington Township’s defense of it:

“There are persons in every community—often deeply devout—to whom any version of the Judaeo-Christian Bible is offensive. There are others whose reverence for the Holy Scriptures demands private study or reflection and to whom public reading or recitation is sacrilegious…. To such persons it is not the fact of using the Bible in the public schools, nor the content of any particular version, that is offensive, but the manner in which it is used.”  [Source]

Many evangelicals are absolutely certain that this decision was a modern departure from an almost universal practice of Bible reading in schools throughout American history. That’s because they don’t know their history well enough. In fact, the folks of the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania who were part of fighting the Abington case all the way to the Supreme Court OUGHT to have been much more aware of a deep, underlying problem with mandatory school Bible readings…for their territory was the “Bull’s Eye” of the infamous Bible Riots! What? You say you never heard of the Bible Riots? Neither had I until recently. But here’s the amazing story:

In May 1844, Philadelphia –the City of Brotherly Love– was torn apart by a series of bloody riots. Known as the “Bible Riots,” they grew out of the vicious anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment that was so widespread in 19th century America. Families were burned out of their homes. Churches were destroyed. And more than two dozen people died in one of the worst urban riots in American History.  [Source]

Yes, we’ve had horrific urban rioting in American history. Draft resistance was the issue in some… no, not the 1960s/70s draft riots. The Civil War era anti-draft riots of New York were actually the worst in our history.

The New York City draft riots (July 13 to July 16, 1863; known at the time as Draft Week) were violent disturbances in New York City that were the culmination of working-class discontent with new laws passed by Congress that year to draft men to fight in the ongoing American Civil War. The riots were the largest civil insurrection in American history.


President Abraham Lincoln diverted several regiments of militia and volunteer troops from following up after the Battle of Gettysburg [which had occurred only two weeks earlier] to control the city. The rioters were overwhelmingly working-class men, primarily ethnic Irish, resenting particularly that wealthier men, who could afford to pay a $300 commutation fee to hire a substitute, were spared the draft.

On July 13, 1863, ten days after the Union victory at Gettysburg, a “draft drawing” was scheduled to be held in New York City to get more soldiers for the Union army.

At 10 a.m., a furious crowd of around 500, led by the Black Joke Engine Company 33, attacked the assistant Ninth District Provost Marshal’s Office, at Third Avenue and 47th Street, where the draft was taking place. The crowd threw large paving stones through windows, then burst through the doors and set the building ablaze. When the fire department responded, rioters broke up their vehicles. Others killed horses pulling streetcars and smashed the cars. To prevent other parts of the city being notified of the riot, they cut telegraph lines.

But the destruction of the draft office was only the beginning of the rage. The crowds began roaming the streets of New York and destroying everything in their path.

… The Bull’s Head hotel on 44th Street, which refused to provide alcohol to the mob, was burned. The mayor’s residence on Fifth Avenue, the Eighth and Fifth District police stations, and other buildings were attacked and set on fire. Other targets included the office of the New York Times. The mob was turned back at the Times office by staff manning Gatling guns, including Times founder Henry Jarvis Raymond. Fire engine companies responded, but some of the firefighters were sympathetic to the rioters, since they too had been drafted on Saturday.

…Rioters turned against black people as their scapegoats and the primary target of their anger. Many immigrants and the poor viewed free black men as competition for scarce jobs, and worried about more slaves being emancipated and coming to New York for work. Some rioters thought slavery was the cause of the Civil War. The mob beat, tortured and/or killed numerous black people, including one man who was attacked by a crowd of 400 with clubs and paving stones, then lynched—hanged from a tree and set alight.  [Actually, 11 black men in all were lynched during the riots, with at least another 100 blacks killed. At least 20 whites were killed, and likely over 2000 people wounded.] [Source]


The military did not reach the city until after the first day of rioting, when mobs had already ransacked or destroyed numerous public buildings, two Protestant churches, the homes of various abolitionists or sympathizers, many black homes, and the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which was burned to the ground. [ibid]

Yes, not even young children escaped the mindless wrath of the mad mob.

The rioters’ targets initially included only military and governmental buildings, symbols of the unfairness of the draft. Mobs attacked only those individuals who interfered with their actions. But by afternoon of the first day, some of the rioters had turned to attacks on black people, and on things symbolic of black political, economic, and social power. Rioters attacked a black fruit vendor and a nine-year-old boy at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street before moving to the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue between Forty-Third and Forty-Fourth Streets.

By the spring of 1863, the managers had built a home large enough to house over two hundred children. Financially stable and well-stocked with food, clothing, and other provisions, the four-story orphanage at its location on Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street was an imposing symbol of white charity toward blacks and black upward mobility.


Orphans at the New York  Colored Orphan Asylum, circa 1861 

At 4 P.M. on July 13, “the children numbering 233, were quietly seated in their school rooms, playing in the nursery, or reclining on a sick bed in the Hospital when an infuriated mob, consisting of several thousand men, women and children, armed with clubs, brick bats etc. advanced upon the Institution.” The crowd took as much of the bedding, clothing, food, and other transportable articles as they could and set fire to the building. John Decker, chief engineer of the fire department, was on hand, but firefighters were unable to save the building. The destruction took twenty minutes.


Raiding and destruction of the Orphan’s Asylum

In the meantime, the superintendent and matron of the asylum assembled the children and led them out to Forty-Fourth Street. Miraculously, the mob refrained from assaulting the children. But when an Irish observer of the scene called out, “If there is a man among you, with a heart within him come and help these poor children,” the mob “laid hold of him, and appeared ready to tear him to pieces.” The children made their way to the Thirty-Fifth Street Police Station, where they remained for three days and nights before moving to the almshouse on Blackwell’s Island—ironically, the very place from which the orphanage’s founders had hoped to keep black children when they built the asylum almost thirty years earlier. [Source]

It’s not clear from the record how many rioters may have taken part in the four days of rioting, but since it took 4,000 armed soldiers to put an end to the rioting, there were no doubt several thousand people involved.

I had never heard of the New York Draft Riots of 1863 until four years ago. But when I mentioned the topic to my husband, I was surprised to find out he knew a lot about them. Not because he is a reader of history books…but because he saw Martin Scorsese’s 2002 movie Gangs of New York, that starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Cameron Diaz. Set in 1863 New York, the climax of the film is a recreation (not totally historically accurate, but very effective in accurately portraying the mood, the look, and the level of violence of the event) of the Draft Riots.


So there you have a violent response of masses of men to the imposition by the government of a draft in war time. It’s not totally surprising. After all, this was in the midst of a grueling, bleak war, and those men were being asked to go fight and die for a cause that they didn’t support or even have any interest in. Their rage that led to the rampage was horrific, but SOMEWHAT understandable.

What ISN’T so easily understandable was the extreme violence of the riots 20 years before that…sparked by a disagreement about reading…reading the book that features such statements as “Thou shalt not kill” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”!

Check out a brief overview of those riots:

Bible reading had stirred controversy in Pennsylvania and other states long before Ellery Schempp decided to take it on, turning his family’s home in the community of Roslyn into a target of hate mail, vandalism and cat calls.

In 1844, more than 20 people died in nearby Philadelphia during the infamous Bible riots, sparked by a dispute over which Bible should be read in public schools: the Protestant King James version or the Douay-Rheims version accepted by the growing number of Irish Catholic immigrants.  [Source]

Details from the Philadelphia Encyclopedia website:


Ethnic and religious antagonism had a long history in the city. Since the 1780s, Irish textile workers had come to Philadelphia after losing their jobs to mechanization in the British Isles. As early as 1828, when an off-duty watchman was killed after disparaging “bloody Irish transports,” Catholic presence had provoked anxiety among American- and Irish-born Protestants. In 1831, Irish Catholics battled along Fifth Street with Protestants celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

Anti-Catholic agitation increased in the early 1840s, organized in part around a perceived threat to the Bible in the public schools. Catholic Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick (1796-1863), an Irish immigrant himself, objected to Protestant teachers’ leading students in singing Protestant hymns and requiring them to read from the King James Bible. Nativists used Kenrick’s complaints to gain followers. In 1842, dozens of Protestant clergymen formed the American Protestant Association to defend America from Romanism. In early 1843, editor Lewis Levin  (1808-60) made the Daily Sun an organ for attacks against Catholicism and Catholic immigration, and in December of that year, he helped found a nativist political party called the American Republican Association.

Nativism:  sociopolitical policy, especially in the United States in the 1800s, favoring the interests of established inhabitants [“natives”] over those of immigrants.  (“Established inhabitants,” of course, didn’t include the real “native Americans” that preceded colonization, the indigenous tribes of the North American continent who had been inhabitants there for centuries! They didn’t count as “natives” within this system of reckoning. Nor, of course, did it include Africans in slavery, many of whom had also been “inhabitants” of America long before the latest immigrants came from Ireland and other questionable places…)

But to continue with the Bible Riots story:

In 1844, the Bible controversy intensified in the district of Kensington, a suburb to the northeast of Philadelphia City and home to many Irish immigrants, both Protestant and Catholic. In February, Hugh Clark (1796-1862), a Catholic school director there, suggested suspending Bible reading until the school board could devise a policy acceptable to Catholics and Protestants alike. Nativists saw this as a threat to their liberty and as a chance to mobilize voters, and they rallied by the thousands in Independence Square. On May 3, 1844 they rallied in Kensington itself but were chased away.

The first serious violence broke out three days later. On May 6, the nativists reassembled in Kensington, provoking another fight, during which a young nativist named George Shiffler (1825-44) was fatally shot.


By day’s end, a second man—apparently a bystander—was dead, and several more nativists were wounded, two mortally.


The next day, the First Brigade of the Pennsylvania Militia, commanded by Brigadier General George Cadwalader (1806-79), responded to the sheriff’s call for help. The troops faced little direct resistance, but they proved unable to stop people from starting new fires. On May 8, mobs gutted several private dwellings (including Hugh Clark’s house), a Catholic seminary, and two Catholic churches: St. Michael’s at Second Street and Master and St. Augustine’s at Fourth and Vine.


Conflagration of St. Augustine’s Church 

Only a flood of new forces—including citizen posses, city police, militia companies arriving from other cities, and U.S. army and navy troops—ended the violence by May 10.

The city remained superficially calm for the next eight weeks, but both nativists and Catholics anticipated further violence. In Southwark—an independent district south of Philadelphia City and a seat of nativist strength—a Catholic priest’s brother began stockpiling weapons in the basement of the Church of St. Philip de Neri on Queen Street. On Friday, July 5, a crowd of thousands gathered to demand the weapons. When the crowd reassembled the following day, the sheriff requested militia troops, and Cadwalader led about two hundred into Southwark. Saturday ended without bloodshed, but the situation remained tense, with a small group of militia—some of them Irish Catholics themselves—guarding the church and a group of nativist prisoners inside it.


Armed Clash in Southwark

On Sunday, July 7, the crowd reassembled, and this time it armed itself with cannon. Egged on by nativist speakers, the crowd forced the militia to surrender the church and its prisoners. Cadwalader returned to Southwark about sunset at the head of a column and tried to clear the area around the church. When the crowd attacked the militia with bricks, stones, and bottles, the militia fired on them, killing at least two and wounding more.

Starting around 9pm, the crowd counterattacked. For the next four hours, rioters and militia battled in the streets of Southwark, with both sides firing cannon. By morning, four militiamen and probably a dozen rioters were dead, along with many more wounded. Southwark’s aldermen negotiated the militia’s withdrawal from their district, but thousands of militia troops from other parts of the state arrived to patrol the City of Philadelphia.

Although American cities, particularly Philadelphia, had endured a surge of riots since the early 1830s, few individual riots lasted for more than a day, making the 1844 riots extreme in their severity and duration. While some of the violence had been spontaneous, the ambitions of the nativist newspapers and political party in an election year likely sustained nativist fury through the spring and summer. Though the riots were more than the simple transplantation of anti-Catholic violence from Northern Ireland, they echoed the deliberate provocation seen there.

The riots did not resolve the place of the Irish in the city. On the one hand, few Philadelphians were willing to endorse publicly the attacks on Catholics, and more than two thousand Philadelphians signed an address praising the militia’s use of “lawful force which unlawful force made necessary.” On the other hand, in the October elections, amid the heaviest turnout in Philadelphia’s history, Levin and another nativist won congressional seats and other nativists took lesser posts.  [Source]

Make no mistake that the folks involved DID consider one of the main issues to be the Bible reading matter!

Many newspapers would side with the Nativists in the immediate aftermath, giving prejudiced or incomplete accounts which skewed blame towards the Catholics.  The Nativist press and the American Republic Association would gloss over the burning of churches and destruction of homes, and instead blame the Irish Catholics for bringing violent incidents on themselves as a result of the Bible controversy. Indeed many Nativist publications in the following years would paint an ugly picture of Catholics during the rioting.  In “The Arch Bishop: Or, Romanism in the United States” there is this description:

“Great numbers of women now joined the fray, and no tigress ever fought more desperately or frantically for its prey, than these did for their foreign masters…”By the Holy Virgin!” they yelled, as their unbound hair streamed around their hideously distorted visages.”

The Nativists would make George Schiffler a martyr for the cause.  A rumored six to eight hundred people attended his funeral, and Nativist accounts and images from the scene of Schiffler’s death would place him as a hero for the Nativist cause who had been defending America when he was killed.



There was even a patriotic song published by the “American Republicans,” inspired by the Kensington Riots in which he died.


It included verses like this:

Freemen, rise! Ye that inherit from a line of noble sires
Manly blood and manly spirit, rise to guard your household fires.
By the parents that have rear’d you, by your wives and children dear,
Lest those loved ones should scorn you
Rise without a thought of fear.

Yes, they were urged to continue being willing to take to the streets again… and yes, all of the death and destruction and bloodshed of those riots of May and June were tied tightly in the minds of many to their “right” to have their own religious interests favored in the public schools of the land. And the right—nay, even duty—to defend that right… with violence. I’m put in mind of the old phrase, “Praise the Lord…and pass the ammunition.”

But those Bible Riots of 1844 didn’t ultimately settle anything.

… In a sense, the “Bible Wars” did not end after those violent days of 1844. In 1886, Catholic parents in Edgerton, Wisconsin, petitioned their local school board to stop daily readings from the KJV. The school board countered that “to read the Bible without comment was non-sectarian; to stop reading it because it offended Roman Catholics was sectarian.” After failing to convince the school board to end the practice, the parents took their case to court.

In November 1888 the circuit court decided that the readings were not sectarian because both the KJV and Catholic translations were of the same work. The parents took their case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In the famous action known as the Edgerton Bible Case, the judges overruled the circuit court’s decision, concluding that it illegally united the functions of church and state. In the end, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed a ruling in favor of the parents and forbade local boards to mandate readings from the KJV.

The Edgerton Bible case was not the only, or even the first, challenge to sectarian religious practices in public schools, but it was especially well researched and well argued by the parties involved. Seventy-five years later, when the U.S. Supreme Court banned prayer from the public schools in 1963 [in Engel v Vitale] the Edgerton Bible case was one of the precedents that Justice William Brennan cited. [Source]

By the way… you’d think that educated people in Abington Township in Pennsylvania in the 1950s/60s would know a LITTLE bit about the history of the 1844 Bible Riots if they studied any area history in school…because the Kensington area where George Schiffler died is less than 15 miles from Abington Township! But if they did know about it, they certainly took away no lessons regarding the ultimate wisdom of imposing religious rituals in the public schools.

As it turns out, “learning from history” doesn’t seem to play a very large part in the “Politics of Religion” (and Religion in Politics) in modern times.

Continue on to the next entry in this series:

The Way We Weren’t


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