Red Scare–Red Summer

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 20

Red Scare—Red Summer

This is Part 20 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 daily news in 2017 has been giving many Americans the weird feeling that they have tumbled down a rabbit hole…


… and entered an alternate universe where nothing makes any sense…





…and everyone is mad.


It might appear that current events are totally disjointed, and current circumstances are just springing up “out of nowhere,” with no roots in the past. So many things going on seem to have no logical explanation…especially—HOW did Donald Trump, a man so far from the mainstream of historical national party politics, get elected?! And in particular—how did a man with a lifestyle so foreign to the morals and ethics and values promoted in the Bible manage to surround himself with so many Strange Bedfellows from the religious world? Christian leader bedfellows—pastors, preachers, televangelists, popular Christian authors and lecturers, leaders of Christian educational institutions—who were so influential in the circles of Evangelical Christianity that they were able to deliver to him the votes of 80% of their followers and supporters.  Disgruntled working class folks wanting to recapture the prosperity of the Good Old Days when America was Great…and Majority W.A.S.P. …were no doubt a key part of Trump’s victory. But he could not have gotten over the finish line without the massive turnout of Evangelical voters on his side.

None of that seems to make any sense. But that is only the case if one ignores history. There really is a “thread” of people and circumstances and events that has wound through the past American century that has ultimately led us to this point. A point where zealous, pious Christians in great numbers were willing to vote for a casino-owning acknowledged adulterer (with three marriages) with an avowed penchant for grabbing the private parts of young women; a crude, loud-mouthed promoter of fake “professional wrestling,”; a glad-handing buddy and business associate of Mafioso-types; and a boorish man given to public bullying, ridiculing, and bad-mouthing others on a massive scale.

As strange as it may seem, there really is a path through American history that can “make sense” of this outlandish anomaly.


It is not a straight path, easily understood. Which is why the speculation of so many pundits has failed to nail down just “how we got from there to here.” This blog series is carefully and methodically sorting through the factors that have made up that path, with the ultimate goal of making sense out of the madness.

As was noted in earlier entries in the series, this particular historical thread has its beginning at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, in the midst of World War 1. That revolution was the triggering event that started the US down the path to the recent strange choice made by American Evangelicals in the 21st century.  We’ll pick up the thread in this entry immediately after the Great War.

The previous entry in this series explored the labor agitation all across America that immediately followed the end of World War 1. The war years had deeply affected the US economy. For instance, compared to 1915, food prices had doubled by 1920, clothing costs more than tripled.  The necessity to gear up for war production had quickly led to a boom in factory jobs and wages—and demobilization at the end of the war had just as quickly deflated the boom, leaving many without work. The employment situation was desperately exacerbated by the return of over 4 million soldiers from Europe who would immediately need employment—many of them so mangled by their war experiences that it was even more difficult for them to find work.


Add to this the “Great Migration” of Southern African Americans to the North—where wages were typically three times what they could get doing farm work in the rural south—that had begun before the outbreak of WW1, but intensified in 1914. By 1919 over one million had swarmed into industrial centers like Detroit (black population up over 600% from 1910 to 1920) and Philadelphia (up 500%.) Jobs were easy for them to find in the war years—but so easy to lose once the war was over. When they were desperately needed, during war time, employers overlooked their own racial prejudices—and that of their white employees. But once the war was over, many blacks found themselves the first to be laid off…or unceremoniously replaced by new white applicants.

Competition for jobs and impatience with miserable working conditions, long hours, and unfair labor practices led to an astonishing outbreak of strikes in 1919.




As mentioned in the previous entry in this series, the government and much of the non-striking population of the US chose to basically ignore the real roots of the strikes…the grueling lives of the workers, the rock-bottom wages and unfair labor practices of many owners of industries, the insecurity and danger of many of the jobs performed by those choosing to go on strike. No, instead of looking at real problems and considering real solutions that would alleviate those problems, the solution of choice was to assume it was just “outside agitators”…Communists and Socialists in particular…who had put foolish notions in the heads of the workers. The solution on behalf of some governmental authorities, along with the popular press, was to stir up a nationwide “Red Scare” to give the populace a tangible enemy to focus on.


A steel strike that began in Chicago in 1919 became much more than a simple dispute between labor and management. The Steel Strike of 1919 became the focal point for profound social anxieties, especially fears of Bolshevism.

Organized labor had grown in strength during the course of the war. Many unions won recognition, and the 12-hour workday was abolished. An 8-hour day was instituted on war contract work, and by 1919, half the country’s workers had a 48-hour work week.

The war’s end, however, was accompanied by labor turmoil, as labor demanded union recognition, shorter hours, and raises exceeding the inflation rate. Over 4 million workers—one fifth of the nation’s workforce–participated in strikes in 1919, including 365,000 steelworkers and 400,000 miners. The number of striking workers would not be matched until the Depression year of 1937.

The year began with a general strike [by multiple unions, literally shutting down the city] in Seattle. Police officers in Boston went on strike, touching off several days of rioting and crime. But the most tumultuous strike took place in the steel industry. About 350,000 steelworkers in 24 separate craft unions went on strike as part of a drive by the American Federation of Labor to unionize the industry. From management’s perspective, the steel strike represented the handiwork of radicals and professional labor agitators. The steel industry’s leaders regarded the strike as a radical conspiracy to get the company to pay a 12-hour wage for 8 hours’ work. At a time when communists were seizing power in Hungary and were staging a revolt in Germany, and workers in Italy were seizing factories, some industrialists feared that the steel strike was the first step toward overturning the industrial system.

The strike ended with the complete defeat of the unions. From labor’s perspective, the corporations had triumphed through espionage, blacklists, and the denial of freedom of speech and assembly, and through the complete unwillingness to recognize the right of collective bargaining with the workers’ representatives.

During the 1920s, many of labor’s gains during World War I and the Progressive era were rolled back. Membership in labor unions fell from 5 million to 3 million. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed picketing, overturned national child labor laws, and abolished minimum wage laws for women.  [Source]

All, in part, as a fruit of the zeal of the anti-Communism hysteria of the first “Red Scare.”

Given all this emphasis on the “Red” Scare (red being the color of the Soviet Union flag, and thus the nickname for “Communists”) you’d think that the period of 1919 described in many US history timelines as the Red Summer would be a reference to that kind of “Red.”

It’s not.

Red Summer

The Red Summer refers to the summer and early autumn of 1919, which was marked by hundreds of deaths and higher casualties across the United States, as a result of race riots that occurred in more than three dozen cities and one rural county. In most instances, whites attacked African Americans.


Actually, it wasn’t just in the summer in 1919 that blood was shed.

…between January 1 and September 14, 1919, white mobs lynched at least forty-three African Americans [other estimates are much higher], with sixteen hanged and others shot; while another eight men were burned at the stake.

Most of these lynchings were very public spectacles…viewed by from 100s to many 1000s of men, women, and sometimes children…and often included hideous torture committed in full view of the spectators prior to death, including castration, dismemberment…or worse. Professional and amateur photographers often took photos of the ghoulish goings-on, and before the day was out would print up “souvenir postcards” for folks to buy to send to friends and family or keep in their own photo albums.




“Burned at the stake”… Some of the men’s dead bodies were burned in front of the teeming crowd after they had been killed by hanging or gunshot…others’ live bodies were burned in full sight of everyone until they were dead…

Such as in this incident in Omaha, Nebraska.





From statements in the media, the public was encouraged to believe that the states were powerless to interfere. (Although the reality seems to be that they were often unwilling to do so.) As seen in this quote from Governor Bilbo of Mississippi regarding the lynching in his state of John Hartfield.


Poignantly, none of this, including the burnings and postcards and failure of governmental authorities to intervene, was “new.” Such atrocities had continued unabated since Reconstruction times. It’s just that there was an extremely unusual cluster of such events in 1919, at the same time as the numerous “race riots” described below.

Starting in the late 1960s, when reading about “race riots” in American newspapers, one usually expected the stories to be about militant African Americans in metropolitan areas engaging in massive public disturbances including violence against people and property, in protest of perceived civil rights injustices. Many of them had become frustrated after it became obvious that the Martin Luther King-style non-violent, passive resistance type of civil disobedience of the 1950s and early 1960s…sit-ins, marches, boycotts and the like…had failed to complete the process of fully establishing civil rights in the land. This was so even after formal Civil Rights legislation had been passed in Washington.

What a significant portion of Americans in the 21st century don’t realize is that, historically, the term “race riot” was used in reports in the US media to describe something much different.

A race riot in the early 1900s was almost exclusively a situation in which large groups of angry “whites” indiscriminately attacked those of the “Negro Race,” killing or injuring many, destroying their property, and in some cases completely driving all blacks out of a given neighborhood, county, town, or city.

Incidents of such riots had been increasing all across the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and came to a head in the Red Summerof 1919.

Here is just one example of the more than three dozen that occurred that year.

Chicago Race Riot of 1919

Starting July 27, the summer’s greatest violence occurred during rioting in Chicago. The city’s beaches along Lake Michigan were segregated by custom. Eugene Williams, a black youth, swam into an area on the South Side customarily used by whites, was stoned, and drowned.

When the Chicago police refused to take action against the attackers, young black men responded violently.

Violence between mobs and gangs lasted thirteen days, with white rioting led by the well-established ethnic Irish, whose territory bordered the black neighborhood.






The resulting 38 fatalities included 23 black people and 15 whites. The injured totaled 537, and 1,000 black families were left homeless.


Other accounts reported 50 people were killed, with unofficial numbers and rumors reporting more. White mobs destroyed hundreds of mostly black homes and businesses on the South Side of Chicago; Illinois called in a militia force of seven regiments: several thousand men, to restore order.



So what was the response of the US government to this and other such “race riots” and the many lynchings of blacks?

Authorities viewed with alarm African Americans’ advocacy of racial equality, labor rights, or the rights of victims of mobs to defend themselves.

… Unlike earlier race riots in U.S. history, the 1919 events were among the first in which black people in number resisted white attacks and fought back.

Why might the “authorities” view this with alarm? Perhaps they were responding to the attitude at the very top of the government.

In a private conversation in March 1919, President Woodrow Wilson said that “the American Negro returning from abroad [from serving in the US military during the Great War] would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America.”

Yes, the fact that Negroes might physically resist being burned at the stake, or resist with force having their neighborhoods burned to the ground, couldn’t possibly be because they had legitimate concerns about these things. It had to be that they were just “stirred up” by “outside agitators.” Communist agitators. For hadn’t they always, up until the time of the Russian Revolution, just meekly accepted abuse?

And why might Negroes who had been immersed in the European War, exposed, for instance, to the French society that had no Jim Crow laws and welcomed blacks, be expected to be open to arguments against the American Way of dealing with the resident Negroes in America?

Perhaps part of it was what happened when Woodrow Wilson took office as president in 1913.

As president, Wilson oversaw unprecedented segregation in federal offices. It’s a shameful side to his legacy that came to a head one fall afternoon in 1914 when he threw the civil-rights leader William Monroe Trotter out of the Oval Office.

Trotter led a delegation of blacks to meet with the president on November 12, 1914 to discuss the surge of segregation in the country. Trotter, today largely forgotten, was a nationally prominent civil-rights leader and newspaper editor. In the early 1900s, he was often mentioned in the same breath as W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. But unlike Washington, Trotter, an 1895 graduate of Harvard, believed in direct protest actions. In fact, Trotter founded his Boston newspaper, The Guardian, as a vehicle to challenge Washington’s more conciliatory approach to civil rights.

Before Trotter’s confrontation with Wilson in the Oval Office, he was a political supporter of Wilson’s. He had pledged black support for Wilson’s presidential run when the two met face-to-face in July 1912 at the State House in Trenton, New Jersey. Even though then-Governor Wilson offered only vague promises about seeking fairness for all Americans, Trotter apparently came away smitten. “The governor had us draw our chairs right up around him, and shook hands with great cordiality,’’ he wrote a friend later. “When we left he gave me a long handclasp, and used such a pleased tone that I was walking on air.” Trotter viewed Wilson as the lesser of other political evils.

[But in the 1914 meeting]…Trotter came prepared with a statement and launched the meeting by reading it.

Trotter began with a reference to their 1913 meeting and to the petition he had presented, containing 20,000 signatures “from thirty-eight states protesting against the segregation of employees of the national government.” He listed the on-the-job race separation that had gone unchecked since—at eating tables, dressing rooms, restrooms, lockers, and “especially public toilets in government buildings.” He then charged that the color line was drawn in the Treasury Department, in the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Navy Department, the Interior Department, the Marine Hospital, the War Department, and in the Sewing and Printing Divisions of the Government Printing Office. Trotter also noted the political support he and other civil-rights activists had provided to Wilson. “Only two years ago you were heralded as perhaps the second Lincoln, and now the Afro-American leaders who supported you are hounded as false leaders and traitors to their race,” he said. And then he reminded the president of his pledge to assist “colored fellow citizens” in “advancing the interest of their race in the United States,” and ended by posing a question that contained a jab at Wilson’s much-ballyhooed [New Freedom] economic reform program. “Have you a ‘New Freedom’ for white Americans and a new slavery for your Afro-American fellow citizens? God forbid!”

The meeting quickly turned sour. The president told Trotter what he previously admitted in private—that he viewed segregation in his federal agencies as a benefit to blacks. Wilson said that his cabinet officers “were seeking, not to put the Negro employees at a disadvantage but … to make arrangements which would prevent any kind of friction between the white employees and the Negro employees.” Trotter found the claim astonishing, and immediately disagreed, calling Jim Crow in federal offices humiliating and degrading to black workers. But Wilson dug in. “My question would be this: If you think that you gentlemen, as an organization, and all other Negro citizens of this country, that you are being humiliated, you will believe it. If you take it as a humiliation, which it is not intended as, and sow the seed of that impression all over the country, why the consequence will be very serious,” he said.

As you can imagine, Trotter and his delegation left extremely disheartened. And within a year after that disheartening meeting, came an even bigger blow to the prospects for progress for the African American population of the US. It came in the unexpected form of a wildly successful silent motion picture.


Notice on the poster for this 1915 film that it is based on a novel titled The Clansman, by a Thomas Dixon, Jr.—a personal friend of Woodrow Wilson.


Wilson had been studying for his PhD in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University in 1883 at the same time Thomas Dixon arrived there. Dixon was also there to do graduate work in PoliSci, and the two struck up a long-lasting friendship. But instead of a life in politics, Dixon eventually went on to become a well-known Baptist minister and lecturer. However, his greatest fame came not from preaching but from writing.

In 1905 he wrote The Clansman.


Dixon has been born in North Carolina in 1864, just before the end of the Civil War. So his earliest memories were of life in the South during the Reconstruction period. Woodrow Wilson had been born in Virginia in 1856, and had grown up in Georgia and South Carolina. His father, a minister, slave owner, and defender of slavery, was at one point a chaplain to the Confederate Army.

Woodrow Wilson’s earliest memory, from the age of three, was of hearing that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that a war was coming. Wilson would forever recall standing for a moment at General Robert E. Lee’s side and looking up into his face. [Source]

And thus Wilson’s early memories as a child and teen were of life in the South during both the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Although by 1905 Dixon had accepted that eliminating slavery in the US was a good thing, he still clung to his “roots” in his estimation of the potential of African Americans.

“…no amount of education of any kind, industrial, classical or religious, can make a Negro a white man or bridge the chasm of centuries which separate him from the white man in the evolution of human nature.”

-Thomas Dixon Jr., 1905 from “Booker T. Washington and the Negro”, p. 1, Saturday Evening Post, August 19, 1905.

And he made it clear, in describing his novel, what he thought the destiny of inter-racial relations in America were to be.

“My object is to teach the North, the young North, what it has never known—the awful suffering of the white man during the dreadful Reconstruction period. I believe that Almighty God anointed the white men of the South by their suffering during that time . . . to demonstrate to the world that the white man must and shall be supreme.”

How was this conveyed in the book?

As Nel Painter points out, there are no poor whites in The Clansman: “In Dixon’s work all whites display the attributes of power, not only wealth and education (formal or informal), but also height, slenderness, and refinement. These are the natural rulers of Dixon’s made-up society, in which whites unfitted for leadership do not exist” (“Tom Dixon and His Clansman,” 124). This emphasis on nobility ties the novel, first, to the romance genre, from medieval romance to Sir Walter Scott, whose work was a model for the Southern cavalier, and, second, to Dixon’s emphasis on “clan,” Old Scotland as a sign of Aryan purity.  [Source]

As you might guess by the title, the book was about the Ku Klux Klan. The first KKK.

For those unaware…there was a group called the Ku Klux Klan that arose in the South at the end of the Civil War. It is neither the Klan of the 1920s, which was a second incarnation of the name, nor the Klan of the 21stcentury, which is a third incarnation of the name.

The first Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, by six veterans of the Confederate Army. The name was probably derived from the Greek word kuklos (κύκλος) which means circle.



It quickly became popular enough to have its own “theme music”!


KKK sheet music 1868

Although there was little organizational structure above the local level, similar groups rose across the South and adopted the same name and methods. Klan groups spread throughout the South as an insurgent movement during the Reconstruction era in the United States. As a secret vigilante group, the Klan targeted freedmen and their allies; it sought to restore white supremacy by threats and violence, including murder, against black and white Republicans. In 1870 and 1871, the federal government passed the Force Acts, which were used to prosecute Klan crimes. Prosecution of Klan crimes and enforcement of the Force Acts suppressed Klan activity. [Source]

But before it was suppressed, it made its way out of the South, too…


KKK group, Watertown, NY, 1870

And thus the Klan of that era sort of “disappeared from history” except as a dim memory for most people. For about 35 years.

Then in 1905 Dixon resurrected the glorious memory of the 19th century Klan in his novel The Clansman…which was subtitled: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan.


Immediately after publication, Dixon turned it into a stage play, and both book and play, but particularly the play, took much of the nation by storm, including productions in Los Angeles:


“Cave Scene” from a live production of The Clansman



Playbill for Los Angeles production of The Clansman

The book is presented as fiction…but “historical” fiction, in that much of it was based on his own childhood memories of Reconstruction.

Dixon’s father, Thomas Dixon, Sr., and his uncle Leroy McAfee, both joined the Ku Klux Klan early in its history with the aim of “bringing order” to the tumultuous times, and Col. McAfee even attained the rank of Chief of the Klan of the Piedmont area of North Carolina. But, after witnessing the corruption and scandal involved in the Klan they would both dissolve their affiliation with the group and attempt to disband it within their region.  [Source]

But in spite of this “later outcome,” Dixon never seemed to let go of his admiration for the Klan, and built a grand and glorious mythology around it in his writing.


There were no doubt terrible injustices committed by individuals and groups of both the North and the South during the period of Reconstruction, but you’d never know that from a reading of The Clansman. There is no hint in the book and play that the Klan was ever anything but an entirely noble Savior of the White man and woman of the South.

And in 1915, DW Griffith’s classic movie, the first real “Blockbuster” in movie history, brought Dixon’s written words to vivid and splendiferous life.

The Birth of a Nation began filming in 1914 and pioneered such camera techniques as the use of panoramic long shots, the iris effects, still-shots, night photography, panning camera shots, and a carefully staged battle sequence with hundreds of extras made to look like thousands.



It also contains many new artistic techniques, such as color tinting for dramatic purposes, building up the plot to an exciting climax, dramatizing history alongside fiction, and featuring its own musical score written for an orchestra.

The movie, like the book, glorified the Ku Klux Klan…at the same time it depicted virtually all African-American men (most played by white actors in blackface) …



…as ignorant, uncouth, uncivilized rabble at best…


“Negro legislators” shown in session…eating fried chicken,
drinking booze, propping bare feet on desks.

…and beasts prone to rape at worst.


Young white woman, pursued by a black soldier intent on rape,
jumps to her death from a cliff.

The first half of the film depicted the Civil War clear up to the assassination of Lincoln. It was portrayed so dramatically and heroically, and, to a certain extent, appeared so authentic and historically accurate…


…that it set the audience up to accept the second half as also being “historical.” Rather than a melodramatic, highly fictionalized account of Reconstruction designed to glorify the Klan and vilify the freedmen.

To give the movie an even greater punch… There were quotations from President Woodrow Wilson displayed on some subtitles in the movie, such as this one—a quote from Wilson’s own 1902 book, History of the American People.


When the film was released, it shattered both box office and film-length records, running three hours and ten minutes. [Source]

And it soon swept the nation, from  Baltimore, Maryland…




…to New York City



…to Appleton, Wisconsin



to Wichita, Kansas



…to Boise, Idaho



…to Seattle, Washington



…and all points in between.

It even reached as far North and West as Portland. Oregon, as you can see from these newspaper ads in the Portland Oregonian from the summer of 1915.



Thomas Dixon, Jr., succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in “teaching” not only the North but the West and East to accept his idiosyncratic view of history.

The social impact of the book was certainly enormous. Though Anglo-centric groups had existed previously, they were mostly limited to Southern states and had small membership. The book and subsequent play and movie glorified Anglo-Saxon dominance through the power held by the Klan. This appealed to Anglo-Saxons everywhere, not merely in the South. [Source]

White audiences everywhere ate it up. Including a 35 year old man in Atlanta named William Joseph Simmons.

While convalescing in 1915 after being hit by a car, Simmons decided to rebuild the Klan which he had seen depicted in the newly released film The Birth of a Nation directed by D.W. Griffith. He obtained a copy of the Reconstruction Klan’s “Prescript,” and used it to write his own prospectus for a reincarnation of the organization.

As the nucleus of his revived Klan, Simmons organized a group of friends, in addition to two elderly men who had been members of the original Klan. On Thanksgiving night 1915, they climbed Stone Mountain to burn a cross and inaugurate the new Klan, with fifteen charter members.


From the Atlanta paper, 1915.





Stone Mountain, right outside Atlanta, as it appeared in 1910



Stone Mountain as it appears now, as part of a tourist destination park



The gigantic (158 feet wide, 76 feet tall) Confederate Memorial Carving
on the side of Stone Mountain, depicting Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee,
and Stonewall Jackson. Begun 1923, dedicated 1920. 


The imagery of the burning cross, which had not been used by the original Klan, had been introduced by Griffith in The Birth of a Nation. The film, in turn, had derived the image from the works of Thomas Dixon, Jr., upon which the film was based.  [Source]

As a matter of fact, Stone Mountain has seen a lot Klan gatherings and cross burnings ever since 1915…


1920 from the Chicago Tribune



1934 from the Sandusky, Ohio paper



1946 from TIME magazine



1948: Dr. Samuel Green, a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon,
at Stone Mountain, flanked by two KKKids




Here is a one minute clip of a group gathering at Stone Mountain in 1949.


And lest you think that the Klan has abandoned its Birth of Its Nation roots at Stone Mountain in recent decades, have a look at a short video allegedly filmed on a night in 2009 at Stone Mountain. No, not at the Amusement Park. The area is big enough to allow… private parties in hidden hollows.


But let’s go back to 1915, when the Birth of a Nation movie was in its heyday, and the “second incarnation” of the KKK was just in its infancy.

Those African American men who had visited Woodrow Wilson in his office in 1914 certainly had every right to feel despondent about the future possibilities of an improvement in civil rights for African Americans, given the attitude at the top of the government of the US. And once Birth of a Nation became a smash hit, portraying blacks in an extremely negative light, they had every right to feel even deeper discouragement. With lynchings on the rise, and “race riots” destroying black neighborhoods, it would seem to me that black Americans would have every reason to be inclined to begin more active resistance to their circumstances—without ANY help from “outside agitators” of this or that “-ism”!

That was not the view of much of white America, though. In 1919, or in coming years, such as when this sign was posted all over Alabama in 1934.



We’ll continue on down the winding historical road leading From 1919 to Now in the next entry in this series.



Promoting Paranoia 

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Boston Bolsheviks?

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 19

Boston Bolsheviks?

This is Part 19 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 Look” for almost all young women to aspire to in the America of a century ago (no matter their social class) was the Gibson Girl. Illustrator Charles Dana Gibson created this look to represent the supposedly ideal young woman of that era. She was required to be slender and poised and pouty, and athletic—but with a BIG, ample bosom, an impossibly TINY waist, and BIG impossibly poofy hair. Gibson’s artwork, and that of many imitators, was featured on the covers (and also used for ads and story illustrations in) magazines and newspapers and elsewhere, such as these two Gibson covers, from 1902 and 1913.



As you might guess, even older women, including ones without athletic, slim figures, aspired to the look too, although they seldom could pull it off very convincingly.

When I was a child and teen in the 1940s/50s/60s, you still heard occasionally about Gibson Girls and their look because nostalgia for “turn of the century” pop culture was big from the 40s through the 60s’s. Think Meet Me In St Louis with Judy Garland in 1944, set in a backdrop of the 1904 World’s Fair.


Or Music Man from Broadway in 1957 and the movies in 1962, set in the same era.


You don’t hear the name much these days…unless you happen to visit Disneyland or Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Both have a Gibson Girl Ice Cream parlor, since Main Street is a (highly) fictionalized version of an early 1900s small town main street.


A while back I showed my 40-something daughter Ramona the bathing beauties picture above and asked if she had heard of “Gibson Girls” like those.

Ramona had indeed heard of Gibson Girls, but not from a “history book.” She knew of them because the term was used in a 1987 Anne of Green Gables TV movie (Anne of Avonlea), which was set in that time period. One character exclaimed to Anne, who had her hair piled on her head in the way you see on the young bathing beauty girls above, that she looked “just like a Gibson Girl.”


I bring this up, because, when not wearing a dress with a plunging neckline to show off her ample bosom…


…the typical Gibson Girl and Gibson Girl Wannabee would wear a long flared skirt and a “shirtwaist.”  Shirtwaist (sometimes shortened to just “waist”) was a term for a woman’s blouse, usually with a collar (often stand-up), cuffs, long poofy sleeves with cuffs, and a button-down front.  As you see on this group of high school girls from 1910.


Doing laundry was a real hassle before washing machines and dryers and perma-press fabrics back then, so I would suppose it would be very practical to have a closet full of blouses to change every day to go with skirts—which could go longer between washings (and ironings!)

If you were a young woman (or a young woman’s mother) who was handy with a needle and thread, or maybe even had a treadle sewing machine, you could make your own shirtwaists, using a pattern like this one from McCall’s.


But a significant portion of the women in the land had neither the skill to sew such fashions, nor a treadle machine. And I would guess that the average middle and upper class woman would look down on having to sew clothing for herself or her daughters anyway.

So they would go to the local department store shirtwaist department, or check their latest Sears Catalog for shirtwaists, such as this catalog from 1909. (“Lawn” isn’t used here to indicate where you’d wear them…lawn was a type of lightweight, delicate linen material, popular for blouses back at that time.)


And thus they might end up purchasing a mass-produced shirtwaist like this one, which was manufactured at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in Manhattan, New York in about 1910.


But few aspiring Gibson Girls had the slightest idea under what conditions their lovely, delicate shirtwaists were made. Or by whom.

Working conditions in the early twentieth century were not very safe for many factory workers. In June of 1909, a fire prevention specialist sent a letter to the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to discuss ways to improve safety in the factory. This letter was ignored.

The work day at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was 14 hours long with only one break throughout the day. Extra bathroom breaks were often denied forcing people to urinate on the factory room floor adding to the already unsanitary work space. Poor ventilation and locked factory room doors were common. Heaping piles of fabric scraps littered the factory room floors.

Here are two views of Triangle workrooms in about 1910. Although there were some men employed in the factory, they were mostly hired to cut the cloth. It was women who did the actual sewing.



The workers were paid two dollars a day, were docked pay for their errors and for the needles and thread they consumed. [If they pricked a finger and got blood on fabric, they were fined. If they did it a second time, they were fired.] Sometimes, they were docked more than they were paid.

At the end of September 1909, with the backing of Local 25 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) the Triangle Shirtwaist factory workers went on strike seeking increased wages, reduced working hours and union representation.

Conditions were no better at other factories. Unrest was infiltrating throughout the women’s garment workers industry. Something big was about to happen. On November 22, 1909, activist Clara Limlich [a petite 5 foot 4 inch young woman of 23] spoke out at a union meeting that they must do something.


“I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike.”

As most women’s garment workers faced these desperate times, Limlich’s call for action against these repressive conditions resulted in a vote to strike. On November 24, 1909, in the largest single work stoppage in the US up to that time, twenty thousand workers walked off the job in an industry-wide strike joining the already striking Triangle workers. They sought better wages, standardized work day, improved working conditions, and union representation.


Almost all of the women involved in this strike were recent immigrants, either Jewish or Italian. Notice the Yiddish writing on the signboard above in one of their protest marches.

At first, people paid little attention, and the press barely made mention of the strike in their newspapers. Until in December 1909 Anne Morgan, daughter of international financier JP Morgan, took up the cause of the striking workers. Joining her in support of the workers was Alva Vanderbuilt Belmont. With the voices of these rich, upper class women, also known as the mink brigade, by the middle of December the media picked up on the story of the horrible working conditions. Within forty-eight hours, smaller businesses capitulated and workers began to return to union only workshops.

Not so at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory housed in the Asch Building in Greenwich Village. Owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were angered and indignant. They attempted to stymie the workers by hiring prostitutes to fight with the women on the picket lines. Blanck and Harris hired ex-prize fighters to pick fights with the picketers. Bribed policemen arrested any who fought back and dragged them off to court bandaged and bloodied. Bribed judges found workers guilty.


700 of the women Limlich led on the strike were arrested, 19 were sentenced to labor camps. 

Blanck and Harris formed an association of the factory owners. By December 1909, they engaged in negotiations with the strikers offering increases in wages, and improvements in working conditions but stopped short of agreeing to allow the unions to organize in the factories.

Workers refused and the strike continued. Slowly one by one, individual factory owners agreed to the demands of the workers including union representation. But at Triangle, Harris and Blanck would not allow the union to be formed in their organization. Five months after they they began their strike, 23 February 1910, Triangle workers decided to accept increased wages and better hours. They did not get the much coveted union representation.  [Source]

But they got better hours and a bit of increase in wages. A cause for celebration, right?

Until 13 months later, on March 25, 1911.



The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history.

It was also one of the deadliest disasters that occurred in New York City – after the burning of the General Slocum on June 15, 1904 [over 1,000 people on their way to a German Lutheran church picnic died when that excursion steamship caught fire and sank in the East River] – until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later.

The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three; of the victims whose ages are known, the oldest victim was Providenza Panno at 43, and the youngest were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and “Sara” Rosaria Maltese.

Because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks – many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below.

… Under the ownership of Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the factory produced women’s blouses, known as “shirtwaists.” The factory normally employed about 500 workers, mostly young immigrant women, who worked nine hours a day on weekdays plus seven hours on Saturdays, earning between $7 and $12 a week.

As the workday was ending on the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire flared up at approximately 4:40 PM in a scrap bin under one of the cutter’s tables at the northeast corner of the eighth floor. The first fire alarm was sent at 4:45 PM by a passerby on Washington Place who saw smoke coming from the eighth floor. Both owners of the factory were in attendance and had invited their children to the factory on that afternoon.

The Fire Marshal concluded that the likely cause of the fire was the disposal of an unextinguished match or cigarette butt in the scrap bin, which held two months’ worth of accumulated cuttings by the time of the fire. Beneath the table in the wooden bin were hundreds of pounds of scraps which were left over from the several thousand shirtwaist that had been cut at that table. …

A bookkeeper on the eighth floor was able to warn employees on the tenth floor via telephone, but there was no audible alarm and no way to contact staff on the ninth floor. According to survivor Yetta Lubitz, the first warning of the fire on the ninth floor arrived at the same time as the fire itself. Although the floor had a number of exits, including two freight elevators, a fire escape, and stairways down to Greene Street and Washington Place, flames prevented workers from descending the Greene Street stairway, and the door to the Washington Place stairway was locked to prevent theft by the workers; the locked doors allowed managers to check the women’s purses.


Locked door being inspected after the fire

The foreman who held the stairway door key had already escaped by another route. Dozens of employees escaped the fire by going up the Greene Street stairway to the roof. Other survivors were able to jam themselves into the elevators while they continued to operate.

Within three minutes, the Greene Street stairway became unusable in both directions.


Terrified employees crowded onto the single exterior fire escape, which city officials had allowed Asch to erect instead of the required third staircase. It was a flimsy and poorly anchored iron structure which may have been broken before the fire. It soon twisted and collapsed from the heat and overload, spilling about 20 victims nearly 100 feet (30 m) to their deaths on the concrete pavement below.

Just as in the Twin Towers inferno, there were heroes of the story that day…

Elevator operators Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo saved many lives by traveling three times up to the ninth floor for passengers, but Mortillalo was eventually forced to give up when the rails of his elevator buckled under the heat. Some victims pried the elevator doors open and jumped into the empty shaft, trying to slide down the cables or to land on top of the car. The weight and impacts of these bodies warped the elevator car and made it impossible for Zito to make another attempt.

A large crowd of bystanders gathered on the street, witnessing sixty-two people jumping or falling to their deaths from the burning building.


The remainder waited until smoke and fire overcame them. The fire department arrived quickly but was unable to stop the flames, as there were no ladders available that could reach beyond the sixth floor.

Which also meant there was no way to reach anyone on those floors with a ladder to rescue them.


Picture from the NY Times of that date in 1911 shows x’s on the windows
above where the ladder reaches, indicating where victims jumped.




The fallen bodies and falling victims also made it difficult for the fire department to approach the building.  [Source]

 There was a great outpouring of grief in New York City regarding the tragedy.


The parade of mourning above was viewed by close to 400,000 people standing in pouring rain along the route.


And there was a widespread outcry for “something to be done” about holding those responsible accountable.


But in the end, did anyone end up shouldering responsibility for this horror?

The company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who survived the fire by fleeing to the building’s roof when the fire began, were indicted on charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter in mid-April; the pair’s trial began on December 4, 1911.


And quickly ended with an acquittal for both. The defense lawyer convinced the jury that the prosecution needed to prove that the owners specifically KNEW that the exit doors were locked at the time of the fire. In spite of the fact that almost everyone knew that this was “standard procedure” for this sweat shop.

There was a subsequent civil trial, and the owners lost that one. The plaintiffs won $75 compensation to the survivors of each victim. Which ended up being no sweat for Blanck and Harris—their insurance company ended up paying them about $60,000 over their reported losses. About $400 per casualty. They came out ahead.

These jerks were not “robber barons,” of course. They were just petty small-time, greedy men, part of a grander scheme of heartless Capital and helpless, hapless Labor in the land at the time.

But surely the greedy jerks at least “learned their lesson” and dedicated the rest of their lives to factory safety out of a sense of guilt for so many innocent lives lost…

Harris and Blanck were to continue their defiant attitude toward the authorities. Just a few days after the fire, the new premises of their factory had been found not to be fireproof, without fire escapes, and without adequate exits.

In August of 1913, Max Blanck was charged with locking one of the doors of his factory during working hours. Brought to court, he was fined twenty dollars, and the judge apologized to him for the imposition.

In December of 1913, the interior of his factory was found to be littered with rubbish piled six feet high, with scraps kept in non-regulation, flammable wicker baskets. This time, instead of a court appearance and a fine, he was served a stern warning.

The Triangle Waist Company was to cease operations in 1918, but the owners maintained throughout that their factory was a “model of cleanliness and sanitary conditions,” and that it was “second to none in the country.”  [Source]

Oh. And Clara Limlich, the leader of that 1909 strike?


She had a cousin who worked at the Triangle Shirt Factory. The cousin evidently survived the fire.

For her outspoken union efforts, Clara was blacklisted from the garment industry. She then turned her efforts to the campaign for women’s suffrage, to being a consumer advocate, and eventually to campaigns against nuclear weapons, against the Viet Nam war, and for Civil Rights. She died in 1970 at age 96. You can even read a book about her many exploits.


The period of the “industrialization” of America that exploded after the Civil War, with the rise of huge corporations led by Robber Barons, led directly to the conditions among the working classes of the early 1900s typified by the Triangle Shirt Factory strike and subsequent fire. And in spite of pop-culture names that glossed over the various parts of the period in later years, such as “Gay ‘90s,” for vast portions of the population, nothing about it was gay or refreshing.

Growing even more rapidly than the general population, which almost doubled between 1870 and 1900, the industrial labor force expanded to more than a third of the population by the end of the century.

… A rough economic profile from the end of the 1880s indicates how close to the margin of poverty many workers were compelled to live. About 45% of the industrial laborers barely held on above the $500 per year poverty line; about 40% lived below the line of tolerable existence, surviving in shabby tenements and rundown neighborhoods by dent of income eked out by working wives and children. About a fourth of those below the poverty line lived in actual destitution. A small group of highly skilled workers, about 50%, were capable of earning from $800-$1100 a year. The common daily pay for unskilled labor remained about $1.50. Moreover hardships were exacerbated by periods of high unemployment (as much as 16%) during the depressions of the mid-1870s and mid-1880s.

As you might guess, this led to continual “labor unrest.”

…the 1880s witnessed almost 10,000 strikes and lockouts; close to 700,000 workers went out in 1886 alone…

And it wasn’t just long hours and low pay that concerned them.

…Hazards to health and to life its self were common in the heavy metal industries, in textile factories, and in chemical plants. The railroad took a particularly horrible toll: 72,000 employees killed on the tracks between 1890 and 1917, and close to 2 million injured; another 158,000 killed in repair shops and roundhouses. Workmen’s Compensation did not appear until the 1930s, and railroad disability insurance not until 1947.

But didn’t manufacturing wizardry of the era bring every housewife’s dream of “laborsaving devices”? Maybe for middle class housewives…

The image of machinery as “laborsaving” held a bitter irony for workers: not only did machines threaten life and limb, not only did they increasingly threaten the usefulness of craft skills, but, employed by capital to increase productivity as rapidly as possible, they often increased the amount of physical exertion over time. [Source]

And it wasn’t just adults who were toiling under miserable conditions and constant threat of death or serious injury. It has been estimated that by 1910, 2 million children in the US under the age of 15 were working at industrial jobs.  At times their work could be even more miserable and dangerous than that of adults since employers typically took advantage of their smaller size and forced them squeeze into tight, dangerous spaces.

Faced with back-breaking labor and long, exhausting shifts, fatigued child workers suffered high accident rates. Those who were injured or maimed in the course of their duties often received no compensation. [Source]

A few examples, photographed in the early 1900s by Lewis Hine as part of an expose’ of the child labor problem in the US:


An injured young mill worker. Giles Edmund Newsom, photographed on October 23, 1912. Giles was injured while working in Sanders Spinning Mill in Bessemer City, North Carolina, on August 21st, 1912. A piece of machinery fell on his foot, mashing his toe. This caused him to fall onto a spinning machine and his hand went into unprotected gearing, crushing and tearing out two fingers. He told the investigating attorney that he was 11 years old when it happened. He and his younger brother worked in the mill several months before the accident. Their father, R.L. Newsom, tried to compromise with the company when he found the boy would receive the money and not the parents. Their mother tried to blame the boys for getting jobs on their own, but she let them work several months. Their aunt said “Now he’s jes got to where he could be of some help to his ma, an’ then this happens and he can’t never work no more like he oughter.”


Frank P……., whose legs were cut off by a motor car in a coal mine in West Virginia when he was 14 years 10 months of age. Location: Monongah, West Virginia.


1909: Neil Gallagher, who lost his leg in an accident in a Pennsylvania mine at the age of 13.


Luther Watson, of Corinth, KY, 14 years old. Right arm had been cut off by a veneering saw in a box factory (in Cincinnati) on Nov. 14, 1907.

The reality of socio-economics in the US in that era:

[In 1890] Out of 12 million families, 11 million lived on incomes below $1200 a year. The average income of this group was $380, far below the accepted poverty line.

In the population as a whole, the richest 1% earned more than the total income of the poorest 50%, and commanded more wealth than the remaining 99%.

Yes, the Victorian Era had its own “1%.”

It was somewhat easy for that 1% to ignore the unwashed masses right up to World War 1. Oh, the masses occasionally stirred up a fuss with one of those tens of thousands of strikes against factories, sweatshops, mines, or mills. But the effects of those didn’t reach into their enclaves of mansions and estates.


Millionaire’s Row, New York City


Cornelious Vanderbilt II Mansion, New York 1898



Jay Gould Estate, Tarrytown NY 

Farther down the economic ladder from the 1%, the middle class was seldom supportive of any kind of strikes, as they were a bit closer to the front lines of unrest…the marches and sometimes boisterous public rallies in the streets by strikers were scary, and upset their sensibilities of the need for unquestioned law and order. So they were often, by nature, “anti-labor” when it came to disputes between employers and laborers.  And the government at local, state, and national levels was decidedly unsupportive of any disturbance of that law and order, almost always siding against labor…to the point of sending in the state militias, or even federal troops to quell labor unrest.

Strikes sometimes succeeded in getting minor victories for workers…a pittance more pay, a tiny adjustment of hours worked (but all too seldom no improvement in safety conditions, as is clear with the Triangle Fire example!) But as soon as they were over, and the headlines in the newspapers quit talking about them, the industrialists and the 1% and the middle class promptly went back to not worrying about them.

Until…the Russian Revolution.


At that point, the “narrative” changed drastically, both as expressed by the national press and the government. It seems that from that point on, the “aristocratic” part of the American populace began worrying. Because it was painfully obvious that the forces that wiped out the aristocracy of Russia, including the assassination of the royal family…


…whose mansion and estates didn’t protect them…


…might be headed directly to America’s shores. In fact… perhaps had already arrived and were infiltrating the nation.

This sense of things was exacerbated immediately after the end of the World War. Many working class men who had labored in decent jobs in bustling war-time industries in America to back up the war effort, suddenly found those jobs disappearing as the nation de-mobilized.  And what was worse, the labor market was suddenly inundated by millions of working-class men coming back from the European war to find no jobs waiting for them. Jobs were scarce, employers could fill any needs they had easily, with no need to cater to anyone complaining about long hours, low wages, or unsafe conditions…gripers could be replaced instantly with others eager to get any work at all.

When this led to labor unrest, suddenly it was easier to blame–not  the hellish working conditions and starvation wages—but “agitation” by Communists. If those fiendish Bolsheviks would just be ferreted out and deported back to wherever they came from, and any hapless converts among American citizens they made while here be incarcerated and deprogrammed,  the masses could go back to quietly suffering instead of being so belligerent.

Take the Boston Police, for instance.


In the Boston Police Strike, Boston police officers went on strike on September 9, 1919. [Source]


This is a crowd of Boston police leaving the meeting where they voted to strike.
Note how young so many look…many were WW1 veterans with young families.

They sought recognition for their trade union and improvements in wages and working conditions. Police Commissioner Edwin Upton Curtis denied that police officers had any right to form a union, much less one affiliated with a larger organization like the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Attempts at reconciliation between the Commissioner and the police officers, particularly on the part of Boston’s Mayor Andrew James Peters, failed.

During the strike, Boston experienced several nights of lawlessness, although property damage was not extensive. Several thousand members of the State Guard, supported by volunteers, restored order.


Governor (later President) Calvin Coolidge
inspects the militia that he called up.

Press reaction both locally and nationally described the strike as Bolshevik-inspired and directed at the destruction of civil society. The strikers were called “deserters” and “agents of Lenin.”

… When Governor Coolidge called the strikers “deserters” and “traitors,” a mass meeting of the Boston Police Union responded:

When we were honorably discharged from the United States army, we were hailed as heroes and saviors of our country. We returned to our duties on the police force of Boston.

Now, though only a few months have passed, we are denounced as deserters, as traitors to our city and violators of our oath of office.

The first men to raise the cry were those who have always been opposed to giving to labor a living wage. It was taken up by the newspapers, who cared little for the real facts. You finally added your word of condemnation….

Among us are men who have gone against spitting machine guns single-handed, and captured them, volunteering for the job. Among us are men who have ridden with dispatches through shell fire so dense that four men fell and only the fifth got through.

Not one man of us ever disgraced the flag or his service. It is bitter to come home and be called deserters and traitors. We are the same men who were on the French front.

Some of us fought in the Spanish war of 1898. Won’t you tell the people of Massachusetts in which war you [Coolidge] served?

(Coolidge, who indeed had never served in the military, was no doubt particularly miffed at this slam at his masculinity and patriotism…)

You might think police work wouldn’t be a good example of hellish working conditions such as could be found in the mines and factories. Until you find out the details of the life of the cop of the time.

In 1918, the salary for patrolmen was set at $1,400 a year. Police officers had to buy their own uniforms and equipment which cost over $200. New recruits received $730 during their first year, which increased annually to $821.25 and $1000, and to $1,400 after six years. In the years following World War I, inflation dramatically eroded the value of a police officer’s salary. From 1913 to May 1919, the cost of living rose by 76%, while police wages rose just 18%. Discontent and restiveness among the Boston police force grew as they compared their wages and found they were earning less than an unskilled steelworker, half as much as a carpenter or mechanic and 50 cents a day less than a streetcar conductor. Boston city laborers were earning a third more on an hourly basis.

Police officers had an extensive list of grievances. They worked ten-hour shifts and typically recorded weekly totals between 75 and 90 hours.

…Patrolmen worked a 7-day week, with one day off every 15 days. Patrolmen who worked the day shift put in 73 hours a week and “night men” worked 83 hours a week, while “wagon men” worked 98 hours.

After a day off, the men were required to serve a “house day” which meant they were on call at the station from 8:00am until 6:00pm performing various tasks such as recording duty, wagon runs and attending to the “signal desk.” After a three-hour break, they reported back to the station house at 9:00 pm where they slept for three hours until midnight at which time the bell rang for roll call and they “went out on the street” until 8:00am.

After that, they could go home, but had to be back at 6:00pm for what they called an “evening on the floor” which meant performing the same type of duties such as taking care of prisoners, wagon trips or “whatever turned up.” At 9:00pm the patrolmen went back to bed for three hours. The “day men,” in addition to their 10-hour day, were required to spend one night a week in the station house on reserve.

Although the commissioner and mayor had agreed to give the police a 24-hour holiday for every 8 days of work, this could be taken away “at will” and often was. Additionally, even during his free time, a patrolman could not leave the city limits without express permission. According to one patrolman; “That was the way it was day after day, round after round. We had no freedom, no home life at all. We couldn’t even go to Revere Beach without the captain’s permission.”

Revere Beach was the first public beach in the United States, founded in 1895. It was only four miles north of downtown Boston, and a popular refreshment spot for Bostonians…particularly among the working classes. Back in 1919 you could easily get there by a dedicated small “narrow gauge” railway…


…by ferry, or by auto if you were affluent enough to afford your own wheels.


It was much like Atlantic City in New Jersey, with a sandy beach for sunning, wading, and swimming…


…or ogling the bathing beauties…


… such as the Peekaboos, shown here in 1919…


I’m not sure how the Peekaboos got past the requirement on this Revere Beach sign, also from 1919. Those bathing outfits don’t seem to me to include “bloomers”!


…nor does the one worn by this young beauty, also in 1919.


But spending time on the beach was only a tiny portion of the excitement available at Revere Beach.  There was a Midway with amusement games and rides…




…a roller skating rink, and a dance pavilion out at the end of the long pier…



… bathhouses, many food and snack concessions, and much more.


But it sounds like the average steel worker or streetcar conductor got to enjoy an outing there more often than the average policeman.  Maybe the cops’ chances were better to ask for permission from their captain in the slow crime season of winter. You could still get to Revere Beach then. But not many bathing beauties to ogle…


Yes, life was pretty bleak for the Boston Police of 1919.

… They complained about having to share beds and the lack of sanitation, baths, and toilets at many of the 19 station houses where they were required to live, most of which dated to before the Civil War. The Court Street station had four toilets for 135 men, and one bathtub.  [ibid]

They didn’t get black lung disease like miners, nor seriously physically risk life and limb all day long every day like many in the steel mills. But it sure sounds like they had a pretty miserable working life.

But no, the federal government, the press, and the upper echelons of the Boston government couldn’t possibly conceive that these conditions would be enough to rebel against. Surely it was just that there were Bolsheviks stirring them up to not appreciate what they had!

So the answer to the grievances of these policemen, as well as those of the downtrodden workers in many industries in equally miserable circumstances, the answer to how to “fight the influence of Bolshevism,” wasn’t to remove the sources of complaints. It wasn’t to encourage all employers (including the city of Boston) to “turn over a new leaf” and give their employees a living wage, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, under safe, sane, civilized working conditions, with the opportunity for employees to actually have a little bit of “pursuit of happiness” in a life outside work.

No, the answer was to blame an “outside force,” to insist it was what was causing the wheels of the country to not run smoothly and quietly like they should so that the American Aristocracy would not be inconvenienced.

… A Philadelphia paper viewed the Boston violence in the same light as other labor unrest and numerous race riots in 1919: “Bolshevism in the United States is no longer a specter. Boston in chaos reveals its sinister substance.”

… A report from Washington, D.C. included this headline: “Senators Think Effort to Sovietize the Government Is Started.”  Senator Henry Cabot Lodge saw in the strike the dangers of the national labor movement: “If the American Federation of Labor succeeds in getting hold of the police in Boston it will go all over the country, and we shall be in measurable distance of Soviet government by labor unions.”

And thus began the “First Red Scare.”


1919 movie—Based on a novel by Thomas Dixon,
the author of The Klansman, a novel made into
the widely-acclaimed but controversial 1915 movie Birth of a Nation
that glorified the Ku Klux Klan!


We’ll continue to trace this thread of the specter of Communism on into the following decades in the next installment of this series.  Click the link to read…

Red Scare–Red Summer



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Threading Our Way Through History

sDonald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 18

Threading Our Way Through History

This is Part 18 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 overarching title of this series is “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.” Those who have followed the series since the beginning know that the “strangest bedfellows” referred to are a variety of leaders of the Evangelical Christian movement in America who have embraced Trump as a man “ordained by God” to Make America Great Again. AND…put in place policies that will empower the agenda of these leaders to mold American government and society into the image which they desire.

Some of these leaders are truly strange in their own right, such as Trump’s “closest spiritual advisor,” TV evangelist and Name-it-and-Claim-it, “Prosperity Gospel” proponent Pastor Paula White, who gave the invocation at Trump’s Inauguration.





Or disgraced-and-incarcerated-in-the-80s-but-now-back-in-the-saddle (with a new, younger wife he married in 1998 after he got out of jail) TV evangelist Jim Bakker.


Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, pre-scandal


Jim and Lori, married in 1998

Jim and Lori mixed on their shows all last year prophecies for the coming Great Presidency of Donald Trump…with offers of over-priced bulk “survival food and supplies” so that viewers can live through the imminent Great Tribulation.


Or… VERY strange bedfellow, TV Evangelist Benny Hinn. Who knocks over individuals, small groups, and sometimes whole audiences of thousands of people, with the alleged “power of the Holy Spirit—aided  by waving his arms…or snapping his white suit jacket at them like a jock snapping a wet towel at other jocks in a football locker room.






(That last is a group of military men “slain in the spirit” by Benny at a Crusade in Venezuela 2009.)

Pastor Benny is a good friend of Pastor Paula, and she brought him to the Inauguration with her.


They’ve traveled together before that, as you can see from this two-page spread in the National Enquirer in 2010.


Or there’s “retired firefighter turned prophet” Mark Taylor.


Taylor electrified the circles of Donald’s Strangest Bedfellows when he claimed to have “heard from the Lord” clear back in 2011 that Trump was chosen by God to become president. Just a snippet of his “prophecy”…

The Spirit of God says, I have chosen this man, Donald Trump, for such a time as this. For as Benjamin Netanyahu is to Israel, so shall this man be to the United States of America! For I will use this man to bring honor, respect and restoration to America. America will be respected once again as the most powerful and prosperous nation on earth, (other than Israel). The dollar will be the strongest it has ever been in the history of the United States, and will once again be the currency by which all others are judged.

The Spirit of God says, the enemy will quake and shake and fear this man I have anointed. They will even quake and shake when he announces he is running for president, it will be like the shot heard across the world. The enemy will say what shall we do now? This man knows all our tricks and schemes. We have been robbing America for decades, what shall we do to stop this? The Spirit says HA! No one shall stop this that l have started! …

The Spirit of God says, I will protect America and Israel, for this next president will be a man of his word, when he speaks the world will listen and know that there is something greater in him than all the others before him. This man’s word is his bond and the world and America will know this and the enemy will fear this, for this man will be fearless.

Even mainstream news media will be captivated by this man and the abilities that I have gifted him with, and they will even begin to agree with him says the Spirit of God.

And those Strange Bedfellow examples are just a tip of the iceberg.

But how did we get here? How did the most flamboyantly religious, the most piously inclined folks in America, folks who supposedly spread the Gospel of the simple carpenter of Nazareth, come to embrace a man with THIS lifestyle and reputation…





How did they become convinced he was the Only One who could save the nation and put in policies and programs to Make America Christian Again? The answer to that is not simple to explain, which is the reason for this extended series of blog entries.

There is a thread running through American history for almost exactly the past 100 years, leading to this moment in time. But it’s a thread with a number of unexpected twists and turns.


Let’s go back to the beginning and follow it forward, and combine it with some of the factors explained in previous entries in this series.

Russia plays prominently in the story thread out at this end of history.  Vladimir Putin’s Russia.



Strangely enough, Russia plays a prominent part in the story as the thread begins a century ago. Starting with this man…


That’s Tsar Nicholas II, royal head of the Romanov Dynasty of Russia, rulers of Russia since 1613. Nicholas became emperor in 1894. Even if you didn’t recognize his picture, it is likely that you at least heard him mentioned in World History class back in high school. But if you are anything like I was until recently, you are likely unaware of the extent throughout Europe of his family circle. For some reason, high school history courses typically ignored mentioning just how “inbred” the ruling heads of Europe had become by the turn of the last century.

Nicholas was related to several monarchs in Europe. His mother’s siblings included Kings Frederik VIII of Denmark and George I of Greece, as well as the United Kingdom’s Queen Alexandra (consort of King Edward VII). Nicholas was also a first cousin of both King Haakon VII and Queen Maud of Norway, as well as King Constantine I of Greece.

But most amazing is THIS little tidbit…


Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were all first cousins of King George V of the United Kingdom.

Yes, in one way you might say that World War 1 was a really, really enlarged Family Feud!

At the outbreak of the First World War the royal descendants of Queen Victoria (Queen of the United Kingdom) and of Christian IX (King of Denmark) occupied the thrones of Denmark, Greece, Norway, Germany, Romania, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom. For this, Queen Victoria was nicknamed “the grandmother of Europe” while Christian IX was nicknamed “Father-in-law of Europe”. Of the remaining kingdoms of Europe today, only Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands descends neither from Queen Victoria nor Christian IX. Their grandchildren currently occupy the thrones of Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.  [Source]

The Three Cousins perhaps played with each other at extended family gatherings in their childhood, and “hung out” occasionally with each other in their young adulthood. Nicholas and George actually looked more like twins than cousins!


Nicholas and George


Wilhelm with Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra

By 1913, all three were married with several children, and occupying the thrones of their respective countries, but still getting together on occasion. Such as this occasion.


This picture was taken during the wedding of the Kaiser’s daughter Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia. The wedding, an extravagant affair, took place on 24 May 1913 in Berlin. In a diplomatic gesture, Emperor Wilhelm invited almost his entire extended family.

For the occasion, Nicholas and George were each wore the splendiferous German ceremonial military attire you see in their joint portrait above!

The wedding became the largest gathering of reigning monarchs in Germany since German unification in 1871, and one of the last great social events of European royalty before World War I began fourteen months later (July 28, 1914).  [ibid]

We’ve gone back from the second decade of the 21st century to the second decade of the 20th century, because something happened then, besides the World War, that shook all the (inbred) crowned heads of Europe (and eventually the uncrowned leadership of the United States…). They and their families and dynasties, and a small circle of “aristocrats” with which they surrounded themselves, had been “in charge” for a long, long time. You might say that they represented the “one percent” of their era. Although some of the nations were moving slowly toward a more modern concept of “democracy,” or at least a bit wider spread of wealth and prosperity than in medieval, feudal times, there was a still a very deep divide between the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous “royalty and aristocracy” and the Way the Other Half Lived… the “peasants and the urban working classes” of people. (Well, not really “other half.” In many nations it was more like the other 95%.)

One place where this was particularly evident was Russia. At the turn of the last century, there were tens of millions of Russian peasants and workers, mostly leading very bleak lives.


And then there were those Russians who didn’t lead bleak lives. They were the aristocracy and royalty, such as Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, and his lovely family, shown in all their opulence in this family photo portrait in about 1908.


But the opulence ended all too soon after that. Here is another portrait of the Tsar and his lovely family, depicting them on the evening of July 17, 1918. No photographer was present. This is an artist’s representation of the evening, sketched shortly after that date.


Yes, that is a representation of the assassination of Nicholas and his wife and five children. Right in the middle of World War 1, Nicholas had been forced to abdicate his throne by the Russian Revolution that began March 8, 1917. Since that time, for over a year, he and his family had been under “house arrest” at various locations in Russia. He had hoped they might be able to escape into exile somewhere…Britain, preferably…but his hopes were never realized.  On the night pictured above, his family was unexpectedly ushered into the basement of the house where they were confined, and summarily all put to death by bullet and/or bayonet.

What crushed the Tsar’s hopes for a dignified exile…hosted by his close cousin George V of England?

When Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, George’s first cousin, was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the British government offered political asylum to the Tsar and his family, but worsening conditions for the British people, and fears that revolution might come to the British Isles, led George to think that the presence of the Russian royals would be seen as inappropriate. Despite the later claims of Lord Mountbatten of Burma that Prime Minister Lloyd George was opposed to the rescue of the Russian imperial family, the letters of Lord Stamfordham suggest that it was George V who opposed the rescue against the advice of the government. The Tsar and his immediate family remained in Russia, where they were killed by Bolsheviks in 1918. King George V essentially signing his owns cousin’s death certificate. [Source]

Yes, the reality is that George understood that some, if not many, of the “underlying causes” of the Russian Revolution, which eventually established a Communist government in that country, weren’t unique to that country. The lower classes all over Europe had been long stirred up with resentment against the inequity of the distribution of wealth in their own lands. Severe poverty, hunger, and harsh working conditions among the peasants and urban working class—while the aristocracy lived in opulence—were common throughout the continent.

The horrors of World War 1 exacerbated these circumstances to unbearable levels almost everywhere. The lower classes had no investment in the “reasons” for the War—they were disputes between the aristocracies of the various countries. Yet they were forced to bear the worst of the suffering caused by the War. Russia, for instance, instituted the first general mass draft of citizens into the military in its history. Thus one of the first things the Bolsheviks did when they came into power in Russia was to sign a treaty with Germany and withdraw from the War.

The March revolution was not a planned affair. Lenin was in Switzerland, the Bolsheviks did not even have a majority in the Petrograd Soviet and the Duma had not wanted the end of the Romanovs. So why did it happen?

The ruling dynasty must take a great deal of the blame. Nicholas was an ineffective ruler who had let his wife dominate him to such an extent that the royal family became inextricably linked to a disreputable man like Gregory Rasputin.


(Rasputin was the “Mad Monk” who wormed his way into the royal family circle with claims of supernatural powers, but was viewed by many as a complete charlatan.)

Such an association only brought discredit to the Romanovs.

The ruling elite also failed to realise that the people would only take so much. They took their loyalty for granted. In February/March 1917, lack of food, lack of decisive government and the cold [temperatures at that time of year in that area of Russia average -4 °F] pushed the people of Petrograd [St. Petersburg] onto the streets.

The people of Petrograd did not call for the overthrow of Nicholas – it happened as a result of them taking to the streets calling for food. People had to burn their furniture to simply get heat in their homes. Very few would tolerate having to queue in the extreme cold just for food – food that might run out before you got to the head of the queue. The spontaneous reaction to police shooting at protestors in a bread queue showed just how far the people of Petrograd had been pushed. That it ended with the abdication of Nicholas II was a political by-product of their desire for a reasonably decent lifestyle.  [Source]

In other words, Communism didn’t come to power in Russia through a careful, long-term, clandestine program of education and persuasion of the lower classes to understand and agree with the political and economic “theories” of Marx and Engels, so that they would eventually cooperate in conducting a revolution! It came to power as a result of people just wanting an answer to their desperate plight, and other people ready and waiting to offer them what looked like just such an answer through a change of leadership.

And thus the concern of George V of England! For, of course, the lower classes in England had many of the same exact complaints as the lower classes in Russia. It just wasn’t as cold in England! They could be expected to have sympathy for the plight of the peasants and working classes of Russia, not for Tsar Nicholas and his pampered family. Best not to agitate the British lower classes to ponder their own relationship to pampered royalty in England, in the middle of the hellish war, by the notoriety of the stories that would make it into the newspapers if Nicholas and family showed up on their shore.

But, you may ask, what does any of this have to do with the United States in that era? For of course America was literally founded as an escape from the system of royalty in the Old World. It was founded on the idea of “all men are created equal,” and all equally have the right to pursue happiness…not just pursue enough food to not starve and enough fuel to not freeze during the winter. For a brief moment after the American Revolution, some men actually tried to convince George Washington that he could aspire to being a king of the new nation, but he would have none of it. The generational “castes” of Europe were to be no more, no more huge divide between aristocracy and the common man. (Well, at least there were to be no castes among white men. The Native Americans and the African slaves were another topic…)

So what would the United States have to fear from the spread of Communist ideas, or the restlessness of peasants?



For although there was no American royalty in 1776, that was before the game-changing Industrial Revolution. Once “venture capitalism” created a path to untold wealth (through capitalizing on the availability of masses of workers who could be forced to work 16 hour days at slave labor wages, under often horrifically unsafe conditions) in order to create giant, hugely-profitable corporations, a new kind of royalty arose in the United States.

The connection with the old kind of royalty was unmistakable, and the new kind of royalty was dubbed very early with terms like “Robber Barons.”



The fruit of this development was masses of downtrodden urban working people and rural farmer/peasants who differed little from their European counterparts. And strangely enough, the New Royalty in the New World made no effort to hide this reality before the start of the World War. No, they flaunted it.

For instance, by 1897, the US had been in the midst of an economic depression since 1877. It was so exacerbated by a financial crisis known as “The Panic of ‘93”,  that the whole economy tumbled into the worst depression in its history to that point, in some ways more severe than that of the Great Depression of the 1930s, if not quite as long and drawn out. Like the later Crash of ’29, it affected not just the working classes, but even the newly-prosperous middle class.

As a result of the Panic, stock prices declined. 500 banks were closed, 15,000 businesses failed, and numerous farms ceased operation. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania hit 25%, in New York 35%, and in Michigan 43%. [The nationwide “average” was about 20%.] Soup kitchens were opened in order to help feed the destitute. Facing starvation, people chopped wood, broke rocks, and sewed in exchange for food. In some cases, women resorted to prostitution to feed their families.…The huge spike in unemployment, combined with the loss of life savings kept in failed banks, meant that a once-secure middle-class could not meet their mortgage obligations. [Wiki]For those who had work, an average annual wage for an unskilled factory worker would have been something like $400. But that was an average, which indicated perhaps what amount would provide a bare-minimum “living wage” for a family. Just very humble food, clothing, and shelter—little more. And many families had a more meager income than that, just on the margins of destitution.

Allowing for inflation, the $400 would be the equivalent of about $10,000 now—or $4.80 an hour for a 40-hour week. Of course, many factory workers back then were still working a 60-hour week. Or more. So they would have made about $3.20 an hour in modern dollars. (And, of course, many workers and their families, particularly among American blacks of the time…as well as within the ghettos of new immigrants from Europe…subsisted on far less than this.)

Back in their own time, the “gross” amount of that average paycheck would have been about $7.75 for a six-day work week. (Although no doubt quite a few men worked seven day weeks.) You could go into a snazzy restaurant in New York and get a sirloin steak dinner with potatoes, bread and butter, and coffee for 85 cents. But even though that amount seems astonishingly low by our own “price standards,” at a salary of about $1.25 a day to feed, clothe, and house a family (of maybe four or five or six children), it would have been out of the question for the average worker to even consider one of those “cheap” steak dinners!

Of course, there could be more than one income in a family. Lots of wives and children…even down to pre-school age…worked to help “supplement” the family income.

Like this boy, about age 10, working in a coal mine back around the turn of the 19th century. For 60 cents a day. For a 14 hour day.


I met one little fellow ten years old in Mt. Carbon, W. Va., last year, who was employed as a “trap boy.” Think of what it means to be a trap boy at ten years of age. It means to sit alone in a dark mine passage hour after hour, with no human soul near; to see no living creature except the mules as they pass with their loads, or a rat or two seeking to share one’s meal; to stand in water or mud that covers the ankles, chilled to the marrow by the cold draughts that rush in when you open the trap door for the mules to pass through; to work for fourteen hours—waiting—opening and shutting a door—then waiting again for sixty cents; to reach the surface when all is wrapped in the mantle of night, and to fall to the earth exhausted and have to be carried away to the nearest “shack” to be revived before it is possible to walk to the farther shack called “home.” [From The Bitter Cry of the Children, 1906, John Spargo.]

Or these kids at a cotton mill.


“Children on the night shift going to work at 6 p.m. on a cold, dark December day. They do not come out again until 6 a.m. [12 hour shift] When they went home the next morning they were all drenched by a heavy, cold rain and had few or no wraps. Two of the smaller girls with three other sisters work on the night shift and support a big, lazy father who complains he is not well enough to work. He loafs around the country store. The oldest three of these sisters have been in the mill for 7 years, and the two youngest for two years. The latter earns 84 cents a night. Whitnel, North Carolina.” [1908. From the photo collection of photo-journalist/child labor activist Lewis W Hine]

Or this one, making 48 cents a day at a similar mill.


“One of the spinners in Whitnel Cotton Mill. She was 51 inches high. Has been in the mill one year. Sometimes works at night. Runs 4 sides – 48 cents a day. [Likely for a twelve hour shift.] When asked how old she was, she hesitated, then said, “I don’t remember,” then added confidentially, “I’m not old enough to work, but do just the same.” Out of 50 employees, there were ten children about her size. Whitnel, North Carolina.” [Hine, 1908]

Some families had more than four or five kids, so it was no doubt a relief to have them working as soon as possible to supplement the family income.


“Little Fannie, 7 years old, 48” tall, helps her sister in Elk Cotton Mill in Fayetteville, Tennessee,November 17, 1910. Her sister said, “Yes, she helps me right smart. Not all day but all she can. Yes, she started with me at 6 this mornin’.” The two girls belong to a family of 19 children.” [Hine]

So they’d start ‘em young to bring home the bacon. Such as this little five year old “newsboy” in St. Louis, Missouri, who sold papers to the public by jumping on and off moving trolley cars at the risk of his life. To make a few cents a day.


So what became of the American Royalty during the period of the depression of the 1890s? Nothing…it was business—and pleasure—as usual for most of them.

The reality is that while those kids shown above, and their parents, were toiling away in the mines and the mills and factories and sweatshops for slave-labor wages, the people of the American Royalty in New York were making “memories” to be passed down to posterity. And being breathlessly written up in the newspapers of the time, and photographed by the finest photographers.

Such as this blurb,  from a New York City “gossip sheet” called Town Topics of 1897:

“Future generations will date every event in relation to the Bradley-Martin ball.”

Pretty high estimation of a social event! Admittedly the western world dates all events from the (presumed) date of Jesus’ Christ’s birth…B.C. to A.D.  And ancient societies often dated events in relation to what “year of the reign of King So-and-so” it happened. But the thought that “future generations” in America would “date every event” in light of a High Society party attended by a few hundred people in the 1890s?? This is surely over the top.

But then again, the kind of stunts the American Royalty of the time pulled WERE “over the top” much of the time. Which, I think, is one of the main reasons people nowadays ignorantly speak of the1890s as the “Gay ‘90s.” It WAS full of “gaiety” for a favored few.

So just why should we, of later generations be all agog still about the Bradley-Martin Ball? Just what was the BMB all about?I don’t know about my readers, but I’ve heard, at least in passing, since childhood of names of such really, really rich people of the Victorian age as the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies. But until recently I’d never heard of Bradley Martin and his wife Cornelia.

Here they are.



They started out their marriage with a bit of inherited wealth from both sides of the family. (Still, only enough to reach the lower rungs of the Richness Ladder of the time, Lower High Class, I guess.)  Then Cornelia’s dad died in 1881. He had been thought at the time to “only” have a fortune of about $200,000. (About $7 million today.) But at the reading of the will, it was revealed HE had a fortune squirreled away that no one knew about. And left the bulk of it…$6 million or so (+/- $162 million today)…to Cornelia.

The couple took an extended European vacation shortly after that. And at some point, evidently in order to give some sort of “faux European” lilt to their names, they inexplicably chose to tack a hyphen in the midst of  Bradley Martin’s name, and began referring to themselves as a couple as “the Bradley-Martins.” (Not quite the same idea as the modern habit of referring to a famous couple by a name mash-up—“Brangelina”—but perhaps in the same ball park.) Once they got the European vacation out of the way and were back in the states, it became obvious that Cornelia had new aspirations to fulfill.

In the Winter and Spring of 1883, Mrs. Martin’s name began to appear among the patronesses of fashionable entertainments…[Source]

She started out gradually, giving lavish dinners and small balls. But by late 1896 she had her sights set on the heights. As described in this snippet from the New York Times in February 7, 1897, regarding the Bradley-Martin ball to be held February 10:

Mrs. Martin is credited with two separate ambitions, which, it is said, induced her to give the coming ball. These are, first, a desire to round off her society career in New York with the most superb entertainment the city has ever seen, and, second, a wish to have her ball surpass the famous Vanderbilt one of 1883

That 1883 New York City costume ball, for a few hundred guests, had cost the William K Vanderbilts the equivalent of $6 million 21st century dollars, including the equivalent of over $1.5 million worth of champagne.

Cornelia Martin succeeded in her quest to best it. She managed to blow almost 9 million (modern) dollars on a single evening to entertain fewer than 800 guests. That comes to over 11,000 (modern) dollars per guest. For a ball that lasted about five hours.

Guests were requested to come in costumes that impersonated famous people (most chose to impersonate royalty) from the 16th-18th century. The event was held at the newly-completed Waldorf-Astoria luxury hotel on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Cornelia pretty much handed carte blanche to the hotel’s staff to spend whatever it took to make the Ballroom and adjacent areas of the hotel sort of look like…the Palace of Versailles in France as it would have appeared during the reign of “The Sun King,” King Louis XIV in the 1700s.



(The REAL Versailles)

Here’s how Cornelia’s brother-in-law Thomas Martin wrote of the event in his memoirs years later:

The best way I can describe what is always known as the “Bradley Martin Ball,” is to say that it reproduced the splendour of Versailles in New York, and I doubt if even the Roi Soleil [Sun King—Louis XIV, 1643-1715] himself ever witnessed a more dazzling sight. The interior of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was transformed into a replica of Versailles, and rare tapestries, beautiful flowers and countless lights made an effective background for the wonderful gowns and their wearers.



The Waldorf Astoria of the time


An etching depicting the ball from Harper’s magazine of the time 


A diorama of the ball, with costumed mannequins, from a New York museum 

“I do not think there has ever been a greater display of jewels before or since; in many cases the diamond buttons worn by the men represented thousands of dollars, and the value of the historic gems worn by the ladies baffles description.

Yes, “baffles description” is probably a good way to put it. Not only did the richest families of New York pull out their own family heirlooms to bedeck themselves, they seem to have raided the attics of their rich buddies from all over the country. As the New York Times writer put it in the pre-ball wrap-up on the morning of February 10:

… I know of cases where family jewels and other finery have been drafted in the service from friends East, West, and South. You know some of the old Southern families, especially in Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia, have very valuable gems and heirlooms that date back to Colonial days, and they managed to preserve them during the dreadful times of the war. Now some of our Four Hundred folks, in days gone by, have been on such intimate terms with their Southern friends, and have managed to entertain them so handsomely, that it comes hard to refuse when they make special requests for loans of their treasures. Some of the old Oglethorpe gems from Georgia, and the Fairfax gems from Virginia, and a lot of rare old bracelets and brooches from Savannah will figure in the Bradley Martin pageant, and go to swell Gotham’s reputation for antique gems. It’s just dreadful to think of the way some of these guests will flash and strut in borrowed plumage of all sorts, family heirlooms they never had the least right or title to wear in public.

They also raided all the antique jewelry shops in the Big Apple, as described by this Times writer:

There is no estimating the value of the rare old jewels to be worn at the Bradley Martin ball. All the jewelers who deal in antiques say they have been cleaned out of all they had on hand, and people still keep calling for old buckles, snuff boxes, lorgnettes, diamond or pearl studded girdles, rings, and, in fact, every conceivable decoration in gems.

All this, of course, is outside of the costly jewels held as heirlooms by the old families of New York. These have been taken from safety vaults and furbished up for the occasion in such quantities that the spectator will be puzzled to know where they all came from.

But how else do you impersonate European royalty if you haven’t got a huge amount of bling?!  Among the women there were at least 50 Marie Antionettes present that evening, 10 Madame Pompadours, 8 Madame De Manintenons (second wife of the Sun King), 3 Catherine the Greats, 1 Queen Louise of Prussia (1600s), and countless other queens, princesses, and other assorted royalty.  Sample:





(That last photo is of John Jacob Astor, who died in the Titanic tragedy.)

Obviously, the unwashed masses of New York were not afforded even a tiny glimpse of all these goodies. Guests were driven right up to the doors of the Waldorf and whisked right in. They either had cloaks on covering their lavish costumes and all their bling, or brought in trunks with what they needed, and used dressing rooms in the hotel to bedeck themselves. No, you couldn’t peek in a window or a door either. The Waldorf arranged to board up all the windows of the first and second floor.

You couldn’t even get close to the building without an invite that night. Teddy Roosevelt (who was president of the board of police commissioners at the time) stationed something like 200 police around the building and lining the sidewalks, ordered the street barricaded in front of the hotel, and positioned “ten of his tallest men” on either side of the walk guests would have to take from the curb to the doorway.

‘Twould seem to be that all this was because there was kind of a gut feeling in New York that just maybe the starving masses might not be too impressed with such an extravagant display of excess flaunted right in the middle of their abject misery.

There was a lot of grumbling in editorials in some papers across the country about how arrogant and thoughtless and lacking in discretion such a blatant display of excess of greed and conspicuous consumption was in the midst of the economic desperation of so many. But the poor themselves just went right on starving meekly and quietly. There was no protest on the streets at all.

(But of course…this was before the Russian Revolution…)

The Evening World newspaper back then mentioned how $10,000 (in 1897 dollars) could be used. (Multiply each of these examples by 35 or so to arrive at how far the cost of the Bradley-Martin ball…$350,000 in 1897 dollars…could have gone if spent elsewhere.) …

$10,000 could pay the average wages of eighteen New York workingmen for a year, pay the average wages of 6,240 workingmen for a day; support a family at average workingmen’s wages for fifteen years; … buy half a ton of coal each for 7,000 families…

American Royalty were very accustomed to the American Peons mostly starving meekly and quietly throughout the Gilded Age (which lasted from about 1870 to the early 1900s.) So one would not expect their complacency to change much from the time of the Bradley-Martin Ball up through the entry of the US into the World War in 1917. Oh, there was the occasional strike against some factory…occasionally stopped by the National Guard being called in and maybe killing a few strikers…or their family members. But those were isolated incidents. Nothing to worry about.

But then, in 1917, the Russians revolted against their county’s royalty and aristocracy, and Tsar Nicholas abdicated his throne, making the headlines in New York. And no doubt making a lot of American Royalty and Aristocracy nervous.


And then the Bolsheviks in Russia killed Tsar Nicholas in 1918. At that point nervousness intensified into anxiety in many US circles.

It didn’t take long for the Bolsheviks in the United States to become big news, dominating American newspaper articles and editorial cartoons. Like this one in the November 1, 1919 New York Evening Telegram.



Or this one from the June 15, 1919 New York Times.



The First Red Scare had begun. This is where we will pick up the winding thread that will meander through the subsequent century, leading eventually to the incredible situation of a huge proportion of (white) American Evangelical Christians supporting for president a boorish, trash-talking Billionaire with a reputation for flagrant immorality. In an election under the shadow of strange rumblings from Communist Russia!

The next installment of this series:


Boston Bolsheviks?

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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:

Threading Our Way Through History

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.

onenationbook 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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