Following in the Footsteps of Hawthorne, Melville, and Thoreau?


Corrie and Joey-AppalachiaThis post is dedicated to our family’s radiant and clear-sighted hiker and nature lover, Mrs. Corrie Priola Dickinson, our eldest grandson Joe’s bride of 18 months.  We don’t get to see them much these days because they are stationed in Monterey, California, but we think of them daily and wonder what great adventures they must be creating together.

Monument Mountain Great Barrington MACorrie, originally from Chicago, is such the avid hiker that she may have already hiked through the hills and woods or skied the same mountain paths as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry Thoreau.  In fact, 165 years ago, on August 5, 1850, these famous authors first met at a picnic in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the affluent Berkshire Hills and together they climbed to the top of Monument Mountain.

Here’s a couple more scenes of this beautiful area:

Berkshires MA

Our family’s connection to Hawthorne, as mentioned in my post of about two years ago, Mother of Modern Hospice Movement…, goes back to my maternal 4th cousin, another author, who met National Hawthorne’s daughter, Rose, while in Europe in 1871.  George and Rose married shortly afterwards, making Nathaniel Hawthorne father-in-law to my cousin George Parsons Lathrop.   As for George Parsons Lathrop, in 1875 he became associate editor of The Atlantic Monthly, an American magazine, founded in 1857 in Boston, Massachusetts, now based in Washington, D.C. and still up and running.  The Atlantic was created as a literary and cultural commentary magazine that has notably recognized and published new writers and poets, encouraged major careers, and has won more National Magazine Awards than any other monthly magazine. Lathrop remained as associate editor for two years, leaving for newspaper work in Boston and New York. His contributions to the periodical and daily Press were varied and voluminous. And, in 1883 he founded the American Copyright League, which finally secured the international copyright law.   Lathrop also edited (1883) complete and standard editions of Hawthorne’s works, and adapted The Scarlet Letter for Walter Damrosch’s opera of that title, which was produced at New York in 1896.  After George’s death Rose Hawthorne Lathrop went on to do great things and became known as “Mother Mary Alphonsa,” an American Roman Catholic religious sister and social worker.

The World Renowned Authors From Massachusetts

It was Herman Melville who grew up in The Berkshires, in and around the Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Hawthorne in 1850 had recently published The Scarlet Letter and was living in nearby Lenox. Melville was visiting Pittsfield. The two writers met that day in 1850 for the first time. As a young man, Melville joined the Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy and soon after returning from the Pacific Islands he met his new pals, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

An inspiration for a whale of a story

1Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, authors of two of the greatest American novels of all time, began a warm friendship on that August day in 1850 during a passing storm that drenched them.  Thereafter, they often hiked for the amazing views or just to hang out and talk; and like a lot of young men back then, they shared some wine in caves as thunderstorms passed. They weren’t looking to make trouble or avoid reality. They were looking to be creative and they really helped each other out. Their conversations and the physical nature of The Berkshires, and in particular Monument Mountain, inspired their writing. Herman started forming great ideas for sea adventures. And from his farmhouse window he could see his favorite mountain in the world, Mt Greylock, way in the distance to the north. The profile of Greylock reminded him of a whale, and he used it for inspiration to create a great white whale he named Moby Dick. Melville dedicated Moby Dick to Hawthorne, with “admiration for his genius.”  Another example of Hawthorne’s genius was The House of the Seven Gables, published in 1851. Like the Scarlet Letter, it drew on his family’s long history in Salem, Massachusetts.


1http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=227

MEDIA WATCH: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SELLS TO FOX; OWNER RUPERT MURDOCH IS CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER


FYI: As a follow-up to yesterday’s blog:  Extra, Extra, Read All About It!

Another 127 year old renowned printed medium placed in the hands of a media mogul. Should we be delighted or concerned?

By Miriam Raftery September 12, 2015 (Washington D.C.) – First published in 1888, the National Geographic magazine has long been one of the world’s most popular and respected journals chronicling science and culture around the globe.   But its reputation is now at stake at news that the nonprofit magazine is turning for-profit—and just sold to Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

Source: MEDIA WATCH: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SELLS TO FOX; OWNER RUPERT MURDOCH IS CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER

Extra, Extra, Read All About It!


My Short Time in the Newspaper Business

My second job out of high school was working in the classified advertising department of the Washington Star Newspaper (1852-1981).  Until its demise in 1981, The Star was universally regarded as the “paper of record” for the nation’s capital. Published under such titles as Washington Star-News and The Washington Star, this long-running daily afternoon paper was one of the highest profile publications in the nation. Founded in 1852, by the 1930s its coverage of national politics–including the daily activities of every branch of government–made it the nation’s number one paper in advertising revenue.

A Boldly Autonomous Voice in the Nation’s Capital

The Washington Star Final Edition1From its earliest years, The Star was unafraid to buck Washington’s prevailing political winds. Prior to the Civil War, as abolitionists decried slavery in their own publications, The Star presented both sides of the debate. During the War itself, the Star’s excellent reporting increased its popularity; even today Civil War historians frequently cite Star articles at length. By the mid-20th century—a period marked by McCarthyism, landmark Civil Rights legislation and the beginning of the space race—the Star reached its zenith in local circulation and national influence. Between 1944 and 1981,Star writers, reporters and cartoonists accumulated 10 Pulitzer Prizes.  Fortunately, the Evening Star from its founding on December 15, 1852 to the day it ceased publishing on August 7, 1981 is available as a digital and searchable facsimile that chronicles nearly 130 years of American history from the Antebellum Period, to World War I, and the Post-Vietnam Era.
eveningstar-postcard-streetsofdcAnd there I was, one of about 30 women in desks that were lined up one after in a sea of rows from the front of the room to the back of the room. I answered incoming calls as a telephone ad clerk all day, every day.  We wore ugly, cumbersome telephone headsets all day, every day, and these headsets obviously destroyed any big, fluffy, bouffant or “Afro”/”natural” hairstyles of the era. A conveyor belt next to our desks passed the ads we received to a supervisor’s station.   Initially, I answered random incoming calls from callers requesting ad placements to help them sell: cars or other vehicles, merchandise, or pets, personals, or individual real estate sales and rentals, and even garage sales/moving events.  With often supervisor’s listening in on our conversations, we talked with individuals to define their desired wording, calculated their ad charges, issued box numbers for anonymous ads, and assigned dates for their ads publication. Within three months, I found myself promoted to a “Real Estate Advertising Specialist,” with my own real estate company accounts.  My job was to keep Virginia’s real estate newspaper advertising flourishing.  But, I quickly decided that the rows of desks, the heavy and disfiguring headphones, talking on the phone all day long with the public, and the overall monotonous routine of the job was not for me.

The Best News

The best news about my job at The Star :  my desk was stationed across this vast warehouse-like room from some of the world’s renowned reporters and writers. Yes, I worked in the same building as Carl Bernstein, the investigative journalist best known for his work with Bob Woodward in uncovering the infamous Watergate scandal (1972-1974).  And, to some extent, I need to acknowledge that I developed my first editorial and wordsmithing writing skills from my brief experience at The Star.

The Bad News

During Reagan’s 1981-1982 recession, The Star was among some of the first newspapers in the country to fold.  Thirty-some years later, from today’s, September 11, 2015 VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130):  Ken Goldstein, Communication Management, Inc. said as three more Canadian newspapers are closing their doors over the next few weeks:

“If you still like to sit down and read a newspaper with your morning coffee, beware: those days of daily newspapers could be numbered….”

The Worst News…The Slow Death of the Great American Newsroom

By Tim Adams, Staff Writer for The Guardian/Observer, on March 21, 2015, describes the slow death of the great american newsroom this way:  In the past decade, as a percentage, more print journalists have lost their jobs than workers in any other significant American industry. (That bad news is felt just as keenly in Britain where a third of editorial jobs in newspapers have been lost since 2001.) The worst of the cuts, on both sides of the Atlantic, have fallen on larger local daily papers at what Americans call metro titles. A dozen historic papers have disappeared entirely in the US since 2007, and many more are ghost versions of what they used to be, weekly rather than daily, freesheets rather than broadsheets, without the resources required to hold city halls to account or give citizens a trusted vantage on their community and the world.

The reasons for this decline are familiar – the abrupt shift from print to pixels, the exponential rise in alternative sources of information, changes in lifestyle and reading habits, and, above all, the disastrous collapse of the city paper’s lifeblood – classified advertising – with the emergence of websites such as Craigslist and Gumtree. The implications are less often noted.

Stephan Salisbury, a prize-winning culture writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer for the past 36 years, puts them like this:

“Newspapers stitch people together, weaving community with threads of information, and literally standing physically on the street, reminding people where they are and what they need to know. What happens to a community when community no longer matters and when information is simply an opportunity for niche marketing and branding in virtual space? Who covers the mayor? City council? Executive agencies? Courts?… It is this unraveling of our civic fabric that is the most grievous result of the decline of our newspapers. And it is the ordinary people struggling in the city who have lost the most, knowing less and less about where they are – even as the amount of information bombarding them grows daily at an astounding rate.”

The Internet is Killing Newspapers and Giving Birth to New Sorts of News Access!

From The Economist, May 14, 2009:

“…newspaper companies’ tribulations do not necessarily presage the demise of the news business, for they stem in part from the tumultuous and expensive transition from paper to electronic distribution. News organisations are currently bearing two sets of costs—those of printing and distributing their product for the old world, and providing digital versions for the new—even though they have yet to find a business model that works online.”

“…the only certainty about the future of news is that it will be different from the past. It will no longer be dominated by a few big titles whose front pages determine the story of the day. Public opinion will, rather, be shaped by thousands of different voices, with as many different focuses and points of view. As a result, people will have less in common to chat about around the water-cooler. Those who are not interested in political or economic news will be less likely to come across it; but those who are will be better equipped to hold their rulers to account. Which is, after all, what society needs news for.”

Like many other readers, my average day is usually hectic.  I like to optimize my time set aside for reading.   I no longer desire to wrestle with a bulky newspaper, get newspaper ink all over my hands and reading surfaces, and I actively use social media apps to receive and share information that interests me. As with other media that I used to use for information and entertainment, newspapers in print is one of those things, unfortunately, that I prefer to access through various other digital media and devices.  On the other hand, however, I am extremely grateful for the newspapers of the past and the history that is shared with us today from the digitized archives of them.

1http://www.readex.com/content/washington-evening-star-1852-1981

The Lee’s–a Historically Significant Virginia and Maryland Political Family


Colonial America and Prominent Lee Family Members

Many prominent members of the Lee Family are known for their accomplishments in politics and the military.  This family first became prominent in Colonial America when Richard Henry Lee I arrived in Virginia in 1639 and went on to become possibly the richest man in Virginia by the time of his death.

“The family of Lee has more men of merit in it than any other family.”  – John Adams, 1779 (Lawyer, Statesman, President)

Among Colonial Lee’s notable descendants were: Thomas Lee (1690–1750), a co-founder of the Ohio Company in 1747 (a land speculation company organized to trade with the Native Americans), and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses; Francis Lightfoot Lee(1734–1797) and Richard Henry Lee II (1732–1794), signers of the United States Declaration of Independence; Thomas Sim Lee (1745–1819), Governor of Maryland and, most famous, General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870) Confederate States of America commander in the American Civil War. President Zachary Taylor and Chief Justice Edward Douglass White were also descendants of Richard Lee I. Confederate President Jefferson Davis married Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of Zachary Taylor.

My interest and connection to the Lee Family dates back to July 1892 when Catherine Irene Bolling/Bowling married James Franklin Lee.  Catherine was my second great grand aunt, sister of my paternal great grandfather, Edward Bud Vincent Bowling Sr (1872 – 1946), and daughter of my paternal second great grandfather, Larwrence T. “Larl” Boling and Elizabeth “Betsy” Tapp, (of  the Widow Tapp Farm on the Wilderness Battlefield) in Spotsylvania, Virginia.  James Franklin Lee is the sixth great grandson of Colonel Richard Henry Lee I, and third great grandson of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Richard Henry Lee arrives in Jamestown

Richard Henry LeeIn 1639,  at the age of 22, Colonel Richard Lee I, “The Immigrant” (1613–1664) was the first of England’s Lee Family to arrive in Virginia’s Tidewater Region of Jamestown (settled in 1607).  Richard had very little to his name when he arrived other than the patronage of an influential man, Sir Francis Wyatt, the 1st Governor of Virginia. Once in Jamestown, he became Attorney General of the Colony of Virginia, Colonial Secretary of State, and member of the King’s Council. He became Clerk of the Quarter Court at Jamestown, within the Secretary of State’s office. He was a loyal supporter of King Charles I of England, and his public offices ceased when Oliver Cromwell seized power in England in 1649. Additionally, Richard Henry Lee served as High Sheriff and was a Colonel in the Militia.  Richard was also a tobacco planter, trader, owner and trader of slaves, and employer and importer of indentured English servants (who paid for their passage to America with 7 years of labor). At the time of his death he was the largest landholder in the colony (13,000 acres) and perhaps the richest man in Virginia.

Marriage to Anne Owen Constable (1641)

Anne Constable LeeRecords show Richard Henry Lee and Anne Owen Constable met on their voyage from England to America in 1639. Anne Owen Constable was the sixth child of 15 born to her parents, Francis and Alice Owen Constable. Anne’s parents sent her away to the Americas as a ward of King Charles I through Sir Francis Wyatt, the 1st Governor of Virginia, so she could escape a certain death from the bubonic plague, also known as the “black death.” Both of Anne’s parents and all but two siblings died from the plaque shortly after her departure. Richard and Anne married in Jamestown in 1641 two years after Richard began courting her. Richard was 28 and Anne, 26. After their marriage, Richard sent for Anne’s only two remaining siblings who had not contracted or succumbed to the plague. It is believed that because of Anne’s family’s connections to the King that Richard Lee rapidly climbed the political ladder.  Richard and Anne had 10 children together, all of whom prospered and increased the prominence of the Lee family in the history of Maryland, Virginia, and the United States.

A Closer View at Richard’s Life In Virginia’s Tidewater Region

1The threat of Civil War hung over England for much of the 17th century. When the war officially broke out in 1642, England’s medieval and past traditions and King Charles I’s efforts to unify power, repress religious dissent, and head off what we might now call “free market reforms,” divided its people.  And the people of Maryland’s and Virginia’s Tidewater Regions remained loyal or “royalists,” to King Charles I, and later his son, King Charles II.

The then Governor of Jamestown, Sir William Berkeley, through various supporters, invited hundreds of England’s “distressed Cavaliers” to Virginia, granting them high offices and estates upon their arrival. Many who accepted his offer were the younger sons or grandsons of England’s aristocrats— and the founders of the majority of Tidewater’s leading families. Among them were Richard Lee (grandson of a Shropshire manor owner and great-great-great-grandfather to Robert E. Lee), John Washington (grandson of a Yorkshire manor owner and great-great-grandfather of George Washington), and George Mason (Royalist member of Parliament and great-great-grandfather of the namesake founding father). For these new elites in St. Mary’s City, Maryland and Jamestown, Virginia settlements along the Chesapeake. Whether highborn or self-made, the great planters had an extremely conservative vision for the future of their new country: they wished to re-create the genteel manor life of rural England in their new world and their succeeded beyond their expectations.   In the seventeenth century the English country gentlemen were, in effect, the kings of their domains. From their manor houses they directed the lives and labors of the tenant farmers and day laborers who lived in the villages associated with their manors. As justices of the peace, they presided over the local courts while their sons, nephews, and younger brothers often served as the parsons of the village churches, which belonged, of course, to the official Church of England (the “Anglican” church, rebranded “Episcopal” in America after the Revolution). It was expected of Jamestown’s gentlemen to show benevolence to their inferiors, host wedding parties for their servants, sponsor funerals for the poor, and display hospitality to their neighbors. They alone had the right to hunt, which was often one of their favorite pastimes. Their estates were largely self-sufficient, producing their own food, drink, livestock feed, leather, and handicrafts. (Surpluses were sold to England’s towns and cities.)

In England, upon the lord’s death, almost everything passed to his firstborn son, who had been groomed to rule; daughters married the best prospects; younger sons received a small sum of money and dispatched to make their own way as soldiers, priests, or merchants.

Tidewater’s successful tobacco planters copied from the world they grew up in.  They built graceful brick manors and housed their indentured tenants in cottages modeled on those in England, clustered in village-like residential areas. They bought servants who could build and run mills, breweries, smokehouses, and bakeries so that their plantations could meet all of their needs. They drove the construction of tidy Anglican churches and stately courthouses at convenient crossroads and the governor and his council appointed “commissioners,” that by 1661 were called “justices of the peace.”   Justices of the Peace presided over the courts.  In many respects, the justice of the peace was the local governing authority. In Virginia they set up an analog to the English Parliament called the House of Burgesses, which required that all members be wealthy. (Maryland’s General Assembly had similar stipulations.) They, too, were expected to assume the role of benign patriarch toward ordinary residents, and they also sent their surpluses to England’s cities. But in one key respect they deviated from English practice: they did not disinherit their younger sons, with whom Tidewater gentlemen often felt a special bond; most had come to America precisely because they were themselves the disinherited younger sons of country gentlemen.

Tidewater’s aspiring gentry created a thoroughly rural society without towns or even villages. It had no need for commercial ports and thus for cities, because the land was riven with navigable fingers of the Chesapeake, allowing the great planters to build their own docks. On clearing customs, oceangoing ships could sail directly to a plantation, unload the latest books, fashions, and furniture from London, and load barrels of tobacco. (Later, slaves would also arrive in this way.) Few local manufacturers could compete with cheaply sourced English goods, discouraging craftsmen and industry. So, they built no towns, other than the twin capitals mentioned above, until late in the 17th century.

From the 1670s on, the tidewater region gentry had an increasingly difficult time finding enough poor Englishmen servants. Those who completed their indentures often could not support themselves in an agricultural export economy increasingly dominated by great plantations, and ex-servants led or joined rebellions in 1663, 1675, and 1683. Unfortunately, this is when slave trading became the plantation owners’ solution.

1Woodard, Colin (2011-09-29). American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (Kindle Locations 814-928). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Civil War Dogs Are Part of Our History and Heritage, too!


As my regular blog readers know from several of my posts, I am an animal lover–I especially love dogs–all breeds and mixes.  And I love them for a variety of reasons: foremost, they love me unconditionally, they are life-long companions, they listen to me whenever, wherever, and without interrupting when I am feeling blue or just need to vent, and they protect me and my home. But best of all, their loyalty is as good or better than that of some “fair weather’ friends because they stick by my side through good times and bad and through thick and thin–Now, that’s what I call a “female’s best friend”.

So, when I saw the following story about dogs during the Civil War, my instinct was to share it because animals and their stories are part of my history and heritage, too.

This Dog Saved His Master’s Life During The Civil War

By Cassandra Lewis at:  http://civilwar.littlethings.com/civil-war-dog/?utm_source=VRC&utm_medium=Facebook&utm_campaign=animals

Throughout history, dogs and humans have been very closely intertwined. From the wheat fields to the battlefields, our beloved four-legged friends have followed us everywhere.

But until I heard this incredible story, I had no idea that dogs were such an important part of the American Civil War. I knew horses and cattle were essential to the soldiers, but dogs?

According to The Fredericksburg and Spotyslvania County Battlefields Facebook page,  thousands of pups fought and died during the Civil War — oblivious to the causes of war, but happy to be with there with their humans.

No matter on which side of the Mason-Dixon Line, both on the fields and off, these brave dogs were very important to the soldiers. They not only helped to serve and protect, but they provided much-needed comfort and reminders of home.

But this particular piece of the Civil War, written by an anonymous source in 1871, truly brings to life the sacrifices and commitments of these brave dogs. By the end of this piece, I was in tears.

“Reason and Instinct,” Author Unknown, 1871

“After the battle of Fredericksburg, it fell to my duty to search a given district for any dead or wounded soldiers there might be left, and to bring relief.”

“Near an old brick dwelling I discovered a soldier in gray who seemed to be dead.”

 “Lying by his side was a noble dog, with his head flat upon his master’s neck.”

“As I approached, the dog raised his eyes to me good-naturedly, and began wagging his tail; but he did not change his position.”

“The fact that the animal did not growl, that he did not move, but, more than all, the intelligent, joyful expression of his face, convinced me that the man was only wounded, which proved to be the case.”

war dogs

 “A bullet had pierced his throat, and faint from the loss of blood, he had fallen down where he lay.”

“His dog had actually stopped the bleeding from the wound by laying his head across it!”

 “Whether this was casual or not, I cannot say. But the shaggy coat of the faithful creature was completely matted with his master’s blood…”

 

“Thrills and Funerals”–Lives and Times with Motorcycles


The Surprise Birthday Gift!

bob-motorcycleIn June 2013, my husband, Bob, both deeply surprised and angered me with his purchase of a 2013 Harley Davidson Breakout Motorcycle as a gift to himself for his impending 70th birthday!

Three months later (and before his birthday), I received a call from Bob as he was being transported by ambulance to the hospital’s emergency room. Fortunately for us, his injuries were not life threatening and he has a few lasting reminders to help him always be vigilant in his travels (minor scars from the third degree road rash on his arms and occasional tenderness in his hip).  Much to my further chagrin, Bob and our family doctor had the audacity to laugh about the incident (from the purchase to the accident) in a follow-up visit. The doc even said to him “more power to you”!

Subsequently, Bob joined the Old Line Chapter of the Nam Knights of America Motorcycle Club.  There, senior members have put his motorcycle safety and riding skills through the rigors to ensure Bob and his fellow riders’ lives are as safe as can be when touring the roads and participating in benevolent activities to honor the memories of fallen American Veterans, Police Officers, Public Safety Officers, and their families through their various times of need.

“The Rider Files”

Lrry Lawrence

Larry Lawrence

Larry Lawrence is a life-long motorcyclist, journalist, and photographer.  At age 10, Larry started riding Rupp mini-bikes. He started competing in races in the late 1970s. He’s been shooting motorcycle racing for over 25 years, including road racing, flat track, motocross, hill climb, off-road events and just about every type of motorcycle racing out there. With “The Rider Files,” he shares these images and tells the stories that go along with them.

So, for those of you who enjoy uncovering history from some of America’s now historical newspapers, I am sharing Larry Lawrence’s article based upon his research into the deadly era of “Board Track Motorcycle Racing”, while thanking God that board track racing wasn’t around when Bob got his bike (did I mention that Bob had two other bikes that met their demise before he was 21?)

“Thrills and Funerals”: Researching the Board Track Era of Motorcycle Racing in America’s Historical Newspapers

 Motorcycle board track racing was the deadliest form of racing in the history of motor sports. Hundreds of lives were lost, both racers and spectators, during the relatively short-lived era of the boards. Yet in spite of, or perhaps partly because of, the dangers, motorcycle board track racing in the 1910s was one of the most popular spectator sports in America. Races attracted crowds of up to 10,000 fans. Young riders knew of the dangers, but chose to ignore them because the payoffs were so lucrative. Top racers could make $20,000 per year racing the board tracks, nearly a half-million dollars in today’s currency.

Click to view large pdf imageFrom America’s Historical Newspapers.

The reasons for the lethal nature of motorcycle board track racing were easy to understand. Motorcycles, even in the 1910s, the heyday of the board track era, were capable of speeds approaching 100 miles per hour. The boards were oil soaked and slick due to the engines being of “total loss” design, meaning oil pumped by the riders to lubricate exposed valves and springs sprayed freely into the air behind the speeding bikes. Riders raced with just inches between them, sometimes even touching as riders jockeyed for place. The machines had no brakes, and spectators were separated from the speeding machines by just couple of 2×4 boards nailed between fragile posts.

Motorcycles racing on a board track in 1911.

America’s Historical Newspapers made it relatively easy to research the rise and fall of the board track era.

The first decade of the 20th century, with the advent of automobiles and motorcycles, saw an explosion of race track construction. The mention of motordromes in newspapers began as early as 1901. In the July 18, 1901 edition of the Kansas City Star there was news from Europe of government officials threatening to exclude automobile racing from all public roads and that motordromes could be the solution.

 

Click to view full pdf image“Automobile News from Paris,” Kansas City Star, (07-18-1901), 7. America’s Historical Newspapers.  

 Motorcycle racing in America during the early 1900s was primarily confined to city-to-city runs and races on bicycle velodromes. But as engines became more powerful it was clear that the small bicycle tracks were not large enough to showcase the capabilities of motorcycles.

In 1910 the Los Angeles Motordrome, built in the resort of Playa Del Ray, was the first large board track built in America. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on April 9, 1910, that world records were broken in auto races on the new board track. The Albuquerque Journal on the previous day gave some of the specs of the new track. It reported the track “a perfect circle, a mile in circumference, banked one foot in three. The grand stands are placed above the forty-five feet of the inclined track. The surface consists of two by four planks laid to make a four-inch floor and laminated to give great strength. About 3,000,000 feet of lumber and sixteen tons of nails were used in the construction of the ‘pie-pan,’ as it has been dubbed.”

“World’s Records Are Broken On New Board Track,”
Salt Lake Telegram, (04-09-1910), 23.
America’s Historical Newspapers.  

Jack Prince, the builder of the Los Angeles track, traveled the country proposing board tracks to city fathers and motor clubs. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on April 26, 1910, that Prince planned to build a half-mile motordrome in Salt Lake City at a cost of $100,000. The paper later reported, on June 18, 1910, that the new board track at Windermere Park in Salt Lake City was constructed in less than two weeks.

Soon motordromes were being built across the country. And the races drew large crowds. The Salt Lake Telegram on July 4, 1910, reported a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 on the grand opening night of the Wandamere Motordrome. The race featured Jake De Rosier, the great Indian Motorcycle factory rider, as the main attraction.

The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 15, 1912, reported the grand opening of Philadelphia’s Pointe Breeze Park Motordrome. Pointe Breeze would become one of the most successful board tracks with a regular weekly program. Two of the leading motorcyclists of the era Morty Graves and Eddie Hasha were the featured riders that opening night at Pointe Breeze.

Click to view full pdf image“Motorcycle Races New Motordrome at Point Breeze Opened Today,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, (06-15-1912), 11. America’s Historical Newspapers.

The safety failings of board track racing became all too obvious not long after the facilities were built. The Salt Lake Telegram on July 5, 1912, reported a serious accident in which a rider named Harry Davis was killed and seven spectators injured when Davis’s motorcycle crashed into and snapped a light pole. Throughout that summer a week rarely went by without reports of a rider or spectators being killed at the motordromes.

Two accidents in particular permanently tainted the reputation of the motordromes and eventually led motorcycle racing’s governing body to no longer sanction board track races. The first was a tragic accident at the motordrome in Newark, New Jersey, on September 8. 1912. The Lexington Herald on Sept. 9, 1912, reported that two racers (Eddie Hasha and Johnny Albright) died when they crashed into the outside rail. Four spectators were killed in the incident as well and 19 others suffered injuries. The story of this accident ran in newspapers across the country.

Click to view full pdf image“Eddie Hasha and Five Others Are Killed Outright. Thirteen More Are Badly Injured in Frightful Motorcycle Accident at Newark Motordrome,” Lexington Herald, (09-09-1912), 1. America’s Historical Newspapers.

The following summer, on July 20, 1913, a freak accident at a board track across the river from Cincinnati in Ludlow, Kentucky, caused more outrage. A racer named Odin Johnson crashed; his motorcycle hit a light pole, kicking off a tragic domino effect. The motorcycle’s gas tank exploded. An exposed electrical wire from the light pole then sparked the fuel, spreading flames into the crowd. The ultimate death toll was eight as reported by the Salt Lake Telegram on August 1, 1913. Afterwards the widow of Johnson vowed to devote her life to ending races on board tracks.

The headline of an editorial in the August 1, 1913, edition of The Evening Press (Grand Rapids, Mich.) put it succinctly—“Thrills and Funerals.” The board tracks were referred to as “Murderdromes.”

Click to view full pdf image“Thrills and Funerals,” Grand Rapids Press, (August 1, 1913), 6. America’s Historical Newspapers.

A Salt Lake Telegram article on August 22, 1914, tracked the rise and fall of the motordromes, citing the numerous deaths as well as revelations of fixed races as the causes of the decline of motorcycle board track racing.

By the end of the 1910s the board track era was largely a thing of the past. Besides the dangers of racing the boards, the tracks rapidly deteriorated and many burned down. A thrilling but deadly chapter in American motorsports came to a close.

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