This day in Louisville news: The past century

A couple of my friends from The Courier-Journal have been posting the front page of the past couple of days’ editions on social media. The C-J is devoting its front page entirely to the Forecastle music festival for a three-day stretch. Seeing those covers — and the design and photography are beautiful — gave me the idea for this blog post. July 15 is an ordinary day, and I thought I’d take a look at the front pages on this date every decade, going back 100 years. This is not critique of anything at the newspaper. It will, of course, show how our lives have changed, locally and nationally, and it can’t help but show how the paper itself and its role have changed. But the main thing is that it’s interesting and fun to do. And the middle of summer seems like a good time to do it.

As always when I delve into historical images like this, I need to recommend The Courier-Journal’s archives feature to you. At $7.95 a month, if you’re interested in history of the city, its as good a resource as you can find. Learn more here.

So here, goes. If you’re more interested in the pages, you may click on each for a larger, more readable, view.

July 15, 1917, one hundred years ago today. The big news was Georg Michaelis succeeding Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg as Chancellor of Germany. Hollweg was chancellor of Germany at the outset of World War I, and did some things in power that prompted the war. It may be said, however, that once he saw the war coming, he also did quite a bit to try to stop it. His successor wasn’t in place long. Michaelis lasted less than four months as chancellor. The front page of this edition is notable for other reasons — namely that the U.S. House authorized $640 million to build 22,000 war planes, at that time the largest single expenditure in U.S. government history. The paper also reported a decision by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson to ban German insurance companies from doing business inside the U.S. out of security concerns. The contents listing for this Sunday edition also included a story about “Whisky facing hard sledding,” (the 18th Amendment banning the sale, manufacture or transportation of “intoxicating liquors” would be passed five months later), as well as a “Junior Courier-Journal” for children and an eight-page Fiction section.

By 1927, the nation’s fascination with air travel is on full display. This edition leads with the takeoff of Ernest Smith and Emory Bronte’s flight from San Francisco to Hawaii in their “City of Oakland” monoplane. It was only six weeks after his first-ever trans-Atlantic flight made Charles Lindburgh an international hero, and one headline in this edition discusses plans to welcome him to Louisville on August 8, with J. Graham Brown offering the famous aviator a suite of apartments in his downtown Brown Hotel. The edition also references a rather new problem: The meetings and 60,000-word report on how to handle motorized traffic in Louisville, and planning proposals for moving forward.

Kentucky found itself thrust into national history on this day in 1937. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Johnson, the man who pushed New Deal legislation through the upper chamber, had died, and Kentucky’s Alben Barkley moved into that key position. In other news — with the Great Depression still in full swing, the city’s libraries were out of money. They hadn’t bought any books since Jan. 1, and faced a shutdown in the summer months before some payments were postponed to allow them to stay open.  And in the lower right corner, a sign of how much the local paper meant to people back then. If you called The C-J (its number: Wabash 2211), you could get the paper mailed to you on vacation, wherever you were.

In 1947, with Europe in the grips of famine and depression in the wake of World War II, the largest, most ambitions foreign assistance program in the history of the world was being presented to the American people. Here, groundwork for the plan that would take the name of U.S. Gen. George Marshall was being laid. Another post-war problem at the bottom of the page — U.S. sailors on liberty from a “good will” tour of England clashed with British police in London. Peace isn’t easy, either.

Civil Rights issues were moving to the fore even in 1957, when this front page examines a bill before the U.S. Congress, and lower in the page covers a Ku Klux Klan rally outside of Knoxville. Elsewhere, the U.S. economic boom is touted, speculating that the average American work week would soon drop to 37 1/2 hours, with the additional prediction, “The American worker in another century may only have to labor 7 hours to produce as much as his colleague now does during a 40-hour week.”

Racial violence, Vietnam news and trouble in the Middle East dominated this world-news heavy front page from 1967. In Louisville, burglary was spiking.

A blackout and resulting looting and violence in New York City captured news for a time in the summer of 1977. Locally, the University of Louisville continued its emergence as a state institution when its medical school gained accreditation, and a new concern emerges as a front-page topic: Climate change. In a story in the bottom right corner, the Pentagon commissions a study of climate impact, to project potential changes through 2000.

The Iran-contra affair and Lt. Col. Oliver North’s testimony before congress were the lead stories on this date in 1987. But there was some notable news locally — a new light truck line coming to the Ford assembly plant and stagnant population growth in the state also made news. Also noticeable for the first time — a narrower newspaper.

Biggest thing that jumps out from a look at this date on the 1997 front page, the move toward local news, or national issues whose main “hook” was a tie to local interests. A crime story is the centerpiece. And for the first time, in the left-hand menu of stories, a reference to “C-J online.”

A more colorful layout — dominated by The Police at Churchill Downs, graces this day’s front page in 2007. You also get a centerpiece story on concerns over the military’s treatment of the brain injuries of soldiers and veterans, as well as a couple of state education and political stories. The newspaper, once again, is a bit narrower. And for the first time (but not the first time in the newspaper’s history) there’s an ad across the bottom.

And finally, we come to the present. Today’s cover is a photo cover devoted to the Forecastle festival. The C-J didn’t do away with its traditional front. That actually comes on Page 3 of the paper. But the Forecastle front is a nod to younger readers, who the traditional media are courting right now, and it makes for a visually stunning presentation.


A departure

The offerings have been pretty sparse from these parts over the past week or so, and there’s a reason for that. Last Sunday night, Delbert Crawford, my grandfather, died at a little after 11 o’clock, at 102 years of age.

My earliest memories of him are of his hands. Holding some toy or other we were showing him, they turned it over, examining it slowly, deliberately. They were strong then, and rough, so rough that they would catch on a sweater if you were wearing one.

The morning of the day he died, I held his hand and it was as soft as a dream. A final memory.

In between there is much, too much to set down here.

But this is how it works. At a Senior PGA event the mind wandered to the accomplishments of old men. At Churchill Downs, it sprinted to him telling about riding his horse, Buck, to school, and of how the horse would take off when he had barely gotten onto him. He wanted to be a jockey for a time, but outgrew it. These are the tracks your thoughts gallop onto even when you need them to go elsewhere.

So tonight, a full stop to look back. I have written about him before in this space, particularly on his one-hundredth birthday, but also when I missed his one hundred second birthday party, and at other times.

He was born in the latter days of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, at the tail of the horse-and-buggy era, when this country had probably fewer than twenty miles of paved roads. Several months before he was born the Wright Brothers made headlines for keeping a plane in the air for more than an hour. Several months after his birth, Commander Robert E. Peary was hailed as the first person to reach the North Pole. Six months after his birth, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for its first race – of hot air balloons. Gas was six cents a gallon.

I have written about how my grandfather went west prospecting for gold as a young man, and worked herding sheep after that venture didn’t pan out.

What I haven’t written about is what kind of man he was, the kind of man, who, as my father, Byron Crawford, related about him in remarks at his funeral, refused a handicap parking tag when my grandmother brought up the subject after he underwent hip surgery at age 99. The kind of man who walked to the hospital the day his son was born because the snow was too deep for driving – but walked off the road, in the woods, so no one would think he needed a ride. The kind of man who, at age 97 when his wife took him to Lowe’s to pick out new kitchen linoleum, listened to the salesman talk about a floor with a 30-year guarantee, then a 20-year, before piping up and asking, “Do you have any with a 5-year guarantee?”

On his next-to-last night, I went back back to the house with my grandmother, Lucille Crawford, his wife of 67 years who truly is the major reason he enjoyed such longevity, and who attended him virtually round-the-clock in his final years. She pulled off a shelf his dictionary, and I leafed through it. It was worn with a duct-tape spine. He would spend hours trying to work “Scramble” word puzzles out of the newspaper, and had placed a mark next to every word he ever looked up. He wrote lists on pages, as if putting down markers for his memory – a list of places he’d lived and worked in Arizona and New Mexico. A list of his brothers and sisters, with numerals beside each name to mark their birth order. The names of great-grandchildren and the spouses of grandchildren.

After he died, my dad fished out a number of notes and letters his father had written to him after he took a job writing for the newspaper, long, thoughtful pages from those same hands.

I won’t be able to quote my dad exactly, and I wonder even if he remembers the exact words he said at the funeral service, except to note that these pages, just days before, had been mere thoughts Delbert Crawford had written down. But today, for us, they are treasures.

In his last days, he had trouble communicating at times, struggling to form the words. Who would have thought in death he would speak so eloquently?

I’m afraid there’s no tidy conclusion here, just a period on the sentence. As a young man, he worked in a movie theater, and said those cowboy movies helped inspire him to head west toward adventure, that trek in a Model-T Ford to search for gold, and later to herd sheep on the southern fringe of the Rocky Mountains. He told of getting lost one day, and of getting plenty nervous until he dropped the reins and let his burro go where it wanted – which was right back to camp. Among the slips of paper we read after he died was one that said the cowboy life was probably best suited to those who grew up with it, not those who chose it for the romance or adventure. Regardless, having lived all that life out west seemed to offer him, Delbert wound up taking a bus back to Kentucky from California

In those last days, I thought about him on that burro. It seemed to me that having lived all that life had for him, he packed up his tired tent of a body, laid down the reins and went on back home.

But as with his dictionary, where the marks of his hands show where he had been, he marked the trail of his long life with enduring expression and a postscript of memories.

Remembering the Four Chaplains

I’ve always been partial to the little guy in sports, probably because I was one. So today, I want to tell you about a little guy.

Clark Poling only weighed 135 pounds, but he loved football, and insisted on going out for the team at Oakwood Prep in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. And he did pretty well. He didn’t do it without some doubt. He’d survived an auto accident as a child, and still had the lingering effects of a broken hip from that.

But as a freshman his team went undefeated and he was a starting defensive back. He made a little bit of a name for himself as a halfback until he suffered a broken wrist and his football days were over.

It’s what he did after football, though, that needs to be remembered today.  Clark, like his father, went into the ministry, though not without some doubts. The day he was ordained, they asked him if he believed in the virgin birth. He paused, then said, “I do not disbelieve, but I am not convinced.” Then he quoted a passage of Paul’s about being ministers not of the letter, but of the spirit.

He graduated from Rutgers, and Yale Divinity School. He became a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church, married, and settled with his wife Betty and son Corky in Schenectady, N.Y.

He was 30 years old at the outbreak of World War II, and he decided to enlist.  In the same way he threw himself into football, he wanted to throw himself into the middle of the action. His father had been a military chaplain in World War I, but Clark told him he didn’t want to “hide behind the church.” He wanted to fight.

When his father told him that chaplains suffered the highest mortality rate of any servicemen in World War I, Clark Poling reconsidered. At Chaplain’s School at Harvard University, he completed his military training and met three other chaplains, with whom he became close friends.

There was George Fox, a 42-year-old Methodist minister whose 18-year-old son was in the marines. Fox had run away as a 17-year-old to serve as a medic in World War I, winning the Silver Cross and Purple Heart.

There was Alexander Goode, who had become a rabbi after graduating from the University of Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College, and had earned a doctorate from John’s Hopkins.

And there was John P. Washington, a Catholic priest from New Jersey who signed up as soon as Pearl Harbor was bombed.

The four became inseparable, and could be found having animated discussions often at Chaplain’s school, and later on the ship USAT Dorchester, an Army transport.

One soldier described watching them as, “Just like a football huddle.”

On Feb. 3, 1943, the Dorchester was sailing in the North Atlantic when it was hit by a torpedo from the German submarine U-223.

In the chaos that followed, the four chaplains helped to calm the men. They talked frantic and frightened soldiers onto lifeboats. They handed out life jackets.

And when the life preservers ran out, each of the four took off his own, and handed it to a soldier.

And they prayed. Each his own prayers, some Latin, some Hebrew, some English.

I don’t know what goes through a man’s mind when he makes the decision to remove that life vest, to literally remove his life like a piece of clothing and lay it over another man’s shoulders.

It certainly was a day that Clark Poling, one of the little guys who was born in Canton, Ohio, where now resides the Football Hall of Fame, earned an honor as high as any man can earn. (His daughter, Susan, was born three months after his death.)

Grady Clark, a survivor of that day, described the scene.

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

Others described the Four Chaplains as praying arm in arm as the ship went down.

A postcard with the pictures of The Four Chaplains, issued in 1948. (Click picture to enlarge).

All four were posthumously honored with the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. The Four Chaplains Medal was was established by an act of Congress in 1960 and presented to their families in 1961.  They appeared on a postage stamp, and Feb. 3 was declared “Four Chaplains Day” in 1948.

A chapel in their honor was dedicated by President Harry Truman in Philadelphia in 1951.

You can read more about them at Thanks to Don Roth of Louisville for his hard work in keeping their memory alive. He was faithful in contacting my dad every year about this time to remind him of the Four Chaplains, and got in touch with me this year.

The background information for this entry came from Dan Kurzman’s No Greater Glory: The Four Immortal Chaplains and the Sinking of the Dorchester in World War IIBuy the book here.

Text messages from the future

“Are you writing today?”

The text message came from an editor recently, but there was a problem. The date on it was Jan. 22, 2016.

I’ve seen TV shows like this. A guy gets a newspaper with a headline from the future, and is faced with a dilemma. Does he use his knowledge for good? Of course, nobody today could believe a show like that. Everybody knows they’re not going to have newspapers in the future.

But text messages, I can believe. They’re going to be around forever, like the wheel, certain diet beverages and The Simpsons. So obviously, in the future, I will still be expected to write. But what? And for whom?

Then I took a closer look at my other texts. Since New Year’s Day, it appears that ALL of my texts have been from the future.

Apparently, I still am forgetting to buy toilet paper in the future. And the usage “LOL,” sadly, still has not run its vexatious course.

I started firing texts back at the future, like some SMS supplicant at the feet of Pythia, petitioning a 3-G Oracle, or one networking with Bluetooth’s ghost.

“Who is president?” I asked.

“Barack Obama,” came the answer.

Remarkable. No doubt, given his current struggles he would be relieved to know that he somehow won reelection, perhaps because many of his opponents died when insurance companies dropped them from the rolls. I was about to ask more about this, but decided to keep it brief.

“Who won the World Series?” I continued.

“The New York Yankees,” came back the reply. Not surprising. Buying pennants never goes out of style.

But before I could get to the really good stuff, CNN rolled in with this story explaining the phenomenon: Microsoft glitch sends texts from the ‘future.’

And it didn’t end there. Turns out, the same glitch affected software at some banks, pushing the date ahead to 2016 and rendering debit and credit cards with expiration dates before then useless.

I’m a little unclear. If that’s my money from the future, doesn’t somebody owe me some interest?

Now, I’ve heard of sending yourself an email in the future. In fact, the web site, is devoted to just that. Fill in a message and the date you want it delivered, and you can send yourself an email 30 years down the road.

I forwarded myself this investment opportunity involving some funds trapped in Nigeria.  No offense, but I prefer to keep my talking to myself in the present.

I have to confess that I was a little disappointed to see the CNN report. Who doesn’t want to receive messages from the future?

Just to be safe, I hedged my bets in response. On the remote chance that I really did have a sports column for Jan. 22, 2016 due right then, I played it safe.

“Yes I’m writing,” I replied. “I’ll just do something on why Brett Favre should finally retire — but why he won’t.”

Exploring the handwritten word

Handwritten draft of a column about thoroughbred trainer Tom McCarthy. (Click image for larger version.)

Here came Ralph Waldo Emerson, on my first mandated day away from the Sports Page, expressing the very problem I was experiencing even as I read.

“To go into solitude,” he wrote, “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me.”

And to think, Emerson’s chamber didn’t even have wireless Internet.

The New Yorker was on the case, too. In a “Shouts and Murmurs” column, Andy Borowitz panned Disney CEO Robert Igor for the description of his “quiet time” he gave to The New York Times:

“I get up at 4:30 every morning. I like the quiet time. I can recharge my batteries a bit. I exercise and I clear my head and I catch up on the world. I read papers. I look at e-mail. I surf the Web. I watch a little TV, all at the same time. I call it my quiet time but I’m already multitasking. I love listening to music, so I’ll do that in the morning, too, when I’m exercising and watching the news.”

Quiet time isn’t what it used to be. Though, if Emerson is to be believed — and in my experience, he almost always is — it has always been a tough thing to find.

Even on furlough.

* * *

The problem is too many screens. If you sit down to write in front of one, a couple of keystrokes will take you to another screen, which often leads you to another. By the time you navigate back to your blank page, you’re like the guy who takes off jogging, runs too far from home, and winds up huffing his way back in a halting walk.

I know several writers who have hit the thrift stores looking for typewriters, or old word processors that have no other capacity. Others unplug the Internet from whatever computer they’re working on.

The notion of writing as a solitary enterprise is quickly abandoned by anyone who seeks to publish. The involvement of editors, proofreaders and even readers themselves takes care of that notion.

As Emerson was likely getting at, the writer alone at a desk is nonetheless dealing with voices that influence whatever he or she is writing at the time.

But a couple of weeks ago, the increasingly un-solitary nature of writing gained more meaning for me when the newspaper I write for installed a new computer system. With it, the stories reporters write are not only visible to everyone else at the newspaper through the system, but may be read at any stage of their development. If editors want to see how my column is coming along, they may simply click “read” and see where I stand.

This is nothing new in newspapers. Every once in a while, you write with someone peeking over your shoulder, and you get used to it.

The trouble comes when you sit down to write something that isn’t for the newspaper. More serious writing requires you to put aside the other screens, and the other eyes.

* * *

Earlier this year I was writing a piece while on a plane, and when the computer battery ran down I closed up the laptop, wishing I hadn’t had to stop working during a pretty productive little stretch.

Then I felt like an idiot. As it turns out, the antidote to tabbed browsing and power restrictions is pretty simple.

Pen and paper. This should not be a revelation. But for someone who has composed my newspaper work exclusively with keyboard and computer for 20 years, it marks a departure.

A fortunate departure. The initial obstacles to freeing myself of the distractions of the screen and the limitations of battery life — my handwriting and my impatience — were easy to overcome.

Any number of online refreshers for handwriting practice are available. A couple of half-hour stints of practicing letters was pleasantly calming. And I soon discovered that the more deliberate pace required by handwriting had, for me, more benefits than drawbacks. In fashioning the letters (not just writing the words), I found a more personal relationship with what I was writing, a more considered approach.

When I tried with a few newspaper columns, the columns were better. On a computer screen, words are cheap. They dribble off the fingers and disappear if they don’t strike the right note. Writing and revision are simultaneous. And set in professional fonts on a well-lit screen, it’s easy for a piece to look and seem finished when it truly isn’t.

I soon found with my return to handwriting that more thought went into the structure of the sentence itself. And that when the page is filled, it is a more tangible and, though I don’t like the term, living thing, than the page on the screen.

* * *

I didn’t tell them in the training sessions for the new computer system at work that, if they want to check up on the progress of some of my columns, they’re not only going to have to find me, but my legal pad. (At right is a sample of a column begun by hand. Click on it to enlarge it.)

I’m heartened that this quest for quiet and a decent method for getting the words out has been around for as long as writing has. Vladimir Nabokov used to write in his car, on index cards.

Handwriting is a dying practice, they say. Its instruction in many schools even has been replaced by “keyboarding” lessons. I know it may be a lost art. But in it, I found something.

POSTSCRIPT: In an example of the inescapability of work, not long after I decided to put together this blog entry, the big news in local sports broke, about a former player at Memphis was accused of cheating on the SAT, setting off a flurry of controversy here, where his old coach is now at the University of Kentucky. And what means did they use to decide he may have cheated on the test? Of course — his handwriting.

My son’s first poem


Henry Clay Crawford, age 4, woke me just before 8 this morning and informed me that he had made up a poem. It follows . . .

One, two, three, four
I declare a thumb war.

Five, six, seven, eight
open up the war gate.

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve,
Let’s ring the war bell.

Rather militaristic, but then, some great poems have been. His meter was good enough. His rhymes sufficient.

Good for Henry. Now if I can get him to write the Great American Novel at 5, I can retire.

My son's first poem


Henry Clay Crawford, age 4, woke me just before 8 this morning and informed me that he had made up a poem. It follows . . .

One, two, three, four
I declare a thumb war.

Five, six, seven, eight
open up the war gate.

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve,
Let’s ring the war bell.

Rather militaristic, but then, some great poems have been. His meter was good enough. His rhymes sufficient.

Good for Henry. Now if I can get him to write the Great American Novel at 5, I can retire.