Family Sketches From An Appalachian Diary (And Other Associated Mis-Adventures)
Remembering one 19th Century immigrant family, displayed through a rambling collection of light-hearted glimpses, as history sweeps these early adventurers across the chancy cauldron of post civil war America, straight into the twentieth century......a kaleidoscopic view of several in this group, particularly two fellows, Abe and Sol Hyman (along with their associates) as they manage to survive their many ‘head-scratching’ episodes in the new world.
RAISING THE CURTAIN
Who’d ever think ‘motoring’ these Appalachian ‘hollows’ between Virginia and southern W.Va. would be like chasing a ‘ghost….barely 1 out of 10 people we’ve now questioned has even the foggiest notion where that mythical ‘Pocahontas’ was ever ‘really’ located !!
Yet….. as we wonder where we really are, a state trooper suddenly materializes, points the way, and in nothing flat.....there it sits.....right along side that other ‘ghost’….. the ‘ghost’ of one hillbilly clan with its own ‘cliff-hanging’ choreography.
Caution! We’re not about to claim this is totally true; and sure, some of our own folks say they never heard this ….!!
Nevertheless, our story begins in a sandbox… somewhere near the Baltic Sea.
SCHTETELERS DISCOVER THE NEW WORLD
We’re told during the mid-1800's, it’s ‘old country custom’ to arrange family alliances through matrimony, so Grampa Joe (13 or so) is taken for ‘that long walk’ across the local ‘schtetel’ (town) to meet his even younger bride, who just happens to be playing in a sandbox that day, Miriam Lantor.
That’s how it all begins.
Nobody goes into much detail about this story until several children arrive, then this young Jewish father (along with many others) is indirectly given a choice...by the Czar of course...leave on a boat, or enlist for a lifetime of military service...an easy decision.
But getting ashore in America results in a very important development the first day.
Not one of ‘em can spell their name.
It sounds like ‘Hock Mon’, but who knows for sure? Somebody suggests ‘Hock Mon’ can mean you’re kind of a ‘high class guy’……then to everyone’s relief, the gate keeper happily writes it out, short and simple--–Hyman––and the official family history starts from this moment.
Yet, through all this excitement, Joe now has several hungry mouths to feed, so he quickly finds work erecting a new synagogue in Baltimore.
Poverty soon takes over; however, and after hearing some promising tales about Horace Greeley’s ‘call of the west’, he finally assembles his growing flock, faces straight down the track, and pushes non-stop to the Hyman’s ‘western boom-town destiny’.....But that’s this place!!??
“I’m kinda skeptical about all those killings; stories about 5 or 6 bodies on this street every Sunday morning. How could that be?” Someone asks.
“OK, let’s take a walk...you can see for yourself”, with that he turns. We all follow him around the corner,” it’s the biggest business in town”, he says.
It stops us in our tracks. It’s an ominous barn-like structure, ‘smack dab’, looking us straight in the eye, old fashioned lettering, etched in simple script:
After a pause he says, “yeah we used to pack the ‘hunkies’ up that draw, the ‘Pol’ocks’ down this road, the ‘nigras’ up that valley, and the ‘Jews’ over that there hill.”
“Wait a minute, my family lived right over that store and they were Jews!” Someone declares.
“That’s right, we made an exception if Jews kep’ a store”. “How do you know all this; you’re younger than I am??!!” Someone objects. “I can tell you anything you need to know ‘cause my Grandpa knew the Sheriff!” He says. “OK, but how could anyone control where people actually live?” “He was both Sheriff and “Grand Wizard”, comes the reply.
BINGO........ End of Q and A. Well, we hear a lot of tall tales these days. Every so often we gotta part the waters to clear
out the fog........right? Besides, he’s driving some kinda police car…. plus sportin’ handcuffs and a pair of pearl
handles. So maybe we ought’a humor him. But then as he rambles on, I suddenly experience some extra large ‘goose bumps’. He’s telling the same stories we’ve been listening to since wearing my brothers ‘hand me
down’ knickers in the 1930's ! And I’m hangin’ in that same ‘time warp’ all over again…. still hearin’ those voices…..
“Boy’s! Wait’ll you see this fella...he’ll spin y’ round or ‘my name ain’t Luther’”.
Suddenly, the Hyman’s shop door opens, all heads turn...and for sure, ‘Monkey Wards’ catalogue must be dead serious ‘bout convertin’ the whole ‘dog-gone’ world into one big Easter parade.
That fella’s a fashion plate from head to toe, and wearin’ the fanciest ‘buttonaire’ in the history of Pocahontas.
But then he starts to talk, and in such magnetic prose.
Nobody dares even one word to interrupt the magnificent dream he bestows in every direction. It’s as if the whole town has finally been invited to join the polite and pampered world we can only imagine as a remote possibility! And yet, for a reasonable investment, our merchants and citizens can now figure to profit, as never before, from this amazing personal opportunity!
The excitement that flows from this ‘silver tongued’ individual is so overwhelming, that even the hard pressed Hymans can no longer resist; so they extend their rare Saturday night hospitality, even as this ‘iconic’ figure describes next Mondays important business gathering.
The only problem; there’s not much space in the Hyman accommodation, what with eleven‘souls’ all sandwiched between two small rooms...and not many more beds than rooms.
Nevertheless, according to customary practice, he’s now welcome to share young Abe and Sol’s bed, which he immediately and graciously accepts.
To make a long story short, it all seems kinda’ sad for this stranger...particularly since they’re all sleepin’ in the same front- room above the street.
While Pocahontas folks are rarely mindful of the unique revelry attending the average Saturday night, there are certain punctuating moments that most strangers won’t easily find acceptable, especially when they have a front row seat.
On this night, one such event unhappily takes place directly below the front window:
“Pol’ock...just fer that, I’m a gonna kill ya...!!”
“No, No...Whadaya crazy now...!!?”
Abe and Sol’s bed suddenly shakes uncontrollably; then, without explanation, a flurry of hands and feet, dragging multiple blankets, quickly tumbles overboard, straight onto the hard-wood floor itself….
Then under the bed.
Followed by loud, heavy breathing …..endlessly…...
Eventually it seems there’s nothing much to be done...at 5:30 a.m. Abe hears a whistle.
“Train’s comin” he says.
With that, a giant surge takes blankets, hands, feet clear through the door and down the
steps...trailing a carpetbag it veers straight across the creek and on to the track...finally waving ‘long john handles’ on the run, it disappears quietly into the dawn...
“Why heck...he’s even showin’ us how to stop the through train...!!”
And Pocahontas is still waitin’ for that excitin’ Monday night meetin’.
1890'S AND BEYOND
Even near the end of a century, time flies straight ahead, and as it does, 1894 marks the long remembered ‘call of the wild.’
The night is completely moon lit, yet every step seems to drag or delay. It’s really late, so Abe and Sol have ditched the main road. There’s a chance they can short-cut this rail- bed back to Pocahontas. Anything to beat the daylight!
It’s a risk the boys are willing to take, especially Abe. He’s the oldest of the daring-duo and inevitably takes the strap whenever their Dad discovers skul- duggery. That’s because Joe Hyman’s from the old country.
And tonight is definitely the edge of the envelope.
For weeks they’ve saved and leveraged their ‘scrip’ to gain the sweetest fruit of all…. that first Saturday night in Keystone.
“Sol, better hope this night was really worth it!”
“Ask me this time tomorrow night...let’s see if we survive this short cut first!!”
The main problem for any ‘first timer’ trackin’ the rail in southern W. Va. is tunnels and trestles...even on a moon- lit night.
You can’t judge distance.
“OK, this is the long tunnel they talk about comin’ up...so Luther says to keep quiet and listen before we go...and don’t trip!”
Ever notice how a pounding heart picks just the right moment to blank out anything you
need to know?
“I don’t hear anything...Let’s go!”
One good thing about a loud heart though, it sets up a sort of cadence that blanks out all
common sense...so inevitably and after each danger passes, the only recollection most young bucks tend to keep is a good hearty chuckle...long afterwards.
“Well that leaves the trestle and we’ll be home in nothin’ flat” says a confident voice.
But what a trestle!
The boys in town all tell stories about this particular trestle because most of them have either walked it, climbed it, or fished under it.
The one thing they agree on…. nobody wants to share it with a coal train day or night... It’s extremely narrow.
“Sure hope the night train decides to take plenty of time...Let’s do it!!”
It’s a really long trestle and it won’t make much difference how carefully you listen.
Time is definitely against you.
Some of the locals call it the ‘Powhatan Cannonball’...with a sly grin, of course...it almost never runs on schedule.
Once they ‘hump and hook’, clear some switches, and signal ahead, it’s as if no one ever pays attention to the clock.
And there’s no such thing as overtime.
But tonight is really different. It’s one of those rare instances where whatever they do, the fates are on the job. Everything works out to the split-second, possibly due to running a short load, but split-second never the less.
This engineer, sensing the importance and rarity of on-time performance, has really been pushin’ steam. The best part of the Keystone stretch is ‘Long T Trestle’ and if there’s one moment for a good slide it’s gotta be right now, just as she’s coming up the break....the best and prettiest view, even at night under a full moon.
Bull Hardy’s been shovin’ steam ever since the war by golly, so nothin’ ever fools him, yet suddenly old age and bad eyesight catch him good, all at once.
Quick as a flash, he vents his steam, slams the brakes...maybe too late...just as two figures roll under the locomotive. He stresses...he can hear screams as the iron monster chews human flesh.
“Lord help ‘em”, he mutters, but nothin’ can be done. “Poor devils” he sighs as the ‘Powhatan’ heads for home.
“You hear what happened to the Hyman boys? I told ‘em they’re crazy to take that short cut. Got steam cleaned and coal burnt...but they dodged the ‘ball’. Anyway, Abe really took it from Ol’ Joe! He’s ready to leave town from what I hear”.
“Yeah, but Sol talked him into stayin’ and helpin’ with some kind of medicine business.”
“I thought Sol liked bar-tendin’.”
He did, ‘til he took ‘Snake Eyes’ apart...y’know...the time ‘Snake’ pulled on him.”
“Yeah, I heard, those two boys can’t stay out of trouble...one of ‘em’s always in a
hurt...remember that guy called Abe a liar at poker...Abe stoved his fist, but that ol’ boy’s plenty scared of Abe now”
“Did you hear what happened down in Whitesburg?”
“Now what did they pull this time?”
“Wasn’t nothin’ about they at’all. Just Abe peddlin’ off his wagon, so he stopped to eat. Some old lady and kid walked in and everybody left the room.”
“Lemme finish...she said ‘young man, you wanna buy me a drink’ and you know Abe...he said ‘why Madam, I’d be delighted’, just like he was runnin’ for mayor”.
“That’s Abe, alright.”
“Well, the ol’ lady never took her eye off Abe, drunk her drink, got up and left without a word. Then everybody came back in.”
“What was that all about?”
“That’s what Abe said to the bar-tender...the bar-keep said ‘Hell, don’t you know? That there’s Hatfields...they thought you was a McCoy’!!”
It’s a cold morning some years later as a sad group of nine brothers and sisters gathers quietly around Miriam Lantor-Hyman’s sick bed ,directly above the tailor shop.
Times hadn’t been easy for Ol’ Joe’s family and the shop.
Abe had always paid medical bills working in the operating room by helping Doc with injured miners...passing saws from dusty cupboards...washing floors and bloody buckets.
Ol’ Joe had passed away in debt earlier, not long after Sol’s medicine show had failed...Sol said they were stealin’ off the back end faster than he could sell off the front...so the jugglers moved in for food that month...maybe that’s what finally got Ol’Joe.
Nothin’ ever worked, it seemed, except the Mom had enough love for everyone, but even she was drained by hard luck and hard times. And now they’re losing her, too. “Boys”, she says, “I’m leaving...I have one wish and only one wish.” Complete silence... “Please, please promise me you’ll stay single and be responsible for your sisters…… at least ‘til they’re married.” And that’s all she said…… and with that she’d gone...!! -o-
Sadly, weeks and months began to drift ………….generating very limited enthusiasm within the group.
Yet, life was destined to change...
“It’s a ‘cockamamie’ idea to say the least.”
“What on earth is Abe going to do now? Does Sol know? Maybe sell Sol’s mule?”
“The store’s in debt; how thy gonna pay rent? Sellin’ a wagon mule ain’t the answer.”
“Abe says nobody can ever amount to anything unless they own some land; then he finds that little piece of dirt.”
“He’s the oldest ‘cause Jack and Sadie left...so he buys it; then he’s out in the back alley vomitin’ ‘cause he can’t even make the payment on time!!”
“They’re lucky the banker gave him more time. Abe’s a smooth talker I guess.”
“What makes it crazy is that ground’s about the size of a postage stamp...and they’re all just as hungry as before...”
As hunger grows, the back alley nightmare keeps repeating itself. But in the rest of the world other things are changing, unbeknownst to the good folks of Pocahontas...
Technological advances are happening all over the globe, and the U. S. Navy isn’t about to be left behind.
The great world powers are intent as always in building naval superiority by improving their steam driven, iron-clad vessels. No effort is spared by the great maritime powers for the purpose of holding an ‘edge’ in the tight competition that will always define national success in the global arena.
Concurrent with this activity, someone remarks a strange anomaly exists in one unusual vein of coal. While all other coal produces dark smoke after ignition, this unique Appalachian vein produces only white smoke.
It’s such an unusual phenomenon that one enterprising group quietly brings it to the attention of the U. S. Navy.
From this moment the story is easily predictable...while enemy ships are quickly detected by their black smoke long before enemy ships are visible themselves, no one can easily distinguish clouds from white smoke until our own ship itself is visible, and that can give our ship the long sought ‘edge’ in battle.
Yet naturally, while these exciting discoveries may be kept ‘Top Secret’ worldwide...it’s always a proud tradition in small towns that carefully held secrets never age very well.
Often times during rainy mornings in Pocahontas, there’s suddenly an overhanging haze...or even fog. It seems to represent an almost pathological desire for all concerned to escape the prison-like monotony represented by the surrounding hills.
On one such morning Sol’s good buddy Luther Mustard sticks his head into the door to ask Sol outside...even though it’s an invitation to get soakin’ wet.
It’s a nutsy thing to do and so under the circumstances it makes good sense.
Once they splash around to the back alley, which somehow seems to be stretching things a bit, Luther begins to whisper in a very conspiratorial manner.
“I can’t hear you, Luther!”
“Hey look Sol, it’s somethin’ I can’t say out loud...maybe you better come down to the Post Office tonight about 10 o’clock...this is really important.”
“Well Abe’s playing the violin in church tonight and I cancelled the card game...so it’s gotta be my lucky night.”
And with that, Sol’s first ‘Top Secret’ meeting is complete.
Yet…... later that night…..what Sol is staring at almost stops his heart.
The back room is dimly lit and totally closed, except for the janitors entrance, the only way Luther can bring them in.
On the table in front of the coal oil lamp lays the most astonishing document ever beheld in Pocahontas…….it’s a map.
It’s carefully depicting what is easily one of the county’s most useless, empty, sorrowful slices of terrain, well beyond the surrounding valleys...ground so remote that even young boys rarely bother to explore it.
Situated on this mass of useless earth, according to the document, there straddles a development that easily staggers the imagination simply because of its massive complexity and heart stopping importance.
Heart stopping because exactly in the middle of this gargantuan enterprise sits a little postage stamp of worthless dirt about which Abe Hyman had been vomiting his life away for several years.
“Now Sol, you need to know I was just cleanin’ up, when this here map fell off. Then it rolled open when it hit the floor.”
And there was nothin’ a body could do about that.
But, as time goes along, it doesn’t make much difference how many years you’ve worked in the Hyman shop...the front door always closes with a slight jingle. Nobody ever pays much attention to that ancient mechanism anyhow...they all ignore the fact and leave it alone even though it seems to work backwards.
One thing about that jingle though...sometimes a stranger walks in to ask a question...no jingle...they hold the door, and that gets everyone’s attention if for no other reason than it lets the flies in.
Then a voice says “where’s Abe Hyman?”
Everybody looks up, and the way these strangers are dressed it certainly draws up emotional memories of the long lost silver tongued guest.
But that’s just a momentary thought.
These two strangers appear to be on a mission.
Something very no nonsense...maybe even stressful.
And yet they’re smiling and extremely friendly the moment Abe appears.
“Young man” the tall one says, “this is probably going to be one of the finest days you’ll ever experience in your lifetime.”
Abe looks puzzled.
“I won’t beat around the bush, Abe. It’s my understanding you own a small piece of dirt down in what you folks call the ‘Sugar Valley’.
“Well Abe, I’m here to offer you more money than most folks ever imagine in their lifetime...what do you think of that?”
“I know you’re speechless Abe. In your shoes I’d be the same way. Anyhow, I’m here to fork over the grand sum of Seven Thousand Five Hundred Dollars to a fine young fella if he thinks he’d like to be rich...”
“Can you make that Seventy Five Thousand?”
So here they are….. and this train ride, along with most other events, is enough to make anybody’s head swim.....
After paying family debts, selling cash registers, and packing off childhood memories, it’s a welcome relief to follow Horace Greeley’s advice and really head west.
But endless winding through clouds of acrid steam and clanking rails in a standing room crowd will tend to “bum-fuzzle” even the most experienced traveler, and for these new adventurers it’s a total surprise.
Circling mountains or sliding through hollows sooner or later causes queasiness to take its own toll.....at which point normal minds reach new pinnacles of impatience......maybe even desperation.
And for such moments, while things are clearly in process of approaching critical mass, any relief seems totally acceptable.
And this is such a moment.....they all see it at the same instant.....
What they see is a vision of flat valley land.....valley land along the widest, most beautiful stretch of river anyone could ever imagine.....
Yessir! And this is good enough!
Simultaneously the whole group perks up. They’re definitely ready!!
“Isadore, you and Sam get down to the Baggage Car when we stop. The girls say this is fine with them–Sol and I agree–we’ll meet you at the wagons!!”
All aboard can barely suppress their anticipation as they experience the continuing shriek and grind of rail against wheel for the final mile on this trip.
In retrospect, a hastily chosen destination symbolizes the big end to one significant chapter; the beginning of which, though not of their own choosing was certainly their unique heritage.
At this instant, each has “that giant lump in the throat”!! Are they really prepared to set foot along this vast Ohio River valley.....to actually embark on the first live episode of their own personal choosing??
You bet.....It marks the beginning of their own real life in the ‘west’!!
SO THIS IS THE WEST
As legend has it, George Washington surveyed the Baltimore and Ohio road-bed down this river’s eastern shore-line to an attractive tributary, which defined the western tip of northern Virginia…… but that was during colonial times.
Years passed before additional surveys brought two new rail-heads to this same shore-line.
But that was after several upheavals…… the first resulting in the formation of a new republic; and next, the founding of vast numbers of new states.
When the dust of controversy finally settled on the new State of W. Va., this river junction then looked north to the majestic State of Ohio, and west to the beautiful State of Kentucky, all within range of one fisherman’s casting reel on a rainy day.
Next comes the story of one enterprising railroad tycoon, who was in process of bringing the Chesapeake and Ohio rail all the way to the Ohio River Town of Guyandotte…. yet who received a parking ticket for tying his horse in a ‘no tie zone’!
After some discussion whereby the judge refused to drop that fine, this entrepreneur promised the judge that Guyandotte was no longer worthy of his terminal, and what’s more, he, Collis P. Huntington, would lay-out a fresh plan for a new town next door and name it for himself.....Huntington.
And so he did.
This seems appropriate, as it was during the Civil War between the States, that Virginia itself had managed to split asunder into two camps.....one north, the other south.....and out of this came the new State of W. Va.....bred from the ashes of turmoil and conflict between brothers and cousins, and brought into existence as the only state in American history that was formed outside the normal constitutional process.
Stories abound of every day occurrences during this great conflict that attest to the independent mind-set and steely nerve of local inhabitants.
In one story, a farmer was warned that a posse of ‘rebs’ led by an arrogant official from Guyandotte was on his way to confiscate the farmer’s horses for the southern cause.
Therefore, the farmer left his horses quietly hidden in the barn.....standing in the feed room.
“Howdy Bill, what you and all these fellers doin’ out here?”
“We got bad news for you Carlton.....we confiscatin’ horses for the war.....and we gonna get yours too.....so where you gottem?”
“Heck, I guess up the hill. I leave ‘em out to pasture when I ain’t workin ‘em.....
Hours later.....no horses and they all left.....empty handed.
Years later after the war.....
“Howdy Bill.....’member when you came for my horses? You forgot to look in my
barn.....How come they put you in charge?”
With all these stories, and all this coal shippin’ into river barges, Huntington looked more and more interesting every day to these newly independent travelers.
So after their multi-faceted experience, it didn’t take long for these young entrepreneurs to see potential in a town where coal mine paydays sent what looked like thousands of thirsty workers tumbling off the rails.....straight into countless saloons and vaudeville houses.....week after week.
In the meantime, as seven Hymans are beginning their move ‘west’; two others, Jack and Sadie have recently set off to make a new world for themselves, however they can....and now they’re starting a separate life in New York City.
Jack has discovered his career.....fabricating pearl buttons for the garment industry. He soon establishes his own family by marrying a lovely young lady, Anne, who gives him two sons, Bernie and Arthur.
Sadie marries Herman Silberstein, a precise man of German heritage, who can teach almost any child to count with German numbers, effortlessly, and in one brief lesson. Before too long, Herman will be teaching his own children–Julian, Milton and Rhea.
As time progresses, Jack becomes very successful. During the termination of the famous New York World’s Fair (around 1900) he’s able to purchase the actual duplicate of Kaiser Wilhelm’s complete dining-room set. Most of this collection has been hand-carved by the Kaiser’s personal carpenter specifically for the World’s Fair.
Once this set arrives at his home, however, Jack decides the statuesque grandfather clock, apparently older than the group, still needs more ‘spunk’! So, off goes the clock to Tiffany’s. They soon customize a more appropriate golden facade to properly complement this spectacular prize.
But something else is happening across the ocean. In the village of ‘Stamford’ in England, there are three orphaned children sur-named Betts.....one girl with two brothers. They are soon to be scattered through-out the empire, a normal British custom.
The little girl, Elsie Mae, is to be settled with a farm family just north of Lake Ontario in rural Canada.
One boy also goes to Canada. The other, apparently, into more distant colonies.
In due time, these disparate events will weave themselves into a family experience that can only happen in the fertile culture of twentieth century North America.
An unwelcome surprise now sets in..... “Well folks, you’re new in town, so I guess you deserve an explanation.” “I think we do understand. We work here night and day……survive some record flooding
……build a solid saloon business.....and now you say the whole place goes dry!”
“You’re not livin in a town called Pocahontas anymore, boys.....church folks call the tune in this place.....and they just passed the ‘Blue Law’. You may think this is the ‘wild west’; if
that’s what you need, that’s still in Pocahontas.”
And he was gone.....
“Well boys”, says their sister Ricca, “seems we bought a pig in a poke after all.”
“Maybe so.....but let’s calm down a minute.....on the one hand, regulations say this store is no longer a saloon.....but on the other .....” Abe muses.
“On the other hand, this is a great location for a public business.....” Sol replies.
Once again this energetic duo begins to match ideas.....and.....wheels begin to turn.....
“Here’s a really great invention! Once people see you ‘promotin’ this gadget, it triggers a carnival atmosphere all over the whole darn county….”
“A fellow by the name of Marcus Loew is making a living by settin’ this contraption on store fronts in big cities.... seems he’s startin’ to get rich.....”
This kaleidoscopic device is aptly nicknamed the ‘nicklelodian’.....It’s the new hot trend; it shows cheap flicks; it quickly finds its way into the Hyman storefront.....and suddenly Abe and Sol are in the entertainment business.....full time.
Everybody’s ‘on board’!!
It’s ‘show-biz’.....It not only makes a living, it’s exciting, and there’s something else!
There are fifteen vaudeville theaters in this town, and one has big trouble in the rough and tumble of keeping audiences, due to all the competition.
So at the height of their enthusiasm, these two young men next decide to give vaudeville a try. They offer to take over the theater.
“What a surprise! That fellow couldn’t wait to hand over the keys when I said we’d sign onto his lease.....Talk about a ‘pig in a poke’....... we may have done it to ourselves this time.....”
With that, they go to work.....full time.
Day and night finds them personally scrubbing back stage, repairing drops, designing tab show signs, swabbing kennels, raising lights, painting fronts.....endless labor.....but soon they’re ready.
Opening week makes everyone curious, so out they go shaking hands, meeting customers, handing out passes, anything to fill seats whenever expensive talent hits the boards.
Aside from dealing with difficult musicians.....everything goes like clockwork.....opening night hits town like the ‘Powhatan Cannonball’, but bigger than that.....it hits Abe Hyman “hook, line and sinker”.....Abe is now a ‘theater guy’ starting this day, and for the rest of his life.
There are plenty of losers, but somehow they endure year after year, and while other houses begin to close up.....they survive
It seems the moment has finally arrived for Sol to become restless. Sol’s history says he can’t sleep until he pursues his own ideas aggressively. Furthermore, as Abe guesses, that’s all about to happen once again.
The war in Europe has finally ended with an Armistice
German economy in shambles, German industry out of luck..... with people freezing.
Sol goes to New York to see ‘Kuhn and Loeb’.....people who can finance big ideas. He has $200.00 in his pocket as he suggests their financing could allow him to ship American coal to Germany faster, and with greater profit, than American coal operators have ever experienced.
That’s because many heavy industries in America are effectively working together to keep their own fuel costs low by playing off one coal operator against the other.
Sol hopes he’ll ‘turn the tables’ on these big industrialists and make a ton of money for his backers in the process.
His plan is to hire inexpensive German bottoms (ships) whom nobody deals with due to bitterness after the war.....then tie up the coal operators at a higher price than American industrial interests are willing to pay.
They all connect with Sol’s idea, so he opens business as the ‘Lake and Export Coal Co.’ in Huntington, W. Va. with less than $100.00 remaining in his pocket.
Success is instantaneous, and it takes everyone by surprise, including Abe. Sol buys a two-story office building, straight across Huntington’s main street, opposite the County Court, and moves Abe’s theater office inside.
He calls it the ‘Lecco Building’ in honor of his new operation, but he’s so busy traveling it’s hard to find him…..even without the flooding.
“Sol, what are you doing out there.....?”
“Abe, see those freight trains passing through town every hour, I’m the one moving that
coal, and I barely have time to eat.”
“Where’s this going to go, Sol?”
“Don’t know yet.....talk later.”
And so it goes, day after day.....from the Lecco.....
It’s the early twenties, business is booming , people burning coal in Germany, yet some industrialists are getting hot under the collar at what’s happening to their own cheap fuel…. as well as dealing with some very expensive flooding in West Virginia.
So, in line with all this excitement, Abe and Sol purchase a large ‘flood proof ‘tract of land along ‘Four Pole Creek’, where Isidore agrees to design a new home for “the girls” who also seem tired of flooding… as they remind these boys to honor their pledge of bachelorhood.
Once excavation is complete, it’s now time to bring Erma, Ricca and Eddie back into town, just to view their projected home site.
Upon arriving at the celebrated site, Sol notices a frown on Ricca’s brow. Though a bantam-weight of 88 pounds, Ricca has plenty of clout in the Hyman family.
(From left to right) Back row: Erma, Sam, Jack, Sol, Isadore, Sarah Front Row: Eddie, Ricca, Abe.
“What’s on your mind Ric?”
“OK.....so pace off the size basement you need, and we’ll build a house to fill the hole.”
She paces it off.
The ‘boys’ look at each other. This is gonna take one helluva heating bill.......
But there’s another ‘heat bill’ accumulating for one of these boys.
Things are calm and peaceful late at the office, as Abe spies Sol quietly exploring masses
of Lecco ledgers.
Curiosity finally takes control, and Abe can no longer resist peering over his brother’s shoulder. Endless chains of credit memo’s indicate enormous success for Sol’s new venture.
After staring at incredible numbers, all indicating Sol’s astounding potential, Abe finally
clears his throat.....
There’s a long pause.....Sol deliberates his response.....but then, looking straight at Abe.....
“I’m having too much fun.”
But as events begin to unfold, the fun part is about to run its course.....
A few months later, the hallway at Sol’s downtown hotel always has at least one dark area,
as Sol approaches his room. Unlike show-biz, it seems hotel operators are generally inclined to save electricity.
As he fumbles his key into the darkened lock-set, Sol is totally unprepared for what lies on the other side of this door.
It finally opens.....
He fumbles the wall for the elusive light switch..... he connects..... light floods the room, but then.....
His heart leaps!!
“Who the hell are you?”
Two large men, both neatly dressed, stare quietly at him with the cool abandon of a cat..... hungrily contemplating its’ next dinner.
Finally one of them holds something up high.....it’s a badge!!
What kind of badge is that.....!!?? You better answer me or I’ll call the real police!!
“Maybe you wanna talk to us first. We represent people you don’t wanna mess with cuz you’re pulling the monopoly game.....”
“Just what do you mean, monopoly?”
“Let’s cut the bull before this gets outa control, Sol.....Our people know all about this ploy between you and your coal operators, so we’re here to save you a lotta personal grief..... We’ll make you a deal right now.”
“What kind of a deal?”
“You turn over evidence on your monopoly.....That is, the names of 100 of your coal
“For what purpose?”
“We’re gonna indict every last one of those guys.”
“And what if I refuse?”
“We’ll have you indicted 100 times instead of them.....’cause you’re a conspiracy!”
“Sounds to me like you’re the conspiracy.....get the hell out of my room right now..... and
don’t even think you’re coming back!!” But these folks aren’t kidding one bit.
It’s ‘fire, fury and thunder’, all hitting the fan simultaneously.....and the only thing saving Sol is the simple fact there are more coal mine voters than industrialist voters. So, with election time heating up, Sol luckily slips out of the industrialist noose.
Be that as it may, Sol’s epitaph to this adventure sums up the fate of the ‘Lecco’……. “Don’t ever expect to pay demurrage for thousands of car-loads of coal.....all locked up for 90 days.....and brother!! Abe sure called the tune on that one!!”
Fortunately he salvages his mortgage at the office, and ‘show-biz’ continues to operate.....straight out of the ‘Lecco Memorial Building’.....
Due to all this non-stop excitement dominating the ‘boys’, Ricca and the ‘girls’ had previously decided to try their own hand at the millinery business in Philadelphia……far away from the local flood warnings.
Yet after getting their share of ups and downs, it now seems obvious to the girls that domesticity is best.....and back they come to the big new house on ‘Four Pole Creek’.
But things will soon be different for the family…. in and out of Huntington!
Isidore is in love with Eva Simon, so wedding bells are finally on the horizon. It’s the first time for the Huntington Hymans, and all these new developments may soon require a second home next door.
Consequently, within a few years, the family roster sees the addition of both Joseph and Miriam Hyman.
Meanwhile, Jack Hyman’s boys in New York finally reach manhood, but Jack’s business
suddenly goes on the rocks. Then, Jack dies during a heart attack. It’s total shock for the entire family, especially Bernie, Jack’s oldest son. .....And so begins a new odyssey for this adventure bound family.
The tragedy of Jack Hyman’s life and times is not only the disruption of his family’s income, but the fatal heart attack that destroys a beloved Dad.....all triggered through the shock and surprise of sudden business reversal.
Either event can numb the mind, to cripple any normal family’s outlook for many years to come.
And the simultaneous impact of both events can easily traumatize an entire family for all their remaining years.
But not Bernie’s years.....that’s when Bernie sets out for California!
“Guys, since we meet out here every day.....why don’t we just save some of that ‘dinero’, split some rent, maybe eat a little more often, too.
Irv looks at Bernie. No objection there.
“OK Darryl, I’m for food.....your place has to sleep four at that price....so, I got a publicity guy in mind, and he likes to eat, too.”
It’s basically a team concept.
Darryl Zanuck comes up with some stories.
Bernie sets up with some cowboys.
And Irving Thalberg makes with the deals.
That’s how they survive.
It’s California where the weather collaborates and everybody makes movies.....
After ‘hitch hikin’ to see his two uncles, Sol and Abe….. Bernie’s excitement about the entertainment revolution had been so contagious, the uncles had ‘staked’ him for a couple of months in California, and the rest is history.
Movie production started shooting ‘out east’, but weather’s so unreliable there, it’s quickly evident that more can be done ‘out west’.....and for a whole lot less. That’s when the industry transforms itself, and the migration begins.
The excitement is made to order for these young adventurers, so they’re grabbin’ opportunity right now, and the best is yet to come.....
Shouldn’t take long, thinks Elsie, as her trolley clangs peacefully along Dundas, moving steadily toward High Park Avenue.
“Tis a beautiful day in Humber Bay. A Canadian refrain does echo in me brain” she giggles, as she savors the excitement of the upcoming event.
It’s Sunday in Toronto, a nurses holiday, and better than that, it’s family day.....At last she gets to meet her ‘Betts’es.
“I’ll settle into the ‘family bosom’ like everyone else”, as she contemplates the elusive happiness she so rightly deserves.
That everyone deserves.
It’s been a long hike from emerald green Britain, to the orphan farming in southern Canada, to nursing, then freedom and twenty-two.
And yet no family.
Except for brother Fred’s letters.
Then Fred went to sea to find his world.....
The trolley jolts.....”It’s High Park Avenue” she hears, as several passengers proceed her out the door.
Her heart seems to stop as anxious feet touch the final mile to the ‘family bosom’.
For years she’d felt this would never happen; she’d never ever find her real family again.
Shortly after the ‘great war’ everyone had celebrated as if all danger had passed.....but not so!
Something had gone terribly wrong, because dozens of flu cases were suddenly appearing in wards, many to die.
Then thousands, even millions, all over the world.
It seemed hopeless one day as the doctor finally came by, explaining to all girls handling bed pans that this was a world wide pandemic.....there was no ‘magic guarantee’ to protect any
human in that ward.....Yet there was one chance.....Wash hands constantly, and keep totally clean! Never touch your face while working that ward, and don’t eat food near that ward.....ever.
Miraculously she’d survived that ‘great nightmare’.
And now.....here at last.....is the door.
The door to the ‘family bosom’.
THE MAN WITH THE TURN-AROUND COLLAR
Mid afternoon is generally ‘prime time’ for the performance.
Right here in ‘Hickville’, lunch is complete, the morning push is over, and most everyone is “ ripe ” for a little excitement....... soon to be triggered by this smooth talkin’ promoter (temporarily clothed as a traveling preacher) who just now finished ‘posting-up’ this spectacular ‘highway- billboard’.
So.....switching on, he hand-cranks the T-Model. Once it fires he can easily slide into the seat, advance some spark, push pedals, and away he goes. Minutes later, while rounding a distant bend, he quickly spots the most gratifying sight of the entire day.
Next, twisting his collar to certify ‘proper configuration’, he changes course …… heading straight for the appropriate seat of authority.
“Mr. Mayor, there’s a Reverend Aikin here! Says he needs to talk.....He seems pretty
“Send him in.”
As the door opens, the Mayor is treated to the sight of what ‘appears’ to be a rather intense
‘man of the scriptures’.
“Is there something we can do for you, Reverend? You don’t look very happy to me!!
“Sir, that’s an understatement, if I ever heard one.”
“Go on Reverend.”
“Mr. Mayor, this is my first trip west. Moments ago, it was the happiest day of my life.....
but then I saw that billboard by your town’s main entrance.”
“What billboard is that, Reverend?”
“There’s a shocking advertisement on a billboard, just outside your town. Looks like
someone’s running a ‘bawdy house’ here, if you’ll excuse the expression, and you’re not aware of it?”
The Mayor is stunned!
“Reverend, I’m sure there’s some misunderstanding. That sign generally advertises vaudeville attractions. I know the operators, and I’d be surprised if anything’s wrong. This is a church town. We’d never approve of whatever it is you suggest.”
“Nevertheless, Mr. Mayor, I think you need to look at that sign. As a matter of fact, I feel it’s my duty to contact some of the local church people. I’ve a hunch they’d sympathize with my reaction.”
And it doesn’t take long.....within hours several church leaders contact the theater. The manager seems apologetic about any misunderstanding, but it’s common knowledge the upcoming ‘Sahara Ballet’ is purely art. Not only that, it’s highly complimented in leading publications all over America.
“We understand your position,” says one of several clergymen, “but you need to realize we have families in this town.....and families have concerns that big city slickers don’t worry about.”
“Reverend, we’re under contract for this event. Families don’t need to attend this ballet, yet our theater is obligated to run this on our stage. Otherwise, we could pay one heck of a penalty.”
“Speaking for our congregations, it seems to me there are even more severe consequences for those who destroy the morals of their own community,”comes the reply.
“Hold on fellows.”
It’s the Mayors voice.
Sensing political heat in the air, he’s quick to arrive at the scene.
And not too soon.
“Fellas, I’ve an idea that’ll be fair to all involved.”
And after some discussion, a compromise is finally arranged.
Within a short week as opening day approaches, the entire town is in uproar.
Newspapers are full of controversy ranging from artistic freedom to the sinister undermining of the entire community’s moral integrity.
After that, things are really at fever pitch! At noon of the appointed day, an excited population spills onto the Court House lawn, throughout it’s halls, and into the Court Room itself in such numbers, that even the arriving performers are nearly blocked by the cascade of inter-county traffic.
It’s up to the Judge to maintain order in the Court, but there’s so much confusion due to this unusual event that the subjects of excitement, the ‘Sahara’ girls are an hour late getting into the building, then into the dressing room, and from there into the private Jury Chambers in full regalia.....awaiting their introduction.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of Hickville… your Mayor has recently requested a special session of this Court in order to exhibit a private showing of this unusual performance in these Chambers as agreed by all parties to this controversy.
This is not a legal issue.....instead, this is a moral issue…..
So, after viewing this brief episode, both sides to the discussion will agree to abide by the decision of that delegation now seated in our Jury Box.”
The momentous effect on the audience is certainly palpable.....immediately after this clarifying announcement, the Judge, Jury Box, theater operators and many apparent dignitaries now stretch forward dutifully.....and it seems almost enthusiastically......in order to focus on all aspects of this serious responsibility. Barely seconds pass before several musicians begin their enticing ‘intro’.
Then, following a breathless hush, six petite, beautifully costumed ballerinas, quietly and professionally pirouette straight into the crowded Court Room, thus to perform the most intricate and artistic dance ever viewed in Hickville.
True, they’re tightly clad as are all ballet artists, but without the suggestive lighting of the billboard they appear about as pornographic as any hometown athlete flying through the last decathlon event at the local stadium.
The embarrassed decision is quick to arrive…….the show must go on!
That weekend, it’s standing room only at the local ‘hiccup’, but while management counts the loss of a few more grey hairs, ‘the man with the turn-around collar’ is five billboards and three states west of Hickville, just now preparing again to adjust his ‘turn-around collar’.
(And hopefully someday, with perseverance, to maybe become a distinguished U. S. Senator.)
CLIMBIN’ A MOUNTAIN
Abe, Vaudeville or whatever else we call it in these booming times.....”
“.....Has its exciting moments, right Sol?”
“Almost equal to the medicine show and wagon mule.....from the old days.
“More rewarding if we don’t mind the grey hair.”
“I almost miss the brass plated ‘Hymans’ you put into the Pocahontas sidewalk, Abe..... that way we showed off the shop just like Wannamaker’s famous Baltimore Store ....but with our own brass !”
“That didn’t seem to work very well, Sol.....You know, I’ve been thinking about all this excitement.....Maybe things will work out better in the long run if we can tie-up our ‘pick of the litter’ from the Albee Vaudeville Circuit itself.”
“Are you sure this isn’t a return to that John Wannamaker syndrome?”
“No.....this time we need to build a brand new theater right here, but to Albee’s specifications.”
And with that comment, Abe begins another exciting episode for the local ‘hix from the stix’, because he now realizes it takes more than publicity in the entertainment business.
Vaudeville’s more and more about competition.....with larger theaters competing for the few great acts.
Inevitably, with 90% of the big acts belonging to two major circuits, ‘ol’ man Albee eventually swallows up B. F. Keith’s Circuit and becomes the most feared Vaudeville power on
.....Which has put Abe and Sol on the spot, in Huntington, W. Va.
Things are gettin’ tight at the ‘Lyric Theater’, and if they’re gonna survive the new
challenge, it’ll take a lot of money.
More money than anyone has in a personal account.
After visiting local banks, estimating mortgage equities, projecting business income and
emptying the ‘piggy bank’, it seems they can maybe raise $250,000.00 with a little luck. So they make a plan.....
They need a guarantee they can lock up the big shows..... It’s called the ‘Albee’ franchise. The bad news is ‘old man Albee’!! Just naming that legendary tyrant is enough to transform any ‘normal investor’ into a lump
of salt. And at this point, Abe and Sol don’t even consider themselves ‘occasional investors’.....unless you include their personal savings in that same category. Nevertheless, this daring duo swallows hard as they set off for what proves to be the most hair-raising adventure of all.....the ‘Albee’ franchise. -o-
It’s a dark, forbidding environment. The pavement of New York City is festooned with the hopes and fears of visitors from all over the globe.....or so it seems this day, as two brothers quietly observe the pulsating throngs along Broadway.....
And they can easily picture themselves as representative of both categories.....full of hope, but loaded with trepidation!
As the appointed building looms into sight, these two country fellas pick up the pace.....can’t be worse than ‘Long T Trestle’, so on they go!
It’s a stressful elevator ride all the way up.....When suddenly it seems they’re physically ejected into that dark and distant tunnel from yesteryear.....Yet, overcoming all hesitation as before, they trudge this last mile to the dreaded solitary door.
They always recall the next scene.....
As the heavy door opens with monumental solemnity, an ancient figure, illuminated by a single shaft of sunlight, sits in total isolation staring directly at them.
So then it speaks.....
“Can I help you boys?”
“Yes, Mr. Albee” says Abe, “we’re interested in your franchise.”
A subdued silence..... “Where you two from? Show me on a map.” The log-jamb of hesitation is quickly released for the next several hours, as negotiations
proceed apace, followed by that momentous proposition.....
“How much money you boys got?”
“We can raise $250,000.00.”
“Fine, you go back to W. Va. And I’ll have Mr. Lamb send the drawings for your new
A feeling of elation ensues for the rest of the journey.
But this adventure has only just begun……….
Though Albee’s architect (Thomas Lamb) can only provide delayed delivery for the
Huntington drawings, the new Vaudeville project springs into action with enthusiasm.
The intricate corridors, the imported German air-conditioning, the monumental interiors, all represent ‘state of the art’.....the ultimate in Vaudeville design.
This exciting job presents only one problem for the boys.....once they finish the convoluted basement, the money runs out.
Fortunately, though ‘borrowed out’ at the bank, their luck still holds, and they find willing partners from the entertainment world, itself.
Then after refinancing, they suddenly uncover payroll problems, thus forcing them to replace bosses while supervising all phases of this complex enterprise themselves.
Even worse, the task requires extremely expensive European artisans; artisans who are totally necessary for interior finish, even to the last detail…
And while these episodes are soon be relegated to the past, they’re only the beginning of act one.....
‘Rumors’ suggest that before final approval, Mr. Albee himself will arrive to inspect and
O.K. the job. On the surface, this sounds routine. But stories abound as to how this ‘tyrannical legend’ casually orders the chopping of
$10,000.00 chandeliers from lobby ceilings, causing them to be horribly shattered below. Or how workmen are shamefully directed to sledge-hammer imported marble stairways,
simply because they don’t appeal to Albee’s personal taste.
“Sol, we need a plan if these stories are true, but I’m out of ideas.”
“C’mon down to the Railroad Station with me, Abe.....With a little luck tonight, we’re
about to institute a political solution to an age-old problem.”
Though the menacing train is clearly visible during its straight-in approach to Huntington, unlike their experience at ‘Long T Trestle’, this stress is not to be cured simply by ‘dangling’ beneath railroad ties.
Anxiety mounts as the belching ‘Fast Flying Virginian’ thunders across the platform and screeches to a grinding halt, mixing additional tension with billowing clouds of steam that completely envelope the platform itself.
Surrounded by throngs of busily arriving and departing passengers, yet hopeful this is not his final business Armageddon, Abe quickly spies that formidable apparition, who also seems to be ‘sizing up’ Abe Hyman through the same mist.
Successfully choking back an emotional implosion, he offers a courageous handshake to this intimidating presence, as Sol happily steers the whole group straight down Ninth Street and directly into The Prichard Hotel.
It’s a legendary experience for all involved, though to this day no one can accurately re-cap every activity at this so called ‘political’ event.
But whatever shenanigan takes place, suffice to say Mr. Albee is seen happily departing on the next east-bound ‘FFV’, apparently none the worse except for a possible slight hangover while the boys salute in relief that the brand new ‘Keith Albee Theater’ has finally survived this endless ordeal and is now ready for its new job!
But what a fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into. There’s an old saying, “If you want to become a millionaire, invest ten million in show biz, and pretty soon you’ll have a million.”
The boys have invested a quarter million and owe more than a million.
The math is ominous, but business seems good.
And as business heats up, they continue to acquire several theaters through-out the area.
However, certain locations do cause reservations. Having arrived from the coal field
economy, and not wanting to restrict themselves to W. Va., they now set eyes on Kentucky.
Yet there’s reason for caution in ‘Hatfield and McCoy’ country.
During one sociable lunch, a local friend, Sam Baron, pitches a real thought provoker,
“Boys if I owned Hazard and Hell, I’d live in Hell and rent Hazard”.
Sam always had a good penchant for clarification.
(Years previous in a rambunctious meeting with the W. Va. Legislature, and during a hot debate over building a spectacular bridge across ‘12 Pole Crik’, Sam concluded that argument by stating, “Fellas, I can damn near ‘pee’ across that puddle!”)
Even more thought provoking, there was always the story of the ‘Notorious Ben Bikkel.....He ain’t worth a nickel’.....Ben supposedly bragged about his dishonest ‘ticket count’ to one and all in the local Kentucky hills. And in true ‘us or them spirit’ the locals cheered him on.
It was so blatant, New York had to send in ‘checkers’ to catch Ben ‘cold ‘.
The trial created immense excitement in one of Kentucky’s most ‘Hatfieldian’ towns. Yet to no ones surprise, it ended in ‘not guilty’.
The New York lawyers, shocked and disoriented by this outrageous decision, asked the
local folk, “What’s going on in this place?”
“We don’t want New York Jews down here tellin’ us what to do” said the folk.
“But Bikkel’s a Jew”said the New Yorkers.
“Yeah, but he’s a Kentucky Jew”, the crowd shot back.
And that’s how things worked in Kentucky.....
THE ROLLER-COASTER WORLD
Nevertheless, as these important events are taking place, sickness strikes the family. Their sister, Eddie, becomes terminally ill and is moved to a hospital in Pittsburgh, where a
young nurse, Elsie Mae Betts, is in attendance.
Elsie has never before seen anyone quite like this Abe Hyman.
It’s true that in her nursing career every family tragedy can tug at the heart, and in a way
this sad experience is reminiscent of dozens of others from Toronto to Cleveland and now Pittsburgh.
But this time it resonates in such a way she feels much more than a professional sympathy for this sad but sensitive man sitting at his failing sister’s bedside.
Having been deprived of hearth and home herself for nearly 30 years, she quietly feels concern for what seems a kindred spirit in this lonely, strong face.
“Excuse me Sir, it’s so long since you’ve come in.....I’m just now realizing you haven’t had a thing to eat! So here, you need a snack. In case you’ve forgotten, you need to take care of yourself too”.
Time stops at that moment!
And then a most wondrous smile radiates across that sad kind face, and Elsie knows she’s
found much more than a kindred spirit.
And so does Abe.
But sadly now, the Hyman world is finally impacted by the loss of ‘Eddie’, the most
beloved of all family members.
Yet head-spinning events still have a way of piling on.
Even as the Hyman family mourns, surprising technology pulls off the most futuristic stunt
of the era.....A talking picture titled ‘The Jazz Singer’ (starring Al Jolson) suddenly hits the entertainment spectrum like a cannonball, and Vaudeville sinks like a stone…..
“Abe, there’s nothing more exciting than raising a curtain once the audience is sittin’ down. Nobody knows what to expect. Maybe he’ll break a leg.”
“Maybe he won’t show up, Sol.”
“Maybe it won’t make any difference.” “Well, we always ‘jack up’ the tab shows with silent movies, but since they’re all tradin’
places, maybe it’s time we jettison that whole orchestra experiment.”
“And Abe, that sound-track will keep more money once we get over our shock.”
Sol, once we get over our shock.....I’m fixin’ up another one for the family.”
“I think I know what you’re about to say.”
“Well, you’re no ‘spring chicken’ yourself, Sol. You need to think about marriage.”
“I’m too young.”
“Isadore and Eva are younger than all of us and look how wonderful Joseph and Miriam
are. Doesn’t that generate some excitement?”
“I’m too young.”
“What you’re doing reminds me of our experiment at the old Lyric, Sol. No matter what we did at the other theaters, folks really liked to hear that great big orchestra…. even New York couldn’t figure it out. Finally, here come the big bosses themselves, all watching the phenomena of their silent movies with our big ‘pit orchestra’. But they came too late, and it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“I’m still too young.”
So that’s all over with and time marches on.” “I hope so, Abe.” Soon after that, Elsie Mae and wedding bells finally conquer one of the daring duo. Yet, for all the excitement at the ‘back end’ of the ‘20's, not even the Huntington Hymans
are aware of dark clouds quietly hovering in the background.
A financial storm is soon to engulf the entire country.
Later on, few will agree as to the exact mechanism causing this financial whirlwind, which
surprisingly swallows half the planet.
Some will blame it on the ‘Smoot-Hawley’ tariff.
The ‘Smoot’ results in many industrial nations erecting their own ‘trade barriers’ in
response to America’s new ‘protective tariff’. Whatever the exact cause, the whole place goes upside down so fast that people are jumping out of windows on Wall Street, and ‘Hickville’ figures it can’t be far behind. -o-
About this time, showbiz contagion has pretty well spread through- out the family group, with no thought to geography.
From Bernie Hyman in Hollywood to New York singer Rhea Silberstein (now known as Rhea Silberta) to her brother Julian Silberstein, ( recently joining Abe and Sol in Huntington), it seems many in this clan have now ‘cast their lot’ with entertainment.
Consequently, the ‘buck and wing’ set, plus the ‘tycoon wannabees,’ all ‘buy the farm’ simultaneously.
This isn’t the first episode for Abe.
He’s back in the alley once again.
They all knew what could happen sooner or later ,because following their tremendous Albee investment, sheer luck had barely ‘saved their soup’.
Then came the ‘talkies’.
‘Talkies’ knocked off Vaudeville.....unfortunately Vaudeville was the main reason for Abe’s ‘hair-raising’ Keith-Albee venture.
So now comes the big ‘Crash’ itself.
And the final ‘up chuck’ behind the town’s number one bank, as Abe sadly contemplates the surrender of those hard won keys.
“I guess the Keith Albee is Abe Hyman’s monument to Huntington, W. Va.”, he says to himself as he opens the banker’s door.
“Well Abe, what can the bank do for you today.....You look a little pale this morning.....As a matter of fact, a lot of people are kinda’ pale this morning.”
Abe sets the keys on the president’s desk, “I think you’re going to need these, Charlie, so
I’m saving you the trouble of asking. We’re busted and that’s all I can say.”
“Hold that thought a moment, Abe, because I’m going to save you some trouble.”
“What do you mean?”
“Our bank is busted too.....As a matter of fact the whole town is pretty well under water, so
hang on to your keys, because we’re lockin’ up this bank today.”
“I can’t believe all this is happening, Charlie.”
“Neither can I.....You want some advice? You’re a cash business and it might just
work.....On the other hand, this bank is pushing out cash, just look at the crowd out there.....That’s total panic and there’s nothing I can do ‘til we shut our own doors at 4 o’clock.”
“Maybe I can help” says Abe.
“Let’s say everyone knows I’m a cash business in town and I show up with bags of money.”
“I carry bags in periodically and we’ll hold up the crowd while you slowly add it to the ‘till’.
“Minutes later you return it out the back door and in comes my manager with more money. Maybe that’ll calm the panic.”
“We can try it.” But it’s like stemming an ocean tide with a bailing bucket, and that’s history too. Still the banker is right. For a while the box office takes in chickens and eggs and even cash.....but the show does go
Years later, after reflecting philosophically on one of the most critical moments in American history, Abe concludes there are only two ways to owe money.....
Either don’t owe money.....or.....owe ‘so dog-gone’ much money, every one decides to leave you alone.
Rhea ‘Silberta’ rarely spends time in the mountains of Appalachia.
True, there are delightful distractions on the porch of the big house by ‘Four Pole’ Creek.....And everyone enjoys Aunt Ricca’s bountiful cooking.
But to a young lady, bred and born to New York City, country life doesn’t offer much in the way of adventure, regardless of hillbilly heritage.
And instead of the banjo pickin’ bluegrass culture so prevalent in the surrounding hills, her tastes now run toward classical opera, yet she concedes Vaudeville is O.K. too.
Additionally, her dream is beginning to come true.
It requires hard work, but Rhea’s talent has already been rewarded by several accolades as her career progresses toward the ‘Met’ in New York City. That’s a non-stop challenge for any aspiring performer, but especially this singer who strives constantly to battle throat irritation inspired by complex demands on strained vocal chords.
And that’s the prime motivation for this risky trip into the operating room as one of the city’s most eminent surgeons takes up his scalpel to carefully perform a most critical tonsillectomy.
It’s a particularly crucial moment in Rhea’s life, as events suddenly prove.
For just as this intricate procedure approaches its most delicate moment, the doctor’s assistant notices something unusual in his expression.
“Are you feeling alright, Doctor?”
Tragically at this instant, with the scalpel positioned in Rhea’s throat, his eyes suddenly roll-up and his dead body quickly collapses straight across her face, driving the scalpel deep into the larynx itself.
It’s a miracle, but Rhea actually survives a sliced throat with only one vocal chord remaining in her devastated body.
The body of a ‘has been’ performer, who, it appears, will no longer speak, much less sing again.
Or will she?
All over America things are going downhill!. At least one out of five can’t find a job, yet the railroads are carrying loads of folks.....but
mostly on top or inside their boxcars. Hobo towns spring up across the continent, especially along river banks and rail yards. West Virginia has one unique advantage because people garden and hunt, so they ‘stay
put’. For entertainment, more and more folks listen to this new ‘radio’ thing. There’s a couple
of new fellas named ‘Lum and Abner’ on ‘WLW’ from Cincinnati.....that’s 150 miles away. With all this free radio listening, more dire predictions roll out for ticket sales. But now something interesting takes place. ‘Lum and Abner’ begin to receive increased fan mail from way up-river in W. Va. There’s a theater in Huntington with almost 3,000 empty seats, so ‘WLW’ decides on a
crazy experiment. And what happens next hits everybody in radio and theater like a bombshell. The experiment goes completely out of control. The theater fills up immediately, yet that’s nothing. Traffic jams-up crossing the river; there’s only one bridge from Ohio. Dirt roads” back-up” coming from Kentucky. The downtown is almost overwhelmed with people from three states and all over the
region. ‘Lum and Abner’ are stunned! ‘WLW’ is amazed! Abe and Sol are speechless.....
Instead of radio puttin’ theaters out of business.....that medium puts them back into business.
Instead of “Lum and Abner” being described as a local talent, they’re now a national phenomenon.
And ‘WLW’ creates a legendary success because the destitute Keith-Albee Theater, for one day, actually participates in showbiz history.....while America continues to slowly mend itself as well, inspiring the ‘Keith’ to bring even more ‘country’ to the valley…….
Still, it takes more than a few stage shows to keep doors open for 3,000 seats. And that next phenomenon is pretty well destined to make everybody’s day. It’s called ‘Bank Night’.....
“Julian, I think east coast theaters are on to something; why don’t you head out there.....Let’s get the audience count on that new ‘Bank Night’ program.”
“And I’ll say hello to Rhea, Abe! Here’s hoping she can rebound after all those vocal exercises she’s inventing.”
“Let me know on both counts, but if anyone can reinvent their own voice, Rhea can.....”
Ironically, it seems the whole country hopes to reinvent itself with something called the ‘New Deal’ featuring President Roosevelt at the throttle..... yet with only apples and eggs, plus limited nickels and dimes at the box-office, it appears the Keith-Albee is now about to accomplish that gigantic melt-down so long predicted by its own debts.....it certainly has a ton of company, including almost every man on the street, not to mention businesses as well as local and state governments.
And that’s when Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ comes in the door.
Thanks to national desperation, Roosevelt invents programs that only the federal government can afford. These include ‘temporary jobs programs’ which are largely financed by long term treasury debt and ‘expansion’ of the federal money supply. Additionally F.D.R.’s new Home Owner’s Loan Corporation creates temporary guarantees for struggling home- owners, reversing that frightening exodus toward box-cars for thousands who normally earn an honest living.
But local governments don’t operate a ‘monetary printing press’, and they’re expected to meet their debts somewhat more painfully. Furthermore, their Ohio River Bridge tolls are shortly set to expire, so desperation now threatens the coffers of this local jurisdiction in W. Va.
Consequently, while the federal government is creating new liquidity, certain isolated regional governments must move quickly to maintain their own liquidity by whatever legal mechanism is available to them, and to keep this desperately needed income, these particular locals might just refinance their operations by either borrowing against or selling their own bridge.....that’ll continue revenue from the bridge itself, according to a unique idea from Sol Hyman, who is accustomed to ‘thinking outside the box’.
Sol’s solution helps save the day for local government revenues, and Sol’s commission temporarily does the same, for Abe’s business.
It’s another narrow escape for the boys, yet it buys just enough breathing room to implement the new ‘$1,000 Bank Night’ promotion.....a promotion that’s resurrecting almost every ‘gingerbread palace’ in America, where for a few nickels and dimes, surrounded by luxury, anyone can fantasize a comfortable life, and maybe win a fortune.....or at least $25.....!!
So all hands now decide to ‘stick tight’ regardless of steadily disappearing screens whose loss could easily de-rail the entire movie industry...... hopefully betting that “F.D.R.” and ‘Bank Night’ will surely save them all.
And that’s a good bet.....
Because whatever ‘ghosts’ protect Abe and Sol, it seems the same benevolent ghosts protect Bernie.
It doesn’t take long for movies to get with the optimism, happily ranging from Shirley Temple and ‘Our Gang’, to Charlie Chaplin, Andy Hardy and even ‘Crime Doesn’t Pay’, where the bad guys get their’s in the end.
Excitement and ‘Bank Night’ begin to pack ‘em in, along with ‘Ziegfield’ and all sorts of comedy and farce as Hollywood pumps positive thoughts toward its hungry audience.
“Sol.....it seems like a miracle.....Bernie Hyman’s connecting with W. Va. again”
“I hear he’s about to be involved somehow with producing Pearl Buck’s classic, ‘The Good
Earth’, and she’s a West Virginian.” “Book it as soon as you can Abe, or we’re both in the family dog house……..” It appears Bernie and his former room-mates are all prospering as never before, while the rest of the world, including these boys, can only dream their debts away.
“Say, Julian….. Elsie tells me she took our Jack and Eddie to see your son Howard’s new model airplane project.....Ed’s so excited he wants to build his own airplane.”
“And Abe, would you believe, Howard just entered that same model in its fourth contest.....it’s like he’s in perpetual motion, yet, to top it off, he keeps winning,” says Julian.
But then comes a miracle.....the grand prize!
“Is this really happening?” Howard asks himself as the legendary ‘Fast Flying Virginian’ slowly lurches through the semi-tropical night.
“It’d be nice if they’d douse that bright light so a fella could maybe catch a little ‘shut eye’, but who’s able to sleep??!! I guess only one thing matters, and that’s the great Roscoe Turner….. and Turner probably rubs elbows with the other pilots.....Lindbergh, Post, Rickenbacker! Heck! Since we passed Washington... it’s almost daylight.....sleep’s only an after-thought any- way.....besides everyone knows air mail pilots don’t waste much time sleeping.....neither does air mail..........just think about it...............letters get there faster than all these people....................and postage only costs a few pennies.........................
So then he sleeps.....
It’s hard for the family to realize, but Julian’s son, Howard, just turned a hard won challenge into an extraordinary adventure, and the unique sounds and smells on this ‘galloping’ rail-car give him a much stronger sense of anticipation than anything he’s ever seen at the movies.
It’s only months since Howard completed the ‘Waco”, showed it to his cousins, entered several competitions, and to his own amazement, won ‘em all.....including the national!!! So now’s his chance to fly with the great Roscoe Turner himself!!!
In a real airplane!!!
Suddenly there’s a jolt! As he wakes up, his sleep filled eyes ‘spot’ a dark tunnel outside! It’s packed with trains and teeming with all sorts of subterranean activity, in stark contrast to his own coach, which is vigorously draining off its few remaining passengers!
“Allll-up cuz Penn-Station’s y’ last stop,” chants a porter’s voice....so Howard quickly grabs his overnight bag, then straight for the exit himself!
“This beats all that monotonous locomotion”, he chuckles as he’s quickly escorted by hundreds of surrounding feet happily pounding stairways straight into such a cavernous terminal that in Howard’s eyes, it could easily qualify as one of “the seven wonders of the world” (.....un- less compared to an airplane ride!!)
Then follows an overwhelming visual expedition through that mammoth extravaganza commonly described as the greatest metropolis on earth. Yet, with all these distractions, Howard still manages to ‘show up’ on time!
But as he reaches the designated hangar, could there be a mistake? Very large open areas containing little more than silent wind blown grass, with distant crackling engines…..that seems a sudden let-down compared to the recent cavalcade of stimulating sights and sounds.
Yet, then he understands.....
This is part of the hypnosis that captivates; that draws you in; that catapults ‘special’ people
into the clouds and mesmerizes them into that fraternity from which there’s no hope of return.
This is aviation.....
“Is your name Howard?”
There’s nothing like that make-believe moment the instant you turn your head and reality
hits your eyes ‘full tilt’…. but maintaining ‘wings level’ attitude.....that’s the best part.....a big smile breaks across both faces simultaneously.
“I’m Howard, Mr. Turner.”
At such a moment, there are no words to adequately describe those incredible emotions for anyone lucky enough to take that first leap above the clouds with one of this world’s great aviation icons.....open cockpit, helmet, goggles, then straight up to heaven itself.....!!!!
And as they finally return, even Roscoe senses it’s too soon for this young man, and so comes the best part, “Son, where you from?”
“Huntington, W. Va. Mr. Turner”.
“I’m going west, Howard, and Cleveland’s my first stop. You’re on your own from there.....you wanna ride?”
“I got my bag packed Mr. Turner!”
“Good, we’re taking that other ship over there, see you in thirty minutes”.
In some ways this other airplane looks bigger, yet has only one cockpit. Additionally it has one side window ahead of, but below the cockpit.
“Two different airplanes in one day, then New York to Cleveland .....life can’t get any better than this”, he reflects to himself as Roscoe, arriving with map in hand; signals Howard to climb up first.
Like everything else.....a really new experience.....but now, something totally unexpected! As Howard lowers himself into a separate but spacious compartment, there’s a powerful stench followed by abrupt movement in the shadows.....
He’s out in a flash!
“Mr. Turner, there’s a lion in here!!”
“Oh yeah Howard, he’s my mascot, he won’t bother you.....go ahead and strap yourself in.”
A full day if there ever was one.....
FLOOD RELIEF TO COMIC RELIEF
Whenever spring rains sabotage the Ohio Valley, most drivers ‘get set’ for the usual delays as ‘tricky’ roads often appear to submerge themselves ‘on purpose’ simply to make life inconvenient.
Generally these problems are confined to outlying counties, but they also include the ‘Four Pole’ and ‘Twelve Pole’ areas, so everyone plans accordingly.
Yet 1937 seems unusually wet, so much so, the Keith Albee’s chief technician E. K. Pullem decides to try some complicated math, just to satisfy his own personal suspicions. ‘Eukey’ is well qualified in river calculations, so when he mentions his concerns to Cecil Tipton, the general manager, both men head for the ‘Lecco’.
The outcome of this meeting creates some local hilarity; since for no apparent reason in downtown Huntington, a sandbag blockade at the Keith Albee seems kinda strange, even as a publicity stunt!
Then comes the football team, accompanied by Howard, as they quickly begin lifting auditorium seats straight up to the balcony.
Public jocularity soon becomes anxiety, however, as river levels rise with a vengeance. After that it doesn’t take long for the on-rushing deluge to quickly transform main avenues into boat canals, even as large pianos accompanied by other personal effects suddenly head down-stream with the current.
Even more alarming, as water levels continue ever higher, the temporary sandbags actually become questionable. If the sandbags collapse, the overwhelming torrent might suddenly burst the interior structure itself; therefore the most difficult decision; invite the water in, but slowly.
At it’s maximum height the mud-water completely inundates all downtown theaters including the ‘Keith’ up to seven feet above stage level, and Abe’s house at ‘Four Pole’ sees the river barely three steps below Elsie’s kitchen.
It’s the ‘1937 Flood’, the high point of misery for the Depression Years in the Ohio River Valley, and it triggers such powerful political momentum, it eventually results in the long overdue construction of Huntington’s well deserved flood wall.
But a different sort of flood relief is about to arrive for several fortunate members of this hard pressed family.....
Julian has an opportunity in Hollywood, according to Bernie who has become quite successful as the co-producer of ‘San Francisco’ starring Clark Gable. Hollywood careers are not only tempting, they’re difficult to turn down, so Julian departs with everyone’s blessing, and it doesn’t take long for the west coast to become ‘an incredible dream’ for these new arrivals when months later Julian, his wife Rose, and Howard all find themselves departing Bernie’s elaborate estate, rounding the lake, then exiting once again into an astounding world.
To add a clever perspective, someone jokes, “from flood stage to sound stage” which in turn prompts Julian to think quietly ‘.....yet center stage surely put Bernie on the spot today..... Bernie’s forced to cut short his own dinner party.....simply because of a studio emergency.....!!’
“Bernie pays his dues like everyone else”, Julian finally remarks while steering downtown, remembering Bernie’s obvious disappointment after the unplanned surprise.
Glamorous as it appears, Julian’s new responsibility as second unit production manager is also quite demanding as he constantly reorganizes important ‘hands on’ logistics for upcoming film locations; and unlike many jobs, there’s little chance it’ll ever become routine, as Bernie has just illustrated.
Fast as life moves for both Bernie and Julian, the same excitement grabs Howard as he quickly focuses on studies at U.S.C. where he scrambles to succeed at math, the preferred course .....particularly for pilots!
Yet, now’s the time for even more exciting Hollywood moments.....
It isn’t long before Howard discovers Sunday afternoons can be spent drinking milk-shakes while Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart enjoy similar refreshments at the opposite end of that same soda fountain.....and Howard pretends to take it all for granted.
Eventually, Julian and Rose settle comfortably into the San Fernando Valley, their kitchen window looking directly into Lucy and Desi’s back porch. Inevitably the two households finally connect as close friends, neighbors, and even peace-makers, during some stormy Lucy/Desi interludes while family friendships continue to blossom.
It’s the beginning of many fascinating years for Julian’s family.
But with all the west coast excitement, the Ohio River has also left its’ calling cards (some of which will never leave the ‘Keith’) and the clean-up of Huntington, W. Va. now begins.
It’s one more set-back for the boys, and like most everyone in this unpredictable period, they continue to dig out, one day at a time.....just happy to be dry on a Sunday afternoon.
Still, with this ‘roller-coaster’ providing so many distractions, how many participants could even bother to contemplate that other world lurking well beyond their own distant shoreline?
Though ‘Movie-Tone News’ will give a weekly glimpse into the usual Asiatic problem or the spectacular Ethiopian calamity, these are isolated events, and thus of limited interest to the surrounding hills..........so perhaps it’s understandable at this particular moment, as many in Huntington are barely recuperating from some of their more recent exertions, that the British Empire should suddenly contrive a unique way of paying the hills a visit.
In spite of English actor Charles Laughton’s exclamatory gasp of admiration for the Keith Albee, “Gawd, what a magnificent cat-house”, carelessly uttered before entering its enormous stage for his memorable Hickville performance.....hardly a single local has given one serious thought to Britain’s strategic perils.
But then, at this critical moment, Elsie Mae ‘steps into the breech’ to make-up for the absence of her long ago countrymen.
It’s a routine semi-private affair involving the usual supporting cast of family and friends; an occasion where separate conversations seldom intrude.....yet during one solitary lull, a comical voice is distinctly overheard in jest, “And it appears the stubborn Brits may actually need to do business with Mr. Hitler after all.”
The resulting cacophony from the crash of knives and forks quickly focuses shocked attention toward what moments before had been Elsie’s peaceful representation of ‘Jolly Old England’ during some friendly laid back ‘palaver’.....but then, “.....By gawd, you don’t know the British Empire.....the British have never surrendered and never will!!”
After which, with everyone’s mouth agape, she departs the paralyzed gathering with such resolution, it’s easily apparent that Mr. Hitler is soon to have a serious problem after all.....
Furthermore, it isn’t long before certain events prove the accuracy of this forthright prediction.
Until this year many Americans have been satisfied to contemplate that ‘gathering storm’ with reserved curiosity, but once the storm actually does break, ‘Bundles For Britain’ and ‘There’ll Always Be An England’ will quickly be introduced to the hill country, eagerly assisted by the enthusiasm of Elsie Mae.
An enthusiasm that will soon be energized from singular events half-way around the world.
However, notwithstanding the international drum-beat, Abe and Sol’s more pressing problems are beginning to ease.....thanks to ‘Bank Night’.....but also because the Ohio River for the past two years has finally made a decision to remain in its’ own designated channel.
Occasionally Abe still okays eggs and chickens at the box office; but other than that, his unique order to ‘never disappoint a child’ is the only emergency procedure still in effect.
And since there’s welcome relief at last, occasionally the boys now feel a need to inject some additional excitement.....and their State Theater is always happy to oblige in that category.
The ‘State’ features mostly westerns, attracting all the Hopalong Cassidy, Bob Steele, Gabby Hays fans from as far back into the woods as possible.....with a few Dick Tracy, Don Winslow voters thrown in.
To Abe, this theater begs for upgrade.....so here come the positive changes including new wash basins, lobby chairs and planters, carpeted aisles, and even general clean-up and fumigation.
To the customers, that spells disaster.
And after several months of collapsing receipts, the new word comes down..........reverse everything..........ease off sanitation and get rid of the frills!!
Business now returns, as if nothing had ever happened. Yet there’s still plenty to talk about.....
According to one unconfirmed story from Al Cross (Huntington’s legendary theater manager, otherwise known as ‘the Mayor of Fourth Avenue’) it seems a brand new 1930's cowboy actor by the name of John Wayne happily tours into town with one of Wayne’s first ‘westerns’, all set for a big personal appearance on Al’s stage.....consequently (and due to customary practice) a theaters first obligation is always to provide sustenance for its various stars, so Al is immediately cleared to get Wayne some first class cuisine.
Naturally, Al invites the star upstairs to his own Orpheum Theater apartment where Al’s mother proceeds to cook dinner for all three.
It’s a fine arrangement, of course, and no surprise that Wayne makes a top-notch impression on Al, who, next day, just to verify his own judgement, asks:
“Well Mom, what did you think of that new cowboy?”
“Son, next time you bring one of your cowboys in here.....please get the horse manure off their boots!”
So, with plenty of fun and chuckles at the ‘State’, Huntington can still enjoy its’ own day to day struggle toward solvency.
Unfortunately, there’s another brand of excitement brewing as the ‘comical’ Mr. Hitler invades Poland, while most of the world slips temporarily into denial.....most, that is to say, except for England.....along with a handful of allies on that continent.....allies who are soon to disappear, leaving England alone to confront a horrendous fate.
A BRITISH SEA STORY
An impatient crew dubs her ‘The Slumber Bob’.....the really superstitious ones complain at this speed they‘ll probably be ‘overhauled’ by ancient sailing ships themselves, quietly ‘bobbing’ beneath some rolling tides from out of the past.
The freighter’s maximum performance of 7 knots requires excessive fuel; thus, the economics of hauling copra out of Singapore demands even slower speeds and additional patience on the part of this retired naval person (as well as his crew) particularly while he commands this interminable voyage, as they plow endlessly southwest across this vast Indian Ocean.....with no land-fall in sight.
And the crew’s superstitions are soon to be realized, but not because of ghosts.
Seven days out, the captain receives a cable.....”Beware possible German Raider..... shipping lanes.....Indian Ocean.....”
‘Able bodied seaman’ Fred Betts, Elsie’s brother, is quietly performing lower deck duties as the news filters down.....”Distant smoke on the horizon!” It’s always welcome relief anytime scuttlebutt breaks up the routine, so most hands ease up top for a ‘bit of a peek’.
What the captain now spies are a series of flashes, blinking international code.....”Stop immediately, we have important message for you”.
“That’s no Englishman”, he concludes, as he orders ‘Number Two’ to hoist Stars and Stripes, toss British papers, and proceed at full speed.
Unfortunately, ‘Number Two’ is so excited he heaves American papers by mistake.
In nothing flat, this juggernaut, showing the fraudulent colors of a ‘borrowed British Union Jack’, decides to make it painfully obvious that Fred’s 7 knot tub will never escape the clutches of what has now been clearly recognized as the 30 knot German ‘Pocket’ Battleship “Admiral Scheer’.....
.....And finding its’ demands totally disregarded by Fred’s 7 knot steamer, the ‘Scheer’ quickly places one resounding shot straight across ‘Slumber Bob’s bow.....the classic final warning.....Stop or else!!’
But this ‘retired naval person’ sailing under his own misleading banner has different ideas .....and without hesitation, orders his single-shot five pounder deck gun to fire straight across the ‘Scheer’s bow.
Stunned with disbelief at the audacity of his own commander, but not fooled by the impending consequence, Fred dives behind the nearest cargo hatch, and just in time.....within seconds, ‘Slumber Bob’s” forward mast, part of the funnel and much of the super-structure completely disappear as the ship rolls dead under a thundering fusillade of fire and steel.
It takes only minutes before Fred and eleven others are prisoners of the Third Reich, herded into a small cubicle with one toilet, and days later, with additional survivors instructed to ‘enjoy’ the hospitality of the ‘Scheer’ for several weeks (dodging icebergs) before off-loading into a prison ship at Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Once transferred, Fred and scores of others spend weeks chained inside the prison ships’ dungeon.
Only after arriving at Bordeaux, France, thence to Bremen via ‘cattle-train’ is Fred allowed to write his sister.....marking the official beginning of World War II for Elsie Mae, well before certain events at Pearl Harbor.....
About this time, the ‘give and take’ of film production bears heavily on Bernie Hyman, and one evening, while visiting Julian, he quietly agonizes over a studio decision of great consequence. The discussion lasts far into the night before Bernie finally accepts the wisdom of investing in an exciting new venture.
But a few days later, to Julian’s complete surprise, Julian reads in the newspaper that Darryl has apparently made that very same decision, resulting in the merger of two studios.
Confused by this development, Julian rings up Bernie to ask why he actually passed up this opportunity for himself.
Bernie, whose former boss had famously forced Bernie into making very difficult decisions by firing him, replied, “I guess there was no one around to fire me.”
The new studio was now Darryl Zanuck’s.....Twentieth Century Fox.
Yet, things are somewhat hopeful for Julian’s sister in New York City.
Just as Abe had predicted, Rhea Silberta has long persevered by study and exercise until amazingly, not only has she developed her new ability to speak, she’s now able to sing with a unique ‘tin-can’ voice as well.
Rhea’s triumph is so highly regarded amongst friends, neighbors, and associates along 57th Street, that her miraculous expertise will soon bring numbers of performers for additional voice training, including Francine Falcon, the lead singer with Phil Spitalny’s orchestra.....and Rhea is happy to be back.
In the meantime, certain pilots can’t be grounded forever, especially the more lion-hearted acolytes from the Roscoe Turner School of Excitement.....so combining imagination and initiative, with a great deal of determination, Saturday afternoons will eventually find Howard dodging his own clouds high above California’s beautiful landscape.....with nobody the wiser.
The year 1939 is a remarkable time for Hollywood with the most unusual collection of motion picture memorabilia ever released in one season.....stories such as ‘Gone With the Wind’, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’, ‘Wizard of Oz”,and “Gunga Din….. all destined to be mile posts of American entertainment; to live as classics for years to come.
However, as time goes by, it won’t be long before ominous echoes from Hitler’s war will quickly ‘flag’ the attention of many Americans, including the Hollywood set.
And it’s not all one-sided so far as sympathies are concerned.
Here comes the ‘Keep U. S. Out of War’ push, quickly gaining momentum as enthusiastic ‘bikers’ happily display signs, selling that famous motto, while flying their American flags.
Next come anti-war broadcasts by Father Coughlin, not to mention Pro-German Madison Square Garden rallies with America’s greatest hero, Lindbergh, who’d recently been entertained by Herman Goering himself, all reflecting sympathy for Hitler and his goals.
Conversely, Canada, a few miles to the north, is already at war supporting its’ mother country with full-out truck and airplane production, in addition to pilot training for the pending ‘Battle of Britain’.
But then comes the bomb-shell!
President Roosevelt makes a politically courageous decision that could easily result in his own impeachment!
Due to Germany’s submarine offensive, which is about to starve Britain of all necessary supplies, he makes a controversial swap, giving Britain fifty ‘worn out’ World War I American destroyers, all in exchange for American control of one ‘strategic’ British position in the Bahama Islands.
Surviving that, he opens tremendous stocks of supplies for Britain by proposing ‘Lend Lease’.....unlimited credit for the duration of Britain’s emergency.....which Congress eventually approves regardless of America’s neutrality, thus making America ‘the Arsenal of Democracy’.
Finally, the President recalls his Ambassador to England, Joseph Kennedy, after receiving complaints from the British about what they feel are Kennedy’s suspected sympathies for Germany.
So, in addition to ‘Bundles for Britain’, the ‘hill country’ now joins the promoters of homeland defense by welcoming the ‘Civilian Pilot Training Program’ straight into Huntington’s own Marshall College campus, where the training of future pilots is conducted concurrent with other colleges all over America.
And to round it out for the hill country, movie audiences quickly respond by looking forward to such eventual stories as ‘Mrs. Miniver’ and ‘A Yank in the R.A.F.’ as they attend a multitude of alarming espionage and narrow escape thrillers depicting Nazi’s in their true form.
With all this excitement brewing throughout the world, to use a latter day expression, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what’s about to happen.....”
And Howard already knows how to fly.....
SHOCK AND SURVIVAL
“Why can’t they make up their mind?”, goes the ‘grumble’ in officers mess.
It’s Sunday morning in the bowels of ‘U.S.S. Tennessee’, and orders for ‘uniform of the day’ are a study in abject confusion.
First they require fatigues due to some unscheduled ‘snap’ training exercise.....but wait; that’s off.....get set for dress uniforms.....yet now, we’re back to fatigues.....enough to ruin anyone’s breakfast, especially on Sunday!
Then suddenly it’s ‘battle stations’.....”Is this some kinda joke?”
All hands scramble regardless.....even Howard, the ‘sling shot pilot’, as he bounds up to his empty catapult.....empty because his own scout plane sits in that maintenance hangar on Ford Island.
But once he reaches the battle station, duty done, it’s time to watch an exciting exercise, high above Pearl Harbor.
The view’s particularly impressive as large numbers of aircraft peel gracefully into their simulated attack on America’s main Pacific Fleet.....heading straight for Battleship Row.....just
like shooting a realistic war movie.....look at that one coming straight in, slinging a practice torpedo right at .....?
Wait a minute.....
There’s a meatball on that wing.....?
The shock from the first explosion throws Howard’s imagination right out of a front row seat at the ‘State Theater’ in just milli-seconds, as the mind shifts from war movies straight into world class catastrophe!
Mouth agape, he’s further stunned by another burst as nearby, the ‘Arizona’ takes a tremendous hit, totally yanking Howard out of denial!
Soon, the stricken fleet itself reacts, as sporadic gunfire emanates from crippled ships in every direction.
No longer a spectator, this young flight officer heads for the main deck surrounded by fiery seas, as busy sailors rescue survivors from scalding waters.....many suffering third degree burns, whose only relief from screaming agony will be lethal injections of morphine.
Fire control now becomes ‘job one’.....all over the ship as fabric and upholstery ignite in response to burning paint itself.....a lesson.....long to be remembered.
Late that night, few will sleep as trigger happy patrols roam the island awaiting imminent invasion, while Howard and others prepare what’s left of damaged airplanes for whatever lies ahead.
And around 4 a.m. those orders finally come down.....
It’s a ‘radius of search’ job for three scouts, Howard among them, with instructions requiring assigned headings to locate the enemy by traveling far enough out to exhaust all fuel upon final return.
Most gunners are then advised.....”Hold fire.....Expect a three plane take-off.....Running lights on.....Priority mission!”
But in keeping with military ‘snafu’, the moment they all show lights on take-off, December 8th now turns into July the 4th, as dozens of ‘trigger- happy’ gunners ‘cut loose’ toward three planes who barely escape their own ‘friendly fire’ en-route to find the enemy.
Fortunately the enemy has quickly departed, but sadly, only Howard and one other return.....both completely out of fuel.
Meanwhile, during Sunday matinee at the ‘Keith’, the picture goes dead, lights come up, and out walks Jim Dunbar, the manager, carrying a microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re interrupting this picture-show to announce the United States has just been attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor.....We have no other news at this time!”
After that, large numbers of audience quietly drift out to Fourth Avenue where young boys are busily hawking ‘Extra’s’ from the newspaper at 50 cents a copy.
The mystery for most is.....Where’s Pearl Harbor?
The echoes of surprise completely shake Main Street; followed by a flash of total disbelief, but public indignation soon triggers action that’ll galvanize the hills as never before.....and America goes to war.
Many can’t wait to be drafted.....better to enlist right away.....so it isn’t long before young men become quite scarce along Fourth Avenue, igniting considerable anguish among the ladies.....yet these concerns happily vanish once the girls discover Huntington’s own Marshall campus will soon double as a new training center for the Army Air Cadets.
School kids now drill for air raids while learning to extinguish incendiary bombs as women migrate to defense plants to replace departing manpower. It’s a tight challenge for all as gas and food rationing become the new order of events, and busses are packed almost to bursting in order to compensate for shortages of fuel and tires, all desperately needed for the new ‘war effort’.
Reminiscent of the Depression Era, the entertainment industry now gears itself even higher as patriotism soars from Hollywood to Main Street, including war movies, training films, stage door canteens and even stars who enlist; extending the spirit straight down to the local War Bond Drives through every theater across America.
Many theaters are destined to become ‘social centers’ as well as ‘movie houses’, due to shortages of time, fuel and money, and it doesn’t take long before Abe’s wide stage finds new life at the ‘Keith’!
Big audiences need big entertainment.....meaning it’s time for the ‘Keith’ to relive some of its’ old traditions; so here comes much of the day’s top music.....band leaders Jack Teagarden, Les Brown, Tommy Tucker and groups such as the King Cole Trio start hitting the boards for enthusiastic audiences most every Sunday afternoon.....even old folks flock in ‘just to forget’ the news.
And then come troops from the campus itself, performing their on-stage renditions of the great war-time hit ‘This Is The Army’.....troops whose female fans ‘don’t want to forget’.....lovingly adjusting their hopes toward war-time adventures of their own in the River Town that very same day.
Still with all the tumult, there’s always a possibility for the unexpected, and sure enough with all the shooting and shelling around the world, Abe and Sol’s next surprise comes in the form of a long distance call from Julian; who in a bastion of peace, announces the biggest stunner of them all.....Bernie has just fallen victim to a fatal heart attack!
Having been admitted to a local hospital following what was called a ‘mild’ heart event, and while recuperating the next day; there’s such an avalanche of screen writers, producers and agents at bedside pressing for immediate decisions, that Bernie, not taking his condition too seriously, attempts to ‘escape’ by exiting the hospital while cleverly pretending he must judge a seemingly important dog show.
Unfortunately he barely makes it to his own bedroom before crashing to the floor.
Thus, in keeping with local tradition, his funeral becomes a celebrated social event by unleashing the typical roster of Hollywood celebrities with much hugging and winking to cap the day, though in Julian’s eyes, a disappointing memorial to a much admired 42 year old cousin and friend, who came from nowhere to find life on his own terms.....who made it to the top in Hollywood.....an unexpected casualty to be lost in the melee of Hollywood’s own frantic race.
But Hollywood stops for no man.....
At the same time, for Howard and others, another melee poses a different sort of challenge.....and without much ceremony.
Because peace time aviation had previously ignited so many parental fears, discussion between Howard and Julian on Naval Aviation can only be described as ‘complete radio silence’.
Later in the war, a comrade of Howard’s appears on Julian’s doorstep, apparently feeling obligated to update Howard’s dad.....
It’s during the Island Campaign in the South Pacific, some of the darkest days of the early 1940's.....a time when Howard’s commanders have advised all pilots to write off any illusions about returning home.....they’re all dead men; and will proceed accordingly.
The target is a heavily defended harbor, loaded with critical Japanese tonnage, all in one spot.
Howard’s group, now flying Grumman TBF Torpedo Bombers, are pivotal to a mission that on this day requires a low precision approach through heavy surrounding ‘flak’ in order to succeed.
The TBF is a tough single engine plane, carrying a crew of three including the pilot, and while it can take lots of punishment, extra punishment is guaranteed during the lumbering, water level approach required for a successful mission.....so nobody has any illusions about today’s strike.
And the Japanese Navy doesn’t aim to disappoint, either!
Pressing into this formidable target, Howard fires the deadly torpedo, but as he sweeps over the ship, every soul on the TBF takes a hit while the engine catches fire and a hot tracer exits Howard’s neck.
Flying ‘wings level’ he continues straight ahead, extinguishes the fire, dumps sulfa down his neck, and calls the crew.
They’re both dead!
The TBF is a sieve, but it still flies.
Unable to take additional punishment, he continues straight away from the objective, and using his college math, Howard makes a calculation of windage and projected course lines to find his long departed aircraft carrier, 45 minutes after the rest of his group is retrieved, and well after Howard is written off as shot down.
The plane disintegrates on landing, and Howard is hospitalized..... yet partly thanks to college math, he survives!!!
THE HOME FRONT
The war years in Huntington are exciting for scrap drives along 5th Avenue where piles of pots and pans, car bodies, wheels, tires and even old bed springs ramble for two blocks as everyone ‘pitches in’ to make their own contribution.
Actress Dorothy Lamour even rolls by in a motorcade to elicit some wonderful team spirit from the hills.
That isn’t to say some crazy event, mostly attributed to war time frenzies, won’t bust loose in the theaters at any moment.....
“Mr. Patterson, someone ‘s talkin’ real loud, swayin’ at the edge of your balcony,” comes the word about 3 p.m. at the ‘Keith’.
Pat rushes up stairs immediately, and there he is, outlined by light from the screen. “Sir, is there something I can help you with?”
“Not right now! I’m gonna jump in a minute.....”
“Sir, bein’ as you’re a good customer here I’ll certainly not stand in your way, but I wish you’d do me one favor.”
“Well you see, I get customers doin’ this from time to time and I’m the one always gets stuck with cleaning up the brains and bowels after they hit those seats down there.....you can imagine what a terrible mess for me.....I’m not complainin’, but would you consider doin’ this somewhere else? It makes a terrible smell too.....we have to air out for maybe a week.....it’s a horrible stench!”
With that, the customer starts to cry as Pat gets him downstairs.....
Then there’s the rattlesnake event in the ‘Keith’ balconey.
Several customers hear it, and up goes Al Cross to track the new disturbance.
“It seems this fella suspects his girl friend is sneakin’ out with another guy, so sure as heck he goes, catches him a rattler, sticks it in a box, and follows this couple right into the show on Saturday afternoon.
He lets it go about five rows back, but it gets confused, so Al and the customer catch it.....after which, they decide to kick this ‘nut’ back out to the street.”.....
Yet happily, for the first time in it’s exciting history, the ‘Keith’ is financially stable.
As a matter of fact, theaters everywhere continue to fill up regardless of what’s on screen.
“Like a fella could run toilet paper through that projector, and you’d still get an overflowed house”, comments one local ‘wag’.
Though that’s a little over the top, there’s no question business has ‘turned a corner’ for Abe and Sol, and they can actually pay the heat bill on time.
In addition to that.....with Isidore’s son, Joe Hyman, a Harvard Law Graduate (and Naval Officer now on Guam).....and his sister, Miriam, a graduate of Bryn Mawr near Philadelphia, (soon to marry Milton Silberstein-a very thoughtful scholar and writer) it seems the family fortunes are about to stabilize regardless of many past challenges.
And the boys are about to plan new ventures once the war ends.....but that hasn’t happened yet.
Post-war Fred Betts
Fred Betts is watching from behind the wire as clouds of B-17 Bombers drone endlessly into Germany, and after years of misery, ‘battle sounds’ are becoming evident far to the west as the British 8th Army approaches Fred’s enclosure.
“The days of the goose stepping Camp Commandant may be nearing an end,” he thinks to himself as he endures this freezing two hour, 6 a.m. formation, shivering in wind and rain, while contemplating that martinet’s late morning performance, wrapped in his comfortable overcoat to curse, then address, this miserable band of P.O.W.’s……. all standing cold, in mud and slush.
Survival requires observation of your surroundings, and the result is you keep all thoughts and actions inside.....even prisoners who stand out in their own way, or appear to be friendly or popular amongst their peers (or their guards) will inevitably disappear for no reason, and are never heard from afterwards.
So on this day, as the Germans call for.....then ‘point- out’ certain unhappy ‘volunteers’ as a detail to leave the enclosure for the purpose of building new Nazi defenses, Fred, a non-descript face in the crowd.....stays non-descript.
Then they all watch vacantly as this labor detail forms it’s own ‘column of ducks’ to proceed along the main road toward some distant ‘battle sounds’; yet mysteriously, the guards spread far and wide, well away from the marching ‘volunteers’.
“Look up”, someone screams as a British Spitfire slides out of the clouds, vaulting straight down the road, guns blazing.....tragically massacring their own fellow- countrymen!
The next day sees a repeat of the same disaster.
So it isn’t long before the battle rages in front of, around and through the camp itself as Nazi’s use it for their own battle cover.
In the end, the bad guys lose, and many guards become prisoners themselves, at which point, with slaughter all around, the P.O.W.’s are asked to point out the real devils.
One, who had refused to allow a miserably sick, diarrhea weakened P.O.W. to go out to the ‘privy’ in the middle of the night by gunning him down inside his own barracks; who then forced the victim’s ‘mates’ to put the remains back into his own bunk; this man was taken behind the barracks followed by the sound of gunfire.
Yet, then comes a big mistake as Brits now cross the street toward a similar Russian Compound; similar, except for the fact Russians had never been fed, and unknown to their liberators, had cannibalized their stacks of dead for years! As a consequence, once the Brits unlock their gate.....not unlike a herd of cattle.....this desperate human flood sweeps right over the soldiers as if in stampede mode, heading straight into the food barn next door. The human avalanche is uncontrollable as the barn appears to be inflated by a tidal wave of bodies, then sways alarmingly, with no evidence of fear from the on-rushing mass of starving humanity.....suddenly a sickening crack, screams from inside, and everything implodes, decimating countless throngs of what had been stampeding skeletons only moments before.
And the ‘tsunami’ continues long afterwards.....unstoppable in its human desperation.
Later, as Fred repatriates to Canada, Elsie Mae immediately heads north to help her brother regain well deserved health and stability, no longer as a seaman, but as a simple ‘land-lubber’, hopefully destined for the more peaceful ways of a Canadian citizen.
Even as dust settles from the deadliest conflict in history, the wheels of commerce pose a scary question!
Is it back to the ‘crash’ where everyone ‘holds the bag’ because a war boom just evaporated?
.....Or will there be plenty of work, because everyone needs everything to put America back on track?
For Abe and Sol, as well as America, optimism rules the day, which means the boys are ready to activate once again!
Since radio had been so effective with ‘Lum and Abner’ in the past, and television is still in the future, Sol and Abe apply for a broadcast license, excited just to open business as ‘Radio W.H.T.N.’, giving Huntington a fresh new outlet for entertainment! Though it’s a modest beginning in a market where W.S.A.Z. Radio already dominates, they’re ready to embark on a new learning curve as several young neophytes apply to help out, some just out of the ‘service’.
“Mr. Sol,” says one, “any chance you might need a salesman for your new station?”
“Do you have any sales experience, young man?”
“No sir, I’m barely out of the Navy, but I know I can do your job.”
“Here’s what you do, son.....Our manager gives you the sales information.....Go out, do your best, and if you bring in new business, you’ve got the job.”
Hardly a week goes by before the door opens and in walks this same fella, bearing a hand- full of contracts, naturally stirring curiosity around the room! To the office crew this is surely unusual for a brand new salesperson.....and a brand new radio station.....so being an alert outfit, the busy talkers quickly tune themselves in.....the best way to get the ‘scoop’ on whatever’s about to happen!
“Sir, there’s a lotta business here, but there’s something I promised the buyers we haven’t talked about yet.....”
A pronounced silence comes over the crowded room.
“What kind of promise is that, ‘Soupy’?”
“Well, you see, I kinda acted the whole thing out in front of the boss each time I made each sale.....you know.....sort of acted like I was doing the commercial.....”
“And each time I did that; that’s when I made the sale.”
“They said I got the deal, but only if I do the commercial myself, and that’s what I promised,” says Soupy Supman (later to be known as ‘Soupy Sales’)..... The new ‘ace salesman’ in ‘Radioville’.
But post-war optimism doesn’t stop with the radio business.
With show-biz at high tide, it seems appropriate to build a spanking new downtown theater, the ‘Tipton’, named after Abe’s recently deceased ‘right arm’, Cecil Tipton.
Modern design should destine this to be a huge success because it doesn’t ‘gobble up’ the typical backstage cost of a vaudeville house, yet it features the ‘pizzazz’ of a trendy new ‘art deco’, with all its comforts.
The ‘floodlight opening’ features a colorful new musical, ‘Blue Skies’, starring Bing Crosby, so Huntington is once again treated to a grandiose downtown landmark.
Additionally, other investments beckon for attention as drive-in theaters begin to tempt audiences throughout America, and the boys are about to study these local possibilities as well.....
Unfortunately, as often happens to Abe, optimism and excitement can turn the tables in one instant.
It’s the middle of the night when the phone starts ringing, not just three or four times, but endlessly, as Abe, somewhat confused, locates it at last.....”A fire? How? Started at J. C. Penny’s? Anybody hurt? Nothing we can do?”
And that’s the end of the Tipton.....at least for the moment.
Nevertheless, important events are taking place that’ll affect show-biz everywhere, as the Federal Court suddenly announces an earth shaking development for the American film industry, its called the ‘Consent Decree’.....and with this ‘Decree’ major studios are required to separate from their own personally operated theater outlets, M.G.M. from Loews, Paramount from their theaters, etc.....thus eliminating large numbers of critical underpinnings from the film studios themselves.
While this is good news for competition, it’s soon to be accompanied by other factors such as free television, diminishing grosses, aging stars, fewer pictures, and eventually blind bidding. Consequently, many of these factors are now destined to affect the business climate regarding ‘first- run downtown theaters’.....including questions about replacing the ‘Tipton’.....yet not a problem for new ‘second run drive-in theaters’; a convenient place to watch movies, and a big opportunity for the local scene.
The boys share this sentiment, and ‘sometimes a fella can use an extra mule.....” So into the drive-in business they go!
As wisely predicted, the opulent grand opening at the ‘East Drive-In’ scores a record car count for the region.....but then comes a strange phenomenon.....nobody leaves once the show ends on opening night!
After a peculiar moment of silence, management quickly senses a relentless growl from countless rows of struggling cars, seemingly caught in a giant tub of molasses, but actually trapped into one of the biggest soil engineering fiascos ever known to local historians.....unfortu- nately due to the wrong paving composite.
Eventually this celebration requires squadrons of tow trucks arriving from all points of the local compass, simply to extract hundreds of hapless victims from one of the most spectacular grand opening disasters ever recorded in the hills.
A unique night for the new drive-in learning curve.....
And with all these budding enterprises, it now occurs to two fellas going on 70 years, that fresh ideas, including a post-war lease on theaters at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, will stretch personal resources to such a degree, there’s a need to persuade Julian to return from Hollywood..... particularly since Abe’s two sons are still in school and distantly scheduled for military service. Furthermore industry procedures for buying and settling deals on individual pictures are becoming an ‘olympian’ challenge for both Abe and Sol (according to Hazel Harer, the theater’s top secretary for forty years) often with one settlement occupying most of one day.
“It’s like a political committee room in there” Hazel observes, describing the boys as they ‘strategize’ film settlements in shifts.....first Abe’s colorful diversions explaining the ancient vaudeville scene; then, Abe’s own departure immediately followed by Sol’s entrance, as he reels off his own entertaining filibusters regarding the 19th century medicine show business! And all this during a meeting that is heavily punctuated by vigorous demonstrations of verbal fire and thunder until, at the end of the day, all hands joyfully depart for dinner, arm in arm, friendships rekindled, leaving Hazel and Ferne Johnson in complete exhaustion as they remain to calculate agreed upon settlements and write the final checks.
So hopefully, Julian will soon be the answer.....
As these futuristic dreams eventually materialize for Abe and Sol, there are some other events unfolding at a much faster rate than the birth of W.H.T.N.-T.V., or the land acquisitions for the downtown motel, or even the various investments concerning Shoney’s as well as some new bowling alleys, because the boys’ creativity has finally been out-distanced by Father Time.....
But before leaving the scene, Sol, being the last to depart, has time for several gestures to the world ......so now he gets in touch with the good Reverend Mitchell.....a top-notch representative from the 1957 ‘Black Community’ in Huntington, W. Va.
With the up-coming debut of an important road show, ‘ Ten Commandments’ ( a biblical story of Moses, broadly recognized as Cecil B. Demilles’ ‘swan song’ to the world) there’s now a chance to overcome some of the more persistent racial barriers, then integrate all local theater audiences permanently, in accordance with the boys’ own sentiments.
Regardless of potential difficulties, good judgement actually prevails amongst the
citizenry of this Appalachian Community, and the entire population rises to the occasion, as Sol’s plan succeeds.
It seems the boys always knew, their Hill Country could lead the way!!!
But then comes a final gesture......
Now that World War II has been safely deposited into the local ‘memory bank’, a new sense of confidence returns to the valley.....but then comes this ‘unexpected surprise’….it’ s rumored that current leadership had cleverly struck a ‘hardy blow’ against one potentially disturbing distraction …….which was then cleverly ‘sidetracked’ by turning off inquiries from that ‘ominous intruder’..... General Electric Corporation!
‘Status quo’ appeared to be the new watchword, as ‘G.E.’ then turned its’ attention downstream…….toward Louisville, Kentucky.
There’s an old saying in Ohio River country, “Please flush the commode, as people downstream need the water.”
But now, a funny thing happens.
Because of post-war prosperity....here comes a new ‘political reality’….it appears more jobs, tax dollars, and public services might always be desirable, if only to keep pace with the rest of the world.
And to some, it appears they’ve recently discovered a ‘creative’ procedure for obtaining new tax dollars.....particularly those dollars residing ‘close-by’, next to our own door-step.
Since danger can always threaten the average political ‘apple cart’ (as it dreams of raising local taxes) the astute politician’s most creative approach is always to raise somebody else’s tax.
Especially if that ‘somebody’ can’t vote!!
Many years ago, a large company had located next to the River City, and as a condition for making this risky investment, the company had extracted a promise to be rendered ‘sacrosanct’.....safely outside the dreaded city limits, well removed from local tax purviews..
But companies don’t vote, plus that company is undoubtedly successful now, and wouldn’t it be a wondrous thing.....
Particularly as this tempting opportunity for additional spending begins to take shape
Furthermore, as can often happen during such rare moments of unparalleled inspiration, subdued excitement now reigns throughout the political leadership, as certain intriguing possibilities for new tax revenues are beginning to take shape.
After all, this company now employs thousands of the valleys’ top citizens, and that isolated area is entitled to many more upgraded services.....it’s a perfect concept for the future.....
particularly as this company has more employees than anyone else.....and these people certainly deserve some additional benefits.
However, as exciting as these developments are to folks in positions of leadership (not to mention the many anxious tax payers and merchants now seeking to avoid ‘tax-a-phobia’) there occasionally comes the possibility of a ‘dark-horse- naysayer’ to threaten the momentum of a brilliant idea.
Fortunately, the excitement in City Council Chambers is building almost to a crescendo where many citizens, accompanied by rows of enthused merchants, are now rising to sing praise for the genius and simplicity of this timely tax solution.
(.....but not every row.....since that doesn’t include some glum industrial faces in the back of the room.)
Yet now comes another surprise.....straight out of the blue....... and it’s from one of the merchants themselves!
Unbelievably, there’s a request to slow this process down, at least for one minute!
And just as everything’s in the bag.....could this be our proverbial maverick?
“Fellas.....(now comes a long pause for attention).....do you know who we are???”
A complete hush settles over the Chamber.....as Sol takes the floor.
“We’re all parasites in here!”
“Yes parasites.....look here Larry.....how long will your business keep its doors open if these industrial workers lose their payroll checks?”
“Whose going to buy houses or furniture or even food after their factory closes up shop once we drive ‘em out of here with higher taxes??”
“Let’s all stop and think for a minute.....if it weren’t for this primary manufacturer selling its products to customers all over the world, and making some reasonable profits.....how do they make a payroll??.....and if they don’t make a payroll, whose gonna buy my theater tickets..... or eat dinner at Bailey’s Cafeteria.....or even afford to live in this valley??
.....so you see, fellas.....unless someone is around to bring in those new dollars.....we’re all out of business.... these big corporations have the final vote anyway....they vote with their feet!!”
And as this simple speech continues to echo common logic, painfully derived from years of ups and downs.....the entire audience begins to connect with some old-time horse-sense.
An obvious mood of political disappointment finally pervades the platform as the reality of this logic appears to strike home, and it’s back to the drawing board for several politicians.
Later, while walking into the warm evening breeze, Sol pauses to imagine brother Abe’s reaction as he stops to recall those long forgotten medicine show days.....
As well as dangling from that Long-T Trestle.....
Though somewhat older, but looking trim and fit, Capt. Howard Silberstein, (Navy Cross and War College graduate) is just now threading his way through the labyrinth of corridors to enter a meeting room as the Navy’s latest representative to the National Space and Aeronautics Committee of the U. S. Congress.
It had been a complex road from the many battles of World War II to this moment.....the V-2 Rocket Program; ‘Skipper’ of the first carrier based jet training squadron; then Executive Officer of a carrier task force itself, before being appointed Commanding Officer of an East Coast Naval Air Station.....
So now comes a welcome respite in Howard and Shirley’s exciting world, where at last, they can enjoy the experience of raising two wonderful sons.
Yet there’s another form of excitement waiting on the other side of this room as Howard spies a familiar face through the usual haze of cigar smoke that constantly permeates these ‘August’ gatherings.
“Mr. Roscoe Turner, Sir, I don’t know if you remember me, but my name’s Howard Silberstein.....You gave me my first airplane ride about a thousand years ago!”
“Sure, sure I do Howard, looks like you’ve done a little flying on your own since that exciting day!”
So consequently, after completing a busy agenda, and as Howard and Roscoe are about to leave, Roscoe extends a surprising invitation. “Listen Howard, since we’re all scheduled to meet in Cincinnati next week, come on over to Indianapolis for the weekend.....we’ll catch up on history, then fly over Monday morning.”
And later, after a colorful Indiana weekend of catch-up, and while admiring Roscoe’s Beech Aircraft Dealership, particularly the historic ‘Turner Special’ Race Plane ‘cockily’ suspended from the hangar ceiling; Howard realizes this is one of the few men in history who could ever win a Cleveland Air Race without killing himself in that high-powered, short coupled hot-rod of yore.....in other words a ‘stick man’ of such mythical reputation, the entire world of aviation, including Congress, holds his unsurpassed talent in awe!
And they’re to fly together one more time.....
It’s raining ‘cats n dogs’ and barely legal for ‘visible flight regs’ as they taxi Roscoe’s V-Tail Bonanza across the smooth tarmac. Though totally impressed by the sophistication of the Beechcraft instrument panel, Howard is nonetheless surprised Roscoe hasn’t contacted a tower frequency at this point.
So summoning up a little suggestion, “Mr. Turner, this is quite a radio package.....mind if I turn it on?”
“Go right ahead Howard, make yourself at home.”
Soon another voice intrudes the casual cockpit, “Where you going today, Mr. Turner?....” finally answered by Roscoe picking up the ‘mike’ “We’re headin’ for Cincinnati boys, see you late tomorrow night!”
And with that, it’s firewall power, wheels up, and into the driving rain.....
With his ceiling barely above legal minimums, and visibility about twice the requirement, Roscoe smoothly sets up a low altitude, high speed configuration as if it’s ‘pylon time’ from the past.
And with the level Indiana terrain racing underneath, for a moment, the exhilaration cancels all thought of serious navigation for both pilots.
But old habits prevail as Howard glances at the ‘wet compass’, then spins the VOR heading bug, “Look at this Mr. Turner, Cincinnati’s bearing 090 degrees on this receiver.....
Roscoe, who’s equally content ‘flat hatting’ across the ‘smooth’ terrain, ‘heading’ 180 degrees, casually swings east in a clean coordinated turn as the two men chuckle, needing no explanation for the hypnotic happiness flying can induce in many aviators.
And at this velocity, it isn’t long before here comes the beautiful Ohio River, blanketed by haze as Howard, wasting no time, quickly flips to Approach Control for Kentucky’s Greater Cincinnati Terminal.....
So once again the cockpit is flooded with the sounds of Controller to pilot communication as tightly regimented airliners are vectored, then carefully handed off toward one of two busy active runways while descending through driving rain.....but then, to everyone’s surprise.....”Cincinnati, Roscoe Turner here.....I’m coming in to land at this time.”
A moment of silence, followed by immediate instructions quickly scattering approaches, extending holds and re-vectoring airliners, as Roscoe continues in for a smooth ‘Kentucky” touchdown.
Shutting off his engine in front of the local fixed base operation, and strolling up to the door, Roscoe winks to Howard, and in a conspiratorial manner confides, “You know something Howard............. I never did have a Pilot’s License.”
With Huntington’s vigorous economy in “High Gear”, the prosperity of the “50’s and 60’s” becomes delightfully evident through-out the region, and Fourth Avenue begins to ‘glisten’ as never before!!
Additionally, the local hills were about to experience interstate highways, shopping centers, mass communication….even urban renewal with all its commercial challenges!
And as the years flashed by, the need to survive this high speed business revolution would eventually dictate the multi-plexing of many theaters….even older “Vaudeville Houses”….
Consequently, Abe’s oldest son, Jack, accompanied by his capable assistant, Dan Johnson, moved energetically to develope and operate several additional theaters of modern design, simply to complement this revolutionary business environment.
But in one case, his job was destined to require what Jack called ‘some extra- special heavy lifting’, since that difficult decision required a courageous, but unique, gamble…an unprecedented effort to extend the life of one unusual theater….to successfully blend that magnificent ‘Vaudeville House’ into the new world of the modern multi-plex….
And the story continues………
Written by………………………………………………………………...Edwin and Linda Hyman
Picture Inserts done by……………………………………………………….Kelsey Reanne Foster