Monday, September 1, 2014

The Great Commoner: William Jennings Bryan and the US presidential campaign of 1896

Presented to the Club by Roger B. Linscott (date of presentation unknown — sometime in the 1960s or 1970s). Roger was, for many years, the associate editor of The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield's daily newspaper. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writing in 1973, and died in 2008 at the age of 88, having been a member of the Club since 1950. We are indebted to Roger's daughter, Wendy Lamme, for a treasure trove of Roger's Monday Evening Club papers.

This paper is principally the story of a political campaign. But no member of the Club need tremble for fear that our unwritten injunction against political topics will be breached. Just as a statesman has been defined a dead politician, so can history be pictured as the politics of yesterday. The presidential campaign I propose to discuss is not the one that engaged our attentions so thoroughly last fall, but rather a campaign far enough removed in time to be labeled history rather than politics — so far removed, in fact, that no person here tonight is old enough to have known at first hand the enormous flood of passion and prejudice which it unleashed throughout the land.

To me, the presidential contest of 1896 has always seemed the most exciting of all our presidential campaigns, and in many respects the most significant as well. It drew a dividing line through the nation's history; it marked the last stand of agrarianism against an inexorably rising industrialism; and it marked the dramatic emergence of an arresting new personality bursting like a meteor on the American scene. This political meteor was, of course, William Jennings Bryan — Bryan the Boy Orator, the Great Commoner, the young crusader from the prairies of Nebraska who, in one magnificent flight of oratory, expressed so powerfully the dissatisfaction of the economically disenfranchised that he was catapulted overnight from obscurity to fame and, very nearly, into the White House.

It is difficult for us today to understand the tremendous impact that Bryan made upon America in that fateful year. Our judgment of him is too heavily weighted by his later follies and failures. He lived too long; he talked too much; he ran for president too often; he embraced too many foolish causes. When he finally died in 1925, it was in Dayton, Tennessee, where he had just suffered his last and most ignominious defeat, in the celebrated Scopes trial, at the hands of Clarence Darrow. His pathetic attempt to defend Bible Belt fundamentalism against the forces of scientific progress had destroyed what standing he still had with the new generation. H. L. Mencken spoke for most of the intelligentsia when, on the day after Bryan's death he wrote: "He was born with a roaring voice, and it had the trick of inflaming halfwits. His whole career was devoted to raising those halfwits against their betters, that he himself might shine."

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Friday, August 29, 2014

The Horseman: A 1976 exploration of global crises and solutions

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887
Presented to the Club by Robert M. Henderson in 1976

On this final evening of a very enjoyable year of camaraderie and discussions you might wonder what "The Horseman" has to offer to such an illustrious group. Particularly so in this bicentennial year of our nation's history. I'll start by thanking our host, Bill Selke, for a delightful dinner and the opportunity to share with him his lovely home.

Then, let me ramble just a bit and state some seemingly unrelated bits of information, mostly of my early life, as they all do have some bearing on the main point of this evening's presentation.

As a young boy and for many years thereafter, horses were my first love. My only goal as a youngster was to have my own horse to train and to ride. In due course, this came about, and I thoroughly enjoyed riding, pack trailing, and training horses. Even today it is a pleasurable experience for me to ride a good horse. During high school and college days, I broke several horses to ride — and in my senior year in college, I rode in the first intercollegiate rodeo. This sport has now developed into a rather large affair, and some 57 schools have organized rodeo teams today. (Editor's note: As of 2014, there are more than 135 colleges who are members of NIRA, the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association). My participation was in the less strenuous roping events and my success was absolutely zero. Nonetheless, I did consider myself quite a horseman and a judge of good horses.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lunacy: Norman Rockwell's views and questions about the space program

"Grissom and Young" by Norman Rockwell, 1965. Oil on canvas.
Norman Rockwell was a member of the Monday Evening Club from 1961 until his death in 1978. This paper is transcribed from a typescript with handwritten marginal notes in the collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. The title "Lunacy" is written on the envelope in which the paper was originally stored, along with the notation, "Monday Evening Discussion Group paper delivered Monday, March 24, 1969." This dates the paper about four months before the first landing on the moon, which was on July 20, 1969.

The original typescript may be viewed here at the Norman Rockwell Museum's digitized archives. Also in the collection of the museum is a manuscript, in outline form, of Rockwell's notes that evolved into this paper.

The Club is grateful for the assistance of Corry Kanzenburg and Jessika Drmacich of the collections staff at the museum for providing access to the manuscript of this and other papers Rockwell presented to the Club, to the museum's director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, for alerting us to their existence (via a Facebook comment!) and to the Norman Rockwell Licensing Company for permission to publish the papers. Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL.

According to an account of Rockwell's involvement with the space program by Anne Collins Goodyear ("On the Threshold of Space: Norman Rockwell's Longest Step"), "Rockwell's desire to represent accurately the new Gemini G3C suit led to an unprecedented con­cession from the space agency: in response to his repeated requests, NASA permitted the top-secret suit to be brought to Rockwell's Stockbridge, Massachusetts, studio under the protection of [Joe W.] Schmitt, the elder of the two suit technicians portrayed in the painting."*

The Club's secretary, Rabbi Harold Salzmann, recalls that at a meeting a few years before the delivery of this paper, which took place at Salzmann's house in late 1964 or early 1965, Rockwell also spoke about the space program, and had arranged for Salzmann's son Josh to enter the gathering at some point during the reading, fully attired in an actual NASA space suit — presumably the one lent to him for the Grissom and Young painting. Rockwell sometimes brought his own paintings to Club meetings, as well, and may have brought the Grissom-Young painting along with the space suit to that meeting.

*Published in 2001: Architecture and Design for Space, Vision and Reality, exhibition catalog, 102-7, Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2001: New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.

Topic is space program.

My wife Molly, after hearing my fumbling start on this paper, suggested the title, "Lunacy."  I thought that was fine but went to the dictionary to look up the definition of the word.  Webster says it is “The condition of being a lunatic, or intermittent insanity as formerly attributed to the changes of the moon”. This was perfect but should I add a question mark to it [?]

I am sure you all know the debatable question I am bringing up — is the space program a lunatic idea now, when we in America are confronted with the problems of poverty, racial unrest, national security and the Vietnam War?

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Club's historic membership roster, part VIII: members joining 1964-present

Note: no new members joined in 1962 or 1963.

1964

Charles F. B. Richardson — senior vice-president, Berkshire Life Insurance Company

Kelton M. Burbank — attorney

1965

John B. Lidstone — engineer, General Electric Company, Plastics Division. Moved to the Troy, N.Y. area in 1970.

Robert Austin Acly — retired, U. S. State Dept. His posts included Burma and Panama, where he served as counselor of embassy and charge d'affaires, as well as Honduras, France and South Africa. He headed the Burma desk at the State Department in Washington and also served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. Foreign Service postings: U.S. Vice Consul in Montreal, 1930; Tegucigalpa, 1930-35; Strasbourg, 1935; Johannesburg, 1938; U.S. Consul in Johannesburg, 1940-42; Cape Town, 1942-43; Rangoon, 1949. Born Feb. 25, 1906, died July 1, 1973.

1968

Robert M. Henderson — paper manufacturing executive

1969

William A. Selke — paper company chemist. Born in Newburgh, N.Y., June 16, 1922, died in Pittsfield, Mass., February 25, 2013.  He received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the class of 1943. He entered the Naval Reserve, and served with a motor torpedo boat squadron in the Pacific theater. He returned to M.I.T.for a master's degree in 1947, and received a doctorate in engineering from Yale University in 1949. In 1952, he married Martha Whitney Floyd, a native of Pittsfield, then living in New York. Their weekend trips to the Berkshires introduced him to the many pleasures of the Berkshires, including skiing and Tanglewood. He joined the faculty of Columbia University, where his research and publications were in the fields of ion exchange kinetics, thermodynamics and heat transfer. In 1951 the U.S .Atomic Energy Commission established its Heat Transfer Research Facility at Columbia. After working for the DuPont Corporation on the design of the Savannah River reactors, Mr. Selke became the manager of that Columbia laboratory. In 1955, he moved to the Berkshires to establish a research and development department for Peter J. Schweitzer Inc. manufacturer of specialized technical papers. The laboratory was built at a mill site in Lee. The work that he did with his colleagues resulted in a number of U.S. and foreign patents on specialized papers, and novel applications of the papermaking process. The company was acquired by Kimberly-Clark Corp. in 1982, and was merged with other portions of the company. In 1982, Mr. Selke moved to Atlanta to be Vice president of the Corporate Science and Technology Group. He retired in 1986, and returned to Stockbridge. From 1986 through 1996, he was a consultant for several major companies, and served as a professor of environmental Engineering at The Lenox Institute for Research. He served as Chairman of a United States committee of the International Standards Organization, and represented that committee at meetings in Beijing and Berlin. He was a member of the board of investment of The City Savings Bank in Pittsfield. In 1966, Mr Selke became a member of the newly formed Massachusetts Board of Education. In retirement, he taught reading and English as a second language with the Southern Berkshire Literacy Network, and read science books for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic here in the Berkshires. Mr. Selke served the town of Stockbridge on a number of committees, including chairing an attempt to establish an historic district in Stock bridge Village. He was chairman of the committee on Affordable Housing, which promoted and helped develop the Pine Woods project in Stockbridge. He served on the Planning Board for eight years, and was chairman from 1976 through 1980. He was also a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. In 1993, he was elected to the Stockbridge Housing Authority, and was a member of the committee which formed the Berkshire Hills Regional School District., and built the Monument Mountain Regional High School. Twenty years later, after retirement, he became a substitute science teacher at that school. After serving as co-chairman of the Council of Tanglewood Friends in 1974, he became an overseer of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and from 1979 to 1985 served as a atrustee of the orchestra. In 1984, while living in Atlanta, he joined the board of The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He was a member of the boards of The Laurel Hill Association and The Berkshire Museum, and served as president of the Old Corner House-Stockbridge Historical Society, and the Stockbridge library Association. He was a member of the Western Regional Committee of The Trustees of Reservations, and on the Advisory Council of the statewide organization. He had a lifelong love of music, especially classical music and "good" jazz. He also loved sailing, and spent a lot of time on the water, both here and in far off lands. He loved traveling. He and his wife saw a good deal of the world together. [Berkshire Eagle obituary]

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Do the Bell: The remarkable career of Evan Dobelle

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, March 24, 2014 by John H. Spencer

Evan Dobelle during his presidency at the University of Hawaii
In my ninth-grade classes I used to give lollypops for various things: first A-minus, most footnotes. One student actually got one for misspelling his own name, but also I gave one, each time a paper was assigned, for best title (even though some students worked harder on the title rather than the content of the essay).

Megan Cort was the best I ever had and I told her she would one day make a fortune in advertising (she is now 23; I need to find out what she is doing). She was so good I had to ban her for a while. I am sure she will groan at the title I came up with for tonight — although she might smile.

Who has a guess what it means?

I am a political junkie and what makes people tick, especially in the use of power — from all the King's Men with its view that man is conceived in sin; to the marvelous biography of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro, three volumes complete and the fourth to come; to Citizen Kane and Rosebud.

So, I pick a person not as powerful, not as complicated, but still remarkable and with local connections — Evan Dobelle. ("Do the Bell" — sorry, Megan.)

Did he have his Rosebud? Did he have a fatal flaw? Or has his journey through life been overlooked by the fact that he, at times, lived that journey high on the hog and loved credit cards other than his own? As I tell his tale, you judge.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Norman Rockwell and the Monday Evening Club

The Club's secretary, Rabbi Harold Salzmann, has been a faithful member since 1955, missing only one or two meetings during that time. His friend Norman Rockwell joined the Club in 1961 and remained a member until his death in 1978. Here are a few items of Rockwelliana from Harold's collection:

A note confirming a 1969 date to deliver a paper:


A meeting notice announcing a meeting of the Club in 1969, at which Rockwell delivered his paper "Lunacy," about the U.S. space program.



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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Words to live by: The King James Bible and its legacy to the English language

Photo by Jonathan Schmid, used under Creative Commons License
Presented to the Club by Richard L. Floyd on Monday Evening, April 28, 2014

The story I want to tell is the story of the creation of the King James Bible, and its enormous influence on the English language. For over 400 years this was the Bible for the English-speaking world, the best selling book of all time, and still the most frequently purchased translation.

It lasting legacy to English is incalculable. It is the Bible that Abraham Lincoln learned to read with, and its sounds and rhythms can be heard in his Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address, as it can in Melville’s Moby-Dick, the poetry of Walt Whitman, and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

How did we get this extraordinary work of literary art that has made such a place in the story of English? It was published in 1611, but there is considerable backstory that needs to be shared before we get there, and so we need to go way back. The English still refer to it as the Authorised Version (AV), but I will use the more popular American title, the King James Version and its abbreviation (KJV).

Our first question is, what is the Bible? The word itself comes from the Greek Ta Biblia, which simply means “the books.” That seems simple enough, but which books?

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