Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Covid and DigMichNews

By Ed Bradley

During this pandemic, time spent finding social media items in CMU’s Digital Michigan Newspapers portal has taken an interesting turn.

In searching the Clarke Historical Library-administered portal – and Michigan newspapers digitized by the Clarke for the Library of Congress “Chronicling America” site -- for potential entries for the DigMichNewspapers Twitter site, I came to wonder about the similarities in coverage of Covid-19 and the last great world health crisis: the “Spanish flu” outbreak of 1918-19.

Big-city papers of that time gave substantial coverage (albeit much less on the front page in comparison with 2020) to the pandemic, but much less attention was paid by the kinds of small-town dailies and weeklies found in the DigMich collection. Their focus was on local, not national, news, and the flu hit cities harder. But the town papers did not ignore the crisis. As with Covid-19, their concern was expressed in multiple attitudes: warning, suspicion, exploitation.

For example, an October 11, 1918, story in the OxfordLeader was meant to provide help on how not to become infected, with language not unlike that of 2020. The syndicated “Uncle Sam’s Advice on Flu” article quoted U.S. Surgeon General Rupert Blue with a strong sense of concern – and a call for social distancing without using the term that would be ubiquitous a century hence.

“It is now believed that influenza is always spread from person to person, the germs being carried with the air along with the very small droplets … expelled by coughing or sneezing, forceful talking, and the like by one who already has the germs of the disease,” Blue said. “… [E]very person who becomes sick … should go home at once and go to bed. … It is highly desirable that no one be allowed to sleep in the same room as the patient.

“When [outdoor] crowding is unavoidable … care should be taken to keep the face so turned as not to exhale directly the air breathed out by another person.”

Indeed, some folks did wear masks in 1918, but the Great War was still foremost in the public mind. A public-service message that accompanied the above Leader article read “Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases … As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells,” a reference to the deadly chemical weapons used overseas.

As there have been conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus, so were there regarding the 1918 flu. The October 2 issue of the BeldingBanner-News blared that the flu “May Be Spread by German Spies.” This was a local story of sorts, for the source of the story was a Banner-News editor, Hubert Engemann, a sailor who had returned to Michigan after a stay in the U.S. Naval Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, which had been overrun by the flu.

 “There was some talk,” read the story, “that the disease was spread by German agents or spies, but [Engemann] was rather inclined to discredit this himself, although he said that there was nothing that the enemy would not stoop to do.”

As the pandemic lingered into 1919, opportunities came for commercial entities to take advantage. A page of the January 16 Leelanau Enterprise included competing ads for anti-flu medicine: the stomach acid remedy Eatonic promised to clean “Toxic Poisons Out of the Digestive Tract,” and the touting of Hill’s Bromide Cascara Quinine was even more direct: “Don’t wait until your cold develops Spanish Influenza or pneumonia. Kill it quick.”

By the way, the 1918-19 sickness was generally referred to in print as “the Spanish ‘flu,’” not “the ‘Spanish’ flu” or “the ‘Spanish flu.’” The small difference in punctuation signaled doubt on whether the malady was influenza while affirming it was Spanish in origin. Actually, there is no clear evidence of the latter, but Spain was likely saddled with the blame because it was hit hard early by the flu – and, as a World War I-neutral nation without imposed censorship, did not curtail reporting of its troubles.

Regarding some of the phrases we’ve been hearing as we battle Covid-19, a search of the Clarke collection reminds us of the fluidity of linguistics. A 1994 Oxford Leader advertisement advised us to “Be Safe at Home!” – only this safety came in the purchase of a home security system. And a 1964 ad in the same weekly informed us we would save money by staying home to shop -- but this “Shop at Home” strategy was in buying from local merchants and not from those out of town.

Clarke Staffer Pens Film History Volume

By Ed Bradley
The photograph on the cover of my newly published movie history book is from It’s Great to Be Alive, a 1933 mix of music, comedy, romance, science fiction, and gender-role reversal – all set amid a global pandemic.
Ripped from the headlines? No, the image on the front of Hollywood Musicals You Missed: 70 Noteworthy Films from the 1930s (McFarland & Co.) was selected well before Covid-19. Much stranger than the real-life menace is the malady in It’s Great to Be Alive, which leads to the demise of the Earth’s entire male populace … save for one conveniently golden-voiced swain portrayed by Brazilian heartthrob Raul Roulien.
Even if It’s Great to Be Alive doesn’t seem quite as frivolous now as when I viewed it during my research, I love it, and its ilk, no less. This is my fourth book about Depression era American musical films. There have been decades of movie musicals with more patriotism, bigger bands, splashier color, pricier budgets, and rock ’n’ roll. But it is easy to dive into ’30s tune fests – and the talents of Fred Astaire, Busby Berkeley, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and others, with Tin Pan Alley and the advent of swing music – and not want to come up for air.
The more obscure, the better. Stellar figures such as Astaire, Berkeley, and Judy Garland deserve appreciation, but historians have discussed them and their pictures to death. That is why the new book includes entries on The Way to Love (1933), in which star Maurice Chevalier gets upstaged by a dog, and The Girl Said No (1937), a wonderful tribute to Gilbert and Sullivan that was a jukebox musical before there were jukeboxes.
Then there are the little-seen pictures starring Herbert Jeffries, the Detroit-born actor billed as the first African American singing cowboy; Dorothy Page, the first female Western singing actor; and Lou Gehrig, the New York Yankees star whose emoting in Rawhide (1938) makes you wish he would have spent some time away from playing first base to take acting lessons.
Screen musicals aren’t very popular in 2020. The thought of actors bursting into song unprompted is somehow too fanciful for the audiences who thrill at Star Wars or the Marvel Universe, although the success of La La Land and recent Queen and Elton John biopics provide some hope for the genre. As time passes, the sounds of the early films seem to grow fainter, more remote.
For my first book, The First Hollywood Musicals (1996), Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Maureen O’Sullivan, George Burns, Dorothy Lee, and other stars were alive for me to interview about their forays into song. They are gone now, but their vintage tune films should not be allowed to disappear. They won’t, as long as there are caretakers to make sure they are seen, heard, and preserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Piecing Together History

Archives, museums, and libraries are sometime seen as stodgy, but most are actually highly creative organizations that engage the public with all sorts of fun and interesting programming. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, institutions large and small across the world have gotten even more creative to connect with people. During a meeting with CMU Libraries staff, Marian Matyn, the Archivist at the Clarke, mentioned that some institutions are using images from their holdings to create virtual jigsaw puzzles.

That suggestion sparked an idea for Janet Danek, the CMU Libraries’ Coordinator of Art, Exhibits, and Projects: are there any images from past exhibitions that we might be able to give the “jigsaw” treatment? Janet worked with Bryan Whitledge, the Archivist for University Digital Records, to transform images from the Shaping Memories through Three Lenses exhibit into virtual puzzles. This exhibit, from the fall of 2019, featured the photography of three of CMU’s photographers: Robert Barclay, Peggy Brisbane, and Steve Jessmore. Over the course of nearly forty years, these three documented the history of the Central Michigan University, from big events with nationally known guests to quiet moments of studying, and everything in between.

By transforming their work into puzzles, people have a new way to interact with the Clarke’s holdings and the history of CMU. If you loved seeing the photos before, focusing on detail while piecing the images together will give you a new appreciation for the art of Barclay, Brisbane, and Jessmore. Iconic pictures, like the toilet paper toss, CMU’s Baja car flying over a dune, or Jeff Daniels’ performance in downtown Mt. Pleasant (pictured above) are available to anyone at the click of a mouse. The puzzles have been created to offer up a range of difficulty levels: from breezy, forty-piece breaks that might take five minutes to 200-piece stumpers that could occupy a couple hours.

Each week, the Clarke will upload a new puzzle. So, check back regularly to piece together the history of CMU, one iconic image at a time.

Monday, June 15, 2020

International Childrens Book Reading

In February, the Clarke Historical Library held its sixth annual “Children’s Book from Around the World” event. During the six-hour event, 190 people stopped by the Park Library’s Baber Room to listen to over 35 volunteers from all corners of the globe read children’s books in 20 languages other than English. For the Clarke, this event is always a great opportunity to showcase the library’s collection of award-winning international children’s literature, with books from over 75 countries in over 50 languages.

For our readers, many of whom are affiliated with the Office of Global Engagement or the Department of World Languages and Cultures at CMU, the event offers other opportunities. For those who are native speakers of the language, this event is a chance for them to share a bit of their language and culture. For those who are learning the language through their courses here at Central Michigan University, they can demonstrate the language skills they have acquired through their studies. And for the whole campus, it is an excellent chance to highlight the rich diversity of languages found on the CMU campus.

In a twist this year, and to coincide with the Clarke’s exhibit, The Surprise and Wonder of Pop-up Books several readers read pop-up books in languages other than English. There were other memorable moments, such as when the Japanese 202 class took turns reading from their book so that all seven students from the class would have a chance to read. Or when one reader read in five different languages found in the same South African book – Zulu, Sesotho, Xhosa, Setswana, and Sepedi!

The Clarke appreciates the support of the Office of Global Engagement and the Department of World Languages and Cultures in bringing this event together. To view an “Art Review” segment from MAC TV about the event, take a look at their Vimeo page.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

50 Years Later: CMU Activism in the Wake of the Kent State Shootings

by Bryan Whitledge

After Richard Nixon’s April 30, 1970 announcement that military action would intensify in Cambodia, protests erupted across the country. Colleges and universities were a hotbed of activism, including Central Michigan University and Kent State University in Ohio. In Kent, Ohio, things became tragic on Monday, May 4, 1970: four students died and nine were injured after National Guardsmen opened fire on the assembled students.

"Freedom Hall," Click to enlarge
The events at Kent State did not happen in a vacuum and the reverberations were felt far and wide. That evening, in Mt. Pleasant, activist students went inside Central Hall on the CMU campus with the goal of occupying the building. Central Hall was the first gymnasium building at CMU and was the headquarters of the ROTC for many years. After taking over the building, students bestowed the name “Freedom Hall” on the building. Those occupying Central Hall effectively locked out the regular occupants of the building for the next five days. Reports of the number of occupying students in “Freedom Hall” range from 50 to 200. In addition to those in the building, hundreds established a “People’s Park” on the grounds around the building on the Warriner Mall.

On Saturday, May 9, the activist students and the University administration, led by President William Boyd, negotiated an end to the occupation of “Freedom Hall.” They also agreed that the tents in the “People’s Park” would come down each morning and could be reinstalled at dusk. By Monday, May 18, there were no more reports in the CM Life about tents on Warriner Mall.

All in all, the peaceful nature of the reaction of Central’s students and administration to the Kent State shootings was remarkable. Very little property damage was caused (CM Life reports $650 of damage), there were no arrests, and no confrontations between protesters and authorities.

To mark the 50th anniversary of these events, we are sharing some of the memories of those who were at Central during the time. These quotes are from two oral history interviews conducted by the staff of the Clarke Historical Library: one with former CMU President William Boyd (2014) and one with several activist students on campus during the occupation of “Freedom Hall” (2016).

"People's Park" viewed from above, click to enlarge

Central Hall was chosen as the object of the takeover because it was the headquarters of CMU ROTC. Former student Jon Childs remarked,
“They [Ohio National Guardsmen] shot these kids at Kent State, and the next day or that night, maybe, myself and a few other people decided to take over the ROTC building. There was a big -- one of the big movements here at that time was to get ROTC off campus. There was a group called SCAR, Student Committee to Abolish ROTC.”
Several former students remembered the environment in the building. While talking about the ROTC student staff who was in charge of the armory, where the weapons were stored, Dan Manville remembered,
“He [the student in charge of the armory] was not coming out […]. He was scared we were going to take over the weapons […]. He was in there, we had to feed him, he had to use the bathroom, so we gave him a bucket to use and whenever he wanted food, we would go and get food for him. […] He started trusting us, so we ended up taking care of him. So, it's like [the others in the interview] said, we weren't there to do anything [destructive]. It was a protest against the War.”
Ron Barrons said of his time in "Freedom Hall," “I can still hear the rattle of the chains [that padlocked the front doors of the building], and feel the rock hard floor under my sleeping bag.”

Paul Puma also remembered life in the occupied building:
“When you're in a building and the mere fact that you're in the building and you're controlling it, that is your statement, life goes on. So, within that building, relationships were formed, people met boyfriends, girlfriends. […] It was a little society within the society.”
Freedom rally on Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

Jon Childs noted that not everyone had the same strategies for change – some were into peace and love, some were political, some were hot-headed:
“[W]ithin the ROTC building, it wasn't all one big happy family. There were factions in there, too. […] At one point, someone came in to burn it down, brought in gasoline […]. We had a big fight about [strategy]. Where do we go from there? What does that mean, now we're destroyers?”
Rally in front of "Freedom Hall," click to enlarge

As the protest wore on, questions about when and how it would end began to bubble up. Cathy Courtney mentioned a time when she talked with President Boyd about how it would all end and his successful dialog with the students:
“I said, […] ‘it's not going to be much longer, you [President Boyd] don't need to bring in the cops. You're doing really good, you're negotiating just great, but it's going to be coming up because finals is coming up. People aren't going to miss their finals, they're not going to take incompletes. It will be over, and we're going to do freedom school instead.”
In a solo interview with Clarke staff, President Boyd offered a similar take on the events of May 1970, albeit from the administration's point of view. When asked, “In comparison to Berkeley, how did you view these events?,” Boyd answered:
“Well, I was surprised and pleased by the good nature of the Central student body. For example, when they occupied what became Freedom Hall, the ROTC building, they permitted an inspection every day by the administration to be sure that sanitation was OK, etc. I couldn't have imagined that happening at Berkeley.
"When Sproul Hall [at UC-Berkeley] was occupied, for example, it took police to get the kids out. There weren't any daily visits by an administration member.
“So, I was surprised by the good nature of the students who occupied Central Hall -- I mean Freedom Hall. And the same was true for the tent village. At Berkeley the People's Park episode, which occurred after I had left and gone to Central, was a violent episode in which Reagan had called out the National Guard. Our People's Park was really never anything but peaceable. I never felt threatened by it for example, though I did regret it very much because it was ugly. And because of the sanitation problem. And most students got tired of it and agreed to the university's request that they take down the tents.”
President Boyd, standing to the right of the tree, speaking to
students on the Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

President Boyd’s legacy in maintaining calm was a major part of discussion with former students. Almost 50 years after the events, the praise for President Boyd’s handling of the situation could not be overstated. Many former students expressed appreciation with statements like Paul Puma’s: “President Boyd, who… I really loved him, because he was very fair. He wasn't one of the people that would just say, ‘you radical bastards,’ you know? No, no, no. He had an open mind.”

During the 2016 interview, students had a chance to speak with President Boyd by phone and Judy Lewis expressed her appreciation directly to him:
“I was at CMU for two years and how you handled the situation, like they said, kept us out of trouble. We got our point across and it was an amazing two years under your watch, taking good care of us and making sure that we had our -- we could express ourselves but be safe at the same time. So, thank you for that.”
Jon Childs followed up, noting that it took 45 years to tell President Boyd this: “I don't know whether you know it, but I think you may have saved some people's lives during that situation, and mine may have been one of them. Some of us were a little hotheaded. Thank you so much for what you did, I really appreciate it.”

After a comment about the CMU president never losing his humanity while negotiating with the students, Janice Fialka remarked: “People can be skilled, but there's that superficiality, and I think that's why you hear, at this table, such love [for President Boyd].”

"Freedom Hall" and Warriner Mall, click to enlarge

The level-headed decisions of all of the parties involved kept the CMU campus rather peaceful during what could have been a very tense time. Cathy Courtney’s assessment of the events of May 1970 were echoed among the interview participants: “Ours was one of the only schools that had successful, and I mean occupied, educate, activated, tents, campus, occupy, with no violence, no personal injuries. That's considered success.” And Paul Puma followed up, “Yeah, totally, and a lot of the responsibility for that, I think goes back to President Boyd.”

After the occupation of Freedom Hall and the People’s Park, the building and grounds were left relatively undamaged. Things returned to business as usual and the students went mostly unpunished. Although some professors held students accountable for missing classes and President Boyd did not offer amnesty for those who missed class. Jon Childs noted, “My bowling instructor flunked me. I remember that (laughs).”

You can read more about the response to the Kent State Shooting at Central in the in the May 6, May 8, and May 11, 1970 issues of CM Life. And you can view the transcripts of these interviews at the Clarke Historical Library.