Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Newspaper remembrance

Newsboys' remembrance gathering includes bench-sitters Fred Rasmussen (left) and Ernie Imhoff. (Photo by Jim Burger)

Newsboys killed in 1924

honored at gravesite

on disaster anniversary

Toasts, tears are offered for them

... and for those killed at the Annapolis Capital

Time has a way of defeating memory, but a small group of diehard newspaper folks have kept alive an annual remembrance for five teenage boys lost in a tragedy nearly a century ago when the Chesapeake Bay steamboat Three Rivers caught fire off Cove Point in southern Maryland.

The victims were among the 59 members of The Evening Sun Newsboys Band,returning from a performance on the bay steamer on the Fourth of July in 1924. Five adults also perished in the disaster.

The boys rest under a semicircle of gravestones flanked by stone benches, all facing a seven-foot-high granite memorial and copper sculpture in Baltimore's huge Loudon Park Cemetery -- also the gravesite, in another section, of the famed  Evening Sun writer H.L. Mencken.

For many years, the evening newspaper held a memorial service there for the boys, and the tradition was revived about 1994 by a group of staffers including its last managing editor, Ernest F. Imhoff. The Evening Sun itself formally died -- some say it was murdered -- in 1995, four years after its staff, operation and content were merged with the surviving morning Sun, leading to a rapid decline in circulation.

Ernie worked for decades at the evening paper, and was its city editor on a snowy winter night in 1969 when I, as a cub reporter for the then-competing morning  paper, was covering a massive church fire across the street from his home in Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood. He invited me in from the cold, and offered a drink... brandy, as I recall.

I like to think of myself as an Evening Sun alum, despite having worked 40 years for the morning paper. I was acting night metro editor when, at the stroke of midnight one night in 1991, their staffs were officially wed. And I managed to get a few bylines on its front page during the final years of publication.

Now in his early 80s, his gait slowed enough to need a cane, Ernie is still presiding over the ceremony at Loudon Park, and was among 16 people who turned out at 9 a.m. today at the newsboys' burial site. It was also a family reunion, of sorts, because newspaper veterans have that kind of a bond -- dedication to their profession, and to each other. 

Dave Cohn calls out names of the newsboys, one headstone at a time. (Jim Burger photo)
There was news to share about the declining health of a colleague unable to attend, and lament for others who have died in the past year. There were toasts with whiskey and rye (and cold bottles of water for the few nondrinkers), and a reading by retired Evening Sun copy desk chief Dave Cohn of part of the newsboys' story.

It included the names of the dead, recited as Dave walked from headstone to headstone: Walter Clark Millikin and Thomas Ashby Pilker Jr., both age 13; Lester Alfred Seligman and Vernon Edward Jefferson, both 15; and the oldest of them, Nelson Appleton Miles, 17.

They were among the army of kids in that far-gone era who delivered the news.
Rasmussen and Joan Jacobson offer comfort as Ernie Imhoff speaks of the Annapolis Capital victims. (Jim Burger photo)

Ernie, tears welling up in his eyes, said their names should never be forgotten -- nor should those of the five others who were killed last week when a crazy man with a grudge opened fire with a shotgun at the Annapolis Capital, which is owned by the Baltimore Sun.

They were Rob Hiaasen, 59, assistant managing editor and former Sun reporter; Wendi Winters, 65, community reporter and special publications editor; Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, staff writer and longtime sports reporter; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant hired just eight months ago.

They, too, delivered the news.

Perhaps someday there will be a memorial place for all of them as well, in addition to the one in our hearts.

About 500 people attended a life celebration for Annapolis Capital shooting victim Rob Hiaasen Monday evening, and services for the other four are scheduled for this week and next. (Panorama photo by Bonnie J. Schupp)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

On the Road Again, Chapter 11

Empty chairs and reflection, Oklahoma City (Photos (c) Bonnie J. Schupp)



Oklahoma memorials

for bombing victims, 

folk music legend


... and time expired at cemetery

Not every stop on the trip is an entertaining Roadside Attraction, and crossing Oklahoma requires a somber visit to the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, destroyed by an act of domestic terrorism in 1995 with the loss of 168 lives.
9:01 -- a minute before the world changed

But getting there proved a challenge. We’ve never seen a city so torn up by road construction and detours. It seemed that every major street into and out of town had been dug up, at least in part, giving our cellphone Mapquest link a workout.

Parking also wasn’t simple, so I opted for the Post Office lot across the street where signs declare it for customers only, with a 15-minute limit. There were plenty of spaces. And I bought a stamp.
A long fence lines one side of the memorial site, and on it are hanging hundreds of tributes to the dead – including flowers, pictures, stuffed animals (some of the dead were children in daycare there), and written messages. 

Where the building stood is a long, shallow reflecting pool, and alongside it a grassy field lined with 168 chairs – each bearing the name of a victim. A National Park Service ranger was leading a group of visitors to the chair of a particular person they were seeking, and afterward explained that the federal service works in cooperation with the nonprofit foundation overseeing the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.

The memorial is flanked by monumental gates, one bearing the time 9:01, one minute before the blast, and the other 9:03. The space between is beautiful, serene, a place of reflection.

We were considering other places
The now-closed Womb building
to visit in Oklahoma City, but quirky – and the ranger suggested a building called “the Womb.” It was a warehouse-type structure a few minutes’ drive from the downtown section, that had been used by an arts collective and painted with loving craziness on the outside walls. Unfortunately, the doors were locked and inside it appeared to have been vacated. But visible inside the entrance area was the kind of art installation created by Flaming Lips rock band guitarist Wayne Coyne at Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf.

So we threaded the road-construction maze back to Interstate 40, and Bonnie found another appealing stop: Woody Guthrie’s 1912 birthplace in the town Okemah.

The town had a small park with a Woody statue, mural and memorial, and not far away was the now-vacant birthplace property where a local artist had sculpted its dead tree into the shape of a guitar bearing the words “this land is your land” from what likely is Guthrie’s most enduring song.
Woody Guthrie statue and memorial park in Okemah

Guthrie’s body was cremated after his death from Huntington’s disease complications in 1967. His ashes were scattered at Coney Island, N.Y., but a memorial for him was placed at his family’s plot in Okemah’s Highland Cemetery.

We didn’t realize it at the time of our visit, but we stopped at the cemetery for another oddity – the grave of Barbara Sue Manire, whose tombstone features a parking meter with a “64 year time limit) that has the dates of her birth (April 29, 1941) and death (on her birthday in 2005) and the dreaded words “Time Expired.”

Barbara Sue Manire's time was up.

Next Chapter: Clinton country

Friday, June 1, 2018

On the Road Again, Chapter 10

Cadillac Ranch draws visitors to Texas pasture. (Photos (c) Bonnie J. Schupp)

Last stop in New Mexico,

but more craziness

in Lone Star State

Invest in spray paint stock, folks!

Tucumcari… tuckawhat? That’s where we settled for our final night in New Mexico, after turning eastward for the long drive home. Bonnie was worn out in our almost nightly (and free with 20,000 points) Holiday Inn Express du jour, but I went out to peek at the town, fill the gas tank and get the dead bugs off the windshield.

Summer weather was settling in, with temperatures rising into the 90s, and bugs were attacking the windshield like it was a kamikaze suicide mission. (Flying grasshoppers, it looked like, made the loudest impact and biggest mess.)

Outside a closed cafe, Tucumcari
Tucumcari turned out to be enchanting, in an oddball way. Driving along a mile or so of Historic Route 66, I found an assortment of old-style roadside motels, stores and gas stations in various states of survival, decay or abandonment – like the Apache motel near the edge of town, a big sign above the building topped by an Indian face and “vacancy” at the bottom. A tiny notice on a boarded office window read “no trespassing.” And the Motel Entrance arrow pointed to a line of boarded windows and doors.

I also took note of a huge horned animal skeleton on the back of a pickup truck alongside the Tepee Curios shop. Nearby, a camel stood atop the sign of the Safari Motel – and a big one stood in the lobby by the front window.

Route 66 museum monument
But in the glare of the setting sun, I missed a lot more crazy-great stuff – so the next morning, we headed together to check out the roadside attractions there. One stop on the west side of town was a large Route 66 monument incorporating a giant 1950s-style automobile tailfin, standing in front of the local Route 66 museum.

But who needed to see the museum, when the town itself was such an amazing exhibition of faded, quirky glory. Well, not all faded. There was the Blue Swallow Motel, whose owners over the last six years or so have lovingly restored the place to its 1940s and 1950s beauty, including antique automobiles, colorful painted metal chairs outside each room, and adjoining garages bearing signs and painted murals. The motel dates to 1941, and has a working 1941 Kelvinator refrigerator/freezer named “Lois.”

Blue Swallow rooms have adjoining garages,.
There’s a couple of murals, including one of James Dean smoking a cigarette and standing next to his Porsche automobile – presumably the one in which he died in a crash.

On an adjoining lot stands an old gas station with two pairs of “pumps” – one for leaded gasoline, the other ethyl – at period prices. On another fuel island, a pair of Tesla charging stations. 

Most of the Blue Swallow rooms have a queen bed, and prices start at $89 a night, an employee  said as we peered into some that had just been vacated and were being cleaned.

Old artsy signs, neon and not, abound on the roadside – many having outlived their businesses. A former laundry building has one depicting a housewife doing her washing in a round tub.

One motel has a sign declaring that Clint Eastwood stayed there. 

A roadside café has half an airplane nestled against its side wall.

And there’s three miles of this kitsch! Even an Edsel! (Come to think, why not an Edsel? It’s a perfect touch.)

We spent the noontime hour there as Bonnie took dozens of pictures, and then bid adieu (or maybe adios) to New Mexico, hopping back onto Interstate 40 and heading into the Texas panhandle – the narrowest part of the Lone Star State.

Cadillac, VW graveyards and a giant cross

Two graffiti painters add their touches to buried Caddies.
One of the best-known quirky attractions in Texas is the Cadillac Ranch, just off Interstate 40 west of Amarillo. It is a line of Cadillac automobiles half-buried hood-down in a pasture, baking under an unforgiving sun on the Wednesday after Memorial Day. Not a holiday, not a weekend… and we were stunned to find a steady stream of a couple dozen gawkers and graffiti painters walking about a tenth of mile in from the frontage roadway parking area.

With shifting winds, it was difficult to avoid the fumes of spray-painters' efforts. Graffiti is encouraged. Even the old barbed-wire pasture fence has been painted. In a sense, whatever anyone paints on the cars may last forever – but under layers of graffiti added by other visitors. Who knows how long this bizarre display will survive, but I imagine that after a century or two of paint layers, the Cadillac frames will have grown larger.

A Slug Bug jalopy adds artistic touch.
Beetles planted at Slug Bug Ranch
Our next stop was a spoof of Cadillac Ranch about 20 miles east of Amarillo, near the community of Conway. It is called the Slug Bug Ranch, for a row of five dead Volkswagen Beetles similarly buried and adorned with layers of graffiti. But there’s also several buildings of a former fuel stop bearing wacky messages, and back in a grassy field an old pickup truck – its hood popped open – under the rotting canopy of a long-abandoned Texaco garage. 

For visual punning, there was the ruins of an old Shell station, a shell of its former self.

Giant Cross rises over Stations of the Cross.
Further east, in the town of Groom, we found religion – a 19-story cross reputed to be the second-biggest in the Western Hemisphere, standing almost like a sundial surrounded by metal sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross. 

Climb a nearby stairway to find a recreation of Christ’s tomb watched over by a pair of angels.
On a blistering hot day, it was a relief to check out the center of the property featuring a religion-themed fountain, and an air-conditioned building with a gift shop, divinely clean restrooms, and a 230-seat movie theater screening an eight-minute inspirational film. I peeked inside and found not a single soul, just empty seats. Jesus!



Texas over and done, quickly!

The Panhandle is just 177 miles wide, so we reached Oklahoma by 6 p.m. (even after losing an hour, since crossing into Texas we had entered the Central Time Zone and lost an hour). And 40 miles later, we pulled into Elk City and found our next Holiday Inn Express – this one extraordinarily luxurious, and free for our stay (at a bargain surrender of 15,000 reward points).

After sharing a steak dinner at a nearby sports bar and grill, called Boomtown, we settled into our executive king room (an upgrade over the standard twin-double afforded us Platinum Rewards members when available) and expected to watch a late-night comedy show. But none was being aired over the local network affiliates. Instead, we were treated to dramatic live coverage of a string of violent storms sweeping southeasterly 30 to 40 miles north of Elk City.

Amazing to watch the coverage as the TV stations had crews broadcasting the view through windshields as they drove into the storms. The weather anchors were giving minute-by-minute storm tracks, warning of cyclonic action, winds of 60 to 90 mph, and the possibility of hail the size of baseballs. One road crew told of hail hits cracking the windshield, and showed an image of a car perhaps two-tenths of mile in front of them spinning around in the middle of the road before the driver luckily regained control.

There were indications the storms could reach Interstate 40, closer to Oklahoma City – one of our planned destinations for Thursday afternoon. But by morning, there was no alarming news about the overnight drama. Just another weather day in Oklahoma, I guess.

Next chapter: A few stops in a very wide state, OK?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

On the Road Again, Chapter 9

Strangers meet in Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return bathroom.

Our own Santa Fe Trail

leads to strange worlds,

reunion with a dear friend

The path of our road trip has been defined, in part, by seeing old friends, and the big turn south and east from the San Francisco area was really about getting to Santa Fe. That’s home to a friend dating back a bit over 40 years, Parris McBride.

She doesn’t spend much time with email, and isn’t on Facebook, but she knew we might turn up on her doorstep this week. Having not heard back from my latest email message, we pulled up in front of her home that we last visited about 12 years ago. 

In one respect, the timing wasn’t great – just half an hour earlier, she had received word of the death of a dear friend back east, science fiction editor and writer Gardner Dozois. And she was awaiting the return of her husband George, who had been away working on and off for a few months. So we sat in their TV room, chatting for an hour, finding out about how our respective families and mutual friends were doing.

In an odd sort of way, Parris played a role in my marriage to Bonnie. She was among a cast of characters living in my eight-bedroom Baltimore townhouse known as “Toad Hall” back in the late 1970s. I was interested in her, but she introduced me to her best friend, who eventually became my second ex-wife (but we’re still friends!) just in time for Bonnie – a neighbor early in my first marriage – to turn up again. It’s part of the string of circumstance that against enormous odds creates futures.

They’ve both been busy for close to a decade, since George hit it big in the literary and television world… you’ve probably heard of him, George R.R. Martin. Before his Game of Thrones books and the HBO series based on it, George was not widely known – even in Santa Fe. Now he is a considerable part of the local economy.

A new project is the Stagecoach Foundation. As Parris explained it, a wealthy, terminally-ill Santa Fe businessman donated the office building that had housed his former company to George to “do something.” George, in meeting with the millionaire, found he was living in the house on Stagecoach Lane formerly owned by his late friend and fellow science fiction/fantasy writer Roger Zelazny (who for several years lived in the Baltimore area). Hence the name of the foundation, established last year.

The building is used as low-cost office space for film and TV productions being made in Santa Fe and across New Mexico, and training and job development in the industry for young people – particularly in underserved and native populations. The project is making up for government cutbacks to subsidies for filmmaking projects under the state’s current Republican administration. And Parris has gotten involved in politics, supporting a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the upcoming primary election.

Bonnie sitting in an alternative reality kitchen at Meow Wolf.
Another aspect of George’s local impact is called Meow Wolf. It is an interactive immersion into a fantasy world created by an artist collective in a long-vacant bowling alley that George purchased for the project and renovated. He calls himself their landlord. Meow Wolf took two years to build, and in its second year of operation has become one of New Mexico’s top tourist attractions. An expectation of perhaps 30,000 visitors in the first year in reality became 400,000.  (And there’s a possibility, George said, for Meow Wolf installations in Denver and Las Vegas.)
Entering a Meow Wolf portal

On Memorial Day, we arrived about noon to find a line nearly half a block long – and that was for people who, like us, had purchased tickets online ($23 for out-of-state seniors). There was a slightly longer line for those buying tickets at the door. A Meow Wolf staffer said it would have been worse had we arrived at the 10 a.m. opening time, because the line then was more than twice as long.

Meow Wolf is sort of a multi-dimensional, other-worldly, family-friendly fun house that takes hours, or even days, to explore. There is inside the huge former bowling alley an entire house whose fictional family, and even the children’s hamster, had vanished, and visitors can search for clues to their disappearance in letters, scraps of notes, physical evidence of all sorts. 

I may have found the missing hamster.
The house has hidden passages leading to other rooms and other worlds, in what seemed a strange cross between the TV series “Stranger Things” and the movie “Beetlejuice.” And for an extra dollar, you can buy 3-D glasses to enhance the experience in many areas of the maze.

 You can climb through the door of a refrigerator in the kitchen, or disappear down a narrow slide through the door of a clothes dryer. And, if you like, interact with strangers.

There was a passageway I saw from an upper-level platform, but Bonnie called me away to look at something else. Then I couldn’t find my passageway. I’d lost it, or imagined it. But I really think it was there. I’m not crazy! 

In the room of eyeballs, only a few are human.
Rooms lead to other rooms, corridors, adventures and distractions. Play a Theremin by stroking or moving through red laser beams. Lie back in a room of giant eyeballs (not all of them human). Sit in a green room absorbing the sound of an electronic hum. Take a nap on the bed in a child’s room, maybe even coax a stranger to join you there. Play percussion on the bones of a mastodon. It gets weird. It’s a high-tech “choose your own adventure” in which you are unlikely to find an ending, except for exhaustion from imagination and sensory overload.

Bonnie felt the exhaustion after five hours of wandering, but I had to see one more room – the arcade, with an assortment of video games and, in a back corner, one of my favorite pinball machines, Attack from Mars, which I last played in a bar we found in Anchorage, Alaska, about this time last year.

But we had to leave – in need of a little relaxation before meeting Parris and George for dinner. We had a feast at an Asian fusion restaurant that was terrific, and talked some more about our lives, friends, and business. 

George R.R. Martin and Parris McBride
I was curious about what George viewed as a key turning point in his life, that in the ensuing decades brought him fame and fortune. He had earned a master’s degree, with honors, in journalism from Northwestern University, but despite a hundred applications could not land a newspaper job. He was even turned down for a job in the comic book industry. But then he sold several short stories, and turned to writing science fiction. He’s also taught writing and journalism at a Catholic girls’ college in the Midwest.

A few years after our last visit, the dragons hatched. The Game of Thrones book series got noticed, books became best-sellers, and HBO’s series rocketed into pop culture. I remember seeing George on TV a couple of years ago at the Emmy Awards, where an usher handed him a typewriter – a gentle jab as fans were clamoring for him to finish the next book in the series. On stage, parody icon Weird Al Yankovic was singing to the tune of the “Thrones” theme music, “write it faster, write it faster.” George looked strangely at the typewriter in his lap, as if some alien device had fallen there from the sky.

I had to know whether that was planned or spontaneous. Parris said she had stepped out to the theater lobby for a break and missed it. And George, who had been sitting a few seats into the row, suspected something was up when he was moved to a spot on the aisle. In the back of his mind was the thought that he might have won an Emmy. Instead, it was a little humorous mockery.
Emmy and Dragon

But he’s got a few of the pretty statuettes, one of them standing on a table in the hallway entrance at home next to a sculpture of a three-headed dragon.

In his wildest dreams, George said, he could not have imagined the extent of his success. But with it has come demands on his time, meetings to discuss future TV projects, business ventures and other projects, and the pressure to spin out the rest of the Westeros story. It’s nearly summer in Santa Fe, and the world wants the winter emerging letter by letter, line by line, from George’s fingertips.

I didn’t ask the question of when winter is coming. 

Me, trying out Game of Thrones pinball
Instead, after dinner, Parris drove us up the street to a house they had bought for guest space (in addition to a third house across the street used as an office). She introduced us to their limited edition Game of Thrones pinball machine. The theme music plays, and character voices are heard as flippers launch the silver balls into a compelling electronic wonderland.

Next chapter: Homeward bound