November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
I died for Beauty––but was scarce by Emily Dickinson. Public domain.
I died for Beauty––but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb,
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room––
He questioned softly “Why I failed”?
“For Beauty”, I replied––
“And I––for Truth––Themself are One––
We Brethren, are”, He said––
And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night––
We talked between the Rooms––
Until the Moss had reached our lips––
And covered up––our names––
He was the poet laureate of New Jersey during the September 11 attacks, and a year later, he read his poem “Somebody Blew Up America” at a poetry festival. In it, he suggested that Israel knew about the attack beforehand; the poem was labeled anti-Semitic and caused a huge controversy. The governor of New Jersey tried to fire Baraka, but discovered that it wasn’t legally possible to fire a poet laureate. So the state passed a bill that dissolved the position, and since then, there has not been a poet laureate of New Jersey.
It was on this date that two major airlines were founded.
In 1919, KLM was founded, the Royal Dutch Airline. KLM is the acronym for the Dutch phrase meaning “Royal Aviation Society,” and it’s the oldest airline that still operates under its original name.
In 1903, the Wright brothers made their first brief, successful attempts at flying a controlled and powered airplane, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In 1909, the first official airlines had gotten off the ground. Headquartered in Frankfurt, it went by the acronym DELAG. But DELAG was an airline for airships, or dirigibles, not airplanes as we know them. It used airships made by the Zeppelin company.
Ten years later, when KLM was founded, they were ready to use airplanes. Their first flight was in 1920 from London to Amsterdam, on a biplane, a refined version of the basic design used by the Wright brothers. The biplane had capacity for four passengers, and KLM’s first flight carried just two journalists, plus a lot of newspapers. By the end of the year KLM had transported 345 passengers, 22 tons of cargo, and three tons of mail.
It’s the birthday of the labor organizer and songwriter Joe Hill, born Joel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden (1879). He grew up in a big, devout Lutheran family. They played music together and encouraged Joe’s musical talent, but they never discussed politics. His dad worked for the railroad but it was dangerous work, and he got injured and died on the operating table when Joe was eight. Joe went to work right away, working in a rope factory when he was nine, then as a fireman, and more odd jobs of one sort of another. And he kept playing music.
In 1902, his mother died. The six children sold the family home, divided up the money, and Joe and one of his brothers used their portion to buy passage to America. For the next 12 years, Joe Hill was all over the place, hard to keep tabs on — partly because so many myths about him were written down as fact later on. He spent time in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. He was fired from one job for trying to unionize the workers; he joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and organized for them; and he published political songs like “The Preacher and the Slave,” “The Tramp,” and “Casey Jones — The Union Scab.” He invented the phrase “pie in the sky” for his song “The Preacher and the Slave,” sung to the tune of “In The Sweet Bye and Bye.” It went: “You will eat, bye and bye, / In that glorious land above the sky; / Work and pray, live on hay, / You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” He played banjo, guitar, violin, and piano all over the country, in migrant worker camps or hobo jungles, spreading his songs and ideas, making money where he could. He surfaced briefly in Mexico, in British Columbia, in Portland, and maybe in Hawaii — always working different, temporary jobs, and always organizing for workers’ rights. He was arrested in 1912 in San Pedro, where he was supporting the dock workers’ strike by serving as the secretary of the strike committee and playing music.
In 1913, Joe Hill was working for a mine outside Salt Lake City. On the evening of January 10th, 1914, Hill sought medical treatment from a doctor named McHugh for a bullet wound in his chest, which he told the doctor he had received because of a fight over another man’s wife. He got a ride home late that night, and he tossed a gun out the car, a fact that he never really explained.
That same evening, two men were murdered in Salt Lake City: a storekeeper, John G. Morrison, and his son Arling. Morrison was a former policeman. The only witness who survived was Morrison’s son Merlin, who saw two men in red bandannas enter the store and shoot his father and brother. There was a trail of blood leading out of the store.
Several suspects in the case were identified immediately. They assumed it wasn’t a robbery attempt since the cash register remained full, so all the newspapers announced that it was someone seeking revenge. Two masked men had attempted to hold up Morrison before, and he had seriously injured one of the men when he shot at them, so there was speculation that it might be those two men back to finish their task. Only a few days before he was murdered, Morrison told a police officer that he wished he had never joined the police force, because now he lived in constant fear that the people he had arrested would come back to get him. And he told his wife that there were two men who lived in his neighborhood who were his enemies and that if anything happened to him he wanted her to know their names.
First the police picked up a man named Wilson, a recently released inmate whom Morrison had arrested, who had declared revenge on Morrison, and who was wanted for crimes in other states. They also picked up W.J. Williams, who had a bloodstained handkerchief in his pocket. They didn’t want to pursue the names of the men whom Morrison had named to his wife because they were considered good citizens.
After Dr. McHugh read about the murders in the paper, he called the chief of police and told him about his patient with a bullet wound. Joe Hill was arrested immediately. The evidence against him was shaky. Even though Merlin initially said that Joe Hill didn’t look at all like the men in the store, he changed his testimony in court. Apart from the fact that he had been shot and vague physical similarities to one of the two gunmen (mostly that he was tall), the biggest piece of evidence against Joe Hill was that he owned a red handkerchief. Hill and his attorneys were confident he would be acquitted, since there was only circumstantial evidence and, most of all, no motive was ever produced, certainly not a revenge motive.
But Joe Hill’s refusal to explain where he had gotten the gunshot wound worked against him. And he often just sat back and let the prosecution make claims against him. He refused over and over to establish an alibi. He claimed that he didn’t want to ruin the reputation of the lady in question, but that was all he would say. Some biographers interpret all this as a sign of his innocence — he was so sure that he wouldn’t be convicted that he didn’t fight back hard in court. Some people think that he was in bed with a married woman and didn’t want to ruin her honor. Other biographers see his vagueness and his fatalism as a sign of his guilt. Many surmise that he sat back and let the prosecution do its worst so that he could be the ultimate martyr for the labor movement, symbolizing the total injustice of the justice system. The attorney he met with after his conviction said to a newspaper: “That Hill is a strange one. It’s almost as if he needs to be a symbol for a cause.”
Whatever the case, there is no doubt that he was convicted without enough evidence, without even a motive. And not only was he convicted, but he was also sentenced to death.
Joe Hill did become a perfect martyr for the labor movement. His body was taken to Chicago, where it was met by a huge crowd, and his ashes were sent to an IWW chapter in every state (except Utah) and to supporters all around the world. On May 1st, International Workers’ Day, his ashes were simultaneously scattered. One envelope had been confiscated by the U.S. Postal Service in 1917 and turned up in 1988; those ashes were scattered in various places, and the leftist singer Billy Bragg even ate some of them.
In 1950, Wallace Stegner published Joe Hill: A Biographical Novel. Although a work of fiction, Stegner researched so thoroughly that he had the warden of the Salt Lake City penitentiary walk him blindfolded from Joe Hill’s cell and through all the steps of a mock execution, so that he could feel what it would be like.
It’s the birthday of journalist, nonfiction author, and writing teacher William Zinsser (books by this author), born in New York City in 1922. He’s written several books, including a couple of memoirs and books about travel, jazz, and baseball. His best-known work is On Writing Well (1976). In it he advocates a clean, spare style: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.”
He has a bit of advice for would-be authors of memoir: “Be yourself and your readers will follow you anywhere. Try to commit an act of writing and they will jump overboard to get away.”
It’s the birthday of poet and author Diane Ackerman, born Diane Fink in Waukegan, Illinois (1948) (books by this author). She has a knack for blending science and literary art; she wrote her first book of poetry entirely about astronomy. It was called The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral, and it was published in 1976, while she was working on her doctorate at Cornell. Carl Sagan served as a technical advisor for the book, and he was also on her dissertation committee. One of her most widely read books is A Natural History of the Senses (1990), which inspired a five-part Nova miniseries, Mystery of the Senses, which she hosted. She even has a molecule named after her: dianeackerone.
In 1970, she married novelist and poet Paul West. They shared a playful obsession with words that was central to their expressions of love for each other. In 2005, Paul suffered a stroke and, as Ackerman wrote, “In the cruelest of ironies for a man whose life revolved around words, with one of the largest working English vocabularies on earth, he had suffered immense damage to the key language areas of his brain and could no longer process language in any form.” His vast vocabulary was reduced to a single syllable: mem.
Even when he recovered the ability to speak, his brain kept substituting wrong words for the right ones, but she encouraged him not to fight his brain, but to just go with it, to say what it was giving him to say. As a result, the hundred little pet names he used to have for her before the stroke have been replaced with non-sequiturs like “my little spice owl,” “my little bucket of hair,” and “blithe sickness of Araby.” Ackerman wrote about the stroke and Paul’s journey back to language in One Hundred Names for Love (2011).
Her book The Zookeeper’s Wife (2007), the true story of how the directors of the Warsaw Zoo saved the lives of 300 Jews following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, was turned into a feature film last year.
Diane Ackerman wrote, “It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”
Today is the birthday of Nobel Prize-winning Danish physicist Niels Bohr, born in Copenhagen (1885). Bohr theorized that atoms were composed of a small, dense nucleus that is orbited by electrons at a fixed distance from the nucleus. He also came up with the revolutionary principle of complementarity: that things like light or electrons can have a dual nature — as a particle and a wave, for example — but we can only experience one aspect of their nature at a time.