On an Immigrant

Odds are that, if you are an American, you have an opinion about immigration. The issue of undocumented aliens coming to America is certainly not a new one. All throughout the history of this land, people who have come here illegally have been seen as being suspect and, often, treated as inferior and unwelcome.  Germans, the Irish, immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, Asians, and many other groups have all been shunned as being “different“ and, therefore, un-American.

It has been rare that someone from American History has welcomed foreigners and treated them with respect. Rebecca was one such person.

Rebecca was, by all accounts, a strange child from birth. She grew up gregarious and inquisitive in a period when women were encouraged to be neither. Hers was a family of privilege and power, her father holding a position of authority in her town. So to say that she was different than the other girls around her would be accurate. Perhaps that’s why she had such tolerance for other people who were labeled as being different since Rebecca was much the same herself.

There was one famous instance when she was in her teens when an illegal alien had been captured by some of the local men. Rebecca insisted that he be treated fairly. In fact, she brought him food and water during his incarceration, making sure that his needs were met. When some of the men in her town wanted to punish the immigrant man, Rebecca actually spoke up for him and even went to her dad and asked for mercy on the man’s behalf. Her father, touched by the compassion his daughter showed, granted the man leniency.

Yes, Rebecca’s attitude was rare in a period of great intolerance. Her era is much like ours, today, sadly. In a time when illegal immigrants are viewed with outright hatred in some quarters, we need more people like Rebecca who will speak for those who are different from us, speak for those who are coming to America to make a better lives for themselves and their families. After all, we are all immigrants, right?

The man Rebecca spoke up for was a man named John Smith. Captain John Smith, in fact. He was an Englishman, an Englishman in the early 1600s who came to America and settled, illegally, on land settled first by indigenous Americans.

Rebecca, you see, was this young woman’s Christian name. She is better known in history by one of her her native names: Pocahontas.

On a Risky Venture

Investments are tricky. It doesn’t seem to be a matter of throwing money at the popular or profitable company now, but the secret to good investing seems to be the ability to predict the Next Big Thing. Such an opportunity befell John S Gray in the early 1900s.

Gray was part of an immigrant family from Edinburgh, Scotland, who came to the United States in the 1850s. By the beginning of the 20th century, Gray had become a typical American success story. He had become a successful candymaker, businessman, and banker. That’s when his nephew, a man named Alexander Malcomson, approached Mr. Gray with an investment opportunity.  The nephew said that he had a friend who was on the cutting edge of some new technology that was going to be the next big thing.

Another business axiom is that people who have money often keep it because they don’t invest in risky ventures. That’s why, at first, John Gray wasn’t interested in his nephews proposal.  Look at the picture of John Gray above. He is solid, respectable, and conservative. He does not seem to be the type of man who would suffer fools gladly. But, Malcomson persisted, and he promised Gray that investors could take their money out of the company at any time.

John Gray thought about this for a long time. Perhaps it was his Scottish blood that made him not want to throw good money at a risky venture. His nephew had an up-and-down record of risky investments, and it was Gray’s feeling that this was one of the more risky opportunities. However, the promise that his money could be recovered at any time proved enough for Gray to reluctantly invest $10,500, which gave him just over 10% of the company.

On the strength of Gray’s name, Malcomson was able to convince other investors to join the risky venture that he and his other partners were pursuing.  Interestingly, some of the investors in this group included the Dodge brothers, who would go on to build the successful line of automobiles. Because of his stature in the financial community, John Gray was elected the first president of the new corporation at the first meeting of the 12 investors.

Oh, the venture was profitable from the start. Within a few weeks, all the investors made back their initial outlays several times over.  Yet, despite the success, friction arose between the investors. Some of them had their own businesses – – Malcomson and Gray among them. Some of the investors only worked at the new company.  The friction centered on what direction the new company should take going forward. Surprisingly, Gray sided with those who worked only in the company. He and the other investors eventually froze Malcomson out, and the company bought Malcomson’s shares.

The future looked bright for John Gray, and this risky venture now seemed to be a stroke of genius. Unfortunately, only three years into the venture, John Gray died of a heart attack. He was replaced by the vice President of the company—the man upon whose idea the company was based.

By the way, when Gray’s estate finally sold his shares back to the company, the original $10,500 investment produced a total return of almost $40 million.

You’re probably wondering what company John Gray risked his money over. The company was named for that vice president who took over when Gray died, and the product the company made became synonymous with the man who started it.

You know it as the Ford Motor Company.

On a Young Patriot

Gabe loved his country. In fact, today, Gabe could be called a super patriot. Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 1800s, he grew up wanting to make his country better. So, against the wishes of his farmer father, Gabe went to university.

There he learned more about his people and their past, and this only fueled his love for his land. When he heard that the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand, was coming to visit his part of that world, Gabe excitedly vowed to see the Crown Prince when he came.

What the world didn’t know was that over a half-dozen assassins lined the streets of Sarajevo that day, each one dedicated his life to killing the heir to the throne. In some similar ways, each assassin on that route had the same passion that Gabe had for his country.

As the motorcade carrying the heir and his wife traveled through the city, one of those assassins first attempted to kill the couple by throwing a bomb at their motorcar. The bomb had a delayed fuse, and it bounced under one of the following cars and exploded, injuring the occupants, but the Crown Prince was unharmed. Amazingly, the parade continued.

Gabe stood nowhere near that part of the parade route, but he heard in the crowd about the assassination attempt and felt like many others did—that parade would surely be called off. So, he decided to go into a nearby restaurant and eat some lunch, nursing his hurt feelings that he didn’t get to see the royal couple.

You know what happened next. Franz Ferdinand gave a speech and then decided to visit those who had been injured in the assassination attempt earlier. He and his wife got back into their motorcar in the parade continued somewhat. The Crown Prince’s head of security decided to change the parade route, but he didn’t tell Ferdinand’s driver.

The chauffeur of the Crown Prince’s car then turned down the wrong street. From behind him, people in the following cars yelled for him to turn the motorcar back around and follow the new parade route.

At that moment, Gabe stepped out of the cafe and realized that, to his astonishment, the motorcar had turned down the exact street where he had been eating lunch. The young patriot had chosen that moment to walk out of the cafe, and he found himself looking directly into the open back seat of a vehicle in which sat the future emperor of the largest nation in Europe.

Yes, Gabe was a patriot. He loved his country. Except, in Gabe‘s mind, his country was not some empire. His country, at least in his mind, was not made up of Germanic Austrians or ethnic Hungarians, but, rather, of the collection of Slavic people in the southern and eastern part of the empire.

You see, Gabe wanted Austria Hungary to grant the southern Slavic people their independence. He wanted it so badly that Gabe volunteered to be one of those assassins on the route.

Thats why, when sheer chance caused him to come face-to-face with the royal couple, Gabe—Gavrilo Princip—fired his pistol into the bodies of the Austro-Hungarian prince and princess, killing them both, and lighting the fuse that brought about World War 1.

On Bob’s Jinx

Bob should have lived a charmed life. Born into wealth and privilege, Bob attended the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy for his high school. He got his undergraduate degree at Harvard. He got a law degree from Northwestern in Chicago.

During the American Civil War, Bob served on the staff of an important union general. However, by the time he died in the 1920s, people who knew him reported that Bob felt that he was one of the most unlucky men who had ever lived.
You see, Bob thought himself jinxed.
Three events in Bob‘s life let him to feel this way. The first one was almost an accident of fate. He was in Washington DC the night that President Abraham Lincoln was shot. In fact, Bob had tickets to see the same play that the president saw that night at Ford’s Theater. However, he decided not to attend the performance. Like many in Washington, when he heard of the president being shot, he made his way down to the boarding house across the street from the theater where Lincoln‘s dying body was carried. In fact, Bob was allowed into the room where he joined the large crowd who witnessed the great man draw his last breath early the next morning. So, he indirectly saw the Lincoln assassination.
The second event that caused Bob to feel like his life had been unlucky occurred about 15 years later. By this time, Bob had made a name for himself as a lawyer and in politics. His experience had earned him a job in government. It was in this capacity that the president at the time, James Garfield, invited Bob to catch a train with him in Washington. It was while standing on the train platform with Garfield that an assassin came up and put a bullet into the president, a bullet from which Garfield would eventually die. Two presidents—two deaths.
The third event happened in 1901. Again, the situation involved a sitting president. This time, President William McKinley invited Bob to the opening of the Buffalo worlds fair. Bob was standing outside of the building at the exposition where the president was having a reception when another assassin came up and shot McKinley, fatally wounding him.
That was it for Bob. A man who had wealth and prestige and some power felt that his connections to three presidential assassinations made him some sort of a jinx. After 1901, when any president would invite Bob to an event he would answer, “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.“
Oh, there is one other interesting historical footnote about Bob’s life. When Bob was in college at Harvard, he was accidentally pushed off a train platform in New Jersey and into the path of an oncoming train. To hear Bob tell the story in later years, the next thing he knew was that a large hand grabbed him by the collar and, in one quick motion, pulled him up to the safety of the platform. He turned around to see who his savior was and found himself looking into the face of the famous American actor, Edwin Booth, the brother of the man who would be Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Lincoln’s assassin—his father’s assassin. For, you see, Bob was known publicly as Robert Todd Lincoln.

On Crying in Baseball

Tom Hanks’s character in the film, A League of Their Own, Jimmy Dugan, chews out one of the girls he manages in the story, and she bursts into tears. “Are you crying?” Jimmy asks, incredulously. “No,” the player says through her sobs. “There’s no crying in baseball!” Jimmy yells at her.

Nobody told that to Charlie. He loved the game of baseball, but he grew frustrated when he struck out. Often, after a poor performance at the plate, Charlie broke down in tears. His coach and his teammates would try to console him when he cried, but they rarely could make him feel better. Charlie simply loved the game that much.

Now, let’s be realistic here  It’s baseball. You’re going to strike out—often. Even major leaguers who hit the ball safely only 3 out of ten times (batting .300) are among the best players in the game. Failure—on a statistically significant scale—is a major part of the equation.

All of that doesn’t explain why Charlie’s strikeouts pained him so. He knew consistent success actually hitting a baseball was statistically impossible to maintain. His dad, also named Charles, and his granddad, also named Charles, often worked with him to lower his strikeout rate. But he could never get over hearing, “You’re out!” screamed at him by the home plate umpire.

You might well ask—why not quit, Charlie? Maybe your temperament, your passion for excellence might be better served in some field more suitable to your emotional needs. Of course, you might be thinking that Charlie is a little leager, a kid who has issues that could work themselves out as he matured.

Well, yes and no. In many ways, Charlie was a kid all his life. He had a boyish, goofy grin and a shock of sandy hair that gave him the look of a perennial summer day.

But, if you think Charlie—the Charlie that cried after strikeouts—was some kid in a little league park somewhere in America, you would be wrong. He was a major leager himself. And he still cried after strikeouts.

You see, Charlie didn’t go by the name “Charlie.“ His dad had chosen a first name for him from the name of his favorite baseball player, a catcher named Gordon Cochrane. Except Gordon had a nickname—Mickey—that Charlie’s dad chose as his son’s first name.

That’s why you know this crybaby as Mickey Mantle.


On A Co-Worker

Nancy, in her retirement, looked around her and decided that, in the world of 1984, it was better to take an active role in the politics of her area than simply complain about them. So, after much thought and discussion with friends, Nancy filed papers to run for political office. She entered her name in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania for the office of US representative. To her surprise, she ran unopposed and became the Democratic nominee.

Her opponent that year was an incumbent Republican in a district that was also heavily leaning towards that particular party. That’s why she ran unopposed; the election was going to be an uphill battle from the get go for any Democrat. 

However, Nancy had a great attitude. She had made a living outside of politics, you see, and she pointed to other “outsiders” who had become successful in politics – even actors like the current president at the time, Ronald Reagan. Besides listing her years in military service before her career, Nancy felt strongly that listening and caring mattered more than resume. She made an effort to try to connect with voters in the district, and her strategy proved effective. In fact, Nancy polled far better than many people expected, at least at first. 

Then, an outsider became involved in the race, much to Nancy surprise. A former coworker of hers, a man named Frank, a man who was well-known and well respected nationally, volunteered to make a free advertisement for her opponent. 

Nancy was hurt deeply by this. The ad, which ran on radio, labeled Nancy as being way too liberal to represent Pennsylvania values. The ad proved effective, and her numbers tanked.

Why would this former coworker do this to her? The two had not had much contact in the previous almost 20 years or so. While their relationship when they worked together was not cordial by any means, it was certainly professional and, she thought, respectful. “He is not the kindly old man that everyone perceived him to be,“ Nancy said about him later

Was this unsolicited ad against her the decisive event of the election? No, probably not. Odds were that Nancy would have lost anyway. It was the fact, however, that this coworker from almost two decades before would offer himself, completely unsolicited, to her opponent and to say things that would hurt her publicly. That was a wound that cut Nancy deeper than the 2 to 1 margin of defeat she suffered at the ballot box.

To her family and friends, Nancy never allowed Frank’s name to be brought up in conversation. She died a few years later, still not quite sure why such an attack against her was warranted.

By the way, before her foray into politics, Nancy had also made her living the same way as Ronald Reagan. She was an actress who played minor and secondary roles for her entire career. Frank had been one of her costars in one particular show that you probably have seen or at least have heard of –The Beverly Hillbillies. 

Nancy played the secretary of the bank president where those folks from the hills had their millions stashed. In reruns over several decades, Nancy Kulp’s Ms. Hathaway has almost become the prototypical secretary/fixer for executives or wealthy businessmen. She played the part for the entire run of the series. 

Meanwhile, the costar and the man who voluntarily smeared her in her congressional campaign, the coworker who hurt her so badly, was Frank “Buddy” Ebsen, who played the starring role of Jed Clampett. 

On an Ad Man

Ted grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, wanting to be a professor. His immigrant Dad, the manager of a brewery, approved of this career choice because Dad wanted a better life for his son.
After finishing college at Dartmouth in the mid-1920s, That’s Ted at college in the image above. Ted chose Oxford to study English literature in preparation for exactly such a career. While at Oxford, Ted met a woman there, Helen, who convinced him that his real talent lay in a fairly new but potentially lucrative field: Magazine cartooning.
You see, Ted like to doodle, and he made funny drawings that elicited laughter from this woman. The pair hit it off and were eventually married. Ted returned to United States without completing his degree to pursue his new career in cartoons, attempting to sell to large magazines. This new career proved successful.
Then, in the 1930s, Ted expanded his graphic art talent into advertising, and he created several nationally successful advertising campaigns for such large corporations as Standard Oil, Ford, and NBC. That’s one of Ted’s ads in the picture below (for a product called Flit, an insecticide).
Between the magazine work and the advertising, Ted became wealthy, eventually making more money than many of his rich Dartmouth classmates. He and Helen traveled the world, which Ted felt helped his creativity. They lived a nice life. Children were not important to either of the couple. In fact, his wife once noted that Ted lived his whole life without kids and was very happy without them. Frankly, Ted never really liked children and often felt awkward around them.
This is important because, in 1936, Ted decided to write a children’s book. Helen had written some successful books for kids, and she encouraged Ted to give the genre a try. Perhaps not having a lot of experience around kids wasn’t the best background for writing a children’s book because Ted later said that the manuscript was rejected by over 40 different publishers. But, he persisted, and the book was eventually published by the firm one of his old Dartmouth classmates.
The book was a success, but, then, World War II broke out, and Ted found that he was a bit too old to join the military. So, he went to work creating political cartoons that helped the allied cause. He brought the same wonderfully creative energy to this patriotic effort that he had to the national advertising campaigns. Ted’s work proved to be incredibly influential in keeping both morale high at home and public opinion overseas pro-American.
After the war, rather than returning to the lucrative ad work, Ted resumed his book writing career, again targeting a children’s audience. One of his friends challenged him to create a book that was interesting to kids and that used a vocabulary of only 50 words. Ted accepted the challenge, and that book, too, became successful.
Wildly so.
You’ve read it, in fact.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.