Category Archives: History Today

What’s past is present.

How Jessica Mitford Exposed A $48m Scam From America’s Literary Establishment

Great story.

David Gaughran

Cerf1Jessica Mitford took on the American funeral industry, the California Department of Corrections, and the Ku Klux Klan, but it was her 1970 exposé of The Famous Writers School which led to Time calling her “The Queen of the Muckrakers.” And if a courageous editor hadn’t reversed his decision to kill her story, it might never have happened.

Mitford had been aware of The Famous Writers School’s existence for some time. Anyone who was a frequent reader of newspapers, books or magazines would have seen its ever-present advertisements, inviting aspiring writers to cut out and apply for the free aptitude test. While Mitford was suspicious, she didn’t have anything concrete until her lawyer husband took on a new client.

Bob Treuhaft was approached by a 72-year old widow, living on Social Security, who had cleaned out her bank account to make a down-payment to The Famous Writers School. On the…

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A Thanksgiving Serving of Stories

Along with the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy this Thanksgiving, we’ll have a generous serving of family stories. Many of those stories revolve around food, just as the old kitchen table (not a TV tray) was the hub for family roundups and daily debriefings.

My Dad, Mike, (he married my mother, a widow, when I was 19) grew up in a big family of 12 children raised by immigrant parents, including a strong-willed, persevering Croatian woman everyone knew and loved as “Grandma Ogee.”

In one of the charming family books prepared for reunions and remembrance, Mike remembered some of the “loaves and fishes” miracles a18e87749a0db9e048328226bdc9e1f3 mother had a way of creating for her struggling family.

“I remember when Ma would send the children to the meat market to ask for some bones for the dog (which we didn’t have). Invariably the butcher would put in some nice ‘bones’ with an ample amount of meat on them. From these she made delicious soup.”

He recalled that she always blessed the bread when she put it into the wood stove on large wooden paddle. And blessed it again when she cut the large, round delicious loaves into pieces for her family. She also had an “uncanny” way of making a whole pot of egg drop soup with only one egg, my Dad remembered.

So thankful was my Dad and all of his family for growing up in a home, not with a lot of meat, nor with a lot of eggs, but with so much love. These are the riches we pray for this Thanksgiving.

What family stories will you tell? Which ones will you make?

One small step for … wait a minute.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon / NASA Photo

Did you believe it when you heard the news that man—two men, actually—had walked on the moon?

On Sunday, July 20, 1969, 45 years ago Sunday, we watched the flickering TV images of the moon landing. CBS was providing live audio coverage, with simulated pictures of the historic moon landing. You remember, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lander and declared:

“That’s one small step for a* man, one       giant leap for mankind.”

I was a reporter living in Evansville, Indiana, then. The moon landing was exciting news, the dawn of a new space frontier and the fulfillment of John F. Kennedy’s promise that we would put a “man” on the moon. It would quash the green cheese myth forever and redeem my lackluster submission to seventh-grade science.

Yet when I returned to my room at the YWCA, brimming with wonder and pride, the reaction of my fellow housemates, girls up from Kentucky to find work, was flat.

“It didn’t happen. That was all a simulation. They never put a man on the moon,” one girl said plainly as she made supper in the common kitchen. The others agreed.
The parking garage attendant across the street wasn’t impressed either, though he didn’t exactly doubt the miracle.

“I’d say if God wanted a man to go to the moon, he’d have put him there,” he drawled matter-of-factly.

The US went to the moon five more times and after 1972 stopped going. That was probably enough for a non-believer. But those were days full of promise for those of us who saw and believed, and felt that if it were really possible to land on the moon, anything was possible. “If we can put a man on the moon, we can____________.”

You fill in the blanks.

*Historical reports often drop the “a” but Armstrong said he said it, and many researchers of Ohio-ese support him.

The first Earth Day had its asterisks


Every April 22 reminds me of that very first Earth Day celebrated in 1970. It started as a nationwide Environmental Teach-In, championed by Wisconsin’s own US senator, Gaylord Nelson. The Teach-In echoed the “ins” of that generation, like the Love-In and the Be-In, and many of its advocates wore bell-bottom pants and their hair as nature intended, long or “fro.” A newsletter reported “Earth Day observers in Milwaukee nominated the toad, the praying mantis and the ladybug as substitutes for DDT.”

I was part of a big group of students who gathered in Milwaukee that day on the banks of the polluted Milwaukee River near the performing arts center to hear speeches, a rock band and street performers with a common message: that we need to keep the Earth, our home, free of pollution, litter and other things harmful to children and animals. Music pulsed through the the air while a banner fluttered over a bridge proclaiming “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

It was an exciting day, full of hope, the camaraderie of fellow college students and the heady belief that we were part of something important, something smart leaders were willing to lead. We believed we ourselves could make changes happen by not polluting our fragile environment in any way.

So, fired up and hungry after the rally, I was happy when my boyfriend John suggested we go down to the lakefront to grab some burgers from a stand. We sat in the car talking and eating and just before John started up the engine he did something shocking. He took the paper sack from the burgers, crumbled it up in his fist, and tossed it out the open window in the parking lot.

“What did you just do!” I gasped.

For G—d’s sake, it was Earth Day! (And this was my future husband!) One simply does not litter on Earth Day.

So my memory of Earth Day always had this little asterisk after it. The next day, on the news, we learned that the National Mall was filled with litter after its first Earth Day rally. We all had a lot to learn, and still do.


The Beatles. They held our hands and won our hearts.

Beatles records

Beatles records

I remember quite clearly, on a particular day in December 1963, hearing the muffled, unmistakable giggling coming from behind the postulants’ closed door. Something was going on, something new and exciting, perhaps forbidden, definitely appealing to these old girls who at 18 or 19 had already dedicated their lives to Christ.

But this day, the Beatles had won their hearts.

Behind that door, seemingly in secret, the postulants were listening to the Beatles’ new sensation, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” just as giddy and excited as millions of other girls across the nation. But this was Caroline Academy, and thoughts of boys and holding hands were off limits in lyrics as well as in daily life. Here, exposure to the latest contemporary music consisted of instrumentals like “Baby Elephant Walk” played while we roller-skated in the gym.

Closed doors couldn’t contain the new sound. The Beatles burst into our lives that day and their songs marked our journey for decades to come.

When I left the convent school to attend North High in Sheboygan, I used “Nowhere Man” as the hook for an editorial I wrote on school spirit. (Yes, I was a believer. Go Raiders!) I imagined myself a “Paperback Writer” in 1966. In 1968, Marquette University wasn’t immune to anti-war and open housing protests. Anthems like “Revolution” and 1969’s “Give Peace of Chance” had meaning. I remember walking down Wisconsin Avenue on Dec.1, 1969, hearing a recording of “You Say It’s Your Birthday” blaring from a window in McCormick Hall, mocking the first draft lottery held that day to determine which fellow students would be going off to fight in Vietnam.

The next year, when I was working in Indiana and my boyfriend John was in Milwaukee, “The Long and Winding Road” would be part of the soundtrack of our long-distance dating. “Instant Karma” was going to get us.

“I knew something had changed when I first heard the Beatles,” John says. On Sept, 4, 1964, he paid a reasonable $4.75 to hear them at the Milwaukee Arena. A year later, on Aug. 21, he saw them again at Comisky Park in Chicago. He bought a sleek Stratocaster® guitar, his hair grew past the required collar-length code of his high school, and he started a band whose members sang with British accents. He’s still writing and playing songs in that distinctive style.

Whether or not we knew something had changed when the Beatles came on the scene, our lives were changing in the ‘60s and ‘70s and we couldn’t “Help” it. You could hear the lyrics of their songs, you could immerse yourself in the beat, the fresh melody and harmony, and anticipate the bridge. The songs were new, some would become classic. And some would hold our hands and our hearts through our lives. I think you’ll understand.

More on this topic: Will we still need them in 2064?

Brewing a Sustainable Neighborhood in Milwaukee

A visit to the past can sometimes be a look into the future. That’s what we found on a behind-the-scenes tour of The Brewery Saturday during the Doors Open Milwaukee tour of hundreds of architecture notables. The Brewery is a developing community of apartments, offices, a hotel, restaurants and university buildings created on the former site of the world-famous Pabst Brewing Company just north of downtown. 

Pabst was established in 1844 and won fans with its Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Pabst shut its doors suddenly in 1996, beer bottles stopped in their tracks on production lines, workers wentImage home for good. The sprawling complex was already old and seemed destined for total destruction until visionary developer and lover of all things Milwaukee, the late Joseph Zilber, stepped in with a plan.

Mike Mervis, our guide Saturday and a retired vice president of Zilber’s firm, made no attempt to mask his high admiration for Zilber’s tenacity and ability to think big about the future of what is now known as The Brewery. This geological high point in the city is also becoming an environmental high point with its far-reaching set of sustainable strategies throughout its development, construction and operation. According to its website, “by implementing the United States Green Building Council, LEED for Neighborhood Development Rating System, The Brewery has achieved Platinum Certification and is destined to be one of urban America’s premier sustainable neighborhoods.”

What does that mean? Mervis pointed out the bioswales along the sidewalk – deep, plant-rich ditches to catch, clean and recharge runwater – good for the environment and pretty too. He had the crowd look high up to the top of the massive grain elevators where someday a bar and restaurant will give patrons views as far as Holy Hill. Landscape and underground reservoirs collect and clean rainwater runoff. Cream city bricks from structures that couldn’t be saved were crushed for hardscape. Grey-color ballast bricks used in ships became sturdy pathways. The gleaming copper kettles once used in brewing now shine in the lobby of the Brewhouse Hotel. 

Today the once-crumbling and polluted industrial site is coming to life, thanks to see-ers like Joseph Zilber and those who became believers. The historic cream city brick buildings are being repurposed, living their history and making it too. 

You can see a video of a bioswale at

Mindset List for a Three-Year-Old

The recently released annual Beloit (Wis.) College Mindset List differentiates the world view of this year’s entering college students – the class of 2017, born in 1995 – from the “so yesterday” world of their predecessors. 

Like dial phones and cell phones, cultural references are generational markers. That’s groovy. But I was wondering what references might define the world of a much younger, toddler set.

My grandson Abraham, who will soon be three years old, has a Mindset List of his own. Actually, I created it for him as I thought about what experiences might define these precious and eventful three years.


Abraham in the egg and Uncle Jimmy

  • The Beach Boys are young and hip and you can dance and sing to their video. 
  • The worst day ever is when you don’t feel so good.
  • The scariest time, at least for a minute, is when Mommy and Daddy leave the room. 
  • A brand name is “Uncle Jimmy’s Blanket.
  • Diapers have always been everyday apparel, until recently. 
  • Pizza has always been a primary food group.
  • Cars and trucks were made for little boys.
  • Most everyone has always been bigger and taller. 
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks have always played guitars.
  • A racing ambulance is more fun than a racing horse.
  • Being a big brother will always be the most fun thing.
  • Licking the bowl is the best part of cooking.
  • Milk has always been a drink of choice.
  • One is never done playing with toys.
  • Going to Wisconsin is an adventure Up North.
  • A vacation villa is another name for Grandpa’s house.
  • Wrapped presents have always been for me. 
  • Golf is an easy game played in the back yard with Grandpa. 
  • Tiger Woods has always been old.
  • Chicago has always been very easy to get around in.
  • The back seat is where I have always sat.
  • Cups always have covers on them.
  • Food is made in finger-licking sizes. 
  • There is no such thing as an unfriendly dog.
  • Stuffed dogs have always hugged back.
  • There has always been a good reason to sit in a giant eggshell. 
  • Truffula Trees are growing somewhere.  
  • You can sit in a Mini Cooper or a firetruck if you just ask.
  • Building sets are meant to be taken apart.
  • I have never had to pay for dinner or groceries or rent.
  • Every little girl and boy is a potential friend.
  • Saying “Get your butt over here” always makes people laugh.
  • An iPhone is a toy that is not kept in the toybox.
  • Hot dogs come in little pieces. 
  • Jumping up and down and waving your hands has always been the proper way to greet grandparents, aunts and uncles.
  • Use of eating utensils has always been optional.
  • The ABCs started out as a song. 
  • There has never been a need for shoelaces.
  • A walk to the park is always a good idea.
  • The world will always be as big and wonderful as Mommy and Daddy say it is.