Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bombs in the news…

By Jim Heffernan
Bombs have been in the news a lot lately — the N-bomb, the F-bomb, Michael Moore’s Broadway show (bombed). Now the United States and North Korea are staring each other down over North Korea’s bomb plans.

In many, many decades of life, I have found that living is more tranquil when bombs are not in the news. I’m old enough to actually remember the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan, bringing World War II to an end.

The A-bomb (for Atomic) is the father of the N-bomb (Nuclear). Somewhere in there to further scare us are the H-bomb (hydrogen, stronger than the others) and another N-bomb (Neutron), which only kills people but leaves buildings standing. Drop a neutron bob on New York City, for example, and Trump Tower would remain standing. Not so much its inhabitants. 


I was 5 years old when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. News of it was everywhere, and even a child of kindergarten age understood that it was something terrible, frightening. I can recall my parents talking seriously about it at supper, ignoring the Lone Ranger on the kitchen radio in the background.

The whole idea of such a big bomb frightened me. And here’s how it manifested itself on one occasion: I was playing on our front porch when a huge bomb-like object suddenly appeared in the sky above western Duluth. It terrified me. I ran into the house screaming to my mother that the atomic bomb was coming.

She darted onto the porch and saw immediately what it really was: a blimp (a.k.a. dirigible). Not the Good Year blimp, just an ordinary blimp that looked an awful lot like a great big bomb. My mother allayed my fears, explaining that it was a harmless aircraft. Not to worry.

As time went by, the atomic bomb became kind of a fun thing for kids. One of the big breakfast cereal producers—General Mills, maybe Kellogg’s—offered kids an “Atomic Bomb Ring” for 25 cents and a box top from one of their cereals. I got one. It was an adjustable metal ring with a tiny plastic bomb on top. If you held the bomb close to your eye, inside the bomb you could see something like sparks flying. Wow.

Of course the threat of an atomic attack prompted the schools to add atomic bomb attack drills to fire drills. I learned later that some schools in the country had the kids “duck and cover” beneath their school desks. We just filed into the hall and stood facing the lockers lining the wall until the all clear. This was not nearly as much fun as a fire drill, which required us to file outside the school in orderly fashion and breathe the fresh air of a beautiful day. You could say atomic bomb drills bombed in comparison.

Oh yes, the F-bomb. Got to deliver on that. It was brought to the fore recently by short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci in an interview with a New Yorker magazine reporter during which Scaramucci dropped several F-bombs, shocking nearly everyone and probably resulting in the loss of his job after serving just 10 days.

But it opened the door to several media organizations, like the New York Times, to use the entire F-bomb word in reporting on Scaramucci’s diatribe. I was shocked. I remember the first time I ever saw the word in print: summer of 1963 reading Irving Wallace’s novel “The Carpetbaggers.”

It’s a word that was very familiar to teenage boys of my generation, and many generations before and after, but nobody ever wrote it down, for goodness sake. (Goodness had nothing to do with it.)

I had actually learned the word several years before. Right around the time the A-bomb was employed for the first time, I learned what is today referred to as the F-bomb stood for. A neighbor boy and I were in the alley next to my home (these things always happen in alleys) discussing various swear words and their seriousness. They were all bad, of course, but “hell” and “damn” didn’t seem like they would bar you from getting into heaven, should the occasion arise. A few others were more serious—you know what they are without my actually spelling them out.

Then my friend (we weren’t close, though) said he’d tell me the “worst” swear word of all. It was what we today refer to as the F-bomb. And he was right. It has endured as the worst swear word of all throughout the many, many decades of my life. Oops, we’re back to square one.

Editor's note:  We learned to "duck & cover" in the 50's.  Check out the video the Dept. of Education and civil Defense Dept. prepared for those of us growing up in that era HERE.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Washington clichés, fake news and ‘poiticianese’

By Jim Heffernan
The other day I heard our president, Donald J. Trump, refer once again to "hard-working Americans." He isn't the only politician to describe all Americans all the time as hard-working. They all do, both Democrats and Republicans. Even independents.

This is nothing new. The expression spills out of politicians' mouths in practically every speech, and always has. It's as though all Americans are hard-working, which, of course, cannot be assumed. I am not a hard-working American--I'm retired--and I have to admit, when I stop to think about it, I never was particularly hard-working. In fact, when I was young it was feared, and occasionally charged, that I might be "lazy."

But once I entered the work force, I'd work hard enough when it was expected of me, but if I could get out of hard work, I'd do it, even when I had "odd" (really odd) jobs. In my principal career I was a newspaper writer, which I never regarded as hard work. How hard can it be to write fake news?

Fake news was one of my favorite things to write. Not in the actual news columns of the paper, where fidelity to the truth and accuracy were stressed, but I wrote a lot of fake news in a personal column under my name, and had fun doing it.

Once I wrote a fake news column claiming that local archers allowed to hunt deer in the city were shooting their arrows into those plastic (fake) deer you see in some people's yards. Totally made up. Fake news. 

But the column got picked up on the Internet, went germ, if not viral, and some people around the country believed it was true. I got a call from a radio station in Illinois asking for an interview. The caller was crestfallen to learn it was fake news, although the term wasn't used back in pre-Trump hard-working America.

You could say my phone "rang off the hook" in response to that fake news column, just as politicians always use that phrase in describing constituents' responses to this or that issue. "My phone rang off the hook," they'll say, especially when describing constituent reaction to measures the opposing party has advanced.

I'm old now, so I know very well what they mean by "off the hook," but how many Millennials can conjure up the image of an old crank telephone attached to a wall with the receiver holding down a hook? A sizable portion of hard-working Americans don't even know what a traditional receiver looks like, what with such widespread i-phone use. I go all the way back to the "number please" era of call-initiating. 

OK, let's move on to the rolling up of the sleeves. Most of the politicians who are serving hard-working Americans, and whose telephones are ringing off the hook, "roll up their sleeves" every time they vow to actually do something. "We've got to roll up our sleeves and get to work" on this or that, they say. 

Now I realize these are metaphors seasoned with a large dose of cliche, but harmless enough as figures of speech. Same for all of the "brave heroes" serving in the military, or veterans who have left it.

It cannot be assumed that everyone who signs up for a stint in the military is either brave or heroic. I was once in the U.S. Army, and I was not a brave hero, and, come to think of it, I don't think anybody I was serving with demonstrably was. Sen. John McCain is a brave hero, of course, everyone except President Trump agrees.

Yet to politicians all service members are brave and heroic, even if they sit in offices before keyboards, as I did in my military days, with an occasional foray into the mess hall for KP (kitchen police). There were times when that required a certain amount of bravery, I have to admit, depending on the dispositions of the mess sergeants.


There! I've been going to get this off my chest for a long time. Not that there was anything actually on top of my chest, mind you. It's just an expression, a harmless metaphor with a dose of cliche tossed in.

Want to read the plastic deer column, originally posted in the Duluth News Tribune in 2005 and reprinted on this blog in 2009?  Read it HERE. And a reference to someone wondering if the plastic deer column was a hoax :-) read HERE.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Where East Was East and West Was West, in Duluth...

What follows is one of several columns I wrote for the on-line magazine Zenith City Online, started and edited by Duluth publisher Tony Dierckins. ZCO is still active as an area history blog but no longer uses regular posts in a magazine format so Tony graciously allowed me to repost here on my blog. I was its "western neighborhoods correspondent" (also labeled "Denfeld Boy") on ZCO and wrote monthly about growing up in Duluth. Thus, virtually all of my monthly columns for Zenith City had some connection to Duluth's West End and West Duluth, back before they were called Lincoln Park and Spirit Valley. I've decided to put a few of them on my blog from time to time.             Jim Heffernan 
Where East Was East and West was West
By Jim Heffernan

For decades atop the Point of Rocks, the commanding rock outcropping just west of downtown Duluth at the foot of Mesaba Avenue, a huge sign advertising Master Bread dominated the skyline.

It was more than an ordinary billboard. It appeared to have been fashioned to fit the surroundings, long and narrow at the peak of the outcropping, and it was animated, showing a loaf of bread with slices pouring out of one end. Done with sequentially lighted neon tubes, it was attention grabbing and impressive for its day. 
Its day, hard to pinpoint exactly, did encompass the years from my childhood in the 1940s until sometime in the 1970s. [editor’s note: Photo borrowed from Andrew Kreuger’s wonderful News-Tribune Attic.]

And it had greater significance than the bread wars between Master and Taystee, both baked in Duluth’s West End neighborhood (now referred to as Lincoln Park). The Master Bread sign came to symbolize the western end of “East End” (including downtown) and the beginning of “West End” including West Duluth. Only on the map did Lake Avenue divide Duluth’s east from its west. In Duluthians’ minds, the Point of Rocks, with its Master Bread sign, did. 

The prevailing perception in Duluth was that the rich people lived in the East End, the working classes lived in the western precincts, and never the twain shall meet, except when their high school sports teams vied to prove, once and for all, which section of the city was best.

It was a fallacy, of course, to believe everyone in East End was rich. Far from it. But all of the mansions in town were there; the mining and lumber tycoons lived there, cheek by jowl with bankers and most doctors and the powers that were in Duluth. Never mind that the Central Hillside, a bit east of the Master Bread sign, was for decades considered Duluth’s poorest neighborhood. 

Image from ZCO, originally in UMD Library Archives
In the 1970s, a colorful priest, Father F. X. Shea, was engaged as president of the College of St. Scholastica. In one of his many pronouncements about civic life, Shea called for the Master Bread sign to be torn down. He wasn’t expressing a preference for bread or disgust with advertising’s often intrusion on natural beauty; as a recent arrival here he had come to realize that the sign was a line of demarcation between east and west in Duluth that stifled the city’s social, business and cultural life. (The Master Bread billboard can be seen at the top of photo on right.)

I grew up on the “poor” side of the Master Bread sign that so brightly lit the Point of Rocks after the sun went down. Not that we were actually poor, nor were most of the others in the western neighborhoods. Far western Duluth had a steel plant, after all, together with other substantial industries, and the thousands of jobs they provided allowed workers—including immigrants and many who hadn’t completed high school—entry into what most people regarded as the middle class. Being middle class roughly meant owning a home, having a car and providing for your family.

My role here at Zenith City will be to write about the western Duluth neighborhoods as I recall them in the decades after World War II. My precise neighborhood was the West End, right in the heart of it, about half way between the Point of Rocks and the ore docks at 35th Avenue West. Informally, the ore docks have always represented the dividing line between West End and West Duluth.

There was competition between those two neighborhoods too, but socio-economically they were similar. Each had a thriving business district, providing residents with everything they might need from groceries to hardware to banking to household and personal needs, not to mention a stiff drink. J.C. Penney operated department stores in each neighborhood, as did Bridgeman’s ice cream parlors. The West End had more furniture stores; West Duluth more movie theaters (two) while each had two funeral homes for most of the years my memory encompasses.

Each neighborhood had numerous churches representing most of the mainline Christian faiths, but no synagogues. West Duluth had a small hospital, long-since dissolved, but people from the western precincts who needed hospital care depended, as did the entire city, on St. Mary’s (Catholic) and St. Luke’s (Protestant), both on the eastern edges of downtown.

Commandingly, West Duluth had Denfeld High School, for generations bringing together students from both neighborhoods whose earlier education had been provided at Lincoln Junior High (West End) and West Junior High. Until 1950, the West End educated its younger pupils at elementary schools scattered throughout the neighborhood—Adams, Monroe, Bryant, Ensign and Lincoln. West Duluth had Longfellow and Irving and others farther west, but short of Morgan Park and Gary New-Duluth, with their own schools, including a high school.

In future columns I’ll try to extract from these neighborhoods glimpses of their colorful past life —a life I knew as a youngster and much younger adult, when Master Bread meant more than the staff of life in this small corner of our world at the head of the largest freshwater lake in that world.

Previously published on Zenith City Online on January 15, 2016 and 2012.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

One Duluth Man's WWI Experience...

By Jim Heffernan
George Henry Heffernan in WWI Uniform, circa 1918
On a bright, beautiful garbage pickup day a few years ago, I watched as the truck lifted our bin, dumped the contents into its box, and drove away. I don't always pay that much attention to garbage pickup, but on this day our refuse included a plastic bag with very special contents: My father's World War I U.S. Army uniform, sans buttons and insignia. 

Reflecting on it as the truck disappeared, a lump formed in my throat. It meant so much to my father to have served, in many ways defining his life. But after almost a century, the uniform couldn't be saved.

Much has been made recently marking the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into the conflict roiling Europe since the guns of August were loosed by Germany on its neighbors three years earlier.

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. Congress, at the behest of President Woodrow Wilson, declared war on Germany. The action was felt in every community in the nation, certainly including Duluth.

Tens of thousands of American young men were conscripted or joined on their own to go off to France to fight in "the war to end all wars," as it was optimistically and naively billed at the time. Along with scores of other Duluthians, George Heffernan, 23, was among them. He wasn't my father yet -- he married late and I was born 22 years later.

The Duluth contingent marched to the train on Dec. 17, 1917, heading for the "Pacific Coast," as the Duluth News Tribune put it the morning after the departure. George was employed as a photo engraver for a firm that provided the plates that produced the photos in the News Tribune. He worked in the Tribune building, then on Superior Street between Lake Avenue and First Avenue East. The building is still standing, long since put to other uses.

The paper on Dec. 18 ran a photo of my father with the words "Leaves For Camp" above it and featuring the following caption: "Among the soldiers who left Duluth for the Pacific Coast last night was George Heffernan, for many years a valued employee of the Duluth Photo Engraving company. He was enrolled in the contingent from the second Duluth district. His fellow employees gave him a wrist watch and a fine jackknife." 
Photo and story of soldier George H. Heffernan leaving Duluth for camp
Duluth News Tribune, December 18, 1918


So off he went to California, where he was issued his uniform and inducted into the American Expeditionary Force made up of men who were called Doughboys. All I know about his service came out in dribs and drabs over the years in conversations with him as I was growing up.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, the inductees were stationed at the Presidio, hard by San Francisco Bay's Golden Gate (long before the famous bridge was built), a facility that still exists but is no longer a military base. It's never been clear to me how he happened to be promoted so rapidly from buck private to sergeant, but that's what transpired. He was a man of some bearing, and I assume that was why he was quickly named a training sergeant for inductees who followed him into the service.

He took great pride in that, and it possibly saved his life. While the trainees were sent off to France to fight in the trenches, George stayed in San Francisco as a training sergeant. But not until the end of the war. Not quite.

Finally, his unit was mobilized to join other Doughboys in France. They were put on a troop train and transported from San Francisco to the east coast, arriving there just in time for the end of the war. On Nov. 11, 1918, at 11 o'clock in the morning the guns were silenced, and armistice was declared. The war that didn't end all wars had ended.

No France for George. Rather, a sojourn into New York City with Army buddies as tourists (the only time he was ever there), and mustering out of the Army some time later followed by a return to Duluth and civilian life. America was only actively involved in "The Great War" for about a year-and-a-half, but some 117,000 American service men had been killed, and tens of thousands more injured, many with what we now refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

For my father, it meant returning to Duluth and his job, and some years later marrying my mother and having two sons, the youngest being me, born at the outbreak of World War II. By then, George was too old to serve again. In our home in Duluth's West End he placed his old uniform on a sturdy hanger and hung it on a nail in a dark corner of our basement.

There it remained all my early life and later, until we broke up the old homestead after my mother died in 1983. George had died in 1971 and was buried beneath a government headstone honoring his military service. 

When we emptied out the house, I took his uniform to my home, and later to two subsequent residences. Then, cleaning out the garage of our current home a couple of years ago, I found it, packed away in a box, a deteriorating, moth-eaten garment unsalvageable for any use such as in a museum.

So on that day, I took a scissors and cut off his sergeant stripes and the metal buttons, stowed them with other family memorabilia, stuffed the tattered tunic and trousers into a plastic bag and put it in our garbage bin to be hauled away with the rest of our trash.

By James Montgomery Flagg, 1917
Source: Wikipedia
The 100th anniversary of the start of American involvement in that war set me reflecting again on my father's proud service during that conflict, even though he escaped combat. A charter member, he spent decades actively involved in the American Legion, founded by World War I vets.


But not quite all of that century-old uniform was hauled off that day. I have the hat, the Smoky Bear-style hat (seen in the picture of young George accompanying this column), part of the standard Army uniform in that era. I'll never part with that. Or these memories.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Times They Are A Changin' for sure...

Yes, as Bob Dylan sings (YouTube) in 1964, The Times They Are A-Changin'. They certainly have changed for Bob from the time in 1959 when he witnessed Buddy Holly and other performers (along with me and hundreds of area youth) before "the music died" to today as a Nobel Prize winner of literature. His prophetic song, about change hits home today....
...from Dylan's music web site (link HERE):
Come senators, congressmen/Please heed the call/Don't stand in the doorway/Don't block up the hall/For he that gets hurt/Will be he who has stalled/There's the battle outside raging/It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls/For the times they are a-changing
Funny thing about time, it does change. And yet some things never seem to change.

Originally published on Zenith City Online , June 2014
I'm not receiving any Nobel prizes and my changes are pretty tame. But change is ahead here on my blog too. I'll be writing the same type of stories, recollections and political commentary here as the spirit hits me... but I also will be including the archives of my posts from Zenith City Online beginning in May.

ZCO's creator is Tony Dierckins who is also the original publisher of my book, Cooler Near the Lake. Tony has been a creative force here in the Duluth and surrounding area as he traverses the changing publishing field. We're lucky also to have him preserve our area history on his site and enjoy his books that do the same.  He's a good friend and we share the love of local history.

Tony is changing things up a bit on his web site, Zenith City Online, and will no longer be including posts such as mine on that site. He's encouraging me to include my posts from the ZCO archives here on my blog to preserve their online access.
Published on Zenith City Online in March, 2014

So... beginning sometime in May, I'll be working on incorporating those archived posts and, of course, adding more to my recollections about growing up in the Duluth area, especially Duluth's West End.

Right now, I'm working on a piece about WWI as I recall my father's part one hundred years ago. That's coming up soon right here on my blog. But also stay tuned as I utilize many stories about growing up in Duluth from my writings on ZCO.