kanfer barnsFinally available in a full-color paperback edition, Larry Kanfer’s Barns of Illinois showcases the Illinois photographer’s much-praised images of the Midwest’s iconic structure.

As a state abounding with broad farmlands, Illinois has depended heavily on its barns. At once imposing and humble, the barns of Illinois are much more than simply a place to store equipment and livestock. As gathering places for friends and family, they have become focal points of local communities, an enduring link between the present day and the traditions of the past.

Kanfer documents the diversity of barns throughout the Prairie State, from weathered, abandoned shelters in the countryside to proudly well-preserved landmarks featured in barn tours and even Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Kanfer presents barns from every angle, inside and out, from a distance and up close, to capture the many reasons why they fascinate, inspire, and reassure.

With engaging prose, Alaina Kanfer recounts the histories of many of the barns featured, revealing each barn’s unique character and tracing its distinctive imprint on the land and on people’s lives. While many of the buildings continue to function within family farms for storage and shelter, others have been rescued and restored and put to a wide array of new uses, such as schools and gymnasiums in Kane and Effingham Counties, an animal rescue organization in McLean County, a winery in St. Clair County, and workshops in Sangamon and Union Counties.

With more than one hundred full color photographs of dozens of barns from across the state, Barns of Illinois presents these proud emblems of the heartland as never before.

On August 30, 1980, the last Hambletonian in Du Quoin got underway amidst local sadness and headlines that harness racing’s top event had scored big money in its move to the Meadowlands in New Jersey. That summer, Bill Haughton—in an emotional victory driving his late son’s horse—steered Burgomeister to victory on the hot clay track, closing an era that began in 1957, when the race had relocated from Goshen, New York.

harness racingTurf sports made big news for decades and the Hambletonian, with its immense prizes and fields chock-full of trotting talent, was the crown jewel of harness racing. It was also the star attraction of the Du Quoin State Fair, founded by soft drink bottler W. R. Hayes, who had owned the winner of the 1950 Hambletonian. The fast track at Du Quoin encouraged a dozen race and world record times and saw champion trotters like Super Bowl and Speedy Scot stake eventual claims to the harness racing Triple Crown. In 1971, the Hambletonian inaugurated a popular race for fillies, and a few years later opened up the race to parimutuel betting.

Some of the twenty-one men controlling the race hankered to move back east, where the Meadowlands offered big crowds, a higher media profile, and a chance to avoid shlepping out to rural Illinois every August. Ugly infighting ensued:

When the latest of four family members to serve as president of the fair, William R. Hayes 2d, became allied wih Saad Jabr, son of a former Iraqi Government official, the Eastern bloc members of the Hambletonian Society seized upon the patriotism question.

They will vehemently deny it, but some of the wealthy, conservative horsemen were saying privately that they did not want their race staged over a track owned by an Arab. Mr. Hayes, who saw his fairgrounds slipping into financial trouble, sold it to Mr. Jabr for a reported $3 million.

Though Hayes and Habr rebounded with a big-money stakes called the World Trotting Derby, Du Quoin lost the invaluable Hambletonian prestige. Still, the Fair remains a hotbed for harness fans from mid- to late August.

WriggleF16John Wriggle is a musicologist, composer, arranger, and trombonist who has taught for the City University of New York, Rutgers University, and Boston University. He answered some questions about his book Blue Rhythm Fantasy: Big Band Jazz Arranging in the Swing Era.

Q: Did jazz have a unique popularity in New York City during the 1930s/40s? More so than other places around the US?

John Wriggle: Jazz’s popularity wasn’t necessarily unique to New York, but the city did set the standard for Swing Era style. The jazz “big band” format that developed during the 1920s was basically a combination of a New Orleans jazz combo, an all-purpose dance rhythm section, and a Broadway theater orchestra. It was in this fusion form that jazz really entered mainstream popular culture via radio, theater revues, recordings, and music publishing. And all these industries were based in New York, so most of the product came from there. Musicians in other locations eventually emulated—or, in the case of Hollywood, expanded upon—what the New York entertainment industry was selling. By the 1930s you could find New York-style big bands almost anywhere in the country.

What’s always fascinating to me is how much labor was involved in Broadway-style variety entertainment of the period: composers, lyricists, arrangers, manuscript music copyists, dancers, choreographers, comedians, scriptwriters, plus an ensemble of ten or more musicians. New York in the first half of the twentieth-century was a very special place for entertainment, and if you’re interested in the history of jazz or popular music arrangers, it was kind of a golden era for those musicians in terms of artistic inspiration and public stature. Continue reading

Forty-six years ago today, national feminist groups staged the Women’s Strike for Equality. “If the success of media activism is measured by the amount of news coverage generated, the Strike for Equality hit the mother lode,” Bonnie J. Dow reports in the UIP book Watching Women’s Liberation, 1970.

Strike Day was the brainchild of Betty Friedan, who had proposed it in a lengthy speech at the Chicago NOW convention in March 1970 as she was leaving the organization’s presidency after four embattled years. . . . From the beginning, the strike was conceived as media activism, but not simply in terms of getting media attention for what Friedan saw as feminism’s “real” issues, long a concern for NOW—a corollary goal was to take the focus away from those issues that imperiled the movement’s image.

Continue reading

simonelliNot exactly the pride of Bloomington, Illinois, American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell was born into—of all things—a family of vaudeville performers. A former associate shot him to death on August 25, 1967.

Frederick Simonelli’s UIP biography of this powerful and enigmatic figure draws on primary sources of extraordinary depth, including declassified FBI files and manuscripts and other materials held by Rockwell’s family and associates. As Simonelli shows, Rockwell broadened his constituency beyond the Radical Right by articulating White Power politics in terms that were subsequently appropriated by the one-time Klansman David Duke. He also looks at how Rockwell’s influence remains potent almost fifty years after his assassination. The first objective assessment of the American Nazi party and an authoritative study of the roots of neo-nazism, neo-fascism, and White Power extremism in postwar America, American Fuehrer is shocking and absorbing reading.

As Alex Haley memorably wrote in 1966, “Rockwell would have been first on any one’s list of those least likely to succeed as a racist demagogue or even to become one.” He had his failures, but his life had considerable successes, too. After a stint at Brown, he entered the U.S. Navy. He rose to the rank of commander, serving in World War II and the Korean War and earning plaudits for his skills as a pilot and officer. His second marriage, made while serving in Iceland, was conducted by the country’s Bishop in the National Cathedral. Once back in civilian life he won prizes for commercial art and by many accounts that career lay open to him.

But, ah, civilian life. That he was back in it at all hinted at the problem. In 1960, the Navy gave him an honorable discharge because… well, because during a period of naval service in San Diego, Rockwell became a virulent racist.

He founded the American Nazi Party in Arlington, Virginia. Thereafter he used a combination of marketing, provocation, and canny self-promotion to make himself one of the most recognizable fringe political figures in the nation’s history. (His Playboy magazine interview with Haley, the African American journalist and future Roots icon, remains legendary.)

Rockwell was also one of the most influential of his ilk. Amidst the many marches and pamphlets and posing in his stormtrooper uniform, he gathered various strains of right-wing thought into a new religion called Christian Identity, a sect that found violent expression in the 1980s and 1990s. He all but mainstreamed Holocaust denial and internationalized the neo-Nazi movement. He even founded a record company that released white supremacist music, mastering an effective recruitment tool still used in the white power underground today.

It’s been awhile since I could legitimately sing, “Give me a head with hair/long, beautiful hair.” But the Cowsills, via America’s tribal love-rock musical, expressed the importance of the streamin’, flaxen, waxin’ locks with winning pop harmonies and frequent radio airplay. What more need be said? Plenty, it turns out. Today we open the UIP vaults to let the sun shine in on Press books that address the meaning of the decorative dead (and in some cases dread) cells that grow on our heads.

gillBeauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry, by Tiffany M. Gill
The beauty industry played a crucial role in the creation of the modern black female identity. Indeed, the seemingly frivolous space of a beauty salon actually stimulated social, political, and economic change. With a broad scope that encompasses the role of gossip in salons, ethnic beauty products, lucid portrayals, and the social meanings of African American hair textures, Tiffany M. Gill shows how African American beauty entrepreneurs built and sustained a vibrant culture of activism in beauty salons and schools.

And the phenomenon goes back a long way. As Gill explained to National Public Radio:

We see that it’s around 1820 where there began to be sort of growing discourses about how African-American men were seen as dangerous, should not share spaces with white women, and so African-American women sort of transitioned very nationally to that. So we see African-American women in slavery caring for the beauty needs of those that they were forced to work for.

But also we see that, particularly in urban areas like New Orleans, that some of these enslaved women were able to actually hire themselves out and make some money in the process. So the beauty industry does provide opportunities for African-American women to earn a living.

scandinavian studiesHair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Hair Loss, the Tonsure, and Masculinity in Medieval Iceland,” by Carl Phelpstead
Today we venture into the Journals area of the Press, sampling from the Spring 2013 issue of Scandinavian StudiesLet’s jump ahead in the article to contemplate beardlessness, truly a stigma among the oft-berserk men who peopled Medieval Iceland:

Nevertheless, the most famous association of hair with masculinity in the Icelandic sagas is undoubtedly the inability of the chieftain Njáll Þorgeirsson to grow a beard in Njáls Saga.

A great deal has been written, of course, on gender and sexuality in Njáls saga, and there is no need to do more here than recall that Njáll’s beardlessness is noted as remarkable when he is first introduced; that Hallgerðr mocks him for it on more than one occasion; that he is more than once referred to as “Old Beardless”; that the Njálssons, who are known as taðskegglingar (Dung-beardlings) because of their ability to grow beards despite being Njáll’s descendants, kill Sigmundr Lambason for composing slanderous verses on the subject; and that Flosi makes explicit at the Alþingi that Njáll’s lack of a beard casts doubt on his masculinity: “for there are many who can’t tell by looking at him whether he’s a man or a woman.”

falkWomen for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns, 2E, by Erika Falk
Hillary Clinton is running for the White House again, and that guarantees one thing: a lot of foolish coverage of her appearance. Erika Falk goes back to the 1870s to show how women candidates have had to deal with this strain of sexism ever since they got the idea they could run the country. This second edition includes Clinton’s 2008 run, when her hair and everything else about her looks became a topic explored in nauseating detail, as if voters could not conjure a clear mental image of one of the most famous human beings on earth.

No doubt Chuck Todd, Don Lemon, and the rest of the media banalosphere is revving up the objectification machine for the stretch run of this fall’s presidential election. Ignore those clowns and heed Falk as she describes what reporters focused on back in the Ocho:

The most widely cited was a piece in the Washington Post by Robin Givhan, who noted, “There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. It belonged to Sen. Hillary Clinton.” Despite the fact that Clinton was talking about education policy, Givhan reported, “She was wearing a rose-colored blazer over a black top. The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-shape. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance.”

The media watchdog website Media Matters noted that following the Post’s article, broadcast television also focused on Clinton’s appearance. Their researchers analyzed news segments on July 30 on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They found that “MSNBC devoted a total of 23 minutes and 42 seconds to segments discussing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ‘cleavage.’ .?.?. During the same period, CNN devoted 3 minutes and 54 seconds to coverage of Clinton’s cleavage, while Fox News devoted none.”

Her hair is up here, people.

de jorioUp to 2012, Mali was a poster child for African democracy, despite multiple signs of growing dissatisfaction with the democratic experiment. Then disaster struck, bringing many of the nation’s unresolved contradictions to international attention. A military coup carved off the country’s south. A revolt by a coalition of Tuareg and extremist Islamist forces shook the north. The events, so violent and unexpected, forced experts to reassess Mali’s democratic institutions and the neoliberal economic reforms enacted in conjunction with the move toward democracy.

Rosa De Jorio’s newly published study of cultural heritage and its transformations provides a key to understanding the impasse that confronts Malian democracy. As she shows, postcolonial Mali privileged its cultural heritage to display itself on the regional and international scene. The neoliberal reforms both intensified and altered this trend. Profiling heritage sites ranging from statues of colonial leaders to women’s museums to historic Timbuktu, De Jorio portrays how various actors have deployed and contested notions of heritage. These actors include not just Malian administrators and politicians but UNESCO, and non-state NGOs. She also delves into the intricacies of heritage politics from the perspective of Malian actors and groups, as producers and receivers—but always highly informed and critically engaged—of international, national and local cultural initiatives.

Based on sixteen years of extensive urban fieldwork, Cultural Heritage in Mali in the Neoliberal Era is an eye-opening portrait of a nation in the headlines and in transition.

Seven-year-old Jesse W. Weik was in the crowd when Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train passed through Indianapolis on its way to Springfield. Weik’s father, an immigrant baker and grocer, lifted his son to see the late president’s body. Years later, the younger Weik would play an instrumental part in putting a reputation and a personality to Lincoln’s haunting, haunted face.

herndon's lincolnBorn on August 23, 1857, Jesse Weik grew up in Indiana and at age thirteen enrolled in the forerunner of DePauw University in Greencastle. In his time there Weik became a student of John Clark Ridpath, author of the then-popular History of the World. Weik wrote and received letters from the likes of William Lloyd Garrison and Thomas Carlyle. Indeed, a short and interesting biography of Weik by Randall T. Shepard notes a “fascination” with famous people. A social animal, Weik belonged to various clubs and, in the family tradition, joined the Republican Party. He also made frequent journeys to Indianapolis to attend the theater and once took in a show starring Edwin Booth, the toast of the nineteenth century American stage and the elder brother of John Wilkes Booth.

Weik wrote to William Herndon, well known as Lincoln’s pre-White House law partner, in 1881. Asking for an autograph, Weik received a page from a Lincoln notebook written in Lincoln’s hand. By then Herndon had been working for years on a biography of the Great Emancipator but had trouble pulling the materials together. The next year, Weik took up a post in Springfield. Herndon let him go through some old papers belonging to Lincoln and Weik, enthused, started to interview people who had known the late president.

Fast forward, and the two signed a contract to co-write Lincoln’s biography. Herndon, a frequent lecturer at DePauw, joined Weik in Greencastle in 1887, though Weik had to pay his way there. Weik collaborated with Herndon in between waiting on customers at his grocery. Basically, Herndon wrote rough drafts. Weik, baffled by his work, then rewrote. The bulk of his labor took place after an exhausted Herndon returned to Springfield, with the end product almost entirely Weik’s prose.

The book that emerged, Herndon’s Lincoln, faced controversy and careless editing. Thanks to an unscrupulous publisher, neither Herndon nor Weik cleared much money. But a later edition of the biography from Charles Scribner’s Sons had a happier fate. Herndon’s Lincoln established itself as a classic and remains, as Don E. Fehrenbacher declared, “the most influential biography of Lincoln ever published.”

Ray Bradbury, born on August 22, 1920, is known for his breakthrough novels such as Fahrenheit 451.  As Jonathan R. Eller writes in Ray Bradbury Unbound, the author also made an impact in television and film.

Bradbury only wrote one episode of The Twilight Zone. He had a fraught his relationship, and then no relationship, with the show and its creator, Rod Serling. But their attempts to collaborate endured long enough to inspire the informative trivia questions below. Want to cheat? You can find all the answers and a lot more detail in Ray Bradbury Unbound. (Scrolling to the bottom of the post will work, too.)

1. Veronica Cartwright portrayed the troubled daughter in the Bradbury-penned “I Sing the Body Electric!” She earned more massive nerd cred playing an alien abductee on The X-Files and performing which Seventies film role?

a. Lambert, the navigator of the spaceship Nostromo in Alien
b. Alex, the assistant to scientist Kirk Douglas in Saturn 3
c. Kate McCrae, the ESP-endowed scientist of The Black Hole
d. Jessica 6, a “runner” in the dystopian cult classic Logan’s Run

2. A factor in Bradbury’s falling out with Rod Serling involved “Walking Distance,” a Twilight Zone episode written by the latter that Bradbury felt borrowed from his own work. In “Walking Distance,” Gig Young encountered which TZ-esque scenario?

a. Being menaced by a gremlin on the wing of his airplane
b. Trying to find the monster among his neighbors on Maple Street
c. Meeting himself as a young boy in the hometown of his youth
d. Realizing that none of his friends or family recognize him

3. Another “Walking Distance” question: the episode’s use of a carousel as a plot device angered Bradbury because a merry-go-round was central to which of his then-unpublished but nearly finished books?

a. The Machineries of Joy
b. Dark Carnival
c. Something Wicked This Way Comes
d. The Illustrated Man

4. Bradbury submitted a 1961 script to Serling about two lost desert wanderers who encounter an ever-changing mirage, but Serling had trouble getting the story into shape due to which perceived problem selling the story to his TV network?

a. Bradbury’s stage directions called for expensive-to-make alien landscapes
b. Bradbury’s beautiful prose did not translate well to spoken dialogue
c. Bradbury’s story was a too-bold criticism of the anti-Communist hysteria
d. Bradbury’s twist ending only made sense if you understood Norse myths

5. In 1962, Bantam Books asked Bradbury if they could use an endorsement from Serling to promote a Bradbury story collection. Bradbury vetoed the request with which statement?

a. That Serling would soon be forgotten in the sci fi field
b. That people who watched television did not read books
c. That Serling had no gravitas among the real sci fi-reading public
d. That he would be promoting Serling instead of vice-versa




Answers: (1) A; (2) C; (3) C; (4) B; (5) A

On August 20, 1956, former state auditor Orville Hodge astonished colleagues in the Republican Party and political observers across the state by pleading guilty to embezzlement.

A perennial on listicles involving corruption in politics, Hodge grew up in Granite City. He began his career as an elected official in 1946 when he won a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. A popular people person, Hodge enjoyed the image of a back-slapping pol who came from independent wealth and seemed destined for the governor’s mansion. He did, in a sense, accrue independent wealth. He embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars and put it toward a portfolio of toys that included property in Florida and Chicago, a Springfield mansion, a couple of jets, and a fleet of automobiles.

One might be tempted to say Hodge made crooked politics look easy. But by all accounts it was easy in the Illinois of the 1950s. Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson, for instance, managed to fit Hodge’s methods into a nice, compact paragraph in their UIP book Corrupt Illinois:

He created a false report that his office was insolvent and convinced the legislature to provide a $525,000 emergency appropriation, which he kept for himself. In his position, he was also able to issue state “warrants” for payment to people who had done business with the state. However, they never received the payments, nor were they entitled them. Rather, in a pattern similar to Governor Matteson’s misuse of script a hundred years earlier, Hodge cashed the warrants himself.

An investigative series in the Chicago Daily News brought down Hodge and won the paper a Pulitzer. The now former state auditor, meanwhile, liquidated his ill-gotten possessions in order to repay the state while serving almost six-and-a-half years of his sentence. He returned to Granite City after his release to work as a car salesman and real estate agent, two businesses he had patronized a great deal from the other side in more remunerative times.