The idea of social media allowing friends, family and total strangers to glimpse tantalizing tidbits of your personal business is nothing new. Something very similar would have been familiar to anybody who picked up a small-town newspaper in days gone by.
That's exactly the thought that struck me recently while doing research at the Jefferson County Public Library's Standley Lake Branch in Arvada, Colorado. As I reeled my way through the library's microfilm back records of long-ago newspapers, I realized that much -- if not all -- of the small-town news familiar to generations of readers is not that different from the purported blathering on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the like.
Although few folks probably sought to have domestic-violence arrests and drunken-driven convictions printed in the local newspaper, the remainder of personal local news undoubtedly made its way into print at the insistence of those involved. Bridal showers, weddings, graduations, out-of-town visitors and a surprisingly detailed account of medical problems all are presented with a candor that would astound many contemporary blab-it-alls and busybodies.
A bygone-day's example of TMI is on full view in the May 12, 1938, edition of the East Jefferson Sentinel, a weekly newspaper that focused on the city of Edgewater, as well as areas of Jefferson County that decades later would incorporate as Wheat Ridge and Lakewood.
Disclosure: In the late 1970s, I briefly worked for Sentinel Newspapers, which by then had grown into a powerhouse serving Denver and its suburbs.
As you view highlights of the hometown bits of tid that East Jefferson Sentinel subscribers were reading 72 years ago, keep in mind that effective antibiotic treatments were still years away, pneumonia often was deadly, and even the most minor surgeries could be invasive and life-threatening.
A sampling from the Sentinel's "Neighborhood News" column:
David, son of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Haley, is sick with pneumonia.
C.M. Drundidge of 2523 Eaton St. is sick with pneumonia.
Herman Schlemann's mother, whose home is in Barnum, is recuperating at St. Anthony's Hospital from a gall bladder operation performed Friday morning.
Mrs. C.W. Francis has been confined to her bed for the past week threatened with pneumonia.
Mrs. George Dalton remains desperately sick at her home on Gray Street and shows very slight signs of improvement.
Mary Anna, 3-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Eldridge, is up and playing after a critically sick spell since the day before Christmas. It was necessary to have both of her ears lanced and she barely averted having bronchial pneumonia.
Frank Wind has gone to California for an indefinite stay.
Mrs. Ed Kaden of West 32nd Avenue near Wadsworth Boulevard was made very ill by the fumes from her gas stove one day last week. She was found on the kitchen floor by her husband.
Mary-Emma Gelvin was unable to attend school on Friday owing to her foot giving her a deal deal of pain. Quite some time ago, she had her heel frosted and occasionally the foot swells and causes her trouble.
Then there's this unusual pair of reports that make you wonder what exactly went on. Do the two items describe the same woman or is this a case of mother-daughter gastrointestinal distress?
May Starr, daughter of Mrs. Mary Starr of 2425 Gray St., was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital on Friday suffering with a stomach ailment and nervous disorder.
Mrs. John Starr was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital with a spell of indigestion. It was thought that it might be appendicitis but only proved to be a serious indigestion spell. She was brought home the next day.
Here's an item that would have generated guffaws, even in 1938:
Mr. Harold Earsom has been quite ill with the flu and was unable to go with his delivery truck.
Finally, here's an example of a poignant hometown news item that we can only hope had a happy ending:
The many Edgewater friends of Mrs. Pearl Chandler were grieved to learn that on account of her mental condition it was necessary to have her committed to the State Hospital in Pueblo on January 11.
What happened to Mrs. Chandler? Did she recover and come back to Edgewater? She probably suffered from a condition that these days would be cured by talking therapy or psychiatric medication. But that was then, and this is now.
Just imagine what people in the seemingly distant year of 2082 will think of what we're tweeting now.
I finally got a chance to try the ribs at Smokey's BBQ -- and I'm glad I did. This new place at 5481 N. Northwest Highway in Chicago's Gladstone Park neighborhood is a welcome addition to the community.
Also up for discussion are spaghetti dinners with a Hawaiian theme and a mysterious teenage girl who used a wrench to bash area boys on several occasions in 1944.
The menu items weren’t always 100 percent Irish, but ChicagoScope definitely enjoyed our recent visit to Lake Villa’s Blackthorn Grille. I especially enjoyed the Reuben egg roll, shown above. Leah Zeldes wasn't sure she'd go for this creation, but she sure warmed to it.
"The Reuben egg rolls turn out to be burrito-sized, two to an order," Leah writes in her published review. "The crisply fried wrappers contain corned beef, caraway-seasoned sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, with a drizzle of thousand-island dressing. I'm a convert."
I'd go back to the Blackthorn just for those egg rolls!
I also have to thank Leah and Dick for valiantly tolerating my junior high school reaction to the Blackthorn Grille's signature "Celtic knots," which are hard, twisted bread rolls, tossed in garlicky oil.
I thought the Celtic knot I selected looked amusingly like a certain part of the male anatomy -- and I wondered whether the things got bigger when you buttered them. Or if one of these rolls could have a meaningful relationship with a pita bread.
I recently rode Amtrak’s Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, a trip of more than 2,000 miles across three time zones and seven states.
Whether I was exploring a chilly platform during a brief layover in St. Paul (above) or enjoying the clean, stark views of an unexpectedly long stop in Shelby, Montana, (right), I had a great time -- and talk about it in this latest podcast.
Taking the train isn’t for everybody. I know it’s a cliché to say so, but in long-distance train travel, it’s the trip that makes the experience worthwhile. If you want to get there quickly, fly. What's especially fun for me is seeing all the small towns -- and reading some of the small-town newspapers you're able to get at station stops.
In jobs gone by, I occasionally had to edit school lunch menus. Once, a local school district got a nasty letter from Ore-Ida because although "Tater Tots" were constantly listed in their menu, the company had somehow determined that the school cafeteria's side dish was not, in fact, genuine Tater Tots® brand potato product.
That's why I read small-town newspapers' school lunch menus with a great deal of interest. Whether it's fun dishes like "Chef Betsy's Special Surprise" or "Same as Tuesday" (I've actually seen those over the years), these simple yet vital lists provide a wonderful culinary glimpse into those thrilling meals of yesteryear.
Every since my disappointing experience with the Amtrak flat iron steak, I've wanted to know more about beef cuts, flavors, how meat is aged, and so on. Thanks to Leah Zeldes, I now know a great deal about these somewhat arcane subjects.
Also check out "Raising Steaks," an article Leah wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times.
And yes, the photo above is what I had for dinner before recording this podcast. I opted for the original version of Hamburger Helper on the left. It still tastes great, and is almost as good a comfort food as Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner.
PRODUCTION NOTE: I promise to do a better job with Skype next time.
One of my favorite pirate broadcasters was Alan Maxwell's KIPM, which usually took to the airwaves on holiday weekends. Many pirate broadcasters simply played rock music and subjected listeners to vulgar humor, but KIPM produced professional-quality science-fiction dramas that could last an hour or more.
Like many pirate broadcasters, KIPM responded to listener reception reports. Much to my delight some years back, I received a QSL card from KIPM. Shown above, the card confirms I picked up the station's signal on Oct. 27, 2002, on 6950 kHz. Maxwell also included some bizarre artwork and an audio CD of the shows.
About this same time, I began listening to the eclectic programs on WBCQ, a shortwave station owned by Allan Weiner that courageously embraces the First Amendment in a way that would make most mainstream broadcasters defecate cinderblocks.
Although WBCQ's programming has always run the gamut from extreme vanity to extreme politics, I found some shows to be fascinating. Radio Newyork International with John P. Lightning was a favorite of mine. It's a potpourri of pop culture and politics that's best described as Howard Stern without the punchbowl -- and without the turd.
Another great WBCQ show I enjoyed listening to was "Marion's Attic," which featured an elderly lady playing Edison cylinder and old 78 RPM records from the dawn of commercially recorded music.
But not all of WBCQ's programming smelled so good. Weiner's commitment to free speech also meant that some genuine weirdos, goofballs and nutjobs gained access to the airwaves. Among those was Hal Turner, who bought time on the station for several years to espouse his anti-Semetic and racist views.
Turner was arrested just the other day amid accusations of threatening public officials. I disagree with nearly all -- if not all -- of what Turner stands for and says, but this is still America and he has the right to espouse those views. But if Turner did try to incite violence, however, then he does need to answer for that. An even more interesting fringe broadcaster active around the time Turner graced WBCQ was "Colonel" Steve Anderson, a self-styled militia leader who operated clandestine shortwave station United Patriot Radio from a site in Kentucky.
Anderson broadcast nightly diatribes against the federal government for far longer than most shortwave listeners believed possible. Here in Jefferson Park, his shortwave transmissions came blasting across my radio with such strength you'd have thought the transmitter was just up the street.
The colonel's rhetoric usually began at a seemingly sane level, but quickly progressed to mouth-frothing talk about New World Order conspiracies and Jews being the spawn of Satan. Interspersed among his Christian Identity pontifications were references to his love of baking homemade bread.
Anderson, a former Kentucky State Militia member who got the boot when he refused to stop his illegal transmissions, definitely knew how to keep his audience riveted.
United Patriot Radio's hit parade included "You Can Take My Gun From My Cold, Dead Hand," "Onward Christian Soldiers" and a taped interlude featuring a guy firing a machinegun and yelling, "Janet Reno! Get some! Get some today!"
The broadcasts ended one fateful night in October 2001 when a county mountie pulled the colonel over on a routine traffic stop for having a broken taillight on his truck. One thing led to another and Anderson whipped out an automatic weapon and swiss-cheesed the officer's patrol car. (Initial newspaper reports noted that Johnny Law had a 15-year-old girl in the squad car with him, but if this fascinating detail was ever explained in subsequent coverage, I missed it.)
Anderson took it on the lam until he was arrested after his mugshot appeared on "America's Most Wanted." He's now doing time.
The interwebs have occupied much of my spare time the past few years and I haven't monitored the shortwave band for bizarre stuff for a long time. I ought to see what's up and start listening again. After all, it's like having kids in the next room: If they're too quiet, you know they're up to something.
This time out, I recorded the podcast with a Livescribe Pulse smartpen. What the audio lacks in fidelity, it makes up for in convenience, I think.
Topics include Jefferson Park, neighborhood festivals and some suburban high school administrators who have a stick up their fundament over an innocent yearbook prank in which a photo showing a student holding a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer made it into print. To hear New Trier Township High School spokeswoman Laura Blair tell the tale, Western civilization is on the brink of destruction.
"It's clearly defiant and subversive and intentional," Blair declared to Chicago Tribune reporter John Keilman.
Talk about an overreaction. Judging by her credentials, Blair looks to be a sharp public-relations professional, so she should have had a much more measured response when journalists came calling, as Tribune columnist Eric Zorn points out.
When I worked at a certain small-town daily newspaper I won't name, we had a similar problem. Each year, the paper would print two full pages with an alphabetical list of all graduating high school seniors. This page was put together and proofread by students from the school's paper. The paper usually painstakingly proofread the list before printing it, but one year somebody slipped up and thousands of readers found the following names among the graduates:
Hugh Jass, Lilac Arug, Seymour Butz, Mike Hunt and (my favorite) Buster Hyman.
School officials and our publisher publicly made the requisite comments about how sad it was that a few pranksters had ruined it for everybody -- but everybody I met thought it was pretty funny. Although not as funny as the time the paper supposedly printed an ad that promised a sale on "Men's Tapered Shits."
And then there's the time that Chicago's very own Lerner Newspapers ran an ad -- in the Skokie edition, I believe, which surely qualifies as icing on the cake -- whose typo announced the opening of the "Nazi Car Wash."
But to get back to subject of yearbook mischief, the sad reality is that it isn't always funny. Pranks are definitely not funny in cases like this.
I love steak and I love traveling by train, but so far I haven't had good luck with the flat iron steak served on Amtrak's California Zephyr.
I tried this relatively new cut last October 2008 on the Zephyr and wasn't especially impressed with it. But I figured it was probably just me, so when I was on the train again in early 2009, I gave the flat iron steak another chance. Same result. This, I asked myself, is a $21 meal?
Last week, I spent a week's vacation out in Colorado, so I decided to relax and take the train again. Meals are included if you book a sleeper, so I tend to eat with reckless abandon. This trip, however, I decided to play it safe with the pork tenderloin -- which was quite good.
As for why I just don't get along with the flat iron steak, Leah Zeldes tells me that some, but not all, flat iron steaks can contain myglobin, which imparts a liverlike taste if the steak is cooked well. I'm not sure if that's why my two Amtrak flat irons failed to excite, since I ordered both cooked medium.
Maybe it's just me. When I mentioned my Amtrak steak experience to several friends in Colorado, they told me that they really like flat iron steaks -- especially when used to make sandwiches.
In any event, the rest of the stuff on the Amtrak menu was just fine.
External links and opinions about flat iron steak and Amtrak food:
(Recorded on a Canon PowerShot SD950 IS Digital Elph while standing under the eaves of that building at left in the above photo of Jefferson Park.)
Nope, we're not headed to the Taste of Chicago. The Taste can be kind of fun, but it's also a real headache to get to and you have to battle thousands of other people.
I'd say you need to embrace the hustle and bustle to fully appreciate the Taste. Sort of like how to tolerate alfresco dining, you need a high tolerance of carbon monoxide and pedestrian stares. That's a topic worthy of an entire podcast. I can understand how diners might enjoy having a meal in a secluded garden or a quiet courtyard -- but too often here in Chicago, alfresco dining means some eatery merely has jammed a dozen tables out on the sidewalk.
Bugs, carbon monoxide, allowing total strangers to waltz by and look at what you're stuffing in your pie hole. And this is a good thing? Mm-mm-good, huh?
Speaking of things that sound like a good thing but often aren't, let's talk about one of my favorite culinary topics: macaroni and cheese. I've always maintained that although Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner is the gold standard against which all other such dishes are judged, the amount of powdered cheese provided just isn't enough. In fact, ever since I was a kid, I've always added extra cheese when I cook up this favorite comfort food.
Verdict: Not cheesy enough. And a few others at work reached the same conclusion. Please note this was the regular version -- imagine how noncheesy the "mild" version is. One colleague even compared the crackers to Cheese Nips, another Kraft brand.
I'm a loyal consumer of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, but I can't get too excited about these cracker knockoffs.
In this podcast, I also talk about finding a really cool site while Googling for reviews of Carrara, an affordable CGI application. One link led me to a site promoting a proposed TV series called "Atomic City" featuring the adventures of Phil Velvet, an Elvis lookalike private eye in a kitschy, retro-future re-imagined Las Vegas.
I'm not sure just why I like the site, but I must have watched the video clip several dozen times now. Check it out and let me know what you think.
Finally, what with the ascendency of digital imaging, chemical analog photography seems destined for retro status. Yet, even as I embrace digital, I find myself clinging to film photography. In fact, some of the best work I've done of lately has been with the Holga -- which is just about as analog as you can get.
Whenever I want to reinvigorate my excitement for analog photography -- or for photography in general -- I like to check in at Filmwasters, which serves up galleries by its five founders, as well as links to other photo-related sites. But the highlight for me is the Filmwasters podcast.
Well, that's it for now. Look for some episodes next month from Colorado, plus a special podcast with Dick about geocaching.
Despite my sad devotion to that ancient religion of silver-based analog photography, I've found a nifty little digital camera that I've been carrying with me everywhere of late.
My new friend is the Canon PowerShot SD950 IS. It takes still images up to 12.1 megapixels in resolution and also records high-quality video that isn't too shabby.
I hadn't even intended to record a podcast that day. My goal was only to test the SD950 in macro mode on some flowers in Jefferson Park. (See the example at right.)
While playing with the menu, however, I discovered a feature that will come in handy for real run-and-gun podcasting: The SD950 can record reasonably good audio. So, I decided to use the camera's digital voice recorder to create this podcast.
I recorded the sound as I stood next to the flowering tree whose pink flowers I'd just photographed. (The background noise is from traffic on Lawrence Avenue.) We're not talking high-quality sound, but it's acceptable enough to get the job done.
That job involved a totally on-the-fly reminiscence about my grandfather's observation that "the vegetable kingdom does not waste time."