Wednesday, January 27, 2021

International Holocaust Remembrance Day Observed But Memories Dim

The grim reality is that 76 years after the world got confirmation of the breadth of the Holocaust anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States and in Europe.  As the last survivors of the death camps and the Allied soldiers who liberated them dwindle the collective memory has dimmedPolls constantly show that younger people are at best foggy on the reality—many can’t place World War II within 50 years on a time line, are unsure who the combatants were and on who was responsible for barely understood atrocitiesHolocaust denial is on the rise spread mainly by those who try to mask their own intentions to “complete the job.”  Right wing nationalism is on the rise in Europe making substantial gains in several national parliaments and coming to power in Poland and other Eastern European Countries. 

Nazi paraphernalia and symbols were on display during the violent occupation of the U.S. Capitol by organized insurrectionists.  No one in the mob seemed a bit perturbed by this guy and his sweatshirt. 

In the U.S. White nationalism has broken out of the pariah fringe of society and is making a bid for respectability as it is given barely concealed wink and nod support from the former Resident himself.  Deadly mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and at a kosher grocery in New Jersey as well as a mass stabbing attack on a suburban New York home Hanukkah celebration were only some the most widely noted events.  Vandalism and attacks on synagogues, cemeteries, schools, and other Jewish institutions are on a sharp rise.  Anti-Semitic flyers and propaganda are being posted at colleges, universities, and high schools as well as in suburban communities.  The insurrectionist attack on the Capitol included individuals with swastika tattoos, a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt in addition to members of anti-Semitic neo-fascist groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.  Even as White nationalist, racist, and anti-Semitic groups have lately been purged by Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms they find homes elsewhere and on the so-called Dark Web

Confounding attempts to counter these dangerous trends is the Israeli government’s campaign to tar every critic of its brutal and unrelenting attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, and now in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other cities as anti-Semites.  The former Cheeto-in-Charge was happy to echo those charges and to support efforts to virtually outlaw calls for economic and cultural boycotts of the Jewish stateTrump, who was been largely silent during Israel’s escalating attacks and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announced plans to recognize and annex all of the illegal settlements in the West Bank, chose Holocaust Remembrance Day to host the Prime Minister and his chief political rival Benny Gantz to push a  secret “peace plan.” 

The Hall of Names keeps the memories of individual Holocaust victims alive at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. 

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It will be observedcelebrated is certainly the wrong word here—in ways big and small, significant and trivial in many places across the world.  The commemoration comes on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps in Poland by the advancing Red Army on January 27, 1945.  American, British, Canadian, and other Allied Forces liberated other camps, but Auschwitz was the pinnacle of efficiency for the Nazi industrialization of mass murder.

On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation the United Nations General Assembly held a special commemorative session.  The following November the General Assembly created the memorial day, which was first observed in 2006.

In November of 1944 as the Red Army advanced from the East and the Allies pressed on the Western Front, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the beginning to the eradication of evidence of the death camps in Poland.   Gassing operations were suspended and crematoria at Auschwitz were ordered destroyed or, in one case, converted into a bomb shelter.  As things got worse, Himmler ordered the evacuation of the camps in early January directing that “not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy.”

On January 17, 58,000 Auschwitz detainees were set on a death march west towards Wodzisław Śląski. Approximately 20,000 Auschwitz prisoners made it to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where they were liberated by the British in April 1945.

Some of the healthier inmates of Auschwitz after liberation by the Red Army.

But that left over 8,000 of the weakest and sickest abandoned with scant supplies.  The Red Army 322nd Rifle Division arrived 10 days later to find 7,500 barely alive and 600 corpses lying where ever they finally collapsed.  They also found much evidence of the greater crimes Himmler had hoped to hide—370,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, and 7.7 tons of human hair. Coming in the midst of the Yalta Conference and other war news, the liberation received scant news attention at the time.  And the Soviets, who were at best ambivalent at the highest levels about what to do with the liberated Jews, did little to publicly celebrate their role in the liberation, at least at first.

It was only after survivors reached the West and eventually Israel as refugees, that Auschwitz emerged as a special, horrific symbol of the whole Holocaust.

Emaciated survivors at Buchenwald, a major extermination camp liberated by American troops.

The publication of the Diary of Ann Frank, Ellie Wiesel’s Night, and other memoirs by survivors, camp liberators, and on-the-scene journalists made deep public impressions in the West as did films like Stephen Spielberg’s Shindler’s List.  Evidence of the Holocaust has been carefully preserved at Israel’s Yad Vashem, the world central archive of Holocaust-related information and at Holocaust museums in many major cities.  Public acknowledgement of the Holocaust probably peaked internationally around the turn of the 21st Century and has been eroding since then.

Last year the 75th anniversary was marked by a special meeting at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in JerusalemOver 50 international leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Prince Charles, and American Vice-President Mike Pence were on hand for the event.  They heard Netanyahu denounce critics of Israel as Anti-Semites and to beat the band for an international attack against Iran.   Other leaders, except Pence, generally distanced themselves from Netanyahu’s remarks and spoke in platitudes of varying degrees of sincerity about preventing any future genocide.

Holocaust Remembrance was muddied last year a the World Holocaust Forum when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the occasion to justify violent oppression of Palestinians and his apartheid regime, to attack all critics of his policy as anti-Semites, and to rouse support for an attack on Iran.

Today there will be solemn remembrance gatherings at the sites of most of the World War II death camps and in cities around the world

Together we can truly pledge “Never Again!”  and mean it for Jews and for the modern targets of repression, oppression, apartheid like ghettoization, and even actual genocidal attacks including the Kurds and the Palestinians.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Mary Tyler Moore —Twice a TV Icon

Mary Tyler Moore in her self-titled TV show.

Mary Tyler Moore died January 25, 2017 in Connecticut.  The star of two of television’s most beloved, iconic, and influential sit-coms, a shrewd businesswoman and powerful producer, Oscar nominee for a type cast shattering dramatic role, philanthropist, activist, and feminist was 80 years old.  She had been suffering complications of Type 1 diabetes in recent years which had left her nearly blind.  Few actresses have been as loved by fans and show business insiders alike,

Moore was born on December 29, 1936 to a comfortably middle class Catholic family in Brooklyn, New York.  When she was eight years old the family moved to Los Angeles where she decided to become a dancer at age 17 while attending Immaculate Heart High School in Los Feliz, California.

She got her first break as Happy Hotpoint, a tiny dancing elf on appliance commercials during aired during broadcasts of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  She auditioned for the role of Danny Thomas’s oldest daughter in Make Room for Daddy, but was turned down because “no daughter of mine could have a nose that small.”  She became the sultry voiced receptionist on Richard Diamond, Private Detective who was only shown from the waist down, and featuring Moore’s shapely dancer legs

Mary as the dancing elf Happy Hotpoint in Ozzie and Harriet commercials.

By the late ‘50s Moore was appearing regularly as a guest star in numerous TV series including, Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside Six, and Hawaiian Eye—all detective shows from the Warner Bros. assembly line—as well Wanted Dead or Alive, Steve Canyon, Thriller,  and Lock-Up.  Finally it was Danny Thomas, Sheldon Leonard’s partner in the production company who remembered the “girl with three names” and recommended her to him Sheldon Leonard for the new show he was developing with writer/comedian Carl Reiner.

The Dick Van Dyke Show, which premiered on CBS on October 3, 1960 was something different—it split its time and attention between Rob Petrie’s—Van Dyke—job as head writer of a comedy/variety show and his home in suburban New Rochelle, New York with his beautiful and somewhat neurotic young wife, Laura.  In this it echoed the show biz/domestic split of the classic I Love Lucy and Thomas’s Make Room for Daddy.  The couple did have a child, a grade school age boy named Ritchie, but plots seldom revolved around him and he did not even appear in many episodes.  At home the story was all about Rob and Laura, played by raven-haired Mary Tyler Moore.

Although Van Dyke had a certain youthful Midwestern charm, Moore was noticeably younger than her husband which was explained in backstory episodes showing Rob meeting her while serving as a sergeant in an Army entertainment troupe and she was a 17 year old dancer.  That background also allowed Moore to dance in the series, both in the living room of their home and with other cast members in productions for the mythical Allen Brady Show.  It also showed of her long legs, but not as on Richard Diamond in short skirts.  Instead they were tightly encased in capri pants, a choice Moore herself insisted upon because unlike previous domestic icons on TV like Harriet Nelson or Donna Reed, “real housewives don’t vacuum in full skirted dresses and heels.”  Sponsors and the network were mortified and fearful but Moore took the considerable risk of sticking by her guns.  It was a modest but real assertion of independence and even feminism.  Women, it turned out, loved the pants and they became a fashion rage.  As for the men, they thought they looked just great on her despite—or because of a “certain cupping under” which emphasized the shape of her butt

Mary as Laura Petrie with Dick Van Dyke in those practical but sexy capri pants and flats.

The show ran for 5 seasons and could have gone on but Van Dyke wanted to concentrate on his increasingly successful movie career which already included Bye, Bye Birdie and Mary Poppins.

The Dick Van Dyke Show was nominated for 25 Primetime Emmy Awards and won 15 including a nod to the program as Best Comedy and Best Achievement in Comedy, for Reiner as a writer and producer, for Jerry Paris as a director, and to all of the principal cast members.

In 2002, it was ranked at 13 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.  And has been in continual syndication or on basic cable since its first run.

During the run of the show Moore married CBS producer Grant Tinkler.  It was her second marriage.  The first to the “the boy next doorRichard Carleton Meeker in 1955 produced a son, Richard Jr.  That marriage ended in divorce in 1961.  She married Tinkler a little more than a year later.

Moore moved on to movies under contract with Universal Pictures where she made 1967's Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967 with Julie Andrews, and the 1968 films What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? with George Peppard, and Don’t Just Stand There! with Robert Wagner.  Memorably she played a nun opposite Elvis Presley in Change of Habit in 1969.  That flick was a box office disappointment on first release but has become a cult favorite.

Moore played a nun and Elvis Presley played a doctor with mixed feeling for each other in Change of Habit.

Meanwhile Moore and Tinkler formed a new production company, MTM Enterprises in 1969 and successfully pitched new sitcom to CBS for the 1970 season.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show turned out to be even more successful than The Dick Van Dyke Show and was culturally significant in profound ways.

In the show Moore portrayed Mary Richards, a thirty-something single woman who arrives in Minneapolis to start a new life and career.  Just what she was doing since presumably graduating from college is never quite clear but the lyrics to the show’s catchy theme song, Love is All Around by prolific 70’s tunesmith Paul Williams indicate she may have had a bumpy ride.

How will you make it on your own?
This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone
But it’s time you started living
It’s time you let someone else do some giving.

Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it.
You’re gonna make it after all
You’re gonna make it after all.

Mary landed a job as sort of a Girl Friday in the newsroom of a third rate local TV station and launched a career in which she would steadily advance first to a news writer then to a producer.  Earlier Marlo Thomas had been the first to portray and “independent single woman”—if you forget about early television’s Our Miss Brooks and Private Secretary—in That Girl!  But Thomas’s character was an actress/model who sometimes took odd jobs rather than a career woman and much of the show focused on her Doris Day-like virginal relationship with her boyfriend.  Although The Mary Tyler Moore Show did not spend a lot of time on Mary’s love life, it was tacitly understood that she was no naïve maiden saving herself for the right man.  One episode made headlines when Mary casually decided to go on the Pill.

Mary became the focal point of her work place, relied upon by her crusty managing editor Lou Grant (Ed Asner); the pompous, vain, and ignorant anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight); world weary writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin McLeod); and was vexed by a seemingly sweet but back stabbing cooking show host Sue Ann Nevins (Betty White.) 

On the job Mary fought for equal pay with the men in the newsroom and gently confronted prejudice about what a woman could do.

Mary collecting Emmys with cast mates Ed Asner, Betty White, and Ted Knight.

She found a not terribly grand or glamorous apartment in a converted Victorian mansion where she made friends with another single woman, sharp tongued Rhoda Morgenstern, a Brooklyn Jewish transplant with a woeful love life, and somewhat more reluctantly with landlady Phyllis Linstrom, a middle aged woman with an always unseen husband Lars.

In seven seasons the show was almost always in the Nielson top 20 and was early appointment TV for many.  The episode featuring the funeral of Chuckles the Clown, the station’s children’s show host who was trampled by an elephant while walking in a parade dressed as a giant peanut, is usually considered one of the top five funniest TV comedy episodes of all time.   The show garnered a then record breaking 29 Emmy’s including 5 for Moore personally as an actress.

The city of Minneapolis commemorated the program with a life sized statue of Moore tossing her knit cap in the air on the site where the famous opening sequence was filmed.

Mary tosses her cap in this Minneapolis bronze.

MTM productions spun off successful programs featuring Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant.  The company also made The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, The White Shadow, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, and Remington Steele making it one of the most powerful companies in TV.  Moore was compared to Lucille Ball and her Desilu Productions, but she was the first to admit that she was never the hand-on producer Ball became and that her husband Grant Tinkler managed the company.  Still, the company made her enormously wealthy and catapulted Tinkler to the position of Chairman and CEO of NBC from 1981 to 1986 after his divorce from Moore.  Moore left the management of the company in the hands of Arthur Price under whose management it went into a slow decline and was sold in 1986 to Jim Victory Television.  The company and its valuable catalog changed hand several more times and is now owned by the Walt Disney Company.

The end of her marriage to Tinkler was part of a dark time for the woman that the public associated with perkiness and spunk.  She had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 33 in 1969 just as she was getting set to launch her eponymous show.  Although she was able to control the illness, the effects worsened over the years and were the cause of serious health issues in the final decades of her life.  She became an activist for diabetes research and was the long time chair and public face of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, now known as the JDRF.

After all of her success, Moore struggled establish a lasting new television program.  Later forays into series programming, including two variety shows and two short lived sitcoms were notable failures. Her movie career fizzled after the box office failure of Change of Habit.  To cope with the disappointments and frustrations she turned increasingly to drink and like her former TV husband Dick Van Dyke, she struggled with alcoholism.  She chronicled that battle in her 1995 memoir After All.

Moore starred with Timothy Hutton in Robert Redford's Ordinary People, a dramatic tour de force.

In 1980 Moore was cast against type as the cold mother who rejects her surviving son after his brother and her favorite died in a sailing accident in Ordinary People.  Robert Redford’s directorial debut was one of the most admired films of the year and earned six Academy Award nominations and won four including Best Picture and Best Director.  Moore was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and won a Golden Globe to add to her crowed trophy case.

She could hardly enjoy the success.  On October 14, 1980, less than a month after the premier of Ordinary Moore’s only child, 24 year old Richard died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound.  Moore always maintained that the death was accidental but it was ruled a suicide.  The loss was devastating to her.

In 1983 Moore found some peace and comfort when she married Dr. Robert Levine who she met while he was treating her mother.  They made their home in New York City and in Connecticut where he remained devoted to her through her increasingly fragile health until she died.

Moore appeared as a guest on various TV programs and starred in several made for TV movies including Stolen Babies for which she won another Emmy in 1993.  Notably she reunited with surviving members of Dick Van Dyke Show in a 2004 TV movie.  Her last work was on an episode of Hot in Cleveland in 2012 that reunited her with series regular Betty White as well as Mary Tyler Moore regulars Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper, and Georgia Engel.  The reunion was partly the result of Harper’s announcement that she had inoperable brain cancer and Moore’s own fragile health.

Mar Tyler Moore at a Broadway Barks event.

Increasingly, Moore spent her energy in philanthropic pursuits.  In addition to her work with the JDRF she raised money for Civil War landmark preservation in honor of her father’s lifelong passion.  She was especially interested in animal welfare.  She worked with Farm Sanctuary to raise awareness about the process involved in factory farming and to promote compassionate treatment of farm animals.  A long-time vegetarian, she promoted a meatless diet.  With close friend Bernadette Peters she founded Broadway Barks an annual pet adopt-a-thon in New York CityThe two also campaigned together to get the city animal control agencies and shelters adopt a no-kill policy.

Monday, January 25, 2021

JFK Brought Live Pizzazz to Live TV Press Conferences

President John F. Kennedy calling on a reporter in his first live TV press conference,  He won the room and the home audience, at that time mostly stay-at-home wives and mothers.

With Joe Biden’s incoming administration, there has been a lot of attention to his relations with the press and plans for White House communications. He immediately reinstated routine daily briefings by his Press Secretary Jen Psaki, which his predecessor had abandoned entirely for months at a time before a Fox News-like blonde was brought on to calmly lie. 

The former Cheeto-in-Charge ditched formal press conferences when he found himself challenged and often being bested in sparring matches with reporters from the “Fake Newsmedia.  He held joint press appearances with visiting foreign dignitaries where he would often take the bait of off-topic questions and babble embarrassingly off-script.  Latter he appeared for a while at daily press briefings on the Coronavirus sharing the podium with his medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, hack political appointees, and Vice President Mike Pence who was put in charge of the Covid-19 Task Force.  That pretty much ended when he suggested ingesting bleach as a treatment.  He went “over the heads” of the media to use Twitter to stir up his followers,  In the end most of his exchanges with the press were sometimes shouting answers to questions yelled at him as he boarded Marine One.

Joe Biden's Press Secretary Jen Psaki began daily press briefings on his first full day in office. 

Biden, by contrast, has been before the microphones and cameras daily as he announces his Cabinet appointments and policy initiatives, usual taking at least some questions.  He promises to conduct a transparent administration and the White House Press Pool has been assured that he will also conduct full-blown press conferences.

Biden is old enough to remember President John F. Kennedy’s adroit use of the televised press conference to speak to the American people.  On January 25, 1961 JFK had the first live TV press conference at the State Department auditorium where there was ample space for the more than 200 reporters then covering the White House.  Kennedy’s good-looks, wit, and charm and a bantering style with his questioners made the broadcasts some of the original must-see-TV and helped cement the image of Camelot.

Kennedy’s press conferences were so masterful and well-remembered that many people think he invented them.  Not so.  Presidents have been meeting with White House press corps since at least the Woodrow Wilson administration.  Before that chief executives occasionally sat for interviews but most communicated in speeches with the press not allowed to ask questions

From Wilson to Harry Truman’s early presidency, press conferences, as they came to be called, were conducted around the President’s desk in the Oval Office.  Other than still photographs no recordings were made. The sessions were held under the rule “for background only” meaning that the President could not be quoted directly without his permission.  In fact, by tacit agreement if the President inadvertently stuck his foot in his mouth, reporters often help him craft a more tactful response.  According to an article on the White House Historical Society web site:

President Truman, for example, was able to back away from a comment about Senator McCarthy that he made in a March 30, 1950, press conference. Truman said: “I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy.” When one of the reporters commented that the president's observation would “hit page one tomorrow,” Truman realized he had better soften the statement. He “worked” with reporters and allowed the following as a direct quotation: “The greatest asset that the Kremlin has is the partisan attempt in the Senate to sabotage the bipartisan foreign policy of the United States.”

During this period it may come as a surprise that not-so-silent Calvin Coolidge conducted by far the most of these sessions—521 or an average of 93 a year.  But he seldom approved direct quotes.  Franklin D. Roosevelt cultivated war relationships with the rapidly growing press corps of the Depression and World War II often calling reporters “Boys” in an affectionate congenial way not as an insulting put-down. And of course they were, with rare exceptions, all male.

Reporters jammed arout President Roosevelt's Desk during an off-the-record press conference.  Note the martini shaker on the President's desk--he often held these at the cocktail hour, good for the morning papers, not so good for afternoon dailies.

During the Truman administration the press sessions outgrew the Oval Office and the President moved them to the Indian Treaty Room in the East Wing of the Old Executive Office Building now known as Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  The ornate and formal room with marble floors and vaulted ceiling had previously been used as a library for the War and Navy Departments. Initially the same off-the-record rules applied in the new venue.

Under Dwight Eisenhower the press conferences officially went “on the record.”  The old informality and familiarity was replaced with more structure.  The President had to prepare himself much more carefully for each encounter to avoid embarrassing misstatements or errors resulting in a dramatic reduction in how often they were conducted. 

Even in the larger quarters of the Indian Treaty Room it was still a squeeze for the press.  Note the hand held film cameras recording the event and microphones placed around the room for questioners.  

Eisenhower held the first press conference to be broadcast on January 19, 1955.  He announced the event as an “experiment.”  It was filmed and segments were aired that evening on the short 15 minute network TV news programs and more extensive clips were sometimes shown on the Sunday morning news programs.  Newsreels, which were still a staple at movie theaters also showed clips.

After his success during his debates with Richard Nixon during the 1960 Presidential campaign Kennedy felt both confident and comfortable on TV.  He moved his first press conference from the over-crowded and noisy Treaty Room to the State Department auditorium and opted for a live broadcast.  He read a prepared statement on a famine in the Congo, the release of two American aviators from Soviet custody, and impending negotiations for an atomic test ban treaty. Then he opened the floor for questions from reporters, answering on a variety of topics including relations with Cuba, voting rights, and food aid to impoverished Americans.

His successors all tinkered with the format and location

The program broadcast during the day—and later sometimes in the early evening—was such a success that Kennedy repeated it about every two weeks, a more frequent schedule than any of his successors. Presidents Nixon and Ronald Reagan cut back the number of press conferences to approximately one every two months. They were moved to the more “Presidential” location of the East Room of the White House. And they were often held in the evening to attract a larger audience.  But that annoyed viewers and outraged network executives who lost lucrative prime time advertising revenue.  During the administration of Bill Clinton the networks rebelled and refused to broadcast the evening press conferences unless they were assured spectacular news would be made.  Chief executives turned more and more to prime time addresses from the Oval Office in times of crisis and found multiple other ways to communicate with the press.  The number of formal press conferences declined administration by administration.

An angry Trump scolding an irritating reporter in one of his increcingly rare press conferences.  In this photo note the reporter using a cell phone to record--or perhaps even live--stream the session.  

The press also changed.  In addition to traditional print and broadcast media, alternative web-based outlets, including those with heavy political bias on both the left and right became more important and demanded to be added to the official press pool.  Presidents also became more comfortable using those outlets.  The last disgraced occupant began to use them almost exclusively.

It remains to be seen how President Biden will adapt the tradition to his new circumstances. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

A Know Nothing Chicago Mayor Provoked Beer Riots

                        Dr. Levi Boone, Chicago's Know Nothing Mayor.

Note:  Anti-immigrant demagoguery is nothing new in American politics.  Chicago’s Levi Boone was a spiritual and political Godfather to Donald Trump and his ilk.

Dr. Levi Boone was a mass of contradictions.  A twig of the expansive Boone family tree—he was Daniel’s great-nephew—he overcame early poverty to become a university trained medical doctor and established a practice in Chicago just as the former trading post village was establishing itself as a city.  He was admired for his skill, commitment to the community, and as a lay pillar of the Baptist Church.  Yet he was also an avowed racist and a nativist who made keeping the city White, native born, and Protestant the hinge of his political career which included a tumultuous term as Mayor.  You can see how well that project turned out.  When he died on January 24, 1882 it was in a city where the “alien scum he despised already outnumbered the “real Americans.”

Levi Day Boone was the seventh son of Squire Boone, Daniel’s nephew, and was born on the family farm near Lexington, Kentucky on December 8, 1808.  In the tradition of the Boone family Squire marched off to join General Andrew Jackson in his war against the Creeks in 1814.  He was severely injured at the climactic Battle of Horseshoe Bend which crushed the Red Sticks.  Squire returned home a cripple and never really recovered. He died of the lingering after effects of the wounds in 1818 when Levi was only nine years old.

The family was left in dire poverty, but was still respectable.  That helped young Levi gain admission Transylvania University, the first college west of the Appalachians and the training ground of the upper South’s political and social elite. While Levi was reading medicine there, Henry Clay was professor of law.  He graduated in 1829.  His medical degree made him one of only a handful of college trained doctors in the West.

In the Boone family tradition, Levi looked for opportunities yet further west. By 1831 he established practice in Hillsboro, Illinois, a still rustic pioneer village southwest of Springfield.  When the Black Hawk War broke out he enlisted in the Militia.  He rode with the cavalry under the command of Major Isaiah Stillman and took part in the humiliating defeat known as Stillman’s run.  After his first enlistment expired, Boone re-enlisted in the more appropriate role of surgeon.

Back in Hillsboro, the young Doctor’s prospects immensely improved by the time honored method of marrying up and well.  He wooed and won Louise M. Smith, daughter of Theophilus W. Smith, a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.  The fertile couple would go on to have 11 children.

The conclusion of the Black Hawk War opened up previously closed territory to the west and north of Chicago and the village began its rapid expansion as a regional transportation hub.  Chances to advance in the world were much greater there than in a rural backwater like Hillsboro.  Boone relocated there and hung up his shingle in 1834.  A year later he was already a prominent citizen and was a founder and first Secretary of the Cook County Medical Board.

He was also an early and leading member of the First Baptist Church which was organized in 1833 just before his arrival and was just the third church in the town.  His tenure there as an Elder was not without controversy.  In 1843 he delivered a lecture at the church on the justification of slavery in The Bible which caused a schism in the congregation.  Outraged, thirty-two members resigned their memberships and founded the rival Tabernacle Baptist Church which resolved in its Charter that “Slavery is a great sin in the sight of God, and while we view it as such, we will not invite into our communion or pulpit those who advocate or justify from civil policy or the Bible, the principle or practice of slavery.”  Boone and pro-slavery Southerners remained in firm control of First Baptist.  In an ironic modern twist, First Baptist is now the Chicago anchor of the liberal American Baptist Convention (Northern Baptists) and has been an overwhelmingly Black church since the late 1960s.

Levi Boone was not the only member of the sprawling Boone clan to settle in Northern Illinois in those years.  Up north in western Lake County, soon to be split off as McHenry County, Levi’s cousins and Daniels grandsons George and John Boone became the first White settlers of McHenry Township and established a grist mill on the Fox River.  Within a few years after a nasty spate of land claim lawsuits, the brothers pulled up stakes and moved further west were they helped found Boone County.

The annex of Bridgeport to the City of Chicago suddenly added thousands of mostly Irish Catholic immigrants to the voting rolls setting off a Nativist panic that Levi Boon rode to the Mayor's office.

Meanwhile Chicago received it City Charter in 1837 and the construction of the wagon roads and work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal began to attract large numbers of immigrant laborers to the area.  Although most settled south of the new city limits, some had begun to bleed into the municipal boundaries alarming men like Boone.  For them, the situation rose to a crisis when the Canal was finally opened in 1848 causing an explosion in population.  Even more immigrants poured into the region spurred by the Potato famine in Ireland and the failed revolutions in the German states in 1848.

Bridgeport, at the head of the canal fast became a transportation hub and manufacturing center where Germans refugees and more recent Irish immigrants crowded alongside the families of the Irish laborers who had built the canal.  When it was annexed into the City, the native Protestant ascendency was suddenly threatened.

Levi Boone saw the threat clearly and sprang into action.  He hitched his star to the rising American Party, the political face of the semi-secret Know Nothing anti-Catholic and anti-Immigrant movement that was reaching its peak of national influence.  In 1855 he swept to victory as the Mayor of Chicago over incumbent Lawrence Milliken with nearly 53% of the vote.  His coat tails were long enough to carry along with him 7 members of the Board of Aldermen. 

On close examination, Boone’s election might have been the result of the most massive voter fraud in the city’s tainted political history.  Somehow few of the ballots from newly annexed Bridgeport were collected or counted.

Drunken Irishmen and Germans were depicted as stealing elections by Know Nothing/American Party supporters.

Despite the sputtering outrage of his new, but disenfranchised constituents, Boone pressed forward with a broad and aggressive anti-immigrant agenda.  The first order of business was banning the non-native born from city employment regardless of citizenship status.  Next up was a complete reorganization of the city’s multiple police forces.  He combined the Day Police and the Night Watch into a single police force with 3 eight-hour shifts and required the police to wear uniforms for the first time. 

Although this seems like a harmless, even progressive, step, the ouster of foreign born officers of the two original forces had disastrous consequences.  The Germans, who were on those forces in large numbers, were culturally attuned to order and discipline and made excellent, and by the standards of the time, largely incorruptible servants of the local power structure.  The Irish provided the muscle needed in crime ridden slum neighborhoods.  The American born street toughs recruited by the city turned out to be, form the outset, highly corruptible and undisciplined.  That was overlooked since their main function was not preventing crime or capturing offenders, but the intimidation of immigrants in their communities and at their jobs.  They were an occupying army out to harass and intimidate a despised minority.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. 

Next on the agenda was a so-called Temperance campaign.  Boone himself was not an abstainer.  He indulged in the perfectly American beverage of choicewhiskey.  But as a Baptist he was pledged to temperance, which was understood as a movement to prevent the lower classes from becoming burdens on society from the abuse of alcohol and resulting crime, idleness, and destruction of families.  It had been a current in Protestant Reformism since the late 18th Century but had taken off as a social movement in tandem with the rise of immigrant populations in big cities.  It was the respectable, posing as beneficent, face of Know Nothing bigotry.  In Chicago respectable upper and middle class reformers who would not publicly associate themselves with the crudities of Know Nothingism had supported Boone’s slate because of his pledge to rid the city of saloons.

Boone's move to close working class taverns like this on Sundays led to the Logger Beer Riots.

It seems that the main enemy was that alien drink, beer.  Real Americans drank whiskey.  But Germans made their Beer Halls the social centers of their communities—and a place where their radicals could stir up trouble.  The Irish congregated in their grubby taverns and although traditional consumers of poteen and other liquors, had taken to beer as a cheaper way to get falling down drunk. 

A state-wide ban on liquor sales and taverns backed by the Know Nothings and powerful Protestant preachers, based on a recently enacted law in the state of Maine was widely expected to pass.  Boone moved first in anticipation of that. He launched his assault by pushing through new license fees which raised the annual cost from $50 to $300, well beyond the means of many small proprietors, but affordable to the downtown Hotels, middle class resorts, and private clubs frequented by the better Protestant classes.  Not only that, but licenses had to be renewed every three months with all of the attending bureaucratic inconvenience, inspections, and opportunities to deny renewal for petty offences.  Almost immediately hundreds of taverns and beerhalls were unable to obtain or renew their licenses.  Many, probably most, defiantly remained open anyway or moved to thinly disguise their operations as restaurants or grocery stores.

Things really came to a head, however, when Boone ordered his new Police Force to enforce a long ignored ordinance forbidding alcohol sales on the Sabbath.  Sunday was the only day of rest for workers who labored ten, twelve, even fourteen hours the other six days at back-breaking jobs.  In working class neighborhoods men—and often their wives and whole families—adjourned directly from Sunday morning Mass to friendly watering holes for the only social conviviality they were apt to enjoy all week.  The attack on Sunday drinking was, directly, an attack on immigrants and Catholics.  The targets understood that perfectly.

On April 21 several tavern owners were arrested in a police sweep.  Outraged patrons chased the police and their Paddy Wagons—guess how they got that name—downtown to near the Cook County Court House where street fighting erupted.  As word spread across south side working class neighborhoods more headed to the central business district.  Mayor Boone ordered the swing bridges over the Chicago River pivoted to prevent access.  Scores were trapped on the bridges and police opened fire on them with their pocket revolvers.  Some armed rioters returned scattered fire. 

Boone tried to protect the central business district from rioters by opening the swing bridges over the Chicago River like this one at Ashland shown later in the century.

In the end the Lager Beer Riots resulted in tens of thousands of dollars of property damage in the business district, at least one dead rioter and scores more injured, and one police officer shot in an arm that required amputation.  Even many of the cities hard drinking native workers lost sympathy with the Know Nothings.  And the business classes who had supported the anti-saloon campaign were losing their enthusiasm for the project.

State wide the emerging new Republican Party checked the American Party’s ambitions and by means of an alliance with the growing German population largely engineered by a downstate lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, the state-wide alcohol sales ban was easily defeated.   Meanwhile the national American Party was deflating almost as fast as it had blown up, divided by the rising issue of slavery. 

In Chicago, Boone realized that he would not be able to disenfranchise Bridgeport and other immigrant neighborhoods a second time.  Armed militias were being organized to guard the polls and ballot boxes and make sure that votes would be delivered safely to the County Court House for counting.

Boone was licked and he knew it.  He didn’t even bother to run for a second one year term.  His aldermen also either withdrew or were dumped by voters. 

Boone’s short-lived political career may have been over, but not his brushes with controversy.  After the election of his old nemesis Lincoln as President and the outbreak of the Civil War the doctor swung his affiliations to the Copperhead Democrats.  His primary allegiance was to the South and the preservation of slavery.  In 1862 he was arrested on suspicion of helping a rebel prisoner of war escape and being part of network of southern sympathizers running a sort of reverse Underground Railroad.  He was held for several weeks without being formally charged at Camp Douglas on the South Side until his friends secured his release on the grounds of his service to the community as a physician.

The Boone family plot at Rosehill Cemetery.  Levi's headstone far right.

After that, Boone lived out his life quietly, practicing medicine and presumably basking in the affection of his large family and a few close friends.  The city practically forgot him and little notice was taken when he died at the age 73.  He was buried safely among the Chicago Protestant elite at Rosehill Cemetery.