Sunday, October 31, 2021

From Samhain to Halloween—The Evolution of Our Second Most Popular Celebration

All of the familiar icons of American Halloween were present in this early 20th Century card.

NoteAfter trick or treating, adult reveling, and movie slasher/horror showings were are all curtailed by the Coronavirus pandemic last year,  Halloween has come roaring back with pent up enthusiasm.

Halloween traces its origin to the Celtic harvest festival Samhain.  It was one of the four festivals that fell between the Solstices and Equinoxes and which celebrated the natural turning of the seasons.  Samhain was particularly important because it was the gate in time to the death and starvation season of winter, as well a time to celebrate the recent harvest. 

This association with the death of winter also extended to the spirit world, which was considered to be closer to the mortal plane than at any other time of the year.  The Celtic priests—the Druids—marked the occasion with the lighting of bonfires and with gifts of food and drink for the spirits of the dead.  Some consider it also analogous to a New Years Celebration launching a new cycle of the seasons.  It was popularly celebrated by the peasantry long after the Druids passed and well into the Christian era.

Catholic priests exorcize Druids and their spirits in this fanciful illustration.  But folk customs around Samhain persisted and the Church tried to adapt them to All Souls Day.

Too popular to squelch, as with many pagan observances Catholic Church co-opted the custom as All Saints Day on November 1.   In rural regions especially Samhain customs continued to be observed on the evening before the Holy Day—which came to be known as All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en in Scots.

Immigrants from the British Isles brought some of their customs with them to the New World, but Halloween does not seem to have been widely celebrated colonial America.  The Puritans spent a lot of time trying to squelch other pagan customs like the May Pole dances associated with the spring Celtic festival of Beltane, but for all of their obsession with witchcraft, usually associated with those who continued to keep the old pagan traditions, there is no evidence of suppressing Samhain or Halloween.

In fact, there is little mention of Halloween in America until the second half of the 19th Century.  By the 1880’s and ‘90’s greeting card companies were printing colorful post cards featuring images of witches, black cats, skeletons, and pumpkin Jack o’ Lanterns—all of the classic images associated with Halloween.  Period photos from around the turn of the 20th Century show both adults and children in costumes, most commonly some variation of witch or ghost themes.   

A few scattered newspapers began reporting ritual begging on Halloween by masked youths accompanied by general hooliganism, threats, and acts of vandalism.  This was probably introduced by the wave of poor “country” Irish immigrants that began after the Potato Famine and continued through most of the rest of the century.  The ritual begging in costumes and general hooliganism more closely resembled rural Irish Wren DaySt. Stephen’s Day December 26—customs than those celebrated in either England or Scotland.

Rowdyism by boys and young men was reported in big cities and small towns alike and often included setting small bonfires of junk in roadways; tipping or stealing outhouses; pelting houses with eggs, rotten vegetables, or manure; letting horses and livestock loose from barns and pens; and sometimes blocking chimneys so that houses would fill with smoke.  Sometimes significant damage was done.

The scary Halloween scene from Meet Me in St. Louis illustrated both the street begging and hooliganism associate with it in the early 20th Century.

The Halloween scene in the classic MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis shows a rare screen glimpse at the rowdy shenanigans most Americans associated with the celebration.

As it spread, customs for observing the holiday varied regionally. Communities started to organize activities to keep the kids and hooligans off the streets, with mixed success.  Parties with games such as bobbing for apples and the telling of ghost stories were fairly common. 

Childrens parties with wholesome games were a popular alternative to the hooliganism associated with Halloween but failed to stop it.

Animated films of the ‘20’s and ‘30’s such as Walt Disney’s 1929 Silly Symphony The Dancing Skeletons showed the popularity of the holiday and light-hearted images of death, witches, and black cats.  The Skeletons perhaps show a tip-o’-the-hat familiarity with the Mexican customs around The Day of the Dead which is celebrated on All Soul’s Day.

Walt Disney's 1929 Silly Symphony cartoon The Skeleton Dance  helped make them an enduring Halloween image.  It also borrowed heavily from Mexican Day of the Dead imagery.

The custom of trick or treating seems to have spread slowly.  It combined the ritual begging with toned-down tricks that were a little less extreme than the wild rampages reported earlier.  What progress it was making was largely interrupted by the Depression years when families had little extra money to spend on treats and by the sugar rationing of World War II.

Trick or treating was still far from universal until after World War II when it became a topic of popular radio programs like the Jack Benny Show and Ozzie and Harriet

In 1947 the popular children’s magazine Jack and Jill published a story on the custom of Halloween begging and described it in detail, spreading the practice widely and with amazing uniformity.  By 1951 the practice was widespread enough that a Philadelphia woman, Mary Emma Allison and the Reverend Clyde Allison decided to channel the energy to constructive purposes by introducing Trick or Treat for UNICEF to support the work of the United Nations international children’s relief.

In the 1950's stores like Woolworths were one-stop Halloween shopping centers.  Inexpensive costumes, masks, and gear replaced homemade costumes and candy companies promoted their sweets for treats instead of homemade popcorn balls, cookies, and apples.

By the mid 1950’s with the strong support of the candy companies and the introduction of cheap masks and pajama style costumes for children, the practice of trick or treating had become ubiquitous and had even taken on a feeling of a long standing practice.

What started with ghost stories and the like, soon spread to all types of horror, and fueled by the growing popularity of increasingly violent Hollywood filmsGore became and more and more common theme and showing horror films for the whole month of October in theaters and on TV was standard by the early 1970’s.

Halloween has been increasingly identified with horror/slasher films like John Carpenter's 1972 Halloween starring Jamie Lee Curtis and its many sequels including this year's Halloween Kills.

About the same time the first generations of trick or treaters grew up but continued to enjoy the dress-up and parties of Halloween.  It is, year by year, an increasingly popular adult holiday, incorporating many of the features of various world masquerade festivals with macabre twist.

Adult Halloween revels now rival trick or treating as holiday money maker.

Halloween is now the second most widely celebrated holiday in the United States and is an economic powerhouse, generating sales second only to Christmas.  Popular American media have spread the customs of trick or treating and celebrating gore around the world, often supplanting truly ancient celebrations of Halloween in the Celtic countries.

Fundamentalist opposition to Halloween might be swimming against the cultural tide, but increasingly schools and some municipalities skittish about the complaints have substituted a bland harvest festival or banned any kind of celebration.

The resurgence of Christian Fundamentalism in the U.S. has led to a counter movement to strip the “Satanic” festival from public schools and the wider community.  Although they get it wrong—there was never any connection between Satanism and Halloween—the Fundies, ironically, at least recognized a religious tradition hiding under the commercial hoopla

At the same time re-invented traditional paganism like Wicca, one of the most rapidly growing religious movements of the last decades, has striven to recapture the nearly lost significance of the holiday’s roots in Samhain—and sometime invented traditions on flimsy or non-existent evidence.

Go thou and celebrate as thou wouldst.   

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Fifty-five Years Ago The Time Was Right for NOW

The National Organization for Women's familiar logo had its origins when Betty Freidan doodled the initials NOW on a napkin in a meeting in her hotel room.

On October 29, 1966 thirty charter members gathered in Washington, D.C. to formally launch a new Civil Rights organization dedicated to improving the status of women in all areas of society.  In no time at all National Organization for Women (NOW) was shaking things up and spearheading a new wave of feminist activism.

The steam seemed to have gone out of the women’s movement after decades of struggle finally was rewarded with the adoption of The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.  Without a clear, unifying focus organizations withered or went off in different directions.  Many assumed that when women exercised the franchise, other societal reforms would follow naturally. 

Alice Paul of National Women's Party toasting the final ratification of the 19th Amendment.  After the triumph of women's suffrage the feminist movement became unfocused and splintered.

Culturally the flappers of the 1920s seemed to signal a freedom from the cumbersome garments that had restricted the ability of women to move easily in the world and promised a daring new sexual equality.  The grim realities of the Depression years focused attention on other issues, especially unemployment which as seen as a problem of men who could not support their families.  World War II brought women into the workplace as never before, proving that in a wide range of jobs from the factory floor to the executive suite that they were as capable as men.  But at war’s end there was enormous pressure on women to abandon their new jobs to make way for the waves of returning veterans.  Partly this was to prevent the post-war joblessness of veterans and that had haunted the immediate years after World War I. 

By the 1950 cultural expectations were pressing women to conform to a role in an entirely new kind of family—the autonomous nuclear family of dad, mom, and kids with mom at home and without the support of extended family or community.  Even though more than a quarter of women of age remained in the work force they were increasingly confined to career ghettos as teachers, nurses, secretaries, and such with little or no chance of advancement.  Many more women, largely ignored even by activists willing to speak up, were employed in low level factory work, as waitresses, in retail, domestic service, and—most invisible of all—in agriculture.  The existing women’s organizations, while well-meaning and often vocal, seemed incapable of finding a handle on how to deal with the situation.

Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was the fuse that lit second wave feminism in the 1960's and which led to the founding of NOW.

There were stirrings of discontent.  Betty Friedan’s 1963 bestselling book The Feminine Mystique is generally regarded as both manifesto and a launching pad for a second wave of feminism.  But as much of a breakthrough as it was, it could not have been successful if it did not touch deep wells of discontent and resentment by women chaffing at their assigned roles in society.  The same year Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which called for “equal pay for equal work” for women but left it largely unenforceable and did not address the problem of low paying job ghettos.

The following year Southern Democrats inserted an amendment to add a ban on discrimination on account of gender to the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.  Although the original sponsor of the amendment, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Howard W. Smith of Virginia did have a long relationship with Alice Paul, the former militant leader of the National Women’s Party, most Southern Democrats supported the amendment in hopes it would derail the entire bill.  The strategy failed.  With the strong arm twisting of President Lyndon Johnson, a filibuster in the Senate was broken and the law passed with Title VII banning sex discrimination in employment intact.

Women were nearly invisible at the ceremony when Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1963.  But Title VII of the law included what was meant to be a poison pill to kill the legislation--the inclusion of women the definition of employment discrimination.   NOW arose out of frustration in getting the law enforced for women.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was formed in 1965 to enforce the Civil Rights Act. Aileen Hernandez and Richard Graham fought hard as commission members to enforce the Title VII prohibition on sex discrimination but were outvoted 3 to 2 on the critical issue of whether sex segregation in job advertising was permissible.  A month later Yale law professor Dr. Pauli Murray, a member of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, made an impassioned public denouncement of the Commission’s decision. After reading an account in the press, Friedan contacted Murray and they began to explore possibilities for further action.

The first opportunity was the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women which met in Washington June 28-30, 1966 and was attended by both women.  Despite the theme of the Conference, Targets for Action, they and other women were stymied in an attempt to pass a resolution demanding that the EEOC carry out its legal mandate to end sex discrimination in employment. They were told that they had no authority to even put such a resolution forward.  Dissident EEOC commissioners Hernandez and Graham and Commission attorney Sonia Pressman Fuentes privately told Friedan that there was, “…need for an organization to speak on behalf of women in the way civil rights groups had done for Blacks.”

Betty Freidan was not only the best known of the women who gathered in her hotel room in June 1966, she was central to pushing the establishment of a new organization forward and quickly became its leader and public face.

On the evening of June 19 fifteen or twenty angry women met in Freidan’s hotel room to plot a strategy including Murray, Catherine Conroy, Inka O’Hanrahan, Rosalind Loring, Mary Eastwood, Dorothy Haener, and Kay Clarenbach.  They agreed that some sort of organization was needed.  Freidan doodled the initials NOW on a napkin.  The next day at the formal concluding banquet for the Conference 28 women sat together.  According to participant Gene Bower, “Catherine Conroy pulled out a five-dollar bill from her wallet and, in her usual terse style, invited us to ‘put your money down and sign your name.’”  An infant organization was launched.

There was some debate whether NOW would be the National Association of or for Women.  The former would indicate an organization for women only; the latter would be open to men who agreed with its aims.  It was decided to be inclusive although only a handful of men, notably Commissioner Graham, were among the 300 or so charter members who signed on before the official founding conference in October.

On folding chairs in a modest Washington hotel meeting room members of the NOW founding conference posed for a group photo.  Freidan on the far right.

Although only 10 % of that charter membership was able to attend the founding conference, participants wasted no time getting the new organization up and running.  Freidan was elected President, Clarenbach Board Chair, Hernandez Executive Vice President with the responsibility of day-to-day administration, Graham as Vice President and Caroline Davis Secretary-Treasurer.  The organization entrusted authority to its general membership in Annual Conferences with a Board of 35, including the five officers empowered to act between Conferences.  Between regular Board meetings the five-member Executive Committee would be free to act to carry out decided policy.

Freidan drafted a founding Statement of Purpose, which was intensely debated, but ultimately adopted with mostly cosmetic changes.  It outlined the broad concerns and aims of the organization in all aspects of affairs that impact women and avoided becoming a single issue organization.

On a practical level, the Conformance launched the first initiatives of the new organization including immediate action on Title VII enforcement efforts and authorization for a legal committee to act on behalf of flight attendants and to challenge so-called protective labor legislation.  Task forces were devised to take up these and other issues.

Describing the founding Conference Freidan wrote:

We wasted no time on ceremonials or speeches, gave ourselves barely an hour for lunch and dinner...At times we got very tired and impatient, but there was always a sense that what we were deciding was not just for now “but for a century...” We shared a moving moment of realization that we had now indeed entered history.

Early on NOW was perceived as an organization of privileged white women by militant Black, Brown, and working class women in the 1970's.  More recently its ambivalent attitudes toward trans and gender non-conforming persons has caused criticism.  

Soon the rapidly growing organization in addition to pioneering work on workplace equality was spearheading a renewed drive for the Equal Rights Amendment, demanding the end of restrictions on access to contraceptives and abortion, pushing for equal opportunity in academics and sports.  NOW saw the “second wave” of feminism grow into a tidal wave by the end of the decade.  Dozens of other organizations, many of them seeded by NOW or founded by their leaders joined the efforts on specific issues. 

Passing the Equal Rights Amendment and securing abortion rights were central issues for NOW in its first decades.

Despite strains in the movement over militant separatism in the ‘70’s and changes in society, NOW remains the preeminent voice for women’s rights. Its familiar round logo is seen on signs at demonstration across the county wherever past gains are threatened or new ground is to be broken.  It rose to the challenges of Trump Era misogyny and repeated assaults on hard fought feminist gains including freedom of reproductive choice, women’s health, and civil rights protections while confronting sexual harassment, intimidation, and violence. 

The Trump era, National Women's marches, the Me Too movement, and new battles to keep reproductive rights from being rolled back by Republican legislatures and stacked Federal Courts have drawn many young women into the aging organization.

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Things That Bill Mauldin and Willie and Joe Taught Me

Sgt. Bill Mauldin on the job in Italy covering the war from the front lines for Stars and Stripes.  He looked younger than his 22 years.

When I was a boy I was obsessed with the great event of my parentslifetimeWorld War II.  It was hard not to be.  Almost every house I ever visited had at least one framed photo of a handsome young man in uniform proudly displayed.  Sometimes more.  Husbands, brothers, fathers.  Most came home.  Some didn’t

The survivors of those photos were still mostly youngish men in the prime of their lives—my father and the fathers of almost all my friends.  They were serious, hard working men.  They were very busy doing things, sometimes big things.  To a man those I knew best, my father and uncles, could hardly be made to talk about their experiences.  If pressed they would say, “Well, I was in Europe for a while.”  Or “I was a Seabee.”  Further details were seldom forthcoming.

They belonged to the Legion or the VFW, but seemed neither super-patriotic nor querulously eager for the next war.  They took comfort in being around other men who had been there, but they distrusted the occasional braggart and blowhard at the bar.  Their contempt for that ilk was summed up years later in a Bill Mauldin cartoon in the Chicago Sun Times showing one of the bellicose Legion leaders of the Vietnam era beginning and ending his World War II service, “folding blankets in Texas.”

For real information on what our dads did in the war, we had to turn to our mothers.  Mine was glad to share her meticulously kept scrap books with photos, postcards, newspaper clipping, maps, V-mail letters, and even un-used ration stamps.  And she dug out the well buried footlocker in the basement chocked full interesting stuff.  I claimed a khaki overseas cap, which for a season or two I wore everyday in lieu of my customary cowboy hat, a web belt, canteen, mess kit, ammo pouches, a gas mask bag, and a helmet liner.  I was outfitted well for the endless games of war the neighborhood boys played in backyards among hedges and window wells.

On Sunday afternoons I was glued to the TV documentaries about the war that were still a staple of the air—the Army’s The Big Picture, Victory at Sea, Silent Service, and most episodes of Walter Cronkite’s The Twentieth Century.  And then there were the old movies that played on the daily movie matinee show which came on just as I got home from school.  I thought I knew what war was about.

Finding a well-thumbed copy of Mauldin's Up Front was an eye-opener for World War II teen fan boy in Cheyenne,  So was Ernie Pile's collected columns in This is Your War.

But of course, I didn’t know squat.  Until I found in my mother’s bookshelves well-thumbed editions of This is Your War, a collection of columns by the great war correspondent Ernie Pyle and a couple of collections of Bill Mauldin’s Willie and Joe cartoons for Stars and Stripes.

Both Pyle and Mauldin rose to fame covering the brutal, unglamorous Italian campaign as troops slogged slowly north through the Boot against stubborn German resistance, treacherous mountainous terrain, rubble strewn street fighting, supply shortages, and often incompetent leadership.  So much for Winston Churchill’s soft underbelly of Europe.”  Fighting there dragged on after it was relegated to a side show and Allied troops, liberated at last from the Normandy beaches, were racing across France far to the north.

The two both talked about the war from the front line perspective of the G.I. dogface—exhausted, bitter, cynical, stripped of all illusions of glory, immune to patriotic exhortations, and suffering as much at the hands of clueless generals and idiot second lieutenants as from the usually unseen Nazis.  Pyle drew the picture with words.  Mauldin just drew the picture.

And remarkably, he did so in the official GI newspaper Stars and Stripes as a sergeant in the Army he chronicled.  Willie and Joe were his creation to represent the lives of the grunts on the ground.  They were unshaven, slovenly, and perpetually exhausted.  They looked in those drawings like old men.  But Mauldin, who was only 22 and looked years younger, pointed out that Willie and Joe were the same age he was.  War did that to them.

The old spit-and-polish brass hated Mauldin and often tried to get him banned from the paper or refused to issue passes to their front line units—where he went anyway, regardless of any stinking passes.  General George Patton called him to his headquarters and threatened to have him arrested for disturbing moraleDwight Eisenhower had to personally intercede with orders to leave Mauldin alone.  He thought the comics helped his men “let off steam.”

Stuff like this jab a Old Blood and Guts got Mauldin personally called on the carpet by George Patton.  General Eisenhower had to personally intervene to keep him out of trouble and in print.

Mauldin was born on October 29, 1921 in Mountain Park, New Mexico.  His family was no strangers to the military.  His grandfather was a cavalry scout in the campaigns against the Apache.  His father was an artilleryman in World War I.

The family moved to Phoenix, Arizona where Mauldin finished high school and became interested in art.  He enlisted in the Arizona National Guard, but was able to go to Illinois where he attended classes at Ruth VanSickle Ford’s Chicago Academy of Fine Art.

He never completed his studies.  He was called up from the Guard to active duty in 1940.  He was assigned to the 45th Division, the first all-Guard unit activated prior to America’s entry into the war and made up units from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma including many Native Americans.

Mauldin was a good soldier despite his almost childish appearance.  He advanced to the rank of sergeant quickly and began contributing cartoons to the Division newspaper.  While still training stateside he created Willie and Joe, based on his best friend and himself.  When the unit deployed overseas he was assigned to the Division Press Office.  He did not consider that to be behind the lines duty.

When the Division landed in Sicily in July of 1943 for its first combat operations, Mauldin was right there with the front line infantryHe stayed there.  He was with them again on September 10 when the Division landed at Agropoli and Paestum, the southernmost beachheads of the Salerno campaign.  Thus began the long, grinding inch-by-inch slog up the length of the Italian Boot.

Mauldin’s cartoons were being reprinted in Stars and Stripes and in February 1944 he was transferred to the Army newspaper, issued a Jeep and given nearly a carte blanche to cover the front as he thought best.  His reputation among GIs was high and everywhere he went they welcomed him even if officers were usually mortified.  Recognition that he often took the same risks as infantrymen won him credibility, especially after he was wounded by mortar fire while visiting a machine gun crew near Monte Cassino.

Bogged down hopelessly in Italy, Willie and Joe were a tad cynical about all of the glory of D-Day.

He returned to the front and his drawings, which were now also being circulated by the Army to civilian papers in the States.  The Brass felt that the cartoons would make clear to the public the realities of the war and explain the slow pace of advance in Italy to a public which expected quick victories.

Mauldin was awarded the Legion of Merit, an award usually given to field grade officers in combat operations.  At the end of European operations, Mauldin wanted to have Willie and Joe killed on the last day of combat, a final thumb of the nose to the futility of war.  The horrified Brass quickly nixed that idea.

Back in the States and out of the service, Mauldin found himself something of a celebrity.  He had even made the cover of TimeHe won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945.  His first book Up Front, one of the books I purloined from my mother’s selves, was a best seller.  It contained many of the best Willie and Joe cartoons along with no-holds-barred essays that stripped all glory from war.

A defiant liberal, Mauldin found it difficult to fit into an America in the throes of Red Scare paranoia and hardening conservatism.  His attempts to establish a career as an editorial cartoonist were stymied as newspapers shied away from “controversial content” especially when he echoed the views of the American Civil Liberties Union and its opposition to witch hunts, blacklists, and attacks on individuals for their political opinions.

Willie and Joe had a hard time adjusting to civilian life back home.  Work was hard to find, their relationships broken or strained, and uncomfortable in the emerging post-war red scare.  In this panel Mauldin took a swipe at hardening racial and religious attitudes.  

He tried to transition Willie and Joe to civilian life and chronicled the hard times they had fitting in.  The public wasn’t interested.

Discouraged, Mauldin turned to illustrating magazine articles and books.  He even tried his hand at acting, appearing with another youthful looking veteran, Audie Murphy in the Civil War film, The Red Badge of Courage.

Mauldin starred with another young vet, Audie Murphy who was the most decorated soldier of World War II, in John Huston's adaptation of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage.

Mauldin also struggled with his personal life.  He married three times and fathered eight children.

In 1956 at the height of the Cold War Mauldin ran for Congress in a rural Upstate New York District as a peace Democrat.  He campaigned hard and was personally well received by local farmers—until his foreign policy positions failed to match to staunch conservatism of the district.

Liberal Bill Mauldin was not a good fit for the conservative, anti-Communist Up State New York Congressional District in his 1948 run for Congress.

In 1958 he finally got steady work as staff editorial cartoonist for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch and the national syndication that went with it.  Ironically, Mauldin’s still struggling career got a boost when he won a second Pulitzer Prize 1n 1959 for a cartoon that was acceptable to the anti-Communist crowd.  It pictured Boris Pasternak, author of Dr Zhivago in a Soviet Gulag asking a fellow inmate, “I won the Nobel Prize for Literature. What was your crime?”  In fact, the cartoon was in line with Mauldin’s consistent defense of the rights of free speech and civil liberties.

Mauldin moved in 1962 to the Chicago Sun-Times, Marshal Field’s liberal challenger to Col. Robert McCormick’s hyper-conservative Chicago Tribune.  It gave him a supportive home for outstanding political cartooning for the rest of his career.  Mauldin’s editorial page panel was one of the big reasons I became a dedicated reader of that paper for years.

Mauldin captured the mood of the country in his iconic drawing the day after the Kennedy Assassination.

Among his famous Sun-Times cartoons is the picture of Lincoln seated in the Lincoln Memorial burring his face in his hands the day after the assassination of John F. Kennedy—which inexplicably failed to win a third Pulitzer.    He was a bitter opponent of the Vietnam War and supporter of anti-war protestors.  His cartoons during and after the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 featured Mayor Richard J. Dailey as a Keystone Kop, which made Hizonor apoplectic.

Mauldin's depiction of Mayor Daley as a Keystone cop during and after the 1968 Democratic National Convention enraged undisputed Boss of Chicago politics.  He also took swipes at the Chicago press and media, including his own Sun-Times, for their often fawning coverage of Hizzoner as the master of the "city that works."

Mauldin retired in 1991.  He was missed.  He occasionally contributed a cartoon and did several interviews.  He entertained old friends and admirers.

But his fine, sharp mind was fading.  Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease Mauldin was badly scalded in bathtub accident and died in great pain in Newport Beach, California on January 11, 2002.  He was buried with so many of his fallen comrades at Arlington National Cemetery.

Willie and Joe endure. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Murfin Verse for the Tree of Life Mass Murder—Sanctuary in a Very Bad Week

A memorial to the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue mass murder three years ago this week in Pittsburgh.

This week marked the third anniversary of the mass murder at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018.  I was asked to do the Chalice Lighting at the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry the next day.    The topic for the morning was sanctuary.  I threw away what I had carefully prepared.  I was planning on reading this new poem instead which was totally inadequate to the situation but due to a scheduling mix up, I didn’t read it that day.  Instead, I read it for the first time a year later at the Tree of Life Coffee House at the church.  The poem also referenced other ugly, hateful episodes the same week.

Sanctuary in a Very Bad Week


Trump Attempts to Erase Transgender Identity

Two Blacks Killed at Walmart by Angry Racist

14 Bombs Sent to Targets Denounced by Trump

11 Dead at Tree of Life Synagogue Mass Murder


Sacred shelter—A haven offered or sought, 

   a holy obligation and a desperate resort.

The Church once offered it to those fleeing

   the wrath of a king or war lord.

Today we are called to offer it to

   immigrants and refugees,

      the homeless and unwanted,

            the despised of color, gender, faith,

               abused women and families,

                  all the wretched.


Know this—Sanctuary can fail.

   Ask Thomas Becket, Ann Frank,

      the four little Girls of Birmingham,

            the frozen bum,

               the murdered wife,

                  the deported asylum seeker,

         the immigrant children in cages,

            the dead Jews of Tree of Life.


But failure does not cancel hope or duty.

   time to step up,

      to take our chances,

            to become a People of Sanctuary.


—Patrick Murfin