‘America’s Hometown’ Now Empty Storefronts, Wal-Marts and Shuttered Factories

Milan High School’s state basketball victory over larger Muncie inspired the 1986 film Hoosiers.

By Jim O’Neal

The last time I was in Buffalo, N.Y., was in October 1974. We were on a tour of supermarkets to improve our code dating discipline. Anytime we spotted a bag with an illegible date or past the stale point, we simply crumpled the bag and asked the store manager to have the Frito-Lay salesman replace it with no charge to the store. I was aware that Grover Cleveland had been sheriff of Erie County and personally hanged two murderers, but didn’t know that the Ball Brothers glass manufacturing company had moved their company to Muncie, Ind., in 1889 due to the abundance of natural gas. And, of course, President William McKinley got himself assassinated in Buffalo in 1901.

Muncie has become newsworthy ever since a landmark sociological study was undertaken there in the 1920s. It had been identified as the representative American community worthy of the title “Middletown.”

It started after Robert Lynd, a young seminary student, accepted an assignment to analyze the effectiveness of ministries by studying a Wyoming oil-drilling camp owned by Standard Oil of Indiana. The camp was a dismal collection of tents inhabited by 500 discouraged workers and their families. Lynd was successful in forging them into a viable community. He then wrote an article for an obscure journal, detailing the appalling conditions and attacking John D. Rockefeller Jr. (personally) as the one responsible.

In a twist of fate, Rockefeller – a devout Baptist with liberal ideas – had just formed a committee to study America’s religious practices. He wanted to reconcile capitalism of the early 20th century with his personal Protestant beliefs. So Rockefeller picked Lynd to head the “Small City Study” to prove it was truly independent. Their charter was to look at social problems arising from industrialization – “ascertain[ing] the religious, ethical and capability of people” in a single industrial city.

Lynd chose Muncie since it fit certain criteria: small (38,000), Midwestern and economically diverse. Although 92 percent were “native white of native parentage,” Lynd claimed a homogeneous population permitted him to study cultural changes, unimpeded by racial or religious differences. It also reflected his deep belief that native-born Protestants represented the bedrock of American society and best hope for the country’s future success.

Robert and wife Helen Lynd arrived in Muncie in 1924 and quickly decided religion was too narrow and expanded the study to factory conditions, the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, and even the people’s reading habits. What they discovered was a city rushing into the 20th century, with rapid industrialization, farming to factories, kerosene to electricity, central heating, hot water in a tap and the telephone, automobile and railroads.

In 1929, they published Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture, 500 pages detailing a rigid class system and gradual erosion of values, with excessive materialism and consumerism in full bloom. Returning after the 1932 Great Depression, Lynd was totally disillusioned by American capitalism and looked with naive envy on the Marxist experiments in the Soviet Union.

Waves of subsequent sociologists have made their own journeys to Muncie, which today calls itself “America’s Hometown,” with a litter of empty storefronts, outlying Wal-Marts, factories shuttered, the Ball Brothers HQ now in Colorado, and a vibrant service economy. Locals have grown accustomed to being sampled and polled by outsiders. “Here, it’s something of a way of life,” said Muncie Star-Press editor Larry Lough.

I’d like to visit Muncie some day since I love Indiana basketball and in 1954, tiny Milan High School (enrollment 161) knocked off Muncie to win the state basketball championship. This was the inspiration for the 1986 film Hoosiers with Gene Hackman in one of my all-time favorites.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Vice President Agnew Believed They Were Out to Get Him

Spiro Agnew in his memoirs suggested Richard Nixon and Alexander Haig planned to assassinate him.

By Jim O’Neal

Spiro Theodore Agnew was elected vice president twice … in 1968 and 1972. However, he became the second vice president to resign in 1973. Although accused of several crimes along the way, he finally pleaded no contest to a single charge of not reporting $29,500 income in 1967.

Lesser known is that in 1995, his portrait bust was placed in the U.S. Capitol. An 1886 Senate resolution stipulated that all former VPs were entitled to a portrait bust in the building. Agnew proudly attended the formal ceremony.

He later claimed that both President Richard Nixon and his Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, had threatened to assassinate him … “Either resign … or else.” (That would have really been a first!)

Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as president – No. 22 and No. 24.

He was the first Democrat elected after the Civil War, which he conveniently sidestepped by hiring a replacement to take his place in military service.

Some of his firsts include:

• Only president to admit fathering an illegitimate child.

• First and only president to marry in the White House.

• First president to have a child born in the WH.

During the Panic of 1893, he secretly had a cancerous jaw replaced with a rubber mandible. It was done on a yacht at sea to avoid spooking the markets. Perhaps the absence of any “leaks” was because he was a tough man who had (personally) hung two crooks when he was a sheriff in Buffalo.

Thomas Riley Marshall is still a relatively obscure vice president despite serving eight years (1913-21) with Woodrow Wilson, and in 1916 becoming the first VP reelected since John Calhoun (1828).

Many historians argue that he should have assumed the presidency when Wilson suffered his debilitating stroke, but a small group around Wilson (including his wife) were able to keep it a secret. Some Wilson signatures appear to be forged, however Marshall had little interest and confined his duties to calling each day to inquire about the president’s health.

Marshall is famously credited with saying, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar!”

Three of our first five presidents died on July 4, as did Abraham Lincoln’s first VP, Hannibal Hamlin.

Calvin Coolidge Jr. was born on that historic date. After President Warren G. Harding died in San Francisco in 1923, Coolidge assumed the presidency and won re-election in 1924. His father swore him in in 1923 as he was a judge/notary.

“Silent Cal” was a real tax cutter, and by 1927, 98 percent of the population paid zero income tax. Plus, he balanced the budget every year and when he left office in 1929, the federal budget was lower than when he started.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Adamses First Presidential Couple to Mark their Golden Anniversary

Louisa Adams, shown in this oil portrait by Lawrence Williams, was our only First Lady born outside the United States.

By Jim O’Neal

Some presidential tidbits:

Three sets of presidents defeated each other:

► John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in 1824; Jackson defeated Adams in 1828.

► Martin Van Buren defeated William H. Harrison in 1836; Harrison defeated Van Buren in 1840.

► Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland in 1888; Cleveland defeated Harrison in 1892.

So much for the power of incumbency.

John Quincy Adams and wife Louisa were the first presidential couple to be married 50-plus years. She remains the only First Lady born outside the United States (London) and the first to write an autobiography, “Adventures of a Nobody.” When she died in 1852, both houses of Congress adjourned in mourning (a first for a woman).

While in the Senate, John was “Professor of Logic” at Brown University and professor of rhetoric and oratory at Harvard.

Herbert Clark Hoover was the last president whose term of office ended on March 4 (1933).

He married Lou Henry Hoover (the first woman to get a degree in geology at Stanford), and when they were in the White House, they conversed in Chinese whenever they wanted privacy.

Our 10th president, John Tyler, only served 31 days as VP (a record) before becoming president after William Henry Harrison’s death.

His wife Letitia was the first to die while in the White House. When John re-married, several of his children were older than second wife Julia.

Tyler’s death was the only one not officially recognized in Washington, D.C., because of his allegiance to the Confederacy. His coffin was draped with a Confederate flag.

Our sixth president, James Monroe, was the first senator elected president. His VP for a full eight years, Daniel D. Tompkins (the “D” stood for nothing), was an alcoholic who several times presided over the Senate while drunk. He died 99 days after leaving office (a post vice-presidency record).

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Teddy Roosevelt Brought Vim, Vigor and Vitality to the White House

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Teddy Roosevelt political pins often illustrated the theme of “equality,” inspired by Booker T. Washington’s visit to the White House. This rare variant sold for nearly $9,000 at a November 2009 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During his first year as president, Teddy Roosevelt left the White House as he had found it. But when the Roosevelts and their six lively children moved in, it had become obvious that there was insufficient room for both governmental offices and a family home. This prompted a complete remodeling, the first in nearly 100 years. Leading architects designed a new West Wing of executive offices that was joined to the main building by a colonnade. The second floor of the main building had the offices replaced by private bedrooms, sitting rooms and playrooms for the presidential family.

Like John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Grover Cleveland, Roosevelt had not been sent by the voters to live in the White House, having moved in only after the death of an elected president. He knew he lacked the public and party power to support the new international presidency that President William McKinley developed, yet he was destined to dramatize it to the world.

Born in 1858, he is (surprisingly) the only president born in New York City. The first new president of the 20th century and the youngest man to ever hold the office, he brought a vim, vigor and vitality to the White House that swept away any lingering cobwebs of the 19th century. Later, elected in his own right, Roosevelt began to act with an even bolder style than before. In his annual message to Congress in December 1904, he announced an expansion of the concept of the Monroe Doctrine that became known as the Roosevelt Corollary.

The Russo-Japanese War had been going on for more than a year when TR began efforts in 1905 as a mediator. He succeeded in getting the two nations to sign a peace pact in Portsmouth, N.H. On Dec. 10, 1906, he became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

One of the first controversial issues had occurred during his first year in office on October 16 when he held a “family supper.” Among the invited guests was the great educator Booker T. Washington, whose biography, Up From Slavery, was being widely read. The press reaction was instantaneous; this dinner guest was the hottest news since the McKinley assassination.

“Probably The First Negro Ever Entertained at the White House” screamed the headlines of the Atlanta newspaper, and many others were also harsh in their criticism. No African-American received a special invitation to the WH for many years.

It seems exquisitely delicious and ironic that a black family has had their “family meals” in the same White House over the past 2,800-plus nights and, importantly, anyone of any race is only there by their special invitation!

Things do change.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Cleveland Won, Lost then Won Again in a White House Milestone

grover-cleveland-single-portrait-photo-pin
This Grover Cleveland single-portrait photo pin from his first presidential campaign in 1884 sold for $3,500 at a June 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Grover Cleveland delivered his inaugural address on March 4, 1885, he stood confidently with one hand behind his back and without notes. The 47-year-old bachelor was the first Democrat to become president after the Civil War. He had developed a sterling reputation for honesty and repudiated cronyism.

He had been elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881 as a reform candidate dedicated to cleaning up corruption in city government. He soon became known as the “Veto Mayor,” turning down one crooked measure after another that had been approved by his corrupt city council. This served as a springboard to becoming governor of New York, surprising even the leaders of the Tammany Hall machine by rejecting proposals that clearly only benefited insiders of the gang. Cleveland read every word of every law passed by the legislature – even if it meant working all night – before signing or vetoing.

So there was a large crowd listening intently to his inauguration remarks where he again promised to reform the federal government by applying sound business principles and revamping the pernicious civil-service system that protected too many incompetent public employees. He committed to a merit system that recognized good performance rather than party subservience.

Nevertheless, Democrats from all parts of the country descended on Washington expecting to be rewarded with more than 100,000 jobs Cleveland had the power to fill. But, he refused to remove Republicans from office just because of party affiliation. Newspapers of both parties attacked Cleveland and he responded with one of the most sweeping denunciations ever made against the press.

“I don’t think there was ever a time when newspapers lying was so general and mean as the present, and there was never a country under the sun where it flourished as it does in this. The falsehoods daily spread before the people in our newspapers, while they are proofs of the ingenuity of those engaged in newspaper work, are insults to the American love of decency and fair play of which we boast …”

Throughout his first administration, Cleveland ruthlessly continued to veto special-interest legislation, running up a total of more than 300 vetoes. For perspective, the grand total for the 21 presidents who preceded him was only 132. Naturally, he managed to make a lot of political enemies, and they extracted their vengeance when he ran for a second term. Despite the antagonism of special-interest groups, the Democratic National Convention in June 1888 nominated him by acclamation.

Then the Republicans and Tammany Hall went to work and got behind Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland received 100,000 more votes, but the New York electoral votes gave Harrison the nod. When Cleveland’s term ended on March 4, 1889, he claimed, “There was no happier man in the United States.” However, his young wife Frances (Cleveland had married her while in office) told the White House staff to take good care of the furnishings because they would be back in exactly four years.

She was prescient. They returned right on schedule as promised – making Cleveland the first president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Thomas Hendricks’ Views on Race Cast a Shadow Over His Entire Career

Thomas A. Hendricks is featured on the 1886 $10 Silver Certificate. This example realized $43,125 at a January 2008 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In the annals of American vice presidents, no occupant had a more tortuous path than Democrat Thomas A. Hendricks of Indiana. In the course of that journey, he acquired a controversial reputation with views on race that cast a shadow over his entire career.

A law practice in Indiana led him to a political career in 1848 where he first revealed his anti-black bias. He helped to enact the infamous “Black Laws” – ensuring racial segregation and strict limitations on immigrations of free blacks into the entire state. In 1850, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he was a strong supporter of popular sovereignty and expansion of slavery to the West.

He then pushed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and led directly to the Civil War. His speeches were some of the most vitriolic on record concerning the black race. He fought against reconstruction after the war and was rejected as a VP running mate for Samuel Tilden in 1876.

This was the only election in which a candidate (Tilden) received more than 50 percent of the popular vote but was not elected by the Electoral College. (In 1824, 1888 and 2000, the candidate who received the most votes did not win, but none of them had more than 50 percent).

Then eight years later, Grover Cleveland and Hendricks became the first Democrats to win a presidential election since 1856. This was the longest losing streak for any major party in American political history … six consecutive losing presidential elections!

Hendricks’ long wait was over, but he had little time to savor victory. Eight months later, he was dead. For the fifth time, the vice presidency was vacant as the result of the death of the occupant and in 10 of the first 18 presidencies, there was no sitting VP. But by now the office was so lightly regarded, few seemed to care.

That is until someone realized that the offices of both the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House were also vacant. With Republicans in control of the Senate, the next successor would be of the opposing party!

So in 1886, Congress passed a law removing Congressional leaders from the line of succession and replaced them with members of the president’s Cabinet … starting with State and then Treasury, War, etc. That lasted until 1947 and then changed again in 1967 with the passage of the 25th Amendment … today’s law.

So old racist Thomas Hendricks’ service was only memorable for the actions taken by others after he died.

Not much of a legacy.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Cleveland Believed Public Service was a Public Trust

A rare set of Lake Erie “State Governors” cards, circa 1890s and including Grover Cleveland, sold for $11,352.50 at a May 2014 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Grover Cleveland was running for president in 1884, Joseph Pulitzer wrote an editorial endorsing him and listed four reasons for wanting him to be president. “One, he is an honest man. Two, he is an honest man. Three, he is an honest man. Four, he is honest.”

Cleveland had been mayor of Buffalo – a Democrat in a Republican city – and his name quickly became “The Veto Mayor.” Any bill that he thought was a raid on the public treasury was quickly vetoed. (He would later veto over 300 bills in his first year as president.)

In 1882, Democrats in New York were looking for someone to run for governor. Someone asked “Why not the mayor of Buffalo?” He was nominated and won in a landslide.

Teddy Roosevelt was then a member of the New York Assembly and formed an alliance with Governor Cleveland on legislation called the Five-Cent Fare Bill. It was intended to force transit companies in NYC to cut their 10-cent fares by 50 percent (this was before Uber). However, when Cleveland read the final bill, he decided it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. He also firmly believed the state should not get involved in private contracts, so vetoville.

Everyone was stunned, including TR, but then he rethought his position and decided the governor was right. After helping get the veto upheld, TR “The Dude” and Cleveland “The Big One” found other areas of mutual cooperation. (It was an arcane political concept called bipartisan cooperation.)

President Cleveland’s favorite political phrase was “Public service is a public trust.” He believed an executive, whether governor or president, was exactly that – an executive officer whose job was to see that the organization was run efficiently and that shareholder (taxpayer) money was not wasted. He believed fervently that “The people support the government. The government does not support the people.”

A novel concept that JFK would recall more eloquently in 1961 as “Ask not …”

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

1932 Election Marked New Relationship Between American Society and Government

This rare 3½-inch Herbert Hoover button from his successful 1928 campaign realized $8,750 at a February 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It would have taken a bold person to have forecast in the afterglow of President Herbert Hoover’s landslide victory in 1928 that, only four years later, he would be the victim of a comparable landslide victory by his Democratic opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In the aftermath of the 1928 election and the promise of almost endless prosperity, winning the 1932 Democratic nomination was viewed as little more than an empty honor, scarcely worth the effort.

However, in the first months after the stock market crash in 1929, the Great Depression started slowly, then the European repercussions caused a sudden downturn in the American economy in the spring of 1932, and by summer, the Depression was becoming acute. It continued to worsen with each passing day.

A point of desperation had clearly been reached and all attempts by the Hoover administration for relief were futile. By today’s standards they would have been viewed as too little and way too late. A deflationary spiral was under way and Democrats maneuvered Hoover into making statements that seemed to echo Grover Cleveland: “We cannot squander ourselves into prosperity.”

Hoover seemed cold and remote, which contributed to his unpopularity. The extent and degree of suffering in 1931-32 was far worse than the calm appraisals of the situation by the White House.

By election time, one in five workers was unemployed, one in three unemployed in big cities like Chicago. Even those still working were receiving such low wages or working so few hours that they barely survived. Twenty-five percent of the working women in Chicago were making less than 10 cents an hour. Relief payments were typically a starvation-level pittance; in Detroit, payments were 5 cents a day per person.

Amid the suffering and fear, there was surprisingly little violence and only a whisper of radicalism. The Republicans, despite the unpopularity of the party and the overwhelming unpopularity of the president, had no real choice but to re-nominate Hoover.

For their part, Democrats approached the campaign with jubilant anticipation. FDR was unusually well-prepared to be a presidential contender. Since he had left a New York law clerkship in 1910 to run for state senate, he demonstrated increasingly astute political savvy. In a number of campaigns and offices, he had carefully honed his political craftsmanship.

At the Democratic convention, Roosevelt was easily nominated on the fourth ballot and buried in his acceptance speech was the phrase “new deal” and the words were picked up by a political cartoonist. Within a few days, the term was in broad use and remains memorable today.

Roosevelt was elected by a wide margin, carrying 42 of 48 states and a total of 472 electoral votes to 59. In the process, Herbert Hoover’s sterling reputation and brilliant career were relegated to the ash heap of failures and never fully restored.

The 1932 election focused on the responsibility of government for the economic welfare of American citizens. The debates of the campaign were far less momentous than the aftermath of the election … the establishment by President Roosevelt of a new relationship between American society and government.

Thereafter, the federal government took active, vigorous steps to promote and preserve prosperity far beyond the limited, tentative measures of President Hoover and all his predecessors. It’s a role that has continued to expand yet today with actions not even imagined earlier.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].