Archive for December, 2014

Today’s Cultural History I Never Knew: The Jaywalker, and the Power of Public Relations

December 29, 2014

Cartoon by veteran Canadian political cartoonist Steve Nease

Cartoon by veteran Canadian political cartoonist Steve Nease

Up until about a century ago, the thoroughfares of America belonged to pedestrians. Like the spectator benches in “Casey at the Bat,” the streets were black with people – women, men, children at play – along with the occasional horse-drawn wagon.

Then came the motorcar; specifically, the affordable motorcar. Henry Ford’s Model-T, introduced in 1908, made the horseless carriage cheap enough for middle-class families.

Ford’s popular new machines were not only affordable. They were lethal. Capable of speeds up to 45 miles per hour, they could maim or kill any person or animal that happened to get in the way. And kill they did, especially in cities, as drivers moved down pedestrians “in the homicidal orgy of the motorcar,” as a New York Times article put it.

In 1922, 10,000 children marched through the streets of New York during a “safety week;” that demonstration included a separate group of 1,054 kids who represented the youngsters who were killed my cars during the previous year.

By 1925, according to the December 2014 Smithsonian magazine, auto accidents accounted for two-thirds of all deaths in cities with populations of more than 25,000. Children were especially vulnerable; a third of all traffic deaths in 1925 were children, and half of them were killed on the streets of their own home blocks.

The automotive industry had become the new evil empire. Sales of cars, which had been growing steadily for several years, slumped 12% between 1923 and 1924. Anti-car legislation, including some laws mandating speed governors, was discussed and promoted.

The carmakers and drivers fought back. Their mission: to make the streets exclusive territories for motorized vehicles, not for people. Their leader: Charles Hayes, president of the Chicago Motor Club. Their method: a public relations campaign to change the subject and blame the victim. Their weapon: the jaywalker.

“Jay” was another term for a rube, a clueless hayseed, a country bumpkin. If you were a jay, you were the opposite of cool, hip, and “with it.” If you walked like a jay, out there in the streets where the motorcars belonged, you could get killed. And it would be your fault.

The carmakers succeed brilliantly. It was a blitzkrieg, a “lightning war” that ended in total victory.

They employed Boy Scouts to hand out cards that warned pedestrians to cross streets only at certain corners. At a New York safety event, they had a guy who was dressed like a rural rube get jokingly rear-ended again and again by a Model-T. In a Detroit parade, they entered a float with a huge tombstone that read “Erected to the memory of Mr. J. Walker: He stepped from the curb without looking.”

The compliant press – newspapers and magazines – was totally in the tank for the automakers. How could they not be, with hundreds of millions in advertising revenue at stake? The Providence Journal, for one, reprinted an article titled “The Jaywalker Problem.” The piece had originally appeared in Motor magazine. The accompanying Steve Nease cartoon might be from just a few years ago, but it typifies the media’s newly evolved frame of mind in the 1920s.

In a few years, it was all over. But as early as 1924, the word “jaywalker” appeared in a dictionary. The definition: “One who crosses the street without observing the traffic regulations for pedestrians.” America’s love affair with the automobile resumed, and it has never cooled off again.

So, don’t jaywalk. And don’t take on people who have bottomless bank accounts and willing allies in the media.

One more thing. Think about how the tactics of the Chicago Motor Club and its fellow travelers are still in use. They’re not so much public relations as they are out-and-out propaganda. Can you think of any examples in the public realm today where a particular interest group attempts to brand those who oppose it as the “jays” of this era? As uncouth, uncool, unsophisticated bumpkins? I can.

How do they do it? Oh, promoting their agenda by changing the subject of discussion, by distorting and obscuring the facts, by blaring deceptive one-liners and slogans, and by demeaning the character and motives of those with whom they disagree? Sound familiar? It should. And, unfortunately, it’s effective.

“Plus ca change,” as the French say.

Look both ways. That’s today’s history lesson, and that’s the rest of the story.

A Chat with One of American Hockey’s All-Time Greats

December 19, 2014

Bill Cleary and Tom Burke at Gridiron Club of Greater Boston Awards Dinner, December 18,2014

Bill Cleary and Tom Burke at Gridiron Club of Greater Boston Awards Dinner, December 18,2014

Harvard hockey legend Bill Cleary attended the Gridiron Club Dinner on December 18. That evening, Crimson coach Tim Murphy received the Division One Coach of the Year Award, and defensive lineman Zach Hodges won the Bulger Lowe Award.

Bill was one of the stars of the 1960 United States Olympic hockey team. He and Bob Cleary, along with Billy and Roger Christian of Minnesota, were the two sets of brothers who led Coach Jack Riley’s crew to the Gold Medal.

All due respect, boys of 1980, but that 1960 team pulled off the true “Miracle on Ice.” They had a perfect 7-0-0 record at the games in Squaw Valley. They defeated the Czechs twice and knocked off Russia and Canada too. Cleary had a goal in the 2-1, come-from-behind win over the Canadians. Len Ceglarski, another of college hockey’s greatest coaches, once told me that Bill Cleary was the greatest American-born player he’d ever seen.

Bill told me of another BC hockey player who should have been mentioned in “Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room.” His cousin George Malone played for BC teams from 1940 through 1942. George had a goal and an assist in the Eagles’ 6-4 win over Saint Nick’s in the championship game of the National AAU Tournament at Boston Arena.

That game, on March 8, 1942, gave Boston College its first national championship. The NCAA Tournament would not become a reality until six years later, after World War II.

It was also the final hockey game of George Malone’s life. He joined the Army Air Corps and died in a mission over Germany. His name may be seen on the Roll of Honour at the American Memorial Chapel in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Thank you, Bill Cleary, for all you’ve done for hockey. And thank you, George Malone, for your service to the game of hockey, and to God and country.

There’s Still Time to Get an Autographed Stocking Stuffer for that Special Hockey Fan in Your Life!

December 15, 2014

Co-authors Tom Burke and Reid Oslin at Book-Signing Event on December 13, 2014

Co-authors Tom Burke and Reid Oslin at Book-Signing Event on December 13, 2014

Almost a hundred people took home personally-inscribed and autographed copies of “Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room” last Saturday night. An added bonus: we saw the Eagles whip Michigan by a score of 5-1.

Michigan and Boston College played each other for the first time in the first-ever NCAA hockey tournament. That was on March 19, 1948. The Wolverines won that game, 6-4 in overtime.

The book has the full story of that game, and of many more memorable hockey games and hockey people. We think you’ll enjoy it, but don’t take it from us. Here’s what some of the experts have said:

“Fabulous read! Terrific look back on our history here!”
–Jerry York

“A great read! And this from a BU guy!”
–Gary Fay

“‘Tales’ tells not only the remarkable story of the B.C program’s many triumphs, titles, Beanpots, national championships, and extraordinary roll-call of stars who went on to excel as Olympians and Pros but, even more importantly, of its genuine commitment to the proper canons of collegiate sport.”
–Clark Booth

We’ll be at the Winthrop, Massachusetts Public Library on Tuesday, December 16, from 6:30 to 7:45.

We’ll be at BookEnds of Winchester, 559 Main Street in Winchester, Massachusetts, on Sunday, December 21 from 2:00 to 4:00.

If you can’t make it to either session and you’d like an inscribed copy, please email and we’ll get right back to you.

You can also find “Tales from the Boston College Hockey Locker Room” at your local book store or can order it from the Boston College Bookstore or from most online book sellers.

Merry Christmas to All!

“You are NOT Special” by David McCullough Jr.: Book Review and Reflection

December 14, 2014

bookAfter a recent book-signing appearance at Buttonwood Books in Cohasset, the store owner kindly offered Reid Oslin and me the opportunity to take home any book we wanted. My pick, after a hasty scan of the shelves, was “You are NOT Special…and Other Encouragements” by David McCullough, Jr. I just finished reading it, and I’m glad I made that choice.

McCullough, son of the author of well-received biographies of John Adams and Harry Truman, teaches English at Wellesley, Massachusetts High School. This book grew out of his June, 2012 commencement address at Wellesley High. He shot to fame when some of his excerpted remarks went viral along with a video that someone had taken and uploaded without his knowledge.

I’d heard of his talk and read an article or two about it, but I didn’t know he’d written a book. It’s a good read, rather like an expanded version of that commencement address. He weaves in a lot of his personal experiences and anecdotes as he discusses a range of topics: being a parent; education and being a teacher; high school kids; school sports and extracurricular activities; the college scene; wealth and success; and lives well lived.

He also wades through the minefield of explaining the differences between boys and girls. He begins,

“Before we proceed, though, a caveat. ..I intend no offense and apologize in advance if any is taken. I’ll be playing the percentages as I see them, merely, and this with no formal training or education beyond a sociology course in college thirty-something years ago that I found largely tedious. If you anticipate even a teaspoon of umbrage, skip this section. …Here’s my first salvo: the genders differ…they differ so much, in fact, I sometime wonder if there are two realities, the male and the female.”

Author David McCullough delivering his 2012 commencement address at Wellesley High School.

Author David McCullough delivering his 2012 commencement address at Wellesley High School.

To my mind, he makes it through that minefield unscathed. What he has to say on the subject is going to be helpful to me in my still-new assignment as a writing instructor for young college students. Thus far, I’ve found that there’s a big, big difference between the guys and the girls in their respective approaches to academic matters. Now I understand a little more about why that is.

I also thought of a goodly number of people I know, and whose friendship I treasure, while reading the chapter about college. Wellesley High undoubtedly sends a high percentage of its graduates to “prestige” or “elite” institutions. Though he has a great respect for such schools and the Wellesley kids who enroll there, McCullough also writes with enthusiasm and respect for other possible post-secondary-school approaches to preparing for the game of life.

That part first reminded me of William F. Buckley’s quip – that he’d rather by governed by the first 2000 people in the Manhattan phone book than by the entire faculty of Harvard University. I also recalled Oscar Wilde’s dictum about education’s being a fine thing, but that it’s good to remember that nothing that’s worth learning can ever be taught.

But that section also made me reflect upon my friends who’ve taken routes other than four years of college into their admirable, productive adult lives. Some of them went right to work or into the military; others got married early and started their families right away. Some stumbled early and then got serious about themselves and those around them. Along the way they found their respective niches. A few picked up some targeted or specialized training, or earned a college degree later on. Other just realized what they loved to do, and went out and did it.

Most of those friends did it the hard way and scrapped for everything they’ve got. They appreciate what they have and don’t sweat the small stuff. They love every day of their lives, which they live with passionate engagement. I love spending time with such individuals. I’m glad that the author seems to share my affection for them. America needs more such people.

Which brings me to another of the book’s most important points: the importance of friends and friendship. He writes,

“We are, then, most genuinely ourselves in our choice of friends…Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you your future. And, of course, much about who you are…In their company we encounter the universe and sift together through our discoveries for the gemstones over which we revel together. And through the rough patches we commiserate. In friendships abides our true wealth. They warm the cosmic chill.”

Great stuff, that. I could go on, but I think I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that David McCullough manages to get a wealth of valuable advice and wisdom born of experience into his compact little book. Much of what he says, you’ve already heard. But perhaps not in quite the same way that he puts it.

So if you’re looking for a good book, check this one out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.