Category Archives: history

Remembering John Connally Too


As the Kennedys and Texas Governor John Connally and his wife got into a limousine fifty years ago today, Connally’s wife said to the President, “…you can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you.” A happy, noisy crowd greeted the car at the airport.

Kennedy’s assassination holds a unique space in “public memory” for those of us coming of age in 1963. Not always as well remembered was Governor Connally, sitting in the front seat of the same car severely wounded.

In March of 1977 John Connally visited Wheaton College to speak with students. At the time it seemed to me that it was a pretty small group of students that showed up considering his stature as a witness to such a significant historical event. Maybe history is not important to a lot of 20 year olds.

I took a few photos of Connally speaking in what was then the dining hall at Wheaton. I guess it was just good to see someone who had been so close to Kennedy on that day.

John Connally who was injured during the Kennedy assassination speaks to Wheaton (IL) College students in 1977

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My Neighbor, the Carpenter

A baseball post in a gardening blog should not be confusing to those who appreciate both. For me, the anticipation of gardening and baseball – both said to have “seasons” – make Chicago winters bearable.
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My brother and I lived on Nelbon Avenue in Pittsburgh. It was a mostly blue-collar neighborhood where people lived that worked for J&L Steel, H. J. Heinz, Westinghouse and U.S. Steel. It had just enough suburban charm, however, to attract workers in education, medicine and maybe the corner store.

Most of us lived in small, two-bedroom cape cod homes on streets that encircled the hills & valleys of the city’s eastern outskirts. They all looked slightly different but nobody’s stood out much. You recognized your house for its small pieces of decorative trim or maybe its brightly-colored shutters. Maybe you had a flower garden. These homes were built quickly to house the enormous numbers of baby boomers that were to come.

Elroy Face lived behind our house on Beulah Lane. His house was pretty much like everyone else’s; plain, simple and adequate. He was a slight but muscular man that looked like he might work in a steel mill or a foundry. He didn’t. Elroy was a baseball player.

We were fortunate enough to live in Pittsburgh in 1960. That was the year the Pirates won the World Series in a season that ended with an exclamation point named Bill Mazeroski.

Although two other Pirates lived a forkball’s throw away from us we liked having Elroy as a neighbor. He was an inspiration to little leaguers like myself. As an outfielder I never aspired to pitch. But if I had, I’d have known who to talk to. Elroy’s winning percentage in 1959 (.947) is a record that still stands.

Though I certainly remember the cookout he hosted in his yard after winning the World Series, a quirky fact has always stood out even more to me. This was also noted at the end of Wikipedia’s article about Roy Face. After a long, statistic-filled tribute recognizing an outstanding career in professional baseball is the line, “Following his baseball career, Face became a carpenter.”

In this morning’s New York Times there is a wonderful article by Manny Fernandez. In When Players Like Duke Snider Were Also Neighbors the author writes about a time when professional baseball players like Duke Snider, who died this week, lived in blue-collar neighborhoods.

For many of us today it would be very hard to imagine a baseball star as a neighbor. Derek Jeter next door? Kerry Wood passing out Halloween candy? (Well, maybe.) Before there were private underground parking privileges and large contracts there was an era when baseball players played because they were driven to play the game. They worked at other jobs in the off season. And some, like Elroy, found manual labor jobs after they retired.

I will always remember my neighbor whose love of the game defined what baseball means for many of us.

our house on Nelbon Avenue

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Tomato Blight is Here!

Is this tomato blight?

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There is a disturbing article out of Rodale, the publishers of Organic Gardening, that tomato blight has been confirmed in several states. For tomato growers, both farmers and home gardeners, this is no small thing. This is the same disease that caused the mid-19th century Irish potato famine.

I suggest that you read Rodale’s article and do exactly what they say if you find symptoms of tomato blight in your own garden.

I am not sure that the photos taken in my garden this afternoon pictured here show evidence of tomato blight. I will research it further. In the mean time you might want to take a look at the Rodale article and then take a look at your tomato plants.

An Update Today…
I’ve come across a pretty good video for those wishing to identify late blight. This piece filmed last year for the University of Wisconsin – Madison is helpful in not only the description of late blight but also has information as to how to destroy the plants. Not all options given are organic but information for organic growers is offered. -Bill

Is this tomato blight?

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Does Anyone Want a Half-Bottle of Scotch?

I’m taking a little break from the garden today.

I’ve always found it humorous when people will say, “Well, Great Aunt Flo would have been 107 years old” – except she’s not because she’s been dead for a decade.

I guess I should have more patience with others that remember their loved ones in this kind of time-warped manner. After all, my father would have been 100 years old today.

Having spent the day in a historical frame of mind, it made me think of all the old things we found when we moved into our house 23 years ago. Even then it was an old house. Many of these things are the kinds of items my father – or his parents – might also have used.

Mrs. Miller, the previous owner, gave us a brief history of the place. It was built as a farm house in the late 19th century and remained a working farm through much of the Miller’s time here. Although they mostly grew vegetables and raised chickens, the owners previous to them built the place as a horse farm. The horses were used to aid in digging the basements of the houses in the area. That would explain why digging around our garden occasionally yields a horseshoe or two.

Our purchase agreement with Mrs. Miller included allowing her to leave anything she wanted on the premises. That resulted in our filling at least three 20-yard dumpsters but a number of interesting items we saved – including an unfinished bottle of Scotch.

Today I quickly gathered a few smaller things that I thought were interesting to photograph. (I don’t even know what some of them are and could use some help identifying them).

Seeing some of these old things did make me think a truly time-bending thought. During my father’s lifetime there was more-than-likely someone that had been alive when George Washington was alive. Figure it out if you care.

In the mean time, take a look and tell me if you know what some of these things are.


I can identify some but what’s the thing with the circle and handle leaning against the left side of the box? Is it for canning? I’m not sure I want to know why the original owner of our house had a single large-caliber bullet hidden in the box.

found in an old metal cigar box

Old photos are always a thing of beauty for me. We found these Civil War-era daguerreotypes in the house. The link to those photographed is now broken and it’s sad. We’ll never know who they were.

Civil War-era daguerreotypes

This is a reminder that we live on a former horse farm. The tag says, “VEHICLE TAX CITY OF CHICAGO 1915 ONE HORSE WAGON”. The owners may have used this wagon to take produce to the market in Chicago.

"One Horse Wagon" tax tag

We found containers of all types. These are the smaller ones and include Kraft cheese boxes, a metal cigar box, many, many old canning jars and my favorite, an old lunch box.

old containers

One of our cheese boxes stored a few light bulbs and a small glass jar.

a box of old light bulbs


This old lunchbox is almost noble in its design and depression-era adaptation. Mr. Miller probably took his lunch to the ball bearing factory where he worked until Mrs. Miller kindly asked him to stop taking it. When we found it, it had received its electrical-wire handle and “stove bolts” hand written on both ends. On the inside we found stove bolts.

Lunch Box


recycled label

I found this two days ago while digging a new section of garden but had found others in the greenhouse in past years. Mr. Miller used old metal machine labels to make labels that suited him for his garden and orchard. I can only assume this was more to label an apple tree than a commentary on some of his produce.
Recycling was a way of life for the Millers and many Americans during the Great Depression.

original side of old metal label

In future editions I may feature some of the larger items we discovered in our house. This would include our old Chambers stove (which we use) and Mrs. Miller’s ancient White Star canning stove in the basement. (She figured that a basement stove would not heat up the house in August and September). A finely-built redwood chick incubator that we found above our garage is used in our family room as a catch-all table. We did throw away the 1/4 mile spool of barbed wire. It would be useful in our garden but not very neighbor friendly in our suburban yard. A complete set of late nineteenth-century Encyclopedia Britannica went to a history professor friend.

And finally, tucked away in the basement’s Mason jar room, behind one of the larger canning jars was this half-empty Scotch bottle. I suppose in a depression environment, nourishment came in the canning jars and courage from a hidden bottle. Happy birthday, dad.

a toast to my father

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