Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ephemeral city: Cigarette package

Several years ago I gutted and renovated a 1924 bungalow just west of the Country Club Plaza. As the old plaster walls and ceilings came down they surrendered little reminders of former residents: Rusty tools, broken toys, shoes and brittle pieces of clothing, tarnished costume jewelry, etc. Individual items led me to research their times and places, and I wrote about many of the them. An empty package of Chesterfield cigarettes carried a blue tax stamp dating to 1943. This piece, which riffs on events and advertising from that year, appeared in slightly different form in an early version of this blog.

*     *     *

In Kansas City two men approach a third and ask for cigarettes. He says he has only one. They call him selfish, then beat him senseless. In the ambulance he smokes his cigarette.

In New York, exiled Archduke Otto of Austria takes a deep drag on a cigarette. Says, "Churchill smokes, Roosevelt smokes, I smoke, but not a puff out of Hitler, Goebbels or Hirohito. Perhaps that is what makes them vicious."

In Sicily the Nazis allow their fighting men six cigarettes per day. One German soldier pulls a wounded American from a shell hole, carries him to a command post, gets him medical treatment, gives him black bread, water, wine and a cigarette.

In San Francisco, ship workers walk off the job because of a ban on smoking.

The Unparalleled Record of America's 1,000,000 Ship Workers, Breaking New Records ... Winning More And More Smokers With Their Milder Better Taster. In Thousands More Pockets Every Day you will find CHESTERFIELD ...

*     *     *

 In Washington the War Production Board bans glycerine from cigarettes; it's needed to make explosives. The Office of Price Administration says rumors of cigarette brands being reduced of eliminated are baseless. President Roosevelt marks 10 years as Commander in Chief. Photographers want pictures. He strikes the pose cartoonists favor: Chin out, cigarette holder clenched rakishly between his teeth. Says, "Let's make one this way, boys."

There's No Busier Place than Washington, D.C. It's the Control  Room of America's Mighty War Machine. And CHESTERFIELD is the Busiest Cigarette in Town. It's On the Job Every Minute Giving Smokers What They Want.

*     *     *

 In the Bronx Zoo a penguin's egg rests on a nest built of sticks, Crackerjack boxes, fish heads, peanut shells, matchbook covers and cellophane cigarette wrappers.

In Nigeria doctors dress wounds with sterilized cigarette wrappers.

In New Guinea's jungle an American soldier touches a glowing cigarette to the leech on his arm.

In the United States high blood pressure kills thousands each year.  A new book recommends moderate exercise, weight loss, rest. Quit work early. Don't worry. Avoid arguments and Turkish baths. Sex is beneficial; however, chronic low-grade sexual excitement is not. Moderate daily alcohol is fine. Also, two and a half cups of coffee and ten cigarettes.

But not at night. Bomber pilots are said to be able to spot a glowing cigarette from several thousand feet.

*     *     *

 Ezio Pinza, in costume as Boris Godunoff, strides through the wings of the Metropolitan Opera House, scatters stagehands, snuffs out the butt of a cigarette.

Fats Waller slouches at a piano in an empty theater, running notes around a languid "Tea for Two." He wears a blue shirt, two-tone suit, rainbow tie, Alpine hat. His eyes are half closed against ribbons of smoke from his cigarette.

A Hollywood stripper, billed as The Redheaded Ball of Fire, dances her backside too close to an irate wife's burning cigarette.

You've Got To Be Top Quality To Get Your Name Up In Lights. That's Why You'll See CHESTERFIELD'S Famous White Pack All Along The Great White Way ...

*     *     *

In a cheap Houston hotel 48 persons, mostly old men, die in a fire ignited by a smoldering cigarette.

In California a woman driving through a remote forest is pulled over by the highway patrol for tossing out a lighted cigarette.

In Idaho a farmer, using gasoline to clean a water pump, lights a cigarette. At the hospital he tries lighting another. Bandages on his hand, soaked in medicine, catch fire.

Hats Off To America's 6,100,000 farmers ... They Give You What Counts Most. Food for our Fighting Men, Food for our Workers, Food for All of Us. CHESTERFIELDS Deliver the Goods to Smokers Who Know What They Want.

*     *     *

A man tumbles through the sky under a crescent moon. His parachute flowers, pops, plucks him back. Overhead, more pops, one after another. Below, an arc of pale flowers drifts toward tiny rings of fire on the stony surface. Moments earlier he'd been crouching in a bucket seat, staring at a light bulb, flying 500 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. There was some flak, not much. Then the red light. Stand, hook to the wire, wait: Green light. He carries a machine gun, bayonet, grenades, medical equipment, rations, and cigarettes.

Another man tumbles through the sky under a cold sun. Below, a swirl of shadows and yellow taxis. He wears a gray suit, brown shoes, tan overcoat, and he carries papers: 22 years old, five feet ten and a half inches, 157 pounds, brown hair, blue eyes, former sailor, medically discharged. Moments earlier he'd been standing on the observation platform of the Empire State Building, almost a quarter mile above the streets of Manhattan. Just before climbing the parapet and raising his hands over his head, he tossed away a cigarette.

Here's Real Smoking Ammunition Tucked in the Pockets of our Fighting Men, Ready for Instant Service. Where a Cigarette Counts Most, CHESTERFIELD Serves Smokers Well ...

*     *     *

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ephemeral city: Jefferson Hotel sign

It's another obscure treasure from the cluttered crannies of the West Bottoms antiques malls. A time-stained cardboard placard in a cheap frame, listing hotel "Rules and regulations" for "persons engaging rooms" in the Jefferson Hotel. Presumably it once hung on a door or wall of a guestroom in the hotel, which long ago stood on the southeast corner of an intersection that no longer exists, Sixth and Wyandotte streets.

The rules include a few era-specific references, like "cloak room" and "servants" and 25-cent room service, but they provide few hints of the Jefferson's infamy as "one of the leading and most notorious vice resorts in the city."

*     *     *

The Jefferson had a relatively short life – one decade – after replacing an office building in 1910. It fancied itself "Not the biggest – just the best" and featured a cafe with four-bit lobster dinners, cocktails named "Chorus Girl" and "Leading Lady," live music and "other entertainment." The early ownership group included Dan Shay, then also the hot-tempered manager of the Kansas City Blues who later in an argument fatally shot a black waiter in Indianapolis (and was acquitted). The Jefferson's primary owner was one Thomas J. Pendergast.

An advertisement from 1911.
In those years Boss Tom worked out of an office in the hotel. His "Goat" faction competed for political power with fellow Democrat Joe Shannon's "Rabbits." By the time America entered the World War even out-of-town newspapers were referring to the political machine being run by "the Hotel Jefferson gang."

At the same time the hotel's reputation among upstanding citizens had deteriorated. Beatings, robberies, even murder took place at the Jefferson. Gamblers rented rooms for games. The cafe flaunted liquor laws. And "other entertainment" might have been what Army Sanitary Corps investigators meant when, in seeking to protect the manhood of wartime soldiers and sailors, they investigated the local scene and reported widespread vice. Thus the "leading resort" quote above and the accusation that

On every occasion the Jefferson Hotel was visited, assignations were observed in the cafe. The parties followed upstairs were seen to register and go to rooms.

Reformers used this report ahead of the 1918 city election to try to rid the city of vice and corruption. They failed. Law required bars to close Election Day. The cabaret at the Jefferson Hotel was open for a victory celebration.

*     *     *
With the arrival of Prohibition in 1920 Boss Tom found it easy to close the Jefferson. Especially with the deal he received from the city to vacate for a new Sixth Street trafficway: a check for $79,550 for his property at Sixth and Wyandotte.

Ninety-five years ago today the newspaper headlined its story

Hotel Famous in Politics And
Crime Being Torn Down Today

Not quite accurate, as demolition was yet to come. The actual event of August 12, 1920, was the removal of stuff bought at auction a day earlier – "furniture, carpets and fixtures," said the classified ad. Also, according to the news story, unwanted junk like empty whisky cases, beer kegs, "old registers, account books and ledgers that might have revealed tales of sorrow or joy."

And perhaps at least one framed room sign, a reminder that the place did have some rules and regulations.

*     *     *

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Postmark: July 23,1917

It's a Monday, hot. Mid 90s by noon. Circus Day.

The Ringling Brothers big top is set up on the grounds at 16th and Indiana, hard by the Belt Line railroad tracks. 1250 Actors. 300 Dancing Girls. 100 Musicians. Five Great Trains of Circus Marvels Including Scores of Foreign Features Never Before Seen in America. Childhood's Golden Dreams Come True. Half a mile back toward downtown the Blues and the Columbus Senators are taking batting practice at Association Park, trackside near 20th and Prospect.

Two miles further west, at Union Station, a slender, brown-haired youth from rural Kansas is waiting for a train east. In the Fred Harvey restaurant he buys a postcard.

The great station is now three years old. Its lobby, pictured in the postcard, provides an ever changing scene for the voyeuristic traveler.  Just this month, Russian envoys touring America. Amateur baseball teams. A man seeking to trade his Steinway piano for a small car. Female job seekers entering Room 252 – Fred Harvey headquarters – hoping to become Harvey Girls in some distant western hotel. A mustachioed Kaiser Wilhelm lookalike in military handcuffs. A middle-aged woman meeting her much older pen-pal romance for the first time. Coroners accompanying a body, the 18-year-old victim of a self-administered version of what polite society refers to as "a criminal operation" – an abortion. Heat-stressed vacationers heeding the Secretary of the Interior's advice: It is even more important now than in time of peace that the health and vitality of the nation's citizenship be conserved. Rest and recreation must materially assist in this conservation ... New Army draftees, fresh from crash courses in French language, bound for training camps and French battlefields.

The young Kansan watches. He takes out his fountain pen and addresses his postcard to Rural Route 3, McLouth, Kansas. He writes:

Miss Elma Jones
Dear friend. Will drop you a card & let you know that I am still alive but am a long way off. I am in KC now but will go to Mt. Leonard, Mo., in about 3 hours so good bye from 
Ray Roark
Malta Bend, Mo
that is where I am staying
will write more next time dear.

Later his Chicago & Alton train pulls east, rolling past the Blues and Senators and the grandstand at Association Park, and then the circus grounds and the sidetracked Ringling Brothers trains with their elephants and marvels, their dancing girls and their childhood dreams. Ray Roark is just 17, ineligible for the draft until next year. A full year to dream about dancing girls and French battlefields.

*     *     *