The Woman Who Created Kid’s Television


Before there was Sesame Street…

Before there was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood …

Before there was Romper Room …

Before there was Captain Kangaroo …

There was Miss Frances and Ding Dong School. The show not only was the first in its genre, it literally created children’s television—and set the bar very high, too. Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine and revisit 1952. Continue reading

The Mysterious Mr. Schwamp


I begin this week’s column with a confession. I’m a lifelong, dyed in the wool fan of The Andy Griffith Show. It debuted just a few weeks before I was born, I grew up watching it in prime time, and I’ve religiously followed it in reruns for decades. Andy and Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee, Floyd and Otis, and the whole gang feel like extended family. I belong to several Facebook fan groups where members vigorously debate the merits of their favorite characters and argue over who should and shouldn’t have been Andy’s girlfriend. (Helen Crump? Seriously?) Continue reading

One Man Saved Hundreds of Jews



If you’ve seen the Academy Award-winning movie “Schindler’s List,” you know it’s the true-life tale of Oskar Schindler. At enormous personal risk, the German industrial and Nazi Party member spared some 1,200 Jews from concentration camps.

There were other heroes during that terrible time, men and women who put devotion to conscience above conformity. One provided help from a highly unlikely source. This is his story. Continue reading

A Pig’s Impact

How It Forever Changed the Way We Shop

It’s so easy, you don’t even think about it. You go to your favorite supermarket, compare items on the shelves, take the ones you want, pay for them, and leave. It’s mud pie simple.

But a century ago, grocery shopping was an entirely different experience for your grandma or great-grandma. Until a pig changed everything. The concept was radically different from anything tried before and it worked so well, we’re still using it today. Here’s how it happened. Continue reading

Bare Facts on Candy Bars


This column is, admittedly, different than most. Blame progress. I don’t like “new & improved” anything; I’m a fan of “old & worse.” Which is how we wound up with today’s topic.

Something in the news recently made me wince. Butterfinger candy bars have switched to a “new & improved recipe.” That’s like waving goodbye as the Titanic sets sail; you know it’s going to end badly. Remember 1986’s New Coke debacle? Continue reading

History’s Saddest Dog


Of the many sad stories scattered throughout history, few are sadder than the tale of the Romanovs. Driven from the throne their ancestors had occupied for 300 years, they were hustled off to exile in Siberia, awakened on a muggy July night and mercilessly murdered. An entire family, and a royal legacy, passed into legend in an instant.

But one member of the household survived that slaughter. And although he didn’t witness the killings, he carried its pain to his grave.

This is the story of the ironically named Joy, history’s saddest dog. Continue reading

Vienna 1913


If you had lived in Vienna in 1913, you would have enjoyed a cultural treat. Capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was the crown jewel of central Europe. Art, music, literature, fine food and impressive architecture all flourished, happily unaware that a world war would very soon erupt and drastically change everything. But for the moment, it was a grand time to be Viennese.

Vienna also held a dubious distinction that same year, although nobody knew it. Several men lived there who would go on to profoundly shape the 20th Century. They were a trio of tyrants, two of whom became the worst the world has ever seen. And get this: they all lived in the same section of the city! Continue reading

Stagecoach Mary


The Old West seemed to breed larger than life legends. Wild Bill Hickok. Wyatt Earp. Billy the Kid. Calamity Jane. The list goes on and on.

Another name deserves inclusion. You must dig deep into history to find her story. But when you do, you’ll discover a truly remarkable tale. Let me introduce you to Stagecoach Mary.

Mary Fields began life as a slave in Tennessee sometime around 1832. As happened with so many enslaved people, details of her early life are fuzzy. In her early 30s when the Civil War ended, Mary worked her way to a new life in the north by serving as a laundress and servant on Mississippi River steamboats.

Continue reading

Flour Sack Fashion


A good many summer vacations in my childhood were spent on my grandparents’ farm in northwest Missouri. It was the 1960s and the older people still “went visiting.” Grandma took me in tow when she made her weekly rounds calling on fellow rural ladies of a certain age.

Most farmhouses had an old pedal Singer sewing machine tucked in a corner somewhere. They’d been purchased when Woodrow Wilson was president and had seen continual use ever since. As we were leaving one particular matron’s home (departures were long, drawn out affairs back then, sometimes lasting a good half an hour) Grandma and our hostess got to talking about it. The old lady gently patted the cast iron relic and proudly said, “Mama sewed our flour sack dresses on this.” Continue reading

The Minie Ball Pregnancy


Every so often, history offers a story that’s so improbable there’s no way it could be true. Yet once in the proverbial blue moon one defies the odds and turns out to have really happened.

This story isn’t one of them.

It was, in fact, a prank that people accepted as fact for a century. But the story behind the story is enjoyable and the whole bizarre incident is a hoot and a half, so here goes.

Continue reading