Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Germania Building

Doors Open took place earlier this month in Milwaukee. Dozens of buildings were open to the public, both new and old. I formed my itinerary featuring old buildings like City Hall, Turner Hall, and Pabst Theater. One building I longed to visit wasn’t featured: the Germania Building.
It lay within my tour area, however, so I did get up close. No wonder it wasn’t included. It’s being converted into apartments.
George Brumder built the Germania in 1896 to house his growing publishing company. His was the largest German-language publishing company in the nation. The eight-story Germania was the largest office building in the city. The building appears in my current writing project, and may play a part in a future work, depending on the time frame I set.

The Germania is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It derives its significance in “its representation of the financial success and widespread influence of a business which astutely served the marketplace in a period of Wisconsin’s history when the national language of the immigrant rivaled English in its importance to communication and the socio-cultural characteristics of communities.”
By 1880, Milwaukee was home to twenty-seven percent native Germans. In some areas, German was the predominant language. Signs in shop windows read, “English Spoken Here.” The city boasted German schools, churches, clubs, theaters, and beer gardens.
The Germania sits on a triangular intersection and is a pentagonal shape. It is a Classical Revival style dominated by elements of Beaux-Arts with Germanic tendencies. The four main corners of the roof feature copper domes with a spike finial. During World War One, these were called Kaiser’s helmets because of their resemblance to pickelhaube, the German war helmets.

A ten-foot tall, three-ton bronze statue called Germania stood atop the three-story pavilion that frames the main entrance. Because of the anti-German war hysteria, the statue was removed. The building’s name was changed to the Brumder Building in 1918.
In the years before America joined the war on the side of the Allies, the German press offered news from the German side of the war. Relief funds were raised for Germans. By 1917, the government monitored the German community, concerned about German-Americans’ loyalty. Many German-language newspapers went out of business. People Americanized their names.
Another war brought grief of a different sort. In 1968, fourteen anti-war activists broke into the Select Service office housed in the Brumder Building. They stole thousands of draft cards, took them across the street, and burned them as protest against the Vietnam War.

Not until 1981 did the Germania Building regain its former name. And the statue has disappeared.
One previous owner said it well. They don’t make buildings like this anymore.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Behind the Lines, a WWI Classic

Behind the Lines starts with a flash forward. Someone spotting an old friend facing what appears to be a firing squad just before a shell explodes, obliterating the scene. His old friend, he surmises, is now dead.

Then we are introduced to Peter Rawley, a lieutenant with an artillery battery in the British army of World War I. To him, war is a great man-making experience. It was all intensely interesting after a quiet humdrum life as a provincial insurance man.
Rawley likes Major Cane, Captain Whedbee, and Lieutenant Piddock. And he definitely like the young ambulance driver, Miss Berney Travers. But he doesn’t care for Rumbald, a man of considerable girth who enjoys liquor, prostitutes, and embellishing stories, and taking the easy jobs.
After a particularly harrowing time on the front line, Piddock needs a rest. He heads out for leave, and a shell takes out Cane and Whedbee. Rumbald, now the ranking officer, decides to call Piddock back to the line so that he might enjoy the cushier rear job. Rawley objects. They fight. Rumbald ends up with a broken neck.
Rawley has a license to kill any number of Germans, no matter how good they are, but he has killed a superior officer. For that he could hang. He deserts, and lives an underground existence in the devastated battlefields with other deserters. He teams up with Alf, and they scrounge for anything salvageable in the old trenches and whatever they can steal for stores.
They have run-ins with the self-appointed “lord” of the deserters and the Germans. Rawley masquerades as a chaplain and runs across Berney. When he takes a dead man’s place in another battery, he comes face to face with Piddock, and learns he never should have run.
At times, the story bogged down. Especially when their dug-out is caved in by other deserters, Rawley and Alf spend considerable time digging their way out. At first, Rawley didn’t seem too likable, being so fond of being at war. And the first chapter is misleading. You think you know how the story ends, but it’s different. Rawley grows on you, though. And the ending is filled with promise.
Behind the Lines offers a look at the horrific living conditions experienced by the men who fought in the Great War. The author, W. F. Morris, is included among them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Baby Ruth

Some publishers frown on using brand names in novels. Some businesses don’t take kindly to the use of their copyrighted brands.
But what about in a historical novel? Many products available in the past are no longer available. Others are, demonstrating their longevity.
In my third book, Soar Like Eagles, the Red Cross doughnut girls provided free Milky Way and Baby Ruth candy bars in addition to doughnuts. I used the names. My first publisher crossed them out. I had to resort to chocolate caramels and nutty bars. Sounds clumsy to me. With my new publisher, Celebrate Lit, the names are back in.
The Baby Ruth candy bar started out with controversy. The Curtiss Candy Company was located a few blocks from Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Chicago Cubs didn’t have a good year in 1921, nor did the candy company. Otto Schnering reformulated his Kandy Kake into a chocolate-covered candy bar with peanuts, nougat, and caramel. He gave it a new name: Baby Ruth.
That fall, New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth was the biggest name in baseball. The candy bar had one letter different, but the similarity suggested a connection, and Baby Ruth hit a home run for Schnering.
The baseball player licensed his name to the George H. Ruth Candy Company in 1926. The candy company registered “Ruth’s Home Run Candy” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Curtiss Company sued for infringement, saying their bar was actually named for Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland who had been born thirty years earlier in 1891. 

When Cleveland returned to the presidency in 1893, much interest centered on his “Baby Ruth,” but the Clevelands guarded their privacy and refused requests for photographs of their daughter. Ruth died of diphtheria in 1904, seventeen years before the candy bar’s appearance.
Curtiss’ story sounded flimsy, but the government agreed, and Babe Ruth was ruled to be trying to profit on the similarity of his name with the popular Baby Ruth. Ironically, the legal battle served to strengthen the candy bar’s connection to baseball. In 2006 Baby Ruth became “the official candy bar of major league baseball.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

An Unlucky Lucky Runner

I've been reading The Extinguished Flame, about Olympic athletes who lost their lives in World War One. One man's experiences stood out for me.
Jean Bouin was born on 24 December 1888 in Marseille, France. His father died shortly after his birth and his mother remarried a man by the name of Galdini, whom Jean never got along with. Jean enjoyed most sports, especially fencing and gymnastics. In 1903, he met a famous French runner, Louis Pautex. Pautex saw something special in Bouin, and agreed to train him.
Jean won his first race on February, 28, 1904, a 10,000-meter cross-country event. Throughout the year, he won fourteen of the seventeen races in which he ran.
Beginning in January of 1905, Jean ran in his first race outside of the Marseille district. Running in the 11 km Lyon AyƧaguer challenge, he finished ninth. His stepfather then persuaded Jean to run in a race in Genoa, Italy. Jean won the race by a good distance, only to discover that his stepfather claimed his purse and spent it. Jean left home, moving in with his old school friend Joseph Granier and his sister Rose, whom he later married.
He continued to win races and, after finishing first in the 18km Nice-Monaco race, he was selected to run for France in the 3-mile race during the 1908 Olympic Games in London. The French team came in third, and Jean broke the French record. As punishment for an unauthorized night out, however, the French federation refused to recognize the award of the bronze medal or Jean’s record.
In 1909 Jean became France’s cross country champion, and again in 1911 before going on to become the World Champion. That November, he set the first of his world records, in the 10,000 meters. The record stood for ten years.
In 1912 he returned to the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Running in the 5,000 meters, Jean won the silver medal, beaten for the gold in the final second of the race by Finnish runner, Hannes Kolehmainen.

On August 2, 1914, Jean was mobilized into the 141st Regiment in Nice. He could have remained behind at the base in a training capacity, but he refused, insisting on going to the front with his regiment. Jean Bouin was killed by shrapnel during a French bombardment on September 29, 1914, during the last days of the first battle of the Marne. He posthumously received the Military Medal.
A great French hero, all of France mourned his death. In his will, Jean left everything to his wife, Rose. However, his stepfather challenged the will, demanding that all Jean’s property be handed over to him. After a lengthy legal process, Rose was finally awarded Jean’s effects.
As one of France’s greatest athletes, several sports stadiums and races named after him.