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Carnegie’s Million Dollar Question: What Would You Do?

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Andrew Carnegie

By Ken Zurski

For a man whose mission it was to relinquish his entire fortune before his death, Andrew Carnegie still had plenty of money left when he passed in 1919 at the age of 83. That’s no indictment of a man who built a massively successful business, became the richest man in America, and devoted his later years to giving it all back. It was a noble thing to do. But Carnegie had made so much capital that even he found it difficult to allocate the funds sufficiently.

So he asked for help.

Carnegie grew up poor in Scotland, came to America, and amassed millions in the steel industry. Along the way, he made just as many enemies as dollars. Like many so-called tycoons of his time, Carnegie was accused of cutthroat practices which sacrificed workers’ rights for the bottom line. In protest, workers revolted.

The Homestead Strike of 1892 was due to a dispute between steel workers at Carnegie’s Homestead, Pennsylvania plant and management which refused to raise workers’ pay despite a windfall in profits. The riot that followed is still one of the bloodiest labor confrontations in history.  Ten men were killed in the melee and Carnegie who continued production with nonunion workers, was blamed for the uprising.

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Homestead Strike (Harper’s Weekly)

Carnegie viewed it differently than the workers. He believed that reducing production costs meant lower prices to consumers. Therefore, he theorized,  the community as a whole profited, not the unions. It was a slippery slope. But, many asked, was it worth men dying for?

Carnegie, of course, thought of himself as a benefactor and did not apologize for becoming a wealthy man. When he retired, however, he made it clear that being rich was only relative: “Man must have no idol and the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry! No idol is more debasing than the worship of money! Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately; therefore should I be careful to choose that life which will be the most elevating in its character.”

Carnegie didn’t hand out money haphazardly. He spent it on things and places that moved him. Among other worthy causes, the most prominent were funds for more schools – especially in low income communities – and the building or expansion of public libraries. In each case, he released the money only after specific demands were met, each one designed to make sure none of it went to waste. Carnegie had final approval.

In 1908, at the age of 72, with millions more left to give, Carnegie wrote a letter to people he admired. It was in effect an offer disguised as a question:  “If you had say five or ten million dollars (close to 5-billion today) to put to the best possible use, what would you do with it?” Many of the correspondence were business leaders and some were presidents of institutions already bearing the Carnegie name.  Most responded in kind that the money should be used to continue fellowships.

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The letters were an indication that the burden of giving away a fortune was weighing heavy on Carnegie’s mind.

“The fact is that after spending about $50-million on libraries, the great cities are generally supplied and I am groping for the next field to cultivate,” Carnegie wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt, looking for inspiration. “You have a hard task as present but the distribution of money judiciously is not without its difficulties also and involves harder work than ever acquisition of wealth did.” Carnegie wrapped up the letter by pointing out the absurdity of that last line. “I could play with that and laugh,” he noted.

In the end, of course, Carnegie left enough money behind to take care of his wife and daughter. His loyal servants and caretakers were awarded pensions and his closest friends received substantial annuities.

Carnegie gave away an estimated $350 million dollars, but for the rest, he had one final request. After the will segments were dived up, nearly $20-million remained in stocks and bonds.

He bequeathed that amount to the Carnegie Corporation organization he proudly founded, and which still exists today.

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Meet David Lamar: The Original ‘Wolf of Wall Street’

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By Ken Zurski

Con artist and market scalper David Lamar was considered the original “Wolf of Wall Street,” a distinction revived in recent years by a Hollywood movie about a more contemporary stock swindler named Jordan Belfort.  But in the early part of the 20th century, it was Lamar who first carried that dubious moniker, assigned by others, and metaphorically refering to a “wolf” as a “rapacious, ferocious, or voracious person.”

Leonardo DiCaprio’s blistering performance aside, Belfort had nothing on Lamar.

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Although his successes has been debated over the years, Lamar’s brash, cutthroat tactics are the stuff of legends. For example, Lamar once impersonated a US Senator in hopes of taking the floor and driving down steel prices while he unabashedly shorted the stock.

Lamar was arrested and sent to jail several times and once accused of having a man beaten who was ready to testify against him. His boldest swindle was against a Rockefeller, John Jr. , who spent a million dollars of his wealthy father’s money to buy leather stock, only to watch Lamar sell it off.

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On January 12 1934, at the age of 56, Lamar was found dead in a modestly priced hotel room in New York City. In his room police found $138 in cash, a suit a hat, a can, a gold watch and chain, and gold cuff links. That was all which remained from a fortune which at one time was estimated in the millions.

The day after his death, an obituary dispatch appeared in newspapers throughout the country.

It read:

It isn’t so much the loss of wealth in David Lamar’s life which excites curiosity, as it is an appreciation of struggles through which it passed. He had one blinding ambition, and that was huge profits through sly operations on the stock market. What he hoped to gain was not wealth, but power and recognition.

He had wealth – this strange man. It didn’t mean a great deal to him. On many occasions, he could have retired and lived lavishly and luxuriously, as he did live when in purple, on a great estate in New Jersey at one time and in a mansion on Fifth Avenue at another. Always his ambition drove him on and when he found his path blocked by legal obstacles, it was charged he was none to scrupulous in cutting his way through them. He divided his time between estate and mansion and jail.

We said Lamar must have suffered. The only punishment which could be meted out to him was his own conscience. He was contemptuous and indifferent outwardly to what people said of him, what they thought of him and how they created him. He had his own code and his own rule for living. It was a most bizarre, a most extraordinary one. He took delight in good clothes, in good food, in a cosmopolitan.

The mysterious Stock Market operations of the Wolf of Wall Street have been ended by death.

 

The American Made, Atomic Bomb-Proof Safe

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By Ken Zurski

In 1946, a U.S. Army Lieutenant surveying damage left by the massive explosion of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima sent a letter to a safe-making company back in America. “I found in one of three structures standing, four large vaults built by the Mosler Safe Co. of Hamilton, Ohio,” he explained. “The vaults were entirely intact and except for the exterior being burned and rusted there was no damage.” Two other vaults he added, made by a Toyko, Japan company, were completely destroyed.

Images provided by the Currier and Ives Foundation

The two-story Teikou Bank built in 1925 was close to the hypocenter of the blast. Made of steel and concrete, the building crumpled from the inside, cracking the exterior and tearing the cement floor to bits. Nearly two dozen employees were in side at the time. None survived.

But the bank vaults did.

This was reassuring news at least to bank executives back in the States.  At the time there was a heightened sense of security against attacks on American soil. Many banks advertised that valuables were better protected because they used Mosler safes.

Even the U.S government chimed in. Mosler was awarded a lucrative contract and eventually built a 25-ton blast door vault in West Virginia mountainside bunker used to hide classified and historical documents.

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Then five years after the attack, Mosler received another letter. This time it was from the manager of the newly rebuilt Teikou bank in Hiroshima. “Your products are admired,” he praised, “for being stronger than the atomic bomb.”

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In the late 1950’s, to recreate the same show of strength displayed in Hiroshima, Mosler took their products to the Yucca Flats nuclear testing grounds in the Nevada desert.  They placed a Century steel door and concrete vault with various contents in the blast zone.

Once again the vault survived intact.

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How an 80’s Album Cover Inspired the Creation of a Cultural Phenomenon

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By Ken Zurski

In December of 1981, the English power pop group The Vapors released Magnets, the follow-up to their successful debut album New Clear Days which featured the bouncy and ambiguous hit single, “Turning Japanese.”

I’m turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so

Although the group had explored heavy themes before on its first album, Magnets was considered even darker. For example, the title song is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy’s, with references to “the motorcade” and the Kennedy children. “Spiders” and “Can’t Talk Anymore” dealt with mental health issues and “Jimmie Jones,” the single, recounted cult leader Jim Jones and the massacre in Jonestown.

They tell me jimmies seen a sign
Says he understand everything
They tell me jimmies got a line
To the man from the ministry

Despite the bleak subject matter, however, the songs were mostly upbeat and catchy, a trademark of the group.

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The Vapors

But it didn’t light up the charts.

The album, while positively received, was a commercial flop.  The band blamed it on the lack of interest from their new record label, EMI (later changed to Liberty Records), which bought out United Artists shortly after their first release. Due in part to corporate frustration, The Vapors disbanded after Magnets failed to ignite. But today, the album has significance for its inspired cover art, a complex portrait that mirrored the album’s dark undertones.

Martin Handford was the artist.

A London-born illustrator, Handford specialized in drawing large crowds, an inspiration he claims came from playing with toy soldiers as a boy  and watching carefully choreographed crowd scenes from old movies.

Handford, who sold insurance to pay bills, was hardly an emerging or successful artist at the time he was asked to design the album cover for Magnets.  Drawing upon the theme of the title song, Handford depicted a chaotic crowd scene of an assassination, although you couldn’t tell unless you looked closely.  From a reasonable distance, the numerous figures and various colored clothing formed the shape of a human eye.

It was both clever and disturbing.

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For example, at the top right hand corner of the cover, on the roof of a building, there is a man – presumably the assassin – putting away a rifle. Some of the figures are seen running from the horrific scene unfolding in the “eye’s” iris, while others are curiously drawn to it. But while the cover was certainly an original creation, the artistic style was not.

In fact it has a name: Wimmelbilderbuch.

Wimmelbilderbuch, or “wimmelbook” for short (German for “teeming picture book”) is the term used to describe a book with full spread drawings of busy place’s like a zoo, farm or town square. The page is filled with numerous humans and animals. It’s geared toward children, but adult’s seemed to like it too, especially when an identified object is hidden, making it more like a puzzle than a colorful picture. Several artists incorporated this style, including a Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel, who dates back to the early 16thcentury, and specialized in drawing intricate landscapes and peasant scenes populated by people in various degrees of work or distress. Bruegel’s human figures are mostly depicted as frail and challenged (Fleet Foxes used a Bregel painting The Elder for its 2008 self titled debut album).

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Pieter Bruegel “The Elder”

 

Handford’s work wasn’t nearly as depressing as Bruegel’s, but they were similar. Handford purposely drew the Magnets cover with emblematic images, not exactly hidden, but tough to spot, and when found became a personal reward to the viewer – like the tiny assassin on the roof.

This was the inspiration for an idea that eventually became a cultural phenomenon.

Handford created a recurring character he would put in all his drawings: a bespectacled man with wavy brown hair who always wore a red and white striped shirt and stocking cap. His name was Wally.

The trick was trying to find Wally in the crowd.

The concept soon became a contest, then a crave. It led to several best selling books and an iconic, some might say exasperating, new enigma emerged.

“Where’s Wally?” is how they describe it around the world.

In America, it’s called  “Where’s Waldo?”

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Martin Handford

The Americanization of ‘Joan of Arc’

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By Ken Zurski

Before the iconic Rosie the Riveter urged women to join the work force in World War II, another strong woman figure was used by the U.S government, this time by the Treasury Department, to sell war bonds.

Her name was Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc was certainly not American. But her story and image gained footing in the U.S. during the first world war.

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Called to serve God in the form of angel’s voices, the teenage Joan takes up the sword, disguises herself as a man, and goes to battle to save the French from evil in the early 15th century. After her capture, she was burned alive at the stake. In France, even today, she is celebrated as a symbol of nationalism and unity. However, American sensibilities about the mythical Joan are more romanticized.

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Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Loraine

In 1946, actress Ingrid Bergman played Joan in a play within a play titled Joan of Lorraine. (Lorraine loosely refers to Joan’s birthplace with the surname Arc.)  The play is about a company of actors who stage a dramatization of Joan’s story. Bergman who won a Tony Award for her role, played two parts, Joan and Mary Grey the fictional actress who portrays Joan in the play.

Two years later, Bergman starred in a modified movie version of Joan of Lorraine. The film, renamed Joan of Arc, was a more straightforward retelling of Joan’s story, but still gave Americans a stylized portrayal of the French martyr. By this time, Joan’s image had already been on war posters. “Joan of Arc Saved France,” the ad reads. “Women of America. Save Your Country, Buy War Savings Stamps.”

The ads, which appeared for the first time in 1917, were colorful and attractive, especially the image of Joan.

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In it, Joan is sporting long autumn hair, red lips, and a suit of armor that not only shows a tapered waistline, but a womanly figure as well. “Two orbs of light at the level of her hidden breasts suggest a female bosom that cannot be obscured by the trappings of war,” biographer Kathryn Harrison wrote about the poster’s likeness.

This was not the cross-dressing savoir of France, Harrison points out, but a 20th century version, pretty and determined, ready to fight like a man, but remain an empowered woman.

“Oh if I could speak large and round like a boy,” Bergman’s Joan wonders in the play. “But my voice is a girl’s voice and my ways are a girl’s ways.”

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When Television Had A Face For Cancer

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By Ken Zurski

On April 21 1960, a Thursday, CBS television aired a taped documentary titled “Biography of a Cancer” that for its day, was as timely as it was informative. That’s because in the 1950’s doctors had just begun experimenting with a combination chemotherapy and radiation treatment and widespread skepticism followed. There were just as many questions about its clinical usefulness as there were answers. So the network’s objective was to present a cancer patient and show “truthfully and graphically” the various stages of the disease.

They found the perfect subject in Thomas A. Dooley.

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Dr. Tom Dooley

Dooley not only had been diagnosed with cancer, but he was also a doctor, and a well known one at that. A lieutenant and rising star in the Navy, Dooley scrapped plans to be an orthopedic surgeon, left the military, and devoted his life to serve those in less fortunate areas of the world. He was profiled by some as a globetrotting playboy, both good looking and successful, who became an “idealistic, crusading servant of the poor and depressed.” Dooley didn’t care how he was perceived. His mission was clear. But due to this mix of admonition and admiration, the story got notice and Dooley wrote three best-selling books about his humanitarian crusade.

Then he got cancer.

When Dooley agreed to be filmed by CBS he was just about to have surgery on the malignant tumor found near his shoulder.

In August of 1959, the cameras rolled.

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Nearly a year later on that April evening when the show aired, Tom Dooley wasn’t around to see it. He was in Southeast Asia treating the sick. In fact, Dooley kept a constant travel schedule even after the diagnosis and surgery.  His will and determination was an inspiration to the staff of MEDICO, the world-wide health organization Dooley founded. Many of his patients called him “Dr. America,” but his team knew him simply as “Dr. Tom.”

“Walt Whitman, I think, said that it’s not important what you do with the years of your life, but how you use each hour, “ Dooley told the television viewers in the CBS special. “That’s how I want to live.”

 

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Eventually, he was just too weak to continue. “I’m not going to quit. I will continue to guide and lead my hospitals until my back, my brain, and my bones collapse,” he said after being admitted for treatment for the last time.

On January 18, 1961, just a month after returning from a mission to Bangkok and one day after his 34th birthday, Tom Dooley died. For all his frantic and tireless efforts, both in front and behind the camera, a friend exclaimed, the end was “a quiet, peaceful slipping away.”

At the time of his death, the dedication to his work, and not the brief stint on television, was the focus of numerous articles and memorials.

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‘The Detergents’ and that One Big Hit, Literally

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By Ken Zurski

Morton 7In early 1965, a three-member American band named The Detergents released a single titled “Leader of the Laundromat.”

The song told the story of a boy named Murray who was seemingly in love with a pretty laundromat attendant, Betty, because she “looked so sad.” Then he abruptly tells her it’s over between them.

I’ll never forget the hurt and the funny look in her eye.

Betty, the jilted ex-girlfriend, grabs Murray’s laundry, runs out the laundromat door, and “directly in the path of a garbage truck.”

Watch out, watch out! 

Those unfamiliar with a certain Shangri-La’s song “Leader of the Pack” might have been shocked out of their shoes.

But it was all in good fun.

I felt so messy standing there 
My daddy’s shorts were everywhere 
Tenderly I kissed her goodbye
Picked up my clothes, they were finally dry

The song was a parody, of course, but more specifically, it was a spoof.  Until then, parody songs had been about something funny and usually with an original melody like “Itsy Bitsy Tennie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” But the “Laundromat” song was different. It took the actual melody of a recent hit and twisted it. Basically, it spoofed an already established and popular tune.

But I won’t forget you, oh Leader Of the Laundromat

That didn’t sit so well with the writers of the original song. When the “Leader of the Laundromat,” reached #19 on the Billboard singles chart, the songwriting team behind “Leader of the Pack” sued The Detergents for copyright infringement and royalties and settled out of court.

Despite the legal wrangling, however, band members Ron Dante, Danny Jordan and Tommy Wynn, toured together as The Detergents for about two years before disbanding.

Dante went on to sing lead vocals for the novelty group The Archies and the hit single “Sugar, Sugar,” a contribution that was unacknowledged at the time thanks to the group’s association with the comic strip characters.

The Detergents short legacy includes an album of spoofs, a film like the Beatles, and some subsequent singles, like “Double-O-Seven” (A James Bond mockery) and “I Can Never Eat at Home Anymore” (inspired by another Shangri-Las hit “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”), but nothing stuck quite like the “Laundromat” song:

My folks were always putting her down (down, down)
Because her laundry came back brown (brown, brown)

 

 

 

(Lyrics reprinted from Google Play Music)