Millicent Fenwick: The Pipe Smoking Congresswoman from New Jersey

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By Ken Zurski

MILLICENT FENWICK, a renowned “pipe smoker,” was a four-term Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey between 1975 and 1983.

Fenwick entered politics late in life and was known for her energy and colorful enthusiasm. She was regarded as a moderate and progressive within her party and was outspoken in favor of civil rights and the women’s movement. She claimed the trademark pipe smoking habit was the result of a physician telling her not to smoke cigarettes.

“Tall and patrician, but down-to-earth and pungent,” is how the New York Times described her.

A former aide called Fenwick, “The Katharine Hepburn of politics,” adding, “With her dignity and elegance, she could get away with saying things others couldn’t.”

Today she is known for being the inspiration behind the Lacey Davenport character in Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” cartoon.

So brazen and confident was the Davenport character, she once told a prospective campaign manager that the job would entail, “Just padding about the house, answering phone calls, and changing the kitty litter.”

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Trudeau insists that Davenport was just a composite of several women and no one person in particular came to mind. But the comparison was in the look and attitude.

In the comic, Davenport ran for Senate seat and won. In contrast, Fenwick at the age of 72, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Frank Lautenberg in the 1982 Senate race.

Lautenberg who once called Fenwick, “The most popular candidate in the country,” claimed President Reagan’s unpopular polices at the midterm and his opponents age (“She would be almost 80 by the end of her first term”) were all factors that worked in his favor. Lautenberg was 58. He won the seat 51-to-48.

Fenwick, who had been ahead in the polls by 18 points, was stunned. “I had no concession speech prepared,” she said about the surprising defeat.

Fenwick died of heart failure in 1992

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P.T. Barnum’s ‘Swedish Nightingale,’ Jenny Lind, had Several Ships Named After Her

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By Ken Zurski

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In the movie, The Greatest Showman, the showman in the title, P.T. Barnum, brings a relatively unknown Swedish born singer named Jenny Lind to America.  In a dramatic and impressively moving scene, Lind proceeds to captivate an unassuming audience with her soaring voice.  Barnum looks on in wonder. A star is born, it seems, even if it is an overtly dramatic depiction.

In reality, Jenny Lind was an opera singer, a soprano, popular in her native Europe, mostly polite and a modest dresser as well. As one article described, she was not the “red lipstick type” portrayed in the movie. Nor did Barnum and Lind have a hint of a romantic relationship as the movie subtly applies.

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Jenny Lind


Regardless of the portrayal in the film, one thing was clear, in 1850, Barnum made Lind an international superstar which reverberated in many ways, including Lind’s indirect role as part of the US Civil War.

Specifically, two war ships named in her honor.

Why name a ship after the popular singer? That was clearer in 1851 before the war when several clipper chips were named “Jenny Lind” or “The Swedish Nightingale,” a Barnum nickname for Lind during the American Tour.

The sailing vessels were notorious for their carved figureheads adorning the bow of the ship.  Instead of a menacing cast, something more refined, like that of  a proper lady, was the subject of many figureheads.

Lind fit the bill.

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Jenny Lind figurehead

In the Civil War, Lind represented both sides. According to Naval Heritage and Command website, the service of the USS Jenny Lind steamer used by the Union Army reads this way : “In February 1863 reference is made to a steamer of this name being used as a troop transport at New Orleans.”

While the Confederate schooner, also named Jenny Lind is “listed among five captured by USS Lockwood, Acting Volunteer Lt. G. W. Graves commanding, on 16 June 1864 at Mount Pleasant, Hyde County, N.C”.

While the ships themselves are quickly forgotten, and in contemporary terms so was Lind’s legacy before the movie, even a shrewd promoter like Barnum couldn’t save the Lind ships from a more successful tour of duty.

The Union ship suffered a similar fate as its southern counterpart.

According to records: “The [Lind] steamer was captured by the Confederates at the Passes in the Mississippi in June 1863.”

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P.T. Barnum & Jenny Lind

(*Loren Allred was the singing voice of Jenny Lind in the movie: Rebecca Ferguson, the actress)

The First Wienermobile’s ‘Little Oscar’ is Someone You Know

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By Ken Zurski

In the late 1930’s, the first incarnation of the iconic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile was introduced.

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Meat maker Oscar F. Mayer, on a suggestion from his nephew built the cylindrical- shaped vehicle per specifications: long and lean, like an actual hot dog wiener. But it was also very tight inside. So Mayer needed someone who was small enough to squeeze into it and pop his head out the trap door in the back.

Meinhardt Raabe was the perfect fit.

Raabe was a salesman at Oscar Mayer at the time and a natural performer. He was also 3-feet, 4-inches tall. Raabe had just returned from filming a movie in Los Angeles when Mayer approached him about the job.

He accepted and became “Little Oscar: The World’s Smallest Chef.”

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For the next thirty years, Raabe traveled by Wienermoble, appeared in Oscar Mayer ads, and was the smiling face on every single hot dog package sold. Hardly anyone recognized him from the movie he appeared in and released in 1939. But that would change. Raabe’s short line from the film, “She’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead,” would keep him busy with appearances until his death in 2010.

At the time, at the age of 94, he was the oldest surviving munchkin from “The Wizard of Oz.”

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Meinhardt Raabe as the coroner from the “Wizard of Oz”

UNREMEMBERED CARTOON: ‘Private Snafu’ was the U.S. Army’s Unbecoming Soldier

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By Ken Zurski

Beginning in 1943, U.S. Army recruits serving in World War II were introduced to a cartoon character named Private Snafu, a rubbery-faced simpleton with a knack for trouble that one writer described as “a model of everything that a model soldier isn’t.”

The cartoon was the mastermind of movie director Frank Capra, head of the Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Armed Forces at the time, which produced highly stylized propaganda and training films that starred top Hollywood actors like Clark Gable and Ronald Reagan.

But by far the most popular attraction, especially among the rank-n-file, was the bumbling Snafu.

Designed to teach proper etiquette in the Army, Snafu turned the tables on military protocol by humorously showing each enlisted man what not to do as a soldier.

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Capra who rejected Walt Disney for the contract (Disney reportedly wanted merchandise rights), chose Warner Brothers studios to make the films and animator Chuck Jones to produce it.

The shorts, all about 10 minutes long, were exclusively the Army’s and not subject to standard motion picture codes. So Jones and his writers, including Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, were limitless in content, although they kept it mostly educational and entertaining at first. In Spies, for example, Snafu forgets to take his malaria medication and gets it in the end – quite literally – by a pesky mosquito.

But that’s only part of the lesson. Snafu, who talks in rhymes, is seen on a pay phone: “Hello Mom, I’ve got a secret, I can only drop a tip. Don’t breathe a word to no one, but I’m going on a trip.” Eavesdropping nearby are the so-called “spies” in the short.

Soon an unsuspecting Snafu is blabbering his secret to anyone within earshot.

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Most of the shorts end with Snafu being killed by his own stupidity.   Later as the war neared an end, the shorts got edgier and Snafu got smarter. Even the content became racier, with scantily clad girls with body parts cleverly, but barely disguised.

About the only restraint remained in the explanation of the acronym, an unofficial military term: “Situation Normal All Fouled Up.” A wink and nod, of course, to today’s more popular and expletive laced interpretation.

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Reviews are in for UNREMEMBERED: “Grand and glorious tapestry of events and personages”

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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite

Unremembered: Tales of the Nearly Famous & the Not Quite Forgotten is a nonfiction collection of historical events and figures written by Ken Zurski. Zurski is a broadcaster, speaker and author whose books recreate the past. This book casts a spotlight on several dozen personalities and shares their contributions to society and progress. Among them are Nellie Bly, who bluffed and blustered her way into a well-deserved career in journalism when women were not welcome, and who circumnavigated the globe in less than 80 days; Nathaniel Currier, whose lithographic processes changed how news was disseminated, and Sam Patch, the Jersey Jumper, whose acrobatic skill and daring finally met its match in the Genesee Falls. Zurski covers the tragic, fiery destruction of the Lexington in the Long Island Sound on a freezing winter night; the fiery conflagration that leveled the New York City’s Wall Street Area and the Great Chicago fire; and the evolution of the flying machine.

Ken Zurski’s Unremembered is a grand and glorious tapestry of events and personages whose impacts were definitely felt, but whose stories have for the most part been forgotten or overlooked. I was fascinated by the way he weaves each person into the stories he tells, and I loved the care with which he develops his stories about Niagara Falls and aviation history, and used lithographs and historical artwork in his presentation. Zurski is a gifted storyteller who makes those forgotten people come to life — he even instills a purpose and rationale for the temperance firebrand Carrie Nation as he discusses the development of women’s rights and suffrage through the 19th and 20th centuries. I was fascinated by his stories and loved learning about the unknown heroes, villains and trailblazers he highlights in this work. I was also pleased with the extensive bibliography he included. Unremembered: Tales of the Nearly Famous & the Not Quite Forgotten is most highly recommended.

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It’s All in the Name: Hanes, Heinz and Hoover

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By Ken Zurski

As famous brands go, it’s all in a name. Or it least that’s how it used to be. But while the name itself is famous, the person behind the name often is not.

Here’s three quick sketches of famous entrepreneurs whose names are well known but whose stories that led to the brand that bears their name is less remembered.



Pleasant Hanes was a tobacco man. After serving as a courier for General Robert E. Lee in the Civil War, Hanes returned home to Winston-Salem, North Carolina and delivered chewing tobacco door to door. He opened a tobacco plant in 1872, but sold it to rival R.J. Reynolds who was buying all the tobacco plants in town.

Hanes, however, had another idea: opening a knitting factory.

In 1902 he put his name on underwear instead.




Henry John Heinz wasn’t so lucky at first. In 1869, as the Heinz, Noble & Company (along with a partner named L. Clarence Noble), Heinz bottled and sold horseradish. It didn’t fire. They added pickles, vinegar and other spices to its repertoire, but still nothing.  In 1875, the Heinz, Noble & Company stopped production and closed its doors.  Frustrated, the next year, Heinz founded a new company, hired his two brothers, and while offering a variety of “57” food products, eventually focused on one tasty condiment, already known…ketchup.

At the Chicago’s World’s Fair, Heinz sold his brand of tomato ketchup to the masses.




Like Heinz, a man named James Spangler was also determined. Burdened by asthma, he built a machine that could collect dust off the floor. Spangler called it a sudden vacuum and started the Electric Suction Sweeper Company . Sales were slow so he showed the contraption to a cousin who brought it to her husband, a leather goods maker. His name was William Hoover. Hoover as it turned out had a better business sense. His idea was simple but effective: Send out salesman door to door and offer a 10-day free in-home trial.

In 1908, Hoover promptly bought the vacuum patent and changed the name.

Thank Columbus for Meat, Melons and Dandelions

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By Ken Zurski


In Jill Lepore’s bold new 900-plus page tome titled “These Truths: A History of the United States,” the essayist and historian begins the incredible journey in the obvious year of 1492 and the discovery of a new land by a man named Christopher Columbus, an Italian-born Portuguese sailor, who was sent by the Spanish king and queen to sail across the Atlantic and spread Christianity, along with more financially rewarding reasons as well.

The name of this new land, Lepore points out was actually given by a German cartographer whose map of the world in four parts included a word, made up, to describe the fourth and newest part: America. But like most historians, Columbus gets credit for finding this new world, soon to be dubbed New Spain, a place where a place was not supposed to be.

Columbus found this new territory well inhabited by natives and resourceful to cultivating. Upon his return back to the homeland, he told the Spanish born Pope who in turn used only his divine powers to grant the land to Spain as if “he were the god of Genesis,” Lepore explains.


Not everyone agreed, but it didn’t matter. Columbus was already planning another trip to conquer and domesticate this New Spain. So in 1493 he led an armada of seventeen ships and 1200 men went back to America. This time on board the ships were an abundance of livestock and seeds, enough to start a small farm. It would not be long before the cattle, pigs, sheep and goats multiplied. There was an abundant food supply on this fertile land and no natural predators. “They reproduced in numbers unfathomable in Europe,” Leprore writes. “Cattle population doubled every fifteen months.”

Even more productive, the pigs who were notorious foragers and reproducers quickly outnumbered the cattle. “Within a few years,” Lepore expounds, ” the eight pigs he [Columbus] brought with him had descendants numbering in the thousands.”

Columbus also brought with him seeds of “wheat, chickpeas, melons, onions, radishes, greens, grapevines, and sugar cane.” He also brought diseases, which the European people were mostly immune, but carried unseen. This would wipe out most of the native population who had never been exposed to and therefore had no defense against malaria, influenza, small pox , whopping cough and yellow fever, among others. They died by the “tens of millions,” Lepore pointed out, and those left were usually rounded up and sold as slaves.

And while this conquer, pillage and plunder method by the Spaniards is fiercely debated, and is often roundly criticized, the legacy of Columbus and his men can also be found in many of the plants which dot the country’s landscape. For aboard the transport ships, hidden among the folds of “animal skins, blankets and clods of mud” came a seed, which Lepore points out were “the seeds of plants Europeans considered to be weeds.”

These wild plant seeds were inadvertently distributed in the soil and thanks to the constant moving of dirt by cattle, horses, and human digging and tilling, they spread across the ground like diseases did between the natives.

Bluegrass, daises, and ferns were among them. Thistles and nettles also stayed and thrived.

And one – the mighty dandelion – just never seems to go away.