Unrememebered History

In the 1950’s, the Gear-Shaped Ford Rotunda was an Enormously Popular Christmas Attraction

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By Ken Zurski

In 1933, at the Chicago’s World’s Fair, among the many distinctive features that lined the city’s lakefront property was a uniquely shaped building, circular in design, with a top that resembled ”a granulated cluster of internally meshed gears.”

The Ford Rotunda, as it was called, was the brainchild of company founder Henry Ford and architect Albert Kahn, who designed the building specifically for the Ford Motor Co.’s contribution to the Fair.

The Fair’s theme was technology, which inspired the tagline: “A Century of Progress,” and since planes, trains and automobiles were a large part of the Fair’s showcase exhibits, Ford fit right in.

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The 12-story Ford Rotunda had a long wing extending off the base, thousands of multi-colored exterior lights, and in the open-aired middle, a spotlight that shot skyward and could be seen for miles. Inside was the large rotunda, with moving parts and displays, including a photographic mural of a Ford plant and a 20-foot high globe.

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In 1934, when the Fair closed, Ford had the building dismantled and moved to Dearborn, Michigan near the site of the Rogue plant company headquarters.

“The reconstructed rotunda is expected to relieve the congestion,” the papers noted, referencing the attendance numbers at the Fair.

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On May 4, 1936, in Dearborn, the Rotunda opened its doors again.

Then in 1953, to celebrate Ford’s 50th anniversary, the Rotunda went through another transformation. A geodesic roof was constructed over the open center. This allowed for more varied and seasonal exhibits, including  the appropriately titled “A Christmas Fantasy,” which combined sparkling new Ford cars with holiday-themed displays.

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The Christmas tree and doll displays were especially popular.

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“A Christmas Fantasy” drew so many people that the Ford Rotunda became one of the most famous and frequented buildings in the nation. It quickly surpassed more established tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument in the number of visitors attending each year.

That is until November 9, 1962.

On that day a kettle of hot tar used for winter sealing was left unattended and the Rotunda’s roof caught fire. Thankfully, everyone got out safely and only one worker was slightly injured. But the building didn’t stand a chance.

It was gone in less than two hours.

Ford decided not to rebuild.

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Ask Your Local Library to Add UNREMEMBERED!

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The global library catalog World Cat categorizes UNREMEMBERED under these three Genre/Forms:
“True adventure stories. biography and anecdotes.”

Ask your local library to get it …give the book title and the author. Available on Ingram, Baker & Taylor and Amazon http://a.co/d/iteJoll

“UNREMEMBERED: Tales of the Nearly Famous and the Not Quite Forgotten

Ken Zurski, author of The Wreck of the Columbia and Peoria Stories, provides a fascinating collection of once famous people and events that are now all but forgotten by time. Using a backdrop of schemes and discoveries, adventures and tragedies, Zurski weaves these figures and the events that shaped them into a narrative that reveals history’s many coincidences, connections, and correlations.

We tumble over Niagara Falls in a barrel, soar on the first transcontinental machine-powered flight, and founder aboard a burning steamboat. From an adventurous young woman circumnavigating the globe to a self-absorbed eccentric running for President of the United States, Unremembered brings back these lost stories and souls for a new generation to discover.

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FEATURING
John Alcock
Nellie Bly
Isambard K. Brunel
Samuel Cunard
Nathaniel Currier
Annie Edson Taylor
Ruth Elder
William Harnden
Father Louis Hennepin
Dorothy Kilgallen
Samuel Langley
Bobby Leach
John Ledyard
Thomas Moran
Catherine O’Leary
William B. Ogden
Fanny Palmer
Sam Patch
Rembrandt Peale
Cal Rodgers
Amos Root
Janet Scudder
George Francis Train
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Arthur Whitten Brown
John Wise
Victoria Woodhull

UNREMEMBERED Actress: Billie Burke

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By Ken Zurski

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A veteran of stage and screen, Billie Burke began her Broadway and film acting career in 1906 at the age of 22. She appeared in numerous stage and screen roles (silent films) and in 1914 married another show business impresario , Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld Jr, of Zeigfeld Follies fame.

In 1921, Burke retired from performing thanks to a boon in the stock market and good investments. However, in 1929 after the Black October crash, the money was gone and Burke went back to work appearing with many top Hollywood heavyweights like Lionel Barrymore whom she co-starred in the most acclaimed and defining role of her career: Millicent Jordan, the “hapless, feather-brained lady with the unmistakably high voice,” in 1933’s “Dinner at Eight.”

Although it wasn’t her last appearance in the movies, in 1939, at the age of 54, Burke played a character for which she is most remembered today,  appearing alongside newcomer Judy Garland, as Glinda the Good Witch of the North in “The Wizard of Oz.”

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UNREMEMBERED INNOVATOR: Eadweard Muybridge, the Zoopraxiscope, and the Suspended Horse

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By Ken Zurski

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Eadweard Muybridge

In 1860, while traveling by stagecoach across the Texas plains, capitalist Eadweard Muybridge fell and suffered a serious head injury. Some say he never fully recovered. His doctor however suggested more fresh air. So Muybridge took up photography and began shooting landscapes.

Then in 1872, railroad magnate Leland Stanford hired Muybridge to shoot a horse. Not literally, of course, but with a camera. Stanford wanted to know if a horse lifts all four feet off the ground simultaneously during a gait. Muybridge managed to show a horse seemingly suspended in midair. But the shot, published as a line drawing at first, drew jeers from a skeptical public.

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Muybridge’s Moving Horse 

Muybridge found a way to convince them. He invented a machine called the Zoopraxiscope, where a silhouette image of a picture is painted on a revolving glass plate. When the light is shown through the cylinder the drawings seem to move.

“A magic lantern gone mad,” raved the Illustrated London News.

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Zoopraxiscope

Vindicated, Muybridge sought to improve his design. He went to see a man he thought might be able to put actual photographs on the cylinder.

After all, he had done the same thing with sound.

That man was Thomas Edison.

UNREMEMBERED SOLDIER: Sgt. Edward Younger’s Orders

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By Ken Zurski

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Sgt. Edward Younger

In March 1921, a congressional resolution was passed calling for an American serviceman, remains unknown, to be buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Four unidentified bodies were drawn from separate regions of the European theater. In a small French village, at a makeshift chapel, one would be selected.

Sgt. Edward Younger of Chicago was the unassuming soldier chosen to make the pick. Younger had served in the war, went home, and then reenlisted. He was on special duty when he got orders. “Take these flowers,” his commanding officer told him, “proceed to the chapel and place them on one of the caskets.”

Alone and in silence, Younger circled the four caskets. He touched each one. He knelt and prayed. Then something drew him to the second casket on the right. “It seemed as if God himself guided my hand,” Younger recalled.

He gently set the flowers down and saluted.

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Meet Jim: The ‘Wonder Dog’ Who Correctly Picked Kentucky Derby Winners

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By Ken Zurski

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Jim the Wonder Dog

 

In the 1930’s, the Llewellyn setter known as “Jim the Wonder Dog” correctly picked the winner of seven Kentucky Derby’s in a row.  An improbable feat even for the most adapt handicapper,  but Jim’s owner Sam Van Arsdale insisted there was nothing deceitful about his dog’s apparent ability to predict the outcome of the prestigious race year after year.

Here’s how it worked: Van Arsdale would set down sealed envelopes each containing the name of a horse in the race. Jim would walk up to one and put his paw on it. The envelope was then stored in a locked safe. After the race, the envelope was reopened revealing the winning horse each time. The soft spoken Van Arsdale never wanted to profit off his prized pooch so he turned down all offers to reveal the contents of the envelopes before the race. 

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Van Arsdale and Jim on a hunting trip

 

Jim is also credited with accurately guessing the gender of unborn children and in 1936 correctly picked the New York Yankees to win the World Series.

Skeptics and doubters were aplenty, but Van Arsdale insisted it was no trick

Jim died in 1937 at the age of 12.

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UNREMEMBERED Preview: New Book Explores History’s Connections and Coincidences

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Author Ken Zurski (Peoria Stories & The Wreck of the Columbia) answers questions about his new book “UNREMEMBERED: Tales of the Nearly Famous and the Not Quite Forgotten:”

Unremembered is an interesting word. Why did you choose it?

I really liked it for one. It’s not used very often, but I saw it once and immediately knew it fit what I was trying to do.

And that would be a blog of forgotten history stories?

Well, yea, sort of. I was thinking a book first and thought it would make a terrific title. I had stories but wasn’t sure of the direction. I had a list of people and events I’d read about and wanted to write so I started the blog first and now here we are two years later and finally a book.

The book is different from the blog in that it tells multiple stories but within the context of a flowing or entwined narrative. Was that planned?

Mostly, yes. I didn’t want to do a bathroom book with just a bunch of articles. The stories on the blog are short so there would have to be a hundred or more in the book. I began thinking of stories intertwining and that sparked my interest in telling stories of people and events and their connections to each other, something I did in an abbreviated way with my book Peoria Stories. Some of the connections are more obvious than others and there are four parts to Unremembered so there are different themes, but with a thread that connects them all.

Some people seem to pop up and leave and others reemerge. Is this because of their connections?

Oh, Yes. There are probably 70 people featured in the book all under the same guise of being nearly famous or not quite forgotten. Some appear briefly others more prominently.

George Francis Train is one character that seems to have his hand in everything. Did you know that going in?

Oh, of course. Train was probably the person that best exemplifies what I was trying to convey in Unremembered. He was a resourceful figure and had some pretty amazing accomplishments in his lifetime, but he tried too hard to be important. Eventually his antics led many to believe he was insane. Others greatly admired him. In the end though, hardly anyone remembers him.

So he fits under the category of “nearly famous”?

Yes, I suppose, in how time treated his story. Today, he’s certainly not famous when compared to others, but in the later half of the 19th century he was a very famous figure, prominently in the news and influential and controversial too.

And Nellie Bly, the journalist, where does she fit in?

She is sort of like Train but never seemed to push herself into the spotlight like Train did. Certainly traveling around the world is a heady stuff for a woman at the time, but she did it to further her status as a journalist, not become a celebrity. That she became famous was a bonus.

So she is not quite forgotten?

Exactly her name comes up in books about the early history of journalism. But most people don’t know all of her amazing story.

Train and Bly seems to be main characters but don’t enter the book until the third part, especially Bly. Was this by design?

Sort of. Train has a connection to a man we meet in the first part Cornelius Vanderbilt, who has a connection to a steamboat disaster in New York whose tragic events has a connection to a young printer, it just follows along. Train is actually in every part in some way.

Niagara Falls is an interesting subject? How did you choose that to continue the narrative in Part Two?

Beyond the nature part of the beast, there’s a human story to the Falls which really interested me. Why did people risk their life to challenge it? So many stories emerged I had to tell it.

And yet, somehow it ties into balloon travel which ties into the birth of transportation

Yes, Part Three is about reaching new limits and new heights in transportation both by water and air. Some interesting and forgotten stories can be found here beyond the more familiar names like the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh and even the Titanic.

So there is an “unremembered” ship?

There is. Again famous for it’s time, but mostly forgotten now.

And then we’re back to a tragedy in Part Four?

Yes, the Great Chicago Fire.

And a familiar face emerges?

Yes, Train has a history there as well.

It’s all very fascinating stuff and the book covers a lot of ground.  Were you ever surprised by the connections?

Most everything in the book is included because of the connections, but there were a few that were unexpected and came about while during research.

They call that writer’s luck, right?

Exactly

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Ken Zurski

3/2/18

“Unremembered: Tales of the Nearly Famous and the Not Quite Forgotten” is scheduled for release in August 2018 by Amika Press, Chicago.