Writing the story of Britton would be no “Picnic”

Topeka Capital Journal
July 30, 2001

Recently I enjoyed visiting the past through the musicals “Music Man” and “Oklahoma,” and the drama, “Picnic.” I’ve seen all three so many times, on the Great White Way, the semi-Great White Way, in local theaters and in high school auditoriums, on the big screen and the small screen, that I long ago lost count.

“Music Man,” my favorite, is about a con man who comes to River City, Iowa, and sells the town on starting a boys band, even though he doesn’t know a musical note from a radiator whistle. The mayor smells a rat and says he “better hear some by-God tootin’ out of them horns, “ and he finally does. The hero wins the heart of Marion, the librarian.

“Picnic” is the story of a young man who returns to his hometown in Kansas broke and looking for work, but really hoping to get by on his looks and charm. It also is the story of an aging school teacher looking for a man.

After 27 unexpected turns of events that teacher lucks into a nice, cigar chewing guy, and the young man leaves by hopping a freight – but with the town beauty queen on a bus right behind him. They’re headed for Tulsa, where he can get work as a bellhop at the Mayo Hotel. Continue reading

Ending Tulsa Silence, Better Late Than Never

Topeka Capital Journal
March 6, 2000

The state of Oklahoma was the site of one of the worst race riots in history in 1921, but for almost 75 years the chances are you wouldn’t have heard about it, even if you lived there, studied state history in its schools, or read newspapers and periodicals in its libraries. Oklahoma covered it up and treated it like it never happened.

On June 1, 1921, the riot erupted in Tulsa and resulted in 40 blocks of an upper class black neighborhood being looted and burned. The Oklahoma National Guard said 26 blacks and 10 whites died and 370 were injured, but eyewitnesses said at least 100 blacks were killed, and the correct figure probably was more than 300.

For 75 years, no memorial of any kind was erected, no city sponsored commemorative services were ever held, and not a single person ever was charged with the killings or the fires. In the library’s, every mention of the riot, the fires and the organized white lynch mob was deleted from the Tulsa newspapers.

I was one of the know-nothing’s in the riot’s aftermath, despite having taken two courses in Oklahoma history, one in high school in the late 1930s, and a forced repeat in college in the 1940s.

If there ever was a mention of the Tulsa riot in either course, I don’t remember it. In fact, from kindergarten to college diploma, all of it in Oklahoma, I don’t remember hearing a single word about it. I believe I would remember, because I like history, even down to taking an elective course called, “U.S. relations in the South Pacific,” or as I called it, “An Okie in Bora Bora.”

And, if I can remember Bob Wills doing “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” couldn’t I remember a riot?

I’m not alone in not hearing anything about the riot until recently. When Tulsa finally got around to remembering it, in 1996, the New York Times carried a couple of lengthy stories about it, and Susan Schaefer of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library resurrected them for me.

Tulsa mayor Susan Savage told the Times she grew up in Tulsa, but it was not until she was an adult that she learned about the riot. She said, “it just wasn’t something people discussed.”

The Tulsa County District Attorney in 1996 was Bill LaFortune, who said, “I’m 39 years old, born and raised in Tulsa, and I never really learned about the race riots until the last several years.”

The riot was sparked by a mistake. A 19-year-old black shoeshine man was arrested for supposedly assaulting a white teenage elevator operator. Police later would determine he stumbled into the girl accidentally, committing no crime, and charges were dropped.

But before that happened the afternoon newspaper headlines screamed, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator,” and the story said angry whites were gathering in the courthouse to lynch the man. More whites joined the mob, blacks armed themselves, and the riot was on.

The Greenwood section of Tulsa was known as the as the “Negro Wall Street of America” because blacks who lived and worked there enjoyed a higher than average measure of prosperity. But many lost homes and businesses, and the city never paid a dime of reparations.

The final tally was 23 churches and more than 1,000 homes and businesses leveled. When it was over, witnesses said, trucks loaded bodies of black victims and took them to two local potter’s fields and common graves. Hundreds of black families fled Tulsa, never to return

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One who survived was J.B. Stradford, who owned a hotel in a rooming house in the doomed area. When he heard that armed men, black and white, were heading for the courthouse, he went there to try to talk the blacks into returning to their homes. But shooting started, and Stradford was charged later with inciting the riot.

He jumped bail in Tulsa and went to Chicago, where he became a successful lawyer. His descendants include a lawyer who is a former U.S. ambassador, a Circuit Court judge, and a college professor.

When the judge, Cornelius E. Toole, Stradford’s great-grandson, heard Tulsa had decided to remember the riot, he contacted an Oklahoma legislator, Don Ross, and asked about clearing Stradford’s name. Lafortune took care of that, and in all, 62 blacks indicted by an inflamed white grand jury in 1921 were cleared.

So, 75 years late, in a ceremony in the Greenwood Cultural Center, across the street from the spot where Stradford’s hotel was burned down, he received an honorary executive pardon from the governor of Oklahoma. His descendants said, better late than never.

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(Editor’s Note: This column is posted as written 20 years ago. In 2018, Tulsa World Managing Editor Mike Strain wrote: “In our newsroom, we have begun using the term massacre. We also will use the term riot, but it often will be in the context of explaining that the events of 1921 had commonly been known as the Tulsa race riot.”)

Remembering mom

Topeka Capital-Journal
May 11, 1986

The nuns who taught us in the grade school saw to it that we learned early and well the importance of Mother’s Day. Like we always did at Christmas and Easter, we hauled out the crayons and drew a special card for mom.

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Leona Frances Shively

We spent so much time with the crayons, doing those cards, that it’s a wonder we learned to read and write and do our ciphering. But we did, and the cards were, in our minds, works of art.

I remember sister Mary Chrysostom best. She was my teacher in the 4th or 5th grade. She would draw a sample card on the blackboard and we would copy it as best we could.

She would come around and help the less gifted, and that’s one of the reasons I liked her. She spent a lot of time with me, so my card always came out looking pretty good.

The cover would have maybe a hill or two, some birds, a tree and a flower, and above it or below it or across it would be the word, “mother.” I was best at drawing hills and the sun. I was fair with the birds, terrible with trees and flowers.

Inside were two things. One was the message, expressing our love for mom. The other was called a “spiritual bouquet.” It was a list of prayers we had offered – or we were promising to offer – in mom’s behalf.

Even way back then I was into deficits. I’m afraid I padded my bouquet.

We would fasten these crayon-covered sheets together with colored string, or brass paper fasteners and then, at the proper time, present the card to mom.

She would express genuine pleasure at the total effort, an equally genuine surprise at the numbers button being promised. She never said anything, but I probably wasn’t fooling her.

I probably never did fool her. I know I didn’t the day a couple of other foolhardy adventurers and I skipped school to go downtown and hang out for awhile, and then go to a special high-noon baseball shootout between the Oklahoma City Indians and the Tulsa Oilers. Continue reading

A Trip to Oakwood

Topeka Capital Journal
April 14, 1999

When my brother Al and I planned our trip to western Oklahoma, we knew we’d see the place where we were born, and places where a lot of our ancestors are buried. What we didn’t know is that we’d also see Rollin Shaw, our next door neighbor more than 70 years ago in Oakwood, our birthplace.

We hadn’t seen him since the Sniders moved from Oakwood in the mid 1920s, but shortly before we headed back down memory Lane, Al’s daughter Claire, found him on the Internet, listed him as a resident of Dewey County and giving a phone number.

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From left: Dick Snider, Al Snider, Rollin Shaw, Dan Snider circa 1925

We called him and he remembered us, and after he recovered from the shock we arranged to meet next day at the Phillips 66 station in Oakwood. We had lunch, he took us on a tour of what’s left of the town, and then we went to the farm home where he has lived for the past 57 years. Continue reading

Kansas Newspapermen Linked by Sports

Topeka Capital-Journal
Dec. 15, 1999

There were a couple of send-off parties earlier this month for Mark Nusbaum and his family, wishing them well in Lubbock, Texas, where he is the new publisher of the uniquely named Avalanche-Journal. I remember it as the only newspaper I ever saw printed blue raindrops on the front page of the weather report.

Nusbaum is a local boy who made good. He started at the Topeka Capital-Journal as a copy boy, almost as low on the totem pole as a local retiree columnist, and he was executive editor when he left.

He became a sportswriter, and as he moved up, he worked on both the news and business sides of the paper. He became a good newspaperman, well qualified to go off at the tender age of 44 and take over a big daily.

When he told his wife he was surprised by how well he got along with the key players on his new team in Lubbock, a West Texas city of 186,000, she said it was because he had enough redneck in him to make it work. It wasn’t the answer he was expecting, but he agrees. Continue reading

Never Lost on Midwestern Memory Lane

Topeka Capital-Journal
Nov. 26, 2000

On the weekend before Thanksgiving our son, Steve, who lives in Maryland, with his son, Jake, 11, were here, and Steve insisted we visit the birthplaces of my parents. Being the kind of father I am, I agreed, but the problem was that my dad was born in Miltonvale and my mom and Howe, Neb., and Steve wanted to hit both in one day.

We headed toward Miltonvale and I compounded the problem by stopping in Manhattan to show them the K-State stadium and the new Colbert Hills Golf Course. Then, I figured that since we were so close, we should stop in Wakefield to say hello to former Gov. Bill Avery.

That was fine, except that as we started to turn off US-77 Highway on K-82 we learned it was closed, and we’d have to detour around the bottom end of Milford Lake and approach Wakefield from the south.

Everything seemed to be working, but we ran out of highway signs and were forced to make the reluctant decision that we were lost. Thus began a day of learning anew of the hospitality and innate goodness of rural Kansans. Continue reading

Soaring Memories of Britton, Okla.

Topeka Capital-Journal
October 28, 1994

Please bear with me this morning while I shed a tear over the passing of one of the great landmarks of my youth. They’re going to tear down the hangar at the abandoned airport two miles west of my old hometown of Britton, Okla. With it will go a lot of memories.

It was the workplace of many of my early heroes. It was the original headquarters for the airline founded by Paul and Tom Braniff of Oklahoma City, and Braniff pilots who lived in Britain would come into my dad’s drug store. They would be in uniform, and they would speak to me, and I’d be walking on air.

My uncle, Bill Garthoeffner, learned to fly there in 1930. I saw him take his first lesson in a Waco biplane, and after he got his license and bought a tiny Viele Monocoupe, I was one of his first passengers. I held the control stick while he said, “keep the wings level in the nose on the horizon.”

My brother Al work there before he went away to become a Navy pilot. He flew in World War II, flew for United and Pan-American after the war, and then went back to the Navy and made it a career.

Wiley Post used the hanger to prepare his Lockheed Vega, named Winnie Mae, for his historic solo round-the-world flight in 1933. He was visited at the field by Will Rogers, and they would die together in 1935 when the plane Post was piloting crashed on take-off near Point Barrow, Alaska. Continue reading

Snider’s Special Introductory Offer

Topeka Daily Capital
March 4th, 1959

My friend Tom Kiene, who administers the lash at The State Journal, is preparing to introduce me formally to a civic club. It’s my personal feeling that these affairs seemed pleasant only when compared to receiving a sentence in court, but that’s not the subject of this epistle. That will keep. . . .

What upsets me is the fact that when I glanced at the notes Tom was preparing for the introduction, I noticed he overlooked one of the most significant and interesting parts of my life.

Would you believe that, just before I went out and won the war, I played a major role in shoring up our internal security? Well. . . .

It started one day in 1940 in Oklahoma City when a friend of mine commented: “Say, did you know the FBI is interviewing people for jobs in Washington?”

“So what,” I said, using one of the sharpest retorts of the day.

“Why don’t we apply?” he asked.

“Why should we?”

“Have you heard,” he grinned slyly, “that there are eight women to every man in Washington?”

“Where do we apply?” I asked. . . . Continue reading

Once More with a Bunch of Bums

Topeka Capital Journal
August 8, 1989

Harold McGraw called from Oklahoma City a couple of weeks ago and said he was inviting a few guys for a weekend at his place on Lake Eufaula, in eastern Oklahoma. He said Joe Trosper and Pat Horan would be there, and I told him to count me in.

The four of us have been friends for what seems like forever. In our last joint venture, in the years right after World War II, we were on the same softball team, and we were as hooked on the game then as we are on golf now.

This was fast pitch, long before slow pitch was invented, and we played with and against some hot shots like the late Clyde “Little Abner” Woods, Greenie Malone, and Hollywood actor-to-be Dale Robertson, who was as good as softballer as he is an actor. Maybe better.

So, last Friday I drove to Oklahoma. When I saw a sign that said “Henryetta” I laughed, remembering the time I covered a football game there when I was a fledgling. The public address announcer had blasted me out of my seat in the tiny press box that night when he screamed, “And here come the HENS, now!” Continue reading

Buel and Mr. Barnes

Topeka Capital-Journal
December 24, 1986

When I think of Christmases past, which I am inclined to do when I have to write a column for Christmas Eve, it isn’t long before I get around to thinking about an aunt we called Buel and her longtime employer and friend, Mr. Barnes.

The name “Buel” was a badly mangled version of Elizabeth, uttered by one of my brothers or cousins in an early attempt at speech, and it stuck. For the rest of her life, she wasn’t Aunt Elizabeth or Aunt Buel. She was just Buel.

She was my mother’s sister, one of the three Shively girls whose mother died when they were very young. They’re all gone now, and so is their only brother, who was in his 80s when he drowned in the Platte River in his hometown of Saratoga, Wyo. while fishing.

Buel never married. She worked for Mr. Barnes for maybe 30 years. They had a close relationship, so he became close to our family, too. Buel would bring him to our house often, and at Christmas he would share in the exchange of presents and in the big meal. Continue reading