In 1971 thousands of anti-war protestor against U.S. Federal government policies concerning the Vietnam War (being directed by then President Richard Nixon), were more measured than the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.
The Trump supporters shut down the U.S. Congress and committed violence in the process by breaking windows, busting up news media camera equipment, lugging off lecterns and senatorial paperwork, etc..
Five people died as a result of this ‘protest’–including a police officer. Except for the four May 4th, 1970 killings at Kent State University in Ohio, dying at anti-war demonstrations was not the norm.
These Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol building, overcoming many police officers in the process. This is something that has never happened at the U.S. Capitol before, except for when the British took it during the war of 1812. There certainly will be arrests of members of this group that stormed our nation’s Capitol building.
Arresting protestors in Washington DC is a time-honored tradition. However these Trump supporters are not likely to received a financial award from the U.S. Supreme Court as some law abiding Anti-Vietnam War protesters did for their protest 50 years ago.
From Friday night April 30th to Sunday morning May 2nd 1971, I was a 19-year-old college student among some 35,000 anti-war protesters at the Student and Youth for a Peoples Peace May Day Anti-Vietnam War protest.
After sleeping outside on the ground for two nights, like most protestors, two college pals and I departed the event on Sunday morning of May 2nd. We had only 48 hours over that weekend to contribute to the anti-war cause. Thousands of riot police showed up early Sunday morning encouraging us to leave. And we needed to be back in college classes on Monday May 3rd.
We returned to our dormitory at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio late Sunday and missed the real action.
After we had been back in classes for three days on May 5th, amidst the spraying of tear gas and many indiscriminate arrests, 12,614 protestors were put into the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. This was, and still is, the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. Eventually charges against almost all protestors were dropped though 79 protestors were convicted of mostly minor criminal offenses.
Mostly the May Day 1971 protestors were peaceful though they blocked streets. A lucky 1,200 were entered into a court case against the Federal government brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
It must be noted that these protestors were unlike the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021. These anti-war protestors were peaceful.
The U.S. Supreme Court determined that many million dollars in damages was done to the civil liberties of these 1,200 protesters. Each of them received thousands of dollars in the award. This was the first, and so far to my knowledge, only such award ever issued by the U.S. government.
New Year’s Eve is time to stay under roof as well as off the road. These days we stay at home and open the bedroom window a bit and listen to the celebratory sound of firecrackers close by and of semi-automatic weapons’ fire in distant neighborhoods. Cleveland Heights is relatively quiet compared to the rapid fire pops coming from Cleveland and East Cleveland neighborhoods.
Kevin Scheuring* is owner of Spice Hound and manager of the Coit Road Farmers Market in East Cleveland which is not far from his home in Cleveland’s South Collinwood. A few years ago he posted a short audio/video on Facebook of what sounded like a war breaking out immediately outside his home at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s. (*Mr. Scheuring has nothing to do with the Appliance Toss.)
I’ve taken to being under a roof for the hour around midnight on New Year’s for many years now. This is since I read a newspaper story about the death of a young lady from Shaker Heights Ohio walking on the sidewalk with friends on NYE in New Orleans Louisiana. A bullet fell out of the sky and struck her dead.
New Year’s need not always be so cautious.
For over two decades, until the 2016-2017 New Years, was staged the surreptitious Appliance Toss on Cleveland’s east side. The Toss is very simple. A “target vehicle,” (an old car or van contributed by a party goer with a bull’s eye painted on top), is positioned on the ground below a second floor porch railing. The party guests bring their cast off appliances, small and large, to the second floor balcony and pitch them over the railing upon the target vehicle.
I’ve attended several Appliance Tosses, and always managed to stay under a solid roof during the hour around midnight NYE. The Toss has two phases. Before and during the tossing. There is a frenzied buildup before the clock strikes midnight.
Once all the elements are in place, (including during later years a ‘Toss Dome’ constructed of wood frame and plastic sheets high above the target vehicle and the party protecting them from the elements)—at about 10 p.m. guests start to arrive.
In the later years the hospitality of the host couple was remarkable! Guests brought plenty of inebriate and the hosts provided a big hunk of beef cooked on a spit and all the implements to eat it with, along with a pot luck pot-pourri of side dishes brought by guests.
During the last hour before the strike of the New Year, guests posed for photos with the target vehicle. Young ladies draped themselves over it as if for car commercials on TV.
A few minutes before the moment of the strike of the New Year, a recording of Richard Wagner’s ‘Flight of the Valkyries’ started playing. A line of eager guests stood on the outdoor stairway to the second floor balcony porch holding their used and soon to-be-discarded appliances. At the crescendo of the Flight of the Valkyries—at the stroke of midnight—came the first toss!
While I’ve witnessed a two-level kitchen stove range unit and a washing machine being dumped over a balcony rail, it is on video where I saw a large white 1950s round corner refrigerator being lugged up an outside apartment house stairway and tossed upon a target vehicle near Hessler Road. That was apparently sometime in the late 1990s.
This is the essence of the Toss: From the lightest to the heaviest, any energy consuming appliance is dropped upon an automobile, one of millions of CO2 (global warming) spewing vehicles on this Earth.
The guy who bought my old yellow Honda Civic eventually contributed it to the Toss. Posthumously the old GM Geo owned by American Splendor author, late Harvey Pekar, was a target vehicle.
The bashing of the Toss continued well into the wee hours. “The young ones keep at it,” said a veteran Toss activist.
The Apppliance Toss was started in the Hessler Road neighborhood of Cleveland’s University Circle. Then as the toss crew grew older they moved into further out Cleveland neighborhoods, then out into an eastern suburb—and the Toss moved too.
One year, (somewhat after dawn of January 1st when the Toss organizers woke up), the target vehicle was discovered to still be drive-able. Instead of taking it to a nearby wrecking yard by tow truck as usual, it was instead driven, while inflicted with many infractions against what makes a vehicle allowable on the road.
Suburban police pull the rattle-trap over—it had no windshield and was piled high with broken appliances except for the driver’s seat. When the police realize what they had on that January 1st — they called in their comrades from other patrols. They gathered together in a group photo in front of the notorious wreck that until then, they had only heard about.
After the pic session was over, the Toss crew was allowed to take the target vehicle to a nearby wrecking yard—via tow truck. There was no criminal charge. One proviso however: “If you put this out on social media, things will not go well with you.”
Getting over the Cuyahoga River during rush hour was a challenge met early in the 20th Century. These two photographs illustrate a major improvement in efficiency in the history of Cleveland.
The first photograph, (June 1912), is of the old Superior Viaduct, (built in 1878), in operation showing a traffic back up that likely backed well into downtown Cleveland during rush hour, as a boat passed up or down the Cuyahoga River. The backup here resembles many regular backups on many modern limited access highways in America today. (Image provided by the Cleveland State University Library.)
BOOK REVIEW: A World of Bicyclists In The City of Bikes, theStory of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan HarperCollins. pp 438, April 2013
Review by Lee Batdorff
What would it be like if bicycles were the main mode of transportation? It is the duty of all serious American bicyclists to find out! In The City of Bikes, the Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan, is a well-documented account of a place where the bicycle rules.
Mr. Jordon, an American, who also authored Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States, embraces this newer memoir with deeply researched, entertaining stories documenting bicycling in Amsterdam from the 1890s till now.
Jordon, originally from San Francisco Calif., his wife Amy Joy and son Ferris (born in the Netherlands well into the book), are émigrés from the U.S. Their memoir fits right in with the tales of bicycling Dutch royalty, bicycle fishermen, bicycle anarchists, the legions of Amsterdam bicycle denizens over generations, and the many bicycle nemesis portrayed in this book.
This is truly a bicycle rider’s book, (it includes 388 footnotes on 43 pages), researched by a thoroughgoing bike nut. I didn’t know that a bicycle frame could be embraced in so many ways! Jordon describes a bakfiets bicycle, which provides a child’s seat facing forward in front of the peddler so toddler and parent can discuss what is being seen. This is instead of towing the child by trailer alone and in distant earshot, as mostly done in the U.S.
I noted only one stretch of this volume bogging down in minutia of primary research of counting thousands of bicyclists in various dispositions passing certain city locations.
Bicycling in Amsterdam hit a nadir from the 1960s until the early 1980s, while the automobile was in ascendancy in the Netherlands. To counter act this, in 1965, Provo, an anarchist group, introduced the at-first, ill-fated white bike sharing campaign. Remarkably the White Bike Movement of Amsterdam was deemed a success in media outlets around the world—presaging numerous imitations that eventually evolved into today’s bike-sharing systems in big cities, some that are successful.
Through the 1970s, seven mass anti-auto guerrilla-style demonstrations were staged in Amsterdam by thousands of bicyclists. These events have since been emulated in many other nations in Critical Mass bicycle rides. Eventually a majority of pro-bicycle members were voted onto Amsterdam city council. In 1978 the council adopted a “Traffic Circulation Plan” that gave the bicycle primacy.
I am cheered that since then the bicyclists of Amsterdam have had the political power to influence the design of much transportation infrastructure in that city and that the 100-year-old tradition of bicyclists riding on a path through the gorgeous Rijksmuseum, (the Museum of the Netherlands), continues after many attempts to stop it.
What is the essence of living in a world ruled by bicycles? To be safe and secure riding a bicycle in Amsterdam: wear no helmet and lock your bike with two locks.
Not all bicycle-ruled locales are alike. Jordon said that on a visit to Copenhagen Denmark, another world bicycle capital, he deemed the Danes uncomfortably naïve about bicycle security compared to the churn and chaos that the many stolen and wayward bicycles go through in Amsterdam.
I rode a rented bicycle during a visit in Amsterdam in 1973 and encountered bicycle infrastructure unknown in the U.S. in those days, and many other riders, even amidst the city’s bicycle nadir. Since I missed out on my first visit, now I want to return and ride through the Rijksmuseum.
Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America Island Press, August 2020, 227 pages
By Angie Schmitt
Book Review by Lee Batdorff
Horror begins Angie Schmitt’s Right of Way. Eleven pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles during a seven-day-period in Phoenix Arizona. Late Ignacio Duarte-Rodriguez, 77-years-old, was killed by a hit-and-run driver, one of three people dying in recent years trying to cross a particular stretch of a six lane road.
Horror grows: Rodriguez’s son, Felipe Duarte, pleaded with the city to have a designated crosswalk installed in the middle of a ten city-block-long stretch with no indicated crosswalk where his father was killed. Mr. Duarte had hope to stop the carnage here. The city had done nothing about this in over two years since.
In 2018, 6,283 pedestrians were killed across the U.S.—53 percent more that were killed in 2009, writes Schmitt, a journalist who until recently worked for Streetblog.
Pedestrian traffic deaths receive halting consideration from U.S. leaders. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic when, according to Schmitt: “…many right-wing figures, including President Trump, used traffic deaths—some 37,000 annually (U.S.)—to make the case that some amount of loss of life is an acceptable price to pay for a strong economy.”
And, unfortunately, the U.S. news media is often ignorant and negligence in reporting about pedestrian deaths.
As with Covid-19, pedestrian traffic deaths are disproportionately among “poor, black and brown, elderly, disabled, low-income…marginalized people with fewer political resources to demand reforms.”
As a bicyclist for many decades in the U.S., I too share Schmitt’s view that many automobile drivers here, “view pedestrians, (and bicyclists), as an annoyance or irritation, a potential obstacle on their journey.”
Schmitt competently sorts through this dilemma—though, lying in wait for anyone trying to solve this is: Flawed public policy; State constitutions not allowing gasoline tax money to be used for non-motor vehicle uses; Increasing volumes of big SUVs—ever more dangerous to pedestrians; Demographic change has put more pedestrians out into auto-oriented suburbia; and a host of other pedestrian-killing realities; nested with indifferent or hostile bureaucratic and political inclinations toward pedestrian safety that inflicts the U.S. today.
Schmitt’s initial suggestion of an overall solution, provided on page five, is: “Understanding the systemic causes is the first step to saving lives. Given the right level of public commitment and resources, pedestrian deaths are preventable.”
While a large and growing amount of America’s pedestrian carnage is in the south and south west, the horror occurs where ever thoughtless infrastructure has been installed—in many places in the U.S.
“Pedestrian deaths, in other words, are a design problem. Certain streets are designed to kill,” writes Schmitt.
Schmitt enumerates concentrated places of pedestrian death across the U.S. Accounts from bereaved family members—often who are now pedestrian safety activists—and words from municipal and academic authorities, all provide hope for change that Schmitt builds upon.
Potential solutions are never far away in this book. New York City authorities overhauled Queens Boulevard, (known by locals as the “Boulevard of Death”), in 2014, after 189 people, mostly pedestrians, were killed in the previous 24 years. The redesign, “was cheap,” $4 million. There were no traffic fatalities on that road for three years after the redesign.
Unfortunately, the forces against bettering the lot of pedestrians have much power. A city councilman-led campaign claiming that extreme slowing of traffic would be drivers’ plight if a pedestrian-accommodating proposal was instituted. This was broadcasted to his 19,000 member social media list in Phoenix Ariz. After which, almost to the last member, the appointed volunteers seated on the Phoenix Complete Streets Advisory Board resigned en masse. They said they were “maligned by developer lobbyists, disrespected by City staff…”
Schmitt provides repeated accounts of excruciating journeys to find solutions that finally pop up as an improvement. Her research is extensive—the components of this story are from many knowledgeable sources across the U.S. In a way, this book is a knock-off of Alexis de Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America’ the 1835 sociological-political-geography study by a French writer observing the new United States of America.
‘Justice for American Pedestrians’ could be the title of this book! Current errant norms across America today can be changed—which Schmitt shows through accounts of a variety of Americans taking hold of and bringing positive change.
And, there is hope for the U.S. news media—as Schmitt bobs the reader back to surface once again. The advocacy treatment of a an especially horrific pedestrian death in East Cleveland Ohio by Fox News 8 provides an outstanding example of how news media can shine.
It stirred Ohio Republican governor Mike DeWine to take a direct role. (He travelled over 200 miles round trip to visit the site of this traffic death, in a ‘ghetto’ suburb, and commiserated with the family who’s loved one was killed).
Pressured by the broader news media attention that followed, soon the Ohio Department of Transportation installed a crosswalk light, which ODOT had negligently removed without replacement some months before.
Schmitt repeatedly operates a narrative that first drops readers into horror, then uplifts readers into humanoid success at improving public health.
Schmitt’s ever wiggling back and forth from horror to solution from horror, reminds me of the minister of a church I attended in my early teens.
In the early 1960s, with my late biological mother Virginia, attended the Sunday adult services at a protestant Christian denomination in Akron O.
Kindly, Mom allowed me to avoid ‘Sunday School,’ which I despised. With her, I sat with the adults. The minister’s preaching style took the congregation down into Hell, then, at just the right moment, brought congregants back up into redemption. To get you out of Hell, you need to be saved. To become a member of the church it was required to be saved twice.
If you have a smidgen of feeling for humankind, Angie Schmitt, in Right of Way, is more or less, like this minister. She joggles the reader loose through a hell-to-redemption roller coaster. As for saving one’s soul a second time, working as an activist to change this, one way or another, may redeem you.
Lee Batdorff has been a pedestrian and bicycle advocate in Cleveland Ohio for many years.
August 30, 2020 – Update – NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with New York Times columnist Charles Blow about efforts by President Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party to appeal to Black men. https://www.npr.org/2020/08/30/907720074/the-gops-effort-to-win-over-black-voters
DURING THE FIRST WEEK OF AUGUST 2020, was when a neighborhood headquarters for the Donald Trump presidential campaign showed up. This according to Michael, a resident of the three-story May-Lee retail and apartment building on the southeast corner of Mayfield and Lee Roads, where this Trump first floor campaign HQ is located—in notoriously liberal Cleveland Heights.
At this prime corner location, first floor display windows are filled with black and white ‘Black Voices for Trump’ signs fronting two major streets, directly across Mayfield Rd. from the architectural award winning Rockefeller Building.
Gary Gross, an old friend, while waiting at the traffic signal in a line of automobiles headed north on Lee Road—snapped photos of these storefront windows and quickly posted them to his Facebook ‘wall.’
I soon found his FB post and immediately went there to see for myself. While spending perhaps half-an-hour on that sidewalk, I watched the reaction to the signs from people driving north on Lee Rd. in close view of the line of black-and-white pro-Trump campaign signs.
I even tried to roust one weary black man sitting in a car at an open passenger window waiting for the light to change. I called out to him, “What do you think of these signs?” He ignored me. Gary’s reaction was atypical of the passersby headed north on Lee Road.
As time passed, I realized hardly anyone in cars headed north on Lee Rd. paid any attention to this close-by display of black-and-white pro-Trump campaign signs.
Perched directly above, in second floor residential windows of the May-Lee building facing Lee Rd. is a peaceful rebuttal in cardboard signs to the first floor multiple-show-window display that is directly below this apartment.
Michael, 31, whose last name shall remain anonymous here, is a white graduate student from Alabama, studying at nearby John Carroll University in the field of psychological counseling. He lives upstairs and was out pushing his baby daughter Charlotte in a pram when we met on the sidewalk in front of the signs.
He insisted that I also see, and photograph, the upper floors of the May-Lee building facing Mayfield Rd. with more peaceful apartment window protest signs against the ‘Black Voices for Trump,’ campaign signs on display in the storefront windows directly below their suites.
Between these two long store front displays is the corner entrance, (1601 Lee Rd.), to the large store floor space used by the Black Voices for Trump popup headquarters. (Located here for decades, until a few years ago, was a family-owned antique furniture store.)
This is a view of the inner workings of this ‘Black Voices for Trump’ campaign headquarters at the southeast corner of the intersection of Mayfield and Lee Roads taken through a Mayfield facing window.
Michael, who often takes his pram-borne daughter on these sidewalks, was happy to answer my questions.
How many people has he seen through the street front windows of this ‘Black Voices for Trump’ HQ retail space in the two weeks of its existence that he witnessed? Michael said twice there were small groups of mixed race visitors, and once, the TV monitor was playing showing only four white people on the TV screen to an empty office.
Two young black women walked up to cross Mayfield Rd. and stopped to admire the baby Charlotte. I asked one of them if she would visit this office. “I would not visit that office,” she said matter-of-factly.
According to a measurement made through Google Maps, the May-Lee intersection is about 400 feet west of the entrance to the old temple building that is now the location of the New Spirit Revival Center. It is led by pastors Drs. Darrell and Belinda Scott.
Darrell Scott was one of the very few black people who spoke to the crowd at Trump’s Republican National Convention held in Cleveland Ohio in August 2016.
I haven’t pursued who is paying for this prime corner retail space and I won’t being visiting there either.
TWO MORE STORIES about the commercial, apartment and institutional district around the Mayfield-Lee intersection:
Summer 1968 The Rockefeller Building
My first job, at $0.90 an hour, was as a 16-year-old soda jerk, making carbonated concoctions, and sandwiches at the lunch counter of the old Streight Pharmacy, a ma and pa operation in the Rockefeller Building on the northeast corner of the Mayfield-Lee intersection. (The space is now a Starbucks store, the last I looked.)
This was during the summer of 1968 with civil disruption over civil rights and the Vietnam War erupting in Cleveland and across the nation.
An older man, a regular customer who always ordered half black coffee and half hot water, along with sandwich and pie—he and I got to talking. The subject turned to the bedlam of the police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that had just happened. He said, “You know some of those kids kicked the cops in the nuts!”
In 1977 or 1978 The old temple building
In my mid-20s, it was my chosen lot to publish an “underground newspaper” during ’77-’80. It had two names, starting with the ‘Coventry Shopping News’ followed by what it grew into, the ‘Cleveland Express.’ The paper’s office in the early days was in my apartment a few city blocks away in Coventry Village.
When I needed ‘camera work’ I’d bicycled over to a ma and pa print shop, (Creative Copy Associates), entered through the corner door of the single floor commercial building on the southwest corner of the Mayfield-Lee intersection across Lee Rd. from the May-Lee building.
(In those days, a couple doors to the west of CCA’s entrance, was the door to the legendary Mayfield Music, owned and operated by Barrington R. “Barry” Weinberg.)
One day I pulled up in front of CCA on the Mayfield Rd. sidewalk intending to lock my bike—when I saw to the east a big crowd of people flowing out onto the sidewalk along the south side of Mayfield Rd.
I rode to the fringe of the crowd in front of what I knew as The Temple on the Heights—B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, (now located in Pepper Pike Ohio).
People kept coming out. The streaming crowd parted under the synagogue’s five high archways and flowed together down the wide stone steps to the sidewalk. I was told it was the funeral for a rabbi.
My late father, Emerson Leland Batdorff was an esteemed journalist working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer in Ohio for almost 40 years. Facts mattered to him. Why did he spend his last years listening religiously to Rush Limbaugh, a betrayer of facts?
Pop was a general reporter, then movie, theater, music and record reviewer, (he said he wasn’t a critic, “because critics are trained”)—finally landing a job he did not want, entertainment editor. His colleagues called him “Bat.”
He was the president of the Cleveland Newspaper Guild Local 1 during the winter 1962 strike against Cleveland’s two dailies, the P.D. and the Cleveland Press. I remember when the strike ended.
While leaving for Harris Elementary School in Akron one morning, I encountered on the front porch, charred and dented, a 55-gallon steel drum used to burn wood pallets to keep the strikers warm.
Pop said if you didn’t have a union, the management would enslave the workers. Around this time he also told me, “If you are going to get ahead in the world you can’t be a bigot.”
“If you are going to get ahead in the world you can’t be a bigot.”
A couple years before, I discovered Pop’s books among his things in his record turntable room, library and workshop in the basement of his parents’ home where we both lived. He had a nice recliner chair there.
I was fascinated to come upon Pop’s basement space at age nine, when I joined him in Akron after living for a year with his brother Merlin, my aunt Elaine and my cousins Susan and Sandy in Tiffin Ohio. Along with the many long-playing records he received free, and kept after reviewing them, was a trunk he brought back from WW II with booty.
There was a shiny stainless steel ceremonial sword and sheath. Its quality was such—with a ball at the end of the handle containing a machined swastika—it could last at least 1,000 years. And I found a big Nazi flag, of the highest quality fabric. Nine year old me had seen movies with Nazis in them by that time and I was inspired to set up a museum in the basement.
I hung the big red, white and black flag with a huge swastika on it against the wall so it confronted someone descending the basement stairs. Pop was away at work when I did this and grandmother Edith said nothing about it. The next day Pop took me aside and told me to take the flag down because the gasman might report us for being Nazis.
Two large picture books of WW II made a deeper impression. I encountered these when I was nine or ten years old. One of them about WW II in general had photos of civilians, young and old, grotesquely tumbled and dead, in public places. The other had a cover with large stark letters: Dachau. It held images of people who looked barely alive.
I thought, “These poor people! What happened to them?” Pop never took me aside and showed me these books. Years before however, when I was six years old, he took me outside our Mogadore Ohio home, pointed to the sky and told me about “Sputnik.”
Years later, in 1966-67, during ninth grade English at Roxboro Jr. High School in Cleveland Heights, (53 years ago at this writing), the teacher Joe McGinnis had nicknames for some of his students. He called me “Emerson’s son, Lee.”
And a few more years later, during the summer of 1970 after graduating from Cleveland Heights High School, just before I went to college, I encountered among my peers three individuals, whose names I do not remember, independently of one another.
They each told me they adopted a habit of avoiding the movies Pop liked and seeing movies he didn’t like.
During that summer the U.S. Selective Service draft was conducted through a lottery. And there were no longer college deferments. The day it happened I was working in the basement of Creative Copy Associates, a ma and pa print shop at the corner of Mayfield and Lee Rds. in Cleveland Heights.
Marilyn and Noel Wines operated the place. Marilyn usually had me on the saddle-stitch machine on the first floor. If that was slow, Noel had me in the basement preparing the executive office.
I was rubbing down wood panel walls with stain on a rag, woozy from the fumes, listening to the lottery live on a radio. My birthdate came up, (I’m not including this date here), and the number assigned to that date came up, (about 350). People who drew 150 or lower had reason to worry about being drafted.
I was free to live my life! Even so I continued going to antiwar demonstrations through 1973 while in college at the University of Cincinnati, and in Washington D.C.
At about 12 years old Pop took me to an afternoon party and troika races held for the several hundred members of the Cleveland Newspaper Guild and their families. Industrialist Cyrus Eaton invited them to his old Northfield Ohio estate. Eaton was an unusual capitalist for those days. He had ties with the Soviet Union, hence the troika races.
Pop was a Republican, the kind that called Barry Goldwater and General Curtis LeMay, who ran for President and Vice President in 1964, “wild eyed rightists.”
A few years after the guild strike, Pop became angry when Democratic Senator Howard Metzenbaum, an expounder of union rights, would not allow the Sun Newspapers, suburban weeklies owned by Metzenbaum, to unionize. Was it then that Pop’s bitterness started?
In the spring of 1967 my ninth grade English teacher staged a student debate about the Vietnam War. I was pro-war. Fifteen years old, I listened to and agreed with Pop. He had been a U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division second lieutenant in World War II and led a platoon into several battles in North Africa and Italy. He was decorated with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
So I was selected to argue the pro-war view while classmate Janet Century, (we live in the same Cleveland Heights neighborhood today), argued the anti-war view.
To build my argument I asked Pop for information supporting the pro-war view, and he provided pro-war literature. Less than a year later I became uneasy about the Vietnam War and my opinion changed. It was three years before he found out that I was attending anti-war demonstrations.
Late in his time at the P.D., Pop wrote an Op/Ed piece about arriving at the Dachau concentration camp near Munich in Germany on April 30th, 1945 the day after U.S. soldiers came upon it. After recovering from being wounded in Italy, he was assigned to the regimental history unit, and he visited Dachau in that capacity.
“I was a tourist there,“ he wrote. “I didn’t have to go there. It was the worst I saw in the war. I wondered why I was there. Now I know why!” It was to counter the holocaust deniers, “I can say, ‘I saw it with my own eyes!’”
Throughout most of his retirement, Pop, wearing his Veterans of Foreign Wars cap (VFW Post 10235), marched in the annual Memorial Day Parade and sold poppies to crowds in Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland.
During his last five years the subject of the Vietnam War came up between us. He volunteered, “I was never for that war.” I did not have the heart to remind him of our history together concerning the Vietnam War.
Pop had been consuming Rush Limbaugh broadcasts for some time by then. Still my father didn’t completely follow the homophobic Limbaugh message.
In the early 2000s Pop told me that gay people should be able to marry on the pretext that married people are more stable for society than unmarried people.
Some things were all personal with Pop. His liberalism on this issue may have been due to a specific situation within the Batdorff family that you can read about in Appendix 1 following this story.
While a brief ray of light occasionally came through, Emerson steadily listened to Limbaugh. (It was years after Pop died when Limbaugh, a renowned draft dodger, once called U.S. troops “welfare queens” and “moochers,” (which Snopeslabeled as satire.))
His wife and my late-stepmother Judith and I agreed that Limbaugh was too cynical and angry for us.
He and I talked regularly throughout most of my adult life. Once he said something to the effect, “All we are getting from the Federal government are curb cuts on street corners!” He was vehement, speaking in a wounded (petulant?) tone not unlike Limbaugh’s tone.
Pop told me, “While there are some very intelligent black people, most of them are not smart,” and “Humans are not causing global warming.” Decades before, he told me, “There are too many people in the world.” In his last years he did not recognize he was engaged in cognitive dissonance.
A veteran Ohio journalist, Mary Anne Sharkey, recently told me she knew Limbaugh in the early days of his broadcast career. She said it was a joke-filled period before the discussion on his show turned bitterly serious.
My father retired from the P.D. in 1985 and The Rush Limbaugh Show hit AM and FM radio in 1988. Did Pop catch Limbaugh’s initial joking-around period, then get swept along with Limbaugh’s plummet into bitterness?
During three sweet years from 1985 when my father retired and the onset of Limbaugh in ’88, Pop wrote and published two stitch stapled copier printed memoirs of his early days in Cleveland and Akron titled, Life Through the Eyes of Emerson Batdorff, volumes one and two. It is unlikely that any public library has these volumes.
In 1994 the Smithsonian Institution planned an exhibit about the nuclear bombings of Japan that played up that this was only the start of nuclear weapons capacity around the world and the threat that posed. Some members of Congress and many U.S. veterans groups criticized it.
The Smithsonian responded by removing the part about the nuclear arms race and removing some photos of humans done-in by nuclear blasts in Japan. The exhibit was reworked with a “vastly revise(d) estimate of how many casualties might have resulted if the bombs had not been used had the United States had invaded Japan (with the U.S. military) instead,” according to an Oct. 1, 1994 New York Times article.
For his part Pop, in a fit of pique that I witnessed in my early 40s, canceled his subscription to the Smithsonian Magazine.
On his 86th birthday in late Dec. 2004, I gave Pop a copy of Kevin Phillips’ book American Dynasty, about the Bush family. I said that Mr. Phillips was Richard Nixon’s political strategist in 1968 and had since become an Independent, breaking off from the Republicans.
Pop started suffering debilitating strokes one week into January 2005. He could no longer link printed words together and arrive at meaning. I borrowed comic books from a public library and Pop still couldn’t make head-nor-tail of the stories.When I looked at the book after Pop died on May 14, 2005, his copy of American Dynasty held a bookmark at page 62.
Every time I visited Pop during his last months, he sat hunched over in the living room, an earphone from his Sony Walkman radio in one ear, listening to Rush Limbaugh.
At my eulogy for him in front of a crowd of about 100, mostly co-workers, at his funeral at the Federated United Church of Christ in Chagrin Falls, I did not speak of this.
Instead I told of Pop’s last ride, to a hospital in an ambulance—which happened to the day—60 years after VE Day.
Pop was in Stuttgart Germany on Victory in Europe Day. He and some U.S. army buddies commandeered a jeep and drove many miles to get into the Bavarian Alps and visit Adolph Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, (Kehlsteinhaus), where the German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler vacationed and posed for photographs. On May 8, 1945 it was a bombed out shell.
There, Pop drank wine, found in the “servant’s wine cellar,” with American and French soldiers while looking out from the famous Eagle’s Nest veranda, at spectacular mountain peaks!
Lee Batdorff is a retired newspaper reporter, freelance writer and custodian; Joyce Brabner is the IT consultant; and Douglas Wist is the copy editor. They live in Cleveland Heights.
Appendix 1 of 3
In about the year 1903 near Akron Ohio my late grandfather and Emerson’s father, Thomas Batdorff, at 10 years old, was employed as a “shabbos goy.” He lit kitchen stoves for Jewish families in his neighborhood on Saturday mornings.
It so happened, as custodian of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland on Lancashire Rd. in Cleveland Heights in 2003, I was employed to wheel in and out of the church sanctuary a tall, curtained, glass-front repurposed dish display cabinet on casters. It was an ark that contained a Torah.
I was hired as a “Shabbos goy” for Chevra Tikvah, a synagogue that rented the UUSC’s sanctuary every other Friday night. (I called it, “the only gay and lesbian temple for miles around.”) When I told him, Pop became proud that, in my early 50s, I was a Shabbos goy as his father had been a century earlier.
Eventually Chevra Tikvah became part of the reform synagogue Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple on Fairmont Blvd. in Beachwood.
Appendix 2 of 3
June 6, 1951 – Report of Separation From the Armed Forces of the United States for Emerson Batdorff.