Books

November 14, 1957 – Apalachin Mafia Summit Bust

Home of Joseph Barbara, Apalachin, New York. Photo: Gordon Rynders, New York Daily News

Home of Joseph Barbara, Apalachin, New York. Photo: Gordon Rynders, New York Daily News

On November 14, 1957 approximately 100 key Mafia bosses, advisors, and their bodyguards converged on Apalachin, New York to meet at the 53-acre estate of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara.  On the agenda: resolve conflicts among the families of La Cosa Nostra (the American version of the Sicilian Mafia) regarding gambling, casinos, local and international narcotics smuggling and dealing, garment industry rackets (manufacturing and loansharking), trucking, labor and unions, and other operational issues.  Recent hits and attempted hits on leaders of individual families also needed attention to prevent all-out war, particularly between the Genovese, Scalice, and Anastasia factions.

Edgar Croswell, a local New York trooper, had grown curious about Barbara estate activities after several suspicious encounters with previous guests.  Learning that many local motel rooms were being reserved by Barbara’s son, he started keeping a close eye on the residence.  As the luxury cars and limos flocked to Barbara’s house, state police began taking down license plate numbers.  Background checks revealed the presence of known criminals, reinforcements were called in, road blocks were set up, and eventually a lot of expensive tailoring was ruined as mob bosses and underlings tried to escape into the brush.  Guns and $100 bills were scattered across the hillside, continuing to turn up for months afterward.

Joseph Barbara

Joseph Barbara. Photo: Geocities/Organized Crime Syndicates website

Fifty-eight men were apprehended, roughly fifty escaped.  Among those consigned to the “paddy wagon”: top figures Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Profaci, and Joseph Bonanno.  Their explanation that the gathering was a “get-well-soon” coffee clatch for Barbara went over like a set of cement overshoes.  Up to this point, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had been reluctant to admit the existence of organized crime in America.  The Apalachin summit bust made the syndicate and its influence painfully clear, and Hoover responded by creating the “Top Hoodlum Program” to pursue Cosa  Nostra bosses throughout the country.

The Apalachin summit of “Who’s Who” in 1957 American, Canadian, and Italian mafiosi inspired many portrayals in books and film.  A version of the event appeared in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Returns, and was also referred to in Hollywood’s Goodfellas and Analyze This.

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Vintage 1957 – Discovery of the Mysterious Vinland Map

Vinland Map. Photo source: Yale University Press, Yale University.

Vinland Map. Photo source: Yale University Press, Yale University.

In the fall of 1957, rare manuscript dealer Laurence Claiborne Witten II, of New Haven, Connecticut, stumbled upon the cartographic find of the century. He was browsing in the antiquarian shop of Nicolas Rauch, a rarities dealer in Geneva, when he discovered two vellum documents bound together which appeared properly ancient and highly intriguing. One was a map and one was a text, both on old vellum, and both incorporating seemingly authentic pigments, watermarks, wormholes, and symbols. The bound volume seemed to date from 1430 to 1450. The map displayed the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. It also included Greenland and portions of the coastline of Canadian North America which were startlingly accurate for the time period. And beyond this – the map indicated that Vikings had in fact visited that Canadian coastline between 985 and 1001. If the map were authentic, it would topple Italian Christopher Columbus’ claim to fame as the discoverer of the new world.

That little word “if” developed into a decades-long quest, drawing in all manner of experts in the field of geography, cartography, and ancient documents. Big guns from Yale University and the British Museum and many other research facilities have weighed in over the years. The map came to be known as the Vinland Map, since the Vikings had coined that name for the farthest reaches of their explorations to North American shores.

Simon Garfield gives us a lively view into the discovery of and controversy surrounding the Vinland Map in his delicious collection of geographic tales, On the Map. He translates the highly technical and esoteric investigations of the map into an accessible whodunit, charting the course of ups and downs, excitement and disappointment, thrills and chills. Debate on the provenance and meaning of the map continues. The bottom line? it’s all in the ink, and the experts don’t agree.

Who discovered America First? Columbus? Leif/Erik/Ragnar? I know, I know – my hand’s in the air! It was the ancestors of the Inuits who crossed the (now-submerged) land bridge from Siberia millennia ago.

Where Were They Then? – Ben Bradlee

Ben Bradlee at Newsweek's Washington bureau, late 1950s. Photo: Mike Lien, The New York Times-Redux

Ben Bradlee at Newsweek’s Washington bureau, late 1950s. Photo: Mike Lien, The New York Times-Redux

Benjamin Crowninshield “Ben” Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post, was a towering figure in American journalism with a rich family history (literally and figuratively) and a broad experience of life and the world. His family relations and close friendships included Old World royalty and New World privilege. He moved among people who made the news and then made sure they were the news. He is best known for giving Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein free rein to follow the slim story of the Watergate Apartments break-in to its damning conclusion, ultimately bringing down President Richard M. Nixon and radically remaking the journalism profession for all who followed. Bradlee not only served his country by pursuing the truth, he also served in the Pacific during World War II as an naval intelligence officer. He participated in numerous operations including the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle ever fought. After the war, Bradlee immediately started on his career as a reporter for the New Hampshire Sunday News, Newsweek, and the Washington Post.

Where was Ben in 1957? Through a connection at the Post, Bradlee had been assigned to the United States French embassy in 1951 as a press attaché. There he joined the staff of the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange (USIE), which produced Pro-American films, magazines, research, speeches, and news items for use by the CIA throughout Europe (propaganda, if you like). Bradlee’s official role with USIE ended in 1953 and he began reporting for Newsweek in 1954.

In 1956, Ben interviewed members of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN), or National Liberation Front of Algeria. The FLN was a socialist political party with a revolutionary guerilla arm fighting to liberate colonial Algeria from control by France. The war of liberation lasted from 1954 until 1962, when the French government agreed to a cease-fire, Algerian independence, and mutual cooperation between the two countries.

As a  American resident of France, working as a foreign correspondent, Bradlee’s contact with Algerian forces was not looked upon favorably by the French authorities. His background in intelligence raised red flags – was he really just a reporter for Newsweek, or was something else going on? A biographer of Post publisher Katharine Graham, Deborah Davis, later described Bradlee’s actions in 1956 as having “all the earmarks of an intelligence operation.” “I flew back to Paris, and next morning went to see Ambassador Dillon to let him know what I had been up to in Algeria,” Bradlee wrote in The Good Life: Newspapers and Other Adventures, his 1995 memoir. “When I got back to my office on the Rue de Berri in a taxi, I was suddenly surrounded by cops and black Citroens. Two cops got me by the elbows, lifting me off the pavement, and asked me to come along with them.”

Bradlee’s recent marriage to Antoinette Pinchot added to the suspicion. Toni was closely tied to two CIA figures in France – her brother-in-law Cord Meyer, and James Jesus Angleton, the husband of a good friend. Ben and Toni’s circle of connections seemed to indicate that Bradlee might have been doing more with the FLN than taking notes.

Consequently, Bradlee was no longer welcome in France. He returned to Washington in 1957 and continued working at Newsweek. Ben and Toni bought a house in the prestigious Washington, DC suburb of Georgetown. Very soon after, a new power couple moved in down the street: Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline. “I was on a roll being in the right place at the right time, a luck that stayed with me,” Bradlee wrote in The Good Life. For Bradlee, the year 1957 was the year he put his career on a fast track. Building an intimate friendship with future-President Kennedy would ultimately boost Ben’s professional credentials and provide insights and access into the halls of government.

Four years later, Newsweek was bought by the Washington Post. Bradlee played an instrumental role in the acquisition. Now at the Post, Ben moved up the ladder to become “the most lauded and influential American journalist of his era.”

October 10, 1957 – Ayn Rand’s Philosophic “Atlas Shrugged” Published

On October 10, 1957, Ayn Rand’s dystopian novel, Atlas Shrugged, appeared in American bookstores.  The fourth and final book by Rand, who cited Victor Hugo and Fyodor Dostoyevsky among her influences, explored the possible consequences on the fabric of society of a strike by its most creative and productive minds.  Rand called the thousand-page-plus book a mystery novel, “not about the murder of man’s body, but about the murder – and rebirth – of man’s spirit”.  Her goal for the book , she said, was “to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them”, while also showing “what happens to a world without them”.

In the world of the novel, whose working title was The Strike, government is taking ever-increasing control over people and industry.  Individual creativity and contribution to commerce is discouraged, the country and people are stagnating.  Men and women of learning decide to withdraw their inventions, ideas, artistic creations, and abilities as leaders – to go on a “strike of the mind” rather than have their work appropriated and exploited by the government.  Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is fleshed out in the story of heroine Dagny Taggert and mystery man John Galt.  Objectivism advocated for the use of human reason, individualism, and the market economy.  It set high value on man’s reason as necessary for survival, and on a code of ethics including rationality in practice, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride.  It was entirely opposed to Marxism, the Labor theory of value, fascism, socialism, and communism.  Any collectivism, with government control of society, was fatally flawed and would lead to societal melt-down.  A society which champions individual achievement and enlightened self-interest will produce the best living conditions – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – for all.

Atlas Shrugged was popular with the reading public.  It debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list at #6 and remained on the list for 21 weeks (spending six weeks in slot #4).  But reviewers were critical.  “An homage to greed”, “shot through with hatred”, and “nearly perfect in its immorality” appeared in print regarding what Rand considered her magnum opus.  Other commentators accused the book of being sophomoric and “remarkably silly”, asking “Is it a nightmare?  Is it Superman – in the comic strip or the Nietzschean version?”  Positive reviews, significantly fewer in number, applauded it as a “profound political parable”, comparing it to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in importance.

Controversy over Atlas Shrugged continues to this day.  The results of a poll of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century conducted by publishing company Modern Library in 1998 vividly illustrates the disparate view of the novel by the literary world and the general public.  While in survey results readers rated Atlas Shrugged #1, the Modern Library list-makers (made up of authors and scholars) refused to include the book at all.  Ayn Rand might find in this snub some confirmation of her unique and fervently-expressed views.

Intrigued by Atlas Shrugged, I decided to buy the Kindle version (what would Ayn Rand think of Jeff Bezos?) and take a another look. I made it all the way through the book’s approximately 1170 pages when I was in my twenties. Very little of its content had stayed with me. Hoping that – wondering if – I could get a sense of Rand’s message with abbreviated reading, I created my own 1957 Time Capsule Condensed Version. Atlas Shrugged is divided into three roughly equal-length sections: “Part One – Non-Contradiction;” “Part Two – Either-Or;” and “Part Three – A is A.” I decided to read the first chapters of each section and the novel’s concluding paragraph, four chapters in all. This amounted to 136 pages. It was a slog.

With condensed reading, it’s possible or maybe likely that I missed essential material and nuance. Rand’s style, however, doesn’t seem to involve nuance and she hammers her points home thoroughly and at great length. Her metaphors and symbols are reinforced to within an inch of their literary life. Her main point, in my own words, is that the highest human good is the full individual expression of each unique person’s excellence. A community of strong, committed, passionate, industrious people, each contributing their full share to the whole, would provide the best possible world to live in. Rand is a utopian and social engineer. In her view, the greatest drags on society are the individuals who just want to “get by.” They are happy with average, feel entitled to a share of the community’s goods just by virtue of belonging to the community, and don’t want to take undue risks, stir the waters, etc. Rand sees people like these as parasites and the innovators and achievers as heroes. She stresses that one of the greatest harms one person can do to another is to have pity on them, to indulge in charity, and sacrifice on their behalf. This is enabling behavior and holds the achievers back unfairly, while preventing the underlings from developing to their potential.

Here’s my $64,000 question: What about the people who, for reasons physical or mental or emotional, aren’t able to substantially contribute to the community? What happens to the fragile individuals who are dependent physically, emotionally, or socially on the grace of others? What would happen to a potential child of Rand’s main characters, John Galt and Dagny Taggert, if he or she were born with a disability?

This leads to my key objection to Rand’s philosophy. Each person in the community will have a unique talent and capacity to contribute. Who decides what each person’s talent and capacities are? Who decides whether each person is living up to their potential? Do you see it? We’re heading for tyranny. If each of us were discouraged from deciding for ourselves about charitable giving and supporting someone we feel is in need, then who decides which individuals are in need and gives us the go-ahead to help them? Taken to its logical conclusion, Ayn Rand’s worldview requires a society of perfect people, or a society of humans with a perfect, all-powerful ruler. Not going to happen. Just my opinion.

October 7, 1957 – Time’s People in the News

On October 7, 1957, the weekly installment of Time magazine included their regular feature on the doings of famous movers-and-shakers, the People column.  During a week which included continuing reports of the forced integration of – and military presence at –  Little Rock Central High School, and the announcement of the USSR’s launch of Sputnik 1, the American public probably enjoyed a lighter moment catching up on high-society and high-celebrity.  Some of the high-points:

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Ernest and Mary Hemingway in Venice, 1954.

“With plenty of works in progress but no finished manuscript under his arm, Novelist Ernest Hemingway arrived incognito with wife Mary at a midtown Manhattan hotel for a quiet holiday far from his Cuban finca.  Meanwhile, two short stories, the first new Hemingway fiction to be published since The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, were being put to bed for the centennial issue of the Atlantic, which will be out at the end of October.  Apparently stemming from the experience Hemingway underwent when he was temporarily blinded after his plane crash in Africa in 1954, the stories are paired under the title “Two Tales of Darkness”.

“Following the long antarctic night, the sun rose over the U.S. base at the South Pole last week, and Polar Explorer Paul Siple (Time cover, Dec. 31, 1956) led 17 scientists and servicemen into the open for the reveille that comes there technically only once every six months.  With the temperature at a numbing  minus 88°F and an 18-knot wind blowing across the polar wastes, the ceremonial hoisting of Old Glory turned out to be about the most frenzied since the famed planting of the flag under fire at Iwo Jima.”

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LOS ANGELES – OCTOBER 10: Singer Frank Sinatra and actress Lauren Bacall attend a party for the musical ‘Pal Joey’ on October 10, 1957 in Los Angeles, California.

“In seclusion since the death last January of Cinemactor Humphrey Bogart, his widow, Cinemactress Lauren Bacall, was stepping out with an old family friend, Cinemactor Frank Sinatra.  Lauren was recently draped on Frankie’s arm for the Las Vegas premiere of his new movie The Joker is Wild, last week went along with him to a closed-circuit telecast of the Sugar-Ray Robinson – Carmello Basilio fight in a Hollywood theater from which they emerged looking as happy as if they had bet on Winner Basilio.  But though Hollywood gossips buzzed, both Lauren and Frankie denied a wedding is in the wind.”

Eleanor Roosevelt guides visiting Nikita Khrushchev through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, September 18, 1959. Photo: US National Archives & Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain

Eleanor Roosevelt guides visiting Nikita Khrushchev through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, September 18, 1959. Photo: US National Archives & Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain

“Describing the Russian people as ‘wonderful’, Globetrotter Eleanor Roosevelt, 72, climaxed her first trip to the Soviet Union by interviewing Communist Boss Nikita S. Khrushchev for almost three hours at his summer villa on the Black Sea near Yalta.  ‘War is unthinkable,’ Khrushchev told Mrs. Roosevelt, who called the hard-drinking, explosive Soviet leader ‘a cordial, simple, outspoken man who got angry at certain spots and emphasized the things he believed.’  But when Khrushchev accused her of hating Communists, Mrs. Roosevelt quickly replied: ‘Oh no, I don’t.  I don’t hate anybody.  I don’t believe in Communism as an ideological way of life.'”

October 3, 1957 – “Howl” Ruled Not Obscene

Beat Museum Poster. Image: Coloribus, Grey, San Francisco Ad Agency.

On October 3, 1957, Judge Clayton W. Horn cleared “Howl“, Allen Ginsberg’s poetic paean to the Beat Generation, of obscenity charges.  Ginsberg and “Howl” publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books were out of the legal doghouse and, as far as the United States government was concerned, “Howl” was art, not pornography.  The buying public, however, may have begged to differ.

Ginsberg wrote “Howl” in 1955 and Ferlinghetti had featured it in a collected edition of Ginsberg’s work, published under the title, Howl and Other Poems.  Written in paratactic style, “Howl” chronicled Ginsberg’s life with other poets, radicals, jazz musicians, drug addicts, and psychiatric patients in thinly-veiled, almost hallucinatory language.  Paratactic form uses phrases which follow one on another without defined connection or relationship – something of stream-of-consciousness and with minimal authorial disclosure of pattern or meaning.  The content of “Howl” included Ginsberg’s rants on industrial civilization, glorification of peyote use, frank references both to heterosexuality and homosexuality, and proclamations that cultural nonconformists and drop-outs were the “best minds of my generation”.  Ginsberg cited poet William Carlos Williams and fellow Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac as his inspirations.

The poem began as a performance piece, debuting at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955.  Ferlinghetti published “Howl” shortly thereafter.  The legal machinery leading to the obscenity trial was set in motion when 520 copies of the London-printed poem were seized by customs officials on March 25, 1957.  The American Civil Liberties Union supported Ferlinghetti’s trial defense, and details of the case and Judge Horn’s ruling that “Howl” was of “redeeming social importance” were widely publicized.  Articles appeared in both Time and Life magazines, and Jake Ehrlich, Ferlinghetti’s lead attorney, published an account of the trial, titled Howl of the Censor.

Ginsberg called “Howl” his experiment with the “long line”.  Each line of the poem was a single breath unit, “one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath”.  He also referred to the lines as “built on bop – you might think of them as a bop refrain – chorus after chorus after chorus”.  The frequently-quoted opening lines read:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”

September 16, 1957 – Emma Gatewood Walks on the “Wild” Side

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Emma Gatewood on the Appalachian Trail. Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Before there was Cheryl Strayed, there was Emma Gatewood.

On September 16, 1957, Ohio native Emma Gatewood, aged 69, arrived at the 5,270-foot peak of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the 2,050-mile-long Appalachian Trail. Back on April 27, “Grandma” Gatewood had started out from Mount Oglethorpe, Georgia – at the trail’s southern end – equipped with a handsewn denim bag of hiking supplies and a determination to repeat her record-setting trek of 1955. Two years earlier, over the course of five months, Emma had become the first woman to solo thru-hike (travel from start to finish without interruption) the scenic Appalachian Trail.

Grandma Gatewood and Cheryl Strayed – recent thru-hiker of the western-states Pacific Coast Trail and author of the best-selling memoir Wild – had something in common. They were both on a quest. Both took somewhat radical risks to complete their journeys. Both found something on the trail that changed their lives.

Emma Gatewood was born Emma Rowena Caldwell on a farm in Gallia County, Ohio, one of 15 siblings. She did her share of chores, including hoeing, planting, worming tobacco, milking, washing, and cooking. When persuasive P.C. Gatewood insisted on marriage, she consented and went on to birth her own farming family of 11 children. P.C. was not the husband young Emma had hoped for. They had a stormy relationship, witnessed by the children, in which P.C. physically abused Emma.

Sometime in the early 1950s, her family grown and gone, Emma read an article in National Geographic about Earl V. Shaffer, the first man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Emma found this an irresistible challenge. She, a woman, could do that, too! And – in spite of her bad knees, bunions, false teeth, and feeling blind without her glasses – she did.

An abortive but instructive attempt in 1954 was followed by her successful traverse in the summer of 1955. Emma enjoyed meeting residents along the way from Georgia to Maine, often hiking out for food, temporary shelter, and the finer things like a shower and bug spray. She traveled light, carrying no more than 15 pounds of trail basics stuffed in a bag thrown over her shoulder. Emma tried to avoid predators like bears and rattlesnakes, and pesky critters like mice, black flies, mosquitos, and reporters. She was constitutionally no-nonsense and tended to believe that people could do a whole lot more than they thought. “The hardest part of hiking the Appalachian Trail,” like so many other challenges in life, she told her son Nelson, “was simply making up your mind to do it.” If Emma had worn a button, it might have read, “No Pantywaists!”

Acclaim came Emma’s way during and after her 1955 adventure. She appeared on NBC’s “Today” with Dave Garroway, “The Art Linkletter Show,” and Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life.” Reporters for countless newspapers and magazines dogged her steps and lauded her achievements. What led her to the 1957 repeat? The quiet trail, nature, the sense of a spiritual connection beckoned. “The petty entanglements of life are brushed aside like cobwebs,” Emma wrote in her trail journal. Plus, no woman had ever done it twice!

Cheryl Strayed went “wild” on the PCT in an attempt to recover from her mother’s death. Stuck in protracted grief, she found herself unable to move on in life. She was young, had many years ahead of her, and needed to find a new normal. Emma Gatewood walked into AT history as a woman of age and maturity, after her immediate responsibilities to her family were over. The limitations of an abusive husband and small children to raise, and the cultural expectations imposed on women of her generation may have sat too heavily and fit too closely on her small but sturdy frame. When she could set them aside, she did, and set out to discover in the most basic sense what she was capable of.

How capable was she? After her AT thru-hikes in 1955 and 1957, Emma walked 2000 miles of the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon (my birthplace!) in 95 days during the Trail’s centennial year celebration in 1959. She attempted a third AT passage in 1960, but heavy-weather damage to the trail diverted her course through other trails in Pennsylvania, New York  Massachusetts, Vermont, and Canada. She climbed several peaks in the Adirondack Range, and successfully completed a third traverse of the AT in 1964. She was personally instrumental in creating several sections of Ohio’s treasured Buckeye Trail.

Emma died in 1973, but her memory lives on as an inspiration to all that, in the words of (fellow Mount Katahdin-climber) Henry David Thoreau, “If one advances confidently in the direction of [her] dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [she] has imagined, [she] will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Fox Searchlight Pictures is bringing Cheryl Strayed’s Wild to the big screen, starring Reese Witherspoon, on December 5th. A documentary of Emma Gatewood’s life, created by FilmAffects and WGTE/PBS Toledo, is in the works, slated for airing next spring. Fundraising to bring Emma to our small screens continues, spearheaded by Bette Lou Higgins and Kelly Boyer Sagert of Eden Valley Enterprises. Let’s make sure Grandma Gatewood has her moment in digital-celluloid history.