Eric on The Road

Journeys into the offbeat, off the beaten path, overlooked and forgotten - by Eric Model

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

June at

This month's "Letter From The Road" Newsletter: Marking 50 years of the interstate highway system....A look at some of the less publicized sports being played - unique games at that: pig races, sand soccer, and midnight baseball.....A notorious
lady named Lou who is recalled and celebrated each year.... the origins of
flag day....A look in the rear view mirror at the story of the Lincoln
Highway......A trip to an American Place called "Hell";........A
recipe to share... Some new books that may change your perception of
Appalachia and our segment called "American Words"
and more at "On the Road Corner"

Also June & July regional highlights, "Around America" and profiled links...


Monday, May 29, 2006

Assorted Memorial Day Observations

With celebrations, warehouse sales and even fireworks, one wonders if anyone cares to remember the "memorial" in Memorial Day anymore.

If you are looking for a jump-start to put you in the right frame of mind, may we refer you to three sources:

* A moving and powerful multimedia slide show to be found at or in picture in the Sunday, May 29, New York Times in the "Week in Review": Tending to the Tombs of the Known....It is the rare undertaker or priest who sees as many coffins in a day as the soldiers who make up the Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery".

* Rolling Thunder: A Moving Tribute to MIAs: Each Memorial Day, the bikers of "Rolling Thunder" ride their motorcycles into the nation's capital to call attention to soldiers still missing in action. The tribute raises consciousness... and money... for veteran's causes. NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday's Producer Ned Wharton and sound engineer Daniel Shukhin put together an audio postcard from this year's event.

* Editorial - "Remembering and Forgetting", New York Times, Editorial Page, May 29, 2006:

* "Now, Memory Fails Us - Something Has Gone Terribly Wrong With the Statues of Monumental Washington", By Paul Richard, The Washington Post; Sunday, May 28, 2006; Page N01:

Friday, May 26, 2006

Remembering on Memorial Day - But What & Why Now ?

As heard on the radio, we've been contemplating Memorial Day.

We have read and heard much about how the meaning of Memorial Day has increasingly become forgotten. In 2002 the VFW stated in a Memorial Day address that "Changing the date (of Memorial Day in 1971 to a floating date)merely to create three day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt this has contributed to the public's general nonchalant observance of Memorial Day".

But a look back into history has revealed to us that there never really was a clear meaning for the day.

The origins of the day are in dispute and over the years just what we are remembering has changed too.

Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the early cities creating a memorial day include Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances eventually coalesced around Decoration Day honoring the Union dead and the several Confederate Memorial Days.

Professor David Blight, of the Yale University History Department, has suggested that the first memorial day was held by liberated slaves at the historic race track in Charleston in 1865. The race track, which was used as a Confederate prison during the war, was the site of a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captives. A parade with thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers was followed by patriotic singing and a picnic.

The official birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York. The village was credited with being the birthplace because it observed the day on May 5, 1866, and each year thereafter, and because it's likely that the friendship of General John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General John A. Logan, who led the call for the day to be observed each year and helped spread the event nationwide, was a key factor in its growth.

General Logan had been impressed by the way the South honored their dead with a special day and decided the Union needed a similar day. Reportedly, Logan said that it was most fitting; that the ancients, especially the Greeks, had honored their dead, particularly their heroes, by chaplets of laurel and flowers, and that he intended to issue an order designating a day for decorating the grave of every soldier in this land, and if he could he would have made it a holiday. That holiday was eventually Memorial Day. ( and

Logan had been the principal speaker in a citywide memorial observation on April 29, 1866, at a cemetery in Carbondale, Illinois, an event that likely gave him the idea to make it a national holiday. On May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' organization, Logan issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" be observed nationwide. It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year. The tombs of fallen Union soldiers were decorated in remembrance of this day.

Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army, which it was commemorating. Many Southern States did not recognize Memorial Day until after World War I, and even after continued to have a separate Confederate Memorial Day, with the date varying from state to state.

The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882, but did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967.

On June 28, 1968, the United States Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved four holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The holidays included Washington's Birthday (which evolved into Presidents' Day), Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day; ironically most corporate businesses no longer close on Columbus or Veterans Day and an increasing number are staying open on Presidents Day as well. The law took effect in 1971 at the federal level. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply at the state level, all fifty states adopted the measure within a few years. Veterans Day was eventually changed back to its traditional date. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May.

Unsurprisingly, given its origin in the American Civil War, Memorial Day is not a holiday outside the US. Because of its origins from World War I, countries of the Commonwealth, France, and Belgium, remember members of the military who died in war on or around Remembrance Day, November 11. The United States uses the same date as Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day) and honors all veterans, living and dead. In Ireland, National Day of Commemoration commemorates all Irish men and women who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations.

These days, Memorial Day is mostly celebrated as "The Unofficial Start of Summer". Barbecues, store sales and family/neighbor visits are highlights.

But there are places to be found where the observances are still meaningful. For example, at Depoe Bay, Oregon this year marks the 61st annual "Fleet of Flowers" Following the on-shore ceremony at Depoe Bay Harbor, the fleet of flower laden boats passes under the spectator lined Highway 101 bridge. As they proceed through the channel into the ocean, they pass the Coast Guard boat and then form a circle within sight of shore. The floral tributes are then cast onto the water, as a Coast Guard helicopter lowers itself into the center of the circle and drops a wreath.
The first Fleet of Flowers in 1945 paid tribute to Depoe Bay fishermen Roy Bower and Jack Chamber, who in 1936 lost their lives in an effort to save others in trouble at sea.

Other meaningful Memorial Day events may be found at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC and in the many town and village squares across the nation, such as in my home town of River Edge, NJ. They may be small, unsophisticated and mainly ritualistic. But at times, if you just take the time to look and listen, you can found impact, emotion and meaning - especially if you can still find the now rapidly disappearing veteran from World War II. They represent a time and place so important but whose voice is becoming increasingly softer and distant.

For more on the topic, consider these links:

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Studs Terkel & Bob Edwards

There are national monuments such as Mount Rushmore, the Statute of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial. Then there are monuments mainfested in living, breathing persons. Two of my favorites spoke together not long ago.

Radio host Bob Edwards interviewed the great Studs Terkel at Politics and Prose in Washington. The interview can be seen on C-SPAN's website - Go to "American Perspectives" and scroll to the April 8 program. The Studs-Bob interview starts approximately one hour 45 minutes into the three hour program. By the way, also in this program can be found an enlightening appearance at the Jimmy Carter Library & Museum by former Vice President Walter Mondale. It is interesting to get his take on what's going on in Washington and the world these days. Together from Mondale and Studs you get a unique perspective that actually ties the dots from where we have been to where we are (and where we should be).

Worth the effort.

See the program at

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Should We Think of Them as Clark and Lewis?

From NPR's Weekend Edition - Saturday, May 20, 2006 · The Lewis and Clark National Bicentennial Exhibition makes its final stop this summer at the Smithsonian Institution's Natural History Museum. Author Landon Jones says Lewis gets the most attention, but Clark shaped the voyage... and the West.

Two Texas Counties Consider Raising Speed Limit

From NPR's Weekend Edition - Saturday, May 20, 2006 · At a time when many Americans are trying to use less gasoline, two West Texas counties may increase their speed limit to 80 miles per hour.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

PBS Program on how 'Nat King Cole Show' Challenged TV's Race Line

From NPR News:

The Nat King Cole Show debuted in 1956, making singer and jazz pianist Nat "King" Cole the first black man to host a nationally televised variety program.

The crooner's singing and television career is the subject of an American Masters documentary debuting on PBS Wednesday night (May 17). The show details how Cole reluctantly challenged segregation on television and in American society, but decide after a little more than one year later on the air to end the show for lack of a corporate sponsor.

The show featured some of the era's biggest stars sharing the stage with Cole, who was himself one of the top talents of his day. But television executives, wary of a backlash from an America still deeply divided along racial lines, took pains to put distance between Cole and his white female guests.

Courtesy to NPR - for moe go to:
or go to:

Red, Blue Divisions in US Nothing New, Says Harvard Study

Much has been written over the past few years about how the U.S. is evolving into a country divided between "red" states and "blue" states, with states becoming more politically and spatially divided than they have been in the past.

However, the New York Times (Hal R. Varian in "Economic Scene") recently reported a study by two Harvard economists that challenged this conventional wisdom.

In a working paper, "Myths and Realities of American Political Geography", Edward L. Glaser and Bryce A. Ward examined a number of contemporary and historical data sources on cultural, religious, economic and political attitudes and compared these responses across states.

They found differences in political attitudes across states nothing new: The Civil War and Roaring Twenties had much larger geographic variation in political view than today. They also found that America is not becoming more polarized. But they do describe the increased role of religion, a role more in line with the long-term past of the nation than its recent past. In addition, they describe the importance of cultural and religious attitudes in voting behavior.

It makes for interesting and thought provoking reading.

New York, Times, Thursday, May 4, C3

The paper can be downloaded from

Friday, May 12, 2006

Heard on the Radio: On Mothers & Frogs

As heard on the radio:


Contrary to conventional wisdom, Hallmark Cards did not create Mother's Day.In fact the story is far more interesting and grass- roots than you might think

The first celebrations in honor of mothers were held in the spring in ancient Greece. They paid tribute to Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. During the 17th century, England honored mothers on "Mothering Sunday," celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. In the United States, Julia Ward Howe suggested the idea of Mother's Day in 1872. Howe, who wrote the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, saw Mother's Day as being dedicated to peace. Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia is credited with bringing about the official observance of Mother's Day. Her campaign to establish such a holiday began as a remembrance of her mother, who died in 1905 and who had, in the late 19th century, tried to establish "Mother's Friendship Days" as a way to heal the scars of the Civil War. Two years after her mother died, Jarvis held a ceremony in Grafton, W. Va., to honor her. She was so moved by the proceedings that she began a massive campaign to adopt a formal holiday honoring mothers. In 1910, West Virginia became the first state to recognize Mother's Day. A year later, nearly every state officially marked the day. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed Mother's Day as a national holiday to be held on the second Sunday of May. But Jarvis' accomplishment soon turned bitter for her. Enraged by the commercialism of the holiday, she filed a lawsuit to stop a 1923 Mother's Day festival and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a war mothers' convention where women sold white carnations -- Jarvis' symbol for mothers -- to raise money. "This is not what I intended," Jarvis said. "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit!" When she died in 1948, at age 84, Jarvis had become a woman of great ironies. Never a mother herself, her maternal fortune dissipated by her efforts to stop the commercialization of the holiday she had founded, Jarvis told a reporter shortly before her death that she was sorry she had ever started Mother's Day. She spoke these words in a nursing home where every Mother's Day her room had been filled with cards from all over the world. Today, because and despite Jarvis' efforts, many celebrations of Mother's Days are held throughout the world. Although they do not all fall at the same time, such countries as Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Belgium also celebrate Mother's Day on the same day as the United States.

Source credit: A history of Mother's Day By HOLLY HILDEBRAND Houston Chronicle Interactive


What is it ? It's a yearly celebration of local culture and history held in Conway the first weekend in May (this year marked the 25th anniversary). The name is taken from a colorful phrase coined during the heyday of steamboats on the Arkansas River. It was said of the boat captains and crews that, while passing the time at the local tavern until the water level was high enough to pass, they would "suck on the bottle 'til they swell up like toads." Today the festival's theme is toads, with a toad race called Jump for Education, a Toadmaster, a Toad Dome, and a 20-foot inflatable toad. Other events include music, arts and crafts, a business and professional exposition, races, dancing, and a firemen's competition.


One of our favorite events is the Frog Jumping event at the Caleveras County Fair in Angels Camp, California each Spring.

It is an event inspired by the famous Mark Twain story - The Jumpin' Frog of Calaveras County. Moreover, the frog jump event has history of itself - including controversy and national recognition. Finally, the event itself is a fun activity -whether you are a spectator or frog jockey (I can't speak for the frogs although I am told they are treated in a humane fashion).

We have covered the event and its underlying stories ina number of ways over the past 20 years that we have engaged in writing about things off the beaten path.One of our favorite pieces invloved speaking with frog jockeys abouyt their secrets to a successful jump.

A few years back, organizors assembled their own version of some pointers of frog jumpng. we share their findings with you (Source credit: Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee - www.

Part of the secret to jumping a frog is the approach. Since many jumpers feel that frogs respond to movement and surprise, the frog should be dropped onto the 8-inch pad from a distance. Once the frog has left the launching pad, it is illegal to touch him (or her) again. The jockey must convince the frog to move forward for a total of three hops, ideally in a straight line. As the frog completes its first leap, the jockey follows it through its second and third leaps, each time trying to get it to move forward. Longer jumps occur when the frog has no time to get settled, but rather, completes its three hops in rapid succession. As the frog completes its second and third jumps, a catcher, usually another member of the team, will retrieve the frog with a large fishing net.