Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bagging my 25th Highpoint

HOOSIER HILL-INDIANA OCTOBER 7, 2011 Three days after I bagged the high point of Ohio, I added Hoosier Hill to my list of high points. Hoosier Hill was my 25th High Point. It took me fourteen years to reach the halfway mark of the 50 states but it was worth it. I was staying in Indianapolis so to get there I would have to backtrack eastward via the I-70 freeway to exit 153 in Indiana. Friday, October 7 dawned sunny and hot. The going was a little slow because there was construction where the I-495 beltway meets the I-70 but I slithered through and was soon on open road. The Indiana countryside passed swiftly by as I was jamming to my favorite songs on CD. No special album just a compilation of hits I adored. It took me 80 minutes to get to exit 153. You go up the ramp and make the left turn onto State Route 227, a two-lane blacktop that meanders and undulates for ten miles through rustic Hoosier towns like Middleboro, Whitewater, and Bethel. I had the windows down and had switched off the music. What I beheld was a golden, silent land lined with cornfields and soybeans. Little brick churches emerged to my left or to my right. I saw a stray cemetery. Mostly, though, the land was quiet. There were very few cars on the road. Once I passed through Bethel, I had my eyes peeled out for County-Line Road as the Holmes guidebook advised but when I got there I saw that the name of the road was changed to “1100 S” instead but there was a sign on the road which said “Indiana Hi-Point this way” so I knew I was on the right track. I made the left turn and soon Elliott Road emerged with another sign leading to the high point. It was an anticlimax. There was a copse of woods to the right and suddenly a gravel driveway appeared and I turned right into it and there it was in the clearing in the copse of woods. I was totally alone. No one was stirring around. It was little after 10:00AM and the day was hot and a little humid. I was in no rush. I whipped out my camera and took pictures of everything. I felt an exhilaration; a feeling of appreciation for this quiet nook in the state of Indiana. I beheld Middle America in its rustic splendor. I was seeing an America I had never seen before. In New Jersey one has to go a long way before you enter real country. Suburbia is everywhere. In the Midwest the country begins immediately where the city ends. I had Hoosier Hill all to myself during the forty minutes I stayed there. There is a picnic table, chair, summit register, summit cairn and the commemorative rock that adorns the summit. I saw a flag left by police officers there to commemorate their cause. I performed my usual summit rituals: the trinity of prayers, the picture of me holding the U.S. and Indiana state flags, the usual gag shots. I relaxed and composed my notes for this report. There was a gentle breeze that filtered through the canopy of trees that covered the high point. At one point it blew some of my notes away and I had to scramble to recover them. And when all was done I took one last look around, got in my car, and drove silently back the way I came. I want to thank Candance Lasco and Tom Yost for treating me to breakfast my last day in Indiana. Thank you it was real! God willing and if the world doesn’t come to an end I hope to bag three more highpoints in late May: North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee when I vacation in Asheville, North Carolina. See you at the high points!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Trip Report: Bagging my 24th High Point

CAMPBELL HILL-OHIO OCTOBER 4, 2011 The bagging my 24th highpoint was part of a Midwest driving tour I had been planning on for years. I always wanted to tour the Midwest: visit the state capitols of Ohio and Indiana, see the sites, and bag their highpoints in the process. It took me two days to reach Columbus, Ohio but there was no rush to bag the highpoints just yet. The weather when I got to Columbus was not good and I wanted some sunshine when I did visit Campbell Hill. I got half my wish. Tuesday, October 4, 2011 dawned grey, cloudy, and overcast but not rainy. I was staying at the Red Roof Inn in Hilliard (a suburb west of Columbus). After breakfast and getting washed and dressed (regular clothes no hiking gear) I was on the road a little after 9:00AM. It’s almost an hour drive to Bellefontaine (where Campbell Hill is located). I took 270 North to Route 33 and stayed on 33 all the way to Bellefontaine. The drive was anticlimactic. I passed the time by listening to one of my favorite CDs of all time: World Party’s Goodbye Jumbo (if I was stranded on a desert island and was allowed ten CDs to listen to that would be one of them). While Karl Wallinger wailed in the background I absorbed the Ohio countryside. Ohio is so different from where I live in Southern New Jersey. It doesn’t have the suburbia that the Eastern States have. Where I was driving the country begins where the city ends. There was no in-between. All I saw were cornfields in various states of harvest. No one was really out and about. I was struck by the starkness of the terrain; the absence of elevation; everything sticks out acutely because there is nothing really big (save for silos) to overshadow it. The terrain itself was quite flat with only minor undulations, bumps, and bruises. The fall colors were out already. I discerned yellows and oranges with only a few reds. When the exit for Route 540 came up (signaling where I would turn to go to Campbell Hill) the CD had already finished. In less than a minute I was on 540 and knew I was at the right place. There are hi-point signs all over the area. There is a hi-point church, hi-point offices, and hi-point facilities everywhere. The school loomed large to my right and I turned into the parking lot; my only concern being where to find a parking space. The visitor’s parking lot is at the rear of the school. You make a loop and park your car. It was a weekday and school was in session. I took more time taking pictures of everything that moved around Campbell than it took for me to actually reach the high point. You can see Campbell from the parking lot. You just walk up the loop road to the top and you see the area with the brick walkway, the summit register, and the flag poles. I took more pictures; left my spoor on the summit register; picked up a certificate which states that I stood atop Campbell Hill; and relaxed on the two park benches which face each other atop the hill. The sun still hadn’t come out but I was busy taking more and more pictures: panoramic shots and gag shots. It was nice to bag an easy one after the rough times I had at Maine and Nevada. I wanted to take it easy a little bit and smell the roses. No one was with me atop the summit. The only activity was the groundskeeper mowing the lawn. I walked down and around the base of the hill. When I had gotten all I could get from the experience I used the bathroom at the school and left Campbell Hill around 11:00AM. I didn’t return to Columbus instead I took State Road 68 south to the I-70 and Dayton, Ohio where I spent a glorious afternoon at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB. If you’re mad for vintage airplanes then Wright-Patterson is an absolute must visit. Their airplane collection is larger than the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. I spent the entire afternoon taking picture after picture of World War Two, Korean War, Vietnam war, and experimental aircraft. It was a truly wonderful experience and was a brilliant end to a brilliant day. Oh yes, if you’re staying in Columbus, Ohio, eat at Spageddie’s in Hilliard, a suburb of Columbus. The veal is delicious. See you at the High Points!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Trip Report of my 23rd High Point

MAY 5, 2011

When I started my highpointing career in 1997 I had long envisioned bagging Driskill Mountain in Louisiana as being part of a week’s vacation trip to Vicksburg, Mississippi. And so during the first week of May when I was vacationing in Vicksburg that’s exactly what I did.

Thursday, May 5 was sunny, cloudless, and wonderful. My hotel was right on I-20 and the Mississippi River was less than a minute away.

I left my motel at 9:00AM and was in Louisiana only minutes later. Given the lowness of the terrain, it was pure highway for two hours.

Traffic was light to moderate with only a few cars and trucks on the way. I kept going west while rocking at full volume to a favorite CD compilation I made.

Mostly I absorbed the Louisiana landscape. This was only the second time in my life I had been to the Pelican state. Last time was in 1993 when I spent a joyous and creative and spiritual week in New Orleans. Now I was far north of the Crescent City.

What you see while driving on the I-20 is green; dark green. Grass, swamp, trees. Just green and more green…and more green.

You would see houses and farms but what I saw looked tired and maybe a little depressed.

It wasn’t the same landscape I saw in 1993 when I day-tripped from New Orleans to Oak Alley Plantation. What I saw that time was a stunning tableau of dire Third World poverty: shanty towns, shotgun shacks, African-Americans living in squalid, sullen conditions. If you’ve ever watched the scenes in the movie Easy Rider where Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson enter Louisiana on their way to Mardi Gras you will understand what I mean.

What I saw in 2011 was grim Cajun country: more borderline poverty or perhaps more well-concealed?

I got off at Exit 77 and made my way southwest to Zion church and Driskill Mountain.

The area is heavily wooded and dotted with small ponds or sandy marshes.

The sunlight filtered through the trees and one could see people moving their lawns.

Little country churches were nestled along the road side.

It took what seemed to me a while to find Zion church (although in reality it wasn’t that long).

I was never lost and I knew I was getting closer.

You find Zion church on the right when you come around a bend. The turn off is sudden and you find yourself parked underneath a lovely shade tree in front of the church.

The place was deserted. The church itself was locked up and all I could see was an outhouse in despicable condition.

I organized my shoulder bag and began the hike to the summit of Driskill Mountain.

It takes 20 minutes and you are enveloped by the woods. Sunlight flickered through the green canopy but mostly I was shrouded by the shade (for which I was thankful because the day had become warmer than I expected).

You make the right hand turn for the summit and then you wind around a little bit. The trail was well-marked and obvious to follow.

You ascend gradually and then suddenly you enter a clearing and there it is: a bench, the kiosk and memorial to the late Jack Longacre (founder of the Highpointers Club) and the summit cairn.

I did the now familiar summit rituals. I felt a little giddy. I had failed last year trying to bag Katahdin in Maine but I felt good to be back in the game again bagging Driskill. I had the whole highpoint to myself during the entire time I was there.

I took my pictures; offered my prayers of thanks; and relaxed, savoring the silence and the solitude.

I spent 20 minutes atop Driskill and then made my way back down. When I got back to the car, I took some time at the picnic area of the church composing my notes for this report. It was a little after noon when I left.

I stopped for a snack and a pit stop at this plaza on the I-20.

Earlier in this report I mentioned before I was in Cajun country. No further proof of that was needed when I was talking to the desk attendant. I exchanged pleasantries with him and couldn’t understand a word he said and I don’t mean that condescendingly.

Cajun talk is a lot like trying to talk with a mouth full of cotton.

And yet Southern hospitality was everywhere and I enjoyed that aspect of the trip very, very much.

If you ever are in Vicksburg and are looking for a place to eat, try the Trailside Café. The combined pork and meat platter is to die for. Barbecue at its best.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Song and the story behind the Song "Lighthouse Keeper"

While going through some old computer files, I came across some old songs of mine which I had composed decades ago.

I found this chestnut I wrote around Christmas time 2001. At the time I was working on a lighthouse exhibit where I worked so during the process of putting the exhibit together I managed to learn the terminology that goes along with lighthouses: daymarks, aerobeacons, etc.

I incorporated those terms into the lyrics and came out with this gem. It's one of my faves. Imagine a slow acoustic melody with a harp and an organ being while female voices sing harmony in the background.

The Lighthouse Keeper

I. First Verse
There is a lighthouse in the harbor
Built on piles made of metal
Screwed into rocks laid at the Creation
Without a land-bound connection
It is a beacon of hope and protection
A commitment to mariner’s safety
And the pursuit of life and liberty
An object of faith and purpose
It offers light of power and focus

It is run by a lonesome keeper
Who signed up young and desperate
To escape a life that offered no answers
To questions posed by angry passers-by
He bakes bread cold and unleavened
His hours are 24/7 and the pay is low but he’s not in this for profit
He does his duty for the sake of others
For he answers to no one but himself

And if you should enter the harbor
And, by chance, behold his light?
Would you kindly pay him a visit?
And offer him company and comfort?
And when he repays you in measure
It will certainly do you no harm
To enjoy the pleasure of his presence
And savor the warmth of being in his loving arms

II. Second Verse
The lighthouse is a multi-sided structure
Built in the days of Queen Victoria
It has endured decades of harsh weather
Its daymarks are bright and cheerful
They might even make you laugh
But you know you cannot ignore them
They tell you precisely where you are
At night, the aerobeacon signals “love”
And the fog bell chimes that land is nigh

It is run by a lonesome keeper
Who signed up young and desperate
He has lived a life of service
Sad mornings watching the Morning Star
But he wants some pleasure in his life
The caress of a woman’s fingers
The laughter of playing children
The growth of knowledge and family
The joy of answering to the one he loves

And if you should enter the harbor
And, by chance, behold his light?
Would you kindly pay him a visit?
And offer him company and comfort?
And when he repays you in measure
It will certainly do you no harm
To enjoy the pleasure of his presence
And savor the warmth of being in his loving arms

III. Third Verse
The sea spawns a sailing vessel
That is manned by a battered woman
The wind blows through its riggings
She has been battered by storms unforgiving
She needs a harbor of refuge, a breakwater for a shelter
Where the boat can repair and re-provision
And its captain can find peace and succor
But that has so far eluded her and that is sad
The lighthouse beckons and it yearns to receive her

It is run by a lonesome keeper
Who signed up young and desperate
He keeps an eye out for boats in trouble
And always signals for help on the double
But, in his heart, there is something missing
Or could it be that special someone?
He loses himself in his labor
But he cannot leave the harbor
Meanwhile he guides the battered vessel to his side

And if you should enter the harbor
And, by chance, behold his light?
Would you kindly pay him a visit?
And offer him company and comfort?
And when he repays you in measure
It will certainly do you no harm
To enjoy the pleasure of his presence
And savor the warmth of being in his loving arms

IV. Fourth Verse
There are feelings that come from thanking
There are moments that defy description
She adds melody to his rhythm
He brings madness to her method
There are words that need not be spoken
It is left to flesh and bones to form them
A colloquy that sings a newly won freedom
Now is always the best time to start
What follows comes from the common heart

And if you should enter the harbor
And, by chance, behold his light?
Would you kindly pay him a visit?
And offer him company and comfort?
And when he repays you in measure
It will certainly do you no harm
To enjoy the pleasure of his presence
And savor the warmth of being in his loving arms

© 12/23/2001 by Matthew DiBiase

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Mantle of Ronald Reagan

In Scripture in the Book of II Kings chapter two the last thing the prophet Elijah did as he ascended into heaven on a chariot of fire was to remove his mantle and throw it at the feet of his successor the prophet Elisha. Elisha took up Elijah’s mantle and carried on the great work that Elijah had done for the children of Israel.

In January 1989 when the late Ronald Reagan ended his Presidency and flew off into the political sunset he threw his mantle at the feet of his political successors in the Republican Party. Since that time the struggle for the mantle of Ronald Reagan has consumed the G.O.P. and has in many ways torn asunder the great electoral coalition that Reagan constructed in the 1980s.

Reagan in 1980 and 1984 harnessed his genius for Presidential campaigning (a genius in my opinion that bordered on virtuosity—Reagan and FDR in my opinion were the two greatest Presidential campaigners in American political history) to win two enormous landslides which gave him the mandate to alter the American socio-political landscape; make American conservatism a viable and dominant force in G.O.P. politics; while attaining an exalted status that became the closest thing to a cult of personality never before seen in American politics. (Not even the cult-like status JFK received after his assassination equals the apotheosis Reagan achieved. JFK’s luster dimmed in the 1980s with the revelations of his mistresses, his flirtations with organized crime, and the concealment of his shaky medical history. No such debunking has even remotely occurred with Reagan—which in itself is a phenomenon worth examining. Someone could write one heck of a doctoral dissertation on the Reagan cult of personality that endures to this day in America).

But when it all ended for Reagan in 1989 there emerged a schism in the Republican Party: the G.O.P. became half-Reagan and half-Bush. The Bush wing triumphed in 1988 and in 2000 and 2004 but with disastrous results for the country (and the party itself). The failures of George H.W. Bush led conservatives to sit on their hands in 1992 and allow Bill Clinton to win the Presidency. The even greater failures of George W. Bush led to Barack Obama’s overwhelming win in 2008.

Among the many failures of the George W. Bush Presidency was Bush’s naked attempt at supplanting Ronald Reagan as the chief demigod of American conservatism. When you look at the younger Bush Administration’s domestic and foreign policy initiatives it is painfully obvious that Bush strove—and failed—to topple Reagan from his plinth.

The fact that Bush’s tax cuts were larger than Reagan’s; the fact that Bush was more ardent at imposing his social conservatism on America than Reagan did in the 1980s; the fact that his foreign policy was infinitely more muscular—and bloodier—than Reagan’s was in my mind a desperate attempt by Bush to pose himself as a greater Commander-in-Chief than Reagan was (which he wasn’t); all these acts are compelling evidence of Bush’s concealed intentions and the fact that Bush failed in his intent is borne out in the 2008 Republican Presidential race when all the G.O.P. candidates repeatedly invoked the spirit of the late Ronald Reagan instead of the spirit of George W. Bush—a rather fitting repudiation if there ever was one.

The 1996 candidacy of Bob Dole was not a triumph of the Reagan wing of the party. Although Dole would probably disagree with this, his nomination in 1996 was the last gasp of the old Eisenhower-Nixon-Ford wing of the G.O.P. that was supplanted by Reagan in 1980. John McCain’s failed presidential bid in 2000 and his successful nomination in 2008 were part of the Reagan wing’s struggle with the Bush wing for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

Today the G.O.P. is no longer half-Reagan half-Bush. The Party has become a three-way dance between the Reagan, Bush, and the Tea Party faction that has now come to fore. This fragmentation bodes ill for the G.O.P. despite its recapture of the House last November. One of the major reasons why Ronald Reagan triumphed politically in the 1980s was due to the boundless faith and discipline of his followers. That faith and discipline was in response to Reagan’s personal faith, loyalty, and commitment to the Republican Party as a whole and its conservative ideals. Under Ronald Reagan the G.O.P. was a singular, committed, effective monolithic presence. When Reagan yielded the Presidency in 1989 that discipline and faith was frittered away by the actions, inactions, and selfishness of his successors.

If Reagan were alive today I suspect he would look askance and have private reservations about the lack of discipline shown by the Tea Party faction and the lack of cohesion within the G.O.P. itself.

As of today the mantle of Ronald Reagan remains……….unclaimed and I suspect that it will always be so.

Even though there will be a future Republican President who will invoke the spirit of Ronald Reagan I suspect that the next Republican President will not come from the Reagan or the Bush or the Tea Party factions of the party but will instead unify and remake the Party in his or her own image (just like Reagan did in 1980).

In short not a return to 1980 but instead a new beginning for a new conservatism in 21st century America. And yet the question that remains is whether a new conservatism and a new conservative President will be able to overcome the problems and dilemmas that sap our economic, spiritual, and moral resources?

That is a question that can only be answered by time itself and by the next conservative President who occupies the Oval Office.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It was fifty years ago today...

Fifty years ago today a football game was played. It wasn’t any ordinary football game. No NFL championship game can ever be ordinary but when we look back at it now after a half-century of change in the way NFL football is played the 1960 NFL championship game takes on an antique quality; it becomes a black and white snapshot of an era of American society and sports history that we look back with an air of amused nostalgia.

By 1960 the NFL had finished its 40th season of operations. The league consisted of only thirteen teams (the season before there were only twelve but in 1960 the Dallas Cowboys had joined the NFL as an expansion team). The regular season was only twelve games long (that’s why the NFL championship game was played the day after Christmas). Indeed the following season the NFL would expand further—adding the Minnesota Vikings and increase the regular season schedule to fourteen games.

The NFL was expanding because it was facing a threat in the rival American Football League. Throughout the 1960s the two leagues would compete for talent before agreeing to merge in 1966 with the actual merger taking place in 1970. Pro football was growing up but in 1960 the game and the league still retained some of it antiquated aspects.

The 1960 NFL championship game was played in the afternoon like a regular season game instead of during primetime on TV which is where the Super Bowl is played now. If a team could not sell out it stadium on game day games could still be blacked out on local TV.

The NFL in 1960 was still predominately a white man’s game. The two teams that played that day: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers, the Eagles had about five or six African-American players on its 33-man roster (today’s NFL teams have 53 man rosters and the vast majority of its players are African-American). The Packers I believe had a few more African-American players. In 1960 the Washington Redskins were the only NFL team which didn’t have an African-American player on its roster. (The following season they would integrate under pressure from the Kennedy Administration).

Small rosters required that players do double duty on the playing field. Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin not only took the snaps he also did the punting. Eagles tight end Bobby Walston not only blocked and caught passes, he also did the place-kicking too. Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung scored a record 176 points during the 1960 season because not only was he was running and catching touchdowns he was also kicking field goals and extra-points. His teammate Max McGee not only caught passes he also punted as well.

Even place-kicking back in 1960 was not the specialized art it is today. There were no soccer-style kickers who could ram it through the uprights at fifty yards. Place-kicking was straight-ahead only and even then it was an inexact science. Some teams had two place-kickers: one for short-range field goals and extra-points and another for long-distance field goal kicking.

Another aspect of having only 33 men on a roster was that when players got hurt it meant that some players would have to play offense and defense.

The 1960 NFL championship game is famous because Chuck Bednarik was one of the last NFL players to do double-duty during a game. It began during the fifth week of the regular season when two Eagles linebackers were injured during a game with the Cleveland Browns. Eagles legend Chuck Bednarik who was only playing center at the time was called up by Eagles head coach Buck Shaw to play linebacker as well. Bednarik did so and, in so doing, helped improve the Eagles defense while taking on a mythological aura that would later earn him a berth in the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame.

The Philadelphia Eagles team that played in the 1960 NFL championship game did not get there by a fluke. They were a talented team that balanced veteran stars with young quality players. Norm Van Brocklin and Chuck Bednarik were established All-Pros and future hall-of-famers. Football historian Sean Lahman ranks Van Brocklin the 14th greatest quarterback that ever played the game while Bednarik ranks 25th as a linebacker in Lahman’s ratings. Norm Van Brocklin was such a great quarterback that future NFL hall-of-fame quarterback Sonny Jurgenson was forced to sit on the bench for three years as Van Brocklin’s back-up.

The Eagles had a superb receiving corps. Split End Pete Retzlaff was Van Brocklin’s favorite target in short-yardage situations. Later in his career he would move to tight-end and become the fifth-greatest tight end according to Sean Lahman’s ratings. Flanker Tommy McDonald was a pint-sized speedster with rabbit-like moves. He was the Eagles deep-threat. In the 1960 NFL championship McDonald caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Van Brocklin that gave the Eagles a 7-6 lead in the second quarter.

The Eagles had a young running back named Ted Dean who had loads of potential but whose playing career was later cut short due to major injury but Dean made two key plays in the championship game. Late in the fourth quarter Ted Dean ran back a kickoff 58 yards and during the ensuing scoring drive would score the game-winning touchdown on a five yard run (with a key block thrown in by center Chuck Bednarik). Another fine running back was Timmy Brown who was one of the finest kick returners in the history of the game.

On defense linebacker Maxie Baughan was one of the smartest linebackers ever to play the game. The Eagles secondary had talented men like Tom Brookshier and Don Burroughs.

They were led by a wizened genial old man named Lawrence “Buck” Shaw. Shaw was a low-key father-figure whose worst oath was “Aw shucks!” and yet Shaw brilliantly mixed his veterans with his young players to make the Eagles contenders.

The team they face the Green Bay Packers were about to write a chapter in football history themselves. This was the first NFL post-season appearance for the Packers since 1944 and they were led by their relatively new head coach named Vince Lombardi.
Lombardi and the Packers would dominate the 1960s but on this day in 1960 that was all in the future. The Packers talent was already there: Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, and Paul Hornung in the backfield; Max McGee at wide receiver; Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Fuzzy Thurston, and Jim Ringo on the offensive line; Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, and Ray Nitschke, and Willie Wood on defense. Future legends and immortals all but this was their first ever taste of the pressure cooker atmosphere that is NFL championship football.

The game itself was a rather crude affair. The Eagles first offensive play from scrimmage results in a Green Bay interception. Four times the Packers drive deep into Eagle territory but the Eagles defense while bending never breaks. The Packers get only two field goals and twice fail to convert on fourth-down situations. (After the game Vince Lombardi blamed himself for the Packers defeat citing the two failed fourth-down conversions as the main reason. He told the press that if he had ordered Paul Hornung to kick instead going for it, the Packers would have had two more field goals—and the game).

The Eagles offense is inconsistent. Norm Van Brocklin only completes nine of twenty passes yet gains more yards passing than Bart Starr does. The touchdown pass to Tommy McDonald was the biggest pass of the day for Norm. Still the Eagles only get ninety-nine yards rushing and commit three turnovers.

Still it is the Eagles that make the big plays: the McDonald TD pass and the Ted Dean kick return. The Packers come up empty even though they have a potent running game. Early in the fourth quarter they regain the lead on a Max McGee touchdown pass but when Ted Dean scores in the offensive series that follows it the Eagles have a 17-13 lead when the Packers make their final drive.

When it all ended with Chuck Bednarik making an open-field tackle of Jim Taylor at the Eagles nine yard line with the clock running out the Eagles became NFL champions and the Green Bay Packers would suffer the only post-season loss during the coaching reign of the immortal Vince Lombardi. Lombardi and the Packers would learn vital lessons from this defeat and would emerge far stronger and far tougher in future post-season appearances to come.

For Buck Shaw and Norm Van Brocklin this was the last hurrah. Buck Shaw retired from coaching. Van Brocklin quit his playing career and hoped to succeed Shaw as Eagles head coach. He was not chosen and so he became the head coach of the expansion Minnesota Vikings and later the Atlanta Falcons.

Bednarik kept playing for two more seasons and made it to the hall-of-fame as did Van Brocklin and McDonald and Retzlaff too. Tom Brookshier’s playing career ended the following season and he became an NFL broadcaster. Sonny Jurgenson took over as the Eagles starting quarterback before being traded to Washington in 1964 (a sad day for the Philadelphia bartenders).

And so that football game played on December 26, 1960 was not only a game it was also the final chapter of an era.

The game was never going to be the same again—and neither would America.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Secession then and the new Civil War now

One hundred and fifty years ago today the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union thus putting into motion a chain of events which culminated in four of the bloodiest years in American history. There was no debate at all among the 170 delegates who assembled in Charleston, South Carolina to discuss the matter. (The reason why the secession convention met in Charleston instead of the state capitol in Columbia was because of a smallpox outbreak was taking place there in Columbia at the time). The ordinance of secession passed unanimously and was immediately followed by great public celebrations.

If you visit Charleston, South Carolina today (and I recommend that you should because it is a very quaint and beautiful Southern city) you will find when you visit many of the historic homes and mansions there a copy of the ordinance of secession signed by an ancestor of the person who once owned the home. New Englanders liked to boast about how their ancestors signed the Mayflower Compact. South Carolinians like to boast about their ancestors signed the ordinance of secession.

In the months that followed ten other Southern states followed suit. Secession took on many forms. Some states held special conventions to secede. Most states were content to let their state legislatures do the work. A few others coupled state legislative action with plebiscites which allowed voters to add their voices to the question.

Still the act of secession was not without internal division. Just because eleven Southern states seceded didn’t mean every resident in those states wholeheartedly supported the act. There were dissenting voices. Historian Eric Foner in his landmark book on Reconstruction devotes a sub-chapter in his book in discussing Southern Unionism. Opposition to secession and the newly formed Confederate States of America flourished in Western Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, Northern Alabama and Georgia and in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas and Missouri. Even in Texas there were pockets of pro-Union sentiment. Every Confederate state except for South Carolina contributed volunteers to the Union cause.

My own maternal ancestors, the Heatherlys, were living examples of this. The Heatherlys of Eastern Tennessee fought in the Union Army (where they were called Tennessee Tories). Two members of the Heatherly family of Cullman County, Alabama fought in the Union Cavalry (where they were called Mossbacks). The younger brother of my maternal great-great-great-great grandfather Aaron Heatherly (Moses Heatherly) first joined the Confederate Army and fought with Jeb Stuart before deserting to join the Union army in 1864—Aaron who lost three sons in the Civil War never forgave his brother for what he did.

Secession had been percolating in the American crucible since the Revolution. The eternal question that vexed our Founding Fathers was: where did Federal power end and where did States Rights begin?

Up until 1860 there had been false starts. The Kentucky Resolutions of the late 1790s, the Nullification crisis of the 1830s, and the Compromises of 1820 and 1850 either ignited or tried to dowse the flames of secession.

When secession did come and with it Civil War the issue was decided not in legislative halls but on the battlefield. In many ways the Civil War was the second Constitutional Convention where the political future of our young country was written in the blood shed by 600,000 dead Americans.

What’s striking about the North’s reaction to secession was how passionate Unionists were about upholding the powers and forms of the government. In Ken Burns’ Civil War he quotes the famous Sullivan Ballou letter where Ballou wrote “I know how American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government…” and who could forget what Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, “and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today we mock, damn, and demonize our government.

Were we more naïve back then or have we become more foolish and obdurate now?

When we contemplate this anniversary we must also be aware that there is a Civil War going on in American today. Even though there are no bullets flying there is an ideological war going on inside this country and with it—a form of symbolic secession from the Union.

The founding fathers of secession of 1860 damned the Federal Government for what they saw as attacks upon their property (i.e. their slaves) and the rights of the individual states. Today Americans damn the government on a more individual basis. Discontent is rampant and no solutions are in sight.

What’s sad is that America has become just as much an ideological tinderbox now as we were back in 1860. Even though we might not erupt into armed conflict our nation is being torn asunder in the name of ideologies that really do not resolve our problems or our conflicts. Instead we fight one another merely for the sake of fighting and our nation continues to implode from within.

And in this Civil War there are no winners….