When Billy Graham died a few days ago, our area media reminisced about the thousands who flocked to the evangelist’s 1999 Indianapolis Crusade.

I wasn’t among them. After all, I’d seen him 40 years earlier at his crusade in West Berlin, “next to the Iron Curtain.”

That phrase was worked to death by journalists, including this young reporter for United Press International. We didn’t care much about theology, but were entranced by all the East Berliners who were dodging the Volkspolizei to cross the border at the Brandenburg Gate and hear Graham. This was BEFORE the Wall, so the East German cops could hassle them and demand IDs but not really stop them.

Graham opened his crusade in a huge tent a couple of blocks from the Gate and the border. I was right there in the tent every night. UPI’s boss for Germany, Wellington (Bill) Long, was intrigued by some things Graham had been saying that struck him as unusual, maybe even political. So I paid close attention. Graham’s organization and delivery were impressive, and George Beverly Shea belted out “How Great Thou Art” with vigor and enthusiasm. And at the end scores of Germans, west and east, trooped forward to declare for Christ.

And it was all happening next to the Iron Curtain, as I made sure to mention in every story.

Then came the climactic rally, for which the tent was moved to a field next to the burned-out Reichstag building, within spitting distance of the Brandenburg Gate.

Graham’s obituary tributes made note of his shrewd grasp of the media and the journalistic mind. I can testify to that. On the day of the final rally, Graham’s advance man visited UPI and other news offices to impress upon us the importance of the event and make sure we were pumped for it. And he had been reading our stories. “Don’t miss this one,” he said, looking at me. “We’re going to be even closer to the Iron Curtain.”


My friend Jerry and I, with our wives, went to see “The Post” at our local cinemaplex last Sunday afternoon. I came out raving about it and predicting a clean sweep in the Academy Awards.

Jerry, who studies movies and the Oscars more than I do, was less sure. He thought it might be a shoo-in for best picture, but wasn’t quite as certain about Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks for the acting awards. But as retired journalists and journalism teachers we both loved the classic newspaper scenes, including that of a pressman pushing the “go” button on the press when the decision to publish the fateful story is made.

At one level this is a story about the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, the top-secret analysis of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam between 1945 and 1967. And anyone familiar with the story has to ask why the film focuses on the Washington Post instead  of on the New York Times, which initially broke the story and ran with it for several days until a court enjoined further publication on grounds of national security.

The reason? “The Post” is not really about the Pentagon Papers, except as a plot vehicle. It’s about the Post’s new publisher, Katherine Graham, and her struggle to establish herself as woman-in-charge, not simply a boardroom figurehead. Before she can do that, the Post has to find its own source, which it does by tracking down Daniel Ellsberg and getting its own set of the voluminous Papers. Then Graham, egged on by managing editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), has to face down the paper’s own lawyers and the financial gurus who fear that publishing the Papers will wreck the Post’s brand-new agreement to become a publically owned company.

Since the newspaper has the same source as the Times, publishing while the Times is still enjoined might bring criminal charges, even jail sentences, for the Post’s executives as well as financial disaster for the newspaper. Streep, as Graham, wrestles convincingly with her decision and finally says “Go.” And the Supreme Court comes to the rescue by ruling, 6-3, that publication doesn’t endanger national security.

This may seem like ancient history, so why am I predicting a sweep in the Oscars? It’s because this film mirrors so many of the controversies that currently embroil our country. It’s an anti-Trump film, with the role of Trump taken by a vindictive Richard Nixon glimpsed through a White House window. A closing sequence foreshadows the impeachment issue, with burglars shown at work in the Watergate. “The Post” also reflects some issues of the “Me Too” movement, with Katherine Graham taking her rightful place in the male-dominated news industry. My wife noticed something I missed at first—Graham’s transition from a powerless boardroom role to an active publisher at home in both the newsroom and pressroom.

How could Oscar voters resist? Movie audiences have been applauding the classic scenes of newspapers rolling off the press, and our little group in the local theater did the same.


George Allen is in my local newspaper again today, with another long letter lauding President Trump and deploring anyone to the left of him. His letters are now a regular feature of the paper’s editorial page, to the point that he really deserves “column” status and his picture.

I don’t know Mr. Allen except editorially, and mention him only because some newspapers I’ve worked for would long since have rationed his appearances. The letters—and there have been dozens over the past several years—are much the same. His comments and targets show remarkable consistency, and should he ever decide to run for public office he’ll have great name recognition.

I’ve not inquired why the newspaper gives him free rein. Perhaps he’s seen as providing balance, particularly to the two local columnists who are his favorite targets. Perhaps the publishers agree with him, or have decided there is a “base” out there to which they should cater. Certainly they are free to allocate editorial-page space any way they want.

I’m musing about this only because it calls to mind other editorial pages I’ve known. Perhaps the strangest policy was the one followed by my old boss, Louis Buisch, of the Hornell, N.Y., Evening Tribune, who refused to print letters at all unless they were of such quality that they could run, with the writer’s name, in the sacred space reserved for the paper’s own official editorials.  We ran very few letters. A similar rigor applied in obituaries, where the paper enforced strict rules on what would be included. Calling hours, which Louis considered ads for the funeral home, could be included only if the home bought a little paid ad for them at the end of the obit. In many papers today, including my local one, the entire obit is a paid affair, and anything goes, including the names of pets among the survivors.

O tempora, o mores.

Perhaps the funniest example I’ve encountered of publisher hauteur involved the owner of a small Indiana daily who was unabashed in making his paper the vehicle for his personal opinions and hates. At length, a reader wrote to him, suggesting that just for one day he restrain himself. “Do you think that, just for one day, you could refrain from saying ‘pinko commies’ in a headline,” the writer implored. “Or using words like ‘pansy,’ ‘faggot,’ or ‘queer.’ It need only be for one day, but do you think you could do it?”

The publisher appended a one-word response to this request: “No.”

There are small treasures in the archives of the Johnson County Historical Museum, and one of them surfaced recently in a memoir created years ago for the oral-history file by Portia Christian, a volunteer at the museum before her death in 1996 at age 88.

The memoir is about storytelling, and features her great-great-uncle, Daniel Deupree, and a man whose name is unknown, but whom Portia christened Tom for the purposes of her memoir. Tom was from North Carolina, and was employed by Daniel’s father, Abram Craddock Deupree, as a hand on his farm, located on the Shelby-Johnson County line.

And Tom told stories, “Tar Heel stories,” Portia called them. Years later it was recalled that he entertained not only the Deupree family, but also neighbors from far and wide, who on Sunday afternoons drove their carriages and wagons into the barn lot and listened as Tom propped himself against the barn door and spun stories for hours.

Portia’s Uncle Daniel, 10 at the time (this was about 1849), was fascinated by Tom’s stories, and (in her words) “learned every gesture, every inflection, and emphasis on words that the farmhand told.” In later years, Daniel retold Tom’s stories, with his own embellishments, to generations of his own family, including Portia, who in turn passed them on to younger family members.

Daniel himself lived until 1924, although in his final years his storytelling was handicapped by emphysema. Portia recalled that she still enjoyed his stories, but that her little brother Paul, four or five at the time, preferred to visit Aunt Annie, Daniel’s wife, in the kitchen where she made “wonderful fat cookies, with raisins in them, for her collie dog” and any visiting children.

So what were these wonderful stories about? Portia recalled that her favorite was called “When All the Animals Lived Together.” When the animals went out for breakfast of mornings they began hearing banjo music from their house, endlessly repeated, that sounded something like “Pinktum, Pinktum, Pinktum, Pie Dough, Put It in the Pan.” So the animals began leaving one of their number at home to solve the mystery. But the deer and later the dog and others were inattentive or went to sleep. Finally the cat was chosen, and it discovered a big black spider running across a banjo on the wall. The spider joined the group and, of course, they all lived happily ever after.

A good storyteller could spin this out for a long, long time.

“This is how I remember it,” Portia wrote, “and I’d heard it year after year, because my father would take us on Sunday afternoons” to visit Uncle Daniel. In the summer, she added, Daniel would take the children to his watermelon patch, split a melon lengthwise, and tell the kids, “Just eat the heart, don’t eat anything else, I’ll throw the rest to the hogs.”

And so, Portia added, “we’d feast on his wonderful watermelons, and of course Paul went home full, and maybe his pockets full of Aunt Annie’s cookies.”

Portia’s father later wrote his own version of the animal story, adding a castle and other refinements, but keeping the basic elements of the spider and the banjo, just as Tom the farmhand had told it in the 1840s.

Portia recalled other stories, including “Little Johnny Fee,” probably a variant of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” This was about a boy who climbed to a giant’s castle on a rope spun by spiders. He stole the giant’s fiddle, and this angered the giant, who tried to follow him home across the slender rope, but of course fell and was killed.

And there was a story called “The Tar Girl,” with obvious roots in the Uncle Remus tradition, about a rabbit who was stealing water from a farmer, until the farmer put a doll covered with tar beside the well. The rabbit, in due time, got thoroughly trapped in the tar. “I don’t want to kill you,” said the farmer, to which the rabbit replied, “Then just thrown me out in the frost.” So the farmer did, and the rabbit ran away, crying, “The joke is on you. I was raised in the frost.”

All these stories depended heavily on repetition, sometimes of a long series of events. One Portia recounts was called “The Old Woman and Her Peaches.” The woman has too many peaches to carry and asks the pig to help. The pig refuses, and the woman then asks the dog to bite the pig. The dog refuses, and so on, with the stick refusing to beat the dog, the fire refusing to burn the stick, the water refusing to quench the fire, the ox refusing to drink the water, the butcher refusing to kill the ox, the rope refusing to hang the butcher, and the rat refusing to gnaw the rope. The cat again solves the problem by agreeing to kill the rat and initiating the whole chain in reverse, until the pig helps the woman home with her peaches. (There is a twist in this story, however, because the pig ends up eating all the peaches.)

This story, of course, is close kin to “The House That Jack Built,” which I learned as a child, and which I’ll bet, dear reader, you did, too!

I did my usual three-hour stint this summer as a volunteer in the county museum’s booth at the Johnson County Fair. And as usual, it was a pleasant and sometimes enlightening experience.

I’ve done this for several years now and have a routine. First, I go by the museum to pick up my parking pass. Once parked, I go by the Lions Club booth and buy my annual ear of county fair sweet corn from Dick and Macie Martin.

The fair is as gorgeous as ever, with happy crowds, food booths, and carnival rides under a flawless early-evening sky. It is only a little more sophisticated than when I covered it for a week as a cub reporter 60 years ago for the long-defunct Franklin Evening Star, collecting 4-H contest results, writing features, and getting my portrait done in chalk by carny artist Easy Romine. I still have the portrait.

As 7 p.m. nears, I proceed to the commercial-exhibit hall and relieve the couple on duty for the previous shift. Then I settle in behind the museum table and take stock.
As usual there is museum publicity to hand out, and also slips that visitors can fill out for the raffle of a copy of the handsome and huge 1886 atlas of the county. Just over 300 people have stopped at the booth so far on this Monday opening day, and I’d like to get the count up to at least 400 before my shift ends just before 10 p.m. To do that I’ll have to shill hard.

I lean forward, smiling, and trying to catch the eyes of those passing through the building. Some are clearly not history buffs, and others are heading with determination to the restrooms next to my stand. But where the visitors are pausing and looking around, I’ll call out, “Would you like to sign up to draw for this wonderful 1886 atlas of the county?” Some sweep on by, others nod no, but a surprising number stop to examine the atlas.

“It’s free. Someone’s going to win. It might as well be you!”

“But I already have a copy,” one man protests.

“So you’ll have two!” I exclaim.

He laughs, says, “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”, fills out his slip, and drops it in the raffle box.

Most people are friendly, fall in with the spirit of things, and turn in their slips. What can be wrong with a fair freebie? I notice one thing new this year, though. There seem to be more people expressing suspicion and reluctance about writing down their contact information for the drawing. One man is blunt about it. “You’re selling something aren’t you?” he says. “Who gets the names? How many phone calls am I going to get?” I reassure him that the lottery is simply goodwill for the museum. Slips are not shared with anyone and the only call he’ll get is if (make that “when”) he wins. He fills out his slip but doesn’t look totally persuaded.

I know some of the people who come by, and chat with a few old friends, and at least one former student from my teaching days at the college. His daughters are now students there and know my granddaughter. Some people who stop clearly have a keen interest in history and want to talk about it. I engage one man whom I’ve noticed around town, and find that he wants to tell me all about his quite interesting plan for alleviating central Indiana travel problems.

Now and then I try to inject a comment, and he exclaims, “I’m not done yet!” Eventually his wife wheedles him away.

I take every chance I have to tell people about the museum, answer questions about it, and invite them to drop by. But to the man who asks, “Why should I visit a museum? It’s just full of old stuff!” there’s only one answer, a laugh. He’s kidding. I think.

By 9:45 p.m. traffic has dwindled to nothing, and I close up shop. Then I’m off to the day’s last ritual, a huge, deep-fried “elephant ear” doused with about a quarter-pound of sugar. I tell the fry-cook that I buy one at her booth every year, and when she hands it over on a too-small paper plate, I say, “You’ve made my day!” “No,” she replies, “I’ve made your year.” And so she has.


For a while it looked like no flower garden this year. Too much else going on, weather not cooperating, etc., etc. But I had this packet of Burpee seeds that needed to be used, so in they went, with a lick and a promise.

The rain set in, and I figured the garden was a washout. But Mom Nature is persistent, and pretty soon slips of green began to appear. So did weeds, but I got rid of those quickly. And then we had good alternation of rain and sun, and everything popped.

I’m not a very imaginative gardener. I like recreating pretty much the same display each year. So once again, there are marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, bachelor’s buttons, and sunflowers, with a few tomatoes and peppers to keep the illusion of a vegetable garden. All are doing well except the sunflowers, which seem to have contracted some sort of blight that crinkles up the leaves. Oh, well, you can’t have everything.

But I do know that I’ll have a blaze of color in mid-summer, and that’s what it’s all about.




I knew Naomi Mullendore Hougham nearly all my life, and a sizeable portion of hers.

She and my parents, Jack and Eve, were all at Franklin College in the 1920s, and became close friends. Naomi had a cabin south of Franklin, and I remember being put to bed as a child on her back porch.

By the time I became a student at the college in 1952, Naomi had retired, married, and was living in the big Hougham house on the Greensburg Road where my parents and I also visited.

When I graduated, I left Franklin and didn’t return until I began teaching journalism at the college in 1979. One day I was walking down Water Street and, with an “excuse me,” stepped past an old lady weeding her brick sidewalk. She looked up and said, “Bill! I haven’t seen you lately. Where have you been?”

It was Naomi, of course, and the previous quarter century vanished like a puff of stardust.

After that, my wife Karen and I saw her frequently, usually on Sunday at the First Baptist Church. We took her out to dinner occasionally, and one memorable day drove her to Brown County State Park, where she seemed to welcome every ancient tree as an old friend.

She was a font of stories about Franklin and the college. One I’ve never forgotten was her account of seeing a distinguished and aged man, in a rocker and wrapped in a shawl, reading in the basement of the college library when she was a student, starting in 1917. She believed, and I have no reason to doubt her, that she had seen William Taylor Stott, the college’s famed post-Civil War president—perhaps the last person alive to have seen that grand old man.

(I, too, had an even more tenuous link to Stott. As a student I roomed at the home of my Aunt Laura Vandivier at 847 E. Jefferson St. Stott had lived there at one time, and the glass transom over a door still bore the birds painted on it by his wife, Arabella.)

Naomi kept a treadmill at her home on Water Street and exercised regularly. Eventually, she had her knees replaced, not because she could no longer walk, but because she couldn’t walk fast enough to suit her. And she had critical words for her doctor who wouldn’t let her go back immediately to scrubbing floors on her hands and knees.

Near the end of her life, Naomi returned to the college one day for some official purpose, and I persuaded her to step next door to Shirk Hall, the former library, where the journalism department had just installed the campus’s first classroom computers. I got her to sit down at one. I hoped she would type her name, and thus link, however fleetingly, the blossoming computer age with the era of William Taylor Stott.

But she declined to try the keyboard. “Was she afraid of the computer?” someone asked me recently. No, Naomi was never afraid of anything. But she was still a practical farm girl, who saw no reason to waste her time fiddling with a contraption for which she would never have a use.

In that respect she resembled another college veteran, Professor Dick Park, to whom I confessed one day that I was learning how to tweet. “Oh, Bill,” he responded instantly, “I’m so sorry!”

One thing leads to another. The central building of Old Main, known in my school days as “the Gut,” is actually Stott Hall, named of course for the GOM. Across the front of its tower from time immemorial had appeared the name Franklin College, followed by a period. This was the typographic style of the 19th Century when many formal titles—even that of The New York Times.—bore that terminal punctuation.

When the building was restored after the fires of the 1980s, I noticed one day that the period was gone. Horrors! I told Ann Barton, director of media relations, that if she would get the punctuation restored, I would write a story about it for the alumni magazine. She did. The current period is actually a refrigerator line cap welded into place. And I did my part, ending my article with the only possible concluding line: “I love Franklin College period.”