The Charlotte News

Saturday, January 17, 1942


Site Ed. Note: The front page and the editorial page begin the news with the deaths of Carole Lombard, her mother, and fifteen pilots charged with ferrying new bombers from Los Angeles to Great Britain. The plane had been returning from New York and had stopped in Las Vegas to refuel, and then was prepared to make the short hop to Los Angeles with Clark Gable waiting at the airport gate for his wife. It never arrived. An Indian tracker, one Jim Wilson, had to be employed to navigate the rough country in which the plane went down, so rough that a Las Vegas police officer reported wearing the sole off his boot during the night of search. It was a sad ending for the box office hit of the day; as the editorial points out, it was a sad and peculiar ending to the lives of the fifteen pilots. Sabotage, while not officially stated, was considered a possibility by The News, as the same transport line had traveled 18,000,000 miles without a mishap until this particular flight went down. Was it sabotage? As far as we know, no one has ever made the case for it.

Ironically, Cash had written a light piece on Gable and Lombard, based on the rumor that the two were "missing" in Mexico, it having snowed. It turned out to be a publicity man's apparent stunt; the two were safely tucked away at their ranch. As we suggested, such tabloidesque stunt-rumors can instill in public consciousness the seeds of dark portent somewhere down the line, leading to a terrible reality. Saying that someone is dead is not a practical joke but an idiot's delight written in jealousy and contempt for both the object of the rumor and the audience to whom it is conveyed.

We heard one recently: The National Enquirer died a horrible death in strange "explosions" accomplished from death rays penetrating all of its headquarters buildings both in America and Europe. All who ever wrote for the rag died a horrible death in the "explosions" which were set by a cadre of disgruntled public figures aided and abetted by various Martians who had landed simultaneously in New York, London, and Paris the previous night surreptitiously, providing the public figures their means of combat, a "bomb" which simply caused, upon detonation, the operations to vanish into thin air. No details were given, as no one really cared anyway except idiots who will miss the publication, as they thrive on its methods to concoct similar rumor mills on their ordinary neighbors of whom they are insanely jealous. These idiots, too, were reported missing at last report, but were believed to have been taken aboard the spacecraft by the Martians for experiments in determining how chromosomal strands somehow got entangled with those of beasts and went awry in certain portions of the human population on Earth.

In war news, Prime Minister Churchill returned to England via Bermuda to Plymouth on an eighteen-hour flight by flying boat. His train to London was delayed twenty minutes whilst a black bag containing military secrets had to be found. (Probably that same dastardly rotten robber who beset the lady in Charlotte at the busstop in the darkened night, that or some latter-day Dick Turpin up to piratical tricks on the PM.) In any event, the bag was found, the Prime Minister arrived back in London with an optimistic but cautious grin at Paddington Station, even if caught in the photograph with only a determined stare bordering on a grimace.

It was a successful trip to America and Canada, to coordinate the early war plan now that America was solidly committed. He had convinced the President to centralize direction of American production, as discussed further by Paul Mallon on the editorial page (including therein an indication that among others circulating their names for the post of production czar in the days prior to the appointment of Donald Nelson, had been Justice William O. Douglas, whose friends had let be known that he was the man for the job--better in that case that he stayed on the Supreme Court where he would act as foremost guardian of civil liberties until his stroke forced retirement in 1976, speaking of men who rode trains with bums on occasion).

So Churchill was back home now. The war in the Pacific, in Malaya, where the Japanese were now within 80 miles of Singapore, was being fiercely fought by the Allied troops but with little success, measured mainly in how long they could survive without retreating and how many enemy casualties in the meantime they could inflict. But the British campaign in Libya against Rommel was going well, the Halfaya Pass now having been taken back from the Germans after changing hands twice already in the war, in December, 1940 and April, 1941.

Yet, a hard day's night lay ahead for the Allies before they would ever see daylight again. General MacArthur's American-Filipino troops were reported by Domei, the Japanese official press, as retreating from Bataan to Manila Bay and Corregidor. The War Department, however, did not confirm this report. Eight bombs were dropped by 16 Japanese bombers on Celibes in the Dutch East Indies, but no serious damage and no deaths were reported by the Dutch.

In Russia, paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines at Mozhaisk to give support to guerillas attacking there, as the counter-offensive continued to go smoothly on all Russian fronts down to the Crimea, fighting being fierce with direct attacks and pincer actions along the key road between Moscow and Smolensk, now littered with German bodies over which the Russians marched to repel further back from their land the Nazi invader with his Napoleonic-complex, dug-in at Smolensk.

Messrs. Pearson and Allen report that the Pan American Conference in Rio was proceeding well, under the guidance of Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles and Brazilian Foreign Minister Oswaldo Aranha, backed by President Vargas. Every country now appeared onboard the Allied train with the exception of Argentina.

It was a time of coordination among the Allies, not of celebration of any great victory. The ground first had to be paid in blood and the seas colored wine-red before the stubborn Hun warrior and the tenacious Japanese feudalists would give way. Production on the home front, training of a large American Army, Navy and Air Corps had to take place from raw recruits and draftees. Roosevelt and Churchill had to worry now more about that than bad headlines, of which there were plenty with more to come in the ensuing months.

Dorothy Thompson writes of the need to instill in America the concept of a philosophical war, freedom versus tyranny, that the forces of the America First Committee still maintained a line only against the Japanese, not altering its former pro-Nazi stands. She makes mention directly in this regard of Charles Lindbergh, who had just been assigned to a commercial aeronautical company position, turned down for military service for the present. She also alludes to the absurdity of Robert Rice Reynolds continuing as Chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee.

"Slewfoot" seems somehow to be a continuation of the piece the previous day on the purse snatch at the busstop--maybe the next morning of a day in the life. Anyway, it was just another day.

"Jail Policy" conveys an interesting notion, allowing prisoners furlough twelve days per month to do civic work. In the case at hand, however, a prisoner named Willie--no, not that one--who had been convicted of murder and was serving two years in county jail for it--that's right, two years for murder, no doubt a murder of another worthless black, you see--had abused the system during his days off from jail, and escaped, got in trouble for shooting off a pistol, was convicted of same. Still, the head jailer gave credit to the program, despite its rule-proving exception, for enabling both rehabilitation and freeing the prisoners to tend to their draft board assignments and obtain their unemployment compensation. The begged question, of course, is what on earth a convicted murderer was doing in county jail and not prison in the first instance. The jailer had to deal with that with which he had to deal, we suppose.

Whether, incidentally, Willie was kin to the notorious "Black Daniel", bootlegger ring chairman Jim Massey, the same who bid "au revoir" and departed the court free as a breeze, repeatedly, is not provided.

In any event, when last seen, Jim and Willie were headed, together, up to the Adirondacks, stopping off, at the suggestion of the jailer, along the way to visit with his brother-in-law, a fellow named Mortimer Brewster who lived in New York City. Mortimer had two wonderful aunts who loved to entertain young and old men alike, as well as an uncle who regularly went on safari in Africa. The jailer, it is said, suggested the retreat thinking that Jim and Willie might enjoy big game hunting.

The program of days off from jail, incidentally, it is said in the piece, was open only to black prisoners, as white prisoners had used it too much to escape. We think that implies a definite Equal Protection problem, invidious discrimination based on racial classification, immutable characteristics, implying the application of strict scrutiny, meaning inevitably the practice ought to have been banned, but apparently Charlotte lawyers of the time didn't think so. The white prisoners were just as entitled to days off from jail as were the black prisoners, the yellow prisoners, the brown prisoners, the red prisoners, the pink prisoners, and even the Martians.

Anyway, today, it being another lazy Saturday, we were glad to greet here at the Tower another of our old friends, Ernesty R. Trout. Ernesty comes from the border region of the Tennessee-North Carolina mountains, in a little town there called Notawlthar. You may be tempted, if you are a city dweller, to give laughter to the sound of Ernesty's voice. That is fine with Ernesty. He is used to it when he traipses down from the mountains to the city. But, be aware that Ernesty's voice is quite deceiving of the inner person. Ernesty has been reading books of classic literature since the age of three, such a phenom in fact that Ernesty earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford at the age of 14, based on his college senior thesis, "The Inter-Tribal Intuitive Customs of the Cherokee: Why DeSoto Had A Car Named After Him", published widely in 1955. The Dons there were so impressed with his performance in scholarly pursuits generally, Ernesty's mind being not able to conform to the strict confines of only one scholarly discipline at a time, that they offered him a chair at the age of 17. Ernesty, in characteristic modesty, however, said he had to get on back to the hills there of Carolina-Tennessee to take care of his family's cherry orchards, as his ma and pa were getting up in age. Well, Ernesty continues to read his books and slop the hogs, pick the cherries, chop the wood for the winter fires. He participates also in the annual Highland Games up there, which include hammer and rock throwing at glass panes, as well as other such activities of which there are practical callings behind. He makes up for the broken glass with glass-blowing, a hobby he does in his spare time, making the replacement panes himself from curved air. He also plays in a bluegrass band he formed, bearing the poetic name Meadow Hillmen (Who Don't Care a Hoot in the Holler How They Sound). His is an authentic voice of the Appalachian Mountain country. (Those of you, incidentally, who ascribe to these mountains' appellation a sort of french pronunciation do not obviously come from the area. It is properly pronounced as if the door to it needs unlocking--as it actually does on occasion, and, even so, sometimes remains inaccessible despite the most sedulous efforts so to do. (You just have to know how to spring it.))

So, without further intrusion upon your time, here is Ernesty's version of the Wolfe passage, the same read earlier for you by Spooky, Waverley, and Frankly. As before, you may skip it if you so desire and Ernesty won't give a hoot.

One additonal caveat: As you let his voice roll over your ears, be aware that Ernesty is earnest in his delivery, not the object of our mockery or his and should not be of yours. Indeed, one should never underestimate, as we have already indicated, but not to be under-stressed, Ernesty's ability to read and think, lest you be rudely surprised with his skills acquired adroitly and zen-like at the annual Highland Games. You will note that Ernesty actually read the passage more accurately than any of our three previous guests, fumbling only once, but quickly recovering the fumble, and faster than either Waverley or Frankly, even if delivered with less apparent worldly panache.

One might find in Ernesty's voice the sound which describes the shapely circle of winter-sharp's radii. His bluegrass music would likely instill fear in you as well. You have never heard a banjo played the way Ernesty plays it--while he plays harmonica and sings at the same time, of course. (Some have said that he and his family gave inspiration in fact to the great folk revival of the 1950's and '60's. Put that in your corncob and smoke it with General MacArthur, should you think Ernesty a buffoon or clown of which to be made sport.) Ernesty is actually a very kind sort and regularly lends his reading and musical skills to those confined in jails through the countryside, in fact, and does so without compensation. So mock not, lest you not mock again.

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