Bowling Green, Ky.: They found him in September 1902 in “Hobson’s woods,” after a passerby noticed a buzzard in a nearby tree. His head was devoid of flesh (probably courtesy of said buzzard) and his body dismembered. There was a bullet hole behind his right ear. He may have been deposited in a shallow grave, because investigators found a pair of pants “buried with him.” Other personal effects included a hat, “one Phial of poison,” a “large long rubber ear trumpet,” $3.59 in cash, and a Catholic badge.
In the deceased man’s pocket was a letter from one Barney Furey, whose letterhead advertised his prowess as “Light Weight Champion of the West.” In a pencilled scribble, the Cincinnati-based boxer introduced himself to our dead friend who, we learn, was from Chicago and who had acquaintances in common with Furey: Joe Gans, an African American who was one of the nation’s greatest lightweight fighters; another pugilist, Charley “Young” Kenney; and respected match referees Malachy Hogan and George Siler.
But Furey’s letter then moved on to other business. “Now the money I owe don’t be worried,” he
told the dead man, “for I will surely give it to you. I am going to Chicago to fight in a week.”
At the inquest, the coroner’s jury had no difficulty determining
the cause of death, but the backstory, unfortunately, remained untold. Who was the man, and what, if anything, did a
letter from a boxer in his debt have to do with his murder?
On this June 13, National Sewing Machine Day, we remember the 19th-century English, French, German and American inventors who alleviated (or at least revised) the toil of the tailor and seamstress. We also remember the millions of women who saw their employment and domestic lives transformed by the new technology.
Early in 1861, Sallie Knott had much to write about from Missouri to her mother in Bowling Green, including the election of Abraham Lincoln that had ignited talk of secession. Also of note, however, was her friend’s new Grover & Baker sewing machine. “I’ve learned to sew pretty well,” Sallie reported. “It only cost $45 & answers pretty well when there is no stout jeans for servants.” She had run up a calico dress in only one day, and was quickly losing interest in sewing by hand. “It spoils one very soon,” she admitted. “I dislike to take up any needle now to do anything – even to baste.”
Whether at home or in the workplace, women were quick to find that like much new gadgetry, the sewing machine pushed them to perform more labor in the same time rather than the same labor in less time. “Lizzie sews every day,” a correspondent reported to her cousin from Bourbon County in 1870. “She has a Wheeler & Wilson machine, and has all the sewing she can do.” The machines also required a new technical language for parts and maintenance. “Send me No. 26L306 sewing machine Needles one doz. for Improved Singer Head No. 6389759,” wrote Lewis County, Kentucky’s Annie Kinney to Sears, Roebuck in 1918. Her efficient requisition was accompanied by a sample needle and a preference for ones “just a little longer,” if possible.
On its way to becoming synonymous with the sewing machine, Isaac Merritt Singer’s company developed a mass marketing strategy for women who sewed at home. In 1885, Singer wrote from its Cincinnati office to Bowling Green lawyer Clarence McElroy about one of its local agents on whom it relied to sell machines, parts and accessories. J. C. Webb had signed on as a full-time agent in 1880, receiving a salary of $15 per week plus a 3% commission on sales. His contract also stipulated that he was “to furnish one Horse to be used in the business and to pay for its keeping.” Webb, however, had attempted to buy his horse in the company’s name, making Singer responsible for payment. While reluctant to make a scene, the Singer representative was firm in his instructions to McElroy. “We do not question our obligation to pay for a Horse if Mr. Webb had bought it for the use of the company, but we cannot admit that an agent has a right or authority to purchase a Horse for another party and bind the company by a note.” Besides, he pointed out, there was the matter of that clause in the contract – prepared, as it happened, on another newfangled device, the typewriter.
June 6: the 75th
anniversary of D-Day, the best- and worst-kept secret of World War II.
It was 1944, and everyone knew this would be “the year of destiny,” when the Allies would launch a massive cross-channel invasion of Europe to mark the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. But until it happened, no one knew precisely when or where the assault would take place.
Bowling Green’s Bert Borrone was
deeply interested in the question. Stationed
with a signal service company in North Africa, the U.S. Army sergeant was
responsible for radio broadcasts that would keep his military audience informed
about the course of the war. Late in May
1944, he prepared two 15-minute programs for the American Expeditionary Station
News Bureau to ready his listeners for the invasion, “so that when the day does
come. . . and General Eisenhower says ‘Tonight, we strike,’ we shall be able to
follow the hourly news, be it good or bad, with understanding, with
Borrone’s first program painted a vivid picture of the invasion landscape: the English Channel, both a “ready-made highway for assault” and “an itinerary to death”; the minesweepers, those “unsung old ladies of the sea,” spearheading the fleet; the arc of invasion vessels stretching across the horizon; the bombers, fighters and paratroop transports. Beaches were necessary to land troops, and ports to supply them, but “no one knows better than the Nazi what is potential invasion land,” Borrone warned. The enemy would be ready with mines, landing-craft traps, anti-tank obstacles, machine-gun and mortar emplacements, pill-boxes, bunkers, fortified towns and “hundreds of thousands of the Wehrmacht’s finest, dug in for the showdown.”
Then would come the landings, as
“battle-wagons, with their escorts of the sea and air, plunge toward the
pre-assigned beaches,” and all the plans, rehearsals and calculations were put
to the test. Many had performed their
duties in advance: if Nazi fighters or weapons failed to appear, or if the
enemy’s reserves arrived too late, or if his mines failed to detonate, it was because
a production facility had been bombed day and night, or an intelligence operative
had directed just where to place an explosive, or an underground fighter—“a
Hans or a Pierre or an Emil”—had carried out a successful sabotage. Ultimately, however, the invasion would be
“committed into the hands, and wits, and guts, of a few hundred thousand.”
Borrone’s second program was a
tutorial on the tactics of a coastal invasion, the nuts-and-bolts calculations
of everything from enemy firepower and types of forces needed to anticipated
numbers of sea-sickness among the troops.
Tides, terrain, defenses, roads, availability of reserves, and the timing,
makeup and objectives of each “wave” of the invasion—these and other
innumerable considerations, Borrone explained, needed to be weighed “against
the single most important factor in any military action . . . initial, tactical
surprise. Only then,” he declared, “can
the supreme commander point his finger at one definitive spot along all the
vast shore line and commit it irrevocably to the fates who weave human