Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christie's Poison Pen Inspires Garden

A Plaque Honoring Agatha Christie At Torre Abbey.

It is a quiet killer. Portable, difficult to detect, easy to use, and you can grow it right in your own backyard. We're talking poison. A favorite weapon of the fair sex, enabling even the daintiest femme fatale to dispatch a hulking muscleman twice her size. Perhaps this is why the queen of mystery writers, Agatha Christie, was so partial to it: poison is the method of choice for murderers in nearly half of her 66 detective novels, and in many of her 100 short stories.

Torre Abbey, Torquay, Devon.

Christie herself said in They Do It With Mirrors: “Poison has a certain appeal …it has not the crudeness of the revolver bullet or the blunt instrument.” Murder and attempted murder by toxin was her hallmark, with cyanide number one on the poison parade followed by arsenic, strychnine, digitalis and morphine. All of these deadly potions are plant-based products. Now, according to the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library, an English rose of a gardener has planted a public paean to poison's particular power in Christie's work. Ali Marshall is Head Gardener at Torre Abbey in Torquay, Devon, where the doyenne of crime fiction spent most of her life. Marshall did her homework, reading more than 80 of Christie's books and short stories to gather ideas for the garden. Agatha Christie's Potent Plants is the fruit of her labor, literally a garden to die for.

Poisonous English Rose Ali Marshall.

Visitors to the poison patch are greeted by a large placard, headlined with a Health and Safety Warning : "Do Not Touch." Plants in the garden are given ratings of from 1 to 5 skulls based on the greenery's toxicity level. Here are 3 examples of the garden's potentially fatal produce, with their effects if placed in the wrong hands, the books in which they are villainously dispensed, and their coveted "skull rating":

Cyanide, Prunus family – From the seeds of the prunus family. Potent and fast-acting causing breathing difficulties, convulsions and asphyxia. (Sparkling Cyanide, The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side.) 5 SKULLS

Aconite, Monkshood – Rapid onset of symptoms including stomach problems, numbness and tingling. Death occurs within hours. (4.50 from Paddington, They do it with Mirrors.)

Deadly Nightshade Blooms In The Poison Garden.

Belladonna, Deadly Nightshade – Ancient herbal remedy with unpleasant side effects: hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions. (The Caribbean Mystery, The Big Four.) 2 SKULLS

Pretty Poison, A Deadly Datura Among Agatha Christie's Potent Plants.

Ali Marshall explains: “While this might sound extremely dangerous for staff and public alike we have been very careful in our choice of plants, substituting less potent garden cultivars where possible. This is a garden designed to entertain - not provide murderous opportunities!" Oh well, it still sounds like fun...

2009’s Most Amazing Story About Reading Books

Kim Peek, the savant who was the inspiration for Barry Levinson’s original screenplay and film, Rain Man, died last week at age fifty-eight.

The New York Times obit limns the many extraordinary abilities and skills this man possessed.

Of those, none is more head-snapping than the astonishing skill that allowed him to simultaneously read facing pages of a book— one with each eye. He ultimately read as many as 12,000 volumes. Even more remarkable, he could remember what he had read.

This, despite the fact that, as the Times noted, Mr. Peek “was born with severe brain abnormalities that impaired his physical coordination and made ordinary reasoning difficult. He could not dress himself or brush his teeth without help. He found metaphoric language incomprehensible and conceptualization baffling.”

“He was the Mount Everest of memory,” Dr. Darold A. Treffert, an expert on savants who knew Mr. Peek for 20 years, said in an interview.

Mr. Peek loved Shakespeare and had memorized so many of the bard’s plays that he became compulsive about accuracy. His father said that they had to stop attending performances because he would stand up and correct the actors.

“He’d stand up and say: ‘Wait a minute!’” Fran Peek said.

(I recall an opposite and quite amusing situation. Once, when George S. Kaufman was sitting in the audience of his play The Coconuts [1929] starring the Marx Brothers, he was startled. His companion asked him what the matter was. “I think I just heard one of the original lines I wrote.” Mr. Peek would likely have stood up and ripped Groucho a new one).

Now, I don’t know about you but the ability to read two opposing pages of text at once - one with each eye - is, as far as I’m concerned, a super-power beyond the capacity of mere mortals.

To read 12,000 books and remember them all?

Kim Peek: Biblios, the God of Reading.


How did he do it? Reading opposing pages of text, each eye individually tracking each line on each page twists the mind even considering this ability. I'm determined to find out how this neurological gymnastic can possibly be accomplished and will report on what i discover. Keep watching the skies - both eyes watching independently.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lost Souls Are Contained In "The Library Of Dust"

The inside Story of Jim Vaus and the Unholy Alliance of Politics, Crime and the LAPD

In 1953, a paperback book, The Inside Story of Narcotics, was issued by religious publishing house, Zondervan. Released at the height of hysteria about a national epidemic of teen-aged junkies that did not exist, it was written by one Jim Vaus.

"Every trade has a technical language. Even Christians have a language of their own. They speak of being 'saved,' of a 'Christian worker,' or of 'putting out fleece.' The person not used to their jargon doesn't understand what the Christians are talking about. Addicts, too, have a language of their own, language which must be understood if this book is to be understood. Some of the words most used are: bad go - too small an amount for the money paid; bang - an injection of heroin' blast party - a get together to smoke marijuana."

Vaus, it turns out, was one of the most interesting characters to have ever put pen to pulp. He was, until recently, a lost footnote in Los Angeles history, a man who stood at the shadowy nexus of Los Angeles politics, the underworld, and the LAPD. He then took a sharp turn and wound up connecting evangelist Billy Graham to that dark triad.

"Wiretapper Jimmy Vaus couldn't decide whether he wanted to be a cop or a crook - so he tried to be both. In doing so, he set off on a path that led directly to Mickey Cohen," the L.A.-born gangster who tried to make it in Chicago and Cleveland before returning to the City of Angels to eventually become Southern California's foremost fallen one.

A sound engineer and electronics specialist during Army service, in 1946 Vaus was managing an apartment building in Hollywood while pursuing his passion for electronic wizardry. A working girl living in the building was upsetting the other tenants. Vaus called the vice squad. The vice squad officer who responded had no way to catch her in the act; he could hear voices behind the girl's door but could not make out what was being said. Incredulous that the LAPD did not have electronic surveillance equipment to listen in on her conversations, Vaus volunteered his services. Vaus provided the LAPD with its first wiretapping equipment and operated it. The prostitute was busted. The wiretap was illegal but no matter - this was the LAPD at its darkest noir.

Vaus's success with the case prompted the LAPD to avail themselves of his ongoing services in their quest to prevent L.A. from becoming an "open" city for organized crime; in 1937, Ben "Bugsy" Siegel, the matinee-idol handsome mobster, had come to town at the behest of his associates in New York and Chicago to organize illegal activity. He brought in Mickey Cohen, a former street thug and featherweight boxer with hair-trigger temper and spastic trigger-finger, a wildly impulsive, near-illiterate punk with a rep for possessing the biggest pair of cajones for a little runt that ever wielded a .38, a shotgun, or whatever necessary to conduct business. He was sorcerer's apprentice to Siegel, who cleaned, polished (as much as Cohen could be), and wised him up. By the time Siegel was murdered in 1947, Mickey had risen to become L.A.'s top mobster.

This upset the LAPD no end. Soon, Vaus was tapping - illegally, 'natch - Cohen's phones and bugging his house.

Not long afterward, Vaus was involuntarily summoned to meet the Jewish Napoleon in sharkskin, who had learned of the taps and of the whiz behind them. Jim assumed the meeting would be his last on earth. To the contrary, Cohen asked him to tap and bug on his behalf.

"Confronted with such opulence [Cohen's home], Vaus's moral faculties, which were clearly weak to begin with, failed him entirely. 'It would have been very hard to persuade a man that it was wrong to have the money sufficient to buy these creature comforts,' Vaus concluded."

The beginning of the Mickey/Vaus relationship (gangsters elsewhere in the U.S. considered Cohen's operation "the Mickey Mouse Mafia") was celebrated by Cohen backing Jim in an electronics shop, conveniently located in the same building on Sunset Boulevard as Michael's Haberdashery, Cohen's ersatz-class men's shop. Cohen's given name was Meyer. He'd come a long way since Boyle Heights, he fantasized.

Cohen employed Vaus to collect evidence of police corruption, specifically blackmail attempts against him by LAPD officers. There was a lot of evidence. He also had Vaus de-bug his home. This presented a problem.

Vaus was now working both sides of the street. But "even the covetous wiretapper understood that working for both the LAPD and the city's top organized crime boss would be a dicey proposition."

In Time magazine's review of Wiretapper (1955) - "The true-life drama of the man who kept the Gangsters, the Gamblers and the Bookies always one step ahead of the law - until the moment when he tapped in on a direct line to God" - a movie adapted from Vaus's autobiography, Why I Quit Syndicated Crime (Wheaton, Illinois: Van Kampen Press, 1954), it is noted that "the highlight of Jim's criminal career was a slick trick for improving his judgment of race horses. He would cut into the direct Teletype wire between a bookie and the race track, take the race results on his own Teletype, and signal a confederate to place last-minute bets with the unsuspecting bookie before feeding the delayed tape back into the bookie's wire again. He was about to leave for St. Louis to make a new installation of this type when he stepped into a Billy Graham rally."

Vaus, whose father, James Vaus, was a Bible-thumping preacher, was ripe for conversion; the needle of his moral compass was spinning out of control and the omens for a long life ending by natural causes were not auspicious.

"The year 1949 had been a disastrous one for Jimmy Vaus. [The scandalous trial of a LAPD officer caught on one of Vaus's wiretaps] and the revelations that followed had exposed him as a double agent and placed him in considerable peril."

Billy Graham came to town in October of 1949 to begin a series of old-fashioned tent-meetings. Graham was a nobody until William Randolph Hearst took a shine to the charismatic religious figure and made sure his Los Angeles newspapers, the Examiner and Herald-Express, provided extensive and effusive coverage of the minister and his "Crusade for Christ." This campaign by Graham would be his first. It made him a star, and launched his career as America's Minister.

Vaus attended one of Graham's meetings. Graham made a call for sinners, his famous "This is your moment of decision!"

"Suddenly, Vaus found himself gliding up the isle toward the platform at the front of the ten where Graham was standing. Then he was down on his knees. He left in a daze. As he was exiting the tent, a photographer's lightbulb flashed. The next day, newspaper readers awakened to the headline WIRE-TAPPER VAUS HITS SAWDUST TRAIL.

"Jimmy Vaus had been born again."

Through Vaus, Graham met Mickey Cohen, who the evangelist had set his sights on as a flashy potential convert; Cohen was going through one of his periodic and disingenuous "I'm goin' straight" phases - a recent incarceration was so frightful that he never wanted to see the inside of a prison again. He played Graham as earnestly as Graham worked him. In the end, Cohen, despite his "sincere" desire, used Graham for cover, gave Graham the air, and left his salvation to the dice tables. But not before both had reaped the P.R. benefits.

Vaus, in the interim, wrote The Inside Story of Narcotics. Though he had virtually no experience with the drug trade in Los Angeles or anywhere else, his contacts in the LAPD's vice squad provided him with all he needed to know. As Billy Graham's star convert, the book was an exercise in redemption and sold well, going through at least four printings that I am aware of.


The unattributed quotes above are from a book released earlier this year that I've just now gotten around to reading, the exhaustively and painstakingly researched L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City by John Buntin. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Within, Buntin follows the trail of politics, the underworld and the LAPD from the turn of the 20th century through the mid-1960s, using the ascents of legendary LAPD Chief William H. Parker and gangster Mickey Cohen as opposites in parallel to relate this fascinating aspect of Los Angeles history.

"These two men — one morally unflinching, the other unflinchingly immoral — would soon come head to head in a struggle to control the city — a struggle that echoes unforgettably through the fiction of Raymond Chandler and movies like The Big Sleep, Chinatown, and L.A. Confidential. For more than three decades, from Prohibition through the Watts riots, their struggle convulsed the city, intersecting in the process with the agendas and ambitions of J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Mike Wallace and Billy Graham, Lana Turner and Malcolm X and inspiring writers from Raymond Chandler to James Ellroy. Its outcome shaped American policing — for better and for worse — and helped to create the Los Angeles we know today" (From Buntin's website).

“Packed with Hollywood personalities, Beltway types and felons, Buntin’s riveting tale of two ambitious souls on hell-bent opposing missions in the land of sun and make-believe is an entertaining and surprising diversion” (Publishers Weekly).

“LA Noir is a fascinating look at the likes of Mickey Cohen and Bill Parker, the two kingpins of Los Angeles crime and police lore. John Buntin's work here is detailed and intuitive. Most of all, it's flat out entertaining” (Michael Connelly).


I briefly discuss The Inside Story of Narcotics in my book, Dope Menace. Consider this post an extended end note to that volume.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Travel Writers Conjure Up Magical Libraries

Boston Copley Public Library. Boston, MA.

Travel writers and adventurers Michelle Enemark and Dylan Thuras have assembled a gorgeous gallery of photographs depicting the world's most magnificent libraries on their website, Curious Expeditions. The pictures are from a wide variety of sources, including reader contributions, and selections show that glorious groves of books are in full bloom worldwide. The gallery, Librophiliac Love Letter, proclaims: "Row after row, shelf after shelf, there is nothing more magical than a beautiful old library."

Book Patrol has added a few quotations to enhance your viewing pleasure. Some lyrics to accompany what Goethe called the "frozen music" of architecture.

Library of Parliment. Ottawa, Canada.
"This building is like a book. Its architecture is the binding, its text is in the glass and sculpture."

Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
"Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol, but every human thought has its page in that vast book."
Victor Hugo.

Russian National Library. St. Petersburg, Russia.
"Every man's work, whether it be literature, or music, or pictures, or architecture, or anything else, is always a portrait of himself."
Samuel Butler.

Biblioteca Palafoxiana. Puebal, Mexico.
"All the revision in the world will not save a bad first draft: for the architecture of the thing comes, or fails to come, in the first conception, and revision only affects the detail and ornament, alas!"
T.E. Lawrence.

Handelingenkamer Tweede Kamer Der Staten-Generaal Den Haag. The Hague, Netherlands.
"The building of the architecture of a novel--the craft of it--is something I never tire of."
John Irving.

Duke Of Humphrey's Library, Bodelian. Oxford University, England.
"Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before."
Audre Lorde.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dutch Treat: Library's Documents Reveal City's Scandalous Secrets

Pieter Schenk. View of New Amsterdam, ca. 1702.
(New York Public Library Digital Archive.)

History records it was a city founded by sober, God fearing church-goers seeking religious freedom. A colony ruled by conservatives who thought gambling, the theater, sex outside of marriage, colorful clothing, and even celebrating Christmas were immoral. But what if it was all a whitewash? An attempt to hide the secret history of the earliest settlers: pirates, prostitutes, smugglers, adventurers, and fortune seekers. Free thinkers for whom even the most liberal city in Europe wasn't liberal enough? That's the truth being revealed about the city of Manhattan by Charles Gehring, an archivist working at the New York State Library.

Gehring has made it his life's work to translate documents that tell the story of New Netherland and its capital New Amsterdam. These seventeenth century Dutch documents describe the beginnings of the colorful metropolis we now call New York. A city filled with lively, vivid, red-blooded characters. This vibrant city never ceased to exist; it was merely hidden by a thick coat of Puritan gray. The result is a historical pentimento--one painting on top of another--two very different images of the same place vying for the eye of the modern observer.

Charles Gehring At Work In New York State Library
(Photo by Nathaniel Brooks, Courtesy of The New York Times.)

According to a December 26, 2009 article in The New York Times, Charles Gehring is one of the few scholars equipped to decipher the documents held by The New York State Library. He earned a PhD. in German linguistics and specialized in Netherlandic studies. The materials Gehring translates into English are hand written, and the old Dutch language they were composed in is a far cry from the Dutch spoken today. The best comparison might be to a modern American trying to decode Shakespearean English written by a quill pen, in a florid secretarial hand, on 400 year old parchment faded by centuries of decay, and damaged by fire, water, and mold.

Gehring is not the first translator to try to put the historical record of New Amsterdam into modern English. According to author Russell Shorto, whose 2005 book, The Island At The Center of The World, was based on Gehring's work: "In 1801 a committee headed by none other than Aaron Burr declared that 'measures ought to be taken to procure a translation,' but none were." In the 1820's, the first man to actually try his hand at it was "a half-blind Dutchman with a shaky command of English [who] came up with a massively flawed longhand translation."

Arnoldus Montanus. Map Of New Amsterdam (Novum Amsterodamum) As It Appeared In 1651. Published In His Book De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weereld (1671).

Bad luck seemed to follow anyone who tried to tell this secret history of Manhattan. In 1911, archivist and librarian A.F. Van Laer had just completed his translation of a portion of the documents. As he was reviewing the final version, a fire broke out in the State Library. Desperately trying to save his work, and more importantly the original documents, Van Laer repeatedly ran to and from the burning building snatching up whatever writings he could find, until fireman finally doused him with a hose to prevent him from burning to death. In the end, his years of work--and many of the originals he translated--were destroyed. Only an earlier rough translation by Van Laer survived. Distraught by the ravaging of his work, Van Laer suffered a nervous breakdown and gave up on the project forever.

Johannes Vingboons. View of New Amsterdam ( ca 1665, from Nationaal Archief Of The Netherlands).

Gehring's over three decades of work on the documents has revealed the spicy stories of some fascinating historical figures. For example Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, a barber/surgeon who became the commander of Fort Orange near what is now Albany. A married father of four, he led a secret gay life and was reportedly discovered in flagrante delicto with his black male servant, Tobias. Convicted of sodomy, he escaped a mob of angry colonists bent on lynching by jumping on an ice flow in the Hudson River. Before he could reach relative safety in Indian country, van den Bogaert's frozen refuge melted and he drowned in the same frigid waters that had provided his escape.

Peter Minuit (1589 - 1638), Director Of New Netherland Colony, Purchases Manhattan Island From The Native Americans In 1626, For Chests Of Goods.

In the pentimento of Manhattan, the Puritans came out on top. The history of colonial America schoolchildren learn is the story of The Mayflower and its somber passengers, not the flamboyant tale of the settlers who preceded them on good ship New Netherland. But both of these stories are critical to creating a complete history the United States. And the two still battle it out for the hearts and minds of Americans in today's "culture wars." What is the real America? A Christian nation ruled by traditional family values, or a country where radical ideas, artistic freedom, and cultural diversity are preserved by The Bill of Rights? The answer, of course, is it is both. A schizophrenic country where two wildly different images of a nation somehow survive on the same canvas, neither completely obscuring the other. The work of scholars like Charles Gehring ensures that the riotous, disturbingly colorful picture painted first won't disappear under the bland blanket of soothing drabness added on second thought.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Archives's Inflammatory Christmas Tree Ignites Controversy

One Of The Tate's Typically Atypical Christmas Trees
"Shelving Unit Tree" Created By Richard Wilson, 1998.
(All Photos Courtesy Of The Tate Library And Archive.)

Every year since 1988 the Tate Archive and Library in London has commissioned an important contemporary artist to decorate a Christmas Tree for display in its grand rotunda. The avant-garde artists' outlandish takes on the traditional symbol of yuletide gaiety have frequently caused consternation, but this year's tree has sparked a scandal like never before.

"Blue Neon Light Tree," Created By Catherine Yass, 2000.

Before revealing the source of this year's unprecedented uproar, a brief peek at the precedent set by previous projects will add some perspective. In 2008 Bob and Roberta Smith, in collaboration with environmental group Electric Pedals, created a tree using recycled timber, bicycles, and lamps. The result was an interactive kinetic sculpture powered by the happy feet of Tate visitors. It was the archive's first "green" tree in the ecological sense, if not the foliage sense.

In 2006, artist Sarah Lucas presented the Tate with a pagan-themed piece of timber. Cherubs made of stretched stockings and wire, complete with anatomically correct genitalia, were said to be "multiplied" throughout the tree. This chorus of fairies represented the classical tradition of Eros, Venus, and Cupid descending from the heavens to bedevil mere mortals via hopeless erotic adventures. Now that's what I call "Christmas spirit."

The 2002 "tree" wasn't a tree at all. It was a booth made of canvas. Artist Tracey Emin donated the actual tree to Lighthouse West London, a charitable organization serving patients with HIV and AIDS. In its place stood a panel asking museum goers to make a donation to the charity in exchange for a raffle ticket. One lucky donor won a valuable prize: an original artwork created by Emin.

In 1993, sculptor Shirazeh Houshiary chose to turn her tree upside down, expose its roots, and hang it thus inverted from the roof of the rotunda. Gold leaf adorned the exotically exposed lower extremities only. This forced the eye of the viewer to focus on a heretofore criminally overlooked section of the tree, customarily hidden by a bulwark of heavy soil. The traditionally highlighted, and perpetually decorated, branches remained brazenly bare.

The most controversial tree, prior to this year's shocker, graced the Tate in 1997. Michael Landy chose to confront viewers with a part of Christmas most of us would rather forget: the mountains of rubbish that accumulate after an orgy of conspicuous consumption. A seasonally suitable scarlet dumpster filled with bankrupt booze bottles, squashed soda cans, crumpled Christmas wrappings, cast-off cardboard, peeled away plastic packaging , out-of- vogue ornaments, and kissed-off Christmas trees helped to make the Tate's yuletide gay. A trashed-out Teletubby (Laa-Laa to be precise) surveyed the bacchanalian wreckage with jaundiced eye.

This brief sampling of over two decades of decidedly decadent trees begs the question: Can you top this? How does artist number 22 create a tree more outrageously avant-garde than a trash bin? A tree that will shout: "Stop the presses! Banner headline: 'Tate Tree Shakes City'." That tall order was given to conceptual artist and filmmaker Tacita Dean. So, enough suspense: time to reveal the Christmas creation that's the talk of the town. The seasonal symbol that's been seized upon as a singular sensation by the British press.

Artist Tacita Dean Bravely Poses Before Her Incendiary Tree.

The 2009 Tate Christmas tree is: a live Nordman fir decorated with simple, yellow beeswax candles. Nothing else. All of London is amazed: this year's tree is festive, cheery, warm, inviting and (gasp!) old-fashioned. In the grand tradition of "everything old is new again," Tacita Dean has done the most unexpected thing of all in the world of modern art: show a reverence for the historic, the time-honored, and the acceptable. How crazily, incredibly refreshing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

St. Nick's Newsboys Shine In Library's Photos

One Of Detroit's Finest Plays St. Nick For Motown's Newsboys, 1931.
(All Photos Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library's Virtual Motor City Collection, Wayne State University.)

Wayne State University's Walter P. Reuther Library has got the scoop on a holiday story straight out of "The Dead End Kids." Motor City angels with dirty faces--former newsboys-- make good but can't forget the old neighborhood. Every Christmas they go back to the same mean street corners where they once shouted "Extra! Extra!" and raise enough cash to stuff the empty stockings of every Detroit kiddie full of gifts. Sounds like something straight of a 30's Warner Brothers gangster movie, but pictures don't lie. The Library's Virtual Motor City Collection, an online digital photo archive, proves this tale is the genuine article.

The 1914 Illustration That Inspired A Taxman To Found A Christmas Charity.
(Drawing Courtesy of The Detroit News.)

The "Old Newsboys" have been making the holidays brighter for needy Detroit kids since 1914, and the tradition shows no signs of stopping. A kind-hearted tax collector (I know, but this really IS a true story.) sees one struggling family too many. Then, while reading his morning paper, he spots a Burt Thomas drawing that tugs at the old heartstrings: A wealthy gentleman weighed down by an armload of Christmas bounty strolls along with the ghost of "the boy he used to be." That's right: this dapper gent began his days as a humble newsboy.

Boy Scouts And Cops Make Christmas Bright For Detroit's Dead End Kids, 1937.

James J. Brady, no doubt known as "Diamond Jim", was the taxman with a heart of gold. His childhood chum just happened to be Detroit News' Managing Editor E.J.Pipp. (The man was, of course, a real pip--and honest, I'm not making any of this up.) Mr. Pipp had ties to the Detroit Newsboys Association--aka "The Old Newsboys," former street corner hawkers turned successful businessmen, professionals, and politicians. When Gentleman Jim approached Mr. Pipp with a yen to start a Christmas charity, the editor knew his army of one-time newsboys would be the perfect foot soldiers.

"Old Newsboys" Hit The Streets For The Motor City's Needy Kiddies, Circa 1920.

At Brady and Pipp's behest, those first Christmas newsboys hit their old stomping ground, raising cash by selling papers on the same cold corners they worked as kids. Gifts were purchased and delivered to needy tykes by local Boy Scouts and kindly cops. The Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund of Detroit was born, complete with the slogan: "No Kiddie Without a Christmas." That 1914 fund drive raised $2,274. (Equal to just over a cool 50K today.) Many of Detroit's movers and shakers remember the days they got gifts because they were on the Newsboy's list rather than St. Nick's: United Auto Workers Vice President Ernie Lofton told The Detroit News: "In my neighborhood, the only times you were happy to see a cop at the door was on Christmas Eve!"

Thomas May's 1906 Illustration Was Designed To Spoil A Selfish Christmas.
(Drawing Courtesy Of The Detroit News.)

Way back in 1906 Motown artist Thomas May set out to create a newspaper illustration that would "spoil Christmas for every man and woman in Detroit who had remembered only themselves." His drawing of a little girl sobbing over her empty stocking became the emblem for the Old Newsboys Fund in 1923. Sadly, even in 2009, only the charity's fund raising brings a happy holiday to many of the Motor City's kids. According to Crain's Detroit Business, one out of every three Detroit public schoolchildren will receive a Newsboy's holiday gift box this year. Considering Rust Belt's still dire need for Christmas charity, it just might be time for Warner Brothers to breathe some life back into The Dead End Kids.
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