By Brian Lada, Meteorologist
Alex became a hurricane over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday, Jan. 14, and passed near the Azores on Friday morning, local time, before diminishing.
The system will lose tropical characteristics as it moves over colder waters of the Atlantic this weekend.
Alex was the first Atlantic hurricane to form in the month of January since 1938 and is the first Atlantic hurricane to exist during January since Alice in 1955.
The system made the transition from a non-tropical storm to a subtropical storm to a full-featured tropical system during the first part of the week.
"A subtropical storm has both tropical and non-tropical characteristics and has a large wind field," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.
This was the same system AccuWeather meteorologists were tracking since development near Florida early in the month.
Alex was named in the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, making it one of the earliest tropical systems to form in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin since records began in 1851.
By ANDREW GLASS
The first televised press conference was held on this day in 1955 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower came into the Indian Treaty Room — a chamber with poor acoustics and limited seating — and announced the “experiment” they were about to be part of.
“Well, I see we’re trying a new experiment this morning, “Eisenhower said. “I hope that doesn’t prove to be a disturbing influence.”
The president was asked whether “in light of the latest fighting, would you consider that it would be useful to have a cease-fire between Communist China and National China, if that could be arranged through the U.N. or by some other means?"
He replied: “Well, I should like to see the U.N. attempt to exercise good offices, I believe, because whenever there’s any kind of fighting and open violence in the world, there is always a — it’s always sort of a powder keg.”
The next reporter to be recognized said: “Sir, the congressmen on Capitol Hill say that if they can find a copy of the budget to read, that they can’t understand it. Is there anything you can do to tell these people who have to vote on this where the money is to be spent?”
“It’s my understanding that’s what the committees of Congress are for,” an irritated president responded, adding: “And that’s what the people that appear before these committees are for. And I can’t be expected to take the details of a volume like that, which I forget the number of pages, and explain that in detail to individuals anywhere.”
“Tomorrow,” another questioner noted, “is the second anniversary of your inauguration. I wonder if you would care to give us an appraisal of your first two years and tell us something of your hopes for the next two or maybe even the next six?”
“It looks like a loaded question,” Eisenhower said, eliciting laughter before the video camera.
In subsequent decades, before social media and the Internet began to also make a major impact on White House press operations, television continued to play a major role in the staging of presidential press conferences. It has indeed been a “disturbing influence” — presidents have made mistakes, if somewhat rarely. But these increasingly infrequent sessions also have been a resource for presidents as they sought to explain their policies and themselves directly to a wider audience.
Christmas Eve 1955 was much warmer. Three fourths of the country was over 60 degrees, and Ashland Kansas, Geary Oklahoma and Encinal Texas were all over 90 degrees. Fort Lauderdale was 85 degrees. All of the stations below were over 60 degrees on Christmas Eve, 1955.
Last winter, the East Coast had record cold. That was ignored because it was “less than 1% of the Earth.” But this week, the Eastern US defines the global climate.
In Irving Berlin’s 1954 musical “White Christmas” – the story line was 70 degrees in Vermont on Christmas eve and no snow. That was why they were “Dreaming of a White Christmas”
Sixty years ago, an illegal abortion killed her. The case made national news. We still have much to learn from her story.
By Gillian Frank
On Christmas Eve 1955, Jacqueline Smith died from an illegal abortion at the apartment of her boyfriend, Thomas G. Daniel.
Jacqueline Smith was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, in 1935. She graduated from high school in 1953 and moved to New York City, where she intended to become a fashion designer. In June 1955, Smith began to date Daniel, a sales trainee in a riding equipment shop. Although Smith spent most nights in Daniel’s apartment, the stigma surrounding cohabiting and having premarital sex was so great that she kept an apartment with three other women in order to maintain appearances. (Unless otherwise noted, primary source information in this piece is based either on contemporary newspaper accounts or on district attorney files and transcripts from the 1956 trials of Daniel and Leobaldo Pijuan; these records can be found in the New York City Municipal Archives.)
In November 1955, Smith discovered she was about six weeks pregnant. When she shared the news of her pregnancy with Daniel, she hoped that he would marry her. At that time, unmarried pregnant women faced harsh consequences for their sexual activity, including job loss and stigmatization. Unwed mothers, pilloried and pathologized, faced limited prospects for marriage, and their children had the wordillegitimate stamped on their birth certificates. Many young women went to maternity homes in other towns, where they would have their babies and then give them up in closed adoptions, all done in secrecy. Upon returning home, these women were expected to pretend that the pregnancies never happened and to make the most out of a second chance at respectability.
Daniel did not want to marry Smith and began looking for a means to terminate her pregnancy. Over the next month, he asked colleagues and friends if they knew how to cause a miscarriage. Daniel persuaded Smith to take abortifacient pills, but these did not work. In the meantime, Smith went to her OB-GYN twice for examinations, made plans for future checkups, and made arrangements to deliver the baby.
On Christmas Eve 1955, Daniel paid Pijuan, a hospital attendant, $50 to perform an illegal abortion. Legal abortions, done at hospitals, required approval from a committee of doctors, which acted as deterrents for women seeking elective abortion. Hospitals usually authorized abortions in rare cases when a pregnancy endangered the health of the woman. Those unable to obtain hospital abortions would turn to underground abortionists, some of whom were skilled and some of whose lack of medical training physically endangered women. Pijuan was one of the latter.
Before beginning the surgery on Smith with equipment he had stolen from the hospital, Pijuan created a crude operating area in the living room of Daniel’s apartment in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, just blocks from Bellevue Hospital. Pijuan covered the couch and floors in old newspaper and blankets, jerry-rigged an intravenous drip out of a broomstick and a bottle, and fashioned makeshift stirrups out of two dining room chairs. Pijuan instructed Smith to sit on the edge of the couch, then tied her legs to the backs of the chairs and her arms to the couch. He then anesthetized Smith with sodium thiopental, using rubber bands instead of a tourniquet. Pijuan, however, did not properly control the drip. During the 10 minutes in which he performed a dilation and curettage, Smith received 1,000 cc of the anesthetic— about 50 times the required dosage.
In Smith’s time, women unable to obtain hospital abortions would turn to underground abortionists.
Noticing that Smith was in respiratory distress, Pijuan and Daniel did not call for a paramedic or take Smith to the hospital. Instead, Pijuan phoned his friend, Dr. Ramiro Mireles, for help. Later, when questioned by police, Mireles recalled finding Smith unconscious on Daniel’s couch, naked from the waist down, legs splayed in the makeshift stirrups, her face blue from lack of oxygen. Mireles applied artificial respiration and injected a heart stimulant, but it was too late. Just before midnight, he declared Smith dead and advised Daniel to call the police.
Daniel and Pijuan did not call the police. Instead, they began Christmas morning by transferring Smith’s body into the bathtub, where they used a large kitchen knife to hack up her body. They placed her body parts in plastic bags and bundled these with Christmas paper and tinsel cords. The two men drove Smith’s dismembered body to Pijuan’s apartment and placed it in his bathtub. From Dec. 27–29, Pijuan systematically cut up the body into even smaller segments, again wrapped up the parts in bright Christmas wrapping paper, and disposed of the remains in garbage receptacles across the Upper West Side.
On Dec. 30, Smith’s father, Chester Smith, traveled 6½ hours by bus from Lebanon to New York City to look for his daughter after her workplace notified him that she hadn’t showed up for days. Unable to locate her, Smith reported his child missing to the New York City Police Department. On Jan. 10, 1956, the police arrested Daniel at his apartment; he eventually confessed to the circumstances of her death and how he and Pijuan disposed of her remains.
* * *
The horrifying circumstances around Jacqueline Smith’s botched abortion made headlines in newspapers across the United States. Wire services relayed the minute details of the homicide and offered readers biographies of the major players. Reporters described the frantic and ultimately unsuccessful police search for Smith’s body, detailing how detectives dragged the Hudson River and searched through garbage dumps for her remains. Jurists explained the legal precedents for prosecuting a crime without a body, and a medical expert clarified the correct dosage for sodium thiopental. Articles lingered on details such as the 800 stolen medical tools, some still covered in blood, discovered in Pijuan’s apartment.
As the state of New York tried Daniel and Pijuan for manslaughter, the media and the public obsessed over the personal details of all involved in the case. The New York Daily News hired a plane to fly Smith’s father from Pennsylvania to New York, housing him with one of its reporters; this arrangement gave the paper the inside scoop on a bereaved and traumatized father. Smith’s hometown paper, the Lebanon Daily News, interviewed her high school teachers and friends and featured Smith’s artwork and poetry. The New York Daily News likewise featured clothing that Smith designed; one of its employees modeled her scarves. In June 1956, a jury found Daniel guilty of manslaughter; he was sentenced to 8½–20 years in prison. Pijuan was sentenced to 7½–14 years.
Smith’s death and the literal absence of her body enabled commentators to inscribe their own sexual scripts about women, sexuality, and reproduction upon her. Daniel’s defense lawyer characterized his client as “the victim of a girl who pretended to her family and friends that she was a little angel when she was in fact just a girl who like to enjoy so-called free love.” The prosecutor and the media turned Smith into an innocent daughter in need of protection from predators like Daniel. To do so, they used ethnic signposts to contrast “Jackie, the pretty blonde daughter” with “dark Thomas G. Daniel,” “Greek born”; the Puerto Rican nurse Pijuan; and the “Mexican doctor” Mireles. This racial and gendered narrative sought to rehabilitate Smith’s reputation and to convey that she was a good girl who did not deserve her fate,a small-town naïf seduced by the big city. “She actually was a lamb,” stated one co-worker to reporters, “and New York is not the right place for lambs.” Another told reporters, “Jackie was well-equipped in every way, except to cope with the advances of a predatory male.”
* * *
How should we remember Jacqueline Smith’s life and death 60 years later? One way is to highlight the silences surrounding her story. Of hundreds of reports about Smith’s death, all depicted it as a personal tragedy; none of them flagged the conditions that made her unplanned pregnancy possible and dangerous.
The literal absence of Smith’s body enabled commentators to inscribe their own sexual scripts upon her.
Focusing on the gory details of the case enabled readers to look away from the plight of unwed mothers, the laws that prevented unmarried women and men from accessing reliable contraceptives, the lack of comprehensive sex education for young people, and the inadequacy of educational efforts in schools that promoted abstinence until marriage. Commentary on Smith’s death omitted the severe restrictions on legal abortion, which made them costly and rare and drove between 200,000 and 1.2 million women a year to obtain illegal abortions. None of the media coverage included the trial testimony of the chief medical examiner of New York City, who noted that over the course of his career he had overseen the autopsies of a minimum of 1,200 women who had died from abortion. The media didn’t mention that a white unwed mother such as Smith who carried a pregnancy to term likely would have done so at a maternity home, where she would have been expected to give up her baby with no hopes of seeing him or her again. Largely excluded from the booming postwar adoption industry, unwed mothers of color bore additional burdens, including forced sterilization, exclusion from public welfare, and police surveillance.
The reproductive rights struggles of the past half-century have sought to transform these conditions. Today, as conservatives fight to erode these modest gains, we should remember Jacqueline Smith and what it meant to live in a society that normalized abstinence until marriage, did not offer medically accurate information about reproduction, shamed women for engaging in premarital sexual activity, made many forms of contraception costly and inaccessible, and criminalized abortion. On Christmas Eve 1955, Jacqueline Smith was 20 years old and had her whole life ahead of her. The men who killed her went to jail, but there was no indictment of a society and policies that were also culpable. For too many Americans, Jacqueline Smith’s past is still all too present.
This post originally appeared on Notches: (Re)marks on the History of Sexuality, a blog devoted to promoting critical conversations about the history of sex and sexuality across theme, period, and region. Learn more about the history of sexuality at Notchesblog.com.
Gillian Frank is a visiting fellow at Center for the Study of Religion and a lecturer in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University.
BY ALAN SCHERSTUHL
The best of all heist movies, Jules Dassin's tough-minded clockwork thriller Rififi, from 1955,is also one of the great films about process, about prepping for and grinding through small challenges, about improvisational teamwork within the framework of a plan, about the satisfaction of the last few cranks of a wrench at the end of a complex project.
The sublime break-in and safe-cracking sequence bests its 60 years worth of imitators in its rigor and cleverness and attention to detail, the very qualities it celebrates. The film turns grim by the end, and even before the heist we see the lead hood (Jean Servais) go after his ex with a belt, but the centerpiece caper is light and inviting. As a crew of four hack their way into a Parisian jewelry shop, we're shown their tools and their problems and given plenty of silent time to consider how the former might be set to the latter. Viewers become something like collaborators, invested in working out what, say, that umbrella is going to be used for — and then pleased to discover whether we've gotten it right or not.
Contrast that to the cheats that the impatient directors of such scenes usually get away with. When he faces a locked safe, it's a given that Paul Rudd's Ant-Man bro will crack it — and that it will take a ream of dialogue to explain the quasi-magical hows of it. Without painstaking visual storytelling like Dassin's to engage us, we wait out such scenes from a remove rather than feel like imaginative participants. Too often we have to take the movies' word for it that we've seen something worth seeing.
The rest of Rififi is almost as strong, but it's the opposite of inviting. (The film is being shown in a handsome DCP restoration.) Despite the whimsy of that umbrella maneuver and Dassin's interest in balloons, kids' toys, shadow-play cabaret numbers, and just barely covered breasts, this is tough-guy noir of the highest proof, the kind of movie where the putative hero has to put down a much more likable character because of the Code of Thieves or whatever. (An American director of crime hits, Dassin exiled himself to Europe after being blacklisted in the House Un-American Activities Committee witch-hunts; Rififi throbs with his anger and let's-see-the-bastards-top-thisshowmanship.)
Dassin shows us that murder from the first-person perspective of Servais's crook, the camera backing slowly away as his compatriot, trussed to a post in a cabaret nightclub's wondrous basement prop room, stoically awaits the killing slug. An earlier shot, from the perspective of Marcel Lupovici's Grutter, the ostensible villain, had glided us through that same space, past memorable set decorations: a daisy, a man-sized ukulele, and three simple white eye masks of the sort that Shakespearean types can hide a whole identity behind. Besides their beauty and for-the-ages technique, these scenes are richly suggestive about the theater of character, about how easily our ideas of hero and villain can slip into each other, about just how much darkness we're willing to accept from a protagonist with whom we identify. Rififi mirrors the arcs of the criminal lives it examines: It seduces you in, and then won't let you out cleanly.
Directed by Jules Dassin
Opens September 2, Film Forum
ZEYNEP KARATAŞ / ISTANBUL
A memorial Divine Liturgy was held at the Yeniköy Panayia Greek Orthodox Church in İstanbul on Sunday morning for the first time in Turkey to commemorate the lives that were lost during the pogroms targeting İstanbul's Rum -- Greek Orthodox Turkish citizen -- population on Sept. 6 and 7, 1955.
Important representatives of minority communities in Turkey attended the service, including Laki Vingas from the Greek Community Support Foundations (RUMVADER), Selina Doğan -- a Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy of Armenian ethnicity -- and Toros Alcan of the Communities Foundation.
In a statement on social media, Doğan wrote: “Democratic states must confront these types of events in recent history and share their grievances, even if years have passed. There are certain legitimate demands put forth by people whose homes, business, and places of worship were attacked during the event. The perpetrators of the events must be uncovered and they should apologize. Citizens should be given back their rights.”
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the attacks that predominantly targeted the Rum population but included other non-Muslim populations such as Jews and Armenians. According to some estimates, 15 people were killed, 300 injured and 400 women were raped by Turkish men. In addition, 4,214 homes, 1,004 businesses and 73 churches were damaged. The 1955 pogroms were sparked by announcements that the house in which Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born in the city of Thessaloniki in northern Greece had been bombed. Rioters were then assembled by the Turkish Army's Tactical Mobilization Group and sent to raid and destroy Rum-owned businesses and churches and assault Rum citizens.
"More than 500 men from Beale Air Force Base were on the fire lines in the Klamath National Forest near Yreka today. The men left Marysville yesterday under command of Lt. Col. Robert G. Liebhardt, brigade operations officer.
The first Beale units arrived at firefighting headquarters at the Siskiyou County fairgrounds on the outskirts of Yreka about 3:30 p.m. yesterday after a six-hour trip. Two hours and 50 miles later the first Beale contingent of 100 men was on the fire line in the McKinney Creek area.
By 11 o'clock last night Beale personnel had relieved the entire contingent of 500 men from the Presidio of San Francisco who had been in the area since Tuesday."
— Appeal-Democrat, Sept. 10, 1955
This week, when the Independent Television Authority starts its broadcasts, an experiment will begin in harnessing advertisers’ money to this powerful new medium of information and entertainment. With the example before it of American commercial television, Parliament has hedged the new organisation around with rules and safeguards; these are the conditions on which it has accepted the experiment.
The new programmes will be watched with keen interest for fresh ideas and new uses of a medium which is still in its infancy. Already the good effects of competition are to be seen in the more lively and alert programmes of the BBC. But it would be unwise to judge the result of the experiment too early. At first the new service has everything to gain by giving no offence to those critics who fear that commercialism in this medium will lead to vulgarisation. The real test of the ITA will come as the pressure grows to subordinate other considerations to the necessity of providing large audiences for the advertiser, who will be paying this piper.
Miss Delaware Barbara Woodall and Newark Chamber of Commerce President Hugh F. Gallagher Jr. draw the winning entry in Newark Shopping Center’s car giveaway on July 29, 1955.
By Josh Shannon firstname.lastname@example.org
Newark Shopping Center opened in July 1955 with much fanfare.
Pomeroy Realty, Inc., led by Newark resident Aron Handloff, had broken ground on the $1 million project nine months earlier on a 16-acre “weedy plot,” as the Newark Post described it at the time.
It was said to be one of the first downtown shopping centers in the country.
On opening day, the shopping center featured eight businesses: Equitable Security Trust Company, Newark Department Store, Sun Ray Drug Store, Woolworth’s, Terry Shop, Minster’s Jewelers, Crichton’s Beverages and Liedermann’s Bakery. Four more businesses opened in the ensuing weeks, including Acme Market, Miles Shoes, Singer Sewing Machine Company and an annex for the United States Post Office.
The basement of Newark Department Store featured the Newark Room, which could be used for social meetings by businesses and organizations. Sixty years later, Newark Natural Foods carries on that mission, also using the basement space as a community room.
Today, Minster’s Jewelers is the only original tenant still in the shopping center.
Local officials and business owners celebrated the 1955 opening with a 10-day gala that kicked off with an opening ceremony July 20.
A Newark Post headline read “Newark Shopping Center opens as thousands throng city.” Mayor Wallace Johnson cut a ceremonial ribbon, folk singer Jimmy Carter performed, children were offered pony rides, and the U.S. Navy exhibited a 40-foot model of a ship.
The main attraction, however, was a contest that gave away a 1955 Chevrolet station wagon, courtesy of William H. Porter. At the end of the 10-day period, July 29, 15,000 people returned to the shopping center to watch Miss Delaware, Barbara Woodall, draw the winning ticket out of some 200,000 entries. The Newark Post proclaimed it the biggest crowd in Newark since V-E Day 10 years earlier.
The winners were Stephan and Roswitha Zemko. Stephan Zemko, a Korean War veteran and DuPont employee, had never owned a car before.
The opening was a success, except for mechanical problems that plagued a miniature train ride, resulting in “hundreds of disappointed children,” the newspaper reported.
By Paul Biasco
HUMBOLDT PARK — As a 7-year-old in Humboldt Park in the 1950s, John Guzlowski and the countless kids on his block had free range.
They wandered the park, day and night, took bus trips to the Loop to catch movies and ventured to the beach and museums.
"This was in the mid '50s at the height of the baby boom, and there were millions of us kids outside living large and — as my dad liked to say — running around like wild goats," Guzlowski, now 67, recalled.
That was until a gruesome triple murder shocked the city.
The murder of three young boys in 1955 ended an era of innocence, of unlocked front doors.
The murder sent a scare through the neighborhood — for parents and kids alike. It also provided the inspiration for Guzlowski's new novel "Suitcase Charlie."
The novel begins with a statement from an Associated Press wire report on Oct. 18, 1955.
The bodies of three boys were found nude and dumped in a ditch near Chicago today at 12:15 p.m. They were Robert Peterson, 14, John Schuessler, 13, and brother Anton Schuessler, 11.
They had been beaten and their eyes taped shut. The boys were last seen walking home from a downtown movie theater where they had gone to see “The African Lion.”
"We would sit around at night outside and start scaring each other with these stories about Suitcase Charlie," said Guzlowski, a poet and author.
Suitcase Charlie was a ghastly legend the neighborhood kids made up, as salesmen walking the block with a suitcase were commonplace at the time.
"I'm sure what we had in the back of our minds were the Schuessler-Peterson murders of 1955," Guzlowski said. "That must have been fresh in our minds, the idea of those three boys being killed so horribly."
Paul Biasco explains how the novel mimics life in Chicago in the 1950s:
The Schuessler brothers and Robert Peterson were on a train to the Loop when they disappeared back in 1955. Their bodies were found two days later, strangled, in a ditch in the Robinson Woods forest preserve.
The actual murders which inspired the historical fiction went unsolved for nearly 40 years before Kenneth Hansen, a horseman and former stable hand was tied to the crimes, according to reports.
The novel, Guzlowski's second, was a dream of the author's since he was young, and much of it dates to his experiences growing up in Humboldt Park — where his family moved as World War II refugees who survived the Holocaust.
Guzlowski was born in a refugee camp in Germany, and, as an immigrant in Humboldt Park, he was neighbors with Jewish hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists and Polish cavalry officers who mourned their dead horses.
As kids in the neighborhood they knew about fear from hearing about it from their parents. They overheard horror stories from their parents of seeing their mothers and fathers shot in German-occupied Europe.
That fear became their own when they heard about the brutal murders of boys around their own age from nearby Jefferson Park.
"There were always rumors about the terrible things going on in Humboldt Park," said Guzlowski, who now resides in Virginia.
Most of those stories, which neighborhood kids made up, were set on an inaccessible island in the lagoon.
"As kids we talked about suicides on that island, murders on that island and terrible things happening on that island," Guzlowski said. "All of that sort of fear, the fear of what happened to those two brothers and their friend."
Guzlowski's novel, "Suitcase Charlie," focuses on two detectives who are investigating the case of a murdered schoolboy found shopped up into small pieces in a suitcase
The story takes them throughout Humboldt Park and to various parts of Chicago.
Guzlowski's research gave him an opportunity to revisit the old bars of the neighborhood, where he would go on Saturday nights as a kid with his parents and drink ginger ales.
He dug through old photographs, documents about the Shakespeare District police station and talked with nuns from his old elementary school.
Most important, he dug through memories of the characters in the neighborhood.
Mr. Fish, a character in the book, is based on a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp who lived two doors down in Humboldt Park.
"When I was growing up in that area just east of Humboldt Park, there were some really fascinating people," Guzlowski said. "Revisiting the novel and bringing this stuff back to my imagination was really such an experience for me."
"Suitcase Charlie" is available in bookstores now, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
By JOSEPH S. PETE - Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015
WHITING, Ind. (AP) - On an already hot morning during one of the hottest summers on record, shortly after the sun peeked over the horizon, a huge blast at the Standard Oil Refinery in Whiting startled thousands out of their sleep and shattered windows as far away as Crown Point.
A great wall of fire rose over the Midwest’s largest refinery, darkening the dawn sky with thick, billowing plumes of black smoke 60 years ago, on Aug. 27, 1955.
“I thought the sun had exploded and that this was the end of the world,” a witness told The Hammond Times shortly after the region’s largest-ever industrial accident. “There was a terrible noise and a big red flash.”
Shrapnel laid waste to the Stiglitz Park neighborhood across the street, leading to an eventual demolition that would wipe it clean from the map. Hundreds of residents were evacuated and left temporarily homeless. Indianapolis Boulevard burned.
A 180-ton chunk of steel crushed a neighborhood grocery store. Cars were flipped onto their roofs. A wooden plank was hurled with such force it pierced a brick wall.
Train cars melted in the incandescent heat. Smoke towered more than a mile high and could be seen 60 miles away. Railroad tracks were warped to where they looked like limp strands of spaghetti.
Every window was broken out within a three-mile radius.
“The man of the house got up to go investigate, since it happened around 6:10 a.m. when everyone was still in bed,” said John Hmurovic, a volunteer with the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society. “All the windows were blown out, so they’d step in broken glass barefoot, which is why cuts to the feet were the most common injuries they treated at the hospital that day.”
Hmurovic and several other Historical Society volunteers, including Frank Vargo, Chuck Kosalko, Gayle Faulkner Kolasko, Rob Shultz and Larry Rapchak, put together a 30-minute documentary, “One Minute After Sunrise: The Story of the 1955 Whiting Refinery Explosion” in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the devastating blast. They interviewed 80 people, including 34 who agreed to sit in front of a camera, to preserve memories of a disaster they feared was fading from the collective consciousness.
Historical Society volunteers interviewed men working inside the refinery, a nurse who treated the wounded, a boy who was delivering papers as debris crashed down from above, a woman who refused to cancel her wedding as the fire raged just down the street, a boy whose leg was sliced off by a shard of shrapnel that also killed his 3-year-old brother, and National Guardsmen who were called in to preserve order and prevent looting.
The inferno raged on for eight days and caused extensive damage to the refinery, burning up millions of gallons of oil, though Standard Oil still managed to ultimately have one of the most profitable years in its history.
Unlike previous explosions and fires at the refinery, which first opened on the Whiting lakeshore in 1889, the 1955 disaster affected the surrounding community, Hmurovic said. The Red Cross initially estimated the damage at around $100 million, or more than $890 million today.
Miraculously, only two people died: the boy who was killed by shrapnel and a Standard Oil foreman who died of a heart attack just a week before retirement when he went to battle the blaze.
The explosion continues to reverberate in northwest Indiana, and was cited by striking refinery workers earlier this year as a reason why they were so concerned about safe working conditions and fatigue while working with such highly flammable fuels. It’s all people talked about for years when they talked about Whiting, said Thomas Belinski, a resident of Gary’s Glen Park neighborhood.
He was 7 years old at the time, and when his father heard about the disaster on the radio he took him out onto the side porch to see. He remembers watching a tower of black smoke loom over the lakeshore at least 10 miles away.
“At the time there were no houses and no trees, and we could see for miles,” Belinski said. “He showed me this big black funnel of smoke. I thought it was a tornado, but he told me, ‘No, it’s the Whiting Refinery.’”
The Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society became concerned last year that many of the people who remembered the great fire were getting older, and concluded their stories should be recorded for posterity. The youngest people who would even have memories of it are now at least 66 or 67 years old, Vargo said.
A 26-story hydroformer - believed to be the biggest in the world at the time - erupted at around 6:12 a.m. that fateful day after workers restarted it without knowing that naphtha vapors had contaminated inert gases used in the procedure. When it blew, it sent volleys of the hydroformer’s thick steel hull flying for a quarter mile in every direction.
The explosion ultimately damaged around 200 houses, displacing some 700 residents. Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society volunteers collected sheet music from 1895 that was recovered from one of the damaged homes and recruited a musician to play the song in the half-hour film. It celebrated the new Stiglitz Park subdivision across from the refinery, where 8,000 people once worked in a less automated age.
BP, which has since bought the sprawling refinery, has continued to buy up property within a potential blast radius, demolishing homes in the Marktown neighborhood in nearby East Chicago. Standard Oil needed until the 1970s to acquire the last remaining properties from the last few holdouts in Stiglitz Park, which is now an oil tank farm.
“The neighborhood would not have been inhabitable after the fire,” Hmurovic said. “It was a tremendous explosion.”
Source: The (Munster) Times, http://bit.ly/1PVSUVX
By Chad Petri
Ralph Atkins is doing the same thing today he was doing 60 years ago–selling seafood. Back in the 1950’s most seafood prices were a dollar or less a pound. Today jumbo shrimp is seven bucks a pound, jumbo lump crab meat is $24 a pound and red snapper $7 a pound. Atkins blames regulation for higher prices.
“5 million pounds of snapper gulf wide that’s from Brownsville to Key West and you can only catch that much, it becomes supply and demand,” said Atkins with Southern Fish and Oyster Co. in Mobile. At the grocery store the pitch has changed, so have the prices. Greer’s showed us one of their ads from that era. Bread was 14 cents—today it’s about a dollar if you get the store brand. A bag of sugar was half a dollar–today it’s three times that. Ground beef used to be 35 cents a pound and today it can be $2.38 a pound.
“It’s probably a lot to do with supply and demand as well as the processing cost and the regulatory costs that are real heavy now to keep things safe for customers,” said Greer’s VP Jack Greer when asked about ground beef prices. Getting to the store most shoppers need a car–in 1955 the top seller was the Chevrolet Bel Air that could run you $2,000. Today the Toyota Camry is one of the top selling cars in America but it could cost $20,000. In 2015 you get more automobile for the money and with financing more Americans can afford it.
“A lot of time back in those days people were typically paying cash for cars now you have the incentives for 0% for 72 months where you don’t pay interest and paying for the vehicle over time,” said Jeffrey Iwanowski. He’s the Used Car Manager at Eastern Shore Toyota. While you save your grand–you can rest up at the Grand Hotel. In 1955 it cost less than 10 bucks a night and today $209 a night to start.
The place changed a lot in 60 years–with new rooms, a spa, additional pools among many other additions.
“The main thing that makes the Grand, grand are the associates working here, we have generational families working with us some working 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and almost 60 years,” said hotel director of sales and marketing Kevin Hellmich. So whether it’s a luxury day in the water–or trying to pull food from the water, everything costs a little bit more today
By Ron Grossman Chicago Tribune
'It must be thundering outside': 1955 explosion at Standard Oil refinery set off fire that raged for 8 days.
The deafening explosion crushed nearby houses, broke windows miles away and hurtled steel fragments into nearby homes. The fireball spawned a towering mushroom cloud visible for 30 miles. Walls of flame burned out of control. Hundreds of half-dressed adults with children in their arms fled in the half-light of early morning.
It was Aug. 27, 1955, and something had gone horribly wrong at the Standard Oil refinery in Whiting, Ind. Recent events are making the approaching 60th anniversary of that explosion even more poignant. The economic importance of the refinery, which is now operated by BP, was confirmed when "unscheduled maintenance" there recently sent area gas prices soaring. And even as some Chicago-area residents were preparing a documentary on the subject, televised news accounts of a devastating industrial accident in the Chinese port city of Tianjin seemed to mirror in color the horrifying historical black-and-white images.
"The end of the world," as one witness described it, came about 6:15 a.m. Peter and Grace Strezo were jolted awake. "Listen, it must be thundering outside." But their ceiling caved in, and her husband said: "Thunder, hell. Let's get out of here." Grabbing their 8-year-old daughter, they drove off in their car, hurried on by the sight of their next-door neighbors' wrecked house.
Rita Samuelson was a 1-year-old living in the shadow of the sprawling facility, 16 miles southeast of downtown Chicago. "My mother said that she just wrapped me in the bedspread and ran to her mother's house," Samuelson recalled, when she suggested this Flashback. "And she was eight months pregnant at the time, and so I don't imagine she ran too quickly."
Flight was a common response. The first Tribune reporter on the scene noted: "Thru the sagging doors of some homes could be seen meals abandoned just as families were about to sit down to eat breakfast." When rescue workers got there, they reported a desperate need for shoes and stockings for children who had left in their bare feet as 500 families fled or were evacuated from the scene. Other residents, the Trib reported, "sat thru the night on porches and front lawns wondering how far the fire would spread."
The explosion that triggered fires occurred as night-shift workers were restarting fluid hydroformer unit 700, a 26-story-tall tank that converted low-octane gasoline to high-octane. The largest hydroformer in the country — perhaps in the world — sat on the nation's fourth-largest refinery, surrounded by myriad storage tanks, some with a million-gallon capacity. Their contents were supposed to pass through the plant's 20 miles of pipelines and on to the gas tanks of the nation's cars and trucks. Instead, they fueled 47 acres of fires on the 1,660-acre refinery and storage facility.
"Big steel oil storage tanks melted 'like ice cream cones' as flames licked at their rivets and plates," the Tribune reported. A 3-foot-by-4-foot section of the hydroformer was blown a block away and embedded in a mass of concrete, like "a garden spade stuck into the ground." The mushroom cloud, 8,000 feet high, obscured the sun and turned day into night.
The refinery's fire chief called for help from municipal departments, and Whiting, Hammond, East Chicago and Gary responded. Chicago sent the Victor L. Schlaeger fireboat across the lake. Yet it was quickly apparent that firefighters couldn't get close; the only real hope was to contain, not extinguish, the raging fire. Whiting's fire chief suffered badly scorched arms from a secondary explosion as he stepped out of his vehicle, two days after the initial bast. "I took off running thru the tank farm," Chief George Macko recalled to a Trib reporter on the 20th anniversary of the fire.
Given the dire reality, 3,000 emergency workers built sand dikes around the storage tanks to try to contain the blazing oil flowing through the plant. A National Guard unit was assigned the opposite task: The Guardsmen fired their 40-millimeter machine guns into the storage tanks so oil would stream out of the bullet holes before the tanks exploded. More than 60 tanks were destroyed during the 8 1/2 days the fire raged.
Initial estimates of $10 million in damages were subsequently doubled, then tripled. Two people died, including a plant foreman who had a heart attack and 3-year-old Richard Plewniak, who was killed when a steel fragment pierced his family's home.
Standard Oil quickly bought 140 of the 180 damaged homes, the refinery was rebuilt and life got back to normal in Whiting, though normal there wasn't quite what it might be elsewhere. The refinery had suffered an explosion and fire 14 years earlier. It would suffer another in 1979. A Trib columnist compared the look he saw on residents' faces to "the stubborn resignation of villagers living in the shadows of Mt. Vesuvius."
Editor's note: Thanks to Rita Samuelson, of Bloomingdale, Ill.; Steve Punis, of Kankakee, Ill.; and Frank Vargo, of Whiting, for suggesting this Flashback. The Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society will be showing the documentary it produced about this event at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Whiting High School auditorium. Admission is free.
August 20, 2015
David Assard, 82, survived a crash after his Navy patrol plane was shot down by Russian jets in 1955. The crew of the plane was rescued by Siberian Yupik National Guard members on St. Lawrence Island.
He recounted his story during a trip to the Prince William Sound Museum in Whittier on Aug. 8, a visit hosted in part by the Prince William Sound Economic Development District.
WHITTIER -- They called it the Cold War. But for the crew of a Navy patrol bomber based in Kodiak, things got very hot when Soviet MiG fighter jets swarmed them, guns blazing, during a routine maritime patrol over the Bering Sea on June 22, 1955.
The P2V-5 Neptune was cruising at about 8,000 feet, recalled David Assard, a navigator on the flight, when Lt. Richard Fisher, piloting the plane, got word from the back, “There’s jets out here. And they’re firing at us.”
There were six MiG-15s in the attack, Assard said, “two high, two below us and two shooting in a scissor pattern.”
Within seconds, 23 and 37 mm cannon fire had raked the plane, wounding several crew members and setting fire to the left wing and engine. Fischer recalled “the sound of ripping metal and tinkling glass” in a 2006 article in Foundation magazine. He rolled the plane and dove into the clouds.
The maneuver put out the fire temporarily and lost the attackers. “Apparently they didn’t see us,” Assard said. “Or else they thought we were done for.”
So did the men on the plane. As Fischer slowed and leveled the plane about 50 feet off the ocean, the fire in the magnesium metal frame reignited. Those with a view off the left could see the wing spar, the skin burned off. It was twisting and appeared ready to rip away.
“We all thought the wing was going to fall off,” Assard said.
By shifting fuel from the one remaining tank to the one remaining engine, the Neptune might reach Nome, in theory. But Fischer was sure the wing would fail before then. He briefly considered ditching at sea while the wing still held, but with one life raft ripped up by enemy fire and questions about whether the other could be deployed and half of his men without rubber “poopy” dry suits, he expected that even in a best-case scenario they would die in the cold water before help could arrive.
That left the desperate option of a crash landing on St. Lawrence Island. “I’m going to stretch this to land,” Fischer said, and called for a heading. Assard, who had shrapnel in his hand and back, ran the calculations as best he could. The circuit breaker had been hit and most electronics were out. But he gave Fischer bearings that he hoped would bring the plane to American territory.
A high rocky cliff shortly appeared in front of the cockpit. Fischer eased the plane up to 100 feet to clear the cliff. He feathered the props, cut the power and, with the wheels up, skidded the plane along the tundra on its belly.
“He did a superb job of landing the plane,” Assard said. “It was as beautiful as you can do it.”
But the landing set off another explosion toward the tail of the plane. It created a fireball. “The plane stopped fast enough, but the fireball kept right on going forward through the whole plane,” Assard said.
The men managed to escape the flaming wreck and made it to a ditch a short distance away. They ducked as ammunition and flares in the smoldering plane continued to explode. They had no clear idea about where they were or whether anyone at their base knew what had happened.
And everyone had injuries, some severe, from bullets and shrapnel, broken bones, smoke and fire. “We were all burned,” Assard said.
Assard, 82, recounted his story during a trip to the Prince William Sound Museum in Whittier on Aug. 8, a visit hosted in part by the Prince William Sound Economic Development District. He was visiting the state with his wife, Linda, and several friends from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area where he now lives.
Museum founder Ted Spencer gave the group a tour of the place. He paused at the Cold War display and said, “This is our David Assard exhibit.”
The case includes Assard’s flight jacket.
A Connecticut farm boy, Assard became fascinated by aviation as a young man and joined the Navy to learn to fly. He got his wings before his 21st birthday. He was assigned to several duty stations over his career, including the Navy Base on Kodiak, now a Coast Guard facility.
In 1955 the Dew Line and White Alice radar and communications systems were still two years from completion. The U.S. needed to know what the Russians were up to and the only way to do that was with reconnaissance flights in aircraft big enough to hold a lot of electronic equipment and fly long distances.
“Our mission was to fly up between the Diomedes toward Wrangel Island,” Assard said. “We’d check the ice, the weather, any sign of activity, and return skirting the international date line, but being careful to stay east of it. The Russians claimed everything on the west side and we didn’t want to start World War III. So our orders were: Don’t fire unless fired upon.”
The Neptune was a Lockheed design that resembled the lines of a World War II B-25 Mitchell
Bomber, though with a single high tail instead of the Mitchell’s double-rudder configuration. It had a variety of guns and turrets, but they were useless without the electrical power. “Once we were hit, we couldn’t fire back,” Assard said.
Even if its guns had been fully functioning, the odds would have been stacked against the single, prop-driven, lumbering Neptune. The six jet-powered MiG fighters had top speeds of more than 600 miles an hour; the PV2 cruised at less than 200 miles an hour. One on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, is named “The Truculent Turtle.”
“Look at that plane,” Assard said, pointing to a photo in the museum exhibit. “That was not designed for aerial combat.”
Surveillance was dangerous duty, said Spencer, who has made a life study of aviation in general and in Alaska in particular. The Cold War display at the museum lists a score of American planes shot down by the Russian military on recon missions between 1950 and 1970. The sites of these incidents range from the Sea of Japan and Korea to the Black Sea and Arctic Ocean. The June 22, 1955, shoot -own is the only one that took place in Alaska.
The display gives a total of 165 American personnel killed or missing in these clashes.
“The ones who got captured in Russia were nobodies,” Assard said. “The U.S. didn’t want to admit that spying was going on and the Russians weren’t going to say that they were being spied on. So those guys just disappeared, sent off to mines in Siberia where they were worked to death.”
Skin boat rescue
The possibility of capture was very much on the minds of the Navy men clustered on the tundra. Assard had given Fischer his best guess of their location, but neither of them were totally confident. The rest of the crew was even less certain.
“We knew very little of St. Lawrence,” wrote Fischer, including what it looked like if you happened to find yourself on the island and how you might go about finding anyone who lived there.
About 40 minutes after the crash, they heard approaching motors. Looking toward the water, they saw boats with armed men coming in their direction. Rescue or gulag? Everyone held his breath.
The men turned out to be members of the Alaska National Guard. “And thus our prospects for survival were greatly improved,” Fischer observed with noteworthy understatement.
The guardsmen were Siberian Yupik Eskimos from Gambell, a village 8 miles from the crash site on the side of St. Lawrence closest to Russia. Villagers had heard the plane approaching the island and determined, from the sound of the engine, that something was wrong. They immediately set out to look for it.
The guardsmen were led by a soldier assigned to the U.S. Army signal station near the village. The Navy men knew nothing about the presence of the station, a nearby Air Force radar site or even the existence of Gambell itself. “If we’d known,” Fischer wrote, “we would have tried for the landing strip at Gambell.”
The guardsmen supplied first aid and shuttled them to the village, some in a Weasel tracked vehicle, Assard and others in skin boats powered by 20-horsepower Johnson engines.
A nurse at the village’s Presbyterian mission supplied what Fischer called “excellent emergency medical care” and, within 12 hours of the crash, the seriously injured men were evacuated by C-47 cargo plane to the hospital at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, where they underwent surgery.
Those with minor injuries, like Fischer and co-pilot David Lockhart, were taken to Elmendorf Air Force Base where, Fischer recalled, “(we) underwent an extremely long and tiring debriefing in a large room full of more generals and colonels than I thought existed in all of Alaska.”
Assard was among those evacuated to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California, once they had been stabilized in Anchorage. Recovery lasted for months or longer. Assard recalled that one radioman had his ears and nose burned off and remained in treatment for five years.
Historian Stephen Ambrose has asserted that the Navy plane was “over Soviet airspace” in his book “Eisenhower: The President” (Simon and Schuster, 1984). Fischer dismissed that claim in his Foundation article.
“So much for historical accuracy,” he wrote. “The facts are otherwise. We were not on a recon mission over Soviet territory. There was no warning pass, no shots across the bow, no close formation attempt to warn us away, only the single live-fire pass.” And the Neptune was clearly in American airspace. The evidence was so compelling that the Soviets admitted that the shoot-down was their error and offered to pay the U.S. for damages.
“They admitted responsibility and paid for the cost of the plane,” Spencer said. “It’s the only time that happened in the whole Cold War.”
Global politics are one thing. Personal obligations are another. Forty years after the crash, Assard said, “I decided it was time to go up to Alaska and say thank you.”
After leaving active duty, he became an aeronautical engineer and went on to become president and chief executive officer of Textron Lycoming, Cessna Aircraft and Elliott Turbomachinery, among his other business interests. He had made enough money to order a bronze plaque and bring it to Gambell, where it was attached to the side of the village’s high school.
“We were very fortunate in landing on an American island and being found by American Eskimos,” he said. “They couldn’t have been more gracious.”
In the early 1990s, Assard thinks it was probably 1991, he made the trip to Gambell to present the plaque. He was welcomed with a big party and Native dancing that went on for three hours. Joining tribal leaders he made the overland trip to the crash site on four-wheelers to see what was left of his old airplane.
Cyrillic graffiti indicated that Russian frogmen had been to the wreck. But the only satisfaction they got was to leave some presumed taunts. The American military blew up much of the plane shortly after the crash to keep the Soviets from getting access to classified electronics.
“They wanted to come back and remove everything,” said Assard. “But the Eskimos said no. The tail was still up and visible for miles. They were using it to get their bearings. So they left it” along with surviving portions of the front and wings.
Spencer, who has been to the site more recently, said the tail is now slumping forward. He hopes someday to recover part of the plane for the museum to help people remember the great non-war war in which Alaska was a major front.
Assard seemed to think it’s enough that he cheated death. For that he credits the people of Gambell and his commanding officer.
“Dick (Fischer) was a tough old bird,” he said. “They gave him the Distinguished Flying Cross and he deserved it. He told us, ‘If I can save anybody, I’m going to save everybody.’
“And here I am, 60 years later.”