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published in The Draft Horse Journal, Autumn, 2001

by Maurice Telleen

Grantland Rice was wise to stick to prose–color commentary and straight reporting on the people who play games seriously, rather than betting his considerable talent on poetry. I include this little piece of rhyme to make the point, as he did, that one reason our country went bananas over athletes in the so-called “roaring ‘20s” was the desire to turn our backs on the old hatreds and conflicts of Europe. The horrors of World War I had proven to be a powerful antidote to romantic notions of war as a glorious adventure. So, we turned inward with a “let them stew in their own juices” attitude. Not that we didn’t have considerable juices of our own, but we chose to ignore those, too. It was, as Rice said, a time to “play forever where a fellow might forget.” It didn’t work but I suppose that is as good an explanation as any for the extravagant attention we devoted to sports figures in the 1920s. I don’t know what our excuse is now.

We started with Grantland Rice so we will continue on with athletes for a while.

On August 6 of 1926 a young woman from New York named Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel. Men had been doing this, off and on, for a half century. Not only was she the first woman to do so, she did it faster than had any of the men. This 19 year old girl did it “her way.” Instead of finding a deep place to dive in, for the benefit of the press and public, she simply waded in from a beach in France. No fanfare. The place she lost the most time was on the English side where, believe it or not, customs officials insisted on interrogating her before permitting her ashore. Perhaps they wished to check her passport–such is petty officialdom. That never changes. Anywhere.

Well, Gertrude’s crossing was kind of a kick in the pants to some notions of manhood. Swimming the channel in better time than Gertrude suddenly became the thing to do. She did it in 14 hours and 31 minutes, cutting two hours off the best previous time. And that little nerd in customs probably cost her another half hour.

The first to restore self-respect to maledom was a German named Ernst Vierkoetter. He did it on August 30 in 12 hours and 43 minutes. He was quickly dethroned by a Frenchman named Georges Michel on September 10. He cut the time down to 11 hours and 5 minutes. We will leave swimming the channel there. I have no idea what the current best time is, nor whether it is held by a man, woman or dolphin. I would bet on a dolphin. Anyhow, Gertrude, who is now 94 if she is still alive, is the one who stirred all this up 75 years ago.

Here in the U.S., Babe Ruth, outfielder and great home run hitter for the New York Yankees, caught a baseball dropped from an airplane. It was a planned and publicized event, not just a random baseball falling out of a passing plane. I suppose there was some money in it for the Bambino.

Serious money was getting more commonplace in sports. In August of that year Suzanne Lenglen, great tennis player from France, announced her plans to tour the U.S. playing as a professional for $200,000. That was probably more than the French treasury had at the moment. More on that in a bit.

With a crowd of 130,000 to witness the Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney boxing match in Philadelphia on September 23 for the world’s heavyweight boxing championship, you can bet there was serious money involved there, too. Tunney, the challenger, won on a decision and Dempsey’s reign as the heavyweight champion was over. Tunney, an ex-marine, had the crowd on his side. Dempsey had been their favorite a few years prior, but living in luxury had taken its toll on him and in terms of public esteem. Tunney, a little smaller man, wore him down. Following the fight Dempsey said, “I have no alibi. I lost to a good man, an American, who speaks the English language.” A rather strange comment but this was in white supremist, isolationist 1926. Tunney’s comment made more sense. He said, “I never fought a harder socker.”

In less than two years, after defending the title successfully a few times (including one rematch with Dempsey), Tunney announced that he was retiring from the boxing ring and planned to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. What do you make of that?

To wrap up the sports news we will now go to the 7th game of the 1926 World Series; the New York Yankees (of course) and the St. Louis Cardinals. The aforementioned Babe Ruth hit four home runs in that series including one in that final game. The Cardinals were led by player/manager Roger Hornsby, who was also no slouch with a bat. He had won six straight National League batting titles from 1920-25. With a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning, bases loaded and two outs, Hornsby sent his pitcher (Haines) to the showers and brought in the aging (almost 40!) Grover Cleveland Alexander to the mound. The old man struck out the next batter, retiring the side, and the Cardinals went on to claim their World Series victory.

And that, Mr. Rice (wherever you are) is enough for games in the late summer and early fall of 1926.

Europe, meanwhile, was confirming what a lot of Americans thought of it. As for the other side of the globe, Asia and the Pacific rim, it appears that we thought relatively little about it at all. Let National Geographic cover that. Just send more missionaries to China.

Britain continued its long summer of labor unrest with coal mining being the sorest spot, as that strike drug on and on. Poland gave up on representative government and opted for a dictator, a guy named Pilsudski, who would have liked to invade Russia but he didn’t have a powerful army. Germany, of course, had been going through a very nasty stretch of inflation, unemployment and general bitterness ever since their defeat in 1918. All of which was exacerbated by harsh terms imposed by the treaty of Versailles. Mussolini was strutting around Italy like a rooster, saying it had to either expand or explode. He must have seen himself as the successor to the Caesars. And France was flat broke. Without transfusions from the House of Morgan in New York and London, their treasury would have been bankrupt.

France had a different government every six months or so. By 1926, it was such a shambles that when Poincare formed a new one (it was his fourth time as head dog in the kennel), he had five former premiers serving as ministers. They ranged from left to right–a coalition to end all coalitions. France was experiencing gridlock and flirting with bankruptcy.

Imagine, if you can, a Bush government with Bill Clinton, Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter, his father and Ronald Reagan in the cabinet. “No, Dad, I don’t think that will work this time around.” “No, Jimmy, I will not turn down the thermostat in the White House and wear sweaters.” “No, Bill, we don’t need to fund a new dictionary. Most people know what ‘is’ means.” “Sure, Ronnie, go ahead and make that speech about winning one for the Gipper–people love it. By the way, who was the Gipper?”

In September, Germany was admitted to the League of Nations. I suppose that was a positive thing but in this case, it really didn’t matter. For a couple of months prior to this, the Nazi party had held its first Congress. This political party, created by Adolf Hitler, had been banned when he was sent to jail in 1924. Paroled after serving just eight months, he quickly went to reorganizing and in July of 1926, they were cocky enough to hold their first party congress. He, and his supporters, couldn’t have cared less whether Germany was in or out of the League. So, both north and south of the Alps, you had spellbinding and dangerous nutcases on the loose. They would rearrange and orchestrate the lives of all of us on both sides of the Atlantic, in ways no one could imagine in 1926.

Compared to Europe, our problems–at least the ones we chose to deal with–certainly did appear more manageable.

The prohibition of intoxicating liquors, mandated by a constitutional amendment, had been in effect for six or seven years. It wasn’t working well. When liquor was driven underground, it was appropriated by mob and gangster elements. Private clubs, moonshine, speakeasies and bootlegging became almost commonplace. If all the violators of the law had been put in jail simultaneously, they would have had to appropriate college dormitories to hold them all. And that would have thrown professors out of work.

The thing to do was have a congressional hearing. So that is what was done. Among those testifying were officials of state insane asylums (the language was less sanitized in 1926) who claimed that the number of demented persons due to alcoholism had increased tenfold since 1920. I find that tenfold business mighty hard to believe–in six years! That was even worse than compound interest. Which is bad enough.

It was a strange decade, sort of a collision of huge social tectonic plates, stirring up a witches’ brew that would engulf us all.

The movies had created their version of sports heroes in matinee idols. One of them, a 31 year old actor named Rudolf Valentino, died suddenly as a result of a ruptured appendix and a gastric ulcer–neither of which would be a big deal today. He was one of the first of many such creations by the silver screen. Thousands of women were beside themselves. Their make-believe lover was dead. One sent 4,000 roses to the funeral. What a waste. She could have sent five roses to 800 women with “guess who” cards and made their day. Or, at least, piqued the curiosity of their husbands. Might have caused a lot of trouble too, arousing suspicions that were groundless. I guess a couple women killed themselves. They were “making a statement.” One missed and shot her cat instead, and she felt really bad about that, too.

As you might surmise, I didn’t regard 1926 as any prize, at least not up at the level where people were making a lot of noise and grabbing headlines. I doubt that any of this, except perhaps for the deadly politics of Europe, was of much interest to my parents and their neighbors. They were too busy farming, raising kids, raising stock and maybe even taking a few to the fair, to be mesmerized by the big picture. Real life was happening one day at a time, right outside their doorstep. And it still is—on to the livestock and farming scene, as it looked in 1926.

Some of the heavy duty politics on this side of the water concerned agriculture. Farming, somehow got left out of the roaring part of that decade. It had recovered some from the tailspin it went into shortly after the war, but was still on the sickly side. So there were a good many congressional hearings on farming, as well as prohibition. The “farm block” in Congress packed a pretty fair wallop. Our population was smaller and we had a lot more farmers than we do now. So the equation was quite different from today.

President Coolidge, temperamentally, was more like a farmer than any other we had in that period or up until we had Harry Truman who had actually farmed, spending many hours looking at the south end of a mule going north.

The McNary-Haugen bill for farm relief never made it past Silent Cal Coolidge and the Republican right wing, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. One short paragraph from the speech President Coolidge made at the 1924 International Livestock Show, in Chicago tells me why. I’ve read it carefully–a couple of times. It is not a bad speech, fulsome in its praise of farmers, the USDA and of the outreach of the land grant schools. He got several things right, but one little paragraph convinced me that he did not really fathom the difference between a farmer and a large corporation, a monopoly or an oligarchy where the producers are few and production can be adjusted by laying off a few thousand. Here is that incriminating paragraph.

“The sound remedy is to reduce production, and that is a remedy which will automatically apply itself if there is not artificial interference.”

He obviously believed devoutly in “the invisible hand of the market” and that slowing down production by laying off people was somehow NOT artificial interference. Coolidge obviously did not realize that low prices drive farmers to produce more. They were not sitting in board rooms, they were trying to meet “their note” at the bank. Not only that, they could not control production in the same way as a manufacturing enterprise. Stuff like drought, floods and animal disease frequently determined the outcome in their enterprise. They were not in a position to set prices any more than they were to tell their neighbors to slow down.

That aside, I have always liked Cal Coolidge, as a decent and well intentioned man. So what does a Democrat from Iowa find to admire so much in Calvin Coolidge? Since I’m neither paid by the column inch nor the hour, I’m going to digress and tell you. If I get fired, so be it. I’m old, my children are grown and my debts are paid.

Would I have voted for him? Absolutely not. I would have voted for Bob LaFollette from Wisconsin, a so-called Progressive candidate.

Why I like Calvin Coolidge: Coolidge, it was said, hated all those official dinners. He usually sat through them in silence. A woman once challenged him at one of those deadly affairs, saying that she had bet a friend that she could get more than two words out of him. Coolidge replied, “You lose.”

I like the way he was sworn in. Serving as Warren Harding’s Vice President, he was vacationing at his father’s farm in New England when he received word in the middle of the night of the President’s death. His father was a notary public. In that house by the light of a kerosene lamp, at 2:45 in the morning, his dad (as a public official) administered the oath of office as President of the United States, to his son.

Eighteen days later, he was properly sworn in by a Supreme Court Justice. Harry Daugherty, Harding’s Attorney General was bothered by the legality of the first homemade swearing in. That is quite ironic because Harry Daugherty was considered by many to be crooked as a dog’s hind leg. Later that same year Coolidge, with scandals from the Harding years bursting about him, forced Daugherty’s resignation. Two of Daugherty’s colleagues in the Department of Justice committed suicide. Albert Fall, the Secretary of Interior, went to jail–as did others. Daugherty, who was so fastidious about swearing in went on trial but two hung juries failed to convict him. Coolidge acted decisively and none of those scandals damaged him when he ran for President on his own in 1924.

He was once asked what he thought upon becoming President in the middle of the night in his father’s house. He replied, “I thought I could swing it.”

He was not born to privilege. He grew up doing farm chores and even referred to New England farms as 10 cow, 20 cow and 30 cow farms–rather than by acreage. With his success, he never assumed airs. He remained just Cal Coolidge, and if people wanted to call him Silent Cal–well, that was up to them.

He had drunk from some pretty bitter cups as well. His mother died when he was 12 years old. His sister died when still a school girl. Shortly after his nomination in 1924 his son, also named Calvin, wore a blister on his foot playing tennis, developed septicemia and died at age 16. In his autobiography written much later he said “the power and the glory of the presidency went with him.” Anyone who has lost a child can relate to that feeling. We qualify.

His marriage, from all accounts, was supremely happy. His wife, Grace, was as outgoing as he was introverted. Shortly after their marriage he came up with 52 pairs of socks that had holes in them. Grace asked him if that was why he had married her, to darn socks. He responded, “No, but I find it mighty handy.”

I find his oft-quoted statement that “the business of America is business” both inadequate and offensive. Do I think he vetoed some good legislation? Sure do. Do I think he should have taken some measures to discourage a wild speculation in the stock market during his administration? Sure do. I reckon he didn’t because of his belief in that invisible hand. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know. He was bothered by this same question.

I also liked his farewell address. “Good-bye, I have had a very enjoyable time in Washington.”

Had I been a contemporary of Coolidge, I would have opposed him on most everything. But I think I would have liked and respected him. But I sure never would have voted for him.

On the farm bills then circulating, the BREEDER’S GAZETTE was sort of hands-off. I think Sanders, the editor, was kind of waiting around for that invisible hand, too. But he was having some doubts and he had this steady drumbeat of letters to the editor to contend with. They were pointing out that many of the success stories he was so fond of, started out with: (A)-inheriting the farm; (B)-marrying the farm; (C)-and having either the good sense or luck not to leverage what they had to buy more during the wartime prices.

A much safer editorial subject was “choice beef,” now that the government had finally gotten into that act. He had comments on that most every week.

Production testing in dairy cows and hog production was spreading like prairie fire. DHIAs (Dairy Herd Improvement Associations) were being started as fast as web sites are now. Gone were the short term, seven day tests. Now it was whole herd testing for the guys who made their own hay and milked twice a day. The 305 day records, with a timely breed back and dry period, were also challenging the old 365 day records. The emphasis was on total performance. Bull proofs (daughter/dam comparisons) would soon follow. It was changing the face and nature of the dairy world. Having that tester come to your house once a month, take his samples and weigh each cow’s production, was giving rank and file dairymen good solid information. Some great cows were being discovered in obscure places and a lot of boarders were being exposed for what they were.

In the hogs it was also total performance, rather that just individual rate of gain. It was called the Ton Litter Program. Reduced to its bare bones, it was how much weight you could get on a single litter in 180 days from birth. The size of litters varies greatly, but size of litter is also an economic consideration. If your sows average four pigs apiece, you aren’t going to make any money raising hogs, no matter how ‘purty or showy’ those little pigs are.

The top record, as of that date–August 19, 1926, was held by the W.T. Raleigh farm of Freeport, Illinois with a litter of 16 pigs that weighed 4,789 pounds at 180 days. That is an average of 298 pounds, not too shabby when you consider that 300 pounds was the bench mark or goal. On the basis of weight per pig, that was held by Sanders Bros. in Garrard County, Kentucky on 12 Poland Chinas. The ton litter program was of interest mostly to purebred breeders who, like the purebred dairy cattle breeder, was looking for matrons who were making them money. The better to sell their offspring as breeding stock. These were both grass roots type programs at their best.

That was the rage. So, along those same lines, J.M. Burlingham, Gem County, Idaho, writes in as follows: “The pulling match is all right, but it takes something besides a pull to make a good-all round work horse. No horse does much work at a standstill. It follows that the more ground a horse goes over at a walk, the more work he does. The drafter should enter a walking race at every fair, and should be timed, not on how quickly he can walk a mile but how many miles he can go in an hour with a load of 1,000 pounds for a single horse and 2,000 pounds for a pair.”

Sort of like the endurance ride that has come into vogue for saddle horses.

Actually, I recall reading in a GAZETTE from the mid-’30s about a contest for draft horses designed somewhat along Mr. Burlingham’s suggested lines. It has certain validity to it. But as a spectator event, it ranks right down there with watching ten young hogs pig-out, telling each other, “Eat up, mom’s reputation is riding on this.”

The whole thrust of these programs was good–people were being encouraged to look beyond the blue ribbons for real performance. And to finding the jewels you might have in your own barnlot.

So how about horse prices? How did they compare with other species, even though the others were sold by the pound? Jim Poole, the Gazette’s market reporter said that good drafters, 1,700 lbs. and up, were selling for up to $275 a head, while 1,400-1,500 lbs. delivery types were bringing from $150 to $175. Farm chunks were being quoted at $125. Not too bad, actually.

Choice steers were selling for about $10 cwt., so a 1,500 lb. steer was bringing about what a 1,400 lb. delivery horse was fetching, and it took almost two of them to buy a top notch drafter. As for the common, thin, non-descript offerings, they were the slowest in some time–as low as $25 per head.

Corn was between 70-80 cents a bushel, oats from 38 to 42 cents per bushel and hay from $18 to $25 per ton–all Chicago prices. Corn went up as the summer wore on, probably a weather market.

Actually, there did seem to be some renewed interest in draft horses and an idea that mixed power–tractors for the heavy tillage jobs and belt work and horses for the rest — seemed a likely scenario for the future.

William McLaughlin, veteran Percheron importer from Columbus, Ohio, must have thought so. He announced, week after week, that he was bringing an importation of twelve head of the best stallions in France, personally selected and expected to show them at either the Iowa or Ohio State Fairs (the two best of the lot in those days) and at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial. And not just the imports, but also “the best collection of young American-bred stallions seen during the last ten years.”

Turns out he wasn’t bragging. He never got to Des Moines with that lineup but at Ohio he stood 1, 2, and 3 in the 3 year olds: 2, 3, and 5 in the 2 year olds ; 2 and 4 in the 4 year olds, and 3 and 4 in the aged class. And they cannot have been long off the boat for they were not scheduled to arrive before July.

The Philadelphia Show (a world’s fair type of thing) was not nearly as large as Ohio but very stout. It was basically a three-dog fight between McLaughlin, J.O. Singmaster & Son, Keota, Iowa, and Tom Corwin Farms, Marysville, Ohio. Singmaster was showing the Lagos horses and Tom Corwin was showing mostly Carnot-bred horses. McLaughlin won three of the five stallion classes he entered. He had the senior and grand champion, the junior champion and beat Singmaster in Best Five Stallions.

Lagos, incidentally, died on the Singmaster farm on July 20. Colic. Although not shown except in the groups, after his 1916 grand championship at the International, he travelled with the Singmaster show herd for ten years–1925 being the first year he was left at home. Lagos was, literally and in the flesh, admired by tens of thousands on those extensive circuits as his sons and daughters brought him additional glory. He was buried outside his stall on the farm.

Wayne Dinsmore, the enterprising Secretary of the Horse Association of America knew how to orchestrate publicity stunts as well as keep editors covered up with good horse copy. He set up a dandy in Chicago when the Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Bros. Circus came to town. It wound up on the August 5 cover of Breeder’s Gazette and appears here.

picture 1
Jupiter’s Marie, grand champion Belgian mare at the Sesquicentennial, also best of breed. She, along with the champion stallion, Martin II, was shown by Evert King, Chicago, Illinois, and sold to J.W. Fuller, Willow Brook Farm, Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. So champions did find buyers at that show.
picture 2
Baryton, grand champion Percheron stallion at the Sesquicentennial World’s Fair in Philadelphia for Wm. McLaughlin. This three year old was imported from France in July. He was shown to grand champion at the Ohio State Fair in August, where he defeated the junior champion, Don Degas, for grand champion. (Don Degas went on to be junior and grand champion at the International in November.) At the Sesquicentennial, Baryton defeated Maple Grove Knight shown by Singmasters from Iowa. Maple Grove Knight had been grand champion at the American Royal; the Missouri, Iowa and Indiana State Fairs; and the Pacific International in Portland, Oregon, prior to Philadelphia. I’m not sure which horse traveled the longer road to Philadelphia. Knight went on to be reserve grand at the International. As for Baryton, he was sold after the Philadelphia show to W.S. Bailey & Co., Caribou, Maine.

We aren’t going to dwell on the state fair results, 1926 was too long ago for that. But I will close this section with a look at their September 23, 1926, issue, which carried a generous salute to the livestock show at the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia. This was the next to last world’s fair type of event in our country that featured a livestock show. Starting with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the Lewis & Clark Exposition in St. Louis in 1904, and the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915–all had given livestock competition a major role. Then on to this one in Philadelphia in 1926. In 1939, as the world was again going to war, we had two of them–one in New York, simply called the World’s Fair, and one in San Francisco called the Golden Gate International Exposition. San Francisco had a livestock show–New York didn’t. All of them ran for several months. The livestock show was simply an added attraction for a week or two.

The first ones I mentioned were important in helping breeds establish themselves in this country. The last two, in Philadelphia and San Francisco, were simply showcases.

The Philadelphia show was probably the best of the lot in terms of dairy cattle. That was to be expected in the East. The beef show was very good. The draft horse show was small but very high quality with 61 Belgians making up the largest lot, Clydesdales came next with 49, Percherons with 41 and 13 Shires. Not a lot, but some of the best in the nation. The champions were in most cases horses that could or would win in Chicago.

There had been a world’s fair in that same city in 1876. It was called the Centennial Exposition, which isn’t surprising. There was only one draft horse exhibitor who managed to show at both of them. He was A.G. Soderberg, Osco, Illinois. The report said, “His Clydesdale exhibit was much appreciated. He does not look as if he has seen 84 summers. He still shows his own horses and gets around about as spryly as many men half his age.”

Soderberg was a Swede. Just thought I’d mention it.

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