Mr. Wrestling

Read more about this in Men Without Fear, available at Amazon.

For many boys at the New York Institute, the man that made self-respect achievable was one Clyde L. Downs of Downsville, Maryland.

When Clyde Downs first came to the Institute in 1929 at age 21, the Institute did not have a wrestling program, and Downs did not come as a wrestling coach. He appears to have been a general physical education coach, engaging students in a variety of activities.

Overbrook School in Philadelphia has been credited with the first wrestling program for blind kids, started in 1929,[3] the very same year that NYI hired Clyde Downs. The Institute would sometimes compete against Overbrook. The Philadelphia-based program was an all-white program, while the New York Institute was integrated. When the two teams met, the Institute’s non-white players were not able to participate, so the Institute was subjected to a handicap. But it seems that in the early years Overbrook had a genuinely superior program. A February 1937 story in Time Magazine describes a 22–5 beating handed to the Institute by Overbrook. By 1942, however, New York Institute students and graduates began to appear at or near the top of regional and national tournaments to a degree that Overbrook never had.

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Personality Disorders

Sam Barber, sitting in the redwood parlor playing Adagio
for Strings on the Steinway, and Una’s in the bathtub
running the cold tap with a pistol in her hand and a bullet
in her breast, her black broth bleeding out, making warm
curlicues all around her, an arm reaching out
for more sleeping pills.

Behind the piano, the door to the guest room is closed
for J.R. and his guest, romping on the deathbed
and I’m seasick on the heaving edge, looking out
the west window—the reaper in the surf.

Yeats, J.R.’s comrade is fog-white with age
and madness and running naked through the poppies
singing for the tatters in his coat and brandishing
Una’s best cleaver at the star-eyed tourists.

© 2016 Kaweah

Hotel Jericho

Lowcountry, maybe twenty
upstream miles from the Battery
and a few feet above the sea;
the gators and the blackwater
patiently flow, and you can just about
hear the ghost-song of the ivory bill
echo off the cypress knees.

On the south bank, the land
swells forty or so feet
to lanky yellow pine stands
and narrow Old Jacksonboro Road,
holding to the rim till a finger
of the Caw Caw points to where
the road meets the Savannah Highway
and the tracks at Adams Run.

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Hotel Jericho

Old Jacksonboro Road crosses the Savannah Highway within a half hour of Charleston. The junction has a name: Jericho. Today it is considered part of the town of Adams Run (as though you know where that is).

The Notre Maison Boys Home

The Notre Maison Boys Home
Source: Rebecca Reconnu Biggs Grainger


As far as I know, Jericho was once the site of a hotel, a store with gas pumps named Caison’s Groceries, and a school annex for Coloreds. The store had a post office inside. Mom and Dad bought the old hotel in 1970, when we returned to South Carolina. I was just 5. We didn’t stay there long. Sometime after we left South Carolina again in 1972, it all burned down in a couple of fires (I have an alibi: I was out of state).

The hotel had three stories, if one counts the spacious attic with dormer windows and and old four-legged bathtub. It had exterior wooden stairways which functioned as fire escapes. It had ten bedrooms and four bathrooms. When we moved in, one of the bedrooms had a sagging floor. The bathrooms were equipped with showers, but none of them functioned. We all had to bathe in my sister Duska’s bedroom (the attic).

About six years before, the house had been converted to a boys’ home by David A Reconnu and his wife Helen. They operated the boys’ home for about four years.


Source: Thomas C. Hucks

The adjacent store (peeking through on the right edge of the above photo) came equipped with a soda vending machine that would allow a mischievous boy to yank a bottle out without paying. The trick to it was not to brag about snagging a free soda to one’s mom.

When Mom and Dad first found out about the hotel in Spring 1970, they saw it as a place that might serve well as a home for seven and a dog, a chiropractic office, and a Bahá’í center. I must confess that if I were driving down the Savannah Highway and I saw a FOR SALE sign posted in front of that old hotel, I would have been sorely tempted to stop for a look-see.

It seems they bought the house sight-unseen. When they actually laid eyes upon it, it was pretty badly trashed, featuring a trash pile in the front.

Among my favorite memories of Jericho was the the trash pile in the back, all blackened from the last fire and wet from the last rain. I can still smell the aroma of molten plastics, rotting food, and rusted scrap metal. I also remember when a crab, recently taken from the ocean, got a hold of a cat’s tail. I’m not sure how that happened, but now I suspect it probably got some help from a teenage boy.

Across the highway, there was a hotel of a different kind that was even more noteworthy: a maze of tunnels that some neighbor kids had dug out. My memory of that system of tunnels has endured in my mind as one of the great achievements of kidkind.

It turned out the Hotel Jericho had too many maintenance and repair issues, and it wasn’t easy to unload. Mom and Dad weren’t able to sell it for a year or two after we left Jericho.

Jericho School Annex for Coloreds
Jericho School Annex for Coloreds.



It turned out that the property was in worse shape than we’d thought. All the while we lived there, and for years before and after, going back to before the boys’ home, there had been a fertilizer plant operating behind the house, contaminating the soil and the groundwater. The area, including the site of the house, was later declared a superfund site. One of the companies that did the damage, Kerr-McGee, was infamously featured in the Karen Silkwood story. The sign of the company that ran the plant later still stands by the highway. Apparently, the fertilizer plant had been exporting fertilizer laced with quite a variety of toxic chemicals.


Rochester Post-Bulletin: Companies indicted after lead, cadmium found in fertilizer


The Charleston Post & Courier: Pact would clean up toxic Stoller Site

© 2006, 2013, 2015 Dan J. Jensen

America’s Last Chance

The year was 1966. The times they were a-changin’. In the Bahá’í universe, the pieces were falling into place. The first Universal House of Justice had been elected, and the world seemed to be ready for new answers and new leaders. It was the time of Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali. Malcolm X had recently been assassinated. Black Americans were asserting their status and rights as full citizens. The time was right to introduce Black America to Bahá’u’lláh’s message of racial equality and unity.

I was just a year old. My family moved from south Los Angeles to Saint Helena Island, just off the coast of South Carolina. We lived in the town of Frogmore, the location of legendary Penn Center. Saint Helena Island, midway between Charleston and Savannah, had once been a sanctuary for free blacks (Union territory during the Civil War), and the location of a school for the same. It remains an active cultural heritage center to this day. In the 1960s, Penn Center was a conference center for some of the leaders of Black America. My parents even joined in a meeting attended by Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, and—I daresay—even Joan Baez. Continue reading


When I was a young Redbirds fan, bouncing from coast to coast, I learned that I could pick up KMOX, Jack Buck, and Mike Shannon just about anywhere at night, though never in California.

When once I was a child in the west I was looking east,
and when a child in the east I looked west,
ever aiming through that Gateway;

and I again was on my road west
when Lady and I were again children,
basking in the wonders of commerce and truth and trivia
in fashion magazines and such vivid things,

in a moment without motion,

I looked up to feel a warm breeze from the eastern ocean,
but there was time passing in a vision

of a Gateway
rising on the horizon
over the River I could never cross completely

and in the Gateway beckoned a City
and Lady greeted the City—warmly
as though he were expected
as though they were old friends
and I followed her through the Gateway
and I cannot cross that River
and she sat in the lap of the City
she kissed the City
and before my eyes she became the City
and those eyes last saw her in the Gateway
and I continued my steps west
and I thought how strange that City had always been so friendly
how the City and I had always been such friends
but now she is the City and I cannot recognize him

And years from home I am touring Topeka
Columbia Lawrence Independence
pre dawn hours thinking on the shape of things
side walks car lots front yards thinking on the shape of things
not half sleeping in the park dodging cops and moon and
dreams that she is gazing at the sun
setting on the Pacific
that she is squinting for my silhouette on the horizon
and I am not in California
I need to see the sunrise

and her Gateway

and think upon the shape of things.

Evolution Embraced in Dixie

Cultural evolution will have to suffice for the present.

The southern Atlantic seaboard is a remarkable sight to behold this morning. Barack Obama has demonstrated his broad appeal from the outskirts of DC, through the Carolinas and Georgia, all the way to Key West.

South Carolina flag

This is certainly a sign of a broad nationwide appeal, largely due to widespread dissatisfaction with Dubya and the Republican Party, but I think it’s just as much a sign of cultural progress specific to the Southeastern region. Obama didn’t do quite so well in Alabama, the lower Mississippi Valley, Appalachia, the southern Plains States, Utah, or the Northern Rockies.

Let’s hear it for East-Dixie!

I wouldn’t be betting on a counter reconstruction this time around.

Ty Cobb: All-American

Baseball “historian” Daniel Okrent righteously denounced American icon and baseball great Ty Cobb in Ken Burns’ Baseball miniseries:

“Cobb is the great black mark on the history of baseball … he was a man of vile temperament and vile habit … I think that Ty Cobb in his totality is an embarrassment to baseball.”
—Third Inning, “The Black Mark”

Some people just have no sense of historical context; even some people who call themselves “historians”.

Coming home

I wonder whether Daniel Okrent realizes that there were a few other racists in America in Cobb’s time. Does he realize there might have been a few in Cobb’s home state of Georgia during the Post-Reconstruction Era? I wonder whether Okrent has seen the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. It might remind him just how racist a place America very recently was.

I wonder whether Okrent is aware that Major League Baseball was itself an all-white organization long before and long after Cobb.

I wonder whether Okrent has ever heard of the Black Sox scandal, and how it nearly ruined baseball. As far as I know, Cobb never threw a baseball game. It doesn’t really seem to have been his style, really. He was too competitive.

Cobb was a vile racist. Cobb was a violent bully. Cobb was a ruthless competitor. Cobb was a shameless self-promoter. Cobb was a Coca-cola investor.

Can one imagine a more All-American resume?

Cobb’s mother shot his father.

Good. Now we have guns in the story. Can one imagine a more All-American upbringing?

Yes, it’s true that Ty Cobb assaulted a handicapped heckler. How very politically incorrect of him! How insensitive to the underprivileged! I suppose he would also hit a girl or even a bespectacled girl! This was no “Christian gentleman”.

But it is also said that Ty Cobb paid Shoeless Joe Jackson a visit in Jackson’s hometown of Greenville, SC after Jackson had been expelled from Baseball. Imagine that: compassion? Could Cobb have been human after all?

Ty Cobb was a remarkable man. He wasn’t anybody’s hero, but he was an American phenomenon, and a phenomenon worthy of awe.

Further Reading

Tom Stanton: Cobb was nicer than most people think.

Curt Flood: American Hero

He could have contented himself with stardom, but he had to go out and try to break the last great American monopoly, Major League Baseball.

“I am pleased that God made my skin black — but I wish He had made it thicker.” —Curt Flood

As a kid I was, for some mysterious reason, a fan of the Saint Louis Cardinals. When I gave my heart to Baseball in the mid-1970s, I lived thousands of miles from Saint Louis and the Redbirds were mediocre, but it may be that I absorbed some subconscious reverence for the team from overhearing the San Francisco Giants games and sports talk shows playing on Dad’s radio.

Baseball's Best Centerfielder

“Baseball’s Best Centerfielder”

I was raised with the certain knowledge that Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player ever, and that the Giants were miserably hopeless. That was just Dad’s way of being a baseball addict. It seems like baseball has always been a bad trip for him, but that rarely stopped him from listening in on a game.

It seemed like he had nothing bad to say about the Cardinals. Maybe that’s why I became a Cards fan rather than a Giants fan. Maybe it was those glowing red and white home uniforms. Names like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Lou Brock shone in the firmament of my childhood; though not quite so brightly as Mays.

Some seem to have believed that Curt Flood was a better defensive centerfielder than Mays. That’s saying a lot.

I don’t remember hearing much if anything about Flood. He was a masterful centerfielder and embattled player activist, who left Major League Baseball long before my dad and little brother converted me. Until recently, I had no idea what he went through. The old stories of American racial hatred never cease to shock me.

By 1957, my second year in the South, I thought I was beyond crying, but one day we were playing a double-header…And…after the end of the first game you take your uniform off and you throw it into a big pile and the clubhouse manager, he comes and he gets your uniform and he drys them and he cleans them and then you play the second game with the same uniform…I, like everybody else, I threw my uniform right into the big pile with everybody else’s and the clubhouse guy came by with one of these long sticks with a nail on it and he very carefully picked my uniform out from the white guys uniforms and my little sweatshirt and my little jock strap and everything. Sent my uniform to the colored cleaners which was probably 20 minutes away and there I sat while all the other guys were on the field. [The crowd has] really been giving me hell all day long, and now I’m sitting there stark naked waiting for my uniform to come back from the cleaners and the other guys were out on the field. So finally they get my uniform back and I walk out on the field . . . boy you’d think that I had just burned the American Flag.

Curt Flood, Ken Burns’ Baseball, Seventh Inning.

Story: Flood Is at Peace With His Lost Career

Minions of the Millennium

Recent news in the Baha’i world of “mass teaching” efforts remind me of one of my favorite songs from childhood. It was a Baha’i-ified traditional C-major tune with an occasional descending B-flat for blues effect, probably a Negro spiritual, that I knew as “We Are Soldiers in God’s Army”. I’ve been teaching myself to play it on violin lately, and have felt compelled to some liberty with the lyrics.

The Baha’i lyrics are best described as millenarian, Biblical, and didactic; in general, a call to convert the masses. They begin as follows:

Now the Báb blew His trumpet
Announcing to the world the time had come
And like a thief in the night, He came by the Gate
And said He was the Promised One

Verse after verse, the song parades Baha’i leaders before us, exhorting Baha’is to get out and proselytize in the footsteps of their leaders:

Bahá’u’lláh was the Prophet
He had the Word that is right for now
And when the road got rough and the going got tough
He just stood there and taught anyhow

These verses refrain a curious conflict of tenses (perfect vs. imperfect) that brings to mind some of the intrinsic problems with universal progressive revelation, such as “if it was right for now 150 years ago, is it right for the present “now”? And, “is it really right for everybody?

The chorus goes as follows:

We are soldiers in God’s army
We gotta stop and teach the Word for now
We gotta hold a lotta love and unity
We gotta hold it up until we die

I don’t have much of a problem with the verses, as they tend to say so much about the predominant Baha’i state of mind, and truly, the chorus does as well, but I think some variations on the chorus might do the song some good. For example:

(Oh-oh-oh-owoh-oh …)
We are minions of the Millennium
We gotta stop–and think for ourselves
It’s time to see (its time to see beyond our idol called “Unity”)
It’s time to break it down so we can see.

Here the singer turns from the mic and says “break it down”, whereupon the maestro steps into his A-major improvisation.


We are minions of the Millennium
We gotta stop–and “see with our own eyes”
We gotta think instead of followin’ the leader
There’s more to life than playin’ “Simon says”

And finally, as the music fades:

We are minions of the Millennium
We’ve had our fun–playin’ blind man’s bluff
We gotta think (we gotta think instead of followin’ the leader)
We gotta use our eyes so we can see.