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HOLY COW! HISTORY: The Woman Who Created Kids’ Television

Before there was “Sesame Street” …

Before there was “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” …

Before there was “Romper Room” …

Before there was “Captain Kangaroo” …

There was Miss Frances and “Ding Dong School.” The show not only was the first in its genre, it literally created children’s television — and it set the bar very high, too. Let’s hop into the Wayback Machine and revisit 1952.

Television was brand new back then. TV stations were launching all over the country, and big, cumbersome televisions were popping up inside more and more American homes.

Judith Waller was the public service and educational programming director at WNBQ-TV in Chicago. Most local stations produced hours of programming daily, far more than they do now. As Waller was talking with her boss one day, he noted that with the Baby Boom in full swing, there were more than 235,000 preschool children in the Chicago area. Then he pointedly asked, “What are you going to do about it?”

Waller rolled into action. She devised a nursery school program designed to teach tykes watching at home. Because viewers would be little people, the show used six cameras that shot from angles toddlers would see. All props would be easily recognizable to little children.

Auditions were held for the program’s host. Frances Horwich was one of the educators who tried out for the gig. A woman of a certain age with a kindly disposition, she headed a local college’s education department. She lacked showbiz experience but had once taught nursery school. While being alone on set for a full hour each day scared her, she thought, “Why not?” and gave it a try. 

She was soon hired to be “Miss Frances,” AND then successfully negotiated to own the rights to the show. When the producer’s 3-year-old son was told each episode would begin with an old-fashioned teacher’s desk bell ringing, he blurted out, “Ding Dong Show!” They had the program’s title.

A pilot episode was filmed. One horrified station executive said the show was so bad it would kill television and make viewers listen to the radio again. So it was decided to air the program just once. WNBQ didn’t issue a press release announcing it or promoting it in any way. They figured they’d let it die of its own embarrassment.

And so, with no fanfare, “Ding Ding School” made its debut on Thursday morning, October 2, 1952. Primitive by today’s hi-tech standards, it began with a closeup of Miss Frances’ hand ringing the aforementioned bell, followed by a cheesy studio organ playing the show’s equally cheesy theme song. Miss Frances sang in a warbly voice that was better suited for a country church choir than television:

“I’m your school bell

ding dong ding;

boys and girls

all hear me ring.

Every time I

ding dong ding,

come with me

to play and sing.”

Then she jumped into the lesson. Miss Frances talked like she was speaking to actual children. “How are you, boys and girls? What are you doing today? (Pause.) Really? That’s good!”

WNBQ’s big brass cringed for an hour until the show ended. No one expected what came next. The station’s switchboard was flooded with more than 150 calls in 45 minutes as parents told how their kids loved the program. That was nothing compared to the tidal wave of enthusiastic fan mail that followed.

“Ding Dong School” instantly became part of WNBQ’s morning lineup five days a week. It was such a hit that NBC picked it up in 1953 and broadcast it nationally. Miss Frances even became a TV star. More than 12,000 children and parents attended a promotional event in Boston. When she and her husband flew to Florida for a vacation, kids on the plane recognized her — and sang the show’s theme song over and over all the way to Miami. (Likely making it history’s most miserable flight for the other passengers.)

But TV is a cutthroat business. Despite its success, NBC canceled “Ding Dong School” in 1956 for the more lucrative “The Price Is Right.” The show continued in syndication until 1965.

Miss Frances eventually moved to Arizona, where she dabbled in local public television until her death in 2001 at age 94.

Children’s television is one of broadcasting’s few success stories. And it’s largely due to the huge influence of a teacher and her little bell.

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Holy Cow! History: From Mom to Motherhood Icon

Anna was a typical mom. She loved her kids with the passion found only in a mother’s heart. And something she did for her son made her an icon for mothers everywhere.

Here’s how it happened.

They say a woman can’t resist a man in a military uniform. That apparently was true with Anna. In the 1820s, she fell in love with a West Point cadet named George. They married in 1831.

A Southern belle from North Carolina, Anna and George started life together in the North. Their first child, a boy named James, arrived in 1835. George resigned his Army commission and jumped into designing that brand-new high-tech transportation marvel — railroad locomotives. He soon switched to constructing rail lines.

The young family grew. Besides raising three children from George’s first marriage, the couple had three more sons, two of whom died young. Anna doted on her surviving boys. William was a serious scholar, while James was a daydreamer with an artistic gift. Anna nurtured and encouraged both. She was strict (Sundays were strictly observed with no toys and no books allowed but the Bible) yet also very loving.

George’s skill at building railroads eventually led the family halfway around the world. Russia’s Czar Nicholas I sent representatives to study America’s booming railroad business. They were so impressed with George’s skills that they offered him his dream job: supervising the construction of a railroad linking Moscow and St. Petersburg. George checked with Anna, who said, “Go for it.” So, they headed off to Mother Russia, where they became friends with the czar and socialized with nobility.

By now, James’ talent as an artist was apparent. Anna pulled some royal strings and enrolled the boy in the prestigious Imperial Academy of Arts. The happy family seemingly had a bright future ahead.

Until George contracted cholera and suddenly died in 1849.

A sympathetic Nicholas offered to educate the boys at the Imperial School, but Anna politely declined. Shaken and heartbroken, she gathered up her children and moved first to Connecticut, then New York.

With her income slashed from $12,000 a year to just $1,500, pennies were pinched, dollars were squeezed, and somehow she made ends meet. She was even able to send William to medical school.

Though Anna hoped James would become a minister, he was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy when he turned 17 instead.

But James and West Point weren’t a good fit. After three years of lackluster studies, the breaking point came when he failed a chemistry exam and quietly resigned. (James later said, “If silicon had been a gas instead of a solid, I’d be a major general today.”)

Free at last to indulge his love of painting, James headed first to Paris and then London.

While all that was happening, America was sliding ever closer to a civil war. Anna and James returned to her native North Carolina, where he became a Confederate surgeon. As the conflict raged, Anna increasingly missed her son across the pond. The Union’s naval blockade of Southern ports stood between them. But no cannon was powerful enough to stop a mother’s love. On a dark August night in 1863, Anna boarded the blockade runner Advance. It was a daring thing to do for a woman who was pushing 60. Yet Anna was determined.

The Advance slipped through the patrolling warships, and she had a joyous reunion with James at his London studio. Though caught off-guard by his flamboyantly bohemian lifestyle, she nevertheless showered Southern hospitality on his many friends by serving them tea, preserves and homemade biscuits.

A few years later, James asked Anna to pose for him. Some said she filled in for a model who couldn’t make it; others claim James intended his mother to be the subject all along. We do know he wanted her to stand. But now 67 and her health failing, he wound up painting her seated in profile, hands properly folded in her lap.

Entering a VIP showing in London in 1872, James titled his work “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1.” Victorian critics wouldn’t accept it as an arrangement since it was clearly a portrait, so they renamed it “Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.”

It eventually morphed into the name we know today. Because James was James McNeill Whistler, Anna was Anna McNeill Whistler, and the portrait on display today at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris is simply dubbed “Whistler’s Mother.”

More than the likeness of one man’s mother, it is an enduring tribute to the love of mothers everywhere.

FLOWERS: In 2022, SCOTUS Righted a Grave Wrong

I generally hate year-in-review columns. They seem forced, like a list of things you must buy at the grocery store. Check this off, and then this, and we did this, and I need that, and we are out of this, and can we have extra of that, etc. Years blend into each other and it’s often hard to pick exceptional events, particularly since the same things seem to happen over and over again: Wars start and continue, and we think they end, and then they’re prolonged.

People die (surprise!) and we reflect on their lives, even when we might have forgotten they were still alive. Couples divorce and then find other partners they will eventually cast off in search of the perfect fit. Fads spring out of nowhere and insecure people with no particular talent film themselves on once-obscure social media apps in the hopes of boosting their self-esteem (after artificially boosting their lips and bosoms). Year after year, the same things tend to happen, and we try and frame them in a context where they seem historic.

But this year, something historic did happen, something that many people despaired of ever seeing, even though hope is the last thing to die. Since this is my column, this is my perspective. You won’t hear me talking about the tragic war in Ukraine, the January 6th Committee results, the disappointing red trickle at the mid-terms, the death of Sidney Poitier, or any of the other things that were indeed important (and about which I’ve written) but which did not stand out as the central, sea change event of 2022.

What defines for me the alpha and the omega of this year, the San Andreas Fault that splits two diametrically opposed tectonic plates, the BC and AD of our current historical timeline, is the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

That case, like Brown v. Board of Education, brought down a monolith of injustice: Legalized abortion by judicial fiat. The fiat was created by seven old men who ignored the voices of the American people and reached into some insubstantial and fictitious folds of constitutional jurisprudence to pluck out the right to kill a child.

Most would not be quite so blatant about it. They would replace “child” with “pregnancy” and “kill” with “terminate.” Those are the accepted terms in polite conversation, even though there is never anything polite about discussions around abortion. But the truth is clear and has been for almost 50 years.

January 22, 1973 would have marked one of the bloodiest half centuries known to modern society. That would have been the anniversary of the date Roe v. Wade, the decision to legalize abortion, was handed down and announced by that all-male court. I keep emphasizing the gender of the justices since we have been force-fed a diet of “if you can’t get pregnant, you have no right to have an opinion” by pro-choice advocates. I am going to be generous herein using the term that they prefer, pro “choice,” even though I would invite the reader to reflect on what “choice” we are discussing. There are only two: Life and death. Pro-choice advocates find both to be equally acceptable. Roe v. Wade supported that position and perpetuated a myth that there was virtue and legitimacy to the idea that women have dominion over their own bodies and the body growing within them.

But in 2022, after 50 years of lost potential and lives sacrificed to convenience and a skewed sense of autonomy, a court composed of men and women ruled that abortion was no longer a “right” and that, indeed, it never had been. And even though the reaction was brutal and there are continued attempts to codify abortion rights into law, and even though there are states where women will continue to be able to “choose” termination, there is now in this great country where immigrants find shelter and the oppressed find solace, an understanding that you cannot simply make up a right to do whatever you want, simply because you want to do it.

That principle transcends the issue of abortion. In 2022, women and men were told that no matter how much they want to engage in magical thinking and read the Constitution as a blueprint for living the lives they want, in the way they want, on the timeline they want, there are principles that are larger than their own narcissistic desires. One of them is the respect owed to other lives.

That is a lesson we should have figured out after the Civil War. It’s still a lesson we need to learn, and 2022 is bringing us closer to the point where we’re finally getting the message.

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POWELL: Biden Assessment–Year One

An assessment of President Joe Biden’s first year clearly shows weakness in issues management. He has allowed more issues to become crises than he solved: Energy, border, urban violence, inflation, supply chain, fentanyl deaths, the aftermath of COVID-19 policies, and Afghanistan.

Biden has two tendencies that contribute to his lack of success in issues management: Failure to get ahead of issues and misreading residual costs associated with his decisions. He was caught short on inflation and has still not acknowledged the residual issues associated with open borders and his energy policy.

Every president has had to manage complex issues and crises while in office. So, how does Biden stack up to some of his predecessors? The issues he has been called on to manage are much less grave in scope than the dual crises, Great Depression and World War II, faced by President Franklin Roosevelt. The decisions he has made are of lesser magnitude than President Harry Truman deciding to drop two atomic bombs on Japanese civilians to end the war.

He has neither demonstrated the political finesse of President Dwight Eisenhower in defusing the Little Rock school desegregation issue in 1957, nor the accountability of President John Kennedy who immediately owned up to the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, or President Ronald Reagan who publicly admitted his mistakes after the Tower Commission Report on Iran-Contra.

He has not shown the agility of President Bill Clinton to triangulate after the American people resoundingly rejected his liberal approach to government in his first two years, nor has he shown the humility of President George H.W. Bush in ending the First Persian Gulf War when his stated objectives were reached and a retreating army could easily have been decimated.

The end of his first year shows a president who is following the example of President Lyndon Johnson, who squandered his presidency in pursuit of victory in Vietnam; President Jimmy Carter, whose presidency was paralyzed by the Iran Hostage Crisis, President Richard Nixon, who refused to acknowledge the consequences of Watergate until it was too late to save his presidency; President Gerald Ford, whose pardon of Nixon failed to heal the nation and sunk his presidency; and President George W. Bush, who unilaterally expanded his mandate to wage the War on Terror and lost the support of the American people as a result. Biden during his first year would not abandon “Build Back Better” even though it had no chance of passing in the Senate.

There is ample evidence, based on Biden’s “secret” meeting with historians at the White House in March 2021, to support his desire to be great. The vehicle he has created to accomplish that goal appears to be his “Build Back Better” initiative. The $5 trillion program is transformative and it could be argued that it would set the stage for a post-capitalism economy in America.

The World Economic Forum defined the launch point for the move toward more global governance and “social capitalism” as the COVID-19 pandemic but events, including the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, are overtaking it in importance and causing the Western nations to pause and rethink many of their assumptions about energy and defense of the free world.

Effective crisis management is what elevates presidents to the pantheon of greatness. George Washington invented the presidency because he was the first president and was truly the “indispensable man” of his era. Abraham Lincoln embraced our founding values (rights are God-given and all men are created equal) as the moral foundation for civil war. Franklin Roosevelt asked for and was given a mandate from the American people to take extraordinary measures to tame the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson embraced the ripeness of the civil rights issue and used his formidable political skills to enact his Great Society agenda. The opportunity for greatness is created in large measure by the times in which a president serves in office. Greatness cannot be achieved simply because a president wants to be great.

Biden was given the mandate to heal our nation’s divisions. Arguably, he has exacerbated them in year one. With razor-thin majorities in Congress, the opposite of FDR in 1933, Biden has tried to push through his own version of the “New Deal.” Lacking broad-based popular support, he desired to enact his own version of the “Great Society.”  Biden misread FDR, who assiduously avoided his self-imposed third rail – being defined as a socialist because of his policies. He also did not give enough credit to LBJ, who was a master legislator and the hardest worker in Congress, long before he became president. Their significant accomplishments were not accidents nor were they givens.

There may be unforeseen issues and crises over the next three years that will provide Biden with the opportunity to achieve greatness. But that is not where he finds himself as he begins 2022. At this point, it would be best for him to focus on what he was elected to do – heal our divisions.  Then, when opportunities present, he would have a consensus to act boldly.



MYERS: Rediscovering America: A Quiz for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On this holiday, we celebrate one of the great civil rights leaders of the 20th century. The Rev. King challenged Americans to uphold the Declaration of Independence’s promise “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The quiz below, from the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, provides an opportunity for you to test your knowledge of King and his efforts to further civil rights in America.


1. King became pastor of which Georgia church in 1960?

A. Wheat Street Baptist Church

B. Milestone Baptist Church

C. Ebenezer Baptist Church

D. Zion Baptist Church


2. Which leader inspired King’s belief in “nonviolent resistance” and, according to King, provided “the method for social reform that I had been seeking”?

A. Nelson Mandela

B. Dalai Lama

C. Eleanor Roosevelt

D. Mahatma Gandhi


3. King said in an interview that if he were marooned on a desert island with only one book other than the Bible, he would choose what book?

A. Plato’s “The Republic”

B. John Stuart Mills’ “On Liberty”

C. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Essays by RW Emerson”

D. James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son”


4. After which civil rights victory did King become a recognized national leader of the civil rights movement?

A. Civil Rights Act of 1964

B. Montgomery Bus Boycott

C.  Birmingham Campaign of 1963

D. School integration in Little Rock


5. In what city in 1968 was King assassinated?

A. Memphis, Tenn.

B.  Jackson, Miss.

C. Little Rock, Ark.

D. Selma, Ala.


6. Before his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King gave another speech from the Lincoln Memorial. What was the topic of that speech?

A. Vietnam War

B. Importance of nonviolence

C. Economic equality

D. African American voting rights


7. In 1964, King received what important award?

A. United Nations Human Rights Award

B. Nobel Peace Prize

C. Presidential Medal of Freedom

D. Congressional Medal of Honor


8. Which other civil rights leader did King work closely with before his death?

A. Ralph Abernathy

B. Jesse Jackson

C. Benjamin Mays

D. All of the above


9. What was the name of the speech King gave the day before his assassination?

A. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

B. “The Three Evils of Society”

C. “Our God Is Marching On”

D. “The Other America”


10. Which president signed legislation designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday?

A. Barack Obama

B. Jimmy Carter

C. Ronald Reagan

D. George Bush


Answers: 1-C, 2-D, 3-A, 4-B, 5-A, 6-D, 7-B, 8-D, 9-A, 10-C

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HOLY COW! HISTORY: The Drinking Song Christmas Classic

t’s one of the very first Yuletide songs the youngest of children learn. The lyrics are easy and its music is peppy, making it the ideal holiday song for little kids. Who among us hasn’t heard toddlers warbling at the top of their little lungs to adoring parents,

“Jingle bells,

Jingle bells,  

Jingle all the way.”

Mom and dad probably wouldn’t be beaming so happily if they knew the backstory of that beloved Christmas classic. Because when the song originally came out, it certainly wouldn’t have been considered “age-inappropriate” by today’s standards.

It was called “One Horse Open Sleigh” when it was first published in 1857. Even back then, its words conjured images of simpler, more carefree times.

It’s difficult for 21st-century minds to imagine now, but a heavy snowfall often brought a treat to 19th-century folks. Consider these lines from a letter written in February 1865 by a Union soldier to his girlfriend in Upstate New York. “I presume you did not fail to take advantage of the deep snow. I imagine I see you on a cold pleasant moonlit night gliding over the crystal surface preceded by nettlesome steeds and the pleasant ringing of musical bells which seem to mock the joyous laughter of you and your companions.”

After enjoying one such sleigh ride, James Lord Pierpont recognized a song was waiting to be written.

He was an interesting character. Son of a New England minister, he ran away to sea at age 14, later returned, married, and started a family. He settled in Medford, Massachusetts where his father pastored a Unitarian Church. The urge to wander returned with the 1849 California Gold Rush. Pierpont wound up in San Francisco where had a store and a photography studio before losing both in a fire. He returned to New England flat broke.

After his wife died in 1856, Pierpont’s brother accepted the pastorate of a Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia. Pierpont tagged along to serve as music minister. He wrote songs and gave organ and singing lessons on the side, all the while composing a steady stream of music himself. He became successful enough to take the daughter of Savannah’s mayor as his second wife.

In 1857 he released the song we still sing today. But “One Horse Open Sleigh” bombed so badly when it came out that he had to rebrand it. It was re-released in 1859 as “Jingle Bells.” Even then it was far from a best-seller.

Ironically alcohol, not schoolkids, spread the tune. “Jingle Bells” became a popular mid-Victorian drinking song with singers clinking their glasses to imitate the sound of bells. And get this–the lyrics were even considered racy for the time, too. A young couple sleigh riding without a chaperon? Hubba-hubba! Risqué stuff.

Despite the initial setbacks, “Jingle Bells” has stood the test of time. But one question still lingers: Where exactly did Pierpont pen the piece?

Medford, Massachusetts, and Savannah, Georgia each claim to be the song’s birthplace. A plaque in downtown Medford asserts Pierpoint wrote it at the Simpson Tavern in 1850. It even cites a Mrs. Otis Waterman who said she remembered it.

Nonsense, Savannah adherents huff. Just look at the calendar. Pierpont was living in that coastal city when the song was first published. It stands to reason it was written there as well.

Which claim is accurate? Who knows! While history lovers like to nail down these little details, in this case, it really doesn’t matter.

From the moment it was recorded for the very first time on an Edison wax cylinder in 1889 to countless elementary school Christmas concerts around the country in 2021, it remains a timeless favorite. Which is why James Lord Pierpont is honored in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

So, remember him the next time you belt out “Jingle Bells” at a Christmas party. And if the kids have been put to bed, go ahead and clink your glasses. Pierpont wouldn’t mind.

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HOLY COW! HISTORY: Famous Candy Bars’ Name Game

In the aftermath of big elections in Virginia and New Jersey, pundits say a Red Wave may be replacing a Blue Wave. But one thing is certain: America’s children are riding a Sugar Wave as they finish the last of Halloween’s trick-or-treat candy.

Which poses an interesting question: How well do you know the stories behind the names of America’s beloved candy bars?

We begin with the Kit Kat bar. One day in the 1930s, a worker at a large confectionary plant in York, England slipped a recommendation into a suggestion box for a small candy bar that a working man easily could carry in his lunchbox. Britons quickly fell in love with the crunchy taste when Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp debuted in 1935. But they were less enthusiastic about its clunky name.

Reaching into English history, when a mutton pie called a Kit Kat was served at 18th-century meetings of the political Kit-Cat Club in London, the name was resurrected. The new title played equally well when it was introduced on this side of the Atlantic after World War II.

Think the gooey goodness of the Milky War candy bar was inspired by our galaxy? Think again.

When Mars Candy rolled it out in the early 1920s, it borrowed the name of a milkshake that was popular at the time. Americans didn’t mind that bit of plagiarism because when Milky Way went national in 1925, it racked up $800,000 in sales, or about $12.5 million today. Not bad when you consider they sold for nickel apiece.

Speaking of Mars, who hasn’t at one time or another sunk a sweet tooth into the nougat on peanuts on caramel on milk chocolate sensation of a Snickers bar? A logical guess would be its name originated from snickers that followed an amusing idea. But no. Snickers was actually named for the Mars family’s favorite horse!

Then there’s the widely popular 3 Musketeers Bar. What on earth does Alexander Dumas’ 1844 novel about 17th-century swashbuckling adventurers have to do with fluffy, whipped mousse covered in milk chocolate?

When it debuted in 1932, it was different from the candy bar we know today. The original version had three sections: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Three tastes led to 3 Musketeers. Rationing during World War II forced Mars to drop the vanilla and strawberry pieces. Americans seemed happily content with just the chocolate part because it remained popular after wartime restrictions ended.

What about M&Ms? Americans were devouring the pill-sized sweets long before rapper Marshall Mathers piggybacked on its popularity by calling himself Eminem. The concept was taken from candy eaten by soldiers during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. A hard coating kept chocolate from melting in hot climates.

When M&Ms debuted exactly 80 years ago this September, its name was drawn from confectionary royalty. It was created by using the first letter in the last name of Forrest Mars, son of legendary Mars Candy founder Frank Mars, and Hershey Chocolate president William. F.R. Murrie, who owned 20 percent of the product.

Which brings us to the mother of all candy bar names.

When Chicago’s Curtiss Candy Company introduced its combination of peanuts, caramel, and chocolate Kandy Kake in 1920, it experienced what Kit Kat’s makers encountered. Folks loved the taste but hated the name. In 1921 it became Baby Ruth. It just so happened that at that precise moment, a certain New York Yankee named George Herman Ruth was knocking out home runs on his way to becoming a baseball superstar. So, Baby Ruth was named in honor of Babe Ruth, right?

Oh, no, Curtiss claimed with a straight face. The new name was actually a tribute to President Grover Cleveland’s daughter. Born in the White House in 1891, she was nicknamed “Baby Ruth.” Americans at the time were captivated by the child, following her first words, her first steps, and so on.

But believing Americans were motivated to plunk down a nickel for a candy bar named after a girl born 30 years earlier (and who sadly died of diphtheria at age 12) stretched credulity. A more likely explanation is the “Baby Ruth” Cleveland claim was a cover story that kept Curtiss from having to pay royalties to the Sultan of Swat.

By the way, Baby Ruth’s progenitor did some name changing of his own. Otto Schnering originally sold candy under his last name for years. Until World War I, when having a Germanic surname was suddenly bad for business. So, he adopted his mother’s maiden name, and it was the Curtiss Candy Company from then on.

What’s in a name, Shakespeare famously asked? When candy is involved, plenty!

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HOLY COW! HISTORY: The Star-Crossed Love of Stanny and Sara

Some loves are doomed from the start. The attraction, the desire, the passion are genuine and sincere. But people, timing, and events conspire to make it a stillborn affair forced to remain forever buried in the star-crossed lovers’ hearts.

Tall, beautiful, 21-year-old Sara was a prize catch in New York’s Hudson River blueblood society of 1876. Her family lived in a 40-room mansion. Sara was well-traveled and well-educated, spoke fluent German and French, and carried herself like a queen. Needless to say, she had plenty of suitors.

But Sara fell into a love deeper than a bottomless pit the minute she first saw Stanny. He wasn’t like the genteel admirers swarming around her.

Stanny (short for Stanford) was 22, red-headed with a sweeping mustache and an oversized personality to match. He was an aspiring architect who impressed Sara as witty, kind, and generous. Already a sophisticated collector of expensive art and antiques, his next acquisition would be Sara’s hand in marriage.

There was just one problem, and it was a biggie.

Sara’s father couldn’t stand Stanny. Not a casual dislike, either; he loathed the young man. He found Stanny loud, brash, and tasteless calling him “my red-headed terror,” the personification of the type of man Sara shouldn’t marry.

Sara faced a major dilemma. She worshipped her father; in her eyes, he could do no wrong. Yet she truly loved Stanny, too.

So, the dad did what wealthy Victorian fathers typically did in that situation: He packed up Sara and sent her on a grand tour of Europe. It didn’t work. Sara mooned over Stanny as she moved around the Continent for nine months.

When she returned home still pining for her boyfriend, her father then sent her in the opposite direction—she was hustled off to Hong Kong to stay with relatives.

Sara finally accepted the inevitable. She and Stanny would never live happily ever after together. Stanny was the love of her life, but she simply could not bring herself to defy the father she adored. The relationship ended and the lovers sadly went their separate ways.

Maybe it was a case of “father knows best” because, unknown to anyone, Stanny had a dark secret.

“Stanny” was Stanford White, who went on to become America’s most famous and successful architect in the Victorian era. He designed mansions for millionaires in Newport. He drew plans for impressive churches and massive business buildings in New York City. And in an amazing twist of fate, he even designed the second Madison Square Garden where his hidden secret ultimately led to his very public death.

Stanford White was a sexual predator who preyed on teenage girls. His many victims included Evelyn Nesbit. Stunningly beautiful, she was one of the famous Gibson Girls, an early iteration of the “supermodel.” She eventually married Harry K. Thaw, a Pittsburgh social gadfly said to be worth $40 million (nearly $1 billion today).

But Thaw had issues of his own. He was, to put it charitably, mentally unstable and subject to wild, violent mood swings. Obsessed with his beautiful wife, he decided Stanny must be punished for having violated Evelyn.

On the broiling night of June 25, 1906, Thaw encountered Stanny in Madison Square Garden’s rooftop theater. Screaming either, “You ruined my wife” or “You ruined my life,” (witnesses reported hearing it both ways), he pulled out a gun and shot Stanny dead.

It was a national scandal the newspapers reported in lurid detail. After two trials, Thaw was ordered locked in an insane asylum for life. (His family’s immense wealth helped persuade a judge to release him a few years later.)

And remember Sara? She was 51 when Stanny was murdered. She quietly mourned him for the rest of her life. “Sara never stopped loving Stanford White,” a close relative later said. “He was the only man she ever loved.”

In 1880 at age 26, Sara had wed a 53-year-old wealthy widower. They soon had one child, a son.

Sara’s full name was Sara Ann Delano. Her husband’s name was James Roosevelt.

And the baby’s name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

You can’t help wondering who would have guided America out of the Great Depression and through World War II if the star-crossed lovers had changed her father’s mind and been permitted to marry.

On such small slivers do the fate of nations — and in this case, the world — invisibly hang.

HOLY COW! HISTORY: Meet the Real Ichabod Crane

A cool, crisp late October night. A haunting moon shining down as a breeze rattles the bare tree limbs. It’s the ideal time to curl up and revisit Washington Irving’s classic “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The beloved short story has been making spines tingle since 1820.

Who doesn’t know the tale of the terrifying Headless Horseman scaring the daylights out of poor, hapless Ichabod Crane?

But did you know Ichabod Crane really existed?

No, not the gangly, cowardly, scarecrow-like schoolteacher from Irving’s story. It’s time to meet the real Ichabod Crane.

Ichabod B. Crane was born in 1787. He did a hitch in the Marines aboard the famous warship USS United States under the legendary Commodore Stephen Decatur and later served as an Army captain at Sacket’s Harbor on Lake Ontario in the War of 1812. There he oversaw defenses at Fort Pike. He was personally brave and courageous under fire, totally unlike the faint-hearted Crane in the story.

While at Fort Pike he may, or may not (historians disagree on this), have crossed paths with a staff officer named Washington Irving. One way or another, the young writer certainly heard Crane’s name and it stuck with him. Irving already had a thing for traditional “Yankee-sounding names,” as he put it. They consisted of a first name taken from the Bible (in this case Ichabod is mentioned in the book of First Samuel) paired with a common English surname. So, he mentally filed away “Ichabod Crane” for later use.

The real Crane went on to serve in both the Black Hawk and Mexican Wars, eventually retiring after 45 years as a highly respected colonel. He died at his Staten Island home in 1857.

Since the fictitious Ichabod Crane had nothing in common with the real military officer, where did Irving get the character’s personality? Scholars again are divided, but it seems most likely it was based on one Jesse Merwin. He was a real-life schoolmaster in Kinderhook, N.Y. The two men supposedly became friends when the writer was living there in 1809. They remained pen pals for decades after Irving moved away.

Ironically, the modern structure that sits on the same site Merwin’s schoolhouse once occupied is home to the Ichabod Crane Central School District.

Getting back to the real military officer, he seems not to have minded seeing his name turn up in the story. Irving was a popular author whose books sold very well. There were only so many people at the time running around named Ichabod Crane, after all, and one imagines he must have grown tired of hearing during introductions, “You can’t be that gutless wonder in the book—you’ve still got your head!” Few things in life are as unpleasant as laughing at a tired line one has heard too many times. But Col. Crane seems to have borne it all in good stride.

Washington Irving’s literary legacy still lingers in many ways. For instance, he popularized the image of Santa Claus flying through the sky on Christmas Eve night in his early short stories. He coined the phrase “the almighty dollar” and spread the use of “Gotham” for New York City.

And another Irving character also lives with us today. His fictional Deidrich Knickerbocker became so widely associated with New York that its residents were called “Knickerbockers” in the 19th century. That became the nickname of the NBA’s New York Knickerbockers, now shortened to the Knicks.

We can be grateful they weren’t called the New York Ichabods. Who wants to cheer for the Icks?