A Heady Moment

The night race kicked off “Roosevelt Field’s “National Air Pageant.” The event, chaired by First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, celebrated aviation and also raised funds for Mrs Roosevelt’s special charities. In addition, the Darkness Derby, competition, promoted “Night Flight” a new Metro Goldwyn Mayer film. The movie premiered at the Capitol Theater the following evening, and leading lady, Helen Hayes emceed the opening. And it was on the Capitol stage that Chum received his trophy from the actress. 

This 1933 Transcontinental Air Race/Darkness Derby/Air Pageant/Film Premier, combined to make the moment a heady one for 24-year-old Mont “Chum” Chumbley. Armed with new friends and clients, and other air enthusiasts from the City, a promising future in flight lay before him. 

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

The Unforgivable Curse

Many of us have read JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books and/or watched the films. The author created a wondrous world of spells, incantations, and even included law and order via three unforgivable curses. 

There are guardrails in this tale, and a bit of a messiah storyline. Harry willingly sacrifices himself, as had his parents and many others before. However, the “Boy Who Lived,” does, and returns to fight and vanquish wickedness. 

Love, too, permeates the storyline, and the righteous power of good over evil. 

But that’s not my take.

As a career History educator I came to a different conclusion; Harry Potter told me that failing to understand our shared past can be lethal. And that was the metaphor I preached to my History students.

Harry rises to the threat and defends all that is good and valuable in his world. If he didn’t, Harry could have been killed and his world destroyed.

It’s so apropos at this moment in our history to grasp our collective story as Americans.

Honest differences within the confines of our beliefs is one thing. Obliterating the tenants of democracy is quite another. 

Americans cannot surrender our country to this would-be dictator, the things that have cost our people so dearly. Freezing soldiers at Valley Forge did not languish to enable DJT to trademark his brand to hotels, steaks or a failed university. The fallen at Gettysburg, and the suffering in Battle of the Bulge was not to pave the way for DJT to get us all killed from a ravaging plague. The girls who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the miners murdered in the Ludlow Massacre, or humiliated Civil Rights workers beaten at the Woolworth’s lunch counter was not for Donald Trump to validate racism and sexism and undo labor laws. 

He doesn’t know our nation’s history, and as George Santayana warned us, we are condemned to sacrifice all over again. 

Vote. 

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

A Break In The Cover

Chum, Derby Winner.

Cloud cover continued to dog the exhausted flyer. Though dawn light saturated the sky, visibility hadn’t improved. 

Whirring through the gauzy gray, he weighed his options. If the weather didn’t improve, he would navigate out over open ocean and look for a break in the misty gloom. This contingency plan set, Chum streamed eastward, nervously checking and rechecking his wristwatch. 

From the corner of his eye, he spied a shifting break in the cover, and Chum didn’t hesitate. He pushed the yoke and slipped through the sudden gap.

A panorama of chalk-gray spindles greeted him. Automobiles the size of insects, inched along among the spires.The Waco soared above the Manhattan skyline.

Exhilarated and exhausted, Chum beelined over the East River, and on to Roosevelt Field.

Thundering down landing strip number 1, Chum slowed his Waco to a full stop, tired but satisfied he had prevailed. 

But the race had not ended.

Officials rushed the tarmac, urgently shouting and waving. Concerned about the commotion, he reached to turn the throttle off, and that was when he heard a chorus of NO above the din. Frantic hands pointed in the direction to another landing strip. If he shut down the motor he would be disqualified. Without a word, Chum promptly taxied to landing strip number 2, then shut down his biplane.

He had won.

Seven planes had ascended into darkening California skies. Of the seven only three found their way to Roosevelt Field. Chum’s Waco cabin had journeyed above the sleeping nation in 24 hours and 26 minutes; two minutes added by his last minute dash across the field. His victory award-$1,500, enough to reimburse the stock broker, and pay off his airplane. Not bad for a young man struggling through the worst year of the Great Depression.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-pat memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

New York’s Lindbergh

Glendale California, October 1933

Building his own charter service at Roosevelt Field, Mont Chumbley got right to work building a clientele. Though 1933 marked the low point of the Great Depression, photographers and reporters from the Associated Press, United Press International, continued to work, beating a path from Manhattan to hire his Waco. Adding student-pilots to his schedule, plus weekends barnstorming around the countryside, Chum made ends meet. 

Friendships with other aviation boosters included Amelia Earhart, Broadway producer Leland Haywood, wealthy philanthropist Harry Guggenheim, and his first sweetheart, pilot Frances Harrel Marsalis. In a later interview Chum referred to a long ago passenger, Katharine Hepburn, as a ‘nice girl.’ 

By Autumn of 1933 Chum unexpectedly found himself a contender in a transcontinental night race, though it hadn’t been his idea. A prominent client who held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange believed Chum was New York’s answer to Lindbergh, funding needed modifications to his Waco C, if only the young man would enter. Chum, weighing his chances. finally agreed. 

His biplane soon readied, Chum winged his way from Long Island to Glendale, California, flying much of the trip west by moonlight for practice. Resting in Los Angeles much of October 2, 1933, Chum was told he was seeded third for take off, and finally lifted his Waco into dusky eastern skies. 

At his first stop, taxiing across a dark air field in Albuquerque, a fueler informed him another plane had already been and gone. A bit panicked, sure he was lagging behind, the young flyer hustled into the night sky, opening the throttle full bore to catch up. Just before dawn, the lights of Wichita appeared, where the spent pilot learned he was, in fact, the first entrant to arrive. 

Weary as Chum felt, he couldn’t sleep. Keyed up by the excitement, he had to wait on those planes yet to arrive. And by late morning only two aircraft had cleared Albuquerque, a Monocoupe and a Stinson. 

This night derby narrowed to a three-man contest.

Awarded 2 hours and 10 minutes for his first place in Wichita, Chum coaxed his Waco upward against the lengthening shadows of a Kansas sky. Hours later, at his last checkpoint in Indianapolis, Chum pushed on for New York. 

However, the weather wasn’t cooperative. 

Through western Pennsylvania, the bi-plane’s windshield began to pierce thickening clouds. Growing anxious, he thought he might be off course, or even worse, lost. But luck remained his co-pilot, when he glimpsed a small break in the inky mist. A lone light flickered below in the blackness, and he slipped down through the pocket.

Executing a bumpy landing on a farm field, the young flyer stumbled through darkness and dirt, making his way toward the light pole, and a modest farmhouse. Urgently thumping on the door, Chum roused a farmer and his wife, breathlessly apologizing for his intrusion. 

Explaining his predicament the bewildered couple kindly let him in. As the wife perked coffee, and laid out food, the farmer got out his maps and showed Chum his location. With heartfelt thanks, he apologized once again, then returned to the night sky, righting his direction toward New York and hopes for victory.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Mr Jefferson, Mr Hamilton

My daughter kissing Alexander in the National Gallery, 2017

The roots of the United States Constitution can be traced back to the glittering salons of Paris and the buzzing intellectual circles of England. The era, called the Age of Enlightenment, bloomed with treatises and essays that would shape the political principles of American law.  

The core question concerned the character of humanity. By virtue of simply breathing was man guaranteed political rights? In that same vein, was every individual by nature good? If left alone could societies peacefully honor the rights of others, and in so doing, protect their own? 

Locke and Montesquieu promoted this notion that the rights of every individual would make for a natural order. Citizens, through mutual agreement, would give authority to a central government, that in turn protected their rights. People are the source of power, government protects rights.   

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson nearly plagiarized Locke, justifying the causes for the break with Great Britain. The Sage of Monticello explained that Parliament had failed to protect colonial rights, and the colonists had a duty to establish a system that would.

Jefferson’s vision of American growth pointed toward a rural future. This interpretation meant free landholders dotting the continent, where no coercion was necessary. Government, in this scenario, dealt with foreign powers and general lawmaking.

James Madison, a protege of Jefferson, also made use of Locke, when he began the Constitution with “We The People.”

Jefferson’s political opponent, Alexander Hamilton held a starkly different view. Having come into the world without any standing, Hamilton rose in society through his own wit, and smarts. For America to gain stability Hamilton championed a strong central government with enough power to control the unruly. 

In practice, by 1781, each state functioned as independent fiefdoms, loosely held together by the Articles of Confederation. Chaos thrived. The various states battled over waterways, currency, and trade. Worse, failure to levy taxes crippled the nation’s ability to function. 

From Hamilton’s perspective the nation would collapse if nothing changed. In Massachusetts, for instance, western farmers stormed foreclosure hearings, demanding justice through the barrel of their guns. State tax collectors found themselves risking life and limb at the hands of angry mobs. And these violent acts were erupting everywhere, not just in New England, but throughout the fledgling nation. 

What good was victory at Yorktown if America failed to get its footing? The British could bide their time and reoccupy when the country collapsed. In fact, war heroes like Ethan Allen were reaching out to the British in Canada, to protect settlers in Vermont, and land promoters in the south opened similar talks with Spanish. 

A worried Hamilton, along with Madison designed a plan that became the Constitution.Their combined work essentially mounted to a rescue operation for the flailing country. With real alarm Hamilton declared to another statesman “your people, sir–your people is a great beast.” 

Young Hamilton too, borrowed liberally from Enlightened philosophers.The theories of Englishman, Thomas Hobbes convinced the New Yorker that people required a strong central authority to maintain order: excesses from individuals and states a far greater threat than the British. A strong central government, with the power to tax would harness control and curb lawless behavior, because to Hamilton, the nature of man meant selfishness, and mindless brutality.

Mr Hamilton focused his energy on economic growth, encouraging industry, invention, and commerce. From credit to taxation, Hamilton understood, without a healthy foundation philosophical differences were moot. 

When the Constitutional Convention finally adjourned in September, 1787, the product of their work, the US Constitution became an amalgam of both Hobbes, Locke, and other philosophers of the Enlightenment.

Upon returning from France, Jefferson flipped out a bit reading the new framework. He argued that the document was limited in scope, strictly interpreted with narrow authority. Hamilton argued for a much broader reading, insisting that ‘implied powers’ made the Constitution flexible. This difference established the first political parties: The Democratic-Republicans under Jefferson, and the Federalists under Hamilton.

 Americans still find a home somewhere in the beliefs of Mr Jefferson and Mr Hamilton. *Except for Mr Trump who has no political beliefs, only a lust for power and money. 

Are people in fact, good? Or are we a beast? We all find a political home somewhere between.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Peer Review #4

Just My Imagination, Running Away With Me.

*Whitfield & Strong

The President fumed, crushing buttons on his cell phone, as if each tab detonated an explosion. On the big screen Wolf Blitzer, voice flat and controlled, droned on how the President continued to lag in the polls. 

“Fake news,” he muttered out of habit, and switched the channel.

Perched on the edge of an upholstered armchair, he clutched his remote in one hand, and his cellphone in the other, seething at the unfairness of the coverage.The broadcast cut to a political commercial; a carefully spliced montage of his public faux pas, ending with an endorsement from his adversary. 

“Ukraine,” he muttered, “Got to talk to Mitch and Kevin about a new Ukraine investigation.” 

“You cannot coerce them, you know.” The voice came from behind. “The people. They cannot all be manipulated, much as you might try. Most are not fools, and any goodwill must be earned.”

Not accustomed to direct insolence, the President twisted around in his chair snapping, “Just who the hell are . . .,” then trailed off. A tall, painfully angular man stood near a richly paneled door. Attired in a long black coat with tails, the visitor sported whiskers along his jawline.

“And they will never all love you. Ever. Such is the raucous nature of American democracy.”

The apparition paused a long moment. “Sowing divisions through fear and vitriol is not governing, and you shall surely fail.” The visitor stepped closer as he spoke, prompting the President to spring out of his chair, phone and remote forgotten on the carpet. 

“I recognize you . . .,” the President sputtered.

“We, all of us, sought this office fueled with purpose and ambition,” the visitor continued in a prairie twang. “However, once under oath, the campaign is over. A president faces the duty of serving all Americans, a challenge in the best of circumstances.

From the flickering screen a news anchor admonished, “Aides have confirmed that the President knew of the virus as early as February.” 

“It’s those hacks,” the President stabbed his finger accusingly at the big screen. The press is out to. . .”

His visitor laughed without humor. “Criticism of elected officials is as natural as the sun rising, and as perpetual. ‘Baboon’ was the nicest insult slung my way . . .by a serving general, no less. Then he up and ran against me in 1864.” The visitor chuckled lightly. “Still, the truth is we are all better with free speech than without. In our differing views we discover our deepest truths.”

By now the President began tuning out much of what the visitor was saying, his irritation making him bold. “You need to leave,” he snapped. “I have a busy schedule.” 

Unruffled, the unwelcome guest studied the President intently. “In my time an entire section of the nation disputed the results of my election.”

“You lost the popular vote, but won the Electoral?” The President couldn’t help but ask.

“Indeed. Eleven southern states chose the battlefield over a peaceful transfer of power.” 

“What did you do?” 

“I defended the Republic.”

His visitor continued sadly. “However the butcher’s bill for this unity came dearly; 700,000 American lives.” The visitor heaved a weary sigh. “And that delicate balance has endured through all national crises, preserved only through considerable effort and executive leadership. A unity you undermine at every opportunity. ” 

“Wrong, wrong, wrong. My supporters all love me. You should see the crowds at my rallies.”

“And the rest of America?” The visitor peered intently at the President. “Remember sir, we are friends, not enemies. We must not be enemies.” His voice quietly trailed off in an echo, and he was gone.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

The Play, “Clay”

This excerpt comes from my unpublished drama exploring the life of Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. Unlike the current Senate majority leader from the Bluegrass State, Clay put our nation over the empty exercise of power.

SCENE TWO
The stage is dark. A painting of the White House on Andrew Jackson’s riotous inauguration day appears on the back curtain. The tune, “Turkey In The Hay” plays for a moment.

Clay speaks in the darkness.
CLAY
A mob dressed in homespun and broadcloth descended upon the Executive Mansion. Fighting, biting and kicking, rowdy supporters scuffled in the crush, jockeying to seize a glimpse of their man.


Clay produces a small stemmed glass, drops and crushes it underfoot.
CLAY
Delicate crystal crunched beneath rustic clogs and muddy brogans, while tributaries of hard liquor streamed over polished floors and carpets. Furniture buckled under the weight of gawkers, until the forlorn new President, nearly crushed, had to be secreted out a ground floor window. Desperate servants towed tubs of alcohol to the outside grounds and eventually cleared the residence.


Clay gestures toward the image.
CLAY
Behold, the majesty of people!


The painting and music fade.
CLAY
Home at Ashland, Lucretia and I beheld a residence in neglect and disrepair. Overgrown orchards, toppling fences, peeling white wash, collapsed wells. Our days were dedicated to mending, pruning, and scraping. Still, while I tended to my plantation, political allies faithfully kept me informed of developments in Washington City.


Clay settles in his chair, producing a corncob pipe, making ready to smoke.
CLAY
Scores of federal workers, preparing for the Jacksonian storm, quit their public offices to secure more certain employment elsewhere. This newly-minted President had warned Washington, announcing a policy he termed “rotation in office,” promising experienced employees they would be replaced. Jackson insisted that his action was a remedy to corruption and patronage. Then without a blush, he awarded those same jobs to his loyal allies. Loyalty, you see, is what he prized over all else, including honor and decency.


Clay scoffs, adjusting his pipe.
CLAY
The caliber of cabinet nominees proved unexceptional as well. Lackluster does not quite capture this collection of lackeys, particularly Roger Taney as Attorney General and John Eaton at War. But the official cabinet was of no consequence. If the President needed advice, a rare happenstance, he turned to personal cronies, his unofficial “Kitchen Cabinet.”

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Englishman’s Foot

“The Spaniard might prove as cruel as the savages of America, and the famine and pestilence as sore here (Holland) as there, and their liberty less to look out for remedy.” William Bradford, On Plymouth Plantation

The story is a familiar one. Dissenters of the Church of England, disciples of reformer John Calvin, departed for Holland, washing their hands of English apostasy. After a time among the Dutch, these expatriates watched in horror as their children came of age in the secular world of the Continent. Alarmed, William Bradford and other Separatist leaders determined to leave Holland as well, to take their chances in the New World. 

Bradford, later explained this decision in On Plymouth Plantation, deciding it was better to lose their offspring to the tomahawk than to lose their mortal souls to God. 

You know the next part of this story. 

Pilgrims, The Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, Samoset, Squanto, Corn, Thanksgiving, shoe buckles, etc . . .

But this story concerns those already inhabiting the New World, the indigenous peoples of America. In truth, white men had been poking around the shores of early America well before the Mayflower sailed. Explorers, trappers, and fishermen had already encountered native people, trading goods, microbes, cultural practices, and language. Some indigenous folk spoke a bit of English, or French they had acquired from European adventurers.

In 1621, the Pokanoket peoples of the Wampanoag Confederacy observed the arrival of the Pilgrims to Massachusetts Bay. Their sachem, or leader, Massasoit, made the decision to cautiously receive these newcomers, rather than force them back to the sea. Dispatching an emissary, the English-speaking native, Samoset, Massasoit hoped to learn the intentions of the outsiders. His own people weakened, especially by small pox, and intermittent warfare, shaped the decision to pursue an alliance with these gun-toting English settlers; in particular the Narragansett of nearby Rhode Island. Massasoit’s peaceful reception led to an uneasy pact that permitted the Separatists to survive their “starving time” and thrive.

After Massasoit’s death in 1661, and the death his son, King Alexander, King Philip, the second son, became the new sachem of the Wampanoag.

Philip’s time as sachem witnessed a massive expansion of British New England. Ships from East Anglia seemed to arrive daily emptying thousands of settlers to the Bay Colony. Plymouth Separatists were followed by a massive influx of Puritan dissenters under John Winthrop. Consequently Massachusetts Bay Colony steadily encroached upon Indian-held lands, increasing deforestation, diminishing game, and forcing native people further inland. Philip’s compliance with English suppression reached a breaking point by 1675, and he determined to take the action his father avoided-pushing the English back into the sea, or die trying.

Eventually Philip was murdered by an informer, a converted fellow native, known as John Alderman. Philip’s corpse was mutilated, his torso drawn and quartered, and his head posted on a pike in Plymouth for good measure. His head remained on display for decades. 

In the end, and it was the end, Philip’s wife and son were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

Englishman’s Foot is a non-native plant introduced by English settlers to the New World. The plant grew from the manure of roaming cattle. Englishman’s Foot proliferated in New England, and named by the native people.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” a two-part memoir. Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

En

The Devil Is In The Details

In the Election of 1800 Thomas Jefferson of Virginia tied with his running mate, New Yorker Aaron Burr. The Constitution, still in its infancy, detailed that the President would be the candidate who secured the most electoral votes, while the second place winner would become Vice President.

Though these directions looked clear on paper, they failed in operation. In only America’s third presidential election the results, ironically counted by Vice President Thomas Jefferson himself (as president of the Senate), gridlocked at 73 electoral votes each. A draw.

There was no provision written for a tied vote in the “new users manual” except to move the final selection to the House of Representatives where each state cast one vote. 

35 exhausting ballots later, Alexander Hamilton finally intervened and engineered a victory for Jefferson. Though Hamilton disliked “The Sage of Monticello,” he did so from their shared history of political battles; differences that were not personal. But, this former Secretary of the Treasury also chose Jefferson because he thoroughly detested Aaron Burr, his fellow New Yorker, and rival. 

This animosity simmered deadly and personal until resolved with their famous 1804 duel. 

After his hard fought victory Jefferson kept his Vice President at an understandable distance, Burr becoming a marginalized pariah in the new administration. The new president had only picked Burr in the first place because he was from New York and could boost the ticket–not render the race more frustrating and complicated. In fact in 1804 George Clinton, also a New Yorker, became Jefferson’s more compliant second Vice President.

In 1803 the Twelfth Amendment changed how presidential elections were counted; each vote specifically cast for President, and separately for Vice President-thus avoiding any future, similar disputes.

On a personal note, remember each of our votes breathe life into this unique experiment called America. Commit yourself to flex that essential muscle of liberty on November 3, 2020.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

#VoteBlue #BidenHarris2020

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Gratuitous Harms

“The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.” Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce

Hopefully a majority of Americans agree that the time has come to change administrations in Washington. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will usher in a presidency of competence and dignity. Howard University, where Harris did her undergraduate work, is proud of her selection as Joe Biden’s running mate, and Howard alumni are bursting with pride. This ticket is honestly historic.

Still . . .

I am troubled by the trumpeting of Senator Harris’ connection to Howard University as positive while other historic figures are dismissed for living their lives within the constraints of their time. Please don’t misunderstand. A number of “dead white guys,” from the past have it coming, committing gratuitous harms beyond the scope of humanity and justice. Slavery was and is such an abomination, but not America’s only sin. 

That is where General Oliver Otis Howard comes in. A Civil War general, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and one-time president and namesake of Howard University.   

Born and bred in Maine, Oliver Otis Howard opposed slavery as did many Americans north of the Mason-Dixon Line. A West Point graduate, Howard entered the Civil War commanding a volunteer unit from his home state— leading his men from the First Bull Run, to Antietam, to Gettysburg, and on to Sherman’s March Through Georgia.

His work with aiding newly emancipated blacks after the war brought attention to Howard’s concern for civil rights, leading to Howard’s appointment as Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau, and later President of Howard University, a traditionally black institution.

However . . .

By 1874 this same General, O.O. Howard returned to the regular Army, where he was sent out West as the Commander of the Department of the Columbia. That was where General Howard who, in 1877, set out to vanquish the Nez Perce in what is today Central Idaho. 

The General doggedly pursued Chief Joseph and his 250 followers through what is now western Montana. Joseph succeeded in evading Howard and his forces for nearly eleven hundred miles, where the Nez Perce were finally stopped within 40 miles of freedom across the Canadian border. Exhausted, the Nez Perce were forced onto the reservation in Idaho. 

Following the Nez Perce episode Howard set out to apprehend the Bannock and Piute nations further south.

Why was this actively Christian man and abolitionist kind to newly freed blacks, and a killer of Natives? The answer is simple-Indians had land to confiscate, and freedmen had nothing. 

It is perilous to celebrate or reject historic figures outright for one facet of their lives. Not one of us can pass scrutiny based on the moment of our worst actions. While General Howard showed admirable humanity with one underclass of Americans, that behavior did not transfer to another.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com