Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

The Children's Crusade


99/075 (6809.17A) Cowherd image. 2200dpi 100% from 35mm negative.Back in 1968 I remember standing in line and cheering and stomping my feet at large rallies for Eugene McCarthy.   All things considered, 1968 was a horrible year but the McCarthy campaign was inspiring and energized a lot of young voters and made them work for a candidate. McCarthy was strongly opposed to the Vietnam War. Popular mostly among young people, his campaign was dismissed as "The Children's Crusade" by some political pundits. After McCarthy gained 42 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary it was clear that LBJ was weakened. Robert F. Kennedy, who was expecting McCarthy to be soundly beaten in New Hampshire, entered the presidential race on March 16th and immediately drew some support away from McCarthy. It was hard to compete with a Kennedy in the 1960s.  LBJ announced that he would not run for reelection by the end of March. Hubert Humphrey, Johnson's Vice President entered the race shortly afterward. McCarthy continued  his campaign and had strong support among college students and younger voters and won six primaries.  RFK was more popular in general and especially with minorities -- he was pulling in votes and winning big primaries. Meanwhile, Humphrey worked in non-primary states and gained convention delegates without ever winning a primary.




The California primary in June was hard fought. McCarthy's strength was in college towns and campuses and he focused his attention there. Kennedy visited ghettos and Latino neighborhoods where he was strongest. Robert F. Kennedy ended up winning by only four percentage points -- but was assassinated just minutes after giving a victory speech in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.  At that point the campaign was in chaos. Hubert Humphry already had a lead in delegates by working through state Democratic machines and power blocs and he gained the Democratic nomination at the convention. McCarthy was a distant second.


In the end, at the Chicago convention, the anti-war demonstrations and the "police riot" sucked the air out of whatever little idealism was left among the younger supporters. The 26th amendment lowering the voting age to 18 wasn't passed until 1971 so many of us, me included, could not even vote in 1968. Richard Nixon won the election and became President.  It is still a little painful just remembering that year.




In later years there were few other candidates that had a strong appeal and level of support from younger voters...who could now vote at age 18.  In 1972 McCarthy campaigned again but was up against other popular competitors including Jerry Brown, Edmund Muskie and Shirley Chisholm. George McGovern won the nomination and lost miserably to Richard Nixon --- this was the Watergate election.  In 1976 it was Jimmy Carter who won...with the help of younger voters...against Gerald Ford.  In 1980 Ronald Reagan won against Carter but there was another candidate, John Anderson, who gained some youthful popularity and was gaining votes in Republican primaries as a moderate alternative to Reagan. Anderson received 5.7 million votes in the November election as a third-party candidate.


After Carter, and the Reagan years that followed, there hasn't been all that much for younger voters to get excited about as a group. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama attracted a wider level of support and no one on the Republican side seemed to have much of a youth appeal.


 "It's like déjà vu all over again."  Yogi Berra

Bernie Sanders now has the spotlight among younger voters. I like him and some of his ideas... but...I've been there before.  Sanders supporters are running into a brick wall and threatening to make a scene at the convention. Hillary Clinton is equally popular, has more delegates and has support among the DNC power groups. Our system is un- or non- Constitutional -- meaning there is little guidance or direction coming from the US Constitution or addressing the parties or the nomination process. Good or bad, the parties make their own rules.

As it is, Presidential politics is not child's play....although this year, especially on the GOP side, it seems like a bad day in the schoolyard.  It could get worse.  Presidential campaigns have become very cultish and media-oriented and have little to do with politics or policy.




Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Thank you, Ken. I don't know too much about US politics, only what it looks like from a distance. The processes may be different, ... Read More
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 12:41
Ken Hartke
Rosie -- It doesn't look any better close up. It is painful to watch, especially when there is a candidate that inspires enthusias... Read More
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 16:13
1100 Hits

Trinity – April 2, 2016


The word “Surreal” comes to mind. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. A man is taking a selfie while standing in front of the rough stone obelisk that marks the spot…the very spot...where the first atomic bomb exploded. This is “ground zero” at the Trinity Site. There are thirty or forty other people waiting patiently for their turn to take a selfie at the same spot or to take pictures of their loved ones standing at the ground zero marker. This is only the beginning of what is to come. While you are there experiencing it, it seems nearly normal but on reflection on what this place is and what it represents it descends into almost a dreamlike experience.




The Trinity Site is open for public visitors for one day only, twice a year (April and October) because it is located on restricted military real estate: that being the White Sands Missile Range. They still blow things up here or shoot things out of the sky. You can’t just drop in and take a gander at where it all began. This is a secure place and you go through a security gate, show identification and follow a precise route and park in a designated spot and walk several hundred yards across the desert to a fenced circular space maybe 100 yards across. You can stop along your walk to purchase a T-shirt.


There isn’t much to see. Ground Zero is just a monument and a piece of desert but if you look closely you will see that you are standing in a shallow depression. It is gradual but the ground you are walking on is a round saucer with a relative depth of about eight feet caused by the tremendous compression from the blast. The surface was once covered, almost paved, with Trinitite, a greenish glass-like stone created from the quartz and feldspar sand exposed to the pressure and extreme heat from the plutonium bomb. Most of the Trinitite is gone but people are walking stooped over like beach comers looking for shells on a beach. There are examples on display. It isn’t a pretty stone…just a novelty. It is illegal to remove any from the site but they look anyway.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPositioned along the eight-foot perimeter fence are a series of official black and white photographs with captions explaining various aspects of the test site, the engineering and construction work, the bunkers used for observation and photos of the actual blast. Visitors walk along the fence and pause at each photograph like the Stations of the Cross. Looking beyond the fence you see only desert and mountains and a slight rise…almost a lip…designating the edge of the depression.





Across the enclosure, parked on its own flat-bed truck, is a full size replica of “Fat Man”, the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Fat Man was over ten feet long and 60 inches in diameter…hence the name. It weighed over 10,000 pounds.




Nagasaki wasn't the primary target on that mission. The flight crew made three bombing run passes over the main target, the city of Kokura, but clouds and smoke from earlier bombings obscured the city so they went to Nagasaki instead.




GadgetAt Trinity “The Gadget”, as the first bomb was called, was assembled largely on site and then hoisted 100 feet up on a steel tower and housed in a small hut-like enclosure. The tower was vaporized and all that remains is part of a concrete footing for one of the tower’s legs. I’m surprised that that managed to survive as everything else was vaporized or blown far beyond recognition. The temperature of the blast was measured at 14,710 degrees Fahrenheit. The sound of the explosion was heard in Gallup, New Mexico, 150 miles away. None of the observation bunkers remain. They survived the blast but have been demolished in more recent years. The main viewing bunker was at 10,000 yards – over five and a half miles away. Robert Oppenheimer watched from there but many others, including General Groves, watched from a point ten miles away.  Edward Teller watched from a hilltop viewpoint twenty miles away. There were a few project scientists at the time that theorized that the blast might be sufficient to ignite the oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere…no distance would have been safe in that case.


Once you have made a walking tour of the fenced enclosure and taken your photos while dodging young parents with baby carriages and folks enjoying the bomb site with the family dog, you head back to the parking area. There you board a waiting shuttle bus to carry you over to the George McDonald Ranch, located about two miles from ground zero.




The George McDonald Ranch and the residence (the 1913 Schmidt House) was the site of the actual assembly of the plutonium device. The residence is a 1700 square foot adobe and stone structure that, as fate and geology and location would have it, survived the blast with only the windows blown out. The building was at the very core of activity as the scientists and engineers assembled the bomb…in what was the master bedroom.






Over the decades the building was left to deteriorate until it was “rescued” and stabilized in 1982. The National Park Service restored the residence in 1984 to what it looked like in 1945 but it is now in need of further rehabilitation. A crew of volunteers will work on several restoration projects in the fall of 2016.


This had been a working ranch up until 1942 when the entire area was purchased as a bombing and gunnery range. There was a large livestock tank -- sometimes used as a swiming pool by the bomb assembly crew -- and a bunkhouse.  The windmill tower survives but the stone bunkhouse is in ruins.












There is a small amount of residual radiation at the Trinity Site after seventy years. The reported radiation (for a short visit) is less than one would get from a cross-country airplane flight or an X-ray...they say. I hope my rash clears up soon...just kidding.


Actually there were a few informational picketers outside the main security gate because of some reported health issues found among local people. Whether those are related to the atomic test or other missle range activity or something totally unrelated is a good question. Across the road from the picketers were people selling (radioactive?) Trinitite samples.


Recent Comments
A day I'll never forget, although today I view it with the mind of an 81 1/2-year-old man as opposed to that of a 12-year-old. I w... Read More
Tuesday, 05 April 2016 16:21
Ken Hartke
I guess people will always debate the use of the bomb. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when theory became realit... Read More
Tuesday, 05 April 2016 23:54
Stephen Evans
Thank you, Ken - enlightening piece.
Wednesday, 06 April 2016 00:49
1045 Hits

Erin Go Bragh!


So, the Priest came to the house. They were fearful that he would be too late but he made it. The babe had been born in the night and was fading quickly away. She was not expected to make it through the day. Can you christen an infant and give the last rites all at once? He christened her Sara and made a side note in his book that the parents, Miles McSweeney and Ellen Scollard were, in fact, married. Little Sara made it through the day and the next night. She hung on for the next day and picked up some color. The first week was touch and go but things looked a little better by then. Sara had a older sister, Mary, who was eight…old enough to help her mother. The two older brothers, Edward and Michael, were three and seven and into everything. Another baby, Miles, had died at nine months. There were others in the cemetery and more to come.


Copyright-St_-Louis-Patina-7246-stBridgetfeb16aThe McSweeney’s lived in Kerry Patch, an Irish 'ghetto' on the north side of St. Louis clustered around St. Bridget of Erin, the Roman Catholic parish church. The place was known for two things, mostly: Irish gangs and tuberculosis. It was an unhealthy place; no wonder the babies died. But the McSweeney children had the benefit of grandparents….it was a growing and shrinking extended family that sometimes all lived under one roof.


Ellen McSweeney, the matriarch, ran a small grocery store left to her by her sainted husband, Edmund, who had died of pneumonia back in 1869. Both she and Edmund came over from Ireland but met and married in St. Louis at St. Francis Xavier…the university church, don't you know.  Ellen had been a Moran up until that time she married and she liked spelling “McSweeney” as “MacSweeney” -- there was a little money there, somewhere.  Her son, Miles, was the only surviving child…the others succumbed to the smallpox epidemic in 1870, just a few months after their father. Ellen was a strong willed woman and protective -- nothing bad was going to happen to her son, Miles, who she called Jerry on occasion.


The Scollards, Michael and Mary, came to St. Louis from Tralee in Kerry in 1876. They were married in Kerry and Mary was born a Moran…probable kin to Ellen McSweeney. They came with three mostly grown children, Ellen, Jeremiah and Thomas. They left another three – older and with families of their own – back in Tralee. Thomas was the youngest but he could work. Jeremiah had a trade…he was a blacksmith. Michael, the father was a day laborer at 70 and died in 1881. Thomas followed him in 1887, both buried in the same unmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery. They were in good company and not far from Father DeSmet and Dred Scott. General Sherman and Kate Chopin would soon be there too, and still later (for the love of God!) Tennessee Williams. There were other Scollards there as well. Tuberculosis was the family affliction.


Baby Sara came to be known as Sadie and Sadie she stayed. There was another brother, Myles, born in 1892 to the delight of six year old Sadie. The father, Miles, was unpredictable and unreliable and a mother’s boy. Some years he lived separately with his mother while the rest lived at the grocery store. He had a “thing” for his cousin, Nellie Moran, who worked as a housekeeper for the old lady. Sometimes Miles would go to New York City for a while and then come back.


The family – Ellen and her five children – lived on in Kerry Patch. Ellen developed a cough and grew weaker, finally dying in 1894. Miles was nowhere to be found. Mary, the eldest girl, was sixteen and took on the parenting role as best she could. Eventually little Sadie, now eight, went to a convent but her older brothers would liberate her every time and so then she went to a orphanage in Little Falls, New York. Young Myles went along. The brothers couldn’t reach them there. Why New York? The father, Miles, had a hand in that decision.


Years passed. The brothers became minor gang members in Eagan’s Rats who were always at war with The Hogans. Edward served time in the workhouse but later married and tried to become semi-respectable by becoming a constable in Mike Kinney’s magistrate court. Politics and Irish gangs were closely related. It didn’t last long as he died at age 26 “after a lingering illness”. (Mike Kinney went on to become the longest serving state senator in Missouri history). Brother Michael never married and was sometimes the only one arrested when the other gang members got away. He would make a court appearance in Judge Kinney’s court. Michael died at 27 of the family affliction and shares a grave with Edward at Calvary Cemetery.



Sadie was back in St. Louis around the time of the World’s Fair in 1904 and worked as a house maid, Downton Abbey style, in the great homes of the rich and famous. Being an “Irish” maid came naturally. St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the country at the time and there were opportunities for domestic servants. Two years later she met a man, Charles Miller, who was a shoe worker in one of the many shoe factories in town. He was a strong union man – they boarded a trolley car and made an excursion to the little town of St. Charles, across the Missouri River, and were married on Labor Day of 1906. He got her away from Kerry Patch and mostly away from domestic work – although she took in washing and ironing when times were tough. His family, in upstate New York, was staunch Protestants and descended from Huguenot stock. The idea of marrying an Irish Catholic was unthinkable. The two of them were left to themselves for the most part and they seemed to thrive on that. They acquired a house on the western edge of St. Louis. Babies arrived, four in all, including my mom in 1910. They all survived. 


I never met my grandfather as he died on Christmas Day in 1941. That's him on the left at the World's Fair. Sadie worked in various hotels as a cook during the 1940s. She had a fiery Irish temper and would quit a job in the morning, walk down the street and be hired at another hotel, quit that job after lunch and go back to the first place and be welcomed with open arms. She later took in ironing at home. I remember she had a huge (to me) ironing steam press with rollers in the dining room of the family house. She died when I was four but I have many memories of her. We lived together in the old house for a few years. My older brother would sneak in and out the upstairs bedroom window….a nine year old with things to do and people to see. She met him one day coming across the roof and nailed the window shut with him on the outside. I recall another day when Senator Kinney came to call. He was a dapper man and they greeted as old Kerry Patch friends. I was under foot and was sent away. Her temper was always there and she would leave home in a snit and no one knew where she went until she would eventually turn up at my aunt’s house and stay for a few days. All would be forgiven and she would be back home again as usual.


Kerry Patch is gone and they are tearing down St. Bridget of Erin church as I write this. Almost nothing is left.  So what the's Erin go Bragh – Ireland Forever – on this St. Patrick’s Day. No time for tears. I will soon raise a glass (a toast to Sadie!) and taste some corned beef and cabbage before this day is out.






Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
What a fascinating family history, Ken. Thank you for sharing it. So you're of Irish stock :–)
Sunday, 20 March 2016 08:59
Ken Hartke
Thanks for commenting... I'm actually much more German/Pomeranian than Irish but the Germans were not storytellers. It seems that ... Read More
Sunday, 20 March 2016 14:05
Very appealing stuff, Ken. My own history on both sides of the family begins in Ireland so many centuries ago it can only be trace... Read More
Thursday, 24 March 2016 01:57
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Earliest Memories

Rosy's essay on Mothering Day, happily found on Facebook this morning, brought back a conversation I've been having with my daughter about our earliest memories. She is a children's librarian and has several weekly sessions with very small children. Almost all of these children are preschoolers and some are toddlers and a few are crawlers. She does story time, crafts and a music and movement session a few times a week. Most of these kids are from a somewhat impoverished Hispanic community that is going through some economic changes due to new commercial development. Some speak Spanish at home. If you ever watched Breaking Bad you might recognize the place.

Her experience is that the kids have long term memory covering the span of several months or longer but the literature she has researched on the topic says that those memories are lost and that by the time the kids reach pre-teen or teen years they won't remember much, if anything, from the preschool or toddler years. Her experience is that they remember and soak up just about everything. As parents we see this as well.

As we talked, I was amazed at what she did not remember from her early childhood. That trip to Disneyworld was a total waste. Much of her time in daycare with friends her own age and a series of caregivers is lost. A few things she remembers only from seeing photographs.

Apparently there are cultural differences in early memory. Canadian kids remember earlier experiences than do kids in China. Researchers think that there seems to be a parenting factor involved. Parental and cultural priorities make a difference. I wonder if there are generational differences. My generation was the first to grow up with television so I recall some of that.

When we think back to our earliest memory it often turns out to be some innocuous happening that would hardly matter. We also might recall what clothes we were wearing or a specific location or room. In my case it is a summertime visit to a restaurant and I recall what I wore. It might have been the occasion of my third birthday (in August) but I don't recall that specifically. The restaurant had a lot of windows and was very bright. Apart from my parents, I don't recall anyone else that I knew (sorry, bro). Other early memories are pretty sparse and scattered. My last grandmother died before I was five but I have several memories of her.

As a children's librarian, my daughter works hard bringing stories and new experiences into the lives of her kids. She's very good at it and has as many as 30 kids and parents each week. She is fascinated at how they are developing (physically and socially) but seems disappointed that, in the long run, they might not have any lasting memories of their weekly visits. Maybe so...but I can't accept the notion that it isn't having an impact. They will have positive memory snippets of going to the library, maybe have a favorite story or song and possibly recall the hour they spent with the brightly colored parachute marching in a circle. When I was that age we did not have those kinds of experiences.

So think back...what do you remember? Don't lose it.


Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Thank you for reading my Mothering Sunday post and for responding here, Ken. It's much appreciated. At the moment, there seems to... Read More
Monday, 07 March 2016 18:24
Ken Hartke
I'm the family historian but not everyone agrees with me. What one remembers and what the sources say are sometimes out of synch. ... Read More
Tuesday, 08 March 2016 01:12
Rosy Cole
That's what happens to history, too! There's an ongoing debate. Not just whether it was written by the victors, but how much is lo... Read More
Tuesday, 08 March 2016 13:56
927 Hits

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