My one scene occurred in the Municipal Court of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, over three weeks ending November 2, 1898. It was the jury trial of Thomas I. Kidd, George Zentner, and Michael Troiber, all of the Woodworkers’ Union, on a charge of conspiracy to injure the business of the Paine Lumber Company. The trial helped to establish a union’s right to strike free of conspiracy charges. Counsel for the men was Clarence Darrow, then forty-one and starting to be known as the “Attorney for the Damned ” after his defense of Eugene V. Debs in the Pullman Strike of 1894.

Kidd and his associates had been arrested in a strike for a wage increase and union recognition. In the trial, George M. Paine, proprietor of the company, was called as a witness, giving Darrow an opportunity to cross-examine with singular effectiveness. His questions exposed the “infamy of Paine’s business methods —the inhu-manity and contempt he displayed toward the men who worked in his factory, his hypocrisy and rapaciousness in dealing with his workers,” as Kevin Tierney phrased it in Darrow’s biography.

Darrow’s speech to the jury took two days and was delivered without notes. “While you have been occupied for the last two weeks in listening to the evidence in this case, and while the court will instruct you as to the technical rules of law under which this evidence is to be applied, still it is impossible to present the case to you without a broad survey of the great questions that are agitating the world today,” he began. “For whatever its form, this is not really a criminal case. It is but an episode in the great battle for human liberty, a battle which was commenced when the tyranny and oppression of man first caused him to impose upon his fellows and which will not end so long as the children of one father shall be compelled to toil to support the children of another in luxury and ease.”

Darrow’s peroration was a classic. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I leave this case with you. Here is Thomas I. Kidd . It is a matter of the smallest consequence to him or to me what you do; and I say it as sincerely as I ever spoke a word. . . I do not appeal for him. That cause is too narrow for me, much as I love him.. . . I appeal to you, gentlemen, not for Thomas I. Kidd, but I appeal to you for the long line—the long, long line reaching back through the ages, and forward to the years to come--the long line of despoiled and down-trodden people of the earth.”

The jury was out for fifty minutes. Returning, it announced that it had voted acquittals for all three men . For his work in the Kidd case Darrow received a fee of two hundred and fifty dollars.

                                                                        Alden Whitman, book critic

and historian.


Coatesville, Pennsylvania, August 18, 1912: In a rented room of the Nagel Building, opposite the church, John Jay Chapman, aged fifty, the literary critic from Boston who had in his younger days fought for reform with Theodore Roosevelt in New York, is holding a prayer meeting in memory of “the Negro Zacharia Walker” lynched in Coatesville on August 13 of the previous year.

Renting the room, advertising the meeting in the paper, and answering the suspicious questions of Coatesville citizens had been trying. Chapman was acting alone, but nobody believed this. Civil rights were words not yet thought of, but here surely was their first self-appointed champion, performing a symbolic act.

Chapman read his text, which begins: “We are met to commemorate the anniversary of one of the most dreadful crimes in history—not for the purpose of condemning it, but to repent of our share in it.” Those listening were: Miss Edith Martin, a friend of the Chapmans, from New York; “an anti-slavery old Negress who lives in Boston and was staying in Coatesville”; and “a man who was . . . an ‘out ost’ findin out what was up.”

I wish I had been a fourth member of that audience.

                                                      Jacques Barzun, past president of the

                                                             National institute of Arts and Letters.


The incident that I should most like to have witnessed was in a small way one that I actually took part in—the Armistice Day celebrations of November 11, 1918. I wish I might have seen the surging crowds in the great cities, but I did live through that evening as an eight-year-old boy in a small Boston suburb, parading up and down the street with my friends in a kind of delirium, shouting, singing, waving whatever flags we could lay hands on. I remember I had a red British merchant marine flag. The Hun had been defeated, evil ground into the dust. Keep the World Safe for Democracy! The War to End Wars! Those were the slogans even children mouthed and believed in. There was a spontaneity to that first Armistice celebration that the twin victories of World War II lacked. I saw both the V-F and V-J celebrations in London and found them flaccid, contained, artificial. For one thing, we had to wait three days until officially allowed to celebrate. Nothing like the spontaneity of 1918. Yes, I wish I might have seen the great cities on the first Armistice night. Never again such confident belief.

                                                                        Francis Russell, author of

                                                                                  President Makers from Mark

                                                                                  Hanna to Joseph P. Kennedy.



I would like to have seen someone I’ve always distrusted a bit but fear I might have admired a good deal. I’d like to have seen Theodore Roosevelt. Not at San Juan Hill, not shooting wild animals, setting up the National Park Scrvice, entertaining Booker T. Washington at the White House, or getting the Russians and Japanese to sign a peace treaty.

I would like to have seen him at Madison Square Garden in the fall of 1912 when he was running for President on his own Bull Moose ticket against both Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft. There he was, rejected by politicians of the Republican party he had served, but determined to regain the Presidency after stepping aside for Taft four years earlier.

Both major parties feared him, but the Progressives of the day—Felix Frankfurter, Walter Lippmann, Learned Hand—thought he was a demigod. “TR hit me and I went mad,” William Allen White said, speaking for a generation of intellectuals.

That night at Madison Square Garden was TR’s first public appearance after having been wounded in an assassination attempt. Everyone went mad. It was one of his greatest moments. Politics never seemed quite so innocent after that. I’d like to know if I would have gone a little mad too.

                                                                                            Ronald Steel, author of

                                                                                            Walter Lippmann and

the American Century


What I’d like is twenty-four hours in New York City in the depths of the Depresion. Say my birthday on May 9, 1932 . I’d like to see the city with the brownstones before the glass towers came, the speakeasies, the multitude of newspapers, the smell of a nation in trouble beyond what we can imagine. I’d pop down to Whitehall Street to see recruiting officers in Sam Browne belts, I’d walk along East Side tenement streets thinking about what this real estate would be worth, one day. I’d listen to what they were saying about Hoover when he was President Hoover, not an evil spirit dragged up for political condemnation. I’m sure the food in most restaurants would be awful—at least that has improved in this half-century—but I’d like to be among people who dressed right, kept their dignity and their class —or so I imagine—and knew who they were and what they were. Give me that! Twenty-four hours only, though, please.

                                                   Gene Smith, author of The Shattered Dream

                                                         Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression


Among the thousands of baseball games I would give an eyetooth to have seen was the third game of the 1932 World Series.

Little rode on the game itself: the New York Yankees, nearing the end of the Ruth-Gehrig era, would take four straight games from the Cubs, outscoring the Northenders 37 to 19. The august New Yorkers, winners of seven pennants in twelve years, disliked the Cubs for their tightfisted treatment of an ex-teammate, Mark Koenig; they hoped to humiliate them.

This was the setting for Babe Ruth’s appearance at the plate in the fifth inning. The Wrigley Field faithful cheered encouragement to Cub pitcher Charlie Root. Ruth, belly advancing in front of his dainty feet, walked to the plate and dug into the lefthanders’ batter’s box. (I have a seat behind the third-base dugout with an unimpeded view of Ruth’s round face.)

One strike; then another. Suddenly, according to popular account, Ruth pointed to the stands, predicting with his gesture a home run on the next pitch. Root’s right- hand delivery met the thirty-seven-year-old Bambino’s bat head on; the ball arced into the stands for a home run; Ruth had “called his shot”!

Is this true? Eyewitness accounts differ. Maybe Ruth had nothing so specific in mind. But what if he did? It would be a stunning achievement. As others have so written, even hitting a major leaguer’s pitched ball may be the single most difficult of all athletic feats. Home runs are another matter altogether. A fairly typical home - run champion of our own day might hit a home run every thirteen or fourteen official at bats—every fifteen plate appearances including bases on balls. In    his entire career, Ruth averaged one home run every 14.6 plate appearances, in the 1932 season one every 14.3. So the odds against even the mighty Babe smacking one over the fence were too long for most betting men. What humiliation if he had struck out!

But did Babe Ruth worry about odds? If so, what bold defiance of the averages! My mind’s eye sees an unmistakable, if casual, gesture as though to say, “seven ball in the side pocket.” Only those who have held both a pooi cue and a Louisville Slugger in their hands can realize the monumental gap between calling for the one and calling for the other.

One of the greatest moments of bravado in our history, and I would have sure wanted to judge for myself what happened.

                                                      Robert L. Beisner, Chairman, Depart-

                                                             ment of History, American University.


 would like to have been present at Aeolian Hall, February 12, 1924. That was the evening when Gershwin s Rhapsody in Blue was first performed.

I like Gershwin, but I also know that Rhapsody in Blue (the very title is a maudlin one, with the touch of a cliché) is not the best of his compositions: it is a period piece. But what a period! That night in 1924 represented the coming of age of American genius. In one polyphonic and saxophonic swoop the creative talent of America swept ahead of Europe, of all the modernisms of Europe. That odd young man, the son of uneducated Jewish immigrants, brought up in the near-slums of New York, created something that was, and remained, quintessentially American, strident at times but suffused with a melancholy elegance of harmonies beyond the imagination and sensitivity of almost anything that the Old World could have produced at that time. It was modern, in a way in which no other achievement had been modem: not Whitman’s poetry, not Berlin’s ragtime, not the Brooklyn Bridge, not the Woolworth Building, all of which still bore traces of the sentiments of an American Victorianism.

I would have wanted to sense the reactions of that audience: the quality of the applause, and perhaps a moment of silence before the nervous chatter began in the steamheated foyer, outside of which the high-wheeled large cars were hooting and the electricity glittered in the winter evening of New York. The sour vulgarities of the reign of Coolidge notwithstanding, it was then that America sparkled at the top of the world.

                                                      John Lukacs, Professor of History,

                                                             Chestnut Hill College. Author of Out-

                                                             growing Democracy : A History of

                                                             the United States in the Twentieth Century.

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