Opening Day


By Sam Garfield

Mickey Mantle’s muscles in the October sun.
A Willie Mays basket catch, Sal Maglie’s chin music.

Jack Quinlan’s boyish buoyancy, Vin Scully’s eloquence.
Russ Hodges: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

The copper filigree of the Yankee Stadium frieze.
Shadows across the Wrigley Field outfield, as omnipresent pigeons speckle the grass following another afternoon loss.
Faraway, beyond the park, a tree sways in the summer breeze, as seen through the arched windows of Old Comiskey.

– – –

Sandy Koufax looking in.
Joe DiMaggio rounding second, Jackie Robinson stealing home.

Baggy wool uniforms.
The practice swings –three or four bats at a time– of the on-deck hitter.
All in blue, Nestor Chylak peering over his  chest protector behind home plate.

Fedoras, suits and ties, and cigarette smoke in the field boxes.
Bagged sandwiches, and keeping a scorecard in the grandstands; beer and betting in the bleachers.

– – –

Joe Nuxhall’s baby face.
Stan Musial’s grace, Ted Williams’ scowl.

Baseball cards in living color.
A Hank Sauer for a Nellie Fox. “Whata ya nuts?” Our own Fantasy League, each kid a general manager.

Running Bases, Five Hundred, Stoop Baseball –when it was truly a game. No umpires needed.

– – –

Roger Maris chasing 61.
Don Larsen’s perfection, Bill Mazeroski ‘s shot.

Where were you when the nation wanted Mickey to get there first? When Dale Mitchell looked at strike-three? When a number-eight hitter did the improbable?

Those of us caught in its flame mark time by the game’s great moments; they remain with us forever.

– – –

Opening Day, when everyone buys in.

Game time. A sweet buzz hangs in the air, a giddy euphoria all over town –-in barbershops, on playgrounds, in offices. Soon it will end, we all know. But for now, for an entire spring afternoon, anything is possible. This hope will carry us –albeit, in varying degrees– throughout the summer; maybe even a little longer. But when the days get short and the nights grow cold, it will end.

But this we know for certain–the October sun never sets on Mickey Mantle’s muscles.

Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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By Sam Garfield

May 7, 1955

(Chicago) –In all likelihood Mrs. Margaret Kelly Clark will arrive at the train station early, well before Bud. You see, five years ago her son left for Korea, and today he’s coming home.

Nov. 27, 1950

(Chosin Reservoir) –A Chicago soldier sits in the frozen snow in northeastern Korea, eight thousand miles from home. There’s one last letter to write. Corporal Bud Clark, 21, mortar man, Fox Company, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, writes his mother.

He describes this desolate, ice-covered place called Chosin Reservoir, including the brittle weather, the cold from Siberia that freezes the rugged ground, and the frostbite that blisters the skin black. He writes about some of the guys from the 7th Marine, kids like Chester and Al from Chicago, and how he dreams of coming home.

But he doesn’t write about the 10 infantry divisions of the Red Chinese Ninth Army that are poised to attack. Corporal Clark and the 1st Marine Division, along with U.N. forces, become surrounded by Chinese troops and begin to fight their way south, over snow- covered hills, across frozen rivers, in temperatures 35-degress below zero. They fight their way along a 76-mile icy mountain road that leads to the safe port of Hungnam, their only retreat route. Corporal Clark’s Fox Company becomes trapped at Toktong Pass, a vital pass that controls the road. Many American soldiers are alive today because of Bud Clark’s heroics, some mothers of Marines would tell Margaret Clark. During the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Corporal Clark repeatedly rushes through Chinese rifle fire to help the wounded. Seventeen times he carries a man to safety. He is awarded two Purple Hearts. 

On the sixth of December, with air support from Marine, Navy and Air Force fliers, Corporal Clark starts an 11-mile hike to the 1st Marine position at Koto-ri. More than 10,000 Marines move 1,000 vehicles along the rugged road; they suffer 600 casualties. As he tries to come to the aid of a fallen Marine, Bud Clark is cut down by Chinese rifle fire. Bud would never leave any of his men behind when they got hit, soldiers from Corporal Clark’s 7th Regiment would tell his mother. A week after Corporal Clark is killed the Marines make their way to the safe port of Hungnam. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir, the longest withdrawal in Marine Corps history, is over. Corporal Clark is buried in a temporary U.N. military site in Hungnam.

On December 24, the massive evacuation is being completed. Ships carry 105,000 Americans and South Korean soldiers, 91,000 civilian refugees, 17,000 vehicles and 350,000 tons of cargo. The exhausted soldiers of Fox Company and the 7th Regiment rest and look forward to Christmas turkey dinners. In Chicago, Bud Clark’s mother is told of her son’s death.

May 7, 1955

(La Salle St. Station) –What goes through a mother’s mind as she waits? During that brutal Korean winter of ’50, he wanted so badly to come home, she remembers, to be with his family again, to see the city he loved. This is why she waits for the train that is bringing her son home. Donald Clark, a World War II veteran, will be with his brother, as his official military escort.  (Under the armistice agreement, Marines are now able to retrieve the bodies of their dead from Hungnam.) Corporal Bud Clark, who would never leave any of his men behind, will be back home for Mother’s Day…when all Moms and their Buds should be together.

 Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.


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Shaping the Story

Shaping the Story
An Urban  Novel. Once City, One Year.

By John Theodore

Discover the novel from author John Theodore about fictitious journalist Sam Garfield and 1958 Chicago at Purchase the ebook on Amazon and be sure to follow Sam (@SamGarfieldChi) as he muses on Twitter.

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A Battle Brewing


By Sam Garfield

Nov. 1, 1956

(Airwaves)—There’s a battle brewing at your own front door…and in your living room, too. And they’re fighting over you. It’s really not a battle yet…more like a skirmish. Americans still rely on newspapers to get their news, so your paperboy –and this columnist– will have jobs for a while, but there’s a new, slick way of delivering the day’s news  –television.

And at NBC-TV, they’ve doubled their efforts. The network’s Huntley-Brinkley Report, a 15-minute evening news program, debuted a few days ago to enthusiastic revues. And it appears to be more than just a new style of giving Americans the news. The Huntley-Brinkley Report airs from two cities –Huntley anchors from New York and Brinkley reports from Washington. I must say their telecast is smooth. The show moves effortlessly from location to location, and Brinkley’s dry, witty delivery fits perfectly with the program’s crisp, concise writing. It is a breath of fresh air compared to other TV nightly news shows. The pair also has credibility. Huntley and Brinkley made their marks on NBC executives –and American viewers– during their top-rated coverage of this summer’s 1956 Republican convention.

But it’s their chemistry that is sure to draw huge audiences. Their roles complement each other, with Huntley delivering much of the report and Brinkley concentrating on Washington topics, including the White House and Congress. They wind up their broadcast like two friends saying goodbye at the end of a pleasant phone conversation: “Good Night, Chet. Good Night, David.” Then, the Huntley-Brinkley Report fades away in style –closing credits enhanced by the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The stylish duo replaces newsreader John Cameron Swayze and the Camel News Caravan, an act just too slow for TV.

So, this new way of delivering the nightly news…is it just a fad? Or is it a forecast of things to come? Remember, TVs sit in two-thirds of American households.

Television news has scored some impressive journalistic triumphs during this decade. Veteran CBS Radio war reporter Edward R. Murrow is a pioneer when it comes to first-rate television reporting. His See It Now program, in its sixth season, uses its own footage and newsreel film, as opposed to relying on Movietone newsreels from neighborhood theaters. Murrow’s journalistic expertise not only delivers the news in a fresh and entertaining way…it also makes news.  Murrow’s commentaries on American and social and political issues have broken new ground for television news. His tough questioning of Joe McCarthy in ’54 proved to be a deathblow for the Red-baiting Senator from Wisconsin. Murrow was the first newsman to tell McCarthy he didn’t create the Red Scare but he certainly exploited it.

And don’t forget the drama of Estes Kefauver’s Special Senate Committee on Organized Crime. The nationally televised event focused on mobsters in America, and captured the attention of all of us in ’51. People couldn’t get enough of it, especially when Frank Costello testified. The committee bowed to Costello’s attorney’s request not to show his face. Instead, the TV camera focused on the mobster’s nervous hands, which never stopped moving. We loved it, and in its own way, TV made news by being able to quickly adapt to the situation at-hand. Let’s face it, TV is faster, quicker and more nimble than newspapers.

Does this mean TV will flash past broadsheets and tabloids? Will people stop buying newspapers? I don’t think so. There’s a certain relationship people have with newspapers, one that TV can’t match.

For example, I love the ritual of buying my newspaper (sure, we journalists get ours free, but stay with me here, would ya?) –dropping a few coins in an open cigar box and walking away with a fresh newspaper under your arm. Your newspaper –to be read when and where you desire. Maybe with a cocktail as you wait for your date to arrive; or with a morning cup of coffee at a favorite diner. As a kid, I used to watch my Dad come home from work and devour his paper each evening before dinner, cigar in hand. I feel blessed to be a part of a big city paper. For me, newspapers are magical, where day after day, news is collected, put into words, set in type, and then, while its readers sleep, printed and hand delivered to newsstands, drugstores and doorsteps all across the country.

For now, my money’s on newspapers. But I’m sure down the road someone will come up with a slicker way to deliver the news. Maybe something small…so we’ll be able to take it to the coffee shop…and watch the news.

No…I doubt it.

Copyright © 2012. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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By Sam Garfield

Feb 25, 1958

(Edgewater Beach Hotel) –What’s it been, four months since the Russians launched their first Sputnik? Four months –shorter than a baseball season; one semester of school; about the proper amount of time to fashion a good nervous breakdown. And that’s what we’ve done ever since the first tiny Soviet light began to glide over our heads. Collectively, most every American, from sea to shining sea, has looked up into the sky –not in wonder, but in fear.

“Control of space means control of the world,” Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson told us at the start of this year. A few days later, President Eisenhower said, “Most of us did not anticipate the psychological impact upon the world of the launching of the first earth satellite.” How ‘bout that for New Year’s understatements.

But our fears did begin to dissipate somewhat this month following the successful firing of our own satellite, Explorer-I. There’s a new spring to our step. Gone is the massive hysteria, gone because of the Army’s mighty Jupiter-C rocket, whose shoulders propelled its Explorer payload, a six-foot-long metal tube, to speeds of 20,000 miles-per-hour on its journey around the world. Of course, we’re still behind the Russians in space technology, but we now sleep better, knowing that every 100 minutes or so Explorer is completing another orbit. The Russians sleep better, too, because our satellite does not pass over the Soviet Union. So, the race to capture space –capture the world– is on. In four short months, a space fear has turned to a space race. And the two most powerful nations in the world –both led by former military men– now have a new platform for war. Pick your horse. Eisenhower suddenly has a deeper stable. Now he can negotiate with the Soviets from a stronger position, and hopefully, Jupiter-C will also be able to lift peace talks with the Soviets to a safer place.

Meanwhile, on the chilly roof of the glamorous Edgewater Beach Hotel, Johnnie McGrath spends his nights watching the sky. He remains part of a special group of Americans –teenagers, housewives, retirees– who watch the skies for enemy aircraft. The Ground Observer Corps began during World War II as this country’s air warnings system. At one time, some 800,000 volunteers at more than 16,000 rooftops and search towers across America looked through binoculars and telescopes for hostile airplanes. But these days, we have the DEW Line (Distant Early Warning). And Russian ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missile) capable of delivering atomic warheads are our biggest threat. Not the manned bomber. Right?

“Then why do we still have Nike Ajak missile positions along the lakefront?” answered Johnnie McGrath, who has manned the roof of the Chicago’s tony Edgewater Beach Hotel for the past several years. “These missile batteries go from Gary to Jackson Park to Montrose Harbor. Not only that but we’re supposed to get the Nike Hercules, bigger missiles, soon. Look, as long as the Russians still have strategic bombers, we’ll still be up here looking for enemy planes.”

Last week I spent a night skywatching with McGrath, who’s a Chief Andy Frain usher when he’s not plane spotting. He’s a serious fellow, a smart fellow. He proudly wears his G.O.C Air Force wings, but he knows the world’s changing. He knows all about our sophisticated guided missiles. Names like Sidewinder, Redstone, Rascal Dart, Thor, they roll off his lips as easily as a promise from an alderman.

“With the cold war and all, the Ground Observer Corps has a feel-good nature about it,’ McGrath said. “And even though we’ve been reduced from 24-hour to ready-reserve status we believe in what we’re doing is necessary.”

McGrath and his crew operate from a small shack atop the hotel. They receive no pay and all their equipment –binoculars, telescopes, short wave radios and tape recorders, electrical installations– is donated from Chicago-area businesses. And the Edgewater Beach charges nothing for its penthouse space.

When McGrath spots an aircraft that looks suspicious he’ll check an Air Force “Soviet Aircraft Identification” chart. Then he’ll plot the time-and-coordinate and check the official Air Force manual for instructions. He’ll then call the Museum of Science and Industry, the GOC’s Chicago filter center. “Then it’s up to them,” McGrath said.

McGrath never said  –“we’re not allowed to”– how many reports of suspicious aircraft he’s reported to the Museum of Science and Industry. These days he’s tracking Sputnik II and space dog Laika. “I’m laying eight-to-five the Russians never see that dog again,” he said.

Johnnie McGrath’s skywatching nights appear to be numbered. He admitted there’s talk in Washington that new defense technology will replace the Ground Observer Corps by next year. Then he smiled, and said, “What in heaven’s sake is going on?”

Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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Going Home Again


By Sam Garfield

Nov. 27, 1958

(Lisbon Falls) —“You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe. How true.

“Where’s Lisbon Falls,” you’re probably asking. It’s a mill town in southeastern Maine. Pretty enough, I guess, with plenty of nature and shimmering streams. I was born there, in a farmhouse deep in a forest of pine. I visited Lisbon Falls this past week; hadn’t been back since the summer of ’51. You see, I’m starting work on a book and I thought going back home would jar some memories from my youth. Visit the place where I grew up. After a few days, I realized Wolfe knew what he was writing about.

Thanksgiving seems like an appropriate time to think about home, more specifically going home again. Life had changed little in Lisbon Falls — our ball field sports a new outfield fence; the weekly newspaper boasts a livelier sports section. New Englanders, you know, move slowly when it comes to change. (How ironic, given the Minutemen and all.)

At the midpoint of my long drive back to Chicago I thought about what I learned from going home again. But my mind was bogged down, clogged with memories, some sadness and, I must admit, much indifference. These thoughts were stuck in different parts of my head; I couldn’t shake them loose to get a clear feeling about my visit. I rolled down the window a bit to let in the chilly night air and I did what any normal, albeit confused, newspaperman would do. I interviewed myself.

“So, how was it? Do you miss Lisbon Falls?

“It was okay. No, can’t say that I do.”

“Did you get any inspiration for your book?”

“Actually I did. Not sure how I’m going to use it, but I’ve got a few ideas. So I guess the trip was useful.”

“Why do you think people like to go home again?”

“Beats me. I think they go back home because they expect to magically morph into their youth again when, for most people, times were carefree and easy. It’s almost like a vacation from reality. Like a big whiff of oxygen; makes you whole again. But that’s not always the case.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just where is home? Parents tell you it’s where you grew up, where you spent your ‘wonder years.’ Poets say it’s where your heart is. Some people experience both. Not me. I spent about the first nineteen years of my life in Maine. Then I had brief stops in Wichita Falls, Louisville and Champaign before settling down in Chicago. For me, home is Chicago.”

“Yeah, but don’t you think those wonder years and the environment of your youth helped to shape you into the person you are today, and that’s why people like to go home again?”

“That’s a stupid question. You’re telling me that people go home again to reaffirm who they are. If they don’t know who they are as adults, going back to their place of birth isn’t going to help. No, I don’t believe that at all. People go home for a million reasons. Maybe to show their kids how much better they have it than their parents did. Some may go home again because they’re lost; they’re without a center in their life because they’ve lost their job or their spouse or both. And others go home again for the homemade apple pie.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful that, for me, home is where I am. Not where I’m from.

Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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SHAPING the STORY: An Urban Novel. One City, One Year.

This new book is available for purchase through Amazon (ebook). Set in 1958 Chicago, the story revolves around Sam Garfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning newspaper columnist who suddenly, at age fifty-two, is forced to take a critical look at himself and his relationships with his mentally ill twin brother, the woman he loves, and the people he writes about… the father who carries guilt because he was “catin’ ‘round, drinkin’ while pre-dawn flames killed all his six children in a tenement fire; a young, talented photographer who becomes sickened by his profession when he photographs a nun carrying a burned victim out of a burning school: “…stuck the camera right in front of that nun and snapped away…might as well been a gun.”  Garfield’s middle-aged self-discovery helps him work through past issues in his life and becomes the lens through which he approaches his newspaper columns.
For more information and to read the first chapter, please visit And if you enjoy the book, please consider writing a review on the Amazon product page.
John Theodore
No new postings will appear on this site until further notice…while the author completes his latest manuscript. The archives will remain open. Thank you for your interest.
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