Friday, December 17, 2010


Prince Town the DVD is now available! My very first documentary project is in the bag and I couldn't be happier. With over 80-minutes of footage, this DVD features color footage from the '30s, front porch interviews, coverage of the 1965 state basketball championship from WRAY and the IHSAA archives and much more! For those who have ever called Princeton, Indiana, home...this is a must-own DVD!

I spent a good part of the fall down in Princeton, pouring over hours and hours of archival footage, shooting new footage from atop the county courthouse and assimilating it all into this video documentary, based on the research of my Uncle Greg Wright (author of Prince Town and More of Prince Town). Produced in 16:9 widescreen, even the home movies from the 40's and 50's look great. There is the 1955 Fair Centennial Parade, construction of the new Gibson County Bank (1964), pictures and video of the square at Christmastime, footage of the 1992 Heinz plant fire and an extensive look back at the Great Tornado of 1925. Anyone who is interested in a copy of Prince Town the DVD can contact me directly.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Noles Bowl

It's practically an annual tradition, FSU's football team going to a bowl game, but after a few meager seasons in the twilight of Bobby Bowden's career, I no longer take the invitations for granted. Last Sunday, the Noles, now under the leadership of Jimbo Fisher, were invited to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl where they will face South Carolina, led by former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier...a familiar nemesis to be certain.
It looks to be a great game pitting the 19th and 23rd ranked teams in the nation, each runners-up in their conference championship. Spurrier always brings a high-flying offense to the field, and Fisher will place a Charlie Ward-like quarterback at the helm. I'm talking, of course, about the red-shirt sophomore E.J. Manuel who is a dual threat. He went toe-to-toe with Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor in the ACC Championship Game and held his own against the ACC's Player of the Year, posting almost 300 yards of passing offense and 33 points on the board. Not too shabby for a guy that's only started a few games. But he's no stranger to the bright lights of the college bowl season, as he started in last year's Gator Bowl for the Noles and was named game MVP. I'm hopeful he'll be as impressive in this year's Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

During the news conference last Sunday, Jimbo Fisher was successful in convincing the Chick-Fil-A mascot to do the tomahawk chop (see pic below).

Friday, December 10, 2010

In a word...WECKL!

No matter how hard I look, I cannot find anyone more precise, yet more fluid on the drumkit than Dave Weckl. I LOVE this guy's drumming!

Had I discovered Weckl earlier in life, I would be able to say he is the undisputed number one in my book. As it is, I grew up idolizing Neil Peart, so Dave is like number 1-B...but I think even Neil would bow to Weckl's percussive prowess. In fact, he basically does on the Burning for Buddy Tribute DVD. Still, Neil is tops. And if I had to categorize my faves, I'd put him at the top of my rock drummers list and Dave at the top of jazz/fusion drummers. For more on my favorite drummers, see this blog post from April 2009.

Hope you enjoy the short clip, above, of Dave showing off his chops!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

This is 8 minutes of pure percussive mayhem!!!

I first took notice of this drummer while listening to Army of Anyone's debut (and only) release. On the hit single "Goodbye," Luzier breaks into a mini-solo during the last minute of the song. His fills mezmerized me. To this day, I cannot duplicate a couple of them.

Anyway, on the above video he starts out with the mini-solo from "Goodbye," then breaks into flurry of pedal and stick fills that will blow your mind! After which, he shows off his chops by playing the rims of his toms, leading back into another flurry of fills...I couldn't tell you what notes, exactly--maybe 64ths?--as he is going too freaking fast. I think he is my new fave!

Monday, November 29, 2010

5 Things I've Learned About the Colts This Season

1. Peyton Manning is NOT Superman.

His kryptonite in college came in the form of the Florida defense. In the NFL, Belichick and Turner are his two-headed evil them the Luthor twins.

2. The defense will NEVER be able to stop the run.

3. Ryan Diem is ALWAYS good for about 10 yards in false start penalties.

4. Jim Irsay has crippled his franchise by continuing to make emotional, rather than heady, decisions... promoting an enigmatic, uninspiring coach from within; sticking
with Sanders through a litany of season-ending injuries; and promising the moon
to Manning in the early twilight of his career.

5. The roster is NOT very deep.
But as they say in Monty Python's "The Life of Brian," always look on the bri-i-ight si-ide of life...

My collegiate and high school alma maters played superbly over the weekend!

The Seminoles trounced the hated, archrival Gators and will play for another ACC Championship.

Chatard's football team won it's 10th state championship...way to go Trojans!!!

Friday, November 12, 2010


Here is a sample of the documentary film that I am helping my uncle to produce. It features historical images from his book, Prince Town, rare video footage shot as early as 1938 and interviews he conducted with past residents. The finished product will be a captivating peek into Princeton's past.

I hope you enjoy the six-minute preview.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Morris Birkbeck's "Notes on a journey in America," 1818

An English gentleman set out from the British Isles to begin his “voluntary exile” in the first half of the year 1817. Journaling along the way, he chronicles his adventures from his voyage to his final destination, though the last page of the book finds him still in Princeton, Indiana.

I found this book through another book I was researching, Early Indiana trails and Surveys (1919), by George R. Wilson. In Wilson’s book, he notes, “For a good pioneer description of Princeton and southwestern Indiana, as of 1817,” see Morris Birkbeck’s Notes on a Journey in America. I’ve become a frequent visitor of the American Libraries’ site,, which has volumes of historical books in various digital formats. It was there that I found an online version of Birkbeck’s 1818 work. And it has been a fascinating read, thus far.

The earliest accounts of pioneer life in southwestern Indiana I had discovered previously were written from second- and third-hand accounts after the Civil War. This book is the first eyewitness account I’ve read, and it confirms, in large part, the descriptions of pioneer life from the accounts, like that of Col. William Cockrum, penned decades later.

I have quite enjoyed the perspective of this English gent who praises the qualities of Vincennes’ French residents and looks down in disgust at the filth of many cabin-dwelling pioneers in the countryside. He describes the attitude of the latter as “yawning lassitude.” From what I gather, he considers Princeton somewhere in the middle.

From the outset of the book, Birkbeck explains his reason for the “narrower limits” of his American exploration through only Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. “I can forego the well-earned comforts of an English home, [but] it must not be to degrade myself and corrupt my children by the practice of slave-keeping.” The “curse” of slavery—“the bane of society”—he says, has taken “fast hold” of Kentucky and every state south, so he sets a northward course for the untamed wilderness of the Wabash Valley.

He lands at Norfolk, Virgina, 3 May 1817 with the hopes of reaching the Illinois Territory by winter (Note: it would not be entered as a state within the Union until December the following year). Upon reaching Pittsburgh, he foregoes the most common means of travel—down the Ohio River upon a flatboat—for the land-bearing route across Ohio. He finds that horses are rather inexpensive here, since most eastern travelers dismount in favor of the river highway to ports south, namely New Orleans. After purchasing a couple of horses, the Birkbeck party set out for Cincinnati on 4 Jun 1817.

It is not clear the precise date that Birbeck’s traveling party reaches Indiana, as there is a gap in his journal from 23 June – 6 July. By the former, he is writing from Cincinnati and by the latter from Madison, Indiana, about 90 miles downriver. Upon reaching Madison, he writes in his journal,

Indiana is evidently newer than the state of Ohio; and if I mistake not, the character of the settlers is different, and superior to that of the first settlers in Ohio, who were generally very indigent people : those who are now fixing themselves in Indiana, bring with them habits of comfort, and the means of procuring the conveniences of life: I observe this in the construction of their cabins, and the neatness surrounding them, and especially in their well-stocked gardens, so frequent here, and so rare in the state of Ohio, where their earlier and longer settlement would have afforded them better opportunities of making this great provision for domestic comfort. (p.85)

Birkbeck finds from his own personal experience that the stereotypes held in England of the inhabitants of Indiana are quite false. He does not encounter “lawless, semi-barbarous, vagabonds, dangerous to live among.” On the contrary, he finds Hoosiers to be both “kind and gentle to each other, and to strangers.” He also finds across the rolling hills between Cincinnati and Madison several cleared settlements that seem to “multiply daily” interspersed among miles of uncleared timber. His first impression of Indiana and its people is very favorable. He writes that Madison is but five years old at the time of his arrival, which is off by three years, as the town was incorporated in 1809. Still, we get a glimpse into our pioneer past and see the southern portion of our state as it was in its infancy.

Making great headway through the State of Indiana, he comes within a day’s journey of Vincennes by 12 July, stopping at a spot 16 miles east of there, called Hawkins’ Tavern. He speaks of another tavern just 20 miles east of there which sits on the White River, called Stolt’s Tavern. I’m guessing this would have been in the area of present-day Loogootee, Indiana. Most of the land between these two stops, he says, is “unentered, and remains open to the public at two dollars per acre.”

The final destination of the Birkbeck party was eastern Illinois, but for some reason, upon reaching Vincennes, they head south, reaching Princeton by 18 July. For whatever reason he chose the budding town, Morris Birkbeck opines, “Prince Town affords a situation for a temporary abode, more encouraging than any place we have before visited in this neighborhood.” He rents a log home in town with a bountiful garden for nine months at a cost of 20 pounds. This would become his headquarters for the remainder of the book. From here, he would venture out on several explorations of southwestern Indiana and across the Wabash into Illinois Territory.

On one such exploration, he journals from Harmony, Indiana, on 25 July, that he has traveled from there 18 miles south to the banks of the Ohio River, lodging for the night in Mt. Vernon. He speaks of the vast amount of valuable land rich in sand, but it is no match for the prairie land he seeks in Illinois. He calls Mt. Vernon “a very new town,” which by name it was. Settled in 1805, it would be known for the next 11 years as McFadden’s Bluff, renamed in 1816 after President Washington’s home. Upon return from Mt. Vernon to Harmony the next day, Birkbeck finally crosses the Wabash into Illinois and explores the region called the Big Prairie between the Wabash and Little Wabash rivers.

At the beginning of August, 1817, Morris Birkbeck finds his way to the land office in Shawnee Town, Illinois, where he purchases 1,440 acres of prairie and marsh land near the Little Wabash. He describes at great length the land and inhabitants of the Big Prairie with which I will not bore you here. He does return to Harmony, Indiana, a forty mile trek from Shawnee Town, on Sunday night, 3 August. There, he finds the streets empty as everyone is at church. In fact, he has to call the innkeeper out of church to fetch his horses. He comments on the neatness and peaceful appearance of the Harmonites as they pour out of the church, all 700 of them, though he laments their religious superstitions.

By 4 August, he is back in Princeton and pens his next several entries from there, commenting on everything from wild game to the climate. It is for these brief glimpses into the life and times of the Hoosier pioneer that this book is well worth the reader’s investment.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Back to mediocrity

Well, that was fun while it lasted. After three weeks in the Top 20, the Seminoles are back to mediocrity, losing this week to North Carolina State. Not that the Wolfpack isn't a team to be reckoned with, especially at home, but Seminole Nation has come to expect a lot more since joining the basketball conference (aka ACC).

Let me couch my complaining in historical terms. Those of us who attended FSU in the glory days, and cheered the team onto two national championships, are not content to watch the team barely eek out a winning season, or lose at home to the Wake Forest's of the college football world (that 30-0 game was an all-time low for the team, the program and the legendary coach). After all, we're not a lowly Big Ten school (or Notre Dame).

I was there for the building of Bowden's Dynasty. I watched the erector-set stadium of the early Bowden Era morph like a Transformer into the castle it is today. I saw them dedicate the larger-than-life bronze statue of Bobby. I cheered the 'Noles to victory under the Superdome in 1999.

Then the end came.

The end of an era. The end of a dynasty. The downward spiral of the program from greatness to mediocrity. So you think I'd be used to the idea of underachievement by the Noles. After all, this has been the decade of lowered expectations. Still, every year, by some great miracle from on high, I believe that things will be different. With the passing of the torch from Bobby Bowden to Jimbo Fisher, my hopes were revived. Then, with the hype that preceeded the 2010 College Football Season, I actually allowed myself to dream once again. But those dreams were short lived. They came crashing down the second week of the season, when FSU got drubbed by Oklahoma, only to be revived once again by six straight wins, the fifth of which came against hated rival Miami.

It was mid-season. The Noles were 6-1. They had vanquished the Ibis, and sat atop all Florida schools as the lone Top 20 team, ranked #16 in the AP Poll. I was beginning to believe once again that FSU was on the mend, that the program had turned the corner (which it actually has, I'm just being dramatic). So going into this weeks game, in hostile territory, mind you, I had the Seminole flag waving in the wind on the front of the house. I turned on the big screen TV and settled in to watch the annual NC State-FSU shootout. Senior Quarterback for the Noles, Christian Ponder, seemed to overcome some early game jitters and miscues and had the offense poised to strike the death-blow with under a minute remaining. Then, he drops back to pass, fakes to the fullback....and FUMBLES the DADGUM ball!!!

Game over.

Not only does the Wolfpack win, they virtually eliminate FSU's chance at the first ACC title in five years. Goodbye BCS bid. Goodbye Top 20 ranking. It was nice while it lasted. I guess I'll wait to see what the Noles can put together next year, but I'm not too hopeful. They lose a veteran offensive line and their QB. It'll be a couple years before the highly touted 2010 recruiting class is able to make a big difference. So, again, I wait. Slowly acclimating to the new dynasty of mediocrity, I wait. :/

Monday, October 11, 2010

Noles Improving, Set Sites on Boston College

After dominating in-state rival Miami, the Seminoles are 5-1 and ranked #16 in the Associated Press Poll. Their next victim, Boston College, has to play in front of a sold-out Doak Campbell crowd in the midday, Florida sun. If the noise and the heat doesn't get 'em, the swarming Seminole defense will!

Yes, it is still early in the season, but this Seminole is already dreaming about the postseason possibilities. A loss to Oklahoma early in the season served as a wake-up call. And now that the defense is getting comfortable in new coordinator Mark Stoops' scheme, they are tearing up the opposition. As the bleacher report aptly noted,

The Seminole defense laid gruesome hits on the Canes all night. It seemed every time a receiver came across the middle or a running back tried to gain any yardage between the tackles, a Seminole or two were there to crush Miami’s skill position players. The physical beating took its toll. UM players needed extra breathers on the sideline throughout the contest, especially in the second half.

FSU Tops Florida in Poll
After the mighty Gators fell to LSU, at home no less, they dropped to #22 in the national poll. Miami fell out of the Top 25, thanks to the drubbing they took from the 'Noles. That leaves FSU as the highest ranked, and only Top 20, team from the Sunshine State. Of course, everyone in Seminole nation has the last game of the season circled every year as THE ONE to win. Fortunately, the Gators have to travel to Tallahassee this year to face the surging 'Noles.

But first things first, the Seminoles have to take care of the Eagles this Saturday, and continue building on the momentum. Since spotting Oklahoma 47 points earlier this season, the 'Nole defense has only given up a total of 47 points to their other 5 opponents, an average of just slightly more than a touchdown per game. Not too shabby. Maybe they can hold BC to a field goal...and then block it! :)

Well, this Seminole is happy to revel in the moment, and dream of a BCS bowl bid.

GO NOLES!!! >>>--------,,,->

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Dunning Discovery

Next weekend would've been my great-grandfather's 126th birthday, so to celebrate we'll make our annual excursion to the tiny hamlet of Francisco, Indiana, to visit with several generations of David Dunning's descendants. Though he passed in 1977, at the ripe old age of 93, we continue the tradition started by his family decades ago. We still meet at his farm on Wheeling Road that holds so much in the way of memories, including how he fed and raised nine kids there. Only two of his children will be able to share in the festivities October 2-3, my Uncle Les (88) and Aunt Ginny (85). Yes, they are great-aunt and uncle, but we've always called them by the moniker Mom used to address them growing up.

It is fitting that my latest genealogical discovery involves Les and Ginny's grandparents, my 2nd great-grandparents, Albert Charles "AC" and Sophronia (Morrison) Dunning. Since they died in 1932 and 35, respectively, all I had were bits and pieces of family stories and folklore. I only found some old pictures of them while going through my late grandmother's things a couple of years ago. Here is one of the family taken about 1884.

That's my Great-Grandpa David sitting in his father's lap. The two older boys, George and Robert Charles, died when they were 25 and 13, respectively, so I never knew them either. Aunt Bessie is seated in Sophronia's lap.

Needless to say, I had no clue where they lived other than the old census records that gave their residence as White River Township in Gibson County, Indiana. Well, lo and behold, the 1881 Atlas of Gibson and Pike Counties shows the location of the old family home in the White River bottoms. I had studied that map several times at the library and online before I discovered the AC Dunning farm about midway between Patoka and Hazleton and west of the highway about 2 miles. It was sitting right there under my nose!

So on my last visit to the area (just last week), I was able to get access to the old property in the river bottoms from the current owner. Unfortunately, the Dunning home is gone, bulldozed by the current owner five years ago. But I walked where my ancestors once lived, along an old creek and down a steep, sandy, one-lane road eroded into the side of a hill. Driving down that narrow lane was like stepping back in time. I could imagine the horse-drawn carriage or wagon bumping down the sandy slope, through a corn field, around an old barn and to their two-story, white, wood-framed farmhouse. They raised their children in that home, along with some chickens and livestock. The current landowner says he knocked down an outhouse and chicken coup in addition to the old house. He walked the property with me, pointing out the location of everything. In fact, if you look on Google Earth, you can still see the footprint of the house.

I look forward to seeing the family this weekend and hearing more old stories of David Dunning and his parents who survived floods and the hard life of late 19th-century farming. I can't wait to ask Uncle Les and Aunt Ginny if they have any memories of the old home in the river bottoms. All I have is a picture taken beside the house in the teens or 1920's. AC and Sophronia are elderly, their children all grown, at least David and his three surviving sisters (three brothers died, the two mentioned above and one as an infant). As I said, it was a hard way to live back in the late 1800's in rural, southwestern Indiana.

We'll gather at the spot where my great-grandfather celebrated his 93rd birthday nearly 34 years ago. He is buried at Fairview Cemetery just one mile west of his home (pictured above about 1993). I remember attending his funeral as a 9-year-old boy. It was a tragic year for me, as I lost my Grandma and Grandpa Doyle in March '77. Still, the reunion brings back great childhood memories, not just of Grandpa Dunning, but of the whole family gathering to tell stories, play games and, yes, eat our fair share of down-home goodness! We'll be doing it again in a matter of days, and I cannot wait!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One Mermaid's Spirtual Journey

My aunt Sarah started blogging last year. Today, in remembrance of 9/11, she posted a great blog @ One Mermaid's Spiritual Journey: "Peace and Love" is the only way. I hope you'll take a minute to read her thoughtful and spiritual insights.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

James Hussey Letter dated 12 Sep 1862

I've been building my family tree online for the better part of 8 years, but only recently purchased access to the vault of records on Today, I made one of the coolest finds to date. First, let me give you a bit of family history...

Back when Indiana Territory was a vast wilderness of tall timber, unspoiled watersheds and every kind of wild beast, my pioneer ancestors came from all points south and east to settle this veritable, backwoods paradise. Of the New England-born pioneers, was the family of Richard and Aphia (Mills) Hussey.

According to Gibson County newspaper man and historian Gil R. Stormont, the couple and their 4 children left Maine and travelled overland through the Genessee Valley (NY) to Washington
County, Ohio. Richard Louis Hussey (1789-1851) was a cabinet maker there for four years. Aphia bore him two more children before they left in late 1821 for Gibson County, Indiana, locating 5 miles east of Princeton, near Francisco. There, Richard cleared a farm and opened a blacksmith shop. He is my 5th great-uncle on Mom's side.

The last of the four children to be born in New England was James Madison Hussey (1817-1862). He would have made the long overland trip as an infant, knowing only thick woodlands of southwestern Indiana as home. After many years service to his father, clearing and cultivating a farm, James owned and operated a flour and a saw mill on the Patoka River in nearby Kirksville (now Wheeling), Indiana. That was before he heard the call of duty to put down the rebellion. James enlisted in the Union Army on August 2, 1862, and served as First Lieutenant in Company B, 65th Regiment, Indiana Volunteers.

It wasn't long before 1st Lt. Hussey contracted a serious illness and found himself bedridden at Camp Comeback in Henderson, Kentucky, southward across the Ohio River from Evansville. It is at this juncture we come to the present moment and my great find. Thanks to another Ancestry member, some of J. M. Hussey's correspondence has been saved in digital format for antiquity. Below is a scanned image of the opening of one of his last letters to his wife, Sarah, dated (on my birthday, no less) September 12, 1862. (Click on the image for a more readable, full-size version.)

By early November of that same year, James Madison Hussey was dead. He never recovered from his illness, as historian James T. Tartt recalls, James died of pneumonia in a Henderson, Kentucky, hospital. He received a military burial on the family farm back in Indiana. Now owned by the McConnell family, Lawrence Cemetery sits at the corner of a field just off Fairview Road near Francisco.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Who's the Illegal Immigrant?

Dateline, Arizona, July 29. State officials are appealing a ruling by a Clinton-appointed federal judge that limits Arizona law enforcement’s ability to carry out the new immigration law. Basically, they can’t arrest day laborers for illegally soliciting work in this country or ask law-breakers to prove they belong here.

Let me for one moment straddle the fence on this one. I believe it is a state’s right to protect its own border. If Arizonans feel that illegal immigrants are a strain on their economy, a burden on law enforcement and degrading to their community, then they have a democratic right to keep the illegals out. On the other hand, I don’t believe this is anyone else’s fight. If you’re not a resident, full- or part-time, of the State of Arizona, what do you care about illegal immigrants?

I live in the State of Indiana. I don’t see a flood of illegal Mexicans flooding into my state because of lax border patrols in Arizona. This issue doesn’t really affect me directly. But you wouldn’t know that to hear some of my neighbors explain it. They believe the immigration problem is systemic. What happens in Arizona affects the rest of us in some negative way, whether it’s higher health care, higher taxes, crime, etc…or so they say.

What would they have said 100-200 years ago when the flood of European immigrants was taking this country by storm?

Lest we forget, this land isn’t really “our land,” after all.

After murderous raids on the Native Americans, stealing their land and reaping the harvest, our immigrant ancestors engaged in a bloody, civil uprising against their British masters, so they wouldn’t have to share the spoils with their forbearers. Interesting. This was followed by a bloody, civil war also fueled by greed and self-serving interests. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

Now these newcomers want to come in and encroach upon our stolen property and our blood-stained wealth. HOW DARE THEY!

Let us remember that we were all once immigrants to this great land, some by legal means and others not. Either way, we inherited a land that wasn’t legally ours to begin with. Keep this in mind while you glare down your nose from atop your high horse at all those “illegals.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pancakes & Smoky Links

There was a Sunday morning tradition at Grandma Wright’s house. After attending worship service at the Methodist Church on West Emmerson, she would make a stack of pancakes on the stovetop griddle and boil Smoky Links in water (or “boral” them, as she would say in her southern Indiana twang). That is a fond childhood memory for me, and I don’t recall one Sunday that she didn’t keep up this tradition.

Alice Kathryn Dunning, my maternal grandmother, was my dearest grandparent. She was born on the farm in Francisco, Indiana, in July 1920. She came from humble beginnings, helping to raise chickens and her siblings on her father’s farm on Wheeling Road. The sixth of nine children born to David and Ruth (McEllhiney) Dunning, she was only 17 when her mother left home. Taking on more responsibility at the farm, Kate learned to be self-sufficient and hard-working. These are traits that I remember well.

Married in 1937, the same year of her parents’ divorce, Grandma started a family of her own with Richard Larson, a second generation Swedish-American. They lived in a modest home just south of Highway 64 in Francisco and had three children, my mother being the youngest and only daughter. Richard was a hardworking, entrepreneurial type who needed nothing more than his hands and a working truck. They enjoyed life as a lower-middle class family in a small farming town until Grandpa Larson’s injury kept him from manual labor. This caused him to sink into a depression he couldn’t shake. As a result, he was hospitalized in Evansville and eventually granted my grandmother a divorce in 1961.

Grandma met a World War II Veteran and jeweler around that same time. Kathryn Larson and Robert Edgar Wright married October 1962 and within a year-and-a-half had a son, Gregory. He is the one pictured holding me as an infant.

Grandma Wright, as I always knew her, held a job at Hurst Corporation and made a decent living. Grandpa’s jewelry business was located on Main Street in Vincennes, and between the two of them, they made a very good living. Their house was situated atop the hill in Tower Heights just two doors south of Gibson General Hospital, where I was born in ’68. I can remember many summers and holidays at Grandma’s house on Third Avenue. When I was an adolescent, my parents would let me spend a week at her house. Those are some of my fondest childhood memories. Having an uncle around, just four years my senior, ensured that I would have plenty to do while I was there, whether playing his drums, taping his album collection, playing ball in the backyard or riding his moped all over Princeton’s north side.

While at Grandma’s house, I also enjoyed running errands with her—out to Grandpa Dunning’s farm to pick vegetables, down to the Red & White or 3-D on Broadway, over to the veterinarian to meet Aunt Elsie for lunch or to the beauty parlor for her bi-monthly hair appointment. A rather funny memory is Grandma’s rain bonnet. She would protect her hairdo from the elements with a plastic rain bonnet; you know the kind only grandmother’s wear in public. Well, she would fuss over me getting wet and insisted that I wear one, as well. I always refused, but the mental image still gives me a chuckle.

Grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer after my family had moved hundreds of miles away to Florida. I didn’t get to see much of her after 1986, much to my disappointment. I was living in Tallahassee when she finally died in February 1990. That is one of the saddest days that I can remember. I was able to return for her funeral at Colvin and her burial with family at Fairview Cemetery, near Francisco. My Uncle David, her oldest son, now lives across the street from where she rests.

Grandma was such a great cook and I recall the many pies, cobblers, cookies, biscuits and pieces of fried chicken she would lovingly make…but my favorite meal was Sunday breakfast. As I sat at the kitchen table this morning, enjoying hot pancakes smothered in peanut butter and syrup (a family tradition) and Smoky Links, I remembered Grandma Wright. The smell, the taste, the week of the year, all brought back vivid memories.

She would have turned 90 on Tuesday. And though she died much too soon, I have many reminders of her, not the least of which is my daughter who bears her name and nearly shares the same birthday, just two days shy. I really do miss Grandma Wright, may she rest in peace.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Indiana's Love Affair with the Tomato

I'm no fan of the tomato. Never have been one to take a bite out of the "love apple" or cut thick, hearty slices for a dagwood sandwich. Even chunky salsa used to make turn up my nose with a quick, "No thanks."

Only in recent years have I acquired a taste for homemade salsa, or been able to stomach the squishy guts of a raw tomato atop my hamburger. Still, tomatoes were always there...always staring at me from the kitchen table or grandmother's garden. Heck, even today I have several friends in the city who are growing plump, juicy tomatoes in their backyard gardens!

I was raised upon the foundational belief that nowhere is there to be found a better, juicier, sweeter tomato than in southwestern Indiana, home to generations of my horticulture-loving family. Yes, the sandy deposits of the Wabash and White rivers help to grow the best tomatoes in these continental United States...or so I've been

Well, now I can better understand the root of this Hoosier love affair. Just look what I found in an old New York publication called "The Cultivator, Vol. IV" page 303:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


just working on a new genealogy site and needed a place to store a few photos...

Monday, May 31, 2010

94th Indianapolis 500 -

I went to the Indianapolis 500 yesterday and witnessed the greatest spectacle in racing! It truly was. Watching Tony Kanaan work his way up to 2nd from 33rd (dead last) only to run short of fuel and lose several spots. He and teammate Marco Andretti had a good battle going on in 2nd and 3rd positions for a few laps. But the story of the day was Dario Franchitti (or as we call him, Mr. Ashley Judd)! The dude was driving in an absolute groove, and his car was completely dialed in. Congrats to him on his second Indy 500 victory.

We had hoped to see some non-injurious crashes from our third turn vantage point, but the drivers saved the worst for last. Just as he was leaving turn 3, mike conway ran up over Ryan Hunter-Reay's front left tire, sending Conway's blue and yellow car airborne like a summersaulting speed boat. We saw it happen just to our right in the short chute between 3 and 4. The carnage was terrible. I made it down far enough to see the rear quarter sitting by the wall. I was afraid that Conway, who's cockpit saved his life (a cockpit and nose cone were all that was left intact), was seriously injured. Thankfully, he wasn't. The IndyStar got some FANTASTIC pictures of the accident and the other action on the track!

View this gallery at The Indianapolis Star: 2010 Indy 500 crashes

Friday, February 12, 2010

Black Pop Culture History: The Jeffersons

When The Jeffersons hit the airwaves in 1975, I was a 6-year-old living in a white middle class neighborhood, attending a parochial school that had barely a handful of black students. The local country club where most of my friends spent their summers did not allow people of color. We belonged to the Jordan Y for that very reason. The most black kids I had been around was in a pee-wee football league at Riverside Park. To me, the Indianapolis park at 30th and Riverside Drive was “inner city.” Needless to say, I was pretty far removed from the African-American experience.

My parents didn’t let us watch All in the Family, so I doubt I saw the spin-off about an African-American couple “moving on up to the Eastside” when it first aired in '75. I do remember watching it a few years later, but didn’t think anything of its mostly black cast. By that time, other shows like Good Times and Sanford and Sons had also hit the airwaves, so I was reasonably accustomed to seeing “sitcoms of color,” shall we say. (Yeah, just try to get the Sanford and Sons theme music out of your head now, LOL!!!)

You may ask, “Why highlight a 70’s television series in honor of Black History Month?” Well, The Jeffersons is the longest-running series with a predominantly African-American cast in the history of American television. It received eight Golden Globe and eleven Emmy nominations, including six consecutive Lead Actress Emmy nominations (1979-1985) for Mrs. Jefferson actress Isabel Sanford. She won in 1981 and became only the second black female to do so. Gail Fisher was the first in 1970, winning an Emmy for her role on the hit series Mannix (annotated, Wikipedia).

By the the time Mrs. Jefferson won her Emmy Award, my family had moved to the Northeast side near Arlington High School. The popular CBS sitcom more closely reflected the neighbors I grew up amongst, including many middle to upper-middle class black families. Maybe that too lessened the shows impact on me as an adolescent. Still, you didn’t see many of those families represented on prime time television. And you certainly never saw mixed marriages. By the way, none of my neighbors had housekeepers, at least not to my knowledge, so maybe we were just a solid middle-class neighborhood. Either way, it was a much different neighborhood and more culturally diverse than Broad Ripple. My paper route took me close to the feared Jamestown Apartments at 46th and Arlington. I no longer attended parochial school, but a more integrated public school, IPS No. 106 (aka Robert Lee Frost School). In hindsight, I am glad my parents made that move when I was just nine years old.

The Jeffersons is significant not just for it’s record run on television, nor for it’s sizeable audience (finishing just behind Dallas and 60 Minutes in the Neilsen ratings for 1981-82 season), but for paving the way for other popular shows, like The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It’s cultural impact did not go unnoticed by Bret Fetzer, who wrote on the Super 70’s website, “The black and white mix of the cast allowed for a sharply satirical take on race relations, which managed to have a genuine sense of hope while never glossing over the complexity of racial tension…” The show broke a number of television taboos, depicting an interracial marriage in the Jefferson’s neighbors, Tom and Helen Willis, and an African-American transgendered character, as the Racialicious blog points out. These were no small matters in the late 70’s. In fact, the former led to a research paper shared in 1976 at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Speech Communication Association in San Antonio, Texas.

Sure, the characters occassionally represented negative ethnic stereotypes, but they weren’t down-and-out, living on the lower East side. George Jefferson was a self-made man, whose dry cleaning business had flourished. These were not your typical urban themes of the other popular “sitcoms of color,” like those mentioned above. The Jeffersons had their own live-in maid, who provided much of the comedy, in my opinion. I used to love watching her disrespect her employer and put him in his place. The show is still as funny today as it was back then.

So hats off to Isabel Sanford, Sherman Hemsley, the cast and crew of The Jeffersons for making history and an indelible mark on the American television landscape!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Superbowl Hangover

Well, it’s not the sort of hangover I expected.

The Indianapolis Colts let go of the rope. They didn’t build on the two big playoff victories at home. They let a very winnable game slip away in the second half. And with the momentum swinging wildly in favor of the Saints, the team seemed to lose the will to win. Maybe that is unfair. I’ll bet Jeff Saturday would argue that point with me all day long, but on television it just seemed like the 2006 World Champions weren’t that interested in bringing home another ring and another championship banner to Indy.

That said, there were some bright spots in last night’s Superbowl XLIV. We’ll start with game balls to…

The O-line
Since I mentioned him by name already, let me tip my hat to Mr. Saturday and his beefy O-line colleagues! They played a whale of a game, opening gaping holes for the backs and protecting our prized possession. Even when the game was out of hand after the Saints forced their first turnover, the O-line did a good job in handling the blitzes and different defensive fronts. Good job O-line!

Joseph Addai
I thought Joe Addai and the running backs had a great night, giving us a much more balanced attack than I had expected. The backs combined for nearly 100 yards on a stingy Saints defense. Addai led them all with 77 of his own, thanks to the production and domination of the Colts O-line. He helped to keep the Saints defense honest. Otherwise, there may have been more than one “pick six.”

Dwight Freeney
To a guy who managed the white-hot media spotlight all week long, didn’t practice, and still “brought it!” I say KUDOS! Did you see how he manhandled the Saints lineman on his lone sack of Drew Brees? Almost lifted the guy off his feet and rocketed past him, slinging Brees to the turf. He must have been about 70% and still created havoc. He never ceases to amaze me!

Dallas Clark
SOLID! Seven receptions for 86 yards led all Colt receivers. Peyton’s go-to guy was as reliable as my father-in-law’s 300k mile Mazda pickup. His first catch of the game was picture-perfect, thanks to Peyton throwing a perfect dart against perfect coverage. Dallas created matchup issues for the Saints for the better part of the game…and the Saint linebackers are pretty good in coverage (i.e. see Vilma vs. Colley).

Game balls now virtually delivered, let me hit the weak spots on the team…

Matt Stover
We needed Mr. Money, Adam Vinateri last night, plain and simple. The oldest man to ever compete in the Superbowl showed the age of his legs on that 51-yard wide left attempt. Not that one kick would’ve won the game. By no means! But we could not afford to leave points on the field against the Saints, and 51 is not record length by any stretch of the imagination. DOH!

Peyton Manning
What were you doing in the second half last night? You started the game with a perfect pass. You managed the clock, the offense and the Saints D with ease until that 2-minute drive to end the half. Then you missed Reggie down the sideline by a mile. You threw an interception that cost you the game, granted it may have been as much an 80% Reggie Wayne problem as it was your poor read. Then, that near interception in the endzone? You didn’t even give Garcon a CHANCE to catch it! Had you just given up at that point? Did you have money on the Saints??? VERY un-MVP like of you, PM!

Maybe two weeks to prepare was TOO much. Maybe Peyton over-thought, over-analyzed and wore himself out mentally. I don’t know.

Clint Session
It’s hard to single one guy out on our bi-polar defense, but I was MOST disappointed with Clint. He’s our headhunter now that Sanders is out. He’s consistently brought it game in and game out…until the biggest game of his career. I’ll give him props for teaming up with tackle-leading Gary Brackett on the goal-line stance, but where was he the other 80+ plays? A real letdown from him, Robert Mathis and the Colts defense. I didn’t expect much from the banged up secondary, but there was little pressure from the front seven.

Okay, now I feel better.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Black Hoosier History: Lyles Station

Indiana’s attitude toward slavery wavered generally between acceptance and neutrality, but as a whole, it was never a “slave state.” In fact, several black communities thrived in the Hoosier State during 19th Century, one of which was located just a couple miles west of where I was born. See the partial map of Indiana, below, to locate the thriving black communities of the 19th Century.

Lyles Station is a historic gem in southwest Indiana and a growing tourist attraction in Gibson County. Founded by freed Tennessee slaves, the area once boasted a thriving agricultural community that supported a general store, grain elevator, post office, train depot and a church. The Lyles brothers settled in the rich, fertile soil of the Wabash and Patoka river bottoms, just west of Princeton.

The Lyles Station community boasted several notable residents, including the first African-American postmaster, and sent great men to serve in battle, in Indianapolis’ first black high school and in the White House. No small feat for a rural black community of about 50 families.

The story of this community and others like it is quite fascinating. They dotted the early Indiana forests. Wilma Gibbs of the Indiana Historical Society has done much work to document their existence and keep this important piece of Hoosier history alive.

I call attention to Lyles Station to commemorate and honor Black History Month, not because I want to seem politically correct and culturally sensitive, rather to show my great pride in the neighbors who co-existed peacefully and productively alongside my ancestors in Gibson County. I have no direct anecdotal evidence, but they must surely have interacted on some level.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Disaster in Haiti is sadly both natural AND man made

Maybe the fact that I worked in emergency management for a number of years, and agonized over the government ineptitude during Katrina, has heightened my awareness of just how good the comprehensive emergency management plan (CEMP) was in Florida. If Florida’s plan were in place for international disaster response, I think you’d see a totally different scenario unfolding in Haiti.

As it is, we see more of the same government ineptitude wrapped in bureaucratic red tape stifling the relief and recovery efforts in the devastated island nation. Why, after nearly a week, are we still seeing reporters on cable news ask where the help is? Did our government learn nothing from their missteps in Katrina?

I see aid and supplies piling up on an airport tarmac. I hear of assessment teams and logistical problems. I hear a litany of excuses why international aid organizations cannot mobilize and set up distribution points. What I don’t see or hear are any lessons learned from past disasters being applied in this chaotic situation.

The problem with a natural disaster of this magnitude, essentially disabling a national government, is that you cannot operate under standard operating procedures (SOP) or canned executive orders (EO). When there are no first responders on the ground, functioning hospitals or national guard/security, it is time to throw those government manuals out the window and improvise on the fly.

Case in point, if a private citizen receiving a call for help can drive a truck across the border to the Dominican Republic, load up with supplies and transport them back to an orphanage in Port-Au-Prince, then why can’t relief organizations or the military transport those same supplies a few miles from the airport to a downtown square? It boggles the mind. And the only possible answers are a lack of government leadership, poor command and control structure and too much red tape.

I’m actually in agreement with Anderson Cooper of CNN who essentially said tonight screw assessment and logistics, just get the aid to the people who so desperately need it! Assessment is something you do in the first three days of a typical disaster, so that needs can be identified and prioritized. The situation in Haiti is anything but typical. Thousands of lives hang in the balance, and so many will be lost needlessly, not because of a natural disaster, but because of a bureaucratic one. That’s unacceptable!

I thought the head of USAID was telling the national media last week that he was in charge. If that is the case, then he needs to take charge and borrow a page out of Florida’s CEMP. Otherwise, I would expect his future departure to resemble that of FEMA’s Director after Katrina. This is a larger scale disaster in both a natural and a bureaucratic sense, in my opinion.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mickey Andrews Tribute

With all the fanfare surrounding Bobby Bowden’s bittersweet exit from the college football landscape, I’d be remiss not to recognize his long-time defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. The 2010 Gator Bowl was also Andrews’ last game as a Florida State coach. And no defensive coordinator made a bigger impact on the game than Mickey.

His lightning-quick, ball-hawking, gang-tackling defenses are stuff of legend. Mickey didn’t care how big a player was, as long as he played fast, smart and explosive. Experts have attributed the dominating speed of Mickey Andrews-style defense to the rise in the spread offense in college football. Just ask Steve Spurrier, who in 1996 had to put Heisman-winner Danny Wuerrfel in the shotgun just to give him a fraction of a second to complete any passes. Sports Illustrated columnist Andy Staples says, “Spurrier, at the height of his offensive genius, had to radically renovate his offense because of Andrews.” And Mickey’s defenses were the main reason FSU held an 8-5-1 advantage over Spurrier’s mighty Gators.

Andrews was the master of halftime adjustments. You could spot just about any FSU opponent a sizeable lead or statistical advantage in the first half because you KNEW that Mickey’s defense would completely and totally shut them down after halftime. It happened more times than I can remember. Take the infamous "Choke at Doak" game vs. the Gators. The FSU defense shut the high-flying Gator offense down in the fourth quarter, allowing no points and just 40 yards of offense, and paving the way for one of the greatest comebacks in college football history. Or what of the classic goal line stands? Take the 1993 Kickoff Classic, for instance. In the 42-0 drubbing of overmatched Kansas, the Seminole defense held a goal line stance thwarting 11 Jayhawk attempts to score from inside the 10-yardline in one series.

Mickey's impact was felt beyond the college level. NFL talent scouts always knew that Andrews’ players were well-prepared to make the leap to that next level. The Associated Press reports, “Since 1985, NFL teams have picked 73 defensive players developed by Andrews at Florida State. That list includes Peter Boulware, Derrick Brooks, Terrell Buckley, LeRoy Butler, Sam Cowart and Marvin Jones, who like Sanders all went on to star in the NFL.” Eighteen of those players were first-rounders, and half went in the first ten picks.

Mickey Andrews, “the longest tenured and most successful assistant coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference,” coordinated defenses for 26 seasons at Florida State. He was named the nation's top assistant coach in 2000 by the All-American Football Foundation, the national defensive coordinator of the year in 1998 by the American Football Coach's Magazine and the national assistant coach of the year by Athlon's Magazine in 1991[1]. And during the ‘Noles two National Championship campaigns in ’93 and ’99, Andrews deserves as much credit as anyone for architecting near perfect seasons. Some of his best recruits will one day reside in the NFL Hall of Fame.


Two of my all-time favorite linebackers, groomed under Mickey Andrews’ tutelage, are Derrick Brooks and his predecessor Marvin “Shade Tree” Jones. About Jones, Sports Illustrated says, “Few college linebackers were more dominant than 'Shade Tree,' a three-time All-America who won the Butkus and Lombardi awards in 1992.” He was followed by the legendary #10 who dominated and intimidated opponents beginning his freshman year. Early in the 1993 Season, Derrick Brooks had already scored three touchdowns from his middle linebacker position, to which Sports Illustrated commented on September 27th of that year, “Brooks has outscored his team's four opponents 18-14. By himself.” Without a doubt, these two brute forces will go down in history as some of Mickey’s best and toughest defenders.

And who can forget the legendary defensive backs churned out by FSU? Mickey Andrews was their position coach for much of his 26-year tenure. He prepped stars like Deion Sanders, Terrell Buckley and Antonio Cromartie for the NFL, all of them first round picks. Let’s not forget Superbowl MVP Dexter Jackson, either. Some might go so far to say that FSU was Defensive Backs U for a number of years. With a portfolio of future NFL hall-of-famers like that, who can argue?

Of all the coaches who’ve come and gone at Florida State, I’ll miss Mickey’s sunflower seed-spittin’, butt-chewin’, sideline antics the most. His defenses’ were legendary, game changing. Mike Stoops has some incredibly large shoes to fill. I hope he’s worthy of the honor.


LINKS: page

Orlando Sentinel Remembers Mickey Andrews