A couple of weeks ago, I sought out a place I’d learned about online but had never seen before: the Glenview Naval Air Station Museum. Hadn’t seen it before and almost didn’t find it while looking for it. Having spent years admiring the activity that occurred at the Glenview Naval Air Station, I had expected something more impressive, but what I found was a tiny cubbyhole that was all but hidden at the back of an otherwise unremarkable parking lot, next to Chuck’s Auto Repair. It seemed rather underwhelming, and almost insulting, for the once might military base.
However, I soon learned that, while it seems unprepossessing, it’s absolutely worth a visit—and maybe a little more attention than it has received. (Visitors are the life blood of every museum.) Because here, it’s the history that makes it big, not the building. A lone docent, Irving, long-retired airplane mechanic, was a wonderful combination of enthusiastic about the tale and indignant about how overlooked the museum has become, and shared an endless flow of stories. The tiny space wouldn’t take much time to study, but try to allow yourself at least an hour, as there is a wonderful 40-minute movie (narrated by Bill Kurtis) about the importance of Chicago and Lake Michigan during World War II. Because before there was Top Gun, there was Glenview Naval Air Station.
Lake Michigan, being virtually an inland sea, would become the training ground for the thousands of pilots —because where else could you train flyers to land on aircraft carriers without any chance of a German or Japanese submarine attack. (And in case you always wondered how Navy Pier got its name—now you know.) The film also covers salvage efforts to save the hundred planes that ended up at the bottom of the lake, where the ongoing threat is being consumed by zebra mussels. (Because there is no real museum here, the salvaged planes all end up in Kalamazoo, Pensacola, or D.C.) But the film was stunning to be reminded just how much of the nation’s military might passed through this area. Really remarkable. Also a fair number of interesting and worthwhile artifacts in the museum itself. Absolutely worth a visit. And if you know anyone with a few extra million dollars, they could certainly use a real museum. Open on Saturday and Sunday, 1-4.
One item at the Washington Historical Society Museum caught my attention because it was familiar. In a display highlighting the service of a local hero, an Army Air Corps bomber pilot from World War II, they had a Short Snorter. It was only the second one I’d ever seen, the other one having been my father’s.
My dad was also in the Army Air Corps (ancestor of the Air Force) during World War II, and it was the fliers who created these mementos of their time in the service. To make a short snorter, you tape together paper money from every country in which you serve, and then have your friends and fellow fliers sign it. The bills/notes are rolled tightly and kept in one’s pocket, to be handy when another friend was made and needed to sign.
According to the museum display, the owner of the shortest short snorter had to buy a round of drinks when the opportunity arose. My dad’s short snorter is at least twice as long as the one in the museum, which leads me to believe that he rarely had to buy. (And knowing my dad, who loved people and could make friends with anyone, I can imagine the delight with which he added to his short snorter.)
Anyway, I was delighted to see this reminder of my father. It was also nice to see that someone else really had participated in this charming tradition.
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, president Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover to run the U.S. Food Administration. Again, Hoover refused to take a salary—he wanted to be a volunteer among volunteers. He didn’t want to ration food, so instead, he encouraged people to raise food in their neighborhoods. He introduced Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday, to reduce the amount of food consumed locally, so more could be sent to our soldiers and those of our Allies. His motto, “Food will win the war,” got everyone on board with the plans. Cookbooks were created, and corn became a key part of making those Wheatless Wednesdays as tasty as they were. Within a year of starting the program, Hoover had doubled the amount of food being shipped to Europe—but without rationing and without any heavy bureaucracy.
When the war ended, Hoover was placed in charge of the American Relief Administration. He organized shipments of food to the starving millions in Central Europe. He was Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge. It was during Coolidge’s presidency that Hoover spearheaded efforts that led to the construction of the Hoover Dam and the St. Lawrence Seaway. He became one of the most admired men Washington. Then, in 1927, his fame reached new heights because of his extraordinary service assisting the victims of the Mississippi River Flood. So when Coolidge declined to run again for office, Hoover was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate (though he considered himself a Progressive, in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt). He won by a landslide.
Columnist Walter Lippmann wrote that he thought Hoover, given the chance, could “purify capitalism of its …commercialism, its waste, and its squalor.” Continue reading →
This blog will relate discoveries made as I explore and study the Midwest. It will feature places I visited in pursuit of tales for my books but will also follow other threads of history, travel, and culture in the Heartland. For the remarkable tales of corn and its importance in the world and U.S., check out the book, Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. For the fascinating tale of our earliest domesticated food animal, check out Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Bagonfest. I hope you’ll consider buying them. (And stay tuned for future titles.)
Eric Hoffer Award Winner
Midwest Independent Booksellers Association selection