...And That's My Opinion©

By Sandy Goldman

The Rogers Park Community Curmudgeon




(War and Circuses)


Last week we went to the 131st edition of Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth”. We have been to 35 of them; first with our children, then with our children and their spouses or significant others and now with our children, their spouses and their children. Before that, every year in the 40s my father took me to the circus and Carol’s mother took her. The tradition is strong.


This edition was the best in many years. It was flashy and colorful and harmonious. There were 15 elephants. There was a 12-person trapeze ensemble called the “Angels of Fire” featuring a free-floating trampoline suspended high in the air, which was used as the return station. They were outstanding, decked out in costumes, that were spangled and shaded, from deep orange to bright yellow; the flyers seemed to be flames soaring and spinning.


There was also a new clown, nay a second M.C., named Bollo who is circus personified.  He not only clowned; he rode the high wire, the sway pole, and his elephant Bo. They had, by the way, the good sense not to alter the production to insert any 9/11 references. It was gratifying to be in a 9/11 vacuum (lest the e-mailers begin - do not interpret this as an unpatriotic stance).


I write today, not a critique of the circus, but about a phantasmagoric experience roaming about in my mind. After the circus, I boarded the mental train of travel from the present to the past; passing many of the things, which have happened since first, we began the circus experience in the 1940s.


Today the major concerns of the world are world terrorism and anthrax and evil people. There are calls for personal safety and concern. There are calls to be prepared and to help the war effort. Those of us who have lived more than six decades can remember the very same calls and instructions. At that time it was FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who issued the call for civil defense—for air raid wardens and for practice alerts and air raid siren/alarms among other necessary endeavors.


We were required to have heavy drapes, lined in black fabric over all our windows. The idea was to “black-out” entire cities to confuse enemy aircraft and so they wouldn’t know where to bomb. No glimmer of light was to be seen from the air.  The drapes were to be drawn tight when the occupants were gone away in the event that there was an actual enemy air raid or an unannounced practice drill. Enemy aircraft, it was believed at the time, could reach our country and wreak the havoc, which was seen in Great Britain.


 One year, while on vacation, we forgot to draw the drapes at home. There was a practice air raid and need less to say our apartment was the only one with a light on. The air raid warden, Lester Fink, a friend of my parents expressed great consternation at our grievous error (he also was our precinct captain and an attorney).


Along the coastal shores and along Lake Michigan even at Farwell Avenue in Rogers Park there were Army encampments with artillery posed, aimed and ready to fire. The boys loved it because they could emulate and respond to the soldiers. The girls love it because—oh, never mind!! 



In Home Economics classes boys and girls were taught to knit eight-inch squares from white cotton string yarn, which were sent to the Red Cross who sent them on to G.I.s for face washcloths. It was part of class homework. I cheated!  My mother (who could fashion masterpieces with knitting needles) did mine. She did not know it was homework. She was trusting and wanted to do her part. Do you think anyone ever knew who really did the knitting?  Many women did their part.  “Rosie the Riveter” was born as women filled the vacancies created by the draft.


“Children are concerned this is not a war in a distant place. This is a war brought home”, said Karl Rove who is President Bush’s senior advisor. It was also then in the 40’s a “war brought home” in many different ways. Savings stamps bought and sold in the schools; war bonds in various dollar denominations which could be bought for cash or traded up to with a certain number of saving stamp books (they were very popular gifts at holidays and graduations and confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs); there was rationing, including food, coffee, sugar, meat, alcohol, shoes, silk stockings, rubber tires and gas; appeals by major movie stars to join the war effort. There were posters everywhere, maybe you’ve seen reproductions: “Uncle Sam Wants You”, an effort to get young men to enlist or “A Slip of the Lip Can Sink A Ship” an effort for those with knowledge to be circumspect. We had practice air raid drills in the classroom and evacuation drills to exit the building.


Both classroom and playground time was spent with flashcards learning to identify flying aircraft – both the enemy’s planes and ours.  It was a chance for those with a good memory to excel and stand above their peers.  Many communities had people who were paid to watch for and identify all planes in the area.  To the best of my knowledge, this skill never became necessary. A map of the world on my bedroom wall kept track of important battles and it had the silhouettes of the planes printed on it.


We planted victory gardens and although we had one, I never really understood how that brought victory, but it did produce food, depending on the proficiency of the gardener. We saved tin cans and smashed them into bundles and rolled foil and rubber bands into individual round balls. There were other scrap drives including the collection of tons of massive newspaper bundles collected at local schoolyards.  Women saved all fats from meat to make soap.  Some groups ran contests with saving stamps awarded to the winners.


The neighborhood movie house, showing Movietone News newsreels, brought up-to-date but subject to censorship, films of the course of the war to us. Newspapers reported the daily movements of troops and even the discovery of enemy submarines in our coastal waters. That is why we had Army personnel at Lake Michigan shores—despite what the teenagers thought.  Radio reports were transmitted live from the war zones I’m sure also under heavy censorship. It was the beginning for Edward R Morrow, Eric Severed,  William Shirer and Howard K. Smith.


We listened and we reacted; combined efforts and individual efforts by ordinary people to win the war. Did it help win the war? Who knows! But we all felt as if we were doing our part! Allegiance! Answering the nations’ call! Then as now we were prepared and we supported our government and we came together to fight the Evil Axis. We did it not because we were told to but because we had to.  Now, so must the citizens of this great country—because we must. We must until we track down the Merchants of Terror and bring them to justice as the President said, “Dead or Alive”. We must do it so that we can go to future “Greatest Shows on Earth” unhampered by phantasmagoric images. 


...And that's my opinion.

And I'm Sandy Goldman

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