by M. Ruth Myers
While working on my current Maggie Sullivan mystery, I wanted to make sure when World War II blackouts went into effect in the United States, especially in Dayton, Ohio, where the series takes place. After all, private eyes wouldn’t be private eyes if they didn’t do a great deal of creeping around at night!
What will be book #6 in the series takes place in the spring of 1942. Despite nationwide fear of air attacks, however, local historian Curt Dalton writes in his book Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II, that the city’s first total blackout wouldn’t take place until a year later, on May 27, 1943.
Ah, but here’s where researching historical fiction yields countless collateral dabs of information that can enrich a story — and make the creative process just plain fun!
Although buildings and streetlights weren’t blacked out until 1943, vehicles were. I’m not talking about extinguishing headlights and taillights. I’m talking about creating what a whimsical turn of mind could view as the 1940s version of stealth technology. Applied to cars.
Just a few weeks before the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, production of new 1942-model cars had begun. It screeched to a halt as the US government almost immediately classified chromium as a strategic material since it was needed in the manufacture of stainless steel and necessary to the war effort. The nation’s auto manufacturers were ordered to eliminate “brightwork”, the chrome and stainless trim on cars, within one month. They would have to end production of passenger cars altogether in two months in order to switch to production of military trucks and ambulances, tanks, and aircraft engines.
The few thousand new cars produced in the weeks between when the supply of shiny parts ran out and early February of 1942 when US passenger car production ended entirely are known as “blackout specials”. Normally shiny parts were painted black, gray, olive drab or similar dark color. In some cases the trim was a color that looked attractive with the car’s background color, a decidedly unflamboyant relative to today’s pin stripes and detailing. Surviving cars, and even photographs, are rare.
The same flat, non-reflective painted trim was used on military vehicles as well.
What color do you think Eli and Calvin at Wheeler’s garage paint the trim on Maggie’s DeSoto?
— HERE’S THE DEAL —
A .38, a nip of gin and sensational legs get 1940s private investigator Maggie Sullivan out of most scrapes,
until a stranger threatens to bust her nose, she’s hauled in on suspicion of his murder
and she finds herself in the cross-hairs of a sadistic crime boss. Amazon iBooks Kobo Nook
Imagine how hard it must have been for American families and communities to maintain any semblance of Christmas spirit in 1941. The Dec. 6 attack on Pearl Harbor had just thrust the previously divided country into World War II. Yet in Dayton, Ohio, two civic events lifted spirits as the city push determinedly on in that devastating holiday season.
Inland Children’s Chorus
Just two weeks after Pearl Harbor members of the Inland Children’s Chorus gave its annual Christmas concert. Chorus members were children ages 8-16 whose parents worked at the Inland Manufacturing Division of General Motors Corporation.
The group was still fairly new. Inland hatched the idea and started sponsoring the chorus in 1936. According to www.inlandchorus.com which preserves the history of the chorus, the goal was to give children of employees “a musical education and training which they otherwise might not be able to obtain and to make a contribution to the cultural life of Inland employees and the community.” To that end, they presented two concerts each year, one in spring and one at Christmas. A Broadway theatrical designer was brought in to stage the performances.
“The photos and materials we have for 1941 are fairly thin, probably because of the dramatic events of that year,” says Jerry Alred, the retired professor who co-ordinates the site. You can, however, see the program from that year’s concert.
Want to touch the past? You can listen to those young chorus members actually singing one of the selections on that program, Silent Night. Recordings were usually made of each program, but because of the reasons cited by Prof. Alred, none was made of the 1941 Christmas concert. You’ll be hearing the one from the previous year. Most of the voices singing are those of children who also sang in 1941, since members of the chorus usually remained in it until they aged out.
On Christmas Eve of 1941, Dayton residents got an unexpected gift of Christmas cheer. For the first time they heard music ring from the bells of a soaring new carillon built just south of downtown. The gift of Colonel and Mrs. Edward Deeds, the carillon and its 151-foot tower wouldn’t be completed until 1942. (The first official concert there took place on Easter Sunday of 1942.)
But on Dec. 24, 1941, when families knew sons and husbands and other loved ones would soon be leaving to fight on foreign shores, those bells of the new carillon lent what sweetness they could. The impromptu concert was even broadcast on one of the local radio stations, WHIO.
When originally built, the carillon had 23 bells, each inscribed with the name of a Deeds family member, living or dead. Today it has 57 bells and is the centerpiece of Carillon Historical Park, a large and constantly growing enterprise whose displays, buildings and vehicles showcase the entire sweep of Dayton history.
Readers of Maximum Moxie, the latest Maggie Sullivan mystery, can now imagine some of the sounds that cheered Maggie and the other residents of Mrs. Z’s after the story ended.
Thanks to the Inland Chorus alumni for permission to use photographs and music from their website. You’ll enjoy a visit there.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!
By M. Ruth Myers
Although the Maggie Sullivan mysteries are set in the 1940s, two powerful men often mentioned in them — FDR and newspaperman James M. Cox — had been close acquaintances for more than twenty years. Indeed, they formed the Democratic presidential ticket in 1920.
“Governor Cox” as he was referred to in Dayton, owned the Dayton Daily News where Maggie’s pal Matt Jenkins works. Even Heebs, the rag-tag boy who lives on the street and gets by on money he earns selling papers, uses that name for a man he’s probably never met.
A self-made man, Cox bought a struggling afternoon paper and christened it the Dayton Daily News. By 1900 he had turned it into a success which outperformed all competitors. From 1908 onward it operated out of an imposing three-story building with columns across the front on the corner of Fourth and Ludlow. Because a bank had denied him a loan to acquire his first paper, Cox instructed the architect who designed it to make it look like a bank.
In 1909 Cox was elected to the US House of Representatives, where he served until 1913. He resigned to serve as governor of Ohio from 1915-1917. That would be followed by another two terms as governor from 1917-1921.
When he ran for President in 1920, Cox chose as his running made young Franklin D. Roosevelt, then assistant-secretary of the Navy. Cox supported women’s suffrage and the Volstead Act which enforced Prohibition.
Although Cox failed in his quest for the highest office in the land, his media empire had been growing. By 1940 he owned newspapers from northern Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia. He also owned radio stations stretching as far south as Miami, Florida.
His running mate from the 1920 election didn’t fare too badly either. FDR went on to become America’s only three-term President.
— Here’s the Deal —
99c thru 11/13
Powerful men underestimate the tenacity of a 1939 woman P.I. determined to solve a quarter-century-old murder.
M. Ruth Myers
The speed with which the city of Dayton, Ohio, responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor was stunning, especially when contrasted with the slow pace of communications detailed in Part I. The extent to which the city was prepared to step onto a war footing was equally amazing.
Within hours of receiving initial word of the attack, the city’s entire police had been mobilized. All vacations were canceled. Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner activated a plan which he and a few other members of his command had worked on quietly for more than a year. During that time, two members of his detective bureau had been assigned anti-sabotage investigation duties and had been in constant contact with the FBI. Now, almost immediately, police patrolled to protect the city’s numerous manufacturing and research facilities.
I was able to show the outer results of that planning in Maximum Moxie, the latest book in my Maggie Sullivan mystery series, which is set in Dayton. What I couldn’t show was the wealth of activity going on behind the scenes that was unknown to my detective and other characters.
Just outside the city lay Wright Field and Patterson Field, military installations vital to operations of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Wright Field was headquarters of the Materiel Division, the branch of the Air Corps which developed new aircraft, equipment and accessories. Nearby Patterson Field was the center for Air Corps aviation logistics, maintenance and supply. They, too, had been making secret preparations, which now went into effect.
At word from Washington, both airfields put aerial defenses in place and added ground reinforcements to boost security. Armed aircraft were stationed at both bases. All civilian planes were grounded. All military leaves were cancelled until further notice.
A Home Defense Auxiliary already had been established. It now was called into service. This force consisted of 100 members of the American Legion and V.F.W. They were organized under four commanders who held a rank equivalent to those of police sergeants. Other civilian groups organized quickly.
By Dec. 9, less than 48 hours from first word of the attack, the city’s Volunteer Defense Office issued a public appeal for 200 women to train as nurses aides. Both married and single women were welcome. Training classes would be held for six weeks Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-12 a.m. Volunteer office help also was needed from 7-9 p.m., and would work in the lobby of the Municipal Building.
Also on Dec. 9, the Citizens Protective Committee appealed to all owners of motor vehicles to register, giving name, address and phone number. They could be pressed into service in the event a forced evacuation of the city was needed.
As I sat reading the long-ago newspaper announcements of those initiatives, I found myself wondering over and over: How many cities, faced with a similar catastrophe today, could match that kind of speed and efficiency?
— Book of the Week —
by M. Ruth Myers
Most accounts of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged America into World War II focus on actions at the distant naval base itself, or give passing mention to the fact that those on the home front heard the news on their radios on a Sunday afternoon.
The home front part in particular has always struck me as distressingly incomplete.
In Maximum Moxie, the latest book in my Maggie Sullivan mystery series, I wanted to give a more detailed, close-up view of what occurred in one city (Dayton, Ohio) in the hours immediately following initial word of the attack. It was, after all, the Christmas season. Children were stringing popcorn and making paper chains to decorate the tree for Santa’s visit. Women were baking. It was the last ordinary day in what would be a very long time.
To appreciate how news of the Pearl Harbor attack shattered that day, imagine the sudden horror and uncertainty of 9/11 — but without modern communications.
- Teletype was the swiftest way to send information.
- Home radios were becoming more common, but were still a bit of a luxury in middle class homes.
- Only two radio networks broadcast nationally, and only one of those broadcast news on Sundays.
- Images of breaking news in distant places would, if you were lucky, appear in your local paper half a day later.
- Telephoning relatives in another city, let alone another state, required waiting while operators connected one exchange to another (and another, and another) when there was room on the line.
For some, the effect of the first, brief radio bulletin about the attack was immediate and tragic. In Berkeley, California, Sidney Arthur Higgins, who had worked on construction of the Panama Canal and served as an Army captain in World War I, was listening. When he heard the news, he shouted to his wife to come listen. By the time she got there, he was having a heart attack. He died less than a month later on Jan. 2, 1942.
But how people reacted, and the speed and variations in how the news reached them, varied considerably.
At the time, the United States had just two national broadcast networks. One, NBC, split its programming into two feeds but had no Sunday newscasts. The other, CBS, had a regularly scheduled news program, “The World Today”, that was about to begin when news of the attack started arriving on wire service teletype shortly before 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time. CBS was therefore able to shift from scheduled news to that of the attack, and to provide steady coverage as fresh details came in.
Dayton, where the Maggie Sullivan mysteries are set, was like many other cities. It didn’t have a CBS station. It got only a branch of NBC. There a program featuring Sammy Kaye’s orchestra was just ending, and a scholarly discussion, “The Chicago Roundtable” about to begin, when wire-service machines clattered out news of the Pearl Harbor attack. NBC was able to cut the start of the Roundtable program to provide news bulletins – but then it returned to regular programming. Interrupting programs with commercial sponsors required permission from the sponsor executives, so the network was largely limited to providing updates during breaks.
That’s how it was for the rest of the day. Distant horror, with occasional details trickling in.
Only the following day, when Dayton papers carried photographs of the attack, could residents picture the scope of what had befallen them. Only through maps printed there did many readers begin to understand where the distant U.S. base that had been the target of the attack was located.
In contrast to the era’s slow communication, however, Dayton’s emergency preparedness, even by today’s standards, was amazing. Activation of a plan to move the city to a wartime footing began within hours of receiving news about the attack.
(Next week – Part II: Immediate Response)
— Here’s the Deal —
It’s practically a return to the dime novels of the 1940s! This new Crime Cafe box set gets you nine full-length mystery and crime novels by nine different for just 99c. (Okay, technically that’s 11 cents each, but consider inflation.) Authors include Austin Camacho, Donna Fletcher Crow and others, including yours truly. Editor is New York Times best-selling novelist Debbi Mack, host of Crime Cafe.
by M. Ruth Myers
Maximum Moxie, shiny new addition to the mystery series featuring the 1940s detective with great legs, Maggie Sullivan, has just landed in digital bookstores. This fifth book in the series opens when the private eye takes on a new case days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and provides an unusual portrait of a mainland city left dazed but resolute.
Days before the Pearl Harbor attack plunges the U.S. into World War II, private eye Maggie Sullivan is hired to find a missing engineer in Dayton, Ohio. Has Gil Tremain been kidnaped, or has he turned traitor — to his employer and maybe his country?
As Maggie pieces together his last movements, she finds there are secrets the man’s ex-wife and his employers don’t want uncovered. Maggie herself is attacked and an innocent witness is murdered. The ruthlessness of her opponent — or opponents — becomes even clearer when there’s an attempt to abduct Tremain’s young daughter. Still more chilling, Maggie’s investigation suddenly attracts the attention of a local crime kingpin.
The attack on Pearl Harbor presses every cop in the city into service protecting manufacturing and research facilities. Stunned by the knowledge their nation will soon be at war, even fearful the mainland itself will be bombed, people cling to family and friends. Schedules and routines shatter. Amid the disruption, alone and aware she can’t count on help from the police, Maggie races to save a man who has now become a liability to his captors.
Maximum Moxie, fifth book in the author’s popular Maggie Sullivan mysteries series, gives readers fast-paced twists and turns along with a rare and vividly painted closeup view of a watershed event in 20th century American history.
by M. Ruth Myers
Since my mystery series is set in the 1940s, I accumulate lots of research that can’t fit in the books, but is fun nonetheless. Enjoy a little time-traveling with these snippets on books, movies and new additions to everyday life that ordinary people were enjoying in 1940.
An official bestseller list didn’t come into being until 1945. Books whose popularity would have put them in the running for that label in 1940 included How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley, Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Another contender was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which won that year’s Pulitzer Prize.
Best picture award went to Rebecca, based on the wonderful gothic romance by Daphne du Maurier. (Alfred Hitchcock directed.) Jimmy Stewart was named best actor for his role in The Philadelphia Story. Best actress honors went to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle.
New Daily Pleasures
In May of 1940, nylon stockings went on sale to the general public, following their introduction late the previous year at the World’s Fair. Dupont, the chemical company that developed nylon, decided not to trademark the name in hopes the word “nylon” would become synonymous with hoisery.
Bugs Bunny made his screen debut in 1940, as did Woody Woodpecker, but my favorite innovation of 1940, hands down, was the arrival of soft-serve ice cream. Dairy Queen opened its first outlet in Joliet, Illinois.
— Here’s the Deal —
Shamus in a Skirt, Maggie Sullivan Mystery #4, is 99c now through 8/29. Hey, it just happens to be set in 1940, as the war in Europe crosses the Atlantic to draw Ohio private eye Maggie into a case of murder and jewels slipping in and out of the safe at an upscale hotel. Amazon Apple Nook Kobo
by M. Ruth Myers
Are you a book snob? Oh, go on, admit it.
Many years ago I had a wonderful middle-aged friend who refused to read a paperback book because they didn’t “feel right” in her hands. An avid reader, she bought her books through a book club, even through she could scarcely afford to feed her family of five at the end of some months.
Both she and her husband came from good families. One side, in fact, boasted a nationally recognizable name. She was gracious, intelligent and a wonderful conversationalist; open-minded in things that truly mattered. She just didn’t want to rub elbows — or fingers, more accurately — with paperback books.
Today there are plenty of people who don’t want any books that aren’t on paper they can hold on their hands. No ebooks for them, thank you. They want the feel of a “real book.” They like the feel of turning pages.
There are also legions who won’t even consider reading an indie book. If it’s not from a “real” publisher, they reason, it can’t be up to snuff.
And you know what? In many cases they’re right. There are many truly lousy indie books out there. Lousy writing. Grammatical errors. Poor proofreading and/or formatting.
But you know what else? There are plenty of really, really good ones too. Many indie writers once were published by New York houses. Some wear two hats. One is for Series X which they publish as indies. The other hat is for Series Q, which is published by a traditional house. Do they suddenly forget how to write when penning titles in Series X? Nope. More likely, that series is in a genre or time period that trad houses feel won’t add as much to their bottom line as they want. Meanwhile, fans of Series X are delighted to find a series that appeals to them.
Oh, and here’s a dirty little secret. Typos and formatting errors rear their ugly heads in books from Big Five publishers and their cousins as well. I’m talking print as well as ebooks here. I’m talking hardbacks.
If you’re tempted to walk on the wild side after you read this, don’t forget that Amazon and other retailers let you download a sample of any book (about 10%) for free. Reading the first few pages should give you a feel for the writer’s style and degree of professionalism. Who knows? You might find a new author to love.
Fans of “craft beers” are growing by leaps and bounds. People who want real taste in their food instead of chemicals flock to “artisan cheeses” and “artisan breads.”
Maybe it’s time to think in terms of “artisan books.”
What do YOU think?
— BOOK BARGAIN —
A .38, a nip of gin and sensational legs get Depression-era private investigator Maggie Sullivan out of most scrapes – until a stranger threatens to bust her nose, she’s hauled in on suspicion of his murder and she finds herself in the cross-hairs of a sadistic crime boss. Amazon iBooks Kobo Nook
You might think that this is the first time a woman has won a national following running for U.S. President, but in 1940 a woman did just that. Even more amazing in today’s political climate, her campaign attracted fans from both parties.
Her name was Gracie Allen, and she was half of the popular Burns and Allen comedy team. Her persona was that of somewhat flighty naivete. Interspersed with her funny lines, however, were seemingly innocent zingers that were wickedly wise.
“A platform is something the candidate stands for and the voters fall for.”
From the age of three, Allen was a performer. Her career began on the vaudeville stage, where she met, formed an act with and eventually married George Burns. The comedy duo moved on to radio and eventually television.
On radio, Burns and Allen discovered their listeners loved running gags which might go on for months. So in 1940 Gracie Allen announced she was running for President. The media, as well as her fans, ate it up.
- Her party? The Surprise Party.
- Its mascot? A kangaroo. (It was a leap year.)
- Her platform? “knotty pine trimmed with oak and inlaid with California redwood”
Allen made “surprise” appearances on other radio shows to plug her candidacy. She spoke before the National Women’s Press Club at the invitation of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She received an endorsement from Harvard University.
“We favor putting Congress on a commission basis. Pay them for results. If they do a good job and the country prospers, they get 10% of the extra take.”
It was all a joke, of course. In 1940, who could possibly take seriously the idea of a woman President?
Maybe the 42,000 voters across the country who, come election day, voted for her as a write-in candidate.
So as our current, surreal election season grinds on, if your spirits lag, think of Gracie Allen’s campaign and smile.
“Today millions of people are living who will never do it again. Millions are being born for the first time-and millions are doing nothing because it’s the best offer they’ve had this week. … It is for these people and many others that the Surprise Party is conceived and desecrated, founded upon the principle that everybody is just as good as anybody else, even though they aren’t quite so smart.”
~~~ 99c or 99p thru 5/15 ~~~
1940s detective Maggie Sullivan is more at home in the dark