"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Art Carlson and the joyous end to war(s)

We are distancing ourselves from the 20th Century. The passage of time shouldn't obscure significant events or personalities. We had the great wars in the 20th Century. We hear about the grand nature of our war commitment on such occasions as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We commemorate the victory in world wars. Surely there was joy when each of those ended. How tragic, though, that mankind got dragged into those conflagrations, that we couldn't temper our bad side better.
In the category of "personalities" we have Art Carlson. I regret not having known him. He had a role helping Morris celebrate the end of both WWI and WWII.
Morris legend has it that at the time of the Centennial, in 1971, many people wanted Art to come forward and replicate some of that for the program. I heard that the program was too tightly scripted to allow for this. Actually I heard that the program was non-locally written and had blanks to be filled in for whatever community it was presented in. "There weren't any Indians in Morris," a friend of mine said, referring to the part of the program that emphasized Indians. It could be that burrowing owls were the most interesting manifestation of life out here.
Art Carlson's contributions were unique. Let's close our eyes and go back to the year 1918. We're in early November. The "great war" overseas had been raging. On November 6, word came that Germany had sued for an armistice. Turns out, this was not official. It resulted from a United Press correspondent in France deducing that war's end was imminent, based on some confidential information.
By the time a crowd gathered in Morris, some knew that this news wasn't wholly reliable, but it didn't matter. Everyone knew Germany was toast. If the war wasn't officially over, it soon would be. Celebration was most in order. People flocked to downtown Morris from around town and out in the country.
Art Carlson presided over the steam plant of Otter Tail Power. An impromptu celebration developed. No need for such formalities as a planning committee. An impromptu celebration springs right from the heart, and "heart" certainly characterized how Morris marked the end (or soon-to-be end) of the great overseas conflict.
Art Carlson opened the steam siren and began the ups and downs of the fire alarm. There was no fire, rather there was joyous news that "the boys will be coming home." The shriek of the siren served to attract steadily more people. The stage was set.
Carlson was able to orchestrate certain notes of familiar musical intervals! He was back in the boiler room, experimenting as to just how much of a pull on the cord produced a certain musical note. Music came forth! "My country tis of thee. . ." And so on. It was captivating.
The burgeoning crowd called for more. It didn't matter that rain was falling. The evening air was cold. The streets were muddy and the crowd dealt with puddles, their joy undeterred. They sang and "wept unashamed," according to an account. They danced, shook hands and embraced.
When Carlson reached the climactic note for "let freedom ring," there was a loud acclamation for the sentiment.
Requests came forth for other patriotic songs. Art was able to extract various songs from the old siren. The throat of the siren issued "Keep the Home Fires Burning," "Long, Long Trail" and "Home Sweet Home" among others. More challenging for Art was our National Anthem, known to be difficult partly because of the vocal range required. He put his siren to work quite competently again. "Oh say can you see. . ."
By celebration's end, the clarification had spread that this was a "false armistice." It seemed a quibble. The momentum was with the forces for good. Germany had been pummelled, but wouldn't it be tragic that Germany would foment even more conflict a mere two decades later? Was the settlement imposed on Germany at the end of WWI too harsh? We can only speculate.
Mankind could be mighty brutal through the early and middle stages of the 20th Century.
For the time being, on that wet November night in 1918, Stevens County was consumed with that celebratory mood, hoping there would be no more great wars. It was wishful thinking. The boys did indeed come home in 1918.
A few WWI veterans were still around when I began my newspaper career. I remember photographing a group of them at the Morris Legion Club. I interviewed Earl Eames and Thore Mathison, and perhaps others, for feature articles. Finally these pillar citizens left us, as all war veterans eventually do. It's just as important to remember the souls who didn't come back.
Why is killing necessary to resolve world conflicts? My generation was terribly scarred by the ill-advised Viet Nam conflict.
I was still with the newspaper when our community welcomed back the Guardsmen from Iraq. Why were state National Guardsmen sent to fight overseas? Time has not been kind to our decision to fight in Iraq.
The ceremony for the Guardsmen at the UMM P.E. Center was nice - all the bells and whistles - but why was nothing like this ever held to honor the Viet Nam War soldiers? I was in my formative years when that war pathetically wound down. Soldiers were reportedly told not to wear their uniforms on the way home. As a child I could sense the folly of the war. How strange.
The WWI Armistice was officially signed within days after the Morris celebration. Another more laid-back celebration was held.
 
Shifting to the 1940s
Let's fast-forward to the end of World War II. Again Art Carlson would come forth with a unique display to reflect the joy. This time it was with an exhibition of trick bicycle riding. He was top-hatted and grandly garbed. The date was August 14, 1945, when tidings were received that Japan had accepted the Allies' surrender terms.
Again, a joyous throng milled the downtown streets here. The stores closed their doors. No room for commercialism on this day, just unbridled joy. I imagine this joy was tempered quite a bit among families who had lost members in the war.
Once again farm families joined the city folk in celebrating. Horn-honking was steady. Young people snake-danced up and down the streets. Firecrackers crackled. This celebration, as in 1918, had an impromptu nature. A "spirit of '76" unit formed for an impromptu parade. The drummer was J.H. Brunsman. Other musicians were H.C. Probst, H.O. Watzke and Vin Kohler.
Then we had Art Carlson, in costume with clown garb, doing his trick bicycle riding. The celebration lasted until well past midnight. Let's emphasize there was little "rowdyism." A few fire cracker burns were reported. The local phone exchange was overwhelmed.
The Morris stores, even restaurants and service stations, were closed on Wednesday the 15th. There was no more din, though. Quiet prevailed now, perhaps a time for contemplation. Church services were held in the evening. My church of First Lutheran probably heard words of thanks and inspiration from The Rev. E.S. Ede.
The newspaper which came out on Friday was filled with ads promoting not products and services, but gratitude for war's end. Hopes for peace were accented, but of course in a few years we'd get the horrible Korean conflict. General MacArthur would later run for president but he flopped. My father Ralph E. Williams said "America was afraid of more war (under MacArthur)." We got it anyway with Viet Nam, the early stages of which were orchestrated, ironically, by the beloved JFK. Lyndon Johnson escalated it and went down in infamy, to the point where troops had to shed their military clothing. Shame? It wasn't the troops' fault.
"And they shall beat their swords into plowshares," read the Ryhn Dry Cleaners ad in the Morris paper marking WWII's end. The quote is from Isaiah 2:4.
Green's Milling proclaimed "The God of War has been sent back to his mountains."
The Del Monico Cafe, my favorite old cafe in Morris, where Thrifty White Drug is now, proclaimed "With victory comes a deepening sense of the tremendous debt all of us owe to our fighting men and women."
The rumor in Morris now is that if Heartland Motors builds out across from McDonald's, on that plot of land that has been the focus for myriad rumors, Thrifty White will build out there too. We have seen tree removal out there lately. If Thrifty White leaves downtown Morris, a void will certainly be opened up there. What would happen to City Center Mall? We'll see.
In the week after the joyous peace was announced, the Morris Theater showed no war movies. Instead, relieved citizens could watch "Topper Returns" with Joan Blondell or "Twin Beds" with Joan Bennett and George Brent.
"Everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief, gave thanks, and life went on," wrote Ardath Larson in the Stevens County Historical Society book "The '40s: a time for war and a time for peace."
Through all this, Sam Smith kept "running" at our Morris cemetery. He runs today. A statue would be apt for Art Carlson. Perhaps in front of the public library? Jerry Koosman too.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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