Tags: Erie | Pennsylvania | author | Reagan

C-SPAN Visits Erie, Pa.

By    |   Friday, 25 October 2013 01:33 PM

C-SPAN's American History Television spent a weekend in Erie, Pa., in mid-September and spoke with local authors and historians about some of the local legends and personalities.

It resonated with me because of an assignment while I was a staffer for the House Banking Committee to deliver a speech for Rep. Tom Ridge, R-Pa., who represented Erie in Congress before moving on to the governorship and eventually a cabinet post. The word "deliver" is taken literally; the speech was in a can and was meant to be run at the site, with Q&A by this erudite expert to follow.

Concern over the timeliness of US Airways led to a phone call to the Ridge staff seeking assurance that the plane would be on time, but alas, it wasn't, so the trip to Erie ended at the Pittsburgh airport, and the speech was ultimately delivered back to the congressman's office.

The following are thumbnail sketches of the short presentations, leading to a longer discussion of the last presentation, which represents one quite liberal professor's interpretation of the series of presidential administrations from JFK through Ronald Reagan:

Presque Isle State Park. This discussion explains that the name means "nearly an island" and that a series of lagoons was collected to form a fish hatchery, but that it was not practical to use the hatchery to the extent envisioned by the designers. (Archived video here.)

Watson-Curtze Mansion. Erie maintains one of the most extensive "Millionaires' Rows," a collection of houses from the Victorian period that were built by industrialists like Frederic Curtze, who was a paper magnate, and Rep. William L. Scott, who owned more coal mines than anyone else in the world. The guide referred to the Erie houses as typical of industrial cities, with rows of opulent houses also found in Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and he could have mentioned Williamsport, Harrisburg and many other cities in Pennsylvania. (Archived video here.)

Engendered Death: Pennsylvania Women Who Kill. Joseph Laythe compiled stories of women who committed murder, including Irene Schneider, who killed a couple of state troopers while robbing banks with a partner in a Bonnie and Clyde-type scenario. Laythe repeatedly expressed his fascination with the public reaction to the fact that women could commit such crimes. (Archived video here.)

The Lake Erie Campaign of 1813. Author Walter Rybka, a wizened old sailor, recounted the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 off the top of his head in this video and in greater detail in the book, explaining from the point of view of a seafarer how shifts in the wind enabled Commodore Oliver Perry to gain an advantage of the British enemy. (Archived video here.)

Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters. David Hurd explained in detail how tactile star charts, a thermoform machine and refreshable Braille are employed to enable blind astronomy students to keep up in their studies with their sighted classmates. (Archived video here.)

Erie County Historical Society 3D Collections. Given the nature of the previous lecture, this title might be a bit misleading. The Society has collected thousands of historical objects, which it refers to as 3D, as well as collections of papers and ephemera from the 2D world. (Archived video here.)

Papers of Ida Tarbell. Allegheny College professor Pamela Trecker discussed her work with the collected papers of Ida Tarbell, one of the founding members of the "muckraking" school of journalism, which are housing at the college, which is located in Meadville, Pa. Tarbell was the first woman to graduate from Allegheny, in 1880, and the highlight of her career was the publication of the History of Standard Oil, published in 1902 by the influential McClure's magazine. Trecker recounted Tarbell's notorious observation of Rockefeller at the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church in 1903 and her subsequent encounter with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who was somewhat receptive to her work. (Archived video here.)

Hammermill Paper Company Collection. Rick Hart, head librarian at the Behrend College campus of Pennsylvania State University at Erie, told the story of the Behrend family, which founded the "Ernst R. Behrend Paper Co.," after which the college is named, in Erie in 1902. The company flourished as an industry leader through most of the 20th century, developing many patents, including an efficient method of watermarking that advanced the state of the art. The Behrends were paternalistic executives who did their best to avoid layoffs during downturns in the economy and pioneered in offering benefits to their employees. Ultimately, though, the company was acquired by International Paper Co. in 1984, and the Erie operation was closed in 2002 at a cost of 759 jobs. (Archived video here.)

Losing the Center. Jeff Bloodworth provided the liberal perspective on how the Democrats lost the center during the period between the JFK and Reagan administrations, because a split developed between affluent and working-class Democrats that the Reagan campaign was able to exploit. Subsequently, the Republicans lost their touch during the Bush years, and Bill Clinton, a former McGovern campaign operative, reassembled the coalition through groups like the Democratic Leadership Council, which appealed to moderates. I was struck by the total absence of any reference to the scandals that marked the Carter and Clinton years. Regarding Carter, he asked, "Who doesn't laud Jimmy Carter?" For starters, one could consider the war Carter has conducted with the Jewish community. For more on this, just search "Jimmy Carter and Jewish cold war." Another fruitful inquiry would be to examine the relationship between Carter and the late Bert Lance. Readers might be surprised to learn the scandals that forced Lance to resign as Carter's budget director didn't end with the administration. New charges of check kiting surfaced as late as 1985, although Lance was able to settle them for a mere $50,000. (Archived video here.)

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C-SPAN's American History Television spent a weekend in Erie, Pa., in mid-September and spoke with local authors and historians about some of the local legends and personalities.
Friday, 25 October 2013 01:33 PM
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