How peaceful grows the hazy yon!
How myrtle pedaled thou!
For spring hath sprung the cyclotron,
How high browse thou, brown cow?
Walt Kelly 1951
The cold war, the direct descendent of “D Day,” was upon us and the gloomy
distended specter of a fire war begun in 1950 in some unknown land called Korea had set the stage for the political parties election campaigns in the fall of
1952. Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” was the Chicago Tribunes’ (and the country’s) hot
political cartoon strip, awash with sly innuendoes and pot-shots at both
Republicans and Democrats.
Seems too, according to the comic story line, that Albert Alligator and an assortment of Pogo’s friends – Deacon Muskrat, Howland, Churchy, Porkypine and the rest of the swampland critters had persuaded our hero, Pogo,to join the pres-dental race. Soon the strip was waving banners and the balloon copy above the drawings was touting “Pogo For President.”
“I GO POGO!”
A cry that was taken up by college students and young adults alike, who
somehow clearly understood the words that Kelly put into the mouth of Albert
Alligator, ” We has seen the enemy and he is us.”
The Oh-fishul campaign featured Dwight D. Eisenhower as he ran for office against an Illinois Favorite Son, Adlai Stevenson, in a wide open national campaign. Secretly many “I Like Ike” campaign buttons were taped over to read “I Go Pogo.”
Meanwhile, assorted members of the disbanded Olivers Athletic Club (Ollies),
mostly 1951 graduates of The East Aurora High School, were moving into
different directions of their lives, college, the work place, military service. Still, a few stalwart Ollies (in school or locked in other local occupational pursuits)
remained in hometown Aurora.
I was one. Living at home with my folks. Working the midnight to eight shift at the Chicago Burlington and Quincy (CB&Q) railroad roundhouse yards. I was taking courses at Aurora College during the daylight hours.
Without asking permission of these stalwart readers of the Pogo strip, the
Republican central committee decided to take it to the Democratic candidate
in his home state of Illinois. As a final flourish to the Republican presidential
campaign Ike’s people scheduled a motorcade through the outlying
Republican-looking Western Suburbs of Chicago and downstate Illinois.
Carefully orchestrated “whistle stops” in several key cities would begin early morning in Western Indiana then move to Englewood Illinois, followed by Joliet and Aurora stopping for the night at Ottawa, before heading out of state and on to Iowa.
The motorcade would arrive off of US Route 31, onto Illinois 57 at Plainfield and then journey down New York Street stopping for a heavily staged Republican rally, on the city hall steps of downtown Aurora.
Evening news commentators talked about the motorcade’s advance across the
Midwest heartland in the bright new color TV format (and on black and white tubes too) all thorough the month of August and into the first week of September. The motorcade visit received headline treatment from Colonel Robert McCormick’s Republican bent Chicago Tribune (which also carried the much read Pogo strip.) Details of the pending parade route and stops were subject matter for the Sunday September 2, 1952 front page of Ira Copley’s Republican Aurora Beacon News too.
Something of note for several avid Pogo readers, late of the Ollies, who in
the waning fall days of 1952 still cruised Aurora’s main drag, Broadway, on Saturday nights for something to do. Or, who made late night pilgrimages to the A&W Root Beer stand on Auroras East Side to irritate the “waitresses on wheels” as well as slake late night thirsts (sure we all drank a little root beer now and then) and fill their mouths with one or two saucy A&W Bar-B-Q’s.
I was the proud owner of a Plymouth Convertible (top of the line in 1941)
with two rear jump seats that made the seating capacity roughly seven or eight (this always depends on who tells these stories) with the top down ( I think the record was twelve , with several brave souls riding the running boards and several sitting on the boot cover.)
The Plymouth was a three speed stick shift flat head six, great on gas, that drank forty weight motor oil on a regular basis. A case of forty weight (along with
a wide mouth funnel) had to be carried in the trunk for quick, timely
additions to the crankcase in order to keep the cylinders and bearings from seizing-up. It might be said that the engine smoked a bit and gulped oil, but the dark green Plymouth was a good ride. Somehow the car had seen me through a senior year of high school, from classes to dances, ball games to proms and graduation to work without a major overhaul.
From the summer of ’51 through the fall of ’52 it had become somewhat of a community vehicle for the Ollies still living in Aurora. September had been a very warm month and hovered near the eighties the week end of the month. Perfect convertible weather, the top on the Plymouth was permanently down, both day and night.
So it was under these circumstances that the Ollies last great act of
comradely, youthful defiance before their full disbursement into adulthood
began to take form, Saturday night, the ninth of September 1952. With the still warm breezes of a late summer blowing about in the early fall, Dick “Woody” Woodward talked a few of the Ollies into driving (with me as the designated driver) from Aurora to Elgin Illinois for a malt at Burns Pharmacy, a favorite with an ice cream fountain that he had discovered on his rounds, during the summer months, while working for ComEd.
The malts at Burns Drug Store were so thick you had to eat them with a spoon ( a straw was useless.) Woody’s standing challenge to all comers was quite simple. He would buy all of the malts you could suck up after the first one at Burns in one sitting. But, if you didn’t finish the second one you had to buy yours and his too. Seems more than one guy got sick trying, and ended out the money for several malts when they couldn’t finish. (I never tried for second malt.)
Ah…. but I digress.
Two of the four Bobs, from the Ollie alum, Bob Orland “BO” and Bob Gebhard “Geb” made it a foursome on the trip upriver to Burns The two Bobs in the rear jump seats, Woody and I in the front buckets.
Sure girls were the most prevalent topic of conversation during the twenty
mile drive (Nina Cook, Lil Miller and Pat Miller come to mind) but references to Pogo, Ike and Adlai punctuated the conversation.
Perhaps we were conflicted, about the November election, not yet having reached the voting age, yet fully aware that military service might be just
around the corner. As a balance to our concerns we sought to temper our
political feelings with the choice of our comic paper print hero, even though both the other candidates promised to bring a swift end to the distended specter of the United Nations War, “if elected.”
Yes…. our true choice would be Pogo!
The beginning of the week dawned without too much in the way of
concern for tactics to back our chosen “candidate.” But Wednesday and Thursday brought a flurry of action from an assorted
number of Ollie members, who labored at decorating the dark green Plymouth with painted Bon Ami slogans and portraits of characters from the Walt Kelly strip.
Truly Walt’s critters lived!
Now armed with definitive “Pogo” statements painted on the Plymouth
and a few hand painted “I GO POGO” signs to wave the Ollies were ready.
Well almost. The weekend weather forecast called for light showers. That
night we prayed for fair weather so that our artistic Bon Aim renderings
wouldn’t wash off their green mobile signboard before the Pogo cult messages
could be seen on Friday (must have worked because the showers held off.)
Friday afternoon found a car full of late blooming Aurora youth
strategically positioned in a farmers tractor lane just off Illinois route 57 near New York Street Road. The hood of the Plymouth had been popped and as much of the essential fluid from the oil case as the pan would hold was dumped into the engine. A telltale plume of smoke from the near overheating engine wafted
above our heads as it idled in neutral, waiting to pounce.
We were ready.
The late, lazy Autumn sun began to move into a setting position to the
west when a siren wail of the lead sheriffs squad car signaled the approach
of the Eisenhower motorcade (which was slightly behind the published schedule) and rolling down the road above the posted speed limit.
Carefully anticipating the speed of the snaking line of black limos and news
trucks following the lone patrol car I moved our six cylinder sign board out
onto the roadway.
A black hardtop Limo caring secret service street personnel passed followed by a four door Cadillac convertible, top up, with a Ford shake back truck full of white faced bodies following closely behind.
Gambling on the correct position in line, I jolted the Plymouth onto route
57. Screeching rubber from both rear tires as it gained momentum from a strong first gear it moved gravel to blacktop right behind the second Cadillac.
Startled by this maneuver the driver of the truck (closely following the
Caddie convertible) overflowing with reporters, photographers and TV cameramen nearly lost control and staggered back and forth across the black top almost leaving the road.
By the time the caravan, now boasting a green Plymouth convertible
in its midst, reached New York Street Road the truck came under control. In the rear view mirror I could see several raised hands waiving a one finger salute
to the jubilant group of Ollies now in third place behind the squad car in the motorcade.
As the convoy slowed to just below the city speed limit of 25
miles per hour. we rolled into Aurora proper. Even before the top was dropped on the Caddie several secret service operatives hit the pavement in front of it, running. Luckily they were concerned about upcoming and not receding problems. Meanwhile the gaggle of news people began yelling at us (through the ominous oil cloud that followed the Plymouth) demanding that we relinquish our much coveted place in the conga line to their forth place Ford truck.
Had the motorcade slowed to a crawl in its descent into downtown Aurora
under the CB&Q overpass I think that we would have been mugged by a maddened group of surly photogs and scribes (who by now were felling a bit nauseated from inhaling exhaust fumes) unable to see what was taking place in front of us in the candidates Cadillac.
The entourage moved sluggishly across North Broadway and crossed the Fox River by way of the Memorial bridge, turning left onto River Street then doubling back by turning left again on Galena Boulevard. Passing the Paramount Theater, the motor car parade turned right heading south on Broadway. Then for the final surge (through the gathered pedestrians seeking their glimpse of the Presidential hopeful) to Fox Street and on to the Aurora City Hall.
At that point the reporters, photographers and TV cameramen caught the eye of several of Auroras finest, who were manning the intersections of the downtown streets.
As I recall the final phase of the Ollies “Pogo” demonstration ( a bit of a
blur) wo husky men in blue pushing their motorcycles through the crowd, moved in front of the Plymouth forcing me to turn the Pogo mobile and its sign waving occupants left off of Broadway in front of the Aurora National Bank, and out of the gala Eisenhower procession.
The end of our parade
Well, our youthful exuberance didn’t get enough notice to make a newspaper front page nor a meaningful difference in the election.
Pogo (our choice) didn’t stand a chance of getting electedand neither did Adlai (the orator.) Ike (the retired General) was the unanimous victor at the polls in November (the first Republican in twenty years to be so elected.)
The Korean war stumbled to an indecisive end while many of the Ollies matriculated through the four branches of the military only to be followed by more indecisive struggles against world Communism until the Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Now the hazy yon of age makes these little episodes fun to revisit now and then (even for only a paragraphor two.) Communistic countries have become our friends but we are still doing duty on foreign soil. And, in retrospect few things have changed to make the world a different place, save the memories of shared fun with old friends in a dark green 1941 Plymouth convertible belching smoke; stealing a moment in time out of the Oh-fishul 1952 Presidential campaign.
I wonder “How high browse thou now brown cow?”