Sunday, July 31, 2011



BLAIR INTERVIEWS -   This is the second part of several installments of a taped interview from February 1994 with Clay and Joan Blair.   In Part I, Clay had taken a position with Curtis Publishing after having been a Washington correspondent for Time Magazine.   Despite efforts to right the ship, Curtis Publishing was about to go under, and Clay had become greatly disillusioned with the corporate situation.   He had already worked on fiction, and now he was anxious to get back into writing.  -  DP


I had left Curtis with a parachute – a brass parachute -   but with enough funds to write a
book.  And so, I went back to where I had left off in 1949, with notes, to write a novel.  

I had started out at Columbia, then went into journalism, then I decided to come back to that and write a novel.   And a lot of publishers were anxious for me to write about Curtis, the sinking of the Saturday Evening Post and all of that.  I did.  I wrote a novel called The Boardroom, which was published by Dutton in 1969. 

The publishing company died instantly after it was published.   I started this novel.   In the middle of it I moved back to Washington, in 1967.  I worked on this novel in Greenwich for about two years.  I had a difficult time with it, then I moved back to a Washington DC suburb, Potomac, MD, still working on the novel. 
I had tremendous difficulty distancing myself from the chaos and the likes of Curtis Publishing to write a book about it, to get separation from the subject.  So, I was leading a very reclusive life, working on this novel.   I needed a typist.  I had a typist in Greenwich, and I had to go find a new one.  
That’s where she comes in!   (Refers to Joan, who is also present.)

Q - The difficulty you had was primarily because of the closeness?  

Having the deadline removed also made a difference.   First, I wrote just for my own self and records, a complete non-fiction book about Curtis, a long document in around 1965-66.  I didn’t publish that book.  One of the provisions that I had in my brass parachute was that I wouldn’t write about it.  

So I did write about it, but didn’t publish it.  The novel came as a made up story. Curtis was still limping along.  They had done all of the things I had recommended, selling the paper mills.   Now, they were broken up, bought out by other publishers, each of the magazines.   The whole company was broken up piece-meal.   This was my program, put into effect much too late.  Maybe we would have had a chance, maybe not.   In any case, I was sitting in Greenwich as the thing was going down the abyss.   The novel wasn’t contractually prohibited, a fiction book, so I knew I could do this.   I filed away the non-fiction account, which is now with my papers in Wyoming.  

When I was at Curtis, even before, I had copies of my files, and then the stuff from Curtis.  All of my correspondence.  I ran a study group on how to dismantle the company.   Hundreds and hundreds of documents, and all these books I wrote.  All my papers, 257 boxes.  All the Army stuff has gone to the U.S. Army Military History Institute, at Carlisle, PA.   The army papers are there.  We did three army books.

The other books are at the American Heritage Center at Laramie, WY, 82701.    Mostly (the Laramie Center) had to do with Western stuff, native American, Wyoming books, mining, and so on.  An incredible place.  It is a museum archives.   They have the papers of a lot of journalists, Hugh Downs.   They also have ADM Kimmel’s papers from Pearl Harbor.   At one point, they embarked on mid-century journalists.   And that’s how I got there. 

I was moving, and said, “I’ve got to get rid of this stuff,” when, sure enough, the phone rang.  Would you leave your papers to the university, and I said, I sure would. And we’ve been sending our papers to them ever since.  People have used our papers, but we’ve never been there ourselves. 

Q - We’ll back up a bit to where you needed a typist.

Joan -    I had graduated from college in 1951 from Washington Univ.  (St. Louis), and I was recruited by the CIA.  I was recruited and went to Washington for about six months, and they sent me to Japan, where I met and married David (first husband), who was also in the CIA.  

We were there about two years and came home in the summer of ’54, I’d guess, then we went to Holland for three years.  Then in 1961 back to Japan for about 2 ½ years. Then we were in Hong Kong for about three years.   Then in ’66 we came back to the states, to Washington.  We had a house in McLean, VA.  When we came back the last time, David went to Viet Nam.  I suddenly realized I wanted a divorce, and I came up to the island with the kids, and I told Daddy I wanted to get a divorce.
I went back to Washington, and I needed to get a job - needed to learn typing.   And a friend said she had a friend who was a writer and he needs somebody to type his manuscripts.   So I really did start out as a typist.  That’s how that started.   It was the Boardroom novel.

Clay -  To complete the link-up, we both got divorced, moved in 1968 to Washington, by which time we finished The Boardroom.  Joan was very interactive with the ideas, the collaborative efforts, even though her name wasn’t on the cover, not at first.

Q – What about research?  

Joan - The Archbishop we did from analysis, the newspapers, not a whole lot of research. 

Clay -   When I was in Greenwich, I got plugged into this dissident faction of the Catholic church, a strong liberalization where Pope John XXIII, the Vatican, liberalized the church, and I was deeply involved in all sorts of movements at this time, and it was reflected in the things I did at the time at the Post.  Things like Montessori that was really an outgrowth of the liberal church.   Montessori, as opposed to the traditional Catholic parochial school.   And so I had known a lot of dissident priests in Greenwich that had been in combat with the Vatican for promoting liberalization issues.

Of course, I was a Catholic – a disenchanted Catholic – and this book, The Archbishop, had a lot of that in it.    I drew on all that stuff I’d been involved in.  

Joan  -  We’d try to think up plot lines of things we could write about.   Then, a few months later, we’d read in the papers - there it was - the things we thought were so far out.  

Q - Why did you depart from the successful current event, popular subject matter?   Why didn’t you stay with that, the topical novel, and go into the technical, historical writing?

Clay - I wrote a non-fiction first about Curtis, then worked for about a year on the childhood, teenage years…then The Boardroom.   The Archbishop was the next project, also quite topical.  There was quite a deal going on in Washington, an open revolt, a dissident priest element there, too. 

Joan -  Then while you were doing that, the James Earl Ray thing was going on, and we would go off and work on the James Earl Ray thing.

Clay  - Really?  In the middle of The Archbishop

We were in Washington when the James Earl Ray thing was going on.  This was a non-fiction project.   We were asked to cover the trial.  
Joan  - They wanted an instant book. 

Clay -   No, they wanted the trial, and preliminary to the trial we started doing research on his life.  And the background for the trial research about the mid-west, his friends, the prisons and all of that.   And at the trial in Memphis or wherever that was.  And there was no trial.   He pled guilty at a hearing. 
So we had all this research, but no place to go, and so the publisher said, “Let’s see what you’ve got.” And that’s how we published the book.  I used the publisher’s office, and, quite literally, wrote it there in ten days.   It’s just a question of sitting down and writing it.  Put the trial transcript in the back.   An instant book.

(tape:    February 8 - side #2)

Joan -  But I was never in Memphis. 
Clay -  It did alright, made a little money. 

Joan -  It was right in the middle of The Archbishop book.   For Bantam World.    That’s when World died. 

Clay - They presold the paperback, and it farmed out to the hardback, subsidized the hardback.  World collapsed in bankruptcy, and that book barely got published in hardback. 
Joan -  That woman who ran the book store sold lots of copies, she just loved it. 

Clay -  That was as topical as you could possibly be.

The next was Pentagon Country, a Bantam deal (with McGraw-Hill), and they had great faith in the novel’s future, trying to make us into best-selling novelists. Which is actually where I wanted to be.  We had a very good relationship.

This was an anti-Viet Nam book.   We went to the Pentagon, and they showed us the basement, the storeroom where they had all of the stuff stored since Civil Defense days.  Gigantic.

Pentagon Country:  This was about a Navy Captain with two sons, one an officer, one who sets himself on fire.   That came out in 1971 at the height of the Viet Nam protest movement when Nixon snuck out in the middle of the night and observed them .

None of the novels set the world on fire - but you don’t remember that (part).  Actually, we got discouraged about the novel career.  Then we had a big discussion about what to write next with Mark Hill.

Joan -  He asked you, “Weren’t you in the war?   WWII?” 
Mark said, “Why don’t you do something about submarines?”

Clay -  This started serious history. 

Joan – That was Victory.   

Clay - Also had a novel on submarines?  Yes.  That was just a little flip-back thing, not important.    But we put our time in on Victory.  That was in ’71.   That was a whole whirlwind, going to Washington, getting documents.  We’d never done anything like this, a sense of real history, using primary documents, interviews of war people.

Joan -  We interviewed as many living submarine skippers as we could from WWII.  We drove all around the country, interviewing these people on tape.  Hours and hours and hours, every interview was hundreds and hundreds of hours, weeks and weeks, time in the Navy archives, looking at patrols.   In those days they were great.  They gave us a Xerox machine and said, “Here.”    And they declassified things for us.

Clay -  We Xeroxed with our little machine 15,000 pages.

Joan -  We bought our own paper, but it was wonderful.  Nowadays they charge you 25 cents a page, up to 30 cents a page, to Xerox.   Can’t do that anymore.

Clay -  The research process was about a year, I think.   I had trips back to Washington every month.  If you add all that in, I think it would be a full year, but not all at once.

Q - How many pages?

Clay  -   1100  pages.   

Joan  -  It was a biggie.  But it was the smallest of the biggies.  They went on from there.  (laughs)  We thought that was pretty big at the time.

Clay  -  We finished this book –

Joan -  We started in ’71 and we didn’t actually finish until -  ’74.  

Clay  -  Yes, but we did Survive in there, too.  (Holds up copy of Silent Victory).  This was 1072 pages. 
This book was published in 1975, and it was tremendously well received.  It was a classic book.  It was used at the Naval Academy.  It’s a definitive book of that element of the war.   Nobody could ever…it’s a work of madness.

Joan  – No, that wasn’t a work of madness.    This is. (She refers to their latest project.)

Clay – You forgot what a work of madness is!

Joan – Oh no!  

Clay  -  It was a work of love, actually.    ‘Cause when we began to look at this thing, to write the story, we didn’t know what we were going to write.  And then we realized, there was no history of this war.   
So that’s what we did.   It was very well received.  There was the Book Club.

There had been some novels, and some non-fiction done on submarines in WWII, but nothing definitive.   

Exhaustive, totally complete.   With all the disputations between commanders.  Everything.

Q -   How did you develop your style with such a complex book, lots of interviews?  How do you divvy up the workload, the research?

Joan -  When we go to do research, Clay will just take one part, I’ll take another.  For the interviews we’d tape them all.  I’d transcribe the tapes.  Very time consuming.   Takes forever.   And then, Clay has it all in his head, organizes it in his head, writes it all down, and then I’d type it.   

Q -  How do you do that, Clay? 

Clay -  I don’t know.   I just don’t know that.  

Q -   At some point, you got away from the typewriter.  And you went to the legal pad.

Clay  –   Yeah.  I had to do that.  The reason for it was, we had so many sources, so many folders.   I was typing at a little tiny table that the typewrite sat on.  We had a door desk.    And I had all this stuff spread out all over the place.   I was working, just to write one paragraph, I was using five or six different sources.  And I found I was reaching over and dropping the damn things on the floor, and all that, so finally I decided to give up the typewriter, and I had all the files…I could write in long hand, put them back, and they wouldn’t fall out on the floor.  

And that was, pure and simple, the only reason I did that.   Nothing mysterious about it.   And, I never went back (to the typewriter).

Well, that’s not true, because I did Survive! on the typewriter.

Joan -  You typed Survive?  I don’t remember that. 

Clay  -  Yeah.  You might have typed the finished version.  But I didn’t write it in long hand. 
Anyhow, that book was very well received, and it established… I mean, unwittingly, really, I don’t think we ever sat down and said,  “We’re… now we’re going to become military historians.”

Joan -  No, no.   Just one same sort of war thing (leading) into another.

Q  -  (Reads blurb from the dust jacket of “Silent Victory” to Clay for comment)…The Forgotten War… regarding our lousy torpedos…that there will never be a rival book…little did he know there would be another one!

Clay -  (laughs)

Q -  Did you leave anything out? Was your book complete?   Did you leave anything out?

Clay  -  Not that I know of!  

Joan - We had the code-breaking.  We were the first ones to write about code-breaking.

Clay -  That’s right.  Code breaking was the big thing with submarines, because they could break the code and find out where the Japanese convoy was, and send a submarine to the convoy.  And that’s how we …

Joan  - And nobody had written about it.  All the skippers had signed a pledge that they would never reveal the secret, and, I don’t know…

Clay -  But I knew about it, being on a boat. 

Q  -    And now, 25 to 30 years later…   It was classified then?

Clay -   It was.  We really wrote the first thing about Japanese code breaking in the war, as related to operations.  

You know, break the code, send a submarine here, blah, blah.  And there was a lot of problems with that, because we’re dealing with …the navy always wanted to sink a carrier, and anytime they found out about a carrier, they (U.S.) would send a submarine.   And it was very difficult to rendezvous and navigational errors on both sides … and so our submarines were a lot of times chasing around the Pacific, after these phantom things.  But, anyway, we were the first to bring all of that to light.    Torpedo problems.   All that stuff.

END PART II  -   Dick Purinton

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Clay and Joan Blair Interview - Part I

Joan and Clay Blair, Feb. 1994
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

In February of 1994 with my daughter, Evy who was a college English major at the time, I had the opportunity to interview Joan and Clay Blair over the course of two wintry afternoons.  I have vivid memories of these occasions, first because they gave us a great deal of their time, with trust in my amateurish interview skills, and second, because if they had known how I blew the tape recording they would know it was the work of an amateur.  

I recently came across a cloth bag with my sketch notes and several cassette tapes of an interview I did with them, and I decided, despite some major flaws in my method, to begin to transcribe those conversations.  With major gaps
in the interview due to my ineptitude, I still believe the content is of great enough interest, given the subjects, the breadth of the topics, and the lapse of time, to be important enough to reproduce for others to read.

Joan Blair is a daughter of Jean and Paul Rutledge, close friends of Arni and Mary Richter for years, but most importantly to us, Doctor Paul was the island doctor.  He left a successful practice in Kirkwood, MO, a St. Louis suburb, for the rural and distinctive life of island doctor.   He was much loved by island people for his care and concern.  He also delivered babies, and he did so for two of our children, Hoyt and Evelyn, at a time when a doctor still had the desire to do so, over the increasing threats of malpractice suits.   On one of the first occasions I met Joan, at a cocktail party, I confided I had read Silent Victory, some 800 detailed pages, but at my reading speed I found it to be "a rather long slug."  I hope she forgave me later and kept my comment to herself!  

Joan is an island resident as of this writing, and she is an active member of several island organizations.

On one of the first occasions I heard Clay speak, he appeared at a Door County zoning hearing on behalf of the Ferry Line, an effort to obtain a permit to expand ferry operations to year around at Northport.  Clay modestly recited the demanding, technical nature of his work, and he explained that it required utmost concentration.  He also noted that he and Joan lived but a few hundred feet from the island ferry dock, and that his work was not impaired in the least by regular coming and going of our ferry boats and vehicular traffic, and he doubted that folks living near Northport (our mainland dock) would be bothered, either.  

In later years, Clay served on the island school board (as did I).   He was an instrumental committee member in the Island Rec Center's formative years, and he and I served for approximately eight years on a committee to explore and develop ideas for a performing arts center.   All the while, he and Joan worked tirelessly on one complex writing project after another.

Clay D. Blair Jr. died in December of 1998 after suffering a heart attack.  He and Joan had continued with their work right up to that time, interrupted it seemed, only by brief periods of required medical recuperation.  A World War II veteran as well as noted military historian, Clay was buried at Arlington Nation Cemetery. 

IN the years since the interview, I had forgotten the scope and depth of their work, and how important their combined efforts were in the recording and interpretation of major events in our nation's history.   Clay was a top-notch journalist who became a leading writer of detailed military history, and Joan was indispensable with her research, the organization of volumes, boxes of information, and the transcribing of endless interviews.  I also had not fully appreciated the importance of their working relationship until I recently began transcribing the several cassette tapes I had made of my interview with them.    

Now for the confession of a want-to-be journalist:    some time after the 1994 interview I was dismayed to discover I had recorded the second session over the top of the first tape, thereby losing valuable material about Clay's younger days, service in the Pacific aboard the submarine SSS Guardfish in WWII, their return to the States via Panama Canal to New Orleans, and his embarkation on a career in journalism.   Upon reviewing these tapes now some 17 years later, I found their contents still timely.   Clay and Joan's insights about their lives as researchers and writers describe an Olympian effort, creating a major body of work that will continue to be valued.

This is Part I.  Rather than edit down the material, I have chosen to present the interview pretty much as transcribed directly from the tapes, with some obvious gaps due to my tape recorder malfunction, and the occasional difficulty of interpreting precisely what words were spoken.
  -  Dick Purinton


[The taped interview picks up during Clay’s time with Curtis Publishing Company. He had just left a position as Time Magazine Washington correspondent.]

The (Saturday Evening) Post was getting into serious financial trouble, not a story I’m going to get into…except to tell you that.   And the other thing was, I had a much adored son, about three years old, and he was run over and killed in front of our house, and that had a great impact on me.  And I was looking for a different scene as a result of was a horrible impact.   
And the Post people were looking for new talent.  They were losing money and all that.  First they said, “Would you come up here and spend a month and tell us what’s wrong with this magazine?”  

And I said “Yes” and spent a month.  I sat in an office as if I was doing a report, and I wrote a report, telling them what was wrong.   And they were very impressed with it, so they invited me to be an assistant managing editor, with the promise I would become editor.  My appeal to them was youth.  I was about 35 years old, a scuba diver, had written books, I had done all that stuff.  They were all older people…older than the hills, they really were… and (they) had that view.  I was very young and was go-go-go, and I was broke, so I was offered this job, that I would be editor in several years. 
They were all retiring out.  I received $135,000 a year, which was a lot of money in that day.   That would be like…I don’t know... a huge amount of money today.  
This happened because of my misfortunes, and so we moved lock, stock and barrel to Philadelphia.   I went from Asst. Managing Editor to Editor in about a year, and in another year, I was Manager.   This was not how they had it planned.  They let many people go, it was a blood bath, and I rose up the corporate [ladder].    I tried to change the Post into a news magazine.   The magazine hadn’t changed in years: old, stodgy, unbelievably reactive, rather than active.   They were too far off for news, and I worked out a deal to work faster.    
We were shipping magazines to the west coast on freight cars, and we changed the train, closed the lead time down to about a week.  We hired people from Newsweek to change this thing to a timely, meaningful publication.  

That didn’t work, either, and there was a huge political battle within the company, with the stockholders - all the corporate stuff you can imagine.  I became head of all of the magazines:  Ladies Home Journal, Holiday, American Homes, Jack and Jill - the most popular magazine ever.    We had acres of trees, two printing plants.  We had the biggest printing plant in the world.

That’s what was wrong.  They had made the decision to go for facilities, rather than decentralization and flexibility, and they got stuck into this thing where they had to use their own trees, their own paper making, their own printing companies to make their…to justify their events.    Life Magazine was being printed in about five different places at that time (names them) and that’s where we should have been.  I wanted to sell it all:  the paper companies in Canada, the printing companies - we had one right across from the Liberty Bell - and wanted to move the whole damn thing to New York, lock, stock and barrel. 
All of this was very heady stuff for a 35-year old, but they wouldn’t do any of the things I proposed, and the whole thing went down the tubes.  And finally, when we were trying to sell off all of these parts, the whole thing went “Boom!” 

I couldn’t stand it any more.  It was a Fortune 500 company.  We had 12,000 employees.   About 600 were in editorial.  We had a huge circulation company.   I had no time for writing, just running the corporation, fighting boardroom battles, and I was still editing.  A weekly magazine, mind you.  I was very busy.  
Q - Have you ever thought it would be good to be back on the desk? 
I thought it would be good to retire, then return to writing, but the whole thing blew up, and I’m out on the street, not with a good parachute.   We were married, six kids, living in Greenwich at the time, a typical Greenwich building upscale life.  I had an apartment in New York, a limousine, all of that, great perks.    But the thing was hopeless.  The fundamental thing was that the families that owned it never produced another publisher.  They were all drunks, had no interest in the magazine. 

The accountants got hold of the company.   They couldn’t do editorial, and so they build this huge empire, extra, outside of editorial, and that’s what destroyed the company.  They had a chance to buy ABC, but they thought it was a fad that wouldn’t last.  They could have had it for about $10 million.  Holy smokes!  But that was the kind of management: unimaginative, bad. 

This is a huge, long story, and I certainly won’t go into it further, but it was hard.  It was relentless, back stabbing, trench warfare, people in the departments - typical boardroom strife, the creative vs. the mechanical, the accountants.  And of course, I was the editorial leader, committed to save this thing.   

I was never very fulfilled in the job.  I was a writer, and although I did it well, and I held my ground and won a lot of battles, and became a true player - you have to or you’ll get killed -I didn’t really approve of it, didn’t like it, because the business ethic wasn’t the high standards I learned as a Henry Luce journalist. 
There was an attitude in Time-Life that we were like priests, I don’t mean to stretch this too far, but we were dedicated, we were clean, idealistic, and this was all a reflection on his astounding personality, his religion.  And he was essentially editorial, too, although he had business people with him.  And then, being thrown into it on my own like that at Curtis.  They just did things I wouldn’t think of doing, and I condemned that, those people on the business side, and I found a lot of it odious.  
I introduced a compromise.  I would not run a piece on General Westmoreland that was favorable, in order to get advertising from GM.   We were getting GM ads.  I was pressed to do it every day, from one person to another. 

Return to writing books... 
I left Curtis Publishing in 1965, and I decided I would not ever get back into the corporate scene.     I wasn’t fairly used,  I was used and abused.  And I did my share of abusing, too, no question about that.   It was odious, and I didn’t ever want to go back to that corporate … again, we had so much contact with Madison Avenue, which is basically sleaze … they were a bunch of carnies, at least they were in those days…and they’d pull any kind of a deal to get an account.   Here we were conveying that, it was a constant battle to do so to be clean.  All magazines were being pushed.  I was just a foolish knight on a white horse… and I would never do that again. 

I had enough money I could start out as a writer.   No more of that (corporate world).  I even quit subscribing to a magazine.  I became a book writer.   

End Part I -  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Margie O'Connor proudly displays three grandsons:
 Sullivan and twins Isaac and Aaron.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Washington Harbor homeowners Steve and Margie O'Connor (also a Ferry Line ticket seller) are still coming down from an exciting several days experienced last weekend.

They had left the island on the early boat Thursday, July 14, knowing son Patrick and daughter-in law Emilie were expecting a child any moment, given Emilie was nearing one week beyond the due date.   Margie and Steve arrived in Milwaukee in plenty of time, following some appointments of their own, and they met 10 lb. 13 oz. Sullivan soon after he was born, which was approximately 2 a.m. early Friday morning, July 15.

While enroute to the Milwaukee hospital on Thursday, they had spoken with eldest son Sean who said that he and his wife Fran were just returning from a night in the hospital for observation in Hoffman Estates, IL, due to false contractions, and that everything was "normal"with the twins she was carrying.  Fran was not expected to deliver until mid-August.   Later that day, however, Sean called Margie back to say that he and Fran were proud parents of twin boys born at the St. Alexius Hospital:  Isaac Stephen (5 lb. 3 oz.) and Aaron Joseph (6 lb. 9 oz.)

This made three new O'Connor grandsons, all on July 15!

Further fulfilling their role as grandparents, and a promise to have granddaughters stay with them for two weeks, Margie and Steve picked up two older grandchildren of daughter Shannon, who had vacationed in Ripon, at an arranged rendezvous as they passed through Fond du Lac.   Then they raced to catch the Saturday's late afternoon ferry, in time for Steve to sing in the Red Barn's Folk Festival that evening.

More grandparent stuff

Saturday afternoon I offered to take Hoyt and Kirsten's two boys, Aidan and Magnus, ages three and five, to see the planes at the Island Fly-In, and to buy them lunch in Jackson Harbor.  They had just come from shopping with their mom at the Twice Around Shop and each boy had with him a new toy truck.

One of 25 photos taken by Aidan of his
new toy truck

With cars parked along both sides of Airport Road, I looked for an open space to park from where we could watch planes land and take off. During this time, Magnus informed me he had to use the bathroom.  I decided the public restrooms at School House Beach would be the closest, so I drove there from the Airport.

While I entered the School House Beach men's room with Magnus, his brother Aidan, a knowledgeable little photographer with a point-and-shoot camera, located my camera and used it to snap a few photos of his new truck.

Then, we headed east from Washington Harbor to Jackson Harbor and lunch at the Time Out Concession operated by Karen Baxter and her mother-in-law, Shirley.   I ordered three hot dogs: one with ketchup only for Aidan; ketchup and relish for Magnus; and the works for me.  I soon learned I had heard it wrong, that Magnus didn't like relish at all, and that Aidan didn't like hot dogs (although he ate his without complaint).  Magnus ate only his pickle, but he wouldn't touch the hot dog despite my "scraping off" the relish.  We sat at a picnic table in the heat of the midday sun, two of us eating hot dogs while Magnus climbed on the anchor, and we sipped lemonade.  In between bites, I kibitzed with Barry McNulty who rested in a nearby chair placed under the shade of the old Coast Guard boat, Valiant. 

Hoping I could regain the boys' confidence, I offered to return to the concession wagon to buy ice cream in the form of packaged drumsticks.  In due time, I learned that not all young kids like drumsticks, or nuts on chocolate for that matter, or that they can keep ahead of melting chocolate and ice cream while standing in the sunshine.   Magnus licked his slowly, but steadily, to the point where the remaining ice cream leaned to one side before toppling to the grass.   Aidan had made great headway on his drumstick, working top to bottom, but he lost the lower third to the ground once he'd eaten the sugar cone sides that provided support.

Magnus passes up hot dog for a climb on
an anchor near the Fishing Museum
I ignored sticky hands and faces as seat belts were snapped once more and we drove toward their home where nap time awaited.  Approaching the driveway, I was informed Magnus again had to go "peeps."  As soon as car doors opened, both boys jumped out and thoroughly christened the bush that grows alongside the driveway.

It was a great time!

 -  Dick Purinton

Monday, July 18, 2011


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island - 

While rummaging through old books on a basement shelf this winter, Mary Jo and I leafed through pages on the chance something of interest might fall out.  While many of the books were perhaps summer page-turners of the era, 30, 50 or more years ago, they were not classics and they would be donated to an organization that could resell them.  But in one book was a hand written list of vessels that loaded in Rowleys Bay that captured our interest.

Rowleys Bay is located on the Lake Michigan side of the Door Peninsula, about eight miles south of the Door Passage where in present times there is a large resort, boat launch ramps, and a small marina.  The Mink River estuary begins several miles to the west, almost in Ellison Bay, and it widens into Rowleys Bay, over a mile in width where it meets the lake.

Without a signature or initials giving authorship to the list, we believed the hand writing was Carl Richter's (which resembled Arni's handwriting to a great degree).  Carl (b. 1871 - d. 1963) sailed as a young man on the schooner Madonna from Detroit Harbor, so he may have been familiar with many of the vessel names.   But this list was comprehensive, too detailed it seemed, to have been solely from his memory.

How or why Carl Richter might have created such a list for a port not located on Washington Island is unknown, except for his general interest in things nautical and his familiarity with the many vessel names.  This list is extensive, around 80 vessels in all, and included are the names of "steam barges" and  characteristic loads.  This detail makes me think that Carl had access to a port ledger or other documents and may have copied it for his personal record.

What also surprised us was how long the list of vessel names was for a northern Door County port, where not even a town exists today.  But Rowleys Bay was a busy place, especially active in the shipment of timber products.

In Leonard Peterson's book Rowleys Bay (1991), he reprinted an entry from the Door County Advocate of 1871 that indicated the volume of activity:

  " At Rowleys Bay they are busy shipping the material got out last winter, namely 16,000 telegraph poles, 60,000 cedar posts, 6,000 ties and 15,000 cords of wood." 

An account by Robert Noble following his ordeal in Death's Door waters in late December of 1863, as told to the Door County Advocate editor later in his life, indicated that his difficulties occurred during the time he was employed at Rowleys Bay "...helping to get wood out."  On his return from Washington  Island, Noble survived the icy waters but froze, and later lost, most of his fingers and his lower legs.

Robert Noble

Carl G. Richter

Following is the list recreated as best the handwriting can be interpreted, complete with misspellings:

    Boats Loaded At Rowleys Bay
Speed Rover           Mary Cowles                  ...and on the reverse side 
Jessie Martin          La Petit                              Norman - 169 cords wood
Caroline                 C. Harrison                       Spartan
Bert Barnes            Mary Packard                    C. Grover - 102 cords wood
I.A. Johnson           Horace Taber                     Nancy Dell
Petrel                     Lillie Ammiot                      O.R. Johnson - 136 cords bark
R.H. Becker           Arrow                                  Potomac  -   3900 Ties  1900 Posts
Dawn                    Vermont                               Coaster
Linerla                   Sophia Fournica                 Wm. Jones  - 115 cords wood
Ruby                      J.A. Stephens                       Forrest
Fearless                 Jos. Hull                              Jennie Bell  -  80 cords wood
Mary Collins         Mary Cook                           Myrtle
Challenge             Frances Minor                      Aurena
Boaz                     J. Green                                J.V. Taylor 
J.A. Travis            Otter       
Black Hawl           Potomac                           ... and the note that
S.J. Hawley           Little Georgia                        "some boats made many trips."
Belle of Racine      Charlotte Raab 
Ellen                      A.B.C.F.M.
Guido                    A.P. Nichols
Annie Dahl            Conquest
Margaret Dahl      Bill Brown
O.M. Nelson          Orkney Lass
Emma Nelson        Mocking Bird
Melitta                    Annie Tormine
Josephine Dresden    Rob Roy
Lucy Graham         Ivor Lawson
Idea                       J.O. Moss
Cuyahoga              Nellie Church
Tempest                 Hunting Boy
E.M. Porch
T.Y. Avery             Steam Barges
Mary B. Hale       G.T. Burroughs
4. Brothers           Hattie Perue
2. Brothers           Addie Wade
Smith Side            Mary Miller
Cynthia Garden    Imperial
                             City of Baltimore

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Tim Lyons inspecting grape foliage for insects.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Relatively new to Washington Island is the Lyons' vineyard, located on the acreage south of the old Potato Farm, along Airport Road.  I've seen the vines while driving past, but I've not taken the opportunity until July 4th to talk in depth with the Lyons about their vineyard.

Tim and Julie Lyons believe working in their island vineyard is a labor of love.  There is the enjoyment of physical work in the vineyard, the never-ending process of planting, pruning, watering and caring for the vines.  There is also the prospect of marketing and selling their products with profitability on the near horizon.  That their products can be marketed was proven last fall when the entire production line of bottled verjus sold out.

(Verjus:  pronounced vair-zhoo.  An acidic liquid made from green wine grapes, often used in place of vinegar or lemon juice to add acidity to sauces, soups, dressings.  Popular as far back as medieval times, replaced eventually in many cultures by lemons and lemon juice.  In the Middle East verjus is known as hosrum, and it is still a cooking staple.)

In time, the Lyons Isle Vineyard's success may add to the diversity of the current island agricultural base, which has seen recent expansion toward crops such as:  red winter wheat for beer and spirits; island grown potatoes for a specialty potato chip brand; and locally grown table vegetables.  Each of these, through product names, marketing plans and packaging that often features the words Island or Washington Island, also broadens the public's familiarity with Washington Island as a tourism community.

As I approached, Tim was engaged in spraying his plants with a hardware-store-variety insecticide for the rose chafer, a beetle that hatches in June and is especially prevalent in sandy soils where its larvae lay dormant for a period of time.  Unchecked, this insect will devastate green grape leaves, leaving only the lacy stem patterns, and it will lay eggs on the leaves, repeating the cycle.  While Tim continued to spray, Julie and I talked about their vineyard venture.

Examples of rose chafer beetles, male on female,
potential threat to the health of grape vines.
First, their vineyard is more than a venture, although profitability is certainly a goal.

"When Tim came home from working with the vineyard, I had never seen him so happy," Julie said.  "We both recognized this as an additional fulfillment beyond his job as a member of the Chicago Board of Trade, where he specializes in working with South American grain companies."

His academic background includes an undergraduate degree from UC-Berkeley, an MBA from the nation of Colombia where he had also served in the Peace Corps, and a graduate degree from Stanford in futures and options.  He worked for Cargill for a number of years.  His career path has always been in agri-business.

When the opportunity presented itself for the Lyons family to spend more time with their vineyard on Washington Island, where they and their two sons have spent portions of many summers, it seemed the right direction.  Although Tim is not yet retired, he works from his island home during the growing season via internet and phone.  He's able to devote daily attention to the vineyard.

Why, I wondered, had the oldest vines, the ones that are now capable of producing grapes, been planted around the field's perimeter?  The most recently planted vines grew in the field's interior.

"Tim bought this land with the idea of agriculture of some kind in mind," Julie said.  "He just wasn't sure what it would be.  For a summer he partnered in growing buckwheat, and the following summer, winter wheat.  Then, he leased the land to Martin Andersen for grazing cattle.  He considered wild flowers, a seed catalog, and grazing sheep.  But it was when he decided to try grapes, about eleven years ago, that he planted them around the available space at the field's perimeter.   In the past few years, since cattle were no longer grazing, we've planted five acres of new grapes in the interior.  They should begin to produce in another year.   Grape vines take four years before they're ready to produce.  We may consider planting another five acres in the future."

Julie described how much labor and time it has taken to bring the vines to this stage:  preparation of the sandy soil, monitoring for insects and mold, and regular watering.  Last year, a new well and pump house was added, (they previously hauled water in 55-gal. drums in the back of a pickup).  Youngest son, Timmy, helped install the new plastic irrigation system in the evenings,  following his daytime construction job with contractor Jeff McDonald.

Why verjus and not wine?

Julie showed me a 750 ml bottle of their red verjus product.

The answer to "Why not wine?" lies in the Lyons' ability to process, bottle, label, and sell directly to customers - on their own.  Last fall, Julie personally processed grapes, filled and labeled each bottle, and packed each case.  Her professional background in marketing has now proven invaluable in promoting their own product line.

"We sold our entire 2010 production in eleven days," Julie said, "with a few bottles sold locally and the rest distributed to Madison area restaurant kitchens through Elegant Foods of Madison."

With that initial success, there is less incentive to compete in the competitive wine market, which requires transport of picked grapes to a third party vintner, shipments of bottled wine, and hoped for visibility on wine shop shelves.  The Lyons have been able to produce and sell their complete harvest as verjus.

She noted that when a few bottles were given to area restaurant chefs as samples, those chefs were ecstatic.  They had been looking for such a product but were unable to find it anywhere.   Their response to using the product was overwhelmingly positive.

The grape harvest for verjus must occur before ripening, because it is the acidic nature of verjus that makes it so desirable.  A device is used to sample the sugar content of grapes, measured in brix.  8 to 14 brix is considered a good range for verjus.  When the juice content of grapes is high, but the sugars are still low, that is the optimum harvest time. On the island, that is usually in late August.

The brix content and the variety of grape used are noted on each label.  Sugar content varies during ripening and by variety, and sugars can even vary within an individual grape bunch, because outer grapes receive more sun and ripen faster.   But when processed, Julie seeks an overall, or averaged, brix number.  The higher the brix number, the higher the relative sweetness.  The processed liquid remains non-alcoholic because of the low sugar content, and unlike wine, remains unfermented.

Julie noted, "It is a delicious drink over ice with sparkling water, and a splash can also be used to flavor a mixed drink."

Cooks use it with moderation, too, perhaps a few tablespoons at a time, to flavor the entree ingredients.  Chefs also like to pair it with table wines for a more complete, compatible meal.

Grape varieties grown by Lyons Isle Vineyard LLC are considered "Cold Climate Grapes."  These specialty plants were developed at the University of Minnesota, and they are favored in climate locations around the 45th parallel.  The Lyons attend the Cold Climate Grape Conference each winter, where they exchange growing tips and general vineyard information with growers from all over the world.  While their vineyard has seven different varieties of grapes, four red and three white, through experience their preference has settled on the St. Croix grape because it is a good "blending grape," but it can also stand on its own.

Julie held a 750 ml bottle of red verjus to the light, and we decided that bottle  might be best featured in the vineyard beneath a grapevine.

Look for the Lyons Isle Vineyard products on local store shelves toward early fall.  This year's vintage will feature a 375 ml bottle at $15, and a 250 ml bottle at $12.  They hope production doubles this year, if all goes well, but owing to demand, the supply may still be relatively limited on the local market.

 -  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Members of American Legion Post 402 lead participants,
still jostling for position, prior to start
 of the 2011 Fourth of July Children's Parade
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The evening was perfect.  A slight breeze sprang up to help cool the air.   Dozens of kids, bicycles, trikes and in the case of the youngest, their parents, gathered on Main Road in front of the Legion Hall, jostling for positon behind the fife and drum and reenactment group in colonial dress.  They were followed by an Island Fire Department truck, and a float pulled by Super Chicken on a four-wheeler.

It was fun for all, with lots of flags waving as the parade proceeded southward to the ball park.  The pleasant evening - the entire weekend for that matter - brought out many visitors, swelling the ranks of islanders who also claimed their places along the roadside.  Some set up to stay for the fireworks show that started around 9:15.

At the Ball Park, Kirby Gunnlaugsson and Ted Hansen handed each child participant a one-dollar bill.  Nearby, minutes later, the Time Out Concession received those same dollars in exchange for candy, ice cream and other treats.

Below, evening photos:

Children assembled along first base line and
third base line. Each received
a parade participation prize:  $1 each.

Ed O'Neill carried Bennington flag
alongside fife player and drummer

Super Chicken, aka Terri Moore, pulled wagon with KK Fiske faithfuls,
the lone parade float.
- Dick Purinton