LBJ: “I will not seek; I will not accept”

Ohio University students watch LBJ annouce he won't run for POTUS 03-31-1968Walter Borton, an old Ohio University friend jogged my memory today with a comment on Facebook:

“Forty eight years ago today – I was in the front row of a student government meeting upstairs in Baker Center at Ohio University – I think Rita Corriel was presiding and suddenly from the back of the room, if memory serves, Tom Price, holding a small portable radio to his ear, interrupted excitedly to announce that Lyndon Johnson had just withdrawn from the Presidential race. I’m not sure what happened next but I suspect we recessed to the Union bar & grill to drink.”

OU Post reporter Carol Towarnicky chimed in: “From a different angle: While you were all at the Student Government meeting — what was the issue that had everyone there? — I was in The Post office with, I think, one other person and we were listening to LBJ’s speech. When he said, “I shall not seek, nor will I accept” I screamed. Then I didn’t know what to do because there was no way to reach people, but it turns out everyone knew anyway. What an exciting time putting out the paper that night.”

Post editor Bill Sievert remembers it this way: “Those of us Posties who were present (and most of the people in the room) cheered Tom Price’s announcement. Then we finished covering the meeting and went back and joined Carol Towarnicky in putting out the paper. It was hard work but somebody had to do it. (We drank much, much later in the night.) Tagging Ken Steinhoff; he’ll remember if he took the picture. He has a photographic memory.”

How I remember it

Ohio University students watch LBJ annouce he won't run for POTUS 03-31-1968

My perspective: Nobody knew what Johnson was going to speak about on that March 31 evening. The speech started off sounding like he was positioning himself to steal thunder from challengers Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy by announcing measures they had been advocating, demonstrating that his was the power to act, while his critics had only the power to propose, wrote The New York Times.

I’m not sure where this group was watching the speech on a TV. It could have been in the Scott Quadrangle dorm lounge where I lived, or it might have been in the Baker Center Student Union, where The Post had its offices in the basement. I shot a few half-hearted frames early in the speech, even resorting to my fisheye lens, signalling that I wasn’t expecting much to happen. When I blew up one frame, I’m pretty sure I saw my future Athens Messenger colleague Bob Rogers lolling in the doorway, equally as disinterested in what was happening as I was.

When LBJ said, “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President,” there was an audible gasp in the room. If I captured any emotion, it’s on film that I haven’t found yet. Right after he spoke those words, I looked over at a calendar, thinking, “Surely the President of the United States won’t follow that up by saying ‘April Fool!”

It was March 31, not April First, and, no, he wasn’t kidding.

Silver Bridge Collapse

Model of Pt. Pleasant Silver Bridge 08-10-1968Chuck Beckley, who was a high school kid working as a lab tech at The Athens Messenger  47 years ago, posted a photo to Facebook of a roadside marker that read:

Silver Bridge Collapse

Constructed in 1928, connected Point Pleasant and Kanauga, OH. Name credited to aluminum colored paint used. First eye-bar suspension bridge of its type in US. Rush hour collapse on 15 December 1967 resulted in 31 vehicles falling into the river, killing 46 and injuring 9. Failed eye-bar joint and weld identified as cause. Resulted in passage of national bridge inspection standards in 1968.

The model above is one that was exhibited at a fair I covered in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Who covered it?

Silver Bridge piers 12-06-1969Churck asked Bob Rogers, “Did I pick up film from the bus station for you and Jon [Webb], or Ken for this?”

It wasn’t me. I didn’t start working for The Messenger until the summer of 1968. On that particular day, I was on a train about half-way to Cincinnati headed back to Cape for Christmas break. At one of the stops, a passenger got on and started spreading the word about a big bridge collapse in Point Pleasant. He didn’t have a whole lot of details, and I was anxious to get home to see family and Girlfriend Lila, so I didn’t give it much thought.

I spent a lot of time later covering the building of the new Silver Memorial Bridge. Here are the piers of the old bridge. If the railroad bridge in the background is indicative of how well bridges were maintained in those days, it’s no wonder the bridge went down.

Over in less than a minute

Silver Bridge piers 12-06-1969Even though I didn’t cover the actual tragedy, I’m haunted by the gouges and scars on this pier. In other photos on that roll, you can still see cables and wires dangling down into the water.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology website explained it in chilling detail:

On December 15, 1967 at about 5PM the traffic signal at one end of the Silver Bridge turned red. The rush hour traffic, together with the Christmas shopping traffic, completely occupied the main span of the bridge connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia with Kanauga, Ohio. Suddenly a loud cracking sound was heard and one of the main towers began to twist and fall.

In less than a minute, all three spans of the bridge collapsed into the icy Ohio River, carrying with them all the cars, trucks, and people. Forty-six died.

[The failure of an eyebar set the chain of events in motion] Once this eyebar failed, the pin fell out, unpinning this part of the suspension chain. The adjacent tower was subjected to an asymmetrical loading that caused it to rotate and allow the western span to twist in a northerly direction. This span crashed down on the western shore, folding over on top of the falling cars and trucks. Loaded by the whole weight of the center span, which had now become unsupported on its western end, the east tower fell westward into the river along with the center span. Finally, the west tower collapsed toward Pt. Pleasant and into the Ohio River, completing the destruction of the Silver Bridge.

Two bodies were never recovered.

 Silver Memorial Bridge

Silver Memorial Bridge 12-06-1969I took this photo of the new Silver Memorial Bridge on December 6, 1969. The replacement bridge opened on December 15, 1969, exactly two years after the collapse.

When I went through that area last summer, I looked for any remnants of the old Silver Bridge. Either I was in the wrong place or every trace of it has been removed. I still think about what it must have been like to have been stuck in that traffic jam nearly half a century ago.

James Baughn’s Bridgehunter website has more information on the bridge and its collapse.

Man Walks on Moon

157-1/2 Morris Ave Athens 05-12-2014Wife Lila  and I, newlyweds, watched the moon landing from a bedroom in this apartment at 157-1/2 Morris Ave., in Athens, Ohio. The bedroom was so tiny that the BED barely fit it it. It was cooled by a beat-up old air conditioner that Dad had pulled out of one of his construction trailers.

To call it a dump would be an overstatement. I couldn’t afford a police monitor for the apartment, so I’d park my car where this blue one is, and alligator-clip a pair of wires to the monitor in the car, which was attached to a speaker in the living room.

The area above the garages was divided into two apartments, the two windows at the left were for the living room; the two higher windows to their right were the kitchen. The other two sets of windows belonged to another tenant.

When we moved out, the landlord, a local lawyer, said he was going to keep our damage deposit because of A, B and C. When I complained that those things existed when we moved in, he said, “Sorry, Kid, you should have made note of them.”

About a year later, the lawyer gave me a call. “You shot some photos of a car vs. train crash that could be very helpful to my client,” he said, like we were old pals.

Trust me, I got our deposit back on that deal.

Bob painted the apartment

Photo partner Bob Rogers moved into the place when we moved out. He shot the landlord a deal: you pay for the paint, and I’ll provide the labor. What the landlord didn’t know was that Bob planned to paint the whole interior in a flat black so he could use the walls as photo backgrounds.

I wonder if the person who is living there today ever managed to cover up  that black paint?

First Baptist Church – Wehking Alumni Center

Wehking Alumni Center - 1st Baptist Church 04-25-2014When I was working at The Athens Messenger with Bob Rogers, we had a technique we used when we wanted to goof off. We’d shoot something like a old general store in a decaying coal town and run a photo of the outside of the building along with a brief description and a promise “tomorrow we’ll go inside.”

I’m going to do the same thing with the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center, formerly the First Baptist Church at 926 Broadway. Tomorrow, “we’ll go inside” to see  the plaster reproductions of ancient, Medieval and modern works of art that Louis Houck bought at the end of 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Third First Baptist Church

Wehking Alumni Center - 1st Baptist Church 04-25-2014This building was really the third home of the First Baptist Church.

Billy Sunday swelled ranks

Wehking Alumni Center - 1st Baptist Church 04-25-2014The congregation had swelled to 719 by the time it moved to 926 Broadway. Part of the growth – an increase of 258 – was attributed to Billy Sunday’s revival in Cape in 1926. Here’s The Missourian’s front page account of Billy Sunday’s arrival in town.

University bought building in 2003

Wehking Alumni Center - First Baptist Church 04-28-2014The university bought the church in 2003 for $3.5 million. The congregation relocated in 2006, and the university remodeled portions of the building in order to occupy it in 2007. The stained glass windows remained.

Photo gallery of Wehking Alumni Center / First Baptist Church

Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery. And, don’t forget, we’ll go inside tomorrow.