Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Sutton History Quiz and a Follow-up to an Earlier Post

It has been almost seven years since we started this series of articles about the history of Sutton; that’s almost eighty articles, about Sutton history. Would it have been reasonable in the summer of 2009 to think we’d think of that many things to say about Sutton’s past?

So how do we come up with so many topics? It generally is a struggle but our community has come through with ideas and material that has made it all possible.

This month we have two topics, a new one and a follow-up. The new one illustrates a topic falling into our lap.

Diane and John Overturf occasionally share some “finds” from among their family treasures. One recent find was a brochure from the Sutton Commercial Club. It’s a bit faded but it looks professionally done and makes a good pitch for our town at some point in the past.

This brochure by the Sutton Commercial Club is undated. When was it printed and distributed?

When was that point? That’s the crux of our story this month.

 The brochure is a tri-fold with the phrase “Sutton, in the middle of Nebraska” as a title. There is also a copy of the shield from Highway 6 road signs. The inside of the brochure has a map of Route 6 for the original full length from Long Beach to Cape Cod indicating Sutton as also in the middle of the country at the mid-point of that road.

The designers chose five photos to illustrate the Sutton of their time: the high school, the auditorium, the Carnegie library and two churches. The school, auditorium and library are all long gone. One of the churches was the one on the corner of Hickory and Way, today’s Allegro Wolf Arts Center. Only St. Mary’s Catholic church survives in the same role as when the brochure was printed.
This was the "inside" of the undated brochure featuring a shout-out to U. S. Route 6 and photos showing off four Sutton buildings, three of which no longer exist. The representative church now houses the Allegro Wolf Performing Arts Center.

So, when was the brochure printed? We don’t know. It is not dated.

This kind of thing happens a lot. We receive a donation of a real cool piece of Sutton memorabilia, but some important detail is missing. Photos with mystery people is real common.

It would be nice to know when the Sutton Commercial Club began using this advertisement for our town. And they did leave a clue.

On the back of the document is a list of businesses that helped fund the publication. The brochure was printed at the time all of these firms were in business. Right? When was that?

Let’s crowdsource some Sutton history. Can you figure out when it was that all these businesses were operating at the same time? We’ve provided the list.

The well-known ones aren’t much help. Jacob Bender & Son operated for about 125 years – that doesn’t pin down much other than it was before the business closed. Same thing for Sutton Lumber Co., Co-op Grain and Co-op Propane, Lyric theater, Dan’s “66” and Yost Motor Company. They all were around for decades. The Yost Motor Court likely gives us some help if anyone remembers what duration that sign was up.
The crux of our story: when did all of these businesses
operate simultaneously? Answer that and you've dated
the mystery brochure.

There may well be one or two of these businesses that would definitely date the brochure, if anyone can establish when they were open. When were the Janda Liquor store and Brower Grocery in business? I don’t remember those, or ever seeing mention of either. And where were they? Inquiring minds want to know.

So, envision a graph with the time lines for the period of operation of these businesses and somewhere there is a period, likely a very short period when every one of them is there.

See how this works? It is little puzzles like this that add so much to the study and enjoyment of history. Or maybe it indicates some kind of personality disorder. Your call. 

We’ll post this article including the list of businesses on the Sutton Museum blog expanding the players in this game. A reminder, that url is suttonhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com.

The second part of our article this month is the “follow-up” we promised at the beginning.

Last summer our series of articles on Sutton history went off the rails for one month, intentionally, with an article completely unrelated to Sutton history. I didn’t have a topic in mind, at least one that I could research and write in time for when the good people at Sutton Life Magazine needed it.

There was a story I’d told several times since moving back to Nebraska in 2005 whenever someone commented about those new-fangled computers that the young people were using. My reply was aimed at both assertions. First, computers have been around longer than you think. And secondly, computers aren’t only for young folk.

The article described Charles Babbage’s 1822 design of his Difference Engine and I found a picture of the model in the British Museum. Computer concepts in the form of cards much like the classic IBM card were used to operate looms way back. Computers were commonly in use in the military and in business from World War II and certainly in the years shortly after the war.

My own introduction to information technology was my assignment to Strategic Air Command (SAC) headquarters near Omaha where I was “pushing code” as a COBOL programmer in 1974. Our systems (a word we used a lot which is a more sophisticated version of “thing”) helped plan and analyze bomber routes from U.S. bases, to targets in the old Soviet Union and we even told the navigators how to get back home.

(Air Force joke diversion: Do you know the importance of the navigator on an air crew? The navigator was the crew member least uncertain of where they were.)

I included another story in the article, the story of Grace Hopper. She joined the Navy at the age of 37 (and 16 pounds overweight) in the midst of World War II and was assigned to work on the first large-scale Navy computer located at Harvard University. She is generally credited with inventing the COBOL programming language and of a long list of accomplishments that led to the development of computer technology, especially software development processes,

One of several books on our lady of interest.
As a way-back COBOL programmer, and having heard Grace Hopper speak about five times, I can’t talk about this topic without bringing up her story. Her Navy career is legendary having been promoted to Admiral – the promotion ceremony was conducted by President Reagan in the Oval Office – and with Admiral Rickover, she was held on active duty way, way past normal retirement age – a thing requiring congressional approval. She retired at 80.
So computers were not the real new thing as people here in Sutton often described them.

And I pointed out that where I’d lived in California, there were old fogeys, older than me who were running blogs and websites from their rooms in the retirement home.

So my point was that the resistance to using computers was not a matter of how new they were, nor was it a matter of people’s age. It was more a geography thing.

So that was our one article out of about 80 that had nothing to do with Sutton history.

Or so we thought.

A few weeks ago I received an email from a woman named Stephanie Wilson who was researching her family history. Her records showed that her grandfather, Charles Phillips, was born in Sutton, she’d never been anywhere near here and was looking into our town.

I followed up on her email and found that there was a Dr. Charles Phillips who was a Dentist in Hastings in the 1910 and 1920 census and that he had a son, also Charles Phillips who was born in 1905. The younger Charles was Stephanie’s grandfather. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery and cemetery records show he was born in 1905 in Sutton, Nebraska.

She had found my Sutton Life Magazine article on our blog and saw the reference to Grace Hopper. She included a link to a portion of the book, “Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age” by Kurt W. Beyer at the Google Books site. In that excerpt is the story of Grace Hopper and the fellow who she worked for at Harvard University, Charles Phillips, her grandfather.

I was looking for more evidence that Charles Phillips really had this Sutton connection. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that there was something familiar in the story.

I did a search, on our own blog, and found a post of a Sutton Life Magazine article from 2010 in which I had tried to trace the origins of Sutton street names. There were a few avenues in the east part of town I couldn’t figure out. One of those was Phillips Avenue. And there I’d explained, “Dr. Charles Phillips was a dentist in Sutton but only from 1905 until 1908. He is unlikely to be the source of this name…”

It was a surprise to find a Sutton connection with our story about information
technology - a connection those of us Sutton folk who've been steeped in
"computer stuff" can point to with pride.
It was a throw-away line. The timing wasn’t right for the dentist to have named the street but there it was. So six years ago, I’d placed the dentist Dr. Phillips in Sutton at the time his son was born. And no, I do not remember where I found that information. Perhaps there was a newspaper ad for the dentist or some mention in newspapers from that period that I was using for our newspaper column.

So, the one Sutton Life Magazine article that had no connection whatsoever with Sutton history, turns out to have had a connection, and a pretty good one at that. One of our Sutton natives, even if he was only a resident as a toddler, played a key role in the creation of the Information Age.

Who’d a thunk?

And that’s what makes the study of history, especially local history such a fascinating thing. The more we dig around building a collection of tidbits, facts, rumors and stories and preserve them in some central repository, the more likely it is that some vaguely related tidbit or story will pop up that is connected to that collection.

But there has to be some kind of … let’s call it infrastructure, where that collection can live. You have to have a museum or something a lot like one to put that information and artifacts, where it can all sit and wait for more stories and stuff to add to the story.

Your Sutton Museum serves that purpose. As do our growing collection of newspaper columns, magazine articles, the blog, Facebook postings and maybe even those occasional tweets.

The members of the Sutton Historical Society are proud of our efforts and of what we have added to the story of Sutton’s history. Every community has a robust history. Not all of those histories have been sufficiently preserved. Henderson, Aurora, York and many other surrounding communities have museums and on-going efforts to find and record that story of the past. But the history of too many of our nearby communities is fading fast, past the point where it can be retrieved, even if someone tried today.
If you agree that what we are doing is useful, why not join in to keep these efforts going. Contact Jerry Johnson at jjhnsn@windstream.net or anyone else associated with the museum to learn more. Or just say “Hi” at our Pancake Breakfast at the Sutton Legion every first Saturday of the month.

Grace Hopper joined Admiral Hyman Rickover as Naval officers who were retained on active duty well past the normal limit on time-of-service. Here Captain Hopper is takes the oath of office when she was promoted to the rank of admiral in something of a special ceremony and venue.

This article first appeared in the March, 2016 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at mustangmediasales@gmail.com for more information.

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