Posted on

Gilbreth’s “Cheaper By the Dozen”

March 2, 2016

A timeless classic! There is a tumbler in my mind that is constantly churning books, each vying for a chance to be one of my book of the month selections. Night and day the non-stop churning of books continues. But over the month that separates one book choice from another, certain books tend to surface more often than others. Just so, Cheaper by the Dozen has been struggling for its place in the sun—not just for a month but for close to half a year now. Its time has come.


I first read it during my own growing-up years, and loved it. Also loved the movie. But then, it gradually receded from my conscious thoughts. What changed all this is my need to consider all my known and cherished books so that I don’t short-change any of them.

To a historian of ideas, the Roaring Twenties was an ideological gold mine. First of all, it was a period of profound disillusion and loss of faith in God, the result of a war so horrific that many felt that spirit of God was withdrawing from the earth. Where was God in the millions of dead, wounded, and incapacitated for life? Where was God when some 40,000,000 additional deaths from Spanish Flu were added to battle-related casualties?

Second, when a generation of men went to war during World War I (the so-called “Great War”), millions of women were forced to take their places on the factory home-front—in the process, getting their first taste of freedom. But when all those men eventually returned home, that act resulted in women being forced back into their stereotypical boxes—and many were deeply resentful of this collective clipping of their wings.

Third, the automobile changed everything. Concerned parents called them “bordellos on wheels,” and feared for their daughters’ virginity. And for good reason.

Fourth, the movie industry reinforced this perception that all the traditional moral safeguards against rampant godless hedonism were rapidly being swept away. In the process, more and more, youthful peer-pressure was replacing the “still small voice” of God.

It was unique in another respect: large families were still the norm, birth-control was essentially a non-factor, men openly bragged about controlling women by keeping them “barefoot and pregnant.” In my own immediate family, my mother was one of seven children and my father was one of eleven (two of whom died young). People did die young then. Few people outlived their sixties—and many died in their fifties. Modern medicine was still in its infancy. Smoking was openly encouraged. Obesity was merely a fact of life. Exercise? Why? Diabetes? What was that? But, as for children, they lived out of doors and felt perfectly safe anywhere they went.

World War II had accomplished something peacetime had not. It finally brought an end to the Depression that had been raging ever since 1929. Now, with boundless optimism in the air, get-rich-quick speculation reached epidemic proportions. Fortunes were made by bold entrepreneurs who were convicted that only fools worried about tomorrow.

* * * * *

The father in this book, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, was in real life the developer of the Science of Motion Study, and, not coincidentally, is today considered the father of Efficiency Studies. He and his wife (and business successor after his untimely death) used their children as convenient (and cheap) subjects on which they could test their theories of motion management. He took moving pictures of the children washing dishes to see how he could reduce motions and speed them up. Irregular household jobs were awarded to the kids on a lowest-bid basis (each one submitted sealed bids).

So this, in short, is the world of the Roaring Twenties depicted in this wondrous true story of a man and woman and their twelve children. A story that may seem like a fairy tale to us today—so different from what we daily experience.

And it has to be, for good measure, one of the funniest books ever written.

In summation, I urge each of you to read it on several levels: read it to compare our world to that one. Read it as an armchair historian of ideas. Read it for humor. And read it for one of the most enjoyable (and funniest) reads of your life.

* * *

And, for good measure, you may want to acquire or rent the rollicking 1950 movie. The cast features Clifton Web, Myrna Loy, Jeanne Crain, Edgar Buchanan, Mildred Natwick, Sara Allgood, Betty Lynn, Barbara Bates Ollestad. The film was directed by Walter Lang.

Try to pick up an unabridged dust-jacketed hardback (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948).

Posted on

Autumn in Appalachia – Unexpected Splendor – Part 4

February 24, 2016

We now come to the conclusion of our Appalachian Autumn journey.

After regretfully having to leave the Greenbriar, we jagged up Highway 19 to Hillsboro, and then a few more miles to Pearl Buck’s birthplace. Even though it wasn’t open for tours, we were able to walk around it and take photos. Pearl Buck, the only American to be honored by both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since I have anthologized a number of her stories, this was a very special stop for me.

Then it was on down the river canyon, then up and up to Pipestem Resort State Park on the Scan_Pic0210canyon rim of the Bluestone River Gorge. After checking in and enjoying the spectacular view while having dinner, we relaxed by the fireplace. Next morning, we took the tramway over 1100 feet down to Long Branch Lake. The lodge proved most difficult to leave.

A short distance away brought us to one of America’s most spectacular bridges, the New River Gorge Bridge: third highest (876 feet) bridge in the United States, 3030 feet length, and longest Scan_Pic0211open steel arch in the world. From the Visitor Center we had a stunning view both of the bridge and the canyon. The bridge is a favorite launching platform for daring bungee-jumpers.

Underneath the bridge is of course the fabled New River, said to be the world’s oldest river. The three intersecting national park gorges are home to some of the greatest whitewater in America. In the fall, when the up-river dams unleash their deep reservoirs upon the canyons below, rafters and kayakers from around the world come here to compete.


Then it was on through peak Autumn colors, as we slowly meandered down the curvy Blue Ridge Parkway to Boone, NC; then next day it was on to Asheville, a retirement and tourist mecca (9,000,000 people visit the town each year). Our first stop was an old hotel that wasn’t expected to survive, the historic Grove Park Inn, the brain-child of E. W. Grove, creator of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, that once outsold Coca Cola.


The Inn opened in 1913 to instant acclaim. A crew of about 400 men had accomplished what was considered impossible: constructing the majestic landmark in only twelve months. At an opening dinner, William Jennings Bryan declared that it was “built for the ages.” Regulars included stars of the age such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Houdini, Will Rogers, and George Gershwin—as well as ten presidents: from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama. But like all hotels, sooner or later, age caught up with it. Just in time, it was saved by the Dallas husband/wife team of Charles and Elaine Sammons in 1998 – 2002; $45,000,000 was spent on restoration and expansion. Today, Omni Resorts has elevated it into the highest echelon of world-class hotels.

It was a beautiful morning on Asheville’s Sunset Ridge, where the inn is perched with a commanding view of Asheville. Feellng it would be the perfect place for a meal, we waited an hour and a half until a table opened on the outside terrace. It was well worth the wait.

Scan_Pic0213Next we toured the Thomas [Clayton] Wolfe home in downtown Asheville. Wolfe was born and raised in Asheville, and thanks to books such as Look Homeward, Angel; Of Time and the River; The Web and the Rock; You Can’t Go Home Again; and the short story collection, The Hills Beyond, he is today considered one of America’s great novelists. Since I had studied him in depth, this was a real serendipity to be able to see this museum-home. And we were incredibly lucky to have as a tour guide a young scholar who was passionately excited about the Wolfe story. As she led us into room after room, she brought the family, boarders, townspeople, to life before our eyes. By the time she finished, we felt we knew them..

Next we visited the historic Riverside Cemetery, in which are buried Asheville’s two mostScan_Pic0214 famous sons, Wolfe and William Sydney Porter (O. Henry). Both graves are prominently pointed out in nearby signs. But our real serendipity was finding a mother and little daughter Astria hovering over a tombstone. The little girl was lovingly running her hands over some coins they’d just attached to the stone. When we came up to them, we could see a long line of coins–unfortunately, so many coins had been stolen they were unable to bring them up to one dollar and eighty-seven cents, all the money Della had left, as immortalized in one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written: O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” a story I included in my own Christmas in My Heart© story anthology series. At any rate, this mother and daughter’s life-long gift of love is tending the grave of a man buried here in 1910, 106 years ago, and on each visit, bringing the coin total back up to one dollar and eighty-seven cents. What dedication!

Then it was time to move on, traveling the most spectacular stretch of Autumn splendor of the entire two weeks: the almost unknown and unsung “Cherahola Skyway, undulating up and down between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation (the best colors showing up between 4,200′ and 5,400′. Eventually we left North Carolina and descended into Tennessee, encountering the rain that had mercifully held back until then, at Fall Creek Falls. Ordinarily this park would have been spectacular too in Autumn but, in the rain, it was muted. Then it was on to Murfreesboro, concluding our several thousand miles on the back-roads of America. We will never forget the memories we made there.

Posted on

Autumn in Appalachia – Unexpected Splendor – Part 3

February 17, 2016


Every day of our trip, the colors appeared brighter than they were the day before. But this was to be a very special day: our opportunity to see one of the most iconic hotels in America:


The Greenbriar valley has been known for sulphur springs that were considered important clear back in pre-Colonial times. Settlers to the area tended to be few, first, because it was so isolated, and second, because of the constant fear of Indian attacks.

Nevertheless, from 1778 on, there was always a hospitality center for travelers at White Sulphur Springs. By the 1830s, more and more famed Americans patronized it, including five U.S. presidents. Since it was on the Midland Trail (later, U.S. Route 40), the facilities received a steady stream of travelers. In the mid 1850s, the Old White Hotel was constructed; it featured 228 guest rooms and was over 400 feet long. It was surrounded by 7,000 acres of forested land, which has been retained until this day.

Scan_Pic0207Though thousands flocked here to be cured of their ailments by the sulphur springs, the Civil War all but brought leisure travel to a halt. Nevertheless, during the war, both North and South occupied the hotel—but eventually the North took total control of the region. After the war, the hotel became one of Robert E. Lee’s favorite vacation retreats.

1869 proved a watershed year, for it was then that the train tracks reached it. Train travel shortened the travel time from Washington from four to five days to only fifteen hours.

But by the Turn of the Twentieth Century, the vast hotel was in danger of being lost to its graduaal deterioration. It was saved just in time by Edwin Hawley, of C&O Railroad, who thereby bought control of the facility. Then came major backing from J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts. It was during the years 1910 to 1913 that the great white hotel we see today was constructed. This one was built to be fireproof.

Golf arrived in 1913 with the completion of an 18-hole golf course that has since become legendary. President Woodrow Wilson was among the first golfers to play the course, in 1914. Frequent guests included the likes of the Vanderbilts, Joseph Kennedy, as well as Pulitzer, Armour, Guggenheim, Bloomingdale, Carnegie, Gimbel, Auchincloss, and Flagler.

Just as the Great Depression of the 1930s began, the Greenbriar Hotel was virtually rebuilt and doubled in size. Amazingly, the hotel survived the Depression intact.

Shortly after lunch on December 17, 1941 (only 10 days after Pearl Harbor), the hotel’s general manager was asked if he’d be willing to accommodate diplomats of embassies of newly hostile nations. Then, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the removal of all enemy diplomats from the capital within 48 hours. Eighteen FBI agents came along with them, as well as 50 members of the U. S. Border Patrol. By March of 1942, the number of diplomatic guests had grown to 800; by April, 1000—eventually 1,698! Finally, by July 8, all of them had been sent home.

On August 30, the U.S. Government purchased the hotel, turning it into a 2000- bed military Scan_Pic0208hospital. During its four years of operation, the so-called Ashford General Hospital admitted 24,148 patients, and 11,346 operations were performed. Among the generals were the likes of Omar Bradley, Anthony McAuliffe, Mark Clark, Matthew Ridgeway, Jonathan Wainright, George Marshall, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After the war, the government put the facility up for sale. After six anxious months, President Truman agreed to give the C&O Railroad first chance to buy it. Robert Young and Dorothy Draper took command of restoration and redecorating. Draper, in the process, ordered thirty miles of carpeting, 45,000 yards of fabric, 15,000 rolls of wallpaper, and 40,000 gallons of paint.

By then the Greenbriar had been closed to the public for six long years. But would people come back after all this time? VIPs who showed up at the grand opening party included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Bing Crosby, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., John Jacob Astor, Clark Clifford, Cyrus Eaton, and Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, as well as a veritable Who’s Who of the age. The press, of course, loved it.

Since that time, it almost seems axiomatic that all U. S. Presidents come here either for relaxation or for important conferences. Eisenhower was such a regular that hotel operators got in the habit of answering all incoming calls, “Good morning, Greenbriar White House.”

In the summer of 1976, Jack Nicklaus arrived to rebuild the Greenbriar Golf Course—took almost two years to complete. Sam Snead has had a lifelong love for the course as well.

On Friday, May 29, 1992, Greenbriar President Ted Kleisner called together an unusual staff meeting none of those present will ever forget: “Today we are going to acknowledge,” he announced, “a secret thirty-five-year partnership with the United States government. This partnership is about to be disclosed in an upcoming article in The Washington Post which reveals the existence of an emergency relocation center, a bunker on our property and describes the facility in such detail that we can no longer deny it.”


The news was indeed mind-boggling: underneath the stately five-star resort sat a huge concrete and steel bunker designed to house Congress in the event of a national crisis! Just as startling: it had been kept a secret for an entire generation. And the bunker contained over 100,000 feet of space. Mosler Safe Company constructed the huge blast doors that protected vehicular entrances into the bunker. The bunker was intended to not only house Congress, but also dormitories, dining room, and a power plant; as well as a sophisticated communications center. An underground water system constantly replenished three huge 25,000 gallon storage tanks within the bunker.

All during the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, this vast facility was kept in readiness for use with only a few hours notice needed. A landing strip adjacent to the Greenbriar Golf Course was part of the planned evacuation process.

Today, under new management, the Greenbriar is entering its fourth centuiry. What a remarkable story!

Our source for this section is a book you may well wish to purchase yourself: Robert Conte’s lavishly illustrated hardback, The History of the Greenbriar, America’s Resort, (printed in Canada: The Greenbriar, 2000, 2014).

* * * * *

We found it easy to locate White Sulphur Springs, but anything but easy to find the hotel itself. Clearly, management feels that if you have to ask to find the hotel (situated as it is in the midst of such a vast complex of buildings, golf course, and forested reserve), then maybe you’re not paying guest material. 🙂 Which we weren’t—we just wanted to see it, eat there, and pretend we could afford to stay there.

Eventually we found it, and soon found ourselves in another world. A fascinating synthesis of comfort and understated palatial. A king’s ransom of great paintings gracing the rooms, cut-flowers everywhere. A library in which guests may write letters. We didn’t see a check-in counter anywhere. Strangely, however, in spite of the opulence, we felt at home here, and wished we could stay. We did eat in one of the cafes. My nachos towered higher than any I’d ever seen elsewhere. Bob’s milkshake set a price record—at least for him. But the experience was worth it: we could now cross the Greenbriar off our list of places to see before we die.


Posted on

Autumn in Appalachia, Unexpected Splendor – Part 2

February 10, 2016


Hawks Nest State Park

Two months ago (Dec. 16, 2015), we began the story of our fall color expedition with our traveling buddies, Bob and Lucy Earp and, for two days, Ed and Jo Riffel. But it was Bob who was the mastermind; indeed, he’d been plotting our trajectory for months. For he was determined to show us Rocky Mountain show-offs that southeast states featured scenery second to none—especially in autumn.

In all our travels together there has been one constant: whenever possible, get off interstates and freeways, and escape to the back roads on which the real America can be found. The operative two words: slow down.

As our world has continued to shrink and we are able to move from place to place at an ever faster speed, in jets and bullet-trains, there has developed a new appreciation for slow travel. For only by moving slowly can we see anything better than blurs or stratospheric clouds below our wings.

We’d asked Bob for back roads—and he delivered just that.

On this trip, occasionally we were gifted with epiphanies: Life changing moments or realizations. One of them had to do with the pride rural people of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina evidence in their homes and grounds. Rarely did we see garbage or junk, such as is all too often the norm in cities. Even when driving through areas known for their poverty, rarely could you tell it by the condition of their homes and grounds.

Since we meandered for several thousand miles through Appalachia at peak color, it was impossible to capture more than snapshots—never the entire horizon almost burning our eyes with radiant color. We were forced to admit that the only real photographic record of our trip would reside in the archives of our brains. Amazingly, brain surgeons have discovered that nothing is ever lost: stop a needle at a specific point in our brains, and suddenly a day, an hour, a minute, a second will leap into life, and the individual being evaluated will remember every frame, every moment, every note of a concert. Thus, those autumn masterpieces are not lost; they remain part of us as long as we live. This is why those of us gifted with total recall, who cannot forget anything, are often, of all people, the most miserable: if you remember everything, how can you prioritize? You can see every last individual tree, but have a mighty tough time conceptualizing a forest.

I tried to sketch out our road routes so you could follow along easier, but since one rural road ran into another after another, I gave up. Instead, I’m going to play the greatest hits, so to speak. You’ll still be able to follow, once you round up maps for these states. Back in the December 16. 2015 blog, you’ll remember that we’ve already experienced Barkley Lake, Kentucky Lake, Mayfield, Cumberland Falls, and Berea College—all in Kentucky.

Now let’s move on: a natural wonder few Americans have ever heard about is Kentucky’s most impressive Natural Bridge, out of Slade. It takes quite a walk to climb up to it, but the exertion is well worth it. There is a most comfortable lodge at the trailhead, with its own restaurant, each room overlooking the river. The Natural Bridge is wide enough for automobiles to cross over the long expanse—which they don’t, as no roads get there.


Natural Bridge

Though we’d known there was much beauty in Kentucky and Tennessee, it is no hyperbole to admit that we were blind-sided by West Virginia, a state that would still be part of Virginia had there never been a Civil War. Because the state is known to be one of the poorest in America, and because its coal mines have produced so much pollution and scarred landscapes, it is all too easy to discount the state.

The reality for me was one grand rolling epiphany of autumn splendor.

But the real knock-out punch had to be the state’s high country—if you watched the recent movie, “Into the Woods,” those stunning vistas came from here. I had no idea that the New River Gorge National River, the Gauley River National Recreation Area, and the Bluestone National Scenic River offer some of the most breathtaking natural settings in the world—and they’re all intertwined in 63,000 pristine acres.

Our first real vista point had to do with our stay at Hawks Nest State Park. What a view! We took the steep tramway down over 400 feet to the lake below. And, oh my, what a view from the deck of our room in the Hawks Nest Lodge! In every direction, the hills aflame.


Posted on

Clyde Butcher – Today’s Ansel Adams

January13, 2016

Two weeks ago, our son Greg introduced us to a “new world.” We had mistakenly assumed that black and white wilderness photography had died with the legendary photographer, Ansel Adams. Clyde Butcher, for the last quarter of a century the man who single-handedly created the world-wide phenomenon of epic-scale b/w Everglades photography, has two galleries: one in Venice, Florida and one in the Big Cypress National Preserve. We visited only the one in Big Cypress (the western branch of the Everglades), situated on the legendary Tamiani Trail.

Scan_Pic0198While there, I purchased Butcher’s fascinating book, Big Cypress Swamp: The Western Everglades, (Venice, Florida: Window of the Eye, Inc, 2015). In it, Butcher tells the riveting story of how he was able to purchase this thirteen acres of private land in the middle of the vast Everglades. The Big Cypress Swamp is one of the last pristine wilderness areas left in Florida. Unlike the eastern Everglades, it escaped the dismembering at the hands of rapacious developers; thus its water remains rain-fed and clean as opposed to the murky, often polluted water typical of the rest of the Everglades. In it, the Florida panther made its last stand on the way to extinction, then; now, however, no small thanks to the relocation of eight Texas cougars, the panthers are still with us.

Scan_Pic0199It was no easy road Clyde and his photographer wife Niki chose. Finding one’s way through the trackless wilderness of the vast Everglades is difficult enough, but add to that having to carry a 45-pound camera, three lenses weighing 35 pounds, and film-holders another 40 pounds, and you can see why it has taken at least two people to make this remarkable film odyssey possible.

Butcher has also managed to track down one of the rarest orchids in America, the almost-never-seen Ghost Orchid. Since the flower sports no leaves on its stem, it is almost impossible to track down except when it is in bloom!

Scan_Pic0201If you are interested in learning more about Clyde and Niki Butcher, here is some contact information:

52388 Tamiani Trail
Ochopee, Florida 34141
(239) 695-2428

237 Warfield Avenue
Venice, Florida 34285
(239) 486-0811

Posted on

Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Cristo”

January 6, 2016


I am very reflective as I write these words, sitting in an easy chair in the patio of our son Greg’s serene home on the banks of Florida’s Middle River. It is Christmas and we are here to celebrate the season of our Lord’s birth on this earth two-thousand years ago. We are also here to celebrate family—and not incidentally regenerate after an extremely intense two months of book-signing and media interviews.

It is a good time to reflect on life—how all too brief it is, and what our role in it might be. What is it that we seek to accomplish in it? What is it that we will leave behind when our sojourn is over? A few-hundred yards from where I write these lines is an extremely busy boulevard, which I walk along almost every day. It is sobering to note the frequency of boarded-up, closed, or vacant structures along the way, which is why I label it‘The Boulevard of Shattered Dreams.” For so many men and women once dreamed that these buildings would house lasting success for them—but they clearly did not. Which brings us to this book. The first blog of our seventh blog year and the first book selection in the fifth season of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.


I’ve pondered a long time about choosing this book. Of all the books that have fed my soul during the long years of my life, which book should anchor this fifth season? Surprisingly, it turned out to be a no-brainer: it had to be Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, generally considered to be one of the greatest books ever written. It was for this reason that I always included it whenever I taught Great Books of the World classes back during my teaching career.

But since over twenty years had passed since I last taught it, I felt the need for a re-immersion. Perhaps, after such a long hiatus, I might discover the book had lost its hold on me. Instead, once again I was overwhelmed; rocked to the core of my being. It reaffirmed my postulation: That if you read but one novel in your lifetime, you couldn’t go wrong in choosing this one.

It is long (over 1100 pages), and so packed with deep insights, fascinating characters, vivid metaphors and similes, and seismic emotions, that it is extremely difficult to read it fast—it is not a book a sane person would wish to breeze through. But rather it ought to be savored, with the constant realization that when you reach its last page, never again in your lifetime will you read its equal.

In brief, it is a story we can all appreciate: what if certain people had committed a terrible crime against you—entombed you for many years in a dungeon so deep you never saw the light of day? And furthermore, you never knew why or how it had happened to you. And, finally, it took place on the happiest day of your life: your wedding day to the girl of your dreams.


Then, after many years, you escaped and somehow acquired one of the world’s largest fortunes. With it, you’d finally have the means to exact a full measure of revenge on those who had wrecked your life.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Dumas’s masterpiece. To tell you much more would be to deprive you of the journey.

* * * * *

Alexander Dumas (1802 – 1870), was born in France, about fifty miles from Paris. In time, his fabled life would rival the romantic world of the fictional superheroes he would create. Prolific almost beyond belief, his standard works fill more than 300 volumes! He is best known for two masterpieces, this one and The Three Musketeers (1844), penned during the same time-period as The Count of Monte Cristo (1844 – 1846). Dumas’s goal: become France’s Sir Walter Scott.

One word of advice: Do not settle for anything but the unabridged version of the book (1852 translation). It will run somewhere between 1,000 and 1,300 pages, depending on page word-count. I highly recommend that you choose the Oxford University Press’s 1990 edition (Introduction by David Coward). That introduction is priceless for it will fill you in on both the life of Dumas and the fascinating true-life events that undergird the Monte Cristo novel.

Once you purchase the book, set aside a weekend which you are prepared to devote to this “read-of-a-lifetime,” then open the book and immerse yourself in the early nineteenth-century world of Alexandre Dumas.