by Bernard McCormick Saturday, June 06, 2020 No Comment(s)

We recently wrote about our first brief meeting with Don Shula. It was 1971 and in just two seasons he had turned the Miami Dolphins from a below-average team into one with a shot at the Super Bowl. We followed his team late in that season, basically the same players who a year later became a team of legend. Its 17-0 record is the only undefeated team in NFL history.

The article was not memorable, except for an iconic photograph taken on a cold December Sunday in New England. It showed a young Don Shula leading his team of destiny on the field. That story, however, led to a more interesting interview with the legendary coach years later. We had gotten to casually know one of the Dolphins' young players, perhaps the least known of the famous "No Name Defense." That was Doug Swift who had an interesting profile written about him by a young writer for our magazine.

Swift was a freak in pro football. He had attended Amherst, a western Massachusetts school known as one of the "Little Ivies." It was academically distinguished, and its sports programs rarely made national news. It was the kind of school where a top athlete might be an art major, which Doug Swift was. Swift did not think he was pro caliber and only thought about playing pro football after his coach suggested it, and the Dallas Cowboys sent a scout to check him out. He first tried out in Canada, was cut, but gained some confidence about his ability to play for money. He followed up when it was suggested he take a shot at the Miami Dolphins, who were rebuilding under a new coaching staff.

He caught an immediate break. There was a players strike and only rookies were in camp. Swift was quickly noticed. He had long hair and a mustache, not unusual today, but a contrast to the mostly close-cropped young players on that era. The late Nick Buoniconti, the recognized leader of the Dolphins' soon to be famous defense, recalled his first impression: ' I saw this big, gangling guy who looked like he should be teaching college somewhere. But as soon as he lined up on defense it was obvious he could play. I didn't know where they'd use him but I knew they'd find a spot for him."

Years later Swift reflected on that camp: "Things went well in Miami right from the beginning. I felt they liked me. I was easy to coach, and it wasn't a very good rookie group that year. Also, I could read. I think they liked me because I could read."

That type of line was common with Swift. He often spoke irreverently of the game he played so earnestly. Just three years into his pro career, he gave an interview to our magazine that was filled with amusing observations that you didn't hear from other players. Samples:

"Sometimes, even when you're not groggy, you wonder what the hell you are doing out there. You're at the bottom of a pile, and you're dressed in all that armor, the pads and the helmet, and you're sweating your ass off and you look down at that artificial grass, man, and you wonder what the hell it's all about. It sometimes seems like the pyramid thing, you know. You start thinking about that. Maybe you're just building a pyramid for somebody. It's kind of demeaning."

He resented politicians, notably President Richard Nixon, sticking their nose into the game. Also lengthy pre-game prayers.

"The bullshit that takes place on the field before the game is ridiculous. You are ready to go and then you have to go through that bullshit. It's like a bad joke. There's no need for those prayers, those invocations."

If that makes him sound bitter, Doug Swift was hardly that. He was a friendly guy, a good locker room presence, liked by his teammates. He laughed easily and his normal expression was a near smile.

But his irreverent quotes suggest that Doug Swift early on realized he had made it in football and now it was time to think about a lifetime vocation. He quit football after six years and entered the University of Pennsylvania medical school. Little was heard about him, at least from our perspective, until April 1984. We happened to be in Philadelphia and noticed a short item in a paper that a team of Temple University doctors had performed the first heart transplant in the history of Philadelphia. It noted that one of the doctors was a former pro football player, Dr. Doug Swift. To be part of such an elite surgical team was a remarkable achievement for a man just four years out of medical school. It was on a par with his football success - a rare case of an undrafted walk on becoming a starter on a good team in his first season.

We figured that story would have played big in South Florida; 12 years after their feat, the '72 Dolphins were ascending into legend. But nobody even seemed to know what happened to Doug Swift. We got an assignment from Tropic, the Miami Herald's Sunday magazine, to do the story. That story led to our second interview with Don Shula, but first the Dr. Doug Swift story. It proved to be infinitely more interesting than our first story on the Dolphins, when we followed that promising team for the last part of the 1971 season.

Swift's shaggy hair was in recession during his playing days. Eight years later it changed his appearance. That impish little smile was familiar to his teammates.
Swift's shaggy hair was in recession during his playing days. Eight years later it changed his appearance. That impish little smile was familiar to his teammates.

Dr. Swift remembered us from Florida and could not have been more gracious and helpful. We had lunch, with his beautiful wife Julie along. In response to our questions about his work, he invited us to watch open-heart surgery. We figured that would take 10 miles of paperwork and releases to set up. But he did not bother with the PR stuff. He just said to meet him at the corner where the surgical team entered the hospital. We dressed in scrubs and Swift introduced us to the men and women on his team with simply, "Fellas, this is my friend Bernie up from Florida to watch us work."

The next five hours were the easiest story we ever wrote. Dr Swift wrote it, with vivid explanations of everything he did as an anesthesiologist and quotes during various stages of the procedure. The surgery was a double by-pass of a middle-aged man, and it went perfectly We even got to take a quick look at a beating heart when the man's chest was still open. Not many writers have gotten such a front-row view of a delicate operation, especially not 35 years ago.

We learned that his job was in some ways more complicated than that of the knife-wielding surgeons. He met with the patient first and stayed with him after the operation, assuring he recovered from the very heavy drugs he had been under. Dr. Swift had to be part psychologist, keeping a patient relaxed as he put him to sleep. We watched him make small talk with the patient.

"The banter is important," he explained "It helps determine the anxiety level of the patient and relax it, as well as your own. If they recognize your name and want to talk football, that's fine. Anything to get their mind off what's going on."

The entertaining part of his personality that made him fun for his football teammates was apparent with his fellow physicians. Several times during the operation he made asides which caused their surgical masks to vibrate with obscured laughter. He also made an occasional reference to football. He spoke of the importance of double-checking equipment lined up for the surgery.

"I'm compulsive about this stuff," he said. "Arnsparger made me compulsive." The reference was to Bill Arnsparger, who coached the Dolphins' acclaimed defense of that era.

After that operation, the story was basically ready to go. There remained only to bring it back to South Florida, and that proved easy. Both Nick Buoniconti and Coach Shula not only were willing to talk about Swift, they appeared pleased to do so.

"Doug and his wife Julie really did listen to a different drummer," said Buoniconti, recalling how Swift and travel roommate Garo Yepremian always had healthy foods and fruits in their room. "Actually I love Doug Swift," he added, "He was just unique. Actually there were a bunch of unique people on that team which is what I think made us successful."

Shula recalled how much he enjoyed dealing with Julie Swift, who had gone to law school at the University of Miami and served as her husband's agent. He was not surprised at Swift's medical success.

"I knew he had medical school in the back of his mind," said Shula. "It was just a question of how long he would stay before he got on with the rest of his life." Shula even gave Swift, in his last season, permission to travel a day ahead of the team to take a medical school exam in Boston.

So where is Dr. Doug today.? Good question. He did come to a 10th reunion of the undefeated team and attended the 2013 ceremony when President Obama honored the team at a White House reception. He was extensively quoted in a 2016 piece written by another doctor. Attempts to contact him through the Dolphins were futile. We checked to see if he was mentioned in Shula obits in the Philadelphia papers. Several local coaches were quoted, but no former players. There are several listings for his practice on the internet, but the only phone that worked referred us to Pennsylvania Hospital. The young man who responded said he had no Douglas Swift on his physicians list. It did not help when we mentioned we were looking for a man who had played on the only undefeated team in pro football history. The name did not ring a bell with the young fellow.

Sic transit gloria mundi.


by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, May 12, 2020 No Comment(s)

The deal closed in the late summer of 1970, but we didn't move down until January of '71. It took months for us to have much impact on a magazine called Pictorial Life. Like the rest of the magazine, the name was sort of meaningless, unless you counted the classy advertisers who filled its pages. We adopted the name Gold Coast in stages. It was the only name that described our market from Hollywood to Palm Beach.

We also made editorial improvements at a pace. Compared to the award-winning Philadelphia Magazine we had left, the book was amateurish. There were a few serious columns (one written by future Broward County Commissioner Anne Kolb), but most of it was advertising fluff. The design was not much better. The previous owner boasted that she never paid for a photo. In an effort to speed things up, we began doing sports features. An obvious story was the Miami Dolphins, only in their second year under a new head coach, Don Shula. They were the only professional team in South Florida. We knew Shula had coached at Baltimore, but we identified that team more with their hard-nosed quarterback, Johnny Unitas.

Shula's first year had been impressive. He had turned a losing team into a winner. His second season was going surprisingly well. By November the Dolphins were on a winning streak, and the team was drawing big crowds and getting a lot of ink, including the playful "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" photo of running backs, and off-field buddies Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. We decided it would be good reading to follow the team for the rest of the season, especially since the Super Bowl was scheduled for Miami.

We were ill-prepared for the task, but that was nothing unusual. Until that fall we had barely heard of Csonka and Kiick. The only names we recognized were Nick Buoniconti, Bob Kuechenberg and Bob Griese - only because they had played for or against Notre Dame. Also Paul Warfield, because he had become celebrated on championship Cleveland Browns teams. In reading over the old story, it is clear we also had some contact with probably the biggest no-name on the now renowned "No Name Defense." That was Doug Swift, a rare pro from Amherst College in Massachusetts who literally tried out for pro football on a lark. That connection was through a young writer on our staff who had gotten to know him. He later would write an entertaining story on this most unusual football player.

With nice cooperation from the team, we began hanging out at practices, going to the home games and made arrangements to follow the team on the road. Our trips had an ulterior motive. We had other business in the north.

After a few weeks of lurking around practices and the locker room after games, Coach Shula began to notice. We had not made any effort to talk to him, and it was making him nervous.

"Don't you want to talk to me?" he asked one afternoon in the practice locker room.  We replied that we intended to, but at that moment did not know enough to ask sensible questions. He was such a controlling figure that he wanted to know what strange reporters covering his team were up to. This was not a negative as far as reporters were concerned. A Philadelphia-based reporter had told us that when it came to all aspects of a coach's work, including dealing with the press, Shula was the best. And he thought the latter was an important part of being a successful coach. As his career lengthened, Shula made it clear that being a community ambassador was part of his role.

All writers covering the Dolphins saw that side of him. Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde wrote in a recent Shula appreciation: "Everyone had his home number - and he didn't just think you'd call late at night if needed. He demanded it, he wanted his voice to shape a story. He grew upset if he wasn't called."

At games, we sat in the press box near Miami Herald guys, including Bill Braucher and Herald sports editor Edwin Pope. We had learned enough over the years to pick the brains of those who knew the most about the subject.

We also spoke to out-of-town writers in Baltimore and New England. They were uniformly impressed with the newly powerful Dolphins.

Some of the glow came off the team when they lost both those road games, but they still managed to get to the Super Bowl. In retrospect, it was an amazing job that in just two years Don Shula had taken basically the same players he had inherited from a far below average team and turned them into a Super Bowl contender.

And we did get to interview Shula. Maybe twenty minutes of uninspired questions and canned answers. In further retrospect, the trip to New England had an unexpected benefit. That game was in early December and we had to break off our story in time to get it in our January issue. Later than that, it would lose impact. We had hired a photographer through friends at Boston Magazine. We just told him to work the sidelines and shoot anything that moved. When we got his pictures we were immediately taken with one, so much so that we ran it as a double page in the story.

It was an unusual shot, unlike anything we had ever seen, and as the years passed it became ever more dramatic. It is one of our favorite pictures in Gold Coast's 50-year history. It shows a young Don Shula on a cold afternoon, his game face on, leading a determined-looking team onto the field. No matter that they lost that day. It still has great prophetic impact. It depicts a coach and his team charging into legend.

And they next season they did.

Bernard McCormick had a second interview with Don Shula years later. It was far more memorable and we will discuss it in our next blog.


by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, April 28, 2020 No Comment(s)

It was about 1975. It was our fifth year into the magazine we had renamed Gold Coast. We had been running a column by a financial fellow named John Pond. It was supposed to be about money management, but John did not tout stocks or discuss retirement strategies as much as he waxed philosophical about various subjects.  It was quite a change from the columnist who preceded him, whose pieces were turgid, usually self-promotional and only appeared in the magazine because he was a regular advertiser.

We were still getting to know our way around Fort Lauderdale. We had just become convinced that there were only a few roads from the mainland to the beach, and there were no short cuts down waterfront finger islands.  We needed friends in high places and John Pond suggested we get to know a young fellow in the financial world named Bob McCabe. For reasons we have never quite understood, Bob McCabe took an immediate interest in our magazine. Realizing we were undercapitalized, it wasn’t long before he arranged a luncheon with a banker. Not just any banker. This man was president of one of South Florida’s biggest banks.

Our editorial partner Gaeton Fonzi attended. He was editor of Miami Magazine which we had acquired for a song and were in the process of building to the Gold Coast standard.  Bob McCabe did such a good job of selling our story that before lunch was over the banker offered to lend us a ridiculous amount of money. He had not even seen a financial statement. It was obvious that he had not loaned our magazine the money. He had loaned it to a friend of Bob McCabe.

That story tells about Bob McCabe’s life. He branded himself “a people chemist”, if that alchemy can be enhanced by a love for witty asides and pithy comments, often colored by self-ridicule. Example:  “I have never been drunk, but occasionally I’ve been over-served.” It was one of the qualities that appealed to the wealthy associates he developed over the years – a quality he preserved until the last days of his life, which ended April 21 after a battle with heart disease.

Bob McCabe was featured in a 1976 issue of Gold Coast on young people on the move.

Bob McCabe was featured in a 1976 issue of Gold Coast on young people on the move.

Bob was not born to money. He came from a working-class family in the St. Lawrence River town of Ogdensburg, New York. But as a youngster getting through Syracuse University he worked summers at The Thousand Islands country club, where he became comfortable around creditworthy people and made easy friends with some of them. One of them was Milton Weir, who headed Arvida Corporation which was in the process of building Boca Raton. Weir was impressed enough with this young man to invite him in 1967 to come to Florida to handle PR for a bank he owned.

By the time we met him he was director of corporate services for E. F. Hutton in Boca. He was also a director of the Bankers Club, where the powers of the city hung out. His contacts were so widespread that the joke was that Bob McCabe had a microphone under every table at the club. There were few influential people in Boca that he did not know and become friends.  For all his wisecracking, he rarely offended anyone of high rank or low.

Nila Do, a young editor who joined our company shortly out of the University of Florida, recalls that quality: “I remember having lunch in Vero Beach, and Mr. McCabe speaking with me as if I were an equal, looking me in the eye, and listening when I spoke.  What I took away from our brief time was that he embraced me, the company’s new managing editor, in all my unproven ways, and that his trust in Bernie was unbreakable.”

Those people skills changed venue in 1984 when he met and soon married Eleonora Wahlstrom in Vero Beach. She was already known as one of that well-heeled community’s leading philanthropists. Much of his last 40 years were spent in philanthropic activity. The Robert F and Eleonora W. McCabe Foundation supported many charities in Indian River County, and Bob was involved in most of them.  He also became an active investor. Living on John’s Island, he made important friends as effortlessly as he had in Boca Raton, connections that a decade later proved a huge benefit to our magazine.

 His move to Vero coincided with a disaster for our company. A reorganization failed due to some corrupt investors and a marathon lawsuit followed. Bob was supportive through that ordeal, and when we finally regained control in the early 1990s, he worked his magical charm again. This time we expanded to the Treasure Coast with a whole new investment group. We found important people in Fort Lauderdale. Bob took care of the northern region.

Did he ever. Among those he brought to our boardroom was a CPA for Wayne Huizenga’s enterprises; a retired millionaire lawyer who was a John’s Island neighbor; a partner in the old line financial firm of Brown Brothers Harriman; and a young scion of one of the country’s foremost financial families who became southeast regional president for JPMorgan in Palm Beach. Bob himself was the logical choice for board chairman.

As anyone who has raised money for a new company will attest, quality attracts quality, and several of those initial shareholders introduced us to new investors over the years. We wound up with four people associated with Wayne Huizenga’s companies. Altogether we had 28 shareholders (not all at the same time) and every one of them got out with a nice profit. Not the least Bob.

Our son Mark had attended Notre Dame on an NROTC scholarship and had just completed six years of active duty. He joined our company as a salesman, but quickly learned enough about publishing to take over as chief operating officer. Bob served as a mentor during those early years and, although originally skeptical, supported Mark’s decision to devote funds to start a software program designed for the publishing industry – a company that has been highly successful. Bob stayed with us as chairman until last year, when he was the last shareholder to exit.

We know he enjoyed his role as chairman and he took great satisfaction in that all of his investors made a tidy profit. Still, we were surprised when his official obituary, in which he obviously had a hand, said he considered the magazine company his main business achievement.

Raised in a Catholic family, Bob described himself as a " Roaming Catholic” and did not seem overly concerned about the next world. But one thing you can count on. When it comes to the dark regions below or heavenly paradise, he knew which way was up. And if he did go above we can be sure his new best friend would be St. Peter. And he would work his way up from there.

 


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, April 08, 2020 No Comment(s)

For most of us who are newly housebroken, watching television is about the only thing we can legally do. There is justification for this, considering that we are all hungry for news about the pandemic. Also, the things we usually watch, such as sports, are not available.  It is more than obvious that the TV broadcasters and their political guests are enjoying this national disaster because it gives them more exposure in a day than they usually get in months.

Some of the reporters are worse than the politicians. They make speeches rather than ask questions, and as President Trump points out, some ask questions that have no answers, or questions they know the answers to, and they only ask to get a rise out of the president. And that is incredibly easy to do. And some of them, in telling us not to panic, are panicking themselves. One prominent MSNBC woman reporter seems to be on TV day and night and always seems about to have a nervous breakdown as she describes the awful things going on. When her guests seem too composed she interrupts them, almost as if to say, “what’s wrong with you, don’t you know the world is ending?”

It makes one wish these prime time actors would study the works of Abraham Lincoln, or a more recent example – John F. Kennedy. JFK rarely misspoke and was usually concise and brief, and when the occasion called for it, quite entertaining. The otherwise admirable Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, manages to take a half-hour to say what Kennedy would have explained in five minutes. How many times does he have to tell us not to panic, that panic can be worse than the disease, and refer to Hurricane Andrew as an example of the panic being worse than the event? Well, he wasn’t here when whole families were jammed against the doors to keep them from blowing in and taking the house apart.

Not surprising, after watching the tube all day, it extends into our dreams. We have had a recurring dream in which the reporters are as rude to President Trump as he has been to them. Just last night:

President Trump has turned over the mic to his supporting cast after having used the word “incredible” 25 times in his 15-minute ramble. Vice President Pence has spoken. Then the President asks “any questions?”

Reporter: Yes, but you shut up and let Dr. Fauci speak. Doctor, we won’t ask the same stupid questions you have been getting every day, and to which you give the same patient answers. We notice you went to Holy Cross. Now Holy Cross has many famous grads, but most of them are tall. Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn and Chris Matthews come to mind. You, however, seem quite small, at least standing beside that fat Mussolini. We wonder if back in the day you were the coxswain on your school’s crew? I think of that because I was a coxswain in high school, only weighed 75 pounds as a freshman.  We got to know Kel – that’s Jack Kelly, our national singles champion, whose sister Grace went on to become a famous movie star and princess. We sometimes saw her hanging around Boathouse Row. We only knew her as Kel’s good looking sister. Now our guess is Holy Cross didn’t have a crew back in the 50s when you went there, and we doubt if they had a horse racing team, so you couldn’t be a coxswain or a jockey, and you had to become a world-renowned epidemiologist. Right?

President Trump: Tony, don’t bother with that nasty question. Let me...

Reporter: I told you to be quiet. I have a question for Vice President Pence. Mr. Vice President, You just spoke for 11 minutes and only mentioned President Trump 16 times, breaking your record of 14 said yesterday. Now, don’t you think you should give the president a little credit? And you probably know what happens to people who don’t suck up to him…

President Trump: That’s a nasty question, designed to hurt my re-election...

Reporter: You be quiet. But I do have a question for you. You are obviously under tremendous pressure. Your face is as orange as your hair. How do you relieve the pressure? Are you getting anything strange?

President Trump: That’s a good question. I was noticing that incredibly well-built reporter in the back, the one with the funny accent. I may give her a personal  int … WAIT THAT’S A NASTY QUESTION!  YOU ARE TRYING TO ENTRAP ME! Well, that won’t work, I’m too smart for that. You are an incredibly terrible reporter!

At that point, all that shouting woke us up. We tried to get back into the dream, but no luck. So all we can do now is to remind everyone that for the duration of this crisis, whatever you do, don’t panic. But If you must panic, panic calmly.

If that doesn’t work, boil some water.


by Bernard McCormick Monday, April 06, 2020 No Comment(s)

Thanks to Governor Ron DeSantis’ loyalty to President Trump, Florida has gotten some really bad ink on its handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. Shots of busy beaches continue to appear in the national media. Those presenting those images don’t bother to note that Florida is a very long state, and the reckless-seeming venues featured are not in South Florida, which has been shut down for weeks.

The fact that county officials in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach all acted promptly when the scope of the danger became apparent may have been part of the reason DeSantis waited so long to act for the whole state. He may have figured the hottest spots for the disease were already in quarantine, and because much of the state did not seem to have a problem,  why take drastic measures? That seems to be President Trump’s attitude toward the country in general, although it has become clear that is faulty reasoning which could cost thousands of lives.

As for our back yard, we are about to see if prompt action works. Florida is predicted to have its peak of the virus in the next few weeks. It will be interesting – if saving thousands of lives can be described as interesting - to see if South Florida’s precautions have paid off. Certainly, the drastic curtailment of business, especially the many enterprises geared to tourism and retirees, deserves a reward.

Among the more notable, and economically painful, shutdowns were the Fort Lauderdale beach and all its bars where spring breakers packed in. An ideal atmosphere to spread the virus. Although young people often show only mild or no symptoms, the evidence is that many of them are infected with the virus. The fear has been that they can carry the illness home to parents, and grandparents.  Many, if not most of the latter have underlying health issues that set them up for the kill.

Seniors are among the many wondering if the precautions forced on South Florida residents will make a difference. It would certainly seem that ending spring break should bear fruit. Most of the visiting kids left town a few weeks ago. If infected they are spreading it in their home towns by now, although it would seem their contagiousness is less of an issue every day.  People vary, but most of the youngsters should be close to passing the highly contagious point. As for local youth, if they are anything like our family, they are carefully segregated from seniors – or vice versa. It is hard to believe that these measures won’t lessen the chances of explosive contagion as seen in New York or other densely populated centers where people can’t avoid each other even if they try.

As President Trump is so fond of saying, we’ll see what happens. Now that's going out on a limb


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, March 04, 2020 No Comment(s)

The latest controversial assault on history does not involve renaming Hollywood streets named after Confederate generals. It’s worse. Now Dixie Highway, the oldest road connecting the world to South Florida, is under attack in several cities, where some people find the word Dixie offensive because it recalls the Civil War, specifically the southern side and the days of slavery.

Those who object to such name changes usually cite the inconvenience and confusion of changing their addresses, and sometimes even driver’s licenses. On the Hollywood street matter, we suggested that instead of changing the name of the streets, we should just change the people they were named after. Lee Street after Spike Lee, Forrest Street after Forrest Gump, etc.

Our objection against eliminating Dixie Highway is fundamental– it propagates a misunderstanding of that war and the events before and after it.

It relates to a distinction being lost to history between the cause of that terrible war and the reason men fought it. The cause of the war was slavery. Even the distinguished leaders of the south, such as Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, recognized that obvious fact. Longstreet, a Georgian, was unpopular after the war because He supported his friend, Union General Ulysses Grant, and argued for the freedom of slaves, many of whom were only nominally free in the decades following the conflict.

However, the reason most men fought and so many died was not about slavery. That was the motive of southern political leaders, who then as now were heavily influenced by financial interests. The historian Shelby Foote, who spent 20 years writing a three-volume history of the war, noted that the average soldier on either side “didn’t give a damn about slavery.” The northern men fought to preserve the union; the southerners thought they were fighting the second war of independence.

That’s where states' rights come in. Southern political leadership used that as an excuse, and in a sense they were right. For the almost 90 years between the Declaration of Independence and the siege of Fort Sumpter, there was tension between the idea of a union and the rights of each state to be its own boss. In many cases, men considered their highest loyalty to their state. Robert E. Lee, whose Virginia was among the last states to secede, was conflicted. But he said he could not fight against his own state. Many in Virginia refused to secede. West Virginia was born when its citizens insisted on remaining in the Union. They seceded from Virginia.

Those opposed today to southern memorial symbols portray the southerners as traitors. It was just the opposite at the time. The few prominent generals, such as the Union’s George Thomas (a Virginian) or Confederate John Pemberton, a Philadelphian who married and served much of his time in the south, were considered traitors on their home turf.

That sense of state sovereignty was manifested during the war by the rebel states. Governors of some Confederate states were reluctant to cooperate with their co-rebels. They were jealous when officers from their state were bypassed for high ranking positions. And some actually hurt the Confederate cause. Example: Although exact numbers are in dispute, the governor of North Carolina has been accused of hoarding for his own state’s troops, enough uniforms (the number has been reported as high as 90,000) to outfit the entire Confederate army late in the war.

Few appreciated the dilemma facing southern leaders and ordinary soldiers more than Abraham Lincoln. In his two greatest speeches, the short one at Gettysburg, and his second inaugural shortly before his assassination, his words were inclusive. When he praised “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here” at Gettysburg, he was careful not to emphasize men of either army. And his “malice toward none, charity for all” words were an obvious olive branch to southerners. When he closed that speech with  “let us care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his orphan and his widow” he did not choose to identify victims on either side.

So where does this nonsense end. Is the word “Dixie” to be expunged from our language? Will we rename Dixieland music? And Dixie cups?  Are Winn Dixie stores in danger? And should we reconsider the name Southern Boulevard in Palm Beach County? What would Abraham Lincoln say today? Well, we have a strong hint. Even though he knew the tune had become the anthem of the south, he said “Dixie” was one of his favorite tunes, and he even had it played at state occasions.

And that ain’t just whistling “Dixie.”


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, February 26, 2020 No Comment(s)

There has been quite a stink about the sewer leaks fouling streets and waterways in Fort Lauderdale. Nobody knows quite whom to blame. That regarding the past, not so much the future. The overbuilding that is going to make the problem worse in future years, if not months, was approved by planners and city commissions going back a decade.

Of all the proposed fixes for the problem, the cure for overbuilding is easiest to implement. You can’t stop the buildings already up or well along the way, although the idea of a moratorium has great appeal to those already living here. Our solution is much easier. Let the buildings go up, just don’t connect them to water. The truth is, this would likely slow sales, but if we're already being honest, the harsher truth is that some of the new buildings may be subjected to isolation by flooding. 

Those who do rent or buy in the new high rises would need to use bottled water, but because the buildings would not need plumbing, that is not too great an expense. The bigger problem is disposing of human waste, but that issue has considerable historical precedent. It was only a few centuries ago that toilets did not exist in any capacity, although the concept goes back much farther.

People in merry old England used holes in the ground, or for those lucky enough to live indoors, they had chamber pots. As recently as the 1950s, we personally were exposed to an outhouse while visiting poor relations in northern Pennsylvania. Disposing of the product in Florida requires ingenuity, but again, history is a teacher. In pre-toilet days, many people just emptied their chamber pots out the window.

If you notice, these tall buildings usually have balconies, often very small ones, and you rarely see anybody up there enjoying the view of the balconies on buildings across the street. Perhaps, in anticipation of the water crisis, the balconies were added so people could simply empty their chamber pots on the streets below. This would effectively contaminate sidewalks (and people on them), including windswept balconies on lower floors while avoiding the fuss and expense of installing pipes that will eventually break anyway. This may be one reason units on upper floors tend to be more expensive

People who wash their hands every 10 minutes may argue that our proposed waste disposal system is hardly an improvement to sewer pipes bursting and flooding streets. But after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And one of the things Romans did build was underground sewers that lasted for centuries and even rivaled modern-day systems.


by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, February 18, 2020 No Comment(s)

The recent news that a developer wants to put a large complex on the extensive Searstown property at U.S. 1 and Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale would be a welcome event. Twenty years ago. Today, it is appalling that anybody would think of adding more people to downtown Fort Lauderdale, with the sewage system exploding in our streets and thousands of new residential units already underway and yet to be occupied. The community is reacting accordingly, wondering how the infrastructure was allowed to decay at the same time such massive overbuilding was permitted.  It would be good to see this prime property put to a use that would enhance the community, but given the circumstances any high-density development is unthinkable. No responsible, or honest, government officials can approve the present plan.

The situation was extensively reported on recently by Doreen Christensen in the Sun-Sentinel. She included an excellent history of the once-thriving Searstown, and in that connection gave us a call. She knew that we came to Fort Lauderdale when Sears was still going strong, and with a young family, it was likely our first stop for general household needs. This was before Walmart, Target, Home Depot,  Lowe’s. Best Buy and a half dozen other chains, each competing for pieces of Sears’ business.

What Ms. Christensen did not know was that Sears played a major part in our family history going back 100 years. It is not an entirely happy story. It begins when Sears, then known as Sears and Roebuck, based in Chicago and going strong for two decades, needed an east coast facility. It chose Philadelphia. A massive nine-story building with a 14-story tower opened in the city’s northeast section in 1920. The building, which housed both manufacturing and its booming catalog business, looked like a state capitol and it quickly grew its employment to thousands of people. One of them was my mother, fresh out of high school. A few years later she met my father, who also worked there.

By the 1930s dad had a responsible job. He had become a plumbing and heating specialist and was working in Sears pre-fab housing unit, located at Port Newark, New Jersey. We never knew exactly what he did and attempts to contact Sears to find out in recent years have been futile. Records had been destroyed and the company had bigger things to worry about. Anyway, our guess is that dad helped plan the plumbing and heating for a variety of Sears houses, which ranged from modest cottages to large 10-room structures with expensive touches such as oak floors. Sears called them “kit homes” and big or small, the units arrived, usually by train, as a complete package with all plumbing and electrical fixtures. They were marketed through its catalog. The company was years ahead of its time, and over a 32-year span, Sears sold more than 70,000 homes.  A handyman, often with help from neighbors, could build his own house. Many did in rural parts of the country. In some sections, those still standing have become tourist attractions.

In all ended in the late 1930s. Records today are hard to come by, but apparently the housing unit was not making money. The country was emerging from the depression, but the housing market was still soft. Sears decided to exit the business. In 1939 dad managed to be transferred to Elmira, New York, where he managed the plumbing and heating department of the Sears store. Elmira in those days was a pleasant little town, and we had a good life there. Mother had me taking riding lessons at age four, but that ended when a horse, not knowing a little person was on his back, nearly rolled over on me. But after a few years, our mother was homesick for her family in Philadelphia. At her urging, dad managed a transfer back to the big Sears facility in Philly.  It was early 1942, and World War Two was changing everything. Dad no sooner arrived back in Philadelphia than he got fired. It seems Sears figured the war would hurt business and was cutting back. It turned out to be a bad calculation, for its young men were leaving for the service. Anyway, a man dad had worked with years before was tasked with the job of cutting middle-management jobs.

“I never liked the guy,” dad recalled, “and I never bothered to conceal it. He got me back.”

At 46, with three young kids, dad was on the street. He took a menial job for a year, collecting payments for an ice company. A lot of ordinary people still had ice boxes and did their wash by hand. He then got into the insurance business and stayed in it for 25 years. But we always thought he never got over leaving Sears and a company to whom he had given the best  21 years of his life. However, we continued to buy our stuff from Sears over the years.

Dad died shortly after our move to Florida but we still patronized Sears. We bought at least one refrigerator (iceboxes were history) and whatever tools we needed came from Sears fine Craftsman line. We also continued to buy Christmas gifts from its popular catalog. It made shopping for the kids easy. Sears offered a lot of toys. At one time it sold the famous Lionel Train sets, items built exclusively for its stores. Until one year – It was about 1973 – Peg got nervous when the stuff did not arrive the week of Christmas. She called Sears and was assured the toys were on the way. But when they did not arrive by late on Christmas Eve a certain panic set in. Aside from what had been ordered, there was almost nothing for the kids. 

Smith Drugs on Sunrise Boulevard in the Gateway shopping center, owned by the late Shelby Smith, came to the rescue. It was open after dinner and in about an hour’s frantic time, we managed to buy a ton of stuff, not all toys, that kids would like. We got some things we never would have thought of. Some of it already came in Christmas packaging, so there was no late wrapping session. The kids never knew the difference.

But we sure did. We had lost confidence in Sears. It was the first sign that the great retail empire was going the way of all empires. How could any company that fired the best man I knew and damn near ruined a Christmas, possibly survive?


by Bernard McCormick Friday, February 07, 2020 No Comment(s)

One of the side effects of a health epidemic is a decline in the stock market. As this is being written, the Dow Jones average has lost almost 1,000 points in the last few days. Experts blame it on the Coronavirus in China, or more precisely the fear that it could spread into a worldwide epidemic that could hurt businesses and lives. Some may wonder why there is all this fuss about the virus. We have all seen flu epidemics throughout history.

The reason for the concern is that medical people have memories. There is virtually no one alive who was old enough to experience a worldwide epidemic firsthand. And increasingly few of us even had relatives who remember 1918. We are among the few. The McCormick family of Philadelphia had 10 children when World War One was going on. A deadly flu epidemic had appeared in Europe. It was initially called the Spanish flu because early cases were found in Spain, but it is doubtful it began there. It’s more likely the disease started with soldiers in the miserable trenches of the war. Wherever it started, it spread quickly, and before it was over, 50 million people had died. Over 600,000 died in the U.S., more than the number of Americans killed in the war.

The disease reached the United States in three stages, and nothing so deadly had been seen in American history. One of the worst-hit cities in the U.S. was Philadelphia, where 12,000 died within a year. The McCormick family saw it tragically up close and personal.

The first wave of the disease hit in the spring of 1918. The disease was so deadly that it killed many people before they even realized how sick they were and could seek medical treatment. The medical community was overwhelmed. Doctors and nurses caught the disease from patients. Many died. The city took drastic measures to prevent the contagion, including closing bars and other gathering places.

The McCormick family’s first casualty was the second oldest, Timothy, who died on May 29, just short of his 25th birthday. In Philadelphia and elsewhere, the disease seemed to pause, but in the fall, the second and most deadly wave hit the country. The oldest in the McCormick family, 27-year-old William, died on October 19. When he became ill, his sister Mary, 24, left her nursing job in Brooklyn to take care of him. One morning she told the family that his fever was breaking and the crisis had passed. She left for Brooklyn. William died the next day. Mary herself came down with disease and died within two weeks. These three were the eldest of the McCormick clan. The fourth oldest, John, got the flu at age 22 but survived. You would not be reading this had he not. He was your writer’s father.

There were six younger children in the family. They lived in crowded circumstances, but none got sick. This was consistent with one of several mysteries surrounding the epidemic. It struck those in the prime of their lives, largely sparing the young and elderly. One theory to solve this mystery blames aspirin as the culprit. It had only been in common use for a few decades. We will never know if our family used it, but Philadelphia was a pharmaceutical center (still is), and it is likely many people took it to relieve fevers. Aspirin toxicity, which can be deadly, was unknown at the time. People may have figured if a couple of aspirin helped with colds and fevers, a bunch would work even better. Many of the dead had symptoms of aspirin toxicity.

Another mystery is why the flu epidemic ended as suddenly as it began. Why was the disease so ferocious in the first place, unmatched by anything in the last 100 years? And why it was so severe in Philadelphia?

But we seemed to have learned from that tragic experience. Today we know the dangers of overdosing with common pain killers. The drug industry has come up with antibiotics that are effective against disease epidemics. Unlike the 1918 flu, coronavirus is well known and a new strain of it was quickly identified. But when an outbreak of something so infectious occurs, the medical community takes no chances, always wary that diseases have a mind of their own and can have unpredictable and terrible consequences. Much more than a decline in the stock market.


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, November 27, 2019 No Comment(s)

A few months ago, President Trump was criticized for proposing the U.S. buy Greenland. Greenland has natural resources, including some P-38 airplanes buried in ice after they made forced landings during World War II. As Greenland melts, those planes can be salvaged for display in museums. Is that enough to warrant the purchase? Obviously not. But the president is not entirely off base. He just wants to buy the wrong place.

What he should consider buying is Central America, or at least one of the countries that is causing the President grief by letting people leave to escape miserable living conditions. Whereas Greenland is not for sale, we understand everything in Central America is, and buying something there would be a step in the right direction for President Trump to stop the invasion of those he wants desperately to wall off. By making part of Central America a state, we could wall people in. With the stroke of a pen, they would be living in the U.S., making the long and dangerous journey to our southern border unnecessary. It need not even be a state. Let the people decide. Maybe they would just want to be a territory with all the comforts that residents enjoy in Puerto Rico.

After more than an hour’s exhaustive research, Guatemala, or strategic parts of it, top the list of potential acquisitions. It is well-positioned just south of Mexico, and narrow enough to permit a mile-high wall to seal off those who are not positively contributing to our country. 

It would also block the escape route for an untold number of gang members who are killing each other, and anybody who tries to control them. Those in Trump’s administration who love wars would be more than satisfied. The first step toward economic growth would be to build an enormous military base. Our military would take care of the gang problem.

Once pacified, the U.S. could build tourist attractions, luring those people who visit Florida but will need new destinations once we go underwater. Guatemala has some high ground that should be safe from climate change for most of the century. Lacking ice, it should not suffer Greenland’s meltdown. Children in cages on our southern border can go home, and others would be welcome in from nearby countries. President Trump could oversee the greatest building boom in the history of mankind, something even he would have difficulty exaggerating. There would be plenty of jobs for honest citizens. Guatemala would look like downtown Fort Lauderdale.

President Trump should seriously consider this problem-solving real estate venture. Just make sure Guatemala pays for it.