The “Ice Pick” Age and Beyond

In writing the book Examined Lives about my mother’s lobotomy I include pictures taken by Walter Freeman before, during and after the procedure. I do not, however, show a picture of the ice pick-like device he used.  Here it is. It is much larger than an actual ice pick and thus able to penetrate deeper into the brain.

 

 

It seems incredible today that such a device could have been used, but the brain has always been and still is a mysterious frontier.  Despite the great gains made by the use of antidepressants, they do not always work.  And there are other conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, that have proved ultimately intractable to chemical intervention.  So we are in the age beyond the “Ice Pick” but still in territory with which Freeman would be familiar.  Electroshock therapy is in use.  (As a matter of fact so are lobotomies in rare instances.) And deep electrical stimulation of the brain is being tried to treat depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as well as electromagnetic stimulation.  So far I have seen no discussion in news sources of possible dangers of such treatments, just as was the case in the early days of lobotomies, and what is even more shocking [no pun intended] to me at least is the fact that the average consumer can buy machines that provide electrical and electromagnetic stimulation.  Freeman would approve—inexpensive and widely available, which was Freeman’s goal with lobotomies.

Mr. Ward, Mr. Field and Mr. Merrick

I have set aside every Friday morning to do research on Montgomery Ward at the Chicago History Museum, which has a huge collection of Montgomery Ward materials.  And every Friday morning I come across something new and surprising.

Recently I was going over the folder of materials relating to Ward’s legal battles over the lakefront. The Montgomery Ward & Co. headquarters was located on Michigan Ave. at the time and Ward got sick of looking out his office window at the mess and allegedly turned to his lawyer George Merrick and said “Damn, do something about it.”

There ended up being three separate cases involving the lakefront.  It should be pointed out here that Ward was not the only adjacent property owner to object to the presence of various structures, but he was the one basically footing the bills.

What surprised me about the cases was how sarcastic Ward and his lawyer could be.  They obviously felt that the powers that be were engaging in sheer boondoggles designed to use public land for financial gain or to garner prestige.

After winning the first case, which involved a so-called armory hardly used for that purpose, Ward described what he saw out of his office window:

The city has permitted the erection on the lakefront of a couple of so-called public buildings which, by the city political gang, were allowed to be used for circuses, dog fights, and even ‘Hinky Dink’s’ [a corrupt alderman] fashionable social assemblages [Hinky Dink threw political fundraisers  that involved outrageous costumes and behavior]. . .all for more or less private gain. The Illinois Central had five tracts west of their lawful right of way and at times the city used the property as a dumping ground for refuse.

His view did not change as further issues came up, most famously his opposition to the erection of the Field Museum in Grant Park.  In this he was going up against Daniel Burnham’s plan for the lakefront, which thanks to Ward, was now a cleaned up desirable piece of real estate.  Plans were made for building not only the Field Museum, but also the Crerar Library, municipal buildings, a possible site for the Olympics in 1904 and more.

But whether it was Hinky Dink or Marshall Field, all these plans in Ward’s mind involved taking land away from the people of Chicago that was rightfully theirs.  In a press conference in which Ward’s lawyer spoke, Merrick was as sarcastic as Ward had been earlier.  Slamming his fist on the table, he said

It will not be built if we can help it.  Mr. Field wanted a monument, and being a poor man he couldn’t afford to pay for a site.  Now it is proposed to secure a site from the City of Chicago by violating a trust, and we don’t propose to stand for it; the Illinois Supreme Court will not stand for it, and it will not be built there if we can help it.

And it was not built there. Amusingly enough, as soon as the verdict came down in the Field Museum case, some obviously angry state representative introduced a bill to allow the Field Museum to be built on an island in Lake Michigan, with no consideration given to how people were to reach it.

Ward and Merrick went up directly against machine politics and many of the most influential and powerful people in the city and won.  That Ward would not play ball with them and did it successfully is not something that happens often in Chicago.

 

The School Ma’am


My great-grandmother Francina Smith had a literary bent.  She wrote occasional poetry on traditional Victorian themes—death, religion, and the like.  She also, however, wrote some flowery, but witty letters in response to items she read in the Saturday Evening Post.  These letters were not published in  the Post, but in more local papers, including the Toledo Blade (still in existence) which was widely circulated in Kansas.  She had been a school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse and relates her experience:

Written for the Saturday Evening Post

You Dear, Darling Old Post:

I love you more than ever—if that is possible—since I find we are permitted to come to you with our troubles.  And as Uncle Aaron would say, “I accordingly avail myself of the opportunity.”

I know it must be dreadful to be a “Reminder” and be “mistooken” for all sorts of people; I infer from Observation that it is inconvenient to be ”too little;” I have no doubt that it is discouraging to be “too big”; and to be “too thick,” or “too thin”—like sorghum molasses—may not be blissful; but I am persuaded that not one of my dear sisters (“in distress”) who have written so pathetically of their several grievances ever taught “deestrict” school and “boarded round.”

I have.

I say it not with an air of boasting, but rather with an humble and contrite spirit. Teaching may be, as some learned person has remarked, “a high and mighty calling.”  But when it comes to “boarding round,” it’s calling rather frequently, and on all manner of people.”

Just think of being circulated through a whole neighborhood like an interesting pamphlet, or an itinerant brass kettle.  To have no abiding place.  To go Jones’s tonight, and get black looks and receive admonitory hints in reference to keeping “our Johnny” in at recess.”   And have to sleep alone in a lonesome room at the end of the porch.  Couldn’t complain last night, however, as my bed was in Brown’s family room, and I had two of the children for bedfellows. One night to be chilled in Smith’s barnlike chamber, and feel little icy imps scampering up and down your back, until you think it would.be pleasant to be roasted alive a la wild “Injun,” but change your mind next night when Mrs. Green undertakes it in her little bed-room with a big fire and a mountain of bed-clothes.

To be regaled on every known edible from pot-pie to “water-million preserves.”  Variety may be the spice of life, but one cannot be expected to subsist on spice.

And when you alight, as you frequently will, at a congenial fireside, you dare not spend more than the allotted time, or it will be reported that you are “struck” with the “hired hand,” or, the hopeful heir to the said fireside, so you can only “take up your staff and travel on.”

And when your own real loves comes over to see how you are prospering, and to bring the last “Post” and “Lady’s Friend,” and a letter from Sis, and —well, on consideration I presume the foregoing will be considered sufficient excuse for his coming, so I need not reveal anything further.  But, to have all of the old ladies catechizing you concerning him; and the little boys making remarks about his having eye-brows on his upper lip; all of which you must bear with smiling composure.  You know why.  There is nothing under the sun a poor “lone, lorn” woman in the country can do but teach school (or get married) and she must be very meek and conciliatory if she gets to do that—which includes the phrase in parenthesis.

I might write much more—but if you are not yet convinced, there is a school “out on the pike,” [for] which you can secure an application, and have the opportunity of “trying it on” ”boarding around” and all.

“Walking for your supper,

Miles of up-hill road;

Whaling little urchins

With an oaken rule,

Bless me! Ain’t it pleasant,

Teaching district school.”

Anicnarf

[Francina spelled backwards]