What? No Blondes in 1918!

In mid 1914, a political stew brewing on European soil reached a full boil. Shots rang out, an Archduke was killed, and war began.  Fighting would continue for another three years before the United States would get involved.  When the U.S. entered the war, the demand for gunpowder was already strained. An increase in its production was of great importance.  The country’s existing facilities couldn’t meet the demand. As a result, the U.S. Government joined forces with DuPont to build a gun powder facility in Old Hickory, Tennessee, a farming community along the banks of the Cumberland River.

The 1917 project that transformed my little hometown of Old Hickory required up to an estimated 30,000 employees (note: some estimate that number was as high as 50,000 at one point).  A work force of these proportions meant the creation of a rather large Human Resources Department, known simply as the Employment Bureau.

Here they are.

This picture hangs is my office.  It is a perpetual source of discussion with anyone who sees it.  The faces in this picture are nameless.  Their stories are lost forever.  It makes me sad.  I have no doubt that there is a story to tell here.  My dream is to create a fictitious story for each of them based on historical fact. I’m not there yet.

Here are a few closer shots of the people.

Notice the man peeping around the building in the upper left-hand corner.  Was this intentional?  In this slice of the photo we have a doctor, a few guards, and some very young men.

November 25, 1918
Comfortable rooms have been provided for girls at a maximum for single rooms at $6 a month and $4 for double rooms with single beds and this includes mail service, laundry privileges, kitchenette, and an ironing rom.  Houses rent for as little as $10 a month for families with lights and water furnished. 

Every destitute man or woman has been given care that reached here penniless.  The welfare, safety, first, employment bureau, and Woman’s work department with the aid of the information office  and the “Y” for both men and women cooperate in caring for people. 

~ Lou Cretia Owen Papers – Tennessee State Archives 

Check out the young black men hanging out of the windows. Were they invited into the photo or did they sneak into it?  We’ll never know.

November 18, 1918
On October 1, (1918), there were 5,375 colored people living in the community assigned to them.  Of this number 5,343 were laborers.  Albert Hall is foreman of the camp.  He has had this place since March 1.  Residences are provided for 56 negro families and bachelor quarters for 176 single girls.  The negroes here are invaluable.  There are fifty-seven janitors employed to look after the different offices and buildings.  

The house rent in the camp is seventy-five cents a week with lights and water provided.  The negroes were quartered in houses first occupied by white labor.  In the early history of the camp, colored labor lived in tents that dotted the hillside.  

A colored Y.W.C.A for the negro women was opened today.  Helen Moore of Columbus, Ohio, wife of a prominent colored minister there is here to serve as secretary.  She is working under the supervisor of the National War Work Council. 

~ Lou Cretia Owen Papers – Tennessee State Archives 

Everyone who sees this picture notices the short man sitting on the box in the front row.  I always wonder if he was treated with respect.  I’ve always thought the guy sitting to his left was the best looking man in the picture.  He looks important and he looks like he knows it.

November 1, 1918
It requires two days sometime to have a time sheet balanced when one wishes to leave the plant.  In order to avoid this delay with the girls who are ill, the office has given me a special pass that will admit me to any office into which I have to go. 

At the outside windows, numbers appear over each.  An employee holding a card finds his corresponding numbers and goes to the window which it is over. 

Long lines form in front of the window daily.  If it is pay day, the card is passed through the window and the check bearing the same number handed to the one who presents the claim.  If it is not pay day, the person waits until his sheet is balanced. 

Departments in the time office are:  filing department, clock alley, four area time stations, acid clocks, deducting division, error department, operating department, nitric and O.V. gund cotton, purification of gun cotton, power station, power department, causticising, box factory, finished powder station, and all finished stations. 

~ Lou Cretia Owen Papers – Tennessee State Archives 

The long lines for getting paid.  YIKES.  Oh dear 1918, if only you had direct deposit.

Here is the piece of the photo where we can tell what time of year the picture was taken.  At first glance, the clothing suggests winter.  Still, it’s difficult to determine the season by clothing alone.  These people obviously are wearing their Sunday finest.  Look at the reflection of the trees in the window panes.

November 18, 1918
Wages in the powder plant range from $2.50 a day up.  Ordinary mechanics get 42 cents an hour; the better paid construction men receive 65 cents and 72 cents; skilled operators in the powder shops in some instances get as much as $15 a day.  Men and women work in eight hour shifts and the plant machines run day and night.  

~ Lou Cretia Owen Papers – Tennessee State Archives 

Scan back through the photos.  What are some things you notice?  A coworker of mine recently commented, “THERE ARE NO BLONDES.”   What?  Here is where my Great Grandmother’s book comes into play.

From 1904 – Household Discoveries by Sidney Morse

Hair Dyes

Dyeing as a means of changing the normal color of the hair is now very little resorted to, except by a small number of thoughtless girls and women who are misled by ignorant or interested persons.  This practice is regarded by all intelligent persons as an unmistakable mark of vulgarity.  Even the young men themselves, who are supposed, if any are, to be deceived and attracted by this process, have coined the expression “chemical blonde” and “peroxide blonde” to define a woman who has been deluded into following this silly fad, and boast themselves able to recognize such an individual at sight. 

There ya have it.  We have an explanation as to why there are no chemical blondes, but what about natural blondes?  Oh how things change.   Makeup is a whole other point of contention with these women.  There is a whole chapter on makeup concoctions in my Great Grandmother’s book, but I am saving that for a latter blog.

I will leave you with one of my favorite entries from Lou Cretia Owen’s diary.  She is in the throws of the Spanish flu which killed an estimated 20 to 100 million worldwide.

October 3, 1918

Thrown into the midst of the drama here, I feel that we are near to the war front.  Men and women are making a fight to play their part in the war program.  Volunteers give their time to administer to patients after a day behind the machines. 

As I pass down the corridor at the hospital, I see a young girl, a war bride, who repeats deliriously that she is married and begs to have her secret kept.  In an adjoining room, a young girl pleads for relief.  The nurse goes from room to room soothing the patients and superintends their treatment.  She scarcely sleeps.  

I found the girl-bride’s marriage certificate of her wedding. She married a sailor and declares that he will not return to her if her marriage is announced.  She pleads with us to keep the secret from her mother.  The doctor says that she cannot recover and advises me to notify her mother of her condition.  I cannot reaches her parents at the address she gave.  Probably it is not correct.  This is one of the tragedies occurring here.  

~ Lou Cretia Owen Papers – Tennessee State Archives 




The Art of Slicing Raisin Bread in Space

Listen my journalists and you shall hear, the story of….ummmmm……. SLICING RAISIN BREAD IN SPACE.  I am about to relate to you a story that is of Wes Craven proportions to me in journalism terms.  This Nightmare on Gazette Street could have easily happened to me.  My degree is in Journalism.  Fortunately, I sacrificed enough chocolate cake, icing and all, to God in exchange for sparing me from the horrors of having to………..*gasp*………interact with the public RESPONSIBLY as a journalist.  God likes cake. Just saying.

My gratitude for being snatched out of the gaping jaws of Journo World resurfaced this week when someone asked me what my dad does for a living.   The question caused me to develop an affliction simply known as, deer in the headlights-asitis.  I don’t know what the hell he does.  I can tell you he has a PhD in Physics and owns his own company.   Seriously, I think he is a secret agent plotting to unclothe all the women in America with one laser blast.

The “what does your dad do” question reminded me of an interaction that he had with the Orange County Register. All I can say is God bless the science editor of the Orange County Register.  I feel YO PAIN BROTHA!  The story of this interaction is the cornerstone of my gratitude for not being a journalist.

The following excerpt was written by my dad, Dr. James D. Trolinger:

The science editor of the Orange County Register News visited us to do a special article on Orange County companies who are involved in space research. He first interviewed me for about half an hour. One of our more interesting space projects, which I attempted to explain to him was the three-dimensional recording and analysis of particle fields in space using holography. He was having considerable trouble understanding what I was explaining so I called in Robert and Frank, who are doing some experiments and asked them to show the reporter some examples and explain to him. They took him to the lab and I forgot all about the story until the next day, when I saw Robert at the coffee pot. 

Robert explained how difficult it had been to explain to the reporter. They would scan through a three dimensional image produced by the holograms we had made in space, focusing on particles one by one until they scanned the whole volume, showing how we could track particles precisely in three-D, measuring microgravity effects on particle motion. The reporter had considerable difficulty understanding what we were doing, until Frank came forth with a good analogy that cleared things up. 

Frank said, “Consider if you had a loaf of raisin bread and wanted to find the distribution of raisins in the bread. You could slice it off in thin slices one by one until you had located each raisin. How we can do the same sort of thing optically with lasers, slicing a three-dimensional image up optically until we find all of the raisins, and we don’t have to touch the space where the bread is. “Oh, I see now,” said the reporter, “That clears up everything”. Today, we got the galley proof of the MetroLaser portion of his article. It read something like the following.

“Not all of the Orange County Companies involved in space are large. Take MetroLaser Inc., for example, a thirty-five man company in Irvine. This group of scientists produce extremely high tech and esoteric solution to all kinds of measurement problems using advanced optics and lasers. These brilliant, if a bit nerdy, scientists are providing solutions that make life easier for astronauts in space. They have developed an advanced method for slicing raisin bread in microgravity that is so sophisticated that they can tell where the raisins are even before the bread is sliced.” My first reaction was “Robert……………tell him it’s perfect. Print it.” Unfortunately, Robert had already explained to the reporter that MetroLaser does not slice bread in space.

Had I been the Orange County Register editor, I would have stuck with the raisin bread story. The raisin bread makes more sense.

For kicks and giggles,  here is the announcement that appeared in the Shelbyville Times Gazette to announce my internship my senior year of college (I’m on the right).  OH THE HORROR. If there was music with this blog, it would be menacing organ music accompanied by lightening and thunder.