Friday, February 24, 2017

The Buck Stops Here

Here's a fun little story. I've brought with me to Wyoming a file of old letters and other documents, with the intention of digitizing them. I haven't had the chance to do that yet, but I was looking at them, and was particularly interested in those from 1949 - the summer my dad was at the Chillicothe (Ohio) Federal Reformatory as a student in the Council for Clinical Training for Theological Students and Ministers program there.

A short digression: I don't think I've mentioned this before in this blog - I'm not sure -  but a few months ago, back home, I "salvaged" a collection of pictures taken by my dad that summer of 1949. He was using a Kodak Bantam camera, which had an unusual film size - K828. It was slide film, but smaller than 35mm. The photos had all been cut - they were no longer in strips - and as a result, every one had curled into a tight little roll the size of a pencil. When I first ran across them, I had no idea what they were. It was only after I carefully unrolled them and slipped them into the slide film holder in my scanner, and then scanned them, that I realized they came from the Reformatory at Chillicothe. That was obvious from the content. There are 31 in all, and they represent a fascinating glimpse into life in a Reformatory in 1949! So that's what drew me to look at the documents I have from that same summer of 1949. What I have is two letters dad wrote to his family from the Reformatory, and a sermon he preached in Anamosa, Iowa, Sept. 11, 1949, a week after he had returned from Ohio, telling his congregation in some detail about his experiences there, and their significance for him as a pastor. (I also have a letter he wrote me personally dealing with a problem I was having that summer, and two letters from me to him. That will be covered in a later blog post).

Back to my story. In his sermon, dad describes some of the people he was meeting, e.g., the three other students in the CCTTS program, the supervising Chaplain,  and the Warden. Regarding the latter, he said:

"The warden, Mr. L. Clark Schilder, is a trained penologist, has served on a college faculty. He was very cooperative and helpful to the students. We were given free range of the institution and free access to the confidential files concerning the inmates."

When I read this, I thought to myself, "Hmmm. I wonder if I can find out anything about L. Clark Schilder through a Google search." Well, I did! And here is the amazing little story.

Before coming to Chillicothe, L. Clark Schilder was the warden at the Federal Prison in El Reno, OK. And in 1945, he was visited there by one Fred Canfil, a U.S. Marshall from Kansas City, Missouri, and a good friend of Harry Truman, who became President on April 12, 1945, when FDR died. When Fred Canfil came into L. Clark Schilder's office, he saw a sign on Schilder's desk which he thought his friend, President Truman, would like. Schilder offered to have a duplicate made in the prison shop, where the original had been made. Fred Canfil gave it to Truman, and it became famous, for it was, in fact the  "The Buck Stops Here," sign, a sentiment that came to define Truman's presidency.

The sign on L. Clark Schilder's desk that ended up on Pres. Truman's desk

The sign on Truman's desk
I think it is neat and sort of amazing that I was able to make this connection between my dad and the sign on Truman's desk, thanks to an old letter archive and the modern wonders of a Google search.

I'll eventually devote a blog to that summer at Chillicothe, but here are a few of the photos I salvaged:

The main building at the Reformatory in Chillicothe

I think this is dad's room, and his roommate, Frank Wiig

Dad, at far left, with the three other students, Charles Murchison, Frank Wiig, and John Moore, and Chaplain Cassler

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