If you were born prior to WW11 you probably knew Kilroy. You might have had a yellow or orange lapel pin with his nose hanging over the label, and the top of his hands hanging over the label, too. I really never knew why Kilroy was so popular, or who he was, but I joined in the fun of “Kilroy Was Here”, but who the heck was Kilroy? Where did he come from and how did he get so world famous?
The search for Kilroy officially began in 1946 when the radio program “Speak To America” sponsored a nationwide contest to find the REAL Kilroy, offering a prize of a real trolley car to the person who could prove himself to be the genuine article. Almost 40 men stepped forward to make that claim, but only James Kilroy from Halifax, Massachusetts, had evidence of his identity.
It seems that the “Kilroy Was Here” began quite by accident. Mr. James Kilroy worked as a checker at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. His job was to go around and check on the number of rivets that had been produced. Riveters were on a piece-work and got paid by each rivet produced.
Kilroy would count a block of rivets and put a check mark in semi-waxed lumber chalk, so the rivets would not be counted twice. However, when Kilroy went off duty, the riveters would erase his mark. Later on, an off-shift inspector would come through and count the rivets a second time, resulting in double pay for the riveters.
His boss called Kilroy on the carpet about all the extra wages being paid to riveters, and asked him to investigate. After checking he realized what had been going on behind his back. Rejecting paint, Kilroy opted to stick with the waxy chalk. He continued to put his checkmark on each job he inspected but added “Kilroy Was Here” in large letters next to the checkmark. He eventually added the sketch of the chap with the long nose peering over the fence. This all became a part of the Kilroy message. Once he did that the riveters stopped trying to wipe away his marks.
Ordinarily, the rivets and chalk marks would have been covered with paint. However, with the war on, ships were leaving the Quincy Yard so fast that there was not time to paint them. As a result, Kilroy’s inspection “trademark” was seen by thousands of servicemen who boarded the troop ships the yard had produced.
This message apparently rang a bell with the servicemen because they picked it up and spread it all over Europe and the South Pacific. Before the war’s end, “Kilroy” had been there, here, and everywhere on the long hauls to Berlin and Tokyo.
To the outbound troops in those ships, however, he was a complete mystery; all they knew for sure was that some jerk named Kilroy had “been there first”. As a joke, U.S. servicemen began placing the graffiti wherever they landed, claiming it was already there when they arrived.
As the war went on, the legend grew. Underwater demolition teams routinely sneaked ashore on Japanese-held islands in the Pacific to map the terrain for coming invasions by U.S. troops and left the logo. In 1945, an outhouse was built for the exclusive use of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill at the Potsdam conference. Its first occupant was Stalin, who emerged and asked his aide, “Who is Kilroy?”
To help prove his authenticity in 1946, James Kilroy brought along officials from the shipyard and some of the riveters. He proved his case and won the trolley car, which he gave to his nine children as a Christmas gift. It was set up as a playhouse in the Kilroy front yard in Halifax, Massachusetts.
Now you know who and what Kilroy was. I can remember owning one of the lapel pins which I put in my top coat pocket on occasion. You might still find one at a garage sale somewhere if you look carefully.
Yes, “Kilroy Was Here” truly was an American phenomenon which helped our country through the war quite by accident. And now you know.
“KILROY WAS HERE”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
107 HEMLOCK STREET
P.O. BOX 511
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972
Teenagers growing up in East Texas during the 1940s and 1950s were accustomed to being surrounded by towering pine trees, and sturdy oaks. I was one of those kids being reared in about the deepest part of East Texas. In the pre-television days of the late 1940s, we kids had to invent our own activities to keep our minds occupied. Some of them were good, and some were not so good. Among the latter was climbing the metal fire tower located just west of San Augustine.
The U.S. Forest Service built a fire lookout tower probably during the 1930s just off Highway 21 west on what is now CR280. The tower was located approximately 150 yards back in the woods. Of course it was a dangerous thing to do, but it was great fun and a daring feat to trespass on the property to climb up the tower as high as one’s nerves would allow. I recall a few females trying their climbing ability, but mostly it was the hairy-legged teen boys showing off for their dates.
Another fire tower was located just south of Red Hills Lake in Sabine County on Highway 87. Whenever a group of teens made the trek to “Milam Lake” they usually capped off the swimming trip with a try at climbing that tower as well. I do not recall anyone falling or otherwise injuring themselves during this activity.
A recent drive down CR280 shows no evidence that a fire tower ever existed, having been torn down years ago. That is a shame as these fire towers served a significant service to our country. The same is true of the tower that used to stand south of Red Hills Lake. The towers have an interesting background, having been built out of necessity.
The obvious purpose of a fire tower was for a watchman to scan the forest for any sign of smoke indicating a forest fire. They were constructed of either wood, or steel, with a small 10’ by 10’ building on top of the tower. These towers gained popularity in early 1900s. Fires were originally reported by use of carrier pigeons. Later two-way radios were used, then telephones, or heliographs came into use as technology improved. By 1911 fire towers were being built on the top of mountains.
In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the “Civilian Conservation Corps” which put the men of our county to work building many things in our communities. The CCC built over 250 lookout towers between 1933 and 1942. So, the golden era of these towers was between 1930 and 1950. In 1942 an additional task was assigned to the watchmen in the towers. That was using trained enemy aircraft spotters, prompted by our entry into WWII.
The use of and need for fire towers began to decrease and decline in the years between 1960 and 1990. Modern technology – aircraft, powerful radios, radar, and even satellites, made the towers outdated and of little use.
Thus, they began to disappear from our forests one by one, unnoticed by most people.
It is interesting to note that Idaho had the most towers, totaling 987. Kansas was the only state that never had a fire tower. The tallest fire tower in the United States was the Woodworth Tower in Alexandria, La. at 175 feet. The highest tower in the world was the Fairview Peak near Gunnison, Colorado at 13,214 feet, which was actually on top of a mountain.
In 1911 a U.S. Forest Service employee by the name of William B. Osborne, Jr. invented the “Osborne Firefinder”. This instrument measured the distance to and location of a fire by use of his invention. Improved versions of this device are still used in certain parts of the country to this day.
So the two fire towers that we used to climb on no longer exist. They are just a memory, enhanced by a couple of snapshots in an album which prove their existence in a bygone era.
“THE FIRE TOWER”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
P.O. Box 511
107 Hemlock Street
San Augustine, TX 75972
I suppose than anyone can get addicted to anything. People get addicted to alcohol, drugs, shopping, and all kinds of other things. My addiction happens to be to popcorn.
It started at an early age. My parents used to pop corn in a deep skillet with a lid. They usually put a bit of butter in with the oil and shake the skillet until the corn was all popped, except for a few “old maids”. I got addicted to that wonderfully tasting corn which has lasted a lifetime.
Fast-forward to around 1955 when my wife and I were courting and we see the popcorn addiction coming into play. It turned out that Clara’s family loved popcorn as well, and popped it very frequently. So, I was courting another addict which came out whenever we attended a movie.
Clara’s friend, Bessie Alford, owned and operated the movie in Hemphill. She would always let us in the movie for free, but had to pay for any treats once inside. I soon learned that one bag of popcorn was not enough. Clara would need two bags at a minimum. Luckily for me they cost only 15 cents a bag during that time. Her love of popcorn became a private joke between us. In fact, for her wedding gift I gave her an electric popcorn popper. In the years since then we have worn out numerous other poppers.
Our love of popcorn prompted us to purchase a popcorn business while living in North Carolina in the early 1980s. I purchased fifty unique small popcorn machines and placed them in businesses within a twenty-five mile radius. I also furnished flavoring to put on top of the popcorn, such as taco, green onion, cheddar cheese, and jalapeño. I ran my route of businesses twice per month, collected the money and re-supplied the retailer with more popcorn and flavoring. It was a great sideline business.
When our first child was born in 1959, we would feed her popcorn. Of course we would pinch off a piece of white corn and give it to her. She loved it. Her name for popcorn was ‘knock knock”. Naturally she became an addict, too. When our son was born we introduced him to popcorn at an early age. Even today when we all get together several bags of popcorn adorn the card table when we play forty-two.
It seems that popcorn has been around in one form or another for many years. It is said that Native Americans invented, or discovered, popcorn around 3,600 BC in the area now known as New Mexico. The Indians reportedly taught the early explorers about growing and popping the corn. Today three states claim the title “Popcorn Capital Of The World”, those being Nebraska, Indiana, and Illinois. In fact, popcorn is the official state snack food in Illinois. So, they seem to know a good thing when they see it.
Most homes today no longer pop corn the old fashioned way, over the stove in a deep skillet. With the invention of the microwave oven and popcorn in a bag it is a very fast and tasty snack food. I still feel the old way produced the best popcorn one could eat. But, that’s just me - an addict stuck back in the 1950s.
BY: NEAL MURPHY
107 Hemlock Street
PO Box 511
San Augustine, TX 75972
My wife, Clara, began her medical career in 1959 when she went to work for Dr. M. J. Buchele in San Augustine. She worked there several years along with Helen Farr until we moved to Houston in 1962. She then worked for several different doctors for the next twenty six years. She has the “inside scoop” of what really goes on behind the scenes in a doctor’s office.
Most of us see doctor’s offices as rather drab and usually full of sick people not on their best behavior. But, that view can be incorrect.
Clara was working for a Dr. Cruce in Houston on North Shepherd Street around 1964. She was receptionist/bookkeeper/lab assistant/nurse for the office. One spring morning when the waiting room was full of people waiting their turn, she heard someone cry out that there was a snake in the room. “A snake? I hate snakes! I am afraid of snakes, everybody knows that.” Clara thought as she responded to the distress call. But, she needed a weapon to fight off a dangerous snake and nothing could be found. She spotted a small cutting board on a cabinet. She grabbed it by its handle and rushed into the danger zone weapon at the ready.
The snake had coiled itself at the base of a pot plant. He was about a foot long and mostly green. “How did it get into our office?”, Clara wondered to herself. She mustered up all her gumption and quickly lay the cutting board on top of the snake, then stomped on it with her foot. The snake never knew what hit him. While this was happening, a male patient ran his finger up her back about the same time as a joke, which almost backfired. “Just for that I am giving you a shot with a square, rusty, needle”, Clara retorted.
The doctor never knew what was going on at the time, but found it amusing after it was over. However, Clara was not amused.
On another occasion a man walked into the same doctor’s office holding a cat in his arms. He walked up to the window and handed Clara the cat. He reported, “We don’t want the cat. Here, take it back.” She realized that he had mistaken their office for the Veterinary office located down the street. As the man turned to leave, Clara protested, “But, sir, this is a doctor’s office. The veterinary office is two doors down.” Apparently not hearing or understanding, the man looked over his shoulder and repeated, “I said we don’t want the cat. Just put it to sleep for all we care.”
As he walked out the front door, Clara raced after him with the cat in hand. She caught him in the parking lot and finally convinced him that he had brought the cat to the wrong office. He reluctantly took the cat back.
Back in the office Dr. Cruce kidded Clara, “Well, I see you almost got a new cat, didn’t you.” “I sure did, no thanks to you”, she replied.
Since Clara performed some lab tests for the office, she would normally take off her wedding rings to protect them from chemicals. On one occasion while she was taking her rings off they suddenly flew off her finger toward the floor, but she never heard them hit the floor. After performing the lab test, her number one project was to find her rings. She looked everywhere but could not find them. Even Dr. Cruce joined in the hunt but to no avail.
As a last resort, Clara asked Dr. Cruce if she could check the inside of his pant cuffs for the rings. He agreed and she found them there. The rings had apparently landed in his pant cuffs on their way to the floor.
Space prohibits me from relating several other incidents, such as getting her finger caught in the posting machine, accidentally breaking a finger by shutting a sliding door on it - she x-rayed it herself. She was even grabbed and kissed on three different occasions by male patients who apparently could not control their passion.
So, the next time you go to a doctor’s office you should realize that there could be some “doings in the doctor’s office” going on.
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“DOINGS IN THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
PO BOX 511
107 HEMLOCKS STREET
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972