Thursday, September 6, 2012
I've realized over the course of this what a huge project this will be--and that it will be taking me pretty far outside of my comfort zone. It will require calling up or emailing perfect strangers and learning to dig for facts in ways I've never had to before. I don't even know the names of Chuck's parents--how's that for a big stumbling block in an opening chapter about Chuck's roots? And there will need to be a very large amount of fact-checking to make sure everything lines up. I once read a non-fiction author's statement to the effect that 90% of a book of this type is research, and that it's surprising that the actual work of writing it goes so quickly when the research takes so long!
I wanted to send out a thank-you to the people who have found me and begun emailing with their own experiences, stories, and expressed admiration or love for Chuck and his dogs. As I just told one of you via email, writing a book is a long and lonely road. You guys keep me going. Thank you. :)
Anyone who might know of a newspaper that would cover the Hawthorne, WI area other than the Superior Telegram, please feel free to drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now, back to work!
Proposed Field Trip: I definitely need to go to Hawthorne, and visit a county courthouse or other records resource where I can find out about Chuck's parents. The list of reasons to visit northern Wisconsin is growing!
Thursday, August 9, 2012
My hope is that this person might even be able to help me figure out where the farm that Chuck's family used to own might have been located. I imagine that might be in the town or land records somewhere. It might be fun to amble around in that area, talk to some people, find out where the town kids used to hang out (or maybe still do). I went on Google Earth and Hawthorne is a pretty small place, very rural. I'm sure, seeing it, that Chuck's mom probably moved to a different town nearby when her husband passed and they lost the farm. I wonder if I'll be able to figure out where.
To Do List: My next task is to construct a list of questions to ask my contact. I plan to call and schedule an interview, but you never know when the answer might be, "Sure! How about now?"
Research: I need to work on that basic timeline of Chuck's life, so that I can reference things like "Between what years would the family likely have lost the farm, given Malcolmson's account?" These facts might help me reconstruct some details about Chuck's family past.
Interesting Factoid: Today I found that the style of non-fiction I am attempting is called creative nonfiction. It's a relatively new style for non-fiction (something I didn't particularly realize, since I've only read nonfiction since my husband started loaning it to me). There's a Wikipedia entry about it. You can see that here: Creative Nonfiction.
Monday, August 6, 2012
No word yet from the Town of Hawthorne on someone to contact regarding history. The workday went by so fast I didn't remember to grab a moment to call the Superior Telegraph, either, so that needs to go on the to-do list.
You might ask, why all this focus on Chuck's early life, instead of diving right into the parts about he and the first London?
Mostly because I feel like if I'm writing this book, I want to get as close as I can to understanding Chuck Eisenmann. I think a lot of that will come in time as I talk to more people who knew Chuck, but I also want to angle in on his boyhood. He was an ambitious boy, a boy who dreamed—but who worked at making his dreams reality. He didn't just daydream about being a pitcher—he worked at it. That ethic is deep in the roots of what made Chuck successful not just as a pitcher or officer or athletics program coordinator, but what made him successful with his dogs.
The way that Chuck taught them was a total departure from the way everyone else thought about dogs. Sixties, seventies, eighties, dogs were animals who needed to be babied or bullied into learning something. Heck, the techniques he developed were a departure from the way even he had thought about them. I remember a quote—I'll have to look it up, it's in one of his books—where he talks about, early in life, he just didn't really take notice of dogs other than as another sort of animal on the farm. I'll see if I can find that for you and post the actual quote.
So—an ambitious farm boy from northern Wisconsin, with dreams in his head and an idea of how to get where he wanted to be. An area that wasn't really growing, a strongly rural area, and a pretty boring place to grow up if it was anything like my own upbringing in southern rural Wisconsin (some will say that boring is better than the dangers kids can face these days—but it certainly does make us independent sorts want to strike out on our own).
I have put together an impression that Chuck didn't have really strong family ties, that he was strongly independent, a bit of a loner, and that he made his own way in things. As soon as he could he got himself into the minor leagues and away from home. And he was reluctant to go back to Wisconsin, even when life dealt him a poor hand.
To illustrate this, here's another quote from London: the Dog Who Made the Team, after recounting Chuck's release from the White Sox--his one stint in the Major Leagues:
"In all the world he could think of no single person he cared to face. He might have flown north to his mother. She lived in a Wisconsin town, now that Pa had died and the farm was gone. Ma would give him boundless sympathy.
He could see her rock back and forth, regarding him.
'Cholly, better you settle down. With Emil a nice job in the garage. Here at home with Emil. Here with George.'
The last thing Chuck wanted was to become 'Poor Cholly'."
Emil I have no idea on (a friend of the family maybe, or a nickname for Chuck's eldest brother William?) but George almost certainly refers to Chuck's second brother, who had enlisted in the peacetime Navy before the war and presumably had returned to his hometown afterward.
Next: I am noticing some discrepancies in the timeline between Malcolmson's somewhat romanticized account and Gary Bedingfield's excellent Baseball in Wartime blog entry on Eisenmann (with material drawn from an interview given in 1995). Given that, my task will be to break down Chuck's movements from team to team and in and out of the Army as given in Mr. Bedingfield's account, and then to attempt to fit into them the large amount of anecdotal material I'm collecting.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
If they have been around long enough and have an archive, then that's something I'd have to try to visit in person. I do have their phone number and address so I can call them this week and make some polite enquiries.
I'm going to need to re-read all of Chuck's books, hunting for those little anecdotes that pop up here and there in his writing. That should be fun; when I find a really neat bit I can quote it here for those of you who don't already own the material.
I also own David Malcolmson's London: the Dog Who Made the Team, a biography written as a narrative and published in 1963. The writing style is of a sort that's fallen out of popularity today, but there are some great tidbits and stories in there (and many excellent candid photos of London that I haven't seen anywhere else, I assume from Chuck's personal collection). I'll likely be scanning some of those and putting them up here as the work goes on.
Here's a quote from Chapter One of the above book, about Chuck's boyhood, that gives some perspective on the ambition and drive of this small-town Wisconsin farm boy:
"As a boy on a dairy farm he had dreamed of a great pitching arm. Milking cows was but a way of building strength into his right hand and into his right forearm. He threw stones. He threw balls. Always he aimed at a target. As he threw a rock, a clod, an apple even, he planned for each finger to do its part, to give a ball a needed twist. ... Putting mind and soul and body into his right arm, he built an arm he could take to any manager in the land and say, 'Step out on the diamond and see for yourself.'"
Research: Noted down the contact info for the Superior Telegram for future enquiry, did some archive searches online and found out there are still Eisenmanns in the area (though who knows if they are related, or even if they know about Chuck if they are?).
Saturday, August 4, 2012
I can at least claim some understanding of what it's like to grow up in a small Wisconsin town, albeit over fifty years later. By a bit of coincidence, I grew up locationally diametrically opposed to Chuck. Hawthorne is in the far northwest corner of the state, twenty miles south of Lake Superior; Bristol is in the far southeastern corner, around the same distance west of Lake Michigan. Bristol when I lived there was so small as to be unincorporated. Hawthorne in the year 2000 had just over 1,000 people.
I haven't been able to find out what size the town was when Chuck lived there, but the Census information from 1940 indicates that all of Douglas county (where Hawthorne is located) fluctuated between 49,771 (in 1920) and 46,583 (in 1930) around the time that Chuck was growing up. The 1930's to 1940's Census comparison shows a very slow (0 to 1.9% range!) rate of growth in the counties that occupied that remote corner of the state over the course of the decade.
In fact the towns themselves are not even measured unless they're of significant size. Only the county size, and the ratio of urban to rural dwellers in those counties. In that Douglas had about one third of its people living rurally, and had the rare distinction (only two other counties shared it) that its rural population actually increased while the urban population fell from 1930 to 1940. Want an interesting and odd parallel? The other two counties where this happened in that timespan were Kenosha county--where my hometown of Bristol is--and Racine county, right next door to Kenosha.
So what does this tell us about life in that section of the state? In 1930 Chuck would have been twelve years old. The population of the area he lived in was dropping slowly overall, and while he was traversing his teenage years people were moving out of the towns instead of into them--perhaps to other, more prosperous towns. There certainly was no gangbuster growth to keep a boy of Chuck's ambitions occupied or engaged.
Research Started: I contacted the Town of Hawthorne today via email, telling them about my project and asking if they could refer me to someone I could talk to about the town's history during that time. I wasn't able to find a link to history on their website.
Field Trip Proposed: I'd like to go up to Hawthorne. Since I grew up in Bristol, my mom's family are in Portage, and I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I might even be able to combine it with a family visit or two and a romp through some old college haunts. Fall would be the best time to go, with the northern change of colors, but this year the schedule is full and the bank account empty. Winter's out of the question. Perhaps I'll be able to make the time this coming spring or summer to visit the area and absorb some local color, maybe talk to some people about old times.
No rush, really; I suspect, with the depth of research I'll need to do, that I'll be working on this project for a while.
In the meantime...anyone reading this who's familiar with Hawthorne or northern Wisconsin before World War II, drop me an email: email@example.com. :)
Friday, August 3, 2012
Here's a basic introduction to the project. I've noticed that there's very little out there on the web about Charles P. "Chuck" Eisenmann, owner and trainer of the dogs who starred in The Littlest Hobo. Chuck passed away in 2010 and I wrote a tribute to him that I posted on the web.
After I did...people started contacting me. People who worked with Chuck, who saw Chuck and his dogs perform, or just who loved the Littlest Hobo show. So many of you have posted on the blog or written to me via email. It has really touched me that you have taken time out of your lives to thank me for writing about Chuck and his dogs. I even met people through eBay auctions where I picked up publicity photos like the one pictured here.
Here's a link to that tribute post I wrote when Chuck passed away last year:
Well, I've decided it's time to write some more. There are successful books out there about dog stars like Rin Tin Tin; I've decided to try to write one about Chuck Eisenmann and the dogs that played The Littlest Hobo. I'm sick of waiting for someone else to do it for me--and what if no one ever does?
So, who the heck am I and why do I care?
My name's Anne Becker. I run a blog for my ISSR Shiloh Shepherd Kyrie. She looks just like one of the Littlest Hobo dogs. Through her--and because of her breeder, more on that below--I have become a huge fan of the series, the trainer, and the amazing dogs.
I first learned about them through Tina Barber, our Shiloh Shepherd Breed Founder, who also passed away last year. She wrote an article called "What Is a Shiloh Shepherd" that featured photos and newspaper blurbs from Chuck's book Stop! Sit! and Think!
Tina mentioned several times that she and other kennels had been working with Chuck to try to produce more dogs that looked like London, the German shepherd dog who played the original Hobo. It was from one of those other kennels that she got her Samson--the first outcross dog used in the Shiloh Shepherd breeding program. All Shilohs who have Samson in their pedigree also have The Littlest Hobo back there. That's why you'll see Shiloh Shepherds who look like London; those color genes are rare, but they do pop up, as they did with my Kyrie.
So...what's the goal, here?
I want to write a book that does the following.
I want the first chapter to touch briefly on Chuck's military background for context. He was a veteran of World War II and there was a reason he named his first dog "London". After that I want to move into his baseball years after he returned from the war, his dropping out of baseball due to injury (when he acquired London) and his return to baseball, where London, performing in front of stadium crowds, earned the fame that got him a LIFE magazine spread. From there it's all the fantastic tale of the dogs behind the Littlest Hobo and the movies, TV show, and public appearances.
To aid me, I do own every one of Chuck's books and numerous publicity photos. I've watched a VCR recording he did on educating your dog. I've tracked down good places to start digging for newspaper blurbs, more photos, video snips and stills of TV appearances...BUT.
I need help.
If you knew Chuck, and want to talk about him and what his dogs meant to you...if you were one of the people who attended a live appearance and were convinced by his dogs that there ARE things about canine intelligence that are breathtaking and incredible...or if you just plain love the Littlest Hobo and want to try to put into words why it mattered or matters so much to you--
Then email me. Let's work together. I really want to include interviews with and testimonials by people who don't want this stuff to be forgotten. All of Chuck's books are out of print. It's almost impossible to find the LP recording or video anymore. We need to erect a memorial in words, before the people who can speak or write them are gone, too.
I'll be up front and say I can't pay you anything for contributing. I may have to publish this book out of my own pocket to get it out there if I can't find a real publisher who's willing to take it on. But this is a labor of love, and it's something that needs doing. So let's go.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to hear from you about Chuck, London, Litlon, Toro, Venus, Raura, Thorn and all the rest.
Thanks for reading...and I'll be posting here as the project progresses. You may get excerpts. More photos as I discover them. Anything interesting I'm digging into to work on the project. Stay tuned!