Like an actor cast in a role, this 1985 Modena Spyder California was chosen to play the part of a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. / Photo by Matt Anderson
For those who haven’t visited Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in recent months, we have a wonderful new display space created in partnership with the Hagerty Drivers Foundation. Each year, we’ll share a couple of significant automobiles included on the foundation’s National Historic Vehicle Register. The (currently) 32 vehicles on the register each made a lasting mark on American history—whether through influence on design or engineering, success on the race track, participation in larger national stories, or starring roles on the silver screen.
Our first display vehicle is Hollywood through and through. It’s a “1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder” (those quotes are intentional) used in the 1986 Gen-X classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Those who’ve seen the film know that the car is a crucial part of the plot—ferrying Ferris, Sloane Peterson, and Cameron Frye around Chicago; threatening to expose their secret skip day; and forcing a difficult conversation between Cameron and his emotionally distant father.
In true movie fashion, though, not all is what it appears to be.
This 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California is the real thing, as featured in Henry Ford Museum’s Sports Cars in Review exhibit in 1965. / THF139028
The Ferrari 250 is among the most desirable collector cars in the world. GT street versions sell at auction for millions of dollars. And GTO competition variants—well, the sky’s the limit. Even in the mid-1980s, these autos were too pricey for film work—particularly when the plot calls for the car to be (spoiler alert) destroyed. Instead, Ferris Bueller director John Hughes commissioned three replicas for the shoot: two functional cars used for most scenes, and a non-runner destined to fly out the back of Mr. Frye’s suburban Chicago garage.
Replica cars were nothing new in the 1980s. For years, enterprising manufacturers had been offering copies of collector cars that were no longer in production and too expensive for most enthusiasts. The coveted Duesenberg Model J is a prime example, having been copied by replica manufacturers for decades. Some replica cars were more about convenience than cost. Glassic Industries of West Palm Beach, Florida, produced fiberglass-bodied copies of the Ford Model A with available niceties like automatic transmissions and tape decks. Occasionally, the line between “real” and “replica” got blurry. Continuation cars like the Avanti II (based on Studebaker’s original) or post-1960s Shelby Cobras (based on Carroll Shelby’s racing sports cars) were sometimes built with formal permission or participation from the original automakers.
So, if the Ferris Bueller car at The Henry Ford isn’t a real Ferrari, then what is it?
The replica’s builder, Modena Design & Development, was founded in the early 1980s by Californians Neil Glassmoyer and Mark Goyette. When John Hughes read about Modena in a car magazine, he called the firm. As the story goes, Glassmoyer initially hung up on the famous writer/director—believing that it had to be a prank. Hughes phoned again, and Modena found itself with a desirable movie commission. Paramount Pictures, the studio behind Ferris Bueller, leased one car and bought two others.
The Modena replicas featured steel-tube frames and Ferrari-inspired design cues like hood scoops, fender vents, and raked windshields. While the genuine Ferrari bodies used a blend of steel and aluminum components, Modena’s bodies were formed from fiberglass—purportedly based on a British MG body and then fine-tuned for a more Ferrari-like appearance.
The replica Ferrari’s V-8 was sourced from a 1974 Ford Torino, not too different from these 1973 models. / THF232097
The most obvious differences were under the cars’ skin. Rather than a 180-cubic-inch Ferrari V-12, the Modena at The Henry Ford features a 302-cubic-inch Ford V-8 (originally sourced from a 1974 Ford Torino). While the Ford engine was rated at 135 horsepower from the factory, this one has been rebuilt and refined—surely capable of greater output now. And instead of the original Ferrari’s four-speed manual gearbox, the Modena has a Ford-built three-speed automatic transmission. (According to lore, actor Matthew Broderick wasn’t comfortable driving a manual.)
After filming wrapped, the leased car was sent back to Modena’s El Cajon, California, facility. After some work to repair damage from a stunt scene, the car was sold to the first in a series of private owners. By 2003, this beloved piece of faux Italiana/genuine Americana had been relocated to the United Kingdom. The current owner purchased it at auction in 2010 and repatriated the car to the United States. The Modena was much modified over the years, so the current owner had it carefully restored and returned to its on-screen appearance—as you see it today.
Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be the quickest route to a lawsuit. Following the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferrari sued Modena Design & Development (along with other replica builders). The matter was settled out of court when Modena agreed to make some minor changes per the Italian automaker’s specifications. Replica production then resumed for a few more years.
The Modena Spyder California may not be a real Ferrari, but it’s certainly a real pop-culture icon. That’s reason enough to include it on the National Historic Vehicle Register, and to celebrate it at The Henry Ford.
When thinking about the celebrated figures in decorative arts history, one first thinks of individuals like Thomas Chippendale, Duncan Phyfe, and Gustav Stickley in furniture, Paul Revere and Tiffany and Company in silver, and Josiah Wedgwood in ceramics. All these prominent figures have something in common—they all are men. There are few celebrated female leaders in the decorative arts. This may be due to the scholarly focus on great men, to the detriment of women, until recent years.
Cover of Tried by Fire by Susan Frackelton, 1886. / THF627718
One of the most important and underrecognized women in decorative arts history was Susan Frackelton (1848–1932). She was a founder of the field of women’s china painting in the 1870s and 1880s. She was also a catalyst in transforming that pastime into a profession with the evolution of china painting into art pottery in the 1890s. Unlike her more famous peers, Susan Frackelton earned her living and supported her family on the proceeds of her publishing, teaching, and collaborations with like-minded artists.
Susan Frackelton faced many challenges in her personal and professional life. In many ways, she was a trailblazer for the modern, independent woman. Only in recent years have her contributions been recognized. Like other major figures in the decorative arts, including Thomas Chippendale, she is best remembered for a publication, her 1886 Tried by Fire. In the introduction, she states, “If the rough road that I have traveled to success can be made smoother for those who follow, or may hereafter pass me in the race, my little book will have achieved the end which is desired.”
Why Was China Painting a Means for Women’s Liberation?
Many factors fueled the growth of amateur china painting in late-19th-century America. As America became wealthier after the Civil War, women of the middle and upper middle classes gained more leisure time for personal pursuits. China painting became a socially acceptable pastime for women because it allowed them to create decorative objects for the home. Further, the influence of the English Aesthetic movement and later the Arts and Crafts movement advocated that the creation of art should be reflected in the home. By the 1870s and 1880s, wealthy women were freer to leave the confines of the home through organizations that they set up to create and exhibit their work.
What Is China Painting?
Pitcher, 1890–1910, decorated by an amateur china painter. / THF176880
This pitcher is a good example of the work of an amateur china painter. The artist would take a “blank”—a piece of fired, undecorated, white porcelain, in this case a pitcher made by the English firm Haviland—and paint over the glaze. These blanks could be purchased in multiples at specialty stores. One of the most prominent of these was the Detroit-based L.B. King China Store. It was founded in 1849 and closed during the Great Depression, about 1932. According to a 1913 advertisement, the retailer sold hotel china, fine china dinnerware, cut glass, table glassware, lamps, shades, art pottery, china blanks, and artists materials. Elbert Hubbard, founder and proprietor of the Roycrofters, a reformist community of craft workers and artists that formed part of the Arts and Crafts movement, wrote enthusiastically about the products of the L.B King China Store: “The store is not only a store—it is an exposition, a school if you please, where the finest displays of hand and brain in the way of ceramics are shown.” A woman seeking to learn about china painting could literally walk into the L.B. King Store and walk out with paints, blanks, and a manual like Frackelton’s Tried by Fire and start painting her own china.
The pitcher above is part of a large group of serving pieces in our collection. Also in our collections is a full set of china decorated by a young woman and her friends who learned china painting at what is now Michigan State University. They decorated the dinnerware service in preparation for the young woman’s wedding in 1911. According to family history, the young woman purchased the blanks at the L.B. King Store.
How Did China Painting Evolve in the Late 19th Century?
During the 1870s, Cincinnati was the center of American china painting. The movement was led by two wealthy women, Maria Longworth Nichols (1849–1932), who later founded the Rookwood Pottery, and her rival, Mary Louise McLaughlin (1847–1939). Both studied with European male ceramic artists who had made their way to Cincinnati. Both evolved from amateur status into extraordinary artists, who moved from painting over the glaze to learning how to throw and fire their own vessels, create designs, and formulate glazes for their vessels. This all occurred during the late 1870s, following a display of ceramic art at the Women’s Pavilion of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Both sought to outdo each other in the formulations of glazes. It is generally believed McLaughlin was the first to learn the technique of underglaze decoration, although Nichols later claimed that she was the first to do so. Nichols’ most important achievement was in creating the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati in 1880. It was essentially the first commercial art pottery company in America, and it led the way in the development of new techniques that were widely imitated by other firms. Rookwood and its competitors began to hire women to decorate ceramics, opening a new livelihood for women less well off than Nichols and McLaughlin.
Vase, 1917, decorated by Lenore Asbury at the Rookwood Pottery Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. / THF176918
Tile, 1910–1920, made by the Rookwood Pottery Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. / THF176941
Essentially, through the pastime of china painting, a new industry, art pottery, came into being by 1900. Under the influence of popular magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal and House Beautiful, Americans eagerly acquired art pottery. In fact, tastemakers like the young architect Frank Lloyd Wright filled his houses with art pottery. He considered it very much part of his total aesthetic. Through the first three decades of the 20th century, art pottery was considered a must in any well-furnished American home. It only fell out of fashion in the 1930s, when the Great Depression drastically altered lifestyles.
How Does Susan Frackelton’s Story Fit into All of This?
Susan Stuart Goodrich Frackelton was a contemporary of both Maria Longworth Nichols and Mary Louise McLaughlin, born in 1848 like Maria Longworth Nichols, and just a year older than Mary Louise McLaughlin. Unlike either of these women, she came from a modest background. Her father was a brick maker in Milwaukee, and she was raised in a middle-class environment. Susan began her artistic career studying painting with the pioneer Wisconsin artist Henry Vianden. In 1869, she married Richard Frackelton and eventually raised three sons and a daughter.
Richard’s business was importing English ceramics and glass and was relatively successful. Within a few years, however, the business began a sharp decline and Susan stepped in to help. She later said that she learned about American taste in ceramics and business while working with her husband. Concurrently, she began to experiment with china painting, applying her experience in painting with Henry Vianden. She was essentially self-taught, unlike her contemporaries in Cincinnati. Through publications, she was aware of what was going on in the field. She was also aware of the innovations of Mary Louise McLaughlin in glazes, and by the late 1870s was experimenting in underglaze painting herself.
Frackelton’s contributions to china painting began in 1877, when she opened Frackelton’s Decorating Works in Milwaukee. She trained young women in the art of china painting. By 1882 she opened a related business called Mrs. Frackelton’s Keramic Studio for Under and Overglaze, where she sold her own work, wares made by her students, commercial china, and glassware, as well as painting supplies. Like Detroit’s L.B. King store, she created a one-stop shop for young women interested in exploring china painting and, later, art pottery.
Frackelton made a national name for herself in 1886 with the publication of Tried by Fire. It differed from other manuals for china painters in that it was written by a teacher for beginning students. Frackelton’s conversational style and advice on not expecting too much too soon appealed to readers and the book became a best seller, reprinted in two revised editions in 1892 and 1895. As a teacher, Frackelton had no equal in the world of art pottery. She advocated that both wealthy and poor women could enjoy the art of china painting: “Beauty is the birthright of the poor as well as the rich, and he lives best who most enjoys it.”
Pitcher, 1890–1910, decorated by an amateur china painter. Note that the botanical decoration on this pitcher is similar to the Tried by Fire color plates. / THF176879
Another major innovation was the development of a patented gas-fired kiln, first offered in the advertising section of Tried by Fire. By 1888 she was granted a second patent for a new and improved version.
Advertising section of Tried by Fire showing Frackelton’s portable gas kiln. / THF627793
By 1890 Frackelton was a well-known figure and was noted for displaying her work in international exhibits. In 1893 she won eight awards for her work in a competition held at Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition. Additionally, she became renowned for her work in a variety of ceramic media, especially for her blue and white salt-glazed stoneware. She also worked to create new and easier-to-use paints for decoration. She went so far as to organize the National League of Mineral Painters in 1892, an organization “aimed to foster a national school of ceramic art and provide a link between china painters throughout the country.”
By the late 1890s, Frackelton’s reputation was secure, as were her finances. In 1897 she divorced Richard Frackelton and moved to Chicago and spent much of her time lecturing and promoting ceramic art. She collaborated with several ceramic artists, including the now famous George Ohr, a unique artist who called himself “the mad potter of Biloxi.” Together, they created several highly unusual pieces, now in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
In her later years, Frackelton moved away from working in ceramics, preferring to return to painting and working as an illuminator of manuscripts. However, Frackelton’s promotion of the ceramic arts made her one of the most admired female artists in America in the first decade of the 20th century. Susan Frackelton was a remarkable figure in American ceramics, justifiably earning her status as one of the prominent figures in the decorative arts and certainly in broadening the role of women in American society.
Charles Sableis Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc for editorial preparation assistance with this post.
Ford Motor Company was approached by the Vatican in 1965 to provide a vehicle in which to transport Pope Paul VI during a visit to New York City that October. It was an unprecedented occasion—no sitting pope had ever visited the United States before—and Ford was determined to meet the challenge. The automaker approached George Lehmann and Bob Peterson of Chicago. The two men had specialized in “stretching” and customizing Lincoln Continentals since 1962, and their firm had earned a reputation for the high quality of its work. Lehmann-Peterson did not disappoint, rushing a special car to completion in fewer than two weeks.
The papal Lincoln was lengthened to 21 feet (from the standard 18). Step plates and handrails were added for security personnel. Additional seats, arranged in a vis-à-vis (i.e., face-to-face) layout, were placed in the rear compartment. Supplemental interior lighting and a public address system allowed the pontiff to be seen and heard by the crowds, and an adjustable seat—capable of being raised several inches—further improved his visibility. A removable roof panel and added windscreen allowed the pope to stand and wave when conditions permitted.
Pope Paul VI Pictured Visiting New York in 1965 / THF128756
Pope Paul VI spent a whirlwind 14 hours touring New York on October 4, 1965. He gave a blessing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, met with President Lyndon Johnson at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, addressed the UN General Assembly, and led an outdoor mass at Yankee Stadium. The pontiff ended his tour with a visit to the Vatican exhibit at the New York World’s Fair.
The modified Lincoln returned to Chicago where it served as a city parade car for visiting dignitaries. In 1968, the Vatican called once again, this time requesting the car’s use during a papal visit to Bogotá, Colombia. The car again performed flawlessly, despite Bogotá’s high altitude and the engine modifications made to the vehicle as a result.
Apollo 13 Astronauts Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell in a Parade, Chicago, Illinois, May 1, 1970 / THF288386
The car went back to Chicago and soon carried a new series of dignitaries. Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders—the first men to orbit the Moon—were paraded in the car on a visit to the Windy City in January 1969. Seven months later, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins enjoyed a similar honor. The crews of Apollo 13 and Apollo 15 would later have their own parades in the Lincoln.
Thanks to some digging into our collections, Chicago-based writer and editor James Hughes, son of director John Hughes, discovered some surprising connections between National Lampoon’s Vacation, which his father wrote, and The Henry Ford. In 2017, James joined Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson for a discussion about that connection, his father’s writing inspiration, and the time-honored tradition of the family road trip, both then and now.
Matt Anderson: James, of course it should be noted that your father wrote the screenplay for this picture, and here we are. And, of course when think about your father's films, whether it's Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, right up to Uncle Buck, we tend to think of Chicago. The films are always rooted in that city or that area. But in fact, he's got some connections to southeast Michigan.
James Hughes: My father was born in Michigan in 1950, in Lansing, and spent his childhood in Grosse Pointe. It was probably around junior high age, I want to say around 12, possibly older, when his family moved to the North Shore of Chicago, to the suburb of Northbrook, which became the inspiration for the fictional town of Shermer, Illinois, where my father set many of his films, particularly in the ‘80s. I was thinking about this relation to Vacation—there are several Michigan connections. For one, Vacation was a summer movie, released in 1983. Within a few weeks of it, Mr. Mom was released as well, another screenplay he wrote, which was set in suburban Detroit. The Michael Keaton character, at the beginning of the movie, is fired from his job at Ford Motor Company. But before there was the screenplay for Vacation, there was my father’s short story, titled Vacation ’58. The Griswold family lived on Rivard Boulevard in Grosse Pointe. So, that was where the journey began.
You know, it's interesting, I've said this many times about my dad. He took a pretty significant step back from the movie business in the late '90s and early 2000s. But he continued to write every day. He was a very disciplined writer. And in his later years, before he passed away, he was working on developing his prose style. He was writing hundreds and hundreds of short stories. And there was an interesting series of stories within that about his Grosse Pointe childhood. He made himself the narrator, in much the same way that the Vacation short story was from the point of view of Rusty, the son. To tell his own stories, he created a character based on himself and wrote under the pseudonym JL Hudson, as a nod to the Detroit department store, in much the same way that the Griswold family is a nod to Griswold Street in downtown Detroit.
Matt: Your father, in the early-mid 1970s, he's working at an ad agency, right? For Leo Burnett in Chicago? Really one of the best-known ad agencies in the world, at that point. And he's got a successful career, but as I understand it, he also has kind of a shadow career. He's moonlighting on the side, right?
James: All throughout the ‘70s my father was a freelance humor writer. He got his start at a relatively young age. He was in his 20s, maybe, I want to say 22. And he was writing jokes for stand-up comedians. Rodney Dangerfield was one, Phyllis Diller was another. He would maybe write 10, 20 jokes a day and mail them off to comedians, and would get paid per joke, if that line was used in their acts. He was able to roll that into writing for publications. At the time, in the mid-70s, Chicago had a deeper publishing footprint than it has now. And the big magazine was Playboy, so he wrote a few humor pieces for Playboy, and conducted an interview or two for them as well. Concurrently, he was a copywriter and, ultimately, a creative director at Leo Burnett.
The big prize was to write for National Lampoon, which was, to him, the preeminent comedic voice in the country. He was really honored to contribute to the Lampoon. And he was able to pull this off in part because he often commuted from Chicago to New York. In particular, he was servicing the Virginia Slims campaign for Phillip Morris, which was based in Manhattan. So, either before or after meetings, he was able to sneak off to the National Lampoon offices, which were also in the epicenter of the New York advertising row, on Madison Avenue.
It's common for advertising writers to, say, work on their novel at night, or work freelance on the side. My father actually wrote at work quite often, at his desk. And his boss, Robert Nolan, allowed it because he wanted to keep him working on ad copy. Rob wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post soon after my father died, in 2009, where he recounted what it was like to be John Hughes' boss, knowing he was living this sort of double-life as a comedy writer. He likened it to a kind of Ferris Bueller/Principal Rooney dynamic, where my father was always able to stay one step ahead, and somehow get all of his work done, and somehow get to work on time, while also contributing steadily to the Lampoon, where he eventually earned a spot as an editor on the masthead, all while living in the North Shore of Chicago and skirting a move to New York.
Matt: Fantastic. Well, let's talk about that short story, Vacation ‘58. This is a real defining moment. Sort of a milestone in your father's career, right? He makes this decision now to move away from Leo Burnett and commit himself to writing full time.
James: This story was published in September 1979, which was about six months or so after I was born. So he was a young father of two and had all the commitments that come with that. But he enjoyed writing and contributing to the Lampoon so much that he took the risk and quit his job at Leo Burnett. He was on the verge of becoming a VP, though he quit to pursue writing full-time. Fortunately, for him, the release of National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978 was such a smash that several Lampoon writers were being poached by the studios or offered development deals. And without my father even knowing, his short story was optioned by Warner Bros., pretty much upon publication. And though he had to work in the trenches on several projects between, let's say 1979 and 1983, when Vacation was released, it really did help launch his career.
Matt: Let's talk for a moment about the short story. The movie is a fairly faithful adaptation, going from that short story. But there are a few changes here and there, and one of the major changes, in fact, was quite a big change to the ending. And I should, just to do it justice, read the opening line:
"If Dad hadn't shot Walt Disney in the leg it would have been our best vacation ever."
I think that pretty much sets up the story beautifully. But that gets to the ending, which is quite different from what we see in the film.
James: Of course with the film, they weren't able to have Walt Disney portray himself—that might've been a bridge too far. The Roy Walley character was created for the purpose of the film. And yes, the ending of the short story is pretty rough, as much of the humor in the Lampoon was back then. Clark uses live rounds, it’s not a…
Matt: Not a BB gun?
James: No, not a BB gun. But when Clark arrives at the park, only to find that it's closed for repairs, he snaps and takes the family to the Bel Air home of Walt Disney and shoots Walt in the leg. Walt’s security dog doesn’t fare well, either.
Matt: Just the happy ending everyone wants. My understanding is they originally shot something like that for the film, and then realized it didn't play all that well with the test audiences.
James: True, yes. You know, perhaps because of my father’s advertising background, he was open to the test-screening process—the kind of diagnostics you learn from test audiences, and how you can adjust the picture accordingly. Of course, he wasn't the director of the film, but he was, as a result of the rather rough ending, which audiences rejected, brought back in to write an entirely new ending at the request of Harold Ramis, the director.
Matt: Speaking of that, when you think about your father's films, really starting in the mid-80s and on—films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off—these are movies where you really see a large degree of creative control. He's writing the story, then directing, very much able to bring his vision to the screen. And that's not the case, of course, early in his career. He's written the screenplay for Vacation and adapted it from his short story, but he's turned over control, at some point, to Harold Ramis. And I wonder if you had any insight on that experience. If that was difficult for him?
James: I think the process of changing the ending, that might've been an area of difficulty. As a young writer for hire, he didn’t have much power in the industry. But I think time has certainly proven that Harold was a great choice to direct this picture. And casting is such a big part of the process, and I know my father was pleased with the cast that Harold and his team put together. I know they worked closely, but in terms of being on set, I don't believe he was there very much. Obviously with it being a road picture, the majority of which was filmed in Colorado and out west, I don't believe he was actually physically present for much of it. Though, I would imagine, because of that triage situation with the ending, he was brought closer into the fold.
Matt: This leads me to my next question, of talking about the road picture. From what I understand, it was more or less like a vacation for the cast. They were traveling to these places. The whole crew and support trucks, depending on the outfit. But, I was curious about your own family vacations. Did you take trips with your father, your parents? Have you had any wacky adventures or stories to share?
James: I was raised in Illinois, but my father's career demanded we move out west, to Los Angeles, from the mid- to late 80s. So much of my childhood was about alternating between Illinois and California. We kept our house in Illinois and went back often, so that meant a lot of air travel. I don't have any major road-trip stories to offer, unfortunately. As I grew older, we did travel by car with my grandparents to the Northwoods. My father, to some extent, rolled some of those experiences into his screenplay for The Great Outdoors, along with his own memories of traveling and exploring the Upper Midwest when he was younger. Or perhaps it was just him longing to revisit that corner of the world after being stationed in Los Angeles for years.
In 1990, when Home Alone was released, it was really the first time his work went truly international. He generally wrote stories that catered to a domestic audience. These were regional stories, particularly about the Midwest. And Home Alone changed the whole paradigm. That franchise played so widely overseas, which meant an obligation to do foreign press and promote the franchise around the world. And then he had a couple productions based in London, which meant going to England quite often. In a way, in the '90s, he made up for lost time. He was simply too busy for us to do any extensive road trips like the one in Vacation. But later in life, he made up for it, particularly by trying to open the world to the family a bit more, with overseas travel.
Model with 1979 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. THF294571
Matt: Being an automotive curator, we've got to talk about that car. It’s more or less based on a 1979 Ford Country Squire station wagon, and just made up to look as gaudy as possible. You know, why do four headlights when you can do eight, right? I wondered if your father had any input on the design?
James: You know, I can't say for sure if he did. I would imagine, when you go from the page to the screen, there are so many different people making decisions—the art director, production designer, prop master, the director himself—that I don't know if, as a screenwriter, he was able to have input on the model that they chose and customized. I do know that from the short story, it's a Plymouth.
Matt: Right, a '58 Plymouth.
James: A running joke early on in the short story is how long it takes for the Griswold family to actually leave the house, or even just leave the state of Michigan. And one of the reasons is that the Plymouth dies. And Clark laments and kind of kicks himself for the fact that he didn't buy a Ford.
Matt: Right. There you go!
James: In the early '90s my father was working at 20th Century Fox. At that time, one of the hit shows on the Fox network was Married With Children. I remember my dad mentioning, offhandedly, that the opening shots of that show’s title sequence were from Harold's second unit photography on Vacation. That always stuck in my mind, and I never quite knew if it was true. I've seen that noted online here and there, but I wanted to confirm it before mentioning it here. I asked my friend Schawn Belston, head of archival and digital restoration at Fox, if he would ask around the lot on my behalf. Fortunately, there were some people who confirmed that, in fact, yes, Married With Children opens with the footage from Vacation. There was a very kind film stock librarian at Fox, Wendy Carter, who went so far as to track down Carl Barth, the aerial photographer who shot the Family Truckster driving through Chicago, to verify. It was noted that, if you look carefully at the title sequence for the show’s first three seasons, you can see the Family Truckster drive by. I believe it's on the Dan Ryan Expressway. A strange pop-culture afterlife for the Truckster.
Matt: I think they built maybe a total of five cars for the movie. I'm sure there was a hero car that was fully tricked-out, and then of course they had some stunt cars for the jump and so forth. But it's beloved. It's always interested me. I think if this film had been made even just a year or two later, they probably would've been driving a minivan, because this is the tail-end of the station wagon era.
James: That's true.
Matt: Vacation is essentially your father's big break, right? This is one of his first screenplays, and it's a hit film. There's no two ways about it. I would imagine, from that perspective, if nothing else, it would have a certain meaningfulness to him. But also, as you watch the movie, you notice that two of your father's future collaborators, Anthony Michael Hall and John Candy, both appear in this movie as well. I wondered if that's perhaps how he first crossed paths with them?
James: I believe that's the case. I'm glad you mentioned that. I appreciate that, because those are two actors, certainly John Candy, who my father cherished collaborating with. I don't think there are any two actors he gave more latitude to improvise or to develop characters alongside him when he was directing than Candy and Michael Hall. Another actor he admired was Eddie Bracken.
Matt: Yes, Roy Walley.
James: Eddie Bracken was cast to play Roy Walley, and I imagine it must've blown my father's mind at the time. He was a big fan of Preston Sturges, one of the great writer/directors of the 1940s, perhaps best remembered for Sullivan's Travels, which was one of my father's favorite movies. Bracken was the star of two of Sturges' greats, Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. It had to be a trip for him to have Bracken reading his dialogue. And he actually circled back later in his career and hired Eddie a couple of times more. Perhaps most prominently in Home Alone 2, when he was the toy-store owner in New York.
Matt: They talk about actors and roles they were born to play. I've always thought that about Eddie Bracken in this movie, you know, just the perfect sort of spitting image of Walt Disney. A great stand-in. There's some other, of course, perfect performances in this movie. Think about Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie. Sort of steals every scene he's in. Imogene Coca, of course, a legend in TV comedy from Your Show of Shows. Brian Doyle-Murray, who plays the campground owner. Slight continuity error here because he returns in Christmas Vacation as Clark's boss, but we'll let that go for now. But I wondered, as we watch this movie, it's full of so many wonderful moments. I wondered if you had any favorite scenes or moments in this movie that you've continually referred to.
James: I'm partial to Clark's meltdown when the family throws in the towel and declares they're ready to head home. I think my father had a particular knack for writing passive-aggressive rants.
Matt: There's so many great moments in this movie. I kind of think of it as America's favorite R-rated family film. It's just so timeless. You think of the short story being written about a trip in 1958, this movie made in 1983, yet the situations are still recognizable to all of us today, taking a road trip in 2017.
Part of the reason we’re chatting is because there is a surprising connection between this movie and The Henry Ford. The collections in The Henry Ford, specifically. We see it right away in the opening title sequence of Vacation. Tell us a little bit about that.
Trout Haven Billboard, Spearfish, South Dakota, 1980. THF239534
James: I was thrilled about this. I was here at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation last year and our friend and colleague Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication and Information Technology, gave me a private tour of the archive. At that time, a recent acquisition was a portion of the photo archives of John Margolies, a great chronicler of Americana, particularly roadside Americana. He documented the kinds of landmarks that are spoofed in Vacation. You know how Clark wants to see the world's second-largest ball of twine? Well, Margolies was the photographer who would've had an entire portfolio of that. That name stuck in my mind when Kristen first told me about him. Then, a few months later, I came across an interview with Harold Ramis where he mentioned he was friends with Margolies and that he used his images for the postcards in the main and closing title sequences in Vacation. I told Kristen about this and she searched the Margolies archives and found several images that appear in Vacation.
This inspired me to reach out to the title designer, Wayne Fitzgerald, who’s a giant in his field. He’s retired now and lives in the Pacific Northwest. He created the titles for My Fair Lady, Judgment at Nuremberg, Bonnie and Clyde. The titles for the Netflix series Stranger Things are patterned after Wayne's titles for The Dead Zone, which was released a few months after Vacation. He and his son and collaborator, Eric, also worked on the titles for The Breakfast Club and filmed the shot where the title card with the David Bowie quote shatters at the start.
I had a great conversation with Eric, about what it was like putting the Vacation titles together, back when they were cutting to Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” demo tape, which Eric remembered having no lyrics yet, only melodies. At one point, Buckingham riffed on Wayne’s name, to fill space during the verses.
Hat N' Boots Gas, Seattle, Washington, 1980. THF238979
I mentioned the Margolies archive to Eric, who of course remembered his images. What The Henry Ford has in the collection is even more special than what’s in the movie, because you have the slides themselves, John’s original photography. The titles for Vacation were made in the pre-digital era, so they were reproductions that were taken from books, as Eric explained, and then shot as animation cels. Many of them were Margolies’ images, which were doctored by Fitzgerald and his crew to appear as if they were postcards—given captions or a certain trim or border. Wayne and Eric were pleased to hear about this connection to the Margolies archives.
It’s great that Margolies, all these years ago, captured an America that was vanishing. Here we have a movie that's already over 30 years old. So fortunately, some of Margolies’ images live on, not only in the movie on a mass scale, but in the permanent archives of the museum. I think it's this really wonderful connection, and I'm thrilled that it's brought us to this discussion.
Matt: Those are two things we love here: highway travel and roadside Americana. You get both of them in the Margolies collection. James, thanks for chatting with me.
The Logan County Courthouse, a fixture on the Village Green in Greenfield Village, will has reached the milestone of having been here in Dearborn for as many years as it was in Postville, Illinois - 89 years.
Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village, which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Lincoln epitomized Ford’s view of the “self-made man,” and he made a significant effort to collect as many objects as possible associated with him. By the late 1920s, Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.
It has taken nearly all the 89 years to achieve this, but an original feature, long absent from the courtroom is making a return. The bar now stands again. Using the original set of spindles, we have re-created our interpretation of what the rail, or the bar, that divided the courtroom may have looked like in the1840s. By referencing images of other early 19th century courtrooms, and studying architectural features represented in Greenfield Village, a typical design was created.
The stories associated with the Logan County Courthouse are fascinating. As it turns out, the story of how the original spindles from the original bar finally made their way back into the courthouse is fascinating as well.
Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s. There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them, but very few of these were the real thing. For Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Lincoln seemed unlikely.
But, by the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in very run-down condition, described by some as “derelict.” It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for taking over the care of the building. Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Ford’s intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over.
This image shows the state of the building when it was first seen by Henry Ford’s staff in late August of 1929. Not visible in the large shed attached to the rear of the building. THF238386
The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as stating that, “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination. By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people."
Henry had made his case and the courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln. Immediately following the final negotiations, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed to purchase the land. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die on September 19, just as the last bits of the old courthouse were being loaded for their journey to Greenfield Village.
Reconstruction, which included the fabrication of many of the first-floor details and a new stone chimney and fireplaces, began immediately. In roughly a month’s time, the building was ready for the grand opening of Greenfield Village on October 21, 1929.
Nine years later, in 1938, Eugene Amberg sent a letter to Ford describing an interesting discovery. Mr. Amberg was a native of what was now Lincoln, Illinois and worked as a railroad ticket agent. He had a great interest in the local history and was a collector of local artifacts. As he writes in the letter dated February 8, 1938:
Several years ago, you purchased the Old Postville Court House here in Lincoln, Ills from Mrs. T Beach. At the time the Court House was made into a dwelling the railing that separated the judges desk from the main court room was torn out by my father (John Amberg) who was doing the remodeling, this he stored in the attic of his home, recently my mother died and while cleaning out the attic we came across these spindles, which are the original 28 spindles that the hand railing rested upon. The hand railing was of walnut, out of which was carved some arm rests that are now on some of the pews in St. Mary’s, a church here.
Would appreciate a line from you as to whether or not you would be interested in these spindles, have had numerous offers for them, inasmuch as they are part of the original court house I feel they should be with it, in your Dearborn Village.
Dated February 7, 1938, this is the initial letter from Gene Amberg to Henry Ford offering the 28 original spindles for sale. Despite several letters back and forth, a price could not be settled upon, and the transaction never took place. THF288006
This drawing was sent by Gene Amberg, as a follow-up to his first letter offering the spindles for sale. The artist, Mary Katherine, was Gene’s 14 year old daughter. THF288012
Negotiations evidently faltered, as a price was not agreed upon, and the spindles were never sent. Fast forward 71 years to 2009 when an email arrived from Carol Moore and her brother, Dennis Cunningham, the grandchildren of Eugene Amberg. They had no idea that their grandfather had begun this process, and were amazed when we produced the original correspondence from our archival collection. As it turns out, their story was almost identical to Eugene’s. As Carol wrote their mother, “Patricia Amberg Cunningham died March 1, 2008. While cleaning her house in Delavan, Illinois to prepare for sale, we found 28 old wooden spindles and a newspaper article believed to be from the Lincoln Courier indicating that the spindles are from the original Postville Courthouse in Lincoln, Illinois. It is our desire to donate them to the original Postville Courthouse.”
She was very familiar with Greenfield Village, and had visited the courthouse here. Jim McCabe, the Buildings Curator at the time, gladly accepted the donation.
Clipping from the Lincoln Courier ca. 1934, noting the 28 spindles from the “old Postville courthouse” in the possession of Gene Amberg. THF288016, THF288017
In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and the county offices moved to a new courthouse. After a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter.
Understanding the local history helps to also understand the changes that took place to the building. It explains how and why portions of the building were altered, parts removed, and eventually separated.
By the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior. The most significant of these was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office. It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, it was lifted off its original limestone foundation, and the original single limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation were created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves.
This is the earliest known photograph of the Logan County Courthouse taken some time between 1850 and 1880. This photograph shows the building in its second location, 80 feet forward from its original foundation, at the crest of a small rise. The original window and door configuration remain intact. The original single stone chimney, now restored to the left side of the building, has been replaced by two internal brick chimneys designed for cast-iron heating stoves. Though not visible in the photograph, the building now sits on a new brick foundation and cellar. The items sitting near the doorway speak to the building’s new life as a store. THF132074
By 1880, the old courthouse had been converted from a commercial building into a private dwelling, and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929. The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed. Later, a porch was added to the front entrance, and a shed addition was added to the rear. Photographs taken in September of 1929 during the dismantling, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build.
This post 1880 view of the Logan County Courthouse shows its transformation into a two- family dwelling. Note the single doorway is now two, the second now taking the place of a former window opening. THF238350
This image shows further remodeling of the front of the building. This photo ca.1900 shows the addition of recessed covered porch with some decorative posts and millwork. This is the iteration in which the building was found when it was sold to Henry Ford in September of 1929. THF238348
These three images show the re-modeled interior of what was the original courtroom, now serving as the kitchen, dining room, and parlor. These photos were taken by Henry Ford’s staff just prior to the dismantling of the building in September of 1929. THF238580
The sub-divided first floor courtroom. THF238600
View of the cellar entrance under the stairway in the sub-divided courtroom. THF238598
We have no evidence that tells us what if any interior changes Mr. Kahn may have made when he relocated the building around 1850. The earliest photograph we have of the building shows it in its new location, but except for its new brick chimneys, it retains what appears to be its original door and window configuration. We can only assume that Mr. Kahn had kept the rail in place, which may have proved useful in the building’s new configuration as a store and post office. No photographs of the original courtroom exist and extensive changes made first in 1880, and then when the building was dismantled and reconstructed in Greenfield Village, further comprised any original evidence.
This view of the dismantled second floor shows matching trim and chair rail connected directly to the studs indicating this as the originally installed woodwork from 1840. The wall partition studs are also notched to meet the ceiling joists, showing that they are also part of the original framing configuration of the second floor. All the trim work, including the doors were made of walnut. THF285571
Based on the evidence we do have about these changes, it is very likely that at the time of the building’s conversion into a private dwelling, around 1880, the decorative hand-turned spindles and walnut hand rail would have been salvaged as the first floor of the building was sub-divided into a duplex. As stated in the family history, the walnut top rail was re-purposed and used in St. Mary’s Catholic Church (which burned in 1976), and the spindles saved for a future project.
Analysis of the original spindles showed that they were poplar, a wood commonly used for turning and as a secondary wood in the mid-19th century. Based on what we knew, we decided to use a combination of woods for the reconstruction of the bar rail. Walnut was used for the top rail and column caps, and the remainder of was done in poplar. Though refinished in 1929, the original walnut trim throughout the building was used as a guide for the color and sheen of the final finish. Reproduction hardware, again based on the existing hardware, mainly on the second floor, was used to mount the center gate.
Mose Nowland, conservation team volunteer at The Henry Ford, works on the design rendering for the bar. (Photo by Jim Johnson)
Mose Nowland and other members of The Henry Ford Conservation Team with the newly installed bar. (Photo by Bill Pagel)
The design of the physical installation of the rail and gate was robust. Each of the support columns is supported within by a steel post that runs through the floor joists and into the cellar floor. With over a half million guests visiting Greenfield Village each year, we thought this important. The design also offers some degree of protection to the original spindles that are centered within the top and bottom rail. This is a permanent installation, and we wanted to be sure it would stand up to the test of time.
Views of the newly re-created bar at the Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village. (Photos by Jim Johnson)
A huge thank you to Mary Fahey and Dennis Morrison for stewarding the project. Also to Mose Nowland, our extraordinary volunteer with The Henry Ford’s Conservation Team, who lead the charge in creating the design, and produced beautifully detailed drawings. Ken Gesek, one of our Historic Buildings Carpenters, built the rail, Cuong Nguyen and Tamsen Brown, with the help of the rest of the THF Conservation Team, oversaw the restoration of the original spindles. Tamsen also developed the formula to match the stain and finish to the existing woodwork in the courthouse. Jason Cagle, from the Painting Staff, skillfully applied the finish. Many other people worked to move the project forward as well.
This true team effort resulted in the original spindles finally being reunited with the Logan County Courthouse after an absence of nearly 140 years.
Logan County Courthouse as it appears today in Greenfield Village. (Photo by Jim Johnson)
Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.
Logan County Courthouse Spindle Accession File, 2009.111, items 1-28, Archival Collection of the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
Logan County Courthouse Building Files including original correspondences, records, photographs prior to dismantling in September of 1929, photographs of dismantling process, September 1929, reconstruction photographs, Greenfield Village, September 1929, 19th century photographic images, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
The Herald, vol. 5 n.3, The Edison Institute Press, March 4, 1938.
Illinois, Logan County, Postville, 1840 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
Illinois, Logan County, Postville, 1850 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration
Stringer, Lawrence B, The History of Logan County, Illinois, A Record of its Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Pioneer Press, Chicago, 1911.
“The Story of the Purchase of the Logan County Courthouse and its Removal to Greenfield Village by Mr. Henry Ford, as told in the columns of the Lincoln Evening Courier, 8/19/29-10/21/29”, compiled by Thomas I. Starr, Aug 1931. Logan County Courthouse Building Files, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
The 1948 Tucker The Tucker '48 automobile, brainchild of Preston Thomas Tucker and designed by renowned stylist Alex Tremulis, represents one of the most colorful attempts by an independent car maker to break into the high-volume car business. Ultimately, the Big Three would continue to dominate for the next forty years. Preston Tucker was one of the most recognized figures of the late 1940s, as controversial and enigmatic as his namesake automobile. His car was hailed as "the first completely new car in fifty years." Indeed, the advertising promised that it was "the car you have been waiting for." Yet many less complimentary critics saw the car as a fraud and a pipe dream. The Tucker's many innovations were and continue to be surrounded by controversy. Failing before it had a chance to succeed, it died amid bad press and financial scandal after only 51 units were assembled.
Much of the appeal of the Tucker automobile was the man behind it. Six feet tall and always well-dressed, Preston Tucker had an almost manic enthusiasm for the automobile. Born September 21, 1903, in Capac, Michigan, Preston Thomas Tucker spent his childhood around mechanics' garages and used car lots. He worked as an office boy at Cadillac, a policeman in Lincoln Park, and even worked for a time at Ford Motor Company. After attending Cass Technical School in Detroit, Tucker turned to salesmanship, first for Studebaker, then Stutz, Chrysler, and finally as regional manager for Pierce-Arrow.
As a salesman, Tucker crossed paths at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the great engine designer Harry A. Miller, and in 1935 they formed Miller-Tucker, Inc. Their first contract was to build race cars for Henry Ford. The company delivered ten Miller-Ford Indy race cars, but they proved inadequate for Ford and he pulled out of the project.
During World War II, automobile companies' operations were dedicated to the war effort. Denied new car models for four years, by the war's end Americans were eager for a new automobile, any new automobile. The time was right for Tucker to begin his dream. In 1946, he formed Tucker Corporation for the manufacture of automobiles.
He set his sights on the old Dodge plant in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, Illinois. Spanning over 475 acres, the plant built B-29 engines during World War II, and its main building, covering 93 acres, was at the time the world's largest under one roof. The War Assets Administration (WAA) leased Tucker the plant provided he could have $15 million dollars capital by March 1 of the following year. In July, Tucker moved in and used any available space to build his prototype while the WAA inventoried the plant and its equipment.
The fledgling company needed immediate money, and Tucker soon discovered that support from businessmen who could underwrite such a venture meant sacrificing some, if not all, control of his company. To Tucker, this was not an option, so he conceived of a clever alternative. He began selling dealer franchises and soon raised $6 million dollars to be held in escrow until his car was delivered. The franchises attracted the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and in September of 1946 it began an investigation, the first of a series that would last for the next three years.
The agreements were rewritten to SEC satisfaction and the franchise sales proceeded. In October, Tucker began another proposal: a $20 million stock issue contingent upon a completed prototype and clearance by the SEC. That same month, Tucker met his first serious obstacle. Wilson Wyatt, head of the National Housing Agency, ordered the WAA to cancel Tucker's lease and turn the plant over to the Lustron Corporation to build prefabricated houses.
Tucker may have been an unfortunate pawn in a bureaucratic war between the housing agency and the WAA, but the battle continued until January of 1947. Franchise sales fell, stock issues were delayed, and Tucker's reputation was severely damaged. In the end, he kept his plant, but the episode made him some real enemies in Washington, including Michigan Senator Homer Ferguson. But Tucker did find some allies. The WAA extended Tucker's $15 million cash deadline to July 1 and Senator George Malone of Nevada began his own investigation of the SEC.
Meanwhile, Tucker still had a prototype to build. During Christmas 1946, he commissioned Alex Tremulis to design his car and ordered the prototype ready in 100 days. The time frame was unheard of, but necessary. Unable to obtain clay for a mock-up, engineers – many from the race car industry – began beating out sheet iron, a ridiculous way to build a car but a phenomenal achievement. The first car, completely hand-made, was affectionately dubbed the "Tin Goose."
Preston Tucker unveils his car, June 19, 1947. THF135047
The Tucker '48 premiered June 19, 1947, in the Tucker plant before the press, dealers, distributors and brokers. Tucker later discarded many of the Tin Goose's features, such as 24-volt electrical system starters to turn over the massive 589-cubic-inch engine. For the premier, workers substituted two 12-volt truck batteries weighing over 150 pounds that caused the Tucker's suspension arms to snap. Speeches dragged on as workers behind the curtain tried feverishly to get the Tin Goose up and running. Finally, before the crowd of 5000, the curtains parted and the Tucker automobile rolled down the ramp from the stage and to its viewing area where it remained for the rest of the evening. Stock finally cleared for sale on July 15.
By the spring of 1948, Tucker had a pilot production line set up but his stock issue had been $5 million short and he again needed immediate money. He began a pre-purchase plan for Tucker automobile accessories such as radios and seat covers. Although he raised $1 million, advanced payment on accessories to a car not yet in production was the final straw for the SEC. On May 28, 1948, the SEC and the Justice Department launched a full-scale investigation. Investigators swarmed the plant and Tucker was forced to stop production and lay off 1,600 workers. Receivership and bankruptcy suits piled up, creditors bolted, and stock plunged.
A Tucker stock certificate for 100 shares, dated May 3, 1948. THF208633
The SEC's case had to show that the Tucker car could not be built, or – if built – would not perform as advertised. But Tucker was building cars. Seven Tuckers performed beautifully at speed trials in Indianapolis that November, consistently making 90 mph lap speed. However, after Thanksgiving, a skeletal crew of workers assembled the last cars thatthe company would ever produce. In January 1949, the plant closed and the company was put under trusteeship.
"Gigantic Tucker Fraud Charged in SEC Report" ran the Detroit News headline in March. The article related an SEC report recommending conspiracy and fraud charges against Preston Tucker. Incensed, Tucker demanded to know how the newspaper had seen the report even before him. SEC Commissioner John McDonald later admitted he delivered the report to the paper in direct violation of the law. Feeling tried and convicted by the press, Tucker wrote an open letter to many newspapers around the country.
On June 10, Tucker and seven of his associates faced a Grand Jury indictment on 31 counts – 25 for mail fraud, 5 for SEC regulation violation, and one on conspiracy to defraud. The trial opened on October 5, 1949, and from the beginning the prosecution based its entire case on the "Tin Goose" prototype. It refused to recognize the 50 production carsand called witness after witness who, under cross-examination, ended up hurting the government's case. In the end, Tucker's defense team merely stated that the government had failed to prove any offense so there was nothing to defend.
On January 22, 1950, the jury found the defendants innocent of any attempt to defraud, but the verdict was a small triumph. The company was already lost. The remaining assets, including the Tucker automobiles, were sold for 18 cents on the dollar. Seeking some recompense, Preston Tucker filed a series of civil suits against news organizations that he believed had defamed him in the months leading up to his trial. His targets included the Detroit News, which he hit with a $3 million libel suit in March 1950.
In preparation for its defense, the Evening News Association – publisher of the Detroit News– acquired Tucker serial number 1016 for examination. But the suit never reached the courtroom. Preston Tucker was diagnosed with lung cancer and died December 26, 1956. The Evening News Association subsequently presented car 1016 to The Henry Ford, where it remains today.
Actually, the Tri-Motor of this story wasn't small at all. The all-metal airplane was rugged, dependable and equally adaptable to passenger and freight service. Built by Ford Motor Company from 1926 to 1933, the Ford Tri-Motor flew in many early American airline fleets and became the most popular airliner of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
In all, 199 Tri-Motors were built during its seven-year production run. Over the course of their lives, many of the planes found varying uses, including the 48th Tri-Motor built, purchased in 1928 by Reid, Murdoch & Company. The manager of the sales department for Ford's Lincoln division, Arthur Hatch, had completed the sale of the plane while traveling by train with the president of Reid, Murdoch, & Company. The Chicago-based company had big plans for their Tri-Motor and turned its interior into a showroom for their Monarch Foods brand. A few of the canned items stocked on the plane included sweet pickles, peanut butter, popcorn, toffees, sardines, peas, asparagus, lima beans and corn.
Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-48 Used as a "Flying Grocery Store" for Reid, Murdoch and Company's Monarch Foods, 1928. THF94915
When it came time for the delivery of the Tri-Motor, the president of Reid, Murdouch & Co. insisted on coming to the Dearborn, Michigan, plant to personally turn the check over to Arthur Hatch. Named "Independence," the modified plane began its life as a flying salesroom, carrying samples of over 200 different food products to airports throughout the country. Occasionally, Monarch's pint-sized advertising characters, "The Teenie Weenies," also accompanied the plane on its stops.
William B. Mayo, Head of Ford's Aircraft Division, Edsel B. Ford, president of Ford Motor Company, the president of Reid, Murdoch & Co. and Arthur Hatch, manager of the Lincoln sales department. THF285025
The Teenie Weenies, a popular comic strip created by cartoonist and author William Donahey, began appearing in the Chicago Tribune during 1914. The adventures of the 2-inch tall "Teenie Weenies" took place in a town made-up of buildings created from recycled household products like shoes or food containers. In 1924, the Chicago Tribune discontinued the comic series allowing Reid, Murdoch & Co. to take advantage of the characters for use in advertising their Monarch Foods brand. In the company's advertisements, the cartoon characters used Monarch food containers for their buildings. On occasion, real-life examples of the characters (child actors) made appearances with Monarch's Tri-Motor.
"The General" and "The Policeman" inspect the Ford Tri-Motor known as the Independence. THF94917
Besides the Ford Tri-Motor, the Teenie Weenies have another Michigan connection. On the shores of Lake Superior, east of Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, sits a tiny town that goes by the name of Grand Marais. In the mid-1920s, Reid, Murdoch & Co. built William Donahey a summer cabin there. Inspiration for the building came right from Donahey's Teenie Weenies comic strip. The result – a building in the shape of a pickle barrel – today welcomes visitors as the Pickle Barrel House Museum.
Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
Front cover of original edition of book, 1900. THF135495
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a story so familiar to us that it seems to have always been around, like an old folktale passed down from generation to generation. But, in fact, it does have an author—an American one at that—and it isn’t even that old.
In 1900, L. Frank Baum drew upon real-life experiences to write this strange but compelling fantasy tale for children. Incredibly popular even in its time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became known as America’s first fairy tale.
Baum himself admitted that he didn’t know where the story came from. But Wizard of Oz enthusiasts (and there are many of them) have spent a great deal of time tracing the influences in Baum’s life that they claim led to the creation of his endearing characters and fantastic settings.
Print featuring “The Original General Tom Thumb,” 1860. THF286368
The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz starts way back when L. Frank Baum was a child. Baum grew up enchanted by the fantastic and sometimes scary fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. So when the diminutive Tom Thumb came to town as part of P. T. Barnum’s traveling circus, Baum was astounded. Not only did Thumb seem to come right out of these fairy tales but he made children like Baum feel less small and somehow more important. Thumb may also have provided the inspiration for the Munchkins.
Trade card for artificial limbs, 1893-1917. THF286362
When Baum was just 12 years old, he witnessed Civil War veterans returning home with missing or prosthetic (artificial) limbs. These wizened vets—with their misshapen or missing limbs—also connected to fairy tales Baum had read and are believed to have provided the inspiration for the Tin Man.
Baum had long complained of scarecrows haunting his dreams, coming alive and chasing him. The Scarecrow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is thought to be related to this ongoing nightmare, as well as a reference to the farmsteads he observed while living out in Dakota Territory as a young newlywed. (This experience, of course, also provided the inspiration for the Gales’ farmstead in Kansas.)
Hot-air balloon featured on cover of card game box, 1880-1910. THF91796
Hot-air balloons, which existed earlier, had greatly advanced by the time of the Civil War, as a way for the military to observe enemy battle positions. During the 1870s, aeronautical showmen demonstrated their skills with death-defying stunts before crowds of awestruck onlookers. Witnessing these demonstrations inspired Baum to give the Wizard a hot-air balloon in which to help Dorothy return to Kansas.
Souvenir Book, Chicago World’s Fair, 1893. THF123529
After trying (and failing) to make a living in Dakota Territory, Baum and his young wife moved to Chicago, just in time for the city’s first great World’s Fair in 1893. This so-called “White City” boasted 200 gleaming white “palaces,” which encircled a series of manicured waterways. Over a period of six months, an astounding 27 million visitors witnessed the fair—nearly 1/4 of the entire American population! Visitors to the fair described it in fantastic terms, like wonderland, dreamscape, and mind-boggling spectacle. Occurring at the same time as one of America’s worst economic depressions, the Chicago World’s Fair was an escape from reality and has been identified as the inspiration for Baum’s Emerald City.
Trade card for Dolly Madison Bread featuring Mother Goose nursery rhyme, 1922. THF286364
While attempting to make a living selling household goods for a department store in Chicago, Baum spent many hours on the road—staring out of railroad cars and staying overnight in nameless hotels. To pass the time, he started writing stories, drawing from those he recounted to his sons back home. Among these was a series of stories based upon old Mother Goose nursery rhymes, which was ultimately published.
Inside cover of original 1900 edition.
While moving in new social circles with other published authors and with artists, Baum met talented illustrator William Wallace Denslow. Denslow, who had also attended the Chicago World’s Fair, created a series of vibrant, wildly imaginative illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that helped readers visualize Baum’s fantastic descriptions. When Baum attempted to turn his book into a theatrical production soon after its publication, Denslow was again brought in to consult on sets and costumes.
A one-time actor himself, Baum could both work within the confines and see the imaginative possibilities of the theater. So, it didn’t take much to convince him to attempt to turn his book into a staged musical extravaganza. His many ideas for special effects and illusions dazzled crowds (and some were later used in the movie). But he was inevitably unhappy with his choice to hand over the script to an independent theater producer, who changed many parts of the story.
Record album and cover for original movie, 1961-2. THF157515
In 1938, MGM, a major film studio, decided to turn The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into a blockbuster musical film. Baum’s story of hard times—based upon the hardscrabble lives of prairie homesteaders in the late 19th century—lent itself perfectly to the hard times that had returned during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Denslow’s drawings again served as the model for the costumes, and many parts of the story and production stuck to the original. But the filmmakers decided to revise a few things—including changing out Dorothy’s silver slippers for ruby red slippers to take advantage of the new technology of Technicolor.
The 1939 film was groundbreaking but it was the TV showing of the film that truly catapulted it into Americans’ lives and hearts. In 1956, the uncut Hollywood film was first shown in one evening on commercial TV. Only audiences with color TV’s at the time could witness the drastic transformation from the dreary black-and-white Kansas settings to the full-color spectacle of the Land of Oz. Beginning in 1959, “The Wizard of Oz” film was shown annually on TV and watching it became a beloved family tradition.
Today, the continued publication of Baum’s original book, the annual featuring of the film on TV, film festival showings of the classic film on the big screen, several animated versions of the story that were produced later, and scores of related merchandise have kept The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at the forefront of American popular culture. Successive generations of new fans have embraced its fantastic, yet somehow familiar, themes and characters with unabated enthusiasm.
Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, is still astounded to see the Land of Oz in all its colorful splendor, as she grew up watching the movie on her family’s black-and-white TV.
She acknowledges the book, The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum, by Rebecca Loncraine (New York: Gotham Books, 2009), as inspiration for this blog post.
As we look forward to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017, our guests and staff alike enjoy reconnecting with our amazing array of historic buildings. Each of them not only represent different periods of American history, they also hold so many fascinating stories. Among the more interesting, are how they came to have new lives here in Greenfield Village. The Logan County Courthouse’s story is among my favorites.
Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.
Logan County Courthouse as it stands today in Greenfield Village.
Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s.There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them. But very few of these were the real thing. For Henry Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Abraham Lincoln seemed unlikely.
Logan County Courthouse September of 1929.
But, in the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Henry Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/ Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building, was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in run down condition, described by some as “derelict”. It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for funding the restoration, and taking over its on-going care and maintenance.
View of rear section of building with shed addition, September 1929
Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Henry Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Henry Ford intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over. The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as saying “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination.
View of side currently adjacent to Dr. Howard’s Office, September, 1929. This view shows evidence of filled in window openings. The window currently behind the judge’s bench was restored.
By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Henry Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people.”
Views of partitioned first floor, summer 1929.
The courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln, and by September 6, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed, and the newly purchased land was secured by Ford’s staff. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die a week later, on September 19th.
The dismantling and discovery process was closely covered by the local newspapers, and as the building came apart, its original design was revealed.
Beginning as early as the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior of the building. By 1880, the building had been converted from a commercial building into a dwelling and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929. The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed and eventually, a covered porch was added to what is now the main entrance, and a shed addition to the rear. But, the most significant change, was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot.
In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and after a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office within. It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, the old limestone foundation was left behind, and the original limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation was created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves. This took place before 1850.
The oldest know photograph of the Logan County Courthouse c.1850-1880. The original door arrangement remains in place.
Photographs taken in September of 1929, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build. The oldest photograph of the courthouse shows it on its second site with its original window and door arrangement still in place, but with new brick chimneys. The photo dates from between 1850 and 1880.
It was some of the older inhabitants of the area that alerted Henry Ford’s staff as to the original location of the foundation. Once located, the original foundation revealed the dimensions of the original first-floor fireplace. All the stones were carefully removed and shipped to Dearborn. The courthouse rests on this foundation today. The local newspaper also reported that while excavating the foundation, a large key and doorknob were found at the edge, aligned where the front door would have been located.
View of side that currently faces Scotch Settlement School, September, 1929. Shadow of original stone chimney is visible. Patched sections of siding show that originally, the stone would have been flush with the siding until approximately the top third, which would have extended out from the building like the entire chimney currently does. The window and door are late additions.
By September 20th, the building, consisting of two car loads of material, was on its way to Dearborn. Reconstruction in Greenfield Village began almost immediately at a frenzied pace. Finishing touches were still being applied right up until the October 21st dedication of Greenfield Village. Edward Cutler oversaw the final design elements needed to restore the building along with the actual work of reconstructing it. All the first- floor details, including the fireplace, mantle, and judges bench had to be re-created. The first-floor interior trim was reproduced in walnut, and was based on the original trim that survived on the second floor. The second floor, using a large amount of original material, including flooring, was also restored to its original appearance. Even the original plaster was collected, re-ground, and used to re-plaster the interior walls.
Views of the excavated original foundation, located 86 feet back from building’s second location. Lower view shows foundation for the original fireplace. September, 1929.
Based on the oldest of the original photographs, all new windows and exterior doors were also reproduced. Where possible, the original exterior walnut siding was also restored, and re-applied to the building and secured with brass screws.This was not a period technique, but rather a solution by Cutler to ensure the original siding with its worn nail holes, would stay in place.
The result was a place where Henry Ford could now display, and share his collection of Lincoln associated artifacts, including the most famous of all, the rocking chair from the presidential booth in Ford’s theater where Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in April of 1865.
Re-construction well under way in Greenfield Village on October, 2, 1929. The building would be complete for the October 21, dedication. The Sarah Jordan Boarding House can be seen in the distance.
The completed Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village as it appeared for the October 21 dedication.
The newly unpacked Ford’s Theater rocking chair in the Logan County Courthouse, January of 1930.
The interior of the completed Logan County Courthouse c.1935. It featured a display of Abraham Lincoln associated objects including Springfield furniture and the rocking chair from Ford’s Theater.
From 1929 until the mid-1980s, the building was left almost untouched as a shrine to Abraham Lincoln.
It was not until the mid-1980s that the research material was re-examined, primarily for preparations for much needed repairs to the now 50 plus year old restoration. In 1980, prior to the restoration work, the Lincoln assassination rocking chair was removed from the courthouse and placed in Henry Ford Museum. In 1984, the building underwent a significant restoration and was re-sided, the first- floor flooring was repaired, and extensive plaster repair and refinishing took place. In addition, a furnace was added (inside the judge’s bench), to provide adequate heat.
The interpretation of the building also was redefined and was re-focused away from the Abraham Lincoln shrine and more toward the stories of the history of our legal system and the civic lives of Americans in the 1840s. Gradually, many of the Lincoln artifacts were removed to appropriate climate controlled storage or display in Henry Ford Museum.
That brings us to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017. The Logan County Courthouse has now stood as long in Greenfield Village as it did in Postville, 88 years. It has had an interesting and storied history in both locations. Both the curatorial team, and the Greenfield Village programs team are excited to continue the process of ongoing research and improving the scholarship of the stories we tell there. We are working on some projects to accomplish just that for the near future and are looking forward to sharing all the details.
On Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017, a dear friend of The Henry Ford, Bruce Bachmann, passed away. I’ve known Mr. Bachmann since February 2010 when I was welcomed into his Glencoe, Illinois home. Bruce and his late wife Ann invited me to see their spectacular collection of studio glass. I was struck by their gracious hospitality and passion for studio glass. Sociable and gregarious, the Bachmanns loved to talk about their studio glass “family,” a network of artists, collectors, and gallery owners. Over time, the relationship grew into a friendship and ultimately, the donation of the Bachmann’s collection to The Henry Ford in 2015. This collection is the heart of the recently opened Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. A significant portion of the upcoming Davidson-Gerson Gallery of Glass in Greenfield Village, opening this spring, features masterpieces from the Bachmann’s collection.
This piece of studio glass, shown above, from Richard Royal’s Relationship Series, was a favorite of Bruce and Ann Bachmann. It lived in their master bedroom and was one of the first pieces they saw as they awoke every morning, a warm reminder of familial relationships. The artist describes the piece as the abstracted arms of a mother and father holding a child. The Bachmanns were devoted to their four children and grandchildren, likewise they saw their relationship with The Henry Ford as an extension of their own family, and a place where families gather and spend time together.
Bruce will be missed by all of us at The Henry Ford who have worked closely with him over the past seven years. A link to his obituary can be found here. See more pieces from the Bruce and Ann Bachmann Glass Collection in our digital collections.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.