Two worlds collided…

(with apologies to INXS).

One of the unanticipated pleasures of writing my book is that I get to spend hours reading old newspapers.  This is an amateur historian’s idea of heaven.

Last August, I introduced a key character in my book: a powerful Philadelphia attorney named Herman M. Modell. Modell, who knew my father and his uncle through their membership in LaFayette Lodge No. 71, Free and Accepted Masons (of course the Freemasons are part of my saga), privately arranged my adoption by David Louis and Elaine (Kohn) Berger in 1966.

In a recent post, I described the ups and downs of learning more about the circumstances of my adoption, observing that a “packet” from investigators appointed by the Orphans’ Court of Delaware County had been mailed to me.

That slender, typed, two-page packet arrived on April 21, 2018.

Given the twists and turns my search had already taken, I should not have been surprised that it contained very little information. Basically, because my adoption was private, the only information the Court had was testimony Modell had provided in a follow-up hearing in April 1967. My genetic mother did not attend that hearing, so she is not named, and my genetic father’s name did not even appear on the official birth certificate filed upon my birth. This would have been before October 5, when Lou and Elaine took five-day-old me home from Metropolitan Hospital and filed a superseding birth certificate.

Wait…what?

The story I had always heard (or told myself—this is why I “interrogate” memory) was that I was born in Pennsylvania Hospital. In fact, I was born in Metropolitan Hospital at 10:29 am on September 30, 1966 (with my adoptive parents paying my genetic mother’s hospital bills).

Oh. OK.

Off to Google and Newspapers.com I went. The first thing I learned was that Metropolitan Hospital had closed in 1992. The building was sold in 1997 and turned into condominiums in 2004. So who knows where their 1966 birth records are now (note: when I called Pennsylvania Hospital last year, a less-than-helpful informed me they had destroyed all the analogous records. Good, great, thank you.)

Seriously, this search has had more dead ends than the Minotaur’s labyrinth.

A little more digging turned up this curious tidbit.

One Herman M. Modell served as Metropolitan Hospital’s chief counsel (and occasionally as either President or Secretary of the hospital’s board of directors) from 1944, when it was converted into an “osteopathic hospital,” until his death in 1973.

Modell Metropolitan 1947

Check out the bowtie. As the 11th Doctor says, bowties are cool.

I thought that fact was significant until I checked three other adoptions he had arranged between 1960 and 1970[1]: the three other mothers gave birth at three different hospitals, none of which was Metropolitan. Most likely, it was simply the hospital nearest where my 19-year-old, unmarried, white Catholic genetic mother lived with her parents (and possibly the sister with my genetic mother and their mother when she handed me to Modell outside the hospital. I suspect my adoptive parents were watching from a discrete distance away on Spruce Street; Elaine Berger would have been that curious).

What this association with Metropolitan Hospital did do, however, was send me back onto Newspapers.com to learn more about the hospital and Modell’s association with it.

As a result, I found many more mentions of Modell than in my first search last summer; Newspapers.com continually adds to its collection (or its search algorithm improved). Once I read through all of the Metropolitan stories, I started working my way through other stories (after all, I am devoting most of a book chapter to the man…well, him AND the Freemasons).

One story I was able to flesh out concerned Modell’s representation of 125 (or 150, or 200, depending on the article) women clerks who worked for the Dock Street produce markets in 1947.

These women were the proximate cause of a 90% shutdown of these markets in January and February 1947. Teamsters Local 929, Produce, Poultry, Fish and Oystermen’s Drivers and Helpers had negotiated a new contract with the management associations on January 2. They also wanted the clerks, already members of the independent Wholesale Fruit and Produce Employees’ Association (sometimes called the Wholesale Produce Office Employees Association), to join Teamsters Local 929.

The women refused and staged a seven-hour walkout. This led Teamsters Local 929 to issue their bosses, 57 carlot receivers, an ultimatum: get their clerks into the union by January 4, or they would shut down the markets on January 6.

Guess what happened on January 6.

Modell ultimately got a Circuit Court judge to issue an injunction against Teamsters Local 929, preventing them from coercing the clerks into joining the union (the dispute then moved into other areas, ending Modell’s role here).

By the way, if you think this sounds like racketeering (say, violation of the Wagner and Hobbs Acts), give yourself a gold star. Three men and Teamsters Local 929 were convicted in federal court in October 1948 of violation of the Hobbs Act.

But let me return to January 1947, as I found myself reading the unfolding sage of the “Dock St. rackets,” while thinking about the excellent 1949 film noir Thieves’ Highway.

I found this story in the upper right-hand corner of page 3 of the January 21, 1947 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Dock Street 1-21-1947

As I was reading it, my eye was drawn to a captioned photograph immediately to the right.

I recognized it immediately.  “Oh, right,” I thought…or said (to no one there), “January 1947!”

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Just bear with me as I take us 2,721 miles west and six days into the past.

On the morning of January 15, 1947, at approximately 10:30 am PST, a woman named Bette Bersinger was pushing a stroller along a sidewalk bordering an empty grass-and-weed-covered lot on Norton Street, between 39th and Coliseum. She saw what she thought was a broken doll lying a few feet off the sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, she discovered…well, I spare you the fairly gruesome details. If you want to know more, I recommend starting here; this video is also excellent.

The body was soon identified as a 22-year-old aspiring actress named Elizabeth Short, who grew up in Medford, MA (a 20 minute drive northeast of our Brookline apartment).

IMG_3314

History, as you can see, knows Ms. Short better as “The Black Dahlia.” The flowers are mine. I place them there every year because I want to remember “Betty” Short as an actual human being, not a true-crime caricature with a macabre sobriquet.

I have been fascinated by the still-unsolved death of Ms. Short for nearly 20 years. So much so that I write the following from memory (interrogate it, by all means):

Elizabeth Short was last seen alive leaving the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles around 9 pm PST on the night of January 9. She had been dropped off there by a name named Robert “Red” Manley. Manley, who was married, had just driven Ms. Short north from San Diego, where the peripatetic young woman had been living for a month or so. They had spent the night at a motel, where nothing exciting happened according to Manley; Manley was sorely disappointed, if memory serves. We know all of this because shortly after the identification of Ms. Short, Manley came forward to tell his story to the police, insisting that the last time he ever saw Ms. Short was at the Biltmore Hotel.

The police, lacking substantive leads, grilled Manley mercilessly, eventually submitting him to a polygraph test. I do not recall how many times I saw the newspaper photograph of the exhausted Manley strapped into the machine, police detectives hovering over him.

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You guessed it.

This was the photograph that caught my eye at the top of page 3 of the January 21, 1947 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Red Manley

The full caption reads:

(AP Wirephoto)

‘PASSING’ THE LIE DETECTOR TEST

Robert Manley, 25, submitting to a lie detector test in Los Angeles yesterday as police questioned him in connection with the mutilation-slaying of Elizabeth Short, 22-year-old Hollywood hopeful. The tests proved, detectives said, Manley had nothing to do with the slaying. He has been released. Checking results of the test are Detective F. A. Brown (left) and Ray Pinker, police chemist.

Here is the full newspaper page:

The_Philadelphia_Inquirer_Tue__Jan_21__1947.

Just to make this serendipitous juxtaposition of interests even better, the actress Laraine Day (see divorce story) is the female lead in one of my five favorite films, Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant Foreign Correspondent.

Until next time…

[1] These are only the ones I currently know about.

What if Dewey HAD defeated Truman…

This is one of the most iconic photographs in American history.

Dewey Defeats Truman

Easy as it is now to mock the editors of the Chicago Tribune for jumping the gun on the 1948 presidential election, they were merely anticipating what Americans thought was going to happen: incumbent Democratic president Harry S Truman (who had become president in April 1945 after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt) would be soundly defeated by the Republican nominee, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey.

As Zachary Karabell wrote in The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election:

“There was a full month left, and every informed observer believed that it was already over. Not even bookies would take bets on Dewey. But the candidates couldn’t just quit. Dewey couldn’t simply retreat to his Pawling farm and wait for the inevitable, and Truman wasn’t about to get off his train and concede defeat. They may have been going through the motions, but the motions were important. It was imperative that each of them play his part, if not to perfection, then at least convincingly. Because for all the prognostications, the election lay weeks in the future and the future might hold surprises.”[1]

Further, having “decided that the outcome was sealed, reporters and commentators ignored signs that might have pointed in a different direction.”[2] Despite the fact that the three major pollsters—Gallup, Roper and Crossley—had shown Truman gaining in mid-October polls[3], no poll was conducted in the final two weeks of the campaign[4].

An average of these final, mid-October polls showed Dewey ahead 50.8 to 42.5, with the remaining 6.7% split between the two main independent candidates (State’s Rights [aka Dixiecrat] J. Strom Thurmond and Progressive Henry A. Wallace), other third-party candidates and undecided voters. Two months earlier, Truman had been polling around 34%, so he had gained some 8.5 percentage points, while Dewey had been polling around 47.5%, so he had gained about 3.3 percentage points[5]. Truman was clearly netting voters…but nobody thought it would be enough.[6]

Dewey and his advisors on the “Victory Express”—Truman was not the only candidate with a campaign train—saw the tightening polls. However, they chose to continue their “dignified, sincere, and clean” strategy of projecting a “noble mien.”[7] And while it is a myth that Dewey sat back and waited for the electoral verdict (he had traveled 16,000 miles to Truman’s 22,000 miles[8]), he had not campaigned with nearly the same zeal or urgency as Truman (or Thurmond or Wallace, for that matter).

One Cassandra did try to shake the Dewey campaign out of its complacency. Edward Hutton (of E. F. Hutton) sent a telegram to the Dewey campaign nine days before the election “warning that contrary to all the polls and pundits, defeat was in the air unless Dewey showed some hints of the toughness he once exuded as a prosecutor.”[9]

Hutton was prescient.

On November 3, 1948, Truman won 49.6% of the popular vote, Dewey won 45.1%, and Thurmond and Wallace each won 2.4%, with the remaining 0.6% divided among a variety of third-party candidates and write-in votes. Overall, Truman beat Dewey by just over 2.1 million votes. The 531 Electoral College votes (EV) were divided thus: Truman 303 (28 states), Dewey 189 (16), Thurmond 39 (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina).

Dewey had fallen just 77 EV short of the 266 he needed to win. Had he won about 18,000 more votes in California (47.6-47.1%), 34,000 in Illinois (50.1-49.2%) and 8,000 (49.5-49.2%) in Ohio, he and his running mate, California Governor Earl Warren, would have won the 1948 presidential election, saving the Chicago Tribune decades of embarrassment.

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Inspired by Cody Franklin and his entertainingly inventive website AlternativeHistoryHub, I conducted a thought experiment:

What if Dewey had won California, Illinois and Ohio in 1948, and he, not Truman, had been sworn in as president of the United States on January 20, 1949.

My answers—which are purely speculative, obviously—surprised me.

First, though, let us consider how Dewey could have won.

The simplest way would have been for Dewey, once the polls began tightening in early October, to heed Hutton’s warning. A more aggressive stance against Truman (more on this later) would have been catnip to a bored press corps, who in turn would have eagerly written stories about how the “exciting” and “engaged” Dewey was taking nothing for granted and battling to the very end. This, in turn, would have caught the attention of a sleepy electorate…and, in this scenario, just enough of them vote for Dewey, rather than Truman, in California, Illinois and Ohio (and perhaps Idaho, Iowa, Nevada and Wisconsin—all decided by <5 percentage points) to give Dewey a narrow Electoral College victory.

The thing is, even if Dewey had won all seven of these states (giving him 23 to Truman’s 21), he would almost certainly still have lost the popular vote by more than 1 million votes, becoming the third Republican president to win an Electoral College majority while losing the popular vote.

Moreover, in this counterfactual universe, the Democrats still likely recapture the United States House of Representatives (House) and Senate (Senate), though perhaps not by 92 and 12 seats, respectively.

At the same time, however, the Democratic Party itself would have been severely fractured, having lost its first presidential election in 20 years. Truman’s victory is even more astonishing when you consider that two former Democrats—Thurmond, the segregationist governor of South Carolina, and Wallace, Roosevelt’s populist Vice President (1941-45)—had run against him form the right and left, respectively.

On July 14, 1948—towards the end of the Democratic National Convention that would nominate Truman and Kentucky Senator Alben Barkley for president and vice president—Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey gave a rousing speech in favor of a strong civil rights plank (“I say the time has come to walk out of the shadow of states’ rights and into the sunlight of human rights!”). This led the Alabama and Mississippi delegations to leave the Philadelphia convention hall in protest. Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama on July 17, what became the State’s Rights Party (which saw itself as the true representatives of southern Democrats) nominated Thurmond and Mississippi Governor Fielding L. Wright for president and vice president.

Wallace, meanwhile, had broken with Truman on September 12, 1946. That day, then-Commerce-Secretary Wallace gave a speech in New York City’s Madison Square Garden (which he always insisted had been approved by Truman) in which he outlined a far more accommodating view toward the Soviet Union (seeing the two nations as morally equivalent within their spheres of influence) than the political establishments of either party. He also called for the newly-formed United Nations (UN) to control all atomic weapons. Truman, pressured by Secretary of State James Byrnes, asked for—and received—Wallace’s resignation. Less than two years later, on July 23, 1948, the Progressive Party would meet in Philadelphia and nominate Wallace and Idaho Senator Glen H. Taylor for president and vice president.

It is noteworthy here that Truman, as he fought to win reelection, sounded more and more like a liberal populist in the last month of the campaign.[10]

In sum, then, the political bottom line is this:

After being expected to win easily, President Dewey would only have eked out a narrow Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote by 2-3 percentage points. And while the Democratic Party may have been fracturing, it would still have solidly controlled both the House and Senate, though in this alternate world, more Republican House and Senate candidates win outside the South (where the Republican Party effectively did not exist), making southern Democrats an outright majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate. [11].

And here is where I make my first prediction.

Dewey and Warren were both moderate governors who had campaigned in platitudes of unity more than specific policy proposals. They also had zero foreign policy experience.

Dewey’s choice of Secretary of State would thus have been vitally important. And I believe that the obvious choice would have been General Dwight David Eisenhower.

Anti-Truman Democrats had tried to convince the popular World War II hero to accept the Democratic nomination, while Dewey worried about his entry into the Republican nominating contest right up until the July conventions, when Eisenhower unequivocally announced he would not accept either party’s nomination.[12]

But Eisenhower still loomed on the horizon for 1952, and Dewey could have eliminated that threat by naming Eisenhower his Secretary of State. Despite having just become president of Columbia University, I cannot see the long-time military man Eisenhower (who we now know was a Republican) refusing a direct request from a president-elect.

I also suspect that the practical Dewey, who by all account built quality staffs throughout his career, would have had a fairly bipartisan and non-ideological Cabinet.

Meanwhile, it would have been Dewey and Eisenhower (not Truman and George C. Marshall, Secretary of State since January 1947) who would have faced these immediate foreign policy crises:

–August 29, 1949: The Soviet Union successfully tests its own atomic bomb. Does a President Dewey order the creation of the hydrogen bomb, as President Truman did?

–October 1, 1949: Mao Zedong proclaims the People’s Republic of China, creating a second Communist superpower. The accusation (fair or not) that Truman “lost” China, and was thus not tough enough on Communism, would instead have been hurled at the inexperienced Dewey, though mitigated by the stature of Eisenhower (and the fact that Dewey could still point back to Truman).

–June 25, 1950: 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army cross into the American-backed Republic of Korea, in what has been described as the first military action of the Cold War. Does President Dewey order American troops to the Korean peninsula in July 1950, making what could have been “just” a civil war into a proxy war between the United States (and its allies) and the Soviet Union (and its allies)?

Given the emerging bipartisan consensus that Communism was an international threat that needed to be contained, combined with Dewey’s and Warren’s own lack of foreign policy experience and the internationalist slant of the 1948 Republican Party platform[13], my best guess is that our foreign policy would have changed little. If pressed, I would argue Dewey also orders more advanced nuclear weapons. However, I think the responses to Mao and the invasion of South Korea would have been more muted; it is just possible not as many troops are sent to Korea and an armistice is achieved much sooner. After all, it only took President Eisenhower six months to achieve the armistice which still holds.

Of course, this means that there would have been no dramatic firing of General Douglas MacArthur on April 11, 1951, after he openly bucked President Truman on whether to bomb and invade China.

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As important as those crises were, I think the most profound change would have been no McCarthyism (at least, not then).

On February 9, 1950, first-term Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin gave a speech in Wheeling, WV during which he waved what he claimed was a list of 205 Communists, known to Secretary of State Marshall, who had infiltrated the State Department.[14] That he was ultimately unable to name a single one did not prevent the rise of McCarthyism, a tactic of using unsubstantiated claims of Communist sympathy (or other scurrilous description) to defame reputations.

While an emboldened McCarthy, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations (and its permanent subcommittee on investigations), eventually took on President Eisenhower (and lost), I have a difficult time seeing McCarthy challenging a State Department run by Eisenhower in February 1950.

It is also just possible that the McCarran Internal Security Act, requiring the registration of “Communist” agencies with the United States Attorney General, never passes (over Truman’s veto!), though that is merely speculation on my part.

That is foreign and national security policy. What about domestic policy?

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Before I answer that question, just bear with me while I briefly review the life of the man Alice Roosevelt Longworth once (wrongly) derided as “the little man on top of the wedding cake.”[15]

Thomas Edmund Dewey was born in Owosso, MI, on March 24, 1902. His father, George Martin Dewey, was editor of The Owosso Times and deeply involved in local Republican politics. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1923, his first thought was to pursue a career in music; he had an excellent baritone. As a backup plan, he enrolled at Columbia Law School in September 1923, graduating in only two years.

After a stint in private practice, the 29-year-old Dewey was appointed chief assistant to George Medalie, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY). In 1933, after Dewey was himself appointed U.S. Attorney for SDNY after Medalie’s abrupt resignation, he secured the conviction of mobster Waxey Gordon (aka Irving Wechsler) for income tax evasion.

Two years later, he was appointed Special Prosecutor and charged with prosecuting such organized crime figures as Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Arthur Flegenheimer, aka Dutch Schultz.

Allegedly, Dewey’s investigations so unnerved Schultz he planned to have Dewey killed, going so far as to monitor the routine of the clockwork Dewey; Dewey took the threats in stride, refusing to alter his routine. However, rather than face the heat that would result from Dewey’s assassination, Luciano reportedly ordered contract killers from Murder, Inc. to kill Schultz. While dining with confederates in the Palace Chop House in Newark, NJ on the night of October 23, 1935, Schultz and his confederates were gunned down by unidentified men

[Side note 1: I love this reenactment of the death of Schultz from one of favorite “guilty pleasures, the entertaining {and historically inaccurate} The Cotton Club.]

[Side note 2: I cannot recommend highly enough Murder, Inc. but Burton Turkus and Sid Feder.

[Side note 3: Writing this, I wonder how history would have changed if Schultz actually had killed Dewey in 1935. But that is an entirely different post.]

Dewey would send Luciano and 71 other people to prison before easily being elected New York District Attorney in 1937; he served only one term. He first ran for governor of New York in 1938, losing narrowly to Democrat Herbert H. Lehman.

Still, this was enough for national Republicans to try to secure the presidential nomination for the 38-year-old Dewey, though he ultimately lost the nomination to Wendell Willkie (who in turn was soundly defeated by President Roosevelt).

In a 1942 rematch, Dewey beat Governor Lehman handily, ultimately serving three four-year terms as governor.

In 1944, Dewey was the Republican nominee for president, losing to President Roosevelt. Four years later, he would beat Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen and Ohio Senator Robert Taft (among others) for the Republican nomination…and that brings us back to the election of 1948.

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Two facts about Dewey’s pre-1948 career strike me as relevant.

One, when Dewey was appointed Special Prosecutor in 1935, he chose a black woman lawyer named Eunice Hunton Carter to be his deputy assistant. Carter was instrumental in the indictment and conviction of Luciano, as she organized a series of 200 raids on Luciano-run brothels, ultimately finding three women to testify against him.[16]

Two, as governor of New York, Dewey appointed the first state commission to eliminate religious and racial discrimination in employment.

Couple these racially progressive actions with a) a 1948 Republican Party platform that, while otherwise “filled with vague promises and vapid language,”[17] did include a modest anti-racial-discrimination plank and b) a Democratic Party cracking between Northern liberals and Southern segregationists, and I propose the following.

Seeking to capitalize on Democratic Party divisions on race and finding himself hemmed in politically, President Dewey decides to take bold action on racial equality, effectively starting the Civil Rights movement as early as 1949. This single action, with the potential to lure black voters back to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln after 16 years of voting for President Roosevelt, would have fundamentally altered American politics for decades.

Remember, for Dewey even to have won this narrow victory in 1948, he would had to have taken bold and assertive action in the last few weeks of the campaign. Perhaps he begins to highlight both his own actions and the anti-discrimination plank, putting Truman in a vice between the mistrusting liberals and the non-Dixiecrat southern Democrats.

It is equally possible (though far from certain) that the moderate (even liberal, other than on the death penalty) Dewey would have built a coalition of Northern Democrats and like-minded Republicans to advance more liberal policies, in much the same way President Ronald Reagan built a “conservative coalition” of Republicans and Southern Democrats in the early 1980s. This would have resembled President Richard Nixon’s first term, where he essentially ceded domestic policy to Congressional Democrats to focus on foreign policy.

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The cyclical nature of American politics suggests that, rather than losing 28 House and five Senate seats in the 1950 midterm elections, Democrats would have gained seats instead. And since the southern Congressional delegation was already uniformly Democratic, these newly-elected Democrats would almost certainly have been Northern Democrats who had run against the Dewey Administration from the left. This, in turn, could easily have led to a three-way split in Congress between Northern Democrats (led by now-Senator Humphrey?), centrists of both parties (led perhaps by Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas, who would become Democratic leader in 1953), and southern Democrats (who perhaps start to align with more conservative Republicans on overtly racial and virulently anti-Communist lines).

Assuming Dewey and Warren were renominated in 1952, they would have faced a Democratic Party continuing to split along geographic lines; Thurmond may well have run again, this time luring more key southern Democrats (e.g., Senator Richard Russell of Georgia) to support him.[18]

Russell, Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee and New York governor Averell Harriman actually were Illinois Governor Adlai E. Stevenson’s chief competition for the Democratic nominee for president in 1952. In the alternate universe of a President Dewey, it is possible that Harriman wages a stronger battle for convention delegates and defeats him. Or that Kefauver (the early balloting leader) formally breaks with the Southern Democrats and wrests the nomination.

Let’s say Stevenson and Kefauver are the presidential and vice-presidential nominees, in some order. In a universe where four or more nominally Democratic southern states vote for Thurmond, it is hard to see how Stevenson-Kefauver[19] (or vice versa) beats Dewey-Warren.

And here is where history really would have taken a left turn.

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On September 8, 1953, Chief Justice Fred Vinson (nominated by Truman in 1946) died.

In actuality, President Eisenhower, then in his first term, successfully nominated former California governor and 1948 vice-presidential nominee Earl Warren to be Chief Justice. The Warren Court had a profound impact on American life, most notably through the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. This case overturned the precedent set six decades earlier in Plessy v. Ferguson, finding that “separate can never be equal.”

Warren knew the outcome of this case was going to be controversial, so he sought—and obtained—a unanimous 9-0 decision.

The Warren Court also handed down key decisions on legislative apportionment (Reynolds v. Sims), marriage (Loving v. Virginia), contraception (Griswold v. Connecticut) and criminal justice (Mapp v. Ohio, Miranda v. Arizona).

I have no idea who a President Dewey would have nominated to replace Chief Justice Vinson. But it is hard to imagine a different Chief Justice having the same impact on American life as Earl Warren did.

Simply put, if Thomas Dewey had won the presidency in 1948 and in 1952, there is almost certainly no Chief Justice Earl Warren. And with no Warren Court, it could well have taken years longer to desegregate the nation’s schools, codify the notion of “one person, one vote,” decriminalize interracial marriage and contraception, put reasonable limits on the seizure of evidence, and require all arrested persons to be properly and quickly informed of their Constitutional rights.

Instead, in this alternate universe, we are considering the possibility of the 65-year-old Warren himself seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 1956 (as he had in 1948). Had he run, it is not clear who else could have won the nomination. For example, it is unlikely that Nixon would have challenged a sitting Vice President from his own state rather than seek reelection to a second term.

An intriguing possibility is New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In this alternate timeline, he runs for governor in 1950, rather in 1954. Or perhaps a first-term Senator from Arizona named Barry Goldwater would not have waited until 1964 to run for president (unless the realignment into the liberal Republican and conservative Democratic Parties had already begun, and Goldwater conservatives were joining the Democrats, while liberal Democrats were joining the Republicans).

And then there is the 66-year-old Eisenhower. The fact that he almost did not run for reelection in 1956 because of his health likely takes him out of contention.

So let us assume Warren is Republican nominee for president in 1956, perhaps with a border-state Democrat as his running mate. Or even Rockefeller himself.

Who would he have faced?

If the Democratic Party has healed its divisions, than the nomination battle in 1956 would have been a free-for-all between Stevenson, Kefauver, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Humphrey and (perhaps) Johnson—much like 1960 actually was, but four years earlier.

For some reason, a Kefauver-Kennedy ticket jumps out at me. The difficulty sitting Vice Presidents have had recently in winning the presidency in their own right implies the Democrats would have been modest favorites to win.

That said, if the southern Democrats had formed their own party by now, perhaps luring conservative Republicans, then Warren-Rockefeller could have won a three-way race with Kefauver-Kennedy and, say, Russell-Goldwater.

Who knows?

Beyond that, however, I dare not speculate…though I am curious what you think.

Well…one final thought. What so fascinates me about the 1948 presidential election is that while Harry Truman is my favorite president, the more I learn about Tom Dewey, particularly his prosecutorial efforts in the mid-1930s, the more intrigued I am. Love Truman though I do, I think Dewey would have been a solid president, not dissimilar to Eisenhower or the underrated first George Bush. I also do not want the hard-working Dewey to be nothing more than the guy who did NOT defeat Truman. He deserves more than that.

Until next time…

[1] Karabell, Zachary. 2000. The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. pg. 241.

[2] Ibid., pg. 242.

[3] Ibid., pg. 249.

[4] http://www.zetterberg.org/Lectures/l041115.htm

[5] Karabell, pg. 186.

[6] The enormity of the polling error was assessed by a post-election commission led by Harvard statistics Professor Frederick Mosteller. It concluded that by not conducting polls through Election Day, they missed a continued shift to Truman. Moreover, their use of quota sampling (as opposed to truly random sampling), a misunderstanding of how undecided voters would break and an inability to determine just who would vote made their samples (and resulting projections) statistically biased toward Dewey.

[7] Ibid., pg.250.

[8] Ibid., pg.252.

[9] Ibid., pg.250.

[10] Ibid., pp. 245-46.

[11] I define “Southern” as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. In the timeline that actually occurred, southern Democrats occupied 118 (44.9%) of the 263 Democratic House seats and 26 (48.1%) of the 54 Democratic Senate seats.

[12] Karabell, pg. 152-53.

[13] Ibid., pp. 146.

[14] “U.S.Office Still Under Red Charge,” Lansing State Journal (Lansing, MI), February 11, 1950, pg. 1.

[15] I base this account on Dewey’s New York Times obituary. See also Karabell, pg. 77.

[16] To be fair, there is controversy around this testimony, as laid out in Ellen Poulson’s 2007 book The Case Against Lucky Luciano: New York’s Most Sensational Vice Trial.

[17] Karabell, pg. 146. See also pp. 147 and 154-57.

[18] However, given the United States constant reversion to the two-party system, it is likely that the end result is something very much like the two parties we have today: a left-of-center Democratic Party strongest in cities, college towns, the Pacific Coast, the mid-Atlantic and New England; and a right-of-center Republican Party strongest in rural areas and small towns, the South, the Plains Midwest and the upper Mountain West.

[19] Which actually was the Democratic presidential ticket in 1956. On a floor vote called by Stevenson, Kefauver edged a young Massachusetts Senator named John Fitzgerald Kennedy to win the vice-presidential nomination.

Questions of identity

Since my previous post (March 31), I have been singularly focused (perhaps even obsessed) with on-line detective work: constructing family trees for my genetic family.

As I explained last July, I was adopted in utero; my “legal” parents, David Louis and Elaine Berger, brought me home to Havertown, PA when I was four days old. I was raised in a “Russian”[1] Jewish family of liberal Democrats in the Philadelphia suburbs, ultimately attending Ivy League schools, and earning two Master’s Degrees and a PhD. I now live in the largely Jewish and (mostly) liberal Boston suburb of Brookline, MA.

Still, my life had its share of speedbumps. For example, my father’s gambling addiction (fueled by the death of his iron-willed mother) led him to lose the successful West Philadelphia business his father and uncle had acquired and nurtured for decades. That in turn led my mother to divorce him when I was in high school. Less than a year later, he would suffer a massive, fatal heart attack at the age of 46 (in the summer before my junior year of high school).

Each of these influences combined within my psyche to produce my current sense of identity—my internal answer to the question “Who am I?”

In no particular order, here are ways I would fill in the blank after “I am a ______”:

  1. Husband and father (albeit after 40 years of processing my parents’ issues)
  2. Data geek (“math whiz;” inveterate puzzle solver)
  3. Critical-thinking skeptic (liberal education, particularly in epistemological aspects of epidemiology)
  4. Liberal (sub)urbanite
  5. Jewish-raised atheist (see #3 above)
  6. Gambling opponent (my father’s experience; studying probability)

In that same July 2017 post,, I described how Nell had convinced me to do genetic testing through 23andMe, despite my considerable hesitation.

One reason for hesitating was this very question of identity.

For not only did I have 50-plus years of innate abilities, family history, education and geography filtering through my psyche, I also had the life-long capacity—due to the unknown story of my conception, as opposed to my adoption—to be both a part of my family and separate from it.

The details of my conception (beyond basic physiology) remain a bit murky. The story I had always heard (likely embellished along the way) went something like this:

An attractive unmarried Philadelphia woman, 18 years of age and of Scots-Irish ancestry, has an adulterous sexual liaison with a married older man of 28 who already has three children. Given that I was born on September 30, 1966, the act resulting in my conception most likely occurred in late December 1965. Who seduced whom is unknown. The man with whom she has these illicit relations came from Colombia. The timing of my conception suggests a “holiday party accident” fueled by alcohol and/or other illicit substances. One of my genetic parents (my guess would be my mother) has a Native American grandparent or great-grandparent. Unable and/or unwilling to raise the child herself (and this being nearly seven years prior to the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide), she chooses to place her baby for adoption. The adoption itself was arranged by the young woman’s older, savvier, even more attractive sister, who somebody in my legal family met or saw in the corridors or maternity ward of Pennsylvania Hospital, where I was born. All records of my adoption were then destroyed in a fire at the adoption agency my legal parents used.

I have since learned from a maternal aunt that my adoption was arranged by a private lawyer named Herman Modell and that my genetic father was a graduate student/teacher at what was then called Drexel Institute of Technology. My working hypothesis remains that my genetic mother was a freshman at Drexel, as this is the least complicated way they could have met.

For all I know, one or both of my genetic parents is somewhere in this photograph (which I found here).

1965 Homecoming from 1966 Lexerd copy

When I wrote that July 2017 post, I had not yet received my 23andMe test results. They landed like a missile in my Inbox on August 26, 2017.

I have not written about them before now because I am writing a book, in which I use the roots of my passion for film noir to explore my own backstory/ies and identity/ies, again seeking to answer the question “Who am I?”

But I do not want to give too much away in advance of hoped-for publication.

All of which brings me back to the last two-plus weeks.

Among the things I learned last August is that the “fact” that my father was Colombian is almost certainly not true[2]. With 50% confidence, 23andMe believes that I am 0.1% Iberian (Spain and Portugal) with a fully Iberian ancestor sometime in the 18th century; an additional 0.4% is “Broadly Southern European.” Moreover, I am 0.0% East Asian and Native American[3].

So…no Colombian and no Native American[4].

Pfui.

On the other hand, I am 51% British/Irish, heavy on the Irish. The rest is about half French/German (very likely Neanderthal—meaning from the Neander region of Germany) with a smattering of Scandinavian and that barely-perceptible (one strand of one piece of one chromosome pair) Iberian—with the remainder “Broadly Northwestern European.”

Basically, I am like the whitest white man ever. Or, at least, that is how I continue to process this information. I grew up loving the fact that I was a “walking United Nations”: of mixed Scots-Irish, Colombian, Native American ancestry, raised by a “Russian” Jewish family with a Greek first name, Anglo-Saxon middle name and German last name.

While all but two of those aspects remain, the loss of the Colombian and Native American aspects was profoundly disappointing.

Fun fact: while I was raised by Ashkenazi Jews, I am 0.0% Ashkenazi Jewish. My old-New-England-family (on her mother’s side), Episcopalian-raised wife, however, is 0.2% Ashkenazi Jewish.

She is having a (gentle) field day with this bit of irony.

Mitigating my disappointment was that my health reports were neutral (in a good way): no increased genetic predisposition to incurable diseases like Late Onset Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

And an unexpected fringe benefit of 23andMe genetic testing is the “DNA Relatives” report. Currently, there are 1,034 members of the 23andMe community with whom I share more than 0.25% of my DNA. Every one of these people is “predicted” to be no more than a 5th cousin (meaning we share a common genetic great-great-great-great-grandparent).

Last summer, as I was taking the genetic testing plunge, I was also starting to learn whatever I legally can about my genetic parents. On September 18, 2017, in response to my requests for identifying and non-identifying information about my genetic parents (along with $200—a savings of $100 over two separate requests), the Orphans’ Court of Delaware County (the venue in which my adoption was litigated) officially asked Delaware County’s Office of Children & Youth Services (CYS) to locate the records of my adoption and take the necessary steps to send me whatever information they have and can get consent to release.

According to my CYS contact, a “packet” was mailed to me today (April 16, 2018). This packet was supposed to arrive in mid-January (120 days after September 18, 2017), but I waited until mid-March to call CYS.

Basically, in the rush of late year holidays and my epic trip to NOIR CITY 16 (start here and read forward, if you are interested), I put the matter out of my mind. Plus, I had more than enough other bits of book-related history (Freemasons! West Philadelphia’s Jewish community! Times Square!!) to keep me occupied.

Then a wicked cool thing happened.

At the same time that I realized that my requested information was more than 60 days overdue, the first genetic relative closer than “2nd cousin” appeared on my 23andMe DNA Relatives list.

Since last August, I had the notion in the back of my mind that if the Orphans’ Court would/could not reveal the names of one or both genetic parents to me, I could very likely reverse engineer my genetic family through my DNA Relatives. Especially because I can also see, for each DNA Relative, any other listed surnames (read: female ancestor maiden names) and every relative with whom we both share genes.

But not only did a number of “1st cousins” debut on my DNA Relatives list, I shared a maternal haplogroup with one and a paternal haplogroup with another.

In other words, I knew that the first one and I had (genetic) mothers who were sisters[5] and the second one and I had (genetic) fathers who were brothers.[6]

More to the point, given American nomenclature traditions, I knew the last name my genetic father had (or, at least, HIS father’s last name).

Huzzah!

This, then, is the detective work—a whirlwind of Ancestry.com, Newspapers.com (so much information in obituaries), Google (WhitePages, Spokeo, PeopleFinder, etc.) and Facebook (“Friends” lists are powerful research tools), plus simple inexorable logic—I have been conducting since I last posted.

And in these two weeks, I have learned nearly everything I can about my genetic families—except the names of either genetic parent. Based on the family trees I have carefully constructed (and confirmed), I know to a near-certainty the names of my genetic maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, as well as the names of their other offspring.

But I cannot find the relevant offspring, who I suspect were themselves placed for adoption (or, in at least one case—if not both—raised by other family members).

Are you freaking kidding me?

It is as though I can tell you every last detail of a house…except the names of the couple that actually lives there.

This house—my ancestry—mostly consists of rural white Christians (lots of Baptists, from what I can see) from the southern United States (Georgia, Florida and Kentucky, especially), a handful of whom fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

It is funny. I identify strongly as a “Northerner,” primarily due to my years spent in Connecticut and Massachusetts. But my native Philadelphia is not THAT far north and east of the beginning of the Mason-Dixon Line, separating “free” and “slave” states.

Nonetheless, I am struggling to reconcile my “Northern” identity with my “Southern” genetic ancestry, even if that ancestry plays about as much role in my current identity as a toy factory assembly line worker does for a doll from that factory.

The book is one reason I have refrained from discussing what I have learned. Another reason—perhaps a better reason—is my wish to protect the privacy of newly-discovered genetic relatives. My direct communications with some of them have been remarkably pleasant, even welcoming; I do not want to jeopardize these nascent connections.[7]

So I will share one piece of craziness with you, while still maintaining my genetic relatives’ privacy.

When I realized that I almost certainly knew my genetic father’s last name, I began to search for someone with that name who was a graduate student at Drexel in 1965/66.

Almost immediately, I stumbled upon a male “Firstname Y. Lastname” who submitted a MS thesis (applying advanced statistics to engineering, no less) in 1965. A man of the same name (with a middle name fitting the initial on the Drexel record) was born in April 1938, making him the exact age as in my “origin story.” He had won a scholarship to a prestigious northeastern university, graduating at about the right time, while his younger would brother would attend Yale University (as would I less than 20 years later).

He had also divorced his first wife sometime between 1964 and 1969 (she become a renowned academic in her own right), which just added fuel to the speculative fire.

However, when I stepped back to look at the bigger picture…connecting the dots of other also-related DNA Relatives (and looking more closely at where he would have been living in 1965-66—only a 90 minute or so drive away, but still), it became apparent that this was not the correct man. At least, not if his ascribed parents were also his legal parents (I remain open to the possibility that he was a “love child” raised by distant cousins).

In other words, “Firstname Y. Lastname” is either the greatest red herring I have ever seen, or he IS my genetic father, but was actually raised by his fifth cousin, once removed.

That “packet” from CYS cannot get here quickly enough.

Until next time…

[1] Meaning “from the Pale of Settlement region of the late 19th/early 20th century Russian Empire,” as my forebears actually hailed from modern-day Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine.

[2] Perhaps he had come from Columbia University or Columbia, MD, and my mother misunderstood?

[3] At 90% confidence: 13.8% British/Irish, 2.4% French/German, 62.9% Broadly Northwestern European, 18.9% Broadly European, 1.9% Unassigned.

[4] I would observe that all of the nations listed in “Native American” are south of the United States. There is still, then, the tiniest glimmer of hope for some Native “United States/Canada”

[5] Or a mother and maternal grandmother who were sisters

[6] Or a father and paternal grandfather who were brothers

[7] Moreover, there is always the very small chance that 23andMe, despite every precaution, made a mistake somewhere. That situation would not be helped by me acting like a blabbermouth.