Friday, June 6, 2008

The Stagecoach

A stagecoach clatters into a western frontier town and pulls to a stop, sending up a cloud of dust. The excited townspeople crowd around it. They crane their necks to see passengers step off the coach, and they watch as mail and packages are unloaded. The stagecoach is their link to the outside world.

The stagecoach got its name from its long trip in stages, stopping at stations for fresh horses, food, and rest. Stagecoach lines were introduced in Europe in the seventeenth century. In the early days of the United States, they were important links between eastern cities.

As Americans moves west, stagecoaches did too. They were the only means of cross-country transportation in the West until the railroads replaced them in the late 1800s. Western coaches carried six to nine passengers and were pulled by four to six horses. The driver sat outside, and luggage was strapped on the roof. Sometimes coaches were attacked by bandits or Indians, so an armed assistant rode “shotgun” next to the driver. But on most runs, as the coach jolted along rough, dusty trails, a backache was a bigger risk than robbery.

The Overland Mail Company began to carry mail from St. Louis, Missiouri, to San Francisco, California, in 1857. It’s stagecoaches me the trip in 25 days.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

New England Town Meetings

“Hear ye, hear ye!” A gavel slams and a New England town meeting beings. Town meetings have been a New England institution since the seventeenth century. At these meetings, voters elect officials, approve local laws, and levy taxes on themselves. Thus colonists began a strong tradition of self-rule and community responsibility that has continued to the present day.

Town meetings were held at least once a year and were attended by each town’s “freemen”---male property owners. The election of the town officials usually came from prosperous, highly respected families. But all the men in the community were expected to take a turn at some public office---constable, tax collector, fence inspector, or hog reeve (the catcher of runaway pigs).

After the election, the freemen would debate other issues such as proposed new laws, taxes, and public projects. Town meetings served to nourish the New England colonists’ passion for democracy. Not surprisingly, they soon began to resent any interference from a distant king or country.

Today’s town meetings ramain the basic unit of self-government in many New England towns. One major change is that they are now attended by all registered voters, including women and people who don’t own property.

Because of population growth, some towns have “representative town meetings” with attendees elected by their neighbors.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


On February 28, 1983, the biggest audience in television history watched the final episode of a beloved comedy series. That series was M*A*S*H, which ran for 11 years on CBS and is still seen in reruns around the world. All together there are 255 episodes of the show.

M*A*S*H tells the story of the doctors and nurses of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. In many episodes, helicopters bring wounded soldiers to the M*A*S*H unit, where the surgeons and nurses care for them. To keep their sanity under grim circumstances, the M*A*S*H personnel break military rules and engage in a a constant stream of wisecracks, pranks, and loony activities. The show’s underlying message is that war is cruel and inhuman, but the human spirit cannot be extinguished. The fact that a real war was raging in Vietnam at the time of M*A*S*H’s debut made its message especially meaningful.

Among the shows memorable characters are Corporal Kinger, who wears women’s clothes in the hope that he will be sent home; “Hot Lips” Houlihan, the head nurse; and “Radar” O’Reilly, the farm boy who serves as the company clerk.

The heart of M*A*S*H is “Hawkeye” Pierce, a surgeon played by Alan Alda. His brash manner and practical jokes, combined with his compassion for people and hatred of war, are the center of a unique show that touches the heart while provoking laughter.