Theodore O’Leary and anti-Semites / Union Station Massacre / Harry Truman and J. Edgar Hoover

Ted O’Leary, the book critic I discussed two days ago, married young, as people often did in the 30s. He was fresh out of college, still a basketball legend at KU, and a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star. In fact he was working at the Star in the summer of ’33 when the Union Station Massacre went down–the tragedy that allowed J. Edgar Hoover to rise to power, which many considered a tragedy in itself, given his tendencies toward megalomania (whether cross-dressing or no), and the many lives he ruined in his quest for power. I felt it said a great deal that both Roosevelt and Truman always avoided him; in fact I think Truman refused to meet with him even once.

But I digress. Ted was working at the Star that June morning, and through the open windows could hear the Thompsons open up, the firing that went on, some say, for nearly a minute, but that research indicates was likely closer to 30 seconds. Still that was plenty long. When it was over 2 cops had been slaughtered, 2 FBI agents, and one con. Others were badly wounded. Ted wasn’t assigned to the story, much to his regret. But a young woman who were worked for the AP (which had offices at the Star then) did get the assignment, and in her white shoes and white dress, she went down to cover the story. Ted told me that when she returned, her shoes were splashed with crimson, so thick had been the blood. That was his first year at the paper, but this has nothing to do with his wife.

I don’t remember her maiden name, but her first name was Emily, and he met her while giving tennis lessons at one place or another, since Ted was an exceptional tennis player. She was Jewish, he was Catholic, and neither one cared. So they married, and after their honeymoon, they did what any tennis-playing couple would do: they applied for membership to one of the local racket clubs. But good old Kansas City in those days (like Chicago, like Philly, like so many other cities except NY), had strict rules about who could join private clubs, and who could not.

Ted was told that he could join, but that his wife couldn’t. He was told this by several clubs–a practice that went on far longer than I would care to discuss, not that I give a damn about belonging to tennis clubs, but I do care about my city, my country, and the occasional backwardness of both. Anyway Ted told the managers at each of those clubs to go to hell, and I think offered to punch a couple of them. In the end, he and Emily joined one of the Jewish clubs, and that was the only club they played at for several decades, until later joining a new club that didn’t care what race, or creed, their members were made up of.

When he told me this story in 1996, quietly in his kitchen over drinks, he was 85, a widower, crippled with arthritis, but with eyes that still burned with passion. And he was still angry about it, in fact pissed off. But he and Emily had kept their dignity during those years, while you can be sure that the self-important WASPS who barred them didn’t know the meaning of the word. Even so it still angered him that anyone so feeble-minded could treat his wife this way. He felt he was an enlightened soul in a forest of morons. Perhaps he was. But he died a dignified giant in my eyes.

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