Saturday, April 26, 2003

Match-king blog.

I’ve gotten a lot of blogs out of one little trip, but it’s time to wrap it up. Only one more place to note. From Grand Detour, we returned home passing through the town of Dixon, Illinois. We didn’t stop this time, but on September 1, 2001, we spent a while there, on the way to Iowa City and the Amana Colonies for the Labor Day weekend. Dixon is like many small Illinois towns, in its rambling old houses, evidence of ag business scattered around, and a downtown being strangled by the WalMart on the Interstate.

Also, before he became a B film star, labor boss, Borax shill, governor, president, or afflicted former president, Ronald Reagan passed his adolescence here. A pleasant white house, were he lived in the 1920s, attests to that. The tour was refreshingly informal. They didn’t seem to mind Lilly fingering everything in sight, perhaps because absolutely nothing in the house actually belonged to the Reagans — the décor was merely in the style of a modest home in the ’20s. On the lot next door was a remarkably mediocre life-sized statute of RR, as president, dressed in a suit, and cupping kernels of corn in his hand. Why? He was never a farmer or anything, but according to the inscription, cupped kernels were appropriate since he was from that corn-growing state, Illinois.

Tomorrow we are going to Rockford. I’m taking Lilly to a children’s matinee concert (a Kinderkonzert, they call it) by the Rockford Symphony Orchestra. I ought to get some fresh material out of that.

A while ago, I mentioned “Webster’s New Biographical Dictionary” (Merriam Webster) and how I use it not only as a reference work — it has been at my desk at all my workplaces since I bought it 20 years ago, except for those in Osaka — but also as a source of browsing pleasure. It’s not the only reference book I use in that way, of course. At my desk within arm’s reach are standard dictionaries (American Heritage and Simon & Schuster) an almanac, a few atlases, diverse style manuals, Fowler, and Merriam Webster’s “New Geographic Dictionary” too, though that last one has aged badly. I need a new “New Geographic Dictionary” to keep up with the world.

An odd pastime, maybe, especially now that the Internet is available. But I have no regrets about my enthusiasm for reference books. You find remarkable things in them. For example — just leafing through the biographical dictionary, I found this:

“Kreuger, Ivar. 1880-1932. Swedish industrialist, financier, and swindler. Founded (1913) a match company; during World War I concentrated entire Swedish match industry under Swedish Match Company with himself as managing director; after the war, developed an international match monopoly; engaged in vast financial operations, including loans to various governments in return for industrial concessions. Financial stress beginning in 1929 forced collapse of his enterprises; committed suicide; subsequent investigation revealed vast irregularities in the finances of his various enterprises.”

Now that’s a story. The Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt of matches — a ruthless Swedish robberbaron — since when do the Swedes produce monopolists? — and how do you monopolize something as easily made as matches? — someone who lends governments money, and it all come crashing down because of the Depression — and then the match-king offs himself. But there’s more! Postmortem swindles to make Enron look like a pickpocketing ring! I’ll bet if you dug a little deeper, you’d find that he dallied with someone like Marlene Dietrich.


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