November 24, 2014

Gridley's Sack: Turning a Sack of Flour into Gold and Silver -- A Prototype Cold War Rallying Tool

In "Clark Gable and the 'Silver Brick' for RFE," we read how a silver brick was used as a Cold War rallying tool in Nevada in the Second Crusade for Freedom campaign that began on September 3, 1951. Below we will take a brief look at the original rallying tool in the United States during the American Civil War: a sack of flower.

In 1864, Ruel C. Gridley, owner of the Gridley General Merchandise Store in Austin, Nevada, lost an election bet and had to carry a 50-pound sack of flour the length of the town to the tune of the song “John Brown’s Body.”

The famous American writer Mark Twain wrote about this episode in his 1870 book Roughing It:

A former schoolmate of mine, by the name of Reuel Gridley, was living at the little city of Austin, in the Reese river country, at this time, and was the Democratic candidate for mayor. He and the Republican candidate made an agreement that the successful one, and should carry it home on his shoulder.

Gridley was defeated. The new mayor gave him the sack of flour, and he shouldered it and carried it a mile or two, from Lower Austinto his home in Upper Austin, attended by a band of music and the whole population. Arrived there, he said he did not need the flour, and asked what the people thought he had better do with it. A voice said:

"Sell it to the highest bidder, for the benefit of the Sanitary fund."

The suggestion was greeted with a round of applause, and Gridley mounted a dry-goods box and assumed the role of auctioneer. The bids went higher and higher, as the sympathies of the pioneers awoke and expanded, till at last the sack was knocked down to a mill man at two hundred and fifty dollars, and his check taken. He was asked where he would have the flour delivered, and he said:

"Nowhere--sell it again."

Now the cheers went up royally, and the multitude were fairly in the spirit of the thing. So Gridley stood there and shouted and perspired till the sun went down; and when the crowd dispersed he had sold the sack to three hundred different people, and had taken in eight thousand dollars in gold. And still the flour sack was in his possession.

Gridley traveled from coast to coast auctioning off the sack of flour and was treated as a 19th Century "superstar." One newspaper wrote: "No lady's album in Nevada or California is considered complete without a photograph of Gridley and his sack of flour."

The proceeds of the auctions went to the Sanitary Fund, a forerunner to the Red Cross, to help relieve suffering created by the Civil War. One newspaper later reported:

Gridley, patriot that he was, saw fame for him and gold for the sick soldiers. He entered heart and soul in the idea, and started with his now famous bag of flower on an expedition, which immortalized himself and brought joy and comfort to thousands of suffering soldiers. His reception everywhere was like a Roman triumph, and the people, infected by the noble work, vied and struggled with each other in their generous rivalry.

The last auction was at the St. Louis Sanitary Fair, when the flour was turned into small cakes and sold at one dollar each. By then Gridley’s sack, which had originally cost $10.00 had raised over $275,000.

The year of traveling around the country took a toll on Gridley's health. When he returned to Austin, he found that the silver mine had closed and his store was close to bankruptcy. He and his family were forced to move to California. Two years later Gridley and his wife and four children were living in poverty in Stockton. Newspaper editors in California and Nevada reacted by raising $1,400 to buy a house and small farm for them. Gridley's health continued to decline and he died on November 24, 1870 -- he was 41 years old. 

In 1876, Stockton Civil War veterans sold thousands of miniature sacks of flour to raise money for a monument to Gridley, which was built a few years later. “The Soldiers Friend Monument to Reuel Colt Gridley" in Stockton's cemetery has this inscription:

Erected by
Grand Army of the Republic
and the Citizens of Stockton
Sept. 19, 1887 in gratitude
for services rendered Union
Soldiers during the War of
the Rebellion in collecting
275,000 dollars for the
Sanitary Commission by
selling and reselling a
sack of flour

Gridley’s original general store in Austin, Nevada, was restored and is now on the United States National Register of Historic Places. 

November 15, 2014

Listen: A New Film About Radio Free Europe and Bulgaria

On November 14, 2014, new documentary film "Listen" of Bulgarian journalist Diana Ivanova was premiered at the Cinemania film festival in Sofia, Bulgaria. Here is a re-print of interview with her about this film that was aired over Radio Bulgaria on November 10th:

The film tells the personal stories of three women who share in a very emotional manner what Radio Free Europe meant to them and their families”, says in an interview for Radio Bulgaria Diana Ivanova. “Radio Free Europe filled a gap resulting from the lack of truth and lack of facts. I was born in 1968 and I didn't listen to it a lot as until 1986 my family lived in Mihailovgrad and we didn't have good reception at home. But I remember that the first information about the Chernobyl accident came from Radio Free Europe, it was transmitted on the air and that's how we found out about it. So on the one hand, Radio Free Europe was a place where you could hear another point of view that would make you reflect on things. This perspective might not be always the same as yours, it might not always be the right one or the correct one, but somehow the radio gave another interpretation, purely intellectual, if you will, to what was happening, handling huge data sources that were not allowed here.

In Diana Ivanova's opinion, Radio Free Europe, in a purely emotional manner, was changing lives - even the lives of teenagers, people who in in the 1960s and 1970s were listening to music on its airwaves:

It gives different things to different generations. But this emotion that I felt was exceptional. And I wanted to be able to transmit it to my audience now through the film because it has led people to make a new choice in their lives later," ... Radio Free Europe had another very strong period in the 1990s. Then was the crisis in the government of Zhan Videnov as Bulgaria was sinking down. In this period the radio again played a very important role because it brought together a team of highly talented journalists, each with their own opinion. It did not serve any economic grouping and it gradually became clear that Bulgaria was parceled into separate spheres of influence. The radio could afford the courage to be a critical observer of all this, but also to seek positive examples, to compare processes with other countries in the post-socialist transition.

Diana Ivanova worked at Radio Free Europe until 2003. For making the film, she examined many archives of the radio. What impressed her the most?

What most impressed me from the archives are interviews from 1989. They were made mainly by Rumiana Uzunova but also by her colleagues who helped her to make them. She was not alone but she was part of a huge team. There are shockingly strong interviews with displaced Bulgarian Turks /during the so-called Revival Period/ and with people who were then scattered throughout the country and no other media was interested in them. I was very impressed by the conduct of Rumiana Uzunova herself - very humane and empathic with the way she listened to people: I hear you, I sympathize with your feelings. She does not ask questions. And this is what I'd like to be heard in the film. That's why the title “Listen” comes from the power of those words that she says. How much power there is in these words, "Listen" and "I am listening to you” when it is said with absolute humanity.

The other thing that impressed Diana Ivanova were the propaganda films for the radio from the 1960s and 1970s, and the late 1989. One example - a Bulgarian returns to the country frustrated by the West, and indeed he was commissioned to return from the state security, but the Bulgarian audience has never understood that.

Part of the film is also a preserved interrogation with dissident poet Petar Manolov of 1989 about what one can say on the air of "Free Europe", which at that time one could not say elsewhere.

The documentary presents the views of both the audience and the journalists, employees of the state security, secret agents, American directors. "And in the confrontation of these different worlds I leave the viewers to see and feel for themselves and understand that period. It was important for me to leave the archives speak for themselves. In this movie my voice is not present, it's a story told solely by the people and the archives”, Diana Ivanova concluded.

(Article by Veneta Pavlova; translation from Bulgrarian by Rossitsa Petcova)

The trailer to the film can be viewed here:

September 26, 2014

Conference on the Velvet Revolution in Cold War Czechoslovakia

RFE/RL, the Embassy of the Czech Republic and the Woodrow Wilson Center
invite you to a panel discussion on

Promoting Free Media:
Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the Challenge Today

Thursday, October 16, 2014
2:00pm - 6:00pm

6th Floor Flom Auditorium
Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20004


Czechs and Slovaks regained their freedom in November 1989 through non-violent protests in Prague, Bratislava, and other towns of then Czechoslovakia. Their Velvet Revolution climaxed a decade of renewed civic challenges to a repressive Communist regime that began with Charter 77 dissidents including Vaclav Havel and accelerated after 1986. Deprived of objective information about developments in their own country, Czechs and Slovaks turned to the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other Western broadcasters for information. Only through Western radio did they learn about accelerating challenges to Communist orthodoxy in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union and about ferment in their own country.

Twenty five years after the Velvet Revolution, Europe today is whole and free, but democracy and prerequisite independent media are on the decline in much of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. RFE/RL, now operating from Prague, VOA, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Network, and Radio Marti, all publicly funded by the U.S. Congress, work to redress the information deficit.

The first panel will review the contribution of Western broadcasting to the successful Velvet Revolution and consider lessons from that experience. A second panel will examine the challenge faced today by the United States in providing objective information to authoritarian countries and in applying principles of successful Cold War broadcasting to communicating with unfree societies.

Panel One – Western Broadcasting to Czechoslovakia

A. Ross Johnson
Wilson Center Senior Scholar (moderator)

Petr Gandalovic
Ambassador of the Czech Republic

Jiri Pehe
Director, New York University Prague Center (via Internet)

R. Eugene Parta
Former Chair, Conference of International Broadcasters Audience Research and former Director, RFE/RL Audience and Opinion Research

Pavel Pechacek
Former director, VOA Czechoslovak Service; former director, RFE/RL Czechoslovak and Czech Services

Alexandr Vondra
Former Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister of the Czech Republic; former Czech Ambassador to the U.S. (via Internet)

Panel Two – Promoting Free Media Today

Andrew Selee
Wilson Center Executive Vice President (moderator)

David Kramer
President, Freedom House

Kevin Klose
Professor, Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland

Nenad Pejic
Editor in Chief, RFE/RL

Mark Toner
Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, US Department of State

Kenneth Weinstein
President, Hudson Institute; member, Broadcasting Board of Governors

Reception to follow


August 31, 2014

Here is the program of the recent conference in Gdansk, Poland:

From Free Europe to Free Poland: Free Europe Committee in the Cold War

Friday, 5 September 2014

9:00-9:15 OPENING - at the University of Gdańsk
9:15-10:45 PANEL 1 - at the University of GdańskThe Role of the Émigrés in Early Cold War American Foreign Policy
Chair: Jakub Tyszkiewicz (University of Wrocław)

Panelists: Scott Lucas (University of Birmingham)
Anna Mazurkiewicz (University of Gdańsk)
Michael Warner (American University, Washington, former CIA History Staff)
Hugh Wilford (California State University, Long Beach)
11:15-12:45  PANEL 2 - at the University of GdańskThe Origins of the Free Europe Committee and the Launching of the Radio Free Europe
Chair: A. Ross Johnson (Woodrow Wilson Center and Hoover Institution, Washington/Stanford)

Panelists: Anna Bischof (University of Munich)
Pawel Machcewicz (Museum of the Second World War and and Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Gdansk/Warsaw)
András Mink (Open Society Archives, Budapest)
Ioana Macrea Toma (Open Society Archives, Budapest)                                 
13:00-14:00 Lunch Break hosted by Helena History Press
14:15-15:45 PANEL 3 - at the University of GdańskExile Support Programs of the Free Europe Committee
Chair: Katalin Kádár Lynn (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest)

Panelists: Veronika Durin-Hornyik (University of Paris-East)
Jonathan H. L’Hommedieu (Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah)
Marius Petraru (California State University, Sacramento)
Francis Raška (Charles University, Prague)
16:15-18:45 PANEL 4 - at the University of GdańskFrom Leaflets to Books: The Printed Word Program of the FEC and Beyond
Chair: Władysław Bułhak (Institute of National Rememberance, Warsaw)

Panelists: Leonard Baldyga (former US Information Agency, Washington)
Małgorzata Choma-Jusińska (Institute of National Rememberance, Lublin)
Paweł Sowiński (Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw)
Eyewitness testimonies:
Mirosław Chojecki (independent publisher, film producer, Paris, Warsaw)
Robert Gillette (former LA Times correspondent in Moscow and Warsaw)
Andrzej Mietkowski  (Polish Radio Portal, Warsaw, former RFE))
Witold Pronobis (former RFE Polish Independent Press Unit)
Saturday, 6 September 2014
9:00-9:30 The Right to Know: Promoting Free Media in Central and Eastern Europe
Stephen D. Mull, US Ambassador to Poland
9:30-11:30 PANEL 5 – at the University of GdanskCrusade for Freedom: impact in America and behind the Iron Curtain
Chair: Giles Scott Smith (Leiden University)

Panelists: Richard Cummings (independent historian, Düsseldorf, former RFE/RL Director of Security)
Kenneth Osgood (Colorado School of Mines, Golden)
Richard Rowson (Council for a Community of Democracies, Washington, former FEC Director for Policy and Planning)
Prokop Tomek (Military History Institute, Prague)
12:00 – 13:00   PUBLIC LECTURE - at the University of Gdansk
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia 

14:30-18:00 Research Workshop (Meeting closed to general public – by invitation only)

The presentations and speech of President Ilves can be viewed in a Polish translation as a "live stream" at,Prezydent-Estonii-Rosja-jest-nieprzewidywalnym-rezimem-totalitarnym

August 21, 2014

August 1968 Invasion of Czechoslovakia

During the night of August 20-21, 1968, then Czechoslovakia was invaded by about 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops in "Operation Danube."  Radio Free Europe published a four-page Situation Report on August 21, 1968, which contained both factual information and Cold War rhetoric.
Here are two excerpts from that report:

Occupation of Czechoslovakia

At 0050 hours this morning, Radio Prague went on the air with the announcement that armed units of the Soviet Union,Poland, GDR, Hungary and Bulgaria had been moving into Czechoslovakia since about 2300 hours yesterday. Shortly before 0200 hours, Czechoslovak radio stations broadcast a declaration of the Party Presidium which stated that the border crossings were taking place with the knowledge of the President of the Republic, the National Assembly chairman, the Prime Minister, the First Party Secretary, or their respective organs. The Party Presidium called upon all citizens to maintain peace and quiet, and not to resist the advancing armed forces.  For this reason, neither the army, the police, or People’e militia had been ordered to defend the country.


The Soviet Union has secured for a time the Czechoslovak bridgehead and will probably attempt to rule it with the help of domestic quislings. On the other hand, the world-wide image of Communism has suffered irreparable damage. The brutal suppression of an experiment which was trying to unite a social system of nationalized means of production and distribution with a large measure of guaranteed personal freedom cannot but alienate left-wing opinion throughout the world. With the Soviet Union revealing itself unabashedly as an imperialist state, the concept of world revolution inevitably recedes into unreality.

Reportedly about 500 persons were wounded and 108 killed resisting the invasion. The occupation of Czechoslovakia lasted to 1991.

Dramatic photographs of what happened in Prague on August 21, 1968, were put up on RFE/RL's web page last year and can be viewed at 

The full Situation Report can be viewed and/or downloaded here:

"Situation Report: Czechoslovakia, 21 August 1968", 21 August 1968. HU OSA 300-8-47-57-27; Records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute: Publications Department: Situation Reports; Open Society Archives at Central European University, Budapest: