Murder of a City, Tacoma: Chapter 5

Coverage of Murder of a City, Tacoma, starts here

Overview

  • The most important part about this chapter is that Crisman explains in depth his supposed philosophical reasons for engaging in this political war. I say “supposed” not to imply he’s lying, but merely to stress that for these purposes I’m taking Crisman’s words at face value but also not lending them unquestioned support. I’m not going to venture to say if he’s being honest or not, because I don’t really know.
    Anyway, Crisman’s main problem is with the imposition of state power in generally, but in specific with “sensitivity training,” which he considers a moral and subversive scourge.
    This is fascinating from my 2019 perspective, because these things are now commonplace in America. For Crisman in 1966, though, they represented something wholly nefarious. For Crisman, this sensitivity training was a means of political brainwashing.
  • Crisman claims that Rasmussen is the victim of a slander campaign accusing him of being a racist. This caught me by surprise, as I didn’t think being branded a racist would have a career-destroying stigma in the late ’60s. Looking at it from 2019, when “racist” and “sexist” accusations are the new “commie” catch-all condemnations designed to shut up anyone who doesn’t agree with things, I feel a natural sympathy with Crisman’s position here. However, it needs to be reiterated again that we really have no idea what Crisman was really up to.
  • Marshall Riconoscuito wraps up the chapter saying “there’s going to be hell to pay” after saying that the only way for them to fight this media campaign is to get some media of their own, by the order of “millions of dollars.”

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Chapter 4

Coverage of the rare book Murder of a City, Tacoma, starts here.

I’m changing the format of how I write about this book. Reception (and just plain attention) for my blogging on this literary work of weird American history has been much better than I anticipated. I’m very grateful for that, but the narrative form I’d been using was just too time-consuming.

So, I’ve decided to use my technical writing skills and switch it up. I genuinely believe this will better serve most readers, too. You’re here just for the information, so I’ll cut the fluff and get to it. If you’re interested enough at the end, there will be longform content aplenty when I write the book on Crisman.

So, with no further ado, I present Murder of a City, chapter 4:

Murder of a City, Tacoma, Chapter 4 Summary

In this chapter, Crisman mainly expands on painting the political situation of the era, as he sees it. His main concern is with the Soviet Communist element he believes is trying to subvert U.S. culture. For the first time that he recalls, he mentions also that there is also a Far Right element that is far too extreme for his “plebian” tastes.

The political war really ramps up when Slim Rasmussen is denied his bid to replace Rowlands by a 5 to 4 City Council bid.

The Tacoma News Tribune, which Crisman continues to paint as the most nefarious player in this saga, launches a smear campaign to label Rasmussen a racist.

Rasmussen never says anything definitive, but the implication is that he’s ready to counter-punch.

Points of Central Importance in Chapter 4

  • Crisman describes more about politician (including future Tacoma mayor) A.L. Rasmussen, but in doing so reveals more about one of his peculiar tendencies. Rasmussen is unerringly idealized in every representation.
    Whether it’s intentional on Crisman’s part (meaning, if Murder of a City was indeed a work of straight-up propaganda and not a legitimate journalistic account) or simply an aspect of his character, everyone in the book is described in the extreme. They’re either morally perfect or completely reprehensible, heroes or villains, no in between.
  • Crisman claims Rasmussen was a liberal and a Democrat, but that he wasn’t “Far Left” enough to satisfy his political opponents, and so was smeared by the Tacoma New Tribune.
  • The city council is narrowly split (5 to 4) on whether to use the City Management form of governance, or to go with the minority Rasmussen-led alliance.
  • Crisman reveals his greater fears of the influence of Communism on American life of the 1960s. He is unambiguous in his assertion that this influence is intentionally malicious and designed to undermine American society.
  • Crisman leaves us with his meeting with Rasmussen. Crisman has come to let him know that his enemies are labeling him a racist in order to destroy his reputation. Rasmussen twirls in his seat and says, “If this goes on…” without finishing the sentence.

Important/Interesting Lesser Points of Murder of a City, Tacoma, Chapter 4

  • The parallels with recent American history have become almost freakish. As Crisman prepares to take on the establishment with his pirate radio station, á la Alex Jones, he declares, “It never really occurred to [The Tacoma News Tribune] that they could lose this election.”
    Replace The Tacoma News Tribune with CNN or MSNBC, and you’ve got 2016 all over again (but 50 years earlier).
  • Crisman reasserts that he did nothing to help Rasmussen’s campaign, despite rumors that he did indeed write all of his material. This can be true, or it can again fit into the opposite narrative (I strive to avoid speculation in this stage of research), and in doing so fit another possible tendency of Crisman’s: coming out first with derogatory or inflammatory accusations about himself (rather than hiding them) and thereby controlling the narrative.
    While I’m not a politician (thank God), my understanding is that this technique is fairly common among those in that world.
  • Marshall Riconosuito returns, with Crisman explaining that he’d been assigned urban renewal adviser.
  • Crisman and KAYE radio arrange to live-broadcast all city council meetings, which prevents them from continuing to slant their decisions without justification.
  • Interesting, opinionated perspective on the now-ubiquitous but then-new field of “human relations” (or HR as we mostly know it as today). “For the most part,” Crisman says, “these boards simply worsened conditions as they arose and stirred up problems that never existed.”
  • Crisman gives Lynn Hodges a backhanded complement by saying that rumors of his Communist affiliation had to be untrue because, “he was never capable of the self-discipline that a good, well-trained Communist must have.” In looking up Hodges, I found on the Tacoma Historical Society website that Hodges was named first executive director of human relations for the city of Tacoma on May 31, 1967. Crisman seems to be earnestly defending the man’s reputation, saying there’s no way he’s a Communist.
  • Crisman says that he finds himself unwanted by both sides of the war, because he isn’t extreme enough for the Far Right and is ideologiclaly opposed to the Communist Far Left. He continues to assert that he is not part of any side of the conflict. He just wants justice.

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Chapter 3, Enter Jim Nichols

(Coverage of Murder of a City, Tacoma, starts here.)

All conspiracy theories and questions of credibility aside, Fred Crisman could flat-out write. Murder of a City, Tacoma is well paced and penned with conviction.

Crisman was a convincing writer, and he had a good feel for pacing. Murder of a City picks up at a slow but consistent boil from the introduction through to chapter 3.

Crisman starts the chapter meeting old friend Miller Stevens at the New Yorker “restaurant.” In looking this up, I’m pretty sure Crisman was referring to a place remembered today as the New Yorker nightclub, not restaurant. University of Puget Sound has some images from the club.

Crisman explains that Stevens is a Gypsy (which he capitalizes), and then goes on to talk about how Gypsies were being abused by the city of Tacoma. According to Crisman, social systems had been enacted for all other demographics, but the Gypsies had been left out.

Also here, for the first time, Crisman mentions that he was a teacher. I noted in my coverage of chapter 1 that I previously found this to be a curious omission, as Crisman’s firing from his position just prior to the events of Murder of a City seemed very intriguing. He’d been accused of starting a secret society among students, which, if true, says a great deal about the guy.

Regardless, Crisman talks about Gypsies for a while and proudly declares that Stevens considered him to be the best “gadjo” (non-Gypsy) he’d ever met.

Crisman says that he helped Stevens write an education plan for the Tacoma Gypsy population, and that this plan won funding by the order of $6700, which in today’s dollars is about $51,000.

Crisman says the education plan was successful but not renewed. So, Stevens, encouraged by Crisman, decides to go straight to Washington D.C. to make people aware of the problem and to continue getting the funding they need.

This is where things get interesting.

Stevens comes to Crisman to say that figures in Washington D.C. warned him to stay away from Crisman, saying they had “black and white proof” of Crisman’s poor character. Stevens is nervous and doesn’t know what to do.

Crisman advises Stevens to have these people meet him at his home. Crisman then goes and stakes out the location. When the two men arrive, Crisman follows them inside.

The men are identified as Bob Lee, a “public relations” man, and Edd Jeffords, Tacoma News-Tribune reporter.

Jeffords appears in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, among other placesHe was the fine arts editor for the Tribune.

Crisman confronts the men, and they confess to having none of the “black and white” proof they’d promised. Crisman throws the men out of the house.

In reviewing the situation, Crisman surmises that the Tacoma establishment must have been angry that he and Stevens had gone straight to D.C. to rectify the injustices being done to Tacoma’s Gypsy population.

Crisman slips in a note that Lee and Jeffords were telling people that Crisman had been skimming money from the aforementioned Gypsy education program. Crisman brushes this off, claiming officials knew that Lee was a “liar” and Jeffords was just a “cheap hippie-in-residence.”

Crisman now feels thoroughly crucified by the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma News-Tribune. He hears of a Canadian-turned-U.S.-citizen named Jim Nicholls, a “man of integrity.”

Nicholls runs KAYE radio in Puyallup, which is a few miles outside Tacoma. Nicholls also has a history of running programs outside the mainstream, and of confronting the same powers-that-be that have tormenting Crisman.

The two decide to do something about it. Their alliance is formed, and the die is cast.

The chapter closes with Crisman walking into the studio for his first Murder of a City broadcast, truly setting his information war in motion. History is now ready to be made.

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Chapter 2

In chapter 1 of Murder of a City, Tacoma, our mysterious pal Fred L. Crisman introduced us to the cast of characters that will play important roles later in our book. Chapter 2 is where the story really begins.

Chapter 2 of Murder of a City has Crisman riding around Tacoma with Marshall Riconosciuto, head of Riconosciuto Advertising Agency. The drive is uneventful, but it gives Crisman the chance to tell us about his hometown of Tacoma as he saw it…or, at least, as he wants us to think he saw it.

The writing feels very sincere, I will say. Crisman seems to be earnestly troubled by the state of corruption and ruin his hometown has fallen into. He blames the state of the city unambiguously on the City Management form of governance.

One interesting side note that may interested Tacomans is that Crisman discusses the now-(in)famous Hilltop neighborhood as being a new thing. He says it was once called the K-Street neighborhood and was only changed to the Hilltop in the years he’d been away.

We also meet a new character in the form of Burt McMurtie, “radio genius.” He was a local media personality known his “It Seems to Me…” and “Breakfast with McMurtrie” radio programs. I’ll be digging up what I can on Mr. McMurtie, as he sounds like an interesting character and an important part of Tacoma history.

McMurtrie agrees with Crisman’s opinion that Tacoma has gone to hell because of corrupt governance.

The chapter ends with Crisman trying to speak with David Rowlands, City Manager. He can’t get an audience with the man, and he finishes the chapter saying:

“I was sincerely sorry he would not speak with me. Maybe it is of no consequence. Again maybe the history of Tacoma would have been on a different note and even changed, if Rowlands had had a few minutes so spare a seeking man!”

“…if only…”

If that sounds vaguely like a threat, it’s because it basically is. From here, one of the nastiest political wars in Washington state history will begin.

 

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Introduction and Preface

My Plan to Chronicle Murder of a City, Tacoma

I’ve been trying to figure the best way to cover Murder of a City, Tacoma. The book is long out of print. As of this moment, I can’t find any copies for sale online. Thus, it appears I was highly fortunate to snap a copy of this weird slice of Tacoma history, and I want to share its contents with the public in the best manner possible.

Covering the book is no easy task, however. This wild little tale is packed full of information.

I fear that too broad an overview will be too shallow. Likewise, I fear that too detailed of a reading will bore readers back to their television screens. I’m a fan of “long form reading” (which I used to just call “reading”), but I’m a realist, and I understand that most readers these days want things in small chunks.

So, in that spirit, I’ll be covering one chapter of Murder of a City at a time, keeping each post under 1,500 words. This first post is slightly different, as the Introduction and Preface are short enough to cram into one story.

Disclaimer

I intend to write about Murder of a City, Tacoma, as it stands on its own two feet. Later I will dig into other historical accounts and test the veracity of Crisman’s story, but here, I’m just sharing what’s inside this rare book.

Murder of a City, Tacoma, is about a political war that took place in the late 1960s. It was written by one of the information soldiers in that war. As such, it’s full of mud-slinging and accusation.

Most, if not all, of the central characters are dead now. I’m not concerned about law suits. However, I want to make clear out of respect for the dead and out of the desire to preserve my own credibility, that I do not endorse any of Crisman’s claims (nor do I disavow them).

I’ll research and present what I find later. For now, I’m just covering what’s inside this book.

So, with no further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Murder of a City, Tacoma.

Murder of a City, Tacoma: Introduction

Dedication in Murder of a City, Tacoma. It reads "To Fred Crisman, Jr., who gave up his summer for "The Murder of a City." JGMurder of a City, Tacoma opens with Crisman’s dedication to his son. Here, you can see it signed “JG,” which refers to the author-name on the book’s cover: Jon Gold.

Jon Gold was a pseudonym used by Crisman, not only for this book but during the time written of in the took. The reason why he chose to go this pseudonymous route is explained in the Preface section below.

The book’s Introduction is one page written by Virginia Shackelford in August 1970. I’m not exactly sure who Shackelford was, but I did find someone with her name as a 1983 recipient of a Governor’s Arts and Heritage Award. If this is the same woman, I can’t be sure. I’ll dig more into this later.

Shackelford’s description of Gold/Crisman can only be described as “epic,” in the truest sense of the word.

“He burst like a bombshell upon the political scene,” Shackelford wrote. “Fast talking, abrasive, highly opinionated, aggressive…JON GOLD! He was a new radio commentator with an evening talk show, and he stirred immediate interest and aroused even more immediate support and opposition.”

She describes Gold’s talk show as having “fire and a drive that fascinated all who listened, whether they disagreed or agreed with his political stance.”

Shackelford then contrasts this description of a larger-than-life Gold against a much more pedestrian one of Crisman.

“Then…there is the man Fred L. Crisman. Quiet, soft-spoken, diffident by nature, he is totally different from his alter-ego, but, it is as Jon Gold that he will be remembered in Tacoma.”

Shackelford finishes her introduction by saying that Crisman gave her and the city of Tacoma hope.

“For those of us who had long fought to bring a more representative form of government to our torn city, and who had waged an almost impossible battle against a monopoly in the news media, Jon Gold became a fulcrum which helped us upset the balance of power and to give us some hope that we might triumph at long last.”

(To put these statements into context, one has to understand that Tacoma was to the 60s–90s what Detroit, Michigan, is to 2018…a corrupt, violent, economically depressed wasteland.)

Into this scene of ruin and despair charged one Fred L. Crisman, riding under an alter ego, as any good superhero should.

Dramatic stuff.

Trust me, though, the book only gets wilder.

Preface

The preface is written by Crisman himself, under the name Jon Gold. It’s his condemnation not only of the corruption of Tacoma specifically, but also about the inherent corruption of any form of “City Management.”

I don’t know exactly what, if any, classification Crisman would give his political belief system, but he’s clearly and unambiguously suspicious of government power. I suspect he’d call himself a Libertarian today, but I can’t be sure about that. His hatred for government seems so deep that for all I know he would have called himself a full-blown anarchist.

Crisman explains that the story told in Murder of a City happened between 1967 and 1970. He wastes little time before going on the attack.

“I have stated on radio, television, and in print that City Manager government is the most wasteful, inefficient, bumbling, and dishonest form of government ever devised by men for the grabbing of a dishonest dollar,” Crisman wrote.

“It is a pure dictatorship, and it is based on corruption,” he went on. “That may seem to be a strong statement, however, for a City Manager form of government to operate at all, it must have a compatibility between the controlling majority of the city council and the man picked as Manager of the city. Any city manager, worth his title, is aware that he must please that Majority to keep his job, and there is usually one thing in their mind that pleases them most of all and that is money!”

(To me, Crisman has an endearing habit of using exclamation marks quite profusely. Others may be put off by the style.)

The rest of the Preface continues much like the quoted portion above. Many, I think, would call it a rant. Far as I can tell, though, one man’s “rant” is another man’s righteous monologue against injustice, and until I know more about the veracity of his claims I won’t label it one way or the other.

Crisman explains an aspect of Tacoma corruption that will figure importantly into the story: “One of the best weapons that City Management has is the ‘false charge’ and that usually takes the form of making an all out attack upon its critics by branding them as criminals. That was a favorite tactic of the Tacoma City Management and it has a record of character assassination that is a horrible thing to examine.”

It is because of that City Management track record for criminal accusation, I presume, that Crisman changed his name to Gold.

Crisman’s Fight Was Personal

Crisman was born in Tacoma, but he’d been gone for a long time before returning to live out the events described in this book. He’d left for the east coast after serving as a fighter pilot in WWII (this is the claim, anyway, and again I haven’t verified his military record…just going by the book and general mythology).

In the Preface for Murder of a City, Tacoma, Crisman explains that he came home to find “what had happened to my home town in the many years I had been gone. It turned out to be a mounting story of terror tactics, graft, dishonest and political police, blackmail, and crimes for almost every description committed in the name of ‘clean government.'”

Crisman concludes, “There was little doubt that Tacoma had fallen into the hands of the Far Left and it was to be a well kept secret for many years and it is a matter that is being argued at this very hour…It turns out to be a close and political life of the city. It turns out to be a close knit small band of conspirators against he common good! All of them in the far, far Left of Liberal politics.”

Crisman gives a respectful account of Tacoma’s first City Manager, one Fred Backstrom. Crisman describes him as a man “who seems to have made a sincere effort to make the city manager form of government work.”

According to Crisman, Backstrom was unfairly criticized for his “conservative views on public finance and the attitude towards large federal grants of tax money for the city!”

After Backstrom left, Crisman says, David Rowlands of Eur Claire, Wisconsin, moved in. This is where we meet our primary villain.

“Rowlands is a cruel, vain man with an icy coldness that freezes one’s ability to speak directly to him,” Crsiman writes. “Fond of referring to himself in the third person, his ego and his temperament were not suited to the needs of the city or to those who had been at work in Tacoma to make it a better town.”

The above description is consistent with the remainder of Crsiman’s presentation of Rowlands—a man the author gives no quarter.

Tacoma News-Tribune

Crisman then fingers the Tacoma News-Tribune as the propaganda arm of Rowlands’ establishment.

“Directly from the handbook of the International City Managers Association comes the direct planning of Rowlands. It directs all city manager thinking. Part of that thinking is to supply the local press with advantages that will lead them into total support. The Tribune was given every tax-break possible, it was given a direct re-zoning in the middle of a proper residential district to erect a 200 foot steel tower of the instillation of a TV station and radio broadcast area…The Tribune prospered and Rowlands was painted to the citizens as a White Knight on a White Horse.”

Crisman, it’s safe to say, disagrees with the Tribune‘s presentation of Rowlands (to put it euphemistically).

This is the historical backdrop Crisman paints for us: Tacoma, a city dying in the clutches of a corrupt political machine as blindly and unremittingly evil as a fantasy novel monster.

“All of this leads up to late 1966 and my return to my home town, a broken, beaten, desert of rubble that resembled a bombed out area in Eastern Europe.”

Crisman came home to find his city in shambles, and he decided to do something about that. That “something” is accounted for in the remainder of Murder of a City.

Crisman’s Sign-Off

In regards to the final paragraph in the Preface, I can’t resist from adding a little commentary for those unfamiliar with Tacoma history.

I live in Tacoma right now (2018), at a time when we’re experiencing a continual renewal that’s been going for over a decade.

Sunset Magazine declared Tacoma the best place to move to in the Pacific Northwest in 2018. Our art scene is thriving. Our job market is strengthening. It’s a good place. I love living here.

But, back there in 1970, Crisman ended his Preface with the statement:

“I have called this story: The Murder of a City, and I am sure that you will agree that if the city ever recovers from the heavy damages that wounded it, it will be so close a call, so narrow a margin of escape, that it will not change the title. For the Tacoma that I knew died under the crushing heel of a 13 year dictatorship every bit as cruel, heartless, and bitter as any that has ever existed!”

And with that, I’ll close this first post. Chapter 1 is here.