At 88, Charles Carll Recalls Varied Career; Goes to Colleges via Radio
“Tomorrow will be the 88th birthday anniversary of Charles T. Carll, 1604 Twenty-second street, Rock Island.
Like all men who have had a long and active life, Mr. Carll looks backward a great deal. His roots go deep in America’s political and economic life. His boyhood home in New Haven, Conn., was across the street from the Yale university campus. The home was a large, historic mansion, but his father razed it to build there the Carll opera house, then the fourth largest concert auditorium in the nation. The auditorium still is in use.
Mr. Carll’s summer home was the large English manor house which Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, had built and lived in. Next door in New Haven lived a woman who remembered George Washington, who had been a house guest of her father.
The elderly Rock Island man likes to recall now the several 4-year generations of Yale men whom he knew. Many of them became famous. He became a part of Yale campus when he was ‘a kid that high,’ going to Hopkins preparatory school, founded in 1660, on the Yale campus. He enrolled in the college in 1880.
Mr. Carll’s father was United States marshal for Connecticut and in that capacity was responsible for the protection of President U. S. Grant when he came to New Haven for a national convention of the newly-organized Grand Army of the Republic. At that time the young Charles Carll saw and met many of the noted generals of the late Civil war.
Charles Carll’s first business venture was a rancher near Dodge City, Kan., which then was the crossroads of the western cattle industry. The past winter made Mr. Carll think often about his year as a rancher. ‘The winter of 1884-85 was just like this past winter in the west,’ he says. ‘The same kind of blizzards; the same thing happened then as now. The cattle were killed by the blizzards and I was wiped out.’
Varied Business Career.
He went back to New Haven and spent three months learning as much as he could about the telephone business in the first major telephone exchange ever built in America. Then he went back to Kansas as a telephone manager for the Bell System in Emporia. He did so well that he was moved to Kansas City and made division superintendent.
Mr. Carll quit the phone business after 10 years to take a better job with the Chicago Varnish company as manager of its New York branch. ‘We were doing more business in a month than the company had once done in a year,’ Mr. Carll recalls. ‘But on the last days of the year in 1907, the president asked me to resign; the president’s son wanted my job.’
Immediately Mr. Carll got a better position with the Murphy Varnish company, then the biggest in America. He became the manager of six subsidiary plants, and in 1916 he and two associates bought one of them, the Cleveland Varnish company.
Mr. Carll retired in 1930 and with Mrs. Carll spent several years in California, Florida or Minnesota. In 1936 he came to live with his son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. George E. Carll.
Goes to Universities.
Like all men who have lived long, Mr. Carll likes to think and talk about the decades when he was in the midst of the battle of life. Be he also lives in the present. Almost blind for 10 years, he has become one of the world’s greatest radio listeners, especially to cultural programs.
‘I go to the university every day,’ he says, ‘I listen to the lectures from Ames, Iowa City, Urbana, Chicago university and Madison.’ His favorite radio program is a lecture on economics, political science or philosophy. He also is an ardent listener to round-table discussions and debates. He goes to grand opera on Saturday afternoons.
‘I go to three or four churches every Sunday,’ Mr. Carll said. ‘Now there’s a strange thing. My wife was a very superior woman, too good ever to fight with me; we lived together for 50 years and never had a serious quarrel. She went to church regularly and I sometimes went with her, but I was never a member and not interested in church.’
‘Now, though, I am a church member. I listened to Preston Bradley of the People’s church, for 17 years on the radio. Then I wrote to tell him that if I lived in Chicago, I would like to join. He invited me to become a member, anyhow. One Sunday, about two years ago, he inducted me. I repeated the vows right here in this bedroom.’
Had Strong ‘Prejudices.’
Radio has changed Mr. Carll in other ways. He once had the viewpoint of big business. His father was in politics, he himself was a lobbyist for business privileges, and one of his close associates, Franklin Murphy, was a national political power and governor of New Jersey. Conscious of a family heritage going back to 1650 in America, Mr. Carll had what he now calls ‘strong prejudices.’
‘Radio has helped me divorce myself from my prejudices,’ he said. ‘I have learned that it doesn’t make a whit of difference what party sponsors a measure; what matters is whether the act will benefit our nation. I know from personal experience and observation what politics is; no congressman should have anything to do with appointments. Every office-holder should be there only because he has proved himself fit for the job through examinations, and he should be promoted the same way.’
‘Most public jobs don’t pay enough to attract honest, talented men. Human nature is weak and susceptible to being influenced.’
Mr. Carll believes that ‘neither the tycoons of business nor labor’ can be trusted to keep the public welfare uppermost. ‘Each group will grab all it can,’ he said. ‘That’s why special courts, as unbiased as they can be made, should be created to settle labor-management disputes.’
Don’t Worry and Live Long.
As we left, Mr. Carll turned on his 28-tube radio to go to college again. Not all his time, however, is devoted to culture. He likes some of the comedy programs and the ‘guessing games.’ He also likes sports programs, especially baseball, because he played baseball himself; he was a third basemen in the 1880’s.
For the last six months Mr. Carll has been confined to the upstairs of his son’s home, owing to a heart ailment. Except for his failing eyesight, he had been sick otherwise only once before. He attributes his health and long life to his ability not to worry. ‘When I closed the door of my office at 5 o’clock, that was the end of that day’s business,’ he said. ‘I never took any worries home with me.’
For his 88th birthday anniversary tomorrow, his daughter-in-law has invited some friends. He will tell them then that his mission in life now is to urge them to forget their prejudices. He recognizes himself as a once highly prejudiced man who has reformed.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of America, Chronicling America, Illinois, The Rock Island Argus, “The Town Crier,” by George Wickstrom, Monday, April 18, 1949. (top) “Charles T. Carll.” Image courtesy of the Library of America, Chronicling America, Illinois, The Rock Island Argus, April 18, 1949