Writing Out Loud: OF ROOSTERS AND TIGERS AND FLAKES OF CORN

By George Stahl

Once upon a time, there was a small health spa in the area of Battle Creek Michigan that was started 5 years after the end of the Civil War. The resort was called, of all things, the Battle Creek Sanitarium. In 1876, this health club for the rich and famous was supervised by a man named John Harvey Kellogg, and his brother, W.K. or Will, was the bookkeeper. Being a Seventh Day Adventist, John Harvey was always looking for a way to feed his patients, which was in line with Adventists’ vegetarian philosophy. So, 22 years after he took the reins of the health camp, the Kellogg boys came up with a breakfast cereal called Corn Flakes. That was 120 years ago today. The toasted flakes of maize (Maize Flakes?) became a very popular treat around the sanitarium, Kellogg eventually patented the cereal, and it was being sold everywhere in the Battle Creek area. The company took off like a wildfire burning through a corn field, and the Kelloggs found themselves to be very popular.

As the story goes, one day, while John Harvey was wondering what the patients might like for the next day’s menu, breakfast kept rearing its ugly head, and Kellogg could no longer ignore it. Something cheap, er…inexpensive to make, and something that would stick to their ribs at least until lunch time. This was all he needed.

What could be easier and cheaper than an ear of maize, scraped from the stalk and toasted, just add milk, and there you have it, a bowl of heaven on earth. So, John Harvey thought anyway. Then the government stepped in. The patent office specifically. Kellogg got his patent, but so did dozens of other people, each product with a slight variation. One of those other inventors was also a patient at the sanitarium, a man named, C.W. Post of Post cereal. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were not even soggy in the bowl yet, and John Harvey, not one to be outdone, was at the patient office to file for a second patent. It was the birth of Rice Krispies, and the guys Snap, Crackle and Pop shortly signed on as its spokesmen.

Someone else came on to the world scene in 1898, but not from inside the box of flakes. He was on the outside, he was green and a little red. And when he threw his head back every ear who could hear would shake. His name was Cornelius ‘Corny’ Rooster. At first, Corny could talk and even sing a few bars for commercial posters, but soon, it seemed, he could no longer speak. He resorted to only crowing and winking. Maybe he was eating too many of those toasted flakes and his vocal chords couldn’t handle it. Whatever the reason, the American public never knew, and soon, Corny was restricted to the box, and he could no longer do anything animated.

A few years go by, and John Harvey goes on to the big cereal bowl in the sky, followed by Will in 1951. Finishing something Will had started, a new character came onto the cereal scene just a year later. He was large, fearsome looking and his thunderous voice made the television sets of that time quiver whenever he spoke his famous words, “They’rrrre……greaaaaaaat!” Tony the Tiger was the first and probably the last ‘American’ Bengal Tiger in the history of the world. He never ate anyone who was standing around him, and he didn’t eat the newly improved, sugar coated, anti-soggy corn flakes called Frosted Flakes either. His testimony wasn’t firsthand information, but even a cartoon tiger will do just about anything for a buck. The Kellogg boys would have been proud of the tiger, but, unfortunately, Tony’s days were numbered also, with emergence of the Caveman diet, the Low to No Carb Diet and the water fast diet, Tony has been forced into hiding and has became a recluse. Similar to the last days of movie mogul, and all around fantastically rich guy, Howard Hughes.

Maybe one day, when the carb and sugar dust has settled, the mighty tiger can emerge from his lair and once again declare loudly and proudly, “They’rrrre……greaaaat!” He will obviously not be referring to those corny, sweet, flakey pieces of grain, but maybe a bowl of Kellogg’s Kale Flakes? Somehow, it’s just not the same, is it?

And to think that it all started 120 years ago today in a sanitarium in Michigan. By the way, the Battle Creek Sanitarium did eventually become a hospital for the mentally insane. I wonder if their patient list has a resident with the initials, T. T. T.?