Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Climbing the tower of Lucas County

The bonus after yesterday's rededication of the restored courthouse clock --- 123 years to the day and hour after it started running at 10 a.m. on May 22, 1894 --- was a chance to visit our collective timepiece in its tower home.

First, however, we listened as the big tower bell chimed 10 o'clock, then Steve Laing, county supervisor who led the restoration drive, thanked everyone involved --- committee members, others who had helped out, Rory DeMesy of Minneapolis who did the restoration work and, especially, the generous donors who made the project possible. I talked a little about Lucas County's courthouse history, commencing in 1850; then it was time for cookies and coffee.

Steve then offered anyone interested a tour of the tower, an area of the courthouse not visited that often, and several of us accepted.

The ascent begins with this short flight of stairs, ending at a door, located just off the courtroom lobby on the top floor of the courthouse.

Beyond the door, the long flight of stairs doubles back on itself and climbs to a landing. Straight ahead at the top is the entrance to the courthouse attic, used for storage. To the left, a door leads into a low-ceilinged, windowless room.

This room is located just above the second-floor windows in the base of the courthouse tower, behind the carved stone that identifies the "Lucas County Court House."

As you're coming up the stairs, on your right, generations of people --- mostly students --- have engraved their names in black-painted plaster.

The clock pendulum descends through a slot in the ceiling and swings back and forth in this small room, guarded by new framing that also adds support to the floor of the clock chamber above. The big lead weights that are wound up, then descend to power the clock, travel in chutes built into the corners of this level of the tower.

The metal boxes, probably brought from the 1858 courthouse, contain county records that date at the least back into the 1860s and most likely always have been stored here.

It looks as if this low room originally was open, but has been subdivided and the area around the pendulum, now used for storage, insulated. The pendulum and weights, removed when the clock was electrified during the 1970s, were kept at the Lucas County Historical Society museum and returned to the county when the restoration project began.

The white door, just visible in the second photo above, leads through a newer wall to what once was an open staircase to the clock chamber immediately above. The workmanship on the stairway and other tower details is extraordinary, considering the fact this never was intended to be a public area.

This is a much shorter flight, climbing north along the tower's west wall into the many-windowed clock chamber.

Note that there are few if any cracks in the original plaster applied 123 years ago directly onto masonry in the tower.

The clock chamber, lighted on all four sides of the tower by large windows, is for the most part filled by an elaborate wooden case, entirely as originally built, that contains the Seth Thomas clockworks. There's just enough room around it for the stairs leading up to the chamber on the west and a narrow walkway around the north, east and south walls of the case.

The east windows look out on the courthouse's slate roof; the south windows, out across the finials on the west gable;

the west windows, onto the west side of the square;

and the north windows onto the north side of the square.

Because the clockworks case takes up much of the clock chamber, it's almost impossible to get a decent image of it. Although the case has never been altered, it has been "decorated" over the years with more of those messages scratched into the finish. The viewing window is in the north side of the case.

It is topped by a heavy cornice.

And this elaborate door into the case, which Steve is pushing a little farther open, is on the east side.

Here's how the beautifully refurbished clockworks look.

And here, you can see the pendulum swinging through its slot in the floor.

Rory DeMesy disassembled the clockworks and took them home with him to Minneapolis during March of 2015, then brought them home last November. Alterations made when the works were electrified during the 1970s had been removed, missing parts re-installed and the whole affair cleaned and polished to within an inch of its life. After that, the entire clock was reassembled in its original configuration in the tower and the mechanism that allows it to operate four clock faces simultaneously reactivated. New hand were installed on the clock faces, too.

The only "modern" alterations to the original are electric winders that crank the weights up automatically when the clock needs to be "wound." A hand crank originally was used for this purpose and at some point a bicycle was rigged up to allow leg power, rather than arm power, to be used.

The stairs end at the second level of the clock tower, but access to the bell chamber on the third level (behind those exterior louvers) and the room behind the clock faces on the fourth level is gained by climbing the metal ladder behind Patti Bisgard (who had just climbed down it) in this photo. The ladder, they tell me, is much sturdier than it looks.

Dave Laing and Denny Bisgard climbed all the way to the top; Patti stopped at the bell chamber.

Dave took this shot of the bell, which as you can see was cast in St. Louis during 1883. And that's another little puzzle. Since it's 10 years older than the clock, where did it come from?

There's some possibility that this was a bell added to the 1858 courthouse years after it was built, then recycled when the old courthouse was torn down during January and February of 1892. There was no clock in the 1858 courthouse, but its big bell was used regularly to summon residents to meetings or other events at the courthouse or in its park.

Or the bell may have hung originally in another Chariton building prior to 1894. Or it may just have been purchased elsewhere and imported as the courthouse was nearing completion. We may never know the answer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Happy birthday courthouse! Happy birthday clock!

Lucas County grand Romanesque revival courthouse is celebrating its official 123rd birthday --- May 22, 1894, the date of dedication --- today. She scarcely looks a day over 100, does she?

This also is the day that the vintage Seth Thomas clock in the courthouse tower, a gift to Lucas County from Smith Henderson Mallory, was set to running for the first time after months of assembly, installation and fine-tuning.

Back in 1894, a dedicatory ceremony for both building and clock was held on this date in the top-floor courtroom.

Today, the current county supervisors and courthouse staff, under the direction of Supervisor Steve Laing whose dream it was to fully restore the 1894 clock, will gather on the courthouse lawn to rededicate this beautiful timepiece, still chiming out the hours and quarters after all those years.

After the clock chimes out 10 o'clock this morning, there will be a brief program followed by coffee and cookies. All are welcome!

Everything's coming up roses and peonies

Memorial Day is near and out at the Chariton Cemetery the white rose is blooming again, rambling up the big stone the marks the graves of James and Delia Robbins. To my mind this is the best bedecked tombstone in the cemetery, flanked as it is, too, by pink and white peonies. And it's all natural, courtesy of family members who planted these floral tributes not long after the couple died during 1922.

A couple of years ago, the rose was trimmed back to the ground by groundskeepers and it's taken a while to bounce back. But this year, it's flourishing.

The Robbins moved to Lucas County from Indiana back in 1864 and farmed for nearly 50 years in both Lucas and Clarke counties. During 1910, they retired and moved into Chariton.

After 61 years of marriage, they died a day apart --- James on Sunday, April 30, 1922; and Delia, on Monday, May 1. Joint funeral services were held on the following Wednesday at First Methodist Church and burial followed here.

Here's how The Herald-Patriot of May 4 described them: "The two lives of Mr. and Mrs. Robbins were lived out in peculiarly beautiful harmony. They began life within about three months of each other, and went out into the Afterlife almost hand in hand. Their relations had always been thus. No home could have been more truly knit together than theirs. During the long years of Mrs. Robbins' sickness her husband was her constant attendant and companion. They were an exemplary family in all their relations in the community. A multitude of former neighbors and friends from all the places where they lived testify to the sterling worth and warm goodness of these departed friends."

Here and elsewhere in the cemetery, the peonies are in full bloom right now --- and it looks like they'll be fairly well gone by Memorial Day itself. So if you want to admire them in full bloom, this is the week to drive through.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday morning, Pentatonix & "Imagine"

John Lennon's 1971 "Imagine" appeared, unless memory has failed me, at about the time I was headed home from Vietnam --- disillusioned before, during and now long after by the empty promises of religianity, nationalism and the consumerist faith.

We seem no nearer now than then of realizing the dream, but it's still a good one.

So here's a new Sunday morning version by Pentatonix.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Clarifying Charles Rhineheart's tombstone record

This tiny tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery, looking much larger here in a closeup than it really is, marks the grave of Charles Rhineheart (or Rhinehart) who would, were the inscription on it accurate, be one of the graveyard's oldest residents. According to the inscription, Charlies died Dec. 4, 1903, but his death actually occurred a month earlier, on Nov. 4. And the inscribed age --- 105 years, now below ground unless you dig a little --- appears to be an exaggeration.

When the 1900 census of Chariton was taken three years before his death, Charles was living with Romulus R. and Lillie Richmond and their eight children. According to that record, he was born during July of 1811 in North Carolina and was aged 88 when the census-taker called. So it seems most likely that he was "only" 92 when he died. There's little doubt, however, that he had been born into slavery.

Mr. Rhineheart's death, which occurred at the county home, was reported in The Chariton Democrat of Dec. 12, 1903, as follows:

"Chas. Rhinehart (colored), perhaps the oldest man in Lucas county, died on Wednesday evening, November 4, at the age of about a hundred years. Funeral services conducted by Rev. Press Irwin were held at the A.M.E. church on Friday morning at 10 o'clock and were attended by a large entourage of sorrowing friends."

Charles had entered the county home, also known at the time as the county hospital, when his health deteriorated to the point the Richmonds no longer were able to care for him. They had taken him in after the death of his son and caregiver, Newton, three years earlier. Charles's grave is located near the unmarked final resting place of his son.

Here's Newton's obituary from The Patriot of March 1, 1900:

Died, at his home in this city, Friday, Feb. 23, 1900, at 10 o'clock a.m., Newton Rhinehart, aged 21 years. Funeral services were held from the colored M.E. church Saturday afternoon at 2 o'clock, conducted by a colored minister from Osceola, and the remains interred in the Chariton cemetery. Newton had been sick for a long time with a complication of diseases, but notwithstanding the fact that he was scarcely able to be about, he worked faithfully at the depot hotel and supported his aged father, Charles Rhinehart. A short time ago he took the mumps, which, with other diseases, culminated in his death. His aged and almost helpless father is deserving of pity, for by the death of his son he has lost his only support. Mr. Richmond, a colored friend, has kindly offered him a home, which act of charity and love are certainly commendable.


Charles and his son and perhaps other family members seem to have arrived in Chariton about 1890, but I've just not been able to track them down before that. So for the time being, this is about all there is to report about the family.

Charles and Newton are buried on lots that appear to have no other occupants, but cemetery records show that this is not the case at all. They have a number of neighbors who rest in unmarked graves, including a murder victim --- but that's a story for another time.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Henry Gittinger and "the black cloud"

The little essay that follows, written during December of 1919 by Henry W. Gittinger, editor and publisher of The Chariton Leader, is neither definitive nor especially accurate history (dates --- and some of his assertions --- are skewed). But I found his brief review of coal mining history in western Lucas County interesting. Plus, I'd never seen the black miners who began arriving to work in Lucas-area mines during the early 1880s and subsequently formed the base of Lucas County's black population referred to as a "black cloud."

The essay and other Lucas-related news appeared in The Leader of Dec. 18, 1919, on a page headed "Lucas Ledger." Henry had acquired rights to the Ledger name as well as the old newspaper's subscription list back in 1911 when its former editor folded his tent, packed his press and headed for greener pastures.

Gittinger revived the The Ledger name in The Leader during December of 1919 as the Iowa-Nebraska Mine was being developed in the hills southwest of Lucas --- now within Stephens State Forest. This was to be the last major effort to revive the coal mining industry in the Lucas area in a big way. Although the new mine did not live up to expectations, it continued to operate into 1923.

Henry continued to include a "Lucas Ledger" page in his newspaper well into 1920, when he sold out and moved briefly to Des Moines to pursue other interests. The new owners discontinued the Ledger and although Henry rejoined The Leader in 1922 as editor but no longer owner, it was not revived.

The political references in the essay are no longer relevant --- although it's worth pointing out that black miners and their families dominated Lucas County's political scene during the 1880s and early 1890s only in the East Cleveland precinct so the influence attributed to them here is overstated. 

Nor did either unionization or black miners --- recruited in Virginia during the summer of 1883 by the Whitebreast Coal & Mining Co. to show white miners who was boss --- kill mining in Jackson Township. That was a factor of mined-out coalfields and management decisions. As mining declined in western Lucas County, it rose and flourished in central and northeastern parts of the county.

Henry's reference in his opening paragraph to the "first of November" refers to the nationwide United Mine Workers strike called by Lucas native John L. Lewis, then acting president of the UMW, on Nov. 1, 1919, that was ended by an injunction obtained by President Woodrow Wilson, which Lewis obeyed. Lewis went on to be elected UMW president during 1920.


Owing to the locating of the new coal works, just west of Lucas, it would appear that the pristine glory of Lucas is to be restored, not that the town has waned, but once it was quickened by the activities of those who delved deep into the earth and exhumed the black diamonds, the value of which we have realized since the first of November. The switch out to the mine has been delayed owing to the cold weather, but Glenn Roberts, the contractor, will push the work with all haste when weather conditions will permit, and by the time the next summer coal demands begin, Lucas will be furnishing a large daily output.

And, by the way, why would it not be profitable to turn to the retrospect for a brief moment. This is the westermost coal field in Iowa (deep vein) on the line of the Burlington, and therefore will have the advantage of a shorter haul.

It was as far back as 1876 when the first coal was discovered near Lucas, and soon the great activities began and Cleveland came into existence and became the headquarters of the Whitebreast Coal company, at that time the largest works in close proximity of Lucas, and there was "quick coming to and fro," for there was life all along the line. This was the outgrowth of a prospecting company composed of G.C. Osgood, L.R. Fix, Wesley Jones, of Burlington, and William Haven, of Ottumwa, the same William Haven who developed the Inland mine near Chariton, and who was instrumental in getting the Central Iowa Fuel Co. in to develop the field, so to him is properly due the entire coal development in Lucas county.

But what is past is past, the future has not been revealed and the present pressages much.


The things of which we speak were in the "good old days" before labor unions had become so well organized and "chips" were issued in the company stories. On the first forenoon that the Osgood store (for miners' trade) was opened, $3,000 worth of goods had been passed over the counters before dinner, and the profits were good, because company stores were not in business for the proprietor's health, or as an act of benevolence.

Then there came the big strike and things were never the same as before, although the men went back to work after a time, but the company had invoked a black cloud from Virginia, and within that black cloud was the African who became a competitor in the under world diamond field, and a city was built for him at East Cleveland --- and here he flourished like a green bay tree ---- and was courted much by the local politicians who used to recline on the hillsides just before election time, catch the "fathers of the first families of Virginia" in their nets and flatter them into promises of support, for they were very "promising" sovereigns --- and sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't. It is said and believed that the political history of Lucas county would have read differently had the Hon. George Boggs, who was an aspirant for the state senate, been able to clinch the colored promise, but he was oppressed and chagrined to see the procession pass by, carrying his opponent's transparence and gayly singing:

"We lubs you, Marsa Boggs.
But yo' maybe won't be dar!"
Neither was he at the wind up.

And the East Cleveland precinct blighted many ambitions as well as starting numerous other fellow citizens on their pilgrimage to preferential glory, for the East Cleveland African was a mighty political force as well as a strike buster.


In those days when one came down from the table lands on the train from the east --- down the steep grade, the steepest on the Burlington route in the state, his eyes scanned the base of the hills and beheld the triple cities --- East Cleveland (where hovered the black cloud), Cleveland and further to the west, Lucas, with their turrets and spires; their domes and steeples --- and the tall stacks and the shafts where the smoke floated out and upward towards the sky --- and his ears heard the rumble and roar of activity. But like the cities of antiquity the white Cleveland has been obliterated and the black shadow is gone. But Lucas endures, active, vigorous and supreme as the central mart of a fertile country ---- with this new mine soon to open.

But even in the palmy days of the Whitebreast Coal Company near Lucas --- or near its beginning, there was tribulation. On the third day of August, 1878, the top works were burned and a number of men were at the bottom of the shaft in various parts of the mine and there was danger of suffocation. It was then that T.J. Phillips, the superintendent, proved that he was a hero. He fastened a wire cable, dropped it into the pit, braved the falling debris, and entered the shaft, going hand over hand to the bottom, 338 feet, to the rescue, rendezvousing the men at the air shaft and starting the fans. Had he not done this they would have perished. As a man he was of peculiar makeup --- austere and even tyrannical at times, and yet underneath it all he would brave any hazard or personal risk when a fellow mortal was in danger. And as a concluding thought --- he feared not to enter the pit through fire and descend to a great depth on a wire rope in order to rescue doomed men, yet he had not power to be elected governor of Iowa on the democratic ticket years later. This is a mere reflection and has no connection with the incident narrated.

But we have not set out to write a history of Lucas or the west end of the county, still it is brought to our mind that the first known settlers to locate in Jackson township was in the year 1850, and among these were Joseph Mundell, E.C. Rankin, Adrain S. Yoakley, all coming together. William Quinn came in 1851, Nathan Dix in 1852, and Moses Marsh in 1853, and John Mundell, S.W. Prim and the Worthings pitched their tents here in 1854. How many, or how few, of their descendants are now numbered with her citizens. Lucas was not yet --- not until H.S. Russell, trustee for the Burlington railroad company, established the station and town in 1868 --- May. And gave the town of Russell, in the east part of the county his own name. E.C. Rankin became a big land owner and later conducted a store and kept the post office at Tallahoma, to the north or northwest --- all passed away and forgotten.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Moses N. Marsh and the Tallahoma post office

Artifacts related to Tallahoma --- one of three Western Stage Coach Co. stops in Lucas County and U.S. post office from 1853-1875 --- are few and far between. But, somewhat remarkably, the certificate confirming the appointment of Moses N. Marsh as postmaster on March 10, 1863, has survived in near perfect condition and has been on display since the 1970s at the Lucas County Historical Society museum. 

It was donated during 1971 by Theo Lang Wilson, then of Indianola, a descendant of Marsh.

If you were traveling through Lucas County by stage coach during 1853, your coach would have stopped to change horses first at Lagrange, on the Lucas-Monroe county line, then at Henry Allen's log hotel on the southeast corner of the Chariton square. Exiting northwest Chariton on the stage route to Osceola, Tallahoma would have been the next stop --- on rising ground just west of White Breast Creek in Jackson Township, a couple of miles northeast of Lucas. The latter town did not appear until after the railroad passed through in 1867.

Tallahoma was a joint commercial enterprise of East Tennessee natives John Branner and his protege, Edwin C. Rankin, who arrived in Lucas County during 1853 with military land warrants purchased at discounted rates from Mexican War veterans and, using them, acquired thousands of acres of land. Branner, who located in Chariton, was the major player; Ranken, acting on his own behalf and as Branner's agent, located at Tallahoma.

The name was derived from a town in Tennessee, Tullahoma, familiar to both Branner and Rankin. But the postal department inadvertently spelled the name with an "a" rather than a "u" and Tallahoma it became.

In addition to the stage stop, stabling for horses and a blacksmith shop, the Rankins also operated a small general store at Tallahoma. Beds and meals were available for travelers, too. It was never a town, however, and vanished a few years after the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad was built a couple of miles to the south and the new town --- and post office --- of Lucas established alongside it.


Rankin was named postmaster on Aug. 23, 1853, and held the post for 10 years before passing the torch to Marsh during 1863.

Marsh, a native of Massachusetts, arrived in Jackson Township during the same year Branner and Rankin, did --- during 1853 --- along with his wife, Maria, and their older children, and settled just southwest of what became Tallahoma. By 1860, he was prospering --- the owner of real estate valued at $7,000, a considerable sum at the time.

Sadly, Moses had very little time left to serve, once appointed, as postmaster. He died at age 42 on Sept. 8, 1863, and his remains were brought into Chariton for burial in the new cemetery just established on the south edge of town.

Without a postmaster, the Tallahoma post office was discontinued on Oct. 16, 1863, but re-established on Nov. 28 of that year when David Webster was appointed to fill the vacancy. A year later, on Dec. 15, 1864, Edwin Rankin was reappointed and continued to serve until June 7, 1875, when the Tallahoma post office was discontinued for good. He packed up his family and headed farther west.

By this time, Lucas was a thriving village and the Norwood Post Office had been established, too. Passengers who once traveled by stage coach now traveled in considerably more comfort aboard trains. Those who once had purchased goods at the Tallahoma store now shopped in Lucas --- or Chariton, or Norwood --- instead.

And Tallahoma became little more than a footnote to Lucas County history.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alfred Anderson's bumpy road to eternal rest

Chariton's cemetery is the final resting place for many whose stories have been long forgotten, including a considerable number who died as strangers among us, then had no choice other than to stick around --- permanently.

That was the situation in Alfred Anderson's case, along with a few added complications. The poor guy died tragically, then was misidentified, buried, exhumed, identified correctly and buried again before settling down to eternal rest.


Anderson, an itinerant laborer nearing 60 --- although he apparently appeared to be considerably younger --- arrived in Lucas County during the summer of 1911 with the grading crew of Donald Jeffrey, a sub-contractor on the Rock Island rail line then being constructed to connect existing railheads at Carlisle and Allerton, a project completed during 1913.

His accidental death a few weeks later, on Sept. 14, 1911, was reported in The Herald-Patriot of  Sept. 21 under the headline, "Man Killed in Railroad Work: Trestle Breaks and Andrew Anderson is Killed; Three Other Men Injured."

Note that the victim is identified as "Andrew" Anderson, rather than Alfred. That misidentification was carried forward in future reports, Lucas County death records and Chariton Cemetery burial registers. The misunderstanding may have developed because those who knew him called him "Andy" and there were at the time no driver licenses, databases or other identification tools to consult.

Here's the text of the Sept. 21 article:

While unloading a train of dump cars on a trestle at the first camp of Donald Jeffrey, about five miles northeast of Chariton last Thursday afternoon at two o'clock, part of the trestle collapsed, throwing the cars into the ditch. Andrew Anderson, one of the men working on the trestle was killed, something striking him in the face as he fell. Two other workmen named John Miller, but no relation to each other, were injured, one having his right arm broken and the other his nose and cheek bones broken. Both were brought to Mercy Hospital and are being cared for there. Another man, Andy Horan, was bruised in the face, but did not go to the hospital. Only part of the trestle collapsed, and on the end that did not fall there were six other men working. Had the whole trestle given way there would probably have been others killed or badly injured.

The dead man was taken to Froggat's undertaking rooms where Coroner John Stanton held an inquest over his body on Friday, with Frank Darrah, W.C. Largey and Chester Wilson as the jury. They returned a verdict of accidental death, not placing any blame for carelessness on anyone. The body was interred in the Chariton cemetery on Saturday afternoon, with short services at the grave by Rev. Aszman.

Deceased has no family or relatives, so far as is known, except a son who is either in Alliance, Nebra., or somewhere in South Dakota. He was aged about fifty years.

This is the first accident of the kind that Mr. Jeffrey has ever had in his many years or railroad building. He has always been particularly careful to have his trestles even stronger than seemed necessary, and this trestle was inspected only a couple of days before the accident, and seemed sound and in good condition. What caused its collapse is not known, unless it was a defective timber that looked sound. Mr. Jeffrey is doing everything possible for the comfort of the men who were injured.


Efforts to contact relatives of the deceased continued in the days after his burial and The Leader was able to report on Oct. 5, 1911, that attorney Walter W. Bulman had located the son:

Attorney W.W. Bulman located the son of the gentleman, Anderson by name, who was recently killed on the railroad works out north of Chariton by the falling of a trestle. The young man arrived from a Nebraska point yesterday, and asked to have the body exhumed to see if he could identify the dead man as his father, whom he had not seen for several years. The state board of health was communicated with, who gave the local board authority to act, so the body was exhumed and the young man identified the dead man as his father, after which the remains were reinterred. It seems that the deceased had been divorced from his wife, and had not been with his family for several years.

The Herald-Patriot of the same week identifies the son as H.G. Anderson of Alliance, Nebraska, and correctly identifies the father as "Alfred" Anderson, so that misunderstanding had been cleared up. 


At some point thereafter, the modest tombstone that continues to mark Alfred's grave was erected. It identifies him as "brother" in an eroded line across the top and as "father" in a similar line across the bottom, suggesting that two or more family members helped pay the bill for its placement. 

It's nice to know that Alfred, although at least somewhat estranged from his family, still was mourned and that although it's unlikely flowers will appear on his grave come Memorial Day at least it hasn't been lost.


For those who noticed the reference to Chariton's Mercy Hospital and were puzzled by it --- Mercy Hospital was opened in a converted residence on North Grand Street by nurse Ella Smith during January of 1911 and remained in operation into 1912 before being discontinued. It included six patient rooms, an operating room and related service areas.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A dozen years of the "Lucas Countyan"

Most years, I overlook my own birthday. So it's not surprising that on May 4, the date of the first Lucas Countyan post back in 2005, the 12th anniversary of this blog slipped right by without notice, too. Despite the fact I'd made a (mental) note during April that a milestone was approaching.

It began as a venue for local and family history, mostly, at a time when online journaling was in the ascent. Since then, other social media --- Facebook, Twitter and more --- have waxed and blogging has waned. The former are fast and easy, consuming relatively little time; the latter requires more effort. I enjoy --- and sometimes curse --- them all.

For several years, the posts have come daily, almost without fail. Fail happens when I'm sick abed, which rarely happens, or cannot think of an excuse to avoid a very early appointment. This all takes time.

When done properly, feeding this beast is at least the equivalent of a half-time job. It's enjoyable, however. Occasionally, I rise without an idea in my head and throw something together. That's usually evident. On other occasions, days are needed to get something ready for publication.


"It's always been this bad," my dad --- not at all sentimental about the "good old days" --- used to tell folks who were lamenting the decline and fall of everything in general and rhapsodizing about how great it used to be. In general, I've found nothing while digging around in Lucas County's past to prove him wrong.

It's rewarding to discover that our ancestors had senses of humor, too --- one of the reasons I enjoy pioneer newspaper editor Dan M. Baker, despite all his flaws, so much. Love those murder mysteries, reports of mayhem, misbehavior and intrigue, too.


At some point, I started writing about other stuff, now and then, including politics and issues involving sexual orientation.

Political commentary in a public venue is a good deal like preaching to the choir; few hearts and minds are changed. But I do relish annoying the occasional political conservative who wanders in.

And I do think religious conservatives should fall on their knees and thank their gods for those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc., etc. 

I continue to be an avid tourist in Christendom specifically and the world of religion in general. What in the world would Christian rightists, having reduced Jesus to a cipher and given up on saving souls, have to get fired up about were it not for us?


Whatever the case, the last 12 years have been fun --- and I really do this primarily to entertain myself. As long as the fun continues, I'll keep writing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Chariton, creeping capitalism & Mother's Day

Creeping commercialization: Leader, May 6, 1915.

I got to wondering Sunday, while mowing lawn, about the first Mother's Day in Chariton and discovered later in the day that the honor of first observance apparently goes to those Presbyterians, still located at the intersection of East Braden and North Seventh.

Here's the "Presbyterian Church Note" from the front page of The Leader of May 6, 1909: No movement of recent date should receive our more hearty support than that of a Mothers' Day. Our church has begun the movement and adopted the second Sunday in May as Mothers' Day. In many of our churches on next Sunday a sermon for the occasion will be delivered. The day will be observed in our church. The morning service will be in keeping with the occasion. Let us unite in making the day what it is intended to be and in showing our mothers the love we hold for them and giving to them the honor due them. Let it recall us all to the duty of paying unfulfilled vows. The evening service at 8 p.m. Subject, "The New Life."

It may (or may not) be remembered that Mother's Day was first celebrated during 1908 when Anna Jarvis (left) held a memorial for her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, at St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Anna Jarvis had begun working in 1905, the year her mother --- a peace activist and social reformer who had nursed both Union and Confederate casualties of the Civil War --- died, to have Mother's Day recognized nationwide as a U.S. holiday. A mother, she wrote, is "the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world."

She made the proposal during 1908 to the U.S. Congress, which declined to act with something of a sneer: "If we did that, we'd have to proclaim a Mother-in-Law's Day, too." (President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother's Day a national holiday in 1914.)

Anna persevered, however, and it became evident that the people of the United States liked the idea even if Congress didn't. In the Midwest, the fraternal insurance society, Modern Woodmen of America, gave Mother's Day a tremendous boost during 1910.

During that year, Chariton Methodists jumped aboard --- thanks to the Modern Woodmen. Here's a report from The Herald-Patriot of May 5, 1910:

The Modern Woodmen will observe Mether's Day, Sunday, May 8th. Head Consul A.R. Talbot has issued a proclamation naming the date as Modern Woodmen Mother's Day, and all Woodmen are requested to read the call in the May number of the official paper. Special Mother's Day services will be conducted by Rev. A.H. Lathrop at the Methodist episcopal church at 11 a.m. on the 8th. All Woodmen are requested to meet at their hall at 10:30 sharp and march to the church in a body. Flowers will be provided.

The May issue of the Modern Woodman contains an interesting letter from Miss Anna Jarvis, who originated the Mother's Day idea. She gives as its object the honoring of the name of Mother, and the remembrance through some act of kindness, a visit, or a letter. A white flower, preferably a carnation is the badge of the day, and a letter to Mother should not be forgotten. A beautiful tribute to Motherhood, by Head Consul Talbot, is a leading feature of the May Modern Woodman, and should be read by every member. 

After that, Mother's Day services on the second Sunday of May became a tradition in most Lucas County churches and the newspapers of subsequent years are peppered with early-May announcements, invitations and reports.


One aspect of Mother's Day as now observed --- its commercialization --- would have Miss Jarvis  (1864-1948) rolling in her grave at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. 

She was so opposed to commercialization that after Hallmark Cards and other companies began selling Mother's Day cards, she organized boycotts of the holiday and threatened to sue the companies involved. She protested at a candymakers' convention in Philadelphia during 1923 and, during 1925, was arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention of American War Mothers. They had offended by selling white carnations for Mother's Day in a fund-raising effort.

Back in Chariton, florist John H. Swanson seems to have launched Mother's Day down the slippery slope of rampant commercialization with advertisements in the the local papers. During 1915, he contented himself with advertising carnations, but by 1916 he was (gasp) advertising Mothers Day flowers of all sorts.

So now you know, the Presbyterians were Chariton's Mother's day pioneers, then John H. Swanson went and spoiled it all --- or at least Anna Jarvis might have so alleged. I suspect he was Lutheran.

Commercialization creeps farther, Leader, May 11, 1916.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Flowers for Mothers Day

I couldn't think of anywhere to more appropriately remember my mother, on Mothers' Day, than in the garden --- and with a few iris, which were among her favorites. Although in fairness, practically any blooming thing was her favorite in season, with the possible exception of dandelions.

So I'm going to pass up some darned good opportunities this afternoon and go out for another day of battle with the grass, which is too long, and the weeds, which are too tall. I've neglected the home front during the last couple of years while busy elsewhere --- and it's showing.

These iris are from the museum garden and now in full bloom, but Mother had all of these and more at the farm. Especially the variegated ones --- in several colors, including a memorable deep maroon.

She gardened in a different place and time. On the farm, space was unlimited and this encouraged her expansionist tendencies; this was before the parking lots and outdoor garden rooms of every big-box mercantile establishment in creation burst into bloom this time of year.

Mother was a frugal gardener, rarely buying anything "off the shelf" other than a few geraniums and a little impatiens for planters. Even then, most of her geraniums were wintered over --- condensed in buckets kept in a sunny spot in the cool upstairs hallway during the winter, watered infrequently, then redeployed in the spring.

She also "took slips" of everything in the fall, looking ahead to the spring that would follow.

Once spring arrived, she took to our woods with trowel and paper bags and collected a few native plants to add to her woodland gardens --- in the shade of the mock orange bush and other flowering shrubs.

This was a time of Sunday afternoon visiting and no visit to the home of a friend and/or a cousin was complete without a tour of the flower beds. "Would you like a start?" The spade was brought forward, the plant divided and we came home with something to add to the collection. Nearly every plant that grew in the garden had a story behind it.

For a time, my aunt and uncle in Detroit were deeply involved in tulips. Aunt Marie brought bags of harvested bulbs back to Iowa on summer vacation, all duly planted for spring bloom in Iowa.

Most of the hybrid iris were native to Colorado. My cousins, the Krutsinger kids, grew up in Boulder and all had seasonal jobs at a nursery that specialized in iris. I think that this was Long's Gardens, in north Boulder, which somehow has managed to survive urban sprawl and still is in business.

One of the perks of working there was all the iris you could plant. These made the trip to Iowa on summer vacations, too.

Visiting my aunts and uncles in Wyoming, Mother headed out to dig up cactus. We had those as well, and they bloomed yearly in a bed just south of the house.

Sadly, I have not carried my mother's tradition forward. She could convince anything to grow. I generally just admire these days the hard work of others --- and try to keep the grass and weeds in check. And wish that grass and those weeds would grow less enthusiastically.