Thursday, July 27, 2017

Acknowledging the sources of evil ....


Thanks to CBS News --- and others --- for pointing out that President Trump chose to tweet his executive order banning trans people from the military on July 26, the 69th anniversary of President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9981 that led, eventually, to the end of segregation in the U.S. military.

This was not a popular order within the military. Kenneth C. Royall, secretary of the Army, for example, resisted the order until he was forced into retirement during April of the following year. Much of the work instigated by Truman's order actually was carried out during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Those who favored apartheid in the military often cited the tender feelings of white boys from the old South who, it was said, would be adversely affected by close association with folks whose skin was a different color.

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The predictable aftermath of the Trump announcement included extreme anger focused on a president who, if past performance is any indication, thrives on drama and discord; and words of support from his base among Evangelicals who view the gentleman at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as messiah --- someone who can pick up the lance dropped by that disappointing Jesus, hardly a militant, and carry it forward, skewering everyone they don't like.

The president seems to be a moral vacuum --- a space entirely devoid of matter.  This doesn't mean he isn't evil; only that evil flows into his emptiness from those around him.

Many of our acquaintances, neighbors, even family members --- those who voted for and continue to unreservedly support this peculiar man --- are among the sources of that evil. And I don't quite know how to deal with that.

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 I do know that the following sentiments expressed Tuesday by the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship is an appropriately Christian response from within an organization that does not define itself as explicitly Christian:

The president tweeted out today that trans people will no longer be allowed to serve in the military. We don't exactly know how this will play out for the trans folks who are already serving, but there are some things we do know:

Removing thousands of people who are already serving with distinction does not improve battle readiness.

Working with people of different genders doesn't cause disruption  --- firing people for reasons other than lack of ability to do their job causes disruption.

Trans folk are every bit as much a part of the human family as everyone else, and every bit as holy.

When we break faith with one another, the fabric of society is damaged along with those particular lives.

As Unitarian Univeralists we are called to both affirm and actively support our interconnected lives. We are holding all affected in our hearts, thoughts and prayers as we work to build a world where all find the welcome they deserve.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

1915: Chariton Boy Scouts prepare to 'Be Prepared'

Sam Greene, editor and manager of Chariton's Herald-Patriot, started thinking seriously about the boy scout movement during 1910, the year Boy Scouts of America was incorporated by Chicago publisher W.D. Boyce. Canadian Ernest Thompson Seton had begun to promote the organization aggressively in the United States and, in England, Robert Baden-Powell was hard at work.

"Whenever a popular movement actually begins to become popular, it becomes awfully popular," Sam wrote in The Herald-Patriot of Dec. 15, 1910. "The 'boy scout' movement is now in that interesting stage of its experience. For many long months Ernest Thompson Seton in this country, in conjunction with a noted leader or two in England, has tried to make the movement a popular one, but until the last few weeks, when the newspapers began to take it up, little has been known or heard of it. Now it promises or threatens to sweep the country and become one of the greatest factors for shaping the boyhood of the land for better things in life, that the country has ever seen."

Sam had decided that he liked the organization's philosophy, so came out strongly in favor of it in his concluding paragraph: "We hope the boy scout movement will spread, and that suitable men with their hearts in the work and with brains in their heart-work will take an interest in the movement in every town where it can be organized."

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Rival publisher Henry Gittinger, of The Leader, meditated on the same considerations and came to a different conclusion.

Three years later, in his edition of July 3, 1913, Henry wrote: "We find some really good people inconsistently advocating the world's peace movement, while at the same time endorsing the boy scout propaganda. The boy scout training may incline to make boys determined and cultivate a disposition within them to 'take care of themselves,' but on the other hand it has for its incentive the spirit of militarism and so long as that spirit is to be cultivated world's peace cannot arise to the dignity of an iridescent dream. Better teach the American youth the avocations of peace. To be a plowman, an accountant, a carpenter or a day laborer is much to be preferred than a seeker after adventure, a builder of camps and a nomad. Our adult national intelligence will provide sufficient defenses without erecting barracks in the home or militarizing the cradle."

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Despite Henry's reservations, Scouting got off to an official start in Chariton two years later, during 1915, under the sheltering wing of First Methodist Church; the organizer, a slightly odd duck named Oscar K. Wilson, who had washed up on Chariton's shores during 1911 when he was 62 and launching himself in a new career at what others might consider retirement age.

Born during 1849 in Ohio, his family had been broken up by the death of his mother when Oscar was 6 and he was farmed out to an older sister to raise.

"At the age of 13 he came to Iowa," according to his 1923 obituary. "A few years later found him in Wyoming where he acted as an army scout under orders of Col. William Cody, 'Buffalo Bill.' During this experience he received a flesh wound in the chin, the scar of which he carried through life. He drifted back into Minnesota afterwards and found work in the pineries, later running the rivers with lumber rafts and then firing the boilers of river steamers. He carried U.S. mail between Washington, Iowa, and Oskaloosa for a while and finally took up the trade of carpentry."

Early in the 20th century, however, suffering from some sort of chronic illness, he discovered the spiritual healing power of Jesus and the physical healing power of chiropractic. This inspired him to enroll at the Universal School of Chiropractic in Davenport, where he completed his studies during early 1911, when he was 62. Also at Davenport during that year, he married the worthy spinster, Miss Henrietta E. Fish.

During October, the couple moved to Chariton, Dr. Wilson hung out his shingle in the Dewey Block on the southeast corner of the square and the couple joined First Methodist, where he soon became a prominent member of the Gospel Team.

It appears that Dr. Wilson began recruiting boys for the new scouting program during early 1915 from among Methodist youth. By June of that year, having been declared in one way or another Chariton's first "Scout Master," he called a public meeting to promote the movement in the larger community. It was publicized this way in The Leader of June 24, buried in an obscure corner of the front page as if editor Gittinger still had reservations about the organization:

"Dr. O.K. Wilson, who is Master of the Boy Scouts of this city, announces a public meeting at the Methodist church on Friday evening. A number of addresses will be made defining the scout movement and telling of its results. A cordial invitation is extended to all."

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It would appear that boy scouting as a larger movement in Lucas County grew out of this meeting and further efforts by Dr. Wilson and others.

Younger men, however, seem to have taken over the reins of the organization --- and by late summer of 1916, the first encampment had taken place not far from Oakley on a farm bordering Whitebreast Creek. Here's the report from The Herald-Patriot of Aug. 3, 1916, published under the headline, "Boy scouts take a vacation."

"The boy scouts have been having a vacation experience of their own, one which was enjoyed very much by the most of them. They returned Monday evening from a week spent near Oakley on the Reibel farm and during the week received considerable training in the matter of caring for themselves, cooking, keeping tents clean and orderly, building fires, etc.

"With the work and responsibility went plenty of the clean kind of fun that boys like so well, while appetites which even when normal are hard to appease, were fed to repletion. It is declared that some of the youngsters were hollow instead of hungry, but after considerable labor each was given sufficient to satisfy his craving.

"Clarence Blake, Sam Scull and Chas. Wennerstrum acted as chaperones at different times and they enjoyed the outing about as much as did the boys.

"Following is a list of the scouts: James Suedaker, (illegible) Smith, Charles Blake, James Beck, George Noble, Howard (illegible), Melvin Cooley, Alfred Goodwin, Arthur Jarl, Gerald Dotts, Max Ady, (illegible) Culbertson, Harry Smith, Todd Best, John Hall, Vincent Pyle, Robert Crozier and Donald Maloney."

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Dr. and Mrs. Wilson remained involved in their community --- he even launched an unsuccessful run for mayor during 1920 --- and church until his health began to fail. Wilson died March 26, 1923, at his home, 815 North Main, age 74, after two years of failing health. 

Henrietta took his remains back to her hometown, Davenport, for burial in Oakdale Cemetery. And that was the end of Chariton's first scoutmaster. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jesse Routte, Chariton --- and Jim Crow

I come across stories now and then that are too good not to repeat, even though the connection to Lucas County is tangential. 

Which doesn't mean that the Rev. Jesse W. Routte doesn't represent an important Chariton milestone. Thanks to the congregation of First Lutheran Church, he was in 1930 among the first --- if not the first --- black person invited to preach from a "white" pulpit in the city.

Lucas County was by this time fairly well over its infatuation with the Ku Klux Klan. Membership had diminished to the point that Klan headquarters --- a disused church at the intersection of North Grand and Auburn purchased in 1924 --- was sold during that year to a newly organized Assembly of God congregation.

And Lutherans, like their Catholic brothers and sisters, never had been involved in the Klan.

But still, the invitation made --- most likely intentionally --- a statement about the congregation and its values.

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A seminarian when he preached and sang in Chariton, the Rev. Mr. Routte went on to a distinguished career as a Lutheran clergyman, first in Harlem and then in Queens, and as a lifelong civil rights activist.

Seventeen years after his Chariton visit --- during 1947 --- he attracted nationwide attention by donning a turban and robes rented from a costumer as a political statement and turning Jim Crow in the old South on its ear. It was called by some the "turban trick."

By 1947, the Rev. Mr. Routte was pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in South Jamaica, Queens. His younger brother, the Rev. Louis A. Routte --- also an Augustana graduate ---  lived in Mobile, Alabama, where had been pastor since 1941 of Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church.

I'll let partial text of a 2014 podcast from the National Public Radio series "Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed," tell the story:

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Routté's experiment began after he traveled to Mobile, Ala., in 1943 for a family engagement. He wasn't happy with how he was treated.

"I was Jim Crowed here, Jim Crowed there, Jim Crowed all over the place," he later told reporters. "And I didn't like being Jim Crowed."

So he went back in 1947, with a plan.

Before he boarded the train to Alabama, he put on a spangled turban and velvet robes. When the train reached North Carolina during lunchtime, Routté walked over to the diner car where the only vacant seat (sic) was occupied by two white couples.

One of the men said, "Well, what have we got here?" to which Routté replied in his best Swedish accent (he had been the only black student at a Swedish Lutheran college in Illinois), "We have here an apostle of goodwill and love" — leaving them gaping.

And that confusion seemed to work for Routté on the rest of his trip. He dropped in on police officials, the chamber of commerce, merchants — and was treated like royalty.

At a fancy restaurant he asked the staff what would happen if a "Negro gentleman comes in here and sits down to eat." The reply: "No negro would dare to come in here to eat."

"I just stroked my chin and ordered my dessert," he said.

After he returned to New York, Routté said he felt like "a paratrooper behind enemy lines."

His son Luther Routté is now 74 (in 2014). Both of his parents — prominent in activist communities in Harlem and Long Island — were always doing "social experiments," trying to find solutions to the prejudice they saw in the world. And this experiment exploded the myth that blacks were innately inferior and warranted inferior treatment, he says.

"He didn't change his color. He just changed his costume, and they treated him like a human," says Luther Routté, who has been a Lutheran pastor for 25 years. It "shows you the kind of myopia that accompanies the whole premise of apartheid or segregation."

Through the "turban trick," Routté basically transformed himself from a threat to a guest — black to invisible.

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"There were repercussions from the "turban trick." The Klan burned a cross in front of our house," Luther Routte recalled when talking about his father and the incident during 1989. And the family moved in with relatives for a time for their safety.

But "in our household, it was always that God was with us. My parents were courageous people. There was real faith. I think the rightness of it helped us get through it.

"I had two very bright and intelligent parents who were faced with the kind of prejudice, as my father would say, so thick you could cut it with a knife. My parents set the pace of how a Christian should really live."


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All of this, of course, was long after the young seminarian appeared in Chariton --- in itself a political statement, although a practical one. Routte sang and spoke in many other Midwestern churches  affiliated with the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod, too, during his years as a seminarian at Augustana College in Rock Island. It was how he paid for his education.

The invitation to the community issued by Chariton's Lutherans, published on Page 1 of The Leader of March 18, 1930, contains more of Routte's story --- as well as some phrasing that makes us squirm a little 87 years later.

Mr. Jesse W. Routte, a young negro student of Augustana Theological Seminary, Rock Island, Ill., will appear at the First Lutheran church, Eighth street and Roland ave., next Sunday evening, March 23, at 8 p.m., when he will give one of his very popular concerts. This will include musical selections from many varied sources, such as Negro Spirituals which are so highly valued today, as well as the more well-known compositions. Of great interest to any American audience are the short talks he gives in which he presents the problems, hopes and aspirations of the American Negro of today.

Under special invitation of the pastor of the First church, Mr. Routte will deliver the sermon at the regular morning worship the same Sunday at 10:45 a.m. There is thus offered the community the unique experience of hearing a member of the colored race bring us a gospel message.

The life story of Jesse Routte, Augustana's popular Negro student, reveals a stormy past which includes poverty, starvation, hard work, many discouragements and disappointments. The early death of the father, an A.M.E. preacher, of Kewanee, Ill., brought hardship on the little family, but the noble mother struggled loyally on with added responsibilities. She gave concert tours with her three boys for a time until ill health caused her to give up that work. Jesse finally came to rock Island, Ill., where he was employed in a cleaning and dyeing establishment. Determined to try to secure an education, he was at work before 5 a.m. and after school hours in the evening. He tells himself that often he would have to skip some class just before noon and go to some restaurant so as to work for a meal.

Through the kindly interest of his employer, Mr. Beverlin, of Rock Island, Jesse was enabled to begin his college course at Augustana. He quickly found friends among the many students who were willing to be of assistance to the plucky little fellow who had won his way into their hearts. By dint of close attention to his work he was granted the degree, Bachelor of Arts, last June, the first B.A. student to receive that honor from Augustana among the colored race.

Mr. Routte was matriculated as a special student with the incoming class at Augustana Seminary last September, and is now in his first year. He plans to prepare himself for the Lutheran ministry within the Augustana Synod and after his ordination will labor especially among the people of his race in Chicago, Ill., He has already rendered valuable service as student in charge of church work under the Augustana Inner Mission of that city.

Mr. Routte is "singing his way" through the seminary with the vision of greater service to his God and to his people. A special offering will be lifted for him Sunday evening during his concert here. We feel sure the people of this community will readily respond generously.

All in the community are most cordially invited to hear this genial, likable young Negro. We bid a hearty welcome also to the colored folks of Chariton and vicinity to hear this member of their own race.


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A brief account published in The Leader during the week after Routte's apperance suggests that a substantial crowd turned out and that both his music and his messages were well received.

The seminarian went on to earn both M.A. and D.D. degrees from Augustana, but was called to serve in New York City, rather than Chicago.

He was serving as assistant pastor at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in Harlem when he met and married his wife, Maude, who was studying for her  master's degree at Columbia University. She was a native of St. Thomas in the Caribbean, once a Danish colony, and the Lutheran expression of faith could be traced back several generations in her family.

Working together and with others, they established a mission congregation, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in South Jamaica, Queens, where he served until retirement during 1965.

"Jackie Robinson lived in our neighborhood," their son, Luther Routte, recalled during 1989. "Two doors down from us was John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. I delivered newspapers to Jackie Robinson, Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald."

His father performed the wedding of entertainer Pearl Bailey and jazz drummer Louis Bellson.

The Rev. Mr. Routte died at his home in Queens on May 16, 1972. 

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The Rev. Luther H. Routte, now retired from the ELCA ministry after a distinguished career as both pastor and activist, lives and remains a community activist in Reading, Pennsylvania. He was called in 1988 to be the first black pastor of the nearly all-white Atonement Lutheran Church, Wyomissing, which he served for 20 years. Atonement is among the largest Lutheran congregations in Berks County.

Monday, July 24, 2017

From Chariton to the Hotel Colfax in a 1910 E-M-F

The Hotel Colfax, "improved" to the tune of $700,000 between 1905 and 1909.

James P. Donahue's Hotel Colfax (offering hundreds of rooms, fine dining and access to the mineral springs and baths that city was famous for) was the talk of Iowa during the summer of 1910. And Chariton's Walter H. Dewey had a brand new automobile --- a four-cylinder E-M-F (later Studebaker) touring car ordered early in the year from Chariton Auto Co.

A 5-passenger 1910 E-M-F touring car (no, there was no windshield)
And so, during early August, Walter gathered four friends in his five-passenger vehicle on a fine Sunday morning and they set out --- on a lark --- to make the circuit from Chariton to Colfax to Des Moines and home again. Dewey was running (unsuccessfully as it turned out) for railroad commissioner on the Democratic ticket that year, but politics seem to have been secondary to a good time.

Walter, principal heir to the Branner fortune, was the eldest in the party at 38. Devoted to his mother, Victoria (Branner) Dewey, he would wait six more years to marry and start a family.

Along for the ride was his friend David Q. Storie Jr., 36, a popular young physician and family man. They had made this circuit together a number of times, testing the capabilities of whatever automobiles they owned at the time and reporting the results to Chariton newspapers.

John H. Kitselman, at 19, was the youngster in the party. Already married, the Kitselmans were expecting their first child that summer. He was a salesman and eventually would move to Mt. Ayr to open his own drygoods store.

"Stormy" Pickerell, age 23, was the chauffeur. He was a protege of Walter whose given name was Clyde, which may have been why he preferred Stormy. Stormy would devote his life to business in Chariton, sometimes in partnership with Walter.

Along for the ride, as scribe, was Howard Gittinger, also 24, and son of Chariton Leader editor and publisher Henry Gittinger. He would make a career of the newspaper business, affiliated with his father in The Leader, an employee of the Chariton Newspapers after the Leader was sold to that new corporation and, finally, in Louisiana.

The following account of that Sunday drive, written by Howard, was published under the headline "A Great Automobile Trip" in The Leader of August 11, 1910:

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"On Sunday morning, in company with Hon. Walter H. Dewey, Democratic candidate for Railway Commissioner, Dr. D.Q. Storie Jr., Harvey Kitselman and chauffeur "Stormy" Pickerell, the younger member of this firm (The Leader) started on a prolonged automobile trip in Mr. Dewey's car, which we can truthfully say is a dandy, it making the trip of 170 miles without a "hitch."

"The weather was ideal and the roads supreme. The objective point of the journey was the Colfax health resort, not that our health was impaired, which we reached at one o'clock after a most pleasant journey through the level laying counties of Lucas, Marion, Polk and Jasper.

"At Pleasantville, our old home, we made a brief stop of fifteen or twenty minutes in order to get our bearings and to shake hands with our good old friends --- for we have several there. Finding here that the Des Moines river bridge was out we were forced to go in a northwestlerly direcion and cross the river at Ford, this causing us to travel some eight or ten miles further. Dr. Bare of Pleasantville, who is the owner of a fine Auburn car, escorted us out of town and showed us the route, for which kindness we were very thankful. Mr. Dewey said it was the first time he was ever escorted out of town by one of the prominent citizens and "Doc" is prominent, too --- but then it was a very friendly courtesy and not like escorting tramps and bums out of a fair city --- for we are not in the least obnoxious or undesirable --- the only thing we drank while there being a Coca-cola at Bare's Pharmacy.

"The road in the Des Moines river bottom was as fine as we found anywhere and it was but a short time until we were climbing the small hills into Jasper county.

"At Prairie City, we called on John McKlveen who, by the way, was just eating dinner, but we decined an inviation to stop and have dinner with him before he asked us, telling him that we expected to eat dinner at the new Hotel Colfax. John has a beautiful new home and is happy --- and we don't blame him.

"The scenery from Pleasantville to Cofax is most beautiful, especially in the river country. The road wnds around through the small hills with timber in the distance and the green tasseled corn waving in the breezes to your side. It is a beautiful country and one of which every Iowan may well be proud.

"We arrived at Colfax about one o'clock, being some four hours on the road from Chariton after having stopped at Pleasantville and Prairie City.

"The Epworth Assembly is in session here and the Epworth Park through which one passes to reach the Hotel Colfax, was crowded with people --- a great many campers --- who had come to attend the yearly intellectual feast.

"The Hotel Colfax is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited. It is situated upon a hill about a mile east of town and is surounded by a hundred and twenty acres of beautiful parks and drives. It is needless for me to try to describe its splendor, but suffice it to say that it is worth going 170 miles to visit and enjoy its beauty.

"After we had unloaded and started to get ready for dinner, young Kitselman calls Dave Storie to one side and says, 'Gee Whiz, Dave, I feel like a needle in the ocean; let's get a sandwhich and beat it.'

"Dave only laughed at him and told him to go slowly and do as the rest of us. Harvey followed directions implicitly and did fine.

"Dewey was made master of ceremonies and ordered the dinner so as to save us the trouble, you understand. The dinner was the best we have eaten for many a day --- we only wish some more of you poorly fed people could have enjoyed it --- this is not meant insinuatingly either. One thing that we are not sure of yet is this: At the close of dinner Dewey told the waiter he did not need to bring us finger bowls. Why he did this is not just clear but I hardly think that he was afraid we would use them for drinking purposes --- but then that may have been the reason. We didn't like to ask him.

"Senator Cummins was at the hotel for dinner and Mr. Dewey introduced "Stormy" and myself, Dave and Harvey being Republicans couldn't stand it --- not meant insinuatingly either. The Senator said he was real glad to know us and we suppose he was. He is a pretty nice man apparently.

"We broke away from the beauty of the place and journeyed over Lafe Young's great river-to-river road toward Des Moines. The road is a fine one, but not any better than others we traversed, and we are not speaking depreciatingly of Lafe's efforts as a road instigatory --- he doesn't build it you understand.

"We arrived in Des Moines and there visited Stormy's grandfather, M.H. Allen, who lives just across the street from Gov. Carroll, and while there we saw the Hon. Governor hitch his horse to his buggy and he and his wife go driving --- not a great thing but quite a novelty to us. To say the least this is a democratic state --- not politically speaking until after the election his fall.

"Stormy's grandfather, Mr. Allen, told us he was almost 81 years old which is quite remarkable, he being in good health and quite spry, considering his age. During our conversation Stormy let it out that Dewey was running for railraod commissioner. Of course Mr. Allen did not commit himself but we are figuring on him just the same. We had a very pleasant visit with the Allens.

"We then drove out on Grand Avenue, the principal residence street in Des Moines' social leaders, to Greenwood park, which is a beautiful little loafing place for Des Moines inhabitants and others.

"On our way back we stopped down town to pay allegiance to the Tobacco Trust and while there ran across the Hon. Clint Price, candidate for Congress is the 7th district, who was also paying his allegiance to the trust, but he says when he gets to Congress he is going to make them get down to a smoking basis --- he didn't say that, but then of course he would

"We loaded Price in and took him back to Indianola to his wife, he having only been in Des Moines some two or three hours, although he said he had made two votes but Sunday votes were of a precarious nature and then he didn't want too many --- he wanted Prouty to have a few. He was going back to Colfax the next day to see Mr. Bryan, who spoke there, and when asked why he was going back home that evening said he was going back for more money from his wife; that she is making the living --- he was running for Congress. He also says he don't care what Alex Miller says about his collar.

"The trip to Indianola was fine, especially so because of Price as he is a funny cuss and we hope he gets to Congress. He invited us to go down and eat lunch with him, saying that his wife was clean about her cooking now, but we declined, not doubting him but we were in a hurry to get home.

"The trip from Indianola home was one filled with pleasure as the entire trip had been, and never did a crowd of five arrive home so completely pleased with a day's outing as were we.

"We passed through ninetween towns and traversed 170 miles of fine Iowa roads and are frank to say that Iowa is good enough for us. Here's hoping that the Hon. W.H. Dewey is the next railroad commissioner for Iowa, although in conclusion we will say that this was not a political junket as it was on Sunday. Some time in the future we make take the trip politically --- who knows?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Shall We Gather at the (Chariton) River ....


This was the week when news circulated belatedly among friends and former co-workers of the death earlier this year of David Krotz, one of those remarkable folks who back in the good old days used to wash up unexpectedly now and then in newsrooms.

A lifelong writer, David was among other things a co-founder of the organization Trees Forever. And, although hardly an orthodox believer, a fan of old-time gospel music.

Me, too. 

For some reason, many of these old songs, protestant products of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, have the power to transcend sectarian squabbles, denominational divisions and even faith itself, and spread a good deal of joy still among their fans.

Anyhow, thinking about David reminded me of this piece from The Chariton Leader of Nov. 9, 1911, in which editor Henry Gittinger recalled a long-ago Baptist gathering at the Four-Corners meeting ground --- an oak- and hickory-studded promontory overlooking the Chariton River Valley just south of Evans Cemetery, where Lucas, Monroe, Appanoose and Wayne counties meet.

The photo above, taken in early November a couple of years ago on that promontory --- now a parking lot --- shows some of the changes that have taken place in intervening years. The river valley  beyond now is filled with the waters of Rathbun Lake and the old road south into Appanoose and Wayne counties ends at water's edge.

David, quite obviously, would have liked the trees --- if not the alterations to the landscape.

As background to Henry's piece, it's useful to know that a week-long series of revival meetings was in progress at First Baptist Church when he wrote it, and that the Rev. Hugh Moore was that congregation's pastor. The Rev. Mr. Martin had been guest preacher the previous evening.

I think David also would have liked Henry's memories of the old gospel song, "Shall We Gather at the River," which is a favorite of mine, too. The Four-Corners landscape may have changed dramatically during the past century, but "Shall We Gather ...." hasn't.

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On Tuesday, the Leader editor met Rev. Hugh Moore, in company with Rev. Martin, of Centerville, on the street, and (the Rev. Mr. Moore) inquired:

"Where did you attend church last night?"

The reply was that the exact place could not be called to mind just then.

But he was not caught in such chaff, so gave an invitation to attend his church that evening.

"I don't like the Baptist church."

He smiled at that and went on, revolving in his mind how versatile a sinner is in his excuses.

Now the Leader doesn't dislike the Baptist church. Often an old memory comes up --- forty years or more ago, and that is a long time.

The Baptists were to hold a big association meeting in the big grove down near where the four counties corner ---  Lucas, Monroe, Appanoose and Wayne. It was close to the Evans cemetery near the big spring, a most sightly place, overlooking the Chariton river and the bottoms beyond, fringed with native wood, with a contour of bluffs in the distance.

Everybody was preparing for the big occasion for miles about, and it was a happy morning when the family was loaded into the new wagon and the cantering drive was made, along the old sate road to the big red house on the county line, and thence to the meeting place, five or six miles distance.

There had been great preparations, stands under the trees, and seats for the multitudes. Glad were the hand shakes, and cordial the greeting of old friends for the requiem of pioneer days still lingered.

The sermons cannot be remembered as youth is careless, but they must have been full of the spirit as they met with approval and many fervid "Ameens" resounded through resonant wood and happy visages shone with the light of faith. It was there that the writer first heard the grand hymn.

"Shall we Gather at the River."

Rev. Thornton Davis and daughters, Gregg  Baldwin, and a number of the other best singers in the community stood before the vast throng and sang in the afternoon, and to us that has ever been the sweetest song we ever heard. Perhaps on account of the young impression and occasion. Often in imagination we see the singers and hear the rhythm of those tuneful words:

"Shall we gather at the River
Where bright angels' feet have trod,
With its crystal tied forever,
Flowing by the throne of God."

Long since most of those who sang that day have gathered at the river and the scene is one of sacred mememory. Occasionally we hear the old song and the pathos swells up --- and it is pleasant for they were good people who have crossed to the other shore to live forever.

No. we don't dislike the Baptists.

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Here's one of my favorite versions of that old song, performed by Buddy Greene and Jeff Taylor:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Nevertheless, she persisted: Dr. Dora Wyland McAfee



Quite a bit has been written about Lucas County's early physicians --- mostly before 1950 by men who held Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degrees. Which probably explains why Dr. Dora Wyland McAfee, among Chariton's earliest osteopathic physicians, has been mentioned rarely, if ever.

Here she is, in a beautiful portrait from the Lucas County Historical Society collection that was taken during 1903, the year she completed her training at the S.S. Still College of Osteopathy in Des Moines, now Des Moines University and the fifteenth largest among all U.S. medical schools.

Although Dr. McAfee died too young --- at the age of 48 in 1920 --- hers was a story of personal triumph over tragedy that deserves the telling.

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Dora's given name was Isadora, but she always was known by the shorter version. A daughter of James B. and Jane (Talbott) Wyland, she was born on Nov. 17, 1871, in Douglas County, Kansas. By the time she was 9, her parents had had enough of Kansas, however, and relocated during 1880 to far northeast English Township, Lucas County, settling on a farm a mile west of Pleasant Prairie Methodist Church, northwest of Belinda.

On March 27, 1895, when she was 23 and after gaining some experience as a rural school teacher, Dora married William R. McAfee at her parents' home. 

Born near Lincoln, Illinois, on April 14, 1862, Will was about 10 years older than Dora. A graduate of a Valparaiso, Indiana, normal school, he was an experienced teacher --- and farmer. Teachers, like preachers, generally found it necessary to supplement their incomes back in those days.

He had arrived in the Belinda neighborhood during 1893 to teach Strong School, but worked as a farm hand in the neighborhood on the side.

Just before their marriage, William leased a farm in the Belinda neighborhood and it was there that the couple settled down to make their home.

Tragedy struck just four years later --- on July 14, 1899 --- as the couple were expecting the birth of their first child. Will had driven horses into the barn at the end of that day and as he was following them into the building, one kicked him in the abdomen. 

At first, it didn't seem as if he had been injured seriously. It soon became apparent, however, that there were internal injuries --- and that nothing could be done medically in rural Lucas County for him. As a result, Will died five days later, on July 19, age 37.

It was his wish to be buried at his old home in Lincoln, Illinois, and so after funeral services on July 20 at Pleasant Prairie Church, his remains were brought into Chariton and placed on an east-bound train, accompanied by Dora and other immediate family members.

Later that year --- and the date isn't known --- Dora gave birth to a son she named Willie. He did not survive long, however, and died during late December. The child's remains were taken, too, to Lincoln for burial beside his father.

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When Dora's portrait came back to Lucas County from California during 1973, her nieces sent along a brief biography that stated the obvious --- "These events in her life left her very saddened."

Her 1920 obituary explains what she did about it: "Though prostrated with grief, she recognized the needs of others and soon entered the Still school of Osteopathy in Des Moines, where she applied herself to the science of healing the ills of the body." 

Dr. Summerfield S. Still and his wife, Dr. Ella Still, had founded the S.S. Still College of Osteopathy during 1898 and Dora's brother, Samuel I. Wyland, had enrolled as one of their first students. So Dora had a pattern to follow.

From its founding, Still College had recruited and admitted many women --- as many as a third of some graduating classes prior to 1920. So there was none of the conflict there that women sometimes faced in more traditional medical schools.

Following his graduation, Samuel Wyland returned to Chariton to open his practice. Dora earned her degree during June of 1903 and set out for Decorah to open her first practice there.

During June of 1905, wishing to be closer to her family, Dora purchased the Chariton practice of another osteopathic physician, Dr. Edna Blake, whose rooms were located on the second floor of the Oppenheimer Building on the west side of the square. Dora moved into these rooms and her brother, whose office was elsewhere in town, joined her in a joint practice.

"Dr. S.I. Wyland also enjoys a large practice," The Patriot reported. "He and his sister will make a strong team and we predict great success for them."

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The siblings continued their joint practice in Chariton until 1910, when Sam Wyland caught California fever and after touring up and down its coast for a few weeks that summer decided to relocate his family to Santa Rosa. The move was made during September.

Dora continued her solo practice and, according to her obituary, "during the years that came and went she built up a splendid practice, never knowing what it meant to be too tired to respond to the call of the suffering."

She also, during those years, "tenderly cared for her mother through her last illness, provided for an invalid brother until his death and with loving solicitude endeavored to protect her sister from the ravages of the disease that had laid hold upon her."

Both Dora's brother, Cyrus, and sister, Eliza (Wyland) Stanger, were long-term victims of tuberculosis; Cyrus died with Dora at his side in Alamogordo, N.M., on Dec. 17, 1918. Eliza survived Dora by two years.

In addition, she worked during the last full year of her own life with physicians at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on the case of her brother-in-law, Charles D. Stanger, a victim of cancer.

Later on during 1919, Dora's own health failed. Diagnosed with pernicious anemia, she was treated for several weeks at the Mayo Clinic and elsewhere, but failed to respond.

During October of 1919, Dora sold her practice to Dr. Olive Elam, who had been practicing in Russell, and Elam moved into the former McAfee offices in the Oppenheimer building.

As her health deteriorated further, Dora moved to Des Moines to live with her brother, Edgar --- a carpenter --- and his family, where she was cared for until her death on May 14, 1920.

Dr. McAfee had asked to be buried in the Chariton Cemetery near her mother and brother, rather than in Illinois, with her husband and son, and so funeral services were held on May 17 at First Methodist Church where she was remembered as a "noble woman whose life had been one of service, one who rejoiced in doing good to others."

Friday, July 21, 2017

"It's hot, hotter, hottest, hottentotterist "

If it's any consolation to those sweltering in the south of Iowa and elsewhere this July 2017, it was pretty darned hot back in July of 1868, too. Chariton Democrat editor John V. Faith described it in his edition of July 25 as "hot, hotter, hottest, hottentotterist."

The complete text of his brief weather report reads, "Never, within the recollection of the 'oldest inhabitant,' has it been so hot in Iowa. Mercury has been climbing for the past three weeks and its range has been from 90 to 106 in the shade. The excessive heat has caused much uncomfortable feeling, and prostration in some instances. The population has been decreased, and there is not being much done to make up for the loss. A dilapidated hoop-skirt, water-fall and grease spot mark the last resting place of many of those courageous women who had bravely enough (sic) to venture out, while all that remains of some unfortunate males who were compelled to expose themselves, are a pair of boots standing alone on the side-walk, their wearers having "settled." Ice-cream cows and refrigerators have been in demand, and are causing a run. It's hot, hotter, hottest, hottentotterist."

The heat, according to John, had resulted in "A Sad Case" near Chariton: "We learn that James H. Berry, living a few miles from town, was so affected by the heat, on Wednesday of last week, as to cause insanity. On Monday morning he was taken, a raving maniac, to Mt. Pleasant. It is believed he will speedily recover."

So be careful out there if you feel heat-related madness approaching this year. The Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute, opened in 1861, was closed by Gov. Terry Branstad during July of 2015, so no longer is available as a refuge.

Out west of town, Sunday dinner had turned into a nightmare that week because of what probably would be diagnosed today as food poisoning, perhaps heat-related. (Little green worms are unpleasant, but if unnoticed generally are just absorbed and provide a little extra protein):

"A Family Poisoned --- The family of Mr. Blair who lives about two miles west of town, and including Mr. and Mrs. Hynds and daughter, were poisoned on Sunday by something that they ate for dinner. Shortly after eating they were all seized with severe pain in the stomach, accompanied by every symptom of poison. Dr. Collins was promptly called, and when he arrived eight of them were down. He administered the usual remedies, and they recovered in a short time. It is not positively known what it was that contained the poison, but on examination it was found that the peas, of which they had eaten for dinner, contained small worms, and it is thought they were the cause of the sickness."

It didn't take much to set off the contentious Mr. Faith --- he was having a conniption that may or may not have been heat-related that July, increasing the temperature in The Democrat office --- then located in a rented room at the courthouse --- too. James Wilson "Sonny" Ragsdale had recently purchased the rival Republican-oriented Patriot and the war of words had begun:

"EXCUSE US --- 'Sonny,' in the smut-machine, attempts to reply to some things that we said last week by telling us that we lie. We have no language with which to meet arguments of that kind, besides, to quarrel with him would be small business. We have shown to the satisfaction of ourself, and to the readers of both papers, what a fool he is, and decency forbids us to meddle with him any farther. He is too small, too contemptible, to merit further or more respectful notice."

Mr. Faith apparently had a mouth (and pen) somewhat out of proportion to his slight frame, so found it useful, after digesting "Sonny" verbally, to advertise for a fighting surrogate:

"FIGHTING EDITOR WANTED: The editor of this paper, being a small man, and deficient in the fistic art, finds it necessary, in order to sustain the dignity of his profession, to provide every accommodation usually approved by first-class newspaper concerns, and with that view desires to engage a regular fighting editor. The applicant must be able-bodied, capable of vigorously applying a No. 14 boot to that part of the breeches which most frequently needs patching. He will have to deal principally with Radicals (Republicans). No compensation until capacity shall have been established."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

John McCain, graciousness & statesmanship


It would be a grave mistake to write off U.S. Sen. John McCain, diagnosed this week with brain cancer. Still, it's a sobering time --- especially for those of us who remember the Vietnam War era with a good deal of clarity.

The photo was taken in Japan during 1973 after McCain (center) had been released by North Vietnam following five and a half years as prisoner of war. Torture, mistreatment and lack of treatment left him with physical handicaps that plague him still.

I saw a Twitter remark this morning that expressed the McCain experience well, then as many of those transitory posts do, it vanished when attention turned elsewhere and I can't find it now.

But the commentator began by quoting Audie Murphy, among the most highly decorated U.S. combat veterans of World War II: "No soldier ever really survives a war."

Then went on to point out that McCain, despite that, went on to give all he had left to his country as a U.S. representative, senator and presidential candidate.

His views and his positions certainly haven't suited everyone, including me --- but there's no doubt that he has given his all on numerous occasions, and will continue to do so as best he can.

The senator, then a presidential candidate, won my heart (but not my vote) during 2008 while campaigning at a Minnesota town hall meeting. Then, as now, there was a good deal of ignorance regarding Barack Obama on display.

McCain passed his wireless microphone to one woman who said, "I can't trust Obama. I have read about him and he's not, he's not uh — he's an Arab. He's not — " before McCain retook the microphone and replied:

"No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab]."

After his loss during November of that year, McCain's response was a gracious call for support of the new president.

It's called decency --- and statesmanship. Qualities not displayed in abundance in politics as we know them these days.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Heroes among us: Capt. Helen Malony Talboy


Helen Malony Talboy's tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery identifies her as "daughter" rather than as a World War II hero. And the flag holder that once was embedded in the ground at her grave has  been broken and the stalk, relocated nearby.

So she rests here now largely forgotten --- a hero among us. Her parents, John H. and Orpha Malony, and her sister, Ruth Malony Thomas, are nearby.

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Alyse Hunter, who chairs the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission, intrigued by the rarity of the surname "Talboy," mentioned Helen yesterday during a commission meeting as we talked about the 2017 Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, scheduled for Sept. 24.

This year, we want to gather in front of the shelter house and introduce a few of the interesting folks reposing in that immediate neighborhood. Although none of us knew anything at all about Helen, the distinctive surname was interesting, Alyse suggested.

So I came home and did a quick survey. Here's a part of what I found.

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Helen was born during 1907 and moved to Chariton as a child with her parents --- her father was a dentist. She graduated from Chariton High School during 1927, three years before the early death of her mother, the first to be buried on the family lot. Her father later remarried and relocated in Corydon.

During 1934, she graduated from the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Burlington, then married in 1935 a traveling salesman named Willis E. Talboy. That relationship did not endure, but Helen kept the surname for the remainder of her life.

When World War II broke out, Helen was working as a nurse in Des Moines. She enlisted during November of 1942 and was deployed overseas during April of 1943, assigned to the 95th Evacuation Hospital, attached at various times to both the 5th and 7th armies.

This was a 400-bed mobile hospital staffed with approximately 40 nurses, 40 doctors and more than 200 enlisted men. When the hospital landed in Italy on Sept. 9, 1943, it was the first U.S. hospital established in Europe during World War II. Another amphibious landing --- at Anzio --- followed.

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Maj. Gen. Norman T. Kirk, surgeon general of the U.S. Army, provided this account of Helen's service before Anzio after the war while writing about her for The American Magazine:

"When Lt. Helen Talboy went overseas, her convoy was attacked again and again by submarines. In the blistering or muddy days of the Tunisian campaign, she sometimes served within six miles of the front.

"She landed with the infantry at a beach-head in Sicily, followed the battle to Palermo, and went on to Italy, only to have her ship bombed in Salerno bay.

"Wet and bedraggled, wearing nothing but pajamas and tennis shoes, she was finally set ashore. Next day she was at work again in the surgical tent of her evacuation hospital unit, supervising the care of men upon whom the enemy's shrapnel and bullets had done all but their worst. It was enough to try the strongest men.

"But weeks later, after all her hardships, Lt. Talboy was one of the first to volunteer to land with the infantry at Anzio, just south of Rome, a maneuver that proved to be one of the most perilous flanking movements our troops have undertaken in Italy. Everybody knows now the bitterness of that furiously contested fight at Anzio. None knows it better than that woman from Des Moines who again offered her life for her country there."


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Associated Press correspondent Kenneth Dixon, the only U.S. civilian reporter at Anzio, picks up Helen's story in this dispatch from Anzio, dated Feb. 8, 1944. This story was published nationwide on Feb. 9, 1944, and in the days that followed:

By KENNETH DIXON
(The Combined U.S. Press)

"With Allied Invasion Forces South of Rome, Feb. 8 --- If the courage of American nurses ever is questioned, the story of Helen Talboy of Des Moines, Iowa, and her gang of spunky girls on the Anzio beachhead will supply the answer.

"One night a week ago a group of them left the nearby hospital tents for the correspondents building when falling flak shredded the tent roofs and shells screamed overhead.

"Before that they had been bombed and shelled and bombed and shelled again.

"The tension was beginning to tell on them. Helen was one of the most jittery. But they all went back to their hospital tents and went on with their work.

"The newsmen sat around talking after they left, saying they had about reached the breaking point --- that this beachhead was no place for women.

"A couple of days later, Jack Foisie of Stars and Stripes and I were at the hospital hunting the chief surgeon to get a story. Helen, who was first lieutenant in charge of surgery, volunteered to find him.

"Instead for half an hour she wandered indecisively out in the middle of the hospital area, talking disconnectedly about fear and recent close calls. She was trying hard to rationalize her growing fear --- she was not ashamed of it; nobody is ashamed of fear over here; she merely was trying to keep it from getting control of her.

"As I left, I said, 'Jack, she's in bad shape. She has been through too much. She is about to go to pieces.'

" 'It looks like it,' he said. 'But she's trying hard. I wonder what she would do in a sudden crisis?'

"Yesterday afternoon the crisis came.

"When German bombs hit the hospital, killing 27 and wounding more than 60 --- including three nurses killed and three wounded --- Helen was on duty in the surgical section, which was punctured by hundreds of shrapnel holes.

"Without a moment's hesitation she took charge. She collected the surviving nurses, gave them bandages and first aid equipment and started them caring for the wounded, lying crumpled and moaning over the bloody hospital area.

"She supervised the first aid, and saw to it that the dead were covered as quickly as possible, bringing some merciful semblance of order to the whole nightmarish scene.

"The same nurses who seemed so near breaking a week ago, were busy elsewhere. Late Monday night they were still working. Nurses from other units came up and volunteered to help, but these tired, stone-eyed veterans insisted on caring for their own.

"Nearby, I saw some men weeping, standing in small shaken groups. Some of the nurses were crying, too, but soundlessly --- the tears on their cheeks in the pale moonlight were the only sign.

"Eventually their grief would get the better  of them, for these dead and dying were not strangers but their comrades of many months. And their fears would return.

"But hundreds of soldiers who lay wounded in those tents never will forget how Helen Talboy and her gang of spunky girls discarded their fears, postponed their grief, and did their jobs when the chips were down."


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I'll save the details of Helen's later life for September. Nothing else really needs to be written right now. But if you're walking in the cemetery on one of these hot July evenings and turn the corner in front of the shelter house to head east, look to your left after you've taken a few steps and give Capt. Helen Malony Talboy a salute.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ice cream social postponed ...


The following post, sadly, no longer applies. The forecast calling for extreme heat caused us to postpone the event. But we'll try again when it cools down a little. So stay tuned for details.

We're hoping for a good breeze on the patio Thursday evening when Margaret Coons joins us to celebrate summer during the Lucas County Historical Society's annual ice cream social.

Margaret's beautiful voice, wide-ranging repertoire and guitar skills are well known in Lucas County --- and we're delighted that she's agreed to join us for the evening.

All buildings on the historical society campus will open for tours at 5:30 p.m.  Free ice cream and ice water will be served in the pioneer barn from 6 until 7 p.m. and Margaret will perform, beginning at 7 p.m. on the patio.

Everyone's welcome!