Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Love's labor lasts

 I had something more elaborate in mind this morning, then noticed the following brief story on the front page of The Chariton Leader of Oct. 21, 1920, illustrating some of the challenges that our immigrant ancestors faced.

The image of the tombstone marking Pelegrino and Pasqua Logli's gaves in Sacred Heart Cemetery, Melcher-Dallas, is from Find A Grave --- so we know that the marriage endured. We also know that, despite a delayed start, there were two children: Anita Mary and Lorenzo. Here's the story of how it came to be:


Twelve years ago, Pelegrino Logli left sunny Italy to make his fortune in the land of the free, leaving behind him the one girl, Miss Pasgreni Zeniolla (Pasqua Zagnoli), who was to follow as soon as the proposed home could be established. Fortune smiled upon the young man and finally brought him to Melcher, where he secured a lot and erected a neat and comfortable home.

Six years ago, all was ready for a happy marriage and arrangements were complete. Then the war cloud descended and he could not go to Italy nor could she come to the United States, but letters of assurance of faith continued and the young couple waited until the war cloud passed.

On Oct. 8, they met in Chicago and were married. They came at once to their Melcher home and on Sunday, Oct. 10, went before Father Dohmen, where a religious ceremony was performed.

Mr. Logli is a man of 36 years and is a prosperous coal miner. The bride is 35. It was a jolly crowd that assembled at their home Sunday afternoon and night to celebrate the occasion in the style of the fatherland.

Monday, September 28, 2020

The men in the Veterans Memorial Park mural

The backstory related to this remarkable mural, installed and dedicated during early September at Veterans Memorial Park in Chariton, is widely known here. It depicts 16 young men who were sworn together into the U.S. Navy during a ceremony held on the public square on July 4, 1942. Fifteen were from Chariton and one, from Winterset.

Muralist John Neal, of Des Moines, was the artist; and Earl Comstock, of Chariton, the driving force behind its development and execution. 

Now anyone who knows Earl knows also that he is determined. When faced by challenges, he just soldiers on (Marines on, actually). And the challenge here was to find images of the 16 men at the time of their enlistment that could be adapted in recognizable form by the artist.

Several photographs of various poses were taken at the time and some were published --- in the Chariton newspapers, The Des Moines Register and The Ottumwa Courier. But the originals did not survive and printed versions tended not to be especially clear.

But finally, early this year, this small original photograph turned up in a Navy Mothers scrapbook in the Lucas County Historical Society collection. And this is the photograph on which the mural is based, although the men have been condensed and background added. The sixteen men in civilian clothes are the recruits, the sailors in uniform (not included in the mural) were representatives of the Des Moines U.S. Navy recruiting station. 

And these men can be specifically identified (from left) as follows: Mahlon Laing, Merle Norberg, Andy McRoberts, Don Reid, Bill Carpenter, Andy Musick, Bill Aitken, Glenn Fowler, Randal Willoughby, Bill Maxwell, Robert Maxwell, Charles Blakesmith, Don Kingsbury, Kenneth Holliday (of Winterset), Paul Kingsbury and Clifford Norton.

I've chopped the mural (virtually) into three pieces here in order to make the faces clearer:

(From left) Mahlon Laing, Merle Norberg, Andy McRoberts, Don Reid and Bill Carpenter.

Andy Musick, Bill Aitken, Glenn Fowler, Randal Willoughby, Bill Maxwell and Robert Maxwell.

Charles Blakesmith, Don Kingsbury, Kenneth Holliday, Paul Kingsbury and Clifford Norton.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

October mornings & evenings at Red Haw Hill

September turns to October this week and leaves in the south of Iowa, now tinged with color, soon will burst into full flaming splendor.

Here's a slide show of images taken, mostly during October of 2016, on or near Red Haw Hill, after which what now is known as Red Haw State Park, takes its name.

This quote attributed to existentialist author and philosopher Albert Camus has been stuck in my head: "Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower."

Did he actually write that? As it turns out, he did. Here's a link to a 2015 post from the blog, "Spanish-English Word Connections," that explores the attribution.

And here's the key paragraph: "Eventually, in spite of my skepticism, I did track down the quotation about autumn and spring and found that it’s correctly attributed to Albert Camus. It turned out to be from his 1944 play Le malentendu (The Misunderstanding), but the original is slightly different from the widely quoted version. In the play, the character Martha asks 'Qu’est-ce que l’automne?' ('What is autumn?'). The character Jan replies: 'Un deuxième printemps, où toutes les feuilles sont comme des fleurs.' ('A second spring, when the leaves are like flowers.') The widely quoted version not only gloms the two sentences together but also drops the word comme (like) and the comma before it, thereby turning the original simile into a metaphor."

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Building bridges and Lucas County supervisor ethics

The year 1870 was a watershed for county government in Iowa. Since 1860, Iowa counties had been governed by boards of supervisors that consisted of representatives from each township therein. In Lucas County, with 12 townships, the board therefore was made up of 12 members.

But travel was difficult, communication was slow and boards of that size proved very difficult to manage and sustain. So in 1870 the 13th General Assembly (under the Constitution of 1857) reduced the number of supervisors in each county to three, to be elected at large, no two from the same township. The first election under that plan was held during October of that year.

And it was during that election that my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Myers (tombstone in Salem Cemetery at left), made his one and only brief foray into politics, elected one of three supervisors by a resounding plurality of two votes. There had been five candidates for the at-large seats. The other winners were incumbents Henry H. Day of Chariton and Joseph W. Sprott of Last Chance. The losers were incumbents Lot Curtis of Warren Township and Sam Wheeler, of Liberty. It was Mr. Curtis that Grandpa edged by two votes, 714 to 712.

And Grandpa owed his victory in large part to John V. Faith, crusading editor of The Chariton Democrat, who had discovered that Mr. Curtis had played a bit fast and loose when awarding contracts to build bridges to himself.

Mr. Faith crowed about his part in the election, as follows, in The Chariton Democrat of Oct. 25, 1870:


Mr. Lot Curtis, of Warren Township, was born a supervisor of Lucas county. At least he has acted in the capacity ever since the buffaloes ceased cropping herbage on the courthouse square. We never met a man who could remember far enough back to reach the time when Mr. Curtis didn't legislate for his suffering fellow citizens. Very fortunately for them, an early finis is to be put to his ambitious career. The dose has already been applied and the effects will be speedily apparent. He has been shelved by a popular vote and is to be succeeded by Mr. Jacob Myers.

Just before the election we fired a few shots at him. We brought forward grave charges. We astonished his friends and foes. We went on to show that about two years ago he appointed himself as chairman of the Bridge committee of the Board of Supervisors. In that capacity he some time afterwards opposed giving public notice that sealed bids would be received for the building of five new bridges. He did not think it even necessary to give any notice whatever. No notice was given.

At the proper time, Mr. Curtis handed in bids to himself as chairman of the bridge committee which he promptly accepted in behalf of the gullible public. As nobody else knew anything about the business, of course, no opposition bids were handed in, and of course he awarded himself the contract for building the bridges. Bonaparte could dictate to a dozen secretaries at once. Mr. Curtis did more than that. He made bids for doing work for the public and at the same time accepted them. This shows that he is a good businessman.

We also charged that the bridges were improperly constructed; that they were not set on sills as the law provides, but were put up in a shilly-shally manner in order that Mr. Curtis might make some money out of the transaction. Being chairman of the bridge committee, he further prepared a report, in his own hand writing, approving of the manner in which the bridges were constructed and recommending that the county accept them. 

Just before the recent election we gave the matter an airing. The result was just about as we expected. We were charged with abusing an old citizen and with defaming a man who had faithfully served the public from time immemorial. The amount of censure visited upon us from some quarters was terrific to contemplate.

Mr. Myers was brought out against Mr. Curtis and was elected by a majority of two. we considered that fact a triumphant vindication of our course. But we have been further justified. On the 17th the Board of Supervisors convened and took up the bridge matter. The bill which Mr. Curtis had presented was cut down to the tune of $120 and he was required to brace and stay the bridges just as he was expected to do in the first place. This places us right on record. We looked after the interests of the public and have received the only reward we hoped for --- the commendation of our fellow citizens. How are you, Mr. Curtis?


Keep in mind that Mr. Faith was not disinclined to play fast and loose with the facts when it suited him, so there are inconsistencies in this report.

In the first place, Mr. Curtis had served as county supervisor only since 1866 --- four years --- not since Buffalo grazed on the courthouse lawn. He'd only lived in Lucas County since 1860.

Secondly, it appears that only four bridges were involved. When the old board of supervisors met after the October election, it approved his work on two bridges, one over Wolf Creek in Benton Township and the other over Three-Mile Creek in Warren.

The board did, however, reject his work on bridges in Liberty and English townships, cutting the contract price for each by $60 and ordering Mr. Curtis to repair elements that already had broken, replace shoddy materials used in their construction and make them travel-worthy.

And obviously, as chair of the Bridge Committee Mr. Curtis should not have been awarding contracts to himself without seeking competitive bids.

Whatever the case, Mr. Curtis did not seek elective office at county level again --- and neither did Grandpa Myers for that matter. He did not seek re-election when his term expired.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The life and times of Miss Clara Whitten

I came across this account of Miss Clara Whitten's 100th birthday the other day while browsing back issues of the Russell Union-Tribune. It appears in the edition of May 12, 1955, accompanied by a portrait that doesn't reproduce especially well from microfilm, but at least we can see what Miss Whitten looked like.

At the time the article was written, Clara was making her home with Clarence and Ola Dewey. The only daughter of Randall and Mary Whitten, she had outlived her immediate family, including three brothers, Asa, Chauncey and Archie. Her nearest kin were nieces and nephews who lived in Colorado and Canada. Here's the report:


Miss Clara Whitten, who celebrated her 100th birthday Saturday, May 7, 1955, was reported Monday to be spryer than ever. The Deweys reported that she was listening to the radio at 6 in the morning while the rest were tired from the visitors she had received Saturday and Sunday.

Miss Whitten was born in Fulton County near Toledo, Ohio. At the age of six she came with her family to Iowa in a covered wagon and settled about three miles north of Russell. The family purchased the farm for $1.25 an acre which at the time was covered with tall grass about six feet high.

She received her education at a school two miles from her home. With her brothers, she walked to Russell each Sunday to church. She lived with her parents and cared for them until their deaths years ago. Her father lived to be 93 and her brother, Archie, was 88 years old.

She taught music lessons and took painting lessons from an artist besides calling on the sick and shut-ins, especially the children.

Clara received an orchid from Tom Brenaman for being a good neighbor.

She traveled some. In 1925, she visited a brother in Canada; went to Nebraska and Colorado in about 1902. She attended the Worlds Fair in Chicago in 1893 and heard Dwight L. Moody preach.

Miss Whitten moved to Russell about 1901 and has lived alone since the death of her father in 1920 until the last few years. She has enjoyed good health and until the last year has walked some every day which she has maintained her fine health.

She has outlived here entire family, including three brothers, but has several cousins in Iowa, two nieces in Colorado and nieces and a nephew in Canada.

The highlight of her birthday was when she received a personal letter from Mamie Eisenhower and a greeting card from Ike, personally signed. Also, she received 82 callers and 170 cards. Her niece, Mrs. Petrine Roulston of Boulder, Colorado, is spending five days with her.

Even though 100 years old, she still has a keen sense of humor, reads a daily paper, enjoys the comic sections and has her favorite radio programs. She has showed a great interest in people which has gained many lasting friendships. She was always optimistic and has an unbiased viewpoint.

She has been a lifelong Republican, always interested in politics and current events of the day. Besides all this, she reads her Bible and writes to her friends. One must agree that she has lived a full life.


Miss Whitten died a year after celebrating her centennial --- on June 27, 1956, age 101. She is buried in the Russell Cemetery with her parents.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Starring the glamorous Miss Duane Thompson ....

As much as I'd like to claim Duane Thompson (left), a glamorous star of silver screen in the silent era, as one of Lucas County's own, the best I can do is to report that she visited her father and two half-sisters here at least once, during 1930, as her career was fading.

Red Oak actually has Iowa's best claim to Duane, born there as Lura Duane Malony on July 28, 1903. But even that claim is tenuous --- she moved to Omaha with her mother at the age of two and spent her formative years in California where, after a stint as a cafe dancer, she achieved a modest degree of Hollywood stardom. There, she took her middle name, Duane, as her first and replaced her father's surname with that of her stepfather, Thompson.

Duane was the daughter of Dr. John H. Malony, a dentist, and his first wife, Georgia Ethel Manker. She had an older brother, Richard Malony, born during 1901. After her parents' marriage failed, Richard and Duane remained with their mother and Dr. Malony launched a new family.

He married Orpha Ellen Meighen in Omaha on during 1904 and they had two daughters --- Ruth (1906-1974) and Helen (1907-1969). I've written previously about Helen (Malony) Talboy, heroic World War II Army nurse who went on to become a pioneer in reforming Iowa's correctional system for women (Heroes among us: Capt. Helen Mahony Talboy). The Malonys moved to Chariton during the early 1920s and Orpha, John, Ruth and Helen all are buried in the Chariton Cemetery.

Lucas County had taken note of Ms. Thompson as early as March 12, 1925, when the following was published in The Herald-Patriot:


Chariton has more than a passing interest in the moving picture industry at Hollywood, California. Also when a Christie comedy comes to town, more than the usual attention is given to the cast of characters. The reason is that Duane Thompson, at present leading lady for Walter Hiers, and well known figure in the screen firmament, is a daughter of Dr. J. H.  Malony, Chariton dentist. Miss Malony, whose screen name is Duane Thompson, began her picture career three years ago and has appeared with Bobbie Vernon, Neil Burns and other celebrities in the screen comedy features. It is probable that some of her latest releases will be shown here, according to the local theatre management.

Miss Thompson, it is said, has excellent prospects of advancing well to the top of the motion picture profession. She was one of thirteen debutantes who have been announced as selections at the Wampas Baby Stars of 1925. The announcement was made February 5, and appears in the March number of the "Photoplay" with a picture of Duane Thompson. Each year the Wampas, the film industry organization of advertising and publicity men, selects thirteen girls to be honored guests at the annual Wampas Frolic at Hollywood, California. Their selection is virtually an announcement of their beginning of a stardom career.


According to her biography in Wikipedia, Duane launched her movie career as Violet Joy during 1921 opposite Vernon Dent in "Up and at 'em." She then adopted a version of her given name and once her career took off in 1923, made 37 films before the ground shifted under the silent movie industry during the late 1920s and "talkies" replaced them.

During 1928, Duane married Emmet K. "Buddy" Wattles, a comedic leading man; and as the silent screen darkened, they switched to stock theater, traveling from city to city. During the early 1930s, they returned to Hollywood and Duane turned to radio, where she was quite successful and met and married her second husband, radio producer William T. Johnson. She continued to live in Los Angeles until her death at age 67 on Aug. 15, 1970.


Ms. Thompson's only known visit to Chariton occurred during late June, 1930, as reported by The Leader of July 1: "Duane Thompson, movie and stage actress who was born in Red Oak, arrived in Chariton Saturday from Hollywood for a visit with relatives. Her husband, Emmet King Wattles, stage star, joined her at Red Oak last week. The couple recently closed an engagement at Denver. Miss Thompson is the daughter of Dr. J.H. Malony of Chariton, and is now here."

There were no further reports, in large part I'm guessing because the occasion for the visit was a sad one. Orpha Malony, Duane's stepmother, had died unexpectedly at the age of 48 on June 5 at a hospital in Ottumwa of "an infection of the gall bladder."

Dr. Malony lived on, practicing in both Chariton and Corydon until his death at age 74 during early April, 1955. Daughters Ruth and Helen were living respectively in Des Moines and Van Meter at the time; and the two children from his first marriage, Richard and Duane, in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Broken Hallelujahs ....

I've been listening this morning to the late Jeff Buckley's definitive performance of Leonard Cohen's lovely (and dark) "Hallelujah." Cohen introduced the song in 1984, but Buckley's 1994 version --- on his only complete album, "Grace" --- put the wind under its wings, so to speak. I also like Rufus Wainwright's version --- and then there's k.d. lang's magnificent performance during opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Oft-performed recent versions have sanitized and Christianized the lyrics, in part because it has such a compelling melody, but at base the words are about love and sex and loss and that redemptive quality in human nature that produces broken hallelujahs even under dire circumstances.

I was reminded of it Saturday when Rabbi Angela Buchdahl used the melody as the setting for a Psalm during a memorial tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg during morning Rosh Hashanah services at Central Synagogue in Manhattan. That seemed appropriate for a woman who specialized in hallelujah. Here's the Buckley version:

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

You can lead a horse to water ....

I was sitting on the front porch of the Bill Marner Blacksmith Shop yesterday admiring the cast iron horse watering trough in front of me when I developed the urge to learn a little more about it --- as well as the history of its two mates that are used as planters near the veterans memorial on the courthouse lawn at the northwest corner of the square (below).

Some things I already knew. There are four of these troughs, once located at the four corner of the Courthouse lawn, installed at a time when shoppers arrived downtown in horse-powered wagons or buggies, tethered their horses around the courthouse --- and the animals needed a source of water.

They were sold, perhaps about 1920, and removed. The trough at the museum was owned by the late Glenn Burgett (1898-1969), instrumental in organizing the historical society, and was donated to the museum by him not long before his death. 

Forty years later, the two on the square were donated to Lucas County by Gene Keith. They had been purchased by Jack Sullivan and then passed to his son, Ed Sullivan, who used them to water ponies until they fell into disuse. Keith acquired the troughs from Ed Sullivan but promised to never sell them. He had used them as planters himself, so passed them on for use at the memorial with the provision (approved as a resoltion by the county supervisors) that they be returned to his family if county officials decided they were no longer wanted.

I don't know who has the fourth trough, but imagine it's still around. These are extraordinarily sturdy, very heavy and would be difficult to misplace.


I was able to date placement of the troughs to 1907 thanks to the following recolution, published in The Chariton Leader of Dec. 6, 1906:

"The following resolution was ordered spread upon the minutes, whereas: The city of Chariton, Iowa, proposes to put in a 6-inch water pipe around the public square of Lucas county, Iowa, just inside the curbing around said public square, and put in one watering trough and one fire hydrant at each corner of said public square, and furnish water, free of charge to the public.

"Therefore: Be it resolved by the Board of Supervisors of Lucas county, in regular session assembled on the 3rd day of Dec. 1906, that there be appropriated the sum of one thousand dollars to the city of Chariton,  Iowa, for the purpose of aiding in putting in said water pipes and watering troughs and fire hydrants on condition that the said city of Chariton or its assigns shall keep the same in repair and furnish ample supply of water in same to supply the public needs at all times without expense to Lucas county."


I then located online a digital version of a J.B. Clow & Sons catalog from 1902 and, by golly, there were the troughs --- described as horse drinking fountains.

As it turns out, I'd misinterpreted as a drain the hole in the bottom of the troughs. Actually, this was the water inlet. The troughs drained, when they did, by overflowing.

There were two models here. One was designed for those with unlimited supplies of water, which would flow continually and overflow. The other model was equipped with a self-closing cock that allowed water to flow only when a horse was drinking. I'm guessing Chariton invested in the latter ($60 each) since the city water supply was very limited until Lake Ellis was built during 1915-1916.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Morning in the "Secret Garden"

Some years ago, I was in the right place at the right time --- a lovely late September morning --- to capture these and other images of a place called since (by me) the "Secret Garden." 

Nothing secret, really --- an area in the Chariton River Greenbelt that rambles among old fishery ponds right along the river  west of the Chariton Cemetery.

Access was easier then, through a gap in the fence that has since been blocked; and minimum maintenance resulted in a trail of sorts where the native grasses and other vegetation were less than knee high.

I'm not complaining. Lucas County has a tiny conservation staff that cares for a comparatively huge resource of public land with very limited funding --- including the 13-mile Cinder Path. So resources were shifted elsewhere.

I'm just grateful for serendipity and these images that resulted. Looking at them started my week on a positive note; maybe they'll do the same for you.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Tom Sawyering on the Des Moines back in 1962

History is relative in the sense that what seems ancient to some seems like just the other day to others, including me.  Here's an example --- a certificate commemorating a July 1962 raft trip down the Des Moines River issued to David Threlkeld, who donated it recently to the Lucas County Historical Society collection. If you're from Lucas County and read the names, most of them will be familiar.

I was a year older than the Explorer Scout participants and a failed Cub Scout --- so not a participant as I prepared to enter my junior year at Russell High School. All but one of these students --- Doug Dickinson --- were students at Chariton High School. Doug was Russell's representative.

The trip, unlikely to occur these days because of insurance and other concerns, resulted in a couple of reports in Chariton newspapers. Doug's parents edited and published The Russell Union-Tribune, but I didn't find a report there, although there may well have been one. In any case, here's the report from The Chariton Leader of July 17, 1962:


Nine members of Scout Explorer Post 149 of Chariton are afloat this week on the Des Moines River --- hoping to make the 100 to 150 mile run on the river from Des Moines to  Ottumwa by Saturday.

"Outside of saying they're short of ice cream," one of the parents remarked, "the boys are doing alright."

Ice cream, however, hasn't been one of their commodities and a nice catch of fish Sunday proved not to be among the items on the menu either.

The nine --- all 16 years of age or under --- were put afloat on a raft 16 foot long and 8 foot wide about 9 a.m. Sunday at Des Moines. The raft was made by the boys from 10 large barrels and boards.

The raft was properly christened as it glided onto the river. The youth have attached a "skull" near the flagstaff and have named the craft the "USS Numbskull."

Aboard are Explorer Scouts Tom Martin, son of the Frank Martins; Gary Baze, son of the Joe Bazes; Rick Kerr, son of the Richard Kerrs; Jerry Willis, son of the  Don Willises; Jerry Foster, son of the Lyle Fosters; Marion Palmer, son of the Jack  Palmers; David Threlkeld, son of the Dick Threlkelds; Dwaine Halferty, son of the Dennis Halfertys, all of Chariton; and Doug Dickinson, son of the Leonard Dickinsons of Russell.

Five men are taking turns riding on the raft each day and last night some of the parents drove north of Chariton and Knoxville to see the crew.

Three of the boys met the parents; the other six were on the raft, perched on a sand bar. The sand bars, incidentally, are regular tie-up spots. They hold the raft from slipping downstream while the voyagers sleep.

With the boys Sunday, Monday and today is Ray Webb, advisor of the post. Tomorrow, the Rev. Clarence Newby of Chariton will go aboard to relieve Webb. On Thursday, Bob Sims, associate post advisor will join the boys. Friday will be Dick Threlkeld's turn. Webb will return on Saturday and Don Willis will take over Sunday --- providing the raft and boys haven't reached Ottumwa or a distance sufficient for calling an end to the exploration.

Reporting back to the parents after a visit with the boys last night, Frank Martin related this information:

The raft became lodged on logs Sunday. The only way to proceed was to cut a hole in the craft, which the boys did, dislodging the barrels, boards and boys.

Fishing was good Sunday, Martin commented, "but they didn't get a chance to eat their catch."

The youths caught a 4-pound cat, a 5-pound carp and some smaller catfish. They put them on a stringer, trailing them at the end of the raft. When eating time came Monday, the fish and stringer were gone.

Cutting the hole in the raft to clear the logs Sunday, Martin said, has produced a leak in one of the barrels. Now the boys are cautiously keeping weight off the leaky side.

And, all the boys have been dunked in the river. A mass dunk occurred while they were guiding the raft in shallow water toward shore. They jumped into the water but found it wasn't shallow.

The raft is expected to cross beneath Highway 14 north of Knoxville tonight where parents will be given a report on the third day afloat.

One report is expected for certain. It's the same one received Sunday and Monday: "The mosquitoes are biting."


The Leader of July 24 contained a photograph of the scouts and a paragraph noting their safe return to Lucas County. Unfortunately, the  microfilm image of that photo is of such poor quality that no one is recognizable.