Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Rev. Mr. Fenwick's rather obvious secret

The Appeal, Oct. 17, 1903
This is the third and final post regarding the Rev. Louis M. Fenwick, early pastor of Chariton's African Methodist Episcopal congregation, who eloquently defended his flock in early 1888 against racist attacks by Samuel S. King, editor of The Chariton Democrat. Fenwick, in his defense, described King as the "dog that barked" for Smith H. Mallory, Democrat owner and Lucas County's major mover and shaker of that time.

Fenwick continued to serve his scattered flock in southern Iowa, including Chariton, until the Iowa Annual Conference of the A.M.E. Church held its 1889 convention during early September in Milwaukee (at that time, the Iowa Annual Conference included Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Dakota and much of northern Illinois outside Chicago).

During that general meeting, Fenwick received a new assignment that would take him to Elgin, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. The Chariton Herald, in its edition of Sept. 19, 1889, wished him farewell as follows:

Rev. L.M. Fenwick returned last week from the A.M.E. Conference at Milwaukee. His appointment for the coming year is at Elgin, Ill., and he left on last Thursday for his new field of labor. Rev. P.O. Taylor has been assigned to work on the Chariton and Albia circuit. Rev. Taylor has a wife and two children and will reside in Chariton. He comes to us well recommended by his brethren and we hope that his residence among us may be useful and pleasant. Rev. Fenwick carries with him the best wishes of all who have known of his faithful work in Chariton.


During the next 12 years or so, the Rev. Mr. Fenwick served a variety of A.M.E. congregations, all in Illinois. Among the cities served were Elgin (1889), Batavia (1890), Alton (1892), Lincoln (1893) and Mound City (1894). During 1890, while headquartered at Batavia, he was among the top finishers in a field of "Great Popular Preachers" in a competition conducted among subscribers to The Appeal, a widely circulated black-readership newspaper based in St. Paul-Minneapolis.

At some point during the mid-1890s, however, Fenwick decided upon a career modification --- he enrolled and graduated from Barnes Medical College, established during 1892 in St. Louis. There are some indications that he had begun to study medicine about 10 years earlier at the Keokuk Medical College in Iowa, then had given that profession up to pursue the ministry. 

After earning his degree in St. Louis, Fenwick relocated to Chicago to both practice medicine and preach, serving metropolitan congregations in various capacities through 1900.

During 1902, Fenwick received a call to serve the congregation of St. Mark A.M.E. Church in Milwaukee, the oldest and largest of that city's black churches. He put his medical practice in Chicago on hold and moved there with his wife, Nettie.

And it was here that his rather obvious "secret" was exposed during October of 1903 --- in open court of all places.

The case involved one of Fenwick's parishioners, J.W. Bess, accused of burglarizing his pastor's home. During the trial, Bess's defense attorney, for one reason another, asked Fenwick flat out, "Are you a white man?"

Fenwick first responded, "I am a gentleman," but was directed by the judge to be more specific. According to a Milwaukee newspaper report, "The witness held forth the palms of his hands so that the court and the officers of the court could see them, and replied: 'I am a white man.' "

Although it seems curious now, more than a century down the road, this was a huge news story in Milwaukee that was picked up and republished nationwide. Here's how The Minneapolis-St. Paul Appeal presented the story to its predominantly black readership in its edition of Oct. 17:

Pastor of Afro-American Church Turned Out to be a Caucasian

Milwaukee, Oct. 12 --- Pastor Fenwick of the African M.E. church has been found to be a white man, and accordingly some of the brethren are drawing the color line tonight and trying to replace him by an Afro-American. The story came out during the trial of J.W. Bess, a member of the church, who was charged by Pastor Fenwick with robbing his residence. The preacher, being asked about his color, replied, "I am a gentleman," but later admitted his Caucasian descent. Mr. Fenwick says he never claimed to be anything but a white man, in spite of the fact that he passed as an Afro-American. He joined the church at Keokuk, Iowa, in 1884, being drawn to the work through a desire to help the Afro-American people. At that time he claims to have had a lucrative practice as a physician and displayed his diplomas. He does not intend to give up his charge, and says the "little group of malcontents" will have a lively time in driving him out.


All of the attention devoted to the Rev. Mr. Fenwick's story during 1903 seems a little odd now --- until you think about more recent cases that involved crossing the American color line. The Fenwick story returned briefly to public attention in Milwaukee and elsewhere during 2015, for example, after extensive reporting on Rachel Dolezal, civil rights activist, black studies instructor and chair of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP --- until it was revealed that she had lied about her African American heritage and was, in fact, "white."

There's little doubt that Fenwick's parishioners and others were entirely aware of his skin color, but they also were aware in those race-conscious times that nothing more than an African-American great-grandfather was sufficient cause to declare someone black. There was even a word for it --- octoroon. On the other hand, a white great-grandfather was insufficient to earn someone whose racial makeup was otherwise black the designation "white."

In the aftermath of the 1903 revelations, some former parishioners said they had just assumed the Rev. Mr. Fenwick was an octoroon. Others noted his "Ethiopian" features.

Many years earlier in Lucas County, S.S. King had noted Fenwick's complexion. When scratching around for insulting words to throw at the preacher, King came up with "cross between an Albino and Ourang Otang." With the latter, King was aiming for orangutan --- a species that has reddish-brown hair.

I've been able to find only one physical description of the Rev. Mr. Fenwick, published in The Appeal during 1894 as part of a report on the preacher's wedding that year to Nettie Jones in East St. Louis: "The bride is of a light complexion and the groom, with entirely white skin, sandy hair and moustache bears little resemblance to an Afro-American."


The preacher's revelation that he had no physical African-American credentials did divide the St. Mark congregation in Milwaukee, so during 1904, Fenwick resigned and returned to Chicago, picked up the threads of his medical practice and lived and practiced there for the remainder of his life.

He did remain active in the A.M.E. Church, however, serving it in a variety of capacities. He was last recorded in the 1930 census of Chicago, living in a predominantly black neighborhood, boarding in the home of another A.M.E. preacher.


Louis was, as it turns out, a southern Iowa boy. When he died at the age of 72 in Chicago on April 6, 1931, his death certificate stated that he had been born on Aug. 29, 1858, in Gentry County, northwest Missouri.

But by 1870, his parents --- James E. and Mary (Sutherland) Fenwick --- had divorced and Mary was living in Oskaloosa with her eight children, all save Louis born in Iowa. They were John A., James E., Thomas, Nancy A., Louis M., Cyrus R., Samantha and Jonathan H. During 1880, Louis still was living at home in Oskaloosa at the age of 21, occupation given as "works in brick yard."

Soon thereafter, he must have relocated to Keokuk. According to 1903 reports, he joined an A.M.E. church in Keokuk during 1884 (or 1881, depending upon which report you read), was ordained an A.M.E. deacon during the 1886 general convention in Cedar Rapids; and an elder, during the 1888 general convention in Oskaloosa --- while he was serving his Chariton congregation.

While Louis was following his calling in the A.M.E. Church, his brother, Thomas, was following a similar career path in the Free Methodist denomination.

The last newspaper account that I could find linking the Rev. Mr. Fenwick to Iowa appeared in The Cedar Rapids Gazette of Aug. 8, 1919, under the headline, "Methodists Hold Camp Meeting Near Marion."

The Free Methodist camp meeting opens this evening in Greer's Grove, south of the city. The meeting is in charge of the Marion pastor, the Rev. T.M. Fenwick, assisted by his brother, the Rev. L.M. Fenwick, of Chicago, and his son, the Rev. David L. Fenwick, of Morris, Ill., who will be here during the meetings.

Louis was married perhaps four times --- indications are that he was something of a serial monogamist. But so far as I can tell, there were no children. And the fact he left no one behind to tell his story may explain some of its apparent mysteries.


After the Rev. Mr. Fenwick's story resurfaced most recently, during 2015, a good deal of analysis ensued. What sort of metal glitch would make someone want to pass for black?

There really is no indication in the few public records I've been able to find, including census records, that he ever lied about his race. On the other hand, surely he must have developed some sort of backstory during all those years he worked among and served A.M.E. congregations.

But Christians are great ones for attributing their activities to a "calling." Louis described his during 1903 as "a desire to help the Afro-American people." And there's really no reason to doubt him.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Join us for tours, food & music Thursday evening!

The Rev. Mr. Fenwick fails to turn the other cheek

This continues a brief series of posts begun Tuesday with "The Rev. Mr. Fenwick confronts S.S. King's racist screeds."

The Rev. Louis M. Fenwick was, during 1888, the pastor of Chariton's African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) congregation, acting under appointment from the Iowa Conference of the A.M.E. Church to serve primarily black residents of its Chariton, Osceola and Bedford Circuit. Fenwick apparently lived in Osceola, a central location, and thus like many other preachers of the time was a circuit-rider.

During late winter, 1888, Fenwick had baptized and welcomed into membership in Chariton two residents of the white community, thus attracting the attention --- and spleen --- of Samuel S. King, editor of The Chariton Democrat, owned and published by Smith H. Mallory, Lucas County's major mover and shaker of that time.

Two stories penned by King and  loaded with racist scorn, published in The Democrat of March 8 and April 12, followed. 

On May 3, the editor of The Chariton Herald opened the top position on his local news page to the Rev. Mr. Fenwick for the following rebuttal, published under the headline "A Cutting Rebuke Administered by the Pastor of the Colored Church."

Editor Herald --- For the benefit of all concerned please allow me sufficient space to briefly respond to the brutal attack made by Mr. Mallory's Democrat upon the colored Society in Chariton, which came under my observation. In his issue of March 8th, Mr. Mallory's editor made a very dastardly thrust at us, but not being satisfied with that, he struck a second blow in his issue of April 12th.

In his first article he says we are a set of "gibbering idiots" and thereby shows the malignant spirit which prompted him. We are as far from the asylum as is Mr. Mallory or his employee. In the second article he calls us "niggers."

We would ask the would-be gentleman to explain to us what a nigger is. We never saw one unless he is one, and we are led to believe that he is as niggardly a man as Chariton affords, or he would not try by slanderous insinuations to injure a helpless people.

Mr. Mallory, the abusive slurs upon our people, in your Democrat, alre unmanly, sir! It would take the magic pen of DeQuincy to write the history of such an unruly dispositioned and unchristian man.

I repudiate with scorn, sir, the implication made in your last article, viz., that the church has precipitated the separation of Mr. Isaac Irwin from his family. We have the same right to receive white people into our church that the whites have to receive our people into their church. I have noticed with keen interest that nearly every one that has alluded to the subject in public has shot as far wide of the truth in the matter as the East is from the West.

Our church, which is the vanguard of our advancement, must be located wherever we find our people, and our church at Chariton , like other places, is where the atmosphere is poisonous with the noxious sentiments of negrophobia. Isolated as it is at Chariton it has a severe fight to continue its advance in refinement already begun. She sometimes is made to bleed under the barbed arrows of ignorance and prejudice that are constantly fired at her. Our people must have at least one impregnable citadel of gentility, one refuge where we can be safe from the carpings of ignorance, the brutal sneers of ruffianism and the villainous denunciations of black-guards.

It is painful to even common self-respect, to see a man holding the position of an editor wilfully prostitute his calling to such a low plane of degredation, as to fling vile epithets against a feeble church, struggling in its proverty to accomplish what little good it can in the world. The Democrat's tirade sounds more like the ranting of a maniac than the studied sentiment of a person possessing a sound mind. We have been made to suffer an unblushing wrong by the pen of this Democratic cur that barks for Mr. Mallory, but in the future we shall endeavor to follow the example of the man kicked by the jackass --- consider the source. (signed) L.M. Fenwick


As you might expect, Mr. King felt compelled to respond --- and did so in The Democrat of May 10. But the response was brief, buried at the bottom of Page 2 and loaded with almost incomprehensible sputtering, as follows:

The Boodle editor of the Blackmailer has so nearly exhausted his stock of Billingsgate and blackguardism that he got a new hand to shovel in a few cart loads last week. An Osceola nondescript named Fling Wing, or Gin Sling, or Fen Wick, or --- no matter about the name ---- you know who we mean --- that rain-bow-legged fellow, the cross between an Albino and Ourang Otang that preaches to the colored people. From the Boodler's standpoint he really improved the Blackmailer, because its improvement consists in the greatest amount of filth in the smallest possible space. Fling Wing says the Democrat has attacked the Colored church. Why no, Gin Sling, it is only you we have a supreme contempt for. Ta-ta, Fling Ling.

Charming fellow, that Mr. King. 

After this, the waters calmed and the Rev. Mr. Fenwick did, indeed, turn the other cheek and consider the jackass source thereafter.


The Rev. Mr. Fenwick continued to serve his Chariton and other south-of-Iowa parishioners until 1889, when he was reassigned after two years to another A.M.E. Iowa Conference circuit, where he continued to flourish. Chariton's A.M.E. congregation continued to flourish, too --- until the black population thinned as younger people moved elsewhere in search of opportunity.

I'll have one more post devoted to Fenwick. The preacher had a major secret that really wasn't a secret at all, but it attracted nationwide attention some 20 years after he left Chariton behind. More about that next time.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Rev. Mr. Fenwick confronts S.S. King's racist screed

Smith H. Mallory
Back in 1887, a young and charismatic preacher named Louis M. Fenwick was appointed to serve Chariton's struggling African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) congregation. 

The congregation was very poor and had developed some years earlier among a growing number of black people, largely Virginians and Missourians, who had settled in Chariton after being brought unsuspectingly to Lucas County by the Whitebreast Coal & Mining Co. to break strikes by white miners at Cleveland, some five miles to the west.

Fenwick had been named by the Iowa Conference of the A.M.E. Church to serve the Chariton, Osceola and Bedford Circuit, which meant he also preached and tended to parishioners in those cities and other places in between, including Cleveland.

His efforts in Chariton were very successful --- the congregation grew and among other achievements, Fenwick launched a fund-raising drive among white congregations across the county which responded generously and helped him raise the necessary funds to build Chariton's first A.M.E. church building --- on West Court Avenue, where Carpenters Hall currently is located.


The Rev. Mr. Fenwick's success brought him into direct conflict, however, with Samuel S. King, a young man native to England and protege of Smith H. Mallory (above at left) --- then Chariton's major mover and shaker --- who was editor of The Chariton Democrat, which Mallory had purchased during 1885.

Mr. King was, according to a later editor of the Herald-Patriot who noted his death during 1924 in Eatonville, Washington, "a man of considerable ability and a good scholar but detracted from his usefulness and influence by his erratic disposition." He also was a racist, responsible for some of the most extremist screeds ever published in Lucas County, surpassing those even of copperhead John V. Faith, who had founded the first Democrat back in 1867.


During late winter of 1887, as the A.M.E. congregation grew, it attracted the attention of Mrs. Isaac Irwin, who was white, and her daughter --- who were duly baptized there, and joined. That outraged both the husband and father --- and S.S. King, who published the following in his Democrat of March 8 under the headline "Poor Ike's Trouble":

"Hold on there till I give you some news," rang out the clarion notes of Mr. Isaac Irwin and smote our gentle ear. 

We paused. "I've got some startlin' news," continued Isaac. "I joined the other day down here at the Methodist; wanted the old woman to join with me. She wouldn't do it, and now her and the girl have both joined the blankety blank nigger church and been baptized. It's goin' to raise ---- in our family if I am a Christian. I'll never go to heaven under heaven if I got to go there through a nigger church and don't you forget it."

And then Ike gave expression to some forcible language that would cause one not conversant with the facts to doubt the genuineness of his conversion.

But Isaac, this is the natural results of these high-protective, prohibition, woman-suffrage republican doctrines. Under their teachings, a woman thinks she has a right to stray off from the fold where her husband worships and "join a nigger church," if she wants to. She's bound to show her independence in spiritual as well as temporal things. These pernicious political teachings, under which your family has lived, have brought about all this trouble, Isaac. If these teachings are not checked, in a few short years your wife will have the right to come and snatch you away from your worship at the Methodist altar and plant you down in the midst of a lot of gibbering idiots and compel you to lead the services of the nigger church. The corrupting tendencies of the times must be checked, Isaac, or the liberties we fought and bled for will be lost.

Such reckless severance of the family ties as this, Isaac, would have been impossible under the good old democratic dispensation. Society would have frowned in down. But now they pile up blasted hopes, ruined homes and broken hearth-stones on our crushed hearts and we have no redress. Stick to the Methodist Church and the democratic party, Isaac, and a time may come again when it will be unpopular for white women to join "nigger" churches, contrary to the wish of their husbands.

A month later, in his edition of of April 12, Mr. King followed up with this paragraph in The Democrat:

Poor Ike Irvin's troubles increase, and will probably go on and on forever. His family disagreement was on religious matters. Ike had joined the Methodist Church and his wife and daughter the "Nigger Church." Unpleasantness ensued and a separation has resulted. Ike has "shucked" himself of all responsibility and declares the "niggers" must support his family, as he will do so no longer. It is a shame that an old soldier who fought for the flag should be treated thus. But it is the natural result of republican teachings."


A couple of things to keep in mind here.

Three weekly newspapers were published in Chariton at this time. The Patriot and The Herald were aligned with the Republican party, then the more liberal party on racial matters. The editors of neither engaged in race-baiting nor threw the "n" word around in their columns.

Smith Mallory, like S.S. King a staunch --- although considerably more refined --- Democrat, had propped The Democrat up by purchasing it in 1885 in large part to further his own political aspirations. In other words, Mr. Mallory subsidised Mr. King and was content, it seems likely, to have him express sentiments publicly in a manner he would never consider himself.

Whatever the case, Chariton's black community at this time had an eloquent spokesman in the Rev. Mr. Fenwick. He was outraged by King's editorial liberties and, after The Herald opened its editorial columns to him, responded with a blistering rebuttal to both Mr. King and Mr. Mallory. I'll tell you more about that --- and a little more about the surprising Rev. Mr. Fenwick --- tomorrow.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Cyrus Miller family comes home to stay

The after-lunch pass-off in Hy-Vee's parking lot just before Memorial Day may have looked a little peculiar to passersby --- me scurrying away with two big towel-wrapped packages under my arms. But I'm happy to report that as a result, this lovely ca. 1890 portrait of my great-grandparents, Joseph Cyrus and Mary Elizabeth (Clair) Miller and most of their children, now has been added to the Lucas County Historical Society collection.

My Cedar Rapids cousins Esther Belle Miller Steinbach, as donor, and her daughter, Kathy Steinbach Shelton, as courier, are responsible. Kathy drove the portrait --- as well as one of her Brennaman great-grandparents --- down for delivery during the annual grave-decorating marathon. Cyrus and Mary were Ester Belle's grandparents; great-grandparents to Kathy and I.

The whole family is here save Great-uncle Jeremiah Miller, who wasn't born yet, and another son who died in infancy. Cyrus is seated in the center with Mary at his right. The daughters standing are (from left) Cynthia (Abrahamson), Dora Emma (Taylor), Elizabeth Mary (Mason) and Adda (Dachenbach). My grandfather, William Ambrose Miller, is seated at the right. Mary Elizabeth is holding daughter Easter (Brennaman), born Easter Sunday (6 April) 1890. James Clair Miller --- Esther Belle's father --- is at his father's knee. Jeremiah was born later, on 30 April 1892.

Years down the road, Uncle Clair married Vesta Brennaman and Aunt Vesta's brother, Frank, married Easter Miller. So descendants of those two siblings are double cousins.

Obviously the Millers, old and young, were wearing their Sunday-go-to-meeting best when the portrait was taken. I've always found it interesting that Dora Emma and Elizabeth, who obviously treasured their necklaces, were wearing them, too, when this photo of scholars at Sunnyside School (located at the "T" due east of what later became Williamson) was taken during December of 1889. You can see, when you locate him, that my grandfather was wearing the same suit and tie.

The teacher, seated in the foreground here, is R. J. Woody.

Seated in the front row are (from left) Dora Emma Miller, Maude Brown, Anna Lawson, Louella Brown, Myra McDowell, Adda Miller, Otis Brown, Frank Patterson, Jimmie Brown, Chas. McDowell, Arthur Bungar and Lawrence Avitt.

The older boys standing at the back are (from left) James Brown, John Williamson, Patres Johnson, Charles Savage, Harry Miller (a great-great-uncle of mine), Dick Foster, Patres Lawson (or Edgerton, Granddad wasn't sure) and Dave Johnson.

Standing in the middle are (from left) Gaybrella Webb, Elizabeth Mary Miller, Cora Carson, Ida Patterson, Samantha Foster, Cora Patterson, Cora McDowell, Cora Williamson, Mattie Savage, Willie Miller (my grandfather), Willie McDowell, Laura Miller (Shockley; she had been adopted by Jeremiah and Elizabeth Miller), Harry Edson, Lena Foulks, Harvey Savage, Effie Avitt and Harry Foster. There's a glitch in the identifications in this row. Granddad neglected to identify one of the boys standing to his left, and I don't know which one, so the sequence may not be right.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The big bang theory

History comes in many forms and this tent, erected late last week in the Hy-Vee parking lot along West Court Avenue in Chariton, certainly is one. For the first time in exactly 80 years, Iowans this year can legally purchase and explode fireworks in their back yards and elsewhere on private property to annoy neighbors, cats and dogs and most likely a combat veteran or two who suffers from PTSD and finds big bangs less than inspiring.

Those of us who live in the south of Iowa, where it's always been a quick trip to vendor stands just across the border in Missouri, probably won't notice much difference --- unless we're among those who enjoy blowing things up; for you guys, providing you're at least 18, added convenience.

The office of the State Fire Marshal maintains a running list of all licensed to sell during the two seasons approved this year by the Iowa Legislature --- June 1-July 8 and Dec. 10-Jan. 3. This TNT tent is one of 57 temporary sites across the state for the Florence, Alabama, firm that advertises itself as the world's biggest distributor of recreational explosives. ShopKo has a license, too, but I suspect the product line there is limited to the display of TNT sparklers I noticed whilst on an exploratory expedition Saturday afternoon.

The only worrying thing about the Hy-Vee tent was a gas can next to the generator that seemed to be powering the operation. Hopefully, those in charge moved it to some place more secure overnight. And I got to wondering, too, if someone has to sleep in that big tent to prevent night-time mischief.

I'm also fascinated by the idea of a military discount and thought momentarily --- since I always carry dog tags on my key chain --- of inquiring if that applied to veterans, too. But it just didn't seem worthwhile to ask. It's now legal to set off your own on private property (not public venues!) between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. through July 8. So I'm sure we'll all have plenty of opportunities to participate vicariously in the explosive adventures of others.


The Iowa Legislature outlawed fireworks sales during 1937, effective in 1938, in large part because of two major disasters in the state during preceding years.

On June 27, 1931, a boy dropped a sparkler into a retail fireworks display at Spencer, setting off a fire that destroyed 25 businesses and damaged 50 others in a two-and-a-half-block area.

On July 4, 1936, a girl dropped a sparkler onto a pile of gasoline-soaked rags and started a conflagration that destroyed 18 business buildings and 15 homes in Remsen.


Kindly remember that fireworks are dangerous. In Lucas County, this also is the 50th anniversary of a dramatic accident on June 26, 1967, that sent five young men to hospitals.

The five were driving along U.S. 34 east of town, reportedly lighting firecrackers and throwing them out car windows, when a box of explosives on the front seat caught fire and exploded. These most likely had been purchased in Missouri.

All five survived, but one of the young men lost an eye.

As a community, Chariton will be celebrating this year on Monday and Tuesday, July 3-4. The big parade is scheduled for 1 p.m. on the 4th and the grand fireworks display --- for those of us who prefer not to smoke our own and of course for everyone else --- at 10 p.m. at Northwest Park.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

At the heart of Chariton's cemetery

July 5, among other things, will be the 87th anniversary of the "Baby Heart" located on a gentle slope just south of the Chariton Cemetery shelter house --- the subject of frequent questions for those of us who volunteer to greet visitors there over the Memorial Day weekend.

On that date in 1930, little Carl Theodore Belkey, age 4, who had died at home in Chariton on July 3, was buried here, the first of approximately 200 youngsters laid to rest in the years that have followed in a section of the cemetery set aside specifically for them.

Carl's parents were Carl M. Belkey, a coal miner, and his wife, Fern, both of whom were buried years later elsewhere in the cemetery. At the time, however, they didn't own a cemetery lot and had little money, so this brand new cemetery feature must have been welcomed by them. For a fee of $20, the cemetery provided a burial spot, a tombstone and the assurance of perpetual care.

By 1954, sufficient burials had been made to complete the outline of the heart and burials began in concentric circles inside the heart and in rows to the east. The most recent burial in this section occurred during 2014.


The Baby Heart was among the many ideas of Ray F. Wyrick, Des Moines-based landscape architect and cemetery designer, who worked with the Chariton Cemetery Board for more than 40 years to improve and beautify the cemetery.

It was part of an overall design developed by Wyrick after 1924, when the city of Chariton purchased the cemetery from Gertrude Stanton, widow of Dr. John H. Stanton, for $10,000. Although Dr. Stanton's father, Dr. John E. Stanton, had taken great pride in the cemetery and maintained it meticulously, it had fallen into a state of considerable disarray during the years following his 1908 death, the principal reason why the city forced the purchase.

Among other issues, the Stantons had not set aside an endowment fund to ensure perpetual maintenance, so the city's newly acquired cemetery was broke --- one reason why it took 10 years to establish the park-like setting we appreciate today.

By 1930, the baby heart had been platted and was ready for use,  as reported as part of a longer story published in The Chariton Leader of May 13, 1930.

"One of the recent plans adopted for the Chariton cemetery is the laying out of a plot on which will be buried babies only. This plot is laid out in heart-shape and has room for one hundred graves around the outside edge. Inside the grave area will be a park way and an entrance to the heart-shaped space will be at the lower point of the heart. There two stone markers will be placed. As each grave is opened a uniform marker will head the grave. At the upper part of the heart will be a monument, a mother holding a babe in arms, in the center and on each corner of the base a child. Many times a child is laid to rest in the cemetery where the parents have no lot. This plot of ground will accommodate these in that circumstance and at a moderate cost of perhaps no more than twenty dollars. When the plot is completed it will be surrounded with a baby rambler hedge and will be one of the beauty spots in the cemetery."

In reality, there was not room around the perimeter of the heart for 100 graves --- about 60 instead --- and not all of these plans were carried forward. The current monument at the center of the heart is a considerably later addition, although the angel may have been brought  from a previous version.

This aerial shot, courtesy of Google Map, shows the outline of the heart clearly --- as well as other graves in the section.


One grave in the heart is out of sequence with the others. It belongs to an infant son of David and Mary Wormley, who died on Oct. 8, 1881. The Wormleys arrived in Chariton during 1875 to take over hotel and food service operations at the new C.B.&Q. Depot Hotel. Eventually, they moved on to the Pacific Northwest, leaving their child alone on a large lot in the cemetery.

During 1933, arrangements were made with undertaker Sam Beardsley to relocate the infant's grave to the new baby heart, a task accomplished on Aug. 29, and the Wormley lot was sold.


The children buried here are by no means forgotten. This is perhaps the most frequently visited section of the cemetery as Memorial Day approaches. And one extended family drives in every year from elsewhere to ensure that each child not remembered by someone else has a flower.

The cemetery itself, established during 1864 by a privately held corporation and owned by the city since 1924, is recognized as the Chariton Cemetery Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Latin, life and the imcomparible Miss Guernsey

I noticed yesterday that several of us were affirming ourselves by taking an online quiz --- identify the meaning of 10 Latin phrases or words and you're a genius!

Well, hardly that. But for some us who grew up in Lucas County, the quiz brought back memories of a distinguished educator with the superlative name Hortense Guernsey, who taught Latin, world history and Spanish at Chariton High School for four decades.

I was reminded, too, of my friend the late Helen Brown, who established a similar record in the Forest City school system.

Both women began their careers at a time when some knowledge of Latin was considered essential for an educated person and both loved the language, developing innovative strategies to make its study relevant, interesting and entertaining for their students.


Daughter of Ira Guernsey, an educator and school administrator himself, Miss Guernsey was born during 1898, was a 1915 graduate of Chariton High School, received her undergraduate degree from Grinnell College and commenced teaching in Chariton during 1920. She retired in 1960 and after nearly three decades more of community involvement as a "civilian"  died during 1986 at the age of 87. 

Rather late in life, just after retirement, she married the widower Ralph Becker and so exited life's stage as Hortense Guernsey Becker.

Miss Guernsey seems to have had the ability to inspire a majority of her students while endearing herself to those for whom inspiration was not possible. In other words, I've never heard an unkind word spoken about her.


I sometimes tell people that I grew up with Hortense Guernsey, but that's stretching the truth a little. I'm a Russell High School graduate and just slightly too young to have been a student of Miss Guernsey's had I been enrolled in the Chariton district.

But both of my parents, who graduated from Chariton High School during the 1930s, were students of Miss Guernsey who remembered her fondly and spoke occasionally of her.

My dad paid Miss Guernsey a farmer's tribute. When presented by one of his dairy cattle with a lovely golden Guernsey heifer calf --- he named her Hortense. She grew into a beautiful and gentle mainstay of the herd; and that's the Hortense Guernsey I grew up with.


John Baldridge, owner and publisher of the Chariton Newspapers for many years, recalled this anecdote regarding Miss Guernsey in a column written during June of 1981:

Hortense as a young teacher in Chariton in days when restrictions on teachers were severe, donned pants and walked around the square smoking a cigarette. She never smoked again, but had made her statement on rights of women decades before affirmative action.


And here's a little story from the front page of The Chariton Leader of Oct. 28, 1952, headlined "Arrested, Interpreted, Freed," that says as much about the somewhat insular nature of Lucas County as it does about the talents of Miss Guernsey:

A Mexican young man was happy that someone in Chariton spoke Spanish Monday.

It seems that a murder had been committed in Sioux City Saturday night and a man, appearing to be either an Indian or Mexican, wearing a sweater and light colored trousers was suspected.

A bulletin was put out on the police radio and Sunday evening a highway patrolman spotted a man answering to the description near Lucas.

He was brought to Chariton and he could not speak English. He was lodged as a county guest until Monday morning when he was taken to Miss Hortense Guernsey at the high school. She is the Spanish instructor in the local schools and he soon made known his identity and his mission in this part of the country. He was immediately freed and sent on his way --- rejoicing that Miss Guernsey could speak and understand Spanish.


And finally, here's another item from a John Baldridge column, this one published on April 4, 1985, and containing the transcript of an article from the Tucson (Arizona) Daily Star that had been given to him by both Patsy Hixenbaugh and Martin Biesemeyer.

The author of the Daily Star item was the late Quinto Leo "Mike" Della Betta, a 1945 Chariton High School graduate who, after World War II service, earned his degree in journalism from the University of Arizona and commenced a distinguished career with the Daily Star that would continue until retirement during 1992:

An excellent reader story --- one of feature interest rather than news value --- appeared in the Feb. 6 Star. The AP account told you that the mayors of  Rome and of modern Carthage, a suburb of Tunis, had finally signed a peace treaty ending the Punic Wars. The last battle between the two ancient powers was fought in 146 BC.

The story quoted the famous remark of Roman senator Marcus Porcius Cato, saying he ended every senate speech with "Delenda est Carthago" --- Carthage must be destroyed.

That line brought back memories of my high school Latin teacher, a tall, queenly woman with the magnificent name of Hortense Guernsey. She knew that I was planning to become a newspaperman, and she gave me an early lesson about quoting sources correctly. She instructed me that "Carthage must be destroyed," although the popular, ringing phrase, wasn't quite exact.

"If I run into you on the street 20 years from now," she would say, "I'll expect you to be able to quote Cato's full statement."

It's been much more than 20 years, but I do remember the full statement: "Ceterum censeo delenda est Carthago."

The "ceterum" is the same word you use when you say "et cetera," and it means something like "in addition." Censeo has roughly the force of "in my opinion." So Cato was actually uttering something like, "By the way, in my view, Carthage must be destroyed. " Not quite a battle cry.


So here's to Miss Guernsey (and Mrs. Brown). Una lingua numquam satis est. Disce quasi semper victurus, vive quasi cras mortiturus!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

July 4, 1919: Grand, glorious (and damp)

Although it's jumping the gun on Independence Day a little, I got to wondering how Chariton --- where the 4th of July generally has been a big deal --- celebrated during 1919. 

This is the centennial of U.S. involvement (April 6, 1917-Nov. 11, 1918) in World War I. Celebrations during the war years had been subdued.

But as the summer of peace, 1919, rolled along plans were developed for what organizers hoped would be the biggest celebration ever.

Here's the outline, as published in The Herald-Patriot of July 3, 1919:


Arrangements are complete and the stage is set for the biggest celebration of the 4th of July Chariton has ever witnessed. There is promise, too, that Chariton will entertain its biggest crowd tomorrow, a crowd that will fill the streets and public park and which will go home satiated with all the entertainment common to such celebrations.

Business men have taken charge of the affair and sufficient money has been collected to insure amusement for all. Good order will be maintained but the town will be turned over to jollification, noise and fun from early morn until late at night. People will come from afar to take part in the big gathering and there will be diversion for all.

A fund of $400 was subscribed among business men last Friday to be expended on roads leading into Chariton and these roads are now being put in good shape. Stores generally will close at 12 o'clock and those having trading to do on July 4th will be wise if they come early and make their purchases before the closing hour.

After 12 o'clock every Chariton man, woman and child is presumed to devote himself or herself to the joyful task of entertaining those who come from a distance. All roads will lead to Chariton tomorrow and these roads are expected to be well filled with vehicles carrying their occupants to the best place within a radius of fifty miles in which to spend the 4th.

It is fitting and proper that every community should either hold a celebration of its own in this year 1919 or should join with some neighboring town in commemorating the big day. It is also fitting and proper that the "boys" who have just returned to us should have a large share in the doings of the day, a fact which has been recognized by requesting that they appear in uniform and help in the parade and elsewhere.

There are hundreds of these returned world war veterans and they will wear the smile that won't come off rather than the twisted attempt to look cheerful which they wore upon their departure for the training camps. They will also be asked to register at the booth of the American Legion, the organization being formed all over the United States by men who went to war in order that humanity and freedom might be saved.

The new soldiers should take a very prominent part in this big celebration. Again the request is made that they appear in uniform.

A partial list of the attractions may be found today on page 3 (top) of this paper. They include the big 54th infantry band of twenty-five pieces, a martial band of fifteen pieces, a good baseball contest, target shooting, wrestling, free street shows throughout the day and evening, tug of war, foot races and other contests. A patriotic talk by Judge Sutton, of Omaha, old fashioned dances in the evening, singing and an elaborate display of fireworks in the evening.

No Lucas county citizen can afford to miss this big celebration. Every care should be put aside for 24 hours in order that the most pleasure may be extracted from the grand meeting here tomorrow. Let's go!


The good news is, the big parade on the 4th was a huge success, according to The Herald-Patriot of July 10. Several early afternoon events went off as planned and a wonderful time was being had by big crowds.

Then it began to rain, and it rained, then it rained some more. The deluge didn't let up until 7 p.m., then started again at 9 p.m.

Judge Sutton's patriotic address was cancelled. The games and music ceased. And fireworks were postponed indefinitely.

The heavy rains turned Lucas County roads into a sea of mud and many rural residents, or those who had arrived via the roads from other town and hadn't left for home as soon as the rain began, were stranded in town. Quite a few, according to the Herald Patriot, ended up either sleeping or sitting up all night in their cars.

And so it goes. Mother Nature didn't rain on Chariton's parade that day back in 1919, but she didn't spare the remainder of the celebration.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The sidewalks of old Mt. Ayr ...

Many thanks to Mt. Ayr City Clerk Pam Poore and others who very graciously showed Ray Meyer and I around that city's town square Monday afternoon!

We're part of an informal task force (that translates as having no authority whatsoever) that's been taking a look this spring and summer at how other nearby communities have solved the problem of deteriorating sidewalks downtown, a problem clearly evident in places around Chariton's square.

Neither of us had been to Mt. Ayr --- a city of about 1,700 souls that is the seat of Ringgold County --- for several years, so it was fun and informative to take a look the beautifully maintained heart of that community.

Mt. Ayr dates from 1875 and was named for Ayr, Scotland, poet Robert Burns' birthplace. "Mount" was tacked on because the Iowa version was located on the highest point in the immediate vicinity. If you're expecting actual mountains, however, you're in the wrong state.

We started at the southeast corner of the square where the fully restored and functional Princess Theater holds pride of place. This building was purchased and donated by a Ringgold County benefactor, the late entrepreneur Paul Ramsey, then restored and reopened (during 2008) as a community revitalization project.

It's a venue for movies, home to the Mt. Ayr regional theater group and available to the public for a variety of functions. Operated by a non-profit, the theater is self-sustaining, according to Pam, aided by an endowment that generates substantial annual income.

Right next door is a cafe with a distinctive canopy --- a 1950s Chevrolet Bel Air halved, lighted and mounted on the facade. Originally a cafe called, appropriately, "Peggy Sue's," the operation now is in other hands and has a different name, but the distinctive 1950s character of the place remains.

The sidewalks themselves were replaced incrementally, one side of the square after another, between 2009 and 2012. The city invested some $16,000 in bricks to create the "path" that breaks up the uniform concreteness of the sidewalks. That path also covers a trench that contains underground wiring for reproductions of vintage street lights that were installed as the new sidewalks went in.

According to Pam, the base charge for the new sidewalks to single-front building owners around the square was $660. The light fixtures themselves were purchased in large part by benefactors whose contributions are recognized by engraved plates on each.

A little farther west on the south side of the square is this vintage restored service station. It's not occupied by a business at the moment, but certainly carries forward the theme of that Chevy Bel Air a little farther to the east.

The Mt. Ayr Public Library is located on the southwest corner of the square. Chariton's 1904 Carnegie library is the grandmother of all "Chariton plan" public libraries scattered around the state --- and the Mt. Ayr library is one of this plan's smaller expressions.

Mt. Ayr's brick streets have never been paved over or replaced, so their continued presence adds atmosphere to the town square. Unfortunately, Ringgold's grand Victorian courthouse fell victim to faulty construction during the 1920s and was replaced by this four-square structure at the center of the central park that, along with the library, is having its brickwork repaired and tuckpointed this summer.

Big hanging baskets of flowers on light poles at regular intervals around the square do much to soften the effect of all that masonry --- they're planted and maintained by the staff of a local greenhouse, a project funded by the Mt. Ayr Chamber.

If you look down at the brick pathway around the square, you'll see set into it engraved double bricks commemorating all of Ringgold County's other towns and villages, some still with us, others merely ghosts. Lines drawn from the courthouse outward through these commemorative bricks point in the general direction of where these other communities are (or were) located in the county.

The Chamber offices are located in this beautifully restored small building on the west side, another  project of community benefactor Paul Ramsey.

I write yesterday about the Mt. Ayr Post Office and its wonderful New Deal-era painting, "The Corn Parade" by Orr C. Fisher, which holds pride of place on the northwest corner of the square.

This Chamber-sponsored sign, encouraging a walk or bike ride to city schools (rather than a drive), also caught my eye just off the northwest corner of the square.

Continuing east along the north side of the square, the distinctive building in the distance with a remarkable corner turret is the eye-catcher.

Back at City Hall, Pam shared lots of information about how Mt. Ayr went about the sidewalk segment of its downtown revitalization project --- and how much it cost. I'm sure we'll talk more about this at a future streetscape (or sidewalk, if you like) task force meeting.

These meetings are open to anyone and more active participants are needed. Just call Kris or Florence at Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street for more information.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Orr C. Fisher's superlative "The Corn Parade"

Ray Meyer and I made a quick trip to Mt. Ayr Monday afternoon to look at sidewalks --- a story for another day.

The sidewalks --- and other "streetscape" improvements made to the town square 2007-2012 --- are great, but no one should visit Mt. Ayr without a stop at the post office to view hometown artist Orr C. Fisher's magnificent 1941 painting,  The Corn Parade, which hangs high on the east wall of the Mt. Ayr Post Office.

Witty, colorful, beautifully executed --- this has to be one of the best pieces of public art in the south of Iowa.


The Corn Parade was one of two New Deal-era paintings by Fisher, both commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts for Iowa post offices. Often called WPA murals, Orr's painting is oil on canvas (his favorite medium), not a mural, and it isn't exactly WPA either.

The Section of Fine Arts was tasked with commissioning and/or acquiring --- when funding was available --- high quality art to decorate the nation's public buildings.

Fisher's other New Deal-era painting hangs in the Forest City Post Office --- and for a number of years in another life I looked at it almost daily when picking up the mail. It's a good work, but pales a little in comparison to his work in Mt. Ayr.

Both the Mt. Ayr and Forest city post office buildings were brand new in 1941. I believe he was paid $750 for the Mt. Ayr work --- and reportedly used the money to buy a new car.


Orr was born on a farm near Delphos, also in Ringgold County, during 1885, and he lived for art --- literally --- for nearly 90 years. After his moderately affluent parents retired from farming and built a new house in Mt. Ayr, he moved into town with them --- and although he worked, traveled and painted from one end of the United States to the other --- Ringgold County was his home base until after the 1944 death of his mother.

He attended Drake University and during his time there had the opportunity to work with cartoonist J.N. "Ding" Darling, but formal training came during two stints, one during 1913 and the other in 1921 at the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines as well as through correspondence courses in drawing, cartooning, design and illustration.

He worked for a time as a young man in Wyoming, driving a six-horse freight wagon between Rock Springs and Boulder, and also was employed by the Rock Island Railroad, headquartered at Allerton.

But wherever he lived and worked --- and that included both the east and west coasts --- he painted, joined artist associations and colonies, sold his works when he could, then painted more. He was extremely prolific although a majority of his works lack the distinctive nature of his Mt. Ayr and Forest City works.


During early 1974, when he was nearing 90, Orr thought often of returning home to Mt. Ayr from Fresno, California, where he was living at the time. If a suitable location could be found, he offered to donate all of the works then in his hands to Mt. Ayr and move back himself.

But before that idea could get off the ground, he became seriously ill and died in Fresno on Aug. 26 of that year.

Orr, who kept his private life private, neither married nor had children. Instead, his possessions were inherited by a niece, Donna Howard, who lived in Oregon. Upon her death during 2014, she willed some 75 of Orr's paintings and 200 or so drawings and cartoons --- and many other items --- to Iowa State University. 

Iowa State distributed some of the art to interested institutions in Iowa --- including the Mt. Ayr Public Library, Ringgold County Extension and Ringgold County museums --- but the bulk of the collection was sold to the public during October of 2015 as a fund-raiser to benefit care and conservation of the University's art collection.