Saturday, March 25, 2017

The sandhill crane cure ...

Feeling frayed this morning? Don't miss reporter Mike Killen's and photographer Zachary Boyden-Holmes' restorative piece in today's Des Moines Register headlined, "These dancing sandhill cranes perform one of the world's greatest migrations."

It's a tatty headline. One doesn't "perform" a migration, one merely migrates, then dances along the way if so inclined.

But it's a good story, great photos and a nice video.

Good news includes the fact that after a century of absence, sandhills have begun to establish small nesting populations here and there in Iowa, commencing in 1992, after 19th century populations of nesting humans drove them out by draining wetlands, using the giant birds for target practice, etc.

Once you've calmed down, I'd advise against reading the story headlined, "State agrees to help Medicaid companies shoulder huge losses."

Oh --- and turn the volume down. The audio on Register popup advertising video is really annoying.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Water towers,our state flag and sidewalks

Thanks to everyone who turned out over the noon hour yesterday to celebrate the 110th birthday of the 150,000-gallon water tower that towers over City Hall --- and indirectly the 110th anniversary of the Chariton Water Department. Chariton didn't have a formal water department back in 1907, but that was the year the first city-wide water distribution system was built and water began flowing through it.

You can read more about the history of the water tower and development of the water system by following this link. Thursday's gathering was sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission.

It was fun to visit with Water Department and city staff, as well as other guests, yesterday --- and talk a little about both history and the future.

As I think everyone in Chariton knows by now, our water supply source will shift in a couple of years from Lakes Ellis and Morris and the treatment plant east of town to Lake Rathbun and the Rathbun Rural Water Association. The association's giant treatment plant is just downstream from the big dam northwest of Centerville and it supplies much of southeast Iowa as well as considerable territory in northeast Missouri. So it won't be long before Chariton residents are drinking (thoroughly treated) Chariton River water.

The shift will relieve the city of the complexities of keeping an independent water treatment plant up to date and running to standard while dealing with the sometimes problematic condition of water from our two relatively shallow city-owned lakes.

I learned yesterday that Rathbun water is drawn for treatment at a lake depth of 50 feet and therefore is not subject to the variations present in shallower waters; that the new line bringing water into town will follow roughly the same path of the line that now transports water in from the Chariton treatment plant; and that the Rathbun Association plans to erect another of its rural towers as a result of bringing Chariton online.


Speaking of anniversaries, 2017 also could be considered the centennial year for Iowa's state flag, designed during 1917 by Knoxville's own Dixie Cornell Gebhardt (the flag was not officially adopted until 1921, however).

Several of us were in Knoxville Wednesday and I was delighted to find this display just inside the entrance of the city's municipal building created apparently from the remains of one of the billboards that used to welcome visitors to town and celebrate our neighbor to the north as the official home of the banner.

The flag came about because, going into World War I, Iowa didn't have an official banner, so the governor in that year asked for designs. Gebhardt, state Daughters of the American Revolution regent  and a charter member of Knoxville's Mary Marion Chapter, submitted the winner.

My favorite piece of Gebhardt trivia involves her name. Her father, a physician who may have been slightly eccentric, named his three daughters after his favorite trotting horses --- Iowa Belle, Jim Dick and Jackie. 

Dixie was blest with the name Jim Dick Cornell. You can see why she preferred "Dixie."


We were in Knoxville, led by Kris Patrick, director of Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street, and Joe Gaa, city manager, to learn more about that city's 3.2-million "streetscape" project, completed a couple of years ago and financed by local option sales tax revenue.

"Streetscape" is kind of a loaded term, since it implies cosmetics rather than substance, but in Knoxville's case the project was undertaken because the sanitary sewer infrastructure that serves the square was buried deep (up to 20 feet in some instances) under the streets of the square and was collapsing.

So one side of the square at a time, streets and sidewalks were torn up, the ground under them excavated and all new utilities, including sanitary sewers, storm sewers and water lines, installed. Then streets were rebuilt and repaved and new sidewalks, street lighting, signage, etc., installed.

Knoxville City Manager Aaron Adams (above) and staff members who had worked on the project and monitored the work of its contractors (below) led us step by step through the process, then guided a walking tour so that we could take a look at the beautifully done cosmetic finishing touches.

The principal concern in Chariton at the moment is the condition of the sidewalks around the square, but consideration of sidewalk replacement also involves thinking about what's buried underneath them and/or embedded in them, including street lighting and signage. Then it's necessary to think, too, about utilities buried under the streets and condition of the streets and curbing, too. 

So it gets very complicated. I would guess we'll hear more about this in the next few years, so be prepared for informational meetings --- and to provide input.

I was quite taken by the new storm sewer ports. Note the warning, "Dump no Waste. Drains to River." And the Marion County Courtouse, restored several years ago, certainly is among Iowa's most magnificent.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Alma Clay Building: A Bitter End

Structural engineer W.H. Hartupee, of Des Moines, had both good and bad news for the Chariton School Board during August of 1939, when he submitted his final report on the conditions of the district's older buildings.

Going into the evaluation process, the board knew that Garfield School --- in southeast Chariton --- was in poor condition and that an extensive rebuild would be necessary there soon. The high school was not a concern. It had been constructed "fireproof" --- just like the Hotel Charitone --- during 1923 of brick, tile, steel and steel-reinforced concrete. The only worry there was size --- student population was increasing rapidly.

There were, however, concerns about the district's oldest building, Columbus, built during 1878; Franklin, new during 1890; and Alma Clay, built during 1900 as the Bancroft building and renamed during 1928 to honor a beloved educator. You can read more about Alma Clay, the person, here; and about the evolution of the Alma Clay school building, here.


The good news involved Columbus and Franklin. Although by now virtual antiques, both of those older buildings were very sound structurally --- hardly deteriorated at all. The major repair needed, Hartupee reported, was at Columbus where a crack in the west facade needed to be stabilized and filled.

Alma Clay, however, was another matter, according to Hartupee. There, the vast wood-framed roof structure was beginning to spread, forcing the wood plate on which it rested to move slightly and applying downward and outward pressure on the building's exterior brick walls. The damage was not severe and Hartupee recommended that damaged portions of the roof structure be replaced and/or reinforced and that a more effective way be found to tie the roof structure together.

Foundation issues were the major concern. The foundations of the building had begun to subside unevenly on the south, west and north fronts as well as at the building's northeast corner and there were indications of less advanced subsidence on the east front. These issues had been noted earlier and tie rods inserted to hold the brick walls together.

The cause, the engineer concluded, was a combination of factors --- inadequate footings for the exterior walls and the fact that cast iron drain pipes from the roof directed water into the ground around the building but not far enough away from it. Inefficient drainage had caused the ground around the base of the school building to become super-saturated, he said, aggravating the subsidence issue.

Hartupee noted that in general Alma Clay was a fine building, but warned that "failure to correct existing structural defects will result in an unsafe building in the near future and lead eventually to abandonment." He encouraged the board to repair the roof, correct the drainage issue, then dig below footing level where subsidence was evident, use hydraulic jacks to raise the walls and build more substantial footings under them.


During 1940, the school board won bonding approval from district voters that authorized it to expend more than $40,000 on building repairs.

The bulk of this was spent at Garfield, built originally during 1881 but with a 1916 two-story four-classroom addition to the east that along with a new entrance masked the original building behind it. During 1940, virtually all that remained of the 1881 building was demolished and three new classrooms, subsidiary rooms and a "community room," or gymnasium, was constructed west of the 1916 addition.

At Alma Clay, drainage issues were resolved and the roof was repaired and reinforced, but other engineers advised another solution to the subsidence issue. Instead of repairing the foundations, a framework of steel posts and crossbeams was inserted into the structure to provide support and to lift the roof load off the exterior walls of the building.

By 1949, however, it became clear that issues had not been resolved as the old building continued to settle, creak and groan. As a result, a Chicago engineering firm was hired to use the latest technology and pump liquified concrete underneath the building.

Although the building now was pronounced structurally safe, difficulties continued to plague it now and then. There was considerable consternation during 1955, for example, when a tie rod snapped during school hours, setting off a weekend of rumors in Chariton that Alma Clay was on the verge of collapse. That turned out not to be the case, however.


Going into the 1960s, Chariton's older buildings came under increasing scrutiny from the state fire marshal, especially Alma Clay, filled from top to bottom with some 300 junior high school students. Both Columbus and Franklin were replaced during the early 1960s by the current Columbus and Van Allen schools, alleviating problems there. But Alma Clay continued in use.

Although the exterior masonry walls continued to give the building the appearance of great stability, the interior contained vast amounts of wood, now very dry after some 60 years; and the roof, although now topped by asphalt shingles, was entirely constructed of wood. In addition, the Alma Clay auditorium, used for all-school and other gatherings, was on the top floor.

The fire marshal became increasingly concerned that in case of fire it would not be possible to evacuate all of the students and staff safely.

Various measures were imposed. Smoke "sniffers" --- we call them smoke alarms now --- were ordered throughout the building and large gatherings in the auditorium were forbidden.

Finally, the fire marshal told the school board that a building-wide sprinkler system had to be installed in order for a use permit to be issued and that once the sprinkler system was in place, the district still would have to demonstrate that comprehensive planning was in progress to alleviate all of the old building's difficulties, structural and otherwise.


All of this came to a head during 1969, when a major building plan was placed before voters in the district. The $1.2-million project called for demolition of Alma Clay and construction on its site of a new junior high building, major additions to the high school building, already enlarged during 1951; and addition of an olympic-sized swimming pool to serve both the school and the community.

Although the proposal won a narrow majority during June of 1969, 917 votes to 905, a 60 percent majority was necessary and the bond issue failed.

Various factors were involved. By now, following consolidation, the district had attendance centers in both Lucas and Williamson where some voters, especially those who were not parents of students, were less inclined to support major construction in Chariton. The swimming pool seemed a bit much for many in conservative Lucas County. And there had been a small, but vocal, group who claimed that warnings about Alma Clay's condition were just "scare" tactics.

During March of 1970, however, the fire marshal returned and ordered that Alma Clay be closed. And as the school board scrambled to figure out what to do with 300 homeless junior high students, the board ordered that Alma Clay be demolished during the summer that followed. And that was the bitter end.

In would be 1983 before ground was broken for the Johnson Auditorium and Chariton Community Center, financed in large part through benevolence, on the old Alma Clay site; and more years still before voters would approve construction of the current junior high in north Chariton.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Alma Clay Building --- In the Beginning

I wrote yesterday about Miss Alma Clay (1872-1928), the beloved elementary-level educator and administrator after whom a grateful community and school board named the 1900 Alma Clay School building just a few days before her death. Previously known as the Bancroft building, it had housed Chariton High School until the current high school building was constructed just to the east during 1923.

But there had been a school since 1877 in the block bounded by North Main and North Grand streets, Osage and Orchard avenues, now filled entirely by the high school, various additions, Johnson Auditorium and the Chariton Community Center. 

Until 1877, the lots in the far southwest corner of the block had contained the orchard, garden and barn lot serving the simple frame house and outbuildings that had been home to Smith H., Annie and Jessie Mallory since that family had arrived in town 10 years earlier. Their home, fronting on North Grand, was located where the curve of the entrance drive, sign and giant flag pole now are.

But by 1877, Smith Mallory already had put together his 1,000-acre Brook Farm, stretching north from Chariton city limits, and had in hand plans for the mansion, Ilion (Mallory's Castle), that he would build there 1879-1880. So the family really had no long-term need for what was one of the most convenient locations in town at the time for a new school.


There were approximately 500 scholars enrolled in Chariton's public schools during 1877, nearly all of them housed in the giant brick building constructed during 1868 on the current site of Columbus School. It was bursting at the seams.

So during the summer of 1877, voters approved the sale of bonds to construct a second building and the Mallory orchard lots were purchased as its location. B.F. Roberts of Leon submitted the lowest bid for construction ---  $4,000 --- during August and construction began immediately. 

During late October, however, the unthinkable happened. The 1868 building caught fire and was gutted while firefighters and citizens stood helplessly by (after rescuing as many of the contents as possible) and watched it burn. There was no water to fight the fire and no adequate engine to pump water had there been any.

Although work on the new building was under way, brickwork was barely half done.

The school board responded to the crisis by renting every available public space in town, from the Presbyterian church basement to the Mallory opera hall, and moving salvaged equipment, teachers and students in.

Meanwhile, work progressed on the new building. The walls were up by mid-November and roofing was ready to start. What thereafter was known as North School opened its doors early in the new year, 1878, and some of the students moved in. By January of 1879, the new South School had been completed and students moved in there, too.

Although South School was larger, the two new schools looked quite a lot alike. I've found no decent image of the North School, but it was a two-story brick structure, four classrooms to a floor, with a soaring bell tower at it southeast corner topped by a mansard roof.


As the years passed, the need for additional classroom space continued to grow. A building known as East School was constructed in southeast Chariton during 1881 and another, called West School, was built in the northwest part of town during 1890.

During 1892, the school board decided that all of these buildings needed more imaginative names. South School became Columbus; East School, Garfield; West School, Franklin; and North School, Bancroft, named in honor of a now-obscure historian named George Bancroft, much admired by the superintendent of the day.

Time marched on, and Columbus, Garfield and Franklin proved to have been good investments, solidly built and durable.

That was not the case at Bancroft however, where structural issues had become clearly evident by the time it received a new name. By 1899, it had so many structural issues that both parents and school officials were worried about the safety of the scholars who studied there.

During March of 1900, voters approved 232-37 the sale of bonds to finance a new school and the old Bancroft was demolished during June. Additional lots had been purchased north of original school site, so its replacement was pushed north, away from the corner of North Main and Osage, only partially on the footprint of the earlier building. 

The architect for the new school was Edward S. Stebbins of Minneapolis, brother-in-law of Frank Crocker, a school board member who is principally remembered now for bankrupting First National Bank during 1907 and dispatching himself with an overdose of morphine in the family's grand home, now Fielding Funeral Home.

The construction contract was awarded to Enslow, Johnson & Best of Chariton, who had submitted the low bid of $26,084. The plumbing and heating contract went to the Pond & Hasey Co. of Minneapolis after a low bid of $3,633.

The new school was ready to welcome students on Feb. 18, 1901, and on Feb. 21, The Chariton Democrat carried the following description of the building that now was Lucas County's educational pride and joy:

Chariton's magnificent new high school building has been completed and on Monday morning school opened there promptly on time. The new  building is thoroughly modern in appearance and appliances and is one of the handsomest and best buildings in this section of the state.

It is built on the site of the Old Bancroft building on North Main Street, which was condemned and torn down. The new building has been erected at a cost of about $35,500. It is 125x65 feet, two stories high, with a basement that may be used for school purposes. It is built of pressed brick and stone and contains twelve rooms.

The basement is now fitted up for a gymansium. The first floor contains six rooms; on the second landing is the superintendent's office; on the second floor is the assembly room, music room, two recitation rooms, two stage or dressing rooms, and a teachers' rest room. There are large hallways and cloakrooms throughout the building.

Mr. E. Stebbins of Minneapolis is the architect and as soon as he accepts the building it probably will be formally dedicated with appropriate ceremonies. The contractors were Johnson & Best and Stewart & Enslow of this city and the substantial building speaks volumes for their skilled workmanship.


Although officially still the Bancroft Building, few in Chariton probably thought of the district's newest and most impressive building as anything other than "the high school" during next 23 years.

But in 1923, a new state-of-the-art Chariton High School was built immediately to the east on lots that had been purchased and cleared of residential properties and elementary students were moved into the older building.

Three years later, during 1926, Alma Clay, a 33-year veteran teacher and administrator in the district, was stricken by cancer. Surgery brought temporary relief and she was able to teach and administer during 1926 and 1927.

But it became clear during 1928 that the cancer had returned and would prove fatal. As a result, the decision was made to discard the name "Bancroft" and rename the school building Alma Clay in her honor. The school board made the honor official during early September of 1928 so that when she died on the 26th of that month she was aware that the honor had been accorded.

And Alma Clay it remained until 1970 when the grand old building --- which had housed 300 junior high students during 1969-70 --- was condemned by the state fire marshal, who ordered it closed. It was demolished during the summer of that year. But that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Which Alma Clay do you mean?

Someone asked the other day, "What can you tell me about Alma Clay?" Which brought up the related question, "Which one?"

Alma Clay (left), 1872-1928, the beloved educator? Or Alma Clay School (1900-1970), the building named in her honor by a grateful community just days before her death?

Probably not Alma (Scovill) Clay, who may not have been aware that she shared a name with a Chariton school building when she and her husband, Charles, moved to Lucas County during the early 1960s after he accepted a teaching position at Russell Community School. They were natives of Marshall County, unrelated to the Lucas County Clays, but became valued residents during the more than 50 years they lived here --- until their recent deaths.

Alma Josephine Clay, the educator, was perhaps the most widely respected and universally loved educator that Chariton has produced.

She was born in Sweden on April 9, 1872, to Joseph S. and Anna Clay, and arrived in the United States, and Chariton, during 1881 with her mother and younger brother, Oscar, where they joined their husband and father, who had arrived a year earlier and found a job with the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad.

An 1889 graduate of Chariton High School, Alma taught three years in rural Lucas County schools before joining the Primary Department of the Chariton Public Schools, where she taught for 34 years, advancing to the position of principal.

During those years, she studied at both the University of Iowa and the Iowa Normal School (now University of Northern Iowa) as well as at Chautauqua, New York. She also was an active, dedicated member of the Swedish Lutheran Church, now First Lutheran.

Miss Clay became ill with cancer during 1926 and died two years later on Sept. 26, 1928, at the age of 56. Shortly before her death and at the urging of a grateful community that wanted Miss Clay to know of its esteem for her, the Chariton School board voted unanimously to rename as Alma Clay what had been known as Bancroft School since construction during 1900.

The building continued to serve under Miss Clay's name as elementary, junior high and high school until it was closed during the late 1960s and demolished during 1970. Johnson Auditorium and the Chariton Community Center currently stand on the old Alma Clay site.

More about the Alma Clay building, another time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wilson Carter and the 803rd Pioneer Infantry

The bigger photo here, from the Library of Congress collection, was taken on July 18, 1919, aboard the troop ship U.S.S. Philippine as she prepared to sail from Brest harbor in France to New York, carrying home to America members of the 803rd Pioneer Infantry Battalion.

Troops surround members of the battalion band and somewhere in that sea of faces may be that of Corporal Wilson Carter, then age 30.

Less than a year and a half later, the remains of this young man would be brought home by train from Detroit to rest on a pretty hilltop in the far northwest corner of the Chariton Cemetery. He had been  killed during late December, 1920, "when (the) revolver in his wife's hands discharged."

This relatively small area of the cemetery contains more sorrowful stories per square foot involving young men who survived war, then died tragically soon after, than any other I've found --- Wilson Carter, Daniel Coffelt and Artie Trissler, all buried within a few feet of each other. This is a little of Wilson's story; perhaps I'll tell the others another time.


Named Joseph Wilson Carter by his parents, Wilson was the eldest of 13 children of Charles W. and Annie (Kirby) Carter, born Feb. 25, 1888, in the old coal mining town of Cleveland in western Lucas County. His grandmother was Eliza Ann Carter, the matriarch of Chariton's black community. Charles and his brothers, along with their mother and sisters, had been brought west from Virginia during 1883 by the White Breast Mining Co. to work in the Cleveland mines. He had met and married Annie there.

By 1900, the mines at Cleveland had closed and the Carters, including Wilson, had moved into Chariton where Charles was working as a carpet cleaner during that year and as a laborer 10 years later. Their home was on West Court Avenue, in the area surrounding the African Methodist Episcopal Church that formed its heart.

After 1905, as a young man, Wilson left Chariton and moved to Detroit, where it was easier to find a meaningful and better-paying job.


It's not clear what young black men who felt called to enlist and serve their country during World War I expected, but what they found were strictly segregated armed forces. Black men were not considered fit combatants, although they were expected to serve in dangerous positions on the front lines anyway.

Wilson enlisted in Detroit and was assigned to the 803rd Pioneer Infantry, organized during July of 1918 at Camp Grant, Illinois. After a month of minimal training, the unit was moved overseas during September and assigned to the First Army, where the men served from October until November, 1918, when Armistice ended the war.

After several months of assisting in clean-up operations, the men of the 803rd boarded the U.S.S. Philippine at Brest during July of 1919, returned to the United States and were demobilized at Camp Grant.


I do not have access to Wilson's service record, but the fact that he had been promoted to corporal suggests that he was man of responsibility who could be trusted.

Nor do I know exactly what role his company played in the war, but veterans  of black units who told their stories later described tasks such as hauling ammunition, digging trenches, cutting barbed-wire entanglements, repairing roads and helping the French clean up devastated towns and villages once combat had ended.

Although subjected to the same German artillery and gas attacks as their white brethren, black troops were not trained to defend themselves. Although they were issued gas masks, in some instances they were not trained to use them.


Once the war ended, Wilson returned to Detroit and to his wife, Isabelle (Walker) Carter, whom he had married on Aug. 6, 1916.

The incident that claimed Wilson's life occurred on Dec. 29, 1920, and the following report, from the Herald-Patriot of Jan. 6, 1921, is based upon information provided by John Richmond, who accompanied his friend's remains home to Chariton from Detroit for burial. Well into the 1940s, the editors of Chariton newspapers felt obligated to identify black residents as "colored" when reporting upon their life passages:

Relatives and friends in Chariton were greatly shocked to learn of the tragic death of Mr. Wilson Carter (colored), son of Mrs. Annie Carter, of W. Court Ave., of this city, which occurred at his home in Detroit, Mich., about 2:40 o'clock on Wednesday morning, Dec. 29, 1920. As near as can be ascertained the particulars are as follows:

Mr. Carter and wife and a number of friends had been members of a theatre party the evening previous and after their return home Mr. and Mrs. Carter talked at some length and finally engaged in a scuffle. While they were talking, Mrs. Carter had picked up a revolver from her dresser and while they were scuffling it was accidentally discharged, the bullet striking Mr. Carter near the heart. Medical aid was summoned at once but he expired in about 40 mintues.

Isabelle Carter, according to Richmond, "was prostrated over the terrible affair and was taken to a hospital for treatment, later being removed to a detention hospital to await a hearing on a criminal charge."

I suspect, but cannot prove, that no charges were filed. 

Funeral services were held at the Crosby undertaken parlors in Detroit on the Friday after Wilson's death, then the remains were brought to Chariton by train where final rites were held at the Beardsley undertaking establishment on Monday afternoon. Chariton's newly formed American Legion unit provided graveside rites.

Here's Wilson's obituary as it appeared in The Herald-Patriot:

J.W. Carter was born at Cleveland, Lucas county, Iowa, on February 25, 1888, and died Dec. 29, 1920, aged 33 years, 2 months and 4 days. He leaves a father and mother, C.W. and Annie Carter, of this city; two sisters, Edith and Anna, of Kansas City, Mo., and five brothers, Oscar, Roland and Paul of this city, Otis Carter of Columbus, N. Mex., and Harley, of Chicago, all of whom were present at the funeral except Harley. Deceased was married in Detroit, Michigan, on August 6, 1916, to Miss Isabel Walker, of Youngstown, Ohio, who also survives him. He resided in Chariton until about 12 years ago, when he went to Detroit and that place has since been his home. he was a member of Rosewood Lodge, Knights of Pythias, and was past chancellor of the same. He was well liked by all who knew him and his death will be deplored by many friends. To the grief stricken ones the heartfelt sympathy of the community will be extended.


 Annie and Charles continued to live on West Court Avenue into the1920s, but at some point, Charles moved to Kansas City to find work and died there on Aug. 20, 1929. He is buried in Kansas City.

During March of 1930, Wilson's widow, Isabelle, applied for a military tombstone to mark her husband's grave in the Chariton Cemetery and had it shipped to his mother and brothers at 1221 West Court Avenue, Chariton, and they arranged to have it placed.

Annie, then nearly 68, died at her West Court Avenue home on Feb. 23, 1938, and was buried near Wilson and other children who died young on the family lot. Wilson's grave, however, is the only one on the lot that is marked.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Morning has broken ...

"Morning has broken," No. 8 in The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal), is one of those songs with origins frequently misunderstood, in large part because Cat Stevens (Ysuf Islam after 1977) popularized it for many.

But it was written about 1930 by Eleanor Farjeon, an English poet and children's author; set to a Gaelic tune that originated in the Scottish isles; and first published during 1931 in the second edition of "Songs of Praise," a hymnal developed by Anglicans for use in British schools.

Whatever the case, it's a lovely way to start a Sunday.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Just don't plan on sticking around ....

My early-morning reading included a story in this morning's Des Moines Register headlined "People say they're canceling their Iowa vacations because of Steve King's words."

King (left), who represents northwest Iowa's 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is widely known for saying bluntly what, I'm afraid, many Iowans (in his own district and elsewhere) think. In the latest instance, he expressed his support for Geert Wilders, a white supremicist far-right Dutch politician, adding "we can't restore our civilization with someone else's babies."

"Our" babies, in this instance, would of course be white and Christian. It's classic neo-fascist fare. David Duke, former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was delighted.

Iowa tourism types have been working since to reassure those who might be considering a recreational visit to the state, including participation in RAGBRAI.

Shawna Lode, manager of the Iowa Tourism Office, said staff members have been assuring potential tourists, particularly minorities, that Iowans were welcoming of all, according to The Register. "We’ll continue to say that Iowa is a welcoming place and we welcome all people."

"State officials this week offered many responses like this one on the Travel Iowa Twitter account: 'Iowans are diverse, progressive and tolerant. We welcome all people to experience our state,' " The Register story continued.

Well, that's certainly true of many Iowans --- but probably not the majority. Iowans are not especially diverse, we've lost our progressive edge as the population has aged and bright young things have moved away. Nor are many of us especially tolerant.

That doesn't mean that tourists of all varieties, with an adequate supply of cash, would not be tolerated. It's unlikely that people of color, varying sexual orientations or non-Christian (or no) religious traditions would face violence --- so long as they didn't "flaunt."

But I think it is safer to say, "welcome to Iowa," only so long as the caveat, "just don't plan on sticking around," is added.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Charger "all-time great" gives up his life ...

"One of Chariton High's all-time basketball greats" was how The Chariton Leader described this smiling young man, Lyle E. Mosbey, when it reported in its edition of March 21, 1944, that he was missing in action, age 23, presumably in the Pacific theater of operations.

About 50 young men from Lucas County gave up their lives during World War II, none more honorable than another, but some were more widely known. Lyle, because of his athletic record, was one of the latter.

Now, more than 70 years later, I doubt that the name --- or face --- is remembered by anyone. That's the way life works as time moves on, despite promises never to forget. And it would be a challenge to find any trace of Lyle in Chariton, although his parents did some years later erect a cenotaph to his honor in the Goshen Cemetery.

Lyle's parents, Carl and Lillie, who lived at 620 East Court, had learned of their son's status a few days earlier, on Saturday, March 18, when one of those telegrams, dreaded by the loved ones of all in service at the time, arrived at their home. They hadn't seen Lyle in two years and his most recent letter had arrived on Jan. 1.

Their younger son, U.S. Army PFC Laurel Mosbey, then stationed in Kansas, came home to be with his parents, but because of the uncertainty there was little to do. There's no indication that a memorial service ever was held.

Months later, the family learned that the U.S. Navy had declared Lyle missing in action as of Jan. 11, 1944, but that the date was guesswork. He was carried as missing until declared "presumed dead" on Jan. 11, 1946. His father, Carl, had died 9 days earlier at the age of 53.


Lyle was born on a farm near Chariton on April 20, 1920, and had moved into town with his parents during 1925. The family belonged to First Baptist Church and he was baptized there, age 10, on Jan. 25, 1931.

No individual statistics survive to tell us exactly why Lyle came to be considered an "all-time great" among the Chargers, but it is possible to recover details of the seasons he played by taking a look at  slim paper-bound Charitonian yearbooks of the depression and war years --- contrasting sharply with the lavish hard-bound editions of the 1920s.

Lyle hadn't played for the Chargers until the first semester of his junior year, 1936-37, when the season commenced in early December. The team started strong, with Lyle on the bench much of the time, but was severely handicapped at the end of the first semester, during late January, when three senior standouts --- Jay Dee Threlkeld, Harold Kendall and Vincent Mahoney --- graduated. 

The Chargers entered the second semester 3-1, tied for first place with Centerville in conference standings, but ended the season 7-7.

Of Lyle, the yearbook staff wrote, "Mosbey, our southpaw, was a forward with accurate passing ability as well as a shooting eye that loomed up after mid-year and earned him a berth with the regular 5."


His performance during 1936-37 had been sufficiently impressive to earn Lyle, as the 1937-38 season opened, pairing with Richard Shelton as co-captain. The Chargers went on then, with only four minor losses, to emerge as Southern Iowa Conference champions.

Of "South Paw Mose," the Charitonian staff wrote, "his shots fooled everyone, they even fooled him, because one or two didn't go in."

Lyle graduated that spring with the Class of 1938, and the yearbook staff worked very hard to find quotes from classical literature with which to characterize all the graduates. For Lyle, it was a bit of Antony's characterization of Brutus from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" --- "His life was gentle and the elements so mix'd in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world 'This was a man.' "

High School graduation was not, however, the end of Lyle's basketball career. He enrolled during the fall of 1938 at Chariton Junior College and continued to play, now for the Bluejays rather than the Chargers. His team won all eight 1938-39 Southern Iowa Conference junior college games, brought home the Southern Iowa Conference Championship trophy and was runner-up in state junior college championship tournaments.

Lyle did not return for a second junior college year, however, and went to work instead --- although he was reported as a member of a town basketball team during the winter of 1939-40.


During the fall of 1941, as war clouds darkened, Lyle enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an apprentice seaman and was inducted in Des Moines on Oct. 26 or 27. After basic training, he attended Electrical School in St. Louis and Submarine School at New London, Conn., emerging as a electrician's mate.

His final assignment --- as an electrician's mate 2nd class --- was to the USS Scorpion, a Gato-class submarine whose mission was to patrol  in the Pacific.

On Jan. 3, 1944, the Scorpion departed Midway Island after refueling and reprovisioning to patrol the East China Sea.

On Jan. 5, the Scorpion rendezvoused with the USS Herring to attempt transfer of an injured crewman, but the transfer was unsuccessful because of sea conditions.

The Scorpion was not seen again.

It is presumed that the submarine struck a Japanese mine and was lost with all hands on board.

In addition to his cenotaph in Goshen Cemetery, Lyle is commemorated on the Tablets of the Missing, Manila American Cemetery, in the Philippines.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

There will be Light ...

The musical interlude this morning is a San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus performance of "Light" --- from the 2008 rock musical "Next to Normal" (Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey), winner not only of three Tony awards but of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well.

Good listening in what seem many days to be darkening times.

The video is part of an explanatory package, viewable here, for the SFGMC's upcoming October "Lavender Pen Freedom Tour" of several southern "red" states, including Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.

You'll find the tour's back story onsite, too, but to summarize: SFGMC is the granddaddy of gay men's choruses, organized in San Francisco during the dark days following the 1978 assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. Similar choirs have spread in the years following to places as unlikely then as Des Moines, Iowa.

Originally, the chorus had planned a celebratory 40-year anniversary international tour, but shifted course after the divisive 2016 political campaign, figuring a little missionary work in U.S. "red" states might be more productive.

The choir won't be preaching, however, merely singing; and will be joined by members of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.

It's an interesting strategy, more positive than many adopted all along the political spectrum since November. And goodness knows, the mission field is wide open now that Christians, who once focused on winning souls, have for the most part shifted their attention to winning elections.