Friday, June 05, 2020

Freedom isn't free ...

Hashim K. Hashim/
Got to admit that "freedom isn't free," a statement true on various levels, isn't a favorite cliche. It's been too tangled up lately with images of the U.S. flag, various military-related themes and patriotic chest thumping.

But I've been thinking of those words this week in conjunction with images of protests and demonstrations, peaceful and otherwise, across the United States following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Including this one, taken in Des Moines by Hashim K. Hashim ( and part of an amazing series of photographs shared on the Facebook page of The Blazing Saddle, Des Moines' venerable East Village gay bar.

It seems odd to have to point out that the United States was founded on civic unrest that occasionally turned violent and destructive. And that it took a civil war to end the institutionalized slavery that was the keystone in the economic arch supporting the new republic.

Demonstrations peaceful and otherwise propelled the nation forward toward the civil rights legislation enacted a century after that war, when I was a kid; demonstrations in effect ended the Vietnam War; demonstrations and protests are in large part responsible for civil rights protections more recently extended to LGBTQ+ folks; and without demonstrations and protests, America's white, heterosexual majority was for the most part in no hurry to battle an earlier pandemic, HIV/AIDS, that took the lives of so many gay men of my generation and spread unseen through the population as a whole.

So I'm encouraged by the current round of protests and demonstrations, now stretching around the world, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color; by the mix of young faces involved; and by the protesters' unwillingness to be intimidated by the often absurd paramilitary response of  their disconcerted and previously complacent elders.

So here's to a new generation of trouble-makers, learning anew that freedom indeed is not free.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Nurse Ella Smith and Chariton's Mercy Hospital

You'll find no tombstone for Ella Smith, founder of Chariton's short-lived but pioneering Mercy Hospital, at Mount Calvary Cemetery, just south of Melrose, but she is buried here on the family lot near this big stone that marks the grave of her parents, James E. and Bridget (Mahoney) Smith.

Only 38 when she died of tuberculosis, probably contracted while caring for patients, she was widely known in life for her skills both as a nurse and an administrator --- and as the founder of Lucas County's first free-standing hospital. In death, however, she seems to have been almost entirely forgotten.

Miss Smith was working as a private-duty nurse headquartered in a cottage in north Chariton during 1909 when the opportunity arose to implement a long-standing dream. She was able to purchase from Fred C. Stanley, former grocer in the building now occupied by Piper's on the northeast corner of the square, his large home on North Grand Street. The deal was made during October of 1909 and soon thereafter the Stanley family moved to Minneapolis.

Work began almost immediately and by January of 1910 the hospital was ready to serve patients, as reported in The Chariton Leader of Jan. 13 under the headline, "New Hospital for Chariton."


The Mercy Hospital on North Grand street was opened Tuesday evening, under the supervision of its founder, Ella Smith, a graduate nurse of St. Mary's Hospital in Chicago. The large and commodious residence of F.C. Stanley was purchased by Miss Smith last fall, for this purpose, and since that time she has had competent men at work remodeling and making necessary additions and now this city can boast a hospital equal to those of larger cities.

It has been in the past that cases that required an operation would have to be removed to other cities, not on account of the lack of capable physicians to do the work at home, but on account of inconveniences which existed. The new hospital has a large, well lighted and ventilated operating room, with every convenience, and six beds for patients.

The opening on Tuesday evening consisted of a two course banquet, the guests being the members of the Physicians Club of Lucas county. Table talks were made by the different members and each had an encouraging word, and pledged himself to the support of Mercy Hospital of Chariton. The donations have been quite liberal, and at some future time the names and amounts of the donors will be given.


By all accounts, the hospital was a success --- but during November of 1911, Miss Smith's health began to fail as tuberculosis took hold. During the spring of 1912, the hospital was closed, the home it had occupied returned to residential use and Ella moved in with her sister. She died there during mid-July and was commemorated on the front page of The Leader of July 25 as follows:


It is with sadness we chronicle the death of Miss Ella Smith, of Mercy Hospital, which occurred at the home of her sister, Mrs. Frank Hambsch, in southeast Chariton, Thursday morning, July 18th, at 5:30 o'clock, following an illness of eight months with tuberculosis of the lungs.

She was born near Melrose, April 25th, 1874, and was one of a family of eight children; two are gone, one brother and one sister, and a father and mother. Three sisters, Mrs. Lizzie Lyons of Whitebreast township, Mrs. Kathryn Hambsch of Chariton and Mrs. Fred McManaman of Melrose, and two brothers, James of Melrose and Andrew of Ottumwa, are left to mourn her untimely death.

The deceased received her education in the Melrose schools, later taking a three years course in the nurse's training school at St. Mary's hospital in Chicago. After graduating from that institution more than ten years ago, she spent about eight years in private nursing in Burlington and Fairfield. She was energetic and entered into her work with earnestness and zeal, never shirking from her post of duty.

Over two years ago she purchased the Stanley residence on North Grand Street and converted it into a hospital, making additions and other changes. Her ambition was to have a hospital where patients could be cared for in Chariton instead of having to send them to neighboring cities. During the two years at Mercy hospital, she cared for many patients who bear testimony to her untiring efforts and her kindness in ministering to their needs.

Her thoughts were not for self, but for the good she could do to others, and her ambition was greater than her strength, hence the breaking of vitality in early life. She has gone, but her good deeds follow her.

She was a devoted member of the Catholic church and died as she had lived in the assurance of a life beyond the grave. Funeral services were held from St. Mary's Catholic church in Chariton, Saturday morning, July 20, 1912, at 9:30, conducted by Rev. Father McGillan, assisted by the Catholic choir of Melrose, and the remains were taken to Melrose on No. 6, where they were laid to rest in the family lot beside her parents and brother and sister, who had gone on several years before.


The Doctors Yocom, Albert Lee Sr. and Albert Lee Jr., had been operating a smaller "hospital" consisting of an operating room and a couple of short-term-care beds in their office suite on the second floor of the Dewey Block on the southeast corner of the square, and they moved to fill the void left when Mercy Hospital closed.

Within a few years, they had opened a free-standing hospital of their own, just off North Main Street, and in 1925 opened the state-of-the-art Yocom Hospital a block east of the square on Braden that served Lucas County for nearly 50 years.

But Ella Smith certainly deserves a  place of honor among Lucas County's medical pioneers.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Iowa's favorite neo-fascist loses his primary bid

There's considerable rejoicing on several fronts in Iowa this morning after our most widely known neo-fascist state representative, the 4th District's Steve King, lost his Republican primary bid to state Sen. Randy Feenstra, of Hull.

King, co-chair of Gov. Kim Reynolds' 2018 re-election campaign and heartily endorsed by Sen. Joni Earnst in 2016, wasn't rejected because of his views, merely because of his inability to filter what came out of his mouth.

And so he became a political liability, stripped of all power by this GOP brethren in Congress after the latest in a long string of outrageous statements received wide publicity. That meant the campaign funding flowed into Feenstra coffers.

Feenstra was careful not to challenge King's neo-fascism --- views widely shared in northwest Iowa, quite likely by Feenstra, too. Nor were his views repudiated by either Reynolds or Earnst. He lost because of his perceived inability to effectively further the agenda of the Trump presidency. Feenstra's primary victory probably moves the 4th District seat into the Republican "safe" category.

And the question arises, what in the world are we going to do now that we've not got Steve King, with his pretty blue eyes, vacant stare and aging storm-trooper good looks, to kick around?

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Lattin B.V. Wood: First death, then the judgment

Lattin B.V. Wood departed this life on Oct. 5, 1887, at the age of 41 and was judged immediately --- if not by his maker then by the editor of The Chariton Democrat, self-appointed to the task. Here is the text of  Mr. Wood's obituary from The Democrat of October 6:

"Lattin Wood died at his residence in the west part of this city, yesterday afternoon. For years the deceased has been leading an existence that was a living death. A complication of diseases had taken hold upon him, and for years his strength had been destroyed, and his hope of recovery dead.

"He was not a bad man to others. To himself he had been his own worst enemy. A good intellect and fine physique were wrecked years ago by the seeds which dissipation had planted. All too late for this world he repented and reformed. We draw a veil of charity over his many faults, and remember the good traits that were smothered by his lack of strength to resist. The living should draw many useful lessons from his death."


This fine tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery marks the graves of the unfortunate Mr. Wood's survivors --- his wife, Charlotte (1853-1904), his two children --- Lilian (1873-1931) and Walter (1878-1935) --- and his mother, Leah (1822-1910).

Lattin is not here, nor his his father, John A. Wood, who had predeceased his son by seven months, dying on March 16, 1887, age about 67, after running a rusty nail into his hand accidentally and contracting "blood poisoning."

Chariton Cemetery records contain no mention of their burials and the graves of their kinfolk are located in a newer section, not opened until about 20 years after their deaths.

This suggests that they were buried, most likely together, in what now is known as Douglass Pioneer Cemetery, still in use in 1887 but already on the road to wrack and ruin and by time Charlotte died, in 1904, ruined entirely.


The Wood family, natives of New York, had arrived in Chariton ca. 1872-73 after a brief stay in Illinois. John A. Wood is identified in the 1880 census as a horse trainer although a few years earlier, newspaper reports show, he had been fined for operating a gambling house.

His son, Lattin, identified in the 1870 New York census record as a butcher, is identified in the 1880 Iowa census as an alcoholic --- the first time I've seen that. Here's the census entry.

It may be that Lattin's family objected to their loved one being held up as a bad example by The Democrat's editor on Oct. 6. For whatever reason, a more favorable version of his obituary was published as follows on Oct. 13:

"Lattin V.B. Wood was born Jan. 10, 1846, in Ulster county, N.Y. At the age of three years he removed with his parents to Dutchess county in the same state. He was graduated from Eastman Business College in 1865. He removed to Iowa in 1873 and died in Chariton Oct. 5, 1887. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. J.H. Aughey. He leaves a widow and two children, a son and daughter, to mourn his loss.

"Leaves have their time to fall
And flowers to wither at the north wind's breath,
And stars to set --- but all,
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, O, Death!"


The Wood survivors continued to live together in Chariton until Charlotte's death in 1904, then Lillian and Walter cared for their grandmother until she died during 1910. Neither of the children married. 

Lillian died at age 58 on Oct. 25, 1931, of complications after a severe leg fracture had resulted in its amputation. She was described in her obituary as, "gentlewoman in every sense of the word. She was extremely honest and ambitious, and led an upright life. From early childhood she had endured more hardships than fall to the lot of the ordinary mortal, but her burdens were all borne without a murmur, and it can truthfully said that her life has inspired those who have come in contact with her to better thoughts and deeds. She has now entered into the rest which she so richly deserved."

Lillian also was a member of the Woodman Circle, auxiliary of the Modern Woodmen of the World, which explains the family's fine tombstone.

Walter, a painter and paper hanger by trade, died four years later, on Sept 2, 1935, at the age of 57. Friends saw to his burial, but no one remained to see that his year of death was inscribed on the tombstone.

Monday, June 01, 2020

The canary in the coal mine ...

Colin Kaepernick flanked by Eli Harold (left) and Eric reid, October 2016.
Out at the museum last week, the youth brigade --- Karoline and Trae --- tackled the coal mine, a replica just off a lower level room called, logically enough, the Mine Gallery. It serves as a reminder of an industry that was very important to Lucas County's economy and culture from the 1880s until well into the 20th century.

One of the smaller artifacts involved in this major clean-up, straighten-up and repaint effort is a somewhat bedraggled fake canary in a cage. 

It serves as a reminder of the common practice in the mine industry from soon after the turn of the 20th century onward --- before air quality monitoring equipment was developed --- of miners carrying canaries into mines to check carbon monoxide levels. If the canary died, the miners exited as rapidly as possible and remedial efforts began.

So it occurred to me over the weekend --- as protests wracked several U.S. cities, including Minneapolis and Des Moines, in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder --- of some who have warned in peaceful ways, like that canary, that such outcomes were possible, even likely, but were scorned for their efforts and ignored.

Remember Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who "took a knee" in peaceful protest during performances of the national anthem commencing in 2016 and inspired others to do the same in the face of racial injustice. White outrage. Our current president, still perhaps sheltering in his White House bunker this morning, called upon the NFL during 2017 to fire players who protested during the anthem. 

Step back 50 years to 1968 when Mexico Summer Olympics medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved hands during an awards ceremony to protest racial injustice. White outrage, expelled from the Olympics, medals taken away.

Brent Musburger, writing for the Chicago American long before rising to national prominence as a sports commentator, described Smith and Carlos as "a couple of black-skinned storm troopers" who were "ignoble," "juvenile," and "unimaginative."

And so it goes --- and still does. The warnings small and large of festering tension as white folks dismiss black aspirations have been plentiful for at least 150 years. So why are we surprised at developments during the past week?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Let it begin with me ...

If I were preaching this morning --- and I do that here sometimes you know --- I'd begin by stating the obvious:

A police officer named Derek Chauvin --- in that single act of calculated cruelty that killed George Floyd in Minneapolis --- lit the match to tinder-dry centuries of racial inequity, injustice and oppression. And America burned. A single act.

I would point out, too, if you're a believer, that Magic Jesus is not going to save us from ourselves just because you park your sorry ass in the right pew. Nor is he going to fulfill your bizarre fantasy of being swept directly into heaven, leaving everyone you dislike behind to suffer the consequences. Nor do your peculiar personal-salvation formulas have any real power beyond your imaginings.

I'd add, however, that the spirit of this guy whose name Christians have taken in vain for millennia  still has the potential to dwell within you if you follow his way, and can rise again --- through you --- in single acts of kindness. Collectively and in conjunction with our brothers and sisters of all colors, creeds and traditions, through a multitude of kindnesses, we have the potential to redeem the world.

But it is up to you, and to me. Because we're all in this together. And as we've seen, single acts can have unimaginable power. Amen.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

What did you think was going to happen?

Two things struck me this morning, commencing with this paragraph from a lead story in The Washington Post headlined "Gripped by disease, unemployment and outrage at the police, America plunges into crisis."

"America’s persistent political dysfunction and racial inequality were laid bare this week, as the coronavirus death toll hit a tragic new milestone and as the country was served yet another reminder of how black people are killed by law enforcement in disproportionately high numbers. Together, the events present a grim tableau of a nation in crisis — one seared by violence against its citizens, plagued by a deadly disease that remains uncontained and rattled by a devastating blow to its economy."

That written as cities across the United States, including Des Moines, erupted into violence overnight as protests against the killing by police in Minneapolis of George Floyd continued.


The other was this quote from James Baldwin (1924-1987), a towering American author and civil rights and gay activist, who lived much of his adult life in France where racism is not so deeply embedded as it is here. It is taken from a 1989 documentary entitled, "James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket," and was his response to a question about U.S. progress in the area of racial equality:

"What is it that you wanted me to reconcile myself to? I was born here more than 60 years ago. I'm not going to live another 60 years. You always told me that it's going to take time. It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time, my niece's and my nephew's time. How much time do you want for your progress?"


The predictable --- and understandable --- response to collective violence has been something like, "protest is fine, rioting and looting are not." That's true, but in many cases fails to take into account the fact that violent protest is a symptom, not the disease.

It's happened many times before in these United States and was inevitable as this situation played out.

Violent protest simply means that many of those engaged in it --- and there are some self-serving provocateurs in any situation --- are convinced that no one is listening.

The disease here is endemic racism.


What to do? Search your own heart, abandon the notion that there is no collective responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in, do your best to root racism out of your own system (we're all infected) and stand for justice --- not just the flag.

Friday, May 29, 2020

A bouquet from the museum garden ....

I have a bouquet for you this morning --- images taken late last evening when I headed out to the museum to perform one of my most important functions: Pushing the garbage can down the north drive to the curb.

We all need some flowers today --- starting with a display of old-fashioned pinks that somehow managed to overwinter in the raised planter around the Stephens House sign and now has  burst into full bloom, as if we'd planned it.

The poppy is blooming in the big flower bed just south of the Stephens House.

As are a few others that I can't put a name to off the top of my head.

Iris are winding down.

But the peonies are just beginning to open.

The museum will remain closed until we can be more certain about the safety of guests, volunteers and staff --- but the grounds always are open.

There are paths to walk, flowers to look at and plenty of benches scattered around if you'd like to just sit and think.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

White privilege and responsibility ....

It's been a brutal week so far. We've lurched from New York City's Central Park, where a woman named Amy Cooper was caught on camera by a birdwatcher named Christian Cooper (no kin) as she played the white-victim game after he called her out for failure to restrain a pet dog ...

... to Minneapolis, where a white police officer named Derek Chauvin cold-bloodedly murdered George Floyd in full public view and despite pleas from bystanders.

If a modestly heroic figure emerged from this mess, I suppose it was Mr. Cooper (at left), a Harvard-educated gay rights activist, biomedical editor --- and birdwatcher. His presence of mind disarmed a potentially dangerous situation and shamed his accuser, temporarily disrupting her life. And that's why I've used his photo here. Besides, he's pretty --- not to objectify or anything.

Looking for social media guidance through the mess this morning I came upon an article written by Karen Fleshmen and headlined, "White Women: We Are Amy Cooper." If written from a different perspective, a similar article could have been headlined, "White Men: We Are Derek Chauvin."

Here are the lines that jumped out at me from Fleshmen's article: "You may be thinking: 'I’m not Amy Cooper. I don’t have any part in this.' Part of white privilege is feeling entitled to be perceived as an individual and not as a representative of our entire race. Another part of white privilege is not to feel responsible for the behavior of other white people.

"People of color never get those privileges. They are always perceived as representatives of their entire group."

Food for thought as another day dawns during this spring of our collective discontent.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Doc Byram named to Iowa's Aviation Hall of Fame

Doc Byram (left) in Guatemala, June 1978

Burns M. "Doc" Byram, a Lucas County native whose grave is located in English Township's Spring Hill Cemetery, is one of two men inducted this week into to the Iowa Aviation Museum's Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame. The other is Larry Turner of Elliott, in Montgomery County.

Located at Greenfield Municipal Airport, the museum is dedicated to preserving Iowa's aviation heritage. The Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame, founded in 1990 --- before the museum --- honors Iowans who have contributed significantly to the growth of aviation. You'll find the museum's web site and much more information about it here.

As is the case with all other museums in Iowa, the Iowa Aviation Museum is closed now due to the COVID-19 situation, but likely to reopen to visitors later this year.

I've written about Doc Byram before --- and you can find those posts by following these links: A Scalpel of Thunderous Sound (February 2009) and Images of Burns M. "Doc" Byram, 1924-1978 (April 2018). Here is the Byram biography that was included in a news release forwarded to me a few days ago by Shirley Konz, of Greenfield.


Burns Maxwell Byram II was born June 1, 1924, near Chariton. After graduation from Toledo High School in 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and participated in 30 missions over France and Germany during WWII as a B-24 navigator/bombardier. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Iowa in 1951. He and his family moved to Marengo where he began medical practice and was instrumental in establishing the hospital. He was named Family Physician of the Year in Iowa in 1961. After obtaining his private pilot’s license in 1954, he attained multiple ratings and acquired several aircraft including a P-51 Mustang, Tangerine. Dr. Byram became a FAA Airman Medical Examiner and was a member of numerous aviation and professional organizations. He became known in Iowa as the “flying physician.” On June 4, 1978, Dr. Byram was killed, when a P-51 he was ferrying for a friend from Guatemala to the United States, crashed in Mexico. After funeral services at Marengo, he was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Lucas County. His tombstone bears the image of a P-51 Mustang. 


The flight-related images here are new --- and I found those by following a link provided by Trygve Johansen of Oslo, Norway, a Mustang enthusiast who contacted me after reading The Lucas Countyan posts. They are taken from this site and show Doc and others in Guatemala about June 1, 1978, just before the flight that would claim his life (the date on the images is wrong). The images below are from Spring Hill Cemetery and show the tombstones of Doc and his parents, Burns M. Byram Sr. and Gladys (Scales) Byram.


And here's the biography of the other 2020 inductee, Philip Larry Turner, of Elliott:

Philip Larry Turner was born in 1938 at Red Oak and grew up on a farm near Elliott. After graduation from Stennett High School, he attended Iowa State University and University of Nebraska, Omaha. After graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He soloed in a T-34 on April 24, 1963, and began rotor wing training, ending with a helicopter solo in a Bell TH-13M on March 5, 1964. He was also trained to fly the Sikorsky UH-34D helicopter that he would eventually fly in Vietnam. He earned his Wings of Gold on April 28, 1964, and was deployed to Vietnam in August 1965. First Lieutenant Turner flew Sikorsky UH-34D helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron Three Six Two, “The Ugly Angels,” until December 1966. He was shot down 8 times and awarded 29 Air Medals and a Purple Heart. In July 1967, he retired from the military and moved his family to Elliott. He began Turner Copter Services, Inc. doing crop spraying and later offered heavy-lift operations with a helicopter similar to the one he flew in Vietnam. In 1977, he purchased a Sikorsky S-58J. He did hundreds of jobs lifting equipment all over the Midwest, used his helicopters to transport entertainers and politicians, and flew into local hospitals as Santa Claus to visit sick children. Larry’s flying continued until 2013 at an Ugly Angel Reunion in Oklahoma when he piloted for the last time in a refurbished Sikorsky UH-34D helicopter that he had flown in Vietnam. Larry Turner logged more than 20,000 flight hours in multiple aircraft and donated time and money to refurbish helicopters to be displayed in museums.