Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Stephens House gets a new roof

If you follow this blog, you'll know that on Monday evening the Lucas County Historical Society accepted a check for $6,000 from the South Central Iowa Community Foundation that was designated to pay half the cost of reroofing the Stephens House, centerpiece of our seven-building campus (thank you --- very much --- again).

On Tuesday, a huge dumpster was deposited on the north drive; and on Wednesday, a crew arrived to do the job --- or at least most of it. These guys move fast.

It would have been bitterly cold up there on the roof --- I'm glad they were doing the work and I was either sitting in the office watching or walking around the house to take these photos.

Actually, the project began last fall when we solicited bids for the roof, then moved ahead a week or so ago when SCICF informed us that our grant had been awarded. The board accepted a bid last Tuesday. A week later --- a new roof completed well before we open for the season on May 1.

Now --- if the concrete contractor will just get here so that new ramps leading into Otterbein Church and the east barn door, as well as replacements for deteriorated sidewalks connecting church and school, can be completed before 100 or more second-graders descend on us May 8. 

Stephens House, built during 1911 by contractor Andrew Jackson Stephens for his family on what then was a bare hill in west Chariton, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in part because of the relatively uncommon materials from which it is constructed --- a mixture of rusticated concrete block and brick of an identical shade.

Inside it's a fairly conventional plan of the period --- entrance hall, double parlors, dining room, kitchen, pantry and back hall downstairs; five bedrooms, a generous dressing room and a bath up. Lovely woodwork and all largely intact. And now it has a new roof, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Birds rule at annual historical society get-together

Jodi Ogden and master avian photographer Loren Burkhalter compare notes.

It may not seem like big news in the grand scheme of things, but there's been considerable excitement at Pin Oak Marsh this spring because the resident eagles finally produced an eaglet --- an annual challenge because this pair insists on starting to nest about a month too early and the Lucas County Conservation Board staff believe that's usually too cold for eggs to remain viable.

In another development, a Cinnamon Teal, rarely spotted this far east, was seen last week socializing with its blue-winged cousins on the lake at Red Haw. I was pleased to learn more about the heron rookery --- in the Chariton River Valley woods between the west marsh pond and Chariton Cemetery hill --- and to learn more about this winter's Iowa "irruption" of  snowy owls --- more frequently seen farther north.

Snowy owl (center)

These were just a couple of news items from the bird world --- with accompanying photography --- shared last evening by Jodi Ogden, county naturalist, during her program at Pin Oak Lodge during the annual meeting of the Lucas county Historical Society.

Lyle Asell

We had a great crowd, an interesting program and one of the most varied and best selection of pies ever --- served once the meeting was over in the Lodge dining room to all who came. So thanks to all who attended, to Jodi for the program (and to Lyle Asell, who provided some information on the upcoming September birding festival, this year "Birds, Bikes and Hikes"). And to all the historical society board members who baked and/or acquired pies for the occasion. And to Skylar Hobbs, conservation director, Jodi and Conservation Board members who do such a great job of conserving, sharing and promoting Lucas County's natural heritage.

If you're interested in keeping up with developments in the natural world that surrounds us, find and "like" the Lucas County Conservation Board's Facebook page, which is here.

And if your special interest is birding, remember that there now is a Lucas County Conservation Birders group that welcomes new participants. The next gathering will be at 7 a.m. this Saturday, April 21, on the Cinder Path to go in search of pileated woodpeckers. Meet at the point southwest of Chariton where the Cinder Path crosses 190th Avenue (take the Derby road west from Highway 14 to 190th, the turn north for about a mile).

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Historical societies, many others given SCICF grants

Lucas County's three historical societies were among the grateful recipients of 2018 South Central Iowa Community Foundation grants and pledges, disbursed late Monday afternoon during a program in the Lodge at Pin Oak Marsh.

The foundation distributed $112,000 in the form of 28 grants and pledges to organizations and agencies from one end of the county to the other. Included in the photo here are representatives of the recipients as well as SCICF board members.

The Lucas County Historical Society, which I serve as president, received $6,000, half the cost of a new roof for the 1911 National Register-listed Stephens House. Since we had a little advance notice of the award, our board has approved a contract and we hope that project can begin very soon.

The John L. Lewis Museum of Mining & Labor at Lucas received a grant of $9,000 which will be applied to the cost of a refurbished roof for its building; and the Russell Historical Society received $500, which will be used to purchase laptops for use by historical society/library patrons.

Other awards were as follows --- in the order in which they were given out.

Chariton Area Chamber-Main Street, $250 for DazzleFest costumes; Lucas County Fair Association, a $10,000 pledge to be applied to the cost of roofing the fairgrounds outdoor arena; city of Chariton, $2,000 to expand the disc golf course at Northwest Park; Lucas County Interchurch Council, $2,156 to replace Ministry Center siding and commission a sign identifying the center as an emergency food pantry; and Jericho Hills Camp at Lucas (General Council of the Christian Union Church), $1,300 for a commercial ice machine.

Friends of the Chariton Airport, $4,000 to replace heating and cooling systems; Williamson Volunteer Fire Department, $5,000 to buy protective equipment; Derby Volunteer Fire Department, $5,000 to replace outdated gear; Lucas County Little League, $1,500 to purchase catcher and umpire gear; Carl L. Caviness American Legion Post No. 102, $5,000 pledge for projects at Veterans Memorial Park; and Russell Fire Department, $10,000 to purchase new SCBA air packs.

Lucas County Arts Council, $2,832.50 to replace entrance deck and ramp at the C.B.&Q. Freight House; Chariton Volunteer Fire Department, $10,000 for the purchase of Hurst eDraulic tools; Lucas County Health Center, $4,000 to purchase three King Vision Sets; Chariton Public Library, $4,000 to purchase books, audio books and DVDs; and Chariton High School, $1,500 to purchase a Power Lift half rack for the weight room, $1,600 to purchase a high jump for the track and $7,091.35 to purchase marching band equipment.

City of Russell, $2,000 to reroof the band shelter and install new flag poles in City Park; Hope Learning Center, a $5,000 endowment match and $4,800.34 to provide a tutoring center; Chariton Soccer, $2,000 to purchase new soccer goals for the practice field; Lucas County Boy Scouts, $1,500 to replace outdated equipment; Design Division of Chariton Area Chamber-Main Street, $3,700 for new trash containers for the square; and Chariton Archery, $700 for programming.

Just a reminder: The Lucas County Historical Society will be back at the Pin Oak Lodge this evening, commencing at 6:30 p.m., for our annual membership meeting. There will be a short business session at 6:30, followed at 7 p.m. by a program, "Birds of Lucas County: Past and Present," by Jodi Ogden, county naturalist. Pie and coffee will conclude the evening. All are welcome.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Historical Society annual meeting Tuesday

Everyone's invited to the annual membership meeting of the Lucas County Historical Society, scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 17) at the Pin Oak Marsh Lodge, just south of Chariton along Highway 14.

There will be a brief business meeting at 6:30 p.m., then at 7 p.m. a program entitled "Birds of Lucas County: Past and Present," presented by Jodi Ogden, Lucas County naturalist.

Jodi's theme will reflect the fact the Lucas is the only Iowa county containing two officially designated Bird Conservation Areas (BCAs) and that we celebrate this fact with an annual Birding Festival, this year scheduled for September.

She will share information about the birds that frequented our skies, waterways, woods and prairies when the first EuroAmerican settlers arrived in 1846 and those that remain with us --- including species that have been reintroduced in recent years. If there's time, Lyle Asell will share a few words about this year's festival.

Pie and coffee will be served after the program.

The historical society's board of directors held its annual meeting last Tuesday.

During that meeting, Jennifer Snook-Hall and Martin Buck were added to the board. Jennifer replaces veteran board member Jerry Pierschbacher, who decided not to seek an additional term (thanks to Jerry for many years of faithful service). Martin fills the unexpired (one-year remaining) term of John Hamilton, who resigned earlier in the year.

Five incumbent board members were elected to new three-year terms, bringing us up to our full strength of 16. They are Adam Bahr, Lucinda Burkhalter, Nash Cox, Kylie Dittmer and Dan Morrett.

Current officers were re-elected to their positions for additional one-year terms. They are Frank D. Myers, president; Adam Bahr, vice-president; Lucinda Burkhalter, secretary; and Fred Steinbach, treasurer.

In addition to everyone named here, the board also includes Dan Minkoff, Jim Secor, Bob Ulrich, Raymond C. Meyer, Ann Moon, Joe Sellers and Helen Thompson.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Torpedoes, the doomed Athenia and Martha Bonnett

The Chariton Leader announced Martha Bonnett's rescue with a banner headline in its edition of Sept. 5, 1939.

Miss Martha Bonnett was 24 in late June of 1939 when she sailed from New York aboard the SS Normandie, anticipating six pleasant weeks in Europe as part of a tour group of 18 young women, mostly college students from Texas, coordinated and chaperoned by Annette Brock and Gladys Strain, also Texans.

Many Americans remained blissfully unaware of the potential in war clouds then gathering over Europe --- and Mrs. Brock and Mrs. Strain, who organized these regular tours as professionals, surely must have been among them.

Martha was a little older than most of the young women, and the only Iowan. She had grown up on the family farm of her parents, John R. and Lillian (Fain) Bonnett, just west of Chariton, their only child; and had been a classmate at Chariton High School of my late mother before continuing her education at Iowa State University, where she had earned a degree in home economics.

Martha would marry Willis Good during 1942, not long before he was drafted into World War II service, so most of us remember her as Martha Good. After the war, the Goods settled down on what had been the farm of her parents and grandparents, Daniel G. and Sarah (Rowles) Bonnett, along what now is U.S. Highway 34, to raise their three daughters, Vicky, Linda and Patty.


By all accounts, the tour --- nine countries in roughly six weeks --- was a great success. But when the time came to sail home during late August, the realities of impending war became frighteningly evident. 

The young women had booked passage on the SS California, a British liner scheduled to depart on August 26. Before it could sail, the California was requisitioned for the British war effort.

The parents of several of Martha's travel companions were influential people in Texas and elsewhere, however; a few strings were pulled; and berths were found on the SS Athenia for 15 of the young women and makeshift quarters for the remaining three aboard the City of Flint, a merchant freighter.

Martha was one of the 15 who sailed from Glasgow on Sept. 1 aboard the Athenia --- and that was how she came to be aboard a liner that on the night of Sept. 3 some 200 nautical miles offshore became the first ship of the United Kingdom to be torpedoed and sunk by German submarines.

In all, 1,103 passengers and 315 crew members were aboard that night, including 500 Jewish refugees and 311 U.S. citizens. Of that total, 117 crew members and civilian passengers died. 

Almost miraculously, the remainder survived --- including Martha, whose report of the experience must surely be one of the most riveting first-person accounts ever published in the Chariton newspapers. It appeared under her byline on the front page of The Chariton Leader of Oct. 10, 1939, a few days after she had been met in New York by her mother and had returned home safely to Lucas County. Here's Martha's report:


We had originally planned to sail from Glasgow on the Californian, but because of the tense diplomatic situation in Europe, the British government cancelled the sailing.

Finally, after some delay, we succeeded in booking passage on the Athenia and even though we knew the boat would be crowded, we were very happy to get accommodations. On Friday morning, Sept. 1, the Athenia left Glasgow, Scotland, in a pouring rain.

The SS Athenia, photographed in 1933.
The boat was prepared for wartime conditions although no declaration had then been made. The portholes were blackened and only a few lights were lit in the main passageways. The whole thing seemed almost "spooky." When we got out to sea on Sunday, we learned that England had declared war on Germany. Since we sailed, we had had but one lifeboat drill.

The party I was with had been on deck along about dusk and went to the dining room after second call. There were about 18 of us at a long table. After we had been in the dining room about fifteen minutes, there was a big "boom." The lights went out, dishes flew over the table, and chairs were turned over. It seems strange now, but somehow we all seemed to know just what had happened --- that the boat had been torpedoed.

I left the dining room and went down two flights of stairs to my cabin where I got my lifebelt, my coat and my purse. Then I remembered that one of the girls in our party was still in her stateroom so I groped my way down the hall until I came to the door. The girl had been knocked out of her bed by the force of the explosion and was standing in the middle of the room. I told her to get her coat, lifebelt and purse and come along. We then went up on deck to our lifeboat stations.

Mad Scramble

When we reached the top deck everything was a mad scramble and it was a horrible sight. There were bodies everywhere. Evidently everyone who had been on deck at the time of the explosion had been killed. Several crew members were dead and the rest, merely a handful, were attempting to get the people into the boats. One crew member with a broken leg and a broken arm was standing by a boat heroically directing the loading.

When we got to the boat we were supposed to go in, it was full and they told us to go to another. We went to another lifeboat station to find that that boat, too, was full. We tried several other stations without success. Then we decided to wait in one place. At last we spotted a boat that hadn't been completely filled. From then on it was everyone for himself. I pushed Helen (Helen Hannay of Houston, Texas, who was with Miss Bonnett's party) into the boat and somehow I got in, too.

Each lifeboat had a capacity for fifty. In our boat there were between 75 and 100. For some time the boat swung from the davits and no one could seem to lower it to the water. Finally, someone cut the pulley ropes and the whole load dropped "plunk" into the water. One of the pulley ropes whipped back and struck Helen in the eye, causing a blood clot. Then the pulley blocks fell, striking and killing one woman. Someone threw the dead woman overboard and we began to try to get away from the Athenia.

The next twelve hours were a nightmare. The boat was overloaded and the seams had been sprung when it fell to the water. There was nothing on the boat except some oars --- no food, blankets, or flares. It was so crowded that everyone had to stand up and even then we were packed together. Water was coming in through the floorboards  pretty fast so one of the crew members told us to take off our shoes and start bailing.

Pretty Lucky

I was pretty lucky as I had shoes on that had both the heel and toe. Some of the other girls had the toeless and heeless shoes --- and you couldn't dip much water out with them. There were just a few of us dipping water out. We dipped and dipped until we thought our backs would break from the strain. We tried to get some of the other people to dip the water out but they just stood there and didn't say a thing. Finally I just took one of my shoes and pushed it at a person near me and told her to dip. She did.

I took a turn at rowing several times. The crew members, and the one with a broken arm and leg who was in the boat with us, would tell us to "backwater." I didn't know what that meant so I just rowed away the best way I knew. The moon had come out by then and I remembered looking at it and saying to myself, "You'd better take a good look at it."

There were only four men in the boat --- all the rest were women and children. The children behaved very well and they didn't cry. One little girl who had been separated from her governess kept saying, "I don't want to die, I live such a sweet life." It was pretty rough and a lot of people got sick. However, after I would get sick, I would feel better and dip some more until I got sick again. Some of the people started to sing, but I didn't like this and wished that they would be still.

First Boat

About 2:30 a.m. we finally sighted the first rescue boat. it came fairly near and put out oil to quiet the water although it didn't seem to help much.

We rowed and rowed but we couldn't seem to get very close to the boat. It was an awful feeling to be apparently very close to the boat one moment, and then to have it completely hidden from sight the next by a swell of the sea. We couldn't seem to get any nearer after considerable effort and were very depressed. Then we saw coming near us a steel grey boat which we knew was a warship. We were afraid for a while that this might have been a German boat but we began to scream and wave anyway to attract attention so that we could be rescued.

Drew Nearer

The boat drew nearer and we saw that it was an English destroyer. The captain shouted to us to stay where we were and that they would come closer. Then they seemed to sail away from us. But after a short time we saw that they were merely circling to get between us and the wind and when they came back to us they were very close.

When the destroyer got close enough, the crew threw down rope ladders but none of us could seem to catch them at first. The sea was quite heavy and several times a wave would bang us against the side of the destroyer. At last some of us caught the ladders and began to climb. One lady who was among the first to climb out of our lifeboat got just about to the top when she slipped and fell. She was crushed and instantly killed when the lifeboat, tossed about by a wave, pinned her against the destroyer. The crew members sent down buckets on ropes to pull the children to safety.

The minute we got up on the destroyer's deck, we were picked up by members of the crew and carried to the officers' quarters. There we were given tea with rum in it and were given warm blankets to wrap up in while our clothes were taken to dry in the boiler rooms. I was a sight by then. I was almost completely covered by oil and grease and my hair was just one stringy tangle ,matted with grease and oil. The English boat had been out of port for some time and the supplies were low but they gave us everything that they could. I sure have a warm spot in my heart for sailors because they gave us the very best of treatment.

All Over Boat

That night, Monday night, the survivors on the boat were quartered all over the boat. I and another girl started to sleep on the captain's table but it was too hard so we fixed us up a bed underneath the table. Many of the people off the Athenia were nervous wrecks and one of the crew members asked some of our party if we would try and quiet them down so that they could get some sleep We began to whisper to them to just lie back and rest and finally they all fell asleep. But if I had known what the boat did that night, I don't think I would have slept much. The next morning we found out that the boat had been hunting German submarines all night.

The next morning, Tuesday, we went back to the site of the Athenia sinking. They told us not to be frightened by any shots because they were going to sink it to get it out of the way of other ship traffic. But it wasn't necessary to fire. Soon after we got there the boat slid down beneath the water. I didn't watch as it went down --- I had already seen enough of that boat.

Then we put in to Grennack near Glasgow, where we landed shortly after noon. It seemed as though the whole country had turned out to welcome us and we were given every attention by those people. When we landed, all I had was my dress, hat and hose, and my hose were mesh at that. A sailor found me some tennis shoes, however, which I was very glad to get even if they were much too big for me.

Return to Glasgow

Back at Glasgow, our party returned to the same hotel in which we had stayed before we sailed on the Athenia. the American Counsel there gave us each $2.50. The thing that bothered me most at the time was the fact that I had no suitable shoes. I went out to buy some in Glasgow but all the big stores were closed. Finally I found a pair for which I paid $10 but they were too big. That was alright, though, because my feet had swollen a lot. Then the Red Cross in Glasgow came to our aid. They gave us each a dress, silk hose, a slip, underwear, a comb, sweater and coat. They weren't exactly the latest styles but they were new and I can't say how glad I was to get them. I have nothing but the highest praise for the helpful generosity shown to us by the Red Cross. Besides clothing, they also gave us a few shillings.

The next morning, we had to report for gas mask fittings. We had not had to do this before we left on the Athenia because war had not been declared. If we had had to do this before we sailed, we would have been bothered but by now it didn't worry us much. it was nerve racking in Glasgow because of all the noise such as news boys shouting and bells on the street cars. You see, when a ship goes down at sea, it gives a few blasts on the whistle and then the bells start to ring --- and they ring continuously until the ship has been abandoned. So bells meant danger to us and you can see why most of the party couldn't stand the sound of them.

From Glasgow, we went out into the Highlands to escape the excitement and await a boat to take us to the United States. We were right near Loch Lomond and the place was a lovely one --- restful and quite. While there we picked some white heather. Before we sailed on the Athenia, we had picked some purple heather but we now found out that the purple kind is considered bad luck.

Ambassador (Joseph) Kennedy's son (later President John F. Kennedy) came up to Glasgow while we were there and through him I got word from the Embassy at London that Cordell Hull had passed on a cable from Senator Herring saying, "if you need anything, the state of Iowa will stand behind you."

Representative Karl M. LeCompte was also very kind. Although he was in Iowa a the time of the disaster, he kept in constant touch with the state department in Washington and kept Mother informed as to my whereabouts and safety as soon as the word came through.

Passage on Orizaba

By this time, our party had been scattered over Scotland. So the four of us that were still together  went back to Glasgow where we got passage on the S.S. Orizaba. We went down to the harbor to look at it and were far from favorably impressed. The day we sailed we went to the boat early and practically had to drive ourselves on board. The first thing we did after getting on was to look at the lifeboats. They were all in good shape with blankets, flares, and food stocked in them so we began to feel a little better.

After the Orizaba sailed, we found it almost impossible to sleep. We slept in our clothes --- what little sleep we did get --- and kept our lifebelts, flashlights, coats and shoes handy at all times. Once, we heard bells ringing and we grabbed up our stuff to run out on deck only to find that someone had accidentally set off the alarm. This gave us quite a fright.

On the Orizaba we had lifeboat drill every day. Much of the time we stayed together in the ship lounge and played the nickelodeon. And the piece we played most was "God Bless America." When we neared New York we finally took off our clothes long enough to take a short shower and get a little sleep. The nearer we got to land, the surer we were that we were all going to cry when the boat got in. So we decided we would have a cry right then and there and get it over with. But it didn't do much good because we cried anyway when we landed.

The first one to greet us was the father of one of the girls from Texas (Judge Allen B. Hannay of Houston). He was a federal judge and got to come out on the customs boat. All of the girls that were around when he came on board cried and we kissed him just as if he were one of our own relatives.

When the boat finally got in we thought they were never going to let the gangway down and let us off. As we stood by the rail, we would think we saw someone we knew and began to wave only to see later that the person was a total stranger. Finally we got off the boat. All we had were small paper sacks with our "baggage," but we had to go through customs anyway.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The venerable Lewis Bonnett's death by newspaper

Lewis Bonnett, ca. 1881
Death claimed one of Lucas County's most successful and highly respected farmers, Lewis Bonnett, back in June of 1899 --- but it was the location rather than the fatal heart attack that caused many a tongue to wag.

Mr. Bonnett, widowed and a venerable 69 years of age, passed to his reward in a seedy hotel room above an equally seedy Chicago State Street bar in the company of a friend and two apparent ladies of the evening.

When at home near Chariton, Lew --- as he generally was known --- was the proprietor of The Pines, a farming operation of some 3,000 acres just south of Chariton that specialized in sheep --- thousands and thousands of sheep. It was, in fact, the sale of a rail car full of lambs that had taken him into Chicago in the first place. He also had a number of other business interests, including a building still partially upright on the south side of the square, home to the Sportsman Bar before its recent collapse.

Although some in Chariton blamed sensational reporting in the Chicago newspapers for the gossip that began to spread soon after Mr. Bonnett's demise, the actual stories were rather modest --- although picked up and published across Iowa and elsewhere in the days that followed. The Chicago Tribune, in fact, got the name and age wrong, as reflected in this item published Page 4 on Sunday, June 11, under the headline, "Sudden Death of Stockman: Lawrence Bonnett of Chariton, Ia., Expires Under Suspicious Circumstances."

"Lawrence Bonnett, 65 years old, a stockman of Chariton, Ia., died suddenly last night in a room at 308 State street under circumstances which the police consider suspicious.

"A few minutes prior to his death, it is said, he had been drinking with John Weffle, Lura Conn, and Hattie Livingstone in John Weiss' saloon below. Bonnett and Weffle were staying at the Drovers' Hotel, 848 Broad street. The body was taken to Rolston's Undertaking rooms, 22 Adams street.

"Leutenant Barrett thinks Bonnett died of heart failure, but he arrested Weffle and the two women and will detain them until after the inquest."


News of the death reached Chariton by telegraph on Sunday morning, and all three of Chariton's newspapers --- the Thursday Patriot, Thursday Herald and Friday Democrat --- reported on it later in the week, but adopted varying approaches.

The Patriot, published on Thursday --- the day after the funeral --- reported that, "Last Sunday morning a telegram from Chicago announced the sudden death of Lewis Bonnett. Naturally the community was greatly shocked and further news of the sad event were anxiously awaited. George Bonnett, son of the deceased, and H.D. Copeland went to Chicago at once. They found the body in control of the Coroner and were present at the inquest. The newspaper dispatches sent out were as usual sensational and misleading. Several persons were placed under arrest upon the presumption that Mr. Bonnett died from possible violence, but the investigation proved this to be entirely unfounded. The verdict of the Corner's jury was that the deceased died from heart trouble and all persons arrested on suspicion were released and wholly exonerated from having anything to do with the cause of death."

At this point, however, rather than just shutting up, The Patriot editor climbed aboard his editorial high horse and began to moralize, a tactic that didn't do much to subdue the rumors about the circumstances of Bonnett's death then circulating.

"Therefore, realizing how undertain is life, and how soon perhaps, many of us may need charitable judgement," he wrote, "we should not indulge in self righteous, unsparing condemnation of the dead. When the Divine hand is raised in solemn majesty over a closed life, human judgement may well be silent. The dead are beyond our puny efforts to do them evil or good. We may unnecessarily, hurt the feelings of the living but the dead are safe from our power to praise or censure."

Whoa! This is NOT effective damage control, sir.


The editor of The Herald, also published on Thursday, produced a more detailed report and in doing so recorded for posterity the official narrative, in Lucas County at least, of a favorite son's death:

"The facts and circumstances connected with the death of Lewis Bonnett, have been so distorted by the sensational articles appearing in the Chicago papers that we deem it but just to his friends and relatives to publish the following account thereof as we get it from H.D. Copeland, who went to Chicago on last Sunday.

"It appears that Mr. Bonnett had been suffering with heart disease for several years and that he had frequently predicted that he would suddenly die some day from the effect thereof. He went to Chicago to sell a car load of sheep. He disposed of his sheep, and on Saturday morning he made a small investment in wheat on the board of trade which he was informed in the evening had netted him a profit of $750. In the afternoon, he with a friend attended the races. They returned to their hotel at the stockyards and took supper about 6 o'clock p.m. After supper, Mr. Bonnett, feeling well pleased over the result of his wheat investment, suggested that they should go to town and attend some theater, remarking that he could afford to purchase the tickets.

"They went to Kohl & Middleton's Museum, 310 State Street, just opposite the Seigel-Cooper store. About 11 o'clock, after the show was over they started back to their hotel, but while crossing the street Bonnett suddenly fell to the street helpless, and he was carried into a saloon and from there to a room in a hotel over the saloon. Parties were immediately dispatched for a physician, but Mr. Bonnett was dead when the physician arrived. The post-mortum examination showed very clearly that he died from fatty degeneration of the heart.

"It is supposed that the heat, exercise and excitement of the day brought on the attack which resulted in his death. About the time of his death, the police entered the room and, as the reputation of the hotel was not good, they assumed that he had been drugged and robbed, and arrested every person, including two girls, until they could make an investigation. After making inquiry they were all released. This was the only foundation for the sensational stories published in the Chicago and Kansas City papers. The story that Mr. Bonnett had been robbed of some money and a valuable diamond stud was without foundation, as it was afterwards ascertained that he had safely deposited his money and diamond before leaving the hotel."


The editor of The Democrat, published on Friday, June 16, averted his editorial gaze entirely from the circumstances of death and just published the following obituary, telling us more about the life rather than the death of Mr. Bonnett:

"The news of the sudden death of Mr. Lewis Bonnett, which occurred in Chicago last Saturday evening, and which was due to heart failure, came as a great shock to his family and friends.

"The remains were brought to this city Monday evening and on Wednesday morning at ten o'clock largely attended funeral services, conducted by Rev. W. V. Whitten, were held at his late home, "The Pines," in Benton township. A large concourse of sorrowing friends then followed the remains to their last resting place in the Chariton cemetery.

"Lewis Bonnett was born in Mount Vernon, Knox county, Ohio, on May 24, 1830, and was the son of John and Elizabeth Bonnett. When a young man he moved to Illinois where he started out on his own responsibility, his first occupation being that of school teacher in Piatt county. He was next employed on a stock farm in McLean county.

"He has herded stock on the place where now stands Rush Medical college and is familiar with all the country about Chicago. Ever since 1852 he has been more or less interested in the stock business, raising, buying and selling. Through the kindness of his father he secured one hundred acres of land in Illinois which he sold before coming to Iowa.

"He came to this state in 1865, and his first location was here in Chariton. The following year he moved to Benton township where he has since resided. In his operations here Mr. Bonnett was wonderfully successful and became one of the wealthiest men in the county. He was a prominent democrat and in 1884 was a candidate for congress.

"On December 12, 1859, he was united in marriage to Miss Maria Virgin, who died March 17, 1890. They were the parents of five children, John V., Arthur Isaac, George Y., Louis Rex, and Mrs. E. Ruth Trump, all of whom are living and in their sorrow have the heartfelt sympathy of the entire community."


As a footnote to Chariton Cemetery history, both Lewis and his wife, Maria, were interred initially in the Stanton Vault --- during the 1890s among the most prestigious final resting places Lucas County offered. As the years passed and the vault was allowed to deteriorate, however, their children evacuated the remains to the highest point in the southern part of the cemetery, overlooking the Chariton River valley below, where they continue to rest, one hopes, in peace.

Rather than discarding the iron-bound marble doors that had fronted their vaults in the Stanton mausoleum, the family brought them along to the new resting place where they remain, although in a badly deteriorated condition.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Time marches on --- to the tune of forgetfulness

Those of us involved in the Design Division of Chariton Area Chamber-Main Street move from place to place for monthly meetings --- in the Chamber conference room now and then, at the high school since two of our members are students, last month in the now-vacant former home of the Chariton newspapers and yesterday --- in the post-World War II annex to the American Legion Hall, built to house the Legionnaires' bar and club room, now refurbished as a conference room/meeting space.

So we were sitting around a table talking about a space that now looks much like any other well-appointed modern conference room, mostly for the benefit of division members who had never been inside before, and someone mentioned that this wing of the post-World War I hall --- a dignified and graceful brick structure designed by Chariton architect William Lee Perkins --- was a repurposed Quonset hut, purchased as thousands were after World War II as government surplus and then given a masonry facade that disguises the hoop shape of the original corrugated metal building.

Some were surprised some years ago, when the time came to add the Legion Hall to the National Register of Historic Places, that our architectural historian was as excited by the "hut" as she was by the main building and it became a major talking point in the building's successful nomination.

The surprise yesterday, at least to those of use more or less in the Baby Boomer generation, was that our younger friends, from high school age through Millennial, had no idea what a Quonset hut was. Oops. Time moves on and forgetfulness takes charge.


On an entirely different and far more significant level, Thursday also was Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day --- not something we talked about at that morning meeting.

But I did read several reports during the day suggesting that our collective memory of the Holocaust and its implications also is fading as Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans die and Baby Boomers age.

A surprising number, especially of Millennials (roughly defined as those 18-34 years of age), had little if any knowledge of the Holocaust according to one survey, more underestimated its toll (approximately 6 million European Jews were slaughtered) and many couldn't name even one of the notorious "camps" where slaughter occurred --- Auschwitz, for example.


And then there were the posts that appeared in my social media feeds that focused on what generally is characterized as "comparative genocide."

Those who enter this historical minefield generally argue that while the Holocaust was undeniably horrible, comparaisons can be made between it and other atrocities --- in the United States, for example, with the horrors of slavery and the fate of millions of indigenous people.

On the one hand, it's positive to see growing awareness of humanity's "inhumanity" on various levels; on the other, it's very important to understand the that Holocaust was unique in human history in ways that defy comparison.

Winston Churchill declared, "'There is no doubt this is the most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world, and it has been done by scientific machinery by nominally civilised men in the name of a great State and one of the leading races of Europe." 

And Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt has added, "It was the only time in recorded history that a state tried to destroy an entire people, regardless of an individual's age, sex, location, profession, or belief. And it is the only instance in which the perpetrators conducted this genocide for no ostensible material, territorial, or political gain." 

As many others have pointed out, the Holocaust remains beyond comprehension. Which is why it must be remembered.

We all look for explanations. I'm convinced, for example, that the seeds of the Holocaust --- and much other wickedness --- were planted and nurtured by the Christian movement as it wrestled its way into power and worked to solidify its influence, still an ongoing process.

But that doesn't explain the Holocaust, neither promoted nor countenanced by the church as a whole although certainly tolerated in its darkest recesses.

It remains an example, perhaps the purest, of pure evil and a reminder of what can happen when the careful balance in all of us between good and evil tips toward the latter.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The citizens of Lucas encounter an "anti-Christ"

Missionaries in America have come in all shapes, sizes, genders --- and outlooks. And many of them have spent at least a little time in Iowa, including John Eleazer Remsburg (1848-1919), among the most widely known late 19th and early 20th century apostles of free thought; a prolific author whose books remain available today.

Perhaps the most widely known of his works is The Christ, published in 1909.  In it, he argues that while Jesus may have been a real person, the Christ of the gospels is in large part a myth.

Before death came in California during 1919, Remsburg estimated that he had delivered more than 3,000 lectures across America, much of the time while headquartered in Atchison, Kansas. At least six of these stops were in Lucas County and nearby Humeston back in the summer of 1895.

Newspaper files confirm that he spoke in Hatcher's Hall at Russell on July 1 and 2, 1895; then traveled to Humeston, just over the line in Wayne County, where he held forth at the Opera House on the evenings of July 3 and 4. On Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 12 and 13, he was speaking in Lucas.

The Chariton Herald of Aug. 15 carried this brief report of his lecture there: "J.E. Remsburg the Free Thinker was very well patronized Monday and Tuesday nights. He set many to thinking. Lucas has never heard the liberalists' side of the question before. One of our people was much worked up over the lectures and attempted to swallow Remsburg, but not having any lacto peptin, his digestive organs could not stand such a dose."

A week later, in its edition of Aug. 22, The Herald allowed a few inches of space to a correspondent identified as "T.R.A." who may or may not have been that "worked up" audience member. T.R.A.'s words were published under a headline that left little doubt about his (or her) views --- "A Modern Anti-Christ." Here's the text:

"It is a grave mistake to say 'that it is doubtful whether there is a God or not.' It is not in the least doubtful, but the most certain thing in the world; nay, the foundation of all other certainty. That there is a moral government of the world admits no reasonable doubt.

"Monday and Tuesday, August 12 and 13, we had a Mr. J.E. Remsburg, a Free Thinker, at Lucas. I cannot style him 'Reverend.' I would style him an anti-Christ.

"The moderators announced that he would lecture on 'The Bible and Morality.' But in speaking on the moral principles taught in the Bible, he harped on the immorality of certain parts, historically inserted, leaving the moral precepts abounding therein. Thereby he  affronted and insulted our good Presbyterians, Methodists, Latter Day Saints and others. He seems to have come to Lucas with the idea that the Christians in Lucas were as irreverent as the Free Thinkers, and needed to be taught that it was wrong for Jacob to be assisted by his mother to secure the patriarchal blessing when he had bought it for a mess of sod pottage. Esau was like some of the Free Thinkers; his perception was so limited that he could not comprehend his own weakness and perverseness. We fail to see wherein the likes of Mr. Remsburg can be of any benefit to any community or to the world at large."

Sadly, I don't know who "T.R.A." might have been.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

What a friend we have in Facebook ....

I'm not sure how long Facebook has been my "friend," but do know that the distant cousins who introduced me to it years ago no longer are friends in the social media sense although we're still capable of civil conversation otherwise. We parted company via Facebook years ago as a result of political incompatibility.

So it was interesting to read via The New York Times this morning about yesterday's appearance on Capitol Hill by Mark Zuckerberg, founder, chair and CEO, now facing bipartisan angst.

One inquisitor asked Mr. Zuckerberg if he'd be comfortable with the world knowing which hotel he was a guest at Monday night. The answer was "no." The logical followup might have been --- "I wouldn't be damnfool enough to share that information on Facebook."

Here's the deal --- Facebook for most of us is a free service and when you get involved with it you've got to live with the fact that much of what you post, depending upon your settings, is going to be available to anyone, anywhere. And, most likely, anyone truly interested in your innermost secrets can figure out a way to find out what they are --- if you're damnfool enough to share them.


Years ago, a part-time co-worker got religion and as part of his healing process decided to share with the entire office his addiction to pornography. This was not information the rest of us had any interest in having. I'm certain that if Facebook had existed at the time, he would have shared it there, too. This guy may have felt better after getting that secret off his chest --- but it complicated working relationships for a time thereafter. It's embarrassing to have to take refuge in the restroom when overcome by a fit of the giggles.

Which leads to a basic social media rule --- don't.

Jesus may be your friend, but Facebook isn't.


There are other useful rules --- if you drink excessively or engage with controlled substances, don't post while under the influence; don't share two dozen mindless memes a day (you're not winning hearts and minds, merely boring your friends); if you can't control your temper, back away from the keyboard; pity parties can be overdone; stop with the excessive cussing --- you're just demonstrating publicly your inability to use the language creatively.

On the other hand, Facebook is an excellent place to learn how to practice restraint. 

But the fact those wiley Russians influenced the last presidential election by sharing disinformation should surprise no one. The appalling thing is, so many were unable or unwilling to do the homework needed to recognize disinformation in the first place.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Yom Hashoah

Some time ago, a flurry of ignorant and offensive memes began to appear in my social media feeds, blaming Holocaust horrors on the absence of a 2nd Amendment equivalent to ensure the right of European Jews of the 1930s and 1940s to be armed. It took a while to "unfriend" the idiots who shared them.

Perhaps because of that experience, the dark underside of Holy Week seemed more evident this year --- the mindless and long-established Christian habit of scapegoating "the Jews" while observing this annual festival of death, resurrection and renewal; a habit many, including myself, believe was a major factor in that great calamity 70 years ago, birthed as fascism spread across Europe.

And now we're approaching Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust day of remembrance observed in Israel and many other nations, including the United States. Here, Congress some years ago designated an entire week --- from the Sunday before Yom Hashoah until the Sunday after --- as days of remembrance.

Yom Hashoah itself, April 12 this year, coinciding with the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, commences at sundown Wednesday. Light a candle; resolve to do better --- and never forget.