Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Shrove Tuesday pancakes!

Thanks to our highly efficient wait staff --- some dozen Girl Scouts from the troop home-based in our parish hall with two Cub Scouts tossed in for good measure. 

And to all who came and ate last evening during St. Andrew's Shrove Tuesday pancake supper. It had been a cold day and we were happy to see so many people.

And to Hy-Vee, too, which donated the ham --- especially tasty this year.

I didn't get the head count (busy washing dishes), but did hear that between $350 and $400 was raised for the Ministry Center Food Bank, where all the proceeds of this annual event go.

There was no conflict either in the parish hall, where food was served, or in the kitchen --- despite a slight difference in pancake philosophy between the two cooks. Sherry Steinbach prefers three larger pancakes to a grill (therefore just two on a plate for the initial serving); Bill Gode, six pancakes per grill, three cakes on the first plate.

Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday is an English tradition --- over there, it was "Pancake Day" yesterday --- carried forward over here by many Episcopal, and other, churches.

There are differences, however, between pancake types. American pancakes are fat and poofy, served with butter and syrup. English pancakes are thinner, somewhere between an American cake and a thin French crepe, and traditionally are served with just lemon juice and sugar. Here's a slightly whacky English video that demonstrates the proper English technique.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Chariton's Amazing Rabbi Gendler, Part 2

This is the second of two posts about Rabbi Everett Gendler, born in Chariton during 1928, and his family, parents Max and Sara and sister, Annette, and others. The Max Gendler family lived in Chariton until 1939, when they moved to Des Moines. Their principal business was Gendler grocery, located on the southeast corner of the square in the building that now houses Chariton Floral.


When the last post ended, in 1936, Max Gendler had sold his Chariton grocery operation to two gentlemen from Lamoni, Charles Hyde and David Vredenburg. The store reopened as the Chariton Supply Store and prospered.

Hyde & Vredenburg incorporated during 1938, with 15 stores and headquarters in Lamoni, In 1945, company headquarters were moved to Chariton when the Chariton Wholesale Co. was purchased. And in 1952, all of those "Supply Stores" became Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee, today, operates 240 supermarkets across the upper Midwest. Although headquarters now are located in West Des Moines, it remains Lucas County's largest employer.

Max Gendler, meanwhile, turned his attention full time to his dairy operation. In 1936, he offered the only pasteurized milk available commercially in Chariton --- up to half the milk sold in the United States at the time and until after World War II was "raw." He may have been ahead of his time, since the pasteurized product was slightly more expensive. Whatever the cause, he closed out the dairy operation during 1937.

His next enterprise was a used car dealership, located at the intersection of North Grand and Roland. Then he went to work as a salesman for the A.D. Busick Quarry at Osceola, then for Concrete Material and Construction Co., Des Moines. Principal offerings were agricultural lime and crushed limestone.

During 1939, the Gendlers moved from Chariton to Des Moines.


Everett Gendler, who had begun his education as "Gene" Gendler at Garfield Elementary, went on to graduate from Des Moines Roosevelt High School in 1946 and earn a B.A. degree from the University of Chicago before enrolling at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City, where he was ordained a Conservative rabbi upon graduation during June of 1957. He met and married Mary Loeb during 1964 and they have two daughters.

I'm not even going to attempt to write about Rabbi Gendler's career --- much has been written about his philisophy, interests and achievements and that information is available to anyone who cares to look. One place to begin is the Web Site of "The Gendler Grapevine Project"  or his Wikipedia entry, which is located here.

Rabbi Gendler's first pastoral assignment was in Mexico City and he served other Latin American congregations before becoming rabbi of the Jewish Center in Princeton, N.J. In 1971, he became rabbi at Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, Massachusetts, and in 1977 was appointed the first Jewish chaplain of Phillips Academy in Andover. He retained both those positions until retirement in 1995.

Rabbi Gendler has had and continues to have an amazing career, deeply involved in causes ranging from pacifism through civil rights and justice issues to organic gardening, the latter inspired by pioneering activists and simple living advocates Scott and Helen Nearing. 

He also is, more than likely, the only Lucas County native to have had more than a passing acquaintance with both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama.


Two other members of the extended Gendler family, their spouses and children were Chariton residents during the 1920s and 1930s.

Max Gendler's younger brother, Morris, whose interests were primarily automotive, moved to Chariton from Albia at about the same time his brother did. He sold used cars, then new cars, and built a new garage just across Grand Street west of the post office. He moved to Ottumwa during 1935 and remained in business there for the remainder of his life.

Max's sister, Dorothy, married Aaron Lewis --- and they were in the automotive business in Chariton, too, during the late 1930s. Sadly, Aaron Lewis, then operating the Chevrolet garage, took his own life in Chariton during August of 1940 and his wife and two young children moved elsewhere a couple of years later.


After moving to Des Moines, Max Gendler founded the Gendler Stone Products Co., which he operated very successfully from a capital-city base until his death at age 68 after a short illness during July of 1962, an honored member of both Tifareth Israel (Conservative) and Beth El Jacob (Orthodox) synagogues. Sara Gendler died in Des Moines during 1980.

Annette Gendler, also a Chariton native, married Dr. Stanley L. Isaacson, then teaching at Iowa State University, during 1952 and they eventually established their home in Des Moines where, in addition to serving as an associate professor at ISU he took over the presidency of Gendler Stone Products after his father-in-law's death. He became a leader of the Des Moines Jewish community, serving as president of Tifereth Israel and contributing to many other causes, Jewish and otherwise, providing an "ethical compass" for his community, according to The Des Moines Register obituary published upon his death at age 79 during September of 2006 in Sarasota, Florida.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Chariton's amazing Rabbi Gendler & Hy-Vee, too

Ok, so it's a little presumptuous to claim Rabbi Everett Gendler as Chariton's own, although like all true Lucas Countyans of certain ages (like me), he was born at Yocom Hospital --- on August 8, 1928. And he lived here with his parents, Max and Sara Gendler, and sister, Annette, until he turned 11. Then the family moved to Des Moines. But I'm going to stake the claim anyway.

Rabbi Gendler, now approaching 90, and his wife, Mary, are alive and well and living in Massachusetts, by the way. The link to Hy-Vee will become obvious farther along.

That's a youthful (at age 40) Rabbi Gendler --- both civil rights and peace activist --- at far right in the photo here, taken at Arlington National Cemetery during February of 1968 when 2,000-2,500 clergy and lay people, opponents of the war in Vietnam, gathered to pray for peace at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The others are (from left) Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath (carrying a Torah). Dr. King was assassinated a month later, on April 4, 1968.

Rabbi Gendler also sometimes is referred to as the father of Jewish environmentalism, an interest that he traces in part to his boyhood in Chariton.

"I was born in Chariton, Iowa, and lived there eleven years: a small town surrounded by open country. Nature was omnipresent," he wrote in an essay for Volume II of "Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 years of Ecology in Jewish Thought," published in 2000.

In another essay, contributed to Ellen Bernstein's "Ecology and the Jewish Spirit," published in 1998, he recalled the family Passover Seder in Chariton: "From as early as I can remember, each year our Passover plate had on it charoset, horseradish, an egg, a shankbone, a potato, and a bowl of salt water. Thus was the mandate from Sinai, rabbinically interpreted, played out at the Gendlers' table in Chariton, Iowa, the farming town of 5,000 where I spent my first eleven years. The familiarity of that plate was reassuring, and the potato dipped in salt water, eaten so soon after the sweet Kiddush wine, was just the carbohydrate fix that a small child needed to sit through those seemingly endless pages of prayers."


Everett Gendler's grandfather, Chaim Harry Gendler, came from Russia to the United States in the late 1880s, if census records are to be believed, when he was about 19. He then returned to Russia to marry Rosa Goldner and their two sons, Max and Morris, were born there. Harry seems to have returned to the United States after Morris's birth, earned enough to bring Rosa and Morris over in 1902; and finally, Max, who was the eldest, arrived alone.

The family had been reunited in Oskaloosa by 1910, where three daughters were born --- Ruth Charlotte, Dorothy and Frances "Fanny." Soon after 1910, the Gendlers moved to Albia, where Harry opened a grocery store.

It was Harry Gendler's younger brother, Phillip Meyer Gendler, who was the first family member to settle in Chariton. Phillip had been in the grocery business on Chicago's north side, but in part to be nearer family purchased G.H. Fletcher's grocery store on the south side of the Chariton square effective Feb. 15, 1921. A World War I veteran, he made a good impression by joining immediately both the Chariton Commercial Club and the American Legion post.

On New Year's Day, 1922, Phillip was back in Chicago to wed Natalle Haber at her parents' home and they returned to Chariton to live. 

Soon thereafter, Phillip's nephew, Max, moved to Chariton from Albia and went to work for his uncle. The Phillip Gendlers decided to return to Chicago after a year or two and about 1924 Max and his father purchased the Gendler grocery store in Chariton from him. By this time, Max had married Sara Whiteman, some six years his junior and the daughter of an Oskaloosa grocer.

Gendler Grocery flourished under Max's management and effective Feb. 24, 1926, he moved the business into larger quarters --- the Dewey Block, located at the intersection of Grand Street and Court Avenue at the southeast corner of the square (now, in 2016, the home of Chariton Floral).

Son Everett was born in 1928 and daughter, Annette, four years later.

The Gendler family was observant, affiliated with Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Des Moines, and when there was a conflict between holy days and business hours, Gendler Grocery closed.

Max was an entrepreneur, always on the lookout for opportunity; and during June of 1931 he purchased the former Dave Clark farm south of Chariton along Highway 34 near the Wayne County line and built a big new barn and shed capable of housing up to 80 cattle.

This, he developed into the Gendler Dairy operation. During June of 1935, he purchased pasteurization equipment so that he could process the milk and cream the dairy produced himself and moved the processing operation into a room at the rear of the grocery store.

During August of 1936 Max received an offer that apparently was too good to refuse. Two men from Lamoni who had developed a fledgling chain of 12 small grocery stores in southern Iowa were looking for a way to enter the Chariton market.

They made Max an offer, and he accepted. The sale of Gendler Grocery was announced on Tuesday, Aug. 18 --- very close to press time for The Chariton Leader. As a result the brief story about the transaction was buried on Page 8, where late-breaking news that did not seem to have earth-shifting significance tended to end up.

Had the editor of The Leader known the significance this sale would have for the future of Chariton, I'm guessing that more of an effort would have been made to find a place for the story on  Page 1.

The purchasers were Charles Hyde and David Vredenburg, Mr. Hyde and Mr. Vredenburg, Hy-Vee.

To be continued ...

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Armistice Day parade that wouldn't cancel

Here are two battered postcard views from the Lucas County Historical Society collection of what turned into one of Chariton's largest parades --- held on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1921, after transcending organizational nightmares that very nearly scuttled it.

The event had been planned for weeks, organized by a committee that had invited nearly everyone in Lucas County to participate --- patriotic and civic organizations, all of Chariton's schools, all of Lucas County's rural schools, township delegations.

Then, according to a report in The Herald-Patriot of Nov. 17, Armistice Day dawned "the coldest, bleakest day so far in November." The skies were spitting snow and the wind was harsh.

Because hundreds of children were scheduled to participate, the organizing committee had promised to cancel the parade if the weather was bad --- and early on parade day an effort was made to do that.

The only method of instant mass communication at that time involved the telephone. Switchboard operators across the county got busy once the decision to cancel came down making "general calls" --- also sometimes called "line rings" --- notifying everyone who had a telephone and was home or at a place of business to pick it up that the parade would not be held.

As it turned out, this was a parade that refused to be cancelled. Many township delegations and rural school entries already were on the road, floats already were hitched to horses or motorized vehicles and ready to go, Chariton school officials notified the committee that hundreds of students were "rarin' to go" and the Grand Army of the Republic and American Legion boys --- veterans respectively of the Civil War and World War I --- were in uniform and ready to march.

So despite the weather, additional general calls went out and the parade launched more or less as planned, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

The parade was six blocks long, processing on Grand Street south along the east side of the square down to Armory, west to Main, north to Braden, then right on Braden. Since there was more parade than there was square, a counter-march began at Piper's Corner, reversing the route for lead entries until the entire square was filled with parade participants.

The first postcard view shows the Grand Army of the Republic contingent --- surviving Civil War veterans with their own band --- who led the parade, marching south on Grand. The float immediately behind, pulled by plumed horses, held members of the Womens Relief Corps, the GAR auxiliary.

The second postcard view is of student participants in the parade, led by the Columbus School parent-teacher organization entry.

Following the parade, children went back to school and some participants went home --- but hundreds took advantage of meals being served by the women of churches nearest the square. Because it was so cold, the women collectively decided that coffee would be free to all comers. There also was an ongoing benefit at the southside Lincoln Theatre to raise funds to build a new American Legion post home. A late afternoon baseball game (Lacona won) and an evening benefit dance also were held.

A stand had been erected on the courthouse lawn for the afternoon program --- there always was an afternoon program during an event like this. But it was too cold. So the congregation of First Methodist Church opened its doors --- and that's where the program was held, inside the packed building.

Despite the difficulties, all involved pronounced the parade a great success. They just don't make Armistice Days (now Veterans Days) like they used to.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

More on CCC Camp Chariton

Yesterday's post was about CCC Camp Chariton, located in east Chariton from 1933 until 1941, home base for the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps corpsmen who built Red Haw State Park and developed thousands of acres of what now is Stephens State Forest. Now, thanks to Melody Wilson, here's more.

Melody discovered an outfit called Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy while researching her dad's service in a New York state unit, and shared this link to its Web site in case you are interested in discovering more about the Corps.

One of the links on this Web site is to a PDF version of the 1937 yearbook of Company 2715, which occupied Camp Chariton from the summer of 1934 until it closed. (Camp Chariton opened in May of 1933 as Iowa's fourth CCC encampment, but the camp was not winterized so it closed late that fall and didn't reopen until April of 1933. Company 2715 moved in during August and built the permanent camp.)

Most of this slim volume's pages contain generic history of the Civilian Conservation Corps, but I've lifted four pages that contain a history --- up to 1937 --- of Company 2715 as well as photos of Chariton-based corpsmen who were serving at the time the yearbook was prepared for publication, including my uncle, Richard Miller.

I understand there also is a copy of this volume in the genealogy room of the Chariton Free Public Library, but I couldn't locate in Friday when I stopped in to take a look.

Here's a transcription of the unit history:

"The organization of Company 2715, CCC, was begun at Indianola, Iowa, July 1, 1934, and at the completion of the enrollment period July 12, 1934, the company strength totaled 229 enrollees. Conditioning of the enrollees began immediately and lasted until August 3, 1937. Lt. Marion G. Ferguson was the first company commander, ably assisted by Lt. Gorton, as junior officer, and E.R. Crandle, as camp surgeon.

On August 3, 1934, and continuing until August 4, 1934, the company moved from Indianola, Iowa, and to the new camp site at Chariton, Iowa. Upon arrival at the new camp site the construction of supply, headquarters and hospital tents were immediately completed. By nightfall of August 4, 1934, the entire command were comfortably housed in tents.

Under the competent guidance of Lt. Ferguson and Lt. Gorton the enrollees went to work to make a beautiful camp site out of a proverbial Sand Pile which by popular acclaim was nicknamed Camp Dizzy.

The entire company of men remained in camp for the first two weeks after their arrival at Chariton. With quarters constructed and grounds beautified moderately the company was then turned over to the DPE service to begin the work project. A.V. Wiggins was the first project superintendent, and assisting him were Foremen O'Harron, Lake and Leathers.

By September 24, 1934, the entire command was housed in permanent barracks buildings only slightly adjacent from the old tent camp and the new task of cleaning, policing and area beautification was immediately instigated.

No change in army personnel was affected until January 11, 1935, at which time Lt. Crandle was transferred to Indianola and Lt. D.G. Kelling transferred to this organization as camp surgeon. He departed this station July 4, 1935, and was replaced by Lt. Groen, who departed this station March 21, 1936, being replaced by Lt. Van Matre April 12, 1936, who in turn departed November 1, 1936, being replaced by Dr. Adams, contract surgeon, who resigned June 23, 1937. At present this organization's health is being administered by Dr. Pfeiffer of Leon, Iowa.

Lt. Ferguson remained in command until June 1, 1935, when he was transferred and Lt. Gorton competently took charge of the Chariton company.

Early in 1936 this company became Camp SCS-19, under the direction of Mr. J.B. Tracy as camp superintendent with the chief type of work being soil base maps and surveying, 29,565 acres; fencing, 3,564 rods; timber improvement, 73 acres; lime production, 2,828 tons; pasture demonstration, 79 acres; bank sloping, 30,016 square yards; permanent dams, 20; temporary dams, 40; seeding and sodding, 391,445 square yards; tree planting, 261,944 square yards; diversion ditches, 4,417 linear feet; terracing, 5.8 miles; bird feeding, 102 shelters; and many other types of work.

On July 1, 1937, this company became a forestry camp, S-104, and as such is now engaged in lake construction, timber improvement, etc. This endeavor is under the direct supervision of R.B. Campbell, camp superintendent.

Junior officers who have served as members of the command are: Lt. Swisher, 2nd Lt. FA-Res., May 17, 1935, until October 16, 1935; Lt. Warner, 2nd Lt. Cav-Res., November 20, 1935, March, 1936; Lt. Peterman, 2nd Lt. Inf-Res., May, 1936, to July, 1937.

With the inauguration of the educational department in the CCC Mr. L.C. Taylor was assigned as the first educational adviser Nov. 5, 1935. On August 16, 1936, Mr. Taylor was succeeded by Mr. C.R. Powell, who has continued since in that capacity.

The educational program maintains an average of 25 to 30 subjects and every member of the command is engaged in two or more educational activities.

The official personnel of the company at the present is Lt. Donald G. Gorton, commanding officer; Lieutenant D.S. Hull, executive officer; Lt. Pfeiffer, camp surgeon; C.R. Powell, camp educational adviser; and R.B. Campbell, camp superintendent.

A question was asked yesterday about the location of CCC records --- apparently enrollment records are in custody of the National Archives and Records Administration, St. Louis branch. Here's a link to the CCC Legacy page that contains links for use by those interested in further research.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Indelible memorials to CCC Camp Chariton

Chariton's east water tower, built during 1939 with 45 percent financing from Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal Public Works Administration, is the principal landmark along 1st Street now, towering over modest homes nearby.

But once upon a time --- not long ago, but beyond the memory of most --- hundreds if not thousands of jobless young men in need of a helping hand passed through a regimented enclave of military-style buildings just to the southeast. It was known informally as Camp Chariton, officially as Co. 2175, Civilian Conservation Corps.

Located a short distance back in the field east of 1st Street, this place thrived for eight years --- from 1933 until 1941. When it closed, mostly because a majority of the young men it served now were finding jobs in war-related industry and soon would be headed off to war, it left Lucas County and surrounding counties immeasurably enriched.

During its first years, from 1933 until 1937, countless erosion-control measures were implemented in Lucas, Wayne, Clarke and Decatur counties by corpsmen headquartered here and the Red Haw State Park dam was built. Then, emphasis  shifted to forestry --- completion of Red Haw park, development of thousands of acres of Stephens State Forest, even the front gates of the Chariton Cemetery were among the results. Hundreds of thousands of trees were planted.


The first 187 corpsmen, led by Capt. R.H. Slider of the 18th Field Artillery, arrived in Chariton by train from Fort Des Moines about 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 27, 1933, and were transported to the Camp Chariton site where they erected tents to shelter themselves for the night. By the next evening a tent city had sprung up. This was Iowa's fourth CCC encampment.

CCC companies were not military units, but military men led them at first in large part because they were experienced in managing large numbers of young men. A modified but not harsh version of military discipline was imposed. The young men were single, between the ages of 18 and 23 at first, later between 17 and 28, and from families that were in financial trouble.

They were provided with shelter, clothing and food and paid a wage of $30 per month. Of this, the corpsmen kept perhaps $5 a month to meet personal needs. The rest was sent home to aid their families. The men typically worked 40 hours over 5 days each week and were free to come and go on their days off. Most didn't go very far, in part because they didn't have any money.

As the weeks and months passed, a couple of temporary Camp Chariton buildings were erected in a distinct military pattern, but a majority of the camp's 20 or so structures --- including a kitchen and mess hall, headquarters building, recreation hall and library, infirmary, educational building, barracks, officer quarters, showers and toilets, and garages for unit vehicles --- were not built until the summer of 1934.

The corpsmen who were camped in Chariton during the summer and fall of 1933 worked on erosion-control measures --- terraces, ponds, etc. --- primarily for private landowners. When winter set in, they were transferred to winterized camps and the grounds in Chariton fell silent.

That changed during April of 1934, when nearly 100 corpsmen returned to the camp site. Their job was to plant trees --- nearly half a million black locusts to control erosion. When the planting season ended in early June, these men were transferred to another camp, in Corydon, and went to work there with a couple of hundred others on erosion-control structures.

Company 2715, which would make Chariton it's permanent home, was organized in Indianola during July of 1934 and on Aug. 3 and 4, 1934, its 229 corpsmen were transported to Chariton where living quarters consisted initially of tents. Because this was to be a permanent camp, work commenced immediately on the structures that would serve the unit through 1941. Because of the need for speed, local contractors and carpenters were called in --- with Clyde Best in charge. The camp was essentially complete by October 1.

Relations with the city of Chariton and its people seem always to have been amicable. The camp provided a welcome economic boost for the city --- and the young men were for the most part well-behaved, well-mannered and friendly. Residents were invited to open houses at Camp Chariton periodicaly. The camp was immaculately maintained --- and the men were expected to be neat and clean themselves.

The men came from all over, including some who were Lucas County natives. The minimum committment to the CCC was six months, but men could serve for up to two years if other employment could not be found.

Iowa's Department of Natural Resources has gathered a collection of oral histories from a few of the men who participated in the program, including some who served at Chariton. Their memories seem to be universally positive. They liked each other, enjoyed the work, respected their supervisors and were grateful for the opportunity. Some found "those guys from Arkansas" a little rough, however.


During July of 1941, it was announced that Camp Chariton would close on Aug. 15 and the men still stationed there would be transferred to Keosauqua. Several factors were cited. The supply of enrollees was drying up as more national defense work became available, Congress had cut funding for the CCC program --- never intended to be permanent --- and all scheduled work on both Red Haw and Stephens State Forest --- other than finishing touches on a lake in the forest southwest of Lucas --- had been completed.

For a time, Chariton's National Youth Administration program --- intended to prepare young people for work in war-related industries --- utilized the Camp Chariton buildings before moving back into town.

During October of 1942, a contingent of 50 Womens Army Auxiliary Corps members arrived at Camp Chariton to service some 60 trucks and other vehicles left behind when the CCC moved out so that they could be driven to Army shops and converted for military use.

The CCC had leased the Camp Chariton site from the Van Arsdale estate with the agreement that it would be restored to its original condition when the lease expired. That entailed removal of the camp buildings.

Otto Brown purchased the camp site as well as surrounding acres from the Van Arsdale estate during 1943 and the government gave all of the buildings to Lucas County's 4-H organization, which removed at least three to the fair grounds in Derby. The remaining buildings then were turned over to the city of Chariton.

After some negotiating, a deal finally was struck. Brown gave two-thirds of a block of land adjoining the one-third block on which the 1939 water tower sat to the city. The city kept two of the camp buildings, one for storage and another to use as a shop, then gave the others to Brown, who removed some, recycled others for alternate uses.

And that was the end of Camp Chariton. But every time you drive through Red Haw State Park or spend a few hours enjoying Stephens State Forest, you're interacting with living memorials to the young men who once called it home and helped build Lucas County.

Remember, too, that an estimated 3 million young men nationwide served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942, including a quarter of a million young black men, none of whom served in Chariton. Although the CCC program was integrated at first, local residents in places other than Iowa complained and in 1935, the program director ordered that all companies be strictly segregated.

Note: These snapshots from the Lucas County Historical Society collection probably were taken during late 1939 or 1940 --- aerial shots appear to have been taken from the new water tower completed during the fall of 1939.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

How about some Shrove Tuesday pancakes?

Somehow, while preoccupied with the Iowa Caucuses and moving a mountain of artifacts from one place to another at the museum, January vanished. Now, Ash Wednesday --- the beginning of Lent --- is almost upon us. 

If you're in the market for an Easter bonnet, you'll need to get your shopping done by Sunday, March 27 --- early this year. Forty-six days before Easter, Ash Wednesday (Lent is a 40-day season, but Sundays don't count). And one day before Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday --- Pancakes!

At St. Andrew's Church, we'll be serving our annual benefit pancake supper from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9, in the parish hall. Admission is by free-will donation and all proceeds will go the Lucas County Ministerial Association's Food Bank. Our Girl Scout troop will be doing the serving while we cook --- and they'll have Girl Scout Cookies for sale, too. So it's kind of a two-in-one benefit. All are welcome.

The tradition of serving pancakes on Shrove Tuesday seems to be English --- Shrove Tuesday is known as Pancake Day in England. Since Episcopal churches are Anglican, many of us serve up pancakes over here, too.

Lent, in the traditional church, is a season of penance and fasting --- far more austere in the early days than now. And in order to prepare for the Lenten fast, the observant --- rather than waste food --- developed the practice of feasting on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in order to consume as much as possible of foods that would be restricted during Lent, including fat, milk and eggs, components of pancakes.

Shrove Tuesday, of course, also is known as Mardi Gras --- which translates as Fat Tuesday. The carnival atmosphere now associated with Mardi Gras came along later.

Whatever the case, join us and do a little feasting for a good cause on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Caucus time in Iowa --- a century ago

I got to wondering Tuesday --- as post-caucus silence settled in across Iowa and candidates, their staffers and the big-time media vamoosed --- what the first day of February a century ago had been like politically here in the Hawkeye state.

Curiously enough, President Woodrow Wilson paid the state a visit that day, Feb. 1, 1916 (a Tuesday) --- speaking before a packed house in Des Moines during his first appearance in Iowa --- yes, first --- since his election during November of 1912.

About 25 folks from Chariton made their way to Des Moines on that bitterly cold morning to see and hear him, including Herald-Patriot editor and publisher W.D. Junkin (left), but were treated badly at the appearance venue --- the Des Moines Coliseum, a vast and ugly building that had opened during 1908 just north of the public library (now the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates) along the riverfront downtown. So badly, in fact, that Junkin devoted the early paragraphs of his report to complaining about the affront rather than discussing what the president said.


Republicans had handed the presidency to Wilson, a Democrat, during 1912 after getting into a nasty election-year fight that saw former president Theodore Roosevelt march off with the most liberal wing of the Grand Old Party to launch a third-party effort, the Progressives --- or Bull Moose contingent.

Wilson had achieved broad bipartisan popularity by 1916, presenting himself as the leader who kept the United States out of war --- World War I was raging across Europe that year and the Mexican Revolution was an ongoing issue south of the border.

Although it generally was assumed that Wilson would seek another term, he had not announced by February --- so far in advance of the general election. Nor had Republicans selected a candidate to oppose him (they would settle during June on Charles Evans Hughes, then an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and a moderate who, it was hoped, could reunite the badly fractured party).


Another major difference on the political scene in 1916 was the fact that Iowa women couldn't vote in any election for public office --- let alone run. The Iowa Legislature some years earlier had granted women of the state the right to vote in elections that didn't involve candidates --- for bond issues, public works projects and the like.

But those flighty females just weren't up to helping decide who would actually run the state and the federal government, or so a majority of the good old boys in the Iowa Legislature felt.

Women did have the vote in 12 states by 1916, including Iowa neighbors Kansas and Illinois, but most of the other universal suffrage states were in the West --- Washington, California, Wyoming (the first to grant universal suffrage, in 1869), Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, Montana and Alaska Territory.

Theodore Roosevelt and his Progressives had aggravated moderates and conservatives in both parties during 1912 by calling for a constitutional amendment imposing universal suffrage on the nation and the suffrage movement was gaining momentum. But later on during 1916, the best both Democrats and Republicans could do in their platforms was to endorse universal suffrage but insist that it was a matter best left up to individual states.


So if he wasn't campaigning for re-election in Des Moines on Feb. 1, 1916, what was Wilson up to? 

Well, he was trying to work his administration out of the corner it had backed itself into during the early years of his term by dismissing as unnecessary calls to shore up the rag-tag U.S. military --- just in case.

It had become increasingly clear to thoughtful people of all political persuasions that some form of U.S. intervention would be necessary to end the deadly war in Europe and protect U.S. interests. So Wilson now found himself trying to build a solid middle ground between the interventionism of Theodore Roosevelt and his progressives and the peace-at-any-price philosophy of Nebraska populist and pacifist William Jennings Bryan, still widely popular --- although a consistent loser as a presidential candidate --- among Democrats.

Wilson would go on to win the 1916 election as a peace candidate, but he was setting the stage for the turn-about that would result in the U.S. declaration of war against Germany that occurred during April of 1917 after German naval forces resumed unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters and  accelerated attacks on U.S. ships at sea.


Will Junkin finally did get to the meat of President Wilson's speech in his Herald-Patriot report of Feb. 3, 1916 --- but his account of how Lucas Countyans were treated in Des Moines on Feb. 1 is more entertaining:

"Perhaps twenty-five Lucas county citizens journeyed to Des Moines Tuesday to see and hear President Wilson in his first visit to Iowa. Of the number who went from here about one-half were able to gain admission to the big Coliseum building, Des Moines people being slipped into the north entrance of the hall in large numbers, while the unfortunates who came scores of miles from the outlying disticts were compelled to see Des Moines citizens cared for by the thousands.

"Arrangements for handling the crowd was a big task, too big for the experience of those in charge, apparently. At an early hour thousands of men and women stood at the south, or main entrance of the Coliseum in zero weather waiting for the doors to open, while other thousands who had received the tip were entering at the north doors. The Coliseum cares for 8,000 people and the room was completely filled when the president and his party entered about eight o'clock.

Junkin then goes on to summarize Wilson's points for Lucas County readers, but concludes:

"The cause he advocates is much stronger in Iowa for his coming, but it is to be regretted that he could not be heard by all who visited Des Moines."

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Scenes from a pretty darned good caucus

Just a few photos this morning from last night's caucus for Democrats in Chariton's Precincts 1 and 2 --- a packed house at the Chariton Senior Center (a rural precinct was gathered in another of the center's rooms, but I neglected to get in there).

It was a great turn-out, credit to all who came, but especially to the organizers --- everything went smoothly, everyone was friendly and it was a great mix of younger and older (the food was great, too; I admired but didn't manage to get a bite of Sherry's giant Hillary cookie).

When results were in from across the county, Lucas County was solidly in Hillary's camp, 60 percent to 40 percent for Bernie. Chariton Precinct 1 gave 10 delegates to Clinton and 4 to Sanders; Precinct 2, 8 to Hillary and 5 to Sanders. 

Younger folks clearly favored Sanders --- and that's great. Statewide, Clinton seems to have had a slight edge over Bernie, but it was pretty much a dead heat. That keeps both candidates on their toes and it's wonderful to have two candidates, both of whom are bright, creative, experienced, positive --- and sane.

The Hillary campaign effort in Lucas County was extraordinarily well organized by all sorts of highly competent people and that certainly was a factor in her strong showing here.

Lucas County Republicans followed state-wide trends, giving Cruz 36 percent; Trump, 27 percent; and Rubio, 13 per cent; but were more solidly in the Cruz camp than the state as a whole. 

There are complaints sometimes about Iowa's caucus system, but it really is a sight to behold when you watch in work from the grassroots up. Not that we're going to be exactly sorry to see the spotlight turned elsewhere now --- you've got to have a little peace and quiet sometimes.

Now we can get back to worrying about the weather. The good news here --- it looks like we're going to dodge Snowmageddon almost entirely. Wind is banging at the house this morning --- but it's only rain! To the northwest. Well, good luck.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Huntress 6: Harry's Swan Song, 1914-54

This is the sixth and final post about Chariton's Harry Hemphill, a star of the vaudeville stage who performed from 1894 until 1916-17 as "Huntress," musician, dancer and female impersonator extraordinaire. When the last post ended, Harry and his companion, George, had just landed in San Francisco aboard the steamship Sonoma after a nine-month performance tour of Australia and New Zealand. George was never identified further in a series of letters that Harry sent home to his friends at The Herald-Patriot during the tour, but I'm guessing this was George Lombard, Harry's prop manager. The photo of Harry as Huntress, at left, was taken in 1907, when he was 31.


Harry's letters home, a diversion for the hometown folks in Lucas County for nearly a year, ceased upon his arrival back on U.S. soil during April of 1914, but the work continued. He already had a three-month contract lined up that kept him busy performing on the West Coast vaudeville circuit until July.

Then, accompanied by his sister, Maude, Harry returned to Chariton --- Maude to visit; Harry, now manager and featured performer of an outfit called the Metropolitan Vaudeville Company, to organize his show for the fall 1914 season. During August, he was joined by his prop man, George Lombard, who lived in Colorado during the off-season. Walter Callanan, of New York --- Harry's advance man --- also came to town to work out details of the season schedule.

Harry described the Metropolitan, modestly, as the "largest and best independent vaudeville company traveling."

The show he lined up --- to premiere at Chariton's Grand Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 5 and 6, before going on the road  --- featured himself, of course, as Huntress. 

Preview stories declared that Huntress, "a $5,000 feature," carried more special scenery and elegrant wardrobe than any similar act on the vaudeville stage.

His opening act "is a grand series of transformation dances embellished with dazzling electrical effects," a preview story for the premier reported. "On the second night, he gives portrayals of leading celebrities, a beautiful act in two scenes and five changes of Parisian gowns. With the assistance of the entire company, Huntress produces on the closing night a pantomimic oriental spectacle entitled 'Cleopatra.' It is claimed that this production is not excelled by anything of a similar character on any vaudeville stage, and from point of moral tone, scenic elegance and perfection of detail is properly termed a classic."

Other performers who formed Harry's company were Hartigan and Pritchette, dramatic sketch artists, who had a reportoire of three playlets; Al Warda, a comedian known for both songs and monologues; the Sisters Hyacinthe, who performed one-act operettas; Pen Parker, aka The Boneless Wonder, contortionist, juggler and trapeze artist; and Baxter and Baxter, who performed Irish and black-face character sketches that would shock and appall 21st century audiences but were par for the vaudeville course early in the 20th century.

A glowing review of the performances, published in The Herald-Patriot of Sept. 10, notes that the Grand was packed on both evenings.


Harry's company hit the road a few days after its Chariton premier, took a winter break which Harry spent with his mother in Chariton, then resumed the tour during 1915. The 1915-1916 season was similar to the previous year's, but with a substantial difference --- this was Harry's swan song. At age 40, he had decided to retire from the stage.

It's possible only to guess why, since Harry left nothing behind to tell us. Most likely several factors were involved. In the first place, he was getting older and his act was an extraordinarily athletic one; secondly, he had been on the road constantly for 22 years, from age 18 until age 40. Finally, the nature of vaudeville was changing dramatically. 

Initially, those pesky "movies" had been just another vaudeville "act" sandwiched between live performances. Now, the performers were sandwiched between movies and film was becoming the principal attraction. Harry's act was big, complicated, expensive and challenging to stage --- and rapidly becoming obsolete.


Harry's final season was on the West Coast and by the time he reached home in Chariton during October of 1916, several decisions already had been made. He had come to collect his mother and settle down in California, or so he thought at the time.

Harry scheduled his farewell performance in Chariton on Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 24 and 25, at the Temple Theatre.  Although he would retain ownership of the Chariton bungalow until after his mother's death, the Hemphills sold most of her household goods on Oct. 26, along with some of Harry's trunks. And then they were gone.


Plans changed after a time in California, however, and Harry and his mother, Elizabeth, headed back to the Midwest during early 1917 and settled permanently in Rockford, Illinois, where he opened a school of dance, which prospered. By 1920, his sister and brother-in-law, Maude and James Sullivan, had joined them in Rockford and she was teaching dance, too.

About 1920, Harry decided to expand his operation and purchased the landmark Germania Hall, a three-story brick structure at  121 South Madison Street in Rockford built in 1890 by the Germania Gesang Verein, a social organization with strong emphasis on music. Harry promptly rechristened the building Hemphill's Egyptian Temple.

Pioneer Hall, aka Germania Hall, aka Hemphill's Egyptian Temple, in Rockford.

Harry's new quarters included a spacious apartment into which he settled with his mother, rooms for his dance studio --- and a hall with one of the best dance floors in the region. As a result, he started booking dance bands and opened what became a major social attraction in the Rockford area during the early 1920s.

Here's the lineup for a typical week during October, 1925 --- Dahlstrand's Orchestra on Tuesday evening, Oct. 20; Cedarstrom's Syncopators on Wednesday evening; Finkheimer's Frolickers on Thursday; Leaver's Famous Harp Orchestra on Friday evening; and the Peerless Society Seven on Saturday night.

"A pleasing variety of good dance orchestras five times each week with 'Old Time' on Fridays," Harry promised. This operation was conducted in addition to his regular work as a dance instructor and Harry and his staff traveled to Chicago, even New York, to make sure they were up on the latest dance trends.


As Harry's newest enterprise was thriving, however, his mother's health was failing and on July 7, 1922, she died with Maude and Harry, who had been caring for her, nearby. As late as May 6, Elizabeth had been staffing the Hemphill's Egyptian Temple ticket office, Harry reported in a long letter to The Herald-Patriot, published on July 13.

Rather than returning Elizabeth's remains to Chariton, Harry and Maude decided to bury her in Rockford's Greenwood Cemetery "where I can go and visit and be near her always," Harry wrote.

Plans change despite the best of intentions, however --- and it wasn't long before Elizabeth was stranded in Rockford with no one at all to visit her grave.


A couple years after Elizabeth's death, Harry decided somewhat unexpectedly to marry. His bride was Miss Anna C. Wenquist, two years his junior. Harry was 48 at the time of their marriage and Anna, 46.

The eldest daughter of Olof and Clara Wenquist and apparently the mainstay of her parents --- as Harry had been for Elizabeth --- Anna had been working as a clerk in a Rockford department store when they met, but soon after their marriage launched a new career and soon was teaching dance by Harry's side.


By 1926, James and Maude Sullivan had moved back to California and Harry and Anna decided to follow. The operation in Rockford was closed and by 1927, they had relocated to San Diego and opened Hemphill's Dance Studio.

The Hemphills lived for more than 20 years at 1740 Upas Street in San Diego, a house valued at $35,000 in 1930 (a considerable chunk of change even in California at that time). And they continued to teach dance --- as well as to choreograph local productions --- through World War II. They seem to have been both very successful --- and prosperous.

In 1946, Harry and Anna made a final trip to the Midwest. During late September, they spent several days with friends in Chariton, with a side trip to Des Moines to visit a special friend of Harry's, Miss Pearl Lewis, long an employee of the Chariton newspapers. They then continued on to Rockford to spend a few days, too, then on to Milwaukee.

Anna died Dec. 27, 1948, in San Diego. Harry sold the house and moved to smaller quarters, but remained active for about six more years. He died in San Diego on Sept. 23, 1954, age 78, having lived a long and quite remarkable --- although by now almost forgotten --- life.

While doing a little research in California about our old friend, I came across a request dating from the early 2000s for information about Hemphill's Dance Studio. San Diego-based SOHO (Save Our Heritage Organisation) reported that Legacy 106, a firm of archaeology and historic preservation consultants, had acquired photographs and other archival material related to Harry's and Anna's operation that appeared to date from the 1920s into the 1940s, but had no other information about the studio.

So some artifacts related at least to the final phase of Harry's career survived.

I doubt that I could help much with those final years, but certainly would be glad to share some information about what came before --- and now you can, too.