Friday, February 24, 2017

Escapism and the life of James Lees-Milne

There's nothing like a book when it comes to escapism, necessary diversion during these winter days of discontent and political turmoil. So I was happy to receive, earlier this week, a well-used copy of Michael Bloch's  2009 biography of James Lees-Milne, who is both a preservationist and literary hero of mine.

This is another of those temptations, priced under $10 with postage and handling included. A tag inside shows that it was previously housed at, then withdrawn as reader interest waned by, the City of York Libraries. Bloch, the author, is Lees-Milne's literary executor.

Lees-Milne (1908-1997) seems to have been constantly reinventing himself. He was a full-time employee from 1936 until 1950 (with the exception of two years of national service during World War II) of Britain's National Trust, almost single-handedly in some cases persuading the eccentric owners of some of England's great country houses to pass them into the care of the nation at a time when many of these grand buildings were being knocked down.

Although he continued to work part-time for the Trust, he launched his literary career about 1950, writing architectural history, biography, memoirs and much more. But he is best known as a brilliant diarist and some 12 volumes of these remain in print. I've read some of these, have a couple of volumes around here somewhere and now have my sights set on acquiring his first three volumes, commencing with "Ancestral Voices."

Lees-Milnes also grew up, attended school, worked, fell in love and/or slept with an amazing range of characters --- including various Mitfords and the actor John Gielgud. So there's a good deal of gossip here, too.

His domestic life offers many examples of the twists and turns. James was a protege and sometimes lover of British politician, diplomat and writer Harold Nicholsen. Nicholsen was in turn married to Vita Sackville-West, poet, novelist and iconic garden designer (Sissinghurst) who carried on a long and passionate affair with Virginia Woolf, literary giant of the Bloomsbury era.

In 1951, Lees-Milne married Alvilde, Viscountess Chaplin, nee Bridges, with Nicholsen and Sackville-West in attendance. Some years later, Alvilde and Vita launched a passionate affair of their own. And so it went.

All of the parties involved in these marriages were entirely aware of the tastes and inclinations of their partners, so despite many ups and downs the relationships endured.

In the end, a shared passion for gardening drew both Harold and Vita (at Sissinghurst) and James and Alvilde (first at Alderly Grange and later at Essex House) together and both couples closed out their lives bound by ties of deep affection.

All of which suggests that both gardening and books have immense capacities to heal.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pensive monitor of fleeting years ...

Northwest Iowa is under a bright red blizzard warning on the weather maps this morning as winter takes another turn. But down here, we're anticipating rain and highs in the 40s and 30s --- rather than the unseasonable 70s of the last few days.

Kay has been moving around the museum grounds on these mild days, armed with barrow and rake, clearing away just enough fall and winter debris, but not too much.

And when she peeled back a thin veneer of oak leaves in front of Otterbein Church, the snowdrops appeared.

These tiny flowers, generally looked upon by gardeners as harbingers of spring, are not necessarily blooming in an untimely manner. They venture forth in February here and are capable of taking care of themselves.

We do worry about the fat buds on our small star magnolia, however, and other varieties elsewhere around town.  Some years, these marginally hardy species burst into bloom unimpeded by cold; other years, a hard freeze strikes at a crucial time and all that beauty withers.

All that can be done is to wait and see.

In the meantime, here's Wordsworth's vintage 1819 tribute, "To a Snowdrop ...."

Lone Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget, 
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Making hay on the courthouse lawn

This is another of those odds and ends that turned up recently while searching digital archives of The Chariton Leader looking for something else. It's a brief account of how the courthouse square looked when editor and publisher Henry Gittinger (1861-1953) was a boy. The little story appears on the front page of the Leader dated Feb. 1, 1917.

Henry was a great story-teller and occasionally engaged in invention, but in this case we have a photograph, probably dating from the late 1860s, of how the courthouse square actually looked at about the time he first rolled into town in a wagon from the family farm in far-away Washington Township, southeast of Russell.  So we know that it appeared then exactly as Henry described it some 50 years later. 

Those who read here regularly may recall that the image turned up in the collection of the Kearney County Historical Society, Minden, Nebraska, and was kindly shared by Jack Hultquist.

Here's the text of Henry's story:

It has been many years ago now --- how many the writer cannot tell --- since the first time he visited Chariton. A big, high board fence enclosed the court house square and one entered the enclosure over high steps. the old brick courthouse stood in the center where the present building is located. All over the yard was tall grass but few trees.

We drove in from the country --- the southeast corner of Washington township --- a long distance in those days. We got to town about noon, unhitched the team, turned it around to the wagon and fed it. Then we ate our lunch.

A man had been mowing the tall grass in the courthouse yard with a scythe and when we got ready to move out for home in the afternoon, he was winnowing the hay and piling it in cocks. We asked our elders what they would do the the hay and the reply was, "feed it to the county officials --- maybe."

It seems like yesterday, but that was a long time ago. These are the impressions of childhood. The courthouse square is not a "prairie country" now. It is full of trees and some of them are old. Yesterday a man with a team was hauling wood from there. Many of the old trees had been cut down and split into fragments and corded up. It looks like a timber lot. Such are the changes which time brings.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"He eloped with his aunt by marriage ...."

Henry Gittinger, editor of The Chariton Leader during the opening years of the 20th century, loved a good story --- so much so that he could be inventive if the grist of week was extraordinarily bland.

But there's no reason to doubt the veracity of what follows. Figuring out the family ties involved in this little front-page story from The Leader of Feb. 21, 1907, has the extra advantage in the 21st century of serving as an early-morning brain-teaser.

The headline reads, "A Family Reunion: The Meeting Was Not One of Rippling Merriment, However."

When President Roosevelt reads the following passage in human life it is to be hoped he will not instruct his Attorney General to look up the law and try to exclude The Leader from circulation through the mails, startling as the narrative may be.

A few days since a couple of men, accompanied by two women, drove into town looking somewhat like pilgrims. They hitched their steed to the chain on the west side of the square, where it remained most of the day; they scattered about town. 

Later they rendezvoused in an empty house in the northwest part of the city, but an enemy seems to have spread the news of their presence, as a telegram came to the officials here to hold them. The sheriff of Jasper county seemed interested and also a man at Nevada, Iowa, named Andy Short, saying that they were elopers; that one of the women was his wife and the younger one, a daughter. The men were placed in jail.

The case of characters in this drama are Andy Short, the aggrieved husband and father; Mrs. Andy Short --- or Maud, the wife untrue; Rosa Short, the misguided daughter; Joe Church, the clandestine son-in-law of Short; and J.H. Smith, paramour of Mrs. Short and the wrecker of a home.

But to get a thorough understanding further explanation is necessary. Maude, the eloping wife, was the second wife of Short and is stepmother to Rosa. Mrs. Short --- or Maud --- and Joe Church were brother and sister and cousins to Rosa, the daughter. Short was an uncle of Smith, therefore he eloped with his aunt by marriage.

There may have been some other combinations, but the human mind is not broad enough to retain them, so this is deemed sufficient to establish the fact that it was a family reunion.

Mr. Short arrived from Nevada, on Saturday, reproached his wife, buying her a ticket to her parental home at Newton, saying they would be as strangers hereafter. His daughter was given the privilege of returning home with him, which she did. The sheriff of Jasper county arrived, Monday, taking Church to Newton, where he must answer to the charge of horse stealing, which occurred last October. Smith has disappeared, being released from custody, Short not caring to prosecute his nephew --- this being the long and short of it.

The outfit left Nevada last October and have been wandering about ever since, sleeping in straw stacks, school houses or wherever they could find shelter and when captured were on their way to Newton.

Rosa was not of marriageable age but she and Church had formed the vows clandestinely in Kansas City, a few weeks since.

They were all well enough appearing people but seem to have been enjoying a little "high life" ala Thaw and White.

Joe Church and Maude Short are niece and nephew of Mrs. Rachel Marshall, of this city, and she is the one who "blowed." About a year ago Church came here and boarded with his aunt, afterwards jumping his bill. When he arrived in town, the other day, she got after her beloved nephew and told him that something had to be done. They mortgaged their horse, wagon and harness to J.D. Threlkeld and paid her, but the "cat was out of the bag," which precipitated the family gathering.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Birthday cake for Johnson Machine Works?

Johnson Machine Works, steel fabricators with a worldwide market and Lucas County's oldest industrial employer, celebrated its centennial in a big way during 2007 so I'm not sure if there'll be cake this year. But February would be a good month to extend 110th birthday greetings anyway.

This was the month back in 1907 when the Johnson brothers, sons of Swedish immigrants and English Township farmers Carl Gustaf and Emma Charlotte (Erickson) Johnson, bought the old Eureka Foundry, also known as Chariton Iron Works, on North 11th Street, just northwest of the square, and got busy.

David Johnson (1875-1923) made what now is known as Johnson Machine Works his life's work and if you know where to look, you'll find representatives of the fourth and fifth generations of Johnson descendants managing and/or otherwise occupied in helping to operate the company.

Headquarters and Plant No. 1 still are located on North 11th Street, just across the street east of the site of the Eureka Foundry, which burned during 1914. Support offices and design rooms now occupy buildings on the west side of the street. The first phase of Plant No. 2 in northwest Chariton, where a majority of the fabricating work takes place today, was built during 1954.

Here's how The Chariton Patriot of Feb. 21, 1907, reported the launch of JMW under the headline, "Eureka Foundry Revived: Johnson Bros. Have Bought It and Will Enlarge It and Make It a Credit to the City."

The Eureka Foundry, later known as the Chariton Iron Works, which has been running in a half-hearted sort of way, under changing management, for several years, has been bought by the Johnson Bros., Eric M. and Peter E., carpenters and contractors of this city, and their brother, David F., who has been a skilled machinist in a large Waterloo factory for many years. These gentlemen are all skilled in their respective lines, and are business men of the highest character. They will gradually enlarge the plant, making for the present the stackers, hay rakes, etc., that have been made there for years, and doing custom work in wood and iron, and repairing of all kinds.

They will put the foundry in first class shape, rebuilding it in most part, and will install a new engine and much new machinery in the wood working department. When the plant is finished, it will be capable of much more and much better work than heretofore, and will no doubt soon grow to be the large manufacturing plant that it should be, and that Chariton so much needs.

They will continue to do all kinds of carpenter and contracting work, in which they will be greatly aided by the machinery in the plant, and the machinist member of the firm will see to it that none but first class work is turned out in his department, so that it looks as if the plant is at last to become what it was intended and hoped for when it was first built.

We wish the new firm abundant success in their venture, and bespeak for them the loyal support of all in the community who believe in building up home industries.

A week later, The Leader --- lagging behind --- reported the story, too, under the headline "New Foundry and Shops."

Recently the Johnson Bros of this city purchased the Eureka Iron Works and are busy at the present time overhauling the property and putting it in thorough order. They installed, this week, a new sixteen horse power gasoline engine, also retaining the steam power when needed. They are putting their lathes and forges in first class order and will soon begin the erection of a 24-foot addition to the building on the south for a foundry.

Another brother, D.F. Johnson, expects to soon move here from Waterloo to take charge of the works. He is a thorough machinist and molder. The Johnsons will also continue their contract business and will be enabled to do their mill work in their own shop. The Johnson are thoroughgoing men and will push the business to success. The shops are well equipped and it will not be long before the machinery is placed and ready for business in its full capacity. But as it is, they are busy in spite of the torn up condition.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Geeking out with "Uppark Restored"

I've been geeking out this weekend with a long-coveted book that's just arrived via "Royal Mail" --- with an assist on this end from the U.S. Postal Service.

It's called "Uppark Restored" and incorporates one of the great restoration detective stories of the 20th century --- the phoenix-like rise from the ashes of Uppark, a 17th century house in West Sussex that was devastated by fire on Aug. 30, 1989, fully restored by Britain's National Trust and opened its doors to visitors again during 1995.

The National Trust published this report during 1996, but it was very expensive at the time and not distributed in the United States. Plus, it used to be very complicated to order a book --- or anything else --- from overseas: Lengthy correspondence, currency exchange via money orders involving treks to the bank, then long waits.

The miracles of the digital age, plus Amazon, have smoothed that rocky path. My gently used copy (the book is out of print) cost roughly $10, including postage and handling, and took about 10 days to arrive from an English bookseller.


Uppark was built ca. 1690 for Ford Grey, later Earl of Tankerville, and remodeled and redecorated by various owners prior to ca. 1815, after which time more or less stood still. Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, owner during the early years of the 19th century, married his dairy-maid --- Mary Ann Bullock, some 50 years his junior --- in 1825 and both she and later owners focused their attention on conserving what was there rather than changing it, although modern conveniences were introduced.

In 1930, it passed to the Meade-Fetherstonhaugh family, also careful preservationists, who gave the house to the National Trust during 1954 but continued to occupy the upper floors.

Disaster struck during August of 1989 as workers were completing roof repairs, using a torch to secure lead guttering. Although unaware it had happened, the workmen inadvertently set timbers under the roof on fire. By the time the flames were discovered it was too late. Firefighters arrived promptly, but because the house is located deep in the country the water supply was inadequate to fight a blaze of this scale and the building was "gutted."

Or so it was thought at the time. True, the upper floors, within the sturdy brick walls, were a total loss and debris from those floors crashed through the elaborate ceilings of the ground-floor show rooms. But about 95 percent of the contents of the show rooms were safely removed by firefighters, staff and volunteers as the flames spread and a good deal of the fabric of those rooms, although damaged, survived as well.

What followed was perhaps the most exhaustive salvage operation undertaken in Britain as every ounce of debris was searched and sifted for fragments of the house, including bits and pieces of damaged plasterwork.

There was considerable debate after the fire about what should be done with the building. Some thought it should be demolished; others thought it should be restored, sort of, but given a modern interior to be used as a museum setting for what had survived the fire.

The building was fully insured, but full pay-out would come only if it were restored and that, plus the fact so much of the original fabric had survived, tipped the balance in favor of restoring Uppark so far as possible to the appearance it had on the day before fire broke out.

"Uppark Restored" is the story of that restoration process and it reads, to someone interested in historic preservation, just like a detective story. 

Some of the skills needed to undertake the restoration were thought to be extinct --- there were, for example, no artisans trained to sculpt lime plaster free-hand into elaborate ceiling decorations. But talented people were found and trained to do all of these tasks. And pioneering conservation work was undertaken as damaged fabric, paintings and wallpaper were conserved, restored and supplemented by authentic reproductions.

This is a fascinating piece of reporting --- and I can't put it down.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

V.M. Branner reports: the 1897 suffragist convention

Susan B. Anthony

I've written before about Lucas County's pioneer suffragists, the Branner sisters --- Victoria (Branner) Dewey and Virginia M. Branner

One of the 1897 highlights for the women, and other members of the Lucas County chapter of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was that nationwide organization's annual congress, or convention, held at Central Christian Church in Des Moines on Jan. 26-29.

That's Susan B. Anthony at the top here --- keynote speaker during the convention.

This was the organization's 29th annual convention and the first held in the "West," which Iowa still was considered to be a part of during the final decade of the 19th century.


Iowa woman had gained the right during 1894 to vote on "yes" or "no" issues during local elections, but universal suffrage was a goal that would remain elusive until 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution finally was ratified. 

But there was no way in 1897 of predicting that long refusal of Iowa men to share the vote, so the convention was greeted with considerable optimism.

Chariton newspapermen were firm supporters of the equal suffrage movement during the 1890s even though many of their readers were not. Working with Virginia Branner, The Herald created a regular "Equal Suffrage Department" with Virginia as the principal scribe. 

State Sen. Harvey L. Byers, a Belinda boy then representing both Lucas and Wayne counties at the Capitol, also was a firm supporter and had been instrumental in inviting delegates to address lawmakers in the Senate chamber during the convention.

The following report of the convention, written by Virginia, was published in the "Equal Suffrage Department" of The Herald on Feb. 11, 1897, as "Notes from the National American Suffrage Convention which met in Des Moines last week." You'll note that Virginia had a sharp wit, alluding to tactics employed by prominent males on previous occasions to avoid suffragist gatherings and referencing one of the more outlandish arguments against universal suffrage. She was not a person to be meddled with.

Mrs. Maria Noble, Miss Grace Bonnett and Mrs. V. M. Branner were the members representing the Lucas county society, that attended the convention, and they were justly proud of their Senator, Mr. (Harvey L.) Byers, who has always stood for justice and fair play for women. The hospitable people of Des Moines were doubly warm in their welcome to the convention in order to compensate as far as possible for the icy reception the clerk of the weather had prepared for them.

The convention was a most successful one, and the audiences all the time were very large, and crowded almost to suffocation in the evenings. Many people stood up for two hours during the evening meetings. These were of great interest, some of the best speakers in the country being present. The Governor was not unexpectedly called out of town, the Mayor did not have to attend to important duties elsewhere, the ministers were not conducting revival meetings, but all were on hand to do honor to the noble woman who has labored so long and faithfully for the enfranchisement of her sex, Miss Susan B. Anthony. The Governor welcomed the convention on behalf of the state, Rev. Mr. Frisbie and Rev. Mr. Breeden spoke for the churches, and Mr. Macomber represented the Woman's Club of Des Moines in a very  pleasing and brilliant address.

President Gates, of Iowa College, a staunch suffragist, in his able speech to the convention, presented a new and startling theory that had lately been urged against Equal Suffrage --- new to him, he said, and probably new to everyone else. It was advanced by a "legal male mind" of his acquaintance, and in all sincerity! It was to the effect that if women mingled in politics much more and got to voting as the men do, "early and often," they would become emotional and hysterical, would deteriorate to that extent that future generations would become skinny, red-haired, freckle faced, sharp nosed, and be so altogether unlovable that none of them would be able to get married, and the race would die out. A great deal of logic in that objection, about as much as is usually advanced by the remonstrants.

The reception by Mr. and Mrs. Hubbell at Terrace Hill was a brilliant affair, and the reception by the  Woman's Club at the Club rooms was very enjoyable, and the crowning feature was the reception by the Senate, and the hearing by our best speakers on Equal Suffrage in the crowded Senate chamber. Senators Kilburn, Rowen and Byers conveyed the invitation to the convention, which accepted with thanks, and for an hour, through Miss Anthony, Miss Shaw, Mrs. Colby, Mrs. Catt and others, represented the claims of Equal Suffragists to the attentive audience. The State Librarian also extended an invitation to the convention to visit the State Library, which was accepted.

Altogether the convention felt quite satisfied with Des Moines and its generous people.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Death under the wheels, times two ...

Chariton has been a railroad town since 1867 --- and still is although the trains don't stop here any more and the old depots, now Burlington Northern & Santa Fe and Union Pacific, serve only maintenance crews.

The jobs of the switchmen, who operated the various switches in rail yards and assisted in moving cars, historically were among the most hazardous. Here's the "job description" provided in the June, 1886, edition of Switchmen's Journal:

"The vocation is the most dangerous of any of the different branches of railroading, and that [some] live for years is only due to their extreme carefulness. The least misstep will often result in crippling a man for life. Their hours of work are long, and the labor very hard, and rain or shine they have to be at their posts. There is no protection for them from the rains of summer, nor the freezing winds and snows of winter. On their efficient work the great commercial interests of the country largely depend, and only a little carelessness on their part may result in immense damage to the goods in transit, and an error in delivery sometimes causes the loss of an entire consignment of freight, if it happens to be perishable."

These dangers were brought home to Lucas Countyans, multiplied twice, during early 1887 when two young switchmen died in quick succession of injuries sustained in the rail yards associated with the C.B.&Q. rail complex in northwest Chariton (below).

The first to die was Frank Callahan --- on Jan. 22, 1887. That's Frank's tombstone (top) in the Chariton Cemetery, just six rows inside and to your right upon entering through the main gates where he is buried between his mother, Mary, and an infant son. Here's the Chariton Democrat report of the accident that killed him, published on Jan. 20, 1887:

"It was a shocking accident which befell one of the most worthy of the C.B.&Q. employees in the Chariton yards last Saturday morning. At seven o'clock Frank Callahan went forth from his humble yet happy and prosperous home a vigorous and hopeful young man. An hour later he was carried home (he actually was carried to the Depot House hotel where he remained until he died) on a stretcher almost dead, with both legs crushed by the cruel wheels.

"Frank was a switchman in the Chariton yards. Always faithful, prompt and obliging, he was a universal favorite with railroad men. He had performed his duties well --- so well that a promotion to the position of yard-master had been offered him, and declined, because he conscientiously shrunk from the great responsibilities which he knew would be upon him. He preferred his present position.

"On Saturday morning, in uncoupling, his feet suddenly slipped on the icy rail. He threw himself backward, but not far enough. His legs crossed the rail, and were ground under the wheels. One was crushed at the ankle and one from the ankle to the knee, the bones ground to small bits. He was carried home and surgeons summoned.

"And here commenced the remarkable part of the case --- an interesting case in medical science. The doctors waited for the rally, the reaction which usually sets in a few hours after the shock. It is pretty well settled that amputation of a limb cannot be safely performed until that rally. But it came not that day, nor the next, not until Monday evening, 60 hours after the accident. All this time he was conscious, but greatly prostrated by the shock, his pulse scarcely perceptible. But Monday morning he began to rally, and a consultation of the surgeons determined on the double amputation Tuesday morning, when it was successfully performed. His condition necessitated his being kept under the influence of chloroform the briefest possible moment, and the limbs were amputated and dressed inside of thirty minutes. He stood the operation well. One leg was amputated above the knee, and one midway between the knee and ankle.

"The case has been under the charge of Dr. Gibbon, the company's surgeon at this place, ably assisted by doctors Todd, McKlveen and T.P. Stanton. They have all been most faithful in their attendance and skillful in operation upon the unfortunate young man.

"Frank is about twenty-five yeas of age, with a wife and one little child. He has been economical and prudent in his habits and already had saved enough to buy some land upon which he intended to move in a month or two. He is a member, we understand, of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, a benevolent society which pays two thousand dollars death loss on its members. If this society wants to show itself a grand organization in the universal brotherhood of man it should pay this now. The wife and babe will never be able to use it to better advantage. And then the great corporation which he has so faithfully served should provide him a suitable position for the new life which he will have to adopt --- it it will do we have no doubt."

Unfortunately, The Democrat's optimism regarding Frank's condition was unwarranted. Here's the report of his death from The Herald of Jan. 27:

"Mr. Francis M. Callahan died last Friday morning from the effects of the injuries he received something over a week ago. He was supposed to be doing well until a short time before his death and his physicians had thought he would live. The funeral was held from the Baptist church last Sunday. Mr. Callahan leaves a wife and child. He had during his life made provisions for his family should any accident happen to himself, for he was carrying an insurance on his life of $4,000. He was a good, faithful man to his employers and his family, and leaves many friends in Chariton to mourn his death."

The sorrow of Frank's widow, Rebecca, was compounded two months later, on March 29, when their only child, James Delman, died at the age of seven months and was buried by his father's side. I was unable to find a report of the circumstances.

Some years later, Rebecca married as her second husband John E. Carson and they had a son of their own, Francis G. --- named perhaps after Frank Callahan --- during 1890. Sadly, Rebecca died the following year at the age of 26. She is buried in the Columbia Cemetery.


Frank's position in the Chariton rail yard, left vacant by his injury, then death, was filled by a young man from Norwood, John A. Murray, age 25.

And then The Democrat of Feb. 10, 1887, carried the shocking news that he, too, had been killed in an accident in the rail yard. The same edition carried a brief news item reporting that Rebecca Callahan had just received a check for $2,000 from the Ancient Order of United Workmen as the result of her husband's death a couple of weeks previously.

Here's The Democrat report of John Murray's death, published under the headline, "Death Under the Wheel: Another Chariton Switchman Killed."

"It is only two or three weeks since we gave an account of the killing of Frank Callahan, a faithful young man who died at his post in the Chariton yards while attending to his duties as night switchman. Scarcely has the first sorrow of that startling shock subsided, until we are called upon to note another and still more horrible calamity.

"J.A. Murray was Frank Callahan's successor. He has been working in the yards here some three months. Last night, about nine o'clock, Murray was attending to his duties in the west end of the yards. He had stepped between the cars and drawn a coupling-pin, and then stepped back on to the main track. The approaching danger was unobserved. A mogul engine with some freight cars was backing down the track on which he stood. They struck him down and passed over him, frightfully mangling and mutilating his body, and killing him instantly. Every limb was crushed, his neck, collar bone and hip broken. The mangled remains were carried to undertaker Bradrick and prepared for interment.

"Deceased is a young man of perhaps twenty-five years of age who has resided in Chariton but about three months. He was of a very quiet and reticent disposition, and consequently was  not extensively known here. His home, we learn, has been with a widowed mother of whom he was the only support. He has a brother living near Norwood in the northwest part of this county, but further of antecedents or his people we are unable to learn at this writing.

"And thus the two young men who were companions in work here have gone into the great Hereafter --- companions still, perhaps, in that undiscovered country where their labors are at an end. They did their duty here and we trust have their full reward there."

John's remains were taken to the Norwood Cemetery for burial and his tombstone may be found there.

Find a Grave photo by Doris Christensen

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A costuming conundrum

A picture in this case really would be worth a thousand words --- if only we had a photograph of the original owner of this elaborate piece of costuming to illustrate how and on what sort of occasions she wore it.

It came to the Lucas County Historical Society during 1967, described in the deed of gift as a "jet-beaded overblouse," from Louise Hickman (Mrs. Verl) Holmes, then living in Emmetsburg, but the daughter and granddaughter of prominent Chariton lawyers, Stephen Decatur and James Harlan Hickman. They built the Hickman Block on the east side of the square.

For reasons lost to time, it's been stored in a drawer ever since and was just brought to light recently when Kathleen discovered it in the Stephens House. Now we're trying to figure out how to display it, a puzzle that may be the reason why it was tucked away in the first place.

The base material is black net to which thousands of jet (lignite) beads of many sizes have been sewn in elaborate patterns. You're looking at the back here and the the wearer --- who would have been a tiny person --- would have slipped her arms through the holes and drawn it together and secured it in some manner at her throat. The long tassel attached somewhere; we're just not quite sure where.

It's also in remarkably good condition. Although a couple of the larger beads have come loose, everything else still is hanging on tight. It's also very heavy, one reason why we're hesitant to "hang" it on a bust or mannequin. We have no way of knowing just how sturdy the net base is.

So was this part of an elaborate mourning costume? Or something worn on formal occasions by a Victorian lady? Mrs. Holmes also donated a large, heavily fringed black silk "Spanish" scarf that may well have been folded and worn over the shoulders as a shawl. Was it worn black over black, or black over a lighter color to emphasize its elaborate beadwork?

I'f you've got ideas, leave a comment here, or on one of the Facebook links to this post.

Louise died at age 61 of cancer in Emmetsburg a year after her donation and her remains were returned to Chariton for burial on the Hickman family lot, just to your left as you enter the main gates of the Chariton Cemetery. Her husband, Verl, employed by the Iowa Conservation Commission, died five years later. (He was not, by the way, related to the Lucas County Holmes families.) There were no children.

It's likely that the overblouse and perhaps the shawl belonged to her mother, Julia Guyle (Mrs. James Harlan) Hickman (1883-1961), or her grandmother, Elizabeth Lovey Teas (Mrs. Stephen Decatur) Hickman (1840-1928). But it's unlikely we'll ever know for sure.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'm stickin' with the union ...

Here's a little song in solidarity with those working this week at the Capitol in Des Moines against the majority Republican effort to gut collective bargaining rights guaranteed to public sector workers --- including educators --- by Iowa law since 1974.

The GOP now controls the Iowa House, Senate and governor's mansion --- so most likely efforts to limit bargaining across the board to wages alone will be successful, endangering health care, seniority, worker-safety provisions and other benefits now enjoyed by those who educate our younger generations, protect us and keep the government agencies that serve us working smoothly.

But I'm incredibly proud of those who are standing up for organized labor and a system that has served Iowans well for 40 years.

The song was written during June of 1940 by Woody Guthrie at a time when he was associated with the Almanac Singers. It's performed here during Pete Seeger's 2009 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden and features Billy Bragg, Mike and Ruthy Merenda, Dar Williams and the New York City Labor Chorus.