Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Foxes, not raccoons

We had a great crowd and a good time last evening at the Lucas County Historical Society's annual meeting, held as has been the case for several years in the Lodge at Pin Oak Marsh. It was great to see the big commons room full of people --- and so many new faces (as well as the familiar ones).

Pin Oak is a great place for a meeting like this for all sorts of reasons --- including the excellent wildlife displays, both mounted and live. Beyond that, there's adequate parking, handicap accessibility and a fully equipped kitchen. So we're always grateful to the Lucas County Conservation Commission for making it available.

I neglected to take photographs, which was uncharacteristic, but every time I thought about pulling the camera out I got to talking to someone and didn't get it done.

The "Faded Photographs" program went well, but I did make a couple of missteps. Several pointed out that the pelts displayed in the Slab Castle photo up top here are fox, not raccoon. I knew that, actually, just experienced some sort of mental glitch when putting the slideshow together.

The name "Slab Castle" puzzles some since the building that serves as a backdrop is hardly a castle. The name carried over from the original building on the site, built as a woodland retreat during the late 19th century by Chariton's Penick family on a bluff above the Chariton River at the New York Road crossing. This was a larger and more elaborate building constructed in a picturesque manner in part of native lumber, hence the name "slab." 

That building burned during the 1920s or early 1930s and was replaced by a much simpler cabin. It remained in use, under different ownership, until the advent of Rathbun Lake when the property was acquired for public use as part of Chariton River greenbelt and the cabin was torn down. 

I also blamed a fence around the courthouse lawn that appears in 1860s photographs on horses. Mary Ruth Pierschbacher pointed out that horses, as a rule, were hitched --- and no threat to the courthouse lawn. However, at the time many Chariton residents kept a milk cow or two and perhaps a few hogs and the livestock had a habit of roaming freely around town. So the fence was built to keep cows and other domestic critters at bay.

The neatly railed walkways and platform around this 1894 photo of the third (and current) Lucas County Courthouse also drew some comments. These did not remain in place, and I speculate that they were installed for the elaborate ceremonies held when the building was dedicated --- but can't prove that.

Everyone enjoyed homemade pie before heading home after the meeting, and it probably should be noted that providing pie for the annual meeting is one of the privileges of serving on the historical society board or working as a staff member. Karoline Dittmer's and Frank Mitchell's technical support was much appreciated --- and the staff and board members asked with little warning to join in the annual reporting process did great jobs.

We'll get the Faded Photographs slideshow converted into a movie one of these days and burned onto DVDs, so it can at least run on a loop at the museum during special events. I also have visions of a YouTube channel, since we're getting quite a good collection of interesting stuff on video. Now if I can just convince Kylie or Karoline to figure out how to do that ....

Monday, April 21, 2014

Two days running ...

It was a busy Easter weekend, but a rewarding one --- and there's more to do on other fronts today. I'm thinking of taking Tuesday off.

We had a beautiful morning Sunday at St. Andrew's. Easter baptism is an ancient tradition, and we had five --- with the bonus of a reaffirmation. Baptized were (front row from left) Nicholas Clark, Megan Clark and Benjamin Clark and (second row from left) Rick Clark and Morgan Clark. Elvin Yoder (right) renewed his baptismal vows.

These were the first baptisms for the Rev. Frederick L. Steinbach (center rear), who is scheduled to be ordained an Episcopal priest this summer after several months of work as a transitional deacon.

The Easter brunch that followed was amazing. The only disappointment --- the Easter egg hunt was limited to those 10 and younger.


The annual meeting of the Lucas County Historical Society begins at 6:30 this evening in the Lodge at Pin Oake Marsh. We'll have a short business meeting at 6:30 p.m., followed by a program entitled "Faded Photographs: 150 Years of Images from the Lucas County Historical Society Collection." Pie and coffee will be served afterwards. All are welcome.

I've still got a few finishing touches to put on the slide show, one reason why I'm in a hurry this morning. There's considerable Monday demand for the office computer I've been using to put it together so I've got to get there first.

The is among the photos included in the presentation --- Guests arriving at the Ilion (aka Mallory's Castle)  during May of 1955 for the final party there before the big old house was demolished. The guests are (from left) Patsy Hixenbaugh, Eleanor and John Baldridge, Melvin Brown and Marguerite and Lee Threlkeld.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter people in a Good Friday world

Golly, I wish I could claim that line --- but it belongs to the late Barbara Johnson, an author and comedian whose perspective was for the most part evangelical Christian.

I doubt we'd have agreed on much theologically. Original sin? Good grief --- we're merely human. A dark and broken world? It's spring, for heaven's sake man --- open your eyes. An angry, petty, tribal god who slaughtered Jesus so we could be washed in his blood? Bullshit.

But on this we'd agree --- that too often we're Easter people in a Good Friday world, suspended in apparent darkness between despair and hope, death and resurrection. I think a lot about resurrection during Holy Week.

Easter is the operative word here, the natural and miraculous, God-given if you care to think in those terms, human tendency to rise again.

We see it all the time, and experience it. On our knees because of disease, broken relationships, disasters natural, financial and otherwise, we rise again. Knocked flat by the deaths of those we love, we rise again.

I see it sometimes in gay kids --- and my LGBT brothers and sisters who are older --- backed into a corner, shoved down and in despair because of the realization that the gift they were created with doesn't fit others' expectations, sometimes their own. Then, miraculously, they accept the gift, rise again and begin to soar.

Christian ideas about atonement vary, but the oldest --- before Archbishop Anselm and then those troublesome protestant reformers --- held that the principal work of Christ was to defeat sin (our inborn talent for damaging ourselves and others) and death, in large part by example. That makes us mere humans in the hands of a loving god rather than sinners in the hands of an angry god. And it's very much a work always in progress.

We're going to witness the baptism of five this morning --- a symbol and a sacrament that goes back to that earliest church. Then we'll stand witness as a young man, a newcomer to Lucas County, renews baptismal vows made in a faith community that now rejects him. 

This is a wonderful and a joyous thing.

It's a beautiful morning; it's a great day to be alive. Christus Victor!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What ever happened to hats?

It's almost Easter --- and I've been working with a lot of historic images lately. Which has caused me to wonder, what ever happened to hats? Cowboy hats, baseball caps, stocking caps and sunshades don't count.

This is one of my favorite images from the Lucas County Historical Society collection --- five young men in a boat (perhaps on the Chariton River, perhaps not). All of them are wearing hats. If you look carefully, you'll see that there's another guy fishing in the distance. I'm betting he was wearing a hat, too.

The woman underneath the hat at left is Alma Clay, veteran educator for whom Chariton's long-vanished Alma Clay School was named. And the hats below are towering over my grandmother (left), Jessie (Brown) Miller, and her niece, Ida (Brown) Rogers.

In a way, you can understand why women don't wear hats any more --- some of them were the size of small pets and look as if they'd require about as much maintenance. And where would you store the things?

More men below --- the grim aftermath on the Chariton square of a coyote hunt. All the men, again, wearing hats.

Here's the challenge. Look around Easter Sunday --- a day once renowned for its Easter bonnets --- and find me a hat atop one person --- just one. Betcha can't.

Friday, April 18, 2014


The Holy Thursday rites I'm most familiar with, in Lutheran and Episcopal parishes, are similar --- after prayers, lessons and a homily, those comfortable with the practice pad barefoot down the aisle and wash each other's feet as hymns are sung, then share bread and wine.

Then, as psalms are spoken or chanted, a few people move toward the altar and strip it bare. Candlesticks and linens, paraments and banners, flags and brightly-colored cushions, the Gospel book, even, at St. Andrew's, the icon of our patron, are removed from the church, carried away with little ceremony. 

Finally, the lights are turned out --- wham --- and the congregation left in darkness to find its way out into the night in silence as best it can.

This was how it went again last night, jointly Lutheran and Episcopalian, blending liturgical elements from both traditions. 

It is a symbolic rite that seems to operate on several levels, and the process will be reversed in many parishes during the Easter vigil on Saturday night, when new fire is carried into the church, all the liturgical bling returned, candles lighted from the new fire and, at last, the lights turned on again, all symbolizing resurrection.

Holy Thursday also is called Maundy Thursday, from the Latin Mandatum, or commandment, as recounted in the Gospel of John as it tells the story of the Last Supper, washing of the disciples feet, sharing the bread and wine. "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you").

It's a commandment, or mandate, not bounded by liturgical settings and church walls or contained by the elaborate and somtimes restrictive theological boundaries of faith communities. 

We'll observe Good Friday at 7 this evening at First Lutheran Church. All are welcome. Doctrinal agreement, even belief, not required.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Banana pudding yellow & the renewed Puckerbrush

If someone had videoed the acrobatics involved in getting past the kid on a ladder with a bucket of paint and into Puckerbrush School yesterday to take a couple of photos, It would be clearer, now, how I ended up with a front end plastered in fresh "banana pudding" yellow. It wasn't my finest hour.

Not that the Cromer Construction guys didn't warn --- "careful, the paint on that door's wet" and "watch out, that wall, too." At least they didn't add, "you idiot." At least out loud.

The good news, we're nearing the end of a two-year-plus project that hopefully will give our 140-year-old baby many more years of life. Puckerbrush will celebrate its 140th birthday this fall.

Two years ago, Pierschbacher Construction replaced the roof with an historically accurate reproduction of its original cedar-shingled surface. Last summer, we evacuated the building and G M Builders took up two layers of flooring (the latest put into place just before Pearl Harbor Day in 1941) so that the old building's underpinnings could be repaired --- then relaid the 1941 floor.

The Cromer guys moved in last week with the return of warmer weather. First, a narrow strip of flooring near the west wall was filled with new oak (there was a little spoilage when the original floor was lifted). New paint is being applied this week --- "banana pudding" is very close to the faded yellow on the walls when the building moved to the museum campus more than 40 years ago.

Next week, new flooring will be stained to match the old, some sanding will be done to resolve a few issues with the old flooring, new sealer applied --- and we should be ready to move the furniture back in. That includes a massive cast iron stove, desks, a couple of display cases and other paraphernalia. 

By the time Chariton Community School fourth-graders arrive for their annual visit in late May, we should be ready for them. And that's a cause for celebration.

I was actually thinking this morning, "wow, we should get some of those little blue paper booties so that no one will mess up the floor." Then it occurred to me just how silly that would be for a surface that has welcomed the shoed, booted and bare feet of generations of Lucas County kids during the course of its 140 years.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Christian lunacy

Aristotle, Pliny the Elder and others in those ancient of days pioneered a peculiar notion that the moon can adversely affect function of the human brain, giving rise to the term "lunacy," honoring the Roman goddess of that reflective natural satellite --- Miss Luna.

One of the headlines that caught my eye this morning, "Christian Pastors Warn 'Blood Moon' Is An Omen Of Armageddon And Second Coming of Christ,"  suggests that there may be something to that idea, at least so far as the minds of some fundamentalists are concerned.

"Blood moon" is another term for a total lunar eclipse, which causes the moon to take on a reddish cast. What's got these born-again astrologers so excited is the fact that early Tuesday's eclipse was the first of four that will occur in an 18-month period, a celestial occurrence known as a "tetrad."

This, the preachers have determined after considerable conjuring, is a sign of the impending Rapture (everyone you like will be swept bodily into heaven) followed by a battle called Armageddon and the second coming of Christ. During the latter two events, everyone you don't like will be cast into hell to writhe in eternal torment.

There are at least four recent books on the topic, all selling briskly and one on various best-seller lists --- authored by Texas megachurch preacher and certified wingnut John Hagee.

None of this is exactly new --- the whole end-times scenario is for the most part an American invention, born into fevered protestant minds after too much exposure to the biblical book of Revelation. A highly imaginative version of scripture called the Scofield Reference Bible spread these various lunacies nationwide.

Back when I was a pup, evangelists bearing Scofield Bibles and elaborate charts detailing imaginary end-time scenarios roamed the land. Today, books, movies and other media aimed at the gullible are far more profitable.

I've told the story before of riding when I was a kid into Des Moines with a carload of kids --- old enough to read; not old enough to understand what we were reading --- with a redoubtable matron at the wheel who had planted on her dashboard a sign that read, "Warning, the driver of the car is leaving with the Rapture."

I, at least, was left with the impression that Gladys might fly away at any time, leaving the rest of us bloodied and broken in a ditch. My parents carefully explained later that the driver had merely overdosed on biblical prophecy and that there was nothing to worry about, but it was too late. I've been skeptical of most things Christian ever since.

That, I think, is a healthy thing --- but of course others would disagree.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cemetery preservationists gather in Corydon

Steve Story presides over Saturday's meeting in the Prairie Trails west gallery.

My friend, Bill, gardening guru at Prairie Trails Museum in Corydon, decided to check out his tulips Saturday morning --- couldn't find a parking place, just kept driving. Which gives some idea of how well-attended the quarterly meeting of the State Association for the Preservation of Iowa Cemeteries (SAPIC) was. The meeting was hosted by the Wayne County Pioneer Cemetery Commission at the museum. 

President Steve (and Donna) Story, of Hawkeye, way up in northeast Iowa's Fayette County, had arisen at 4 a.m. in order to make the trip down. Other members were present from Waterloo, Webster City and elsewhere in Iowa --- even Illinois. The Illinois guy had overnighted in Corydon and had nothing but praise for the general friendliness of the community --- and the Nodyroc (Corydon spelled backwards) Motel.


SAPIC was founded in 1996, after the Iowa Legislature established the Pioneer Cemetery Commission plan in an attempt to resolve issues involving abandoned and/or deteriorating pioneer cemeteries statewide. In Iowa, rural cemeteries deeded to the public are the responsibility of township trustees who are required (by law) to levy modest taxes and ensure their upkeep. Many trustees do a good job, others do as little as possible unless yelled at or threatened with legal action.

Under the 1996 plan, county supervisors were authorized to take control of pioneer cemeteries (currently defined as graveyards where 12 or fewer burials have occurred during the last 50 years) and pass responsibility for them on to Pioneer Cemetery Commissions. Financing for commission activities comes from county general funds, rather than township levies; and commissions generally are strongly preservation minded, anxious to restore as well as to maintain.

Lucas County's Pioneer Cemetery Commission, with a magnificent record, was one of the earliest; Wayne County's commission was established during 2010.

SAPIC serves as an umbrella group for Iowa's 28 county commissions (out of 99 potential), but also has a variety of other related missions and projects; individuals may join for $10 annually. The SAPIC Web site is located here.


One SAPIC mission is to serve as an advocate among county supervisors for the cemetery commission strategy, and there was discussion of that Saturday morning. The state map that shows existing commissions tilts strongly east and south, so there's considerable work to do elsewhere in the state.

Another task is to inform township trustees and county supervisors of their responsibilities in regard to cemetery care and maintenance. There was talk of trying to find a place on the agenda of the next annual meeting of the state association of county supervisors.

And another is to foster the use of appropriate techniques and products by those actively involved in cemetery restoration. SAPIC approved Saturday a donation to help fund a May 17 class and workshop in Independence. More about that event can be found on the SAPIC Web site.


Donna Story reported on a project launched by Gov. Terry Branstad, with input from state Sen. Dennis Black of Newton, last August. Branstad asked SAPIC volunteers to locate and carefully photograph the grave sites and tombstones of all Iowa governors, lieutenant governors and federal cabinet appointees. Reports and photographs compiled by the volunteers will be forwarded to Branstad's office, analyzed and, hopefully, steps then taken to conserve and/or repair stones in need of work.

Donna Story reports on progress of the governor's project.

A volunteer from the Monroe County Pioneer Cemetery Commission stepped to the plate Saturday and volunteered to photograph and report on the status of the gravesite of Lucas County's only native-born governor, Nathan Kendall (Leo Hoegh was an import). Kendall is buried under a bench in the front yard of his home, Kendall Place, in Aliba --- in cremated form.


I enjoyed hearing Mike McGee, of Waterloo, tell the story of Mary Viden's grave --- an instance where pioneer burials and progress collided. The property in question, at 3700 University in Waterloo, had been the site of a founding family's home, but had become commercial --- the site selected for a new Hy-Vee gas station. Reportedly buried there, ca. 1848, was a child named Mary Viden, who died after her clothing accidentally caught fire.

 After assembling sufficient evidence to support the possibility of burials on the site, a report was made to the office of the state archaeologist.

That office directed Hy-Vee to hire archaeological consultants to investigate and they did indeed locate two grave markers and the physical remains of one child. None could be tied to Mary Viden, however. The stones and the remains were removed and buried elsewhere. But McGee and others wanted some sort of marker at the site to indicate that burials had been made there and that, perhaps, Mary's remains still might be nearby. Hy-Vee has been less than enthusiastic, however, and the issue has not been resolved.


After the meeting was adjourned for lunch, most of us retired in shifts to the museum theater to view a presentation on the Wayne County Pioneer Cemetery Commission's work since its organization.

The commission's first project was the Duncan Cemetery, perhaps Wayne County's oldest, down in Grand River Township just northeast of Lineville. The oldest grave here is that of Polly Duncan, who died in February of 1846. The markers in the cemetery were shattered and scattered and the area brushy when volunteers began work, but now it has been fully restored. 

A bonus of that project came during August, 2011, when volunteers returned after an absence to find the cemetery shimmering with purple-top prairie grass, probably native to the area when pioneers arrived. Seed was saved from the stand for use in reseeding projects in other pioneer cemeteries.

The commission's next project was Big Springs Cemetery in Jefferson Township, northwest of Clio and about two miles west of Highway 65. That cemetery, very badly overgrown, has turned into a multi-year project. And just last fall, commission volunteers were able to find the Ryan Cemetery site in Union Township northwest of Millerton.


Other Wayne County cemetery success stories are related less directly to the commission as a whole.

In Wright Township, trustees reclaimed Adcock Cemetery from brush on their own after consulting with the commission.

At Promise City, a plan by cemetery officials to bury an 1899 six-holer mausoleum embedded in a hillside in order to alleviate safety concerns was detected, consciousness-raising sessions held and a cooperative venture launched to save it (by this time, iron gates already had been removed and buried). A grant was acquired and after a lot of work by volunteers, the mausoleum has been restored, retaining walls rebuilt and a safety rail installed. Commissioners Brenda DeVore and Dale Clark, and others, were heavily invested in this project.

Before the commission was established, Dale and Daniel Clark already had spearheaded the effort to restore (so far as possible) Dodrill Cemetery, along the South Chariton north of Promise City. This once-extensive cemetery had been cleared of stones, reportedly by a farmer, perhaps in the 1940s, and then farmed over. Although graves have been lost, the site has been reclaimed and a marker and flag pole erected.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hate is alive, well and living in Missouri (and Iowa)

Perhaps the most chilling video bite related to Sunday's shootings in Overland Park, Kansas, shows the suspect, identified as 73-year-old white supremacist and antisemite Frazier Glenn Miller (aka Frazier Glenn Cross), of Aurora, Missouri, yelling "Heil Hitler" from the back of the police car that confines him.

Miller, long affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and other supremacist groups, allegedly gunned down an elderly (United Methodist) physician, William L. Corporon, and his 14-year-old Eagle Scout grandson, Reat Underwood, in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City where Underwood apparently had planned to audition for a talent competition. Miller also is accused of shooting a woman to death at the Shalom Center, an assisted living facility some blocks away.

Among other things, the tragedy serves as an unsettling reminder that antisemitism, as well as its cousins racism, homophobia and others, are alive, toxic and flourishing in the troubled minds of many who are ignorant, fearful and/or demented.

I took a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of active Ku Klux Klan groups in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the largest number are located in Texas. But Iowa has three --- New Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, reportedly headquartered in Ames; and the Fraternal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, neither attributed to a specific city. (Here's a link to reports on the various hate groups that the SPLC tracks.)

Lucas Countyans need to remember, too, that the Klan flourished here during the 1920s and that a Klan rally generally is recognized as among the largest public gatherings ever held in Chariton. This hateful stuff is never buried too far below the surface.

And it's still eating away at us, lord have mercy.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Romancing Lineville's G.A.R. memorial window

I'd expected to do a little reporting this morning on yesterday's quarterly meeting of the State Association for the Preservation of Iowa Cemeteries at Prairie Trails museum in Corydon. But then I fell in love --- and when that happens you've got to jump right into it.

It was a  window that I fell in love with --- romancing stained glass again, very special stained glass. So I'm sorry, I'll come back to cemeteries later in the week.

Anyhow, I first saw this window at Prairie Trails not long after it had been reassembled and rededicated with considerable fanfare during October of 2012, some 115 years after its creation. I took a longer look on Saturday.

The altar rail is from the former Promise City United Methodist Church.

The window was commissioned during the late 1890s by members of Jas. H. Rogers Post No. 237, Grand Army of the Republic, for the brand new Methodist Episcopal Church in Lineville, built mostly during 1897 but dedicated during 1898.

Lineville is a once-prosperous town, now a shadow of its former self, that sits astraddle U.S. Highway 65 just before you plunge into Missouri. The area just south of the border is South Lineville, Missouri, although most probably wouldn't make the distinction these days.

At the time the church was built, there were two Methodist churches in the Linevilles --- just plain Methodist in Iowa, Southern Methodist in Missouri, a souvenir of Civil War days when Missouri was a divided state, claimed both by the Union and the Confederacy, although northern Missouri leaned strongly Union.

The Lineville window is not the only G.A.R. commemorative window in Iowa, although it is among the largest and most elaborate. The window that once helped light the old Osceola Methodist Church, demolished in the 1960s, now is located in the Clarke County Museum; other windows remain in active United Methodist Churches in Carlisle, Marion and Redfield.

By 2011, Lineville's United Methodists had diminished in numbers to the point where the congregation could not afford to repair its beautiful old building, with critical structural as well as cosmetic issues. So the decision was made to close church doors for the final time, then demolish the building.

As these hard decisions were being made, the Iowa Department, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, learned that the old commemorative window was threatened, stepped in and bought it.

On May 4, 2012, a party of "sons" gathered in Lineville, carefully disassembled the old window, removed its frame and delivered the pieces to Prairie Trails Museum in Corydon.

There, carpenter Steve Hysell carefully reassembled the window in the museum's northwest gallery, where it was mounted and backlighted so it could be appreciated for at least another 115 years.

Corydon marked the sesquicentennial of the Civil War during three October days that fall that included a re-enacted battle in Corydon Lake Park. The window was rededicated during a special ceremony at Prairie Trails on October 6.

Prairie Trails Museum opens for the season on Tuesday (April 15) with an evening open house, from 5 to 7 p.m., featuring free admission and refreshments. The museum will be open 1-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday during April and May, with longer hours beginning in June. Admission usually is charged --- unless you're a Wayne County Historical Society member ($10).

The exterior photo of Lineville Methodist Church was lifted from Ortha Green's "Churches of Wayne County, Iowa"; the photos of workers at the church during May of 2012, from the Web site of Co. A, 49th Regiment, Iowa Volunteer Infantry --- The Governor's Own Iowa Rifles.