Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Take time to smell the --- lavender

The lavender is in full bloom this week in the museum garden, resulting in competition between the bees harvesting its nectar and the staffers who want to harvest some of it for drying.

You'll find it in the lowest of the terraced beds along the east retaining wall of the patio.

Elsewhere, there are roses, too.

A couple of varieties.

And lilies just starting to come into their own.

Remember that the museum grounds are open at all times and you're welcome to stop in to smell the lavender or just sit on a bench for a while and think about stuff.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The good old days at Lucas High School

A friend of the museum brought these three images of Lucas High School students in the other day to share. They're part of his collection, so we'll not be keeping them, but have added them digitally to the image collection.

The students who formed the Class of 1927 --- 91 years ago --- are (top row from left) Eva Vanscoy, Albert Griffith, Harriett Crow and Carl Woolsey; (second row) Everett Vanscoy, Evelyn Peterson, Wade Stark, Helen Halls and Raymond Spencer; (bottom row) Herman Polser, Henry Staffin, Supt. Paul Wells, David Evans and Clarice Phillips.

The 1923-24 Lucas High School girls basketball team consisted of these young women --- Ruth Skidmore and Eudora Cunion in the first row, Marie Skidmore, Freddie Jones and Vera Polser in the second; and Eva Vanscoy, Miss Dansdell (coach) and Bernice Reese in the third row.

The 1924-25 girls basketball team included (from left) Irene Woods, Helen Halls, Evelyn Peterson, Margaret Peterson, Clarice Phillips, Eva Vanscoy Opal Russell, Edna Johnson, and Mrs. Carolyn Pim, coach.

Lucas High School graduated its final class --- nine students --- during May of 1959. Thereafter, students in the Lucas district attended Chariton High School.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Albia to Chariton by rail, 1868: A hair-raising ride

Charitonians, accustomed for 150 years now to near constant train traffic, first heard that rumble and roar --- and warning whistle --- during July of 1867 when the first locomotive rolled into town on newly completed Burlington & Missouri River Railroad tracks. According to some stories, it was pushing a modified freight car that would serve as a temporary depot.

By spring of the following year, the B.&M.R.R., stalled at Ottumwa since the outbreak of the Civil War, had reached Osceola. But Mother Nature seemed to be doing her best to derail the operation.

On May 4, 1868, a correspondent who signed himself "Albianian" climbed aboard a passenger car in Albia for a round trip to and from Chariton. A week later, on May 14, an account of his adventures was published in The Albia Union. It had been a hair-raising ride over tracks damaged by what some were calling the greatest deluge to hit the south of Iowa since the great flood of 1851. Here's the report:


Mr. Editor --- On May 4th, by paying the sum of 25 cents, I secured a passage through the rain and mud to the 7 o'clock P.M. train for Chariton. By the way, it's rather singular that Albia can't afford a free bus to and from hotels to railroad if Chariton and nearly every other town on the B. & M. can.

As we looked upon our way on the falling deluge, farms denuded of fences, carcasses of drowned stock, abandoned houses surrounded by the rising waters, bridges and railroad tracks carried away, huge piles of drift, and reflected upon the corruption of the times, it seemed the "bow of promise" had lost its prophetic assurance and that the heavens had opened its sluice to again cleanse the earth of its wickedness.

The B. & M. has suffered severely from 5 miles west of Albia to near Melrose. The east end of Bridge No. 85, across the Cedar is swung down the stream, still hanging by the west end. Passengers crossed a few rods above on a primitive pontoon, secured by cables. As railroads seldom manifest much regard for the travelers' comfort, it was certainly creditable to the B. & M. to find boards laid down to and from the pontoon over the deep mud. The road appears to be making every possible effort to keep the track in running order for the accommodation of the traveling public.

One of the section bosses said he had hardly slept any for several days, constant supervision of and repairing the track being necessary to prevent serious accidents to the passing trains.

The abutments of many bridges, and the filling about them, were washed away, and are supported by "cribs" of ties. Over one, the passenger car was disengaged from the locomotive and pushed by hand. In many places for several rods the road bed is washed away one to four feet deep, and the rails upheld only by crib-works of timbers. At the same places the rails are swerved four to six feet sideways. To ride over this cobble work resting on soft, yielding mud, and bridges propped up with timber, made one's blood chill. The train moved cautiously, often at a snail's pace, frequently halting to reconnoitre ahead.

 As we neared Melrose, we found the bottoms were covered with one sheet of water, extending to the bluffs on either side. Several dwellings were two to four feet in the water, the hotel only approachable by boat. The Cedar is said to have been 8 inches higher than in the great flood of 1851.

Most serious damage has befallen many farmers on its banks in loss of fences and stock. The appearance of the meadows and oat and wheat fields, however, promise abundant crops this fall.

WE MADE CHARITON at 9:30 o'clock P.M. and enjoyed the hospitalities of G.J. Stewart, our former fellow townsman, who holds forth on the south side of the Public Square, and who knows how to keep hotel. We found the rooms well furnished and clean. He has with him our old and respected fellow citizen, R.M. Hartness, ever ready to respond to call with his usual suavity.

Chariton is certainly a "smart little village" and evinces renewed life in her numerous new buildings, new sidewalks and fine stocks of goods. In 2 or 3 years, she may hope to attain the present size and trade of Albia. Like most western towns, I observed that a great majority of the new dwellings were one-story 6 by 9s.

The grounds of Mr. E. Temple (Edward Ames Temple) were a feast to the eye, covered with grapes, apples, maples and fruits. In a few years they will be a paradise gratifying to good taste and the pocket. Why will men expend every cent (and more, too) in the erection of palatial houses surrounded by bleak nakedness instead of embowering in shrubbery, fruits, and evergreens that will be a constant source of pleasure and profit more unpretentious structures.

The Court House is a disgrace to the town, is a dilapidated, rickety affair, illy proportioned outside and in.

We noticed at Russell on our return, a newly-built Episcopal Church that speaks well for the enterprise and intelligence of the people thereabouts.

We must commend the B. & M. for the good example it is giving the country in the extensive planting of shade trees about its depots. at Albia, Chariton and even at the small station of Russell it has set out long rows of maples. We certainly think no better evidence of the good sense of the superintendent could be given. May our citizens profit by it.

Our legislature offers munificent inducements for their planting and every consideration of good taste and sound sense dictates their extensive setting. Raising corn or hogs, the farmers should learn is not the only or best way of securing money or pleasure. Plant trees, and make your farms blossom with beauty.

AT 9:30 A.M. THE 5TH, some 40 seated themselves in the passenger car for Albia; including several delegates to the state and congressional conventions, and business and professional men from Albia, Centerville and elsewhere, to whom a few hours of delay was of importance. The little baggage was checked and we sat there one hour patiently awaiting a movement.

Suddenly there was a strange commotion on board, the few packages were thrown out upon the platform, the conductor saying the "train would not go," some a dozen rushed from the passenger to the baggage car, as if upon this precipitate transit hung issues of life and death, at the same time the latter was uncoupled from the passenger car and started at such speed that none but those secretly informed of the gentlemanly (?) conductor's intentions could get aboard. The comparative power of muscle and steam was thoroughly tested by some of the humbugged passengers, impressed with a dawning suspicion of being left, who tried to overtake the locomotive moving at 25 miles an hour. Their efforts were wonderful considering the sLipperousness of the track, but the locomotive won and one of the ten commandments was seriously outraged.

It was a matter of wonder among the "left" how the fortunate dozen were advised of the purpose of Mr. Morton, and many denounced his conduct in thus leaving the passengers without any notification (save to said favorites) as lacking all gentlemanly courtesy. A special train was sent down at 6 o'clock P.M. and we arrived in Albia thankful for our safe journey and indignant at certain railroad officials "clothed with a little brief authority," &c. (Signed) ALBIANIAN


It's kind of hard to figure out what's going on in those last three paragraphs, but it seems likely that railroad officials, due to track conditions, had decided that only the locomotive and freight car could make it safely to Albia. Rather than deal with 40 angry passengers, the conductor whispered invitations to a few favorites to scramble aboard the freight car, leaving the rest behind to sputter and cuss.

Those extra hours in Chariton did, however, give our correspondent sufficient daylight time to assess the community, view the grounds of Edward and Elizabeth Temples' new home in the vicinity of the current intersection of Woodlawn Avenue and South Eighth Street and assess the condition of Lucas County's 1858 brick courthouse --- already "a dilapidated and rickety affair" just ten years after construction. That absurd and ill-fated building had 20 more years of life before it finally was condemned, abandoned, torn down and replaced with our current seat of county government.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

It's been a Romans 13 kind of week ....

In the interest of fair disclosure, I am not a huge fan of the Bible --- although I do enjoy quoting it out of context now and then. Everyone does.

So it was interesting last week to see U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pluck the opening verses of Chapter 13, St. Paul's letter to the Romans, out of his Bible and use them in defense of the current administration's policy of loosing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stormtroopers on the land, confining brown-skinned asylum-seekers in concentration camps and ripping children out of their mothers' arms for separate interment.

Here are the operational verses, Nos. 1-5 (Revised Standard Version): "1. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4. for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. 5. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience."

These have long been favorite verses of Christian zealots, used to justify anything from slavery to genocide.

As a rule, Paul's further comments in Chapter 13 generally are not cited: "8. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 10. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

Dr. Martin Luther King, a saint whose words often are more relevant in today's world than those ossified utterances of Paul, did a good job of clarifying the distinction --- in his letter from the Birmingham Jail --- between obligation to obey just laws and to resist those that are evil:

"One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.' "

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Murder, horse-thievery, Hopeville and Chariton ...

Lucas County's log courthouse.

Chariton's town square was a hot and dusty, rough-and-tumble kind of place back in the late summer of 1859. The city's first brick building of any size --- the new courthouse --- was rising in the middle of today's pretty park, but the old log courthouse just south of the east-side alley remained the seat of justice. There were no trees to speak of. The buildings around the perimeter of the square were a mix of log and frame; the rambling Hatcher House hotel, built in 1853 on the southwest corner, the largest.

Honest John Edwards had established Lucas County's first newspaper, The Patriot, two years earlier.

And public entertainment was in short supply. So when Clarke County authorities decided to park Joseph Jacobs, a 37-year old farmer accused initially of horse thievery and then of murder, in the Lucas County Jail --- all eyes turned to the courthouse and Honest John worked late into the night hand-setting extensive reports of court proceedings that commenced in May and continued into the fall.

Sadly, no copies of those early editions of The Patriot survive. Fortunately, down the road in Monroe County, the editor of the Albia Weekly Republican was reading his exchange copies of The Patriot and as the cases against Jacobs grew more interesting, summarizing Edwards' reports for his readers. So much of what appears here this morning was lifted from The Republicans of August 25 and September 15.


It's not clear why Jacobs was being held in Chariton in the first place, since the dastardly deeds he was accused of had occurred in the vicinity of Hopeville --- a small village built around an aspirational town square some distance southwest of Osceola. Hopeville is a ghost town now, but the square survives as a county park and is the site of a widely known annual "rural music reunion."

But Hopeville was a tough little town and reputedly the headquarters for a gang of well organized horse thieves. So it may have been simply that Clarke County officials felt that their prisoner would be more secure in Chariton.

Whatever the circumstances, the initial Albia Republican report, published on August 25, does a good job of outlining the circumstances that had led to Jacobs' imprisonment:


From the Chariton Patriot we learn the particulars of the murder of Dr. Wm. B. Lucas, of Hopeville in Clarke County, by Joseph Jacobs, near the residence of said Jacobs 2-1/2 miles from Hopeville, on the evening of the 9th inst. The circumstances connected with this murder, and leading to it, we condense from a more detailed relation of the particulars in the Patriot.

It appears that Jacobs was indicted by the grand jury of Clarke county at the term of court held last April on a charge of horse stealing, and was subsequently arrested and for want of bail was lodged in the jail in Lucas County.

The daughter of Jacobs was induced to make disclosures tending to implicate Dr. Lucas and a large number of other persons, and these disclosures so far as related to Dr. Lucas were confirmed by Jacobs' statements while in prison, and Jacobs was promised that if he would testify or procure testimony that would be sufficient to convict Lucas and others, supposed ring leaders in horse stealing, bail should be procured for his release from present confinement and influences would be brought to bear that would mitigate his future punishment.

Jacobs, therefore, filed an information before Esq. Starbucks against Lucas and others, upon which Lucas was arrested and held to bail. Jacobs was then arrested on a charge of perjury and was to have had his examination on the 9th of August, at which time Dr. Lucas was at Osceola. On the road home, the afternoon of that day, Dr. Lucas met persons who told him that the prosecuting witness had failed to appear and that the case had been dismissed. He also got into an altercation, being under the influence of liquor, and was taunted with being a horse thief.

This appeared to fret him satanic with rage and he declared that Jacobs should die, that he would shoot him and then shoot himself, that Jacobs had disgraced him and he could not live under it. In this frame of mind he proceeded as far as the residence of Mr. John Shields near Jacobs. There he stopped and again declared his intention to kill Jacobs. He had a Colts five-shooter which he handled in a menacing and frantic manner.

Mr. Shields succeeded by persuasions, &c., in detaining him about one hour, but could not prevail upon him to relinquish his purpose. Meanwhile two young men (William Clevenger and Abram Coon) had gone across the fields to notify Jacobs of the threats which Lucas was making.

The found Jacobs at home, who upon hearing the news exclaimed, "My God! What shall I do?" and requested them to come in and stay all night. This they declined and returned to Shields.

Lucas meantime had proceeded as far as the house of Mr. Abram Smith, situated on Jacobs' farm, accompanied by Mr. Shields, who still hoped to be able to induce him to desist from his purpose. Here he again declared to Smith his intentions toward Jacobs, and soon started across the field for Jacobs house. Smith went into his house, drew on his boots, and he and Shields followed, expecting, as they say, to overtake him and forcibly detain him; and when within about 75 yards of Jacobs' house they heard the report of fire arms, and the fearful deed was accomplished.

Jacobs says that upon being notified as before stated, he took a rifle already loaded, ran down two additional balls, locked all his doors, and stationed himself at the northwest window of the upper story, with his gun resting upon the window sill and waited the doctor's approach. That he saw him when he emerged from the corn field, some 150 yards from the house, that he came walking very fast, that the moon shone bright and full upon him.

That his white shirt bosom shone very plain between the lapels of his dark vest, that it was a pretty mark to shoot at, that he waited till the doctor crossed the fence and when within about fifteen feet of the house, took as cool and deliberate aim as if he had been shooting a prairie chicken and fired.

The Dr. fell instantly exclaiming, "Oh Jacobs! My God!" and died without a struggle.

It appeared upon examination, that the three balls had entered at the same place, passed through his heart and two of them entirely through his body. As Lucas fell, the pistol which he held in his hand was discharged, the ball penetrating the earth to the depth of six inches. Jacobs gave himself up to the authorities, and was brought up for examination on the 11th, when, after a patient and thorough investigation he was fully committed.


The Republican's next --- and final --- report on the case was published on September 15, as follows:


A writ of habeas corpus was issued out in the case of Joseph Jacobs, confined in the jail at Chariton, for the murder of Dr. Lucas, and the case was brought before his Honor, John S. Townsend, one day last week during a called session of the court at this place. Messrs. Perry, Dashiell and Baker for Jacobs, and Kelsey & Kelsey and Clark for the State.

It will be recollected that Jacobs on the 10th of August shot Dr. Lucas of Hopeville, in Clarke County. This action was brought to ascertain whether the evidence before the common magistrate was sufficient to hold the defendant --- Jacobs --- to arrest.

The evidence is briefly that on the night of the 10th of August, the deceased --- Dr. L. --- went to a neighbor of Jacobs and told him he designed killing Jacobs that night; this neighbor sent word to Jacobs to inform him of the fact, which word was communicated to him --- Jacobs --- by Messrs. Clevenger and Coon. Jacobs fastened all his doors, went upstairs, stationed himself at a window. Prior to stationing himself at the window he put two additional balls down his rifle, which had been previously loaded. 

Jacobs saw Dr. L. approaching the house when about 160 yards distant. When the Dr. crossed over the fence two dogs attacked him at which time he said "D--n him, I will shoot him." Dr. L. approached as if intending to enter the porch, and when he was 13 feet from the house Jacobs shot him through the heart. Directly after Jacobs' gun was discharged, Dr. L's pistol was discharged, which he was holding in his hand. The bullet out of the pistol entered the ground about 8 inches from the head of Dr. L. and his face was powder burned, showing that the pistol was not discharged till he fell. Jacobs afterwards stated that he took as deliberate aim as he ever did in shooting a prairie chicken and that he was unembarrassed. He also stated that Dr. L did not see him and could not have killed him till he had broken into the house and come up the stairs, which was all in one room.

The counsel who argued the cause for the state took the position that Jacobs was not acting in self-defense and that if he was justified in killing Dr. L, he would have been justified in doing so at any time after he made the threats. The counsel for the defendant, Jacobs --- took the position that Jacobs was acting in self defense.

The court remanded Jacobs to the Lucas County Jail and refused to admit him to bail.


There seem to be no reports to tell us what happened next, although court documents may be buried somewhere in a dusty courthouse vault.

However, when the 1860 federal census was taken, Joseph Jacobs was enumerated as a convict at the State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, age 39, a farmer by trade, serving time for manslaughter. His family had by that time vanished from Clarke County.

The mortality schedule attached to the 1860 census also records the death of Dr. Lucas, noting that he was 45 years old, married, a native of Pennsylvania, a physician by trade and had perished during August of 1859 from a "shot." A footnote reads, "Intentionally killed by a gunshot from the hands of Joseph Jacobs."

When WPA workers transcribed the inscriptions on Clarke County tombstones during the 1930s, they found Dr. Lucas's stone in what was known as the North Hopeville Cemetery. It has since vanished.

It would appear that at least some of his family remained in the Hopeville vicinity.


Joseph Jacobs' outcome is less clear. He apparently was released from prison later on during the 1860s, but some suggest that he was arrested and charged again with horse thievery during 1867 in Wayne County and returned to the penitentiary.

And sure enough, the 1870 federal census taker did indeed find Joseph Jacobs, now age 49, cooling his heels in the penitentiary at Fort Madison. This time, however, the offense that landed him there was not reported.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Columbia, the May Store & George W. May

Say "Columbia" to many Lucas Countyans these days and they'll think "McCorkle Hardware," a widely known business that calls this little Marion County town --- just north of the Lucas County line and to your right off Highway 14 on the road to Knoxville --- home. 

But back in the day, George W. May's "The Right Place" --- or simply the May Store --- was just as widely known and when Mr. May threw a 50th business anniversary party for himself during August of 1929 an estimated 5,000 people came.

My own ancestors first settled in the Columbia neighborhood during 1847 when my maternal grandfather's great-grandparents, William and Mary (Saunders) Clair, parked their somewhat disfunctional family just east of where the village would be established 10 years later. During February of 1871, my maternal great-grandparents, Joseph and Chloe (Boswell/Prentiss) Brown, relocated from Corydon into the town proper and my grandmother, Jessie (Brown) Miller, was born their during 1875.

Her much-older brother-in-law, Alpheus E. Love, was among other things Columbia's resident photographer for quite a number of years and I've been sorting through some of his images lately and sharing them elsewhere. Among them is this image of the George W. May family, taken about 1906.

Mr. May and his wife, Harriet, are flanked by the twins --- Helen (Wirene) and Harold. Son Thomas is standing between them and son James is standing. I cannot figure out which of the older daughters is which, they they were Erato (Wood), Beneti (Bridgman) and Cleo Whitlatch.

Three years after celebrating his business anniversary, Mr. May was front and center when Columbia itself marked an anniversary --- its 75th. This was front-page news in The Chariton Leader of Sept. 6, 1932, and to prepare his preview of the event Leader editor Will D. Allender traveled to Columbia and sat down with George for a visit. Here's the text of the resulting article:


Pioneer Days Mark Columbia's Jubilee on 75th Anniversary
"Pageant of Progress" Will Be Feature of Fete Celebrating Columbia's 75th Birthday
"The Right Place," George May Store Is Center of History

George W. May
The town of Columbia will welcome its own on Wednesday when its more than two hundred residents are hosts to the thousands who are expected to join in the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the community.

The population of this small inland town in Marion county is expected to swell to more than five thousand when the city turns back the pages of history and lives again those pioneer days.

A program of speeches, entertainment and band concerts has been arranged by enthusiastic committeemen at Columbia and plans were completed Saturday for one of the greatest celebrations in the history of Marion county.

As an indication of the ability of Columbia business men to stage successful homecomings, residents here point to the anniversary staged by G.W. May, pioneer merchant, two (actually, three) years ago. At that time more than five thousand people attended the one-day celebration.

The comparison is apt for George May is typical of the spirit of Columbia. It might be said that George May and his store is Columbia, but the venerable, lovable merchant would not have that, he said. It is true that he has been the guiding spirit at Columbia for more than half a century, but he still refuses anything more than the distinction of being just one of the business men of that community.

The celebration program nowhere includes the name of George May although his sons and brothers are members of various committees. it may be relied upon, however, that May's kindly assistance will be available before the final address of the anniversary celebration is completed.

"The Right Place," as May's store in Columbia is known, is still the community center and any time of the day large numbers of residents gather there to converse. The big store furnishes chairs and boxes where conversations may be had at any time.

The May Store, "The Right Place." Photo courtesy Dennis Stotts.

In addition to being one of the two general stores in Columbia, the May store is the post office and George May is the postmaster. The people of Columbia come daily to the store at eleven o'clock to get their mail which is distributed by Mr. May through the assistance of his son.

He had just finished the distribution of the mail when I walked into the store one afternoon last week. He recognized me although he had met me but once before and that several months before. It is one of May's assets that he remembers faces and names even after a casual meeting.

From a shelf in the post office he pulled down several reference books when I asked about the early history of Columbia. Thumbing expertly through the books, he came to the name of Columbia and then, with the printed material available, began a sketch of the history of the community.

William Kent, an early surveyor of Marion county, was employed by Hugh S. Smith and his wife, Rebecca, in 1857, to plat the original town of Columbia. According to the original plat of the town, the survey consisted of fifty-eight lots and this deed was filed on May 2, 1857. On October 22, 1892, Murr's addition was added to the original town, the new plat consisting of twenty-two lots.

Outside of the home of the Smiths, the town consisted of nothing much more than a few scattered houses, built together to share the advantages of neighborhood and to fight against the dangers of the primeval forest.

One of the first houses in the clearing was built by James D. Steele and the structure was built of logs taken from the forest land. (Allender is engaging in a little poetic license here; Columbia was built on prairie --- the "forest primeval" was some distance to the south).

Shortly after the construction of the houses, John McEldering opened a general store and acquired the distinction of being the first merchant to sell goods in Columbia. New business additions followed in short order with Andrew Reed getting the first post office appointment. Clark and Williams opened a hotel and mill and operated them under partnership.

The first church was erected a few years after the town was built. Rev. P.H. Jacobs was the first pastor in Columbia and he is still remembered by many of the residents at Columbia although his death occurred many years ago.

The original post office at Columbia was located about two miles west of the town and had been located about 1854. Shortly after the town was laid out, the post office was removed to Columbia and Reed named postmaster.

The little town of Gosport had been previously organized about four years before and when the new town was platted, the residents of Gosport were intensely jealous of the new community.

A movement was organized in Gosport to attend the sale of the lots in Columbia and bid in the choice locations. Then, with residents of Gosport owning the best lots in Columbia, the lots were to be left idle, effectually throttling expansion. Patriotic Columbians heard of the scheme however and ran the price of lots up to such high figures that the "committee" from Gosport abandoned the project and the future of Columbia was assured. The growth of Columbia and the economic death of Gosport was the result.

George May did not come to Columbia until August 8, 1879, but with his coming the existence of Columbia was definitely settled.

May first opened a drug store in Columbia and on January 1 of the following year disposed of this establishment to a doctor and bought a partnership with W. Stotts.

J.T. Black was closing out his store on the present location of the May store and May's partner purchased the stock and opened the store.

The Stotts and May partnership existed until 1886 when May went into partnership with (William) Cloud, the father of Noel Cloud, of Chariton. This partnership existed until 1903.

At this time, May sold his building to a man named Yetter, but the new owner was burned out within a few months and May purchased the debris of the store and built the present store. He has been in his present location for the past 29 years.

As I talked to May, a farmer walked into the store and overheard our conversation. May was just telling about the early pioneers of the store and had mentioned the name "McCorkle." Without looking up, May said "That was this fellow's father."

Thus invited, J.E. McCorkle, living in Columbia, laid claim to the distinction of being the oldest living pioneer in Columbia. He came to Columbia in 1856 and has lived in that community continuously since.

May remembered humorously, "At one time we thought the McCorkles were going to take Columbia as more than eight families lived either in or near the town."

When the first mill in the town, operated by Clark and Williams, burned to the ground, May purchased the site and constructed a $6,000 mill, one of the finest in the county.

He operated it successfully for a term of years before it was destroyed and now nothing remains of it.

"There is no one now living in Columbia that lived here when I first came to town," George May said, half sadly and half proudly. All of his neighbors in those early days have either moved away or have passed away.

One of the features of the diamond jubilee anniversary Wednesday will be a pageant of progress, arranged by descendants of the early pioneers. Frank Elwood and E.H. Phelps will have change of this parade and plans already completed indicate that it will be the feature of the entire celebration.

Cleo May, who furnished most of the information in regard to the parade, said that Indians, pioneer wagons and equipment would be contrasted with modern machinery and automobiles in the parade.

The anniversary will be featured by the total absence of any games of chance that usually mark, or rather mar, one-day celebrations. Several concessionaries have asked to bring their games to Columbia for the anniversary but their requests have been denied. Only two booths will be constructed and both of them will be refreshment stands. No dance will be held in the evening.

Columbia is proud of the morality of their celebrations and not one of the residents of the town expressed any regret that these usually-so-necessary adjunctions of a celebration will be omitted.

Miss Parker, of the state department of public instruction at Des Moines, will speak to an assembly of rural school students and teachers in the school grounds at Columbia at 10:30 in the morning. The address will follow a parade of students through the community.

The Pella band, under the direction of H. Kuyper, and the championship drum and bugle corps of Knosville will furnished the music for the anniversary.

The speaking program will include addresses by C.S. Cooter, of Des Moines, democratic candidate for congress from the sixth district, and Governor Dan W. Turner of Iowa.

Horseshoe tournaments, contests and sports will furnish entertainment while a delightful program of vocal and instrumental music has been arranged.

Columbia awaits the coming of its friends and relatives Wednesday and when Governor Turner concludes his address as the final portion of the program, every guest may once again sense the wholesome spirit of Columbia.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A teen-ager's tribute to "the dearest and nicest boy"

I picked up Hazel Baker's diary for 1905-1906 the other day while moving the contents of one archival box to another and started glancing through the entries.

This is one of many diaries and journals in the Lucas County Historical Society collection and was carefully maintained by Hazel, starting when she was 15 going on 16. The entries span her move with parents and sisters from Chariton to Santa Ana, California, where the remainder of her life was spent.

Much later in the 20th century, long after Hazel's death, the diary was left behind in California with other family memorabilia when the step-granddaughter into whose hands it had fallen moved to New Zealand.

The friend tasked with evaluating and dispersing the material left in her care read the diary, made the connection with Lucas County --- and returned it to the place where it was begun.


Hazel, among other things, was a niece of Dan M. Baker, pioneering newspaper editor in both Chariton and Santa Ana, about whom I've written extensively. She had her uncle's gift for words; the entries are well-written --- and revealing.

Her parents, Eugene S. and Mary (Campbell) Baker, were affluent people. He was a real estate speculator and landlord with retail business interests in both Chariton and Lacona. Born in Chariton during September of 1889, Hazel had an older sister, Marvel, and a younger sister, Frances.

Hazel still was attending high school when the move to California was made and there seems to have been no particular reason for it. Many other members of the extended Baker family already had moved there, however, the Eugene Bakers had visited many times and liked it.

Santa Ana, the seat of Orange County and now densely populated and identified as part of greater Los Angeles, at that time was a pleasant, largely rural place just 10 miles from the Pacific coast. It had drawn, along with nearby Garden Grove, many former Lucas Countyans, including several relatives of mine.


Hazel's diary ends with entries for 1906 even though quite a few blank pages remain --- but the last page of the little volume is filled with a tribute to Carl Van Dyke, just 15 when he died on April 2, 1905 --- a month older that Hazel --- and obviously a special friend. Most likely the entry was written just after Carl's death and I found it quite moving. Here's the text:

Hazel Baker
Chariton, Lucas County, Iowa

Carl Van Dyke took sick Jan. 22, 1905; was awfully sick with appendicitis, but finally got well. Even went to a dance --- took Marie.

Went to Chicago March 27, was operated upon and was getting along nicely when all at once he died; nobody knows how or anything about it. He died April 2nd, 1905, Sunday morning between 4 and 5 in the a.m.

We girls got some beautiful flowers; funeral was at the house.

Marie Bown has his opal ring, which he gave her to wear. She still has it but is going to give it to Ralph Van Dyke (Carl's brother). The funeral was Tuesday, April 4, 1905.

He would have been sixteen in August 1905. He was the dearest and nicest boy I ever went with. He was a favorite with most everyone. (signed) Hazel Baker.


Carl was the second son of Byron R. and Ella (Gardner) Van Dyke, who had purchased Chariton's Bates House hotel in 1887 and still were operating it as a first-class hostelry when their young son died. 

Carl's obituary, published in The Chariton Leader of April 6, 1905, fills in some of the gaps left in the  tribute of his friend:

With heartfelt sorrow, the Leader records the sad death of Carl Van Dyke, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. B.R. Van Dyke, which occurred at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on Sunday morning, April 2, 1905, at 5:30 o'clock, as the result of an operation which he had undergone for appendicitis.

Two years ago last Christmas he suffered an attack of this malady, but apparently recovered. On January 19th of this year he was again taken ill with the same complaint and for some time was in a dangerous condition. For the past few weeks he had been able to be about but his system was very weak. The physicians stated that a third attack would probably prove fatal and it was deemed advisable to take him to Chicago. 

On Wednesday noon of last week, accompanied by his father and brother, Ralph, he left for that city. On Saturday morning he submitted to an operation and it was thought that he would get along all right, although it was found that there were other troubles which would retard his recovery, but early Sunday morning there was a change for the worse and he sank rapidly until his death occurred. 

The remains were brought to Chariton Sunday night on No. 1 and taken to the family home where funeral services were held on Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock, conducted by Dr. D.C. Franklin of the M.E. Church. The floral tributes were numerous and beautiful, tender messages of love and sympathy. At the conclusion of the services an unusually large concourse of sorrowing friends followed the remains to their last resting place in the Chariton Cemetery.

Carl Van Dyke, son of B.R. and Ella Van Dyke, was born in this city on August 9, 1889. He has always lived here and by his bright, manly countenance and pleasant manners won the admiration and regard of all with whom he came in contact. He has been taken away just as he was stepping over the threshold into young manhood and the funeral on Tuesday was pathetic beyond expression. All felt that a loss had been sustained for which there is no compensation. May time bring its resignation, and may the shores of eternity that receive his soul surround it with everlasting sunshine and flowers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Chamber/Main Street awards, honors (and food)

I enjoyed last evening's annual celebration, marking the end of one program year and the start of another for Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street. The company and the food were great --- and the awards program fast-paced and mercifully brief. Who could ask for more?

Other than an award or two, and I was called forward twice.

The first award, one of several "Good Brick" honors presented, went to the Lucas County Historical Society. These awards recognize businesses, non-profits and others who maintain buildings and go to considerable lengths to improve and keep them in a high state of repair.

So this brick goes to our 16-member board, staff and volunteers who put a lot of effort into keeping the society's seven buildings upright and looking good. Among the recent improvements cited were a new roof and rewiring for the Stephens House, an improved, paved handicap-accessible parking area and new sidewalks linking several of our buildings, restoration projects at both Puckerbrush School and Otterbein Church and extensive work in the Vredenburg Gallery and Irene Garton Library. Several of these projects were financed in part by partners we're extraordinarily grateful for, including the South Central Iowa Community Foundation, Coons Foundation and Vredenburg Foundation.

Personally, I received the 2018 "Ambassador" award --- in part because of this blog but also to recognize other outreach work for various organizations I'm involved with.

My tablemates included David Hobbs, pastor of Chariton's First United Methodist Church, who received the 2018 individual "Friendly Face" award; and the family of the late Irene Strait, honored posthumously for her volunteer work with a "Main Street Hero" award.

Many other awards were presented, but I didn't take notes. Bill, however, was there as always (this guy deserves an award one of these days) for the Chariton Newspapers so I'm sure there will be photos and a complete listing in either The Leader or The Herald-Patriot a little farther along. 

I should mention, however, that the John L. Lewis Museum of  Mining & Labor at Lucas received this year's "Excellence in Tourism" award.

It's my practice to spill something at all social occasions. This time it was just lemonade that flowed across the white tablecloth and was easily contained (I'm no longer allowed to drink red wine in the presence of white tablecloths).

Thelma's Carpenters Hall food was, as always, wonderful. Until some years ago, these meetings featured a full-scale meal but recently that's been broken down into multiple serving tables and an hors d'oeuvre  format during the social hour that works much better. The shrimp, mini-tacos, stuffed mushrooms, onion rings, ham, etc., etc., were outstanding. And the cake? Wow.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Simon, Alex and second childhoods ....

I didn't set out intentionally to watch "Love, Simon" and "Alex Strangelove" on consecutive evenings, but while checking to see if Amazon was offering a pay-per-view deal on the former, hit the wrong button and ended up buying it. Which turned out fine.

"Alex Strangelove," a Netflix production, started streaming there on June 8. I'm a subscriber. "Love, Simon" was released in late March by 20th Century Fox and became available digitally on May 29.

I suppose it might seem a little odd that an old guy in the 70-plus category is watching --- and enjoying --- the latest in the teen-romance genre. I just call it part of the second-childhood experience.

Those of us who grew up gay in the 1950s and 1960s didn't anticipate the happy endings in positive settings that these films offer. We certainly had our moments --- mine principally in haylofts, along creek beds and in other hidden places --- but there was never any sense that these fleeting interludes could lead anywhere other than to disaster in our heteronormative universes. My goodness, the fear.

"Everyone deserves a great (teen) love story," the promotional material for "Love, Simon" proclaims. And so do we, darn it, even if only vicariously a considerable number of years later.


Both films are beautifully produced --- and acted. "Love, Simon" is more appealing --- and charming. "Alex Strangelove" is promoted sometimes as Simon's naughty brother, focused as it is on how a closeted gay kid reacts to the must-get-laid imperative of his straight brethren, and kind of lives up to its advertising.

Both play out in idealized settings of middle-class affluence, supportive high schools where race is of no significance, gender identity and sexual orientation of increasingly limited social consequence and parents are understanding and supportive even though sometimes mildly confused.

But it is interesting to see the same factors operating in these fictional young lives that operated in ours so long ago --- a yearning to be "normal" in a largely heteronormative universe when we know that's not possible, a reluctance to step out of the closet and show ourselves to be who we are even when the result is likely to be generally positive and the deeply embedded fear of losing friends and family when they find out who we really are. 


My advice to all parents, feeling warm and fuzzy, frazzled and frustrated as their families grow, is to try to imagine during the parenting process that at least one of those kids is going to announce one day, "I'm gay." With a little preparation, you lessen the risk of behaving like an asshole if and when that happens.

I'm not saying that watching either or both of these films will prepare you for this eventuality, but they're lovely idealized visions of how it might work and and watching one or the other certainly won't hurt.

Monday, June 11, 2018

One week, three suicides: Southern Iowa in 1884

Find a Grave photo
The deaths by suicide of two high-profile people were in the news last week, a public reminder that despair remains an active element in the human condition at a time when such occurrences rarely are reported upon --- other than in the cases of celebrities or other limited sets of circumstance.

I'm not qualified to speculate about cause, what we're generally told is an accelerating rate or preventive measures, but I can tell you --- after years of roaming the fields of archived newpapers --- that while suicide always has been with us, the reticence about reporting upon it has not.

I plugged the word "suicide" into the search engine of a Chariton newspaper database that I use frequently and that notes "hits" by decade. These are not reliable results --- the numbers of newspapers available per decade vary and there are many alternative terms for suicide. But the peak years for reports containing the word "suicide" were 1880-1910 --- 454 in the 1880s, 677 in the 1890s and 590 between 1900 and 1910. After 1910, the number of reports drops sharply; after 1940, into the double digits.

In at least one sense we might be grateful --- many of these reports were highly sensational, extremely detailed and generally ended with a paragraph of pontificating.

I pulled the 1880s up from that database yesterday and one of the first reports I came to was a full column of type on the local news page of The Chariton Democrat-Leader of Jan. 2, 1884, headlined "Self Destruction." It contained sub-headed reports of the deaths at Belinda on the Lucas-Marion county line of Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Byers, age 19; of Frank Fee, age 20, the son of a prominent Centerville family; and of Humilda "Milla" Hibbets, age 18, in northwest Monroe County's Cedar Township.

Here are those reports --- and if reading the extreme detail some of them contain will cause you distress, please don't.


Suicide at Belinda

BELINDA, IOWA, Dec. 26 --- The most shocking tragedy that ever occurred in this community was enacted at the residence of Mr. A.R. Byers on Christmas night, which resulted in the death of his son Frank, who was found on the following morning in the barn hanging by the neck, cold in death. The deed was done between the hours of 10 at night and daylight of the following morning. He left the residence of Mr. Selby, a neighbor, living some 3 miles distant from his father's, about 10 o'clock Christmas night. Nothing more was seen of him until daylight on the following morning when his youngest brother, on going to the barn to feed, discovered his body hanging in the shed of the barn. He immediately gave the alarm, and in an incredible space of time almost the entire community was present to witness the terrible spectacle. A coroner was summoned and a jury selected to hold an inquest which resulted in a verdict that death was caused by the dislocation of the neck.

The deceased was 19 years of age, a young man of temperate habits, a gentleman in every respect and a member of the Christian church. Since joining that church almost two years ago he has lived a model christian, always standing in the shadow of the cross with the whole armor of God on, assisting those who are fighting against the wiles of the wicked one, that they might cross the river of death in safety and enter that city whose maker and builder is God.

That a young man having a good home, loving parents, affectionate sister and brothers, and with bright hopes for the future, shold destroy that which God gave him, in such a way, it would be nothing more than reasonable to say he was in an abnormal state of mind when the deed was done. But we can only leave him in the hands of a wise and merciful God who doeth all things well. The parents and family have the heartfelt sympathy of the entire community in their affliction.

A second account of the suicide, which I've not transcribed, contained the additional information that Frank and his father had "been to Knoxville during the day (Christmas). As they returned home the father stopped in the village of Columbia. Without entering the house the young man took his horse and went to a neighbor's house to spend the evening. While there the conversation turned upon the suicide of Miss Tibbets, Byers expressing great surprise that a person could deliberately take his own life while in the full possession of his senses. He stayed there until a late hour and appeared as jovial and happy as anyone." A report of Milla Hibbet's suicide will be found farther along.


A young son of Capt. T.M. Fee, of Centerville, suicided on Christmas morning. The Journal gives the following account of the matter:

Yesterday morning while many of our citizens were at the table enjoying their Christmas breakfast, the startling report was telephoned over the city and went from mouth to mouth that Frank Fee, son of Capt. T.M. Fee, lay in the agonies of death at the door of his father's law office, with a 38-calibre pistol shot in his head, the work of his own hand. With others we hastened to the scene and found the report fully verified. The body was then lying in the hall, with a bullet hole just above and back of the right ear, extending through and passing out a little higher up on the left side. The head was lying in a pool of cold clotted blood, while a heavy, labored breathing showed that life was not yet extinct. He had evidently lain there for several hours before being discovered. The body was carried into the office where the wounds were examined by Dr. Udell and pronounced mortal. About nine o'clock he was taken to his father's residence where he lingered until 8-1/2 p.m. when life departed.

He was at the Christmas tree festival of the Presbyterian Church Monday night and received several presents, and at the close of the entertainment accompanied a young lady to her home, and was on the streets soon after, with young men of his companionship. He visited Dr. Stephenson, who is a relative of his, and bid him goodbye, saying he was going to leave town in the morning never to return. Something appeared to be preying on his mind, as he was at the office of the Keystone hotel between two and three o'clock, smoking and chatting with Capt. Boyles, Marshal Stier and Daily Joiner, and related to Joiner what he termed his troubles, which in all probability were only imaginary. Joiner left him at three o'clock in the morning and went home, and young Fee left the hotel shortly afterwards and was seen no more till found as above stated. He probably committed the deed shortly after this. From the position of the body when found, he evidently lay down square on his back and deliberately fired the fatal shot. His hat was drawn tightly over his head, the revolver laid on the floor between his body and left arm, with all the chambers loaded but one.

Frank Fee would have been 21 years old next May. He was disposed to be dissolute, cultivated habits of idleness, read dime novels and Peck's Bad Boy, and seldom heeded the advice of this father.


Miss Humilda Hibbets, a daughter of Omer Hibbets, a well to do farmer of Cedar township (Monroe County), committed suicide at her home, on Wednesday last week. At about one o'clock of that day she was found hanging in the smoke house, a lifeless corpse. It is thought she committed the fearful deed at about 9 o'clock that morning. She was found hanging by a leather strap about seven feet long, one end fastened to a joist and the other looped about her neck, her feet being 2 or three feet from the floor. It is supposed that she climbed upon the joist, adjusted the strap at both ends and then jumped off. A coroner's inquest was held by Justice Swan, of Lovilla, but nothing was developed to explain why the girl took her life. Miss Hibbets was 18 years of age, and was engaged to be married to a worthy young farmer living near Eldorado. She was intelligent, and of prepossessing appearance. This is the second suicide in Monroe county for this year. --- Albia Democrat


Frank Byers --- a photo of his tombstone found at Find a Grave introduces this article --- is buried not far from my grandparents in the Columbia Cemetery. Franklin M. "Frank" Fee is buried with his family in Centerville's Oakland Cemetery. Milla Hibbets most likely is buried with her family in the cemetery at Marysville, northwest of Lovilla, but her grave does not seem to be marked.