Saturday, October 10, 2015

Deconstruction, reconstruction at Meyer Law Firm

The best show on the east side of the square Friday morning involved deconstruction of the shingled pent roof added during 1969 to Meyer Law Firm's 1901 building --- the first step in Raymond Meyer's goal of creating a new facade that contains elements of his father's, Virgil Meyer's, renovation while honoring the original design of the building.

The top photo shows the building before deconstruction began.

Here's how the building looked Friday afternoon, after the pent roof had been removed.

And this is the way the building looked soon after it was built by Richard Barnett in 1901 to house the Star Bakery.

The series of photos that follows, beginning with Ray providing some last-minute instructions to the deconstruction crew, follows the process.

The biggest initial challenge of this project was the fact that no one knew how much of the original facade had survived the 1969 renovation and the only way to find out was to tear off the pent roof. So Ray acquired the city permit needed before he could remove it --- and now has done so.

He will go back for an Oct. 14 hearing before the Board of Adjustment with a reconstruction design, hoping for approval.

David Barnett built the structure on a then-vacant lot during 1901 as an investment --- to house a client he already had lined up --- Star Bakery, then located on the north side. As built, the structure was 20x70 feet and had 14-foot ceilings.

Both the building and the bakery business had various owners during the next 70 years, before Virgil Meyer purchased and renovated it.

Quality Bakery, which closed during the 1960s, was the last to operate here. During those bakery years, the facade's brick was painted and the upper part of the almost entirely glazed original storefront enclosed.

Ray does plan to reconstruct the top of the facade --- above the steel beam that supports it. That will involve abating lead paint on beam and brick, then adding more courses of brickwork, including another row of dentil moulding and the cap.

How he bridges the gap between the 1969 brick of the lower facade and the original vintage brick crown of the facade --- we're going to have to wait.

Removing the pent roof involved cutting into the shingled arcade that fronts the old theater building to the north --- now housing the South Central Iowa Community Foundation offices. I was really happy to see behind that the original prism glass that once lighted the theater lobby. Perhaps that can be restored one day, too.

Friday, October 09, 2015

The tragedies of Johanna Towns & Miss Julia Murphy

One hundred and twenty years have erased the memory of Chariton's most deadly crime of passion  --- when a young man drew two pistols on an early August mid-morning during 1894 in a busy neighborhood known as "the levee," killed one young woman, fatally injured her sister, wounded their mother, then took his own life.

The only reminder is this lovely monument in Calvary Cemetery that marks the graves of the two sisters --- Julia Murphy and Johanna (Murphy) Towns --- as well as their mother, also Julia Murphy, who joined them in death 16 years later.

The senior Julia Murphy, born Julia Mullin during 1830 in County Clare, Ireland, had arrived in the United States with her parents and siblings at age 16, locating in Louisa County. She had married James Murphy there and they became the parents of four daughters --- Johanna, Mary, Nora and Julia --- before he vanished from their lives.

By 1880, the senior Julia had acquired a building located just west of the C.B.&Q. Depot, northwest of the square, and was supporting her daughters by operating a boarding house there. As the years passed, daughter Mary became Sister Sacred Heart of the Community of the Humility of Mary in Ottumwa, Nora married J.W. Dalton during November of 1892 and Johanna married F. P. Towns during September of 1893.

The Daltons established their own home, but Towns' work with the railroad took him to Ottawa, Illinois, during the summer of 1894 and so Johanna moved in with her mother and sister, Miss Julia.

According to eye-witness accounts, Mrs. Murphy and daughter Julia were sitting on the back porch of the boarding house at mid-morning on Aug. 8, 1894, and Johanna was standing in the kitchen door when one of their boarders --- also for five years a suitor of Miss Julia --- walked up, exchanged a few words, then drew two pistols and began firing.

Here's an account of the tragedy, published two days later --- in The Chariton Democrat of Aug. 10, 1894.


"On Wednesday morning, about 10:25, a terrible tragedy occurred at the residence of Mrs. Julia Murphy, nearly opposite the depot, and as a result two lives have gone out and two more are hovering between life and death. The cries of Mrs. Murphy and the sound of pistol shots soon brought a crowd  upon the scene and there a horrible and ghastly sight presented itself, one never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Stretched upon the kitchen floor in front of the door leading into the dining room was the lifeless body of Mrs. Johanna Towns, daughter of Mrs. Murphy. Lying near her with her head and arms resting on the stove was Julia Murphy, another daughter, who was groaning and suffering with a bullet wound in the back. Leaning against the door was Mrs. Murphy, who had been shot twice.

"The murderer, Win. D. Jenkins, had fled to his room upstairs and locked the door. It was thought best to make an investigation before breaking into his room as it was not known whether he had committed suicide or was prepared for resistance to a capture. A small transom above the door offered a means of gaining an insight into the room. Geo. Robbins looked through the transom and told the bystanders Jenkins was lying on the bed. It was then surmised that he was dead, and the door was broken open. Jenkins was dead, having sent a bullet through his brain. In one hand a revolver was clasped and lying on the bed near him was another one. He was lying straight on the bed, his head propped up with two pillows, and presented the appearance of being asleep.

 "Mr. J.C. Malone, the expressman, was an eye witness to the tragedy. He was going toward the depot and noticed Mrs. Murphy and daughter Julia sitting on the back porch while Mrs. Johanna Towns was standing in the doorway; Jenkins was standing with his hands behind him, about ten feet from them, and appeared to be talking to them. Suddenly he drew two revolvers and aiming first at Mrs. Towns, sent a bullet through her heart, killing her almost instantly. He then shot Miss Julia, the bullet entering her back about two inches below the shoulder blade and passing through the spinal column, paralyzing her entire body below the wound. Two shots were then directed at Mrs. Murphy, one of them piercing her right thigh, the other entering her abdomen, the wounds being about eleven inches apart.

"Jenkins then replaced the revolvers in his pockets and with his head down walked around the house, through the front door and upstairs to his room. There he bolted the door, took off his coat and vest and hung them up, and then took the empty shells out of his revolvers and threw them on the floor and replaced them with cartridges. It is supposed by that that he conteplated showing fight, but realizing what he had done he put an end to his own life by shooting himself, the ball entering his head near the right temple.

"After being shot, Miss Julia Murphy succeeded in crawling into the house where she was found. She is fatally injured and the doctors say her life is a question of but a few hours. Mrs. Murphy is also seriously injured and while she may recover the chances are against her.

"Mr. Towns, the husband of the dead woman, was in Ottawa, Illinois, where he has been employed all summer, and was immediately telegraphed. He arrived in the city Thursday about noon and his feelings can better be imagined that described. The funeral services of Mrs. Towns were held yesterday afternoon at five o'clock at the residence of Mrs. Murphy and were conducted by Father Leonard. A large concourse of sorrowing and sympathizing friends were in attendance and followed the remains to their last resting place in the Catholic cemetery. Besides the mother and the sister who are wounded and the husband, two sisters, Mary of Ottumwa and Mrs. Nora Dalton, of this city, are left to mourn their great loss and have the heartfelt sympathy of every person in the community.

"The only motive that can be assigned for the deed is jealousy. Jenkins had been boarding at Mrs. Murphy's for several years and was desperately in love with Miss Julia Murphy and had been keeping company with her for about five years. They had been engaged to be married and the ceremony would probably have been performed several months ago had it not been for a difference in their religious beliefs, she being a devout Catholic while he was a Protestant, which led to a disagreement.

"For several months, Jenkins had been drinking but not to excess, and on that account Miss Julia had broken the engagement. About a month ago a quarrel occurred between Jenkins and the Murphy family and he was told that he must take his meals some other place. Since that time he has been taking his meals at the Bates House but still retained his room at Murphy's.

"Jenkins has told several persons that he was engaged to a young lady in Indianola, and that they would be married about the first of September. Whether this was true or not is not known, but it is plain to be seen that his affections were centered upon Miss Murphy. He was insanely jealous and forbade her keeping company with other gentlemen. On the evening previous to the tragedy she accompanied a young man to the home of his parents in the country, this probably aroused Jenkins' anger. Rumor says that she had been riding with the gentleman once before and that Jenkins told her she had gone once, she might go twice but she would never go the third time. On the morning the crime was committed Jenkins had been drinking heavily and was intoxicated. Crazed with anger and drink he went to the house of Mrs. Murphy and committed the terrible deed.

"Mrs. Murphy and family moved here from Louisa County and located in Whitebreast township in 1875. After living there for four years they moved to Chariton where Mrs. Murphy has since conducted a boarding house. They were among the most estimable people in Chariton and were liked and respected by all with whom they became acquainted. The sad affair has caused many heavy hearts and has cast a gloom over the entire community.

"Winfield Jenkins has held the position of night baggageman at the depot for about six years and has always been considered a reliable, industrious and praiseworthy young man. That he was capable of such a deed as has just been described was little thought by anyone who knew him. If there were any extenuating circumstances let the parties concerned have the benefit; and may the mantle of charity be thrown over the whole affair. Let no one forget the scriptural commandment to 'judge not lest ye be judged.'

"Mr. Jenkins belonged to the order of United Workmen and the members of that body took charge of his remains, which were shipped Thursday morning to Lacona, his former home and where his father and brothers reside. A delegation of Workmen accompanied the remains to Lacona and attended the funeral services which were held yesterday afternoon.

"A coroner's inquist was held upon the bodies of Mrs. Johanna Towne and Winfield Jenkins on Wednesday afternoon."


Miss Julia lingered for three weeks, helpless and drifting in and out of consciousness, before she died  as a result of her wound on Oct. 1, 1894, and was buried beside her sister, Johanna, on Oct. 3.

Their mother, Mrs. Julia Murphy recovered --- but slowly. The boarding house was sold and she accompanied the Dalton family first to Ottumwa, then to St. Joseph, Missouri.

She died in St. Joseph on Sunday, Oct. 16, 1910, of injuries sustained in a fall down the basement stairs of her daughter's and son-in-law's home. Her funeral Mass was celebrated the Tuesday following at St. Patrick's Church in St. Joe, then her body was brought by train to Chariton and buried beside her daughters at Calvary.

The obituary of that week in The Chariton Herald characterized her as a "grand, good woman" who "bore all the trials and tribulations which fell to her lot in an uncomplaining manner and strove to live an honorable, upright life."

In addition to her daughters, Sister Sacred Heart and Nora, she was survived by a brother, Dan Mullin, of Walnut, Kansas.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Sanda's Garden ...

The flowers of marsh and prairie have for the most part faded now, but Sanda Bland Stump's small bright garden of well-tended annuals and perennials continues to flourish just south of the shelter at Pin Oak Marsh.

So put your coffee in a traveling cup some morning, go down and watch the sunrise with Sanda. This is such a pretty place, with views over the east marsh pond. But hurry! Frost will be upon us very soon.

Take along your binoculars. Although the pelicans have moved on, the resident eagles were performing along the east shore last evening when I went down for a walk.

When our friend died of cancer a year ago (on Oct. 28, 2014), her husband, Bob, and daughter, Melissa, said that memorial contributions would be used to help fund a public perennial garden. This is an aspect of that project --- enhancing the Pin Oak shelter --- but I have no idea of its full scope. 

I've just been enjoying the flowers of the moment.

Sanda's wide circle of friend and acquaintance was considerably broadened during the years she was the major contributor to a Facebook site entitled, "You grew up in Chariton, Iowa, if you remember" (now with 2,200 members), where she scanned and shared hundreds of photographs that might otherwise have been lost --- as well as sharing other historical information.

So I'll post a link to these photographs there, too.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

"Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine" ....

The thing that struck me first about this photo of Matthew Shepard --- look at that old-fashioned telephone. Just like the ones I still use most of the time, hopelessly outdated (me, too).

Also the fact that it was taken more than 17 years ago --- almost a generation. Young people performing these days in high school productions of "The Laramie Project" --- where they're allowed --- were in diapers when this young man was killed.

This is the 17th anniversary of the assault --- overnight on Oct. 6-7, 1998, because he was gay, outside Laramie, Wyoming --- that killed him. Pistol-whipped and tortured to the point that there was no hope for recovery. Tied to a fence. His body gave up early Oct. 12.

I finally got around last night to watching "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine," Michele Josue's highly acclaimed documentary about the young man's life, and death. The 2013 film made its television premiere during late July and will be released on DVD later this fall.


That little guy --- five-foot-three and, at the most, 110 pounds --- became the public face of homophobia's toll worldwide, although many other societies have their own Matts.

Gradually, in part because of Shepard and his family, the nature of the conversation has changed. More than 10 years later, federal hate crimes legislation finally cleared Congress, despite at times overwhelming opposition from the Republican right and Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians.

Anti-discrimination legislation and anti-bullying measures cleared state legislatures in more progressive parts of the country.

The right of same-sex couples to marry gained increasing public support --- and eventually became the law of the land.

Young Matthew would most likely be pleasantly surprised by many aspects of the political and social landscape today, were some form of resurrection possible.


Other things haven't changed much, however.

It was interesting to learn from the documentary, for example, that Shepard was terrified that his parents and friends would reject him if he told them that he was gay. We all remember that fear. He was a lucky guy in that sense, loved unconditionally.

But I'm guessing fear still is an operational factor in the lives of every gay kid --- and some of those "kids" who continue to shape their lives around it are my age, or older.

Sadly, youngsters born into families at the conservative end of the religious, social and/or political spectrum, still have justification for their fears. But an increasing number have fewer reasons to be afraid --- and many are far more courageous now than we were when young.


On the other hand, potential violence and other expressions of hatefulness still are factors in gay --- and many other --- lives and most likely will be for a long time.

It never hurts to remember that Fred Phelps and his merry band from Westboro Baptist Church made their world premiere during Matt Shepard's funeral.

And it was not so much the Westboro message that conservative Christians disagreed with --- just the abrasive way in which Phelps and his followers presented it. Deep-seated hate remains embedded in many religious traditions. It is one of the reasons why they thrive.

It has resurfaced recently among Christians and politicians in reaction to the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling and elsewhere --- largely racist responses to undocumented immigrants, Muslims and people of color.


"Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine" is a lovely little film --- well-told through the voices of those who knew and loved him. A little hard to watch sometimes (we know how the story ends), but worthwhile.

Matthew Shepard was just kid, flaws and all --- and it's good to remember that.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Gold stars and PFC Gerald E. Storie

I'm wondering how many remember the blue- and gold-star banners that were featured prominently in homes, churches and other public places during World War II. The blue stars on red-bordered fields of white honored family members --- biological, church and otherwise --- in service to their country; gold stars replaced blue stars when those represented died in service.

After gold stars had replaced blue, mothers of the deceased were known as "Gold Star Mothers" and families, as "Gold Star Families." These designations remain in use as wars continue and the final Sunday in September still is officially designated Gold Star Mothers Day --- but I have a feeling not too many are aware of this.

During the summer of 1947, Chariton's Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary planted a blue spruce on the courthouse grounds and during the Christmas season of that year --- and for a number of years therafter --- 54 lights blazed seasonally on it in memory of 54 young men and women considered to be members of Lucas County's collective World War II Gold Star family.

A tree still is lighted at Christmas on the courthouse grounds, but the original spruce was replaced some years ago after it died and the lights on it now represent other memories.

That list of 54 names, however, remains the principal source when determining how many young men and women with close ties to Lucas County died in service during World War II and I've managed to track down information about most of them --- although one (James G. Miller) has proved to be elusive.


One of those gold stars represents U.S. Army PFC Gerald E. Storie, a Derby boy known by family and friends as Eugene, who served honorably and survived combat --- then died in an accident in Bavaria two months after Germany surrendered during May of 1945.

Eugene's biological parents seem not to have been publicly acknowledged, so I don't know who they were. But he was born May 2, 1924, and raised in Derby by his grandmother, Lina A, Hilliard. He was a 1942 graduate of Derby High School and enlisted from Lucas County a year later, on July 13, 1943.

Assigned to Battery A, 575th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, Eugene pushed with his unit during the final Allied offensive into Germany, no doubt celebrated with his comrades when Germany surrendered, then --- while swimming in the lake at Schliersee, Germany, on the evening of July 14, 1945 --- drowned.

His remains were brought eventually to what is now the Lorraine American Cemetery at St. Avold, France, and interred with those of some 16,000 other Americans lost in that war. But his family was given the option of having his body repatriated to the United States and that mission was accomplished during 1948. 

PFC Gerald E. Storie was re-interred at the Keokuk National Cemetery --- Iowa's only national cemetery --- on Nov. 2, 1948 (Section D, Grave No. 129).

This is a lovely, peaceful place --- I've been there a couple of times. But now I'm wondering if there's anyone left in Lucas County who remembers this young man, only 21 when he died. Wondering, in part, because the snapshot here for some reason breaks my heart.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Half-staff ...

Wish I could claim credit for knowing enough over the weekend to go out and lower the big new flag at the museum to half-staff in mourning for the victims of the shootings at Roseburg, Oregon, on Thursday.

But I didn't. So thanks, HyVee! I noticed your flags at half-staff Saturday morning, came home and looked up the order by President Obama that the nation's public flags be flown at half-staff from Friday through sundown Tuesday, then went out and lowered ours --- a day late.

Noticed later that the Community First Credit Union flag was at half-staff, too --- thanks to Karen and her crew.

I'm a neophyte in this whole thing --- and needed to be reminded. I've never felt inclined to fly the flag at home --- a skeptic about all religion, civic and otherwise --- and having some influence over a pole so tall and a flag so large as those recently installed at the museum --- and the accompanying responsibility --- is something new.


Then I drove around on Sunday, after making sure the museum flag still was flying, and discovered that apparently everyone else had missed the notice, too. This was not a comprehensive check, but I did drive by most of the really big, really public flag poles and a few private ones, too. Not a single half-staff flag that I could find.

The flag at the USDA Building was sagging down on its pole a little, but I'm guessing that was just carelessness. Flags at the Courthouse, City Hall, Post Office, legion post, schools, etc., etc., still were flying high.

With the possible exception of the USDA Building and the post office --- which the president does have authority over in an indirect sort of way --- no one's obliged to lower a flag. There are no flag police, and that's a good thing.

Just as a reminder --- the president orders flags flown half-staff at federal sites; governors can regulate flags at state-owned installations, too. Personal, corporate or institutional flags are controlled by those who own them. Private parties who observe federal or state declarations are doing so out of respect, not obligation.


Actually, I'm guessing that many of us are so accustomed to mass slaughter in our schools and elsewhere that it really doesn't occur to us that these are occasions for national mourning, too. My attention Saturday morning before noticing the grocery store flags was focused on buying a pound of bacon, for example.

I went online a little later and found some expressions of dismay and regret about the shootings from fellow bleeding-heart liberals.

But far more cobbled-together memes extolling the usefulness of guns, suggesting that things would get better if more people owned them, reminding me that cold weather kills, too, and implying that  all these pesky massacres when tracked to their sources are mostly attacks on Second Amendment rights.

We sure do live in interesting times.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sunday morning with Emily Dickinson

Fame is a bee.

It has a song ---

It has a sting ---

Ah, too, it has a wing.

Miss Emily (1830-1886) wrote that, "Fame is a Bee," rather late in her career, chronologists agree. And these photos, taken along the edge of the big marsh pond while stalking a bee, date from two weeks ago --- before the colors faded.

We're in a lull right now. Bright prairie, marsh, field and roadside colors have browned, blending seamlessly into mid-autumn's rusty green, with the exception of bright blue gentians and a few late-bloomers. But the trees haven't yet begun to blaze out. That will happen soon enough. 

So worry less and open your eyes wider.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Papal visits, scuttled canonizations & "phobes"

St. Patrick's in the Irish Settlement (Diocese of Des Moines photo)
Des Moines Register
Lord knows I enjoy a good Pope visit as much as the next guy, but I'm sorry --- I liked John Paul II's visit to Iowa back in 1979 better.

Tomorrow is the 36th anniversary of that visit, when Iowans saw a lot of things not thought possible before --- the Pope alighting from a helicopter in a farm field southwest of Des Moines, prayer with some 200 parishioners packed into tiny St. Patrick's Church in the rural "Irish Settlement" near Cumming, then Mass before an estimated 350,000 people at Living History Farms.

Somewhere around here, I've got a program printed for the Living History Farms Mass --- brought back by a friend who braved the crowds to be there herself.

Life was simpler then, or so it sometimes seems, and a major reason for the papal visit to Iowa involved Madison County farmer Joe Hayes, who got out some stationery, an ink-pen and wrote a letter to the Pope inviting him to drop by and talk about stewardship --- which John Paul II did.

I'm thinking Pope Francis probably would have been better off had he boarded a plane in Rome last week and headed for Des Moines --- instead of Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. I'm guessing he wouldn't have run into Kim Davis at Living History Farms.


How about that Davis business? She's the fundamentalist protestant Kentucky county clerk who has turned herself into a princess or pariah, depending upon outlook, by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Somehow, she ended up getting a "secret audience" with Francis at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. And that seemed to be all anyone could talk about after her lawyers leaked news of the handshake after the Pope was back in Rome resting his feet. The uproar that followed, including the news that the only "real" audience Francis had granted in D.C. involved a gay friend and his partner, kind of scuttled what apparently had been an informal attempt to canonize Mrs. Davis.

Personally, I think the old boy was snookered, most likely by members of the Brocade Brigade --- old queens accustomed to ruling Vatican City who look back fondly to Benedict and resent this apparently kinder, gentler and less ornate occupant of the chair of St. Peter.

But I could be wrong ---  maybe just naive. It just seems like an uncharacteristic thing for a guy who has consciously turned down the volume on hot-button issues --- without actually changing anything --- to do.


This also was the week I "unfriended" a guy on Facebook --- something I've never done before, mostly because it seems rude, but also because I'm generally interested in what folks have to share, no matter how wacky I may think it is.

So I have Islamaphobes, homophobes, Obamaphobes and kaleophobes among my "friends."

But here's the deal --- the first time you post something that ends up in my news feed suggesting that anyone should be killed to further your phobias --- you're out of here.

Friday, October 02, 2015

In honor of U.S. Army Air Forces Maj. Al Smith

At least six young men from Lucas County are buried or commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at the Manilla American Cemetery, a staggering memorial to World War II honor and service, a stark reminder of  the cost.

Consider the numbers: more than 17,000 graves, each marked by a white cross; 36,285 names of the  missing (lost, unidentified or buried at sea) --- from Australia north to Japan, from India, China and Burma east to the Palau Islands --- engraved in white marble.

The physical remains of Andy Knapp, the first Lucas Countyan to die in the war, were reburied here after combat ended, moved from a temporary grave at Camp O'Donnell, also in the Philippines, last stop on the Bataan Death March.

Among the engraved names are those of Joseph J. Larson, Lyle H. Morris, Lyle E. Mosby, Raymond A. Nutt --- and Al Smith, a young man who loved to fly and died doing what he loved.


My late mother, when a girl, attended Sunday school at Central Christian Church in Williamson with Al (named Homer Lewis Smith by his parents but always called "Al"), his sister, Dorothey, and younger brothers, Harold and George Jr.  She also was his Chariton High School classmate.

Al was born August 20, 1914, when his parents, George Sr. and Helen Smith, were farming southwest of Williamson. In 1921, when he was 7, the family moved into Williamson where George Sr. opened a meat market. The eldest son learned his trade, that of a meat-cutter, from his father.

A 1934 graduate of Chariton High School, Al attended a year of classes at Chariton Junior College, then went to work in the meat departments of various Chariton grocery stores --- Spiker's, Ruddells and Blanchard's among them.

On Jan. 1, 1940, Al and a young woman named Mary Ellen Clark were first in line at the Lucas County clerk's office to receive the first marriage license issued that year. They were married the same afternoon, a Monday, at the First Christian Church parsonage.


Smith's best friend in those years after high school was a coal miner's son named Bassel Blakesmith, in part because the two young men shared a love of flying. Al and Bassel and other young men from Chariton traveled to Ottumwa during the late 1930s to take flying lessons, then invested --- when they could afford to do so --- in planes of their own.

There were occasional mishaps, but nothing serious. During June of 1940, attempting a landing on too short a runway at "Brown's Airport" just north of Chariton, Al nosed his plane into the ground and flipped it over. Neither the pilot nor the craft was seriously injured, however.

During August of 1940, Blakesmith and Smith formed a partnership and purchased George Blanchard's Jack Spratt Grocery on the east side of the square. This was located in the building, then separate, that now forms the south half of Betty Hansen's Iowa Realty offices. Bassel operated the grocery and vegetable departments; Al, the meat department. Significantly, Al's sister, Dorothey Smith, signed on as chief clerk.

The two men also had invested jointly in an American Eagle Biplane, which they kept at the Des Moines Airport. That plane was heavily damaged during a wind storm at the airport during April of 1941, but the two pilots soon were airborne again.


The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, propelled the United States into war in both  Pacific and European theaters --- and both Smith and Blakesmith, into the service of their country.

The men wanted to be pilots and set their sights on the U.S. Army Air Corps.

At the time, two years of college or successful completion of a challenging academic test were required of all potential Air Corps pilots. Since neither man had met the college requirement, both took the test --- and passed with flying colors. They enlisted together on Feb. 24, 1942, and left Chariton together for training in Texas on March 23.

Al's sister, Dorothey, had agreed to operate the grocery store for the duration of the war and, somewhat more importantly, had agreed to marry Bassel, although the ceremony would not take place until November. The friends then became brothers-in-law, too.


The two men completed basic training together and both were assigned to the Waco Army Basic Flying School, Waco, Texas --- but then their paths diverged. Al was assigned to advanced fighter pilot school (known as the "Satan's Angels school" at Foster Field, Victoria, Texas; and Bassel, to bomber pilot training school at Kelly Field, Texas.

Both were commissioned second lieutenants and awarded their silver wings during early November.

Dorothey Smith traveled to Texas for Bassel's graduation ceremony and they were married the same day, Nov. 10, in the post chapel at Kelly Field.


Smith was assigned after receiving his wings to the 338th Fighter Group at Dale Mabry Field, Tallahassee, Florida, and proved to be both an exemplary pilot --- and a top instructor. As a result, he spent the next two years as a supervisor of flight training in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, advancing in rank to 1st lieutenant during September of 1943 and captain in February of 1944.

In April of 1945, however, he was reassigned to the 530th Fighter Squadron, then operating in the China theater of operations.

Al was shot down over China on his 21st mission, but almost miraculously survived --- walking some 500 miles from behind enemy lines to safety with a minor leg wound. His family in Chariton received the news that he was missing during August of 1945, then a month later, learned that he was safe.

There was considerable rejoicing in Chariton --- Al was safe, the war in Europe had ended, hostilities in the Pacific theatre had ceased (officially) a few days after Al was shot down behind enemy lines and Japan had surrendered formally on Sept. 2.

Following his safe return, Al wrote the following letter to his mother, describing his experience --- and it was published in The Herald-Patriot of October 11, 1945.


How happy I am to be able to write you this letter. I only regret that I was not able to write it sooner to save you so much worry, at a time when you could have all been so happy with the news of peace.

I cannot tell you any details of my experience --- but you can rest assured I'm O.K. I spent 41 days walking out to where one of our planes could pick me up. My parachute jump was O.K. except I did not have my own and had one too large which gave me a few burns and bruises around the neck, shoulders and legs. My only other injury was a bullet that went through the cockpit and hit me in the right leg. It was my 21st mission and one I'll never forget I'm sure.

As I told Mary, I certainly know the loneliest feeling in the world. It was when those other three P-51's left me out there, 500 miles behind Japanese lines by the side of a little cornfield. God, I could have cried while I watched them go out of sight. Then I woke up to the fact I'd better get mysef gathered up and get the thunder out of there, so I gathered up my parachute and ran like mad. I had quite a time getting away, but made it O.K. God, I ran until I thought I would drop, and then run some more and more.

I was shot down at 11:30 in the morning and that went on until dark --- sore leg and all. Boy, but I'm telling you there is almost no limit to what you can stand when you known you have to and I'm telling you, you sure don't feel like being taken prisoner --- or I didn't.

I brought the silk of my parachute out all the way with me. It's really beautiful, I thought you and Mary and Dorothey might like to make something out of it. God, I almost threw it away at times when it seemed like I couldn't get away unless I did. I'll be mailing it home soon --- along with some other things. I got a Japanese sword and a pistol as souvenirs of my 41-day trip.

Well, it's about time for the lights to go out so I'll have to close for now, but I'll write again soon, as I want this to get off early in the morning. With all my love, hugs and kisses for the best mom and dad, sister and brother in the world, and so sorry I've caused you all so much worry.


The arrival of peace meant a safe return home to Lucas County for Al's friend and brother-in-law, Bassel Blakesmith, but Al still had work to do.

Now promoted to the rank of major --- and with a Purple Heart medal --- he was assigned to ferry P-51 Fighters "over the hump" from Andal, India, to Shanghai.

And it was on one of those missions that severe weather --- it is believed --- brought his plane down on Nov. 19, 1945, somewhere in vicinity of Hankow, China.

This time there was no good news, neither plane nor pilot ever was seen again and a year later, the U.S. Army declared Maj. Homer Lewis "Al" Smith dead. He was 31.

There never was a funeral, but some years later his family arranged for a memorial marker to be placed on the Smith family lot in the Chariton Cemetery --- then his name was engraved on one of those memorial tablets in Manilla.

The family moved on --- always remembering, of course. Mary (Clark) Smith remarried during 1948 --- to Leck Young --- and lived a long life in Chariton. But   most if not all who knew him intimately have passed over the great divide, too, by now. Who remains to say Al Smith's name and tell something of his story?

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Secrets of the Stanton Vault 5: Minnie Day Kirk

Minnie Day Kirk seemed to have just about everything a young woman of her social standing was expected to expect in Chariton during the 1890s. She was attractive and popular, had married a prosperous husband, had a lovely home, was an accomplished hostess and had many friends. But tuberculosis, the great killer of young adults (and others) at that time, had no respect for social standing or wealth --- and it claimed her during 1895 at age 29.

Here's the script that Patti Bisgard used to tell her story during the annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour program, "Secrets of the Stanton Vault," held on Sept. 20.


Welcome to my home, ladies and gentlemen --- such as it is. I was an accomplished hostess in my time and were it 1890 rather than 2015, would offer you refreshment.

My name is Mrs. Charles J. Kirk --- we rarely used our given names except among family and close friends in those days when women fortunate enough to marry were looked upon as extensions of their husbands. But you may call me Minnie --- Minnie Gray Kirk.

I was in my 30th year, the flower of young womanhood as the gentleman who wrote my obituary put it, when tuberculosis --- then the great killer of young adults --- claimed me on May the 2nd 1896.

We called it “consumption” in those days, but in more polite society it was considered indelicate to mention even that, so my demise was attributed to bronchial and lung troubles. I died in Las Vegas, New Mexico, then a resort populated in large part by affluent people similarly afflicted who hoped the dryer climate would benefit them. I had spent the winter there, accompanied by a cousin, with visits from Charley at Christmas and again in the spring.


I might have been a country girl --- born on a farm near Oakley in 1866 --- but my father, Andrew Gray, aspired to other things and so when I was very young we moved to Chariton. Here, he achieved a modest level of prominence as cashier of First National Bank, city clerk and, for two terms, as county recorder. My mother’s name was Margaret and I had three siblings, a sister, Lillian, and two brothers, Edgar and Wright --- the latter of whom died of scarlet fever in 1887, during the first year of my marriage.

My education was received in the Chariton schools and I graduated from Chariton High School with the class of 1884 during exercises held in the Mallory Opera Hall. Eight of us graduated, among them Arthur Blake, who was the only male.

I was bright, attractive and vivacious --- if I do say so myself. So much so that during December of 1884 I was “elected” Most Popular Young Lady at the annual Firemen’s Banquet with 326 votes --- at 10 cents per vote. It might interest you to know that Temp Percifield was the lucky winner of the raffle for a cow at this banquet, another fund-raising scheme of the firemen.

Immediately after graduation, I began to teach primary in the Chariton schools, my classroom located in the new Columbus building. But I soon fell in love with the dashing Charlie Kirk, we married and since married women were not permitted to teach in the lower grades, my career in education was short.

Charlie, a pharmacist by profession, arrived in Chariton during May of 1884, as I was graduating from high school, and opened Kirk Drug Store in the Union Block.

Charlie was some 10 years my senior and something of a chancer, so my parents were not enthusiastic about our courtship. As a result, we were married at the Methodist Church on Dec. 29, 1886, with only our friends, Bates and Florence Manning, as attendants. We had not told anyone other than the Rev. Mr. Collins of our plans. 


After our marriage, I resigned my teaching position and after a few days at the Depot Hotel, we took up residence in a rented property in north Chariton where I began housekeeping, perfected my skills as hostess and awaited children --- but none ever arrived.

Soon thereafter, Charlie developed a highly profitable sideline --- buying, selling and racing fine horses. Although he continued in the drug business, it increasingly was managed by hired assistants.

Charlie was a great sportsman, too --- hunting, shooting and fishing --- and we both enjoyed camping. The late 1880s held wonderful times. During July of 1888, for example, we joined friends for a full week of camping along White Breast Creek near Lacona. During October of that year, we traveled with six of our friends to see the sights at the St. Louis World Fair.

Charlie continued to travel extensively on his own, buying and selling horses across America and Canada. By 1890, he had settled upon a favorite breed, French draft horses called Percherons, and we traveled in Europe for two months that summer, then returned to America in August via freight steamer with animals he had purchased.

Our new affluence allowed us to purchase during 1891 the fine home of Major and Mrs. C.T. Haskins on East Auburn Avenue and it became the venue for much entertaining. The High Five party we hosted for 40 guests during June was deemed the social event of the season. Our home later was occupied by the T. P. Stanton and Foote families and now is owned by Marilyn and Jack Cavanaugh. 

By late 1892, however, my bronchial condition was becoming more severe. At that time there was no medical treatment for consumption but an arid climate and fresh air eased symptoms and, it was thought, encouraged the body to heal itself.

I spent many months in California, commencing in February of 1893, then during 1894 settled down for a time in Hot Springs, South Dakota. I was a resident for many weeks during 1895 of a sanitarium in Des Moines. 

Finally, during the fall of 1895, I set out for Las Vegas, New Mexico, renowned at the time as a refuge for those with conditions similar to mine. My symptoms abated, then returned. Charlie visited at Christmas and then, again, in the spring, by which time It seemed possible that I would be able to return home in improved health.

That was not to be, however, and just days after Charlie left for home during April I was stricken with pneumonia, he returned hurriedly to my bedside and on May 2, I died.


Charlie continued to live in Chariton for some years after my death, remarried and continued to have success. In 1906, he removed to St. Joseph, Missouri, as head of the Percheron Importing Company, but then his health began to fail. He suffered a nervous breakdown, then on March 10, 1917, a fatal stroke.


His remains were returned to Chariton and interred here in the vault near me, but some years later his second wife --- preparing to remarry and move to California --- had his remains removed and buried on a family lot nearby. I have been on my own here since that time.