Friday, July 31, 2015

Midsummer at the marsh


Vegetation is waist- to head-high along the main trail right now at Pin Oak and the predominate colors intense shades of green. Taller and greener than usual, it seems, because of the tropical summer we've been having. But other colors are beginning to show as July moves into August.

I spotted Swamp Milkweed (top) several feet off the trail late Thursday and waded into the grass to take a closer look. Be careful if you do this --- ground levels are uneven and wet feet possible.


Nearby, the tallest, densest and most robust clump of Rattlesnake Master I've seen anywhere in Lucas County, uncharacteristically with wet feet.


The first of the golden rods are beginning to appear; many more varieties will appear before the bloom season ends.


Blue Vervain, blooming from bottom to top.


Blazing Star, blooming from top to bottom of its stalk. There seem to be fewer of these this year than last.


Not that many Black-eyed Susans down here this year, although I've got plenty at home.


And Water Hemlock, too. It's a tall and showy plant, but beware --- poison from root to petal.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cecil the lion and Basil the bat


I heard this great --- and as it turns out timely --- story over the weekend about a Chariton guy, plagued by a circling bat (I'm calling the unfortunate mammal Basil) while renovating an old house. This guy also was an expert bow hunter, so grabbed his equipment, took aim and nailed that hapless critter to a wall. My friend swears it's a true story, although I cannot personally attest to it.

Bats are our friends for sure --- until they start circling the bed at night after having taken a wrong turn en route to or from the attic or basement. So many of us have dispatched one or more cruelly in the course of life and have no cause for self-righteousness.

And I'm betting that Minneapolis dentist Walter Palmer --- universally scorned now for baiting Cecil the lion out of a Zimbabwean national park and dispatching him with crossbow and gun --- is wishing right now he'd stuck to smaller game closer to home and not plunked down $50,000 for an African safari. I'm sure there are bats to hone one's archery skills on in Minneapolis, too.

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The interesting thing to watch after Dr. Palmer and Cecil made the news has been the orgiastic festival of outrage and hate that circled the globe. Most likely his dental practice has been ruined and heaven only knows what's going on with his home life.

Celebrities have jumped on the dentist's back, too. PETA called for death by hanging. And reporters, rummaging around in public records, discovered and publicized a couple of other unsavory incidents in his past.

For heaven's sake, genocidal maniacs have wiped out entire populations of people and drawn less scorn.

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Shame on Dr. Palmer for his unsportsman like conduct. I'd be happy if trophy hunters --- and there are lots of them out there --- stuck to cameras and racked their guns and crossbows. That $50,000 could have fed a lot of hungry kids in Africa or elsewhere. And I'm sure Cecil was a noble beast.

But really ....

This has been the most dramatic example I've seen of public out-of-control shaming and mob mentality via the media, personal and otherwise. Shame on us if we were players in it.

Next time the temptation arises, let's take a few deep breaths, consider the rules of proportion --- and maybe go out and do something useful instead of taking to Twitter or Facebook.

If nothing else and you have an affinity for critters, write a check in Cecil's memory to your local animal shelter. He's toast; hundreds of thousands of abandoned pets aren't. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Outrage, Brokeback & other breakfast links


It's been a near-spectacular week for outrage --- more footage from that conservative sting operation targeting Planned Parenthood and related self-righteous political hyperventilating; that absurd Minneapolis dentist whose hobby is killing rare critters who spent $55,000 to illegally "harvest" a beloved Zimbabwean lion named Cecil. 

Land sakes alive.

Makes all the hubbub 10 years ago when Ang Lee's landmark "Brokeback Mountain" was released seem like a whispered conversation.

There have been a number of Brokeback-related articles this week, too, about that anniversary --- all related to an excellent article in OUT magazine entitled, "Brokeback Mountain: 10 Years On," featuring decade-later reflections from several principal players --- Ang Lee, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid, Annie Proulx, Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry.

It's a film that's held up well on a number of fronts --- story line, screenplay, acting and production --- and that continues to move many. Often described as a "gay classic," it has transcended that classification.

It also was a revolutionary film for its time --- the first respectful mainstream, big-screen treatment of a gay love story. For those of us of an age to be contemporaries of the fictional Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist who grew up rural, too, it was especially evocative.

There were some complaints at the time about the fact neither Proulx's short story nor the film had happy endings. 

Here's what Proulx had to say (in an earlier interview not related to the OUT article): "... the problem has come since the film. So many people have completely misunderstood the story. I think it’s important to leave spaces in a story for readers to fill in from their own experience, but unfortunately the audience that “Brokeback” reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. And one of the reasons we keep the gates locked here is that a lot of men have decided that the story should have had a happy ending. They can’t bear the way it ends — they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. And it just drives me wild. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis. It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mindset and morality. They just don’t get it...."

She's right of course --- but it always has been inevitable that the stark final scene in that battered old trailer would be followed by imaginary better days for fictional Ennis. Happy endings were rare then in real life and active fantasy lives, merely a way to deal with that.

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Times have changed radically during the last 10 years, and Brokeback may have contributed a little to that. Happy endings for LGBTQ folks are on the rise, as is outrage among those who preferred the good old, bad old days when gay folks knew their place --- in various closets.

The Boy Scout organization this week eliminated its ban on adult gay leaders and employees in the general organization while allowing chartering organizations, especially churches, to continue their discriminatory ways. It's not clear this is going to work --- the LDS church, for example, expressed immediate alarm, including outrage that the action had been taken while its prophets were on summer break. Despite the fact the Scouts had given clear warnings that this was going to happen.

That's significant because LDS stakes sponsor local scouting organizations that account for roughly 17 percent of Boy Scouts nationwide.

Many consider the new scouting policies progress, but for another perspective read Michelangelo Signorile's piece, "Why the Boy Scouts' New Policy on Gays Sets a Dangerous Precedent."

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Finally, here's a piece by James Peron related to a pre-Brokeback event in Wyoming, this one far too real: The 1998 murder at Laramie of Matthew Shepard and the new documentary, "Matthew Shepard Is a Friend of Mine."

The documentary is counterpoint to efforts that began almost immediately after Shepard's murder to discredit the young man and make him somehow responsible for his own death. 



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The builders (J. A. Penick): Where are they now?


In life, James A. (left) and Ida Penick built their substantial home during 1903 in what then was the finest new neighborhood in Chariton, at the intersection of Penick Avenue and South Eight Street in the family's Spring Lake Addition. Unlike Chariton in general, the new addition had its own collective water supply (first a well, then a water tower filled from Spring Lake), a sewer system (actually just a mile-long drain into a nearby creek) --- and sidewalks.

In death, Ida, James, their sons, Lloyd and Raymond, and Lloyd's wife, Berthenia, were buried in what was at the time of Ida's passing in 1915 the Chariton Cemetery's finest new neighborhood, just back of the Copeland mausoleum with near neighbors that included the George W. Larimers, the Theodore P. Stantons and other distinguished old families. 



I would call the house the Penicks built American Foursquare on steroids with a big bow window thrown in four good measure. James's brother, William B. --- the Spring Lake developer --- built a home nearby that was purely Queen Anne but now has been shorn of its detail inside and out. William's daughter, Grace, built one of Chariton's finest Colonial Revival homes across the intersection. The James Penick house is kind of a transition between the two --- neither frilly nor classically inspired --- but with great presence.

And how about that stonework? Huge stone pillars supporting a broad porch that wraps around the structure and a soaring chimney of the same material.

Now an apartment house --- and difficult to photograph because of an aggressive maple tree --- the old building has suffered a few indignities over the years, most notably the decision by a previous owner to enclose the porches, but appears to be in excellent repair otherwise now after several years of decline.




It was dark red when I was a kid and that even may have been the original color --- based on the photo  taken not long after it had been completed. Today, it's a sandy color. This was a very progressive house for its time --- a garage was tucked into the basement.

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James A. Penick was a lawyer, widely admired and much in demand both for his legal skills and silver-tongued oratory (his was the principal address when the new Lucas County Courthouse was dedicated during May of 1894). His parents, William C. and Martha Penick, were among Chariton's early power couples.

Until 1903, James and Ida had occupied the old homestead of his parents, a substantial but quite old house on the hilltop now occupied by a newer cottage that is embraced by the Southgate Apartments parking lot. They sold that property during 1902 for $3,500, promising to give possession to the new owner the following spring.

Their new home took longer to build than anticipated, however. It was not until Dec. 10, 1903, that The Chariton Democrat was able to report that, "Two of Chariton's handsomest residences are now nearing completion in Spring Lake addition. They are the homes of H.O. and J.A. Penick. Each property cost several thousand dollars, and both are a credit to our city, as well as to that suburb of beautiful homes, Spring Lake, which we think deserves special mention."

The Penicks moved in a few weeks later and shared the home until Ida's death on July 16, 1915, "after an illness of several months with a goiter and "a complication of troubles."

James still was living in his home, by that time shared with his son and daughter-in-law, Lloyd and Berthenia Penick, when he died of a stomach ailment on March 29, 1934, two months after undergoing surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The front page of The Herald-Patriot of that date gives some idea of his prominence in the community --- a banner headline, a two-column photograph and three separate stories.



Here's the text of his obituary, which gives some idea of why he was so admired.

James Alan Penick, dean of the Chariton bar, died at 4:30 a.m. Thursday at his home, 639 South Eighth Street.

Mr. Penick was 80 years old. He practiced law in Chariton for 57 years and was prominent in his profession over the entire state.

The death of the veteran attorney was caused by a stomach ailment. Since returning to Chariton following a serious operation at Rochester, Minn., in January Mr. Penick had steadily lost strength.

Funeral services will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at Beardsley Funeral Home. Burial will be in the Chariton cemetery.

He is survived by two sons, Lloyd, with whom he made his home, and Raymond of Newton. A sister, Mrs. Ida Stuart of Chicago, Ill., and two brothers, W.B. Penick of Omaha, Neb., and H.O. Penick of Long Beach, Cal., also survive him. There are also two grandchildren, James and Edith Penick, of Newton.

Classed as one of the most brilliant and colorful men in Lucas county's history, Mr. Penick lived in Chariton for three-quarters of a century. He was born Feb. 9, 1854, at Eddyville, in Wapello county, and came with his parents to Chariton four years later.

One of the early graduates of Chariton high school, he continued his education at Simpson college, Indianola, and later at Iowa Wesleyan university where he was graduated in 1874 with a B.S. degree. After leaving the university Mr. Penick was for a year associated with his father in a store here before entering the law office of Stuart and Bartholomew. He was admitted to the bar in 1877.

With Judge J.C. Mitchell, Mr. Penick formed a law partnership which existed until 1891, when the judge moved to Ottumwa. Later he was for 15 years associated with E.A. Anderson of Chariton, but from 1911 until he became ill early this year he practiced alone. During his career in Iowa courts he established a reputation for wit, oratory, fair dealing and legal knowledge that has formed the basis for interesting anecdotes which will be heard for many years wherever lawyers gather.

A democrat and leader in his party, Mr. Penick in 1898 was elected Lucas county's representative to the state legislature. He was a delegate to the democratic national convention at Cincinnati in 1880 and assisted in obtaining for Gen. W.S. Hancock the nomination for president.

In 1892 (actually 1894), upon completion of the Lucas County courthouse, Mr. Penick delivered the dedication address and the oration gave him further claim to the title, "silver-tongued orator," which had been given him due to his unusual power of speech.

Mr. Penick was married here in 1878 (to Ida Ware). His wife, who also was prominent in local activities, died about 18 years ago. Lloyd and Raymond are their only children.

Honors have been paid Mr. Penick on several occasions by fellow lawyers of the district. Two years ago, on his birthday, they staged a party for him at Hotel Charitone at which he was paid tribute by many prominent men of the profession and this year, while ill, he received visits and messages of contratulation from many of them on his eightieth birthday.

His picture hangs on the wall in the district court room here.

In addition to membership in bar organizations Mr. Penick also had been prominent for many years in the Masonic order.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Three vintage photographs ...


Be warned that this little story has no point other than to illustrate how stuff moves around, often divorced from its context, and ends up in unlikely places. In this case, three unidentified photos from the 1890s, shot on the East Coast, that came to Chariton more than a century later from New York City via Bethlehem, Corydon, Hills and Russell, Iowa.

I got them --- free --- from my friend, Meg Prange, who lives south of Russell on the farm where I grew up. She had been helping her mother, now 87 and downsizing, clear out her studio at Hills. A number of items that had no particular value but that someone might like came home to Russell with Meg with the idea that they would be given away --- or fed to a bonfire if no one wanted them.

I'm a sucker for old photographs --- familiarity with the subjects a non-issue --- so I took these, once priced in the neighborhood of $30 each at a previous stop on the trek west.

The photo of four young mean grouped around what appear to be beer bottles was taken by a Kane, Pennsylvania, photographer; the center photo --- men with dog --- at "Hobby Island" during 1897; the third, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on May 22, 1898.

They took on their present form --- expertly hinged into mat folders --- late in the 20th century when prepared for sale at a shop called Time Frame on West 29th Street in New York City.

My friend Bill Gode recalls that the shop owners, Carole Hedges and Bob Krueger, acquired these photos and many others of various shapes and sizes for next to nothing from various sources, matted them, then sold the result to New Yorkers looking for decor --- or instant ancestors. Each of these was priced near $30, according to tags still on their packaging.

Carole, nee Simpson, grew up on a farm not far from Bethlehem in Wayne County and met and married a young man named Robert Hedges, a World War II Army Air Force veteran, while attending Drake University. They had four children, including Peter Hedges, novelist, playwright, screenwriter and film director, author of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape."

The Hedges moved to New York City soon after their marriage so that he could attend the Episcopal Church's General Theological Seminary, then returned to Des Moines where he served as curate of St. Paul's Church and founding rector of St. Timothy's in West Des Moines. The couple divorced during the 1970s.

At some point after that, Carole --- a psychotherapist by profession --- returned to New York City and eventually, in partnership with Bob Krueger, opened Time Frame.

Late in the 20th century, Carole was diagnosed with cancer and decided to return to the home farm near Bethlehem in Wayne County. Bob Krueger came along. And so did remaining stock of their New York City shop.

After Carole died in 2000, Bob settled down in Corydon where he became known as "Conoco Bob" --- because he took on work at the Conoco service station. As the years passed, he sold off Time Frame stock at substantially reduced prices --- and it was during one of those sales that Meg's mother purchased these three photographs and took them home to Hills with her.

Bob died at Corydon during 2010 at age 84 and because he was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of World War II was buried in the Iowa Veterans Cemetery at Van Meter. Funeral services were held at the Presbyterian Church in Allerton.

Meg's mom never really displayed the Time Frame photographs, which were still packaged when they came home with me. I did --- curious about how they were mounted and if anything else was written on them (nothing was). I expect I'll give them away, too, eventually --- but only to a good home.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

City Hall, Art Deco & "Sonny" Perkins


Hometown architect (and city engineer) William Lee "Sonny" Perkins left us two small-town Art Deco masterpieces to remember him by, both from the 1930s, when that fatal heart attack snatched him away in 1957.

One, of course, is the Masonic Temple --- and the other, City Hall, his most lavishly decorated. What we don't know is who executed his design for the stonework, and that's a shame. Seriously --- these two structures are among the finest small public buildings of that era in the state.

While Perkins was not necessarily ahead of his time, he certainly embraced his time. City Hall is symmetrical, rectilinear and streamlined. With the exception of the walnut trim and an oak floor in the original auditorium, it is all brick, tile, sculpted stone, structural steel, concrete, brick, tile and terrazzo. Even the original windows (most by now replaced) were steel-framed and paned.

All of this provided the perfect foil for the lavish stone decoration that is as crisp today as when it was executed more than 80 years ago.

Three pairs of single windows march along the front of the building on both floors topped by three inset stone panels bearing swags, stylized flowers and symbolic cartouches.




Crossed firemen's speaking trumpets on the most southerly panel let us know that the Chariton Volunteer Fire Department is headquartered here. The crossed musical trumpets fronted by a lyre on the second panel may have been related to the auditorium once located on the second floor, capable of seating 300-400 people. The north panel, bearing scales of justice, is fairly common symbolism for a seat of government.


Sonny really let loose in the two-story stone-fronted entrance block where he dispelled any doubt about what the building was by clearly labeling it "City Hall."


The doubled entrance doors, originally heavy wood, now steel and glass, are topped by a swagged panel bearing the stylized year of construction, "1931," topped by a fanciful vase of flowers.



And how about the capitals of those two-story applied stone columns that flank this grand entryway?


The only major element of Perkins' original design that's missing today is the quirky bronze lantern, shaped like an urn, that once topped the entrance block.

This was described in newspaper reports of the day as follows: "A pier lantern of statuary bronze surmounts the building. Panes of circular glass enclose six 100-watt bulbs and when the lantern is lighted a yellow glow is shed over the building."


Somewhere, I've seen a color drawing of the facade at night bathed in a golden glow created by this lantern. Now if I could just remember where I saw it ....

Whatever the case, the lantern vanished many years ago and, like the Civil War cannons that once flanked our Civil War memorial on the courthouse lawn, no one remembers where it went, or why --- although it must have been a heck of a business to change those bulbs when they burned out.

It's doubtful either the lantern or the cannons vanished into thin air --- it just seems now as if they did. And fortunately, the building that underpinned that lantern still is with us and doing well.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Back to the future at City Hall



There have been some changes in staff quarters at Chariton's wonderful 1931 Art Deco City Hall that I think are pretty cool, although admittedly I have not polled staff members to see if they're fully on board yet.

The net effect has been to return the near-mint lobby of the William Lee Perkins-designed building to its function as the heart of the structure after many years of serving as a pass-through space, barely glanced at. Now, when residents and guests pass through the front doors --- they have arrived.

I'm a big fan of the lobby, although 21st century eyes accustomed to featureless office spaces may find its design and decor mildly disconcerting.


Walls are fully tiled --- I'd call the color golden rod. And the floors are terrazzo. The metal-railed staircase to the second floor climbs against the south wall and tucked into it, inset into tile and kind of hiding in plain sight beside its replacement, is this ceramic confection that was the building's original water fountain.


The lobby ceiling fixture is original.


And the arched door in the west wall leads into a hallway providing access to restrooms on the left and City Clerk and Treasurer Ruth Ryun's office on the right. That doorway originally led into City Council chambers, long since relocated.


The city's office support staff now occupies the original city clerk's office.


Here's Avis at her desk behind the service window in the angled tile wall separating the original clerk's office from the lobby. The opening is original, but sliding glass panels have replaced metal grill work, long since vanished.


The Housing Authority office currently is located in the office in the northeast corner of the building, built in 1931 as the mayor's office, but that office is expected to move elsewhere in the building soon.


The original great reallocation of space at City Hall occured during the 1970s, when the fire station wing was added to the building. Prior to that, the original fire station garage occupied half of the building's ground floor. 

After the new wing was built, the doors were infilled in a manner compatible with the rest of the building and offices and new city council chambers constructed behind them. The offices of the city manager, parks and recreation director and building inspector, in addition to council chambers, are located there now.



Friday, July 24, 2015

What's blooming out back


When the going gets tough, I generally go pull weeds. And "tough" is a relative thing. Yesterday's tough was spending an hour and a half looking for the notes I needed to write up minutes of a board meeting only to have them turn up in plain sight on the seat of a living room chair. 

These are a few photos of what's blooming in two of the little patches I weed out in the middle of the back yard. One contains mostly herbs; the other, stuff.

I'm a big fan of pinks (aka dianthus). Those up top are the most obvious.


But pinks bloom white, too.


And here's a variety of miniature statice that I wish I'd planted more of.


This is yarrow. I had no idea it would grow to seven feet tall when I planted that little potful. Now it's sprawling over everything else and some of it's going to have to go.


The dill has bolted, so will go to seed soon and start looking ugly --- but for now it's looking great.


The coriander's bolted, too --- same deal.


This is pineapple mint --- useless as an herb, but I like the way it looks.


And lemon balm, just beginning to blossom.


There's standard green basil.


And purple basil with a tiny grasshopper aboard.


And finally, here's marjoram blooming against a background of lemon grass.

The world would be a better place if more of us shut our mouths and focused on pulling weeds.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stargazer or not --- still a drama queen


What with all the general busyness of the last couple of weeks, I almost forgot to take time to smell the lilies, but stopped at the museum garden last evening to admire this one.

Many of the lilies, both "true" and "day," are moving toward the end of their bloom cycles right now. This one, among the most spectacular, took a long time to open --- another reason why it slipped my mind.

We're calling it a "double Stargazer," but I'm not sure if that's accurate. Stargazer is a very popular variety of hybrid single "true" lily in various shades of pink first developed in 1974 and so-called because most Oriental lilies bloom with their faces oriented toward the ground; Stargazers bloom facing the sky.


There have been further adventures in plant genetics since then and this may well be a "double Stargazer." Or call it a double Oriental lily if you like. Whatever the case, it's dramatic.