Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Christian lunacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cemetery preservationists gather in Corydon

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Almost planting time ,,,

Just a reminder, if you garden by tradition, that next Friday, Good Friday, is the prescribed day to plant potatoes. While I don't think the museum Grounds Committee intends to add potatoes this year, Jim did till the Heirloom Garden this week --- so we're set to go. That's the garden in the foreground here, with the Blacksmith Shop in the distance.

Another long but more gently tilled stretch of ground just below the garden, nearer the woods, is the prairie patch. I've told that sad story before. The prairie was planted some years ago and was just beginning to flourish when the city replaced the sewer line that runs up this valley --- basically destroying it during the construction process.

The area just sat there looking weedy for a few years as invasive grasses and imported weeds took hold. Now we've gotten harsh --- the invaders are being killed off and a cover crop will be planted. Hopefully, in a few years the prairie will be re-established.

Atop Museum Hill, lilacs --- cut back sharply last year because they'd gotten brushy and non-productive --- are getting ready to leaf out. And bulbs are sending up foliage all over the place --- but no blooms yet. So it's beginning to look a lot like spring after what has seemed like an awfully long winter.


I'm headed to Corydon today --- thanks to an invite from Brenda and Dale --- to attend a quarterly meeting of the State Association for the Preservation of Iowa Cemeteries at Prairie Trails Museum, hosted by the Wayne County Pioneer Cemetery Commission.

The Association came into being in 1996 after the Iowa Legislature authorized the 99 counties to create cemetery commissions to locate, conserve, preserve and often maintain the state's oldest graveyards. Currently, there are 27 commissions in Iowa --- Lucas County's Pioneer Cemetery Commission is one of the oldest; Wayne County's one of the newer. 

So I'm really looking forward to the report from Wayne County, which will be a feature of the meeting.


If you're not attending that meeting, please plan to attend the Lucas County Genealogical Society's day-long seminar on the conservation and preservation of personal artifacts --- those items passed down through the generations in our families.

Jay De Young will present tips on how to deal with documents, photos and other paper heirlooms at 10:30 a.m. and metal and fabric heirlooms at 1 p.m. Admission is free and the location, the lower-level meeting room at the Chariton Free Public Library.

Garlic sprouts in the Heirloom Garden.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Relishing relics and hyacinths, too

I swiped these hyacinths (with a camera) yesterday afternoon from the neighbor next door --- the first real live color in the neighborhood since last fall. Tulip and daffodil foliage has sprouted on this side of the alley, but so far nothing is in bloom.

I've watched these bulbs bloom for several years, but reached out and touched one any way --- to make doubly sure it was real.

This is one effect of the fake flower heresy. It used to be, I'd go into Ben Franklin, look at the wire and fabric flowers and say, "golly, they look real." Now I go next door, look at the real thing and say to myself, "golly they look just like silk."


The Lucas County Genealogical Society will sponsor a free seminar on Saturday entitled "Relishing Relics," designed to help people care more effectively for family heirlooms and other "relics" they may have around the house.

The presenter will be Jay De Young, historian and genealogist, who among other tasks does a good deal of display judging at county fairs and other events.

The event begins at 10:30 a.m. in the lower-level meeting room of the Chariton Free Public Library. Preserving documents, photographs and other paper artifacts will be the topic from 10:30 a.m. until noon. After an on-your-own lunch break, De Young will talk about conserving textile and metal artifacts from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Anyone who attends is invited to bring along one artifact for consultation about its preservation. 


We had an eventful historical society board meeting Tuesday, approving bids for three projects that we hope will be completed before the official season opens during late May.

One involves the last phase of the Puckerbrush School project. Last summer, we evacuated the school, more than a century old, lifted the floor and replaced its sagging support structure. But warm weather ended abruptly before the relaid floor could be patched (there was a little spoilage when the floorboards were lifted) and refinished --- and the walls washed and repainted. 

We've got to get this all done and the school's furniture and fixtures moved back in before late May, when Chariton School District fourth-graders arrive for their annual visit to the museum.

This also will be the year we replace the drainage system for the upper roofs of the Stephens House as well as repair and repaint wood trim on the masonry building. The drainage system had become so compromised that during heavy rain, water just cascaded down the side of the building here and there --- not a good thing.

Finally, we're going to extend a water line to the barn and then, from there, down the long hill to the heirloom garden --- which has to be watered now and then if it's going to flourish. Hopefully, this will eliminate at least partially the need for volunteers to haul hundreds of feet of hose around the grounds to keep all of the plantings in good health.


In the process of running from task to task Thursday, I totally forgot the volunteer appreciation luncheon, "Thanks with Franks," sponsored by Chariton Area Chamber Main Street at Carpenters Hall. The franks had nothing to do with me --- but referred to the hot dogs that were served. There was a concert by the Chariton High School band, too. And I am deeply ashamed.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter --- and sinners in the hands of an angry god

One of my great-uncles, older by some 40 years than my maternal grandmother, was named Jonathan Edwards Brown. Uncle Jonathan died in 1897 at the age of 59, so I don't remember him. And family historians rarely get the name quite right, dropping the "s" from Edwards, thereby obscuring the fact Great-Grandfather Joseph, a fierce old Presbyterian, named his second son after a favorite preacher, Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards (left), generally considered to be America's first great philosophical theologian and a man of soaring intellect, was among fathers of the Great Awakenings, firestorms of evangelical enthusiasm that swept New England, then other colonies and the frontier, commencing in the 1730s; his best-known sermon, a literary (and theological) classic, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." 

Those great awakenings are in part at least responsible for the muddles 21st American Christians find themselves in --- the opening evangelical shots were fired in the name of an angry God, and the anger has survived.

I grew up, as did many in my generation, hearing much about that angry god (although not at home) --- mired in Old Testament vindictiveness that obscured New Testament grace --- a major reason why I don't believe in this incarnation of the divine, infinite and inexpressible.


This is not something to spend a great deal of time thinking about. Life is far to short to get deeply involved in idle speculation about an after-life and nonsensical attempts to fence the infinite into some construct involving the "saved" and those who aren't.

But spring is a season of the year when I do think about it more --- it's hard not to. Stations of the Cross have been a weekly Lenten devotion, concluding with a simple supper of soup and bread last evening. Palm Sunday is upcoming. And then the rest of the Holy Week marathon, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, each with its liturgical framework.

This year I began at the base line with a  story attributed to my old friends, the Unitarian Universalists, which like all good stories is almost impossible to track to its origin. The story involves preachers, pastors and priests from all the major Christian expressions sitting around talking about what Easter means to them. Finally, the UU preacher chimes in:

“I believe the real meaning of Easter is the appreciation of life’s renewing cycles and, that for all things there is a season. I believe the real meaning of Easter is the acknowledgment, with its accompanying sadness, of a very human Jesus who was forced to die on the Cross because of his liberal religious views and beliefs. But most important of all, I believe the real meaning of Easter is the Celebration of Thanksgiving for the presence of the sacred in each and every living person and thing; for the presence of the sacred in the birds that sing; for the presence of the sacred in the flowers which sway and the grasses which rustle in the gentle breezes of spring. This is what I believe is the real meaning of Easter,” said the Unitarian Universalist."

Great story, and perhaps this is all there is; or perhaps there's more. But, really, it's enough.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

With Nina Lutz Combs presiding ....

Nina Lutz Combs conducted a good many meetings in her day --- as an organizer of the Iowa Division of the American Cancer Society, sponsor of Alpha Theta Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi, Lucas County chair of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and leader of other civic and First United Methodist Church activities.

So it was kind of appropriate that she presided, in a way, at Tuesday's meeting of the Lucas County Historical Society board --- or at least this lovely portrait of her did, depicting her as she would have appeared at age 18. I didn't want board members to miss this recent addition to the museum collection, courtesy of six of her granddaughters.

According to her family, the portrait was commissioned from artist and illustrator Irwin Zeller by Nina's husband, D. Earl Combs, to hang in the Combs home at the intersection of South Eighth Street and Woodlawn Avenue in Chariton. After his death in 1966, the portrait passed to their daughter, Mary Kathryn "Kay" Callahan, and was displayed for many years in the Callahan home in Houston, Texas.

Nina, a daughter of Nicholas G. and Ida (Spurling) Lutz, was born at Bridgwater during 1888, but moved to Lucas County as a child with her family. She attended Chariton schools and Drake University, then taught for a few years before her marriage to D. Earl Combs on June 11, 1913, at Chariton's First Methodist Episcopal Church. 

Nina's wedding dress, as well as several of her hats, arrived at the museum several years ago --- so I thought this description of her nuptial attire was kind of interesting: "The bride was attired in a handsome gown of ivory brocaded satin trimmed in real lace and pearls, with an embroidered tulle veil and a wreath of orange blossoms, and carried a shower bouquet of lillies of the valley and bride's roses."

Nina and D. Earl completed during 1930 the grand Tudor Revival house at South Eighth and Woodlawn that would be home for the remainder their lives. By then, he had formed the Combs Outdoor Advertising Companies, which would grow into the largest enterprise of its kind in Iowa.

Nina was only 66 when she died in a car crash near Red Oak in southwest Iowa during May of 1955. Her husband died nine years later, during 1964.

The portrait came home to Chariton earlier this year after the 2013 death of Kay (Combs) Callahan and her husband's decision to move from Texas to Florida to be nearer family. John Callahan died March 10, 2014, and his remains were returned to Lucas County for burial with Kay in the Chariton Cemetery.

Granddaughters who gave the portrait to the historical society were three of John and Kay Callahan's daughters, Kathryn Marie Callahan, Victoria Jo (Callahan) Steppy and Jeraldine Ann (Callahan) Depew; and three daughters of Nina's son, George Combs, and his wife, Lois (Ruddell) Combs --- Evelyn Ann (Combs) DeVeny, Patricia (Combs) Vredenburg and Trelawney Kay (Combs) Cully.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Carry me back to T-town on the big Rolodex of life

I got to thinking the other day, after unearthing this old photo, about how many face-and-name combinations we all have stored in the great Rolodex of life. Thousands plus thousands, I suppose. And the miracle is, we're able to flip through and find the right combinations --- much of the time.

School teachers may be better at this than most --- and accomplished politicians.

The horror comes when you start talking to someone; know exactly who he or she is and just what you want to talk about. Then the mouth opens to speak a name --- and nothing comes out.

This photo was taken most likely in the late 1980s in Thompson, where I was living at the time. I remember the occasion --- we were working on what these days would be called a "pocket park" on Main Street, improving a lot where a rickety old building had been taken down.

The only mystery is why I'm in the photo. I'm never in the photo. I take the photos.

I thought I could name everyone, but I can't.

Let's start in the back row (from left): Jeff Markle, Don Reicks, Fred Fraizer, Allen Hagenson, Norm Hauan, Mike Tweed and .... Darn it, the name is gone.

Moving on to the front row (also from left): Cheryl Reicks, Becky (Reicks) Markle, Oops (I can see myself sitting in her chair as she cut my hair; lovely person; remember the day her daughter vanished --- turned up hiding behind the sofa, little brat; last time I saw her was in the student union at North Iowa Area Community College; where has her name gone?), John Appelhons, Ron (half a name is better than none; owned the lumber yard; lived just around the corner. Darn), Dorothy Simons, Kevin Hauan and Frank Myers. At least I remember my own name.

Considering the state of the world, failure to recall three names is a minor difficulty. But I'm going to spend the rest of the day obsessing about it. Help!

And the winner is: Kevin Hauan, who in quick order this morning identified the guy at far right in the back row as Bill Johnson; reminded me that third from left in the front row is Ruth Henry (later Jacobs); and that Ron's last name is Bronson. Thanks!

Monday, April 07, 2014

"Faded Photographs" and "Nicky's Family"

This year's annual meeting of the Lucas County Historical Society begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, April 21, in the Lodge at Pin Oak Marsh --- just south of Chariton.

This is a low-key event at which everyone is welcome. There will be a few reports, a program and homemade pie and coffee after that. So mark it down on calendars.

We've had relatively big-name speakers during recent annual meetings, but decided this year to let some of the society's artifacts speak for themselves during a presentation entitled, "Faded Photographs: 150 Years of Images from the Lucas County Historical Society Collection."

These range from a series of town-square photographs that date from 1869 through images taken during Chariton's big U.S. centennial 4th of July celebration in 1876 to more modern images. 

We've been talking about developing a similar program for quite some time, but it seems like a good idea to do it this year before our technology guru, Karoline Dittmer, graduates from Chariton High School and heads for college.

The image here was found in the 1876 "Centennial Box" when it was opened on July 4, 1976 --- a close call, since the box had kind of been misplaced while being moved from place to place during the preceding century. It shows some of the crowd for the centennial parade gathered on the west side of the 1858 Lucas County Courthouse on a very muddy day, July 4, 1876.


Thanks to Netflix, I had the chance last evening to watch "Nicky's Family," a 2011 Czech documentary that honors Nicholas Winton, who almost single-handed saved the lives of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from certain death at the hands of the Nazis before World War II engulfed Europe. This is a good companion piece to Simon Schama's "The Story of the Jews," still available live-streamed from PBS. It is an English-language production.

Nicholas Winton and one of the children he rescued.

Sir Nicholas, who turns 105 in May, then a young stock broker, gave up a skiing holiday during 1938 to help a friend in Prague who was deeply concerned about the fate of Czechoslovakian Jews after Nazi occupation. The entire free world of that time, including the United States, had turned its back on Jewish refugees trying to escape the German threat.

Working frantically during the nine months before war erupted in 1939, Winton convinced Britain to provide refuge to children and organized a personal child transport program that brought 669 children through Germany by train into Holland, then across the English Channel to Britain, where they were placed with sponsoring families. Their parents did not survive Nazi death camps.

When war broke out, Winton enlisted in the RAF, then moved into private life. He did not share is story with anyone, including his family. Even the children did not know the details of how they had reached the British refuge that saved them.

Many years later, his wife discovered scrapbooks he had packed away in the attic containing photographs, memorabilia and a list of all 669 children. She brought his achievement into the public eye and a surprise reunion with dozens of the children, by then middle aged, occurred during 1988 on a British televsion show, "That's Life."

The 2011 documentary was a cooperative venture by private parties and various Czech and Slovak entities to honor Winton on his 100th birthday. It is an amazing piece of work. The photo here is of Winton with one of the children he rescued. If you want to read more, Sir Nicholas has a home page here.