Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ghosts, murder and naked people

"Destination America" keeps broadcasting the "A Haunting" episode that features alleged paranormal pranks at the big old house in Garden Grove generally known as the Stearns mansion. I know that because each airing generates a couple of blog comments and a spike of several hundred in viewership.

So far no one who has commented has been impressed by the tall tale --- even the most devout ghost-busters pronounce it an obvious hoax. 

So those looking to promote Decatur County tourism and pinning their hopes on the paranormal seem doomed to disappointment.


Personally, I prefer my television (viewed on a computer screen) to be more realistic, which is why it was gratifying to receive personalized notification from Netflix over the weekend that seasons 14 and 15 of Midsomer Murders had been added to the September lineup.

That's actually why I'm writing about Midsomer Murders rather than something more enlightening this morning. I watched the first episode of Season 14 rather than pulling my notes together. We've now moved into the Murders era when the Barnaby cousin has replaced reliable old Tom. Not quite the same, but still .... And I've actually seen most of these episodes before. It's just been a while.

It's been said that if all those dispatched during multiple Midsomer episodes actually had died, no one would now remain standing in England. The featured murder last night involved a young man skewered through the chest with a hand crank when the vintage automobile he was kneeling in front of attacked. How's that for believable realism?


Finally, there was a good deal of hooting and hollering over the weekend about leaked photos of naked celebrities whose naked forms I have no interest in looking at showing up online. I'm not sure why this is such a big deal.

One of the standing rules of 21st century life is --- if there are pictures of you naked out there someone will find them, post them and then hit, "share." I'm not sure why naked bodies are such a big deal, but they seem to be. The obvious solution, if you're not interested in flaunting, is to avoid cameras when naked.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Solidarity Forever

Here's a song for Labor Day --- performed by Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president-elect of the 3.2-million member National Education Association, now the largest and one of the most effective labor unions in the United States. Pretty good musician, too.

Labor Day, around since the late 1880s, is another of those holidays that's come unhitched from its original purpose --- to honor those who work for a living rather than those who manage (and exploit when the opportunity arises) those who work for a living.

Curiously, the U.S. labor movement struggles these days in part because of its success. Many workers, treated comparatively well by their corporate masters in part because of the potential threat of organized labor, figure organized labor no longer is necessary. 

Or, because corporate interests have figured out how to exploit impoverished workers in other countries in order to keep the shelves at Wal-Mart stocked, buy into Republican gospel --- that organized labor is bad for the economy.

Neither is the case. As most likely will become increasingly evident. Solidarity forever! 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Parents of gay kids & drinking from poisoned wells

Gay Georgian Daniel Pierce's video of an encounter with family members enraged by his sexual orientation went viral last week --- some 4.5 million views, I believe; and it would be interesting to know the demographics of the audience. Hopefully, quite a few were parents interested in learning how not to behave if one of their kids trusted them enough to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

This was not, however, a coming-out occasion; Pierce, 19, had told his family he was gay a year ago and while the experience had not been fully positive, it hadn't been this negative either. Some sort of intrafamily religious revival had occurred in the interim and his grandparents, father, stepmother and a sister of the stepmother had gathered to "intervene" --- convince Daniel that he could change his orientation, or as it's sometimes phrased these days, "pray the gay away."

The encounter didn't didn't go well and ended as the "concerned" family started calling the kid names, cussing and finally beating him up --- with camera running.

I'm guessing that a substantial share of the 4.5 million was made up of folks like me; nearly all of us have been through at one time or another conversations like this with family, friends and mentors that may have ended better but always, we feared, carried similar potential. 

It's a daunting task for an insecure kid, of any age, to take on the task of raising his or her parents --- and that's what often happens just because gay kids are born into straight families --- and sometimes it doesn't go well. So we understand this from Daniel's perspective.

But the alternative is to distance one's self from family physically and/or emotionally --- and I've known quite a few gay folks (and straight ones, too) who have maintained that arms-length distance for a lifetime rather than risk rejection or trust love.


A good deal of the difficulty is based on misunderstanding, and it seems odd that in the 21st century it's still necessary to point out facts of life. Gay kids really are born (created, if you like) this way; most of us have known almost forever (my "aha" moments came at about age 4, although of course I had no idea what it was all about). We can't change the orientation.

Gay folks are not in any sense "sinful" because of their orientation, nor are loving and non-exploitive physical expressions of  their sexuality wicked. We merely are, if you care to phrase it this way, as God made us. It's a life, not a "lifestyle."

Folks who drink from the poisoned wells of fundamentalist and right-wing evangelical Christianity seem to have the most trouble with these facts in western culture.


Since I'm not straight, all I can do is speculate about what motivates heterosexual families when they're dealing with gay kids.

I'm sure there's an element of fear and concern. Most parents want their kids to be happy and fear that gay folks aren't. While there certainly are challenges, most imposed by a heterosexist culture, that need not be the case. Loving and supporting families are keys to giving kids of any and all orientations a shot at happy and fulfilling lives.

And then there's anger. Some parents have anger issues when it comes to handling the unsurprising fact that children may not share their values, their outlooks, their faith --- or their sexual orientation. In many instances, LGBT kids, through no fault of their own, will inspire anger --- just by being.

The saddest of all, however, may be shame. Parents lash out at their queer kids to one degree or another because they're afraid of what the neighbors, the grandmas and grandpas and the folks next pew over on Sunday morning may say --- the preacher, too.


I've never been a parent, but I have been a kid --- with very good parents I think --- so I figure that qualifies me to offer a little advice to those who are parents in this confusing day and age.

1. Gay kids are born into heterosexual families, so always remember that this can happen in your family, too. If it does, it's a gift. You cannot change their orientation.

2. Watch what you say. Kids are little people with ears and memories. They will take to heart what you say and remember it. Do what you can to ensure that they do not grow up fearful that there are some things they dare not share with you.

3. If you're drinking from the poisoned wells of fear, anger and shame --- stop it. You're the adults. Behave like it. In other words, grow up.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Touring the Hotel Charitone --- then and now

U.S. Rep Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City), above right, who represents Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, last toured the Hotel Charitone during April of 2013, when work was just beginning. That's how it looked on that chilly day below.

On Friday, he was back for a tour of the completed project with, among others (top, from left), Alyse, Kris and Raymond. Alyse and Raymond are principals in the Lucas County Preservation Alliance and Hotel Charitone LLC; Kris, Main Street coordinator for Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street.

Once inside, there was time for a little visiting in the restored lobby and bar area of the Hotel Charitone Market Grille (that's Shantel, Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street director on the left), then upstairs to the third floor where Linda and John Braida opened their apartment for a tour.

Ray outlined some of the challenges involved in conforming to Department of the Interior restoration standards when dealing with an historic building. Alyse stressed the importance of the federal historic preservation tax credit program, a major source of funding for projects like the Charitone that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After a trip down the new fire escape attached to the northeast corner of the building, the party re-entered the Charitone through the resident entrance and returned to the Market Grille for a quick tour of the the main dining room and kitchens, conducted by Greg, restaurant manager.

Before Loebsack and his legislative aide, Dien Judge, left the building, Greg passed around chocolate-covered mints prepared in the candy kitchen at Piper's, just across North Grand Street to the west. The mints are just one of the ways the Market Grille is integrated into the community, Greg said, adding that Copy Plus --- farther down Braden to the west --- produces the wrappings.

Friday, August 29, 2014

National Historic District --- From the air, ca. 1920

Dick Young brought this aerial photograph of the Chariton square to the museum Thursday and that was kind of appropriate. This was the week, too, that the "Lucas County Courthouse Square Historic District" was included on the National Register of Historic Places "List of Action Taken on Properties," distributed by the National Park Service.

Other newly listed properties on the weekly list were the Great Falls Manufacturing Company Newichawannock Canal Historic District in York County, Maine; Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis (one of the great U.S. Cemeteries now catching up to the Chariton Cemetery, listed several years ago); and the Cunningham Round Barn in Vernon County, Wisconsin.

I'm guessing the photo was taken 1921-22, but could probably date it a little more precisely by pulling files on the various gas stations built just after World War I in what now is a National Historic District.

That's the 1917 Post Office in the lower middle of the photo with First Baptist Church to the left and over to the right, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. If you look carefully, you'll see that the lot on the northeast corner of the square where the Hotel Charitone was built in 1923 still is vacant. Right click and open in a new window to see more detail.

The water tower is to the far left, midway up --- and underneath it you can see the fire station that was replaced by the current City Hall.

I've never been able to date precisely the four-front brick building across South Main from City Hall that now houses Chariton Ford and other businesses, but here you can see that a two-front building with a gabled roof and false front was located at the south end of the lot and what appears to be a big tent, on the other half of the lot just south of the alley.

Although the east, north and west sides of the square are about the same today as they were when this photo was taken, the south was in its glory days. That's the Kubitshek Block to the far left, then a couple of empty lots where wooden buildings had been taken down and the building that now houses Sportsmens Tavern just west of the alley. East of the alley (from left) were the three-story Temple Block (now the one-story Hammer Medical Supply), the triple-front Branner Block and the double-front Dewey Block, still with us on the corner.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Adam and Steve and my family tree

One of the oddities of Genesis is that early editors of that venerable book sustained a computer crash early on and while improvising recovery dropped the "s" and the "t," obscuring the fact it really was Adam and Steve.

As some scholars will tell you, the Big Guy just wanted a little company; and with the guys he had that. Conversation sparkled, the decor excelled, the garden flourished and the cooking was superior --- think Fabulous Beekman Boys.

It was Steve who turned out that Apple pie --- and got the rest of us into trouble.

But it soon became evident that this was too one-dimensional and more than a little boring, so the Creator got to improvising again and pulled a whole new group of people out of his hat --- based on the original models but with variety. There was Max and Helen, Mildred and Sarah --- and quite a few more, other names lost in that formational digital disaster.

This helps to explain why two creation myths, both incomplete, are embedded in holy writ; and also clarifies the messy business of incest that sometimes troubles those who become overly involved with scripture.


In any case, same-sex marriage is back now --- and I've been wondering how my genealogical software was going cope. I use Family Tree Maker synced to Ancestry.com.

So far as I know, no same-sex couples in my immediate family have tied the knot yet --- and I'm getting a little impatient. It looks like Family Tree Maker will support same-sex marriage with a little jiggering, but I can't be sure how well this will work until a marriage occurs. Unless FTM gets busy, however, it looks like blessed events still will have one parent labeled "mother" and the other "father" --- although both can be of the same gender.

I've thought of creating a mythical couple, then sending it from PC-based program to Web-based program --- just to see what would happen. But there are quite enough imaginary people and invented relationships floating around out there in cyberspace already --- thanks to hack family historians --- and I don't want to risk adding more.

You can get some idea of how the various genealogical programs will cope with same-sex (and other) types of relationships by checking out Wikipedia's comparison charts, here. Just keep in mind that "support" and "accurately reflect" relationships are two different things, so more research will be required.

Also keep in mind that a good deal of the genealogical infrastructure is involved in one way or another with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose aged hierarchy is not at all amused by same-sex marriage (polygamy, on the other hand, remains a pleasant memory and future --- eternal --- possibility). So LDS-generated or intimately linked genealogical programs are unlikely to support same-sex relationships.


Whatever the case, it'll be fun to watch family history software develop as it tries to keep up with "non-traditional" family structures. I'm sure there are developers out there tearing their hair out. In the meantime, just remember that virtually all programs allow notes to be added and documents to be attached --- and these remain the best routes for clarifying relationships and such until the software catches up.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Putting the tall in tallgrass

So I spent most of Tuesday afternoon holding the lawnmower's hand as we chewed through a mix of grass and other growth that had gotten out of control in the back yard because of persistent rain (encourages growth) and extreme heat and humidity (discourages me).

My dream for the back yard involves tallgrass prairie, which neither the neighbors nor the fire department would be likely to approve of (rather than mow it, I'd just burn it every year or so; outbuildings on nearby lots be damned).

So I settled, after putting the mower to bed, for a quick walk around the marsh at sunset to admire some of the grasses that put the "tall" in tallgrass. Excess moisture this year has caused everything down there to shoot for the sky, too, giving credence to the old stories told by pioneers of native prairie grown taller than settlers on horseback.

I'm a big fan of cord grass, displayed here against the sky and then fronting for the first of the maximilian sunflowers, grown strikingly tall this year.

Big blue stem was shooting for the sky along the trail, too.

After the grasses came a spectacular sunset. Not a bad way to end the day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rebridging the Blue Grass gap

I'm trying to remember how many years it's been since it was possible to drive directly into and out of Chariton on the Blue Grass Road, which follows the Mormon Trail's route into town from the southeast. Established by Mormon pioneers during the summer of 1846-47, this was the only road into town when Chariton came along during 1849.

The Blue Grass part of this transportation sandwich closed a good many years ago when the old wooden bridge across the Union Pacific railroad tracks failed and was condemned. Detours were established and  a whole generation grew up barely aware of the barricaded bridge.

But now, at last, the bridge is being replaced.

The Blue Grass, obviously, was the first layer established here. When the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad (later C.B.&Q. and now Burlington, Northern & Santa Fe) tracks were laid into town during the summer of 1867, the Blue Grass climbed over on a grade crossing. In 1912-13, the deep cut that the north-south Union Pacific (then Rock Island) tracks follow through town tunneled under both the older rail line and the road (the bridge that failed was built then).

Finally, when the U.S. 34 bypass that curves around Chariton to the south was constructed, the big bridge that soars over it all was built. 

It's going to be a while before the new bridge is complete, but when it is, I think Chariton and Russell should get together and throw a big party right in the middle of it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Temple Theatre and a civil rights lawsuit

The three-story Temple Building shows up here just beyond the Ritz in a photo taken in 1929 or early 1930, just before fire destroyed the Temple and gutted the brand new Ritz.

Goats are enjoying a renaissance in the south of Iowa, what with artisan cheese and all, so it was interesting to read the other day in The Chariton Leader of May 20, 1909, that their talents had been long appreciated. 

Editor and publisher Henry Gittinger had attended a performance at the Temple Theatre during the previous week and was able to report that, "The Temple Theatre, on the south side, had some exceptionally strong attractions at the last program. Last week the educated goats elicited great interest. This was the first exhibition of the kind ever seen in Chariton. It is said goats are very stubborn and hard to teach but this herd would do all manner of feats, such as walking tight ropes, rolling balls up inclines and back, forming tableaux, etc."

"The management of late have also been happy in its selection of films for the motion picture features and new attractions come with each change of program," Gittinger continued. "The theatre is large and well ventilated, which adds to the comfort of the audience. They have a new scenic curtain, which gives a tinge of realism to the aspect and which also represents some of the local enterprise of the city."

What's far more interesting about the Temple than its entertainment offerings, however, is that it was the setting for an incident that led to Lucas County's first civil rights lawsuit.

The Temple was located on the first floor of the three-story Temple Building, built jointly during 1902-1903 by Victoria (Branner) Dewey and the Knights of Pynthias on the current Court Street site of Hammer Medical Supply. The Temple burned during 1930. It had been designed by the same architects responsible for the recently burned Younkers Building in downtown Des Moines --- Liebbe, Nourse & Rasmussen.

J.L.H. Todd, of Des Moines, and P.G. Skaggs of Eureka Springs, Missouri, had leased the first floor of the building and opened the new Temple Theatre to the public on April 14, 1909.

Their tenure in Chariton was short-lived, however, most likely because they ran head-on into Iowa civil rights law. Todd, as The Chariton Patriot later described him, was "a southerner, a Virginian, and he has a rigid rule in his theatre against colored people mixing in with whites."

Some time before Henry viewed the educated goats, Chariton resident George "Shock" Knox "purchased a ticket and went into the threatre and took a seat in the audience," Gittinger reported in The Leader of May 13. "As he is supposed to be a negro he was asked to take a seat in that part of the room assigned to colored people. This he refused to do when an officer went to him and asked him to retire from the room, which he did."

Knox promptly filed suit against Todd and Skaggs, asking for $1,000 in damages and citing Iowa's 1884 civil rights act which expressely outlawed discrimination on the basis of race and other factors by a variety of businesses offering public accommodation, including theaters. So far as I know, this was the first civil rights case filed in Lucas County. Knox was represented by attorneys J.H. Campbell and E.H. Storie.

It's not clear what the outcome of the Knox suit was. Todd and Skaggs high-tailed it out of town during June, having sold the theater to Walter Dewey, son of building owner Victoria, and his business partner at the time, R.G. Hatcher. Most likely some sort of settlement had been reached.

It is clear, however, when reading these old Chariton newspapers, that their editors and publishers hardly were advocates for equality. There seems to have been a general acknowledgement that discrimination was justifiably illegal, but no indication that these influential men felt Chariton's black residents were in any sense equal.

Gittinger could be horrifically racist in his writings, for example, when he chose to be. Perhaps his most annoying parlor trick was to compose and publish doggerel about events involving black people in what he imagined black dialect might be. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Going to Graceland: Honoring Civil War veterans

Robert Killen and William Humphreys, both 96, died hours apart on Jan. 25, 1941. On Saturday, they were honored an hour apart, Killen at 9 a.m. at Graceland Cemetery near Norwood and Humphreys, at 10 a.m. at Mount Zion north of Oakley, as Lucas County's longest-surviving veterans of the Civil War.

Mike Rowley, clad in replica wool on what would turn into one of southern Iowa's hottest days of the summer, and Tom Gaard --- both of the Iowa Division, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, were down from Des Moines to present the honors. After brief remarks, small metal signs noting the two mens' longevity and service, commissioned by the Sons, were unveiled at both graves.

The simple ceremonies occurred after a night of extremely heavy rain across much of Iowa and White Breast Creek and smaller nearby streams would go out of their banks later in the day --- Highway 65 at Lucas was closed by flooding by evening. But on Saturday morning, rain had ceased, although under a flash-flood warning water had not yet risen and the two beautifully maintained cemeteries were for the most part high and dry. (Information posted earlier about Killen and Humphreys may be found here.)

Graceland, northeast of Norwood in Otter Creek Township, was the Killen family church, although Robert himself was not baptized until age 94. Graceland Church, an early congregation of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ) was organized at the turn of the 20th century as a mission of the Lucas RLDS Church, which dated from 1877; and the cemetery dates from 1901. The church, open by deed covenant to all who cared to use it when the congregation wasn't gathered, stood just to the north in the center of a quadrangle of catalpa trees planted many years ago by Kate Cackler, an early member. It was torn down during 1972.

Robert left many descendants, and two of his grandsons were present Saturday morning, Jerry Marker (left) and Larry Marker. Mary Sandy (far left) is a niece.

After the ceremony, the group gathered behind the Killen tombstone for a photo and were joined by Gaard, who has coordinated the effort to locate and mark the graves of the last surviving veterans in all Iowa counties.

After Saturday morning's observance at Graceland, Rowley and Gaard drove southeast to Mount Zion Cemetery, on a bluff above White Breast Creek north of Oakley, to place a similar sign at the grave of William Humphreys. Humphreys was an organizer of Mount Zion Primitive Baptist Church, which once stood in the center of the cemetery's circle drive.

William left no descendants, but Don Garrett, commander of Chariton's Carl L. Caviness Post, American Legion, was there, as was a neighbor, Terin Dittmer.

After the unveiling at Mount Zion was complete, Rowley and Gaard headed for Leon, where a similar ceremony was scheduled for Decatur County's longest-surviving veteran; then on to the Hopeville Cemetery southwest of Osceola, for the final program of the day.