Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Rev. Amos Mason's Top Hat

I'm a big fan of small museums in large part because I like to look at stuff and these community attics pulled together in many cases by local historical societies are liable to have proudly on display just about anything --- stuff larger museums would sniff politely at, then stash away out of signt in some dark place.

But all museums have a tendency, in large part because of time and space constrains, to cut their artifacts adrift from the people who once owned them unless the owner was especially notable. It can't be helped, but doesn't stop me from wondering about the people who onced owned, used and treasured these relics that have long outlived their owners.

Take the Rev. Amos Mason's top hat, which has been displayed in Otterbein Church on the LCHS museum campus here because of its link to a pioneer Lucas County preacher. Reuniting the hat with three pages of Mason family history I'd come across while volunteering, accessioned with the hat, allowed that remarkably well-preserved item, crafted probably during the 1850s in Paris, to speak.

The Rev. Mr. Mason laid down his life for the Union cause in 1863 and was buried far from home, but here we have something remarkable to remember him by.

The Rev. Mr. Mason, born about 1823 in Ohio, arrived in English Township, Lucas County, in 1857 from McLean County, Illinois, with his wife, Jincy, and their four eldest children. He settled on a farm in Section 9, English Township, due north of Chariton at the Marion County line, that remained in the family for generations.

First licensed as an exhorter by the United Brethren in Christ in 1845, he served the newly-formed United Brethren congregation at Newbern, now almost a ghost town. He was ordained in that congregation on Sept. 12, 1859.

On Aug. 14, 1862, when he was 39 and his youngest child only 2, he enlisted as a private in Co. E, 34th Iowa Infantry. A few months later he became critically ill and died of a fever on Jan. 28, 1863, at St. Louis, where he is buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

Jincy rose above adversity to raise her young family single-handedly and died full of years, nearly 85, on Nov. 6, 1911, and is buried in the Newbern Cemetery, one of the most dramatically beautiful places in Lucas County with sweeping views of the Whitebreast valley from its high hilltop.

What a story that old hat has to tell! If the artifact count at LCHS is correct, there are more than 40,000 stories like it waiting to be told --- if only we could find the time to listen.

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