Thursday, May 13, 2010

The memory of water

Lake Morris from its eastern shore late this afternoon.

All this time of late in another time, the 1940s, has brought up a question eligible for Trivial Pursuit --- Lucas County style: After whom are Lakes Ellis and Morris named?

I’ve found that those older than me generally know, as do a good many my own age. But the younger ones don't have a clue.

Ellis and Morris are two pretty little lakes --- more accurately reservoirs --- tucked into the valley of the Little White Breast just east of Chariton. They are the source of our water supply. One is old, the other newer. Ellis, the older, is west; Morris, the newer, is east. I have to think about it to remember which is which.

When the Civilian Conservation Corps developed Red Haw State Park in the 1930s, also east of town, the fork of the Little White Breast that feeds Ellis was dammed again above it to create Red Haw Lake, also very pretty.

But part of that deal was an agreement that if the water level in Lake Ellis fell low enough to threaten Chariton’s water supply, the gates of Red Haw’s dam would be opened to fill it. That agreement remains in effect, as the Department of Natural Resources discovered a few years ago to its chagrin when water was needed and it declined to cooperate --- briefly.


The answer to the question “Who?” is Roy Ellis (left above) and Lyle Morris (left below), both 22, and at the time the lakes were named in 1943 thought to be the first Lucas County men to die in World War II.

Roy, a coal miner’s son from Williamson, had worked in the mines himself before enlisting in the U.S. Army during the fall of 1940. He completed training as a U.S. Army Air Forces radio operator in October 1941 and advanced in rank to staff sergeant. During early June 1942, he was deployed to Alaska. On June 11, 1942, his B-24 bomber was shot down by Japanese planes attacking the Aleutian Islands. Roy was killed on his first mission.

Lyle Morris was the son of a general store operator in Derby who enlisted in the U.S. Navy, also in the fall of 1940, after attending the American Institute of Business in Des Moines. A storekeeper first class who had trained at the Ford Motor Plant in Detroit, he died at his battle station aboard the USS Enterprise on Oct. 26, 1942, during a Japanese Assault on the carrier.


The Chariton City Council did not decide spontaneously to honor Roy and Lyle by naming the reservoirs after them.

The Lucas County Conservation Club had made the suggestion that the two reservoirs be given individual names simply to avoid confusion and proposed a lake-naming contest. The council agreed to act as judges.

The contest was conducted during April of 1943 and quite a variety of names was proposed. Clara Rutherford was the only one to suggest, however, honoring Ellis and Morris. Her entry struck a chord among council members and Ellis and Morris the reservoirs became --- by council resolution dated May 3, 1943.

Mrs. Rutherford received $10 in War Stamps --- $5 for each name --- for her trouble.

Mayor Mack Young proposed “that suitable markers be erected at the two lakes explaining for whom each lake is named so that newcomers and future generations will know the history of their nomenclature.”


When the sun finally came out late this afternoon after days of rain, I drove out to see if I could find a “suitable marker.” The pleasant walking trail along the west shore of Ellis, developed by Boy Scouts, is called “Twin Lakes,” according to a sign.

There are shiny identical billboards at each Lake, one headed Lake Ellis, the other, Lake Morris, both listing a series of forbidden activities: No open fires, no camping, no this, no that. But no “welcome” that I could find --- no mention of Roy Ellis and Lyle Morris. Maybe I just missed it. I’ll go look again another day.

Or maybe Chariton’s just forgotten. I'd like to think the water, at least, remembers..

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