Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rock on

Gov. Robert D. Ray didn't want the multitudes assembled at Wadena on July 31, 1970, to be there at all. When he couldn't prevent the Wadena Rock Festival from happening, however, he good-humoredly took to the stage to encourage the kids to behave in such a manner that would allow them to remember it as a good time. For the most part, all 30-50,000 did.

Here’s the deal: I missed it the first time around, so most likely will pass on the 40th anniversary celebration planned this Sunday for the Wadena Rock Festival at the State Historical Society of Iowa, 600 E. Locust St., in Des Moines.

I didn’t miss it intentionally, but was in Vietnam at the time and that made travel inconvenient.

Hours Sunday will be 2 to 4:30 p.m. and admission is free (the cash bar and snacks will not be free, however). There will be displays, a film, music and a panel discussion that includes former Iowa Gov. Robert D. Ray, serving his first term 40 years ago.

Wadena, July 31-Aug. 2, 1970, doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves in the history of this sort of thing (remember Woodstock of the year before?) most likely because of its location, a farm field in northeast Iowa’s Fayette County not far from a village of about 250.

This was before the mass media became quite so mass and there were no remote broadcasting units parked around the perimeter, helicopters circling overhead (a few planes, though) or sophisticated sound equipment.

That didn’t stop the youngsters from coming --- the crowd is estimated conservatively at 30,000; optimistically, at 50,000. And the lineup of entertainers was spectacular: Everly Brothers, Ian & Sylvia, Joan Baez, the Doobie Brothers, Little Richard, The Guess Who, REO Speedwagon and more.

The event was held in Iowa because it had been chased out of Illinois, and Iowa officialdom did all it could to stop it, but failed. Gov. Robert D. Ray’s mission when he headed for Wadena on July 31 was to try to stop it, but he couldn’t, so he ended up taking to the stage good-humoredly and urging the audience to behave in such a manner that they’d remember it as a good time.

Everyone I’ve talked to about it or heard interviewed about it during the last few days seems to have had just that. Darn it, sorry I missed it. There were drugs, sex, rock ‘n’ roll and naked hippies, but no injuries, no violence, no confrontations. It all seems remote and improbable looking back from 40 years later. Much has changed.


I’ve not lost interest in local history, although not much has been posted here in that vein lately. But such things take time.

I started working a couple of weeks ago on that roster of Lucas County’s Civil War dead that I’ve been talking about. It’s a complicated and time-consuming process. Online databases help, but the most useful database can be searched for my purposes only by residence at time of enlistment. Many of those places don’t exist anymore --- try to find the Freedom, Lagrange, Argo and Greenville post offices, for example --- and you have to figure out all the possibilities before beginning.

There’s a relatively complete list of those who served from Lucas County in the 1881 history, but in many instances inaccurate information about what became of them. “Mustered out,” for example, implies honorable discharge, but in many cases death did the mustering out and that is not indicated. The military’s policy at that time when faced with a soldier who inevitably would die but could still in some manner travel was to discharge him in the hope he could make it home and die there. There are many of those. The most complete reference is the vast “Roster and Roll” published in many volumes after the war by the state. But that is arranged by unit and difficult to use unless you begin with a list of names and I’m trying instead to assemble a list of names.

So far, I have 131 names and basic information about them all. The majority died of disease rather than in combat. Shiloh was the most deadly, hideously so. The vast majority are buried where they died, in many case among the “unknowns.” It’s interesting, awe-inspiring and tedious work and it takes time. The sesquicentennial of the Civil War will be observed in Iowa and elsewhere 2011-2015. Maybe I’ll have it done by the time that observance begins.


And I’ve been working, too, on a brief (several pages; not a book) biography of the Rev. Isaac P. Labagh, founding priest in 1867 of St. Andrew’s (and of St. Michael’s in Russell, a parish that died when he did) and to my mind at least one of the most fascinating players in Iowa’s diocesan history.

Born into a family of Dutch Reformed clergymen, he served that denomination for a number of years but finally was booted out for unconventional thinking. Assigned as a missionary to the Jewish population of New York City, he became preoccupied with Biblical prophecy and wrote extensively about it. And he developed a number of ideas the Reformed authorities would not tolerate --- including his conviction that the Sabbath should be observed in the old way, on Saturday rather than Sunday.

Welcomed into the evangelical wing of the Protestant Episcopal Church, he became an odd sort of Seventh-day Adventist Episcopalian as well as one of the denomination’s leading premillennialist thinkers and writers.

Intensely missionary minded, he came to Illinois when that enthusiasm faded, then on to Iowa about 1860 where he served St. Peter’s Church at Fairfield (which no longer exists --- the church that is; the town’s doing fine) and used it as a launching pad for work along the tracks of the Burlington & Missouri Railroad as they were being laid after the Civil War --- in Albia, Russell and Chariton.

He died in 1869 with his boots on and Bible in hand at Fairfield, ending a remarkable career that’s largely forgotten today.

So as you can see, I’m having lots of fun --- just preoccupied with research.


Ed said...

I had never heard of Wadena or the concert there until this week when it started making local news reports. It has been interesting to learn about it.

Martin said...

I was in boot camp at that time--did not make trip to Vietnam until next summer.