Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pre-Memorial Day roundup

Bright red geraniums have been planted in the four big urns at the Chariton Cemetery shelter house, another reminder that the Memorial Day weekend is only a week away. I'm not quite sure where spring has gotten itself to, but summer is nearly here.

As is the tradition, members of the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission and Lucas County Genealogical Society will open the shelter --- usually locked although you can look in through the door and windows --- from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. next Sunday, May 27. There will be lemonade and cookies and volunteers will be there to talk about the cemetery and its history and, when necessary, try to help visitors locate graves.

The unaltered "English cottage" shelter, added to the cemetery grounds in 1929, is one of the features that made the cemetery eligible during 2009/10 for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Other contributing features were the entrance gates and the cemetery's rural park-like design.

The shelter probably was designed by Chariton architect William L. Perkins, although that can't be established for sure. He was city engineer at the time, however, and the little building is similar to his larger buildings. It consists behind that generous front porch of one large and light room with fireplace and, in its northwest corner, a small restroom (now non-functional). Storage and maintenance areas are on the building's lower level.

So if you're in the neighborhood next Sunday, stop in.


Speaking of the cemetery, someone asked the other day how many people are buried in Potters Field --- a pretty hill-top area in the southwest corner of the cemetery where those without resources or families to claim their remains have been buried since 1863, when the cemetery was established. The area appears to be undeveloped, with perhaps only a dozen stones in it, most of those marking the newest graves. The last burial recorded here, in "public ground," was an infant who died in 1966.

The city clerk's office has a fairly detailed record of 97 burials in Potters Field since 1902, giving names, ages, location and in some cases additional information. Records of the area prior to 1902 have disappeared --- the cemetery was privately owned until the 1920s. But an article in The Chariton Herald of Jan. 30, 1902, when the records still were in the hands of the Stanton family, stated that 76 people had been buried there Between 1863 and the end of 1901.

That would bring the total to 173, although one or two bodies were removed later by families to other parts of the cemetery. Most of the people buried here were just poor, but there are tragedies in the mix. Burial No. 3992, which occurred on Oct. 30, 1915, was an "unknown male (suicide by hanging)." And Burial No. 5883, June 14, 1935, "Unknown infant male found under bridge west of Chariton."


Memorial Day weekend also will bring the "official" opening for the summer season of the Lucas County Historical Society museum campus. "Official" because we're always kind of open, maintaining morning hours and Tuesday afternoon hours October-May and welcoming guests who either turn up then or who make appointments.

But as of next Saturday, we'll be open 1-4 p.m. daily Tuesday-Saturday through September with Judy B. and a crew of Lucas County Health Center Volunteer Services volunteers on hand. Admssion is free.

All of the Chariton Community Schools fourth-graders will trek through the campus on Monday, which is a major undertaking that goes remarkably well most years. I've still got to clean up some oil leaded onto the barn floor by a tractor --- so that kids don't track it elsewhere; and the log cabin still needs to be swept (every suicidal insect in Chariton comes there in the fall to die). But I'm sure we'll make it.

Kay Brown, Sarah Palmer and Robin Kennedy, masterful gardeners one and all, have taken on the museum grounds and have been working very hard to whip them into shape (our usual high school clean-up crew was rained out a couple of weeks ago). They're also doing a lot of planting and Kay is whipping into shape the terraced planter that descends to the patio.

On Monday evening, we received a substantial (and much appreciated) grant from the South Central Iowa Community Foundation that will help with several projects involving the Stephens House --- more insulation in the attic, rebuilding a large basement window to Department of Interior standards (the house is National Register listed) and dealing with pesky drainage issues involving the front porch roofs.

And by midweek, the alternate Frank had completed and submitted the application for a state grant that we'd like to use to help replace the wood-shingled roof of Puckerbrush School, in place when the 1880s building was moved to the museum many years ago and now threatening to fail. Replacing even a small wood-shingled roof is a very expensive affair.

I had very little to do with the grant application --- all of which had to be submitted online --- other than taking photos, scanning documents and trying to be reassuring when the preparer started cussing a blue streak (in a mild sort of way) or threatening to go out and get drunk when the thing was done. Those online forms can be frustrating when you're not used to them. I'd feel better about the process if I weren't reasonably sure that, once in the right hands in Des Moines, staffers there print out and distribute a dozen copies, thus destroying any trees that might have been spared in the application process.


I also was out Friday afternoon to do a brief program for residents at Chariton Nursing and Rehabilitation, borrowing Hotel Charitone props that live at the museum between public appearances. That was lots of fun, for me at least, as we shared hotel stories.

It was good to see, too, that amazing Russell girl, Vera Clanin --- going on 105 --- who remembered watching the Charitone go up in 1923.

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