Monday, September 30, 2013

Autumn in a bottle (gentian)

I've been following (vicariously) autumn's advance in upstate New York, where fall colors are at their brightest right now, ideal leaf viewing weather during the next week or two.

None of that here, yet --- although the brightest of nature's seasonal earthbound flora --- goldenrod and the various sunflowers --- are fading from blazing yellows to more subtle browns, setting the stage for airborne reds and golds when leaf canopies flame out into winter a little later.

It's the time of year I go looking for bottle gentians, the last of the old prairie flowers to bloom before hard freezes begin. These are subtle and low-growing plants --- gentian blue and in clusters, but low-growing and unobtrusive among taller grasses. 

I found these late yesterday along the trail at Pin Oak Marsh. They have not yet begun to open, but even when they do there will not be a spectacular show. The blossoms remained cupped rather than splayed, hence the name "bottle."

The colony easiest to find --- I know of three at Pin Oak but most likely there are many more --- is just south of the most northerly bench along the concrete path. Walk south of the bench a few feet and start studying the low-growing plants among the grasses just west of the trail. If you're patient, you'll begin to see them. Feel free to wade into the grass for a closer look, but don't stomp.

There are other signs of autumn at the marsh, too --- an increase in the duck and goose population at various times of the day, seeds of thistles and the various milkweed preparing to take flight, a few early leaf colors. It's a great time of year, so get up from behind that computer and go take a walk --- it's almost light.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Melons, livestock & breakfast links

Burning questions answered during yesterday morning's open house at the museum --- "Are the moon-and-stars melons ready to eat?" and "How will they taste?" 

They were, and those who sampled said the taste and texture were outstanding. Plus, there were lots of seeds to spit. So there's another heirloom garden success story --- and we'll plant more next year. 

It was a gray, cool and damp morning, with occasional drizzle --- so we had a slow but steady flow of guests and quite a few new faces. It was a good morning, and no one's going to complain about needed rain.

Special guests were a calf and a goat --- named Precious --- and their attendants. I asked everyone's name, but neglected to write them down. Once I find out, I'll repost the photo. The calf will have moved on by next year, but maybe Precious can be convinced to pay a return visit.

I like to look at other peoples' photographs, especially when they feature places I've never been --- and old houses. So Watson Brown's flickr site, "Edgecombe Planter," is a new favorite.

Edgecombe is a county in northeastern North Carolina. Tarboro is the county seat and Edgecombe shares Rocky Mount with neighboring Nash County.

Brown, a retired city planner, is the fifth generation of his family to live on a plantation called Adelphia, hence "Edgecombe Planter." The photography is outstanding and the glimpses the images provide of a way of life considerably removed from Iowa, exceptional.

Reading about others' experiences with old houses also keeps me entertained, so I've taken to following the blog "227 North Street," detailing the trials and tribulations of Phillip and Mark as they have restored an historic, but almost derelict, house in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California.

This is a saga that's been unfolding since 2009, when the couple bought the old building. If you start with the earliest posts and read forward, there's a book's work of material here.

Preservation is just beginning to catch on in Iowa --- and for that matter a majority of the United States. And I'm still gnashing my teeth (in a non-accusatory sort of way) about the Harper House. 

Even in California, it's rare to find people willing to invest four years of their lives and most of their money in conserving a worthy structure.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Come see --- this morning --- how our garden grew

Kay Brown and Kathy Willets outdid themselves yesterday, decorating the barn, harvesting produce and hauling it up the big hill for today's open house at the Lucas County Historical Society museum. So stop in between 10 a.m. and noon for free coffee, hot cider, coffee cake --- and fresh-roasted peanuts.

It's cool and pleasant early this morning, but a little rain is in the forecast. No matter; we'll be dry inside the barn if showers come. All of the buildings will be open for tours, you can check out the reconstructed floor of Puckerbrush School --- and we're expecting a miniature horse, a goat or two and a bottle calf to interact with (they'll be on the grounds, not in the barn). 

Jim Secor is back from Germany and will be cutting into the moon-and-stars watermelons, too. This is an heirloom variety --- and it has seeds; lots of them --- but we're anxious to see how they turned out. The odd thing is, we're all so accustomed to buying our melons at the grocery store none of us had a clue about how to determine when a garden-raised melon was ripe.

Plan on taking home a few of our heirloom tomatoes --- although production in the tomato patch has slowed, there still are plenty of at least four varieties. That's cockscomb from the garden in the big basket with flourishes of basil.

We've been really pleased with the heirloom garden, now winding down. Despite peculiar weather at various times during the season, it's been a success. So thanks to Jim, Robin Kennedy, Kay Mundt (who started the tomato seeds Jim planted and shared other starts), Kay, Hugh, Angie, Kathy and others. We did water the garden occasionally to tide it over between rains --- and that's a huge undertaking involving what seemed like miles of hose strung down the hill (then hauled back up). And everything that grew has been shared with critters --- deer, raccoons and more.

The big, messy --- and highly productive --- tomato patch probably was the most successful. We've all been eating and giving away exceptional tasting tomatoes since midsummer. I don't think as many cucumbers will go in the ground next year --- we couldn't deal with the output and too many went to waste.

The melons may have been the most fun. No matter how the moon-and-stars melons taste, they're beautiful to look at. There were two varieties of small "personal-size" heirloom melons, wonderfully dense and sweet, softball size or a little larger. All but one of those have ripened (and been eaten). Next year, some pumpkins, too, maybe.

A row of basil produced lots of pesto during the summer and there were cabbages, onions and lots more. 

Deer enjoyed the Indian corn, too --- and weather conditions were a little hard on it, but Kay found a few colorful ears anyway last week. Cherokee Trail of Tears beans grew up the cornstalks --- black and delicious; I want more of those.

We learned that we're going to have to spray (or at least powder) if we hope to have a decent squash crop. There were plenty of yellow crooknecks earlier, but the winter squash had a hard time of it.

And then, for color --- cockscomb, poppies, daisies and larkspur. 

None of this would have been possible without talented, hard-working and dedicated gardeners --- and we're very grateful to them.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Open house Saturday morning at the museum

Join us Saturday morning, rain or shine (we're NOT going to complain about rain, if it falls), for a relaxed "fall harvest appreciation day" open house at the Lucas County Historical Society Museum, 123 North 17th Street.

We'll serve free coffee, cider and coffee cake in the barn from 10 a.m. until noon. There also will be fresh-roasted peanuts on the lower level of the Lewis Building, just across the patio. All of the buildings will be open to tour and --- given reasonably cooperative weather --- a miniature horse, some goats and a bottle calf will be on the grounds for children of all ages to interact with.

Access to the cabin will be limited to a look-in, since it's stuffed with the contents of Puckerbrush School right now. But you'll be able to go into the school to see how well the old floor went back down after the building's underpinnings were replaced. You'll also see why we need to repaint and do a little patching before putting the building back together in time to greet fourth-graders next May.

We'll bring some produce up from the heirloom garden, too, to sample and (hopefully) take home.

Saturday afternoon will be the last official open day of the summer/fall season. Hours as usual will be 1-4 p.m.

Beginning next week, we'll have more limited hours. Kathleen will be in the office from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesdays. Marilyn and others will be there Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and Wednesday afternoons. So if you'd like to visit, just stop in. If in doubt about whether or not someone's there, give a call (641-774-4464) or e-mail us ( We're always willing to arrange tours at other times.

Homecomings: Carl L. Caviness

Here is Carl L. Caviness's story as told by Patrick Dittmer on Sunday during the Tenth Annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. Other stories told Sunday were those ofMaggie Corbett, Marko "Chicago Mike" Vicicic and Rene Julien. The script was written by Kylie Dittmer for her brother, Patrick. He is a third-generation nephew of Carl; and she, a third-generation niece.

On May 20, 1918, while on patrol, Carl Leo Caviness was killed by enemy fire in France. His was one of more than 116,000 deaths suffered by the American forces in World War I, but he was the first from Lucas County to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

Carl was born in Lucas County on May 6, 1896, to David and Minerva (Ballard) Caviness. He was the youngest of ten children. His father was a Civil War veteran and his mother was a niece of the first settler of Lucas County, John Ballard.

When Carl was still young, he went to live with his sister and brother-in-law, Maude and John Frazier of rural Lucas County, due to the divorce of his parents, David and Minerva. He completed school through the ninth grade and after he left school he enlisted in the Iowa National Guard. During the next four years he served most of his time on the United States/Mexico border. 

In September 1917, Carl returned to Iowa and married Charles City native Ruth Cress before being shipped out to France to fight in World War I. Carl arrived in France in December 1917. He was 21 years old. His first assignment in France was as a battalion runner. As a battalion runner, Carl was in charge of running messages from headquarters to the soldiers in the trenches. After a short time doing this duty, Carl asked for a transfer to battalion scout. As a battalion scout, Carl was sent on patrols of the enemy lines. It was a highly dangerous job and it was while doing this job that Carl was killed.

Carl’s death was explained by Corporal O.D. Ewing, who was with Carl when he died. “We were sent out to investigate a section of the German first line trench. It was a very dangerous bit of work and the fact that Carl was chosen is evidence that he was one of the best men in the scout section. We left our trenches about 3 p.m. in two groups of four men. Carl was in the group on the left, I was on the right. My group worked up with about 35 yards of the German trench before they discovered us. We had a little brush with them but managed to get back with our information without any casualities.

“We had heard rifle firing to the left of us, but we didn’t think much of it. We retreated through heavy woods, trenches, barbed wire and over a hill, laughing as we had gotten to the German lines. It was then that we were approached by another soldier who was out of breath. He informed us that one of our men was still out there and had been hit. We did not stop to ask questions, we went back up over the hill to where two our men were guarding where he had fallen.

“We went crawling through a shallow trench of the Germans until were close enough to get to him. Then while part of us fired to keep the Germans down, others left the trench and brought his body back to the shelter. We then retreated back over the hill with Carl’s body under enemy fire. 

“It was then that we learned (the circumstances of) of Carl’s death from the soldiers who had been with him. Carl and an officer had made their way up over the hill and into the German’s trenches. They started crawling further into the dugout when they were fired upon. Carl was hit right away and was killed instantly. The officer then stayed and guarded the body while another soldier went for help.”

After Carl’s body was brought back from the enemy’s trenches, the soldiers buried him on a hill in France with a full military burial, including a firing squad salute. 

In 1921, at the request of Carl’s family, his body was disinterred and brought back to Lucas County, where it was laid to rest in another full military burial including a procession of over 100 service men and the Legion Band. That day the flags soared and proclaimed, “the pride of America is in its defenders and their work will always be rewarded.” 


My name is Staff Sgt. Patrick Dittmer. I am the three times great nephew of Carl Caviness and I am a veteran of the United States Army. I graduated from Chariton High School in 1997 and went directly into the Army. While on active duty I served in Germany, Texas, Kansas, Georgia and South Carolina. I have also served three overseas combat tours, the first in Albania, then Iraq and last Afghanistan. I left the Army in 2011, but currently serve as a communication specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves. 

I was honored to be asked to talk about Carl Caviness and get the chance to tell his story. To be able to do so is a rare opportunity to pay tribute not only to a great soldier but also to a member of my family. One of the most important things about being in the military and being a veteran is to remember the legacy of the soldiers who have fought for our country. Telling Carl’s story is a chance for me to remind people of his legacy and that of the soldiers who have gone before us.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Homecomings: Rene Julien

Here is Rene Julien's story as told by Bill Baer on Sunday during the Tenth Annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. Other stories told Sunday were those of Maggie Corbett, Marko "Chicago Mike" Vicicic and Carl L. Caviness.

The first time I rolled into Chariton was during the late fall of 1853 --- and I was walking beside a prairie schooner, not riding --- the square was mostly covered by prairie grass and there was just a fringe of timber to see off south along the river. The new log courthouse stood on the west side and we passed between log cabin stores of the Hills and the Wescotts on the northwest corner headed out of town.

The last time I rolled into town --- my bones in a crate on a flatbed rail car --- it was April of 1936 and Chariton was a busy and built-up town, not that much different from what you see today.

I am Rene Julien and my name is an old and proud one. My great-grandfather was Rene St. Julien, a French Huguenot refugee to England who served in William of Orange’s army at the Battle of Boyne and married Mary Bullock in Bermuda before arriving in America during 1692. My father was Rene Julien, too, a solider of the American Revolution.

I was born during 1783 in North Carolina, but moved to Lawrence County, Indiana, as a young man, where I married twice and fathered 10 children.


By 1853, however, I was 70 and considered to be a very old man. My wives were dead and my children were scattering across the West. And so on the 15th day of September in that year, I walked away from my Indiana home and with two of my sons and their families, and others, headed for Iowa.

Our party consisted of six prairie schooners, two buggies and 20 people, young and old. I was by far the oldest.

My son Jacob and his family owned one of the wagons and my son Isaac, another. The Juliens had two teams of horses, a strong yoke of oxen, about 40 cattle --- and the family dog.

We arrived in the eastern part of Lucas County on the 8th of October and the next day Isaac and his family traveled on to Chariton while I accompanied Jacob and his family up into Marion County where we spent a few days with my daughter, Leannah, who had married Thompson Woody and relocated to Iowa three years before.

We soon headed for Chariton, however, and settled on claims north and west of town, open prairie fringed by woodland along White Breast Creek and its tributaries. 

I lived well and for the most part happy and healthy in cabins here until my 78th year, when I died on March 16, 1861, of the infirmities associated with age, surrounded by family and friends.

My not-quite-final resting place was a pioneer graveyard in woodlands near the crest of White Breast Hill, not far north of what now is Highway 34 midway between Chariton and Lucas. A year later, my granddaughter, Mary Ellen Julien, daughter of Isaac and Lucretia, died in her third year and was buried beside me. Her parents bought this tombstone to mark both of our graves.


As years passed, the first rail line west through this part of the country was built in 1868 just north of our gravesite, known by most by now as the Watson graveyard. But our rest was not disturbed until the spring of 1936, when the decision was made to rebuild the railroad grade to better accommodate double tracks and make the ascent of the White Breast hill easier.

The plan called for destruction of the Watson graveyard, in 2013 mostly under the new grade, in the interests of progress. Mary Ellen and I had the only tombstone that could be found there, but 12 other graves marked by fieldstones or otherwise evident were dug up by workers who placed their contents in crates and loaded them onto a flatcar --- along with the Julien tombstone --- for shipment to Beardsley Funeral Home in Chariton.

A site in the far northwest corner of the Chariton Cemetery was selected for reburial of the dozen who could not be identified and the railroad paid for small markers inscribed “unknown” that remain there today.

Because my son Isaac Julien’s family had a nearby lot in the cemetery and our bodies had been identified, our remains were reburied here on it and the old tombstone put into place again to mark their location. Other family graves are just to the south.

And so, at last, the Julien family was reunited.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Homecomings: Marko "Chicago Mike" Vucucic

Here is Marko "Chicago Mike" Vucicic's story as told by Albert Butler on Sunday during the Tenth Annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. Other stories told Sunday were those of Maggie Corbett, Rene Julien and Carl L. Caviness.

They used to say, back in coal mining’s glory days, that if Chicago Mike saw a bird on a branch, he’d bet on the direction it would fly. That was me, Marko Vucicic, but known in Tipperary, Olmitz and Lucas County’s other mining camps in the teens and 1920s as Chicago Mike. 

I was a gambling man, a bootlegger, a lover of fast cars and fancy clothes --- and I died too young, at age 34 --- driving too fast, I slammed into a street car in Des Moines. Buried first in Chicago, it was my brother, John, who brought me home to Chariton, thousands of miles from where we were born, so we could rest together. 


I was born in 1894 in Croatia near a town on the Adriatic Sea called Solin, an ancient place that was the capital of Roman Dalmatia and the birthplace of the emperor, Diocletian. My family owned vineyards there and made and sold wine to earn a living. 

But the work was hard, money was scarce and there were too many of us trying to live off the same small patches of land. So after hearing that in America all you had to do was get a scoop and shovel the money in, my cousin, Martin, and I made our way to Chicago during 1912. 

We worked there, moved to Colorado to work in the mines, traveled with a circus as wrestlers, landed in Iowa at the legendary Buxton mines and, in the fall of 1914, when the shaft was sunk at Tipperary out in Pleasant Township, I came there to work. 

I wasn’t much of a miner, but I was a heck of a wrestler --- and even better at gambling. Luck always seemed to be with me, until it ran out; I had the skill. And I knew how to whip up batches of home-brew, too. 


So gambling was how I made my living with bootlegging to tide me over between slow times at the mines. Come payday, I’d throw out a tarp and start a game, craps or whatever anyone wanted to play. I gambled at Tipperary, at Olmitz, up in Williamson, over at Melcher and on the levee in Chariton. I almost always won. 

When the action slowed around here, I went to Chicago and gambled there, too. That’s how I got the name “Chicago Mike.” 

All of this was against the law, so the sheriff was always on my tail --- but I moved too fast for him most of the time. I drove fast and fancy cars; dressed fancy, too. 

You’d have though those other miners and their families would have disliked me, but they didn’t. In fact I developed a Robin Hood reputation, always kind and open-handed to those who had less. I only ran into real trouble once, when a gang held me up south of Newton one night in 1925, shot the windshield out of my car and robbed me. 

By 1921, I’d saved enough money to send for my baby brother, John, still in Croatia; drove up to Chicago to pick him up, then brought him home to Tipperary. 

In 1923, I met the beautiful Leona Duffy at a dance in Olmitz, and we married soon after and moved into a shack in Tipperary. But I was not a good husband; I roamed too much and wouldn’t settle down. In 1928, she divorced me. 

We drove into Des Moines together on Sept. 26 of that year --- next week will be the 85th anniversary of my death, you know --- to sort out some of our business, and I was driving too fast on Dean Avenue when something distracted me and the car slammed into a streetcar. I was killed, but Leona recovered. 

Brother John and my cousin, Martin, had my body taken to Chicago for a funeral Mass and burial --- and the tombstone you see here, with my picture on it, stood there for many years. 

John finally settled down in Chariton, had a family, farmed a little and operated a bar called John’s Club. He lived long, and thinking of those last things in his later years, decided that he wanted to be buried here and that he wanted me with him. So he hired Mosher Funeral Home to negotiate with the Archdiocese of Chicago and oversee the move and reburial in Chariton. 

After John died in Arizona at age 100 during 2002, his remains were brought here and buried beside me. 

It wouldn’t be fair to end this without saying “thanks” to Rose Marie Briggs, Her meticulous research and writing skills resulted in two books, one about Tipperary and the other about Olmitz. You can read much more of my story in “Tipperary: Gone But Not Forgotten.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Homecomings: Maggie Corbett

This is Maggie Corbett's story as told by Ruth Comer on Sunday during the Tenth Annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. Other stories told Sunday and waiting to be retold this week are those of Marko "Chicago Mike" Vucicic, Rene Julien and Carl L. Caviness.

You’d never think now that such things could happen, but on a moonless night just before Halloween 126 years ago, my rest here was disturbed in a most horrible way --- by grave robbers. And justice never was done.

My name is Maggie Corbett and I was 37 then, a victim two days before of typhoid fever. Jesse, my husband, and our children buried me in this spot the next day, a Saturday.

We were poor. Jesse peddled pumps for a living and few in Chariton would have known that I had lived or died if my grave had not been desecrated.


Late on the Sunday night after my burial, men approached my fresh grave and dug out the coffin, removed the body, refilled the grave and then dragged my remains through the grass down that hill there and through the osage orange hedge surrounding the cemetery. Scraps of my clothing and strands of my hair caught in the hedge.

They threw my body into a wagon, drove to the foot of hill and turned right, following the old meandering route to the bridge across the river. There, they broke my body, trussed it, jammed it face-up into a crate 16 by 16 by 22 inches and nailed the box shut.

A short time later, a rented buggy driven by a young medical student from Chariton, John Gillespie, then studying in Des Moines, pulled up, money exchanged hands and the crate was loaded. Gillespie drove to the C.B.&Q. depot and checked the box as baggage for shipment to Des Moines, then boarded the early-morning train.


Baggageman McBeath first noticed the box during that run because of the odor coming from it. After calling on the conductor and brakeman for assistance, he pried part of the lid off and, horrified, saw my face, then sealed the box again.

The conductor took the numbered ticket from the box through the train, asking passengers for its duplicate. No one claimed it --- although Gillespie was aboard.

After arrival in Des Moines, a Polk County coroner took charge of my body and telegraph messages were sent to Marshal Cole in Chariton, asking for his assistance.

The marshal rode out to the cemetery to check recent burials and discovered that my grave had been disturbed, then followed threads of evidence to discover that young Gillespie had been a passenger on that early morning train to Des Moines, that he had rented a buggy on Sunday from a Chariton livery stable and that he had indeed checked a box at the depot in the evening for shipment to Des Moines.

Armed with a warrant for Gillespie’s arrest, Marshall Cole boarded a train for Des Moines Monday evening and identified my body. Des Moines police had in the meantime tracked Gillespie to the east-side office of a Dr. Lease, with whom he was studying. Marshall Cole arrested him there, but Gillespie protested his innocence, claiming that he had been in Chariton on Sunday to visit his sick mother. He was jailed overnight in Des Moines, however.

Both Gillespie and my remains were returned to Chariton on the noon train Tuesday.

Because there was great outrage against Gillespie here, the train was stopped at Indianola Junction, three miles west of town, and he was removed and brought to the county jail by buggy.

After arrival at the depot, my body was taken to the Bradrick & Son funeral parlors, identified by Jesse, and then reburied. 

On Thursday, a Lucas County grand jury indicted young Gillespie for grave robbing --- and bond was set at $2,000.


But justice was not to be done --- and I attribute this to the fact we were poor and of no consequence while young Gillespie and his family moved in more elevated circles.

His parents, James and Clarissa, operated a general merchandise store on the square and were among the town’s commercial elite. John was looked upon as a young man of great promise.

So friends immediately posted bond, boasting that even had it been twenty times $2,000 the amount would have been raised. Chariton’s top attorneys, Theodore M. Stuart and the firm of Mitchell and Penick, were retained to represent him.

The case came to trial in the old brick courthouse during January of 1888, but by now Gillespie changed his story.

He had, he said, received an anonymous letter offering him my body for medical study and had traveled down from Des Moines to fetch it, rented a buggy and driven to the river bridge, found the box containing my remains and deposited an envelope of cash in its place. He had no idea, he said, who actually robbed the grave.

After due deliberation, the jury acquitted him, ruling that buying my remains did not constitute stealing them --- the crime he had been indicted for.


Young Gillespie finished his medical education, practiced for five years at Coin, Iowa, and then moved to Fresno, California, where he established another practice and faded into obscurity.

Jesse marked my grave with the stone you see here. And then my family left Chariton, forever.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lucas County's history comes to life

We couldn't have asked for better presenters, a better crowd or better weather for Sunday's 10th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour. It was just a great way to spend a couple of hours.

I'm going to post transcripts of the presentations later in the week --- each is a compelling story. But will settle for photos of the presenters today.

Ruth Comer (top), as Maggie Corbett, opened the tour with one of the few truly scary stories involving the cemetery --- and did so very effectively. Everyone involved this year made an effort to dress the part, and that always is a plus. (We're grateful to find people willing to present, so don't try to impose strict dress codes on them.)

Our second stop was at the grave site of Marko "Chicago Mike" Vucicic, portrayed by Albert Butler. While no one there could have remembered Chicago Mike, some had heard their parents talk of him and both Bill Shelton and Ray Meyer, who are attorneys, remembered his brother, John, well. John Vucich, who died during 2002 at age 100, was responsible for bringing Mike's remains from Chicago to Chariton so that they could be buried together here. That made for good conversation. That's Bill center left in the background.

Bill Baer did a wonderful job, both in costuming and presentation, of interpreting Rene Julien's story. All of these stories involve interaction with the audience and there were several questions and related conversations about everything from the progress of railroads across southern Iowa during the 1860s to Rene's occupation.

The combination of Staff Sgt. Patrick Dittmer (now serving in the U.S. Army Reserves after three combat tours) in dress uniform telling the story of his uncle, Carl L. Caviness, Lucas County's first combat loss during World War I, was just amazing and the best possible way to end the official tour. How in the world did he get those shoes to shine so? Neither the World War II veteran present nor myself (Vietnam) could recall ever looking that good.

Patrick is a third-generation nephew of Carl, but credit needs to go, too, to Karoline Dittmer, a fourth-generation niece, who probably worked hardest during the tour --- she hauled the historical society's monster tripod and much smaller video camera from site to site in order to make sure all of Sunday's presentations were recorded.

We walked or rode from the Caviness gravesite to the cemetery shelter house where homemade apple crisp and lemonade or ice tea were served. Everyone settled down on the porch or around the building for a relaxed visit --- perhaps longer than our bus driver appreciated. 

But we were back on the square by 4 p.m. after two hours of touring and visiting. And the job now is to figure out what we do for an encore next year. The cemetery tour is an annual project of the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. Proceeds are used to help fund the commission's work.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Join us for today's "Homecomings" cemetery tour

Beautiful early autumn weather --- sunshine and a high near 70 --- is in the forecast for today's 10th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, "Homecomings," so please join us. If rehearsals, held late yesterday afternoon, are any indication, it's going to be one of the best.

As "Homecomings" is intended to suggest, the path to eternal rest for the remains of each of our subjects was complicated. Each came home to the Chariton Cemetery by a complicated route. 

That's Ruth Comer (above, left), who will portray Maggie Corbett at our first stop, rehearsing as Patrick Dittmer and Karoline Dittmer look on. Maggie's rest was disturbed by grave robbers more than a century ago, during the late 1880s.

Below, Patrick and Karoline flank the tombstone of their uncle (some generations removed), Carl L. Caviness. Patrick, a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, will end the presentations with a tribute to Carl, the first Lucas Countyan to be killed in World War I and the man after whom our American Legion post is named.

In between, Albert Butler will portray Marko "Chicago Mike" Vucicic, a legendary character from Lucas County's mining years, brought home to Chariton many years after his death; and Bill Baer will portray Rene Julien, who arrived in Lucas County by covered wagon in 1853 and died in 1861 but didn't make it home to Chariton until 1936.

We'll gather at the Larry Clark Memorial Gazebo on the courthouse square at 2 p.m. There will be a short presentation on preservation work in progress at the square, then guests will travel by bus to the cemetery for the tour. After the four gravesites have been visited, dessert will be served in the cemetery shelter house, a contributing structure to the cemetery's status as a National Historic District, before we return to the square. Ticket cost is $5 per person.

The tour is a project of the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission, an "unfunded" agency of city government. "Unfunded" means the commission receives no city money, so must raise any funds spent on preservation projects itself. The tour is its only fund-raising project. Commissioners are Martin Buck, Janet Clark, Alyse Hunter, Frank Myers and Melody Wilson.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Charger red and Charitone brick

The last time I went up town to take photos of the Chariton homecoming parade --- a couple of years ago --- one of the goals was to avoid including the Charitone --- it was looking grim, boarded up windows and all.

But that wasn't the case this year, when any photogenic issues the old hotel may have had involved the final push, now under way, to return it to active life. Workers were all over the place Friday morning, but pulled the heavy equipment away as parade time approached. 

Chairton goes all out for homecoming, and this year was no exception --- crowds beginning to gather along the parade route a half hour before, extensive displays of Charger red. Those who know more about homecoming parade history than I do said this year's was one of the biggest.

I entertained myself before the parade by climbing Piper's exterior stairs and the stairs alongside the old corner drug store (now Iowa Realty) for a different perspective. It's kind of fun to look down on all the activity.

Then the parade came around the corner, first the colors, then the band. 

It's good to see two cornerstones of the community --- the kids and the old hotel --- looking so good.

The not-so-good news is that the Chargers fell to Oskaloosa, 35-21.

The better news is, there's always next year. 

The hotel will be highly polished by then, all the windows, new sidewalks --- and tenants --- in place. And some will be able to watch the parade from inside --- a vantage point that's been unavailable for many, many years.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The wisdom of Pope Francis

I'll defer to Michael J. Bayly and his "The Wild Reed" when it comes to selecting a notable quote from Pope Francis's recent interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J., in the Jesuit journal "La Civilta Cattolica" (an English translation is available here in "America: The National Catholic Review.")

"This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. . . . If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­ — they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God."

Bayly, among progressive Catholics in the Twin Cities who in defiance of the church hierarchy helped lead the recent drive to bring marriage equality to Minnesota, could have selected one of Francis's conciliatory quotes regarding gay people to feature, but opted for the more general as "quote of the day."

It's early days in the new pope's tenure, but Francis seems to be trying to turn the great ship of faith he leads away from the arrogance of its recent guns-blazing course and toward a more universal and inclusive pastoral role on many fronts, a shift American bishops seem still to be struggling with.

None of this means that positions of the church on the hot-button topics that have preoccupied it lately --- LGBT issues (especially marriage equality), women in the church, women's right to choose, contraception --- are likely to change any time soon. But I'm guessing a majority of American Catholics, at least, are feeling more hopeful these days.

Leaders of the various Protestant sects who thought they had found an ally in Francis's predecessor, Benedict, would do well to pay attention if they hope to avoid irrelevance, too.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Old times not forgotten ...

It was great fun to get together for lunch in Albia yesterday with my friend, Jan Horgen, who ordinarily hangs out way up north in St. Ansgar, but had been working on a couple of cases in the Ottumwa area early this week and was headed home.

A talented writer and reporter, Jan gave up the glory of newspapering some years ago to work for the U.S. Census Bureau, which I suspect pays better, affords a good deal more job security and also offers the opportunity to travel around.

We spent some time talking about the good old days, when there were progressive small- to medium-sized daily newspapers, as ours used to be, that turned writers, photographers (that's you, Arian, among others) and editors loose to work together on some pretty great stories. Good memories.

Of course we gossiped about everyone who wasn't there. So if you're wondering if we talked about you, chances are we did. In the nicest possible way, of course.

Since I usually carry the camera, I can almost always avoid showing up in front of the lens. Didn't work this time. Darned cell phones.


When I got back to Chariton at mid-afternoon, the Bruce Gookins were waiting at the museum and we had a good talk, too --- not that we've ever met or anything. But people do happen onto this blog and its tributaries --- and once a Lucas Countyan, you're always a Lucas Countyan.

Bruce and his wife are native Californians, who upon retirement moved to scenic Cedar City, Utah, and they are headed home now after attending an Air Force reunion in Indianapolis that Bruce had helped to organize.

Bruce is descended from several of the old Salem-area families, including Samuel and Lydia (Russell) Gookin and Milburn and Margaret (Clark) Hobson. His nearest ancestor at Salem is Craig Gookin, son of Samuel and Lydia, who married Alia Hobson, daughter of Milburn and Margaret, but died during 1901. Alia remarried after that and the family scattered far from Lucas County.

There used to be more Gookins in Lucas County than you could shake a stick at, but that's no longer the case. So it's always fun when one or more of them decide to come home.


I had gone to the museum to check on the school floor, which now is going back down after replacement of the old building's underpinnings. G M Builders salvaged the top layer of random-length oak flooring, put down above two other levels of flooring in 1941, and that's going back into place --- a fussy and time-consuming business.

We're also going to come up a little short, since there inevitably will be some damaged pieces of flooring, and we've got to figure out a source for replacement. They don't, as they say, make it quite like they used to.

But it does look now like we'll be able to open the school door and allow visitors to walk around when we have our fall open house, from 10 a.m. to noon a week from Saturday, Sept. 28. We will not, however, have had time to put the building back together by then --- some paint, other touch-ups and a good deal of hard labor also are going to be needed.

But there will be free coffee and hot cider and coffee cake on the 28th, perhaps some produce from the garden, all the buildings will be open to tour and we'll have some special guests to entertain the kids --- miniature horse, goats, bottle calf and some chickens. So mark the time and date on your calendar.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Eating your way through southern Iowa

I'm guessing the meal, prepared by Thelma Saxton and her Carpenters Hall crew, was the highlight for most who attended last evening's Taste of Southern Iowa expo and banquet. But there was live music, too, provided by (among others) Dave Fletcher, left, who for some reason when considering careers decided to deal in insurance rather than perform on the road. He's actually good enough to do the latter.

Everything in the buffet line was locally produced and/or fresh from the garden --- in the salad area ranging from greens and cottage cheese to butter for the homemade bread. The vegetable selection was sufficiently varied that even my vegetarian friends had plenty to eat --- fresh green beans, summers squash, carrots and potatoes. For meat-eaters, there was locally produced ham, beef brisket and chicken. Several varieties of homemade pie (including gooseberry) and homemade ice cream for dessert.

Not a bad deal for $10,  providing you bought an advanced ticket. 

But it was fun to wander around the booths of the various exhibitors, too, to see and sample some of the products that are produced regionally.

Can't imagine why, but the the Hy-Vee-sponsored table where product samples from regional wineries and brew pubs were available, seemed especially popular.

Osceola's Timber Ridge Cattle Co., which offers a variety of flax-fed beef products, was represented with a huge display of snack items.

Gayle Curtis, of rural Chariton --- a certified master herbalist --- was there with various teas and selections of herbs for a whole range of purposes.

Schneider Orchard, located south of Newbern, brought along apples and a variety of related products to sample and sell.

Jill Kerns, who offers a variety of regionally produced foods at her Piper's on the square, brought along in addition to her own homemade candies honey from Allerton, canned meats from Pella and noodles from both Albia and Kalona.

And representatives from Tourism Lucas County, Don Garrett (left) and Lyle Asell, were there to hand out maps of entries in the hay bale decorating contest now in progress.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Tourism Lucas County and the South Central Iowa Area Partnership were among the sponsors.

The next big opportunity to involve yourself in the local products scene will be the annual Farm Crawl in northern Lucas and southern Warren and Marion counties on Sunday, Oct. 6. This year's stops (between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.) will be Blue Gate Farm, Coyote Run Farm, Crooked Gap Farm, Dan-D Farm, Pierce's Pumpkin Patch, Reichert's Dairy Air, Schneider Orchard and White Breast Pottery and Weaving.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Templeton Rye

This is developing into one of those weeks when a stiff drink might be in order. Massive flooding in Colorado, a mass shooting in Washington, D.C., and what a friend calls "crazy busy" on the homefront. But other than coffee, occasionally lemonade, and water --- I don't drink. Well, maybe twice a year to be polite; then in moderation.

But I got a virtual kick this morning, while searching for wisdom via Google, out of finding this story from Aljazeera America about Templeton Rye whiskey

The Templeton story is fairly well known in Iowa, or at least I think it is. The tiny Carroll County (west central Iowa) town of that name became a hotbed of bootlegging activity during Prohibition, producing and exporting illegally a variety of rye whisky that, among its other alleged claims to fame, was Al Capone's favorite drink. Count on Iowa farmers to find innovative ways to supplement their incomes. 

Templeton Rye Whiskey was registered as a trademark by descendants of those bootleggers, but limped along and eventually went inactive shortly after the turn of the 21st Century. Soon thereafter, it was revived by Iowa entrepreneurs, gained a following in Iowa and, during 2007, began to be distributed beyond our borders. It's supposed to be good stuff.

The whiskey actually is distilled in Indiana, using a Prohibition-era recipe from Iowa, but shipped to Templeton in tanker trucks where it is aged, bottled and distributed. You can read more about it all at Aljazeera, or here on the Templeton Web site. Cheers!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Taste of Southern Iowa --- and ghost towns

It's going to be a busy week, but I've got to remember to stop at the Chamber/Main Street office today to buy my advance ticket to the "Taste of Southern Iowa" banquet, product-tasting and social hour tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at Carpenters Hall, down there at the base of the Columbus School hill just west on Court Avenue off the southwest corner of the square.

You can wait until tomorrow night to buy tickets at the door, too --- but they will cost $15 then. The advance tickets are only $10 --- and that's a good deal.

This is a project of Tourism Lucas County, the South Central Iowa Area Partnership and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

The social hour and sampling of products begins at 5 p.m. and the banquet, at 6 p.m. Vendors who will have displays (including products that will be for sale or available to order) include wineries, brew pubs, producers of cheese, beef, pork and bison products, vegetable and fruit growers, apiaries and more.

Thelma Saxton and her Carpenters Hall staff will cook up the banquet using regionally produced products. 

It should be lots of fun --- and good eating, too.


I keep thinking up local history-related projects that would be fun to do --- if there were more hours in a week, or if someone else wanted to get to work.

One would involve giving more recognition to Lucas County's ghost towns --- and there are lots of them: from Cleveland and Tallahoma on the west to Lagrange, Zero and old Greenville on the east. In between are Olmitz, Tipperary, Belinda, Purdy and more.

Our neighbor to the southeast, Appanoose County, erected substantial markers at the sites of its ghost towns some years ago; Marion County has been working on locating and marking; but so far as I know the only Lucas County ghost town that has a marker --- other than a cemetery --- is Olmitz.

A fairly simple project would involve putting together a driving tour that would take take those interested to the various sites. I know where the sites are, putting together the map is another matter.

This all came to mind over the weekend as I stumbled around the Internet, in the wake of Colorado flooding, looking for photos of old Jamestown, which sustained damage up in the mountains northwest of Boulder.

I happened on to this wonderful Web site, "Rocky Mountain Profiles," produced by Michael Sinnwell, who has roots among other places at St. Joe in north central Iowa --- adding strength to the contention that most good things came originally from Iowa.

You can navigate the site using the left sidebar to visit (among other places) Colorado ghost towns, ghost towns in other western states and ghost towns in Alaska and the Yukon.

You can spent a lot of time at this site, so be careful. Most likely you've got other things to do today.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The "Not All Like That" Christians Project

Dan Savage, outspoken and at times strategically abrasive advocate for LGBT people, has spoken often since launching the "It Gets Better" project (with his husband, Terry Miller) about their experiences involving progressive Christians --- generally supportive, but also very quiet.

Christian leaders on the right --- ranging from the likes of the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps with his "God hates fags" ministry and their successors among Protestants to U.S. Roman Catholic bishops at the more orthodox end of the church --- seem to have hijacked the church's end of public conversation about LGBT issues. 

While thoughtful people know that these guys do not speak for Christians in general --- including many members of more conservative denominations,  certainly not Catholics --- that fact seems increasingly to be lost among younger people of all sexual orientations. Misperceptions of the church as bigoted and largely irrelevant contribute to an accelerating drain of young people from the it.

Savage coined the term "not-all-like-that" (NALT) Christians to describe those who contacted him or came up to visit after public presentations to say (quietly) that they, and others, were not all like that --- "... all those quiet, timid, and cowardly NALT Christians out there who ... have allowed their conservative co-religionists to hijack Christianity."

So last week, The NALT Christians Project, subtitled "Christians proclaiming their belief in full LGBT equality," launched with Savage's blessing, co-sponsored by Christian writer and straight ally John Shore and Truth Wins Out, a non-profit that fights anti-gay religious extremism.

The project aims to provide a platform for brief self-produced videos --- as the It Gets Better Project continues to do. In this instance, the goal "is to give LGBT-affirming Christians a means of proclaiming to the world — and especially to young gay people — their belief and conviction that there is nothing anti-biblical or at all inherently sinful about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender."

Several of the initial videos were produced by Episcopal priests and lay people as well as United Methodists, Presbyterians and others. It's an interesting mix. And hopefully it will turn out to be an effective and expanding one.

The video that introduces the project, and this post, features Savage. The main NALT Christians Project Web page is here.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cool nights, rain and late-summer color

Night-time temperatures have dropped into the 40s after a scorching early September --- and we still need rain. But not too much ...

I've been looking at coverage of flooding along the Colorado front range, especially Boulder, and thinking of those I know who live there.

Two sets of Iowa-born aunts and uncles once lived in Boulder, although Joe and Helen (Krutsinger) Miller bounced around more, from Pueblo to Boulder and finally to Longmont as he followed a career building highways. Longmont reminded them of Iowa, especially since old neighbors from Chariton lived next door.

Kenneth and Mary (Miller) Krutsinger always lived in Boulder, in what now is the Mapleton Hill Historic District, just downhill from the old Adventist hospital --- a great place for walking and a great jumping-off point for treks up the canyons (now flooding) and into the mountains beyond.

Rain is in the forecast here for Sunday, hopefully more restrained.

In the meantime, the color scheme has changed as fall moves into high gear --- now featuring the brightest of yellows.

But I'm especially taken with the white water lilies down at the marsh, which just started to bloom a couple of weeks ago.

It's definitely time to get outside again after a couple of weeks spent dodging the daytime heat.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour Sunday, Sept. 22

The stories of four Lucas Countyans moved from their original burial places under varying circumstances in order to come home to Chariton will be told on Sunday, Sept. 22, during the 10th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. The theme will be, “Homecomings.” .

The event will begin at 2 p.m. at the Larry J. Clark Memorial Gazebo on the courthouse lawn. Buses will take participants from there to the cemetery for the tour and refreshments at the Shelter House, then return them to the square. Tickets are $5 per person. 

This annual tour is the commission’s only source of funding. Advance tickets are available at Piper’s, Ben Franklin, the Chariton Chamber/Main Street office, Clark’s Greenhouse and City Hall. Tickets also may be purchased at the gazebo Sunday.

This year’s tour will include a special tribute to Carl L. Caviness, who was the first Lucas Countyan to die in World War I and is the namesake of the Carl L. Caviness American Legion Post. Caviness, who first enlisted in the military at age 17, died from a sniper’s bullet in France on May 20, 1918, and was buried near where he fell. During 1921, his body was repatriated to his hometown and buried in the Chariton Cemetery. Caviness will be portrayed by Patrick Dittmer, a cousin who himself is a veteran of more recent wars.

Also featured will be Maggie Corbett, whose remains were involved in Lucas County’s only known case of grave robbing. Her body was stolen from the Chariton Cemetery a day after its 1887 burial and sold to a young medical student, who shipped it to Des Moines. The body was discovered en route, however, and returned to Chariton a day later on the same train as the alleged grave-robber and reburied. Ruth Comer will portray Mrs. Corbett.

Marko “Chicago Mike” Vucicic was a legendary gambling man and purveyor of illegally brewed liquor who worked the old Lucas County mining towns, including Tipperary and Olmitz, during the teens and 1920s. Killed at age 34 in a car crash in Des Moines, his body was taken by family to Chicago for burial. Many years later, Chicago Mike’s brother, John Vucich, commissioned Mosher Funeral Home to bring his remains back to Chariton so that the two could be buried together here.

Rene Julien was a North Carolina native who accompanied family members from Indiana to Lucas County by covered wagon during 1853 and lived in areas west and northwest of Chariton until his death in 1861, age 77. He was buried first in a cemetery west of Chariton, near the crest of the White Breast hill, called Watson. During 1936, workers destroyed the cemetery while rebuilding railroad lines in the area. As many bodies as could be found were reboxed, loaded on a flatcar and brought to the Chariton Cemetery for reburial. Only two of the fourteen, one of whom was Rene, could be identified.

The Chariton Cemetery is a National Historic District, listed as such on the National Register of Historic Places. Successful application for that status was a project of the Historic Preservation Commission and one reason for its continuing interest in the cemetery. The “English Cottage” shelter house, where refreshments will be served Sunday, is a contributing structure in the district.