Sunday, April 30, 2017

What won't that preacher's kid get up to next?

Bright and early on the morning of Friday, May 9, 1879, some 400 Lucas Countyans boarded rail cars at the C.B.&Q. Depot, bound for Indianola on the recently completed northwesterly branch line through Oakley, Lacona and Milo.

Both the Engine and the Hook & Ladder companies were aboard --- along with their equipment and horses, including Old Betsy I --- the Silsby Steamer that preceded our current 1883 Old Betsy II but had the grave misfortune of going up in smoke along with the fire station, necessitating a replacement, four years after this outing.

The excursion, in response to an earlier visit from Indianolites, was among the celebrations that marked completion of the new rail line; the costs of transportation were covered by rail entrepreneur Smith Henderson Mallory, both contractor for and major investor in the line.

Among the Hook & Ladder Company members along for the ride was Calvin Russell, son of the venerable and Rev. Joseph A. Russell, rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and, on the side, superintendent of Chariton schools. Calvin had just turned 22, was single, footloose, fancy free and now and then had given his parents cause for concern.

I've included an illustration of the 1868 Warren County Courthouse to give you an idea of the scale of his legendary feat that day, but you'll have to read to the end of the following account of the excursion from The Patriot of May 14 in order to appreciate his daring:


On Friday last, the Reading Room Association, the Hook and Ladder Company, and the Fire Department, with their sweethearts, sisters, cousins and their aunts, accompanied by the Northwestern and Chariton cornet bands, made a return visit to Indianola.

On the arrival of the train at the depot, they were met by a large delegation of the citizens, headed by the Chief marshal, Joel Jacoby, and escorted by Company D, Iowa National Guard, marched through the principal streets to the south front of the courthouse, where the exercises of the day took place. The address of welcome by J.H. Henderson and the response by N.B. Branner were eloquently rendered. All other speeches in the programme were equally well delivered.

At the conclusion of the exercises, the assembled multitude dispersed to the various hotels and residences for dinner.

In the afternoon, the Fire Department made a magnificent display with their engine, which threw a stream of water over the top of the Courthouse, which is 150 feet high. The Hook and Ladder boys did some admirable work scaling the roof the Courthouse in an incredible short space of time.

Several of the boys went to the top of the dome. Calvin Russell placed his cap on the point of the lightning rod, and hung from the weather vane by his feet, creating an immense sensation in the crowd below.

Notwithstanding the large crowd, everything went off to the great gratification of all present.

The citizens of Indianola are entitled to unlimited praise for their generous hospitality and unwavering efforts to contribute to the comforts of their numerous guests. The ladies of Indianola, generally extended courtesies to thier lady visitors, by calling on them at the Central Hotel.

The day's proceedings were brought to a close by a dramatic performance by the Chariton Club at the Opera House, which was crowded to repletion. The play was well performed, and merited the applause bestowed upon it.

The party returned home about 11 p.m., having experienced a day of unalloyed pleasure.


Rest assured that Calvin turned out satisfactorily in the end, although it took a few years for the Rev. Mr. Russell's wild child to settle down. He never, however, topped his Indianola performance --- dangling by his heels from the weathervane atop the tower of the Warren County Courthouse.

Not too long after his 1879 triumph, Calvin headed for Kansas, where he went to work in first a lumber yard and then a bank. While living at Goodland in 1887, he met and married the strong-minded Orissa Swisher, daughter of a pioneer Nebraska physician, who after earning her degree at the University of Nebraska had headed for Kansas on her own to homestead and farm.

They pioneered together for five more years in western Kansas, then headed for Mexico where they lived for 11 years on a ranch where rubber, cattle and coffee were produced.

Finally, at Orissa's behest, the couple and their two children settled down in Lincoln, Nebraska, where they were living in 1911 when Calvin's father died in Chariton. They scooped up his aged stepmother, Jennie, after that and took her home to Lincoln with them to live out the remainder of her years.

Calvin and Orissa invested in the Lincoln Telephone & Telegraph Co., which he served first as secretary-treasurer and then as president, until retirement during 1935. He died in Lincoln at the ripe old age of 86 during January of 1944, having turned out just fine despite those early preacher's-kid concerns, survived by his wife and two fine sons.

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