Thursday, March 22, 2018

What in the world happened to Berry F. Halden?

1936 Campaign illustration for Chariton's Berry F. Halden.

Chariton Herald-Patriot editor and publisher Berry F. Halden, a youthful 42, was the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate during mid-October of 1936 when he was the subject of a lengthy WHO-Radio address by Paul H. Cunningham, noted orator and Polk County representative in the Iowa Legislature. This paean to his worthiness then was published statewide.

"He is a new meteor in the political heavens," Cunningham began. "In his lustrous path he leaves a trail of Americanism. Men's hearts are warmed and their souls refreshed by the crusading spirit of this young American who has taken up the cudgel for a defense of the principles in a nation which gave him his opportunity."

Halden, perhaps, was as surprised to find himself a candidate for U.S. Senate that fall as Iowa Republicans had been to have the opportunity to elect him.

Four years earlier, Richard L. Murphy, of Dubuque, had ridden into the Senate on the coat-tails of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was the first Iowa Democrat elected to the Senate since 1858.

But then a tragedy struck. Driving home to Dubuque from a vacation in Wisconsin on July 16, 1936, a tire blew on the Murphy sedan near Chippewa Falls, it plunged down an embankment and the senator was killed.

Democrats nominated U.S. Rep. Guy M. Gillette to seek the balance of Murphy's unexpired term, but Republicans found themselves at something of a loss.

Then someone remembered Berry F. Halden. He had delivered a highly acclaimed keynote address during the Republican state convention earlier in the year in Des Moines and had all the characteristics of an ideal candidate --- male, young, a World War I veteran, active in the American Legion, a family man, editor of The Herald-Patriot, general manager of both the Leader and Herald-Patriot and author every week of a highly regarded and widely quoted column.

Sadly, for Halden and Iowa Republicans, Gillette went on to win the election. But the man from Chariton had put on a strong showing and obviously had a political future.


A native of Moulton, where he was born April 13, 1894, Halden was a graduate of Moravia High School and of Iowa Wesleyan College. He had gotten his first taste of the newspaper business as a printer's devil in Moravia and, in 1915, commenced work for the Albia Newspapers as printer, then mechanical foreman and finally as news editor.

In 1917, he married Nina Hamilton of Centerville, then went off the next year to fight in World War I and was honorably discharged in 1919. The Haldens had one daughter, Maudetta. He was a Mason, a Methodist, commander of the Albia American Legion Post, vice-commander of the Iowa Legion Department and chairman of its Americanism Committee. Who could have asked for more?

During 1930, Berry was promoted and placed in charge of the Chariton Newspapers and established a record of community service in his new hometown --- Mason, Methodist and Legionnaire again, now a Rotarian, too.


Although Halden was not selected to run against Gillette --- easily re-elected in 1938 --- he continued to rise in state Republican circles by making himself useful and doing what was asked of him, while continuing to edit The Herald-Patriot. He was an able organizer, publicist and campaigner.

During late January of 1939, after having resigned his editorship at mid-month to make it possible, Halden received his political reward --- appointment by Gov. George Wilson as secretary of the Iowa Executive Council, consisting of the governor, secretaries of state and agriculture, state treasurer and state auditor.

The Council had a wide range of duties, including making all purchases for state agencies. It was, in fact, kind of a shadow state government and none too forthcoming about its activities when confidentiality served its needs. Halden himself, as Executive Council secretary, also served as secretary of the Iowa Conservation Commission and of the state Board of Engineering Examiners.

Now positioned at the highest level of state government, Berry's future looked bright.

But within two years, his career crashed and burned, his marriage apparently failed and he receded into obscurity. Some of the circumstances surrounding this remarkable fall remain a trifle obscure.


Iowans learned that trouble was in the air on Friday morning, April 4, 1941, when The Des Moines Register (and other dailies across the state) published the news on their front pages. The Register headline read, "Halden Facing Driving Charge: State Official Posts a $500 Bond."

Here's the text:

ATLANTIC, IA --- Berry F. Halden, 46, secretary of the state executive council and a former Iowa newspaper editor, was released on a $500 bond here early Thursday after his arrest on a charge of driving while intoxicated.

Arrested with Halden, who was driving a state-owned car, was Fred Willis, a statehouse custodian. Willis was charged with being intoxicated and released on a $25 bond.

The arrests were made in the Cass county courthouse yard by Sheriff Harry Jordan, and Halden and Willis were arraigned immediately before Justice of the Peace John Budd.

State Business

The car was driven here from Des Moines Wednesday evening by George Hesalroad, state car dispatcher, who had business here. Halden and Willis rode with him.

According to authorities in the sheriff's office, Halden and Willis apparently took the car while Hesalroad was busy, and went for a ride. Hesalroad was not present at the time of the arrest and was not held.

Test Refused

Authorities also said an attorney acting for Halden refused to allow a blood-alcohol test taken.

Justice Budd set Monday as the date for Halden's and Willis' hearing, but said Thursday night the hearing probably would have to be postponed from that date until the Cass county grand jury could hear evidence in the case.

Halden was a Republican candidate for United States senator in 1936 for the unexpired term of the late/senator Louis Murphy, who died in July, 1936. Halden was defeated in the election by Senator Guy Gillette.


Back in Des Moines on Friday, the Executive Council met and announced that it had "temporarily" suspended both Halden and Willis.

On April 19, Halden's attorney made no protest as his client was bound over to the Cass County Grand Jury for further hearing during its September term. Willis was fined $25 on the intoxication charge. Both men remained on suspension.

Four months later, during late August, Halden avoided an appearance before the grand jury by pleading guilty to the drunk driving charge and was fined $300.

For four months after that, however, the Executive Council for reasons lost to time declined to clarify Halden's status, stating only that he remained on indefinite suspension. Willis, too.

During early December, however, The Register learned from an anonymous informant that Halden had indeed been fired, a replacement selected --- and Willis restored to his custodial position at the Capitol. It reported as follows in its edition of Dec. 11:

The state executive council, meeting in secret session in a Savery hotel room Thursday, was reported to have selected a new secretary to succeed Berry Halden of Chariton.

The office has been vacant since the council suspended Halden last April following his arrest at Atlantic on charges of driving while intoxicated. Halden last August pleaded guilty and paid a $300 fine.

Although the executive council would not confirm the report Thursday, reliable sources said the man selected to succeed Halden is William Brown, Onawa newspaper man.

The council also, it is reported, decided to reinstate Fred Willis, assistant statehouse custodian, who was arrested with Halden in Atlantic last April and charged with intoxication.

Although council members always have insisted Halden merely was under suspension, it was learned Thursday that he actually was discharged some months after the suspension became effective.

State executive council records do not show the discharge. State comptroller's office records show Halden was given a two-week "vacation" pay and his name taken from the payrolls. 


Berry and Nina Halden remained together in Des Moines through the end of World War II. She was employed by the state, too --- as a clerk in the tax department --- and continued in that position for many years to come.

In 1946, Berry moved to Chicago and never returned to Iowa again, except to visit. There is no sign that he ever re-entered public life, nor was I able to find what he did to support himself after that. Although separated, the Haldens seem not to have divorced.

During early February of 1967, The Herald-Patriot published a two-paragraph notice of Halden's death on Jan. 31, identifying him as a former editor. He had been hospitalized, according to the report, at the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Medical Center in the west Chicago metro area. He was 72. Burial was in the Camp Butler National Cemetery at Springfield, Illinois --- Halden's home seems to have been in southern Illinois at the time of his death.

Nina Halden survived for nearly 30 more years, dying at age 99 in Minneapolis on Feb. 15, 1995. Her remains were taken to Springfield and interred beside those of Berry in the national cemetery. The government-issue stone that marks her grave identifies her as his wife.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Celebrating Mid-century Modern

The Chariton Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday honored Allen Poush and his West Braden Avenue home --- Allen for helping to preserve the built history of his hometown, the house as a beautifully conserved example of "mid-century modern."

That's Allen, above, with the plaque he received from Alyse Hunter, Preservation Commission chair; and the house, below. Yesterday was gray and chilly and everything looked worn and scruffy, poised now between winter and spring --- so I borrowed the Google "street-view" of the house, photographed during the summer.

It's hard to find in Chariton a home more "mid-century" than what sometimes is called the "Perrin house." Max (1893-1975) and Elsie (1891-1978) Perrin, owners of Perrin Hatchery, commissioned the house during 1951 and during August of that year sold their former home --- a big two-story house immediately to the west --- but retained occupancy rights until Jan. 1, 1952, when they planned to move into the new dwelling.

This is the newest home honored by the Preservation Commission, which presents a plaque like this every couple of years --- and by selecting it we hope not only to recognize Allen and his home, but also to encourage others to look around and become aware that a building need not be multi-story, more than a century old and loaded with gingerbread in order to be considered architecturally significant and worthy of preservation.

We don't know, so far, who the architect was --- but have been told that perhaps five houses that shared similar characteristics were built in town soon after 1950 --- after World War II had ended but before the new Ilion Acres subdivision set off a post-1956 building boom in north Chariton. One of these certainly is the sprawling R.E. Anderson home on east Osage Avenue.

"Mid-century modern" is a very broad term applied to buildings, furniture and decorative trends between 1935 and 1965, weighted heavily in the Midwest to the post-World War II years. One-level homes came into favor and they began to sprawl. They were built with great care and fine materials, but the fussiness of the Victorian years that had waned during the 1920s and 1930s vanished.

The Perrin/Poush house is quite large --- but reflects a different aesthetic and set of perceived needs than those prevailing now. There are only two bedrooms --- very large with custom-built cabinetry --- a generous bathroom and store room in the west wing. The L-shaped living and dining area fills the center of the house with walls of windows facing north and south and a massive stone chimney setting off the stone-flagged foyer. The kitchen-breakfast area is to the east of the foyer and a large utility room beyond that. The double garage opens into the utility room and south of that is a large open porch with a second stone fireplace and chimney. The home is built on a concrete slab.

Allen is the home's third owner and has changed very little other than updating utilities when needed and refreshing, recarpeting, repainting and refurnishing --- maintaining the fabric of the house at a high level.

The idea for this periodic recognition of building owners came from the late Larry Clark, when he served on the Preservation Commission, and Janet Clark continues to contribute.

Keep an eye open for other good mid-century examples as you're out and about. Some will look something like the Perrin/Poush house, others will have flat roofs and/or sleeker lines (although many flat roofs have been modified) and some will channel homes of an earlier era. But there are lot of them out there.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

My weekend with Grant Wood

Grant Wood, 1941, Figge Art Museum
The goal wasn't to get stuck here in a Grant Wood-related mode for three days, but a couple of interesting (to me) things happened --- so here's a third post. The last I think for the time being.

It started with a Sunday morning post, Grant Wood and the Story of "Sultry Night," about two current retrospective exhibits of the Iowa artist's work and, specifically, the story of a lithograph entitled "Sultry Night," featured in both. The image of a farm hand bathing by moonlight alongside a stock tank is the most graphic work Wood is known to have produced, penis (gasp) clearly evident.

Quite unexpectedly, that post went --- in the modest terms of this obscure blog --- "viral" --- more than 8,000 views before the link I'd posted to an Iowa history-related site was taken down by its administrators the next morning.

By comparison, the usual number of daily views for the blog is somewhere in the upper hundreds, a thousand-plus on a busy day. That total includes hundreds of views related to earlier posts that have turned up among 12 years of posts as browsers "Googled" for information on one topic or another.

That link was shared, then reshared --- which accounts for the total. And it generated quite a few interesting comments --- nearly all of them productive --- on the Facebook page itself, all gone now.

There were four or five mild complaints about the nudity and/or the fact the post referred to Wood's homosexuality and a couple of funny ones (to me) from folks who contended that art was not related to Iowa history. And finally, a little snarkiness developed among commenters and that probably was what doomed the link, although the aforesaid nudity, etc., may have made some of the administrators nervous, too.

But all in all it was a positive experience and I was happy that that so many people still were interested in Grant Wood and his work and gratified that a few, hopefully, are now more familiar with the lithograph in question.

It's always been one of my favorite Grant Wood works --- not because of the nudity but because of the subject matter. It reminds me of my late father.

Just out of high school in the 1930s, depths of the Depression, and wanting to farm but flat broke, Dad started his independent working life as a hand on the Slater farm, south of Russell. The Slater family --- among the most affluent in the Russell area --- consisted at the time of bachelor brother Ray Slater, maiden sister Mary Slater and sister Elba (Slater) Sikes, who ruled the roost.

My dad really liked Ray, with whom he worked daily, but wasn't especially fond of the sisters. Mary taught school in Des Moines, returning to the farm on weekends and during the summer; Elba also lived in Des Moines, but spent a great deal of time at the farm, too. Dad characterized her as a "battle axe."

In any case, Dad was given a bed in the attic of the big Slater house and allowed to eat in the kitchen, but was forbidden to use the bathroom --- and there weren't that many bathrooms around in rural Iowa back in the 1930s. So he used the old outhouse and bathed during the summer, when farm work was hot and sweaty, by moonlight in a stock tank, using a bucket to douse himself, then rinse off.

A wonderful couple who lived just up the road, Lloyd and Bessie May, kind of adopted Dad and saw  to it that he got a couple of good meals during the week and had someone to talk to. And since he had Sundays off, he could go home then (his mother did his laundry).

I'm a fan of much of Grant Wood's work --- especially those images with people in them. He was very good at conveying character and incorporating thought-provoking detail. If you pay attention. And of course he was a far more sophisticated guy than the aw-shucks, bib-overall-clad public persona he sometimes adopted suggests.

To the commenter who asked, "did farm hands really bathe naked like that?" Yup. And "Why didn't that guy turn his back so we didn't see his, you know what?" One of the many marks of a great artist is the ability to catch his or her subjects unaware.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A couple of Grant Wood-related footnotes

"Appraisal," 1931, Dubuque Carnegie-Stout Public Library, owner; displayed at the Dubuque Museum of Art.

Yesterday's post, Grant Wood and the story of "Sultry Night,"  discussed two retrospective exhibits of the Iowa artist's work, one in progress now at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the other at the Des Moines Art Center.

"Victorian Survival," 1931, Dubuque Carnegie-Stout Public Library, owner; displayed at the Dubuque Museum of Art.

Here's a link to the Art Center's promotional material for its March 30-June 24 exhibit; and here's another, to the Whitney site, offering a virtual tour of the more than 100 items in the retrospective that will remain on display there through June 10.

"Self-portrait," 1932/1941, Figge Art Museum, Davenport.

Iowa museums and institutions own the largest concentration of Wood works, so many of the items on display now in New York have traveled there from the Hawkeye state. The images here are of major Wood paintings from Iowa collections on display at the Whitney. There's much more in other categories of the exhibit.

"Young Corn," 1931, Cedar Rapids Community School District, owner; displayed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Of course all of these works will return home to Iowa when the Whitney exhibit closes, so there's little excuse for Iowans who enjoy Wood's work not to enjoy it first-hand. Other fine works are as nearby as Omaha (the Joslyn) and Minneapolis.

"Spring in the Country," 1941, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

In addition, Davenport's Figge Art Museum acquired by purchase, gift and bequest between 1964 and shortly after Nan Wood Graham's 1990 death, an incredible collection of art work, documents, scrapbooks, furniture and personal memorabilia related to the artist. The Figge currently is, in fact, successor to the Grant Wood Estate.

"Woman With Plant," 1929, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

A number of documentary items have been digitized and are available via the University of Iowa's Iowa Digital Library. You can access that collection --- and others related to Wood and his work --- by following this link.

Unfortunately, the link to the University of Iowa Grant Wood collection doesn't seem to be working on the Figge page. Here's a link to that collection that does work.

"Appraisal" is among my favorite Wood paintings which, as you might expect, is why it has pride of place at the top of this post.

"Birthplace of Herbert Hoover," 1931, Des Moines Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Art.
"Plaid Sweater," 1931, University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Grant Wood and the story of "Sultry Night"

A lesser-known work by Iowa's favorite-son artist Grant Wood --- the lithograph entitled "Sultry Night" --- is making modest waves this spring because of featured positions in two retrospective exhibits of his work --- one in New York and the other in Des Moines.

The larger exhibit --- the first comprehensive exhibit in several years, entitled "Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables" --- remains open through June 10 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The smaller, "Sultry Night: Selected Works By Grant Wood," opens March 30 at the Des Moines Art Center and continues through June 24 in the John Brady Print Gallery.

Although the New York exhibit is far larger, the Des Moines exhibit is unique because it reunites for the first time the "Sultry Night" lithograph and the remaining 16-inch by 20-inch oil on Masonite part of the painting it inspired --- deliberately vandalized by the artist.

The Art Center owns all 19 of the lithographs featuring various subjects that Wood produced as well as five works painted during his "impressionism" phase, so all but one of the works in the Des Moines exhibit are drawn from the center's permanent collection. The "Sultry Night" fragment is on loan from the University of Wisconsin's Chazen Museum of Art.

The inspiration for the Des Moines exhibit came, Assistant Curator Jared Ledesma told Iowa Public Radio's Ben Kieffer on Friday, when the Whitney asked to borrow Wood's "The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover," which the Art Center owns jointly with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. So that painting will be spending the spring and early summer in lower Manhattan.


The lithograph, of a farm hand bathing in the moonlight next to a stock tank, is the most explicit expression of the homoerotic theme present in several of the gay Iowa artist's works, a theme that at the time and still to a lesser extent made a number of people nervous. The model is believed to have been Wood's University of Iowa colleague, Eric Knight, who lived with the artist in Iowa City for a time.

"Sultry Night," which dates from 1937, and others were produced for Associated American Artists, a Depression-era program that offered original prints of works by various artists, including such luminaries as Thomas Hart Benton and Wood, by subscription in a program directed in large part toward middle class families interested in art but unable to afford or be exposed to offerings of quality works under ordinary circumstances.

Prints in the series were marketed in a catalog --- but "Sultry Night" caught the attention of the U.S. postmaster general who because of what we now call full-frontal nudity declared it obscene and banned any marketing or sales of the work through the U.S. mail. As a result, the run of the  "Sultry Night" lithograph was limited to 100, sold primarily in New York --- and that makes it very rare. A "Sultry Night" sold recently for $36,000. The original price of lithographs in the series was about $5.

Wood believed in the quality and integrity of the work, however, and submitted the oil-on-Masonite version to The Carnegie International, Pittsburgh --- the oldest formal exhibition of contemporary art in America. It was rejected, however --- again because of the nudity. 

In frustration, Wood reportedly took a saw to the painting and, conventional wisdom has it, destroyed the part containing the nude figure. After holding on to the remaining part for some time, he eventually sold it to friends in Wisconsin in whose collection it remained until gifted to the Chazen.


As the titles suggest, both exhibits challenge conventional wisdom about Wood and his work embedded in the collective Iowa and American mindset by his iconic "American Gothic" and reinforced by those marvelous landscapes that enoble the Iowa countryside.

Both invite the viewer to observe the wit, caustic commentary, homoerotic themes and occasional menace present in the work of a gay artist operating in a setting that he loved but remained ambivalent  about.

Earlier posts here related to Grant Wood include, Iowa Boys play Hide/Seek, LGBTQ History: Iowa & Grant Wood and American Gothic.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The life, timepiece (& hats) of Nelle Argo Jones

Nelle Argo Jones's vintage Seth Thomas schoolhouse wall clock came home to Lucas County this week and we're hoping it will feel at home at the Lucas County Historical Society museum. Not only  do we have a big collection of one-room-school-related memorabilia --- but lots of women's hats, too. And hats were the lifelong passion and profession of Mrs. Jones (1885-1981) --- a milliner by trade.

The donors were Bea and Edmund Smith, now of Fort Madison, who acquired it from Mrs. Jones  and eventually decided that it belonged back in Chariton, where Nelle had lived for many years.

Mrs. Jones told them that the clock had hung on the wall of a Lucas County one-room school that she  attended and that she had purchased it as a reminder of those school days. I'd hoped to be able to determine which school, but fell short.

What I do know is that Nelle, born in Illinois, arrived in Russell with her family about 1891 and that she was a 1903 graduate of Russell High School. So the school most likely would have been located very near Russell. it's possible that her purchase was made during the late 1950s when many country schools were consolidated to form the Russell district and the contents of all the rural schools were gathered in the gymnasium at Russell and sold (I vaguely remember being there, but haven't tracked down the date).

Nelle's parents were William H. and Mary J. (Foulke) Argo. William was associated with Reuel R. Fogg in the operation of Russell's lumber yard. After Fogg sold the operation to Eikenberry & Co. of Chariton during 1902, Argo accepted a position as traveling salesman for the Carr-Adams Sash and Door Co. of Des Moines. A couple of years later, the Argos moved to a home on North Grand Street in Chariton and Nelle moved with them.

The senior Argos were indulgent and relatively affluent parents and Nelle, quite the social butterfly and traveler --- if early newspaper reports are indication --- but in no hurry to marry. She went to work while living at home as a trimmer for Chariton millinery establishments, then moved to Moravia to follow her trade there and finally accepted a position as a trimmer in a Monmouth, Illinois, millinery shop.

In Monmouth, Nelle met and married during 1915 James Weber Van Valkenburg, some 10 years her senior and partner with his father in a prosperous hardware store. By this time, she was both creating and trimming her own hat collections, marketing through retail dealers in women's clothing and accessories in Monmouth and elsewhere.

This marriage did not make it thought the 1920s, however, and after the divorce Nelle married an automobile salesman named Dwight Burnett Jones and they settled down near Peoria, where she continue to create collections of hats.

Jones was 61 when he died of a heart attack on July 12, 1935. Although he had no connection to Lucas County other than his marriage to Nelle, she brought his remains to the Chariton Cemetery for burial on the family lot and a few months later moved home herself to live with her now-widowed mother on North Grand Street.

Nelle continued to create hats, but also worked in other capacities for Chariton's leading retailers of women's apparel at the time, including the Elite Shoppe and, of course, Oppenheimers --- where she opened a hat salon in 1950.

Nelle retained the family home on North Grand after her mother's 1953 death and continued to create hats --- so long as there was a market for them --- and to work on the square, traveling extensively, too. She was an early member of the Chariton women's business and professional association and active in St. Andrew's Episcopal Church.

When the new Southgate Apartments opened, Nelle was quite old and had outlived nearly everyone, She was among the first residents there.  In December of 1974, she moved from Southgate to the Eastern Star Masonic Home at Boone, where she died on Aug. 14, 1981, at the age of 96. Memorial services were held a week later at St. Andrew's Church and her ashes then were buried on the family lot in the Chariton Cemetery.

I've been wondering this morning if some of the hats in the museum collection, many of them created for prominent Chariton women, might have been her designs. And if she signed her hats. I'm going to have to take a look.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Sidewalk strategizing & a new face or two ...

Robin Bostrom, Iowa Downtown Resource Center small business specialist, was in Chariton late Thursday afternoon to lead a public meeting at the Community Center devoted to sidewalks --- in this case those somewhat battered ribbons of concrete, some a century old, that line the outer perimeter of the Courthouse Square Historic District and provide access to all the buildings around it.

That gave me a chance to line up the current staff of Chariton Area Chamber/Mainstreet, which coordinated the meeting. I was a founding member of the board of that organization, but that's been a few years ago and I've gotten lax about paying as close attention to what's going on downtown as I should, including Chamber/Main Street staff changes.

So --- here are (from left) Florence Heacock, office administrator; Robin Bostrom, featured speaker during the meeting; Katie Wilson, marketing and social media coordinator; Alyse Hunter, who heads  the Chamber/Main Street Design Division (on which I continue to serve) and Alyssa Trunck, who recently succeeded Kris Patrick as Chamber/Main Street executive director. That position became vacant when Kris, long-time executive director, accepted a similar position in Fort Dodge.


The official sponsor of Tuesday's meeting was the Sidewalk Task Force, an informal group open to anyone interested in attending its meetings that consists of Chamber/Main Street Design Division members and other staffers, city officials, owners of buildings that front on the square and more.

We've been meeting off and on for perhaps three years --- after it became evident from a variety of surveys and other outreach efforts that the condition of sidewalks was a top priority for those interested in Chariton's incremental downtown "streetscape" program. Some of these sidewalks date back to construction during the early 20th century of the buildings behind them and a few have begun to deteriorate seriously. Settling, cracking and other issues also have created hazards for those who use them.

We've talked a lot, taken research trips to nearby cities --- Knoxville, Centerville, Bloomfield and Mt. Ayr among them --- that have completed downtown projects during recent years and otherwise discussed sidewalk needs and the resources necessary to met them.

The city now hopes to begin allocating funds for an incremental sidewalk project during 2020, so the need for more concerted effort has developed. 

Those sidewalks in downtown Chariton, as in most comparable cities, are actually public property --- right up to where the buildings that front on them begin --- but building owners are responsible for their care and maintenance. However, when it comes to replacement, the city hopes to assume as much of the cost as possible.

And there are a variety of other considerations involved. Street lighting around the outer perimeter of the square, for example, has been around since at least the 1950s and needs updating --- the wiring for a new lighting system needs to be under new sidewalks. And then there's the fact that many of the sidewalks serve as ceilings for vaults into which coal once was dumped and stored. These vaults have to be filled and sealed before new sidewalks are put into place. And then there's the question of decorative elements, plantings, pedestrian crossings --- what should these items look like and who is going to pay for them?

So there's lots to talk about and anyone interested in joining the conversation is welcome --- just watch for meeting notices or ask to be added to the Chamber/Main Street e-mail list.


Robin was invited to speak Thursday evening primarily because she was serving as executive director of Main Street West Union when the Fayette County seat undertook and successfully completed a streetscape program involving six downtown blocks and costing in excess of $10 million (the city bonded for about $3 million; the remaining funds coming from grants and other public and private sources).

Although the West Union project was on a much larger scale and was undertaken all at once --- as opposed to Chariton's incremental approach --- she had a good deal of wisdom to share in regard to strategy, planning, pitfalls and lessons learned.

Chariton actually has a number of advantages not enjoyed by West Union before the project there began. For example, utilities feed into buildings around Chariton's square from alleys; in West Union, utilities feed from under the streets in front of the buildings. So streetwork was a major component of the project there so that new water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer lines could be installed. There are no current plans to disturb Chariton streets in this phase of the project.

In addition, courthouse sidewalks, lighting and infrastructure all have been dealt with during earlier projects here --- so there are no current plans to alter those arrangements. That was been the case in West Union.

West Union also decided to turn itself into almost a case study for a "green" approach to downtown revitalization. Sidewalks, for example, are made up of permeable pavers and not poured concrete; plantings are entirely native vegetation designed to help control runoff and lessen the load on the Turkey River, into which West Union drainage flows via two trout streams. The "green" approach, which included geothermal access stubbed into each building in the district, made much more grant funding available than a basic concrete approach like Chariton's will.

Whatever the case, it was an interesting and useful presentation. My favorite take-away, however, involved nomenclature. Everyone who works with the general public probably has encountered folks who by nature resist change. I've always called these guys the "just-don't-change-anything-until-I'm-dead" contingent. Robin introduced the CAVE concept --- Citizens Against Virtually Everything. I'm going to remember that one. And also that the long-term is to convince the CAVErs that change is inevitable, necessary in many instances and can be a positive force rather than a frightening one.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March snow, a Davenport quack and beer ...

No, the attached photograph was not taken in Iowa --- but rather in Portland, Maine, on Tuesday after a late March nor'easter struck parts of New England. Whether winter is done with Iowa, enjoying spring-like conditions this week, is another matter.

But back in 1887 in Chariton, the biggest snowfall of the season was in fact recorded on March 26, when more than a foot fell, whipped by winds that drifted it across roads and railroad tracks so that on the Sunday following horse and sleigh were the only practical means of transportation.

That storm, as well as other happenings of the week, were reported on the local news page of The Chariton Democrat of Thursday, March 31. Those other happenings included the startling long-distance diagnoses of Lincoln Township farmer Milton Good (1822-1897) and a case of gross neglect on the part of Lucas constable Nick Leet. Here are the reports:


After a severe winter, almost unprecedented in Iowa history for the long season of sleighing, the latter part of February and the early part of March gave promise of a very early spring. The great depth of frost yielded to the milder weather and let go its hold producing but little mud. Country travel was scarcely interrupted at all in the change from winter to spring. March has presented excellent opportunities for getting in oats, wheat, and other small grain and a great deal of this necessary spring work has been done.

But Saturday changed the aspect of things. A leaden sky and cold northeast wind brought us probably the greatest fall of snow that has occurred at any one time during the winter, winding up Sunday with about 12 inches. Saturday's storm was a peculiar one. From noon until nine o'clock it snowed incessantly. Then it took an hour's intermission and gave place to vivid lightning for awhile, lighting up the whole heavens. Then the night settled into snowing again. Sunday morning presenting all the appearance of mid-winter and calling out the sleighs and bells in great number. A high wind prevailing during the night piled the snow in drifts and greatly interrupted railway traffic.

To farm interests the storm is disastrous. Those who were early on hand with their work and did their seeding of small grain were fortunate as the snow will do but little damage. Those who put it off will find their work retarded for two or three weeks.

With feed very scarce and stock naturally impoverished from a long winter of pinching cold the damage in this direction will be great. However, the evil effects of the storm cannot last long, at this season of the year. Warm weather and grass and growing grain will soon put a different aspect on our surroundings, and the promise of rich harvests will add new hopes to hearts almost discouraged. There's a beautiful spring-time ahead.


An old friend, Milton Good, of Lincoln township, is in trouble. Up to last week he thought he enjoyed remarkably good health. During his peaceful Sunday nap one of his daughters read in a paper the advertisement of a large-sized quack in Davenport calling himself Dr. O.G.W. Adams, Psychologic Specialist. He can cure all diseases and by Clairvoyant Diagnoss can tell by a lock of hair just what ails a person. So the nischievous youngster stole a lock of her father's hair and sent. Following is the answer he received from the celebrated "doctor," quoted verbatim:

"Thine at hand and contents noted. I find thee threatened with Paralysis Rheumatism of the Blood --- Kidneys, Liver, Head, Side, Back, Stomach, Heart Lungs and fluids of the body all affected --- and Neuralgia. Thee can be cured. It will cost thee 5 dollars for two months medicine. Registered letters, postal notes, money orders or express orders at my risk. All medicine sent by express. Write the town, county, state and nearest express office plain to avoid mistakes. In ordering medicine, return this diagnosis. No medicine sent without the money accompanying the order. /signed/ Dr. O.G.W. Adams"

Brother Good tells us he has been afraid for some time that this is what ailed him. He was in town last Saturday trying to buy a drug store and a graveyard. He will use the former for a while and have the latter in readiness.


Constable Nic Leet has been making some more beer and whisky raids on Lucas this week, and succeeded in capturing a good supply from that unhappy town.

There was one case, however, in which the officer was painfully and peculiarly unfortunate. Three full cases of beer were stowed away in the calaboose one evening for safe keeping. Later that same night the marshal stowed away in the same place three empty tramps. Behold the change that came over the goods stored in that warehouse in one short night! When morning came the conditions of the previous night had been entirely changed. The three tramps were no longer empty, but full; the three cases, not full, but empty.

Some super-critical and evil-disposed persons say it was another case of "gross Nicleet."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dancing and the devil in Chariton, 1887

Protestant preachers had a lot to worry about in Chariton during the 1880s, including the triple demons of alcohol, tobacco --- and dance.

The latter was on the minds of the clergymen (sadly unidentified) who got together on March 18, 1887, to discuss "The Dance of Modern Society," apparently fearing that the passions of people of differing genders who touched whilst waltzing might become uncontrollably inflamed.

Their conclusions were summarized in the following report published in The Chariton Herald on March 31 of that year, headlined "Ministers Meeting." 

" 'The Dance of Modern Society' being the theme for discussion at the Chariton Ministers meeting on Monday, March 18, 1887, the following excerpts were read.

"From a collection of all the passages of Scripture in reference to dancing it may be inferred that dancing was a religious act, both in true and idol worship. That it was practiced exclusively on jovial occasions, such as national festivals and great victories.

"That it was performed on such occasions only by one of the sexes.

"That it was performed usually in the day time, in the open air, in highways, fields and groves.

"That men who perverted dancing from a sacred use to purposes of amusement were deemed infamous, classed with the 'lewd fellows.'

"That no instances of dancing are found upon record in the Bible in which the two sexes united in the exercise either as an act of worship or amusement.

"That there is no instance upon record in the Bible of social dancing for amusement except of the 'vain fellows' devoid of shame, alluded to by Michael; or the irreligious families described by Job, which produced increasing impiety and ended in destruction and of the daughter of Herodias which terminated in the rash vow of Herod and the murder of John the Baptist.

"The church of Christ, in order to preserve her purity, must excise the tobacco devil, the alcoholic devil and the dancing devil.

"Dr. J.W. Hough says, 'A church member much given to dancing will seldom add a feather's weight to the spiritual power of the church. It is one of those things which we are compelled to class with Paul as not expedient. It does not edify. There is nothing in it to build up or brace a moral nature.' "

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The travels of Axel Westling's immigrant trunk

Axel Westling was a young man --- age 24 and single --- back in 1887, living in the vicinity of his native town, Hjo, Skaraborgs lan (now Västra Götland), Sweden, when he commissioned this sturdy piece of luggage commonly known nowadays as an "immigrant trunk."

Hjo was (and is) located on the west shore of Vättern, in south central Sweden and that nation's second-largest inland body of water. 

Not long thereafter, Axel packed all of his worldly possessions --- other than those items that would be needed for several weeks of travel --- into the trunk and traveled west overland to the port city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) where both he and his trunk boarded a ship of the American Line, bound for a new life in America.

Axel knew precisely where he was going, so had directed that his destination be painted clearly on the front of the trunk: "Mr. A. Westling, Chariton, Lucas Co. = Iova, U.S. of Amerika."

Some years earlier, Axel's elder brother, John Frederick, had married Anna Carlson in Sweden and then emigrated alone. Arriving in the Midwest, he landed a job on a bridge crew of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, then sent for Anna and they settled down to raise their family in Chariton.

Axel planned to join them and a job as a railroad section hand awaited him, so soon after landing at the port of New York in 1887, he boarded a train west and both he and his trunk alighted a couple of days later at the old C.B.&Q. Deport in northwest Chariton where John awaited him.

But in the long run, railroad work didn't suit Axel --- he was a farmer by trade and preference, so went to work as a farm hand until he could afford land of his own five miles northeast of Chariton in English Township. The trunk accompanied him to his new home there, handy for storage.

Some years later, during 1900, Axel married Miss Emma Nelson. He was 37 at the time and she was 32. They settled down on his farm and lived there for 30 years, until Feb. 10, 1931, when he succumbed to heart disease and died at the age of 67. 

Axel and Emma had been planning to move into Chariton and had held a closing-out sale at the farm just a week before he died. Emma carried those plans forward, commissioning a house across from First Lutheran Church in a location that ensured she always would be able to walk to services and, when necessary, up to the square to do her shopping. The trunk came in from the farm with her.

By 1944, Anna was having difficulty caring for herself and her home, so she entered the Lutheran Home for the Aged in Madrid and lived there until her death on June 15, 1952.

Because there were no children, her belongings were shared by nieces and nephews --- including Albert Westling, son of John Frederick, who provided a home for the trunk. 

Eventually, the trunk was taken in by Albert's daughter, Miriam (Westling) Hibbs --- and it was she who presented it to the Lucas County Historical Society during 1994.

We're going to feature the trunk this summer in a prominent spot in the Perkins Gallery, which also serves as the museum entry point. So last week, Karoline and Bob hauled it upstairs from its former home in a lower-level gallery. Now it's parked squarely in the middle of the room where it's going to end up being the centerpiece of a board meeting late this afternoon.

It takes two people to move this mighty piece of luggage --- it is very heavy --- so after that, we'll move it to a slightly more convenient spot. The old trunk is a wonderful thing to have --- a real survivor --- and we're all looking forward to sharing it with our guests after the museum opens for the season on May 1.