Thursday, July 29, 2021

A tiny card and Lucas County's big banking disaster

I ran across on Tuesday this little piece of ephemera tucked into a photograph slot in one of the vintage photo albums in the Lucas County Historical Society collection. It's business card size, printed on two sides, and is a promotional hand-out commissioned during 1899 by Frank R. Crocker, then cashier of Chariton's First National Bank.

At the time, Crocker was running for the post of head banker of Modern Woodmen of America, a huge fraternal benefit society headquartered in Rock Island, Illinois (then and now), that offered (then) life insurance to white males in 12 Midwestern states, including Iowa --- where the association had been founded in 1883.

The society had so many members in Lucas County during 1899 that they were able to commission a special train from Chariton to carry them to the national convention, held during June of that year in Kansas City, where Frank was duly elected.

Frank's term of service, a year, was limited by rules of the organization and there's no reason to suppose that he carried out his duties in any way that was not honorable even though he had access to the organization's vast cash reserve.

But fast forward to 1907 and it will become evident that the society's rather casual approach to huge amounts of cash could prove hazardous to its financial wellbeing. Head banker that year was Mason City's Charles H. MacNider, another prominent Iowa banker whose principal memorial these days is that city's Charles H. MacNider Art Museum, endowed by his family.

Back in Chariton during 1907, Frank was busy speculating (illegally but at first successfully) with First National Bank funds. He called upon his old friend, Mr. MacNider, who engineered a "loan" of $350,000 in Modern Woodmen of America funds to First National that Frank used feed his habit.

That all came crashing down on the morning of Oct. 31, 1907, when it was discovered that Frank's speculative career had ended in financial disaster and that he had killed himself overnight with an overdose of morphine. The bank doors were sealed as federal regulators took over. It would be years before the county recovered fully from the debacle.

Lucas County had a $50,000 cash reserve on deposit, for example, and countless other depositors large and small lost their life savings. But the biggest loser was the Modern Woodmen. Eventually, $25,000 of the original $350,000 was found stashed in a Chicago bank --- but that was all that remained.

Banker MacNider claimed that his "investment" in First National was protected by a $400,000 bond, signed by the nine prominent Lucas Countyans who formed the bank's board. It turned out, however, that Frank had forged the signatures on the bond and that it was worthless.

Finally, after regulators had spent years squeezing every possible dime out of remaining bank assets and wrestling with the bank owning Mallory family for ownership of all its assets in Lucas County, the Modern Woodmen recovered in excess of $100,000 of its original $350,000 investment and other depositors received similar percentages of their deposits.

Mr. MacNider faced a variety of accusations, even threats of lawsuits from within the Modern Woodmen organization, but  he proved to be bullet-proof and remains widely revered in Mason City.

Lucas County has for the most part forgotten Mr. Crocker by now --- his physical remains were whisked away to Minneapolis where the family had a summer home to which the remaining Crockers repaired after his death. But we do have this small card to remind us.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Kent family homes --- near Lucas and in England

William (1826-1906) and Hannah Wherrett Kent (1842-1922) brought their two sons, Charles and John, from Chicago to a 320-acre farm three and a half miles west of Lucas during March of 1869, introducing a family name that's still a familiar one in Lucas County.

Both were natives of England who arrived in the United States as children and married in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, during 1860, then lived in Cleveland and Chicago before William turned his hand from carpentry to farming and the couple settled down.

More than 150 years later, a compact photo album that most likely was theirs, in better condition than most that arrive at the Lucas County Historical Society but still fragile, has an archival box to itself in the museum library. It was donated during 1970 by their granddaughter, Ethel Kent Wood (1889-1971), daughter of John.

So I scanned three of the images in it that I found most interesting on Tuesday to share here this morning. The first (top) shows the family home in Jackson Township. In front are (from left) John Kent, Charles Kent, Hannah Kent, Florence Erb (an adopted daughter) and, behind the team, William Kent.

The second photograph was taken in front of another side of the house with the extended family in front. Only four are identified, however: Charles Kent seated at left, William and Hannah Kent seated in the middle, and John Kent, standing at right. I'm guessing the little girl standing between Hannah and John was John's daughter, Ethel, donor of the album.

Here's a description of the Kent farm as published as part of a larger biographical sketch of William and Hanna in the 1896 "A Memorial and Biographical Record of Iowa" ---

"The land he developed into one of the finest farms in this part of the country and on it built one of the most beautiful rural homes in the county. He has since given a portion of his farm to his sons, retaining for himself 170 acres. His modern residence, a story-and-a-half cottage, is located on a natural building site some rods back from the main highway and is surrounded with an attractive lawn, ornamental shrubbery and trees, the entire surroundings giving evidence of taste and culture as well as prosperity; and in the interior of this dwelling the same air of refinement prevails. The walls are adorned with pictures, the shelves are lined with books, and here is also found a choice collection of bric-a-brac. It is, indeed, a delightful home, and both Mr. Kent and his amiable wife are the personification of hospitality. On this farm is also found a large barn and other substantial buildings and good fences, an orchard of two acres, and what may be called complete water-works. Springs of pure water gush from hillsides and a modern windmill supplies the power by which this water is forced through pipes up to a large tank, from which reservoir the water is carried to both the house and barn."

The third photograph, of Hannah's birthplace in the village of Stonechurch near Stroud in Gloucestershire, southwest England, was commissioned by fellow Lucas residents, Mr. and Mrs. Evan B. Morgan, when they were touring that area, then brought home and given to the Kents, finding its home eventually in the photo album now housed in the museum library. The people are unidentified but most likely include the Morgans.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Miss Mabel Black joins her brothers in death

I came across this image of Mabel Black, who died in Chariton at the age of 21 during late December, 1900, on Monday in a scrapbook maintained by members of the Pandora Club, organized by and for young women in Chariton during the 1890s. Club records, including two scrapbooks, are part of the Lucas County Historical Society collection.

I've written about this family before because two of Mabel's brothers, Sgt. William T. Black and Pvt. Walter N. Black, were among Lucas County's Spanish American War losses, both claimed by typhoid fever during 1898 --- See, if you like, "The men of Company H. say farewell to Sgt. Tom," "The Blacks, typhoid and Spanish American War loss," and "War, remembrance and the Black brothers."

Mabel was the third of Charles N. and Amanda Black's nine children to be claimed by typhoid during a two-year period and was buried beside her brothers in the Chariton Cemetery although their parents, who eventually moved back to their native Sandyville in Warren County, are buried there.

Here's the text of her story-telling obituary, published in The Chariton Patriot of Jan. 3, 1901, and pasted alongside the photograph on a fragile page in the Pandora Club scrapbook:


Died, Sunday, Dec. 30, 1900, at midnight, at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. C.N. Black in this city, Miss Mabel Ann Black.

Funeral services were held from the Presbyterian church Wednesday afternoon at 3 o'clock, conducted by the pastor, Rev. A.C. Ormond, and all that was earthly of that lovely girl was laid to rest in the Chariton cemetery beside her brothers --- Thomas, who died of typhoid fever at Jacksonville, Florida,  July 19, 1898, and Walter, who also contracted the disease there and died Sept. 28, 1898, while enlisted with Co. H.

She had been seriously sick for four weeks with typhoid fever, but was thought to be out of danger, when acute pneumonia set in, causing death in a few hours.

Miss Mabel Black was born near Milo, in Warren county, Aug. 18, 1879. During the years 1896-96 she attended Simpson College, in Indianola, and while there joined the Mehodist church, but had never removed her membership (from the Presbyterian Church). About six years ago she came to Chariton with her parents and made this city her home. 

Being of that kind and sympathetic nature that always wants to help persons in distress, she decided to become a professional nurse, taking a course of two years in the Iowa City Training School for Nurses. While there she became acquainted with Dr. J.R. Gardner, to whom she afterward plighted her troth and who came and assisted in caring for her during her illness. She came home last April to become more proficient in household duties, and fit herself to preside over a home, and prepare for the happy event which should link her life with that of Dr. Gardner.

In compliance with urgent requests, she occasionally would take care of a patient, and it was while nursing Mrs. Keller in Benton township that she contracted the fatal disease.

She was an honored member of the Pandora Club, who gave a beautiful flower piece. The nurses of Iowa City also sent a lovely bouquet, and the floral offerings from other friends were numerous and beautiful.

The death of that noble girl is indeed a sad blow to the parents and six sisters who are left to mourn the departure of a dear daughter and sister, and to Dr. Gardner, to whom she was to have been married during the holidays. She was modest and retiring, but possessed a cheerful disposition, ever ready to assist the needy, and scattered sunshine wherever she went. Although her sufferings during her sickness were intense, yet during her conscious hours she never uttered any complaint.

The death of such a promising, useful young woman makes us silent before God, yet where He brings His cross He brings His presence, and uses sometimes the very grief itself, straining it to a sweetness of faith, unattainable to those ignorant of any grief. She has escaped the weariness, the toils, the struggle and temptations of this chequered life, and who shall not say, sorrow laded though we be, that it is not better so. That a higher than human power may comfort and console the afflicted ones under this heavy stroke is the hope of the entire community.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Partying in Chariton with the queen of the night

Several varieties of night-blooming cacti can claim the name night blooming cereus, but only one --- Selenicereus Grandiflorus (aka Queen of the Night) --- blooms just once a year, overnight, then closes at dawn and fades away.

This rare occurrence was the cause of a gathering of family and friends at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Harris Van Nice on the evening of July 23, 1891, as reported in The Chariton Herald of July 30:


A "Night Blooming Cereus" was the center of attraction at the home of W. H. Van Nice on last Thursday night, where a number of neighbors and friends had gathered to watch the unfolding of its beauty and inhale its fragrance upon the only night in the year when these pleasures were to be enjoyed. The flower began to open soon after sunset, reaching full bloom at about 9 o'clock, remaining in bloom all night. It began to close soon after sunrise and at about 8 o'clock it had entirely closed. Cashier Culbertson of the Savings Bank took the plant to the bank Friday morning where it was on exhibition during the day.


I decided to do a little further research and see if other reports of similar gatherings might have been published in Chariton newspapers over the years --- and was not disappointed.

On Sept. 14, 1930, a plant owned by Mira McFarland, then living with her daughter and son-in-law, Maude Mary and Albert B. Gookin, burst into bloom and was the centerpiece of a similar gathering at the Gookin home.

Fifteen years later, Loyd and Cora Paschall invited friends and neighbors in when their plant burst into bloom on the evening of Sept. 17, 1945. Three years later, on July 3, 1948, the Paschall plant bloomed again and was the centerpiece of a similar gathering.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Mae Glenn Gasser & her washing machine

The 17th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, cancelled last year because of restrictions related to COVID-19, is back on the schedule this year --- planned for a Sunday afternoon in mid- to late September. We'll keep you updated on the details.

The event is sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission --- currently Alyse Hunter, Dave Edwards, Melody Wilson, Florence Heacock and Frank Myers.

One of this year's subjects will be Mae Glenn Gasser (1884-1969), one of Chariton's great characters, who happens to be buried in the far northwest corner of the cemetery, where this year's tour will be focused.

And that brought to mind this photograph of Mae from the Lucas County Historical Society collection that I looked up yesterday while doing a little cataloging at the museum.

It was taken some time during the 1920s in the storefront show room on the square of the Southern Iowa Electric Co., successor to the 1914 Union Service Co., which had purchased the city of Chariton's electrical generating plant that year and then proceeded to establish the first "grid" to serve Lucas County --- extending power generated in Chariton to Russell and elsewhere.

The company also was the major purveyor of up-to-date electrical appliances, including washing machines, in the area at the time. 

If the sign is to believed, Mae had owned the first electric washing machine in use in Chariton and had arranged for its delivery to the show room for this promotional display. Hopefully, she had taken home a brand new up-to-date appliance.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The annual July lily extravaganza ....

Almost missed obligatory photographs of the big lily show --- the last major production in the museum gardens as the various plants gather strength for a new season and summer heat intensifies.

These were taken Thursday evening when I drove out late to push the trash trolley down the drive to the curb for Friday morning pickup.

Most of these were planted some years ago when Kay Brown, now semi-retired, was chief museum gardener.

The Stargazer lilies (top) continue to steal the show.

But the daylilies are pretty spectacular, too, when in their prime.

Friday, July 23, 2021

The delta variant and stupid pills

It's been a relief during the last few weeks to go grocery shopping without wearing a mask and to leave the house without needing to remember to stick one of those pesky things in a pocket --- advantages of being fully vaccinated.

And the numbers in Iowa --- other than the overall inoculation rate --- have been encouraging. But that may be changing.

Our state passed into the "rapidly increasing" category of states so far as new COVID-19 cases are concerned during the last week as the delta variant spreads and our neighbors to the east in Monroe County reported the highest positivity rate among recent tests in the state.

Lucas County's fully-vaccinated rate --- 37 percent --- certainly is not impressive. But two of our neighbors here in the south of Iowa, Davis and Decatur, have the lowest vaccination percentages in the Iowa, along with Lyon County in the extreme northwest. Wayne is way down there, too.

You tend to wonder what gets into people --- and who is dispensing the stupid pills.

The vaccine is readily available --- at Lucas County Public Health, the Hy-Vee pharmacy and elsewhere. There's no charge. 

Everyone age 12 and older now is eligible and I see that Public Health will be administering the shots on Aug. 6 during back-to-school night at the fairgrounds. So there's really no excuse in 99.9 percent of the unvaccinated cases, other than those aforemenitoned stupid pills.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Tracking down John Adam Fight (Veith)

I happened upon John Adam Fight last week while trawling Iowa's pre-1867 newspaper archives in search of Lucas County mentions. We have issues from 1867 and beyond of The Chariton Democrat, launched that year, but nothing earlier of The Patriot, which began publishing 10 years earlier.

This sad account of a young Civil War veteran from rural Newbern who survived three years of combat and disease only to return home once the war was over and then die in an accident two months later was republished from The Patriot in the Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye Gazette of Oct. 14, 1865:

"HORRIBLE ACCIDENT --- We learn from the Chariton Patriot that on Saturday evening last John Fight, while on his way from Newbern to his home, two miles northeast from that place, was thrown from his wagon while endeavoring to stop his mules from running away, and terribly mangled, and died in a few minutes. His father was badly injured at the same time. John was a good soldier, had served three years in the 40th regiment Iowa infantry, and was liked by all of his comrades. He leaves a father, mother, brother and sisters to mourn his loss."

I checked John's service records and discovered that he had enlisted in Company G, 40th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, at age 19 on Aug. 16, 1862; was mustered on Sept. 20, 1862, at Davenport; and served honorably until Aug. 2, 1865, when the 40th was discharged at Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma). Unit members then were transported to Davenport where the unit was disbanded on Aug. 16.

Locating John's burial place turned out to be more of a challenge, but that was only because he is buried under his birth name, Veith, rather than the Anglicized version he had used, Fight, or the other common variant, Feight --- the latter both familiar surnames in Lucas, Marion and Warren counties.

The grave is located in Tickel Cemetery, shown on the map below, located between Bauer and Melcher-Dallas (the Melcher half of Melcher-Dallas hadn't developed when this 1901 map was created), northeast of Newbern and only a few miles north of the Lucas-Marion county line.

The tombstone photos here are from Find a Grave --- one of its current shattered state, the other taken when it was intact.

John's parents, Frederick George and Mary Catherine (Rinehart), also are buried here, although only Frederick, who survived his son by four years and died in 1869, has a stone. He, too, is buried as "Veith," the version of the surname these emigrants from Germany brought with them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Liberté, égalité & adultère in Chariton, 1864-65

"Dear John" letters are one thing, but quite another when both the departing wife and her lover sit down to write the aggrieved husband --- in this case an unidentified soldier from Lucas County --- as happened during the summer of 1864 as the Civil War was nearing its end.

The Chariton Patriot published a report a year later, after the husband had returned home to Chariton and filed suit for divorce, and the editors of The Daveport Daily Gazette found it interesting enough to republish under "Iowa News" in its edition of Aug. 17, 1865.

Patriot editions from this period have vanished, and we'll most likely never know the particulars, but perhaps, today, somewhere in France ....


A suit for divorce has been commenced in the District Court for Lucas county by a soldier whose wife, during his absence in the field, eloped with a Frenchman and is now, as is supposed, in la belle France.

The Chariton Patriot publishes a letter from the absconding wife to her husband and also one from her new love, both written from New York, in August, 1864. The wife coolly tells the deserted husband that she could not love him, therefore does not repent, and is very happy with "Frank," a "noble man."

Frank as coolly writes: "I am not repented, for every day I see that she is a noble woman. I know I have done wrong in taking her away from her husband's home while he is in the field of braves, fighting for the great cause of liberty, but I can't help it. Every man has his weak points. If you ever take the notion to overtake us, it will be a very dangerous expedition because we may all three be buried at the same time; nothing but death can separate us."

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

In 1859, the road to gold passes through Chariton

Traffic on the old Mormon Trail into Chariton from the southeast had slowed by the spring of 1859 as travelers chose instead the newer state road --- a route that followed the general path of today's U.S. Highway 34 west from Albia, entering Lucas County at Lagrange.

After crossing the Chariton square, that road angled northwest out of town along the approximate route of Osceola Avenue and its extension, 495th lane (now a dirt road), before turning west to cross Whitebreast Creek, pass the stage stop at Tallahoma and exit into Clarke County, Osceola-bound, on the ridge northwest of where Lucas eventually would be located.

There had been a sharp uptake in traffic on the road during April as its ruts dried after the spring thaw and grass alongside greened sufficiently to support the yokes of oxen that provided "horse power." 

This would be the peak year for the Colorado gold rush, which had commenced during midsummer 1858 and would continue into 1861. An estimated 100,000 fortune-seekers traveled west to the Rockies during those years --- many through Chariton. And of course others still were intent on seeking their fortunes in California.

During early May, the editor of The Chariton Patriot commissioned someone to count the number of emigrant outfits that passed his office on the square May 5-10 and published the result. No issues of The Patriot from that year survive, but his news item was picked up and republished in the Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye of May 18 as follows:


"Below we give the number of teams that have passed our office for five days in succession, which is about average for the last two weeks. The emigration is about equally divided between California and Pike's Peak. The teams will average four yoke of oxen to the wagon.

"Thursday, May 5, 67 teams; Friday, May 6, 16 teams; Saturday, May 7, 37 teams; Sunday, May 8th, 37 teams; Tuesday, May 10th, 32 teams.

"There were also several droves of loose stock, intended for California."


If that seems like a lot of oxen, remember that at least three yokes (six oxen) were required to pull a large heavily loaded wagon. Sometimes a fourth yoke was part of the hitch; at other times it trailed behind or alongside to provide relief or extra power if an incline like one of the Whitebreast hills was encountered.

So if you're up on the square today, glancing out a window toward the courthouse or parked on a bench on the courthouse lawn surrounded by a sea of pickups, consider what your view would have been on a summer day 162 years ago.