Thursday, May 28, 2015

Oh, they're just chives ...

Richard Atwell, who recently purchased the duplex next door (and once upon a time was a childhood neighbor down south and east of Center Church), stopped to visit for a minute yesterday and before heading off to mow his latest lawn commented on how pretty the lavender blossoms that have erupted near my driveway were.

To which I responded, "Oh, they're just chives." But I should have added, "on steroids."

The patch by the driveway, flourishing in gravel of all things, is strictly volunteer --- related to the chives also flourishing this spring in the herb garden out back.

These are not your spindly little grass-like chives, available as potted starts in garden centers, but big muscular chives. There's some debate about whether these jumbo chives are a separate breed (I've seen the name giant Siberian chives applied to them), or just a slight variation.

Whatever the case, these came to my garden a few years ago from the garden of my then-neighbor, Lee Harrington, who had brought them in from the country.

To be honest, I don't use chives that often in cooking --- I just like to watch them grow (and bloom). 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rainbows over Ireland; child abuse in Arkansas

I suppose it was inevitable that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican equivalent of a secretary of state --- or someone similarly placed in the papal state --- would describe Friday's overwhelming victory for marriage equality in the Republic of Ireland as a "defeat for humanity."

Others, after all, have described the 62-38 percent voter margin that authorized an equality amendment to the Irish constitution as a defeat for the Roman Catholic church --- "Irish" and "Catholic" long considered synonyms. And it certainly was a defeat for the frightened old men who form the church leadership and sense that power is slipping through their shaky fingers. But not necessarily for the church itself.

The hierarchy in Ireland --- and elsewhere --- lost moral high ground in recent years after revelations about sexual exploitation of children and general exploitation of others by its clerics followed up by elaborate cover-up schemes --- and many have pointed to that as a key factor in a decision by a majority of the Irish people to ignore the church's campaign against marriage equality. 

Others have pointed to Irish involvement in the European Union, increasing diversity, increasing prosperity and the fact the best and brightest no longer have to leave home to seek opportunity. The Ionia Institute, a leading campaigner against equality, now is blaming American money.

But 84-85 percent of the Irish still identify as Catholic, according to fairly recent data, and a majority voted for equality. While the Roman church is subject to the same general drift away experienced by other Christian expressions, there's been no sign of mass defection.

Much of this has to do with a misunderstanding of exactly what the church is --- neither more nor less than its people, including but by no means limited to popes, cardinals, bishops and priests. And in this broader sense, the church is changing in Ireland and elsewhere in the West, moving away from hostility toward LGBT people, past patronizing "tolerance," to the high ground of building community.

Cardinal Parolin suggested his clerical coterie give evangelism a try in the effort to restore its preferred order. That overlooks the fact the Catholic church has for the most part forgotten how to evangelize and, back in the good old days, needed armies to ensure success. Armies no longer are available, unless you count the Swiss Guard --- and when was the last time anyone invited you to Mass?

The most frequently overlooked heroes in the fight for LGBT equality in Ireland were Irish LGBT people themselves who at considerable risk in what seemed at times to be a theocracy stepped forward, became visible and told their stories. Truth, sometimes, is more powerful than an army.


On this side of the Atlantic, we've been treated to revelations about the absurd Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and the crown prince of their 19-child clan, Josh. As it turns out, Josh --- an emerging darling of the Christian right --- sexually abused little girls, including his own sisters, as a teen; was neither reported nor adequately treated at the time; had his record wiped clean by Jesus (and an effective cover-up operation); then was sent forth to become a morality crusader.

I've never watched the Duggar television show --- apparently a celebration of breeding and raising children based upon livestock confinement industry precedents.

Nor have I ever met a fundamentalist or an evangelical Christian who even came close in belief and practice to these caricatures of faith in action.

We've heard quite a bit from those who deplore the fact young Josh's life has been impacted adversely by these revelations, including the odious Huckabee; relatively little about the horrific effect child abuse, sexual and otherwise, inflicts on its innocent victims.

If it were a better world, there would be a way to charge the senior Duggars with child abuse for exploiting 19 innocents; satisfying their own lusts --- including vanity and greed --- by turning a family into a public spectacle.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Blue flags --- and a rabbit

The Blue Flags (Iris virginica shrevei) have started to bloom in a patch convenient for viewing --- just off the paved trail at Pin Oak Marsh.

Follow the trail and after it turns almost due east for the first time, then keep watch to your right. If you pass the entrance to the grass trail that leads south, then around the big marsh pond (or if you miss that, the second bench), you've gone too far.

You can edge your feet into the tall grass to take a closer look, but watch out. A step too far and you'll be up to your ankles (or deeper) in water (Blue Flags prefer wet feet).

The flags will bloom for up to a month now, and it looks as if there are plenty of flower stalks. So take your time, but go look.

After admiring the flags last evening, I sat down on a bench to watch (and listen to) birds --- Red-winged blackbirds, tiny warblers and the occasional swallow, the blackbirds melodically vocal, the others silently swooping.

So I'm not sure when this guy emerged from the tall grass nearly at my feet to observe the wildlife. He (or she) just sat there for a time and we watched each other carefully. I eased the camera up and took a shot. Then he rose to his hind legs, took a final look and bounced back into the grass.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The leaning tower of Myers

I probably should have waited for a better day to record the fact that the leaning tower of Myers, my great-great-grandfather's tombstone at Salem Cemetery, leans no more. But then I wouldn't have had anything to write about this morning. I can always go back and switch out the photos --- Memorial Day weekend around here has turned gray and damp.

Jacob Myers, the patriarch, died in 1883 and this beast was erected shortly thereafter. It is a really tall tombstone --- and for as long as I can remember has been leaning to the north at what seems now, looking back, to have been a truly alarming angle.

But it's been righted as part of a general and ongoing tombstone fix-up at the cemetery so gently that you'd never know any work has been done.

The same can be said for Joab Wray and his mother, Charlotte, who had fallen into a heap; and Daniel Ragsdale and his two wives, Cynthia Ann and Sarah Jane, who had found themselves in the same position. Both vintage monuments now are standing reassembled and upright again, as are others. Paris and Mary White's hefty chunk of gray granite, leaning backwards at an angle even more gravity-defying than the Myers stone, is fully upright again, too, and no longer a threat to passers-by.


Just for the heck of it, I decided to add up the ancestors buried in a four-county area --- Lucas, Wayne, Monroe and Appanoose (plus one cemetery just over the county line at Columbia in Marion). Conceivably, I could visit all of these folks on a single Memorial Day, but it would involve quite a hike. Here's the list:

Salem Cemetery (Lucas County): parents, Daniel and Reefa (Miller) Myers; grandparents, Irwin and Ethel (Dent) Myers; great-grandparents, Daniel and Mary Belle (Redlingshafer) Myers; great-great-grandparents, Jacob and Harriet (Dick) Myers; and great-great-great-grandmother, Doratha Redlingshafer.

Chariton Cemetery (Lucas County): Great-great-grandparents, John G. and Isabelle (Greer) Redlingshafer.

Waynick Cemetery (Lucas County): Great-great grandmother, Eliza Jane (Brown) Dent/Chynoweth and her second husband, Joseph Turner Chynoweth.

Oxford Cemetery (Lucas County): Great-grandparents, Joseph Cyrus and Mary Elizabeth (Clair) Miller; and great-great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Elizabeth (McMulin) Miller.

Bethel Cemetery (Lucas County): Great-great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Rhea) Rhea/Etheredge/Sargent and her second and third husbands, Thomas Etheredge and Edward E. Sargent; great-great-great-great grandmother, Mary (Rhea) Rhea/Hickman.

Lone burial (Lucas County): Great-great-great-grandfather William Clair.

Columbia Cemetery (Marion County): Grandparents, William Ambrose and Jessie Frances (Brown) Miller; great-grandparents, Joseph and Chloe (Boswell/Prentiss) Brown; and great-great-great-grandmother, Mary (Saunders) Clair.

Corydon Cemetery (Wayne County): Great-great-grandparents, Peachy Gilmer and Caroline (McDaniel) Boswell plus Moses Prentiss, first husband of my great-grandmother, Chloe (Boswell/Prentiss) Brown.

Evergreen Cemetery (Cincinnati, Appanoose County): Great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Boswell.

Pleasant Corners Cemetery (Monroe County): Great-great-great-grandparents, William and Miriam (Trescott) Miller and Joseph and Mary (Young) McMulin.

I count 35 grandparents of one degree or another --- enough for a busy Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Peony patrol

It doesn't take much to encourage Iowa's graveyard peonies to kick up their heels and dance on Memorial Day, but this has been an especially good year.

In the Chariton Cemetery, the top talent award goes to this magnificent pair on the Lucy and Cleveland Evans lot that have spread their skirts to cover, almost entirely, four tombstones.

Elsewhere, peonies are blooming not only pink.

But very pale pink.

And white as well.

Most varieties planted here over the year are double or "bomb" varieties, but I found a healthy pair of single peonies flanking a tombstone, too.

There are plenty of red peonies out here, too, but my attempts to photograph them turned to shocking magenta --- so it's up to you to go look. But it is quite a show right now, despite lots of rain that tends to ground these overweight beauties.


Another thing that made me happy Saturday was to see that someone continues to fill the planter at the Clark boys' graves for Memorial Day.

Duane and Beryl, sons of Melvin and Mabel Clark, died two months apart during World War II and their remains were repatriated to Chariton after the war.

This was a small family and after Lucas County ran out of this variety of Clark, the planter between their headstones remained empty for a number of years --- until the tradition of filling it annually in their honor resumed.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A flag for Charley Todd

Don Garrett (left), Lois Vogel and Dave Amos kindly provided the flag last evening that will mark Charley Todd's grave over the Memorial Day weekend.

No one in Chariton knew much about Charley Todd, other than the facts that he seemed to be about 50, had served in France during World War I, worked hard, always was cheerful and was devoted to his faithful dog, Queenie.

According to a report on the front page of The Chariton Leader of October 26, 1937, he had arrived in town about five years earlier.

To make a living, Charley did odd jobs for business and professional men around the square. Eva Walls, who operated an apartment house on West Court Avenue, allowed Charley and Queenie to sleep in the basement. In return, he fired the furnace --- keeping residents warm during colder months.

Tragically, a fire broke out near that furnace very early on the morning of Saturday, October 23 --- and although the building was scarcely damaged, the smoke it generated proved fatal to both man and dog.

When firefighters finally were able to enter the basement, they found Charley on the floor, where he apparently had collapsed while trying to escape, and Queenie on the bed.

The Leader's columnist, identified only as "D.A.N.," noted on another page of the Oct. 26 edition  that "Lawrence Stoko and I saw Charley Todd and Queenie late Friday night, only a few hours before they died from suffocation in a smoke-filled basement. After seeing the manner in which Todd beamed with pride when Stoko patted Queenie and termed her a fine dog, I can understand how neither would desert the other."

Someone knew that Charley had a brother, Ike, who lived at Vinton --- but he couldn't be located. So on Sunday afternoon, members of Carl L. Caviness Post No. 102, American Legion, took charge of the remains and Charley was buried with military honors in the G.A.R. plot at the Chariton Cemetery.

A week later, Ike Todd --- who said he had been traveling in South Dakota when authorities tried to contact him in Vinton a week earlier --- came to Chariton to learn the details of his brother's death and to look for a service revolver and valuable watch, which he thought Charlie should have had.

Sheriff Miles Mason informed him, however, that nothing like that had turned up; that Charley's only belongings had consisted of clothing, a few trinkets and a dollar watch. So Ike went home and that was that. But authorities did learn that Charley's full name was Charles Noble Todd.


Nearly 80 years later, Charley's is the only unmarked grave in the G.A.R. section. 

When Don Garrett and others pulled up in front of the shelter house Friday evening --- where Alyse, Joe and I were working --- with a pickup load of flags to be placed at veteran graves, I asked to borrow one, walked over to Charley's grave and planted it.

I'm fairly sure I was the only one who knew then exactly where Charley was buried, or for that matter that he was buried here at all. But you know, too, now --- in that space that seems to be vacant, but isn't, between the graves of fellow World War I veterans Clarence Johnson and Clarence Askren.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Prairie gold (and magenta)

I've written before about that mile-long long stretch of prairie remnant sandwiched between U.S. Highway 65 and the Cinder Path south of Derby, but usually in late July and August when Prairie Blazing Stars are in full bloom.

Now, in spring, the the show is more subtle --- but it's easier to keep track of your footing since the plants still are ankle- rather than knee-high, waist-high or taller. Patches of gold and magenta blur as you drive by, but become evident in detail if you stop and wade in.

My advice is to pull off into the driveway that serves a big anhydrous ammonia tank about two miles south of Derby, but then continues a few car-lengths to the path itself and into a farm field beyond. Walk the Cinder Path north for a minute or two until an easy way into the prairie presents itself, then go for it.

You'll get used to the passing traffic, although it may have some difficulty getting used to you. I thought for a minute Thursday afternoon that I was going to be joined by a pickup, driver apparently intent on what I was up to, that hit the rumble strip and veered halfway onto the shoulder before regaining control of the situation and zooming north.

The gold offered up right now is provided by Golden Alexanders, a plant EuroAmerican pioneers thought would cure syphilis --- a subject so indelicate I thought about not bringing it up at all.

The magenta --- prairie phlox; and there are many of them scattered among the grasses here.

So many, in fact, that it's possible to find quite a few natural variations, including this more subtle variety.

Some of the plants are tiny --- a white variety of Blue-Eyed Grass for example --- so it's necessary to look carefully.

Many of the plants I wrote about a week ago after walking the prairie remnants east of Derby are here, too --- Hoary Puccoon, for example, and Common Cinquefoil (below).

I also found a couple of examples of Yellow Star Grass.

A little New Jersey Tea.

Some berry blossoms.

and Ox-eye Daisies (not a native, but an import from Europe and Asia) just beginning to bloom.

If you're looking for early Prairie bloom, I'd advise against walking back to the prairie remnants east of Derby right now --- the conservation staff has been busy here with a brush hog, splintering invasive cedars, honesuckle and other pesky invasives that, unless checked, will overwhelm these precious areas.

These areas will bounce back in a few weeks, but for now the best early blooms are right there in plain sight along U.S. 65.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memorial Day in an it's-all-about-me world

It's 39 degrees here this morning and the weekend forecast calls for day-time highs in the 70s, so it looks like it's going to be a cool and most likely damp Memorial Day. Those of us who plan to staff the shelter house in the Chariton Cemetery over the weekend probably would be advised to dress in layers.

The shelter will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Volunteers from the Lucas County Genealogical Society and the Commission will take turns keeping it open, visiting with guests, helping when we can to locate graves and offering lemonade and cookies.

It's the best chance of the year to take a look inside the little brick building, complete with fireplace, added  in 1929 as part of a huge redevelopment project that commenced after the city purchased the cemetery from the Stanton family in 1924 and set about dealing with years of neglect. It's an interesting little building with a big front porch that on warm days at least is a great place to sit. Even the wicker furniture inside is original.


It's been chilly (for late May) the last few days, which I don't really mind. But it felt better inside Ellis Greenhouse yesterday (with exterior doors closed against a brisk north wind) than it did outside, where hardier plants are displayed.

I picked up a couple of planters --- and the Ellis staff does a tremendous job with these --- to take out to Salem on Friday. They'll stay out there over the weekend, then come back into town so that the contents can be replanted for a long summer of bloom.

That's something my late mother, who had an aversion to artificial flowers, would approve of. Her strategy was to cut fresh flowers in the garden on the morning graves were to be decorated. That strategy also relieved cemetery caretakers of the need to remove faded and frayed artificial arrangements, bag them up and haul them away to the landfill.

She also was among the last of a long line of folks who, once the dust of a recent burial had settled, planted a peony at the head of the grave. Most cemeteries discourage that now, but it's another tradition I like --- although it's easy to understand why the practice is discouraged in these days of weed-whackers and obsession with neatly clipped.


Anyhow, enjoy the weekend and remember the departed fondly. But keep in mind that the holiday developed in the first place after the Civil War to honor those who had died in service to their country with honors for those who had served honorably, then died later, added as a the years passed. Other wars have followed and many more have served and died.

We live in an it's-all-about-me culture, but Memorial Day was intended to be all about them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stranger among us: Fred B. Sanders

So there I was sitting cross-legged in front of Fred Berton Sanders' G.I. tombstone atop the embankment overlooking Highway 14 Tuesday evening --- a curiosity for anyone driving by --- with a half-gallon milk jug of warm water, a scrub brush and Great-uncle Al Love's keyhole saw.

The goal was to make that tombstone look as good as possible when I took this picture: scrubbing off and rinsing away the bird crap, then sawing off and removing remains of a flag that had gotten jammed into the World War II graveside holder so many years ago that only a frayed scrap of fabric maybe an inch wide remained.

Both the late Fred and I were in the Grand Army of the Republic section, a small area sandwiched between the Chariton Cemetery's most easterly north-south drive and the highway embankment. You recognize it by the flag pole squarely in the middle and a big cast concrete urn on a plinth that, in the photo header of this blog right now, is holding a bouquet of flags.


Cemetery records tell us that Daniel Iseminger Post No. 18, Grand Army of the Republic, purchased these six double lots from the Chariton Cemetery Co., then owned by the Stanton family, on Sept. 15, 1893. The old soldiers had two motives --- first, to provide an honorable burial place for Civil War veterans who had no other place to be interred; second, to provide a permanent staging ground for the organization's annual Memorial Day service at the cemetery.

As the years passed, 11 Civil War veterans and the wife of another were buried here. And as time marched on, Lucas County's last two surviving Civil War veterans, William Humphreys and Robert Killen, died --- in an odd quirk of timing, both on Jan. 25, 1941, both age 96. They were buried respectively at Mount Zion and Graceland cemeteries.

Three years later, on July 12, 1944, the six G.A.R. lots were deeded to the city of Chariton with the restriction that they be set aside for the burial of "any active or retired serviceman from any branch of service who can't afford a burial place elsewhere." Lucas County supervisors paid the perpetual maintenance surcharge.

As of today, there are 20 burials in the G.A.R. section, including eight from later wars. The first to be buried here was Jacob Willoughby, on March 5, 1899; the latest, Larry Gene Cain, on Jan. 22, 1983. Alexander Van Meter's 1863 tombstone, now sadly broken, is located here, too --- but that's a story for another day.


I thought for a while that I should tell first the story of a veteran buried here who might be considered more worthy by some than Fred Sanders, stranger among us and a Lucas Countyan by default. But that would miss the point.

Those buried here range from honorable fathers through loners and free spirits to vagabond rascals --- and Fred may have been the latter. But they are united by the fact all served their country honorably and, in death, were accorded roughly the same military honors.


The death date on Fred Sanders' tombstone --- October 1, 1966 --- is guess. No one knows exactly when he died, alone, down along the Chariton River south of town some time most likely during September or early October of that year.

Richard Thorne, then a young man, found the remains on November 11. Thorne had set out to go hunting from his folks' home up along the Blue Grass Road, walked west across their fields, then followed the Rock Island Tracks south to the river, gun in hand.

He chanced upon the body in a brushy area on the railroad right-of-way under the big viaduct that carries the Rock Island (now Union Pacific) tracks across the river, according to a report in The Chariton Leader of Nov. 15, 1966.

I've heard this story from Thorne family members a couple of times --- how Richard returned to his parents' home after the disconcerting find, sat down, exchanged a few words and then said almost casually something like, "Oh, by the way ...."

Sheriff Wayne Swanson was called; he and others examined the scene more carefully before the badly decomposed remains were removed to the Miley undertaking parlors.

The body was dressed in a U.S. Army khaki shirt and green fatigue trousers. A pair of shoes appeared to have been placed with some care about 10 feet from where the remains were found.

The body was X-rayed, but no injuries other than a fractured wrist were discovered. So death eventually was attributed to exposure. Speculation was that the man had been riding the Rock Island rails and had fallen off, perhaps sustaining internal injuries that several weeks after death occurred were not evident.

A billfold was found and it contained documents related to a Fred Berton Sanders, age 43 --- a California drivers license as well as papers that showed honorable discharge from U.S. Army service during World War II --- and a certificate stating that its bearer had been released from the Oregon State Penitentiary on March 19, 1966.

Enough flesh remained on one hand to allow finger prints to be lifted. These were forwarded to Oregon and a positive identification made.

As it turned out, Fred Sanders was the divorced father of six and had spent time in prison after conviction for failure to pay support. His mother, a brother and two sisters also were located --- but no one was inclined (or financially able) to claim the body.

As a result, Fred's remains were interred at county expense on Dec. 1 in the G.A.R. section of the Chariton Cemetery with the Rev. Eldon Jandebeur, of First Christian Church, officiating at graveside rites. Some time later, a G.I. tombstone was ordered --- and I don't know by whom --- to mark his grave.

Stranger among us, perhaps something of a rascal --- it makes no difference. He'll be honored with all the rest on Memorial Day, when a small U.S. flag will fly at his grave.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Grand Army flag holder for William Martin

Those flag holders near veteran tombstones in civilian cemeteries across the land may seem like insignificant things. And they're often treated as such --- bent and battered and broken. They're only used once a year, after all, on Memorial Day.

But each is a small gesture of respect, so it made me happy on Monday to replace the inappropriate Confederate holder (below) at William Martin's grave in the Chariton Cemetery with a new Grand Army of the Republic holder (above) --- with assistance from Dick Jones, Lucas County's director of veteran services, who provided the new marker and took custody of the old.

Yes, I know the tombstone inscription reads, "Benjamin Alexander." But William, who had lived in Chariton with his family for more than 45 years when he died here, near the age of 90, on Oct. 20, 1929, was never known by that name in Lucas County.

He was born, ca. 1841, in Macon, Missouri, most likely into slavery, but at the age of 22 enlisted as a free man and under the name Benjamin Alexander in Company C, 62nd Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. He served for three years until war's end and honorable discharge after deployments in Missouri, Arkansas and Texas.

Even though abolition of slavery was the great issue of the Civil War, Union forces were strictly segregated. The 62nd Regiment, led by white officers, was organized Dec. 14, 1863, at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis. The 62nd and units like it were the only options for black men who wished to serve the nation that at last had freed them.

After the war, William married Tina Root during 1875 in Kirksville, Missouri, and they moved to Chariton to raise their family of eight children (a ninth child died young) soon after 1880. Tina died during 1916 and is buried near William, but in an unmarked grave.

William received a pension for his Civil War service, commencing in 1892, but only after his pro bono attorney George W. Alexander, a Confederate veteran, helped him sort out the difficulties that arose because he had enlisted under one name but lived under another.

When the time came to order a veteran's tombstone to mark his grave, however, it was issued in the name the government knew him by, Benjamin Alexander.

The Confederate flag holder most likely was placed near the grave within the last 20 years by someone who had misinterpreted the "C" in the "U.S.C." inscribed on the tombstone as "Confederate." Although there are others in the Chariton Cemetery who served as (white) officers in Colored Troops units, so far as I know William/Benjamin is the only black veteran of the Civil War buried here.

I've written about William/Benjamin before, so if you're interested in a little more detail, go here.

And if you're out wandering around cemeteries this Memorial Day weekend, remember that government-issue tombstones for Union service always have rounded tops; tombstones for those who served the Confederacy, pointed tops. No matter what the flag holders near them indicate.