Saturday, October 03, 2015

Papal visits, scuttled canonizations & "phobes"

St. Patrick's in the Irish Settlement (Diocese of Des Moines photo)
Des Moines Register
Lord knows I enjoy a good Pope visit as much as the next guy, but I'm sorry --- I liked John Paul II's visit to Iowa back in 1979 better.

Tomorrow is the 36th anniversary of that visit, when Iowans saw a lot of things not thought possible before --- the Pope alighting from a helicopter in a farm field southwest of Des Moines, prayer with some 200 parishioners packed into tiny St. Patrick's Church in the rural "Irish Settlement" near Cumming, then Mass before an estimated 350,000 people at Living History Farms.

Somewhere around here, I've got a program printed for the Living History Farms Mass --- brought back by a friend who braved the crowds to be there herself.

Life was simpler then, or so it sometimes seems, and a major reason for the papal visit to Iowa involved Madison County farmer Joe Hayes, who got out some stationery, an ink-pen and wrote a letter to the Pope inviting him to drop by and talk about stewardship --- which John Paul II did.

I'm thinking Pope Francis probably would have been better off had he boarded a plane in Rome last week and headed for Des Moines --- instead of Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. I'm guessing he wouldn't have run into Kim Davis at Living History Farms.


How about that Davis business? She's the fundamentalist protestant Kentucky county clerk who has turned herself into a princess or pariah, depending upon outlook, by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Somehow, she ended up getting a "secret audience" with Francis at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. And that seemed to be all anyone could talk about after her lawyers leaked news of the handshake after the Pope was back in Rome resting his feet. The uproar that followed, including the news that the only "real" audience Francis had granted in D.C. involved a gay friend and his partner, kind of scuttled what apparently had been an informal attempt to canonize Mrs. Davis.

Personally, I think the old boy was snookered, most likely by members of the Brocade Brigade --- old queens accustomed to ruling Vatican City who look back fondly to Benedict and resent this apparently kinder, gentler and less ornate occupant of the chair of St. Peter.

But I could be wrong ---  maybe just naive. It just seems like an uncharacteristic thing for a guy who has consciously turned down the volume on hot-button issues --- without actually changing anything --- to do.


This also was the week I "unfriended" a guy on Facebook --- something I've never done before, mostly because it seems rude, but also because I'm generally interested in what folks have to share, no matter how wacky I may think it is.

So I have Islamaphobes, homophobes, Obamaphobes and kaleophobes among my "friends."

But here's the deal --- the first time you post something that ends up in my news feed suggesting that anyone should be killed to further your phobias --- you're out of here.

Friday, October 02, 2015

In honor of U.S. Army Air Forces Maj. Al Smith

At least six young men from Lucas County are buried or commemorated on Tablets of the Missing at the Manilla American Cemetery, a staggering memorial to World War II honor and service, a stark reminder of  the cost.

Consider the numbers: more than 17,000 graves, each marked by a white cross; 36,285 names of the  missing (lost, unidentified or buried at sea) --- from Australia north to Japan, from India, China and Burma east to the Palau Islands --- engraved in white marble.

The physical remains of Andy Knapp, the first Lucas Countyan to die in the war, were reburied here after combat ended, moved from a temporary grave at Camp O'Donnell, also in the Philippines, last stop on the Bataan Death March.

Among the engraved names are those of Joseph J. Larson, Lyle H. Morris, Lyle E. Mosby, Raymond A. Nutt --- and Al Smith, a young man who loved to fly and died doing what he loved.


My late mother, when a girl, attended Sunday school at Central Christian Church in Williamson with Al (named Homer Lewis Smith by his parents but always called "Al"), his sister, Dorothey, and younger brothers, Harold and George Jr.  She also was his Chariton High School classmate.

Al was born August 20, 1914, when his parents, George Sr. and Helen Smith, were farming southwest of Williamson. In 1921, when he was 7, the family moved into Williamson where George Sr. opened a meat market. The eldest son learned his trade, that of a meat-cutter, from his father.

A 1934 graduate of Chariton High School, Al attended a year of classes at Chariton Junior College, then went to work in the meat departments of various Chariton grocery stores --- Spiker's, Ruddells and Blanchard's among them.

On Jan. 1, 1940, Al and a young woman named Mary Ellen Clark were first in line at the Lucas County clerk's office to receive the first marriage license issued that year. They were married the same afternoon, a Monday, at the First Christian Church parsonage.


Smith's best friend in those years after high school was a coal miner's son named Bassel Blakesmith, in part because the two young men shared a love of flying. Al and Bassel and other young men from Chariton traveled to Ottumwa during the late 1930s to take flying lessons, then invested --- when they could afford to do so --- in planes of their own.

There were occasional mishaps, but nothing serious. During June of 1940, attempting a landing on too short a runway at "Brown's Airport" just north of Chariton, Al nosed his plane into the ground and flipped it over. Neither the pilot nor the craft was seriously injured, however.

During August of 1940, Blakesmith and Smith formed a partnership and purchased George Blanchard's Jack Spratt Grocery on the east side of the square. This was located in the building, then separate, that now forms the south half of Betty Hansen's Iowa Realty offices. Bassel operated the grocery and vegetable departments; Al, the meat department. Significantly, Al's sister, Dorothey Smith, signed on as chief clerk.

The two men also had invested jointly in an American Eagle Biplane, which they kept at the Des Moines Airport. That plane was heavily damaged during a wind storm at the airport during April of 1941, but the two pilots soon were airborne again.


The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, propelled the United States into war in both  Pacific and European theaters --- and both Smith and Blakesmith, into the service of their country.

The men wanted to be pilots and set their sights on the U.S. Army Air Corps.

At the time, two years of college or successful completion of a challenging academic test were required of all potential Air Corps pilots. Since neither man had met the college requirement, both took the test --- and passed with flying colors. They enlisted together on Feb. 24, 1942, and left Chariton together for training in Texas on March 23.

Al's sister, Dorothey, had agreed to operate the grocery store for the duration of the war and, somewhat more importantly, had agreed to marry Bassel, although the ceremony would not take place until November. The friends then became brothers-in-law, too.


The two men completed basic training together and both were assigned to the Waco Army Basic Flying School, Waco, Texas --- but then their paths diverged. Al was assigned to advanced fighter pilot school (known as the "Satan's Angels school" at Foster Field, Victoria, Texas; and Bassel, to bomber pilot training school at Kelly Field, Texas.

Both were commissioned second lieutenants and awarded their silver wings during early November.

Dorothey Smith traveled to Texas for Bassel's graduation ceremony and they were married the same day, Nov. 10, in the post chapel at Kelly Field.


Smith was assigned after receiving his wings to the 338th Fighter Group at Dale Mabry Field, Tallahassee, Florida, and proved to be both an exemplary pilot --- and a top instructor. As a result, he spent the next two years as a supervisor of flight training in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, advancing in rank to 1st lieutenant during September of 1943 and captain in February of 1944.

In April of 1945, however, he was reassigned to the 530th Fighter Squadron, then operating in the China theater of operations.

Al was shot down over China on his 21st mission, but almost miraculously survived --- walking some 500 miles from behind enemy lines to safety with a minor leg wound. His family in Chariton received the news that he was missing during August of 1945, then a month later, learned that he was safe.

There was considerable rejoicing in Chariton --- Al was safe, the war in Europe had ended, hostilities in the Pacific theatre had ceased (officially) a few days after Al was shot down behind enemy lines and Japan had surrendered formally on Sept. 2.

Following his safe return, Al wrote the following letter to his mother, describing his experience --- and it was published in The Herald-Patriot of October 11, 1945.


How happy I am to be able to write you this letter. I only regret that I was not able to write it sooner to save you so much worry, at a time when you could have all been so happy with the news of peace.

I cannot tell you any details of my experience --- but you can rest assured I'm O.K. I spent 41 days walking out to where one of our planes could pick me up. My parachute jump was O.K. except I did not have my own and had one too large which gave me a few burns and bruises around the neck, shoulders and legs. My only other injury was a bullet that went through the cockpit and hit me in the right leg. It was my 21st mission and one I'll never forget I'm sure.

As I told Mary, I certainly know the loneliest feeling in the world. It was when those other three P-51's left me out there, 500 miles behind Japanese lines by the side of a little cornfield. God, I could have cried while I watched them go out of sight. Then I woke up to the fact I'd better get mysef gathered up and get the thunder out of there, so I gathered up my parachute and ran like mad. I had quite a time getting away, but made it O.K. God, I ran until I thought I would drop, and then run some more and more.

I was shot down at 11:30 in the morning and that went on until dark --- sore leg and all. Boy, but I'm telling you there is almost no limit to what you can stand when you known you have to and I'm telling you, you sure don't feel like being taken prisoner --- or I didn't.

I brought the silk of my parachute out all the way with me. It's really beautiful, I thought you and Mary and Dorothey might like to make something out of it. God, I almost threw it away at times when it seemed like I couldn't get away unless I did. I'll be mailing it home soon --- along with some other things. I got a Japanese sword and a pistol as souvenirs of my 41-day trip.

Well, it's about time for the lights to go out so I'll have to close for now, but I'll write again soon, as I want this to get off early in the morning. With all my love, hugs and kisses for the best mom and dad, sister and brother in the world, and so sorry I've caused you all so much worry.


The arrival of peace meant a safe return home to Lucas County for Al's friend and brother-in-law, Bassel Blakesmith, but Al still had work to do.

Now promoted to the rank of major --- and with a Purple Heart medal --- he was assigned to ferry P-51 Fighters "over the hump" from Andal, India, to Shanghai.

And it was on one of those missions that severe weather --- it is believed --- brought his plane down on Nov. 19, 1945, somewhere in vicinity of Hankow, China.

This time there was no good news, neither plane nor pilot ever was seen again and a year later, the U.S. Army declared Maj. Homer Lewis "Al" Smith dead. He was 31.

There never was a funeral, but some years later his family arranged for a memorial marker to be placed on the Smith family lot in the Chariton Cemetery --- then his name was engraved on one of those memorial tablets in Manilla.

The family moved on --- always remembering, of course. Mary (Clark) Smith remarried during 1948 --- to Leck Young --- and lived a long life in Chariton. But   most if not all who knew him intimately have passed over the great divide, too, by now. Who remains to say Al Smith's name and tell something of his story?

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Secrets of the Stanton Vault 5: Minnie Day Kirk

Minnie Day Kirk seemed to have just about everything a young woman of her social standing was expected to expect in Chariton during the 1890s. She was attractive and popular, had married a prosperous husband, had a lovely home, was an accomplished hostess and had many friends. But tuberculosis, the great killer of young adults (and others) at that time, had no respect for social standing or wealth --- and it claimed her during 1895 at age 29.

Here's the script that Patti Bisgard used to tell her story during the annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour program, "Secrets of the Stanton Vault," held on Sept. 20.


Welcome to my home, ladies and gentlemen --- such as it is. I was an accomplished hostess in my time and were it 1890 rather than 2015, would offer you refreshment.

My name is Mrs. Charles J. Kirk --- we rarely used our given names except among family and close friends in those days when women fortunate enough to marry were looked upon as extensions of their husbands. But you may call me Minnie --- Minnie Gray Kirk.

I was in my 30th year, the flower of young womanhood as the gentleman who wrote my obituary put it, when tuberculosis --- then the great killer of young adults --- claimed me on May the 2nd 1896.

We called it “consumption” in those days, but in more polite society it was considered indelicate to mention even that, so my demise was attributed to bronchial and lung troubles. I died in Las Vegas, New Mexico, then a resort populated in large part by affluent people similarly afflicted who hoped the dryer climate would benefit them. I had spent the winter there, accompanied by a cousin, with visits from Charley at Christmas and again in the spring.


I might have been a country girl --- born on a farm near Oakley in 1866 --- but my father, Andrew Gray, aspired to other things and so when I was very young we moved to Chariton. Here, he achieved a modest level of prominence as cashier of First National Bank, city clerk and, for two terms, as county recorder. My mother’s name was Margaret and I had three siblings, a sister, Lillian, and two brothers, Edgar and Wright --- the latter of whom died of scarlet fever in 1887, during the first year of my marriage.

My education was received in the Chariton schools and I graduated from Chariton High School with the class of 1884 during exercises held in the Mallory Opera Hall. Eight of us graduated, among them Arthur Blake, who was the only male.

I was bright, attractive and vivacious --- if I do say so myself. So much so that during December of 1884 I was “elected” Most Popular Young Lady at the annual Firemen’s Banquet with 326 votes --- at 10 cents per vote. It might interest you to know that Temp Percifield was the lucky winner of the raffle for a cow at this banquet, another fund-raising scheme of the firemen.

Immediately after graduation, I began to teach primary in the Chariton schools, my classroom located in the new Columbus building. But I soon fell in love with the dashing Charlie Kirk, we married and since married women were not permitted to teach in the lower grades, my career in education was short.

Charlie, a pharmacist by profession, arrived in Chariton during May of 1884, as I was graduating from high school, and opened Kirk Drug Store in the Union Block.

Charlie was some 10 years my senior and something of a chancer, so my parents were not enthusiastic about our courtship. As a result, we were married at the Methodist Church on Dec. 29, 1886, with only our friends, Bates and Florence Manning, as attendants. We had not told anyone other than the Rev. Mr. Collins of our plans. 


After our marriage, I resigned my teaching position and after a few days at the Depot Hotel, we took up residence in a rented property in north Chariton where I began housekeeping, perfected my skills as hostess and awaited children --- but none ever arrived.

Soon thereafter, Charlie developed a highly profitable sideline --- buying, selling and racing fine horses. Although he continued in the drug business, it increasingly was managed by hired assistants.

Charlie was a great sportsman, too --- hunting, shooting and fishing --- and we both enjoyed camping. The late 1880s held wonderful times. During July of 1888, for example, we joined friends for a full week of camping along White Breast Creek near Lacona. During October of that year, we traveled with six of our friends to see the sights at the St. Louis World Fair.

Charlie continued to travel extensively on his own, buying and selling horses across America and Canada. By 1890, he had settled upon a favorite breed, French draft horses called Percherons, and we traveled in Europe for two months that summer, then returned to America in August via freight steamer with animals he had purchased.

Our new affluence allowed us to purchase during 1891 the fine home of Major and Mrs. C.T. Haskins on East Auburn Avenue and it became the venue for much entertaining. The High Five party we hosted for 40 guests during June was deemed the social event of the season. Our home later was occupied by the T. P. Stanton and Foote families and now is owned by Marilyn and Jack Cavanaugh. 

By late 1892, however, my bronchial condition was becoming more severe. At that time there was no medical treatment for consumption but an arid climate and fresh air eased symptoms and, it was thought, encouraged the body to heal itself.

I spent many months in California, commencing in February of 1893, then during 1894 settled down for a time in Hot Springs, South Dakota. I was a resident for many weeks during 1895 of a sanitarium in Des Moines. 

Finally, during the fall of 1895, I set out for Las Vegas, New Mexico, renowned at the time as a refuge for those with conditions similar to mine. My symptoms abated, then returned. Charlie visited at Christmas and then, again, in the spring, by which time It seemed possible that I would be able to return home in improved health.

That was not to be, however, and just days after Charlie left for home during April I was stricken with pneumonia, he returned hurriedly to my bedside and on May 2, I died.


Charlie continued to live in Chariton for some years after my death, remarried and continued to have success. In 1906, he removed to St. Joseph, Missouri, as head of the Percheron Importing Company, but then his health began to fail. He suffered a nervous breakdown, then on March 10, 1917, a fatal stroke.


His remains were returned to Chariton and interred here in the vault near me, but some years later his second wife --- preparing to remarry and move to California --- had his remains removed and buried on a family lot nearby. I have been on my own here since that time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Putting Lyle Morris's sign in its place

Family and friends gathered a couple of weeks ago on the north shore of Lake Morris to dedicate a sign commemorating its namesake, Lyle Morris, a young man from Derby who was among the first from Lucas County to die in combat during World War II.

On Tuesday, the sign was permanently installed by (top, from left) Chariton city staffers Tony Piper and Dave Van Ryswick, Evans family friend Greg Watsabaugh, of Humeston, and Greg's friend and co-worker, J. D. McDonald.

Greg had taken the sign home with him to Humeston on Sept. 11, then bolted long steel supports onto the sign's wooden base. He enlisted his friend's assistance to transport the sign back to Lake Morris on Tuesday, where they were met by Van Ryswick and Piper, who drilled holes for the support then helped level the sign and embed its legs in concrete.

A final step here will involve staining and sealing the frame, but it is now in place and anyone who would like to drive out to the north-shore access to Lake Morris and learn more about the young man after whom the lake is named is welcome to do so.

Lyle died at his battle station aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, then under attack by Japanese forces off the coast of the Santa Cruz Islands, on Aug. 24, 1942, and was buried at sea.  During May of 1943, the Chariton City Council named the then-new lake in his honor and, at the same time, named its twin Lake Ellis, in honor of Roy Ellis, of Williamson, another who was among the first to die.

Lyle's nephew, Don Evans, of Yap Island, and other family members developed the idea for the sign and financed it. Patrick Ranfranz, of Cameron, Wisconsin, designed the sign and commissioned its frame, then with his wife, Cherie, drove it down to Chariton for the Sept. 11 dedication ceremony during which Don and his cousins, Charlotte Bibler and Jean Marie and Bob Davidson, and other family members and friends were present.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Puckerbrush School gets a workout

Puckerbrush School (also known as Pleasant Ridge) got a workout Monday morning --- as did Marilyn, Char and Frank (its Lucas County Historical Society minders) --- as 60 or more guests in two groups, young and older, utilized the museum campus.

We were really happy to host the Lucas County Retired Teachers Association as members gathered in the school for their first meeting of a new program year. As it happened, I was the program --- discussing the history of Puckerbrush and rural schools in general in Lucas County. The group's business meeting --- and sack lunches --- followed.

Although several of the retired teachers present had attended country schools in childhood, only one had taught in a one-roomer before consolidation during the 1960s made the 80 or more buildings that once dotted the rural landscape redundant. Puckerbrush, built in 1874 and moved to the museum from Ottercreek Township in 1968, is the only survivor still furnished and functioning --- occasionally --- as a school.

Meanwhile, more than 20 home-school students and their moms from Knoxville spent the morning at the museum, enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds --- then took over the school as the retired teachers were leaving.

This group brought along a special guest, Carole (Penick) Gullion, who had attended school at Puckerbrush when she was growing up in northwest Lucas County and was able to share many memories with the youngsters and their mothers.

One of the students --- Jonathan (and yes, I've forgotten his last name) --- gave some of our musical instruments a workout.

He proved that the Archie Beals pump organ in Otterbein Church still works (sort of).

Then demonstrated that the parlor piano in the Stephens House can still make music, too (although it really needs to be tuned).

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the last day of the regular open season at the museum. It's been a great year with hundreds of guests and we're grateful to the volunteers who keep us on track when guests arrive.

Kathleen will keep the office open with regular hours one day a week --- Tuesdays --- during the off-season, Marilyn and her curatorial crew will continue their work as usual and chances are many of the rest of the usual crew of board members and volunteers will be on campus frequently.

You're always welcome to stop in, but if you'd like a full tour of the museum during the off-season, please call ahead to make arrangements. We don't want you to be disappointed.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Raising Chariton's Sesquicentennial flag

Several of us gathered on the Stephens House front lawn Sunday afternoon to reminisce about Chariton's 2007 sesquicentennial celebration and formally raise the flag on the new Sesquicentennial Flag Pole, installed there during the past week.

Loren Burkhalter (left) and Don Garrett (representing Carl L. Caviness Post No. 102, American Legion) handled the flag-raising end of the operation.

Several members of the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, including John Braida (mayor in 2007) and Ruth Comer (Chamber executive at the time), shared memories of the observance, the 150th anniversary of Chariton's 1857 incorporation (the founding date is 1849).

The pole was funded in large part by money left in the sesquicentennial fund after all the bills had been paid, held in trust for several years by Chariton Area Chamber-Main Street, then channeled to the flag pole project through Master Gardeners & Friends.

It was a very pleasant program on a beautiful afternoon, then we all retired to the Stephens House front porch for refreshments (thanks to Kathleen and Kay). Linda Baynes has coordinated the flag pole project, so we're grateful to her, too.

When all is said and done, the Iowa flag will fly under the U.S. flag --- but until additional clips are installed the U.S. flag will fly alone. If you want to take a look, and haven't, the pole is positioned as a punctuation mark for West Braden Avenue, which ends at the museum grounds, although of course it is visible when approaching on North 17th from either south or north.


Coincidentally --- and appropriately --- a collection of photographs, documents and other items related to U.S. Air Force Col. Bassel Blakesmith also arrived at the museum on Sunday. Col. Blakesmith, whose career encompassed World War II, Korea and Vietnam, was among Lucas County's most distinguished military veterans --- and we're pleased that this material has found a permanent home at last, although a lot of sorting --- and conservation --- remains to be done.

Col. Blakesmith died during 2003; his widow, Dorothey, during 2004; and their only child, John, during 2011. 

Upon John's death and to settle his estate, virtually everything was sold --- but this collection of personal items was set aside and has passed from hand to hand until now. There's nothing of financial value in the assortment, but the historical value of the photographs, correspondence and some other items is considerable.

Some of this will be displayed; hundreds of letters written by Col. Blakesmith and his wife during his overseas postings will be archived, but open to primarily to researchers. Many documents will be respectfully put to rest since they concern business and personal matters that are none of our business, nor anyone else's. 

We have no idea what became of Col. Blakesmith's military decorations which, hopefully, were saved by someone. If those should turn up, we'd be pleased to add them to the Blakesmith collection.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Celebrating Lucas County's Ukrainian heritage ...

Several hundred of us got together on the courthouse lawn Saturday to celebrate Lucas County's Ukrainian heritage. Yup. Not Dutch (you're thinking of Pella) --- but Ukrainian.

We enjoyed good food, music, games, cultural displays, socializing --- and some preaching and prayers for peace (in Ukraine and elsewhere), too.

The latter shouldn't surprise anyone --- the Ukrainians who have made Lucas County their home in some cases for more than 15 years are united not only by a native language (Russian) and culture, but by faith (a strong ethnic expression of Pentacostalism), too.

Saturday's celebration was a joint effort of Chariton Area Chamber-Main Street (and its Lucas County Tourism division) and the Ukrainian community with aid from a major Union Pacific Foundation grant and financial assistance from US Bank, Lockridge Lumber & Supply and HyVee.

Alex Primakov and his large family generally are credited with founding Lucas County's Ukrainian community. He arrived in the United States during 1991 in search of freedom from violence, economic opportunity for his family and the liberty to practice his faith unimpeded as the former Soviet Union was beginning to dissolve.

He reportedly found Chariton while driving cross-country in 1998 from Tacoma, Wash., where he had settled first. Lucas County's soil, landscape and climate reminded him of home --- and he stayed. Hundreds of others have arrived since. Some have moved on, as immigrants to the United States always have, but many have remained.

At least two Slavic Pentecostal congregations now have buildings in Chariton and a third, which has been meeting Sunday afternoons at St. Andrew's Church, is expected to move to quarters of its own this fall.

Some Ukrainian craftsmen specialize in applying stucco finishes to buildings --- and so some family homes scattered around Chariton are easily recognizable. Most often, these are older homes rescued by immigrant families, reshaped into vaguely European form and --- covered in stucco.

Our Ukrainian neighbors fall into all age categories. Great-grandparents in some cases speak little if any English; their children do the best they can with the language; and the youngsters are easily bilingual.

Whatever the case, it was a great afternoon on the square and there's neither rhyme nor reason for the arrangement of these photographs.

We just wish you could have been there --- if you weren't.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Secrets of the Stanton Vault 4: Andrew Swan

Andrew Swan, who went down with the ship in a sense when the Stanton Vault was demolished in 1959, was the only representative of Lucas County's farming community re-interred in its footprint. An immigrant from Sweden, his prosperous family relocated to Nebraska and California in the years following his death, leaving Andrew's remains behind.

Lewis and Maria (Virgin) Bonnet, also interred in the vault, were farmers, too, but members of their family still lived in and near Chariton in the mid-1950s and evacuated their remains to a family lot in the southeast part of the cemetery.

Here's the script that Trae Hall used in his portrayal of Andrew during last Sunday's Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour presentation of "Secrets of the Stanton Vault."


Hej! Jag heter Andreas Swan.

What? You look puzzled. No one here understands Swedish?

I just said, “Hello! My name is Andrew Swan.”

Back when I was alive, there were hundreds of Swedish-speaking people in Lucas County --- more than those who spoke any language other than English. We were the county’s largest ethnic group; even had two churches of our own where services were conducted in the Swedish language --- the Swedish Lutheran Church on North 8th Street (now First Lutheran) and the Swedish Mission Covenant Church on West Braden Avenue.

My family and I were members of the Mission Covenant church.


I and my wife, Maria, both were born in Jonkopings Lan. “Lan” means county in Swedish, and our home was in the interior of Sweden’s southern tip, about midway between Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark. 

I was born in 1826 and Maria and I were married there on June 23, 1853. Our two eldest children, sons Swan and Nels, were born there, too. I was known as Andreas Swanson in Sweden, and had we remained there, our older son would have been known as Swan Andreason --- Andreas’ son.

We were farming people, however, and farm land was scarce and expensive in Jonkopings Lan. So in 1861 Maria and I brought our two children to America. 

We came first to the Swedish settlement at Andover in Henry County, Illinois, where our daughter, Christena, was born during November of that year. During the spring of 1862, we moved to Paxton, in Ford County, Illinois, where our children Sophia, Charles and Anna were born.

By 1876, many Swedish people --- including friends and extended family members --- had settled in Lucas County, Iowa, and they wrote, encouraging us to join them. And so we did during the spring of that year.

Our new farm was northwest of Chariton, two miles south of Oakley in Whitebreast Township --- and we prospered there. 

As the years passed, our older children married and moved farther west. Christina, Swan and Sophia and their families settled near Wausau, Nebraska. Nels, a Mission Covenant pastor, joined them there, married and then moved on to California. By 1900, only Charles and Anna remained at home.


Death, when it came on Nov. 21, 1903, was a considerable surprise. Although I was 77, I had not been ill and was able to farm beside my bachelor son, Charles. But on that day my heart gave out and before sunset I was gone.

This was a shock to the family and there was a good deal of debate among the children about where I should be buried. Finally, they inquired of Dr. Stanton about a crypt in the Stanton Vault, and that was where my remains were placed after funeral services at the Mission Covenant Church. Had life worked as planned, Maria was to join me in an adjoining vault upon her death.


Life rarely works as planned, however, and after the 1907 harvest, our son Charles decided that he no longer wanted to farm. And so the farm and the livestock were sold during February of 1908 and Maria, Charles and Anna moved first to Chicago, then to Indianapolis, and finally to San Diego, California.

They had only been settled in San Diego for a short time when Maria unexpectedly suffered a heart attack and died during late November, 1913. No thought was given to returning her remains to Chariton. Instead, her body was placed in the mausoleum at Inglewood Park Cemetery.

Many years later, when the Stanton Vault began to deteriorate and the decision was made to demolish it, none of my family could be located and so no one was offered the option of removing my remains and burying them elsewhere.


And so, when the remains of those still in the vault when it was demolished were reburied, mine were among them.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Secrets of the Stanton Vault 3: Jessie Mallory Thayer

Gayle Bortz portrayed Jessie (Mallory) Thayer O'Neal during Sunday's Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, "Secrets of the Stanton Vault." She told the story of her stillborn daughter, Louise, interred in the vault, as well as other personal challenges, including the suicide of her first husband and loss of a substantial fortune, during the years she generally was looked upon as among the most fortunate of Lucas Countyans.

Little Louise Mallory Thayer's final resting place now is identified by a funeral home marker embedded in concrete at the site of the vault, demolished in 1959. Here's the text of the script for that presentation.


It’s sometimes said that money can’t buy happiness, and my life is a case in point. I am Jessie Mallory Thayer O’Neal, once the best known woman in Chariton, the only child of its first family, the Mallorys of Mallory’s Castle.

My final resting place is Orlando, Florida, but I’ve come home today because my only child, a daughter named Louise Mallory Thayer after she was stillborn in 1888, is buried here in the remains of the Stanton Vault. Her father --- my first husband, Deming Thayer --- took his own life 10 years later. His grave is over there straight west, just beyond cemetery driveway.


I was born during 1863 in Naperville, Illinois, but came to Chariton during 1867 --- the year the first trains arrived --- when I was 4.

My parents were Smith Henderson and Annie Louise Mallory, and my father built all the bridges on the new railroad between Ottumwa and Council Bluffs. By 1870, he was the richest man in Lucas County. He was a railroad contractor, land speculator and banker and founded First National Bank in 1870. 

I was raised simply, however --- our first home was a frame house on the lot now occupied by Chariton High School. And I graduated from the original Chariton High School with the Class of 1879.

That same year, my parents began to build their mansion, an Italianate house with a tall tower named Ilion --- although most called it Mallory’s Castle --- on the north edge of town. Our farm, Brooke Farm, consisted of 1,000 acres and stretched away to the north.


During 1880 and 1881, while the “castle” was under construction, my mother and I lived in Europe. Much of our time was spent in Germany, where I studied music. In life, I was an accomplished pianist.

We came home to Chariton during June of 1881 and moved into what was the most elaborate house of its time in south central Iowa.

On June 9, 1886, I married Deming Jarves Thayer, a dashing adventurer and accomplished civil engineer some 10 years my senior. Our wedding at the Ilion glittered. Many of the guests arrived on private rail cars from across the Midwest.

Deming was a Cape Cod native who had worked in South and Central America before joining my father’s railroad construction company some years earlier. They were building railroads across Kansas at the time we married and because Deming was general manager, our honeymoon was spent “on the job” in Kansas.


It became clear during mid-summer of 1887 that Deming and I were expecting our first child --- and there was considerable excitement about this. It would be the first Mallory grandchild, too. 

But this ended tragically when little Louise was stillborn at the Ilion on Feb. 3, 1888. There would be no other children.

The rector of St. Andrew’s Church conducted a simple service at the house for the babe and then we brought her tiny casket here, to the Stanton Vault, where it was placed in one of the crypts.


Deming and I never had our own home. Since we were such a small family --- just the four of us --- and my family home was so large, it was agreed that we would live together at the Ilion.

As the 1880s ended, my father shifted his attention to other business concerns and railroading was abandoned.

The four of us lived quite contentedly together at the Ilion --- or so we hoped it would appear --- and Deming became manager of Brooke Farm --- a very large and innovative operation that included commercial orchards and gardens, a dairy and other livestock.

But Deming began to suffer increasingly from mental issues that were little understood then --- periods of deep depression and violent outbursts of temper. One of his outbursts of temper in a Chicago hotel in 1897 was so violent it was reported upon in The New York Times.

Deming was returning by train from Eureka Springs, Arkansas, after undergoing treatment there when he shot himself in his sleeping compartment while traveling upriver toward Burlington from St. Louis early on the morning of June 21, 1898. We buried him on the new Mallory family lot here at the Chariton Cemetery, where he remains.

After that, I built a new life for myself in Chariton. I took over management of Brooke Farm, founded the Chariton Improvement Association --- a group of strong-minded women determined to tackle jobs that the men of our city would not, and promoted all things musical, directing the choir of St. Andrew’s Church myself.

Following my father’s death during March of 1903, my mother and I continued to live at the Ilion --- we were very wealthy women. I continued my work in the community and we traveled extensively across America, in Europe and elsewhere.

During November of 1907, however, financial disaster struck after our trusted associate Frank Crocker killed himself and it became clear that he had destroyed the family bank. Mother and I were aboard ship off Naples at the time, but returned home immediately.

The bank disaster did not cut deeply into our assets immediately, but Mother and I eventually were held financially liable for the misdeeds of Mr. Crocker and in the settlement all of my mother’s property in Lucas County --- including our home and Brooke Farm --- were turned over to the bank’s federal receiver.

After that, we moved permanently to Orlando, where we had wintered before --- I had more than enough to support us both.

During 1914, I married businessman and socialite William R. O’Neal, and he moved into my Orlando home, called Three Pines, where we built a good life based upon my money and his charm.

In 1920, at my mother’s behest, I returned to Chariton, had my father’s remains disinterred and cremated, then shipped the ashes and the towering Celtic cross that had marked his grave to Orlando. But I didn’t have the heart to disturb either little Louise or Deming.

Mother died in Orlando during March of 1923, age 81 --- and then I became ill. Cancer claimed me during November of that year, age 60. Both Mother and I now rest near that big cross that once dominated the west end of the Chariton Cemetery.


Although survived by nieces and nephews, I was the last of Chariton’s Mallorys. And so there was no one left to contact when the decision was made to demolish the Stanton Vault. As a result, little Louise remains here, 117 years after her first interment.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Secrets of the Stanton Vault 2: John W. Perry

Here's the script used by Andy Fuhs Sunday as he portrayed Prof. John W. Perry during the Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour presentation of "Secrets of the Stanton Vault." Perry was the first to be interred in the 30-crypt mausoleum, demolished in 1959. His final resting place now is identified by a metal funeral home marker embedded in concrete, as are those of 11 of the 16 people whose remains were reinterred in the vault's footprint.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed a pleasure to be with you this afternoon, almost precisely 118 years after I took up residence in the Stanton Vault --- with the dubious distinction of being its first occupant.

I am John Wallace Perry and you may call me “Professor,” if you like. I was among Lucas County’s most thoroughly educated men, having earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the liberal arts, but had finally found my calling as a manufacturer of brooms when stomach cancer claimed me on Wednesday evening, Sept. 21, 1887, in my 51st year.

I had been ill for a long time, taking advantage of the best medical care that Chariton and Chicago had to offer, and when I finally passed, my wife, Henrietta, and two children thought it would be less harsh to procure a place for my remains here, rather than burying them, and so Dr. Stanton was contacted. The vault’s mortar was barely dry when the inner panel that sealed my tomb was put into place and the outer door of the crypt closed for the final time --- until 1959 when eternal rest was so rudely interrupted, the vault was demolished and I was unceremoniously reinterred here with others among my longtime neighbors.


I am a native of Indiana, born at Putnamville on Dec. 7, 1836, into a family of relative affluence. Because of that, I was able to enroll at Indiana Asbury University (now known as DePauw) at Greencastle during the late 1850s and earn two degrees before concluding my formal education during the spring of 1862. In 1859, I became a charter member of Xi Chapter, Sigma Delta Chi --- and so I was a fraternity man as well.

Upon receipt of my first diploma, I had two options --- to enter the Methodist ministry or to teach and I chose to be licensed to preach. But I chose the latter as a profession and while working toward my second degree taught and administered within four private and public Indiana school systems.

I was serving as superintendent of the public schools in Anderson during the spring of 1865 when I decided to move west to Iowa in search of new opportunity. I landed in Chariton during the fall of that year and opened a private academy, which I operated until 1869.


During the summer of 1869, in part because I wanted a more stable source of income, I secured the Republican nomination as candidate for Lucas County superintendent of schools, won the election handily and moved into my office in the courthouse during January of 1870.

I was an extraordinarily conscientious superintendent, visiting all of the county’s rural schools, conducting examinations and issuing teaching certificates to those who conducted them, arranging training courses and supervising the graduation process for our rural school system --- more than 100 one-room schools dotted our landscape during those years. I made sure to spend a full day every Saturday in my office so that I would be easily accessible to my constituents.

Despite that record, I was defeated in my bid for re-election during 1871 and forced to seek alternate employment. I had married Miss Henrietta Funk on the 6th of March 1870 at her parents’ home and now had a family to support.


I secured a position as route agent for the U.S. Railway Mail Service, working on the branch line from Chariton to St. Joe --- sorting the mail, tossing mail bags off at depots along the route and receiving and processing bags of outgoing mail picked up at the same time.

I continued in this position until the fall of 1876 when, again on the Republican ticket, I was elected clerk of Lucas County circuit and district courts. This came despite the scandalous accusation by Miss Nettie A Robertson --- widely covered in all of Lucas County’s newspapers --- that as superintendent of schools I had blocked her from a teaching position in the Chariton district because she attended First Baptist Church and I, First Methodist. There was no truth in this scurrilous accusation; that unfortunate woman’s motives were purely political (she was a Democrat)!

My bid for re-election, this time as clerk, again was unsuccessful in the fall of 1878 and although I left office with conditions in a far better state than they had been when I arrived, it was clear I was destined to be nothing more than a one-term office holder and so abandoned politics.


At that time, the equipment of a failed broom-making operation was for sale, I invested and finally found a profitable calling, producing and marketing a variety of household and business cleaning products as well as dealing in broom straw.

As it turned out I was a born salesman and traveled widely across the Midwest to market Perry Broom Factory products. Five years later, Chariton became a broom manufacturing center when the Curtis Broom Company opened on South Eighth Street.

My factory was located a block south of the square in a one-story frame building constructed by John Branner and used as Chariton’s first public school. That building was struck by lightning during July of 1885 and burned, but I rebuilt and re-equipped it.

The future held much promise when I became ill during 1886. Henrietta and I did our best to keep the factory running smoothly during months of surgery, treatment and recuperation and relapse.

And upon my death, Henrietta continued to operate the business ably until she suffered a debilitating stroke during the mid-1890s. The factory was sold and she then moved to St. Louis, where our two children were living.

Henrietta died in St. Louis on Oct. 11, 1898, at the age of 47. Her remains were returned to Chariton and interred in the crypt adjoining mine that had been reserved for her.


Here we remained for more than 60 years, until the decision was made to demolish the vault during 1959. By that time, no one in Chariton knew where our children were, even if they still were living, and so we were reburied with the others in the vault’s footprint, still together but not as we had envisioned it those many years earlier.