Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bedecked and bedazzled

What a great combination of Dazzlefest Christmas windows live and otherwise, lighted parade entries, treats on every hand and an appreciative crowd of many hundreds! And I'm not saying that just because the historical society's window, featuring Coco the wonder dog, Karoline Dittmer and a few artifacts from the collection won second place in the live windows division.

Those primarily responsible for the window --- Kay and Rex, Kathleen and Kylie and Jim --- now get to decide how to spend the $50 Chariton Bucks prize. I'm guessing something new for the museum gardens.

Coco was wildly popular with the kiddos, made a noble effort to terrify a St. Bernard and managed a bark or two, too, when the big horses passed by. The big dog noticed; the horses didn't.

We had commendable  help from twin elves Molly and Max Hammermeister, who under the supervision of their mom distributed peanuts roasted earlier this week in the 130-year-old Piper's Grocery roaster, now in the historical society collection. The twins were part of a larger army of elves on hand to liven up the event, commanded by among others Cindy Sellers, chair of the Chamber/Main Street Dazzlefest effort.

First prize in the windows division went to The Fifth Mile's exquisite display on the west side of the square. It was beautifully designed and executed --- and deserved the honor. Third prize went to Frontier Trading Post --- and I failed to get a photo of that one.

Mostly because I was preoccupied looking at all the interesting items in Will Ghormley's window, which shared the Family Shoe storefront with Frontier. Will, who does business as "Will Ghormley-Maker," aka Old West Cowboy Leather, specializes in holsters and other gun-related leather paraphernalia, but also does carved leather paintings and most recently, motorcycle-related leather for Chariton's Fat Baggers, Inc.

Piper's had another great window on the north side, this year featuring a family candy-making operation.

This was my first trip inside the new northside Cindy Loui's Gifts & Quilt Shop (coffee, too), now looking great in the former Ben Franklin location.

Down on the south side, I found these youngsters in the window at Hammer Medical Supply --- and convinced the angel to sit down for a formal portrait.

Finally, here are more of the elves marching down Grand Street.

You're going to have to take my word about the parade, since my camera isn't up to lighted floats --- unless they're standing still. But I think this is Chariton's best parade. A lot of ingenuity and imagination go into all those lighted entries --- and even the standard big vehicle entries have to be bedecked by holiday lights.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Prepare to be dazzled

If I'd had my wits about me --- rather than the flu --- there would be under-construction photos here this morning of the Lucas County Historical Society's lighted Christmas window on the square --- one of a dozen or more that will featured this evening during Dazzlefest --- official kickoff of the holiday season in Chariton.

But when I dragged myself off my bed of pain late Tuesday and uptown, then told Kay, Rex, Kathleen, Jim, et. al., that I had the flu --- they covered their faces as backed away. So I backed out, went on to the store, bought chicken-noodle soup and applesauce (the only things that seemed remotely appealing) and then went back to bed.

But it should be a great evening. Events begin at 6 p.m., including lighting of the memorial tree of lights and announcement of Little Miss Merry Christmas/Little St. Nick results and opportunities to stroll around the square, admire the windows, interact with the elves and other fictional characters in town for the event and enjoy treats inside.

The lighted Christmas parade begins at 7 p.m. and Santa will be holding forth inside the Chamber/Main Street office after that. Stores will remain open and window displays active until 8 p.m.

The historical society decided to do a window this year, rather than a float, as a change of pace. We'll be located on the east side of the square, south of the alley, in what once was the south half of Turners Mens Clothing. There will be a blazing fire in the fireplace, lots of lights, Karoline and the Dittmer wonder dog and more in the window.

Our twin elves will be stationed just outside giving away fresh-roasted peanuts prepared earlier in the week by Bob and Jerry in the old Piper's Grocery roaster at the museum. So it should be a good evening. But dress warm!


I was entirely recovered by yesterday --- just in time to enjoy a terrific vegetarian Thanksgiving feast with Sherry, Fred and Derry. Great food, good wine, stimulating conversation --- who could have asked for more?

But those two days out have put me behind schedule. The ancient calendar of the church shifts this week from post-Pentecost to Advent, so there are new service booklets to get to the printer.

And the bishop is coming for supper on Sunday --- to St. Andrew's, that is. He actually was scheduled to be with us last Sunday, but ended up stranded by Chicago weather in the Baltimore airport --- and didn't make it home to Des Moines until Sunday afternoon.

My usual assignment, when soup is on the menu, is to bake bread --- so I'd better get busy. Soup's on at 5 p.m. Sunday with a service after --- all are welcome.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


A Thanksgiving reflection by Josh Korda rooted in the Buddhist tradition, originally found here.

Countless are those who are born without physical or mental health.
I have been born with all limbs and faculties complete.

Many are those who live in lands of strife and conflict, and who are deprived of security and safety.
I am living in a place where there is peace.

Incalculable are those forced to toil without end, and who are driven by hunger and want.
I have enough to sustain my body and time to give it rest.

Numerous are those who live as slaves, unable to go where they wish and think as they like.
I enjoy great freedom.

Without number are those who live in regions where the light of the truth does not shine and its message is not heard above the racket of doctrines that cause suffering.
I have heard the good teachings.

Truly precious and great are the blessings I enjoy.
Here I contemplate on my good fortune and the good of others.

To repay these gifts, I will use my efforts to overcome the obstacles of hatred, greed and delusion.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Finishing up the facade

If I hadn't had the flu yesterday (better now), I'd have made another trip uptown to record the placement of the "Barnett" name stone in Meyer Law Firm's new facade. As it was, I took a nap instead. So another photo or two --- of the finished product --- will be in order.

Anyhow, Mark Devilbiss and his crew of masons were back in town yesterday afternoon to set the limestone cap of the facade and to insert the name stone. Other than painting the steel beam that supports the upper part of the rebuilt facade, the project now is complete.

The original limestone cap as well as the original name stone were removed during the 1960s when the late Virgil Meyer modified the facade and covered roughly two-thirds of it with a shingled pent roof.

Richard Barnett and his mother built this building in 1901, thus the name stone. They were never in business here, just landlords. They rented the bulding to a bakery and then before too many years had passed, sold it.

But the Barnett name continued to identify the building --- and now it does again.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The hungry man of The Patriot reports ....

Oakley in 1896

The following is an account of a nearly week-long trek made by a representative of The Chariton Patriot during early November of 1879 from Woodburn, just over Lucas County's west boundary in Clarke, back home to Chariton. The writer styled himself "the hungry man of the Patriot" and signed his piece, "Bert," but we really don't know who he was. Dan Baker was editor of The Patriot at the time, but it is unlikely that he would have been able to take a week off to roam the countryside.

I lifted a little of this report yesterday and incorporated it into a post about Last Chance, so that part of it may seem familiar.

The writer's goal on this trip was to sell subscriptions to The Patriot and to build good will for the newspaper. Although he took the train to Woodburn, much of the return trip probably was made by hitching rides and on foot, eating and spending the night with farmers along the way.

His journey ended at the brand new village of Oakley, just northwest of Chariton, where he caught a southbound train for the final leg of the trip home. 

Oakley --- and Milo --- were creations of Chariton's Smith H. Mallory, principal developer of what was known as the "Indianola Branch" of the C.B.&Q., connecting Chariton with Lacona and Indianola, where connections could be made to continue a trip into Des Moines.

The rail line was built in 1878 and the new towns laid out at the same time. Milo, in Warren County, flourished, but Oakley was too close to Chariton to do more than sputter along. Although the village still is there, not much is left.

Here's the "hungry man of the Patriot's report:

The hungry man of the Patriot boarded the train last week and paid a visit to Woodburn, in the edge of Clarke county. It, like all the towns on the line of the C.B.&Q.R.R., we found wide awake. We noticed that the railroad had put down a side track almost one mile in length this summer. The town has made considerable improvements within one year. J.A. Clark has a neat store and does a good business; he has been a reader of the Patriot for a term of years and he was not the man to let the poor printer suffer, so he depositied a V in our hand with a smile and said the Patriot was the best paper in this part of the state. Thanks Bro. C.

C. Barber we met in the town, and added his name to our list. He lost a leg in the old unpleasantness and does not go round growling and saying the war was a failure; he says up and at them, boys. W.P. Shields we met in the store, and, although he is a poor man, he has pride enough to take a paper and will pay for it, too, which is more than some rich men do. Perry Wilkins wanted his widowed mother to have some return for her care of him, so he said to forward the paper, and he would attend to it. We spent one night with James Spencer, and were highly entertained by Mr. S. on the subject of honey bees. He has 130 stands at the present time and is one of the best posted men on this subject in Iowa. He has devoted years to studying the habits of the bee, and it would do you good to visit his farm and take a look at the multitude of swarms scattered here and there in nice white hives. Bee culture is one of the best paying things at the present time in the west. If you have bees and want to learn anything you do not understand, write to him and he will give you just the information you desire. We also spent a night with Asa Callahan who is preparing to emigrate to Colorado on account of the poor health of his wife. He thinks the climate there will be conducive to her health, hence the change. The Patriot will go with him to his new home. Sorry to have you go, Asa, but may success be with you always.

Monday we went south to the town formerly owned by McHenry, called Last Chance. Mc has moved away, and with him departed the glory of the place. The store room is now used as a dwelling, and most of the houses that had been built are vacant or moved out on farms. Joseph Davis will have charge of the post office soon, and talks some of putting in a stock of goods; certainly it would pay someone to open a stock of groceries here as it is several miles to any other trading point. We stopped and partook of the cheer of Wm. Sanders, one of the best farmers in this part of the county. He will read the home news hereafter.

Night found us with W.H. McKnight, and we were pelasantly entertained during the evening with army recollections of Mc's, for he went through with W.T. Sherman from "Atlanta to the Sea," and has vivid recollections of the scenes and incidents while on the march. He will read the Patriot hereafter. We turned east from his house and noon found us seated at the table of J.R. Mundell, who said send your paper, then A.C. Stumbaugh came down at our call and Zury Hall was the next man to write on the roll.

Wednesday we passed through Cleveland, and were surprised to see so many men idle, but we soon learned the reason. The coal miners were on a strike for higher wages, and as the company had not complied they were waiting for the company to decide the matter. They were peaceable and appeared anxious for the settlement to take place so as to know what to depend upon.

We paid a short visit to Lucas and met Wm. Campbell, who wanted some job work. We filled out his order and took dinner with him, then went north, spending the night at the residence of Mrs. Chickering, where we were hospitably entertained. They read the Patriot, the daughters are educated and industrious.

We turned east, adding the names of T.I. Shapely, W.W. Krutsinger and B. Terpenning, all good farmers, and noon found us at Hugh Grimes' eating roast chicken like a preacher. Hugh is a good liver as well as a farmer, and is one of the stalwarts of old and reads a good home paper and pays promptly for it.

Turning north we soon arrived at Oakley Station on the railroad to Indianola, where S. L. Howard has a new store and were invited to take a look at the new room and the handsome new goods piled on the counter and shelves. The store is a new thing, but bids fair to have a good trade. Mr. H. has the station, store, and is buying grain, his qualifications as a businessman is second to none, and we believe he will make it win. E.F. Isgrig has opened a blacksmith shop; he is a good workman. This was a much needed branch of industry in this vicinity. John McHale has charge of the section and is a whole souled fellow, and a No. 1 railroad boy. Geo. Sydebotham has moved out here and is working for the railroad company.

We went north from the station and passed the night with Philip Cumpston, who has one of the nicest farms in this part of the county; he has taken great pains to fit it up, but now he wants to sell out. Better hold on to the farm Philip, and although you may be a little in debt, you can better pay out than sell the old home. C.B. Merry we met going home from town and put him on roll. G.P. Seaton we found husking corn, but he wanted the news, so down he went. Chas. Mumford, although a young man, is a reader and thinks the Patriot all O.K.

Going out in the field where W.W. Mitchell was husking corn, we met and interviewed his big "yaller dog." We came out minus one leg of a new pair of pants. The last we saw of the dog, he was making for tall timber. Our boot leg saved us from getting badly bitten. Why will farmers keep such dogs about them? Had it been a child, doubtless he would have mangled it badly before aid could have come to its rescue. We expect to go out that way sometime just to get a chance to form the acquaintance of the same canine, and we think he will be in demand for sausage. Mr. M. said it was no uncommon thing, and he had to watch him all the time.

Green Ruble was not too busy to "sign." A.J. Stierwalt we found helpting Esq. Ramsey, and he wanted to read the home news, another subscriber. then we wrote down L. Starkey and W.D. Carpenter, both good farmers, and the shades of evening found us back at Oakley Station waiting for the train to go home.

Here we met J. Braden, one of the leading merchants of Chariton, and we might say Southern Iowa. Mr. B. and come out to take a breath of pure air and he could not have selected a better place. Teams were busy unloading corn at the new crib Mr. Howard was having built. J.H. Sydebotham and A.N. Lane were busy making the crib.

Well the train soon came rolling up and we stepped on board, and the first man we met was Walker Baker. His wife was with him. They had been up to Lacona to see the boys who are running a store there. Mrs. B. informed us she was much pleased with her visit.

This trip added 30 names all told to the subscription list of the Patriot, and we have found all we meet in good spirits, not even excepting the men who a few months since were so sure we were financially on the brink of a fearful abyss, that resumption would hurl us into. Now they are free to confess that they were deluded, and they themselves were far from right. One thing we noticed in particular, and that is the men who read, one and all, were free to confess that the future had a bright outlook and all predict better times ahead, and not only this, but that we are advancing on a solid basis, one that every man can rely on. The greenbackers feel less sore over the result of the late elections that their allies, the Democrats. We return our warmest thanks to our many friends for the kind treatment we have received while we have been among them.

Monday, November 23, 2015

William McDonald McHenry & Last Chance

Last Chance is one of those Lucas County place names that, because of its oddity, generates stories. But the truth seems to be that its first storekeeper, William McDonald McHenry, named it offhandedly after  it occured to him that he was living in a place that didn't yet have a name.

McHenry, approaching 40, his wife, Nancy, and their two children, Mary Ann and Don Joe, arrived in Lucas County  from Clermont County, Ohio, about 1863. They continued southwest down the Mormon Trail from Chariton, past the current site of Goshen Baptist Church and stopped just short of the Clarke County line.

A school teacher by profession, McHenry entered land there and perhaps taught for a few terms, but during April of 1865 he decided to open a general store. There was no other store in Union Township at the time and the old trail still was a main route for westbound travelers.

The editor of The Chariton Democrat picked up the story of the name "Last Chance" six years later, in his edition of March 30, 1871, and reported it thus:

"We have often asked how (Last Chance) happened to get that name. Mr. McHenry explains it. He says that during the dark days of the war, a shaggy looking Missourian happened along that way, and evidently was going somewhere. He had a musket, two or three revolvers, a Bowie-knife or two, and seemed ready for business. He halted in front of Mr. McHenry's place, where Mc. was sitting on the fence, meditating upon the uncertainties of life in general and of the war in particular. The traveler asked the name of the place, and then it suddenly occurred to Mc. that he was living in a place that had no name. He opened his eyes, scratched his head, and a smile came over his good natured face as he said, "Let's call it Last Chance." And they called it so, more in a joke than in earnest, but when the post office was established there, the powers at Washington said it was Last Chance. And it isn't a bad kind of a place either."

The Last Chance Post Office was established in 1865, more than likely located in McHenry's store, but he parted company with the fledgling village during 1873 and in 1874 moved his stock of goods and his family to the new town of Humeston, just over the line southeast in Wayne County, and opened a general store there on Jan. 16, 1874.

The fate of Last Chance had been more or less sealed during 1872 when the route of the new branch of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad (later C.B.&Q.) passed to the southeast and the new towns of Derby, closer to Last Chance and also in Union Township, and Humeston, just beyond, were platted and began to thrive. That branch connected Chariton with Garden Grove and points beyond, leading eventually to St. Joseph, Missouri. Today, we know the stretch of that route from Chariton to Humeston as the Cinder Path.

The Chariton Patriot's Derby correspondent claimed a little over-optimistically in its edition of April 23, 1873, that "Derby has already absorbed Last Chance and by fall we are in hopes there will be ample accommodations for Freedom (a village to the east)."

At that point, McHenry apparently was planning to relocate in Derby rather than Humeston because the Patriot's report continued, "McHenry has removed his goods from Last Chance, and with a neat stock arriving daily from Chicago, he is awaiting the completing of Throckmorton's building."

It appears, however, that McHenry received a better offer from Humeston --- his projected Derby store seems never to have opened.

The editor of the Patriot made a stop in Last Chance during November of 1879 --- literally selling subscriptions door to door as well as building good will for his publication --- and by that time the village was in serious decline.

He reported in his edition of Nov. 12: "Monday we went south to the town formerly owned by McHenry, called Last Chance. Mc. has moved away, and with him departed the glory of the place. The store room is now used as a dwelling, and most of the houses that had been built are vacant or moved out on farms. Joseph Davis will have charge of the post office soon, and talks some of putting in a stock of goods; certainly it would be good for some one to open a stock of groceries here as it is several miles to any other trading point."

Various attempts to revive the store failed and during 1886, the Last Chance Post Office closed for the final time, although it remained officially on postal service books until 1888.

Last Chance Christian Church, a short distance west of the village, continued to thrive, however --- and during 1896 built and dedicated a new building. It remained the heart of a community declining in size with Iowa's rural population until well into the second half of the 20th century, when it closed.

Today, only the Last Chance Cemetery remains to mark the general location of what once was a village with aspirations.

The McHenrys flourished in Humeston. William acquired a great deal of land, built a new brick building to house his mercantile operation and became involved in banking. 

But the end involved a good deal of sadness. The McHenrys' only daughter, Mary Ann, died on Nov. 6, 1894, age 44. Their daughter-in-law, Edith, was only 30 when she died on Jan. 3, 1901, leaving two small children in the care of Don Joe and his parents. Nancy McHenry was 76 when she died at the family home on Oct. 16, 1904. William was approaching 80 when he died unexpectedly a year later, on Nov. 30, 1905, while visiting a brother in Centerville. And Don Joe, the last of the family, died on Feb. 18, 1907, at the age of 45.

That left only the two children, Margheritha and Richard Mack, who were taken elsewhere to be raised by relatives.

The mighty granite block that marks the location of family graves in the Humeston Cemetery can be a little confusing. For one reason or another, both Mary Ann and Don Joe McHenry chose to drop the forepart of their surname and were known only as "Henry." So that is the surname inscribed on the major stone of this once-prominent family, although the individual stones reflect the preferred names of those who occupy the graves they mark: William McHenry, Nancy McHenry, Mary Ann Henry, Edith Henry and Don Joe Henry.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fear on one hand, hope on the other ....

My late cousin, Liz, used to tell the story of an elderly relative, sick abed during the 1930s. The elderly gentleman was a staunch Republican and to tease him, his grandchildren waited until he was asleep, then positioned a photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt --- whom he despised --- so that it would be the first thing he saw upon awakening. The old man awoke, sat up, spotted the photograph --- and died.

It's a good story, recalled while I was looking for the origin of what must be among Roosevelt's most famous lines, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," incorporated into his first inaugural address.

The interesting thing is, no one is quite sure where that line came from. Politicians rarely write their own speeches, but generally do amend the efforts of their professional writers. So a speech writer may have thought up the line --- or Roosevelt may have added it himself.

Whatever the case, his usage of it was hardly the first. Henry David Thoreau, for example, noted in his diary entry for Sept. 7, 1851: "Nothing is so much to be feared as fear."

We've certainly had good examples of the truth in that line during the last week, following the bombings by Islamic terrorists in Paris.

Professional terrorists understand the power of fear and use it skillfully. Slaughter is merely a tool that contributes to the goal --- to terrify, divide and weaken. In this instance, in the United States, it worked last week. Round 1 to the terrorists.

Politicians are adept at cultivating fear, too.

And fear seems always to have been a principal tool used by two of the three great Abrahamic religions --- Christianity and Islam. Convince the faithful that yours is the only effective anti-hellfire insurance  and you win.

Finding a scapegoat is a useful tool in fear-based strategies, too --- the infidel, Jews, Communists, gay people, Syrian refugees ....

But I'm feeling hopeful this morning.

Little Jacob will be baptized in a couple of hours at St. Andrew's, and I find great promise in that --- although I'm by no means an orthodox believer. May he grow up to be a peace-maker, unafraid.

And then my cousin, Rachel, and her sweetheart, Emily Anne, were married on Friday. There's great hope, too, in their faith in and commitment to each other.

And for obvious reasons, that marriage is especially significant to me: Rachel and I are triple cousins, related distantly both maternally and paternally, and to the best of my knowledge no one in any of these family lines has successfully landed a Cohen before. So I have a new surname to plug into the family history files --- not once, not twice, but thrice!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Part of my American family ...

I've been thinking a lot during the last week about my old friends, the Luangnikones --- now 35 years older than when we met in 1980, now residents for the most part of suburban Chicago, prosperous and, I hope, happy.

I remember how this classic American success story began, on a cold late January afternoon when several of us piled into a big van on main street in my second hometown, Thompson, way up there not far from the Minnesota state line in Winnebago County. I cannot for the life of me remember who else was along, although the faces of Barb Johnson and Barb Stenberg keep popping into my head.

We drove up to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, parked in a ramp, bundled up and then walked into the terminal to await the arrival of our family --- and by "our" I mean the entire community. I was among several more or less official sponsors, but the offer to shelter this large family of refugees from Laos had been made by the entire community.

We were standing there near their flight's gate when they came off the plane and into the terminal --- a party of nine ranging in age from 40-something down to under 5, exhausted after the series of flights that had brought them here from a Thai refugee camp, all wearing heavy winter coats that had been provided somewhere along the line, carrying all that they possessed. It was one of those moments you never forget.

I could not for the life of me find the family photo I took later that summer, so this one will have to do although it includes members of the Luangnikones' extended family, driven to Thompson from Illinois by a sponsor for a reunion not long after they had arrived. It was taken in the apartment above my office provided by Harold and Evelyn McCracken where they lived. Synhom Luangnikone is seated at far right on the sofa; his wife, Bounlune, one person over to the left; and Phetsarath Luangnikone, Synhom's younger brother, seated at left in the foreground. Six of the younger folks --- wonderful kids --- were (and still are) Synhom's and Bounlune's children.


Iowa was a national leader during the late 1970s and 1980s in resettlement of refugees from Vietnam and Laos, thanks in large part to the leadership of Robert D. Ray --- a wonderful gentleman, a Republican in a day when that party designation meant something quite different than it does now and arguably Iowa's last truly great governor.

Thompson's story was repeated in cities large and small all across Iowa during those years as the entire state opened its arms.

Ray was sworn in as Iowa's governor during January of 1975. Early in his term, Vietnam fell to communist forces and many of those who had been affiliated with U.S. and allied war efforts there --- as many as 130,000 --- fled. Cambodia already had fallen; Laos fell shortly after. U.S. policies regarding admission of refugees were bulky and slow --- but President Ford altered that.  Among other initiatives, he offered the governors of all states $500 per refugee if they would help in resettlement efforts.

Ray --- and Iowa --- were among the first to respond --- and money was not the motive. Gov. Ray wrote later, "I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die’. We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation… Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you."

He formed The Governor's Task Force on Indochinese Resettlement and Iowa quickly became the national leader in resettlement efforts.

One of his first accomplishments was to overcome a State Department directive that forbade resettlement of large numbers of refugees in one place. Due to his efforts, more than 1,400 Tai Dam people were allowed to settle together in Iowa.

Iowa's outstanding effort continued well into the 1980s, when refugee numbers began to decline.


The Luangnikones were living, I believe, at Savannakhet, Laos, when their nation fell to communist forces, endangering their lives. They fled their homeland --- a harrowing journey --- with little more than what they were wearing, eventually reaching a refugee camp in Thailand and safety. They remained there until cleared for admission to the United States and resettlement in Iowa, thanks Robert D. Ray's leadership and the generosity of its people.

Preparing for their arrival, we lined up an apartment, filled it with household goods and personal supplies and solicited the monthly pledges that would be necessary to help support them. The U.S. government provided transportation, some state aid was available and the family was entitled to such social services as were available at the time. But it would not have been possible to sustain them in Thompson without the generosity of its people.

I was fortunate enough to spend a good deal of time with the family --- their apartment was just upstairs, after all. My neighbors in west Thompson, Barb and Duane Johnson, made extraordinary efforts to take the family under their wing. We figured out how to round up the glutenous rice that was a staple of their diet and there were shopping trips to Minneapolis and Des Moines to round up other supplies at specialty grocery stores. (I was lucky enough to share many wonderful meals.)

The kids enrolled in school, something of a challenge since their English was limited. But everyone got along.

And yes, some Iowans were not on board. Some of the objections were purely racist, others argued "foreigners" should not be taking Iowans' jobs --- although most of the jobs taken by the refugees were far below their skill levels or potential. And by the way, they were Buddhist, not Christian, and no one cared.

Our biggest hurdle in Winnebago County was finding employment for Synhom and Phetsarath, who very much wanted to work. The jobs just were not forthcoming.


Later on that year, the Luangnikones relocated to Illinois with our blessing. There were job opportunities there and a significant Lao community to provide mutual aid and support. Phetsarath eventually settled in Washington.

We were in touch for a while after that, then less so --- but that's entirely my fault. I'm just not very good at staying in touch, too self-absorbed and scattered most likely.

But I treasure those months with the Luangnikones and still think of them as part of my family.

Friday, November 20, 2015

All aboard that "Palace on Wheels"

First off, this is not the rail car known as "Chicago," added in 1902 to the amenities available to C.B.&Q. passengers departing the Chariton depot. That car most likely was scrapped decades ago. 

It is instead a car built during 1902 by the Pullman company, acquired by the C.B.&Q. in 1914 and named the "Iowa."

But the Chicago most likely looked like this. It is built of wood, later clad in metal, and remained in service for a very long time. Credit for this photo goes to David Bath, who took it when the old car was parked on a siding and looking a little tatty. It has since been fully restored to a later incarnation as a "business" car and now is in a private collection. 

A Chariton Patriot reporter hopped aboard the Chicago during September of 1902 and provided this report of its wonders under the headline "A Palace on Wheels," published on Sept. 18:

"Recently a Patriot representative had the pleasure of a trip in the new combination car Illinois which the Burlington route has added to its already superior equipment. It is in fact a palace on wheels, combining an observation parlor apartment, an elaborately furnished cafe, and perfectly fitted up cuisine, upon scientific lines, where the "inner man" can be refreshed upon the best that money and unsurpassed culinary art can furnish.

"The car is seventy-six feet long. The cafe apartment, elegantly furnished throughout, has a seating capacity of sixteen, the table furniture comprising a line of solid silver and Haviland china, beautifully designed and manufactured expressly for the Burlington.

"A smoker, cosy and restful, is also an attractive feature, where the after dinner cigar can be quietly enjoyed.

"the parlor apartment occupies the rear portion of the car, contains ten large easy chairs all of which are upholstered in dark green leather, the floors covered with fine Wilton carpets, while the curtains are of green tapestry. The interior wood work is fine grained oak, so perfectly finished as to resemble cherry, while at the rear is an observation platform from which travelers are afforded an unobstructed view of the country through which they are passing. It is the very perfection of elegance and comfort in travel.

"For this splendid service the company charges for the use of the observation and parlor car the small additional sum over the regular fare of $1 from Chariton to Chicago, 35 cents to Ottumwa or Creston; to Omaha, 50 cents, with the added convenience of the cafe, where meals are furnished at reasonable rates.

"Our representative gratefully acknowledges many kindly courtesies extended by Conductor R.C. Dodge, W.B. Dunington, chief attendant in charge; Samuel Brown, chef; and porter, John M. Richardson, who comprise the efficient crew of the Illinois. The car is attached to trains Nos. 4 and 13, and is a duplicate of four others lately put into service by the Burlington."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

About that taco soup ...

I'm not necessarily saying that the Lucas County Historical Society's taco soup was the best soup among 11 varieties served up for lunch and supper yesterday during the annual Soup & Bread Taste Fair at Carpenters Hall, but we did receive lots of rave reviews --- and distributed into relatively small bowls the contents of one large roaster and half of another before all was said and done.

The fair is an annual benefit for the Lucas County Health Center Volunteer Services Program, which coordinates the efforts of hundreds of volunteers who keep our county's non-profits moving forward, including the historical society. Thelma Saxton donates use of the hall --- and dessert.

That's Kylie and Jim at the top, serving during the evening. Below, Kathleen (left) was the principal cook (I was her assistant) and Kay and Rex were the noon-hour servers.

Guests paid $6 at the door, then were issued plates, three smallish bowls and a spoon. After finishing off their first rounds of soup plus bread, condiments or chips collected at three of the 11 stations, they were welcome to go back and try as many of the other varieties as they could hold. There was ice cream for desert and iced tea and water, too --- along with celery and carrot sticks.

Linda Baynes, Volunteer Services director, said Wednesday's turnout was among the best ever --- and that may have been in part a factor of the perfect soup weather outside --- chilly, windy and damp.

My second-favorite soup of the day was squash --- served by Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street. Faintly sweet with touches of nutmeg and cinnamon. But they all were great --- and I tried several.

Kathleen did the heavy lifting Wednesday. She did the shopping Tuesday, then browned the meat and onions at home. I met her at Carpenters Hall at 9 a.m. and we hauled everything inside, set up the two roasters and added the remainder of the ingredients, which simmered until the first round of serving began at 11 a.m. Kay was in charge of table decorations.

Several asked for the recipe, so here it is --- although it was multiplied several times and amounts adjusted slightly to serve well over 100 people. This also is a healthy recipe, low-fat and low-calorie --- until you add condiments. We offered shredded cheese, sour cream and taco chips.


1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 package dry taco seasoning mix
1 package dry Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix
1 can pinto beans with juice
1 can whole-kernel corn with juice
1 can Rotel tomatoes (with chilies)
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 can pureed tomatoes
1 can kidney beans rinsed and drained
1 can black beans rinsed and drained
1 14-ounce can water

Brown the meat and the onions, then add all of the other ingredients, mixing well. Bring to high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour. The longer this cooks --- within reason --- the better it gets.