Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scotland forever, more or less

Considering the depressing nature of the news in general, the move toward an independent Scotland that culminates Thursday in a referendum has been kind of a welcome diversion. In case you missed it, Scots will vote tomorrow on whether or not to sever ties with the United Kingdom, thereby reducing the "great" in Great Britain by one major player and apparently breaking Prime Minister David Cameron's heart.

This does not mean the Queen will be out of job north of the border, although it certainly could come to that should independence prevail and the Scots wish it down the road. But the crowns of Scotland and England have been united, more or less, since 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, too, and that relationship will be unaffected by the vote. Balmoral is in no immediate danger.

James VI and/or I also, of course, put the "king" in the King James translation of the Bible, so beloved by some Protestants that they have declared it's lovely wording, but somewhat slipshod translation, to be the only true expression of God's will for humanity. It's always fun to point out that this James, so highly revered by homophobes, was almost as widely known in his time for his succession of highly placed boyfriends and seems to have been, indeed, a notable "sodomite."

I wish it were possible to claim a clear Scots ancestry, but the overwhelming majority of my ancestors were Scotch-Irish, as they're generally called in the United States; Ulster Scots, elsewhere. 

These were fiercely Presbyterian forebears descended primarily from the lowland Scots peasantry, resettled in what now is Northern Ireland, sometimes called Ulster, in a conscious effort by the English to push the native Irish off their land. These Ulster Scots began flooding into what became the United States during the 18th Century. They were a hardy and rambunctious bunch. Most of the men wore pants, few if any would have considered kilts.

Nor were these Ulster Scots ancestors of ours, despite confusion among their descendants, likely to observe St. Patrick's Day --- or wear green. They were the Orangemen, and could be quite cranky about their Irish neighbors and their adherence to the old faith.

I'll be watching Thursday's results carefully, however, despite the tenuous connection.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marcus Edwards & Mexico City National Cemetery

This photo of the Mexico City National Cemetery is taken from the American Battle Monuments Commission Web site.

Marcus Edwards is an obscure, but interesting, ex-Lucas Countyan who upon his death in 1893 landed in what must be among the most obscure of U.S. National Cemeteries --- in Mexico City. It's the sort of combination that keeps me amused when I should be doing more productive things --- folks who follow different drummers sometimes are the most interesting.

Born about 1841 in Indiana, Marcus was about 13 when his father, "Honest John" Edwards (left) brought the family west to Chariton in 1853. John, an attorney, was a very big fish indeed in early Lucas County's small pond. 

In 1856, John was named Lucas County delegate to the convention that framed Iowa's Constitution of 1857. He was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives during 1856 and 1858 and upon re-electtion in 1860 was named speaker of the House. When the Civil War broke out, John parlayed his political connections into a commission as lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to Iowa Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood. Promoted later to full colonel, he was given command of the Eighteenth Iowa Volunteer Infantry, ultimately brevetted brigadier general.

Rather than return to Chariton after the war, John accepted an appointment from President Andrew Johnson as U.S. assessor of internal revenue in Arkansas and held that position from 1866 until 1869. In 1870, John was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arkansas --- kind of. Although declared the winner, Edwards actually had come up some 3,000 votes short. He served two years, but was under challenge during the entire term and yielded to the actual winner during 1872. After that, John established a law practice in Washington, D.C., where he remained until his death during 1894. He was buried with considerable splendor in Arlington National Cemetery.

Honest John's principal claim to fame in Lucas County, however, may be The Chariton Patriot (currently half of The Herald-Patriot), which he established in 1857 as Lucas County's first permanent newspaper.

Young Marcus went to work in his father's newspaper office and was enumerated at age 19 as "printer" when the 1860 federal census of Chariton was taken. During early 1861, he enlisted in the Lucas County Guards, the first unit of volunteers raised for Civil War Service in Lucas County, and marched off with more than 80 companions on July 8, 1861, to be mustered in Burlington on the 17th into federal service as Co. B, Sixth Iowa Volunteer Infantry.

He served honorably during the war, surviving Shiloh and a variety of other battles --- but never quite managed to settle down after that. He was living in Tennessee in 1870 and, later that decade, prospecting for gold. The Patriot of Jan 17, 1877, reported that Marcus had passed through Chariton after leaving the Black Hills and planned to spend the winter in St. Louis. By 1880, both he and his brother, Billy, also a printer, had relocated in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The Patriot of March 22, 1882, reported that Marcus was then running a daily newspaper in Socorro, New Mexico, and that Billy was on his way southwest to join him.

At some point during the late 1880s, Marcus resettled in Mexico City and became a member of the American expatriate community living there.

Life failed to settle Marcus down, but death did --- on Feb. 24, 1893, when he died at age 53 in the American Hospital in Mexico City after a bout with typhus. Here's his obituary, as it appeared in The Chariton Patriot of March 15, 1893:

Mr. Marcus Edwards, printer, journalist, soldier, prospector and contractor in his short life of 53 years, died in the American Hospital in (Mexico City) at 1 o'clock on Friday afternoon after an illness of 24 days. The deceased was born at Bradford, Indiana, and after liberal education entered the Sixth Iowa regiment of the Union army on January (actually July) 17th, 1861, and was honorably discharged from the service on July 17th, 1864.

From the East he drifted west to New Mexico where he edited and printed a daily paper; later he became a prospector and at the time of his death was a member of the well-known firm of railroad contractors of Edwards, Dowling and Buckner, of (Mexico City). The demise of Mr. Edwards was very sudden, he not having fully recovered from typhus fever which caused him to be taken to the hospital, and his death alone is attributable to the weak state in which he was left after the fever had left him, his stomach failing to retain the food given to him, and in consequence day by day he became weaker until at last life departed.

The deceased received every attention that could either be purchased or extended to him by his partner, Mr. John W. Dowling, and his numerous friends, and it will be a consolation to his aged father, Mr. John Edwards, who resides in Washington, D.C., to learn that his son who died in a strange land was given the best medical treatment and the closest attention during his entire period of sickness.

The remains of Mr. Edwards were bured in the American cemetery on Saturday under the auspices of the E.C.C. Crd. Post of the G.A.R. of (Mexico City), of which he was a member. There was a numerous concourse at the grave during the services. Peace be to the ashes of one of the best of friends and one of the most honorable men that ever came to Mexico from the United States.

The subject of the above sketch was a former resident of Chariton, and at one time worked in this (Chariton Patriot) office. The Patriot deeply sympathizes with the aged father in the loss of his estimable son.

The "American Cemetery," now Mexico City National Cemetery, was established by the U.S. Congress in 1851 to house the remains of some 750 American soldiers who had died in Mexican War battles in or near Mexico City, most during August and September of 1847. It originally consisted of two acres and by 1853, soldier remains previously buried in scattered temporary graves had been reinterred there as "unknowns."

Between 1851 and 1923, when it was closed to further burials, the remains of 813 American civilians who died in Mexico City --- including Marcus --- were buried there as well. It was declared a national cemetery in 1873 and placed under the supervision of the U.S. War Department, then transferred in 1947 to the care of the American Battle Monuments Commission. 

Until 1976, the cemetery looked much like any other national cemetery --- regimented rows of graves in a setting of manicured lawn. But in that year, construction of a highway resulted in reduction of the cemetery to one acre. All remains were disinterred and those of unidentified Mexican War fatalities buried in two underground crypts beneath of a simple monument dedicated "To the honored memory of 750 Americans known but to God whose bones collected by their country's order are here buried."

New wall crypts were constructed to house the remains of the civilians buried in the cemetery, including those of Marcus. Today, according to various online reports, the cemetery resembles a garden, a quiet oasis in busy Mexico City.

So that's how Marcus came to be buried in Mexico, a considerable distance from The Patriot office and the rough-and-tumble streets of pioneer Chariton.

You can read a little more about the Mexico City National Cemetery here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Let the mystery be ...

Had something else in mind for this morning, then Mary Ellen forwarded overnight the program for a memorial service she'll be conducting up north Monday.

So instead, here's a little traveling music for Jeffrey A. Leaman, who moved on a week ago today. Thinking, too, of Larke and Nick, Holly and others.

It's Iris DeMent's song --- and she's performing it here. DeMent and her husband, Iowa folk writer and performer Greg Brown, live in Iowa City.

The memorial gathering will be 1-4 p.m. Monday at Mason City Community Theatre, with service at 2 p.m.

It's traditional to light the chalice as Unitarian Universalist services begin. Here are the words that will accompany the lighting:

Birth is a miracle of love and courage,
bringing light into the world;
Death is a loss of light,
but no less an act of courage,
For we are born from —
and return to — mystery.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Frost warnings and Facebook ramblings

Much of Iowa turned blue overnight --- according to the National Weather Service, usually my first browsing stop upon arising. But the low here reportedly was only 37. So hopefully we dodged the frost bullet. And the resolution not to turn the furnace on until Oct. 1 can be kept.

Nearly all Iowans have been in despair several times this year about how fast the grass was growing, but it's a little early for it to freeze solid and stop. 


The other thing I usually do most mornings is scroll through my Facebook feed --- and I do look (briefly, very in most instances) at everything everyone posts, including what comes in from all the pages I've "liked" rather than "friended."

As a rule I enjoy it all, from the posts of my right-wing conspiracy theorist friends to those of my left-wing conspiracy theorist friends. It's always good to know what people are thinking, even if you don't agree. And Facebook is a wonderful way to insulate yourself from the shock of sudden realization when it becomes clear that not everyone thinks as you do.

Folks do share a little too much with the universe via Facebook sometimes, certainly more than I'd care too --- but I object only to posts about bowel movements. What happens in the bathroom should stay in the bathroom.

I've never "unfriended" anyone, nor "hidden" anyone either. So far as I know I've only been unfriended once, by a cousin no less, who --- distraught when Obama won his second term --- unfriended all she thought might have voted for him. 

Nor do I get into Facebook fights. I know it's frustrating for the combative, but there's usually no point. You just get yourself all worked up for nothing. Best to have your say, or post your post, then move along.

But be warned --- I do look at your pictures. I love to look at other people's pictures and find doing so endlessly entertaining.

I was the kid who, after spotting visitors laboring up the hill toward the house in the media dark ages with a projector, screen and boxes of slides, said "oh good" as others ran out the back door to hide in the corn field.

So you post a photo of an infant, a toad, scenic vistas or youself --- I'll look at it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I will promise you the moon and stars ...

... providing you come to the Lucas County Historical Society's fall festival next Saturday morning, Sept. 20, from 10 a.m. until noon on the museum campus. 

The moon-and-stars reference is to watermelons from the Heirloom Garden, which we'll cut into and serve in the Pioneer Barn along with coffee cake and hot cider.

Margaret Coons will provide live music, Jerry Book will offer a blacksmithing demonstration at the Blacksmith Shop and there will be face-painting and small farm animals to admire for the youngsters. All the museum buildings will be open to tour and there will be lots to see on the grounds thanks to the hard work of our gardeners, members of the Grounds Committee.  All free.

We cut into one of the melons at Tuesday's board meeting, just to see how they were doing --- and they are doing fine. These are an heirloom variety, very mild and sweet with lots of seeds. 

The variety is not that old. It was introduced in 1926 by Peter Henderson & Co. and widely grown, but eventually disappeared from commerical markets and by 1981 was thought to be extinct, according to Amy Goldman ("Melons for the Passionate Grower," Artisan: 2002).

Then Merle Van Doren of Macon, Missouri, who was still growing them, shared seed with Kent Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange --- and the rest is history.

We grow them in the Heirloom Garden mostly because they're interesting to look at. "Moon and stars" refers to the yellow-speckled dark green skin. Each melon usually has one big yellow patch and many smaller ones. The leaves also are speckled. 

I took the photo up top late yesterday afternoon, not exactly the best time. You get a better idea of how the moon and stars are configured in the photo from last year below.

The museum will be open "summer hours" --- 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday --- through Saturday, Oct. 4 (Chariton High School homecoming is Oct. 3). Then we'll shift to winter hours --- office open one day a week, details to be announced; tours by appointment. Admission always is free.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fall greens: Poison and otherwise

It's 50 here this morning and a look at the weather map shows freeze warnings out in colder places like Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. So serious fall weather is coming in.

But I've been slaving over a hot computer --- and hardly noticed. Three of four cemetery tour scripts done; then a bunch of other stuff. But if the sun comes out today, as predicted --- I'm gone, at least for a little while (the grass keeps growing, too).

I've been entertaining myself a little this morning by reading up on American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), spotted Saturday along a raggedy fencerow at Red Haw.

It's an interesting looking plant --- red stems, green leaves and immature green berries that are plucked off by birds as soon as they ripen and turn purple.

But pure poison from root to berry, although the ripe berries are reportedly the least toxic. 

I see that its various parts have been utilized for folk medicines, dye and even spring greens, although so many cookings are required to diminish the toxicity it seems hardly worthwhile. If I were a farmer, I'd try to figure out some way to kill it. Since I'm not --- I'll just look at it; another variety of pretty poison.

I was happier on Saturday to find a little Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata), far less hazardous and emblematic of the prairie, which the Red Haw game management acres (and much of the park itself) once was.

It's not a showy plant, but it is a reassuring one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Alexander triumphs at the Chariton Public Library

It's tempting to play the where-and-what-is-this? game with this one --- a plaster frieze entitled "The Triumph of Alexander in Babylon" embedded in oak. But I'll resist. Although countless Lucas Countyans have have looked at it, passed by it or sat underneath it since 1904. And I'm wondering how many recognize it.

It might help if I backed up so you could see that it's located above a fireplace. If you're still not there, the fireplace is located in the east room, originally the children's room, of the Chariton Free Public Library and has been there since 1904. The original section of our rather grand "Chariton Plan" Carnegie, designed by Patton & Miller of Chicago and the prototype for many others in the Midwest, was dedicated on Oct. 28, 1904, so it will be celebrating its 110th birthday before long.

The donor of the frieze was Lizzie Crips, one of several remarkable Chariton women involved in creation of the library --- a charter member of the library board who served until her death during 1934. She will be featured during this year's Cemetery Heritage Tour on Sept. 21, I'm working on scripts for the tour right now, so that's why Lizzie and her frieze came to mind.

"The Triumph," a miniaturized fragment of a much larger work executed ca. 1833 in both plaster and marble by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, was downright trendy during the year the library was built and dedicated because a full-scale reproduction was on display at the St. Louis World's Fair of that year.

In fact, the library fireplace has a couple of world fair association. If you opened the screen, you'd see the andirons --- brought home by Smith H. Mallory from the Iowa Building at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and donated to the library by his widow and daughter, Annie Mallory and Jessie (Mallory) Thayer --- both involved, too, in the library project.

Thorvaldsen was hugely popular, widely admired and critically acclaimed during his lifetime (1770-1844), but he was a strict classicist, his work is rather stiff and later critics have been underwhelmed. None-the-less, his work remains familiar and beloved.

His statue of a distinctly European-looking Christ figure, sometimes called Christus Consolator and housed at the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, has been embraced symbolically by millions of Lutherans --- as well as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has used it for years to emphasize the centrality of Christ to its doctrine.

And even my old buddy R. Webb Cole would recognize Thorvaldsen's Lion of Lucerne, a fatally wounded lion among symbols of fallen empire widely admired by Confederates after the Civil War as symbolic of their own fallen cause and incorporated into memorials here and there. There's a stunning example in the Confederate Cemetery at Higginsville, Missouri, just down the road from Webb's stomping ground, Lexington.

Anyhow, next time you're in the library look up, admire and say thanks to Lizzie for her enduring contribution to our library.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Roads and trails lined in purple and gold

I'm likely to become fairly shrill this time of year about  how underutilized the well-mannered trails at Pin Oak Marsh are. For heaven's sake, folks, take a walk if you're able --- at least a short one. If needs be, you can navigate the paved trail in a wheelchair.

In a big hurry? The shortest walk is among the prettiest this time of year. Plant your vehicle in the north parking lot, near the pin oaks and the small shelter with view out over the water, and walk straight east, follow the mown path around those truly ugly abandoned floatation devices that must have seemed like a good idea several years ago and out onto the narrow spit that protrudes into the marsh pond.

It is lined with a veritable garden of fall flowers right now. Goldenrods are dominant, but there are New England Asters (top) and Heath Asters (above).

Varieties of Bonesets (below, with goldenrod in the foreground), too. and much more. The narrow inlet just south of the spit is filled with all sorts of water plants, some in discreet bloom. It's a tiny area that packs a big punch.

In just a few days now, the paved trail that winds out to the observation platform will become the sunflower walk as these mighty Maximilians burst fully into bloom. 

Our well-watered summer and perhaps the fact much of this area was burned before spring growth began have inspired these somewhat weedy but gorgeous sunflowers to reach for the sky --- meeting and exceeding their supposed 9-foot maximum. It's going to be quite the show.

The streets of heaven are sometimes said to be paved with gold, but that's metaphorical. I guarantee you that the rural roads, paths and trails of Lucas County are lined with gold right now. And that's actual.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Making hay (art) while the sun shines ...

Two days straight of sunshine and fall-like temperatures brought out the artist over the weekend in Lucas Countyans entered in this year's edition of the annual Hay Bale Art Contest, sponsored by the Tourism Division of Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street.

This is my favorite so far, a giant cat relaxing alongside Court Avenue just west of the car wash. I'm guessing it's related to Lucas County Farm Bureau, or Farm Bureau Insurance, considering the ownership of the lot, but could be mistaken about that. We'll see as the official opening day of the contest nears.

Once all the entries are in place --- by Sept. 15 according to contest rules --- you'll have until Oct. 31 to tour (and vote for your favorite) hay creations countywide. There will be "celebrity" judges, too. After that, the winners will be announced.

There is a variety of divisions --- adult, youth and business --- so not all entries will be as large and elaborate as this one, although many will be.

You'll be able to pick up a free tour map starting on the 15th at the Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street office on the east side of the square. You can read more about the contest and see photos of entries from past years by following this link.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

New-pond patrol at Red Haw State Park

First the rain, then the heat, then the rain, etc., etc. --- so I didn't spend near enough time at Red Haw this summer. But that can be remedied this fall, one of our state park's finest seasons.

I headed out Saturday afternoon, when I probably should have been at home cutting grass, to explore the new park ponds --- six have been built this year --- and discovered a bonus, a new route through one of my favorite areas --- the game management acres planted to native grasses and grain for forage just south of the border of the original 1930s park. (The park is a preserve; the game management area is open to seasonal hunting.)

The lakeside trails (four of the park's five miles of trail) through the woods are fine in spring, but once the canopy leafs out --- I want open sky, and the game management acres offer that, plus healthy stands of big blue stem, indian grass and other varieties, walls of sunflowers and other elements necessary for a great autumn show.

That's one of the new ponds at the top, just over the fence in the original park and high above the lake, carved out of previously overgrown woodland. This pond and its companions will control erosion, add another layer of protection for Red Hall's already clean water --- enhance recreation, too.

As I was meandering along, Park Manager Mike Schrader (at the wheel) and Ken Willoughby pulled up. They were riding the trails, checking the new ponds to see if they had filled sufficiently to allow stocking this fall --- all of them had.

The new trail really isn't a new trail an all, but rather an access route developed when this prairie pond --- the first of the six to go in --- was built. It heads from the hilltop into the draw where the pond was built, crosses the pond dam and then heads up and over the next hill onto the big berm that forms the south end of Red Haw Lake's southeasterly leg.

Mike has been debating about leaving an opening, or some sort of access, when the fence that divides the park proper from the game management area is restored. I lobbied for a gap since I really liked being able to head directly over the hill and down to the berm without having to head down into the woods and negotiate the lakeside trail --- sometimes muddy --- to get there. Or deal with chest-high vegetation and barbed wire.

The most visible of the new ponds is in the southwest corner of the park and you can see it through the timber as you're driving beyond the campground toward stone shelter point. Schrader said a trail extension will be built to allow access to this one.

I usually take the alternate scenic route from stone shelter point to the game management acres, parking near the chained access road just before the turn-arounds, walking west on that road, taking a left onto the trail that leads down across the west end of the lake's southwesterly leg, then continuing straight on through the gate into the open fields.

The new woodland pond up top will be visible to your left as you follow the game management trail to the hilltop and the access to the new prairie pond and beyond cuts southeast just beyond the corn field.

Since rain is predicted again for Monday, I'll probably stay at home and mow lawn this afternoon. If you're not thus constrained, head out to Red Haw and take a walk. It's going to be a great day.