Wednesday, June 22, 2022

It's a Small World

 When I was a young girl, I thought my father must know more people than anyone in the world.  I would meet someone from another school and mention my new acquaintance to my father, and he would proceed to tell me who my new friend's parents were, and sometimes who the grandparents were.  Of course, his wide acquaintances were primarily in the half-a-dozen counties where he had been raised.

This blog is really about those serendipitous meetings where you are someplace far from home and you meet someone you know, or you meet someone new and discover you have a very close connection.  For example, when we attended the Montreal World's Fair of 1967, we ran into a man my husband had played basketball against in high school.

During my husband's tour of duty in South East Asia, he was playing pool in the officers club and heard someone call out his name, using his high school nick name.  It was an acquaintance from a neighboring Kansas town whom, my husband discovered, was also an Air Force Officer.  Although they hadn't seen each other for several years, they had a nice visit half way around the world.

In the early 2000s we took our mothers to England for a holiday, and while having lunch in an English castle my husband spotted the parents of one of our best friends having lunch in the same castle dining room, and we stopped by to say hello..

This story, however, is a little different, since the person I met was a stranger.  We were attending an art exibition in Oklahoma, and I wandered into an ongoing conversation with one of the artists exhibiting her work.  The Filley Art Museum in Pratt, Kansas was mentioned, and the artist acknowledged having some familiarity with that area.  As I joined the conversation, the artist asked if I grew up in Pratt, and I replied that I had grown up in the small community of Byers, adding "which you have probably never heard of."  She replied, "Oh, yes, I know Byers.  My Aunt Gloria went to school there."  "Gloria Martin?" I asked, never imagining it might be someone I knew.  "Yes," she replied excitedly.  "That's my Aunt!"

Painting by Sonya Terpening

As a result of pure serendipity I had a delightful conversation with Sonya Terpening, an artist who began studying with professional artists in junior high school, who received her degree in art from Oklahoma State University, and who was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from that university in 2020.  However, her recognition as an artist goes well beyond Oklahoma, and even well beyond Texas, where she now lives.  She and her work have been featured in such important magazines as Art of the West, Western Art Collector, and Southwest Art.  Her deep feeling for the West, which is the frequent subject of her paintings, is beautifully expressed in her own words:  "Living in Oklahoma or Texas is living with the fable of the West, both states are so rich in history." (More of her work can be seen online.)

What a treat for me it was to meet Sonya Terpening, and what proof that "It's a Small World" that I wandered into a conversation, mentioned my small childhood community, and unexpectedly had a pleasant chat with an artist whose work we had admired as we wandered through the exhibit earlier.  Serendipity can shrink the world and produce delightful surprises!   

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

What Else May You Be Missing in Kingman?

In previous blogs I have mentioned outdoor mural art and indoor post office art, from both of which history can be learned.  Kingman, Kansas offers both examples.  In a previous blog I featured the two murals by Stan Herd on the north outside wall of the Main Street Kingman County Historical Museum.

Just across the street from the Museum is the Kingman Post Office.  Kingman is one of those lucky towns whose post office contains art commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture.  Kingman's painting, "In the Days of the Cattlemen's Picnic," was done in tempera by Jessie S. Wilbur.

Because I have already posted a blog about the commissioning by the U.S. Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture during the 1940s, I will mention that only to date Jessie Wilbur's painting as being done in 1942.  At that time, she would have been 30 years old and would have completed her study of art at Colorado State Teachers College.

Initially, she became interested in cubism, which held her interest for many years, but later she became interested in impressionism.  However, it was as a printmaker that she became best known.  None of these styles dominate her painting in the Kingman Post Office, but her inclination toward a more modern style of painting can be seen.

She did not rely entirely on her paintings for income but rather taught at Colorada State for a few years before going to Montana State College in Bozeman, Montana, where she also taught courses at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Montana.  

Many examples of her public art may still be seen. Some of her art is on permanent display in the Jessie Willber Gallery at the Beall Park Art Center in Bozeman.

The next time you travel through Kingman, Kansas, you just may want to visit the Post Office.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

More Praying Mantids to Share

Credit: Lyn Fewick  Praying mantid turns to greet me!

I was so excited to see an article in the newspaper from the K-State entomologist about Praying mantids.  Those of you who follow my blog know that I am fascinated by them.  The article described how to ensure a garden has a few praying mantid guardians by carefully removing a discovered egg case and putting it in a glass jar with a lid that has at least 10 small air holes.  The instructions said to keep the egg case in the house with warm temperatures and wait 4-6 weeks for eggs to hatch.  The instructions included the alternative of keeping the jar in the refrigerator to delay hatching and then removing it when you want it to hatch, which will take 1 or 2 months after removing it from the refrigerator.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick     Admiring his shadow

Frankly, I have much more confidence in Mother Nature to help with the hatching than in myself getting involved.  If I got something wrong, I would feel very guilty.  The need to make sure the nymphs were not released to freezing temperatures, which would be fatal, convinced me that I needed to stay out of the praying mantis mothering and leave it up to nature.

Of course, if a building to which the mantid mother had attached her eggs was being torn down, or I spotted a branch or stem in the burn pile about to be set ablaze, that would be different.  In such emergency rescue cases, even I might be willing to take the chance of hatching the nymphs, whose eggs case appears like a hardened piece of Styrofoam stuck on branches, walls, fences and sides of houses.  Perhaps a school science class might be entrusted with the responsibility, and more specific instructions could be obtained from Kansas State Department of Horticulture and Natural Resources.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick   Discarded shell

As for myself, I will continue to keep my eyes open for praying mantid hiding in leaf rubble, where I once spotted one, or hatching on the side of our house.  I watched in amazement as it slowly escaped from the case it had outgrown.  Several weeks later that year, my husband and I were sitting on the porch when a praying mantid joined us.  He showed no signs of fright and lingered with us to enjoy the afternoon before finally disappearing.  It didn't take too much imagination for me to believe it might have been the praying mantid I watched shedding his case earlier in the spring. 

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick     Escaping outgrown case 


They are beneficial in gardens, eating "anything they can grab onto with their raptorial front legs," according to K-State entomologist Raymond Cloyd.  That includes flies, of which we had so many last spring and summer, and crickets, months, wasps, and caterpillars.  Unfortunately, it also includes butterflies, but if they are on their toes, those butterflies can escape into the sky!

Be on the lookout for these interesting insects, which are described as "a beneficial to a home garden."  

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Buffalo Bill Cody and Hays

William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody
Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The picture above shows the image of William F. Cody, also known as 'Buffalo Bill,' outside the Hays Library.  Buffalo Bill is nearly legendary in Hays, Kansas, his exploits familiar to local people.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Beneath the bust of Cody his importance to the city of Hays is described, explaining how he co-founded the town that was the predecessor of Hays, with a man named William Rose in 1867.

Cody was in the area because in 1867 he was employed by the Kansas Pacific Railroad, his job being to hunt buffalo to feed the railroad work crews.  The following year, 1868, Cody served as a scout and guide in the U.S. Army.  These assignments were often dangerous, and he was awarded a Medal of Honor.  His celebrity made him well-known, and he was featured in the popular dime novels of that era.

In his time, he was seen as a hero--brave, handsome, charismatic.  Yet today we often judge our heroes with hindsight.  His reputation was gained by the displacement, if not actual slaughter, of indigenous people and animals.  Indians saw the arrival of trains, and the people inside those trains, as a threat to their way of life--and they were correct.  While Cody killed the buffalo to feed railroad workers, he also killed for sport, killing far more than was needed to feed work crews, and he sometimes led hunting groups.  It is believed that Cody himself killed 4,000 buffaloes.  

Photo: Lyn Fenwick
Indians also killed the buffalo, but almost no part of the animal was wasted, from their wooly coats and their meat, all the way down to their sinews.  In contrast, wealthy sportsmen shot from trains, leaving the buffalo to rot on the prairie.  Sometimes they would compete to see who could kill the most buffalo in a single day.  It has been estimated that for every buffalo killed, as many as four wandered off to die, suffering from their wounds. 

The irony is that part of the thrill was the fact that these prairie bemouths were regarded as a great prize to kill.  As they were slaughtered to near extinction, they were also considered the Monarchs of the Plains.  The plaque at left reads:  "Herds of 60 million Buffalo once roamed the Prairie until reduced to 300 and near extinction.  They were the basis for the Indian Economy, Food for the Emigrant, Railroad Worker and Soldier." 

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The reverence for the Monarch of the Plains is sculpted from the native limestone of the region, depicting the buffalo looking out across the fort once occupied by soldiers and now visited by tourists.  And so, Hays, Kansas honors both the marksman who used his frontier reputation to create his own Wild West Show and profit from the reputation he built killing buffalo, while on a hilltop outside of Hays a buffalo carved from the native stone looks over the city of Hays.

Cody's Wild West Show became internationally famous, but in the end, his show went bankrupt and closed in 1913, although he performed in other shows until his death in 1917.  Near extinction, a small herd of Buffalo was used to breed back the Monarch of the Plains, avoiding extinction.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick



Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Oldest Boot Hill West of the Mississippi


Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

So, you think you know the location of the Oldest Boot Hill West of the Mississippi...but you may be in for a surprise!  Did you think it was Dodge City?  No, that came 5 years later.  Maybe you thought it was Tombstone, Arizona, or Dead Wood, South Dakota, but neither of them is older than the Boot Hill pictured above.  The oldest Boot Hill west of the Mississippi is in Hays, Kansas, located on the northeast corner of  Fort and 18th Streets.  When that location was chosen in 1867, it was about half a mile north of town, but by 1874, when the last recorded burial took place, the town had expanded to reach the burial grounds.  Some of the graves were relocated to the new Mount Allen Cemetery, but others remained.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The statue, called "The Homesteader" was created by Pete Felten, but despite the name, many of the men buried there were not exactly our idea of a homesteader.  The name of these early cemeteries--Boot Hill--was derived from the fact that many buried there died with their boots on in shootouts, from suicides and racial disputes, and from alcoholism.  However, that was not always the case, and the  first man buried in the Hays Boot Hill was a teamster, kicked in the head by a mule.

An early burial in the Hays Boot Hill

The last known burial was in 1874.  Many, if not most, of the burials were done without ceremony, and records of the men buried there are incomplete.  The number is believed to be between 37 to 100, and most likely to be 79.  There are no grave markers, but it is a peaceful spot for those who are buried there.

This post is unlike my usual Memorial Day posts, yet the men and women who expanded settlement across the nation in its early years are worth remembering.  Today we are also becoming more aware of those we displaced in settling America, the Native Americans who lived on this continent before most of our ancestors arrived.  We are also becoming more respectful of those who arrived unwillingly but who also deserve our respect for settling this nation.  Certainly,  Memorial Day is intended to honor those who fought and those who died for this Nation.  However, perhaps we might also pause to  reflect beyond those who served our nation, and our own families.  Perhaps we could also take the time to reflect on some of those men and women we too often forget when we honor the dead who came before us. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Heroes We Should Not Forget


Hays, Kansas Fire Station
Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Always on the lookout for Kansas history, I spotted this statue at the Hays, Kansas Fire Station.  As I wandered back into the corner of the station, I noticed a Plaque.  

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The plaque  was a "Memoriam of Our Fallen Firefighters," and the two names on the plaque--Stephen H. Tourtillot and Nicholas Arnold--shared a common date.  After doing some research, I learned that the date was the day they died in the line of duty as firefighters for the city of Hays.
In searching to learn more about the two men, I discovered that they are honored at the Kansas Firefighters Museum, a museum of which I was unaware.  

I learned that the last horse drawn fire station built in Wichita, Fire Station #6 was completed in 1909, and had 2 horses, Tom and Dick, and four fire fighters.  When Wichita became an all motorized fire department, it was the first such fully motorized fire department in the U.S. and the second in the world.  With no longer a need for a horse drawn Fire Station, #6 was used for other purposes, and in the 1980s it became a storage facility.  

Faced with the possibility of abandonment, Station #6 was rescued in 1993 when the Historic Preservation Alliance of Wichita and Sedgwick County formed the "Friends of Engine House No. 6" with the idea of restoring it as the Kansas Firefighters' Museum.  In 1994 it was placed on both the Registers of the Kansas and the National Historic Places.  Both Stephen H. Tourtillot and Nicholas Arnold are recognized in those places.
Both of these men died while fighting a fire at Ninth & Oak streets in Hays.  According to the Fire Fighters' Museum, they were killed when 3 Standard Oil gas lines exploded.  Also killed were six bystanders, and 150 others were injured.

I will close by quoting from the obituary for Stephen H. Tourtillott, published in The Hays Free Press.  "Monday morning he left home for work and with his usual energy at the call of duty entered into the work of trying to save the property around the burning tanks.  He was one of the victims of the explosion.  He was carried to the hospital where all was done that love and skill could do but he left this world of sorrow at 11:15 that afternoon.  He is survived by his wife, four children, his father and four brothers and their families."

Everyday, somewhere, firefighters face danger, trying to save us and our property.  I chose to do the research and share the story of these two men as a way to thank so many firefighters who have faced danger to protect us, sometimes at the cost of their lives. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Bravo for the New Kansas State Fruit


Copyright by artist, Lyn Fenwick

Did you know that in April of 2022 Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed House Bill 2644 making the Sandhill Plum our Official State Fruit!  Those of you who follow my blog already know that I am a great fan of the humble sandhill plum.  Past blogs have shared my jelly making, and in 2019 I entered my pastel painting titled "State Fair Jelly" at the Kansas State Fair.  It didn't win a ribbon but it garnered many comments from fellow sandhill plum lovers!

Naturally, as a sandhill plum enthusiast, I was thrilled by the Governor's choice.  But I was also surprised that Kansas had not already selected the Kansas State Fruit.  We have young Kansas students to thank for bringing that omission to the Governor's attention.  Apparently there were a few other nominees for the honor, but the sandhill plum won by a landslide.

I began to wonder what other fruits might have been chosen, and the one that quickly came to mind was the mulberry,  We had mulberries at the farm when I was a child, and because I ran around everywhere in bare feet, the soles of my feet were always stained with the purple mulberry juice that carpeted the ground under the trees.  I learned why mulberry trees spread so easily.  Mulberries are wind pollinated, they are not particular about poor soil, buds develop in later spring and are rarely affected by spring frosts, and they tolerate drought. 

My 2021 jelly making

There were other nominees, but some of those were eliminated because they were not native to Kansas.  I am certain that the early homesteaders found sandhill plums on the prairie when they arrived, because Isaac Werner, my prairie bachelor, wrote about them in his journal.  Isaac also had a peach orchard, but he planted it.  He tried to plant apples, but that was not successful, although there is a mention of one apple tree in his journal, so one tree among the dozen he ordered may have survived.  His garden also contained melons, but they were cultivated from seeds he bought.

Other native fruits existed in Kansas, but many of those are native only to a certain part of the state.  Some are very difficult to raise, particularly the PawPaw tree.  After doing the research about the few other fruits native to Kansas, I agree that the sandhill plum was the best choice--although I admit that I am prejudiced.  

This year there are absolutely no sandhill plums in our pasture.  I have seen some blooming bushes along roadsides, so I have no explanation for the absence of plums in our pasture.  We did have late snows, and I also wonder if the extremely strong winds might have interfered with pollination.  Fortunately, we still have jelly from last year's canning! 

Congratulations to local school children in our area who were part of the selection of our new state fruit!  

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

An Air Base Becomes a Municipal Airport

As a child, I remember driving far to the east of what is now Highway 281 in order not to pass through the military base a few miles north of Pratt.  However, by 1962 the former B-29 training base had become Pratt's Municipal Airport, and the special edition Pride Magazine proudly declared "While its airport is not as fancy as some in larger cities, Pratt is proud to claim one of the best- equipped small-town airports in the Midwest...[with] two long runways, both hard surfaces, plenty of hangar space (even for overnight transient aircraft) and complete facilities for major engine and airframe overhaul."  The article added, "In addition there is a lighted runway, beacon, courtesy car and a certified radio repair station."

Jim Newhouse managed the airport at that time, and also operated Pratt Air Service.  The article admitted that "air traffic is never very heavy" but touted the unicom radio and the two long runways of 6,000 and 4,000 feet.

Ted Turner's plane on the Pratt Runway

Today the airport remains a valuable asset for Pratt.  The 1962 article mentioned that "some 20 aircraft owners make use of the facility, and local pilots continue to utilize the airport and house their planes there."  That continues to be true today, and in addition, planes from across the nation land there.  During hunting season, another growing business in the region, hunters often fly in to hunt.

The history of the Air Base and the men and women who served there are honored today at the airport,  which includes not only the museum housed in the former parachute building but also descriptive signs around the airport identifying locations and the structures and purposes of those places during war time.

An exhibit at the Pratt Airbase Museum

Part of the mission of the museum is to record interviews of people who served at the base during World War II.  Although the museum is operated by volunteers, there are very professional and educational exhibits to be seen.

The Pratt Airport remains something of which the community can be proud, convenient for local pilots and those passing through. From the original purpose as a military base to  its present use, the air port remains an asset for Pratt and surrounding communities.  Today the fixed base operator is Randy Huitt, following in the footsteps of his father, Mr. Curt Huitt.



Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Irene's College Cup--A Mother's Day Tribute


I have reached the age of accumulated things.  My husband and I are both collectors, but we were never ones to buy things just because they were currently popular.  We bought things we wanted to live with for a long time.  However, if you live long enough, it is inevitable that you will collect much more than you need.  We have reached that age and need to decide what should be gifted or discarded.  Like many of our friends, we are finding that difficult, because the value of so many of our things is a matter of memories.

One of those things is the decorative Custer Hall mug that belonged to my mother-in-law.  She had already been widowed twice when my husband and I married, the first time having been left to raise two little boys alone, and the second time having thought she had found a husband to enjoy the rest of a long life together, only to be widowed again after a few happy months. 

Of course, we realized her sadness, but perhaps we were too young to fully understand her courage.  At the time of her second marriage, she had given up her job to move to a new town.  With the sudden death of her husband, she had to turn away from the plans they had made together to make new plans for herself.  That decorative Custer Hall mug is a symbol of her courage.  She decided to go to college.

To be honest, today I see it as courageous, but as a young bride having my mother-in-law join us at college wasn't quite what I had in mind.  Today, I see it differently, and that is why I struggle to know what to do with her mug.

It had been a long time since high school for her, and stepping back into a classroom was challenging.  Her grades weren't great, but she persevered.  Then, she discovered a way to make it all work.  She continued to take a few hours, but she became a dorm mother at Custer Hall.  The transition from a coed with gray in her hair to a dorm mother was a better fit.  

Today, each year hundreds of people over the age of 50 go back to school.  Some get degrees to change careers and others choose to explore long-held passions that had to be deferred until retirement.  That was not common when my mother-in-law began her college career.  She had been a working mother when that was less common--although mothers at that time certainly had important responsibilities that did not include a pay check.  My mother-in-law had the responsibility of parenting alone and being the sole bread winner. 

The idea of senior citizens continuing their studies is fairly common today, and if not directed toward a degree then for other reasons.  Some places offer senior citizen tuition waivers.  Other seniors return primarily to enjoy campus amenities.  In fact, in some places, retirement communities are planned nearby the university.  Some schools offer classes just for seniors, and there are also opportunities for online courses.  I have now taught two virtual Osher classes, a program designed for continued learning for people 50 and older.

But in my mother-in-law's era, what she did was unusual and brave.  For me, her Custer Hall mug is like a trophy, awarded for her courage and determination to push sadness and disappointment out of her way and get on with life.  

With Mothers' Day not far away, being on May 8th, this seemed like a good time to share my mother-in-law's story and the symbol of her courage that I see when I look at the Custer Hall Mug. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Dial Phones Arrive!

 I cannot but wonder how many people are still living who remember the old crank phones and the party lines.  Our ring was 2 longs and a short:  rrrrrring, rrrrrrrrg, ring.  When our phone rang, all of the phones on the party line rang, but only the family whose number had rung was supposed to pick up the receiver.  Sometimes, that was too tempting to lonely neighbors eager for some gossip, and my Great-aunt Abbie was one of those lonely people.  An often told story in my family involved Abbie and her nephew Ray, who lived just a quarter of a mile down the road and who shared the party line with his aunt.  He was on a long distance business call and was having trouble hearing.  When an additional receiver was off the hook, the quality of the transmission was reduced.  Patiently, he said, "Please hang up, Auntie.  I'll call you when we finish and tell you what we said."  My great aunt's loneliness and curiosity often tempted her to eavesdrop on the party line, and her nephew understood.  As the family story was told, Abbie did hang up, and he did call her for a chat when his call was finished.

On the other hand, the party line had a valuable benefit.  The emergency ring could be dialed to bring everyone to the phone without having to dial each one on the line to spread a warning or ask for help.  In the county, that could quickly bring help to put out a fire or help someone who was injured or ill.

  However, this blog is about the new dial phone building under construction in Pratt, Kansas in 1962, as described in the special Pride publication.  Southwestern Bell had acquired the Pratt exchange in 1953, which at that time handed 3,370 telephones.  Three years later that number had grown to 3,914, an increase of 16%.  With construction of the new dial phone building anticipated for 1957, Pratt center could handle long distance calls for Coldwater, Greensburg, Protection, Coats, Cullison, Haviland, Iuka, Mullinville, Preston, Isabel, Sawyer, Cunningham, Ford and Wilmore.  

Pratt was quite proud of its new dial phone building under construction at 5th and Ninnescah Street!  The total gross expenditure for the building, dial equipment, landscaping, and installation of dial telephone would be about $920,000, according to the construction manager out of Wichita.  The building was to have an air conditioning system, a full basement underneath, and was constructed so that a second story could be added to allow future expansion "if Pratt continues to grow."

Today we pick up our smart phones and give little thought to the wonder that it is.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Long Distance Phone Calls


As I was exploring the 1962 Pratt Pride magazine I noticed this ad for long distance phone call service.  I could not help but smile.

In my family, long distance phone calls were reserved for very specific purposes--good news and bad news.  You could expect a phone call on your birthday or to share the excitement of a new birth in the family or to deliver a compliment for a special achievement.

On the other hand, if a long distance voice was heard on the other end of the line and there was no known good news explanation for the call, your heart skipped a beat.  Had someone been hurt?  Was someone in trouble?  Were they sick?

Unless you are of a certain age, these responses to a ringing phone will make no sense, and perhaps my family was more thrifty about spending unnecessary money, but those memories were called back to mind by the 1962 add.

To complete the story I must include the small hour glass filled with sand that always sat on the desk beside the phone.  I think it took about 3 minutes for the sand to go from one side to the other in the hourglass, and good news or bad, in my family 3 minutes were regarded as sufficient to deliver either one!  The little red hour glass in the photograph is the one that my family always set by the phone.

When my husband and I returned to the farm about two decades ago, we were in a dead zone for wireless phone service, so we connected the long unused rural phone line.  With no one living in the farm house for many years, reconnecting wasn't simple.  It was discovered that the buried line to our house had been cut by deep plowing by a neighboring farmer .  Once that was repaired, we were back online.  We added a phone upstairs, something my parents had never had, and the contractor build a recessed alcove in the wall to hold the new phone.  I found a modern phone that was designed to look like an old fashioned 'candle stick' phone that fit snugly in the alcove.  A young visitor, who had only used a cell phone, noticed the replica phone and exclaimed, "Oh look, an old fashioned phone."

At the time, I laughed to myself, since she had overlooked the 'modern' dial in the base of the phone.  However, the joke was really on me, since dial or no dial, the phone really was 'old fashioned' to her, since she had never used a dial, and it would soon be obsolete to us, when cell phone service was eventually available at the farm. How quickly the world changes from one generation to the next!  My memory even goes back to the old-fashioned crank phone party line of my childhood!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Tons of Ice!

Lynda & Jerry

It isn't as if we no longer stop for a bag of ice at the convenience store.  We still do.  It is just less frequently that we stop to get enough to keep our cooler cold for a long afternoon at a picnic, with enough extra to keep the huge container of ice tea cold too.  Air conditioning seems to have practically eliminated the wonderful picnics I remember from my youth.  

I'm not sure the exact occasion pictured above, but I suspect it might have been a 4-H tour from farm to farm to see the livestock raised by 4-Hers for the County Fair, judging from the water tank and gate in the background.  Church picnics, Mothers' Club picnics, family picnics, picnics between baseball games...summer was filled with excuses to get out of the sultry house and find a shady park for a picnic.

Our family often headed for the Pratt Lake, hoping to stake out a claim on a nice shady place below the dam.  But, on the way into Pratt, we would stop first at Bettis Ice Company Plant on North Main.

 I don't really remember much about the plant itself, because I was much more excited about getting to the picnic, but the gentleman who helped my father get the ice could have been Henry Bettis.  According to the article in the 1962 special Pratt edition, 60 tons of ice were produced daily at the Bettis company.  They shipped to many nearby towns and their ice was used to ice freight and passenger trains of the Rock Island Railroad.

In his interview, Mr. Bettis, owner and manager of the ice plant, said that their plant was one of the first in Kansas to push the packaged ice business fifteen years before his interview, meaning sometime about 1947.

Air conditioning is wonderful, and I would not want to give it up, but I can still recall fondly those picnics at the Pratt Lake, when you needed to get there early if you wanted a good spot below the dam.  Above the dam, cars came and went, pausing to watch the water skiing on the lake, and we kids would certainly have gone up there to watch the skiers too.  It was a busy place, both above and below the dam.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Pratt County 4-H Clubs of 1962

 The Pratt Pride magazine of 1962 devoted a large article to the role of 4-H Clubs in Pratt County, consisting at that time of 356 young members among 12 organized clubs throughout the county, with 96 adults involved in leadership posts.

The first 4-H memberships in Pratt County, organized in 1927, by 1962 had involved 6,331 boys and girls, although technically the early clubs were called "Project Clubs."  Those organizations became 4-H Clubs in 1931.  Each community could decide the projects their club would offer.  While rural clubs might focus on livestock and poultry, clubs with more urban members might focus on other projects.  In either case, the rules required that the young members do most of the project work themselves and keep their own records.

Listed in the article were agricultural and home economics, junior leadership, bees, rabbits, tractor maintenance, home grounds beautification, soil conservation, and wood working.  Also mentioned were developing personal confidence by participation in demonstrations, project talks, and skits.

The clipping at the beginning of this post appeared in the "Pratt Tribune" showing the chicken dinner hosted by the 4-H clubs for Pratt Businessmen.  Notice the reference to "business men," although there must have been several business women in Pratt at that time.

I did not have livestock.  My projects were cooking, sewing, and home improvement.  I do recall giving a demonstration describing how to select items for a first aid kit, which I carefully packed into a tin lunch pail.  I also remember the emphasis on learning how to conduct a meeting with the proper motions, seconds, and voting.  As an adult sitting through a few meetings, I sometimes wished those adults conducting the meeting had benefitted from the same 4-H training I had received.

Our club particularly enjoyed music, whether it was square dancing or singing.  The quartette pictured at right consisted of four Byers classmates--Helen, Judy, Cheryl, and Lynda.  Our serious pose was intended to depict a Barbershop Quartette.

I also remember the dances at the fairgrounds, with 4-H members from all the clubs in the county attending.  I think we learned the bunny hop and the schottsche, as well as various square dances, but whatever the dances were, we had fun.

This past Christmas we were surprised by a knock on our door one evening for the delivery of a Christmas ornament decorated by the local 4-H club.  The traditions live on!

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Pratt, Kansas has Always Supported It's Libraries

Pratt, Kansas has supported its libraries from early years, getting its start in 1909 when the Coterie Club, a local study group, offered its library to the city, offering its 1,700 books to the city in exchange for a commitment from the city to keep the library open daily, provide a free public reading room, and include free reading for the county as well as the city.  The offer was accepted and in May of 1910, on September 14, the new Public Library in the ground floor of the Court House opened.

By 1961 the library collection had expanded to 153,214 books, pictures, clippings, classical records, and films.  There were 403 adult and 330 children new borrowers registered, as well as 160 new rural patrons, part of the 6,027 total registered borrowers.  Of the 36,000 books available for loan, about one-third were loaned each month.  Librarian Miss Johnson indicated that local patrons read about an average of 12 books per year from the library. 

One of those rural patrons may have been me.  Until my grandmother's death when I was five, we tended to shop in St. John, where she lived, but after her death, we shopped in Pratt most Saturdays, and I was a regular at the library. 

The city provided $10,000, and county provided $7,000, and gifts to the Library added another $308.70.  Also included in their budget were fines ($1,011.25), fees ($64.) and  charges for lost books ($33.85.)  The Library Board Members were:  Mrs. Paul Tupper, John H. Calbeck, Eldon Green, Miss Johnson, Dr. Julia Barbee, Miss Flavel Barner, Mrs. Don Brown, John Megaffin, and Jess Kennedy.

(I cannot help but notice as I share this information that many of the ladies are identified by only their last names, or if married, only by their husband's given name instead of their own.  That practice drives people trying to search their families' genealogy on the maternal side crazy, but it was very common even into the later decades of the 1900s!)

Today we have the beautiful library pictured at the top of this blog, recently renovated, and located next to the Vernon Filley Art Museum, making joint efforts to celebrate the arts possible!  

Kids at the Pratt Library
The Mission Statement of the Library states:  "The Mission of the Pratt Public Library is to foster lifelong learning by providing materials and services which will serve the educational, cultural, professional, and recreational needs of the community."

For more than a century, Pratt, Kansas has recognized the importance of supporting the cultural needs of the community.  The Library continues to perform its role in that commitment. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Larned Opera House and the Ghosts of Past Performers


Close-up of the Larned Opera House
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

As the razing of the 1886 Opera House commenced its final performance, the stage became an outdoor theater for the first time, a gaping hole in the center of the wall where the stage had been.  On the west side of the stage, old posters advertised the entertainments of the past, and my imagination focused on the image of the Victorian actress with her pompadour hairstyle.  Was the ghost of the actress hiding somewhere inside the undemolished part of the opera house, or had she moved on with the rest of the cast as the train carried cast, costumes, and sets to their next performance somewhere down the line?  The sight of the demolished Opera House could not help but stir my imagination.

While I do not know the name of the girl with the pompadour hairstyle, nor the name of the play in which she may have performed, I do know, thanks to the advertisement for The Great Train Robbery at left, that the now famous movie did play in the Larned Opera House.

That movie has become legendary, claiming many titles, some of which it does not deserve, such as the claim that it was "the first western" and even the "first story film," neither of which is accurate.  However, The Great Train Robbery was a   wildly popular movie.  It was not a movie as we think of movies today.  As the Larned ad states, "new pictures" and "new illustrated songs" have been added, and this was possible because the pictures themselves did not move.  The story line and the music tell the story, with fixed images appearing one after another on the screen.

The iconic image from this movie is of actor Justice D. Barnes pointing his gun directly at the camera and firing.  The frightening impact on the audience was the sense that a man had suddenly appeared and shot them!  Interestingly, the theater had the option of using the picture of Barnes firing into the crowd at the start of the firm or at the end.  Either way, apparently it created a sensation with audiences! 

Although the pictures were still, some were hand colored, for example with puffes of smoke.  While we have become jaded by the amazing special effects in today's movies, for those early theater goers, the sound and the surprise were enough to frighten them.


The next time you approach the corner of 4th Street and Broadway the Opera House will no longer be standing, and perhaps even the pile of rubble will have been taken away.  Yet, there will still be a few people who remember the old Opera House, maybe even a few who remember it before its sad decline.  Gradually most of the old opera houses have disappeared.  Even many of the movie theaters that followed them are disappearing.  Yet once, the Larned Opera House was the Price of Larned!

P.S.  I have blogged about other Kansas Opera Houses.  You may want to do a search to discover those previous blogs.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Final Performance--The Larned Opera House

Photo Credit:  Great Bend News

Even after the once famed Larned Opera House was no longer used, it displayed remnants of the architectural details from its 1886 origins, when four Larned men decided to construct a lasting entertainment venue for their community.  Once the decision to build was made, they did not scrimp on making it magnificent, with large cathedral windows, ornate parapet along the roof edge, with corbelled corners.  The second-floor interior contained a semi-circular auditorium, divided into orchestral, dress circle, parquet and balcony seats.  There were four private seats on each side of the stage, and cherry-wood trim emphasized the painted scenery.  The stage was described as "the largest in Kansas," and the entire building was lit by gas-light.

Sadly, by 2022 the elegant Victorian structure had deteriorated to the point that it was dangerous.  The City Council was compelled to do something, but not everyone agreed just what that should be.  To give the citizens an opportunity to express their views, a poll was taken:  20.83% wanted the building repaired at the cost of the owners; 39.58% wanted the building razed at the cost of the owners; 18.75% wanted the building repaired at the expense of the city; and 20.83% wanted it demolished at the cost of the city.  If it were destroyed, nearly 3/4th wanted no compensation for the various owners, some of which had active businesses in the lower floor, but 26.53% believed owners should be compensated.  Obviously, there was no single majority among the Larned citizens about how to proceed.   

Yet, a decision needed to be made.  The decision was made to raze the once grand old building, which had become so unsafe that even the inspectors were reluctant to move through the entire building, described as being "in emanate danger of collapse."  One tenant had made repairs to his portion of the property, but he agreed to "do what's best for the community." 

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

As we entered Larned from the south, we were taken by surprise, not having been aware of the decision to raze the old opera house.  Although I was never inside the Opera House, even I could imagine the history--the remaining soldiers from the old fort riding into town for some entertainment, the early homesteaders dressing up for a special occasion at the theater, the performers arriving by train with their costumes and props to get ready for their performance.

Isaac Werner occasionally traveled to Larned, and in his journal he mentioned the novelty of arriving under lighted streets.  He also mentioned one trip to Larned to sell trees from his farm and discovering that the Governor was speaking that evening.  He had written in his journal that he wanted to stay to hear the Governor but felt it was necessary to start toward home before dark, getting a bit closer so that the remainder of the journey could be shortened for the following day.  But, surely Isaac would have admired the beautiful exterior, and perhaps he had even slipped inside to view the interior.  

If only those old bricks could have called out the names of performers and sweethearts and politicians who had frequented the Opera House as the bricks tumbled to the ground.  What stories they might have told.   

More about the Larned Opera House next week.



Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Getting the News

Early Newsboys selling papers
In Isaac Werner's day Newspapers were extremely important.  In cities there were morning and evening editions, with special editions if something important happened.  For those who did not live in cities, like Isaac, their local weekly newspaper brought not only local news but also stories rewritten from the city newspapers.

A century later, with radio and television, we were able to get our news more quickly, but local newspapers remained important.  My family subscribed to four different newspapers at least some of the time while I was at home--Pratt, St. John, Hutchinson, and the weekly Macksville paper.

At the close of the day, the family watched the CBS station hosted by Walter Cronkite, who was such a familiar and trusted newsman that he acquired the nickname of 'Uncle Walter.'

Times have obviously changed, and today newspaper are struggling.  Those changes have brought us immediate access online, as well as television news.  But, one of those changes is the blurring between newscasters and commentators.

To understand the difference between those two roles let me first share the Journalist's Code of Ethics.

1.  I shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis.  I recognize the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly.

2.  I shall not violate confidential information on material given me in the exercise of my calling.

3.  I shall resort only to fair and honest methods in my effort to obtain news, photographs and/or documents, and shall properly identify myself as a representative of the press when obtaining any personal interview intended for publication.

4.  I shall refrain from writing reports which will adversely affect a private reputation unless the public interests justify it.  At the same time, I shall write vigorously for public access to information as provided for in the constitution.

5.  I shall not let personal motives or interests influence me in the performance of my duties; nor shall I accept or offer any present, gift or other consideration of a nature which may cast doubt on my professional integrity.

6.  I shall not commit an act of plagiarism.

7.  I shall not in any manner ridicule, cast aspersions on or degrade any person by reason of sex, creed, religious belief, political conviction, cultural and ethnic origin.

8.  I shall presume persons accused of crime of being innocent until proven otherwise.  I shall exercise caution in publishing names of minors, and women involved in criminal cases so that they may not unjustly lose their standing in society.

9.  I shall not take unfair advantage of a fellow journalist.

10.  I shall accept only such tasks as are compatible with the integrity of my profession, invoking the 'conscience clause' when duties imposed on me conflict with the voice of my conscience.

11.  I shall comport myself in public or while performing my duties as journalist in such manner as to maintain the dignity of my profession.  When in doubt, decency should be my watchword.

Without commenting on my observations of how well today's journalists are adhering to their Code of Conduct, I will only say that we have come a long way from 'Uncle Walter,' but it is significant that the ideals of the Journalists' code remain.

What has crowded into "news" is commentary rather than journalism.  There are many problems as a result, and at the top of the list is that many people do not recognize the difference. To balance this consideration of journalism and commentary I would like to be able to include the Commentators' Code of ethics.  Unfortunately, I have not found any such Code for Commentators.  That in itself says a lot.

Newspapers have long had Opinion Columns, clearly identified as such.  Perhaps a good place to start considering how commentators became so prevalent is with the coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial.  Many people followed that closely, and commentators were used to help explain legal rules of evidence.  Since then, the use of Commentators has only grown.

In today's competitive world of news reporting, often reporters and journalists are dealing with incoming news in real time.  They are trying to report the news when they lack the needed expertise on the subjects.  In the past they would have been expected to research what they needed to know, but real time reporting does allow time for research.  To help with that problem, experts are often sitting beside them to offer such explanations as historic comparisons, related political issues, laws, previous court rulings, and countless other matters.  Who are these "experts" and what is the extent of their expertise?  Most of the time, we do not know.

There is a huge difference between a Commentator with a knowledge of the topic under discussion vs. a Commentator lacking adequate knowledge of the topic or spouting his or her opinion rather than sharing informed knowledge to help journalists and viewers better understand the issues being reported.  Even a knowledgeable commentator must be aware of speaking beyond his or her expertise or wandering off into opinion. 

If journalists have chosen to be guided by a Code of Ethics, shouldn't those Commentators who are  willing to present themselves as experts in their fields also be willing to accept a Code of Ethics for Commentators?

 Here are some suggestions to consider:

1.  Lawyers are familiar with the duty to avoid a conflict of interest.  Should a commentator consider whether he or she can avoid a conflict of interest regarding the subject or the person involved, and either recuse themselves or at least disclose the potential conflict.

2.  If a commentator has gained his or her expertise through the person about whom the topic concerns, how should that impact any confidentiality the person may have expected?

3.  If a commentator puts him or herself out there as an expert, shouldn't the training, experience, education, or whatever is regarded as creating expertise be disclosed.

Americans value freedom of speech, and it is a right to be protected.  However, some commentators take that freedom as the right to express their opinions about whatever they choose, and they occupy settings that give the impression of expertise they may not have.

The importance of Americans being well informed in our complicated world is obvious.  Reflecting on ways to protect our access to information without exposing us to misinformation in disguise is a challenging issue but remains one worth trying to protect. 

There could be no better example of the importance of journalism than events happening right now throughout the world.  Yet, when I began drafting this blog, there was no invasion of Ukraine.  The reality is that the need for journalists is always essential, and the importance of accurate reporting and commentary never disappears! 


Wednesday, February 23, 2022

1962 Pratt Great Books Club was Serious!

 My encouragement to set a reading goal for yourself for 2022 was pretty simple compared to this serious Pratt group from 1962!  The group began four years earlier, yet as they gathered in the Pratt Library in the Fall of 1962 they were still enthusiastic about their self-education course sponsored by the Great Books Foundation.  The course was free, and the approach was not to discuss the books themselves at their meetings but rather to let a different reader lead the discussions focused on problems raised by the participating members.

The group met twice a month, pursuing a program intended to last 10 years.  Although the Great Books Foundation did train leaders and would supply informational materials, the group itself selected the books they wanted to read.  

As this Pratt group began their fourth year, these are the books they had selected:  "Ancient Medicine," Hippocrates;  "Republic," Plato; "Confessions," St. Augustine; "Novum Organum," Bacon; "Metaphysies," Aristotle; "Philosophical Dictionary," Voltaire; and "The Brothers Karamazo," Dostoyevsky.

Their 10-Year Study of Great Books was obviously serious business!  Interestingly, Isaac Werner, my Prairie Bachelor, had some of those books in his library. 

The newspaper article closes with the explanation that the fifth year class had already completed the above listed books and would be reading their own selections, with the following authors:  Plato; Aristotle; St. Francis; Dante; Tocqueville; and Melville.

Perhaps some of the people in the photograph can be identified, but I am certainly impressed by the aspirations of those Pratt readers of 1962!