Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reading the News

In writing my manuscript about Isaac Werner and his community, I spent many hours at the Stafford County History Museum turning the fragile, yellowed pages of newspapers.  However, this week I am sharing newspaper stories from late 1953 or early 1954 discovered not in a library nor in a museum.  Instead the Pratt Tribunes were found in the wall of the kitchen during our recent remodel.

My suggestion about keeping your eyes open for history certainly applies to the discovery of these old newspapers, beginning with my enjoyment of the Dagwood and Blondie  cartoon strip pictured above.  Part of the strip is missing, but enough is there to get the punch line.





































However, this blog is not about old comic strips.  In the same newspaper, in the middle of the page, just to the right of the Produce Markets and Livestock Markets, is an article about Senator Joseph McCarthy.

I thought that was quite a significant headline, but how many of my blog readers would recognize the name Joseph McCarthy, the U.S. Senator from Wisconsin from 1947 to 1957.  I did some brief research and found that about a quarter of the American population is under the age of 20.  That group might have heard of McCarthy in school, but I doubted whether his was a name they would remember.  About 13% is over the age of 65, so that group would include those born in 1957 or earlier.  According to the site I consulted, the median age of Americans is about 37.  I began to wonder whether very many Americans living today have much awareness of Sen. McCarthy. In fact, I realized I knew of him in general terms but lacked specifics. I decided readers of my blog might be interested in what I found about this man.

McCarthy served in the Marines, but his debunked claims of heroism--falsified or exaggerated--tarnished his military record.  His initial years in the Senate were not particularly remarkable, although he was recognized as a gifted speaker.  That talent found a use in 1950 when he gained attention claiming there were communists in government offices.  Those years following W.W. II were frightening to  Americans, and McCarthy used that fear effectively.  He disposed of critics and political opponents by accusing them of being communists or communist sympathizers.  He became more powerful when candidates he supported won and those he opposed lost.

Concern for men they knew, draftees and volunteers, fueled worry
Some were courageous enough to speak out against him.  President Truman called him "the best asset the Kremlin has."  McCarthy's response:  "The S..O..B.. should be impeached."  (McCarthy did not use abbreviations.)  Later, President Eisenhower chose to work behind the scenes to reduce McCarthy's influence, but because of the Senator's popularity with voters, he never confronted McCarthy directly nor criticized him by name in a speech.  McCarthy's supporters were not limited to Republicans.  He became a close friend of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., who not only provided financial assistance but also used his influence to build support for McCarthy among Catholics.
Newspaper reports frightened readers, which built McCarthy's popularity

Because of his popularity and the wide spread fear of communists among Americans, Republican leaders were wary of opposing him, and Senate Majority Leader Robert A. Taft came up with the idea of assigning McCarthy a Senate office "where he can't do any harm." Instead, the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Government Operations gave McCarthy the platform from which to launch his investigations of communists in the government.  McCarthy appointed J.B. Matthews as staff director of the Subcommittee on Investigations, which brought attention to an article written by Matthews in which he claimed "The largest single group supporting the Communist apparatus in the United States is composed of Protestant Clergymen."  McCarthy's initial refusal to dismiss Matthews, followed later by accepting Matthews' resignation, was perhaps the first crack in McCarthy's armor,  which until then had seemed impenetrable.
Contradictory news reports about curbing McCarthy

It was in 1954 when McCarthy and his chief counsel, Roy Cohn, began an investigation of the Army that McCarthy's tumble began.  Hearings lasted 36 days and were broadcast on live television.  His poll numbers dropped.  Congressman George H. Bender said, "McCarthyism has become a synonym for witch-hunting."  The New York World-Telegram accused him of "wild twisting of facts and near facts."  The words of Joseph Nye Welch, the Army's chief legal representative, are the ones people most familiar with McCarthy remember, however.  Welch asked, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last:  Have you left no sense of decency?"

Edward R. Murrow
Even before those hearings began, Edward R. Murrow broadcast a show titled "A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy."  The script from that show vibrates with the once familiar voice of Murrow:  "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.  We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.  We will not walk in fear, one of another.  We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason.  ...  There is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve.  We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.  There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. ...We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.    ...   The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies.  And whose fault is that?  Not really his.  He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it--and rather successfully.  Cassius was right:  'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'"

Joseph McCarthy
At last his fellow Senators could ignore McCarthy's actions no longer. Senator Ralph Flanders introduced a resolution calling for McCarthy to be censured.  On December 2, 1954, by a vote of 67 to 22, the Senate voted to "condemn" McCarthy, a vote generally agreed as being a censure of one of their own.  He remained in the Senate, but his power was gone.  The press ignored him and speaking engagements disappeared.   He died on May 2, 1957, and in the memoirs of Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, he revealed that his department had become aware of McCarthy's addiction to heroin in the 1950s, and when McCarthy had refused to stop using, threatening Anslinger and claiming "...if it winds up in a public scandal and that should hurt this country, I wouldn't care...the choice is yours," Anslinger allowed McCarthy to continue using and even stopped a journalist from publishing McCarthy's herion use.  While he was known to be a heavy drinker, his drug abuse had been kept a secret.

William Bennett, Reagan's Secretary of Education, summed up McCarthy's behavior well.  "...his approach to the real problem was to cause untold grief to the country he claimed to love...Worst of all, McCarthy besmirched the honorable cause of anti-communism.  He discredited legitimate efforts to counter Soviet subversion of American institutions."
The condition of the newspapers found in the farmhouse walls
I have no idea who put the newspapers inside the walls nor why that person put them there.  I only know that the men working on  our remodel over six decades later found them and asked if I wanted them.  They already knew that I tended to be interested in any unexpected discoveries, like the old kitchen wallpaper I blogged about on "Antique Wallpaper," 11-27-2014, or the stone foundation we unearthed, "A Solid Foundation," 10-23-2014.  They weren't surprised when I gathered up what they had found, even the smallest pieces, thinking I might discover something of interest. You never know what may be found in the walls of old houses nor all of the things you can learn from taking the time to carefully remove what you have found to discover the forgotten secrets and the history that may be uncovered.

Remember, you can enlarge images by clicking on them.

"Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?"  YouTube 1-6-2017 to watch part of the Army Hearings.

"Murrow on McCarthy, no fear, 1954" YouTube 11-13-2011 and "Edward R. Murrow-See It Now (March 9, 1954)"  YouTube 8-22-2009 to watch broadcast of program mentioned in blog





















Thursday, February 15, 2018

Introducing Young Readers to Oz & Other Classics

Librarian Lynette Armstrong Introduces Lyn to 5th Graders
It has been so much fun sharing Oz with fans, young and old.  However, with many young readers, the book is a surprise.  Their acquaintances with Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Lion is through the movie.

Librarian Lynette Armstrong invited 5th graders at her school to join a lunch time book club, and their first book was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  When she brought all of the 5th grade students to Forsyth Library on the Fort Hays State University campus, I hope I encouraged those who had read the first Oz book to consider reading more of the Oz series by L. Frank Baum, and perhaps to continue reading those books by Ruth Plumley Thompson and other authors that carry on the series, and for those who had not read the first book, perhaps I tempted them.

"I think I'd like to read that book."
I was delighted to hear from a friend who attended the events in Hays that his enthusiasm for Baum's book rubbed off on his young son.  He told me that he had tried unsuccessfully to interest his boy in an Oz book for young readers, but in telling his son about the events at FHSU, apparently something clicked, and during the boy's bedtime bath he told his dad, 'I think I would like to read that book.'  His father remembered how frightened of the flying monkeys he was as a child, and that just may have been an inherited trait, as his son didn't like the monkeys either!


Without the 1939 MGM movie, many children would never have heard of Dorothy and her trip to Oz.  Yet, why are they no longer discovering the book?  I decided to go online to explore why so many kids only know the movie.  After all, there continue to be new Oz editions with incredible illustrators like Charles Santore, Michael Hague, and Robert Ingpen.  Scott Gustafson's beautiful painting of the main characters is available as a jigsaw puzzle. Access to Oz for this generation of kids is still easy.
Dorothy by Charles Santore

I found a website called Common Sense Media with "50 Books All Kids Should Read by Age Twelve, but almost no children's classics were on their list.  Alice in Wonderland did make their list, as Alice did at another website with a specific list titled 'Our Favorite Classic Children's Books,' which included Alice, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and several newer classics, Golden Books, and European Fairy Tales, but no Baum.  I finally tried Wikipedia, and under 'List of children's classic books,' which is organized by centuries and then listed by year of publication, I finally found The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. 1900 as the first listing under 20th Century.  If I were making my own list of recommended books for young readers, I would select a great many from years before 2000.

Hans Christian Anderson
In the 19th Century listing I noticed Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in English in 1846.  Since L. Frank Baum said he wrote the Oz series to be the fairy tales of American children, why are young parents reading European Fairy Tales to their children and neglecting Baum's books?

Alice in Wonderland certainly deserves to be on book shelves of American children.  The original edition by Lewis Carroll was published in 1865, thirty-five years before Baum's in 1900.  While both Dorothy and Alice arrive unexpectedly in different lands and meet unusual characters, the author of The Real Oz, The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum, Rebecca Locraine, explained in an interview:  "...their similarities are, I think, only superficial...For me, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has always been far more direct and elemental, whereas the Alice books are more intellectual, and were less satisfying to me as a child."  So why omit Oz from modern recommended reading lists.  (See last week's post for reasons why adults should read Baum.)
From Carroll's original manuscript

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie was first published in 1911, eleven years after the first Oz book but during the time other books in the Oz series were being published.  Like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Barrie's book as been the subject of movies, animated and live action, yet it was included among current book recommendations while Oz was not.

In 1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain was published, and like the other books already mentioned, it has been the subject of movies and other adaptations.  Other books written for young readers during the time Baum's Oz books were published are Anne of Green Gables by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery in 1908, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911, both of which have been adapted for films and television.  All three of these books remain popular.

Other popular books from the period, like The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908), and Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (first publically published 1902)  feature animal characters in a real landscape.  Christopher Robin, which was published in 1926, was based on a real child, author A.A. Milne's son Christopher Robin Milne, but the land in which he played with his friends was Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England, and his friends were his actual toys brought to life by Milne.    

Cover Art of 1915 Edition

The six wonderful books mentioned in the two preceding paragraphs lack the supernatural fantasies of Baum's characters, but their publications and the times in which the fictional characters lived are during the period Baum's books were published.  Clearly, writing styles and settings from the past are bridges children easily cross.

I did not take a survey of the 5th graders to whom I spoke to see if they had read any of the books I have mentioned in this blog, so perhaps their familiarity with these books is also from movies and television.  Perhaps my blog should not be about disappointment that more young readers are not reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but a broader regret that more young people are missing the delight of other great children's classics, and worse, those books are being ignored on recommended reading lists.



I have quoted Einstein before in this blog saying, "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."



Cover of 1st Edition
L. Frank Baum intended his stories to be American fairy tales, and his imaginative characters and their adventures would certainly seem to stimulate the minds of children in the same way as the European fairy tales Einstein recommended.

Author Gregory Maguire, a former professor of children's literature and well known for his four adult novels of the Wicked Years sequence,  inspired by Baum's books, was asked by an interviewer whether there is still a place for L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carrol, and the Brothers Grimm in our post-modern world.  


Cover of 1st U.S. Edition
Maguire replied:  "For adults, there is such a thing as post-modernism.  For children, there is only modernism--the here, the now.  Learning that the fairy tales, for instance, were largely maintained by an oral tradition and not collected until the 18th and 19th centuries, is a very adult understanding.  Kids don't know about what happened the year before they were born, much less what several centuries ago means.  Because of this peculiar limitation in children's understandings of time and culture, the fairy tales remain always news, always new.  And so do the works of great nonsense fantasists Lewis Carrol and L. Frank Baum.  That Dorothy doesn't instant-message her Best Friends Forever back in Kansas while her house is elevated by a tornado offers no confusion to young readers.  They take each story, and all its parameters, as mysterious givens.  So did we, in our time and place as children."


Gentleman Don
Regular followers of this blog may remember the fun series "Your Favorite Children's Books, 1-4 (March 26, 2015 through April 16, 2015) in which blog readers shared memories of their own favorite children's books.  One of my childhood memories was of a book titled Gentleman Don, published in 1910, long before I was born.  I loved it.  Many years later I located a copy online and ordered it.  Sadly, the Victorian style held far less appeal to me as an adult.  My experience reinforces the truth of Gregory Maguire's opinion that youngsters relate differently to stories, allowing their imaginations to eagerly slip into the text. 



Illustration by Robert Ingpen
I began this blog to encourage parents and grandparent to introduce the children they love to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The 5th graders I spoke to at the Forsyth Library certainly did not give me the impression they thought they were too old to read Oz.  I urge you to skip the reading lists for modern children for a while and consider Aesop's Fables from 600 B.C. or Robinson Crusoe from 1719.  Do you remember the fun of reading some of these 19th Century books, like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1819), The Three Musketeers (1844), A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864),  The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883), Black Beauty (1877), Heidi (1884), and Treasure Island (1883).  

Don't forget the 20th Century--Just So Stories (1902), The Call of the Wild (1903), Mary Poppins (1934), The Diary of Anne Frank (1947), Charlotte's Web (1952), The Borrowers (1952), To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), and by all means, don't forget The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Oz Goes to College, a Photo Album

Michael Hague poster and the Yellow Brick Road
On February 1, 2018 the Wonderful Wizard of Oz came to Fort Hays State University for a sold out performance by a wonderful touring company!  However, even if you missed that performance, you can still enjoy the display of the Larry & Lyn Fenwick Oz Collection at the Forsyth Library on the FHSU campus.

I have written before about our taking some of the collection to the Macksville Grade School to share with students.  (See Isaac and The Wizard of Oz, 12-15-11 in the Blog Archives), and I have also shared our visit to Wamego to see the Oz Museum there (Yellow Brick Road in Kansas, 2-11-2016, Blog Archives).  

Scott Gustafson's puzzle provides a way to relax from studying
Larry and I had to leave Kansas to discover how important the Wizard of Oz has been as an ambassador for our home state!  Meeting people from across America, we have been asked about Dorothy and her acquaintances in the Baum books, as if people outside of Kansas think of Baum's characters almost as if they were real residents of our state.

Sandwich Board in Lobby
Of course, I have developed a particular interest in the period of Kansas history in which Dorothy Gale lived as I have researched the Populist Movement centered in Kansas during the late 1800s.  L. Frank Baum described the hard times for Aunt Em and Uncle Henry on their Kansas farm before the tornado lifted Dorothy off to Oz, during the same time Isaac Werner was struggling with debt and drought.

Larry & Lyn wait to speak
Interview by Cyndi
It has been Larry and my great pleasure to share our collection and to be invited to speak at the pre-show reception, and the following morning to have been invited by Librarian Lynette Armstrong to speak to her 5th grade classes.  We were also interviewed by a freshman video reporter for the student online newspaper, by Diane O'brien for the university online paper, and by Mike Koerner for Eagle Community Television.  We love encouraging young and old to read "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," (published 1900) and perhaps continue reading the full 14 book series of Oz stories by Baum (published through 1920), continued by other writers after his death, particularly Ruth Plumly Thompson who added 20 more Oz books to the series.  Much like the Harry Potter series more recently, the release of new Oz books brought the same excitement to children (and adults) of that time!  

With scholar Lisa Penner & FHSU President Dr. Tisa Mason 
One of the points I made in speaking to the pre-show audience was that while the Oz books were written for children, Baum included many more sophisticated references that children may miss but adults can enjoy discovering.  Baum once said, "I like  a good pun almost as well as a good cigar," and his puns are hidden like Easter eggs throughout his books.  Socrates debated whether 'knowledge ensures happiness,' which Baum presents through the Scarecrow's longing for a brain and the Tin Man's wish for a heart.  Baum's stories are filled with historical, literary, and Biblical references to delight adult readers willing to watch for them. 

Lyn's Power Point for 5th Graders


The Oz Exhibit at Forsyth Library on the Fort Hays Kansas State University campus can be visited through March 16th.  This week's blog shares a photo album of some of the events during this past week, as well as the displays still to be seen at the Library.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.




South Wall Cases at back of Library
One of single cases with Oz chess board and pieces
The Exhibit includes 4 cases near the front of the library and 2 triple display cases at the rear of the library.  The single case at right shows the Oz chess board and the set of chess pieces I made.  Dorothy and the Wizard are the King and Queen, with Lion, Tin Man, and scarecrow as the remaining pieces, plus Toto pieces as pawns.  The opposing set has the Wicked Witch of the West as Queen, the Winged Monkey King, and Winkies, Kalidahs, and crows as the other pieces, plus black bees as pawns.  I created the drawing on the framed poster top left for the Youth Ballet in Charlotte, NC, which was also used on their programs and on t-shirts they sold. 




My interview by Mike Koerner, with pieces from the exhibit

The images show only some of the items on display, among which are hand-crafted dolls of the four main characters (See Scarecrow and Tin Man at left), the four figures created in straw by a Kansas wheat weaver, a Limited Edition Print by children's illustrator Scott Gustafson, music boxes, posters, jack-in-the boxes, my portrait of L. Frank Baum, and many more unique pieces.




Scarecrow, Lyn & Cyndi await the Eagle interview
I want to close this blog with a huge thank you to so many people at Fort Hays State University and the Hays community who participated in making all of the Oz events so wonderful and in making us so welcome.  A particular thank you to Jon Armstrong and Deb Ludwig, with whom the conversations about combining our Oz exhibition with the Encore Series presentation of the "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" first began.  Many people became a part of the event, and many guests made the long trip to Hays to enjoy the evening, which we truly appreciate.  A very special thank you goes to Cyndi Landis, who orchestrated the library and publicity events.  Remember, the exhibit at Forsyth Library on the FHSU campus can be visited through March 16, 2018

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Beautiful but Hungry


Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
It's been so cold, and we desperately need rain.  A blue sky tricks me into wearing a jacket when the temperature requires a heavy coat, and I resent the winter chill even more.  I am eager for January to end in hopes February will bring rain and milder temperatures.  Since Mother Nature offers no such guarantees, I am going to ignore winter and share a blog about last summer.

As I have read Isaac Werner's journal entries about the challenges of farming in the late 1800s, I have reflected on current methods used by farmers to confront insects as compared to  Isaac's efforts to hand pick potato beetles off his plants.  

Last summer I could not help but think of Isaac as I watched the larvae of Black Swallowtail consume my dill.  One previous summer I had not known what the caterpillars devouring my dill were, and I hand picked them and dumped them into the burn barrel.  When I discovered later what they were I regretted my slaughter.  While identifying them online, I read one person's comment that she loved the butterflies so much that she always planted far more dill than she needed so the larvae could feast without eliminating her crop.
Not much left!

Last summer I found a small zip-lock bag in which I had saved a few dill seeds.  It was late in the season for planting this cooler season herb, but I put them in the ground in a less sunny part of my herb garden, doubtful whether they would sprout.  They did!  I love using fresh dill, so I was delighted.

A few days later I found the few stalks covered with caterpillars.  Almost all of the foliage was eaten, so I left them alone to finish it, consoling myself by looking forward to enjoying the butterflies.  I assumed--wrongly--that all of the damage had been done.


Several days later I went to the garden for fresh parsley.  I probably do not need to tell you that they also seem to accept parsley if fresh dill isn't on the menu.  Fortunately, I had lots of parsley, and I found leaves without damage or eggs, leaving me enough dill for our use.


Did I get to enjoy clouds of beautiful Black Swallowtail Butterflies later as a result of my generosity?  Not really.  I saw only one Swallowtail all season.  She was lying on the concrete drive, making no effort to fly when I approached.  Although she was beautiful, she may have been dying--having fulfilled her role of laying her eggs.  And, she was probably one of those hatchlings that had feasted in my herb garden, maybe one of those that had deprived me of any fresh dill.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Today, as I shiver in the winter cold and hope for rain to save the crops, I will think about that beautiful Swallow Tail butterfly and remind myself to plant lots of dill and parsley seeds so I can share. 

P.S.  I read this week about the terrible loss of Monarch Butterflies because their larvae need milk weed, which has nearly disappeared.  I believe milk weed seeds must be planted in the fall, but perhaps I can find a place that will not disturb farmers' crops to also plant milk weed for the Monarchs next fall.  It would be a dull world without those winged jewels decorating the air.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Path to Reconciliation of Two Brothers

Kentucky Flag, adopted 1918, standardized 1963
This blog is about two brothers who faced the same decision during the Civil War and made opposing choices.  In fact, they were not unique.  Many families have ancestors from the same family who chose opposing sides in the Civil War, brothers fighting against brothers, cousins against cousins.  What this blog is about is how two particular brothers eventually reconciled their divided loyalties.  (This blog has mentioned the conflicted feelings about the War that Isaac Werner, who was from a Union state but did not serve, had.)

Recently, in a Missouri cemetery I noticed a large gray granite equestrian statue.  I was curious, so I took several photographs, with plans to research its history.  The story behind the monument was unexpected.  

My research quickly revealed that family members fighting on opposite sides during the Civil War was far from unique.  Various explanations for why such situations occurred may be found, among them social pressure from friends and family, love of place, influence of a spouse, economic concerns, coercion, even interpretations of the Bible used by people from both the North and the South.  It would be impossible to list every reason nor is that what this blog is about.  Instead it is a story of reconciliation and family.

At the start of the Civil War Kentucky declared it's neutrality.  However, Confederate General Leonidas Polk's failed attempt to take Kentucky for the Confederacy lead the Kentucky  legislature to petition the Union Army for assistance.  Establishing its neutrality was difficult not only because of the divided loyalties of its citizens but also because of its strategic location.  At times during the War both the Union and the Confederate flags flew over different parts of the state.  History records the raids and battles, as well as internal violence and guerrilla warfare
Marker of David Dennis
fought on Kentucky soil.  The message on the state flag adopted in 1918 expresses the desire to heal those wounds and unify Kentucky after the Civil War:  "United We Stand, Divided We Fall."  This highly abbreviated summary of Kentucky's history helps explain the conflicted loyalties of brothers Davis Pergram Dennis, the older brother, and John Austin Dennis, the younger brother.  Although their markers contain their given first names, the older brother actually used the name of "David" rather than his given name of Davis, and the younger brother used his middle name of Austin.

Their parents had seven children, these two sons and five daughters.  According to a newspaper article published January 10, 1907 in The Owingsville Outlook, (Ky) their father, John Yokum Dennis, was a "strong Union man and was prominent locally in support of the North."  Both parents and all seven children were born in Kentucky.   

In the 1860 Federal Census, Austin was a boy of 16, still living at home, but David was 25, a farmhand living in the home of a different family--presumably the household of his employer.  Two years later, both brothers enlisted, but on opposing sides.

David joined the 2nd Battalion, KY, Mounted Rifles, which concluded its organization in late fall of 1862 to fight for the Confederacy.  Austin's Union military records show that he enlisted on August 10, 1862, joining Co. B, KY 10th Cavalry Regiment, and after serving slightly more than a year Austin was mustered out on September 17, 1863.  The duration of David's service is less certain, but it is known that he was a Prisoner of War and that he entered the war as a Private and left with the same rank.  The 2nd Battalion, Mounted Rifles which David joined was disbanded in early 1865, so the maximum time he could have served with them was 2 years and a few months, but the length of his imprisonment by the Union is unknown.

This blog is not intended, however, to be about the brutality of war but rather about the capacity to heal.  According to the Owingsville Newspaper article, the family's Kentucky farm suffered during the War and they had been reduced to wretched poverty.  The family decided to stay together and move to Missouri to make a fresh start.  The importance of having made that move together seems to have been significant enough that it is recorded on the brothers' stones.  In the 1870 census both Davis and Austin were living with their parents in Missouri, along with three of their sisters.


Marker of Austin Dennis

Both parents died between 1879-1880, as did their sister Emily.  Their oldest sister Mary had died in 1875, leaving her husband to raise their six children.  These brothers, once so divided by the Civil War, had within two years lost their Kentucky farm, their parents, and two of their five sisters.  The important part of their story is how they and the rest of their family chose to face these hardships together.

The Owingsville newspaper story states that it was the deaths of their parents that made the brothers begin thinking about an appropriate family burial site.  However, my research did not resolve the confusion about the burial places of their parents.  As near as I could determine, the parents were first buried in the Napton, MO cemetery near their home; however, their eldest daughter Mary had been buried in Kentucky and it appears her parents were dis-intured to be buried with her rather than being re-interred in a crypt beneath the equestrian statue as originally planned.  The following description is taken from the 1907 newspaper article:  "The monument cost $3,000, [and] is a fine equestrian statue, made of gray granite, and represents a Confederate cavalryman.  Upon it are suitable inscriptions to their parents, and here will also be written the epitaphs of the two Missourians, who having fought on opposite sides in the strife between the States, have, since Appomattox, worked side by side and will lie down to rest together."

Marker of Rachel Dennis, buried near her brothers
It should be noted that the state to which they relocated had its own complicated history during this time.  During the Civil War nearly 110,000 Missourians had worn the Union blue, but at least 30,000 had joined the Confederate Army, with unnumbered other Missouri "bushwhackers" acting independently.  It was in this environment of lingering resentments and animosities that David and Austin put the past behind them and worked together to build a successful farming operation.

Those years after the war reflect the healing family unity David and Austin achieved.  David married very briefly in 1871, the marriage ending in divorce.  By the 1880 Federal Census, David had become the head of the Dennis household, and it was quite a household!  Living with David were not only his brother Austin but also two of his unmarried sisters, Rachel age 34 and Sarah Catherine age 30, but in addition were six of his oldest sister's children.  Mary Dennis Igo had died in 1875, followed by her husband a few months after, and their children John 18, Charles 17, Laura 13, Catherine 10, Samuel 9, and Anna 5 were now in the Dennis household.  Austin married in 1890 and had his own family, but in the 1900 Federal Census, David remained the head of a household that continued to include his sister Rachel and four of his Igo nieces and nephews--Charles 35, Laura 32, Samuel 29, and Annie 25.  By 1910 only Rachel remained in David's home.  Rachel's stone is the one pictured with her brother's stones above.  David Dennis was 83 at the time of his death in 1918; his brother Austin followed him at the age of 77 in 1921, having met a tragic death.

The equestrian statue that marks their graves was completed at least by 1907 when the newspaper article appeared, and both brothers were living at that time.  It is unclear why they chose a Confederate cavalryman  atop the horse, as both brothers served in mounted units.  A website featuring the monument includes this message:  Parted in life only by individual thinking and opinions, the brothers are united through the ages by a common tomb."  

Whatever may have been the brothers' intentions at the time the equestrian memorial was commissioned in the early 1900s, there is no inscription for their parents, where only the family surname appears.  Nor is the story of their opposing allegiances during the Civil War inscribed on the memorial, although the newspaper article from 1907 would indicate that was their intention.  However, their lives do tell the story of a nation and a family once divided but reconciled and reunited after the War.

I believe in the importance of remembering our history.  That was the subject of the first blog I posted and the theme of many blogs since.  Our history has lessons to teach, and those lessons should not be forgotten, whether they reflect good or bad decisions our leaders and 'we the people' made.  Our public memorials must be the ones we aspire to emulate, and while the symbols of mistaken judgments should be preserved to document  our imperfect past, the purpose for their display must never glorify the mistakes they record.


I believe that, once, the intention of the brothers had been known in their community, for a member of our family who was with us when we saw the statue said it represented a Union soldier on one side and a Confederate soldier on the other side.  As we walked around the statue we observed that the oral history he remembered was in error.  However, it seems likely that, once, the community had known the story of the brothers' reconciliation and the message the statue was intended to convey.  The oral history about the memorial that our relative remembered  aligns with the newspaper account of the monument's purpose.  For some reason, the inscriptions the brothers planned were never recorded on the monument.

It is the story of the healing of this family, the coming together to build successful farms and care for family members without regard for past loyalties during the Civil War that is the truly heroic story of these two brothers.  It should not be the part of their story that is forgotten.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Note to Myself

I cannot guess how many times I passed the old country school house and said to myself, "Next time we drive by we must stop to take a picture."  At first, the walls were still standing, although the glass in the windows was gone.  Each time we passed, the wood was a bit more gray and the trees around it were dying, more broken branches hanging from the solitary trunks.  Yet, I continued to promise myself that I would pause for photographs--next time.  We were in too much of a hurry, or the sunlight was wrong for a decent photograph, or I had on the wrong shoes to walk into the field for a decent shot.

Last weekend as we hurried home from an out-of-town trip, the angle of the sun caught the lonely wall holding the old school house bell tower perfectly, and I remembered my advice from last week's post.  'Don't wait too long,' I had urged.  'Take the time to appreciate old sites and pause to listen to the memories of elderly friends and family.'  Note to myself:  Take Your Own Advice!  So my patient husband pulled to the side of the road and waited as I took the photographs shown in this blog of the last stand of an old country school in Pawnee County.  If he had not chosen to take a different route home (which I had fussed at him about, since I was eager to get home), we would never have passed by the old school.  Perhaps the next time we would have gone that way it would have been too late.  I'm glad I took my own advice instead of being in a hurry once again.

My blog contains many posts about country schools, and the old photographs of country schools posted in those blogs are among readers' favorite images.  If you are curious you can browse through past posts to find them.  The Kansas Historical Society has an entry about "Country Schools" that shares an interesting summary, including this trio of names attached to country schools--Prairie Flower, Buzzard Roost, and Good Intent.  If you are curious to do more research, you may go to https://www.kshs.org/p/rural-kansas-schools-bibliography/13607 for a listing of books and articles about rural Kansas schools.


My purpose for this blog, however, was simply to share the photographs of that disappearing country school and to let you know that I took my own advice.  You too might want to make a 'Note to Self' the next time you are in a hurry and don't think you have time to spare a few minutes to enjoy something that may be gone before you have another chance to pause.


P.S.  This old structure could have been a church with a bell tower rather than a school.  It is located a few miles east of Larned, and if anyone recognizes it and has information to share, please do so.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Visit Before They Disappear

I found Isaac B. Werner's journal in February of 2010 and began this blog in September of 2011.  One of my favorite posts is "Disappearing Traces of the Past" published 12-23-2011.  Since starting this blog I have written about many subjects that reflect the disappearance of places and people that gave us a glimpse of the past.  This week is a reminder of how rapidly historic icons are slipping away, leaving future generations less able to picture the past with anything other than old photographs and printed texts.  Not all relics can be saved, but perhaps we should be reminded to take a long look before they disappear completely, and maybe even set aside an afternoon to tour our communities  with our children and grandchildren, sharing stories of some of those relics before they are gone.  


So many old barns have disappeared in the past decade since I began this blog, and "Disappearing Old Barns" was the subject of my 1-15-2015 blog.  The grand old barn that had stood on a small rise just north of the Kansas Forestry, Fish & Game headquarters east of Pratt was featured in that blog, and now it is gone.  With few farms keeping a family milk cow, the need for the grand old wooden barns has disappeared, replaced by the practical but less picturesque metal sheds that house equipment.

Original St. John Opera House

The Repurposed Opera House as the City Hall
My series of blogs about early opera houses was deferred so long that when I finally posted "Stafford (KS) Opera House" on 8-7-2014 I learned that the Weide Opera House had been demolished between the time I took photographs and finally posted the blog.  The "St. John (KS) Convention Hall & Opera House" 6-26-2014 blog shares an example of old buildings being saved by repurposing.  However, unless young people living today are told about the building's history, they may never know its original use.

Emerson Shields with  me
Keepers of our history are also people, and my blog "Interviewing Relatives of Isaac's Neighbors," 6-16-2016 shared my conversation with Milton John, which I am grateful to have had before his death soon after.  One of Stafford County's best known history keepers of W.W. II made an appearance in my blog "Veterans Then and Now" 11-22-16.  Although Emerson Shields did not speak at the Macksville High School ceremony on Veteran's Day 2016 he was there at age 92 in uniform, and an overflow crowd at the Stafford auditorium that day may have been the last group to have benefited from hearing Emerson's firsthand account as a W.W. II pilot, for he passed away only a short time later.



Still Standing
Sometimes these reminders of the past disappear almost before our eyes.  Because I am always on the lookout for historical subjects for this blog, we paused along Highway 281 to photograph an old homestead a few months ago.  The photograph at right shows what is no more, for a strong windstorm collapsed the aging house with all of its memories.  We paused again to photograph its collapse.

After the collapse
So in this New Year, look around you.  Observe the century old cottonwoods that are rapidly falling.  Pause to remember the empty churches that will soon be demolished.  Share stories of Saturday nights when soldiers from the Pratt Airbase crowded into the Barron Theater which has been repurposed as a youth center.  Find your own places to visit before they disappear, and make time to talk with a living history keeper.  And if you can, take someone younger along with you to carry this disappearing history into another generation.

You may click on images to enlarge them, and by using the Blog Archive top right on this page you can access by year and date all of the past blogs mentioned in this week's blog.