Thursday, March 15, 2018

What May You Be Missing?

Learning about history is available in places you may overlook.  Sometimes our own hometowns have history to share as we go about our daily tasks, but we are often too busy to notice.  For example, consider the town of Kingman, Kansas.  Most people hurry through Kingman on Highway 54, going someplace else, hardly glancing at the things to be seen from their car windows.  Yet, in Kingman there are outdoor murals, easy to see without leaving your car.  From Highway 54, if you look to the south you can see a beautiful 1888 building with its towers and ornate stone and brick work.  Once it was the firehouse, jail, and city hall, but today it is the Kingman County Historical Museum.

The contents inside are worth a visit, but even without entering the building you can appreciate the history depicted on the north side of the building.  Artist and Kansan Stan Herd was commissioned to create two murals:  a 40' x 20' depiction of Clyde Cessna making his maiden flight in his first airplane, and a 15' x 10' mural depicting William "Cannonball" Greene driving a stagecoach between Kingman and Pratt.  (There is also a 30' long mural inside on the second floor of the museum by D. Stoneberger.)

Clyde Cessna was born on a farm in Kingman County, but he is not famous for that.  Rather, he left the farm and began building airplanes, and he founded the Cessna Aircraft Company whose planes continue to make his name famous.

The name "Cannonball" Green also has notoriety--in fact, in triplicate!  Kingman's visitors' literature identifies the driver in the mural as William "Cannonball" Green, but Greensburg, Kansas to the west claims its town took its name from D. R. "Cannonball" Green, and movies have depicted James "Cannonball" Green.  Chasing down the explanation for the three different "Cannonball Greens" is beyond this blog, but whether it was William, D.R., or James driving the coach, there was a stage line that traveled the route called the "Cannonball" in its day.  The operation of the stage line was cut short by the arrival of the railroads.

What is particularly interesting about the two murals on the north side of the History Museum is the artist that painted them.  While he began as an outdoor mural artist, today Stan Herd is probably best known for his earth-work and crop art.  Sun and weather shorten the lives of outdoor murals, but Herd's current outdoor art has an even shorter life span.  Created from plants and earth, manipulated by the artist through mowing, burning, and plowing, the art is quickly reclaimed by nature.  However, photographs preserve the art in books.

One of Herd's works, which depicted a pastoral Kansas landscape on a large barren lot near an underground railway tunnel in New York City, transformed what had been a trashy site into a work of rural art.  Of particular interest today is the coinsidence that the barren lot on which Herd worked belonged to Donald Trump!  The work was called "Countryside" and filmmaker Chris Ordal created an independent film called "Earthwork," creating a filmed work of art from Herd's creative artistic process.   

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Loneliness or Solitude?

"Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone.  It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone."  --Paul Tillich

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
Last week's blog compared the social life of homesteader Isaac B. Werner with those living today, who engage significantly, sometimes primarily, through social media.  Isaac was a bachelor, living at a distance from towns in a community in which most of his neighbors were married couples.  I have blogged in the past about farmers on the prairie working together, about the local school house serving as the community social center, and about the often misunderstood fact that population density was far greater on the prairie than it is today, with 3 or 4 homesteads in each square mile.  However, Isaac and others in his community were often alone, especially at night and because of weather.  

This blog reflects on the distinction between loneliness and solitude, and the impact of the two circumstances.  The quote at the top of this blog is by the German-American Christian existentialist philosopher and Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich, who lived from 1886-1965.  His words offer a thoughtful way to reflect on the difference between two words, both of which involve aloneness.

Photo Credit:  Lyn & Larry Fenwick

In My Antonia, by Willa Cather, an immigrant neighbor commits suicide, even though he had a loving family to support.  The narrator says, "I knew it was homesickness that had killed Mr. Shimerda, and I wondered whether his released  spirit would not eventually find its way back to his own country."  The narrator recalls what the man's daughter had told him of "...his life before he came to this country; how he used to play the fiddle at weddings and dances.  I thought about the friends he had mourned to leave,  ...Such vivid pictures came to me that they might have been Mr. Shimerda's memories, not yet faded out from the air in which they had haunted him."

In Rebecca Loncraine's biography of L. Frank Baum, she quotes from the diary of Baum's sister-in-law, whose isolated claim was in Dakota Territory.  Needing to be left alone with her child frequently when her husband traveled on business, she wrote:  "This is awful country...and I want to live East.  ...Alone all day and night again...dreadful, dreadfully forlorn.  Can't stand being alone so much."

Both of these accounts express the crippling effects of loneliness; yet, many people living today, even those living in urban environments and with access to social media with which to stay connected to others, suffer from symptoms caused by social separation--disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, inflammation, and higher levels of stress hormones.  Researchers report that social isolation is a growing epidemic, with physical, mental and emotional consequences.  An article by Dhruv Khullar in December of 2016 cites extensive studies showing that an increasing number of Americans say they are lonely, the numbers doubling from the 1980s, increasing from 20% to 40%.  Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline and cause premature deaths.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
For younger people, loneliness is often caused by what scientists call "Maladaptive social cognition" or difficulty interacting with others.  For older adults, loneliness is often the result of family members moving away, close friends dying, their own poor health, and their limited mobility.  Khullar  concludes his report by saying, "A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart."  Reflecting back to last week's blog, should we wonder whether all of those hearts and thumbs-up and likes, and the dopamine bursts that come with them, are really making us feel connected with others?

In the late 1800s, Isaac frequently had opportunities to attend social events, yet chose to stay home by the fire to read or write letters.  Not every evening alone means a person is lonely or feels isolated.  Albert Einstein wrote, "Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature."   In fact, many well known men have agreed on this point.  "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude," wrote Carl Sandburg.  Even in the case of married couples and close friends, Rainer Maria Rilke saw the need for them to respect breaks from too much togetherness.  "I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people:  that each protects the solitude of the other."

Kristina Randle, Ph.D. expressed this irony:  On one hand, the desire to isolate is a symptom of depression but on the other hand it can be a sign of a psychologically healthy individual.  

Self-described introvert Sophia Dembling says, "Solitude is great, until it's not."  Expressing that same need for balance, English artist, art critic, and author Phillip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) wrote:  "We need society, and we need solitude also, as we need summer and winter, day and night, exercise and rest."

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
In the prime of his life, Isaac Werner seems to have managed this balance.  He was active in his community, encouraged people to work together, and maintained written correspondence with his family and educated people; yet, he enjoyed solitary reading and quiet evenings alone by the fire in reflection of one kind or another.  It was only in his final years that ill health isolated him, compounded by the dwindling correspondence with his siblings.  Dr. Dhruv Khullar's article ends with these words, obviously of particular relevance for the elderly and the home bound:  Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being.  It's up to all of us--doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities--to maintain bonds where they're fading, and create ones where they haven't existed.  

Hannah Arend, one of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th Century (1906-1975) believed that "The lonely man finds himself surrounded by others with whom he cannot establish contact or to whose hostility he is exposed.  The solitary man, on the contrary, is alone and therefore can be together with himself."

Blogger Aditi Khurana summarizes the differences between Loneliness and Solitude in the following ways:  Loneliness is painful and negative, leaving us feeling excluded, unwanted, unimportant or unnoticed, even when we are with others.  It causes a sense of punishment or rejection that depletes us.  Solitude, however, is a positive state in which we can enjoy our own company and reflect on ourselves, others, our life, and our future, providing greater self-awareness, creativity, growth, and fresh insights.  It is something we choose and grounds us in who we are, enabling us to reach out and give to others.

Combining some of the issues raised in last week's blog about social media with ideas expressed in this blog, seemed to me appropriate.   

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Then & Now--Influences

Late 1800's Ad from the County Capital
In doing research for my manuscript about Isaac Werner and the Populist Movement, I read both the Populist newspaper to which Isaac subscribed, The County Capital, and the Republican newspaper to which my paternal great grandfather subscribed, The St. John News.  There were certainly significant differences in the way news was reported by those two St. John newspapers.  I suspect, however, that the advertisements I am including in this blog from The County Capital were much the same.

Then and now, we are all influenced by where and how we obtain our information.  Of course, that definitely applies to politics, but this blog is not about politics.  Then and now we are promised cures and beauty products that we want to believe but deep down know better.  We are lured to buy things that are exciting but unnecessary, updates when our old things are still serviceable, beautiful when what we have is just a little faded. I am sharing ads from the County Capital of Isaac's era, but there is no need for me to share modern ads, since you are bombarded with them on television and teased by them in magazines.  The art of propaganda to influence our decisions is nothing new; however, the ability to influence our decisions is encountering new territory.

Late 1800's Ad from the County Capital
Recently I read an article by Justin Brown concerning remarks made by a former Facebook executive, warning the Stanford University students to whom he was speaking that they must decide how much of their intellectual independence they are willing to give up.  Chamath Palihapitiya is a former Facebook vice-president who left in 2011, so he should know about that which he speaks when he says, "you don't realize it, but you are being programmed."

I previously blogged about algorithms  (Adapting to Changing Technologies, 3-30-2017)  and about what we visit and how we purchase online are being used to track our activities, interests, and tastes, as well as how much we are willing to pay for things we want.  Palihapitiya revealed another sophisticated method being used to influence us.  "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.  No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.  ...This is a global problem  ...  It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other."

1800s Ad, County Capital
He explained how what he called 'bad actors' can manipulate large populations, "...because we get rewarded in these short-term signals (hearts, likes, thumbs ups) and we conflate that with value and we conflate that with truth."

When asked for a solution to the damage this is causing, Palihapitiya admitted that he had no broad remedy.  "My solution is, I don't use these tools anymore.  I haven't for years."

Reflecting on his warning, I thought about whether he was being too alarmist.  Perhaps as you read this, you are doing the same thing.  I have blogged about the disappearing significance of letters between friends. (Isaac's Penmanship, 5-2-2012)  I have noticed how young people no longer join community groups as their parents once did.  The St. John Victorian Teas I blogged about (11-8-2011) have been discontinued because the women who planned and hosted the teas have grown older and were unable to recruit younger women to take their places.  Of course, part of that is the result of more women in the workplace, too busy to assume more responsibilities.  But even lodges and clubs that are merely gathering places are failing to attract younger members.  Movie theaters are closing because people prefer to watch movies at home on their own televisions with Netflix or  cable.  Friends have admitted that they often text because they don't want to get involved in a long phone conversation, and I have watched two people in the same room communicate by text rather than conversationally, excluding others in the room from their comments.  Social courtesies and common interactions are definitely changing.

Brown's article also cites Facebook's founding president, Sean Parker, who acknowledges their purpose was to "consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible."  Parker also admitted the intentional effects of  "giv[ing] you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.  And that's going to get you to contribute more content."  ..."It's a social-validation feedback loop...exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology." 

Late 1800s Ad from County Capital
Justin Brown, the author of the article from which these quote are taken, is CEO and co-founder of a digital media platform providing commentary on the ideas shaping our lives.

Did the County Capital  shape Isaac Werner's ideas about populism and community issues?  Of course.  Did The St. John News shape my great grandfather's ideas, and the ideas of his son and grandson who continued to be subscribers for their entire lives? Certainly.  However, Isaac and my great grandfather knew one another and shared conversations.  Their interactions were not restricted to like-minded people.  The St. John News editor once joked that some of his subscribers stopped taking the paper in order to subscribe to the County Capital.  "Now they have to borrow someone else's paper to read The News," he teased. But as the way we communicate changes, those interactions change too.

Solo local newspapers generally tried to minimize their bias, not only from professional ethics but also because they needed as many subscribers as possible to stay in business.  Where are those newspapers today?  Small towns that once supported 2 or 3 newspapers now have none.  Small cities shrink their size and publish only once or twice a week to survive.  Even bigger cities' newspapers are slim editions.  Many families no longer subscribe to any newspaper.  

Late 1800s Ad from County Capital 
Our opinions are shaped by national news on television, which doesn't always accurately reflect regional news, reducing their reporting about a state or region to a single point of view.

When was the last time you received a letter from a friend?  Do your friends correspond regularly by e-mail as they did before facebook or other social media.  Are we often too busy to pause for conversations with friends at the post office and the grocery store?  As past means of communication decline, and social organizations lose membership, where do we get our news about friends' new babies and high school sports victories if not on social media.  

And by the way, could you take a moment to ❤❤❤❤me?  We all do it.  And we are pleased when we receive hearts and likes and thumbs up, but hearts are not conversations.  Hearts are not the exchange of ideas and opinions.  Isaac liked it when he received compliments for his ideas, newspaper articles, and speeches at community meetings, but he was also aware of opposing views in his community, expressed during informal conversations and public meetings.  Is what is happening now through social media really that different?  I just thought you might enjoy reading what people with expertise in social media think.  If they are alarmed, should we be??  

Remember, you can click on these antique ad to enlarge them.

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.