Thursday, January 30, 2014

Isaac's Inventive Imagination and the Tricycle

Lady Florence Norman, 1916 London
When a friend shared a photograph of Lady Florence Norman riding to work in London in 1916 on her motor scooter, I thought immediately of Isaac.  Although he was not alive when this suffragette received the scooter as a birthday present from her husband, the journalist and Liberal politician, Sir Henry Norman, Isaac was alive during what is considered the Golden Age of bicycling, or the era of the Bicycle Craze. 

Ad from the County Capital
Because bicycles have existed as long as the memories of most living people, we may tend to assume they were invented much earlier than they, in fact, were.  Unverified history may suggest bicycle-like inventions much earlier, but the first practical 2-wheeled bicycles resembling today's bikes date back only to the 1800s.  Therefore, they were a fairly new invention in Isaac Werner's time.  In their early years bicycles were regarded as more of a toy for adventuresome young men, too dangerous for practical use.  As paving of roads and sidewalks increased and bicycle safety improved, bicycles became more popular.

When Isaac Werner read in the newspaper about a respectable lady riding a tricycle in New York's Central Park, he began to consider the design for a tricycle suitable
Cartoon from Punch
for the prairie.  He recorded in his journal his design, altering the wheels and using knuckle joints in the manufacture.  He not only described the details of his invention in his journal, he also described the image he pictured of ladies riding their prairie bicycles to visit their neighbors, sparing them from the effort of hitching horses to wagons or buggies each time they needed to go for a visit.

[Caption for cartoon reads:  Gertrude:  "My dear Jessie, What on earth is that bicycle suit for!"  Jessie:  "Why, to wear, of course."  Gertrude:  "But you haven't got a bicycle!"  Jessie:  "No, but I've got a sewing machine!"]  Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Isaac's invention never went further than his imagination and the notes in his journal, but bicycles did become popular with the ladies.  Susan B. Anthony said, "I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."  WCTU president, Frances Willard learned to ride late in life and praised the benefits of cycling, giving her own bicycle the name "Gladys."  (See "Before Carrie Nation--Prohibition in Kansas," blog archives of 9-13-2012.)

Not everyone appreciated the sight of women astride bicycles.  The story is told of male undergraduates at Cambridge University showing their displeasure about women being admitted to the university by hanging a woman in effigy in the town square.  To express further disgust with the behavior of modern women of 1897, the female effigy was astride a bicycle!

The fact that Isaac approved of women riding bicycles is no surprise.  His journal often expresses his approval and encouragement of the liberation and advancement of women.

[Welcome to all of you now visiting my blog through the link in The Pratt Tribune each week.]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Art in Isaac's Life & Today

Photo card with album
For Isaac, an appreciation of fine art was essential for anyone purporting to be an educated person.  One of my favorite passages from his journal is a lengthy conversation he recorded between himself and a young lady.

      In morning dark-eyed 'Belle A' called in and returned loaned book 'Cave on Coloring.'  I  inquired, "Why, have you read it through already?"
     "Well, could you understand it?"
     "No, not all."
        "How do you like it?"
        "Oh, I don't like such reading."
        "Ah, you must not expect to learn all at once.  Here, I have another small book--'Roebling, Sketching from Nature.'  Maybe this will benefit you more to read.  You must not get discouraged but go on like you had ten years time to learn in.  What other books have you to read?"
       "Well, just you keep on slowly reading and form a taste for the Fine Arts.  You will never regret it."  I handed book to her, and she started then for Seminary.  (Isaac's Journal, February 28, 1871)
Stereoscope with viewing cards

At the time this conversation occurred, Isaac was in his mid-20s, a successful young businessman in Rossville, IL, taking notice of attractive females that visited his drugstore but determined to postpone marriage until he was better situated in the manner he had planned for himself.  The conversation seems to show that while it was clear he wished to find an accomplished young lady familiar with the arts and literature, he was still very clumsy in the area of romance.

Isaac collected all kinds of books, and among them were books of art.  His desire to educate himself in the fine arts is reflected in a journal quote from early 1871:  "Received also 'Wonders of Italian Art,' which I wish I could have had long ago, would have assisted my fine Art progress very much.  Consider it a dear little book, as being the cream of Italian Art."

Museum Slab Party Guest
Among his personal art collection were many framed engravings, as well as photographs of artists kept in his card album of artists and authors.  His stereoscope collection included views of famous works of art, and his library had art books such as 'Murrary's Handbooks of Painting,' including Italian, German, Flemish, and Dutch volumes.  I was fortunate to locate a modern facsimile of one of his art books, 'Cuba with Pen & Pencil,' which I purchased for my collection of some other books that had been in Isaac's library, selecting the oldest editions I could find.  On July 3, 1871, he wrote in his journal:  "Received some 1 doz Stereos from Anthony & Co, also some card photos of Sarony & Co, and other mail matter, mostly Photography."

Because Isaac loved art so much and had few, if any, opportunities to see original paintings and drawings, I know that Isaac Werner would have supported having an art museum near enough for him to visit frequently. How I wish I could share with him the news of the new art museum opening in Pratt, KS, this spring! 

Some Board Members at Party

I am fortunate to have been asked to serve on the Museum Board, and the past few months have been busy ones.  The initial art collection, as well as a generous donation that has allowed the new museum to be built without debt, came primarily from Dr. and Mrs. Vernon Filley.  Mrs. Filley, or "Mimi" as she is well known, became interested in art during an elementary school field trip, and that young interest continued after she married.  Dr. Filley established his medical practice as a surgeon in Pratt, KS, and with a second residence in Santa Fe, NM, Mimi became acquainted with artists and gallery owners there.  She began to fulfill her dream of collecting art to donate to a museum for others to enjoy.

Discussing the floor plans 
The Vernon Filley Art Museum is the culmination of her dream.  The photographs in this blog were taken at the museum's "Slab Party," where supporters had the opportunity to see the progress being made on the construction.  Plastic "hard hats" were given to those who came to see the architectural drawings, the list of services and programs the museum will offer, and ask questions of the board members and the architect who were present.

The museum is scheduled to open this spring, and our Founder Campaign, through which donors can contribute at specified levels to be recognized as early supporters on a permanent plaque that will hang in the museum.  Founder donations and pledges may be made until February 15, 2014, when the campaign closes.  Our membership drive will then begin, and plans for the Grand Opening activities are underway!

Discussing future plans! 
It was impressive how early settlers, some still living in sod houses and dugouts, formed Literary Societies and attended Lyceum programs, eager to enjoy opportunities to see trained musicians, actors, and elocutionists, as well as to discuss books, art, and ideas, and to take singing lessons during the winter months when they were not so busy in the fields.  Isaac would certainly have been eager to visit an art museum on his visits to Pratt, and judging from the support shown the Founder Campaign, the volunteers already involved, the curiosity during construction, the interest in art classes and special museum events, and the inquiries about museum memberships, it appears that the current residents of Pratt and the surrounding region are as excited about the museum as he would have been!

I invite everyone to visit and "like" our page, or on Twitter @FilleyArt Museum.

To read more about the museum you may visit our website at

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wisdom for the New Year from Isaac and Others

My early connection with Isaac B. Werner grew from our mutual passion for reading and our common belief in the benefits to each generation from reading the wisdom of their forefathers that can be found in books.  (See "Isaac's Library," Blog Archives 2-2-2012.)

On the last day of 1870 Isaac recorded in his journal recent purchases of books, including legal maxims, history, poetry, and art, expressing his wish for the financial resources to have purchased more.  He wrote:  "But there is nothing like patience to conquer great many things & undertakings.  Whether I really increased the value of my real estate & chattles [sic] during this last year or not, I confidently feel that I enriched my mind, satisfactory to my desire--beyond my any expectations--and in my eye that looks a fortune worth possessing--'O learn thou young man...'"

At FDR's Museum and Library
When my husband and I visited Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Museum and Library, we paused to read the words he had spoken at the dedication: "...the dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith.  To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things.  It must believe in the past.  It must believe in the future.  It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."

As a reader and a writer, I am always saving quotes about books and writing.  For many years, Salmon Rushdie lived in hiding, constantly guarded by a police team devoted to protecting him from the fatwa issued against him because of words he had written.  Rushdie was required to give himself a new name to protect his identity, and even the policemen guarding him in the privacy of his various hiding places called him by that name, training themselves never to call out his real name in a moment of carelessness.  He chose as his pseudonym a combination of the names of two of his favorite authors--Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov.  His recent book, Joseph Anton, A Memoir, describes those years of isolation, when he questioned whether his words were worthy of the sacrifices it cost not only him but also his friends and family.  For a time, he questioned whether he should have censored himself, whether he should have written fiction about a subject some found offensive, whether the writing he believed truly important actually made a difference in the greater world.  For a time he thought he had lost the ability to write anything, so crippled was he by the isolation and emotional stress.  Eventually, he found his answers and wrote these words:  "This is what literature knew, had always known.  Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be.  Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility, to make the world feel larger, wider, than before."  Rushdie could not stop writing about things he believed to be important, nor could he apologize for what he had written because his story offended some--not ever, and especially, not now, in "an age in which men and women were being pushed toward ever narrower definitions of themselves."         

Milton's Areopagitica
In reaching his answer, Rushdie found a quote from Milton's Areopagitica that reaffirmed his decision.  "He who destroys a good book, kills reason itself...Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."

Thomas Jefferson is famous for his love of books, having said, "I cannot live without books."  In fact, he loved books so much that he nearly bankrupted himself buying them!  After the British burned the Capitol in the War of 1812, it was the purchase of books from Thomas Jefferson's library that formed the core of our Library of Congress.  Jefferson's belief in the necessity for American citizens to read and study in order for the nation to prosper is expressed in these words:  "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." 

Katherine Hepburn, never one to waste words in her pithy comments stated it more simply.  "What in the world would we do without our libraries?" 

Thomas Jefferson
As Isaac Werner regarded with satisfaction the books he had studied during the previous months, he reflected on the months ahead.  "These last hours of 1870, who may see the last of 1871, only 365 days, but what changes may take place in that very short time to come.  How many a now warm beating pulse may rest motionless till then, and what [future] Shakespeare may take his life in the meantime to shine some future day, an ornament to the period.  Very nearly can I say that I enter the New Year--at least--without pressing debts, about $40.00 near at hand to liquidate, while I have also just the cost in pocket to meet same, any amount square.  While that would leave me about square and strapped--but how many would feel rich at that..."  Isaac continued by enumerating books on painting, Shakespeare, history, the Bible, Don Quixote, and Gibbon's Roman Empire that he wished to buy, including in the enumeration their prices.  He concluded by admitting that "I can't hardly spare so much money at once...but will have to take it cooly and get them by degrees."  He prioritized his wish list, writing, "The following works I long to possess, but not quite as much in a hurry as some above named, but I expect in due course of time to possess them all, and arranged in my library." 

Isaac concluded his New Year's Eve ruminations with this maxim:  "God hath provided wisdom the reward of study," words reflected a century later in FDR's belief that Americans must "learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."

With 2014 just begun, the words of these wise people, reminding us of the importance of reading, seem particularly important!


Thursday, January 9, 2014

What do I do with my crop? (Storing Grain, Part II)

If you missed last week's blog, you may want to go to Part I of this story about grain storage on the prairie.  Otherwise, it may seem as if I am starting in the middle of the story!

This week I will continue with later structures for storing grains, starting with the wooden granaries sheathed in metal, like the structure pictured at the right.  Like my family granary pictured at the start of last week's blog, these old granaries usually had a cupola atop the ridge beam of the main structure to provide venting of the stored grain.  Heat can build up in the grain and ignite the dust and powdery chaff, and fires can start without proper venting.  Some of the larger cupolas, more like little houses, may contain lifts and a means to view the grain bins below.

In response to last week's blog, Jim Coburn posted a comment on face book, an excerpt from which he has given me permission to share on my blog.  He wrote, "I was working for the Preston [KS] Co-op at this time, and the wheat harvest was complete.  Steve Lewis instructed me to go to the...old tin elevator located between Highway 61 and the Rock Island railroad tracks.  I was to check the transfer of wheat from one bin to another.  This required my use of the weighted lift to get to the top.  Steve gave me an explicit warning to be sure and latch the lift before exiting at the bottom."

"...I momentarily forgot to set the latch on the lift.  That moment was just long enough that when I turned back to set the latch, the lift was just beginning its disastrous accent.  It gained speed as it hurtled toward the top.  And, of course, the offsetting weights were gaining speed as they hurtled toward the bottom.  The final outcome was a spectacle to behold.  The weights went crashing through the flooring into the basement compartment, leaving a gaping hole in the floor.  The lift hit the top, broke many things and then, it too came plunging down, leaving another even larger hole in the floor."

"The only thing that prevented Steve from killing me was relief that I hadn't ended up in the basement of the elevator with the lift and the weights.  ...  Actually, Steve Lewis was relieved that I was not injured."

Thank you, Jim, for sharing that exciting account of your dangerous misadventure.

There are still a few of these old metal-clad elevators left, and these two photographs are among my favorites.

More familiar are the mammoth concrete elevators with their white-painted surfaces visible for miles across the flat Kansas landscape.  The movie "Picnic," starring Kim Novak and William Holden, was filmed in Hutchinson, the location of the elevator pictured above right. 
In the mid-1900s the co-operatives that operated most of these elevators kept them sparkling white, usually with the name of the town written near the top of the elevator and often with a wheat or corn decoration painted on the side.  From a distance these sentinel towers loomed above the rooftops of small towns and larger cities, dominating the horizons.

Today, the white paint is graying and the images of grain decorating the sides of the elevators are fading.  The concrete monoliths are being replaced by more industrial-looking metal elevators--stocky silver turrets reflecting the sun.  At many Co-ops, the old and the new stand side-by-side.  As farms have grown larger, many farmers have built their own metal bins to avoid transporting grain to the elevators during the busy harvest season and to avoid paying rent for storage as they hold the grain awaiting a favorable market for their crops. 

In prosperous years, the abundance of grain harvested may exceed the storage capacity of the elevators and bins.  In that case, it becomes necessary to store the grain on the ground.
According to his estate inventory, at the time of Isaac Werner's death in 1895 he had 245 bushels of wheat stored in the wooden granary at his farm, which the administrator of Isaac's estate sold for $124.63, less the fee paid a neighbor to haul the grain to town.  In comparison, a grain truck today might easily carry 48,000 pounds or 900 bushels in one load.  Isaac would be impressed!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What do I do with my crop? (Storing Grain, Part I)

Ask the typical city dweller to define elevator and he or she will probably say it is a conveyance to lift passengers to the top of tall buildings.  Ask a farmer, and he or she will explain it is a place to store grain.  However, granaries and elevators have changed a great deal since Isaac's time.

Isaac stored grain many different ways.  For example, he partitioned his hennery to use one side to store corn. You can see Isaac's design for a new hennery at "Isaac Raises Chicks with a Broody  Hen," 8-29-2013.  At one point, when all his other storage was full, he used the bed of his wagon for several days.  He also built a small wooden granary to hold his wheat and corn, but he definitely resorted to storing grains and other produce in his house as well.  On February 4, 1891, he wrote in his journal:  "...found it necessary for safety sake to place extra prop under 2d floor of my basement to avoid maybe an unexpected 2d rate funeral, too much seed corn & trash overhead."  I love his little joke with himself about the risk of his house falling in on top of him from the weight of too many barrels and sacks of grain.

Sacks and barrels were the common means of transporting and storing grain in early times, and the slow and labor intensive job of loading wagons and boats took days and weeks, not to mention much sweat and many aching backs.

The photograph at the top of this blog was taken in the early 1920s at my Grandfather Beck's farm.  My father is the boy on the horse, riding with his sister Merle and pulling his brother Arthur.  In the background is the granary.  Notice the cupola on the roof.  That granary, minus the cupola, remained on the farm until my father's death.

Although wooden granaries continued to be used, round metal grain bins gradually replaced them, offering more protection against rodents and weather.  When I paused to photograph the aging wooden and metal structures at right, standing side-by-side in a field, I found that the wooden building had a partition in the middle with no door between the two sides.  I concluded that it was used as a granary, especially because of the door in the gable end.  The two structures are an interesting example of a wooden granary standing side-by-side with the metal bin that replaced it.

Next week's blog will continue to share ways grain has been stored over the years.