Thursday, December 29, 2016

Writing for Children

Isaac B. Werner believed in educating children as the best hope for their own improvement and for the nation.  He helped build the country school and often made repairs on his own, just to keep the school, its grounds, and the out buildings in good condition.  He also shipped some of his own books to his young nephew back in Pennsylvania.  Although he never had children of his own, he cared about young people.

Among the list of responsibilities suggested by Neil Gaiman were two suggestions for writers of books for children; however, I think both suggestions are good advice to teachers and parents.

First, he urged that writers recognize " obligation to our write true things...not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages...not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers' throats like adult birds feeding babies."

Collection of Fairy Tales from several countries
That advice should be heeded by those of us buying books for children.  I love to give nursery rhymes as baby gifts, and I love fairy tales.  Have you really paid attention to these rhymes and stories?  They are tough stuff!  What did the old lady who lived in the shoe with too many children  do?  "She gave them some Broth without any bread; She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed."  And poor Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel!  Frog in "Wind in the Willows" is always getting into trouble.  Charlotte the spider dies.  Yet, children read these traditional tales and identify without being traumatized.  They recognize the hardships of Black Beauty and cry, and as Gaiman says, they learn empathy and finish reading slightly changed.  Classic stories for children include the realities of life, without sugar-coating or slamming children with it, and through literature they become better equipped to deal with life's challenges.

Too many modern books for children are heavy handed in delivering these messages, or they don't give children enough credit for figuring out the lessons without preaching or explaining the lessons for them.  Not everyone loves nursery rhymes and fairy tales as I do, but there are also modern classics whose authors have avoided preaching, lecturing, and moralizing.  It is our responsibility as teachers, parents, librarians, and friends to find the modern classics that kids will enjoy and cherish.

Scott Gustafson, Robert Ingpen, & Kinuko Y. Craft
Second, " understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we've lessened our own future and diminished theirs."  The same advice applies to those of us who buy books for children, or who make trips to the library a regular part of their lives and who fill our homes with books.  (See last week's blog, "Responsibilities Toward Building Literacy," 12-22-2016" and "Literacy Then and Now," at 12-8-2016 for more of Neil Gaiman's wisdom.)

Although Gaiman does not address the importance of children's book illustrators, I believe illustrators are equally important in developing a taste for the arts.  Three of my favorite illustrators are Scott Gustafson, Robert Ingpen, and Kinuko Y. Craft; however, there are so many incredible illustrators that I could name, working in a variety of styles.  Recently, the style of children's book illustrations has shifted away from the fine artists I admire toward more cartoonish drawings.  In my opinion, children see enough flashy, cartoon-like pictures on TV and in advertisements without having that sort of imagery in their books, especially when there are fine artists illustrating books for children.  I would paraphrase Gaiman by saying we should 'understand and acknowledge that as illustrators for children these artists are doing important work.'  (The books pictured above are Gustafson's "Classic Fairy Tales," Ingpen's "The Wind in the Willows," and Craft's "Beauty and the Beast.")

The balance between turning children on to reading and turning them away from reading isn't easy, but the three blogs in which I have shared Neil Gaiman's suggestions are a good place to start.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Responsibilities Toward Building Literacy

More "T'was the Night Before Christmas"
Although Isaac B. Werner was involved in the populist political movements of his time, he believed most of all in the importance of education.  He encouraged his local Farmers' Alliance group to buy books to educate themselves, and he donated dozens of his own books to that cause.

Isaac's efforts were in keeping with Neil Gaiman's belief that each of us has "responsibilities to the future."  Two weeks ago, I shared Gaiman's thinking about the importance of encouraging children to read fiction and of having libraries in their communities.  This week I will share the responsibilities Gaiman believes that each of us has to help create a literate and numerate future population.

Reading at Macksville Grade School
Although most of this blog will be about reading, I will add an example about what electronic aids have done to hinder a numerate future population.  My husband was flying with an exceptionally bright young man one day, and the need to calculate when to start their decent arose.  My husband did the calculation in his head, using current altitude, reasonable feet of descent per minute, and distance from the airport to determine when to begin their descent.  He had the answer in the time it took the young man to reach for his phone to do the math.  The young man exclaimed, "How did you do that?"  My husband explained the system of rounding off numbers to get a close approximation that those of us who attended school long before calculators and fancy phones could be carried in our pockets had been taught--a bit of 'magic' to this young man's intelligent but less numerate mind.

Reading at the Macksville Library Summer Reading Program
That is just one example of how instant answers from electronic aids are making young people less literate and numerate.  However, Gaiman's lecture focused on our adult responsibilities for helping children become more literate, so what follows are some of the responsibilities Neil Gaiman urges adults to practice:

" read for pleasure, in private and in public places.  If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations.  [AND] We show others that reading is a good thing."

" support libraries.  ...If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom.  You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future."

Reading Baum's Wizard of Oz
" find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean."

[To practice] " obligation to daydream.  We have an obligation to imagine.  ...individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different."

" clean up after ourselves, and not to leave our children with a world we've shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled."

" vote against [public policies] and politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy.  This is not a matter of party politics.  This is a matter of common humanity."  

Gaiman closed his lecture to the British Reading Society with a quote I have used in this blog before--one of my favorites.  Albert Einstein believed:  "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."

Reading to grandnieces
Among the responsibilities Gaiman defined, I will close with one of the most important for parents, grandparents, and everyone else with the privilege of having children to whom they can read.  Gaiman reminds us " read aloud to our children.  To read to them things they enjoy.  To read to them stories we are already tired of.  To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.  We have an obligation to use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside."

For many families, reading 'Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve is  family tradition.  Neil Gaiman would approve.  If that is not yet your family tradition, it is never to late to start a new tradition for your family!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

How Does it Work?

Alexander Hamilton
On December 19, 2016, the electoral college will assemble in their respective states to cast their votes for President of the United States.  I am interrupting my series on reading and books with this blog in order to be relevant to the current news.  The promised blog about encouraging reading in our children will continue next week.  

Most Americans have a vague notion of the electoral college but don't understand why it was created nor exactly how it works. Since historically the popular vote has aligned with the vote of the electoral college most of the time, many voters tend to think that their ballots decide who our President will be.  Only four times in our history has the popular vote and the electoral college vote differed, but two of those times have happened in recent years--when George W. Bush was chosen over Al Gore, and the current likelihood that Donald Trump will be chosen over Hillary Clinton.

I was curious to better understand why the Founders created our system of elections, and the best answer can be found in Essay #68 of the Federalist Papers.  Considered by many to be the third most important document in American history, after the Declaration of Independence  and The Constitution, The Federalist is not widely read by most Americans.  Yet, it is perhaps the best source for what the Founding Fathers were trying to achieve.

The collected essays were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, `and John Jay to gain support for ratification of the Constitution.  Essay #68 was written by Hamilton in an effort to explain why the popular vote was not the best means for selecting our President, but rather having citizens select wiser men "...capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements that were proper to govern their choice.  A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation."

That, in a nutshell, explains the objective of our two-tiered election process.  Most of the time Americans pay little attention to that process; however, when the popular vote exceeds the designated electors from each state, calls are made for reforming the system, or pleas are sent to the individual electors to support the popular vote.

In Isaac B. Werner's old home state of Kansas, a Republican political stronghold, the current election garnered 57%  for the Republican slate of electors.  Each state has the number of electors that represents the combined total of US Representatives and US Senators which, in the case of Kansas, is 6 of the total 538 electors.  Under Kansas law, the electors are not bound to vote for the candidate of the party for which they were chosen.  Some other states, however, impose penalties if their electors deviate from the party's slate of electors for whom they were elected.

The Hutchinson News reported that Kansas electors are receiving e-mails, phone calls, and other communications pleading with electors either to abstain from voting for Donald Trump or to vote for another Presidential candidate or even another Republican that was not on the ticket. The Kansas Republican Party Executive Director is one of the electors, and his opinion is that "The party selects as its slate of electors only people who are 100% reliable to vote for the winner of the state's popular vote."  Another elector, out-going State Representative Mark Kahrs indicated that he would vote for Trump, "Absolutely, unequivocally, without question." 

Popular vote, Political Parties, or Constitution
Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold pointed out that the current movement urging electors to abstain or vote for Republicans not on the ballot, like 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, or cast their vote for the winner of the popular vote, seems a wasted effort to him, since Republicans have the majority in the US House of Representatives where the decision would go if no single  Presidential candidate received a majority of the electoral votes.  Of course, if the candidate with the popular majority were to receive a majority of electoral votes, that being Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, it would not need to go to the House.

In Essay #68, Hamilton writes:  "This process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of president will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.  Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honours of a single state; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole union, or of so considerable a portion of it, as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States." 

It is rare, even in states where electors are free to make an independent judgment about the qualifications and character of the candidates when they cast their vote as an elector, that electors would choose to vote for someone other than the person their slate of electors was chosen to support; however, it has been done and in this election some electors have indicated a willingness to do so.  For many electors, they feel a duty to support the slate upon which they were elected, without regard to popular vote or their personal view of the fitness of the candidate.  However, that position ignores the purpose stated by Alexander Hamilton in Essay #68 of The Federalist in which the role of the electors is described as a responsibility to independently analyze the fitness of the person for the highest office our nation can bestow.  That responsibility is not merely symbolic, and the duty of electors is likely to be argued each time a Presidential election is close or the popular vote exceeds the electoral college vote.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Literacy Then & Now

Journeys Through Bookland
Isaac Beckley Werner loved his books.  One of the most popular blog post series that I have done is the request for readers of the blog to share their favorite childhood books.  Recently I finished a book by British writer, Neil Gaiman titled "The View from the Cheap Seats."  This week's blog post has grown out of a lecture Gaiman gave to a British organization created to encourage literacy in children.  The lecture is titled, "Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming," and I hope the many of you who shared your favorite books and who have told me that the blogs about books and libraries are among your favorites will particularly enjoy this post and will share it with teachers, librarians, and readers who might also enjoy the wisdom of Neil Gaiman.

I have often regretted that I was not guided to some of the children's classics when I was growing up, nor encouraged to explore the stories inside the covers of "Journeys Through Bookland" on the family bookcase.  However, Gaiman would not have agreed with me about the need for guidance.  "They [children] can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories," he believes.  "Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading:  stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like,  ...You'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant."

Gentleman Don
One of the books that I found for myself belonged to my older brother, a gift to him from our Great Aunt Anna Marie that was already seriously old-fashioned when he received it.  Yet, I loved it so much that long after I was grown I inquired to see if my brother still had the copy I had read.  Apparently he no longer knew its whereabouts, so I found a copy online and bought it.  When I reread it as an adult, it had lost its magic, but I still love the memory of reading that special book.  Gaiman would understand my feelings, for he writes:  "A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn't hackneyed and worn out to someone encountering it for the first time.  You don't discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.  Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer them to read."  Certainly I would not hand Gentleman Don to a young girl today, expecting her to fall in love with it as I did, but perhaps it was a "gateway" for me to tackle other 'grown-up' books with thick pages about other times in history.

There is a huge difference between imposing what a child should read and guiding children to things they might otherwise miss, and Gaiman emphasizes the importance of librarians in today's world of overwhelming information.  "For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something.  ...Information was a valuable thing..."  Today, however, "we've moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut."  The role of librarians has become increasingly important, as is the support for libraries.

Neil Gaiman, photo credit: 
Gaiman writes:  "Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and e-mail, a world of written information.  We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood."  Gaiman sees libraries as "the gates to the future."  

Relying on media and technology to produce these global citizens of tomorrow is not going to work.  Gaiman distinguishes the experience of watching TV or film with reading prose fiction.  "When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people."  In contrast, when you read prose fiction ", and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes.  You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know.  You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well.  You're being someone else, and when you return to our own world, you're going to be slightly changed."

Because our children have mastered hooking up satellite TV, texting, tweeting, navigating Windows 10, googling, and all the other things adults struggle to learn, we tend to see them as smarter than older folks.  Yet, by knowing how to find answers our children are not learning how to reason through ideas to discover answers for themselves.  Gaimin writes, "...our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are.  They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems.  They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable."  It is primarily for this reason that Gaimin sees the need for libraries and reading.

"Books are the way that the dead communicate with us.  The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, the way that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over."

Lyn searching through County Capital newspapers
Using my own experience as an example, I recall the hours I spent in the Stafford County History & Genealogy Museum turning the brittle, yellowed pages of old newspapers, thinking I was looking for some specific information but finding instead many other things that enriched my understanding of the period.  I did not just learn the single specific thing which had brought me to the museum.  I learned many things I didn't realize that I needed to know.

Using a key word to access information from a phone or a computer is handy, but it does not enrich our understanding, deepen our empathy, develop our reasoning skills in the same way that reading does.  

I will conclude this post by hinting about next week's blog, still inspired by Neil Gaiman's book, The View From the Cheap Seats.  He writes:  "[W]e have responsibilities to the future.  Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting."  Next week's blog will share some of those responsibilities he suggests!

(If you enjoyed this post, you may want to go back through the archives to read other posts about books and reading.)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Isaac Werner's Wagon

For nearly a decade after his arrival on the Kansas prairie, Isaac Werner did not go into debt.  Without a horse, he focused on planting and keeping the trees on his timber claim alive, growing a garden, and tending a peach orchard.  He managed to break some sod by trading his own labor in exchange for having a neighbor come with horse and plow, but the thick prairie sod was next to impossible for a man to break without horses or oxen.

With fewer farmers settled on the prairie and less sod broken, prices for what they raised remained high, and nature favored farmers with adequate rain.  Based on those prices and the accommodating rainfall, Isaac finally decided that he should go into debt to buy a horse, calculating that he could pay the loan back quickly with the crops he raised.

He bought his little mare Dolley Varden and borrowed what he thought would be enough extra to buy the necessary implements.  Unfortunately, Isaac was not the only settler to have decided to expand his farming operation, and as more crops were marketed, prices fell.  To make matters worse, the rainfall did not always come when it was needed.

Isaac discovered that becoming a serious farmer required more equipment than he had anticipated, and he went further into debt.  One of the most expensive purchases was a wagon that he bought from F. C. Shaler in St. John.  He focused on raising potatoes and corn, and he needed the wagon to deliver his crops to market.

Having anticipated paying off his mortgage quickly, he had not negotiated a long-term mortgage, and each renewal resulted in higher interest.  Like many other settlers, the most that Isaac could do was pay the interest owed and renew the note at ever-increasing interest rates.

At the recent Octoberfest in Stafford, Kansas, I saw a wagon which may have resembled the wagon Isaac bought from F.C. Shaler. The wagon pictured in the advertisement from the St. John County Capital is a Milburn Wagon, and the one I saw in Stafford was a Studebaker.

 The Studebaker Wagon was donated by Brian and Kathy Fischer, in memory of Wayne Dean Fischer.  Information from the donors indicates that this wagon was used in the early 1900s; however, it looks very similar to the wagon in the Shaler advertisement.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Veterans Then and Now

W.W. II pilot and dear friend, Emerson Shields
Isaac B. Werner was a teenager during the Civil War and was raised in a Pennsylvania community in which attitudes toward the war were strong and mixed.  In a book written by Isaac's former teacher, the secret organization of draft resisters is documented so closely that although it purports to be fiction, local people could clearly identify which characters in the book were patterned after actual citizens.  There were members of the Werner family who served, but neither Isaac nor his twin brother served, although many teenagers were in uniform during the Civil War.  

Because Union soldiers often took advantage of the law crediting each year of service for the Union toward the years required to obtain title to their homestead claims, many of Isaac's homesteader neighbors were former Union soldiers, among whom were close friends.  In general, however, Isaac was critical of these veterans, particularly because they tended to support the party of Lincoln, which was seen at that time as more sympathetic to Wall Street and the wealthy than to farmers and other laborers. 

Veterans honored at Macksville High School
Recently, my husband and I attended the ceremonies recognizing the service of veterans in our community.  It was the first time we had attended such occasions, and this year we went to St. John, Macksville, and Stafford.  It was quite moving for my husband, who had never been specifically recognized for his military service in that way.

What was interesting was that by chance a few days earlier, we had discussed what his 4 1/2 years of service had meant to our personal lives.  Although he did serve a short tour of duty overseas, he never faced combat, so that sacrifice that others made was not part of our experience.

Macksville students in program with Veterans
What we agreed was that his time in the military was a positive experience for both of us.  The opportunity to serve his country, knowing that it was an obligation of all young men of that time, strengthened his love of country, as it did mine.  There is nothing like living elsewhere and seeing prejudices and practices with which you disagree to make you take a closer look at your own.  There is also nothing like living elsewhere to experience historical cites, entertainments, foods, and all kinds of things you might not have otherwise encountered.  And, there was no place like the military to get to know people from all parts of our nation, people of all ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds.  It was a growing experience that we would not trade.  My husband learned leadership skills that he used in his civilian career, and I taught English in two large urban schools much different from our own school backgrounds.  The draft was, from our view, an opportunity for young Americans to mature and learn discipline in service of this great country and take from their experience many positive things.

MHS student chorus

Setting a table for a missing veteran
The first Memorial Day after we had 'rescued' the old farmhouse, we invited our families to a dinner at the farm, a family tradition when I was growing up.  We sat in a circle before dinner and we invited every guest to mention a family member who had served our country so we could drink a toast to all of those who served.  Every person could name a family member who had served--themselves, a husband, a sibling, a child, a parent, as well as some of our shared ancestors.  Today, many families cannot name a close relative who has served his or her country.  That seems, to me, to be a loss for those generations and for all of us.  I do not encourage sending our young people off to war, but service to country does not have to involve carrying a weapon.

W.W. II and modern Bombers
Emerson Shields spoke at Stafford, sharing his training as a young man plucked from a college campus into training as a pilot in what was then called the Army Air Force.  He was only 20 years old when he was promoted to lead the planes in his squadron into battle.

MHS band and veterans
The youngest veteran at Stafford was recognized for his service of two tours in Afghanistan with a red, white, and blue quilt.  The third grade class made pinwheel poppies to hand to each veteran present, and veterans were asked to come forward to sign a large quilt which year after year veterans in attendance at their Veterans' Day program are asked to sign.

Cutting cake with military saber

Another tradition in Stafford is to ask the youngest and the oldest veterans present to use a traditional military saber to cut the cake.  Two veterans present were 92 years old, and when asked to give their birth months to determine who was older, both were born just days apart in September.  The crowd voiced their desire to have both men join the youngest veteran in the cake-cutting ceremony!

Thank you to everyone who planned and participated in the Veterans Programs we attended, and thank you to all our veterans who have served and are serving our country.  May this Thanksgiving Day include a remembrance of all of you.

(Remember, pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Quilts: What's Old is New Again

In previous blogs I have written about thrift as a part of the creative process when women used scraps from sewing and pieces of fabric salvaged from outworn clothing to design quilts.  I still enjoy designing and making Scrap Quilts, but many quilters today are not interested in using scraps for their quilts.  While most quilts are probably still used on beds, some are intended as works of art, unlikely to ever be used as bedding!

Last week, we drove to Great Bend, Kansas to the Shafer Art Gallery to see the exhibit currently being shown.  "New York Beauty:  New Quilts from an Old Favorite" is the 2016 exhibit sponsored by the National Quilt Museum located in Paducah, KY, supported in part by the Kentucky Arts Council.

These quilts, selected from entries submitted from gifted quilters from all over, are not your grandma's quilt!  They are fabric and thread works of art deserving of display in an art gallery.

The L.E. "Gus" and Eva Shafer Memorial Art Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Building at the Barton County Community College campus.  It is not exactly easy to find on your first visit to the campus, but it is worth the search.  Drive to the southeast corner, and when you see the signs for the Fine Arts building you can find the Gallery tucked back in the northwest corner of the building.  

A donation from Art, Inc., further efforts of the Barton Foundation, and a generous gift from Mrs. Eva Shafer made what is sometimes called the "Gem of the Campus" a reality.  Admission is free and approximately 7,000 visitors find their way to the Shafer Gallery annually.  If you want to be one of those visitors in time to see the incredible quilts, you will need to visit the Shafer Gallery before the exhibit closes December 9, 2016!  The Gallery is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"Do These Stripes Make My Butt Look Big?
Sue Turnquist's quilt at left, with the humorous title, was awarded 1st place in the 2016 competition.  You can see some of the other quilts on display behind me in the photograph above.  The quilt on the left side of the picture was awarded second and depicts Gene Kelly when he first arrived in NYC.  The portrait of his face, created from tiny pieces of fabric, is quite remarkable.

The top five award winners are included in the exhibition, but all of those displayed are amazing.  They represent a variety of themes, both realistic and abstract, in a range of sizes and shapes.  Selecting the award winners would have been a daunting task!

The quilt exhibition is not the only reason to visit the Shafer Gallery, however.  In 1981, Mrs. Faerie Denman donated 507 pieces from the art collected by her and her husband Cedric.  Today, the Gallery's permanent collection contains more than 800 pieces, including the painting by Gary Smith at right and works by Chagall, Matisse, Picasso and Audubon.  Also in the collection are works by Lindsborg's Birger Sandzen.   We enjoyed the bronzes of Great Bend sculptor Gus Shafer (1907-1985), after whom the Gallery is named.  The permanent collection includes the work of another Great Bend native, Charles B. Rogers.

As I have written in other blogs, the early settlers to the prairie were starved for opportunities to enjoy art, and opera houses to accommodate traveling performers were built in many towns.  Isaac Werner treasured books and framed prints, which comprised a significant part of his assets at the estate sale following his death.  How those settlers would have loved the libraries and museums now available to those who live on the prairie where our ancestors settled.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Save the ATSF Stafford Depot

Here's an important alert that fits well with this week's blog!  Visit my friend Kim's newest blog to read about the lovely, historic Stafford, Kansas train depot that is at risk of being demolished.  Kim is a wonderful photographer, and her photographs accompany the article.  The article gives the address for sending requests to BNSF to delay destruction while efforts are made to save it, and that address is  However, be sure to visit Kim's blog to read the details.   The depot is located in the same small town as the museum with the collection housing the hearse and other funeral objects described in this week's blog.  It is also the town with the Stafford County Historical & Genealogy Museum where I did so much of the research for my manuscript from old newspapers, as well as the museum preserving the glass plate negatives about which I have written in this blog.  This is a town that cares about its history.  Please help it save the depot by sending your comments on facebook to

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Imagining Isaac Werner's Funeral

The day we found Isaac Werner's grave stone, it was neglected and in need of repair.  (See "Finding Isaac's Grave," 1/13/2012.)  Since then, not only has the stone been refurbished but also much has been learned about the man.  Between my research and the faithfulness of readers of this blog, Isaac is no longer a forgotten man.

Isaac's probate records provided a great deal of information about his burial.  I know that a burial suit was purchased and from whom his casket was obtained.  However, I do not know if an actual funeral ceremony was held.  The preface  to my manuscript describes the funeral I imaged for him, conducted by the friends who appear in his journal.  The people and the relationships described in the preface are well documented, but the service is identified as imagined.  It is one of the things that concerns publishers who expect strict historical events to be depicted.
In a way, I suppose, I gave Isaac the funeral I believe he would have wanted.  I imagined those he was closest to in life gathered at the grave site to bid him farewell.  I described the songs he might have chosen and a singer he knew to lead the group in song.  I selected passages from his beloved Shakespeare that Isaac might have wanted read by his friend with the politically trained voice to read those passages well.  Each of those choices was based on my extensively researched knowledge of Isaac's friends and his preferences; yet, I cannot know if the service I imagined reflected any similarities to his actual burial.

At the recent Octoberfest in Stafford, Kansas, I thought of Isaac as I visited a display of antique items associated with funerals.  I doubt that Isaac would have been conveyed to the cemetery in a hearse, and there was certainly no fee included for such a conveyance in his estate records.  It seems more likely that he would have been conveyed in a common farm wagon.  The elegant black hearse on display was more likely used for funerals in town, and for those times, Stafford was a long distance from the cemetery in which Isaac was buried.

Also displayed was a long wicker basket used to transport the body from the location of the deceased's death to the mortuary--a sort of gurney for its day.

A child's casket was also displayed, a sad reminder of the large number of deaths among children at that time.  Isaac's friends, Wesley and Elizabeth Logan lost their daughter Perlie when she was only 4 1/2 years old, the third of their children to die.  Doc Dix and his wife Susan had lost three very young children before they came to Kansas, where their daughter was born.  William Campbell lost his wife Eliza in childbirth, and she is buried between two daughters who died in infancy.  There are more examples that occurred in Isaac's community, but I mention these three because they were all among his closest friends.  The need for tiny caskets in the 1800s was significant.

The horse-drawn hearse was donated by the Rex and Mary Milton Family, together with a fur lap robe (visible on the  seat of the hearse), mittens, and a foot warmer.  The hearse was used after 1886 until the 1920s.  It was kept, along with the horses that pulled the hearse, in Nunn Livery Stable on the east side of Main Street in Stafford, Kansas.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Celebrating a Century

Our Aunt Celebrates her 100th!
On October 20, 2016, my husband and I had the privilege and pleasure of joining our family to celebrate the 100th birthday of our dear Aunt.  On her birthday friends in the community where she has spent her adult life waited in line to wish her Happy Birthday.  Some times during the 3-hour reception the line extended outside, and although she hated seeing their long wait, she wanted to let each person know how much she appreciated their having come.  One of those waiting was a baby only a few days old, one hundred years separating their births!

The next afternoon family members gathered for a second day of celebration and photographs.  The mother of one son, she now has three grandsons, two great grand sons, and two great granddaughters, the youngest of which is 95 years younger than her great grandmother.  

5-yr-old great granddaughter
She is an accomplished painter in oils, and some of her paintings were displayed.  We selected an art book as one of her gifts, but another gift was truly a gift from my heart.  My mother had begun embroidering a pair of pillow cases, one of which I finished for Mother.  I remembered the remaining unfinished mate to the pair and finished it for our aunt, in effect giving her a gift from both my mother and me (although Mother died six years ago), completed with thread from my collection which includes thread from my husband's mother and grandmother--our aunt's sister-in-law and mother-in-law.

Lyn giving our aunt the pillow case
We also found a 70+ year old photo of her and her husband with a group of family and friends.  We made copies to share with the family, and although she could not recall seeing the photo, she did recall the day it was taken.
Our aunt and her son with photo
Family enjoys the photo
The family gathered in a circle to share fun memories we recalled about her.  Music has always been an important part of her life, including giving piano lessons and playing piano at her church.  My husband recalled the memory of his Aunt as his piano teacher--a short-lived experience.  

However, he particularly wanted her to share her memories concerning all of the changes she had seen in her lifetime.  She remembered how excited everyone was by the news that Charles Lindbergh had flown across the Atlantic, although as a 10-year-old girl she did not quite understand the achievement of Lindbergh having left Roosevelt Field on May 20, 1927 to fly alone across the Atlantic and land at LeBourget Field near Paris 33 1/2 hours later.

She continued by recalling how her father had taken her to see Charles Lindbergh when he came to Atlanta on October 11, 1927.  She remembered standing in the crowd watching him land at Chandler Field in Hapeville (near Atlanta) at 2 p.m. on a drizzly afternoon to be welcomed by a crowd--in which a father and a little girl not quite eleven stood.  Lindbergh was welcomed by Atlanta Mayor Isaac H. Ragsdale and Georgia Governor Lamartine Hardman and was taken to Atlanta where a parade was held with 20,000 people gathered along the route.

Her memory may not have included specific dates, but she definitely remembered the excitement of his flight and the experience of going with her father to see Lindbergh's return to Atlanta, the city where her family lived prior to their move to Kansas.

She also recalled both of her brothers having served in W.W. II.  With the experience and wisdom of age, she reflected on how her parents must have worried until the boys were safely home again.  She admitted that she was a young teacher at the time and loved her brothers very much, but it was not until she was older, with a family of her own, that she could truly understand her parents' feelings.  Later, she married a young man who had also served his country, and she enjoyed telling us how her father had a hand in playing matchmaker!

Byers, Kansas Grade School Band about 1954
It was a very special occasion for her and all of her friends and family, but it was also an excellent reminder that not all of our history is to be found in books.  Just as past blogs have included information about the preservation of old photographs, this blog reminds us how important it is to listen and record the memories of family members. In a fast-changing world, we do not need to be 100 years old to have memories of things our children and grandchildren will never experience.  Share your own experiences and record the memories of other family members before they are forgotten!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Kansas Mortgages and the Supreme Court

Cartoon from the St. John County Capital
In the late 1800s, many Kansans like Isaac Werner were struggling with debt.  Most had mortgaged their property as collateral at the time they borrowed money, but drought and lower crop prices made farmers unable to pay their loans, and they faced the possibility of foreclosure.  Merchants also suffered when farmers could not pay for merchandise bought on credit, their businesses furthered jeopardized because customers no longer had cash with which to shop.  Transactions entered into when the future looked bright became tragic for many as times changed.

The Kansas People's Party legislators tried to relieve the economic crisis by retroactively altering the law to impose limits on foreclosures whose mortgages did not give borrowers that relief at the time the documents were signed and the money was loaned.  The Republican majority on the Kansas Supreme Court overturned that law, but after the next election when a majority of People's Party judges assumed the Kansas bench, the law giving borrowers relief was reinstated.

Cartoon from the St. John County Capital
That resulted in an appeal to the US Supreme Court, where Justice George Shiras, Jr. wrote the opinion.  The court ruled that the terms when the contract was signed could not be altered by the Kansas legislature retroactively after one party to the agreement had relied on the promises of the other party, despite unanticipated hardships.  Although the law was clear and the ruling was correct, Justice Shiras added a note that the ruling was not intended to address the fairness of these mortgage contracts.

Too often, people do not understand the role of judges.  They are the watchdogs  protecting our laws and when people bring cases to the court they must determine the outcome based on the law, not on their personal feelings.  That is what Justice Shiras attempted to explain.  At the time the farmers received the money from the banks, they agreed to certain terms which the bank required in order to make the loan.  It was contrary to established law to permit the desperate farmers to get the benefit of modified foreclosure protections retroactively when the bank had relied on stricter requirements at the time they agreed to loan the farmers money.

It isn't about whether it makes the judges happy to adhere to laws.  Rather it is their duty to apply the laws in all cases, without regard to their personal feelings.  

US Supreme Court Justice George Shiras, Jr.
People who disagree with rulings sometimes object that a case was overturned on "technicalities," but that shows their bias or misunderstanding of the law.  We all depend on the courts to resolve matters according to law, not just in the easy cases but also in those cases that seem difficult.  Clearly Justice Shiras was sympathetic to the plight of the farmers who had worked hard and would lose the benefits of years of backbreaking labor if they could not pay their notes and the banks foreclosed on their farms.  Yet, it was what they had agreed to when they received the loan and the bankers had kept their part of the bargain.

So if you hear someone complaining about a court overturning a case on a technicality, do not misunderstand the meaning of "technicality."  "Technicality" means that something was done wrong or the law was not applied correctly.  In criminal cases particularly, sometimes hateful or disgusting people benefit from the technicality or error in their trials, and those are the hard cases.  Yet, we would want to be protected by the laws if we stood before a court, and if judges began ruling willy-nilly as they personally found fair, none of us could depend on our laws.

Holbein's painting of Sir Thomas More
In the movie A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More is asked by his son-in-law William Roper:  "So now you give the Devil the the benefit of law!"  To which More replies:  "Yes, what would you do?  Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?"  Roper answers:  "Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that.

Here is the important reply from More:  "Oh, and when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide Roper, the laws all being flat?  ...[D]o you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"

(If you are not familiar with this motion picture, I recommend that you find a copy to watch.  The devout More adhered to his faith and willingly suffered the legal consequences, sacrificing his own life by respecting both the laws of his country and the tenants of his faith.)

Beware someone who criticizes judges who overturn a lower court's decision on a technicality.  As much as the farmers in the late 1800s may have been disappointed by the US Supreme Court's decision, those judges were doing their jobs as duty demanded.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Presidential Election of 1896

Democratic Presidential Banner from 1896

Americans seem to think the Presidential Election currently in the news is the wildest one yet, but last week's blog shared some of the elections that have been called "the dirtiest."  This week I will share events of the 1890 elections, the last Presidential Elections of Isaac B. Werner's lifetime, which were pretty crazy!!

The era most of us know as the Gilded Age was great for a small segment of Americans, but for farmers like Isaac, as well as other workers engaged as miners, small ranchers, and factory laborers, times were hard.  The big issue became whether adhering to the gold standard to keep a stable economy was best or whether implementing bimetalism to include silver would benefit more ordinary Americans.

Cartoon from St. John, KS County Capital
For farmers and other working class people who were suffering most economically, 'Free Silver!' became the rallying cry.  The Republicans had the political wealth and power, but the People's Party believed that if they joined with the Democrats in nominating William J. Bryan as their Presidential candidate that their combined votes could defeat the Republicans. 

The caption on the cartoon showing Uncle Sam trying to ride his bicycle with only one wheel, identified as "Gold" reads:  "The country will never be Prosperous again until Silver is restored to full and unlimited coinage."  The "Silver" wheel lies on the ground, crushed by "Demonitization" with the guiding light of a lamp left behind on the ground labeled "Common Sense."

It was William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold speech at the Democratic Convention, with its reference to drip down economics, that probably lifted him above other potential nominees, and it was certainly Bryan's nearly exclusive focus on "Free Silver" that led the People's Party to nominate him, despite the fact that he was not a member of their party!

When it came to selecting the Vice-Presidential candidate, however, the Democrats and the People's Party nominated different candidates.  The Democrats chose a wealthy man from the east coast, hoping he would bring some votes from those Republicans who favored silver (and there were a few who did).  The People's Party nominated one of their own as the Vice-Presidential candidate, wanting to be represented on the ticket. 

The tactic did not succeed.  Republican McKinley received 271 electoral votes while Bryan received only 176.

Four years earlier in the 1892 Presidential Election, bimetallism had also been an issue, with the Democrats choosing Cleveland as their candidate, the Republicans choosing Harrison, and the People's Party choosing Weaver.  Cleveland prevailed with 277 electoral votes to Harrison's 145 and Weaver's 22.  The poor economy during Cleveland's administration was blamed on adherence to the gold standard by many in the People Party and Cleveland's own Democratic party, and they demanded bimetallism.

Political Cartoon from St. John, KS County Capital progressive newspaper

The above political cartoon uses the bicycle theme to illustrate why bimetallism beats the gold standard.  President Cleveland is depicted riding a unicycle, cheered on by the wealthy.  The caption reads:  "Cleveland--'This blasted wheel wobbles too much.  I never can catch that fellow ahead and you might as well save your breath.  I am in a perplexing and delicate predicament as a result of ill-advised financial expedients.'"

The poor economy set the stage for the Democrats in 1896 to nominate Bryan as their candidate.   People's Party candidate Weaver's weak performance in 1892 motivated the populists in 1896 to make the unusual decision to select the nominee of the Democratic ticket for their own Presidential candidate, while at the same time nominating a different man for Vice President. 

The Republicans who favored bimetallism split from their party to form a splinter party, as did the Democrats who favored retaining the Gold standard, while the People's Party nominated a Democrat as their candidate, resulting in William Jennings Bryan having two different running mates.  Talk about a crazy Presidential Election!

So, as you follow the news of the upcoming Presidential Election of 2016, perhaps you can take some comfort in the fact that as crazy as it may seem to you, America has survived crazy Presidential elections in the past.

By the way, although Bryan did receive a strong showing of 47% of the popular vote in 1896 to McKinley's 51%, the electoral vote was McKinley 271, Bryan 176.  That difference shows how important it is that candidates pay attention to states with more electoral votes during their campaigning.  It also explains why we see so many charts on our television screens showing the likely votes of the "Important" electoral states and why Isaac's old home state of Kansas, with fewer electoral votes, is rarely mentioned by the television commentators. However, in the 1896 Presidential election, Kansas was at the heart of political news.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Political Rhetoric in the Late 1800s

Although Isaac Werner did not have a television or the internet, he too was bombarded with political rhetoric during presidential campaign seasons.  The above cartoon is from the St. John County Capital to which Isaac subscribed.  Most of the political cartoons they published used the image of Uncle Sam to represent the nation, and a depiction of a wealthy man to represent the imbalance in power of the wealthy in political decisions.  However, this cartoon depicts a senator and the president to express why the People's Party, representing farmers, miners, and other workers politically, was growing.  On the left a farmer shows how getting 40 cents a bushel for his wheat is less than what it costs to raise it. (See which compares 2016 with those low markets.)  On the right, striking factory workers are shown being fired upon by government troops.  (The government had also sanctioned the use--by such men as steel magnate Carnegie--of hired private armies like the Pinkertons to confront striking workers.)

In addition to political cartoons, campaign buttons were also used even prior to Isaac's time, although the cheap manufacture of flat discs with a straight pin came into use during his era, specifically in the 1896 presidential race between McKinley and Bryan, when the People's Party and the Democrats both nominated Bryan.  One button I found online read "In McKinley we trust; in Bryan we bust" dealing with their opposing views about the gold standard vs. bimetalism.  To read more interesting information visit "The Long Story Behind Presidential Campaign Buttons and Pins," by Elizabeth King in the May 17, 2016 issue of "Time Magazine."  Also interesting is the website on which very early campaign buttons are pictured for sale.

The earliest buttons were primarily purchased by supporters to wear the button of their favorite candidate.  These early buttons were expensive to make, so it was logical that supporters were more likely buyers or buttons were produced by the candidates for their supporters to wear.  In the 1960s the trend toward buttons made by private marketers increased.  On the Ron Wade website, the earliest "anti" buttons I found were from the Reagan-Carter era, and most humor was fairly gentle.  One more abrasive button read "Nutrition Quiz:  Which one is the vegetable?" with an image of a ketchup bottle and a cartoon of Reagan below the question.  Another read "Nancy gets red dresses; We get pink slips."  Lampooning Carter a button read "The Carter Special:  A little peanut butter; A lot of balony" [sic], and another depicted a peanut in top hat and cane and asked "Do you want a Nut in the White House?"  Certainly these aren't complimentary, but they don't reach the level of vulgarity that anti-Hillary buttons reached among vendors outside the Republican convention.  The parody of Trump's hair on buttons is more akin to the buttons of the 1960s.

However, dirty politics are not new, although in the past the mud was thrown by surrogates rather than by the candidates themselves.  The election of 1800 in which John Adams and Thomas Jefferson vied for the office of President is often named as the dirtiest.  A Connecticut newspaper wrote that if Jefferson were president "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced." In 1828 in the race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson the abuse included slandering Jackson's wife.  In the Douglas-Lincoln debates, Douglas called Lincoln a drunk.

Not all dirty politics are Presidential nor national.  In fact, a race for Kansas state representative split Isaac's community.  In 1892, two men who lived within walking distance competed, one on the People's Party ticket and the other a Republican.  Although the People's Party candidate won easily throughout the district, in their home township he won by a single vote.  The old newspapers document the rancor of their campaigning.

Hatefulness, slanders, and misinformation is nothing new to politics, but the internet certainly spreads them faster!