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 andy.williams@bnsf.com.  However, be sure to visit Kim's blog to read the details.  http://kimscountyline.blogspot.com   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 andy.williams@bnsf.com

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!