Thursday, November 25, 2021

Reasons to be Thankful


Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

So many reasons to be thankful.  Wishing all of you an abundance of reasons for thankfulness as well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Great Bend in Isaac's Time


           Larned and Great Bend

It has been such a privilege for me to be able to share the story of our ancestors with the help of so many local people.  Already, I have spoken in connection with four libraries, a history museum, an art museum, a trail center museum, at Rotary Club, at a book club gathering, on a virtual book launch, and on public radio.  None of that would have been possible without the efforts of many other people.  Those efforts continue, with several programs already scheduled for 2022.  I have tried to reach out and thank everyone for their support, not only those who helped plan the programs but also those who attended.  At a library program in June, I recognized two people who were attending their third program!  I know of others who have attended at least 2 programs.

Each program I prepare is different, with emphasis shown to the various topics included in Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader.  One of those attending her third program said, "I learn something new at each one."  On November 18th I am giving another program with a new power point and fresh topics.  The image at the top of this blog is included in the Great Bend Library program to be held at 6 p.m. November 18th.  

The image at left was taken at the Great Bend Library, with Prairie Bachelor eagerly awaiting the next reader to check it out.  Thank you to the library for featuring the book.

Speaking in Great Bend gives me the opportunity to share from the book a story about Isaac's trip with a neighbor.  The young man going to Great Bend to catch the train was entrusting Isaac with getting his team of 3 horses and his wagon back to the young man's homestead claim in Stafford County.

I am looking forward to a whole new program to share, with a new power point to accompany the information.  I am grateful for the generosity of so many people who have helped me share the story of Kansas in the late 1800s, and our state's importance to the most successful 3rd party movement in our nation's history.  It makes the decade I spent researching and writing Prairie Bachelor worth it.  My belief in the importance of sharing this story has been rewarded by comments from so many readers, both those who checked out Prairie Bachelor at a local library and those who bought the book.

Many have shared stories about their own ancestors who participated in the Populist Movement, or at least lived in that era.  Some have shared images that appear in the book.  One was pleased to discover the quote from Walt Whitman, her favorite poet, whose poem I used to introduce the story of a forgotten man.  

A Kansas City reporter in the 1920s wrote:  "Even historians don't understand Kansas.  I wonder sometimes if anybody except God understands Kansas and sometimes I think Kansas has even him fooled."  Quote from Craig Miner's Kansas.  That is why I wrote Prairie Bachelor for general readers rather than writing an academic text.  Kansas has an amazing history, and I wanted to share one important era that has become nearly forgotten except by academics.  It is my great pleasure to hear from those who fell in love with Isaac, or who learned more about the lives their ancestors lived, or who discover our State's significant past. I look forward to sharing with those at the Library, Isaac's trip to Great Bend almost a decade and a half ago, and I also look forward to the continued sharing of Kansas history with those who read the book and those who attend the programs!


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Sights to See Nearby

 In 1991 the Architectural Record published a list of the one hundred most important buildings of the twentieth century.  Twelve of those buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  There is little dispute about the exceptional quality of Wright's work.  Feelings about his character vary.

Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick
This past weekend we spent an afternoon at the Allen House, a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Wichita built for newspaper publisher Henry Allen and his wife Elsie. Wright was commissioned by the Allens to construct their home in 1916, but it was not completed until 1918.

We are extremely fortunate to have this house in Wichita, refurbished to look much as it would have when the Allens lived there, with furniture also designed by Wright that has been acquired to provide the appearance of how the home would have been decorated originally.

We happened to be there on a beautiful autumn afternoon, and the leaves made a perfect background for the house and the grounds.  The picture taken of me, with my reflection in the Wright designed pond, offers a glimpse of the property.

According to literature provided on the website, "Architectural writers who have visited the house believe its living room is one of the great rooms of the 20th century."  The house contains more that 30 pieces of Wright-designed furniture, all of its original art glass, and several examples of innovations made by Wright.

This image from their brochure shows the exterior of the house from a different angle, and the abundance of windows.  Wright placed great significance in the harmony between the house and its surroundings, as the garden in this picture illustrates.  Wright utilizes nature in his designs.

I became interested in Wright because of a book titled "Loving Frank."  It is a novel based on a love affair Wright had.  I'm not sure how I heard about the book, but I bought it and promptly packed it in a box during a move.  Only a few weeks ago did I finally open the right box from that move to at last be able to read the book I had started long ago.  I was so intrigued that I immediately ordered another book titled "Plagued By Fire," which is more authentic.  Even that author, however, admits that getting the story of Wright's life entirely accurate is nearly impossible.  The imagination that made him a famous and respected architect was frequently put to work by Wright to elaborate reality.

The author of "Plagued By Fire," Paul Hendrickson, introduces Wright in the first chapter with these words:  "Mother-fueled, father-ghosted, here he comes now, nineteen years old, almost twenty, out of the long grasses of the Wisconsin prairie, a kid, a rube, a bumpkin by every estimation except his own..."  That tease by the author offers some clues to the charm, the brilliance, the selfishness, the neglectfulness, the generosity, the story spinning...the mythology and gifts of this man.  But what is certain is that he influenced and changed American Architecture.

What is particularly wonderful for us is that many of his homes have survived, and in our area we are fortunate to have one of his best examples.  USA Today has called the Allen House one f the "10 great Frank Lloyd Wright home tours" in the nation, and many of those who read my blog can travel to tour the house within an easy drive.  The guides are knowledgeable and friendly, and you cannot help but enjoy the tours, whether or not you are a fan of architecture.

If you go to their website at you can find the schedule of tours planned for the Holidays.   

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Monarch Butterflies & Marigolds


Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Several days ago, I spotted Monarch butterflies feeding on the marigolds outside the library in Macksville, and although I feared it would be nearly impossible to slip up for a photograph before I startled the Monarchs away, I decided it was worth the try.  In fact, the Monarchs must have been a little drunk from sipping, for I managed to get several pictures

Every year as autumn arrives I watch for the migration of the Monarch butterflies heading south to their winter homes in Mexico.  Although I was working in the yard this year a few days during that time, I only saw 3 butterflies.  After growing concern about the rapidly reducing numbers of Monarchs, in 2020 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finally acknowledged the peril, but they only declared the Monarch "a candidate" for endangered status, acknowledging that the Monarch meets the listing criteria under the Endangered Species Act, but that they needed to "focus resources on our higher priority listing actions."

Like our honey bees, these essential insects pose a dilemma for farmers.  Pollinators account for billions of dollars in crop production values, but some of the plants necessary to the insects are weeds farmers want to get rid of.  Since the mid-1990s Eastern monarchs native to Kansas had declined in 25 years by about 80%.  For the Western Monarch it was worse, at 99% in 40 years.  No wonder I am not seeing the same numbers of Monarch butterflies I once saw.  My photograph of Monarchs on marigolds takes on a new meaning.  I associated it with Dia de Los Muertos--the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Although the name might not seem appropriate for a day of celebration, it is in fact a happy celebration to honor loved ones who have died.  Rather than mourning their deaths, alters, called "ofrendas" are constructed and offerings are made to those loved ones.  Photographs, candles, food, and other objects with special meaning to the deceased are placed on the alters.  Family and friends may visit, and parades and parties may be part of the celebration.  The Ofrendas are decorated on October 31 and on November 2 public celebrations are held, which may include elaborate costumes.  The migration of the Monarchs that occurs at this time is often associated with the Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

In addition, so are Marigolds!  The Aztec believed that flowers help guide lost souls, and the alters or ofrendas are often decorated with flowers to help guide the souls of their loved ones to see what they have done for them.  Marigolds, with their bright colors and pungent odor, as well as their continued abundance in early fall are often used.

The Day of the Dead for 2021 was celebrated this past weekend, and perhaps the Monarchs I photographed in Macksville several days ago made it to Mexico for the celebrations.  Our own Memorial Day remembrances in my community are different, but they are also alike in many ways.  That weekend we also decorate the graves of loved ones with flowers, and many families use the occasion to tell their children about their relatives.  In some towns, bands march and flags are flown.  Some families still gather for lunches, and conversations turn to updates of family weddings and births and memories of loved ones.  It is also a time for fun.  Swimming pools open and families go to the lake or the beach.  Our traditions may seem different in the details, but upon reflection they share many similarities--particularly in remembering those we have loved and lost.