Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Shared Love for Books

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
On a recent trip to Fort Worth my husband encountered this sculpture of Mark Twain, and knowing how much I would enjoy seeing it, he paused for some photographs.

Among the many books in Isaac Werner's library was Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad.  On February 24, 1871 he recorded in his journal:  "Wrote and ordered again a copy of Innocents Abroad...,"  but it was clearly not the first copy of Twain that he owned, for on March 2, 1871 he wrote in his journal, "During eve boys standing round store reading Mark Twain and general fun."  The copy that he had ordered arrived March 10, 1871:  "I received for express a copy of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad."  Isaac's last entry about the book was made on March 18, 1871:  "During day I read Mark Twain's description of Cathedral at Milan, just feeling interested to read up about that building."

Early edition
Innocents Abroad was published in 1869 and is an account of Twain's traveling with a group of Americans in 1867 aboard a chartered vessel called the Quaker City.  The book was the best selling of all of Twain's books during his lifetime, and it remains one of the all-time most popular travel books.

Stone plaque
Near the statue of Twain was this plaque, which reads:  Given to the Families of Fort Worth for the Joys of Reading Together.  The donor was identified as "Red Oak Books."  Of course, my curiosity lead me to research the donor, and I learned that in 1991 Jon and Rebecca Brumley established the Red Oak Foundation intended to encourage reading to young children.  As part of their mission Red Oaks Books gives over 37,000 new, hardcover books to disadvantaged families each year.

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
One of the first things that attracted me to Isaac Werner was our shared love for books.  Not only do we both love books, but we both value the importance of building a personal library.

Clearly Jon and Rebecca Brumley share that love for books and realize not only the importance of reading to children but also the importance of each child having books of his or her own.

Someday I just may join Mark Twain on his bench, and if no one is nearby to laugh at the silly lady talking to a statue, I might even tell Twain about the homesteader on the Kansas prairie who loved books and who read Innocents Abroad with his friends. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Consequences of Hard Times

Las Animas Courthouse
Isaac's closest neighbors in 1888 were the Bentleys, whose claim was directly east of his own homestead. Harry Bentley and his son-in-law, Fred Weeks, often exchanged work with Isaac. His close relationship with the family is apparent from his journal entries of February 6-11 of 1888 when Isaac developed a serious health problem with the swelling and festering of one finger which spread to his hand.  When poulticing and wearing the hand in a sling did not resolve the problem, he began staying with the Bentley's, the only time mentioned in his journal that he sought the care of a neighbor prior to his final illness.  With such a close relationship with the Bentleys, Isaac was particularly distressed when a financial crisis in their family occurred.

Times were getting harder and most settlers had mortgages they were struggling to pay, most of the time only able to pay the interest and renew the original notes.  Their debts worsened as interest rates rose, and for many of them the interest they had paid significantly exceeded the original principal of their loans.

Las Animas Railway Station 
On March 26, 1888, the month following Isaac's stay with the family, son-in-law Fred Weeks was arrested for having disposed of mortgaged property.  After being released from custody for what was supposed to be the opportunity to secure bail, Fred "skipped," according to Isaac journal entry.

In those hard times it was not unusual for lenders to require someone to co-sign notes, in case the borrower was unable to pay.  Unfortunately for the Bentleys, they apparently had co-signed or they assumed their son-in-law's obligation.  Isaac's journal entry of April 4, 1888 read, "Fred Weeks came sneaking home to Bentley's from his skeedadle trip and arrested."  The journal entry of the following day explained the impact on his friends:  "The Weeks financial difficulties somewhat compromised with his creditors over at Carnahan's, with the Bentley family mostly divested of their property--save what trusted in their hands by creditors."  Whether they had co-signed or agreed to assume their son-in-law's debts after his arrest, the financial impact on the Bentleys was devastating.  (Carnahan was the community's Justice of the Peace, and apparently this legal matter was handled locally rather than in St. John.)

Las Animas Jail on Courthouse Square
On April 27, 1888, Isaac's journal records Mrs. Bentley's decision to rent their place to "old Hacker." Isaac talked with the Bentleys about renting their land, and he stored their share of the crop, as well as keeping an eye on Hacker for them.  The Bentleys had not been able to take all of their belongings, and Isaac was watchful of the furniture and other possessions stored in the upstairs of their home.

The Bentleys settled in the town of Las Animas, Colorado, the county seat of Bent County.  This is not the same place as the County of Las Animas, whose county seat is Trinidad.  (See "Isaac's Neighbors Leave Their Homestead" at 4-4-2013 in the Blog Archives.)

Las Animas Courthouse, Bent County, Colorado
On August 21, 1888 Isaac recorded in his journal that "Mrs. Ross and old Hacker packing the Bentley goods to ship to Las Animas" and on August 24, 1888 Isaac recorded having taken those goods to the St. John depot for shipment.  As a post script to the Bentley's story, they hoped to return to their claim, and Harry returned for several days the following year, with the intention to re-establish their home there.  Instead, the land was sold and the family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Because the Bentley story was such a part of Isaac's life in 1888, I was eager to see Las Animas, Colorado when we passed through recently.  All of the photographs included in this blog were taken there.  I attempted to research the Bentley family further, but I could not learn what their livelihood became after selling their homestead nor whether Salt Lake City became their permanent home.  All I know is that Mrs. Bentley came one more time to get the last of their things, and although Isaac enjoyed friendships with subsequent occupants of the Bentley homestead, he regretted having lost the Bentley's as his neighbors.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

School Days & English Texts

Studying English
I have saved my husband's and my own high school and college English texts, believing they might have a use to me as a writer.  I'm sure I have looked at them a few times over the years, but not that many times, and as our bookcases fill and more boxes of books remain, I decided to reconsider the usefulness of the old textbooks.

I picked up my husband's high school senior year English text first, and on the flyleaf, neatly written in his school boy penmanship, was the following quote:  "Do half of everything you don't want to do and you'll gain twice as much knowledge as if you would have done something you liked."  I was impressed by my 16-year-old husband-to-be choosing to write that advice in his book.  I continued to flip through the pages and was surprised to find much more than grammar exercises.  The text book is titled English in Action, and its contents live up to the title. 

For example, Chapter 9, "Thinking for Yourself" begins by saying, "much depends upon people who have learned to think for themselves, to make decisions, and to act upon them.  The very basis of our democracy is thinking citizens."  It continues by warning "don't accept too quickly what you see, hear, and read," and continues by pointing out the distinction between objective writing, which "tends to rely principally upon reporting observable facts [and] subjective writing [which] tends to describe or convey opinions, emotions, and judgments."  Wow!  I had no recollection that my senior year English text book went so far in explaining the power of words--both the power to inform and the power to mislead and subtly influence readers' and listeners' thinking.

Name Calling
Beyond the power of words we use and words we read and hear, the text book continued with a lesson teaching students the danger of misleading themselves.  "Because we like to think of ourselves as reasonable beings, we sometimes invent reasons for doing what we want to do."  What followed was a simple but very informative summarization of logic and reasoning, beginning with ways in which emotional responses can mislead--Pride that blinds us to seeing our own failings; Fear of things new or different; Prejudice or prejudging; and allowing Daydreaming to persuade us something is reasonable or likely.

Band Wagon
Next came an explanation of Fallacies--Hasty Generalization; Mistaking the Cause; False Analogy; Ignoring the Question; Begging the Question; Attacking the Person, not the Argument; and Misusing Statistics.  A single paragraph explaining each of these was given, and in simple terms the fallacy was described so clearly that each could be understood.

Self editing
The next section dealt with Propaganda, introducing first three propaganda tricks:  Twisting and Distortion, Selective Omission, and Incomplete Quotation.  That was followed with what the text book described as "devices often harmless in themselves...that encourage unthinking acceptance."  Eight examples followed:  Testimonial, in which a well-known person promotes someone or something about which they have no special qualification to testify; Band Wagon, in which it is implied that "everybody" believes or does something; Plain Folks, in which the appeal is based on being a friendly, humble, salt-of-the-earth person just like you; Snob Appeal, which uses the opposite approach to make others feel more discriminating or exclusive; Glittering Generalities, in which words with generally positive appeal are used, like patriotic, forward looking, or other terms popular at any given time; Name Calling, which pins negative labels on those with whom the speaker disagrees, like "radical, reactionary, dictator, isolationist, or appeaser," and Transfer, in which symbols most people admire are used in order to transfer that appeal to the person using them, such as the political use of the flag.

A final example that was given in the text book was Scientific Slant, which the authors explained: "In most people science inspires awe and faith, which can easily be transferred to the product [or concept]."  I'm not sure the use of Scientific Slant necessarily has the same influence on people today, at a time in which scientific evidence is often distrusted or ignored.

Diagramming Sentences
I was surprised and impressed to find training in logic and reasoning included in an English text book published in 1960.  As a teacher, lawyer, and author, I am well aware of the importance and power of language.  I knew that grammar was emphasized when I was in school, more so in my region than in the region of the country in which I taught high school English, where the reading of great books received more emphasis. 

Isaac Werner was respected in his community because of his superior language skills.  Neighbors came to him to put their agreements into the proper words and write their contracts.  He was asked to be a speaker at the meetings where farmers gathered to find ways to educate themselves about farming, marketing, and increasing their political power.  People of Isaac's time respected the importance of education, and the building of schools was one of the earliest things settlers did.

Understanding the impression we make
My high school English text book included many pages diagramming sentences, a skill which I understand is no longer taught, and which I believe should be!  In fact, as a lawyer, I am certain many contract disputes would never happen if the lawyer drafting the contract were schooled in diagramming sentences.  My husband's old English book contains all the topics I would expect to find in a traditional English text, such as parts of speech, punctuation, grammar, and style, and that information is essential.  However, the unexpected discovery of the chapters meant to help students implement language effectively in their daily lives convinced me that as crowded as my book cases are, this book deserves a place!

(All of the images are taken from the 1960 English text book.)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mowing on the Prairie

Recently I purchased a reproduction of the Asher & Adams Pictorial Album of American Industry, published originally in 1876 and reproduced in 1976.  Since Isaac B. Werner came to Kansas to stake his claims in 1878, the illustrations of "American Industry" in this book represent the state of equipment near the time of his arrival.

Two differences seem apparent to me.  First, the images in this book show state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line equipment.  Second, the publisher in 1876 was a New York state business, and the images depict buildings, equipment, and decorations more common in the settled eastern parts of America.

Isaac B. Werner was in no financial position to buy state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line equipment.  In fact, the images of mowers shown in this blog were far different from what Isaac used in 1878 when he began mowing the tough prairie hay.  He did not own a horse for eight years, and a 2-horse mower would have been quite a luxury.  He did his mowing by hand with a sythe.

Mowing was very important in those early years of settlement, not only for harvesting crops but also for defending against prairie fires.  Plowing fire breaks was very difficult because of the deep, stubborn roots, so instead, settlers mowed the prairie grass to reduce the risk of fire racing across the land, fueled by the tall, dry grass.

Until Isaac acquired his horse, Dolly Varden, he was dependent on neighbors keeping the grass mowed along the boundary of his claims.  The importance of having his own horse to mow for greater safety was as significant to Isaac as having a horse to use in his fields.  Raising crops was dependent on protecting them from fire just as it was on the weather, and while Isaac could do little about the weather, he could mow to minimize the risk of fires.

He wrote in his journal about mowing a path from his homestead to the Emerson school to avoid wet feet and legs when walking to the school through the grass to attend meetings.  He was not the only settler to do this, as a friend, Bob Moore, told me that his family oral history includes the story of his ancestor, who was a contemporary of Isaac, mowing from his claim all the way to Iuka to clear a path for more pleasant walking.

Let me know if you enjoy these images, and I will share more in the future.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Kansas Capitol Mural

John Brown mural at Kansas Capitol
Although the Kansas Capitol was begun in 1866 before Isaac B. Werner arrived to stake his claim and the structure required 37 years to complete, interior details remained to be done even then.  (See "A Kansas Treasure," at 10/15/2015 in the blog archives.)

When my husband and I recently visited the capitol, one of the things I could recall from a much earlier visit was the  mural of John Brown.  This well-known image of the Kansas abolitionist shaped my perception of Brown as a wild-eyed radical, although many in the abolitionist movement regarded him as a hero.

John Steuart Curry, the artist who painted the mural, was born in Dunavant, Kansas in 1897.  He studied in Kansas City, Chicago, and Paris, and the event which brought him attention was when Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney purchased his painting, Baptism in Kansas, in 1928 for her new museum in NYC.

In 1931-32, through the influence of Kansas newspaperman William Allen White (See "What is the Matter?," 9/9/2013 in the blog archives to read more about White.) and Maynard Walker, a Kansas-born art dealer in NYC, an exhibition of Curry's work traveled to Kansas City, Topeka, and Manhattan.  The exhibition introduced Kansans to the work of their native son, and in 1937, with the support of White and artist Grant Wood, Curry was retained to paint the murals in the capitol.  He worked on that commission from 1937-1941 but found himself confronted with criticism.  Some Kansans did not agree with his depiction of John Brown as a hero.  Other criticism related to his depiction of the tornado and his failure to represent the state in a more idealized way.

Source Credit: Don Anderson papers, Smithsonian
His depictions should not have come as a surprise, for he made his reputation painting rural Kansas scenes showing drought, tornadoes, and harsh living conditions.  He was known as a member of the trio of  early 20th century American Regionalists, the other two being Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood.  

The criticism was disheartening to Curry, and in the years prior to his death in 1946 he never recovered from the personal sadness caused by that critical reception by his home state.  It was his intention to depict the courage of self-reliant people surviving through their own hard labor to overcome harsh conditions.  Many of his paintings show his disapproval of racial discrimination and hatred, which may explain why he chose to paint the mural of John Brown.

The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art
After seeing the exhibition in 1931-32, Kansas State Agricultural College began raising funds to purchase a painting for their collection.  They achieved their goal and purchased Sun Dogs in 1935, becoming the first public institution in Kansas to acquire a work by Curry.  Because his mother had attended the college, Curry reduced the painting's price from $1,200 to $500, and he also donated a water color and four lithographs.  His generosity in reducing the price was very important to the college's ability to raise the funds during those hard depression years.

At the time of the 1996 opening of Kansas State University's Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Mrs. Ruth Ann Wefald and Mr. Don Lambert developed a friendship with Curry's widow, Kathleen Curry, and as the friendship grew, Mrs. Curry decided to donate a large and important collection of her husband's work to the museum.  It would surely have pleased him, after his disappointment over the criticism given his work in the capitol, to know that Kansas State University now proudly houses his collection.

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Kindness of a Stranger

Henrietta C. Werner Palmer
Isaac B. Werner's youngest sister, Henrietta Catherine, was a young girl in her mid-teens when Isaac left for the West.  His father had died, and although his twin brother chose to remain in the area, Isaac was eager to seek his fortune beyond the Pennsylvania community where he was raised.

His widowed mother, Margaret, and his two teenaged sisters moved from the family home in Wernersville to the larger town of Reading, not far away.  Emma married first, and when Henrietta married the Rev. Samuel Palmer, Margaret made her home with the Palmer family and traveled West with them to Abilene, Kansas.  You may read more about Margaret at "Finding Margaret," Aug. 20, 2015 in the blog archives.

Not long after Margaret's death the Palmer family moved to Lawrence, Kansas.  Rev. Palmer died there in 1921, followed in death by his wife Henrietta ten years later.

I was eager to locate the grave of Isaac's youngest sister, so when other events took us to Lawrence, I arranged to visit Oak Hill Cemetery to search for Henrietta's grave stone.

Grave marker of Henrietta C. Palmer
Oak Hill Cemetery was created to honor those killed in Quantrill's Raid in 1863, land having been purchased in 1865 to create a rural, garden style cemetery modeled after Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery.  It is a lovely old cemetery on rolling terrain with many shade trees, but the irregular, naturalized design makes locating graves a challenge.  My husband and I wandered the area in which we believed Henrietta and her husband to be buried without success, and we were giving the effort one last try when we noticed a man tending a grave.

Grave marker of Rev. Samuel Palmer
My husband approached him to inquire whether he was familiar with the cemetery, in hopes that the man's knowledge might help us locate Henrietta's grave.  He confirmed that we were probably looking in the right area but couldn't offer any specific help.  However, in the course of the conversation we discovered a connection.  His deceased wife, whose grave he was tending, was the daughter of our high school superintendent.  A pleasant chat ensued, much of it about the football careers of his former father-in-law and his brother-in-law, with whom my husband had played high school football.  When we prepared to leave without having located Henrietta's grave he offered to find it for us and send photographs.

Rev. Samuel Palmer
Within a few days, the kindness of this stranger, Earl Van Meter, provided not only photographs of the grave stones of Henrietta and her husband Rev. Samuel Palmer but also a map with the locations of the graves clearly marked.  When we visit Lawrence again in a few months we should be able to find their graves and pay our respects to Isaac's sister and her husband.

Isaac was very fond of his sisters, and during the early years of his journal he mentioned them often.  Later, he regretted that correspondence with the two of them had become rare, and although he understood that they were busy with their own families, he missed hearing from them.

In doing the research on Isaac and his family, I have connected with a descendant of Henrietta, or Ettie as Isaac called her.  This descendant was not aware that Isaac's homestead had gone to his siblings and their descendants when he died.  More than a century after Isaac's death my research has closed the circle to reconnect with his siblings--thanks in no small part to the kindness of strangers. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Kansas Treasure

Newel post at Kansas State Capitol

In 1866, twelve years before Isaac B. Werner arrived in Kansas to stake his claims, construction of the Kansas State Capitol building in Topeka began.  Imagine the magnificent building under construction at the same time new settlers were living in dugouts and sod houses!

The original construction took 37 years to complete at a cost of $3.2 million!  Not only were the settlers' homes primitive but also the city of Topeka was fairly undeveloped by today's standards, the sounds of stone masons chipping the stone blocks for the new capitol echoing across dirt streets.  
Tools used in the Capitol construction

The architect planned not only an impressive structure as seen from the outside but also a magnificently ornamented interior.  The architectural elements included copper, as shown on one of the beautiful copper newel posts installed on the stairs.  Marble, crystal, granite, and gold-leaf encrusted ornamentation were also generously employed to decorate the elaborate details.

Balusters and handrails
Even the balusters and handrails of the elegant stairs show the richness of the interior.

The gleam of polished marble & copper
Thirty-seven years after the Capitol building was begun in 1866, the completed structure gave reason for pride to the citizens of the state.  However, by the close of the 20th century time had dulled the beauty of the building, inside and out.  A renovation was undertaken.

I took the photographs shown on this page during a recent visit, and my husband and I were stunned by the incredible achievements of the restoration, as well as the foresight of the state's earliest citizens to plan and construct such an architectural wonder.

In keeping with my practice of sharing the history and current wonders of Kansas, watch for my blogs in coming weeks, in which I will write about more of the history and beauty of the Kansas State Capitol, and share more of the photographs that we took during our visit.

A visit to the Capitol should definitely be something on your bucket list, and I will include information in future blogs to facilitate plans for your own visit! 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Revisiting the Little Squeegy Bug

So many people enjoyed recalling the books that they loved in childhood when I posted the blogs about favorite childhood books, (See "Your Favorite Children's Books, Parts 2-4,"  April 2, 9, & 16, 2015 in the blog archives,) that I thought you might like revisiting  Little Squeegy Bug, Story of the Firefly.  You may recall that the children's book blogs began with one about Sgt. William I. Martin, Jr., the St. John teacher that became a famous children's book author after writing Little Squeegy.  (See "Your Favorite Children's Books," 3/26/2015 in the blog archives.) 

At the time I wrote the blog about Martin, our library was in storage.  I wondered whether our copy was autographed and was eager to get the book out of storage and take a look.  At last we have begun to retrieve our books, and look what I found!  I too have an autographed copy signed with best wishes from Sgt Bill Martin, Jr.  Printed neatly below by my great aunt, Anna Marie Beck, is the following:  "Mr. Martin was one of Aunt Doris' teachers in High School."  Written in faded ink on the first page inside the front cover is "To Clark and Linda [sic] From Auntie."  Anna Marie Beck was the Stafford County Superintendent of Schools for many years in the early 1900s, and she often chose books as gifts.

The picture at right shows the main characters from Martin's book helping the little firefly get some wings--Creepy Caterpillar, who introduced Little Squeegy to some of his friends; Haunchy the Spider, who spun silver threads for the wings; and Yardy the Inchworm and Sissy the Cutworm, who measured and cut the silver thread for Haunchy to weave into wings.  The final gift from Squeegy's friends was a lantern that Haunchy took from the Milky Way and fastened to Squeegy's tail, making him the "Lamplighter of the Skies. 
Albert Einstein said, "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."  Eleanor Roosevelt wrote:  "I think a child is particularly fortunate if he grows up in a family where his imagination can be fed, where there are a variety of intellectual interests, where someone loves music, or does amateur painting, or is engrossed in literature, reading aloud perhaps, or just exchanging comments about what is being read."  Mrs. Roosevelt had read the Little Squeegy Bug book and recommended it, and I was one of those children fortunate enough to have read it.

Judging from the responses to the blogs about children's books, many of you who follow this blog began reading early in childhood.  Much of this blog relates to reading, books, and libraries, including Isaac B. Werner's amazing book collection.  I am among those who appreciate the advantages access to the internet brings, but I remain convinced that there is still nothing like a book.  The overflowing book shelves in my home make that obvious. 

The experience of a young child cuddling up next to a parent or other special person to hear them read from a book cannot be equaled by pressing a read-aloud button on a toy.  Einstein was right!  Reading to your children is not only pleasurable time together and stimulation for their imaginations, it also reinforces the idea that adults respect books and reading.

As I re-shelve beloved childhood books retrieved from storage, I smile at the memories.  I open the covers to recall receiving a prize for reading the most books in my class certain years or see the signature of Sunday School teachers who gave the class little books and think of friends who gave me books for my birthdays or remember sitting up in bed reading my brother's copy of Gentleman Don.  I doubt that picking up an antique e-reader years from now will give today's children the same feelings.  Enjoy the benefits of the internet and the electronic readers, but please don't stop buying books for children and never stop reading to them.  Mrs. Roosevelt was right about the importance of the examples we set for the next generation, and with a recent survey statistic that 25% of American adults did not read a single book during the past year, it should not be a surprise that children are not developing the habit of reading.
I hope you have enjoyed sharing a bit more of the Little Squeegy Bug, and maybe being reminded of some of your favorite books and their characters.  I hope at least some of you take a moment to leave a comment.  The comments shared in response to the "Favorite Children's Books" blogs were wonderful!  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Early Kansas Expedition

Zebulon Montgomery Pike
Most Kansans know about the Lewis and Clark Expedition begun in 1804, the year after the Louisiana Purchase.  The Expedition started up the Missouri River in the spring, and after five weeks they paused to make camp in the area which became Kansas City, KS.  They continued their expedition up the Missouri River, traveling the river boundary which became the northeast corner of Kansas.

Less well known is the Pike's Expedition, which began in 1806 under the leadership of a young army lieutenant named Zebulon Montgomery Pike.  His purpose was to ascend the Missouri River and upon reaching the area which became Kansas, to visit Indian tribes.  His intended path was to continue into New Mexico, turn south to encounter the Red River, and then travel on the Mississippi to St. Louis, from which his journey had begun.  

He fulfilled his mission of visiting Indian villages, beginning with the Osage tribe, from whom he bought supplies.  Next he visited a Pawnee village that had previously been visited by Spanish troops.  The story is told that Spaniards had gifted the villagers with blankets, saddles, bridles, and other gifts, including Spanish flags which flew over the village.  Pike demanded that those flags be removed, but the demand was not immediately fulfilled.  Eventually the old chief laid the Spanish flag at Pike's feet and the American flag was raised over the Chief's tent.

Pike's Expedition headed into Colorado, 'discovering' the great bald peak that now bears Pike's name.  They went south into Spanish territory and were taken prisoner for a time, until being escorted to the American frontier and released.  The Pike's Expedition took a year before returning to St. Louis as ordered, and although their expedition may be less well known, they returned with much valuable information about the territory that became the state of Kansas.

Isaac B. Werner came to Kansas in 1878, seven decades after these early adventurers.  Their expeditions acquired the information that informed and mythologized the area which later attracted settlers.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Back to School

The Emerson school Isaac helped build
Now that the school year 2015-2016 is back in session, I thought it was a good time to reflect on the earliest schools on the prairie, and the ideals for education of populist writers.

The standards for educating children have been a political issue since the founding of America.  Today's politicians debate Common Core, but the involvement of politics in education is not new.  Populist writers that Isaac read who expressed views on education included Edward Bellamy.  Looking Backward, set in an imaginary future, contrasted 'modern' educational practices with education in Isaac's time, focusing particularly on the importance of educating all citizens, not just a privileged few.  "...[W]e should not consider life worth living if we had to be surrounded by a population of ignorant, boorish, coarse, wholly uncultivated men and women...No single thing is so important to every man as to have for neighbors intelligent, companionable persons.  There is nothing, therefore, which the nation can do for him that will enhance so much his own happiness as to educate his neighbors.  When it fails to do so, the value of his own education to him is reduced by half, and many of the tastes he has cultivated are made positive sources of pain."  Bellamy's ideal emphasized the importance of universal education:  "To put the matter in a nutshell, there are three main grounds on which our educational system rests:  first, the right of every man to the completest education the nation can give him on his own account, as necessary to his enjoyment of himself; second, the right of his fellow citizens to have him educated, as necessary to their enjoyment of his society; third, the right of the unborn to be guaranteed an intelligent and refined parentage."

The 'new' Emerson School in about 1920
The Progressives of Isaac's era disapproved of segregating students into public and private schools.  In another novel written during that era, Caesar's Column:  A story of the Twentieth Century, by author Ignatius Donnelly, an imaginary future is again used to describe how past ills have been corrected.  "We decreed, next, universal and compulsory education.  No one can vote who cannot read and write.  We believe that one man's ignorance is not only ruinous to the individual, but destructive to society.  It is an epidemic which scatters death everywhere.  Continuing:  We abolish all private schools, except the higher institutions and colleges.  We believe it to be essential to the peace and safety of the commonwealth that the children of all the people, rich and poor, should, during the period of growth, associate together.  In this way, race, sectarian and caste prejudices are obliterated, and the whole community grow up together as brethren.  Otherwise, in a generation or two, we shall have the people split up into hostile factions, fenced in by doctrinal bigotries, suspicious of one another, and antagonizing one another in politics, business and everything else."

Douglas Township, Stafford Co, KS school about 1917
Isaac was a member of the Farmers' Alliance in his community, and he contributed books from his own library to the local organization. Isaac had more confidence in educating farmers than in political activities, although he did support the People's Party of the progressive era.  

In Isaac's time parents were eager to have a school nearby for their children to attend, unlike some of today's parents who make the choice to home school.  While most of the schools in Isaac's old region are public, in urban areas, private and charter schools are numerous.  How best to teach children, and what to include in the curriculum remain disputed issues.  The educational ideals envisioned by progressive authors of Isaac's time for the 20th Century have not been implemented.  (See "Once There was a Community," 3-5-2015 and "A One-room School House Surprise," 7-12-2012 in the blog archives.)

Everyone wants what is best for the children, but deciding what is best remains the subject of rancorous debate!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Music and History

Ad from The Etude, Dec. 1915
Recently I have had many reasons to reflect on the role of music in our lives.  The most personal reason is that my piano had been in storage for 2 1/2 years, and having it available to play once again is wonderful.  It was on its side atop a piano mover's dolly, covered in packing blankets and a canvas drop cloth in our home during the construction, and as carefully as we protected it, I was worried.  I was also worried about the process of putting it back together and on its legs again.  It has been moved a few times before, but usually I hide during that process, afraid to watch.  This time I was needed to help with protecting the newly installed and finished floors, so I couldn't hide.  I even stayed to photograph the pivotal moment of attaching the third leg.  All went well, without a scratch to piano or man. The piano tuner concluded with the playing of Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor when he finished--a real treat!  (I do play, but not well enough to deserve this beautiful instrument.)

Setting up my piano
As the construction on our house nears completion, one of my tasks is sorting the things from our storage room into the "save" and "discard" piles.  This is a particularly difficult task for a genealogist and history researcher, but I am slowly making headway.  Among the things that made it into the "save" pile is the December 1915 issue of The Etude, from which the advertisements in this blog were taken.  The magazine includes not only articles but also music, and the editorial near the front of the 1915 Christmas issue read, "But the world is purging itself of the horror of war and the makers of war.  All the more reason why we should do our utmost here in America to proclaim the great message of peace."  (See "My Steadfast Tin Soldier, A Sequel," 10-2-2014 in the blog archives for a reminder of that era.) 
Ad from The Etude, Dec. 2015

Although the issue of The Etude that I found is not quite of the era in which Isaac B. Werner lived, it made me think of him nonetheless, for Isaac loved music.  His journal includes references to music in the churches of Rossville, IL, to spending evenings with friends who played musical instruments, and to the enjoyment of singing at Farmers' Alliance meetings.  (See "Music on the Prairie," 1-24-2013 and "Songs for Farmers' Gatherings," 11-5-2013 in the blog archives.)  The Etude magazine from 1915 contains advertisements for cabinets to hold sheet music, disk records, and player piano rolls, but for Isaac and most of his neighbors their musical entertainment had to be self produced.

Music is not just about entertainment.  I was recently reminded of that by folksinger, storyteller, and autoharp virtuoso Adam Miller, who performed at the library in St. John, KS.  As his brochure says, "Folksongs travel through History.  History travels through Folksongs."  
Adam Miller
Performing with autoharp and guitar, he sang one song using a version naming Texas rivers in its lyrics but told us that the same song is found in other regions includes the names of rivers from that locality; he also sang a traditional hobo song, a song about Amelia Earhart, and a song about a Kansas pioneer, among others.  He described American folksongs with their roots in English ballads.  There are folk songs about war, railroads, and sailing.  Folk songs were sung by cowboys, soldiers, sailors, and pioneers, and the lyrics tell of their lives.  It truly is history put to music, and Adam shared many examples.

An appreciative audience listens to Adam Miller

He especially enjoys singing folk music in schools, and if the young man in the audience at the St. John library is a typical example of how students relate to Adam's music, they must love it!  He calls his programs Singing Through History! and according to his brochure he has performed live for over 1.5 million American students in 48 states.  As someone who considers knowledge of history essential to the citizens of every nation, I especially appreciated the idea of bringing that history to young people through folk music!

Enjoying Adam Miller
If you want to learn more about Adam Miller or check out some videos of his performances, you may google Adam Miller folksinger.  You can also go to his website to sample some of his songs or buy CDs.

The next time you listen to a folksong, pause to consider the history it contains.  Remember:  "Folksongs travel through history.  History travels through folksongs." 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Transportation Then and Now

Ribbon cutting at the Kansas Aviation Museum
When Isaac B. Werner arrived in Kansas in 1878 he did not have a horse.  His only means of travel was on foot, unless he was fortunate to catch a ride with a neighbor going to town with a wagon.  More than once Isaac wrote in his journal about walking to St. John, the county seat about sixteen miles from his homestead.  Eventually, Isaac bought his horse, (See "Isaac's Dolly Varden, 12/28/2012 in the blog archives), and later he acquired his own wagon.

The H. Russell Bomhoff Attrium
Recently we attended the grand opening celebration of the restored Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita, Kansas, and I could not help but contrast Isaac's mode of transportation on foot with the rapid advancements in flying only a few decades later.  How rapidly transportation changed during those years!  Wichita calls itself the Air Capital of the World, and with justification, considering the number of airplane manufacturing plants, other aviation related manufacturing, McConnell Air Force Base, several general aviation airports, and the commercial airport recently renamed Eisenhower International, with its beautiful new terminal, all located in Wichita.

Museum building center front 
The history of aviation has its roots in Wichita and its future role in aviation firmly secured, so it is appropriate that the beautiful Art Nouveau terminal at the old commercial airport be restored to house the museum.  Art Nouveau was most popular during the period 1890-1910 and is now considered a transition period in architecture between the popularity of historical revival styles and the new Modernism.  As these buildings disappear, the restored terminal becomes an even more important example to preserve.

Dreams and plans for a terminal at the airport finally brought about the start of construction in 1932, but the Depression caused work to cease temporarily before resuming in 1934, with the completion of the terminal in 1935.

Detail of front
With the military base next door, commercial air space was no longer appropriate at the old airport, and the new commercial airport was relocated several miles to the west.  Various uses were found for the old terminal, but without air conditioning it became unsuitable for any modern use.  Demolition seemed its likely fate.

Additional details
With the cooperative efforts of the city and the generosity of donors, the terminal was rescued and renovated.  One of the major donors to the project was the father-in-law of our niece, whose generosity is honored in naming the refurbished atrium the H. Russell Bomhoff Atrium.

It was in the atrium that the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held, and guests enjoyed a buffet, which included clever cookies with the Kansas Aviation Museum logo on them.  We walked around to see the exhibits and visited the room designed for young visitors.  At that time the museum was hosting Home School Programs for ages 6 to 17 and Summer Camps for various ages, sharing the importance of Kansas Aviation with another generation. 
Visitors study a display

I mentioned in my blog about Castle Rock how often we ignore interesting places nearby ("Castle Rock," 8/27/2015), and the Kansas Aviation Museum is a place that Kansas residents especially should add to their list of interesting sites.  Whether you love aviation or architecture, it is a place all visitors would enjoy!  

Display case, TWA stewardess
Isaac, who died in 1895, might never have imagined that people living at the time of his death would one day fly or that Kansas would be so important to the Aviation industry.  However, the way he enjoyed tinkering and inventing things, I am certain the possibility of flight would have intrigued him.  

Cookie with logo
(In order to post more photographs I have published the images in a small format.  To view them in a larger size, just click on the image.)

Museum information:  3350 South George Washington Blvd., Wichita, KS 67210; 316/683-9242;