The Lucas Countyan

Monday, October 18, 2021

Chariton makes aviation history --- sort of

Chariton was the place to be on Thursday, Oct. 22, 1931, if (No. 1) you were interested in a bargain and (No. 2) wanted to see up close and personal the latest in flight technology, courtesy of The Des Moines Register & Tribune Co.

The Register's Pitcairn autogyro, Good News III, piloted by Charles S. Gatschet, obviously was a gimmick to promote the newspaper (it visited 112 Iowa cities that year). But when partnered with local folks who had products to market everyone came away happy. In Chariton's case, the town's commerical club had organize a giant Dollar Day sale.

The autogyro looked something like a helicopter, but wasn't. The rotor blades were not powered by the plane's engine but rather the upward thrust of air diverted from its drive propeller. That allowed the plane to take off in a very short distance, stop almost instantly in flight, then descend vertically onto a precise target.

The pilot (above left) was a flight veteran of World War I who in 1928 became The Register's first pilot (the company's first plane was named Good News I). Gatschet (1896-1945) was 35 at the time of the flight from Des Moines to Chariton, but returned to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and was killed, age 48, in a transport plane crash in India on April 16, 1945. He is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. 

But that was more than a decade into the future on that lovely October afternoon in 1931 when the daring young man and his flying machine were the center of attention in Chariton. Here's a report of the visit from The Herald-Patriot of Oct. 22:


Approximately 1,000 Chariton people surged out onto a field in east Chariton Thursday afternoon to see Charles Gatschet, pilot of the Des Moines Register and Tribune autogiro, set the queer looking plane down on the field.

They remained to see Chariton's first citizen, Mayor A.C. Riebel, make the inaugural flight and then seeing him land safely, the other businessmen of Chariton took wings for a day and rode above Chariton with the peculiar windmill blades of the giro whirling above their uneasy heads.

Special police, organized hastily under the leadership of Theo Rosa, city clerk, and Henry Perry, city marshall, patrolled the small roads leading to the field and kept traffic moving throughout the day. More than 500 cars jammed the field and adjacent roads.

The field was densely populated with people, a large number of whom were school children, released early from studies that they might see the latest in aviation.

Carrier boys of the Register & Tribune, as a reward for securing a certain number of new customers, were taken for a short flight over the city.  L. E. Marsden, city circulation agent for the company, directed the rides of the boys.

The plane arrived in Chariton simultaneous with the announcement of (the) Dollar Day bargain festival, the greatest here in several years. Many came to town for the dual purpose of seeing the new plane and to participate in the buying festival. (Des Moines Register archive photo)

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Gallery Night at the Freight House

It was fun to get out last evening and enjoy Gallery Night at the C.B.&Q. Freight House in Chariton, an annual event (suspended last year because of COVID-19) sponsored by the Lucas County Arts Council and featuring local artists.

I went early, there already was a good crowd in the room when I arrived and guests still were coming in steadily when I left about an hour later, so the numbers were good.

Enjoyed visiting with Paula Coffey (at left in both these photographs) whose works in clay I admire.

I had a notion to swipe for the museum, where we need one, one of the plinths used to display sculpted pieces but Nash was standing too close and so I couldn't pull it off.

Susan Baer (at left in the following photograph) was on hand, too, with three works.

Including this one.

Here are other works by various artists that were on exhibit --- many of whom I know but some not so much so I'm a little vague about a few. Nor did I photograph everyone's work. Here are pieces by Chery Woolsey ...

... Marilyn Marsh ...

... Meg Prange ...

... T. Shearer ...

... Terry Cox ...

... Nash Cox ...

... Steve Scott ...

... and Dale O'Connell.

And the food, served up here by Kathleen Dittmer (left) and Linda Baines, was a work of art, too.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Farewell to Knoxville's Veterans Hospital campus ...

Demolition has begun this fall on what once was the campus of the Knoxville Veterans Administration Medical Center, 39 buildings of various shapes and sizes on 153 college campus-like acres on the west side of Chariton's neighbor just up the road to the north.

I've been driving (or riding) past, through and around that campus all my life and got to thinking years ago, once returned from Vietnam, that this wouldn't be a bad place to spend my dotage should such reasoning powers that I once possessed become "dethroned" --- the Knoxville center's purpose always had been primarily psychiatric.

The hospital opened in 1920 to care for men scarred mentally by World War I on a repurposed campus leased from the state. The federal government purchased the site in 1922 and expanded the hospital during the next two decades (the newest patient buildings were constructed in 1944). At peak, more than 1,600 patient beds were available.

But the shift in treatment away from institutionally based programs led to decreased use, buildings were mothballed and closed and finally, during late 2009, the final patients were moved from Knoxville after its programs had been incorporated into those of the Des Moines Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Then followed 10 years of frustration for Knoxville and Marion County. Finally, during January of 2020, ownership was acquired by the city and county, but by this time little could be done other than develop a plan for demolition of obsolete and critically deteriorated structures --- what's happening now --- and redevelopment of the site.

Here are a few paragraphs from Chariton newspapers of the 1920s related to the Knoxville hospital, beginning with a report from The Leader of May 31, 1927, that provides an overview from that year:


United States Veterans hospital No. 57, located at Knoxville, has 540 inmates, veterans of the Spanish-Amercan and world war, mostly with dethroned reason. The hospital was established in 1920, the government taking over what was formerly the Iowa industrial home for the blind and afterwards the state inebriate asylum. The government has expened $2 million in the erection of suitable buildings and improving the premises. Dr. H.G. Clarke is in charge. The grounds contain 310 acres and present a view more like a college campus. A large farm is operated --- cattle, hogs and chickens are raised and tended by the patients and the vast lawn is also cared for by them.


This paragraph, from The Leader of Jan. 23, 1923, provides a bit more site history. The Iowa Board of Control had been organized during 1898 to manage state institutions.

J.H. Streif, chairman of the board of control, gave out some interesting data relative to what was at one time the state inebriate hospital at Knoxville. He says that up to 1918 the state was appropriating biennially an average of $96,000 for the Knoxville hospital, exclusive of buildings and improvements. With the advent of prohibition the need for the institution grew smaller, until in January, 1920, only 11 patients occupied the spacious building. In June, the unused plant was rented to the government for a war veterans' hospital. Recently the former hospital site and buildings were sold outright to the government for $200,000. Six buildings and 320 acres of land were included in the deal. In 1918 the hospital, then under state control, had 109 alcoholics under supervision. The institution was originally built for an industrial home for the blind. Since the establishment of a government hospital for the care of disabled veterans of the world war, contracts have been let for the erection of 16 additional buildings. 


Finally, here's an article from The Leader of Nov. 14, 1922, illustrating how Chariton's American Legion Auxiliary had responded to the new hospital that had opened practically next-door. It probably should be noted that the Knoxville hospital was closed to visitors, other than family, during its early years. The idea behind that operating philosophy was that visitors would embarrass the patients.

Still in the service of country, the local unit of the American Legion Auxiliary is in the midst of a program of helpfulness and assistance for the benefit of the patients of the U.S. Veterans Hospital at Knoxville. The patients at Knoxville are, many of them, broken down in body and mind, still fighting battles and living in the war time horrors. It is to these men that the local Auxiliary is at the present time sending birthday boxes, magazines, phonographs, records and such that their lot in the government institution may be just a little easier.

A birthday box for each month in the year is made up by the local unit. These boxes represent a value from $2 to $2.50. A "jam closet" has also been started from which stores will go to the men whose appetite for sweets and delicacies are in these days not often satisfied. In this connection it is announced by the ladies that all jams and jellies to be contributed to the "closet" should be brought to the Legion  home before Monday evening, November 20, the evening for the regular meeting.

Needed articles of clothing for the hospital boys are being made at sewing meetings which are held regularly. The next meeting for this work is announced for next Thursday afternoon, Nov. 16, at the home of Mrs. Lowe on North Main Street.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Tour the world with the St. Andrew's Guild

The congregation of Chariton's St. Andrew's Episcopal Church had broken ground for this new building on East Court Avenue during 1900 and it was completed in 1903. In the interim, the St. Andrew's Guild launched a variety of fund-raising efforts to help furnish and equip it, including an extraordinarily elaborate "trip around the world" on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 23, 1901.

The Chariton Herald of Oct. 24 described the event as "a sort of progressive supper .... Patrons of the social were asked to meet on the north side of the square any time after five o'clock, and trains (of carriages) transported them at intervals to four different homes where entertainment and refreshments were prepared."

The editor of The Patriot, also published on Oct. 24, apparently participated and filed the following report:


Our party left the station, which was located in front of A.E. Dent's store, and were taken in a carriage to "Boston," at Mrs. F.R. Crocker's. (A.E. Dent's store is now the Edward Jones office; the Frank R. Crocker residence, Fielding Funeral Home.)

There we were welcomed at the door by "Boston ladies" dressed in colonial costume. We were then ushered into the spacious dining room. The table was decorated with silver candelabra in the center, and pumpkins at each end of the table filled with fruit, corn and vegetables of all descriptions. The refreshments served here were baked beans, pork, brown bread, apple sauce and pickles. the waiters here were Mrs. J.A. Penick, Mrs. Willis Larimer, Sue Wright and Vernon Householder. The writer was honored by dining at the same table with Teddy Roosevelt and wife, George Washington and Uncle Sam, represented by Mr. an Mrs. F.C. Stanley, Charles Guthrie and Peter Paton.

From "Boston" we journeyed on to "Paris" at Mrs. Anna Copeland's. (Anna Copeland's home was the Gibbon house, a half block south of Fielding's on the east side of South Grand Street.) Scalloped oysters, salad and wafers were served here by the Misses Dora Householder and Theo Bentley and Mrs. Dora Custer. The table was beautifully decorated with cut glass candelabra and chrysanthemums.

After this course, the carriage met us and conveyed us to the home of L.F. Maple, where we were to view "Pekin." The house was artistically decorated with Japanese lanterns and umbrellas, and the walls were draped with bamboo. Mrs. Maple and George Press, in costume, received us at the door and as we moved into the dining room we passed a china booth, presided over by Mrs. Foster, Mrs. Ida Hickman an Chas. Goldsberry. At this place rice and cream, cakes and fruit were served (with chop sticks with which to eat them) by Mrs. George Ramsey, Mrs. Bentley, Grace Yengel, Maude Bentley, Florence Maple and Sue Copeland, all wearing the Japanese costume. (The Maple home, at the intersection of East Court Avenue and Highway 14, was purchased by the Henry Biesemeyer family in 1920).

From here we went to "Washington" which was located at G.J. Stewart's residence. Here ice cream and cake were served by Mrs. Jennie Anderson, Misses Margaret Maple and Ola Goldsmith. The house was elaborately draped with flags. (The Stewart home, torn down a couple of years ago, was the three-story Second Empire just north of the dollar store on North Grand Street.)

We arrived at the station on our return at ten o'clock. All in all this affair was one of the most charming entertainments Chariton has ever known.


"All of the homes looked beautiful," The Herald reported, "the Maple home reaching a climax in the way of appropriate Chinese and Japanese decorations. Even the air was laden with incense from joss sticks and the costumes of all in charge of the home were completely oriental."

The Guild realized $75 in profit from its world tour, an amount that would have gone much farther in 1901 that during 2021.

Although beautiful, the 1903 St. Andrew's was structurally unsound and was taken down during 1955. It was replaced by the current church along Highway 14 North.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Visit the museum; see the new Hy-Vee display

Here's a reminder that the Lucas County Historical Society Museum remains open during regular hours (1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday) through the end of October, giving anyone interested in seeing close-up our new Hy-Vee display a chance to do so.

Of course there's a lot more to see on the seven-building campus, but the new display is something we're especially excited about. We'll gladly open at other times, too --- just call 774-4464 to make an appointment.

Special guests on Wednesday were Martha Vredenburg and her husband, Mike Kraklow, flanked here by historical society treasurer Ray Meyer (far left) and board member and secretary Kylie Dittmer (far right), who coordinated the Hy-Vee project during the months the display was being developed by Presentations Inc., of Hiawatha.

The new display was funded by a major grant from the Vredenburg Foundation as well as Historical Society resources. Although Martha and her brothers, John and Chuck, saw images of the display during various stages of development, this was the first time family members had seen it in person.

And, yes, we do plan to rearrange some of the furniture in the Perkins Gallery, where the display is located. I'd rather not have had the conference table in this photograph, but it weighs a ton and by the time it occurred to me that it was in the way it was too late to rally the troops and move it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

J.C. Mitchell and the art of political invective

Joseph Crockett Mitchell (1849-1918) was a prominent Chariton attorney during October of 1891 --- and also candidate for state senate on the Democrat ticket as the Nov. 3 election approached. His Republican opponent was Lester W. Lewis, Wayne County banker and editor of The Seymour Press.

Down in Russell, Joseph Harcourt Clinton (1823-1899) was editing The Russell Recorder, which he had established during 1890. Otherwise, he was a main street merchant and sometimes postmaster. Clinton also was a staunch Republican.

Sadly, there are no surviving back files of The Recorder so we don't know exactly what it was that Clinton wrote about Mitchell while advocating for Lewis during early October --- but it certainly seems to have set Mitchell off like a firecracker. Most likely there were references to Mitchell's service as attorney to the management of the Whitebreast Coal Co. (Democrats were seeking the votes of miners that year) with a few Abraham Lincoln quotes thrown in for good measure.

Whatever it was, Mr. Mitchell responded in The Chariton Democrat of Oct. 22 under the headline, "A Description of The Russell Recorder: His Past, Present, and Combined Irrational Ideas."

Anyone who wishes to read the whole long article may find it digitally online. I'm transcribing here only the two introductory paragraphs and the concluding one as a demonstration of Mitchell's mastery of the art of political invective. The campaign issues of 1891 are by now irrelevant and a challenge to understand. But the invective remains impressive.


"This animal, under the name of J.H. Clinton, harangues me with all the adjectives his soft-headed, polluted, fervid and dilapidate brain is capable of producing. This species of animal forms the connecting link between the Orangutan  and the Chimpanzee, and is constructed after the same type as the common toad; and the snake that crawls hissing across his pathway. This animal has a voracious appetite, and sallies forth on unprotected victims, from his hiding place, and by means of his viscid and fouled mouth attempts to abridge the public press and put a padlock on the mouths of all disbelievers in his most diabolical, pernicious, absurd and misleading ideas.

"I would advise him to soak his head through the bunghole of a barrel, and then repair to a first class blacksmith and have his head well banded, then induce a first class barber to cut his hair according to the Pithecia satanas (another form of monkey), and then abandon all of his old, time-worn, absurd ideas and come out from all those old, political ruts, sever his connections with rings, monopolies, trusts and combines, and forever occupy a more elevated plane in this progressive period of enlightenment."

Several paragraphs follow before Mr. Mitchell gets around to delivering his coup de grace as follows:

"You may be a dude and wear high water pants and toothpick shoes, but I tell you the farmers and laborers are on to you and will soon show you they have some rights that must be respected. I advise the Recorder, after this, to come out fairly and squarely like a gentleman, and discuss questions if he don't want to get a black eye."


Lewis emerged the victor on Nov. 3 as Mitchell failed to carry even his home county. Canvass of the Lucas County vote recorded 1,535 for Lewis and 1,127 for Mitchell. Editor Clinton died at home in Russell six years later, on Jan. 6, 1899, at the age of 75.

Mitchell did not seek political office again and during 1893 relocated his practice to Ottumwa, where he continued to prosper. Overcome as he aged by despair and grief following the death of his wife, he shot himself to death in his Ottumwa office on March 19, 1918, and his remains were returned to the Chariton Cemetery for burial. He was 69.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Death by livestock ...

Interactions between humanity and livestock always have been fraught with peril --- moreso before gasoline-fueled horsepower replaced the hay-burning variety under "cause of death" and critters now largely confined to farms ceased to roam the streets of Chariton freely.

Frank Smedley, 40 (left), who had farmed in Pleasant Township since 1860, was felled by the kick of a horse on Oct. 14, 1882, as reported in The Chariton Patriot of Oct. 18 as follows:

"At noon last Friday, Mr. Frank Smedley, an intelligent and respectable farmer of Pleasant township, was kicked on the abdomen by a horse, completely prostrating him. Dr. Simmons was sent for in the afternoon Saturday, and after an examination pronounced the injuries to be of a fatal character. He remained with the unfortunate man until half past 8 o'clock in the evening, at which time he expired. The doctor performed a post mortem and found the stomach, diaphragm and bowels ruptured, associated with other injuries which of themselves would have likely proved fatal. He leaves a wife and two children."

Frank (actually Benjamin Franklin Smedley) was buried a day or two later in the Columbia Cemetery, survived by his second wife, Sarah E. (Moon) Smedley, and two daughters, Catherine, age 16, and Martha Mazella, age 3. His daughter, Frances Anne, was born posthumously early the next year. 

The outcome of an encounter a few days later in Chariton between mankind and a mad steer was more positive --- for the two men involved, but not for the steer. Here's a report from The Democrat-Leader of Nov. 2:

"A mad steer paraded some of the principal streets on last Saturday, taking such liberties with citizens as are clearly unconstitutional. He caught Mr. Joel Adams under the short ribs and nicely lifted him over into J.B. Smith's yard. Joel declared the proceedings entirely unwarranted on the part of his steership, but was very happy that he escaped death.

"Mr. M. Tickle was not quite so fortunate, but received some severe bruises and was carried to Dr. Simmons' office for attention.

"The steer was finally cornered and killed. We are well aware that he had a pretty hard head, for we gave him two loads from a shot gun and one from a revolver, which apparently had not more effect upon him than a swarm of flies would have produced. But a well directed shot from a Winchester rifle did the work, and he will not try to gore any more of our citizens."

Monday, October 11, 2021

National Coming Out Day

Today is the thirty-third National Coming Out Day, launched during 1988 on the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights as a reminder that one of the most basic tools  LGBTQ+ people have in the struggle for equality is the power of visibility.

When people know someone who is LGBTQ+, they are more likely to support equality under the law, but beyond that, our stories can be sources of power for each other --- at various places along the "coming out" spectrum.

A common theme among folks my own age is how alone they felt as children at a time when public role models were rare --- convinced that no one else like them existed.

That wasn't true in my case. There were three of us who recognized each other very early and established relationships that endured to one degree or another for lifetimes. AIDS killed one nearly 30 years ago. Another dropped dead of a heart attack a few years ago after a lifetime in the closet. I'm still out here rummaging around and I think of both now and then.

And then there was my first real boyfriend, a relationship that flourished at the University of Iowa. A highly respected educator in another state and concerned about job security, he waited until retirement to emerge, then was claimed by cancer.

We all would have appreciated role models.

So yes, I think coming out is important --- but it's a very personal thing and no one who has not done it is obligated to.

The youthful, encouraged by the times we now live in to declare young and live openly, sometimes need to be careful. Parents are not always user-friendly and contemporaries quite often include bullies. It's wise to remember that personal safety and security still are issues to consider, too.

Coming out stories still come my way now and then, sometimes involving youngsters just emerging as adults. So I know that it's still a challenge and that, especially when family is involved, the fear of rejection is as strong now as it was 50 years ago.

My favorite piece of advice for parents --- and grandparents, too, for that matter --- is to broaden your own horizon by accepting the fact that one of more of your kids or grandkids may be gay and then work to overcome your own fears and fantasies and figure out how you're going to support them if needed. You'll be a better person for it --- even if your kids turn out to be straight (perhaps even boring).

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Imagine that --- John Lennon's 81st birthday

I can't imagine how I overlooked John Lennon's 81st birthday yesterday, or what have been his 81st had he survived.

So here's a graphic depiction of what remains his most widely known song, dating from 1971, although much of the content in it was credited by Lennon himself to Yoko Ono. She's now 88. Yikes.

This was posted elsewhere yesterday and I read some of the comments it attracted. Many pointed out quite rightly that Lennon's life did not exactly conform to the sentiments of the lyrics. Others added that "imagine" is the key word here, so the focus perhaps should be on aspirations rather than obvious contradictions.

Whatever the case, it remains one of my favorite songs, too --- offering food for thought on a Sunday or any other morning.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

She married in haste --- but repented immediately

Marcella Lyman, known always as "Sella," was the eldest of Gaylord and Marinda Lyman's five children, born about 1853-54 in Chariton although there is some dispute about the year.

She would have been about 17 when her father, then sheriff of Lucas County, was gunned down by suspected horse thief Hiram Wilson on July 6, 1870, just off the southeast corner of the square. Wilson was lynched that night, thrown out a courthouse window with a rope around his neck.

Sella seems to have been a strong-willed young lady, so there probably was no dissuading her when she decided to marry three years later, during September of 1873, a young man named George W. Kesler. Rather than repenting at leisure, however, she acknowledged her mistake two days later when she left the nuptial bed, checked into one of Chariton's hotels and then divorced him.

The whole affair was covered in great detail as follows in The Chariton Patriot of Oct. 15, 1873, under the headline, "Too much married."


A few week ago, as mentioned in the Patriot, G.W. Kesler and Miss Sella Lyman, of this place, were married at Knoxville. They returned to Chariton and lived together two days, when in the evening the bride started out for church, as she pretended, but not returning at the usual hour, George made search for her and found her at one of the hotels, when she informed him that she had concluded that she did not have the necessary amount of affection for him to continue as his wife, and she proposed to act accordingly. George took it very philosophically, and to avoid any greater pecuniary loss on her account, published the following notice in the Leader:

Take Notice: My wife, Mrs. G.W. Kesler (formerly Miss Sella Lyman), has left my bed and board without just provocation and I will not be responsible for debts of her contraction. (signed) G.W. Kesler.

By Sella was bound to have the last word, and very sharply responded in the next paper with the following:

Also Notice: that Mr. G.W. Kesler, in the first place, never had any bed and board for me to leave; and secondly, that he is not responsible for his own debts, to say nothing of mine. My own debts I always expect promptly to pay. (signed) Miss Sella Lyman.

Considerable conjecture has been indulged in to know the cause of the conjugal trouble, but the Knoxville Democrat thinks that they were "too much married" and gives the following account of the beginning of the brief, but eventful, matrimonial career of the fickle twain:

A few weeks since a dashing young man accompanied by a blooming damsel arrived in this city from a neighboring town, and soon sent for a 'Squire to wrap them together in the sacred bands of matrimony. The 'Squire arrived and taking the license in his hand, proceeded to perform the marriage ceremony.

On going to his office to make his return on the license, the 'Squire was horrified to find that the license was one granted in another county, and that he had married the cooing doves without lawful authority. Hastily rushing to the hotel, fear of damage done in his absence lending speed to his feet, his countenance beamed with satisfaction on discovering the happy couple in the parlor, preparing to retire for the night.

He made the mistake known, and advised that another license be procured. The young lady was considerably ruffled, and declared that for a cent she was "play quita" right then and there. On persuasion of her darling George, she consented to try it over again. The license was obtained and they were again married.

The Democrat, after referring to the notice above and attributing the trouble to the fact of being too much married, suggests that if they would try it again, things would stick better.


Sella and George did not try it again, however, despite The Democrat's advice. He seems to have married a second time some years later and removed to Kansas.

A year after her brief experience as Mrs. Kesler, Sella married for a second time --- to Frank Phillippi on Nov. 15, 1874, in Chariton. He was about 10 years older than she and this union proved to be permanent.

Frank leased the Depot Hotel during August of 1875 and they operated it for a time, then moved on to Burlington and, finally, to Los Angeles. Their only child, James, was born during 1877.

Unfortunately, Sella did not enjoy a long life. Her "sudden" death during April of 1896 in Los Angeles in her early 40s was reported very briefly in all three Chariton newspapers, but only The Patriot gave a cause, "muscular rheumatism," whatever that might have been.

Sella shares a nice tombstone in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, with her son James (1877-1914) and husband Frank (1842-1923), who outlived her by 17 years. (Find a Grave photos by Don Lynch.)