Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chariton's Annual Cemetery Tour

Lucas County's history comes to life

We couldn't have asked for better presenters, a better crowd or better weather for Sunday's 10th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour. It was just a great way to spend a couple of hours.

I'm going to post transcripts of the presentations later in the week --- each is a compelling story. But will settle for photos of the presenters today.

Ruth Comer (top), as Maggie Corbett, opened the tour with one of the few truly scary stories involving the cemetery --- and did so very effectively. Everyone involved this year made an effort to dress the part, and that always is a plus. (We're grateful to find people willing to present, so don't try to impose strict dress codes on them.)

Our second stop was at the grave site of Marko "Chicago Mike" Vucicic, portrayed by Albert Butler. While no one there could have remembered Chicago Mike, some had heard their parents talk of him and both Bill Shelton and Ray Meyer, who are attorneys, remembered his brother, John, well. John Vucich, who died during 2002 at age 100, was responsible for bringing Mike's remains from Chicago to Chariton so that they could be buried together here. That made for good conversation. That's Bill center left in the background.

Bill Baer did a wonderful job, both in costuming and presentation, of interpreting Rene Julien's story. All of these stories involve interaction with the audience and there were several questions and related conversations about everything from the progress of railroads across southern Iowa during the 1860s to Rene's occupation.

The combination of Staff Sgt. Patrick Dittmer (now serving in the U.S. Army Reserves after three combat tours) in dress uniform telling the story of his uncle, Carl L. Caviness, Lucas County's first combat loss during World War I, was just amazing and the best possible way to end the official tour. How in the world did he get those shoes to shine so? Neither the World War II veteran present nor myself (Vietnam) could recall ever looking that good.

Patrick is a third-generation nephew of Carl, but credit needs to go, too, to Karoline Dittmer, a fourth-generation niece, who probably worked hardest during the tour --- she hauled the historical society's monster tripod and much smaller video camera from site to site in order to make sure all of Sunday's presentations were recorded.

We walked or rode from the Caviness gravesite to the cemetery shelter house where homemade apple crisp and lemonade or ice tea were served. Everyone settled down on the porch or around the building for a relaxed visit --- perhaps longer than our bus driver appreciated. 

But we were back on the square by 4 p.m. after two hours of touring and visiting. And the job now is to figure out what we do for an encore next year. The cemetery tour is an annual project of the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. Proceeds are used to help fund the commission's work.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Puckerbrush Update

Puckerbrush School has for the most part been evacuated now in preparation for under-floor repairs --- but the beast remains. And it's got to come out, too.

This hefty chunk of cast iron does come apart so that it can be moved in smaller pieces --- if we can figure out how it's done and if it's willing (the stove has been undisturbed for more than 40 years).

Historical society board member Frank Mitchell cleared plans with the State Historic Preservation Office Thursday, so G M Builders can begin work once the building has been emptied. That will involve, unfortunately, lifting the floor and replacing as much as needed of the building's support structure.

Also Thursday, the Johnsons --- curator Marilyn, son Casson, his stepdaughter, plus Frank Mitchell --- moved desks and other items from the school into the nearby log cabin, where they'll remain for the duration. The stove and two heavy display cases will go when more troops are available.  

The goal is to have Puckerbrush back on its feet and reassembled by spring, so that the school district's 4th graders can be welcomed during late May --- as they have been since the building was moved into town from Otter Creek Township during 1968.

In the meantime, the museum campus remains open 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through the end of September, then on a more limited basis during the off-season. The school is officially closed for now, but everything else (including the cabin, which looks more like a warehouse now than a pioneer dwelling) can be visited.

You're always welcome to walk around the grounds, admire the gardens or just sit on a bench and relax when the buildings are not open.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Family Connections

      It already looks like the month of September will be pretty busy for a lot of people in Lucas County. A couple of things stand out for me though.  a few years ago some cousins and I got together and decided to try and revive our family reunion. It is a lot of work for something that only lasts three or four hours and sometimes isn't very well attended. This year our "Terrell Family Reunion" will be a little special for some of the cousins. On September twenty second,  Carl L Cavines will be one of the  people the Chariton Historic Cemetary Heritage Tour  "Homecoming" will be honoring. How does this affect me? My grandmother was Iva Caviness-Terrell, niece of Carl. I have always been interested in my Caviness connection, they are a somewhat diverse group. 
     When I started volunteering at the museum I was curious why Carl wasn't honored as the first soldier killed in the line of duty, from Lucas county during WWI. Sue Terrell and I decided to change that. Sue did a lot of research about young Carl, while I rounded up some photographs.  Now my daughter Kylie Dittmer is writing the story of Carl. It will soon be on display at Lucas County Historical Society Museum. At the cemetary tour, my son Patrick Dittmer, will put on his army uniform and tell the story of our family member, Carl L Caviness and why he is one of the people being honored that day. 

Carl L Caviness

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Repairs for Puckerbrush

As anyone who deals with old buildings knows, it's a constant struggle to keep them from falling down around your ears --- and that's certainly the case at the Lucas County Historical Society.
That big hole on the north side of Puckerbrush School, which dates from the 1870s, indicates that Phase II of a project that hopefully will keep the building on its feet for another 140 or so years is about to begin.

Puckerbrush, the last of our rural schools to close after consolidation, was moved to the museum campus from northwest Lucas County during 1968 and opened to the public during 1969.

Last year, we replaced the wood-shingled roof. That's now weathering nicely and has ceased to look so glaringly new.

This fall, we will be replacing the floor-support structure, which in large part seems to have rotted away --- or to be in danger of doing so.

Some of that is a factor of age, but the big problem seems to date from the move 45 years ago when a decision was made to plant the building on a foundation similar to what was under it originally, but much tighter because of the amount of concrete used to bond the stone. In addition, it was inadequately ventilated and no access to the shallow crawl space under the building was provided so there was no convenient way to assess the situation.

We've known since last fall, because of sagging floors on the north side of the building, that there were problems, but were unable to access them until Monday, when our contractor dug under the foundation to explore and confirmed worst expectations. 

So now the building will be evacuated, the floor taken up and a new support structure installed --- not a simple task. In addition, adequate ventilation will be installed. Hopefully, the old oak flooring nailed down many years ago over at least one layer of subflooring can be salvaged. We'll see.

Since we're working in part with a helpful state preservation grant, the work plan must be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, too, and that will take time.

So pardon our mess if you visit this fall. We hope to be back on solid footings later this year, but most certainly in time for next May's annual visit by Chariton Community School District fourth-graders.