31 October 2013

The Haunting of Brush Creek Bridge

Brush Creek Bridge
One of the more interesting features of our farm we call Sycamore Hill is the creek that runs through a woods on the west side of our property.  Early settlers first named the creek Brush Creek, likely due to its primary path through wetlands now long since drained.  Just west of the creek is an abandoned rail bed that never saw even its first interurban car pass over it due to the company's collapse.  And just to the west of that is the abandoned Vandalia Railroad bed; the last train passed over it many decades ago.

At the back corner of our property Brush Creek takes a very sharp turn to the west before making another sharp turn north.  Over this short section of creek between its curves, the railroad constructed a steel bridge in the late 1800s.  Abandoned now, it serves as a picturesque reminder of our property's connection to the railroad....something I first noted in the photo at the top of this post when we visited the farm after a heavy snow, but before we moved in.

But it was what we didn't know about the Brush Creek Bridge that moves our conscious thought from picturesque to tragic.  The area near the bridge has an absolute silence, tucked down into the deep banks of the creek with lowlands on each side of the flowing water.  A few large trees send their branches out over the creek and a path worn by deer skirts the edge of the bank.  The rusted steel of the bridge creates a midnight-black form at night, removing all light and reflection from moonlight on the creek below.  Shortly after we moved to Sycamore Hill a friend forwarded a newspaper story from 1910 about a tragedy that occurred on the Brush Creek Bridge.

James Heminger, a veteran of the Civil War, was instantly killed on the bridge on December 13, 1910.  The older man joined another man by the name of Eli Silvius to hunt rabbits in the early morning hours of the 13th.  After some time Heminger handed his bag of game to his hunting companion and for some unknown reason headed to the bridge.  Speculation on Heminger's death indicated that he must have been standing on the ties of the bridge when an engine with the Lake Erie and Western passenger train struck him.  Heminger was deaf, which was the immediate cause reasoned for his not hearing the train as it approached.

The newspaper article stated that the body was badly mutilated.  The back of the head was crushed in, the left shoulder torn, the neck and left side of his face were cut open.  The lower part of his body was also crushed and the bones broken.  Heminger was described only as "an old soldier".

I've often wondered how one couldn't sense the approaching engine.  As anyone who has been even near a railroad knows, the vibrations in the ground-let alone a raised rail bed-would surely make up for other loss of senses.  Was this truly an accident?  And does the ghost of Private Heminger linger on Brush Creek Bridge?  While I leave out the more gruesome details of his death, I suggest to family and friends that the old soldier wanders the old railroad bed in search of his severed toe.

Great Halloween Story eh?  You can read the newspaper article here:  Killed by Train

23 October 2013

American (Neo-Tudor) Gothic

Our family has an annual Harvest Party tradition that is held at my parents' home each September.  Usually I am the official photographer, capturing each moment over the last 10+ years of grandkids hunting for pumpkins in the pumpkin patch, bobbing for apples, or carving their jack-o-lanterns.  Some fall seasons are warmer, or dryer, than others.....but this year seemed to be just about perfect.

I think my kids are starting to feel a bit too old for this now.  The oldest grandchild has a child of her own now, so I don't think the tradition is in jeopardy.

The grandkids with mom and dad

Usually as a way to "wrap-up" the festivities my mom and dad organize a group photo of the grandkids in front of a cornstalk in their front yard, bedecked with pumpkins, gourds, and bales of straw.  This year was no different, except for a brief moment after the official photo had been taken.  I never really thought of the main front gable of our house as the perfect backdrop for a photo....and not just any photo.  I managed to talk my mom and dad into staging what may be one of the best-known paintings in American history, American Gothic by Grant Wood.  As I snapped several shots my mom commented that I likely would be posting it on that facebook thing and make fun of them.  Hmmm.  Well, I did use it as my profile picture for the last month.  Grant Wood used a Gothic Revival-style farmhouse in his backdrop for the old farmer couple; I used my parents' Neo-Tudor house they built in 1974 as my backdrop.  Add a few props and presto.

Grant Wood is my favorite American artist.  I have an original print of his entitled Arbor Day hanging on my office wall.  He has a series of prints entitled with the seasons, and it would be awesome to have them in the dining room.....if anyone wants a Christmas gift idea for me.

The original American Gothic by Grant Wood

21 October 2013

Ghosts of Birthdays Past

Me being all-contemplative-like, having a hazelnut latte' with my wife in Culver on my big 4-5

Last week I turned another year older, and maybe wiser-that's up for debate.  I tend to get a bit too reminiscent on my birthday, so I went looking back in HH's blog archives and pulled out the only two posts I did for my birthdays.  They were in 2007 and 2008 when I turned 39 (why does that seem so long ago?) and 40.  I definitely feel the effects of the last 5 years, but I continue to be blessed doing what I love and surrounded by family and friends.  Can you ask for more than that?

So here's a couple of posts from way back......

Best of My Life at 39
In Christ I Stand-at 40

16 October 2013

Politically Correct Rocky Top

The actual rocky top of Rocky Top
I remember once that a traveling evangelist who had been saved from the wiles of the devil's tunes had preached a series on music during chapel time at my school.  Insert here that I went to a very fundamentalist Baptist high school.  I think it was during the last session, when he took on the issue of Christian "rock", that he so much as invited us non-Baptist kids to leave.  A few of us did.  And I don't think he was invited back to speak.

But the former rock star didn't stop with Christian rock-a term I don't believe is used anymore-he included a lengthy dissertation on what was wrong with so many of the beloved hymns sung by the saints.  You see, during the time of Martin Luther and Charles Wesley, hymn authors used tunes and melodies that were familiar to the average person who couldn't read music.  They just gospelized the tunes......which often times were traditional pub and drinking songs.  The evangelist suggested that we no longer sing such hymns because it glorified this detestable behaviour.

Enter Rocky Top.

Plymouth Schools, well heck, Plymouth in general, has so few traditions to cling to that the outrage banning Rocky Top being played after a touchdown under the Friday night lights, came as no surprise.  The news item going national?  Well, yeah, that comes as a surprise.  Going back at least 20 years the Bluegrass classic about a mountain in Tennessee called Rocky Top, has been played as a sort of victory theme with each Plymouth Rockies touchdown.  Yeah, so what if it is in Tennessee, when the home field is called the Rock Pile, Rocky Top just seems befitting.  The school administration banned the song because of the lyrics in the second verse, which are never played after a touchdown:

Wish that I was on ole rocky top,
Down in the tennessee hills.
Ain't no smoggy smoke on rocky top,
Ain't no telephone bills.

Once there was a girl on rocky top,
Half bear the other half cat.
Wild as a mink, sweet as soda pop,
I still dream about that.

Rocky top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me.
Good ole rocky top,
Rocky top tennessee, rocky top tennessee.

Once two strangers climbed on rocky top,
Lookin' for a moonshine still.
Strangers ain't come back from rocky top,
Guess they never will.

Corn won't grow at all on rocky top,
Dirt's too rocky by far.
That's why all the folks on rocky top
Get their corn from a jar.

Rocky top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me.
Good ole rocky top,
Rocky top tennessee, rocky top tennessee.

Now I've had years of cramped up city life,
Trapped like a duck in a pen.
Now all I know is it's a pity life
Can't be simple again.

Rocky top, you'll always be
Home sweet home to me.
Good ole rocky top,
Rocky top tennessee, rocky top tennessee.

Rocky top tennessee, rocky top tennessee.
Yeah rocky top tennesee eee eee eee.

First of all, anyone who has ever watched the Dukes of Hazzard would know that the first part of the verse is referring to Revenuers who went looking to destroy the still.  Evidently the thought is that by merely singing the chorus, students are being driven to drink, or at least feel it is more acceptable.  Now, teenage drinking is a serious problem-no doubt about it-but we all know the obscure words in the song never drove anyone to drinking.  I guess if that were true, there would also be more Plymouth students being drawn to the hills of Tennessee, looking for girls half bear/half cat, and staying away from cramped-up city life.  Quite the opposite I believe.  Kinda' like I've never seen a stream of Methodist march out the aisles of church on Sunday to hit the local watering hole after singing A Mighty Fortress.

In talking with one of the football players I suggested he do what the great hymn writers did with drinking songs.  Change the lyrics.  So maybe the second verse would go something like this......

I enrolled in PBL at school,
best chance to get a great degree.
Learn-in' plenty in my class, that's right-
No college will decline me.

Drinkin's bad, we all know wrong from right,
Makes me dumb as can be.
Don't need no beer belly later on in life,
We'all love Mr. Tyree.

Good ole Rocky Top......near or far, native or not, you'll always be home sweet home to me.

14 October 2013

The October Series: Part 3 with William Cullen Bryant

Golden Beech Leaves
It is interesting to compare the style of writing between Riley and William Cullen Bryant, who wrote his verses on October close to 50 years before Riley's "Hoosieresque" style.  Bryant's style is in keeping with other New Englanders like Thoreau and Longfellow....and sounds a bit too aristocratic, but not uncommon for the era.  I can only imagine being inspired to write amid the fall colors of New England.

by William Cullen Bryant

Ay, thou art welcome, heaven's delicious breath!
When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf,
And suns grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief
And the year smiles as it draws near its death.
Wind of the sunny south! oh, still delay
In the gay woods and in the golden air,
Like to a good old age released from care,
Journeying, in long serenity, away.
In such a bright, late quiet, would that I
Might wear out life like thee, 'mid bowers and brooks
And dearer yet, the sunshine of kind looks,
And music of kind voices ever nigh;
And when my last sand twinkled in the glass,
Pass silently from men, as thou dost pass.

11 October 2013

A Post in Defense of Plymouth, or a Response to Ostrander

Plymouth's most glorious main street bridging the Wythougan and leading into its Downtown

Recently I was made aware of a rather uncomplimentary blog post regarding one of Indiana's most unique little crossroads cities, Plymouth.  More specifically, the blogger compared the picturesque town's supposed shortfalls with its neighbor to the east, Warsaw.  The Ostrander blog post is here if you find it necessary to read his defenseless (and rather silly, exaggerated) scorn of Plymouth whilst heaping undue accolades upon his beloved Warsaw.

Indeed I suspect that Ostrander is a native of the wannabe Kokomo on U.S. 30, and likely participated in sport at its school, that looks like a prison, where his disdain really stems from the age-long rivalry between the cities.  To the contrary, I am not a native of Plymouth but am quite familiar with the city.  The charming town of Plymouth was situated on a river dubbed "Wythougan" by the Native American, at the crossing of Indiana's most historic and important road, the Michigan Road.  Early residents named the budding village in honor of the settlement our Puritan forefathers, who sailed but with their faith, staked out that would become the foundation of a new nation.

No, indeed, Plymouth's streets are not paved with gold either.  But they are shaded by the most magnificent trees that define the main street as, in the words of university professors, the most impressive thoroughfare in all of Northern Indiana, Warsaw included.  And at this time of year the main street is illuminated in gold from its living sentries stationed along its sidewalks.  Added to the charm of this main street is its historic streetlights that sparkle like diamonds as you stroll the broad sidewalks at night.  And what can Warsaw say to this?  Within months Plymouth will boast its main street as the longest contiguous corridor on the National Register of Historic Places in Indiana, save Meridian Street in Indianapolis.

I cannot even determine where Warsaw stops and starts as the stoplights keep reproducing.

Furthermore, Plymouth-while bypassed not once, but twice, maintains one of the most attractive downtowns in Northern Indiana.  The city embraces its unique place in not only history, but in geography, as a crossroads of important routes now designated by the State of Indiana as State Scenic Byways.  Warsaw can boast only stop-and-go traffic on U.S. 30 and a convoluted street grid that defies even the most astute of minds.  Plymouth's parks are strung around the city like precious gems in a necklace, the most important of which is underway in the city's downtown.  Warsaw has a park, well removed from the city, that is used as a refuge for those wishing to escape the city's tired and worn neighborhoods.  Warsaw turned its back on its best God-given feature, a lake, and chose to pollute it instead.

The Ostrander blog post pictured an ominous backdrop to the county courthouse situated in Plymouth.  Unlike Warsaw's founders, Plymouth's early residents determined that the seat of government should be in the midst of the people because the government is elected by and for the people.  This location amid neighborhoods is one of only two such placements in the entire state.  Warsonians determined that their government should be under the close scrutiny and control of its bankers, lawyers, and merchant-tycoons.  Not the people.

So let us talk about Plymouth's people.....true salt of the earth people.  Plymouthites are those who roll up their sleeves and get to work, unlike the neighboring Warsonians who sit and wait for one of their medical industries to gift them something.  Plymouth people are more than generous, in fact, one day nearly a year ago, is being heralded as one of the biggest days of benevolence ever seen in Indiana where hundreds participated in a single day of giving that resulted in over a half-million dollars raised for the community......whilst Warsaw waits for more handouts.

And yes, Plymouth's mayor's head is bald, as Ostrander pointed out, but it is well-polished, like so many of the city's fine residences.  And unlike Warsaw's meager coffers, Plymouth-through the leadership of its state-recognized clerk-treasurer-has amassed wealth that would make a city ten times Plymouth's size green with envy.

Warsaw's answer to both industry and culture
Ostrander implied that Warsaw's many more chain stores confirmed the city's better standing.  As I read, I thought he had decided to compliment Plymouth, because how indeed are more greasy french fries a sign of economic vitality?  I applaud Plymouth's lack of chains that pump dollars out of the community.  For culture Warsonians have fled to their sister city, Winona Lake.  Again, Plymouthites roll up their sleeves to produce for themselves rather than sit back and feel entitled to be entertained.  The proof is in the Midwest's largest three day festival held, no, not in Warsaw, but in Plymouth.

For all that Plymouth may lack, this is certain, its residents do not lack hearts of gold, the hearts of champions, and the steely-grit and determination to never become like Warsaw.

Actually, Warsaw's not all that bad......the post is just in keeping with the tenor of the Ostrander post.

09 October 2013

The October Series: Part 2 with the Hoosier Poet Riley

Bridge over Deer Creek
Certainly one would expect the appearance of Indiana's most famous poet, James Whitcomb Riley, in a series of poems about October.  A few weeks ago I spent the lion's share of the day driving down scenic roads in Carroll County, particularly around the Deer Creek neighborhood where Riley was said to frequent his favorite fishin' spot.  Here is Riley's take on October.

Old October
by James Whitcomb Riley

Old October's purt' nigh gone,
And the frosts is comin' on
Little heavier every day--
Like our hearts is thataway!
Leaves is changin' overhead
Back from green to gray and red,
Brown and yeller, with their stems
Loosenin' on the oaks and e'ms;
And the balance of the trees
Gittin' balder every breeze--
Like the heads we're scratchin' on!
Old October's purt' nigh gone.

I love Old October so,
I can't bear to see her go--
Seems to me like losin' some
Old-home relative er chum--
'Pears like sorto' settin' by
Some old friend 'at sigh by sigh
Was a-passin' out o' sight
Into everlastin' night!
Hickernuts a feller hears
Rattlin' down is more like tears
Drappin' on the leaves below--
I love Old October so!

Can't tell what it is about
Old October knock me out--!
I sleep well enough at night--
And the blamedest appetite
Ever mortal man possessed--,
Last thing et, it tastes the best--!
Warnuts, butternuts, pawpaws,
'Iles and limbers up my jaws
Fer raal service, sich as new
Pork, spareribs, and sausage, too--.
Yit fer all, they's somepin' 'bout
Old October knocks me out!

07 October 2013

The October Series: Part 1 with Robert Frost

Frost's grave in Bennington, Vermont
A few times I have tried to make the ramblings in my head come out poetic.  Usually with little success, though.  The bug bites me every year about this time-since October is the best month on the calendar.  So instead of butchering the profession, I'll let the professionals take over for a few posts.  While my family was vacationing in Vermont this summer we stayed in Bennington and happened upon a fantastic, historic cemetery with a beautiful white church attached.  In it was the grave of probably my favorite poet (I know, not the Hoosier James Whitcomb Riley!) but Robert Frost.  Here is Frost's poem October.

by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost--
For the grapes' sake along the wall.