Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sentiments Across Time: Photographing Tombstones, Entry 5

Yesterday was the day when the temperature soared into the 70s for the first time this year, a day of heat and wind and ready made for touring the cemeteries of Osborne County.  I am nearing my personal quest to photograph every tombstone in the county, and sometimes I inadvertently even manage to photograph myself:

It was on this day in the Downs City Cemetery that I came across a white bronze tombstone.  Bronze tombstones hail from the 1880s and 1890s and no doubt were very expensive.  They always seem to mark children's graves, and this particular tombstone was no exception. 

In examining the stone two things become immediately obvious: (1) that this was not just the marker for one child, but for three children; and (2) the immense loss that the parents felt for each child, and the poignant manner in which they expressed their grief in bronze sentiments that continue to echo across time and space.

To Mary Wade

To Adaline Wade

To Charles Wade

Over a third of all the graves found in Osborne County to date are of children aged ten years and younger.  Nearly all those graves come from the period of 1871 to 1920, the fifty years in which the county was "settled" in the modern sense.   Such sacrifice bears more than just a few moments of contemplation.

Friday, March 26, 2010

150 Eminent Kansans & new award honoring Kansas author Don Coldsmith

     The Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University puts out a great newsletter entitled Tales Out of School that is both informative and always just plain fun to read. It is geared toward Kansas K-12 teachers, is published twice a year and is available free of charge to interested persons; you do not necessarily need to be a teacher to enjoy it. A variety of subjects related to teaching Kansas history appear in Tales and each issue emphasizes a topic, teaching technique, or activity. Readers are encouraged to submit items to the newsletter that they believe will be useful to fellow teachers and so improve the teaching of Kansas history by sharing information. All past issues of Tales are available online at http://www.emporia.edu/cgps/tales/tales.htm.

     I mention the Tales here because of two items from the most recent issue are certainly worth passing on. The first involves a statewide effort entitled 150 Eminent Kansans. As part of the Kansas Sesquicentennial observance in 2010-2012, Judge G. Joseph Pierron of the Kansas Court of Appeals, along with his colleagues will be assembling a list of 150 eminent Kansans and their biographies. This document will be made available to students for the study of Kansas history. As part of this compilation, Judge Pierron is giving students the opportunity to pick their choices for the list of 150 eminent Kansans. The final list, including biographies, will be available by internet.
     The good judge and his colleagues are therefore asking all teachers and their students to come up with suggestions for the list. All entries are due by May 15, 2010, and all are asked to follow these guidelines in doing so: (1) We want a list of people who have accomplished positive things. We do not want people who are known for the evil or crimes they have committed; (2) The person or group listed should have a significant tie to Kansas and not be someone who was only briefly passing through; (3) No ties are allowed. Please pick 15 and rank them; (4) You need not defend your choices, but if you want to explain why you chose someone, please feel free to do so; (5) Keep an open mind - You may find someone who is a revelation; and (6) Please exclude present-day elected officials in order to hold down arguments and avoid the advantage of current advertising.
     Lists may be send via mail or email to:
G. Joseph Pierron, Kansas Court of Appeals
310 S. W. 10th Avenue, Topeka, KS 66612-1507
Email: pierronj@kscourts.org.

     The second item from the current Tales is an announcement from the organizers of the Tallgrass Writing Workshop, who are remembering one of the founders of its annual High School Writers Competition with a special award for budding authors.
     The Don Coldsmith Young Writers Award for Kansas high school juniors and seniors honors the life-long achievements of its namesake by encouraging young writers in their craft. Awards will be presented during the 25th Annual Tallgrass Writing Workshop to be held June 25 – 27 on the Emporia State University campus.
     All Kansas high school juniors and seniors are eligible to enter the competition. A minimum of five double-spaced typed pages of prose, poetry, or fiction will be juried by the workshop faculty. Winning students will receive individual instruction and critique from members of the workshop faculty and complimentary access to all workshop events during the weekend.
     All students should send their works to Max McCoy, Tallgrass Workshop Coordinator, Box 4019, Emporia State University, 1200 Commercial, Emporia, KS 66801. Deadline for receipt of submissions is May 15, 2010, and entries cannot be returned.
     Don Coldsmith was a prolific western writer and columnist who published more than 40 books, 150 magazine articles, and 1,800 newspaper pieces. His syndicated column, “Horsin’ Around,” was a weekly staple of good humor, common sense, and the most interesting and often overlooked details of life. Coldsmith passed way on June 25, 2009 at the age of 83.
     Coldsmith was the 1990 winner of the Spur Award for best novel, given by the Western Writers of America. He was also a recipient of the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement, named a Distinguished Kansan by Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas, and received the Edgar Wolfe Award for his contribution to literature.
     The Tallgrass Writing Workshop has a long history of excellence in serving writers at all stages of career development. Participants include teachers, novelists, poets, journalists, historians, and those writing family histories.  The workshop is offered by the ESU Center for Great Plains Studies and the Department of English, Modern Languages, and Journalism.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Night of Brogue-Heavy Foot-Stompin' Jig-Reelin' Celtic Music at the Opera House

     When Kansas Explorer Club Member #2 Marci Penner put out the word across the state that the first musical event to be held in the newly restored Opera House in McPherson, Kansas, would be a Celtic music band direct from Ireland - in March, no less - well, how could anyone in their right mind pass that up?
     For those who have not yet had the pleasure, below are two views of the said Opera House, now one of the cornerstones of McPherson's downtown district:

     Yes, it took millions in fundraising to complete the restoration. Was it worth it? Every single penny, ye citizens of McPherson and McPherson County. You can be excused for jutting out your chests for the next year or so and proclaiming, "We Did It! And We Did It RIGHT!!"

     Okay, so this event sounded well worth it. And once I mentioned it to fellow Osborne Countian & current Portis resident Kathy Bristol - wave "hi!" to everyone, Kathy - she was game for the adventure as well. I say adventure because McPherson is a 260-mile round-trip from Osborne, and even Explorers do have to get up early the next morning to make a living and such. I then contacted my sister Sue in Salina and inquired if she would be interested in going along; we could just drop by and pick her up along the way. She said of course even though she would be attending a Celtic Band concert in Salina the very next evening after this one.
     Yes, musical gluttony does run in the family genes.
     Kathy and I took off from Osborne at 4:35PM and headed south and east into cloudy, rain-threatening skies that prior to our departure the local TV weathermen had assured us was the right directions to "clearing skies."  Riiiight.  So through intermittent showers and later talk about the proper methods on raising baby squirrels for re-release into "The Wild" (better that you don't inquire further - Teaching a Baby Squirrel the Proper Way to Pee 101 was just one of the many subjects touched on by the time we were passing the Roxbury interchange on Interstate 135) we picked up Sue and made our way south to McPherson.  We even managed to find a parking stall a mere block north of the Opera House and thus were well within the designated starting time of 7:30PM.

     As soon as possible I urge everyone to find an excuse to drop by McPherson and at least tour the Opera House if not take in an event here.  One can see some of the intricate stenciling work completed throughout the building in the above photo that I managed to take of the mural highlighting the top of the stage area.  I say managed because not one but both sets of batteries I had with me for my camera decided to declare themselves empty of juice once I had taken the aforementioned above photo. Someone had neglected to check them before leaving for this event.


     So you will just have to trust me; it is a great venue, especially for a band such as the one that played there the night of March 9, 2010.

     But who exactly was this band that braved the weather and the distance to stir the blood of Irish Kansans in the month of March?
     I undertook the obvous recourse and consulted the hallowed Internet.  O Mighty Internet, I implored, Google me much-desired information on the David Monely - er, Monnely - rats, what was that name - Ah! The David Munnelly Band.  And lo! the following was bestowed upon me.
     Have I ever mentioned how I feel that the Internet has practically taken over our lives? And to think we used to say that about the telephone.

     Anyway, this is what I discovered:

     Led by Irish button accordion virtuoso David Munnelly, who toured with legendary Irish group The Chieftains from the age of 21 to 25, the award-winning David Munnelly Band is one of the hottest new bands on the international traditional Celtic music scene.  Based in County Mayo, Ireland, virtuoso David Munnelly is taking the New World by storm with his one-of-a-kind style of playing - a living link between two centuries of West of Ireland culture and the Golden Age of Irish American Music of the 1920s incorporating the sound and feel of the Irish-American dance halls of the 1920s and 1930s.  The other band members are: Kieran Munnelly (flute/bodhran/snare/vocals); Tony Byrne (guitar); Paul Kelly (fiddle/mandolin); and the singing of All-Ireland champion Shauna Mullin.
     With members from Mayo, Dublin, Donegal, Tyrone and, Brighton, England this exciting quintet combines button accordion, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, piano, bodhrán and flute for a high-spirited instrumental sound colored with a bit of jazz and ragtime . . . the band is rightly praised and admired for their precision musicianship.
     In 2001 David released his first CD, Swing, in effort to craft a sound that was both unique, yet reminiscent of the free-spirited exuberance which typified the American Irish Dance Hall scene of the Roaring 20s. One year later David’s second CD, By Heck, was released to critical & popular acclaim.
     On the band’s first U.S. tour in 2005 when they covered over 10,000 miles across America, including a performance at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas.  In 2006 David & the group were featured around the world on the BBC World Television programme "Destination Music: Ireland."  In America, they have been featured in a two part concert on the National Public Radio program "Celtic Connections," and in a PBS Television special.  They were awarded "Concert of the Year" awards for both 2006 and 2007 by LiveIreland.com, who have hailed them as “A creative force at the true epicenter of Irish traditional music.”

     Once again, we bow to KE Explorer #2's instincts, which were indeed were dead on. This band put on a show that boded well for the future of the newly-restored venue, should they continue to bring in talent like this.

     Band leader David Munnelly, who's heavy Irish brogue, dry wit, and foot-stompin'-accordian-playing-style-while-seated was an instant hit.

      David's brother, Keiran Munnelly, launched into a protracted solo on the bodhran, or Irish drum, toward the end of the concert that amazed even his fellow bandmates and brought the house down.

     This is a photo of the group's lead singer, Shauna Mullin.  Once again I'll let the words of LiveIreland.com convey just how good this lady is:

      You probably have not heard Donegal's Shauna Mullin, yet.  You will.  She is the voice of the future of Irish traditional music.  She is now the singer with the extraordinarily popular David Munnelly Band.  We saw her in concert in 2007, and have never been so stunned in a performance setting.  Extraordinary.  A Gift.
     She is an alto.  As usual with LiveIreland.com, you hear it here first.  How many singers do you see get a standing ovation in a live performance after their first song?  There are only a few really, truly great traditional singers - think Cathie Ryan, Eddi Reader, Eilis Kennedy, Muirerann Nic Amhlaoibh and Mairi Campbell.  Now add Shauna Mullin.  Before her journey is over, she may be the best of all time.  Correct.  She is that great.  She is that special.  Get on board early - it will be a glorious trip.

     And the nice part is that they really did not overstate a single thing.  She was that good.

     Clearly having not yet given enough kudos and exposure in this blog entry to this particular music group, I wish to add in closing that you can learn more about them at their website at http://www.davidmunnelly.com.

     The crowd was a little reserved at the start ("Ya need ta get over dat" observed the bandleader early on) but by the end of the two hours all were on their feet a'shoutin' and a'stompin'.  You know you've been to a good concert when afterwards your hands are still red and actually hurt from too much clapping.
     After a quick stop for a fastfood bite to eat (there being not much else open that late at night) we dropped my sister off in Salina and headed back east and north toward Osborne, ever on "deer alert" as usual.  I regaled an unsuspecting Kathy with music ranging from Hallelujah by k.d. lang (2005) to Happy Days Are Here Again by Leo Reisman & His Orchestra (1930) to Bless You by Tony Orlando (1961) to Ring A Rockin' by Neil Sedaka (1958) to Rave On by John Mellencamp (1988) to Home on the Range by Neil Young (1980) to Cha-Ching! by Hedley (2009).  Kathy claimed that she was entertained; at least that was her story and she was sticking to it.
     It was about Luray that I noted that the gas gage had fallen between the Quarter Tank Mark and the Red Line of Doom, with 22 miles before home.  With it being past midnight and with no gas stations in the area open, there was nothing for it but to brave it out - and thinking ahead of all the farmers we would be passing in the next 22 miles and deciding on which ones would be the nicer ones who might not shoot us on sight at this time of night and ask questions in the morning should we have to stop and plead for a gallon or two of gas.  And the "deer alert" continued as well.
     At 1:01AM we drove into Osborne.  I dropped Kathy off at her car and continued to my own home. And as I swung into my driveway the LOW FUEL yellow light sprang on.  It made for a perfect punctuation to another perfect Explorer adventure across Kansas.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nominally a report of a meeting would generate cause for the average person to snooze through the mundane details.  But today's meeting was something rather special - the 10th Annual Meeting of the Board of Directors of Osborne County Tourism, Inc. (OCT).

Back in 2000 there was an informal gathering of those in the county concerned with developing tourism in the county.  At the time there was - and still is - only one person actually paid to work on this kind of economic development.  And so at this gathering Osborne County Tourism, Inc. was formed, a non-profit organization made up entirely of volunteers from all parts of the county, with no dues, no formal funding, and no budget - just hard work and sweat where every $5 acquired was put to the best use it possibly could be, a grassroots concept somewhat unique in the state of Kansas in the tourism field. 

In that ten years the organization has worked to promote Osborne County across the state of Kansas, letting know - first and foremost - that the county exists, and that it does have unique places to some and see and enjoy.

But after ten years many of those volunteers have had to drop out due to everyday changes in lives, and those who remained are getting older with less resources and energy to continue to contribute as unselfishly as they previously had.

So today's meeting had a crucial question to answer - does the organization continue?  And, if so, what should be its priorities?

The answer from the meeting this afternoon was a resounding YES! to continue, as simply too much great effort and reward had been gained over the past decade to stop now.  But it was agreed that the priorities of the organization needs to change for a time.

Therefore for the foreseeable future OCT will take all the effort and energy it has spent over the past decade in promoting the county across the state, and will turn that energy inward.  The goals in doing this are:
(1) to educate the county's own citizens better to the potential economic advantages that a strong local tourism industry will generate
(2) to develop that local tourism industry to the point where it can complement and support regional tourism at an equal level with our neighboring counties, and
(3) through this effort recruit the next generation of members to continue the work of the past decade.

So while Osborne County will not be seen officially at the Kansas Sampler Festival this year and other statewide meetings, it does not mean that we've gone away and given up; rather that we're merely taking a breath, and soon will come roaring back into the fold as a force to be reckoned with in the field of rural tourism.  Stick around, for when that day comes there will be sights to behold in Osborne County that will earn it the moniker "The 8th Wonder of Kansas Tourism!"

Winter Breaks - Photographing Tombstones, Entry 4

Winter broke at last in Osborne County on March 1, 2010, with temperatures soaring into the low 50s and the snow at last reliquishing its grip on the landscape.  All this allowed for some serious resumption of previous activities, such as a quick trip to the Downs Cemetery to resume taking photos of the tombstones to be found there.  The above homemade children's stone is one of the many gems located in the eastern part of that particular cemetery. 

Unfortunately someone forgot to check their camera's battery level before embarking, and so the excellent day for such photography was suddenly cut short.  But we will be back!