Tuesday, May 22, 2012

History and Headstones: Celebrating Memorial Day

When I mentioned to a group of church friends this past weekend that I was writing a blog post on cemeteries, with the thought that some parents might want to take their children to these special spots to study history, one of my friends asked, “You’d take a child to a cemetery?”

Well, yes, I would-- because when I was growing up, taking wreaths to my father’s parents’ graves on Memorial Day was an important part of family life. And it usually got him talking about his mother, whom I never met because she died in 1940. It was one way I learned about my paternal grandmother’s life.

My husband and I both enjoy studying history via headstones. We found this out on our first date. He had officiated at a funeral that day and somehow we got to talking about cemeteries and we ended up at the main cemetery in Fort Collins, CO walking around. We discovered that there had been a smallpox epidemic in the city in the early 1900s, that those who had died of the disease were buried in a far corner of the cemetery, and in 1980 there was still a wide berth around those graves before any others were laid to rest near them.

My maternal grandmother always called Memorial Day “Decoration Day”, its original name, because this was a time to honor those who died in service to their country.

According to www.usmemorialday.org:

“There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, ‘Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping’ by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication ‘To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead’ (Source: Duke University's Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920). While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen. Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

“Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.”

Now, if you don’t plan to put wreaths on graves this year, you’re not alone because Memorial Day has drastically changed in focus from what it once was. But that doesn’t mean that at some point this summer or fall you can’t take in a few of the cemeteries around here and see an interesting look at the past.

There is a small cemetery—Oak Cemetery-- just off South Bend and Jefferson, behind the Subway/DQ and the strip mall, that has been around a long time. You can find more information about this cemetery and the people buried there at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~inallcem/aboite/bullard.html. Father William Karber, whose headstone is pictured here, has one of the older headstones that have remained in good condition.

Further south, along Engle Road, is St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery, established in 1853, but not at this location. When this Evangelical Lutheran Church was established by German Lutheran immigrants, they also felt it important to establish both a school and a cemetery. Their first five acre cemetery was adjacent to the Fort Wayne City Cemetery at the location of what is now McCollough Park on Broadway near the GE Plant.

Around 1864, the city moved their cemetery to its current location on West Main and it was renamed Lindenwood. St. John’s moved their cemetery also to Maple and Park Avenue. But neighbors at the original spot and the newer one were “uncomfortable” with having a cemetery in their neighborhood and so the third cemetery for St. John’s was dedicated in August, 1872 on Engle Road. With every move, all of those buried in the cemeteries were also moved. According to the web site http://www.stjohnluth.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Cemetery-Brochure.pdf, of the original “Founding Fathers”, only Michael Mueller is not buried at this cemetery.

The headstones in the St. John’s cemetery reflect the German heritage of those buried there. A number of graves have stones carved with German words. And the artwork of the monuments is spectacular.

If you go further into Waynedale, down Old Trail Road, you will come to Prairie Grove Cemetery, established in June 1874. Burials at this site, donated by Joseph and Catherine Mason, actually occurred as early as 1834. The chapel on the ground was built by the United Brethren Church in the 1850s and was served by circuit riders until 1901.

Have you ever been to the Little Turtle Memorial on Lawton Park Place? Signs direct you to the site from Spy Run and once you’re parked you venture back between two houses to a small wooded area. Tucked into the space are various stones with carvings about one of our area’s more famous Native Americans.

There are a number of large cemeteries in Fort Wayne but the most “famous” is undoubtedly Lindenwood. Many of Fort Wayne’s founders are buried here and we have a couple of good pamphlets in our gift shop to guide you on a walk through this beautiful place in the heart of our city. “Eternal Landscapes: A Historical and Natural Guide to Lindenwood Cemetery” provides a map of different kinds of trees and birds you’ll find there and “Pioneers Resting in Historic Lindenwood” gives a brief guide to some of our town fathers and mothers and their contributions to our city.

History is more than dates, wars and presidents. It’s people. And with the resources we have in this city to study the people of the past, it’s a shame not to take advantage of them. Take some time this year to get to know your city and come visit the History Center. You’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Celebrating the "Hapsburg Horror"

May is National Historic Preservation Month (http://www.preservationnation.org/take-action/preservation-month/) and since the Chief Richardville House has been much in the news, we thought it only right to spotlight on our blog another historic structure that the History Center owns--the Old City Hall on the corner of Berry and Barr.

If you’re looking for a fun way to spend a Saturday with your kids, grab your cameras and come to downtown. Get out of the car and walk around, snapping shots of architectural elements on the variety of buildings in this part of Fort Wayne, then head over the Allen County Public Library for a little research on architecture as an art form. Your photos can make an interesting scrap book, art work for greeting cards or framed prints for your home. Plus you’ll learn a little bit about the history of our city along the way.

City and county government is now housed in Citizen’s Square with some offices also in the Edwin J. Rousseau Centre at Clinton and Main. But the History Center was once the home to city government and the building we are in has quite a history unto itself.

Michael R. Ormiston, PhD., writing in “Fort Wayne Law Enforcement and the Old City Hall” (copyright 1985 by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society), quote DeWitt C. Goodrich and Charles R. Tutle in “An Illustrated History of the State of Indiana” in 1875.

“’The County Court House and County Jail, both located in Fort Wayne, are substantial buildings, well adapted to the purposes sought. There is yet no commodious city hall, nor is any needed at the present day, that would impose a heavy tax upon the city….”

W.S. Haymond released this book again in 1879 and agreed. But the people of Fort Wayne did not. The second City Hall, built in 1869, was deemed too small and in 1885, citizens decided a new structure that would bring all city offices together was in order.

“A committee was formed to study the details of a new building, and in 1892, after several annual tax levies, the committee provided $69,919.68 to the building construction fund. On April 20, 1893, the third new City Hall was completed, at a cost of $59,385.58, with an additional $10,420.88 spent on furnishings. The lot was expanded in 1893 when the city bought eighteen feet adjoining on the east, paying an additional $2,250.00. The structure was praised by one of the city’s newspapers as ‘…an ornament to the City…the best, most complete, most elegant-appearing, and the most economically constructed City Hall in Indiana or anywhere else.’”

However…and when it comes to public comment on city government there’s always a however….

others called it the “Hapsburg Horror” according to a July 16, 1983 article in the “News Sentinel” written by then Historical Society executive director Michael Hawfield.

“The ‘Hapsburg Horror’ tag, besides being a mild political gibe at a couple of mayors’ ancestry, alluded to the sizable tax levy (more than $60,000) imposed to build it—a ‘royal’ figure for those times (royal as in Hapsburg, the German royal house that ruled Austria in that era).”

“Fort Wayne Interim Report Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory—1996” shows a two story house with porch where the parking lot to the east of the buildnig is now and describes the building as “Richardsonian Romanesque, 1893, Wing and Mahurin, architects”. At one time the address was 308 East Berry Street.

From this book: 

“Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1836-86) developed this style in the 1870s, combining the heavy masonry and prominent arches of Romanesque Revival architecture with features borrowed from many sources, including late Gothic Revival, Syrian, and Queen Anne. After his death, interest in the style increased with the majority of houses and buildings in the style built from 1887 to 1900. Richardsonian Romanesque buildings are rough-faced stonework, often with contrasting colors creating decorative patterns. Wide, rounded arches supported by short, squat columns are characteristic of this style. Round towers with conical roofs are common, usually with arcaded windows near the top. Interlacing floral designs are the most common decorative details. Because of the monumental nature of the style, examples were never common.

“Fort Wayne, however, is fortunate to have a number of Richardsonian Romanesque buildings.”

You can see another example of this architectural style in the home of John H. Bass or Brookside on the University of St. Francis campus.

We’re including some photos of the building to whet your appetite to come down and take a closer look. The detail is incredible and remember--construction in the early 1890s was not nearly as easy to accomplish as it is today.

Architect Marshall S. Mahurin was born in Fort Wayne in 1857 and died April 23, 1939. He was the son of Isaac Mahurin, one of the city’s first public school teachers. His partner, John F. Wing, (1852-1947) came to Fort Wayne in 1878, according to the City of Fort Wayne’s web site, and worked in partnership from 1882 to 1907 with Mahurin. 

Wing and Mahurin formed their partnership in Fort Wayne in 1882. According to the city’s web site, “The two quickly made a name for themselves and were soon established as the premier architectural firm in Fort Wayne. The firm specialized in the popular Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Neoclassical styles of architecture, and designed many public and private buildings throughout Indiana and Ohio. They remained partners until 1907. Among the Fort Wayne landmarks designed by Wing & Mahurin are the John H. Bass Mansion (Brookside)…several outstanding houses in the West Central Historic District… the Elektron Building…and St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church.”

The Elektron Building is on Berry across from Citizen’s Square. You can capture some great photos of the elements on this building with your camera.

Hawfield described the feelings of many in the city regarding their new City Hall:

“Although later generations, put off by the soot deposits of the coal age, often scorned the fortress-like city hall, in the eyes of many contemporaries, the structure was magnificent. Its very bulk conveyed the sort of power and authority citizens could admire and respect. And there was no denying, within its walls lay the powers of city government. Entirely suitable to its overall image was its rear portal, which led to the dank basement jail where society’s offenders and ne’er-do-wells were conspicuously taken.”

That former jail is now one of the most popular portions of the museum’s exhibits!

By the time our building was abandoned as City Hall in 1971, 14 different mayors and 18 different administrations had served the city. On October 11, 1972, local officials began the effort to have the building added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

Ormiston wrote in the epilogue to his work:

“’Why save the Hall?’ asked many citizens. Others were not so nice and called the structure an old ‘rock pile’. One of the more prominent local dignitaries was quoted as having said, ‘Well, it’s a fairly nice example of a rather horrible type of architecture.’”

Hawfield explained, however, that “Others…sought to preserve the structure and turn it to some other productive use. By the late 1970s, the building’s fate was decided, and in a great fund-raising effort by the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society, the city administration, and numerous individual and corporate donors, the Old City Hall underwent a $1,000,000 renovation to become the second largest museum of its kind in Indiana.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Travel options for this summer

When I was growing up, my father decided one year that it was time for us to get to know the state we lived in. So he planned a day trip for every day of his one-week vacation so we could see a number of attractions in Nebraska as well as the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, KS. I’m sure part of it was compromise with my mother, who really prefers sleeping in her own bed every night, plus the cost savings of not staying in a motel.

Now that the price of travel has risen…again…and isn’t likely to go down or even level out with gas prices being what they are…the “staycation” is being considered by more as a travel option so here are some ideas and observations for you and your family.

I’d obviously be remiss if I didn’t first mention the History Center. We, like many other entities in Fort Wayne, are often forgotten as a place “to get away to” by those living in the city. The Downtown Improvement District, Arts United and Visit Fort Wayne would like to change that and thus the reason for the last Saturday events every month. We offer half price admission then, as do many of the other attractions, so rather than trying to take everything in the day of  Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown, why not see Fort Wayne this year? You will be amazed at what this city has to offer.

Besides the History Center, if you like history there’s the Fort Wayne Firefighters Museum on Washington beside the Allen County Public Library, the African American Historical Museum east of the downtown post office, and the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, just off South Calhoun.

Chicago is not that far away but even closer is South Bend. Since my husband’s work sometimes takes him there, one day I tagged along and went to the Notre Dame campus. I’d be perfectly happy spending several hours in their book store but there is much more than that to see and if you like photography, the options for some terrific photos are certainly available on that campus.

South Bend has a wealth of museums and some fine hotels if you do decide to spend the night. This year we hope to go to the Studebaker Museum. I had a great aunt who would drive nothing else and I’ve always wanted to be able to figure out why. Perhaps 2012 will be the year I do!

A couple of weeks ago we ventured down to Indianapolis to the Indiana Historical Society. Interestingly enough, everyone that I’ve mentioned this place to has said something to the effect of, “I’ve been meaning to go there. I hear it’s pretty interesting.”

IHS offers on a rotating basis what they term “a unique set of visitor exhibitions called the Indiana Experience”. Here’s where my “observations” come in.

Indiana Experience allows you to “step into” a photograph and become a part of history. Some of the “experiences” become reproductions of places such as a police station during Prohibition or the kitchen of Jewish immigrants after World War II. These two particular exhibits featured actors who would converse with you as though you were in the time of the exhibit. Another—the exhibit that I particularly wanted to see about Robert F. Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination—puts you in the location with actors in a movie slipped into the space as though you are watching them.

One of the IHS staff, who happened to be at the genealogy convention here in Fort Wayne last weekend, told me that exhibits typically stay up about six months. Researching and putting them together is a lengthy process so they like to make the most of their time.

There were several school groups there the day we visited and the kitchen had them fascinated. The woman playing the “lady of the house” was answering a number of questions from what was in her glass on the kitchen table (tea) to what kind of card game was she playing with her friend (cribbage). I felt as though I had trespassed on someone’s private property but the kids were having a great time and probably didn’t want to hear her observations on the Holocaust, which to me were of greater interest. And at my age, a 1950’s style kitchen isn’t history—it’s my childhood!

My husband enjoyed the “police station”. As I asked questions about some of their artifacts, since they are similar to the ones we have in the former City Hall Jail, Tom was told that his wife certainly knows her way around a jail. Hmmm………..

The Kennedy exhibit was somewhat disappointing but more so I think because I was 16 when RFK was assassinated so actors will never “be” him. The accompanying exhibit, which featured persons living in Indianapolis now and who were there the night of the speech, was of far greater interest to me. I wrote down several names to further research but was disappointed that there were no artifacts to see—only videos of interviews.

But the visual nature of the exhibit seemed to appeal greatly to the students and Tom reminded me that the JFK Presidential Library is far more video than artifacts also. The Eisenhower, Truman and Roosevelt libraries are filled with items from their presidencies and reproduced offices. Kennedy’s administration was the first to be highly televised, and therein lies the difference in the approach to presenting the history of their administrations.

This leads me to tell you that to “present history” in ways that appeal to everyone is nigh on to impossible in one museum. Budgets just don’t allow for it nor do the size of facilities unless, of course, you’re the Smithsonian. And not even it is “perfect”. Regardless of where you and your family go, not everything, nor the way it’s presented, will appeal to all of you. Part of the fun of a museum, however, is going with an open mind about learning something new and then talking about your experiences with others who may have lived in that time frame or have studied it so that it becomes more real and more alive.

The best example of that for our family was an unplanned side trip off I-80 one vacation to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. There was a ‘65 Mustang out front (my high school graduation present for earning a four-year scholarship) and an exhibit of John Lennon’s artwork inside. Our son, Christopher, was rather amazed at how much staid old mom and dad knew about rock music. Ah, the joy of being a “Boomer”.