Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Glory, Glory

It had been a week of unparalleled, uninterrupted jubilation. Across its length and breadth, the Federal Union celebrated like it had never celebrated before. Millions of flags, great and small, were hoisted; hundreds of miles of bunting were draped or hung; cannons roared, rockets soared; men and women danced and sang, kissed and cried. After four bloody years of fear, pain, and frustration, the inevitable yet somehow startling words struck the country "like a thunderbolt."

"RICHMOND IS OURS," blared the headlines. "The Old Flag Floats over the Rebel Capital. . . VICTORY! THE UNION WILL BE PRESERVED!!"

"The news sped through the country on the wings of lightning," exulted the Chicago Tribune, "and lighted up the nation with a blaze of glory."

                  ~The Day Dixie Died, pp 3-4

With the fall of Richmond, the Confederate capital, the North began the celebration. Years of war, war with its fear, anxiety, grief, expense, loss, and more losses--war that seemed it would never end. I heard a man from the Middle East comment the other day that he feared tomorrow. Tomorrow is a terrible thought. Americans had lived that way for four years. With the fall of Richmond, the end was within sight. With the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, seemingly invincible, peace was at hand. The relief was simply, overwhelming.

And there, in the midst of it all, stood Lincoln. Reviled, ridiculed, and insulted on every hand throughout the ordeal, he had kept his promise to preserve the Union, and in the process, had brought an end to American slavery.

Maybe he was okay after all. There was a spirit of forgiveness, of forgiving the president for the ordeal of the war. Throughout the North, there was hope and anticipation for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Then he was gone.

Walt Whitman put that profound grief into poetry:
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
From When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d

Take the time today to read this piece in its entirety.

Detail of Thomas Nast illustration for Harper's Weekly- Columbia mourning
the death of Abraham Lincoln (plus excerpt from Whitman's poem)

It is impossible to describe the reaction of America, the depths of grief and guilt and anger. The night of April 14, Northerners took to their beds with their cities illuminated and their spirits buoyed. They awoke to dread, a renewed anxiety that shook the foundations of not only the Republic, but faith itself.

How could this be? Why? Why? Why? Why was he taken now? We didn't have the chance to embrace him, to express our gratitude. And now it is too late.

We build him monuments and hope that he somehow knew.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A New Book, A New Chapter

My third book with the History Press was released this week: Kansas Music: Stories of a Rich Tradition with a foreword by my friend,  Allen Blasco, president of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.

As with most efforts, it is not the book I had planned to write but projects evolve. As with other projects as well, it takes on a life apart from you.

The foreword was written by my friend, Allen Blasco, president of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. It is one of the loveliest tributes one could have and I am blessed to know him and the countless musicians who make this life so much richer.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dark Winter

In celebration of Kansas Day yesterday, I participated in a reader's theater at the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library. I read the letters of Julia Louisa Lovejoy, one of those staunch abolitionists who came to Kansas through the efforts of the New England Emigrant Aid Society. I am no stranger to Julia's story. I have been poking fun at her for years and I am so ashamed of myself for it.

You see this picture? For years, it was one of the slides used to illustrate a talk on Bleeding Kansas that my former husband and I delivered. I shared Julia's story and every time this picture came up on the screen, I quipped, "Yes, life before Mary Kay."
People all over the country laughed.
I shared her stories of snakes in the Kansas Territory. . .  in the gardens, in the beds, in the cupboards. People gasped in horror. I used Julia to great effect.
It has been a while since I visited Julia. Reading her letters this week have touched me tremendously. She wrote vividly of the "wars and rumors of wars" that tore open the countryside all while trying to find some meager creature comforts.
Palmyra, K.T., November 30, 1857
Some of the habits of Western life, originating doubtless in necessity, are truly shocking to our Yankee notions of propriety; especially, when so many of different sexes lodge in one room, in uncurtained beds. If you wish to change your linen, why haste away to the grove, to perform your toilet, as other preachers now have to do; or, if the wet grass is up to your arm-pits, do as Mr. Lovejoy did recently, who, Sabbath morn, threw his soiled nether garment across his carriage-seat to dry, as it was well saturated with perspiration. When he turned to look for it, lo! it had all disappeared, save the wristband and "wee bit" of one sleeve, and where think you it was? Why, mulched into the maw of a live ox, who was forced to disgorge its contents, instanter; but ah me! the rents and tears were unmendable. If we can enjoy health, as formerly, we shall, after all, enjoy much of missionary life in Kansas.
We enjoy unprecedented comforts of hygiene in this era. The constant discomfort and embarrassment of women, and men, due to the lack of privacy and facilities, were features of pioneer life we don't often acknowledge. In the midst of warfare, the everyday task of cleaning, cooking, and surviving must have been overwhelming and here was and ox eating your husband's shirt, for Pete's sake!
A new life for the family in the Kansas Territory meant the death of the Lovejoys young daughter. I read passages about the mother's grief on the day my own daughter was marking the sad anniversary of her baby's death, a miscarriage that she has mourned greatly.
I read passages where Julia longs for a home, just as I do now, after so much upheaval and feeling no security in my own life.
I look into her sad eyes now and I want so badly to embrace her, to comfort her, to be comforted by her, and I long to tell her,
. Dear Sister, I am so sorry for your suffering. You are not alone. Yet today, you are in my prayers.

Monday, September 2, 2013


. . . and where has the time gone?

This summer has been another of great transitions. . . . We do not change easily; we must be jerked from the ground sometime. I have learned to trust God when I do not have the answers. Our lives are spent learning to trust God.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

So many wonderful things are happening. Lone Chimney Films will debut The Road to Valhalla on November 2 in Newton. I was so proud to be one of the on-camera historians for this important piece of Kansas and American history. With appearances by Buck Taylor and Michael Martin Murphey, music by Jed Marum, all springing forth from the scholarship and vision of friend Ken Spurgeon, it will be a documentary that stands the test of time. Watch the trailer:

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

This weekend marks the Kansas Book Festival and Michelle Martin will be here Thursday when she closes up shop at the Little House on the Prairie. We will present to a class at Washburn Rural High School on Friday, attend the reception at the Governor's Mansion on Friday night, and the Book Festival on Saturday at the Kansas Statehouse! Here is the lineup of distinguished authors: http://kansasbookfestival.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/program-2013.pdf

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

A chance to pair once again with Wideawake Films and be a part of their exhibit and reenactment of the issuing of Order # 11. Visit Commerce Bank at 10th and Walnut in Kansas City. Their Box Gallery is outstanding. The exhibit is excellent and I was proud to speak, along with fellow historian the incredible orator, Ralph Monaco. Visit when you get a chance. I believe the exhibit is up through October. On September 14, there will be a reenactment of the execution of Order # 11, where families in western Missouri were put off their farms and exiled.

The extraordinarily gifted photographer Bob Szabo made this wet plate photo of my addressing the crowd in front of the Pacific House on Delaware Street in Kansas City. General Thomas Ewing, brother-in-law and foster brother of William T. Sherman, issued Order # 11 on August 25, 1863, in response to Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I have so many reviews to get to. Jenny Lasala sent me a wonderful book about her dad's military service, Comes a Soldier's Whisper. It's wonderful. Charlie Lesueur sent me his audio cds on western movie cowboys which are absolutely awesome! I have a couple of other books to get to as well. Maybe the fall will bring more time for reading and writing. Oh, and along the way this summer, I won an Arty Award for Literature. It was presented by my good friend, Diana Friend, of the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library. Sarah Fizell, head of Arts Connect, said:

We give a literary award because we believe that Topeka has a rich history of literary involvement that is deserving of recognition. Deb was given the award because of her promotion of the history of our state, her involvement in our community and, well, because she is so very awesome!!! 

Well, there is just a lot of awesomeness going around in our community. Speaking of which, here is a photo of me with my friend Michelle Levian that night. She is most remarkable!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

June, oops, July!!!!

It has been a busy month....lots of changes. The Kansas Hall of Fame was a resounding success. Spending time with these laureates or their representatives is a priceless gift. While it is a celebratory event, the real work comes with sharing the stories of the laureates and maintaining a continuous presence in the state. That's what I am working on now. If you would like to get involved in the Kansas Hall of Fame, do I have a deal for you! Drop me a line!

* * * * * * * * * * *

One of the highlights of the month of June was visiting Cowboy Culbertson's, American Frontier Adventure, near Easton, Kansas. Heather Newell, trusty camera girl and brains behind Around Kansas, shot some fantastic footage of artists staging scenes with various models. My personal favorite among the models was old friend, Wes Studi. We first met years ago at a gathering hosted by my friend, Carol Ann Turner. It was great to visit and I am looking forward to the episode of Around Kansas that will feature Wes, Cowboy Culbertson, Dick Deshon, and Judy Coder. Rod Beemer took these photos (I look forward to visiting with Rod and taking one of his "Boss Hawg" tours of local Indian Wars sites for another episode).

As legions of fans can attest, Wes is the most intense of actors. He brings an unparalleled passion to his work. When asked if his combat experience in Viet Nam informed certain performances, he responded that he has been fortunate to have a broad range of life experience and all of it informs his acting. "Authentic" was the word of the day whether talking with Wes about his acting or with Cowboy about the experience and images he and others are trying to create at the ranch.

* * * * * * *
August 21 will mark the 150th anniversary of Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence, Kansas. Events will be held throughout the month to recall the events of that tragic summer. On August 24, 10 a.m., I will lead a tour of Topeka Cemetery, 10th & California, that will highlight the lives of some of those connected to the raid, including some survivors, who rest in our state's most historic graveyard. The cost is $10 per person and the tour is about 2 hours long. Bring bug spray and wear comfortable shoes. Email me for more info: debbisel@yahoo.com
We are starting to accept donations for the 2nd annual Shawnee County Attic Sale, with proceeds to benefit the Shawnee County Historical Society and the terrific programing we do. At a recent board meeting, we were treated to a reenactment of the Underground Railroad by our own resident teacher, Melinda Abitz, and volunteers George Bernheimer (also a board member), his lovely wife, Diane, Alan Shirrell, and Melinda's daughter who was drafted as well. This is one of the programs that summer camp kids were exposed to this year. With more than 500 kids attending, we took history to a lot of folks!!! So please consider donating furniture, collectibles, coins, militaria--anything of value that be suitable for an "estate sale." Call us at the SCHS and leave a message; we will arrange for pickup. 785-234-6097.
Local artist/gallery owner Jeff Hisey is donating space for our auction/sale.  He is leasing the building at 109 North Kansas Avenue (at the south end of the bridge) and is turning the space into a creative mecca! Visit him on 1st Friday!!!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kansas Hall of Fame

On June 21st, we will hold our reception and induction ceremony inducting the newest laureates into the Kansas Hall of Fame. While the event is a wonderful celebration, it is not our purpose. The event helps fund our purpose which is the sharing of the stories of the very deserving laureates with a public who deserve to know them.

KANSAS, the band, will be inducted as they celebrate their 40th birthday. Four decades as a rock band is amazing. These guys are nice people. They still like each other. They are not consumed by ego. That is amazing.

The music created by this group is enduring and profound. When I find myself perusing Facebook or Youtube sometimes, I click on one of their links and am blown away once more by their lyrics and their arrangements. There is not a moment that their music is not being heard somewhere around the world. It comforts, encourages, motivates, elevates. The state of Kansas is so proud to claim them and so proud that they chose the name of their native state. For putting Kansas on the musical map, we are grateful. Join us at White Concert Hall on Washburn University June 21st as we thank KANSAS for years of hard work and representing us to the world!!

Carry On!

Tickets are available at the Great Overland Station or at: http://kansashalloffame.eventbrite.com/#

Carry On Wayward Son
Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more


Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high

Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I'm dreaming,
I can hear them say

Carry on my wayward son,
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more

Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
Well, it surely means that I don't know

On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about, I'm like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune,
But I hear the voices say

Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more no!

Carry on,
You will always remember
Carry on,
Nothing equals the splendor
Now your life's no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you

Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry,
Don't you cry no more,

No more!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fiddlin' Dreams

I first met Tad Marks in Gettysburg. My dear friend, Carol Neumann Waskie, and I were sipping wine by the fire in the Dobyns House. Charlie Zahm was performing and I had become a fan since Carol's husband, Andy, had gifted me with his CD. He was accompanied by Tad on fiddle and Tad joined us in the parlor. The subject of Old Time music came up and I mentioned that I was related to Tommy Jarrell. Tad began to bow and stammer. I could not help but think if Uncle Tommy knew the reaction around the world when I tell people I knew him, and we are, in fact, distantly related, he would look down, rub the back of  his head and chuckle.

Yes, Uncle Tommy (actually cousin but Uncle is a sign of respect because of the age difference) has broadened my circle of friends and deepened the respect shown by perfect strangers.

Through the magic of Facebook, Tad and I stay connected so I can keep track of his own music career. This story he shared today was irresistible for creative types, and I wanted to share it with you:

Well the story goes- in a dream I was back in time sitting with Ronnie McCoury in a train station. we were waiting for Bill Monroe the Father of Bluegrass Music to get off the train and we were to take him to a festival. Monroe apparently was without his band and had been playing somewhere out west. Monroe kept talking about the American Indian he sat with on the train a Medicine Man. Monroe picked up Ronnie's mandolin and started playing a tune and this is what I heard. Even though it was a dream- I could see him clear as day and Then.... the alarm clock went off and i woke up !!!I worked this up on the fiddle real quick and recorded it , dubbed guitar and mandolin and electric bass immediately ...I found this original old DAT tape and added some reverb- here it is flaws-out of tune fiddle and all but it sounds just like the tune I heard in the dream. (right, photo of Tad with a student posted by Mike Biel on FB)

The result: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=j3Y2EMwMBm0

And, yes, I for one believe that Bill Monroe's personality was powerful enough to teach even in a dream.