Sunday, December 30, 2007


Today's Topeka Capital Journal features a list of Distinguished Kansans for 2007, and prominent on that list is Lt. Gen. David Petraeus (left).

The article by Steve Fry quotes our bud, Ed Kennedy. Rarely do I get the opportunity to send kudos to so many folks I know--Ed, David, Steve, and the General. I include the article here:

Commander Leads US Troops

Retired Lt. Col. Ed Kennedy, a civilian instructor of tactics at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, graduated in 1976 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, two years after Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Kennedy (right below, with a portrait of Robert E. Lee at the Command and General Staff College) didn't know Petraeus at West Point or when the two were students at the elementary school at Cornwall on Hudson, N.Y.

But he has learned that Petraeus, now the American senior commander in the Iraq war, defines "leadership."

After Kennedy's son, David, a West Point cadet, had surgery, there was a possibility he'd be released from the academy. When David contacted Petraeus, the general met with the cadet for several hours, then wrote a letter of recommendation on his behalf.
David remained at West Point.

"If General Petraeus hadn't written that letter, he would have been put out," Ed Kennedy said of his son, who will graduate from West Point in May.

Petraeus "is very attuned to taking care of his subordinates," Kennedy said. "That's what leadership is all about. A lot of people talk about it. He does it."

Petraeus, 55, is a former commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. He was a student in 1982 and 1983 at the fort's Command and General Staff College. Petraeus, who was commanding general of the 101st Airborne division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, led the rewriting of the military's counterinsurgency doctrine, which, along with an increase in troops, had the goal of stabilizing Iraq.

Called the "warrior-scholar" by U.S. News and World Report, Petraeus earned master's and doctorate degrees in international relations from Princeton University.

Steve Fry can be reached at (785) 295-1206 or steve.fry@cjonline com.

I visited Ed's class a few weeks ago and shared some of my media experience with the officers. Earlier this month, I received a letter from Col. Robert Burns, CTAC Director:

I wish to express my sincere appreciation for your continued close affiliation with the US Army Command and General Staff College. Your frequent professional assistance with instructional matters with both the students and the faculty are beneficial and rewarding. . . .

Little do they realize how much I learn with every visit, how satisfied I feel when my experience benefits these officers, and just how much fun it is. Having the opportunity to hang out with instructors like Ed, to talk with leaders like Petraeus, and to witness the quality of officers the Army is producing--I am a fortunate, fortunate person!
Speaking of Distinguished Soldiers

Our friends Dave and Teresa Chuber are on their way from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Dave retired from Fort Leavenworth and is the historian at the U. S. Army Chemical School. He is also more like me than my real brother--short and full of bull--and thus most folks assume we're related. His son, Will, a captain stationed at Fort Riley, will come over as well.

Tomorrow evening, we hope to spend New Year's with our buds Maj. Mona Jibril and Col. Mark Neuse. Mona said we should bring our suitcases so that we can walk out the door carrying them at the stroke of midnight. This insures we'll be traveling in the coming year. In the other hand, we'll have a flute of champagne which insures there will be bubbles in our future.

Bubbles to you all!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Bone Business

Lots of folks are looking for ways to pick up some extra money as the Christmas bills come due. Here's an idea that might not have occurred to you: a skull with teeth intact brings $1,200 while a mere humerus will get you $125. Bones are big business.
I came across an interesting article by Scott Carney in Wired Magazine--"Inside India's Underground Trade in Human Remains" ( This is an incredible story. Apparently, most of the skeletons used in medical schools traditionally came from India until about 20 years ago when that government banned the export of human remains. America turned to Eastern Europe and China, according to Carney, but their skeletons were inferior (mostly because they haven't been at it so long). Looking to fill the profitable void, a black market in bones boomed in India where they have been at it a while and know what they're doing.

So where do Indian entrepreneurs come up with these skeletons? Simple. They rob graves.

Carney ventured into the countryside to investigate a particular bone peddler and exactly how he found bodies and prepared them. The grisly story becomes grislier when Carney describes the process for getting clean, white bones:

"First the corpses were wrapped in netting and anchored in the river, where bacteria and fish reduced a body to a loose pile of bones and mush in a week or so. The crew then scrubbed the bones and boiled them in a cauldron of water and caustic soda to dissolve any remaining flesh. That left the calcium surfaces with a yellow tint. To bring them up to medical white, bones were then left in sunlight for a week before being soaked in hydrochloric acid."


Topeka had its own grave-robbing, medical school scandal about a hundred years ago. A grieving widower went to Mount Calvary Cemetery to visit his wife's grave, only to find it had been disturbed. It was discovered that this had been the most recent of a series of grave robberies perpetrated by the medical school, then located downtown. Mobs gathered and the National Guard was dispatched to keep the angry citizens from burning the building to the ground.

Soon thereafter, the medical school was moved out of Topeka.
Wrong Way Corrigan

Have been on the phone off and on with Cheryl all morning. We have a mutual friend who has been trying to get to Topeka from Denver for 2 or 3 days now. He called from the Denver airport, oh, let's say a week ago and said there was a blizzard and he sure hoped he could get a flight because the interstate was closed and he could not drive home. Well, he called today from Cincinnati. (For the geographically challenged out there, one does not normally pass through Cincinnati when traveling from Denver to Topeka.) Anyhow, he's headed to Chicago in a few minutes and should be in Kansas City by 1:30. (For the geographically challenged out there, one does not normally go through Chicago when traveling from Cincinnati to Topeka.) So, Cheryl and I are headed to the airport to retrieve him shortly. We may go through Leavenworth on the way home, though one does not normally go through Leavenworth to get to Topeka from Kansas City. Sometimes, the detours make the best story.

(Wrong Way Corrigan, above, earned his moniker when he was flying from NYC to Long Beach, California, and wound up in Ireland. Brilliant!)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Free Speech Falling All Around

It's snowing again on Collins Avenue. Noel and I went to Cracker Barrel this morning to use a gift certificate and watched a woman fall on an icy patch in the parking lot as we were enjoying the roaring fire in their stone fireplace. The neighborhood roads are horrible. Main roads are fine.

So much news this morning! Ron Paul decries Lincoln and Will Smith finds the goodness in Hitler. The reaction? Folks act as if the earth had shifted its axis. Could Lincoln have avoided the Civil War as Paul said? Perhaps he could have. It is a valuable learning tool for us to consider the possibilities. Was there an inkling of good in Hitler? I tend to think, like Smith, that there is good in everyone and we are all, and each of us, capable of incredible good or bad.

Sometimes I'm ashamed to be a member of the press. Good reporters understand context and to twist Smith's remarks is inexcusable. Likewise, to paint Paul as patently wrong because he questions the actions of an icon is small-minded and ignorant. I'll be back at Fort Leavenworth in January as a part of media training, and I find myself on the hotseat defending the role of the media. I absolutely and steadfastly believe that the Freedom of the Press is our greatest protection, but defending the profession isn't always easy, especially when ridiculous headlines like the one involving Will Smith's statements are spread across the screen.
Free speech is hanging by a precious, thin, thread.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kansas Wonders and Christmas Traditions

8 Wonders of Kansas

The Kansas Sampler Foundation, which is manned by some fantastic folks, is taking votes for sites that will be designated as the 8 Wonders of Kansas. These include natural and man-made sites and the winners will be announced by Governor Kathleen Sebelius on Kansas Day, 2008. Visit this link and vote for Tom's hometown site, Constitution Hall in Lecompton.
Christmas Traditions

As I write this, a blizzard rages outside my window. Thunder Snow. Thunder is shaking the house and the snow is piling up. It reminds me of so many Christmas stories--Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rudolph, The Christmas Carol--or any Lifetime TV Christmas movie. While the Christmas spirit envelops us, I thought this would be a great time to share traditions. My fellow blogger, Byron, "Life of Tug," has tagged me with this group of questions. My friend, Christine, in France, also tagged me with this Christmas quiz. I would like to share all their answers with you, as well, but there is only so much time and so much space.

So getting on with the meme... (What does meme mean?)
Rules for the game include:
Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
Share Christmas facts about yourself.
Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.Welcome to the Christmas edition of getting to know your friends

1. Wrapping or gift bags? Gift boxes that I collect and re-use, over and over and over. So, as soon as you get your gift, leave the box!
2. Real or artificial tree? I prefer real but we have 2 artificial trees inside the house and about 8 artificial trees outside.
3. When do you put up the tree? By Thanksgiving. Byron says, "Usually the day after Halloween. Have been known to put it up before then though."
4. When do you take the tree down? Sometime before Easter.
5. Do you like eggnog? Love it! My friend Christine in France doesn't know what it is. I'm sure they just substitute champagne.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? A baby doll. I named her Christmas. Then there was a 36 inch walking doll I named Melissa. Byron's answer cracked me up. "Probably a gun (
see this post). I was really tickled to get a new Huffy Motocross bike one year though. " Christine's answer, a doll house made by her dad. What a sweet memory!
7. Do you have a nativity scene? No, I used to have a beautiful white porcelain one that got lost in moving.
8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Socks at the school exchange in 2nd grade. They were red and white stripes, just like the witch wore.
9. Mail or email Christmas cards? U. S. Mail, always late.
10. Favorite Christmas Movie? I love Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It just brings back such good memories for me. Byron answered, "National Lampoons, "Christmas Vacation." Second choice is the 1951 edition of "Christmas Carol," starring Alastair Sim." Tom and I watched the National Lampoon movie the other night and laughed til we cried. And I do love the Christmas Carol in any form.
11. When do you start shopping for Christmas? I'm always shopping for Christmas.
12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? All my favorite things my Granny and Mama made and I can cook, but I can't duplicate their cooking. Christine said, "salmon, foie gras and snails." Maybe I'll make that our Christmas dinner this year!
13. Clear lights or colored on the tree? I have clear lights on one tree, colored lights on the other.
14. Favorite Christmas song? I love them all. Maybe, "The First Noel"--the emotion and expression of faith are overwhelming.
15. Travel at Christmas or stay home? We often travel back to the mountains of Virginia/North Carolina, but just can't do it this year.
16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Well of course!
17. Angel on the tree top or a star? An angel on one, a homemade star Noel did in 1st grade on the other.
18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning? Christmas morning!
19. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Greed, and people who say they don't have the spirit. Be still, and let the spirit come inside you.
20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color? One tree has glass ornaments, including the German pickle and the Rudolph-themed ornaments. The other has birds and ornaments from historic sites.
21. What do you leave for Santa? Cookies and milk.
22. Least favorite holiday song? I love them all. Even "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."
23. Favorite ornament? The historic ones, because each holds a memory of visiting the place.

Okay, don't know that I have seven blogging friends. I will tag Leslie, because I'm sure she has special traditions up there in Meadows of Dan. So Leslie, here you go! Leslie's blog link is at the left, "At the Top of Squirrel Spur," and so is Bryron's "Life of Tug."

Same Old Lang Syne

Dan Fogelberg died Sunday. He was 56 years old, and his legacy will endure forever. His wife, Jean, took this photo of Dan in Maine where the couple lived. It is rare that talent, the quality of which he possessed, is combined with such a generous heart.

Nearly every radio station is playing his "Same Old Lang Syne," written about a real-life encounter with a former girlfriend, but I have a couple of other suggestions for you. Click on this link for a video of Dan singing "The Rhythm of the Falling Rain," and this link for an original Christmas carol from Dan's album, The First Christmas Morning.

Dan was born in Peoria, Illinois. His mother was a Scottish immigrant and his dad was a music teacher, for whom Dan's hit "Leader of the Band" was written.

"You've got to just follow your heart and do your best work," Dan said. "For better or worse, I have followed my heart. There is no doubt in my mind or heart that everything I've done is exactly what I intended to do."

We should all follow his example.

(At right, the Dan Fogelberg we knew and loved in the 1970s)

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Daisy of a Day

I have to admit I saw this on Byron's blog, The Life of Tug, and just about fell in the floor. I thought of all the possible slogans, such as "The family that shoots together, stays together." I, personally, never received a Daisy rifle or BBgun under the Christmas tree, but my sister did, and my brother did, and my cousins did. And each time, it was a Christmas to remember! And, no, no one ever shot his or her eye out, nor did they shoot us, or even a stray rabbit or squirrel as I recall. It was mostly icicles and pop cans that fell before the fusillade of shot.

"Wild West Blog" is still inacessible. I am fearful of being too critical since this blog too may disappear into the ether, but needs to find a better way of discerning what is and is not spam. The Blogger Gestapo is not the answer! Apparently, a lot of other people have had this problem, so I'll pass along the warning that your blog is subject to be pulled at any time with no warning. Which seems to be the nature of the type of Monday everyone I know is having. Carol had bad dreams, Cheryl called to whine, Tom is frustrated with his computer ills and I have a boring class tonight that I do not wish to attend. I thought the cartoon my brother, Dave Chuber, sent was especially appropriate today:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Week in Twisted Perspective

Wild West Blog--For those of you missing Tom's blog the past couple of days, we received an email from that it had been flagged as spam and is under review. Hopefully, that will be cleared up by Monday. For those of us nearly computer/web illiterate, these glitches are especially stressful!

Dodge City has a foot of snow. We only got 3 or 4 inches here; today is sunny, but cold, and probably won't melt for another couple of days.

President George Bush pardoned a moonshiner this week; whatever you think about Bush, anyone who pardons a moonshiner gets a brownie point from me.

The Kansas Attorney General resigned in the midst of a sex scandal. And you thought Kansas was dull!

The photo at the top was taken at Woolaroc near Bartlesville, Oklahoma, by Michelle Martin. Like Kansas, Oklahoma is getting bitten by winter earlier than usual. See more of Woolaroc Ranch, Museum, and Wildlife Preserve at .

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Abe is getting updated. The new, technicolor $5 bill goes into circulation March 13. Has anyone but me noticed that, just like some Latin American country, the more colorful our money is the less it's worth?

Speaking of money. . . .

We have four titles left for Christmas giving:

The Darkest Dawn: Lincoln, Booth and the Great American Tragedy (paper) $22

The Day Dixie Died: Southern Occupation, 1865-1866 (hardcover) $25

Bloody Bill Anderson: The Short, Savage Life of a Civil War Guerilla (paper) $15

We also have a handful of Stories in Stone, the book on Topeka Cemetery. They are $10 each.

We will happily take your check, or even bland, green money, autograph to whomever you'd like, and mail it to them for only $3 extra.

We have a brand new tour season starting in the spring, so watch our blog, for tour information, and read Tom's Wild West blog on
Kansas Public Radio

Today was Kansas trivia day on KANU and I just happened to be listening (as I am every day) when they asked, "In which Kansas town did Elizabeth Taylor spend her first Christmas?"

Imagine how edified I was when Kevin S., a neighbor, knew the answer was Arkansas City because he read it in our Kansas Journal of Military History. Kevin had come by our house a few days ago and picked up a copy of Bloody Dawn, the only book of Tom's he had not read, as well as copies of our magazine. Bless his heart. . . .

Oh, and Elizabeth's paternal grandparents lived in Ark City, where she spent a lot of her childhood, and I believe attended kindergarten.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Snow, Snow, Snow

It seems like an endless weekend here. . . .

We had the weekend, then the ice storm, school was out, so it was like another weekend, and now tomorrow is Friday, another weekend. . . .

We have been so fortunate. Our power went out night before last but was only out for about 12 hours. Noel and I played a game by the fire and lamplight. It was a nice time. But as the night wore on the house became colder. By morning, it was pretty chilly. We went to McDonald's for coffee and when we got home, the Christmas lights on our fence were burning brightly. Oh what a blessed sight! So many folks still don't have electricity, though it warmed up today and quite a bit of ice melted. Temperatures drop again tomorrow and they're predicting snow. Some reports say 1-3 inches, some say 3-5, some 5-7. Snow will be a nice break from ice. You can't make snow cream with ice. . . .

These incredible photographs are REAL snowflakes. Kenneth G. Libbrecht of Caltech figured out how to photograph them and you can see more like these as well as reading some very interesting facts about snow at Is it really true, for example, that no two flakes are exactly alike? Maybe yes, maybe no. . . . As I'm stirring up the snow cream tomorrow night for yet another weekend, I'll scrutinize more closely. What an incredible winter we've had, and it hasn't even begun!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Electricity, Glorious Electricity!

I awoke like Scrooge on Christmas morning. I wanted to throw open the windows and run into the streets shouting, "We made it through the night with power!"

It could go at any moment, I know; it flickered just now. But to have made it through the night and wake to a warm house, what a blessing!

I went out into our icy wonderland to retrieve my paper. It was there. Bless their hearts! While I was shuffling back inside, the garbage truck stopped in front of the neighbor's house. I had forgotten all about trash day in the midst of dire weather reports, yet here they were, on time despite the freezing drizzle that continued to fall. I looked up and down our block. Only one person had the presence of mind or the confidence to put out the garbage. Hopefully, it will be a short day for these hard-working men.

My lovely daughter called from Charlotte, North Carolina, yesterday just to say it was 79 degrees, a record for December. If I had anything, I'd disinherit her. . . .

For those of you who did not take seriously my gift suggestions on Tom's blog, for shame, for shame! Recall I suggested that an oil lamp makes a thoughtful gift? (No one should set up housekeeping without an oil lamp.) Well, I made my rounds like every other hearty soul in the capital city looking for such an animal for my friend, and, alas, every store in town had sold out. Being the product of hearty mountaineer stock, I bought oil, wicks, and cork and made my own. Fortuitously, we have a supply of empty bottles.


The downside to being a statue. . . . brrrrrrrr!

(ap photo by seth perlman; lincoln statue in springfield, ill.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lincoln's Gingerbread Home

The perfect centerpiece for the Lincoln Society Christmas party- - the Lincoln Home in gingerbread. Johanna Rosson created this spicy spectacle for competition with Iron Chef Bobby Flay. Flay, a New Yorker, apparently did a spectacular interpretation of the Empire State Building, and worked from architectural drawings.

The Abe Lincoln House asked Rosson to donate her creation and she said no. She had promised the house to her mom. She did agree to finish the four walls she put together for the show and donate it to the Lincoln House to be displayed at the visitor center.Although Rosson cannot reveal who won the challenge, Springfield's State Journal Register reported that she received top honors. The episode of "Throwdown" featuring gingerbread airs at 9 p.m. Dec. 9 on the Food Network.

I love it when history and food come together.
Custer, Custer, Custer!

Custer!! We can't get enough of the man or the myth! See Tom's beautiful blog today for confirmation and read Louis Kraft's excellently crafted article in the newest issue of American History. Louis discusses the making of our favorite flick, They Died With Their Boots On, and parallels the personalities of George Custer and Errol Flynn.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hamlin Garland's Christmas Gift to Us

I had some gift suggestions on the Wild West blog yesterday, and I mentioned shopping at second-hand shops and other odd places for gifts. As my friends and family know, I love thrift stores because you never know the treasures you will find. This week I was perusing the Disabled Veterans Store when I found a copy of Clarence Andrews's Christmas in the Midwest for only a quarter. This little volume of stories from the Heartland is absolutely priceless. Through this work I discovered Hamlin Garland. Born in Wisconsin in 1860, Garland had a long and successful literary career, which included a serialized biography of U. S. Grant for McClure's Magazine. The following is taken from his story, "A Pioneer Christmas," which first appeared in Ladies Home Journal in 1893, and was reprinted in Christmas in the Midwest, published in 1984. Ask your library to find this book so you can read the entire piece. It touched me on so many levels, as I am sure it will you:

The first Christmas that I seem to remember fully has a wonderful quality to me. Like a picture by Rembrandt it has but one side defined, the other melts away into shadow--luminous shadow, where faint light pulses across and lures the wistful gaze on and on into the unfathomable, where beginnings lie hidden.

The first I recall of my first Christmas I am riding behind my parents in a huge sleigh, amid high snowdrifts, sculptured into strange forms by the prairie winds. It is growing dusk. Before us in a similar sleigh my young uncle, a giant in size, leads the way. I can see him outlined against the dull orange sky. He stands erect, holding the reins of his swiftly moving horses in one of his powerful hands; occasionally he shouts back to my father, who is buried in a thick buffalo hide coat. My mother is only another figure wrapped in shawls.

My sister and brother are beside me under the blankets on the straw. My brother is asleep, but I am on my knees looking ahead. I see now my uncle silhouetted on the dull orange notch between two deep purple banks of trees. That is the place where the road pierces the woods. Suddenly, with rush of wind and jingle of bells, we enter the darkness of the forest, and the road begins to climb.

I cannot remember much after that; I suppose I grew sleepy. I have a dim memory of climbing hills, of the squall of sleigh-runners over bridges, and of the gurgle of ice-bound water, but it is all fused with dreams. . . .

What a wonderful mind and heart to put such words to paper! The author, pictured at left, led a life of wonderful adventure that included researching Indians in the West and journeying to the Klondike. If you cannot find the volume containing this story, let me know and I will copy the entire piece. In the meantime, visit the society dedicated to Hamlin Garland's life and work,

The image at the top of the page, Sleigh Ride, was painted by German artist Fritz van der Venne (1873-1936) and is for sale on Ebay. What a wonderful Christmas present. . . .

Friday, December 7, 2007

Weather Or Not

Yes, those are mailman tracks. Yes, I finally shoveled the sidewalk about 6 o'clock last evening. . . .

I was up a little after 6 as usual, and had Noel to school by 7. The main roads are okay, but our sideroads never get scraped or salted, and the snow and ice just pack over the winter months. Being as this is flat land, school is never cancelled. Folks just careen into the parking lot and push their parka-ed youngsters out into the blizzard-like conditions. How unlike home. From today's Mount Airy News, and this is verbatim:

Published: Friday, December 7, 2007 8:40 AM CST
Weather advisory issued for Surry [County, NC], southwest Virginia

The National Weather Service has issued a severe weather advisory for Surry County and parts of southwest Virginia. The advisory, which remains in effect until 9 a.m., calls for the possibility of freezing rain and sleet. That could result in icy spots, especially on bridges and overpasses through mid-morning for Surry, Carroll, Grayson and Patrick counties in Virginia. In higher elevations, freezing precipitation could result in slippery roads and limited visibility.

The severe weather prompted Patrick and Yadkin County schools this morning to delay classes for two hours. For more on this story and other local news, check our Web site,, throughout the day, or pick up a copy of Saturday's The Mount Airy News.

Note that the mere "possibility" of inclement weather caused a delay in schools' opening. My neighbors here think this is ludicrous. We have plenty of snow back home, so most people do know how to drive. However, we also have mountainous, narrow roads, plenty of hills, lots of trees to shade slick spots. I rather think the response to the weather harkens back to our ancestors who settled the mountains. To say that were not industrious would be outright wrong; but, they kept their own time, their own counsel. They were fatalists. If the weather turned bad, it was meant for them to stay home. I knew one lady who took this to such lengths that if she began to bake a cake and found she was out of eggs, she put the other ingredients away and determined, "it just wasn't meant for me to make a cake today."

Mountain people also possess an inate, inherent and incurable distrust of the government--any and all government. While residents of other areas of the country trust that "authorities" will insure our safety and make highways passable, mountain people harbor no such false hopes. Nope, if you can't clear the road yourself best to stay home.

I still struggle with those thoughts when I get out on the icy roads before daylight in a land where my neighbors seem oblvious to the peril before us. There are times when it just wasn't meant for us to challenge Mother Nature.

Mary Lincoln Society

The Mary Lincoln Society, a newly formed group of local women interested in Mary Todd Lincoln, is seeking new members. The group will follow Mary’s life with talks about social, community, economic and political issues that affected her during her life. Lively discussion, guest speakers and fun will accompany these topics. The first meeting will be held sometime in January. There is no fee to join. Those interested may call 525-1825 or visit Tinsley Dry Goods, 209 S. Sixth St., Springfield, Illinois, during December to register. ___________________________________________
First Friday Artwalk

. . . . tonight in Topeka and your town, too. Take advantage of the talent, companionship, and refreshments in your own neighborhood.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dinner With a Southerner

Fellow blogger Clint Thomsen,, asked for my response to several questions he has concerning Southern culture. Clint lives in the Great Northwest but is captivated, as is any decent, thinking human, by the South. They're thought provoking questions, and I'm still pondering them. They are, in fact, so much work, that the answer to one of them will be the subject of my blog today:

If you could have dinner with one historical southern figure, who would it be and why?

I've thought often about this and posed the question to several folks myself, and the answer is difficult. Since I've been working for so long on the life of Varina Davis, I would most enjoy sitting down with her, but at what point in her life and in what context? Varina, like most Southern society, or society of any part of the world, was conscious of class. Would she accept me as a reporter? Since she was a writer, I think so, but I'm not sure. As an author, I might be acceptable on her social level, but as just a "Common White," as my former professor put it, Varina might not feel free to open up to me. Would I want to interview the First Lady of the Confederacy, a woman shuffling children and national diplomacy? Or would I choose to speak with the elderly Varina who had suffered the deaths of five children and her husband who could reflect on her extraordinary life? Would she be insulted, embarrassed, exposed to know I had read the private letters between her and her husband or closest friends? She possessed a tremendous heart, which grew as she grew older, but had been so wounded. A part of my desire to talk with her is simply woman to woman, not as a journalist or historian, but simply as someone who has been inspired by her courage and compassion. I would very much like to take her hand between mine and tell her how often I have thought of her and wished her peace.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

News North and South, East and West

According to the Evansville, Indiana, Courier Press, an ornament honoring the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City is prominently displayed on this year's official White House Christmas tree.

The tree, part of an overall decorative theme recognizing National Parks, is located in the Blue Room and is adorned with handmade ornaments representing each of the country's 391 National Park Service sits.

The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial ornament was designed and painted by Rockport artist Thomas Kennedy. It features four vignettes: the Lincoln cabin, the Indiana sculpture from the Memorial Building, the tombstone from Nancy Hanks Lincoln's grave and a youthful Abraham Lincoln. - Gavin Lesnick

What a fitting place to memorialize. Some of the best memories Tom and I have were made in this part of Indiana. I hope they duplicate this ornament, so that one can adorn a Collins Park Christmas tree as well.

Congressman Virgil Goode

to Receive Stephen Dill Lee Award

Christopher M. Sullivan, Sons of Confederate Veterans Commander-in-Chief, will present the Stephen Dill Lee Award to Congressman Virgil Goode at a ceremony Wednesday. Congressman Goode (which rhymes with mood) represents the 5th District of Virginia in the U. S. Congress. (This includes the Southside of Virginia to Charlottesville.) He served in the Virginia Senate beginning at the age of 27 as a Democrat. He later became an Independent, and ultimately in 2002, a Republican Congressman. Goode (right) is a member of the Liberty Caucus which meets each Thursday while in session and is hosted by Congressman Ron Paul. Goode will speak at the Rosslyn banquet honoring him on his favorite subject, Robert E. Lee. The event is the annual Christmas party for the camp and their guests. It will be held on Wednesday, December 5th at the Holiday Inn, Key Bridge, in Rosslyn, VA, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. Tickets for the banquet and program are $27. All members and friends of the SCV and Congressman Goode are cordially invited to attend.

Wish I could do this one! Virgil Goode was our state senator when I was in high school, and was a good, patient man. He is an exceptional politician, and I am so proud that he represents my home. While my name was Debra Hiebert, I wrote a column for our hometown paper, The Enterprise, and when I wrote about Congressman Goode, he sent me the most gracious letter in response. I hope when we get back to Washington we can pay him a visit.


. . . From Tom Perry, Ararat, VA

Forgive me, for I have blogged. I have started a new blog and added you to the links on it. If you know of any Patrick County or regional blogs that might enhance the links please let me know.

DG-The blog is great, Tom, and glad to be included on the links. Check it out, folks, and tell Tom that Deb sent you.

. . . From my Sister, Pine Ridge, NC

Counseling, Southern Style. . . .

Earl and Bubba are quietly sitting in a boat fishing, chewing and Drinking beer when suddenly Bubba says, "I think I'm gonna Divorce my wife - she ain't spoke to me in over 2 months." Earl spits, sips his beer and says, "Better think it over - - - - - Women like that are hard to find."

PS--The new issue of Cowboys and Indians will be on the newsstand shortly, and watch for an article on Bloody Bill Anderson written by our bud, Fred Chiaventone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

John Brown's Last Day

On December 2, 1859, John Brown was hanged for committing treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. The best account of this comes from my husband, from the prologue to War to the Knife:

He was old for his day. His long white beard and deeply furrowed face readily revealed a life far beyond its prime. A man his age looked strangely out of place here in the field among so much youth and vitality. A man his age should have been rocking away this winter's morn by a warm fireplace, enjoying his last days with a grandson on one knee and a granddaughter on the other. Instead, the old man was being hauled in the back of an open freight wagon through a stubble field in Virginia. The seat beneath him was a rude wooden coffin.

All was silent now. The buzzing and laughter of the soldiers, the shouting and commands of the officers that had filled the air this morning, had suddenly ceased. Among the waiting hundreds, anxious eyes were now focused on the wagon and the gaunt figure in black as they approached. With quiet surprise, the man in the rumbling wagon looked up and scanned the scene surrounding him.

"I was very near the old man," a reporter for the New York Tribune wrote, "and scrutinized him closely."

He seemed to take in the whole scene at a glance, and he straightened himself up proudly, as if to set to the soldiers an example of a soldier's courage. The only motion he made, beyond a swaying to and fro of his body, was . . . [a] patting of his knees with his hands . . . As he came upon an eminence . . . he cast his eyes over the beautiful landscape and followed the windings of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. He looked up earnestly at the sun and sky, and all about, and then remarked, "This is a beautiful country."

The old man's eyes returned to earth. Looming just ahead, the great, grim monster stood ready to receive him. The old man's million-mile wander of fifty-nine years was now but a footfall and a heartbeat from journey's end. A rogue's death on the gallows awaited. Most men, old or young, might have trembled at the sight; most men might have bowed down in terror at the fate awaiting them. The old man was not like most men, however, and far from being afraid, he would not have traded places with anyone in the world. As he well knew, he was bound for God -- and Glory. His final battle in the Army of the Lord was being waged, and victory was within reach. He would not disappoint either himself or his Maker.

At last the wagon drew up beside the scaffold and halted. Two men quickly moved forward to help the old man down. Gazing up the steps at the platform momentarily, the victim did not hesitate, but led the way in his bright red slippers "as calmly and quietly as if he had been going to his dinner," noted a young soldier nearby.

"There is no faltering in his step," another witness added when the old man reached the top, "But firmly and erect he stands amid the almost breathless lines of soldiery that surround him. With a graceful motion of his pinioned right arm he takes the slouched hat from his head and carelessly casts it upon the platform by his side."

Recorded another spectator to the drama:

He stood upon the scaffold but a short time . . . when . . . the white cap [was] drawn over his face, the noose adjusted and attached to the hook above, and he was moved, blindfolded, a few steps forward. It was curious to note how the instincts of nature operated to make him careful in putting out his feet, as if afraid he would walk off the scaffold. The man who stood unblenched on the brink of eternity was afraid of falling a few feet to the ground! Everything was now in readiness. The sheriff asked the prisoner if he should give him a private signal before the fatal moment. He replied, in a voice that sounded to me unnaturally natural . . . that it did not matter to him, if only they would not keep him too long waiting. . . . I was close to him, and watched him narrowly to see if I could detect any signs of shrinking or trembling in his person, but there was none. Once I thought I saw his knees tremble, but it was only the wind blowing his loose trousers.

At length, all departed the platform except the old man and the sheriff. While the military companies marched and countermarched into final positions, others stared in awe as the victim stood quietly on the trapdoor with a hood over his head and a noose around his neck. Among those who watched was another old man, one with long white hair, who was destined to fire the first cannon shot of the coming conflagration a year and a half hence. Also on the field this day was a handsome young actor whose pistol report at Ford's theater would prove the last and most tragic bullet fired of the war. These two men and scores of others around them, who had cut slivers from the gallows as souvenirs, knew that they were now a part of history in the making--that something mighty was about to occur over which they would have no more control than would a reed against the wind.

When all was in place, a signal was given, and the sheriff descended the steps. Reaching for a sharp hatchet nearby, the officer glanced up at the old man one last time. As before, the prisoner stood patiently waiting, not a trace of fear visible even though he was for the first time in his long life completely alone. Gripping the hatchet firmly, the sheriff eyed the rope that held the trapdoor. Then, with one swift motion, the blade flashed forward. With a loud screech, the trapdoor opened, and the old man in black came down with a sickening thud. The rough rope dug viciously into his neck--his face quickly distorted into a horrible purple grimace and the eyes bulged hideously from their sockets.

"There was but one spasmodic effort of the hands to clutch at the neck," a horrified eyewitness said, "but for nearly five minutes the limbs jerked and quivered. He seemed to retain an extraordinary hold upon life. One who has seen numbers of men hung before, told me he had never seen so hard a struggle."

"He did not die easily," remarked another onlooker. "The animal heat remained in his body . . . long."

The minutes passed. The drama in the field continued as the stunned spectators stared in silence at the struggle between life and death. Eventually, the spasms and shudders grew less violent, then ceased altogether, and the body was at last at peace. "Not a sound was heard," a spellbound viewer remembered, "except the creaking of the timbers of the scaffold and the whipping sound of the wind, as it played with the naked branches of the trees."

And so it was. The old man was no more. His end was also the final chapter in another story, a story which he had a large hand in writing. Like his life and death, the story is a violent one to relate--a story about blood and fire and war and how Americans learned to hate and kill each other. The old man was dead now, and nothing could start his feverish pulse pounding again. Of that, most on the field this day were heartily relieved, and some felt that for his terrible sins, he should and indeed would burn in hell forever and ever. Others though, beyond Virginia, beyond even America, believed that the old man's spirit had taken wings when his body had fallen, and his soul was now soaring upward to a greater and grander glory.

[T]he man of strong and bloody hand, of fierce passions, of iron will, of wonderful vicissitudes . . . the man execrated and lauded, damned and prayed for, the man who in his motives, his means, his plans and his successes, must ever be a wonder, a puzzle and a mystery. John Brown was hanging between heaven and earth.

(Photos from the movie Santa Fe Trail. Top, Raymond Massey as John Brown leading slaves to freedom; middle, a scene during the fight inside the engine house at Harpers Ferry; bottom, witnesses to the hanging, including Ronald Reagan, Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn as George Custer, Mrs. Stuart, and Jeb Stuart.)