Sunday, March 21, 2010

Frank James Gun

From the Southwest Times, Fort Smith, Arkansas:
Frank James’ Gun Presented To Museum

By Mary L. Crider

Times Record •

U.S. Marshals Service historian and Marshals Museum Board member David Turk presented the board with the planned museum’s first “draw piece” donation Tuesday — a .22-caliber gun that once belonged to Frank James, brother of Jesse James.

Turk said he wanted to do something meaningful for the national museum.

Museum Executive Director Jim Dunn said the gun would be a prize piece in the museum’s collections.

Turk said he bought the gun at an auction in 2005, before he knew about Fort Smith. It was part of a collection of artifacts discovered in an old wooden trunk in a barn in Scott County, Ky., on land that belonged to James’ ancestors for centuries.

The gun grip is marked with an “F” for Frank James and is notched, Turk pointed out. It is intact although not functioning. Turk said he thinks the gun is one of many James used in his criminal career.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Welcome to Google

So, Topeka has changed its name to Google.

Mayor Bill Bunten has made international news by declaring that the place that used to be a great place to grow potatoes (in a very loose translation of the Kanza language) to the hub of the internet universe. Life has changed drastically for those of who are Googlians.

The sun has begun to rise earlier and shine longer. The wind is coming from the south instead of the north. The snow and ice have turned to gentle rain. People are nicer to one another, more patient, more kind. IQ scores are going up at all our schools. Musicians are in tune and playing with more passion. Artists are using brighter colors (Even Barbara Waterman Peters has painted a yellow crow. Oh, no, just kidding!) The garbage men are whistling. Somehow, the traffic lights change in unison. The geese are returning to the ponds at 6th and Gage. Gray, brown, black clothes in the stores have been replaced by pinks, blues, oranges. Snow shovels have been pushed aside in the hardware stores to make way for marigold and lettuce seeds. Googlians have shed their heavy coats and are breathing more deeply, walking more, drinking less.

We should have changed our name to Google in January.

*Image of Google sign, CNN

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Me and Mary Jane

I had the great pleasure of addressing the volunteers of Old Prairie Town at Ward Meade Park a few days ago. Such a wonderful, richly historic and beautiful home, garden, buildings. The best time to enjoy this scenic spot is coming up soon -- literally. The warmer temperatures and spring rains remind us that Tulip Time is upon us. Mary Jane Ward (in the portrait above) would approve of all these folks visiting her home and the care and attention given to the gardens that surround it.

My topic was one near and dear to my heart, Topeka Cemetery. I still have a few copies of Stories in Stone, the book I did several years ago about that historic spot. Drop me an email if you want one. They're only $10 and feature some awesome photography by local builder, Brad Davenport.

Actually, I strayed a bit in my presentation and got on the history soap box. . . . They were a generous and forgiving crowd. . . . Their fearless leaders, Sara Leeth and John Bell are just the best!

Trading Spaces

Since my house fire in January, Gary & I have been looking for a place to live. We've made an offer on a house, so keep your fingers crossed for us! In the meantime, the townhouse he's been in for 9 years is available and it's a great deal! Tell your friends and email me if you're interested in more details.

Smoky Hill Trail Association

I just got a call from Mike Baughn, past president of the above, who informed me that the 2010 trail conference is set for October 15-17 in Limon, Colorado, and the association website is up and running. Kudos, guys! Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kansas Rocks KTWU

I was just visiting with my friend Lee Wright, patriarch of a talented family and chief fundraiser for our local public TV station, KTWU. Many good things can be said of Washburn, but KTWU is truly a jewel in its crown.

KTWU's big fund-raising push is coming up this weekend and a highlight will be our very own Kansas performing with Washburn's symphony. This is a recording of a live performance at White Concert Hall earlier in the year. The event quickly sold out so if you are among the thousands who missed it, this is your change to correct that omission. It airs from 8 to 9:30 pm Saturday night (Chanel 11 in most areas, though KTWU covers a third of Kansas and a little bit of Nebraska and Missouri, so check local listings if you're in doubt.)

Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, my only connection to the band Kansas was that of faithful fan--like millions around the world. My betrothed, however, is a little closer. Back in 1969, he was playing keyboards with a band called "Rain." Other members were Jeff Glicksman (who went on to be producer for the band Kansas), Dave Hope, Richard Williams and Jim Craig. Gary recalls that now-famous guitar rif that opens "Dust in the Wind." It was Richard's "finger exercise" to warm up for a show. Later, Kerry Livgren would find just the right words to catapult that tune to the top of the charts. During February's concert, Kerry performed with his former bandmates, a highlight that thrilled old fans. The current line-up of Kansas is: singer/keyboardist Steve Walsh, guitarist Rich Williams, violinist David Ragsdale, bassist Billy Greer and drummer Phil Ehart. The 50-piece Washburn Symphony Orchestra accompanied the band, conducted by Larry Baird. Guitarist Steve Morse was featured as well.

Lee Wright commented that Ehart will be in the studio live for the fund-raiser. (Ehart, Livgren and Hope attended Topeka West High School.) The DVDs and CDs from the concert will be premiums for pledge-makers this weekend.

Raising money is a tough proposition in this economy, and Lee recognizes that some people may not have the same resources they have had in the past. The public support of KTWU remains healthy, however, and a big reason is quality programming like Sunflower Journeys.

Tune in this weekend, and when you call in your pledge tell 'em Deb sent you!

Bearss for Battlefields

To call Ed Bearss a legend is understatement. To call him a national treasure is fact, not flattery. To call him old is well, accurate but misleading.

At well past 80, Ed is unstoppable. He has an appearance schedule that would stagger a man a third his age. If we could harness Ed's energy, our crisis would be solved.

So, it's no surprise to see that Ed has a new book except to ask, "When on earth does he have the time to write???"

Jerry Brent, Executive Director of the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, along with the Blue & Gray Education Society are offering Ed's book as a way of supporting battlefield preservation. Receding Tide: Vicksburg & Gettysburg: The Campaigns that Changed the Civil War is available through this link.

While you're at it, Adam Goodheart had an excellent profile of Ed in Smithsonian Magazine in 2005 ( The photo above was taken from that article.)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Waskie Gone Wild

I am fortunate to know some people who are extremely passionate about history. Some are in treatment programs. Some lead inspiring lives. Case in point: Anthony Waskie.

My dear friend Andy founded and serves as the president of the General Meade Society of Philadelphia. This prestigious group meets regularly to pay homage to the "Victor of Gettysburg" or "The Man Who Saved the Union." They have trips, galas, historic talks, wreath-layings--all manner of events to remind us of contributions of those gone on before.

I love these people! Let's face it--you have to be a bubble off plumb to show up at a cemetery in freezing weather on New Year's Eve to drink champagne and toast a man who has been dead more than a century. Perhaps. If so, the mania is spreading because each year Andy leads a throng of hundreds on the pilgrimage to the General's grave in Laurel Hill Cemetery. I have been honored to speak to this group and to accompany them on many travels. They are a shining example of what passion and determination can accomplish.

The General would be proud!