Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary,General Meade

Oh, to be in Philadelphia today!

My dear, dear friends, the General Meade Society, are gathering in Laurel Hill Cemetery where they will toast and honor the victor of Gettysburg, General George Meade, born this day in 1815. Our hero, Andy Waskie, portrays the general and leads the march to his grave each year. It is a lovely spot, overlooking the Schuylkill River. There the assembled share bottle after bottle of champagne, toasting General Meade, President Lincoln, the veterans, etc., etc., until cases of bubbly have been consumed long before most folks have begun their New Year's Eve celebration. It is a grand tradition!!

150th Anniversary of Lincoln's call for 'troops to defend Washington' parade in Philadelphia. Marching down Chestnut St to Broad and then to the site of the old train depot at Broad & Washington Sts. — with Robert Houston and Kenneth Gavin at Philadelphia PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, looking toward Meade's grave and the river. Gary took this when we were there a while ago. Below, Andy Waskie as General Meade and his bride, CarolNeumann Waskie as Clara Barton at the Constitution Center, Philadelphia.

This is also the wedding anniversary of General Meade and his beloved, Marguerite, and of Andy Waskie and his beloved Carol Neumann, my lovely and dear friend. Happy Anniversary, and we will have a toast in your honor. Thank you for the excuse to imbibe.

Below, statue of Meade at Gettysburg. In Kansas, Meade is memorialized in Meade, the town, and Meade, the county.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Geary and Hartford, a Tribute!

Kansas just would not have come to be were it not for the contributions of some pretty incredible Pennsylvanians. Today is the birthday of one of those--John White Geary. Actually, his time in Kansas was the low point of his illustrious career, but nonetheless. . . .

Geary was born in western Pennsylvania in 1819. He was smart and he worked hard. He was big--6 foot 6 and way over 200 pounds--much more rare in those days than it is now. It was a combination of his size and intellect that made him a natural leader when he served in the Mexican War. He returned to the United States a war hero, having been wounded five times. (He was a good-sized target.) Afterwards, he was appointed to be postmaster, then acalde, and finally, after statehood, the first mayor of San Francisco.

His life seemed to be one glowing success after another. Then came the Kansas Territory.

Appointed by President Franklin Pierce to be the territorial governor, Geary boarded a boat and headed up the Missouri River. What an incredible trip that must have been. Many of those events that earned the label, "Bleeding Kansas," occurred in 1856. As Geary was making his way to the fractious territory, he stopped in Missouri to visit with that state's governor, Sterling Price, another veteran of the Mexican War and a man who could match Geary inch for inch, pound for pound. What a conversation that must have been with these two giants sucking the air from the room. Anyhow, Price assured Geary that free-state travelers would be safe on the Missouri River. (This quickly proved untrue.) Another significant conversation occurred when Geary encountered Wilson Shannon, whose job he was taking. The two men apparently had an honest and open discussion of the situation, and to Geary's credit, he continued to Kansas.

Geary had good intentions. He tried to remain neutral in the seething political cauldron of the Territory. It simply was not possible. He resigned, thinking he would be reappointed, but was fired. He essentially fled for his life in the middle of the night, a prudent choice given that one of his staff had been assaulted by pro-slavery folks and there were contant threats to the governor himself.

With Kansas behind him, Geary rose to the rank of general during the Civil War and afterwards became the 16th governor of Pennsylvania.

Larry Tagg, writing in the Gettysburg Discussion Group, said:

Geary was intense and passionate, and he elicited great emotions in his subordinates, superiors, and peers alike. Geary was a vain man whose ambitions ran through the Commonwealth Capitol at Harrisburg all the way to the White House, was renowned for a short temper and a sharper tongue, and had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. Lieutenant Lloyd would write his wife during the Atlanta Campaign, "General Geary, the bastard, is our division commander." Sergeant Charles W. McKay, Company C, 154th New York Infantry, recorded his impressions of Geary:
Gen. John W. Geary commanded the division. The General was a man of large stature, fine black eyes, very robust physique, and when mounted upon his horse was a figure of commanding presence. He was a strict disciplinarian, withal a warm-hearted, emotional man, and although some of the men feared him, they all respected him. We sometimes thought he was making our path wearisome by strict discipline, yet he made his division the crack one of Sherman's army."  ( a very interesting site!)
There are many monuments  to this accomplished man. In Kansas his memory lives on in Geary County, originally named for U. S. Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. After Davis resigned and became president of the Confederate States of America, the good citizens of Kansas deemed it inappropriate to have a county named for him and chose to honor Geary instead.

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Today is also the birthday of the late John Hartford.  Joyful is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of him. So many of us recall the Glen Campbell show and how Hartford would stand in the audience playing his banjo and we were instantly smitten! If you are not familiar with the versatility and endless talent of this great, good man, visit and prepare to meet a legend.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


So many losses it seems staggering. Images that have been a part of my life, my whole life it seems.

Charles Durning. No Yankee ever played a Southerner so convincingly. I would have sworn he was from Alabama. Though born in New York, Durning often portrayed stereotypical Southern characters: the governor in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and the governor in O Brother Where Art Thou. A decorated and humble veteran of World War II, his portrayal not too long ago of a Medal of Honor recipient in the TV show, NCIS, was just spectacular.

Frazier Moore, writing for the Associated Press, said of Durning and Jack Klugman who died the same day, ". . . A couple of mugs, sporting less-than-perfect physiques in the bargain. . . Each was a luminous display of the extraordinary possibilities of the ordinary." What a profound gift that was.

Norman Schwarzkopf. "Stormin' Norman." (above with General Colin Powell) Could he have been anything other than a general? He came into our living rooms during Desert Storm, confident, reassuring, in control, with a dash of humility. This is what we want our generals to be. His last years were marked by Alzheimer's, the cruelest of diseases for one so competent, one who has so often been looked to in times of crisis. All men, however, are created equal. What more bitterly eloquent testament to that can there be than this great, good man losing his mind?

I did not know him personally, but I know many people who did. His greatness did not lie in his television persona but in his integrity when no one was looking. When a career colonel was about to lose his retirement and be unfairly discharged from the Army, it was Stormin' Norman who threatened to resign himself, not quietly, in protest. That occurred in an office, without an audience, except for the officer who could hear through the closed door and shared it with me.

Mike Auldridge. The Seldom Scene was the cream of the Bluegrass crop. This second-generation, urban band brought bluegrass to a new audience and thrilled the traditionalists with their master musicanship and covers of un-bluegrass songs. Mike defined the dobro. In the words of guitarist/songwriter, Tim Stafford, "Mike was the consummate professional and one of the best and most influential dobro stylists in history. I dare say without his influence, Rob Ickes and Jerry Douglas for two wouldn't be who they are today. You'll read all the accolades, how he played on records for everyone from Linda Ronstadt to the Starland Vocal Band, from Cliff Waldron to, of course, the Seldom Scene. But if you never met him, you missed one of the nicest guys ever."

One of the most incredible shows I ever saw was the Seldom Scene at Doyle Lawson's festival in Denton, North Carolina, 1980 something. John Starling was joining them that night. Honest to God, it was so good, that someone could have been onstage throwing rocks at the audience and they would still would not have moved.

Harry Carey, Jr. With a name like Harry Carey, he was obviously Hollywood royalty, but so down to earth! A classic, classy, cowboy, he shared the screen with the likes of John Wayne and Sam Elliott and never was upstaged. I can barely think of him without tears. My friend, Phil Schrier, a western movie lover like myself, shared this photo on Facebook. It says it all. What a kind, strong face he had, and no one loved his work more. John Fusco, writer of such classic films as Young Guns, Thunderheart, and Hidalgo, shared this memory:

"What a blessing and learning experience to have worked with this great western icon. Believe it or... not, it wasn't a western, but my blues road pic "Crossroads" (1986). Mr, Carey played a shotgun-wielding Delta bartender. The scene I wrote did not call for the shotgun going off. Mr. Carey advised me that when a gun is pulled in a movie, the sucker better go off. So he unloaded into the ceiling of that redneck bar to punctuate his dialogue. You will be missed, Sir, even as we treasure your library of classic work."

Another loss struck me, someone the folks back home are familiar with, but maybe not the world. John Gardner was a truly legendary attorney. When I covered court for the newspaper and radio years ago, I had the opportunity of watching him in action. He and his brother, Carroll, were incredibly capable lawyers. John was just nearly unbeatable because he thought hard, he worked hard, he loved his work, he loved the law. No television drama could match him. He died on Christmas Day.

Charles Durning's family commented that he loved Christmas and would have chosen this time of year to pass away. I hope that loss in this season reminds us of the tremendous gift each of these lives brought us, and reminds us to live in such a way to honor our own gifts and leave our own legacies.

Read more:

If you don't have the movie Crossroads, this is a must for your collection:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Uncle Estel

My Uncle Estel Coleson died yesterday morning. He just stopped breathing. He was at home, in the country outside of Independence, Virginia. In all likelihood, you never heard of him.

Estel (left, my sister Denise took this) was my Daddy's brother, one of eight sons and four daughters raised during the depression and depressing times. Most of Daddy's brothers looked so much alike that people who did not know them well did not know the difference. One time my mother-in-law was visiting and Estel walked in the door and she said, "Hello, Char..." She stopped mid-sentence when she realized it wasn't Charlie. I believe Estel was about four years older than Daddy.

When we were kids, it took more than an hour, nearly two, to drive from our house in Ararat, Virginia, to Estel and Vera's house near Independence. Aunt Pauline, Daddy's oldest sister, lived nearby. These were my favorite times. My cousin, Sharon, was just a year or two older than I, just enough to be interesting. We had many of the same interests -- mysteries, drama, poetry, telling stories. I remember that when President Eisenhower died, she wrote a poem and sent it to his widow, Mamie. She was in 6th or 8th grade at the time, I think. We had fun. We would all go to the New River and fish and explore. We camped. One time, there was an old house we stayed in...have no idea who it belonged to....but it was just an old house near the river. There was a wood stove and in the morning, Mama and Vera made one of the biggest breakfasts I have ever seen. I can still see everyone sitting at that table. There was sunshine, and water, sandy river bottoms, blackberries, and daisies.

Estel was diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago. He went for a couple of treatments and it made him so sick. He said he would not take another one. When he applied for disability, he was denied. Apparently, the doctor asked what he did for pain and he replied he took some aspirin and a six-pack of Budweiser.

He has lived many years past that diagnosis, meaningful years. Some days he felt bad, sometimes he struggled to breathe, but he raised gardens and played with his grandkids. Mama often remarked about Estel's ability to make things grow; he was a gifted farmer. He loved the earth, the feel of it, the smell of it. He loved walking among his vines and plants. I'm sure he must have talked to them.

Their house was so creative. Aunt Vera is an expert seamstress, and has made clothes, dolls, gifts --anything that can be made. They were always making something, growing something.

When we were kids, we would go back and forth spending days or weeks with one another. Sharon was supposed to be with us for a couple of weeks, and after a few days, Estel came to the house to pick her up early. It was a long drive and our parents did not take those trips lightly. In those days when phone calls were expensive, people just didn't call either unless someone had died. It had to be important. He came to pick her up early because he missed her. Oh, this was terrible! I wanted her to stay, and frankly, was not happy that he would come to get her before the appointed hour. There she sat, torn between us, her Dad, saying everything but please come home, we miss you, and me, begging her to stay. I was, and remain, very selfish. There was resignation when she finally said, "I guess I'll stay," just because she could not bear my profound disappointment. Estel was sad, then, but he did not stay to visit long after she said that, unusual after driving that far.

Like most of my relatives on Daddy's side, he loved to tell stories. He was funny and sarcastic. He loved to tease.

We take our turns coming into this world, and we take our turns leaving it. Uncle Estel peacefully left this world and, I'm sure, had a joyous reunion in the next with his Mama and Daddy, brothers and sisters, and grandchildren gone before. We will miss him.

Below, brothers and sisters, several years ago: Hoover, Buster, Pauline, Harold, Sarah, Daddy (Charlie), Estel. Only Hoover, Buster, Pauline, and Aunt Mary (not pictured) are left.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Another link to the past flattened. . .

Josephine Marcus Earp, a nice-Jewish-girl-turned-actress, was the last wife of Wild West lawman, Wyatt Earp. She died on December 19, 1944. Born in 1861 in Brooklyn, Josie's lifetime was witness to an incredible era of American history.

I can't quote the source (but I'm sure George Laughead can), one of Wyatt's nieces or nephews commented after his death, and I am paraphrasing, "They say Uncle Wyatt was a cold-blooded murderer but he was married to that woman for 50 years."

That woman was something, and she and I share the same birthday (month and day, anyhow) April 8.
Fellow bloggers (and folks who find the dead fascinating) are reporting from LaLaLAND that the home in which Josie Earp died has been torn down.

Damn. is a very interesting blog. I highly recommend it.

A toast to the life of an incredible woman, Josephine Marcus (Sometimes Sadie) Earp.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kansas Forts and Bases--The Cover

. . . Michelle is visiting and the cover of our book arrived today. We were copying the page proofs at Office Max when the email with the cover attachment arrived. Woohoo! Most of the cover images were taken by Michelle who is just an outstanding photographer. We think the design folks at History Press did a great job. You never get too old to get excited at the first glimpse of your book. We'll keep you posted on the booksigning tour and the availability of the book. Coming soon to a town near you. . . . Bisel & Martin.

Which reminds me. . . The Civil War in Kansas: Ten Years of Turmoil is officially sold out and about to go into its second printing. Again, thanks to the good folks at History Press. Our editor, Becky Lejeune is a delight to work with as is the rest of the dedicated staff.

Michelle is headed to Michigan for Christmas with her family but will be back here early Christmas morning. What a wonderful season this is for us. There are many places I wanted to go, things I wanted to do, and those plans have not materialized. I am most grateful, however, for the way life has unfolded for us in the past few days and weeks. We are so richly blessed.

May we live in such a way to bless others.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Comfort

Christmas-time is a comfort to me. It has been since I was a child. Even when my Mama died on Christmas day, this time of year is still a comfort. While she spent December in the hospital, the long drive back and forth was made easier by the carols on the radio. What other time of year would have inspirational music non-stop on every channel? There were shooting stars--so many that December. Everywhere there were signs. Promises.

It was bitterly cold. Zero for days on end. I shopped for presents; I bought one for Mama, an angel with satin wings that I brushed against her face.

Last night, as the memorial service for the devastated residents of Newtown, Connecticut, was happening, two Topeka police officers were murdered in the line of duty. One was a veteran, both of the armed forces and of years in the department. He has a son who is a police officer as well. The other fallen officer is "just getting started," as the police chief said. On the force for 18 months. There was a search all night long and this morning we woke to the news that the suspect had been captured, perhaps shot. Has the whole world just gone crazy?

It seems to us that we live in extraordinarily violent times. In some ways, we do. But we cannot lose our perspective. I study history because it gives me hope. We are blessed with so many more advantages, more peace and prosperity, than any generation in history-- ANY generation in history. What are we doing with those blessings? Even our poor have a higher standard of living than millions of people who have gone before or who live in other parts of the world now. This is not to diminish, in any way, anyone's suffering now. But, with this in mind, we should not lose sight of what and who is good, and there is much.

Let there be peace on earth, let it begin with me.

In studying history, there are countless, countless episodes of unspeakable evil and cruelty. We must know that they have been overcome, again and again, and that we, too, can overcome. Not just survive, not just get through it, we can overcome. We can conquer.

Love is not a pastel word. It is bright red, solid as a rock, powerful as a rocket. It is the word of creation, not destruction, and it takes so much more energy to build than to tear down. That is the energy we must tap into and perpetuate, and celebrate.

When you see the lights, the greenery, the red ribbons, the candles, the carolers--take courage from these symbols. Christmas is not just a warm, fuzzy holiday. Christmas is symbolic of mankind's hope for a better world, not just in the next world, but in this one as well. That first story of Christmas brought royalty to worship the humble, to seek strength and wisdom from a child.

Be kind, and be stout of heart. There is much work to be done, and we must sustain one another in hope and faith. We must be better, do better. And we can.

God bless us all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Topeka Cemetery

I came to know Topeka first through the dead. They made me welcome.

When I first moved to the Kansas capital in 1992. I knew almost noone. Instictively drawn to the interesting grave markers, the mausoleums, the obelisks, the names. I only knew the names because I saw them on buildings and street signs and I was curious about who these people were. The more time I spent at Topeka Cemetery, coming to know the people whose lives were memorialized there, the more I felt a part of my new home. So many of those Topekans had not been born in Kansas, yet it had become their home. I figured if it worked for them, it could work for me. It has. Writing Stories in Stone opened the door to many people and many relationships. I have loved sharing just a few stories of the people who rest there.

I am working with ASA Marketing in bringing more stories to the public. They are in the process of launching a campaign to raise money for the longterm care of this historic, sacred site. Part of that involves revamping the website to include more and more biographies, obits, photos, and articles that are related to the cemetery. Memorializing your loved ones for future generations is a great gift. Introducing the future to the past results in a present with context and meaning. Let me know if you would like to have your family's story included in this valuable project.

Visit the cemetery or contact me for a tour. The artwork, the landscape, and again, the stories, are all  historic treasures. Above, this statue of the mythic Niobe, who turned to stone mourning the loss of her children, is just one of the magnificent markers.

I have a handful of copies of Stories in Stone available which you can order on this site.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mary Lincoln

No one ever gave up so much for this country. No one was ever so unappreciated for it.

Mary Todd was born this day in 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky. The Todds were well-to-do, well-connected, everything Mary's future husband was not. Without her, he could not have been president. He needed someone with her skills to take the rough edges off of him. To her everlasting credit, she did see potential in this man. Others did as well, but it is one thing to recognize promising qualities; it is quite another to hitch your wagon to that promise.

I have been researching the lives of Mary Lincoln, and her Confederate counter part, Varina Davis, for more than ten years. I am writng a one-woman play based on Mary's life, and a dual biography of the two women. They are endlessly fascinating.

Take a moment today to reflect on Mary Todd Lincoln's gift to the United States -- the life of her husband. She gave up her privacy, her peace of mind, and her family, for this great nation. She did not always give freely, but she sacrificed much. (Above, Sally Field as Mary Lincoln)

Gen. Maxcy Gregg

On this day in 1862, Confederate Gen. Maxcy Gregg of South Carolina died as a result of wounds suffered at Fredericksburg. I have always found him a compelling figure, very bright, outspoken, a man of action. He was portrayed by our friend, Buck Taylor, in the movie, Gods and Generals. Buck will be coming back to Kansas to narrate the film by Ken Spurgeon and Lone Chimney, Road to Valhalla.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blogging with Mother Earth News

I am officially blogging for Mother Earth News. I couldn't be prouder. Bryan Welch, the head honcho at Ogden Publications is a fine writer and a fine human being. Hank Will at Grit, likewise. I hosted this dynamic duo on my radio show  3 or 4 years ago now and they came bearing gifts. I have never forgotten that and still carry my Mother Earth News bag to the grocery store and have coffee from my Mother Earth News mugs. This is one subscription that Gary has maintained for years as other magazines have fallen by the wayside.

As a country girl, my relationship with Grit goes way back to our childhood. Owen Gates was one of those newsboys who brought the Grit to our door. He was sweet and diligent and walked up and down Willis Gap from his Grandma Elsie's house. It was nice to see him coming up the driveway with that canvas sack.

When I moved to Topeka, one of the best surprises was finding that this fair city is the headquarters for these time-tested publications. Getting to know the folks that run the business has been a real bonus. Working with them in some way is just icing on the cake.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gve History for Christmas!

Give a LOT of history for Christmas!!! We just happen to have some!

I joined my good friend, Ralph Hipp, on WIBW TV today to talk about givng the gift of history. As president of the Shawnee County Historical Society, I am so pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the excellent historic sites we have in the community. We talked about the Geat Overland Station, the Combat Air Museum, the Shawnee County Historical Society, and the two sites in Lecompton--Constitution Hall and Lane University.

These places have some excellent gift shops with books, ornaments, toys, figurines, t-shirts, notecards--all with an historc theme. This Christmas, take your family to these sites, buy gifts from their shops, and give a membership! Give more than one! In fact, the Great Overland Station is offering a Buy-One-Get-One-Free-Membership through December!! What a fantastic deal. The Great Overland Station is one of the most family-friendly, inspiring locations in the area. Tied to history in such an exciting way. . . what kid, whether 9 or 90, doesn't love trains? I have to tell you, I have had some wonderful times with my grandkids there! See below!

The Combat Air Museum is truly one of Topeka's treasures. The relationship between Kansas and the plane is long and storied and the Combat Air Museum is home to so many incredible stories and artifacts, and some fantastic programming and classes.

Our friends in Lecompton, Tim Rues and Paul Bahnemier, are in charge of the two historic sites in this historic small town. Constitution Hall was the seat of government duing the Territorial years and Lane University was going to be the state's capital until fortunes changed and it went to Topeka instead. It became Lane University which has an incredible link to American and world history in that Dwight Eisenhower's parents met there. Had the couple not attended university there, met and married in this quaint town, what would the impact have been on world history? I shudder to think!

The Shawnee County Historical Society has a home in the Cox Communication Heritage Education Center (the former home of Hale and Anna Ritchie). Educational programming and a variety of events from Reader's Theater to our fundraising Shawnee County Attic Sale have kept members busy throughout the year. Our proximity to the Brown V. Board National Historic Site gives us the opportunity to partner with them on so many different projects. Melinda Abitz, retired from teaching, is our education coordinator and she is constantly bringing great opportunities for students to become involved in history.

Visit our websites, join, take part, volunteer--make your gift last longer than December 25th. Give something that will spark a lifetime of learning and involvement.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Kansas Forts and Bases. . . Coming This Spring!

Another day, another book.

Michelle Martin and I got our manuscript delivered to the History Press this week thanks to Michelle's diligence. Kansas Forts and Bases: Sentinels on the Prairie is due out in the spring, thanks to the efforts of Becky Lejeune and the great staff there. Michelle and I can hardly wait for the booksignings to begin!

We are most grateful that Jerry Morelock, editor of Armchair General Magazine, woud take time to write the very generous foreword to this book. Armchair General is simply the best magazine on the market and its website is unbeatable.

With that, it's on to the next mission. Carry on, troops!