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Archive for June, 2013

Postwatchletters

A couple of months ago, I pulled out some letters from my genealogy archives to read. Apparently, I missed putting one of them back and found it on the table about a week later. It was written by Dorothy Welch (my second cousin once removed) to her aunt (my great-grandmother) Martha Stern Wilt Clawson.

July 19, 1922
113 E. Ave 58
Los Angeles, Calif.
Dear Aunt Martha,
I received your letter and was certainly glad to hear from you.
Some Muncie people by the name of Cites came out here the other day to visit her brother
who is a friend of ours. They brought word to us from my grand daddy Welch.
I am awfully sorry to hear that Nellie is sick again. I wish she could come out to Los Angeles
if she has to come “west.”
I haven’t heard from Uncle Ralph since March either. I’ve wrote several letters to see what
was the matter but I never got a answer.
I bet Vesta’s children are cute I certainly would like to see them.
Leonore is studying her spelling now so she will pass in her grades next term.
What grade is Clifford in at school?
Well I must close this time with love,
Dorothy

The first thing that stood out for me was the date of the letter – 1922. My mother always said that she didn’t meet her grandmother until she was an adult so I assumed that Grandma Clawson had moved west before my mom was born – the fall of 1921. I really think she meant that she didn’t remember her because my mom and her family moved to the Dayton, Ohio area in 1922.  I looked up Grandma Clawson’s address on Google and the street scene shows a parking lot now at 31 W 12th Street in Anderson, Indiana. There’s a church nearby so I wonder if the house was torn down since 1922. It would have been interesting if it had still been standing.

The “grand daddy Welch” that Dorothy mentions would be Americas C. Welch. A.C. Welch married Sarah C Buzzard in 1875 in Huntington, Indiana (according to the database: “Indiana Marriages, 1811-1959″ index on FamilySearch.org). A.C. and Sarah were the parents of Dorothy’s father, George Welch.

Nellie was my grandmother’s younger sister. She was 20 years old at the time of this letter and had been diagnosed with asthma. I had been told by my mother that due to her illness, it was necessary for her to move to the western United States.  She ended up moving to the Oregon/Washington area and lived most of her adult life in Washington.

The “Uncle Ralph” that Dorothy is referring to is her mother’s brother, Ralph Clawson, and my grandmother’s cousin. He was enumerated in the 1920 Census as living in Watertown, Massachusetts in the George C Shattuck household. I know Ralph had gone in the Navy  and he would have been about 24 years old in 1922 when Dorothy was trying to reach him. In June 1923 Ralph married Olive Sundberg in Chicago, Illinois.

Vesta would be my maternal grandmother (Vesta C Johnson nee Wilt). She and my grandfather had already bore three children, my Uncle Glen R Johnson, Jr., my aunt Genevieve V Johnson, and my mom Mary H Johnson.

Leonore was Dorothy’s younger sister. At the time of this letter, Dorothy was age 16. Leonore was probably close to nine.

Clifford, my grandmother’s youngest brother, was born April 20, 1906 making him a little over 16 when Dorothy wrote this letter. The 1940 US Census shows that Clifford only completed the first year of high school (generally 9th grade) – so he was not attending school any longer. If he had remained in school, he would probably have been going into his sophomore year when school began that fall.

I am under the impression that Dorothy wrote this letter as a reply to her Aunt Martha’s correspondence to her. I haven’t run across any other letters written by Dorothy so I don’t think it was a regular occurrence.

I greatly enjoy reading old letters that were sent back and forth from family members. It enables me to glimpse a window into their lives at the time of the letter. I noticed that Dorothy didn’t volunteer very much about herself such as her social activities, friends, work, or suitors.  She also didn’t ask how her grandfather was – as after her grandmother Margaret Ellen passed away, her aunt Martha (Ellen’s sister), married her widower, W. Frank Clawson.

If you have letters or post cards like I do, a good way to understand their deeper message or the lives of the people then, is to do an analysis on them as I did with this letter.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

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While we were on vacation in Missouri, my father-in-law took us on a cemetery tour. We visited the graves of grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, and collateral relatives. Before we left to return home, I realized that we hadn’t been to the family cemetery in several years. This three person graveyard sits on land that used to belong to my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather, George Washington Littrell. After he died, it eventually ended up belonging to my husband’s paternal grandfather’s brother.  After he passed away, it ended up going into a bank sale and another resident of the rural community purchased that plot of land where the cemetery was located. Missouri statutes explain that even though a cemetery might sit on private land, and even if it doesn’t have a drive that takes it directly to the cemetery, family members are not to be blocked from gaining access during regular daylight hours. There really has never been an issue with us visiting the Littrell cemetery. The gravel road goes right up to the barn and corral areas and the cemetery sits just outside of that.  I wrote a blog post awhile back about our experience when we visited the graves a few years ago that you can read here.

As we pulled up, I looked in horror at the following scene.

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Someone – or several someones – had just placed whatever those things are (they look like steel sawhorse type of things) right inside the cemetery! I was mortified! And the steel cable “rope” that had cordoned off the graves was bent and pulled away from the corner posts. If the person who rents out the land knew about this, I know he would make sure the men who work for him would remove it and not ever do it again so I’m very hopeful that after my father-in-law speaks to him all will be taken care of. It’s just so sad that whoever did this, a) didn’t even realize this was a cemetery or b) didn’t care.  You may also notice that the stone on the right has been shifted as well.

And just to make a comparison – below is the picture of what it is supposed to look like.

gwlittrell-cemetery

Let’s hope this sacred family cemetery – small as it is – where George W and Kitty O (Blakely) Littrell are buried along with their very young daughter, Annie Elizabeth – will soon be properly cleaned of the equipment and I can breathe a lot easier.

(Photos by Wendy Littrell)

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The Donkey

At the farm is a planter where my mother-in-law had lovingly planted many types of flowers over the years. Sadly, with her passing, there won’t be any more flowers planted in it – at least not in the foreseeable future. The planter looks like a little cart being pulled by a donkey. All of the children have been fascinated by this farm fixture, and they’ve all wanted to “ride” it. When they’ve been very small, someone has held them on it to get a picture.

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Baby O – summer 2010

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Baby C – summer 2002

donkey on farm

Donkey as of June 2013

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(My grandson next to the Mickey statue at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum)

Where did Walt Disney get his idea for Main Street USA in Disneyland? Perhaps from the small, rural town in Missouri where he lived for several years during his impressionable childhood. My grandson and I had the opportunity to visit Marceline, Missouri during our vacation. Marceline is about 17 miles away from my father-in-law’s farm and driving down the main drag, conjurs up all sorts of ideas and thoughts about what many small towns in rural America are like. There’s a corner café where the food is out of this world and owned by a local resident. If you arrive during regular meal time hours, you might find Ma Vic’s standing room only – but don’t leave – a table will soon be available!  Down on the corner is Zurcher’s. Close to the old train depot is Ripley Park.  The park includes a Santa Fe railroad caboose and a steam locomotive as well as a gazebo.

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Near there is the Walt Disney Hometown Museum where I took my grandson during one of our excursions while on vacation recently. The museum is open April through October and is only $5 for admission. It is well worth that! The tour begins in the first room where a guide provides a very rich and detailed history of not only the Disney family, but the Santa Fe Railroad and the city of Marceline. She was eloquent, personable, and very knowledgeable. Very large panoramic photos are displayed in chronological order around the room and at one side is Walt’s original school desk from Park elementary which he rescued on one of his visits to Marceline before the school was torn down. During the summer the desk is on loan to the museum from Walt Disney Elementary school and if you go, make sure to notice the large WD that Walt carved into the desk (which is how he knew that it was his)! There is a sign outside the museum which restricts the use of photos or videos, however, we were informed that photos are allowed because so many people are posting them to Facebook and of course, free advertising doesn’t hurt!

Most of the artifacts, especially in the several rooms on the first floor, were donated by the family of Walt’s younger sister, Ruth Disney Beecher. There were letters, photographs, objects – even the TV that Walt made sure Ruth had in order to watch the opening ceremonies of Disneyland because she didn’t like to be in big crowds. On that television set was the original special broadcast of those ceremonies which you can stand and watch. In another room was information, posters, records, videotapes, DVDs, and news clippings about the 1956 Disney movie, “The Great Locomotive Chase” with Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter. The movie is playing on a screen and anyone is welcome to pull up a chair to watch it.  Another room is the “Train” room and has many displays of Walt’s trains. There are cases filled with letters among the Disney family members, a phonograph (which is playing on a recording) of Walt interviewing his parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. In another room is a large screen and several chairs where a visitor can watch The Man behind the Myth hosted by Dick Van Dyke. My grandson and I watched about ten minutes of the documentary, and I wished we had more time to watch all of it.  My grandson also enjoyed the ten minutes of “The Great Locomotive Chase” so I will be on a mission to see if our local library has a copy to borrow. Upstairs, is a large room dedicated to a scale model (not complete) of Disneyland. Since I had visited the theme park as a very young child (see my series of Travel Thursday posts: Over the Rainbow Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5), I pointed out to my grandson the areas I fondly remember. There were several local news articles about Disney and artifacts elsewhere on the second floor. Downstairs, adjoining the large front room where we began the tour, was a room dedicated to the only ride that operated outside of Disneyland – the Midget Autopia. There is a car on display from that ride. Since there are 70 trains that run through town each day – the museum is located in the former train depot – we were able to look right out the window to watch them go by – another highlight for my grandson!

Exiting the museum through the same door that Walt would enter when he rode the train into town (Amtrak only stops in Marceline for groups of twenty or more with special arrangements), there is a smaller building toward the back that is the Railroad museum. That was very interesting as well. Even though the ladies who run the tour explained that if we wanted to leave for lunch and come back – our ticket would be valid all day – our time was very limited. Perhaps on another visit, we would be able to do just that and spend more time. In particular, I think I would have found the correspondence between the family members pretty interesting. We were told that on the north side of town, we should visit the “Dreaming Tree”, a cottonwood tree that grew on the Disney farm and where Walt and his baby sister, Ruth, would sit under while Walt would daydream. The Tree of Life at Walt Disney World represents Walt’s tree from Marceline. There are other spots around town that were pointed out as places to visit – Walt Disney Elementary School, the park with the flagpole that Walt gifted the city with during one of his trips back, the barn that used to sit on the Disney property, and even the Disney home (which is now a private residence, but people do drive by to look at it). Though the main drag of Marceline is on Kansas Street, the street sign downtown reads “Main Street USA” and resembles the famous mouse ears that Walt made famous!

I recommend that if you are within a 50-75 mile radius of Marceline that you drop in during the times the Museum is open – especially if you or your family are fans of anything Disney – or trains!

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I’m proud to introduce you to Trey, our newest family member! He was born just before we left on vacation and his mother, our second daughter, was more than ready to “evict” him! Weighing in at a little over 8 lbs, he immediately stole the hearts of not only his parents, but his other set of grandparents (he is their first grandchild), his aunt and uncles, cousins, and parents’ friends!

(photo of Trey was taken the day after his birth; photographed by my daughter and texted to me while we were on the road for vacation)

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Vacation at the Farm

barn on farm

Recently, my family and I spent almost two weeks in Missouri at my father-in-law’s farm. Mornings of clear blue skies over acres and acres of corn and soybean fields with a nice cool breeze blowing the tree leaves. Some days the wind whipped the tree branches, and I gave up thinking I could just hairspray my hair to stay out of my face! Besides the sounds of birds singing, an occasional car or truck churning up the gravel roads, were the train whistles. About 70 trains a day run close to where we were – far enough I didn’t see one from the house – but with no other environmental or man-made noise – I could hear that mournful sound. We would wake with a general purpose for the day. With my mother-in-law’s passing just over a month ago, my father-in-law was learning a new path in life that didn’t include his beloved wife of almost 65 years. He grew up in a time when men in that part of the country took care of the business end of the farm – and the home – and the women took care of the rest – cooking, cleaning, gardening, and nurturing. We knew he was looking forward to someone else besides just him roaming around the large home. So each morning – even though it was vacation – we set our alarm in order to get up and have breakfast on the table by 7 a.m. My husband and I took turns fixing breakfast. Most days, not only did I cook the evening meal but I fixed a decent sized lunch – smoked sausages, a beef roast, or stew. Sometimes my husband and grandson grilled burgers or steaks. My sister-in-law deep fried catfish one evening and ordered pizzas another night. Besides the meals, there was the washing, dusting and vacuuming. My husband and grandson spent time helping my father-in-law clear brush and vines as well as mowing the grass. There were electrical issues in the shop to take care of and accompanying his father on two long drives (over two hours each way) while we were there. Our days were filled with “helping work” but not so packed that we didn’t have time to enjoy ourselves. For the first few days, I helped my sister-in-law in her quest to put together three scrapbooks of photos. After church services on Father’s Day, my father-in-law treated us to a delicious lunch at a nearby (eleven miles!) restaurant. He is a visitor and talker so as we ate, several folks dropped by the table (you know you are in “small town America” when that happens!) to chat. Unfortunately for him, by the time he was done talking with the two or three folks who stopped by, only half his lunch had been eaten and it had gotten cold. Before we left, he made the rounds of other tables.  It was good to see him out and about and chatting with folks. A few days after we arrived, all of us piled into his mini-van and set out on a cemetery tour.  Since it’s a rural area, there were miles and miles between one cemetery and another so we spent the better part of four hours in the car. However, unlike the last time we had done this (many years ago), we did stop several times and get out so I could take pictures of the gravestones belonging to my husband’s great-grandparents, great-uncles, and various other family members. My grandson was able to stroll down to south pond (the farm boasts two stocked ponds except one now has a herd of cattle – mainly bulls – on that section of land) to do some fishing. Each evening ended with the daily television show on their local PBS station – “Cook’s Country”, then “The Doctors”, and then the 9:00 news from Kansas City. About halfway through that, my father-in-law would head to bed, and the rest of us would watch my grandson’s new favorite “old” show “That 70s show”(!), followed by Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery” (yes, we saw the episode with a young David McCallum before he was NCIS’ Ducky and a young David Carradine). Then the next morning we began all over again. I took my grandson on some fascinating excursions for two consecutive days before we left (but that’s for other blog posts). It was very difficult – especially for my husband – to leave knowing that his dad would be alone as my sister-in-law (who lives across the street) was out of state for over another week. Now we are home again and standing out on the front porch here is just not the same as being able to see miles and miles in the distance with the train whistles the only loud sound to break the silence.

 

(Photo above: barn on the farm, photographed by Wendy Littrell, June 2013)

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