The Attic is a set of articles, written by members of our community, sharing a wide range of historical records, stories and events relating to the Museum.

Reverend Todd’s Apology

posted by James Nennemann

By: Harry Wilkins

On Sunday, May 22, 1864, Reverend John Todd stood in front of his Tabor congregation and delivered a sermon he titled “Confession.” As one of the town’s founders in 1852 and first pastor of the Congregational Church, Todd held a special place among the residents—he had been center stage in virtually every aspect of the Tabor settlement, a true civic and spiritual leader. And on this spring day he was ready to deliver a public apology based on James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another.” But what grievous sin had been committed?
 
The story, as relayed in Todd’s sermon notes, concerned events that had unfolded the previous Thursday. William Brooks, the principal of the Tabor Literary Institute and good friend of Todd, stopped by after school and asked the pastor if he could take a break from plowing his garden, around 6:00 p.m., to transact some business with a “number of persons.” Todd agreed, and around the appointed time was eating his supper when he looked out and saw to his horror a wagon pulling up with several ladies dressed in finery appropriate for a public appearance. Todd had not expected a formal visit, particularly from members of the fair sex, and was “surprised and indignant” because he was filthy from working in the field and was dressed in what he described as “rags.” In his panic Todd thought he’d been set up, in his words, the victim of a “surprise that was contemplated.” The minister had only two choices: face the visitors or run.  He chose the latter, slipped out the back of his house, collected the horse he’d borrowed from neighbor John Cater for plowing, and took the “shortest and most direct route” out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, Todd’s visitors saw his hasty retreat. To make matters worse, ill-chosen words spoken by Todd after arriving at Brother Cater’s home were repeated and amplified throughout the village.
 
Todd learned later that there was indeed an element of calculation in the visit: the ladies who alighted at his home were bringing him a monetary donation, to what we don’t know but most likely something for the church or school. But by Sunday, there was a lot of talk about Todd’s behavior circulating around town and it was time to clear the air. The minister told his flock that because of his actions there was “impairment” to the “free flow of devotional feelings.” He acknowledged his “faults of character,” saying: “I would not have it occur again for twice the sum donated.” The grace and humility displayed by Todd during what seems to be an inconsequential or even humorous event to a modern audience put him in good stead with his congregation—the waters were calmed and Father Todd, as he was affectionately known before his death in 1894, continued serving as pastor, a post he held for over 30 years.

Corn Shelling Days

posted Oct 6, 2017, 7:47 AM by James Nennemann

By Sherry Perkins 

Shelling corn at Grandpa’s back in the 1950s’s was a day grandkids relished. But not for the reason one would think. Today, mammoth combines shell the corn as they roll down the corn rows. Then corn pickers picked the corn in the ear and dropped it into a wagon. The ears of corn were scooped from the wagon into elevators that rolled the yellow orbs high into a corn crib where they dropped like rain filling the crib. The corn crib’s sides were boards with space between to allow drying by Mother Nature’s winds. 

Come spring or summer, Grandpa waited patiently (well most of the time) for Hugie and his corn sheller to arrive. I remember the corn being fed into this machine where the kernels were stripped off. We watched the bright red corncobs fly out of its conveyer while the shucks blew out into a pile. We knew eventually we would climb this red mountain. 

The corn sheller itself was an awful, noisy, rattling machine. One couldn’t talk or yell loud enough to be heard over its roar. We knew we were in trouble if we were underfoot while it was operating. When the job was finished, it seemed so still and quiet in Grandpa’s barn lot. When the kittens began to venture out, we knew the fun could begin. 

Grandpa hired extra men on “shelling day” for scooping. So at noon, that meant that Grandma’s dinner table was groaning with a scrumptious noon fare including homemade meringue pies. I think Mom helped with the cooking. Otherwise why would my siblings and I have been there? We certainly were no help but probably in the way. 

When the “sheller” pulled out of the driveway and while Grandpa was settling up with the men, we stood at the base of “Red Cob Mountain” eyeing the side with the best approach. In spite of the scratchy corn cobs, we were ready to climb to the summit. We knew it was only a matter of time until we were discovered scattering cobs and told by Grandpa to “get off those cobs.” Soon the truck would come, load up the cobs and leave for parts unknown. 

The cobs leaving the farm would end up in many different products. But we also had several uses for them. Before they left, we grabbed buckets from the wash house and began the search for the biggest red cobs. Those were for Grandma and her jelly. She would take these and the next few days boil the corn cobs to get juice for making her sparkling Corn Cob Jelly. I always picked a few cobs to create a family of dolls. Some of the cobs went to the cob bin in the wash house to use as a starter for fires in the wood stove for summer canning.

Cursive

posted Sep 26, 2017, 1:14 PM by James Nennemann

By Sherry Perkins


They live in museums and libraries across America, in dusty attics, in dresser drawers and old shoe boxes and velvet covered photo albums.  They are historical documents, pages of poetry, letters from world wars, love letters and family diaries and heirloom recipes. They tell of a time never to come again.  What do they have in common? They are all written in cursive. Sadly, cursive writing has not been part of America’s schools curriculum for quite a few years.  Some ‘higher –ups' thought teaching this vital part of learning was taking too much of valuable school time. 

In my generation, cursive writing was a vital part of the elementary curriculum with teachers using many creative ways to teach it.  They made loops and valleys that connected the letters a fun part of the day. The lowercase “s” was a sailboat that merrily sailed away on a wave. Remember? Many other little stories were attached to each letter. 

Walk into the lower grade classrooms and you would have seen a border above the blackboard showing the alphabet in capital and lowercase letters.  Good penmanship was a thing of pride.  Remember that day when you could write your name ?  

Being able to read cursive is vital to understanding our past.   Think of how important it is to be able to go to our national museums and read the original Declaration of Independence or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in the original penmanship. Part of the inspiration is imagining President Lincoln writing the document, dipping a pen in the ink and writing the words as they came to him.  In our own Fremont County History Center, we have tax records, journals from early stores, wills and cemetery records, just to name a few of the hand written glimpses into our past.

This may become a short lived decision.  The trend is beginning to reverse itself. The Omaha World Herald recently published an article which stated that fourteen states in our country have gone back to allowing the teaching of cursive. Nebraska and Iowa curriculum now allows choice for each school.   The importance of writing and reading in cursive is being recognized as important by many teachers. 

Sadly, there is a generation of young people who can’t read the scripts. Keyboards-typewriters then computer- are replacing our ability to write words.  Yet, all important documents in our lives require a signature.  Some of us boldly sign our name making the capital letters flamboyant and beautiful.  Let’s hope that the 3 R’s so valued in the past will remain important in the future - Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. 

Stories of Bartlett

posted Aug 16, 2017, 9:05 AM by James Nennemann

By Harry Wilkins
 
Like several other towns in Fremont County, Bartlett owes its existence to the construction of the Council Bluffs and St. Joseph Railroad, completed in 1867. The town was named for Annie Bartlett, wife of Henry Phelps, an out-of-state railroad contractor who filed the plat and named the first streets. Once established, the village took root and by the mid-1870s had attained a population of around 300 souls. It boasted a post office, two dry goods stores, a drug store, shoe shop, blacksmith, one millinery store, a steam lumber mill and a school with one hundred students, on the corner of Ferris and Walnut Streets.
 
Leta Adelaide Harris, daughter of banker Charles Harris and his wife Sadie, lived in Bartlett her entire life. Before her death in 1977, she wrote a brief history of the town which included anecdotes of life in the early days, among them several episodes involving saloons patronized by local mill and railroad workers, characterized as “a very rough type.”
 
According to Miss Harris, the ready availability of liquor and prevalence of guns in the town made life more precarious, something brought home with a vengeance to tavern owner William Agin. The Irish immigrant was shot in the back by an unknown assailant and left paralyzed. He spent his remaining days in a wheelchair “carrying a gun every minute” looking for the shooter.  In another incident, a traveling showman was giving a puppet show in the school when a bullet “whizzed through the air from the open door” lodging in the west wall and, not surprisingly, breaking up the performance. The bullet hole remained visible in the school for years.
 
A possible encounter with an American folklore legend occurred in the early 1870s in the saloon of James Marshall Kimbrell. George Huffman, a Bartlett boy employed to serve customers, alerted his boss that a group of men had entered the establishment; they ordered drinks while claiming they had no money. Kimbrell was working in the saloon’s storeroom, and when he peeked around the corner he reportedly saw men with a “hard, desperate character.” He told George to give them what they wanted. Kimbrell was certain the men were Jesse and Frank James and their gang, based on the fact that the outlaws were operating in Iowa around that time.
 
As the years passed the town settled down to a more sedate existence. The Christian Church was organized in 1872, joined by the Knights of Pythias and an Odd Fellows Lodge. Other trappings of civilization included a hotel (destroyed by fire), a town physician, Dr. T. C. Harris (who also ran a general store) and a new high school, built in 1921. But like other small towns sustained by railroads, Bartlett entered a steady period of decline with the advent of the automobile and the construction of modern highways. Leta Harris and her sister Iva never left home and remained active in the local community until their passing. They are buried with their family in Thurman.

The Cromwell House Hotel

posted Jul 20, 2017, 7:57 AM by James Nennemann

by Sandra Folkes Bengtson

I’m sure that many residents of Sidney take a look at the large house located at the corner of Indiana and Webster Streets that is north of our fire station, and just see an old run down house in need of repair. However, many do not realize the history it holds.

This house is one of the oldest structures in Sidney, being built about 1856. It was built on the north side of the Sidney Square as a hotel and originally called “The Cromwell House”. Stephen T. Cromwell maintained a rooming house in Austin, prior to moving to Sidney. The Cromwell House is the 2nd hotel he built in Sidney, as the first one was a wood structure built in 1852 on the west side of the square, where the present day Sidney Hotel building stands. 

In the later 1890’s, most of The Cromwell House was moved 1 block east and 1 block north, to its present location in order to build the large buildings which the north block of the square once housed. The hotel changed management many times over the years and was known by many different names prior to becoming a private residence. 

The Historical Society possesses two guest registers for the house. The first book starts in 1858. On Monday, May 9, 1870, the name of “U S Grant” is written in the book, residing at “D C USA”. Over the years I have heard comments from other historical society members wondering if this could actually be President Grant?” I decided to do some research on this myself. 

The signature in the book matches exactly a signature of Grant pulled off the internet. Registering at the same time with Grant were Richard Yates of Illinois and Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts. I searched the internet to see if these men had any connection to Grant. Butler served with Grant in the Union Army and then assisted Grant with matters during his presidency. After Grant became president, he appointed Yates as a United States commissioner to inspect a land subsidy railroad. So possibly the politicians were here for a study on our prospective railroad system?

There are no newspapers writings or any person here today that can verify President Grant was here. Nor any way to know what his business was in Fremont County, if he was here. I have found the last few years that a good share of genealogy research is detective work and developing theories. The facts, clues and theories add up. There is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. Grant signature in the Cromwell House Register, was that of President Ulysses S. Grant. 

The Rodeo Band

posted Jul 6, 2017, 6:25 AM by James Nennemann

By Linda Holmes Reilly

(Editor's Note: It’s that time of year in Fremont County when we begin to anticipate Rodeo Week. Iowa's Championship RodeoMuseum & Fremont County History in Sidney tells the story of the Rodeo, which is celebrating it’s 94th year.  One of the special exhibits is a brick entryway featuring names of supporters and volunteers and a story for each brick. This week’s View from the Attic shares one of those brick’s stories.)

Rodeo band was a privilege and a highlight of the Sidney school student's lives when Chuck Sargeant, Bob Cowell and Emil Wahling were directors. Learning to march was important as knees had to be up high and toes down. My cousin, Bruce Hopkins, remembers Mr. Sargeant whacking his shins with the director's baton when he did not lift his feet high enough. 

All music had to be memorized. Starting in June, each person in the band had private lessons with the director and had to pass the music before the Rodeo. I remember marching in the gym playing the music until the weather was warm enough to practice outdoors. Mr. Sargeant timed the music for the performances, each had its own identifying music, and the band had to play the music at the exact number of seconds the various competitions required.

The band practiced all summer. The week before the Rodeo, we practiced squeezing in and out of the gate in the arena as well as the sharp turns to march half way around the arena to stand and then continue playing until the rest of the parade entered. After the "Star Spangled banner" (sung for many years by then student, Jeff Penn) the band went into the band stand above the arena. Here the director would sit on the railing so he could see all the action while directing the band. If students didn't miss any of the scheduled events in which they were to participate for the entire week, they received 4 silver dollars. The director was paid $400.00 for the summer's work.

Every member of the band remembers marching when it rained. One time the mud was so deep it pulled off some of our shoes. We kept marching and hoped we would be able to find our shoes after the Rodeo. Our loyal mothers washed and ironed white pants and red shirts between the afternoon and evening performances during rainy days, and always before the next day's Rodeo.

The band kids got to know the clowns and some of the cowboys. A number of the stars stopped by the band stand like Jimmie Dean, Hoss and Little Joe, Doc and Festus, Allen Case, and Jack Lord.

Any person who was a member of the Sidney High School Marching Band in those days of 10 performances fondly remembers lots of hard work, but it was a marvelous experience in which we felt we played an important part in Iowa'sChampionship Rodeo.

If you would like information on purchasing a brick to share your special Rodeo Story, call Rosie 712-374-2590

Stories of Bartlett

posted Jun 21, 2017, 10:19 AM by James Nennemann

By: Harry Wilkins


Like several other towns in Fremont County, Bartlett owes its existence to the construction of the Council Bluffs and St. Joseph Railroad, completed in 1867. The town was named for Annie Bartlett, wife of Henry Phelps, an out-of-state railroad contractor who filed the plat and named the first streets. Once established, the village took root and by the mid-1870s had attained a population of around 300 souls. It boasted a post office, two dry goods stores, a drug store, shoe shop, blacksmith, one millinery store, a steam lumber mill and a school with one hundred students, on the corner of Ferris and Walnut Streets.

Leta Adelaide Harris, daughter of banker Charles Harris and his wife Sadie, lived in Bartlett her entire life. Before her death in 1977, she wrote a brief history of the town which included anecdotes of life in the early days, among them several episodes involving saloons patronized by local mill and railroad workers, characterized as “a very rough type.”

According to Miss Harris, the ready availability of liquor and prevalence of guns in the town made life more precarious, something brought home with a vengeance to tavern owner William Agin. The Irish immigrant was shot in the back by an unknown assailant and left paralyzed. He spent his remaining days in a wheelchair “carrying a gun every minute” looking for the shooter.  In another incident, a traveling showman was giving a puppet show in the school when a bullet “whizzed through the air from the open door” lodging in the west wall and, not surprisingly, breaking up the performance. The bullet hole remained visible in the school for years.

A possible encounter with an American folklore legend occurred in the early 1870s in the saloon of James Marshall Kimbrell. George Huffman, a Bartlett boy employed to serve customers, alerted his boss that a group of men had entered the establishment; they ordered drinks while claiming they had no money. Kimbrell was working in the saloon’s storeroom, and when he peeked around the corner he reportedly saw men with a “hard, desperate character.” He told George to give them what they wanted. Kimbrell was certain the men were Jesse and Frank James and their gang, based on the fact that the outlaws were operating in Iowa around that time.

As the years passed the town settled down to a more sedate existence. The Christian Church was organized in 1872, joined by the Knights of Pythias and an Odd Fellows Lodge. Other trappings of civilization included a hotel (destroyed by fire), a town physician, Dr. T. C. Harris (who also ran a general store) and a new high school, built in 1921. But like other small towns sustained by railroads, Bartlett entered a steady period of decline with the advent of the automobile and the construction of modern highways. Leta Harris and her sister Iva never left home and remained active in the local community until their passing. They are buried with their family in Thurman.

Below: Bartlett in 1891

Tabor’s Literary Society: Debate in the 1850s

posted May 31, 2017, 9:59 AM by James Nennemann

By: Harry Wilkins
 

Tabor pioneers George Gaston, John Todd and Samuel Adamswere deeply committed to education and brought a tradition of learning and intellectual curiosity with them from Ohio, which would eventually bear fruit with the founding of Tabor Collegein 1866. But before the creation of the college or its forerunner,the Tabor Literary Institute, came the Tabor Literary Society organized on October 23, 1855.
 
What were literary societies? They were social organizations, commonly associated with colleges, which met to review, discuss and debate the pressing issues and news of the day. Tabor was only a small village in 1855 but the communitybelieved it was important to have a forum where participants could seek “mutual improvement in speaking and writing.” The society met twice monthly on Tuesday evenings during the falland winter months, usually for two hours. The meetings were highly structured and followed rules laid out in a constitution. Society officers were rotated monthly, key among them the president, who chose the question to be addressed at the upcoming session and assigned the “disputants,” members of two teams arguing the case either in the affirmative or the negative. In the fashion of true rhetorical debate, disputants were expected to mount the best argument possible, regardless of personal beliefs, with a panel of judges deciding the winner. The society also appointed a “critic” to evaluate written essays andspeeches.
 
Topics addressed by the society provide a unique view of local beliefs and attitudes during the mid-1800s. During this time of political and social strife in the United States many of the debates naturally centered on the institution of slavery and the possibility of civil war. The details of the discussions weren’t documented, but we know, for instance, that at the meeting onDecember 1, 1857, the question before the assembly was: “Resolved: Existing circumstances render the dissolution of the Union desirable.” The society debated and decided the Union must be preserved. In 1858 the group discussed in an “able and spirited manner” whether the federal government had a constitutional right to abolish slavery in the nation; after hearing arguments pro and con, the judges decided that it did. And on the eve of the Civil War, the society mulled the question: “The South has no right to secede from the Union: the affirmative sustained.”
 
The range of topics showed a wide breadth of interest with manyrecognizable to a modern audience. Members discussed whether the invention of labor-saving machines improved the condition of the laboring classes; if men should follow laws thought to be morally wrong; and if “every youth of the U.S. [should] obtain if possible a thorough college education.” The role of women in society was also a popular subject. The founders of Tabor’s school and college believed women deserved an education equal in every way to men, but this progressive attitude was not evident within the Literary Society. While the ladies were welcome to attend and were allowed to read essays, they were never granted full membership. The literary societies of Tabor College would later rectify this by admitting women. 
 
Most debates dealt with weighty issues, but not all. Other less serious resolutions included asking whether the use of tea and coffee were beneficial to mankind (no); if wearing ornamentaljewelry was morally wrong (yes); and if oxen were of more use to mankind than horses (yes). The reaction of local horses, if any, was not recorded.

Shelter Stories

posted May 22, 2017, 8:52 AM by James Nennemann

By: Daisy Malcom


Barns were a part of the growing-up experience I had on our farm north of Thurman in the 1950’s and 60’s. We had three of them used for various activities. The hay barn was the farthest from our house, used exclusively for storage of rectangular hay bales. It had a tin roof with a long overhang sloping down over wooden walls which weren’t completely enclosed. Snakes dwelled there which kept me away from it most of the time.

The rock barn sat in the north pasture and was built into the hillside on the east side. A large open window on the second floor was used when an elevator carried hay upward from a wagon below. There was a wide center area downstairs with a storage room on the west and a feeding/milking area on the east. Bins were located there so the cows could eat as they were milked. Kickers, like handcuffs, locked around a cranky bossy’s back legs so she couldn’t hit the milker on his short, three-legged stool as he pulled and prodded her milk bag to give up the precious liquid.

That barn wasn’t just a place of work, however. In the hay loft on the second floor, there was a basketball hoop, and we had fun there, always mindful of the open square in the floor where stored hay could be dropped down to feed the livestock. Outside, my daredevil brother David would practice his “jump, tuck and roll” maneuvers by jumping off the roof onto the abutting hill.

The third barn was all wood and painted white, built at the side of Bluff Road. There was a lower level on the south—the home for our pigs—with an exit to their outside enclosure and mud bath. At the west end of the barn was another lower level with a slanted chute. I remember watching cattle being prodded in single file up that chute into a truck which would carry the doomed animals to a sale for eventual slaughter.

One of my most vivid memories of that main floor is seeing a slaughtered hog hanging by its back legs, left there to drain its blood before being butchered. To the north of this center area were storage rooms. I remember Mom going in to get some corn and coming back out quickly because of too many mice. Her solution was to get our best mouser, named Fats Domino by my brother. Fats would dutifully go into the room, shake and kill the pests, and dump the bodies like a conqueror at Mom’s feet as she stood outside the barn.

When I was driving age, I’d park my ’57 Chevy in there. I thought I was really lucky those days even though I had to walk down 13 stone steps from the house to the road and another 50 yards to the barn’s main door. These days I find myself complaining occasionally at having to walk 10 yards from my front door to my garage.

Today I find it sad that there are few barns being built and so many old ones being torn down or in disrepair because barn activities were a big part of farm life for me.

The Old Apron, The New Apron

posted Apr 30, 2017, 6:10 PM by James Nennemann

By Sherry Perkins

One of the first articles of clothing I was allowed to iron when first learning how, was an apron.  I practiced my skills on many of Mom’s aprons.  She put on a clean apron every morning and if company drove in, she might quickly put on another clean one. The aprons were tucked into a kitchen drawer along with the dish towels and tablecloths.  That made for six to eight aprons, which were sprinkled down with water and placed into the ironing basket every Monday.  I am sure the apron was chosen so that if by chance I didn’t do a great job of ironing out wrinkles or heaven forbid I scorched a spot---it wasn’t the end of the world.  I (at the age of eight or nine) could easily iron the long ties and simple lines of an apron even though the irons of the day were pretty heavy for a child.

My great--great-great grandmother’s (late 1800’s) apron was of muslin, ankle length and had a pocket where she carried her pipe!  I’ve often wondered if she burnt a hole in her pocket? The plain apron kept her dress dry when she did laundry on a scrub board and carried wet dripping clothes to hang on her fence.  Her apron gathered garden produce, carried baby chicks and eggs, wiped kid’s noses and shooed away flies and mosquitos. Just as aprons did in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50's. 

Then along came the slacks and blue jeans that were acceptable for women to wear and the aprons were put away.  Why have more to iron?  Ladies left the life of ‘Housewife” for that of”career” woman. The apron was tucked away at the bottom of drawers, cedar chests and in dusty attics.  Many were cut into quilt pieces to be used in making warm blankets.  Today there is the resurgence of the apron.  They bring hefty prices at antique stores to be hung on from hooks in fashionable, country kitchens.  Even if only for decoration.  One can find crocheted aprons, lacy aprons, and pure 100% cotton, feed sack aprons which are prized.

Sewing machines are once more edging colorful cloth with bias tape and rick rack. Today I don’t need to iron the apron.   Permanent press fabrics have pretty much eliminated the iron.  Apron patterns are a top seller in the fabric department of our favorite stores.  Today’s apron wearer is just as apt to be a male as men have taken their place in the kitchens of America.  They cook for their families or fire up the bar-be-que for hamburgers and hot dogs. Different generation---- but same useful garment.

The history and stories that are tied to aprons of yesteryear are memories for sharing—some nostalgic —some funny –some unbelievable but memories we all share.  These stories will be shared by daughters, grand-daughters, aunts, cousin and friends if you attend the “If Aprons could Talk Tea Party” at the Gathering Place in Sidney, Iowa; Saturday May 13.  Sponsored by the Fremont County Historical Society, the day begins at 11 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. with a luncheon, silent auction, and apron stories.  Tickets are $15 a person, proceeds go to the Historical Society.  Come and enjoy conversation and stories and wear your favorite apron, if you want.

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