Tag Archives: history

Pocket Knives

by Jim and Melanie

My father had a collection of pocket knives. He gave some of them to our son when he was a young boy. Our boy is now in his 30s and has a son of his own. We have been going through some of the things he left at our house when he moved out. One of those things was his knife collection. I picked out three that were from my Dad and scanned them to show their detail.

The old car in the top knife matches the car Dad had when he was a young man. I even have the receipt he kept when he bought the car. The bottom knife has a steam locomotive pulling several train cars. Our son was a big fan of trains when he was little.

The middle knife turned out to have an interesting story associated with it. The reverse side is different from the front.

I went with Dad several times to a town 20 miles away with loads of hogs to sell at their stockyard. The town was on a rail line that ran into Chicago connecting it with the Union Stock Yards. Animals were easily transported there from our local yard.

I don’t remember Dad ever going to the Union Stock Yards as I grew up. Maybe he got the knife when he visited before I was born. I know he and his brother went to Chicago in 1933 to visit the Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Century of Progress Exposition. In August 1933, he and my mother were married. This trip with his brother was likely before the wedding.

It is possible, though I am not certain, that he and his brother visited the stock yards where they had sent a lot of animals over the years with their father. He might have acquired the knife there as a souvenir. I cannot confirm it. But, it seems possible.

I showed the knife to Melanie. She was intrigued by the name J. M. Doud and started doing some web searching. Genealogy sources identified him a James M. Doud (1864-1926), son of Royal Doud and Mary Sheldon. The Douds became wealthy in the meat packing business. James and five siblings were born in New York state. J. M. was a businessman active in livestock sales first in Iowa and later in Chicago. His name and company appear in ads and legal proceedings. The knife above was probably an item used to promote his sales at the Union Stock Yards.

Opening the blades on the knife revealed the manufacturer as Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co. The history of that brand goes back to 1855 in Chicago. They were a leading wholesaler of hardware in the U.S. by the late 1800s. In 1932, the company introduced a new line of hand tools under the name True Value. The hardware business in the U.S. evolved. By 1962, the company sold the name True Value in order to focus on the real estate business.

Royal and Mary Doud had another son named John Sheldon Doud (1870-1951). John met and married Elvira Carlson in Boone, Iowa in 1894. One of their children was Marie Geneva Doud, also known as Mamie. She grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Colorado Springs and Denver, Colorado, and San Antonio, Texas. She married a young man named Dwight David Eisenhower in Denver in 1916 at the age of 19. They moved often due to military assignments. He later became the 34th President of the United States and she First Lady from 1953 to 1961.

It is interesting how a simple object can be a clue to some facts and history. It is a blessing to have access to so much information literally at our fingertips. It needed a curious mind and some careful digging to bring it to light.


Nebraska | Northwest Corner

by Jim and Melanie

We stopped in Chadron, Nebraska, for advice about what to see and do. The young woman at the information office suggested Chadron State Park 10 miles to the south. We drove to the highest point in the park and hiked a short distance to a scenic overlook to the northwest. The views were very nice, unlike those from interstate highways. The last part of the video zooms to barely see the Black Hills of South Dakota in the distance.

Click to embiggen.

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Historical Marker Ahead

by Melanie and Jim

We recently completed a 3000 mile road trip. Along the way, we saw signs several times a day which denoted an Historical Marker by the roadside. We usually drove on by and wondered what it said. Sometimes we got a glimpse of a few words in the title but nothing else. If we did stop to read, it was when we changed drivers.

We started a paper list of things to look up at a later time. The list included some of those historical sites that seemed interesting. The list also included word origins, reminders, funny things to remember, ideas for a blog post, etc.

When we got home from the trip, we checked off the items on the list, including some of the historical markers we passed. We checked to see if there was a database available online. It seemed like there should be one since these things are so prevalent.

Well, guess what. There is such a database. It is called the Historical Marker Database. Clever title. It is full of information for the traveler and the curious student of history.

When you enter the database, you are welcomed by a page loaded with several types of information such as the marker of the week, recently added markers, a tour of the site, most viewed this week, email signup, and much more. The About Us link describes the criteria for markers included or excluded, the names of those volunteering to keep the database up to date, and helpful notes for users who want to submit their own marker finds and information. The whole thing is a volunteer-run operation, which started in 2006.

Menus choices across the top look like this. The blue Near You button is very useful. It will give you several options to find markers in your vicinity. They are presented on a Google Map for you to click. Clicks on the red markers in the map yield links to more specific information and location. The Geographic Lists is also very helpful. It lists markers in the U.S. and in many countries.

Here is an example of what can be seen using the Near You button. The Amana Colonies are a few miles from our home. Detailed information and an image of the actual marker is included.

Take a look a the site. What historical markers are near you? Have you seen them in person?

Murals | 1934 Works by Local Artist

Several weeks ago, fellow blogger shoreacres posted a story about murals she enjoyed while poking around the environs of Arkansas and Missouri. A visit to her post is well worth the time. I found her pictures of them and the background stories very interesting.

Soon after her post, I visit our local shopping mall which opened in 1998. It has 4 large murals on walls of the walkway depicting scenes of Iowa. They add some visual interest to the mall.

This past week two much older murals were put on public display. Originally, eight were commissioned for display by the Hotel Jefferson in downtown Iowa City in 1934. The works were done by Mildred Pelzer but were not part of the Works Progress Administration murals in which started in May 1935. After Pelzer’s murals were finished, the eight were listed as a tourist attraction on display in the hotel.

In 1949, the hotel was remodeled. The murals were taken down for storage and never put back up. In 1970, the two shown here were discovered in the basement of the hotel. Three others were discovered later in the old city hall building. Three others are still missing. These two, Railroad Arrives and Stage Ready, are now on display in the Senior Center and the Public Library in Iowa City.

Railroad Arrives | Click to embiggen

Stage Ready | Click to embiggen

More of the story about the paintings and the artist is available in this sign posted next to the railroad painting.. It needs to be enlarged for readability.

Scotland | A Few End Bits

by Melanie and Jim

We enjoyed our time in Scotland. The people are friendly. The history is rich. The countryside is beautiful. Our previous posts about our trip will remind us of the highlights each time we revisit them. We hope you have enjoyed them. This post is about a few aspects we found interesting that didn’t fit into the narrative of the earlier ones.

The City of Inverness

Situated on the northeast coast, Inverness opens to Moray Firth and then the North Sea. The River Ness flows from Loch Ness 12 miles (19 km) away and through the center of Inverness. The first claimed sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was in the River Ness in AD 565. We stayed in the city of 47,000 for two days prior to our barge holiday on the Caledonian Canal. We never saw the monster.

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Scotland | Historic Edinburgh

by Jim & Melanie

Our visit to Scotland this fall included our week-long barge trip, which we’ve already discussed. We also had three separate visits to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It is a city that is centuries old. The history of the city’s development intrigued us.

Edinburgh of the Past

Edinburgh was built upon ground surrounding an ancient volcano core. The crag sticking up above the surrounding land where the castle was built stands over 100 meters (330 ft) above sea level. Tailing off toward the east was a ridge of land sloping downward to about 30 meters (100 ft). The top of the ridge served as a roadway. Buildings with shops and residences were densely arranged roughly perpendicular to the roadway. Two old maps show the layout from different perspectives looking north and then looking west.


View north about 1770

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Effigy Mounds | Winter vs Summer Views

Joe emailed last week and asked if I wanted to hike Effigy Mounds National Monument with him on Friday December 12. My calendar looked open. We agreed on a place to meet and made our plan. It is a two hour drive from where we live to reach the park. It is along the bluffs on the west bank of the Mississippi River in far northeast Iowa upriver from the old small towns of Marquette and McGregor. McGregor has only 850 residents now. In the 1870s, it swelled to 5,500 and was one of the busiest shipping ports west of Chicago. Then, the railroads came. Steamboat travel and shipping declined.

The day dawned quite foggy and about 33˚. The weather forecast called for the fog to remain most of the day. We ventured forth anyway. It had been many years since Joe was last in the park. He took the day off from work to get a much needed break. What normally would be a beautiful and scenic drive was now a trip through a fog shrouded countryside. The rolling hills were invisible.

I was at the park with Melanie in May of this year. The banner on this page looks upriver that day. We hiked the same trail then as Joe and I did this day in December. We stopped at the same overlooks along the bluffs to see the river below. Here is our view in May. Click any picture to embiggen.


Looking across to the east into Wisconsin.

Southbound barge traffic. Click to embiggen.

Southbound barge traffic.

The river took on a much different look this time. No river traffic went by. The locks are closed at the dams for the winter. Some ice is drifting by from an earlier cold spell. We did see some Bald Eagles nearby on the bluffs. Very little else was active this foggy day.

Looking east toward Wisconsin...barely visible.

Looking east toward Wisconsin…barely visible.

Downstream toward Marquette and McGregor.

Downstream toward Marquette and McGregor. No barges until spring.

Thanks for joining us on this little adventure.

Ancestors | Walking the Homeland

The main point of this post is how digital technology today allows us to take virtual trips to a vast number of places. It is almost like being there. But, being there in person is the truest way to experience the world. Travel for real if you are able.

My maternal ancestors include the Kelly and Huston lines from central Ireland. In June of 2011, Melanie and I went to Ireland for a vacation. We started in Dublin, then took the train to central Ireland to find my ancestral homeland. I wanted to see it with my own eyes and walk where they walked. We spent the night in Athlone. Next day, the train took us to Galway where we stayed for six more. What a wonderful place.

The Kelly and Huston families lived where the counties Meath and Westmeath border just north of Delvin. My great-grandmother was born there in 1838. She, her eight sisters, and her parents all came to America. A relative showed me a link to deed maps of the mid-1800s for that area. We found two parcels of land which her family apparently owned and farmed. This map marks close to the two parcels.

We rode the train from Dublin to Mullingar. There, were spoke with a cabbie, Mick. We asked him if he would take us out of town just northeast of Delvin. He made a call to his boss and then said he would be happy to do it. Mick was a local and knew the area well. He enjoyed the chance to get out of town for a change. He talked a lot and told some good stories.

I want to see more.

Senator Gladys Pyle of South Dakota

We celebrate women’s history one month a year. Though most of us could argue that women should be celebrated every day, perhaps it is fitting that the designated month is March. March, with the beginning of spring, the symbolism of birth and growth. March, whose very name implies strength and unity and progress. March is a month that symbolizes women well.

Today I bring you the story of a woman who led in the arena of politics, much before her time, a woman named Gladys Pyle.

“The Greek word for ‘idiot’, literally translated, means one who does not participate in politics. That sums up my conviction on the subject.”
~ Gladys Pyle

Gladys Pyle lived by her conviction and was politically active her entire life. Born October 4, 1890 in Huron, SD, she grew up with examples of political careers held by both of her parents. Her father, an attorney and politician who also served as the state’s Attorney General, died when Gladys was 11. Her mother and sisters were involved with the Women’s Suffrage movement, successfully helping to bring women’s voting rights to South Dakota. After her father’s death, her mother taught school and later served on the Huron College Board of Affairs.

As an adult, Gladys broke ground time after time. After graduating from Huron College, Gladys took a position as teacher and basketball coach for both the boys’ and girls’ teams at nearby high schools. She taught for six years before becoming the superintendent of schools for a small school district near Huron, possibly the first female district superintendent in the state.

She decided to enter the political fray, becoming the first woman member of the state House of Representatives in 1923. Her entry into the position only came after demanding a recount after a very close vote. In 1927 she became Secretary of State, the first woman to be elected to statewide office. A Republican, she ran for governor in 1930. There were a number of men in the race, as well, and it was a hard fought primary battle between them, the men virtually ignoring Gladys. Going into May’s convention, Gladys had the lead in balloting. But after deal-making, the man with the fewest votes going into the convention won the party nomination, going on to become governor.

Though she didn’t win the governorship, she next was appointed to the state securities commission from 1931-33, the same period when federal securities laws were enacted to improve stability of the financial system.

In 1936 one of South Dakota’s senators died after a long illness. A successor was appointed, but state law allowed the appointee to serve only until the next scheduled general election, in November of 1938. In addition, the law would not allow a candidate to appear on the ballot twice, so the man nominated for the general election, to be sworn in the next January, could not be elected to the slot open from the time of the election in November until January. Gladys was “the man” for the job.

Senator Gladys Pyle filled the vacant Senate seat from November 9, 1938 until January 3, 1939. She was the first woman elected to the Senate without having been appointed first. Also she was the first woman Republican to serve in the Senate.

She moved to Washington, DC for the two month term, as there were rumors that President Roosevelt would call a special session to take advantage of the Democratic majority in Congress. No special session was called, and Senator Pyle never was sworn in. However, during the time she filled the position, she advocated on behalf of her constituency. Most expenses were paid out of her own pocket. Since she was not sworn in, she did not have a salary.

After her short term in office, she returned to Huron to resume her career in insurance. In addition to filling other positions in public life, she continued as a licensed insurance agent until 1986. At that time, at age 95 years old, she retired and moved into a nursing home. She died in 1989 at age 98.

Gladys Pyle, an ancestor of Jim’s, was a remarkable woman who broke barriers all her life. In her political career as well as her business career, and even as a young woman when she coached basketball and served in education administration, she led the march for women in public life. She lived her conviction, involved in the arena of politics, for the good of the people of her state and the progress of women everywhere.

In his comment below, Jim adds this link with more great information about her. Take a look.