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Archive for April, 2011

Somebody, Somewhere

Frank Loesser (1910-1969)

Frank Loesser is one of my favorite American song writers. I once did a Frank Loesser Review with a tenor/piano player friend at several retirement centers in the community for a generation familiar with his music.

One of my favorite musical notations is in the inside cover of the sheet music Baby, It’s Cold Outside, a song Loesser wrote and performed with his wife. In the published version of the music, the tempo is written Loesserando, in reference to his name.

Another favorite is Slow Boat to China, performed by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Below is Somebody, Somewhere from the musical The Most Happy Fella, first performed on Broadway in 1956.

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Mary and Lafayette Miller (left)

Perhaps the history of any city can be traced to the history of its land and what the land can offer the people. In Colorado’s history, gold plays a major role in how the land was settled. And in the early days of Lafayette, Colorado, coal was the town’s most valuable resource.

The first coal was mined on the farm land of Mary Miller, who came to Colorado with her husband Lafayette in 1863 and bought land acquired through the Homestead Act, a U.S. federal law established in 1861 that gave applicants freehold title of undeveloped federal land west of the Mississippi River. Mary and Lafayette traveled across the U.S. from Iowa in an ox-team train of fifty wagons.

Lafayette Miller died in 1878, and Mary Miller platted 150 acres of land for the town of Lafayette, which she named for her husband. Widowed with six small children, she managed a farm she had begun with him.

Mary Miller (1842-1921)

The farm was described in 1886 by the Boulder County Herald as one of the best conducted large farms in Boulder County: “The farm contains 1,280 acres, all under fence, about half of which is under plow and first class meadow, the balance in pasture. Large crops of oats, corn, and wheat are raised and great stacks of upland hay are plentiful in the field. Horses and cattle, of which there are about 100 or more head, are permitted to roam over the field during the winter and are in fine condition as the large enclosure affords ample feed for all with scarcely any care. Hogs by the score may be seen around the field near the barn. They all show signs of well-filled corn cribs.”

Coal was discovered on the property in 1884. Within six months, the town boomed and had two general stores, a livery stable and several boarding houses. By 1889, Lafayette had five working coal mines and a population of 400.

Output from the mines totaled 300 tons per day, amounting to 10,000 tons a month. Several mines developed in the area were Ludlow, Columbine, Simpson, Black Diamond, Hecla, Mitchell and Strathmore. Miller retained mineral rights and received royalties from many of the mines.

In 1900, Mary Miller founded the Lafayette Bank, was elected president and became the only woman bank president in the U.S. That same year a fire swept both sides of Main St. destroying most the business district and many residences.

Mary Miller house in Lafayette

The city was rebuilt, and by 1914 had two banks, four hotels, three restaurants, a picture show, bakery, candy store, local newspaper, two poolrooms and a pickle factory. Lafayette had brick works and a power station that provided electricity to Boulder, Louisville, Longmont and Fort Collins.

Through the 1930s, the lives of the Lafayette mining families were controlled by Rocky Mountain Fuel Co. The miners and their families earned credit to purchase dry goods, groceries, hardware, clothing and appliances from the company-owned store.

Credit was given to miners and their families during the summer months, when the mines were not in operation or the miner was incapacitated by injury or illness. The miner had to repay their loans during the winter months. Miners suffered poor working condition, low wages, injuries, serious illness and death.

Strikes at the Ludlow Mine in 1914 and at the Columbine Mine in 1927 resulted in the deaths of unarmed miners. In the Ludlow strike, 19 people died during an attack by the Colorado National Guard on a tent colony of 1,200 striking miners. At Columbine, six strikers were gunned down by police and guards working for the mine.

Below is an excerpt from a poem by Dixie J. Myers about her father:

In Ludlow, Colorado, in 1914, 19 people died
during an attack by the Colorado National Guard
on a tent colony of 1,200 striking miners.

The Coal Miner’s Daughter

Lovingly dedicated to my father, Richard H. Brown who spent twenty years in and around Lafayette, Colorado in the black catacombs of the mines.

It was in nineteen hundred and twenty-five
when my father at sixteen and was to spend his young life

Under the ground, black as night,
with poisonous gases and minimal light

He labored and sweated, as his father had done,
to load the coal before the setting of the sun,

Just to owe his pay to the company lords,

Ludlow tent colony

for the supplies that were needed from the company store.

In 1913 he was only four
but the legend of Ludlow was so much more

Than history or hearsay, but painfully real
as he fought the owners through union appeal.

Daddy worked in the mine for twenty long years
but only God and he felt the unshed tears

For the loss of friends who were foolish to trust
and lost their lives in the sooty crust

Of unsafe mines with tunnels unstable,
that claimed their lives with a deadly label.

Josephine Roche

In 1927, Josephine Roche, the daughter of Rocky Mountain Fuel Co. founder John Roche, inherited her father’s holdings in the company. By 1929, she had a majority interest in the company and enacted pro-labor policies. She invited the United Mine Workers of America to return to Colorado and unionize the mines. Life improved for miners in Lafayette.

As natural gas began replacing coal for fuel, miners began cutting production and finally closed. The Black Diamond mine was the last Lafayette mine to close in 1956. Many Lafayette miners worked at the Eagle mine in Erie, Colorado, until it closed in 1979.

Residential growth in Lafayette increased as the neighboring towns of Boulder and Denver grew. The population rose from 8,591 people in 1979 to 24,453 in 2010.

Today, the town’s major employers are Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center, Wal-Mart, Boulder Valley School District, Universal Forest Products, Northrup Grumman, Rocky Mountain Instruments, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Epsilon/Abacus. The average household income is $65,824, and the median house range is $288,000.

The old town district of the city is still its commercial center. Each year, the town has a peach festival, a wine festival, Lafayette Days and the Quaker Oatmeal Festival 5k walk/run. The strikes and turmoil of the city’s violent past are little more than a memory among the tree-shaded neighborhoods and newer residential development of what was once a Colorado frontier town.

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Blue Morpho butterfly

Last night my students wrote a response to the poem The Wheelchair Butterfly by James Tate. One student rewrote the poem in his own words:

Untitled

O resting city of brake-locked, beside the bed wheelchairs
where mice occasionally fall past the point of survival

if he really wants to
he can overhear humans talking about it
in this perpetually sunless town

of scooters
the girl who is expecting
and resembles an avocado in shape

rides her personalized new-age bicentennial transport
the wrong way against gravity in a vertical hallway
of the quiet garage

yesterday was warm. today is doing weird things to wildlife
at inopportune times; causing bad combinations of
child and fragile toy

O cocky city where
bartering lives,

where people are less venomous,
but their sight hasnt improved

in an amber house of imagination,
we wait in our mental annex’s for a new day

as if we wait for cool and cold
mustangs outside of town.

talented religious persons using their talents for unappreciative, small audiences.
bluebell says: gravity still works in water?

the mayor wont
be mayor much longer! metaphor about weeds and fireworks:
beware I dont make sense!

doesnt make sense!
doesnt make sense!

James Tate (born 1943)

The Wheelchair Butterfly

O sleepy city of reeling wheelchairs
where a mouse can commit suicide if he can

concentrate long enough
on the history book of rodents
in this underground town

of electrical wheelchairs!
The girl who is always pregnant and bruised
like a pear

rides her many-stickered bicycle
backward up the staircase
of the abandoned trolleybarn.

Yesterday was warm. Today a butterfly froze
in midair; and was plucked like a grape
by a child who swore he could take care

of it. O confident city where
the seeds of poppies pass for carfare,

where the ordinary hornets in a human’s heart
may slumber and snore, where bifocals bulge

in an orange garage of daydreams,
we wait in our loose attics for a new season

as if for an ice-cream truck.
An Indian pony crosses the plains

whispering Sanskrit prayers to a crater of fleas.
Honeysuckle says: I thought I could swim.

The Mayor is urinating on the wrong side
of the street! A dandelion sends off sparks:
beware your hair is locked!

Beware the trumpet wants a glass of water!
Beware a velvet tabernacle!

Beware the Warden of Light has married
an old piece of string!
………………………………
by James Tate

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James Tate (born 1943)

On first read, The Wheelchair Butterfly may be difficult to understand. The lines most quoted from the poem are in the fifth stanza where the boy plucks the butterfly from the air. It is an image we can pluck from the juxtaposition of images in this poem and make sense of. It’s important when reading a poem like this to allow the mind to go where it will. Our mind has a way of taking dissimilar things and putting them together into a pattern.

But that means reading this poem out of the corner of the eye. It requires a surrendering of logic in our minds. That’s one of the underlying statements of surrealism. The only way to speak to some problems is through the imagination. To see me, reason pollutes the process, it says. The analytic, linear part of the brain normally used to work through the world doesn’t work here. The right side of the brain, the intuitive side, the side that sees things as a whole and not in parts becomes what we need to work through a poem like this. Surrealism says, that’s what needs to be reinforced in people to solve some puzzles in life.

By the age of five, a teacher told me recently, most children have already been discouraged from using their imaginations in their artwork. Elephants can no longer be purple, and clouds can no longer have eyes. That kind of reinforcement debilitates people from using a part of their brain they need to learn, they need to have a certain dexterity of thinking in this world. The right side of the brain has different information we can use to make sense out of life.

Many of Tate’s poems like The Wheelchair Butterfly marry together what seem random images. My interpretation of this poem may not be what he intended at all, but that’s the beauty of surrealism. In its playfulness, it gives the imagination a moment to tinker and have fun.

Blue Morpho butterfly

I see image after image in this poem as panes of stained glass which allow a variety of colors. Mice, wheelchairs, the pregnant girl, bicycles, poppies, hornets, bifocals, garages, attics, ice-cream trucks, fleas, honeysuckle, dandelions, trumpets, tabernacles all give me an impression of suburbia. And with that, the poem begins to fit together more easily. The girl who is always pregnant and bruised like a pear is in a setting now. The camera is panning in on something I understand. In a line like Beware the trumpet wants a glass of water! I see a marching band walking down Main St. and a young boy asking for a glass of water. The mayor urinating on the sidewalk brings to mind small town U.S.A.

I don’t know if Tate’s writing of this poem had that much planning behind it. But something about it itches at our minds. We want to understand what this is about. The images seem aware and responsive to each other. Perhaps the images aren’t concerned if we understand them or not, but the reader is conscious of their placement next to each other and how they inform each other with new meaning.

Our curiosity is stirred from the beginning by the title. Those are two objects we wouldn’t normally place together. A butterfly couldn’t use a wheelchair. It flies in the air. It doesn’t have hands or arms to work the wheels. Wheelchairs are mentioned several times in this poem as if the people in this world are all handicapped. The butterfly will also be handicapped now that the boy has handled it. He will bruise the delicate wings and tear the body and prevent it from flying. It will be as bruised and beaten as the young girl.

Humans are locked in place in this setting, not free to fly around like dandelion seeds or butterflies. They sit in an orange garage full of daydreams. These aren’t men but the mice of men contemplating suicide. The garage color is the only cheerful thing in their lives. It expresses something about what they want. They want to get off of the spinning wheel of this assembly-line existence, which has plucked them from the air and made them captive to a prefabricated paradise.

The Indian pony is an image of that captivity, mustangs that once roamed the plains in the U.S. The 1961 movie The Misfits with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift and Thelma Ritter illustrates how the animal was domesticated and slaughtered for dog food or shot from airplanes. The wild west as we know it, symbolized by these free-roaming horses, was paved over for condos, shopping malls and parking lots. We’re urinating on the sidewalk now, not the earth.

In the end of the poem, the warden of light marries an old piece of string. I see in this odd coupling an evangelist and a church lady as connected to the tabernacle in the preceding line. The trumpet wanting water could be a Salvation Army band banging next to them.

I love the appearance of a trolleybarn in this poem. These repair stations, used for electric streetcars, are a symbol of urban decay in our country and are now in the hands of historic preservation societies. The buildings remain in the fragmented parts of cities left behind for urban sprawl. Throughout this poem, we are receiving fragmented images of urban life. Abandoned people and places, no longer accessible by any other means of transportation, are fixed together in these disjointed images. The girl is on a bike, but she is pedaling backwards, the man is in a car but he can’t get out of his garage. The boy, the mayor, the warden of light and the pregnant girl are left behind on ground overgrown with dandelions. These are landscapes void of ponies or the poetic language of Sanskrit.

The Wheelchair Butterfly

O sleepy city of reeling wheelchairs
where a mouse can commit suicide if he can

concentrate long enough
on the history book of rodents
in this underground town

of electrical wheelchairs!
The girl who is always pregnant and bruised
like a pear

rides her many-stickered bicycle
backward up the staircase
of the abandoned trolleybarn.

Yesterday was warm. Today a butterfly froze
in midair; and was plucked like a grape
by a child who swore he could take care

of it. O confident city where
the seeds of poppies pass for carfare,

where the ordinary hornets in a human’s heart
may slumber and snore, where bifocals bulge

in an orange garage of daydreams,
we wait in our loose attics for a new season

as if for an ice-cream truck.
An Indian pony crosses the plains

whispering Sanskrit prayers to a crater of fleas.
Honeysuckle says: I thought I could swim.

The Mayor is urinating on the wrong side
of the street! A dandelion sends off sparks:
beware your hair is locked!

Beware the trumpet wants a glass of water!
Beware a velvet tabernacle!

Beware the Warden of Light has married
an old piece of string!

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Rules of Conduct for Teachers 1915

Teachers in 1915

In doing research on the history of Boulder County, I ran across this in some school archives:

Rules of Conduct for Teachers 1915

1. You may not marry during the term of your contract.
2. You may not keep company of men.
3. You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., unless attending a school function.
4. You may not loiter downtown in ice-cream stores.
5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the board.
6. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with a man unless he is your father or brother.
7. You may not smoke cigarettes.
8. You may not dress in bright colors.
9. You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
10. You must wear at least two petticoats.
11. Your dresses must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
12. To keep the schoolroom neat and clean, you must sweep the floor at least once daily, scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water; clean blackboards at least once a day and start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm by 8 a.m.

School house in 1872

Rules for Teachers 1872

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day session.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five centers per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

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Swiss colonists at Die Kolony Bernstadt

In discussions with my brother this morning, I discovered our great great grandparents immigrated from Switzerland in 1885 to help establish a Swiss farming community in Kentucky called Bernstadt.

In the 1880s, the Kentucky Bureau of Immigration sent agents to Europe with pamphlets touting Kentucky’s bright future, and many Swiss farmers immigrated in response. Three hundred and thirty six families bought property on 40,000 acres of land in Kentucky. Die Kolony Bernstadt was the largest of four Swiss colonies in the region. Many of these German-speaking immigrants were from the canton of Bern in west-central Switzerland. They wanted to immigrate because high land prices caused a farming crisis in their own country.

The following excerpt about these Swiss colonists is from Harper’s Magazine, volume 78, published in 1889: 

“Kentucky has gone to work in a very sensible way to induce immigration and to attract settlers of the right sort. The Bureau of Immigration was established in 1880. It began to publish facts about the State, in regard to the geologic formation, the soils, the price of lands, both the uncleared and the lands injured by slovenly culture, the kind and amount of products that might be expected by thrifty farming, and the climate; not exaggerated general proclamations promising sudden wealth with little labor, but facts such as would attract the attention of men willing to work in order to obtain for themselves and their children comfortable homes and modest independence.

Invitations were made for a thorough examination of lands — of the different sorts of soils in different counties — before purchase and settlement. The leading idea was to induce industrious farmers who were poor, or had not money enough to purchase high-priced improved lands, to settle upon lands that the majority of Kentuckians considered scarcely worth cultivating, and the belief was that good farming would show that these neglected lands were capable of becoming very productive.

Canton Bern in Switzerland

Eight years’ experience has fully justified all these expectations. Colonies of Swiss, Germans, Austrians, have come, and Swedes also, and these have attracted many from the North and Northwest. In this period I suppose as many as ten thousand immigrants of this class, thrifty cultivators of the soil, have come into the State, many of whom are scattered about the State, unconnected with the so-called colonies.

These colonies are not organized communities in any way separated from the general inhabitants of the State. They have merely settled together for companionship and social reasons, where a sufficiently large tract of cheap land was found to accommodate them. Each family owns its own farm, and is perfectly independent. An indiscriminate immigration has not been desired or encouraged, but the better class of laboring agriculturists, grape-growers, and stockraisers.

There are several settlements of these, chiefly Swiss, dairy-farmers, cheese-makers, and vine-growers, in Laurel County; others in Lincoln County, composed of Swiss, Germans, and Austrians; a mixed colony in Rock Castle County; a thriving settlement of Austrians in Boyle County; a temperance colony of Scandinavians in Edmonson County; another Scandinavian colony in Grayson County; and scattered settlements of Germans and Scandinavians in Christian County.

These settlements have from one hundred to over a thousand inhabitants each. The lands in Laurel and Lincoln counties, which I travelled through, are on a high plateau, with good air and temperate climate, but with a somewhat thin, loamy, and sandy soil, needing manure, and called generally in the State poor land — poor certainly compared with the blue-grass region and other extraordinarily fertile sections.

These farms, which had been more or less run over by Kentucky farming, were sold at from one to five dollars an acre. They are farms that a man cannot live on in idleness. But they respond well to thrifty tillage, and it is a sight worth a long journey to see the beautiful farms these Swiss have made out of land that the average Kentuckian thought not worth cultivating. It has not been done without hard work, and as most of the immigrants were poor, many of them have had a hard struggle in building comfortable houses, reducing the neglected land to order, and obtaining stock.

Wine vineyards in Kentucky

A great attraction to the Swiss was that this land is adapted to vine culture, and a reasonable profit was expected from selling grapes and making wine. The vineyards are still young; experiment has not yet settled what kind of grapes flourish best, but many vine-growers have realized handsome profits in the sale of fruit, and the trial is sufficient to show that good wine can be produced. The only interference thus far with the grapes has been the unprecedented late freeze last spring.

At the recent exposition in Louisville the exhibit of these Swiss colonies — the photographs showing the appearance of the unkempt land when they bought it, and the fertile fields of grain and meadow and vineyards afterward, and the neat plain farm cottages, the pretty Swiss chalet with its attendants of intelligent comely girls in native costumes offering articles illustrating the taste and the thrift of the colonies, wood-carving, the products of the dairy, and the fruit of the vine — attracted great attention.

Johann Jakob and Magdelene Siegrist family
in Bernstadt

Die Kolony Bernstadt

I cannot better convey to the reader the impression I wish to in regard to this colonization and its lesson for the country at large than by speaking more in detail of one of the Swiss settlements in Laurel County. This is Bernstadt, about six miles from Pittsburg, on the Louisville and Nashville road, a coal-mining region, and offering a good market for the produce of the Swiss farmers. We did not need to be told when we entered the colony lands; neater houses, thrifty farming, and better roads proclaimed it. It is not a garden spot; in some respects it is a poor-looking country; but it has abundant timber, good water, good air, a soil of light sandy loam, which is productive under good tillage. There are here, I suppose, some two hundred and fifty families, scattered about over a large area, each o”h its farm.

There is no collection of houses; the church (Lutheran), the school-house, the store, the post-office, the hotel, are widely separated; for the hotel-keeper, the store-keeper, the postmaster, and I believe the school-master and the parson, are all farmers to a greater or less extent. It must be understood that it is a primitive settlement, having as yet very little that is picturesque, a community of simple working people. Only one or two of the houses have any pretension to taste in architecture, but this will come in time — the vine-clad porches, the quaint gables, the home – likeness. The Kentuckian, however, will notice the barns for the stock, and a general thriftiness about the places. And the appearance of the farms is an object-lesson of the highest value.

Paul Schenk family in Bernstadt

The Settlers

The chief interest to me, however, was the character of the settlers. Most of them were poor, used to hard work and scant returns for it in Switzerland. What they have accomplished, therefore, is the result of industry, and not of capital. There are among the colonists skilled laborers in other things than vine-growing and cheese-making — watch-makers and wood-carvers and adepts in various trades. The thrifty young farmer at whose pretty house we spent the night, and who has saw-mills at Pittsburg, is of one of the best Swiss families; his father was for many years President of the republic, and he was a graduate of the university at Lucerne.

There were others of the best blood and breeding and schooling, and men of scientific attainments. But they are all at work close to the soil. As a rule, however, the colonists were men and women of small means at home. The notable thing is that they bring with them a certain old civilization, a unity of simplicity of life with real refinement, courtesy, politeness, good-humor. The girls would not be above going out to service, and they would not lose their self-respect in it.

Many of them would be described as “peasants,” but I saw some, not above the labors of the house and farm, with real grace and dignity of manner and charm of conversation. Few of them as yet speak any English, but in most houses are evidences of some German culture. Uniformly there was courtesy and frank hospitality.

Ottenheim, Lincoln County,
Kentucky, founded
in 1884

The community amuses itself rationally. It has a very good brass band, a singing club, and in the evenings and holidays it is apt to assemble at the hotel and take a little wine and sing the songs of fatherland. The hotel is indeed at present without accommodations for lodgers—nothing but a Wirthshaus, with a German garden where dancing may take place now and then.

With all the hard labor, they have an idea of the simple comforts and enjoyments of life. And they live very well, though plainly. At a house where we dined, in the colony Strasburg, near Bernstadt, we had an excellent dinner, well served, and including delicious soup. If the colony never did anything else than teach that part of the State how to make soup, its existence would be justified.

Here, in short, is an element of homely thrift, civilization on a rational basis, good-citizenship, very desirable in any State. May their vineyards nourish! When we departed early in the morning — it was not yet seven — a dozen Switzers, fresh from the dewy fields, in their working dresses, had assembled at the hotel, where the young landlady also smiled a welcome, to send us off with a song, which ended, as we drove away, in a good-by yodel.”

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