Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cumulative Kodakery c. 1934

Places and events to be enjoyed on the annual trip from Cincinnati to Southampton . . .

by Jesse Halsey

Both business necessity and vacation pleasure take me back and forth between the Middle West and the Eastern seaboard. So many times we have gone and come that most routes are thoroughly familiar. The decimal numbers 20, 30, 40, 50 seem to be the FEDERAL Highways that run from ocean to ocean. Route 30 is the Lincoln; the first transcontinental road that was developed. Rt. 40 is the National, which Thomas Jefferson projected to St. Louis and built as far as Cumberland.

Anyone who is interested in history or geography ought now and then to record his impressions. Ten minutes; stop refreshes the driver and a picture here and there years after refreshes the memory. Twenty years ago, when we began these trips, the notable things were the places where the engine broke down or there was a change of tires. The boys, who have come to their maturity, often point out a tree where once upon a time we patched a blowout. Of course, in these days, blowouts seldom happen, which gives one time for extra pictures.

Let us be more specific. As we go east on Federal Rt. 22, which leads from our door to the Holland Tunnel, we pass through the village of Somerset, Ohio, where General Phil Sheridan was born. In the public square is a bronze equestrian statue of this dashing Federal Cavalry leader. A little inquiry will reveal that a block and a half away is the modest one-story cottage where he was born. It may be the holly hock season. If so, you will find it a most interesting subject. A mile away, out on one of the country roads, is the more pretentious house where he later lived. This, with its pine trees, is worth a picture. The, of course, you will snap the Norseman in the square. And these three negatives will go into an envelope in your file. On this trip, or more likely some other, it may be several years after—you will plan to drive up or down the Shenandoah Valley. A picture of Winchester, a road sign likely, where Sheridan’s name appears. These pictures will go into your “Sheridan Envelope.”

Sometime when you are down town in Cincinnati, you will snap the house on Eigth Street where Thomas Buchanan Reed lived; he who wrote “Sheridan’s Ride.”

Winchester twenty miles away.

On a picnic some springtime you will be in Murdoch. You will be at Bethel Church near Loveland, Ohio, where Murdoch lived, the actor who first declaimed Reed’s poem to a war-weary Cincinnati audience.

This has likely started a Civil War train in your mind. Certainly, as you pass through Lancaster, only twenty miles from Somerset, you will snap the house where General Sherman was born and the house next door where Senator John Sherman lived . . .

Or, as they get a little older and have other interests, you will tell them how Senator Sherman, who had extensive farm interests, went home from Washington one spring, telling his friends that he must go out to Ohio “to fix his fences.” From that day on the phrase has always had a political complexion. Out of an experience like this, made to register in the mind largely because it was definitely registered on a Kodak file, you will find that both you and members of your household will be reading say—the Life of Sherman? This is not only cumulative photography but cumulative education.

The next summer we planned our trip to include as many spots as possible connected with General Jackson’s life. So I found a steel engraving of Jackson and his wife and little girl, and ever since it has hung in my study, ‘though I am of New England extraction born and bred.’ We never visited Jackson’s birthplace, but have a picture of the house at Guiney Station where he died, and have gone to the spot in the woods on the Orange Pike where he had his last conference with General Lee, went to the monument on the same road in the Wilderness where he was accidentally shot by his own men. This we found surrounded by tar barrels and gravel used in road repair. A letter to the Richmond Times Dispatch and one to the Daughters of the Confederacy, signed by a Yankee and protesting against the desecration, lead to a cleanup, and the next year we found the place sodded and mowed.

Gettysburg we have visited time and time again; the first time under the guidance of a friend who spent his college years there and twice with Official guides (one thought we were Northerners and the other was sure we were of Southern extraction, and their interpretations of the battle varied to suit).

On one occasion we camped overnight in “The Devil’s Den.” A terrific thunderstorm in the night blew down the tent and nearly washed us out. In the morning, which was beautiful and clear, the little girl of eight looking up through the trees and seeing General Vincent’s statue, said, “Dad, I think that soldier must have been watching over us last night.” Of course, a picture of that soldier went into our “Gettysburg Envelope” and eventually into the “Civil War Scrap Book.” A print with the story, brought pleasure to our neighbor and friend, Bishop Boyd Vincent, brother of the General who was killed at Gettysburg (the Bishop is very much alive at eighty-seven).

Or take a Revolutionary trail. My great great grandfather, whose name I happen to bear, fought in the American Revolution. Our family has visited every place where he is known to have fought, and many others. Hearing of the Battle of Lexington, he and his brother, with other men, crossed Long Island Sound, walked from New London to Boston and engaged in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was present at Cambridge when Washington took command of the Continental Army, at times was on Washington’s staff, spent the winter in Morristown (at Valley Forge we are not certain). At Monmouth he heard Washington rebuke General Charles Lee. So, in the “Grandfather Envelope” we have pictures of the spot where his house stood on the east end of Long Island, one of the monument at Groton, Connecticut, where his brother, Captain Henry, was killed when Benedict Arnold made his raid on New London, Bunker Hill Monument, Cambridge Square, the headquarters in Morristown, Molly Pitcher’s well at Monmouth (with a member of our own family standing by), the old tenant Church where grandfather, who was wounded in the battle, may have been carried, Yorktown, where likely he was present, and his grave in the old cemetery at Water Mill, where his D.A.R. great great granddaughter has erected a suitable marker.

Some of our leads have yet to be followed. For instance, in passing through Brandon, Vermont, last summer, we discovered a monument to Stephen A. Douglas, who was born there. Sometime, when we are in Illinois, we will add to the collection. In the meantime we will, some of us, do some reading and become a little better informed about Lincoln’s protagonist.

“Molly Pitcher Envelope” contains not only the well at Monmouth, but the monument in the cemetery at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which would just be a name on the map to us except for our interest in Molly.

Some of these pictures have made slides and we have inflected on our friends some accounts of our summer travels. The Kodak has gone twice to Europe, but never has it given as great satisfaction as when the family, with an over-loaded Ford and wet tent, has worked its way across the mountains.

During the Bicentenary there appeared in Maryland on some of the highways a marker, “G. Washington Went This Way.” That year we tried to follow his trails, visiting Fort Necessity, where for the first and last time he was defeated in military engagement. Not many miles away is Braddock’s grave. Down on the peninsula we found Westover, his birthplace, that had just been restored (it was too late in the day to get a picture, even with panchromatic film, and the supersensitive film had not then appeared). That same itinerary included Yorktown and, of course, Mt. Vernon. The capital city, named for him, his headquarters at Morristown were revisited, his crossing on the Delaware north of Trenton, the battlefield at Princeton, and, on the return trip, West Point and the headquarters at Newburgh.

This is a painless method of teaching history, a great incentive to large reading, a method of making a necessary trip into a pleasurable memory and an inexpensive way of keeping an illuminated diary. It involves long distances and, more to the point, a succession of years, with different areas visited. It is, however, an inexpensive adjunct to a vacation or a necessary business trip.

Distance is not absolutely necessary, but points in local history can be correlated by this picture method. For example, the writer lives in Cincinnati. The law office of Solomon P. Chase, Lincoln’s secretary of the treasury and chief justice is marked and worthy of a picture. The home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, where part of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was written, stands on one of our hills. The observatory dedicated by John Quincy Adams, and Mt. Adams, named for him, where stands a convent almost European in its setting. The place where Eliza crossed the river on the ice is not many miles up the river. An old church and several houses in the neighborhood, which were stations of the underground railway, are to be found. The old hostelry where Grant and Sherman planned the “March to the Sea” was just recently demolished. One of the battles “in General Morgan’s audacious raid into Ohio” is less than twenty miles away.

One passes Princeton, turns aside to the cemetery; America’s Westminster. Here, with the other college presidents, lies Jonathan Edwards, who died of smallpox in the village where he had just come to take the college leadership. Two days or a week later you are in Stockbridge, remembering Edwards lived there for a decade. You find a sundial on the side of his old house and in the public library, hidden away upstairs, the hexagonal revolving table on which he wrote his “Freedom of the Will.” At Northampton a church is named for him and on another corner stands a church where his church stood. In the Princeton cemetery, again on a back street, ‘though one with a famous name (Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign the Declaration), you will find the grave of Grover Cleveland with its simple monument.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Billy’s Christmas Party: A New Englander

by Jesse Halsey

Thanksgiving night our minister dreamed a dream. Vividly it came to him. A Thanksgiving turkey, one of the perquisites of this particular parish, may have been the cause—I cannot say (not being a Freudian psychoanalyst). Not with the cause, but of the results of the dream am I to tell you.

The minister dreamed that his eight-year-old Billy, who had died two years before, was hungry—hungry in the midst of plenty; and that on Thanksgiving day! The minister’s childhood was spent in New England where Thanksgiving was celebrated like our Christmas. Billy’s few Christmases had been spent in a time and in a part of the country where Christmas is Christmas. So, the next day our minister determined that Billy should have his Christmas celebration by proxy. He has that curious sort of Celtic (or is it Christian?) faith that convinces him that those who have “gone on” know what goes on here.

So the next afternoon our minister started by making a call on Anne James, a member of the Junior League, popular with all her contemporaries, an effective executive, but for some years confined to a wheel chair. She agreed to be general manager; using the telephone and direction all our activities. The four oldest members of the congregation were made honorary patrons. “Uncle Billy” Union, eighty-seven, loved and respected throughout our city, was to act as honorary chairman (for forty years the said “Uncle Billy” has entertained a score of city waife at his own Christmas Eve table). Madam G—who spent her active life as a missionary in educational work in Egypt—loved of all; Miss A—the oldest living communicant; and the jovial Mr. M—most generous of souls; these were to act as honorary sponsors.

Within ten days the following penny postcard went out (the minister has a press and does our parish printing: The cut on the card he clipped somewhere from a church paper and had it turned into a zinc etching.):

But if a sleeping baby now lay
Within a manger filled with hay
And God’s star pointed the way,
Would I believe? Would I obey?

This is Your First Card With
Two weeks ahead of time it practices economy,
though not stinginess; the postman will be pleased,
it is mailed early.

It comes to tell you, of a Christmas Supper for the
Hundred Hungriest Children
we can find on Christmas Eve.

Every group in the Church will have some
part. You are invited to seat a guest. It will
cost fifty cents and no one person can entertain
more than ten. Send your reservations, and
come and see the children at 3:00 p.m. on December
24. If it should grow to 200 I shall not be surprised.

The difference in postage between this card
(there are 700) and a sealed envelope will be
our contribution to the party. So you understand,
and will approve.

And remember, please, that this card brings
to you and yours the sincere Christmas Greeting
of your minister and his family.

Seventh Presbyterian Church
December Eighth, A.D. 1932

The response was immediate. Dollar bills began to come in every mail. Many brought theirs on Sunday and others brought their fifty-cent pieces. Old Mintie Bates, who is cared for by the parish, brought a quarter, as did several children. Two youngsters brought their dimes.

Organization went merrily on. The acting chairman, from her chair, directed the organization. Mrs. Jones agreed to cook and serve the meal. Twenty volunteers from the Sewing Society rushed to her support. Six men offered to send turkeys. “Uncle Billy” made a bid for all the fruit. Mrs. Haney and Miss McCine volunteered to solicit the candy. Miss Kirk, a retired teacher, her hands crippled with rheumatism, asked to make the candy bags. Mr. Breton, our leading architect, directed a group of young people, who cared for the decoration. Mike Sigler, a Jewish peddler at our corner, insisted on furnishing the Christmas tree. Mrs. Shore, her sisters, her children, and her grandchildren, dressed the tree.

Christmas Eve was purposely chosen that it might be an inconvenient time for our privileged people to show their hand and heart toward the less fortunate. The Young People’s Society, who had Christmas activities of their own and were interested in home celebrations as well, insisted on washing the dishes (and incidentally, by nine o’clock that night, had the dining room and kitchen spic-and-span). The only paid help was for additional janitor service, due to the many tables and chairs and fact that Christmas Eve was on a Saturday night. Everyone gladly accepted their assigned job as if it were a Christmas privilege.

The minister felt confident that one hundred could easily be provided for. It grew to four hundred before they had finished. Two hundred names, and then two hundred more, of the neediest children in the city came to us from the welfare director at City Hall. Each child was sent a personal invitation, under a three-cent stamp. Cars were offered, although it was a busy Christmas Eve, and, under the direction of our Boy Scouts, every child was sent for, brought to the church, and later returned. This we thought a rather severe test of the congregation’s loyalty.

At three o’clock our guests arrived. Kate Douglas Wiggin is needed to describe these Ruggles! Coats were checked by Girl Reserves and all finally seated in the big parish hall. Portable movies (or rather talkies) gave a half-hour’s varied program; then came the skillful manipulation of the marionettes by Mrs. G, an adept amateur. This gave the children unbounded delight.

Promptly at four, in step to a pealing Christmas march echoing from the whole parish house through the church organ loft, the children went downstairs for dinner. Tables were spread for three hundred in the dining room. (Our minister insisted on the best china. “No paper plates,” said he. “Fear of germs? No, not at Christmas! Scald the plates, but don’t use paper.” His word is law, so the best was used.)

The Mayor carved the first turkey; a hundred plates were ready hot in the kitchen—turkey and all that goes with it. Another hundred followed in a jiffy, a third, and then part of the fourth. (The Scouts had gone out with a bus to look for the last twenty on the city streets; and the found them. Hastily washed, they came; not dressed in their best like the others, but happy.)

The tiny tables from the church kindergarten were arranged around the brilliantly-lighted tree that stood in the big gymnasium adjoining the dining room. The sliding doors between the two rooms were up and all was festive and gay. Chairman Anne, from her wheelchair, looked on, still our executive officer. “Uncle Billy” and his three assistant patrons all came to act as hosts. The young people waited on tables and for an hour music and laughter filled the rooms.

When all were fed Santa Claus appeared. From somewhere he brought a big shopping bag for each child, with the child’s name on it (the three hundred odd who had written invitations). In the bag was an apple and an orange, a pound of candy (in one of Miss Kirk’s bags), a popcorn ball, and an age-appropriate toy (furnished by the mother and father of a little maid who went away at Christmastide). The big boys had knives; the girls, most of them, dolls; and even the late-comers found filled bags—though necessarily unnamed ones.

Three children ‘phoned in that they had missed the auto, so their dinner even to ice cream, was sent them!

Everyone worked with a will; nearly four hundred of the neediest had a gay Christmas Eve and the minister’s Billy—did he know about his party? “Why not?” says our minister. “Why not?”
December 1938 Letter from John Herrick to Jesse Halsey regarding writing from Herrick's mother concerning both men.

"he never crawls"

Frank Nelson incarnates my ideal of a Christian minister. He is first and always a gentleman. He has human sympathy and unfailing enthusiasm. He never apologizes for his religious convictions nor is his religion something superficial; rather it is part and parcel of himself, its spirit evident in all he says and does.

He has great executive ability, he has stirring convictions, his ethics adorn his doctrine. I have seen him in tight places, he never crawls.

He has the kind of preaching ability that moves the hearer to action and to a deeper faith in goodness and in God.

He is an ideal pastor with that rare intuition of knowing when to speak and when to refrain from speaking. He is the friend of every good cause, the helper of all who are in need. Many of us rely on his good judgment and covet the contagion of his persistent, consistent, tireless energy, and enthusiasm.

I like to hear him pray, I like to hear him preach; both put me in touch with that supreme reality that I call God. The prophetic note is often his, the apostolic fervor, also the humility of the true Disciple.

Four decades of heroic service—and still at it. The Lord prosper his way in blessing, who has been a blessing to so many thousands, as to me.

-Jesse Halsey

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jesse Halsey Diary: May 1933


Sunday afternoon, May 28, at two o’clock, Helen, Abby, and I left here for Berea, stopping a few minutes with the Herrmanns. After a hurried supper in Berea, I preached in the college chapel for the closing service of the year—fifteen hundred mountain boys and girls. Talked to them on Zechariah 2, “The City without Walls.”

Next morning about 10:30 started for Hendersonville, going by way of Knoxville and the Smoky Mountain Park. The road across Smoky Mountains into Ashville is not finished, but we skirted the northern edge, which is very beautiful, and at 10:30, passing through a heavy rain, arrived at Hendersonville.

Cousin Mary has almost lost her eyesight through cataracts. Two years ago she broke her hip and gets around with difficulty. We spent most of the day with them, leaving at five o’clock. We drove through the mountains to Chimney Rock, back to Ashville, and so on along the French Broad River in the sunset, arriving at Newport, Tennessee, just after dark. Here we spent the night and about five o’clock the next morning started for home (400 miles).

We stopped several places along the way to see interesting things, brought home a few laurel and holly plants, stopped at Berea a few minutes and arrived her at 6:10 P.M.

When to Stop

I was standing yesterday in front of the public library looking at some of the books displayed. A man, rather poorly dressed, very modestly approached and ventured, “Is this Mr. Halsey?” When he repeated it the second time I heard and said, “Yes.” He went on to say that he heard me preach a couple of weeks ago one Sunday night in the Bethlehem Church. I said, “Yes, and I talked too long.” He said, “O, say; there is a book in this library about that called ‘When to stop.’” Then in a very businesslike fashion giving me the author’s name and publisher continued our conversation along other lines.   --Jesse Halsey, c1932
Letter from Sir Wilfred Grenfell to Rev. Jesse Halsey, 1932

Eulogy: Frank Nelson

Frank Nelson by Rev. Jesse Halsey

Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? And like the little boy in John Bunyan's Dream Story, when Mr. Greatheart, the guide, is called away, I feel like saying, "You have been so faithful and kind, how can we go on without you?"

Frank Nelson was a friend to all sorts and conditions of men and women high and low, rich and poor--to each he gave of the rich treasure of his soul. His counsel was sought by a multitude of persons but each to him was an individual, not a "case." Time, money, thought, himself he gave. During the last five years his body sometimes rebelled, but to no purpose; straight and unbent in body and mind and spirit, straight on he went with his appointed task and with His Master we can say "It is finished."

As one who has watched hi for a quarter of a century with growing admiration and pride in his friendship, there are certain great qualities that impress me as the undergirding of his life. Among them are these: patience with people, courage of utterance (and performance) on questions of public policy, sanity of judgment, burning religious passion, and enthusiasm unquenchable in all that he said and did.

He was modest in the face of a crescendo of accomplishment. He took a downtown Church in its decadence and raised it in membership and power of influence to a cathedral quality. He was the unmitered bishop of his city--men of all religions and of no (vocal) religion turned to him as spokesman and guide. All that he did for humanity, in and through his church, or in himself, had a supernal quality that reminded us constantly that man doth not live by bread alone. The word of God, richly in true wisdom, was on his tongue--in rebuke of unrighteousness (scathing and prophetic words), in encouragement of goodness (heartening words), in consoling tenderness and understanding for the sorrowing.

He walked with God, sane and orderly in his thinking; his utterance was always warmed with enthusiasm--enthusiasm for goodness and all lovely things.

He believed in God with all his mind and strength and he believed in his fellow man--not abstractly but in person and in deed and in truth. Rich in good works going to an abundant entrance he leaves behind many a pilgrim who will continue the steep climb because he set our feet on the climbing way. Like Chaucer's parson: "first he wroughte and afterward he taughte."

Once, years ago, in a great convention of social workers, Mr. Nelson was scheduled to speak. He affronted his audience with a sermon on "Immortality"! And he made the unseen so real that resentment melted into reverence and men and women came away believing (some for the moment and some for life): believing in God as the only sure foundation for human thought--and action; believing in a God who is able in time and in eternity to carry His children. In that kind of a God, incarnate in Christ, Frank Nelson believed; that God he trusted and served. And he preached that Gospel. (He preached entirely naturally, homiletically untrammelled--utter contagion, Christ revealing.)

His greatest feat professionally (how he would despise my description) was undoubtedly the Three Hour Service on Good Friday. Year after year (nigh on to two score) his exposition of the Seven Words was freighted with human sympathy and Divine Grace. "He knew what was in man." He saw God. A deep-dyed (incarnadine) mystic (in spite of all his disclaimer) he reached beyond things seen to the Eternal. No crucifix was needed in his Church on Those Days (or any other)--the Crucified was there.

He carried our city on his heart and shoulders, just as Isaiah loved Jerusalem, and as Sir Walter loved Edinburgh. He fought her battles, unafraid.

He served Christ's church and God's kingdom in ecumenical breadth and with Apostolic fervor. His Church (Christ Church) was a house of prayer for all peoples more than any church I have ever known. He adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour  in all things. Many of us will miss him as an elder brother; heaven seems more real--and more desirable--since he went there.

We sang it as his funeral--or tried to. It was his favorite, announced non all appropriate occasions--John Bunyan's pilgrims' song:
"He who would be faithful be 'gainst all disaster
Let him with constancy follow the Master."
"You have been so faithful and kind, how can we go on without you?" That is my feeling but it must not be my last word; it is unlike our Mr. Greatheart for me to be saying it. But I have the fitting word--again it is not mine but Bunyan's:
"After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant-for-Truth was taken with a summons by the same post as the other, and had this for a token that the summons was true, that his pitcher was broken at the fountain. When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it. Then said he, 'I am going to my Father's; and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that an get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles Who now will be my rewarder.' So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."

Rev. Frank Nelson of Cincinnati

from Frank H Nelson of Cincinnati by Warren C. Herrick

Among the many tributes paid at the time of Mr. Nelson's death, was one given by the Reverend Jesse Halsey, the beloved former minister of the Seventh Presbyterian Church, who culled the phrase "An Unmitered Bishop," a title which is signally descriptive of the man by reason of the many civic causes to which he was spiritual advisor, and thus a father-in-God to diverse groups scattered over the seven hills and in the "bottoms." He actively furthered many humanitarian causes: the Juvenile Protective Association, the Anti-Tuberculosis League, the Branch Hospital, the Community Chest, the Council of Social Agencies, the Helen S. Trounstine Foundation, the Hospital Social Service, St. Michael's Convalescent Home, and many others. Now that he is gone, the long list of social enterprises ceases to be a mere string of activities and becomes a roll of drums.[11] His whole life seems to exemplify the words of the philosopher Bacon: "The nobler a soul is, the more objects of compassion it hath." His spirit breathed out upon men, and in his lifetime the city felt its beauty and greatness, drawing from his constancy the courage to endure. He protested impatiently against the nonsense often bandied about concerning the alleged immorality of city folk compared with country folk, and cited confuting evidence out of his pastoral experience to prove his conviction saying, "Heroes of these days are the poor people who live in our big cities."

. . .

Mr. Nelson was one of the three founders of the Council of Protestant Churches. No small detail was above him, and with Jesse Halsey he rummaged through second-hand stores for furniture for the first office. With the ministers of other churches he worked in closest cooperation, and together they fought the Cox Gang, supported the Social Agencies, and many other activities to which the civic-minded and church-minded in Cincinnati gave unstintingly of their devotion.

. . .

"All the hold those people have on God is me. It is terrible. It bothers me. They love me but they don't come to church." Mr. Nelson confided in this vein one night to his intimate friend, Jesse Halsey, into whose study he had stopped on his way home from a call in a distant suburb. While it was inevitable that some people should use him as a crutch or should let him do their climbing for them, the truth of the matter is that he was a chosen channel for the communication of the Divine Spirit to earth-bound men. Because he was genuinely humble, he was troubled about those people who could approach God only through him. If they little sensed that what they loved in him was God, they nevertheless were compelled by their limitations to think of God in terms of Frank Nelson.

. . .

The admiration and affection which Mr. Nelson elicited was pointedly demonstrated at his funeral. Bishop Burton sat in the chancel alongside the Reverend Jesse Halsey, the Presbyterian minister. Dr. Halsey said: "Bishop Burton, perfect gentleman that he is, not once crossed himself in deference to Frank's (to him, atrocious) low church prejudices!" Frank Nelson was like that. Respect for him sometimes came grudgingly, but it came because there was no personal animosity in the man. He was honored because he was a moral and a spiritual force with which to be reckoned."

From "Frank H Nelson of CINCINNATI" by WARREN C. HERRICK, With A Foreword by Charles P. Taft, LOUISVILLE . THE CLOISTER PRESS . MCMXLV COPYRIGHT, 1945, By The Cloister Press.

[Ed note: Frank H. Nelson was Rector of Christ Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1900 to 1939. He died on July 6, 1945.]

from A Profile of Christ Church Cathedral
When the Rev. Frank Nelson became the rector in 1900, the Parish House was the center of a neighborhood to which people came for help and recreation, and from which parishioners went forth to help their neighbors. Under the Rev. Mr. Nelson’s leadership (1900-1939), the parish continued to expand services to the community, but it also became a place of leadership in the improvement of the City of Cincinnati itself. The Rev. Mr. Nelson emphasized three aspects of Christ Church’s life: worship, social responsibility and financial stewardship.

from Wikipedia
Charles Phelps Taft II (September 20, 1897 - June 24, 1983)
was a U.S. Republican Party politician and member of the Taft family. From 1955 to 1957, he served as Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio. Like other members of his family, Taft was a Republican for the purposes of state-wide elections. However, when running for municipal office in Cincinnati, Taft was a member of the Charter Party. During his term as mayor, Fortune magazine ranked Cincinnati as the best managed big city in the United States. As mayor, he gained the nickname "Mr. Cincinnati".

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wrecking Master

by Jesse Halsey
Deep ruts in the grass mark the effort of heavy wagons in avoiding the muddy highway. Cap’n Harry had laid out fence rails in front of his place. He took great pride in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road. But, when the unpaved and almost ungraded highway became “sticky as a Mortar bed,” as he expressed it, why then he always relented and took up the rails. Then some adventurous farm boy would leave the muddy tracks and, while the old man fussed a good deal about it, he never did anything.

“Why don’t you keep your rails down one spring and keep folks off?” This was Squire Jim’s advice.

“How’d you feel if some fella’s horse got scratched and got lockjaw ‘cause he drove over my rails some dark night? I always manage to patch up the front and scratch in a little grass see and get things lookin’ ship-shape by Decoration Day. Someday we’l have a good road. There’s pebbles enough on Sebonac Beach to build a stone highway all the way from the railroad to the church! Then everybody would have a grass plot along front. Strange we can’t get that appropriation through the town meetin.’”

The half-formed leaves cast their sufficient shadow over the village street. Cap’n Harry, with wheelbarrow and rake and shovel, was filling in the ruts and scratching in the seed. The street had been plowed and crudely honed to an indefinite crown. Frost had been gone for two months but Cap’n Harry had been so busy with his spring planting that his “front” had been neglected. This was not unusual, however. He always calculated to have it repaired and seeded and the sidewalk neatly edgetd by Decoration Day.

“Mornin’, Cap’n,” called a boy from horseback as he bought his animal to a walk. “Looks like it was goin’ to rain.”

“Yes, reckon it will. Never seen it fail yet. Fine sunset Friday night, sure to rain before Monday mornin’! But the rain’ll do things good—getting’ a little dry. Rain’ll help the corn.”

As if to reinforce the old man’s statement of fact, a little trail of dust followed the heels of Jimmy’s horse down the street.

“Now, Sis, you run fetch that pail of red top settin’ inside the woodhouse door. I”ll show you how to sow grass seed.”

Little Eliza turned into the “gap,” sped across the deep yard and presently returned with a wooden bucket half filled with the feathery stuff. The Cap’n bent his rheumatic back, scattered the seed along the ruts and over the bare spots that interspersed the green that already covered the greater part of the ground.

“Let me try, Gramp!” And with that the child began to ladle out small handfuls of the seed.

“Not that way, Lizzie, spread it ‘round like this—this. Don’t take much if you put it in the right place.”

Quickly following the old man’s example, the child took over the sowing while the old gentleman, straightening his back with a half-suppressed grunt, began to rake in the seed after the child.

“Yes, it’s goin’ to rain. Rheumatism in my back tells me that.” And with that he glanced up toward the weather vane on his old barn. “Swingin’ into the east’ard,” he mumbled to himself.

The big weather vane, fashioned to simulate a sperm whale, hung lazily with its upturned tail toward the south. The angular square knob of a head and the open jaw with sawtooth edges pointed dead north.

“Won’t stay there long,” thought the old man. “Always goes to the east-ard when it comes ‘round backwards.”

Several neighbors came along the street, passed the time of day with Cap’n Harry, and went about their business.

Miss Deborah came out of the big house across the street, chatted for a moment and out from the folds of her apron, brought a couple of molasses cookies for little Liza.

“Didn’t hear you say, ‘Thank you, Lizzie.’ But then I don’t hear too good. I know you would.”

Like Dr. Johnson, his model, Cap’n Harry had found that most people responded to a hint better than a reprimand. Likely this had been the secret of his popularity and efficiency. Who can say?

The old man and the little girl dragged the heavy stone roller up and down over the new sown grass and the old lawn, exhausting most of their surplus energy.

Jimmy Bishop, coming back from his long errand, dismounted, took a turn of the bridle reins around the hitching post and, with a boy’s enthusiasm, ran the roller back and forth two or three times, finishing the area, then dragged it back to its place in the yard under the sour apple tree. Little ‘Liza seated herself in the wheelbarrow, holding the rake and shovel, and the Cap’n pushed the girl and the barrow into the yard and out by the woodpile.

Reaching the pump, both of them vigorously washed their hands and faces and came through the back door into the kitchen.

“Dinner is not quite ready, Father. Why don’t you go in and lie down.”

Crossing the dining room, the pair reached the Cap’n’s cubby hole. In later times it would be called a “den” or “study” but the agglomeration of all sorts and conditions of things made it a place wonderful to behold. In a prominent place on the wall just over the deal table, which served as a desk, but just visible above the piled disorder, hung a framed certificate signed by the Governor of the Commonwealth and granting Cap’n Harry the authority of “Wrecking Master” for ten miles of the Atlantic shore.

“Tell me a story, Gramp,” whispered the little girl as she climbed on the old man’s knee.

“Not now, child, I’m too tired, but this evening after supper . . .”

As grandfather fell off into a quiet snooze the little girl stated out of the back door, only to find that it was beginning to rain. “Gramp is right,” she thought, “he said it was going to rain. He’s always right.”

True to his promise, when the evening lamp was lighted and the supper things had been cleared away and little Eliza had helped to dry the dishes, grandfather began one of his tales of the sea.

“Twenty years ago, just before the war, there was a big ship came ashore off Flying Point in a snowstorm. Old Cap’s Bill White, who had been wrecking master for a good many years, got a crew together and managed to launch a whaling boat. For some reason or other he gave me the leading oar and, after a rough time of it, we managed to get out under the lea side of the ship and took off the passengers and the crew. Two or three days later, on a high tide, the vessel was floated and I went with Cap’n White and the crew that sailed ‘er into New London.

“The owners and the insurance company between them paid Cap’n Bill the two thousand dollars for his part in salvaging the ship. This he divided among the crew, and I got one hundred dollars, which was a good deal of money in those days but a good deal more before the war was over.

“Some years later when Cap’n White had retired, Governor Thompkins made me wrecking master. That’s my old certificate hanging over my desk.”

The storm was howling outside, and the rain could be heard in torrents on the low shingle roof, but a bright fire burned in the fireplace. The warm spring day had reverted to the wild March and an easterly storm swept the coast. The state of the elements seemed to be reflected in the old man’s mind and, while it was no uncommon thing for the family circle to hear the round of stories that the old man’s experience had accumulated with the years, that night he was “wound up,” according to neighbor Clark, who had dropped in for an hour.

The next morning little Eliza, venturing out before breakfast, discovered with dismay that the heavy rain had washed grass seed and ground alike down into the gutter and carried it away. The strip between the great trees and the road was washed clean and the old ruts had reappeared. But by afternoon, when the sun had come out and the mud had dried up, the energetic pair, Gramp and ‘Liza, were making the same repairs and scattering more seek. This time no neighboring boy came by to help with the roller and, though the afternoon sun was out bright and warm, the last few turns up and own thoroughly exhausted the old captain and his helper; and that evening there were no stories.

Years afterwards I asked my [sister], Eliza, now a middle-aged woman with children of her own, what most impressed her in her youth, and she answered, “My grandfather’s perseverance. He was wrecking master of the shore before the days of lifeguard and lighthouse. It was his business to organize the volunteer crews from the village to help a vessel in distress, and then to salvage the vessel, or its cargo if the vessel was hopelessly wrecked. This endangered life and limb, but no matter what the conditions of the weather my grandfather could always command the help for the villagers. Everyone fit to row and oar was a volunteer if he said the attempt should be made. Everyone knew that if it were humanly possible he would meet the situation—nothing would turn him back.”

I knew something about my [sister]’s life –ill health, financial reverse, disappointment; none of these had ever baffled her. I felt that the old man had had an apt pupil in his granddaughter.

Another decade passed and I visited the old village again. In front of Cap’n Harry’s place from the church to the beach stretched a smooth macadam road. Most of its way, beginning in the north end, it is shaded by great elm trees, but in front of Cap’n Harry’s place, where his descendents still live, there are two giant trees, called the “trees of heaven” by the Chinese. These were little saplings when Cap’n Harry planted them, now eighty years or more ago, saved from a French freighter whose crew he salvaged. His was not always an easy or popular job. When this boat, the Lavalley, had stranded to meet the necessity of casing a tide, he ordered his crew to board and cast offboard the cargo, or part of it. Now, the captain of a ship, it is well known, is supreme lord of his own vessel—when she is afloat. But this boat was aground and Cap’n Harry had authority to salvage as much as possible.

With his crew he went aboard and told the French captain, through a poor interpreter, that in order to meet the next tide and save the vessel the cargo must go overboard. The captain objected vociferously in his Gallic fashion, but Cap’n Harry’s blunt New England manner and word had its way and overboard went the cargo. Great bundles of fruit and shade trees were first jettisoned. These drifted up on shore and were being appropriated by the native population when Cap’n Harry, knowing it was his business to save as much as possible for the owners, went ashore and forbade his neighbors to take the trees away. He was a deputy sheriff and, knowing that he had authority back of his determination, most of the people desisted. But, with his ready ability to meet a situation, he sent for local squire, who was always the auctioneer, and on the beach the trees were sold. Many orchards in the section were planted or replenished from this stock.

On either side of his front gate, Cap’n Harry planted a couple of ailanthus trees, a novelty in those days. He said he was tired of nothing but elms. But he lived to regret his choice. In his later days his chief pride in the village street was the overarching of elms planted by an earlier generation than his. But today his great grandchildren go in and out between the old ailanthus sentinals.

He had been not only the master of his vessel and the master of his shore, but, I have gleaned from the reminiscences of his contemporaries that he was mater of most situations.

He was the oldest of a family of five. His father, the owner of the local water mill, died when he was nine. Energetically he set himself, under his mother’s direction, to help about the farm and assist his uncle at the mill. When they were old enough, his mother, to give them an education, moved to New York, kept a boarding house and put the children in school.

This was unusual. In that neighborhood most boys, as soon as they were able, went to sea and engaged in the whaling trade. Harry and his brother, after a couple of years’ schooling, began to learn a trade and became expert builders. Then, after a couple of voyages whaling, they settled down in New York and began building operations.

During the early 30s of the last [19th] century they amassed a considerable fortune, only to lose it through a crooked partner in a "depression" in 1840. Cap’n Jim, the younger brother, went back to the sea and made an enviable reputation and snug fortune from the whaling industry.

Cap’n Harry, however, with his young wife and child, went back to the old farm. The mill had been sold to pay for his sisters’ schooling. Rebuilding the old farmhouse and introducing some of the refinements that he had built into city developments, he settled down to work the farm and carry on his mason’s trade.

Dozens of fireplaces in that now-fashionable community burn to this day and no one that he fabricated was ever known to smoke. He was short and stocky, broad shouldered and rather portly, but quick on his feet, and his grandchildren remember how he could out-run them and, at eighty years of age, hold a broomstick in his hands and jump over it.

He saved the wreck of his New York fortune and rehabilitated it. When the Civil War broke out, though far from a young man, he volunteered his services, but was rejected. His heart was not sound, they said. Forthwith he organized a company, drilled it on the village green and sent it away to the war, feeling that he had done his bit, saving from the wreck of his own disappointment his patriotic usefulness.

When the railroad first came through that rural community it cut his farm in two. He negotiated a trade with a neighbor so that the two dismembered farms were made units, but both became triangular, as the railroad caught them on the bias. In the trade, Cap’n Harry acquired a big street frontage, but this was poor compensation for the rich upland as the hill ran out into a sand bank and five acres of useless land were his and five acres of the best upland went to the neighbor. But, always resourceful, the old wrecking master, at the protest of his son, but with the help of his rugged grandson, turned this sandy area into a productive asparagus bed, the first in the community. Even in his last days rheumatism did not prevent him from going into the woods for berries in the their season and, though he couldn’t bend his back, he would put a pail under the huckleberry bushes and knock the berries off with his cane and then take them home and pick them over.

He was fat enough to be good-natured, was a regular Yankee Jack-of-all-trades, and good at most. Very expert and painstaking was he in the construction of a building. Some of his houses still stand in Greenwich Village in the metropolis and many of his plastered walls have outlasted newer ones in the island village where he lived in his later years. One of his grandchildren still has the old framed certificate signed by the Governor: “To whom these presents may come be it known . . . Harry Halsey Wrecking Master.”