Posts tagged Kansas

A Real Book, a Real Conference and Heaven

This morning I enjoyed the supreme luxury of sitting in a hotel room after attending a conference yesterday. I presented on a topic that is very close to my heart, interviewing grandparents in order to capture the history before it is gone for good. Those who are older are perhaps closer to heaven than us middle aged, baby-boomer types. Though we never know when our assigned time to join God will be. I talked a bit about Writing Teacher’s Privilege, kind of like “White Man’s Privilege” where we can see into the hearts of our writing students through their compositions.

The privilege that I supremely enjoyed was to sit down with a book I have wanted to read for some time, “Heaven is for Real.” By some strange series of events, my husband borrowed the book from someone else and hadn’t gotten to it yet. I popped it into my suitcase knowing it would be a very quick read. I am glad I did since I also knew I would have some down time. I was expecting a good cry, that didn’t happen. But I did feel my faith in God confirmed.

Now, I am very interested in going to Ulysses, KS this summer for my husband’s class reunion. Those who have read the book already, will know why I have this sudden interest. With fair certainty, I am convinced that a photo in the book, that was taken in 1943, was probably done by my husband’s dad, a professional photographer. Strange that a book from a 4 year old’s perspective can have such an impact with TRUTH but that is what I had as a “take-away.”

Heaven is a real place and not everyone will be going there. I went to my sister’s Bible study the other night and we talked about that as a prevailing philosophy that everyone has this erroneous notion that ALL people, whether they believe in God or not, will end up in heaven. In the U.S. we already are enjoying so many of the privileges and luxury of heaven, we live in a Disneyland. Therefore, I’m not sure why people can assume that they will get more of the same, only better, once they die. For many people in the world who struggle in poverty or in modern day slavery, heaven is a hope for them to get away from the sadness and sheer misery they live in, day in and day out. Who will tell those who have NOT heard the Word, the good news, the gospel?

My husband and I do not know if we are going to Ukraine or not, things are on hold because of what the guy in Russia does. God knows the outcome there. The little boy in the book says there will be a final battle “Armageddon.” My husband and I have been there in Israel, it is called Megiddo, in the northwestern part of the country. It is amazing what we have seen with our own eyes, the physical location of this last great battle. I do believe it is around the corner. I believe Jesus is coming back soon and very soon.

Funny what a book, a conference that forced me away from my day to day activities will do to make me think of heaven. Indeed, a better place for those of us who believe in what Jesus did for us. According to Coulton Burpo, He has “markers” on His hands and His feet. God bless him and his family for bringing these truths out in a story that is sweet and sincere and TRUE!

“Here I am Lord, send me.”

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Scanning Kazakhstan’s past, a worthy pursuit

I’ve been scanning hundreds of old photographs from my hometown in Minnesota. What was written on some of the postcards or back of photos is very revealing of that era.  Some are short notes that have the brevity of a Twitter message. What some of the photographers wanted to be known for is also interesting, stamped boldly on the back.

I have three scans that I did that I’ll show  in this blog as I wonder how much was photographed of Kazakhstan.  I know that Max Penson was a Belorussian Jew (1893-1959) who went to Uzbekistan to do B&W photos of what was supposedly the “happy” Uzbeks.  I think he caught on that not all things were rosy as he was instructed to depict through his camera.  His artistry is amazing nevertheless and I’m glad someone has taken the time to scan many of his photos.  Google his name to find them.

Tonight on PBS there will be a four hour documentary about the “Dustbowl” by Ken Burns.  My husband’s dad, my father-in-law was born in 1899 took many photos of his Kansas town of Ulysses, KS.  The NY Times article shows one famous one he took and is featured at the beginning of the article (skip the advertisement).  It shows Main Street in Ulysses, looking north.  His parents’ photo studio is on the left hand side.   Two of these pictures of his dad’s were often published with the caption, “Daylight to Darkness in 30 seconds.”

Finally, I wonder how much of Kazakhstan was photographed.  I know that I scanned LOTS of antique photos while I was teaching in Ukraine from my students’ family albums.  I’m thinking that there were hardly any happy pictures to show of Kazakhstan when one third of the country was under the gulag penal system in the 1950s and 1960s. Political dissenters were sent to the Karlag in the Karaganda area not far from the capital city of Astana which used to be named Akmola and then another Russian name before it took on Astana.  Watch, I bet “Astana” is a place holder name for what it will probably be changed to…the current president’s name of the country of Kazakhstan. You got that bit of news free here on this blog.
Notice the advertisement on the S. Johnson stamp about this photographer is able to take shots at children and nervous people.

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April 30, 1936 correspondence and “I Write As I Please”

I’ve been privileged to come across some old letters on my husband’s side of the family.  When one works with history from the 1930s, it’s like a detective uncovering clues as to what real, ordinary people actually wrote and what they thought at the time.  No air brushing of the unvarnished truth from what was really going on, or was there?  I’ve followed the writings of British journalist Walter Duranty who wrote for the New York Times. He tried to convince and further dissuade Americans that there was NOT an actual famine going on in Ukraine in the early 1930s. Apparently in 1930 he was  in Kazakhstan because he was interviewing Trotsky who was exiled in Alma Ata (Almaty). Though trying to have the veneer of an objective journalist, he was clearly “Stalin’s Apologist.” [a book written about Duranty to that effect]

Back to Jessie Gray’s letter of April 30, 1936 that spurred on my search for the book on the Internet titled “I Write as I Please” written by Duranty in 1935.  Thanks to what she wrote in a small town in Kansas, I will show what reality was for people besides writing about family gatherings, church, food, town gossip, etc.  In the letters I have been going through there is little mention of world or national politics so this letter is a gem.  I am used to my own Norwegian relatives (i.e. S.A. Olsness) who wrote MUCH about current events back in their time.

The following was sent to the family round robin dated April 30, 1936:

Dear ?

I see by the papers they acidized the Tudor Morgan well last week so I suppose it is not as good a well as desired.

At 12:30 today noon a 6 foot 2 1/2 inch Negro lady (who was here 7 years ago) was at the M.E. church with 3 other Negros to give a concert.  The lady has a man’s negro voice, is part French and English with an Indian Chief for a grandfather.  A peculiar character who looks like an Indian.  She sang a base solo – “Beware,” a solo Arzy once had.  There weren’t many present, mostly school folks.

Some rain this week not over 1 1/2 inch if that. The grass is clean and one can step out for a weed [cigarette] without getting his shoes so dusty now.  Last year it was May 10 before we had moisture.

We have bank night here Tuesday now.  We are never lucky so probably won’t join the crowd. No one got the cash the first night ($25.00) so the 2nd night the amount was $37.50 and a wealthy lady got it, of course.

Lill’s got a 2nd hand press and lineotype in Hutch; it better for a daily than their other. They got it ready to use yesterday, after 3 weeks work evenings at Cornwell’s when they weren’t working.  Lills are in the south rooms next to the Capitol and will be until they rebuild. They have done little to clean the fire debris.  The insurance company will rebuild for them.

Mother is reading over some old letters she has saved. Grovers, Roses, M.J.s’ etc. She mentioned the “yr.” was not on one, but the month was.  So, after all, if a letter is saved, the year is more important than the day, hour, etc.

I made five posters and put them up. They are for a Y.W.C.A. Book tea Mon. eve at Beaman’s. James Tanner will review “I Write as I Please” by Walter Duranty, a news reporter sent to Russia and was there 11 years or more to study their problem.

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Selling points of St. John, Kansas

You just never know what you will find when going through old correspondence and other memorabilia.  God bless the pack rats but someone has to make sense of things and I guess it might as well be me.  I enjoy reading through yellowed newspaper clippings and also trying to decipher people’s penmanship.  I can say this from all the letters and diaries I’ve looked at, my ancestors from the Norwegian side of the family had very good hand writing.  (I wish I had much better penmanship, the computer is partly to blame for my scrawl!)

Looking over my husband’s grandmother letters, who probably had so much work to do that she dashed it off quickly, it takes longer to read her writing.  I only saw one letter dated in 1919 from my husband’s GREAT grandmother and she had terrible spelling and grammar.  Again, my Norwegian ancestors cared about how they wrote even if English was their second language.  I may have to type up an example showing a bad example from a person who had English ancestry.  Better yet, I’ll try to scan the 1919 lined paper that is very aged and yellowed.

For now, I want to share what was written up in a St. John, Kansas newspaper about my husband’s grandfather W.R. Gray.  It was a kind of promotional to get people to live in the town of St. John.  The businesses were trying to promote what an amazing little town they had by listing all the different industrial and businesses that were already established by 1921.  Here’s what was written about W.R. Gray:

“…Last, but by no means least, isthe St. John Art Gallery, owned and managed by W.R. Gray.  Mr. Gray has the reputation of being one of the very best photographers in Central Kansas and always keeps abreast of the times in photography.  People come from far out of hte St. John trade territory to have their photo work done in Mr. Gray’s studio.

So, as we said before in this article, the publication of our long list of industrial articles was made possible by the patronage of the wide-awake firms mentioned above and the News, on behalf of both ourselves and Mr. Evans, desires to publicly thank them.

During the publication of the series, Mr. Evans touched upon county resources in general, also education, churches and commercial life, real estate, etc. Mr. Evans has showed quite clearly that real estate in the vicinity of St. John is much cheaper considering the price, than in the older agricultural states of Illinois, Iowa and Indiana…”

So, one last poem I had to share that might have been an original with W.R. Gray but I doubt it.  I think it is cute and was in a little notebook where you have to flip the pages to get the next answer.  The title is: “Such is Life” by Jessie Gray, she was a single woman all her life in the small town of St. John, Kansas and kept her father’s photography business going after his death in 1947.

They were out upon a picnic, and were sitting on the sand.

The moon was shining brightly, and he held her little ______?


As he held her little shawl, how fast the time did fly,

His eyes were filled with longing, as he looked into her _______?

…lunch basket.

As he looked into her lunch basket, and wished he had a taste.

He seemed supremely happy, his arms around her________?


With his arms around her parasol, fortunate for this young chap,

With happiness she trembled, as she sat upon his_______?


She sat upon his handkerchief, this charming sweet young miss

Her lips an invitation, he slyly stole a _______???


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Obituary for a frontier photographer in Kansas

Okay, so what does Kansas have to do with Kazakhstan besides sharing some of the same letters? Yes, glad you asked. While going through old letters, I came across some interesting things about my husband’s grandfather who went by the name of W.R. Gray.  There’s renewed interest in our family because this dignified Kansas gentleman has a great, great grandson going by the same name. Kazakhstan is interested in babies but also in their ancestors  (to know seven generations back, means you are a good Kazakh) so that’s where I can make the tie in.  Just to give you an idea how obituaries were written in newspapers over sixty years ago, I’ll retype for you just the first part of it:

“William Rossetter Gray was born in Greentown, Howard county, Indiana, March 22, 1865, and departed this life at Bethel hospital in Newton, Kansas at 12:15 the morning of August 2, 1947.  At the time of his death he had reached the age of 82 years, 4 months, and 11 days.

Mr. Gray went to Newton to get medical advice concerning his failing health May 23rd and remained there until the end.  There it was found, he had a malignancy too far advanced for treatment.  At the time he left, he was still serving the public through the studio and felt he could hardly neglect his work to take time for sickness.  Although never ill enough to go to bed, he often worked when he should have rested.

Will, as he was called, was the tenth of fifteen children born to his Christian parents, Luther S. and Rebecca Gray. In early life he confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and joined the Methodist church.  During his illness he often assured those about his sick bed of his hope of eternity.

In 1883, he moved with his parental family to a farm new McPherson, Kansas.  Here he met Mary Catharine Tipton, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tipton, to whom he was married April 6, 1898. To this union five children were born.

In 1905 he purchased the studio in St. John and moved his family with three children in March of that year.  He was a pioneer in the field of photography and continued in the profession through the many scientific advancements to the present day methods.  He attended all conventions possible to progress in his work and became a member of the Photographers Association of America, as well as the Kansas Professional Photographers Association and Southwest Kansas Photo Club.  He served his territory with untiring efforts in a pleasant, friendly manner.

He was a member of the First Methodist church and the men’s Bible class, the Chamber of Commerce and Odd Fellow Lodge No. 539 to which he was especially devoted.  Two years ago he received his 40 year Odd Fellow Membership pin.  He led an unusually clean, highly principled life and had a keen sense of humor.  His leisure time included much reading, writing of poetry, working with tools, listening to the radio and visiting with friends around town.”

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Heartwarming story from a 1940 Kansas newspaper

I ran across an interesting story from about a century ago as I was going through old letters and other memorabilia from my husband’s side of the family.  I believe the older the information, the better it is. I especially like reading about the 1930s and have unearthed some interesting material which I’ll post later.

The following was typed up from the 1940s newspaper. I suppose the little girl’s photograph is in a Stafford, Kansas museum where much of my husband’s grandfather’s photography things were taken. W.R. Gray died seven years later on Aug. 2, 1947. Read on, this might warm your heart if not bring a lump to your throat.  I wish I knew who the author of this article was, another “anonymous.”

Taken from the St. John News, Sixieth Edition, 1940

“In the Same Location”

W.R. Gray, Photographer, started with 5×8 camera in 1887

Ten cents spent by a former lad for a circular of bargains resulted in the establishment of three photo businesses, and a life work for six people, one of them holding a Ph.D. degree.

In August, 1887, W.R. Gray asked for his wages a few days in advance so that he might buy a 5×8 camera advertised in a circular for which he had spent a dime.  1940 finds W.R. Gray in a studio he has had in the same location since 1905, and which has outlived all competitors who have attempted to establish studios in St. John. Two brothers, a son and a daughter became photographers. One son is a chemist for the Eastman Kodak company, due to the influence of Mr. Gray and his little 5X8 camera.

Mr. Gray has had his home and studio in the present location all through the years.  He has acquired new equipment and is well informed in the new development of photographs. Miss Jessie Gray has devoted much time and study in the art of tinting. Her work on landscapes is unusually fine.  The colors are natural and because the scenes are “real” they have true worth.  Her portraits are life-like and artistic.

Upon being asked for a special result from his photography, Mr. Gray immediately responded with a story about a little girl who was brought to him in the days before he had established his studio in St. John.  He traveled as a overland-photographer for a period of time. The incident occurred at Fall River, Kansas.

A mother and an aunt brought a dark-haired, timid little girl of about four years to the gallery.  The child, although willing to have her picture taken, was so self-conscious that she could not pose with her mouth closed. She could not smile with a natural smile but held her mouth open in an unnatural manner.

After being discouraged, and putting the child’s wraps on, the mother and aunt lingered to look at some photographs near the door.  The little girl quietly remained near the cameras looking at some button photos.  Mr. Gray leaned down to her and told her if she would allow him to, they would surprise her mother by taking her picture now, and he would reward her by giving her one of the buttons she was admiring.  The child entered into the conspiracy with Mr. Gray, and posed with shy confidence, her lips closed, but with a half-smile on them. The picture, one of them still in the possession of Mr. Gray, is truly appealing.

A few days later, the child took measles and whooping cough.  She died soon afterward.  Mr. Gray can never forget how thankful he was that he was able to present a photograph of the little girl to her family.”

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“Little by Little” by Anonymous

I’m not buying the anonymous part but when I googled this poem that I found in my husband’s family letters it only came up with the first stanza.  What was written on this little slip of paper was “Oct. 1926 Lawton.” Fortunately, there is a second stanza I have but I don’t know what “Lawton” means. Is it the name for a person or is it a town in Kansas? Apparently this poem meant something to someone in my husband’s family because it was saved along with other letters from the 1930s and 1940s.  You can learn much about a family by poring over old, yellowed correspondence.  Here’s the poem and maybe someone in my reading audience might know who the proper attribution should go to:

LITTLE BY LITTLE by “Anonymous”

One step and then another, and longest walk is ended;

One stitch, and then another , and the largest rent is mended;

One brick up on another, and the highest wall is made;

One flake upon another, and the deepest snow is laid.


Then do not look disheartened o’er the work you have to do;

And say that such a mighty task you never can get through;

But just endeavor, day by day, another point to gain,

And soon the mountain which you feared will prove to be a plain.

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Five Flipped Over Semi Trucks and Trailers

To experience 40 mph winds bucking you in your car is one thing when the speed limit is 70 mph, but to see semi trucks flipped over on the side of the road is quite another.  Very sobering site as we passed five such scenes going west on Hwy. 70 bound to Denver.  Too windy to roll down the window to take photos as we slowed down while state troopers swarmed the tragic scene, so none exist for this blog entry.  Similar to seeing a downed elephant, regal yet forlorn. I have high respect for these drivers and their rigs who crisscross the country with their loads, they are normally very good drivers.  I hope none of them died or were badly injured in what must have been empty trailers being caught in the strong gusts and then making the truck up front start to fishtail.  Later we saw three trucks and trailers driving on the shoulder of the road probably going 30 mph close to each other, gingerly since they probably had a deadline to make to return with their rigs, high winds or no.  


We also saw the wind farms that had their tall towers with the three propellers stopped.  That also looked a bit haunting through the thick, chestnut colored dust that was carried away from the farmers’ topsoil.  If the brakes had not been put on the props, they would have been spinning wildly in the severe wind and perhaps do more damage than good.  Looking at some of the farms as we passed on the highway sometimes at 60 mph or less, I wondered how they managed to eke out a living, things looked so dry.  Also, with all the wind that was there and the absolute dryness, I’m sure prairie fires had wreaked their damage to many a farmstead in the past.


Finally, what is notable about Russell, KS (besides being the birthplace of Robert Dole) was that they have a kind of limestone rock that farmers and rangers used for fence posts.  This rock was used because wood posts were so hard to find on the treeless prairie OR if they were used they would burn with the next prairie fire.  One could see them in the fields holding up the barbed wire fencing all along the way about 25 feet apart from each other standing about a yard high.  So this stretch of area grew rock instead of trees but also what is underneath is oil that is being dredged out.


We have four more hours to drive to get to Denver but the weather could turn worse with snow and sleet showers. Weather reports sound off with tornadoes and high winds behind us, blizzards north of us and floods to the northeast of us.  Wow, spring is coming in like a lion and going out like one!  I’ll keep you posted as to when we finally arrive into Colorado, this is becoming a perilous journey but my husband is an old hand when it comes to tricky driving up mountain passes.  It will start looking like Almaty, Kazakhstan the closer we get to our destination.

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