I always look forward to performing storytelling at the Elijah Iles House's Clara Irwin Strawberry Party. This year I had a little more time to help out, both before and after, the event.
Wednesday afternoon was the day for festivity preparations, and many of the volunteers were on hand to get everything ready. My occupation was to help "stem" the strawberries so that they could be later washed, cut up, and sugared. Someone had gotten creative, and came up with the idea of using plastic straws to push the stems out. It really helped to make short work of the many pounds of berries - though the table and the people were both sticky and berry colored.
The next evening was perfect - still clear, but with mild temperatures, and it stayed that way from the beginning of the party till its end.
It was as if the weather was trying to make up for many so incredibly hot and grouchy last year!
The Clara Irwin Strawberry Party ended about an hour before the city's fireworks were to go off. This time was filled with clean up, and afterwards, a few volunteers settled on the front porch to watch.
To me this was a perfect way to spend the last of Independence Day. What better way than watching fireworks on the steps of one of the oldest houses in Springfield?
Even more poignant was that one of our volunteers was an exchange student from China. And I couldn't help but wonder if there was any better way to show off our city by offering both a gentle, but fun, part of our history, and a evening of companionship to end the day?
Somehow it all made me feel as if we had been woven into a tiny part of the house's long history.
On this 2013 Independence Day I began reflecting back to a chapter I had read in Duncan Emrich's Folklore of the American Land about a mountain main named Jim Bridger.
This was a man who in his long career was one of the first to see the geysers of Yellowstone, and the Great Salt Lake. He came back from his various expeditions with tales of wonders - the Obsidian Cliffs and the Mammoth Hot Springs (with its bubbling mud, and water so hot you could cook in it).
While he never learned to read and write he could speak several languages, and could map with such detail that his maps were highly valued. He offered vivid and accurate descriptions of what he saw, but soon discovered that the wonders he saw were too wonderful for people to believe him.
Colonel R. T. Van Horn, editor of the Kansas City Journal, had, in 1856, a chance to scoop everyone with a story about Bridger's Yellowstone experiences. However, supposed acquaintances of Bridger's told Horn that he'd be laughed out of town if he printed any of Bridger's "lies."
Many years later Horn did apologize to Jim Bridger.
Because of the prevailing disbelief Jim Bridger decided if people wouldn't believe him then he would create stories that were even taller. His tall tales are still remembered today, but even in his greatest whoppers he embedded some truth.
All of this led me to ask a question - where in our country does Wonder exist today?
In Jim Bridger's day the land offered many awesome sights. Some staggering. Others mysterious. All demanding that the nation's sense of wonder be stretched. Now, we can see the most distant places in the world on our computers - often in real time; most of the world's grand beauty lays at our fingertips. And I have to wonder how that effects visitors to those lands - is the impact less because they have already viewed the place online?
Movies and computer-generated images can not only bring places and times to a large screen, and offer a nearer semblance to "being there." The technology also offers a way to offer other-worldly images too. Wilderness, space, history, and fantasy are all there for a visual feast.
Granted, if we are appreciative of Nature, we can focus on the smaller wonders of nature. The daily beauty that is offered, and I am not belittling it. Daily wonder is a precious emotion.
Yet I still have to ask, where is there any great, awe inspiring Wonder left to be found? Is there still hidden, to be found, true stories of nature so new, and so beyond belief, that they seem fiction?
I knew it had been a long time since I wrote, but I hadn't realized how long; nor can I blame it all on the scorching summer (though it does explain the last few weeks).
Nor has it been due to a lack of things to do - there have been many an interesting activity. So interesting that I still want to do an overview:
April offered two fascinating events.
The Sangamon County Historical Society
(http://sangamonhistory.org/) offered a bus trip to the C. H. Moore Homestead (http://www.chmoorehomestead.org/) in Clinton, Illinois. The C. H. Moore house is a beautifully restored Victorian home, with exquisite furnishings, and material examples of the life of the time. The curator, Larry Buss, has a wealth of knowledge on the house and grounds, and along with the house's collection there is also the DeWitt County History Society's museum in the basement, three farm museums, a blacksmith shop, and a telephone exhibit.
This fine outing was followed by the Springfield Art Association's "Titantic Tea." (http://www.springfieldart.org/)
They had the Tea Ladies (http://www.thetealadiesinc.com/)back to host a tea party, which offered foods that would have been on the Titanic. The Tea Ladies then offered a brief history of the people on board, and asked that all those attendees of the tea party to read a card (or more) regarding some of the survivors.
With the coming of May came both the Central Illinois Highland Games (http://www.central-illinois-standrewsociety.com/)and the precursor to the heat), and Clayville's Spring Festival (http://www.clayville.org/).
Both were as fun to perform at as always.
The increase in the heat did cut into the performing schedule, with Clayville not having their usual July activities, and the Elijah Iles House (http://www.ileshouse.org/)cancelling their Strawberry Festival, but I have not been idle.
During this time I have decided to launch Tales of Sangamon (http://www.talesofsangamon.com/), which is a website devoted to collecting stories of Sangamon County, and the surrounding area.
I am truly excited about the site, and hope that some will use it so that stories of the area can be documented, since there is so little Illinois lore in print.
Though this probably also should be called, "From Memorial Day to 4th of July," and it admittedly has a touch of "Story Musing."
While not intentional, since I kept hoping to write sooner, I seem to have managed a thematic framework in terms of dates.
On Memorial Day Springfield had the opportunity to recognize a long-forgotten hero, Leroy Key, who was buried out at Oakridge Cemetery. For the expanded story here are links to two Illinois State Journal-Register articles: (http://www.sj-r.com/top-stories/x487935511/Dave-Bakke-Civil-War-buffs-find-grave-of-Andersonville-prisoner-in-Springfield) and (http://www.sj-r.com/top-stories/x1555987949/Dave-Bakke-Hero-of-Civil-Wars-Andersonville-prison-to-get-grave-marker-at-Oak-Ridge).
What better way to recognize Memorial Day then to awaken the memory of a man who had long been lost and forgotten. A man who not only survived the horrors of Andersonville Prison, but organized against the Raiders - men who preyed on fellow prisoners. Yet a man who had to carry the weight of his actions as he was the one to supervise the trial, and execution of these Raiders - men who were also Union soldiers.
And that weight, plus health issues, may have led to his suicide in 1880. Over a century later who is to say.
Author Frank Crawford, and his brother John Crawford, found the grave, which lacked a tombstone, while researching,
Proud to Say I am a Union Soldier: The Last Letters Home from Federal Soldiers Written During the Civil War, 1861-1865.
The day for the unveiling of the stone was a perfect day, crystaline skies, with fluffy clouds, and though warm it was not so hot as to be stifling.
And for whatever spirits might linger at Oakridge, particularly Mr Key, and the other civil war veterans, the scene would have seemed reminiscent of the early Memorial Days. The Municipal Band played, and with the fine outfitting of the 114h Regiment Reactivated and the 10th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry Regiment Reactivated, and the ladies of the Aid Society, the scene could have been cut from a hundred years past.
The speeches were very moving, and as was fitting for Memorial Day, the ceremony bound together a recognition of all of our veterans.
I was also privately proud of my Treeing Walker Coonhound, Winston, as he proved as calm as ever as the 21 gun salute went off. (To be accurate - he slept through it.) I know it sounds strange that I brought my dog with me, but Winston has already proved unaffected by loud sounds (he gets bored with bagpipes, and gets even more bored being home), and I have hopes he can train as a therapy dog due to his patience and gentle temperament. He's come a long way from being the nervous young hound that I brought home from the Animal Protective League.
My silence of the month actually stems from other canine activity, since I also added a 3 month old coonhound mix, Fiona, from Animal Control. I, however, will admit that I should never name anything when tired, since I later learned that "fiona" means "white" or fair," and the pup is nearly all black.
On July 1st I performed at the Elijah Iles House, "Clara Irwin's Strawberry Party." (http://iles-house.blogspot.com/)
This is always a delight to perform at. While the weather the was hot the evening was clear, and I was out under the tent. This makes for a very casual time for telling as families would come out so their children could try their hands at marbles, checkers, or ring toss. And soon they would settle for story or three, and a little discussion of history.
Nor was an offer of strawberry shortcake turned down.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.