Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Dress

by Jonnifer Ellsworth

One constant feature of my "growing up" years was the annual journey from Cherokee in northwestern Iowa to my grandparent's home in Sandusky, Ohio. My mother, Mary Ellsworth (Oaknoll resident from 1991-2004), grew up in Sandusky where her father was sales manager of a major paper and boxboard manufacturing firm, Hinde and Dauch.

My grandfather was born in 1877 and grew up on Isle St. George (North Bass Island) less than thirty miles from Canada in Lake Erie. He was the youngest of six children born to Howard Hill Morton and Annie Milner Morton (pictured below).

Howard Hill Morton
Annie Milner Morton

 His oldest sibling, Alfred, was born in 1866 in Washington D.C.  His parents resided in Washington a little more than two years at the beginning of Abraham Lincoln's second term as U.S. President. Howard had been hired as a correspondent by the Cincinnati Enquirer to report on Lincoln's second term and, following the assassination, the family returned to Ohio and settled on North Bass to grow grapes for the wine industry.

The dress was a pink silk ball gown made in Washington for Annie to wear to Lincoln's second inaugural ball. In the photo below,  I am standing in the backyard  of my grandparents home in Sandusky wearing "the dress." The year is 1950 and I am six years old.

Here I am wearing "the dress."

 The photo of my mother is a studio portrait taken in Sandusky in the early 1920's. All female Morton children had their photos taken in "the dress." We were posed standing on chairs or orange crates with the dress skirt flared over them and sometimes tissue paper was used to expand the skirt bottom outward. It had a 19-inch waist and none of us could get into it much above the age of 6-8. It was donated to a Lakewood, Ohio historical society by my aunt when the last Morton grandchild was born a male.

My mother, Mary Ellsworth, in "the dress."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ten Years Later

by Claudine Harris
(From Gilbert Street and a Half + Ten Years Later, photographs and an essay. Published by Scrivana Press, Iowa City, Iowa, available from www.Lulu.com.)

The North End- 2010

Today, it is October. I park on Gilbert Street near Mercy Hospital, where a landscaped mini-park offers a pleasant place to relax. Gilbert Street rises gently in front of me. I head north toward Brown Street. This section of street is firmly residential, a part of the Northside Historic District. I have to make a conscious effort to notice changes. Instead, what strikes me are the memories that return.

At number 418, brownish red bricks show through flaking paint. Is this deliberate, or a home in the process or being cleaned up? No way to tell. I look for a wreath of bare twigs I remember was in a doorway, and find it. The outdoor wooden stairs to an upper apartment, where once I had a chat with a young woman sitting on the top step, still exist. Narrow porches shelter the clutter of crumpled half-empty charcoal bags, old shoes, bikes, empty bottles and cans, and canvas chairs. On one of these a young man sits today in the late afternoon sun, engrossed in his reading. People pass me on the sidewalk with small children or dogs.

I have reached the northern end of Gilbert Street. These last blocks slope enough that, on two winters, I was able to ski down the middle of the street on a Sunday, when street cleaners had been slow to come around with a plow.

Downtown on the move

Although much in unchanged in this part of town, some of the photos taken earlier could not be taken today. The tornado of 2006 did eliminate a favorite board fence, crush roofs and walls, leaving some land still vacant, while other buildings were soon repaired. The bus station that stood on the corner of College Street has been relocated closer to the center of downtown. A restaurant changed name several times, and is now gone. A 14-story building has sprung up and dominates the skyline above the pedestrian mall. South from the center, some businesses have other owners, new apartments have been built. An art gallery and an antiques shop are gone, an Asian grocery changed hands. This is the shifting fabric of the city.

On the whole, the atmosphere I imbibed in years past survives. Rallston Creek still flows deep in its channel, mostly unnoticed by anyone, except pedestrians like me who lean over the bridge abutment and enjoy gazing at the normally meager flow of water held back by riprap rocks. Under the concrete bridge, a home of sorts shelters sundry belongings and a camp cot and chair. It is vacant just now as, seeking the reflections of weeds and scrub growth, my eyes intrude into its darkness and damp cold.

Promise of the street

I leave the long street behind to return home across the river, but the street remains with me. I am of it and it is part of me. After living in its vicinity over forty years, I feel and own its presence. This is why I return. The street lives on as I have. Both of us changed and the same.

This is a city of some 70,000. An insect among the planet's giants that boast inhabitants in the millions. Yet, to the lone wanderer on foot- lone, but never lonesome- urban space is measured on a human scale. I am not the first to say so. Jane Jacobs celebrated the flâneur on city sidewalks. What I encompass in the moment is what I perceive. Passerby, vehicles. My pauses are frequent, dictated by whimsy rather than the demands of traffic. What can be seen and heard and surmised in the immediate surroundings, what I am personally aware of, is the extent of it. The texture of nearby walls, cloud formations above rooftops, café tables set up on the sidewalk. Twisted bikes abandoned where they fell, ragged posters stapled to wooden posts. But also budding leaves on springtime limbs, and always people. People. What are they thinking, where are they going? Do I care? Does it matter?

A walk on the city street is a promise to be fulfilled. On the sidewalks of the Northside of Iowa City, I think of myself as part of the atmosphere, likely totally ignored. Mobiles held to an ear, people are absorbed in their own thoughts and concerns. I may be invisible to them, but mine is the urban privacy Jane Jacobs wrote about. There is a kinship of sorts among us, even if unacknowledged.

In front of John's Grocery, I wait to see who walks out. If someone's flowing hair catches the afternoon sunlight, I will quickly attempt to take a picture, but a photographer misses a lot of shots! No matter. I will be back to renew in my memory the many views of Gilbert Street.

I know the street as a solid river. Bricks at the north end of town convert to concrete and black top for the remainder of the distance. To me, the unevenness and the coloration of the bricks add warmth to the cityscape. Rainy days accentuate the paving patterns.

Even after the brief interval of a decade, I am aware of the resilience of urban settings. Cities are built, grow, decay, disappear, to be reborn in new forms at new times, in repeated cycles. The city, as an outcropping on this small crumb of a small planet. The street, as a river of stone and wood and humanity, flowing through time.

I know I will return on foot many times to a street where, in Jacobs' words, the walker experiences the city as a theater in which to be both actor and audience. There is a thereness there. It is in the city's bones.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

No Mashed Potatoes for Lunch
by Willa Jones

Upon reading the menu
For the week of May 10th
I found disappointingly
I must go the whole length
With no mashed potatoes.

There are red potatoes, no potatoes, oven browned,
Seasoned, boiled, baked and sweet potatoes,
But there are no mashed potatoes.

Woe is me! What to do!
Go to Hy-Vee and buy a bag
Of unwashed, unpeeled, uncooked potatoes?
And a box of dill dip to stir in.
To make my own mashed potatoes?

But then, I'll miss out on
The meat loaf, the fish, Swiss steak, chicken,
Pork chops, soups, salads, desserts.
Not to mention all the table talk
With friends old and new.

Woe is me! What shall I do?
Go with the variety
Or mash up a few?
Make all the mess
Wash mash and pan
And eat just potatoes
Again and again?

I guess I've decided
To go with variety.
It may turn out to be nice.
Maybe next week they'll serve mashed twice.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Oaknoll Resident Honored For His Life Time Achievements

Oaknoll resident John Nesbitt, Professor Emeritus of Health and Sports Studies, Recreation Education, and Therapeutic Recreation at the University of Iowa, was recently honored and recognized by the State of Iowa, the University of Iowa and the City of Iowa City for his lifelong passionate work on behalf of persons with disabilities.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Delivering Newspapers to Iowa City by Rail in the 1950's

by Rudy Schulz

The possibility of again linking Iowa City with Chicago by rail passenger service has received a lot of attention in the media and in our state legislature. Hopefully, we will again have rail service between Iowa City and Chicago in the not too distant future. With all the attention that the renewal of rail service between Iowa City and Chicago has received, I am  reminded of a time when the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad linked the two cities on a regular basis. Iowa City's rail depot was the place where we first greeted colleagues, friends, and family when they came to visit Iowa City. Also, it was possible in those days to leave Iowa City on a Rock Island "Rocket" for Chicago in the late afternoon and have a delightful, unhurried trip to Chicago. On the ride to Chicago, you were treated to Grant Wood scenery, you could enjoy a dry martini in the parlor car, you could have a delicious dinner in the dining car and you arrived at LaSalle Street station in Chicago in the early evening rested and refreshed.

I have memories too of that same Iowa City depot at an earlier time, a number of years before I would reside in this beautiful city, indeed before I even knew anything about Iowa City beyond its location. When I was a college student at Northwestern University in the middle 1950's, I worked on trains during the summers to raise money for the upcoming school year. My job was with the Railway Express Agency (REA) as what they called an REA Messenger. I traveled throughout the Midwest filling in for the regular messengers when they took their summer vacations. The REA was an earlier day UPS. People sent freight and packages by Railway Express to everywhere since at that time trains still went everywhere and fast. A messenger's main job was to unload and load parcels and freight from the Railway Express car at the front of the train at each stop made by a train on the route to its destination. Out-of-town newspapers (e.g., New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, etc.) were also delivered via Railway Express. Such deliveries were routine most of the time; but the newspaper deliveries to Iowa City on Saturday nights, actually very early Sunday morning about 2AM, were definitely anything but routine.

On Saturday nights, the Sunday newspapers, 20 to 25 bundles of papers, for Iowa City, came out of Chicago by Railway Express on the Rock Island line. Sunday papers were fat back then too. Having fat papers on Saturday night isn't what made their delivery unusual. What made the delivery unusual is the fact that papers arrived in Iowa City on Sunday morning on-the-fly, as the method of delivery was called. The train that delivered the Sunday papers to Iowa City was one of the Rock Island's so called crack trains, the Golden State Limited. The Golden State Limited did not stop at Iowa City; it went through Iowa City nonstop and fast. I was a messenger on that train; it was one of my assignments to deliver Iowa City's papers. How do you deliver papers under these circumstances? Not without considerable difficulty.

Here is how it was done. I would arrange the bundles of Sunday papers in the open door of the express car east of Iowa City. As the train approached Iowa City, I got ready to make delivery. When the express car was opposite the REA Office on Dubuque Street, east and across the street from the depot, I kicked the bundles of papers out of the door of the express car. This kick was the crucial element in the on-the-fly delivery method. With good luck and a proper kick, the papers landed, bundles intact, at the door of the station ready to provide the fine citizens of Iowa City with Sunday morning reading pleasure. With bad luck or a poor kick, the bundles would exit from it, would hit the signal pole directly in front of the depot, split open, bounce off the signal pole and land under the wheels of the speeding train where they were instantly shredded and ground into a large volume of confetti. The turbulent air surrounding the swiftly moving train then scattered the shredded papers all over the station and for a block along the railroad's right-of-way beyond the station. Sorry, Iowa City readers, no paper from Chicago this Sunday!

Please remember this all happened almost 60 years ago. I hope it was Iowa City where I delivered those Sunday papers on-the-fly. If not, the confetti landed elsewhere in Iowa. I know it was Iowa!