Tag Archives: Photography

Morning with the Mennonites

12 Jul

This morning, my parents, my nephew and I journeyed across the state line into Kentucky and visited a Mennonite community. My parents have been going for years to buy fresh produce and have been on me about going with them. Being a historian, they thought I should see people living in a historical way.

The Mennonites that we visited are much like the Amish of Pennsylvania. Their religious beliefs lead them to live a simple life without modern conveniences. In fact, they speak Pennsylvania Dutch and, as one lady told us, speak German during church services.

We went to several stands owned by different families, and there was a crowd of people as each one. The fact that the Mennonites do not use many modern technologies does not prevent them from doing business with those who do. You just have to watch what you wear.image-4

This includes stores like Walmart. We passed a couple of facilities designed to load long haul trucks. Oh yeah, I say that they do not use many modern technologies because a few guys had cellphones. I did not see women with cellphones. I wonder if that is allowed.

My nephew has taken a couple of years of German in school and was interested to see if he could talk to them. My dad made sure he did it at every place we stopped. That is how we learned that they mostly speak Pennsylvania Dutch. One man spoke great German but most used a mixture of different things. In one place, there was a teenage girl working who my dad thought my nephew should talk to. She was wearing a long dress and a small bonnet. I think my nephew likes them a little more scantily clad.

I realize that they want to live a simple life and stay away from modern technology, but that brought up a question in my mind. How do they decide what technology is modern? We saw the cellphones, which they probably need for business purposes, but that is not what I am talking about. As we drove around, we saw horse-drawn buggies; equipment pulled by mules and other things from the 1800s. At one time, those were modern technologies.image-5

When did they decide that a certain state of technological advancement was far enough? Did Mennonites look back at the 1600s and say we need to live like that? Since it is a Christian faith, would they not go back to the simple times of Jesus and live like that? What made 1800s technology acceptable as simple?

I did not take pictures of the people. I did not seem right. Although everyone was giving them money for their stuff, I also got the feeling that people were also looking at them like they were museum pieces. I could be wrong, but I was still not going to take their pictures. Everywhere we went, the young people looked at we outsiders in a different way. My mom talked about how one girl kept looking at my nephew like she thought he was cute.

No disrespect for my nephew, but I am not sure that was it. Again, I may be reaching, but it was like they were wishing that they could put on shorts and a t-shirt and spend a Saturday in a car. They were born into this world, but they constantly interact with people in another world. For generations, people have been living the farm to get a new life. I wonder if that will happen to the Mennonites. Will their interactions with us eventually lead to an end to their mantra of a simple life?

Despite all of that deep thinking, it was a great trip and a great way to spend the day with my family. The farms that we passed were beautiful, and I can understand why people would want to preserve that way of life.image-6

I also know that I would not want to live it. As we left the Mennonite territory, my nephew was falling asleep. I punched him awake when I saw a red Ferrari pulling out of a gas station. I am pretty sure that is the lifestyle he and I would prefer and want to preserve.

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Listeria – Inspiration Point

24 May

In the last post, I wrote about the list by True West of historic sites “that will make you weep.” That article contains a couple of secondary lists. One of those is “10 Western History Shrines That Will Inspire You.” Following are the ones that I have visited.

1. The Arch, St. Louis, Missouri – It is impressive to see. Driving into St. Louis, anyone can see that it dominates the skyline. However, I never saw it as inspiring. That could be because I have never been in it. I have been at its base and in the underground museum about westward expansion. However, my dislike of heights has kept me from going to the top. By the way, its real name is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

2. The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas – In the last post, I wrote about my disappointment with the Alamo. Any place where people gave their lives is a place of inspiration. However, I cannot get over my initial feelings about the site.

3. Custer National Cemetery, Little Big Horn National Historic Battlefield – Before you get to the welcome center or the battlefield, you pass the cemetery. Like other military cemeteries, this one makes you think about all of those who gave their lives for their country. Our nation has not always gone into a fight for a just reason, but that does not lessen the sacrifices of those who served.Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 123

4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho – The last time I was in the park was with my dad, my brother and my nephews. We did not go into the heart of the park but walked around the Mammoth Hot Springs and the Yellowstone River. The natural wonders are amazing, and the power of the earth is inspiring. Everyone should see Old Faithful at least once.Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 275

5. The Palace of the Governor’s, Santa Fe, New Mexico – I could have been there this week but had other things to do. It is the oldest government building in the United States. Today, it is a museum, but it has witness great events in history. It has been under Spanish rule and American rule. Heck, it has also been under Confederate rule. Governor Lew Wallace finished his novel, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, within its walls.SONY DSC

6. The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California – My wife and I drove across the bridge on our honeymoon. It is a cool feeling to drive across one of the most famous bridges in the world. However, I did not expect all of the people walking and cycling across it. Just thinking about the power of the currents underneath is enough to inspire.image-25

8. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, South Dakota – This is truly an amazing site. Looking up at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln is an inspiring view. However, I cannot help but think that the Black Hills were taken from the Native Americans to get at its gold.

9. Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, South Dakota – This one is also in the Black Hills and is the Native American answer to Mount Rushmore. Crazy Horse was a famous warrior, but I wonder what he would think about a mountain being carved into his likeness. There are no known photographs of Crazy Horse, so we have no idea if this looks like him. On top of that, they have been carving the mountain for decades, and it is nowhere near finished. When I see it, I cannot help but think that the Native Americans are getting shafted again.

There is another list called “10 Western Sites That Will Make You Misty.” Next time, I think I will skip that one and move on to another subject. I do not find it very interesting or misty.

Listeria – Heartbreaking Historic Sites

22 May

The May 2014 issue of True West contains a great article about historic sites in the American West. It is titled “16 Historical Destinations That Will Make You Weep”, but that title is misleading. Yes, there is a list of sites that will bring a tear to your eye and a break in your heart. However, there are two other lists that, to me, are just as emotional.

In this outbreak of Listeria, I will describe the sites that I have visited in the weeping category.

16 Historical Destinations That Will Make You Weep

1. Great Plains of North Dakota: The Near-Extinction of the American Bison – The destruction of these beasts is one of the great tragedies of United States history. I tend to focus on the plight of humans rather than animals, but, in this instance, they are intertwined. The massive loss of bisons helped bring the loss of every aspect of life for the Native Americans of the Plains. North Dakota is not the only place this is felt. It can be felt throughout the middle of the continent.Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 302

2. Acoma Pueblo: Acoma Pueblo Battle and Massacre, Acoma, New Mexico – If not for required meetings I could have been at Acoma this week. The article focuses on the conflict between the Pueblo and the Spanish, a conflict that remains in the hearts and minds of the people. However, the sadness continues. Every year, we take students to Acoma and always stop to see Norma Jean, a lady who sells pottery along the side of the street. Last year, we learned that her husband had cancer. When Trader Dave called to check on her, he learned that her husband had died and his family had kicked her out of the house. She owns a house on the mesa and moved there. However, on the mesa there is no electricity or running water.SONY DSC

5. The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas: The War of Texas Independence – In Texas, this site takes on mythic and almost religious importance. I have not visited the site in years, but I remember that it was disappointing. It sits among downtown buildings and has been whittled away through the years. I figured if something was this important, then it would have been taken care of better.

7. Battle of Little Big Horn, Montana – I have written about this site many times and will not repeat myself. However, it is my favorite historic site and a place where the emotions of both sides of the conflict can be felt.Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 126

11. Canyon de Chelly, Arizona – This is a sad and beautiful place to visit, but the surroundings affected me more. Driving through the Navajo Nation to get to the canyon takes you through complete poverty. If anyone wants to see the effect that United States expansion had on Native Americans, then they need to drive through this land. To get through the canyon, you must be guided by a Navajo whose family owns land within its walls. The tour is informative but talking to the guide about reservation life is the real education.

West 2010 214

The next couple of posts will describe places I have visited on the other two lists.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, But That Is Not Always Enough

21 May

My brother sent an email that he thought I would find interesting. It contains a slide show of old photographs that have been colorized. As the series of photos appear on the screen, melancholy music plays in the background. I must admit that it is a cool thing to look at.

Each photograph has a caption that explains the images. Some of them are of famous people and famous events. Others are of regular people doing regular things. However, one of them stood out from the rest. The caption read, “A mother and her children living on US Route 70 near the Tennessee River 1936.”Poor Woman

This photo struck me for several reasons. Obviously, the imagery is striking as it portrays absolute poverty. The mother had made a skirt from a flour sack, and the children are wearing rags. They are all barefooted and dirty. We can only imagine how hungry they are. Despite these circumstances, the child on the right looks to be having fun. He is pulling on his sister’s foot and smiling at her. She could be laughing or squealing. The scene tells a complicated story.

However, the image was not the only thing that struck me. The picture was made in my state of Tennessee, and that brought the images closer to home. I remember stories of the Great Depression from my grandparents. They said that the Depression was bad, but they were poor before it began.

All of that brought this image close to home, but there is something else. The caption says that they were “living on US Route 70.” That is the road I grew up on. Granted, it is a federal highway that goes from coast to coast, but I always considered it my street. Somewhere inside, I feel that this picture was taken in my neighborhood. It was a different time and vastly different economic circumstances, but it is still my neighborhood.

With all of that going on, I had to do some quick online research, and some interesting information popped up.

This photograph was taken by Carl Mydans as part of the Farm Security Administration, one of the many New Deal programs. It was designed to help the rural poor find better land and learn better farming techniques. To chronicle the plight of these people, photographers and writers were sent out to record their stories. I have no idea how successful the program was in agricultural education, but it provided us with some iconic images of the time period.

(Sidenote: Gordon Parks was a photographer in this program. He went on to greater fame as the director of Shaft.)

As I dug deeper, more information came to light. The family lived near Camden, and their shack was built on the chassis of a Ford truck. There were nine people in the family, and the 17-year-old son said that he had only attend school for two years. Also, there are other photographs that include the father, other kids and the man interviewing them.

That is good information, but there is more that needs to be known. What were their names? How did they find themselves in this situation? Was it the result of the Great Depression, or did the poverty go back for generations? What happened to them? Did the children grow up and improve their condition? Did they survive? Did they know that their pictures would become part of our national heritage?

Like many stories from the past, this one has missing pieces that may never be found. We know a great deal about those in power, but we still have a long way to go with the masses that make history complete.

Picture This – The Judith

8 Apr

Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 149

A few years ago, we men of the family took a trip to Montana. When we returned, I put together a series of posts about our adventures. I was just skimming through the pictures and came upon one that I took in Lewistown, Montana. The town sits at the geographic center of the state. In fact, the exact center is next to the indoor pool at the hotel we stayed in. There is some tile work in the floor marking the spot.

However, it was not the pool area that interested me. My nephew and I took a stroll down the main street and took some pictures along the way. This one is my favorite.

The Judith is a movie house that sits in the middle of downtown. I have no idea how old it is, but, as we stood in front of it, I could imagine people of years past standing in line to buy a ticket. They had no idea that there would be a time when movies would have special effects like those in The Dark Knight Rises.

The idea of a 21st Century movie playing in an old theater intrigued me. It was as if we were caught in some time warp that even Batman could not find his way out of.

The name of the theater was also intriguing. I assume it was named for the Judith River that flows nearby. In Jeremiah Johnson, Bear Claw tells Jeremiah that if he leaves pelts by the river, then steamboats will take them and leave gold coins behind. I have no idea if that is historically accurate. Something tells me that it is just a cool movie line. I do know that if Jeremiah Johnson had been playing, then I would have bought a ticket. It would have been the appropriate thing to do.

We walked into the lobby to see how it looked. It was small but had a concession stand with all of the right candy. We even thought about watching The Dark Knight Rises but decided to keep walking down the street.

Eventually, we came upon a McDonald’s. Where can you go in this country without that happening?

Picture This – Little Big Horn

24 Feb

Montana 2012 and Other Stuff 126

On June 25, 1876, George Custer and part of the 7th Cavalry charged into a Sioux encampment on the banks of the Little Big Horn River. The events that followed would become one of the most famous battles and most famous defeats in American history.

Many people in this part of the country can go to a Civil War battlefield and know the details of what happened there. I can do that at Little Big Horn. I first visited the battlefield in Montana when I was a kid and have been back several times. However, it was not the event that first gained my attention. It was the white markers scattered around the landscape.

At some point after the battle, marble markers were placed where soldiers had fallen. Some of them are not accurate, and they have since caused controversy. Native Americans have wondered where the markers for their fallen have been. In recent years, a few markers have been placed for killed warriors.

This post is not about the inaccuracies or the controversy. It is about the effect. For me, the markers make the battle seem like it happened a few days ago. I can scan the battlefield and see where people fell. I can see where some made a stand and others died alone. I can look at the markers and see the battle in my mind. I can listen to the wind and hear the sounds of the fight.

Civil War battlefields do not provide the same effect. I can study a battle and know the troop movements, but the land looks like a peaceful field. At Little Big Horn, the individual markers remind me that blood was shed on the expanse.

A few years ago, I went to the battlefield with my dad, my brother and my nephews. We stood on Last Stand Hill, where Custer’s body was discovered, and my nephew filmed me talking about the battle. I looked over the landscape and pointed to where everything happened. I provided accounts from warriors and military records. It was a thrill to be able to do that on site.

When I finished, I turned around to find a busload of people listening to me. Apparently, I had drawn a crowd. I answered a lot of questions, but I really wanted to tell them to look at the markers. They are why I have read so much about the battle. They are the genesis for why I studied the American West. For me, they are what makes Little Big Horn a spiritual place.

Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry

19 Nov

Living near Nashville has many perks but being around a lot of great music is at the top of the list. You can go almost anywhere and hear talented people. However, there is one place that stands above the rest. The Ryman Auditorium sits downtown and was, for many years, home of the Grand Ole Opry, the radio show that put the music into Music City. I have been to the “Mother Church” many times for many types of concerts, but Friday night brought a completely different experience. Necole and I were able to go backstage at the Ryman for the Grand Ole Opry, which moves back to its home during the offseason.

Our hosts were Dr. Bob and Leslin, his daughter. Leslin was one of my students and has a great blog. They were able to get us in because Dr. Bob is the doctor who many stars see when they have issues with their voice. He knows a lot of performers and was able to provide us with this special experience.

We started the evening with a great meal at Sperry’s, one of Nashville’s dining institutions. Then, we headed to the Ryman. I was worried about getting a parking space because Justin Timberlake was performing across the street, but Dr. Bob and Leslin had that taken care of. We parked in the lot reserved for the Opry performers.

We walked through the alley between the Ryman and Nashville’s famous honky tonks. We made it to the backstage entrance, and the history began to hit me. Country legends had climbed those same steps to perform for a packed house and countless people listening across the nation on WSM radio. When their set was finished, they would walk back down the steps to the bars across the alley. That’s where they would kill time until the second show.

Up the stairs was a man at a desk with a list of names. Once we got past him, we walk through the door and were on the stage. The show had already started. Music was playing, and the crowd was clapping. Immediately, one of the backup singers hugged Dr. Bob and told us to come on up. We ended up standing next to the backup singers. Everyone in the audience could see us. In front of us was the announcer who introduces the acts and reads the commercials. Eventually, he walked over and talked to us.

At the first break in the action, I took a picture of what was going on behind the curtain.Opry 1

Necole and I were amazed at the casual atmosphere. As the music played, people were talking and joking around. It was like a big family reunion. The hallways were small, and people couldn’t help but bump into each other. At one point, Dr. Bob wanted to introduce us to someone. We walked over and had a good conversation about music and life in Middle Tennessee. He asked about our jobs, and we asked about his. Around the corner, Riders in the Sky were practicing, and Necole became more interested in them than the conversation. She had to have a picture, and I took it. I am not great a picture-taking, so the blurriness is the fault of the photographer.Opry 2

Later, the accordion player asked me what I did for a living. When I told him that I was a historian who researched the American West, he nearly fell out. He wanted to talk all about the history of cowboys and their music. That’s when I told him about the magazine I had that listed them as one of the top 50 artists of the Western music genre. He acted like he didn’t know it.

We went back to the stage in time to see an elderly lady perform. The crowd was cheering enough for us to know that she was a major star, but we couldn’t tell who she was. Dr. Bob found out that it was Jean Shephard. None of my group recognized the name, so I got to show them some of my knowledge of music history. She was a big star in the 50s and 60s but faced terrible tragedy. Hawkshaw Hawkins, her husband, died in the same plane crash that killed Patsy Cline.

Eventually, it was time for the last segment, and the host walked into the wings. At first, all we could see was his red coat. When he turned around, we saw that it was Jim Ed Brown, another great star of the past. He sang a few songs before introducing the band that we had come to see – Old Crow Medicine Show. The newest members of the Opry brought down the house with an energetic performance that included “Wagon Wheel“, which was their song before it was Darius Rucker’s.

That’s when Necole and I realized that the guy we talked to earlier (back when Riders in the Sky was practicing) was the lead singer of Old Crow Medicine Show. Everyone around us was taking pictures. This is one that I took.Opry 3

That’s Jim Ed in the red coat, and the announcer standing next to him. The crowd loved Old Crow Medicine Show to the point that Jim Ed gave up his last song for them to be able to sing another one.

After the show, we walked back down the steps and into the alley. People were lined up to get into the honky tonks, and music could be heard coming from all of them. That’s when I realized that the alley is only a few feet across, but there is a long way from those stages to the one we just stood on.