Category Archives: History

Monday Moments: Memorial Day

cleaning up cemetery placing flags

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. ~ From a headstone in Ireland

My father was a quiet man. Not just in tone or in spirit, but in nearly everything. In part, I’m sure, this came from spending much of his time by himself, out in the fields or working in the timber. He was far more content to sit and read than to listen to the radio or watch television. He was never one to make a fuss, or to want a fuss made about him.

Our primary piece of farm acreage was old family property. The remains of an old schoolhouse were barely visible under the growing timber and brush. Remnants of the old family cemetery were strewn about one section. Every winter, when he couldn’t be in the fields, he was in the timber. He’d clear out dead trees and provide firewood for the fireplace at home. He’d beat back the ever-encroaching brush from the edges of the fields. And he would work on the cemetery. He’d try to match old, long-broken tombstones with the right bases, and he’d try to set right what weather and the occasional vandals took down each year. One of his quiet actions in life was cleaning up the cemetery, year after year, stone after stone.

He did this as a labor of love, to his family, to the people buried there, and to the families of those who were forever wedded to that piece of land. Without fuss, without caring if anyone knew or noticed or helped. It was his task. His remembrance. His service. He was a young child when the U.S. entered World War I, and by the time World War II rolled around, he was exempt from the draft as a food-producing farmer. He never talked about not going to war, like he never talked about a lot of things, but I always believed that he wanted to do more, give more, for the country whose history he taught me. So he did what he could, quietly. But occasionally someone would notice and say thanks. letter to the editor about my father cleaning up the cemetery He’d stammer and get uncomfortable, but he appreciated the sentiment. And each Decoration Day, as he always called it, he’d help put flags out on the graves of those who served.

Now living near a very active Air Force base, I see people every day who serve quietly, without seeking honor or notice or attention. Because it fills them from the inside out. Because it’s just what they do, oftentimes without notice. So today, as we should do every day, take a moment and express your appreciation to someone who willingly serves, who has lost someone who sacrificed themselves for what they believed. Who lives each moment to make sure we have our freedom.

A friend of ours, Adam White, who happens to be a very talented filmmaker, put together a marvelous tribute to those who volunteer, those who serve. Please take a couple of minutes to watch the clip, and to remember all those who have served and those who now serve.

Today and everyday.

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Xenia Tornado of 1974

Xenia tornado cloud 1974

Xenia tornado cloud, April 3, 1974

Spooky wild and gusty; swirling dervishes of rattling leaves race by, fleeing the windflung deadwood that cracks and thumps behind.

~ Dave Beard

One of the scariest things about spring in the Midwest is the ever-present danger of tornadoes. As a child growing up in central Illinois, I remember stories my parents told of friends having homes blown away, of crops being flattened, and other such terrifying possibilities. My mom, for example, watched a tornado go behind her car by just a few miles. My father told stories of barns full of machinery and tools being leveled by the force of the wind. For years, I couldn’t stand to watch The Wizard of Oz, just because of the tornado scene.

Not long before my mother passed away, I remember getting the phone call that a tornado had gone through my hometown. And where was my mother? Watching it through the kitchen window. The same kitchen window that was directly behind the tree that ended up through the back window of the car. The same kitchen window that was next to the dining room, where a board from the shattered storage unit crashed through multiple layers of siding and house construction materials to wind up horizontally stuck into the back of the dining room hutch, from the outside of the house. The same kitchen window that was directly across from the large propane tank, which was later found in the middle of the front yard, on the other side of the house from where she stood.

Since moving to Ohio, however, I’ve learned that those fearsome tornadoes of my childhood were nothing to the King of Tornadoes of lore in these parts. We live just a few miles from Xenia, Ohio, which I have learned sort of functions like a tornado-magnet. The most famous of those, however, was the F-5 tornado which struck as part of a supercell of 148 tornadoes across the Midwest on April 3, 1974.

Xenia tornado destruction of house

House demolished by Xenia tornado, April 3, 1974

That one killed 33 people and injured more than 1,300. Creating a path more than half a mile wide, it damaged more than $100 million of property in Greene County. (For more information and pictures, check out our Dayton Daily News blog post from 2011.)

Scary stuff, tornadoes are. What’s the closest weather disaster you’ve encountered?

[Note: This post is #24 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button at the right of the page for more information.]

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Poetry in Motion

Jane Reece and Paul Shivell exhibit

Capturing the Moment: The Intersection of Poetry and Photography in the Work of Paul Shivell and Jane Reece

 

Photography’s own etymology connects it to writing: photography literally means writing with light. A great many poems focus on light and time, photography’s two essential ingredients. Illumination is at the heart of both, the illumination of something evanescent, intense, fleeting. The singular eye of the photographer is akin to the singular voice of the poet. How alike poems and photographs can feel, both concise slivers of the whole, blinks of time and sensation.

~ Scripps College, 2006

Part of my work as an archivist is creating exhibits which highlight our collection materials. Exhibits give us the chance to show off some of our materials, sometimes the familiar, sometimes the unknown, and to take our materials –usually copies, not originals, by the way– to different areas. Special Collections and Archives is located on the top floor of our library, a place few people head unless they know they want to see us or to find a quiet spot to study. Many of our exhibit cases, including our largest ones, are located just inside the main entrances to our library.

My colleague, officemate, and BFF Toni and I have just finished creating and installing two cases of exhibits that we both simply fell in love with while doing the project. We hatched the idea for these cases back in early winter and have been putting them together ever since. The focus –Capturing the Moment– centers on the work of Jane Reece, a local Dayton photographer from the early part of the 20th century, and her fabulous photography.

Jane Reece self-portrait

"The Poinsettia Girl," Jane Reece self-portrait, 1907.

Coupled with Reece’s phenomenal photographs are other local Dayton artists, notably the Schwarz Sisters, who founded the Dayton Ballet, and poet Paul Shivell.

Toni created the magnificent and hauntingly beautiful exhibit on the Schwarz Sisters and Reece.

Schwarz Sisters and Jane Reece exhibit

Capturing the Moment: The Intersection of Dance and Photography in the Careers of the Schwarz Sisters and Jane Reece

Reece’s photographs of the two sisters capture their beauty and elegance, their graceful movements.

My contribution was the side of the exhibit pictured at the top of the post – the Jane Reece and Paul Shivell connection. Shivell’s poetry is a mix of religious works, folksy dialect poems, and –what I think are his best works– his pastorals, many of which were written about the Stillwater River near Dayton. His first book was published in 1898, but it was his second one, Stillwater Pastorals, which attracted the most attention. Indeed, it caught the eye of one famous American poet, Robert Frost. As I noted in a post last fall about Frost, Frost sent a letter to Shivell, complimenting him on the book, mentioning two poems by name. When I saw that letter, I knew I wanted to create an exhibit about this little-known Dayton poet. When Toni raised the idea of doing an exhibit using Reece’s photographs, I knew it was a winner. Part of the new Shivell collection we have are portraits of Shivell and his family taken by Reece. Between the Shivell collection (which is still being processed) and the Reece collection, there were many portraits available to work with. Reece took portraits of Shivell, including a stunning study of just his hands. She also took family portraits, photographs of his children, and there are Reece photographs of Shivell’s daughter from about the age of 4 or 5 all the way up into adulthood. In return, Shivell had written several sonnets to Jane Reece, including works about her cottage, the art of her photography, and several on specific images, including his own portrait by her. And in a strange, final connection, I discovered that Reece had taken a series of portraits of Robert Frost as well. I love it when things come together.

So, especially since April is National Poetry Month, what better way to celebrate Poetry in Motion than by looking at the unique blending of dance, poetry, and photography, each an art of capturing the moment.

[Note: This post is #16 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button on the right of the page for more information.
Last year’s “P” post: Peacock in the Park.]

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Monday Moments: Paul Laurence Dunbar

Dunbar Celebration Schedule

If Death should claim me for her own to-day,
And softly I should falter from your side,
Oh, tell me, loved one, would my memory stay,
And would my image in your heart abide?
~ “Love-Song” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Over the past several weeks, I’ve spent many hours with Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry. The university library where I work is officially named after him, and Dunbar was a significant figure in Dayton’s history. So since last fall, I’ve been working with a committee here on campus to plan out an entire month of events to encourage the study of Dunbar’s life and works, and offering new ways to “Experience: Paul Laurence Dunbar.”

The kick-off was last Tuesday night, and it combined several pieces of the events which are available throughout the month. The complete series is listed on the poster above. Since I realize most of you aren’t anywhere nearby, I thought I’d share some of what we’re doing in a few posts this February. So, like the folks on Tuesday night, here’s a little intro to what all we’ve been up to with Paul Laurence Dunbar.

So, who was Dunbar? Excellent question! Dunbar was a Dayton native who was considered one of the first nationally known African American writers. Despite living only 33 years, Dunbar produced 12 books of poetry as well as a number of novels and books of short stories. The son of former slaves, Dunbar attended school and was a high-school classmate of Orville Wright. Dunbar was best known for his poems in dialect, but he wrote beautiful poems in standard English as well. One of his best known poems, “Sympathy,” from 1899, which includes a line made famous by Maya Angelou, “I know why the caged bird sings.”

Since 1992, the Wright State University Libraries has maintained a Digital Text collection of Dunbar’s published poetry on our website. It consistently gets the largest number of hits out of any other portion of our site, in fact. So one of our contributions to the month-long Dunbar celebration was to completely revise, update, and relaunch the Paul Laurence Dunbar portion of our website. We added images to our photo gallery, wrote a new biography, and now provide information on visiting Dunbar sites in Dayton as well as a whole long list of resources about Dunbar for anyone interested in learning more about him. While our fabulous web designer developed the look and motion of the site, one of my jobs was to create and update content. That included proofreading and editing the code behind all 430+ Dunbar poems, which means I read each of them at least three times. There were some nights I swear I ended up dreaming in dialect! But it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to surround myself with one person’s poetry so thoroughly and completely.

Anyway, on this February Monday, I hope you’ll take a moment and come check out our Dunbar site! Dunbar’s poetry influenced later writers during the Harlem Renaissance and throughout the 20th century and made an amazing contribution to American poetry and literature.

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The Blizzard of 1978

Blizzard of 1978 - Dayton, OH (Photo courtesy of Dayton Daily News Archive, Special Collections and Archives, Wright State University)

The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches. ~ e.e. cummings

If you were anywhere in the Miami Valley in 1978, you most likely remember very well what you were (or were not) doing 34 years ago today! On January 26-27, 1978, the region was hit with a major blizzard, one of three that struck the region in January and February that year. Over twelve inches of snow fell in 24-hours on January 26th alone!

Take a look at some of the terrific pictures captured by photographers from the Dayton Daily News, showing the effects of the blizzard, at our Dayton Daily News blog!

I, for one, am very grateful that all the rain of the past few days has not been snow instead — or we could have looked a lot like those blizzard photographs!

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