It was the summer 1985.
I was in my second year as a photographer and occasional writer for the
Ashtabula Star Beacon while, when searching for feature art in the Rock Creek
area, I came across a barn being painted.
The barn was just north
of Rock Creek, on Route 45. The painter was Harley Warrick, of Wheeling, W.Va.,
an American treasure.
Harley began painting
barns at the age of 21, in 1946. Two days home from the Army, a Mail Pouch team
came into the area and painted two ends of the Warrick family’s barn. Harley
got to talking to the painters and got interested in joining a crew. Facing the
task of milking 26 Jerseys every night and morning if he stayed on the farm,
Warrick joined a painting team. Lacking any civilian clothes, he wore his Army
uniform during his first week on the job.
Warrick worked 13
states, Michigan to Missouri to New York. He painted some 4,000 barns, and not
just once. Every three or four years, the signs had to be repainted.
He usually worked with
a helper, who filled in the background around the letters. All work was done
free hand. Warrick’s preference was to start with the “E” in CHEW and then add
the “H” and “W.” The reason? Those were his initials.
He’d been known to
repaint six signs in one day and two new signs a day. He had a sense of humor,
occasionally purposely misspelling a word to see if the tobacco company would
get any calls.
It was a hard life.
Warrick was on the road weeks at a time, often sleeping in his truck or a cheap
motel. His first marriage suffered from the long absences, and his wife gave
him the ultimatum. Warrick chose his work, but for his second marriage, he
agreed to gone but one week at a time.
He might have been
unemployed by the 1965 Federal Highway Beautification Act had it not been for
the fact that the existing signs were grandfathered and therefore exempted
from the new restrictions on highway advertising. Mail Pouch discontinued the
painting program in 1969, but Warrick’s signs got an extension on life when the
signs were declared National Landmarks. Mail Pouch continued to support the
program until Warrick’s retirement, at which time he was the last of the barn
advertising sign painters.
The last barn that Mr.
Warrick painted was at Barkcamp State Park, Belmont, Ohio, Warrick’s hometown.
He’d originally painted the 150-year-old barn in the early 1980s.
I recall Harley as a
fascinating, witty Yankee with a penchant for smoking a pipe. He told me that
he’d once gone through a box of matches lighting his pipe for a National
Geographic photographer who was trying to the perfect flare on the match tip,
puff of smoke and expression in one frame of film.
Harley died Nov. 24,
2000, in Wheeling.
Although the Mail Pouch
barn he painted in Rock Creek 30 years ago is showing its age, the lettering is
discernable and the weathering adds to the nostalgia of the structure. The
negatives I shot that day were destroyed years ago, and I’ve always regretted
having not taken color transparencies of the artist at work. But every time I
pass the barn I recall how a chance discovery along the rural highway enriched
my life as much as the red and yellow sign embellish the landscape.
Folks came from all over Ashtabula County, Ohio, to the hamlet of Gould to have their teeth pulled, filled, poked and fixed by Doc Everetts.
Doc charged 25 cents
for a filling and 50 cents for an extraction. He used oil of cloves to numb the
pain and was skillful in his use of the tools of the trade. Patients liked Doc
Everetts’ prices, chair-side manner and skills, even though practiced way out
in the boonies.
In addition to its dentist, Gould also had a store, two churches, hotel, horse race track and covered bridge. The lumber business had literally built the town, but when the forests were cut and the land offered only stumps, the residents started to move away. In the 1920s, Gould got its death blow when the highway was rerouted out of the hamlet. Route 167 bypassed the settlement, located just south of that road on Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road, east of Pierpont.
Only the cemetery remains as testimony to the hamlet’s former existence. Most of the burials here are from the latter half of the 19th century and first couple decades of the 20th. After that, if someone was laid to rest here, it was because their spouse had gone over yonder back when the hamlet still had some life left in it. Odd as it is, death has assured Gould a bit of recognition after the hamlet died.
There is still a road
sign for Gould off Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road. It should say “Gould Cemetery,”
for that and a woodlands, the kind they cut a century ago, is all that’s
left. Other signs warn that the road is not maintained in winter. More
accurately, it’s simply not maintained, save for mowing the grass that
has reclaimed what was once a road. You can find it off
Stanhope-Kelloggsville Road, just south of Route 167.
Frugality. There’s a word you rarely hear on YouTube or see on electronic screens these days.
With the alleged booming economy, I suppose most Americans don’t have much need for frugality in 2020. But it hasn’t been that many years ago when being frugal was a way of life, and I’m not talking about The Great Depression.
Back in the 1980s, when unemployment in my home county was
around 20 percent and we depended on my wife’s $2-an-hour job to purchase the
groceries for our family of three, frugality was a way of life. There was a
year or so when I was counted among the 20 percent, and we had to figure out
how to live on less than $200 a week. When the unemployment benefits ran out,
we had to scrape by on even less. Getting a job that paid $6.50 an hour and
required use of my personal vehicle, compensated at a rate of 9 or 10 cents a
mile, didn’t do much to relieve our dependence on frugality. But at least food
stamps were not putting the meals on our table.
We became so adept at frugal living I wrote a newspaper
column as “Frugal Feather.” One strategy of frugality was to use manufacturer’s
coupons inserted in the Sunday paper. I kept my eyes out for those inserts that
made their way into the newsroom trash and thought I’d hit the mother lode of
savings when I found a stack of them discarded. I recall one time getting
something like 10 bags of noodles free using the BOGO coupons. But that was
back before Aldi, which is where the frugal shop. Even with coupons, national
brands cost more, and these days the frugal use of manufacturer’s coupons is
for lighting the wood stove.
Back in the days of frugal living, we recycled most
everything, and by recycling, I mean we used it more than once. Aluminum foil
used to cover a dish in the oven got reused for wrapping up leftovers and
storing in the fridge. Plastic food storage bags were rinsed and reused. We had
more empty butter and sour cream bowls than we could ever possibly use for
leftovers, but they found secondary purposes as dog water bowls, seedling pots,
sandbox toys, parts containers and paint-brush holders.
We purchased only used vehicles and, to minimize fuel usage
and wear and tear on the cars, we carefully planned trips and combined errands
into one journey. We saved our money rather than make car payments and went
into debt for a vehicle only when necessary and interest rates were low.
Double, triple payments were made to eliminate debt and reduce interest
expense. My father took care of all repairs.
Our old dog went to the vet only when she was ill and got
her vaccinations from a dog breeder friend. I went years without going to a
doctor because of high insurance deductibles. Fortunately, I didn’t have any
chronic issues that required prescriptions. A medical emergency stressed the
budget for months because our health “insurance” had high deductibles, but we
always paid our debts.
My wife made her own clothes and kept mine in good
condition. My clothes, for the most part, came from the “men’s shop” at
Goodwill and the Salvation Army. My wife cut my hair, baked most of the bread we
ate and canned hundreds of jars of tomatoes and sauces. “Going out to eat”
involved buying a cheap pizza and taking it to a lakefront park. We called
these mini-vacations “pizza picnics” and set a place at the table for Clifford,
our golden mix, who enjoyed the outings as much as we did.
Our annual vacation in September or October was always a
working one for me, built around a list of four to six stories that I would do
for Goldenseal Magazine while staying in West Virginia for six days. The
money from the stories paid for the travel. I lived for those simple but
Frugality gave us some latitude with our passions–cameras,
slide film and multi-image gear for me, sewing machines for her. The equipment
was almost always used and rarely of “professional” caliber. Our pastimes had
to pay for themselves, and by the time we had made enough to buy what we
needed, we were too tired to enjoy it for ourselves.
We saved our all our paper bags from the grocery store. The
small bags could be re-used for packing lunches and the large ones were
terrific for holding the folded bags and lining the kitchen trash can, unless
coffee grounds were tossed in with the “dry” waste. I miss getting groceries
and other purchases in those bags.
My frugality stopped short of recycling the envelopes in
which junk mail arrived, although I’ve received more than one letter in one of
these repurposed envelopes with the credit card company’s return address
scratched out and a piece of paper taped over the cellophane window. And I
learned that frugality is no excuse for being “penny wise and pound foolish,”
as with buying bargain house paint that required three coats versus a quality
product that covered with one coat.
Being “retired,” I find myself once again migrating to a
life of frugality. Being thrust into early retirement was one factor; I am
discovering why older folks always complain about being on a “fixed income.” It
is especially difficult when you spend your life planning for things being a
certain way and then a box full of monkey wrenches is tossed into those plans
just a few years shy of reaching the goal. Accordingly, I’m grateful I mastered
money-management tools like saving, frugality and contentment way back when. I’ve
learned to appreciate the capabilities of existing technology possessions rather
than focus on the latest offerings and, since I rarely leave the house,
familiar clothes do just fine and the old car with 100,000 miles on it still
gets me where I need to go, which is not very far. There’s a garden in the side
yard and we heat with wood, supplemented with space heaters buring natural gas,
the bill for which I just received and gave me sticker shock. Time to get out
But the real budget killers are taxes: federal, state, city
and school income taxes; real estate property taxes; sales taxes. It is
impossible to be frugal with these items. You owe them and they take precedence
over all other expenses. It is no exaggeration when I say that we are facing a
12-percent increase in taxes this year thanks to a new school district income
tax and the generous voters in our county approving a bevy of property taxes
for services and amenities we don’t use.
It takes a lot of frugality to make up for those increases,
but since government and schools have not mastered the skill of frugality, it
is up to the taxpayers to implement the frugal lifestyle. After doing all the
taxes, my wife and I concluded that we can’t afford either The Feather Cottage
or living in northeast Ohio much longer, but neither of us has an idea where we
want to go. Ohio has some of the highest property taxes in the nation and is
not particularly friendly to retirees. And the nation’s $20 trillion debt
suggests to me that this un-frugal federal government is not going to be very
tax friendly, regardless of your residence. I don’t see a single presidential
candidate talking about reducing taxes for regular folks, and the Democratic Candy
Men and Women are promising gifts that are sure to increase the tax bill until the
republic collapses under the burden.
I predict, regardless of who is in the White House, that frugality
will return out of necessity, although to the detriment of the Dow and amazon.com.
Consumers may eventually be forced to “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do
without,” as “Silent Cal” Calvin Coolidge suggested when things got tight (wouldn’t
it be great if we once again had a president who could earn the “silent”
nickname and suggest frugality?). It would be a tough order for consumers today,
for our economy is fueled by excess, wastefulness and indebtedness for things
we really don’t need. We are still driving automobiles to the poor farm, and
many of those “in poverty” carry their iPhone 11s in designer bags and wear team-logo
jackets while waiting in line at the Social Security office (yes, I’ve been
there and seen it).
A return to frugality would be good for the soul, planet and
our bank accounts (do people still have savings accounts, or just lines of
credit and credit cards?). And it need not mean that we reduce our standard of
living, which has become woefully interconnected with excess. Both the stock
market and our lives would benefit from a good purging. However, just like the
task of cleaning out the garage, no one knows where to start and it is easier
to close the garage door and go shopping.
Looking back on those days of 1980s frugality, I realize
that we both survived and lived well. We had no shortage of problems, but also
no shortage of laughter. Much of the distress we felt was driven not by our
actual circumstances, but by the advertising that suggested we were unhappy
because we lacked something. There was, in fact, much to keep us occupied and
happy, had we only taken the time to avail ourselves of it. But we often were
too busy getting the next thing that was sure to make us happy, really
And that brings us today. Are we happy yet?
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not,”
suggested Marcus Aurelius. “Remember that what you now have was once among the
things you only hoped for.”
Quid pro quo basically means that “if you this for me, I’ll
do this for you.” It is what elected officials practice from the day they announce
their candidacy; they promise to lower taxes, provide free medical care or
higher education, increase employment opportunities jobs and spend more on the
military in exchange for our vote and their job and the power, prestige and perks
that come with it.
So it was that Donald J. Trump in 2016 promised white Christian evangelicals that he would stock the federal courts with conservative judges, better position the Supreme Court to rule in favor of pro-life litigants and “make America great again.” And the Christians responded, with some 80 percent of white evangelicals voting for Trump, choosing to overlook the candidate’s weak moral track record, foul language, propensity for exaggeration/boasting (aka lying) and overall disrespect for women, the poor and “foreigner.”
If there were no quid pro quo coming to the evangelicals, if Trump had been blue rather than red, it is likely Christians would have found plenty of reasons to vilify this candidate. But he offered quid pro quo, and much of the American church embraced both the candidate and the idea of being “in bed” with his power and the GOPP for the next four years.
History teaches us that these kinds of deals never work out well for Christ’s body, the church. If the church becomes so inseparably aligned with a man of power like Trump, it risks going down with the ship when the captain rams into the iceberg. To the unbelieving/skeptical population outside the body of Christ, US Christians are responsible for Trump being president, and if Trump has embarrassed nation, he has embarrassed the church, as well. Like it or not, secular media conveniently pigeonholes Christians by color and theological bent; in the mind of the media and its consumers, if the majority vote a certain way, they represent the entire body, and each and every American who calls himself “Christian” is therefore responsible for the state of things caused by the evangelicals.
Disclaimer: I did not vote for Trump, and I did not vote for Clinton. My disdain for both parties is strong enough that, unless I feel strongly about the candidate’s qualifications and character, I don’t vote for a major party candidate. Yes, that is essentially “throwing away the vote” when it comes to selecting a president. Hopefully, if enough of these votes are “thrown away,” the parties will realize there is a group of Americans who are tired of the Electoral College, the mudslinging and time and money wasted on political battles while the nation burns. Hopefully.
In November 2016 it was business as usual, however. The evangelicals apparently won the election and have received their quid pro quo. Last month, Franklin Graham and hundreds of other evangelical leaders enumerated those benefits as they stood behind their man following publication of Christianity Today’s op-ed piece questioning Trump’s morality. The president was quick to marginalize the magazine, its editor and readers.
Thus, the body of Christ in the United States has become further divided —not over doctrine, Biblical interpretation or liturgy—but whether or not a man whose entire life has been focused on acquiring worldly riches and power is saint or devil.
From a scriptural standpoint (1 Timothy 2:1-2), we are to pray for our president (“kings and all who are in high positions”), whether he is saint or devil, Republican or Democrat; regardless if a quid pro quo was won for the church (not that God really needs the actions of Donald J. Trump to accomplish his will). Further, as Christ’s representatives on this planet, we are called to be peacemakers and not give special attention to the wealthy and powerful. But the church has broken with these practices by entering this quid pro quo. And this alliance between the president and evangelicals must remain strong; Trump and his party absolutely must have a majority of the evangelical vote to win in November. But what happens after November, especially if Trump loses?
As one who has been through trauma of narcissistic abuse and emotional manipulation, I can confidently predict that the American evangelical church has positioned itself in a lose-lose situation. As I argue in my upcoming book, Compelled to Love, the relationship between the emotional abuser and his or her victim is a unique one, based entirely upon the quid pro quo agreement that forces the victim to “fall in love” with the abuser in the first place. The abuser studies his or her potential victim, makes entry into the secret places of the heart and mind and thereby reveals the deepest desires that, until meeting the narcissistic, went unfilled. Miraculously, as if an answer to prayer, the abuser sweeps into the victim’s life, bearing gifts, love, understanding, compassion and a “soul-mate” relationship. The victim is compelled to love through the abuser’s charisma, charm, promises and love.
The emotional abuser then strikes the quid pro quo deal:
“Love me, marry me, follow me, and I will help you fulfill those deep desires
that God placed in your heart but have been left unfilled. Trust me, my good
looks, my power, my great intelligence, my connections, my money, my drive to
get you what you want. In return, you must be my supporter, have my back and do
whatever I tell you. Ignore my faults, not that I have any, worship me and
constantly reassure me of my greatness, intelligence and impeccable character.
And I will keep my part of the quid pro quo.”
Except it never works that way. The narcissist eventually
finds a reason to devalue his partner and discard him or her. Trump has
effectively already done that by discounting the critical reporting of a highly
respected voice in the evangelical community, Christianity Today. If the
evangelical vote fails to re-elect him and his party, the church will be blamed
for losing the soul of America to liberals.
And what if he wins? What if evangelicals renew their quid
pro quo agreement for another four years? For one thing, the unbelieving world
will be driven even further away from the body of Christ and its blatant
hypocrisy in condoning the morals of a man who is quick to dismiss political
opponents as “human scum” and has a penchant for falsehoods. History has shown
that whenever the body of Christ goes to bed with the Harlot Politics, the
church’s message and witness suffer greatly and the blood of many martyrs is
spilled in the streets.
The other fear, and I hope I am wrong on this one, is that a president acquitted by a friendly Senate and reinforced by the votes of evangelicals, will keep pushing the boundaries of the power that he imagines comes with his office. The defense that he and his GOP supporters has put forth is that no impeachable crimes were committed. If this becomes the new standard for conduct in America, if we look to a liberal interpretation of The Constitution for our new definition of morality in the land, we will have ultimately destroyed a tenet long held by the evangelicals, that there is a higher law, a God-given law, that ultimately governs us.
Evangelicals have relied upon this argument when fighting for the lives of the unborn. While our laws allow abortion and give women control over their bodies and the lives of their unborn, the evangelicals have argued that God’s law clearly states otherwise:, “Thou shalt not kill (war and slaughtered animals used to supply church dinners and Chick-fil-A restaurants, exempted, of course).” God also has a lot to say about lying and kings who abuse power for their personal gain, not to mention humility. But evangelicals still believe that legislation can change hearts, a dangerous supposition that results in strange bedfellows and dangerous quid pro quo agreements.
The narcissist lives by a personal code of ethics that floats one atom above criminal activity. The narcissist is never wrong, and he or she will have a team of followers whose whole purpose to defend that false image. The church has signed on to that team, but it has yet to realize is part of the deception.
Truth is, the narcissist loathes people who have character and morals, and the abuser takes great pleasure in manipulating them to the point that they break their personal moral code and side with the abuser’s free-wheeling attitude toward absolutes. To the narcissist, the only absolute in the moral universe is what assures his or her superiority. The narcissist is never wrong, never apologetic, never the loser. And he or she needs a cadre of followers who will support that false view no matter what the cost to this faithful following.
This is the moment of decision that the evangelical church finds itself at today. Will it continue to honor its quid pro quo with the GOP and hope that any damage done due to its image will be mitigated by victories in the courts and Senate? Or will the church have the courage to stand up and demand accountability from its leader and the rich and powerful who enable behavior that otherwise would not be tolerated by the church, behavior that necessitated the crucifixion of God’s Son as payment?
Sadly, only those who have been in and escaped a relationship with a narcissist are likely to understand just how lethal this quid pro quo is to the future of our Christianity in a nation founded on principles of justice and freedom from tyranny.
Ellen Spencer Mussey: The Father of Penmanship’s
Ellen Spencer was but 12 years old when she went to work in
the penmanship school of her famous father, Platt R. Spencer of Geneva. She was
the youngest penmanship teacher in Ohio, and her father, 62, was the oldest.
Following the death of her father in 1864, Ellen could have
drifted into marriage, motherhood and obscurity. But the same penchant for
excellence and accomplishment that marked the lives of her father and his business-college
founder son, Henry, was endowed upon Ellen, a lawyer, educator and pioneer in the
effort to open legal education to women and give them full legal rights apart
from their spouse.
Born in 1850 in Geneva Township, Ellen received her early
education from her father at the Jericho School on what is now North Myers Road
(the Spencer home there is owned by the P.R. Spencer Historical Society). She
studied at Rice’s Young Ladies’ Seminary in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., following her
father’s death. Further education was obtained at Lake Erie College and
Rockford College, Rockford, Ill.
Her brother, Henry, founded the Spencerian Business College
of Washington, D.C., and at the age of 19, Ellen moved to D.C. to lead the
women’s section of the college, which trained students for jobs in government
and business. Her Washington presence connected Ellen to Reuben D. Mussey, who
had served as a colonel for the Union Army and had a law practice in D.C. A New
Hampshire native, Reuben had campaigned for Lincoln and joined a militia
company led by Cassius M. Clay, an abolitionist. Initially charged with
guarding the president and White House, Mussey eventually became captain of the
19th U.S. Infantry Regiment. As captain, he helped recruit
African-Americans to serve as Union Army soldiers.
Ellen and Reuben were married in 1871; a woman far ahead of
her time; she had the word “obey” omitted from the wedding vow. Nevertheless, in
her actions she demonstrated a commitment to both matrimony and motherhood
while blazing a trail for equality.
She bore two children, Spencer (1872-1891) and William Hitz
(1874-1939), and was stepmother to Reuben’s two daughters by his first wife. Ellen
also took an interest in her husband’s profession, worked in his office and
studied law under him. She applied to the law schools of National University
and Columbian College but was denied access. Just five years into their
marriage, a huge burden was shifted onto her shoulders when her husband
contracted malaria while campaigning for Rutherford B. Hayes. Reuben became an
invalid, and Ellen, 26 and with four children and an invalid husband, moved the
family to a building in downtown Washington near the law practice. With
Reuben’s assistance, the practice remained open.
Ellen was not a member of the bar, however, and her
husband’s death in 1892 jeopardized her livelihood. Several Washington lawyers
lobbied to have special consideration given to her, and in March 1893, Ellen
passed the bar by oral examination. She was admitted to practice before the
Supreme Court of the United States in 1896.
That same year, President Grover Cleveland signed into law legislation
drafted by Ellen and giving women of the District of Columbia the right to
their own earnings and custody of their children. Prior to the law, a father
living in the district, even if he was a criminal, could claim custody. Her
fight for a woman’s independent legal status culminated in 1922 with passage of
a bill that permitted an American female citizen who marries a foreigner to
retain U.S. citizenship rights. As a result of this bill, Ruth Bryan Owen,
daughter of William Jennings Bryan and the wife of an Englishman, could serve
as a US Representative from Florida’s 4th District from 1929 to 1933.
From 1933 to 1936, Bryan was US Ambassador to Denmark.
Like her father and brother, Ellen had a strong interest in
education. She was a member of the Columbia Board of Education and worked to
establish kindergarten as part of the district’s program. And she pioneered the
effort to establish retirement benefits for public school teachers.
Her greatest accomplishments were in the area of providing
legal education for women. An aspiring attorney, Della Sheldon Jackson, in 1895
requested an apprenticeship under Ellen. With assistance from a colleague, Emma
Gillett, Ellen opened, on Feb. 1, 1896, the first session of the Woman’s Law
Class. Jackson, Nanette Paul and Helen Malcolm were its first students.
The program grew with assistance from several prominent Washington,
D.C., attorneys. The students planned to take their final year of law education
at Columbian College, but that institution rejected them on the grounds that
“women did not have the mentality for law.” That closed door resulted in the
founding of the Washington College of Law, incorporated by Emma Gillett and
Ellen Mussey in April 1898.
The college, since merged with American University, was the
world’s first law school founded by women. Ellen Mussey served as dean until
her retirement in 1913.
In her retirement years, Ellen founded the Women’s Bar
Association of the District of Columbia and was elected its first president.
She also was involved in the founding of the National Association of Women
Lawyers in 1919 and was first chairwoman of the Women’s City Club of
Washington, founded the same year. And she was among the founders of the
American Red Cross.
Ellen Spencer Mussey died April 21, 1936, in Washington, D.C.;
she is buried in the district’s Oak Hill Cemetery.
Information that Clifton decoded back in the 1940s remains
known only to Clifton, a resident of the county seat of Mineral County, Keyser,
and West Virginia’s last surviving Tuskegee Airman.
Clifton is getting up there in years; he was 97 when I visited him in the spring of 2019. He has some memory lapses, but one suspects that if he were placed in front of a US Army SIGABA machine, Clifton could still operate the keys and lever that enabled cryptologists to do their vital work during World War II. Indeed, both the machines and the personnel who operated them were so discrete in their duties, the US code was never broken. Even after the war, Clifton was so secretive about his wartime work, it has been only in the last decade or so that the full story of his military service became known to his eight children.
“He never talked about him being a cryptologist during the war,” his son, Mickey “Mick” Brooks, told me. “He would tell me nothing about what he did. When Dad was told a secret, he kept it a secret.”
As far as Mick and his other siblings knew, their father was
a mechanic in the Army Air Corps during World War II. It was only after the
movie “Top Guns in the Sky” and accompanying media coverage brought attention
these airmen that Clifton confirmed his participation in that select group and cautiously
shared his story. Mick and his siblings worked with West Virginia congressmen
to secure the recognition his father deserved, including the Tuskegee Airmen Congressional
Medal received by Clifton and his children: Jacque Washington, Apryl Smith, and
Mickey, Clifton E. Jr., Rick, Victoria, Brenda and Tim Brooks.
The airmen were “the men and women, African Americans and Caucasians, who were involved in the so-called ‘Tuskegee Experience,’ the Army Air Corps program to train African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft,” states tuskegeeairmen.org. The airmen of the “experience” included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and maintenance and support staff such as Clifton. His late brother, James, also was an airman and flew in a fighter group.
Prior to 1940, African-Americans were barred from flying for
the US military, and it was only through the pressure exerted by civil rights
groups and the black press that the all African-American squadron was formed in
1941. Cadets lived on the Tuskegee Institute campus and trained at Moton Field
in Tuskegee, Alabama.
As the nation’s first black military pilots and support
personnel, they both proved their capabilities and helped the Allies win the
war. There were 992 black pilots who were Tuskegee Airmen; the first wave of
them were assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, which deployed to
North Africa during April 1943 and flew its first combat mission June 2, 1943.
The 332nd Fighter Group was the first black
flying group. It was activated at Tuskegee Army Air Field on Oct. 13, 1942, and
included the 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter
Squadrons. Clifton was a member of the 332nd, which deployed from
Michigan to the mainland of Italy between Dec. 22, 1943 and Feb. 3, 1944. Their
missions included patrolling shipping lanes in the Mediterranean Sea,
supporting ground forces in Italy and escorting bombers. All told, the Tuskegee
Airmen flew 1,491 missions.
Clifton, born March 22, 1912, enlisted September 28, 1942,
at Charleston, where he was a student at West Virginia State College. Mick says
his grandmother, Nellie, had saved money so his father and Uncle James could
get a higher education. Mick says education was a family value for the Brooks,
who had both teachers and pastors in their ranks.
Mick says his father never shared with him what his career
plans were after college. Mick just knows the story of his enlistment, which
Clifton shared with me during a visit at a family member’s home.
“Here comes this man to see me,” Clifton says. “He asked,
“Are you Clifton Brooks Sr.? If you are Clifton Brooks Sr., you are the man the
government is looking for. Now don’t you try to get away. You need to go with
Clifton says he wrapped up his work at school and let his
mother know that he was joining the Army because he had the skills the
government needed. He and James stayed together throughout the war years.
“Wherever he went, I went,” Clifton says.
According to his enlistment record, Clifton went into active
service December 2, 1942, and held the military occupational specialty of
cryptographic technician. He arrived in North Africa February 3, 1944. His
experience included Rome, Arno, North Apennines, the Po Valley, northern and
southern France, Central Europe and the Balkans. He received the Good Conduct Medal and European
African Middle Eastern Service Ribbon and Distinguished Unite Badge.
Mick says that while his father did not speak of the work he
did during the war, he did talk about the discrimination and segregation the
airmen experienced, including “colored” facilities in Alabama.
“One time he went to town in a bus and had to walk back to
the base because he was not allowed to get on the bus (with the white
passengers),” Mick says. “He also told about how the black officers were
treated and were not allowed to use the same mess hall as the white officers.”
Clifton returned to the United States Oct. 17, 1945, and,
after being discharged from the Army, came back to Keyser and married Bessie
Reva, who’d been his classmate at the segregated Howard High School in Piedmont.
Clifton graduated in 1940 and Bessie in 1942. Mick says his mother was widowed
during the war, and his father and she married in 1947 or ’48.
Mick’s Uncle James, who was a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen,
joined the US Navy and lived in Portsmouth, Va. He is deceased.
Clifton chose marriage over completing his college degree
and got a job with Kelly Springfield in Cumberland, Maryland, as a tire
builder. He worked there four decades and was a quality control worker when he
retired in 1982. His employer named him the company’s “Man of the Year.”
The couple raised their eight children in a modest home on
Locust Street, across the highway from South End Park. Mick says the park was
simply a corn field when he was growing up and the entire neighborhood was farms.
It is now all residential and commercial.
“We grew up in that park,” Mick says. “It had a pool, and I
spent almost every day down there. There was an airfield right next to the
park, and the planes would fly over it.”
To circumvent their mother’s rule that they were not to
cross the highway to get to the park, the children crawled through the culvert
under the road to reach the recreation spot, which now bears the family’s name.
Mick says the family had a tradition of vacationing at
Atlantic City, where an aunt lived and provided lodging. even in those relaxed times on the boardwalk
and beach, Clifton didn’t share his war stories. Indeed, unknown to his family,
during those post-war years, government employees were monitoring Clifton’s
associations to determine if Clifton was sharing cryptology secrets he’d acquired
during his time in the Army. The secrets were safe with Clifton E. Brooks Sr.
The fact that he was a World War veteran was no secret,
however. Even before retirement, Clifton gave freely of his time to the American
Legion’s Washington Smith Post 152, of which he served as post commander and
district chaplain. He’s been a member 72 years. Clifton also served as
treasurer and lay speaker of his church, Janes United Methodist, and was a
Mason and past grand master of Potomac Lodge 41. He was often called upon to
speak at Memorial Day services and to school children during Black History
Month. On Martin Luther King Day, Clifton recited King’s “I Have a Dream”
speech wherever he was invited to speak.
“He stayed busy all the time,” Mick says.
Once the full story of his service with Tuskegee Airmen was
known by the family and community, Clifton kept busy sharing that aspect of his
life, as well. Mick says one of the most memorable stories that his father
shared was of having a bomb and suicide pills in his room where the cryptology
work was performed. If the base were overrun by the enemy, he was to use the
incendiary bomb to destroy the machine and associated documents, then consume the
suicide pill so he could not be captured alive.
In April 2006 the US Congress voted to award a Congressional
Gold Medal to the approximately 350 surviving Tuskegee Airmen or their widows. A
bronze replica was presented to Clifton in 2010. His receipt of that honor drew
community recognition that led to the park and the bridge being named in his
honor. TJ Coleman of the Aubrey Steward Project spearheaded the effort.
“Don’t wait until people pass to recognize them,” Coleman
told Elaine Blaisdell of the Cumberland
Times-News in September 2018. “Let’s do this while we can so he can
On November 26, 2018, the sign designating Keyser’s South
End Park as Brooks Park was unveiled. Clifton attended the ceremony, at which
Keyser mayor Damon Tillman declared, “Today is a great day for the City of
Keyser. It is a day we as a city can give back to a hero,” reported Liz Beavers
of the Mineral Daily News Tribune.
“Finally, we get to give back to somebody who is so deserving.”.
“Mr. Brooks, when everyone comes across that bridge, it will
be your face they see,” Coleman told Clifton at the November ceremony.
It is a kind face. A face that smiles often yet conceals
secrets; a face full of stories that will never be shared. Every question about
his service is answered with his anecdote about the man coming to the West
Virginia State College in September 1942 and looking for Clifton E. Brooks Sr.
So, I ask Clifton what the other men who served with him would tell me about him, and he says, “If you go that way, I guarantee that they will know Clifton Brooks,” and falls silent. I ask him what he thinks of all the attention he’s received, and Clifton looks around the room and says in a soft but strong voice that he is humbled to “see you all sitting here to find out something about me, to see a white man coming here and looking for a black man boy like me,” perhaps not still not able to comprehend just how far these airmen’s flights have taken us in our battles both overseas and at home.
The shipping season of 1909 delivered nothing but progress to
The first four of eight Hulett electric unloaders went
online that summer at the Lake Shore’s (New York Central) Superior extension
docks on the river’s east side. As the operators became comfortable with the
behemoths’ controls, ore unloading records began to fall. Meanwhile, nearly 250
men worked on the Lake Shore’s docks that would accommodate the ore shipments
for Jones & Laughlin mills.
In their haste to unload and drive the hundreds of piles
required to create the slip, Frank Ferguson, a foreman, was nearly killed in
October. A piling, thrown out of a rail car, struck Ferguson on the side of his
head, knocked out a few teeth and dislocated his jawbone. The timber hit O.
Else, a worker, in the chest and knocked him 10 feet. A couple of days later,
Antonio Pondico, 45, was crushed between a rail car and clam bucket filled with
coal and being swung into the hold of a vessel. He died on the way to the
hospital and left behind a wife and seven children, still in Italy. He was
saving his money to bring them to the United States, where a daughter and son
Such was the nature of work and life in The World’s Greatest
Iron Ore Receiving Port.
Also in 1909, the Pennsylvania Railroad, which operated on
the west side, announced an investment of $100,000 in its Ashtabula docks at
Ashtabula; the work would be done during the winter of 1909-1910. That August,
a steam shovel devoured slices of Point Park, “what was once the pride of the
north end,” as the prime real estate was removed to make way for the Pennsylvania
Railroad’s tracks to the lakefront. The dirt thus removed was used to fill low
spots where the coal and ore cars would terminate their journey to the docks.
Mean, the pay cars of both The Lake Shore and Pennsylvania railroads
delivered glad tidings to workers; in August, 1909, the biggest pay day in two
years put extra dollars into the railroaders’ pockets and Ashtabula economy.
A deal between the city and Great Lakes Engineering was
signed that summer, as well. Although the shipyard failed to bring the touted
economic boom to the city, it built Liberty Ships during World War I and
provided drydock facilities for smaller lake vessels for several decades.
Port lists attest to the volume of bulk carrier business
handled at The Harbor. On a typical day, a dozen ore boats arrived at The Harbor
and as many cleared the port.
The steamer Normania was among those received in August. Its arrival was received with much fanfare, for the Normania had a strong hometown connection: Many of its shareholders were Ashtabula investors, who came to The Harbor the afternoon of August 15 to see what their $300,000 had purchased.
Normania was built the prior year at the St. Clair, Michigan, works of Great Lakes Engineering. She was 420 feet long, 52 feet wide and drew 24 feet. Gross tonnage was 4,871; net, 4705. The steel hull was number 39 for the shipbuilder.
There is no explanation for its name, but the owners were incorporated as the Ashtabula Steamship Company. The Normania appears to have been the firm’s only project. Pickens-Mather & Co. managed the vessel, which was skippered by Captain Oscar Olesen of Ashtabula.
He welcomed 15 of the shareholders onto the vessel that
evening as its cargo of iron ore was unloaded. The tables were set with “a
lunch that would have done credit to the swell hotels of New York city.” The
owners then toured the vessel, which, according to the Ashtabula Beacon-Record,
was “a model of utility, convenience and comfort. … The cabins are neat and
commodious, affording ample accommodations for the crew and officers. Each
department is provided with private bath rooms and each gang-way has a separate
shower bat equipment. The passenger rooms are elegantly appointed, with their
tall, brass bedsteads, chiffoniers, private lavatories, electric lights and
fans.” The rooms compared favorably to those in “leading hotels.”
After eight years of ownership, the Ashtabula Steamship Company sold the vessel to the Ottawa Transit Co. of Mentor (Lake County). An act of the 64th Congress, June 22, 1916, approved changing the vessel’s name to William F. Stifel. It retained that name when it was sold to Columbia Steamship Co. in 1921 and to Oglebay Norton Co. in 1958.
By then, the 420-foot-long vessel was too aged and
inefficient for the lake trade, and she was sold through Marine Salvage, Ltd.,
of Port Colborne, Ontario, to Italian shipbreakers. The Normania, which had proudly
sailed into Ashtabula Harbor, her colors floating in a stiff breeze, to meet
her owners some 51 years prior, arrived in tow at Savona, Italy, Dec. 27, 1960,
Such was the way of life and work at The World’s Greatest
Iron Ore Receiving Port.
In a typical year, I would make my first West Virginia/Back Roads journey in early May. But so far this year (2016) I’ve made two trips, one in January and one in March.
The January trip, to
the Eastern Panhandle, was during a weekend when the temperature on Saturday
was 60 degrees and fell to near zero by Monday morning. It was so cold, I chose
not to walk around my favorite place in the world, Harpers Ferry, that morning.
My old bones feel the cold more acutely these days, it seems.
Author’s note: This blog was originally published in March 2016; it has been re-published as part of the site’s redesign in 2020.
My March trip to the
Northern Panhandle was on a Saturday. It’s about 100 miles from my house to the
tip of W.Va., Chester. After all these years, I still feel a sense of relief,
of coming home, whenever I cross that state line heading south, and a twinge of
sadness when my front tires hit that Buckeye pavement.
The weather Saturday
was perfect. When I left home, the trees were weeping with the frost melting
from their branches; there was golden steam everywhere. I could have passed for
a May morning.
Within three hours, I
was in Wellsburg and Highland Springs Farm, where I was greeted by Cooper, a
pot-bellied pig who was coming back from his morning walk.
The innkeepers were
expecting a state dignitary, Walt Helmick, the commissioner of agriculture, and
agreed to give me a tour while we awaited the commissioner’s arrival. I won’t
go into details about the farm except to say these gentlemen, Harry Sanford and
Chatman Neely, have assembled a near-perfect repose for animals and people
using mostly reclaimed materials (as in an old log barn for the frame of their
dining room and a discarded pig pen for their dogs’ condo). They operate the Barn
With Inn bed and breakfast on the property. You can stay in a loft room in the
barn and look out the window into the animals’ stalls, take an outdoor shower
and enjoy West Virginia sourced appetizers and drinks at night and eggs
straight from the hen house in the morning.
I tagged along with
the commissioner, his wife and staff as they toured the farm, which raises hay
and vegetables, and provides shelter for animals that otherwise would not have
a home. It was during that stroll that we came across this:
Everybody was fascinated by these intertwined
garter snakes, including the commissioner, who being from Pocahontas County,
had a few good snake stories to tell. I’m guessing that, between all the
cameras pointed at these reptiles, at least 100 pictures of them were snapped
trying to get them with their tongues out. (I didn’t get one, I was too busy
making sure they didn’t strike! Yes, I know garter snakes don’t strike.)
It was a real pleasure
meeting Walt Helmick, his wife and their staff. They were friendly and
down-to-earth folks, the kind of people you’d like to find as your neighbors at
a bed and breakfast or on a three-hour tour. And Chatman and Harry were equally
hospitable, as well as their assortment of cats and dogs, all of them adopted
(Harry’s a vet so a lot of their “livestock” comes in as tough-luck cases at
From there I traveled
to the Family Roots Farm, also in Wellsburg, where the owners, Charlie
and Britney, were waiting for me with a customized welcome sign:
Married just three
years, this young couple is building a farm for the 21st century on the
farmland that Britney’s ancestors, the Herveys, first settled on in 1770. Their
specialty is maple syrup, and although they’ve been at it just a few years,
their maple sugar won best in the world at an international competition in
2015. Their maple syrup received a perfect score.
beyond maple trees to sorghum, sweet corn and other vegetables. Last year they
planted five acres of vegetables and this year they’re shooting for 10 acres.
And they both work full-time jobs.
Hopefully my editor
will find their stories worthwhile and you can read more about them in a future
Back Roads column in Goldenseal.
After wrapping up at
Family Roots, I was ready for lunch/dinner. I went to my favorite restaurant in
Wheeling, Coleman’s, and ate the fish sandwich and fries. Yes, I am a
vegetarian, but once in a very great while, as in when I’m in Wheeling, I do
eat fish. Coleman’s is the only fish I’ll eat.
Next stop, Wheeling
Hill, Mount Wood Cemetery and the castle. The cemetery is amazing. Built on a
steep hill, the top is reserved for the movers and shakers of 19th-century
Wheeling. My Goldenseal Back Roads story will feature one of these fascinating
Descending the slope
of the rural cemetery, the graves become more prosaic, the obelisks give way to
broken sandstone tablets. At the base is the Jewish cemetery.
Across the street, at
the overlook/castle, there is a great view of the Ohio River and the city.
The magic hour, when
the light takes on a beautiful quality and bathes the city in blue, was rolling
across the streets. It was a perfect time for a walk with my little Fuji X100T,
a digital rangefinder with a fixed 23mm, effective 35mm, lens.
I looked for
Wheeling’s most famous citizen, Moon Dog, but he was not patrolling, at least
not yet. As the lights on the suspension bridge came on, I walked on the bridge
toward Wheeling Island and was lucky enough to see a tow boat and barges
heading down river. I positioned myself to take a series of pictures.
The entourage slipped
past Wheeling Island, then followed the strings of industrial and residential
lights toward Moundsville, Cincinnati and perhaps Nashville. Their destiny was
downriver, mine was to follow the river north, to Chester, away from the
mountains and that inexplicable sense of peace I feel when I’m there, back to
Ohio and The Feather Cottage.
Joe DePollo was the son of John DePollo, who owned DePollo’s Store in Thomas, W.Va. The store was started by John’s parents, first-generation Italian immigrants, who eventually built the three-story brick building on Front Street in 1915. They operated a general store that supplied dry goods and fresh food to the families of the town’s coal miners and railroaders.
My maternal grandfather, Clayton Watring, was among the latter class of workers. Whenever my parents went back home to Thomas, I tagged along in his 1957 turquoise-and-white Chevy as he fulfilled the grocery list prepared by my grandmother, Violet. DePollo’s was usually one of the stops.
Thirty years later, in the summer of 1993, I wandered into DePollo’s store to find its iconic owner and the son of its founders still taking care of business at the age of 88. That day I interviewed and photographed John and Jim Cooper, his haberdashery-owner friend down the street, and later wrote a story and sold it to Goldenseal, the West Virginia Department of Culture and History magazine. It was my second piece for the magazine and set me on a course to write more than 100 stories for the publication, for which I still freelance. It is the most gratifying work I do, and my memories of travels in the state and the acquaintances I’ve made are precious to me.
John DePollo died in June 1994, and in keeping with his wishes, the family sold the building to provide for the care of his widow, Elsie. John Bright eventually purchased the old store and in 2002 established there the Purple Fiddle, another iconic Tucker County business, which I also wrote about for Goldenseal.
Back in 2015, the Purple Fiddle hosted a revival of what had been a longstanding tradition for John DePollo: a concert of polka music performed by his twin sons, Joe and John, on the occasion of his birthday. For those memorable birthday parties, the store closed for business, a sign announcing the party and free beer went in the window, and the twins played The Tucker County Polka and dozens of other zippy tunes to their father’s honor and delight . It’s said that Joe Sr. danced all the polkas, even when he was in his late 80s, and often recruited a a few lady guests to join him on the wooden floor.
Joe told me that his father’s love of this music and the accordion was behind the gifts of two accordions for his sons back in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Joe and John took lessons for a couple of years, but after their teacher was drafted into the army, the boys turned to recorded music and attending dances to complete their education. Thus, they never learned to read music, but they amassed a repertoire of a hundred songs or so, including square dances, which they performed at wedding receptions, parties, family gatherings and Bill Slaughbaugh’s Horse Shoe Run Tavern. Teamed with other Elkins-area musicians, the twins played as the Polka Dots and Godfathers.
In July 2018 I traveled to the Purple Fiddle for the revival of what had become another tradition involving the DePollo family: An annual reunion that included a concert featuring Joe and John on the Fiddle’s stage. This event got its start in 2015 and roughly coincided with the late John DePollo’s birthday.
I interviewed Joe at his home and attended the concert, filmed it and share the story online. The reunion will be a future Goldenseal Back Roads story, the quarterly column I write for the magazine.
Joe and John did not perform at the Purple Fiddle this year due to a previously booked engagement at the venue. And Joe became ill shortly thereafter and passed away in Virginia September 13. One family member predicted that John would never pick up and play his accordion again because they played as a duo all their lives (Joe, by 15 minutes the older of the two twins, told me his brother always played the lead part).
Losses like this always remind me of the immediacy of the work in which I am engaged. The human landscape is constantly changing, and ever since I wandered into DePollo’s store back in the 1993, I’ve followed this passion of preserving the stories of my home state, West Virginia, to the second and third generations …
The smoke from the July 4th fireworks has cleared, replaced by the oppressive humidity and haze typical of July along the Lake Erie shoreline.
The bursts of fire and glimmer over the Geneva-on-the-Lake business district was witnessed by thousands of motorists and their passengers who’d paid $10 or more for a spot to park their vehicle close to the heart of the commercial district.
They came to drink, eat, listen to live music and find the best spot for watching the fireworks, which began at 10 a.m. Some might have known that it was the birthday of the nation that was being celebrated, not their arrival at The Resort. Even fewer knew the significance of the date to the story of Geneva-on-the-Lake, the “Pleasure Grounds” opened by Edwin Pratt and Cullen M. Spencer exactly 150 years earlier, July 4, 1869.
Their Pleasure Grounds amounted to five acres on Sturgeon Point. It was a shady picnic grove on this point of land that extends into Lake Erie and was named for the huge lake sturgeon that congregated around the landmark. The proprietors offered a horse-powered merry-go-round, tables and benches, lemonade and ice cream. Below the point, the wide beach beckoned, as did a small boat.
Sturgeon Point was sold for private development some 30 years after the Pleasure Grounds opened for business. By then, the business district had shifted to the west and was under the control of Warren and L.C. Spencer, Cullen’s sons, and several others. Sturgeon Point was renamed Mapleton Beach, which became a densely packed cottage development that exists to this day.
Knowing and having written about the beginnings of GOTL and the historical significance of the July 4, 2019, holiday, I focused my documentary photography of the celebration on Mapleton Beach. Dozens of boats, including one or two large ones in the distance, gathered off the point as dusk fell over the historic land. Young adults, their faces illuminated by the LCD screens that fed them entertainment and news from distant places, glanced at the panorama only long enough to acknowledge the occasional explosion of consumer fireworks being shot off from the point.
When the first of the professional fireworks appeared in the southern sky, the cottage owners and guests left their beach chairs behind and flocked at the entrance to the Middle and West Drives of Mapleton Beach, which provided a clear view of the fire showers over Strip businesses.
The display came to a close and long lines formed at the order windows of Eddie’s Grill, Katie’s Korner and many other eateries that stayed open late to capture the post-fireworks business. Routes 534 and 531 became traffic jams from The Strip to downtown Geneva as the spectators returned to their beds and prepared for the day of work on Friday.
Spencer and Pratt would have been amazed by it all.