Bess Streeter Aldrich’s “A Lantern In Her Hand”

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #46
BESS STREETER ALDRICH’S A LANTERN IN HER HAND
November 4, 2015

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I take our book selection seriously, believing as I do that life offers us all too few opportunities to read books worth remembering. After all, if we read a book a week, starting at the age of five, at the age of 75, we’d only have read 3,600 books out of the millions one could choose from.

Thus I gave a lot of thought to our 46th book selection. During a recent fall colors trip we took with Bob and Lucy Earp in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, I took four potential candidates for the November book along. Aldrich’s book won out. It was my second reading of Aldrich’s masterpiece, and it impressed me even more the second time than it did the first (rarely is this true).

Would you like to become an authority of sorts on life on the Great Plains during the pivotal post Civil War years? Travel in a wagon train, live in a sod house (mostly underground), live with droughts, torrential rains, prairie fires, blizzards, grasshopper plagues, claim jumpers, primitive medical conditions, unrelenting winds, marauding Indians, financial depressions, isolation, wars, epidemics, early death, and ever so much more. Live through it as retold by one whose parents lived through it herself. The early events in the book were lived by Aldrich’s parents; the later events she experienced herself.

As a reader, you are there with the storyteller, Bess Streeter Aldrich. Once you board that covered wagon that is pulled west into Nebraska, vicariously you live as pioneers lived, enter into their minds, hearts, and souls.

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“All along, you will be amazed at the sheer number of insights into life back then that are relevant to life today. So what if overnight our power grid was hacked and we were forced to start all over again as pioneers? Just as Abbie and Will did. What if we had to put our own dreams on hold so that our children might live a better life than we had? What if we had nothing to pass on to our children but our dreams and a precious few bygone evidences that we weren’t always poor? The following excerpt movingly portrays this:

        “Abbie walked over to the small-paned half-window set in the sod, and looked out at the gray twilight coming across the prairie. The winds that were never still blew past the house in their unending flight.

“How queer people were. All the folks in the new country were hoarding things, hanging on to old heirlooms. They became symbols of refinement and culture. “Sarah Lutz had a painting that drew your eyes to it the minute you opened the door. Oscar Lutz’s wife had a pink quilted bedspread that she kept rolled up in newspapers. Even Christine Reinmueller had a bright blue vase with magenta-colored roses on it, standing up on top of the cupboard. They stood for something besides the land and the corn and the cattle. They must hang onto them, never lose them out of their lives, for if lost, everything was lost. She must hang onto the pearls and everything they stood for; Sarah must keep her painting; Martha Lutz, her bedspread; Christine, her blue vase. Else what was there in the future for the children?” (P. 108).

But the true measure of a book is whether or not it has the power to change you, inspire you, elevate you, broaden you, make you think deep thoughts—so that when you reluctantly read that last page, you are a different person from what you were when you read that first page—This is just such a book.

Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881 – 1954) was one of Nebraska’s most widely read and loved authors. Her writing career spanned forty-some years, during which she published over 160 short stories and articles, nine novels, one novella, two books of short stories, and one omnibus. In her work, she emphasized family values and recorded accurately Midwest pioneering history. She became one of the highest-paid authors of her time.

Her work appeared regularly in such magazines as The American, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, and McCall’s.

Following is a listing of her best-known works:

1924 – Mother Mason
1925 – The Rim of the Prairie
1926 – The Cutters
1928 – A Lantern in Her Hand
1931 – A White Bird Flying
1933 – Miss Bishop
1935 – Spring Came on Forever
1936 – The Man Who Caught the Weather
1939 – Song of Years
1941 – The Drum Goes Dead
1942 – The Lieutenant’s Lady
1949 – Journey into Christmas
1950 – The Bess Streeter Aldrich Reader

And so Abbie Deal went happily about her work, one baby in her arms and the other at her skirts, courage her lode-star and love her guide,—a song upon her lips and a lantern in her hand. (P. 70)

* * * * *

Aldrich was originally published by D. Appleton & Company. If at all possible, secure a first edition hardback with dust jacket. She has also been published by Dutton Signet and Appleton Century Crofts.

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Once Upon A Time 141 Years Ago

BLOG #11, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ONCE UPON A TIME 141 YEARS AGO
March 12, 2014

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What’s so significant about 1873, 141 years ago? Let’s find out.

Lincoln had been assassinated at the end of the horrific Civil War during which virtually every family, North or South, had been bathed in blood. The terrible Reconstruction Period was bringing a new species of hell to the South. To add even more misery, the terrible bank panic of 1873 was blighting the hopes and dreams of millions of people, for there was then no FDIC to fall back on.

But in the midst of all this, something totally unforeseen took place: Roswell Smith (1829-1892), cofounder of Scribners and founder of the Century Publishing Company, woke up one never-to-be-forgotten morning with a dream; but, unlike most people, this publisher believed in constructing lasting foundations under his dreams. Since he had more than enough money, all he lacked was a young energetic visionary editor who’d help him to change the western world. He found her, a widowed Mary Mapes Dodge, whose best-selling book, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, eight years before, had elevated her to the pinnacle of national popularity. Once she’d signed on, the stage was set.Scan_Pic0080

On my lapboard this stunning late winter day in the Colorado Rockies, is a very old book containing two 141-year-old magazines and four 140-year-old magazines. The crystallization into reality of Smith’s and Dodge’s dream: the very first volume of a life-changing magazine, St. Nicholas.

I’ve always been attracted to visionary dreams that change the world. I can only imagine what it would have been like in that New York editorial office when Smith handed Mrs. Dodge that very first magazine. In my introduction to “A St. Nicholas Magazine Christmas” (Christmas in My Heart® 17, 2008), I took our readers back in time to what it would have been like for a child or a teen to have been handed a copy of that magazine.

The fastest speed known to man was the train; transportation in general was still dominated by the horse. The telegraph office and the newspaper in each town were their windows to the world. The center of home life was the stove, kitchen, or fireplace–here is where family reading took place in the evenings. Paper was so rare that children, both at home and at school, tended to write with chalk on slate rather than using a pencil on paper. Childhood, as we know it today, didn’t exist back then, for children were expected to work as hard as adults. Education was all too brief; maybe, if you were lucky, three or four grades in a one-room schoolhouse. Girls especially faced an unenviable future for few careers other than marriage and motherhood were open to them. They were expected to marry by the ages of 14 to 17 (boys 15 to 18); children would then arrive on an average of every two years. No small thanks to the failure of doctors and midwives to wash their hands between patients, untold millions of women died of puerperal fever or childbirth “complications” – hence men tended to go through three wives in a lifetime. Life expectancy was short.

So just imagine yourself as an 1873 child or teen, as this magazine created just for you was delivered to your door. You’d be not only hungry for knowledge, you’d be voracious: all that knowledge out there, but inaccessible to you. Now here come, in your mailbox, windows to the world: history, biography, religion, literature, art, music, mythology, biology, architecture, anthropology, philosophy, technology, folklore, popular culture, and on and on. Authors and poets such as Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Anthony Hope, Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Longfellow, Bret Harte, Whittier, Frances Hodgson Burnett, William Cullen Bryant; and artists such as Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Pyle, Rembrandt, Rubens, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Frederic Remington, Charles Dana Gibson, Arthur Keller, etc.

Faithfully, for two-thirds of a century, three generations of young people received 1,200 pages of fascinating reading material every year. Without preaching or moralizing, the magazines helped inculcate principles of right living in its readers: character traits such as integrity, kindness, self-sacrifice, empathy, industry, courage, fortitude, self-respect, patriotism, respect for their elders, sportsmanship, etc.. – traits that bridged to the Golden Rule and service for others. Interwoven into the very fabric of the magazine was God’s leading in each of our lives. Thus, in its 66 years, St. Nicholas had a huge impact on the American people and British Commonwealth.

And yet, miraculously, defying all the odds, here is this refugee from another time, this 1873-74 artifact, on my lapboard! Thoughts and reactions almost overwhelm me. What will be the thoughts of people in 2155, 141 years from now, when they look back in time? Will there be any paper books left outside of mega library vaults? Will the average person be able to experience the thrill of touching and reading actual paper pages from times past? Or will the closest thing be digital? Digital recreations that lack any real connections to the real artifact itself. In that probable age of Orwellian Big Brother will they be forced to enter the Ray Bradbury world of Fahrenheit 451 and seek out those who memorized seminal books from the past (reason being totalitarian rulers have now erased all printed records that such books ever existed)? Even more terrifying, will there yet exist civilizations based on the Judeo-Christian belief system generations of children once grew up internalizing?

In a way, thousands of homeschooling parents are already circling their wagons around their children, earnestly seeking to preserve values worth living by for their children. Searching out real books, with the known potential to change lives for the better if their values are internalized. In a world that increasingly devalues real books, a revolution has already begun, a revolution every bit as significant as the one begun back in 1873-74 with this priceless book resting on my lapboard today.

Calvary Chapel – Gettysburg – Part Two

BLOG #43, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
GETTYSBURG
Part 2
October 23, 2013

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Cyclorama Depiction

After days of heavy rain, the skies had finally cleared. At 7:35 a.m., I was picked up at the Radisson and ferried over to the block-long Calvary Chapel complex. Five apparently brand new 54-passenger tour buses were rapidly filling with growth-oriented men, men who knew each other well. Here and there were fathers and sons. Had to smile at the two sets of fathers and sons in the row just in front of me: it started out father/son, but it rapidly became clear that the boys preferred sitting together, so they were so accommodated. Thereafter both the two men and the two boys talked to each other non-stop.

Our bus, containing the leader, Pastor Trevor Steenbakkers, was designated Bus #1, and led the pack out of the parking lot and headed south. Initially, well over 400 had planned to go, but when our Government shut down, and the national parks, monuments, and battlefields closed, for a while it appeared the day at Gettysburg would be lost. However, Pastor Trevor was tenacious and the good people of Gettysburg (losing money at an alarming rate) were desperate enough to get creative. So here we were, heading to the most famous battlefield in America, wondering what we’d see.

After we cleared Philadelphia’s suburbs, our leader introduced a film few of us had ever seen: the four-hour-long documentary, Gettysburg; we’d see half of it going, and the other half returning. Since I’d been devouring a large book detailing the three-day battle for over a month, I found the historically accurate film riveting. What was almost surreal was watching the action in the screen above us and simultaneously experiencing/seeing outside the same hill and tree configurations depicted in the film. It was almost like theater in the round.

Immersed in the film as we were, we were jarred when the film was turned off: we were coming into Gettysburg. I’d been there before, but never before with a guide. We drew up at the Gettysburg Cyclorama complex, and within several minutes, our “soldier” guide came aboard. He told us that though we were not permitted to enter the 6,000 acre battlefield, we’d get mighty close. Though eight of the ten roads intersecting Gettysburg were federal, fortunately two were not. We’d thus be able to nibble at the battlefield from a number of angles, all of which our guide knew–in fact, he was descended from men who fought here. In short, he was living history! I have found that, in travel, a guide who is passionate about the subject literally makes a trip. And so it was here. Serendipitously, we got to experience in depth the town of Gettysburg, usually relegated to the sidelines by pilgrims who spend almost all their time on the battlefield itself. With such a guide, believe me, none of us felt shortchanged.

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Cyclorama Depiction

Afterwards, it was back to the Cyclorama complex, with its food court, large gift/book store, and the dramatic Cyclorama. During the 1880’s, the French artist Paul Philippoteaux researched, and painted what is now the largest painting in America. It took him, with his team of assistants, over a year to create the 42-foot-high and 377 feet in circumference painting. Pickett’s Charge dominates. As you walk around you can check out each portion of the battlefield. A sound and light show dramatizes it.

While half the group experienced it, I had the opportunity to answer the other half’s questions about Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and Gettysburg. Then I took them deeper into the significance of Gettysburg, the pivotal high-tide of the Confederacy. I discussed with them Lincoln’s epiphany when he wrote what his secretary, John Hay, called “The Meditation of the Divine Will.” In it [Hay had found it on Lincoln’s desk and secretly copied it.], Lincoln rhetorically asked why God refused to bless the armies of the North: for two long years, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson had time after time defeated Union armies two or three times larger than they. Why? asked Lincoln. Didn’t the North have the high moral ground in God’s eyes? Finally [and I tell the fuller story in my Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage], Lincoln was convicted that God withheld His blessing from the North because it had refused to address the almost quarter of a millennium cancer of slavery. After much prayer, Lincoln made a vow to God that if Lee retreated from Antietam across the Potomac, he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves. Lincoln did so on January 1, 1863.

What further muddied the waters for Lincoln was his realization that both North and South prayed to the same God, asking each day for battlefield success. As if that didn’t muddy it enough, many of the slaves in the South were actually owned by absentee planters in the North. So the North came into the Civil War with anything but clean hands, where slavery was concerned.

Lee came to Gettysburg serenely confident that he would, once again, easily dispose of Union forces, led as they were by inept northern generals. After his victory, since Gettysburg was only a few miles from Washington, there would be little to prevent his victorious troops from marching on the capital. When it fell, the war would be over.

But if Lincoln was right, and his freeing the slaves six months before would be accepted by God as a clear indication that the North was at last seeking higher moral ground, then God ought to recognize that fact on the battlefield confrontations.

But, for Lee, though time after time it looked like he had the Federals on the run, now each time they miraculously regrouped. I pointed out to our Gettysburg armchair historians that:

1. Meade had only been in command of the Army of the Potomac for three days when Gettysburg cannonading began, yet he refused to buckle as had his predecessors. Nor did Hancock, his strong second in command.

2. First and foremost, Lee was missing the one indispensable person, other than himself, in the war: Stonewall Jackson, the commander the Feds feared most, for he out-thought and out-fought their generals every time. At Chancellorsville, when Jackson was killed by “friendly fire” from his own men, Lee declared he’d rather have lost his right arm. That loss contributed mightily to the results at Gettysburg.

3. Always before, the great cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, could be counted on as Lee’s eyes and ears so that Lee would know everything about the enemy and its placements before the first shot was fired. This time, for some unexplainable reason, he was AWOL, rampaging through the Pennsylvania countryside, wreaking havoc–he wouldn’t show up until late on Day 2.

4. Without Stonewall Jackson, Lee’s second in command, Longstreet, was sulky, dragging his feet at Lee’s commands.

5. Pickett, too, was a no-show until late on Day 2.

6. And why did Lee, that military master who always knew when not to push it too far, now pushed it too far, overriding Longstreet’s strong reservations, and order Pickett’s ill-fated almost suicidal charge?

The result: Lee was forced to retreat. Had Meade and Hancock corralled the Confederate armies on the banks of the swollen Potomac River, all could have been over–but they did not, thus the war lasted two more bloody years.

Nevertheless, Gettysburg clearly represents the high tide of the Confederacy. Never again did Lee cross the Potomac. Every day thereafter, the North grew stronger and the South weaker.

It does appear that God took sides, albeit in a limited way, after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, it is clear that Lincoln was convicted that God’s slowness in ending the bloodbath was because both North and South had near a quarter millennium’s worth of slave-related blood on their hands, thus both sides were denied an easy solution.

And Lincoln’s assassination would prolong the anguish (in the South) for yet ten more years of what was euphemistically called “Reconstruction.”

All through our time together, our reference sources were primarily my two Howard/Simon & Schuster books: Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage (2008); and Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories [it includes four powerful Gettysburg stories] (2013).

All these things and more, we discussed at Gettysburg.

Afterwards, we boarded the bus and headed back to Philadelphia.

Next week, we will conclude this Calvary Chapel series.

CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA – DAY ONE

    BLOG #42, SERIES 4
    WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
    CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
    DAY ONE
    October 16, 2013

I just returned from a most memorable weekend in Philadelphia and Gettysburg.  The appointment had been made a number of months ago, but until I actually arrived there I had only the haziest idea of what I might meet there.  All I knew was that a certain Pastor Trevor loved my 2008 biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage, and wanted to know if I’d be willing to speak to his church on the subject of Abraham Lincoln.  By the time I got there, my newest book, Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories had just arrived.

What a wonderful experience it turned out to be!

I would be dividing my time between the church’s men and their sons, and the church’s high school students.

Since I’ve never belonged to a congregation of more than 3,500 members, it was a radically new experience for me to be speaking to a church of 10,000 members, plus 5,000 teens and children.  A church with a staff of forty; sixteen being full-time pastors.

I might as well confess that up until last weekend, I didn’t think much of large or mega churches.  Mainly, I guess, because I’d never before experienced one first-hand.  With that many people, I really didn’t see how the average member could have his/her needs met.  I even wondered whether or not there might be more than a little of Elmer Gantry-ism in their leadership teams.

But rather than ramble on in generalities, let me tell you what it was like being there.  I’d be spending my first morning with about 500 of their teens attending Calvary Christian Academy.  I spent considerable time at home writing what I hoped would be an interesting lecture, but, as I continued to pray about the weekend, gradually I was convicted that I ought to ask Pastor Trevor if he’d be willing to get the young people to write out questions that intrigued or interested them (on subjects such as Lincoln, writing, authors, reading, life, etc.—whatever might be on their hearts).  He relayed that message to the teachers.   And so it was, after a three-hour rain delay, I arrived late; but there was this imposing stack of questions—and I’d be speaking to them the next morning.  I finished at 1 a.m.  Believe me, they’d taken me at my word: Here are just a few of their questions:

    PUBLIC SPEAKING

•    How do you handle talking to large groups?
•    Were you always good at speaking to large groups?  If not, how did you overcome that fear?

    READING/WRITING

•    Do you have to know how to use direct objects and predicate nominatives to be a writer?
•    Do you have to be a good reader and like to read to be a good writer?
•    How does journaling help you become a better writer?
•    As a journaler, do people write about their lives or what went on in the world?
•    Does traveling to historic places give you inspiration?

    QUESTIONS DIRECTED AT ME

•    How do you become an author?
•    What is your favorite color?
•    How did you come to know God?
•    What is it like knowing people are reading books you wrote?
•    How do you know what God’s plan is for your life?
•    What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
•    Why did you decide to write biographies about people?
•    Do you ever run out of ideas to make your books better than your previous books?
•    How do you create great books that are interesting to most age groups yet talk about God too?
•    How does it feel to be known and famous?
•    What do you do when you don’t know what to write about?
•    As a professional writer to a young writer, what is the best way to improve one’s writing capability?
•    Which of your works are you most proud of?

    ABRAHAM LINCOLN

•    How long did you study Abraham Lincoln for your book?
•    What made Lincoln a great leader?
•    What do you think was Lincoln’s greatest flaw?
•    In your opinion, what was the single most difficult decision made during Lincoln’s presidency?
•    Was Lincoln a Christian man?
•    What was the hardest decision Lincoln had to make as president?
•    When Lincoln was president, did he have people to discuss his decisions with, and did they agree or disagree?
•    Was Lincoln personally interested in freeing slaves?  Or was it just a political move?
•    How did Lincoln feel about his widespread fame?  How did he handle it and stay humble?
•    Why in most photos does Lincoln wear a top hat?
•    Did Lincoln struggle with the paparazzi?
•    Elaborate on the dream Lincoln had just before he died.
•    How do you think our nation would be different without Lincoln and his faith in God?
•    The Gettysburg Address is one of the most famous speeches in history.  Yet he went after another man.  Could you tell us about him?
•    What was the single event in Lincoln’s life that set the stage for what he became?
•    Did Lincoln want to be president as a child?

    * * * * *

As you can see, their questions were not only insightful, they reveal that their Calvary Christian Academy history teachers really teach their students history!  Many college students today wouldn’t have been able to field questions as deep as many of these.  Nor be as knowledgeable about history.

Not only that, but they were most attentive, alert, interested in the subject, and respectful.  Afterwards, a number came up front to ask for my autograph—one wanted it on her wrist. 🙂

    THE FAITH OF LINCOLN

In the evening, I spoke to 400 – 500 fathers and sons about Lincoln’s faith in God–while young; when as an adult he put God on hold for many years, and then when his second son, Eddie, died, how he recognized his great need for God; and finally how, during the Civil War, only his moment by moment reliance on God made it possible for him to face the horrific casualties (620,000 – 750,000), more than all the rest of our wars put together).  I also discussed the need for parents to return to the daily story hour so that they can minister to their children’s spiritual  needs from day to day.

Afterwards, for several hours, I signed their Lincoln books (both the biography and the new story anthology).

Then I was ferried back to the motel.  Next day was Gettysburg.  Will fill you in on that next week—what it was like during the government shutdown!

KPOF RADIO, AM91, THE POINT OF FAITH

BLOG #35, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
KPOF RADIO, AM91, THE POINT OF FAITH
STUDIO IN A CASTLE TURRET, ROUND TABLE BROADCAST, MARDEL’S,
OWLS, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, COFFEE, AND DAWN OVER DENVER
August 28 2013

How is that for a mouthful of a title?

It was still dark when my alarm clock shattered my dreams that morning of August 14, two weeks ago. I was out the door of the Grey House high on Conifer Mountain by 5:20. By 6:30, I could see the castle with its red-lighted beacon silhouetted against a cloudy dawn. As I approached the Westminister destination, I stopped, got out of my SUV, and unlimbered my legs so I’d be ready to sit down for the two-hour broadcast.

Afterwards, as I walked up the time-weathered steps, dawn’s gilding paintbrush gave the castle an otherworldly glow. Inside, all was already in progress for “The Breakfast Table Show: table-in-the-round, headphones and mikes, cups of steaming coffee, Roy Hanschke and Gordon Scott,–glaringly absent: Denise Washington Blomberg—, and an empty chair for me. How often, over the years had I thus joined this precious circle!

Fortunately, Denise would be back; but I gained a renewed sense of the fragility of life when Roy later shared with me the story of the dark days and nights when cancer came way too close to ending his part of the morning broadcast.

I thought back to the day in March when the station celebrated 85 years of broadcasting of KPOF Denver. 85 years under the same ministry ownership sharing the same gospel message.

What a milestone!

My thoughts drifted back even further, as I looked out the turret windows, to the days when the castle was a stagecoach stop. Yet here it still was, an anachronism when compared to the steel and glass skyscrapers just waking up to our southeast.

My reveries were abruptly terminated by a motion from Roy: In seconds, the commercial would end, and we’d be on the air. Ah the magic of radio! Still magical even in this age of nano-technology-driven instant obsolescence.

Once again, I was introduced to the listening audience–only, for the very first time, I was not here to talk about my latest Christmas in My Heart® book, but rather about my just-out Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories (Howard/Simon & Schuster). It was also announced that, periodically during the two-hour broadcast, we’d be giving away copies of the book to listeners who called in when invited to do so.

And, it was noted to listeners that I’d be sharing several stories with them each hour.

Denise’s empty chair reminded me each time we missed her effervescent presence–which was every time we looked in the direction of that chair–how irreplaceable each of us is. For each of us is a one-of-a-kind: in eternity itself, there has never been, nor ever will be, another Denise, another Roy, another Gordy, another me, another you.

Even without her, the old electricity re-ignited, having flared again and again during years past. What one didn’t think of, another did: thus there were no awkward pauses, but rather a continuous flow of Abraham Lincoln, the gentle giant who still rules over our hearts–both in America and around the world.

Every so many minutes, just before a commercial break, it would be announced that next, I’d be reading a story from the book–and so the conversational flow would stop: for “How Lincoln Paid for His First Book,” “Only a Mother,” “Tenderness in a Ruined City,” and “The Heart of Lincoln,” four of the shortest stories in the collection, yet each simple little story deeply moving in a unique way. Each revealing another dimension of America’s only Servant President: accessible to all, be it a broken-hearted little boy, a shy little girl pleading for her brother’s life, a dying young man in a makeshift hospital, or a young Confederate wife and baby in the still burning city of Richmond who apprehensively opened her front door, only to see a tall gaunt figure standing there, who, to her stunned exclamation, “The President!” simply responded, “No, ma’am; no, ma’am; just Abraham Lincoln, George’s old friend.” [“George,” being the now near immortal general, George Pickett, who led the greatest charge in our history, Pickett’s Charge, in a losing cause at Gettysburg].

We could all hear the voices of listeners as they called in, overjoyed that I’d be personally inscribing their books. We’d also hear the voices of those whose calls were relayed in from the switchboard during commercial breaks. More often than not, calls from those who were deeply troubled about illness, privation, inner torment, each asking for intercessory prayers.

It was at such times that I became more fully aware that this was not merely a commercial radio station, but rather a group of dedicated prayer warriors, each, from station manager, Jack Pelon, on down, committed to selfless service to all God’s sheep who looked to those inhabiting the Castle on the Hill as undershepherds to the Great Shepherd. All across the great city of Denver, they were listening to every word we spoke.

I thought too, both then and later, about the station’s 85-years of daily struggling to remain alive in an increasingly secular age, especially in recent years when Christianity and those who believe in God are openly mocked by a society that has apparently lost its spiritual moorings.

Every so many minutes, it would be announced that I’d be signing the Lincoln book at two locations that week: downtown Denver’s Barnes & Noble on Friday and Mardel’s Christian Bookstore on Wadsworth on Saturday.

It would be at Mardel’s where I’d fully realize the power of KPOF’s spiritual ministry to the people of Colorado: All day they came, all but two there because they’d heard Wednesday’s broadcast, they loved Lincoln and yearned to learn more about him in the new book and in my earlier biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage–, but mainly, they were there because they trusted those dear folk in the Castle they listened to so faithfully, day in and day out; spring, summer, autumn, and winter, year after year. And, because they’d heard me before, heard my voice breaking in deeply moving stories, they opened up their hearts to me, considering me also to be another undershepherd. What greater honor could there be? Furthermore, they were at Mardel’s because it was one of that dying-breed: an overtly Christian bookstore, courageously day by day fighting the forces of secularism determined to eradicate such spiritual holdouts as this one.

After we’d sold out all the Lincoln books early, I debriefed with Dana Oswalt, long-time Mardel’s bookstore manager, about all I’d experienced. Since she’d tuned in to the broadcast herself, she knew they’d be coming. She now confessed how deeply moved she’d been by what she’d seen and heard at my booksigning table.

* * * * *

But back to the Castle. All too soon, we took off our headphones, breathed giant sighs of relief that we’d made it through the two hours without a glitch–even without Denise. But mainly, we were almost incapable of speech because of the intensity of it all. Then G.M. Jack Pelon came in to thank us. Which led to some needed semi-comic relief. “Have you seen our owls?” His office, it turns out, is full of owl photographs he’s taken. Serendipitously, even though it was now day, several of the owls, high up the castle wall, blearingly peered down at us–but their owlet babies were evidently taking a nap so never got to see them.

It is said that owls are wise birds. Judging by this family of owls that condescends to share their castle with its human inhabitants, it appears that they too can sense the calming, peaceful, yet energizing presence of the Great God of Us All in the rooms below.

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Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club #17 – Hale’s “The Man Without a Country’

BLOG #6, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #17
EDWARD EVERETT HALE’S THE MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY
February 6, 2013

Since February is our shortest month, and since we’re already almost a week into it, I’m being merciful to our faithful readers and choosing one of the shortest books I know of as this month’s selection.

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Since my book Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories is due to come out in June, I felt it would be fitting for me to take the month we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday and weave in a small little book that so ties into that great war that it is inextricable.

Edward Everett Hale (1822 – 1909) was born in Boston of illustrious stock. His father was proprietor and editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser; his uncle, Edward Everett, was considered to be the nation’s leading orator (it was he who gave the main address at Gettysburg – Lincoln’s part was an afterthought); and his great uncle, Nathan Hale, was a Patriot spy during the Revolutionary War who, when captured by the British, just before he was hanged the following day), uttered those now immortal words, I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

Edward Everett also had a distinguished career, graduating from Harvard in 1839, pastor of leading churches prior to becoming Chaplain of the United States Senate. A prolific author, he wrote for such journals as The North American Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Christian Examiner, besides penning or editing more than sixty books – fiction, travel, sermons, biography, and history.

But out of all his prodigious output, only one book has stood the test of time: The Man Without a Country, first published in The Atlantic Monthly. Though a work of fiction, there were certainly real-life prototypes to draw from, men who proved to be traitors to their nation while continuing to profess loyalty. One traitorous congressman, Lincoln, rather than having him executed, had him arrested and escorted by Union soldiers under a flag of truce into a Confederate army headquarters, where he was delivered into their care with the explanation that here is where he wished to be. The entire nation laughed. But the ex-congressman wasn’t happy there either. Hale wrote in such a realistic style that many readers assumed it to be factual. It did much to strengthen the Union cause and encourage more citizens to make love of country central to their lives.

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It is an easy but poignant read, well worth the time and effort it till take you to track down a copy and read it:

The Man Without a Country, by Nathan E. Hale (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1888). It has been reprinted many many times.

TAGS

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SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #11 SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – PART ONE

BLOG # 16, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #11

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – PART ONE

APRIL 18, 2010

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Sequoias—the largest living things on earth—ought to be on everyone’s bucket list: something to see before you die.  They are also among the oldest living things on earth (enduring over 3,000 years).  Take the General Sherman sequoia, for instance.  It is more than 270 feet tall, 102 feet in circumference, and is estimated to be 2,100 years old (it was already a century old when Christ was born in a manger), and it should still be growing a thousand years from now.  A thirteen-story building would not even reach as high as its lowest branches.  It has enough lumber in it right now (it increases its girth 50 cubic feet a year) to stretch one by twelve boards, end-to-end 119 miles!  Heighth-wise, like all sequoias, it would have reached its maximum at around eight-hundred years.

Because of the value of its lumber, in all likelihood the sequoias would long since have been all cut down were it not that they are so massive and so heavy that when they do fall, they splinter into sections, shaking the earth like an earthquake.  Even so, it is a miracle that the species survives at all.

When the Pilgrims came to America, fully half of it was forested.  Indeed it was so vast and so dense that as late as the early nineteenth century, it was the common belief that much of the continent would still be unexplored a thousand years from then.  But then came the Industrial Revolution and Manifest Destiny; together, there was cranked up a juggernaut of such destructive power that entire forests were mowed down like so many matchsticks.  The sequoias would have been among them had not California’s Senator John Conness introduced a bill in 1864 to save the species from extinction.  Amazingly, even in the midst of the bloodiest war in our history, the Civil War, during which over 600,000 men died, there were enough senators who cared about preservation to push aside war matters long enough to pass the bill. It was said then that “These trees were alive when David danced before the Ark” and “The Mariposa Big Tree Grove is really the wonder of the world.”  When America’s first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, signed the bill on June 30, 1864, he had no way of knowing that he had just done something unprecedented in human history by setting aside in perpetuity sixty some square miles of wilderness land.  That moment represents the dividing line between destroying everything that blocks your way and the realization that preservation of beauty is essential for our well-being, both as a person and as a nation.

Galen Clark was chosen as the first guardian of these trees, ably supported by the U.S. Cavalry.  But from that day to this, fierce battles have continued to be fought by those seeking to preserve these sacred places and commercial interests determined to exploit them for personal gain.  It is being waged to this day: when “Drill Baby, Drill” is so infectious a siren call that those who counter with, “Wait, let’s first see what natural wonders might thereby be destroyed for all time,” are somehow viewed as little more than pesky obstructionists or ridiculed as “tree-huggers.”

Thus it was that the bill Lincoln signed was but the beginning of a ceaseless battle.  Enter John Muir, whose voice was so clear and his message so urgent, that he spawned a movement that continues to our time.  Duncan and Burns, in their monumental book, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, tell the fascinating story of a nation-changing meeting that almost wasn’t.  In the spring of 1903, Muir was so deeply disheartened by the obstructionists who were determined to prevent the Federal Government from putting teeth behind its preservation legislation that he was just about to abandon his futile efforts and escape on a trip to Europe and Asia when suddenly something totally unexpected happened: the new president, Teddy Roosevelt wanted to come out to California and make a trip into the endangered Sierras with him.  Muir canceled his foreign trip in hopes that somehow, sitting around a campfire, he might be able to do his cause some good.  What follows is so significant in the history of our nation that I’ll let Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns tell the riveting story in their own words:

On May 15, they set off from the town of Raymond for the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees in a caravan of wagons.  Muir was seated in the president’s coach—along with the governor of California, the secretary of the navy, the surgeon general, two college presidents, and Roosevelt’s personal secretary.  The other wagons carried more staff and dignitaries; a detachment of thirty African American troopers from the 9th Cavalry rode along as escorts.

It was hardly the trip he had been promised, but Muir tried his best to squeeze in words to the president and governor about the issue of making all of Yosemite a national park.  As they approached the grove of mighty sequoias, the president’s group paused, as all tourists did, for a photograph at the famous Wawona Tunnel Tree.  Later they posed for an official photograph lined up along the base of the Grizzly Giant, the oldest and most famous sequoia in Yosemite; estimated to be 2,700 years old.  It boasted a single branch that was six and a half feet in diameter.

Then the troops, the phalanx of reporters and photographers, and virtually all of the official party, headed back to the Wawona Hotel, where a series of receptions and a grand dinner were scheduled in the president’s honor that evening.  None of them knew that Roosevelt had no intention of attending.  Instead he remained behind with only Muir and a few park employees, who started preparing a camp at the base of one of the sequoias.  They built a fire and sat around it, eating a simple supper, talking as twilight enveloped them, getting to know one another in the glow of the blaze.

“The night was clear,” Roosevelt wrote, and “in the darkening aisles of the great sequoia grove . . . the majestic trunks, beautiful in color and symmetry, rose round us like the pillars of a mightier cathedral than ever was conceived even by the fervor of the Middle Ages.  Hermit thrushes sang beautifully in the evening.”  Roosevelt would later remark that “Muir cared little for birds or bird songs” —a failing the ornithologist-president found noteworthy.  Muir, in turn, could not help commenting on the President’s well-earned reputation for hunting.  “Mr. Roosevelt,” he asked, “when are you going to get beyond the boyishness of killing things?”

But it quickly became clear that under the darkening canopy of ancient trees, a deep friendship was being born.  “I had a perfectly glorious time,” Muir wrote his wife.

I never before had a more interesting, hearty, and manly companion.  I stuffed him pretty well regarding the timber thieves, the destructive work of the lumbermen, and other spoilers of the forest.

Long after sundown, with no tent and only a pile of army blankets for comfort and warmth, the two men finally went to sleep.  The next morning at 6:30 they saddled up for the long ride to Yosemite Valley, with the guide under strict orders from the president to avoid at all costs the Wawona Hotel and the delegation of officials he had jilted the night before.

In the high country near Glacier Point, with its spectacular panorama of the valley and its waterfalls arrayed at their feet, they stopped and once more made camp.  Then, their guide, Charlie Leidig, reported, they resumed their exchange of opinions and ideas.

Around the campfire Roosevelt and Muir talked far into the night regarding Muir’s glacial theory of the formation of Yosemite Valley.  They also talked a great deal about the protection of forests in general and Yosemite in particular. I heard them discussing the setting aside of other areas in the United States for park purposes.

“There was some difficulty in their campfire conversation,” Leidig added, “because both men wanted to do the talking.”

They awoke the next morning covered by a light snow that had fallen in the high country during the night.  Rather than feeling inconvenienced, Roosevelt couldn’t have been more thrilled., “We slept in a snowstorm last night!” he exclaimed to the crowds that [had] been patiently waiting for him on the valley floor.  “This has been the grandest day of my life.”

Hundreds of tourists had crowded into the valley’s hotels or established campsites in the meadows, all in hopes of seeing the president.  The board of commissioners in charge of the Yosemite Grant, already jealous of the way Muir had seemingly monopolized Roosevelt’s visit so far, planned to make up for lost time.  They had prepared a lavish banquet catered by a French chef borrowed from a swank San Francisco club, to be followed by $400 worth of fireworks, and then a grand illumination of Yosemite Falls by special calcium searchlights.  A comfortable bed with a cozy feather mattress was waiting in an artist’s studio that had been specially fitted out for the president’s private lodging.

Roosevelt would have none of it.  He paused long enough to shake some hands and talk for a few minutes with his disappointed hosts, and then mounted up and rode farther down the valley to camp one last night with Muir—this time in the meadows between Bridalveil Falls and the massive granite face of El Capitan.  Early the next morning, the wagon train of dignitaries, with its military escort, rushed the president back to the Raymond train station for the resumption of his cross-country tour, while Muir returned home to his writing.

“Camping with the President was a remarkable experience,” Muir told a friend.  “I fairly fell in love with him.”  Roosevelt, too, was changed by the experience.  “When he reached the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees [last] Friday evening the President was a tired, worried man,” the San Francisco Call reported.  “This evening he is bright, alert—the Roosevelt of old.”

And when the president spoke at the state capitol in Sacramento a day later, Roosevelt’s words sounded as if they could have come from the lips of John Muir.

Lying out at night under those Sequoias was lying in a temple built by no hand of man, a temple grander than any human architect could by any possibility build, and I hope for the preservation of the groves of giant trees simply because it would be a shame to our civilization to let them disappear.

 

They are monuments in themselves. . . .  I want them preserved.

 

I am impressed by the immensely greater greatness that lies in the future, and I ask that your marvelous natural resources be handed on unimpaired to your posterity.

 

We are not building this country of ours for a day.  It is to last through the ages.

Within three years, the California legislature and United States Congress approved the transfer of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove back to the federal government.  Yosemite National Park now encompassed almost everything Muir had been fighting for.  “Sound the timbrel,” he wrote a friend, “and let every Yosemite tree and stream rejoice!”

I am now an experienced lobbyist; my political education is complete.  Have attended Legislature, made speeches, explained, exhorted, persuaded every mother’s son of the legislature, newspaper reporters, and everybody else who would listen to me.

 

 

And now that the fight is finished and my education as a politician and lobbyist is finished. I am almost finished myself.

(Duncan and Burns, 95-8).

We will continue the Sequoia story in next week’s blog (Wednesdays with Dr. Joe, April 25).

SOURCES USED

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Kinopf, 2009).

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, AZ: K. C. Publications, 2009).