Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Hammond Wisconsin

As I travel about I do encounter "tree shaped tombstones" with some regularity. I always snap a picture just to make sure I am not missing some small detail that will interest me later, but your average cemetery with one or two examples is simply not "blog worthy".

But once in a  while you find one that is.  Hammond Wisconsin is one such place.  Typical small town in the Badger State, and I must say not in an area where I have found that many "trees" for my collection.  But here I ran across some rather interesting specimens....

Here we have a nice substantial specimen.  It looks to have a GAR star in front of it by the way.  But what caught my eye here was the peculiar placement of the horizontal branches.  They seem to be trying to cross over, as if an Ent was trying to cover his eyes.  Lets take a closer look...

On this side we have Melia nee Boink, First Wife of Mr. Bixby.  Also their only daughter.

And here we have Second Wife Malinda and her daughter, presumably with Mr. B.  Odd how the two wives - or is it their tragically dead children? - are reaching out to try and touch each other.

A nice tombstone for "Our Suzy" placed there by her husband and her father.  This one is in really great shape, not a chip off of any of the lilly leaves, very little weathering.  It does not fit with a death date of 1871.  That by the way would also be extremely early for a "tree shaped tombstone", most of which were from the 1880s to around 1920.  I am willing to bet that this was a replacement marker put in place when an earlier monument did not hold up well.

The Hammond cemetery contained several of these Y-shaped specimens.  These are almost always a husband and wife memorial, with one marked on each branch but a common trunk representing marital union.  I think it is both touching, and rather stylish.  Evidently I was not the only visitor to this spot to harbor such sentiments, because a short distance away a familiar form with an unfamiliar color caught my eye.....

Mr. Anderson passed on in 2013, Mrs. Anderson is still with us.  It is so rare to run across one of these modern day tree shaped monuments.  Perhaps they are coming back into fashion?  I did a little looking through catalogs but so far have not been able to find out where these come from.

This example appears to be made of some sort of granite, so perhaps it will not have the premature wear that I see so often on century old examples.  Only time will tell.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Johnny Walnutseed !

The Klein Brewery in Decorah Iowa is one of those places whose later history is a bit more interesting than its fairly brief run as a functioning brewery. Here is the site when we visited in August of 2015.  It is about as easy to find as you can get, right there on "Ice Cave Road" near the entrance to Dunning Springs Park.

The photo is a bit washed out by the dazzling sunshine but you can see a smaller, open cellar door on the left, a larger entrance in the middle, and up above just a hint of a red brick house.  This belonged to the brew master and it is said that the larger door leads to a 100 foot long tunnel with a branch extending to the basement of the house.  So much for the current overview, here is an image from 1875.

You can see a small cave entrance to the left of the brewery.  This could either be the similar structure you see today, or perhaps a less accurate rendering of the larger cave.  In this view the brew master's house is not present and is presumably a later addition.

Before we discuss the history of the site further, a couple more pictures.

Here is the exterior of the main cave.  Note the curved stonework.  I think this is different enough from the 1875 view that it makes an entrance arising from inside the brewery to be most likely. There was a random scattering of brick and stone going off to the right that represents the ruins of the structure.  The smaller cave, which is standing open, has its side wall on the left of this picture.  Here is a shot of the entrance to it.

Old wood always photographs well.  And peeking inside you see, in miniature, a nice little storage cave complete with a small vent hole in its brick arched roof.

The pairing of a small cave next to a much larger one is an enigma.  In theory the former could have been an earlier cave from a smaller establishment but I think it more likely that this had a purpose other than ageing beer.  It would have been difficult to keep the temperature low enough on a consistent basis.  So perhaps storage for hops?  Or as a convenient temporary storage cave for beer that was ready to be loaded for delivery?

The history of Iowa breweries in general is a challenge.  They were constantly under the threat of closure by narrow minded Legislatures.  In particular the Decorah area was heavily Scandinavian, so the usual base of community acceptance you find in German towns was not there.  So what there is out there for information is skimpy.

Decorah had two breweries, this one and one started by a man named Addicken in the pre-Civil War era.  One source I read felt the Klein brewery was a continuation of Addicken's venture but that is a bit of an puzzler. Tax records show the two existing contemporaneously into the 1880s.  An 1882 county history says that Addicken built a new brewery in 1865 but in a location that may or may not fit that of the Klein establishment.  It also notes that Addicken died in a riding accident in 1875 and that the business was being carried on by his  daughter and "competent assistants"  In the brewing industry we find many examples of brew master's widows remarrying to carry on the enterprise, was this a similar situation?

In any case the Klein brewery quite likely goes back further than the first tax records in 1874 (when Addicken was still safely on his horse), and the illustrated view from one year later shows a well established business.

Alas for the fortunes of an Iowa brewer.* State wide Prohibition hindered the business the whole way and finally got Klein out of brewing altogether, probably in the late 1880s.  The building was later used as a creamery, this being a common metamorphosis in a state where milk enjoyed more official approval than lager. A mention of The Farmers Ice Cave Creamery in 1918 gives us a later business name.

Of the later uses for the Klein brewery cave we know nothing for many years.  Mechanical refrigeration made cold storage available in more convenient locations so I suspect it sat idle for many years.

But in the 1960s we find the cave being used by a marvelous character named Robert W. Daubendiek, or more familiarly as "Johnny Walnut Seed".

Born in 1918 Daubendiek's family was in the telephone business but also owned 60,000 acres of timber land in Mexico until it was confiscated by the government.  Trained in forestry he "retired" from the utility business in 1949, a few years after his military service in the Signal Corps.  He purchased some farm land in north eastern Iowa and began growing walnut trees.  After a while he worked out a way to grow them on a large scale basis.  It worked something like this.  He hired kids to collect walnuts, something on the order of 5,000 bushels a year.  He planted them temporarily to get them to germinate.  The walnuts were then floated in water to separate out the viable from the dubious.  The latter were placed out as a huge squirrel offering so as to keep them away from the nursery plants!  That must have been a sight to see.  The seedlings were then planted in long trenches. The seedlings could grow to a certain size in this fashion but needed a climate controlled place to ride out the winter season.  The brewery cave in Dubuque was perfect for this, so beginning in 1960 he used to annually to store hundreds of thousands of young walnut trees.  In the spring they were hardy and ready to be sold.  Some went to nurseries, others to private growers.  Daubendiek had a crew of 11 men working to plant them every spring.

By the early 1970s he was something of an apostle of walnut cultivation, selling a million seedlings a year.  He claimed that this was more than the number sold by all other walnut nurseries in the world...combined.  He would even custom plant small acreages with walnuts, selling them later to investors as a combination hunting and recreation land that just happened to have a valuable timber crop growing.

Daubendiek died in 1975.  His tombstone reads: "Iowa's Johnny Walnut Seed. He who plants a tree plants hope."  He seems to have been a pretty good guy.  I find passing mention of him being severely wounded in France during the war.  And poiginantly his walnut growing plantation and summer home near Harpers Ferry Iowa was called Andy Mountain Camp after his only son, who died young.

Remarkably his widow, Mae, lived to the age of 96 and passed away only a few months ago.  She was a former telephone operator - must have married the boss's son! - and has written a number of books including an account of her husband's work with black walnut trees.

*Times are sure better now.  In fact a very fine microbrewery Toppling Goliath is just up the road from the Klein Brewery ruins.  Alas, when on a road trip tippling is not an option but their products come very well recommended.  Joseph Klein smiles somewhere off in the malt scented Great Beyond.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Inside the Perimeter !

Its cooling down now, and a few leaves are starting to turn.  Time for an annual experience that never fails to startle me.

I step into our attached garage and come face to snout with a chipmunk.

Sometimes they just scurry off.  Other times, trapped by the geometry of our back porch, they have no escape and leap right at me.  Its kind of alarming, even if my adversary only weighs a few ounces.

You just did not see it coming.  You figure:  Indoors: me  Outdoors: nature.  But once a year, when they are looking for a nice warm new home, they breach the perimeter defenses.

And always in the same way.  There is an area down near the ground where the little vermin can crawl up under the boards and gnaw on insulation until they come out inside the garage, right where the drywall meets the foundation.

Once there is a sighting it is easy to just go over and check.

Yep.  Shredded insulation.

And...there's where they broke through.

I have it down pat now, just take some chicken wire, wad it up and jam it in there.  It usually ends the incursions for the season.

But it bothers me on some level.  It reminds me of the scene in the movie Aliens where the Colonial Marines are tracking motion signals that can't possibly be right.  "They're inside the perimeter....They're inside the room!!"  Eventually the troopers have a horrid insight and lift up the roof tiles to see ravenous, drooling, inhuman monsters approaching...

Yeh, pretty much the same scenario.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The One that Got Away - Gunther Plushchow

Getting out of a POW camp is not easy.  They tend to be designed to prevent that sort of thing. But it did happen with some regularity.  The real challenge is getting all the way back home.  During World War Two for instance, all German camps had to be 1000 miles from the English channel.  And the British simply shipped a lot of the prisoners they held to Canada or later to the US.

So the "Big Time" of POW escapes, the so called "home run" was a very rare event.  If you set the standards to the maximum you would have to say that the ultimate escape would be for an Allied POW to make it back to England before D-Day or for an Axis prisoner to manage a trans-channel escape from England.  The first case happened about a half dozen times.  But a German POW getting out of England?  One singular example out of hundreds of thousands of captives in two World Wars.

Gunther Pluschow.

In a previous post I took Guther's story halfway around the world, from aerial combat over China to his detection and arrest in Gibralter.

Usually armies do not prepare extensively for prisoners of war - the delusion of a quick, victorious conclusion being pervasive - so the handling of captives tends to be rather slipshod and improvised. Pluschow was at various times held in a friendly local jail, a dismal prison ship and a former stable. But eventually he made it to Donington Hall, the primary lock up for German Officers.

On being marched from the train station to the Hall Pluschow was busy memorizing landmarks, already contemplating escape.

Life in captivity is not enjoyable even under civilized conditions.  And in 1915 it was still possible to yearn for the glories of combat, and the officers, so confident in eventual German victory, felt cheated of their opportunity to pitch in.

Donington had a deer park and one day a fawn that had become separated from its mother came up near the wire.  With much coaxing and calling the prisoners persuaded it to wriggle its way through the wire.  The British were furious and marched the fawn back out of camp with an armed guard of twenty men bearing fixed bayonets!

Pluschow's escape did not directly stem from this incident, but clearly the barriers had been shown to be vulnerable.

On July 4th, 1915, Plushchow and his fellow escapee, a naval officer named Trefftz, made their move.  As an escape plan it was basic but clever.  They had observed that the evening roll call was done at slightly different times for the general population versus those on sick call.  So the two naval officers simply reported that they were sick and hid outside the building.  Immediately upon completion of the evening roll call two men were sent to play the parts of Pluschow and Trefftz, who were duly counted in their beds.

Under cover of a rain storm the barbed wire fences were scaled and the two escapees walked into nearby Derby and caught a train to London.

Both men were selected because of their knowledge of England from prior visits, and from their excellent command of the language.  But Trefftz was caught lingering around the docks in London, looking to catch a ride on a neutral ship.

The newspapers were soon publishing a very accurate description of Pluschow, down to the distinctive coat he was wearing.  He decided to get rid of it, but instead of tossing it into a back alley bin somewhere he took it to the coat check at Blackfriar's Station.  When he handed it to the coat room attendant he was asked; "Whose coat is this?".  In an exchange worthy of a Black Adder episode he distractedly answered in German "Meinen", meaning "mine".  The clerk handed him a receipt with the name "Mr. Mine".

Plushchow managed to stay free in London for three weeks.  He had  minor adventures that included disguising himself with boot black and coal dust, joining a local Social Democrats club under his new name George Mine, even resisting the very aggressive recruiting efforts of a British sergeant at a rally in support of the Kitchener Army.  He frequented low saloons and music halls and the British Museum before finally managing to steal a row boat and stow away on a Dutch steamer that was about to sail.

On arrival in Holland he simply continued to play the part of a sailor.  He  helped secure the ship to its wharf, then just walked away from it.

He got an initially puzzled welcome back home in Germany, but was eventually feted as a hero who had seriously tweaked the nose of the British lion. In just over a year he had entirely circumnavigated the globe by train, airplane, and boat, assuming at least a half dozen identities in the process.

Like many patriotic Germans post WWI he had a difficult time.  Eventually he raised money by writing about his adventures, then continued his wandering ways by being the first man to explore the far reaches of South America by air.

Gunther Plushchow died in 1931 when he crashed while on a photographic survey of Patagonia.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pluschow....Gunther Pluschow.

Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was a spy of sorts in the Second World War.  But he was pretty much a desk jockey.  His greatest creation is said to be a composite of various commandos and field operatives that he encountered during the war years.

It is unlikely that any of them had quite the skill set of Bond, who was constantly making amazing shots with his pistol, flying and crashing all manner of air and sea craft, escaping his captors with impunity, traveling the globe to exotic places.  And of course seducing women.  Lots of 'em.

To find somebody who actually did all these things, albeit with less actual spying, Fleming would have done better to go back a little further in history.  To World War One.  And to the towering historical figure of Gunther Pluschow.  Uh........who?

This guy.

In the fateful summer of 1914 Pluschow was a young naval aviator heading across Russia on a train to assume his duty post at the German colony of Tsingtao on the coast of China.  Shortly after his arrival two Rumpler-Taube scout planes came in by cargo ship.  Both crashed and only one could be repaired leaving Pluschow the sole aviator able to observe the approaching Japanese forces when war broke out in August.

It was a difficult assignment.  Keeping his plane flying was near impossible, in fact the home made replacement propeller he had to use needed to be removed and re-glued nightly.  But he persevered, not only helping with artillery targeting but even attempting some improvised bombing runs. Lacking any real ordnance he used four pound tins of "Sietas, Plambeck and Co. Best Java Coffee" repacked with dynamite and scrap iron.

He even claims to have shot down a Japanese plane....using his revolver.  He says it took 30 rounds to accomplish this, perhaps the first aerial victory in human history.

On this point I have doubts.  He mentions this event only briefly in a post war recounting of his adventures.  And what weight conscious pilot would carry five reloads for his side arm?  It would be tempting to write it off entirely, but everything else he did in the year that followed was equally implausible, yet apparently quite true.

Tsingtao never had a chance, it was an isolated outpost halfway around the earth from Germany.  On November 6th as the Japanese troops were making their final assault Pluschow took off under fire with a box of secret papers.  He made it away safely, crash landing in a rice paddy.

What followed was a bewildering odyssey of Mandarins and Missionaries, of captivity and escape, of superstitious peasants who thought he was the devil, and of a remarkable 36 course meal that included shark fins and swallow nest soup.

Eventually he made it to the international enclave of  Shanghai, but he was still under close watch.  In an incident where he is clearly hiding some details he recalls being driven out of town for a quick switch in carriages.  As he puts it, genteelly, "..with deep respect and gratitude I kissed a woman's slim white hands which were extended to me from the interior of the carriage.."

He still had to spend a few days acting like a mad man to discourage curious Chinese from approaching too closely.  Then he boarded a ship with false papers identifying him as being an Englishman named MacGarvin, representative of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

There was still the small matter of police inspection when the ship docked at several Japanese ports, but the connivance of the ship's doctor allowed him to pass himself off as having ptomaine poisoning and being too ill to get out of his bed.

The rest of the trip to San Francisco was uneventful.  America was still neutral at this point in the war. He enjoyed a bit of Society life and a trip to the Grand Canyon before heading east.

In New York he was frustrated by his difficulty booking passage to a neutral European country. Eventually he met a shady fellow:  "I was never really quite able to ascertain his real occupation. However he was very successful at one particular job - which consisted in polishing up old passports".

Gunther might have had grounds to complain about the amenities on this trip, the best that could be arranged was passage in steerage posing as a Swiss locksmith.  But it was a busy time for those arranging clandestine transit to Germany.  Pluschow at one point shared a secret smile with a brother officer of his who was posing as a Dutch First Class passenger.

Illness, vermin and sea sickness plagued the voyage but Pluschow had high hopes.  Until an unscheduled stop at Gibralter.

British officials lined up anyone claiming to be a neutral citizen.  Of the half dozen or so "Swiss" Pluschow was the only one actually carrying a passport!  It all seemed to be going well for him until a civilian employee of the shipping line, who doubled as a counter espionage agent, protested that there were certainly Germans among the purported Swiss, and insisted on a close examination.

Clothing labels were scrutinized.  Baggage was turned inside out.  Pluschow was still doing well. Finally as a last resort a genuine Swiss citizen from First Class was summoned and an intense interrogation in Swiss dialect was carried out.  This was too high a bar for Gunther to attain.

Along with several others with dodgy stories - some of whom indeed were Germans trying to pass - Gunther Pluschow was marched into captivity in the fortress of Gibralter.  Further protests and demands to see "his" Swiss Counsel began to sound a little weak once he was searched and noted to have some items a poor locksmith would not have....several gold coins and a loaded revolver.

Soon he was on a ship to England, bound for a POW camp.  For him the jig was up,  because in the entirety of two World Wars nobody ever escaped from a camp in England and made it back to "der Vaterland".

Nobody that is, other than Gunther Pluschow....

(To be continued)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Scenes from Oktoberfest - 2015

A bright and beautiful day recently for our town's annual Oktoberfest.  So many things to see:

This year I changed my allegiance in respect to my preferred food vendor.  This was a very tasty "smoked beer brat".  I asked the proprietor which of the two varieties of mustard would be best on it. He thought a moment and said, "put one type on each end and decide".  Mmmmmm

Inside one of the polka venues.  This is sort of the equivalent of some of the blurry, cacaphonous Punk Rock band videos that one of my Brit pals likes to post.  This looks quite empty, but keep in mind that the Fest had only been open for half an hour when we went up for lunch.  Later on there will be no room at all on the dance floor.  I thought this rendition of "The Beer Barrel Polka" was quite spirited for so early in the day.  I also marvel at the grace of the mostly older polka dancers.

Around the corner was the Giant Pumpkin Contest.

Ridiculously large veggies on display.  The growers are pretty serious about it, notice the shirts in the last photo.  Notice also that the Ladies Version that you can partly see here has an abbreviated slogan. The significance of this is enigmatic.

Not everything that turns up at O-Fest is clearly German.  Here, what do you make of this?

Well, it is obviously a flag festooned miniature covered wagon being pulled by a mechanical armadillo.  I actually could explain this to some extent but think it would be more fun to leave you with the image and let your imaginations play a bit.....

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

An Environmental Battle Lost?

A friend of mine named Harry has been quite active in an issue most of us here in flyover land never see:  Plastic wastes in our oceans.

He had a blog on the subject called The Flotsam Diaries which I fear he has allowed to go dormant.

But of course the problem has not gone away.

Plastic is great stuff.  Few of us - well, OK, I am one - would enjoy a return to an era of crockery and wooden buckets.  But people are careless and recycling is more difficult than you would think.  So a lot of plastic gets misused.

At least people worked pretty hard to recycle aluminum cans, as they had a small but real monetary value.

So I was dismayed the other day when I was at a convenience store and wanted a 12 ounce can of pop.

They did not have any.

None.  Oh, you could still purchase these in 12 and 24 packs but there were no individual cans. Unless you wanted to walk out with an armful of product, you had to go plastic.

Something changed when I was not paying attention.  I doubt it is pure economics, both aluminum for cans,  and the oil that is the initial step in making plastic are fairly cheap these days.  On a parallel note I should say that the traditional 12 oz can that I was looking for is also nearly extinct.  Sodas are now like french fries orders, Large, Larger and Ginormous.

What cans of beverage you now find in the coolers are Energy Drinks,  in cans of 16 ounces or larger. They have alarming names...

(Don't infer from this rant that I disapprove of caffeinated stimulants.  I would not be working ER night shifts at my age without the miracle of black coffee, or as I prefer to call it: "The Armored Flail of Enlightenment).

Italian churches have the BEST grave markers!

No, I am afraid this is part of a bigger trend in American life.  We want things Bigger, Higher Powered, Immediately and Sans Consequences.  When you can't purchase a reasonably sized, easily recycled container of a sane beverage (OK, we're talking Mountain Dew, but compare to the atrocities above!) we are further down the road to Consumer Madness than I thought.

Harry and I don't vote for the same political party very often.  We have courteous debates on the issues of the day.  But I like to think that on things that really matter, we see things eye to eye.

Bloodshot, caffeine deprived eye in my case.