Monthly Archives: December 2016
My little great grand niece, Izabella Harman turned one year old today. Izabella, or Bella, or even Tink (as in Tinkerbell) is a little girl that is full of life and laughter. She works very hard to keep up with her big sister, Alice Green. They love having a sister, and they are best friends. Nevertheless, little Izabella looks like her daddy, Jake Harman, especially her eyes, but she has so many traits from her mommy too, especially, her personality. Bella’s mom, Melanie Harman is a sweet, happy girl with a positive personality, and Izabella’s ways are just like her mom…even though she is just one year old. The first year of a baby’s life is filled with many changes. They grow from infancy, to toddler, to a child during that time. Oh, I know they are still toddlers at one, but they are a child too. They talk now, walk now, and they have a mind of their own.
For Izabella, happiness is her sister, good food, and her loving parents and grandparents. It may not be a big world, but it is big enough for Bella. Her sister entertains her and keeps her smiling. Bella often wears her food, but then, would it taste as good as it does if she didn’t get it all over herself? Visiting her grandparents is among the most special times Bella has, and of course, she has two wonderful parents who love her to the moon and back. In fact, for little Bella, it’s all about the love, because that is what her world is made of. Everyone who sees her, knows that she is loved.
Before long, Bella will not be the baby though. She is soon to have a new little sibling, and then our little baby girl will be the big sister. It’s hard for me to believe that she will take on such a big new role, but like everything else, she will be great at it. She will smile and entertain the baby, just like their big sister Alice did for her, because that’s what siblings do for each other. I am so excited to see the girl the years will turn Bella into, because if she keeps her perfect little smile, and her precious little personality, she will be amazing. Today is Bella’s first birthday. Happy 1st birthday Bella!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
My grand nephew, Isaac Spethman is the youngest boy in his family, and the youngest big brother to his little sister, Aleesia. Sometimes that is a good thing, but sometimes, they fight like cats and dogs. Nevertheless, they are close, and the little tiffs are few. For the most part, Isaac and his siblings, Xander, Zack, and Aleesia get along great. Isaac and his brothers are doing a great job of turning serious girly girl, Aleesia into a bit of a tomboy too.
The Spethman family is a sporting family. The boys all play football, and they even have their own little cheerleader. The boys may be very rough and tumble football players, but when it comes to their sister…well don’t mess with her. Isaac and his brothers love to run scrimmages out in the front yard. Of course, they love to play lots of games in the front yard, like war games, wrestling matches, or snowball fights. Isaac and his brothers are definitely boys.
Isaac loves guns too, as do his brothers and his parents, Steve and Jenny. Of course, the kids all are learning about guns, and gun safety, but whenever he has the chance, Isaac likes to play gun slinger. He likes to be the robber who holds up his little sister, of have gun fights with his brothers. Isaac is a busy kid with many interests, most of them the same a his brothers. I suppose that comes from being the youngest boy in the bunch. Most younger siblings look up to their older siblings, whether they like to admit it or not.
Isaac is often a quiet kid, but maybe that is just when he is around people he doesn’t know well. Or maybe it is just when he is around adults. He certainly isn’t quiet on Thursday nights when he gets together with his cousins, Matthew and Anna. His cousin Raelynn doesn’t play very much, but when Matt, Anna, Xander, Zack, Isaac, and Aleesia get together, things are going to get rowdy. Now their parents and grandma, really don’t always appreciate that, and there is the invariable injury somewhere in the mix, but the kids are usually having a pretty great time…they just don’t do it as quietly as their parents would prefer. Such is life. Today Isaac turn ten years old. Happy 10th birthday Isaac!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
My uncle, George Hushman, became the first in-law in my mom’s family, when he married her sister, Evelyn Byer. He was a novelty, I suppose. I know that is how the younger siblings always feel when it comes to brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law. It all new and fun, and the younger siblings are always made to feel special. Funny thing about little kids, each new family member is as awesome as the last, but somehow that first one always holds a special place in their hearts. It’s like suddenly their horizons are broader. They learn about the fact that there are people outside their little world, who somehow fit into their little world. Then too, as the new children come along and subsequent in-laws are added, the love in the family just seems to grow everyday.
That is how my sisters and I have always felt about Uncle George. I guess it was because we were close in age to their kids, and Mom and Dad were friends with Aunt Evelyn and Uncle George, as well as siblings. Our families did things together, and the two couples did things together, such as bowling. It was their weekly outing, and they always had such a good time. I suppose that is how bowing became a family tradition. It seems that if you enjoy a sport, you pass it down to your kids. Many of both families have bowled at one time or another, and some continue to do so, such as my husband, Bob Schulenberg and me.
Many a New Year’s Eve party included Aunt Evelyn, Uncle George, and their kids, and we always had a great time. My parents liked having a party, because the 1st of January is my mother’s birthday. It seemed a perfect reason to have a big bash. And my sisters and I always felt like it was a better party when the families got together for it…especially if they brought the kids. I’m not sure how some people might have felt about that part, but Mom and Dad always wanted to include the kids, and I think their families appreciated that. I mean, how many New Year’s Eve parties include the kids? Very few. I know that as kids, whenever Aunt Evelyn, Uncle George and their kids were over…it was a good time. Today is Uncle George’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday Uncle George!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
My niece, Michelle Stevens has been in school for much of her life. Of course, she went through the normal public school, at which time she discovered her amazing talent in the area of art. She also discovered that she was an excellent teacher. Put the two together, and you have a career. With that goal in mind, Michelle set out right after high school to study to become an art teacher. If you think that doctors go to college a long time for their degrees, you will find yourself amazed about the length of time an art teacher has to go. I suppose it is partly the double major, but when you think about the fact that teachers need 4 years, you will begin to understand just how much there is to learn about art. Michelle has been in college for a little over ten years now…but that study time has come to a close. Michelle will wait to march with her class, but with the end of this semester, came the end of her schooling, and her Bachelors Degree. She is done, except for one last day of student teaching today. What a great birthday present that is!!
I’m sure that there must be a feeling of, almost disconnect right now, because Michelle has been in school for so long. Nevertheless, there also must be feelings of elation and even relief, because the long years of preparation are over, and she can start her career. Michelle is going to make an excellent teacher, and I know that any child she teaches will be very blessed to have her for their art teacher. Her abilities are amazing. I’m not sure what grade Michelle will be teaching, or if she will be teaching multiple grades. She will stay in Spearfish, South Dakota, probably substitute teaching for the rest of this school year, and then I have learned that the plan is possibly to move back to Casper, Wyoming and begin her career here. I know that we would all love that, but I also know that people have to go where the jobs are. I just pray that the jobs will be here for her, because I know that her family would love having her back home so much.
It’s funny that an artist really must get dirty and messy to craft the beautiful pieces of artwork they make. I never really thought of Michelle as being one of those people who would love to get dirty, but I kind of think she is. I guess it goes with the career. I haven’t had the opportunity to see all of Michelle’s work, by any stretch of the imagination, but what I have seen is beautiful. I think that every artist has their personal favorite works, and while I’m not sure which one is Michelle’s favorite, I have a favorite of her works. It takes me to a place of peace. A place I love to be…the outdoors. It makes me think of a hike, and coming up of a bench where you can look out over the countryside and drink in all it’s beauty. It might be a simple sketch, and maybe Michelle doesn’t even think it is beautiful, but I do, and they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there you have it. Today is Michelle’s birthday. Happy birthday Michelle!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Last night my sisters and I, along with our families, got together for our 2nd annual Spencer Family Christmas Party. Our family made a commitment long ago, to stay close as a family. Family is so important, and all too often, people lose touch, because they don’t realize the importance of family, or they think there will always be time later. It is never a good idea to put off family until later. I’m thankful that my mom’s parents, George and Hattie Byer asked their kids to stay close, inspiring the annual picnic and Christmas parties to keep us all close, because it was those events, that gave us the inspiration to do the same. Then, our sister, Allyn Hadlock, and her husband Chris decided to host the annual party at their house. What a wonderful blessing that has been for all of us. This year was a smaller crowd, as there were several family members who will be spending Christmas in various locations across the United States, but I know they were there in spirit. Of course we missed each one of them, but we understand. I hope that maybe one day, we will be able to have a party with all of us together again.
The one thing that I have noticed about each of the two parties we have had since our parents left us, is that when we are having the party, it’s like Mom and Dad are there with us. Part of the reason is because of the fact that the conversation always turns to them, and to Christmastimes of the past. The memories of special gifts given and received, moments of surprise, and comical moments too, flood the room…along with the laughter as we reminisce about the Christmases of our lifetimes. Still, it always leaves us with an almost bittersweet feeling. Sweetness, because we have been blessed with such great parents, and that we are making the proud, but bitter, because they aren’t here with us. Nevertheless, we know that we will all be together again.
We really have been blessed with wonderful sisters, and all of the other family members. The family has grown exponentially. Like my mom’s family, we are related to about half of the town. That part in itself is an amazing and wonderful thing. We all feel very blessed by all of the nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and the wonderful additions that have joined us by marriage. This time of year, we start to think more and more about family, and while I miss my parents more that I could ever say, I am thankful for my sisters, everyday, because sisters really are forever friends.
Most people know that the USS Arizona was one of the ships that was bombed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The USS Arizona’s sinking took with it, 1,177 men…almost half of the total of 2,403 people killed at Pearl Harbor. The Arizona was one of 20 American ships and more than 300 airplanes lost that day. We know that the attack woke the sleeping giant that is the United States, and we joined World War II with the Allies to stop the tyranny that was Japan and later Germany and Italy. Most people know that the Allies were successful in World War II, and after four long years and the loss of over 400,000 lives, the war was over. There are a few facts about the USS Arizona that many people might not know, however.
Twenty three sets of brothers died aboard USS Arizona. In all there were 37 confirmed pairs or trios of brothers assigned to the ship. Of the 77 men in those sets, 62 were killed. Only one full set of brothers survived. Kenneth and Russell Warriner survived because Kenneth was away at flight school in San Diego, and Russell, while badly wounded, lived. Also on board were father and son, Thomas Free and his son William who served and were killed aboard the Arizona that day. While no regulation exists, US officials discouraged siblings serving on the same ship after the Pearl Harbor attack. In addition to these men who died, the USS Arizona’s entire band, all 21 members, known as US Navy Band Unit (NBU) 22, were lost in the attack. Most of its members were up on deck preparing to play music for the daily flag raising ceremony when the attack began. They instantly moved to man their battle positions beneath the ship’s gun turret. It was the only time in American history that an entire military band died in action. In the years following the attack, and following the decision to leave the dead in the USS Arizona, it was decided that a memorial should be placed there. That is a known fact, but what I didn’t know was that in March 1961, Elvis Presley, who had recently finished a two year stint in the US Army, performed a benefit concert at Pearl Harbor’s Block Arena that raised over $50,000. That was more than 10 percent of the USS Arizona Memorial’s final cost. The monument was officially dedicated on May 30, 1962.
One of the most surprising facts about the Arizona, however, is related to the fuel. The day before the Pearl Harbor attack, the Arizona had taken on a full load of fuel…nearly 1.5 million gallons, because it was set to make a trip to the mainland later that month. When the Japanese bombers attacked, that fuel played a major part in the explosions and raging fire that followed the bombing. After the fires were put out, there were 500,000 gallons of fuel left in the ship. Now, 75 years later, the Arizona continues to spill up to 9 quarts of oil into the harbor each day. In the mid-1990s, concerns for the environment led the National Park Service to commission a series of site studies to determine the long term effects of the oil leakage. Some scientists have warned of a possible “catastrophic” eruption of oil from the wreckage, which they believe would cause extensive damage to the Hawaiian shoreline and disrupt US naval functions in the area. They continue to monitor the deterioration of the wreck site but are reluctant to perform extensive repairs or modifications due to the Arizona’s role as a “war grave.” In fact, the oil that often coats the surface of the water surrounding the ship has added an emotional gravity for many who visit the memorial and is sometimes referred to as the “tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.”
As surprising as that is, there is still one more fact that many people didn’t know. The bonds between the crewmembers of Arizona have lasted far beyond the loss of the ship on December 7, 1941. Since 1982, the US Navy has allowed survivors of USS Arizona to be interred in the ship’s wreckage upon their deaths. After a full military funeral at the Arizona memorial, the cremated remains are placed in an urn and then deposited by divers beneath one of the Arizona’s gun turrets. More than 30 Arizona crewmen who survived Pearl Harbor have chosen the ship as their final resting place. Crewmembers who served on the ship prior to the attack may have their ashes scattered above the wreck site, and those who served on other vessels stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, may have their ashes scattered above their former ships. As of November 2011, only 18 of the 355 crewmen who survived the bombing of USS Arizona are known to be alive. I knew that the Pearl Harbor attack had a deep impact on the lives of the survivors, but I guess I didn’t fully understand that it was a life changing event, and it would never really leave them.
With the thousands of airplanes in the air at any moment, one might think that daily accidents would be common place, but in reality, air travel is actually very safe. Nevertheless, it is not without its tragedies. What tends to amaze me, however, is the fact that relatively few ever seem to crash in a city, even though the airports are usually very near cities. Still, there is not a perfect record of missing the cities, when it comes to plane crashes either, and when a plane crashes in a city, you know that the death toll will be higher, and more than likely will include people on the ground, who were just going about their day, completely unaware of the danger they were in.
Such was the case on this day, December 16, 1960, in New York City, when two commercial airliners, a United DC-8 from Chicago, that was heading to Idlewild Airport…now renamed John F Kennedy International Airport, in southern Queens, and a TWA Super Constellation from Dayton, Ohio that was heading to LaGuardia Airport in northern Queens, collided over the city, killing 134 people in the planes and on the ground. This remains the only such accident to occur over a major US city to this day. It was snowing that morning, and the United flight had been put into a holding pattern. Unfortunately, the pilot miscalculated the location of the pattern, the plane came directly into the path of the TWA flight, who was on approach to LaGuardia Airport. There were 128 people onboard the two planes, and all of them, except eleven year old Stephen Baltz were killed on impact. The boy would die from his injuries the next day, but he was lucid enough to give a brief account of the accident, saying that, “It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. Then all of a sudden there was an explosion. The plane started to fall and people started to scream. I held on to my seat and then the plane crashed.”
The TWA plane crashed onto Miller Field, a military airfield on Staten Island. The United flight, which was missing its right engine and part of a wing, came down in the middle of the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, narrowly missing Saint Augustine’s Academy. It hit an apartment building and the Pillar of Fire Church. Dozens of other buildings caught fire in the resulting explosion. Mrs Robert Nevin, who was sitting in a top floor apartment when the place crashed into her building, later said “The roof caved in and I saw the sky.” Six people on the ground died when the plane crashed, including the 90 year old caretaker of the church, Wallace Lewis, and two men who were selling Christmas trees nearby. Christmas presents carried by the plane’s passengers were strewn all over the streets. Firefighting efforts went on for nearly 72 hours because of the multiple fires.
I think that most people have heard of Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, the strange looking structure that is most famous for the fact that it leans…badly enough to be noticed. You would think that the building started leaning as it aged, but that is not the case. Construction started on the building in the 12th century. It was supposed to be a bell tower for the cathedral of Pisa, which is a busy trade center on the Arno River in western Italy, about fifty miles from Florence. As the construction progressed, the tower’s foundation began to sink in the soft, marshy ground, causing it to lean to one side. In an attempt to make the tower stand straight, the builders decided to compensate by making the top stories slightly taller on the low side of the building. The attempt failed, because as they added the extra masonry to that side, the extra weight made the building sink further.
Undeterred, the builders continued to build the tower, finally completing it in 1360. Engineers of this day and age, have said that it is an absolute miracle that the tower hasn’t fallen down completely, because in reality, it just isn’t a sound structure…or so it would seem. The cathedral and the adjoining baptistery also lean slightly, but not as much as Torre Pendente di Pisa, which translates to Leaning Tower of Pisa, which made the city famous.
By the time the 20th century rolled around, the 190 foot high white marble tower leaned a scary 15 feet off the perpendicular. In 1989, one million people visited the old tower, climbing its 293 weathered steps to the top and gazing out over the green Campo dei Miracoli, which translates Field of Miracles, that was just outside. Officials began to worry that the tower was about to collapse, so they appointed a group of 14 archeologists, architects and soil experts to figure out how to take some, but not all, of the famous tilt away.
The first attempt in 1994 almost toppled the tower, but engineers were eventually able to reduce the lean by between 16 and 17 inches by removing earth from underneath the foundations. When the tower reopened on December 15, 2001, engineers predicted it would take 300 years to return to its 1990 position. Though entrance to the tower is now limited to guided tours, hordes of tourists can still be found outside, striking the well known pose…standing next to the tower pretending to hold it up, as cameras flash. Guided tour or not, I don’t think I would go inside the structure, which seems less than safe, considering the fact that it had to be raised to keep it from falling down. The repairs took 11 years and cost $27 million to fortify.
When we think of dinners with the President of the United States, we think of state dinners with tons of security, and massive pre-planning. Presidential dinners have changed distinctly since Washington’s day. The nation was much smaller for sure, and he could easily get together with all of his advisors and Congress in one place, I’m sure. In fact, George Washington was basically in uncharted waters. So, he decided that on Thursday evenings, he would have the brightest minds in the nation over for a casual dinner. At that time the nation’s capitol was still in New York City, so those casual dinners were never held in the White House. George Washington and his family lived in executive mansions in lower Manhattan, which was close to other governmental buildings in that era. While Washington entertained foreign dignitaries and other heads of state at public receptions on Tuesdays and Martha Washington regularly invited guests to their home on Fridays, Thursday evenings were reserved for formal dinners with congressional leaders, their wives and close personal friends of the Washingtons.
In reality, these dinners were elaborate affairs. They started promptly at 4:00pm, because Washington refused to wait for latecomers. I guess every president has his own idiosyncrasies. The parties numbered up to two dozen people, gathered around a table set with the Washington family silver and china. Unlike some state dinners, in which the President and his wife occupy the head of the table, Martha Washington preferred to sit in the middle of one side of the long table and President Washington sat directly across from her. The ends of the table were occupied by a secretary to help with the conversation and roast carving. The roast carving was necessary too, because there were a lot of roasts to be carved. The dinners were comprised of three courses, but that did no limit the selection. There would commonly be upwards of twenty different dishes in each course…all of which were brought to the table at the same time.
The various dishes were the finest that New York had to offer, and the guests were lavished with the exquisite meals. Manhattan was in the middle of New York City, but in 1700, it was still quite wild. The island had an assortment of venison, rabbit, and duck that were hunted for food. Oysters were abundant in the Hudson River. Jellies, dried fruits and nuts were served alongside, although you wouldn’t have seen potato or tomato dishes, because those foods were regarded as unfit for humans to eat in those days. Wine was drunk with dinner, although George Washington was said to prefer a tankard of ale over a glass of claret.
When dinner was over, Washington would raise a toast to the assembly, and then the ladies would retire to Martha’s drawing room for “coffee and civilized conversation.” The gentlemen would remain in the dining room, lingering over cigars and wine, but not for very long. The president only stayed another thirty minutes before joining the women in the drawing room. One of his personal secretaries would stay on in the dining room with the men to preside over political chats for another hour or so, until the company left and the Washingtons’ Thursday dinner was over…until the next week. George Washington passed away on this day, December 14, 1799.
Those who have studied the Civil War, or know much about the United States at all, know that the Civil War was won by the Union, but that does not mean that there weren’t battles that they lost. There are very few wars that are lopsided in their battle field victories. One such battle was the Battle of Fredericksburg. On December 11, 1862, Ambrose Burnside, newly placed in command of the Army of the Potomac, planned to cross the Rappahannock River in Virginia with over 120,000 troops. When he finally crossed it, two days later, on December 13, 1862, he confronted 80,000 troops of Robert E Lee’s Confederate Army at Fredericksburg. With 200,000 combatants, this was the largest concentration of troops of any Civil War Battle. It was also one of the battles the Union Army would lose. In a crushing defeat, the Union Army suffered nearly 13,000 casualties, while the Confederate Army only lost 5,000.
People might think that Burnside was not much of a commander, but it should be mentioned that this was the first time he had commanded an army. He was a graduate of West Point, had risen quickly up the ranks, and had seen action in several battles prior to this fateful day. Abraham Lincoln had approached him about taking control of the Union’s Army. He hesitated, partly out of loyalty to the current commander and former classmate, and partly because he was unsure of his own ability. In the end the prior commander’s failure assured that he was on the way out, and rather than have Major General Joseph Hooker, a fierce rival, pass him up, Burnside accepted the commission on November 7, 1862.
Knowing that he had to have the element of surprise, Burnside came up with a plan to confront Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg. He planned to move his forces to the banks of the neighboring Rappahannock River, and then transport his men across by way of hastily assembled pontoon bridges, and surprise the enemy. Lincoln was impressed with the audacity of the plan and approved it, but expressed doubts about its potential for success. Burnside swung into action, reaching the banks of the Rappahannock by November 19, 1862. We will never know if the plan might have succeeded, if some Union generals, including Winfield Scott Hancock, who believed the river could be crossed without the boats, had sent the boats…but instead, they urged Burnside to act without them. Burnside, who believed the river was too swift and deep, refused. They waited a week for the boats…unfortunately, under the watchful eyes of the Confederate scouts.
The element of surprise was gone. When they finally began building the pontoon bridges, the Confederate Army opened fire. Burnside began a massive bombardment of Fredericksburg, in the first shelling of a city in the Civil War. They were able to hold back the Confederate Army long enough to finish the bridges, and then they rushed across the river. Two days later, Burnside ordered his left flank to attack Lee’s right, in the hopes that Lee would have to divert forces to the south of the city, leaving the center and Marye’s Heights vulnerable. For a few hours, it looked like this might actually work. General George Meade broke through “Stonewell” Jackson’s line, but the Union failed to send in enough reinforcements to prevent a successful Confederate counterattack. Lee was able to keep James Longstreet’s men in position at Marye’s Heights, where they decimated Union forces. Burnside lost eight men for every Confederate soldier lost there. Though Burnside briefly considered another assault, the battle was over. The Union had suffered nearly 13,000 casualties while the Confederates lost fewer than 5,000. They needed to regroup before attacking again.
Burnside was an unpopular commander, partly I’m sure, because he felt the need to rush into things without really planning them out. His feelings of inadequacy proved to be his downfall. As he was planning his next attack, some of his leaders went to President Lincoln to voice their concerns. In the end, Lincoln halted the attack. On January 20, 1983, Burnside was ready to go again, but again the pontoon bridges were delayed. The weather didn’t help things either. What had been a dry January turned rainy, and the roads were all but impassible. Troops that had covered 40 miles a day on their way to Fredericksburg now struggled to get further than a mile. For three days, Burnside’s troops continued their disastrous slog on what would become known as the “Mud March,” accompanied most of the way by jeering Confederate forces taunting them from dry land. Five days after his offensive began, it was over…and so was Burnside’s brief, six week stint as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln immediately removed him from command, replacing him with the very person he feared it would be…Joseph Hooker.
Fredericksburg was the low point in the war for the North, but the South was ecstatic. Burnside probably should have stuck to his side career…weaponry design. And that was what he went back to. He retired in 1853 and in 1856 received his first patent for a .54 caliber breech loading firearm. Impressed with the carbine’s performance, the U.S. Army awarded the Bristol Firearm Company in Rhode Island…where Burnside worked…with a $100,000 contract. The order was soon rescinded, however, under shady circumstances. It’s believed that a rival munitions company bribed the army ordinance department to switch suppliers. Burnside’s bad luck continued the next year when a failed bid for a Congressional seat, followed closely by a fire that destroyed the Bristol factory, forced the financially strapped Burnside to sell his patents. Others would reap the rewards when, at the start of the Civil War, demand for his creation soared. By 1865, more than 55,000 carbines had been ordered, and the Burnside had become one of the most popular Union weapons of the war, second only to the Sharp carbine and my ancestor, Christopher Spencer’s Spencer carbine.
Burnside would eventually have a claim to fame, but it would not be for war or weapons. Burnside liked to wear his facial hair in what was an unusual way for the times. He had a bushy beard and moustache along with a clean-shaven chin. These distinctive whiskers were originally dubbed “burnsides,” but later the term would be altered and would become “sideburns.”