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Archive for February, 2019

Hecla, Nebraska

Posted by graywacke on February 26, 2019

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-a-week blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some relatively recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2433; A Landing A Day blog post number 868.

Dan:  Today’s lat/long (N42o 2.697’, W101o 14.378’) puts me in Cen-NW Nebraska:

Here’s my local landing map:

Hmmm.  Where the heck is Hecla?  Obviously, more about Hecla in a bit.  But first, what about my watershed?  Well, here’s a streams-only map:

Of course, you’re expecting me to list the various watersheds along with the number of hits I’ve had in each.  Not this time!

So, let’s take a Google Earth look at my landing to see what’s going on:


(Oops.  I see a typo.  The elevation of the low spot is 3380 . . .)

Well looky there.  When it rains, any runoff becomes trapped in a small enclosed basin.  We’re in Nebraska’s Sandhills, which is obviously underlain by sandy soils.  So where does the water go?  Down through the soil, becoming one with a groundwater aquifer system . . .

So getting back to the Hecla mystery.  I guess I need to zoom way in on my local landing map:

Ahh . . . there it is . . . in a teeny font, only visible when you zoom way in.  So I have real black-dot towns like Whitman, Mullen, Hyannis and Seneca, but as you might suspect, they’re all:

So anyway, I figured, what-the-heck, I’ll check on Hecla.  Here’s what Wiki has to say:


OK, so there’s no Wiki entry.  But there is a GhostTowns.com site for Hecla (posted by Brian Garner):

I am not sure if there ever was a post office. The site was more of a whistle stop for the Burlington Railroad. There were a few buildings and a stockyard for the area ranchers to load their cattle onto the trains.

The largest cattle drive in the Sandhills of Nebraska took place here. 5,000 head of steers were moved to Hecla by 19 cowboys and one cook. It took 17 hours and several trains to load all of the cattle.

I think the town was done in by a tornado and was never rebuilt.

Brian posted a couple of great pics:

There’s also a Hecla historic marker:

Don’t feel like you have to read it.  But I’ll repeat the far-and-away most important quote:

“It [the railroad] built a siding named Hecla after a volcano in Iceland.”

Say what?!?  An Icelandic volcano?  AYKM?  I can see that I’ll have to get to the bottom of two issues.  First, what is it about the volcano that inspired some hard-nosed railroaders to name a railroad siding after it?  And secondly, I see an excuse to take a little look at the geology of Iceland.

For starters, Hekla (as the Icelanders spell it) is an active volcano that has erupted more than 20 times since the first recorded eruption in the year 1104.  Several of the eruptions were particularly violent; the volcano became known throughout Europe.

So, here’s some of what Wiki has to say:

In Icelandic, Hekla is the word for a short hooded cloak, which may relate to the frequent cloud cover on the summit.

After the eruption of 1104, stories, probably spread deliberately through Europe by Cistercian monks, told that Hekla was the gateway to Hell.  The Cistercian monk Herbert of Clairvaux wrote in 1180:

The renowned fiery cauldron of Sicily, which men call Hell’s chimney … that cauldron is affirmed to be like a small furnace compared to this enormous inferno [associated with Hekla] . . .

A poem by the monk Benedeit from circa 1120 about the voyages of Saint Brendan mentions Hekla as the prison of Judas.

In the Flatey Book Annal it was recorded that during the 1341 eruption, people saw large and small birds flying in the mountain’s fire which were taken to be souls.

In the 16th century, Caspar Peucer wrote that the Gates of Hell could be found in “the bottomless abyss of Hekla Fell”.

The belief that Hekla was the gate to Hell persisted until the 19th century.

Well, one obvious theory as to why one would call a town “Hecla” is that the namer thinks the town is in a hellish location.  Hecla is in the Sandhill region of Nebraska, which was long considered an inhospitable and economically-devoid region.  From Wiki:

The plant-anchored dunes of the Sandhills were long considered an irreclaimable desert. The fragility of the sandy soil makes the area unsuitable for cultivation of crops. Attempts at farming were made in the region in the late 1870s and again around 1890, both time without success.

That must be it. Hellish it is.

I stumbled on the fact that there is (or was) a Hecla in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Kentucky and Missouri.  Every one of these Heclas has a Wiki entry, but none address the reason that the name “Hecla” was chosen, other than to say that the town was named after the volcano. . .

Funny that “heck” is a gentile word for “hell.”  I wonder if heck comes from Hecla (or Hekla)?  After some amount of internet research, I find no etymological connection . . .

So, what about the geology?  Well, foremost is the fact that Iceland stands astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  Here’s a map showing the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the most active volcanoes on Iceland: 

Anyway, I want to step back to discuss the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and its role in Plate Tectonics from a historical perspective.  I mostly knew the story but had to refer to Wiki, the Geological Society of America and Prentice Hall publishers.  The following timeline might seem a little random, but it will all come together:

  • 1872: While investigating the possible route of a transatlantic telegraph cable, scientists discovered that a large rise was present in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe.
  • Late 19th century paleontologists noted similar assemblages of fossils on continents now separated by the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Early 20th century, geologists first noticed that some volcanic rocks were magnetized opposite to the direction of the current Earth’s magnetic field.
  • 1915: Geologist Alfred Wegener proposed his theory of “continental drift,” based on his observation that the east coasts of North and South America were parallel to the west coasts of Africa and Europe; i.e., that the four continents could fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.  Of course, he was also aware of the paleontological evidence.  His theory was very controversial, and not generally accepted because of the lack of a mechanism for moving continents.
  • 1925: The Mid-Atlantic Ridge was found to extend the entire length of the Atlantic Ocean and, in fact extended around Africa into the Indian Ocean.  Here’s a map:

  • In the 1950s, it was discovered that the Ridge includes a deep valley that runs down the middle of the ridge, with this central valley being seismically active.
  • Also in the 1950s, it was discovered that magma magnetized as per the direction of the magnetic field when the magma cooled; it was hypothesized that regular reversals of the earth’s magnetic poles must have happened to cause the remnant magnetism observed in various volcanic rocks.
  • Also in the 1950s, radiometric age-dating methods were developed for igneous rocks such as volcanic rocks.
  • In the 1960s, working with rock cores drilled through volcanic rocks, remnant magnetism and the age of the various layers of volcanic rocks were measured. It was determined that many, many magnetic reversals have occurred.
  • At about the same time, the remnant magnetism of seafloor rocks was measured remotely by research ships as they crossed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
  • Stripes of rocks with the same magnetic signature were apparent on either side of the ridge, parallel to the ridge. Most significantly, the stripes on one side of the ridge were a mirror image of stripes on the opposite side of the ridge. 

Here’s a figure showing the relationship between the magnetic stripes and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge:

And another one:

  • Rock samples were collected from the sea floor, and it was found that corresponding magnetic stripes on either side of the ridge were the same age, with the rocks getting progressively older moving away from the ridge.

Bingo!  Do you need anything else?  Spreading centers are present in all of the earth’s oceans, and they are creating ever-larger seafloor tectonic plates.  These plates bump into continental plates, causing all sorts of geologic activity like earthquakes and volcanoes.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge creates new seafloor at the rate of about an inch per year on either side of the ridge. 

I’ll close with this shot from CourtHouseLover’s Flickr stream (labeled “Nebraska Sandhills (Hecla, Nebraska), as seen from Nebraska State Highway 2  . . . near the defunct town of Hecla:

That’ll do it . . .




© 2019 A Landing A Day

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Nahma, Michigan

Posted by graywacke on February 19, 2019

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-a-week blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some relatively recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2432; A Landing A Day blog post number 867.

Dan:  Today’s lat/long (N45o 55.485’, W86o 39.828’) puts me on the south shore of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan:

Here’s my local landing map:

My streams-only map:

As you can see, it shows that the drainage from my landing heads west to the Sturgeon River (1st hit ever – my 1,229th river); to Lake Michigan (39th hit); and then, of course, to the St. Lawrence (111th hit).

Google Earth (GE) Street View coverage is so-so for my landing:

And here’s what the Orange Dude sees:

I moved him a couple of miles west and south to get a look at the Sturgeon R:

And here ‘tis (a rare winter Street View):

So what about Nahma?  Well, for starters, “Nahma” is an Ojibwa word for “sturgeon,” appropriate for a town at the mouth of the Sturgeon River. 

I featured the fish in my Onaway Michigan post.  Here’s a little of what I said:

This ancient family of fishes has been recognized since the Upper Cretaceous period (136 million years ago), at a time when dinosaurs were at the height of their development.  To a casual observer, a sturgeon looks like a curious blend of catfish and shark. Like a shark, it has a skeleton made of cartilage, not bone; like a catfish, it finds food with the help of “barbels” hanging like whiskers from its chin.

Sturgeon don’t have scales, but wide-set rows of bony plates called scutes. The toothless beasts vacuum up snails, crayfish, clams and insect larvae from lake and river bottoms.

It’s likely that females hatched during the administration of President Ulysses Grant still swim in the Great Lakes! Female sturgeon live up to 150 years; males up to 80. It takes 12 to 20 years for males to mature and up to 25 years for females to do so.

Wow.  An amazing fish, indeed!  Although not mentioned above, they’re a very large fish, and can be up to 7’ long, weighing over 200 lbs!  Here’s a picture from Michigan State University, of a graduate student researcher:

Back to now:  here’s a quick (3+ minute) video of some folks catching a huge sturgeon, and then (don’t worry) tagging and releasing it:

I found a February 2016 article in the Marquette Monthly by Larry Chabot about Nahma.  I’m going to borrow some of his words:

For a time in the 1950s, Nahma was super-famous, mentioned in newspapers all over the place, and the subject of a major spread in Life Magazine. Why all the fuss? On July 26, 1951, after more than 100 years of operation, the Big Bay De Noc Lumber Company sawmill cut its last log, blew a long, sad blast on the plant whistle and shut down for good.

Rather than abandon its hometown, the company took the unusual step of putting it up for sale: the whole thing, to a buyer willing to create jobs for its now unemployed workforce. Ads for the sale ran nationwide, as did news stories. Nahma’s reputation was growing; all it needed was a buyer.

At its peak, the company had 1,500 workers in the woods and sawmill, and Nahma itself bulged with 800 residents. Except for two churches, the company owned everything: 4,300 acres of land, the hospital, 80-bed dormitory, golf course, barbershop, railroad, airfield, beach, 102 houses and a horse barn that someone thought might make a good dance hall some day.

Here’s a back-in-the-day shot of the sawmill facility:

And today’s GE view from a similar vantage point:

Back to the article:

A 1991 production of United Television titled “Fallen Timber, Faded Dreams,” called it “a time when Nahma roared and the sawmills never stopped.” The video included interviews with Nahma residents who had survived the sale, recalling the old days for the camera:

  • Company-owned houses rented for $6 to $15 a month.
  • The company store sold everything: food, medicine, clothing, hardware and so on.
  • Families paid the company $2 a month for medical care.
  • Electricity (supplied by the company) was turned off at 10:30 each night.

In an emergency, streetlights blinked twice to summon help.

The interviewed residents were perceptive, nostalgic, even humorous:

  • “We thought the timber would last forever
  • So many people crowded the gym for dances that the floor sunk two feet
  • We rode the train to the berry patches
  • The men’s axes were so sharp they could shave with them
  • Only the big shots had indoor plumbing
  • It was a good company town; nobody went hungry
  • When the mill closed, there were lots of tears in our dishpans
  • During the sale we were sort of on sale of ourselves.”

I fear that most companies that ran company towns weren’t so benevolent.  I’ll use the company town issue as a gratuitous excuse to post one of my all-time favorite songs, “Sixteen Tons,” by Tennessee Ernie Ford (posted previously at least once on this blog).  It’s about a not-so-generous coal company:


Back to the article . . .

That big spread in Life Magazine appeared in the October 22, 1951 issue. “SOLD – ONE TOWN” was the headline. Among the many photos were a shot of a huge “For Sale” sign.

“By the end of summer,” said Life, “most people in Nahma were feeling like naked mannequins in a shop window. For five long months their whole town had been up for sale…they felt a little as though they were up for sale themselves. Late last month, the Nahmans ordeal ended. Their former owner…sold them for $250,000 to the American Playground Device Co., which planned to develop Nahma as a resort as well as to build a factory there.”

Warren Miller, Playground president, whose firm made wooden seats, was greeted as a savior by a community hoping for a bright future.

He was praised at a dinner celebration for keeping Nahma from becoming a ghost town. Sadly, only a third of the available workers found jobs in the new plant. Lack of financing caused the firm to shut down its Nahma operation in 1971.

Somehow, Nahma didn’t turn into a ghost town, as you can tell from this oblique GE shot of the town:


In fact, a classy old hotel – the Nahma Inn, built by the lumber company in 1909 – is open for business.  Here’s a shot of their website:

There are 14 guest rooms (either $75 or $85 per night, weekly rates available) and a full-service restaurant (and bar). 

One final point.  I didn’t realize that folks from the Upper Peninsula (the U.P.) refer to themselves as Yoopers.  And the traditional Yooper specialty food item is the pasty (pronounced pass-tee).  From an NPR article about Yooper pasties:

Miners [and I’m sure sawmill workers] have hearty appetites. They work hard during cold Michigan mornings. So, when the whistle blows for lunch, it’s time for a pasty.

The meat turnover was brought to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by immigrant miners from Cornwall, England, and “Yoopers” — the local population — are very opinionated about them. A pasty is a small circle of pie crust filled with meat, potatoes, onions and spices. Some have carrots, some have rutabaga.

I’ll close with some GE photos, starting with this by Dan Baldini of the silo used back in the day to burn waste and scrap wood (the only significant remnant of the old timber operation still around):

Also by Mr. Baldini, here’s a shot of the Sturgeon River:

And hanging in there with Dan ’til the bitter end, here’s his shot of a barn just south of my landing:

That’ll do it . . .




© 2019 A Landing A Day

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Lanark and Mount Carroll, Illinois

Posted by graywacke on February 12, 2019

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-a-week blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some relatively recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2431; A Landing A Day blog post number 866.

Dan:  Today’s lat/long (N42o 8.892’, W89o 50.485’) puts me in in the NW corner of Illinois:

Here’s my local landing map:

My streams-only map shows the entire story:

I landed in the watershed of Lake Carroll, which is drained by “Principal Stream Perennial,” aka unnamed tributary; on to the East Plum River (first hit ever!); to the Plum River (2nd hit); to the MM (944th hit).

Moving over to Google Earth, you can see that I have good Street View coverage of my landing:

And here ‘tis:

And the OD was able to get a look at my very local watershed drainage, upstream from Lake Carroll:

Here it is in all of its scum-covered glory:

Not far downstream is Lake Carroll.  Here’s a GE shot of the lake by Kileen Casey:

As I’m working on this draft blog post (which is a Word doc), I just checked the temperature in Lanark.  It’s -30o .  Ouch. 

And then, in the middle of the next night (likely after getting up to go to the bathroom), I was mindlessly looking at my cell phone when I saw this:

So – it was 2:50 am, my iPhone was plugged in, and I had my wits about me enough to take a screen shot of what I saw on Google News:  that it was -38o in Mount Carroll.  Note that Illinois didn’t make the headline and would be unknown to the general public. . .

The geologist in me took notice at a striking feature (to me) while looking at a regional Google Earth shot:

See how different the landscape looks to the northwest of my landing?  Just in case you need some help, here’s a yellow demarcation line:

The landscape to the southeast is flat as can be, while the landscape to the northwest has been dissected by stream erosion.  What’s going on?  Well, the dissected area is part of the famous (to me) “Driftless Area.”  “Drift” is a geologic term for any soil, rocks and/or sediments deposited by glaciers.  So, the Driftless Area has no drift and was therefore never glaciated.  Here’s a map:

And check out how the landscape affects the layout of roads.  Here’s a map of the glaciated (and therefore flat) area east of my landing:

How about that.  Very straight roads.  And in contrast, here’s a map of the driftless area west of my landing:

For a more robust treatment of the driftless area, check out my Lansing, Iowa post.

Let’s leave the cold weather and glacial geology behind, and take a look at Lanark.  From the town website:

The next item to be settled was the naming of this new place. The capitalist looking to develop this new railhead at first chose Glasgow most likely because of his Scottish heritage. However, it was soon learned that Glasgow was already in use in southern IL, so Lanark, the county/shire of the ancient city of Scotland, was suggested by some of the men holding considerable monetary investment in the project.

Lanark, Scotland is an ancient town (1140 A.D.) which was once an ancient capital of Scotland where William Wallace lived and became an outlaw to the English in the late 1290’s (the basis of the Oscar winning film ‘Braveheart’).

True confessions.  I never saw Braveheart.  I know that many people absolutely love the movie.  So, who was this William Wallace guy?  From Biography.com:

In 1296, England’s King Edward I forced Scottish king John de Balliol to abdicate the throne, jailed him, and declared himself ruler of Scotland. In May 1297, Wallace (in his late 20s) and some 30 other men burned the Scottish town of Lanark and killed its English sheriff. Wallace then organized a local army and attacked the English strongholds between the Forth and Tay rivers.

On September 11, 1297, an English army confronted Wallace and his men at the Forth River near Stirling. Wallace’s forces were vastly outnumbered, but the English had to cross a narrow bridge over the Forth before they could reach Wallace and his growing army. With strategic positioning on their side, Wallace’s forces massacred the English as they crossed the river, and Wallace gained an unlikely and crushing victory.

[I read that Braveheart’s version of the battle didn’t even have a bridge!]

He went on to capture Stirling Castle, and Scotland was briefly nearly free of occupying English forces. In October, Wallace invaded northern England and ravaged Northumberland and Cumberland counties, but his unconventionally brutal battle tactics only served to antagonize the English even more.

When Wallace returned to Scotland in December 1297, he was knighted and proclaimed guardian of the kingdom, ruling in the deposed king’s name. But in June 1298, Edward invaded Scotland again.

On July 22, Wallace’s troops suffered defeat in the Battle of Falkirk, and as quickly as that, his military reputation was ruined and he resigned his guardianship. Eventually, Scottish leaders capitulated to the English and recognized Edward as their king in 1304.

Unwilling to compromise, William Wallace refused to submit to English rule, and Edward’s men pursued him until August 5, 1305, when they captured and arrested him near Glasgow. He was taken to London and condemned as a traitor to the king and was hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered.

[Geez.  Take that, William!]

He was seen by the Scots as a martyr and as a symbol of the struggle for independence, and his efforts continued after his death.

Scotland gained its independence some 23 years after William Wallace’s execution, with the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1328, and Wallace has since been remembered as one of Scotland’s greatest heroes.

It turns out that one of the Lanark Illinois’ native son is poet Glenn Ward Dresbach.  I checked out many of his poems, and found what I thought was his best:

Ouch.  I suspect that this tells the story common to many in the Midwest.  Moving to Mount Carroll.  It turns out that the first paragraph of their Wiki entry is all about cold weather:

Due to its elevation and northwesterly location, Mount Carroll is subject to unusually cold winter weather. From 1930 to 1999, Mount Carroll held the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in Illinois, −35 °F, recorded on January 22, 1930.

[And check out the next paragraph!]

The record was beaten by Congerville in 1999, by one degree. 20 years later on Thursday, January 31st, 2019, Mount Carroll regained the title of coldest city in Illinois when a new Illinois state record low temperature of -38 degrees Fahrenheit was officially recorded.

Man.  Wiki is on it!

So, two notable persons caught my eye:  Neta Snook and Phoebe Snow. 

Wiki, on Neta Snook:

After purchasing a wrecked Canuck [Snook’s Canuck], Snook had it shipped back to Ames, Iowa, and spent two years rebuilding the aircraft in her parents’ backyard. In 1920, Snook soloed in her rebuilt Canuck, flying from a nearby pasture and received her pilot’s license.

Barnstorming throughout the Midwest in her Canuck, she made a living furtively hauling sightseers and “passengers” although her license did not allow it. With the onset of a bitter Iowa winter [maybe not as bitter as this one], Snook decided to head out to California where she could fly year-round. She disassembled the Canuck for shipping [aw, come on – why not fly it to California?] and ended up in balmy Los Angeles.

In 1920, Snook approached Bert Kinner for a job as an instructor in his newly constructed airport, Kinner Field in Los Angeles.  After a brief trial period, she became the first woman to run a commercial airfield.

On January 3, 1921, Amelia Earhart walked onto the airfield and aid to Neta, “I want to fly. Will you teach me?”  Amelia and her parents had agreed that only a woman pilot would teach her to fly.

“For $1 in Liberty bonds per minute in the air, Neta Snook taught Amelia Earhart to fly, but above that, they became friends.”

Amelia paid for the first 5 hours [$60/hr x 5 = $300].  Neta gave Amelia the next 15 hours for free.

At first, her pupil was not the best flyer. Earhart stalled while trying to clear a grove of eucalyptus trees on takeoff; although she not seriously hurt in the ensuing crash. Snook thought to herself, “Perhaps I had misjudged her abilities.”

However, their friendship held sway and that crash was soon forgotten. They flew together for over a year. Snook became close with the entire Earhart family, and often spent time at the family home.

Moving to the next Notable Person.  Mount Carroll is the home of Shimer University and a student from Teaneck NJ – Phoebe Ann Laub – enrolled there in 1968.  She was a heck of a musician and singer, and withdrew from school to head to NYC and pursue her musical dreams.

She felt like she needed a stage name.  From Wiki:

Her stage name came from a fictional advertising character created in the early 1900s for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, in which Phoebe Snow was a young woman dressed all in white, emphasizing the cleanliness of Lackawanna passenger trains whose locomotives burned anthracite coal, which created less soot than bituminous coal.

Here’s a post card featuring Phoebe Snow:


Her only big hit was “Poetry Man”:

Her life followed a tough path.  From Wiki:

Between 1975 and 1978 Snow was married to Phil Kearns and on December 10, 1975, her daughter, Valerie Rose, was born with severe brain damage.

Snow resolved not to institutionalize Valerie, and cared for her at home until Valerie died on March 19, 2007, at the age of 31 (when Phoebe was 57). Snow’s efforts to care for Valerie significantly curtailed her musical career.

Phoebe Snow suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on January 19, 2010 and slipped into a coma.   She died on April 26, 2011 at age 60 in Edison, New Jersey.

I’ll close with this GE shot by Tom Kubik, taken about 10 miles west of my landing:


That’ll do it . . .




© 2019 A Landing A Day

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Louisville, Nebraska

Posted by graywacke on February 4, 2019

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-a-week blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some relatively recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2430; A Landing A Day blog post number 865.

Dan:  Today’s lat/long (N41o 1.058’, W98o 11.550’ W) puts me in E-Cen Nebraska:


My local landing shows my proximity to Louisville and the Platte River:

No Surprise. I landed in the Platte River watershed (72nd hit).  I won’t bother with a map, but as you know doubt strongly suspect, the Platte, in fact, discharges to the Missouri (435th hit); on to the MM (943rd hit).

Quickly moving on to Google Earth (GE), here’s the closest Street View I could manage:

And here’s what the Orange Dude sees:

Of course, I sent the OD to a nearby bridge over the Platte:

And here’s what he sees:

So what about Louisville?  Well, there’s no traditional hook, but I figured I’d roll up my sleeves, shake the Louisville tree, and see what falls out.

But let’s start out with the correct local pronunciation.  According to RoadsideThoughts.com, it’s:  loo-IS-ville. 

There was a nasty flood in 1923.  From the town website:

“Terrific Flood Visits Louisville Last Friday Night Taking the Lives of 12 People”

“Damage to property is also very heavy”

“Heroic Work of Rescuers Who Risk Their Lives in Effort to Save Women and Children Trapped in Their Homes by Rapidly Rising Waters”

These were the headlines on the October 5th paper in 1923, when 12 people lost their lives in a flood which came down Mill Creek at about 7 p.m. on September 28.

The flood came as a culmination of a terrific rain which had continued throughout the afternoon. The creek had risen gradually for more than an hour before it reached a danger point, and debris had lodged against the pile bridge of the Missouri Pacific at the south end of town until a complete dam was formed, which caused the creek to overflow its banks and spread out over the town. It was believed by many, who witnessed the flood, and who viewed the dam at the bridge, that had it not been for the stoppage at that point the creek would have remained in its banks.

Here’s a map:

Doesn’t the story seem peculiar?  Think about it.  Mill Creek becomes totally blocked by a debris dam upstream of the town, forcing the water to go around the dam.  The water, which “would have remained in its banks” if not for the dam, then “spread out over the town.”

While I can picture a messy situation, I have trouble imagining that the above scenario would have devastated the town, resulting in 12 deaths.

The article goes on to mention that a man attempting a rescue could not, “on account of the rapid rise of the water in a few seconds.”

Also:  “The worst loser was Mrs. C. G. Clifford whose home was swept away, leaving not a trace of it (her house was where the tennis courts are now).”

Here are the tennis courts today:

I have to believe that the debris dam catastrophically broke up, allowing a devastating flash flood of water to wash over the town, considering that if the dam had stayed in place:

  • the water would have spread out, losing energy; it is also likely that much of the water would find its way back to the stream channel.
  • it’s hard to visualize any reason for the incredibly rapid rise of the water (in a few seconds)
  • it’s also hard to visualize a house being washed away so violently, “leaving not a trace of it.”

That’s my ALAD story, and I’m sticking to it.

Enough of the flood, except for this post script. While I was checking out Mill Creek, I noticed that a bridge carrying South Depot Street over the creek was missing:

Here’s a closer look:

So, I figured there must have been another, more recent flood that took out the bridge.  I put the OD at the bridge to see what he could see:


There’s the bridge!  Well, the inconsistency is explained by the fact that the date of the Street View shot is July 2012, while the date on the overhead GE shot is June 2018.

I put the OD on the far side of the bridge, and looked back:

Oh, all right.  So the above Street View shot is dated July 2018.

Trying to figure out what happened, I painstakingly searched for the fairly recent flood that took out the bridge, but to no avail.  Then, I finally stumbled on the Louisville City Council minutes from July 12, 2017.  Here’s a quote:

After seeing bridge inspection results from NE Department of Transportation, Petersen moves, Jensen seconds to close and remove the South Depot Street Bridge. Motion carried by unanimous roll call vote.

OK, OK.  I can hear my readers now:  “Are you kidding me?  You spent all of that time about some dumb bridge?  And you wasted my time just reading about it!” 

Guilty as charged.  Moving right along . . .

The town website had a feature on quite the character – one “Dynamite Pete.” 

Dynamite’s real name was, Levi Everett, born 9 Dec 1862. He may have received his nick name in the 1880’s when he worked as a power monkey for the quarries. Dynamite said that he was happier out in the woods, playing his Jacob Steiner violin, singing, feeding the birds and squirrels. He said he did not pay rent or pay taxes. He raised his own food even at one time raising and curing his own tobacco.

He had a full upper lip mustache and shoulder length hair that would have been gray had it ever been washed. However in their “natural state” both his mustache and his hair were an off-white color with a slight yellow tinge. His attire was always the same, no shoes, no hat, no shirt, only a pair of well-worn oversized bib-overalls.

Dynamite lived about six miles west of town in a cave near the Platte River. Sometime around the summer of 1942 Dynamite and his girl friend meandered into town and announced their plans to get married.

His bride, a Native American woman, was cut from the same cloth as Dynamite. Of course the local busy-bodies and the good town fathers, who knew what was best for everyone, told him that they would not permit them to get married because he did not have a “proper” house in which to live. For the next several months much was made of this issue and the story eventually appeared in the newspapers and then heard over the radio.

As a result of all the publicity Dynamite received a train ride to New York City where he performed on a national talent scout radio show called “We The People.” After which he was given an air plane ride over New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.

This made a local hero out of Ol’ Dynamite and thereafter he finagled many a free beer, as he made his appointed rounds of the taverns back in Louisville, telling the locals of his trip to New York City. Thus he was the first to buck the stiff collared, red-neck village bigots and win.

He had pneumonia and was in an Omaha hospital before living at the Hill Crest Nursing Home in Plattsmouth where he died, at age 87, on 26 December 1949. Dynamite is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery near Plattsmouth.

Dynamite Pete reminded me of stories that I heard from my mother about one “Onion John.”  My mom was born and raised in the small New Jersey town of Belvidere (pop now about 2,500).  She told me he was a very peculiar (but endearing) man who lived in a shack up on the “mountain” outside of Belvidere.  Long after Onion John was gone, mom would point out to me the location of his former shack.

She recalled that the town kids loved Onion John, and would follow him around whenever he’d walk into town.  I assume this was in the 1930s. 

So I Googled Onion John and found numerous entries about the book “Onion John,” by Joseph Krumgold (a Newberry Award-winning young person’s book).  Here’s the Wiki plot summary.  Of course, “Serenity” is Belvidere:

Onion John is an unusual man: a European immigrant who lives in a hut made of stone and furnished with bathtubs. He befriends young Andy Rusch, the only person in Serenity who can understand his speech. As Andy comes to know Onion John (so named because he grows the best onions in town, and eats them like apples), he finds that the man believes some odd things. In Onion John’s world, friendly spirits live in the clouds, and evil spirits can be banished by smoking them out. His needs are few, since the townspeople are happy to give him castoff clothing after someone dies, and he earns a little money by doing odd jobs around Serenity. Andy and his friends are always happy to go along with whatever Onion John says.

Life turns upside-down for Onion John when Andy’s father decides to get the Rotary Club to build Onion John a new modern home, complete with electricity, running water, stove, and only one bathtub. The whole town signs on, committees are created, and the house goes up on the site of John’s old stone hut.

Almost immediately after moving in, John, unused to modern appliances, leaves newspaper on the stove. The ensuing fire destroys the house.

When the local citizens decide to rebuild this home, Onion John leaves town rather than accept a life of conformity. He just wants to be left alone.

I found a blog by Peter Sieruta, “Collecting Children’s Books.”  One post is called “They Killed Him with Kindness, Literally.”  From the post:

Critic Carolyn Horovitz could not fully accept the characterization of Onion John, finding him “a personification of an abstraction.” With his superstitions, spellcasting, and nonchalant attitude toward work, he does appear to be the archetypal “free spirit” of fiction.

That’s why I was surprised to learn that Onion John was a real person and that most of the events in the book actually happened.

In fact, Joseph Krumgold’s original manuscript referred to the town by its real name: Belvidere, New Jersey. Amazingly, Krumgold also called all the characters by their real-life names! It wasn’t until his publisher expressed a concern about lawsuits that Belvidere became “Serenity” and the names of the characters were fictionalized.

Much of the plot is true as well.  Apparently, the town of Belvidere really did adopt their local eccentric and he was “treated with loving kindness in a way that distorted his values. He was destroyed by the love of this town.”

You see, in real life Onion John did not escape injury when his new house caught on fire. Instead, his misuse of the electric stove caused an explosion that cost him his life.

The people of Belvidere took up a collection to bury him.

Onion John’s real name was Uhan Kleban.  Here’s his gravestone in the Belvidere cemetery:

Post Script (#2):  My mom moved out of Belvidere in 1938, headed off to college (where she met my father).  Her parents died in Belvidere in the mid-1950s; I suspect she wasn’t aware of the whole Onion John saga.  My parents are buried in the same Belvidere cemetery as Onion John – only about 250 feet away.  

Here’s a map showing Belvidere and the location of Onion John’s house (as remembered by my mother):

I decided to talk with my Uncle Dick, my mom’s brother.  He was born in 1929 and grew up in Belvidere.  But while he knew of Onion John, he had no personal stories to tell me – which seems peculiar, as Uncle Dick would have been a kid around town in the late 1930s and through the 1940s. 

Anyway, Uncle Dick referred me to my cousin Ann (my mom’s sister’s daughter) who also grew up in Belvidere; he mentioned that amazingly, she had just emailed him about Onion John after bumping into a Facebook post.

So, I called Ann, and she told me that she was reading the Onion John book (as am I)!  She told me that her mom (my Aunt Ginny) read the book back in the day, but didn’t like it because it wasn’t consistent with her recollections.  Aunt Ginny, who grew up in Belvidere and then moved back with her parents in 1955, never mentioned anything about Onion John dying in a fire, although she did have a story about Onion John purposely breaking windows in town in winter so that he could spend some time in the warm jail.

I thought about getting in touch with Peter Sieruta (the gentlemen who’s blog “Collecting Children’s Stories” mentioned Onion John dying in the fire.  He was well known enough to have a Wiki entry, but unfortunately, he died in 2012.

Bottom line.  I (and therefore you) may never know the real Onion John story . . . 

A quick return to Louisville is in order.  The town website had some “then and now” shots of town.  A corner along Main Street in 1910 and 2000:


A view up Main Street (dates unknown):

Here’s a 1927 shot of a safety meeting at the local cement plant (Ash Grove Cement, still operating in Louisville):

I had no idea that any employers would be this responsible (i.e., having a large meeting to talk about safety) way back in the day.

And here’s a shot of a search for bodies after the 1923 flood:


I’ll close with a GE shot by Phillip Rhodes (just upstream of Louisville):


That’ll do it . . .




© 2019 A Landing A Day

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