“She can’t keep going, but she does. She and the fire column in movement, she forward. It spins upward a hallucinatory dance. The neighbor and her children have forgotten motion; their screams have left them behind
the tin ceiling
Did she take note here?
This is the moment my life changes. I can’t finish the dishes, wash my unmentionables, get dinner ready for Dirk and the children before it’s too late. It’s going to happen. It’s happening now.”
This is an excerpt from “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete,” one of nineteen chapters from Kin Types, a 30-page book of prose and poems by author and fellow blogger Luanne Castle. Follow her blogs here: The Family Kalamazoo and Entering the Pale.
With Kin Types, Castle enters the lives of her ancestors by exploring their pasts through genealogy and the family stories, photographs, and ephemera that reveal that genealogy. Just take a look at Luanne’s blogs to see her comprehensive family explorations.
However, because the past is often defined by what little we know of our ancestors, that knowledge can be scanty. That’s my situation.
So I ordered Luanne’s book to gather ideas for my own family history writing project about a 1930 barnstorming airplane crash that killed my grandmother’s two younger brothers. (Read this post for more about the accident.)
All I have left of the tragedy are photographs, letters of sympathy, yellowed newspaper clippings, locks of hair. How can I ever understand this history fully? Perhaps by doing what Luanne did, that is, entering the lives of her ancestors via genealogy, photographs and ephemera.
Kin Types will inspire you if you wish to research your own family history or simply desire to connect with your ancestors through the power of writing.
If you enjoyed this post, click “like” so others may find it more easily. Follow this blog for more articles and updates on my project regarding the 1930 airplane crash. If you are a middle school teacher, check out my teaching blog.
This is a photo of Louis Phillips standing in front of his 4th St. Grocery in or near San Diego, Calif.
I say “in or near” San Diego because, while some of the photos given to me by my mother are labeled San Diego, others are labeled El Cajon or Santee, two nearby suburbs.
I’m guessing this photo was taken during the 1920s, and someday as I have more time to research I will be able to put a more accurate date on it.
For background, Louis was the grandfather of Warren and Nelson Kerns, my grandmother’s brothers who were airplane passengers killed in a barnstorming accident in 1930. I’ve written quite a bit about them starting with this post. At the time of the accident, their mother, Caroline Phillips Kerns, was visiting her parents, Louis (the man in the photo) and Minnie Phillips.
According to my grandmother, the Phillips had ventured to California from Missouri to find construction jobs associated with a large-scale exposition. I believe these jobs were positions created to update and expand the grounds of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 in preparation for the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935-1936.
Both San Diego expositions were held in that city’s famous Balboa Park. I remember my grandmother specifically mentioning this park when she would recall her ancestors. To this day, Balboa Park remains the nation’s largest urban cultural park, according to “San Diego’s 1935-36 Exposition: A Pictorial Essay” by David Marshall and Iris Engstrand in The Journal of San Diego History.
As for the 4th St. Grocery, I’m not sure how or when it came about. I do know that the store looks fantastic with all the produce arranged in perfect pyramids and the tidy Swift’s Pride Soap sign. No doubt, there was a fair dose of satisfaction and fulfillment found in his storefront and his family’s activities in the Golden State.
I have several more pictures from this part of my family. As I continue to write these family history posts, I’ll include additional pictures and explain a little about them. Click “like” if you found this post interesting. Feel free to leave a comment and follow my blog to catch future posts.Thanks for reading!
I have fewer memories of my father’s parents than I do of my mother’s; however, those I do recall are vivid and important.
My father’s parents, William Homer Douglas, Sr. and Ruby Edith (Cook) Douglas, lived near Rich Hill, in southwestern Missouri. Even though we didn’t stay over at their house often, one summer weekend evening my sister and I did stay to watch the Miss America Pageant broadcast live from Atlantic City. I think this happened when Grandpa Douglas was still living, but I’m not sure. He may have already gone off to bed. He would pass away later when I was in the fourth grade.
Granny, my sister, and I watched the pageant huddled on the couch in the living room. I remember the room being dark, except for the light from the TV glowing with the parades of young women wearing evening gowns, modest one-piece bathing suits, talent competition outfits, and then evening gowns once again for their interview questions from the Master of Ceremonies, Bert Parks.
At a commercial break, it was time for a snack. Granny poured RC Cola for my sister and me into glasses. Then she popped corn in a skillet with hot oil on the stove. After pouring the popcorn into a bowl, she showed us her trick of sprinkling it with sugar instead of the usual salt. Popcorn with sugar was a little bit different and unexpectedly good.
After the pageant concluded, it was time for bed. My sister and I decided who would get the first jump onto the featherbed in the guestroom.The first jump into the deep pile of feathers was always the best. Once your body made contact with the white cotton bedspread, you would continue to sink slowly, compressing the feathers, submerging even deeper into the down. Eventually, Granny entered the bedroom to make sure we were making progress toward sleep. (We weren’t.)
In the morning, our parents picked us up. As we pulled out of the driveway into the gravel road, Granny waved at us from her porch with her standard wave: two hands in the air, fingers on both hands folding down in unison. Looking at her from the back window of our big red Bonneville, we headed back to Fort Scott, which was about thirty miles away.
Thanks for reading! Click “like” so others can more easily find this post, and don’t be shy about leaving a comment. Better yet: follow my blog to read more posts on a diverse range of topics and experiences.
To family members: Leave me a note if you think some of the details in this post are wrong and I’ll edit, or if you have a recollection to add, do that, too!
I like the idea of writing about and remembering Warren and Nelson Kerns, two unknown young men who lived real lives a long time ago.
At right is a photo of two tags that would have been attached to projects entered in competition at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. These projects belonged to Nelson Kerns, my grandmother’s little brother, who was killed in an airplane accident when he was fifteen on July 24, 1930. His brother, Warren, 16, also died in the crash. Read here to learn more.
I’ve written a few posts about the brothers. Those posts included letters written about a month before their deaths to their mother, Caroline (Phillips) Kerns, who was visiting her parents in California at the time of the accident. Here are those posts: click here, here, here, and finally, here.
However, instead of dwelling solely on the boys’ deaths, it seems more productive to commemorate their short lives by posting about their activities beyond farm work.
And that’s why I’ve included the state fair entry tags. The top tag in the photo, I believe, accompanied a model or diorama of a working farm. The bottom tag accompanied some type of toy that Nelson built.
I don’t know whether these projects won any prizes. I’ve searched newspapers.com for a list of winning entries at the 1929 fair, but so far have been unable to find any information or even whether a list was published. It’s my guess that most records from that long ago have been lost or were never published in the first place. However, I did find listings for winning sewing items and livestock in an August 1930 issue, so I’ll have to make a call to the state fair office to find out for sure.
Below is another keepsake, some handwritten notes for the design of a biplane. Both brothers possessed a keen interest in flying. I have five more note sheets like this one, but this is the only one that’s signed. The brothers may have planned on building one of these airplanes since they were known to design projects together.
I don’t know anything about flying other than how to book a ticket online and I’m not even very good at that, but flying was apparently a fascinating subject for the brothers, and they weren’t the only ones with this affinity.
The author writes, “A typical barnstormer (or a group of barnstormers) would travel across to a village, borrow a field from a farmer for the day and advertise their presence in the town by flying several low passes over it – roaring over the main street at full throttle. The appearance of the barnstormers was akin to a national holiday. Entire towns were shut down and people would flock to the fields purchasing tickets for the show and plane rides. Locals, most of them never having seen planes before, would be thrilled by the experience.”
On that late summer day in 1930, it was likely a similar scene at the boys’ hometown of Hume, Mo., which was celebrating the anniversary of its founding fifty years earlier. The accident was an abrupt end to what had been a celebratory day.
News of the accident traveled fast and far. Many local and area newspapers covered the accident and the funeral services for the boys. Here are some of those: Jefferson City, Springfield, and Chillicothe in Missouri, and Iola, Kansas. Two of the headlines read “Accident Mars Celebration of State Town’s 50th Anniversary” and “Crash Mars Festivities – Two Home Town Boys Die on Hume, Mo. Fiftieth Anniversary.”
The news traveled much further, however, thanks to The Associated Press, which distributed the story and caused it to be picked up in Lincoln, Neb.; Miami, Okla.; Corsicana and Denton, Tex.; and Ogden, Utah. Even the Los Angeles Times ran a short paragraph about the crash on page one of the July 27, 1930 issue; however, it doesn’t mention the brothers’ names, but instead only the pilot’s. Here is the clip from the July 26, 1930 Ogden Standard-Examiner:
Most of the other newspaper clips about the accident and funeral services are much more detailed, and the longest clips from the closest surrounding towns are very, very sad. I may post those, but I’m not sure. I prefer to focus instead on the lives of Warren and Nelson, to envision the boys as they lived.
I will, however, post the last three paragraphs from one longer newspaper story headlined “Many Attend Funeral of the Kerns Brothers.” This clip reveals how much the boys were admired locally. Here it is:
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Here’s another letter I’ve transcribed from my grandmother’s brother, Warren Kerns. Warren was killed in an airplane accident with his brother, Nelson, 15, on July 24, 1930, one week after this letter was written. You can read about the accident here.
He wrote this letter to his mother, Caroline (called Callie) who was visiting her parents in California at the time. Some of the handwriting is indecipherable and there are some errors but I left them there because I wanted to transcribe them exactly. To read the other letters I’ve posted, click here,here, and here.
The Charlie that Warren mentions in the letter was the husband of his older sister Rhoda, who was my maternal grandmother. The Nevada is a town about twenty miles away in Missouri.
This is the last of the surviving letters from the boys to their mother. These handwritten letters are priceless to me. I think about how their hands passed over these pages and how the letters show their thoughts, activities… the things they wanted their mother to know. In the picture below, I wonder what Warren had first written but then erased beneath the words “Write soon.”
July 17, 1930
How are you? I am fine. It sure has been hot here the last two weeks. I am home now. I came last Friday to help with the hay. We got through the day before yesterday. I helped Charlie thrash last week. It sure was hot. Nearly all of the corn is laid by. Everything needs a rain. The early corn will not stand it much longer. The grass is almost dried up. I suppose things are much different where you are. How is Grandma.
I had a good time the forth. We went to Nevada in the after noon. I was in the lake about four hours. We got home after midnight. I know you had a good time. This is about all I have to say. Write soon.
I have a number of items from the two brothers that I will continue to share. Follow my blog to see old grade cards, Sunday school reports, Valentines, monoplane and biplane mechanical drawings, 4H awards, and more. Click like if you enjoyed this post and would like to recommend it.
Also feel free to comment about any of your own family history, artifacts or ephemera. Thanks for reading.
Once again, I’ve transcribed a letter from my grandmother’s brother, Nelson Kerns, 15, who is pictured below. Nelson was killed in an airplane accident with his brother, Warren, 16, on July 24, 1930. You can read about the accident here.
He wrote this letter to his mother, Caroline (called Callie) who was visiting her parents in California at the time. Some of the handwriting is indecipherable and there are some errors in spelling and possibly with regard to the temperature. I think it’s safe to say it was very hot during the last month of their lives.
I transcribed the letters as best I could, letting the errors exist since they do reveal a little about Nelson’s life, personality, and the value of chickens, eggs, and cream.
July 9, 1930
I have been so busy I have hardly had time to write. How is Grandma getting along? We are almost worked to death. All of our corn is laid by but that over south. We celebrated at Radio Springs the 4th. We are hayingnow. Breakfast is ready now. Katherine Alexander got the school. Did you celebrate the 4th? Rhoda and Charlie did. Warren hasn’t worked one day at home since school is out. He is working for Charlie. I am going to wash clothes while Papa mows hay. The weather is very hot it was 108 above zero one day. I stayed in the lake about 4 hrs. and got a good sunburning. Well, I must go to work. Write soon.
Cream 25 cents
Eggs 14 cents
Chickens 17 cents
We sold 90 chix and recieved ($22.00)
I have a number of items from the two brothers that I will continue to share. Follow my blog to see old grade cards, Sunday school reports, Valentines, monoplane and biplane mechanical drawings, 4H awards, and more. If you found this post enlightening about rural Missouri life in 1930, click the “Like” button and feel free to share. Here’s a photo of Nelson’s letter:
I guess you could say I’m fascinated. It’s fun to learn about your distant ancestors. Then you learn that two of them died in their teens in an airplane accident. Recognizing the pain that their family and community felt upon their passing somehow honors their short lives and deaths and makes me better appreciate life and my ancestral heritage.
Below, I’ve transcribed a letter from my grandmother’s brother, Nelson Kerns, 15, who was killed in an airplane accident with his brother Warren, 16, on July 24, 1930. You can read about the accident here.
He wrote this letter to his mother, Caroline (called Callie) who was visiting her parents in California at the time. Some of the handwriting is indecipherable. I just transcribed the letters as best I could, leaving out editing marks to avoid distraction. For example, I’m sure that “hoes” isn’t the correct word in the second line, but I can’t figure out what word it should be.I never knew these two uncles, obviously, since they died so young.
My grandmother never talked about them either probably because their tragic lives would have been too painful to recall. She would have been newly married and no longer living at home, which would explain why Nelson doesn’t mention her in the letter. Her husband, Charlie, is mentioned, however.
Nelson’s letter to his mother (and others I have) included details about farming, school and church activities, local scandals, and a dog that really sucked.
June 24, 1930
I have been so busy that I haven’t had time to write. I have had all of the corn plowing to do while Papa works around home and hoes the truck. How are you getting along out there? How is Grandma? Warren hasn’t worked home a day since school was out. Our corn sure is fine, almost ready to lay by. We are laying by the corn by the potato patch. Our truck and garden is fine, more vegetables than we can eat. It has been awfully hot and still hot. We had a rain yesterday evening. It is noon now and Papa is up at Mr. Wallace’s getting a team to plow with and pay him back by plowing. The chickens sure are fine. Some almost ready to sell. I didn’t play the harp at the commencement exercise. We had it with Metz. I was second. Charlie has botten Warren a new suit. Papa has bought a complete new outfit of Sunday clothes. Old Spot got so bad sucking eggs that we carried him off. We took him up to Trout’s old house, up by Maler’s. We took him three weeks ago Saturday nite, and he came back Saturday morning. It took him three weeks to come home. He sucked six eggs one day. And found a nest of 12 and sucked all of them. Maybe you heard about the Leuty boys, Frank, Jim and Edgar. All three got in jail over stealing. Serving two years. Edgar and Jim broke in Horton’s store and got a shotgun and a lot of ammunition. And Frank helped steal meat from John Corribon.
Well, I must close:
I have more Warren and Nelson Kerns ephemera (report cards, Sunday School records, drawings, etc.) that I will be posting soon. Here is Nelson’s handwritten letter:
Below, I’ve transcribed a letter from my grandmother’s brother, Warren Kerns, 17, who was killed in an airplane accident with his brother Nelson, 15, on July 24, 1930. You can read about the accident here. He wrote this letter to his mother, Caroline (called Callie) who was visiting her parents in California at the time. Some of the handwriting is indecipherable. I just transcribed the letters as best I could, leaving out editing marks to avoid distraction. For example, I’m not sure that the first word in the last sentence is “Play.”
It’s eye-opening to read how life was so vastly different back then in southwest Missouri. My ancestors worked hard. Their days were consumed with difficult, laborious, time-consuming, hot, sweaty work. This will be even more evident in other letters I have and will eventually post. True, we work hard today, but with much less exertion. My ancestors also enjoyed relief from their work-filled days in the simple joys of ice cream and socializing.
June 10, 1930
How are you getting along. We are all getting along fine. Charlie and I have been plowing corn most of the time since school was out. I sure was glad when the last day of school came. It rained today and is rather cool now. I s’pose it is nice and warm where you are. We went to two children’s day exercises Sunday. We went down home Sunday and had all the ice cream we could eat. You don’t know what your missing. I have to wear an overcoat to plow corn in. Where are going to spend the forth of July. It is not very far away. I don’t know where we will go. Most any place rather than in the corn field. Things sure are cheap here. Eggs are $.16 and cream $.25 in Hume. I am going to a community sale tomorrow, which they are starting in Hume. It is now nine o’clock about my bedtime (sometimes). Well, this is all I can think of to tell you. Answer my letter soon and send me a good measure of California summer. Play like you are receiving kisses through this letter also.
The valentines in this picture will probably lead you the wrong way. They make this picture look colorful, nostalgic, and cheerful. If you study the other documents in the picture, you will see a tragedy emerge. And it’s one that is very difficult for me to think or write about.
Here it is: when my grandmother (who passed in 1998) was 21, her two younger brothers, ages 17 and 15, took an airplane ride at a 50-year celebration of the founding of Hume, Missouri. Apparently, the pilot underestimated the length of the field when it came time to land and to avoid a fence, he ascended, planning to give it another go. On the ascend, the plane stalled, nosedived, and crashed. All three on board eventually died. One boy died on the way to the hospital 25 miles away, the other died later that night, and the pilot died three days later. The crash occurred on July 24, 1930.
My grandmother never spoke of this. I only learned about it and of her brothers, Warren and Nelson Kerns, when I happened to discover a photo.
The boys’ mother, at the time of the accident, was visiting her parents in Santee, California. She returned by train, alone, to her husband and daughter (my grandmother) to bury her sons.
The tragedy shocked and devastated the tiny community of Hume. One newspaper reported that approximately 1,000 people attended the funeral service.
My mother assembled a large envelope of documents for me about the boys and their untimely deaths: newspaper clippings, photos, school grade cards, handwritten letters, valentines. One brittle envelope contains locks of hair I presume were gathered from the boys before burial.
Warren and Nelson were fascinated with aviation, which may have seemed like a fantastical vocation to two boys who worked hard, long hours on the family farm. I also found in that envelope some airplane diagrams drawn in pencil. They obviously possessed a propensity for mechanical thinking and creativity.
I have thought about my grandmother’s brothers many times over the past several years. I feel compelled to somehow honor, or at least recognize, their lives and deaths and the unspeakable pain that my grandmother, great-grandparents, and other family members endured. I don’t know what I will write or create.
The story will be difficult to tell properly because I know I have a tendency to dwell on sentiment and sentiment can be boring, predictable, manipulative. I want, instead, to write something that will honor the coping, the perseverance, and pragmatism of these people from whom I have descended. I want to write something we can learn from.
This was written in a letter that the boys’ mother received from her own mother two months after the deaths: “I have been so worried over it all I have not been fit to think right or do anything. One must try hard to turn our thoughts on other things. There is plenty to do and we must surely go forward and do our part. The dear boys are safe and happy and free from all the trials of this world and soon we too may be over there with them. Life is short — at the longest — and there is much to do and we can be happy in doing if we will.”
I should have asked my grandparents more questions when I was younger. Now it’s too late to ask them, and there are some things I will never know. And I’m not only referring to “big issues” like politics, careers, or religious beliefs. I’m also referring to the smallest of details. Small details that may, in the end, not matter one whit, but still leave me wondering, reminding me that I should have asked my grandparents more questions.
My father’s mother, Edith Douglas, was known in our family as Granny. It always seemed a less appealing name for a grandmother, but we called her that anyway because she wanted us to. My father’s mother was elegantly tall and thin-shouldered. She wore snug gray curls and had a tan complexion from time spent out of doors. She always wore cotton housedresses as most women did then. Her silver-rimmed eyeglasses with ornamental corners and temple pieces framed her light blue eyes. When she was lost in thought or just working in the kitchen, she could look stern, but she wasn’t. Her broad, friendly smile flashed often and revealed an easy-going yet industrious personality. I had known her to butcher chickens and feed kittens buttermilk from the carton all within the passing of ten minutes’ time.
I never asked her about the one thing I noticed every time I was near her: the nail on one of her index fingers had a crease, a break, down the center. I always wondered what caused the crease. I’m sure she would have told me had I asked. It appeared to have been caused by a painful experience. But then again, perhaps not. Maybe it had always been there. Maybe it had just grown that way. I remember that nail simply because I never asked about it, and I still wonder.