Two poems from the new edition of BJ Omanson’s “Stark County Poems” published in “Illinois Heritage”

IllinoisHeritage_2poemsTwo of the new poems from the new enlarged edition of
BJ Omanson’s Stark County Poems“Proverb of the Three Hotels” and “The Boy Who Climbed a Tree”  (both about Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 visit to Toulon, in Stark County, Illinois)– appear in the current issue of Illinois Heritage: a Publication of the Illinois State Historical Society.

Both poems can be read on BJ Omanson’s poetry blog, A Bivouac on the Slope of Parnassus.

New enlarged edition of ‘Stark County Poems’ released


Consisting of over fifty poems, from short lyrics in a variety of forms to lengthy blank verse and free verse narratives, “Stark County Poems” portrays the history of a small rural county in central Illinois, along the upper Spoon River valley.

Chronologically arranged, and incorporating letters, newspaper articles, obituaries, family stories, early county histories and diaries, the poems cover a century of the county’s history, from the 1830s through the 1930s.

Map, illustrations. 59 poems. 225 pages.

BJ Omanson was raised in the Spoon River valley of Stark County, Illinois, where both sides of his family have lived and farmed since the mid-19th century.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


In the autumn of 1893,
      Alpheus Wheeler Appenheimer
and his wife Olive arrived in Stark County,
      Illinois, after having traveled
from their earlier Illinois home in Pike County
      by way of Leoti, Kansas.

They arrived in a covered wagon drawn
      by a pair of worn-out mules conveying
a girl and two boys, implements, blankets,
      a plow and scythe and a chest of clothes,
tinware pots, some kerosene lamps
      and a Mason jar of seeds interred

in early May and exhumed in August,
      still unsprouted— it’d been that dry.
They almost starved on their journey back.
      In Missouri they stopped at a lonely farm
and asked at the house if they might pick a few
      ears of corn to boil for supper.

Go ahead, help yourselves, the woman barked.
      No one else even bothers to ask.
It was hog cholera that had wiped them out
      and sent them westward to make a new start,
and it was drought and the ’93 Panic
      that wiped them out for the second time

and sent them back east to begin again.
      They’d gotten their fill of living in sod—
dirt in your soup and dirt in your bed.
      Their youngest son was born on a night
in January that covered the state
      in three feet of snow as the mercury plunged

to twenty below. He was kept from freezing
      by his mother’s warmth and a crackling stove
that was fed from a pile of unshucked corn.
      At three cents a bushel it made more sense
to burn it than sell it and, anyhow,
      the buffalo chips were long since gone.

In later years, when anyone asked,
      old Alpheus never had much to tell
about losing two farms in two different states.
      In an unguarded moment he said aloud,
You can pray to God. You can vote for Bryan.
      In the end it don’t matter a hill of beans.

In the words of the soldiers themselves

85thCover1_Vol1As much as possible, I wanted the men of the 85th Pennsylvania to tell their story in their own words. For this reason, this book includes quotations from 50 men in the regiment. As the war progressed, men from the regiment were killed or went home, reducing their overall size as well as the number of potential sources. (This was especially true in the cases of Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Purviance and Private Robert Roddy, newspapermen in the 85th Pennsylvania who wrote detailed accounts for readers back home during the first two years of the war). I therefore turned to accounts written by men from their brigade or division. I also quote from Confederate soldiers, the Official Records, and period newspapers. The stories of the men in regiments with whom the fought and the stories of the men they fought against help to tell the story of the 85th Pennsylvania.

The quotations included by the author are often paragraph size or larger. Using large blocks of quotations is normally not recommended in writing history. Despite recommendations to use shorter quotations, I have chosen to quote the men in more substantial segments because I believe it adds context to their experiences. Furthermore, I like the way the soldiers of that era expressed themselves with the written word.

This narrative tries to follow the soldiers’ stories as they lived and tried to survive the war. For example, many men recorded their thoughts about Confederate land mines left in the road as they retreated from Williamsburg, Virginia in 1862. Not many men were wounded by these “torpedoes,” including none in the 85th Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, the author included a half dozen or more stories of the soldier’s reactions to these “infernal machines” to supply the reader varying perspectives from the men as they trudged up the Virginia peninsula. The author often has included multiple accounts of the same event, such as how Fort Wagner (South Carolina) was booby-trapped by Confederates just before their departure in September of 1863.

In each chapter concerning a battle or campaign, the author will provide an overview of the event, and then go back and tell the story using the words of the participants.

Although the 85th Pennsylvania was not involved in turning points events such as Antietam, Fredericksburg, or Vicksburg, they nonetheless had many fascinating experiences. Some of them helped Professor Thaddeus Lowe launch his celebrated observation balloon in 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign. Others in the regiment were cared for by Clara Barton, the war’s most famous nurse. They were also stationed with African American troops in Charleston and were in reserve for the famed assault on Fort Wagner in 1863 led by the 54th Massachusetts. They experienced trench warfare at both Charleston and around Petersburg. Some, including, Stephen Clendaniel, were involved in a large exchange of prisoners in 1864. And finally, some others including John Clendaniel were in the front lines for the surrender of Lee’s army on April 9, 1965 at Appomattox.

This book is meant as a tribute to John Clendaniel, Stephen Clendaniel, and the rest of that group of a thousand or so western Pennsylvania farm boys who served their nation and their cause with determination and honor.

Dan Clendaniel


For more information about the 85th Pennsylvania, visit Dan’s blog, The 85th Pennsylvania in the Civil War.

Ancestral families

Where_Once_They_StoodExcerpted from Where Once They Stood: The Colonial and Early Republic Ancestors of Alpheus Appenheimer and America Swango:

“The tracing of a modern person’s lineage back through the centuries to a single remote ancestor in a vanished time and place, is the essence of genealogy.  However painstaking the research, with continual cross-checking and cross-referencing—however thorough and dispassionate the examination of evidence from multiple sources, however ingenious the triangulation of disparate data, and however rational the reliance on DNA testing for verification—the pursuit of a genetic lineage is an endeavor not untinged by the stain of romanticism. Though they might disavow it emphatically and cling to the respectable trappings of the dedicated scholar, there lurks in the shadowy recesses of every genealogist’s soul a secret Galahad, a quester after the Grail, a seeker after a direct link to some storied, half-mythic ancestor who has captivated the imagination, whether prince, or knight, or notorious outlaw.

The emphasis, in other words, is all on the individual—on direct links to particular ancestors—on traceable lineages—on great grandfathers and great grandmothers, as opposed to great uncles, great aunts, or first cousins several times removed.  This emphasis on direct lineages is mirrored in the history and legal system of every nation, and one can hardly gainsay its importance, but it is nevertheless a distortion of a core human reality: that the most basic unit in human society is not the individual but the family.

If this assertion seems less obvious now than in earlier eras, it is only because so much of human culture—through forces originally set into motion by humankind, but now utterly beyond its control—is currently in the process of disintegration. The typical American family in our time is both fractured and fractious, a mere stump of the great spreading tree that it was in its prime.

We speak reverentially of American individualism as a central national tenet, embodied in the figures of the 18th century longhunter or 19th century mountainman, the lone restless wanderer with his powderhorn and longrifle, self-reliant, living off the land, who has broken finally and utterly with the feudal European system of master and vassal: the quintessence of the free and independent man.

And while such individuals did exist—perhaps in greater numbers on the Appalachian frontier than in any other place before or since—their role in the arduous transformation over decades of the wilderness into established settlements was peripheral at most. That prodigious under-taking, for good or ill, and the brutal struggle it entailed against the Shawnee, Cherokee and other indigenous tribes, was the work not of intrepid individuals but of grittily determined pioneer families whose other options—very often—had all but run out.

Not only was it families who turned the tomahawk claims into backwoods farmsteads, who hewed out the first wagon roads and laid out the earliest frontier towns—it was also families (not generals or governors or governments, but families) who, in many instances, raised the militias, built the forts, and patrolled the forests. Consider those self-reliant families in the Watauga valley on the far side of the Alleghenies: cut off from any hope of support against the Cherokee from the governments of either North Carolina or Virginia, they declared their independence, established their own government and petitioned Williamsburg for recognition.

Dependent on no one but themselves for sustenance from the wilderness and protection against the tribes, families on the frontier naturally turned to neighboring families for support. They joined forces against the dangers that threatened them from all sides, and, before long, sealed their bonds by marriage, until families in a given region became, in effect, one great extended family.

For us now, trying to comprehend the lives of our colonial ancestors, it is not enough simply to trace the lineages of direct forebears. They did not exist as isolated individuals, but as members of extended families and close-knit communities who, for generations, had depended on one another for survival.

For this reason, in presenting the story of Alpheus and America Appenheimer’s frontier ancestors, I have included not only fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, but brothers, sisters, cousins and even in-laws as well—for they too were family.  On the frontier, especially, families were closely bound. They emigrated into the wilderness together, endured hardships together, suffered Indian attacks and abductions together, and went to war together. Calamities were family affairs.”

BJ Omanson

A Young Girl’s Diary during the Great Depression: Life on an Illinois Farm

AYoungGirlintheGreatDepression_coverExcerpted from the Preface of A Young Girl in the Great Depression:

“What is especially notable about this diary, written by one so young, is how outwardly directed and objective it is.  While her own activities are recorded, they receive little more attention than those of her siblings and parents, with nearly equal additional attention given to the activities of a host of relatives and neighbors. The result is an account of an extended family, and its surrounding community, which is unusually comprehensive.

On the one hand, because she is constrained by the small amount of space is allotted for each day, her entries never exceed more than a modest paragraph. She has to pack in the information, and avoid digressions of any sort. She has to stay focused on particular facts and events and, because the life around her is so rich in the number of small events which she is determined to record, she has no space to spare for description. What matters above all is what people do.

            To an historian, this is pure gold. A major obstacle in understanding rural life in earlier periods, is the lack of sources which portray what people actually did, and how they interacted, on a day-to-day basis: all the little ordinary activities and events which no one thought important enough to record. But it is exactly such details as these which historians require if they are to reconstruct rural life accurately.

Farmers and their families are not natural diarists.  They are simply too busy, and too tired at the end of the day, to keep a faithful record of everything that happens and of what everyone does. Adolescents, on the other hand, have more time, and are probably more inclined to keep diaries, but they almost invariably write about themselves to the exclusion of everything else. Such diaries rarely possess any historical value.

Adolescents are naturally self-centered, and I do not mean this as criticism. Both their outward and inward lives are changing so rapidly that they can barely keep track of the daily stresses, traumas and transformations. The diary of a typical thirteen-year-old is almost entirely subjective. Everything that happens is taken personally. It is simply in the nature of being an adolescent. Their world is changing by the day, and it is a full-time job just to keep track of one’s inner turmoil. There is no time left over to follow everyone else’s activities.

Yet in Betty’s diary the degree of self-centeredness is almost nil. She is more interested in what happen to others than in what happens to herself. She possesses a natural empathy which keeps her outwardly focused. She is pleased when others do well, and sympathetic when they suffer. She writes about those around her in a plain, straightforward manner with no hint of fault-finding. She gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. And as hard as her life obviously is at times, it never occurs to her to complain.

As history, the most valuable documents of rural life are often business records kept by the farmers themselves. Regarding Al Appenheimer’s farm, we are fortunate to possess highly detailed records of the farm’s operation which cover every year from the late 1920s to the early 1970s. But for all their historical significance, such records tell us very little of what individual family members actually did on a day-to-day basis.

Another primary source for understanding the daily life of rural families are letters, but letter writers almost always concentrate on important events such as weddings, births, illnesses and deaths.  What they omit, not surprisingly, are the small occurrences and activities which comprise an ordinary working day. Letters are relatively infrequent, so that events tend to be summarized, and condensed.  They convey little of the daily rhythm of rural life.

It is this aspect of Betty Appenheimer’s diary—the faithful recording of all the little things that she and her family and neighbors do, day in and day out, through three years of changing seasons—which makes her diary such an historical treasure trove.”

BJ Omanson

Haunting old bookstores and how I discovered a lost classic of WWI literature


From Before the Clangor of the Gun:

“Of the countless times I have drawn a dusty old  book from a dim shelf in a used-bookstore during the past forty years or so, only once can I claim to have discovered an unknown classic of American literature. Not that I recognized it as such at the time. Not even now, on the eve of its re-publication by a university press, can its status as a lost classic be said to be a matter of general perception. But— I rush ahead of myself.  Let me begin at the beginning.

Ten minutes walking distance from our house in Morgantown, West Virginia, in the early 1990s, stood a two-story used-bookstore of the old style: several thousand worthy, out-of-print titles of history, literature, science, travel, art, music and the like, in a 19th-century brick storefront at the periphery of the old downtown, along a high embankment over-looking Decker’s Creek. There were no romances on its shelves, no self-help books, no celebrity autobiographies, no junk. Very few paperbacks. No helpful salespeople or progressive muzak to endure, no Starbucks, free wifi, best-seller displays or any other such irritating “amenities.’  It was still in that golden, Arcadian, pre-digital age, with well-worn overstuffed chairs in out-of-way corners, a foot-stool and ladder for the high shelves and a dozing cat on the window-seat. A few dozen bins of paper ephemera, and shallow drawers of old prints and maps. If you wished to come in for two or three hours of undisturbed browsing, not a single soul would say a word to you. Or if you were in the mood for some wayward, discursive, off-beat conversation about books or any other subject under the sun, the old gent behind the counter was generally good for it— at least until the dawn of the computer age when every bookseller in the country was abruptly faced with the necessity of putting his entire stock online. As soon as that happened, the conversation dried up. The colorful old codger behind the desk was reduced to a sullen automaton jabbing a keyboard and endlessly cursing. Once computers arrived, like an alien invasion, the old havens of dust and suspended time, of relaxed and literate conversation, were facing the sunset.

I describe all this because it was the setting for my discovery. By the early 1990s I had been reading the poets of the First World War seriously for a quarter of a century— poetry, biographies and criticism—and had a personal library of over a hundred volumes just about the poetry of the war. It was part of a much larger library which filled my office (dubbed “the Dugout” by my wife) in which every square inch of wall space from floor to ceiling, and even covering the windows, was hung with equipment from the war: helmets, gas masks, cartridge belts, canteens, and even a Model 1917 McClellan saddle, as well as rusted barbed wire, rifle barrels, shell casings, bayonets, forks, tin cups and other relics dug from French woodlands and fields. But most of all the walls were covered with books on nearly every aspect of the war: Western Front, Eastern Front, Homefront, Mesopotamia, the Balkans, Africa and Italy— books on the ground war, sea war and air war. There were books on movements against the war, and on John Reed and the Russian Revolution. But it was the literature and art of the First World War which fascinated me most of all, especially the poetry.

So I remember very well the afternoon that I pulled a certain thin volume off a high shelf in Wolf’s Head Books. I had been over their WWI section more times than I could count and had looked into each book in that section with some care. Every WWI title that came into my hands was a title I considered buying and, never having sufficient funds for all the books I needed, I took my time looking each one over as a prospective purchase. I knew, or thought I knew, every title in that section. I was doing research for a book about my grandfather’s unit in France in 1918, and was especially eager to add more American titles to my working library. But beyond that particular project, I was still intently focused on the poetry of the war, and on that day I found an American poet of WWI that I had never even heard of.


          It was a thin black book with faded spine and lettering worn off, which is probably why I had passed over it until then. (picture to left shows copy with dust jacket).  From the moment I opened it, I was intrigued. I had never heard of John Allan Wyeth, or his book, This Man’s Army, but that in itself was not too unusual. I had turned up dozens of nondescript volumes of American war poems, published in small runs by obscure publishers, and even more often self-published. It was a time in history when poetry was enormously popular, and when amateur poets from all classes and backgrounds were as numerous as leaves in a forest. The number of books of war poems published during and immediately after the war was immense, and I had never failed to discover one or two new ones with each passing year. So holding another such book in my hands was not especially noteworthy. But my first skim through the book told me I had found something unusual. For one thing, it was a sizeable collection of individual poems, and they were all located in France, during the war, with place-names for titles and in chronological order. No other book of war poetry I could think of employed such a systematic and documentary arrangement. It was laid out like a soldier’s diary. I scanned the list of French towns and place-names, and as soon as I saw Chipilly Ridge I guessed that the poet had been with the American 33rd Division. Later investigation would bear this out.

What caught my attention most of all was that the entire book was a single sonnet sequence. I had been interested in sonnet sequences for a number of years, as it happened, and had only recently completed a sequence of fourteen sonnets describing my grandfather’s experiences at Belleau Wood. Wyeth’s sequence, however, was over fifty sonnets long and, reading through just a few of them at random, indicated that not only were they highly skilled, but unusually innovative as well. What was most exciting was that they were written, not in an elevated, formal tone, but in a cool, concise, dispassionate voice, spiced with slangy soldiers’ dialogue, French villagers’ patois, and filled with as many small particulars of life at the front as any of the finest soldier-diaries I had read.”

BJ Omanson

Some excerpts from Betty Appenheimer’s Depression-era Diary



Jan 30, 1934, Tue
Everyone was at school today except Kathryn Warren. They think her appendix will have to be taken out. This is President Roosevelt’s birthday. It is so cold that a jar of jam broke in John’s cellar and he had to build a fire. It was 10 below zero. Dean got some new high-tops. He makes plenty of noise when he walks.

Jan 31, 1934, Wed
Mother came home about twelve this morning. Grandpa is getting along fine. She has my party dress made. It is real pretty. Daddy got ten different kinds of breakfast food. Eight cards to paint came with some. We are going to make Valentines out of them. Kathryn went over to Noras. Florine had a temperature a hundred and two. Glenna and Yvonne have colds too. Thursday and Friday is teachers institute so we don’t have to go to school.


February 1, 1934, Thur
Mother took some baked beans and doughnuts up to Robinson’s. (Robson’s) We went in and saw her. She looks natural. We are going to have a recital tomorrow so Dorothy and Betty went up to reherse. We have Maytime, two piano pease, and I have the morning prayer. Mother washed. We got an order. Dorothy got a brazear and Kathryn got her shoes. They fit this time.

February 2, 1934, Fri
It was such a splendid [thing] that everyone was able to come to the recital. Neither Dorothy nor I made a mistake. I went over to Nora’s. Florine is better but she isn’t up yet and Nora’s neck is stiff. Glenna has a cold and had to go to bed. Juanita knocked the clock off the table and broke the glass, but we got it fixed before Daddy saw it. The groundhogs were able to see their shadow today.


February 3, 1934, Sat
Mrs. Robinson (Robson) had some relatives in California so they didn’t have the funeral until today. All the seats in the balcony was filled. Juanita’s class was going to have a party but it was postponed on account of the funeral. I went with Mother to the Leader’s meeting but we didn’t get to stay to the social hour. Yvonne and Dorothy are both sick. Being as Dorothy was sick I got to go to McRells in her turn. We all had a good time and decided to go to Streeds next Saturday night.

February 4, 1934, Sun
Glenna Mae got up this morning. Mother took us to Sunday School. Dorothy wasn’t able to go over to Ednas so Juanita and I were the only ones. Anna Mae and John were there too. We had ice-cream and chicken for our dinner. We played andy over, hide-go-seek, poison, and farmer and the cows. Anna Mae and John gave Edna a pin, Bob a handkerchief and Mother is making a dress for her. Betty June stayed all night with us.


February 5, 1934, Mon
Daddy went on a business trip with Seidrick so Edie (Ericson) and her baby are visiting us for the day. Nora let Floyd come over to see the baby and he wouldn’t go home when he was supposed to so Nora had to come after him. In the contest of washing out teeth last week the boys had eight points against them and the girls had none. The punishment is that they half to sweep the floor every noon and bring in the water pail and cobs. Edna is going to stay all night.

February 6, 1934, Tue
When Bobbie went home he was feeling sick. In our exercises we learned how to play the snake dance. Dean brought a big hat box to school to put our valentines in. Juanita and Kathryn Warren are decorating it. They covered it with yellow crepe paper. Then they pasted blue birds with red hearts in their bills on it. It is very pretty.

February 7, 1934, Wed
Daddy went to town this morning and didn’t get back until night. We had our supper over and the dishes done by six o’clock. Betty June and Bobbie were both absent with a cold. We had a lot of fun playing ball today because there was just one fielder. Glenna has been working on her letters and especially “f ”.

February 8, 1934, Thur
Daddy went to Chicago with a load of sheep. He went in a truck; unless he comes home tonight he will have to buy his ticket home. Kathryn is sick with a cold and had to go to bed. Mother and Nora washed. Juanita’s class are hunting bird’s nests to take to school. Juanita has found robin, barn swallow, brown thrush and sparrow nests. Daddy found a ground sparrows nest.

February 9, 1934, Fri
Mother got her ironing done. She finished a blue blouse for Juanita. We had blackberry pudding for supper. Clay is popping some popcorn. We had a card from Auntie Kae. She is sending us some valentines to take to school. It is 10 below zero. We got two and a half pages done on our note books.

February 10, 1934, Sat
Mother, Dorothy, and Nora went to Kewanee to get Daddy. Every one was surprised to see that Grandma came with him. Edna and Bobbie came to stay all nite. Mother mixed some waffles all but putting the egg whites in so all I had to do for dinner was to bake them. We didn’t take our music. A bunch of us surprised Streeds by dropping in for the evening. It was two when they got home.

February 11, 1934, Sun
Dorothy and I were planning on walking to church but we rode up with McRells. Daddy, mother and Nora went to Peoria to bring Grandpa home. He is doing fine. Edna and Bobbie went home about three o’clock. Yesterday Mother took Dorothy and my shoes to Kewanee because she could get them fixed free. She forgot to bring them home.

February 12, 1934, Mon
Dorothy got a letter from Auntie Clae. She said for us to write and tell her what to get for our graduation present just so it didn’t cost over fifty dollars. Florine has a big knot behind her ear. The doctor said if she wasn’t careful it might develop into massetoide. Grandma brought our slips that Auntie Mae had made for Dorothy and me. They were all right except they were two long.

February 13, 1934, Tues
Edna brought over a green jumper that she had outgrown. I tried it on and it fits me. We got the valentines from Auntie Kae. They sure are cute. I took about six pictures. Nora bought two dresses for Florine and she insisted that Nora buy Yvonne one. So she bought her a little green dress. Bobbie came over the stay all night. Grandma cut his hair. Mother was on the Legion comittee so she had to go to town tonite.

February 14, 1934, Wed
We called school early and just had one recess so we could have a little party in the afternoon. Glenna, Jimmy, Yvonne and grandma came about two o’clock. The little boys squat on the floor in a line. I got at one end and started to tell a story then I gave them a push and they all fell flat on the floor. We had a peanut scrabble and passed the valentines out at four. Mrs. Fritz gave us all a candy bar. Zella sent Dorothy and I a valentine.


February 15, 1934, Thur
Clay is seven years old today. He got two handkerchiefs. Mother is going to have a dinner for him Saturday. Mother, Daddy and Nora went to a sale. Mother bought seven cake pans, six salt and pepper shakers, a nice glass dish and some other junk. Grandma stayed with the kids. She is mending everything she can find. I had a boil on my leg; it broke last night. Nora gave me a pretty bow to wear on a dress or blouse. Glenna stayed at school all day.

FarmRecordBook1934Feb 16, 1934, Fri
When we woke up there was snow two inches deep. It kept snowing until noon. Dorothy nor I could find our hats so we had to wear a scarf around our heads. We had a lot of fun playing fox and geese. Mother dressed two chickens. She bought some gum drops and fixed them like mice, using rubber bands for tails and whiskers. A man came to check daddys farm account books.

February 17, 1934, Satlayinghen
Nora’s dog has three puppies. They are all marked just like there mother. The snow is melting very fast but the kids are yet riding on their sleds. Clay and Glenna cleaned out the chicken house. Daddy took Dorothy and I up to take our music lesson. Carl Dean, Charles, Betty June, Bob and Edna came over for dinner. They were throwing snowballs when Charles and Bob got angry. It ended that they all went home.

February 18, 1934, Sun
The snow was almost melted yesterday, but this morning it was snowing and blowing. About eleven thirty Dorothy and I got bundled up and threw snow balls at each other. We couldn’t go to Sunday School so Dorothy and I got to read all day. We had a good rest. Grandma went home with Nora. I made some butterscotch. I put it on a good platter. When Clay was getting some he broke the platter.

February 19, 1934, Mon
Auntie Mae said she would do all the sewing Mother would send her so Mother sent her eight aprons and two blouses. Granma is going to take them when she goes back. The mailman left the mail at school because he couldn’t get to our mailbox in the car. Grandma came over to school about three thirty. Daddy patched Glenna’s rubber ball with some ( ? ) rubber.

February 20, 1934, Tues
Tonight Daddy went to dig in the legion cellar. Mother and Grandma went to see Mrs. Streed. Dorothy, Juanita and Kathryn slid on the ice on the creek after they got their chores done. Mother, Daddy and Nora went to another sale. Nora bought another bed, dresser and some bedclothes. Mother bought a big box for a quarter that had some old clothes in it. Mother hung them on the line for three or four days to get rid of any germs.


February 21, 1934, Wed
Daddy went to a sale and bought another old sled for a quarter. It goes faster than the others but one of the guides is broken. We fastened two sleds together. Sometimes it would go over the bank. We are trying to teach Silver to pull the sled up the hill. I took Yvonne Jane and Glenna out for a ride. We are taking two rows of spelling a week now so we will have time to review the eighth grade spelling. Juanita and I took a bath.

February 22, 1934, Thu
I was carrying Dorothy and my banana in my pocket and forgot about them and played on the sled. I sqished them clear out of the pealings. It was Grandpa McRells birthday. They had a party for him. Nora, Florine and Floyd stayed here all night. The older people played cards most of the time; the rest of us play the square dance. It was two when we got to bed. Yvonne burned three of her fingers.

BellasHess1934February 23, 1934, Fri
We wrote a business and a friendly letter for grammar. We are going to have exams the first of next week. Clay played with Silver for a long time. We got the National Bellas Hess Catalogue. I picked out the shoes I’m going to get. Yvonne was over at Florine’s all day. Grandma was trying to kiss Edna but Edna’s head hit Grandma’s glasses and broke a bow. It gave her a black eye. Daddy fixed them with some cement.

February 24, 1934, Sat
Grandma went up to have Dr. Brown fix her teeth. Mother, Daddy and Nora went to Mrs. Robinson’s (Robson) sale and Dorothy and I to take our music, so Juanita stayed with the kids. We took a chicken up to Nolan’s. Nora took two to Dr. Packer. After our music Dot and I went down to the sale. Mother bought some dishes. Nora bought an oil stove, a cabinet and a cafe. It was five when we got home. Edna came over for the night. McRells came over; we played the square dance. We had pie for refreshment.

RecordCold_28Jan34February 25, 1934, Sun
It was snowing hard. McRells was going to take us to Sunday School in the bob-sled but decided it was too cold for the horses. Nora and her family stayed all night last night. They didn’t go home until about four o’clock. Edna didn’t have to go home. I made some brown sugar candy. Yvonne Jane has been entertaining us by singing little birdie with a yellow bill and some other songs. We fixed some ice cream.

February 26, 1934, Mon
Juanita and Kathryn made some cookies. We had ice cream again. Grandma found an old gunny sack; she made her a crochet hook and is going to made a rug. Mrs. Fritz pronounced our words to us this noon. We are going to have exams tomorrow. It was better sliding today than it had been but was so cold that the little ones didn’t play long. Mother was making a dress for me but it was too short so Juanita gets it.

February 27, 1934, Tues
It was twenty-two below zero this morning. We took our reading, arithmetic, civics, spelling and grammar. I got one hundred in spelling and arithmetic. Juanita is learning how to count in her music. We have a new black and white calf to feed. It is so fat that we are going to call it Chunky. Daddy had to teach it to drink. Kathryn and I cleaned our room. Daddy got stuck in a snow bank. John pulled him out.


Some of the “Main Characters” who appear in the Diary


The Parents

Alpheus Ray Appenheimer (1891-1974)

America Swango Appenheimer (1897-1957)

     The Children

Dorothy Louise Appenheimer (5 Jun 1920-___)

Betty Marie Appenheimer (24 Oct 1921-24 Dec 2011)

Juanita Ara Appenheimer (23 Mar 1924-___)

Kathryn Pearl Appenheimer (25 Jun 1925-___)

Alpheus Clay Appenheimer (15 Feb 1927-29 Aug 2008)

Glenna Mae Appenheimer (6 Jul 1928-___)

Yvonne Jane Appenheimer (28 May 1931-27 Dec 2007)


Betty Marie Appenheimer was the second of seven children, six girls and one boy, born to Alpheus Ray “Al” and America Swango Appenheimer. Sister Dorothy was sixteen months older.  Her sisters Juanita, Kathryn “Katy,” Glenna and Yvonne Jane were younger by about 2, 4, 7, and 10 years.  Her only brother, Clay, was 6 years younger. America Appenheimer enjoyed telling new acquaintances that she had six daughters and each one of them had a brother.

The McRells, a farm family of seven boys and one girl, lived a quarter mile to the west.  Ernie McRell, the father, and Al Appenheimer were good friends.  Ethel McRell was the mother.  The McRell children were, in birth order, Robert, Floyd, George, William, Anna Mae, John, Charles and Carl Dean.  The McRell grandparents, George and Anna McRell, lived in a second farmhouse on the farmstead, along with Ernie McRell’s brother Frank.

The Appenheimer children and McRell children attended Maxfield School, a one-room rural school located between the two families.  Betty Appenheimer was younger than the oldest McRells but older than John, Charles and Carl Dean.

            John and Nora Cockerham were neighbors and family friends.  John worked as Al Appenheimer’s hired man.  Nora helped with the domestic work, as well as filling and labeling one-gallon sorghum cans during sorghum season.  Florine was their daughter and Floyd, their son.



Jan 30.  John Cockerham.

Feb 3.  The Streeds, Ferdinand and Ethel and Lester and Adelheid, were farm neighbors to the west.  Mrs. Leonard B. Hankins and Olive were Al Appenheimer’s sister Pearl and his niece Olive–thus, Betty’s aunt and cousin.  Seidrick (i.e., Cedric) Ericson was the husband of Al’s niece Edie Appenheimer Ericson.

Feb 5.  Name error in newspaper article.  Mrs. Cedric Ericson, not Mrs. Frederick EricsonFloyd Cockerham.

Feb 6.  Dean and Kathryn Warren.

Feb 9.  Auntie Kae was the wife of America’s brother, Alfred Swango.

Feb 14.  Jimmy Warren.  The Warren children moved away and did not finish Toulon High school.

Feb 24.  Dr. Fred Brown, D.D.S., Toulon dentist, graduate of Northwestern University Dental School.  Nolans, spelled Nowlans.  Likely James Nowlan family; he was editor of The Stark County News and a representative in Illinois legislature.  I would guess the family bought the chicken.  Dr. Elmer B. Packer, beloved family doctor.  He was a captain in the Medical Corps in World War I.

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