Thursday, July 31, 2014

1964 Satch Quote

Item in the August 6, 1964 Clay County News:

Satch Knows Answers - 

Snort Yost asked Satch Idt the other day if it was cool at his new residence at the Sunset Home. Satch came back with the following answer, "It sure is, we have a stove with ice in it!"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New building at Stuhr Museum to open July, 2015

Officials at the Stuhr Museum near Grand Island announced that they expect to open their new building in July 2015.

The 1943 Murder of Anna Milroy

The 1943 murder of Anna Milroy was called "Clay County's Worse Murder."

Most of the topics we’ve used in this series of Sutton History articles have been good things, positive things. But any population runs certain risk of experiencing bad things. A brutal crime in 1943 shocked our town and was called at the time, “Clay County’s worst murder.” Spoiler alert: it’s an ugly story but a part of our history.

Sutton and Clay County, like every new community, hired their town marshal and county sheriff very early to protect the citizens from bad actors and every once in a while one shows up.

The Andreas history of early Sutton identified the first shooting in Sutton and in this part of the county as an incident between two partners in one of the town saloons probably in late 1871. Mr. Flynn shot Mr. Mullen in the face in some disagreement associated with the charms of an Omaha belle, as Andreas describes it. Mullen was not seriously injured and we learn no more about the two.

The Flynn/Mullen saloon may have been the fourth saloon in the fledgling town. We know that the first business in town was a whiskey and grocery business of Mr. McTyge and that fellows named Kearney and Kelly opened their saloon in a tent quickly followed by P. H. Curran and Mart Higgens with yet another saloon.

These businesses started along Main Avenue north of the railroad tracks, a street that acquired the name “Whiskey Row” that first year of Sutton’s existence. We directly don’t hear of any more serious trouble in town, but that may not mean there wasn’t any.

In the far southwest corner of the county near the community of Spring Ranche there was the famous case of Elizabeth Taylor and her brother Tom Jones. This Welsh pair established a high standard for violence in the county and have been immortalized, again, in a recent book by Richard I. Redfield, a 530 page volume that sells on Amazon for about $25 ($6.99 in the Kindle Edition) with the unheard of distinction of having earned zero 1 Star (worst) ratings.

The Sutton community was stunned by a fatal shooting in March, 1984 when Robert (Bobby) Wach shot two men at BG’s Corner on Highway 6. Mr. Ephraim Griess survived the shooting but City Councilman Leo Leininger died 12 hours later. This tragedy is within the memories of many Sutton residents today. We’ll leave the details of this story for a later time.

This was the freshman class at Sutton High in the 1942 annual. Anna Milroy is in the back row, seventh in from the right side.
An earlier fatal crime is within the memories of a smaller subset of Sutton residents and is the story we tell this month.

Sixteen-year old Anne Milroy was murdered August 7, 1943 in the midst of World War II. Nebraska hosted a number of training bases for aircrews including the bases at Harvard and Fairmont. Those bases introduced a large population of young soldiers to the quiet communities in this area. The relationships between military installations and nearby communities was a mixed bag. Soldiers built friendships with civilians, sometimes took part-time jobs and generally blended in well. Generally, but not always.

Let’s think about the youth of Sutton in 1943. The war was in its second year and many of the men were gone, serving in Europe, in the Pacific and throughout the country. Young girls were still in town but without the normal social life they had expected. Meanwhile, just a few miles to the west was Harvard Airfield and to the east was the Fairmont Airfield each with literally thousands of young men. There were boys from all parts of the country, Southerners, ranch hands, small town fellows and a lot of big-city guys out in the countryside for the first time in their lives and all in a situation that did not provide the social life they had expected to be enjoying at this point in their lives. What could possibly go wrong?

Consider the perspective of the parents of those girls. How receptive could they be to the prospect of some sophisticated (or not) 20-something from a back-east big city calling on their teenage daughter?

When I attended a technical school at Shepherd Air Force Base near Wichita Falls, Texas in 1967, my father-in-law told of his assignment there 25 years earlier when signs on local yards read, “Dogs and airmen, keep off the grass,” not an uncommon sentiment.

Anna Milroy was born on Valentine’s Day in 1927 to Helen and Lester Milroy. A little analysis and speculation suggests that Anna was named for her father’s younger sister Anna who died in 1911 at the age of 5 and when Lester was 12. Three other daughters in that family died young, at ages 2, 20 and 23.

Anna Milroy was working on the farm of Dan Cronin, Jr. in the summer of 1943 anticipating her junior year at Sutton High. She came to town that Saturday evening and was with her sister Wilma and friend Barbara Carl. The girls stopped at the Yost Service Station for gasoline when Anna excused herself to go to the restroom. When she did not return, Wilma and Barbara searched the station but did not find her. They guessed that Anna had found another way home but when they discovered she was not at home on Sunday, they sounded the alarm.

It was not until noon on Monday that Ray Carlson discovered Anna’s nude, battered body in a ditch south of Sutton. A chisel had been driven into her skull. Contemporary accounts placed the location of the body as eighteen miles south of Sutton, but reliable memories put the site as much closer, just a couple of miles south of town.

Joseph MacAvoy was convicted of the murder.
Late that afternoon a blood-spattered car was seen parked in Sutton. State Sheriff Lloyd Mengel arrested Private Joseph MacAvoy, a soldier at Harvard Army Airfield who was out on bond after attacking a woman in Hastings. MacAvoy had recently been demoted from Sergeant to Private in Army disciplinary action.

MacAvoy signed a detailed confession by 5:30 Tuesday morning in which he admitted meeting Anna at the gas station claiming she had accompanied him willingly and they had gone for a ride in the country. At some point things went wrong between the two. He denied raping Anna but evidence supported that charge. He admitted striking the girl with a crank and dumping her body before returning to Harvard.

Officials charged that he had returned to the body on Sunday and may have found her still alive and then drove the chisel into her head. He never confessed to that part of the charge. County Attorney S. W. Moger filed charges of first degree murder and murder in the perpetration of a rape. MacAvoy’s attorneys and his mother attempted to prove that injuries he had suffered as a youth in Brooklyn had contributed to his behavior.

Joseph MacAvoy was convicted of first degree murder on December 11th after only 75 minutes of deliberation by the jury. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair on December 30.

There was little hesitation by the jury in reaching their decision.
Here the story takes an odd twist. The Nebraska electric chair had not been used since 1929 and had fallen into disrepair. Details are blurred but apparently the source of parts to fix the chair was the U.S. Army and someone in that bureaucracy determined that the army was busy with other business in 1943 and that conducting a world war took priority over a Nebraska execution. (Seems reasonable.)

All obstacles were overcome by early 1945 and Wardon Neil Olson conducted the execution of Joseph Thomas MacAvoy on the morning of March 23, 1945.

The murder of Anna Milroy is the huge blot on the relationship between Sutton and the nearby military installations during World War II. There were probably a number of other occasions when local citizens found valid cause to regret the presence of the nearby army and navy installations but World War II brought the military world into the heart of U.S. live as most other conflicts have not.

Many soldiers and sailors stayed or returned to communities where Uncle Sam had sent them. They found jobs and spouses, founded businesses and made important contributions to their adopted communities. Sutton enjoyed the benefit of several of these young men from afar, the vast majority of them.

Minimal information on a gravestone does not inform well. 

Jack's Place Pool Parlor Ad - 1914 - who ran that place?

This ad for a Sutton pool hall was running in the Sutton News 100 years ago.

So who do you suppose this M. F. Foster might have been?

M. Frank Foster appears in the 1910 census living on Butler Ave. in Sutton apparently near Cedar St. If the census taker was catching homes in sequence then Mr. Foster's neighbor was Oscar Challburg with his wife Edith and little nine-year old Martin and his sister Adelina. Oscar was a real estate agent and there are many about town who remember Martin.

Back to the Fosters. M. Frank Foster listed himself as a barber so either he opened his pool parlor between 1910 and 1914 or maybe he had a barber chair in the corner of the pool hall.

Mr. Foster identified as a 33-year old widower. He was living with his three daughters: Fern, age 13, Opal, 10 and Gladys was 8. Merritt Foster was also in the household, the 35 year old single brother of M. Frank.

The Foster brothers had been born in Iowa. Their father had been born in Ohio and their mother in Iowa. The little girls' deceased mother came from West Virginia.

M. F. Foster was still in Sutton in 1920 and still living on Butler Ave. Twenty-year old Opal and her 18-year old sister Gladys were single ladies living with Dad and were both telephone operators. Frank's brother Merritt had moved on.

Further research finds that Miss Opal Foster married James Sheldon Barbee, a local Sutton veterinarian and by 1927 the couple had three children: James, Iris and Larry. Jim and Larry Barbee later took up their father's profession providing veterinarian services for the community for years, and years.

Yes, M. F. Foster of Jack's Place was Jim and Larry Barbee's grandfather.

Account of Sutton's early days from 1939 Sutton Register

The Sutton Register newspaper published by Charles Brown, son of F. M. Brown carried this account of the first years of Sutton in their July 20, 1939 issue as they began to revive Sutton history on the occasion of their celebration of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the town.

There are several opportunities to celebrate milestone anniversaries of the "beginning" of Sutton, Nebraska. The first settler, Luther French took out his homestead on ground now occupied by parts of the town in the spring of 1870 on March 14th. He was pretty much alone in this immediate area for much of the next year. 

Settlers began to arrive at or near the site of French's dugout beginning in April and May of 1871 and the numbers increased sharply through the summer. The "End of Track" for the Burlington Railroad came through Sutton on August 14, 1871 connecting the new town with points east.

Growth continued to spurt through the balance of 1871 and into 1872 and 1873. The first attempt to incorporate the town encountered some administrative hurdles but the petition for the successful incorporation was completed in October, 1874 as described at the beginning of this article.

So the 65th anniversary of the founding of Sutton celebrated in October, 1939, 65 years after the formal incorporation of the town.

Subsequent anniversaries have been celebrated to mark other "founding" dates. The 125 year pictorial book came out in 1997, 125 years after 1872. Our plans for celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of our town can legitimately and  "with a straight face" occur sometime between the March, 2020 and October, 2024. What is your favorite date, and why?

Account of 1864 Clay County history from 1939 Register

The Sutton Register newspaper on July 27 and August 3, 1939 carried this account of the story of the settlers and Indians in southwest Clay County during 1863-1864.

The newspaper was ramping up to Sutton's celebration of the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the town.

First, the initial half of the article from the July 27, 1939 issue of the Sutton Register newspaper, front page center.

And the follow-up article the next week in the August 3, 1939 paper.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Flour Sack Underwear Poem

The milling industry was an early business on the frontier, almost every town had a mill. Often they were water-powered wheels that drove a revolving stone to grind grain into flour. The mills were sometimes called "grist mills" though I'm not sure the adjective adds much to the thought. Grist is defined as the grain that has been cleaned and ready to be ground and in practice is kind of used as a synonym for "grind."

The ground product was usually flour when it came from wheat and similar grains. Coarsely ground corn becomes grits; finely ground corn becomes corn meal, etc.

Flour made it to the kitchen either via purchase, likely from the mill in sacks of varying size. Farmers could sell their grain at the mill or pay a fee to have the miller grind the farmer's grain into flour that was collected in large sacks, probably good for 50 pounds - a pretty large sack made from a sturdy cloth that was readily available to be recycled into other uses by the industrious household.

A bonus feature of the flour sack was that at least one side of the sack made for advertising or decoration which would later enhance the recycled product.

One recycled flour sack product was good for a poem found here in the last half of a newspaper item from sometime in the local past - there is a reference to the "Angus-Edgar" area.

Flour Sack Underwear poem likely from one of the Sutton newspapers, way-back-when.
Our thanks to Lucyle Sterkel who uncovered this gem.

Friday, July 4, 2014

An Invitation: Try a Little Local Tourism

by Jerry Johnson and the Sutton Historical Society

Are local attractions really not attractive? We are not good tourists of our local attractions. Don’t you agree?
How many tourist destinations are within an hour's drive of
Sutton? How many do you drive by regularly and ponder, "We
should check that out someday." But you don't.

Most of us enjoy to travel. And when we travel we’re pretty good tourists. We’re skilled and efficient in planning a few days in an area such that we can visit as many of the sights as possible. We anticipate these trips, make them the highlight of the year and post pictures on our Facebook page for friends. (Better than a painful slide show.)

If we go to Chicago, we can take in the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Gallery, maybe the Aquarium or Planetarium, Millennium Park, the Lake Front, etc. We make use of our time and see it all.

Almost any trip to New Orleans will include visits to Jackson Square, the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, Pat O’Brien’s and a hurricane, a jazz bar, etc.

Even if you only have one day to spend in Yellowstone National Park you can still see Old Faithful, a couple of other geyser basins, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Canyon and the waterfalls and a drive-by look at the lake.

Who goes to San Francisco without a visit to Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, a cable car ride, Pier 39, maybe a ferry ride and Alcatraz?

But what if you should live near one of these centers for tourism? It’s a different story. There is no urgency to see this stuff as it’ll be there next week, next month and next year. We lived 60 miles from San Francisco and didn't go to Alcatraz for nine years and then only when visitors wanted to go there.

Real local destination here - just a few miles southwest of town. How about
starting a clamor for signs on Highways 6 and 41 pointing to the Fallen
Heroes Marsh? At least sidetrack two miles off of 6 on Road R and take a
look at this monument for the Nebraska fallen in the southwest Asia wars. 
It just human nature. Why put off to tomorrow what you can put off until next week, next month or whenever.

We do not have the generally accepted “hot” tourist attractions here in south-central Nebraska but we do have a long list of interesting, entertaining and even educational tourist targets within day-trip range.

The Clay County Museum in Clay Center is a well-designed museum with a fine collection of local memorabilia. Have you been there recently, ever?

York’s Palmer Museum is well-done and has a strong Sutton connection. Their benefactor Anna Bemis Palmer was raised in Sutton.

The Stuhr Museum near Grand Island and the Hastings Museum are well supported with substantial building and exhibits.

How about the Plainsman Museum in Aurora? There is a great agricultural section and they have the “Gold Case” that Sutton pioneer Grosshans used to carry his gold coins from Russia. There is the Wessel Living History Farm at the York interchange, the Prairie Loft in Hastings, the Mennonite Museum in Henderson, and, well, you get the idea.

Besides museums, how about WWII era Fairmont Airport, or the Stockholm Church and cemetery between Ong and Shickley, the Potters’ Friend Opera House and the Indian attack sites near Oak.

All of that is within about a 50-mile circle. Let’s extend the range a bit…

Pioneer Village in Minden may be the oldest and largest historic collection within hundreds of miles. It is showing its age somewhat but is still worth a good half-day even if you only find one topic to concentrate on – antique cars would be a good candidate. It’s a good place for kids, too.

Near to Pioneer Village is the Nebraska Prairie Museum in Holdrege which comes highly recommended (still on my TODO list.) Seward County sports its own Museum in Goehner (did you know that – been through that interchange a lot, right? Pulling off the interstate every now and then can be a pleasant surprise.)

Further west is Fort Kearney and the Great Platte River Road Archway. And in North Platte you can visit Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historic Park and Cody’s Scouts Rest Ranch though my recommendation is the Lincoln County Museum with its exhibit of the famous World War II Canteen that put North Platte, Nebraska into the memories of thousands of soldiers. There is a spectacular arrowhead collection in that museum, spectacular and huge.

Don’t forget the Nebraska Major League Baseball Museum in St. Paul.

To our southwest is the Willa Cather Museum in Red Cloud which is in the midst of an ambitious upgrade creating the National Willa Cather Center. They have the help of no less than Ken Burns to publicize this effort. Check out his pitch at:  This Cather Center promises to be in the style and flair of author’s centers in the most sophisticated of locales.

Hidden in post offices throughout Nebraska and largely forgotten is a series of depression-era murals many
This park is in Omaha just off of I-480 marking the birthplace of President
Gerald Ford Jr. His birth name was Leslie Lynch King, Jr., good for a trivia
question anytime, anyplace. 
of which could be visited on a good drive someday. Nearby you’ll find examples in Geneva, Hebron, Minden, Red Cloud, Pawnee City, Schuyler, Albion, Auburn and more. Look it up…

To the southeast and a ways off are Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City – good to visit in the fall during apple picking season and the Homestead National Monument near Beatrice.

We haven’t even mentioned the big cities yet. When was the last time you visited Morrill Hall on the University of Nebraska campus? Have your kids, grandkids seen Elephant Hall? No? You need to fix that.

Elsewhere in Lincoln you can see the State Historical Society on “R” Street, the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia on “D” Street (big Sutton connection), Sheldon Art Museum, Frank H Woods Telephone Museum, the International Quilt Museum (are you keeping up?), etc. The Nebraska State Capitol building is arguably the most spectacular capitol in the nation, especially when you realize it was built in hard times on the plains.

The area between Lincoln and Omaha around Ashland and the Platte River hosts several tourism targets including Linoma Beach, recreation areas and Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium but as one who spent 18 years in the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command how can I not put in a special word for the SAC Museum just off I-80 on the west side of the Platte? This museum traces the story of SAC and its relationship with Omaha since 1947. Okay, I guess they now call it the Strategic Air & Space Museum, but years of SAC habit die hard.

Omaha should not be left out – it’s not that far away. The Durham Museum on South 10th has railroad stuff, the Byron Reed coins, galleries and more. Did you know that the Durham museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution? Not too shabby.

And Omaha has Boys Town, General Crook House, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Joslyn Art Museum, Florence Mill & Mormon Cemetery (with its powerful statue) and the birthplace of President Leslie Lynch King, Jr., etc. Or perhaps you are not familiar with President King, our 38th president. At least that was his name when he was born on Woolworth Avenue in 1913. His mother divorced the abusive Mr. King, Sr. and later married Gerald R. Ford. Young Leslie became his new Dad’s Junior. Good moves my Mom and Junior.

Kansas isn’t that far away now is it?

Well-known Kansas museums include Republic County Museum in Belleville, Pawnee Indian Museum in Republic and the Orphan Train Museum in Concordia.

The Geographic Center of the Continental United States near Lebanon is worth a stop if you passing nearby. Our last visit there was highlighted by an aggressive rooster from a nearby farm who was very possessive of the entire site.

How in the world can you pass up a special trip across the Kansas border Cawker City south of Red Cloud
to see the World's Largest Ball of Sisal Twine? Have you done that yet? No? So hard to believe.
We cannot let any list of Kansas attractions go by without mention of Cawker City south of Red Cloud, home to the World’s Largest Ball of Sisal Twine, a memorable Day Trip if I’ve ever heard of one.

Okay, that’s quite a list. We’ve probably concentrated on museums but there are lots of recreational sites, boating, fishing, etc. within a short drive and I’m sure many can think of their own better list of touristy things within a short drive.

Was the Fallen Heroes Marsh on your list? Less than 10 miles southwest of Sutton just west of the intersection of Roads 315 and R is the Nebraska memorial to the servicemen killed in the two Southwest Asia wars. Not a great entertainment venue or a light-hearted experience, but it is an inspirational tribute to those heroes and a good place to spend a few minutes with yourself in that peaceful setting with your thoughts of those very young who are named on the plaque. That trip can be done in less than 45 minutes. Why wait? Late afternoon/sunset is the best time.

Even closer is the Sutton Museum at 309 N. Way Ave. where we’d love to spend a few minutes talking about our local community, its past, present and even the future. Do treat yourself to a visit to any of the nearby tourist targets mentioned here or that you learn of. You can still make those major trips to the big-time tourist sites. My recommendation is always San Francisco – I’ll be there before this issue of Sutton Life Magazine is in your mailbox.
Too much to drive out of town to visit one of these destinations? Just walk a couple of blocks east of the north end of
downtown between the railroad tracks and School Creek. The Sutton Museum is normally open on Sunday afternoons
or just call (402) 773-0222 and make an appointment for your own guided tour and a bit of conversation. Consider
bringing an old sock as your guide may need some hint to shut up. 

This article first appeared in the May, 2014 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at (402) 984-4203 for more information about the magazine and Mustang, Inc.