Midnight with My Diary and My Water Bottle

Midnight with My Diary and My Water Bottle
Taken at Goodale Park, June 2010, during Comfest, by Scott Robinson (1963-2013)

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For entries prior to April 2010, please go to and read there. Nothing has changed about this blog except its hosting site.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nothing But the Dead and Dying Back in My Little Town...

My friend Rich is visiting Columbus from Rhode Island, and it's been a fine visit.  He last saw us in 2007, and at that time Susie hadn't quite turned 10, Steph only had one heart surgery behind her, and Steph and I were still married.  Besides reconnecting and bringing each other up to date on our lives, jobs, and situations, yesterday he drove Susie and me to Southeastern Ohio.

The title of this post is, of course, from the refrain of the Simon and Garfunkel song "My Little Town" (1975).  The dead and dying were the reason for our trip to Marietta (and Caldwell) this time.  During the time that I lived in Marietta, until I was 19 years of age, I was "twitching like a finger on the trigger of a gun" to get out.  I periodically have to visit Marietta to realize why I left and why I never seriously entertain notions of returning.

Rich, Susie, and I paid our respects at one of the crash sites of the Navy's rigid airship Shenandoah (ZR-1), which crashed in Ava, Ohio in 1925.  (I say "one of the crash sites" because debris fell over a 12-mile stretch between Ava and Sharon.)  Finding the crash site was an ordeal, and Rich's car's suspension suffered a bit as we bumped, spun, and climbed over the pothole-ridden and rock-strewn road off State Route 821 that led to the flagpole and stone that marked where the bulk of the wreckage fell to earth.

Crash site 1 of the USS Shenandoah, in the thrill-a-minute metropolis of Ava, Ohio.

After lunch, our next stop was Olive Cemetery, final resting place of six generations of McKees (my mother's side of the family), from 1815 (death of David McKee, a founding pioneer of Noble County) to my mother, who died in 2008.  There was the usual mad scramble to find McKees' graves, because the Noble County recorder's office had never returned my email about specific burial plot numbers.  I visited my grandmother's grave quite a few times when I was growing up, but the visits to Noble County ceased once my dad and mother divorced.  Rich and I took Susie there when she was about two.

Now, at 13, she was appalled by the gallows humor Rich and I exchanged about our various reprobate family members, especially the classification idiotcousin he wants to put on his genealogical charts, and all the bad jokes he and I exchanged about the suicide of my great grandfather, Aaron McKee.   (Aaron took his own life in March 1906 by cutting his throat with a straight razor.)

Whatever is the linear opposite of ancestor worship, here I am engaging in it.

Aaron's suicide was grisly enough, but my grandmother, Lucie McKee, lied about it and made it even more gruesome when she told her children (including my mother) how it happened.  She told the kids (and this was the version I grew up hearing) that Aaron, three years a widower, hanged himself in the barn one night so that my grandfather, Lester McKee, would find his body when he came out in the morning to do his chores.

We never knew the truth about it until Rich found his obituary in the Caldwell Republican Journal.  The exact opposite circumstance was true.  Aaron arranged to meet one of his neighbors in an outbuilding on his farm one morning.  The neighbor came at the agreed-upon time and found that Aaron had cut his throat with a straight razor.  Quite the polar opposite of Lucie's version: Aaron had arranged his suicide to specifically eliminate the possibility of his children finding his body.

Typescript of the diary of Fulton Caldwell, a prominent Noble County banker.  The entry for Saturday, March 3 describes the suicide of my great-grandfather.

This was the first time I had visited my mother's grave.  Her death year remains blank on the tombstone, and I made a mental note to contact the funeral home to see how much it costs to fill in the death year.  On Facebook, one of my friends said I should fill it in, so her classmates won't think she faked her death.

We reached Marietta by mid-afternoon under a hot sun, and made our way to Mound Cemetery, where my dad lies buried among at least 24 Revolutionary War soldiers.  I was appalled at the lack of maintenance around the graves.  Marietta prides itself so much (rightfully, he wrote, grudgingly) on its heritage and history, and yet tombstones flush to the ground are overgrown with weeds, older tombstones are crumbling,  and there were several graves of family friends I would not have found if I hadn't been there before.

In addition to my father and stepmother's grave, we paid our respects at the burial spot of Rufus Putnam (1738-1824), one of the founders of Marietta, and climbed Conus, the ceremonial mound in the center.  I amused Susie by showing her a tombstone a classmate had always told me about.  This classmate was the son of a funeral director, and he swore to me, on a stack of Playboys, that they used a bizarre burial method with this particular monument.  (In my pre-adolescent days, swearing on a stack of Playboys was as serious as it got.  Anyone could swear on a stack of Bibles, but a stack of Playboys was the big leagues.)

My classmate insisted that they removed the top of the monument, stuffed the body inside, and then replaced the top.  I was skeptical, but did try at one point to push the top off to peek inside.
My friend Tom took us to the 28th Annual Broughton's Ice Cream for America Social at the Washington County Fairgrounds, and with the mercury climbing well into the 90s, this required very little persuasion.  I am not as big a lover of ice cream as Susie is, but I did partake of sherbet, ice cream, and punch.  Here is a story from today's Marietta Times describing the event itself.  The red-letter event at the social was meeting a Facebook friend in person for the first time.  She recognized me first, from my Facebook picture. I am not good at facial recognition to start with, and she usually puts pictures of her kids or cartoon characters as her profile picture, so I was happy when she called out my name.  She graduated from Marietta High School several years after I did, and is a graphic artist in Williamstown, W.Va., just across the Ohio.

Susie was intrigued by the tour of Marietta's west side, especially the fact that a working train track runs down the middle of Harmar Street.  The west side was a neighborhood I almost always avoided--it was "the wrong side of the tracks," or, in Marietta's case, of the Muskingum River.  Since I was a bit of a behavior problem in elementary school, I bounced around most of the public schools in Marietta between kindergarten and sixth grade.  I ended sixth grade at Harmar School.  How was my experience there?  Let's just say that if Ted Kaczynski had mailed one of his parcels there, I would be generously adding to his commissary fund whenever I could.

Harmar Street on Marietta's west side, complete with a train track running down the center.  Planking here can be a dangerous pastime!

As much as I hated Harmar School, I have pleasant memories of its end-of-the-year school picnic.  They held the picnic at Civitan Park, the playground adjacent to the Washington County Fairgrounds, site of yesterday's ice cream social.  Rather than ferry all the sixth grade kids to the park, they walked, all the way from Fort Square up Front Street to the park.  This was just under two miles, and it was one of the first long walks I undertook, even though I didn't walk the entire length.  (I lived on the east side of the Muskingum, so I met everyone on the Front Street side of the Putnam Street Bridge and joined the walk in progress.)  I may have caught the walking bug at that point.  The walk was definitely not anything like the hike William Styron described in The Long March, although I have thought of chronicling it that way.

1 comment:

  1. Great read, Paul! As someone who has lived in Ohio now for 30 plus years, and someone who likes to explore the small towns of Ohio, it was fun to vicariously visit. Ohio has a lot of fascinating history and Marietta is certainly one those locales with lots of history.