A Long Darke Trip (Part 1 of 2)

I am in the middle of a little bout of unemployment.  I have some part-time work I have been able to do on the side, but mostly I am without work.  While having mini adventures during this time makes me feel guilty, so does sitting around looking for jobs and not finding anything.

So a few weeks ago I decided to travel out to Darke County, Ohio.  I believe it was a Tuesday.  Much of my family came from Darke County and the surrounding areas.  Oddly enough, Andrew’s mother’s side also had a chunk come from the same area.  I have looked hard to make sure there are no overlapping relations.  We’re all good here, kids.

I have a grandmother still in Dayton and I can’t tell you how many times I have driven to Ohio on I-70.  I wanted something more scenic, so I had an amazing drive across State Road 36.  I picked it up in Pendleton and took it almost all the way to Greenville, Ohio.  It was humid and early when I left which created this beautiful haze over the massive sprawling yards and farms almost the entire duration of the trip.  Taking 36 was a fabulous idea.  Good job, me.

I got to Greenville just in time for lunch and had a lovely meal at Bistro Off Broadway.  They did give me a weird look for eating alone, but maybe I was being self-conscious (but I don’t think so).

I headed to Garst Museum, an amazing little museum for the history of Darke County.  This is also the place where one researches the county’s family histories.  It’s the place to be.  When I walked in I paid my $5 and was told that there were two exhibits going on at the museum, one on Annie Oakley and one on Lowell Thomas.

This was great!  Annie Oakley is actually of distant relation to Andrew!  Lowell Thomas was actually my great-uncle (by marriage)!  I decided that I should get started on research first.  A small, fast-speaking, older woman gave me the instructions on how to begin.

Sign here.  I signed.

Write down the surnames you are researching.  Oh….hmmmm….lots?

It didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t just sort of browse and have things come to me.  My father’s side of the family and Andrew’s mother’s side have so many families from that area I wasn’t sure where to begin.

Let me show you.

Erin’s fams (surnames):  Brown, Munn, Ditmer, Hill, North, Surber, Niswonger, Staudt, Fryman, Harnsberger, Beam, Miller, Goings/Goins/Goens, Davidson, and Cartwright

Andrew’s fams (surmanes):    Bollinger, Crumrine, Bausman, Sink, Blocher, and Michael

I started with just two surnames on my side, Brown and Munn, and then one surname for Andrew’s, Bollinger.  I started with these names because I actually know people with these names.  I thought it might be a little easier.

I only had four hours till the museum closed for the day.  I started with Browns.  BAD IDEA!  I could spend an entire day on just the Browns.  TONS of information.

This was my first trip to a research facility to work on just family history.  I realized how much more information I could get if I travel.  Man…I have found the best hobby EVER.

There was only one other person who was in there the majority of the time with me.  About two hours into my research he says to me, “You’re not supposed to take pictures in here.” He did this mid-snap.  I gasped.   I’m not generally a rule breaker.  “Oh, but I thought I was allowed!”  And then he laughed at me and said he loves doing that.  Turns out I really wasn’t supposed to be taking pictures, but I don’t think he cared.  I didn’t read the instructional sign correctly.  Woops.

He asked me how my research was going and what names I was looking for (ancestry pleasantries).  I asked him if his family was from Darke County.  His wasn’t, but his wife was.  He explained to me that he is an author and that he was writing a book about a distant relative of his wife (I believe it was a great great uncle), last name Roberson.    This distant relative was the only man hung in Darke County, Ohio.  I was so excited to reveal my connection!  “That’s great!  My great great grandfather was deputized to find the only man hung in Darke County!”

It’s true.

Turns out that this man I was talking to in the museum was the writer of the article where I learned this little tidbit of information.  He said that after that article came out he started hearing from people all over the area with their own little tidbits of information.  He decided to write a book about it!  I can’t wait to read it.  I believe his name was Bill Stevens (the writer, not the hanged).  The link to the article written about this interesting event in Darke County History is included here:

http://dailyadvocate.com/main.asp?SectionID=108&SubSectionID=388&ArticleID=129708&TM=43764.42

The writer left.  I was alone again for a while and dug through folders till it was time to pack up.  I decided that I wanted to take a look at the museum’s exhibits before I left (I HAD paid to get in).  I walked through Annie Oakley’s and realized there was much too much to see in the 15 minutes I had.  Seems she was an amazing lady.  A good shot, anyway.

I walked into the next room and found a room dedicated to an exhibit of Lowell Thomas.

I didn’t know who Lowell Thomas was until I graduated from college.  In fact, the only reason I knew then was because he was an answer to a crossword puzzle from an antique magazine we were playing with at work.  The question was something about Lawrence of Arabia.  The answer was “Lowell Thomas” and I was like, “That’s my uncle!”  People just kind of looked at me in a sort of way that said, “Why is Erin so excited that she has an uncle named Lowell Thomas?”  And I kept going. “THAT Lowell Thomas is my uncle!  I swear!  My dad told me he was famous but I didn’t believe him!”

That’s the truth.  I was always suspicious of exaggerations, and assumed that this was one of my father’s.  But this is the truth.  My great aunt Marianna, a very interesting, friendly, and lovely lady who passed away earlier this year, married this Lowell Thomas in the 1970s after his first wife died.  She had also been previously married.  He didn’t live much longer and died in the very early 1980s.  If I ever met him (doubtful) I would have been much too young to remember such things.

So, for those of you who don’t know who Lowell Thomas is…

http://www.pbs.org/lawrenceofarabia/players/thomas.html

As I walked through the exhibit there were pictures of my Aunt Marianna in her younger years with this Lowell fellow.  Honestly I don’t remember ever seeing any of them before.  I turned a corner and there were condolence letters written to her upon his death from an assortment of characters:  Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter, Isaac Asimov, and even Erma Bombeck.

Condolence letter from Reagan sent

Lowell and Marianna Thomas on Trip to China

Condolence letter from Isaac Asimov

It was a little surreal.

The Girl Scouts stole my cemetery!

I had a few hours to burn and had recently been trying to find some information on Andrew’s Indianapolis pioneer relatives.  There are a few cemeteries around town where I haven’t been able to find the best records and I think there MIGHT be a chance they’re buried there.  His branch of the Sparks Family were folks who lived up on the Northwest side of Indianapolis in and around Pike Township.  Just south of Pike Township is the Old Union Cemetery.  I actually think it might technically be in Speedway.  Anyway, I thought I would go check it out either way, Pike Township or not.  I like cemeteries.  So I checked it out on google maps and plotted my course.

I followed the directions.  I ended up in a cul-de-sac.  There was no cemetery here.  There were, however, suspicious residents.  I guess people don’t get lost there often.

I pulled up the map again on my phone and found another road that looked adjacent to this supposed cemetery.  As I turned into the only road on that street I realized where my cemetery was.  I was at Camp Dellwood, a Girl Scout Camp!  The camp ate my cemetery.

I wasn’t really sure what to do.  I thought about looking for someone to help me but I didn’t want to seem creepy (which could easily happen at a children’s campground) so I decided to try and call them to make an appointment or something.

I made sure to glare at everyone that I saw as to accurately reflect my disapproval.  I’m not sure they cared.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t.

**As a side note, there will be a lot more postings initially on this blog because I have to catch up on what has already happened.

The Children of the Corn

I stood there, in front of the car, bleeding (but beginning to scab already) and covered in rash. Andrew looked at me and said, “Well, you got your adventure.”  I couldn’t tell if he was pissed or if he just mocking me because he thought it was actually funny.  He was wearing shorts and got it even worse than I did (I wore jeans).  Poor Andrew.

It all started when we drove out to Pittsboro, Indiana to see some friends’ new baby.  I hate driving to Pittsboro.  I just do.  There’s always road construction on the interstate and it’s just kind of far.  I have gotten very used to living downtown where nothing should take more than a 15 minute drive/bike/walk.  We stayed at our friends’ for about an hour, looked at the baby (cute and cuddly), held it some, ate pizza, and left.  I realized soon afterward that we were in Hendricks County (in a genealogist’s world, everything is measured by counties and townships).  Not only were we in Hendricks County, but we were in “middle of nowhere” Hendricks County.  I recalled that some of Andrew’s great grandparents, maybe six generations back, were pioneers of the area I would refer to as “Middle of Nowhere Hendricks County” and had a cemetery around here somewhere.  “Hey!  I’ve got an idea!  Let’s have an adventure!”  I described my idea to Andrew to hunt for this cemetery so I could get some pictures.  It shouldn’t be that hard.  We were both armed with iPhones – the cure-all.  Andrew didn’t hate the idea but he didn’t seem all that excited.  We decided to go for it.  He knew I was pumped.

We drove from our friends’ home (near the middle of nowhere) down a county road, turned onto another county road, and then another, and then another, until we were sufficiently truly in the middle of nowhere.  The directions provided to us on www.findagrave.com (yes, this is a real thing) told us to park off the road and walk along a fence to a patch of woods in the field.  What provided us the adventure was that, this was not a walkable field.  It was a field of corn.  This was Indiana.  This was late July.  It was 2 feet taller than me because it has been a really nice summer for crops.

We walked through a fence.  Check!  I saw some trees.  Check!  We walked through some corn and got to the trees.  Check!  It took about three minutes.  Easy!  When we got to the trees we saw the ACTUAL fence.  This was the ACTUAL fence we were supposed to cross.  So what was that first fence?  This new fence was a rusty barbed wire one.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I’d had a Tetanus shot, but I was trying really hard to recall as I looked at that fence.   I pulled myself up by a tree that I am sure now was dying.  If Andrew had not been pushing me from behind I can guarantee that limb would not have held and I would have cried all the way to the hospital.  We both got over.  We got out of that batch of woods to get our bearings.

Andrew pulled out the trusty iPhone and pulled up a Google Map of where we were.  And he said, “OH!  That’s the stand of trees over there!”  The stand of trees was on the other side of another cornfield.  For those who have not walked through a cornfield before, it hurts.  It looks like fun in the movies.  It’s not.  It hurts.  And if you’re hitting it hard enough, it even cuts.

We had gotten this far, we weren’t going to stop.  I wanted to see that cemetery!  And I was going to take pictures, darn it!  We pressed on.

This is when we started hearing the engines of what we agreed were 4-wheelers.  This was, of course, private property.  The house we parked at was the home of a lovely woman who said she didn’t really know where the cemetery was, but to go ahead and try to find it.  She, however, did not own the property.  I had already decided that if some man dressed in his cammies came at me with a gun and a lecture on trespassing I would just blame the lovely woman who owned the house where we parked.  Regardless, the 4-wheelers started to freak me out.

We FINALLY got to the stand of trees in the middle of the cornfield.  Once we got there we couldn’t get into it!  It was as if the plants had spent their entire existence learning new ways to defend themselves from huge predators.  Every plant had a sticker or a spike attached to it, even the trees!  There were pointy dangerous things EVERYWHERE.  We finally found what must have been the official entrance some time ago.  There was a very small piece of a wrought iron fence, being eaten by trees and plant-life of course.  We pushed in through that area and actually saw some flippin’ graves!

Unfortunately the person who owns the property has done nothing to keep up this cemetery, an amazing piece of Hendricks County history.  The Caywood family (some of Andrew’s great great great great grandparents) settled in that area in the 1840s.  There were some of those large casket-like above ground tombs that seem to have completely fallen over.  Trees grew into headstones.  There were really only 2 stones that still stood and were readable (with the amount of foliage that existed this time of year).  Pity.

We poked around for a bit, took a few pictures, and headed out back into the field.  During the walk back to the house I somehow decided that the noises I was hearing were no longer that of a 4-wheeler but of a wild and crazed bull, and it could smell us and our illegal trespassing.   I walked very very fast, and thought that I lost Andrew for a minute, but we got back to the place where the greenery was shorter than us again.  It was nice.  My skin stung.  Everything was red.

“Well, you got your adventure.”

I did.