Randy Barnhouse, a Kindred Spirit

Randy “Hambone” Barnhouse 10-08-2020

I’ve followed Randy “Hambone” Barnhouse’s musings on Facebook, and have even exchanged mail with him from time to time, but had never met him in the flesh.

When he posted that he’d be hawking his book, “Dear Samuel Clemens” Messages in a Bottle , on Main Street (with a $5 discount to “locals”), I figured it was time we hooked up.

“Want to make a deal?”

Randy “Hambone” Barnhouse 10-08-2020

I introduced myself, and said, “I think a might be able to slip by as a local, and I’d be happy to pay you $15 for your book, but I wondered if you’d like to trade for my Smelterville: A Community of Love.

We bumped elbows and the deal was sealed.

We share a love of the river

Randy has led a much more adventuresome life than I have. He’s been a treasure salvor,  an historian, a teacher, and a devotee of Mark Twain. I’ve just been a chronicler of other folks deeds and foibles.

Several years ago, the Mississippi gave Randy a tantalizing look at the bones of a boat exposed when the water went down.

He and the river have been playing hide and seek with the boat ever since.

I’m pretty sure the first contact I had with Randy was when he offered to share the location of the wreck if I would promise to keep the exact location secret.

I decided the best way for me to keep the secret was for me not to go see the site.

The Mississippi can be unforgiving to the careless. This isn’t Randy’s wreck, but it’s a barge that ran aground near Cape Rock in 2012.

We understand each other

Abandoned house – St Mary Mo c 1966

Randy was a diver with Mel Fisher, who helped recover gold and other items from the Atocha shipwreck off Key West. He and I speak the same language.

“After the initial phase of being allured by the gold and silver discoveries, I found the simple items from every day life just as unique in their own way. They spoke to me. Candlestick holders were fascinating to find. How many meals did they grace a table for and who appreciated the glow of the stick they held, and for what reason were they gathered around it? How much laughter, conversation and arguing had the the candlestick holders, with their fiery tube of wax and string been witness to?”

I walk around in old abandoned houses trying to pick up the vibes of those who lived there. The pride the first owners felt; marks on the door frames chronicling the growth of children; wondering what joys and sorrows were contained inside the walls. Sometimes those vibes hit me too hard.

When I looked through this open window of an old house in St. Mary, I had to wonder what did the owners take from those opened drawers, and why did the random beads, buttons and juice squeezer not make the cut when they closed the door the last time?

Letters to Mark Twain

The book is a series of letters Randy has written to Mark Twain: “each letter I write to you will be sealed in a bottle and tossed into the mighty Mississippi. There are no post offices in heaven or hell. Where we go, we never know until the last breath escapes our lungs. Maybe we disappear into inky oblivion from whence we came. Should your spirit dwell on the river, please read and respond in whatever manner a will-o’-wisp employs. I need your help while looking for your lost and discarded possessions.”

Searching for Mark Twain’s buried treasure

Randy has been using a metal detector to search for artifacts at Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal (with permission, I should note.

Sam, to investigate and excavate the soil where you and your family once lived, loved and walked is an intimate act, too. What will your candlestick holder be that shines light on your time there on Hill Street? A coin, ring, shoe buckle, tool or object that will be attributed to you? Knowing your affinity for buried treasure causes me, in my wildest imagination, to hope that you buried something there.”

Whenever I take someone new to see what’s left of Cairo, we stop here long enough for them to pry up a piece of blue tile from what used to be a large department store.

I hope they keep it as a memory of a town that is rapidly disappearing, and as a link to me. Probably, though, they’ll pull open a drawer some day, and say, “What the hell is this?” and pitch it in the trash.

I guess I can’t be surprised. On any given day, some of my best work ended up on the floor being peed on by a poodle.

Shameless plug

Randy was kind enough to say some nice words about my Smelterville book on his Facebook page, and that caused a lot of folks to wonder where they could find it.

Here’s the answer:

Annie Laurie’s Antique Store, 536 Broadway Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701; Phone 573-339-1301, $20 in person.

Pastimes Antiques, 45 Main Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701; Phone 573-332-8882. $20 in person.

Cape Girardeau County History Center, 102 S. High Street, Jackson, Mo., 63755; Phone 573-979-5170. $20 in person; $30 to cover shipping and handling if mailed.

 

Roy Thomas and His Fireworks Stand

Roy Thomas visited Jackson’s Cape Girardeau County History Center for a reception that also spotlighted Michael Archer’s exhibit, “When History and Comics Collide.”

Roy, who created or co-created more than 70 action comicbook characters and succeeded the legendary Stan Lee at Marvel Comics, attracted young folks, mostly fans of his work, and older folks, who remembered him from “back then.”

He described a woman as one of his first girlfriends. They were serious enough that they hatched up a plan to run away together. Their scheme was thwarted, however, when their tricycles got to the end of the block, and they realized they weren’t allowed to cross the street by themselves.

A stickler for detail

No detail escapes his eye. When asked to autograph a book, he said that it contained a typo. He turned to the page and corrected it before he signed his name.

Docent Bridget Bingham appears enthralled

Bridget Bingham, a docent at the History Center, and a teacher of graphic design, chatted at length with Roy.

He’ll be back in Jackson

Museum director Carla Jordan said that Roy will be back in Jackson February 23, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. All of downtown Jackson will be celebrating his career as a writer, editor and creator with both Marvel and DC Comics.

He will probably be at the museum around 5 p.m., she said.

Roy and the fireworks stand

 

After almost everybody had left, Roy’s wife, Dann, prompted him to tell the story of his brief period as an operator of a fireworks stand located down by Wib’s BBQ. It’s best if you hear it in his own words in this video.

Gary Friedrich

When I heard that Roy was coming into town, I made a couple of prints of Gary Friedrich for her to give to him because I knew they ran around together. Gary was one of my editors at The Jackson Pioneer.

Much to my surprise, I found the photo displayed in the museum when I walked in. It turned out that Gary went on to become a well-known member of the “Marvel Bullpen” in the ’60s.

Roy laughed at the big stack of Pepsi crates in the background.

“I love this picture of Gary,” he said. “All those Pepsis stacked there in the back are probably Gary’s. They were probably all for him. He would drink a whole mess of Pepsis every day. By the time he was in his 30s or 40s, i think every tooth in his mouth was false. Like other people smoked cigarettes, he drank Pepsis. He looks so young here. I would have been about 23 at that time (1964ish), so he was only about 20 or 21.” [Note, I struggled to find how to spell the plural of Pepsi. This was the most common, even if it looks strange.]

“Whatever happened to Gary?” I asked.

“Sadly, he just died recently.”

A very nice obituary for Gary ran in The Missourian on September 4, 2018. My first thought was, gosh, he sure died young. That’s when I realized that he was four years older than me.

Gary’s Fair expose attempt

Gary had an idea that we should do a big expose on gambling at the Southeast Missouri District Fair. Here’s how it turned out. That’s Gary on the left, trying to win a piece of plush, by the way.

Roy Thomas gallery

Here’s a gallery of photos from the reception. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around.

Capaha Park Pool Rats

A bunch of the Class of ’66 folks who came to Cape for their 70th Birthday Party reunion (because lots of them turned 70 in 2018), were hardcore Capaha Park Pool Rats (a description coined by Terry Hopkins).

They thought they’d take advantage of being in town to congregate at Jack Rickard’s house at the base of what used to be the Mississippi River traffic bridge.

Pool Rat Memories

Just about the time the pool was razed, I asked some of the former lifeguards and swim instructors to tell me what they remembered of their swimming days in the middle and late 1960s.

Wife Lila, Bill Jackson and Terry Hopkins shared some touching memories you can read at this link.

Photos on exhibit

Many of the pictures in this gallery will be on exhibit at the Cape Girardeau County History Center across from the courthouse in Jackson. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 4. The exhibit will be up until around the end of October.

Some of the prints are available for purchase there.

Click on any of the photos to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around.

A Jackson Christmas Carol

Traditional Music NIght Cape County History Center 12-10-2016I love going to the Cape Girardeau County History Center in Jackson for their monthly traditional music nights, but I wasn’t sure about this one, which was billed as a Christmas sing-a-long.

See, I’m not crazy about Christmas music for good reason. When I was at The Gastonia (NC) Gazette or The Athens (OH) Messenger, I’d work my normal Christmas Eve shift, then load wife and cat in the car and head out for Cape. It was eight hours and change from Athens, and almost ten hours from Gastonia.

Younger readers won’t understand this, but cars didn’t always come with CD players, FM radios, satellite radios and portable MP3 devices. In fact, mine didn’t even have so much as an 8-track in it. That meant that we had 10 hours of nothing but fading AM radio stations playing Christmas music punctuated by static as we would go in and out of range. By the time we rolled into 1618 Kingsway Drive at midnight or 2 in the morning, my tank of Christmas music was overfilled.

Not your usual caroling

Traditional Music NIght Cape County History Center 12-10-2016A lot of traditional songs were played, but they had music like Chuck Picklesimer’s account of Christmas tree harvesting documented in West Virginia Credit Card. I kept waiting for them to play a song I contributed to a company holiday mix tape: Chipmunks Roasting Over an Open Fire, but it must not have been on their list.

A ride through Jackson City Park

Jackson City Park Xmas 12-10-2016When the sing-a-long wrapped up, it was time to cruise over to the city park. I was impressed at how pretty Jackson’s City Park was decorated last year, but 2016 is even more impressive. (In case you’ve forgotten, you can click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the images.)

Even more trees had lights

Jackson City Park Xmas 12-10-2016After leaving Jackson, I made a loop of North County Park, a traditional place to see Christmas displays, but I didn’t shoot anything. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen those displays so many times, or maybe it’s because I love seeing trees wrapped in lights rather than man-made exhibits, but I have to vote for Jackson as the place to go.

Video with Silent Night

 

I turned on my digital recorder at some point during the pickin’, and captured the group singing all three verses of Silent Night. That sounded like the perfect background music for a drive through the Jackson Park.

(Ignore all the data streaming my at the bottom of the frame. That’s stuff my DOD Tech DOD-LS470W dash camera records. It’s pretty cool. It even has a GPS built in so I can overlay the information on a map. When I tie that in with the time stamps on my digital photos, it helps me figure out where a photo was taken.)

It’s that time of year again

If you are feeling in the Christmas spirit, there’s a small, yellow DONATE button at the top of the page.

If you’re looking for gifts for your friends, the latest edition of Smelterville: A Community of Love is available at these local stores:

Cape Girardeau County History Center, 102 S. High Street, Jackson, Mo., 63755; Phone 573-979-5170. $20 in person; $30 to cover shipping and handling if mailed.

Annie Laurie’s Antique Store, 536 Broadway Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701; Phone 573-339-1301, $20 in person.

Pastimes Antiques, 45 Main Street, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701; Phone 573-332-8882. $20 in person.