David Kelley and Missouri’s Bootheel

David Kelley 06-11-2016

I met David Kelley in Altenburg at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum about the time he was helping found the Starzinger Family Research Library  in memory of his long-time friend, Margaret Starzinger Wills, whose family was from the area.

I became better acquainted with him when we kept running into each other at  Jackson’s Cape Girardeau County History Center, where he was creating memorials to the Talley side of his family.

How would you like to document The Bootheel?

It might have been Director Carla Jordan’s nudging that got him to broach the idea of having me document The Bootheel. I was intrigued, but not sure it was the right project for me.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kelley died of COVID, so he’ll never see the project through (and, to be honest, I’m not sure I will, either, for a number of reasons).

David E. Kelly, Sr.  1930 – 2020

David Kelley at his home in Steele 11-01-2014
David E. Kelley, Sr. was born on September 13, 1930 in Steele, MO to Pleasant Lafette (Jack) Kelley and Winnie Talley Kelley. He passed away on November 12, 2020 in Mt. Home, AR at the age of 90.
 
He lived in Steele until 2016, when he retired and moved to Mt. Home, AR.
 
David was a lifelong member of the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Steele. He was a veteran who served his country as a member of the U.S. Air Force. He had been employed as a teacher, farmer, and insurance agent. He was also a 32nd Degree Mason and a Shriner.
 
He was united in marriage to Barbara Lennox Kelley on November 23, 1955. She and his parents preceded him in death.
 
He is survived by two sons: David E. Kelley, Jr., and his wife, Donna, of Mt. Home, AR; Mark L. Kelley, and his wife, Lynn, of Van Buren, AR; five grandsons: Jared, Josh, Jonathan, Sean, and Dalton; four great grandchildren: Kayra, Kendall, Beau, and Noah.

What’s The Bootheel?

I guess it’s as much a state of mind as it is a geographical entity.

A Wikipedia entry defines it this way:

The Missouri Bootheel is the southeasternmost part of the state of Missouri, extending south of 36°30′ north latitude, so called because its shape in relation to the rest of the state resembles the heel of a boot.

Strictly speaking, it is composed of Dunklin, New Madrid, and Pemiscot counties.

However, the term is locally used to refer to the entire southeastern lowlands of Missouri located within the Mississippi Embayment, which includes parts of Butler, Mississippi, Ripley, Scott, Stoddard and extreme southern portions of Cape Girardeau and Bollinger counties.

It starts at the Benton Hills for me

I consider The Bootheel to begin at about MM 82.8 southbound on I-55 just north of Benton. That’s where you leave rolling hills, and gravity takes you down to the flatlands that will carry you all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, more or less.

Mr. Kelley and I drove about 1,200 miles just surveying most of the counties listed above. During that overview, I learned much from his monologues, but shot less than two dozen photos.

I had trouble wrapping my head around the region. It was the very definition of FLAT, with few places to  gain any perspective. On top of that, many of the towns and villages had either disappeared or were in major disrepair.

I’m fond of shooting dying places like coal towns in SE Ohio or Cairo, Ill., but there was a dearth of places where I could feel the vibes of those who had passed through.

Pemiscot County

I can’t figure out how to show what I shot, so I’m going to post a series of random galleries, followed by links to blog posts I’ve done that might or might not put some of the images in context.

Here’s a selection of photos from Pemiscot county. Click on any image to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move around. Escape will take you out.

Pemiscot county was where Mr. Kelley and his family raised cotton for many years, and it was the place we talked about the most.

He said that when mechanical cotton harvesters came into common use in the 1960s, the county lost about 85% of its population. When the more skilled workers fled to places like St. Louis, Chicago and Memphis, and the lesser-skilled migrated to the smaller regional towns, the stores dried up for lack of customers. When the stores folded, so did the banks and other businesses.

I felt like I had let Mr. Kelley down because I couldn’t paint a portrait of the area like we both had hoped. It wasn’t until I started looking through all the blog posts I’ve done about the region that I realized that I had been working on this for a long time, even before I met him.

Pemiscot County links

Mississippi County

Dad built roads in Mississippi County, and I’m pretty sure we had our trailer parked in Caruthersville or Portageville at some point.

When I was about 10 years old, he took me to where they were getting gravel delivered by railroad hopper cars. He let me crawl under the cars with a hammer to cause the gravel to fall out onto a conveyor belt that loaded it on trucks.

He told me to stay under the rail car while a bulldozer pushed the next one up into position. “Just keep low and keep your arms and legs between the rails.” Can you imagine what OSHA would say about that today?

Mississippi County links.

Missouri – Arkansas State Line

I was curious to see if the arch was still there. We not only saw the arch, but we had a great lunch at the Dixie Pig in Blytheville. I’m pretty sure that the last time I was in Blytheville before that was in the mid-70s, when I wanted to rent a truck to carry a load of Dutchtown lumber to Florida to build a shed in the back yard.

Renting it one-way from Cape was going to cost a mint, but I found out that Arkansas had a surplus of trucks, and they wouldn’t hit me with a surcharge. The only thing was that I had to be careful of the mileage allowed, and renting in Arkansas, loading in Missouri, and driving to Florida meant I had to find the most direct route possible.

I ended up going on some backroads not normally travelled by tourists. When I gassed up at one tiny station, the kid who serviced me asked, “How much do they pay you to drive that-there truck?”

It was obvious that he had never seen a rental truck or understood the concept of one.

Here is an interesting historical nugget about the Arch area: The area around the arch became known as “Little Chicago” because of the type of activity that went on there. A long-time resident of nearby Yarbo, Arkansas, once said of the arch, “It was a good place to go while the wife and kids were in church.”

Curator Jessica meets the Hwy 61 Arch

Dunklin County

Once I established that I wasn’t some kind of pervert taking pictures of kids (apparently that had happened not long before), I got a friendly welcome from the folks at the Malden High School’s football game. The mosquitoes gave me a great welcome, too.

I also shot a reunion of people who had been stationed at the Malden Airport during World War II, but I never got around writing about it.

Malden’s Green Wave – High School Football at its best

Scott County

I never considered Scott City to be the Bootheel, but the southern parts of it, which include the north edge of Sikeston, qualify.

Scott County links

New Madrid County

I spent a lot of time in the New Madrid area trying to track down people I photographed being baptized in the Mississippi River in 1967. Unfortunately, the exodus from the area after mechanical harvesters arrived caused a lot of them to leave.

I’m going to put the Baptism gallery at the end of the post because it contains so many images.

Lights in the night

Cotton fields look like Christmas decorations.

East Side Cemetery

A day in New Madrid with Jennifer Schwent

1965 Sikeston rodeo with Jim Nabors

More 1965 Sikeston rodeo and Jim Nabors

Old men playing checkers in Matthews

Hornersville in Dunklin County

This was one of the few small towns I was able to find much to document. I was amused to find that my parked car’s dashcam captured me wandering around the street like I was a loose ball in a pinball game.

That drove Mr. Kelley crazy. He couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t just get out of the car, snap a picture, then head out to the next destination.

That impatience eventually brought an end to our collaboration. I left him in the car while I went to chat with an old man at a mostly-abandoned cotton gin. He was a little reluctant to be photographed, but just about the time I had won him over, Mr. Kelley started honking the horn to tell me I was wasting too much time.

After that, I became a solo explorer.

Stoddard County

Most of my time in Stoddard County was spent in Advance, but because we had extended family and friends in the area, I grew up sitting on a lot of front porches hearing and overhearing tall tales about the taming of ‘Swampeast’ Missouri.

Stoddard County links

 

City of Advance in Stoddard County

My mother and grandparents came from Advance. Dad’s construction company once had an office in the Prather Building, along with Welch’s Liquor Store. For awhile, we lived in our trailer parked in my grandparents’ driveway.

Because of that, I have lots of random stories and photos of the town, including some of its mysteries that are still unsolved to this day.

Advance links

New Madrid Mississippi River Baptism

This was one of the last things I shot before transferring to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, as a junior in 1967.

Most of the photos I had taken, up until I shot the Smelterville photos and the Baptism, were fairly pedestrian traditional newspaper photos. These two projects were the first time that my “style” started to show up.

I’ve always considered them to be my Missouri “final exam.”

I had hoped to do a Smelterville-type project where I tracked down the people in the photos, but the out-migration brought about by the change in farming messages scattered the subjects out of the area.

I WAS able to find Bishop Benjamin Armour, one of the preachers in the river, in 2013.

Lillian Fiehler – 11/16/1929 – 11/2/2018

Lillian Fiehler 11-17-2010

Tiny Altenburg said goodbye to one of its best-known members on Wednesday, November 7, 2018. Lillian (Schilling) Fiehler was a long-time resident of the town of 352, a member of the Bucket Brigade, and one of The Last Generation to speak German as a primary language growing up.

I feel like I have to tell a little about Lillian’s town before I dive into her life. (You can click on the photos to make them larger, then use your arrow keys to step through them.)

When I showed up at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum on Nov. 17, 2010, with an armload of photos of Wittenberg, it never dawned on my how it would change the way I look at my pictures. The diminutive Lillian introduced me to museum director Carla Jordan, who handed me off  to Wilmar Degenhardt, who was astounded to find that I had taken aerial photos of the house he was born in.

Decorating Christmas trees

Lillian Fiehler working on Altenburg Museum Christmas Tree exhibit 11-17-2011

It wasn’t long before I found myself making regular 66-mile round trips to the museum where I would watch volunteers like Lillian working on things like the annual Christmas tree exhibit (which they are decorating right now, by the way).

Insular, but friendly

Mother, Jessica Cyders with MO folks 10-29-2013

The amazing thing about Altenburg, one of eight German-Saxon communities founded in the 1830s, was how it could be both insular and extraordinarily welcoming.,

One day when I complimented Wilmar on how well homes were maintained, and how the yards were well-kept, he leaned over conspiratorially and all but whispered, “Yeah, but the ENGLISH are coming.” That he shared that with me made me feel like I was accepted.

When I took Mother and Curator Jessica to the Mississippi Mud (now Grayson’s Bar & Grill), It wasn’t long before Lillian’s son, Gerard pulled up a chair. Soon chairs were scraping across the floor to be be occupied by Schmidts, Deganhardts and others with Deutch-sounding names.

You’ll never find yourself eating alone at Grayson’s.

Gerard and his dad

I’ve spent many hours sitting with Gerard at Tower Rock, watching logs drifting to New Orleans, and waiting for the whirlpool the natives called The Demon That Devours Travelers to spin up.

In 2014, I did a video of Gerard talking about his dad, Bob, who was drafted at age 19 to go fight in the Battle of the Bulge as a tank driver. It’s worth watching.

I worry a little about Gerard. At the end of the video, he says, “One of my sisters said that “You didn’t just lose your dad. You lost your best friend.” Many of the stories that his dad told him ended with the tagline, “Don’t tell your mom.” Now, unfortunately, he won’t have that option.

Lillian’s obituary

Lillian Fiehler 07-16-2013

Lillian Marie (Schilling) Fiehler, 88, of Altenburg, was taken home to be with the Lord, Friday, November 2, 2018.

    She was born November 16, 1929, in Altenburg, daughter of  Rudy and Clara (Loebs) Schilling.  She was baptized and confirmed at Trinity Lutheran Church where she worshiped her entire life. 

    Lillian married Robert (Bob) Fiehler on June 18, 1950.  Their marriage was blessed with five children:  Gerard Fiehler, Altenburg; Susan Fiehler, St Louis; Carla (Kent) Grebing, Altenburg; Ellen (John) Linxwiler, St. Louis; and Timothy Fiehler, St Louis.  She is also survived by five grandchildren:  Jacob (Sarah) Fiehler, Alison (Brian) Funke, Barrett (Chrysta) Grebing, Nick (Sarah) Fiehler, and Ben Linxwiler.  Also, seven great-grandchildren; Jack, Faith, and Blythe Funke, Ella and Vivian Fiehler, Theo Grebing, and Aubrey Fiehler.

Lillian Fiehler 07-16-2013

       Survivors also include two brothers and two sisters, Myrtle Kuehnert, Melvin (Mary) Schilling, Lorene (Leonard) Haertling, and Harold (Deb) Schilling and one sister-in-law, Lois Kersten, and numerous other family and friends. 

    Lillian was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, brothers, Raymond Schilling, Leonard Schilling, and a grandson, Wade Fiehler

    Lillian spent many enjoyable years serving numerous families as part of the “East Perry County Bucket Brigade.”  Many of these families became part of her extended “family.”  She also enjoyed her many carpool friends.  

    Throughout Lillian’s life, she participated in a variety of church activities including singing in the Trinity Choir, LWML, and serving as a docent at the Lutheran Heritage Center

Lillian Fiehler 07-16-2013

    Lillian’s greatest passion in life was caring for her son, Tim, who has Down Syndrome.  She exercised great zeal for Tim to know the Lord and be active in church and the community.  The family is grateful for the care that Tim receives at the Emmaus Group Home. 

    Lillian will always be remembered for her beautiful yard, love of cooking, baking, sewing and hosting people in her home. 

    Lillian enjoyed living at Independence Care and her family will always be grateful for the care that she received in her years there as a resident. 

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.

Sunrises are Overrated

Sunset looking west from Staples plaza 07-20-2016I’ve seen two sunrises this week. I pulled two all-nighters editing pictures and sending them off to be printed. The sunrises were spectacularly reddish, or, that might have just been what they looked like through my bloodshot eyes.

What brought about this horrible flashback to my high school and college days? The Cape County History Center in Jackson is going to exhibit pictures from my coming of age years. I underestimated how long it was going to take to get the pictures done because they had already been scanned.

What I had forgotten

What I had forgotten was that I really didn’t know what I was doing when I first started digitizing the film. After doing the digital darkroom work and getting rid of all the flaws, I should have saved them as a Photoshop file. Instead, I output them for the web. That’s great if you are only going to look at it on a computer screen, but the image falls apart if you want to enlarge it.

That meant that I had to go back to the original scan and touch up 100 to 1000 scratches, dust spots and flaws per picture. Doing that once is a pain. Doing it a second time is agonizingly, boringly frustrating.

Anyway, Carla Jordan and I are going to be hanging the show Friday afternoon and night. With any kind of luck, it’ll be ready for folks to see Saturday afternoon. More info to come.

That’s not a sunrise

This isn’t a sunrise, by the way. I had to go to Staples to pick up some ink for my printer Wednesday evening. When I walked out of the store, I was blown away by the way Man and Mother Nature were having a color competition.