Jesse James sent me a set of photos he shot while he was in Cape over the Christmas holidays. He happened to be at the end of Bellevue, which was the site of Civil War Fort A.
The old apartment building at 155 Bellevue has been razed and the land cleared for some kind of project. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)
Not much of a loss
I usually lament the passing of buildings, but this apartment wasn’t much even when I used to visit a reporter friend there in the mid-1960s. Here’s what it looked like in 2011.
I did a Missourian search to see if there had been any stories about what was going on, but nothing popped up. Most of the briefs associated with that address were miscellaneous moperies that showed up in the police briefs.
It looks like Jesse’s photo shows the tree behind the apartment has been saved.
From the air
Here’s an overview of the neighborhood taken in 2011. The apartment is the white building to the left and below the Fort A label.
A Missourian hangout
Arlene Southern’s apartment was the unofficial hangout for The Missourian’s younger staffers. Jerry Obermark, left, covered cops. Denny O’Neil was one of the most talented writers I ever worked with. He and Jerry went with me to cover the Buck Nelson Flying Saucer Convention in the Missouri Ozarks.
I chased former managing editor Don Gordon down in North Carolina a couple of summers ago. He still talked about how preppy-looking Mary Beth Vawter talked her way into an interview with Barry Goldwater’s wife when Barry was campaigning in Cairo in 1964.
Tall-hair Arlene was the improbable choice for religion editor. She might have been the one who made the mistake of slugging the church briefs “god junk.” Her readers weren’t happy when the composing room forgot to take the slug out before the story ran in the paper.
You notice the table is set for four. I must have been relegated to the kids’ table.
They should hire some high school kid
Of course, grousing about our jobs, pay, hours and assignments took up a lot of our time. I remember when the gripe stick was passed to me one night.
I said, “Yeah, they ought to hire some high school kid to do the scut work to free us up to do really important stories.” When I looked up, everybody was grinning. That’s when I realized that was exactly what The Missourian had done: I was that high school kid.
There was a rumor that some illegal herbs might have been burned in that apartment, but the group protected my innocence and never did anything like that in my presence. They probably should have loosened up a bit so I wasn’t so surprised when I got to Ohio University. The first time I went to a party, I thought, “Wow, these college students must be really poor: they’re having to share a cigarette.”
Fantastic view of river
The very thing that made it a great vantage point for controlling the river during the Civil War makes it a great location to live today. I’d love to sit on a deck or balcony and watch the river go by.
View from Broadway
Here’s the view of the property looking north from the parking lot of what used to be the former First National bank at the corner of Broadway and Main.
One of the most challenging jobs I had in my newspaper career was a brief stint as District News Editor at The Southeast Missourian. Denny O’Neil, who had been herding the cats we would call “citizen journalists” today left town in a hurry, so I was nominated to take over the slot.
Every morning, I would slit open hand-scrawled envelopes containing “news” that these people would file. In print, they were called Correspondents. In newspaper jargon, they were called “stringers,” who were paid per published inch. Since many journalists are math-challenged, we would measure the published columns with a string, then measure the string to arrive at the number of inches, hence the name.
If we were lucky, the stringer, who might be filing the same stories to three or four papers, would type the copy. If you were even more lucky, you might get the original or one of the top carbons. I usually didn’t have that kind of luck.
Sometimes the stories would be typed in black ink. When that started getting light, they’d switch to the red part of the ribbon, Eventually you’d get something like this: a page that just peters out with a penciled note, “Sorry hope you can make this out. my typewriter ribbon just gave out.”
No, your ribbon gave out about two weeks ago. (Click on the photos to make them easier to read (except for this one. Nothing is going to help it.))
Ann Withers from Delta
One of our long-time stringers was Ann Withers from Delta. She and her husband Andy operated a service station in the tiny town best known for being a speed trap halfway between Cape Girardeau and Advance. He ran the garage and she handled the gas station side.
Her stories were heavy on the doings of Ann and Andy. Being a serious journalist, I edited her copy with a meat axe until here was nothing left but the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.
One afternoon, Editor John Blue came over to give me some guidance. He said to cut people like Ann and Rip Schnurbusch in Old Appleton some slack. “Not much happens in these little towns, so they make do the best they can. Besides, their little asides are what make their columns fun to read.”
Since I now write in much the same Ann and Rip style, I can appreciate what jBlue was saying.
She loved blood and gore
Ann loved to provide more detail than what most of our readers wanted to encounter over the dinner table. I can imagine her leaning over the gas pumps getting the full scoop from the local railroad gang. (I’ve removed names from this offering to protect the privacy of family members.) She also tended to run stories together, leading to a blending of a gruesome railroad accident, a gunshot suicide and the passing of a well-loved citizen all in the same paragraph.
I never figured out Ann’s penchant for inserting random extra spaces between words and punctuation marks unless she thought she was paid by the typed inch instead of the printed inch and she was going to stretch it as much as possible.
OK, THIS one was funny
Proving that even a blind hog can find an acorn from time to time, this account of mystery music was funny. Since the “beloved senior citizen” wasn’t named, I wondered if it might have been Husband Andy.
Saga of dead sparrows
Here’s her account of a sparrow-strangler of a storm.
The end of an era in Delta
This story must have been written in 1966 about the time they retired.
Andy Withers died in 1979
Here is Andy Withers’ obit from the July 25, 1979, Missourian:
Delta–William Andrew (“Andy”) Withers, a businessman here for many years, died at 8:15 Tuesday night at Chaffee General Hospital. He was 74 years old. Mr. Withers was born May 3, 1905, near Delta, the son of Frank and Selena Lewis Withers. He had resided in the Delta community his entire life.
On Dec. 27, 1927, he married Miss Ann Cracraft at Cape Girardeau. For 38 years, he and his wife owned and operated Withers Service Station and Garage here. He was a member of the Delta First Baptist Church and the Whitewater Masonic lodge.
Surviving are his wife; brothers, John and Louis Withers, both of Florissant, James Withers, St. Louis, and Arthur Withers, Clinton, Md., and sisters, Mrs. Herbert Schlegel, Cape Girardeau, and Mrs. Glenn Chateau and Mrs. Jeff Thomas, both of St. Louis.
Service will be at 2 Friday afternoon at the funeral home in Delta, with the Rev. Ronald Shrum, pastor of the Delta First Baptist Church, officiating, assisted by the Rev. Jack Owens. Burial will be in Memorial Park at Cape Girardeau. Members of the Whitewater Masonic Lodge will serve as pallbearers.
Ann Withers died in 1988
Here is her obit from The Missourian on Dec. 1, 1988:
Delta–Service for Ann C. Withers will be held at Ford & Sons Funeral Home in Delta at 1:30 p.m. Friday, with Rev. Kenny Martin officiating. Interment will be in Cape County Memorial Park.There will be an Eastern Star service at the funeral home at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Withers, 77 years old, of Delta, died Wednesday, Nov. 30, 1988, at southeast Missouri Hospital. She was born March. 9, 1911 at Jackson, daughter of John W. Cracraft, and Margaret Statler Cracraft.
She married W. A. “(Andy”) Withers on Dec. 27, 1927, in Cape Girardeau. He preceded her in death July 24, 1979. Survivors include a brother, Lynn Cracraft of Carlsbad, Calif.; two stepsisters, Mrs. Carmen Golightly of Cape Girardeau, and Mrs. Ruth Miller, of Sandusky, Ohio. She was preceded in death by 6 brothers and one sister.
Withers was a member of the First Baptist Church of Delta, the Whitewater Eastern Star Chapter 174 and the VFW Auxiliary 3838 in Cape Girardeau.
She and her husband owned and operated Withers Garage and Service Station in Delta 38 years, retiring in 1966. she was the Delta news correspondent for the Southeast Missourian, the Chaffee Signal, and Advance News.
[Editor’s Note: jBlue would have given the writer of this obit a royal reaming. You NEVER referred to someone in an obit by their last name, particularly if it was a woman: you used the full name or a courtesy title with the last name. It was also style to stick a “the” in front of Rev.. The writer also failed to capitalize “The” in the newspaper’s name in the last graf. There is a better than even chance the obit was written by the funeral home, but a Missourian copy editor should have caught those errors. Unless, of course, that was in the era when the paper didn’t care about such niceties.]
A prayer for the rabbits
She may not have been the best writer in the world, but she was wired into her community.
Donkey ball game postponed
The excitement of a donkey ball game had to be put on hold because the donkeys scheduled to play were killed in a fire.
Vietnam War touches Delta
I can picture Carl Dayton Poinsett’s mother telling the story about her soldier son in just that breathless burst. Maybe Ann was a better writer than I gave her credit for.
jBlue was right: I should have passed on more of her copy.
I have to disappoint folks who come looking for photos or stories about UFOs in Cape. On the other hand, I got to spend a whole weekend asking people, “And, what kind of clothes do they wear on Mars and Venus?”
It was the summer of 1966, and I went on my first out-of-town assignment – to the Buck Nelson Flying Saucer Convention in Mountain View, in the Missouri Ozarks. Now that I think of it, I’m not sure it was an actual assignment. I think I just convinced reporters Jerry Obermark and Denny O’Neil that we should jump in my 1959 Buick LaSabre station wagon and light out.
The caption under the photo above read, “Bob Palmer sits at the registration desk at Buck Nelson’s Spacecraft Convention ready to sell visitors copies of My Trip to Mars, the Moon and Venus by Mr. Nelson, More About Flying Saucers, by John Dean, or post cards depicting – in full color – a flying saucer spinning through the air.”
Cult ponders “space brothers”
I’m going to let Jerry tell the story the way he wrote in in the June 28, 1966, Missourian. I may toss in a comment or observation from time to time. The gentleman above who has the look of a biblical prophet is Buck, by the way.
Buck Nelson of Mountain View, an Ozark community, has more in common with the fabled Buck Rogers than his first name. Mr. Nelson claims to have ridden in space ships to other planets, to have visited and talked with “space brothers” and to be one of their contact men on earth.
Mr. Nelson is nearing 70 and has held a space convention on his 40-acre farm, seven miles northwest of Mountain View, in Howell County, each year since 1954, the first year Mr. Nelson was contacted by spacemen. The crowds for the convention have dwindled in recent years.
This convention was one of the most disappointing.
James L. Hill – space brothers’ contact man
A larger attendance was expected, James L. Hill of Seymour said. Mr. Hill said he is a close friend of Mr. Nelson in addition to being the space brothers’ contact man for southwest Missouri.
Mr. Hill explained that he and Mr. Nelson both formerly lived in California. He said Mr. Nelson was once a police detective in the Los Angeles, Calif., Police Department. Mr. Hill said he retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of major in 1920. He worked in different areas since his retirement and has written a few books.
His main interest, however, and the reason for his being at Mr. Nelson’s farm last weekend was to talk about flying saucers and the space brothers. Mr. Nelson, himself, said little. But, Mr. Hill was anything but shy.
Change in appearance
Mr. Hill told how Mr. Nelson looked different in appearance after the space brothers visited him in 1954. His face was white and his eyes looked as if he had seen a vision, Mr. Hill said.
The cult finder’s medical records at the hospital in Texas County show that he formerly had arthritis, Mr. Hill said. After the visit, Mr. Nelson made a marvelous recovery, Mr. Hill said.
Since that first visit, Mr. Nelson has been contacted many times times by the space brothers. He has been taken to other planets and visited several times at his home, Mr. Hill explained. Mr. Hill said he also has been contacted by space brothers. They visited his home, ate meals with him and communicated by telepathy, he said.
Both Mr. Hill and Mr. Nelson were sent to Missouri from California by the space brothers several years ago, Mr. Hill said. He said, for lack of a better word, that a feeling or “hunch” came over them that they should move here. Mr. Nelson also had lived in Denver, Colo., prior to moving here, Mr. Hill said.
Purpose of the visit
Main purpose of the space brothers visits here, Mr. Hill claimed, is to relay the message that the scientists here should stop experimenting with hydrogen and atomic bombs.
When the spacemen first contacted Mr. Nelson, Mr. Hill noted, they said, “You have a mission and you will be told more as we want you to know.” Since that time, Mr. Hill said he has learned much.
The space visitors that Mr. Hill has seen usually have black beards and are taller than 6 feet. The most recent encounter took place at Mr. Nelson’s house last September, he said.
“Billions of lights” in the sky
On three consecutive nights, Mr. Nelson said, he saw what he called “billions of lights.” The lights appeared to be 50 to 100 miles north of the farmhouse and were clearly seen from the road near his house. Mr. Hill said he and Mr. Nelson and Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Henn of Willow Springs saw the lights. Mr. and Mrs. Henn told the same story, but they thought it happened in April. The lights were stationary, Mr. Henn said, and they appeared to be about the same size as a fluorescent street light. But there is no highway or town in the area where they appeared, he noted.
[Editor’s note: there’s another twist to this story that I’ll save for the end. Hang in there.]
On one of the nights, after Mr. Hill and Mr. Nelson had returned from watching the lights, three “spacemen” walked out of the founder’s yard. One of the men took a gun from his pocket which shot a beam of light “brighter than sunlight.” The ray disintegrated one of Mr. Nelson’s sickly cats, Mr. Hill said.
The visitors from space were all wearing uniforms similar to denim overalls and had black beards. They didn’t say anything when Mr. Nelson spoke to them, first in English, then in Indian sign language. Mr. Hill said he tried to communicate with them by telepathy, but they just walked away.
Space Brothers highly developed
At other times, Mr. Hill said he learned that the space brothers are a much higher developed culture than earthlings. He said they travel at fantastic speeds in any of several types of spaceships. They have no need for anything on earth, he said. The only reason they want to keep scientists from “fooling” with atomic and nuclear power because it could destroy the universe, he said.
Several of the spacemen live on earth. Hundreds of thousands of them work as scientists and in Washington, D.C., Mr. Hill said. The United States space program has been infiltrated by them, he added. They normally will not interfere with experiments by the government here, but it things get too dangerous, they will interfere, he said.
Reproduce by thought waves
The spacemen live on several of the known and unknown planets, he explained. Many of them live for thousands of years. They can reproduce by thought waves or physically, Mr. Hill said.
He said some of their favorite foods when they visited him in California were “peanut butter sandwiches, milk and coffee, but not too much coffee.”
There were religious overtones in most of the speeches and private conversations on spacemen at the convention. Mr. Hill said Jesus Christ was taken up on a spaceship after his death on the Cross. He said that Jesus is the first born son of God and that he now travels on the other planets and talks to the leaders there.
About four years ago, the space brothers told Mr. Hill and Mr. Nelson of two projects for which they were to be the contact men.
One of the projects was for the building of a spaceship at the cost of $25 million. The other was a plan to make water available to anyone in the U.S.A free without the use of pipes by simply telephoning Mr. Nelson or Mr. Hill. The water project would cost the government $1.5 billion, Mr. Hill said.
Mr. Hill said he drew up two bills and submitted them to Sen. Edward V. Long of Missouri, but they were not introduced in Congress. Mr. Hill said he could not include any of the secrets as to how the water would be supplied or the spaceship would be built. The bill simply asked for government money to build the center to be headed by Mr. Nelson and Mr. Hill. The space brothers were going to assist the men in both projects. He said he could not give details because he would be breaking a trust with the spacemen.
When Mr. Hill was asked why the projects would cost so much, he said the figures were beyond his understanding, but they had been recommended by the space brothers. He said they would need to build a “nice space center” at Mr. Nelson’s farm. Eventually, the spaceship was to be for the use of everyone in the United States, he said. They would also need to buy some cars and trucks, he added. But the bulk of the expense was unaccounted for. Apparently the space brothers needed exotic metals and expensive equipment for the projects.
Other bizarre tales
If some of Mr. Hill’s stories seemed strange, it should be added that equally bizarre tales were related by John W. Dean of Hutchinson, Kan.
Mr. Dean said that the U.S. government has captured a few spacecraft and is keeping the public from knowing about them.
The Kansan explained slide which depict several types of spaceships. He said the ships drew their power from the air by the magnetic pole and they had condensers.
“I guarantee that what I am telling you is as true as we know how to get it. And it’s the thing that will save this country from destruction, if we will adopt what they are offering us. It’s all printed in the UFO magazine,” Mr. Dean said.
The convention itself was similar to other conventions in only a few respects. There was a carnival atmosphere to some extent. Music from concessions and rides could be heard in the background. Several persons made speeches. Delegates from several states came to the convention to learn about the experiences of others and to relate their own. Persons who had read the advertisement also attended.
[Editor’s note: I learned at least two valuable lessons on my first away trip: (1) it’s possible to get a good night’s sleep in a $2-a-night boarding house with the facilities down the hall, and (2) never bet on a sure thing. On the way out of town, I cashed my paycheck, all $50 of it, so I was flush. Looking for a break from conversations about Martians, I wandered over to a carnie joint where I got suckered into a game where you couldn’t lose. The guy with his cigarette pack rolled up in his T-shirt sleeve spotted me an unbelievable number of points toward a goal with a big payoff. Since you accumulated points every round, there was no way to lose (as long as you had an infinite amount of money to keep playing). Just like the train will never get to its destination if it keeps going half-way, it soon became apparent that I was NEVER going to get to the magic number of points. I figured it was the cheapest and most valuable lesson I ever got for $20. Years later, I would find a book, Eying the Flash – The Education of a Carnival Con Artist – that explained how the scam worked.]
Benches for audience
A weather-worn building on Mr. Nelson’s farm served as headquarters for some visitors. Six rows of benches accommodated listeners. Microphones were set up on the platform and sandwiches and refreshments were available.
The rides and concessions were an added attraction this year, but were not to distract from the business of the convention – to educate the people about the spacemen, Mr. Hill said. Other conventions are held annually at several locations, Mr. Hill added. One is scheduled for Giant Rock, Calif. About 10,000 persons are expected to attend, he said.
Signs reading, “Spaceships Welcome” were posted around the convention area and were available to anyone who wanted one for his car.
The convention closed Monday. The people of Mountain View will talk about the event for only a short time. Few townspeople were curious enough to attend.
Nevertheless, most of those who commented on Buck Nelson’s space convention did not indicate skepticism in Mr. Nelson or even disbelief in this stories.
One woman said she couldn’t see why the government was spending so much money to go to the moon when they could “just come out and ask Buck.”
Here’s Jerry at work
I’m not sure how Denny and Jerry figured out who was going to write the story. I give Jerry credit for writing it right down the middle. He reported it straight without poking fun at anyone, although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a story with so many attributions and “he saids.” We could only stand about two hours at a stretch before we’d pile in the car to drive away to decompress. Jerry is the guy on the right trying to keep a straight face.
The crazy kicker
I promised you a twist to the “billions lights” story. Well, in addition to the lights, Buck told the tale about going out of town one weekend and coming back to find a tree that had been in his yard gone without a trace. “The space brothers must have wanted to take that tree to study. They probably levitated it right away without leaving so much as a leaf or piece of bark behind.”
When we started to head back to Cape, I noticed that I had picked up a nail in a tire, resulting in a slow leak. We stopped at the first service station in Mountain View where the kid who fixed my flat was curious about what we strangers were doing in town.
“We’re covering Buck Nelson’s Flying Saucer Convention,” I explained.
“That old Buck,” the kid said, “We have a bundle of fun with him. Every once in awhile we’ll go out there with a bunch of rockets and shoot them off over this house. The best prank we played was one weekend when he was out of town. Me and a bunch of my buddies cut down this tree in his front yard and made off with every speck of it. We didn’t leave a single scrap of sawdust behind…..”
The Sorry-There-Aren’t-Any-UFOs Photo Gallery
Here are a batch of photos from the weekend. I have a pdf copy of Buck’s book, My Trip to Mars, the Moon and Venus, but it’s about 10 megs, bigger than the blog software will allow me to upload. If anyone wants to read it, drop me an email and we’ll work out something. I don’t see any copyright notes on it and Buck, I’m sure, has gone wherever the space brothers wanted to take him by now. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to step through the gallery.