Corn, Sunset and Pipeline

I was rocketing along a levee road trying to get a good angle to shoot the suspension pipeline over the Mississippi River between Grand Tower, Ill., and Wittenberg, Mo., when I saw the sun light up the tassels on on a corn field. It was worth stopping for 45 or 50 seconds. Click on the photos to make them larger.

Longest suspension pipeline in the world

When it was built, this pipeline was said to be the longest in the world. Someone saw some of the photos I’ve taken of it over the years and suggested it would be a nice souvenir photo book to go along with a couple others I’m working on.

I have shot it from below while working on a story about a ferry that crossed under it; I’ve shot it from the north, west, south and the air. This was the first time I’ve shot it from the Illinois side.

Must be getting old

I had been there about an hour earlier and got some nice pictures, but after heading north along the river and not finding a good angle, I decided to race the sun back to here. I made it with about five minutes to spare. When I blasted over the top of the levee and screeched to a halt, Mother yelled, “Whoa!”

She never yells. “Whoa!”

She yells “Gun it!”

She must be getting old.

Missouri’s Last Train Robbery

I’m not exactly sure what draws me back to Wittenberg on almost every trip to Cape. There’s not much to see. There are only two buildings and three people left in the town. David Holley is one of them. I knocked on his door to get permission to go into what was called the Wittenberg Bomb Shelter when I photographed it in 1966. I’ll have more photos and stories about the German community in the future.

The last train robbery


While he was catching me up on what he knew about Wittenberg, he told me that what some folks call the last train robbery in the state – if not the whole country – took place just up the tracks from his house. Watch the video to hear his version of the story in his own words.

Last of the Jesse James Gang

History’s a slippery thing. David has the general story straight, but some other accounts have the names and some minor details a little different. (He admits that he takes things he hears with a grain of salt.)

Here’s one that talks about the history of Seventy-Six, Mo., and the robbery.

In October, 1922 the St. Louis – San Francisco train was robbed two miles north of Wittenberg. Over $100,000 was taken before the robbers were shot at the little bridge in Wittenberg. One of the Robbers turned out to be Jack Kennedy, also known as “Quail Hunter” Kennedy, the last of the Jesse James gang.

Jack Kennedy had become a member of the James gang at 17. Although frequently incarcerated over the years, he was never convicted of murder and always managed to win parole. He went weeks before the train robbery roaming the Frohna area, where he lived in the woods and plied a trade of knife and scissor sharpening. He knew that each fall money was sent from St. Louis banks to Memphis, Tennessee.

After determining the best location for a bank robbery would be between Seventy-Six and Wittenberg, he and his two accomplices board the train and put their plan into action. While on gunman held the passengers captive, another searched the mail bags and located the packages earmarked for a certain bank in Memphis. The train was then disconnected from the locomotive and a baggage car while Kennedy, with a young dark-haired accomplice, got on the locomotive and took off into the night.

Bad choice of accomplice

About 100 yards south of the Wittenberg bridge, the robbers, each carrying a mail bag, left the train after opening the engine throttle and sending the locomotive and baggage car onward. Unfortunately, Jack Kennedy made a judgment error in choosing his third accomplice. This accomplice, chosen by Jack Kennedy because he had a car – essential to the getaway plan, was to wait for Jack Kennedy and his on-board accomplice to complete the robbery. What Jack Kennedy didn’t know was the accomplice he had so carefully selected was a Federal Marshall.

On that October night, the conductor, engineer, and the firemen on the train were aware of the planned robbery. Expecting Kennedy to release the locomotive, they made sure the fire was burned down when the robbery occurred. Quickly running out of steam, the locomotive stopped just seven miles down the track. The bank robbers, thinking they had successfully gotten away with the robbery, were surprised after leaping from the train to hear voices shouting “Halt!” Jack Kennedy didn’t halt. Instead, he pulled his six-shooter out, and he and his young accomplice were shot dead. Their bodies were taken to Mr. P.J. Lueder’s studio, where they were propped up and photographed while onlookers gazed at the gory sight.

The young accomplice turned out to be Robert Ford, an Oklahoman who had idolized Jesse James and, in an effort to imitate him, couldn’t resist joining with Jack Kennedy when a chance meeting put them together.

Another version of the robbery

While visiting the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum, I picked up a copy of the Perry County Historical Society’s book, Wittenberg, Perry County, Missouri.

It had an account of the robbery that said the young accomplice was Lawrence Logsdon of Memphis. When his parents came to claim his body, which had already been buried, they said he had never been away from home until three weeks prior to the shooting. He had a clean record before meeting up with Quail Hunter Kennedy.

Altenburg Museum Christmas Trees

I stopped in at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum in Altenburg this Wednesday afternoon to talk with museum director Carla Jordan about a possible project. I noticed folks like Lillian Fiehler buzzing around getting this year’s annual Christmas Display ready for the weekend.

Dressing for Christmas

Many of the trees are themed, like this one entitled Dressing for Christmas, which is decorated with gloves and hankies. This is a great place to get decorating ideas that are simple and not expensive.

Top ornament came from Walmart

I was admiring the red ornament that topped the tree Carolyn Schmidt was working on. “It came from Walmart,” she confided. They’re not afraid to mix the old and the new if the overall effect works.

Scherenschinitte Tree

“I’m glad there’s a label on this thing,” I told Carolyn when she introduced me to the Scherenschinitte – Scissor Cutting Tree. “If that wasn’t there to back you up, I’d think you were trying to trick me into running some kind of German cuss word.”

Why the donkey is brown

Autumn Hughey was doing a masterful job of coaxing beautiful colors out of chalk to draw a Nativity scene. “In case you were wondering, the donkey is brown because I didn’t have any gray chalk.” To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed, but that’s the answer in case YOU were wondering.

Display up through January 15

Carla said the display should be complete by this weekend. It will be up until January 15. If the first trees are any indication, it’s well worth the drive to Altenburg. To see another example of the quality of their exhibits, read my piece on the Vintage Hats of Perry County from this spring. There’s a map on the page, too.

The Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum’s website has more information.

If you go, tell them I sent you.

German history course

I’ve never been to the museum when I haven’t run into an interesting character. Wilmar Degenhardt, 85, looked at an aerial photo I shot in the 60s and exclaimed, “That’s the farm I grew up on until I was 18-1/2!” For the next hour, he lectured on the early German settlements and German history in general. He crammed in more information than you’d get in a college class. I was afraid he’d hand me a Blue Book and make me write an essay on what he had covered.

Photo gallery

Here’s a sneak peek at the early stages of the Christmas display before all of the trees were up. Click on an image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery.

Vintage Hats of Perry County

When I was in Cape last fall, I wrote a piece for my bike blog about my favorite ride: the 26-mile run from Cape to Altenburg.

I try to stop in at the Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum whenever it’s open. Their permanent collections are full of fascinating artifacts of the German communities. I see something new every time I visit. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. It’s free, but your conscience should twitch a little if you don’t throw SOMETHING in the donation box on the way out the door.

I was planning on doing a series on cool stuff to see in Perry County, but the Easter bonnet theme caused me to jump the gun.

Hats off to 100 Years

The current exhibit features 100 historic hats and related photographs and other artifacts. It is the inaugural celebration of the Perry County Lutheran Historical Society’s centennial year as an historical society.

These aren’t hats from some far-off place. These are hats worn by local women who loaned them to the center just like they loaned their aprons to the exhibit I saw last fall. Knowing that the hats were worn by real women to Perry County church services or club meetings make them come to life for me.

Historical Society organized in 1910

The Perry County Lutheran Historical Society was organized in 1910 to preserve, interpret and promote the Log Cabin Seminary. The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Bus tours and groups are welcome.

I wasn’t in Missouri for the Christmas Tree display between Nov. 18 and Jan. 5.

My Mother mentioned to the tour guide that it hasn’t been too long ago that women didn’t feel dressed unless they were wearing a hat and gloves.

This looks like Brain Coral

Maybe I’ve been in Florida too long, but this one makes me think of Brain Coral

Who needs pepper spray?

You didn’t want to have to chase one of these intricately-designed hats down the street on a windy day, so you used hat pins to hold it on. I am reasonably sure you couldn’t board a plane wearing one of these today. Some of those pins looked to be as much as eight inches long. I can see now how they were good tools for defending one’s honor.

How do I get to Altenburg from Cape?


View Cape Girardeau to Altenburg Bike Route in a larger map

There are more direct ways, but the way I go by bicycle is a great route. It takes you through some beautiful farming country that’s just now greening out. If you click on the map, it’ll make it larger. You can pan and zoom to see more detail.

You’ll pass farm houses that have to be closer to 200 years old than 100. You’ll cringe when you come to some bridges that are marked as one-lane when you recall that we drove on them as two-lane bridges at 60 mph.

The Tour of Missouri rode a good portion of this route. When you come to some of the steeper hills, think of climbing them under your own power on a bicycle. When you come to some of the sharper curves, think of taking them with 120 of your closest friends on all sides of you in a game of chicken.

Check out the Heritage Center web site

The Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum has an easy to navigate, uncluttered web site with lots of information. If you make the trip, tell them you heard about them here.