History Center Christmas Trees

I went to the Cape Girardeau County History Center on the square in Jackson on Monday to shoot the annual display of Christmas trees. That night, I realized that I had missed the point in thinking of the trees as just trees. 

The display is themed, and each tree carries out a part of that theme. The details are what make them work. I went back later in the week to concentrate on parts, instead of the whole tree.

See for yourself until the trees come down on January 15. The History Center will be open during the Southern Country Church Tour until 8 p.m. on Dec. 10, and on the Original Country Church Tour on Dec. 15 and 16.

Director Carla Jordan wrote a description of The Nativity Story: History, Tradition, and Beauty, that I will borrow.

Food Pantry Tree

This tree is our annual Food Pantry tree.   It is covered with musical stars and angels created by our docent team.  You may choose an ornament for a $5 donation that will be given to the Jackson Ministerial Alliance Food Pantry.

The Drummer Boy

Designer Jo Nell Cougill brought this popular Nativity story into the modern-era with Civil War drummers, and instruments that make a joyful noise like the early story of the Little Drummer Boy.

The Legend of the Spider Tree

I have to confess that this is one of my favorites because it tells a story I’d never heard before. (Click on the photos in this gallery to make them larger, then use your arrow keys to move through them.)

The Legend of the Spider Tree is designed by mother/son team, Lisa and Brody Goodman.  The legend has different variations in Germany and the Ukraine, but the version we chose tells of the Christ-Child’s Christmas Eve visit to the family home to leave blessings.  The family had thoroughly cleaned in order to prepare for the visit.  The spiders also wished to see the Christ-Child and scampered up the family’s tree to get a good view, leaving their webs behind.  The Christ-Child was delighted with the spiders, but did not want the family to find their cleaning efforts disregarded, and He touched the webs, turning them to silver and gold.

The Legend of the Candy Cane

The Legend of the Candy Cane is illustrated in the tree created by 8-year-old, Ben, with his Grandmother Sandy Loesel. One legend says that the candy cane dates back to 1670, and the sweet sticks of candy were used by the choirmaster to keep choir boys hushed during the Living Creche ceremony at Cologne Cathedral in Germany. 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day designed and created by Karen Friese. The story is based on an 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was distraught by the loss of his wife in a tragic fire, and his son joined the Union Army during the Civil War and was severely injured.  Upon hearing the Christmas bells ringing on Christmas morning during this dark period, Longfellow found comfort in the church bells, and wrote the famous poem, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep…peace on earth, and good will to men.”  The poem was first published in Our Young Folks, a juvenile magazine in 1865, and is now a beloved Christmas carol.

Feathered Friends

In the history of Christian art, animal forms have been important symbols. Birds have been used to represent the Holy Spirit, the Passion of Christ and immortality. Doves are a common bird illustrated in the rafters of the Nativity story.  At the Nativity there might have been sparrows, swallows, and possibly roosters and hens.  This tree celebrates all of the feathered friends and their celebration of this Christmas legend.

Chrismon Tree

Chrismon Tree (symbols of Christ): A group of participants met next door at the Research Annex each month for 11 months, creating Chrismon’s with their instructor, Jo Nell Cougill.  The class created this tree with the symbols they learned to make.  Some of these symbols are ancient, and some are more modern.  The Chrismon tradition was renewed and preserved by Frances Spencer and the women of the Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia in 1957.

Love Came Down at Christmas

Love Came Down at Christmas. This tree was designed and created by Jan Vogel, and represents the Christmas season of love.

Olive Wood Nativity

The long narrow pecan table has two topiary trees with a central olive wood Nativity. All of the olive wood ornaments and the Nativity are from the Holy Land, a gift from the Kenneth White Collection. The beautiful ceramic Nativity set on the buffet was created by Kenneth White’s mother in her private ceramics studio.

PEO-LA Star Tree

The Star: This tree has been a part of our Christmas tradition for 7 years.  It is designed and created each year by the PEO-LA organization and chapter.

Marian Blue Tree

This Marian Blue tree is another tree that has been a part of our exhibitions for years, but the new tree adds a special focus on the special blue color. Early Egyptians loved bold cobalt blue and pulverized lapis lazuli stones to obtain the pigment for embellishments and art works.  For millennia, blue has been a costly, sacred hue—at times more prized than gold.  Marian blue is a color creating Mary’s elevation in the interpretation of historic art since the 5th century.  During the first few centuries after Christ, Mary was often depicted in a red gown or wrapped in a pink mantle.  Slowly, blue replaced the artist’s preferred color for Mary.

The Donkey Tree

Donkey Tree: nearly always depicted as Mary’s mode of transport to Bethlehem. We chose to place this dear animal near Mary.

The Joseph Tree

Joseph Tree: You will see the symbols of Joseph’s carpentry tools, the symbol of the lily, a menorah and a yarmulke tree topper. You often see the lily flower depicted in art with Joseph.  An ancient legend says that Joseph was chosen from among other men by the blossoming of his staff like a lily.  “The just man shall blossom like a lily.”

The Three Wisemen

The Three Wisemen: This story tree tells of the visitors to the Nativity who came to Bethlehem bearing gifts that are symbolized under the tree. This tree represents that the Nativity story is for all people.

A Multitude of Angels

A Multitude of Angels: created and designed by LaVerne Wachter and Mary Kiehne, from Mary’s personal angel collection.

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

White Feather Tree

The next angel tree is full of winged child-like angels from the Bradford Collection. The angels were a gift from the Dr. Deborah Price and Kenneth White Collection.

Lace Angels

A small tree on the coffee bar has lace angels created by Juanita M. Criddle Niswonger. A beautiful host of angels fly above an artist, Lori Mitchell Nativity.

The Shepherd and Lamb Tree

The Shepherd and Lamb Tree: created from a group effort of love.

Oxen Tree

Oxen Tree: this unique tree designed and created by Jo Nell Cougill, acknowledges the oxen that is always present near Jesus in traditional Nativity scenes. Oxen are symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel, representing strength and power.  Note the other symbols represented on the tree.  The oxen yoke is a gift from the Robert and Yvonne Keathley Collection.

Happy Birthday, Jesus

The Happy Birthday, Jesus tree by the PEO organization, Chapter DJ. Note that the items on this tree are handmade by the members. This tree has grown each year and has become a traditional feature in the exhibit.

Oh, Holy Night

Oh, Holy Night tree. The Nativity ornaments on this tree are a part of the 50+ year collection of docent, Carolyn Taylor.

A special thanks to Abbey Road Christian Church for the use of their Creche for the Oh, Holy Night exhibit.

The Giving Tree

This little tree has tags on it to be  taken home to remind you to contribute things that we need to run the History Center and Research Center, copy paper, cleaning supplies and office materials.


A Nation Pauses

This is a picture essay I shot for The Athens Messenger to run on November 11, 1968. You can click on the photos to make them larger.

The caption reads, Saturday, Glouster residents paused to honor Marine Cpl. Donald A. Campbell who was awarded the Silver Star for valor in Vietnam, where he died. Today, Veterans Day, the nation pauses to honor those men who fought in all her wars.

Ceremonies were way too common

My first assignment for The Athens Messenger on Sept. 17, 1969, was a routine grip-n-grin photo of a local serviceman being awarded a bunch of medals for his service in Vietnam.

That afternoon, I went back to City Hall to watch the mayor award the Bronze Star and Purple Heart to the parents of a boy who didn’t come back. As I looked at their expressions, I wondered how much they had aged since they received that knock on their door and looked out to see a somber-faced soldier on their stoop.

The lonely ride back home with a box of medals

The image I’ve never been able to get out of my mind is the one of them walking out to their car. On their ride home, they’re going to have a box of medals sitting where their son should have been.

It was a lot easier photographing soldiers than the parents, wives and siblings left behind.

Earlier stories about Veterans and Veterans Day

Valentine’s Day Cards from Trinity Lutheran School

Valentine’s Day card from Cheri Huckstep

Preparing for my Presidential Libary

There was a time when I thought I had a career in politics. Because I was positive my Presidential Library would find the trappings of my early life important, I made sure to save everything.

My political aspirations hit an iceberg when I picked Bill Hopkins to pilot my Student Body Presidential campaign. Let’s just say that the 163 folks who voted for me were nowhere near a majority and certainly didn’t warrant calling in lawyers to oversee a recount. Jimmy Feldmeier was the clear winner.

Reading the will of the people very clearly, I abandoned my plan to run for POTUS in 1984, the first year I would be Constitutionally eligible and decided that I was more suited for journalism and sniping from the sidelines.

My Mother’s attic is a time capsule

I may have never made it into a Presidential Library, but I have the next best thing. On my last trip home, I ventured up into the time capsule of my Mother’s attic.

If you dig deep enough, you can probably find every school paper I ever brought home; all of my workbooks going back to kindergarten; hundreds of stickers that say, “Don’t be a sucker, Vote for Kenny (I’d have gotten more votes if Jim Stone hadn’t eaten most of the suckers instead of handing them out to potential voters); report cards; a Bucker-Ragsdale receipt for my Cub Scout uniform and this huge stack of Valentine’s Day cards from Trinity Lutheran School days.

There’s also a box of vintage early 1950s comic books that my destructive younger brothers shredded after I went off to college. I’d be able to afford a better brand of cat food in my retirement years if they were in the same condition as when I left. They saved the fragments just to drive me crazy.

1961 Eighth Grade Class at Trinity Lutheran School

We were together for nine years at Trinity Lutheran School

Most of us were in the same class from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Even though the yearbook didn’t have names with the pictures, I can probably still place names with all but about three or four pictures (they may not be the RIGHT names, but…). No, I’m not going to tell you which one was me.

Valentine’s Day ranked way up there in the Grand Scheme of Holidays. It wasn’t quite Christmas, the Fourth of July or Halloween, but it came pretty close to your Birthday.

The only hassle was having to fill out a card for every member of your class. Then, there was the agony of picking out which card went to which kid. You didn’t want to send one that was too mushy to a girl in the sixth grade.

Now that I look back at these cards from sixth and seventh grade level, I wonder about some of the cards I got from the boys in my class.

Was there a message I missed?

Judy Schrader’s card saying that she wished I’d fall for her line caused my heart to pitter patter. I mean, we actually skated together at the Hanover Skating Rink on Friday nights. That was a big deal. (At least to me, it was.)

Getting that same card from Don Sander seems a little strange these days. I mean, I shared a tent with him on Scout camping trips. I never realized he felt that way.

These were simpler times

The card below didn’t come for Valentine’s Day. My dad built roads all over Southeast Missouri and we lived in a house trailer he’d pull from small town to small town. When I was about three years old, we must have gotten to know a family in Mountain View well enough that I was invited to a birthday party.

Look at how the envelope was addressed:

Kenny Steinhoff


It didn’t have a street address, a city, state or Zip Code. It wasn’t even addressed to my parents. It’s addressed to a three-year-old living in a house trailer. And it cost just a penny to be delivered.

You can’t beat that with a stick.

Gallery of cards

These represent a couple of years, because several classmates appear more than once. I guessed at last names, but I think I’m close to right. Click on any card to make it larger, click on the left or right side to move through the images.

Valentine Season Aside

Forty-five years ago this month, I was lucky enough to meet Lila Perry, who was working as a cashier at the Rialto Theater. We were married in 1969 and she’s tolerated me every since. I wrote up the whole story last year.