Grand Army of the Republic

G.A.R. Hall Frost, OH 08-27-2014 I was trying to come up with a Veterans Day post when I remembered this two-story building in Frost, Ohio, a place so small the census bureau classifies it a “a populated place that is not a census designated or incorporated place having an official federally recognized name.” Curator Jessica led me there on one of our rambles last year.

I knew GAR. stood for “Grand Army of the Republic,” but I didn’t know much about the rich history of the organization. [Note: I’ve see references that spell the abbreviation as “G.A.R.” and “GAR.” I’m going to standardize on the latter.] Click on the photos to make them larger.

The Civil War was different

G.A.R. Hall Frost, OH 08-27-2014The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War’s website explains it this way: In early 1866 the United States of America — now securely one nation again — was waking to the reality of recovery from war, and this had been a much different war. In previous conflicts the care of the veteran warrior was the province of the family or the community. Soldiers then were friends, relatives and neighbors who went off to fight–until the next planting or harvest. It was a community adventure and their fighting unit had a community flavor.

By the end of the Civil War, units had become less homogeneous, men from different communities and even different states were forced together by the exigencies of battle where new friendships and lasting trust was forged. With the advances in the care and movement of the wounded, many who would have surely died in earlier wars returned home to be cared for by a community structure weary from a protracted war and now also faced with the needs of widows and orphans. Veterans needed jobs, including a whole new group of veterans–the colored soldier and his entire, newly freed, family. It was often more than the fragile fabric of communities could bear.

State and federal leaders from President Lincoln down had promised to care for “those who have borne the burden, his widows and orphans,” but they had little knowledge of how to accomplish the task. There was also little political pressure to see that the promises were kept.

Organization founded in 1866

G.A.R. Hall Frost, OH 08-27-2014But probably the most profound emotion was emptiness. Men who had lived together, fought together, foraged together and survived, had developed an unique bond that could not be broken. As time went by the memories of the filthy and vile environment of camp life began to be remembered less harshly and eventually fondly. The horror and gore of battle lifted with the smoke and smell of burnt black powder and was replaced with the personal rain of tears for the departed comrades. Friendships forged in battle survived the separation and the warriors missed the warmth of trusting companionship that had asked only total and absolute commitment.

With that as background, groups of men began joining together — first for camaraderie and then for political power. Emerging most powerful among the various organizations would be the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which by 1890 would number 409,489 veterans of the “War of the Rebellion.”

Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The community level organization was called a “Post” and each was numbered consecutively within each department. Most Posts also had a name and the rules for naming Posts included the requirement that the honored person be deceased and that no two Posts within the same Department could have the same name. The Departments generally consisted of the Posts within a state and, at the national level, the organization was operated by the elected “Commander-in-Chief.”

[The Frost Camp #108 was chartered on January 25, 1892. It had been meeting unofficially in Guysville for about two years prior to gaining its charter. It became inactive during the Depression, and remained that way until 1997. Here’s a website with much more of the history of the John S. Townsend Camp #108.]

Five G.A.R. members were elected President

G.A.R. Hall Frost, OH 08-27-2014The GAR founded soldiers’ homes, was active in relief work and in pension legislation. Five members were elected President of the United States and, for a time, it was impossible to be nominated on the Republican ticket without the endorsement of the GAR voting block.

In 1868, Commander-in-Chief John A. Logan issued General Order No. 11 calling for all Departments and Posts to set aside the 30th of May as a day for remembering the sacrifices of fallen comrades, thereby beginning the celebration of Memorial Day.

Only one woman member

G.A.R. Hall Frost, OH 08-27-2014Although a male organization, the GAR admitted its sole woman member in 1897. Sarah Emma Edmonds served in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as a disguised man named Franklin Thompson from May 1861 until April 1863. In 1882, she collected affidavits from former comrades in an effort to petition for a veteran’s pension which she received in July 1884. Edmonds was only a member for a brief period as she died September 5, 1898; however she was given a funeral with military honors when she was reburied in Houston in 1901.

Blacks were welcome in the GAR

G.A.R. Hall Frost, OH 08-27-2014A Wikipedia entry says, The G.A.R. initially grew and prospered as a de facto political arm of the Republican Party during the heated political contests of the Reconstruction era. The commemoration of Union Army and Navy veterans, black and white, immediately became entwined with partisan politics.

The G.A.R. promoted voting rights for then called “Negro”/”Colored” black veterans, as many white veterans recognized their demonstrated patriotism and sacrifices, providing one of the first racially integrated social/fraternal organizations in America. Black veterans, who enthusiastically embraced the message of equality, shunned black veterans’ organizations in preference for racially inclusive/integrated groups. But when the Republican Party’s commitment to reform in the South gradually decreased, the G.A.R.’s mission became ill-defined and the organization floundered. The G.A.R. almost disappeared in the early 1870s, and many state-centered divisions – named “departments” and local posts ceased to exist.


Stopping in Clermont

Florida Citrus Tower 05-16-2014_5717Clermont, with its Citrus Tower and House of the Presidents, has been a stopping point since our family trip in 1960.

It was only logical that the Road Warriorettes Curator Jessica and Bike Partner Anne make a pit stop there on the final leg of our trip.

Built in 1955

Florida Citrus Tower 05-16-2014_5663A handwritten note on the elevator wall gave some interesting stats. An elevator ride to the top cost us $6 a head. (If Miz Jessica had slouched a little more so she looked like my granddaughter, we could have gotten her the ride for the $4 kid rate, but she’s too honest. There was no senior discount, because EVERYBODY in Florida is a senior.)

A gazillion citrus trees

Florida Citrus Tower 05-16-2014_5674When the Steinhoffs stood atop the tower in 1960, a sign proclaimed that we were looking out over a gazillion citrus trees, and the smell of orange blossoms washed over us.

When Post reporter Gayle Pallesen and I went up in the tower in 1990 when we were doing a story on U.S. 27 from Little Havana in Miami to Havana, Florida, in the Panhandle, we looked out over a gazillion dead trees killed by a series of disastrous cold fronts that moved through in the ’80s. The only smell was smoke from burning trees that had been bulldozed and piled up.

The landscape today is covered by gazillions of homes and businesses. There is no smell of orange blossoms.

With binoculars or a telephone lens, we could barely make out a square-shaped building on the horizon that we thought was the VAB at Cape Kennedy.

Mineola has been developed nicely

Florida Citrus Tower 05-16-2014_5682That’s Lake Mineola to the west. A bike trail starting there ties in with the West Orange Trail that goes all the way to Apopka. The development along the lake has done a nice job of integrating the homes into the surrounding hills and making it a very bike / pedestrian / jogger-friendly area. I’d love to sit on one of their porches looking at the sun set over the lake in the evening.

Click on the photos to make them larger.

A little green left

Florida Citrus Tower 05-16-2014_5678There’s still a little green left to the south. The highway is U.S. 27, which was once the main path to South Florida from the Midwest before I-95 and the Florida Turnpike were built.

The Penny Drop

Florida Citrus Tower 05-16-2014_5688I told Curator Jessica that I’d spot her a penny to drop over the edge.

“I can’t do that, it might kill someone,” she protested. [She, obviously, hasn’t read the debunking of the penny-dropped-from-the-Empire-State-Building urban legend.)

She and Anne took turns dropping coins down a conduit that goes all the way to the base of the tower. With their ears to pipes on the side of the box, they could hear it spin and ding all the way down. It doesn’t take much to amuse them.

House of Presidents

Florida Citrus Tower 05-16-2014_5680Southwest of the tower is a large white building looking a little worse for the wear, which is to be expected, because it was here in 1960.

Its website calls it the The Presidents Hall of Fame, but the sign on the front of the building still says House of Presidents. I recalled the tickets were a bit pricy, so we opted to stay on the outside.

“Like a 70’s porn star”

Jessica Cyders - House of the Presidents 05-16-2014I photographed Anne with Washington and Lincoln behind the wax museum when we passed through in 2013. Miz Jessica, though, made a beeline for Theodore Roosevelt.

“He looks like a 70’s porn star,” she remarked. I wisely opted not to ask about her expertise in that area. I’m sure her interest was purely academic.

She enjoys making period costumes, so Anne and I were edified about the benefits of crotchless pantaloons and why the cancan was such a scandalous dance. Between Jessica and Anne, who wrote Kiss and Tell: Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97, this Missouri boy got quite an education on our road trip.


Lincoln on KY Courthouse?

Caldwell County KY Courthouse 10-28-2013Curator Jessica can’t pass a sign that says “Historical” or any building older than me. One of those side-trips took us into downtown Princeton, Kentucky, where we looked at the monolithic Caldwell County Courthouse. Even I could recognize some of the Art Deco features.

I didn’t think the South was fond of Lincoln

Caldwell County KY Courthouse 10-28-2013One of the interesting touches was that over the entrance on each side was inscribed the compass direction: North, South, etc. Four visages peered out of the east and west walls.

I was surprised to see one of them was Abe Lincoln. I wouldn’t have expected him to be too popular on a Southern courthouse. Maybe his Kentucky roots made them cut him some slack.

Confederate soldier stands guard

Caldwell County KY Courthouse 10-28-2013A memorial to Confederate soldiers stands facing south. His back is to Lincoln, who is on the northeast wall.

Father of the country

Caldwell County KY Courthouse 10-28-2013George Washington is on the northwest wall.

Who is this?

Caldwell County KY Courthouse 10-28-2013

This fellow is stuck looking to the west from the southwest wall. Neither Jessica nor I had a clue who he is.

Another mystery figure

Caldwell County KY Courthouse 10-28-2013This man was on the southeast wall. The dark area under his nose isn’t a shadow. I don’t know if it was mold or if someone had disfigured the image. It was high up on the wall, so I doubt the latter was the case.

Jessica stopped a woman coming out of the courthouse to see if she could be of any help, but she admitted that she had never noticed the figures. It’s a possibility they were local important people.

First Friday

This is a reminder that I’ll be at Annie Laurie’s on Broadway on First Friday, November 1, from about 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Stop by, take a look at my 2013-2014 Snapshots of Cape Girardeau calendars and Smelterville books and give a Southeast Missouri welcome to Jessica who has trouble believing my stories about the region. Laurie says there will be cookies and hot apple cider on hand.


Thebes Courthouse Renovation

The Thebes Courthouse is on the list of places that out-of-town guests get to see. I took Spokesrider and his wife there when he rode his bike from Michigan to New Madrid. Today it was Bob and Claire Rogers from Arizona who got the tour. I worked with Bob at The Athens Messenger in the late 60s. You’ll hear more about him as the week goes on and I drag him to all my favorite haunts.

Museum not open

The museum wasn’t open, but we heard noises inside while we were on the balcony overlooking the Mississippi River. Claire peeked through a crack in the door and saw that the main door was open. Never missing a chance to walk through an open door, we did just that. I was surprised to see how well the place had been fixed up. The last time I was inside the building in the 1960s, the place was empty except for a bust of Lincoln in one of the windows.

Bust of Abe Lincoln

I don’t think this was the Lincoln I saw, but he still looks nice in the window’s light. The Thebes Historical Society has been working hard to preserve the old building, and their efforts are showing. We were lucky to get a sneak peek. The organization’s website says the museum will be closed for awhile to replace some windows and do other repairs. You can check it to see when visitors are officially welcome again.

Other stories about the Thebes: