Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas 1905/2014

Tattered, taped, falling apart.
As you have perhaps seen before in previous years on this blog or read in Big Trouble....here is a favorite (but expanding) passage from chapter one which begins during the holidays in Caldwell, Idaho, December of 1905. Additional text/photos may be added over the next few days.

May you all have a peaceful and happy holidays with friends and family. The world sure needs more of the same.

From Big Trouble - A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America:
Belle

"The community's general air of well-being was reflected in the bustling jollity of Caldwell's holiday festivities, formally ushered in on Saturday, December 23, with Christmas exercises at three downtown churches. The most impressive were those at the Presbyterian Church, the house of worship that attracted many of Caldwell's leading citizens. Belle Steunenberg had stood proudly among its founders, a teacher in its Sunday School, a doyenne of the congregation, a community leader 'jeweled with Christian graces,' until her inexplicable defection to Caldwell's tiny eight-member Adventist Church when it was inaugurated a year before—an act of such breathtaking betrayal it had left a strong residue of resentment in the front pews."

Frank
     "To assuage some of the bitterness among Belle's former congregation, the governor still attended an occasional Presbyterian service, though without much enthusiasm. He once confessed to a friend that 'his church attendance, he feared, was prompted more by anticipation of an intellectual treat than spiritual improvements.' He had to concede that the Presbyterians knew how to put on a show. That Saturday, the adult choir's 'Joy to the World' had been followed by songs from the youngest congregants, including a solo by the governor's niece, Grace Van Wyngarden, still pale from her bout with typhoid; a 'Rock of Ages' pantomime by Mrs. Stone's class, the young ladies dressed as the heavenly host, all in gold and silver, with wings sprouting from their shoulders; and finally the smallest child of all, Gladys Gordon, singing a 'rock-a-bye' with the aplomb of a prima donna and 'a clear, sweet voice that sounded to the roof.'"

"Then a portly member, dressed as Santa Claus, pulled up in a sleigh and taking his traditional position in the choir loft, delivered a gay, bantering speech. 'Have all you children been good this year?' he asked to squeals of affirmation. Descending to the foyer, Santa opened his sack, tossing out green net bags tied up with crimson yarn, each containing candy, nuts, and a bright golden orange. All this in the glow of an admirable balsam—which the congregation's men had cut in the crisp air of the Owyhee Mountains—now dressed out in cardboard angels and colored balls and illuminated this year, for the first time, by genuine electric lights."

"For the next few days, he (Harry Orchard) tried to get a fix on the ex-governor's schedule. He didn't catch up with him until Christmas day, when he saw him with his family on his way to his brother A.K. Steunenberg's house for the holiday dinner."

“At noon on Christmas Day, the governor and Belle attended the traditional family dinner at A. K.’s house. The hustling young entrepreneur and his family occupied an imposing Colonial Revival mansion, its great front portico supported by three Tuscan columns, approached by a new cement sidewalk on North Kimball Avenue, where the city’s 'quality' clustered in the lee of the Presbyterian Church.”

James & Estella Cupp Munro
"Although Frank, A.K. and their wives certainly ranked among Caldwell's first families, they were less self-assured than they appeared. In a town that had long cherished the notion of unrestrained opportunity, the uncomfortable specter of social class reared its head. When James Munro, a clerk in the Steunenberg bank, married Estella Cupp, the eldest daughter of the town's most prominent real estate broker, the Tribune called them 'the popular young society people'—a frank recognition that a 'smart set' was coalescing in this nominally egalitarian community. A Young Man's Dancing Club invited the socially active young people to occasional soirees at Armory Hall."

Washington DC Centennial
"Some of Caldwell's new elite never quite felt they belonged. During a prolonged stay in the nation's capital, Frank Steunenberg shied away from the fashionable dinner parties to which he was invited. 'Why,' he told a friend more eager than he to see how the smart set lived, 'to accept one of these invitations means the wearing of an evening costume and what a pretty figure I would cut!'"

A.K.
"A.K. Steunenberg had a thick sheaf of credentials. But consider his reaction as a guest of Bob and Adell Strahorn, the most worldly members of Caldwell's inner circle, at their summer home in northern Idaho. 'You can imagine my consternation when I 'butted' into a regular dress suit card party,' A.K. wrote his wife. 'I was the only one who did not wear a white front and a claw hammer. And to make matters worse they played a game called 500 I think I had never played before. Being like a fish out of water anyhow that did not tend to give me any reassurance...I sailed in and got through without making any very bad breaks or spilling my coffee. The ladies were perfectly lovely and seemed to try and relieve my embarrassment and I guess the men did too...The main theme of conversation at the card party was the help problem...not being able to procure help of any kind.'"

"'After it got dark, I (Orchard) went up to his residence and took a pump shotgun with me and thought I would try to shoot him when he was going home...I was there an hour or so before I heard him coming home, and he come soon after I got up there but he got in the house before I got my gun together.'"

What we now know would be the final family gathering on Christmas that would include Frank, was fortunately not tainted by this bungled assassination attempt on Christmas day—yes, even the ex-governor walking home with his family on Christmas day did not dissuade the beast from trying to slay its pray. Of course, the family could never imagine that this would be Frank's last Christmas at his brother A.K's, with only five days until the tragic events on December 30th, 1905, when past assassination failures would finally end in a tragic and dastardly success.

Bernardus
 “None of these insecurities could be detected that Christmas afternoon as a gracious A.K. welcomed Steunenbergs the boisterous clan beneath his portico. No fewer than thirty Steunenbergs gathered around the heavily laden table, headed by seventy-two year old patriarch, Bernardus, a shoemaker by trade, a Mexican War veteran who’d come west from Iowa to join his children earlier that year. Seven of his ten offspring were there that afternoon: five sons—Frank; A.K.; Pete, the most raffish of the brothers, a part-time printer who sometimes dealt cards at the Saratoga; Will and John, lifelong bachelors and partners in a shoe store (“Fitters of Feet,” they called themselves) just behind the Saratoga—and two daughters—Elizabeth (“Lizzie”), married to Gerrit Van Wyngarden, a Caldwell contractor who’d built both Frank’s house and the new Caldwell Banking and Trust building, and Josephine (“Jo”), at thirty-four still unmarried, who made a home for John, Will, and Bernardus at her commodious house on Belmont Street, while finding time to repair Franks’ shirts as well. The “plump” and jolly” A.K. played Santa at his own festivities, distributing elaborately wrapped gifts to all the children.”

"The night before the governor's walk had witnessed the season's grandest dinner party, cohosted by Caldwell's social arbiter, Queen Carrie Blatchley; William Judson Boone; and their spouses for a group of refined young couples, including two attorneys, an insurance agent, a pastor, and the manager of a lumber company. 'Very pleasant,' Boone recorded in his diary. 'Fine time.'"

"Indeed, to Boone, his guests, and many others, that winter in Caldwell seemed a fine time and place to be alive. Despite its early dependency, there lingered in town a fragile sense of autonomy—the notion that its citizens controlled their own destiny....

"It began to snow just before dawn, chalky flakes tumbling through the hush of the sleeping town, quilting the pastures, tracing fence rails and porch posts along the dusky lanes. In the livery stables that lined Indian Creek, dray horses and fancy pacers, shifting in their stalls, nickered into the pale light. A chill north wind muttered down Kimball Avenue, rattling the windows of feed stores and dry goods emporia, still festooned for the holidays with boughs of holly, chains of popcorn and cranberries. Off to the east, behind the whitening knob of Squaw Butte, rose the wail of the Union Pacific's morning train from Boise, due into the Caldwell depot at 6:35 with its load of drowsy ranch hands and bowler-hatted drummers."

"Sounding up the slope of Dearborn Street into Caldwell's jaunty new subdivision of Washington Heights, the whistle brought an unwelcome summons to the former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, as he lay abed that final Saturday of 1905. The governor -- as he was still known, five years out of office -- had spent a bad night, thrashing for hours in sleepless foreboding. Now while the snow piled up beneath his cottonwoods, he burrowed deeper under the bedclothes."

"One of his favorite boyhood songs had evoked just such a moment: Oh, it's nice to get up in the morning, when the sun begins to shine / At four, or five, or six o'clock in the good old summertime / But when the snow is a-snowing and it's murky overhead / Oh, it's nice to get up in the morning, but it's nicer to lie in bed!' The Steunenbergs, though, were sturdy Hollanders imbued with a Protestant work ethic, and it offended the governor's temperament to idle away even a weekend morning. So he hauled himself out of bed and put on his favorite six-dollar shirt with its flowered design. When it had shrunk so much he couldn't fasten the collar, his sister Jo, in her motherly fashion, had cut a chunk out of the tail to expand the chest. She was still looking for matching material to repair the back, but the governor liked the cheerful old shirt so well he donned it that morning anyway, short tail and all. Then he went down to the kitchen and built a coal fire in the great iron stove."

"When his wife, Belle, joined him, she remarked that he seemed ill at ease. The good and evil spirits were calling me all night long,' said the governor, who sat for a time with his face buried in his hands."

Jumbo & Julian c 1895-7
Courtesy Albert Steunenberg 
Click link for "Peep Show" 
"'Please do not resist the good spirits, Papa,' his wife admonished. A devout Seventh-Day Adventist, Belle persuaded her husband, who generally eschewed such rituals, to kneel on the kitchen floor and join her in reading several passages from Scripture. Then they sang Annie Hawks's fervent hymn:

I need thee, O, I need thee!
Every hour I need Thee;
O, bless me now, My Savior!

I come to Thee.
 
When their devotionals were done, Frank set out across the barnyard -- joined by his white English bulldog, Jumbo -- to milk his cows and feed his chickens, goats, and hogs."

"The family's eccentric gray-and-white edifice, a hybrid of Queen Anne and American Colonial styles, bristled with gables, porches, columns, and chimneys. It was barely seven-eighths of a mile from Caldwell's center, but the governor, with one young hand to help him, maintained a working farm on the two and a half acres, replete with barn, windmill, well, pasture, livestock pens, and apple and pear trees mixed among the sheltering cottonwoods."

"After feeding his stock, he turned toward the house for breakfast with Belle and the children -- Julian, nineteen, on Christmas vacation from the Adventists' Walla Walla College in Washington State; Frances, thirteen; Frank Junior, five; and eight-month-old Edna, an orphan the Steunenbergs had adopted that year -- as well as Will Keppel, Belle's brother, who was staying with them for a time while working at the family bank. Their hired girl, Rose Flora, served up the austere breakfast prescribed by Adventists: wheat cereal, stewed fruit, perhaps an unbuttered slice of oatmeal bread (the sect believed that butter -- like eggs, bacon, other meats, coffee, and tea -- stimulated the 'animal passions')."
    
Frank W. & Frances

 Edna


"Had the governor allowed his melancholy to infect the breakfast table that morning, it would have been out of character. With his children -- on whom he doted -- he generally affected a puckish humor, spiced with sly doggerel, such as the verse he'd composed a year earlier for his daughter: 'Frances had a little watch / She swallowed it one day / Her mother gave her castor oil / To help her pass the time away.'"


AK at the back window.
Not sure of the other.
"After breakfast came a phone call from his younger brother Albert --universally known as A.K. -- the most entrepreneurial of the six Steunenberg brothers and cashier of the Caldwell Banking and Trust Company, of which Frank was president. An important matter awaited the governor's attention, A.K. said: Edward J. Dockery, a Boise lawyer, a former Democratic state chairman, and now a business associate of the Steunenbergs, would be arriving in Caldwell later that day and expected to meet them at the bank. No, Frank said, he wasn't in the right frame of mind for such a meeting. He asked A.K. to tell Dockery he'd see him in Boise next week."

"In days to come, the governor's disinclination to do business that day was much remarked. Some said it was the weather, which by late morning had turned nasty, four inches of snow driven by blustery winds drifting along the roadways, temperatures plummeting toward zero. But Frank Steunenberg was still young (forty-four years old), husky (six foot two, 235 pounds), and healthy (an avid hiker and camper who scorned the big eastern cities, with their creature comforts, their smoke, noise, and dirt) -- in short, not a man likely to be intimidated by a little Idaho snowstorm."

NY Canal would flow into Lake Lowell
"Others said his reclusiveness that day was merely a bow toward Belle's Sabbath, which lasted from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Although Frank was by no means an Adventist, some believed that he was gradually accommodating himself to his wife's recent conversion. Others who knew him well insisted he was profoundly skeptical of Belle's piety and would never have canceled a meeting on religious grounds. He might well have been weary. For only the day before he'd returned from a strenuous trip -- by train, buggy, and horseback -- to his sheep ranch near Bliss, a hundred miles to the With his business associate, James H. 'Harry' Lowell, he'd also inspected an irrigation project along the Wood River. A. K. Steunenberg -- his brother's confidant -- believed there was a quite different explanation for Frank's behavior that day. Later he told reporters the governor must have received a warning late in the week, which would account for his "unusual" manner. On Friday afternoon at the bank, he'd walked the floor with a 'meditative and troubled expression' on his face."
southeast.

"Whatever the reason, Frank clearly didn't wish to engage with the world that snowy Saturday. Toward noon, a young man called at the house, introducing himself as Theodore Bird of Boise, representing the New York Life Insurance Company. He'd come down from the state capital, he said, to renew the governor's $4,500 life insurance policy, which expired at year's end, barely thirty-six hours away. With some reluctance -- and only because the deadline was so close -- Frank agreed to meet Bird at the bank in late afternoon."

"Most of the day, as wind-driven snow hissed at the windowpanes, the governor read and wrote in his study. At four o'clock he put on his overcoat, a slouch hat and galoshes, but no necktie: he was known throughout the state for his stubborn refusal to throttle himself with those slippery eastern doohickeys. Some said the habit began in the governor's youth when he was too indigent to afford a tie. In any case, for the rest of his life he'd button the shirt around his neck, leaving the uncovered brass collar button to glint like a gold coin at his throat"

"On that snowy night of the governor's walk, Caldwell looked for all the world like the quintessential ninetieth-century American community, sufficient unto itself, proof against an uncaring world."

"Entering Sixteenth Avenue, he could see the lamplight burning behind the columns of his front porch, the warm glow filtering through the lace curtains of his living room, where minutes before Belle and their two youngest children had knelt at their evening prayers. He reached down and pulled the wooden slide that opened the gate leading to his side door. As he turned to close it, an explosion split the evening calm, demolishing the gate, the eight-inch gatepost, and nearby fencing, splintering yards of boardwalk scooping a shallow, oval hole in the frozen ground, and hurling the governor ten feet into his yard."

"At first, Belle thought the potbelly stove had exploded. But thirteen-year-old Francis, who was especially close to her father, had been eagerly glancing out the window, impatient for his arrival. Having seen the flash by the gate and watched Frank fall, she was at his side in a few seconds, joined almost immediately by Belle. For one terrible moment, mother and daughter stared in blank incomprehension at the governor, sprawled on his back, naked from the waist down, blood seeping from his mangled legs, staining the snow an ugly pink." 

"The Reverend Mr. Boone and his wife had been entertaining their closest friends, the Blatchleys,when they heard a "terrific" noise. They thought something had fallen on the roof."

"Julian Steunenberg (my grandfather) and Will Keppel (nephew of Belle/son of her brother Edward Keppel) came running. A sturdy youth with a shock of blond hair, strikingly like his father in face and figure, Julian had been particularly close to the governor. He and Will had been strolling two blocks behind him when they felt the explosion, then dashed with pounding hearts to Frank's side, where they were quickly joined by Garrit Van Wyngarden, the governor's brother-in-law, who lived two blocks west on Dearborn. Together the trio tried to lift the grievously wounded man, but as they did the flesh on his legs simply gave way. Finally, someone got a blanket, into which they paced the governor, managing to carry him that way into the house and lay him on a bed in his daughter's downstairs bedroom."

Will circa 1913 (courtesy
of Sharon 'Tipton' Conlin).
"Will Steunenberg had just eaten supper and was back at his store arranging a display of boots when the concussion spilled them on the floor. A minute later, Ralph Oates rushed in to say there'd been an explosion at Frank's house...When he reached the house, his brother had already been moved inside. Belle was lighting kerosene lamps to replace the electric ones, for the neighborhood's electric power had been knocked out by the blast. Windows on the north and west side of the house had been shattered, as had those in other houses for blocs around. Shards of glass littered the floors. A huge clock had toppled from its shelf, striking five-year-old Frank Junior, who'd been lying on the leather couch below."

"When Will entered the front bedroom, it was 'horrible': the governor writhing on the bed, his right arm hanging by a few shreds, his right leg mangled, both legs broken at the ankles. He kept asking to have his legs rubbed."

"Three of the town's doctors-John Grue, W.E. Waldrop, and John A. Myer—had arrived. There was nothing they could do."

Whitehead & Hoag
Pinback dated 1894, 96, 98.
"Just past 7:30 p.m., he gasped three or four times, like a man trying to catch his breath, and muttered something unintelligible. As Will leaned closer, trying to hear those last syllables, the governor sank back and died. "

"'Frank died in my arms', Will wrote a sister in Iowa, 'and I hope the fellow that killed him will die in my arms, only in a different manner.'"

Big Trouble - A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America by J. Anthony Lukas

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