Anecdota– From the Greek anekdotos not published. Literally, unpublished items; narratives of secret or private details of history.
Over the years I have been told of, and witnessed events that were either humorous, interesting, controversial, or even scandalous. In this section I lay before you some of those stories that, up till now, I have not thought prudent to share. I think the passage of time has allowed for some things to come to light. So, for your amusement and education, I present to you Anecdota.
Keep checking back here as I will continue to add new stories.
I remember the day. That is, I remember watching the workers come to remove it, I don’t actually remember the date or the year it happened. I knew when it happened I should have made note of it, because it was a historical event. The removing of the last pay phone in Council Grove.
That phone, no doubt, had many memories attached to it. It stood right out front of my barber shop, so I witnessed many people use it. And every now and then someone would not be watching where they were going and walk right into it, after which they usually looked around indignantly as if to ask, ‘what idiot put that there?’
But an interesting bit of history about that phone is probably unknown to many, a sinister history, and maybe that’s why we don’t talk about it. For some, I need not say anything further than give the date, April 19th1995, and you will remember that horrible day when a truck loaded with explosives tore through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people.
Terry Nichols, one of the two perpetrators, lived in Herrington for many years. During the time leading up to the bombing, Nichols frequented the phone that stood in front of what was then the Council Grove Telephone Company. For the trial held after the bombing, Bertha Coffin submitted the records of calls made from that phone, presumably by Nichols.
Friday April 4, 2014 I looked out the window of the Council Grove Barber Shop, down the street toward the post office, where something caught my eye. At first I thought it was an optical illusion. I looked and looked and just couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing. Later, when I had a chance to walk or drive by, I knew at a closer glance my eyes had not deceived me. What I saw was something that had not been seen in that town since 1949; a flag with 48 stars flying from the pole of the post office.
I was a bit puzzled how it could’ve happened, but figured someone would soon notice and fix it. No one noticed. A few days afterward, when I went in the post office to mail something, I asked the clerk if they knew they had a 48 star flag flying out front. The look on her face reminded me of someone trying desperately hard remember if they had left the burner going on the stove at home. Then she asked if I was serious. I told her it had been flying a few days. She was blown away, didn’t know how it got up there. Another day when I was in, the clerk told me the problem they have now is they don’t know if they should take it down or keep it up. ‘Is it better to have the wrong flag flying or have no flag flying?’
About a week later I learned the rest of the story from the post mistress. They were in the process of getting a new post master at the time. I don’t remember if she was temporary or going to be the permanent replacement. Anyway, she had asked to have the flag from her office at Burns sent up to her. By mistake, they sent an old 48 star flag that had been sitting in the closet for many years. Since my wife is from Burns I told her about it. Then she told me more of the story. Her mother use to clean the post office at Burns and when she was a little girl remembered that old 48 star flag stored in the closet.
And so, for about a week in April of 2014, a 65 year old flag from Burns flew above the Council Grove post office.
A Photo Contest
The city government in Council Grove has had a long history of, some believe, creating inconveniences for its citizens. After receiving one such inconvenience from the city, I decided to take it in good stride, and cause them a little embarrassment if I could. So, I sent the following letter to the editor of the Council Grove Republican, which they printed.
I hear so many strange things in the barber shop I never know what to believe anymore. I’ve heard a rumor from a number of people that I’ve long suspected is a figment of someone’s imagination. I know very well from recent experience that it’s a flat out lie and slander! I’ll fight the man what says otherwise. More than one man has told me that they don’t believe we need a Deputy City Inspector. Some have even gone so far as to accuse him of not doing anything other than driving around town drinking coffee.
I’d like to stop the mouths of all those vicious naysayers right here and now. I can assure you the Deputy City Inspector does do something. I had the privilege to be on the receiving end of one of his services. I received a photograph in the mail the other day. At first I thought it was some kind of a contest or something of that nature. It was kind of reminiscent of one of those old paintings by somebody of great note like John Constable or Albert Bierstadt. Reminded me of a quaint country lane with the grass all grown up in it. And the colours! At first I didn’t notice, but the colours were exquisite! They were bold and vibrant and all those other big words that artists use to describe stuff like that. I was moved. Then there was the perspective and the balance of the piece. It was all very charming, and very familiar.
It was a picture of my parking space behind the barber shop in the alley! That Lawrence Siegrist is some photographer I should say. I mean no disrespect when I say this, but a little more practice (and the right lighting) and Mr. Siegrist may one day be in close competition with Harold Gaston. [For those not familiar, Harold is an outstanding photographer in Morris County]
Not only is the man practiced in the art of photography but it is very evident that he studied botany as well, for enclosed with the photo was a discourse on weeds, indigenous grasses and other such vegetable matter. This took me back to my botany days in high school and so, I liked the man immediately.
Well, as it turned out the city was offering to trim my vegetation, which in itself was a kind enough gesture. Unfortunately, I could not afford their suggested gratuity. I’m sure their work would have been most satisfactory, but I just didn’t think the rate reasonable so I offered to do it myself. Next time the Deputy City Inspector drives down that alley I’m afraid he won’t find a landscape suitable for his photographic pursuits. It all looks most desolate back there now. Oh well, at least I have a picture to remember how prolific my patch of spearmint looked.
Something I learned later, that brought more laughter, was that Gaston’s wife, who worked at the city office, obtained a copy of the photograph that was sent to me. She took it to her husband for review. He made some artistic notes on it as to how it could be improved, the lighting and such, etc. And then the picture was given back to the city inspector, I’m sure with every intention to help him improve in the hobby.
Death of a Namesake
Sometime in October of 2012, I attended a city council meeting for one thing and learned another instead. The city had decided to take bids to have two of the ancient oak trees at the park by the swimming pool cut down. To my recollection, this item was not on the agenda which appeared in the paper, hence my surprise when it was brought up.
Councilman Mark Brooks had someone come inspect the trees, and the conclusion was that both trees showed signs of decay and would have to be removed. At that meeting, the decision was made to seek bids on having the removal done, and tentatively plan for having them removed by October 30th as I recall.
When this was made known to me I called Councilwoman Debi Schwerdtfegger and made a request on behalf of the Morris County Historical Society that if the tree (which stood at the northwest corner of the old pool) must be cut down, that the persons doing so save a section of the main trunk for us to study and preserve. The city did so; to their own incrimination. That section of trunk is in possession of the Morris County Historical Society, and I assure you it shows no sign of decay. The tree was not hollow, it was not discolored, and most likely would have stood for another 200 years.
The tree which stood in the little circle drive by the old pool, I will admit showed signs of decay, so I never had any complaint about it being removed. But the other tree was purely a victim of progress. The only reason it was removed is because it stood where the new water slides were going to be.
Several individuals that I spoke with on the matter were aware that the city was going to remove trees, but had no idea it was the 200-year-old oaks for which our town got its name. They assumed it was probably some locust or other smaller, insignificant trees that were to be removed. If I had, at the time, made this information known to the public, we may have saved that tree. I assure you I considered it carefully. As it was, the city already had an attorney on retainer (or so I was informed) because I had caused them quite a bit of heat during the swimming pool bond issue; that story I might share later.
In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania they have what are known as ‘witness trees’. What a fitting name. These are massive old trees, sycamore, that stood 155 years ago to witness the clashing of two great armies. When people pass by these trees, they stop and put their hand upon the trunk. It’s kind of like shaking the hand that shook the hand of some great man. Council Grove has 15 or 16 of their own witness trees. Gigantic burr oaks that have stood through 250 years of Kansas storms. In the 1840s they witnessed the freighters of the Santa Fe trade encamped beneath their bows. By the 1930s, tourists parked their model Ts in their shade and picnicked. Today, I enjoy walking among them in the quiet of the evening, contemplating these things.
This story comes from F.J. Revere, whose parents were good friends with Sheriff Jim Parker. He never heard this from Parker himself, but had always heard it from others. Back in the days of prohibition, Sheriff Parker somehow got word that a truck was coming through Council Grove carrying bootleg whisky. It has been said that Jim Parker was death to bootleg whisky. He sat up on old highway 4 north-east of Council Grove and waited where he had plenty of room to pull the truck over. Sure enough, a truck of the right description came through and Parker stopped him. He told the driver he would like to see what was in the back of the truck. The driver said, “No, I don’t think you want to see what’s back there.” Jim insisted that he did, so the driver gave him the okay and Jim went back and opened the door. There sat a man with a Tommy gun to discourage anyone wanting to take the moonshine. Jim said to the driver, “Well, that’s all I needed to see.” He closed the truck up and let the driver go on his way. Now it’s not known for sure, but considering the character of Jim Parker he likely notified law enforcement down the road and gave them a heads up on the situation.
Now that I think on it a bit, what if the sheriff of Osage City or Burlingame had a similar experience earlier that day, and maybe that’s how Parker got wind of the truck coming through. We’ll never know.
A friend of mine, a newspaper editor no less, once said that all rumors start in the coffee shop or the beauty shop. Many folks would put the barber shop at the top of the gossip mills. Mine however is not. In fact, I make it very clear to my customers that we never repeat gossip in my shop. So they should listen carefully the first time.
No, it is not often that rumors are shared in my shop, but when I do hear rumors I do my best to correct them. In a town of about 2100 it doesn’t take long for a story to make its rounds. On two separate occasions I was the last to know of my closing up shop and leaving town. I never heard what made me return the first time or the second, but I’m sure if I have opportunity to sell out and move, I’ll not likely bother returning for a third bout.
The first time I heard this rumor, my neighbors from across the diagonal came in the shop and said, “We just had to come and find out if it was true!” I asked them, “If what was true?” They replied, “We heard that you were closing your shop and were going to move to Cottonwood Falls to open up.” With some amazement I answered, “Really? This is the first I’ve heard of it.” So I told them I had no intention of doing such a thing and that I couldn’t understand why anyone should think I would. It doesn’t make sense to leave a great location where you are the only barber in the county and move 20 miles away to a town that already has a barber and surely doesn’t need another. They were relieved to find it all a rumor. But I asked them just before they left,
“Where did you hear this anyway?”
“Oh, I really shouldn’t say, but I heard it from the beautician.”
“Oh, well that explains it!”
I don’t recall the details on the second episode, but it seemed like about every four or five years I would learn that I’m closing shop and leaving town. Of course, when I finally did sell my building and move, I didn’t hear anything from anyone. I guess if it ain’t a rumor it ain’t worth repeating.
It was not unusual to find a customer or two waiting for me on the bench out front when I returned from lunch. One day, after coming down from my apartment, there was one of my older regular customers waiting, and a new younger face sitting next to him. Greeting them I opened the door, half assuming the young man was the other’s grandson, but found myself mistaken when he didn’t follow us in. For the next hour or so I continued quite busy cutting hair as one after another came through the door.
Finally, one of my regulars upon entering asked me about my friend taking a nap out front. I looked at him puzzled and asked what he was talking about. He said there was a guy asleep on the bench. I went to the window and had a peek. The young man was still there, slumped over asleep on the bench.
It was quite a busy afternoon of cutting hair so I didn’t think a great deal of it. Until the guy began to moan and make unintelligible sounds. Then, I began to worry maybe he was having some kind of medical issue. It was very hot to be sitting out in the sun like that. Maybe he had a stroke. Maybe he was in diabetic shock, or having a seizure. So, I got on the phone and called for an ambulance.
In a short while the ambulance pulled up, which is always a worrisome thing when it’s at the barbershop. People might get the idea the barber cut some one. A cut needing more than a band aid. Well, the paramedics got the guy on his feet, loaded him up into the ambulance and hauled him away, leaving me to feel good about having done something helpful for someone.
Later that afternoon, the manager of the Hays House came in for his regular cut. We got to talking about the incident from earlier and come to find out the young man was on work release at the Hays House that morning. He’d apparently been sampling the bottles during work. So much so that by noon his goose was cooked. Crocked off his rocker, he made it as far as my bench where I’d found him after lunch. On reflection, I thought he looked a bit dopey, but never would have guessed him pickled. Had I known that, I’m sure I would not have called the ambulance.
Along about 2010, the faux-hawk became popular among our youth. This hair style is done by simply combing the hair to the center of the head to make it stand up a little like a mo-hawk. Hence the name “faux-hawk.” There is no special cut required to get this look, the hair can be any length, just use a little gel and style it into a lazy rooster’s comb.
My first experience with this was not pleasant, due to a communication failure between patron and barber. A high school boy walks in the shop one day with his girlfriend. I don’t think he’d been in before. First haircuts can be uncertain, as was this one. The young man clearly said he wanted a “front mo-hawk.” I’d never heard of such a thing. I asked him to explain what that was. He said it was like a mo-hawk only longer and just in the front. Okay, I think I can picture that. So I asked him just how long he would like it and made sure I understood all the details and commenced cutting. I took the number 2 clipper up the side and back, left the top long and wider. Then I handed him the mirror to see what he thought. He said, “It was supposed to be longer on the sides.” I responded, “You told me you wanted it that short on the sides.” After awhile it came out that what he wanted was a “faux-hawk” not a “front mo-hawk” as he said at the first. I asked him why he didn’t tell me that in the first place. I told him that a faux-hawk is more about the way you style it after the cut. “So, what do you want me to do now?” I asked him. “Just leave it.”
His mother walked in about the time the damage was done. She didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. She thought it looked good. I could tell the boy was steamed. So I said to him, “Look, I know you’re not happy. This isn’t the haircut you wanted, and it’s not the one I wanted. If this had happened to anyone else I’d expect them pay for it just the same, because it is my time and I did exactly what you described. But for you, I’m not going to take your money. Now, we know better for next time.” And so they left.
One of my regulars was waiting and witnessed the tail end of this episode. When he got in the chair he asked what all that was about, so I told the whole story. He must have known the kid because he said that he didn’t believe the kid knew what he wanted in other areas of life either.