Aunt Mamie

About the time I graduated from high school, Grandma Maly, our mother’s mother, told us a story about her Aunt Mamie:

When Aunt Mamie was young her boyfriend got her pregnant. Not only did he refuse to marry her, but laughed at her when they met on the street.

So, she got a gun and shot him.

So many questions!

Did he die?  “Oh, Patty, I don’t know.”

Did she go to prison?  “Patty, that’s the whole story; I don’t know any more.”

She did know that the baby was her cousin Helen, who grew up, got married and lived a long life. And we had a picture of Aunt Mamie as an elderly lady—she looked fierce!

But that was all we knew. Aunt Mamie married into the family, and no one knew her maiden name. I somehow assumed she grew up in New York City, which did not turn out to be the case.  So when I started searching for articles about the incident I couldn’t find anything, either in online newspaper indexes or later in full-text databases.  I remember thinking that this was probably a typical family story, one that became more dramatic and gaudier as it was passed down over the years. The truth was probably very ordinary.

A few weeks ago I was searching in Ancestry.com, looking for information on Aunt Mamie’s husband, Charley Jackman, our great-grandmother’s half-brother.  I found his obituary, with the married name of their daughter Helen.  I looked her up and found her marriage certificate, which included … Aunt Mamie’s maiden name.

When I looked up the name: Mamie Reting, many articles appeared that had been saved by another family history buff. In Newspapers.com and GenealogyBank.com there were still more articles.

The family story was true.

Mamie Reting claimed that in September of 1898, Edward Grafe, who worked in a local printer’s shop, had locked her in the shop and, in the words of the Cincinnati Enquirer, “accomplished her ruin.” She became pregnant and had the baby in May of 1899. Over the following months she repeatedly confronted Grafe, insisting that he marry her and make their child legitimate.  He refused to do so.  In November 1899 Mamie met him on the street outside the printer’s office.  When Grafe again refused to marry her, she shot him four times in the back.  He died a few days later, steadfastly insisting that he was not the father of Mamie’s baby.

The grand jury went back and forth about indicting her for the murder, and finally went forward with the indictment in late January, 1900. Mamie was taken into custody, with her baby. “Jailer Rushman and his wife have provided her a comfortable room and she takes her meals with them,” according to the Cincinnati Post.

At the trial in March, 1900, Mamie’s defense attorney, Rogers Wright, claimed that Mamie was temporarily insane at the time of the murder. In the preceding months she attempted suicide at least once, and she did not sleep for days before the shooting. In addition to the testimony of family and friends, the defense called four doctors who testified that Mamie was “undoubtedly suffering from melancholia, and the worst form of it.” After the fourth doctor’s testimony, the prosecutor asked the Court to instruct the jury to find Mamie Reting not guilty, on the ground of insanity. They did so on March 21.

Mamie was directed to be examined before the Probate Court and released into the custody of her father, Cincinnati Fire Chief Frank Reting.  She was otherwise free.

The story was picked up by the Associated Press and printed in newspapers across the country. But after the acquittal, there were no more stories about the case. According to the 1910 census, Mamie married Charles Jackman two years after the trial.  They raised Mamie’s daughter Helen and remained together until Charles’ death in 1949. Mamie died, aged 86, in 1964.

In every family there are stories—and secrets. Now that an increasing variety of information is available online, through family history programs, cemetery indexes, newspaper databases and other sources, some of these stories can be verified, and secrets revealed.

In fact, in researching Mamie Reting’s story another family mystery emerged.  But that is for another post …

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Kaleidoscopic reading

When I’m stressed or nervous about something, I often listen to radio or a book to get to sleep at night.  It has to be words, not music—something to get me thinking about something else than what is making me nervous.  I purchased several audiobooks while I was driving across the country last December, and listened to them via the Audible app on my smartphone.   So when I was looking for books to listen to at night, I thought, “Why buy a new book if I’m going to be sleeping through most of it anyway? Why not listen to the books I already have?”

That’s what I’ve been doing.  I start a book at the beginning, and hear maybe a half hour of it before falling asleep.  Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and listen to 10 minutes or so before falling back asleep, and other times I sleep straight through. I wake up eight hours into the book and listen for another 10 minutes before getting up for the day.  And if I have my smartphone in the car, I hear another 20 minutes as I drive to work and 20 minutes going home.

The next night I start with Chapter 2 or 3, and the night after that with Chapter 4 or 5, and so on.  It is a fascinating way to experience a book.  It is not what the author intended, of course.  But if there is one thing I learned from deconstruction courses in college (and it’s probably just the one thing), it is to be free from the tyranny of the author!

These are the books I have listened to in this way:

  • The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough
  • The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
  • Pacific, by Simon Winchester
  • Alaska, by James Michener
  • She Got Up Off the Couch, by Haven Kimmel
  • The Time-Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer
  • The Adventure of English, by Melvin Bragg
  • One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson

A few of these books are episodic—Pacific, Time-Traveler’s Guide, and One Summer—and these are perfect for kaleidoscopic listening.  I go to sleep to the Babe and Lou Gehrig, and wake up to Sacco and Vanzetti.  I miss the ending or beginning of a story one day, to pick it up the next—“Oh, so that’s how the Sydney Opera House finally got built!”

Other books are linear, but episodically so—The Boys in the Boat, She Got Up Off the Couch, The Wright Brothers, Alaska.  These I read straight through, either before or after listening to them. However compelling the stories that make up the progression (and the stories in She Got Up Off the Couch are particularly entertaining on their own), the progression itself is an important element.

The Adventure of English was a book in which the progression of the book was the story.  There were fewer stories that stood on their own.  I spent a significant amount of time puzzling out what century we were in—not conducive to sleep!

What I have not (yet) done is tried listening to a book of ideas this way, or poetry, or short stories.  Often in these works there is, not a progression, but a subtle structure and flow.  What would be lost, and would anything be gained, in listening to such a work kaleidoscopically?  Would it be like looking at a picture or work of art kaleidoscopically?  Here’s a picture I took on a trip to Nova Scotia a few years ago:

And here is the kaleidoscope version (yes, there is an app for this!):

Here is a picture of my Dad when he was a young boy (Happy Father’s Day, Dad!):

And here is that same picture kaleidoscoped:

Pictures of people lose far more than they gain by this process, but landscapes or abstract works—not so much, perhaps.  It is just different.

 

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Parnassus on Wheels

What a blah weekend!  Raw and rainy, neither Saturday nor Sunday inspired me to any great exertions. On Saturday I drove to the south end of Tongass Highway for the first time (and for those of you who urged me to go, you were right: the two large waterfalls along the way are spectacular).  Then I drove back north through town to visit the Rendezvous Thrift Shop. I was looking for furniture, but there was none to be found. There were, however, books. I can never go by a book shelf without looking—thrift shops, grocery stores, book sales—it doesn’t matter where they are.  You never know what you’ll find.

Among the recently-published paperbacks were a few older books. One in particular jumped out at me. It was a copy of ‘Parnassus on Wheels’, originally written in 1917 by Christopher Morley, and reprinted in 1955 for the Book-Of-The-Month Club.  I had not read it in at least a few decades and the details were dim in my mind.  But I remembered the way it made me feel.  Reader, I bought it.

‘Parnassus on Wheels’ is the fictional story of Helen McGill, hard-working sister of successful author Andrew McGill. Helen is stuck cooking and minding the farm while the Great Man writes about his rambles around the country. (It is said to be based on author David Grayson, an early 20th century writer of Thoreau-like essays.)

Helen is a salt-of-the-earth, practical woman in her late 30s who resents her brother’s frequent absences.  When Roger Mifflin comes by looking to sell his bookshop on wheels, Helen decides to buy it herself.  Her subsequent adventures are funny and diverting, and give an insight into the life of a rural woman of 100 years ago.  Her description of a typical day of cooking, for instance:

“Hot bread and coffee, eggs and preserves for breakfast; soup and hot meat, vegetables, dumplings, gravy, brown bread and white, huckleberry pudding, chocolate cake and buttermilk for dinner; muffins, tea, sausage rolls, blackberries and cream, and doughnuts for supper—that’s the kind of menu I had been preparing three times a day for years.”

Parnassus is the name of the bookshop, drawn by a horse called Pegasus. McGill and Mifflin ride through the countryside, stopping in farmhouses and small towns to sell their wares. Mifflin has a passion for the power of books:

“The mandarins of culture—what do they teach the common folk to read? It’s no good writing down lists of books for farmers and compiling five-foot shelves; you’ve got to go out and visit the people yourself—take the books to them, talk to the teachers and bully the editors of country newspapers and farm magazines and tell the children stories—and then little by little you begin to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation. It’s a great work, mind you!”

For anyone who loves books the story is a small, perfect gem.  This 160-page book is a hymn to the written word, a gentle portrait of rural America in the 1910s, and an inspiration.  And—it is in the UAS-Ketchikan Library’s collection, call number PS3525.O71 P3 1955.

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I admire Monica Lewinsky

24 hours ago I would not have said this. I, with many millions of others, thought of her as a celebrity, little more than a cartoon character. The young, bubble-headed woman who behaved inappropriately with President Bill Clinton back in the 1990s. When the scandal broke, I went along with others in condemning President Clinton for jeopardizing his political career for meaningless sex, and assuming Ms. Lewinsky was a thoughtless bimbo.

I have always prided myself on being compassionate and empathetic—on being able to reach through the surface to the pain and suffering within. In 2009, the scandal broke about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford visiting his mistress in South American instead of hiking the Appalachian Trail. ‘Hiking the Appalachian Trail’ became a euphemism for sexual indiscretion, and there was widespread hilarity about the story. I remember thinking about how painful the stories and the laughter must have been to their families and friends, and how love and sexual obsession can derail careers that have been carefully built up over decades.  It is funny from the outside looking in, but not when you are in the grip of it.

But I didn’t think about any of this in connection with Ms. Lewinsky, either at the time of the scandal or since then. She was not a person to me.

Then, yesterday, I saw her 2015 TED talk. It started awkwardly—she told a story of a young man hitting on her, saying that he could make her feel 22 again.  The audience seemed uncertain about how to take this. But then she reminded us that at 22, she made the mistake of falling in love with the wrong person, and that mistake almost cost her life.  Ms. Lewinsky was articulate and thoughtful in her devastating description of the days, weeks and years after the scandal, and its effect on her and her family.

She went on to show how the development of social media since the 1990s has made cyber-bullying and public shaming easier, more pervasive—and immensely profitable for companies which provide platforms for such activities. Ms. Lewinsky made the case for a change in our culture to one in which such public shaming and humiliation is no longer indulged or acceptable. She correctly pointed out that casual racist and sexist remarks, once fully accepted in our society, are now much less so, at least on television and mainstream media. That kind of cultural change takes time, but it can and does happen.

Finally, Ms. Lewinsky asked that we all bring our compassion and empathy to what we watch and read.  Public shaming and humiliation of another person reduces them to an object–in the viewers’ minds, not fully human. No matter how little sympathy we feel for that person, their actions or their lifestyle, it is essential to remember that they are, in fact, as human as we are. They are not a joke or an object to be condemned.

With grace and courage, Monica Lewinsky told her truth and spoke for others who suffer, as she has, from public shaming and ridicule. And more importantly, she reminded all of us to bring our full humanity, our compassion and empathy, to what we read, watch and witness.  Watch her TED talk.

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Ketchikan Library use, 2013-2016

This is the report distributed to the Ketchikan City Council for their March 16, 2017 meeting, and cited in a subsequent KRBD story:

KPL Use, 2013-2016

Ketchikan Public Library Use, 2013-2016

Background

At the Joint Ketchikan Gateway Borough-City of Ketchikan Cooperative Relations Committee meeting of February 10, 2017, the Committee requested City staff to provide per capital library uses for 2015 and 2016 in a similar manner as was previously provided for 2014.

Introduction

Each year, with other libraries in the state, Ketchikan Public Library sends statistical data on library use to the Alaska State Library. The State Library compiles this data and makes it available on their website:

http://library.alaska.gov/dev/plstats/plstats.html

This information is used to track how public library use is changing over time in Alaska, but it can also be used to track how library use has changed in Ketchikan. Attached are several statistics on use for Ketchikan Public Library over the past four years.

Population Served and Users

The number of Ketchikan Gateway Borough residents is the Population Served. It comes from the State of Alaska, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Current Alaska Population Overview:

http://live.laborstats.alaska.gov/pop/popestpub.cfm

The number of Registered Users is kept by the library’s ILS (Integrated Library System). Every few years we delete inactive users from the system; this was done in 2014. The number of New Users is also kept by the library’s ILS; it is a count of new registered users, not including those who have renewed their library privileges.

Circulation

Circulation statistics show how many times library materials have been checked out or downloaded. The Children’s Circulation and Adult Circulation are for all categories of physical and electronic materials, including books, videos, music, magazines, and equipment such as headphones and projectors.  The numbers include items owned by KPL, borrowed from other First City Libraries, and borrowed from other libraries through interlibrary loan. Circulation of adult and children’s materials fluctuates, but has remained fairly constant over the past four years.

Program Attendance

The library conducts several hundred programs each year, open to everyone. These range from story times and interactive craft programs for children, to teen games and film showings, to talks, meetings and discussions for adults. A variety of meeting and programming spaces in the Copper Ridge Lane facility have made it possible to comfortably accommodate more programs and people.

Reference Questions and Computer Use

People come to the library with questions—about class assignments, family history, Ketchikan history and culture, and, well, everything. Staff use their expertise and knowledge of library resources to answer these reference questions. Routine inquiries such as ‘Where is the bathroom?’ and ‘What books do I have checked out?’ are not counted as reference questions; only those that require some investigation or interpretation to answer.

People use library computers to find information, do research, apply for jobs, and print out documents. Others bring in their own devices, and the library provides wifi access so they can log into the internet.

At the Dock Street facility, cruise ship visitors would often come in to ask questions about Ketchikan’s history or family connections to the area. They also used library computers to check their email or use the internet. The library’s move to Copper Ridge Lane led to a reduction in tourist use, but questions and computer use by local residents have slowly increased since the move.

Meeting and Study Room Use

At Dock Street there were no meeting or study rooms. At Copper Ridge Lane, these rooms have seen increasing use since the facility opened in 2013. The only bookings counted here are those that are sponsored by organizations other than the library; library events are counted in the Programs categories.

Total Uses

This figure is calculated by summing the number of uses in each of the above categories.

Other Uses

Uses not counted in the chart include:

  • People who walk in to read and do research but do not check out materials;
  • People who come in to pick up PFD and IRS forms;
  • People who make copies;
  • People who come in to see local artists’ works;
  • Assistance to inmates in weekly library program at Ketchikan Correctional Center;
  • Assistance to residents at the Saxman Senior Center, Pioneer’s Home, Manor, Seaview, New Horizons, and Rendezvous senior facilities.

Per-Capita Use

This is a calculation of the number of Total Uses of the library each year, divided by the Population Served for the same year. For example, in 2016 there were 15.06 uses of the library for every child, woman and man in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. This calculation has been remarkably consistent, ranging from 14.33 to 15.06 annual uses per Ketchikan Gateway Borough resident.

A Community Good

The numbers do not tell the whole story. A library is a community good, just as the school system, fire and police departments are community goods. A school system educates all children and creates a vibrant and thriving local economy, enhancing every resident’s life whether or not they have children. Similarly, a library supports residents of all ages to learn new skills, apply for jobs, become literate, explore new technological and virtual worlds, and broaden their knowledge of other people and cultures. It is a resource that enhances the overall economic and civic life of every member of the community, by improving the lives of individuals within it.

KPL Other Uses, 2013-2016

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Settling in …

I have been very remiss!  A lot has happened since I last posted about moving to Ketchikan. I started work on January 9, and since then have been learning just how fortunate I am to have a job working with great people, in a beautiful building and with such community involvement and support. I have a lot to learn–every library has its own procedures and policies, and those in Ketchikan are all to make things as seamless as possible for our users. I’m catching on, if a bit slowly …

Deer Mountain from the library

Deer Mountain from the library

It is easy to be distracted by the beauty of the building and surroundings. The windows look out over Deer Mountain, now snow-topped, and striking whether the sun is shining or fog is moving in. The view from my office is a little more prosaic–I see KRBD, Ketchikan’s community radio station. They are excellent neighbors–the library has a regular morning spot to publicize programs and services, and people here listen to KRBD.  And from my office door, I see the library’s beautiful fireplace–a popular place for people to read, or just sit and think.

Speaking of fireplaces, last week I visited the Ketchikan campus of University of Alaska Southeast.  The library is on the second floor of the Ziegler Building, with beautiful views of the city and water.  Campus Director Priscilla Schulte, Librarian Kathleen Wiechelman and I sat near a virtual fireplace that their IT department created. It is so realistic you can almost feel the warmth!  The creativity and dedication that Kathleen, Shellie Tabb, and everyone at UAS-Ketchikan demonstrate to student learning and success is inspiring!

And on Friday we said goodbye to Outreach Librarian George Pasley, who is moving to Tennessee for a new pastorate after over a decade in Ketchikan. Last Thursday we had a going away party for George at the library, and the staff presented him with a handmade book of poetry. (Among other things, George is an accomplished poet.)  On Friday I accompanied him for the library program at the Ketchikan Correctional Center, where the inmates made a celebratory cake and everyone wished George well. George has been feted for the past month and will be deeply missed here. I feel fortunate to have met him, however briefly our paths crossed!  All the best, George, as you begin the next chapter of your life.

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And now for something …

… completely different.

I finally did it—I purchased an Ancestry.com DNA test and sent it in.  I just received the results and there were no surprises—at least no surprises in the past few generations.

According to the DNA analysis, our ancestry (that is, of my siblings and me) is 46% Western European (Germany, France, other countries in the region).  This is right in line with our family tree—many of our ancestors came from Germany.

Another 30% is Irish. Our maternal grandfather was from Bruckless, a town in Donegal, Ireland, and there are Irish ancestors on our father’s side as well.

And 18% is from Great Britain.  Our mother’s great-grandfather was Archibald Mirrielees, from Scotland.

So that accounts for 94% of our ancestry.  The 6% is a little more mysterious:

2% – Caucasus (West Asia)

< 1% – North Africa

< 1% – South Asia (India and surrounding region)

< 1% – Finland/Northwest Russia

< 1% – Scandinavia

Archibald Mirrielees’ wife, our maternal 2nd great grandmother, was born with the surname Eng, We always assumed this was a German name, and so it may be. On the other hand, it may be something more exotic.

More investigation may be in order …

screenshot-145

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