Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wild weather worth the dinner!

Lee Ann, Kathleen, Mike, and Marilyn  meet at Shelbina's Senior Center
The snow and wind was fierce, but we made it to the Shelbina Senior Center for a Christmas dinner.  Marilyn and I met Kathleen Wilham of the historical society and Lee Ann Oliver, who does a great job of managing the Shelby County mo.gen. website of historical information.  If you have not visited the website or historical building, you are missing a real treat.  Information about the Benjamin House and Shelby County is still being discovered thanks to their research.   Local people still have stories to share and we hope to gather them.  J.D. Davis (90) did not make it to the dinner due to the weather, but he must have a lot of stories.  And, I met  Dorina May Richards who knew Jane Todd (resident 1955-60) and asked if Jane had been back to the house.  Jane, we miss you!  Also, an Email arrived from Eddie Jo Johns Lawrence asking about the house and  we hope that she can visit again.  The last time she was here, the house was a construction mess.  I am surprised that she will even talk to me!  So, keep going rain or snow and a bright day can arrive.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Doors and More.........

The size & etched glass are perfect (with work)
Lovely old hinges & knobs
There has been much thought about the old grey painted window (not original) that was located above the door to the basement staircase.  We have measured and searched for a way to fill the void that the old sash had left and how to provide access to the wall behind for painting or other treatments.  Then Eureka, an estate sale door that came from southern Illinois seemed to be the answer.  It was the proper width, era, and design to help light flow to the staircase while allowing future paint or plaster work.
Latch to allow access
Now is the work of cutting, stripping paint, and installation of the window.  So much to do and time is running short on us.  Tic Toc, Tic Toc, Tic Toc........

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sonny/Chuck Magruder loved Christmas at Mansion

Reflections everywhere
This year seemed special as we decorated for Christmas.  Lights and ornaments went on the tree, candles (about 75) were placed in the windows, and the Belvedere got its own tree at the top of the house.  While lighting the tree and seeing the reflections in the large pier mirrors of the parlor, I kept thinking of the joy that this room had brought young Charles Magruder.  He was Sonny or Chuck to most people and nice to all.  His partner, Valerie Shondel,  told me of how he would reflect back to his childhood joy at descending the grand staircase and entering the parlor.  The tree, reflections, decorations, and memories stayed with him forever.  Thank you Valerie for bringing a special joy to our Christmas with your story of Chuck.  Christmas is a time to share with everyone past and present  In this way, Sonny can be with us  each Christmas season.

Sonny's first view
       Does anyone else have a story about Christmas at the mansion?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Retraction (my bad)

Mansion Mike's Stocking

Well, I didn't think my wife read these blogs.  There is a certain complacency with time in relationships, but she certainly read the one about "Greed".  It was pointed out to me that the "big" stockings were Mike's.  Also, it was pointed out  that she did most of the filling, while I did most of the emptying (especially if it was edible).  And, Santa doesn't complain about the work near as much as me.  Since this was all true, I agreed to post this retraction and get my butt back up the stairs to the ballroom for another box of decorations!

Santa may put MY candy in the "chamber pot" to the lower left of the fireplace if I don't change my ways!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Is my wife Greedy?

Stockings are on the way
Our favorite winter room - southeast 
I was looking for a way to avoid carrying so many boxes of decorations from the top floor "Ballroom" and the thought came to me that decorating every fireplace (8) is just too much work and greedy to ask Santa to fill stockings on every fireplace.  He will be confused anyway by trying to figure which of the chimneys (4) to climb down.  Is Marilyn going overboard?  Stockings are still being added to the mantles.

Bob Crist & Mansion Mike set to duel!

After installing the cast iron vent cover in the master bedroom, I immediately called former owners Bob & Betty Lou Crist to share the news.  As always, they are excited to hear the latest news of renovation.  My description of the vent could not do as good a job as a picture.  Bob then asked why there would be a hole above the fireplace anyway.  It did seem redundant, but my theory is that it was part of the original design to allow the installation of the more efficient Franklin Stove (more efficient than standard fireplaces).  Bob had another question about why this might have been done when the home was built with one of the first furnaces in the area.  My response was that the furnace was not installed until nearly 1890 as found in an early Shelbina Democrat newspaper.   This information was discovered by Kathleen Wilham in her constant search of history.  Bob was just as sure that the home was built with a furnace centrally located in the basement  In fact he felt that installation of a furnace with ducts would not be possible after the home was built.  We agreed to settle this manner with a duel the following morning at sunrise.  However, the duel had to be cancelled when Bob's bad hip acted up and my wife told me that I could not take part in such a crazy idea (even though I have a history of immature behaviour).  This type of disagreement is possible about many areas of the mansion due to the lack of reliability in spoken history.  Well, written history too!   I have another source of information that may help shed light on this situation.  Documents are reported to be in Texas that may enlighten us in several areas. Anyone with information or interior photos about the mansion is encouraged to contact us.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Big Wally Arrived!

"Big Wally's" sounds like a candy bar
FOREVER!  That's a long time.
The UPS guy dropped off my order of Plaster Magic from Big Wally's.  I attended a plaster seminar in Independence, MO sponsored by the Missouri Preservation Society.  The guest of honor was Big Wally himself and he did an excellent job of explaining "Plaster".  It was interesting and internet research indicated that plaster magic is a good repair technique.  Tomorrow it will be Christmas Decorations, light the candles, and Big Wally.  Wish me luck in the back door mudroom.  I thought I would try it first in a small area.

Rare vent cover found!

Marilyn and I were at an estate sale when a friend asked us if we had seen the rare cast iron vent cover.  I had, but did not know what it was!  It looked like a an iron plate with a lot of holes.  He then showed us how the center would rotate for removal.  Then you could install the vent pipe through the hole.  It looked like it had never been used.  We immediately knew where it would fit into the mansion - the master bedroom!  There is a vent hole high above the fireplace and we had been searching for just the right cover.  There are hundreds of painted covers available, but we had not found just the right cover for this room.  Marilyn and I immediately did a google search to learn about this form of vent and found very little.  Quickly we searched for a company that might supply these vents so that we could determine how high to bid at the auction.  No luck for this search either.  I had to go to work, but Marilyn stayed and had her hand waving in the air like a young girl meeting her boyfriend at the train station.  Excitedly, she then text me with the news.  I know, it sounds like parents talking about their kid's making the honor roll.  Well, that is the way we feel.

Did you ever.....

Feel like one of those squirrels who scramble all over the place with a nut in their mouth.  Then cannot find the hidden nut when they are hungry?  That happens to me with tools at the mansion.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tornado Aftermath

Sugar Maple sapling & Sycamore to be removed
Hackberry Stump & Mimosa Sapling
Yesterday was busy as Marilyn and I went to Quincy first, then to Stark Nursery in Louisiana and finally to Shelbina with the two sugar maple trees that we had purchased.  We chose the slow growing sugar maple trees for their beautiful fall colors and sturdy limbs.  The soft maples that are so common break easily as their centers rot away.  The tornado of 2011 shattered most of the soft maples in the yard and we wanted to plan for the distant future.  Measuring, digging, and planting was completed just before dark (and winter weather).   We were exhausted by the time we did a bit of cleaning that evening.  Next we will plant the two Mimosa trees that we purchased.  Sorry that the improvement to the yard is not too noticeable at this time.  We hope that the children who walk South Shelby Street each day to the grade school will get to appreciate them one day.
1 of 2 Mimosa Trees 

Humpty Dumpty falls again!

With the best of intentions,(surprising my wife Marilyn) I retrieved a piece of framed art from the garage.  She had made the purchase about 3 years ago at an auction and I thought she would enjoy seeing it above one of the fireplaces.  So far, so good is the story at this point.  I attached the new cord for hanging the picture from the rail.  When I lifted the large frame up to the rail another hanging hook was dislodged and fell.   The marble fireplace would have survived, but the antique ruby-flash luster had its chimney shattered.  To make things more painful, it was one of a pair that I had bought Marilyn for Christmas two years ago.  I felt terrible, but she handled it very well and that is probably why I enjoy my life with her so much..

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday Shopping!

We made it!  Many  people tell us that they enjoy the flickering candles in the windows of the mansion and we look forward to seeing them.   Black Friday has helped us save on the 180 batteries that are needed for the candles.  Not many people realize that there are nearly 100 windows in the house!  Of course we always get more screw drivers to replace those that have been left somewhere in the house.  Next are  tape, light bulbs, and Marilyn's favorite "Decorations".  Then you buy plastic boxes to put the "stuff" into until next year.

First Night in the Manison

My wife and I were reminiscing about our early days at the Benjamin House.  As people visit today, they enjoy seeing all the lighting, bathrooms, and finished walls.  We also take them for granted - a bit, but we do remember the days when we had to go to Ayerco to use the bathroom. It was not easy to get around the house due to tools, scaffolding, etc.  Our first night to stay in the mansion was after the plumbing was fixed and a bathroom was functional (Ayerco does close after a certain time).  We were excited and a bit nervous as we made a bed.  Then it dawned on us that all the bedrooms are on the second floor and the lone working bathroom was on the first floor!  For all you young people, ghosts might be your main concern on a midnight run to the toilet.  For people my age, the concern is navigating the staircase with stiff knees and very few lights.  So, that first night flashlights and a firm grip on the banister were of most concern us.  Bad knees and an understanding spouse were our companions on a trip in the dark.  Oh, we also had forgotten house slippers so our adventure featured bathrobes and street shoes with us looking like two old people from a Norman Rockwell painting.  Do any of you remember trips to an outside toilet in the dark?  I do and that was scary as a 6 year old.  Now, we enjoy the two bathrooms on the second floor.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Carol Schofield - "THE CHAMPION"

Yesterday a friend stopped at the house and brought someone from the community to see the changes.  It was great to talk with them and walk through the house.  Our new visitor had seen the house before and even attended the auction at which we bought the house.  She related a story of how she bought her first "Antique" on layaway as a young girl.  It was a table that she spotted at a store in Shelbina, but like most of us, she did not have enough money at that moment.  The store owner let her purchase the table "on time" and said that the old table had ties to "The Benjamin House".  She still has the table all these years later and still has a fondness for the old mansion on South Shelby Street.  It reminded me of my first "credit" purchase.  I was 11 years old when my best friend, Gary, and I saw pathways in a local drainage ditch.  We somehow knew that muskrats had made the trails, and like so many young boys, we wanted to catch them.  The small local feed store sold traps and the owner often bought fur. We had seen muskrats, mink, raccoons, and other fur on the floor of his shop as he bought them.  When we told him of our discovery, he offered to advance us 6 traps and we could pay them off with our fur.  We were elated and full of optimism with our new grown up status as "trappers".   This is probably how our new friend felt when she brought home her first "antique".
       This reflection of youthful optimism reminds me of how so many people loose their joy with age and difficult experiences.  I sometimes find myself talking about property taxes, insurance expense, or fix-it problems and remember that everyone in Shelbina has the same or similar difficulties.  Perhaps that is why we admire an old house that has survived so many hardships and injuries.  It is our hope that the Benjamin House can remain a key landmark for Shelby County.  That hope depends on our enthusiasm, and that of the community.  We have seen that the end can come suddenly, but the years of neglect predict the demise.  I always remember the poem line that goes,  "All the king's horses and all the king's men;  couldn't put Humpty back together again".
     My "Restorer of the Year" is Carol Schofield!  What a great lady and what a great attitude through the lonely hours at her Jewett House restoration project.  Now dealing with health issues, Carol is still my role model.  Like her, we need to remember our youthful enthusiasm for the future.

Holiday Season!

Wow, Turkey and all kinds of food.  Yesterday I carried 11 plastic boxes of Christmas ornaments down from the Ballroom.  After Turkey today, I will carry the remainder down and we will start to arrange.  Marilyn is the "Lone Arranger" as her ideas are the best.  It will be fun to place the flickering candles in the windows and hang the large ornaments on the porch.  The stairs and ladder will help me work off the Turkey!  It is always nice to reflect on the friends and events of the year.  Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Small room with 5 doors?

Upstairs (left) and Basement stairs (right)

Can you imagine a small room with 5 doors?  Can you even guess which room of the Mansion meets this criteria?  Oh, it also has 2 windows.  The room is about 6' wide by 14' long and is the rear entrance, mud room.  I know it sounds crazy, but it has doors to the basement, servant's stairs, kitchen, back porch, and the dining room.  The two windows are above the basement staircase and above the back porch door.  All of this needs painting, plaster, wallpaper, and flooring (plus wood strip and refinish).  It will be brighter and more cheerful soon to meet the philosophy we have followed throughout the rest of the house.

Outside door on left & Dining Room center.  Stairs to rt.

Peaches and Pumpkins and Rose

Working on the Mansion is very satisfying, but folks, you never get done!  Also, so many things take thought and planning.  With this in mind, the holidays are just around the corner when I enter the driveway and see someone carrying colorful pumpkins to our porch.  What a wonderful surprise!  We appreciate her thoughtfulness so much. THANKS ROSE, you're a Peach.
      We also want to report that Rose has recovered from being Sasquatched on Halloween.  See Halloween blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, off to work we go......

Hidden north on Hwy 15 is Cardwell Lumber near Edina.  They have a lot of different types of wood as well as the ability to make some specialty trim or milled lumber (like tongue and groove).  Yesterday I purchased some walnut crown molding 16' long and 1" walnut quarter round.   As you might guess, it stuck out the back of my old blazer and I had to drive carefully back to Shelbina.  A short side trip allowed me to see Henry Sever Lake for a possible future fishing trip and meet the famous salvage man - Carlyle Holbert.  He has "stuff" and works constantly.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Old west door of Mansion

Beth Dittmer of Shelbina posed an interesting question about the west side of Benjamin House (side facing the cemetery).  There is an obvious outline of an old doorway.  New brick was used to fill the doorway and it contrasts sharply with the old soft brick of the 1800s.    Another doorway exists that has been covered, but very few know of it.   Many of my questions have been answered with two stories and old pictures.  The doorway was open during the ownership of the Todd family and the boys (Mike & Chuck) have related how they rode down the ramp that was on the west side of the home (1955-60).  The wooden structure on the back of the house began to deteriorate and was removed during the Christ ownership according to Robert Crist.   The shadow is still visible on the west wall above the doorway.  A wooden structure can be seen in the background of old pictures at the Shelby County Historical Society.  The ramp was probably constructed by Mr & Mrs Long about 1950 when they were altering the home to begin an "Old Folks Home" as they were once called.  The Longs had done this twice before with large old homes.  It seems difficult in light of the regulations that we know today, but they had been successful and may have done well.  People of that era must have been tough to handle all the steps of the house.  Unfortunately,  Mr Long suffered a fatal heart attack and the plan for senior housing was abandon as the mansion was sold.  The Longs made extensive changes to the original kitchen, butler pantry, installed another bath upstairs, and remodeled the upstairs laundry room.  Their work was done well and survived until our recent efforts to return the home to a more original status.  The Old Doorway is on our list of things to accomplish, but is far down the list.  There is a lot of work to accomplish, but reopening the old doorway would be nice.  Would anyone or group like to take on this project?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012!

HALLOWEEN 2012     This is for those who could not attend Halloween at the mansion or who ran away screaming when we opened the door.  Several  did refuse to climb the steps into the house or ran away.
Dan Fitzhugh
The flowers of spring are special and the holiday parties are festive, but Halloween at the Benjamin House is wild, wild, wild!  This year started with one group of  youngsters beating us to the front door.  I heard the tiny knock, knock, knock and ran for the 10' tall door.  Marilyn was yelling "don't scare them" as we had seen the children when we drove in the driveway.  I reached the closed door and pounded the solid wood and roared like a lion (ignoring Marilyn's admonition).  When the door opened,  two children were running down the steps to the protection of their mom.  We smiled and coaxed them back up the steps to the "treasure of candy".  Marilyn gave me "the Look".  Can you imagine if I would have worn a mask?  Soon our Halloween partners, Rose and Danny Fitzhugh", arrived to help with group after group of costumed invaders.
     Another funny story involved an attractive young woman who was hesitant to enter the house.  She walked back and forth on the sidewalk and finally came up the stairs.  "Have you seen a tall bananna", she asked?  Well, we had seen a 6' one about five minutes before, but her son "The Bananna" had left for another house.  Banannas are quicker than you might think.
     I ate a whole pumpkin (that Rose Fitzhugh made).  It is hard to maintain a diet around her.

A sasquatch was sited in the house, but we are unsure if it was there to make a TV commercial or just lives nearby.  Perhaps it lives near Lakenan.  It scared poor Rose Fitzhugh.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thanks to Shelbina City Emplyees

"First Responders"  Cliff & Donna McMurry

i We had a wonderful fall day with the temperature about 80* for the "City Happy Hour" and appreciaiton party.  It was nice to share the home with so many people who keep things running for all of us.  The McMurrys ( Cliff and Donna) were the first to arrive and it was nice to host them.  Donna said that she had wondered about the interior of the home and enjoyed their tour.  We also enjoyed meeting city council members as well as Mayor Dimmitt and his wife Vicky.  She had shown the home several times and approved the new decor.  People roamed up to the Belvedere and down to the depths of the basement - ooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh                                                
     I wish that I had known that the Mayor was talented in remodel and many other areas so that I could have asked his advise.  I just thought that he was a career politicion on his was to the governorship

As close as I'll ever get........

A graveside service was held today for Charles (Chuck or Sonny) Magruder in Shelbina Cemetery.  It was a sad event and yet it was nice to see a gathering of those who knew the man as an adult or as a boy.  It is still difficult to express how I should feel such a loss by the passing of someone that I never met.  Our only commonality is that the house in which he grew to be such a fine man is the one that we now own.  Spirits are so often associated with fear, but this house has been beneficial to so many families. I choose to think that the correlation between between events is related to Charles Magruder's spirit.   Good thoughts abound and it is nice to know that Mr Magruder once again resides so close.  Several people toured the home and his partner Valerie Shondel enjoyed visiting his home once again.  She and her mother both agreed that "Chuck" would have approved the changes that we made.  As difficult as the loss felt for us, it had to have been twice as hard for Valerie having this service and the loss in their New York home.  She displayed tremendous grace.                                                                
Mike Shepherd, Valerie Shondel, Harlan Greenwell, & Robert Crist
Photo taken in the dining room of the Benjamin House.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Energy from other presorvationists

Tonight Marilyn and I went to a meeting at a home on 314 N. 7th St in Hannibal that is owned by Gordon and Ashley Harrison.  They, like us, found an old home that was in danger of  complete disrepair or being altered to become  rental units.  Gordon is an art conservator and works mostly on old paintings.  The woodwork in the Ashley's home was very nice in most rooms and the design of the home is very interesting.  They have removed most of the plaster and drop ceilings. Now they are installing new drywall on many walls and ceilings.   The floors had been swept, but still showed the dust from so much plaster and drywall work.  We certainly understood that situation as we are still sweeping up plaster dust.  It was nice to share stories of hand sanding floors, removing ceilings, walls, and plaster.   They too search for antique trim pieces and lighting to help the house.  They have found great old lighting fixtures and have overcome a lot of obstacles.  Their energy and excitement at solving problems was inspiring to us about our work on the Benjamin house.  There are several really nice old homes in Shelbina that need  interested owners like the Harrisons. 

I shutter at the thought!

There are a ton of shutters in the Benjamin House..  Today I was working on a  couple of the shutters to get them to operate properly.  This involves removing the shutter from the window, which requires removing excess paint to access the screw slots.  Cleaning the painted over hinges and latches requires a lot of time.  In fact, there are 148 shutters with over 5,500 screws to operate them.  Small screws with small slots and years of paint over the metal.  Plus, the hinges are covered in paint that blocks them.  I better go to Margaritaville and do a couple tomorrow.   Of course there are sash locks too, with their   screws.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Friends of the Mansion

The task of renovating the Mansion is a long journey.  As with any journey, some days are better than others and many, many days are solitary.  Just me and the poltergeists annoying each other.  Then, on special days, a friend of the Benjamin House will  visit and help the house.  Rose Fitzhugh is always a joy and this week she brought a lovely gift for the house.  It is a 4 piece, brass set of fireplace tools that are in excellent condition for their years.  They match the Benjamin bedroom with its brown tones.  She has such good taste and her upbeat attitude really helps progress in the house.  Earlier she found a large antique oriental rug that compliments one of the upstairs bedrooms.  Thanks Rose, and an honorable mention to her husband Dan for all his good  electrical work and ideas about fixing the house.  He is also a real bonus at Halloween when he wears his wolf man mask and has kids running from the sidewalk.  Thanks so much.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Halloween is near.

Last night Marilyn did a "test drive" on her latest Halloween gadget.  It is a broom that runs by itself around the house with a cackling voice like a witch.  Batteries, noise, or motion sends the broom scurring about until it bumps into something and turns around.  It looks a bit like something out of Harry Potter, but it had us laughing.  Old hardwood floors are great for robotic brooms.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mansion needs a Bass Boat!

Several groups have toured the Benjamin House.  Enough to see a trend of who has the most interest, and that group is "women".  Sororities and historical societies are our main tour groups, but I explained to my wife that this may be a result of our marketing.  To reach a broader scope of interest, I have suggested to my wife that I get a new, loaded bass boat !  My wife has not yet grasp the concept that by parking the boat in the driveway it would broaden the appeal of the mansion.  Also, we could have "Benjamin House" stenciled on the side of the boat like in NASCAR and I could take it to fishing events.  What do you think - guys?  Help me out here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Question about past remodel.

The removal of wallpaper has lead to a closer examination of other areas of the back entrance foyer.  Above the door that leads to the basement stair access, is a window.  Strange place for a window, since the servant's staircase forms a ceiling that is just behind the window.  The window was not noticed at first, because the window frame and glass had been painted gray.  Why?  Perhaps painting the window gray hid the fact that old wallpaper on the ceiling behind the window was hidden.  Exploring further, I removed the window by pulling out the window casing.  Two things came to light.  First plaster covered part of the frame, which showed old plaster repair or the casing was installed very early in the life of the house.  Round nails indicate that the frame above the door as built later.  When the window was loose enough to remove, I found that it was the bottom sash from another window.   The angled top to the sash was designed to seal the joint with the upper sash in the original window.  Why had this window been placed above the basement door?  Perhaps to seal out "Vapors" from the dirt floored basement.  What was above the door before the window was installed?  For that matter, is the door below the window even original?  When and who are the next questions that come to mind.  Last of all, there is the question "what to do about the old salvage window above the door."  


Well, while doing some RESEARCH for the mansion, I saw a pretty young woman (research) wearing a
sweat shirt that said,"I Love PINK".  It reminded me of Betty Lou Crist and how she was 30 years ahead of the current "Pink" popularity.  She has always liked pink and today I found pink paint under some brown paint that I was stripping off shutters in the 1st floor bathroom. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall work in the yard

Yes, I know that it isn't exciting, but the cool fall weather is a nice time to break out the hedge trimmer.  There are a lot hedges and bushes to trim, but warm sun on a cool day makes the task more fun.  The large "smoke bush" grew a lot this summer thanks to the frequent water we applied.  It will need trimming back soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

If a tree falls in the forest.............?

Is there an interest in the "process" of bringing the home to life?  Or,  is a picture of the finish enough?  Who cares?

Sad news for all

Betty Lou Crist fell and suffered a hip injury.  It was sad to hear and the effect on the family is also tough.  Bob's life is altered and though he is able to handle a lot of events, it is tough to have your partner hurting and recovering in another town.  Best wishes to the former owners and our close friends.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stripping Wallpaper Today

This is not my favorite pastime, but the old kitchen and back entrance needed it.  This paper was a thick vinyl and even the scratch tool did not allow steam to penetrate very well.  Tearing off the vinyl top and then steaming the paper left underneath seemed to work the best.  It made quite a mess with all the small pieces of paper and wallpaper glue all over my hands.  Tomorrow will require more stripping above the servants  staircase.  Not exactly sure how I will reach the high spots.  12' ceilings look grand, but they can be hard to work.  The old paper looked good, but was a dark Burgundy.  The rear entrance needed more light and that is the direction we have maintained throughout our color selection.  Stop by the house if you dare and I will introduce you to my friend, the 10' step ladder.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Did you ever........

The first floor bathroom was blossoming with the new wallpaper that we had chosen.  It was very similar to the color and pattern that Betty Lou Crist (and Bob?) had chosen.  The excitement grew as I watched  Rena attach each strip of paper to the white primed wall.  That is, until she informed me that we did not have enough paper to finish the last wall.  There was the term "22 inch repeat" which caused match up issues and waste.  "Lions and Tigers and Bears, OH MY "- was all that I could think.  Then she told me that I should ask the store for the same Lot #.  That sounded like pushing my luck even more.  Since this paper was purchased a year before in optimistic anticipation, it was not too thrilling to call Sherwin-Williams.  I was thinking of plan B or C as I dialed.  Ta Da, we were able to find it - same lot and all.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Job security

Today I managed to take a one hour task and stretch it into several hours by a jammed pin nailer, split trim by trying a larger gun, and finding the answer by going to Councilman Mike (nice person and able to fix most "stuff").  Thanks Mike!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Spirits of the past

While I was working on my knees sanding a floor at the top of the servant's staircase, an image came to me of an early person scrubbing the same floor.  Just as I was on my knees, so were they.   Just as I was tired, so were they.  The job needed to be done, and indeed it will.  Motives, who knows?  We all are driven, what matters the source. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Keep going and trying - never give up

Sometimes we work for a long time on a room (over a year) and it seems that there is little progress.  Then, in one day the sun appears to shine on the finishing touches and you wonder why you ever doubted your vision.  The first floor bathroom burst forth this week, like a Surprise Lily in August heat. 

Decisions, decisions

I think that I made a mistake on the color choice for the ...............!  I'ld tell you where, but that might prejudice my work or alter your opinion of something that you admire.  We spent the last month, breaking eggs.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2011 becomes the past!

    I sometimes recall the story of the 1st grade student that told his teacher that he knew that God was a baseball fan.  She asked how he knew this and the boy replied, "Well, at church, I heard them talking about God and the 'Big Inning'."  It is my hope that Marilyn and I can have a "Big Inning" at the Shelbina Mansion.  This year will require a lot of effort as Marilyn is working hard on her PhD while I will be returning to work myself.  There are always a lot of factors in decisions and this is no exception.  The economy has had a lot of turmoil and we have so much more that we want to accomplish in the renovation.  It is also our nature to push ourselves to reach goals.  The home in Shelbina grows in our hearts daily and whether you call it Benjamin House, Vesper Place, or Shelbina Mansion,  the home holds a place in history that endures.  We are sure that there will be tours and special events to come in 2012.  Hopefully there will not be anymore Tornados!

2011 winds down!

     Before we form our new years resolutions, or reflect too much about the past events of 2011, we decided to live the last few days of 2011 to the fullest.  The arrival of daughter Monika from Texas always gives us a boost and this season was no exception.  She arrived with an excitement about the mansion and we were immediately blessed by running into Shelbina's twin dynamo of Kathleen Wilham and Jo Kampschmidt in the same room!   They offer both excitement for the future and knowledge about Shelbina's past.  An additional bonus was Kathleen's granddaughter Amy and her story of escaping the snow storms of New Mexico by driving seven hours to the airport in Lubbock, Texas.  Monika had attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock, so she could well appreciate Amy's adventure.  Life gives everyone challanges and it is always great to have people in your life who can stay upbeat when faced with these events.  Thanks Monika, Jo, Amy, Kathleen, and especially Marilyn my wife for your energy.
     This was Monika's first opportunity to stay overnight at the mansion and experience staying a room that had so much history.  She is both a software engineer and photographer by education, so her ability to see the features of the house in snapshots is uncanny.   Add to this, we were soon joined by Robert Crist and his daughter, Robin.   2011 was still a lot of fun as they toured their former residence and gave us two "thumbs up".  Robin told of her first years in the "big old house" with the rumors of ghosts and I noticed that Monika  left a light on all night in her room.   The day continued to be a lot of fun as Warren and Michelle Moellering arrvied with their four children.  They were awed, but nervous about the ghosts of the house.  Monika had to work for about twenty minutes to help them relax into normal boyish energy.  She totally negated all the fear that I had worked to create over the past year.  The mansion is growing with all the good humor.
       We also enjoyed our restaurant experiences.  Martha's daughters walk so quickly while traveling from the tables to the kitchen, that Marilyn suggested we hire them to help with the house or at least have them show me how to walk that fast.  I explained that I would probably break something if I tried to move that quickly.  We also had a great breakfast at Kemps restaurant in Clarence.  Both Roberta Bischsel and her mother offered  ideas for the mansion and were excited to hear of the progress.  Monika ordered the  chocolate chip pancakes and we were unanimous in our opinion that they were the largest, thickest pancakes that we had ever seen.  The fact that Marilyn and I helped her finish the bounty verifies that the taste was also special.  
     We had even more fun in Clarence when Monika asked us to stop at a service station to photograph the old cars with mannequins.  They are set in realistic poses and the station is filled with authentic antiques from the good old days.  Our good luck contiunued as we met the owner, curator, designer and really enjoyed talking with him.    We  were once again fortunate to meet a person with enthusiasm.  Finally, any trip to Clarence requires a slow drive past the home on the west side of town.  It is both beautiful and unique.   The design must have taken some courage to select and architechural skill to exicute.   Take a look into Clarence, Missouri if you ever have the chance.
     2011 has had its ups and downs for all of us, but we hope to "dig in" and make a contribution in 2012.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

1st Open House of the New Millineum!

Well, that may sound a bit grand, but it was a great start.  The rumor is that Mr Benjamin's first open house was attended by very few or even boycotted all together.  We did not really know what to expect from the announcement in the Shelbina Weekly News, but were very surprised when people started arriving and the groups kept growing.  We quickly abandon the plan to give orderly group tours with explainations of the work in progress.  Plan "B" went quite well as my wife, Marilyn joined forces with Jo Kampschmidt to provide information upstairs.  Kathleen Wilham and I worked downstairs to answer as many questions as possible.  Kathleen had printed a nice folder that included a copy of an 1872 artical published before the home was even completed.  She combined this artical with another from 1899 that described the completed home and furnishings.   We are very fortunate to have so much information about the home from various sources.  We are also very fortunated to have the likes of Kathleen from the Historical Society and noted author Jo to support the mansion with their expertise.  The only drawback to such a large attendance was the inability to speak with each and every person as much as we wanted.  The mansion has so many different points of interest and we could see people who concentrated on the architecture while others liked the color schemes or original furnishings.  The rare faucets, medallions, lighting fixtures, and fireplaces offer so many items to view.  Then, there are all the stories about John Forbes Benjamin himself, which Kathleen can tell so well.  We want to give thanks those who attended for being so orderly and respectful of the rare items in the house.  Some of the people were from the St Louis area while others heard about the openhouse in Mexico, MO.  Since the openhouse, many people have asked when the next opportunity to tour  would be scheduled as they were unable to attend this one.

Tours begin at the Mansion!

  • Several organizations met and toured the Benjamin House in October.  It was nice to meet with so many people who had knowledge about the house and see their excitement with the direction that the work is progressing.  The philosophy of light, color, and hard work seems to meet the approval of nearly everyone.  There were stories of past visits, furnishings, and many heartfelt expressions of support for the house.  The Mansion has had several narrow escapes from severe decline and it is our hope to do more than restore the structure.  A support plan is needed to improve the likelyhood of survival for one of the areas most unique pieces of history.   It is great to see the enthusiasm of others.

Former resident of the mansion passes away.

 When I received word that Charles E. (Sonny) Magruder had passed away from injuries in a fall at his home, I was saddened more than might be imagined.   You see, I had never met or spoken with "Sonny", but knew much about him.  The bedroom that he occupied while growing up has been shared by other "boys" such as the Crists and Todds as we know.  He was well respected as a person and as a singer.  He was mainly a studio or background voice for several famous groups including the Ray Charles singers.  It had been my dream that he would one day walk up the sidewalk and introduce himself.  Then we would walk through the house and he would tutor me on the house as he knew it when his father, Elmer, was the owner.  My letters to him had not been delivered as he had moved from his Bronx, New York address.  Shelbina has seen a lot of finality this year.  Marilyn and I hope that the house with so much history will grow in recognition and support.  It is amazing how much energy and expense is used for clean up instead of preservation.  A bit like the story of Humpty Dumpty.

Body found in the yard of the Benjamin House!

While working on the front porch, I noted a Shelbina Police car entering the drive.  A young officer parked the car and approached me.  Sir, we had a report from one of the school bus drivers that there was a dead body in the yard.  I felt both surprise then relief as I understood what was reported.  It was a nice early spring day and the plasterers where working away (which made a mess with a lot of dust).  One of their girl friends was visiting, but watching them do the "wax on, wax off" motion is rather boring so she wanted to read a book.  Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING was dusty in the house, so she brought a blanket out to a shady spot in the front yard.  Well, a gentle breeze with soft grass resulted in a sleeping young woman on the lawn.  It is so peaceful in Shelbina that I thought nothing of it.  Time passed and she awoke and decided to go inside to see her friend.  That's when the police "raided the joint".  The officer enjoyed seeing the inside of the house and the young woman.  Dutifully he asked a few questions inside and was satisfied with my explanation.  So, yes, there was a body in the yard, but no, not a dead body.  Mr Benjamin was the last dead body in the front yard that I can confirm.  He was buried there after his death, but later moved to Shelbyville Cemetery.