Sunday, January 22, 2012
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.
- 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.
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.
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.