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.