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Family History

July 27, 2010

The third stop we made was Adair, Iowa. Back several generations on my mother’s side a Great-great-great-grandmother (I may have one extra great in there) wrote a letter to her granddaughter telling about her life on the prairie. In that letter she recounts one event of interest that happened to her while travellling by train from her home in Fremont, Nebraska to visit relatives in Chicago: the train was robbed. Grandmother Ruscoe gave a clear description of the unique circumstances of the incident (train derailed, engineer killed) including its location (about 60 miles east of Council Bluffs), and the date (late July, 1873). She even reported on conversations passengers had with the robbers. Brother-in-law Willis did the research to find that the details of this description coincide in almost every respect with official reports of the first robbery of a moving train in the western US and it was committed by one Jesse James! The scene is commemorated with a plaque just outside of Adair.

JJ's First

Before visiting the scene, we stopped into the Adair News and talked to the publisher. I won’t say he was terribly excited to hear the tale, but maybe he was just holding back not wanting to appear gullible. I promised to send him full documentation which he said would be published in the next annual Special Jesse James Edition of the Adair News. He did thank us for stopping in.

From Adair, we moved on to Kansas City where I was born. Back in the early 50’s my parents bought an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Kansas City and began an extensive remodelling. During remodelling, they uncovered within the walls a log cabin tha obviously pre-dated the rest of the building. They worked around the cabin structure, not changing it terribly much, but also not taking any particular pains to further expose the log structure. They were interested in having a more or less up-to-date home with room for a new family and entertaining. In later years, the house was reserarched and its roots traced back to a Shawnee indian chief of some local significance. It was enough to get the house registerd as a Kansas Historic Place.

I spent the first six years in that house and my sisters Debby and Jan were also born there, and we all have memories of it. We also have a wealth of home movies and family photos of those times. My mission was to see if I could find the house.

The only problem was that none of us could remember the street address, and there was disagreement about even what town it was in. My sister provided me with the filing made with the Kansas Historical Society. The description was accurate but I was certain that its address was incorrect and was pretty sure it was in the wrong town. But it was all we had to go on, so that’s where we went. Sure enough, that was the house. The neighborhood was utterly unrecognizeable, but the house itself was unmistakable.

KC House

Outside the old homestead

We knocked on the door, found the owner home and I had just begun to introduce myself when he said, “Hey, are you Ed Smick’s son?” And so I was. So we spent the next several hours there talking with Ike and his wife Nancy, and touring the house and grounds. The upstairs was almost exactly as I’d remembered it. Ike bought the house in the late 80’s and decided he wanted to confirm for himself the reports that there was a log cabin buried in there, so he removed part of one bedroom wall to expose the cabin logs and decided to leave it exposed as if to frame history.

It's in there!

Ike was the one who put together the registration for historic registry.

Some changes had been made to the downstairs and to the grounds, but the basic layout is much the same. The major changes were the addition of a front porch to return it to the way it was before my parent’s remodel, and the removal of a large semi-detached building that Ike kept referring to as a kitchen, but which I always knew as my father’s workshop. The cellar was still the same musty smelling fieldstone-walled old place where our home movies show that we had birthday parties. (This was back in the fifties when my parents and all their friends in the airline business were making babies and having cocktail parties at every excuse, and I think they just packed all the kids in the basement–cobwebs and all! ) In the cellar also I observed one of my father’s hallmarks: he tended to be an early adopter of unusual technology. In this instance he wired the house using a very oddball low-voltage wiring system which used relays in the basement to turn on lights in various parts of the house. Well, all that’s still there, and Ike curses my father every time something goes wrong with the wiring (Ike had for these many years been cursing the previous owner, but I straightened him out on the true source of his difficulties. And he’s now stuck with it because the house is registered and he can’t change it. How’s that for being hoist on one’s own petard!)(Actually, I’m sure Ike can make whatever changes he wants to the inside.)

After the tour, we all went out for some terrific KC barbecue at Arthur Bryants, before Seb and I hit the road again to make progress toward St. Louis, our next stop.

Ike LaJoie


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Claudia Chapman permalink
    August 2, 2010 9:57 pm

    Great story about the house and your memories. I haven’t seen the house I grew up in in a quarter of a century, although I visit it in dreams on a regular basis. Some time back I found myself musing about the house and wondering who lived there now. I wondered if I should write about the history of the house and send the letter to the current residents. This would be a good writing assignment—write a history of the house you grew up in and send it to the people who live there now.

    The house we currently live in is a stone structure circa 1949. It has a rather posh bomb shelter. I’m told that the house was built by either an Italian stone mason, or a Norwegian sea captain. The small rooms of the original part of the house suggest the sea captain who was accustomed to enclosed living spaces and a small galley kitchen. I know I could go downtown and just look it up, but it’s more fun to surmise.

  2. Cousin Glenn permalink
    August 2, 2010 11:58 pm

    Peter, what a great trip down the rabbit hole. And here I thought I’d visited you, Debby, Jan and Marty at every house and home you’d lived in! Never made it to KC, but Bruce and I were probably too young back then. Carry on and travel home safely.

  3. Sky Cole permalink
    August 3, 2010 9:40 am

    Glad you all got to Arthur Bryants. But did you get to The Back Door in St. Louis for the regional classic, the fried brain sandwich?

  4. Sky Cole permalink
    August 3, 2010 9:45 am

    P.S. I remember you all had the first microwave I ever saw; cooked alot of bacon (it stayed flat). I also remember a built in automatic coffee maker from which I never had a cup of coffee.

  5. jan smick permalink
    August 3, 2010 5:02 pm

    What a wonderful visit–it makes me homesick! Thank you so much for finding the house–do we have an address now?

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