Happiness Is….

Happiness is a stroll down a street you’ve walked a hundred times only to find something new.

I’ve seen these downtown Chillicothe buildings many times but never viewed them as a collection. I like the way the little one is nestled between those two large structures. It’s so tiny and yet it draws the eye right in!

There are a few more pictures from this walk that I’ll be sharing soon. But for today, let’s all pause a moment and try to view something commonplace with a fresh eye.

Concord Church And The Underground Railroad

Sometimes the draw to see a place is just too strong to fight. That was the case yesterday as I had been fighting a gnawing desire all week to visit a specific site.

It’s a church and it was an important station on the Underground Railroad in my region. Yesterday wasn’t an ideal adventure day as it was overcast with threats of rain. However, I went anyway and came home with plans to return for better pictures some blue sky day.

The destination was Concord Presbyterian Church near Frankfort. Technically, it’s a few miles from Frankfort at a little place called Lattaville. The congregation dates back to 1805 and started in a log structure. In 1822, they built this brick building.

Honestly, it is a beautiful church just to look at but the knowledge of what went on here is what makes it truly special in my mind.

Reverend James H. Dickey was an active abolitionist in Ohio. He and two other families from his congregation were Underground Railroad conductors.

They hid fugitives in the church loft.

From here, escaped slaves were either taken into Frankfort or Chillicothe for the next leg of their journey.

Today the church sits at the intersection of two country roads. The church presides over passersby from atop a hill. The carefully tended cemetery is filled with older graves, trees and old fashioned flowers. The birdsong is lovely and I saw a deer in the field behind the churchyard. It’s peaceful. And yet, I had the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t alone.

You may think I’m crazy but I think that places have life within them long after people leave the building. You’ve heard the phrase “if walls could talk.” They may not be able to speak but I think very old walls hold memories and emotions.

This place exuded feeling for me – both good and bad. I lingered, in no hurry to leave, as I tried to picture all this church has likely seen. Imagine over almost 200 years how many weddings and funerals, christenings, tragedies and celebrations this church has known. How many families have come and gone?

How many escaped slaves found refuge here? And where did they go after they left? What happened to them? Did they make it to freedom?

When I talk history, my mind always shifts to sepia or black and white:

In school, lessons about slavery, the War and the Underground Railroad erred on the side of vague and detached. It didn’t sound so bad the way most of us were taught this chapter in our history. It wasn’t until college where I minored in history that my education on the subject took a deep dive into the realities and horrors of these matters.

In recent years, I have grown to appreciate how different my experiences in this country have been as compared to those who live other places or who look different than me. With that in mind I make an effort to step inside the minds of people different than me and to better understand their experiences.

As hard as I try, there are some events in history and some peoples’ stories that I will never be able to comprehend. But I still try.

I cannot imagine the horror of being considered chattel, valued by an owner as one would value a cow or a horse. I cannot imagine being forced to live and work in conditions designed by someone else or the fear of having my own children ripped from my arms and sold.

I cannot imagine escaping, sprinting for freedom, and the constant fear of all that could go wrong or the terror of going back.

I cannot imagine the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with such a long journey in an age before automobiles or air travel. I cannot imagine relying on strangers for help.

I cannot imagine the grief of leaving behind family and friends and the only life that you’ve ever known.

I cannot imagine the uncertainty of what the future will hold and how you will make a living if your escape is successful.

I cannot imagine allowing myself the hope that someday freedom will be mine.

Capturing fugitive slaves was a lucrative business. Attempting escape, attempting to help fugitives – this was all incredibly dangerous. What risks did this minister and his flock take to help others?

Why would anyone think that holding slaves is the right thing to do?

We act as though slavery was a long time ago but it really wasn’t.

As you can tell, this visit to Concord Church was more than just a trip to see a neat old church and the timing is no coincidence. With all that’s happening in our country, today, the reckoning that is taking place has me trying to learn as much as possible and to at least attempt to understand someone else’s view of the world.

The history buff in me says the best means for understanding today is to understand how we arrived at this place.

Wherever you are in this world, I’m guessing there are historic sites that are accessible to the public. When it’s safe, I hope that you will choose one to visit. Ask yourself what really went on at this place. Who was here? What was their life like? Don’t just look at an old place. Try to step into another time, into someone’s mind and absorb what this place really stands for and can teach you.

It’s a kind of personal growth that is tough to explain but so rewarding to experience.

New Hope Free Will Baptist Church

New Hope Free Will Baptist Church can be found on Route 50 just outside Chillicothe, Ohio. There’s a lot of visual clutter in the vicinity but nothing can take away from the beauty of this house of worship.

Look at the details.

And, of course, we all know how much I love a good door.

These doors and the trim around them are amazing. The church dates to 1893, a period when we still built things to last and that are special.

They do still have services here, according to the sign out front. If you’re in the area I’m sure they would love a guest.

Remembering Mr. Prusas

There was a man who I crossed paths with years ago while I worked my way through college as a student assistant in the university library.

He was a well dressed elderly man who came in early every morning. He read things like the New York Times and financial magazines. No fluff. He never checked out anything and rarely spoke to anyone.

I became friendly with him but knew very little about the man aside from what I learned from a supervisor. His name was Dr. Zenon Prusas but we just called him Mr. Prusas. To me, he was the nice man who liked to be the first to read the Wall Street Journal every day.

Looking back, I wish I had the opportunity to know him better and recently Googled him on a whim. Sadly, I found his obituary – not surprising as I figured he would be close to a hundred by now.

Being a sort of connoisseur of fine obituaries (yes, it’s weird but don’t judge me) I was pleased to see that someone had taken the time to honor a life well lived by telling his rather colorful story.

Mr. Prusas was born in 1921 in a small village in eastern Lithuania. He was forced from his homeland by the Russian invasion during World War II and immigrated to the United States.

He landed at the Mead Corporation’s Central Research offices in 1955 where he became an industry expert on pulp and paper technology. Colleagues described him as “a national treasure.”

Mr Prusas loved the outdoors and personally planted over a thousand trees on his own property. He published much professionally but also wrote a book about his family’s experiences during the Soviet and Nazi invasions and occupations of his homeland.

Mr. Prusas left many lasting marks on this world but I loved learning that he was a tireless advocate for the freeing of his native country from Soviet occupation. After Lithuania gained independence, Mr. Prusas organized and sponsored the creation of a monument in the center of his boyhood town. It is dedicated to the Lithuanian freedom fighters.

He died almost eight years ago but lives on in so many ways. In fact, I don’t think Mr. Prusas wasted a minute of his time on earth.

All these years later, I can’t help but wish I had been braver and tried harder to get to know him. My job experience as a reporter taught me that people often are open to questions about themselves – I suspect, if the opportunity were presented today, I could get some really good stories from this man.

Wherever he is, I hope Mr. Prusas has found peace and that he’s still always the first to read the morning paper.

Majestic Behind The Scenes

a majestic ballroom.JPG

Behind the scenes tours are the best, especially when they take you into local landmarks. This is from the third floor ballroom of Chillicothe’s Majestic Theater. The lighting up there is spectacular and the potential for this space is endless.

Isn’t the sign fabulous?

Adventure Day Antiques and Vinyl

Yesterday was my first day of vacation and I spent it adventuring with a friend. We hit the Heritage Square Antique Mall, Tommy’s Diner and three (count ’em three) guitar stores in Columbus. Plus we still got out of dodge before rush hour.

Heritage Square is well worth your time if you enjoy antique malls. This one is over 50,000 square feet packed full of stuff. For under $30 I left with a like new red gingham Christmas tree skirt, a vintage Santa and two records, one of which I had never seen before in real life.

I also found this Crosley piece that I wish I had a reason to own. Original Crosleys in good condition are hard to find. This one still has the book and not a lot of wear.

Not buying this may turn out to be one of my life’s regrets.

Tommy’s is a nice little diner not far from downtown that has a u-shaped counter and lots of stuff to look at. It’s a popular place but their lunch service is pretty quick so they get you in and out. The food was typical diner meals and I won’t make a special trip to go back but would absolutely return if I’m in the neighborhood.

The guitar shops were kind of neat too because they’re filled with pretty guitars and it’s always fun to hear my friend play around with the thing he loves best. But don’t tell him that I didn’t hate it – he will take me to more next time!

We encountered some quirky people in these stores including a fellow who makes customs in his German Village Music Haus.

Check out this guitar that features an old comic strip. That’s all wood!

We also found some bargains at Apollo Records, my current favorite record store. Located in downtown Chillicothe, it’s packed full of potential treasures that are priced to move. I’ve never walked out of there without an armload.

The great controversy of the day is that I beat him to a stash of Flying Burrito Brothers albums that he insists I cheated him out of. I say that I found them fair and square!

If you’re near one of these small businesses, stop by and give them a little love. Supporting a small business means you’re supporting local jobs and businesses that fill storefronts and often support our communities in a host of ways. The online retailers we all love so much don’t even know where you live. They certainly won’t give money to your school band or pass out candy in your Christmas parade.

In all, it was a fun day and I’m glad for it. And seriously, if you enjoy antique malls and haven’t been, find your way to Heritage Square!