Well I had a refreshing experience recently.
Well I had a refreshing experience recently.
Two teachers from Neosho Middle School, Dan Williams and Josh Montgomery, asked me to give an hour-long walking history tour in downtown Neosho for their students who will be entering the national History Day contest. I am so thrilled that these teachers have encouraged their students to know more about local history. As they themselves put it, "So many of our kids know nothing about the community they live in."
In that hour, we stood over and briefly talked about two known tunnels under the streets of downtown Neosho, about a Civil War murder that happened on the Neosho Square, about a 1930s gangster-style bank robbery, about a Civil War battle just northwest of the Neosho Square, and about the "Civil War Cave" in Big Spring Park, as well as a few other things that are all fit topics for future columns, even if they have already been written about pretty extensively. In each case we stood directly at or very near the sites where these things are or happened. If time had allowed I would have talked about a lot more, including the site of Missouri's secession, or attempted secession depending on how you look at it, from the United States of America, the capture of the Union garrison in Neosho on the same day as the more well known Battle of Carthage on July 5, 1861, the bombardment of the courthouse and subsequent surrender of another Union garrison on Oct. 4, 1863, the affect of Camp Crowder on Neosho, and much more. But alas, we only had the hour. So I told some stories about people. I sometimes like to use poorly-imitated sound affects in my stories too, not because I'm necessarily trying to be entertaining , though I do want to keep my listeners' attention, but because this is how I actually picture history – in sound and in color. In talking about events that happened around us, I sometimes try to tell it like a play or a movie. Heck, history is entertaining. Who wouldn't be at least a little curious about a murder drama, for instance, if they knew they were standing on the real-life set? Well, that's what much of history is, really: drama. Because no matter the subject, it involves people, and everyone has a story.
Some people think history is dry and boring. Not the way I tell it. Or at least I hope not. Because, for me, history is just the things that happened awhile back to people much like you and me, who saw, and touched, and loved much of the same things that surround us today. How long will these inanimate objects that we see every day outlive us, their creators in many cases? How many generations will they watch pass before them? How many stories could they tell? It's amazing to me that many of the things I see on an everyday basis were also once seen by people who have been dead for 100 years or more. I'm talking about buildings and natural landscape mostly. As far as the latter goes, I could extend that to Native Americans and have even more of a mind crash, as we now enter a much deeper period in history.
Big Spring Park is a good example of that. Long before any white man gazed upon the valley that is now one of Neosho's crown jewels, the same land was being utilized for both ceremonies and basic human needs. Now our kids play there, swim there, feed the fish there, get married there, as we did ourselves in many cases, without a thought about the long-dead people who also once used and enjoyed what is now Big Spring Park. A lot of the original natural features are still there, such as the ridges and the springs. There is also the staircase – 57 steps and three landings – leading from Big Spring Hill to High Street. There has been a staircase in that spot, wooden first and later concrete, since the 1800s. Since my grandparents' time (1920s) there has been the wading pool and Greek stage. Since my parents' time (1960s) there has been the big floral clock, one of less than 100 of its kind in the world at one time (and possibly still the case). I wish the classy Big Spring Inn was still there, but it burned in 1966 (47 years ago this month, in fact). Possibly the only positive thing to come of that, besides the expansion of the park, is the fish pool that is there now. Probably hundreds of thousands of kids have fed hungry trout and koi there ever since. I know I did when I was a kid. I even brought a date there once when I was older, but I don't think she was into me much, because every time I edged closer to her at the railing she edged a little bit farther away. We started at one end of the railing and ended up at the other end. It was almost comical. But still, that's a memory.
And memories are what I'm primarily talking about - the memories of experiences of everyday people. They were silently witnessed by many of the things that we the yet living see and pass by every day. If only those inanimate objects could speak. It may be a good thing that they cannot. But I still wish they could. History surrounds us. Stories surround us. History truly is the story of us.
Wes Franklin serves on the board of directors of the Newton County Historical Society. He can be reached at 658-8443 or 451-8050.