Independence Day–a day for reflection and fun

Two hundred thirty-six years ago The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress.  In that document the original 13 colonies declared their freedom from Great Britain.  It states, in part:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with                                            certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

Independence Day is a great day on which to remind ourselves of the privileges we hold dear and the sacrifices that have helped shape our nation and our national values.  For me it is a time for gratitude.

Hopefully, it is also a day for celebration: for fun, barbecues, laughter, and fireworks!

Have a safe and happy holiday.

________

The American flag was photographed July 3 at the Liberty Memorial.  The fireworks were photographed July 3 during the Westwood, Kansas, fireworks display.  All the photographs were taken using my Nikon D5100 camera and Tamron 18-270 zoom lens.  I am trying to learn the secrets of my camera.  I took lots of shots of a nearly limp or semi-limp flag before I finally was lucky enough to catch a couple of shots where the wind had opened the flag .  I had to try numerous settings to get the light and speed right to make it possible for me to catch the fireworks as they raced across the sky.  It will be years before I photograph fireworks with the skill to make it to PhotoBotos, but for now, I think these are fun.

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Little Boy Lost–in 1869

James Churchill was born May 8, 1863 and died Nov. 22, 1869.  He was 6 years old.  I do not know where he was born.  Presumably he died near Leavenworth, Ks., since he was buried there, by the Missouri River.

More than 125 years later, his tombstone was found, upside down, in an open field.  I have searched high and low but have found no record of his birth or his death.

I believe I have identified his parents.  The tombstone lists his parents as R.D. and S.C. Churchill.  I believe they were David R. Churchill and Sophia C. (Brown) Churchill.  I find no record David and Sophia had a son named James, but they had other children in this same time period.

James was born 2 years after the civil war began, and died 4 years after its end. Most residents of Leavenworth in 1863 were pro-union, since Camp Lincoln, in Fort Leavenworth, was a reception and training center for Kansas volunteers for union soldiers.  Since it seems unlikely confederate loyalists would live within the shadow of a Union stronghold, that suggests the family held anti-slavery beliefs and, more likely that they moved from the North or the East. Of course, nothing is certain.

I doubt the family was traveling west.  In 1862 David Churchill lived at 211 Delaware in Leavenworth.  Someone in the family is listed as a member of the Mayflower Society which may be helpful, because it suggests a family with an interest in its own heritage.

The person who found the tombstone wants very much to return it to the family.  He indicates he took the stone originally because after an extensive search he found no indication of a cemetery, no indication of houses or of any homestead near the land where the stone was found. He offered it to a historical society which was not interested.  (There probably are many other tombstones with similar stories.)

The stone itself evidences a certain level of affluence for Kansas in the 1860’s.  It is not illegible, like many stones from the late 19th century.  Even after so many years of being subject to the weather, it is a substantial stone, with the family information clearly carved and easily read.

Please, if you have any information about the Churchill family, or even about a 19th century cemetery along the river in Leavenworth,  just send me a comment.  Thanks

World War II: They died that others might live

World War II holocaust survivor, Bronia Roslawowski, was born Brucha Kibel, in Turek, Poland, to Tzvi Eliezer (Hersh) Kibel and Bluma Bayrach.  She was born in about 1926 but we were never really sure about her age!  She died July 14, 2010, in her adopted hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, after a long and meaningful life.  She was beloved by all who knew her–and she seemed to know almost everyone.

On September 4, 1939, German armed forces marched into Turek, where Bronia lived with her family.  After two already difficult years, in December 1941, Bronia was sent to Inowroclaw Straflager in Northern Poland.  A “resettlement camp” during the war, it was the first of approximately 5 concentration camps in which Bronia survived the war.  In 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She worked in a forced labor camp at Telefunken plant in Reichenbach, escaped the gas chamber in 1944 and was forced on a death march shortly before war’s end. Her right arm was tattooed with the number 57365. Still, despite all that she suffered, she survived.  She was liberated by U.S. servicemen in 1945 and worked briefly in a resettlement camp before moving to the United States.  Only she and a brother survived the war.

Bronia married Mendel Roslawowski, himself a survivor of the camps.  Together they raised his son and her three daughters.  They opened the M & M Bakery at 31st & Woodland.  A popular neighborhood deli, it was a favorite of the local community, medical students and young lawyers.  Her brisket and bagel sandwiches were absolutely priceless.  She had photographs on her walls of children who frequented the deli, many of whom she fed free sandwiches and cookies.  She hugged her customers and seemed to find time to make each of her regulars feel loved.  To Bronia, no one was ever a stranger.

Bronia never forgot her war-time experiences.  She was determined not to let those experiences, or the loss of her family, control her life. She laughed easily and often.  She opened her home to her extended family and her children’s friends–who came to feel like family.  At the same time, anxious to educate her community about the horrors of war, she spoke regularly on behalf of survivors about the holocaust, and worked with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.  Her message was a message of love., stating She forgave those who harmed her, insisting they are all God’s children.  She acknowledges the hate and ugliness she saw in the world and she denounced Nazis, but not the German people.  She stated that “you cannot condemn a nation.”  “I don’t hate” she  repeated.   

Prior to her death she was one of 52 Kansas City Holocaust survivors and war refugees whose stories are included in the book From the Heart.  She is also the subject of a children’s book, Love the World, by Maureen Moffitt Wilt focused, obviously on her message of love.  It is beautifully illustrated by Jeff Porter.  The photograph of her family, taken at her granddaughter’s marriage, is an image of a woman who not only survived the war, but thrived.  She lived a rich and full life. Bronia’s life, and her message of love, are reflected in the strength and commitment to family and community of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

For Bronia, her family and all of the other Bronias, the horrors of their early lives gave way, to meaningful lives here in the United States, in Europe and throughout the world.

A victim of hate, she became a messenger for love.  She understand that as she suffered due to the hate and intolerance of others, she also was given a new life by liberation forces.  Neither their sacrifices, nor Bronia’s message of love, should be forgotten.

Kansas City Remembers: The World War I Museum

Memorial Day weekend is a fitting time to remember the sacrifices of our nation’s military forces.  There are few places that symbolize this sacrifice as powerfully as the National World War I Museum, located here in Kansas City. It includes over 55,000 artifacts from the war years, a time line of events during the war years, photographs, armaments, and far more treasures than a visitor can absorb in one visit.  Even the setting is a powerful visual experiences, sitting as it does with one of the most beautiful views of downtown Kansas City.  

No visitor can reach the museum without first confronting the Liberty Memorial Tower, which sits immediately above the museum, and which is dedicated to the the “Honor of those who served in the World War in Defense of Liberty and our country”.

On either side of the tower are two giant sphinxes with wing like coverings concealing their faces, as though they are, themselves, traumatized by the reality of war.  Two concrete buildings sit behind the sphinxes, themselves housing exhibits for the museum.

The banners on the doors that mark the entry to the museum are unassuming.  Once inside, visitors face a vast, but well-organized exhibit.  The various rooms, includes a timeline of the war years, uniforms, posters, banners, video histories and other documentation of the war years.

Knowledgeable volunteers are available throughout the building, eager to share their knowledge of the war and of the museum contents.

The munitions they describe are primitive by today’s standards, but were sufficient to cause, in combination with factors such as disease and starvation, horrible destruction to the military forces, civilian populations and the landscape of Europe.  The combined death toll of the military forces exceed 8,528,800.  While World War I was often called the “Great War”, or the war to end all wars, it was neither.  The destruction it caused contributed to events culminating in World War II and influence world affairs even today.

While statistics cannot adequately convey the depth of human misery, they are telling.  The casualty rates for the mobilized forces of the major powers are (approximately) as follows:

Country         Total Forces              Killed  Wounded/Prisoners/Missing        Total Casualties    Percent Casualties

Russia                        12,000,000                   1,700,000            7,450,000         9,150,000              76.3  

Germany                    11,000,000                   1,774,000             6,400,000         7,142,600              64.9  

British Empire           8,904,500                       908,370             2,280,000          3,190,250              35.8    

France                         8,410,000                     1,357,800            4,800,000         6,160,800              73.3  

Austria-Hungary      7,800,000                    1,200,000            5,820,000         7,020,000             90.0      

Italy                              5,615,000                        650,000             1,550,000          2,197,000              39.1  

United States             4,355,000                         116,516                  208,000             323,000                7.1

Because the museum is focused on the war itself, the reality of death surrounds us.  The ancient weapons of various sizes and shapes are on display.  

A restored 1918 Ford Model T ambulance is almost humorous in its quaintness.

But there is also significant information about the culture of the era as evidenced by murals, photographs, clothing and everyday mementos of the times.

There are life-sized murals which can only be described as glorifying, if not war, than the strength and power of those who are successful in war.

It is easier for the eye to turn to the powerful and positive symbols of hope and accomplishment.  But nothing, in a place dedicated to war, can escape the reality of death.  It is everywhere. In the midst of the exhibits are reminders of the humanness of the suffering.  An example of the power of those posters is one quoting the leader of German mutineers, sentenced to death for his role in the mutiny of members of the German fleet, struggling to end the war:  “I have been sentenced to death today.  Only myself and another comrade; the  others have been let off with fifteen years’ imprisonment.  You have heard why this is happening to me.  I am a sacrifice for the longing for peace; others are going to follow”.

When the United States entered the war in 1917, it mobilized forces for war on the ground, on the seas and in the air.  It was a welcome relief to its allies and helped tip the scales for the war’s outcome.  Because it entered the war more than two years after the war commenced, our casualties were comparatively small.  But each casualty, our own, and those of our enemies, is real.

Throughout the museum are portraits, sketches and photographs of those who fought and those who died.  Each had his or her own personal and tragic story.  Each had a family who mourned the lost of their loved one. This portrait is of Lieutenant John F. Richards II, 1st Aero Squadron, killed in action September 26, 1918 over Argonne Forest, (France) part of the final Allied offensive in World War I.  I will not easily forget his face.

The World War I Museum is a place memorializing one of many tragic wars.  It is a place of sadness.  It is also a place of remembrance.  I would like to believe it is a place of hop.  I am not so sure.  But each of us benefits by being reminded of the devastation that is the inevitable result of human conflict.

When to go to war, whether to go to war and why to go to war are issues that have no easy solutions and I will offer none.  But it is important to be reminded of the tragedy of war and of the sacrifices made by our men and women of the military who make great personal and family sacrifices to protect their nation in times of peace and times of war.  We should never forget them.

 

A Day at the Museum: San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

San Francisco is full of art and culture. Most of our recent visits into the city have been to see the touristy-type attractions. Pier 39. Ghirardelli. Coit Tower. For our visit this past Saturday with Aunt Carol and Uncle John, we opted for the arts. As our Christmas present from them, the four of us planned a day in the city to visit several museums and have a delicious dinner. Our first stop? The Legion of Honor.

The Legion of Honor is one of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. It is located in SF’s Lincoln Park overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was built as a gift from Alma de Bretteville Spreckels in the 1920s to commemorate the Californian soldiers who lost their lives fighting in France in World War I. The collection of fine art inside the museum is beautiful, and the architecture of the structure itself is equally magnificent.

As we walked around the inside of the museum, I couldn’t help but think how much it reminded me of the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City. The architecture is very similar, and both have Rodin’s Thinker! The collections ranged from impressionist paintings to Annie Leibovitz’s photography to ancient Roman sculptures. These were a few of my favorites.

My favorite piece of art in the whole museum is a ceiling in one of the exhibit rooms. The detail is incredible. The ceiling was carved from wood in Spain in the late 1400s-early 1500s during the Moorish occupation. It is one of four removed from the original setting in the Palacio de Altimira in Toledo, in the Torrijos region in Spain.

It was a beautiful day at the museum. With our busy lives, it is nice to be reminded of all the beautiful things to see around us. I believe the arts to be an important factor in maintaining the balance in society. It is hard to argue with the importance of the arts, especially when we see such beauty through the eyes of the artists, enlightening us about their fascinating perspectives on the world. In a lot of ways, it helps us look at the world through new eyes, learn how to see something from someone else’s perspective, and have a little more appreciation for our own world.

Once we left the Legion of Honor, heavy in thought, we made our way over to Golden Gate Park to see the de Young museum. But I will save that exciting experience for next time.

Our Founding Fathers

On July 4, 11776, our founders declared in the Declaration of Independence: “we hold theses Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty,pursuits Pursuit of Happiness.”  With these words, they began the process of shaping a government that obtains its powers from “the Consent of the Governed.” The Constitution continues in a similar fashion, professing the desire of the people of the United States to “establish Justice”, and to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” to ourselves and our posterity.”  These are powerful words, and the goals expressed in them have shaped this nation.  What kinds of men authored these documents?

When I read Madeleine Albright’s book, The Mighty and the Almighty, her brief description of the philosophical and religious perspectives of our first Presidents intrigued me.  Albright’s own belief in religious tolerance may certainly impact her vision of our founding fathers.  Particularly pertinent is her belief that religion should not be  a source of conflict and hate.  It is reasonable that she focuses on similar attributes in our founding fathers.

What were the beliefs of the men who shaped these documents?  What is it that inspired George Washington and others to create our Constitutional form of government?  How is that these men created a government based on concepts of liberty, freedom and democracy?  What caused them to enact a Constitution that gave so much power and dignity to the common man?  Albright believes they considered themselves to be like the Israelites, guided by God through the wilderness, presumably to the promised land, the a United States.

Almost certainly, the vast majority of early colonial leaders were closely associated with clearly defined religious denominations: Primarily Congregationalists, Puritans, and Anglicans. In contrast are the less clear cut beliefs of a small group of pivotal individuals who took center stage as authors of the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.  Their letters and speeches suggest they were deep thinkers, wise and thoughtful, “primarily political–not spiritual theorists” who focused  on “civil concepts: democracy, liberty, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, jury trial, all of the fundamental rights we hold dear.”

Consistent with their own political and philosophical beliefs, these men were highly respectful of the wide scope of religious and philosophical beliefs found among the citizenry.  What do we know about their beliefs?  Their religious beliefs appear not to have been stagnant.  They grew and changed as they faced the challenges of building a nation.  Historians describe them as very religious, not very religious, atheists or Deists, depending at least in part on the perspective of the various historians who write about the, while relying on whatever quotes fits.  Without question, they seem to have believed that this new nation should welcome people of different beliefs.

Our first President, George Washington, often acknowledged the importance of a supreme being, while advocating “scrupulous support for religious tolerance” including “Mohametans, Jews or Christians of any sect, or Atheists”.  In Washington’s 1790 letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, R.I., he wrote: “The government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  He made frequent references to a deity, nonetheless, ministers of his time, including the Rev. Bird Wilson, Episcopalian, and Rev. James Abercrombie, Rector of Washington’s church, described him as a “Deist”.  Certainly as Secretary Albright indicates, he was committed to the right of every citizen to worship “according to the dictates of his own conscience”, as he did himself.

Our second President, John Adams, is described by Secretary Albright as a Unitarian who considered liberty “a gift from God” and democracy “a creation of man”.  She describes him as having had little use for the concept of the Trinity.  A prolific writer in the area of philosophical and religious issues, his various writings provide little clarity as to his personal beliefs. Like Jefferson, his religious and philosophical views were intertwined.  His primary concerns appear to have been civil rather than religious.  As a statesman he was dedicated to religious tolerance. Treatises about him quote him as inconsistently stating both that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people” and in contrast that “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”  I wonder whether this statement was in response to world events of his time.  He expressed concern that people “are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority”, as demonstrated by “every page of the history of the whole world.” Almost certainly a reference to the French Revolution which occurred almost simultaneously with our own, but with a level of brutality we never experienced.

Albright describes Thomas Jefferson, our third President, as a student of science and ethics.  The controversial nature of his beliefs is evidenced by his opponents’ attacks against him, labeling him an atheist. His own words make this suggestion highly suspect. In his letter to Benjamin Rush, in 1800, he acknowledges God, stating: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  But he certainly ascribes to a very personal system of beliefs: “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any part of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself.  Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”  He had little good to say about Christian clergy, describing them as the “greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus”.  Ouch, my dad would loudly protest against any suggestion that his life’s work is an obstacle to the teachings of Jesus!!

Jefferson is the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.  He and George Mason, authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776.  In addition to codifying rights including freedom from excessive bond, separation of the powers of the three branches of government, the right to freedom of the press, and the right to jury trial, the document states that: all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience”; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

Jefferson wrote respectfully of atheists in a letter to Thomas Law in June 1814: “If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him whence arises the morality of the Atheist? … Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”  In a speech to the Virginia Convention in June 1778, he proclaimed:  “Freedom arises from the multiplicity of sects…For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.”  Finally he states: “Say nothing of my religion.  It is known to my God and myself alone.”  Letter to John Adams, January 1817.

James Madison, the fourth President, and often identified as the “Father of the Constitution” authored major sections of the Federalist Papers, advocating for the passage of the Constitution.  He was certainly one of the greatest champions of that document. Because his early expressions of his religious views are said to have varied greatly from his private statements late in his life, it is difficult to set forth a concise statement of those beliefs.  Early in his political life he described that the “democratic will” is subordinate to the commands of God, but clarified that those commands are “heard and understood in the individual conscience”. Advocating for the Constitution’s language on the separation of church and state, he stated that “Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance;…in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”  Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.  Madison spoke and wrote frequently on the issue of religious freedom. He authored Federalist Papers #51, in which he wrote a slight variation of his theme, stating that: “In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects.”

 Last, but not least, of our best remembered colonial leaders is Benjamin Franklin.  Never a President, and always somewhat apart from the main stream even of the late 18th century, his thoughts about faith, only months prior to his death are witty and plain-spoken: “I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe…That the soul of man is immortal…As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble.”
What does it matter? It is apparent that they were respected by their peers, that they were able to define themselves as men of integrity who embraced people of good will where ever they found them.  Certainly, in forging a government of people from such varied backgrounds they were able to shape the original “big tent” of which President Ronald Reagan spoke.  But further, they constructed a government in which people were able to come together as equals, with the interests of the majority and the interests of the various minorities all considered and given worth.  They gave respect to the individual, created a government based democratic values and expectations of liberty.  Most important, they gave our citizens a Constitution and Bill of Rights that became the basis for a government that has thrived for over 200 years.  Sadly, they did not protect us from the inhumanity of  slavery or insure the equal treatment of women and minorities.  But over the course of U.S. History. the concepts of liberty, equality and justice have prevailed and these fundamental rights were extended to all citizens.
                                                                                          Out of Many, One

Prague, Glorious Prague–Old Town

Until the end of the cold war in 1991, Iron Curtain countries, including Czechoslavakia, were essentially closed to U.S. tourists.  It was more than fifteen years later that we traveled to Prague, the largest city in the Czech Republic. A major European economic and cultural center for more than 1000 years, the city resonates with the power that is its history.  In recent weeks I have learned a bit about Prague and the trauma it’s resident’s have endured through the  last 100 years. I am in awe of what I see and learn.

Totally inconsistent with my expectations, Prague is a vibrant, bustling community.  The old town looks like it is straight from a movie set.  It is colorful, dramatic and gothic. Outdoor cafes make visitors feel welcome and tourists can, for a price, enjoy a carriage ride through the city center.

The hustle and bustle of the city surrounds us.  The mood is happy and upbeat.  The tourist trade significantly impacts the economy and seems to be welcomed by all.  The Powder Gate sits next to the palace in Old Town.  It is of ornamental, not military value.  King Vladislav II placed the foundation stone in 1475.
Everywhere you walk in Old Town you see buildings that appear to be, and often are, the work of centuries. Individual buildings, churches and sculptures date from as early as the 1300s and have survived, against all odds, despite wars and other calamities.  The Old Town Hall gives us a sense of the history of the city that is about more than the expenditure of wealth.  It is the creation of elegance.
The Old Town Hall Tower’s Astronomical Clock is a big tourist draw.  It’s intricate design includes a variety of characters. Images of Death, The Turk  and the twelve Apostles all make their appearance on the hour.
The current home of Prague’s city government is the “Nova Radnice” or New City Hall.  It is situated in Marianski Square.
Perhaps not as colorful as it’s predecessor, it is, nonetheless, a stately center of power.
The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn dominates the Old Town Square. Built in 1365 its unique twin spires and gothic appearance make it popular to tourists and travel magazines. Occupied for a time by the Hussites, it later came under the control of Catholic Jesuits.
Construction on St. Vitus’s Cathedral began in 1344.  It was finally completed in the early 1900s.  Its beauty dominates the skyline.  The tomb of Prince/St. Wenceslas, murdered in 929 A.D., is located in the cathedral.  He is best known to Christians from the Christmas Carol, “Good King Wenceslas” for his acts of charity. The intricate design of the exterior is consistent with the elegance of the cathedral’s interior.
Masterpieces of religious art cover the interiors of churches throughout the city evidencing, yet again, the power and great wealth with which Prague has been graced. The craftsmanship evidenced everywhere around us is second to none.
There is no way to capture the essence of Prague’s majestic art and architecture in a single post, nor in a hundred.  But we hope that these photographs give you a sense of the glory of its past, present and future.