Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rosemary Clooney

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Every year during the holiday season, I watch one of my favorite movies, “White Christmas,” a 1954 film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, a popular song-and-dance act. It also stars Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen as the Haynes Sisters, another song-and-dance act.

In April of this year, Ruth and I visited Rosemary Clooney’s hometown of Maysville, Kentucky. After spending the night in Aberdeen, Ohio, we crossed the Ohio River at dawn on the Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge, a beautiful suspension bridge built in 1931 to connect Aberdeen to Maysville.

We headed for the Maysville Downtown Historic District and parked near the Russell Theatre. In 1929, local businessman Col. J. B. Russell announced plans to build a 700-seat movie palace on the site of a grocery warehouse owned by the Russell family.

The theatre was designed in the atmospheric style that was popular in America in the 1920s. The dome was filled with twinkling stars and floating clouds. And when each movie ended, a rainbow would appear over the stage.

Four large columns with decorative capitals mark the theatre entrance. The entrance is clad in Cincinnati Rookwood tiles, including the ticket booth.

The Russell Theatre served the Maysville area from 1930 until it closed in 1983. Following its closing, the building was used for several businesses, including a restaurant and a used furniture store. Eventually, the building was abandoned and fell into serious disrepair.

In 1996, a group of Maysville citizens purchased the building and began efforts to raise the funds necessary to restore the theatre. In 1999, Rosemary Clooney founded the annual Rosemary Clooney Music Festival to benefit the restoration of the theatre.

Rosemary Clooney’s first film, “The Stars Are Singing,” premiered at the Russell Theater in 1953. There is a sidewalk star in front of the theatre entrance honoring Ms. Clooney and her film debut.

In case you’re wondering, actor/director/producer George Clooney is the nephew of Rosemary Clooney. His father, Nick Clooney, newsman and former host of American Movie Classics, is Rosemary’s brother.

The Clooney family has not only supported the restoration of the Russell Theatre, but also the restoration of Maysville’s Washington Opera House, the fifth oldest performing arts theatre in the United States. In 2008, the Washington Opera House held the premiere showing of George Clooney’s “Leatherheads” movie.

After we finished photographing numerous buildings in the downtown historic district, we visited the Maysville floodwall to see the mural honoring Rosemary Clooney. The mural, completed in 2007 by Dafford Murals, depicts highlights from Rosemary’s life and career.

We then left the downtown area and went in search of one final piece of history in the life of Rosemary Clooney: her final resting place. High on a hill outside of Maysville is the beautiful St. Patrick Cemetery, where Rosemary was laid to rest. The cemetery is relatively small, so we thought it wouldn’t take us long to find her gravestone. But we were wrong.

We drove slowly through the cemetery looking carefully on both sides of the gravel road trying to locate her grave. After checking each section twice, we still hadn’t located it. We discussed leaving without this final piece of history. But we’re not ones to give up easily. Finally, with a little more detective work on Ruth’s part, we found her grave. Now our work was complete.

Getting back to the movie “White Christmas,” Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen (the Haynes Sisters) performed a number called “Sisters.” It began with “Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters.” And one of the lines is, “All kinds of weather, we stick together, the same in the rain or sun.”

It reminded me to take this opportunity to thank my sister, Ruth, for all she does to make the sharing of my photography possible.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy Shunpiking!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tiny Depots

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In our travels, we have found many depots. They have been in use, restored and repurposed, or abandoned.

But several have been unique in that they are tiny. So tiny in fact, that I wasn’t sure if they really had been depots.

One of these is located in La Rue, Wisconsin. I’m not sure when the depot was built, but the town of La Rue was developed around iron mining in the area in the early 1900’s.

This mining proved unsuccessful, and by 1914, the mines were abandoned. At the height of mining, the town of La Rue probably had no more than 50 inhabitants, but it did have a hotel, lumberyard, church, general store, and two saloons.

By 1925, only two buildings remained – the tiny depot and the La Rue tavern, both of which still survive today. In checking the Railroad Station Historical Society, it does list this tiny little building as a passenger depot.

This small depot is associated with the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, which passes it towards the end of its route.

Another tiny depot is in the Mississippi River town of Port Byron, Illinois. On a trip to Davenport, Iowa, we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois and captured this depot as we traveled home along the river.

The railroad arrived in Port Byron in 1861 and still has occasional freight trains passing through today. Before the Rock Island Line came to Port Byron, two railroads approached town; one from the north and one from the south. They did not join, and passengers and shippers had to use wagons to get through town to the other railroad.

For a time, the Milwaukee Road operated a gasoline powered train through Port Byron. The train was only two cars. The lead car was the engine car with baggage and passenger compartments and the second car was a passenger coach. The train was smelly and annoying to passengers, and service was discontinued in 1932.

Then, in 2015, on the way to Missouri, we visited the tiny town of Hooppole, Illinois. The HY&T (Hooppole, Yorktown and Tampico) Railroad depot sits restored next to a farmers field.

In 1908, a railroad promoter came to town selling stock in a railroad that would run from Tampico to Galesburg. The proposed line would connect the Burlington Railroad to the north with the Rock Island Railroad to the south.

After 14 miles of track were built between Tampico and Hooppole, the project to continue on to Galesburg was abandoned. The HY&T Railroad got an engine on loan from the Burlington Railroad, a couple of boxcars, and a bright red caboose. On April 4, 1909, the first train left Tampico for Hooppole. The engineer operated the train, as well as fired the boilers and the passengers road in the caboose.

The train was nicknamed “The Dummy.” There was no roundhouse at the end of the line, so the train ran forward on the way to Hooppole, then the engine was switched by hand and the train ran backwards back to Tampico.

In 1943, the railroad ran out of money, but one man took on the line’s debt and kept the train running until 1954, when “The Dummy” made its last run. And with that, “The Dummy” was history.

Happy Shunpiking!


Thursday, December 1, 2016

It’s an Edsel!

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In the back of my mind, I knew that Edsel was a very rare make of car, so when I was doing research for our trips and saw a picture of an old Edsel dealership sign, I knew we had to try and find it.

The first Edsel models were introduced on September 4, 1957 for the model year 1958. The last model year was 1960 when only 2,846 cars were produced. Ford announced the end of the Edsel program on November 19, 1959. In total, only 118,287 Edsels were built. The company lost $350 million, and the Edsel became best known for being a marketing disaster.

Our first opportunity to look for the sign came in 2013 on a trip to Ohio. This was the same trip where I was overly ambitious in planning our stops driving to Ohio. When we look at the collection of photos, it is spectacular, but knowing that I practically wore poor Joann out on the first day of our trip, I know better than to plan that many stops on our travels to and from our chosen photography state. (Or at least I try to keep it lighter. I can’t say I’m always successful, but in my defense, sometimes I say we’ll get a couple of things in town, and Joann is the one who wants to look up more things.)

It was the morning of day 2 when we finally hit the town where I thought the Edsel sign was located. The problem is, even if it really was in town, I had no idea in what part of town. We found the downtown and started there. No luck. We went down my list of other locations around town, driving east and west, and north and south down the major roads. Still, no luck. We photographed other things as we stumbled on them.

Whenever Joann got out of the car to photograph something else, she asked anyone on the street if they knew of the sign. No one did.

We ended up back downtown, and Joann was just saying that she thought it was getting too late and that we had to leave without it, when a man mowing lawn across the street from where we were parked turned off his mower. She said she would ask him and if he didn’t know, we’d have to leave town without it.

But he thought he knew! He gave Joann directions, telling her that he apologized if he was sending us on a wild goose chase. But, he was right! We had been one block over from it, driving north on a one way street. Luckily, after Joann took photos of both sides of the sign, we could leave and continue on our way. (And only about three hours behind schedule.)

Now the problem was, we didn’t have an Edsel car to include in the story about finding the sign. Every time we saw old cars, Joann checked for an Edsel. Considering that they were only made for 3 model years, they are very rare and we never found one.

Then, just this fall, as we were driving around Sauk County, Wisconsin, Joann suddenly pulled over. I was looking down at the map, so I hadn’t even seen a photo opportunity. As she got out of the car to get her camera equipment, I asked what I had missed, and she said there was an old blue car, and she was running back to photograph it.

After a few minutes, she came back to the car and excitedly said “Guess what kind of car that was!” I said, “I have no idea,” since I hadn’t even seen a car at all, to which she replied “It’s an Edsel!”

Hopefully, this will be one of those things where, now that we’ve seen one, we’ll see more of them. (One can hope!)

Happy Shunpiking!