Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Westward Ho – St. Joe!

By Phyllis Ringelstetter Buskager

In April of 2015, Joann and Ruth visited St. Joseph, Missouri. Since my husband Vern and I had lived there several years before that, Joann asked if I would write this blog post about the places and interesting architecture that she photographed on their visit there.


It was a pleasant spring morning on Monday, April 26, 1999 when Vern and I left our hotel in historic downtown St. Joseph, Missouri to drive to the closing of our new home there. I had taken a new position the year before with my long-term employer, which necessitated that we relocate from Wisconsin to St. Joe where the company has a large office that I would be working out of.


We thought we had left the hotel in plenty of time to travel the short distance to a nearby bank for our closing at 9:00 am. We had no idea that we would encounter a traffic jam in quiet downtown St. Joe – a traffic jam of covered wagons!


This Wagon Train of about 20 covered wagons and many riders on horseback was a reenactment to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the California Trail. The group was setting out from St. Joseph, the place where the Old West and the California Trail began.


The discovery of gold in California in 1848 brought more than 100,000 determined pioneers through St. Joseph on their journey westward. Many came by steamboat and it was here that they purchased wagons, oxen and supplies.


Others came to St. Joe in wagon trains, where they bought more supplies and waited to be ferried across the river on their journey westward. Because St. Joseph was such an important “jumping-off point” in the great westward migration, it became known as the “Queen of River Cities”.

Historical Mural, Reynoldsburg, Ohio
Historical Mural, Reynoldsburg, Ohio

After getting settled into our new home in St. Joe, we set out to learn more about this historic community that we were living in. At first glance, St. Joe may seem like just a sleepy cowtown (the stockyards have been in operation there since 1887), with many old downtown buildings, some of which are no longer in use. Hickory Hall in downtown St. Joe housed the Hickory Theatre, which opened in September of 1923, showing the silent movie “Without Compromise” starring William Farnum. Its last day as a theater was May 5, 1958.


We quickly learned that the people are Midwest-friendly and that there is so much more to this intriguing and interesting city of about 75,000 people on the Missouri River just north of Kansas City. The C. D. Smith Drug Company building dates back to the late 1880s when C. D. Smith, along with his brother Samuel and two other partners, built the building for a wholesale drug supply house.


In addition to being known as the outfitting post for many thousands of emigrants heading west to seek their fortune in gold or for a better life, St. Joseph is well known for its role with the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company, better known as “The Pony Express”.


St. Joe was selected as the eastern terminus of the mail service because both the railroads and telegraphs connected St. Joseph with the east, but those services did not yet extend west beyond St. Joe. Sacramento, California was selected as the western terminus for the new mail service.


On April 3, 1860 at 7:00 pm, mail arrived in St. Joseph from the east by train. The mail was quickly taken to the stables of the transfer company and Johnny Fry set out on the first east to west ride of the Pony Express. Fry would ride for 90 miles, changing horses every 10 to 15 miles, before relaying the mail to another rider. That same day, another rider left Sacramento, California headed for St. Joseph with the eastbound mail.


After covering nearly 2,000 miles in each direction, both the westbound and eastbound mail arrived at their destinations ten days later on April 14, 1860. Over the next 18 months, 120 Pony Express riders would ride 650,000 miles under sometimes dangerous circumstances to assure that the mail was delivered as quickly as possible.

Though there were some mishaps (horses stumbling during rides at breakneck speeds) and some encounters with Indians (only one rider was killed by Indians), the mail was delivered with only one instance of lost mail. This impressive mail service lasted for just over 18 months when, on October 24, 1861, the Pony Express was discontinued after the Overland Telegraph Company completed its construction of the telegraph lines to California. The original Pony Express Stables building in St. Joseph, an internationally known landmark, is now a museum with many “hands-on” experiences for families such as dressing in pioneer clothing.


St. Joe has several other museums in addition to the Pony Express National Museum. One of those is the Patee House Museum, owned and operated by The Pony Express Historical Association. The Patee House Hotel was built by John Patee and completed in 1858. At the time, it was the largest and most modern hotel west of the Mississippi and had many luxury amenities, such as gas lights, hot and cold running water, flush toilets, and a cupola for better air circulation.


In 1860, the businessmen of the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company, William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell, set up headquarters for the Pony Express on the first floor of Patee House. Riders would pick up the mail there before their rides westward and riders who did not live in the area also stayed at the hotel.


In addition to its original use as a luxury hotel, the Patee House had many other occupancies over the years. During the Civil war it housed the Provost Marshal’s office and after the war, the grand ballroom served as a courtroom to try Confederate officers. Then, for a number of years, the hotel reverted intermittently between other occupancies (including two different times as a “Female College”) and then again operating as a hotel.


From 1886 to the late 1950s, it housed a garment factory, after which it fell into disrepair before concerned citizens raised funds and saved the building from demolition. In 1965, the Patee House was designated as a National Historic Landmark for its role as the Headquarters for the Pony Express.


Today, the four floors of the Patee House Museum display many interesting historical exhibits, including hotel rooms from the building’s heyday, a Civil War exhibit, a full-sized carousel, Native American displays, and the replica “Streets of Old St. Joe” which includes a reproduction of the dental office of Dr. Walter Cronkite Sr. - yes, broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite was born in St. Joe!


Located next to the Patee House Museum is the Jesse James Home. The outlaw, Jesse James, was the leader of the James–Younger Gang. And although he was sometimes kind to the poor, he was also a murderer, robber and horse thief. Jesse, his brother Frank and the gang were involved in many robberies of stagecoaches, trains and banks across numerous states.


In December of 1881, Jesse and his wife Zee rented a house in St. Joseph, Missouri. It was in this home that Jesse James was shot and killed on April 3, 1882 by Robert Ford. Robert and his brother Charles were invited to the James home to help plan one last great bank robbery after which Jesse planned to settle down there with his wife and children. Ford’s motive was to collect the $10,000 reward that was on Jesse’s head.


In addition to all of the old west history, we also learned that there are many arts, entertainment and cultural opportunities in St. Joe as well as many festivals and parades. One of the venues where we attended many live theater and concert events during our nearly five years in St. Joe was the beautiful Missouri Theater, St. Joe’s regional center for the arts.


Originally constructed as a Paramount Studios movie palace, the Missouri Theater opened on the evening of June 26, 1927. Excited patrons paid $0.25 admission to see the silent feature film "Rough House Rosie”. It’s amusing now to think that this stunningly beautiful, exquisitely ornate theater was originally built for viewing silent films. In 1979, the Missouri Theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A $1.9 million dollar renovation was completed in 2002. The Missouri Theater is one of only a few remaining Hollywood-Oriental style theaters still in use as a theater.


Another beautiful structure in St. Joseph is the Immaculate Conception Church, also known as Twin Spires. It is one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in northwestern Missouri. It was built in 1908 with stained glass windows imported from Innsbruck, Austria, which depict the life of Mary, Mother of Jesus, from her birth to her coronation as Queen of Heaven.


After congregation membership declined during the 1970s, the Immaculate Conception Parish was merged with Saints Peter and Paul Parish and the new parish was called Queen of the Apostles. The altars from Saints Peter and Paul Church were “rescued” and brought to Immaculate Conception. Due to a continued decline in parish membership, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph closed the church in 1992. Local residents then formed the Twin Spires organization and purchased the church.


The Twin Spires organization opened the church building as a religious history museum and also rented it as a wedding chapel, meeting place, and concert hall. We attended the audience-participation play “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding” at Twin Spires while we lived in St. Joe. The audience members were the “wedding guests”. The “wedding” was in the church sanctuary and the “reception” and dinner were in the church basement. In 2015, a private Catholic group purchased the church and it is now The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. While we don’t have a photo of the original interior of the church, it was very similar to the interior of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Petersburg, Iowa which was constructed two years earlier in 1906, an interesting coincidence.


There is so much more to do and see in this unassuming city but I’ll end with a fun place we discovered right away. We were driving up the “North Belt Highway” (Highway 169), when a giant pink and white ice cream cone caught our eyes – Kris and Kates Ice Cream stand. It originally opened as an orange-brown waffle cone in 1993 under another name. In 1997, new owners purchased it and gave ownership to their children, Kris and Kate. They painted it pink, and changed to a ’50s and ’60s theme, with pictures of Elvis, era-appropriate cars and of course, rock and roll music playing. It became our favorite spot for a cool and tasty treat during St. Joe’s very hot and humid summers.


If you’re ever in northwest Missouri, be sure to spend some time in friendly St. Joe, MO!

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Little Bit of Gratitude

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

If there’s one thing I can say about the year 2020 that I think will be echoed by pretty much everyone on the planet, it’s been a rough year in so many ways. The coronavirus pandemic turned our world upside down in late winter and it feels like it will never end. And here we are at Thanksgiving time, being advised to stay home and not gather with our families and friends.

The thing that has kept me sane through all of this year’s challenges has been to find a little bit of gratitude each day. It’s really not that hard when you get the hang of it. Some days, it’s as simple as appreciating one tiny bird outside my window. Recently, the Red-breasted Nuthatches have returned from the north and I am so grateful for them. They make me smile every time I see one on the peanut, birdseed, or suet feeders.

And some days, it’s something totally unexpected, like passing someone on my neighborhood walk whom I don’t even really know, but who stops for a minute to say something kind. One afternoon, a neighbor I’d never met thanked me for wearing an orange vest to help drivers see me. And starting this summer, sometimes a runner would pass me who had such a happy spirit. At one encounter in early September, we had exchanged our first names. Yesterday this person approached on the other side and stopped to acknowledge me, even remembering my name and telling me I had a really nice name. For these encounters, I am truly grateful.

And then there is the simple blessing of hearing the little girls next door playing outside, often giggling or even screaming. Hearing children’s voices fills my heart with joy. A couple days before Halloween, their mother told me they were sad about not being able to trick-or-treat in the usual manner. And then she asked me if I would be willing to let them come over and trick-or-treat on my porch. I agreed and set up a surprise for them…my scarecrow, George.

They were enthralled with him and spent a lot of time rearranging him and high-fiving him. The only problem was that he did his job so well that he scared me at least a dozen times over the month that he was sitting on the front porch. I kept forgetting he was out there by my front door. But every time he startled me, I laughed out loud and this filled me with gratitude that something so simple (and silly) could keep away the weight of the challenges we are all facing.

One of the things I have really missed this year has been the ability to spend physical time with my family and friends. Despite this, I am grateful for photos and memories of our past outings and gatherings and all the methods we have at our disposal to stay in touch during the pandemic. I know that, when we can gather again, these meetings will take on more importance and will be given even greater priority as we return to our busy lives. My hope is that we will retain the recognition of the importance of downtime and time spent with those we love. And I look forward to the next day of shunpiking on the backroads of this great state with my friends!

Being so isolated during this almost year-long (so far) pandemic has made it difficult for people to do normal things like look for a new job or establish a new friendship. However, in early September, I was given an amazing gift from the Universe. Over the past 15 years, I have done several volunteer projects for the Aldo Leopold Foundation and have such respect for their land ethic and conservation mission. It’s a great group of people and they have treated me like I truly matter.

In late August, I requested a phone meeting with their development director to discuss planned giving and we quickly slipped into such down-to-earth, easeful conversations. This was something totally unexpected and a true gift, especially during these challenging times. And, as a bonus, I was given permission to photograph on the private Leopold Memorial Reserve. When the pandemic is finally in the rearview mirror, I plan to visit the Leopold Center to reconnect in person with the staff there.

Finally, I am more than grateful for the peace and comfort of being able to connect with nature every day. Wisconsin is such a beautiful state in every season of the year. And you don’t have to go far to find a variety of landscapes. What a gift Mother Nature has given us! Even as the days get shorter and most people feel it will be a long, dark, and cold winter, it’s important to get out and absorb some of nature’s healing energy. All you have to do is bundle up. I guarantee it will invigorate you!

Just remember that a little bit of gratitude goes a long way in helping us through the challenges of everyday life as we know it today.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Serenely Beautiful Holy Hill

By Phyllis Ringelstetter Buskager

Far above the farm fields, and nestled in the trees atop the highest elevation in southeastern Wisconsin called Holy Hill is the Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. Located near Hubertus, Wisconsin, on 435 acres, this religious pilgrimage site is visited each year by about 500,000 people from all over the world. Many come to meditate, or to worship, or to pray for healing. Some come as tourists, to admire the architecture of the Basilica, or to enjoy the serene beauty of the hill and surrounding area.


The idea for this blog post came from a recent email exchange with our aunt, one of our Dad’s sisters. In that email exchange, she reminded us of some family history information that we had forgotten about – that our grandparents traveled over 100 miles from their home in Sauk County, Wisconsin to Holy Hill and Milwaukee for their honeymoon in May of 1919. She’s not sure what their mode of transportation was; possibly they drove or possibly they took the train to Hubertus and Milwaukee. Our aunt tries to make an annual fall visit there, which she did again this year. She said she thinks that she especially likes to go there because of our grandparents’ honeymoon visit to Holy Hill.

The Holy Hill website provides an extensive history of this holy place. It’s believed that Holy Hill was discovered and mapped by Jesuit missionaries who were working in the area in the late 1600’s. In the mid 1800’s, a French hermit named Francois Soubrio found an old diary and a parchment map dated 1676 while working as an assistant to a retired professor in Quebec, Canada. The diary told how the author had placed a stone altar, raised a cross, and dedicated the hill to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Irish settlers were the first to call the area Holy Hill and the name was first formally used in 1863 when Fr. George Strickner was dedicating a log chapel as the first Shrine of Mary – Help of Christians.

For thirty years, local priests were assigned to care for Holy Hill. Fr. Ferdinand Raess was the caretaker for eight years beginning in 1875. Fr. Raess oversaw many improvements during that time, including grading the road to the top of the hill to allow teams of horses to haul building materials to the top.

Fr. Raess also hired a local artisan, George Klippel, to build the first stations by the side of the graded path. These stations were simple wooden crosses with pictures of Christ’s passion attached.

In early 1879, Fr. Raess worked with a Milwaukee Architect, H. C. Koch to draw plans and cost estimates for a second shrine church. Getting the bricks and materials to the top of the hill by horse teams was going to be extremely difficult. John Rover, a brick maker from Sheboygan found quality clay on a corner of the hill so bricks could be made there. And during the excavation of the hill to level it for the foundation, enough fieldstone was found to build the church foundation, reducing the number of horse-drawn trips required. Construction work began in the spring of 1879 and the church was completed for a cost of $5,000.

The new church was seventy-six feet long, forty-six feet wide and the walls were twenty feet high. The roof was steep with a steeple and gilt cross on top. The chapel elevation was about sixty-eight feet.

From 1883 to 1893, Fr. Nicholas Zimmer, pastor of St. Kilian’s in Hartford was the caretaker of Holy Hill. He added a bell tower and a 1,200 pound bell (the largest of the three bells used today), three Gothic altars, and the second set of stations made from brick. Fr. Zimmer was succeeded by Fr. John Bertram in 1893. Fr. Bertram added the first Lourdes grotto, a new pipe organ, and oversaw many necessary repairs.

After Pope Leo XIII declared Holy Hill a Shrine in 1903, many more pilgrims began coming to Holy Hill by taking the train to Hartford or Richfield and then traveling to Holy Hill by horse-drawn carriage. Many came to pray for Mary’s intercession to the Lord for their healing. Pilgrims often left crutches and canes at Holy Hill as evidence of prayers answered, a practice that continues to this day.

Because of the increasing number of visitors, the Milwaukee Archdiocese officials decided that Holy Hill should be cared for by a religious order. In June of 1906, Holy Hill was placed in the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars from Bavaria, an order dedicated to Mary and well suited to care for her shrine at Holy Hill. The Lourdes Grotto in the next photo reproduces the scene of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France in 1858. Holy Water is available at this grotto during warmer months.

In 1914, a sculptor from Milwaukee, Joseph Aszklar, was commissioned to create the third and present set of the Stations of the Cross at Holy Hill.

These are life-sized statues made of Bedford Stone and each scene is set in a fieldstone grotto.  It took the artist fourteen years to complete the stations, finishing in 1928.  This means that our grandparents’ honeymoon visit in 1919 occurred five years into this 14-year effort.  At that time, they could only imagine how grand the finished project would be.  And the beautiful basilica that now stands atop Holy Hill hadn’t been commissioned yet, so they would have visited the second shrine church, which no doubt seemed glorious to them.   

In 1925, construction of the third and current shrine church of Our Lady – Help of Christians was begun. On September 8, 1925, the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, the final services were held in the second shrine. It was a tearful and moving time for many. In order to construct the new shrine church, the second church was razed and Fr. Bertram’s Lourdes Grotto was also destroyed. During construction, a small chapel on the grounds was used, the St. Thérèse Little Flower Mission Chapel. Considered possibly the most popular saint of recent centuries, she was a Discalced Carmelite nun from Lisieux, France, who died in 1897.

The cornerstone of the third and present shrine church was placed on August 22, 1926 by Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer. Written in Latin, the inscription translates as follows: “Because of the increased numbers of those honoring the helper, the Blessed Virgin Mary, l am already the cornerstone of the third temple on the summit of this mount. In the year of Our Lord 1926.” With construction complete, the new Shrine of Mary – Help of Christians at Holy Hill was dedicated on July 19, 1931. This Romanesque Revival Catholic church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the center of the sanctuary of the current shrine church is the main altar, which took two years to build. The altar proper is sculptured from Tavernelle marble and weighs more than forty tons.

The tabernacle, which weighs 500 pounds, has a triple crown at the top, representing Christ as prophet, priest, and king.

Besides the natural beauty of this area, there is a great religious significance to the location for this place of sacred pilgrimage. Throughout the bible, God often called His followers to high places for prayer and to speak to them. So it is fitting that pilgrims and tourists alike climb the steep path through beautiful woods to the top of Holy Hill.

The sacred structures and shrines of Holy Hill are located 1,335 feet above sea level on about 40 acres of land that was dedicated to this holy place in the mid 1800’s. The Discalced Carmelite Friars acquired 400 additional acres of the surrounding natural woodland to preserve the contemplative nature of this serene area.

Holy Hill and the surrounding area is a wonderful destination to experience and appreciate the peaceful, serene, natural beauty of this earth that we call home. Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!