Yesterday I visited "The Farm"as it is known in my sets – which badly need updating.
A friend and great teacher of ceramics was looking at some of my "old farm" photos a decade ago. He mentioned a farm adjacent to his country house which he felt was well worth a visit. Through him I obtained permission… the owner seemed troubled then and his means of giving permission was to say that he didn’t care if I burned the place down…
I was overwhelmed by my first visit. Some of my older contacts may remember me writing to explain the whole story – I’ve given that up – it’s too complicated. At the core of the story is a family who came in the 1870s to farm ground in the area of my community called "Kaw Valley" The Kansas River has that nickname.
There were 13 standing buildings with an enormous number of oddities everywhere.
I’m a good, honest person. I would never steal from anyplace I visit to photograph. This place, however, had to be the exception to the rule.
After a few visits, I came to understand that the last occupants were two sisters and a brother who never married and lived on the farm together their entire lives. Everything I’ve discovered indicates that they were very notable people. The oldest sister died in 1989 at which time it passed to a nephew or step nephew who is the last surviving family member. He has some mental issues, from what I’ve been told, and never discusses the situation, but there seems no question that his relation with his departed family is not good. He never attempted to sell the farm and it’s been subject to total neglect. Vast numbers of high school kids have passed over it at night with beer bottles in hand to see the Cadillac – six years old at the time of the sister’s death – which was allowed to be crushed when the garage collapsed. When it became clear that the property was unguarded by the owner, thieves came and stole what I assume to be wooden cabinets in which the family stored 100 years of their history. Apparently to lighten the load, they dumped the contents. This included a lifetime of photographs by the eldest daughter who ran the Lawrence photo club for decades. When I realized that decades of the history of the region lay on the floors before 3 inches of animal filth and debris, I had to start picking up her photographs. Many show the area in the time period of 1910-1930 which are rare. I still feel guilty picking them up, but it’s my only course of action. A person may own a building and its contents, but allowing communal history to be destroyed isn’t right. Some photographs and items have already gone to a local museum. The rest I am keeping together to donate as a collection.
There were items, photos and old newspaper which seemed out of place. Literary manuscripts and other bits indicated a 4th person on the farm. As I was photographing what I though to be a storage shed – on the right of my little world – I realized a mound in the corner was once a dresser filled with awards and honors for a longtime professor of English named Helen Hoopes. As I looked across the one room of this building I gasped. What were once chairs were collapsed in the muck. There was an ancient record player. There were compact burners to cooking. A mound on the opposite side proved to be a the remains of a collapsed bed. This was once a home to this person apparently – a fourth unmarried individual.
I decided to go back yesterday after a year or so to see how the place was fairing and to see if more information was available. It was miserable work, but after clearing several layers of animal excrement,I found under the collapsed chairs and the waste of the record player were manuscripts, awards, letters – the story of a life. Everything from pasted childish cutouts of dresses from the 1870s to a ticket stub to indicate she went to hear Robert Frost when he visited the university. I’ll be contacting the Spencer Museum which I found this morning has a special collection of her work. Any local historians around with any knowledge of her?
Right now, I’m looking through virtually mint copies of magazines I found – a "Century" magazine from 1884, "The Household Magazine" from December 1927, and a Kansas University publication called "The Oread Magazine" which has no date, but in which the telephone numbers in the business advertisements have two digits!
Here’s a link to a site describing her life….
Thanks for reading my overly long comment….