Langdon Long Ago

The eye problems that have slowed me down for awhile should soon be corrected so this week’s research was put on hold, and the column space was used for historic trivia or other topics.

Posted 10/31/19

By Rita Maisel

Impeachment. This word has been in headlines for weeks or maybe years as a means of last resort when dealing with real or suspected presidential failures so some readers who did not remember President Andrew Johnson wondered about him and why he was the first to have undergone impeachment proceedings. Andrew Johnson was from a poor family in Tennessee and had no formal schooling. Some of his biographical sketches say he could neither read nor write. That might be partially true. However, he did have some other talents. As a boy he was apprenticed to a local tailor and appeared to have been quite skillful in that line of business. Eventually he had his own tailor shop which is now part of the memorial presidential site in his home state.

Johnson’s career took a real boost when he got married at age 19. His young wife was beginning a teaching career. While he worked on sewing the dress clothes of wealthy or important men, his wife read aloud to him. The papers and books she read to him concerned politics and the issues of the day. During the evenings when light was not good enough for him to stitch or design the suits he made, his wife taught him to sign his name and possibly enough penmanship to jot down notes for debates on many subjects. Entering politics, he was elected governor of Tennessee, and some mentioned how fashionably he dressed for political and state events.

There were Whigs, Democrats, Republicans and Radical Republicans running for offices in the 1860 presidential election. Abraham Lincoln was chosen as the Republican candidate for president with Democratic Johnson as Lincoln’s vice president. The party hoped the joint points of view would help to settle the controversial slavery issue. Instead, war broke out, and in 1863 Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was made public enraging both enemies and former supporters.  After the war had been declared at an end, southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln, and Johnson moved up to finish out Lincoln’s second term in office. The Civil War had decimated the railway system all across the nation as well as major battles in or around many of the cities north and south. Reconstruction was the top order of the day. Northerners wanted the southern states that had seceded punished and made to pay for the war. Lincoln had hoped to follow a more lenient line of thought, and southern states had voted many of their former slave owning leaders back into office. Johnson attempted to follow the plan Lincoln had begun. Radical Republicans disliked the plan and brought the impeachment charges. One source mentioned that Johnson did not attend the subsequent trial, depending on his attorney to speak for him. The Senate vote was very close, and by a single vote Johnson became the first president to be impeached but was not removed from office since another election was on the horizon. Johnson went back to Tennessee and again became active in politics. Friends in Tennessee voted for Johnson to represent them as the senator from Tennessee, so the Johnsons returned to Washington a short time later. By that time former general Ulysses S. Grant, a northern Democrat, had been elected for his turn at the presidency, and along with later presidents spent much of his time in office dealing with the problems of reconstruction.

The second impeachment was that of President Clinton in more recent years. My memory is that after the trial and extensive media coverage, Clinton also finished out his term in office. Should the present charges lead to a third impeachment trial it is possible President Trump, innocent or guilty, would also finish out his time in office.

1930’s Stories Continued. There were topics that were too difficult to include in last week’s column and others that were cut because I felt some might think them too trivial. The column did deal, at least in part, with the contributions of widows and children when young men, primarily farmers but not farmers alone, died in tragic situations.  Some of the tragic circumstances might have been considered suicide, but others were not. Each situation was different, and I did not feel justified in outlining, even briefly, stories with too many personal details. The stock market crash of 1929 and the sporadic closing of banks did lead to various types of suicide. One was the shock of hard-working individuals losing land, finances and families through no real action or intention of their own. Another might have been wealthy bankers whose decisions had caused this hurt to others and committed suicide when faced with that reality. More common than suicide or death by natural causes were two other groups who left agricultural states in large numbers. In some cases whole families felt they had lost everything so moved wives and children to another location and rarely came back. Another group were the men who left wives and children living near relatives, hopped on a train and spent many years wandering in search of their own “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” The novel by that name was written by a man who lived at Osnabrock (name changed in the book) and recounted the tribulations from which people he knew never escaped. Many from our area were drawn to Washington and Oregon with the possibility of work on major WPA construction, orchards and forestry occupations.  Whole branches of families from Cavalier County still live in those areas. Later World War II would draw many from our area to work in factories connected to the war effort, and many who were teens or children in the 1930s would serve in military branches.

On the trivial side, when seen at a distance of 80 or more years, were some of the grasshopper stories. As kids, several remembered being given a jar with a lid (no plastic then so the jars must have been glass) and sent out to pick grasshoppers off the plants in the garden or the light colored clothes on the wash line or wooden clothes racks. We raced to see who could fill their jar the fastest, and the winner might get a cookie for a treat. The jars of insects with the lid tightly screwed on might be dead by the next day, and we had the consolation of knowing we had done our part to save the frail plants in the garden. During World War II we collected earthworms after every sprinkle of rain and fed them to the chickens penned up in many backyards in Langdon.

Concert memories. Oct. 28 was the fall band and choir concert, which is always a treat, so in spite of not seeing where I was driving I did not want to miss this annual event. It was one of their more memorable concerts with some really special numbers. The event also raised a few questions about how this was different from the concerts of teenagers my age who might have been present as grandparents or even great-grandparents. The current crop of young musicians appeared to me to be more polished and more confident of performing in public. Today’s bands have more instruments than we had at our disposal, and the high school choir seemed larger than last year but maybe not as large as when we had boys and girls glee clubs involving everyone in our grade level plus a mixed choir who did other types of music than the glee clubs. Long ago concerts featured more small groups (trios, quartets etc.), but the current musicians have opportunities to perform with region or state-wide groups which we did not.

Appearance had to be a major factor for both groups. In our day we were cautioned to dress alike: white blouses for the girls and white shirts for the boys with primarily black skirts or pants. Today’s performers are more colorful. In 2019 the boy’s shirts were a rainbow of color while the girls seemed to favor gray, black or more neutral shades. Hair styles are always changing, and today the musicians may well have had a different color hair than the last time you saw them or what they will exhibit next week. Long ago teenagers were not that brave regarding either style or color. I seem to remember we wore relatively conservative shoes – mostly dark colors, and boys were proud to have their shoes freshly shined. Where the ladies of today shine their shoes: every kind and style of boots, sneakers, flip-flops and almost invisible Cinderella’s slippers. While some of the musicians had ruby colored shirts, Dorothy’s magic ruby shoes from the Wizard of Oz were not in view.

The late Marty DeVold was one of a long list of teachers who felt students at Langdon might some day have a use for other languages so when no lessons were offered in the languages desired for college entrance or graduation, she had us sing in other languages: Latin, French and even Spanish. Current band and choir students had a wide range of rhythms, lyrics and even instruments from other lands to add to their music.

However, one of the numbers was chosen just for its humor “If You’ve Only Got A Moustache”. It was a cleverly done song to send the concert-goers home with a smile on their faces. Special thanks to directors Curt Kram and Kim Hart for their innovative musical presentations.

The concert was also a reminder of a long ago Langdon organization begun one winter in the early 1930s. Ed Franta wrote from time to time about the men in Langdon attempting to grow moustaches and their adventures. Wives were quoted as finding the whole project a waste of time. As spring approached they planned a gala gathering when winners in their contest would be awarded a prize. Invited to attend was Judge Dorval, a Langdon attorney and judge for many years. The Judge wore a luxurious moustache and had since his arrival in Langdon some 45 years before. Pictures of him at various ages can be found in the Langdon Centennial book for those who never met him. Apparently none of the younger men could match his moustache, so Judge Dorval won all the prizes of the evening.

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