Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Coffee Shops 1

Why do speakers complete sentences that begin with the words “it goes without saying”? If I may indulge in the same contradiction, I propose that, needless to say, not all coffee shops are alike. In this series of blogs, I will tell why six shops are my favorites, but I hasten to add that I love many more than six.

Lattes to Go at Java Johnny's in Middletown, Ohio

Java Johnny’s in Middletown, Ohio, heads my roster. In the copper ceiling ambience, my dear friend and co-author Eleanor Y. Stewart and I composed significant segments of the plot of our highly reviewed middle grade novel Maggie Quick. Eleanor and I walk five miles every other day, except when temperatures sink below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. When we are rained out, we often retire to Java Johnny’s for low-fat lattes. Sometimes, we add whipped cream to balance the low-fat milk. Our lattes are consistently delicious!

While gathering my thoughts about coffee shops, I asked myself if the flavor of the coffee is the sole criterion for determining my favorites, and I decided that a host of intangibles contributes to the experience. Here are a few in no particular order.

A steady stream of patrons keeps the door hinges from rusting. Does Java Johnny’s have plenty of customers? Yes, and the shop is large enough to handle constant orders without becoming crowded! We can check this item on our list.

The feeling stirred by the coffee and the surroundings is the same comfort inspired by slippers. Check! From the aroma of freshly brewed java, through the nicely spaced tables, to the pleasantly decorated copper of the ceiling, the shop wraps customers in contentment.

The baristas are friendly and knowledgeable. Check again! Whenever I enter the shop, I have complete confidence that everything will be up to the highest standard, thanks to the baristas. Never an obligation, leaving a tip is always an accolade.

Yes, Eleanor and I worked on our novel while sipping lattes. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience of writing Maggie Quick, set in an Irish–American town and featuring a girl guided by three women to discover who she is, so that she can rescue her village from evil forces before it is too late. Both Eleanor and I have Irish ancestors. Three fourths of my genetic characteristics are expressions of the British Isles, and Irish culture constantly leeched to the surface of my hometown. Eleanor and I relied on our background and experiences in forming our novel for middle grade readers. We wrote much of the dialog while walking, jotting it down after returning to Eleanor’s home. At Java Johnny’s, we tried out various trajectories that our plot might take. Without the shop, would Maggie Quick have been the same? Probably not!

So, Java Johnny’s, please accept our thanks! We will soon be back for lattes!              

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Remarkable Markers 6 (Last Installment in This Series)

My dear friend Eleanor Y. Stewart—with whom I have authored several books—and I believed we were lost while looking for the cemetery in Troy, Ohio, so we stopped to ask directions from a man mowing a small graveyard near a church. Happily, he told us we were only a short drive from our destination. He added, “Find the blue ‘stones’ and knock on them.” We were mystified, but that is all he would say. We easily found Riverside Cemetery and began to stroll around, admiring the monuments. After a time, we noticed a large marker with a bluish tint. We knocked, and, much to our surprise, we heard a ringing reverberation. The marker was hollow and made of metal! 

A Hollow Zinc Marker in Riverside Cemetery, Troy, Ohio

According to the website of the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, “Beginning in the 1870s, inexpensive monuments in American cemeteries began to be made of zinc. … The Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport (CT) and subsidiaries in the U.S. and Canada produced the most commonly found items using a unique methodology that included a sandblasted finish to imitate the mat appearance of stone. Marketed as superior to stone in terms of durability, their products were referred to as ‘white bronze.’ They included thousands of markers …, custom-made effigies of the dead, off-the-shelf statues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and enormous Civil War memorials crowned by statues of soldiers … .”

A website at says, “The Monumental Bronze Company produced these monuments for just forty years from 1874 to 1914. … Subsidiaries were eventually opened in Detroit, Chicago, Des Moines, Philadelphia, St. Thomas, … and perhaps New Orleans. The subsidiaries did final assembly work. Most, if not all, of the original casting was done in Bridgeport, Connecticut.”

A blog (Click on “blog.”) entitled “A Grave Interest” gives a detailed and informative description of the unusual blue markers and features many illustrations, including a photo of a marker identical to the one in Troy, except for the panels under the monument’s arches, which could be customized. (I want to thank Joy, the blogger!) Apparently, the blue tint is a product of aging. The marker in Riverside Cemetery is quite blue!

Eleanor and I agreed that zinc markers should make a comeback!


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Remarkable Markers 5

In 1823, John Howard Payne, an American playwright and actor, penned the memorable lyrics to a song entitled “Home! Sweet Home!” The last line is “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” The same sentiment concludes the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. The concept of home as a symbol of family, with all that the word family implies of love and security, is so compelling as to have figured prominently in literature over the ages. The symbolism of the house as a home is expressed in stone in Urbana, Ohio’s Oak Dale Cemetery.

Ramsey Family Marker in Oak Dale Cemetery
In Urbana, Ohio, and Author Eleanor Y. Stewart
Admiring the House with Its Intricate Details
Including the Outlines of the Bricks

There, a marker is carved to represent the Ramsey family’s house on College Street, not far from Urbana University. The architecture blends Classical, Romanesque, and Queen Anne details. Retired farmer and former landlord William R. Ramsey (1847–1926) and spouse Ella M. Ramsey (1863–1922) must have loved the house. Neither was from Urbana originally. William was born in Cadiz, Ohio, and Ella was from Belmont County, Ohio. The home on College Street must have represented the culmination of their aspirations.

Ramsey Home in Urbana, Ohio

William is named as having a shared interest in a patent for a vehicle wheel (U.S. Patent 782,001). Wheels were much on the minds of residents. Urbana hosted an enduring carriage builder, originally Warren & Gaumer and later E. B. Gaumer & Sons. After the death of William Warren in 1890, the firm passed to co-founder Edward B. Gaumer. Wheels symbolize movement, transitions, and change.

But a house symbolizes stability. The engraving on the Ramsey cemetery marker confirms that every brick remains in place, unchanged, resisting the vicissitudes of fleeting fortune.

The symbolic house is joyful in the midst of the more somber monuments. One of my first thoughts on seeing the marker was of the family happily conversing in the kitchen with aromatic bread in the oven. Other ideas of family rapidly crowded into my thinking: entertaining in the parlor, celebrating rites of passage such as graduations and weddings, and dreaming about bright futures for children and grandchildren.

The marker is unusual, but the wonder is that more families have not thought of the same way of commemorating their generational bonds. The stone is perfectly suited to its function.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Remarkable Markers 4

A grave marker featuring gracefully sculpted bundles of wheat is a favorite of taphophiles, or tombstone tourists, visiting Oak Dale Cemetery in Urbana, Ohio. Honoring John and Mary Glenn, the sculpture is amazingly detailed, with the stalks cut in different lengths by the scythe. The wheat establishes a visual reference to an explanation given in the New Testament of the Bible; here is the allusion in its entirety:

“ … that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:37-58; Published by the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press)

Detailed Sculpture of Wheat Bundles
In Oak Dale Cemetery, Urbana, Ohio

The harvesting of wheat has generated many important metaphors. In the 1300s in England, death began to be depicted as a skeleton carrying a scythe and wearing a hood. In the mid-1800s, the figure was called the Grim Reaper.

But sheaves, or bundles, of wheat have also represented eternal life. In 1874, Knowles Shaw (1834–1878) from Butler County, Ohio, wrote the well-known Protestant hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves,” for which he wrote both lyrics and music but which soon was sung to a different melody. Shaw based his lyrics on Psalm 126:6, which reads “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Wheat has also inspired hundreds of country fairs that commemorate vintage farming equipment. 

In my book entitled The Harvest Story: Recollections of Old-Time Threshermen, I quoted LeRoy Blaker, who told how big public shows of old-time farming equipment originated:

There were several groups of threshermen having demonstrations of grain threshing about the time of World War Two. 
Mr. Perry Hayden, a Quaker miller of Tecumseh, Michigan, planted a cubic inch of wheat containing 360 kernels in the fall of 1940. The next July 1941, the wheat was carefully harvested
every kernel [was] saved … . After Mr. Hayden gave his tithe or one-tenth to his Quaker church, he had the remaining forty-five cubic inches planted on September 26, 1941. 
This second crop was cut with cradles on July 4th, 1942 … . It yielded seventy pounds of wheat … . This was 1.16 bushels of wheat from the original cubic inch in two years or 2,448.6 cubic inches or 881,499 kernels from the original 360 kernels.
On the following Sunday, ten percent or seven pounds were taken to the Quaker church as the tithe.
This sixty-three pounds of wheat was planted in early October 1942. Early in 1943, Henry Ford heard about Mr. Hayden’s wheat-tithing project and sent some of his antique threshing equipment from Greenfield Village to thresh this 1943 crop. 
I attended the wheat harvesting at Tecumseh in July 1943 and the big threshing with lots of Henry Ford’s antique threshing equipment on July 22nd 1944
From those interesting demonstrations, I was inspired to have the first Thresher’s Reunion gathering on my farm on July 30, 1945.

The National Threshers Association has continually hosted threshing reunions ever since.