BY DAVE WOOD
The words and the music
A usually popular feature in most weekly newspapers is a feature called “Memories” or “Looking Back” in which an editor combs back issues and reprints the news of the old days.
Years back my hometown had a humdinger of a researcher who did “Memories of 25-50-75-100-125 ago.” Today, a new management has taken over and the stories from back then are dull and bland, which is a shame because the old Whitehall Times had a covey of talented editors, like Dan Camp, whom the University of Wisconsin historian Merle Curti called “The Mark Twain of the Upper Midwest." Camp's stuu never appears these days because the new stau only goes through the motions to get it done.
What these young folks who came to town from Madison have done reminds me of a story about Mark Twain himself. Apparently, Twain really cussed a good deal and to break him of the habit, his wife approached him in his study and cursed him roundly, employing the scurrilous language her husband used too frequently.
Twain replied, “What has gotten into you my dear?”
“Mr. Clemens,” she primly explained, “I’m just letting you know what you sound like during one of your rants!”
“My dear,” replied the Bard of Hannibal, Mo. “That may be true to your ear, but I must tell you that you have the words down pat, but not the music!“ The same cannot be said of my Journal partner, Joseph Back, who regularly pens A LOOK BACK in Section B of this publication. My mother’s maiden name was Back and I’m not patting Joseph’s back because he might be a relation, but because this fellow knows the words of a 19th century journalist’s lexicons, but also the music!
Last month one of Back’s picks caught my eye because it was about the death of one Nathaniel N. Powell, an early settler of River Falls, and a landowner of the very property my home now occupies. He died of consumption according to the February 1862 issue of the Prescott Journal. That’s the sort of item you’d get in my hometown newspaper, but Joseph Back takes the story further and quotes the entire obituary, which is so pleasantly typical of journalism 160 years ago that it’s PRICELESS.
In case you missed it here’s an excerpted version: "From the time of his first settlement in River Falls he was untiring in his euorts to build up and contribute to the wealth of the county. To his great business ability and integrity is owing, in great measure, the present prosperity of the village where he lived.
“The early death of Mr. Powell may justly be regarded as a public calamity. As a businessman, he possessed the most undoubted of integrity; as a citizen, his character was above reproach . . . He was a bright example of moral rectitude and Christian piety. Almost any man in this community could have been more easily spared. He leaves behind a devoted wife and two small children, (whose pony’s tiny horseshoe we discovered when remodeling our porch!) along with a large circle of relatives who are in deep grief.
“A community is in mourning. As we weave the cypress for the bier of the departed and pay this final tribute to the deceased, let us forget his few errors and the emulate this man’s virtues. The cup of life is drained, the golden bowl is broke. Our friend has ‘gone to his reward,' in the full flush of life and the pride of his manhood. ‘Heaven is his home.’” How’s that for a template for anyone’s obit, including the present owner’s? Would that some genteel writer pen such an obit for me when my time comes! My only fear is that part of the eulogy about “let us forget his few errors,” for the present owner has more than a few, which my likely mourners are very unlikely to forget!
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.