I understand a trilogy is an assemblage of three. Still, I promised to write a trilogy about my March 2011 visit to Urbana University in Ohio and John Chapman’s (Johnhny Appleseed’s) grave in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and that is what I’m doing, even if I have to share it in four parts. After completing this post at the bottom of what’s to come, I’ve decided there may be five parts.
Singing after reading Vache after re-dedication ceremonies. Arthur F. Humphrey photo
Following the re-dedication, I sang some of my songs and offeed my books for sale in a room adjacent to the Museum displays. Special thanks to Mrs. Hazard, wife of former Urbana Universty President Francis Hazard for patiently listening to at least 20 minutes of the songs. Even though Arthur and I were watching the clock, determined to get to Ft. Wayne, Indiana in time to visit John Chapman’s grave before dark, there was no sense of impending doom as the minutes flew by in mid afternoon. Everything I hoped to do in Urbana, relating to the purpose of my visit, I did: met some terrific people and had a fantastic time.
As we wended northwest, Arthur explained a lot about Ohio geography and history, noting we were riding on ground Chapman might have seen in the 1830s. If I had been in a classroom, I would have taken notes. We arrived in Ft. Wayne a little after 5, located the fine Hampton Inn where we would be staying, and then made a beeline for John C’s grave while the light was at least nominal.
What we found dismayed me, but considering the public understanding of the man remembered in what we would soon visit on foot, the entry area was about what we should have encountered. Thanks to Arthur’s GPS device on the dashboard, we found the busy side street – the equivalent of North Dirksen Parkway between Cook and North Grand in Springfield — and turned left and down a poorly maintained gravel and concrete drive to an equally disintegrating parking area where the car was parked and we walked past two reinforced concrete barriers placed to allow only pedestrian traffic to enter the park.
entrance to the park and the path to John Chapman’s grave
The terrain was hilly in contrast to the mostly flat land surrounding it. It was an unhurried walk by the barrier after a few pictures . . . . . .
rendezvous with history -- photo by Arthur F. Humphrey
The path continued straight for a few hundred yards, gradually rising and turning left where a roofed display waited. Poor light prevented photography here since we were in shadow east of a larger hill and the setting sun to the west.
the historical display en route up the hill behind to the grave
We did not linger long here. Our destination was the top of the hill. On approaching from the east, I thought it unfortunate that the larger steel fence and well-maintained hedges surrounding a smaller fence, beyond which the headstone was visible did not have a gate that would allow entry into the inner area. When we walked around to the west side of the outer fence we found that gate and went in. The grave remained protected behind the inner fence with a gate clearly locked. I was okay with that.
the mezzo sanctum
Visible in the background are the lower terrain and path leading to the grave on the hill. The area is well-maintained, plaques easy to read with no litter at all. As I looked to the west I was stunned by the view.
the busy highway and sports stadium walking distance from the top of the hill
WHAT a revelation! Draw your own conclusions, but the incongruity was not as sharp or horrendous, on reflection, as it seemed at first. The ground at graveside was quiet, the air clean, and overall ambiance in tune with the immediate surroundings. What I truly loved about the place was that there was so little evidence there and really close-by of “the hand of man.” No exhalting grandeur of marble and facade to hyper-venerate the person commemorated — if not actually buried — there. Recent research into the business of where John Chapman is buried leaves room for conjecture. Even so, the site spoke volumes to me. At the risk of sounding Native American, THIS is sacred ground.
by the entry gate
John Chapman's grave stone
To leave a part of a man John Chapman did not know, a man who knew of Chapman and in many ways exemplified much of Chapman’s legend in his own life, I had come to read Vachel Lindsay’s poem “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed” at the grave. Arthur had planned to videotape the reading, and I planned to record it with my Olympus digital machine in my shirt pocket. I would read the entire poem. We had the time, but the light was fading fast.
remembering Vachel remembering John Chapman - photo by Arthur F. Humphrey
There was a glitch with the video, but the Olympus worked fine. Even so, it was obvious from the noise of the wind and my simply moving, and the distant traffic, that the recording discovered when replaying, the result was no more than a personal memo, a souvenir of a remarkable visit.
The light was going fast. We walked back to the car almost in total silence, drove to the Hampton Inn, checked in and then went out for dinner. Early to bed.
And early to rise on March 20. We had to return to Springfield in time for Arthur to drive back to Indianapolis, turn in his rental car and catch his flight back to Florida from whence he had come to Springfield March 17. During out travel to Ft. Wayne, he had wondered aloud about there he had put his prescription glasses. During the painless and surprisingly fast and pleasant trip west, he explained he had found them. Good news all around! What I discovered, 20 minutes away from the Hampton Inn, was that I did not have my prescription glasses. I knew exactly where I had left them — on the bedside table; not on the dresser where I had deposited my wallet and camera — but I was not about to embarrass myself and burden Arthur by asking him to turn around for probably an hour’s delay. I did not want to risk his not connecting in Indy.
I also had discovered at the grave that I had used all the memory card space on my camera, and I had to delete some pictures taken in Urbana to capture what I wanted at Ft. Wayne. The one picture I regret deleting was that of the photographer from the Springfield, Ohio newspaper whom I talked with before reading Vachel in Urbana. She took the picture of me that was included in a fine article about the Museum re-dedication. I took her picture too, and truly regret deleting it. If I had been carrying an extra memory card, this amateur-league omission would not have happened.
We arrived at 428 in Springfield close to noon. Before Arthur departed, I had the pleasure of introducing him to my good friends Mark Russillo and Thea Chesley and of course, Jake the wonder dog who walks Mark and Thea at least twice a day. The timing was perfect, but the time was short. A hurried unpacking of my gear and a BIG THANK YOU and HAVE A SAFE TRIP HOME to Arthur.
I later learned that he had made it back to Indy with time to spare and had a good flight home.
This week I’m getting new prescription eye glasses.
John Chapman and I are not finished with each other. I will be launching a Facebook page about my visit. I also intend to tell the world about two major biographies of Chapman. One was published in 1954 and the other — an absolute delight — was unveiled by the author at the Johnny Appleseed Museum in April. I just haven’t determined how, yet.
I am also presenting a morning storytime about Johnny Appleseed for children at Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site this summer. In the fall I will present a “Poetry in the Parlor” lecture with song at the Home for grownups and kids of all ages. I am reworking the document I produced for the re-dedication to include a version of this four-part trilogy to offer for sale.
I said it before, and I will say again: My encounter with Arthur F. Humphrey, Joe Besecker, Francis Hazard, the Johnny Appleseed Museum and Education Center and the John Chapman grave in Ft. Wayne, Indiana have touched my literary life profoundly. For the affirmation, (we used to call it self-actualization in the 60s) memories, the warmth and education which will echo loud, warm and well in my heart I am truly grateful. Thanks to everyone.
Live long. . . . . . and proper.
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