Star of Fredonia
When I was very young man, staring in wonder from the back of the car, the Yuletide sky was full of electric stars, or so I remember it to be.
Light bulb encrusted stars shown in the night, rotating above grain elevators - on smokestacks and tall buildings, straining against their moorings as they tried to truly rise, or so I imagined.
I imagined a lot of things. It's a gift.
I see far fewer of these electric stars nowadays and wonder at the culprit. Political correctness? The disappearance of family-owned corporations? Part of it might be the ever-growing number of big drive-through Christmas light displays in parks. It's hard for a star on a grain elevator to compete with that degree of a zazz factor.
On this first day of Winter, let me share with you a pleasant interlude I enjoyed on a recent trip through Southeast Kansas. I decided that night to decline the highway 400 bypass and take the old road through Fredonia. I was rewarded with the sight of an electric rotating star I'd almost forgotten about. Here it is, lording over the town square.
When I was a kid, I also wanted to see from the lofty perch those stars held, and in Fredonia you can do just that, for the star resides in a park atop the city's South Mound Park. The mound itself is an interesting geological feature and the night was slightly foggy, which added some appeal
According to employees of the city of Fredonia, the star was built in the early 1950s for the Lion's Club by Loren Ludlum, a Fredonia blacksmith. It is 40 feet tall and takes 55 light bulbs.
Because the star is rotating, the time exposure needed to capture its environment resulted in motion blur...which isn't always a bad thing.
Motion blur can be fun. This is one half revolution of the star (about 16 seconds). The concentric rings remind me of a mad scientist lab scene in the 1925 German expressionist silent film Metropolis.
It can be fun to time the rotation needed for the shape you want, and set the shutter speed accordingly.
Digital photography is great for this ability to almost instantly check one's results and improve upon them. I like these "swoopy" ones the most. This one reminds me of a corporate logo.
Here's a little video clip to give you the actual speed. You can hear the motor, too.
A day view I shot last May shows that the framework also contains a cross. According to the city of Fredonia's website, the cross is lit during Lent, and the star, during Advent.
There are great views from the park. Even the kilns of the Lafarge cement plant have a certain aesthetic appeal from up here at night. Of course, I had to mar that appeal by discovering that in 1999, the plant was issued a permit from the EPA to burn toxic waste.
The town square below and to the north reminds me of a tabletop model railroad layout.
This North 6th street, in the square.
And this is North 7th Street.
A daytime view last May shows the rural surroundings. As I write this - just as the Winter Solstice occurs - I'm thinking this would be a great place to watch the sunrise.
And look - an observation platform. Granted, it's not that high but it'll get you above most of the trees. In an age when cities have removed anything accident-prone from parks, I'm glad Fredonia has the sense to keep this intact. According to the Fredonia Chamber of Commerce, "the stones on the observation deck were once part of a nearby private school owned by the LaDow family who donated the land to the city for a park many years ago."
Elsewhere on the mound is water tank, labelled so you won't forget where you are, and a big honkin' flag in case you forget what country you're in.
On the tank is a local school mascot, a yellow jacket. (corrected Jan 20, 2008; I originally thought it was a hornet based on online sources, but have been politely corrected.)
Fortunately, Ace saw no stinging insects as he smelled the honeysuckle atop the mound.
Down on the square, this a daytime view toward the mound. The flag is 40 x 60 feet atop a 100 foot flagpole.
This clock tower, on the north side of the square, was built in the 1960's to house clockworks saved from the 1886 courthouse by local resident Gus Charlen.
You can see the antique clockworks through windows. It's kinda cool.
A man relaxes near the 1932 WPA-built bandstand. According to the city website, the roof dates from 1996 and replaced a damaged one, a photograph of which was used as a pattern.
The Gold Dust hotel was built in 1885 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It now houses the Fredonia Chamber of Commerce and the Gold Dust Quilters. The upper floors are closed.
I've been photographing municipal holiday decorations for a post next year. Fredonia's have a nice mix of day and night appeal.
I first posted this picture in April of 2006. A reader commented: "Several years ago, the building's to the west of Doane's was in a major fire, and was torn down. But the one next to Doane's wall became weak, and unsafe so they had to tear that one down. And that was when the cool Wrigley's sign was exposed for the 1st time in many years."
Wrigley's signs seem to have a tendency to reveal themselves, as seen in this similar case from Ohio, as documented by the American Sign Museum, which also has a cool sputnik.
Here's a view inside Doane's. The place was fun to explore - lots of old stuff there. That's owner Beatrice Doane going over some papers. (Note added Jan 28, 2011: A story on KOAM TV reports that Beatrice has been at her job for over 80 years - a record that may be confirmed by Guinness Book of World Records. She will be 100 years old on March 17, 2011.)
Elsewhere on the square, there was architectural detail to be enjoyed.
I wasn't expecting art deco. This building housed the City Drug store when I shot it last year, but an old photo at Doane's showed it to have been a power company building.
Moving on from the square, the mid-20th Century googie architecture style is represented at Fredonia High School.
The old Missouri Pacific depot hosted a flower shop when I shot it last year.
It looks like the office of the Cox Motel used to be a gas station. The current owner has only had the building about a year and is planning to research it. She believes it to be about 80 years old.
Even little touches, like neon "Vacancy" lettering, is appreciated by the nocturnal roadside aficionado.
The city also has a few cool Victorian homes, like this one at the base of the South Mound. Of course, I had to finish with a Christmas photo.
Additional video added on January 20, 2009, of the star on December 13, 2008. I recorded it without sound as there would have been much wind noise: