The Lope: Star of Fredonia

Friday, December 21, 2007

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:


Blogger JDP said...

Great photos as usual.


Sat Dec 22, 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful photo's of a beloved home town....Thank you.

Sat Jan 17, 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Fox Family said...

You did a wonderful job photographing Fredonia! I was born and raised in Fredonia and moved away over 10 years ago...I forgot how beautiful "my hometown" is at Christmas! Thanks for the reminder! Sometimes you overlook the obvious when you are so used to it!
Amanda Fox

Mon Jan 19, 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful pictures you took of my hometown-they are absloutely wonderful. Your story was great too with the exception that Fredonia's school mascot is a yellowjacket not a hornet. Thank you again for sharing the photos and showing people that even in rural areas the Christmas spirit is alive and well.

Mon Jan 19, 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Hester Family said...

The observation platform is also good for engagements. My husband proposed to me there because he knew how much I loved that spot! And I'm sure someone already has told you but we are the Fredonia Yellowjackets not a hornet. Thanks for the great view of my hometown!

Tue Jan 20, 06:55:00 AM  
Blogger Literary Diva said...

thanks for a great photoessay on my hometown. Haven't been back for 13 years. Was interesting how much trivia now seems a mystery. Can't believe the Wrigley's sign was there hidden for all these years. Loved the pictures of the old star on the mound in particular.

Tue Jan 20, 07:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your fredonia feature. I was born there in 1982 and my mother was born and raised there. My grandparents still live there and My aunt owns the flower shop in the old railroad station that you took a picture of. You did a wonderful job of capturing the town as I felt it to be in my heart all these years. My mother would like to politely correct you....the mascot is not a hornet but a yellow jacket. You should really come during homecoming whichc is usually the first weekend in is amazing. Thank you so much for the beautiful site.

Tue Jan 20, 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Meg said...

I just found your site through a friend who knows that I grew up in Fredonia. Being from there, I tend to take things for granted and not recognize their beauty (well,except for the star - it's probably my favorite Fredonia "feature"). I now live a good number of hours away and don't get back to see my family as often as I should. This evening, your photos provided some much-needed comfort after a horrible day; for that, I thank you. Please give my hometown a friendly wave, if you ever happen by again.

Meg Cannon

Wed Jan 21, 08:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so very much for he wonderful pictures of my hometown.
A cousin in Florida saw this and sent it to me. Not knowing that my flower shop was pictured and that my niece had written about it. I was looking through the pictures and reading comments and had been made brought tears came to my eyes. Thanks again for the wonderful memories.

Thu Jan 22, 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My brother sent this to me. We were both born and raised in Fredonia. The pictures took me down memory lane and brought tears to my eyes. I enjoyed sharing these photos with my children and with my co-workers. Even though I don't live in Fredonia now, it still holds a very special place in my heart. Once a Yellowjacket, always a Yellowjacket. Thank you for the wonderful pictures.

Fri Jan 23, 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful photos! The south mound was my second sisters and neighbor kids defended the mound almost every day in the summer when we werent fishing or seining minnows with our dad or helping Grandpa Duncan and Aunt Virginia in their garden...we probably know every rock, cave and secret hiding place on the mound before the water tank, the playground and the flag and observation tower....there were monsters, indians,pirates and outlaws up there..and we fought them all..crawled through more poison ivy, over lizards, snakes and every poisonous insect there is and never cared..We were invincible when we were the "Kings and Queens of the South Mound". Thanks for sharing the photos..My Mother and I drove up there about a month ago and those huge boulders and secret hiding places arent so big or as scary anymore..hahaha...thanks again..Diane McDonald Hight, Independence, Ks

Fri Jan 23, 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Ja said...

What an amazing treat! Thank you so much for the scroll down memory lane. My husband's family is from Fredonia and we have visited several times. Over the years I have taken photos of our children on the mound. It has always held a special place in our children's heart. But our most treasured visit came on Christmas 2004. We were blessed to spend time with family selecting a tree from a nearby tree farm, decorating and cooking for a Christmas family gathering in a relative's barn and hearing my husband's grandmother read the REAL story of Christmas to the children on Christmas eve. The memories of that night and the few days leading up to it have comforted myself, my husband and our family through so many dark days to follow. Little did we know that those memories would mark our 17-year old son's last Christmas on earth. Again, Thank you for the pictures and history! The only thing I would add to your site, is how amazingly compassionate and loving the people of Fredonia are to those of us who have the opportunity to visit. Next time you stop by, go to the Western Diner for what my kids say are the biggest and bestest pancakes in the world and soak up some of the local folk's stories! -JBS

Sat Jan 24, 10:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

My parents and grandparents,aunts,uncles and cousins, some of which I don't remember, all hail from Fredonia. As children, we drove the 12 hours from Louisiana to visit for 2 weeks every summer as both sets of grandparents resided there. My maternal grandfather worked at the cement plant following WWII and my fraternal grandfather worked on the railroad, as best I remember. My parents retired back to Fredonia
around 1991 and bought the house shown in all its Christmas glory. My mother had once sat as a young girl with the elderly woman who lived in the home. She told my dad that if they moved back to Fredonia following his retirement, that was the only house she wanted. They were fortunate to negotiate with the then current owner and settled on a price. Since, my mother jumped into decorating and loving the home and has enjoyed the many people who have stopped by to take a look.


Thu Jan 29, 11:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thanks for creating and posting your Fredonia photoessay. The star time-lapse shots look appropriately otherworldly-- and are just what the South Mound needs, to be seen by new eyes. Perhaps as the new millenium progresses we can look forward to a holographic star one day. As I recall the star already was installed when I began to grow up, a little over fifty years ago and a few blocks north on 7th Street from where you’ve pictured downtown.

I can add only a few of my remembrances. The summit of the South Mound, where the star lives on the northwest corner, grew more congested even in my time, as the water tank was constructed well after the star, and the big flag is relatively new. Since the town put it up a few years ago I’ve felt the flag monument was both visual overkill and symbolically deceptive, and perhaps an unintended irony: while Fredonia’s population dwindled and life below the mound grew more sparse, the mound top became increasingly more crowded. The countryside viewed from the mound to the southeast is relatively flat, but looking opposite, the terrain is much more convoluted and hilly, which may account for why I usually have preferred watching sunset rather than sunrise when I come back to Fredonia to visit my remaining family.

There was, during my childhood years, a gigantic-seeming television tower based on the north slope of the mound, just below the access road to the summit. I suspect it was in reality a couple hundred feet high or so. It provided broadcast television access for the town to TV signals from Tulsa, Joplin and maybe some other towns. When I was a newly minted teenager, around 1969 I think, an early summer windstorm-- or perhaps a tornado!-- blew the tower down, and most of us had several weeks of television-free life. While the new tower was being constructed on the plains east of town, the city substituted commercial radio channels for the missing TV rebroadcasts, and my sixth-grade ears were treated to a cornucopia of songs and bands I’d never heard before, like a musical echo from the summer of love that had already run its course seemingly a million miles away. The remnants of the old tower are long gone, but the last time I checked, the original concrete base pad and a much smaller metal tower stump were left in place.

On the north slope of the mound was where the namesake Mound School was built, and it was gone by the time I came along, so I only knew the remaining stone half-walls that terraced the grounds and a cavalcade of narrow gray steps that ascended thirty feet from Washington Street to the school’s massive concrete foundation, filled in long ago and pleasantly overgrown with grass, and fronted by a row of brooding old cedar trees. With the surrounding trees and walls the abandoned school grounds formed a seemingly secret refuge for those of us inclined to find outdoor solitude for reading or other pursuits. As we grew up from walk-around kids to drive-around teenagers most of my classmates came to think of the mound summit as the most dramatic venue for particularly private romantic pursuits-- nevermind the occasional danger of police patrol cars slowly driving the South Mound Road at night with prying flashlights-- but I liked the Mound School grounds better for kisses and tears. Indeed, it was on a warm, sweet evening late in the spring, a few days after graduation, that I walked up 6th Street to a secret rendevous at the old school grounds and said goodbye to my high school love, the last LaDow girl to grow up in Fredonia.

Class of 1974

Sun Feb 01, 12:25:00 AM  
Blogger norm said...

I too would like to thank you for the great pictures and story you have done on my old home town. The south mound was a favorite place for me and all the kids in my neighborhood as we lived just at the foot of it on 4th st. All of us attended Mound School and it was really a great school. Every school day the first bell would ring in the belfry calling us all to school. About ten minutes later the second bell rang and that meant that school was about to take up. Talk about panic if you weren't there yet when that bell rang! At recess time we were allowed to go up on the side of the hill a little farther behind the school where we built houses out tree limbs and dried grass. There was a basketball court directly behind the school and a small playground on the east side where in the spring many marble games were played and in the fall it was top spinning time, with sally walkers and spikers. The larger lower playgrounds were the scene of softball and football games. We also played Red Rover and Blackman there. There were two huge pine trees in front of the school that always had an abundance of pine cones that were used for lots of throwing at each other till we got caught. In those days the principle still had a paddle that was displayed prominently, more for a deterrent than anything else. I can though, remember it being used several times. Talking back to a teacher was unheard of then and if that ever happened you could count on the use of the paddle.Our parents also never gave the teachers any problem about how they handled us and if word of misbehavior at school reached them you could count on some disclipanary action being taken there also. Those were really wonderful times of good friends and a slower simpler life.
It was really a sad thing for me when the old school was torn down and the lot it was on stood empty for so many years.
During my jr high days I was on the mound at least five days a week as I had a Herald paper route and it went all the way up seventh street then over to sixth. There was an old road that ran across that hadn't been used by cars in years. It had turned into nothing more than a trail and I would cross over from seventh to sixth on it. The scenic road up to the top of the mound came much later, but it was there in time for me to become engaged there.

Wed Feb 18, 10:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful. Thank you very much for allowing us to share with you what you like.

Fri Apr 03, 10:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know that the Cox Motel was my grandpa's and yes it was a gas station. Great pics.

Tue Feb 16, 09:49:00 PM  

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