Friday, December 22, 2006

winter fog

Old trees lean towards the east, forced off kilter by years of battering by the prevailing west winds blowing across the farmland.

Winter fog is bad enough, but there is something much worse, a white out. This could have been a white out, which means there's a complete snow cover, winter fog and then it starts snowing! I've been in one really bad event in my adult lifetime and that's enough for me.

The weather turned bad and we left work in an attempt to get home before conditions worsened further. I was hoping to navigate the back roads (empty of traffic) and found myself on a rural road in a white out. Roads, fields, sky were all one shade of white. It was starting to snow heavily and the only visible landmark was the small tops of fenceposts to the right. Mentally I tried to calculate the distance the posts would be from the road and navigated in that fashion.

I finally returned home safely, but it was certainly a white knuckly trip.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

the oxen team

This nearly life-size team of concrete oxen aren't going anywhere. They represent the pioneers who settled this land. A farmer would never be able to put much food on the table without the help of a team of oxen. They were the literal "horsepower" of the age. To see how they appeared in the day visit the site created by E.T. Wickham's grandson.... Wickham's Stone Park.

If you're anywhere near northern Illinois you can learn to drive a real team of oxen at Garfield Farm and Museum. The class is held in the spring of the year and it's probably one of the "Ten Things I Want to Do Before I Die". Size doesn't matter with oxen, they are commanded not by brute strength, but by voice and body movements. It's a fascinating day spent in the country. Contact Garfield Farm for more information. I'd love to come out and take photos of your session with the team.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

lambs of god

The two lambs stand at the feet of the large Fatima figure that stands atop a very tall pole at the center of what was once E.T. Wickham's central courtyard.

This site just gets your mind to turning about the once-upon-a-time newness of it all. Someone once said that a garden is the antithesis of nature - that man controls and remakes nature to his plan. But left to her own devices, Mother Nature has reclaimed this place, causing the lambs to grow wooly coats of moss.

In this area, without the reference of photos and commentary of it's history and intention, you are left to fill in the blanks...connect the dots. Some pieces are missing and some are simply missing limbs.

But in the end, E.T. Tanner's place is an awesome look into the mind and creations of a man driven by his passion.

If you want to visit, the park is located in north central Tennessee, outside of Clarksville.

Thanks for traveling along on the Farmers Wife Road Trip and Sixth Sense Tour!

hobbit house

E.T. Wickham's tiny house has been reclaimed by nature. My sister remembers when he was alive and this place was clear of the tangle of vine and sapling.

There are only three rooms and each is not more that 7 or 8 feet square. The room to the left has a fireplace and hearth, all created in a small scale. The right hand portion of the house is log, so it appears that it was the original room.

The experience of visiting here is like coming up a ruins in the jungle.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

raging bull

This is E.T. Wickham's bull figurine. The rider has lost his head, as have most of the statues. E.T. wired this figure with electricity. He installed red light bulbs in the eyes and I can imagine the surprise if someone came upon this standing on the side of the road in the dark.

The construction method remains a mystery to me. I've never seen concrete as a pliable, workable material.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

a magical place

It's hard to understand how an concept such as E.T. Wickham's sculptures formed in his mind. Perhaps he'd heard of Fred Smith and the Concrete Park in Wisconsin.

E.T. was a contemporary of my grandfather and surely they knew each other. Both had the same level of education (6th grade or thereabouts) and both were farmers/carpenters. But E.T. embarked on a creative mission fraught with passion and difficulties and my grandfather was content to spend his later years chewing tobacco and devouring western dime novels.

E.T. Wickham sought to create a permanent statement on his view of history - in concrete. The statues were mounted on bases on which he wrote detailed descriptions. Historical figures he depicted included Patrick Henry, Estes Kefauver, Sgt. Alvin York and the Kennedy's. All the historical figures stood on one side of the road. His tiny cabin and the religious figures stood on the opposite side.

I know that in it's day the display was glorious in scope and scale. Since his death about 30 years ago, time and vandals have taken their toll. Even though those factors have created an unfortunate situation, the work as it currently exists is almost magical, mythical. Nature has reclaimed this place for herself. The large fatima atop a tall pole is intertwined with vines. The lambs of God at her feet are covered in a wooly coat of moss. It's sad and glorious and altogether meaningful in it's decay. It's layer upon layer - the evident beauty of the orginal work, the degradation by man and nature, all combining to create a haunting space.

Above is pictured the entrance to his place. Check the link to see historical photos of how this area originally appeared. In the days to follow I'll post other photos of his work which can be compared with to those on the sites devoted to his work.

Friday, December 15, 2006

folk art

About a mile from our family cemetery in Tennessee stands one of the most haunting and interesting folk art sites in the United States. It's one of those eccentric, quirky places on the order of Fred Smith's much photographed concrete park in Wisconsin.

I vaguely remember someone mentioning the statues years ago, but I wasn't prepared to encounter them late one evening driving along the country roads in search of a shortcut back to town. Rounding a curve my headlights shone upon what appeared to be an entire crowd of people standing in the woods.

The statues are the amazing work of E.T. Wickham and were started in the 1950's.

The most amazing part is that he created these statues knowing that very few people would ever see them. The location is what I would call the middle of nowhere, one of those spots that either requires GPS coordinates or someone to guide you through the tangle of country roads.

The statues, in their original location, have been vandalized over the years and none have heads any longer and the concrete has somewhat degraded. Luckily there are people who recognize the importance of these statues as a body of work that represents the true folk art tradition. Nearby Austin Peay State University has one of the statues in their gallery and some of the other statues have been moved to the edge of a clearing not far away, surrounded by electric fence.

This statue stands behind the arts building at Austin Peay. Missing their heads the piece nonetheless gives a powerful message. E.T. Wickam was a country farmer who converted to Catholicism, thus the farmer in jeans holding baby Jesus.

More information and images of E.T. Wickam's work tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Many thanks to my co-worker and scout - Matt. He travels the roads of northern Illinois and eastern Iowa for the company and serves as my scout. He's a student of history and is always on the lookout for interesting buildings and locations for me to shoot.

This is a very unusual stone barn that he spotted heading down I-39. I must have passed it many times myself but it's a smaller building and for some reason I've missed. Earlier attempts at capturing it failed mainly because the very healthy corn crop obscured it from view.

I suppose that stone barns and outbuildings are not uncommon on the east coast, but here in the midwest it's almost unheard of. In fact in all my travels on the highways and byways of Illinois, I've never encountered another one. Limestone buildings are common in the towns that line the rivers - such as along the Fox River or the Rock River, but this is far from those locations.

An interesting fact is that it stands about 3 miles from the center of Troy Grove, birthplace of Wild Bill Hickock.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


We'd planned to depart back to the Chicago area early on Monday morning, but when we awoke my sister and I looked at each other and knew that we would drive back down to Charlotte and make one more attempt to find the elusive cemetery. We knew that logic would dictate the steps to take and that required that we search on a weekday when the courthouse was open.

We figured there must be a historical society in the area and perhaps someone at the courthouse could direct us to those responsible. Well, as luck has it, and as is often the case in small town America - things get done quickly on the one-on-one level. The clerk in the old courthouse directed us across the street to the newer office building, and in the basement of that building we found an archives office whose purposes is strictly to preserve and transcribe the many historical documents of the county.

And as is also the case in small town America, everyone knows everyone else. We stated our purpose to the director of the archives - "We're Robert Nesbitt's great-great-great granddaughters and we're looking for the old cemetery." With two minutes she had the woman on the phone who now lives in the old homeplace, and had secured her permission to access her land. It was a short drive back to the historical marker and the house just beyond. The owner met us out on the driveway and we were pleased to know that her Master's degree was in historical preservation.

It was windy and quite chilly, but we'd come a long way and for resident of northern Illinois, wind not a problem. She directed us to a grove of trees high on a hill overlooking Barton's Creek and Fagan's Chapel on the other side.

It was a challenging climb up the hill, dodging cow pies all the way. The view from the top of the hill was stunning and we rounded a group of three trees to come upon the very degraded remains of many headstones. The elements have not been kind to this spot.

The epitaths are always interesting and this one is the only information left on this woman's stone, save for a partial date of death.

Only three headstone were in any condition to be identified and one of those (a more modern stone) had fallen face down and was impossible to budge. Amazingly, the only two headstones that were readable were the only two we needed to identify this as Robert's final resting place...those of his nephew Allen and his wife on whose property he was buried.

The owner of the property had stated that it was her understanding that Robert had been buried in the area surrounded by a small stone wall. We stood on the hillside in the brisk wind and studied the valley that was home to these people so many years ago.....just as I had stood at Fort Sumter looking into Charleston's harbor knowing that it was the first view Robert as his ship landed in the new world.

On the way back down the hill my sister stopped to capture of photo of the house in the distance, and then we were on our way. What did we accomplish after all? To us it was a journey to connect to the past, and pay homage to those who did some hard work to establish this country and our communities.

If we could only manipulate space and time and meet those ancestors - how interesting would that be?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

chasing history

With the help of the paramedics we encountered at the grocery store in town we found Bartons Creek. Just over the creek heading out of town is this historical marker denoting the location of my great-great-great-grandfathers original log home (spelling of this name alternates in the records with one or two t's). The marker stands on the highway next to a drive that reaches up and over a small hill. We drove a short distance up the lane and saw the homestead. Sometime in the 1800's a more modern farmhouse structure had been built around the original log home.

It was obviously a private residence and we didn't feel emboldened to rap on the door. The weather was grey and we were tired and hungry so we headed back to town. Our departure back to Illinois was scheduled for first thing in the morning and we sat up that evening reading excerpts from a book written about our family in the 1960's entitled, "West From Edrom". The title refers to the Nesbitt brothers journey from the borders region of Scotland west to the new world. I can't imagine setting out knowing that I would most likely never see my homeland or family again.

They were motivated by the idea of a better life and being able to have some choice in their destiny. A friend who travels in extremely remote regions of the world has noted that many people in this world are prisoners of the lack of opportunity to create something better. He tells a poignant tale of a woman running a frontier-type bar in Nepal, who like a person dying of thirst, drinks greedily on his tales of life outside her microcosm. She reminded him to be aware and thankful everyday that he enjoyed the ultimate luxury.

This was the luxury Robert Nesbitt was seeking....leaving a place where his destiny was dictated by an English king and being a part of deciding who would govern and how we would be governed. And that he did just that, fighting in the Revolutionary War for which his new government awarded him land in the territory which is now Tennessee. Meetings were held in his home to create Dickson county, carving it from two larger areas, and the first court session of the county was also held in his home.

Friday, December 08, 2006

the search

My sister had visited the older Nesbitt cemetery years ago. Time had erased all the details of its location, but she did remember it involved a walk away from the roadway and it was on a hill. We've made half-hearted efforts over the years to find it, but now we've found ourselves in a situation where all the family old-timers have passed away themselves. (Note to self: Never let an opportunity to record oral histories slip away...and record your own oral history).

We do have great-great-great grandfather Robert Nesbitt's last will and testatment and if his wishes were followed he was buried on his nephew Allen Nesbitt's place, high on a hill overlooking Barton's Creek outside Charlotte, Tennessee. One of the older cousins told us there was a historical marker on the road in front of his original homeplace. His home was the place where Dickson County was formed, carved out of two other couties. It was also the scene of the first court held in the county.

So on Sunday we headed out to Charlotte, unaware of the exact location of Barton's Creek. We poked around two cemeteries in town and then headed to the only gracery store to see if anyone knew where the creek location. Luck had it that we ran into the town paramedics who grabbed a detailed map out of their truck....thanks guys! We spent part of the day driving up and down Barton's Creek Road and Fagan's Chapel Road, looking for signs of a old burial place. Even though the leaves were off the trees it was difficult to see through the heavy forest and undergrowth. Barton's Creek Road is not an exceptionally long stretch, but since the cemetery is said to be well off the road and the creek switches back from one side to the other, it could prove difficult to find.

It was a cold day and a Sunday so there didn't seem to be anyone outside to ask - perhaps a long time local would know the spot.

We found this small graveyard called "Lane Cemetery" on Fagan's Chapel Rd. It was on a hill overlooking Barton's Creek and there were several Nesbitt markers and many graves with seriously degraded headstones, but no clues that this might be the spot. In an attempt to mark the resting places someone has erected small white crosses. How unusual is it for direct descendants of the original pioneers to still live close enough to maintain these resting places?

Tomorrow the story of how two sisters refuse to give up the search......

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

tin roof

This photo makes me smile for several reasons. It's the log home built by my great-great grandfather, and just a short distance from the cemetery where he's buried.

It makes me smile also because it is very similar in style and structure to the sharecroppers shack that my mom, my brother and I lived in when my dad was serving in the Korean War. My uncle had offered us the sharecroppers place rent free, allowing my parents to save money for a home after my dad was discharged.

The sharecroppers place differed in that it was built with board and batten rather than logs. But the tin roof was the same and I remember it to be a nice, cozy home. No indoor bathroom, running water only if you pumped it by hand, a beautiful fireplace and lots of chickens making their home under the house. Good memories.

The photo also makes me smile because it reminds me of the B-52's "Love Shack"......

Tin roof.........RUSTED!

Sunday, December 03, 2006


We took a bit of time on our trip to visit and inventory our family cemetery. There are many Nesbitt cemeteries dotted across the land between here and the Charlotte/Dickson area where the four Nesbitt brothers settled after the Revolutionary War.

This is our family cemetery, established by my great-great-grandfather Samuel. We photographed each headstone and made notes and will enter the information on the Tennessee cemetery list associated with one of the Gen Web projects.

The slaves were buried at the bottom of the hill and many of the stones have deteriorated, so our cousin has erected a marker in memory of all the forgotten ones buried here.

My grandfather, an itinerate carpenter, built the resting place for him and his two wives, having lost both due to complications in childbirth. Rest in peace - Newton Larkin Nesbitt, Lena Boone Nesbitt and Edna Britt Nesbitt.