Day 41, 42 and 43, WLBT

July 28, 29 and 30– Ohio, Northwest PA

by David Runkel

On the way from Southwest Ohio to Northwest Pennsylvania via rural highways, we passed through Bellefontaine, which has the first concrete street ever laid in the United States. This fascinating fact came from our super atlas. We could find no evidence that the city celebrates this claim to fame. Before we knew it, we were back among corn fields, not knowing whether or not we had driven over the history-making street.

Our first stop was in Marion, Ohio, where Warren G. Harding was the publisher of 

Day Forty Three of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
Warren G Harding Quotes

the local paper before getting involved in politics and being elected president in 1920.  He died of a massive heart attack in San Francisco while on a western tour, leading to an outpouring of national grief.  His memorial is a million-dollar circular edifice with tall columns, sort of like the Parthenon. Quite impressive.  

Should we think of Harding, if we ever do, his words do not come to mind. That said, several quotes from his speeches engraved on the memorial struck us, for different reasons.  In his 1916 speech to the party convention, he said, “We must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation.”  Forty-four years later, President Kennedy had the same message in his “Ask not” inaugural address, albeit far more eloquent. 

The second Harding quote, post-World War I is creepily similar to recent rhetoric – “It’s fine to idealize, but it is very practical to make sure our own house is in perfect order before we attempt the miracle of old-world stabilization.  To safeguard America first, to stabilize America first, to prosper America first, to exalt America first, to live for and revere America first.”  Oh, my, 98 years later and we’re still hearing the same.

The house from which Harding conducted his “front porch” campaign for President is hidden behind a high fence undergoing renovations.

Our friends Bob and Juli DiChiro will be disappointed to hear we drove through Cleveland without stopping at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We did find the James A. Garfield home and museum in a pleasant tree-lined suburb.  Garfield was president an even shorter time than Harding, having been shot by a disgruntled office seeker three months after being sworn-in.  He lingered for 80 days.  

Day Forty Three of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
James Garfield Home

Garfield was a surprise president, not entering the race for the Republican nomination until the 36th ballot at a contested convention.  A former president of Western Reserve, a Civil War General, veteran member of the US House of Representatives and a short-term U.S. Senator, he was well prepared for the issues facing the country, but not for the president’s role at the time of personally hiring thousands of federal workers.  This was pre-civil service.

He is our last president born in a log cabin and like several others was fatherless at an early age and struggled to get an education, but was a gifted speaker and lay minister. 

In between the presidential visits, we engaged in some minor commercialism, stopping at the World’s Largest Amish Store (WLAS) in Kidron, Ohio (because Toby told us to).  A modest building at the outset is now a massive string of shops selling gardening, cooking, cleaning, clothing and many other lines of merchandise, including bonnets and gaslights.  Several things we found will fill Christmas stockings.

These stops made us a late for dinner with Bemiss cousins in North East, PA, which is located in the top-most corner of northwestern PA. Just-cancelled reservations were reset and we enjoyed good food and great catch-up conversations on a wonderful deck just blocks from Lake Erie with Bev and Al Walz, Darlene Kranz and Gordon Bemiss. Their long-time friend Richard joined us.

Saturday morning Bev located several interesting old pictures of Bemiss and Runkel gatherings before a tour of their lake-front property and other North East sites, including a winery with stone walls and a stone vaulted ceiling some 30 feet high.  The tasting room is in a more interior stone walled-room.  It felt like medieval France.   

Day Forty Three of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
Day Forty Three of the Scone by Scone Book Tour

Reconnecting with Bev and Al after many years was great. They met at the bridge table six decades ago and are celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary this weekend.  Bev is still appearing in local theatre and still regrets that time in college when she passed up the opportunity to play Lady Macbeth to devote more time to her studies.  Some things in life we never forget and wonder what would have occurred if we had taken a different path.

Speaking of reconnecting, in the afternoon we returned to Franklin, the small town where we lived after being married nearly 55 years ago and where Marsh was born. Our magnificent bed and breakfast inn is adjacent to the house in which we had an apartment.  It is, hands down, the most beautiful B&B we have stayed in. 

The highlight, however, was dinner at Dawndi’s, on a golf course just outside Franklin. Fifteen Cochranton High School friends had gathered. The author mistook them for a bunch of old people before realizing they were members the Class of 59, many of whom are dealing with age- related issues. Some are facing difficulties of ailing life partners, or those who have died; others have their own health issues or, even more distressing, children with serious health issues. Many were looking great, despite what the author said above. 

Time spent together harvested many wonderful memories. Some, including the Tour Director, had ridden the same bus from their rural farm homes into town (then 1,200 and today just about the same) for the better part of ten years.  The shared adventures of snowy or icy days, back roads, relationships developing and falling apart and homework being passed around were  recalled fondly.  To his great embarrassment, the Tour Director failed to recall the name of the gal he took to the 7th grade prom.  Never again.  I apologize, Alice.

The class was so interested in Deedie’s book that it was nearly a record-setting day for sales during the WLBT.  Plans are afoot for a group to come the nearly 3,000 miles to Ashland next spring. 

Sunday we reconnected with sister-in-law Barb from Cochranton, and cousin Laine and her husband Doug Morris from Grove City. Later we drove miles into the cornfields and up a steep, rocky lane to find our favorite artist, Mary Hamilton. Her studio was nearly too immaculate for an artist – she said she’d spent the morning cleaning it, with a sense someone might be visiting. Lo and behold, it was the WLBT. The very first art we ever bought was a Mary Hamilton and we’ve added to our collection regularly over the years. We even commissioned her to do one of the breakfast table at Anne Hathaway’s. Hail, Mary!

Day Forty Three of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
Franklin Library

Monday was the main event in Franklin, a reading at the historic, two-story red brick library, looking very much the same as it did 50 years ago except for the facing row of computers in the center of the main room.  Among those attending was Carolee Michner, who worked at the News-Herald with the Tour Director many years ago.  At 90+, she is now working on a history of the local Catholic church to go with her histories of the city and county.  She retired from the paper two decades ago just before it was sold to The Derrick from nearby Oil City.  It’s still published under the News-Herald banner, but content is 100 percent shared with The Derrick, except for local obits.  Also in the audience were several other friends from earlier days, notably Jody Schmitt, who looks as good as she did years ago. She and Jody graduated in the same class from Franklin High School. Three of the folks present had already read the book. A gentleman said his son, Rob Fox, was vice-president for production at the Arts and Entertainment network and he planned to tell him Scone by Scone would be a great movie. We agree.

A word before ending this – the air here is delightful and our fondest wish would be to bottle it up and ship it to Ashland, which continues to suffer from smoke.  Pennsylvania has never looked more sylvan.