Thursday, October 29, 2015


With Halloween just a couple of days away, I thought it might be interesting to bring you a story of lies, deceit and, yes, cold blooded murder.

The Benjamins

Professor L.T. Benjamin was hired by the Congregational Church of Algona in 
Cold Blooded Murder - - Professor L. T. Benjamin
L. T. Benjamin
1903 as organist and musical director.  He was a master of the pipe organ and also taught organ and piano.  Besides Professor Benjamin, the family consisted of his wife, Minnie, and their three children, Mary, Paul and Ralph.  The family had previously resided in Manson, Iowa, where the professor had held a similar position with the Congregational Church there.  They all soon moved to Algona and settled into their new community.

The professor was very talented and almost immediately had large numbers of students under his instruction.  In addition to providing all of the music for church services, Benjamin provided music for weddings, funerals and other events at the church.  He often provided music for various community events and was a member of several community organizations including the Algona Harp Orchestra for which he served as pianist.

Mrs. Benjamin too became an active member of the community.  She had a beautiful singing voice and often joined her husband in providing music at the church.  Minnie belonged to several organizations including Eastern Star and the Women’s Library Aid Society.  She became involved in the local Red Cross serving in many capacities, finally as head of the entire Home Service Department where she provided invaluable assistance to many soldiers and their families during and after World War I.  Mrs. Benjamin became well known in the area for her kindness and generosity.

So it came as terrible shock to the entire community when on January 15, 1921, Minnie was brutally murdered. 

The Crime Scene

According to an article published in the Upper Des Moines Republican on January 21, 1921, the crime scene was described as follows:

“The body of Mrs. Benjamin lay upon the floor, the face covered with blood, the clothing disarranged to give the appearance of another crime.  The walls were spotted with blood in places and the door and the casings were spattered.  Four holes were found on her head, inflicted with a hammer that was found near by.  One gash on top of the head appeared to have been made with an axe.  The body was terribly bruised, the chest and the abdomen having apparently been kicked.  It was no doubt the most brutal murder ever committed in northern Iowa.” 

Cold Blooded Murder - - Benjamin crime scene
Drawing of crime scene from January 26, 1921
edition of The Upper Des Moines - Republican

The body was discovered by Professor Benjamin and their boarder, Alice Moline, when they returned to the house in the evening.  Law enforcement along with Dr. Hartman were called.  After examining the body, the doctor determined that Mrs. Benjamin had been dead for about 30 minutes.  A hammer which was determined to be the murder weapon was found at the scene along with a rag soaked in blood which had been thrown in the stove and was partially burned.  Mrs. Benjamin was 53 years old.

The Investigation Begins

Cold Blooded Murder - - Benjamin family house
"The Death House on West State Street"
as pictured in the
January 26, 1921 edition of
The Upper Des Moines - Republican
The house in which the Benjamins lived was about three blocks west of the courthouse and was owned by D. B. Austin.  Coroner W.E. Laird was called to remove the corpse to the undertaking parlor.  While at the crime scene, Laird called Professor Benjamin back in to look at the body.  The husband seemed cool and collected—not like a husband whose wife had just been brutally killed.  The coroner also noticed blood spots on the coat, vest and pants of the professor.  He later issued a warrant for his arrest.  Benjamin was taken into custody at the home of his friend, T. H. Wadsworth, where he had gone to spend the night.

Benjamin denied the heinous crime.  In his statement to the police, he stated that he had been downtown conducting various business transactions earlier in the afternoon.  He had encountered Mrs. Benjamin and the two of them had shopped at the grocery store before returning home at 5:30 p.m.  A neighbor saw him leave about 15 minutes later and he went back downtown where he visited the County Savings Bank, Miller Drug Store, and Moe & Sjogren’s where he purchased some fruit and a loaf of bread.  He visited Rexall Drug Store where he bought a newspaper and then proceeded to Miner & Stephenson’s Candy Kitchen where their boarder, Alice Moline, worked.  Alice was engaged to be married to one of the Benjamin sons.  He waited for her to get off work and the two of them walked home, finding the house dark and upon entry, discovering the body.

Despite his denials, County Attorney S. D. Quarton, Sheriff George Hackman, G. A. Brunson, and state agent O. O. Rock continued their investigation and circumstantial evidence began to mount.  Two motives for the crime were formulated.  Their first was that he wanted his wife out of the way.  Rumors had circulated through the area for several years that Benjamin had been having an illicit affair with one of his students.  Secondly, as the beneficiary of an insurance policy on the life of his wife, he would receive proceeds of $1,000.  Professor Benjamin had lost many of his students due to the rumors of the inappropriate relationship and he had recently resigned his position at the Congregational Church at the request for the church trustees.  He had obtained a job in Chicago and he and his wife had been packing up their possessions for the move when the slaying occurred.  It was well known that the couple were in financial straits. 

Benjamin was constantly grilled while in custody.  He refused to break. 

The “Other Woman” Tells Her Story

Meanwhile, the “other woman” was located and questioned.  Aged 31, she had met the professor three or four years earlier when she began taking piano lessons from him.  He began to make advances toward her after just a few weeks of lessons.  She found herself falling in love with him and returned his advances.  Knowing that he was still married, she did move out of state for a short time, but soon returned to him.  Over and over again Benjamin told her that he and his wife were planning to divorce and used multiple excuses as to why it was not happening.  When she would bring up the topic of the divorce, he kept blaming the delays on inattentive attorneys or requirements set by the court regarding the minor children.  At one point he told her that they had already received a divorce in Fort Dodge, but were living together until their youngest son graduated from high school. Her parents investigated and found out that there was no divorce in Fort Dodge and confronted him.  He eventually smoothed over the situation with "the other woman" and was able to convince her that he still planned to marry her.  She states that shortly before the tragedy occurred, Benjamin had told her that the divorce had been finalized and so she had prepared her wedding clothes for the trip to Chicago.

At some point, Minnie Benjamin discovered the affair and several times confronted her husband, threatening divorce.  Each time he begged for her forgiveness and told her he would end the relationship.  The professor in fact did not bring an end to the affair, but instead continued to conceal his true behavior to both women.

The Court Proceedings

On the 25th of January, just ten days after the murder, a grand jury was to be impaneled to determine whether or not charges would be brought against him.  That morning the professor met with his attorney, T. P. Harrington.  Shortly before the arraignment set for 2 p.m., Benjamin met with his children.  That meeting appears to have changed the defendant’s mind concerning his continued declarations of innocence.  Before the proceedings could begin in earnest and at Benjamin’s request, Harrington requested to meet privately with the presiding judge at which time the professor admitted his guilt.  The County Attorney immediately filed murder charges against him.  The defendant was then brought back into open court where he publicly admitted his guilt.  Judge D. F. Coyle then stated that evidence concerning the degree of murder would be taken the following Tuesday, February 1st.

Observers began arriving early for the hearing.  When the Clerk arrived that morning, two men from LuVerne were found on the floor immediately outside the courtroom sound asleep.  When the hearing began, there was standing room only and the hallways and stairs leading to the courtroom were too crowded for law enforcement to pass without great difficulty.  The defendant had to be brought into the courtroom through the Clerk’s office.

The defendant was sworn in and began giving his testimony.  All questions were asked by the judge.  He testified that problems arose in his marriage beginning 12 to 15 years before.  The professor began drinking too much and flirting with other women.  He put no blame on his wife and stated that the affair that he later entered into caused his family much shame and distress.  The public gossip caused him to be ostracized which resulted in the loss of many students putting the family into financial hardship.  His forced resignation from his position at the Congregational Church placed him under extreme stress.  There were many bills and not enough money to make the move to Chicago.

He stated that when he and his wife returned home from the grocery store the night of the murder, he had gone out immediately to bring in some coal for the stove.  While he was gone, Mrs. Benjamin got the mail and found a personal letter which she read.  The professor stated that when he returned to the house with the coal, he found her extremely wrought up.  He did not know who the letter was from as she threw it in the fire.  He tried to reason with her but she
Cold Blooded Murder - - Block in which Benjamin family lived
Block of West State Street on which
the Benjamin family lived as it looks in 2015
became more agitated with him.  Benjamin began to see all of the plans he had made begin to unravel and, in a fit of frenzy, he picked up the hammer which they had been using to seal the packing crates and struck a blow to her head.  He stated that he did not remember anything that happened after the first blow and did not know why he attempted to cover up the crime.

County Attorney Quarton stated that the offense was clearly premeditated, setting out all the evidence against the defendant, and adamantly argued for the death penalty.  Defense attorney Harrington argued that the deed was not premeditated but that the defendant had acted on impulse.  He stated, “It seems to me that no sane man could contemplate such an act as was committed.  Mr. Benjamin was considered an average man intelligently.”

Sentence is Pronounced

Cold Blooded Murder - - The murder of Minnie Benjamin by her husband, L.T. Benjamin
Judge D. F. Coyle
Judge Coyle gave the law and also expressed his adversity to capital punishment.  After a touching talk with the defendant about reforming his life by bringing his story to others to prevent future incidents like this one, the judge determined that the murder was not committed with premeditation, and pronounced him guilty of second degree murder.  Professor Benjamin was sentenced to 50 years at hard labor at Fort Madison penitentiary.  He was taken by train to the prison later that same day.  He was 54 years old.

Professor L. T. Benjamin died at the prison following a hernia operation in April of 1923 after serving just two years and two and a half months of his sentence.  Where he was buried is not known.

Until next time (and Happy Halloween!),

Jean (a/k/a Kossuth County History Buff)

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015


To say that I have been overwhelmed by the response to the story “The Wedding Gift House” posted on October 22, 2015, would be an understatement!  I am delighted that so many readers enjoyed the story and that many decided to like the Kossuth County History Buff Facebook page or follow by email to insure they receive future posts.  Thanks so much!

New Information

I do have an update to the story that I want to share with you.  Thanks to some
Updated post of The Wedding Gift House - - Jeff Jorgenson photo of Tribon house
The Tribon house when owned in later
years by the Jorgenson family
information provided by Jeff Jorgenson who grew up in the house at 332 North Thorington, I have determined that the color photo of the house located at 322 North Thorington shown with the original story is not the Tribon house, but actually the house next door.  I must admit that I have had some misgivings about the house as I compared it with the photo from Picturesque Algona.  The two houses seemed to have the same roof lines, but some other features didn’t quite seem to match.  But all evidence I looked at seemed to confirm that the house in the book was located at 322 North Thorington.  

The original Picturesque Algona was published in 1900 without addresses assigned to the various buildings pictured in the book which would have made it almost impossible 115 years later to determine their whereabouts.  Thankfully, the Algona centennial committee decided to reissue the book in 1954 and, bless them, they provided addresses at that time.  The 1954 edition clearly shows the Tribon house address as 322 North Thorington.  Since Vallie Tribon was still alive in 1954, I trusted this information to be correct. 

Updated post of The Wedding Gift House -
House that sits on the
site in 2015
I try to be very thorough in my research and my notes indicate that when I was researching this story, I did check courthouse records.  However, the manner in which the real estate was described has changed between 1898 and 2015.  Evidently when trying to match the old description to the new one, it again appeared that the Tribons had once owned the property located at 322 North Thorington.  The Kossuth County Assessor was able to show me aerial photos from which I was able to see how the mistake might have been made. 

Jorgenson Photos

The photos posted here were provided by Jeff from the Jorgenson family collection with the exception of the photo which shows the house that now sits on this site.  I did ask Jeff to describe the inside of the house so that I could share it with you as well.  He was even nice enough to include photos of the staircase and fireplace.  
Updated post of The Wedding Gift House - - Jeff Jorgenson photo of Tribon house

The first floor of course had the large front porch leading to a foyer entry.  It had a “master bedroom” on the first floor.  He thinks that the house as originally built did not have a bedroom on the main floor and that this bedroom was part of a later remodel.  The only full bath in the house was located on that floor along with the kitchen and a living room/great room with a fireplace on the east wall and two eight foot sliding doors on each end and a large picture window on the west wall.

Updated post of The Wedding Gift House - - Jeff Jorgenson photo of Tribon house
The second floor had four bedrooms with big cedar lined closets and a small kitchen. The south facing bedroom had a fireplace.  There was also a half bath on that floor.

I love Jeff’s description of the attic: “The attic had a very narrow and steep staircase you had to climb like a ladder.  It was very large.  The square footage was almost the entire footprint of the house.  It was always fun, but a bit creepy going up there since it had old dress mannequins which looked like people in the dark to a kid.”

The house had steam radiators heated with a furnace which used to burn coal and was then converted to gas.  Jeff remembers that the house was always cold as the radiant heat could never keep up with all the air leaks and lack of insulation.

Owners after the Tribons added a breezeway and garage addition on the north side of the house.

The End of a Beautiful Home

Although I hate being wrong (don't we all!), it is exciting to be able to correct an error
Updated post of The Wedding Gift House - - Jeff Jorgenson photo of Tribon house
Photos after the fire
in 1988
in Picturesque Algona.  I am so pleased that Jeff took the time to contact me to share photos of the “real” Tribon house which once stood at 332 North Thorington.  My only disappointment is that the house was destroyed by a fire back in 1988.  A part of me loves the Tribons’ story so much that I really wanted the house to still be standing.   Thanks to the photos shared by Jeff and the one in Picturesque Algona, the sweet memories of this house will be preserved forever.

Feel free to contact me any time about a story.  I truly value your comments and input and hope we make more discoveries along the way!

Back to my research,

KC History Buff

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Thursday, October 22, 2015


One of the lovely homes featured in “Picturesque Algona” is that of Dr. Frank and Mrs. Vallie Tribon located at 322 North Thorington Street.  Dr. Tribon purchased the lots in 1897 for the sum of $900 with the intention of building a fine residence as a gift to his bride to whom he was to be married the following year. 

The Young Couple

Frank Lewis Tribon came to Algona in March of 1893 and established his medical practice here.  He was born October 1, 1863 in Blackhawk County.  He later attended Upper Iowa University at Fayette and the University of Iowa where he graduated from medical school in 1892. 

Vallie Frost was the oldest of eight children and was born July 21, 1875.  Her father was a telegrapher and agent for railroads in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.  The family was of modest means, living above depots and salvaging coal and other household supplies from damaged rail cars.  They moved a lot due to her father’s occupation and schooling was obtained wherever they were located at the time.  Education was of great importance to Vallie, so much so that she went on to attend the University of Iowa which she paid for by working as a milliner.  It was there that she met Frank Tribon while he was a student in the homeopathic department of the college of medicine. 

Preparation begins

By 1898, North Thorington Street had become an “aristocratic” area of town with several very fine homes along its length. In keeping with the style of the area, Dr. Tribon hired an architect to draw the plans for a handsome structure containing large rooms with many wide windows.

The Wedding Gift House - - Tribon house
Tribon House constructed in 1898

Construction was begun by Shadle & Herman in March of 1898.  The house was wired for electricity and featured sliding doors making it possible to close certain sections for privacy or to conserve heat.

Frank and Vallie were married on May 26, 1898 in an outdoor ceremony at the home of the bride’s parents in West Bend.  Following the service, refreshments were served on the lawn.  The happy couple departed the same evening for Algona.  Mrs. Tribon later recalled that she was immediately thrust into the trying phase of being the wife of a doctor.  They had just settled into their room at the Algona Hotel on their wedding night when her husband was called to deliver a child for his sister, Mrs. Mary Lampright.   

The house was not yet completed at the time of the Tribons’ wedding.  It was sided and roofed, but had many finishing details yet to be completed.  The young couple was forced to board elsewhere until the house was ready.  One can almost picture the bright summer day in August when this handsome doctor carried his young bride up the steps, across the front porch and over the threshold into their beautiful new home.

Settling in

The couple settled happily into married life.  The doctor had a busy practice which often took him away from home while he cared for his patients.  In those days doctors spent as much time out of their office as they did in it.  They made house calls both in town and in the country.  When he began his practice, Dr. Tribon would have used a horse and buggy to get around over dirt and mud roads to reach his patients.  Most babies were born at home and so he could easily be gone all day and well into the night while on an obstetrical call.  Antibiotics were not available, so often deaths occurred which today would be easily preventable.

Both Tribons became very involved in their community including their church.  The first Sunday after her marriage, Vallie joined the Methodist church and was an active member the rest of her life.  Over the years she served as superintendent of the Sunday school and taught young married couples a class on building strong Christian homes.

As their family grew, the house shared in their joys and sorrows.  Vallie loved to entertain and won awards for her home made angel food cake and bread.  The Tribons’ five children were born in the house, which included twin daughters, Ruth and Isabel.  Sadly, Isabel died when she was only a few days old.  Vallie also cared for her sister who passed away five days after delivering a baby in the Tribons’ house.


The Wedding Gift House - - Tribon house
Frank and Vallie often entertained the members of the Halcyon Club which was founded in December of 1904.  The object of the club, in addition to being a social organization, was for the acquisition of knowledge on profound subjects.  The monthly meetings took place in members' homes and featured dinner, music, poetry and spirited debates.  For the February meeting in 1917, the Tribon house was decorated in bunting and the U.S. flag to celebrate Washington's birthday.  The patriotic colors also appeared on the table napkins and each guest received a miniature pasteboard U.S. flag.  Daughter Dorothy recited "Little Orphan Annie" and W.C. Dewel gave the history of the flag and Francis Scott Key's "Star Spangled Banner."

The topics and range of the debates varied widely.  At a meeting in 1912, Vallie was on the victorious side in the debate over the question: “Resolved, that the retaining of the Philippine Islands has been a detriment to the United States.”  Many papers on political topics were read and discussed at the meetings as well.  Clearly, this group enjoyed learning and expanding their horizons.

A particularly trying time for the family occurred during the flu epidemic of 1917-18.  The area doctors were on call night and day, frequently checking to see how patients were doing as whole families could be infected with influenza.  Dr. Tribon carried a heavy load during this period.  Vallie’s brother, Gernard Frost, succumbed to the flu during the epidemic. 

The house continued to play a central role in the life of the family.  Their front porch was just right for gatherings and several “sing-a-longs” were held out there to the enjoyment of their neighbors.  It was a happy day indeed when daughter Ruth was married to Lewis L. Bleakley on January 1, 1925.  Decorated in yellow chrysanthemums and ferns, the house welcomed 30 guests to the ceremony and four-course meal that followed.  The newly-married couple moved to Davenport, Iowa and then later to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Ruth developed a heart ailment a few years later and was brought back to the family home for treatment by her father.  She died there July 5, 1931 leaving a grieving husband and three small boys aged six and under to mourn her passing.

Life goes on

Over the years, Vallie organized spectacular church rummage sales and other money-making projects.  After being asked to conduct a private sale to dispose of household effects, a new business was begun.  Her sales were so well organized that they attracted huge gatherings.  Area merchants such as the Chrischilles store and Christenson’s had her conduct end of season sales.  Her fame grew and she was asked to conduct sales in places as far away as Chicago.  She chose to restrict most of the sales to the Algona area. 

Through their advancing years, the Tribons remained in their beloved home.  Just two days before their 50th wedding anniversary, Dr. Tribon passed away at the age of 84.  Vallie did spend winters in Arizona and southern California after Frank’s death.  It was during a return trip on February 15, 1949, that she was badly injured in a collision due to icy pavements near Wichita, Kansas.  In the days just following the accident, she was given little hope of recovery.  Her severe injuries required many months with her legs suspended in traction.  She was later put in a full body cast so that she could be transferred to Phoenix. 

During this time, Vallie yearned more and more for her residence in Algona.  Finally in August of 1950, she was able to come home.  Due to the countless gifts and kindnesses of her friends and neighbors and with the help of her companion, Martha Rammer, she was able to live her last days in the home she loved so much.  She once described that time as “the happiest years of my whole life.”  Vallie Frost Tribon passed from this life on July 21, 1955, at the age of 80 where she had lived and loved for 57 years—in the house given to her as a wedding gift by her adoring groom.

The Wedding Gift House - - Tribon house

With a few changes, the house still stands in splendor at its original location on Thorington Street.

Until next time,

Kossuth County History Buff

For more information on this story, please see the post "Updated post on The Wedding Gift House" published in this blog on October 27, 2015.

If you enjoyed this post, please don’t forget to “like” and SHARE to Facebook.  Not a Facebook user?  Sign up with your email address in the box on the right to have each post sent directly to you.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015


This past Monday, October 12, 2015, was National Farmers' Day.  As many of you may already be aware, my husband is a farmer.  October is always a busy month and as I write this, we are deep into harvest season.  I am not much help when it comes to running the big machinery or hauling grain, but I try to help where I can whether that is making sure my guy has regular meals, being the go-fer when moving machinery between fields or running to get a part when there is a breakdown. 

Farming Through The Years - - farming history
My husband comes from a long line of farmers on both sides of his family.  He is at least a fifth generation farmer—that is as far back as we have traced.  I was not raised on a farm but I can also trace my family back to farming roots—just a generation or two removed.

Farming Through The Years - - farming history
Grandma Rose Rammer and her chickens
Quite often as I sit waiting in a field, my thoughts turn to what it must have been like for the generations who went before us--from the pioneers who came here and broke the prairie sod for the first time to those who persevered through drought, grasshopper plagues and financial depressions to pass a legacy down to grandchildren they would never know. 

The Early Days of Agriculture in Kossuth County

The call of the west attracted Asa and Ambrose Call and led them to Kossuth County where they founded the town of Algona.  They were the first to begin breaking the sod and planting corn in 1855. Christian Hackman and August Zahlten were hired by the Calls to farm their land that first season.  They soon registered their own claims as did many who came after them.  Settlers came steadily until the early 1860s when the Indian scares following the massacres at Spirit Lake and Mankato drove many to leave and return to “civilization.”

New settlers were few and the population remained fairly stagnant until the end of the Civil War.  The homestead program then changed the future of our county.  Veterans were entitled to claim a homestead of 80 acres in exchange for their service.  After having traveled around the country while serving, seeing places they would never have seen under normal circumstances, many men could not bring themselves to go back to the crowded cities where they had lived before the war.  They jumped at the opportunity to own their own land.

Farming Through The Years - - farming history
Marvin and Vernon Kramer
Those who settled here found life on their homestead hard, back breaking work.  Handling a one bottom plow walking for miles behind a team of horses or perhaps a yoke of oxen, cutting and pitching hay, picking ear corn by hand -- the manual labor involved is almost unimaginable in this day and age.  Everything was constructed by hand—houses, barns, wells—and everyone except the smallest of children were expected to pull their own weight. 

Those who managed to survive and thrive despite erosion, disastrous crop prices and livestock disease, found their wealth in the rich black soil of Kossuth County—the same as we do today.  Each subsequent generation developed new equipment to aid them in their tasks and techniques to preserve the precious soil.  Threshing machines, tractors, hybrid seed—improvements that changed the face of agriculture.

Our Family Memories

While doing genealogy research on my family, I was delighted to find the probate file of one of my great grandfathers.  It contained the inventory of the property he owned at the time of his death.  In addition to a corn planter, seeder and breaking plow, it also listed one Sorrel mare called Nellie who was five years old and one brown horse called Sam who was six years old.  I found it fascinating that the horses would be listed by name in the inventory of his estate.  Obviously they were one of the most important assets of the farm. 

Farming Through The Years - - farming history
Grandpa John Rammer
A photo that I cherish is of another of my grandfathers pictured with his team of horses stopping for a drink of cool water on a hot day--such a contrast with the tractors and implements used today. 

That thought sent me to other photos we have collected as part of our family history.  We are blessed that someone was thoughtful enough to take the time to preserve some of the everyday moments that made up their lives.  Seeing these strong men and women at work through the years reminds me of the chain of life that binds us all together.

Changing Times
Farming Through The Years - - farming history

Earlier this summer my husband needed a tractor driver to bale hay that he had cut down a few days earlier.  No one else was around so I was drafted.  We also had three of our grandsons with us that day and they were excited to help Grandpa bale hay.  As we made our circles with the baler scooping up the dried grass and forming it into neat, square bales ready for feeding to our cattle, I watched Allen expertly stacking the bales on the rack.  This
Farming Through The Years - - farming history
Kramer family with booster buck
brought to mind another photo of members of the Kramer family putting up hay with the use of booster buck in the 1940s.  By this time they were using a tractor—it made the job of hoisting the hay high in the air for placement on the stack so much easier.

Farming Through The Years - - farming history
Kramer family baling hay 1969

Farming Through The Years - - farming history
Kramer Family unloading corn
Harvest has changed, too.  Gone are the days of picking corn by hand, pull behind corn pickers and combines, and open cabs.  Today’s combines can harvest that 80 acre homestead in a matter of hours versus weeks of hard manual labor. 

Farming Through The Years - - farming history
Marvin Kramer combining
Don’t get me wrong—agriculture still requires a lot of muscle and sweat and probably always will.  It is an occupation not for the faint of heart.  I am so proud of my husband and the strength and endurance he shows not only in the physical aspects of his job, but in the day to day struggles farmers have always faced. 

The Tradition Continues

When I look in his eyes, I can see that determination that was passed down to him by generations of the family farmers who have gone before him.  I see that same look in the eyes of our son and daughters.  Soil runs deep in their blood—a genetic trait that they can’t ignore. 

Farming Through The Years - - farming history
My husband, Allen, our son, Greg,
and three of our grandsons in 2013
There is a tie to the land that is difficult to describe in words.  You couldn’t do this every day unless you love what you do, but it goes beyond that.  Perhaps it is because farming is not just an occupation but a way of life.  It is putting down your own roots and building a family along with a farm.  It is knowing that your true harvest is not measured in bushels of corn and soybeans.

It is a privilege to be able to farm a very small portion of Kossuth County land and to call it our home.  Our family farming tradition carries on.  

Until next time,

Jean (a/k/a Kossuth County History Buff)

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

May Fete of 1915

How many of you have ever seen local picture postcards labeled “May Fete – May 17, 1915”?  The photos are quite eye catching-- children dressed as various flowers and vegetables, chickens and blackbirds, as well as farmers, Indians and prize fighters.  Over the years I have seen many postcards bearing this label and wondered what type of celebration would include the elaborate costumes pictured.  Since 2015 marks its centennial, it seems like a good time to do a little investigating to see what the May Fete was all about.

Library Aid Society Fundraiser

May Fete of 1915 - - Celebrating history of Kossuth County
Flower Girls

Sponsored by the Library Aid Society as a fundraiser, the production, authored by Mrs. E. B. Wilson of Jefferson, Iowa, was originally scheduled to be presented on Friday, May 14th.  Souvenir buttons were sold for 25¢ each and served to admit the wearers to the fete.  They were about the size of a nickel and featured the state flower in the center on a blue background with the saying “The World is Better for its Play Days” wrapped around the edge.  One could also be admitted to the extravaganza on the day of the event for the payment of 25¢.

Over six hundred men, women and children were needed to execute the extravagant program.  The city school teachers assisted the Library Aid Society in the production.  All of Kossuth County was asked to participate in the fete and the Algona business houses agreed to close between the hours of 2 and 5 p.m.  Thousands were expected to attend.  And then, as is often the case in Iowa in the spring, weather intervened.  Heavy rains fell on Thursday evening, May 13th, and Friday dawned with a drizzling rain.  The occasion was regretfully postponed until Monday, May 17th.

The celebration begins

The big day finally arrived, although quite cool for an outdoor event.  By 2 p.m. the participants were ready.  The parade formed on the Carnegie Library lawn.  Led by the Algona Military band, the beautiful floats passed through the business district on their way to the fairgrounds.  The pageant was staged in front of the grandstand, taking up about two and a half acres of land.  The grandstand was full of spectators, automobiles lined the fences, and hundreds of people were seated on the grounds near the Floral Hall.

The prologue presented the history of Kossuth County and was entitled, “Our Yesterdays.”  It began with a band of Indians who made camp complete with the men performing a war dance and the squaws setting up the tepees.  They were followed by emigrants driving prairie schooners with signs such as “Bound for Kossuth – Land $1.25 an acre, 1854” emblazoned on the sides.  Other presentations included a log cabin scene representing settlement and the uncertain time of the Civil War.

May Fete of 1915 - - Celebrating history of Kossuth County
Parade Float

The floats then passed in review followed by four delightfully decorated automobiles.  The first was decorated in the national colors and carried several Civil War veterans.  The next marked the introduction of United States mail service and was filled with mail and packages and another carried several early settlers of the county and members of the Library Aid Society.  Still another brought forth much applause from the crowd as it passed, displaying banners with the words “Votes for Women” and bearing members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  

After the floats and autos had passed, the couriers were the first to arrive.  They consisted of twenty young ladies who performed drills and counter marches.  A group of boys representing florists came next, bearing hoes and sprinklers. They were follows by August Huenhold who brought his home grown vegetables which consisted of a number of youngsters dressed for the theme.  

May Fete of 1915 - - Celebrating history of Kossuth County

Farmers and agriculturists were represented by another group of boys wearing overalls and straw hats and carrying hoes.  

May Fete of 1915 - - Celebrating history of Kossuth County

They were followed by children dressed as chickens and blackbirds.  Girls wearing aprons declaring “Good Cooks are the Angels of the County” passed by followed by boys dressed in white pulling a cart containing a churn and milk pails and dairy maids carrying banners setting out the number of pounds of butter manufactured in 1914 by the creameries located in the county.  Many groups of children clad in various costumes such as flowers, butterflies and bees passed in review.

May Fete of 1915 - - Celebrating history of Kossuth County

And then, “Miss Iowa” arrived in a handsome car decorated with two white doves of peace.  Fittingly, Miss Iowa was portrayed by Miss Sheridan, the city librarian.  To honor her, a unit of young ladies representing all 99 Iowa counties entered, each bearing a wand with an ear of corn.  A drill was presented by a band of boys dressed as sunflowers.  The next group demonstrated the spirit of play and consisted of little girls with their dolls and boys with baseballs and the like.  A portion of the infield had been fenced into individual sections for each individual group to gather once they had passed before the grandstand which at that time faced west.  As the parade drew to a close and each group was in their assigned section, the scene created by their colorful costumes was quite spectacular.

The program begins

May Fete of 1915 - - Celebrating history of Kossuth County
Grandstand View

After the entire troupe had paraded before the delighted crowd, the real program began.  A large platform had been erected in front of the grandstand which was now occupied by Miss Iowa and her attendants.  Each group then appeared individually on stage and presented drills, dances and songs accompanied by piano and the military band.  This even included a re-enactment of the Jack Johnson-Jess Willard prize fight by two little fellows, creating much merriment.  Amid patriotic songs and music, the United States flag was raised to close the program.

May Fete of 1915 - - Celebrating history of Kossuth County
Jackson - Willard Prize Fight

According to the news reports of the time, an outdoor program such as this had never before been presented in Algona.  Attendance predictions for the original advertised date had been estimated at 4500.  Due to the postponement because of the inclement weather, numbers were drastically reduced.  Actual tickets sold were 1432, plus hundreds of children and all of the adults involved in the program were admitted free.  After deducting all expenses, the Library Aid Society was able to raise a little over $300 to be used for library improvements.

May Fete of 1915 - - Celebrating history of Kossuth County
Story Book Characters

Harry Nolte, the well-known local photographer, appears to have taken photos of almost all of the groups featured in the fete.  He was able to preserve the memories of a very special occasion in the history of Kossuth County.  The postcards created from the images he captured are able to bring this event alive once again, one hundred years later.

If anyone has any of the original Nolte postcards from the May Fete and would like to send a scan of it, I will be happy to share it on the KCHB Facebook page.

Until next time,

Jean (a/k/a KC History Buff)

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