Wednesday, March 25, 2020

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Hanging Together by "Hanging" Separately


"We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."  Benjamin Franklin  


In the dark and tenuous days of the Revolutionary War, when a haphazard assortment of American colonists had the audacity to declare themselves independent from the most powerful nation on earth, the well-spoken Benjamin Franklin expressed the absolute imperative that the patriots stand united. He declared:

"We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

He meant that the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as colonists in general, had to help and support each other or they were doomed. The quote encapsulates the urgency and gravity of the situation in that summer of 1776. Unity was essential to achieving victory in the Revolutionary War. Franklin knew they were committing treason by signing the Declaration. The penalty for treason was hanging, and thus they could literally all die if they did not work together.

Although not nearly as foreboding as in 1776, our situation today is deadly serious. Our country faces another grave crisis. Our collective well-being hangs in the balance, and once again, the imperative of standing united is essential. With no small amount of irony, the requirement of hanging together means that we all must hang [out] separately, that we maintain our physical distance so as to not further spread this terrible disease.

These restrictions in many cases constitute a huge sacrifice. Many businesses, especially small businesses, will likely be wiped out. Many workers will lose their jobs or go many weeks without paychecks. Many cherished social occasions, large and small, will vanish. Indeed, my daughter Elisabeth's wedding to her dear Ray was scheduled for this upcoming Saturday with a hundred family, friends, and special guests. They were forced to cancel their large celebration and instead opted for a private ceremony on the back porch of their new home. They hope to have a festive celebration in the future when things settle down.

In these trying times, I find solace and understanding in the viewpoint of Dr. Lindsay Jernigan.

Try this perspective shift. Instead of seeing "social distancing" and travel bans as panic, try seeing them as acts of mass cooperation intended to protect the collective whole. This plan is not about individuals going into hiding. It's a global deep breath - - - an agreement between humans around the planet to be still. Be still, in hopes that the biggest wave can pass without engulfing too many of the vulnerable amongst us.

Here's a simple yet powerful picture.

One last thought: I find the term "social distancing" to be ill-chosen. I think a better term is "physical distancing" - keeping apart physically while doing as much as we can to maintain and even enhance our social connections. Instead of lamenting the many ways we cannot be physically close, we should be more proactive in using the connective tools at our disposal to be as socially and emotionally close as possible. Let's exercise the many options we have in today's digitally-laced world to stay in touch with each other. Now more than ever, we need to fill the world with love, in every way we can.

We must hang together and bind ourselves together, even while we "hang out" separately.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020



"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts."  Rachel Carson   

I recently spent the day kayaking the headwaters of the Wekiva River with my niece, Dixie Farnsworth Jamison. Dixie is a professor of nursing in Rexburg, Idaho, and she's smart, thoughtful, interesting, and observant. It was wonderful spending time with her, enjoying some great conversation, and spotting an amazing array of animals on the river.

But perhaps the best part was simply being there - basking in the ideal weather, savoring the unhurried and nourishing environment, and absorbing the beauty and energy of this unspoiled setting. What John Muir said about being in nature is true: "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

I'm thankful for Dixie's decision to stay over a few days after her professional conference. I'm even more grateful for her encouragement that I take off work for a day and show her why kayaking down this river is one of our family's favorite things to do in Central Florida. It never disappoints.

It turns out that I truly needed this little adventure. I had allowed the busy-ness of life to get in the way of being in nature. I had forgotten the wise words of author Katrina Mayer: "Time spent amongst trees is never wasted."  

I am newly resolved to find time - no, change that to MAKE TIME - on a consistent basis to get into the woods and discover anew the beauty God built into this amazing planet we live on. I WILL, as Thoreau counseled, "live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign [my]self to the influence of the earth."

Thanks again, Dixie. Here are some unforgettable sights from that day on the river.




Wednesday, February 26, 2020

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Family Member Goes Missing for Over 100 Years


"The thing that interests me most about family history is the gap between the things we think we know about our families and the realities."  Jeremy Hardy  


Louis Emil Menger (1871-1903), with his father Emil Menger (1821-1897)

Do you love a good mystery? 
Do you enjoy solving complicated puzzles?  

Are you fascinated by intriguing stories?  

To me, these are some of the attractions of family history research. I love delving deep into various branches of the family tree and seeing who and what I discover. With so many apps and genealogy programs available these days, it's not that hard to find something interesting and often unexpected.

One of the family stories that grabbed my attention lately was about Louis Emil Menger, my wife's great-great uncle. Both of his parents, Emil and Dorothea, had immigrated alone from Germany as young adults through the port of New Orleans. They met in Louisiana, married, and then moved to Clinton, Mississippi, where Emil was hired as a professor of linguistics and head of the music department at Hillman College, now Mississippi College. We still own the handsome gold-headed walking stick given to Professor Menger when he retired in 1884.

Louis was born in 1871 and grew up around the college. He left Mississippi at age 19 to pursue graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He corresponded frequently with his mother and sister about his life in Maryland and later Pennsylvania, and we have many of those letters still in our possession.  

That correspondence indicates he made several summer trips to Europe over the next few years. Tragically, on one of those jaunts, he drowned in Lake Maggiore, Italy, at the age of 32 and was buried there. For all these years, our family tree showed him as alone on his own little branch, with no spouse or children.  

I had always pictured Louis as meeting his untimely end while gallivanting around Europe on vacations and holidays, as young adults of the leisure class in those days often did. Kind of like the turn-of-the-20th-century version of backpacking through Europe.

My assumptions, it turns out, were way off the mark.

While digitizing old family papers, we uncovered a copy of Louis' obituary written by his teacher and mentor, Professor F. De Hann, the head of the Romance Languages Department at Johns Hopkins University. I interrupted my scanning to read it all the way through, and it completely changed my perspective of Louis Emil Menger.

Professor De Hann wrote that when Louis appeared at Johns Hopkins at the age of 19, he already had a college degree and two years of teaching under his belt. Within three years he had earned his PhD and was a member of the faculty of Italian and Romance languages.  

In 1897, this bright young academic "star" was hired away by Bryn Mawr College to beef up their language department. There, in short order, he became a full professor of Romance Philology, French, and Italian. He was smart, driven, and industrious, definitely not a leisure-class carouser.

His summer trips to Italy were focused on his scholarly study of European languages and a professional treatise he was writing; they were not merely extended spring breaks, as I had supposed.  The scholarly book Louis had been researching bore the imposing title of THE ANGLO-NORMAN DIALECT, A MANUAL OF ITS PHONOLOGY AND MORPHOLOGY WITH ILLUSTRATIVE SPECIMENS OF THE LITERATURE. It was published posthumously by his professional colleagues.
But the real bombshell was in the last paragraph of the eulogy:
He was not destined to see his work in book form. Death came to him suddenly, without warning. On August 4th, 1903, he was drowned in Lago Maggiore. They laid him to rest in the little churchyard at Ghiffa, a beautiful spot in the land he loved so well. A young wife, a loving mother, and many admiring friends mourn him and cherish his memory.  

"A YOUNG WIFE??????" I almost shouted to myself. "He was married?????? How is it possible that in telling the family story, no one mentioned his wife? How could we have so many letters, photographs, and records for him and know nothing about her? For a hundred years we never knew he was married and we never knew she existed!"

My mind was racing. "So there is another member of our family, someone who has been forgotten for over a century? I wonder, we can find her? What was her name and where was she from?" Now the hunt was on in earnest.

I went first to and and added a wife for Louis Emil Menger 1871-1903. Not knowing her name, I called her "Mrs. Menger." I hoped the search engines for those two programs would start locating some hints I could study. I waited and waited and waited and . . . nothing.

A little disappointed, I went to Google and entered "Wife of Louis Emil Menger." (Sometimes it pays to have a rather unusual name.) From Google I found the original eulogy and also a second entry, this from the minutes of the Romance Club at Johns Hopkins University:

At a meeting of the Romance Club of the University, Oct. 21, 1903, the following minute was adopted:

"We the members of the Romance Club of the Johns Hopkins University wish to express our sorrow at the death of Louis Emil Menger, Professor of French Philology and Italian at Bryn Mawr College, and formerly Associate in Romance Languages at the Johns Hopkins University. In his death, just as he was entering upon his most promising period, we mourn the loss of a forceful, accurate thinker, a successful teacher, and a productive worker. To his wife, his mother, and the other members of his family we extend our deep and sincere sympathy."

This sweet reference confirmed that Louis was married but gave no clue as to his wife's identity.  

But a third Google listing turned up the professional treatise Louis had been writing, published after his death. I Googled his name and the title and found the Google-scan version of the book itself. I eagerly read through the foreword. AHA!!! There it was, on page viii, "In Memoriam":

In December, 1900, he was married to Miss Elizabeth Buckley. During the summer of 1903 he travelled with his wife in Italy, and on August 4 was drowned while bathing in the Lago Maggiore at Ghiffa.

VOILĂ€!!! Her name was Elizabeth Buckley, they were married in December of 1900, and she was with him when he died.

I returned to Google and entered "Marriage of Louis Emil Menger and Elizabeth Buckley December 1900." BINGO!!! The number one result in Google was "Minnesota Marriages Index 1849-1950" in both FamilySearch and Ancestry. Digging deeper, I found this index entry:

Louis E Menger
Marriage Date:
24 Dec 1900
Marriage Place:
St Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota
Spouse's Name:
Mary E Buckley
Spouse Gender:
Event Type:
FHL Film Number:

Next, I found a copy of an article in the society pages of a St. Paul newspaper describing a pre-wedding reception feting the couple. Through the miracle of modern genealogy programs and search engines, most of what I thought I knew about Louis Menger had been turned on its head. But more importantly, I had found a missing family member who had been lost for more than a century.  

I now know that Louis was a serious and well-respected scholar, a family man and not a turn-of-the-century gadfly. He was married to Mary Elizabeth Buckley in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Christmas Eve, 1900, at the age of 29, by which time he was a full Professor at Bryn Mawr College. She went by the name of Elizabeth, and they established a home near the campus "that was a delight to all who saw it." She was with him when he tragically drowned in Italy in the summer of 1903, just 2½ years into their marriage.

Family history is exciting but it's also never-ending. Each new answer yields a dozen new questions, and so far I don't have answers to most of them.  

I've learned the truth about Louis Emil Menger, but now the mystery is about Mary Elizabeth Buckley. Who is she, besides Louis Menger's wife? When and where was she born, and where did she grow up? Who were her parents? Did she have brothers and sisters? We don't know what she looked like nor how she and Louis met. We don't know what happened to this young widow after she lost her husband that tragic day in August of 1903.  

This is likely to be a mystery with several more twists and turns before it reaches a conclusion. Who knows where the trail will lead? But for now I'm on the case, starting with FHL Film Number 1313332.  

This saga will definitely be continued . . .