“While rich in historic interest, the huge dwelling is now cold, barren, and dark. Most of the exterior remains intact, except for partially crumbled foundations and a few bricks that have fallen from the walls. The interior is littered by tattered wall paper hanging from the walls and piled on the floor. The woodwork is split and mutilated, the hand-carving defiled, and the stained glass windows largely broken or chipped away. Yet the mansion itself still stands, for Barlow Hall was built to last. That is its tragedy. The manor house has remained to watch its glamour fade, its story forgotten, and its halls once bright with candles and alive with laughter now shrouded in clammy darkness.”
This haunting quote is taken from a 1941 publication about Barlow Hall, a building that used to stand about 5 miles southwest of Sioux City, Iowa. To historians, Barlow Hall is (or was) a building. To me, and my family however, it is a metaphor for overstepping our bounds …with all the best intentions of course.
In 1990, we lived in Sioux City, my oldest son Bobby was in 4th grade. Now if anyone remembers anything about 4th grade, they’ll remember that’s the year you have your big local history project. For me, growing up in Santa Barbara, California, it was unthinkable to have graduated 4th grade without having built a sugar cube Mission! Go ahead, Google “Santa Barbara sugar cube mission” there are plenty of examples. Not that my offering would have made it into that pantheon, but I’m guessing none of the others procured 48 toothpicks with green frills, which, in sugar cube building scale, quite accurately represent maize, or corn.
When Bobby entered 4th grade, and came home on that fateful day with “the assignment” I knew we had this one in-the-bag! In Sioux City, if sugar cubes were your medium, you could just about recreate any historic building! I had to restrain myself, it was Bobby’s project after all – but there were so many options to choose from!
The Badgerow Building with its iconic Native American heads;
The amazing Bandshell, so evocative of its Jazz-age roots;
the Pierce Mansion, which up until just a few years ago housed the local history museum;
or even the Floyd Monument, affectionately called the pencil, In all it’s phallic glory!
…or, added Historian, Downtown Dad, Barlow Hall!
DD’s argument was that well, sure, all of those choices would be easy to make… (OK seriously DD?!? Carving Native American heads into sugar cubes will be easy?!? But I digress…) but those others will be a dime-a-dozen. Why not make something that will not only look cool, but will help to enlighten more people about the fading but rich history of this place?
Bobby is not convinced. Not being one to ever chose to draw attention to himself, he’d be very content – happy even, with his own sweet rendition of The Floyd Monument. Nothing flashy, and certainly nothing he’d have to explain!
But now, DD can hardly contain himself. No wait, he doesn’t contain himself. He runs right out and buys particle board, and balsa wood and model glue, and whatever else he will need to “help” Bobby with this project. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, DD alone, makes Barlow Hall, rise, Phoenix-like, from our dining room table. Apparently he doesn’t notice that Bobby wants nothing to do with this project and refuses to collaborate. Barlow Hall’s tragedy, faded glamor, and forgotten history pervade the clammy darkness of our lives.
Needless to say, after Mini-Barlow Hall’s brief and unremarkable stay in Washington Elementary’s Gallery of Fourth Grade History Projects, it spent the rest of its days covered by a sheet in the attic, only to be heaved by Bobby, with much angst and resentment, out the attic window and into a dumpster when we moved 10 years later. We sure learned our lesson, right?
Um, no. No we didn’t.
This past weekend, our daughter Kelsie needed help finishing her paper comparing and contrasting Protection with Censorship. DD and I sat down with her at 10 on Sunday morning, reading what she’d already written, and offering suggestions. We really started to get interested in this subject and started combing the Internet for examples. When DD started reading aloud, portions of the articles he’d found, I drew on my secretarial skills and offered to take the laptop and type notes for her while he read. Pretty soon, we couldn’t contain ourselves. Over the course of the next couple of hours DD and I crafted a beautiful document. We finally looked up and found our living room strewn with books laid open to articles, notebooks scrawled with key words, and sticky notes on all corners of the laptop. A 1,500 word document, almost none of which were Kelsie’s, beamed at us from the screen. And Kelsie? She had left for work. Hey, how did it get to be 5:00?!
I pushed my glasses back on my head, clicked Save on our document and said, “You do know we just Barlow Hall-ed her, right?” DD, just smiled and nodded.
History, it seems, is destined to repeat itself.