An Unorthodox Woman (Part 2)

Dear Liza,

Today we continue the life of Lou Ellen Barrell Cornell. Born in 1891, the youngest of seven children to Oregon pioneers Aurelia and Colburn Barrell, she married (and later divorced) Richard Cornell. She buried three of her five children, was prominently mentioned in a very public trial involving the Spiritualist Association, and was active in a popular benevolent group, the Women of Woodcraft.

In 1912 Lou Ellen started a campaign to save her father’s legacy, the Lone Fir Cemetery. In the 70 years since he had founded it, the place had been carelessly used and not maintained. Blackberry brambles covered the stones and the unmaintained graves were sunken and dangerous. There had even been a effort by the city to remove it. Over the next 16 years, Lou Ellen not only made sure the cemetery would remain where it was, but succeeded in getting taxes passed to pay for its maintenance.

One of the thousands of headstones unearthed and repaired in 1928

In 1917, at the age of 25, her eldest son Warren went off to fight in World War I, becoming an Army corporal while fighting in France. He returned safely, living a long life until 1947. That same year, a volume of Lou Ellen’s verse, called “Thorns and Roses” was published, available by contacting the author at her home, 802 East Yamhill Street. Her verse was well-reviewed, having a “fine religious feeling”. I have not been able to find any of the poems, but I am still looking!

Warren’s headstone

A few years later, when her sons were 28 and 22, Lou Ellen got married a second time to Edgar W. Philips. The wedding was written up on the Society page, though no information is given about the groom except that he was a native Portlander returning to town after an absence of 15 years. After the wedding, Lou Ellen remained active in the Women of Woodcraft and the Spiritualist Association, and continued writing poetry.

That same year she began giving lectures for the Spiritualist Association, such as “Is Spiritualism a Religion?” and “The Spirit of Freedom”, under the name Mrs. L.E. Philips. During this time, except for one small mention, her husband, Edgar Philips, was not visible. This isn’t necessarily suspicious. He is simply not mentioned in the paper.

In 1926, her son Lew Elwyn was divorced from his first wife, and he and their three children moved in with Lou Ellen, just blocks from where I live now in Southeast Portland. I imagine this brought lots of joy, but also a lot more work into her life. Three kids in the house to look after, cook and clean for, is a whole new layer of chores.

Lou Ellen passed away in 1931 at the young age of 59. Her son Lew moved to Beaverton and his children went back to live with their mother. Lou Ellen had been active in Women of Woodcraft until just a few months before her death. She is buried in Lone Fir, surrounded by her children, just across the lane from her parents and siblings.

The weird part, and the part that had me reading all my research over again, was that her obituary does not mention her divorce from Mr. Cornell or her second marriage. It tells of her drive to save the Lone Fir Cemetery, but not her interest in Spiritualism or her poetry.

My guess is that the obituary was provided by the family, and maybe her sons and siblings didn’t want the public to remember the lawsuits, the divorce or the remarriage, but simply the dutiful life of a mother and daughter, a woman who served her family and community. Still, I am glad to be able to learn more.

Life is always interesting, even folks who lived long ago.

Love, Grandma Judy

An Unorthodox Woman (Part 1)

Dear Liza,

You never know what you’ll find, looking through old newspapers and city records. Yesterday, I was looking at the seven children of Aurelia and Colburn Barrell, wondering what they had been up to at the turn of the last century. I decided to start with the youngest, Lou Ellen, because she was NOT buried with the rest of the family, which always gives me a big question mark.

Lou Ellen’s headstone. She and her children are across the lane from the rest of the family….

Using my old standby, the Historic Oregonian website, I walked through every mention of Lou Ellen in the paper, trying to piece together what seems like a complicated life. I will try and give you a clear story.

Born the sixth child to Colburn and Aurelia Barrell, Lou Ellen married Richard Cornell at 19 and gave birth to 5 children over the next 7 years. Sadly, three of these children died before they were ten, leaving just two sons, Warren and Lew Elwyn. During that same time, Lou Ellen lost both her parents. I can’t even imagine how terribly sad she must have been.

Such a short life!

Maybe having all these dear ones pass away gave her a curiosity about life after death, and some time after her father’s death in 1902, she joined the Spiritualist Association. This group sees contact with the dead through seances as proof of eternal life and as a source of universal wisdom.

But for Lou Ellen, this led to her being in court, and in the newspaper, every day for months in 1908, as disagreements within the Association became lawsuits. Lou Ellen, as secretary of the Association, was ordered to produce the account books. She evaded, avoided, and even resigned her post, never giving up the records. Finally, the case was dismissed.

Lou Ellen filed for divorce from her husband Richard, the very next week, claiming cruelty and lack of support. Richard had left town already, and made no statement for the court. Her divorce was granted.

For the next six years Lou Ellen continued her work with the Women of Woodcraft, planning events and even reading her poetry at parties and meetings. In 1912, she acted in a Suffragist play put on by her former elocution teacher. She was busy and active in her community.

I will tell you more about Lou Ellen tomorrow. It is so interesting learning about our old neighbors!

Love, Grandma Judy



Over a Barrell at Rainy Lone Fir

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was a hard morning. I woke up tired and grouchy. I didn’t even write a blog. Even the snow which was supposed to come, didn’t, and we had cold, wet slush.

But as the day moved on, I pulled myself out of it. Drank a lot of water. Had an apple and peanut butter. Did a crossword puzzle with Grandpa Nelson.

After lunch I decided to head to Lone Fir Cemetery, in spite of the drizzle. I am researching the family of Colburn and Aurelia Barrell and wanted to see their headstones. Back in the day, Mr. Barrell was a businessman who invested in all sorts of things, and by 1854, he owned a steamship called The Gazelle and a large chunk of property on the east side of Portland.

Young Crawford Dobbins’ memorial

That year, The Gazelle exploded, killing twenty people. Two of them were young friends of Mr. Barrell, and he wanted to honor them with proper burials. He established the Mt. Crawford Cemetery on his East Portland property and had very nice monuments put up. Mr. Crawford, who gave his name to the place, has a ten foot high obelisk, and Mr. Fuller, a coffin-sized slab.

David Fuller’s slab, which says “…killed by the explosion of the steamer Gazelle.”

Mrs. Barrell later convinced her husband to change the name to Lone Fir, because of the one fir tree that stood on the property.

That is what people know about the family. But there were seven children…. surely, in the 160 years since, someone else must have done something else interesting. I am researching old Portland newspapers online to see what they might have been up to. I will keep you posted.

Feeling better, moving forward.

Love,

Grandma Judy

All Process, Not Much Product… Yet

Dear Liza,

It has been a fun, happy, busy weekend! I made a stencil I really like to use in my Art Journal. So far I haven’t finished with it yet, but it is showing promise.

Fun with stencils

I also started whacking away at the two dozen or so blogs I have written about our wonderful, historic Lone Fir Cemetery. I started simply copying them, then realized that with just a little tweaking, there is a story there about Portland’s history that could be worth telling. I am currently paddling in some very deep water, and enjoying it very much.

Little Ada Smith

There was also a delightful surprise purchase from Jehnee Rains, who runs Suzette, our nearby Creperie. Since she has has greatly reduced business for the ten months of quarantine, she is selling a lot of her catering supplies to raise a bit of cash and simplify her life. Auntie Bridgett saw some ‘bee’ themed bottles she wanted, and I saw cookie cutters, so we threw on clothes some and walked over.

I now have these great beauties to play with, and the cookie dough mixed for delivery to Auntie Katie and the cousins.

Score!

I also found a map of Portland I was sewing on last winter and ran out of inspiration for, which is looking more promising now.

Downtown, the Willamette, and our Sunnyside neighborhood

I feel like I’m gunning my engine at the starting line, and can’t decide which race track to run first. I need to take a breath and focus…. or not. I’m sure it will all work out.

Having fun, thinking stuff!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Trying to Make it Work


Dear Liza,

I have written almost 1,000 blogs since July 2017, using the WordPress.com site. I have written about Portland’s history and places to visit, as well as the joys and difficulties of everyday life here. I am now thinking of turning all this writing into small books, which could go out into the world.

I hope to compile blogs on one topic (starting with our historic Lone Fir Cemetery), print them out, and offer them for sale. Auntie Bridgett Spicer does this with her wonderful Art-O-Rama zines, collections of writings and art that she sells online and at the SideStreet Arts gallery.


The difficulty of moving my Word Press writings into any other format, in order to print them out, was my first challenge. I asked Bridgett and read Q and A pages, looking for a way to make it work. Then I found something by a knowledgable fellow who basically said, “Wordpress doesn’t want you to do this. It is made to not allow you to do this.” Hmmm. Well, then, I’ll do it another way.

So today I start doing it another way. I will hunker down and re-type my blogs about Lone Fir, using a split-screen to make sure I don’t drift too far from the originals. I will fetch my photos from Pictures and splice them in. I will tighten up language and get rid of repetition, while trying to keep the language fresh and fun.

I am excited about this new level of exposure for my writing, even though I have no idea where it may end up. As Gandalf said, “You never know what may happen, once you set foot outside your door.”

Off to write!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Mossy Goodness

Dear Liza,

Well, it’s raining again. The past few years, Portland has seen drier winters, and we seem to be making up for it now.

All this rain allows for some lovely, if damp, walks. It thins out the masked crowds at Laurelhurst Park.

And it waters the moss. Portland is a city upholstered with fluffy green moss. I love it!

Walls around houses or office buildings become tiny gardens.

The most common materials, like red bricks, become abstract pieces of art or wondrous topographical maps.

Our Lone Fir Cemetery is especially blessed. This grave, already overwhelmed with a maple tree, is softened with a velvety soft green blanket.

The moss isn’t greedy, though. It shares the walls, bricks, and graves with all sorts of plants and animals . After the moss has softened the stone, it holds on to the rain so ferns can take root.

Tiny flowers and entire ecosystems sprout from the fluffy dampness.

Maybe I will bundle up today and go enjoy some rainy, mossy, goodness. Or maybe I will stay warm and dry in my new pajamas and just write about it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

After Christmas Quiet

Dear Liza,

Even in lockdown, it felt like a rush before Christmas. Auntie Bridgett worked hard at SideStreet Arts Gallery making sure folks got their art gifts delivered. Last minute shopping, even online, is stressy. I baked for us, and extra for neighbors.

And now that the holiday has passed, it feels quiet. A little sad. A little more lonely than usual. In need of perspective, I went to visit the Dead People at Lone Fir Cemetery.

The place was more crowded than usual. There was a well-attended memorial for people who had been killed by police brutality, saying prayers for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others. There was also a private funeral in a far corner. Needing just my own company, I avoided both.

I saw what seemed like a million squirrels, mostly plump and happy, dashing about. This fluffy friend had found a corn cob and was enjoying herself heartily.

I stopped by the memorial for James Frush, beloved bar tender, who passed away in the 1870s. The story goes that when Mr. Frush died, his friends carried a large urn from his bar downtown, crossed the river on the ferry, and continued up the hill to the cemetery, to drink to his memory. How much truth is in this we may never know, but the current marker is delightful. Even more so at this time of year, as someone has placed festive fir branches and ribbon around it.

I left the cemetery feeling better, as usual, but I still don’t feel at peace. There is so much emotional support we are doing without these days, even in the midst of our own more-comfortable-than-many circumstances. I miss being able to visit and hug family and friends. I miss having options.

I will make some art, have some Christmas cookies, and take a nap. That should do the trick, for sure.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Art Crows

Dear Liza,

We have a lot of birds in Portland, but our most visible and noisy feathered friends are the crows. They are comfortable around people and don’t mind sharing our snacks or their opinions.

Waiting for the Queen….

There is a healthy flock (called a ‘murder’, in crow jargon) in our Lone Fir Cemetery, and a lady who comes to feed them every afternoon. She says she doesn’t know if she is their queen or their slave.

Quickened Towards all Celestial Things, by Julianna Paradisi

All this avian beauty is inspiring! I have photographed dozens of crows, and other artists have honored them, as well. Julianna Paradisi, a Portland artist, created the wonderful “Quickened Towards all Celestial Things” in 2018. That same year, I photographed it at the Artbar downtown.

Browsing old photos for inspiration yesterday, I found it again and hoped to reimagine it as a collage. I must admit, in my “I’m not an artist” days, I had assumed that artists just picked up a brush or pair of scissors and ‘whoosh!’ Art happened. But during my ‘quarantine art education’, I have learned there is a lot of making mistakes, starting over, and just keeping at something until it looks right.


This crow took many sketches and lots of staring and trimming before I was happy with it. Cut out of black card stock, it joined magazine clippings, the remainder of a few envelopes, and just enough paint to make it interesting.

Crow and its prototype
My own Paradisi Crow

Thanks, Julianna Paradisi! Thanks, crows!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Still Strong Inside

Dear Liza,

Our country seems to be in a dangerous place. Our people are fighting each other in Walgreens about wearing masks and in the streets over everything else. Our President is talking crazy about not leaving office when his time is up. People are worried about their health, their schools, and their jobs.

Last week, walking back from downtown, I passed this fallen oak tree in our Lone Fir Cemetery. It was one of the old ones, probably fifty feet tall, and had green leaves all over it. Five minutes before it had fallen, it had looked fine.

Hollow center of a giant

But now that I was able to see into the trunk, I could see the truth. It was rotten on the inside, hollow and useless. I had a shiver of bad literary juju. “That’s like us,” I thought. “We still live in nice houses and have luxuries, but our government has failed to protect us from the evil ambition of this President. We could fall any moment now.”

That sense of dread has stuck with me for days. It has given me nightmares. But it won’t stick around forever. There is still good in the world, and I went out and found some.

Vote of confidence on the Morrison Bridge

I love public art, especially the small bits that sneak up on you. It lets us see good intentions and know that the power for good is there, even when the artist has moved on.

Caring for tiny things on a side street

I love that more people are registering to vote and encourage others. I love that even “the other side” is taking steps to limit the damage to our Democracy. And I hope that when all this energy is acted upon, it will be enough.

Sticker art at Asylum
Always a good idea!

I send you waves of love and hope for a better day.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Time out of Joint

Dear Liza,

It is almost Autumn. School has started and leaves are beginning to change.

Fall color…

But in the bizarre world of Covid-19, it still feels like March. That’s when things closed down. That’s the last time I hugged Auntie Katie or the cousins. That’s when I sat at The Rocking Frog with Misha and chatted about regular life. As someone on TV said, during Covid, it is always sometime between breakfast and dinner, it is always NOW.


Visiting the dead people at Lone Fir Cemetery always puts things in perspective for me. These folks saw difficulties that make ours seem small. In the days before sanitation and vaccines, hundreds of babies died before their first birthday. Typhoid Fever, Spanish Flu, World Wars I and II took folks in their infancy or prime and there was nothing to be done for it.

Perspective

In comparison, being stuck at home is pretty small. Not going to camp is doable. We just need to get through this year, this election, this political and national health debacle, and come out the other side with our humanity intact.

Chestnuts are falling already….

So, remember to love each other, hug who you can. Pet dogs and smell flowers. Help those in worse situations than yours. Be your best self.

Love,

Grandma Judy