Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Role Memory Plays in Christmas

Published in the Minneapolis Star, Tuesday, December 25, 1979. (Images added)
"Free Christmas Dinner for Horses" Washington, D.C., 1918
                                         by TRILBY BUSCH (CHRISTENSEN)
                                              Of the Star's Board of Contributors  
  One of my father's favorite stories is about the childhood Christmases of his father's family. A century ago my grandfather, his 10 brothers and two sisters would awake at dawn on Christmas to rush downstairs for the goodies that their parents had labored hours to make and hang on the tree. In less than an hour all the edible decorations were gone, the candles burned out, the few toys broken.

  As a child, I was taken aback by my father's comic tale of Yuletide Darwinism. But now, a quarter of a century later, the family folktale for me has taken on a new significance.  Last year my father took me through narrow back streets in a grimy, decaying neighborhood in Pittsburgh to the scene of these Christmases past. We stood before a small, dilapidated two-story frame house surrounded by high weeds, broken bottles, old tires and other debris. Seeing the old house was the catalyst necessary for my altered perception of the meaning of my father's tale.
My great-grandparents' house at 625 Winfield Street in East Liberty, c. 1905. Both of the houses in the photo no longer exist.
                                                                      *    *
  Looking at the house, I see back to time when 15 people crowded into the three upper rooms of an urban worker's house. I see the children shivering from the cold, their breath like fog in the air as they stumble down the stairs in the half-light. They squirm with anticipation as their father lights the candles on the tree. As my great-grandfather Busch stands by with buckets of sand and water, hte children gaze at this once-a-year marvel. I see them all huddled around, watching the tree aglow with many tiny flames.
  A brief pause, and the children spring upon the tree and hungrily devour all its cookies, candies, and popcorn. When they get to the bare needles, the elder boys put on their Sunday suits, grab their coats, and are off into the raw, sooty morning, their boot-heels leaving shallow imprints in the frozen mud. Their father and mother repair to the warmth of the kitchen, where she tends to the goose and her small daughters, while he, over coffee, reminisces about childhood Weihnachten in the snowy spruce forests of Franconia. This is the one day in the year when they find escape from the 6-day-a-week, 12-hour-a-day drudgery of the steelworker's family. It is, in short, a holiday, a day to enjoy with family and friends.
Christmas truce between German and British troops, 1914.
                                                                          *    *
  Of course, this Christmas scene is not much different from thousands of other Christmas scenes in houses, tenements and farms across America at that time and for half a century afterward. It is no wonder that Christmas held such importance for these people in our recent past.  They drew upon European civilization for the symbols of the season--trees, candles, St. Nicholas.  But for its substance they turned to the story in Luke. It is a story of poor people: people pushed around by an oppressive imperial regime, people compelled to travel "so all the world might be taxed," people forced to take shelter in a stable. Yet, despite the suffering, they experienced the wonder and joy of a birth. In the middle of the night, in cold and darkness, it came upon them. They heard the angels. They saw the star. And they had hope.
Children’s Christmas party at the Lewis Center, 1925 Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection

  For most of us in America today there seems to be little remaining to link us with the experience of these Christmases past.
  We are well-fed, warm and comfortable. We clutch at the old symbols, making them more and more glossy and sophisticated. Still, a pall of vapid theatricality hangs over many of these seasonal pyrotechnics. The magnificence of the show belies the fear within. What we fear is so enormous, so abstract--violence, poverty, oppression, death--that it becomes difficult to deal with concretely.
Engraving of Leutze's famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River before the Battle of Trenton, Christmas 1776.
   Disturbed by the present, wary of the future, we often turn to the past for comfort. O, the good old days, those days of yore, when the landscape looked like a Currier and Ives print and life was infused with a quaint Dickensian charm.
  Surely those who lived through those days know that this sentimental vision is just another part of seasonal display of glitter. What is real is life as it is lived.. Paradoxically, in our desperation to prop up the moribund symbols of the past, we have passed by the only part of the past that still lives. It is, quite simply, old people. They especially can give us that exquisite gift that makes the past live again for us: memory.
A load of trees being delivered in NYC, 1910s.
   I have heard many old people--my relatives, my neighbors, my friends--speak of the Christmases of their youths: of the delight of awakening in a cabin in the Canadian wilderness to find an orange in your stocking and a tiny doll on the bare tree. . .of the fun in hitching up the family horses to pull a sleigh full of boisterous children around Lake of the Isles. . .of the brief joy in watching the candles burning on the tree. . .of the exultation in singing the old carols gathered around the parlor piano. There are bitter Christmas stories, too. . .of sweltering trenches on South Pacific beachheads. . .of lingering illness in an unheated walk-up apartment. . .of a winter storm lashing a ship in the treacherous North Atlantic.
S Army Pfc. Carl Anker, Pfc. Edmund Dill, and Sgt. Ted Bailey sharing the contents of the care package sent by Dill's wife for the Christmas holiday, somewhere in Europe, 1944.
   Yet somehow, the tellers survived to tell their tales. The people who have lived through the wars and economic depressions of this century have much to bequeath us. They survived; so may we. Their experiences comprise an intricate patchwork incorporating both the dark and bright sides of human existence, as does the story of Luke. If we seek hope, we may find it. But we will not find it through frivolous Yuletide cheer or in phony sentimentality. All we need do is put forward a simple request: "Please, Grandpa, tell me about the time when. . ."
A comic band, the Chelmsford Poor Law Institution House Officers Jazz Band, Chelmsford, Essex, Christmas 1920.
Apart from the piano, the instruments are all toys, probably kazoos. Reg Hall Collection.

TBC is editor of the Wedge, neighborhood newspaper of Lowry Hill East, and a member of the Minneapolis Historic Preservation Commission.
                                                                 *               *              *
                                           Happy Holidays

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Creepy Christmas Cards: Bizarro Victorian Holiday Greetings

  The first Christmas card was sent by a wealthy English businessman in 1843. Needless to say, these first holiday cards were only for the affluent. By the 1880s, after the custom had been well established in Germany, Canada and the U.S., as well as the U.K., many thousands of cards were being sent out. In parts of Britain postmen delivered them on Christmas morning.
The first Christmas card, with lines to add the sender's and recipient's name.
 While looking for photos to use in a holiday blog post, I became enthralled by the images of Victorian Christmas cards posted online.  What struck me immediately is that they are overwhelmingly secular and sometimes quite bizarre.  Most of them are romantic images: a hooded Father Christmas, rosy-cheeked little girls pulling sleds, flowers and greenery, angels, a well-heeled couple with their children admiring the tree.
  However, what interests me is not these beautiful visions but the weird, bizarre, and sometimes disturbing Victorian cards. Here is a selective sampling:
Juvenile delinquents gleefully pelt a police officer from behind with a snowball, "with the compliments of the season."

"May yours be a joyful Christmas," says the deceased bird. This type of card showing beautifully drawn dead birds was quite popular in the late 1800s. WTH? (This dead wren probably represents the disturbing custom in Ireland of boy-beggars killing these songbirds on St.Stephen's Day. See comment below.)

A posh "kindly robin" drops a berry into the hat of a crippled beggar-bird.
As with today's food marketing, in this card, animals are eager to be eaten. A turkey and a plum pudding (?!) ride pigs in a "dead heat for the plate."
A strangely dressed boy with a body like a woman's cracks the whip at a poodle riding a pig with a collar in "Hearty Greeting."
"A Merry Christmas to you," with a stab in the heart.
A dead chipmunk for you, master. I know that's what you wanted for Christmas.
Peter Rabbit wishes you a happy Easter, er, "Xmas."
A girl pulls a rickshaw while the one of the slacker boy passengers whips her on, "with loving Christmas greetings."
Look out! An emu brings "unwelcome Christmas greetings" in this Australian card.
A cautionary tale? Four frogs (who are prone to violence and mishaps in these cards) have taken a tumble on the ice, dropping their pipes. Don't smoke and skate?
My hands-down favorite: A mouse rides a (boiled?) red lobster, wishing the recipient "Paix, Joie, Sante, Bonheur," or "Peace, Joy, Health and Happiness."

 Merry Freakin' Victorian Christmas!
('Hope you weren't too creeped out.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Enter Ghost: A Twice-Told Tale

My collecting of ghost stories started in 1978 when the editor of "The Wedge", our neighborhood newspaper in Minneapolis, asked me to do an article on local haunted houses. At first I laughed at her request. But when she offered to give me names and contact info, I agreed to do it. And therein lies a tale--hundreds of tales, in fact.

After the stories of apparitions, shaking chests, levitating beds, and spooky footsteps appeared in "The Wedge", the editor of another newspaper called and asked me to do a story of hauntings in that neighborhood. After that, my story-collecting quickly snowballed. I became the local go-to person for ghost stories, either to tell or be told to. I've heard hundreds of stories from Minnesota and Pennsylvania, from all around the U.S., from Europe, even from Tibet.

One of my favorite pasttimes: telling ghost stories in the parlor of a Victorian house.

I couldn't resist putting a ghost story in Darkness Visible. I intentionally made it open to interpretation: Does Emlyn see a ghost, or is it a dream, or a mental projection? The reader can decide.

Much has changed about public attitudes since I started collecting stories. Twenty years ago tellers usually asked for anonymity for fear that people would scoff at them or think they were nuts. Today that fear has been overshadowed by an even scarier prospect: Paranormal investigators turning up on their doorsteps with gadgets and cameras, pleading to enter.

Forgive me, true believers, but I am skeptical about stories that have been told so often they wind up on numerous websites and sometimes on TV. For example, consider those about the Carnegie Library of Homestead. Some sites about the alleged hauntings warn you about entering the spooky library and music hall. You might see a steelworker in a hardhat or (horrors!) Andy Carnegie himself stalking the stacks.  Hmm.
Abandon hope, all ye who enter the Homestead library without a valid library card.
If a ghost of a steelworker is hanging out there, he's there to take out books. The mill gate was over a mile away, and no worker would be so goofy or disrespectful as to go the library wearing a hardhat. However, the good part of these stories is that they have boosted fundraising for the Homestead library.

My daughter Ceridwen captured this scary blue-shirted apparition going up the staircase in the west wing of the library building. 

The ghost of William Jennings Bryan reenacts his "Cross of Gold" speech that he delivered in the library music hall over a century ago. Oh, wait. That's me reenacting my part in the Franklin School 6th grade musical performed on that stage.
In this post I'd like to retell one of the ghost stories told to me by my father, Ed Busch. An avowed disbeliever in the paranormal, Dad, a born actor, loved telling stories. This one involves Woodlawn Avenue School (its official name), where Dad was librarian, science teacher, and drama coach for nearly three decades. The story involves strange events that took place in the auditorium, where my father directed and produced dozens of plays from the 1920s through the 1950s.
Ed Busch as the Giant trying to swat Jack in a rehearsal of "Jack and the Beanstalk", Woodlawn auditorium, 1940s?. (Photo by Erwin Koval)

As a child, I witnessed the climatic event in the haunting and didn't even know it. This is what happened: It was a winter evening in the early 1950s. I was sitting in the middle of the empty auditorium watching the dress rehearsal for "The Skull," a 1937 murder-mystery drama that Dad had produced several times before. The actors were reaching the conclusion of the play, where on the darkened stage, the actor playing the Skull appears in a skeleton costume glowing in the ultraviolet lights and is shot at by the detective who has pursued him.  The Skull leaped out, but before the other actor could fire the revolver (with blanks, of course) a thunderous boom reverberated throughout the auditorium. All action stopped. Dad jumped out of his place in the auditorium, and the stage hands turned on the lights. Everyone was momentarily stunned into silence, followed by excited speculation about what caused the explosive sound. There was no reasonable explanation. After ten minutes or so, action resumed and the rehearsal finished without incident.
Woodlawn auditorium shortly before demolition.

Dad didn't tell me the whole story and the background to it until I began collecting stories many years later.  He said that the doors to the left of the stage as one faced it would occasionally swing open and shut. Dad didn't pay it much attention at first, but one time when they opened and shut as he was approaching them from backstage, he did. Some students noticed it, too, and did some experimenting with opening outside doors and other doors to the auditorium to see if that would affect the movement of those particular doors. It didn't.

What Dad didn't tell the students is that he thought he knew the cause of the presumed haunting.  At the turn of the century, a man had been hanged from a tree on the knoll where the auditorium was built.  When the mysterious explosion occurred, Dad didn't mention this to anybody, partly because he didn't want to scare them, and partly because he didn't want them to think he was daft.
Woodlawn in happier (and smokier) days--from the 1939 Munhall yearbook.

I wonder if the site is still haunted.  The school sat vacant for a couple of decades before it was wrecked several years ago.  If I lived in the area, I'd go over on Halloween and check it out. Maybe some of you would like to take on that task.

But, a final word: In my experience as a collector of ghostlore I've found that a) ghosts don't perform on cue, b) ghostly activity is usually sporadic, with long periods between events, and c) the activity frequently fades, then disappears over time. Also, it's very easy to fake paranormal phenomena on digital video and images.

OMG! This image was captured at a ghost-storytelling. Get out the EMF meter! (Photo by Richard Mueller, Software Engineer/Web Designer)

In an ironic twist, this is a photo of the foyer in an 1898 mansion that was wrecked in 1935. The ghost, my granddaughter, has been Photoshopped in at right. (Image by Richard Mueller)

I've nothing against the popular and numerous paranormal shows on TV and the investigators searching for ghostly evidence. But my personal preference is to do as folks have done for centuries---sit around a candle in the dark and listen to--or tell--tales of specters, spooks, and spirits.

". . .suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door."
   Happy Halloween

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Second Battle of Blair Mountain: Lawyers, not Miners

Have you heard of the Battle of Blair Mountain? Until I began researching the 1892 Homestead Strike, I hadn't. In talking about Darkness Visible, I've found that most Americans haven't heard of the Homestead Strike, either. But the Battle of Homestead, terrible as it was, is not the most bloody clash between workers and company forces in the long and violent history of union organizing. That dubious honor goes to the Battle of Blair Mountain.
Sheriff's deputies firing at coal miners on Blair Mountain.
This battle took place in the mountainous southern coalfields of West Virginia exactly 93 years ago this Labor Day weekend. From August 30th to September 2nd in 1921, a battle between 15,000 striking coal workers and company-hired militia, backed by government forces, raged on Blair Mountain, West Virginia. Gas canisters and bombs left over from the World War were dropped by Army bombers on the workers. During the five-day fight, over 130 combatants were killed, with worker deaths outnumbering militia deaths at least three to one. 
An old miner at the Battle of Blair Mountain (Photo courtesy Emmett Ray Adkins)
The battle ended after nearly one million rounds of ammunition were fired, and the US Army was sent in to back up company forces, the state police, and the sheriff's department. Needless to say, the workers lost, and after the battle, 1,217 miners were indicted by the State of West Virginia for treason, murder, and other serious offenses. The West Virginia coalfields were not completely unionized until 1935, about the time the steelworkers' unions finally gained the status they had lost during the 1892 strike.
A train loaded with miners heading to the battlefield (Photo courtesy West Virginia and Regional History Collection)
But today the mountain battlefield is being threatened by two present-day versions of the 1920's coal companies, Arch Coal and Massey Energy. These coal corporations want to blast off the entire top of Blair Mountain, obliterating all traces of the battle and turning the site into a huge flattened-off stump. 

In 2008, Blair Mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, over the objection of the State of West Virginia, which had granted the companies permits to strip-mine the mountain. Nine months later, under political pressure, the National Park Service removed the site from the Register. For the past five years, a court battle has taken place pitting six environmental and historic preservation organizations (including the National Trust) against the strip-mining companies and government agencies. In 2012 a federal judge ruled against the preservation coalition. But last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overruled this decision, holding that historic preservation and environmental groups have legal standing in their campaign to protect the historic battlefield from mountaintop removal mining. 
Blair Mountain today (Photo courtesy of National Trust for Historic Preservation)
The future of the Blair Mountain battlefield site remains uncertain. Unlike Homestead, an urban area where River of Steel National Heritage Area Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area has been established to document and educate people about  the history of the 1892 strike and the communities of the Steel Valley, Blair Mountain is located in a remote, impoverished part of the Appalachian Mountains. The coalition of environmentalists and historic preservationists trying to protect it is up against the impressive power of the State of West Virginia and two of the largest strip-mining companies in the United States. 

It's a bitter irony that King Coal, which for years crushed and harassed the mining communities of the West Virginia coalfields is now trying to obliterate the site where the coal companies, aided by local, state, and federal forces, obliterated union organizing nearly a century ago.
What Blair Mountain would look like after mountaintop-removal mining.
On Labor Day, or any other day, it's important to remember these battles which shaped what America became--and the current battles that will shape what it will be in the future.
Like the story of the Homestead Strike, the story of Blair Mountain is a long and complex tale. If you would like to read more about it, here are a few resources:

"Coal Firms to Strip-Mine Historic Battlefield?" National Geographic, May 2012
"Coal Firms to Strip-Mine Historic Battlefield?" National Geographic, May 2012
"Blair Mountain: The History of a Confrontation" Preservation Alliance of West Virginia
"Blair Mountain: The History Of A Confrontation" Preservation Alliance of West Virginia

"The New Battle of Blair Mountain" Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, August 28, 2014
"The New Battle of Blair Mountain" Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, August 28, 2014 

Storming Heaven: A Novel Denise Giardina (1988)
Battle of Blair Mountain: The Story of American's Largest Labor Uprising Robert Shogan (2006)

"Matewan" John Sayles (1987)
Clip with James Earl Jones and Chris Cooper
Clip with James Earl Jones and Chris Cooper
"You think this man is the enemy? Huh? This is a worker! Any union keeps this man out ain't a union, it's a goddam club! They got you fightin' white against colored, native against foreign, hollow against hollow, when you know there ain't but two sides in this world - them that work and them that don't. You work, they don't. That's all you get to know about the enemy."--Joe Kenehan in "Matewan"

Joe Kenehan arrives in Matewan, West Virginia

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Search of the Katilius-Wisnauskas Ancestors

                                In Memoriam
   Jean McGeever Benton  March 4, 1945-September 29, 2014 


The "new" Katilius furniture store at 401 E. 8th Avenue, 1976. Photo by Ed Busch.
Last summer I returned to the hometown of my paternal great-grandfather John Paul Busch in Germany, the inspiration for the character Karl Bernhard. (See "150 Years: Retracing John Paul's Footsteps" Sept. 2013)  This year it was time to visit the country where my mother's family came from, Lithuania. In June four Katilius cousins and two spouses, Larry and Cherry Baugher, Jean Benton, Ruth and Randy Fertelmes, and I embarked on a trip to the Baltic states.  Last but not least on our tour was Lithuania, where we made a pilgrimage to the places from which our grandparents emigrated.

The Shefsky (aka Wisnauskas) women in 1939: Kay, Grandma Theresa, Helen, Frances (Mum), Grandma's sister Jessie with her daughter Katherine (front).

Eighth Avenue, Homestead, 1920, a few years after my grandfather opened his music and jewelry store at 505.
Eddie, cousin Kay Ward, and Bernie in front of 505.

 My mother's parents came to the United States after the 1892 strike. However, my mother's memories of Homestead between the world wars played a significant role in the recreation of the town in Darkness Visible.  From the 1890s through World War II, Homestead was largely a community of immigrants. This post is about one family's roots in the Old World, a story that is similar to that of many others who emigrated from Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century.

For us Katilius cousins it was a bittersweet journey back to our ancestors' homeland. We found the towns, but also found that very little remained of them from the years our grandparents lived there--wars and oppression had obliterated much. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable trip in search of heritage.
                                                                         Helsinki, Finland

Full moon over the Canadian arctic, 2 a.m. on the Icelandair flight to Europe.                                      

Cousin Jean Benton and I started the trip in Helsinki. The harbor.
Our "cellblock" in the unique Hotel Katanjanokka, a former prison.
Jean and I in the "prison" breakfast room, wearing our wool sweaters. The weather was quite cool throughout the trip, highs under 60F, rainy.

The dog park near our hotel in Helsinki. Dogs all speak the same language.

The ticket hall in Helsinki's Central Railway station  (1919). The architect is Eliel Saarinen, who won the contest to design it (1904). In 2013 it was chosen as one of the world's most beautiful railway stations by BBC. Saarinen also designed the exquisite Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis (1949).

The old Helsinki Customs House, a short walk from our hotel and near the ferry docks.

One of the many islands that make up the city of Helsinki, as seen from the ferry to Tallinn.

Tallinn, Estonia

Larry's wife Cherry in front of Catherinethal Palace outside Tallinn, built by Peter the Great for (who else?) Catherine the Great (1718-25). It's really great. Cherry wanted her picture taken in front of this palace that bears the name of many of the women in our family, including her granddaughter and mother-in-law.
One of the structures in the open-air folk museum on the Baltic outside of Tallinn. One of the guides told me that the eastern end of Estonia is presently home to 6,000 gray wolves, over 2,000 more than Minnesota has.

The beautiful view of the Old City from the top of Toompea district hill. St. Olaf's Church in the distance used to be the highest structure in Europe, 1649-1725. After the spire was hit by lightning and was incinerated 8 times, they decided to shorten it. During the Soviet era, the KGB used it as their radio tower.
Our family group after a lovely traditional ethnic meal in  restaurant on the Old City Square in Tallinn.(l-r) Ruth, husband Randy, Cherry, Larry, Jean, me.
The door to the kitchen of the restaurant pictured above. I think it charming that the Estonian word for kitchen is "kook."
The Church of the Holy Spirit (Anglican) in Tallinn, c. 1600. The majority of Finns, Estonians, and Latvians are Lutheran.
A typical Baltic brick church (this, a Russian Orthdox one) in a village about 30 miles south of Tallinn. Small world department: Our Estonian driver had lived for a year in Minneapolis--on Emerson Ave., just six blocks from me. He told me the story of his grandfather's harrowing escape from the Russians, who were trying to deport him to Siberia for the second time. The grandfather leaped from the train as it picked up speed outside of Riga.  He was not re-captured.

Sacred grove, fairy circle. Nisse ring, whatever, at an Iron Age settlement. The trees are different varieties and no one knows why they are growing in a circular formation. Our guide gave a great two-hour history of Latvia, 1100-1800. At Turida Castle.

Cousins passing by guys re-laying the Belgian blocks (what we called them in Homestead) in a Riga Old Town lane.
Weird 'Hobbit' hotel room in Riga with the floor on 15- degree slant and massive supporting beams. If you fell out of bed, you'd roll toward the door. What can you expect from a structure that's over 400 years old?

My son-in-law Richard Mueller designed an interactive tour of the Riga ghetto for the Riga Ghetto and Holocaust Museum, so I wanted to see the real place. This stone marks a park that was once a large Jewish cemetery. Bits of the grave markers can be seen underneath the covering of grass.

Richard: The green building was where the jail was, and behind it, the gallows. See this place on the interactive tour. Click on

One of a number of fantastic Art Nouveau buildings in Riga designed by Mikhail Eisenstein, father of the Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein.

Looking down from the top of the  Hill of Crosses in Siauliai. This hill became a symbol of opposition to Soviet oppression, a very famous site in Lithuania. Not a cemetery, it's a memorial of crosses, rosary beads, holy pictures, etc. from people of many nations. To be frank, while appreciating the symbolic statement, I found the hill to be a bit creepy.
German writer Thomas Mann's summer house on the Curonian Spit, where he wrote Joseph and his Brothers (1930-32).
Jean writing "Katilius" on the beach of the Baltic Sea as Cherry looks on.
 A specialty of Lithuanian kitchens, a potato dumpling. Not a low-fat, low-calorie meal.
Sunset, 10 p.m., the Eve of St. John, in Kaunas.
Our grandfather Anton Katilius (center) in a farewell ceremony in Pilvieskiai, as he prepared to leave for America in 1901. I asked a number of people on both sides of the Atlantic about the fabric piece he's holding.  I finally got an answer from our translator/guide Iliona: it's a commemorative towel, embroidered with mementos of family members. He never returned.

Our Grandfather Katilius's hometown Pilviskiai, around the turn of the last century. This is how he would have remembered it. Today, none of the buildings in this photo remain. (Photo: Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem.)

All that was left of the 19th century Catholic church in Pilviskiai after the town was bombed and shelled during WWII. In fact, little remains of the town as it existed before the war.

The Catholic cemetery in Pilviskiai. We searched the cemetery for markers with our family name, but found none. The vast majority of graves are 20th century.
Our translator/guide Iliona, with a local man she met at the Pilviskiai cemetery.  He, Iliona, and the local doctor, who was also at the cemetery placing a votive candle, tried their best to help us find Katiliuses. No luck. After 113 years, this outcome is not surprising.
The house and side yard of a family named Katilius in Pilviskiai. No one was home. Note the roof, which, like the roofs of thousands of other cottages from the Soviet period, is made of asbestos.

Prienai, the town that Grandma's family emigrated from in 1897, in the early 1900s. As with Pilvieski, Prienai also got reduced to rubble during the war. Grandma's family surname is spelled various ways. I'm using the Lithuanian version.  The most common spelling is the Polish "Wisniewski." (Photo: Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem.)
The surprising remnant of the past in Prienai: The Church of the Visitation. Built in 1750, it is one of the oldest wooden churches in the country.  How it survived the various wars that ravaged the country during the past 2 1/2 centuries is miraculous. It's the one building still standing that our ancestors likely knew.

A side aisle in the all-wood church, showing the folkloric stenciling.

The exterior of the Church of the Visitation: whitewashed logs. It's constructed much like old American log cabins with squared logs and dove-tailed joints. The polished, elaborately decorated interior is quite a contrast to the homely exterior.

Jean spreading some of her mother Helen's ashes in the churchyard at Prienai.
The large old cemetery in Prienai. As in Pilvieski, we searched the entire cemetery for ancestors' names, but found none.

Two million people joined hands in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to create the Baltic Chain on August 23, 1989 in protest against the Soviet occupation. This square marks ground zero of the chain in Vilnius.
Dome of the Baroque masterpiece, SS. Peter and Paul's Basilica in Vilnius, 1701. Many Lithuanian churches are dedicated to these saints, as was the one in Homestead (see last photo below). The gorgeous crystal ship, a reference to Peter, was made by Latvian craftsmen in 1905.

These cottages are typical of the thousands of Soviet-era dwellings built in Lithuania during the occupation. The war had devastated the countryside, and these little houses were built to house the surviving population.

Swans and ducks swimming in a pond by the inn where we watched them make "tree cakes" by dripping batter on a metal form in front of an open fire. On our trip, we also saw quite a few storks, a symbol of good fortune--and an important figure in folklore. In Aukštaitija National Park.

Looking down from our third-floor room in the hotel in Vilnius. Part of the medieval city wall is at the back of the garden.

At the Vilnius Airport, about to go our separate ways. Ruth and Randy left on an earlier flight.
 (r-l) Larry, Jean, Cherry, me.                                                                                                                           
Since Bernie's son Mark moved to Colorado, no Katiliuses live in the Homestead area anymore. Three still live in southwestern Pennsylvania, Marge (Kay's daughter) Ruth (Eddie's daughter), and Rick (Eddie's son). Four of us went to the Munhall schools and four to the West Homestead schools. Now we are scattered around the country in six states: Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Florida, Minnesota, Colorado, and California. 505 was wrecked for government highrise housing, 401 is now a mattress store, and Grandpap's farm in Butler County is being developed into a tract of McMansions. Nevertheless, we cousins will never forget the legacy our grandparents and parents left us.  After our visit to Lithuania, we appreciate all the more the efforts they made to become Americans and to build a new home for their descendents in the New World.
Easter Sunday, 1976, at SS. Peter's and Paul's Lithuanian Catholic Church in Homestead. My mother Frances is the one in the center with sunglasses. Fr. Plantis gave masses in Lithuanian and English. In the 1990s, the Pittsburgh diocese closed the church and the building was sold to The Life Churches.  Today, of the numerous ethnic Roman Catholic Church congregations that once worshiped in Homestead, only one remains, St. Ann's. Phoro by Ed Busch.
"Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch."
--T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Jean and I after testing the waters of the Baltic Sea in Lithuania. Jean, RIP.