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|Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt||A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan||Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli|
by Bill Blauvelt
Until the current work replacing sidewalks in downtown Superior began, many regular visitors to the downtown had no idea they were walking over underground rooms.
Having been a lifelong resident of Superior, I assumed all downtown districts were much like the one in my home community and gave little thought to the sub-terrain rooms associated with many of our business buildings. Apparently that is not true. Thanks to the current construction project, the number of sub-terrain Superior rooms is shrinking.
I've been asked if the rooms were in someway tied to clandestine activities or if they provided below ground connections with nearby buildings.
In some communities such rooms may have been linked to clandestine activities but I'm not aware of that being the case here.
Superior's under sidewalk rooms provided light and access to basement shops. Some served as coal bins where fuel used to heat the building was stored.
The rooms came in all sizes. Some were just large window wells. Others were much larger. In many locations open stairwells went down to basement shops. Sometimes wells were located in the rooms.
One of the largest rooms was in front of the building now occupied by Superior Physical Therapy. That room is the full width of the building and extends nearly to the curb.
I'd like to know why it was so large and how it was configured when the building was constructed about 130 years ago. The front wall of the building's basement had two windows and a door which opened into the sub-terrain room. Before the new sidewalk is poured, those openings will be sealed with concrete blocks.
Like the building it is attached to, the walls of the sub-terrain room are made of bricks that likely were made in a local brickyard. The front or western wall is curved which I suspect was done to add strength.
Steel beams currently hold up the reinforced concrete ceiling. Shipping information chalked on the beams indicated they were shipped to the Johnston Brothers' hardware company. That store was located on the lot next door and closed sometime before 1904. I suspect the concrete deck was added after the building was built for it provided for a stairway entrance through what originally may have been a window.
In addition to the steel beams, the room has heavy wooden timbers set below the deck. I suspect those timbers were used by an earlier deck.
When I was a youngster, I used the stairs which went through the window to visit the bicycle repair shop located in the basement. Over the years the basement housed a number of businesses including shoe repair shop, barber shop, cafe and bowling alley. The front entrance was permanently closed about 30 years ago.
Some of the property owners have been reluctant to see their rooms removed but the cost of complying with current building codes make preservation financially impossible. To preserve the room in front of Superior Physical Therapy would have cost more than $70,000 and would have denied access to the building's front street level door for more than 30 days. Engineers said the brick walls had to be replaced with poured concrete, the deck was to be made with 12-inch thick concrete and the room would have had to have ventilation, lighting and drainage.
We know about the forgotten rooms today but as the years pass I suspect they will again be forgotten. Imagine 100 years from now when an inquisitive person opens the door in the basement of the present Physical Therapy building to find a cement block wall?
I envision a reporter writing a story for this newspaper about a , "Mysterious wall found behind a basement door. Where did the blocked passage lead to? Why was it closed? What went on there?" Perhaps the curious will chip away the blocks only to find the massive block of concrete which was poured to fill former room. Will the investigators blast or tunnel into that concrete looking to find a lost treasure? If so, all they will find is a few things thought to be of no value when left behind in 2018.
If I was a good fiction writer, I could use the rooms as the setting for a number of stories. For example, a story printed in a 1918 issue of this newspaper could be embellished and tied to the Superior sub-terrain room located in front the Cuff & Groves pool hall which for decades was known as The Smoke House.
The real story printed by The Express 100 years ago told about County Attorney Simms and Sheriff Gates along with Deputy Sheriff Wm. Barrows, making a trip to Lawrence in the spring of 1918. There they raided a gambling joint located in the back room of a Lawrence business.
The report indicated there had been for a number of months complaints coming from some of the citizens in that neighborhood indicating the soft drink emporium and pool hall had been running a little side issue in one of the back rooms. The complaint finally came to the county attorney who with the assistance of the sheriff and deputy raided the place and found an extraordinary supply of poker chips, punch boards, and other items probably related to gambling.
W. D. Moore, Ray McIllice and Theodore Fisher were arrested. When they appeared before Judge Brown, Moore enter a guilty plea to two counts and the fine was placed at $50 and costs on each. Ray McIllice, proprietor of the establishment, also entered a guilty plea on two counts. He was penalized $50 on one and $5 on the other plus costs. Fisher drew the fine of $10 and costs. They all voluntarily agreed that from then on no gambling of any kind would be permitted in their places of business.
I could write stories about fugitives hiding in the rooms. Or perhaps rooms being used to store bootleg beverages.
In more recent years I have been told there was a Superior man who maintained a gambling room on the second floor of a commercial building but it was never raided and since I have no proof of its existence it is best I not discuss that enterprise in this column this week.
A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan
The funeral for Kathy's brother, Steven E. Mulcahy, on Friday,
was the most crowded I've ever seen Holy Cross Catholic Church
in Omaha, except Christmas and Easter. And it was quite colorful.
There were Steve's former Boy Scouts from his leader days, grown men with beards and children, wearing their old scout uniforms. There were Steve's former teammates from his rugby playing days, in appropriate rugby attire. There were union carpenters and all manner of other tradesmen representing their union. Steve was a negotiator with the carpenter's union in Omaha for a number of years, his last full-time job before he became ill. There were members of the local Knights of Columbus and Ancient Order of Hibernians chapters, both of which I believe he belonged to at some point.
At age 57, Steve left behind six children, the oldest just finishing a master's degree in Canada, the youngest still in high school; his father, nearly 90 years old; two older brothers and two younger sisters (one of them my wife); 17 nieces and nephews; and five great-nieces and -nephews.
He was six foot-five inches tall and had the largest hands and feet I'd ever seen. I know he had trouble buying shoes. We discussed it. Hard to believe such a big, strong, smart guy can be gone, just like that.
Kathy did the first "reading" in the funeral Mass; Steve's teenage daughter was to do the second. She told Kathy beforehand she might not be able to do it, and Kathy told her to do it if she could, but not to worry about it. When it came time for the second reading, the poor girl didn't budge, so Kathy rose and did that one as well. She read beautifully. I don't know how. Steve's older brother was also a deacon during the funeral, and he held it together well, until Holy Communion.
Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli
The country roads are wet and muddy. Rain came most of the
weekend and into this week, with even more forecast. Road ditches
are full, creeks are flowing and fields are soaked. Our farm's
driveway is full of puddles. A foggy mist settled in early in
the week. Fall harvest and wheat planting are at a stand still.
Out our living room window, the front yard water fountain is filled to the brim. The flowers and yard are clean and bright. My husband left the pick-up in the driveway, so it could get a "free truck wash." When will it let up?
I tried to keep busy inside the dry house by doing the regular Monday wash. I'm thankful for modern washers and dryers so the washing can be done without having to find a dry place to hang the wet clothes. With regular, daily household duties done, I wondered what to do next. There is always something that needs done in the house, but on rainy days, my ambition is gone. As I looked at the rain drops on the kitchen window, I thought back to rainy days of my youth and how I occupied my time.
I was raised in a large, two story farmhouse. We had enough bedrooms that one of them was a play room. This room was filled with shelves of story books. Dolls of all shapes and sizes were stationed in their high chairs or cradles. Toys were here and there to play with at any time. Most hours on a rainy day were in this room, listening to the rain fall on the porch roof. The sweet smell of Mom's cinnamon rolls coming out of the oven would float up the open stairway and into the play room. My sister and I would race down to get a taste of the warm rolls. Mom liked time outdoors, but on rainy days, she turned her oven on and did some baking. Other rainy or winter days, my sister and I would be seated at the dining room table or on the floor with a pencil and scissors close by as we designed clothes for our paper dolls out of the colorful pages in the Penney's catalog.
On a warm spring or summer rainy day, sometimes we'd get to run outside and dance in the rain. Barefooted, my sister and I jumped from one mud puddle to the next, getting each other muddy and wet. It was fun to laugh and dance in the rain.
Today's rains seem to be wished away by most, because they know the farm works needs to be completed, but I can't help myself. I still enjoy rainy days and all the fun, rainy day memories.