Ten Years Ago


by Terry Hogan


It was ten years ago that my first article (August 24, 1995, The Amazing Amazon) appeared in The Zephyr. It did not appear as a Backtracking article. Oddly enough, it was a rewrite and amended letter that I had written to Martin Litvin, one of Galesburg’s local writers, now deceased. The letter was about a recent vacation that my wife and I had taken on the Amazon River in Peru.  My wife is the adventurer.  I tag along and (unsuccessfully) try to stay out of trouble.


I had met Martin some time before at the Galesburg Library.  He was researching material for a book and I was doing some genealogical research on my Williamson family line. I was looking at old newspaper articles on microfilm and wanted to print out copies but I couldn’t find where to stick the coins to pay for the printing function on the reader.  I asked the guy next to me, who turned out to be Martin.  Odd how things start.  We began corresponding and exchanging research information.


I wrote Martin the letter about the vacation on the Amazon River in a little turn-of-the century (1900) boat and the associated trials and tribulations.  I got a call from Martin and it was about the possibility of printing that portion of the letter (suitably edited) in The Zephyr.  I agreed to provide some photos to go along with it. This grew into the Backtracking column which is mostly about genealogy and local history. 


Occasionally I have branched out into other areas such as the Madison (IN) Hydroplane race, the Stearman Fly-in, and even the occasional real news item such as the implosion of the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, and a plane crash at the Quad Cities airport.  (The last item I stumbled on by accident when dropping my brother and his wife off for their return flight to New Hampshire.  This confirms the adage, “better lucky than good.”)


Ten years after the first article, I’m still writing and Norm is still publishing my articles when the alternative is an embarrassing white spot on the otherwise printed page.  Publishers hate that.  I think I’m a better writer now.  At least I’m more relaxed about it.  Ten years practice should be good for something. My writing is now sprinkled with incomplete sentences, generally with knowledge and forethought, or so I claim.  I think of it as a writing style. (I also can’t be “marked down” by an English teacher).  Speaking of English teachers, I’m not sure who is more surprised by this turn of events.  I believe it is fair to say that none of my English teachers ever encouraged me to pursue writing.  In fact, when I started Knox College, I was encouraged to take a remedial (non-credit) English class.  That was pretty humbling.          


I have help with my articles.  I need all the help I can get.  My wife, Louise, edits most of the articles, except when she is out of town being a grandmother in Michigan.  She knows my habitual errors and catches them quickly.  I always use “that” or “which” instead of “who” when referring to people. She catches me every time.  Old habits are hard to break and get harder every day.


After ten years, I am finding local historical topics more difficult to root out and write about.  Some topics are of particular interest to me, so I run the risk of writing about them too often. Carl Sandburg, Bishop Hill, Lake Bracken, our grandchildren, and the genealogical research of the Hogan and Williamson family lines are among my favorite topics.


Sometimes I get lucky and topics come to me by email.  Folks either make a suggestion for a topic, or contact the paper about an area they are researching.  Other times, I get feedback from an article as it touches on an area that someone is researching or writing about.  This is nice too.  It is good to know that someone out there is reading the column.


As I avoid politics, religion, and generally writing about live folks, Backtracking is not a common topic in the Letters to the Editor portion of The Zephyr.   I think I’ve only “ticked off” one reader that I know of.  He didn’t like my treatment of the Greathouse family in an article entitled Worse than a Horse Thief.  The story grew out of genealogical research I was doing on the Greathouse family line. I attributed the outbreak of an Indian war (Lord Dunmore’s War) to atrocities committed by some Greathouses who disliked Indians. These men killed unarmed family members of Chief Logan.  Chief Logan’s lament became reading material in Duffy’s Readers for years.  Unfortunately, at the time of Chief Logan’s writing, he incorrectly believed that the villain was a guy by the name of Cresap.  A Greathouse descendant wrote to The Zephyr suggesting that my facts were wrong and I wasn’t a very good researcher.  Oddly enough, it was an article that I had provided my references, all of which were published and some going back to the time that the events took place.    I have made a number of mistakes, both big and small, over the years, but I don’t believe this was one of them.  But I do appreciate that he read the article and wrote to the paper. Like I said, it is nice to know somebody is reading the column, even if he disagrees.


Over the years, I hope that I have occasionally presented something interesting, amusing, or useful to you.  In the historical area, I hope that once in awhile, you think, I didn’t know that.  Or in the genealogical area, you may occasionally find a helpful tip in tracking down that elusive ancestor.  Occasionally, I think I’ve confused some readers. I once wrote a fictional story about Christmas Eve during the Civil War.  It involved a mysterious train that traveled down the “Q” tracks, stopping at towns and small farms, dispensing food and gifts for man and beast during the night while folks were asleep. I wrote the story as if I was simply retelling a local story. I thought it was a good story.  I liked it.  But I have learned that my judgment of my writing often is not shared by others.  I had an acquaintance tell me, shortly after the article appeared, that she had never heard that story before.


In the ten years, there have been a lot of changes, both for me and for Galesburg.  Some of the changes seem to run in parallel.  Galesburg has been hit repeatedly by the loss of industry and associated jobs.  I also lost my job of nearly 25 years by the consolidation of the electric utility industry.  The utility that I worked for was bought by another, and is the tradition in such cases, massive “down-sizing” occurred, with the company going from 2,200 employees to about 1,300. I was one of the statistics. But I was lucky and I started another job the day after my departure from the utility industry. 


During the ten years, Louise and I have become grandparents of five living grandchildren.  Some of whom have been subjects of articles in the column.  We really enjoy them.  As some old sage once said, The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well, is that they have a common enemy.  Enemy is too strong. But, in moderation, it is fun to watch your children deal with the same issues that they had presented to you about two decades earlier. On the other hand, it is also hard to keep from offering advice when you see errors being made.  You know they’re errors, because you made them years ago.


But for those two or three faithful out there who read the column, I thank you.  And if you have some good ideas for articles, let me know by emailing or writing to The Zephyr.


Happy Anniversary.