Why I started this...
It all begins about ten years ago when I first started the This Day in Topeka History blog for TOPEKA magazine. For this project that ran three years--- discontinuing after I was working full-time at the school and chose to move on to other projects--from a time perspective it was a huge commitment---I almost exclusively used old newspapers. In the course of the three years, I read thousands of newspapers. Nathan Pettengill, my editor and I, being who we are, tried to have equal representation from each newspaper and we tried to have a wide range of topics (although early on we discovered that quirky items and bicycle related items got the most hits so we changed strategies--some) and I discovered the Plaindealer and Nick Chiles.
The Plaindealer stood out not for it's great verbage--which it had/has; but because Nick Chile's daughter, Thelma. Her picture was on the front page or there was a couple line blurb about her in nearly every edition. This was unusual, endearing and fascinating. Who was this newspaper owner? Obviously he was not a run of the mill guy. I was intrigued. So was my editor, Nathan . And I have been ever since. But, never have I had the time or the reason to thoroughly research him. So, this spring while searching for scholarship opportunities, I found the Tilden non-academic research grant through KSHS. I talked to Cherylene Lovett the librarian at school and I decided on a lark, never thinking that I would get a grant to apply. I wrote the application and sent it off. To my surprise, in late June I got a letter--I received the grant. In no way is this grant enough to pay for my time or research costs, but it is something that is making me focus in and research.
I see this as a 3-5 year project, with periodically published articles that spin off from it and at the end a book? If nothing else, a Shawnee County Historical Society bulletin.
So, today I am deep into reading about Chiles, Vardeman and William Jennings Bryan. Yikes! I have always found Benjamin "Pitchfork" Tillman to be repugnant and I have generally avoided him. It makes me uncomfortable. Physically as well as mentally. As I read, I writhe in my seat, shift my position, get up and get more coffee. I try to avoid it by surfing facebook, writing on this blog, whatever, but I have a goal for each day--which is really a minimum and I am disciplined, I am a historian, my mantra is "learning begins at the end of your comfort zone" and this puts it to the test. I need to know more about Tillman and guys like Tillman to understand the time period, the South, and of course Chiles. Tillman and Chiles were both from South Carolina, Chiles left, Tillman became a symbol for the state..if I saw that coming I would have left too, it makes me think more of Chiles, smart, smart guy. William Jennings Bryan is a little easier to swallow, but also difficult to understand, he flip flopped, he was inconsistent.