Category Archives: history

Why voting is vital for a democracy

flash flooding, Rockingham Co. VA

Fire and EMS volunteers work a water rescue.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I believe that to be effective, to be relevant, to be dynamic, to be healthy, a democracy depends on its citizens interacting. There are many ways to be involved in the lifeblood of the country.

Some citizens choose to serve the country directly by participating in its infrastructure. They join the military. They work in public institutions like schools, hospitals, police and fire services, and work in government agencies. Some even run for public offices.

Of course, not everyone feels called or led to do any of those actions. They prefer the private domain. They farm, run their own business, keep house, work in an office or factory or restaurant or drive trucks or fix the plumbing. They, too, keep our country humming.

There is one common denominator that we all can do, however. This action is an equalizer to ensure that our democratic republic thrives and survives. We can vote. Each and every citizen 18 years and older is entitled to vote by merely being registered.

Voting was designed as the means to democracy. It is a process as much as an ideal.

Historically, only white male property owners could vote. As our democracy evolved, women and minorities eventually gained the right to vote, too.

In our grand experiment of democracy, voting was established to ensure a grassroots stability to local, state, and federal government assemblies and their representative agencies.

Ideally, the vote of its citizenry was designed to be the final check on the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. That methodology creates ebbs and flows in the democratic process that gives angst to some and satisfaction to others. That is how democracy works, lives, continues.

That is true, however, only if voters indeed vote.

Winston Churchill was purported to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” In truth, Churchill merely paraphrased another individual without attribution. So the originator of that wisdom has never been determined.

What is clear from that quote is that societies need some form of government to remain civil, efficient, effective, and stay within their realm of responsibilities. To be sure, different people have different perspectives on how those principles are achieved.

Again, that is why voting is so critical. The idea of one person, one vote is carried out in a representative form of government such as ours. That representation is manifested through elections.

I remember as a youngster going back to the elementary school where I attended to watch my father mark his paper ballot before the polls closed. My parents wanted me to experience the political process first-hand.

Many years ago my adult Sunday school teacher and friend, a peer about my age, presented a lesson on the separation of church and state. He used that as a foundation to explain why he never voted.

If you don’t vote, don’t complain.

I listened intently to all of his logical reasons. When he had finished, my reply caught him off guard.

I said, “All the reasons you listed not to vote are exactly why I do vote.” He respectfully accepted my response as I did his conviction not to vote based on his religious beliefs. That is as it should be.

The right to vote comes with an important caveat. In exercising that right, voters need to educate themselves on the issues and candidates, and the various positions held before going to the polls.

In other words, do your homework, and then for the sake of the country, go vote.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

1 Comment

Filed under column, history, human interest, news, writing

The Embalming House

McGaheysville VA, Rockingham Co. VA, Halloween

The Embalming House.

With Halloween season in full swing and the day itself less than a week away, I wanted to join the fun. As we continue to explore our new Virginia haunts (pun intended), we keep encountering fantastic scenery and intriguing architecture all across Rockingham Co.

On our latest exploration, we visited the burg of McGaheysville (pronounced MaGakiesville) southeast of Harrisonburg. We found a cute little shop, some Civil War era farm homes and a doctor’s office/residence combination. A historical placard indicated that the building across the road from the doctor’s place was the embalming house. I thought that was both convenient and a subtle inference of the former physician’s medical prowess.

“The Embalming House” wasn’t much to look at, but it was more than appropriate for my Halloween Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

9 Comments

Filed under architectural photography, history, holidays, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia

Enhance your trip: Make it personal

Rochester NY, Pont De Rennes bridge

High Falls

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I share a mutual love for travel. To explore and learn together about new locations, people, and their mores substantially enriches our married life.

Adding family and friends into our forays gives us even greater joy. Our son recently moved to upstate New York, which gave us the perfect excuse to visit him and the Rochester area for the first time.

Nathan had moved to Rochester for a new job opportunity. He was effusive about the natural beauty and the many cultural and culinary opportunities that the city and surrounding area afforded.

Even before our flight from Virginia had landed, we saw what Nathan meant. The side-by-side Finger Lakes became elongated mirrors, beautifully reflecting the morning sunshine. That sight alone refreshed our spirits since rain persisted in Virginia.

The plane’s final approach to the airport took us right over downtown Rochester, a metropolitan area of a million folks. I caught a brief glimpse of a lovely waterfall in the heart of the center city.

Nathan picked us up, and we headed straight to his new apartment, a considerable downsize from his old Dutch colonial Ohio home. We immediately shared his satisfaction with his housing selection. He had bright and spacious living quarters in a stately Victorian that had been converted to accommodate several apartments.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

His new digs are ideally situated among other splendid old homes on tree-lined streets and boulevards. His place affords many amenities. It’s near downtown, trendy eateries, renowned museums, and art galleries. Nathan had chosen well.

Another personal plus for us was that retired friends from Ohio live just a mile away from our son. We caught up with them over brunch the next morning.

Of course, Nathan wanted us to experience a sense of his new stomping grounds. So off we went, walking and driving to area attractions over our long-weekend stay. The moderately rolling landscape dotted with mixed woodlots and ravines carved by ancient streams felt like home, both Ohio and Virginia.

We packed a lot in during our short stay. We toured the art gallery, wandered through an old mansion and accompanying gardens, dined at locally-owned and operated restaurants, discovered lighthouses, felt the cool north breeze off Lake Ontario, and sampled delicious home-made ice cream more than once. We admired the cityscape view from Cobb’s Hill and watched the autumnal equinox sunset from atop a skyscraper.

I found familiarity driving up Mt. Hope Avenue to Mt. Hope Cemetery. I had served 21 years as principal at Mt. Hope Elementary School in Mt. Hope, Ohio. More importantly, we toured the historic cemetery that holds the graves of social pioneers Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony.

Though I had never been there, it felt like I had. The old cemetery was established on glacial kame and kettle topography. It was the same glacier that formed the similar rolling hill and valley landscape of Holmes County, Ohio where Neva and I had built our homes, cultivated our marriage, raised our son and daughter, and fulfilled our careers.

Of course, we had to find those downtown waterfalls, too. Soon we stood on the Pont De Rennes footbridge admiring High Falls with the cityscape as its backdrop, and all the sights and sounds of a busy 21st-century city. I absorbed all that I could, ecstatic for our son.

Like most travelers, I greatly enjoy exploring new haunts and all they have to offer. When the excursion involves family and friends, the trip becomes even that more meaningful.

autumnal equinox sunset, Rochester NY

Final glow of the autumnal equinox sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

3 Comments

Filed under architectural photography, column, family, friends, history, human interest, nature photography, photography, travel, writing

Bridge to Brew

Genesee Beer, Rochester NY

Our final approach to the Rochester, New York airport took us right over the city. From the plane, I spied some impressive waterfalls in the heart of the city’s downtown. I had to photograph them.

I learned there were actually two waterfalls in the city, Lower Falls and High Falls. I had seen the latter. I discovered that the best place to photograph the falls was from the Pont de Rennes bridge, which we accessed from Brown’s Race Historic District in downtown.

Built in 1891, the bridge originally carried traffic on Platt St. across the Genesee River. In 1982, the bridge became a pedestrian bridge as part of the historic district.

The late afternoon sun was shining brightly when my wife, son, and I stepped onto the old truss bridge. The bridge’s bright blue painted railings instantly drew your eyes across the river. In the background, the red bricks of the Genesee Brewing Co. contrasted nicely with the surroundings.

I did take several shots of the waterfalls. But it was the bridge and its adjacent colors that really got my attention.

“Bridge to Brew” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

3 Comments

Filed under architectural photography, history, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, travel

Grazing in the Sun

Booker T. Washington National Monument, Virginia

Grazing in the Sun.

As I explored the reconstructed buildings at the Booker T. Washington National Monument, I came upon this scene. The grazing horse was on the north side of the barn, and I was on the south. For fear of spooking the horse, I used my long lens to zoom past the open barn door, the horse stalls, and to the shadowed gate on the far side.

The contrast between the darkened gate and the sundrenched horse made an interesting composition. “Grazing in the Sun” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

8 Comments

Filed under architectural photography, history, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, travel, Virginia

Why I always dreaded August’s return

August, sunset, Virginia

An early August sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

August is upon us once again.

As I look back on it, I always dreaded the return of the eighth month. Through my not-so-nostalgic reflections, I realized that my reasons evolved across the decades.

As an elementary school student, I knew all too well what August’s arrival meant. We were down to one month of summer vacation.

Those were the days when agrarian mentality ruled the school year. All scholarly studies were squeezed between Labor Day and Memorial Day. When the county fair gates closed, the school doors opened.

Now, of course, no such luxury exists for students. Back to school shopping has already begun. With August at hand, many students start the daily countdown until the dreaded day arrives.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked school, well, the elementary version at least. However, I enjoyed playing much more so. Summer vacation generated much less stress for youngsters then. Our screen time meant going to the drive-in movie theater on Friday nights. Our phones stayed at home firmly affixed to the wall.

butterfly, wildflowers, Virginia

Male Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly on Cardinal flower.

So when the calendar flipped to August, the neighborhood gang of hooligans started planning our next sleep-out under the stars or our next daytime adventure at the creek down-over-the-hill. Time was a wasting.

In high school and college, it wasn’t playtime but work that got shortened by the start of school. At $2.06 an hour, I needed to work all I could to deter my own educational expenses. With younger siblings and a stay-at-home mother, it was the least I could do to help the family financially. My older brother set that model.

When I started my career in public education, I began to more fully understand the importance of August. It meant readying for another school year, only this time as the teacher and eventually principal.

The late summer days of August always meant sweating it out decorating my classroom before the students arrived. Those old schools didn’t have air conditioning. I could hear the busyness of protégés down the hallways also preparing for the coming school year. We came in early morning and early evening to avoid the afternoon heat.

August, Ohio's Amish country

Come August, summer winds down.

When I joined the administrative ranks, August meant meetings, which I loathed unless they were held on the local golf course. That venue seldom happened, however, despite the chatter around the window table at the locals’ favorite eatery.

I heard samplings of student whining from our son and daughter, who knew too well that the coming of August meant school band camps and fall sports practices. Our son chose wisely. He joined the golf team and scored much better than his father ever could.

Just like their parents’ childhood schedules, once the county fair ended, the school year began for our children, too. By then, however, Labor Day became the first school holiday, not the summer’s last.

Somehow, though, we all survived those August perils. As a retiree, August has lost it sting. I don’t have the self-imposed barriers to hurdle anymore. I can relax in air conditioning as the thermometer hits 90.

Like all the previous years, I anticipate golden sunsets sinking beyond the horizon. I’ll watch for the Perseid meteor shower, hoping that the August haze has faded in the cool of the night.

The fraternal twins of retirement and maturity have a mellowing effect on sour attitudes. Instead of dread, this August I’ll breathe in a deep breath, say a prayer of gratitude for another new month, and enjoy the moments at hand.

Ohio's Amish country, Amish

Back to school.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

6 Comments

Filed under column, family, history, human interest, photography, rural life, weather, writing

Afternoon sun

Natural Bridge SP, Thomas Jefferson, Lexington VA

The afternoon’s sun illuminated this already impressive natural wonder near Lexington, Virginia. The unusual rock bridge formation, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, is the critical feature of Natural Bridge State Park.

I particularly liked how the sun’s deflected rays seem to glow beneath the arch of this natural wonder.

“Afternoon Sun” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

6 Comments

Filed under history, human interest, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Celebrating the freedom to be kind

Fort McHenry, Baltimore MD

Fort McHenry.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Long ago, someone once tried to trick me with a skewed question. “Do the English celebrate the Fourth of July?” was the query.

My answer went something like this: “Well, the English have a July 4th like the rest of the world, but I doubt that they celebrate it.”

The Fourth of July is Independence Day in the United States. It’s a day of traditions: family gatherings, picnics with hot dogs and hamburgers, baseball games, and fireworks, although the latter is often spread out over a period of days depending on planned community events.

American flags are flown, and many decorate their houses with red, white, and blue buntings. Some communities hold parades with high school bands, fire trucks, decorated floats, and troupes of children riding patriotic adorned bicycles.

In typical American fashion, fireworks on the Fourth of July began in 1777 during the Revolutionary War with England. They weren’t the only flashes and booms in the sky then. Muskets and canons were also fired as ways to increase the commotion and hopefully boost the morale of the rebelling colonists.

A few years later during the War of 1812, Baltimore, Maryland had a life or death situation louder and fiercer than any fireworks. On September 13, 1814, the British Navy opened fire on Fort McHenry, the primary protective garrison of the city’s harbor. Much like today, Baltimore was an essential Atlantic coast port. Its defense was vital against the British, who had just burned the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

The fort withstood a horrific 27-hour bombardment by the British fleet. Francis Scott Key, a noted attorney, witnessed the attack from a ship in the harbor. When the smoke and mist cleared in the morning, Key saw the stars and stripes still flying from the fort, and was moved to write a poem about the battle. That poem became the lyrics for the “Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.

My wife and I recently visited the fort with a friend. As I watched a replica of the original flag flap in the morning breeze, I thought about the importance of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s much more vital than food, fun, and colorful pyrotechnic displays.

In these current, trying times, when everyone seems to be talking and fewer people listening, I recoiled at the unnecessary squabbles going on in families, private and public meetings, in the media and on social media. Much of it is not pretty, and too much of it is hurtful, divisive, and driven by fear, not fact.

A person I recently met gave this suggestion: Treat people kindly in the moment. It might be the only time you have with them. She was right.

This Fourth of July, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we began listening to one another without bias, without interruption, without labeling, without being dismissive or rude or worse? After all, we are one nation, made up of many peoples from many different origins, languages, races, religions, beliefs, and backgrounds. That is as the Founding Fathers envisioned in the words of the U.S. Constitution.

So let’s carry on with the usual Independence Day activities. As we join together with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, let’s begin again to converse with one another with civility, kindness, respect, and appreciation, whether we agree or disagree with what is said.

That’s how a community as small as a family and as large as a nation should behave in order to thrive. In accomplishing that, we really will have something to celebrate on the Fourth of July besides Independence Day.

grocery store sign

A sign for many cultures.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

2 Comments

Filed under architectural photography, column, history, holidays, human interest, news, photography, travel, writing

This Old House

old farmstead, Elkton VA

This Old House.


I’ll just let the title speak for itself on this photo. The old farmstead is located in Elkton, VA.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

4 Comments

Filed under architectural photography, history, human interest, Photo of the Week, photography, rural life, Virginia

Telling tales tall and true

Dick Stambaugh, native Americans, artifacts

Dad gave his last public presentation on Native Americans 10 years ago at age 88.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My late father wore a lot of hats in his long life. Husband, father, son, brother, uncle, engineer, sailor, hunter, fisherman, volunteer, traveler, archeologist, writer, photographer, teacher, leader, joiner, and planner. In short, Dad’s life was both full and fulfilling.

From these varied life experiences, Dad gained his most formidable reputation, that of a storyteller. No matter the situation, Dad loved to relive the past by telling one tale after the other. He could regale yarns with the best of them, embellishing the story when the facts needed a little flavoring. Perhaps that was one of the reasons people liked him so much.

Dad used his many interests and experiences to inform and entertain people of all ages and situations. He gave many presentations to school children and senior citizens alike about Native Americans who had lived in the Ohio region. Dad used arrowheads and other artifacts that he had found on nearby farms to make the talk as meaningful as possible for his audiences.

People often remarked to me that Dad was a great storyteller. With no disrespect, I’d reply by saying, “Yes, he was, and some of those stories were actually true.”

What Dad didn’t realize was that his adventurous life created a book of charming chapters all their own. Each one of my siblings likely has their personal favorite stories they could share.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day, August 1942.

Dad loved to hunt, as much for the camaraderie with his fellow hunters as for bringing home game. That was especially true during deer season. Once when he actually shot a deer, he had a remarkable story to accompany the carcass.

Hunting in the hilly, steep terrain of southeast Ohio, Dad was tracking a nice buck through deep snow. With the buck quickly outdistancing Dad by going up the opposite hill across a ravine, Dad took a desperate shot just as the deer jumped a wire fence.

Dad saw the deer go down and schlepped to the spot as best he could in the wintery conditions. Dad was shocked by what he found when he climbed over the fence. Lying in the snow was a dead deer all right, only it was a doe. Dad happily retold that story every chance he could, with the snow getting deeper with each recap.

Another time Dad returned from hunting and showed us the game he had shot. He went out to feed Boots, our springer spaniel, but couldn’t find her. Thinking she had run off, we all looked and looked in vain. A week later Dad opened the car trunk, and there was Boots, faithfully and quietly waiting for her master to finally let her out. She had been in the trunk all that time without food or water.

On another hunting expedition in glacial kame and kettle topography, Boots ran a rabbit into the thicket of the marshy bottomland. The hunting party plunged into the briers and brambles in hot pursuit while Dad ordered me, just 10 or so at the time, to stay on the more open hillside. Soon I heard a shot, quickly followed by a yelp and then a shout from my father, “You shot my dog!”

Fortunately, Boots only had a few buckshot pellets in one paw and limped on. The poor rabbit, likely scared out of its fur, had actually jumped into the crook of a small tree a few feet from the ground. I don’t remember the fate of either the rabbit or the tree.

Dick Stambaugh was a fantastic storyteller. He also wrote some incredible, memorable tales through the exciting, engaging life he lived.

thecottagebybrucestambaugh

The cottage my parents built and where Dad loved to hunt and fish.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under family, history, human interest, nature photography, photography, writing