This tribute to Seaman is located on the east side of the Atchison County Courthouse.
By Beverly Clinkingbeard
Attic. Defined in the sense of stored history and other artifacts generally used infrequently.
The aim that day was to do a bit of business at the Atchison County Courthouse. However, a little sign on the door said it was closed due to a State of Missouri observed holiday. Lincoln Day. On inquiry, eight other states observe Lincoln Day, which makes a holiday weekend that rolls into President’s Day the following Monday.
That little sign, “Closed for Lincoln Day,” explained the empty parking spots, the shuttered look of the courthouse and the dark hallway behind the locked door. It was the dark hallway that evoked childhood remembrances of a dark and forbidding place. When? The 1940’s era and prior years.
On entry through heavy wooden doors one was greeted with the peck of typewriters, the echo of footsteps on the dark wood flooring, and conversations assured visitors, this was an important place to do business. Also on entry, there was the admonition of Mother to her children. Stay clear of the affronting spittoons! It was assumed there lurked tuberculosis germs and other horrendous plagues. The spittoons were at the base of the staircases, as well as at the top. The wood flooring around the spittoons was soiled by tobacco juice gone amiss of the target. Remembrance is that the spittoons were crocks filled with sand. Cigarette and cigar butts jutted out of the sand and smoke lingered in the air. Spittoons were conveniently placed in the courtroom at the base of the benches for spectators. The lighting was dim, the walls, woodwork and floors stained a dark varnish.
The record states the building was built in 1882. This would have required much effort on the part of workmen and drayage animals to haul and fabricate the building on the steep hill. The building was needed as Atchison County was emerging with its own identity as the prairie lands filled with land speculators and homesteaders. Surely the forefathers were proud of what they had accomplished on its completion. Built on a high bluff as it is, it towers over the town, the county – a very reminder of law and legal orderliness. At some point every resident must either pass through the doors themselves or send a representative to do their business.
These days, with a nod to the sign on the door about wiping your shoes on the provided mat – so the refinished floors aren’t marred by your dirty foot prints – the old courthouse is a feature of the old with the new. The ornate woodwork is still in place as are many antique fixtures. The artisans of yesterday paid attention to detail and embellishments. Today the lighting is bright and the offending spittoons gone. (When and who carted them out?) It is a smoke free environment. Undoubtedly, it has required ingenuity to blend the old and new while keeping the county’s attic, filled with a record of the peoples’ business, functional.
On departure by way of the east door, there is also a nod to the statue, Seaman (explorers, Lewis & Clark’s faithful pooch that followed them on their long trip west).
Thank you to the person(s) who tend to the building’s needs and keep it clean. (I’m happy to wipe my shoes and I’m personally glad no one has the distasteful task of emptying spittoons, although for history’s authenticity it’s a shame a few can’t be in place, but . . . sure enough, someone would spit.)
Truman Day, May 8, 2020, is the next holiday observance, apart from other observed national holidays, and is a day recognizing Missouri’s President, Harry S. Truman. He was our nation’s 33rd president and born two years after the courthouse was built.
’Til next time.