Camp Meetings And Short Bible Verses

The Clerk Of The Court summoned me to begin jury duty soon.

That puts the pressure on.

It means I need to get on the stick editing William Short’s 1854 Diary because a break in my work’s tempo may torpedo the whole project and I’d never get back to it.

But it does not pay for me to rush.

I need to carefully examine each word, otherwise….

For instance, yesterday as I checked back over the transcript comparing it with the original autograph I realized I’d made a slight mistake in rendering Short’s miniscule and badly faded Spencerian script.

I missed seeing the letters stu.

So my transcript read: “So-and-so died late last night”.

That sounds dramatic.

But when I examined the autograph manuscript closer, I saw those three initial letters—stu—I realized that “So-and-so studied late last night”.

A slight difference in meaning.

Who’s to know?

I want the dramatic rendering. If I let it stand as is, who else is going to get a magnifying glass and track down those three missing letters?

But, you can’t write Christian unless you live Christian.

Our Lord is not too keen on dramatic effects.

I changed my transcript. Under duress, you understand.

As I compared the typescript which Ginny and I made with the original, I also inserted the text of Scripture references Short cites.

William Short worked as a teacher, a professor of language and mathematics. But his 1854 Diary also records 59 sermons he preached in that year. Not only did he preach himself, but at times he acted as an exhorter when other preachers preached—especially at camp meetings..

I’ve never attended a religious meeting where an exhorter served, but as I understand the practice, the exhorter acted sort of like a cheerleader for the preacher. The exhorter walked amid the crowd encouraging the sinners to repent and the saved to live godly lives.

And at times, William Short served as an exhorter in the ministry of the famous frontier preacher Peter Cartwright.

Years ago I read the legendary Peter Cartwright’s autobiography/diary. A physical giant, this preacher challenged the rough and tumble frontiersmen of his day.

As I recall, once when a drunken blacksmith heckled the preacher, Cartwright strode into the crowd, punched the blacksmith out, and finished preaching his sermon standing on the unconscious heckler’s chest.

Billy Graham hardly ever does that.

Yet, Cartwright drew the same comparative crowds in his day. His effective preaching gleaned over 12,000 recorded converts at the camp meetings.

An online copy of Peter Cartwright’s autobiography can be found at

William Short attended and exhorted or preached at many camp meetings.

Don’t worry, I’ll get back to citing Scripture references in a bit; but first, I want to talk about camp meetings.

Since the sparse population of the American frontier lived in small family groups spread over vast geographic areas, few church buildings existed. But periodically, word of mouth spread the news of a camp meeting being called.

These religious gatherings drew Christians of all sorts; Short’s Diary specifically mentions Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians all involved—the emphasis was on winning hearts to Christ, not on denominational issues.

People abandoned their farms and log cabins to trek to the announced meeting place. Thousands gathered to camp in tents, in huts, or to live in the open air as they listened to marathon preaching. The camp meetings also proved a social phenomena as folks who seldom saw their nearest neighbors met together to share not only faith but news, politics, recipes, and gossip.

But religious fervor was the main order of the day.

I’ve seen reports that in fits of ecstasy, worshipers wept, fainted, rolled on the ground, saw visions, or developed the “jerks”—a convulsion so violent that the women’s long hair would crack like a horsewhip. (Hence, according to some sources, comes the term Florida Cracker—of which I am one).

The camp meetings gave rise to a particular rhythm and cadence in preaching. In those days before microphones had been invented, to speak to crowds of thousands, the preacher would line his remarks; i.e. he would say a line. Then a man at the far limits of his voice would repeat that same line to the people behind him. Thus the message was relayed deeper and deeper into the crowd far away from the platform.

Preacher and repeaters fell into an antiphonal cadence of line after line. You can still hear this rhythm and cadence in Florida’s rural churches today.

Here is an old engraving showing a camp meeting scene from a date a few years earlier than Short’s diary:

These camp meetings went on for weeks with people coming and going as the Spirit moved them. But, here’s a strange thing, on the American frontier these loud and roudy camp meetings gave rise to social responsibility. Prison reform, slavery’s abolition, care for the insane, care for the handicapped—these humanitarian endeavors are rooted in the camp meetings.

OK. I’m back off that tangent.

What I did yesterday was to insert footnotes with the text of Scripture verses into places where Short cites the text references in his messages.

You can tell a lot about a man from the Bible passages he seems familiar with; and yesterday I discovered a lot about William Short, and about myself.

For instance one of my own favorite passages is I John 3; And this is a text from which William Short preached often:

I John 3:1— Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

Short also spoke on a text I’ve spoken on myself:

Galatians 6:8— For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

Another favorite text of Short’s is:

John 12:26— If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.

But Short seemed to preach from the Prophet Amos more than any other Scripture:

Amos 5:6— Seek the LORD, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel. Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth, Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:

He also favored:

Amos 4:12— Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel. For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.

He also expounded a text from the Prophet Nahum:

Nahum 1:7— The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.

And from the Apostle James:

James 4:8— Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

Yes, William Short was a man who knew his Bible and his diary reveals that he was a happy person (He uses the word happy 44 times in his diary entries) who lived in daily, serious contemplation of religion.

And, I thought it interesting that for his last message of the year 1854, Short chose his text from the sad book of Laminations:

Lamentations 3:21— This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

Yes indeed, I want to finish up this initial work and get the pages of Short’s diary to the printer so I can begin correcting proof pages before the Court Clerk sequesters me in some dungeon with a bunch of 12 strangers.

Maybe I need to take to heart another of Short’s texts:

Galatians 6:9— And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Still Transcribing

Ginny and I spent much of the weekend still studying and changing William F. Short’s 1854 diary from manuscript text into typescript.

My daughter Jennifer said, “You people really need cable tv”!

Her idea of fun is a bit different from ours.

We puzzled long and hard over one entry that has us stumped. In spite of every trick we knew to enhance the text, we finally admitted defeat. I’ll mark that entire half page as illegible and leave the mystery of its pages unsolved..

This dairy resonates with me in that so many of Short’s entries could well be ones that I could have made myself.

I’ve never heard anyone use the word before but every reader in any generation understands what Short meant when he wrote that May 29, 1854, “Felt very Mondayish”.

By the same token, even if we have not seen an eclipse, we all understand, “I am so glad Friday night has come! Saw the grand eclipse”.

And we all have boring days when we, like Short, say, “Nothing of special interest”.

Or we understand the feeling of worry when Short wrote, “My mind is greatly occupied about the future. Lord, direct me aright”.

And, like Short, we’ve all had bad days, “This has been a day of great toil and weariness to me. Was greatly tempted. Made some good resolves. Hope to keep them. Lord help me”.

And every male reader knows exactly what Short is talking about when his diary records, “In the evening called on Miss Connor. Had some temptations, but was sustained. Oh, I want to be more holy”.

I like editing old diaries because as the writers record the things uppermost in their minds, they often strike a cord inside me. Their thoughts often echo things I’ve thought about myself.

Short’s concerns resonate with honesty. In his confusion and conflict over which girl to marry, he prays for direction no less than 22 times in these few pages.

And at times his words reveal a heart-hunger for God that virtually all of us could well have written down ourselves:

O Lord, I will praise Thee. My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation. Suffer the tempter to have no power over me. My heart, my life, my all be Thine. Nor would I divide the gift. I will keep back no part of the price. Unloose my tongue to tell my (illegible) of the cross—and its victim and spread Thy fame abroad. Thou, O blessed Savior! Thou doest know the love I would express. Pardon, sanctify, and save me. I am thine. I here record a vow to live altogether for God. Lord help me to keep it”.

Ginny and I finished our initial transcription Sunday afternoon. Now, all I have to do it edit, proof and format the text we developed.

The rendering of initials and people’s names concerns us. Short often refers to people by their initials and these are difficult to make our. Is that R.K. Jones or K.R. Jones or P.K. Jones… or that a K at all?

Remember that the pocket diary is tiny with five entries per page and Short’s wrote in miniscule Spencerian script. which would challenge modern readers even if it were full sized.

Oh well, in editing I’ll do the best I can to render these names and initials consistently—if not accurately.

Another week or two should get the job done—unless, or course, we do get cable tv.

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Last night my beautiful Ginny again helped me research and transcribe Short’s 1854 Diary.

Wow! But we had fun… Er, at least one of us did.

The woman is crazy about me!

Picture a teenage girl hanging out under a shade tree while her boyfriend works on the exhaust manifold of his jalopy. Know how fascinated she is with the intricacies of the exhaust manifold? Then why is she hanging around there for hours?

When you picture that girl and you have a pretty good picture of Ginny helping me research and transcribe a 155-year-old diary.

It fascinates me—and I fascinate her.

Ain’t love grand!

It thrilled me to run across this passage in the diary:

Sunday, October 22, 1854

This has been a very gloomy day. Attended S. School. Dr. Klepper preached at night. Retired feeling perfectly well but at twelve awoke a sore throat that approached almost to sufferation.

Monday, October 23, 1854

Sent for Dr. McFarland. He cupped me and left medicine. At night felt some better.

Tuesday, October 24, 1854

My throat continues very painful. Did not leave my bed during the day.

Wednesday, October 25, 1854

Felt some better to-day. Was up a little. Took medicine. Hope to well soon again. My duties are very urgent.

Thursday, October 26, 1854

My throat is much better to-day . Did not get to prayer meeting. I hope soon to be able to attend to my duties.

Yes. The physician cupped his strep throat—that means the doctor bled him.

In museums I’ve seen old medical kits which contained cups for bleeding patients. The glass or metal cups look like little whisky shot glasses to me. The doctor would make an incision over the afflicted area, press the right-sized cup over the wound, and drain off that amount of blood.

I hope my doctor doesn’t read this. He might try that treatment on me. You wouldn’t believe some of the things he’s wanted to do to me in the past!

But being cupped must have worked for William Short because he lived at least another 52 years after this. Yes, being cupped made him feel better.

Speaking of feeling better, at 7 this morning, my friend Barbara White called. Although feeling bad sick from cancer and chemo Tuesday, she is feeling so much better that she felt like driving over here herself and going to breakfast at Dave’s Diner—where the staff hugged and greeted her enthusiastically.

When Barbara arrived at our house, she told me that the physical therapist at the retirement home where she lives had brought her a gel cushion for her chair. “It was miraculous,” she said. “I was so miserable with bone pain—absolute agony—that I couldn’t get comfortable in any position. Then I fell asleep and woke up feeling fine. That cushion worked wonders”.

Barbara said she felt relief from her pain suddenly. One minute it was there, the next minute it wasn’t.

Isn’t that odd.

I asked Barbara if she had read my blog entry for July 8th (An Odd Bit Of Prayer). She said she has not turned on her computer for a week or so.

She feels so much better. You’d think she’d been cupped.

At Dave’s she said that with her hair falling out in patches and tuffs, she must look weird.

I comforted her saying, “Barbara, you don’t look any weirder now than you’ve always looked”.

See, I do spread Christian light and joy wherever I go.

After talking about her chemo treatments and symptoms for a few minutes, Barbara said, “That’s enough of that. I am not my cancer. There’s more to me than cancer. I don’t want to talk about that all through breakfast”.

So I talked about my diary project and she told me about a novel by Josephine Tey, Daughter Of Time, a mystery involving a museum researcher.

And we talked about Christ being the propitiation for sin.

I don’t run across the word propitiation in everyday conversation often.

My dictionary says it means to regain the lost favor or goodwill of an offended party.

Paul uses that word in his letter to the Romans:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,

The Apostle John uses that same word referring to Jesus:

He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world…Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

The Son of God dying on the cross for us regains the lost favor and goodwill of God.

But aren’t we God’s favorites? Isn’t He just tickled pink that we do what we do?

Not necessarily.

The Scripture also says the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all unrighteousness.

We are what we are and we do what we do, and as Paul said above, everyone of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory God intended us for.

Unrighteousness generates wrath.

The white-hot purity of our holy God does not co-exist with degrading sin.

Not only have we done wrong, unrighteous, wicked, sneaky, low-down, sinful, nasty things, we relish them. As a dog returns to his vomit to lick it up again, we go back and do the same things over and over again—that’s Paul’s image, not mine.

We fester with sin.

We need to be cupped.

Well, if that’s what it takes… “Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood”.

God loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

We lost it.

The Lord Christ came to earth so we can regain what we lost.

Didn’t mean to get to preaching, but this good news is thrilling.

Oh, speaking of getting cupped, how much blood did it take for Christ to take on our sin and be our propitiation?

All of it.

He held back nothing that would benefit us.

Yes, being God in the flesh and Lord of life, Christ rose from the dead. But that resurrection came later.

He hurt first.

After breakfast, Barbara hung around in our garden talking for a couple of hours. That gel cushion must have indeed worked wonders because she’s feeling so much better.

I told her one of Donald’s jokes:

Anthropologists found this tribe in the Amazon who worship the numeral Zero… That answers the age-old question, “Is nothing sacred”?

Barbara groaned.

Do you suppose that’s her pain coming back again?

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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The Elusive F Word

Should you ever chose to write your diary by dipping a quill pen in inkblack, for the sake of readers a hundred years from now, please blot the page or let the ink dry BEFORE you close the book!

In 1854 William Short didn’t believe in that practice. When he closed the little diary without letting the page dry first, the ink smeared or bled onto the opposite page—or both.

Didn’t the guy believe that anybody’d ever want to read his stuff?

If I make it into Heaven myself, I plan to have a talk with this old-time Methodist preacher and he’d just better hide his quill beforehand lest I do something with it that he won’t like.

I have a bone or two to pick with him.

For instance, there’s the matter of his name.

He signed inside the front cover of his 3 X 4 ¾ inch diary thusly:

When I scanned and enlarged the man’s signature, I came up with:

OK. The last name is Short—in Spencerian script writers did not cross the final T in a word. In fact, in the middle of a word they often placed the crossbar of a T above the upright so it looks like an l with a line above it.

The writer of the diary uses the initial W for his first name. I guessed that would stand for William, that being a more common name than Wolfgang. Searching via Google I discovered many William Shorts alive in the 1854 time frame.

That left the middle initial—is that a capital G? or a T or an L?

Spencerian script encouraged the use of decorative curlicues and with my macular degeneration I have trouble distinguishing between a flourish and an actual letter.

My Google search led me to a William Lawson Short who lived in the right area at the right time.

I thought I’d pegged him.

From diary content I knew the date of Short’s wedding, so I traced marriage records and found that he is listed in court records as William L. Short, who married Sarah Belle Laning.

That locked it in for me. I had identified my man…..


Even his marriage license has his middle initial WRONG! The court clerk in 1854 couldn’t read Short’s writing any better than I can!

Further research led me to a 1906 Historical Encyclopedia of Morgan County, Illinois. Guess what? William Short was still alive in 1906 and he wrote a biographical sketch of himself, his marriage to Sarah Bell Laning and his time teaching at the Methodist Seminary in Jackson, Missouri, the year he kept this diary.

The encyclopedia even has a photo of him in his later years.

It even tells how in those later years, in 1893 he and Sarah Bell established a school for the blind in the town of Jacksonville, Illinois.

All well and good.

But the rascal gives his name as William Fletcher Short!


That letter in the middle of his name is an F!

And here I’d been tracking William Lawson Short all this past week.

Not L, but F.

That’s what I said when I found out.

In other news, the at&t repairman (the third one in the past five days—Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday—came here to fix the same ongoing internet problem). Each one says, “It’s not my job…”

Well one came again Thursday. He said that our internet trouble is caused by our electric telephone wires outside the house being round instead of flat… or maybe he said flat instead of round.

I’d stopped paying attention by then.

Anyhow he told me that I need to pay another $110 to get whatever fixed. That’s an extra $110 in addition to the monthly maintenance fee we already pay—and have paid for years.

When the repairman told me that…

Alas, the F word that sprang into my mind was not Fletcher!

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

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A Bit Of An Odd Prayer

Heavy rain Wednesday. I tried to talk Ginny into staying home from work because of flooded streets; she wouldn’t hear of it. Too dedicated.

Barbara White and I had planned to go to breakfast but she called saying that bone pain incapacitated her.

Apparently her chemotherapy kills all fast-growing cells, cancer cells, hair, etc. But it also kills white blood cells (her immune system needs those to block infection) and to combat that, her doctors give her some kind of shot to stimulate growth of white blood cells in her bone marrow.

As a result she’s in a great deal of pain. And it looks like all she can do is suffer with it.

If she gets to feeling any better, we’ll try for a breakfast at Dave’s Diner later this weak or early next.

I continued work on William Short’s 1854 diary—at the moment, he and his new wife are on a paddlewheeler steamboat stuck on a sandbar in the Mississippi River 25 miles south of St. Louis.

Ginny came home from work early, bringing with her a roasted chicken for our supper. Delicious!

During our regular little devotional time after the meal, Gin read a passage from the Gospel where Jesus healed ten lepers but only one thanked Him. We discussed that incident a bit and read a written prayer as we usually do.

Then, almost as an afterthought, I added a single line of prayer about Barbara’s pain. Immediately, Ginny added another phrase. Then I did. Then she did… It was almost as though we spoke with one voice.

Yes, our two prayers for our friend blended into a single petition. Each adding phrase after phrase—sometimes in unison, some times in sequence. Never overlapping, but in order.

It was a type of prayer that I’m not sure we’d ever experienced before.

Certainly not planed nor rehearsed—just a natural flow and outpouring of our two hearts as one. As though Something beyond ourselves was praying through us.

To be frank, it was a bit scary.

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.


Memories & Understanding

Sorry for the delay but my internet has been down again—for the fifth time in the past six months—but here is the information Jellyhead asked about in her comment on my last posting:

William L. Short and Sarah Belle Laning married in Bloomington, Illinois, on August 23, 1854, Illinois State Marriage License # 801.

Here is a copy of a typical 1854 Illinois Marriage License:

As Ginny and I worked transcribing the Short diary over the weekend, when we found this marriage license we got to talking about weddings.

Earlier in the week someone had asked me if Ginny were a sentimental person.

I assured them that she is not.

That shows just how much I understand the woman I’ve been married to for almost 41 years now. Because as she and I talked about weddings… Well, here is a photo of Ginny in her wedding dress, one she’d sewn herself for the occasion:

As we talked, she revealed that even after all these years she still has that dress!

She also has the hat she’s wearing in the photo. And the gloves. And the turtle pin, the first piece of jewelry I ever gave her. She even pressed that orchid I bought her in a book—but she can’t remember where that flower is now.

She still keeps her wedding paraphernalia in a box marked “Memories”.

I don’t understand.

Who keeps old cloth?

It’s a girl thing I guess.

Ginny went on to reveal that in her memory box (which I never knew she had) she also keeps: a baby cap she knitted and a baby dress we bought in Mexico for Jennifer; an outfit she knitted for Donald; a tie-dye tee shirt made by Ginny’s brother for baby Eve; and a baby blanket for baby Patricia knitted by a 90-year-old lady at the church we used to attend.

Baby Patricia, our youngest, turns 30 this year…

And, just in case, Ginny saves in her box, if, God forbid, we ever need them again, several Maternity Dresses!

Maternity dresses she wore all those years ago.

Yes. Maternity dresses.

I never knew she’d treasured up all these cloth things in her Memory Box in her closet.

Just goes to show how little I understand my wife.

Of course, understanding is not all it’s cracked up to be.

A psychologist in a novel I read last week observed that sometimes our quest to understand something is an avoidance mechanism; it’s a subterfuge to avoid commitment. Instead of diving into the water, we test it and analyze it and look for contaminants.

By getting bogged down in trying to understand, we miss out on enjoying.

Yet, we appear to be respectable by saying we’re seeking to understand.

King Solomon once said, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thine own understanding, and He will direct thy paths”.

But I don’t understand Jesus. How could He be God and man at the same time? How could His dying on a cross 2,000 years ago be related to my sin yesterday? How could this dead guy, skewered by a Roman spear in his side, walk out of that grave under His own steam? How can He hold the universe together on one hand and be inside me on the other? And if He knows all there is to know, past, present and future, how cam my prayers have any bearing on anything?

And why is it that that glorious Being who holds nebulae in the palm of His hand, makes Himself available for a relationship to every human person?

I have no idea.

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand God any more than I understand Ginny.

Both remain inscrutable to me.

But, how about this!

It does not matter whether or not I understand in order for me to be loved.

Yes, God loves us even when we do not understand Him.

And yes, Ginny loves me in spite of everything…

And though I don’t understand why she’d keep old cloth for ages, I adore her.

Although I do have to admit, that trying to transcribe a 155-year-old diary together—I read text, she typed my dictation into the computer—transcribing an old diary together, places a certain amount of strain on our relationship…

Especially when I repeated the same line after line again and again and again only to realize that she was not wearing her hearing aid!

She said she didn’t want to wear them.

She refused to wear them.

Why was that?

I have no idea.

I’ll never understand that complex woman.

No, I’ll never understand her.

Thank God, I don’t need to.

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.


Short Made Long

O but Ginny and I had such great fun Friday!

At least one of us did.

You see I’ve decided to transcribe and publish that 1854 diary by William L. Short that I found last week. So I set up templates and formatting. Then I recruited Ginny to type the text as I deciphered it and read it to her. How exciting!

What fun!

Trouble is, over the last 155 years the tiny pages got wet. In places ink blotches obliterate the text. In other places exposure to sunlight fades the ink. And even when the writing is visible, the ancient Spenserian script with colloquial abbreviations…

Have no fear, John Cowart is on the track of diary writer, William L. Short… Ginny observes my obsession with this project and laughs at my glee. I feel like the cartoon bloodhound, Officer McGruff, a figure which the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office used to use to teach school children about safety and crime prevention. The trench-coat wearing hound tracked clues with a magnifying glass like Sherlock Holmes. He always got his man.

Ginny observed as I checked the Library Of Congress Prints & Photographs Division for possible pictures to illustrate the diary. She watched as I groaned my way through the Illinois State Archives till I discovered Short’s marriage license. And, I may have uncovered his burial place and I’m hot on the track of his Civil War records…

Say, could the diary have ended up here in Jacksonville, Florida, because he was one of the damnyankee invaders who overran my hometown during the war? I’m looking into that possibility.

Ginny said I show more enthusiasm about transcribing Short’s Diary than I’ve shown for any project in months.

Anyhow, as Ginny and I played History Detective, my search for clues may have gotten a little out of hand. And she may have gotten a tiny bit exasperated with my obsession.

She doesn’t love fun as much as I do.

Here’s the process I followed after she gave up being amanuensis on my quest and sulked in her rocking chair for a while then went into the bathroom …

First, when I scan one of the little book’s 3 by 4 ¾ -inch pages, say the section for February 21 to 25, 1854, it looks like this:

I scan each page three times—in color, in black & white, and in gray scale. By enlarging the scanned page 200 times, and by adjusting contrast, brightness and mid-tones while zooming in and out on a single word, and by comparing the three versions, I come up with something like this:

With a bit of guess work I can decipher much of that text….

But, what’s this?

I see a clue!

Look carefully to the left of that red line between February 22nd and February 23rd—Do you see it?

Yes, William L. Short got ink on his fingers that day—that’s his thumbprint on the page!


Isn’t that exciting!


Those wimps on CSI-Miami can eat their hearts out with envy; I retain my title as King Of The Geriatric Geeks!.

When I saw the fingerprint, gleefully I ran and got Ginny out of the bathroom. I pulled her into the living room to show her the enlarged thumbprint on the computer screen.

“You drug me out here for THIS!”

Well, my project is not exactly like piecing together the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls but I find it exhilarating.

Other women get to marry men who only drink and chase bar girls, Poor Ginny had to marry one who obsesses over old diaries!

But she only acts exasperated.

From the way she looks at me, kisses me, and hugs me, I think that even after 40 years of marriage, I still amuse her.

I’m so thankful that God put me into her life; and that He let this little diary fall into my hands.

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.


Another Kid In The Attic

I remember the first book I ever stole.

I justified stealing the book with simple human logic—they had it. I wanted it.

It was a copy of Dracula, the quintessential vampire novel by Bram Stoker. Another Boy Scout recommended the book when I was about 12 years old. Reading it captivated me for two reasons: one, I’d seen the Bela Lugosi movie; and two, Stoker wrote his novel in the form of journal and diary entries.

Never before had I ever heard of anyone keeping a diary. The idea enthralled me. Just imagine, someone’s life could be so exciting, so interesting, that it was worth recording.

Wow. My 12-year-old mind imagined how I’d conquer vampires if I ever ran across one. Therefore, I’d better begin keeping a journal so there’d be a record of my brave deeds. I began my first journal that same day…

Trouble was my life was a dud.

I dutifully recorded things like Mrs. Powel made us do page 174 for homework.

Jonathan Harker never had to do homework.

I gave up on keeping my first journal… and my second journal… and my third…but the idea stayed with me.

Since my own life proved so unexciting—no vampires, no mummies, no zombies, not even a stupid ghoul did I encounter—but I began reading other people’s published diaries. I found the everyday lives of people who lived generations before me fascinating. They didn’t fight vampires either, but they did struggle against the hardships and problems and villains of their own times.

I drew courage to fight my own hardships and problems and villains from reading about how diarists of former days coped.

They inspired me.

So I kept reading their old diaries and I grew more faithful about keeping my own. Off and on for 40 years I have kept an almost daily record of my life… Let me qualify that a bit. For instance when I drove an 18-wheeler over the road, I kept a daily log for inspection by government inspectors. And everyone knows that all truck drivers are scrupulously honest truthful men; therefore when my log records that I loaded a 40-foot trailer in half and hour then drove 580 miles and unloaded it all within the ten-hour legal limit—my logs, like all truckers’ logs, accurately tell precisely what I was doing and where I was that day…

Be that as it may, I have tried to be honest in my regular daily journals.

I lost all my earliest journals through moves, re-marriage and a house fire, but I still have between 30 and 35 years worth of the things stuffed in a back closet. If anyone is interested in reading my more recent ones, I’ve published them in my Dirty Old Man Goes Bad series at .

Sorry, don’t be disappointed to find that I never did turn in page 174 to Mrs. Powel and I still haven’t conquered a single vampire.

One thing that I’ve noticed in my reading is how often some teen has found an old diary in an attic somewhere, read passages out of curiosity, and had his life changed.

I think of the experience of A.B. Simpson, who grew up to found the Christian Missionary Alliance, an organization which sent thousands of missionaries to all parts of the world. Or I think of Charles Finny, who found an old book in the attic and grew up to become the Billy Graham of his generation.

I often put notes addressed to The Kid In The Attic in my own journals; I want the far future kids who finds one of my dusty diaries in his folks’ attic to know that this is what one Christian’s life is really like. I want him to make a commitment to Christ, but I want him to know what he’s getting into when he does. He will see my sins and faults and faith—in real time so to speak…

Please be patient. I am going somewhere with this.

Last Saturday for lunch Ginny and I went Kosta’s in Five Points, our favorite Italian restaurant. Afterwards we browsed in the Fans & Stoves Antique Mall next door.

In one booth I ran across an old leather-bound diary.

On investigation it proved to the a pocket diary from 1854 kept by W.L. Short of Bloomington, Illinois.

Short’s diary measures 3 by 4 ¾ inches, The leather covers fold to protect the pages from getting wet. I have no idea how this diary ended up in Jacksonville.

Short likely wrote using a crow quill—crow feathers were cheaper than goose quills and they sharpened to a finer point for the tiny print needed for the book’s small size.

Short wrote in clear Spencerian script, but he used various grades of ink, some of which faded the text to illegibility—even when I scan some damaged pages into my computer and enhance the text adjusting brightness, contrast and mid-tones, I still only come up with this:.

I paid a trifle for the diary, and when I got it home to read the pages that can be read, I discovered that I’d bought a treasure. Mr. W.L . Short was a Christians recording the faith, temptations, sessions of depression, moments of elation, and the tedium of his days.

As I read, I found my own spirits uplifted.

Here was a yankee teacher/attorney/lay preacher (hard to tell which) who struggled with the same sort of thing I do.

Some of his days, such as Wednesday, April 19th, 1854, he could only write, “Nothing of special interest today”.

Other days, such as Wednesday, January 11, 1854, he said, “Feeling better. Took the morning train for Bloomington. …Received letter from Miss. Laning. … An important day in my history”.

That’s an understatement.

The diary reveals that the young man was juggling three women: Sara Belle Laning, whom he describes as “My dearest”; Miss. Amanda of whom he writes, “She is a good girl”; and another woman whom he describes as “My temptation”.

Each lady held attractions and this young man sought God’s guidance as to which one to marry.

Talk about suspense—Dracula has nothing to match it!

Yet in almost every entry Short records his prayers for direction from above; he lived daily in the presence of God.

In one place he says, “O Lord, I will praise Thee; my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation. Suffer not the tempter to have no power over me. My heart, my life, my all be Thine… I here record a vow to live altogether for God. Lord, help me to keep it”.

When I browse through such entries of a life lived in real time through Mr. Short’s diary, it strengthens my own feeble faith and inspires me to press on …

Say, do you suppose that I—That I am the kid in his attic?

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.


Looking Fabulous

My friend Wes and his best buddy J.J. just got back from a long weekend in Charleston, S.C., where they worshiped the Lord in a Jewish synagogue, an Episcopal church, and a cigar store.

A few weeks ago the guys got a wild hair about taking this trip. The purpose of the trip was for them to buy brand new tailored suits, dress up, and “walk around Charleston’s historic district looking fabulous”.

This whim grew and grew.

What the heck. The guys decided to do it. They bought new suits, reserved rooms, arranged time off work, and drove to Charleston.

What a lark!

While visiting the city as tourists, wearing linen suits, looking fabulous, they chanced upon the oldest American synagogue in continuous use.

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregational House of God) founded in 1749, is renowned as the fountainhead of Reform Judaism.

Someone invited Wes and J.J. in for a service and to hear a special speaker extol the virtues of Abraham Lincoln. Wes said the format of the service resembled the liturgy of his own church as he and J.J. followed along in the Hebrew prayer book.

Then Sunday, in tailored suits, looking fabulous, they worshiped at the 258-year-old St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, the oldest church building in Charleston.

In the photo, notice the sounding shell above the lectern. In the days before microphones were invented, the sounding shell reflected and magnified a speaker’s voice so everyone could hear him clearly.

Wes said that from this high pulpit, so tall it puts the speaker on a level with the balcony, the pastor declared a powerful evangelistic message.

In the evening, Wes and J.J. ,still sporting their new duds and looking fabulous, relaxed at a gentlemen’s club…

No, not that kind of gentlemen’s club.

Not the kind we have here in Jacksonville with ten new nude dancers performing continuously.

The gentlemen’s club the guys went to resembled the kind of club you see in 1920s British films where university professors and retired colonels discuss the state of the Empire. This club—sorry, Wes told me but I’ve forgotten the name of it—stood above a refined tobacco shop/cigar store.

There Charleston’s elite gentlemen assemble of an evening to lounge in brass-studded leather easy chairs and discuss intellectual topics. Besides a regular clientele, tourists of refined taste, especially those wearing tailored linen suits and looking fabulous, engage in stimulating conversation for hours on end as smoke from pipes and cigars floats in foggy layers under the ceiling.

In that atmosphere, Wes and J.J. encountered a young man, a former cordon bleu chef, who’d had some spiritual experience and was training for the ministry…

But now that he’d made this decision, doubts and questions arose. In bewilderment and confusion, the young man’s faith was shaken. He explained his crisis of faith to these two oddly dressed strangers.

Again and again Wes and J.J. answered the young man’s questions and encouraged his reliance on the Lord Jesus. Again and again they saw his face light up as comprehension dawned after discussing some knotty problem.

You can’t get disillusioned unless you’ve been operating under an illusion in the first place.

So Wes and J.J. pointed the young man back to basic, foundational spiritual truths.

Toward the end of the evening, Wes and J.J. simultaneously felt compelled to lay hands on the young ministerial student and pray for him as he reached a new level of commitment to Christ.

As Wes and J.J. left the cigar store, they simultaneously felt that their trip to Charleston had had one divine purpose which they had not realized till that moment—to meet that young minister and minister to him.

They’d begun their road trip on a near frivolous whim; they returned, feeling that God had sent them even they’d not realized it beforehand.

I’ve noticed in reading my Bible that sometimes people do things without realizing why they are really doing those things.

We are physical beings living in a supernatural world.

We walk among wonders unaware.

Reality eludes us.

But sometimes, some rare times, we catch a glimpse of purpose beyond the mundane.

We glimpse reality.

That’s a good thing.

Well, most of the time it is. Sometimes, on the other hand, we can bob along happy under an illusion while completely out of touch with reality.

Case in point—when I think of Wes and J.J. dressed up in new tailored linen summer suits, one white, the other pale blue, strolling Charleston’s historic district… sporting panama hats, wearing dark sun glasses, puffing big black cigars, feeling cool, feeling proud, thinking they look fabulous…

Well—and I’m speaking entirely with a sense of objectively reality about this—godly men they may be, but I think they look like dorks.

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.


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