A Large Influence for Good

Bust of Bernice MorrisonHer name was Bernice, though it seems many, including Carr Pritchett, spelled it Berenice, with an e in the middle. Is it pronounced the same? I don’t know; I assume so. I’m sticking with Bernice.

She comes from a time before the war, when Middle-Missouri had plantations and those plantation owners had slaves. Those slaves tended the tobacco and hemp fields and those crops made Bernice’s grandfather very, very wealthy. William Daniel Swinney, known simply as “the captain,” and his wife Lucy Ann (Jones), raised Bernice from a young age. Her mother had died when Bernice was just five and her father when she was just nine years of age.

Sara Catherine Swinney was Bernice’s mother and she died at the age of twenty-eight. Much research on my part has come up with nothing concerning the cause of her death. What I know for sure is that she was adored by her father. On her massive gravestone in Glasgow, MO, in huge letters, just one word at the top: “Kate.” And, doing a general web-search for “Kate Swinney” will give you numerous results for the Paddle Wheeler named for her. Also, confusing some researchers is the fact that the Riverboat Kate Swinney met with an explosive end at what, to this day, is still referred to as Kate Swinney Bend in the Missouri River. So, the Riverboat Kate Swinney gave up the ghost in an explosion, but Sara Catherine, well we just don’t know yet.

Bernice was born in 1856 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father William M. Morrison, who had given himself the middle initial “M” just to stand out from his uncle of the same name, was much older than Kate and already wealthy. Born in 1814, his first wife was Mary Bissell, the daughter of Lewis Bissell, also of St. Louis. William’s father James Morrison had started early in the fur trading business in Missouri and built up quite a business. In 1854 he married Kate Swinney in Glasgow Missouri. He was 40; she was 21 years of age. Bernice was born two years later.

C W PritchettCarr Waller Pritchett, the second of our main characters, was born in 1823 in Henry County Virginia. He was one of ten children of Henry Pritchett and Martha Myra Waller who, in 1835, moved the family to Missouri. (Side-note: The Swinney’s also hail from Virginia and hence the Southern lifestyles and traditions which permeate our entire story. Indeed, a challenge for me has been to embrace the love and care that these pastoral Methodists exhibit, yet come to grips with the slave-ownership that made them wealthy and able to give back to their communities in such grand style.) In 1843 Pritchett attended St. Charles College (near St. Louis), then, one year later, he is ordained as a Methodist Minister. In 1849 he marries Betty L. Smith and in ’51 they move to Glasgow, Missouri, which is the locus of our story. His professional science career starts at Harvard University where he attends in 1858 and studies mathematics and astronomy.

One last character to introduce and that is Bernice’s uncle and Kate’s brother, James Oswald Swinney. He was born in 1827 and lived to the age of 93. We’ll learn about him as our story progresses.So, the main characters are set: Bernice Morrison, C. W. Pritchett and James O. Swinney.

PART 2

All of them were Methodists. And, I must confess, that as a life-long Methodist myself, this was part of the attraction of the whole story for me. But, not simply: they’re Methodists; I’m Methodist, therefore it’s interesting. No, it much broader than that.Indulge me for a few moments while I relate to you a chapter in my life.Years ago I was fortunate enough to be asked to help chaperon at a unique church camp called Science Camp.  It was to be held at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri. The seven summers I did this were some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. After a few years of doing the event, the director allowed me some time in front of the kids with the topic of my choice. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the focus of the camp was the intersection of Faith and Science. This was and is one of favorite topics and the kids were all smart and attentive. My pet name for the camp was always “Geek Camp,” knowing full well that I was one of those geeks. In fact, use of the word “camp” is definitely stretching the words too far. We stayed in dormitories and our exercise consisted of swimming in an indoor pool. Geeks don’t like the sun, you know.

Her name was Bernice

Marble Bust of Bernice MorrisonHer name was Bernice, though it seems many, including Carr Pritchett, spelled it Berenice, with an e in the middle. Is it pronounced the same? I don’t know; I assume so. I’m sticking with Bernice.

She comes from a time before the war, when Missouri had plantations and those plantation owners owned slaves. Those slaves tended the tobacco and hemp fields and that tobacco and hemp made Bernice’s grandfather very, very wealthy. That grandfather, known simply as “the captain” along with his wife Lucy raised Bernice from about the age of nine. Her mother had died when Bernice was just five and her father when she was just nine years of age.

Sara Catherine Swinney was Bernice’s mother’s name and she died at the young age of twenty-eight. I have done extensive research and have come up with literally nothing concerning the cause of the woman’s death. What I know for sure is that she was adored by her father. On her massive gravestone in Glasgow, in huge letters, just one word at the top: “Kate.”

Kate Swinney Grave

[author's note: I have created a page entitled "A Large Influence for Good" that you'll see at the top of the blog. This entry that you're reading now is the first installment of longer work that I've been researching for a while now. I will periodically use regular blog entries to write and then paste them into the page dedicated to the topic. Additionally, I will add directly to the page as I develop what I hope to be a magazine article.]

The Encyclopedia

These days, when you say “the encyclopedia,” everyone knows you mean The Wikipedia of internet fame. I think it’s a great resource. Do it have some issues? Sure, it does. Is it “as good” as, say the Britannica? No, speaking strictly of quality it doesn’t even come close.

First and foremost though, it’s free, and the others are not. I like that. Secondly, it’s much larger that the other encyclopedias. Try looking up “The Morrison Observatory” in a regular encyclopedia. It’s just not there. And, probably shouldn’t be. But, in today’s internet world, isn’t it great that there is a place where I can find such things?
Read this article…

WIKIPEDIA and other online research sources were yesterday blamed for Scotland’s falling exam pass rates.The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) said pupils are turning to websites and internet resources that contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information before passing it off as their own work. (read the rest…)

So, what to make of this? Well, you have watch out for accuracy. But, first, one must ask, how does this accuracy matter? I think this is where the internet generation may be weak. I bring a healthy dose of skepticism to the table when I read anything, anywhere. I don’t care if it’s in the daily newspaper or it’s on the internet. I want to know who wrote it, why they wrote it and what’s their angle? So, it’s not shocking when I learn that an article or even an encyclopedia entry is a bit biased. But, biased is different than inaccurate isn’t it?

The Wikipedia deals with “inaccuracies” by having hundreds or more people looking and editing the same article. Click on the Discussion tab of a large article sometime to see all the wrangling. But, having said that, it couldn’t possibly be accurate across the whole body of articles. A better word would by consistency. Now, if you’re the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, you can understand an attitude where inconsistency equals inaccuracy; plain and simple. I agree with that.

However, one should enlighten and encourage young researchers to look out for any “inaccuracies,” for they lay in wait in all sorts of source material. Secondly, you, yourself, may log on to Wikipedia and fix any inaccuracies that you find.

I have written one small entry on Bernice Morrison. I have added to and edited two others. One on the Morrison Observatory (including the photo) and another on Carr Waller Pritchett.

The other day I took a gander at the entry for Dwight D. Eisenhower and about cried. It was horrible. Horribly written. I would assign a letter grade of F to it. I am in the process of completely re-writing it.