(An American Tragedy)

Donald K. Muschany


[Letter 12, undated]

Dear Cousin:

     I think it’s high time that I talk a little about Howell Institute as it obviously embodied the thinking of the people of that area—that education was not a luxury but a downright necessity. You and I, among others, can thank our lucky stars for that attitude.
     Howell Institute was founded in 1881 on what was known as Lots 32-33 in Mechanicsville. These lots were owned in sequence by:

               Fortunatas B. Castlio to Peter Mades, 1874
               Mades to Jeanette Muschany, 1878
               Jeanette Muschany to Nannie Muschany, 1880
               Nannie Muschany to R. E. Gamble, 1882
               R. E. Gamble to the school, 1882

     While it is not my intention to have voluminous names and dates in these reports, I do want to show that the Muschany family was thoroughly involved with the concept of higher education.
     This is a heritage no one can take away from us, Norm, and one in which I place a great deal of justifiable pride. I am very much involved with Central Methodist College, my alma mater, as you know. Beyond being a duty, it is a pleasure and a rewarding experience for me to offer something of historical value to the college and to our descendants. I know that you share this same feeling.
     Like his brother Lewis Howell, Francis Howell, Jr. was interested in promoting the educational opportunities of the community, though he had no progeny of his own. He died in 1874, leaving a provision in his will for the financing for just such a “seminary” as evolved with Howell Institute.
     The school was a three-story frame building where many teachers of the area were educated. Classes were held on the first floor, with the second and third floors being used as living quarters for the teacher and his family, or paying tenants. (Schools always needed money.)
     Literary societies met in the classroom where heated debates were heard. Entertainments, box and pie suppers were held here, thereby incorporating the educational system into that of social functions, a laudable way of guaranteeing total participation. Often, when the second floor was unoccupied, the Ladies Aid or the Missionary Society quilted in one of the rooms. Ice cream socials were held on the lawn every two weeks during the summer months. How I wish this efficiency were the rule, not the exception, today!
     Howell Institute was the recipient of further endowments, among which was from the estate of Hiram Castlio.
     Incidentally, in the last letter or so, I mentioned the “quilt custom,” and I’d like to share my thoughts on an extension of that custom. As I gather these bits of information about our family, I see a general pattern taking form. It is as if the whole populace of Hamburg and Howell comes together as a large quilt with each family doing its own section of the total endeavor.
     In my undergraduate days, I studied a little Emerson and I remember being fascinated with the “cloak” concept of the Transcendentalists. Each person helped make up the whole “cloth” and there was one “oversoul.” Now, I don’t hold with their religious tenets but from a community standpoint, I think the idea applies very well. Most assuredly, the families of Hamburg and Howell passed this “cloth” on, one to the other. We have to do this the hard way, mentally and in absentia. But we do the same thing with Valley Forge, The Alamo, and Pearl Harbor. I mean the incidents, not the geographical locations.
     Memories are marvelous! Mary Jayne and I have traveled a great deal in these last twenty years, and all we have to do to relive these trips is to bring out the photos, memorabilia, and anything else we brought back with us. The same thing is true of memories of our children, Donna and Keith’s early days. I am forever beholden to Kodak for the old Brownie camera; I don’t recall a bad picture.
     I hope and pray that my humble offerings on these pages will stir up pleasant memories for you and anyone else who may read them. Norm, I can truthfully say that I think I am a better man for having indulged in this flight of fancy.
     If you recall, I started out by insisting that I know who I am . . . that I had no identity crisis. Well, if this was true at the start of these exercises, it is now confirmed, signed, sealed, and delivered. I now really know who Don Muschany is and what should be expected of him by his family: To be as close to a composite of the men in my ancestry as is humanly possible. I intend to try, believe me.
     On to more Howell personalities.

[signed: Don]
Don (Who?)