Thursday, February 08, 2007

I Seen It In the Wood

(More local history)

In the early 1900s, there was a guy named Ernest "Mooney" Warther. When he was five years old, he found a little knife while out tending cows, and he taught himself to carve things out of wood. After the second grade, he quit school and worked at jobs around town and worked in a steel mill.

Mooney was a creative and mechanical genius, and as his carving skills improved, he became enamored with the steam engine. He set out to carve the history of trains out of ivory, walnut, ebony, and pearl, and at the age of 68, he finished the last train in the collection. These trains, around 64 of them, are unimaginably ornate with moving parts, and some of them have up to 9,000 parts all to scale. The trains were on display at Grand Central Station in New York for a few years, but most of them have been brought back for the family museum in my town. For a small-town museum, Warther's is surprisingly polished and quite a treat, once or twice. Part of the tour, which is often conducted by a Warther descendant, is a series of scratchy recordings of Mooney discussing various projects, and the best line in the whole thing is "I seen it in the wood." You have to love a guy with Albert Einstein hair and the ability to see trains and pliers and canes in blocks of wood or old elephant tusks.

Mooney spent day hours making knives in the family business he developed, and he spent evening hours making his scale model trains. This train is a replica of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train. Inside is a little coffin and a tiny key the size of a grain of rice.

His wife, Freida, found herself alone for long hours at a time, as you can imagine, so she collected buttons and arranged them in amazing patterns that are now shown in a "button house" near the museum. Honestly, I think the Button House is a little creepy, but if collecting buttons made Mrs. Warther happy, then who am I to say? She also created a heck of a garden which is still maintained.

I may not be a mechanical genius, but I often think of this weird old guy when I set out to accomplish something, and I think about how his son and grandson at the museum tell all the kids to watch less TV so they will have time to do the things that are really important to them. That's a message for us all, I'm sure.

“Everything has its’ own rhythm or tempo that is in step with nature and if you can find the tempo of the task at hand, the work becomes effortless.”
Ernest Mooney Warther


dive said...

Is there a stranger creature than the obsessive hobbyist, Robyn?
I'd love to see the trains and the museum, but I wouldn't fancy being stuck in a room with Mr. Mooney for any length of time (just look what it did to Mrs. Mooney).

Robyn said...

Ha. That's what I think every time I see the button house. People talk about what a lovely job she did, and suppose so, but I imagine a lonely woman who says, "well, maybe I could collect old buttons, or something."

The property for this place is fascinating because it's on the site of the old family home. And all the kids played in this kind of carved out cave and swung from trees. I suspect their childhood was lovely.

RICH said...

This is a really good post Robyn. A botton house. Oh well the things you can accomplish without TV and numorous hours of being alone.

Thanks for sharing. :)

RICH said...

Dive - maybe Mrs. Mooney was driven "Looney"?

dive said...

Hee hee.

I spent fifteen years without a TV. This explains a lot.
Now where did I put those buttons?

Robyn said...

Oh, Rich, that's awful. hee hee.

Dive, I have cut back on my evening TV glaring in recent months, and I think about Old Mooney when I see what I can do in those few extra hours.

Dear Prudence said...

Neat history Robyn. Great Quote too. I copied it and posted it in my office... my hat off to Mr. Mooney. Although he should have kept his hat on! What is UP with his hair?, she asks with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek.

dive said...

Yes, be careful when cutting down on your TV, Robyn.
You may wake up with hair like Mr. Mooney!

RICH said...

BTW Robyn, do you still sleep in a bed of books?

Robyn said...

Prudence, in every picture I have ever seen of the man, even into his old age, his air was completely of a mind of its own. Wild and uncontrolable.

Rich, I no longer sleep with a pile of books.

Sassy Sundry said...

I'm fascinated by people who get that into their hobbies. I like the idea of a creepy button museum. It makes me strangely happy to think that it exists.

lynn said...

Good grief what a story. Yes it is creepy, just a bit! I do love his hair. Clever bloke, clearly, but (shiver) i wouldn't want to meet him on a dark night in the wood(s). Or her, come to that.

Anonymous said...

Freida Warther brought the many of the button with her when she immigrated to the United States, before she married her husband.