I hate to get all meta and Admiral Stockdale on everyone, but we’re a couple of weeks into this new endeavor so I thought I’d give some background about who I am, of course, and why I’m here. More specifically, I wanted to provide a little bit of information about why I post the things that I do.
I’m Ted Shideler. As of this writing I’m thirty-one years old. When I’m not working as a lab technician at a plastics company I have a tendency to drive around taking pictures of one-room schoolhouses, county courthouses, and other historic ephemera. I also play drums, record music, try to catch fish, and work on vintage Showbiz Pizza robots. I’m a huge fan of LEGOs and NBA basketball as well, and I hope that this new blog gives me a chance to talk about all of it. I live with my brother who has a cat named Disco, and I have a foster tortoise named Sheldon. Mercifully, I haven’t posted about old pizza robots yet.
Despite my other pursuits, most of what I try to write about here are things related to history, a love I obtained largely due to the influence of my parents. After all, they named me after two of my dad’s favorite obsessions, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
My favorite brand of history is local. My brother spent lots of time in Brazil and Greece, and my sister lived in Canada and Germany for a while. I was too shy to go abroad. Instead, I laser-focused on what could be found in my Indiana back yard. I stumbled across this tendency honestly: the 1925 house I first came home from the hospital to was in the Frances Slocum/Beacon Heights neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana- a city very much swollen with historic pride about Mad Anthony versus the Indians; the confluence of the St. Marys, St. Joseph, and Maumee rivers; and coney dogs. But even every modern place Dad called home after my parents’ divorce was steeped in history and filled not just with antiques, but with stories about those antiques– tales that represented knowledge about how old things worked and how people lived a long time ago.
Trips to his house every other weekend were, a lot of times, spent combing through far-flung flea markets and swap meets for old brass fire extinguishers, vintage firearms, oddball animal traps, double-belled euphoniums, and other weird trinkets.
Mom’s house was not much different. Growing up, my home held old board games and recipes, family room built-ins, an antique pie safe, and gargoyles.
Although my Dad’s parents complied traditional ahnentafels, I’m no more German than your standard hot dog as served up at Coney Island. On my mom’s side, however, my historic bent goes back a couple of generations: My great-grandma was president of the Delaware County Historical Society, and I have a real affinity for one-room township schoolhouses that stems from a day trip I took with my mom and my grandma when I was twelve. Grandma, -retired teacher and volunteer with the local historical society- recreated some county plat maps from the 1880s as part of a curriculum unit for fourth-graders studying Indiana’s state history. One summer Saturday around 2002, my mom accompanied her on a trip around the county to take photos of some of the remaining schoolhouses featured in grandma’s booklet with a new Sony FD Mavica camera that shot 640×480 jpegs onto floppy disks. For some reason, I decided to tag along.
I was fascinated by the structures we found, and I just had to learn more. There weren’t lots of resources available for historically-minded twelve year olds at that time, though, so I waited. After I got my first car, I fondly recalled our trip as I roamed the county with my friends and stumbled across the old Nixon, Wheeling, and Center schools I remembered, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere.
Another thing that captivated me as a kid was any county courthouse. Goshen’s, in particular, stood out as the backdrop of tons of memories at my dad’s house after he moved up there years after my parents separated. Starting when I was seven, most every other Friday my mom and stepdad drove us to Fort Wayne to connect with my dad, who’d drive us the rest of the way in a series of Escort station wagons or his turbocharged Beetle. It was usually dark by the time we’d make it up to Goshen, and the clock of the courthouse -lit up in a weird, phosphoric hue- would greet this anxious kid like a benevolent cyclops beckoning to the safety of Dad’s house.
At the end of the weekend, Dad took us back either to Fort Wayne or all the way back to Muncie, and he’d usually follow a different route to either city. We passed the courthouses in LaGrange, Albion, Auburn, Warsaw, Hartford City, Bluffton, or Decatur in our lackadaisical travels back home. There was never a hurry. I’d go back to school every Monday and try to draw those courthouses from memory.
I was a sensitive kid, and no one else at school shared my interests. I can’t say I was ever bullied over my love of history, but I cried in kindergarten when I couldn’t find any books at the Scholastic book fair about cathedrals.
The sting of humiliation I felt when I blurted out my interest in a calendar my grandparents had hung in their pantry that shared pictures of Fort Wayne’s major churches still resonates with me. I actually asked them if I could have it, so taken was I with its photos. My dad was pissed at my audacity, but Grandpa Hayes and Grandma Marlene just laughed. Instead of giving me their calendar, they did one better and spent the next day driving us around town with a gigantic pad of paper so grandma could draw big pictures of St. Paul’s, St. Peters, Trinity Lutheran, First Presbyterian, and the Cathedral in Fort Wayne while grandpa patiently idled the car.
I think they expected me to color them, and I may have, but my primary goal was to use them as supplements to my own memories to craft my own drawings of each amazing structure.
After grandma died, my Aunt Connie sort of took her place as the family matriarch. She indulged my every interest. As I grew up, Aunt Connie was my mentor, my co-conspirator, my teacher, my sounding board, my benefactor, my counselor, my biggest supporter, and -during the time I lived in Fort Wayne during college- my best friend. I was devastated when she passed away early last year.
Around 2011 I started my project to catalogue every courthouse in Indiana. It didn’t take long before I gave up! In its stead, I started a project to find and photograph all of the old schoolhouses in Delaware County as a return to my grandma’s old project. I did it, then returned to my original project to go to every courthouse. Through that process I learned about some schoolhouses I missed and later started going to courthouses in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. Eventually, I obtained some old Showbiz Pizza robots, a drone that flies, a drone that goes underwater, and now we’re here.
The first website I created was “Courthousery,” named after a word a friend and I came up with to describe our travels to go take pictures of them. Next came a Facebook group called FOUND Muncie, where I wrote about the things around Delaware County I’d found, researched, and snapped a quick iPhone photo of. Schoolhousery was next, which documented my attempts at locating, researching, and taking photos of every remaining old schoolhouse across all of East-Central Indiana.
A couple of years ago, I became involved in one of my favorite projects ever, helping my mom trace the steps of two long-ago relatives who went to the Deep South from rural Indiana to help educate freedmen in the years after the Civil War. Mom and I spent a week traveling the state in search of clues to help unpack the contents of a diary one of the sisters left. It was an amazing experience.
Somewhere along the way, I picked up smoking a pipe from my dad back when I was a freshman in college. I think Dad picked up the habit from his own father and probably went completely extra with it to rebel. All three of us were middle children, and it was nice to continue the tradition, but I mostly stopped smoking after Dad died just before I started my courthouse project. Last year I got back into the habit and hobby, so I decided to write about it. I’m basically a new pipe-smoker, but with a dearth of experience and historical knowledge to accommodate those experiences.
Pipe-smoking is so ridiculously out of vogue that I’m not even confident to smoke one in public lest I look like a fedora-wearing neckbeard who call girls “M’lady,” and not with that Crazy Town factor. Nevertheless, the nature of smoking a pipe lends the habit to be intensely personal, and the internet is lacking in pipe reviews. I started writing about it.
“I don’t ask much of a pipe,” Dad wrote in the 2011 edition of Guns Illustrated, a book that he also edited. “It should stay cool all the way through the smoke; it should break in quickly; it should draw smoothly even if I’ve packed it too tightly.”
After he perished, my siblings and I were allowed to go purchase items from Dad’s estate. John picked up the remainder of Dad’s pipes that he hadn’t given me. One was that Boswell Jumbo sitter, which was the only pipe he owned that held a saxophone’s worth of his favorite Smoker’s Pride Vanilla Cavendish brand of budget tobacco. Unfortunately, the Jumbo was but a stummel: at some point, the pipe was dropped and the bit cracked off. That was unusual, since Dad always kept his pipes in smoking-order. I guess John and I will never know what happened to it.
Dad and grandpa weren’t messing around with aromatics or notes, and they wouldn’t be caught dead smoking art pieces never designed to be used in the first place. But they also didn’t put up with cheap, basket pipes- they preferred workhorses; the type that an old-school pipe-smoking breadwinner might like: Petersons. Savinellis. Lorenzos. Boswells.
We’ll welcome those pipes, my interests in schoolhouses and courthouses, and whatever I want to discuss as we purge my old websites of content and add it here along with a ton of new writings. I don’t purport to speak for the influences I’ve mentioned still with us or not, but I’ll chat about what I think’s interesting in the way I tend to write.
Even if I don’t write like they may have, my family’s had a huge influence on my interests. In other words, who I am and why I’m here.
6 thoughts on “Who am I? Why am I here? A belated introduction”
Blogs are a great place to share peculiar interests. What’s shocking is that other people out there share them, too. Ask me how I know.
Yes sir! I’ve learned a TON from your blogs.
This is great writing, Ted. Thanks for sharing how you got here.
Thank you! Awesome endorsement.
Good writers pick subjects that interest them an make me interested too. Your efforts seldom fail in this. I look forward to more!
Thank you! Proud to count you among the throngs.
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