The Wall – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm

EMPTY NEST- BY CURT SWARM

Author’s note: I ran this article in 2009.  But upon rereading, I couldn’t resist resubmitting it, doing a little editing of course.

George A. Haven, of Chatfield, Minnesota was a different sort of man, not odd, but well educated, and a fellow who townsfolk might say, “walks his own path.”  He was president of the Root River State Bank, a contributor to the Root River Trail, and liked to travel—world travel.  And in 1927, just a few years short of the Great Depression, anyone who made it out of Olmstead County was “unusual.”

 Not only did George Haven like to travel, he liked to collect mementos of the places and sights he had seen.  For example, he shipped home a stone from King Tut’s tomb, rocks from the Sea of Galilee, stones from the Great Wall of China, and the Parthenon at Athens.  (Keep in mind, this was back in the early part of the Twentieth Century when regulations weren’t so strict about memento collecting.) 

George Haven was also passionate about local artifacts.  He couldn’t resist a stone from the Chatfield Academy dating back to 1858, the United States Land Office, Fort Snelling, the Sibley House, Alexander Faribault House, the battlefield of Gettysburg, Fort Sumter, and Custer’s Last Stand.

Of course, what to do with his ever-growing collection became a question, and a problem.  George Haven hated to admit it, but the collection he was so proud of looked like any old pile of brick and rocks.

It came to him in a dream.  He sat up in the middle of the night and said, “I will build a wall.”

And so George Haven began to construct the wall in his backyard.  He would come home from the bank and, slowly, one rock at a time, hand place each stone until darkness set in.  The bulk of his rock was from a local quarry, and on this he used no mortar.  Mortar was only used to secure his precious mementos.

 Why did George Haven build a wall?  He had seen the Great Wall of China; he had Read Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall.”  He did not want to keep his neighbors out or himself in.  It was just that a wall, especially a stone wall, was so permanent, when most everything else was fleeting, including himself.  More than a legacy, he did not want people to forget. 

About half way through the project, which took 37 years, George Haven began to notice a darkness.  Something was wrong.  George Haven was going blind.  Specialists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota told him there was nothing they could do.

George Haven took the news with mixed emotions.  After several months of brooding, he knew what he would do.  He would finish the wall.

Night after night, stone after stone, George Haven worked on the wall.  He could work until well after dark now, because he was completely blind.  Sometimes he would smash a finger, and it would bleed, but stone after hand-fitted stone, George Haven worked on.

Neighbors and townsfolk would stop by to see how he was.  Some of them would help George with his wall. 

And then George heard the good news.  There was an experimental eye surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and doctors were looking for volunteers.  George immediately signed up.

The miracle happened.  George Haven’s eyesight was restored—not to twenty-twenty, but well enough to read.

There was one thing George wanted to see more than anything else.  He wanted to see The Wall.  Upon arrival home, he went directly to his wall.

He couldn’t believe how beautiful and sturdy it was.  He ran his hands over it, remembering every stone.  The wall would last forever!

George Haven’s wall still stands in Chatfield, Minnesota.  It is 245 ft. long, and six to seven feet high.  People often bring stones collected from around the world to add to George Haven’s wall.  George Haven is dead, but his wall lives on.  The brick in the wall, pictured in this article reads, “Slave Mkt Charleston, S.C.”

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, find him on Facebook, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.

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