Old newspapers keep turning up unexpected treasures in my family history quest. One example is a story about a Hendrickson family reunion on a late summer day in 1927 at Radcliffe Park in Central Iowa. My great-grandparents attended, as did my grandfather, then in his 20s. The article gave me a new place to explore and new names to research. It appeared in the Jewell Record in September 1927:
“The Hendrickson relatives of various points in Iowa enjoyed a family reunion the last Sunday in August. The affair was held at the Radcliffe Park. A bountiful picnic dinner was served, after which the time was spent socially and in taking pictures.”
The article then lists the names of attendees, some of them familiar to me and others of them not. We learn at the end of the article that “it was decided to make the gathering of the Hendrickson family an annual affair.” I don’t know if that actually happened. I do know I’d love to see some of the pictures they took that day.
I decided to stop and explore Radcliffe Park, the location for the reunion, on a recent family history trip to Iowa. I’d never been anywhere near this park, and I’d have no reason to go there or to the little town of Radcliffe if I hadn’t read the reunion story. Curiosity got the better of me.
The park is small, on a corner across from the city hall but mostly surrounded by homes. It is grassy and pleasant but now largely occupied by playground equipment, some picnic tables, and a basketball court. It was mid-autumn when I saw the park, rather than the late summer season when the Hendricksons had their reunion in 1927. I looked around and snapped a few photos. In some places, a few autumn leaves still clung to the trees. It was cloudy, and a cold wind was blowing, which created an interesting atmosphere devoid of park-goers but made my wanderings briefer than they might otherwise have been.
A small stone building at the edge of the park looks like it’s been there for a while, perhaps even since 1927. A plaque from the American Legion is set into a monument made from the same kind of stone as the old building. It announces the Radcliffe Memorial Park and lists several names, presumably of military veterans. The name on the plaque that first caught my eye was reunion attendee Mayo Hendrickson, who will warrant further research. A few other surnames sounded familiar as well. The years 1917 and 1918 appear at the top. I suspect the memorial plaque and the stone building are the oldest items in Radcliffe Park, other than some of the old trees.
My excursion was satisfying. I looked around the little park and thought about all those Hendricksons — both adults and children, including my grandfather as a young man — milling about and enjoying their bountiful meal while socializing and taking pictures. I hoped and expected they had more convenient weather that day — that they had picnic-appropriate weather that made it comfortable to sit outside, with no wind to blow the tablecloths. With a new list of names, I will be interested to learn more about those who attended the reunion, where they came from and where they went. Now I have some context and imagery to go with the story. I’m glad I made time to stop and see.