I know very little about my great grandmother, Flora Jane Bush Kingsbury. My grandfather was nine years old when she died on May 21, 1900. A recently discovered link to online copies of historic Osage, Iowa newpapers allowed me to learn a bit more about her. Sadly, I still do not know her cause of death.
From news reports on Thursday May 18th, it seemed as though Flora Jane might recover,  which probably made her death, three days later, even harder on the family. The day before she died was a warm summer day with lots of sunshine and blue skies and temperatures in the 80s. The week before had been warm but with a good amount of rain and thunderstorms in northern Iowa.
Flora Jane Bush Kingsbury died at home on Monday evening, May 21, 1900 and was laid to rest on Wednesday afternoon, May 23rd. There was no detail about her life and her accomplishments but this verse was printed in the paper along with the announcement of her death:
Only a spark of an ember,
Only a leaf of a tree,
Only the days we remember,
Only the days without thee.
Only the flower thou worest,
Only the book that we read,
Only that night in the forest,
Only the dream of the dead.
Only the trough that was broken,
Only the heart that is lonely,
Only the sigh and the token,
That sob in the saying of “only.”
I’ve never heard this verse before so I googled the phrase “only that night in the forest” and though I still didn’t find who wrote the poem, it was referenced in a 1890 periodical entitled Book Chats, as an example of “consumptive poetry” under the heading “How to Fail at Writing Poetry.” I assume Wayland Kingsbury, Flora’s husband, selected this verse. Did it have some significance to the two of them? It’s not a great poem, but I think it’s appropriate to choose “consumptive” verse when your wife of 18 years dies when she’s only 40 and you are consumed by grief.
Since her obituary doesn’t provide much insight into Flora Jane’s life, I consulted several news articles from the years preceding her death, to understand her better. Flora was born in 1860 and was the third of five daughters born to Eliza Jane Moore and Reverend Alva Bush. (They also had one son, Albert Lincoln Bush born in 1864.) She was only two years old when her family moved from Fayette County Iowa to the frontier town of Osage in Mitchell County in 1862, when her father became one of the founders and first principal of Cedar Valley Seminary. Cedar Valley Seminary played a prominent role in the life of the town and the Bush and Kingsbury families.
Wayland B. Kingsbury moved from his home in Fayette County, Iowa in 1878 to attend Cedar Valley Seminary. He lived in the Bush family home, working his way through school by doing chores for the family and the school.His oldest son Forrest, who also attended CVS provided this account of Wayland’s time as CVS, on the occasion of the school’s 100th anniversary in 1969.
Forrest also included this transcription of one of his father’s first letters home:
The 25th wedding anniversary of Reverend Alva Bush and his wife Eliza Jane was celebrated at the Seminary Chapel on Monday April 22, 1878. The description of it took up almost a full column in the Mitchell County Press the following week. It was quite an affair with lots of school and town dignitaries and alumni giving speeches, singing, praying, playing music and this:
“Miss Flora Bush, to the utter surprise of her father and mother, then stepped before the assembly and read the following appropriate and beautiful poem:
A crown of glory – silver hairs –
That grace my father’s brow:
No diadem a monarch wears,
No brilliants that his forehead bears,
Eclipse your glory now.
O, reverent locks of shining gray,
Long may your beauty shed
The sunlight of its gentle ray
Along my dim and doubtful way,
A blessing on my head.
And when the breath of heaven’s own land
Shall fan that blessed brow,
God grant that I may near thee stand
And smooth these locks with this same hand
That loves to smooth them now.
A. B. – C. V. Sem, Feb., 1878
The next year in 1879, Flora graduated from CVS and participated in an elocution competition as part of the graduation ceremonies. It was actually a competition among the top five male and top five female students. Flora won second place for her recitation of “The Painter of Seville.” The quality of the copy is poor so I’ll transcribe what appeared in the Mitchell Valley Press on July 3, 1879:
“The Painter of Seville,” by Miss Flora Bush, took the second prize for the ladies. Miss Bush certainly deserves a high compliment for the peculiar power and emphasis, which renders such selections entertaining, and she probably had the finest and most difficult recitation of the evening.”
I didn’t have as much luck when I Googled “Painter of Seville” as when I found the verse in Flora’s obituary but I did learn that it was common in the late 1800s for schools to use recitation and elocution as part of the curriculum. On Google Books I found several catalogues of recitation verses, including a reference to “The Painter of Seville” in the index, but I’ve yet to find the full verse.
Cedar Valley Seminary was a school ahead of its time; women were admitted from its inception in 1869. CVS was essentially a junior college, providing a course of study that would be useful in your trade or business, (i.e. shorthand and double entry accounting if your time at CVS was the end of your formal education) but also college prep courses, (i.e. Greek, Latin and advanced mathematics, if you were going to college.) I know that my grandfather attended CVS for at least a year before he began college at George Washington University. I think all of his brothers also attended CVS. Here’s the earliest Mitchell County Press reference to the Institution.
This is my grandfather Joseph Bush Kingsbury around 1909 when he attended Cedar Valley Seminary. Quite serious looking don’t you think? And maybe a little sad, but I never thought of him as a sad person. Perhaps because I knew him in his later years, I detect his kind and sensitive nature even in this early picture.
Ah yes, pictures. It would be so nice to have a picture of Flora Jane Bush Kingsbury.
 “Silver Wedding – Grand Affair – The Silver Bill Thoroughly Vindicated,” The Mitchell County
Press, 2 May 1878, p.2, col.1; image copy, Digital Archives of the Osage Public Library (http://osage.advantage-preservation.com:accessed May 21, 2017)