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Cather's childhood home set to close for restoration
  • Updated

R ED CLOUD — The unassuming frame house here where young Willa Cather lived six formative years as an adolescent and teenager will close Aug. 15 for its first comprehensive restoration in more than half a century.

The long-anticipated restoration project was announced by the National Willa Cather Center, which owns and maintains the property as one of many Cather-related sites of historical significance in Red Cloud and rural “Catherland.”

The work will be paid for through a combination of public and private dollars.

In 2019, the National Park Service awarded a $415,000 Save America’s Treasures grant for the house restoration project. The federal money is being matched dollar for dollar through private fundraising.

As restored, the property is to include:

  • Accessible walkways and an accessible entrance to allow guests of all ages and abilities to visit the property
  • A new climate control system that will serve the second floor for the first time, helping to protect artifacts there
  • New fire, smoke and security alarm systems
  • Restored windows, doors, trim and floors
  • Repaired and/or replaced fascia boards and clapboards that currently are deteriorating
  • Repaired brick chimneys
  • A new cedar shingle roof, plus new gutters and downspouts
  • A repaired foundation and reconstructed window wells
  • Enhanced drainage, including a trench drain, with soil graded away from the foundation
  • Cleaned and restored original architectural hardware
  • A new, historically appropriate fence that was designed based on archival photographs

Plants, trees and shrubbery on the property that date to the period of the Cather family’s occupancy will be retained.

In addition — and this is key — wallpaper in the bedroom Willa Cather occupied will undergo conservation, cleaning and treatment to re-adhere it to the walls.

Young Willa bought and hung the rose-colored wallpaper herself, using money she earned working at a local drugstore. More than 130 years later, the paper now is in delicate condition and wants to fall away.

Willa Cather was born Dec. 7, 1873, in Back Creek Valley, Virginia. She was the oldest of seven children who would be born to Charles and Virginia Cather.

In April 1883, when Willa was 9, she moved with her family to rural Webster County. About a year-and-a-half later, the family moved into Red Cloud and rented the house at Third Avenue and Cedar Street.

Willa would live there until her high school graduation in 1890. She graduated from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1895 and moved away from Nebraska in 1896, making her way to Pittsburgh and later New York for a career in journalism, teaching and writing.

Her parents continued to live in the house until 1904. Today, it’s just across the street from the Red Cloud Community Center and City Park.

Recognizable in several of Cather’s novels and short stories are the people and places she knew growing up in Red Cloud and the surrounding area. Her childhood home is described vividly in “the Song of the Lark,” “Old Mrs. Harris” and “The Best Years.”

In 1923, Cather won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel “One of Ours,” also set partly in Catherland.

Cather died in 1947 at age 73. In 1955, the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation was established in Red Cloud to honor her memory, promote her work, and preserve the places that figured importantly in her writing. The organization eventually became known simply as “The Willa Cather Foundation.”

The Cather Childhood Home has been called the crown jewel of the Cather historical sites. It was opened in 1967, four years before it was named a National Historic Landmark.

Nebraska has just 22 National Historic Landmarks.

In 2019, the foundation’s National Willa Cather Center, which already was managing the property, took ownership of the house from History Nebraska — formerly the Nebraska State Historical Society.

The house’s restoration is one of several projects being undertaken with funding raised through the Cather center’s Campaign for the Future. To date, more than $7 million has been raised through the campaign to provide for the future of numerous historical sites, expand educational programming, develop visitor amenities and expand an endowment fund.

“During the construction period and leading up to the reopening, visitors are encouraged to explore the exhibits of the National Willa Cather Center and participate in guided town tours of six additional historic properties related to Cather’s life and writing,” the Cather center said in a news release.

Fundraisers are seeking to collect an additional $100,000 for the house restoration, wallpaper conservation, and future interpretive enhancements to the house’s interior and exterior.

The National Willa Cather Center is headquartered at the historic Red Cloud Opera House, 413 N. Webster Ave., and in the adjacent and interconnected Moon Block building to the north.

For more information, visit www.willacather.org.


State
AP
Wounded Knee artifacts highlight slow pace of repatriations
Tribes in South Dakota are working with a rural Massachusetts museum to return hundreds of items believed to have been taken from ancestors massacred at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890
  • Updated

BARRE, Mass. — One by one, items purportedly taken from Native Americans massacred at Wounded Knee Creek emerged from the dark, cluttered display cases where they’ve sat for more than a century in a museum in rural Massachusetts.

Moccasins, necklaces, clothing, ceremonial pipes, tools and other objects were carefully laid out on white backgrounds as a photographer dutifully snapped pictures under bright studio lights.

It was a key step in returning scores of items displayed at the Founders Museum in Barre to tribes in South Dakota that have sought them since the 1990s.

“This is real personal,” said Leola One Feather, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, as she observed the process as part of a two-person tribal delegation last week. “It may be sad for them to lose these items, but it’s even sadder for us because we’ve been looking for them for so long.”

Recent efforts to repatriate human remains and other culturally significant items such as those at the Founders Museum represent significant and solemn moments for tribes. But they also underscore the slow pace and the monumental task at hand.

Some 870,000 Native American artifacts — including nearly 110,000 human remains — that should be returned to tribes under federal law are still in the possession of colleges, museums and other institutions across the country, according to an Associated Press review of data maintained by the National Park Service.

The University of California, Berkeley tops the list, followed closely by the Ohio History Connection, the state’s historical society. State museums and universities in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois and Kansas as well as Harvard University round out the other top institutions.

And that’s not even counting items held by private institutions such as the Founders Museum, which maintains it does not receive federal funds and therefore doesn’t fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, the 1990 law governing the return of tribal objects by institutions receiving federal money.

“They’ve had more than three decades,” says Shannon O’Loughlin, chief executive of the Association on American Indian Affairs, a national group that assists tribes with repatriations. “The time for talk is over. Enough reports and studying. It’s time to repatriate.”

Museum officials say they’ve stepped up efforts with added funding and staff, but continue to struggle with identifying artifacts collected during archaeology’s early years. They also say federal regulations governing repatriations remain time-consuming and cumbersome.

Dan Mogulof, an assistant vice chancellor at UC Berkeley, says the university is committed to repatriating the entire 123,000 artifacts in question “in the coming years at a pace that works for tribes.”

In January, the university repatriated the remains of at least 20 victims of the Indian Island Massacre of 1860 to the Wiyot Tribe in Humboldt County, California. But its Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology still holds more than 9,000 sets of ancestral remains, mainly from Bay-area tribes.

“We acknowledge the great harm and pain we have caused Native American people,” Mogulof said. “Our work will not be complete until all of the ancestors are home.”

At the Ohio History Connection, officials are working to create an inter-tribal burial ground to help bury ancestral remains for tribes forced to move from Ohio as the nation expanded, says Alex Wesaw, the organization’s director of American Indian relations.

The institution took similar steps in 2016 when it established a cemetery in northeast Ohio for the Delaware tribes of Oklahoma to re-bury nearly 90 ancestors who had been stored for centuries in museums in Pennsylvania.

Complicating matters, some of its more than 7,000 ancestral remains and 110,000 objects are thousands of years old, making it difficult to determine which modern-day tribe or tribes they should be returned to, Wesaw said.

At the Founders Museum, some 70 miles west of Boston, among the challenges has been determining what’s truly from the Wounded Knee Massacre, says Ann Meilus, the museum’s board president.

Some tribe members maintain as many as 200 items are from massacre victims, but Meilus said museum officials believe its less than a dozen, based on discussions with a tribe member more than a decade ago.

The collection was donated by Barre native Frank Root, a 19th century traveling showman who claimed he’d acquired the objects from a man tasked with digging mass graves following the massacre.

Among the macabre collection was a lock of hair reportedly cut from the scalp of Chief Spotted Elk, which the museum returned to one of the Lakota Sioux leader’s descendants in 1999. It also includes a “ghost shirt,” a sacred garment that some tribe members tragically believed could make them bulletproof.

“He sort of exaggerated things,” Meilus said of Root. “In reality, we’re not sure if any of the items were from Wounded Knee.”

More than 200 men, women, children and elderly people were killed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1890 in one of the country’s worst massacres of Native Americans. The killings marked a seminal moment in the frontier battles the U.S. Army waged against tribes.

The U.S. Department of Interior recently proposed changes to the federal repatriation process that lay out more precise deadlines, clearer definitions and heftier penalties for noncompliance.

Tribe leaders say those steps are long overdue, but don’t address other fundamental problems, such as inadequate federal funding for tribes to do repatriation work.

Many tribes also still object to requirements that they explain the cultural significance of an item sought for repatriation, including how they’re used in tribal ceremonies, says Brian Vallo, a former governor of the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico who was involved in the 2020 repatriation of 20 ancestors from the National Museum of Finland and their re-burial at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

“That knowledge is only for us,” he said. “It’s not ever shared.”

Stacy Laravie, the historic preservation officer for the Ponca Tribe in Nebraska, is optimistic museum leaders are sincere in seeking to rectify the past, in the wake of the national reckoning on racism that’s reverberated through the country in recent years.

Last month, she traveled with a tribal delegation to Harvard to receive the tomahawk of her ancestor, the Native American civil rights leader Chief Standing Bear. She’s also working with the university’s Peabody Museum to potentially repatriate other items significant to her tribe.

“We’re playing catch up from decades of things getting thrown under the rug,” Laravie said. “But I do believe their hearts are in the right place.”

Back at the Founders Museum, Jeffrey Not Help Him, an Oglala Sioux member whose family survived the Wounded Knee Massacre, hopes the items could return home this fall, as the museum has suggested.

“We look forward to putting them in a good place,” Not Help Him said. “A place of honor.”


State
AP
Deal on Capitol Hill could ease seniors' health costs
Some older Americans are cheering news of a deal on Capitol Hill that could lead to lower drug costs
  • Updated

A deal on Capitol Hill that could cut prescription drug costs for millions of Medicare beneficiaries was cautiously cheered by older Americans and their advocates Thursday even as many worried it might never come to fruition.

The health care and climate agreement struck by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin includes landmark provisions that could help senior citizens, including a cap on out-of-pocket Medicare drug costs and a requirement that the government negotiate prices on some high-cost drugs.

Some of the issues addressed in the deal have been talked about for decades and proved elusive. But Manchin’s backing brought new optimism to many who have lobbied and prayed for relief.

“We worry constantly, ‘Will we be able to afford this?’” said Becky Miller, a 67-year-old retired teacher from Bradenton, Florida, who spends thousands of dollars each year for drugs to treat epilepsy, heart problems and an inflammatory disease that affects her spine.

She is afraid the powerful pharmaceutical lobby might still thwart the plan, but said, “If this goes through, it will help a lot of people.”

Several prongs of the proposal have the potential to bring relief to millions of people:

  • It would cap out-of-pocket drug costs at $2,000 a year for Medicare beneficiaries. No such limit exists today, and some older people on costly drugs can run up bills of tens of thousands of dollars.
  • It would give Medicare, for the first time, the ability to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the price of drugs, though the number of medications subject to the provision would be limited.
  • It would create a new “inflation rebate” requiring drug companies to give refunds to Medicare beneficiaries for increases in prescription drug prices that exceed the rate of inflation.
  • It would provide coverage of vaccines for senior citizens. Some Medicare beneficiaries have had to pay out of pocket for recommended immunizations, such as the one against shingles.

Earlier proposals were more generous and, along the way, provisions to pay for senior citizens’ glasses, hearing aids and dental care were trimmed. But news of a possible deal still drew applause.

“This would nonetheless be transformational, just not as transformational,” said David Lipschutz, associate director of the nonpartisan Center for Medicare Advocacy. “It might not have been everything that everyone hoped for from the beginning, but this is nonetheless a huge step.”

Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, was likewise optimistic, saying, “Congress is on the cusp of making major changes to the Medicare drug benefit that could provide significant help to people struggling with their drug costs.”

If passed, an estimated 4.1 million Medicare beneficiaries would start getting free vaccines as soon as next year, Neuman said. Drug companies would also be required to start giving the rebates next year.

Other proposals would take longer to kick in. The cap on out-of-pocket spending — estimated to help 1.45 million people — would start in 2025. And in 2026, the government would be able to start negotiating prices, beginning with 10 drugs and increasing to 20 by 2029.

Medicare can’t currently negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay for whatever the companies charged, said Bill Sweeney, a senior vice president at AARP.

“Why would we create a situation where we’re at the mercy of the drug companies to pay whatever they charge?” he asked.

The Senate is expected to vote on the wide-ranging measure next week, but with the chamber divided 50-50 and the Republicans staunchly opposed, the Democrats will have no votes to spare. A House vote would follow, perhaps later in August.

One key vote, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., was still reviewing the agreement, a spokeswoman said. Sinema backed Manchin last year in insisting on making the legislation less expensive but objected to proposals to raise tax rates.

Pamela Stevens, a 69-year-old from San Dimas, California, pays around $10,000 annually in out-of-pocket expenses for drugs to treat diabetes and other conditions. She is a retired nurse and her husband a retired accountant, and said that while they aren’t poor, drug costs leave them little wiggle room. They never go out to eat or on vacation, and she sometimes goes without cholesterol drugs to cut costs.

Passage of the proposal, Stevens said, would give her some freedom and a chance to do more than just sit home watching TV. But she is not convinced it will happen.

“I am not going to hold my breath,” she said. “My hopes have been dashed too many times.”

In Oakland, California, 67-year-old Gary Cohen will pay $14,000 this year out of pocket for a generic version of the cancer drug Revlimid. Cohen, who worked on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the Obama administration, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2020.

“It’s scandalous to pay that much money for something that is literally keeping me alive,” Cohen said. The cap on out-of-pocket costs would help him once it kicks in.

He added: “I’m really excited it’s happening. I wish it were coming sooner.”


Business
AP
US economy shrinks for a 2nd quarter, raising recession fear
The U.S. economy shrank from April through June for a second straight quarter, contracting at a 0.9% annual pace and raising fears that the nation may be approaching a recession
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy shrank from April through June for a second straight quarter, contracting at a 0.9% annual pace and raising fears that the nation may be approaching a recession.

The decline that the Commerce Department reported Thursday in the gross domestic product — the broadest gauge of the economy — followed a 1.6% annual drop from January through March. Consecutive quarters of falling GDP constitute one informal, though not definitive, indicator of a recession.

The GDP report for last quarter pointed to weakness across the economy. Consumer spending slowed as Americans bought fewer goods. Business investment fell. Inventories tumbled as businesses slowed their restocking of shelves, shaving 2 percentage points from GDP.

Higher borrowing rates, a consequence of the Federal Reserve’s series of rate hikes, clobbered home construction, which shrank at a 14% annual rate. Government spending dropped, too.

The report comes at a critical time. Consumers and businesses have been struggling under the weight of punishing inflation and higher loan costs. On Wednesday, the Fed raised its benchmark rate by a sizable three-quarters of a point for a second straight time in its push to conquer the worst inflation outbreak in four decades.

The Fed is hoping to achieve a notoriously difficult “soft landing”: An economic slowdown that manages to rein in rocketing prices without triggering a recession.

Apart from the United States, the global economy as a whole is also grappling with high inflation and weakening growth, especially after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent energy and food prices soaring. Europe, highly dependent on Russian natural gas, appears especially vulnerable to a recession.

In the United States, the inflation surge and fear of a recession have eroded consumer confidence and stirred anxiety about the economy, which is sending frustratingly mixed signals. And with the November midterm elections nearing, Americans’ discontent has diminished President Joe Biden’s public approval ratings and could increase the likelihood that the Democrats will lose control of the House and Senate.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell and many economists have said that while the economy is showing some weakening, they doubt it’s in recession. Many of them point, in particular, to a still-robust labor market, with 11 million job openings and an uncommonly low 3.6% unemployment rate, to suggest that a recession, if one does occur, isn’t here yet.

“The back-to-back contraction of GDP will feed the debate about whether the U.S. is in, or soon headed for, a recession,” said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. “The fact that the economy created 2.7 million payrolls in the first half of the year would seem to argue against an official recession call for now.”

Still, Guatieri said, “the economy has quickly lost steam in the face of four-decade high inflation, rapidly rising borrowing costs and a general tightening in financial conditions.”

In the meantime, Congress may be moving toward approving action to fight inflation under an agreement announced Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat. Among other things, the measure would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, and the new revenue would be used to lower costs for seniors on medications.

In the wake of Thursday’s government report, Biden dismissed any notion that the data depicted an economy in recession. The administration has stressed that solid job growth and low unemployment show that the U.S. economy is still growing despite two consecutive quarterly declines in GDP. Speaking from the White House, Biden leaned on remarks that Powell and other economic leaders have made.

“Both Chairman Powell and many of the significant banking personnel and economists say we’re not in recession,” the president said.

The government’s first of three estimates of GDP for the April-June quarter marked a drastic weakening from the 5.7% growth the economy achieved last year. That was the fastest calendar-year expansion since 1984, reflecting how vigorously the economy roared back from the brief but brutal pandemic recession of 2020.

But since then, the combination of mounting prices and higher borrowing costs have taken a toll. The Labor Department’s consumer price index skyrocketed 9.1% in June from a year earlier, a pace not matched since 1981. And despite widespread pay raises, prices are surging faster than wages. In June, average hourly earnings, after adjusting for inflation, slid 3.6% from a year earlier, the 15th straight year-over-year drop.

Americans are still spending, though more tepidly. Thursday’s report showed that consumer spending rose at a 1% annual pace from April through June, down from 1.8% in the first quarter and 2.5% in the final three months of 2021.

Spending on goods like appliances and furniture, which had soared while Americans were sheltering at home early in the pandemic, dropped at a 4.4% annual rate last quarter. But spending on services, like airline trips and dinners out, rose at a 4.1% rate, indicating that millions of consumers are venturing out more.

Before accounting for surging prices, the economy actually grew at a 7.8% annual pace in the April-June quarter. But inflation wiped out that gain and then some and produced a negative GDP number.

Against that backdrop, Americans are losing confidence. Their assessment of economic conditions six months from now has reached its lowest point since 2013, according to the Conference Board, a research group.

The Fed’s hikes have already led to higher rates on credit cards and auto loans and to a doubling of the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage in the past year, to 5.5. Home sales, which are especially sensitive to interest rate changes, have tumbled.

Even with the economy recording a second straight quarter of negative GDP, many economists do not regard it as constituting a recession. The definition of recession that is most widely accepted is the one determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a group of economists whose Business Cycle Dating Committee defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and lasts more than a few months.”

The committee assesses a range of factors before publicly declaring the death of an economic expansion and the birth of a recession — and it often does so well after the fact.

“If we aren’t yet in a recession, we soon will be,’’ said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist for the economic consulting firm Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. “An economy rapidly losing momentum combined with aggressive monetary tightening is not a recipe for a soft landing or any other type of happy ending.’’

Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.


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