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People

August 30, 2012

Moulton-Udell grad takes a deeper look at her hometown

Part II: A Sign with History; Millie Prillie Lucille Isabelle; and Self-appointed Letter Carrier

MOULTON — Editors Note: Jennifer Heartley is a Moulton-Udell graduate who is currently studying journalism at Drake University. She submitted the following for publication to the Daily Iowegian. It will be ran as a multi-part series on the People Page. This is Part 2.

A Sign with History

Every little town has a local mystery. It comes with the territory. I never knew what ours was until I did a little research. I found an article in the local archives at Garrett Memorial Library in Moulton titled, “Mystery in the Moulton Area: Museum Notes by Christine Anderson.”

This title caught my attention and I continued reading. Before I tell you about this mystery, I think it would help if I gave you a little background information. Jerry Johnson told me that Moulton once had more than 60 businesses, and now we have less than 20. Many of these local businesses existed and died out before I was born. I had never heard of them before.

One business however, I have always been intrigued by. It was already shut down before I can remember, but I still knew about it because the building was still there when I was going to school. I wondered about what it was and what it would have been like to go there. I asked questions about it to adults and they often gave vague answers i.e. “It was a restaurant.” “Eloda’s grandparents owned it.” “It had good food.” Needless to say I was unsatisfied.

On the side of the building, it still bore the large round sign that read “Sumer’s Place Café.” From the vague answers I received, I thought Sumer’s Café was Eloda Graham’s restaurant. I was wrong. I went to talk to Eloda, herself, about that old family restaurant.  

Eloda Graham is a local well-known by many for her creativity, baking and sewing skills. I used to think she was a universal “gramma” because her last name was “Graham” and so I called her grandma. She made several Easter dresses for me with beautiful lace and intricate design when I was younger. I wore one of them for “The Prince and Princess” contest at Jamboree when I was little. As I got older, she made anything ranging from a pageant dress or a prom corsage to quilts/blankets or even puppy outfits. She has made my birthday cake more than once and every time I was selling something in some group I was in or for school she was always my loyal customer. I have known her a long time and even though she’s not related to me, she feels like family.  

Eloda’s family restaurant was actually named the “Be Happy” restaurant. First, it belonged to her grandparents, then her parents, then her. Eloda spoke about how the restaurant worked. They hired high school girls to be waitresses. It used to be the “coffee shop” in the early morning because all the local men go up town every morning and meet nonchalantly in whatever local restaurant is most popular at the time; they all eat their breakfast and drink their coffee while they talk and listen about local and national current events, their opinions on politics, and what strenuous chores they have in store for that day’s schedule. “The social butterflies” as I call them, because they never miss a morning at whatever “coffee shop” is currently open in town. The current “coffee shop” is the grocery store “T&L” located in the central area of Main Street (not the same location as Sumer’s Place).

Eloda said, “I really hated to see it when we had to close, `cuz the little old people would bring in a head of cabbage, an` I’d make cole slaw or something and they were just so proud that they got to help out.”

As it goes with little towns, it’s hard for any local business to stay open very long. After this talk with Eloda, I was more curious than ever about the name “Sumer’s Café.” That wasn’t what her family called it, so where did that sign come from? I looked at the local archives in Garrett Memorial Library and found an article about Sumer’s Café.  

It was an article about the old theatre in town burning down. I remembered hearing from Jack Fowler and Jerry Johnson that the old theatre in town used to be where Sumer’s Café was located. So I read through the article, which gave me the history of the building up to 1997.

At first, the building began as the one room school house I’ve heard my grandmother talking about attending. When they rebuilt the school, they didn’t want the building to go to waste, so it was moved to a new location (its final resting place) on Main Street. On New Years’ Eve in 1914, the building burned to the ground taking with it two other buildings on the block. Moulton Water Works tried to contain the fire (there was no fire department back then), but the building burned down.

In 1915, George Carson and Stuart Mace planned and built The Colonial Theatre, an opera house. It became a theatre on the ground floor and a cigar factory on the second floor. At the time, there was no auditorium at Moulton School, and so the high school plays and operettas were held here. Silent picture shows became popular, so a movie screen was added. Then when sound was added to movies, the theatre was then called Molo Theatre. Then television was created and the movie theatre business was run out, leaving the Molo Theatre vacant. The local Old Fellows Hall also burned down, so they purchased the “Molo” in 1960. The group renovated it by leveling the sloping floors, adding a kitchen and restrooms and lowering the ceiling.

Then the building was used for many activities, becoming very useful for Jamboree displays. The Crossline Center is now used for this. Then it became the “Be Happy Restaurant” owned by Arther and Eloda Graham. Then last, but not least, it was the Sumer’s Place Café owned by Jeanie Cincotta. In 1996, it was made handicapped accessible. At the time this article was written, Sumer’s Place Café was still active. Unfortunately, by the time I was in school, the building was again vacant. My mom talked several times about how she wanted to turn it into a game house for kids to have a place to go to have fun without alcohol and other trouble. The Crossline Center, originally called the Community Center was supposed to be for this, but the elderly women of the town started running the establishment, changing the name, using it for their quilt making, and renting it out to people of the community to make profit off of it. The men play their bingo games there, and many graduation parties, including mine, have been held there over the years.

There was talk in town of a couple men wanting to buy Sumer’s Place Café and turn it into a bar after the smallest bar in town was shut down. During my high school years, the building, Sumer’s Place Café, still bearing the large sign with the name on the side was torn down due to safety hazards and now this once historical and useful place is an empty lot with grass as tall as weeds.

Millie Prillie Lucille Isabelle

In 1996, the local mystery was reopened by the family members of Millie Prillie Lucille Isabelle.  Sumer’s Café was still in business.  Christine Anderson, a member of the Moulton Historical Society was sitting in Sumer’s Café in 1996 having lunch when she overheard two ladies asking the waitress about “several out-of-the-way cemeteries” where they had family graves.  Being a member of the Historical Society, Christine Anderson was interested and wrote the article, “Mystery in the Moulton area: Museum Notes by Christine Anderson”.  The ladies at the café mentioned that their grandma Millie Prillie Lucille Isabelle, named after all four of her grandmothers and called “Belle” for short, was kidnapped from school when she was six years old.  This was around 1870, and her uncles, father, and other local men followed the trail on horseback to catch up to the kidnappers.  They retrieved the little girl along with five new pairs of shoes (they don’t know why there were five new pairs of shoes).  However, no one knows anything about what happened to the kidnappers.  The article gave contact information for anyone who knew anything to notify the Historical Society, but there were never any follow-up articles about the matter.  The two women looking into their family tale were in Moulton visiting the graves of Belle’s mother and grandmother.  Belle, herself, was buried in Missouri.  I would love to see her grave, even if it didn’t lend me a clue, because I have had fun investigating Moulton.  A small mystery, but an intriguing one.  

Self-appointed Letter Carrier

Another mystery I hope to one day solve about Moulton is the story of a “self-appointed letter carrier assistant” named Mitzi.  She was a small dog that “for some reason … decided to accompany Jack Howard on his daily routine mail delivery,” according to an archival book at Moulton Garrett Memorial Library called American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976 Moulton Iowa 1976.  Mitzi was owned by Bill Waggoner in 1964; Mitzi followed Jack on his routine in that part of town.  Her walks kept increasing until one day she was sitting on the back doorstep of the post office waiting for Jack to begin his route.  “Ever since, she has faithfully waited for Jack, even on holidays and Sundays.  She is still on the job in 1977.”  (Moulton Archives)  “Mitzi has outlived her owners.  When Bill Waggoner had to go to the hospital, Max Horn cared for her.”  (Moulton Archives)  Then with Bill in the nursing home, Bob Cowell took care of her.  When Bob died, his mother Marjorie took her in.  When she died, her son Kenneth took Mitzi.  No matter who had her, she was always at the post office waiting for Jack.  “If her advanced age does put a stop to her daily pilgrimage she will be greatly missed as Jack’s faithful assistant Letter Carrier.”  (Moulton Archives)  I would have liked to speak to Jack Howard about what happened to Mitzi in the end and hear the story firsthand of how this duo came to be.  Unfortunately, Jack Howard recently passed away.

Look for Part 3 soon, in which the author learns about Moulton’s library.

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