Steve Maddox, great grandson of John Napoleon Maddox, drove to the farmland of Crawford County, Illinois, this week to speak with Mary Burkett Laughead, a centenarian and once neighbor of John Napoleon, about her memories of the Maddox family. Mary had been featured in a recent Robinson Daily News article, which detailed her long history in the area. Here’s what Steve discovered:
“The trip started with a quick address lockup in Google……….unbeknownst Google does not have directions for BFE/Hell’s Half Acre. I got lost and ended up in a cornfield access road, I gave up. I drove to my grandfather’s house and asked him about Mary. He absolutely knows her, as a matter of fact she was his Bible School teacher when he was young. They are also good friends and share a cup of coffee occasionally. We loaded up in the pickup truck and hit the gravel roads. On the way to Mary’s farmhouse we passed a field and my grandfather pointed to it and told me that was where Napoleon was raised! Bryon McGill had a 2 story farmhouse there, but is now gone. It is due west of the Maddox Farm. We pulled into Mary’s driveway, for a 100+ year old farmhouse on 2 acres of land, it is in great shape and well maintained. I noticed that someone was mowing the grass………..yes Mary was mowing the grass! She slowing got off the riding lawnmower and graciously invited us into her home. After the cordial communications and the birthday wishes, we explained to her the reason of our visit. I asked if she was really born in the house………she pointed into the next room at a table. Enough said!
“Mary stated that she remembers all 8 children of Napoleon. She was closest to Milford because of their age. They played in woods and hide-and-go-seek. She does remember Irene and stated “she was a pretty girl”. They were not close friends due the age difference. We did explain the Irene story and she sincerely wished she could have provided some answers. Mary was a fascinating person to spend an hour with. She shared stories of her father and how she helped on the farm, and then took it over after his death. They started with 40 acres, acquired 60 more, and the last purchase was for 80 additional acres. The first 40 and 60 were farmed with horses, much like Napoleon. She went to college in Indianapolis and returned on occasion. Indianapolis has a circle in the middle of downtown called Monument Circle, it is the mecca for all events. Mary told us the story how she rode the cable car across town to watch a show. After the show was over she stepped onto Monument circle to witness all the “News Boys” screaming and crying…………Pearl Harbor. She also shared a story about her father Hugh. Hugh would dress up as Santa Claus each Christmas, jump on his horse and ride to the Maddox Farm to pass candy out to the Maddox kids. Imagine the sight! It’s hard to even imagine Christmas without the commercialize that exist now. Mary is a fantastic person to speak with. Intelligent, great sense of humor, and healthy. My final question to her was “What is the secret?”. She chuckled (I doubt I’m the first person to ask this question), Mary just looked at me and said “Hard work”.
“We did drive by the Maddox Farm on the way home. The owners are building a new home between the original farmhouse and the orchard. They will be tearing down the farmhouse. If I could move it I would. The owners are typical country folk and don’t like visitors. We did try and get access to the barn when it fell, and they declined. The only reason we acquired the wood planks is because of a mutual friend. I would like to try and see if we can visit the house before it’s destruction and possible acquire some of the wood.”
Kathie McCleskey said:
Justin: this is so interesting. What a great trip and commentary! Aunt Kathie