Monday, February 9, 2015

Sunflowers in Lawrence County Part 1

The Daily Republican
 (Monongahela, Pennsylvania)

 17 Nov 1899, Friday Page 3
Only a Few Men Knew and They Won’t Tell—How the Crop is Grown and Harvested—It Banishes Malaria—The Pioneer Sunflower Capitalist.
   A correspondent of the Chicago Record writes as follows from Lawrenceville, Illinois:
   A man down here is advertising for 1,000,000 pounds of sunflower seed.  He has bought three-fourths of a million pounds of sunflower seed and expects to ship 5,000,000 pounds.
   Practically all of this crop raised in the world goes out of Lawrence County.  This same man who is now buying the seed by the trainload got rich by raising such things on his rented farm, going into the market for strange and unusual things, while his neighbors stuck to wheat and corn and hogs.  His name is W. R. Crackel and he is both shrewd and inquisitive, but while supplying the world with what sunflower seed it needs he has never been able to find out what the world does with it.  This sunflower seed industry is not only an art exhibit and a poem, but one of the greatest mysteries as well.
   A good many people here are engaged in it now, but it is not so profitable as it was to the grower.  Farmer Crackel sold his first big crop for nine cents a pound; the next year his neighbors put out a good deal of land in sunflowers, and sold the product for eight cents a pound, which was some hundreds of dollars an acre.  Then came the deluge.  Everybody in Petty township planted sunflowers instead of corn, and the farmers accomplished their own undoing.  One township in this county broke the market from eight cents to two cents by causing overproduction in the world’s supply.  Then many went back to corn and wheat, and now things have settled down to a basis that pays well enough, but does not make rich men.

   The sunflower is grown from the seed and a twenty-acre field soon after it comes up looks like a patch of ground much neglected to the weeds.  The plants are cultivated somewhat, but in the rich soil of the island, where Crackel started the industry and where it still flourishes, the sunflower grows to unbelievable proportions with little care.  Early in the season the field takes on the color of the soft, rich green peculiar to the leaves of the plant, and a little later blotches of deep yellow appear all over the green palette, as one by one the flowers stick themselves above the general level like township committeemen at a political meeting.  The field on a level with the top of the low rail fence is one plane, the plants being interwoven with their long, broad leaves intermingled in what seems to be a perfect amalgamation.
   The flowers that first appear are not much larger than a saucer and are light yellow in color.  Each day more of them can be counted, everyone on a tall upshot and bending, its head in the most dignified way imaginable, making the field look like a crowd of tonsured courtiers saluting their king.  They bow toward the sun as general rule, bending to the east in the morning, the south at noon and the west in the evening.

   As the late summer comes, no view is richer than forty acres of sunflowers.  The color tone is yellow then—a rich, deep yellow—with just enough dark brown for harmony and a little of dark green for contrast.  High stand the stalks and each is bowed low with its weight of flower, but still reaching far above the fence and the corn in the adjoining field.

To be continued tomorrow