Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

Stewart, Ohio, is not a metropolitan area. Here, the Hocking River cuts through town. (Credit: Dennis E. Powell)

All Gone

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 10:11 PM

It startles me to realize that I’ve lived in this little house longer than I’ve lived anyplace else. I moved around quite a bit in New York and Connecticut, yet my few years’ tenancy in each of several places there is longer in my memory than my 20 years next spring spent here.

When I moved here I knew absolutely no one, though the friendship of Jorma and Vanessa at first, and soon afterwards the welcoming laughter of Matt and Robin, quickly changed that. Within a few months I had been embraced by a warm community of people worth knowing. Interesting people, accomplished people, talented people, opinionated people.

Now they’re mostly gone. Some have moved away while many others have gone to where we’ll not see each other again in this life. The pandemic hastened the divorce, of course, but the gorgeous little community of people each of whom I was proud to call a friend is now gone.

No example of witty repartee at the Algonquin Hotel’s famous Round Table could exceed the sheer joy of holiday — every holiday — dinner at Nelda’s, or Mary complaining that she had baked the chicken for 14 hours and it’s still raw in the middle, or everybody just taking delight in our all being together. Hearing of the misadventures of the peculiar and highly amusing “Milton,” whom some of the assembled group had actually known. “Mud City” was kind of the secret-handshake-password, because so many in the group had lived in that legendary but real place. It was like high society, but it wasn’t. It was Medium Society, but society nonetheless.

Like any society, it had its events, and heading the list, the Beaux Arts Ball of former hippies, pioneers, artists, and people like me who were inexplicably invited to join the group, was the Autumn Party at Glass House Works. That was its actual name, though it was more normally called Ken and Tom’s party.


Tom was technically minded and loved to make digital photographs. The Glass House web page was and is a wonder to behold. Here, he makes a picture at their annual autumn party in 2007. (Credit: Dennis E. Powell)

Ken and Tom were a couple. They had been together for decades, since long before such a thing was broadly accepted. In 2006 or 2007, soon after this column began, I wrote about how my new location resembled the wonderful TV series “Northern Exposure,” right down to the homosexual couple and how this was a detail but not the defining detail about them.

Glass House Works in those days was a lively house-grounds-business right in the center of Stewart, Ohio, a place you’ve never heard of and never will hear of again. There, Tom and Ken sold plants, outdoor sculpture, stone benches, and related goods. They had more kinds of bamboo than anyone knew existed, some of it growing to ridiculous height and diameter. They had strange plants, plants you also had never heard of, variegated versions of familiar species that now looked like a whole nother thing, plants and objets d’art that caught their fancy.

The Glass House boys. That’s Ken on the left and Tom on the right. They’re surrounded by the plants they sold.(Credit: Dennis E. Powell)

A few years ago — it might have been five or six, or 10 — Tom died. He had been fine, but then the pain came and in a few hours he was gone. This was a puzzle. In this new world I’d lucked into, this kind of thing was not supposed to happen. It was perfectly balanced and in no need of alteration. Change, especially this kind of change, was not welcome, any more than would have been construction of stairs that would have made Mary’s second-floor front door, right there halfway up her house, accessible. Everything was fine as it was.

What brings — forces — all this to mind is the email I received Saturday. Ken, whom I hadn’t seen in a few years, not since I abandoned Kroger’s for Aldi, because Kroger’s was where I would run into him — had died Friday, the message was. Not a surprise, really, because he was old, but the catalyst for a long and lingering sigh over the departure of another remnant of a special time.

Gone, too, are the newspapers that were published here 20 years ago last spring; their corpses are still creakingly cranked out at reduced frequency, saying pretty much nothing, nothing that would interest you, anyway, so I cannot point to an obituary of Ken. In conversations over the years — every introduction in these parts soon turns to “So why did you move here?” — we were surprised to learn we’d grown up only a few miles apart, 500 miles away, Ken in Boonville and me south of Columbia, though our paths didn’t cross because Boonville was on the other side of the river and, frankly, there wasn’t much there until you got to Kansas City and because he was enough older that we wouldn’t have had friends in common anyway. Still, when I ran into him in Kroger’s, the only place I saw him the last years, that and the Stewart Post Office, he would want to exchange news of people and events back in Missouri. After Tom died there was one autumn party I know of, maybe one or two more, but that part of Medium Society was gone.

My favorite memory of Ken is from July 2008. I was driving to town and found that Route 329 in Stewart was closed off. There was all kinds of activity. Helicopters whop-whop-whopped overhead. Serious-looking men in armored uniforms emerged from serious-looking armored trucks. Other men, these more self-confident looking, stood around in their navy blue BATF jackets.

Man in armor and his pet robot investigate the decoy bombing on July 29, 2008, at the Stewart Post Office. (Credit: Dennis E. Powell)

I pulled over and grabbed my camera. Kind of circling the area, I looked for an explanation. I didn’t have to go far, because there was Ken, tall and grinning, the peripatetic master of ceremonies of this impromptu village carnival, strolling from house to house, where the unconcerned but interested residents were sitting on their front porches. He’d exchange the news and other gossip — of course other gossip — with each, then continue his stroll.

I never saw him happier.

When Jim, whose job it was, stopped very early that morning at the Post Office to drop off that day’s mail in big canvas bags, he had seen something strange, a contraption of plastic bottle and wires and I guess a battery. He kicked it out of the way, dropped off the mail, and continued on his way. He found something similar at the next Post Office and, I think, the next. By and by it occurred to him that something was up and maybe he should tell someone. So he did, and by the time I got there the full faith and credit of the United States Government had descended on the place.

Ken ate it up. Not for the news value but because it was something to talk about and had brought the whole hamlet together.

(It came out that some genius, planning to rob the bank over in Coolville, thought it would be a good distraction to put childish fake bombs at nearby Post Offices, the idea apparently being that with the authorities thereby occupied he could make a clean getaway. It was a good distraction but he didn’t get away. I told you this is an interesting place, populated by people so colorful that even the crooks are funny.)

Now, I’m told, Ken’s gone, is strolling along no doubt convivial as ever, in a different kind of parade, one where he’ll find Mary and now Nelda, David Baird, Tom, of course, and so many others who were the reason Medium Society in Southeast Ohio sparkled. (It occurs to me that probably nobody would like my calling it that, but it will have to do.) I haven’t seen any of the others, except Robin until she moved, since the Before Times. The whole story would make a book that I would read, and argue about except that there is no one left to argue about it with. It is warming to remember.

Maybe it really has been 20 years.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at

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