As a boy, Eris Lytle learned the skills of blacksmithing from his father. When he wanted a car, he got permission to scrounge in private junk piles in and near Griggsville, Ill.
Eris was born in 1904, when people rarely threw anything away; every homestead had a big junk pile "out back," and young Eris had permission to dig around in seven different piles for whatever he needed. In his teens, he needed transportation; by visiting those seven junk piles time after time, he put together a stripped-down Ford Model T that he drove around Griggsville!
Eris watched a man laying stones for his father’s new blacksmith shop, and he wanted to try that. When the fellow left town without finishing the shop, Eris tried it and completed the masonry. During the Depression, he drove his "junk-pile Ford" to Columbia and asked "Shorty" Hathman for a job. Hathman tried him on a back wall; they promptly put him to work - out front! Later, Eris brought his wife, the former Mildred Gerard, and baby, Marian, to Columbia. Other Gerards followed, and years later I married Eris’ brother-in-law, Walter Frank "Chub" Gerard.
During World War II, the Lytle family "rolled with the punches." Eris did skilled brick masonry on short notice for the government - in various locations. Mid would pack up Marian and a dog, and they’d be off to Kansas or Tennessee or wherever Eris was needed to build war "factories" for secret purposes.
After the war, Westminster College invited Sir Winston Churchill to speak. Churchill made his famous "Iron Curtain" speech on that occasion - it was advice for those college students, our nation and the entire postwar world. To help heal our differences, someone suggested we "heal" a symbol of war by restoring a destroyed church to its best condition!
St. Mary’s Church at Aldermanbury and Love Streets in London, near St. Paul’s Cathedral, was just right for that memorial honoring Churchill’s call for world peace. Only the church’s Portland limestone skeleton survived Hitler’s insanity. A reminder of war needed to go to the place where Churchill delivered his plea for peace.
John Epple chose Eris Lytle to lead his crew that would rebuild the church. Eris studied every word he could find relating to Sir Christopher Wren’s architecture and stone work of ancient times. He looked forward to seeing that 700 tons of ancient Portland limestone on the Fulton campus. When it arrived at the seaport, all 7,000 stones would be unloaded and transferred to land vehicles and hauled to Fulton.
Horrors! Those precious stones were coal-black; the ship’s lower level had previously hauled loose coal as ballast! Even worse, the stones had been re-crated to fit into their various spaces, and that scrambled those carefully prepared numbers indicating the required location of each of those 7,000 stones!
To be continued next Monday.