The Cornerstone Building
My earliest memory of him was a man in his seventies, small in stature, his thin face, although lined with age, still retaining an almost boyish look. His white hair was always neatly parted for which he carried a small silver comb in his vest pocket. When he walked, he usually had his hands clasped behind his back and he smoked a pipe filled with Prince Albert tobacco. To this day that scent reminds me of him. In my mind I always picture him sitting in a rocking chair looking out the long windows in our den, watching the traffic along East Jackson Street. As soon as the weather warmed he would move to our screened-in front porch where he relaxed in a wooden rocker that sat alongside the comfortable old glider. He became a fixture in the neighborhood the last ten years of his life, rocking, puffing on his pipe and raising his arm in a friendly salute to anyone passing. Everyone called him “Dukie.” My Dad had given him the nickname upon marrying my Mom. Dad thought that Grandpa was always pushed back into a corner by my grandmother’s noisy Irish family, and he wanted to give him a place of importance in the family pecking order. Originally Dad called him the “Duke.” Affectionately shortened to Dukie, the nickname stuck the rest of his life. The two men were very close, both as drinking buddies and card players. Dad had lost his own father in the early 1920s and Grandpa had lost his only son during the same period. The two of them enjoyed making home brew in our basement during the Prohibition years which would be bottled and ready for the weekend card game with other male members of the family. A new supply of brew had to be made after each session.
Dukie was such a fixture in our household throughout my growing up years that I never questioned what his life had been like as a young man. It wasn’t until years after his death at ninety when I discovered an article about him in the newspaper and realized what an interesting life he had led. A reporter for the Muncie Star, doing a story on the labor movement in Muncie around the turn of the century, interviewed Dukie as the oldest member of the bricklayers union. I found out that this humble man had lost his mother when he was two and his father at fourteen. He left home at 16 when his father’s second wife attempted to take the father’s small estate from Grandpa and his two sisters. He became a brick layer’s apprentice to learn a trade. Armed with only a fourth grade education, Grandpa taught himself to read, write, figure and use correct grammar. He never lost his desire to learn and would stand over my brother and me as we did our homework, always seeking to fill in the gaps in his own education.
From the article I learned that Grandpa, his apprenticeship finished by age eighteen, came to Muncie in 1878 to find work. He heard that James Boyce was having trouble finishing the smokestack on his flax mill because no bricklayer was willing to work so high in the air. Upon being told that Grandpa had built the 100 foot smokestack for the Connersville Furniture Factory, using a series of pulleys pulled by horses to get the bricks and mortar up so high, Boyce hired him on the spot. Grandpa cheerfully told the reporter that he climbed up to the top of the stack, already 55 feet in the air and realized that his trowel was down on the ground. Since no one was willing to bring it up to him, he had to climb down, retrieve the trowel and climb back up to finish the job. It took him four days to complete the job and he was proud of the fact that beside the regular wage of 35 cents an hour for 31 hours work, Boyce gave him 2 gold pieces, each worth $20.00 as a bonus.
Mike continued his occupation as a bricklayer, working on such jobs as the Masonic Temple on Main Street and the State Office Building in Indianapolis. During this time he helped organize the local bricklayers’ union, serving as its first president. His name was also first on the list of a notice signed in August, 1887, announcing that “members of this union will not work for less than 40 cents an hour,” a courageous stand at the time for working men to take.
Mike Landers and others like him made their own contribution to the growth of our city, as they built the buildings and produced the products which supported the efforts of the business community. They gave an honest day’s work and took pride in the quality of that work.
Michael Frank Landers/Grandpa/Dukie was a man of integrity who mastered a skill and used it to better his life. He was also a kind and gentle family man who especially loved his grandchildren. Many an afternoon he would let my brother and I accompany him three blocks over to the Big Four railroad track just to watch the afternoon train pass. As children, this was the highlight of our day.
He was my grandfather and this is my tribute to him.