Orrin Ellie Harmon, Who Loved Poetry and to Gaze Upon the Stars

One has to like a man who desired to give up the practice of law for writing poetry and studying the stars, which can be in itself a poetic pursuit of grand visions and soul refining reflections on the nature of one’s place in the grand scheme of things.

Orrin Ellie Harmon, who authored The Story of Liberal, Missouri, the earliest known book on Liberal’s history, was the son-in-law of ancestor James Allan Noyes and Caroline Atwell Noyes who were early settlers in the free-thought community of Liberal, the Noyes moving there in August of 1882 (I’ve a diary of Caroline’s chronicling part of their journey). Orrin had married the Noyes’ eldest daughter Emma Viola Noyes on July 9, 1878 in Anna, Union, Illinois, but to the best of my knowledge Orrin and Emma didn’t make the move to Liberal with the Noyes, instead relocating from Anna to Chehalis, Lewis, Washington about 1882.


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From Anna, Illinois to Chehalis, Washington, Google style

They remained in Chehalis a number of years, where Orrin practiced law, taught school, wrote poetry and gazed at the night skies. When Orrin was told his health merited a change, in the Spring of 1897 Orrin and Emma migrated to Liberal.

Orrin was born Dec 3, 1854 in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Asa and Lucy Snow Harmon. The family had moved to Van Buren, Michigan and had then relocated to Anna, Illinois about 1866. We find them in the 1870 census living three households from the Noyes.

The Noyes were long time residents in Kalamazoo, and by 1866 James Allen Noyes and Caroline were in Anna, Illinois where a photo of them was made. One would guess the Harmon and Noyes families had known each other in Kalamazoo, perhaps even migrated together, but Orrin’s obituary anticipates our suspicions and notes that despite both coming from Kalamazoo, the families weren’t acquainted until living in Anna.

Orrin and Emma were in Washington when on Oct 18 1887 Emma’s sister, Cora Rachel Noyes Greene, died in Liberal with the birth of her first child at the age of 24, a boy named Robert.

Perhaps Robert’s father, Frank Greene, felt he would be unable to care for his son as a widower (I’ll address this letter in a post on Robert, who became a well known baseball player) but Orrin and Emma adopted him. Orrin and Emma never did have biological children.

When 32, Orrin published a volume of poems titled, “Voices from the Cascades”. I have the text of that and will be putting it up on the blog at some point.

He loved poetry–writing it, discussing it, teaching it.

And he loved the stars. Orrin loved astronomy. From 1893 to 1898 he furnished planetary predictions to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. People would look in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for information on the heavens and there would sometimes be O. E. Harmon’s name telling them what they could expect.

Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Volumes 1 – 26 shows the following articles of Orrin’s that were published:

The Solar Eclipse of June 6, 1891
Solar Eclipse, October 20, 1892
Solar Eclipse, October 9, 1893
The Harvest Moon (date not given)
Predictions for the Transit of Mercury, November 10, 1894

He also published, “Position of the Earth’s Axis”.

The photo that was selected to depict Orrin in his book The Story of Liberal, Missouri shows him gazing at the planet Saturn.

Attempt at photoshopping to make the image look a bit better.


Unknown if this is a studio shot but likely is.
From what my father says, his house was…unpretentious.

The biographical sketch of Orrin in the same book was perhaps written by Orrin himself and is fairly detailed, revealing a person whose dream was to study the stars but was required to give it up for reasons of health that made it necessary for he and Emma to leave Washington and move to Liberal.

O. E. Harmon was born in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, December 3, 1854. His father, Asa Harmon, was a native of Vermont, and descended from John Harmon, a native of England, who settled in Springfield, Mass., about 1640. John Harmon was the first Harmon to settle in America, and his descendants are widely scattered over the United States. Among them may be mentioned ex-Governor Harmon of Ohio, and Mrs. Cleveland, the wife of President Grover Cleveland.

A short time before the breaking out of the Civil War, Asa Harmon removed to Van Buren County, Michigan. Here he lived when the fire on Fort Sumter sounded the beginning of the war. He enlisted in the Union Army, first in the 2nd Michigan Cavalry, the regiment of which Phil Sheridan was the colonel; and later was transferred to the 3rd Michigan Cavalry, of which regiment he became chaplain.

He was mustered out of the service in the spring of 1866, and in that year moved to Union County, Illinois. Here O. E. Harmon lived with his parents until the spring of 1881, excepting a period (1874-1876) which he spent in Colorado. O. E. received his education in the district school and in the high school at Anna, in Union County.

In 1878 he began the study of the law, and in June of that year married E. Viola Noyes, the daughter of James A. Noyes, and sister of Ray Noyes, who lives near Libearl.

He was licensed to practise law by the Supreme Court of Illinois in October, 1880. After a few months spent in the practice of the law at Anna, he moved to Washington, and after teaching school in Lewis County one year, settled at Chehalis, the county seat of Lewis County. This was in the spring of 1882. Here he practised law, and at different times served as deputy in the offices of County Auditor and County Clerk. He lived in Lewis County until the spring of 1897. He became interested in Astronomy in 1888, and his calculations on the solar eclipse of June, 1891, drew complimentary letters from the astronomical staff of the Lick Observatory located at Mount Hamilton, California. He contributed articles to the publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and to “Popular Astronomy” published at Northfield, Minn. He furnished the planetary predictions to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for five years (1893-1898). Besides the above astronomical work while a resident of Washington, he brought out in 1886, a little volume of poems entitled, “Voices from the Cascades.”

The cordial reception his astronomical writings received encouraged him to look forward to the career of the professional astronomer, and he planned to take a course of special training for that purpose. But in the winter of 1896-7, his health failed and he was obliged to give up his plans. The doctors advised a change of climate, and this brought him to Barton County, Missouri, in the spring of 1897. Here he has lived ever since with the exception of three years (1916-9) spent in Louisiana. During his residence in Barton County, he has lived on a little farm southeast of Liberal, which he has named “Lyrian Farm.”

His later writings have been published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Springfield, (Mass.) Republican and Shreveport Times. He has also contributed to the local papers of Barton County, both on astronomical and literary subjects.

Among his literary writings may be mentioned “The Astronomy of Shakespeare” in which knowledge of the great poet relating to astronomy is very fully developed. This work was published in “Popular Astronomy.”

Mr. Harmon has always been a close student and has ever taken a deep interest in educational matters. His addresses to the schools and teachers’ meetings in Barton County bear ample testimony to this feature of his character.

J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town – – Liberal Missouri” had this to say about Orrin:

“A History of Liberal” written by O. E. Harmon and titled, “The Story of Liberal, Missouri,” was published in 1925. The work was excellent, but much shorter than this treatise. Unfortunately, not a great many copies of the book had been sold when the bulk of the edition was destroyed by a fire that burned a business building in which the books were stored.

In the limited size of the work, Mr. Harmon gave only a few accounts of specific happenings. But there was one which I take the liberty to quote in part. It indicates that it was not always “all sweetness and light” in the Freethinker’s camp…

Note: And I’ll skip those few paragraphs as they’re in the book transcription online and have to do with Walser rather than Harmon.

Mr. Harmon was a finely educated man, but withal, he was something of an eccentric. He had been a lawyer and a college professor. However, on account of ill health, he had abandoned professional life, came to Liberal from the state of Washington in 1897 and settled on a small farm in the vicinity. But he did little farming; instead, he devoted himself to his main interests, astronomy and poetry, feature writing and what seemed to be a hobby, speaking at the school.

He had a propensity to frequent the school to lecture the pupils on astronomy, and poetry. All this came to be regarded as something of a bother by the faculty, but not so by the pupils. One who was a pupil in the time, Mrs. Alta Moore, remarked to this writer: “He talked over our heads, but we liked it; for when he talked we didn’t have to study, and sometimes we got to skip a recitation.” He had written articles on astronomy for scientific magazines, and he was a frequent contributor to local newspapers.

Born in Michigan on December 3, 1854; he passed away here many years ago. His wife was a daughter of James A. Noyes, a pioneer farmer of the vicinity. It was because of this relationship that Mr. Harmon came to this locality.

Orrin was probably blind to the real reason some of the students enjoyed his lectures, probably blind to the teachers finding his intrusions annoying, which I like, because without resentment he was able to continue going in and giving his lectures, building this story of his life as a tolerant person who held no rancour, as is stated in his obituary. Then again, if he did sense why the students enjoyed his lectures, and the irritation of the teachers, the keen sense of humor he’s given as having may have been one part of however many reasons that led him to continue returning to the school to lecture.

Orrin died in 1940. Unfortunately, his obituary doesn’t say when he died.

O. E. HARMON OBITUARY
THE END FOR LIBERAL’s NOTED POET SAGE AND PHILOSOPHER

O. E. Harmon passed at His Home at 10 o’clock, Saturday night – had Been a Student All of His Life – When A Very Young Man He Was Admitted to the Bar But he did Not Like the Law – Came to Liberal and Settled on a Small Farm, Forty Three Years Ago – Devoted Much of His Time to Study – Loved the Poets, Wrote Excellent Verse and Was a Life Long Student of Mathematics – Had a Fine Mind and a Frail Body – Was a Bold and Free Thinker, But was Ever Kindly and Tolerant – Bob Harmon, for Some Years a Pitching Ace for the St. Louis Cardinals Was His Adopted Son – Faithful Wife Who Had Stood by his Side for Sixty two Years, Cared for Him Tenderly During the years While He Was an Invalid

O. E. Harmon, student, poet and philosopher, died at his home in Liberal at 10 o’clock, Saturday evening. Mr. Harmon was eighty five years old. He had been in feeble health for the past eight years. But until three days before the end he was able to sit up in a chair. He was conscious up until the last though he was so weak it was difficult for him to speak. When Mrs. Harmon would come about the bed where he lay he was inclined to repeat the short, all embracing phrase, I am done!

Mrs. Harmon had cared for him during the long years of his illness, much as she would a child. His food required special preparation and finally had to be strained. No labor nor care was too great for her (…) everything was (…) him that could be done.

Orin Elliot Harmon was born in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, December 3rd, 1854. When he was a lad of ten, his father Asa Harmon moved to Illinois and settled on a farm near Anna. The elder Mr. Harmon had come from Vermont to Michigan. James Allen Noyes had moved from Vermont to Kalamazoo County in Michigan, and went from there to near Anna in Illinois. But the Noyes and the Harmon families had never known each other. But when they settled in Illinois, they found themselves on adjoining farms. Then they became acquainted.

Viola Noyes a lassie of sixteen and Orrin became sweethearts, and January 9th 1878, when Viola was seventen and Orrin was twenty three they were married. The young man had gone through the schools at Anna. He went to college for a time but not for so very long. But he was a great student and all his life put much of this time upon his books.

He had been admitted to the law bar, when he married Viola, and he opened an office in Anna. But he didn’t like the law. They moved in the course of a year, to Chehalis, Washington. There he taught school, and for some time, during their sixteen year stay at this city, he practiced law.

Forty three years ago, he and Viola moved to Barton County and settled down on a small farm where they lived until his death.

He early became an amatuer astronomer. He learned to calculate the planetary conjunctions and eclipses. His greatest study was Mathematics.

His next love was verse. He delighted to read the great English and American poets, and he wrote excellent verse. He did this chiefly as a passtime. He got out a series of poems relating to Barton County, which he had published in a handsome little volume.

His verses were bold and free, but he was ever kindness and toleration themselves. He held no rancor.

Further, Mr. Harmon had a very keen sense of humor and a pen that could portray it piquantly as well as vividly.

He was a small frail man, but he had a fine mind and a great soul. He leaves his beloved wife who cared for him so tenderly and his foster son Bob Harmon, long an ace pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals, now owner of a big plantation in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The body was taken to Burkey Mortuary at Mulberry to be prepared for burial.

Services were held in Liberal Methodist church Liberal at 4 o’clock, Monday afternoon, followed by interment in the Liberal cemetery.

Mr. Harmon’s widow is a sister of the well known citizen Ray Noyes of Liberal. The father, the late James Allen Noyes, moved to Liberal forty eight years ago.

Note: The obit erroneously gives the month of marriage as January.

Oh, how I wish I had Orrin’s book of poems he wrote on Liberal. I’ve checked with the Barton County libraries and unfortunately none are shown as having it, which is too bad as he was a citizen. It seems the Liberal library should have a copy just as a matter of an interest in the history of Liberal.

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