Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion column submitted to the Ithaca Voice by H. Roger Segelken, a writer for the Cornell Chronicle.

To submit a guest column, contact me at jstein@ithacavoice.com.


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Become an educated home buyer

ITHACA, N.Y. — Presidential-grade log-cabin origins are hard to come by in the patrician Bush family.

But presidential aspirant Jeb Bush can rightly claim: “My great-great grandfather died raking leaves on the Seneca Street hill in Ithaca, New York.”

That terminal leaf raker would be the Rev. James Smith Bush (1825-1889), and a historical plaque attached to the 611 E. Seneca St. porch documents the folly of mid-November manual labor by 64-year-old ex-Episcopal priests.

The Reverend Bush begat (as they say in the Bible) Samuel Prescott Bush (1863-1948) and other young’uns who may have lived in Ithaca for a few months. Sam was the dad of Prescott Bush, the U.S. Senator who begat George H.W. And so it goes.

The cleric (and attorney, thanks to University of Rochester book learning and an 1847 bar exam) is not to be confused—please—with grandson James Smith Bush II (1901-1978) who, according to sensationalist biographer Kitty Kelley, died a drunkard’s death. The first (quite sober) James Smith Bush was the first in the preppy clan to attend Yale, in 1841.

The early death of his first wife (no kids there) propelled Bush Esq. to theological studies (in Saratoga, N.Y.) and soon he was a rector in a start-up Episcopal parish in Orange, N.J. Bush was so moved by an April 14, 1865, assassination that he delivered an Easter Sunday sermon titled ”Death of President Lincoln,” proclaiming, in part: “Death is cruel and we stand aghast in the presence of its mighty power.”

Then he sat down—and published the sermon in a little pamphlet, as was the custom at the time. Lengthier, subsequent publications were the books, “More Words about the Bible” (1883) and “The Evidence of Faith” (1885).

Evidently his faith failed, as did his health. One historical source (okay, Wikipedia) says stress from Bush’s separation from the Episcopal Church ”caused him health problems for the remainder of his life.”

So what was that about? What did theological stress have to do with leaf fatigue?

Or was it an unusually warm day for November? Plus a burdensome crop of leaves that year?

A call to Cornell’s Northeast Regional Climate Center was for naught. “Unfortunately our Ithaca records don’t go back quite that far. The earliest we have is 1893,” said an apologetic NRCC Climatologist Jessica Spaccio.

And it probably wasn’t Election Day disappointment (Nov. 5, 1889) because ex-Rev. Bush was not known to have political irons in the fire.

So it’s off to the ultimate source for all-things-Bush, the 1890 alumni necrology, ”Obituary Records of Graduates of Yale University,” where we learn this about the departed:

“Moved by many influences and much thought and reading, and by strong conscientiousness, he withdrew from the ministry of the Episcopal Church in November, 1888, and identified himself with the Unitarians. This step was a severe strain to his health, from which he never recovered. For the education of his younger children he moved to Ithaca, N.Y., in August, 1889, and he died there suddenly, on the 11th of the following November, in the 65th year of his age.”

Courtesy of Jeb Bush’s Facebook page

Thank God and Man for Yale.

Thus this advice to Jeb, 62, from an online pundit, 68: If you’re genetically predisposed to much thought and reading—even strong conscientiousness— leave the leaf raking to others.

— H. Roger Segelken is a science writer at the Cornell Chronicle—with a mulching blade on his mower so he doesn’t rake leaves anyway.

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