Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Missouri stone mason assembled unique puzzle

He graduated from Griggsville, Illinois, High School, as the class salutatorian. As the son of an inventive blacksmith, Eris Lytle had picked up a lot of pointers about working with wood and metal, but he wanted a car. His problem was money. In those days, people had big junk piles, and so he pawed around in seven different ones and found parts. Finally he had garnered enough parts to put together a Model "T" Ford that would run! That was the first of two gigantic jigsaw puzzles that Eric has solved in his 95 years.

He learned masonry almost by accident. The man building a new blacksmith shop for Ivan Lytle, Eris’ dad, left town with the job half done. Eris’ older brother mixed some mortar and tried to lay the stone blocks but gave up because the mortar wouldn’t stay on his trowel. Eris, 17, said, "Well, let’s see if I can do it." He could! In fact, he enjoyed finishing the building that had baffled the two older men.

Later, when he had a wife to support, he was hired to help on a major masonry job at Farber. He drove his homemade Ford to Farber on Mondays and back to Griggsville on payday. When that job was done he drove to Columbia searching for work. J.E. "Shorty" Hathman put him to work building a corner — a critical test of his ability — and Eris passed the test.

Eris joined the union and had work enough to bring his wife, Mid, to Columbia, too. Times got worse, though, and he couldn’t pay his union dues. Some men went on relief, but Lytle bartered. When asked what he charged to build a tall flue he said, "Either $5 cash or two chickens." He got the job. He built a hollow tile room onto Dad’s dairy in exchange for a quarter of fresh beef.

That puzzle of putting a car together was a piece of cake compared to the puzzle Eris faced in the 1960s. He was back in the union, laying bricks all over central Missouri for the John Epple Construction Company. Prosperity brought jobs, and he rarely took a vacation. He laid bricks on schools, hospitals, government and university buildings — everywhere. When John Epple got the contract for a most unusual, never before attempted challenge, he named Eris Lytle to be top stonemason — with plenty of skilled help, of course.

Workmen in England had dismantled the ruins of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury Church, which had been destroyed by Hitler’s bombs in World War II. There was a good plan: British workmen carved numbers in each stone before crating them so they could be placed in their original positions when reassembled in the United States. But, when the stones reached Fulton for the "new" Winston Churchill Memorial, the stones were not in order. They had been unpacked, shuffled and then repacked differently to fit into the ship’s hold! It was Lytle’s next jigsaw puzzle: 7000 pieces, weighing over 700 tons!

As head stonemason, Eris worked from dawn to dusk each day including weekends and holidays. Then at night he would study the centuries-old plans in preparation for the next day’s challenges.

The finished restoration of this magnificent London church on the Westminster campus is one of the miracles of our time. Drive 20 miles east, to Fulton, and see for yourself. You’ll have a hard time believing that the church was ever in ruins! Tomorrow is Eris Lytle’s 95th birthday, and he enjoys recalling those puzzles — in every detail.

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