Tag Archives: History

Sunny Day Work

Growing up on a farm had advantages. (Also disadvantages, but we’ll save those for another time.)

We raised dairy cows. Cattle have a large appetite. And since Wisconsin has a season called WINTER, much of the year hay was included in their diet. Raking was one of the jobs I was frequently given during haying season. (Beginning in late June and continuing to two, sometimes three cuttings.)

My father, or sometimes an older brother, would mow the alfalfa (or clover) and it would dry as it laid in the field for one, two, or three days. They I would be assigned to rake it. It one of these:

This was a job for sunny days. I’d drive the tractor and putt along the field from one end to the other, the rake swishing the hay into a long, loose windrow ready for the baler. A large straw hat, long sleeves, and long pants protected me from the hazard of sunburn. Bumping over gopher holes made me thankful for a padded seat. But it was fun! Time to think. Sing. Daydream about the future.

Did you have a favorite chore or job while growing up?

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A Tick-Tock in Time

This summer I’ve visited several historical houses and sites. Part of this if due to a love of history. The other part is the writer in me doing research for a future project.

A great number of houses on the frontier contained a clock. It makes sense. American clock makers knew their customers. And produced a sturdy, quality product. They also knew that as settlers moved West – into the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri river valleys – telling time would be important. Here the villages would be small, farms isolated, and the tower clocks of churches and town halls non-existent.

As they tick-tocked day and night in a place of honor on the mantle, they provided a pleasant view and perhaps a bit of a status symbol.

This wooden movement shelf clock was built prior to 1835

by one of America’s best – Seth Thomas.

Old-Fashioned Laptop

You may be reading this on a laptop. Some days I write the blog on one. The modern, electronic version.

But the need for a portable, secure writing desk has been around for some time. The first time I saw one — more elaborate than the one below — was in a display of Napoleon’s mobile headquarters.

This portable desk held all the necessary supplies: paper, ink, quill, and blotter. And while this did not follow a general on the battlefield, it enabled the Justice of the Peace to write decisions and letters while away from home. And in Missouri during the early decades of the 1800’s you could not always depend on your boarding house, inn, or host to have these items available.

From my brief inspection. I believe if it was filled with modern pens and pencils, and paper and folded to it’s compact position — you could use it as an airline carry-on. Imagine the other passengers as you unfold it and work while waiting at the gate.

 

 

Mystery Structure

When walking around a historical village, I can put a name and/or purpose to most things. But this one had me stuck.

Is this for grain or produce storage? What about that trough at the bottom?        It must be there for a reason.

It all made good sense after I asked one of the employees — in 1830’s costume.

Several households together pooled their fireplace ashes in these. Once they were full they added water. (The metaphorical light bulb started to glow.) What do you get when you add water to wood ashes? Lye.

The trough at the bottom facilitated collecting the lye which would have been used to make soap.

Please give our ancestors points for being smart, clever, and thrifty. But since I remember lye soap well (my mother made and used it for laundry) I’m fine with purchasing modern detergent at the store.

Candle Power

In physics class we learned the definition of candle power as the light from one standard candle one foot away. During out last power outage I discovered that these eyes need two candle power to read comfortably at the table.

Recently I had occasion to visit a historical village. The decade for the reproductions and artifacts was the 1830’s. It was a delightful place to visit and learn. Cooking and heat from the fireplace. Light from home made candles – either dipped or molded.

And when you needed to go outside on a dark night — take your lantern.

So grateful to be living in current times — when a flip of the switch gives us many more than one candle power.

Early Safety Equipment

My working career was spent in hospitals. Part of the dress code which was common across the years and in the multiple states in which I worked was: No Open Toed Shoes.

This makes sense in hospitals and in many other workplaces. We worked with chemicals would could spill and sharp objects (needles & blades) which could be hazardous. Ignore for a moment that many people, including yours truly, have moments of KLUTZ.

So how did workers more than a century ago protect their feet? You could not order a pair of steel toe safety shoes of either a paper catalog or on-line. And they didn’t carry them at the local general store either.

The idea was imported. They quickly became manufactured locally. And while they have gone out of style and I doubt they’d be permitted on a construction site today — these examples protected many toes from dropped tools and rocks.

Wooden shoes – good for the muddy jobs plus the hazardous ones.

One Hundred Heads Per Head

Yes, you read the title correctly.

Recently I visited a tourist site as part of a day trip with an out-of-state guest. So I’m not sure if I caught the words correctly. So this may be a recommendation or it may have been a requirement. Either way, gardens were part of life for the early settlers in Missouri. So when the German immigrants arrived after several years in an Eastern city, it was natural that part of the association “rules” would include each family to have a garden.

The surprising part to me was not the idea of a garden. It was the specific amount of a specific crop. In addition to the usual beets, carrots, and potatoes, this group requested one hundred heads of cabbage be grown for each member of the household.

No — they were not going to sell coleslaw to their American neighbors. These were Germans. The great majority of the cabbage would be shredded, salted, and fermented into sauerkraut. The people who organized the immigration society determined that this was the amount of cabbage which needed to be grown to sustain a person through the winter and early spring until the garden was producing fresh vegetables again.

A demonstration garden of the German immigrants. The actual garden would have been larger, with more of these defined square planted areas. And several of them would have been row upon row of cabbage plants. Their primary source of several essential vitamins.

 

Built to Last

Strong wood. Intelligent designer. Capable workmen.

The result is a structure which functioned for well over a century. After a few decades, the makeup of the burden carried changed in character. And grew in both size and weight.

Located in Southern Indiana, this covered bridge served the local residents from 1863 until the final decade of the 20th century. According to the sign above the entrance, it is 150 feet long and cost a total of $5,700 to construct.

I walked it during my visit. Imagine crossing it on horseback, horse-drawn wagon, or bicycle.

Kentucky

Race horses. Fine whiskey. Coal. The Bluegrass State has earned a reputation for all of these things.

My travels in Kentucky were limited to driving through (usually with rain) while on my way to spend a vacation in another state. That changed in 2004 when I put it on my list of places to visit and get to know a little better.

While I did not have the time to see everything — always leave something to see on the next trip — I expanded my knowledge.

Kentucky has a unique national park centered around Mammoth Cave. History and natural wonder share the space. But I did not spend my entire visit underground. A distillery tour highlighted an afternoon. History included a visit to this reproduction cabin — the childhood home of Abraham Lincoln. I topped off my visit with a stop at Fort Knox. No, they didn’t show me the gold. But I did tour a military museum and learned more about tanks and artillery than you want to read in my blog.

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Let your imagination out to run when visiting historic Kentucky sites.

Social Star

Imagine yourself in the 1861 or 1862 social season in Washington DC.

Blue Union Army uniforms would abound at every evening gathering. The ladies would wear their finest. And as women have from the dawn of time — create their own social scene and information network.

I think fine carriages and strong horses carrying the important ladies of the time through muddy streets and past the newest army encampments. They called on each other. It almost became a ritual. Included in this group of elegant ladies was the wife of an army general.

Mary Ellen McClellan (wife of Gen. George B. McClellan) socialized with the wives and hostesses of the cabinet officers.

Can you imagine greeting your guests in this fine gown?

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Gown re-created from a photograph is on display at Lincoln Museum, Springfield, IL