Monday Musings: Attending Your Own Funeral

I don’t mean to start the week out with such morbid musings, but have you ever thought about it?  It seems to have especially been on the minds of folks in the nineteenth century.  Who knows – it might have been a Victorian thing, except it spilled well over into the next century it appears. In search of stories to write I often run across interesting phrases that are used repeatedly – like “saved by her corset” (I will write a story on that one day!) and the one I researched last week: “own funeral”.  A search at one newspaper archive site yielded a result of over thirteen thousand articles containing the phrase. I found the phrase used quite often when referring to someone’s political missteps.  It might refer to a one-time high and mighty fellow making a less-than-inspiring speech or taking an unpopular stand – he was attending his “own funeral” – as in his political career was kaput. Then, there were the unfortunate folks who either “attended their own funeral” because they were thought to be dead but were in fact not (surprise!), or someone mis-identified a dead body.  In that case, often the supposed dead person would walk in on the funeral proceedings and create quite a stir. In the case of those thought to be dead, placed in a coffin and brought to their funeral, here are a few examples: There was a woman named Lucinda Neely of Jeffersonville, Indiana who became ill one day in 1884 and within two hours was pronounced dead, heart disease brought on by asthma thought to be the cause. ...

Monday Musings: Aunt Jean’s Daily Talk

It wasn’t the first newspaper column geared toward children, but “Aunt Jean’s Daily Talk” published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle beginning in the early twentieth century was one of the most influential during its long run.  “Aunt Jean’s Daily Talk” was a special section set aside “for [our] young readers”, news for Aunt Jean’s “nieces and nephews”. The column featured stories geared toward children and fun things like contests, puzzles and various clubs (entertainment, humane, games and more).   Children joined the clubs and regularly wrote to Aunt Jean submitting their stories, poems and drawings (many quite good), garnering credits for prizes.  They learned about history, how to be kind to animals, being kind to one another, how to be a good citizen and more. Typically a child’s letter would be signed “your nephew” or “your niece” and covered a range of topics: Dear Aunt Jean – I want to ask you if any of the baseball teams need a player aged thirteen.  I am a good player and will furnish my own suit.  I could call and see the captain of a team on Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock.  I am a very fine catcher and pitcher and would like to belong to one of the teams and help win a good name for it.  Your nephew, LEWIS A. WALDRON Dear Aunt Jean – Inclosed [sic] please find a stamp which I omitted to put in my letter yesterday when I returned the list of credit winners with my name.  The skates I received for 100 credits are just fine.  At first they kept running backward and I had...

Monday Musings: Is It Locofoco Time Yet?

I recently came across the term “locofoco” (or “loco-foco”), and curious as I tend to be, set out to discover if there was anything historically significant which might be shaped into a Monday-Musing sort of article.  My first question was, “what the heck is a Locofoco?”.  As it turns out I found myself relating the term to the current political fray. In the nineteenth century the term was connected to the Democratic Party – a name the Whig Party pinned on their opposition. The term “loco-foco” first made an appearance as a novelty item when John Marck invented a self-lighting cigar.  A patent for the “self-igniting”cigar was granted on April 16, 1834, although it was never referred to as “loco-foco” in Marck’s patent application or journal notices. The cigar had a match component at its end, and according to Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms the term “loco-foco” was derived from the word “locomotive”.  Locomotive “was then rather new as applied to an engine on a railroad, and the common notion as, that it meant self-moving; hence as these cigars were self-firing, this queer name was coined.”1  “Foco”, although spelled differently, may have been the Italian word (“fuoco”) for fire.  The term came to be associated with a particular kind of match as well – Lucifer or locofoco matches. The following year the name was applied to the Democratic Party after a division arose amongst the party faithful when Gideon Lee was nominated as a Democratic candidate for Congress by a faction calling itself the Equal Rights Party.  Lee’s supporters expected opposition from New York’s Tammany Hall who, of course, had...

Monday Musings: Getting “Knocked-Up”

Once upon a time everyday working folks paid someone to “knock them up”.  It was a quaint and curious English and Irish custom, begun during the Industrial Revolution and carried forward into the early twentieth century (and beyond for some locales).   Before alarm clocks were available and affordable, “getting knocked up” was essential to ensure working men and women avoided fines for arriving late to work. It may have been a curious custom, but it was honest work for anyone willing to arise before anyone else in the neighborhood, and rain or shine walk around tapping on their clients’ windows, or should I say “knocking them up”.  They would advertise themselves as a “knocker-up” or “window tickler” and were paid two to three pence per week to make sure their client rolled out of bed on time. The work of knocking up the neighborhood was a necessity on one side of the world, while on the other side Americans found it a “Queer English Custom”.1   For some it wasn’t a neighborhood job, but rather part of their duties as caretakers of prominent residences.  At the bishop of London’s residence, Fullham Palace, the lodgekeeper began knocking up the domestic help around 5:30 a.m. The palace knocker-up used a fifteen-foot pole known as a “rousing stave” to wake up the servants, knocking until the “wakee” gave “a more or less grateful answer in reply.”  It may have been a similar device, but there was a difference between the rousing stave used in rousing the help and the one used during church services “directly upon the persons of inattentive or dozing...

Monday Musings: Don’t You Just Hate When That Happens

Here are a few items that caught my eye of late while clipping newspaper articles.   One astonishes (that anyone made it through alive!), one will make you wince, the others may just give you a chuckle to start your week — oh, and a little European and literary history thrown in for good measure. As I write today’s article on Sunday evening we are having our third straight night of storms.  The first night the wind just blew HARD, almost tearing a couple of tomato plants out of the garden and breaking off a stem or two.  Last night the rain came down in sheets with winds of probably at least forty miles per hour (or more).   I was afraid the garden would be devastated but it actually weathered the storm pretty well, all things considered. Tonight it is steadily raining and we’re being treated to a lightning show.  It reminded me of a clipping I came across recently from the June 18, 1896 Kirksville (Missouri) Weekly Graphic.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have this happen (it would have scared the bejeebers out of me!): During the rain storm last Saturday afternoon the residence of Rev. W.E. Chambliss was struck by lightning.  The electric fluid entered at one of the dinning [sic] room windows, tearing off the shutter.  From the dining room it skipped to the kitchen, shocking Mrs. Chambliss and knocking over a little daughter, who was in this room with her mother, and for a moment converting a gasoline stove into a huge electric light.  It then left the building by the door...

Monday Musings: Harry R. O’Brien, Plain Dirt Gardener

It was such a beautiful Sunday – not too hot and not too cool (or windy) – that I decided to work in the garden after church.  With the abundant rain we received last week (Thank You Lord!) I had to re-work some of the rows I had already dug after they more or less washed out.  I had several tomato and pepper plants to put in the ground … we now have 26 or 27 tomato (I lost count) plants – ‘cause we love tomatoes in our house! I picked up another blister or two, started on my summer tan and wore myself out, but in a good way.  I love to get out and dig around, play in the dirt if you will – so relaxing and satisfying.  Not that I claim to be an expert gardener, but I give it my all.  I was thinking about what to write for today’s article and reminded of someone whose story I was introduced to recently. I was looking for some public domain photographs that I might be able to use for some posters, specifically featuring African American farmers, for our local genealogical society to place in the downtown and branch libraries to get people thinking about their family history.  I found the perfect one and located the person who had posted it.  I emailed him because I wanted to know something about who took the picture so I could provide proper attribution.  Donald K. O’Brien replied to my email with just a little tidbit about the photograph.  It had been taken in 1914 by his father Harry R....