Digging History Magazine – July-August 2020 Issue

The latest issue of Digging History Magazine features Part I of a series of articles on one of my favorite places:  New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.  Although I originally planned one big issue, time got away from me and Part II will be featured in the upcoming September-October issue.

This issue includes two extensively-researched articles and an update of one of the most popular “Tombstone Tuesday” blog articles:

I have only traveled through Colfax County on my way to Colorado or heading south to Albuquerque, usually stopping in Raton, the county seat. As you’ll see there’s so much more to Colfax County – its storied history and more than a few ghost towns. One of these days I want to go and really explore!

There really isn’t any way to write about New Mexico history without including one of the ways people made their way to the state. “Coming to New Mexico The Fred Harvey Way” is both a history of the iconic Harvey Houses and Harvey Girls, but also contains a generous dollop of New Mexico history made in the railroad towns across the state.

This article was featured several years ago in a “Tombstone Tuesday” article. Since then several comments have been made by Corn family members and descendants. This article will refresh the original with more information about Corn family origins.

Also included in this issue:  New Mexico history book reviews and Family History Tool Box:  Essential Tools for the Successful Family Researcher.

Exciting News!

Digging History is now offering a special benefit for one-year recurring Digging History Magazine subscribers.  It’s called “BOG20” — buy a one-year recurring subscription and receive 20% off a custom-designed family history chart (no expiration — whenever you’re ready as long as you’re still a subscriber).  Purchase an annual recurring subscription here and receive the latest issue:  https://digging-history.com/store/?model_number=subscription-yearly

Please let me know if you have questions or need assistance signing up for a subscription:  seh@digging-history.com.  Thanks for stopping by!

 

Digging History Magazine: May-June 2020

This issue of Digging History Magazine is themed (again) as “Un-Shelved”, stories which, for one reason or another, were pushed back from their original planned publication.  Included in this issue are three articles which have been extensively researched (in addition to regular columns (May I Recommend and Essential Tools for the Successful Family Researcher).  The first two articles are geared toward both genealogy and history — the twisted kind:

Untangling the Web of Twisted History:  Family Stories, Inheritance Scams and Internet Speculation:  One of my favorite maxims – “genealogy is not for the faint of heart” – is the underlying premise of this article (actually, pretty much the entire issue!), a collection of challenges I’ve run across in my “research adventures” in pursuit of my own family history or that of my clients. Genealogy is fraught with challenges and the all-too-often need to untangle twisted history, but untangle I must (or at least try!) – whether it’s a client with family lore they wish to prove (or disprove) to scaling brick walls built on years of misleading information via either genealogical fraud, inheritance scams or Internet speculation.

Don’t Be Hornswoggled!  Although no one seems to know the origin of the word, we hope most people know when they’ve been “hornswoggled”. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in the age of modern genealogical research. It just isn’t the spread of Internet speculation, however. Some of the most dubious “documentation” comes from long-ago published (purported) works of history.

Not long after the “Buchanan Bubble” burst, a controversy arose following the publication of a distinguished-sounding historical work known as The Horn Papers. Almost anyone who saw the substantial three volumes entitled The Horn Papers: Early Westward Movement on the Monongahela and Upper Ohio, 1765-1795 lying on a library table probably accepted them as an unusually impressive collection of data on local history. The respectable bulk of the books the discreet gold lettering of the title on the back cover, given no hint of the furor excited by their publication. Everything about their external appearance is reassuringly undramatic.

Genealogists have, for better or worse, come to depend on these types of books as sources – perhaps not “gospel” but a source nonetheless.  Caveat Investigator.

American Self-Portrait: The Federal Writers’ Project:  When President Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1932 America’s social and economic structures were teetering on the brink of collapse. No one would dispute something drastic had to be done in order to pull the country out of the Great Depression. Whether or not some of his programs actually made a difference in the long run is still debated to this day. There are those who believe some of his programs unnecessarily drew out the process of recovery. However, one program certainly had an impact which still resonates today, especially for historians and genealogists.

The term “self-portrait” often evokes crude images of a self-sketched personage. It might not be pretty, but it’s how we see ourselves. It is what it is – and so it was with one very important Work Progress Administration (WPA) project conducted in Depression-era America. Since most of Roosevelt’s program were known by an alphabet soup of acronyms, let’s use “FWP” for The Federal Writers’ Project. Collections such as this one are a perfect example of how history and genealogy intersect – know your history, know (more about) your ancestors.

This issue is available in the magazine store as a single-issue purchase:  https://digging-history.com/digging-history-magazine-monthly-issues/

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Since it’s the census . . .

While many Americans are focused on COVID-19 and preventing its spread, it’s important to remember this is also a census year.  By now most of us have received mail and email notices about the opportunity to complete the short questionnaire online.  If you can do so, please fill it out — it’s important, as have been all the censuses taken since 1790.

The current issue of Digging History Magazine is themed “Since it’s the census” with articles and anecdotal stories from the current publicly available censuses (1790-1940).  You might think these stories about a bunch of tick marks and statistics would be rather dry . . . and you would be wrong!  This issue of over 140 pages is packed with stories like these three from the 1930 census (God Bless the census takers!):

OKLAHOMA CITY THREATENED BY GIANT GUSHER
Farm Lands for Over Mile and Half Covered With Black Crude Oil

Those who plumb the earth for wealth of oil and gas fled from their riches here today when a giant and unconquered gusher imperiled lives and property, belching inflammable oil and gas for miles around.

A small army of oil workers, farmers, and nearby residents evacuated the area like refugees fleeing ravages of war.
Oil and gas, spewed by the gusher over and above every living thing, overwhelmed the section.
Guards and details of workmen, risking their lives against even the striking of a match in the danger zone, fought to prevent what could be disaster.

Oil was thrown like a dark waterspout high into the air. It fell in black blotches or in a malignant, smelly spray for miles around.

Cheers of suddenly enriched men became warning shouts of peril. . .

Since it happened on April 1, would their newfound wealth be enumerated? Perhaps not, as “one hundred wells, representing uncounted wealth, were halted in their wealth getting while men stood aghast by the thought of peril.”87
God bless census takers! They never knew what knocking on someone’s door would bring, especially (among other trying enumerator experiences) that of a Yiddish-speaking immigrant in Brooklyn :

The life of a census enumerator could hardly be termed a bed of roses. If you think it fun to pry into the secret lives of your neighbors around the corner, to find out when papa last worked and how old mama is, harken to the trials of an average census enumerator who stepped blithely forth at 10 o’clock this morning, to begin the big task of counting Uncle Sam’s children. . .

Enumerator Flees

With her big yellow folder under her arm, Mrs. Hewitt set forth in the early morning breezes to canvass her route in the upper Bedford section. The first number on her list was the flat over a corner store, the family on the first floor was not at home. The mother and two little girls came out on the second floor landing. The mother spoke no English, but she fell on the neck of the census enumerator. She mumbled something to one of the little girls in Jewish. The child invited us in.
The door was opened and we were already inside before we noticed the big sign on the door, announcing in bright red letters that there is scarlet fever in the house.

“I have children of my own, I’d better come back next week,” called the census enumerator, as she hurried downstairs.
“Aren’t you going to take the sign off the door, so we can go out to play,” one of the little girls begged, tears running down her dark cheeks.

The little family had mistaken the census enumerator for the Health Department nurse. . .

The 1930 census was taken after the October 1929 stock market crash.  Stories from this census are heart-wrenching, perhaps not unlike what some of our fellow citizens might be facing today:

No Work for Six Months

In another house in the same row, there was a Jewish family of five where no one had worked in six months. The father, who fortunately owned the house, was a carpenter by trade and he had not had a job in a year. His daughter, a girl of 29 and a widow since she was 22, had been laid off by a Fulton street department store, where she was a salesgirl, six months ago. The son, who followed his father’s trade, could not get any work either.

Both children were born in Glasgow, Scotland, where their parents had gone from Poland and remained for three years, saving for enough money to come to the Promised Land. . .

Just a small sampling of stories extracted from census records (with, I might add, a tremendous amount of research to bring the stories to readers).  Another extensive article is dedicated to the 1880 census, one which genealogists refer to as a “mother lode”…. oh, the stories I found from this important census!

The January-February issue is on sale in the magazine store (click the link).  Subscriptions are the best way to ensure you don’t miss an issue and I offer three budget-minded options (recurring until you let me know you’d like to cancel):  3-month, 6-month and one-year.  A new “trial” subscription, a non-recurring one is now available here.  Give it a try for a year and I’ll send you a  no obligation offer to become a regular, recurring subscriber in one year.  As a bonus, the trial subscription offers the opportunity for you to choose two issues from the archives.  That’s 8 issues for the very special price of $24.

Have questions?  Contact me directly:  seh@digging-history.com.  For information on the 2020 census, complete with operational updates:  https://2020census.gov/en.html

Be safe and well,

Sharon Hall, Editor/Publisher/Writer/Research/Graphic Designer of Digging History Magazine

Ways to Go in Days of Old: Which was worse?

As anecdotal stories begin to emerge in the midst of a worldwide crackdown on the virus known as COVID-19, I am currently working on an article for the upcoming issue of Digging History Magazine under the column title: “Ways to Go in Days of Old”.   After reading a particularly compelling account of one family’s struggle to maintain during this crisis (the father is quite ill, cared for by his wife and 16-year old daughter), the thought crossed my mind:  is the current crisis worse than what our ancestors faced?

In terms of genealogical research this regular column is meant to provide an important historical perspective as to how our ancestors dealt with all manner of misfortune, pestilence and disease.  It is one of my favorite columns to write.  Past issues featuring this column include (click the date to review the issue and purchase if interested):

November 2018 – This issue featured an extensive article on the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.  The issue is largely dedicated to World War I and finding records surrounding that volatile period of history.  Did you have ancestors of German heritage?  Stories abound as to how the United States viewed them as potential security threats (and there are records to prove it!).  On sale for $2.99 (regularly $5.99).

March-April 2019 – The “Way to Go in Days of Old” column in this issue was personal as I recounted the story of my third  great-grandmother’s Civil War Widow’s Pension Application following the death of her husband, Francis DuPee, in a Fort Beaufort, South Carolina field hospital.  This type of story is oft-repeated for many a Civil War soldier who died not from battle wounds, but from rampant disease.

May-June 2019 – This “Ways to go in Days of Old (Of Collar and Corset)” article has a twist — Victorian fashion saved and Victorian fashion killed (a two-part series).  Another favorite column, “OK, I Give Up, What is It?”, is an extensive look at how villages, small towns and large cities dealt with pestilence throughout early American history.

September-October 2019 – The “Ways to (Fashionably) Go in Days of Old” article concludes with a look at how some men met their untimely, yet fashionable, demise.

The upcoming issue which will be out on or before April 15 (crossing my fingers, given all the delays experienced this time around) features an article:  “Ways to Go in Days of Old:  Death by Pimple”.  Today, we have Dr. Pimple Popper to advise us as to how to deal with the age-old scourge of pimples.  Our ancestors, however, weren’t so fortunate as their attempts at self-treatment sometimes turned deadly.

Subscriptions are the best (and most economical) way to get your history fix (with a tie-in to genealogical research).  There are three options to fit every budget (one-year, six-month and quarterly).  Please note these regular subscriptions are automatically recurring until you tell me you wish to cancel.

Not sure if you want to commit long-term?  Digging History is offering a trial one-year subscription for the special price of $24.00 with absolutely no obligation to re-subscribe.  Check it out here.  Included in this offer is the added bonus of two free issues from the archives (your choice).  I’d love to have you as a subscriber, even if it’s only for one year!

Be safe and well during this unusual and historic season,

Sharon Hall, Editor and Publisher, Digging History Magazine

A Look Back: A Pandemic Story Worth Remembering (Blue as Huckleberries and Spitting Blood)

As the world has rapidly changed in the past few days I couldn’t help but remember another pandemic.  Whether the one we’re dealing with now will turn out to be as devastating (I seriously doubt it and certainly hope and pray not!) remains to be seen.  With modern technology — both in terms of medical and mass communication — historians will likely record a different account for our current crisis versus the one which faced the world in 1918.  Interestingly, however, the 1918 pandemic also had a suspected Chinese connection.  History does have a way of repeating itself, doesn’t it?

The November 2018 issue of Digging History Magazine was dedicated to articles focused on World War I — the Spanish-Flu, finding records from World War I, and more.  This issue is on sale at a reduced price of $2.99 (half-off the normal price of $5.99 per single issue).  In the meantime, here’s the article from this issue, entitled “Pandemic!  On the Home Front:  Blue as Huckleberries and Spitting Blood”:

SPRING 1918: War headlines were intense enough by the spring of 1918 – the world was reeling from a war unlike any other in the history of the world. Soon – very soon – the world would be reeling from a different kind of war.
War costs were mounting. The United States government was propagating propaganda at a frenetic pace. Liberty Bonds. Victory Gardens. Our Boys Need SOX Knit Your Bit. Uncle Sam Wants You.

As a result, Americans were increasingly caught up in the war effort and, as it turned out, would soon unknowingly begin propagating an insidious virus known as “Spanish Flu” or “Spanish Lady” across the country. As the virulent strain made its way around the world in three successive waves it would prove to be more deadly than The Black Death – or The Great War itself.

Even today, one hundred years later, no one is certain beyond all doubt the source of the virulent strain known as Spanish Flu. Years of research, exhuming bodies of victims, extracting organ and tissue samples and debating the various theories have revealed at least three possible flash points, however.

At first the most obvious answer seemed to be the abysmal trenches of France – soldiers in close quarters, the stress of war, cold and damp weather all magnified the potential for rapidly spreading disease.

In March 1918 forty-eight soldiers died at Camp Funston (Kansas). Medical officers were certain the outbreak of influenza, which they feared would lead to the spread of pneumonia, was caused by dust storms in the area.

300 FUNSTON MEN DEVELOP INFLUENZA AFTER DUST STORM1

Despite spreading oil around the camp to keep dust from blowing around, soldiers were still falling victim to influenza. Many had also been given anti-typhoid serum. At one night’s retreat several soldiers had suddenly fallen unconscious, yet doctors didn’t believe it was anything too serious.  Today some surmise the pandemic may have begun in the American Midwest, spreading from birds and farm animals and eventually infecting humans.

Following years of extensive research one well-regarded Canadian historian, Mark Osborne Humphries, strongly believes the more likely ground zero location of Spanish Flu actually occurred in November 1917 in a northern Chinese province near the Great Wall of China. The evidence seemed more certain after Humphries found archival evidence indicating Chinese scientists identified their country’s 1917 strain as being identical to the one which would become widely known as Spanish Flu, although it may have been a less virulent strain in the beginning.

While hundreds were affected it appears at some point as the initial strain spread globally it mutated into the more virulent strain responsible for millions of deaths worldwide by the time it had run its lethal course. As serious as the situation was poised to become, much like Camp Funston medical officers, most didn’t seem too concerned that they were seeing anything but the normal “garden variety” of influenza which came around every year like clockwork. For months newspapers overflowed with advertisements for remedies to either ward off or cure any number of maladies, including influenza.

Another reason why Humphries strongly suspects the China connection is the fact Chinese Labor Corps workers (about 25,000) were sent across Canada in route to Europe about the time of the outbreak in their own country. The French and British, desperate to free their soldiers for frontline duty, ordered the Chinese workers sent to southern England and France.

The workers were carried across Canada in sealed railroad cars, and by the time they reached camps where they would await deployment to England and France, about 3,000 were quarantined. The reason they had been transported in sealed cars was due to anti-Chinese sentiments. Doctors who treated the quarantined workers gave them castor oil for their sore throats, attributing their illness to the stereotypically “lazy nature” of Chinese race.2

After the workers arrived in France hundreds would die as a result of respiratory illness. Interestingly, however, the Chinese laborers who continued to work in France for the duration of the war (and especially during the height of the pandemic in the autumn of 1918), appeared to have been immune as no additional outbreaks of respiratory illness occurred among their ranks. Apparently, the milder strain had immunized them against the more virulent one, much like today’s yearly flu shots are designed to work.

Given this possible explanation for the source (China), why is it still referred to as “Spanish Flu”? That’s a good question since Spain has never been considered one of the possible ground zero locations. The term most likely came into wide use after King Alfonso XIII of Spain, along with many of his fellow Spaniards, fell victim to the influenza which had mutated by the spring of 1918 into the more virulent strain.

It wasn’t, however, that Spain was particularly hard hit. Other countries were seeing mounting numbers of cases. Yet, if one looks today at newspaper archives from that time period you will note how little was mentioned about the potential seriousness or the possibility of a widespread epidemic. British and American doctors speculated in medical journals since newspapers at the time were not permitted to print stories that might engender widespread panic.

Spain, however, was a neutral nation during World War I and the Spanish press had no such restrictions. The term “Spanish Influenza” or “Spanish Flu” was in wide use by June 1918, yet ridiculed by The Times of London in a pithy column:

THE SPANISH INFLUENZA
A SUFFERER’S SYMPTOMS

Everybody thinks of it as the “Spanish” influenza to-day. The man in the street, having been taught by that plagosus orbilius, war, to take a keener interest in foreign affairs, discussed the news of the epidemic which spread with such surprising rapidity through Spain a few weeks ago, and cheerfully anticipated its arrival here. He is sometimes inclined to believe it is really a form of pro-German influence – the “unseen hand” is popularly supposed to be carrying test-tubes containing cultures of all the bacilli known to science, and many as yet unknown. In 1889-10, however, it was the “Russian” influenza, because in those far-off days Russia was a land of melodramatic mysteries for most of us, and therefore, the likeliest birthplace of a swift and strange disease, “the ghost of the Plague,” as it was imaginatively defined.3

Yes, The Times opined, the illness came on suddenly and unexpectedly, “the change from what seemed comfortable good health to feverish incompetence being achieved melodramatically”, but a hot water bottle, bed rest and quinine would seem the best cure. Europe, after all, had historically seen far worse epidemics.

The following month a Dutch newspaper opined that Germany’s severe outbreak (resulting in numerous deaths daily) was actually caused by hunger. The German potato ration has been severely curtailed, and thus undernourishment was surely the cause.4

In mid-August New Yorkers were pooh-poohing the notion of a potential epidemic as well:

Spanish influenza is said to be here, but some doctors call it merely mild pneumonia. These cynics seem to think Spain has never originated anything, not even a disease, since Don Quixote.5

That week a Dutch steamship arrived in New York carrying “a large number of passengers suffering from so-called “Spanish” influenza and a record of five third-class passengers buried at sea”.6  Health officials issued cautions, but were not particularly alarmed (yet):

    IF YOU MUST KISS, KISS VIA KERCHIEF, IS WARNING:  Otherwise You May Get Spanish Influenza, or It Will Get You, Board of Health Tells the Amorously Inclined

Further self-denial was urged upon New Yorkers yesterday as a result of the possibility that Spanish influenza may make its appearance here. Dr. Royal S. Copeland, Commissioner of Health, officially advised again kissing, “except through a handkerchief.” Although perhaps distasteful to some devotees of the sport, it was explained in this connection that the precaution would be found both simple and effective as a means of evading disease.

It is the view of the Health Department authorities that the “handkerchief kiss” – there is no objection to the most diaphanous of silk – should be brought into vogue at once, despite the fact that all the suspected cases of Spanish influenza thus far under observation have turned out to be simple, old fashioned article. . . “There is nothing to be alarmed about so far as I can see,” Dr. Copeland declared.7

Alarming or not, the worst – the deadly second wave – was yet to come.

The situation between mid-August to mid-September was fluid. Cases in New York were reportedly mild and Health Commissioner Copeland was officially discounting the possibility of an epidemic. That was Friday, September 13. Two days later a large outbreak was reported at Camp Deven in Brockton, Massachusetts – two thousand cases.

By Tuesday, September 17 Copeland had declared influenza and pneumonia as reportable diseases, although he still did not want to call it the Spanish Influenza which was hitting Boston and other areas of the country. An epidemic was drawing closer, however, as Camp Upton on Long Island was closed the same day. At Camp Upton the situation was fluid as well, reporting one day influenza was under control and the next more closures.

Even as deaths began to be reported Copeland cautioned against hasty diagnosis. However, by the end of September a rash of cases had manifested – almost 700 in a 48-hour period. One family in Flatbush was stricken and the mother had just died.

Meanwhile, the situation in Massachusetts was out of control. Lieutenant Governor Calvin Coolidge appealed to Woodrow Wilson and governors of nearby states to respond via telegram:

Massachusetts urgently in need of additional doctors and nurses to check growing epidemic of influenza. Our doctors and nurses are being thoroughly mobilized and worked to the limit. Many cases can receive no attention whatever. Hospitals are full, but arrangements can be made for outside facilities. Earnestly solicit your influence in obtaining for us this needed assistance in any way you can.8

Meanwhile, Commissioner Copeland was sure what New York was dealing with wasn’t Spanish influenza, but rather “a peculiar form of pneumonia of an epidemic type.”9  Again, however, he saw nothing alarming even though the number of cases were beginning to tick upwards. The man was either clueless, overly cautious or an extraordinary optimist.

By the last day of September a hospital train sent from Baltimore was headed to Boston, equipped with forty beds to care for influenza victims. The number of cases had risen, alarmingly so, to possibly as many as 85,000. The city of Quincy was particularly hard hit.

Finally, on the first day of October (and as it turned out, October would the deadliest month across the nation), Copeland admitted “there was an increase in the number of Spanish influenza cases” – 836 in a 24-hour period, “reaching epidemic proportions. However, he said, that so far there was no reason to be alarmed, as all means were being taken to safeguard the public.”10

In the first few days of October the number of cases continued to climb in New York City, Boston and Philadelphia. Philadelphia schools were closed, the Hog Island Shipyard was impacted and young doctors were urged to come to the City of Brotherly Love. Public gatherings were prohibited, including churches and saloons.

The New York City Health Department had their inspectors out in force, policing railway stations. On October 4, 135 men were summoned to court – “charged with spitting on public thoroughfares.” The court magistrate fined them each $1 and told them to be careful and aid authorities who were trying to keep the epidemic from getting out of control.

“It is cheaper and cleaner to use a handkerchief”, said Magistrate Groehl in the Washington Heights Court this morning, as he fined nine delinquents $5 each and one $10, with the alternative of one day, for spitting in the subway. One of the aggressors was an east-side doctor and another a subway guard.11

In Quincy, Massachusetts officials had discovered milk may have been spreading the disease. Health officials found filthy conditions in cow barns and cows being milked by people seriously ill with influenza. In some places where the milk was strained in kitchen sinks, sick children were laying around on mattresses.12

It was becoming clearer this sickness wasn’t the garden-variety influenza everyone hoped it would be. Reports began showing up in newspapers regarding victims stricken one day and a day (or less) later they had died. Keeping track of deaths and where to house the bodies until enough coffins could be located – these were the serious issues facing city government, health officials and undertakers.

Camp Upton was overwhelmed with a mounting number of cases among young soldiers. For some inexplicable reason this particular strain of influenza was most dangerous to the young and heretofore healthy. One woman, mother of eleven children, had received word one day that her son was stricken at Camp Upton. The following day a telegram arrived announcing his death. However, when she opened the coffin, the body was not that of her son.

In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia had been overwhelmed as were many other ports along the eastern seaboard. Officials had been dealing with the epidemic for several days as it spread across the state, hopeful it would soon begin waning. That was Page 1 of the Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia) on October 9. Page 2, however, told a different story.

INFLUENZA KILLS THREE OF FAMILY
DOCTOR AND NURSE DIE

The father, mother and daughter of one family had all died and were scheduled to be buried in the same grave. This would be the case for scores of victims as cemeteries were filling up.

A doctor and nurse at St. Joseph’s hospital had died trying to save others.

A woman died within twenty-four hours after the husband she had cared for passed away.

PRISONERS DIG GRAVES

Undertakers and grave diggers were overwhelmed, unable to keep up with the demand. Prisoners from the Camden, New Jersey jail were brought in to “help relieve funeral stress.”

Hospitals were filled to capacity, opening new wards and still they came.

Twelve female employees of the Victor Talking Machine Company were being temporarily assigned to train and work as hospital volunteers.

INFLUENZA GAINS IN STATE:  Believe Crest of Epidemic Has Not Yet Been Reached

While Philadelphia cases may have been waning, areas like Lancaster and Harrisburg were still experiencing new cases and more deaths.

Several short death notices were published on page 2 – all had died of influenza.13

On October 5 The Philadelphia Inquirer published a one-page warning in bold lettering – a crisis had arrived. The epidemic was imperiling the success of the Fourth Liberty Loan. Elaborate parades had been the vehicle for rallying the public to support the war effort (by funding it, actually, via Liberty Bond). These parades were no doubt the brainchild of Wilson’s chief propagandist, George Creel. On September 28 Philadelphia hosted a parade for the Fourth Liberty Loan as crowds lined both sides of Broad Street.

Thousands of parade-goers were infected and bodies began piling up – literally. The city morgue only held 36 bodies, yet within a few days hundreds of bodies had arrived. Five hundred bodies were placed in five private mortuaries (without embalming or refrigeration), yet by the end of October when the epidemic was all but over in the city, only about two hundred had been buried thus far. Despite a citywide quarantine, almost 12,000 had died, the hardest-hit city in the United States.14

One Philadelphia mortuary run by the Donohue family had been in business for twenty years and had always maintained meticulous funeral and burial records. Earlier that year records were neat and orderly, listing funeral details, where the deceased was buried and so on. The family later noted:

But when you got to October 1918, the ledgers became sloppy and confused; things are crossed out, scribbled in borders. Information is scant and all out of chronological order – it’s nearly impossible to keep track of what’s going on, it’s just page and page of tragedy and turmoil. Sometimes we got paid. Sometimes we didn’t. Usually, we buried people we knew. Other times, we buried strangers. One entry reads: ‘A girl.’ Another says ‘A Polish woman.’ Another ‘A Polish man and his baby.’ Someone must have asked us to take care of these people and it was just the decent thing to do. We had a responsibility to make sure things were done in a proper, moral, dignified manner. Scribbled at the bottom of the ledger, below the entry for the ‘girl,’ is ‘This girl was buried in the trench.’ This girl was one addition to the trench. I guess we had nowhere else to put her.15

New York City was experiencing much the same with hospitals at capacity. At Bellvue in Manhattan victims were dying in beds, in corridors, on stretchers lining the hallways. Children were placed three to a bed. Housekeeping employees had fled in fear; clean linens were in short supply.

Doctors and nurses had no scheduled rounds, instead rotating in and out twenty-four hours a day. Patients were arriving in unprecedented numbers, all with the same disturbing symptoms – and not just the typical aches and pains accompanied by fever, but “torrential nosebleeds, explosive hemorrhaging, air-hunger and cyanosis.” No wonder one doctor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights was heard to remark, “They’re blue as huckleberries and spitting blood.”16

As the epidemic spread westward to cities like Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland and pushing back into the Midwest, conditions eased up along the eastern seaboard. Conditions were bad enough, although not as devastating as had been experienced in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Still, bodies piled up as coffins, undertakers and grave diggers were in short supply.

In Indianapolis an emergency order was issued by the War Industries Board:

FANCY COFFINS RESTRICTED TO SPEED PRODUCTION

It was an unusual demand, yet with bodies accumulating at alarming rates, coffin manufacturers were being asked to “make only the simpler forms of coffins at present.”17

Public health officials across the country were banning public funerals in an effort to keep the epidemic from spreading. It didn’t matter whether the person had died from influenza or some other cause. In Arkansas undertakers who chose to defy the ban would be prosecuted. In early December, after much of the second wave had passed, Salt Lake City was still banning public funerals although the epidemic had peaked in early November.

Apocalyptic scenes from a different source had occurred in Minnesota on October 10-12 when fire swept through the northern part of the state, destroying entire towns. The area had already been impacted by the epidemic and worsened when refugees were housed in emergency shelters. Even if allowed to hold a public funeral the bodies had been burned beyond recognition. One newspaper referred to it as a “holocaust”. It is still the worst natural disaster in Minnesota with 450 deaths.

One of the more enduring images of the pandemic was the one depicted on the cover this month’s issue – the face mask. In truth the mask provided very little protection since the virus could easily pass through the thin, gauzy fabric, yet many cities passed emergency ordinances compelling their citizenry to don a face mask or face a fine.

While most San Franciscans followed the city’s face mask directive, several were charged with disturbing the peace and fined $5.00 – or jail time. On October 28 a deputy health officer shot a man for his refusal to don a mask. In the City-by-the-Bay, fashion mattered as some women wore veils, hanging loose below the chin and not such a “disturbing and flattening effect upon certain types of female beauty as has the mask that is tied under the mouth close to the chin.” The San Francisco Chronicle called the use of these innovative masks “wonderful attempts to blend the arts of beauty and prophylaxis”.18

Still, forcing the public to don masks in order to stem the spread of epidemic influenza had its drawbacks for at least one San Franciscan. On the evening of October 28, taxi cab driver W.S. Tickner was attacked, beaten and robbed by three “masked” men.

In El Paso, Texas a makeshift hospital was opened at a school. R. J. Pritchard of the El Paso Times provided a stark description – which no doubt was repeated thousands and thousands of times around the world – of poor Mexican immigrants in the last stages of pneumonia:

Fifty-one Mexican men, women and babies lay gasping in the improvised wards of the emergency hospital at Aoy school last night. Brought in from the squalor of homes in the Mexican quarter of town, many of them in the last stages of pneumonia, all of them suffering from lack of proper medical attention and comforts, the patients were transferred to the comparative comfort and care of a hospital equal in almost every respect to any in the city. . . Mexicans of every age, and in every stage of the disease, lay tossing on canvas army cots in the throes of acute pneumonia, or else lay still, with faces upturned to the ceiling, eyes glassy, and only their heaving chests and whistling breath betraying the extent of their agony.

Here lay a grizzled Mexican, tossing from side to side, his body in constant motion as he groaned perpetually for breath. Beside him on the next cot lay a small babe, hardly more than two months old, its brown hands clenched on the coverlet and its tiny black head motionless upon the pillow . . .

On one cot a young mother, not more than 18 years old, sat upright, clasping in her arms with a convulsive grip a three months’ old child. Careless of her own exposure, which might mean her death, the maternal spirit dominated her being to the exclusion of all else, as she fondled her cough-racked babe.19

Spanish influenza was certainly no respecter of persons. While a great number of those succumbing to the disease were poor immigrants, it was just as likely to strike those who were well-to-do or famous. In California actress Lillian Gish had a brush with death. In Chicago a teenager who went by the nickname “Diz” had convinced his parents to allow him to train as an ambulance driver. After he became ill he was sent home to recover. He later became the world’s most famous animator, better known as Walt Disney.

Earlier in the year a wealthy immigrant entrepreneur who had made his fortune during the Yukon gold rush, operating restaurants and boarding houses (some say brothels). On May 29, 1918 he was out walking with his son in New York City when he was suddenly stricken ill. Frederick Trump, grandfather of Donald Trump, died the following day as one of the early victims of the 1918 pandemic.

According to The History Channel web site, as many as 675,000 Americans died as a result of influenza. As staggering and devastating a number as that would seem to be, the worldwide toll may have been as high as 50 million.20   At the time an effective means of vaccinating the populace at large against these kinds of outbreaks had yet to be developed as scientists were still learning about how disease spread in the first place, and how to effectively treat bacterial and viral infections.

Wearing a mask or turning to folk remedies and patent medicines was, of course, wholly inadequate, but medical science was simply not advanced enough to address the overwhelming impact of the pandemic. Still, purveyors of patent medicines (“quack medicine” being a more accurate term) made a fortune selling their “miracle cures” to a fearful and too-often gullible populace.

While one Philadelphia laboratory was selling “Influenza Insurance” in the form of their “Paw Paw Pills”, and druggists were selling “Smo-ko” tobaccoless cigarettes (for 20 cents a box), the life insurance industry was selling product as well. One Brooklyn agency was offering double indemnity for Spanish influenza. By the end of the pandemic several million dollars would be paid out in claims. The federal government claimed it would eventually pay out a whopping $170 million to settle the claims of soldiers who had died of influenza.

For some Spanish influenza pushed them to the brink of insanity, enough to either attempt to or succeed in taking their own life. While today it is a well-known fact that influenza and pneumonia can lead to delirium, it may not have been understood in 1918. In Brooklyn, a 29 year-old Austrian man had been ill for several days. After pneumonia developed, the stage when many victims turned blue (cyanotic), he became delirious and leapt out a third story window before his brother could stop him. He died after being impaled on an iron picket fence.21

The commander of Camp Grant, near Rockford, Illinois, was so distraught over the number of recent deaths (500) that he shot himself in the head.22  In mid-November a Hanover, Pennsylvania man slashed his throat in an attempted suicide carried out on the front steps of a Russian church.23  In Suffolk, England a man, who along with his entire family, was suffering from influenza killed his family and then himself in the most gruesome way – a neighbor found the man’s body hanging in the bedroom and “the bodies of the other three persons, whose heads were smashed with a chopper and who were stabbed with a bayonet.”24  Spanish influenza was a horrible disease which drove more than a few completely over the edge.

America already had a tuberculosis crisis before the pandemic as an estimated one million Americans were afflicted. In early December reports were coming in from Spain and England which pointed to an alarming increase in tubercular patients following a bout of influenza. American doctors warned people to be aware of the possibilities and to take the necessary precautions, including avoiding the urge to self-diagnose. The Surgeon General also advised against the use of remedies sold by “unscrupulous patent medicine fakers.”25

After cessation of hostilities U.S. soldiers began returning home and may have precipitated the pandemic’s third wave during the winter and spring of 1919. During the first few days of January several hundred more cases were reported in San Francisco and over one hundred deaths. New York City feared another severe outbreak when over seven hundred cases were reported resulting in 67 deaths.

The disease was still rampant overseas, Paris in particular, as world leaders gathered at the Versailles Peace Conference in April to officially negotiate the war’s end. Historians debate whether Woodrow Wilson collapsed at the conference as a victim of influenza or was suffering debilitation stemming from a history of strokes.

The 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza Pandemic was a world-wide disaster, the likes of which the world had never seen before nor since (thankfully). It would take another twenty years before the first flu virus was successfully developed by Jonas Salk and Thomas Francis in 1938.

The vaccine came none too soon as another world-wide war was looming. United States soldiers received vaccinations and, unlike their World War I counterparts, were better protected against influenza.

This is an example of the insightful articles you’ll find in every issue of Digging History Magazine.  As you can see, the articles I write now are significantly longer and more detailed than previous blog articles.  This is why a digital publication (PDF) works better.  It’s more work (WAY more), thus the reason why I ask for payment.  Single issue purchase is available here,  Subscriptions are the best deal — choose from one-year, semi-annual and quarterly or try our new “trial subscription” with a no-obligation-to-renew price.

Footnotes:

 

Need Something to Do (besides trying not to touch your face)?

Let’s just call this a “pandemic special”, shall we?  Digging History is offering a special deal to try out it’s bi-monthly digital publication, Digging History Magazine, at a generous 25% discount.  The deal is on now through April 10, 2020:

  • A special non-recurring one-year subscription for $24 (6 bi-monthly issues).  At the end of your one-year subscription you will receive an email inviting you to continue subscribing at the regular rate of $32.00 per year (choose yearly, quarterly or semi-annual subscription), although there is absolutely no obligation to re-subscribe.  All I ask is that you try it for one year.
  • There’s a bonus too!  Sign-up for this special one-year subscription and I’ll send you a list of past issues so you may choose two additional issues, yours for purchasing this special offer. That’s EIGHT issues which normally sell for $5.99 each for only $24 (plus 8.25% sales tax for Texas residents).

The first issue you will receive is the January-February 2020 issue.  Note: the March-April issue will be out in the next few weeks, hopefully by April 15.  The new issue has been delayed in part to this “pandemic kerfuffle” which has thrown a monkey wrench into my normal research/writing schedule.

The January-February issue is the biggest one yet with over 140 pages of articles and complete documentation (no advertisements). This issue features a unique history of the U.S. Census (1790-1940), plus an array of other topics of interest to history lovers and genealogists alike.  You’ll be amazed at some of the stories generated by the decennial censuses through the years!  The featured articles are as follows:

  • Since it’s the census
  • Mining the 1880 Census Mother Lode
  • Up in Smoke: 1890 and Genealogy’s “Black Hole” (or is it?)
  • What in Blue Blazes . . . happened to my ancestor’s deed/marriage/census record?
  • The So-Called Calendar Riots and Modern Day Genealogical Research
  • Getting Knocked Up (a queer English custom)
  • OK, I Give up . . . What is it? (Did my ancestors ever violate intercourse(!) laws?)
  • True Grit: Heck Thomas and Sam Sixkiller
  • And more!

I hope you’ll check it out and consider this special deal.  Hey, it will give you something to do besides trying to keep from touching your face, right?  And, just think . . . it’s a digital magazine and you won’t have to worry about remembering to avoid licking your fingers to turn the page either! 🙂

Seriously though, please be safe and well.  God Bless!

Sharon Hall, Editor/Publisher/Writer/Graphic Designer, Digging History Magazine

Calendar Riots and Time Changes (it’s that time of the year!)

Most of us don’t think about time and its measurement in terms of historical context. It’s just time – something we never seem to have enough of in our “gotta-have-it-now” world. Twice each year our internal time clocks (for the majority of Americans) are re-set because we observe what is called “Daylight Savings Time”. We “lose” an hour of sleep in the Spring, only to “gain” it back in the Fall – “spring forward” and “fall back”. World travelers jet around the world every day, losing a day or gaining one by crossing the International Date Line.

We typically grumble about the loss of zzz’s but our bodies (eventually) adapt fairly well. We certainly aren’t particularly exercised over the loss are we? An hour here, or even a day, is not of much concern. But what if it were eleven days? In the mid-eighteenth century a stir rippled throughout England (although less so in its American colonies) as Parliament enacted calendar reforms in 1751. This calendar-altering event affects genealogical research to this day, yet not as dramatically as it seems to have stirred up the rural populace of England at the time – or perhaps we should say as much as political satirists of the time made of the change and (supposed) uproar.

The January-February issue of Digging History Magazine features an article on this “time change” which will be especially familiar to those of us researching our family history.  If you use any type of family tree software it will remind you of this “gap” and ask if you want to make adjustments.  Today we have computers to handle those types of “blips” but back then it was a big deal to take eleven days off the calendar.  However, whether there were actually riots is debatable.  The article, “The So-Called Calendar Riots and Modern Day Genealogical Research” tells the story of how and why the change occurred.  As a bonus, the article contains what is inarguably the world’s longest sentence.  It’s a direct quote from an eighteenth century newspaper explaining the time change — you have to read it to believe it!

The article wraps up with the story of how Standard Time was set in the United States, which until 1883 was basically non-existent because everyone used what the Chicago Tribune called “fifty-three kinds of time”.  Every railroad was on a slightly different time table because there were was no standard time.  It’s hard to fathom how trains avoided catastrophic accidents caused by varying time tables.

The January-February issue is on sale by single issue purchase or sign up for a subscription (3-month, 6-month or one year) and features extensive articles on the United States census (and more).  Not a bunch of statistics, but stories gleaned from census records dating from the first one in 1790 and the last one currently available for public use (1940) — like the woman who became so distressed at having given “incorrect” information to a census taker that she (allegedly) took her own life . . . or, the intriguing story of Annie Gminder, enumerated in a Kansas jail in 1880 (on the “defective schedules” as the suspected murderer of her husband) . . . or the story of some of the toughest census takers you’ll ever read about (and women to boot!).

This issue is the biggest yet with over 140 pages of articles (and documentation):

  • Since It’s a Census Year
  • Mining the 1880 Census Mother Lode
  • Up in Smoke:  1890 and Genealogy’s “Black Hole” (or is it?)
  • What in Blue Blazes . . . happened to my ancestor’s record?
  • The So-Called Calendar Riots and Modern Day Genealogical Research
  • Getting Knocked Up (A Queer English Custom)
  • OK, I Give Up, What is It?  Did my ancestors ever violate intercourse(!) laws?
  • True Grit:  Heck Thomas and Sam Sixkiller
  • Family History Tool Box, Book Reviews and more!

Pick up your copy today!  The March-April issue will be out by early April (or before), featuring the great state of New Mexico.

Digging History Magazine – January-February 2020

Here we are – the first issue of 2020. “Since It’s the Census” is the theme of this issue which includes stories from United States censuses dating back to 1790 up until 1940, the last census available for public scrutiny (1950 is out in 2022!). You’d be amazed at the stories one can glean from census records (and a fair amount of newspaper research, of course).

I have to say the last several days I’ve felt very much like an overly pregnant woman who is about two weeks overdue. The days seem interminably long as she waits for “that thing to come out” (hence the stork depicting this “somewhat late, yet very special delivery”).  I am in fact two weeks overdue from my self-imposed date of January 31 to deliver this issue – and I’m more than ready to “get this thing out”! And, what a big “baby” it is – over 140 pages!  The issue is on sale here or  purchase a subscription (the best deal) here.

That being said, I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed researching, writing, editing, etc. this issue – one that I’ve planned to do for quite some time. It just didn’t seem like a better time to do it than the first issue of 2020 as we kick off another census year. As always, I myself have learned TONS and I hope readers will find it informative and entertaining. Please don’t be intimidated by the long articles about the census. I assure you they are FULL of interesting stories.

I was especially amused to have many assumptions I’ve developed over years of genealogical research confirmed – women (and men) fudged their ages, sometimes when an answer couldn’t be provided the enumerator “guessed”. Being a census enumerator was no bed of roses, either, as they struggled to communicate with immigrants suspicious of anything having to do with the government. You’ll especially not want to miss the stories of enumerators who covered their territory on horseback or skis.

This issue of Digging History Magazine is PACKED with stories.  Here is a brief summary:

Since It’s a Census Year – What better way to launch 2020 than with an article on this important decennial event.  You might be expecting a rather dry recitation of data gathered by the United States government, dating back to the first one conducted in 1790.  You would be wrong!  I’ve seen the data and accompanying documentation which the government used, and heaven knows only they must understand exactly what it meant!

Census data is vital to genealogical research, yet it’s more than just tick marks (up until the 1850 census), name, age, marital status, occupation and so on.  There are literally thousands (more like MILLIONS) of stories to be gleaned – not that I will attempt that feat here, however.  This extensive article will look at each decennial census beginning with the first in 1790, through the 1940 census.

Mining the 1880 Census Mother Lode – Family Search refers to the 1880 census as the “mother lode of questions pertaining to physical condition, criminal status, and poverty.”  Talk about stories!  It took the better part of the 1880s decade to process, but was it ever worth it, all courtesy of the “Supplemental Schedules for Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes” (sometimes referred to simply as the “Defective Schedules”).

Up in Smoke:  1890 and Genealogy’s “Black Hole” (or is it?) – Put on your thinking caps. What event which took place ninety-nine years ago has since become an ever-present challenging obstacle to genealogists? On January 10, 1921 most of the 1890 census went up in smoke – “most” being the operative word. A March 1896 fire had already destroyed a number of these records.

Anyone who has been researching for any length of time likely realizes finding one’s ancestors involves trying many “keys” to unlock hidden caches of records, photos, and so on.  Genealogists love census records because they are fairly easy to both access and assess, making the missing 1890 census a discouraging “black hole” for some who haven’t yet tried a little creativity. Why guess (or fudge) when you can do a little extra digging and maybe find a really interesting story!  This article is filled with information about this genealogical “black hole” and how to find substitute records utilizing some “research adventure” stories.

The So-Called Calendar Riots and Modern-Day Genealogical Research – Most of us don’t think about time and its measurement in terms of historical context.  It’s just time – something we never seem to have enough of in our “gotta-have-it-now” world.   Twice each year our internal time clocks (for the majority of Americans) are re-set because we observe what is called “Daylight Savings Time”.  We “lose” an hour of sleep in the Spring, only to “gain” it back in the Fall – “spring forward” and “fall back”.  World travelers jet around the world every day, losing a day or gaining one by crossing the International Date Line.

We typically grumble about the loss of zzz’s but our bodies (eventually) adapt fairly well.  We certainly aren’t particularly exercised over the loss are we?  An hour here, or even a day, is not of much concern.  But what if it were eleven days?  In the mid-eighteenth century a stir rippled throughout England (although less so in its American colonies) as Parliament enacted calendar reforms in 1751.  This calendar-altering event affects genealogical research to this day, yet not as dramatically as it seems to have stirred up the rural populace of England at the time – or perhaps we should say as much as political satirists of the time made of the change and (supposed) uproar.

It all seems to involve a bit of revisionist history.  In 21st century vernacular let’s call it “fake news”.  While researching this article which was to focus on the differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendar systems (sometimes called, respectively, “Old Style” and “New Style”) and how it affects genealogical research, I came across the phrase:  “Give us our eleven days!”

Subsequent references to the phrase implied there had been “calendar riots” circa 1752 when England decided to join the rest of continental Europe and adopt the Gregorian calendar which had been around since the 1580s.  Attempts to locate the phrase “give us our eleven days” or “give us back our eleven days” in the eighteenth century yielded a big goose egg, although simply using “eleven days” yielded a few references in both England and America around the time of the calendar shift. . . Plus, the story of “setting standard time” in the late nineteenth century (to avoid “fifty-three kinds of time”).

What in the Blue Blazes . . . happened to my ancestor’s (fill-in-the-blank) record?Family Tree Magazine (May/June 2018) called them “Holes in History” – destructive fires throughout United States history with far-reaching effects on modern-day genealogical research.  It might have been the deed to your third great-grandfather’s land in Mississippi, your grandfather’s World War II service record, or the missing 1890 census records.  This article will take a look at the stories behind these devastating events and provide tips for finding substitutes.

Here’s something we can all agree on:  nineteenth and early twentieth century courthouse fires are the bane of genealogists everywhere.  Have you ever wondered why so many courthouse fires occurred in the latter half of the nineteenth century?  Would it surprise you to find that many of them were set nefariously?  (It shouldn’t.)

Getting Knocked Up (a Queer English Custom) – Once upon a time everyday working folks paid someone to “knock them up”.  This, of course, elicits winks and giggles amongst 21st century denizens as “knocked up” often refers to what Merriam-Webster calls “sometimes vulgar: to make pregnant”.  There was nothing vulgar intended or implied as this 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), was an honorable occupation.   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.

OK, I Give Up . . . What is It?  (Did my ancestors ever violate intercourse(!) laws?) – First, I write an article about getting “knocked up” and now “intercourse laws”. Ahem.  Lest anyone think I’m referring to the world’s oldest profession, let me explain.  I run across many interesting phrases and curious terms while researching family history for my clients or research for the magazine.  One phrase popped up recently and curiosity got the best of me (as it so often does!).

True Grit:  Heck Thomas and Sam Sixkiller – This is a companion article to “Did my ancestors ever violate intercourse laws?  The short answer — yes, if your ancestor lived near or among Indians they may have at one time or another “violated intercourse laws”.  These two legendary “bad-ass” lawmen were kept plenty busy in Indian Territory back in the day.

Family History Tool Box, May I Recommend (Book Reviews) and more!

Sharon Hall, Publisher, Writer, Editor, Graphic Designer of Digging History Magazine

Believe it or not . . . stranger things have happened (Baby Cages and Snowbank Cradles)

Where I live we are “bracing” for a winter storm. People are raiding grocery store shelves like there will be no tomorrow. Trust me, it won’t be as big a deal as everyone is making it out to be (I hope). In honor of the upcoming West Texas “snowmageddon” I thought I’d share a story featured in the February 2018 issue of Digging History Magazine. Enjoy!

This article may very well make you think, “you must be kidding! Seriously?”

To begin with I came upon this story in a rather roundabout way. So, in a roundabout way let me explain. It started with a Christmas sermon about Baby Jesus and how the manger (a feeding trough) served as his crib. The minister explained that in those days there was no such thing as a crib as we know it today. Interestingly, the Old English word “crib” means “manger” or “stall”.

However, it wasn’t until sometime in the nineteenth century when baby cribs came into use. Where did the little one sleep before the 1800s? Though it sounds ill-advised today, children often slept with their mother.

A primary feature of the crib was the ability to keep the child from falling out of bed, necessitating the need for a device which could be easily lowered and raised to place or remove the child. For instance, on December 4, 1888 David J. Powers was awarded U.S. Patent 394010 for a crib or child’s bed. Powers explained:

My improved child’s crib is preferably constructed with a frame having sufficient high sides, upon which the folding panels are hinged to permit the panels to fold down.1

After these types of cribs were invented and improved upon there were other devices, with accompanying theories of proper child-rearing, which began to pop up in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Here’s a depiction of a “baby cage” invented by Emma Read of Spokane, Washington in 1922 and patented (#1448235) the following year.

If the image looks a little odd just sort of hanging out there, it’s because it was designed to hang that way – outside a window! These cages began to take off in the 1930s, especially in London (not exactly the healthiest air quality in the world at that time).  The July 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics depicted a baby cage accompanied with a description of its purpose:

Apartment-Window Cage Protects English Tots
Enclosed in a wire cage suspended from an apartment window, English children play in the sunlight and fresh air while their mothers are busy with housework. The cage, made of wire netting, is strongly braced and is guarded on the apartment side by a cloth net which prevents children from crawling back into the room. Loaned by an infant welfare center to families with no gardens, the portable balcony is apparently popular with children and mothers. The demand exceeds the supply.2

The idea of “airing” one’s baby came about in the late nineteenth century as Dr. Luther Emmett Holt explained the concept in his 1894 book, The Care and Feeding of Children. In a chapter entitled “Airing” Holt wrote:

Of what advantage to the child is going out? Fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood, and this is just as necessary for health and growth as proper food.

What are the effects produced in infants by fresh air? The appetite is improved, the digestion is better, the cheeks become red, and all signs of health are seen. . .

What are the objections to an infant’s sleeping out of doors? There are no real objections. It is not true that infants take cold more easily when asleep than awake, while it is almost invariably the case that those who sleep out of doors are stronger children and less prone to take cold than others.3

It would seem the so-called baby cage was in use before Emma Read’s invention in 1922, however. In his book entitled The Health Care of the Baby: A Handbook for Mothers and Nurses, Dr. Louis Fischer, also stressing the importance of fresh air, included illustrations of a device called “Boggins’ Open-Air Sleeping Compartment”, one a view from the street and the other from the inside room.

In 1906 the concept of “airing” one’s baby seems to have taken an extreme turn. In June of that year a women’s club in St. Paul, Minnesota was hosting a clinic on “The Care of Infants and How to Make Child Rearing Easy”. The headline proclaimed:

FROST YOUR BABE, MOTHER’S ADVICE
Clubwomen in St. Paul Told That Chilly Treatment Will Make Their Infants Fat
SNOWBANK BEST CRADLE

Models Shown of “Cage” to Keep Baby In When Mother Attends Meeting of the Club4

Frost your babe? Snowbank best cradle? What was that about!?!

Mrs. Winona S. Abbott was the “expert” and she had been brought to the club meeting by Mrs. Lydia Avery Coonley Ward of Chicago. All ladies present were in St. Paul for a convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, founded in 1890. President Sarah Platt Decker had announced the day before that Mrs. Abbott knew everything there was to know about babies and their care.

There were both married and single women in attendance, clamoring to know more from the “expert”. Some were mother-in-laws with an intense interest in their grandchildren, while some were just struggling with the stresses of raising children.

Mrs. Abbott came well-prepared and stood ready to demonstrate the cadre of “patented appliances for the use of young mothers”.5   She proclaimed a so-called “mechanical baby tender” could mechanically care for the babe whilst its momma attended her club meeting, thus reducing “maternal cares to a minimum and place club life within the reach of all”.6

The newspaper’s description seems to indicate the device was a crib, resembling a cage without a top. Since the mid-1800s several devices deemed “baby tenders” had been patented. Which one she was referring to is unclear, however.

The bars were made of white willow, about two and a half feet high. On one side was a rack for a milk bottle and the other a rack for a rattle. Go ahead and leave little Johnny in the “baby tender” and run off to your club meeting – just make sure he has milk and rattler!

Everything that could possibly keep an infant entertained or provided for was within its grasp. It was noted, however, there was no compartment for “soothing sirup [sic]” – too deleterious, Mrs. Abbott advised.

Her advice included how to dress a squirming baby, serve a five-course meal without getting up from the table, furnish an entire night’s supply of sterilized milk for your baby without making a six trips to the fridge, prevent children from becoming bowlegged or knock-kneed and how to button your infant to its bed to prevent an accidental fall. Whew! What didn’t this woman know about child care?

As one might imagine Mrs. Abbott had “an inviolable set of bylaws for the government of the babe”.7 Her list included, among other things:

● Never use the “indispensable” safety pin. Use buttons instead.
● Always put clothes on a baby by way of the feet – never via the head.
● Never let a baby cry. Crying does not develop the lungs. No baby will cry if treated rightly.
● Give a baby plenty of physical culture. Begin Indian club exercises as soon as possible.
● Never make a baby’s clothes more than twenty-two inches long. 8

As a staunch advocate of the cold air and chilled water treatment for children, she also recommended the child be set outdoors immediately after birth – even if born in the dead of winter. Wrap it in woolen clothes, place in a Klondike bag, hammock or specially-made box and set it outside in the cold to sleep.

Mrs. Abbott claimed her own child had slept outside in -26 degrees, and all the better for it. At 26 months old the child was able to “hold its own weight on a horizontal bar for a minute and a half”.8  At six months old bundle up the babe and plop him or her out in the snow to enjoy the cold weather. You can always warm them up with a nice warm bath, right?

No, actually, according to Mrs. Abbott not nearly so beneficial as a cold one. Again she held up her (apparently) heart and stout children as stellar examples: “my baby won’t get into the bath unless the water is extremely cold”, she explained. “He will sit in cold water for an hour and a half. I would not mind if he sat there three hours. It would do him good.”9

Drafts, however, were a different kettle of fish altogether. Drafts were dangerous! Take the baby out and wrap it so nary a draft strikes it!

Whether this woman was some sort of quack is certainly debatable. She laughed at her critics. One neighbor in the Illinois town where she lived a few years back had reported her to the authorities when she put her baby out in the snow – and now she had the world’s strongest baby! Furthermore, one of her sons had been born paralyzed from the waist down. Currently he was playing football for the University of Illinois, she claimed.

She brought out a prototype of a baby cage and explained the important features necessary to make it effective, claiming it would be a perfectly safe place for the baby to entertain itself – and leaving it there whilst mommy went to her club meeting, one woman piped up! “Exactly!”, exclaimed Mrs. Abbott. That was the point wasn’t it – Mommy need not be inconvenienced in any way in order to pursue her women’s club interest.

What about when the child can scale the two and a half foot “fence”? Mrs. Abbott (she had an answer for every challenge it seemed!) advised, “well, then take a clothes line and tie him to a post. I kept one of my boys tied with a clothes line until he was 6 years old.”10

One of the last devices she displayed was a buffet to be placed next to the bed, although it wasn’t stipulated in the article whether it was mommy’s or baby’s bed. Mrs. Abbott explained how the compartments on either side could hold up to twelve bottles of sterilized milk (a 24-hour supply) – everything needed to make it through the night, plus an upper compartment to hold medicines and a heater over which cereals could be placed. By morning breakfast cereal would be ready!

How much of her advice was taken seriously isn’t clear. Other than her appearance at the women’s club convention there are few (if any) references found for her – except a mocking little poem:

Rest little dear, in the ice chest now, snug as a chop, or a steak, or a roast; Mamma will sing you to sleep, somehow – Wonder which of us will chill the most! Tuck your toes where the chilblains are; Dear little nose – it is nice and blue! Baby must go to the Sleepland afar; Listen and mamma will sing to you. Woo-oo-oo! Br-r-r-r! Woo-oo-oo!11

The baby cage appears to have gained growing interest, however. In 1908 it was suggested in order to keep a baby out of mischief, just saw off the top of a barrel around the first hoop and take out every other stave. Voilà, your own DIY baby cage!

Of course, Emma Read wasn’t the only person to try and design a better baby cage. William Gibbs McAdoo, son-in-law of Woodrow Wilson, constructed an out-the-window cage for his months-old daughter. The son of Wilson’s Republican opponent Charles Hughes, Charles Hughes, Jr., heard about it and decided to give it a try.

Hughes’ children were rolled out in a wagon and placed inside the cage where they would spend their morning nap time. In the afternoon they were taken out to play with their toys. Save for a rainy day the cage worked quite well, although a little cold weather was no problem. Charles Hughes III was said to have become rather husky using this treatment. 12

So, the sermon about Baby Jesus and his manger (crib) led me to write this article – in a roundabout way. The more I read and researched the stranger it became.  It’s hard to imagine such practices today – whether throwing your baby out in a snowbank or putting them in a baby cage!

Did you enjoy this article?  This is a sample of the kinds of stories you’ll find in each issue of Digging History Magazine.  The issue is available by single issue purchaseSubscriptions are the best way to enjoy Digging History Magazine, now published bi-monthly and averaging 75-85 pages (or more!).  No ads, just stories of interest to history buffs and genealogists.  Want to try a free issue?  Pick up one (or two) here:  Free Samples.

 

Deconstruction and Reconstruction: A Necessary Evil for Genealogical Research

Genealogy is not for the faint of heart.  I don’t think any serious family history researcher would dispute.  How many times have we moved our way up a particular line only to discover either a HUGE brick wall or something which negates all the research we’ve done up to that point?  As this post’s title implies sometimes we have to take something apart (or outright destroy!) and put it back together in order to move forward.

Sometimes research for articles works that way too.  Since beginning publication of Digging History Magazine in January 2018, I have taken a number of articles previously published at the blog and refreshed them with new research — often re-writing the entire story.  Such was the case of the November-December 2019 issue and “The Dash” column.  “The Dash” is basically the same premise as the “Tombstone Tuesday” blog articles — “The Dash” referring to a person’s life between birth and death (between the dash).

On April 8, 2014 I published a “Tombstone Tuesday” article about Lycurgus Dinsmore Bigger, someone I came across while researching a story of the family name “Bigger Head” (I have also refreshed this article — details below).  This is how I ended the original (2014) 1100-word article:

So, today’s article presented a challenge but still yielded some information about Lycurgus Dinsmore Bigger and his family. Martha’s family genealogy was the most helpful in piecing together their lives and then following up with census, immigration and draft registration records. Still, it isn’t a complete picture, but certainly indicative of the difficulty of historical and ancestry research when one hits a “wall” due to inconsistent, or simply a lack of, reliable information.

Over five years later, here is how I began and ended the 5000+ word article which is included in the November-December 2019 issue of Digging History Magazine:

This article constitutes a major re-write of an early “Tombstone Tuesday” blog article. Back then I didn’t yet have access to the major subscription newspaper archive sites, and I struggled to find details about a man named Lycurgus Dinsmore Bigger and his family. Apparently I didn’t do a very good job of utilizing genealogical records either – boy was I green! This re-write is another great example of how vital newspaper research is to genealogists. . .

I’m fairly sure the 2014 article was chosen because of the unusual name – “Lycurgus Dinsmore Bigger” – that, and I had come across his name while successfully researching and writing an extensive article on a succession of people named “Bigger Head”.

Over five years later it’s evident newspaper research made the difference between an original 1100-word article to a 5000+ word article. I was likely frustrated with the lack of information available at the time, but this so often is the case for genealogists. The old adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” comes to mind.

Deconstruction (or outright destruction), followed by reconstruction, is a necessary evil for genealogical research. More than merely a “Dash” article this one turned out to be quite an “adventure in research” didn’t it? I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed FINALLY finding the real story of the Bigger family.

I thoroughly enjoyed rewriting the story of the Bigger family and, of course, loved digging around in newspaper archives to discover more about their very interesting lives.  Regarding the “Bigger Head” article referenced above, that one was also refreshed and published in the March-April 2019 issue.  It is included in an article entitled “Genealogically Speaking: Curious Kin” which features stories of some unusually-named people I’ve run across.

The November-December issue is now on sale and features stories about the War of 1812 — one of those forgotten American wars — and how to find records to help us discover more about our ancestors who served.

Sharon Hall, Publisher and Editor, Digging History Magazine

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