Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who's That Tall Fellow in the Stovepipe Hat?

During the summer of 1941, the Ottawa Daily Republican-Times ran a grainy photograph showing a Civil War-era crowd standing in front of a house which they claimed was the only photograph known to exist of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas from their debate series.

Since then, every reference to this photo has included the newspaper clipping, but the photograph has never been authenticated since the original disappeared and the newspaper reproduction isn't clear enough for study.

This summer, three Civil War researchers reported that they found the original in Somonauk.

Bevin Wold, Chet Wold and Gerard Brouwer were looking for information on volunteer soldiers from Leland. Their search led them to the Marie Louise Olmstead Memorial Museum. There, displayed in a period frame on the wall, was the "lost" photograph, exactly where it had been for decades.

Attached to the frame was a small note indicating that the photo was of Lincoln on the day of the debate. The house has been identified as that of Henry F. Eames, a local banker, and the carriage is similar to one preserved bythe La Salle County Historical Museum in Utica. Tradition says that carriage transported Lincoln to the debate in Ottawa.

The photograph was removed from the Marie Louise Olmstead museum and taken to a photographer's to be reproduced and enlarged for further study. The three researchers are clearly thrilled to have found this important bit of history, hidden in plain sight, and they are busy trying to put names to the faces in the crowd.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New Marketing Piece for Kate's First Book

Illinois elementary schools often teach early American history between now and Thanksgiving, so now is the perfect time to remind teachers that Ruth by Lake and Prairie, the factual story of an 1831 girl who settled in Naperville, Illinois, is available to supplement their textbooks.

To help spread the word, a new book trailer has been created. Please feel free to take a look and pass it on to parents or teachers who may be looking for new material to catch the interest of their elementary students during westward expansion studies.

Where History Is Happening

Champaign County's Lincoln
Through December
1 pm - 5 pm
The Early American Museum gives a glimpse of what Champaign County was like when Lincoln spent time here. Includes a moving horse buggy to simulate travel on the prairie and a depiction of Alschuler's studio where the fourth known photograph of Lincoln was taken.

21st Annual Heirloom Garden Show
Sunday, August 29
11 pm - 4 pm
The Heirloom Garden at Garfield Farm Museum increases awareness in the loss of genetic diversity in the plants that provide us food, fiber, medicine and enjoyment. Exhibits with the gardeners are spread about the shaded farmyard with its rustic board fences and the sounds chickens, sheep and oxen punctuating the chorus of cicadas and crickets on a late summer sunny day. Also visible since the 2009 show, will be last fall's restored south wall of the 1842 barn and its newly restored roof just begun in mid-August.

A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

Saturday, August 14
4:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Effective August 1, 2010, temporarily, they will not be open for walk-in visits until further notice. Pre-arranged, prepaid group tours of 20 or more and facility rental will still be available. Contact the museum via email, voice mail and traditional mail.The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum's mission is to promote, honor and celebrate the legacy of A. Philip Randolph and contributions made by African-Americans to America's labor history. At our facility this celebration begins with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as we educate the public about their legacy and contributions.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Toast to Illinois' Early Settlers!

When Kate was writing Ruth by Lake and Prairie, she read all the accounts by the settlers she could get her hands on. Ruth's brother, Robert Nelson Murray, lived to be an old man, outlasting most of his contemporaries. About 50 years after the founding of Naperville, The Inter-Ocean, a Chicago newspaper, sent a reporter to interview Mr. Murray.

They found him sitting outside the general store on an old box, whittling. He was not yet 70 years old, and while some folks did live into their 80's, they were the exception rather than the rule. Illness, accidents, childbirth and hard work took their toll.

The reporter apparently was amused by Murray's "countrified" ways and his tales of the old days. It makes for a delightful interview and a very important resource for the researcher.

One of Murray's stories is about voting for Andrew Jackson in the 1832 Presidential election. Murray says he was eighteen at the time, and while the majority of the settlers voted for Henry Clay, "there were twelve other fellows who liked whiskey and black strap just as I did."

That's the kind of off-hand comment that authors love because it highlights a little domestic detail that can add realistic depth to a story.

Kate did a little extra research on the drinking habits of early Americans. Rum was actually the favored spirit in the original colonies, and was made in America from imported sugar cane, but after the American Revolution disrupted trade with the Caribbean, whiskey became more common. There were plenty of Scottish and Irish immigrants around who were distilling whiskey from excess grain.

Early Americans drank alcohol all day long. In many cases, it was healthier. Polluted water caused illnesses like cholera and even safe water often needed to stand to let the mud settle out. Milk could kill you, as it did Abraham Lincoln's mother, if your cow was eating poisonous plants.

Wine-making was not successful in the colonies and beer spoiled too quickly to transport it to far-flung settlements, so hard liquor was most common. Old recipes exist to make whiskey toddies and flips and other drinks -- like Mr. Murray's whiskey and black strap.

Black strap is a type of molasses that is created from the third boiling of sugar cane. After each boiling, more sugar crystals are formed, and the syrup that's left behind gains more of a "burnt" taste and color. That's why black strap is black compared to the earlier "golden" molasses.

In Ruth by Lake and Prairie, whiskey and black strap is passed around by the men during their Fourth of July celebrations on the schooner. In the pursuit of research, Kate admits that she did try a whiskey and black strap herself.

Let's just say it must be an acquired taste!

In the Days before "Just Say No" Came to Our Schools

While researching whiskey and black strap and the drinking habits of settlers in the 1800's, Kate found a few interesting stories in The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, Volume 2 by Paul Selby.

In the chapter on Kendall County, the writer tells some stories about school customs in the first half of the nineteenth century. Until larger number of German immigrants arrived, Christmas was not really a big deal. The Charles Dickens version became common only after Queen Victoria took up the custom from her German-born husband and most early Americans celebrated Christmas like an ordinary Sunday.

By the 1840's, however, customs started changing, and one odd one was called "Barring Out." A few days before Christmas, the pupils at the local one-room school would bar the door against the teacher until he promised them a treat for Christmas Day. Apparently, some students went even farther by throwing the teacher in the river, tying him up, or burying him in a snow bank. A few teachers resigned their positions rather than face the mob of students, but at least one "was forced to treat his pupils to 'blackstrap' and all the boys became drunk."

Where History Is Happening

Preserving History at Lombard's Victorian Cottage
Wednesday, August 11
1 pm - 4 pm
Learn how canning and preserving food was done in Victorian times and how those skill are applicable to modern living. At the Lombard Historical Society's Victorian Cottage Museum.

Neville Collection Open House in Elgin
Sunday, August 29 1:00 pm
This is a second chance to visit Aubrey and Rachel Neville's fantastic dairy and carriage collection and to roam their extensive gardens! You will see antique horse carriages, industrial wagons, and many different types of dairy bottles. A feature of this event is the garden walk, which includes a 2 acre tall grass restored prairie, woodland gardens, a butterfly garden, ponds, and a creek. Call the Museum to make reservations at 847.742.4248. Directions will be emailed or sent to you. Admission: $5 donation to the Museum.

Geneva's 175th Birthday Party

Saturday, August 14
4:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Residents are invited to bring their picnic baskets for an old fashioned community party in celebration
of Geneva's 175th birthday. The celebration is designed to not only
commemorate a historic milestone, but to encourage residents of all ages to interact with each other and literally get to know their neighbors. Entertainment will include dance performers from the Geneva Park District and a performance by storyteller Terry Lynch.
The evening will culminate with music provided by the
Fox Valley Concert Band. The picnic will be held on the courthouse lawn at Third and James Streets. The party is in cooperation with the City of Geneva, Geneva
Chamber of Commerce, Geneva Park District, Geneva Public Library, and the Geneva History Center.