Friday, May 28, 2010

Button Holing History

Last week I lost a button on my favorite wear-around-the-house shirt. Fortunately there was a spare sewn on the inside shirttail. I never thought of that button being a culprit of our culture of excess, but rather it seemed like a pretty good idea. An attentive manufacturer had saved me the time making a trip to the store hunting for a matching button. Of course when the shirt wears out, it'll get tossed out buttons and all.

Sewing on a button can be a challenge, trying to fit a sharp needle through two or four little holes, and some people are much better at it than others. After the replacement was made, I noticed several other buttons looked a bit stressed and may not last too many more visits through the washer and dryer experience before more threads let loose. When I mentioned my concern to my wife, she said not to worry because we have a "button box."

How many of us have a button box? Maybe a good number of us do, but those who don't may not have had grandparents who managed surviving the Great Depression bequeathing to some of us several of life's little lessons.

Sure enough, inside a round tin container that might have held a selection of candies from the 1940s, handed down through the family, resting quietly on a shelf in a linen closet was a collection of every size, color and style button imaginable. All I had to do was rummage around a bit and among the hundreds and hundreds of fasteners, I was sure to find a successful match.

A look inside a button box is to take a mental tour of your past. You might find a big black plastic button impressed with an anchor design that came from an old P-Coat; or a fancy colored thingy that could not possibly be used anywhere but where it was first intended; or small flat rounded pearl-like discs stamped from a river mussel shell.

There was no discarding a button back in the 1930s because it may be just the household item to make ends meet - both figuratively and literally. I wasn't there in those days but I heard the stories and experienced the values of those who did. Hence the reason we have a button box in our house. By the way, that shirt I mentioned that got the new button won't get discarded too soon. Another lesson we learned from our Depression-experienced folk, was that the old shirt must first be unceremoniously ripped apart to serve an indeterminable time as a dust rag. Maybe that's why the buttons got a final notice, since they'd have to be stripped to save the scratch marks they'd cause when dusting off the dining room table.

Interesting where you can find a little hidden personal history and especially when it’s so close to home. If you have a button box, maybe you'll find some of your history inside. Oh yes, if you see me wearing my comfortable shirt with the repaired button, it may look a bit worn, but I don't plan on creating a new dust rag any time soon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lindenwood Cemetery at 150

Sunday, May 30, 2010, will mark the 150th anniversary of Lindenwood Cemetery. A special ceremony in observance will be held this Sunday at the cemetery. Lindenwood represents a part of the so-called "rural cemetery movement" that swept over America during the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century. The term "rural cemetery" does not mean "country cemetery." Rather, it means "cemetery in a park," and it changed the way Americans thought about the dead and the environment where they reposed.

Prior to the creation of rural cemeteries, the dead, especially in cities, were buried in small, compact town burial grounds, often laid out in squares or rectangles. Sometimes they ran out of space, and new bodies were buried on top of earlier graves. There were no funds for their perpetual care, and in some places they became unsightly withthe soot from factories located nearby. Earlier in the nineteenth century, Fort Wayne residents had buried their dead in a small cemetery near the present site of the Allen County Jail, and later, in Broadway Cemetery, now the site of McCulloch Park next to what is now the GE plant. By the 1850s, that cemetery, though only 20 years old, had become a dumping ground for the city. Headstones were overturned, weeds grew everywhere, the fences were broken, and animals sometimes grazed there. Some citizens, outraged at the state of disrepair, began demanding a better alternative for burying their loved ones.

The rural cemetery movement had begun on the east coast with the opening of Mount Auburn Cemetery at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1831. Other cities soon followed suit with such outstanding examples as Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn and Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, among many others. These cemeteries were beautifully landscaped with trees, hills, and streams. Promoters boasted that they removed the unpleasantness of death, promoted civic pride, and became wholesome destinations for family outings.

Lindenwood came about through the vision of several local leaders who raised sufficient capital to form a corporation in the late 1850s. They found a patch of old-growth forest close to town and hired John Chislett, an English-born architect based in Pittsburgh, to lay out the cemetery plan. They also employed John Doswell, an English-born horticulturalist and landscape architect, to actually sculpt the land according to Chislett's design. The result was a spectacular cemetery - the first publicly landscaped ground in the city, established before there were yet any parks for city residents.

At the time of the dedication in May 1860, America stood on the verge of the Civil War, and among the first dead to be buried there would be fallen soldiers from that war. The cemetery was not developed all at once. Sections opened at various locations and were interspersed with patches of undeveloped woodland. A Victorian Gothic gatehouse and office designed by Wing & Mahurin opened in 1884, and a chapel, later known as the Chapel in the Woods, was dedicated in 1895.

Since its founding, Lindenwood has become a venerated spot for many local families. One finds there a curious blending of the past and present. The granite and marble markers bear the names of many of the city's founders and community leaders. So this week, think about Lindenwood as it observes its sesquicentennial. It remains a beautiful spot for commemorating our city's history.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Top 10 WORST History Center Slogans

As the marketing committee worked on creating brand standards several years ago, one of our favorite parts was kicking off the initial brainstorming session by thinking up the WORST possible slogans. (As all creatives know, the bad ideas are lurking—it helps to get them out of the way as soon as possible).

We came up with nearly 50, and I thought the 10 best deserved a tip of the hat in the historical record, so here they are.

10. The History Center—where your teachers spend their summers!

9. Visit the past. You may never want to leave.

8. If you don’t come to The History Center, I’ll beat you with my cane!

7. A great old-timey building filled with old-timey things you should know about.

6. Yes, you have to pay to see our old junk!

5. The History Center: Northeast Indiana’s Center for History!

4. Come discover the dead guys our streets are named after!

3. Learn the stories of people you never knew doing stuff you don’t care about.

2. See Hugh McCulloch spring to life at The History Center.

And the number 1 WORST possible slogan...

1. The History Center—Minutes and Minutes of Fun!

Addendum: I had a group of professional writers as my ad hoc judges panel for the "best" WORST slogans….they were apparently so inspired, they made some contributions of their own. Here they are.

- The History Center: Home of Hoosier Erectus
- Bringing you history since 1921…because nothing good happened before that.
- The History Center: Not as lame as you think!
- Those who don’t remember the past have obviously never spent a day at The History Center.
- The History Center: Older than Disco!

What’s your worst slogan? Make a comment below…if it’s funny enough, I will post it. (Ah, the powers of comment moderator!)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Eliza George, Fort Wayne's Civil War Heroine

May is a good time to remember Indiana's great Civil War heroine Eliza George who is buried in Lindenwood Cemetery. She died May 9, 1865, a little over 145 years ago, in Wilmington, North Carolina, after serving for over three years as a war nurse.

Eliza George was remarkable in many ways.

She was one of the first women in the United States to officially serve as an army nurse, breaking the tradition that insisted that men only, meaning mostly sick soldiers, were appropriate caregivers for those injured and sick in military hospitals.

She was one of the very few women nurses to accompany General William T. Sherman's massive armies through the mountains of Georgia during the torturous spring and summer 1864 campaign to win Atlanta. This, too, broke a military policy that prohibited ALL women from accompanying his army.

She was a gutsy woman fifty four years old when she left her Fort Wayne home, an age considered too old by many for the exhausting work ahead.

Most importantly, Eliza George had tremendous compassion and ability. She showed those who questioned her stamina that they were wrong. She served as the soldier's "best friend."

Before joining medical teams supporting General Sherman's troops pushing to Atlanta, Eliza worked as a nurse in winter camps in Kentucky, in large military hospitals in Memphis, Tennessee, and in field hospitals in Corinth, Mississippi. She made numerous trips back to Indiana for desperately needed supplies, was ambushed by enemy soldiers and threatened by winter storms.

Eliza spent her final months caring for soldiers released from prisoner of war camps and sent to Wilmington, North Carolina. By day she organized women to sew clothes for the men who had only rags to wear. She wrote letters to friends pleading for food, as Wilmington had been stripped of all supplies when the Confederates evacuated. At night, she sat at soldiers' bedsides giving comfort.

Finally, her own health gave way and she came down with typhoid fever. Although she seemed to be recovering, she died one day before she was to return to Fort Wayne.

Doctors who worked with Eliza George wrote letters to Fort Wayne newspapers praising her great work. Her Fort Wayne friends and leaders of the Indiana Sanitary Commission arranged for her burial with full military honors and for a monument in her honor. She is the only Indiana Civil War nurse given this recognition.

The engravings on her monument reflect her war time service but are badly worn by years of exposure. Eliza George is truly a heroine whose story proves that real people are often more thrilling than any character in fiction.

Peggy Seigel, May 20, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Researching Folks in Our Five Forts

As a librarian I am sometimes asked how to research people who lived in the various old forts that were located at Fort Wayne.

For decades, beginning in the early 18th century, our county was home to French voyageurs and fur traders, as well as French, British, and later American soldiers, traders, sutlers, and their families. The genealogist and historian researching specific people during these time periods face many challenges. Land records are not generally available until the opening of the federal land office in 1824. However, several volumes offer important glimpses of people and activities surrounding these old forts.

The French, who arrived early in the 18th century, built two forts: Fort St. Philippe des Miamis, located on the St. Mary's River, and Fort St. Joseph, on the St. Joseph River. During the French period, one should consult the reports of Charles de Raymond, who served as commandant to Fort St. Joseph in the 1750s. An interesting book, edited by Joseph L. Peyser, is On the Eve of the Conquest: The Chevalier de Raymond's Critique of New France in 1754 (Michigan State University Press, 1997). Raymond offers an important first-hand account of the fort here, though it is less useful for the names of specific inhabitants.

In 1790, Henry Hay, a young British officer, spent time at the French settlement here and recorded his vivid observations in a journal, later published as "Fort Wayne in 1790" under the editorship of M. M. Quaife in the Indiana Historical Society Collections, volume 7 (1923). The names of many local French and Miami residents are listed.

An early source for the first American fort built in 1794 is Ebenezer Massey's journal, edited by Walter Font and published in 1993 as a special issue of the Old Fort News. It covers the period 1794-1795. For a slightly later period the essential source remains Bert Griswold's Fort Wayne, Gateway of the West, 1802-1813: Garrison Orderly Books, Indian Agency Accout Book. Published in 1927, the volume contains a transcription of commandant orders and courts martial conducted by the garrison, as well as ledgers of supplies stocked at the agency. Occasionally, lists of debtors will appear, and the book is enhanced by a full name index.

Two other important works are Gayle Thornbrough's Letter Book of the Indian Agency at Fort Wayne 1809-1815, and Nellie Robertson and Dorothy Riker's three-volume John Tipton Papers. Both works were published in 1961 by the Indiana Historical Society. Thornbrough provides and transcription of letters written and received by agents John Johnston and Benjamin Stickney. A few local names appear in these records, though much of the information focuses on Indian policy for the years preceding the War of 1812.

The correspondence of Tipton, who succeeded Stickney as agent, dates from 1809 to 1939 and includes the period when the Indian Agency was located in Fort Wayne and after its move to Logansport in 1828. Numerous references to local residents are included and of special note is an 1831 pay roll of the Potawatomi that serves as a census.

Because many of the early traders and residents of Fort Wayne were French Catholics, the parish registers of St. Anne's Church in Detroit (under whose jurisdiction Fort Wayne was located in the late 18th and early 19th centuries), are a useful source for vital records. Christian Denissen's Genealogy of the French Families of the Detroit River Region, 1701-1936 contains many references, though they are not always distinguished by their location. Also useful is Marthe Faribault-Beauregard's La Population des forts francais d'Amerique (XVIIIe siecle), which also contains numerous references to French inhabitants.

Finally, researchers should consult Brian Leigh Dunnigan and Chris Cramton's Biographies of People Who Lived at or near Fort Wayne in 1816. Compiled for use by reenactors at the reconstructed fort, the source remains useful for genealogists and historians, and Dunnigan is well-respected as a historian.

It may take some digging, but it is surprising how much information is available for the pre-census, pre U.S. Land Office era.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Our Stories = Our Treasures

How many Hoosiers remember studying Indiana History in the 4th grade? If you're like me, you have fond memories, but don’t quite remember the details. (Living Indiana History is the best elementary textbook EVER, but I don't think we even took a cool history field trip or anything).

When I first joined the History Center’s board in 2007, one of the things that struck me was the wealth of stories from Fort Wayne’s history—the thrilling, scary, inspiring or complicated kind that I certainly didn’t learn in school.

I can remember meeting Jim DeVinney for lunch—he was the marketing director at the time, and had an Irishman’s gift for weaving a spellbinding story, honed by the discipline of years of TV and film writing and production. Plus several Emmys to boot. He started telling me about his research into William Wells.

Now, I knew the basics about Wells (a white boy captured and raised by the Indians…plus…um…Wells Street and Wells County) but I was enthralled as Jim painted a broader picture of Wells’ life (which ended tragically at the Fort Dearborn massacre. Did you know it is actually a mark of great respect for your courage to have your heart eaten? It’s true. Didn’t learn that in 4th grade.)

The story of our founding is just as riveting as, say, Last of the Mohicans, but I bet most people aren’t familiar with anything deeper than the Old Fort, or the copper dude on the copper horse in Freimann Square.

The marketing committee’s major project for the year was to create new brand standards for The History Center. As we worked on a message that would best reflect the essence of things like Old City Hall, the Chief Richardville House, and the amazing items in our collection, this is the description we came up with:

The History Center has been collecting and telling the story of Fort Wayne and Allen County for nearly a century. As an institution with a distinguished heritage and fascinating history, it has naturally accumulated some dust over the years, but it holds a repository of artifacts and stories that can still spark a fire in the imaginations of visitors and schoolchildren in the years to come. At first glance, a visitor to the Old City Hall might see a forbidding fortress. Look more closely, and the graceful arches invite visitors to come and join the story.

…The stories we tell have stood the test of time, and it is our duty to ensure they continue to be told with passion, precision, and the diligent craftsmanship that ensures they will continue to be shared in the centuries to come. At the same time, we must speak to new audiences, in a manner that is clear, fresh and compelling.

Thus, the guiding light to all we do at The History Center is to bring out and polish till they shine our treasures—“Our Stories.” It’s my hope that this blog can help bring some of those stories to life, now that we are no longer in 4th grade, and are free to soak up knowledge, seek out our own books, and plan our own field trips.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thank You Jennifer

I would like to give my particular thanks to History Center Board Member and Marketing Committee Chair Jennifer Milholland for her exceptional contributions to the organization. Since joining the Board in 2007, Jennifer has courageously led the organization’s marketing efforts into hitherto untouched territory, revitalizing the brand and look, championing the message, and serving as the primary impetus behind this blog.

Welcome and Happy History!

The History Center (aka the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society) is one of the oldest and largest historical agencies in the Midwest. We are delighted that this nonagenarian organization is taking another leap into the 21st century through this blog. Local history is not all tarnished statues, plaques marking the site of long ago happenings, vaulted bastions of dusty artifacts, or pages yellowing with age. To the contrary! Our history is a vibrant, dynamic, and powerful force of heritage that has shaped our community’s physical and ethereal character for many generations and continues to affect each of our lives today.

Where would be if the Miami Indians had not recognized the supreme importance of “That Glorious Gateway?” Where would we be without President Washington’s order to General Wayne to “occupy Kekionga” or Samuel Hanna’s unrelenting promotion of a swampy confluence as an internationally significant center for commerce and transportation? Where would we be without the explosion of creativity, innovation, and industry (vestiges of our frontier ruggedness and do-it-yourself-ness) that impelled Fort Wayne to greatness in the 19th and 20th centuries, and continues to the present day? Where would we be had Philo not gazed upon the fields or Silvanus not cranked the well bucket or Ethel and George not fallen in love over the enameller? Where would we be without the hardships and setbacks that we overcame together, or the opportunities and challenges we experience today?

Without all these, the vast majority of us would not be where we are now; however, it is precisely because of these common experiences that we are who we are today. These stories, both broad and minute, are our stories because this is our history. Every day those of us at the History Center enjoy telling these stories…it is our passion. We hope that through this blog you can partake in that appreciation as we share tidbits of knowledge that illustrate where we have been and define who we are as a people.