Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Council of Defense documents provide insight into Allen County during WW I

By Nancy McCammon-Hansen

Civic involvement took a unique turn in Allen County during World War I and recent work by two volunteers provides us with organized documentation to showcase this part of our city’s history.

Jeanne S. Miller and Lorraine H. Weier spent the better part of two years going through our collection of documents from the Allen County Council of Defense (COD), indexing the materials and creating 38 categories so that researchers can more easily find the information they need. The ten boxes of files and the resultant inventory list are now under review by our curator, Walter Font.

Both of these women enjoy Allen County history—Jeanne is a life-long Allen County resident and Laurie has lived here 53 years. This is not the first time they’ve worked on a project together—in fact, it’s the third! Going through massive amounts of paper can be “tedious, dull work” (their words, not this author’s) but they will readily share that the work can some days be fascinating, especially when the opportunity to compare “history” to today presents itself.

The Allen County COD was formed at the behest of the state, which had a state-level organization organized by the United States Council of Defense. The COD was formed by decree of President Woodrow Wilson shortly before the United States entered the WW I. Ultimately, there were national, state, county and township councils.

The Allen County Council “did about everything” according to Jeanne and Laurie, with members who “served voluntarily way past the end of the war. They were prominent citizens who had the time, talent and expertise to do the tasks that supported the war effort.”

Propaganda—on both sides of the war effort—was used by the COD to restrict Germans in their support of the homeland and to promote to “everyone to get on board and support the war effort.”

Fund raising was, as today, a part of the job with a surprising amount of money raised in Liberty bonds and for the Red Cross. Prominent male residents would go to movie theaters to promote the buying of bonds.

Also important to the war effort was the promotion of fair pricing of food stuffs and other vital materials. Farmers were encouraged to produce more crops due to famine in Europe and the Boys Working Reserve was formed to “employ” young men not old enough for the armed services but strong enough to be of service to farmers. A farming background helped, but even city dwellers were encouraged to apply and work for “a pittance”. Jeanne and Laurie found folders full of applications, cards and signatures as well as advice to farmers.

However, no African Americans were allowed to participate in the area’s farming. Integration was not yet a part of our culture. Jeanne and Laurie commented during the interview for this article that among the papers they were sorting was a slip of paper that discussed “black” soldiers not being able to attend local movie theaters and a proposal to change this policy. But they could not find any documentation that the policy was ever changed.

All policies were set at the national level. Jeanne and Laurie were surprised at how much money was raised locally for implementation of those policies as well as the number of citizens who were involved in this war-time effort.

A good example of basic needs by our military was a memo from then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt requesting that Americans contribute telescopes and binoculars to the Navy, which was unprepared to join in the fighting.

Fort Wayne during WW I was a very ethnic community comprised of a number of German immigrants, many of whom had not acquired US citizenship. One of the more interesting facts discovered during the cataloging of the COD materials was the attempt to forbid teaching and preaching in German. Lists of young people in German language congregations were developed and boys in particular were identified by age group.

The Allen County Public Library was given a list of books that were to be removed from the shelves. They complied.

The result of compliance to COD activities most often occurred through social coercion. You didn’t want to be seen as disloyal and pressure came from neighbor to neighbor to be a good American. People seemed more willing to go along with whatever the Federal government decreed, especially when it came to restrictions on rationing of items such as sugar and wheat as well as building materials.

In this election year it’s important to note that a major effort was made to get servicemen to vote absentee.

In an age where technology was not particularly well advanced, telegrams were the most often used method of communication.

Jeanne and Laurie will tell you that handling original documents almost a century old is a “privilege” and that history “comes alive” when you see the actual words of real people living in a particular age. Walter Font, the History Center’s curator, served as advisor for the project.

“He’s a true professional who knows his business,” said Jeanne. Laurie added that “Walter’s insight on how to make the material available and how to label folders so people can easily find what they’re looking for” were critical to the success of putting the collection into a usable form for researchers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fort Wayne's First Christmas Tree

The story of Fort Wayne's first Christmas tree is documented in Bert Griswold's Pictorial History of Fort Wayne, published in 1917, but his source for the story is not known. It may be based more in legend than in fact.

According to the story, Dr. Charles Schmitz, arranged to bringthe first Christmas tree to the city in 1840. A native of Borgloh, Germany in 1809, Schmitz had studied medicine at a medical college in Bohn or Bonn, and then came to America in 1835, settling first in Philadelphia. He arrived in Fort Wayne in 1837 and became a prominent member of the German-American community, serving on the Board of Health, becoming the first president of the Allen County Medical Society, and serving as editor of the German newspaper, Der Deutsche Beobachter von Indiana, under the ownership of Thomas Tigar.

Schmitz was reportedly dismayed to find no tradition of decorating Christmas trees in his new home. The forests of northern Indiana were deciduous, and there were no coniferous evergreen trees native to the area. He had to look outside the area to find a suitable tree. In June of 1840, knowing that it would take time for an evergreen tree to arrive, he made arrangements for a tree to be shipped from Cincinnati on the Wabash & Erie Canal. The tree apparently arrived in December, and Schmitzes placed it in their house on Calhoun Street, next to what was later known as the Noll Building. On Christmas Eve, they decorated it with candles and an assortment of ornaments. Mrs. Schmitz placed their infant daughter in a basket beneath the tree. Then they invited guests to come and view the spectacle, and reportedlty, a number of Indians were among the guests. According to Griswold, "The beautiful tree brought exclamations of delight from the red men, but it is recorded that they found the baby a more lasting object of admiration."

Undoubtedly, the city's growing German population continued to promote the Christmas tree custom throughout the mid-19th century. Virginia (Carnahan) Williams tells a memorable story that she and her sister Clara went with their German maid to services at St. Paul's Lutheran Church at 6 AM on Christmas morning in 1886. There they heard soft organ music and a German choir in the gallery singing, "Unto Us a Child Is Born," and other carols in German. They could smell the scent of the pines on either side of the altar. When they left church the sun was beginning to rise.

Other children of the era remembered walking along Madison Street, where many of St. Paul's parishioners lived, and they marveled at seeing the lighted Christmas trees in every window.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recalling the Past

By Laurabelle Hibbets McCaffery

Veterans Day 2011

November is a time for remembering. When the first snowflakes fall, childhood memories of snowmen, snowballs, and winter fun come to mind. The beginnings of the holiday season often bring past holiday gatherings of family to mind as well. When I think of Thanksgiving, I recall my mother creating wonderful smelling and great tasting food for our Thanksgiving dinner. And the best part? We would be joining either the Meek or the Hibbets family for the day. The food was not the only attraction. Listening to the adults talk was fascinating. They talked about their youth and their own parents. The stories they told! I recall my father telling of going to see Wild Bill Hickok perform at the local fairgrounds. I also remember them talking about the cross that supposedly the KKK burnt on his lawn. I heard about the building of the city of Gary, Indiana and how a lot at 5th and Broadway went for 5 dollars! My railroad engineer uncle was telling about the horrendous accidents he had seen with horses and cars on his New York Central routes, another uncle was talking about joining the CCC. Grandmother was reading a letter from an uncle who lived in Hawaii. It was like my own private adventure. And sadly, no one wrote it down and I was too young to know that what I was hearing was real history and that I should somehow save it.

This holiday season when the family is gathered together, listen to the family stories and ask lots of questions. Ask who did what and when and where. And take good notes.

Good notes may well have been the basis for the publication of an important book of local history, HISTORY OF FORT WAYNE & ALLEN COUNTY, Indiana 1700 – 2005. Vol.1 was edited by John Beatty and volume 2 edited by Phyllis Robb. They were aided in this arduous task by Kathryn Bowen Bloom, Judge William Lee, Stan Hood and many other dedicated volunteers, contributors, and writers. It is a treasure trove of historical information about politics, immigrants, entertainment, business and industry, local history, communications, and above all--people. In the second volume there are histories of local families as written by the families themselves as well as histories of businesses and institutions in the county. You can find the Fort Wayne-Allen County Historical Society listed. Some family names listed are Snyder, Lothamer, Schmidt, Rossworm, Wolf, Dodane, Bleeke and Bloom. There are hundreds more. Perhaps you or someone you know is there. There are also photographs and illustrations so you can see your history as well as read about it. One of the best features is the extensive indexing. This makes it easy to look up people and events.

Since November is the traditional start of the holiday season, it might help you on your quest to note your own history to have a few fun facts for November. Use them for ice breakers when you want to ask about family history. And they are found in volume 1 of HISTORY OF FORT WAYNE & ALLEN COUNTY, Indiana.

In November of 1845 a meeting between Samuel Hanna, Samuel Edsall, Allen Hamilton, and Peter Baily set the stage to raise subscriptions for a plank road heading north. This road became the Lima Road and went to Sturgis, Michigan. They also provided names for at least two of our streets in Fort Wayne

November 1860 brought the presidential election and Stephen Douglas garnered more votes in Allen County than Abraham Lincoln.

In November of 1947 voters defeated a referendum to build the Anthony Wayne Parkway through downtown Fort Wayne. The downtown merchants supported it. Neighborhoods fought it with fear of loss of housing and fear of who might be the new neighbor. Another argument was that the expressway would turn the city into four sectors. I think that happened anyway.

November always brought elections. Harry Baals was elected mayor in 1934. And in November of 1950 E. Ross Adair started his long career in the House of Representatives as well as an Ambassador to Ethiopia.

WKJG-TV signed on the air on November 21, 1953 on the third floor of the Purdue building at Jefferson and Barr. Hilliard Gates did the honors and his guests included Mayor Harry Baals and movie star Marilyn Maxwell.

November 5, 1923 saw the opening of the Broadway Theater on Broadway as a premier move palace. It unfortunately morphed into a purveyor of x-rated films in the 1970s before it became a restaurant later.

November is a good time to acquire this set of books. They would be great to have with you at a family gathering this fall and winter. You can see where you are in relation to our local history and maybe find something about your own relatives. It is a great book for reading bits at a time and in whatever order you want.

The HISTORY OF FORT WAYNE AND ALLEN COUNTY, INDIANA, 1700- 2005 is available for purchase at the museum shop. It would make a great family present.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

History Center adds an "Everyday Star" Judge William Lee to the Parkview Murosity Project.

Parkview Foundation will have an interesting mural added to its new Parkview Regional Medical Center. The idea to create a large mural that celebrates the generous people of our community led to the creation of a project called, "Murosity." It's an invented word combining "mural" and "generosity" to create the term murosity. Utilizing high school students, professional artists, celebrities and Parkview physicians and coworkers, 160 people in all, each painted a canvas to honor one of our region's Everyday Stars. Although each painting is fourteen-inches square in size, organized together through a mosaic of images, they form a large eight feet by twenty feet Everyday Star mural. When viewed from a distance, the mural appears to be a pleasant Indiana country scene. The canvases are intended to provide comfort and encouragement to those who view it in the waiting room of the new Parkview Emergency Department. Visitors will be able to see that the big picture is divided into individual canvases that can be enjoyed separately along with text that tells why the pictured Everyday Star was chosen.

The Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society's History Center is included among the separate canvases featuring Everyday Star Judge William C. Lee with supporting text. This one reads:

"A senior judge in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, William C. Lee received his undergraduate degree at Yale University and Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Chicago in 1962. He returned to his native Fort Wayne to practice law in 1962 and was named to the bench by President Ronald Regan in 1981. In 1988, he was recognized as Indiana Trial Judge of the Year, and he received the Huntington College Honorary Doctor of Laws in 1999.

From 1978 to 1981 Judge Lee was a member of the Board of Trustees for Fort Wayne Community Schools and served as its President from 1980 to 1981. He has been a member of the board of such civic organizations as Fort Wayne Fine Arts foundation; Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra; Fort Wayne Civic Theater; and Legal Aid of Fort Wayne, Inc.

Judge Lee served as President of the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society in 1993, and again from 2002 to 2006 for a total of six terms...the most any one person has served in that office to date. While doing so, the Judge guided the organization to a return to prominence in the community, and reset it on a sound financial footing. Among the lasting legacies he has instituted as president has been leading the way in publishing the 2005 History of Fort Wayne and Allen County, which has become the "go to" history book for the county. When it became clear that Fort Wayne Community Schools no longer had funding available for students' visits to the " History Center ," it was Judge Lee who started the Heritage Education Fund. It ensures that the youth of this region might experience the unique benefits that one of the largest regional history museums can offer. This Everyday Star has made it possible that our community's' youth see and touch the rich heritage that is their home."

You can learn more about the Parkview Foundation Murosity Project by visiting

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Pioneer Fort Wayne

Little has been written about the celebration of Thanksgiving in pioneer Fort Wayne. It is well-known that President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day for the final Thursday in November in 1863, and the day was no doubt widely observed from that time afterward. Prior to the Civil War, however, most observations of the day were small and associated with settlers from New England, where, especially in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Thanksgiving had been an annual holiday from the seventeenth century. It appears likely that New Englanders and New Yorkers brought the tradition with them when they came to Fort Wayne in the 1830s. Surprisingly, the more wealthy at least enjoyed a wide variety of food and used recipes brought with them from the East.

Susan (Man) McCulloch, wife of banker Hugh McCulloch, a native of New York, offered one of the earliest references of the holiday in a letter to her mother, Maria Halsey, in Plattsburgh, New York, dated 24 November 1839. She speaks of her anticipation of guests on Thanksgiving Day, which occurred on the 28th that year. She describes the bounty of her home harvest late in the previous summer. "I had their room all ready for [guests] and the chickens were fat and waiting for their necks to be wrung. The watermelons and cantelopes [sic] were then in their prime, and I just wanted Cousin Amasa and Mr. Myers to see how much could be raised on 15 acres of Fort Wayne ground. If they could have seen our watermelon and muskmelon patch, it would have made their mouths water. They never saw such melons in Fulton Market. We had between six & seven hundred bushels of corn, between three & four hundred bushels of potatoes, about a thousand heads of cabbage, hundreds of bushels of beets, turnips, onions, and carrots and some of the largest pumpkins you ever saw. The finest potatoes are selling for eighteen pence a bushel and corn for 25 cents. Flour has been sold for 4 Dollars a barrel this fall... We have had a delightful autumn, scarcely a single hard storm and no sickness of any account, but the weather changed yesterday and this morning the mercury stood at six below zero."

In 1845, she reported in another letter, "Thanksgiving day we had all my husband's relatives, Miss Wallace and Miss Love to dine. We had a first rate dinner. Everything nice. Even my husband was exactly suited in the evening. We all played blindman's bluff." That same year at Christmas, the menu consisted of roast turkey, boiled turkey, chicken pie, plum pudding, mince pie, puffs & jelly, Blanc Mange, Charlotte de Russe, pickles, and coffee. "Though I say it who should not say it, every thing was good. Of course, Mr. McC. was pleased."

There are more clues to the diet of Fort Wayne residents in other letters of Susan. In October 1838, she reported in detail some of her kitchen preparations. "Mr. Merrill, the president of the state bank, [is] staying with us, and I have been all morning making pies & apple dumplings. Will you write me the proportions of meat, apples & seasoning for good mince pies in your next, Dear Mother? I have quite forgotten. I have just learned how to make good tomato pickles. They are equal to the best mangoes. I have made a large stone jar full of peach preserves, another of wild plums, another of tomatoes, another of watermelon, and shall make some apple jelly when I get some red apples. Butter is so scarce that I cannot make cake and must have something nice for company. I have a great many blackberry preserves. I have but one store room, and you may think how it looks, 18 feet long & 4 wide, all my bedding piled up in trunks in one end, dresses & coats hung around on pegs in the other, a barrel of sugar, bag of coffee, box of raisins for candies, jars of sweetmeats, boxes of spices & cocoa, chest of tea, etc. Our cellar is now dry so that we can put butter & lard in it."

On another occasion, January 1839, Susan hosted a reception for the marriage of William Rockhill and Eliza Waugh, and she introduced whipped cream to the city, apparently for the first time. "We threw open the rooms upstairs for the company and laid the supper tables below. On each end of the large table extending through the room I had a pyramid of cakes weighing about 18 pounds, frosted and ornamented with white flowers and white sugar plums, one of fruit cake and the other of federal cake. In other parts of the table I placed five or six large loaves of cake of different kinds, frosted and ornamented with colored sugar plums, cold chicken, ham, roast pork & beef sliced thin, biscuit crullers, cakes, and wine. On the side tables I had calve's foot jelly, Blancmange whips, snowballs, raisins and nuts. For preparing these things I had no assistance but such as little Mary [Fairfield] and my girl could render me, so you know I must have been very busy. Everything was first rate, not one loaf of cake was heavy. Half of the people here did not know there were such things as Whips and Blancmange. The way they ate the fruit cakes would have frightened eastern people. Not a few were sick the next day in consequence of it. So now I am a cook, say what you will about the practice."