Friday, December 10, 2010

A Charles Beecher Christmas

Travel back to December Sundays during the mid 1840s. In the recently completed Second Presbyterian Church on West Berry Street, the Rev. Charles Beecher jovially strolls before his congregation playing the violin. Simultaneously, he conducts the church choir and congregants in one Christmas carol after another. When he steps up to preach, no one falls asleep. Packed together in this small church are followers of at least five different faith traditions representing a broad cross section of Fort Wayne society.

Charles Beecher's six years in Fort Wayne, 1844 to 1850, were at the beginning of his long careeer as a maverick minister and champion of social justice. The ninth of eleven children born to the Rev. Lyman Beecher, Charles had entered the ministry reluctantly. His father was president of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati and was one of the foremost Presbyterian leaders of his day. Charles's education at the best New England prep schools and at Bowdoin College, however, had nurtured his love for poetry and music. He tried to avoid the ecclesiastical warfare and antislavery debates led by his father and his scholarly older brother Edward.

By his late twenties, married and a father, Charles agreed to the family plan to install him in Fort Wayne at his own church. According to the scheme of his older brother Henry Ward, then serving a church in Indianapolis, Charles would take the recently vacated pulpit of Fort Wayne's First Presbyterian Church on behalf of the Presbyterian faction championed by their father known as New School. The entrenched Presbyterian hierearchy, however, would hear none of this. Shortly before the Beechers arrived in Fort Wayne, a theologian from Hanover College representing the Old School faction won First Presbyterian's pulpit. Charles Beecher's future as an embattled minister and social reformer was thus launched.

Despite intense efforts, Henry Ward and Lyman Beecher were only able to recruit six members for Charles's new church. On Sunday mornings Charles rode his horse out to neighboring villages. On Sunday evenings he conducted services in the musty Allen County Courthouse. By 1845, only one year later, trustees and church friends helped Charles build their new church home. In addition to two Sunday services, Charles continued his ministry in at least four rural areas. Members from his church led Sunday school classes in these areas as well.

Reflecting his discomfort with religious conflicts, Charles preached tolerance and social justice. One of his most remembered sermons caused fellow Presbyterian ministers to view him as "unsound in the faith" because he stressed that there was more than one way of looking at fundamental religious truths. "The only unity that ever will be attained before the Resurrection of the Just, on earth, will be a unity of thinking differently, in love." Charles led his congregation in ministering to the poor in Fort Wayne. He organized a popular singing school, Bible classes, and discussion groups. He spoke out against the sin of slavery and against the unjust treatment of African Americans in our so-called free North. He likely supported the secret work of the underground railroad. Along with his strong moral convictions, he was quick to find humor in life. He was known for his storytelling.

In the spring of 1850 Charles told his congregation that he and his family, now including four children, were returning to New England for the summer. Sickness and poverty had taken their toll on this popular and "original" minister and his family. By the end of the summer, Charles made it known that they would not be returning. Reluctantly, members of Second Presbyterian Church gave up plans to ordain Charles as their first permanent minister.

Within a year after leaving Fort Wayne, Charles was recognized as a national leader in the growing anti-slavery struggle. His sermon against the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850 and a long tract arguing against Biblical sanctions of slavery were circulated by the American Anti Slavery Society. He helped his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe describe scenes of slavery he had earlier witnessed in Louisiana that became part of her international best seller "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Charles then accompanied Harriet on a triumphal European tour. For decades, despite accusations of heresy, Charles championed religious tolerance.

While some Fort Wayne residents criticized Charles for going against popular opinions of the day, he was fondly remembered by many who knew him. His exuberant expressions of love through music and words during the divisive years leading up to the Civil War had touched their hearts. Today as we face other forms of war and injustice, particularly during this dark season, it is good to remember this truly remarkable "original."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Forgotten Pronunciations

Recently while reading John F. Meginness, The Lost Sister of Wyoming searching for places and dates about Frances Slocum, I ran into a recollections piece by Horace P. Biddle. A highly regarded jurist, Biddle was born on March 24, 1811 in Fairfield County, Ohio, later settling in Indiana. He had studied law as a young man and became so good at it that in 1874 he earned a seat on the bench of the Indiana Supreme Court. Retiring in 1881, he began devoting much of his time to literature and music and in fact authored several books mostly on poetry. Meginness had a great respect for the old Judge and included Biddle’s recollection of notable people of his day.

That brings us around to the point of this posting. We in Indiana and especially in Allen County have long admired the Miami Civil Chief Jean Baptiste Richardville. Many are familiar with the chief’s history, that his father was a Frenchman, that his mother Taw-cum-wah brought their son up in the Miami culture, that his house still stands on Fort Wayne’s south side along Bluffton Road and that most people pronounce the name as “Richard Ville.” Even though from time to time we are corrected by those who would hold to purer articulation, we continue to use the familiar “Richard Ville” cognomen. Maybe it’s because we reason that at times even others’ suggestions don’t agree, so most of us are content to stick with our reliable “Richard Ville” and go on our way. We also enjoy the stories handed down orally and written about this famous man.

Judge Biddle makes it plain on page 197 that the name is pronounced “Roosheville.” He then proceeds to give this anecdote that makes the old Miami so interesting.

It seems that William G. Ewing had a disagreement with a French Indian trader named Mr. Berthelette who was an intimate friend of Chief Richardville. Whatever the squabble, Berthelette was intensely angry with Ewing and made a visit to Chief “Roosheville.” No sooner had the two greeted one another Berthelette was asking to borrow the Chief’s pistols. When Richardville inquired why such a request, Mr. Barthelette made it clear that he wanted to kill Mr. Ewing.

Judge Biddle recreated the scene quoting the chief, “Ah, oui, you shall have my pistol, Mr. Bar-te-lette; but come in and eat some dinner with me.’ After dinner was over Berthelette became very restless. The chief said nothing more about the pistols. Berthelette addressed him: ‘Chief, now for the pistols.’ ‘ Ah, oui; I get you dem pistol.’ The chief retired a few minutes, and came back with two bottles of wine. ‘Here, Mr. Bar-te-lette, my pistol – handing him the two bottles of wine – ‘but take care, now, you (don’t) shoot yourself.’”

Such is the nature of the great civil chief of the Miami who continues to bear the name we may not pronounce to the satisfaction of everyone. However, decisions such as the one he made with a couple bottles of wine demonstrate a wisdom that his people respected and formed the legacy of a wise old leader we can all admire.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Brief History of Gingerbread

Fascinating is the word that best describes the lore of that delectable holiday treat we call gingerbread. Ginger root has been treasured from antiquity for seasoning food and for medicinal purposes. About 800BC, the Greeks invented gingerbread. Called “melitates,” it was a solid block made of honey combined with flour, ginger, and spices.

By the 14th century, Germans had refined the lump into fanciful shapes using carved wooden molds. This idea spread into England where Queen Elizabeth I is credited with inventing the first gingerbread man. The first gingerbread guilds appeared in Germany in the 16th century and as the popularity of gingerbread grew, the cry of the gingerbread hawker was heard in the streets. In the early 17th century, the French and English added eggs, flour, and honey. When molasses from North America became available to the English, it was often used as sweetening.

Early settlers to the American Colonies brought their cravings for gingerbread with them and gingerbread assumed a variety of roles in Colonial lifestyles. Traditionally, the first Tuesday in June was “Muster Day” in the Colonies. The citizenry would turn out to view the local militia train while the ladies would serve gingerbread as the treat for the day. Gingerbread was also used as a bribe to voters to elect certain candidates to the House of Burgesses.

In some of the Colonies, on December 21st, the schoolboys would “bar the master,” arriving to school early in the morning to ensure the schoolmaster could not enter. After some half hearted pleading and the offering of gingerbread as ransom, the teacher would give up and declare a holiday over Christmas. At New Years, parents would encourage their children to eat a gingerbread hornbook so that they would be smart in the new year for having eaten all the knowledge of the hornbook.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, as throngs of German immigrants found their home in Fort Wayne, merging with the existing English population, our community’s ancestors solidified the traditional celebration of gingerbread, which has manifested itself in the annual Festival of Gingerbread for 25 years. Join us at the History Center through Sunday, December 12th as we celebrate the Silver Anniversary of the Festival of Gingerbread.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quest Club's New Book

In December 1911, a group of local businessmen lamented the rapid changes taking place in the business world and their own limitations in keeping up with the latest management techniques. There were no MBA programs at the time, and few business schools of any kind. In order to stay competitive, they sought a way of improving their knowledge of sales techniques, marketing, employee management, and ways of streamlining the management of their firms. To achieve these goals, they organized a new club, known as the Quest Club, where they could meet to hear lectures, both from outside experts as well as among their own membership. They also organized their own circulating library of business and economic books. The club model was similar to that of the lyceum, which had been popular across America in the mid-19th century, where gentlemen read books and listened to lectures as a means of self improvement.

The club became popular. Many local business leaders joined (by invitation only), and eventually the membership expanded to include a variety of other professions, including lawyers, architects, clergy, physicians, and educators. With the expanding membership came more variety in the papers presented (which were now assigned to the members to present). Club members heard papers on current events, literature, the arts, and the physical and social sciences. Over the years the club discussed a variety of issues of importance to the city, including elevating the railroad tracks, establishing the Fine Arts Foundation, and creating a new university that eventually became Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. The club voted to include women as members in 1993.

Today, the club continues to adhere to its founding principles of life-long learning, a love of research, providing a forum for wide-ranging discussions on controversial issues, and civil discourse. As the club approaches its centennial, it has published its second book, Quest Club: The First 100 Years. The book includes a variety of great essays from its past and covers a wide range of subjects: poetry, civil religion, Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen Sondheim, the mystery of Stradivarius violins, jazz, cosmology, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, to name just a few. The book's Foreword was written by Allen Steere, a long-time executive with the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company who passed away recently at age 102.

The book is available at the History Center's Gift Shop for $25. The eclectic mix of essays symbolizes the diversity of the club's focus over its past century and is itself a great souvenir of Fort Wayne history.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Daguerreotype of the Fort

The History Center has a wonderful collection of historical images. Because the society was founded in 1921, it acquired many invaluable artifacts from the children and grandchildren of Fort Wayne's earliest pioneers. Its photographic collection is full of treasures, and one item in particular of special value is a daguerreotype of a blockhouse from the old 1816-era fort, actually one of two daguerreotypes of it in the collection.

In the fall of 1852, Charles C. Stevens stopped by the crumbling building and photographed his friends seated in front. Located on Main Street near the present site of Fire Station No. 1, the old fort had been abandoned by the U. S. Army garrison in 1819. During the ensuing years several families lived in the structures, including, it is said, some Irish immigrants, but the structures soon became derelict. By the 1850s, little of the fort was left. The pallisades were long gone, and scavengers had taken for souvenirs many of the original timbers. Local residents used other pieces apparently as building mateirals and beams in local houses, including the Merchant Huxford house on Spy Run Avenue, which is still standing.

Little is known about Stevens. "Craig's Daguerrian Directory" indicates that he advertised himself as a daguerrian between June and November 1852 in rooms at the residence of John Fairfield on Main Street. In his book, "Pictorial History of Fort Wayne," Bert Griswold quoted Mrs. Adam Link, who owned the daguerreotype in 1917, and cited her account of the picture. Stevens, she said, came from Kennebunkport, Maine, as a guest of Hannah Fairfield, later the wife of O. L. Starkey and the mother of Mrs. Link. On the day the picture was taken, Charley Munson was driving his cow to pasture in the old apple orchard in what is now Lakeside. Several members of the Fairfield family joined Munson for his walk, and together they stopped at the ruins of the old blockhouse, where Stevens took their picture. Seated at the top was John Fairfield, Mrs. Link's uncle. Others from left to right were Charley Munson, Hannah Fairfield, Priscilla Fairfield, Addie Fairfield, and Amanda Henderson. The building was torn down soon after the picture was taken.

The image is one of the oldest outdoor photographs extant for any place in Indiana. One of the treasures of the collection, it is to Griswold's credit that we know so much about it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fort Wayne and Lincoln's Assassination

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865 plunged the nation into a period of unprecedented public mourning. Throughout America, clergy gave funeral orations in memory of the fallen president. Charities raised money in tribute, and a variety of clubs and government entitites passed resolutions of praise and eulogy. Thousands of people draped their doorways in black and turned out to see his funeral train as it wended its way from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois.

The outpouring of grief in Fort Wayne over Lincoln's death is difficult to document. Except for a copy of a local newspaper announcing the assassination in the Lincoln Collection (now at the Allen County Public Library), the newspapers for the first half of 1865 are lost. We don't really know what sermons were preached in our local churches, nor do we have a clear idea of the reaction of local citizens to the news.

Recently, an artifact has come to light from that time - a silk ribbon, now a part of the History Center's collection. Preserved for generations by descendants of Fort Wayne mayor Franklin Randall, it contains the text of a resolution passed at a special bipartisan public meeting, expressing the "profound sorrow of the untimely decease" of Lincoln. Further, it praised "his untiring devotion to the arduous and responsible duties" of the presidency, his sincerity of purpose and virtues that "endeared himself to the national heart."

Randall, a Democrat, was joined by a bipartisan group of local leaders, including Jesse Williams, James Borden, Christian Tresselt, Charles Case., and Byron Oakley, in drafting a resolution of sympathy to the president's family. It also instructed the local churches to toll their bells and the local railroad artillery to fire guns in salute as part of a public memorial service. Perhaps the ribbon was distributed to mourners to be worn on that occasion.

Whatever its purpose, the ribbon sheds a small ray of light on the largely unknown events surrounding the period of public mourning in our city in April 1865 and represents an important addition to the Museum's collection.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Tip of the Hat to the Tincaps

In this era of fanciful and disposable pieces of popular culture, thoroughly void of substance or relevance, the Fort Wayne TinCaps should be given the proverbial ‘tip of the hat’ for a name and mascot so uniquely rooted in Fort Wayne’s past. And yes, one that has some historical accuracy.

Of the legions of historical figures who called Fort Wayne and the Three Rivers region their home, perhaps none has been more distorted by lore than John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed. The popular image of a thickly bearded, shoddily dressed shoeless fellow crowned with a cast iron cooking pot, whimsically skipping through meadows and aimlessly flinging about apple seeds, belittles and misrepresents this incredibly complex and dynamic individual. In reality he was a shrewd frontier entrepreneur and ultra monastic Swedenborgian missionary who skillfully preceded waves of westerly shifting settlers with his enormous (and enormously profitable) apple tree nurseries. For decades John Chapman purposefully ventured just beyond the flow of westward streaming settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, so that as American settlers filled the frontier they would be met with his finely established apple orchards, supplying the fruit for both consumption as a foodstuff, but more importantly for processing into hard cider. John Chapman owned and cultivated numerous land tracts and thousands of acres across these three states, worth a veritable fortune in the early 19th century. Arriving in Fort Wayne around 1830 via a pirogue laden with sacks full of apple seeds, he cared for at least four known apple orchards in Allen County, carefully positioned along the fertile and accessible Maumee River. The largest of John Chapman’s nurseries in Allen County contained over 15,000 apple trees, a gigantic enterprise even by the standards of today’s mechanized agriculture.

But for all the varying images of Johnny Appleseed as rugged businessman, unkempt beggar, itinerant mystic, or roving planter, one feature of the man transcends all of these descriptions and captivates our community and the world just as it did nearly two centuries ago: his hat. Let this historian go on record as stating that it is a historical fact that occasionally Johnny Appleseed did indeed place a cooking container made of tin on his head. With more than 750 linear feet of archival materials in the historical collection of the History Center (to put that in perspective, if one stacked the Lincoln Tower on top of One Summit Square the total height would be just about as tall as the stack of papers from our archives) there are two-only two-eyewitness accounts of Johnny Appleseed wearing a tin cap.

The first account is from John Dawson, a local newspaper editor and contemporary of Johnny Appleseed, observing that “his headgear was rarely ever alike for a long time.” More than once, Dawson saw Johnny Appleseed with “a tin vessel worn on his head, which he used to cook his frugal meals in.” Dawson goes on to note that sometimes Johnny Appleseed would wear multiple layers of hats where “he carried his Testament and Swedenborgian books,” placing his cooking pot atop the amalgamation.

The second account comes to us from the Johnny Appleseed Educational Center and Museum at Urbana University, Ohio. John Henry Cook of Ohio similarly observed Johnny Appleseed’s “pyramid of three hats, [which] enabled him to carry not only his kettle but his treasurers of sacred literature.” Known to be a devout adherer to the Church of New Jerusalem (Swedenborgianism), Johnny Appleseed’s only true worldly possessions were his Bible and Swedenborgian tracts, which he kept dry and safe on his head beneath his waterproof tin cap. Without a printing press for hundreds of miles, preserving his religious papers and books for distribution to settlers was essential in allowing him to deliver “news right fresh from Heaven,” as he fondly described his preaching.

The memory and contemporary interpretations of John Chapman provide both a fascinating case study in the analysis and assessment of historical sources, and a good lesson in the role that the past plays in our everyday, (and I hate to say it) popular history. As our community wished the TinCaps another fruitful season with the new name, mascot, and home, many children and adults alike undoubtedly asked “did he really wear a tin cap.” Did Johnny Appleseed wear a tin cap…certainly. Did he wear a tin cap all the time…absolutely not. But what matters is that in a time when spin is the norm and context goes out the window, fans of the newly rechristened TinCaps are exposed to a small glimmer of truthful history. Good history is hard to find nowadays; folks should take it any way they can.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Once Upon a Time"

“Once upon a time” isn’t just for fairy tales. It’s also for history.

History is not facts and dates. It’s stories—stories of people and places and events that have shaped who and what we are today. It lives…it breathes…it presents us with the opportunity to explore the many facets of our culture, our ancestors, our lives.

History helps us understand who we are as a nation and how each of us is a part of this ongoing story. A sound knowledge of both American and world history is a step toward shaping a student’s world view and eventually becoming the type of adult citizen our country needs.

Do you know the Greek origin of the word “history”? It means “to know”.

Educators are encouraging parents to supplement their child’s education in history with a few simple steps and access to entities such as The History Center in Fort Wayne. A trip to The History Center can help lay the foundation for a life-long interest in history as you and your child explore the past, relate it to the present, and look to the future.

Prior to your visit, take a look at the virtual tour on our web site at This will give you a basic idea of what you can see and help you plan your trip. Then visit the other pages of the web site to gain some background knowledge about Allen County and Fort Wayne history.

Next, relate this to your own family. If you grew up in Fort Wayne or have family members who did, sit down and talk about your childhood with your sons and daughters. Real life stories about people your child knows—and places they see as they’re out and about in our city—can give them some background and create a context of awareness about the history of our community.

Listen with them as their grandparents and older relatives talk about how technology has changed in the course of their lifetimes and in yours! If you have friends and neighbors in their 80s and beyond, they too can tell your child about the marvelous inventions they have seen and how their lives have been impacted by them. The internet has always been a part of your child’s life. Talk about what you did before it was invented.

Dig out old family photos and documents of significance—like your child’s birth certificate. Use the internet to explore the current events for the day or year your child was born. These are a part of your son’s or daughter’s history.

Perhaps your child has a special interest such as music, baseball or art. Most of us think of history as the political—wars, treaties, and government. But it’s also about culture, ideas and people. If this is what sparks your child’s imagination—run with it!

Take some notes in a history notebook as your conversations occur. Write down questions for further study. Keep this journal so you and your child can add to it as you explore.

The History Center is home to an exhibit that will be expanded over the next year. “Made in Allen County” displays some of the inventions that were created here that we now take for granted. For example, how about the “electric pig” aka the garbage disposal. Or the television. Or the washing machine. Or the gasoline pump.

Transportation shaped our community. Do you know how? Does your child? A look at transportation and how it’s evolved can lend itself to an interesting afternoon as you look at exhibits featuring the Wabash & Erie Canal and the railroads of bygone years. Transportation led to the establishment of several major industries in Fort Wayne. Do you know what they are?

As you explore exhibits ask your child some questions:

“What does this mean?”

“Why is this important?”

“What does this tell you about our world today?”

The History Center has created a number of “hands on” exhibits to help your child experience the past.

Ever worn a hoop skirt? We’ve got one you can try on.

Or an aviator’s helmet circa World War I and the leather gloves to go with it?

You can see what it feels like to be in jail.

Or what a Victorian Doll House really looked like.

Plus find out about some little-known facets of baseball history that originated in Fort Wayne.

Never seen a wringer washer? You will at the History Center.

You can supplement your trips to the History Center and other historically based entities with activities at home.

Create a time line of the history of our community, noting historical events you’ve studied in relationship to family events such as births, marriages, the start of kindergarten, etc. You can then teach some of the concepts of time such as decade, century, generation or simply a year.

Collect brochures and pamphlets and make collages of photos about our city and county. Or create your own original poster.

Take a trip to the library and check out additional books and other works about the exhibits you have seen. Reading the biographies of notable persons in history is an interesting way to further learn about events and people.

Watch television shows about history.

Have your child make up a quiz about what you both experienced and see how much knowledge you retained. It’s fun for a child to be the teacher once in a while!

Create a scrapbook of photos of historical sites with old photos from brochures and photos taken of the sites today. Disposable cameras can add to the fun of touring historical sites for your child.

Point out stories in the local newspapers about historical happenings both past and present and discuss these events. As your child grows, the depth of these conversations will change and their level of critical thinking mature. This is a time to instill the value of checking alternate sources for the accuracy of the information, learning about opposing viewpoints and developing opinions based upon a variety of sources.

It’s important to let your child know you’ll be learning along with them. Not even the most fanatical of “history geeks” knows it all—and as time and research expand our knowledge, we all have the opportunity to learn more. But no one will ever know all there is to know about the world’s history.

Pick the facets of history that you and your child find most intriguing.

Call upon the multitude of resources available to expand your knowledge and that of your child. The History Center’s gift shop offers a variety of books about local history and our blog will continue to explore the past while relating it to the present. The George R. Mather Lecture series also offers programs that may be of interest to high school students.

There are other historical sites in Fort Wayne and the surrounding area that make great day trips for the family. Contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information.

Being involved in your child’s education is important to their success. A home environment that encourages learning sends a message to a child that school is important.

As a parent, if you never stop learning, neither will your child.

“A well-formed mind is better than a well-stuffed mind” is an old proverb that certainly applies.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Writings of William Wells

Most people interested in Fort Wayne's history are familiar with Captain William Wells (1770-1812), who played a large role in the history of the fort and establishing fair relations with local Indian tribes. Born in Pennsylvania, he was brought by his parents to Kentucky at a young age and orphaned. In 1784 while on a hunting expedition, he was captured by Indians and taken to Snake-fish Town on the Eel River, near Logansport. Given the name "Wild Carrot," he was adopted into the Miami tribe by a village chief. He assimilated quickly, learning all of the tribal rituals, and participated with the Indians in their attacks on Josiah Harmar's army of U.S. Regulars in October 1790 and again in 1792 against the army of Gen. Arthur St. Clair. He was eventually persuaded to switch sides and become a scout for Gen. Anthony Wayne in 1794. He was married several times, and among his wives was Sweet Breeze, the daughter of Chief Little Turtle.

Because Wells was able to straddle both the Indian and white worlds, he enjoyed a unique position that gave him access to leaders on both sides during the Indian wars that culminated in the War of 1812. He served as a translator during the Treaty of Greenville negotiations in 1795 and later headed the Indian Agency at Fort Wayne. He made a number of enemies, however, and was eventually relieved of his position, even though he had warned William Henry Harrison and other army officials about the threat of renewed Indian attacks prior to Tecumseh's revolt. Wells was killed during the famous Fort Dearborn massacre at what is now Chicago in 1812, and Wells Street in Fort Wayne bears his name.

A recent article in the June 2010 issue of the Indiana Magazine of History, published by the Indiana Historical Society, discusses the strong possibility that Wells had intended to write an autobiography prior to his untimely death. Some manuscript pages were located in the nineteenth century and published at that time, which describe in detail the speeches of various chiefs at the Greenville treaty conference, the various battles fought between the Indians and whites from the time of Pontiac's uprising in 1763 to the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Even more significant is a detailed description of Miami rituals, including hunting, vision quests, adoption, coming-of-age, and marriage customs that seem to have been written by a white man with first-hand knowledge of their intricacies. Portions of the manuscript appear to be written by Wells, and portions updated by his son-in-law, Dr. William Turner.

The article is well worth reading and sheds new light on Wells, who has taken on an almost mythic persona in Fort Wayne history. He seems to have been a person of unusual insight and clarity, and had he lived, might have had an even greater impact on the history of Indian-white relations in our area.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rescuing Catherine Dinklage from the Basement!

A commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution needs to acknowledge the decades of hard work on the part of Allen County women to win the vote. Some of Indiana's earliest woman suffrage pioneers - Mary Frame Thomas, Beulah Puckett Ninde and her husband Lindley Ninde - were part of the state's and the nation's earliest efforts to win greater women's rights, including suffrage. Before the Civil War, soon after the first national women's rights meeting at Seneca Falls, New York, they organized state and local groups to bring about change. In the following decades as woman suffrage became associated with the temperance movement, efforts in Allen County were blocked by the growing power of the liquor industry.

At the turn of the 20th century, thanks to suffrage leaders from Cook County, Illinois, and local women's club leaders, the suffrage movement came back to life stronger than ever. By the time the 19th amendment was finally ratified, women in Allen County served on the local school board and on the board of health. Catherine E. Dinklage was elected to the city council, where she served a four year term.

Unfortunately, most of Allen County's pioneer women's rights leaders have slipped into oblivion. As far as we know, they did not keep diaries or write long letters detailing their experiences. Thanks to efforts to preserve contemporary newspapers, we nevertheless have records of their public efforts. Recovering their long and often frustrating years to win a role in public affairs is hard work. Finding photographs can be equally daunting. Take Catherine Dinklage as a case in point. Her only known picture is part of an official collage of city council members in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the last known sighting of this weighty monster was in the basement of the History Center. Shouldn't Catherine be rescued?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Franke Park Day Camp and Wildcat Baseball: Two Amazing Fort Wayne Summer Traditions

My two children are wrapping up a summer in which they participated in two venerable Fort Wayne traditions - Wildcat Baseball and the day camp at Franke Park. It is easy to take these two summertime programs for granted, especially if one does not have young children or grandchildren, but collectively, we as a community shouldn't. Both are great programs that have literally defined summer for generations of Fort Wayne children, and both are an important part of the shared cultural experience of this city.

Much has been written in the news of late about the 50th anniversary of Wildcat. The story of its founding by Dale McMillen ("Mr. Mac"), founder and president of what would become Central Soya, is well-known. After meeting a group of dejected boys who had been cut from the roster of a local Little League team because their playing skills were not good enough, McMillen created the Wildcat Baseball League with the motto, "Everybody makes the team." The concept was brilliant. In addition to giving boys (and later girls) a chance to play the game and learn basic baseball skills, it did something even more profound for its time. It promoted good sportsmanship, encouraged children of diverse racial backgrounds to play together at a time when there was still widespread segregation, and it was underwritten by McMillen's foundation, making the program free and enabling children from a wide range of economic backgrounds to participate and interact. The spirit of Mr. Mac is still very much evidence, fifty years after the league's founding. As a parent watching his children develop their skills and seeing the patient, good-spirited leadership of the coaching staff, I recognize that this is something very special in our community. On September 19, Bill Derbyshire, a long-time staff member of the McMillen Foundation, will present a lecture at the History Center about Mr. Mac and Wildcat baseball. I encourage readers to attend.

Franke Park Day Camp will be celebrating its 65th anniversary next year. Founded in 1946, the camp evolved into its present form under the leadership of Dennis L. Gerlock, who became its director in 1950 and remained until his retirement in 1975. (He died in 1984). Gerlock sought to give campers an outdoor summertime experience that centered around three important themes: basic camping skills, nature education, and Native American lore. As children hiked through the impressive urban forest that comprises much of Franke Park (itself a wonderful and under-appreciated community asset), they were mentored by older, skilled campers, many of whom came up through the same program as the children they led. Such features as Bullet Hill, Bloody Gorge, and the Mud Slide became endearing experiences shared by generations of local residents. Today, Gerlock is still venerated, and his traditions are carefully preserved by Chris Freehill, long-time director of the camp. Children perform Native American dances, hear stories, and sing campfire songs - the very same ones that their parents and grandparents enjoyed. Each year the camp season culminates in a large pow-wow with a huge bonfire, and all of the campers are invited back to share the experience with their counsellors.

Speaking as one who did not grow up in Fort Wayne, it is easy for me nonetheless to see how much Wildcat and the Franke Park camp have enriched this community. They serve as local cultural markers that help define this city for young people. It is entirely appropriate for the History Center to pay homage to McMillen, Gerlock, and the Fort Wayne Parks Department for preserving them. They are the sort of programs that help forge a shared community memory. As local historians, we need to acknowledge their importance.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Mystery of Washington Corpse

In Thomas B. Helm's History of Allen County, Indiana, published by Kingman Brothers in 1880, an unusual name appears among the list of early settlers of Maumee Township. On page 165, staff writer L. H. Newton relates: "Prominent among the other early settlers of this township were Jabez Phillips, James Johnson, Charles Harding, Benjamin Johnson ___ Flint, ___Crapo, Washington Corpse, J. N. Sweet, Geore Platter, and James Shirley." Many of these names are instantly recognizable. But Washington Corpse? No such person appears in the land grant or deed records of Allen County (indeed, the surname "Corpse" seems virtually unknown). He does not appear inthe 1830, 1840, or 1850 census anywhere in the United States, and further, he is absent from the court record indices for the Circuit Court of Allen County and from the probate records.

So who was Washington Corpse? Was Newton having a bit of fun with his readers, inserting a comical, fictious name among the list of settlers, seeing if he could get away with it? Washington's name was repeated in Robertson's Valley of the Upper Maumee River, published in 1889 (1: 387), but when I was compiling the Maumee Township chapter for the new Allen County history (published in 2006), I still had my initial doubts, so I left out Washington's name, thinking he was a figment of Newton's imagination.

But Newton provided us another small clue by stating in the Springfield Township chapter that Corpse had been the first to marry in Springfield Township, and that his bride was one Miss Runnells, with the marriage performed in the spring of 1837. An examination of the Allen County marriage records reveals this record with a slight variation: Washington Corp and Angeline Reynolds, married 26 November 1836, Marriage Book 1-B, page 34.

So Washington existed after all, even though Newton had butchered his name. But who was he, exactly? The surname "Corp" or "Corpe" is slightly more common than "Corpse," but we still could find no records in the land or court records. The online index of land grant records of the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C., shows that Harvey W. Corpe bought land in Elkhart County from the Fort Wayne Land Office in 1837 and 1844, as did his brother, Benjamin F. Corpe. Going to, we do find Harvey Washington Corpe, son of Joseph and Sarah (Tombe) Corpe, born in Clinton County, N.Y., on 24 October 1801, and died in Union County, Oregon, on 5 December 1882. Could he be our Washington? Probably not.

A submission on the Ancestry site shows that Harvey married Fannie Belinda Durkee on 6 November 1823 in New York, and she was still listed as his wife in Elkhart County on the 1850 census. So either Washington Corp of Allen County was a bigamist, marrying Angelina in a clandestine marriage while squatting on land in Allen County and then moving with his wife to Elkhart, or the two men were not the same. Perhaps our Washington Corp was using an alias.

The mystery, at this point, cannot be solved. We do not know what became of Washington and Angelina (Reynolds) Corp. Except for their marriage record, they generated no records here, and they both appear to have died without a trace.

The story illustrates how local history and genealogy can be a fickle thing. Not everyone who settled in Allen County left behind a paper trail. Not everyone had descendants to remember them. Some people fall through the cracks of our local history and are forgotten in the mists of time. Washington Corp seems to have been such a person - though he did actually exist. Perhaps more information will be uncovered from a family Bible that will establish his identity, but for the moment, he remains lost. Washington, we hardly knew ye!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

History Center Rescues Farnsworth Artifacts

By now many of you have heard that the “Philo T. Farnsworth Television Museum,” recently of Auburn, closed and sold the majority of its over 700 piece collection of American popular culture and historical materials. Since 2003 the History Center has held discussions with the collection’s owner, a private citizen from Chicago, to acquire some of only a handful of historical artifacts actually related to Fort Wayne history.

When requests to the collection’s owner for donations or pre-auction purchases were rejected, the History Center joined several hundred other private collectors and museums to vie for pieces from the liquidated collection. The auction was held on site at the World War II Victory Museum and also offered to the world through an online bidding option, which was the first time the History Center has participated in an online auction.

The History Center was successful in purchasing seven items from the collection’s auction, including the first television made by Magnavox in Fort Wayne (circa 1946-1947), a rare radio and phonograph combo unit and three other small radios all from the 1940s produced by the Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation, and a nice collection of advertising and product materials from the 1930s to the 1950s related to Capehart, Farnsworth, and ITT.

Perhaps the most intriguing purchase was a large advertising banner, dated 1940 and reading (in part) “Farnsworth Radio…from the home of television.” Support for these purchases came from the History Center’s Collections Fund and the Waterfield Foundation.

Through this purchase the History Center looked to supplement its already extensive collection of historical materials related to Philo Farnsworth, the Capehart-Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation, and other elements of 20th century television and radio production in Allen County. History Center members and partners should rest assured that the seven newly acquired artifacts will now be preserved and shared with our community for generations in a professional manner.

In fact, some of the purchased artifacts could be included in a new permanent exhibition gallery entitled “Made in Allen County,” which has long planned to feature the Philo Farnsworth story and is scheduled for unveiling in 2011. In the meantime, the newly acquired artifacts have been placed on display at the History Center and will be temporarily exhibited until November.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Indomitable Rhesa Swinney

One of the treasures of the History Center's collection is the daguerreotype of Rhesa Swinney (1833-1911), daughter of Thomas and Lucy (Taber) Swinney.

A note found behind the image in its case bears the date of December 25, 1851, indicating that it was probably a Christmas gift from the daughter to her parents. The identity of the photographer is not known, but it may well have been Archibald McDonald, Fort Wayne's most prolific daguerreian artist who had arrived from Buffalo the year before. The result of this Christmas sitting is one of the most exquisite portraits of the period.

There is a sense of immediacy about a daguerreotype. As the author Joan Severa observes, "Besides being the truest glimpse of a moment in the past, it is also a peek into the life and personality of a real person living in a time so different from our own. We experience inescapable emotions when viewing these images. A certain vivid face, looking out at you, with its voice just a breath from speaking, can sometimes stop your heart." (Joan L. Severa, My Likeness Taken: Daguerreian Portraits in America [2005], p. xv).

Such it is with the portrait of Rhesa, one of the most beautiful women of her time in Fort Wayne. Her life is a study of both tragedy and resilience, depicted poignantly in this image. As the daughter of a wealthy farmer, Rhesa was petite, well-educated, and enjoyed a home with some of the finest amenities of the time. Engaged to be married to J. McNutt Smith, a telegraph operator, she had her heart broken when Smith decided to elope instead at the last minute with her sister, Margaret (1834-1918), on June 27, 1858. Rhesa was so crazed with grief that she pulled out most of her hair, forcing her to wear a wig for the rest of her life. Margaret and her family were never welcomed back into the Swinney home. Ironically, just prior to the elopement, Rhesa had posed with Smith and her sister Margaret, with Smith's arm tellingly draped around his future wife. The image was later altered and the face of another sister, Caroline, glued over that of Margaret.

Rhesa rebounded after her broken heart. She never married. Instead, showing strength of character, she became the head of her family after her father's death in 1875. She managed the farm, completed construction of a commercial building near the courthouse, and enjoyed playing hostess. On New Year's Day, she presided over large teas with place settings of fine china for more than 100 guests. She was remembered for her "mincing walk, a sort of dancing step with her small feet" as she strode through the city and was unflappable when a gust of wind once blew off her wig. Her father had left the city the grounds that would become Swinney Park, yet it was Rhesa who finalized the agreement with officials in 1893. When she died in 1911, her surviving unmarried sisters said, "The best is none too good for her." She was buried in a casket that cost $1,000, and her funeral was one of the most expensive of the period.

In many ways the daguerreotype captures the spirit of the indomitable Rhesa, beautiful and untouchable, who carved for herself an independent life outside the norms of her time.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who Signaled Paul Revere?

Who was the "friend" who flashed the lanterns from the Old North Church tower in 1775 and immortalized in Longfellow's "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"?

The popular poem of Longfellow creates a scene of the Revolutionary War patriot making his lonely ride alerting the New England countryside, but misses the historians' view that his mission was not to alert but to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the Brits were coming to Lexington and after those two in particular. Also our man Paul was helped by other local Bostonians making it truly a collective effort.

Aware that the British Regulars would try to stop all communications throughout the area around Boston, Revere earlier had shared his concern with Colonel William Conant when the now-famed silversmith had stopped at Charlestown.

Paul Revere later wrote in correspondence to Jeremy Bleknap ca 1798, "I agreed with Colonel Conant and some other gentlemen, that if the British went out by water, we would shew two lanthorns in the North Church steeple, and if by land, one, as a signal, for we were apprehensive it would be difficult to cross the Charles River, or get over Boston neck."

Old North Church was chosen because in 1775 its steeple was the tallest building in Boston and it was located and visible in Charlestown across the water. One problem plagued the plan. The rector of the church was a vowed Loyalist to the British. However, Paul Revere had a friend by the name of Captain John Pulling who was a vestryman of Christ Church and agreed to help the American cause.

Revere also knew Robert Newman, a bright young man who was not able to find work, but had taken a job he did not like as the church caretaker. Eager to help out, he was known to be a man of few words and right for the job of signaling a secret message eager to help out.

On April 18, Revere contacted both Captain Pulling and Sexton Newman as well as another acquaintance named Thomas Bernard and told them to be ready with lanterns that night. Revere told the men to go to the church and climb up into the steeple and show two lanterns from the window on the north side of the church facing Charleston.

Newman opened the church door with his key before Captain Pulling joined him inside while Thomas Bernard stood guarding the door. It is believed that Pulling and Newman shared in the task of flashing the signal that the British troops were disembarking Boston by boat heading for Cambridge.

Were two men showing the signal lights or one? David Hackett Fischer author of Paul Revere's Ride (1995) states in the endnotes that, all three men Pulling, Newman and Bernard took part. He cites the improbable task of carrying two lanterns up and the unlikelihood of lighting them using flint and steel atop the narrow steeple ladders. Further, there was the danger of igniting a light on the ground floor with British soldiers walking the streets; making certain that the two lanterns were simultaneously displayed out the window; and that Mr. Bernard kept watch while the other two were in the tower.

Fischer says that there are no known sources surviving that explain who did what in the church tower that night. So it appears that three might have been involved and not one as Longfellow seems to imply when writing the words, "He said to his friend, 'If the British march By land or sea from the town to-night, Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch Of the North Church tower as a signal light, - One if by land, and two if by sea, And I on the opposite shore shall be...'"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Learn About the Dead Guys Our Streets Are Named After, Part 1: Harmar Street

This title is one of my favorites from the "10 Worst Slogans" published below. It's one of those things where, the more you laugh about it, the more you like it. There are so many interesting stories behind our streets. So my first Dead Guy to honor is Josiah Harmar.

Harmar Street is tucked back in the East Central neighborhood. Only 9 blocks long, it ends at the train tracks running along the river. But two centuries ago, a footpath in that area led to a ford across the Maumee, north into the great Miami village of Kekionga, now Lakeside.

Even today the river, flanked by a bike path and quiet tree-lined streets, looks peaceful. But in October of 1790 it was the site of a bloody massacre that became known as Harmar's Defeat.

Josiah Harmar was the U.S. General commissioned by President Washington to pacify the Indians in the wilds north of the Ohio River. In fall of 1790, Harmar's troops came to Kekionga. The village was hastily abandoned, and the troops proceeded to destroy cows, more than 20,000 bushels of corn, and 185 buildings.

Tracks of women and children were discovered leaving the village, so Harmar sent Col. Hardin to "pacify" the Indians once and for all. Hardin's troops were soon ambushed by the great war chief Little Turtle in an attack "planned as neatly as a rat sets a trap"* in the words of one soldier, and many members of the company were massacred. (The historical marker is on Carroll Road near Madden Road.)

Harmar's army began to leave the region in disgrace, but Hardin convinced the general to turn back and fight one more time, in order to salvage his own reputation. They would have done better to leave.

Major John Wyllys drew up a brilliant battle plan as Little Turtle's warriors returned to Kekionga. But a variety of tactical mistakes ensued after a militia member shot at a lone Indian before the order to attack, thus betraying their position. Wyllys, unsupported by neither cavalry nor militia, was then forced into an immediate frontal assault across the Maumee with his regulars. He was one of the first men to die in the river, which was soon choked with the bodies of men and horses.

It was a disaster. The army slunk back to Fort Washington in Cincinnati, looking back fearfully over their shoulders. By the end of the campaign, 183 U.S. troops were dead and 31 were wounded. Little Turtle, LeGris and Bluejacket paraded the American scalps in the streets of Detroit, and the fighting and atrocities in the region escalated until the conquest under General Anthony Wayne.

The photograph above shows Harmar's Ford in the Maumee from the Tecumseh Street Bridge; it is roughly marked by the bare stretch of bank. Fragments of flintlocks and bayonets have been found at this site and others associated with Harmar's Defeat, and are part of the collection of the History Center.

*Griswold, A Pictorial History of Fort Wayne Indiana, 1917.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hidden History

In a scenario that could have been scripted straight from Geraldo Rivera’s 1986 “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault,” the History Center recently opened a long-hidden safe in the basement of the Old City Hall Building. The Coroner was not on standby to identify any exhumed bodies nor were officials from the IRS on hand to confiscate any uncovered riches. However, an expert safecracker from Koehlinger Security Technology did manage to skillfully penetrate two sets of cast iron doors and methodically open three separate locks to reveal a rare glimpse into the past.

The Old City Hall Building housed the Fort Wayne Police Department from 1893 until 1971, before the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society refurbished the building into the History Center in 1980. The History Center still tells the story of the FWPD through several permanent exhibits and through the carefully preserved old City “lockup,” nine iron barred cells (eight for men and one for women) that housed prisoners for nearly 80 years. Every once in a while, a History Center visitor will share their experiences of being hauled in for an overnight stay in the cells, typically when they were about 18 years of age, with a parent wishing to teach them a lesson.

The accused entered the building via the Barr Street Market alley entrance, with vehicles pulling into a double stall parking garage that was first used by the FWPD’s horse-pulled prisoner wagons. From there an easy slope led prisoners downward through the subterranean processing and booking areas and into the cells.

Along the way, one might have noticed a relatively small, roughly 4’ x 4’ set of heavy, black metal doors. Until recently, when the museum installed a new heating and air conditioning system, these inconspicuous, dusty and rusty double doors appeared to lead to one of the many coal shoots or circulation shafts found throughout the building. But after moving some large shelving that partially hid the safe, it was discovered that these particular doors were sealed with a large combination lock, sparking the curiosity of several staff members.

Hidden safes are nothing new to the History Center, as eight large walk in safes, once used to store everything from early 19th century records to parking tickets to honorary keys to the City are known to be in the building. Several of these are entombed behind walls that were erected during the structure’s 1980 retrofitting into an historical museum. However, the unusual location and borderline abandonment of the newly found safe made it especially tempting.

Conversations with FWPD retirees indicate that this safe was used exclusively by the FWPD’s Vice Department from the early 1900s until the 1970s. What might be inside these doors, which by all accounts have not been opened since at least the 1970s? Had the FWPD unintentionally left behind the relics of some notorious or seedy arrest from yesteryear? Bottles full of “hooch” or someone’s weekend “stash?” Miniature slot machines, numbers sheets, or black books?

Nothing so provocative was found; however, we did find more than Geraldo. An early .22 caliber cartridge (still filled with live gunpowder), three playing cards stuck together (two fours and a deuce, perhaps 60% of a full house), a perfectly good envelope from the Police and Firemen’s Insurance Association of Indianapolis, and a few scraps of paper for reordering stationery were all found nestled in several compartments of the forgotten bankers safe that rested in the innermost layer of nearly two tons of thick metal shell.

Perhaps the most startling discoveries were found on the inside of the doors themselves, adorned as they were with remarkably well preserved, brightly hand painted exotic landscape scenes and floral patterns. Dating from the early 1900s, the safe was made by the Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, Ohio, and harkens back to a time when craftsmanship and artistry took precedence over utilitarianism and stark functionality.

It is hoped that at some later date the opened safe will be added to the interpretive displays of the FWPD permanent exhibitions so that visitors, too, may experience the excitement of literally peeking into the past. The History Center wishes to give its thanks to Koehlinger Security Technology for so kindly lending their expertise to the project completely gratis.

The opening of the evidence safe is certainly not the last piece of “hidden history” that will be found in the Old City Hall Building. Every so often the building gives up more tantalizing clues to the past.

For example, for many years it was assumed, based on a turn of the last century picture of the building, that the many awnings that once lined the perimeter of the first floor exterior were a light, solid color. During the installation of the museum’s new heating and air conditioning system, longtime Curator Walter Font found tucked away in the corner of the building’s “hush-hush,” catwalked fourth floor (which is never opened for public viewing) several small slivers of the original awning. It is likely that the original awnings were stored in the fourth floor during the winter months. To our surprise we found the awning to have originally been a striped pattern of navy blue and dark tan. Upon magnification and closer examination of the grainy, black and white pictures, this pattern was found on the awnings within the original photos of the building.

Soon the History Center wishes to replace the red cloth awnings, which have adorned the building for many years, with replicas of the original pattern. This is just one more example of how history, like the people who live it, is ever evolving and subject for new interpretation.

To see more photographs related to this post, visit the History Center’s Facebook page.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Detective Work on a Historical Photograph

Historical photographs of Fort Wayne people and places, especially from the 1860s, are exciting when they become available, and it is especially fortunate when they have some identifying information. So many photographs with Fort Wayne photographer imprints appear at auctions and estate sales without any identifying information of the subjects, and without it, they are of little use to historians or genealogists.

Occasionally, though rarely, a caption on such a photo can be misleading. Recently, a local collector shared with both the History Center and Genealogy Center a digital scan of an unusual carte-de-visite image he had purchased on EBay. It depicted three men holding several bound newspaper volumes and a handwritten inscription: "Ft. Wayne Sentinel Editors 1860." The find was exciting for me personally, for when he showed it to us, I was at work on an article for the Old Fort News about Stephen Douglas and his campaign appearance in 1860. The editor of the Fort Wayne Sentinel, Thomas Tigar, had played a key role in that event. The picture would have made a wonderful illustration for the article.

Closer examination of the image brought several potential problems to light, which led us to doubt the accuracy of the caption. First and foremost, none of the three men in the photo resembled Tigar, who had a very distinctive face. Second, a close examination of the digital image showed that the spines of the bound volumes did not depict the Sentinel at all, but instead showed Dawson's Fort Wayne Weekly Times. John W. Dawson, editor of the Times, was Tigar's chief competitor and had endorsed Lincoln in 1860. His face is also well known, and none of the three men resembled him, either.

We had to do even more detective work to identify the image. Printed on the back was the photographer's label: "Specialite. J. A. Shoaff's Art Gallery, No 8, Corner Main and Calhoun." Fort Wayne's city directories exist in an almost complete run for most years back to 1858-59. From these sources it was clear that John A. Shoaff, a well-known local photographer, was not in business in 1860. There are no directories of 1862-63 or 1863-64, but the directory for 1864-65 lists the Shoaff Gallery at the above address. By 1866, he had moved his studio to the corner of Calhoun and Columbia. Thus, we could establish that the photograph must date after 1860 and very likely from about 1864 or early 1865.

Further research from John W. Miller's Indiana Newspaper Bibliography (1982) indicated that W. Henry Dills and I. W. Campbell acquired Dawson's newspaper in 1865. Perhaps the photo shows Dills and Campbell, with a third unidentified man, showing off their new purchase by bringing the bound volumes of the Times to the Shoaff Studio. We can't know for sure, but it represents an educated guess.

This case study illustrates the sort of detective work historians, genealogists, and archivists must do when the caption of a photograph seems unreliable. Using other clues from the image itself and from the photographer's label, we can sometimes gain other useful information that differs sometimes from our first impression.

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.