Saturday, November 23, 2013

Encyclopedia definitions of Tehran and Tunkers, circa 1882

Back in August 2011, I wrote about Volume XIV of the 1882 edition of The American Universal Cyclopædia. It was a book that was in bad shape, but still held more than 800 pages of 19th century knowledge, from Strangulation to Vegetable.

It's a book that keeps giving for lifelong learners, and so I want to share a couple of entries this afternoon. These are images of the actual entries, so you will probably have to click on them to make them larger and more easily readable.

To me, it's fascinating stuff from 131 years ago, though I'll admit it's a bit on the obscure end of the educational scale. But, then again, I like obscure.

The entry about the capital of Iran mentions mud-built villages, the Elburz mountains, shoemaking, and the construction of telegraph lines. Most jaw-droppingly, though, it states that the population of Tehran varies between 80,000 and 120,000, depending on the season.

Tehran's population today is 8.2 million in the city proper and nearly 14 million in the metropolitan area.

The Tunkers are known today as Old German Baptist Brethren. Other names they have been indentified with over the years include Dunkers, Dunkards, and Täufer. (Tunken is a German word meaning, "to dip," which relates to the group's practice of baptism by immersion.)

They are also known at the Harmless people, according to this article.

Read more about Tunkers on Wikipedia and in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Postcrossing card from Belarus featuring a damavik

Whoa! I have now received not one, but TWO domovoi postcards through Postcrossing this year.

The first colorful postcard came in April, from Masha in Sevastopol, Ukraine. And this week I received the above postcard from Alena in Belarus.

A domovoi is a house spirit in Slavic folklore. They are, according to Wikipedia, "masculine, typically small, bearded, and sometimes covered in hair all over." Here is more description:
"Traditionally, every house is said to have its domovoi. It does not do evil unless angered by a family’s poor keep of the household, profane language or neglect. The domovoi is seen as the home's guardian, and he sometimes helps with household chores and field work. Some even treat them as part of the family, albeit an unseen one, and leave them gifts like milk and biscuits in the kitchen overnight. To attract a domovoi, you would go outside of your house wearing your best clothing and say aloud 'Grandfather Dobrokhot, please come into my house and tend the flocks.' To rid yourself of a rival domovoi, you would beat your walls with a broom, shouting 'Grandfather Domovoi, help me chase away this intruder.' When moving, some might make an offering to the domovoi and say 'Domovoi! Domovoi! Don't stay here but come with our family!' It is said the favorite place for these spirits to live is either the threshold under the door or under the stove."

There are variations on the spelling of domovoi in different countries. In Belarus, they are called damavik.

Alena wrote the following on the postcard she mailed to me:
"I hope you enjoy this card with Damavik and Kuzya the cat. Damavik is a kind of Belarusian folklore character, relative to a house elf, or brownie. If the family is kind to him, he helps with household and protects the house. Here, Damavik eats mushroom soup, draniki and scrambled eggs, while his family is on vacation to Belarusian tourist spots (Damavik has already been there; pictures from the journeys are on the wall behind)."

Alena adds that more of these postcards can be found on Vanilla Tree Vale Cards' Facebook page.

In other domovoi news, I also discovered last night that a folklore-heavy graphic novel called Domovoi, written and illustrated by Peter Bergting, was published earlier this year by Dark Horse. I'll have to check that out!

Library rules (and fines structure) of the Woman's Club of York

This sticker featuring the Library Rules of the Woman's Club of York was pasted to the front endpapers of the 1964 book Forever Old, Forever New by Emily Kimbrough.

Apparently there has been some confusion over the years regarding whether it's the "Women's Club of York" or "Woman's Club of York." In fact, its correct name is Woman’s Club of York, and so this library sticker doesn't help abate that confusion.

At this time, the club had a specific structure for lending and fines. Penalties ranged from 5 cents to 50 cents, depending on the transgression. (So I'm thinking I should get this back to them ASAP. I hope they waive the fines!)

The Woman's Club of York was founded in 1904 and incorporated in 1912. Its mission, according to its website, is described as follows:
"Our mission is to engage in philanthropic efforts in the York area and to provide cultural and educational opportunities for the membership and the public. We are a very active club that hosts monthly teas, programs, and card parties, but our main goal is to give back to the community."
Those philanthropic efforts have included tree-plantings and the organization of children's playgrounds. Here are some links if you are interested in more of the history of the Woman's Club of York:

And here are a couple of previous Papergreat posts related to club libraries and their rules:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Front covers of two battered and worn 1921 children's books

I have a pair of slim children's books from 1921 that are just about too far gone for anything but recycling. The spines are gone and the pages are penciled and crayoned with all sorts of scribbling. These are books for which The End has come.

But beforehand, because it's what I do, I wanted to share the covers for posterity. They are faded and worn and scratched. But they still have a kind of fragile beauty to them, I think.

Both of these children's books were written by Dolores McKenna, illustrated by Ruth H. Bennett and published by Frederick A. Stokes Company of New York in 1921.

The Adventures of the Bunny-Boys

The Adventures of Squirrel Fluffytail

Squirrel Fluffytail1, which is set on a "beautiful island that stood in the center of a great big lake," still has its frontispiece intact. It pictures a scene of parent-to-child instructions that is quite common to folklore of all nations (and rarely ends with those instructions being followed).

1. If you want to know what The Adventures of Squirrel Fluffytail was supposed to look like before it was worn down by the years, check out this link.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Colorful advertising card for Clark's O.N.T. Spool Cotton

We've had a couple of threads about thread already this month on Papergreat — old spools and a Victorian trade card — so why not one more?

This colorful card, which measures only 2¾ inches by 4¼ inches, is an advertisement for Clark's O.N.T. Spool Cotton. I wrote the following about this company back in January 2012:
"There is plenty of information about Clark's available online. Textile Industry History ( has a wonderful page full of the detailed history and the ephemera of Clark Thread Co., which was based in Newark and East Newark, New Jersey, from 1866 to 1949. O.N.T. stands for 'Our New Thread' and the brand dates to the mid 1800s."
There is also a good post titled "The Meaning of O.N.T." on the design blog All Things Ruffnerian.

The back of this card specifically touts O.N.T.'s Black Spool Cotton:
"Dyed by a new process which renders the BLACK completely FAST and at the same time does not injured the STRENGTH of the THREAD. The advantage to be derived from the NEW DYE of BLACK cannot be too highly estimated by all who use."

Whether the thread is strong enough to hang laundry from, as pictured in the illustration, is another matter entirely.

Speaking of "thread" strength, I came across the following claim this morning on the @UberFacts Twitter account: "A full head of human hair (about 150,000 strands) is strong enough to support the weight of 2 full grown elephants." So there's your water-cooler fact for the day.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Esther (Bassick) Whittaker and the Gettysburg Address

It was 150 years ago today that Abraham Lincoln delivered a short speech — now known simply as the Gettysburg Address — that became one of the most celebrated orations in United States history.

And it was just two days ago that I was browsing through boxes stuffed with old paper at the antique store in York New Salem (which is just 26 miles from Gettysburg, by the way) and I came across an old, stained postcard that had served as a birth notice back in 1910.

The postcard was mailed by Franklin T. and Florence Bassick of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, to a "Mrs. C. Carley" of tiny Stockton Springs, Maine.1 It announced this birth...

And so Esther Elizabeth Bassick — the future Esther E. Whittaker — was born at 4:30 a.m. on September 4, 1910, and weighed in at 7½ pounds. William Howard Taft was the President of the United States and it had been a little less than 47 years since Lincoln's famous speech.

As I often do when I come across names on postcards and other ephemera, I tried to discover more about Esther.

One of the first things I came across was her obituary.

She died earlier this year.

I was holding a battered postcard announcing her birth in September 1910 and reading an online obituary describing how she has died "peacefully" in Massachusetts on February 06, 2013.2

At age 102.

She lived from the Taft presidency until the second term of the Obama presidency.

But how does Lincoln's speech and its anniversary tie in with all of this?

Among the things Esther loved were children, teaching art, oil painting, singing, tap dancing, bingo, trivia contests and spelling bees.3

And the Gettysburg Address.

Her son, John Whittaker, wrote a beautiful eulogy that was posted online. It describes, among many other loving details, the final time he heard his centenarian mother recite Lincoln's words. It's a wonderful piece of writing, and I hope John doesn't mind that I'm going to repost it here. I think it might just be the best thing you read today:

John Whittaker 02/13/2013
Scituate, MA USA


The year I was born, my mother was already a compassionate, caring, self assured teacher, wise it seemed well beyond her 32 years. In the 70 years that followed I was privileged to see those qualities sharpen and deepen.

The last day we were together in Milford Hospital I shared with her the news that one of her grand daughters had decided to go back to college to obtain teacher certification.

She was thrilled and shared with me at length her thoughts on her life as a teacher and what it means to truly be a teacher, parent and grandparent of young children.

She even recited for me some of the “memory gems”, short poems that she had been taught to recite in school as a young child.

Then she recited her forte the entire text of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address complete with appropriate emphasis on the key phrases. It was a remarkable performance. Sadly this wonderful and in a some ways amazing afternoon lengthened and at last I had to bid goodbye.

“I'd better get going and beat the rush hour.”, I said.

“Be careful.”she answered.

'I'm always careful.” I responded, “You have nothing to worry about. I'm an expert driver.”

“I know you are.”she said,”I made sure you were before I let you get your license.”

A wise teacher and parent until the very last.

Where did all of this wisdom, caring and gift of teaching come from?

A big clue to my mother's character formation can be found in the story of the formation of her name, Esther Elizabeth Bassick.

My grandparents had agreed that their first born, a son would be named after his mother's family and their second born, a daughter after her father's.

When he was young my grandfather was raised by his aunts. His father's older sister Elizabeth and his mother's sisters Hannah and Lydia. They and their children became his surrogate family while his parents traveled for a year or more at a time on several voyages to China.

So my grandfather quickly decided on Elizabeth as the baby's middle name and then struggled with the decision to give her the name of Aunt Hannah's daughter Esther as her first name or name her Beulah after Aunt Lydia's daughter. Both Esther and Beulah had been his close lifelong friends and virtual sisters. The choice was eventually made by having my two year old uncle pick a slip from a hat filled with the words Beulah and Esther. Thus Esther Elizabeth Bassick got her name.

A year later during a summer vacation trip back to Maine my grandfather in his typical closed mouth Yankee style recorded in his daily journal ”Visited Aunt Lizzie today. Brought Esther to show her.”Aunt Lizzie who had just observed her 95th birthday held little Esther in her lap, spoke gently to her and perhaps imparted some final words of wisdom to her nephew. It was the last time he would see her. She passed away the following winter.

If like me you have had the opportunity to touch my mother's hand or sit in her lap, think for a minute about this. That hand you touched once touched the hand of a woman who was born in 1816. That was 196 yeas ago. Only one person separates you from a woman born nearly two centuries ago.

Now think about this. When Aunt Lizzie was a young child she and her parents lived with her great grandfather who was born in 1736. Only two people separate you from somebody who was born over 275 years ago. It is interesting to think about those dates and people so far back in time. But think as well about all of the painfully acquired experience and wisdom they reflect.

Then there is the Gettysburg Address and my mother's deep respect and admiration for Abraham Lincoln. Aunt Lydia's husband Dan fought at Gettysburg at Devil's Den with the 4th Maine. He helped to bury more than a few of his friends when it was over. Dan and Lydia's son Col was my grandfather's closest childhood friend.

Aunt Lizzie's great grandfather? He served as a private in the French and Indian War and as a lieutenant in the Revolution. Think of the experience and wisdom he acquired. And he lived for such a long time after to talk about it all.

Generation after generation of very old people going far far back in my mother's family, each passing on acquired wisdom and experience.

I never knew Elizabeth Page or Hannah Ellis or Lydia Carley. To my mother they were vague memories, people she only met a few times as a child and yet their influence is still with us.

So it is with my mother's influence on others.

The very first young women she taught in her first high school class in the fall of 1929 are now all well over 100 and have most likely all gone on to their eternal reward. And yet think of the impact my mother had on their lives and they in turn on the lives of others. Then think of my mother's influence on all of her other students between 1929 and her retirement in 1983. Thousands of people are who they are today in part because of the influence of my mother and those generations of people who came before my mother and helped to form her character.

A bit awesome isn't it? What we do in life for others is what endures after we are gone.

Esther Elizabeth Bassick understood that very well and that is the last lesson she taught me in the last afternoon we were together in Milford Hospital a few weeks ago.

1. The town's name, however, is misspelled as "Stockton Strings" in the address portion of the postcard.
2. If I had discovered this postcard one year earlier, I might have had a chance to get it into her hands before her death. As it is, I hope I have a chance to get it to one of her descendants in the coming months.
3. According to her obituary: "She and Ervine settled in Natick in 1941, where she created a warm and fostering home for her growing family. Faced with a lack of a public kindergarten in town, the Whittakers decided to start their own and founded the Walnut Hill Nursery School in 1948." What an astounding woman.

Monday, November 18, 2013

1889 portrait: William James Blish and family of New Hampshire

The caption (written in pencil and cursive) on the back of this photo states:

East Alstead New Hampshire
Drewsville Road 1889
William James Blish and family

If the photo was indeed taken in 1889, then there's an excellent chance that the old woman in the center holding that toddler was born in the late 1700s, which is pretty mind-blowing. (And that toddler, meanwhile, could have conceivably lived until 1980 and seen the Phillies win their first World Series.)

What are you favorite details from this vintage photograph?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A public service message that still rings true 66 years later

In flipping through a 1947 issue of Mother's Ideals magazine, I found it almost too sweet to stand.1 It's packed with poems, passages and pictures about the poignancy of motherhood. But one page caught my eye. Its black-and-white image contrasts sharply with the other flashes of color throughout the magazine. The headline states:


And this is the small type:

A motorist forgot that little boys don't remember the real traffic dangers around them when they are excitedly playing their games.

So Tommy won't be at school today — or tomorrow — or ever.

Tommy might have been your son. He might have been any one of the three thousand little boys and girls whose lives will be cut short by automobile wheels this year.

So that these tragedies may become fewer — YOUR help is needed — drive carefully — extra carefully near schools.

Remember — that little heads rarely give thought to danger — and that little feet turn quickly.

Think if Tommy were YOUR son — and multiply that by three thousands — and please — DRIVE CAREFULLY — because Tommy can't be replaced.2

That's a pretty effective public-service advertisement. And one that is still needed in the 2010s as much (if not more) as it was in the 1940s.

1. Ideals magazine was first published in 1944 and I touched on some of its history in this November 2012 post. Also of note about this particular copy of the 1947 Mother's Ideals are the newspaper clippings that were tucked away inside:
  • A July 28, 1981, clipping from The York Dispatch with headlines about the royal wedding ("St. Paul's is mighty edifice" and "Charles and his princess to live fairy tale life") and a short news item about the ongoing tests of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
  • Two undated clippings from Lancaster newspapers featuring stories about the history of Mother's Day.
2. That was certainly a lot of em dashes. Did you know that em dashes are also called "muttons"?