Monday, December 31, 2012

An Asylum Christmas

An Asylum Christmas

At the best of times, life at the Kalamazoo Insane Asylum was probably monotonous. At Christmas, however, the staff tried to provide the inmates with a taste of happier times. The process began in early December when letters went out to relatives (or the contact person) of each patient requesting that a gift be sent for Christmas. [1,2]

For more mildly afflicted patients, Christmas morning began with an excursion to the chapel, “as much ablaze as the many lights could make it.” [3] Inside, patients were greeted by a huge Christmas tree adorned with candles and presents. Even Santa made an appearance every year to distribute the gifts. [2,3,4] One year, the inmates were told that “Santa Claus had been seen and that the men had got hocks and poles and had helped him down the chimney.” [2] In 1898, the celebration was amped up. “The asylum orchestra rendered the march from Tanhäuser and the revolution of a magnificent Ferris wheel began. The wheel nearly filled the large stage and was a perfect reproduction of the Ferris wheel seen at the World's Fair. Every portion of the woodwork was covered with puffed bright materials and the entire affair was lighted with electric lights, red, white and blue, which appeared alternately and altogether. The asylum choir sang an anthem.”

In 1894 about half of the 1162 patients were deemed able to attend the festivities. All manner of gifts were received and after being opened and admired, the inmates ate breakfast before returning to their wards until it was time for Christmas dinner. [3] In 1894 the menu consisted of: Fricasseed chicken, mashed potatoes, squash, celery, mince pie, cheese, crackers, coffee, milk and tea. [3] After dinner was over and everyone was comfortable “popcorn, candy, peanuts and raisins were passed around.” [3] It took a lot of food to feed so many. In 1896 the Kalamazoo Telegraph reported the amounts of provisions used for the occasion: 1,350 pounds of chicken, 20 barrels of popped corn, 200 pounds of peanuts, 225 pounds of candy, 300 apple pies, 20 bushels of potatoes, 100 gallons of rice pudding besides vegetables, tea and coffee. [5]

Sadly, only some of the patients grasped the significance of the day. Others only appeared to show interest because the festivities were a welcome digression from the usual routine. “Most of the patients enjoyed the diversion, some were totally indifferent and others grieved over the good time and things that had been prepared for their enjoyment.” [3] Still other residents of the asylum could not even attend the Christmas celebration because their condition was too severe. I'm not sure which is worse, to be so far gone that you don't know the difference or to realize what you have lost. At least the staff seemed to make an effort to raise the spirits of those in their care.

1.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-22-1897, P3, col1
2.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-26-1898, P4, col3
3.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-26-1894, P4, col3
4.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-28-1886, P6, col2
5.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-24-1896, P8, col3

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

May-December Romance

I wish that the little elves that helped the shoemaker would make a nocturnal visit to my house to label all of the old, unidentified photos I have accumulated. I would dearly love to put faces to some of the names in my family tree. While most of these photographs will remain a mystery we can occasionally hypothesize about who might be posing.

I suspect this photograph is from the wedding of my gg-grandmother's sister. Maria Therese Lane married Peter W. Rose in 1869, according to her widow's pension application (Peter served during the Civil War). There are a few clues that lead me to believe this may be Maria and Peter.
  1. The photograph was in an album we (my mom and I) believe belonged to my gg-grandmother, Arletta.
  2. The apparent age discrepancy between the sitters is a big clue. Peter was thirty years older than Maria who was a mere fifteen when she married.
  3. The Carte de visite format was popular when Peter and Maria married (1869). Though I make no claims to know much about fashion, the dress the woman wears could come from this time period.
  4. As sisters who kept in touch it makes sense that Arletta would have a photograph of Maria.  I know they kept in touch because Arletta wrote an affidavit for Maria's widow's pension application.  They could even have visited as they both lived in Kalamazoo for a number of years.
  5. Maria resembles identified photos of Arletta from the album.

A tin type photograph identified as Maria's sister, Arletta.

One amusing anecdote about when Peter came to the Lane house to seek a bride comes from Maria's widow's pension application. Maria's sister, Arletta, wrote an affidavit describing how Maria came to marry Peter (and to state that she knew Peter's first wife was dead and Maria had never been married before her wedding to Peter).  Arletta stated that their family lived 2-3 miles from Peter.  After his first wife died "he came to [Arletta] to keep house for him, but [she] refused to go."  Evidently, Maria was prevailed upon to accept his proposal.

Maybe someday I'll uncover new information that will help me to positively identify the people in the photograph.  Until then, this is my best guess, with the emphasis on "guess."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Gifts From The 1800s

I have been busy lately trying to pick out Christmas gifts for everyone on my list. It made me curious about what some of our ancestors gave each other for Christmas. I went to the Kalamazoo Public Library website and looked in the Kalamazoo Telegraph every five years from 1870 until 1890. Some items haven't changed, like hats, scarves, gloves and alphabet blocks. Another kind of gift that has stood the test of time? Books. As William Shakespeare (the purveyor of books in Kalamazoo, not the bard) advertised in 1870 “literature suits itself alike to the tastes of each, and a book can be selected that will give to each more satisfaction, and carry with it a more pleasing and more lasting rememberance [sic] of the giver than silks or silver, toys, dolls or diamonds.” [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-12-1870, P4, col3] 

One thing that may or may not surprise pet owners is that giving gifts to man's best friend was being practiced in Kalamazoo as early as 1890. One advertiser suggested that “mothers” should buy a “suit or a cape overcoat” for their pets. [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-9-1890, P4, col1]

Some things, though, are definitely not on a typical wish list these days:

  1. Worsted embroidery and beaded landscapes at d'Arcambal's Millinery Rooms [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-12-1870, P4, col2]
  2. “Fine furs in seal, otter & mink” from M. Israel & Co. [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-22-1875 P4, col7]
  3. Elegant hair brushes, cloth brushes and hand brushes as well as “beautiful cut-glass toilet bottles” for cologne, bay rum, camphor, &c.” from Colman's Drug Store [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-18-1875, P2, col7]
  4. Alabaster fancy articles, doll handkerchiefs, linen collars and cuffs as well as sleeve buttons and shirt studs from Miller's. They also advertised two-button kid gloves for 85 cents, fine quality kid gauntlets for $1 and hip gore corsets for 40 cents. [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-18-1875, P2, col4]
  5. Odor cases and whisk broom holders at McDonald's Drug Store [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-23-1885, P7, Col1]
  6. And what woman wouldn't be thrilled to come home to “any one of the numerous styles of handsome coal stoves” from DeVisser & Co. [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-23-1885, P6, Col4]

Friday, December 7, 2012

Death Certificates as Stocking Stuffers

This is the time of year when I'm often asked what is on my wish list for the holidays. While I can usually come up with some ideas, the things I would like the most (at least genealogically) might be harder to come by than the items in the 12 days of Christmas. So, here's what I would like to find under the tree (someday).

Dear Santa, (it can't hurt)
I have tried to be a good little genealogist this year. I know I have room for improvement, but I do plan to work on labeling my scanned photos and more thoroughly citing my sources in the coming year. If you happen to find any of these lying around on your travels this year (or any year) you will be sure to find some homemade cookies at my home in appreciation of your efforts.

  1. Death certificates make great stocking stuffers. How about one for Justus Whitcomb Gary (aka James or J.W.), who lived 1820ish - after 1900.
  2. While we're on the subject of J.W., did he materialize out of the ether or did he actually have parents? If you could throw me a bone, I would appreciate it.
  3. Juicy newspaper accounts are also welcome. How about some describing what Henry “Gentleman Hank” Harrigan did for the last 20 years of his life?
  4. Where in Tipperary did the Harrigans and possibly the Flynns come from? All of the death certificates and obits I have for any of them born there are frustratingly unhelpful in locating a hometown.
  5. Is our Clemens family really related to Mark Twain like Grandma said? So far, I've failed to find a connection.
  6. Is our John Brown, born in RI and early settler in Cohocton, NY, really a brother of Thurston Brown (they say the kids or grandkids who married were cousins)? If so, I could extend the lineage back a few more generations.
  7. Any photos of any of my people would be a wonderful present. No wrapping necessary.
  8. Any information, significant or trifling, about Joseph Salpatrick, the Christmas morning murderer.
  9. Any birth/death/marriage/divorce/parent/sibling/children/other information for anyone not singled out above.
  10. And would it be too much to ask for your elves to label all of my unidentified photos.

And here's one for the “if you're going to dream, dream big” category: a diary or a trove of letters from any one of my ancestors or their kin, particularly one of those elusive types.

I think I can say with certainty that I will never find all of the items on my wish list. However, I'm sure that I will eventually be able to cross some of them off. After all, there are still a lot of resources I have not been able to search due to time and distance constraints. I have come a long way in the nearly dozen years I have been researching my family history and I can't wait to see what else I learn about “my people's” lives over the next dozen.