Rain, Rain, Go Away….

While you folks back east are having a heat wave, we here in the high desert of Utah just endured the wettest May on record (about 125 years of record keeping out here.  We joked about having been somehow transported to Seattle and that we were now rusting.  May is usually the rainiest month of the year and about 2″ is normal.  The official measurement at the Salt Lake City Airport was 5.17″!  By our accounts, we can remember only about 5 or 6 partly sunny days, and it was chilly to downright cold.  Just yesterday we awoke to seeing about 1″ of new snow on the benches (lower areas of the mountains where there are houses); it almost made the valley floor.  The skiers are ecstatic!  At least one ski area plans to stay open on weekends through July 4th!  In fact, the ski areas recorded close to 800″ of snow this winter: that’s over 66′ of the white stuff.

Our poor vegetable garden is screaming for sun; the tomato plants are looking yellow, spotted, and a tad sickly.  We hope they respond to the SUN, which finally returned today.  We won’t have to water for several weeks, as the ground has soaked up enough water that it must be damp, if not out-and-out wet, several feet down.  Yet some dufus around the corner from us had not cut off his sprinkler timer and his system was merrily soaking his front lawn.  He had a whole month to reset it.  Go figure.

About 1/2 mile from us, right in Syracuse near the golf course, there is standing water and some folks had water in their basements.  In the next town over, fields and underpasses were flooded.  I haven’t driven to the Great Salt Lake yet (about 3 miles from us) to see if the water level is up at all; it had gotten fairly low over the fall and winter.

People are concerned, as since it’s been so cold, especially in the higher elevations of the mountains, the snow melt hasn’t begun in earnest.  The dams and resevoirs are to capacity and some of them have even released some water to make room for the snow melt.  Just this past weekend, a canyon road had a mud and rockslide for the second week in a row.  There’s the equivalent of a huge lake still frozen up on the peaks to about halfway down, and that has local water experts really jittery.  It’s forecast to start warming up this week with serious sun and temperatures, so it could all start coming down in the next few days. 

We don’t live near a river or stream (which are already running fast and overflowing their banks) and we’re far enough from the mountains that we’re not too worried.  The golf course mentioned above is on lower ground than we are (our house sits on a slight rise of land) and is nearer the lake.  Stay tuned, I’ll let you know if we’re suddenly building an ark and gathering animals two-by-two.

Published in: on May 31, 2011 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Hat’s Just the Thing

Okay, I’m cheating a bit for blog material, but I’m rather happy with how this next Syracuse Islander historical article (article #3 for those who are counting) on women’s hats and our modest collection at the museum turned out.  I’m hoping the images imbedded in my posting will be able to be used in the newspaper.  After researching and writing this, I’m not sure I wish to return to the days of hats being a necessity.  There’s a woman originally from Trinidad who attends my church who is tall and must have a huge clothes closet; I haven’t seen her wear too many items more than once.  Anyway, she has shoes and hats to match any outfit she dons.  Her hats are amazing, but it’s really helpful that her height helps her carry off the image.  She owns one purple creation that only Leila, herself, would look good in (can you tell I’m envious in a small way?).  Anyway, here’s the article:


A Hat by Any Other Name…..

Have you noticed that most women, nowadays, don’t bother with fancy hats anymore when dressing up?  However, based on the interest in the hats worn by guests at the recent royal wedding in England, not to mention the Kentucky Derby, the world-wide demand for fashionable headwear is still in full swing.  Time was–as recently as about 50 or 60 years ago–a respectable woman, and even little girls, wouldn’t think of going to church or even out in public without something on their heads, a throw-back to earlier decades.   Of course, men were also expected to wear dress hats, as well: fedoras, pork-pies, homburgs, Stetsons–and not just for cowboys.   But it is women’s hat fashions that stay in our collective memories.

Centuries ago and up to the early 1900s, women were expected to cover their heads out of modesty; for religious reasons; or for practical reasons, to keep their hair clean while doing farm or housework.  In fact, some cultures still operate this way.

Fashion-conscious women started demanding pretty bonnets and hats for beauty’s sake by the late 1600s.  By then, the word “milliner” or one who makes women’s hats was being used (first recorded in 1529) when the term referred to the products for which Milan (derived from Milaner),  and the northern Italian regions were well known: ribbons, gloves and woven straw.  By the mid 1800’s Swiss and Italian woven straws, together with imitation straws made from paper, cardboard, grass and horsehair were easily available to women, along with the introduction of velvet and tulle.  It was only a matter of time before feathers, artificial flowers, and other jewels were added to create fashionable, must-have headwear.  In the late 1700s, women’s headgear–especially in France soared to new heights and often were part of a wig and could include replicas of sailing ships!

Sailing ship pretending to be a hat

Looking at vintage photographs, one notices the large size and extravagence of decoration some women’s hats sported at the turn of the last century.  Small bonnets had given way to huge monstrosities.  In the late 1890’s, ornithologists estimated that 5 million birds were being killed annually for the fashion market.  The Audubon society was founded specifically to prevent these birds from being hunted to extinction for their feathers.  No self-respecting woman would be caught in public without one of these near-architectural creations balanced on top of her long, up-swept hairdo, held securely in place with a long, and quite sharp, hat pin.  In fact, a law was passed in 1908 restricting the length of hat pins to 6″.  The underlying fear was that suffragettes could use the longer hat pins as weapons in their fight for voting rights! 

Flower-bedecked Edwardian Era hat

So how does this have anything to do with Syracuse?  Well, women throughout the decades, starting with the settling of Utah and our town remained fashion-conscious.  Bonnets and hats were surely carried out on heads, and tucked in wagons and handcarts.  In 2011 it’s hard to imagine, but they were part and parcel of a woman’s identity.  If you’re curious as to what vintage hats look like, and would even like to try some on, the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center can help; we have quite a collection of hats and hatpins from the late 1800s through the 1960s when hats started losing their grip as fashion necessities.  Jackie Kennedy made the pill-box hat the accessory of that decade, and from there, hats got smaller until they all but disappeared–hence the “fascinator” popular today in lieu of a brimmed hat.  For those who are not in the know, the fascinator is a small pouf of feathers, tulle, ribbons, or some combination of decoration that sits alluringly perched somewhere on the side or top of the head. 

It’s fun to look through hats from different decades and even try some on to see what you’re missing!  Little girls just love to model the brightly colored hats and it’s a real trip down memory lane for moms and grandmoms.  So come visit our collection of millinary history right in your own backyard.  We’re open Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 and by appointment (801-825-3633).  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West. 

Published in: on May 24, 2011 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Art Beat Reporter Switching Focus

In case you haven’t noticed, the Ogden art beat interviews have dried up.  Personnel changes at my favorite gallery and a new direction have ended my participation.  Well, nature abhors a vacuum and I’ve been tapped for a new calling: historical articles.  Let me explain.

First, I have to back up a bit.  About a year ago, a new “hometown” newspaper, called the Syracuse Islander, printed its inaugural issue.  (The name makes us sound exotic and tropical, but I think it’s a nod to Syracuse being the gateway to Antelope Island.)  Anyway, a representative of the paper, Susan Stoker, stopped by the museum on a Wednesday about 2 months ago, when I happened to be there, to discuss the essay contest we were promoting.  One thing led to another and she asked if I would be interested in taking over the historical feature that runs in the bi-monthly paper.  I wanted to ponder it before committing, as it seems to be an open-end run.  In late April, I finally said I’d give it a whirl, as I would have 2 monthly deadlines.  She was hoping for something right away, and what I could give her was my blog posting on the virtual museum tour [see 1/11/11], tweaked and revised to read like an article and not a blog for my friends.  She printed it and the rest is history; I guess I’m on my way.  So, my next deadline was today, but I put together a quick piece last week on the Syracuse City Cemetery (Susan’s request), to be published in time for Memorial Day. 

As a stand-alone blog posting with no explanation, it wouldn’t work.  But with the background I just offered, and as an example of what I’ll be writing in the future, it makes sense to share it here.  Future historical topics will include: the Mormon Battalion, quilting, millenary/hat pins, and other inspirations based on items we have on display in the museum or dealing with local history.  Some of those will do double duty and work as posts.

Here’s the article as submitted, and, yes, I do get a byline.

Syracuse Cemetery: A Place of Peaceful Repose 

Turn back the calendar to over 115 years ago to when Syracuse was being settled and welcoming new families to its location near the shores of the Great Salt Lake. As a town father you might be planning a church building in which to worship, a school to educate the children, a store to make buying provisions easier for families. Since this was before automobiles and tractors, you would also be interested in the skills of a blacksmith to shoe your horses and build and repair plows and farm implements; a cobbler to make and repair worn shoes would also be important. And of course, a railroad spur to connect your town to the nation is a must if the local farmers want to get their produce to a wider market. Planning a town that will thrive and attract newcomers is not easy and every amenity should be considered.

But what about the grimmer aspects of rural homesteading life? In the days before accessible medical care, people got sick; both children and adults succumbed to diseases that can be prevented or cured today and accidents claimed lives far too often, not to mention the difficulties of childbearing and old age. In the days of horse and carriages, the trip to Bountiful or Kaysville to inter a loved one in what were the closest cemeteries at the time, took hours and made return visits to pray at the grave difficult due to the distance.    
In summer of 1896, when the young daughters of James Wood and Thomas Briggs died from whooping cough, the decision was made that Syracuse needed its own cemetery. A committee organized by Bishop David Cook was formed and its members were Alma Stoker, Bishop John Stoker (from the Bountiful Ward [church]) and Thomas Thurgood.  Alma Stoker generously donated a section of his land along 1000 West that had previously been used as an adobe brickyard.    
In mid-July a joint funeral service for the two little girls and a cemetery dedication was held simultaneously for the mourners and citizens of Syracuse by Bishop Christensen of the South Hooper Ward.  Soon small white headstones with lambs marked the girls’ graves, to be followed by other little lambs, still seen to this day.  Adults followed to this final resting place, the third person to be buried there was–as fate would have it–the donor, Alma Stoker, who passed away the following year from heart failure.    
Located at the corner of 1290 South and 1000 West, the cemetery is still a place of peace and quiet for Syracuse and Clearfield residents to visit or choose to be laid to rest.    
This year a Memorial Day service will be held at the Syracuse City Cemetery on May 30th at 8:00am. The keynote speaker will be U.S. Marine Col. Robert D. Rice (Ret.).    
The Community of Syracuse: Our Heritage. (Centenial Ed.)  Syracuse Historical Commission: Syracuse, Utah, 1994.

Cemetery Sign


Cemetery view


One of several lamb headstones

Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 7:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Extreme Scouting PS

In today’s paper there’s an article about a Syracuse Boy Scout troop that has 12 of its members receiving the Eagle award at one time. Coleton, Chandler, Ryan, Parker, Quinn, Stockton, Rylan, Christian, Dallan, Nick, Joe, and Dane will be honored with the award in June. A few more “rays of hope”!

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

Extreme Scouting

Be Prepared! 

Boy Scouts (and Girl Scouts) are everywhere and we all know how popular and beneficial scouting programs are for molding young minds.  Out here in Utah, it’s no different, and probably kicked up several notches from the norm.  With the focus on God and country, all LDS churches sponsor scouting programs; in fact being a scout leader is one of the callings the bishop of your ward can assign to you.  I’m pretty sure if a kid wants to join a scouting troop, it’s going to be held in an LDS stake center.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking scouting in any way and I applaude the merits–not limited to just badges–that scouting offers.  In fact, I thought I’d share with you one young man’s story from a nearby community in the top of Utah.  It’s pretty amazing and I think unusual.

Shayne Tillman’s story appeared in the paper recently and here are the highlights.  Shayne started earning merit badges the second he joined scouting and on his 13th birthday, he had earned enough badges–21–to earn Eagle Scout award.  Thirteen is on the young side to snag the Eagle Scout level.  However, Shayne didn’t rest on his laurels; in the next 5 years, he went on to earn every badge the program offers.  Prior to 2010 there were a total of 121, so he wroked toward the other 100.  As he says, “‘I didn’t have anything else to do, so I decided to earn the rest.'”  Then in 2010, four more were added to commemorate the 100th anniversary of scouting.  He earned them too.

If you’re unaware, though some badges are simpler to earn, the Morse Code and old-fashioned flag signaling badges are challenging and rank as some of the most difficult.  It took a full year to earn the astronomy badge.  Other badges earned are sailing, chemistry, pottery making, and scuba diving.

A young man with this much exposure to a variety of subjects has developed a vast set of interests: autos to agriculture, AP history to theater.  Shayne’s also a member of the Spanish Club and National Honor Society.  He worked on the high school technical crew for its production of Phantom of the Opera.

Not surprisingly, he has solid plans for college: chemical engineering at the University of Utah.  Not being a slacker, Shayne is considering a double major along with the chemical engineering: history or medicine, and maybe a minor in political science.  He figures he’ll have more options this way!

Meanwhile, Shayne stays involved in scouting in the Venture Scouts, where–yep, you guessed it–he’s started earning badges.  He was the first scout in the nation to earn the National Medal for Outdoor Achievement after it was reintroduced 2 years ago.  To earn this medal, he had to first earn 5 bagdes in riding, hiking, adventure, aquatics, and camping.  He has also earned a leadership medal, only awarded by nomination.

After all the bad press about gang activities nationwide, it sort of restores one’s faith in the younger generation!

Published in: on May 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm  Comments (1)