Odds and Ends

The first true cold snap–with freezing temperatures at night–is predicted for tomorrow night, so that means last-minute garden work for me.  There are still loads of tomatoes on the vines, so I’ll be outside later today picking tomatoes and lining them up on every available window sill in the house to ripen.  Ditto for any salvageable peppers and zucchini. 

Just the ends are left of the zucchini plants

I’ll probably pull the two eggplant plants.  Lots of purple flowers, but no pollination (I guess) as not one eggplant ever appeared.  I’ll also cut and hang herbs to dry; no sense wasting all that thyme and variegated sage.  We can prepare and freeze the basil in ice cube trays for easy dispensing during the winter.  We’ve been slowly pulling out plants that have run their summer cycle, so the green beans have been long gone, as is the yellow squash and baby pumpkins.   They sit in a bowl as an arrangement on the dining area table (We grew these, folks!).

Bowl of mini-pumpkins

About two weeks ago I was in the mood for heavy lifting, so I dug out the Brussels sprouts plants–one or two as tall as I am.  Last year we we had great luck and many meals.  This year was a disaster; I blame the wet spring.  We had cabbage moths galore and of course, they laid thousands of eggs all over the Brussels sprouts, rendering them useless.  We managed to get one scanty side-dish off them.  It really wasn’t worth the effort, but who knew?  We really hate to spray, but that’s what should have happened.  Not sure if we’ll plant them next spring.  They take up loads of space with no guarantees.  The carrots and beets are still in the ground and we’ve started a compost pile against the fence of vegetable and coffee grounds waste, but this is what’s left of the back plot.

Sad-looking garden

On another note, if pollination rates are low next year, I may have the answer.  Did you know that commercial bee hives used during the growing season in South Dakota are trucked to California to winter over?  I didn’t until an 18-wheeler flipped in southern Utah on Sunday and released the bees contained in 460 hives.  That’s 25 million (yes, million!) angry bees equipped with stingers.  Apparently, when the clean-up was over, the cargo was a complete loss: all the bees dead or fleeing on wing.  This poor driver and his wife were the last of the truck convoy taking bees to their winter vacation spot: a sum total of roughly 4 billion (BILLION) bees.  I guess it gets too cold in South Dakota!

Besides vacationing bees and freezing temps, Halloween is almost upon us.  All the decorations in the neighborhood are up: huge cobwebs, fake spiders, carved pumpkins….  Of course, Halloween is one of those holidays that if it falls on a Sunday, as it did last year, trick or treating MUST occur on the night before, as Sunday is off-limits by Mormon decree.  This year, it’s on a Monday, which for our LDS neighbors is Family Home Night.  Families are expected to devote that time to family activities at home.  Phone calls are discouraged and game playing, family discussions of a religious or educational nature, or other interactive events are encouraged.  It will be interesting to see how many costumed kids we get on Saturday night versus Monday night.  I guess trick or treating with the family may not be a legitimate, approved activity for Family Home Night, so I’m betting we’ll hear the doorbell ring on Saturday night.

We did our own family activity last night–with one eye on the TV: switching between Monday Night Football (a yawn of a game) and the 5th game of the World Series Baseball Classic (more excitement here).  Lara, Ethan, and I decorated (Bob even was roped into decorating a pumpkin cookie) our Halloween cookies with no rules.  We have green cats, purple pumpkins, and orange spiders and tombstones.  What fun!

Who could resist these?

Happy Halloween to all!

Published in: on October 25, 2011 at 4:37 pm  Comments (5)  

A Peek at the Nearly Forgotten Mexican-American War

Tomorrow another issue of the Syracuse Islander will be available and for this issue of the paper I wrote a history article spotlighting something most of you, my readers, don’t know much about (I’m betting): the Mexican-American War and then even more arcane: the Mormon Battalion.  I had to do some research on this and it was a real challenge to boil the topic down to under 1000 words.  So here’s a window into US history about a decade after the Alamo (I assume you’re familiar with that!). 

The Mormon Battalion and the Mexican-American War

Two distant and almost forgotten events in American history intersected for one year between July 1846 and July 1847; the one creating the other.  Ten years after the famous Battle at the Alamo which claimed the lives of iconic figures like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett in the fight for Texan independence from Mexico, the Mexican-American War flared up after the annexation of Texas as a state in 1845.  As Mexico still claimed Texas as part of its territory, this action led to Mexico to breaking diplomatic relations with the United States.

As part of the conflict, American army troops invaded New Mexico and what was still then the Republic of California.  After the capture of Mexico City by the U.S., Mexico was forced to agree to the cession of its northern territories to the U.S.  As part of the treaty, the U.S. paid Mexico $18 million and, in addition, the United States forgave debt owed by the Mexican government to U.S. citizens.  Mexico accepted the Rio Grande as its national border.   All this meshed with President James K. Polk’s plan to expand the United States to the Pacific coast.  And if you recall your history, the California Gold Rush was only four years away–good timing on our part!

So what was the Mormon Battalion, how did it get formed, and where did it serve? 

Only in hindsight can one see the convergence of unrelated events: Texan statehood leading to a war, the persecution of the Latter Day Saints in Nauvoo, and Polk’s idea of western expansion.   On 21 May 1846, a mere eight days after Congress had declared war on Mexico, Brigham Young sent Elder Jesse Little to Washington, D.C. to seek assistance from the federal government for the Mormon Pioneers running for their lives from their persecutors in Illinois.  Despite Young being turned down previously for aid, President Polk finally agreed to Little’s offer of men to form a battalion, if just “a few hundred” men enlisted; the final count would be between 500-600 men. 

In actuality, Brigham Young had planned on taking the Saints west  the summer of 1846, but he realized several possible advantages in  federal service.  Despite Young’s distrust of the government, enlistment would be a public relations victory for the church, demonstrating additional evidence of its loyalty to the United States.  Young wrote a letter to a group of Saints, in which he justified the call-up and asked for their help: “The President wants to do us good and secure our confidence. The outfit of this five hundred men costs us nothing, and their pay will be sufficient to take their families over the mountains. There is war between Mexico and the United States, to whom California must fall a prey, and if we are the first settlers the old citizens cannot have a Hancock or Missouri pretext to mob the Saints. The thing is from above for our own good.”

The men were given a uniform allowance of $42 each, paid in advance, for their one-year enlistment.  As they were allowed to wear their civilian clothing for the march, the bulk of those funds were immediately donated to a general Church fund.  These funds were used to purchase wagons, teams, and other necessities for the trek west.  Actual wages paid over the next year to the Mormon Battalion would total nearly $30,000.

Approximately thirty-three women, twenty of whom served as laundresses and cooks, and fifty-one children accompanied the men.  Four women would eventually complete the cross-continental trek.  The other women and children left the battalion in Sante Fe and eventually were relocated to Pueblo, Colorado.  Another interesting footnote: the group acquired a guide in New Mexico – adventurer and mountain man Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who as an infant had traveled with his mother Sacagawea across the continent with the Lewis and Clark Expedition.


Oddly enough, one of only two battles the battalion faced was near the San Pedro River in what is now Arizona in November of 1846.  This area was inhabited by a number of wild cattle.  The battalion’s presence spooked the herd and the bulls destroyed some of their mules and wagons.  In response to this, the men loaded their guns and attacked the charging bulls, killing 10–15 of the animals.  The other battle being a minor skirmish with a small detachment of Mexican troops near Tucson in the future Arizona.
The Mormon Battalion thus became the only religiously based unit in United States military history, led by Mormon company officers, but commanded by regular U.S. Army officers. During its service, the battalion would become most famous for a grueling march of nearly 2,000 miles in length from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California.
The battalion’s march and service was key in helping the U.S. secure much of the American Southwest, including new lands in several Western states, leading to the Gadsen Purchase of 1853 of much of southern Arizona. The march also opened a southern wagon route to California.

Sons of the Mormon Battalion Uniform

The Syracuse Museum has a uniform of the Sons of the Mormon Battalion on display.  Even though there was no official uniform, this organization designed one to honor their forebears.  Come visit us and see this uniform and other historical artifacts on display.  Our winter hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm  and by appointment (801-825-3633).  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West. 
Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 6:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Day at the Utah Museum Association Conference

One of the perks of volunteering at the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center is getting to attend the annual Utah Museum Association Conference, held at different spots around the state.  Last October I went to Park City, home of a ski resort and the Olympic ski jumping, bob sled, skeleton sled, and luge training facilities and site of the 2002 Winter Olympic competitions in those events.  Park City is just on the other side of Parley’s Canyon from Salt Lake City proper.  Tha facility is fun and we got a nice tour of the Olympic Exhibits housed there.

This year the conference was held about one hour north up in Logan, Utah, home of Utah State University.  Before I retired, when I taught at the university level, over the course of many years I attended similar conferences, but with a focus on education.  They’re all pretty much the same: registration, keynote speakers, conference sessions of all varieties, lunches and dinners, and a chance to see some other part of the state or country.  Some conference sessions are of interest and some don’t pertain to what you or your group are interested in; you sort of pick and choose based on session descriptions in the conference program you get handed when you register.

Our town museum is a member, as are other town museums across the state.  The big fish in the pond that we’re thrown in with are the major university collections, museums of natural history (we have a lot of dinosaur facilities in the state), and places like the Children’s Discovery Center in Salt Lake City (a children’s please touch museum) and the big art museums.  Unfortunately, the sessions seem to be drifting toward information by and for the larger museums.  I went solo to last year’s conference (and really felt it was worthwhile), but 5 of us went this past Monday to Logan.  We all agreed that not much was helpful to us, and for our membership and individual costs to attend the conference, sadly, it might not have been worth it. 

Having had experience in the past with offering a conference session many times, I had sent in a proposal for a session on Syracuse Museum’s essay competition from last spring.  I thought it would be interesting and helpful to share with others–probably the smaller museums–and we might get feedback and ideas we could use in the future for our next essay competition.  It wasn’t selected for a day session, but we got what I felt was a “consolation prize” of being assigned a “dine around talk” at a local restaurant for dinner at the end of the conference day.  We were one of about 10 topic-centered choices attendees could sign up for.  The restaurant was chosen for us (Mexican) and so we crossed our fingers.  Well, 2 people other than our group members signed up for the generic title of “Community Involvement.”  Now, would you think we’d be talking about an essay contest?  Even if you were interested in any sort of community involvement, if you weren’t a fan of Mexican food, that might be a turn-off.  We went to the restaurant, got seated and waited.  Predictably, signing up on a sheet of paper and showing up are two different things.  No one joined us and after a so-so meal, we headed home.  If we had known ahead of time, we would have skipped dinner and just headed home.

Am I complaining?  I guess so.  On paper the dine-around idea probably looked good and I’m sure some efforts were successful, but there are so many negatives with this system, that I seriously question it.  The idea might work better if it were a meal held in the same facility, in one room, with the table topic choices clearly marked, instead of restaurants scattered around Logan. 

Earlier, the sessions I attended this year were really geared to experiences/challenges the big boys had and really couldn’t translate well for use in our little museum.  I went to one totally fascinating, but useless session on how the Utah Natural History Museum is moving its collections (over 1 million items) from its old building to a brand new modern structure.  Hint: it cost about $1 million dollars just for the move: they had to recatalogue, wrap, freeze (yes, freeze to kill small bugs and any insect eggs), box label, store, and move it all.  “All” being dinosaur skeletons down to arrowheads.  Amazing and inspiring, but problems we’ll NEVER have!  And there wasn’t much choice in sessions; another suggestion I will insert in my evaluation.  We need some sessions just for the smaller, all-volunteer, low-funded town heritage centers.

I have yet to fill out the conference evaluation and mail it in, so you can be sure (once I cool down a bit), I’m going to share (nicely) my thoughts on the day we were there.

Published in: on October 12, 2011 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Smile and say Cheese Curds*

It seems the powers-to-be at the Syracuse Islander decided to publish a history article after a month’s gap.  Local high school sports and other items crowded out the spotlight on the museum.  So finally, my article on cameras and photography was included in the last issue.  Here it is below after some introductory remarks for you.

*Cheese curds are a Utah staple: they are basically bite-sized sharp cheese lumps that sort of squeak when rubbed together.

Another small collection, along with the solemn old photographs of the early settlers of Syracuse, we have at the museum is types of cameras–professional and personal–through the decades, so I thought I’d delve into photography as another topic for the historical article for the Syracuse Islander.  We take snapping digital photos for granted now: cell phones come equipped with built-in cameras to facilitate candid shots we can share instantly on Facebook and in e-mails.  It didn’t used to be that simple or ordinary.

Hold Still and Don’t Smile: Cameras and Photographs

With our modern technology, cell phones and digital cameras (film is pretty much extinct!), we all take photos of events, each other, and candid (sometimes embarrassing) shots of all sorts to share on social networking sites and in e-mail.  It’s a snap to keep a record of where we go on vacation, who we see, our children’s and grandchildren’s activities and other totally mundane moments.  It’s easy to overlook that photography really got its start about 1840 and back then, to sit and have your portrait taken was a big deal and meant your best clothes and a trip to the photographer’s studio.

The daguerreotype, invented in Paris, France by Louis Daguerre, and made available by about 1840 was a chemical process of a coating of silver on copper which would capture and hold an image.  This was still rudimentary photography and by the mid-1840s a way to create a more stable negative image on a glass plate was developed.  A bellows studio camera was invented in 1847 by Count Sergei Levitsky in St. Petersburg, Russia, which facilitated better focusing.  By the American Civil War, photography outside the studio was possible; Matthew Brady took full advantage of that and documented the battlefields and vistas of the war for subsequent generations to ponder and study.

Bellows studio camera

In 1884 George Eastman of Rochester, NY revolutionized photography by developing a photographic process of dry gel on paper and the rest–until the digital age–is history.  By 1901 he had introduced the Kodak Brownie camera–it cost $1.00–and soon personal candid photography was accessible to everyone and became all the rage.  The Brownie was basically a cardboard box with a simple lens and controls which would expose an image onto film which could then be developed and the photos enjoyed and saved in an album.  Of course, these were all black and white photographs, but it was still amazing science on an ordinary level.

Kodak Brownie box camera

The story of the Kodak name is an interesting one; the version most usually accepted goes like this: Eastman felt the letter ‘K’ was a strong shape and therefore was his favorite letter.  He, along with help from his mother, devised the name Kodak.  He felt there were three principal concepts to use when creating the company name: it should be short, one cannot mispronounce it, and it could not resemble anything or be associated with anything but Kodak.  He managed to achieve all three.

Prior to the Kodak Brownie, photographs were the realm of professionals.  Having your photograph taken was an event.  You would make an appointment, dress in your finest, plan to sit still, and hope to get a pleasing image of yourself.  Sitting still (an exposure before the days of phosphorus flashes could take up to a minute, depending on the light) to get a non-blurry image meant no smiling, and, besides, this was serious business, as the photographer charged for his time, expertise, and use of his equipment.  But having to sit still wasn’t the only reason you might not smile.  Poor dental care might mean you had crooked, missing, or decayed teeth, so smiling would reveal your more unpleasant features.  (Think, have you ever seen a photograph of a smiling Abraham Lincoln?)

Daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln

At the Syracuse Museum, we have many examples of local ancestors’ studio photographic portraits (all unsmiling) and cameras from different decades that would have made the images.  There is a Korona Box camera with a bellows made in Rochester, NY.  (Korona was one of the many competing companies in the town that would become known for cameras and lenses.)  You can also see a Kodak Brownie; a Kodak Hawkeye (a later model); and a Polaroid Land Camera, which developed the photographs while you waited, truly a marvel of the 1950s and 60s.  The museum even has a Keystone 8mm movie camera, which also became popular in the 1950s and opened the door to home movies.  These are all dinosaurs now, the world of photography being ruled by digital images.  One can only imagine how photographs will be taken in the coming years.  What new technology lies ahead?

Our summer hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633).  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West.  Stop by, visit us and see all our collections!





Published in: on October 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm  Comments (1)