And the Winner Is…

The Second Annual Essay Competition held by the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center and funded most generously by a local “pillars of the community” family and ardent museum founder/supporter just finished and with surprising results.  Last year was the inaugural year and the museum board turned to yours truly (I’m sure because I used to teach at the college level) to invent, develop, and administer the first essay competition.  We spun off the suggested theme of “Pathfinding” and offered 4 general topics from which Syracuse students could choose: what and who is a pathfinder, sports in early Syracuse, the Syracuse Bathing Spa (long gone) at the lake’s edge, and the early Syracuse fruit agri-industry.  Most young writers went for the pathfinder topic, extolling the virtues of early Mormon pioneers (no surprise here) or for the bathing spa.  I guess the other topics weren’t of interest.  Anyway, the cash prizes were quite generous: 1st prize in the Senior and Junior High category was $100.00 and they went down from there in increments.  There was even an elementary school division.  Oddly enough, even though is was well publicized, we barely had enough entries to cover the 9 possible awards.  The sponsoring family and I were the judging panel.  Regretfully, plagiarism was obvious in some papers, mostly the spa essays.

Fast forward to 2012’s competition with a new topic.  I felt there were enough exhibits and objects in the museum’s holdings that we could encourage students to come in the door, find a “treasure” that called to them and write about it.  This involved some research and the ability to link it to Syracuse’s history.  It’s sort of what my history articles for the Islander attempt to do.  We also had the same judges plus a former college librarian who has joined the museum volunteers.

The results were mixed: even though we got a few more essays (at least this year we made double digits–11), we had to disqualify the 2 Senior High essays, but more on that later.  The younger set–elementary and junior high–for the most part got into the spirit of the challenge and their enthusiasm was evident.  Their find-a-treasure topics ran from the big buffalo head in the museum to a violin, from farming to the Japanese kimono.  The 1st prize winners, and the judges read just numbered essays with no names on them, in the elementary and junior high age divisions ended up being sisters.  Talk about a talented family.  Their winning topics?  The two-headed calf and a manure spreader.  Both were fun to read, interesting, and well-researched.  The one writer even interviewed the farmer whose cow gave birth to the two-headed calf.  Now that’s dedication!  The manure spreader essay was replete with cute asides: “the smell (Eeeeeew!!!).”

The problems started with the 2 senior high entrants.  One writer acknowledged that he couldn’t find anything that sparked his interest in the entire museum, commented that he was looking to profit from a prize, and then went on in a bombastic, obnoxious, arrogant, and self-important style to try to cover Utah, patriotism, and World War II in about 700 words.  The family funding the prizes was insulted and the librarian and I both felt the writer also had too close of a relationship with a thesaurus.  A sampling of favorite words: plethora, propitiated, laborious, cerebrally, aura–and some were misused, to boot.

The other senior high age submission veered way off topic; this writer took the reader back to ancient Syracuse….Greece (not Utah) and delved into gods, goddesses, the Hydra, the Nemean Lion, and the Cerynitian doe with “golden antlers and brazen hooves.”  Hannibal got worked into a paragraph, as did the Cretan bull, and the Mares of Diomedes.  The grand flourish in the final sentence was his admiration of the “awesome Archimedes since he invented the Death Ray.”  Holy heck, I’m pretty sure the museum doesn’t have a death ray.  (Sort of wish we did….)

Sooooo, the family funding this competition is pondering the 3rd annual essay event next spring and thinking we might just confine it to the younger crowd and not have a senior high category.  I guess after we hand out the prizes (checks and honorable mention certificates) in early June we’ll plan a debriefing meeting and see where we go from here.  I’m willing to head it up one more time, but I’m running out of topic  ideas.  If you can think of anything, let me know!

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Published in: on May 30, 2012 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Treasures From the Flour Barrel

For the most recent issue of the Islander (and by the way, I’m now listed in the masthead as a contributing writer), my history topic for the museum was on the pretty pressed glass objects and tea sets scattered around the museum on shelves and how they might have traveled west.  I’ll have a break for the next issue of the newspaper because I’ve submitted the winning essays from this spring’s competition.  In next week’s blog, I’ll tell you all about that process and thank heavens I don’t have to grade them, especially the senior high entries!   In the meantime, here’s the article on things “just for fancy.”

Treasures Hidden in the Flour Barrel

by Sue Warren

Back in the 1840s and 1850s, if your family decided to become pioneers and join others in the great migration west, it must have been difficult to have to choose what to take and what to leave behind.  Everything took up precious space and added weight to the load the oxen would have to pull.  Necessities for the trip came first: food, essential tools to use upon arrival to build a new life, clothing, and guns and ammunition.  If–and it was a big if–there was room, each person might be able to choose one precious possession to bring along.  For a little girl it might be a favorite doll, a young boy might cart along a special book or whittling knife.  Parents might be more practical, sticking with an extra tool for Dad or a fancy bonnet or piece of jewelry for Mom.  Sometimes Mom could hide a pretty piece of china or glassware in some safe place (to minimize breakage), probably because she couldn’t part with it or because it would remind her of the life she used to have.

Among the many heavy-duty farm machines, large furniture, and military items at the Syracuse Museum are fragile tea sets, pressed glass dishes in jewel tones, and other just-for-fancy objects, many of which were brought west by pioneer women.  By the mid-1800s hand-cut leaded glass, which was very expensive, had been surpassed by molded, or pressed, glass which could be mass-produced in clear and a multitude of colors.  Now, all classes of people could own at least one fine glass dish for candy or pickles.  Memories often get attached to these special fancy dishes, so when you’re a woman packing for the trek west, it must have been difficult to leave something so precious and small behind.

Enter the flour barrel.  This was a necessity on the trip, as flour was used to make bread.  It was also soft and could cushion delicate objects that would easily break as wagons jolted and creaked their way west over heavily rutted trails, rocks, and river beds.  Women were quick to discover that heirlooms like glass dishes and china tea sets could safely be tucked into the flour in the barrels and perhaps make it unbroken to Utah or California.  In a world where brown was the predominate color of the landscape, to be able to use a pretty blue candy dish, a green glass cookie jar with flowers painted on it, or a sparkly faceted pickle dish for a Sunday meal or when company came must have been a point of pride for a frontier wife, not to mention the memories of a former life it evoked.

Thanks to the generosity of many local families, the museum has more than a few fragile treasures that probably made their way across the plains hidden in a flour barrel.  Examples of pressed and molded glass can be found in display cases around the museum.  In addition to fancy glass dishes, there are elegant tea sets, beautifully decorated and other fancy treasures worth a look.  If only they could speak, what tales they might tell: prairie storms, Indian raids, broken wagon wheels, births of children in a covered wagon, Sunday dinner in a one-room cabin….

Published in: on May 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

The News You (Probably) Missed–Vol. 7

This time around the news you might have missed includes political hi-jinks and three items under the “stupid criminals” heading.  Yes, folks, they’re everywhere, even in God-fearing Utah.

Congressional Candidate Rants Onstage

Bryan Farnsworth making a point

I acknowledge Utah has one-of-a kind people, but the candidate for Congress from Utah’s 1st District (north of us) wins the prize, hands down.  Appearing in February at a Lincoln’s Day dinner sponsored by the Box Elder County Republican  Party, Bryan Farnsworth, 49, sporting long hair and a beard, gave an impassioned, rambling speech decked out in a pink shirt, and–wait for it–ankle-length, brightly-colored, tie-dyed skirt and accompanied by a white, long-haired service dog.  First announcing he is bipolar, he declared he is the “‘non-Fascist Republican candidate for the 1st Congressional District.’  Laughing nervously, he shared, ‘A month ago, I was just Bryan.'”  He also stated he is an Eagle Scout (he recited the oath) and claims he’s a former Marine: “‘Once a Marine, always a Marine.  Semper fi!'”  Hoo-rah!  He also commented on Pres. Obama’s military policies: “‘When Obama told some guy (in the military) to get on a Nintendo and drive some drone into this guy’s desert getaway, I would have been questioning things.'”  He ended his speech by calling US Senator Orrin Hatch and US Representative Rob Bishop, traitors and shouted a call to fire them.  His remarks were followed by Gov. Gary Herbert’s speech and Farnsworth attempted to return to the stage at that point but was escorted away by police.  Who knows, Bryan might fit in perfectly in Washington, DC…..

Building a Better Mousetrap

Confident he was on the verge of developing a better mousetrap, a Utah man told police he was trying to shoot a mouse in his pantry.  He aimed at the rodent, but missed and the bullet went through the wall and into the bathroom, where it hit his friend in the shoulder while he was using the facilities.  He was charged with one count of discharging a firearm with injury and–who could have guessed it?–possession of drug paraphernalia.

Know a Good Locksmith?

Police who answered a car burglary in progress in Ogden found a man who rather brilliantly tried to tell them he was just rehearsing for a career in locksmithing prior to his final exam.  He was unable to furnish the name of the Locksmithing School.  The officers found tools of the trade, and stolen items from earlier “practice” sessions: purses, wallets, DVD’s, a camera, jewelry, a handgun, even religious books and scriptures.  They also found a stash of pot.

Students Aren’t Always Smart

Local police have arrested an 18-year old burglary suspect who, in his haste, left his homework behind.  After being confronted by the home owner at 4:00am, the young man punched the elderly man in the face (and gave him a dandy of a purple shiner) and ran with a camera.  He dropped his backpack in the yard and police were able to trace him via homework assignments with his name on them as they were stored on a flash drive.  He was tracked down asleep in his house along with the camera.  I guess he won’t be graduating this spring.

Published in: on May 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cinders and Smoke: An Homage to Old Syracuse Fire Truck No. 1

Last week the Islander published my history article on the fire truck we have on display at the museum.  A relatively easy article to write–or so I thought–ended up being a challenge due to conflicting information: the exhibit card next to the truck offers one explanation and the Syracuse City fire company link on the website said something else in regards to exactly which was the first truck: the 1943 Ford pumper on display or a 1950 Chevrolet truck, currently AWOL.  Logic would dictate it was the one sitting proudly in the museum, but could I be sure?  So before the deadline two weeks ago, I spent several hours in the fire company archives, reading through early minutes of the fire company after it formed in 1965, trying to get to the bottom of the puzzle.  And who says I don’t check my facts?  The article below is the result of my efforts and local research.

Cinders and Smoke: An Homage to Old Syracuse Fire Truck No. 1

The wail of the siren and the flash of warning lights, the streak of bright red as a fire truck races down the street…who doesn’t respond in some way to these urgent alarms?  Today, we often take for granted our community fire companies, be they professional or volunteer.  As vital arms of our community emergency services, we have come to expect rapid response to a fire or other emergency by trained first responders using state-of-the-art equipment.   It wasn’t always that way as the vintage 1943 Ford fire truck housed in the farm building of the Syracuse Museum can silently attest to.  Though modern for the mid-twentieth century, fire trucks have come a long way to the sleek, modern emergency vehicles of today .

To appreciate even a vintage fire truck, a quick look at fire fighting efforts in the distant past are instructive.  As long as humans used fire for warmth and cooking there has been the danger of fires.  Wooden houses, thatched roofs, open cooking hearths, candles and oil lamps, over-heating hay in a barn, all contributed to fires, injuries, and loss of life through the mid-nineteenth century.  Nightwatches, or foot patrols, to be vigilant for house fires were common in towns and cities where houses were built close together, but rural life came with riskier moments where a house or barn fire would often be a total loss with neighbors too distant to help douse the flames, if there was even a water source nearby.

In cities, first in Europe and then the early American colonies, large populations offered possibilities to not only help prevent fires, but fighting them more efficiently.  In 1736 Benjamin Franklin established the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia.  Prior to the American Revolution, George Washington was a volunteer fireman near his home in Virginia.

Fire insurance companies were developed and subscribers paid a yearly fee to buy a guarantee that the fire company, supported by these funds, would show up at their house when the alarm bell was sounded .  Subscribers’ houses were identified by iron fire company symbols attached to the chimneys.  Fire brigades often used leather buckets to pass water up a human chain to throw at the flames.  Later, horse-drawn pumper wagons hauled larger amounts of water to a fire.  With no underground water pipes yet, the concept of fire hydrants hadn’t been developed.   These manual pumps were manned by teams of men and could deliver up to 160 gallons per minute.  Certainly better than buckets, it’s still a far cry from today’s capabilities.  If firemen of 150 years ago could at least keep the fire from spreading, that was half the battle.  And it wasn’t solely a male job; the first recorded female firefighter was Molly Williams, a slave, who took her place with the men on the dragropes during the New York City blizzard of 1818 and helped pull the pumper to the fire through the deep snow.

The vintage fire truck in the museum marks a turning point in fire protection in Syracuse.  Before 1955 Syracuse relied on Davis County to respond to fire calls.  Soon it was deemed this was inadequate and the county hired the Clearfield Fire Department to service calls.  Layton offered it services, but distance made that impractical, and by 1965, Syracuse decided it was time to start its own fire department.

According to museum exhibit information and early fire company records the first fire engine, the 1943 Ford pumper truck with ladders, was purchased and driven to Syracuse in the middle of the night from Boise, Idaho by Councilman Lawrence Briggs.  Apparently, an earlier offer of a 1950 GMC fire truck for $5,500 was made, but was turned down in favor of the older, and probably more reasonably priced truck.  According to fire company records, by 1967 a second pumper was added to Syracuse’s all-volunteer fire department.

The original Syracuse No 1 fire truck

We can’t promise rides, but do come and visit the original 1943 pumper!  The kids enjoy it and the town is fortunate someone had the forethought to save this piece of Syracuse history.  The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.  We welcome group tours!

Published in: on May 8, 2012 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Noxious Utah Garden Weeds 101

As it’s been warming up the last 2 weeks of April and it’s now May 1st, I have been getting the gardens ready for vegetable planting and cleaning up the flower beds.  Every gardener curses weeds and the more common ones that I know and hate from years of living in Pennsylvania must be national, as we have crabgrass, quackgrass, thistles (ours grow in open fields and are particularly enormous and invasive), dandelions, and the other usual suspects that cause gardeners headaches.  In fact, I’ve even yanked a Western Salsify (a member of the Sunflower family).  It reminds me of an odd dandelion as it sends up a single flower on an 18 inch stalk and has toothed leaves like a Dandelion.  The flower bud is pointy and when it opens it is flat, not puffy.  Strangely enough, Grape Hyacinths are considered an unwelcome invader out here.  I’d gladly trade Grape Hyacinths for the detested Bindweed any day of the week!  We also have some I’ve never tangled with before and I must say they are out-and-out challenges.  The weeds I hate the most:

  1. Top on my list is Field Bindweed.  It gets a small white or pale pink flower that resembles Morning Glory, but don’t be fooled, this weed is a nightmare and anything but glorious.  It spreads by roots and seeds (as if one method isn’t enough!), and is impossible to kill.  The tap roots can grown to a depth of 1o feet underground, so you can’t ever completely dig out the roots.  It sends up brittle shoots of a ghostly white color that either snap off or can be pulled out of the ground and are long and sinuous.  I can clear a bed of the shoots and 2 days later there are more shoots poking up through the dirt, laughing at me.   If left alone, they will climb on other plants and choke them out.  It is a very successful desert thriver, but apparently it grows everywhere.
  2. Speedwell is another runner-type plant that is a close second to Bindweed.  Speedwell has scalloped-edge leaves and has a pretty blue flower.  At first I thought it was a nice ground cover, with that flower.  Wrong!  It, too, will choke out other flowers and it is persistent, though a little easier to pull than that rotten Bindweed.  Apparently, this is  wide-spread weed and is known even in Europe.  Geeze, how did it cross the ocean?
  3. Common Mallow also frequents our garden, but it doesn’t seem to be as insidious as the others.  It grows out of a central core and also has scalloped, rounded leaves.  It will even sport tiny white blossoms if it gets away from me and a clump grows someplace I can’t spot it, like under a larger plant: sage or parsley.  One quick pull on the center stem and it’s gone.
  4. Purslane has also made its way out to Utah and this is a surprising plant for a dry soil as it’s a succulent with tuberous, fleshy stalks and leaves.  I have just discovered it’s apparently edible, though I won’t be adding it to salads any time soon.  At least it pulls out easily with the help of a hand tool.
  5. And finally, we have a weed I cannot seem to identify or find a picture of.  I took a sample plant to our local nursery to get it identified and all they could suggest was Spurge.  Now Spurge is a member of the Euphorbia family, one of the largest with thousands of members, so that doesn’t really help.  Anyway, thank heavens our version doesn’t have prickles and pulls out easily, but it sure is prolific!  It first appears as dainty round leaves on the surface of the soil.  These grow into longer airy stems which shoot up secondary feathery straight “stalks” that I never see blooming, but there are seed pods.  As a seed spreading mechanism (actually nature is quite clever here) if you brush them or as you pull them, they spray microscopic seeds everywhere, ensuring another generation of growth.

And now that I’ve shoveled in 6 months’ worth of piled up kitchen compost the ground will be richer and the weeds will benefit along with the veggies.  So I am facing a summer of harvesting and pulling amped-up weeds!  Sigh.  The lot of the dedicated gardener.

Published in: on May 1, 2012 at 7:52 pm  Comments (1)