Happy Easter!

Wishing all my friends a very blessed and happy Easter!  Will be back next week with some heavenly music!


Published in: on March 26, 2013 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Forty Shades of White

You know how they say Ireland has 40 shades of green?  Well, spring is trying to enter the calendar, but it seems to be bringing 40 shades of white, depending on your location.  The mid-west and east coast seem to be battling the death grip of Old Man Winter, while Mother Nature is frolicking in the south and west.

Spring has come to our neck of the woods and I must say, it’s welcome and refreshing.  We, too, had a snowy winter, but now the grass is greening up and Charlie has his yard back.  As tulip and daffodil bulbs are programmed to do, ours are poking their leaves through the soil, searching for the sun.  Some are clearly pregnant!

Shall we have a baby or a rain shower?

Shall we have a baby or a rain shower?

In Utah, I think because of the drier air, the sun warms us rapidly and so one can actually leave the house without a coat or jacket.  It’s nice not to have to lug heavy outer wear around.  Even though the thermometer reads low 50s, it’s still pleasant.  Of course, one just has to look east to the mountains to see a winter scene: the peaks are still covered with many feet of snow (and the skiers are happy).  However, to the west of us, sits Antelope Island with its center peak poking up out of the Great Salt Lake.  Its altitude is lower than the Wasatch Front, so the snow disappears more quickly.  The bony spine of the peak clearly shows through now as the snow retreats.

Much to the disappointment of the cat, birds now visit less frequently to the feeder next to the window, so the entertainment value is gone.

I spent most of Saturday afternoon pulling weeds–which seem to thrive even after a harsh winter–from the back and side gardens and “harvested” 3 large plastic buckets full.  That just leaves the front and garage-side gardens and removing the dead mint and herb leaves so new can grow.  Charlie enjoyed being outside with me and, naturally, he figured I was out there to play ball toss with him.  So in between pulling 2 dandelions, he’d bring me a yellow tennis ball to throw for him to chase.  Samson, the cat, seems hesitant now at an open door, which is good.  I think we plan to get a secure harness and long leash attached to a weighted end so he can safely join us in the yard come the warmer weather.

I also know it’s spring when one of my Widener colleagues and world-class poet, Ken, again shares flower photos from his garden on Facebook and I sit down to compose a haiku in return.  It’s a fun give-and-take and I look forward to it.  This lasts all summer with the celebration of each new and exotic blossom and ends with the last rose of late autumn.

Now that St. Patrick’s day has passed, we’ll have the usual snow flurries called the Pea and Onion Snow and then we’ll start planting early crops: radishes, carrots, lettuce.  The growing cycle starts again.  Soon after that, we’ll be buying the summer starter plants from the nursery.  There’s no holding back the seasons!

Published in: on March 19, 2013 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Local Family and Utah History in the Syracuse Museum Holdings

Several weeks ago, with the goal of promoting our printed and oral holdings at the museum, I was given the challenge to write about the local history found on shelves of books and personal family histories, plus recorded interviews with long-gone “old-timers” saved to DVDs.  Admittedly, it’s a rather dry subject and my fear was to end up with a list of books: not very appealing reading, especially for a newspaper article.  Thanks to the assistance of another volunteer, Jim Cole, a former university librarian, something more than a list emerged.  Family histories evolve mainly from the LDS faith.  It’s very important to know who your ancestors were and keep track of them and their stories in published (at personal expense) books of individual family histories.  Most Mormon families do this.  Copies of these books have been donated to the museum.  When did the pioneer ancestors come to Utah?  Who did so-and-so marry?  How many wives?  Who died and when?  Family stories written down in detail so they’re not lost.  This is all important as families are forever and will be reunited in heaven.  Hopefully, you like your family….  Anyway, here is the article as it appeared recently and I must say, it was fun to get back to my research roots to write this piece.

Local Family and Utah History in the Syracuse Museum Holdings

By now most readers of this column know the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center is a repository of wonderful artifacts that celebrate and underscore local history.  Treasures–large and small–have been donated by people who don’t want the history of life in our town to fade from memory.  But by no means do the household items, clothing, and farm machinery tell the whole story, nor does the two-headed calf or the first fire truck.  Like many other town museums, the Syracuse Museum has shelves of family histories, oral interviews on CD, and the Rentmeister Library Room which holds a large collection of unusual volumes: Utah and Mormon history,  Native American and Western States history, plus collections of sets of books, many out-of-print.  And all available for research by the public.

Many Syracuse families who have researched and published their own family histories have generously supplied a copy for our shelves.  Quite a few of the names are familiar and were among the first settlers in the Syracuse area: Cook, Rentmeister, Bodily, Thurgood, Criddle.  Thanks to Don and Genene Rentmeister, who supported the idea of a town museum when the idea was in its infancy and went on to donate many of its holdings, the museum has over 30 audio-visual CD recordings of “old-timers,” most of whom have passed on, sharing their memories of the “good old days.”  It’s fascinating to watch and listen to these recordings and “meet” actual folks who grew up farming the land of Syracuse.  Without the dedicated work and time of the Rentmeisters, this history would all have been lost to future generations.

Among the many generous donations of the Rentmeisters, the library room at the far end of the farm building is a hidden gem.  Here a cozy “living room” has been created to house the bookcases that hold the Rentmeister Collection.  One of our dedicated volunteers, Jim Cole, is about two-thirds of his way through cataloging the Rentmeister Collection.  Cole, a retired university librarian who has worked at the University of Iowa, Montana State University, and Iowa State University, among others, brings his considerable talents and background to bear while creating order within the stacks.  When done, his cataloging efforts will allow searches for holdings in the book collection by title, author, and keyword.  Although not available via the Internet, the catalogue list will be available digitally on a museum computer and hard copy.

When I spoke with him, Cole was eager to point out the variety and scope of the Rentmeister books, some unusual, and all available for research; students and interested readers won’t likely find these in the county library holdings!  To give you an idea as to what is available for public use within the museum (we are not set up as a lending library) here are some of the selections:

  • Messages and Papers of the Presidents (XI Vols., 1911)
  • History of Utah and History of Utah Since Statehood
  • Our Pioneer Heritage (XIX Vols., DUP, 1958-1976)

There is also a set of old engineering books–probably cutting edge for its time–that are rare and would be found in a special collections area in any large library; county and town histories; many volumes on LDS history and personages, including five volumes on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Many of these books are now out of print.

Utah history books shelved in the Rentmeister library room.

Utah history books shelved in the Rentmeister library room.

According to Cole, one of the most interesting books is Rocky Mountain Empire: The Latter-Day Saints Today by Samuel W. Taylor, grandson of John Taylor, militant Mormon and Third Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Samuel W. Taylor also wrote a biography of his grandfather entitled The Kingdom or Nothing.  Oddly enough, Taylor also authored three books that went on to become Disney movies: Flubber, Son of Flubber, and The Absent-Minded Professor.  Talk about wide interests!

So keep this in mind, especially if you’re a student researching information for a history paper and you’d like to delve into some unusual sources.  The Syracuse Museum is not just for visiting and enjoying the artifacts on display, we have copious amounts of printed and audio information ready to be used.  (I then ended with the usual museum information.)

Next week I hope to focus on the return of spring!!!

Published in: on March 12, 2013 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Indelicate Unmentionable

Well, we’re all pretty much over our colds and the Whooping Cough and life is returning to normal.  Ethan is back to school and karate lessons have started again and I must admit, the familiar routine feels comfortable.  The snow is melting and we can see out backyard again, plus about 100 pounds of dog donations courtesy of Charlie, accumulated since just before Christmas.  Don’t fret, it’s already been scooped up.

As an inside joke, I kept the “honey dipping” theme going with the next history article for the Islander (this week’s issue).  I figured since the previous article was on my honey pot collection, a topic I’ve been planning to approach worked in well.  And I was also inspired by a forwarded e-mail sent to me by a friend back in Pennsylvania I used to work with–so, kudos to Beth.   So here it is for your edification and reading pleasure.

Indelicate Unmentionable

I suppose this history column had to get around to the subject sometime.  In fact, it’s a subject that a little over a century ago, during the Victorian Era, was still an unmentionable topic. Even a famous company that made it, didn’t want its name associated with the product. So it was custom-wrapped for individual retailers under other labels and names.

Did you guess it yet?  Yep. that’s right: toilet tissue.

Did you ever wonder what people did when Nature called, and the Sears Roebuck Catalogue hadn’t been printed yet?  Well, they were inventive.  And of course, it depended on your status in life, how comfortable your “inventions” were.

Most of us are aware of the presence of the proverbial Sears Roebuck Catalogue or the Farmers’ Almanac (the previous year’s edition, of course) hanging in a family’s outhouse.  It served a dual purpose: reading material and sanitary assistance in the days before toilet paper rolls (if they were even available west of the Mississippi).  But do you know the real, documented history of that creature comfort item so necessary we stockpile it with our dehydrated foodstuffs, water, and batteries in case of an emergency?

Ye old privy

Ye old privy

A choice of options: corncobs or the Sears Roebuck Catalogue

A choice of options: corncobs or the Sears Roebuck Catalogue

Leave it to the Chinese!  Even though paper had been known as a useful wrapping and padding material around the 2nd century BCE, the first documented use of toilet paper in human history dates back to the 6th century AD when in 589 AD the scholar-official Yan Zhitui (531–591) wrote about the use of toilet paper: “Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.”  Clearly, he was being respectful of the words of great minds.  During the later Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), an Arab traveller to China in the year 851 AD remarked: “…they [the Chinese] do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities; but they only wipe themselves with paper.”

Later on in 14th century China millions of sheets of paper were made specifically for toilet purposes.  Of course, these were for Imperial Court use and apparently they were single sheets of 2 x 3 feet in size–enormous by today’s standards!  At least they were perfumed with rose-water!

And while at least the Chinese Imperial Court had soft sheets of toilet paper, what was the rest of the world using?  The techniques, born of desperation, aren’t very appealing, though I guess they get the job done.

In Ancient Rome, a sponge on a stick was commonly used, and, after usage, placed back in a bucket of saltwater. Several Talmudic sources indicate the ancient Jewish practice of using small pebbles, often carried in a special bag, and also the use of dry grass and of the smooth edges of broken pottery jugs.  Elsewhere, wealthy people cleansed themselves with wool, lace (If I had spent time tatting lace, I’d be a bit upset!), or hemp, while less wealthy people used their hand when relieving themselves into rivers or lakes, or cleaned themselves with various materials such as rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone, sand, moss, water, snow, maize, ferns, may-apple plant husks, fruit skins, seashells, or corn cobs, depending upon the country and weather conditions or social customs.

In the Middle Ages, some “privies” had a scraper stick left in a container for your personal cleanliness. The rough, tough Vikings were known to use lambs’ wool, while Eskimos used moss or a handful of snow, and the when European explorers landed in the Pacific Islands, they discovered the native population used the coconut’s hard, hairy shell.

Things stayed pretty much unchanged until 1857 when in the United States an inventor named Joseph Gayetty from New York City introduced his Medicated Paper, sold in flat sheets, 500 for 50 cents.  Early advertisements promoted his product as: “The greatest necessity of the age! Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water-closet.”  Seth Wheeler from Albany, NY took the concept a step further in 1883 and obtained a patent for rolls and dispensers.  But that didn’t guarantee toilet paper came west with the pioneers; they probably reverted to earlier methods of “whatever was at hand.”

The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center has an original outhouse on display near the Wilcox Cabin, replete with old corncobs and a Sears Roebuck Catalogue.  Now that March is here, and, hopefully, warmer days, plan on stopping by to check out the “loo” and the other interesting artifacts on display.  The museum is open Tues.-Thurs. from 2-5 pm and by appointment by calling 801-825-3633 and is located on 1700 South (Antelope Dr.) just before 2000 West in Syracuse.

Published in: on March 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment