Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Memories: a Double Context

Memories: a Double Context

                My Grandpa and Grandma Albert and Armina Borer had an attic that gripped my imagination.  They died in 1978 and 1982, but much of the miscellany that was stored in their attic devolved on me.  As the amateur historian in the family, bits and pieces of the attic’s contents were given to me.  Now that I am in my 50s and, knowing that these papers will never have the emotional grip that they do for me, even for my blood survivors, I am slowly passing them on to the Center for Archival Collections at Bowling Green State University.

                Going through the papers, some of which I had not looked at in 30+ years, brought back some memories that I thought were worth preserving.  The material will be physically protected, but how to preserve the context of the material?  When I hold a photograph or a letter, it not only lets me know what a long-dead ancestor did or saw, but the memory of me finding it.  The recall of a memory has a much broader context.  If I look over my grandfather’s crop reports for 1937, it brings back not only his interaction with the U. S. Department of Agriculture, but my memories of sitting in my grandmother’s attic.  Smelling of cedar planking, the sound of filtered laughter of aunts and uncles and the slap of pinochle cards, and the feel of my father’s childhood cowboy outfit, memories have a double context.

                That double context is a will-o-the-wisp.  When the memory is gone, through death, senility, or the simple passage of time, the double context is gone, and reverts to a single context.  That is both unfortunate and inevitable.  But it explains to historians, and anyone else who cares to think about it, why people hang on to stuff that has no value to anyone, except for that double context:  the memory, and what brings back the memory.

                So, archivists and librarians, when you show off your collections, be friendly, patient, and helpful.  Make sure your reading rooms are pleasant, and offer copies.  I know most of you do that, but it doesn’t hurt to remember, you are creating a new double context:  the information, and their memory of how they were shown it.  Make sure that memory is a good one.

Boniface Saner, the Trickster

                The dark tintype, according to my grandmother, is of a man named Boniface Saner.  I have no idea who he was or how the family came to know him.  Apparently he was a friend of my grandfather’s maternal grandfather, Emil Borer.  

                Emil, who came to America from Switzerland after the Civil War, could not yet speak English.  Saner, who could speak German and English, was approached by Emil, who asked him what to say to an American girl if he was interested in making small talk.  Saner replied that the proper English phraseology was to say “Kiss my a**.”  The hundred-thirty-year old anecdote ends by saying Emil Borer spent a night in jail after trying Saner’s suggestion.

                To my surprise, Boniface Saner is relatively easy to track down.  Saner (1848-1922) was a resident of Fremont, Ohio, and was listed as a “retired mason” on his death certificate.  He married Apolonia, a girl from Poland, and they had at least five children, all boys.  He is buried in St. Joseph Cemetery in Fremont.

                I always remembered my grandmother’s retelling of this anecdote, although now I can add some context.  Saner and Emil Borer both lived in Fremont.  They were both from Switzerland, and both were workingmen.  Although I do not know for sure, I can see them, after mass one Sunday, or perhaps in their cups in a saloon, one tricking the other.  A long road for a memory to go, but that’s the story.

A Pony named Sparkle

                The picture was taken in New Riegel.  On the back for the picture, my grandfather had written:  “about 1924.  The old Band Stand in background.”  The Pony’s name, Sparkle, was included, along with the names of his riders, Erma and Al (Alfred) Huss.  Erma and Al were children of the owner of a village general store, Charles Huss.  Uncle Charlie Huss was in turn married to my grandmother’s older sister, Laura Elchert Huss.  My father remembered that Charlie Huss taught him to play pinochle, gasping and tut-tutting as Dad made mistakes or played poorly.

               But the context of this picture, one of them, is not so much about family memories, as about sound, or the lack of it.  Today we live in a crowded, noisy world.  In 1924, any sound would have been somehow out of place.  The occasional locomotive and church bells aside, this was a world so quiet that the nickering of a pony of a pony and the (empty) bandstand might have been the only sound noticeable.

                Like the context of a memory, the lack of sound amplifies sound.  In a small place almost a hundred years ago, even the ring of a blacksmith’s hammer or the sound of the door to Charlie Huss’s general store opening could become large and full of meaning.  Now with so much noise-clutter, insignificant sounds remain insignificant.

                Although I have not been in my grandparents house in New Riegel in over thirty years, I can still hear the squeak of the hinge on their back door.  In a day before personal electronics kept kids in, their back door opened and closed relentlessly when we visited and dashed from outside play to our coloring books.  That sound and sounds like them, such as the tinny slam of the hog feeder down the road, can still be heard in my memory.  When I am gone, they will go with me.  One more sound, that of the wreck of a crank telephone that once hung in Grandpa’s garage, I can still hear. I rarely do, but if cranked, the bell rings  It takes up too much room in my den, but I cannot quite let go of that old thing.  The sound it makes is part of my context.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Crawford County Farmer Was Great-Grandson of President

Crawford County Farmer Was Great-Grandson of President                by Alan Borer

            Being the son or grandson of a president of the United States can be a double-edged sword.  In our time, we have seen the son of a president take the White House for his own.  But being a presidential relative is no guarantee of success in politics, business, or anything else.  It depends of course on how you define success.  A modest descendant of a president may have a very satisfying life.

            Our second President, John Adams (1735-1826), had an impressive resume:  Lawyer, diplomat, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President, President, and inveterate correspondent.   He had five children.  Among his descendants are presidents, legislators, diplomats, and in one case, a farmer in northwest Ohio.  This is part of his story.

            Eli Adams (1803-1888) was born in Massachusetts near Boston, but grew up in Cayuga County, New York.  In 1814, his father Ephraim Adams relocated the family to Ohio, settling first on the Huron River near Sandusky, then in Seneca County.  When his father died in 1820, Eli worked for wages on local farms.  He revisited family in New York, the returned to Ohio and settled in Crawford County’s Texas Township, buying an 80 acre farm.  Texas Township is just east of the Seneca County line.

            Adams married a local girl, Mary Andrews, in 1827.  They built a log cabin, and, like many pioneers, had to scrounge for their living, hunting squirrels and getting milk from the cow each brought to the marriage.  One day, two Indians surprised Eli while he was hoeing his corn patch.  The Indians got very close before Eli saw them and, startled, he ran for cover, which “seriously amused” the Indians.

Eli and Mary had eight children.  Mrs. Adams died in 1875; by then the couple had retired to Bloomville in Seneca County.  Eli died in 1888, living his last years in the hamlet of Sulphur Springs with his son, S. E.  When his funeral procession wound its way back toward Bloomville and passed Bucyrus, the local newspapers covered the story.

A few lines of writing by Eli Adams survive in a letter he wrote regarding, of all things, sheep.  In 1851, Adams wrote to a neighbor on whose sheep he was checking:

I have seen your sheep this morning & salted them   your sheep is doing very well all but the lambs . . . I have had the second trip to see your Sheep to day     Mr Tucker some of your lambs look bad   they must have good care or they won’t live   …--  I have been looking Around to day for pasture and find non[e]

We are not sure of Eli Adams’s relationship with the owner of the sheep.  There was only one man named Tucker in the Census of 1840 in Crawford County, an Ephraim Hubbard Tucker.  He lived in the neighboring village of Sycamore, within shouting distance of Texas Township.  If Ephraim Tucker was owner of a flock of sheep, he may have asked Eli Adams to check on them, or possibly hired him to do so.

That brief letter, and a few obituaries announcing his relationship with John Adams, are about all the paper trail Eli Adams left behind.  He is buried in Bloomville’s Woodlawn Cemetery, far from the grave of his presidential ancestor.   John Adams helped found the nation.  Eli Adams knew how to look after sheep.  Eli Adams was 23 years old when John died in 1826.  I don’t know if they ever met.  Would they have had much to talk about?  Probably.  John Adams had “the heart of a farmer,” made his own compost, and retired to a farm called “Peacefield,” where he carefully directed the crops and plantings.  Irascible as he often was, John and Eli Adams had some things in common.

[Beside the letter, quotations also came from History of Crawford County and Ohio (Chicago, 1881, and Corliss Knapp Engle, “John Adams, Farmer and Gardener,” Arnoldia  61,  pp. 9-14.)

New Riegel Town Marshal Had a Flair for Drama

New Riegel Town Marshal Had a Flair for Drama                               by Alan Borer 

[The New Riegel Moose Hall as it appears today.  Not much has changed, at least on the outside.]

 Photo by Lloyd Borer, 2015.

      Almost every small town in Ohio had a “town marshal” a century ago.  They had many of the same duties and responsibilities as a chief of police does today.  In villages, the town marshal was the entire police force rolled into one person.  That person was not necessarily trained in law enforcement.  They were often political appointments, or were named marshal by their toughness, bravado, or willingness to accept an occasionally risky job.

William Henry "Harry" Kauffman (1886-1951) was the town marshal in New Riegel in Seneca County in the 1930s.  New Riegel, a farm hamlet of about 300, was never a hotbed of criminal activity.  Yet there was an occasional need for a marshal, and Kauffman fit the bill.  The village blacksmith for many years, Harry was an imposing physical specimen, with many years of shoeing farm horses as exercise.  Everyone in a small town knew what everyone else did all day, and that made for good stories.  Here are a few:

Much of what passed for entertainment at this time was held at the New Riegel Moose Hall.  The Moose lodge clubbers had a dance hall above and a saloon below.  In 1934, one of the offerings of the Moose was “Montana Meechee and his Cowboy Band.”   Wearing cowboy hats and real spurs, on a stage ornamented with saddles and lassos, the band played an early form of country and western.  Fiddles, guitars, piano, bass, and drums, their concert was well received, with an audience so large there was no room for dancing.

Marshal Kauffman, who occasionally played guitar, asked “Montana” if he could join the band for a few sets.  Meechee, who didn’t want the marshal digging into his past, agreed.  Harry rushed home, and returned with a white shirt and a black suit.  His playing was received with great applause.  Whether that was because of his playing or because he was a local boy is not recorded.

In 1935, Kauffman directed a play, a melodrama about a jilted sweetheart.  Nick Borer was the MC; Harry did not act in the play but was the producer/director.  The play as performed under Harry’s leadership was perhaps more towards the comical than dramatic.  Most memorable however was Harry playing two pianos at the same time.  Locals differ on whether it was two hands or hands and feet, but it was quite a show.

1936 brought “Chief Gray Eagle” and his medicine show to New Riegel.  Gray Eagle, a Cherokee, traveled with his wife and daughter, who tap-danced between sales pitches.  The Chief, dressed in a business suit, sold a line of products called Mo-Tee-Na, which included cough medicine, salve, tooth powder, and the like. 

One night, the chief was doing a good business when Ross, one of the section hands on the railroad, came to the Moose Hall.  Half-drunk, Ross started yelling at the Chief.  “You’re nothing but a fake.”  Gray Eagle politely asked him to calm down, but Ross continued to holler.  The Chief asked Marshal Harry to intervene.  Harry told Ross to go home, but he refused.  Harry lunged at Ross, who ducked.  Harry roared, “OK, you are going to jail.”  The fists flew between two of New Riegel’s strongest men.  Gray Eagle got the audience to turn around so he could continue his spiel, but the fight went on.  The Marshal eventually dragged Ross to New Riegel’s one cell jail.  Ross was released the next day.  No trial or judge; Ross’s pounding head the next morning was punishment enough.

Harry Kauffman worked in art iron later in life.  He could sometimes be seen in shabby work clothes singing, “I’m in the mood for love” at the top of his lungs as he walked down the street.  Kauffman knew that he was a character in a village full of watchful eyes.  Whether singing, acting, or fighting such crime as there was, Harry was part of the village scene, and enjoyed his role in life.

[I wish to thank Ray Schindler for sharing his memories with me.]

Friday, April 24, 2015

Frank Anderegg Butchers a Calf, 1907

Although this is only an educated guess, I would say that 40% of the old letters I read are strictly business-related, 40% are family correspondence, and the rest are love letters.  Few reach the poetic level of Robert Browning; more are shy queries, gentle pleadings, and separated couples.  And speaking of percentages, 90% of the love letters seem to be from men to women.  It goes on even today, as so many courtships take place by email.  It is a shame for the historian that much of this wooing-by-correspondence will be lost, or buried in unreachable data files.   The jilted or rejected may be just as glad.

            It is hard to track down broken romances after a century.  Take the example of Frank J. Anderegg.  Anderegg  (1882-1957) was born in the Wood County hamlet of Dowling.  Son of Jacob and Anna Maria, he was of German-Swiss extraction.  He was born in Perrysburg township, married Eliza Voland, a German-speaking girl, and raised two daughters.  Anderegg was a farmer in later years.  Frank and his wife are buried in the New Bellville Ridge cemetery in Dowling, which may have been her hometown.

            In a letter dated March 16, 1907, he wrote to a (potential?) girlfriend who also lived in Dowling.  The letter was sent from Lime City, another northern Wood County hamlet.  After some not-very-aggressive lines proclaiming his devotion to the lady, Frank wrote some unsentimental words about his work:
I would have had a fine time coming home in the mud and dark.  Well I hope that I will not be disturbed any more writing this letter, for Butcher Reitzle came and I had to help him kill the calf.  But on account of that, [I] hope it will not clear the love in this letter….
Even a century later, I’m tempted to shout: “Don’t do it, Frank.  Don’t mix butchering and pitching woo in the same letter.”  But I’m way too late.  The only Reitzel identified specifically as a butcher in Perrysburg Township is Chester Reitzel (1895-1974), listed in a 1916 Farm Journal Directory of Wood County, Ohio.  Chester was only 11 or 12 in 1907; perhaps his father Lewis Reitzel  (1855-1938) was the butcher.  Almost every farmer in those days could butcher, so the identification is by no means certain.

Frank’s 1907 love letter was decorated with “copperplate” calligraphy.  Copperplate was a style of handwriting popular in the late nineteenth century and know for its odd slant, frills, curlicues, and use of animals and birds as decorations.  Use of copperplate was considered the sign of a well educated person.  An contemporary accounting book called The Farmers’ Manual and Complete Accountant, distributed by The American Stock Food Co. in nearby Fremont, gave as its very first lesson to its rural readership instructions on copperplate.   Frank Anderegg may or may not have seen this book, but whatever the source, Frank knew about copperplate – or at least knew that it was the sign of a cultured man.

There are few clues to identify Frank Anderegg’s sweetheart beyond her name on the envelope.  Heidtman is a name still found in the Perrysburg area.  But time heals all wounds, and I hope that, as fervent as Frank Anderegg’s love was in 1907, he found happiness with Eliza, and that Francis was happy too.