Monday, January 26, 2015

“Christmas Day:” Forgotten Hanby Christmas Essay Shows Mixed Feelings for Holiday

“Christmas Day:”  Forgotten Hanby Christmas Essay Shows Mixed Feelings for Holiday  


"Christmas Day!  

            Blessed day!  Glorious Day!  The birthday of our dear Savior!  How we ought to celebrate it with every possible demonstration of joy!  Yes!  Celebrate it !  Celebrate it; no matter how!  Any way! – Every way!
            Set the bells a ringing!  Beat the drums!  Light the bonfires!  Pop the roman candles at the ladies, as they pass along the sideway!  Let the fire-wheels fizzle!  Send up the sky-rockets!  Let the boys – the big ones – go to a pigeon-hunting; and the little ones throw firecrackers at their sisters!  Tell the rowdies to whoop and halloo till the earth trembles!

                        ‘This is the day that Christ was born.’

            Let every Irishman say his mass, and have a fight!  Let every emigrant from Faderland imbibe a double portion of lager beer!  Let the merchant doze over his newspaper, and the merchant pack up his kit, and betake himself to the club room!
            Let the boss go a sleigh-riding and the apprentices lounge on the work bench and read ‘The Black Pirate!’
      Glorious day!  Grand occasion!  Go to the theatre, for the bills announce an ‘entertainment extraordinary, prepared especially for the occasion!’  Let the drinking houses, the gaming halls, the billiard saloons be crowded to overflowing!  Let the gilded chandeliers throw a mellow light upon the jeweled hand and floating tresses of the ball-room!
The church, too, should not be recreant at such a time!  No!  Let Zion arise and bestir herself!  Let the minister’s house be turned into bedlam, and style the operation with sanctifying title of a donation party!
     Set a Grand Fair on foot!  Get up a mock post-office, some grab boxes, and as many other swindling machines as can possibly be invented, and let the ladies and gentlemen indulge in molasses candy, coffee, compliments, and small talk, til way up in the small hours of the night!  So said, or at least, so acted our people last Christmas Day.
     Glorious Christmas Day!  Equal, if not superior to the Fourth of July, Valentine’s Day, or ‘Hollow Eve!’
                                                          B. R. Hanby”

This short essay, by Westerville’s favorite songwriter Benjamin Hanby, is a recent find.   I do not claim that this is an “unknown” work, but it is at least poorly known.  None of the Hanby scholarship I examined makes reference to it; it is not mentioned in Choose You This Day by Dacia Custer Shoemaker, nor did a quick skim of Judge Earl Hoover’s correspondence turn up any mention of it.  Unknown?   Perhaps not, but a rare gem it appears to be.

 The essay appeared in the Religious Telescope on January 2, 1856.  Before World War 2, the Telescope was the official periodical of the United Brethren Church.  In 1856, Benjamin Hanby was a student at Otterbein University.  It is impossible to say what inspired Hanby to write about Christmas, possibly after the fall term ended on.  Yet its very existence confirms that Christmas was important to Hanby, and was a frequent inspiration in his writings.

 Hanby is probably best known today for his Christmas song, “Up on the Housetop,” a later Christmas creation from 1864.  Although I am not a textual expert, the song and the essay have some things in common. While one is verse and one is prose, both celebrate the Christmas theme in a decidedly secular way.  Hanby, who would become an ordained minister and was no doubt deeply religious, saved his theological musings on Christmas for the carol, “Who Is He In Yonder Stall?” (1866).   Like “Up on the Housetop,” Hanby’s “Christmas Day” is fulsome in praise of conviviality, holiday cheer, and even rowdyism!  Shooting firecrackers at ladies?   Urge beer drinking and pool playing and dancing?  If you think of Ben Hanby as a shy, retiring, bishop’s son, a “pale young curate,” his college student self had other ideas.  One wonders if he put any of his suggestions to use. 

Or was he treating readers to a devout man’s ironic tut-tutting of pagan celebrations?  Read carefully, there is a note of satire in all the exclamation points.  Would a true believer (like Hanby), celebrate drinking houses, gaming houses, and billiard saloons in abstemious, teetotaling Westerville?

There are more clues that Benjamin Hanby was fascinated by Christmas, both basking in Christmas cheer but also casting a wary eye on the secular American celebrations..  There are other nearly forgotten yuletide compositions from his pen. His 1866 collection Chapel Gems included “The Shepherds of Bethlehem,” and “Down from the Skies,” both straightforward church songs for the season.  Compare these with his song, “Christmas Tree,” which borders on the pagan in lines such as:  “The forest king is grandly crown’d. To grace our festal day.”  One might conclude that Hanby understood that Christmas was more than a religious holiday.

The rediscovered essay mentions other holidays, notably his awkwardly spelled reference to “Hollow Eve.”  At a time when Halloween was barely known outside the Irish-American community, his mention of  the holiday is remarkable.  The Oxford English Dictionary which provides early, if not the absolute first, usage of words, is a bit vague with Halloween.  “All Hallow’s Eve,” the original contraction, is dated to the sixteenth century, but the modern form “Halloween” is dated  to 1773 by the OED.  Hanby’s usage dropped, the “All,” kept the “Eve,” and shows the word to be in flux in the early part of the nineteenth century.  If Hanby, a small-town Ohio college student, was familiar with the word, it was probably trickling into common usage.  But Hanby was a scholar of religion, too, and who knows in what obscure text he might have come across this form of the word.  It is also not inconceivable that this form was original to him. 

 “Hollow Eve” aside, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that Hanby was fascinated by holidays, particularly Christmas, even the earthy side of the celebration.  The newly found essay of 1856 and the world-renowned song of 1864 keep company with “Who is He in Yonder Stall?’ and the other hymns he wrote.  Sacred and secular, they show a man with mixed feelings about the holiday that brings such warm memories to all people who have connections to Westerville.

[Sources for this essay include the microfilm edition of the Religious Telescope, the 1901 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, and Otterbein University’s vertical file on Benjamin R. Hanby.  The website was very useful as well.]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Taking Coffee with Mrs. Cleveland

Taking Coffee with Mrs. Cleveland                                                   by Alan Borer

Presidential trivia buffs will probably not hesitate over the question of who was the first, and so far only, president married in the White House.  The answer is the lady shown on the trade card above, On June 2, 1886, Frances Folsom, age 21, married the rotund, bachelor president Grover Cleveland, who was 49 at the time.  Despite the differences in their age, the Clevelands had a happy marriage.  Frances Cleveland enjoyed her role as First Lady during the second half of her husband’s first term and the entirety of his (nonconsecutive) second term.  Mrs. Cleveland had six children.

The marriage of the president causer a media frenzy in the days when such a thing was just becoming possible.  Color printing, telegraph used to spread news (and gossip), and newspaper photography made of the attractive young first lady an international media celebrity.  Pipes, candy, sheet music,, and pamphlets were printed bearing her image.  Her hairstyle was imitated and young girls copied her daring, uncovered shoulders.

What was a “trade card?” 

Long before commercials and pop-up Internet annoyances, advertisers spread the word on their products via small cardboard  pictures packed with their product.  Now as then, a pretty face sells:
“More commercial but not entirely exploitive were the “trade cards” of the era; these were small cards that all ranges of business and stores used to advertise their goods, and which usually carried some pleasant scenic image and the name and address of the store below it. In this form, Frances Cleveland’s face appeared on calendars, ashtrays, and greeting cards for small businesses. These items were given away for free to customers as a form of advertising.”

The card illustrated here was distributed by Toledo’s Woolson Spice Company to advertise one of their principal brands, Lion Coffee.   The Woolson Spice Company was created by one Alvin Woolson (1841-1925).  Woolson, a Civil War veteran who served as an artillery sergeant, arrived in Toledo in 1875.  A hard worker, he set out to stake his claim in the wholesale grocery business.  He founded the spice company in 1882, taking over  the assets (and recipes) of the older Warren and Bidwell Co. on Huron Street.

Lion Coffee became a success partly because of its advertising.    “The Woolson Spice Co. was credited, during this period, with spending unheard of sums in the promotion of Lion brand coffee in new market areas in the East. The eastern newspaper display ads alone exceeded anything ever attempted in the way of advertising. It was the first mass campaign to persuade the public to a particular product brand. And those sums unheard went to  “ [t]rading cards accompanied packages and toys could be sent for. There was something for everyone in the way of a Lion brand premium from bicycles and jackknifes to lace curtains.”

Woolson Spice survived into the twentieth century, but by 1905, a hostile takeover effort brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy.  Alvin Woolson himself lived on as a Toledo benefactor, with interest in several banks, the Toledo Country Club, the Art Museum, and the Newsboys.  Lion Coffee also survived, or perhaps reincarnated.   The Hawaii Coffee Company in Honolulu now owns the trademark and recipes of Lion Coffee, and still sells and markets Lion Coffee worldwide  [].

We started at a wedding in the White House, moved to a Toledo advertising genius, and ended in a Hawaii coffee factory.  Some trips are stranger than others!

[In addition to the trade card itself, these websites were consulted:]

Ohio to South Dakota: Warren Garton Moves West

Ohio to South Dakota: Warren Garton Moves West                      

(The Commercial Hotel, Plankinton, South Dakota, as Warren Garton would have seen it.]

            Christmas weather is often very cold, although “cold” is a relative term.  My brother, who lives in San Diego, often suffers through Christmas temperatures right around 60 degrees F.  I have a good friend in Fairbanks, Alaska, where Christmas often does not get above zero F.  Relative cold, indeed.

December temperatures in Ohio are good or bad, depending on the year.  One Ohio farmer named Warren B. Garton, who moved to Plankinton, South Dakota, was likely drawn there by free or cheap land.  But he found the climate in his new home frigid, dry, and dusty.   A string of mild winters came to an end right about when they arrived, and then winter showed its true face.

Like many emigrants, Warren B. Garton was a habitual letter-writer, and his story of cold weather is documented in his letters his brother Elmer in Wyandot County, Ohio.  Born in Ohio in 1834, Garton served in the Civil War from 1863 to 1865 as a sergeant in the 12th Ohio Cavalry.  He married a girl named Salene  Johnson, and they had several children, including Waldo, Perry and Ormond.  Until the 1880s, he lived in Crawford County’s Tod Township, not far from Bucyrus.

We do not know exactly why this Ohio farmer picked up stakes and moved to the wilds of Dakota Territory.  On May 9, 1887, he applied for a veteran’s invalid pension, and that may have inspired, or financed, a change of scene.  In 1889, Garton began sending chatty letters home.  On May 23 of that year, he wrote:
We went fishing . . . we had lots of fun and caught lots of fish . . . Pickral [sic], Sunfish, Bass . . . Mr. Duram caught a young wolf the other day.  I think I will go down and see it this afternoon if nothing further happens.
But even at that early date, the weather was showing itself to be a bit problematic:

The weather is very dry this spring; we need rain very badly….

One steady source of both food and income was the white-tailed jackrabbit, which flourished on the dry prairies.  On May 14, 1891, Warren sounded suspicious of both rabbits and gophers:

Waldo has Just Came in   has caught a Young Jack Rabbit   they are Very Pretty But mischevious as Blazes for they cut our trees Down in the Winter and I Wish sometimes they were [on] the other side of the Attlantic   Yes and the gophers Could Be spared all the same…

By January 11, 1892, he had declared war:

            Perry does the work at home  - that is when he is not out Killing Jack Rabbits  there is plenty of….
In December, he elaborated:
            They have killed a good many [jackrabbits]; most all that are caught here are shipped to Chicago….

Jackrabbits aside, the combination of cold weather and drought was making farming nearly impossible.  On December 21, 1892, after complaining about President Grover Cleveland, he wrote:

            I suppose if Our Cropps [sic] would have turned out good we would have had a far different Tail to tell now  -  But as it has Ben the farmers has had nothing But a sorry time of it. . . .
He added:

            Been so dry the Past 3 seasons our wells have all dried up . . . I cant stand the cold like I used to. . . . Don’t expect ever to go back to Ohio again to live.  If I go at all it will be further west or away down south where it has a Warm Christmas.

            Warren’s son Ormond picked up the refrain on February 19, 1895:

Well I hope we can sell out this year and leave this country of wind and blizzard and hot wind. . . .

            Ormond  Garton got his wish.  By the time his father died, Ormond was living in Russellville, Arkansas.  Warren Garton, however, lived on in South Dakota.  The United States Census of 1910 showed him to be a 76-year-old widower, living with his daughter and son-in-law.   He died on February 7, 1914, still in Plankinton, perhaps never seeing another warm Christmas.

            Ohio gets roughly 38 inches of rainfall yearly.  South Dakota gets around 20 inches, with both states getting some regional and yearly variation.  Warren Garton, like many pioneers who moved west, probably did not understand how much drier and colder the Dakotas were than his birthplace.  Some geologists claimed that rain would follow if fields were plowed – the so called “dry farming” movement.  But the dry farming of the 1890s never amounted to anything but misery for would-be farmers.  Warren Garton would have agreed.