My Mom

Midterm week, the busiest week of the semester, calls for some preservation fun (on the blog anyway). Today I have some family photographs of my mom. The first one was taken in August 1957.  Mom, could you get any cuter?

And here is my mom at about 7 years old. She and my sister Sarah are practically twins at this age. Again, adorable.

For a wonderful post on family photographs check out Sabra’s My Own Time Machine.


Road Trip Report 14

Brief notes on the trip, state by state, with sights, places, and photographs.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Every route takes longer than planned on a road trip, at least in our experience. On our across-Wisconsin day we were a bit behind schedule, but we were trying very hard to get to Milwaukee, WI at a reasonable hour (i.e. daylight, not dusk) on this Sunday afternoon. Always on some form of schedule, we knew that it would be our only chance to visit Milwaukee. So we hopped on the interstate (knowingly violating our rule and found ourselves in Milwaukee in the late evening. Luckily, the day was still golden and sunny.

My grandmother grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has always spoke of it fondly. I have seen pictures of her house and the views of Lake Michigan. While my grandmother loves being a New Yorker, she holds Milwaukee as one of the best places in the world.  I love looking at photographs of her family house, so I thought that finally being in Wisconsin offered a great chance to see the house for myself. I knew the address and how to get there. My plan was to knock on the front door and politely say my grandmother grew up here, would you mind if I took some pictures of the front of the house and looked in the backyard for the view?

The woman who answered the door obliged, but didn’t say much else. I figured that would be the end of it – I’d take a few pictures and leave. As I snapped a few photographs of the front yard, a man walked out from the backyard. We said hello. Charles was very friendly and cordial and asked who my grandmother was. When I told him her maiden name, he said he knew the family! This man, a stranger to me and most of my family, knows some of my grandmother’s family! He invited Vinny and me into the backyard to take some photographs while he went inside to get something. As fate would have it, Charles’ grandfather was the husband of my great-aunt Mary (my grandmother’s sister). Mary died when she was young, so then her widower remarried. Charles is the grandson of Mary’s widower. Charles bought it only a few years ago. Thus, we’re distantly related. But, still related! I’m not sure of the exact chain-of-title for the house, but it was obviously kept in the family.

Aside from this surprise, the box of photographs and scrapbooks astounded me.  He had photographs that I have, ones that I’ve seen, many that I haven’t seen. Mary was the scrapbooker in the family and kept everything. When she died, her husband saved it all and passed it along. We looked through the photographs and I identified pictures of my grandmother, my father, my uncle, my great-grandmother. Charles shared stories of my great-aunt that I never knew. It was amazing. Charles didn’t know many people in the photographs, but said that he couldn’t get rid of any of them because someone knows who they are.  It is now one of my favorite quotes.

The house looks just as it did in photographs from about 50 years ago. Charles said he had fixed a few things and added a fresh coat of paint, but most of his work went to the beautiful deck and the outdoor living room next to it. Once the room is complete he wants to hang historic pictures of the house and of those who lived there.

I never expected such a meeting at my grandmother’s childhood home. It was surreal to meet a complete stranger who has a distant relation and so many photographs that I have. I’m so glad to have met the person who loves the house like a true family member. It is one of my favorite stories.

My grandmother's childhood home in Milwaukee, WI.

My grandmother’s childhood home in Milwaukee, WI.

The modern view from the backyard. The grass is above an underground water storage tank. It used to that Lake Michigan came all the way to the cliff behind her house.

The modern view of Lake Michigan. The grass covers an underground water storage tank. It used to that Lake Michigan came all the way to the cliff behind her house.

Nazareth Foundry

Nazareth Foundry & Machine Co.

Nazareth Foundry & Machine Co.

Historic documents are always entertaining, but moreso if they relate to your own family. The advertisment above and the photograph below lie in the O’Shea family documents amongst many other pictures (some subjects identified, some not) and documents and graduation programs, etc.   I love these two documents in particular, but I know very little about the Nazareth Foundry & Machine Co., which is connected to my family history.  I believe “Ed” who signed the photograph is my paternal great-grandfather.

If you have heard of it or know of Nazareth, PA, please let me know. Or if you have any advice for researching it, send it along. Thanks!

"Annie, How do you like it? Come out & see us sometime. Ed"

"Annie, How do you like it? Come out & see us sometime. Ed"

My Record Player Table

I have always loved the idea of family heirlooms, vintage furniture, or flea markets finds to decorate my house. My parents have many family heirlooms, from a buffet to corner cabinet to dresser and beds, to enamel top kitchen tables, an old standing radio, end tables, metal patio chairs, and more. So while my mother and I might have admired those garage sale goers, those who bought beat up furniture that they planned to clean, refinish, and love, we did not have the space for anything of the sort. Our house was filled with all that it could hold. Therefore, it goes without saying that I never had the opportunity to restore something of my own. When I was 15, my parents let me paint my bedroom “daisy blue” (I’m sure I picked the color for the name), but that was as far as my experience went in home renovation projects.

While preparing to move to North Carolina, back in summer 2006, I carefully chose what excess furniture I would claim as my own (or “borrow” from my parents). I picked the enamel top table that was my grandmother’s (we had two, so my mom wouldn’t miss one of them), the solid wood bookshelf that I had in my room, and an old record table that I used as my nightstand.  Aside from the fact that I didn’t have much money, I wanted to bring part of home with me, 650 miles away. The tables could be considered family heirlooms, and I just always liked the bookshelf.  Perhaps because I am the oldest child and was the first to leave home, my parents graciously gave me this furniture.

The enamel top table and the bookshelf were in fine condition, but the record table had seen better days. Its brown paint had started chipping long ago, and its support weakened as I piled on books and moved it from house to house. I had great plans to sand and paint the table, but I never got beyond sanding it. Yes, that was three years ago – furniture refinishing was never on top of my list of things to do.  And most of the time it was hidden beneath books and other belongings. This wear and tear has taken a toll on the poor record player table, and within the past few months, I’ve been wondering if it will survive the upcoming move 850 miles north.

Finally, the urge to refinish the old record player table struck me on Sunday. Luckily, Vinny has taken on such projects before, much more than my bedroom painting days. After gathering the necessary supplies (sandpaper, polyurethane, “red cherry” paint, paintbrushes, steel wool, clamps, wood glue, and wood filler) from home and the store, we were ready to begin.

Before - the front of the table

Before - the front of the table

Before - the back of the table

Before - the back of the table

The condition seen above in the pictures was basically how it looked for three years. The visible dark brown paint was the former paint color, which had I tried to sand all of the it, probably would have destroyed the table. The tabletop and legs are solid wood. The shelves and records slats are not.  Taking this into consideration, we sanded the top only, in order to get the surface as smooth as possible and ready for the polyurethane. Still, as Vinny taught me, we had many steps before it was time to paint. To fix rickety-ness, we attempted to hammer some tacks between the shelves and the legs. That didn’t work. The flimsy shelves were not thick enough to take tacks. Instead, we switched to wood filler for the crevices. (Note: stainable wood killer is necessary).  In order to fix the underside of the bottom shelf, we glued and c-clamped it.

The table upside down.

The table upside down.

Repairing the flimsy bottom.

Repairing the flimsy bottom.

Once everything dried, we could begin the fun part: painting! The “cherry red” for the shelves and record slats took two coats of paint. I thoroughly enjoyed painting, but I can say that I am eternally grateful for blue painter’s tape and if the amount of paint on me is any indication of amateurism, I must be akin to a four-year-old learning to color. Vinny took care of the polyurethane (quick-drying and clear/natural), which required about seven coats and many more hours.

In between coats of paint and polyeurethane.

In between coats of paint and polyeurethane.

I called home to inform my parents that I finally completed this long-standing plan of a project. My mother was thrilled; my father, I think, imagines that the entire table is red and is frightened by that. My mom isn’t sure where her parents bought the table but she remembers them being very common.

Now, there are two issues that preservationists may have with my project. 1) I have not studied decorative arts in depth, so my furniture vocabulary is limited and unrefined. I apologize, but hopefully you know what I mean.2) Does it matter that I changed the color from brown to red?  How do you consider alterations to furniture as opposed to alterations to buildings? If you are a furniture purist, then it might be an issue. What do you decorative arts students think? However, consider this: all I did was change the colors. Note in the pictures below that the brown paint remains in the details. To sand the brown paint from the flutes (if you will) would have been a disaster. Instead, I left it as an accent color.  Also, the table is now stronger.





The tabletop/

The tabletop, with the natural wood visible.

Best of all, the table is a piece of family history that I hold close to my heart, updated to be a reflection of me, too. At most, the table is 60 years old. I don’t know the monetary value of such a thing, nor does it matter. I love the “new” old record player table. It has never looked better.

I’m glad that my home “renovation” resume can now include painting a bedroom and refinishing a table. After all, I continue to harbor the dream that Vinny and I will restore a rundown house one day.  I have a long way to go, but it’s good to start somewhere. And what could be better than with a piece of furniture that I love and that has been in my family for over half a century?

Does anyone else have good home stories?

Family Records

Sandy Hook, CT
Sandy Hook, CT

Found in some family photographs, a postcard of Main Street in Sandy Hook, CT with a 1958 postmark, and a three-cents stamp.  My uncle and my father signed this card when they were just little boys, and mailed it to Mrs. Mary O’Shea in Forest Hills, NY. I love family postcard collections.  My dad took modern photographs of Sandy Hook a few years ago to share with his mother. They town looks fairly similar.


Break Out those Recorders

As historians, archaeologists, and historic preservationists, we spend much of our time researching the lives of others, people we never knew, and people to whom we do not have a connection.  We learn these family histories so well that we know the birthdays, occupations, and interests of our research subjects.  Yet, as you sit around your Thanksgiving table each year with your siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, and other family members, do you ever consider documenting your own family history? Do you ask questions of your family like you would in your research?

If only the people that we are researching had recorded their family histories, then our research would be much easier. Whether it’s a family tree or a detailed family history, keeping all of the information in one place is a priceless family heirloom.  Even if your relatives have not fought in wars, saved the world, or traveled extensively, it is still important to learn your family history.

Of course, I’m guilty of the same thing. Oral history is my job. I talk to people about their lives and research their family history quite often. But by the time I get home from work, I’m tired of doing research. I listen to family stories and talk to my relatives, but I haven’t recorded these stories yet, whether with an audio recorder or on paper. It’s something I need to do. I own a handheld audio recorder, so this is not my impeder.

Some of your family members may find it strange that you would take the time to record them, or they might be uncomfortable. My advice is to talk about it first, give them time to think, and express how important it is for family history and how much you would enjoy the opportunity.  And if you’re not inclined to do audio recording, taking the time to write what you have heard is the next best thing.  After all, photographs can only tell so much about people. We need the back stories to the situations and the people.

Just think about it. Everyone has a story to tell. You can collect stories bit by bit, just be sure to label (date, name) whatever is that you have (audio, text).  Start small. Write down what you know about your family. How did your parents meet? How did your grandparents meet? Those are easy questions that most people are willing to answer. As you do this more frequently you can get into the more open-ended questions.

You don’t have to be a professional. You don’t even have to be a historian. You just have to ask and listen. And someday remember to share these stories with your family, whether in a book, a word file, a blog, or something else.  Your family with thank you.

Labor Day

 Ah, Labor Day: barbecues, lingering warm summer weather, family, friends, the last beach weekend before school starts (up north anyway), a three day weekend for the working folk, and just an all around good time. The sound of Labor Day recalls memories to me of visiting Point Lookout, having the chance to hang out with my cousins who lived so far away, and of course, the best hamburgers in the world, grilled by my dad.  This year I’m in North Carolina, but enjoying a rather breezy, pleasant, sunny day and hoping that my family is having a good Labor Day celebration at home.  

According to the United States Department of Labor’s website, the meaning of Labor Day is:

the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Unlike Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, which celebrates and honors the obvious heroes of country, those who fought for our freedom, Labor Day is honoring the common man – those who by just doing their jobs are insuring our country’s well being.  Without everyone doing his or her job at home, our heroes, the soldiers, would not have been able to do their job protecting us.  The truth is that we’re all connected and taking turns to honor each other is a good way to remind us of the little things that matter in life and appreciate what we have as a country and where we live individually. 

In honoring those people I know who have worked hard all of their lives, here is a photograph of my maternal grandparents: Abraham Bider and Dorothy (Daunt) Bider.  The date of the photograph is unknown [side note: I should ask my grandmother]. 

Abraham & Dorothy Bider

Abraham & Dorothy Bider

My grandfather, who died in 2007, had great stories of working in the CCC and out west and being in the Army.  After his wild days, he settled down with my grandmother on Long Island and my grandfather worked in your average construction line of work. My grandmother took care of the children and later worked in a lace mill, to which she walked every day.  They were average good American folks who enjoyed a Labor Day celebration as much as anyone else. 

Thinking about little moments and family tidbits such as the above reminds me of just how important it is to celebrate the good times and help to maintain or improve quality of life amongst all Americans.  Because, we, preservationists want to make sure that everyone enjoys the little things in life.  Happy Labor Day to all! Take a moment to think of the day to day work that you do, that your ancestors have done, that millions of people do every day, and then sit back, relax, and be glad that we can all work together and have such a day to appreciate it.