St. Patrick’s Day

Here in the United States St. Patrick’s Day brings to mind green, shamrocks, leprechauns, Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, green food and drinks, a parade, a green river, etc.  It doesn’t typically recall the story of St. Patrick or the religious aspects of March 17.

In fact, St. Patrick’s Day became even more popular when, in 1995, the Irish government began a national campaign to showcase Ireland, using St. Patrick’s Day to help.  Since St. Patrick’s Day is a religious day in Ireland, pubs were closed on March 17 until the 1970s, which is probably contrary to popular belief. [Source: History.com]

Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is mostly a secular, fun, green holiday for us Americans; however, it couldn’t hurt to understand the traditions associated with the holiday. Check our History.com’s The History of St. Patrick’s Day page for information about St. Patrick, the traditions, symbols, religious origins, etc. 

For instance [from History.com], why do we eat corned beef and cabbage? This is not a traditionally Irish dish.  Instead, it originated at the turn of the 20th century when Irish immigrants living in New York City could not afford their traditional Irish bacon, so they replaced it with the cheaper corned beef.  If you are Irish, did you know that Irish immigrants were members of the Protestant middle class in America until the mid 19th century? Then, when the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland, millions of Catholics fled, now poor and uneducated and starving, and the Protestants began to reject the Irish Catholic, denying them jobs and creating negative images – hence the infamous, “No Irish Need Apply”.  The New York City parade began in 1848 and over time became a source of pride for Irish citizens. However, it wasn’t until 1948 that a president, President Truman, attended the parade to show support for those Irish-Americans who had faced prejudice for so long.

You can read more interesting facts about St. Patrick’s Day on History.com. And while you’re celebrating the luck o’ the Irish today, religiously or secularly, remember that the Irish have come a long way. Make a toast to your neighbor and enjoy.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. My favorite Irish blessing for you:

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be ever at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rain fall soft upon your fields,

and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of his hand. 

Microfilm Lessons

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Would that be considered optimistic or pessimistic? Is it really true or just one of those things people say in cliche form? While reading microfilm archives of the Harnett County News at the Harnett County Library yesterday, I found my evidence that many things do stay the same. Collectively, society changes and stays the same. Advertisements and news articles reveal very similar issues to those in today’s media. For example, an article in the 1934 Harnett County News questioned if movies are bad for children’s health, with subsequent articles following. I had to laugh in amazement and amusement; current articles about movies or television and the effect on children are easy to find. The 1934 news reported foreclosures, murders, new highways, community events, births, deaths, marriages, visitors in town.  Advertisements proclaimed sale prices, quality, trust, and odd medicinal fads. The main difference, to me, was that most papers do not print social engagements anymore, or at least not as prominently.

While I have seen many old newspaper articles, I have seldom used microfilm in my research, partially because it was unnecessary and partially because it makes me terribly nauseous, and I suppose that only by scanning many weeks of the paper can one get a true overview of the issues of the time. While it would be nice to assume that problems of 75 years ago have been fixed by now, it’s comforting to realize that people are people and despite flaws, society continues to move forward and thrive in spite of the obstacles.  And the tragedies of yesterday such as segregation, tuberculosis, child labor, etc. have been addressed and generally corrected, if you will.  We have come a long way. Granted, they have been replaced by new tragedies, but it gives me faith that these, too, will be erased. For those who feel disconnected from history, perhaps browsing the old newspapers will bring a stronger sense of understanding and legacy and be able to relate to historical events and figures.

One note about newspaper research: just as today’s paper will misquote people and get information incorrect, historical news articles are likely to have the same problems. Don’t take every detail as an absolute truth. (I constantly find names and dates associated with Overhills to be incorrect, which is why I say this.)

Aside from these lessons, I discovered that microfilm no longer makes me nauseous and it is a lot of fun – not an everyday kind of fun, but a good research excursion when necessary. And I’ll take the opening statement as optimistic.

Historic Running Tours

Visitors’ centers, historical associations, museums, and others, often offer historic walking tours; included may be a detailed pamphlet with a map and information about stops along the route, perhaps an audio headset, or plaques to read on your tour. Walking tours are a beautiful, environmentally friendly way to see the neighborhood and enjoy the good weather of tourist season.

However, walking tours do not suit everyone. Some people cannot walk for long periods of time (i.e. the elderly); in which case a bus tour may be a better option, in cities anyway. Or a walking tour of everything you want to see may take too much time.  Most people, at a leisurely pace, will require 20-30 minutes to walk one mile, especially with stops included.

And then there are some of us who find any pace of walking too slow (yes, that’d be me).  I like walking around town and strolling in the warm, sunny weather or in the cold, snowy weather; but if I am in a new town and want to see everything, I need a faster way to go sight seeing, one that is not dependent on a motorized vehicle. Bike tours are one option, though my favorite is a running tour. This past weekend, while visiting a friend in Birmingham, Alabama, we went running around his neighborhood. We covered three miles of gorgeous architecture and city views in about 30 minutes, stops included. Had we been walking, we would have never been able to see as much.

Running provides a fast way (faster than walking) to cover a fair amount of distance and sight seeing provides endless entertainment while running, and it is much safer than driving and attempting to sight see. Whenever I travel, I explore by running and discover places I wouldn’t have while walking. When running I’m in comfortable clothing, sturdy sneakers, and I am alert and interested in my surroundings. Even on my daily running routes I take note of the changes in town, whether it be construction, home improvements, or the number of people working in their yards or the children at the playground playing basketball or the hours of the downtown stores.  So why not combine the two? Runners are preservationists and travelers, too!

However, the only “historic running tour” I can find is this one from the New York Flyers, a running club in New York City. The running tour provides bag check (for gear), a water stop, tour guides, and an option for a group lunch afterwards. This run is about 12 miles long, which probably scare off most travelers.

Thus, we need other historic running tours! Perhaps a guide who can talk while running at a comfortable pace, run backwards, move his/her arms to point when necessary, and speak loudly enough for the entire run.  It sounds difficult, but coming from this track coach, it’s just something you get used to.  Who would like a running tour? I’ll volunteer!

Some cities have “tours” via iPods and mp3 downloads nowadays. That could work for running, too, since many people run with iPods. The pros and cons of this are up for debate (safety being the primary concern).  

How does it sound? Let’s get started. A website with running routes, historical information, water stops and bathrooms along the way, perhaps markers on the route, would be great. But for now, the best way is to find a friend who is a runner and can lead you through her neighborhood. Or, just get out the door and take a historic running tour of your own.  If you like running, you won’t regret your new perspective on sight seeing.

Time Travel Wish

Some days I really wish I could travel back in time. Today I wish I could travel to Overhills, North Carolina in the 1920s or 1930s. I want to be an observer for just a little while, to see the daily happenings, the people, the country club days. I cannot imagine 40,000 acres of open space and rural solitude, fox hunting, or wealthy New York business chatting by the fire. I can easily picture the steam engines pulling into the Overhills station and postal workers tossing mail bags off the train, and the endless miles of horseback riding trails, and the golf course. Mostly, I want to see the houses that have since been demolished (the Clubhouse and the Covert) and the elaborate Hunt Complex of dog kennels, horse stables, and an elaborate “Circus”.  If I could choose just one building to explore, it would be the Clubhouse.
 

Luckily, the oral history interviewees have wonderfully described their years at Overhills, hundreds of photographs help to tell their stories, and I have set foot on Overhills. But you know as well as I do, that with the setting altered since the 1930s, some pieces remain missing. I suppose that is why many of us found historic preservation and history: we love the eternal mysteries of places and enjoy the search to find answers, and then the challenge of adequately sharing the past with others.  It is a profession but it is also a hobby; we can’t help it.  Still, while the unknown is always fascinating, we cannot help but wish to see the true story for ourselves.

This is not an Overhills horse, just a North Carolina horse. But when you imagine Overhills you should imagine horses leaning over fences like this one with the green pine trees and Carolina blue sky in the background.

This is not an Overhills horse, just a North Carolina horse. But when you imagine Overhills you should imagine horses leaning over fences like this one with the green pine trees and Carolina blue sky in the background.

I don’t own any photographs of Overhills for my own use [to post here], but if you are interested in Overhills, see the Fort Bragg Cultural Resources website or the Overhills book.  On the website there is a slideshow of Overhills photographs and a brief history. The oral history project will be completed in a few months and parts of it will be available for viewing on the Fort Bragg Cultural Resources site. (I’ll keep you posted).

To where do you wish you could time travel?

Growing Up on Long Island

Being humans that we are, when we hear of a geographic location (state or region, for example), we probably have preconceived notions of the lifestyle there  and subsequently what it would have been like to grow up in that area.  What comes to mind when you hear the south, the north, the west, California, South Dakota, New York, Georgia, Kentucky, Wisconsin? It’s probably a mixture of accents, surfboards, cows, skyscrapers, peaches, farm country, hill country, home cooking, and any other region based image, right? And it’s not really a bad thing, unless you let it control your thoughts after that first impression, right? And that you keep these stereotypical thoughts to yourself.

Anyway, for those reasons I’m intrigued by New York Times Art Review on February 18, 2009, “Nostalgic Exhibit with Room for Play” about the exhibit “Growing Up on Long Island” at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, New York. 

I’m not sure what people think when I tell them I’m from Long Island, but some of the responses I’ve received are: “You don’t sound like it”; “I would have guessed Iowa”; and “You’re not a typical Long Island girl”. It’s always interesting. Regardless, I know what my life was like and I know what my mother’s life was like, growing up on Long Island. But, are they typical? Is anything typical or just stereotypical? I’d like to see if the exhibit to see if our lifestyles are represented. The review states that everyone should find something to connect with and it includes the recent past as well, to make sure that children are interested.  It seems to be mostly nostalgic and fun, though a few more serious issues are included.

The exhibit runs through October, so I’ll be sure to visit when I’m home this summer and share the visit.

Those Unknown Photograph Subjects…

Quite often in my Overhills research, I find myself desperately seeking historic photographs of people and buildings. While photography was not widespread in the early decades of the 20th century, I always have this feeling that there has to be a photograph in existence of what I need.  I had that feeling while Jeff and I worked on the Overhills book and as we continue to work on the oral history project: as soon as it goes to press and is available to the public, people will come crawling out of the woodwork with photographs. These won’t be just any photographs, but incredible, never-before-seen photographs. So far, that has not happened with the Overhills book, but it always seems like a possibility.

Currently, I’m searching for photographs of James Francis Jordan, of the Kent-Jordan Company who founded the Overhills Country Club. I have seen a photograph of him, but it’s in a book and I have yet to track down the owner of the photograph. I’m working on it. If you have any idea who James Francis Jordan is and know what I’m talking about, please let me know.

Along the same lines, I often imagine the boxes of unlabeled photographs in attics and basements and archives and offices. It’s quite possible that these boxes contain the exact information you and I are seeking, yet no one will ever know because too much time has elapsed between the photograph’s date and the present. So while the photograph exists, it is not doing us any good. It can happen in families. I have photographs of family members and no one knows who they are. How sad is it to have a photograph of an unnamed subject?

With this matter, I plead: label your photographs. You never know who in your family is going to be historically significant (read: not famous, just important to history in some way), or who will benefit from the dates and names of people in the photographs. Nowadays, we take hundreds of digital photographs in a span of days. Talk about being annoying to label, especially if you’re traveling and you try to label those photographs weeks later. Sometimes the task is impossible.  

For posterity, do your best to organize photographs and family documents and pass them from generation to generation. Many historical societies receive family collections, which in turn benefit researchers near and far. Local history has previously been just that – local and reaching no further. In this digital age, we are able to share local history on the internet. It’s time consuming, but the greater the audience for the documents, the more meaningful they become. You never what someone is researching. 

The Washington State Library has begun the Washington Rural Heritage Project under a similar philosophy: to create a statewide digital repository that will enable rural and small communities to share their unique histories. Evan Robb (my cousin) is the Project Manager.  I’ll feature the project on another post in the near future. In the meantime, I applaud the Washington Rural Heritage Project.

…and I’m going to label more of my photographs.

Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting

Don’t forget that tonight, December 3, is the official lighting of the Rockefeller Center Tree in New York City.  Most of us will not be in New York City, but we can watch it on NBC from 8-9 pm tonight, with the tree lighting at 8:55 pm EST. If you live in New York, you’re lucky enough to view it on TV from 7-9 pm EST.  Happy decorating! And, for a history lesson on Christmas trees, check out History.com for information on the Rockefeller Center Tree and all Christmas trees and the Christmas season. Did you know that the tree dates the Depression Era days? Or that the tree typically has 25,000 lights on it? Here are some Rockefeller Center tree pictures from a visit in December 2004 (most likely taken my friend Ellen).
Rockefeller Center Tree, 2004

Rockefeller Center Tree, 2004

Rockefeller Center at Christmas, 2004.

Rockefeller Center at Christmas, 2004.

Rockefeller Center with the tree on the left, 2004

Rockefeller Center with the tree on the left, 2004