Home, Continued

Happy week of Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thank you to everyone who has emailed and commented on the questions about home. Your thoughts are great. It’s not too late if you haven’t shared your thoughts yet.

Why am I asking all of these questions? Consider this casual research, but I’m interested to see overlaps and variations between people all over the country. Do we all have similar feelings? The feeling of home is innate, I assume, but our definitions of home can be different. It can take a long time for a place to feel like home for some us (I find it takes years). And how do we work at making someplace home? I aim to piece together a tapestry of answers from everyone, just in time for Thanksgiving, when we’re with family and friends, presumably someplace that is home. So if you would like to part of this Thanksgiving story, please share (as much or as little as you’d like).

I forgot to ask you: how long until you feel like where you live is home? What are the deciding factors?


Discussion on home might be centered on residences, but geography and place are just as important, if not more important. Point Lookout, NY was my first home, and will always be a home to me.


Society for Industrial Archeology 2013


Click for more information.

The Society for Industrial Archeology is a diverse group of members, interested in industrial heritage, manufacturing, the built environment, bridges, transportation and more. In its own words:

The Society for Industrial Archeology was formed in 1971 to promote the study, appreciation, and preservation of the physical survivals of our industrial and technological past. The word “archeology” underscores the society’s principal concern with the physical evidence of industry and technology-the study, interpretation, and preservation of historically significant sites, structures, buildings, artifacts, industrial processes, bridges, railroads, canals, landscapes, and communities.

Each year the SIA meets for an annual meeting, field sessions and paper sessions. I had the privilege to attend the SIA 2010 in Colorado Springs. Read Parts One, Two, Three, Four. This year the SIA is meeting in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. After a few years hiatus, I’m excited to be attending the conference and honored to be presenting about a topic dear to my heart and my preservation interests: The Giant Stride.

My research on the giant stride started as a paper in my graduate school class titled “History on the Land” taught by Bob McCullough (one of the best classes of my entire education). This is a playground apparatus that you will seldom find on playgrounds now due to safety regulations. However, if I found one I’d give it a try!

Another Giant Stride - at a playground in New York City, ca. 1910-1915. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (click).

Giant Stride – at a playground in New York City, ca. 1910-1915. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (click).

As you can read in the abstract booklet, my presentation is as follows:


The American playground movement of the early twentieth century focused on the health, social habits, and organic strength of children, manifesting itself in the tall, challenging playground equipment comprised of gymnasiums, ladders, poles, merry-go-rounds, swings and including one particular apparatus referred to as the “giant stride.” Best described as a tall pole with a rotating cap from which long ropes hung, children held on to the ropes and ran in circles around the pole fast enough for their feet to leave the ground as if they were flying. Like the other apparatus elements, the giant stride required strength and would look quite unfamiliar on today’s playgrounds. The giant stride stands as a good example of the collaboration between manufacturing advances, social and health trends of the early twentieth century, and do-it-yourself imitations: all contributing to the shared history of technology and resourcefulness.

Despite the popularity of the giant stride, it faded from the playground scene due to safety regulations; few remain in existence today.  The giant stride experienced its greatest evolution and popularity in the first decades of the twentieth century.  Though its origins remain uncertain, primitive versions appear in publications from late nineteenth century England. In the United States, its ubiquitous use on playgrounds is well documented in 1909-1929 issues of the periodical, The Playground, and its development thoroughly illustrated by United States Patents from 1904-1928.

Advances to the giant stride followed two patterns: manufactured and homemade. Manufacturers focused on function of the apparatus, specifically the revolving head or cap, the ropes or ladders (i.e. handles), and promoted the hot drip galvanized steel used in the equipment. More than one company manufactured the giant stride and variations of it. Companies include the Medart Manufacturing Company, Giant Manufacturing Company and the National Playground Apparatus Corporation, among others.  While manufacturing advances continued to improve the giant stride, not everyone could afford the steel apparatus. To remedy that factor, people employed their own creativity and constructed homemade giant strides using materials such as wood poles, wagon wheels and rope.

This presentation will include a discussion of the giant stride’s development within the social and industrial context, complemented with historic images, advertisements, patents and present day photographs.

Aside from being excited for my own paper, the panelists on all sessions have many familiar and respected names, including some people I’ve only had the opportunity to converse with via social media such as Raina Regan. A few days of preservation related chatter, exploration and new and old faces – what a time we’ll have! And although I’ve been to Minneapolis briefly in 2009, it was only a few hours, I’m looking forward to exploring the city more. And maybe it will be sunny this time.

If you’re going, let me know. I’d love to meet fellow preservationists. See you all soon – next week!

Giant Strides on the Playgrounds

The giant stride is a long-since-removed playground apparatus that dates from early 1900s. Simply put, it was a tall pole with ropes/ladders attached to it. Children could grab hold of the handles and run in circles, so fast that their feet would leave the ground. For safety reasons, it was mostly removed from playgrounds by the 1960s, though some remain.

Another Giant Stride - at a playground in New York City, ca. 1910-1915. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (click).

Another Giant Stride – at a playground in New York City, ca. 1910-1915. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (click).

In graduate school I researched the manufacturing and development of the giant stride, and was fortunate to find a few images of giant strides. I’m jumping back into that research. Readers, have you come across any giant strides or remnants of giant strides? If so, would be willing to share those photographs? If so, please let me know. Your help would be very much appreciated. Here’s what one might look like today:

A giant stride on a Colorado playground. Click for original source.

A giant stride on a Colorado playground. Click for original source.

Previous playground posts on PiP:Playgrounds of YesterdayPreservation Photos #25Woodford PlaygroundPlaygroundsPreservation Photos #57.

The 1940 Census

Today, April 2, 2012, marks 72 years after the 1940 U.S. Census and the first day that the public will have free online access to the entire census via the National Archives and Records Administration. At 9:00 a.m. EST, the census will be released via a live webcast. You can start watching the webcast at 8:30 a.m.

1940 U.S. Map - all 48 states. Alaska and Hawaii were not states at the time. Click for image source.

If you follow news any of the many archivists, archives or libraries on Twitter or Facebook, you may have heard that the release of 1940 U.S. Census is a big deal. This clip from NPR provides an interesting perspective about the census:

This lifting of the veil takes place every 10 years, but William Maury, chief historian at the U.S. Census Bureau, says this census offers some particularly interesting information. “The 1940 census was very close to the end of the Depression, but it was also right at the beginning of all the uncertainties associated with World War II,” Maury says. “The census itself tells terrific stories about what we were as a people and what we are as a people now.

Why 72 years later? The simple answer is that U.S. Law requires a 72 year privacy mandate. The date for the 1940 census was set at April 1. Since April 1 was a Sunday this year, the release is April 2.

Currently, the census information will not be searchable by names, but you will be able to search by enumeration districts. An enumeration district is essentially an area covered by an enumerator (census worker) in a certain period (two weeks in urban areas of one month in rural areas), and these districts were created for record keeping purposes. And the information you can learn? The 1940 Census asked many more questions than previous censuses. It will also include if people worked for the CCC, WPA or NYA. Additionally, there is a question that asks where the person lived in 1935. That adds a much deeper layer to research. See a blank 1940 census form here or here’s an easier version to read.

AP Photo/Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

According to Ancestry.com, the 1940 census will be available (and free) in searchable form in mid April.  Check out a comparison between the 1940 Census and the 2010 Census. Read a good blog post from The History Blog about the history of the census and the importance of the  1940 Census.

If you’re not a genealogist, why should this matter to you? While you may not be researching many people, you’ll be able to find your great-grandparents, grandparents or your parents documented in this census with more information than ever before. Imagine your grandparents and great-grandparents being interviewed by the enumerator walking door to door in the city or walking and driving down dusty dirt roads from farm to farm. Of course, it sounds much more exciting than the boring forms we fill out today. Regardless, all of the information is critical to understanding the composition of the United States.

Obviously, the country looked much different in 1940; the census will augment historical records and research that we  have, and will aid future researchers.

I am excited research my grandparents, all of whom were very young for the 1930 census, but will be at least of working age in 1940. This extra decade of census information will add greater detail to my family’s history, which is important to me as it allows me to understand my place in history and my family. If you’re researching, have fun!  Read this information from the National Archives about how to get started.

Preservation Photos #6


Sometimes historic resources are just too large to scan. This one covered the length of an entire library table. Thank goodness for the digital age. This is the beautiful McClellan’s 1856 map of Windham County, VT.

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"

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.

And My Heart Broke

Do you know what it feels like to watch history fade away before your own eyes and not be able to do a thing to save it? Do you know how it feels to know that within a short period of time, certain invaluable memories will be erased?  It pulls at my heart in a way similar to an abandoned house doomed for demolition does or the way lonesome washed-up towns look in photographs. This is partially a result of knowing that no one else has bothered to save this history and partially because I can’t do anything about it.

If you have ever worked in the oral history field or conducted research using oral history, there is a good chance that you know exactly what I mean.  Oral history has its positives and negatives, just like any form of research. It captures stories that would have never been heard or found otherwise, but your research is often at the mercy and kindness of your interviewees.  Ethically, you cannot interview someone and use that information without their permission. Interviewees must sign (what I call) a Deed of Gift form, which grants permission for the transcript and recording in the current project and sometimes, future use. The majority of interviewees are happy to sign the form and aid the project, but some people will refuse.

I have had a few people refuse to sign a deed of gift in my oral history experience. And no matter how much you explain to them the benefits of the particular project or show them exactly how their transcript and recordings will be used, no matter how much you reason with them, they will not concede. And there are only so many rounds of discussions you can have before it’s just too much and too exhausting (mentally and emotionally) and there is no more you can do.

Why would someone refuse? The reasons vary, but in my experience it has been because he or she did not like how the interview transcript read. Most people are shocked by their spoken words being directly translated on to paper. We all speak differently than we write, so reading oral history transcripts can be quite the trip. I assume only the most eloquent public speakers have near perfect transcripts.  This shock turns into vanity, which can be easily erased with the explanation of the transcript use.

Except for one case that I know: One interviewee could not fathom sharing this transcript (or even a few paragraphs of excerpts) with the public because she felt that she sounded less than educated, whereas she had indeed attended higher education to earn her M.A. After over one year of discussing and trying to convince her by demonstrating uses of the transcripts and explaining its value, she finally decided once and for all that she would not participate.

And my heart broke. Her memories are so important and rare and would complement the rest of the project. I should mention that her transcript read just fine, on par with the best interviews. It’s so sad to me that people could let vanity get in the way of sharing history, especially when they might be of the few who still know that information. Now, I cannot pass on this interview, not even to the archives. Nor can I tell this story because I’d have to cite the interview.  And so the memories will disappear.


Readers, am I missing anything? Is there a solution I haven’t found? Please help if you can.

Humble Roots

A common occurrence while working on an oral history project is discovering the humble nature of interviewee subjects. Another recurring scenario is people mentioning that someone in the family had photographs, but they were lost so many years ago, whether because it was misplaced, damaged, or just forgotten. In some cases, the interviewees have photographs buried in basements and attics, though they just don’t have the time to find them. I understand, but it still pulls at my heart.

One of my favorite interview participants mentioned that her sister had an album years ago. She remembered pictures of herself and siblings at the beach in floppy hats and at Christmastime. Then she said to me, “I don’t know where the pictures are. They wouldn’t mean nothing to nobody else, but I would like to have them.”

It’s a bittersweet thought, to me, one that I like to recall over and over. Actually, those photographs probably would mean a lot to my research and everyone connected to the project. But, probably in this sweet old lady’s mind, they are just pictures of her family and they lived a common life just like everyone else. These are the people I enjoy interviewing. They have important knowledge because of who they are and what they lived, but throughout the entire research process, they will maintain that they are like anyone else.

And it’s always a reminder after hearing these stories how everyone is an important part of history.

Collaborative Research

Back in July, I wrote about a South Carolina road trip, mostly along Highway 41 through the Francis Marion National Forest, past sleepy small crossroads, and also serendipitously finding a u-shape dirt road off the highway, home to a collection of buildings. These lonely buildings, near Centenary, SC, were perfect photograph subjects, though I wanted to know their stories.  Oral history has taken its toll on me – I cannot look at a building without hoping to know its inhabitants, uses, and lifespan. The same goes for historic photographs of buildings or people.

Off South Carolina Highway 41.

Off South Carolina Highway 41.

After thorough, yet fruitless internet searching, I didn’t think I would find the answers to my questions about this mysterious place.  Last week I received a comment on the Contact page from a man named Mike, who said:

I know about these buildings. I married a cute Carolina girl, whose mother was a Davis and grew up in Centenary. I’m not sure of the exact details but the Davis family owned the surrounding land and tenant farmers farmed the land. My wife speaks of when she was a child, buying penny candy at the store, which was like a department store for the tenant farmers, plows clothes gas shovels, anything they needed. I think the tenant farmers are gone and now the land is leased by agribusiness. My wife’s aunt still lives in the house nearby, and there is a cemetery somewhere nearby with a Davis crypt even. You are right, the place oozes history.

It made my day. Finally, I could associate a story with these lonely buildings. It’s a small piece to the puzzle and I hope this information will find its way to others who can in turn, share their information here.  The simple chain of events reminds me of the benefits of sharing knowledge and asking questions. We would not be able to answer all of our research questions without help from other people.  We should be grateful to those who take the time to record information, whether on paper or by word of mouth.

Do you have photographs of abandoned buildings to share? Send them along with their location and in a matter of time, maybe someone can answer your questions, too.