Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sarah's Summer of 1896

In 1920 or so, Sarah wrote in her scrapbook these recollections of the Summer of 1896 – her first summer as a teen. At the end of the transcription is a paragraph about the following summer. That's when Will Salyers, "one of the big boys" in town [Carrollton, Kentucky], bought her a treat at a local soda fountain. Eight years later, Will and Sarah became husband and wife. My notes within the transcription are in brackets.

August passed so pleasantly, so swiftly; Papa went to New York as usual the last week of August and first week of September; generally Mama and I used this time to visit “the folks” [Sarah's Howe, Cost, and Arnet ancestors and cousins] in Cincinnati, but on account of the coming of the new baby this year she decided to stay right at home; she and I had many cozy, pleasant meals together; she had not as yet engaged Maggie Donnelly, who came to work for us in the fall (and remained until Leonora was about two years old). She made quantities of crab apple jelly from the little, wormy, but superlative-tasting (in jelly – very sour to eat) apples on the dear old crab apple tree of ancient vintage, a bower of [word illegible] bloom in spring, and in summer a shade for the croquet ground and support for the hammock – (the other end being taken care of by a tall post painted gray which once rotted sufficiently near to the ground to fall prone, bringing the hammock at that end (and myself ditto) in a bump on the ground.) Mildred, Lida and Jennie (as many of the days with us) and at supper time Mama more than once served us hot muffins and the famous jelly, and foamy cocoa.

One never to be forgotten time – I believe it was on my 13th birthday – I was so thrilled at being in my teens, and indeed, this year and my 14th were indeed the most formative of my “adolescence” being the time of a real beginning of the thirst for learning things which has never left me since. Mama had said I could begin to read Dickens “when I was thirteen,” but she had relented and had let me begin early in the summer with Nicholas Nickleby. Mrs. Gullim [?], with her loan library at the bookshop, had many of Dickens’ works, illustrated, some of them with such fine drawings; we had no Dickens – Grandma Cost [Sarah Evaline Arnet Cost, wife of Richard Henry Cost] had a large volume with three or four books in it,  but imagine how heavy it was to hold – (it was one of those “subscription books”) so we didn’t use that. Grandpa [John] Howe, and consequently Papa, had frowned on “novels” and insisted on travel and nature books, poetry (Moore, Burns and Byron and of course Scott) and biography, but these proved pretty heavy for me, even Scott’s novels which were on the Howe approved list were too much for me until a year or two later. I believe, tho, this was the summer I read Lalla Rookh (at Papa’s insistence), just the prose part – in which I romantically thrilled to “Feramorz,” the long poems were too much for me, but I enjoyed “Paradise and the Peri.” Exploring further in the book I came upon “Odes to Anacreon” – interrogating Papa about reading these, he firmly said they were something Thomas Moore had written – which it was not necessary (for my education) to peruse.
Cover, St. Nicholas Magazine, March 1896



So sped the happy summer, with the St. Nicholas, and Youth’s Companion on the side and Solon [the family spaniel] still my daily companion. Dad says he remembers me at that time trotting along downtown, “a plump little girl with a plump little brown dog” – that is up to this year it had been true, but something happened, at some time during my thirteenth year – probably in June of '97 – which changed things a little between us, and most of all, things changed when I got my bicycle, in the spring of ’98. But of those events more “anon.”

Summer of 1897
It was in the spring, rather early summer, of 1897 after M.A. Geier and Co. opened their soda fountain for the summer, that I went in to get a soda. The front window had been taken out (I mean the shelving) and a seat ran around, next to the glass (there were little tables, a couple of them, to rest your glasses on). I was sitting there when Will Salyers,
(one of the Big Boys) came in. He spoke to me, as always not as an insignificant Child but as a Person. He got himself a soda, and chatted informally with me as he drank it. As he left, he tossed two nickels on the counter (sodas were just five cents then!) saying “I’ll pay for hers too.” I never forgot it – it was his first “treat.”




A Few Background Notes
"Papa" was Robert James Howe, who traveled to New York at least annually to buy goods to sell in  Howe Brothers Department Store, Carrollton, Kentucky. Future posts will tell more about the Howe family businesses. "Mama" was Alice Ada Cost Howe. See Sarah's family chart for info on four generations of the Howe-Cost family.

The book Lala Rookh is an Eastern/Oriental narrative poem written in 1817 by Sir Thomas Moore.  The full text is available online.

Paradise and the Peri, part of Lalla Rookh, is the basis of Robert Schumann's oratorio by the same name.

Odes to Anacreon may refer to the words of "Anacreon in Heaven," a.k.a "The Anacreontic Song," the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen's club of amateur musicians in London. It was considered a drinking song, which may explain why Sarah's father did not encourage her to read it! Over the years, several composers put their own lyrics to the melody. One of those composers was Francis Scott Key, who used the tune as the basis for a song that became "The Star-Spangled Banner," the national anthem of the U.S.A.

St. Nicholas Magazine was a popular children's magazine published monthly by Scribner's from 1873 to 1940. In this magazine, Sarah would have read stories, poems, and articles by Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, and other major writers.

Youth's Companion, a magazine for young people, was published from 1892 to 1929. The magazine and its owner/editor Daniel Ford are credited with the creation of the Pledge of Allegiance and promoting its adoption as America's national creed.

Sarah's reading list tells us much about Sarah and her family. I struggle to imagine today's 13-year-olds reading – and wanting to read – the same material.

Image by Century Co. (St. Nicholas magazine, 1896) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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