Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bits & Pieces: Penny Pictures, First Crush, and Newfangled Wireless Telegraphy

Sarah Eva Howe's scrapbooks include many items that I call "bits and pieces" – a photo here; a letter there; a brief written description of an event, a favorite book, or a thought. These items can be wonderful glimpses into Sarah's life and the history of her family and her time, but they could hardly fill a blog post on their own.

Today's post launches a recurring feature called Bits & Pieces. Each post will be a collection of these snippets of history. I hope readers will enjoy reading these little "scraps" from the scrapbooks as much as I enjoy finding them.

1. Penny Pictures

Sarah Eva Howe pasted into a scrapbook three small photographic images, one of herself and two others of young women she did not identify. (Oh, Sarah, how we wish you had written captions to all of your photos.)

She called these tiny portraits "penny pictures." According to " Lens," a photography blog by the New York Times, portrait photographers of the time (and later) used a special camera to take these 1.5-inch-square images that were inexpensive for the photographer to produce and for the buyer to buy. I think Sarah is about 15 years old in this image, which would date it 1898. It's fun to imagine that she and her friends went to a local photographer – or maybe an itinerant photographer with a temporary studio at Howe Brothers department store – to have these small keepsakes made.

I remember going into photo booths at the fair or at the local five-and-dime. (There's a phrase we don't hear anymore!) The images I took home or swapped with friends may be equivalent to those 19th-century penny pictures.


2. A Bookstore With a Lending Library

At the age of 12, Sarah discovered that a bookstore in her home town of Carrollton, Kentucky, not only sold books but let patrons borrow from a small lending library in the back of the store. My first thought: How in the world did a bookseller survive in business by lending books? I can just imagine, though, how much this little library meant to Sarah. I doubt her family, although prosperous in business, could have bought all the books this insatiable reader wanted to read.

She made several comments about the library inside the bookstore. This is her first mention of it:
About 1895 I discovered Mrs. Atha Gullim's library at the book store. You could take out a book and keep it two weeks. I read my first Dickens that year, but they were in a large book of four novels. My first, I think, was Nicholas Nickleby.  . . . I was younger than I was in '96 when I read the lively books of Frances Hodgson Burnett lent me by Mrs. Henry Winslow. . . . In 1995-96 school year Albert Whitehead sat in front of me. . . .  I had to help him a lot, especially with arithmetic. I think Mamie Merrill sat back of me most of the  year. We didn't have seatmates that year. . . .

3. Sarah Hears About Wireless Telegraphy, 1897

In 1897, Guglielmo Marconi patented a way to send and receive Morse Code signals wirelessly to
ships at sea and nations abroad. In one of her scrapbooks, Sarah pasted a drawing titled "Marconi's One-Man Revolution of the World." Below it she wrote this commentary:
It was around this time [1897, the year Sarah attended Aunt Lee's wedding in Cincinnati] that we began to hear about “wireless telegraphy” but of course had no idea of its importance. A song of a little later vintage said “Now wire-less telegraphy is cutting quite a dash and messages across the sea are sent just like a flash and young Marconi eats macaroni with Mr. Dooley ooly ooly ooly oo!"
"Mr. Dooley" was Alexander Dooley, an employee of the Glace Bay wireless telegraphy station in Nova Scotia in1907, when Marconi was manager there. (Source: Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World by Marc Raboy; Oxford University Press, July 2016; Page 293; accessed on Google Books.)

The car in the scene tells us this drawing was produced much later than 1897. Still, when Sarah saw it in a newspaper or magazine, it reminded her of hearing news about this new invention. I'm surprised at her comment about not realizing the importance of wireless telegraphy. After all, this was the little girl who the year before had predicted package delivery by drones!


  4. Sarah's Crush on the Pastor's Son

Sarah filled four scrapbook pages with details about school work done and books read in 1896-1897, concluding with her memories of a crush she had on Will Roland, a son of the pastor of the church she and her family attended, Carrollton Methodist Episcopal Church. Sarah celebrated her 13th birthday at the beginning of that school year.

. . . The copy of Tennyson that held all this beauty for me was the little green one Mrs. Rowland . . .  gave to Papa one Christmas. Perhaps it was the influence of the thoughts that prompted Giftee and Giver that turned my thoughts a little later on to Mrs. Rowland's son – not Vachel, who in common with most of the girls I had for a year or more had as "beau ideal" and romantic interest with however no thought of personal possession – but Will, the older boy, who as it happened in my freshman year sat across the aisle from me where I soon came to watch breathlessly as he wrote his exercises in his faultless small penmanship. He was shy, pale, studious, very smart, and to me utterly charming and desirable. Yet I never so much as even addressed him "on my own" and when on one occasion he wrote a little note about something on the board and held it up for me to see, and smiled his rare smile, I was so suffocated with the emotion incidental to it, I just nodded my head and said nothing.

5. News Notes, 1897

Sarah saved many "50 Years Ago in the Journal" clippings from the nationally distributed magazine Ladies' Home Journal. From those clippings, here are a few news briefs and tips looking back to 1897. I've linked some of the items to websites that provide more information.
  • In October, the terrible yellow-fever epidemic spread from New Orleans to Texas.
  • An opera house dome fell on a Cincinnati audience.
  • The Klondike reported 6 suicides among gold miners, 22 killings, and several deaths from exposure.
  • A son was born to the Grover Clevelands.
  • Famous journalist Charles A. Dana died.
  • Verdi, still writing some of his best music, celebrated his eighty-fourth birthday.
  • To feed a family of 8 on $10 a week: "Purchase a loin of beef weighing 18 to 20 pounds. Cut it up for filet mignon on Sunday, steak on Monday, roast beef on Tuesday, stew on Wednesday, and hamburg on Thursday."
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