Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Cards to the Howe Family, circa 1900 - 1935 (Part 1)

Among the most popular posts in this blog have been those featuring antique and vintage greeting cards. Between now and December 25, I'll post Christmas cards and letters from the collection of Sarah Eva Howe Salyers of Carrollton, Kentucky. Few of the cards are dated, but I believe the cards in today's post date from the first quarter of the 1900s.

First, an advertising card sent from Wolf Wile's, a department store in Lexington. On the inside are directions for transforming the card into a kazoo-type toy.

Next, a letter from Santa, addressed to Sarah's son Bob (Robert King Salyers, 1907-1977). This is one of the few items we can date a card not only to a year but to a specific day: Dec. 12, 1911. Note that in those days, the recipient's name and city were a sufficient address on an envelope in a small town. The post office staff likely knew everybody in town. The stamp has disappeared, but research indicates that the cost of sending first-class mail in 1911 was 2 cents (comparable to 51 cents in 2015).

Now, cards to the Howe-Salyers family from friends and relatives.

 I hope you enjoyed these old cards. I'll be posting more cards and holiday notes between now and Christmas Day. In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying these busy days leading up to Dec. 25.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Scraps of Paper Reveal the Life and Times of a Carrollton, Kentucky Schoolboy in the 1920s

In today's exploration of Sarah Eva Howe Salyers's scrapbooks, I came across one she labeled "David H. Salyers, Book 1." Its pages hold a treasure trove of pictures, clippings, cards, and papers that tell the childhood story of her youngest son. I'm sharing some of those items here because they paint a picture of childhood circa 1915-1930. This little boy, David Hillis Salyers II, spent his first 14 years or so in Carrollton, Kentucky, but I think his life was typical of the life boys lived in most American small towns.

The first pages start with David's birth and preschool years. with images and notes about various "firsts" and, as Sarah so often added, bits of poetry that she either quoted or composed.
David was born May 14, 1915. His mother reflected on his birth in poetic prose:
To David – from Mother
Fitting your birth in May's calm weather after the wild rush of March, the changeful April sweetness – "Pan," the "March Hare," and then the smiling union – of fairy gifts – of music, and of summer gaiety.

She included a picture of the house in which David was born.
Sarah identified the people in the photo from David's perspective: "Mother [Sarah] inside, Aunt Leonora [Sarah's sister], Grandma [Sarah's mother], Mary Alice & Jimmy [David's siblings]."  (See a picture of how the house looked when he visited there in 1958.)


Sarah filed many pages with newspaper clippings of "Uncle Wiggly" bedtime stories, which no doubt she read to him. Here's one example:
Like other little boys, David made friends in the neighborhood. Among the first was Noble (last name not given). I think "Davy" appears to be 5 or 6 years old in this photo, which would date it circa 1920.

When David started school, he made more friends. As we learn from this page from what may have been an autograph or "buddies book" popular in those days, some of his friends had interesting nicknames:

Like doting mothers everywhere, Sarah saved David's report cards. This one from first grade (1921-1922, Carrollton City Public School) shows that he got off to a good start. With Sarah as a mother, he probably was writing his ABCs and reading a bit before he started school. Note that he missed most days of school in November and January. I wish Sarah had told us why.

We know that three years later, in October 1925, the whole Salyers family was under quarantine because of measles. Here's a note he wrote to his friend "Chalk," complaining about the confinement and wishing he could go to school instead of having to "sit around all day doing nothing." He signed off saying "your friend in need." Poor David!

When he was 8 years old, David was taking piano lessons from his Aunt Leonora and was ready to play "Moon and Stars" in a recital.

Apparently, little David was prone to bringing home stray dogs. Why else would his mother have put in his scrapbook at least three items related to the topic -- a cartoon, a magazine illustration, and a picture of David himself holding a puppy.
David with a puppy (a stray?) circa 1925

Of course, every boy needed a bicycle. Here's David on a bike. I'm guessing the year at 1927.

Sarah's scrapbook for David also included memories of historic events. She devoted a page to a Cincinnati newspaper's coverage of Charles A. Lindbergh's return to the U.S. after his historic trans-Atlantic flight. The small clipping at the bottom notes a Carrollton connection:
 (I have no idea why she included on the scrapbook page an article about Ohio State University conferring posthumous degrees on three seniors who had died that year.)

The scrapbook offers glimpses of David's social life, too. This article from the Carrollton newspaper describes a party he hosted, with the help of his older sister, Mary Alice. The mention of a movie helps us date the clipping, because the silent film was produced in 1923.

Actor Jackie Coogan must have been a local favorite, because the scrapbooks have other clippings about his movies. Here is a piece about a film produced in 1926:

Like his mother, grandparents, great-grandparents, and all of his uncles, aunts, and cousins, David showed an interest in politics, starting in his grade-school years. In this note dated 1924, friend James Alexander encourages him to vote for Oscar, probably a candidate for a student leadership post at the Carrollton school.
Young David did some campaigning himself. This scrapbook page presented campaign materials he made for one of his mother's Howe cousins, John J. Howe. I'm unsure if the materials were related to a local election (John held several local offices over the years) or John's run for U.S. Senate in 1924.

Like many boys then and now, David joined the Boy Scouts of America. This colorful, 3-panel card shows he was registered for the 1932-1933 membership year. At that time he was 17 years old and a student at Henry Clay High School in Lexington. His parents had moved there a few years before that when David's older siblings enrolled in college at Eastern and the University of Kentucky.

It's amazing that a few photos and scraps of paper can tell us so much about someone we thought we knew. David's own son (my husband) learned a lot about his dad from this one scrapbook. We're even more eager now to see what the other books reveal about his Howe and Salyers ancestors.

You can read more about David in a post dated January 8, 2017.



Sunday, October 29, 2017

Just in Time for Halloween: A Haunting Tale of Witches, Broomsticks, Black Cats, Owls, Bats, and Mayhem!

This week, as I explored another of Sarah Eva Howe Salyers's scrapbooks, I came across a lengthy poem written in pencil on legal-sized, lined paper now yellowed with age. At the top was a title: "The Broomstick Train; or The Return of the Witches."

As I read, my excitement grew. Sarah had written a poem that would be perfect to post close to Halloween! From discoveries in earlier scrapbooks, I knew Sarah was a gifted poet. I have already shared several of her poems with you, so I was eager to share this one, too.

The longer I read, the more I wondered: Sarah wrote many fanciful, delightful poems, but did she write this one? An online search quickly revealed that the poem was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes (father of the more-famous Supreme Court justice of the same name) circa 1890 and published with illustrations in 1892.

Here, in handwriting typical of Sarah's when she was in school (circa 1895), is the entire poem, with all of its quirky punctuation and phrasing. The illustrations by Howard Pyle (1853-1911) are from the 1892 edition, now in public domain.

More illustrations, plus footnotes explaining many of the poem's references and providing historical context, are beautifully posted online. Out of curiosity, I researched a few of the lines and terms myself. I posted my findings as footnotes below. Note that "train" refers to an electric trolley car that runs on tracks.

Look out! Look out, boys! Clear the track! 
The witches are here! They’ve all come back.
They hanged them high, —No Use! No use!
What cares a witch for a hangman’s noose?
They buried them deep, but they wouldn’t lie still,
For cats and witches are hard to kill;
They swore they should n’t and would n’t die.
Books said they did but they lie! they lie!

— A couple of hundred years, or so,
They had knocked about in the world below,
When an Essex Deacon dropped in to call,
And a homesick feeling seized them all;
For he came from a place they knew full well,
And many a tale he had to tell.
They longed to visit the haunts of men,
To see the old dwellings they knew again,
And ride on their broomsticks all around
Their wide domain of unhallowed ground.

In Essex County there’s many a roof 
Well known to him of the cloven hoof;
The small square windows are still in view
Which the midnight hags went sailing through,
On their well-trained broomsticks mounted high,
Seen like shadows against the sky;
Crossing the track of owls and bats,
Hugging before them their coal-black cats.

Well did they know, those gray old wives,
The sights we see in our daily drives:
Shimmer of lake, and shine of sea,
Brown’s bare hill with its lonely tree,
(It wasn’t then as we see it now,
With one scant scalp-lock to shade its brow;).

Dusky nooks in the Essex woods,
Dark, dim, Dante-like solitudes,
Where the tree toad watches the sinuous snake
Glide through his forests of fern and brake;
Ipswich River, its old stone bridge;
Far off Andover’s Indian Ridge,
And many a scene where history tells
Some shadow of bygone terror dwells, ––
Of “Norman’s Woe”(1) with its tale of dread,
Of the Screeching Woman(2) of Marblehead,
(The fearful story that turns men pale:
Don’t bid me tell it, –– my speech would fail.

Who would not, will not, if he can,
Bathe in the breezes of fair Cape Ann,
Rest in the bowers her bays enfold,
Loved by the sachems and squaws of old?
Home where the white magnolias bloom,
Sweet with the bayberry’s chaste perfume,
Hugged by the woods and kissed by the sea!
Where is the Eden like to thee?

For that “couple of hundred years, or so,” 
There had been no place in the world below;
The witches still grumbling, “It is n’t fair;
Come give us a taste of the upper air!
We’ve had enough of your sulphur springs
And the evil odor that round them clings;
We long for a drink that is cool and nice, ––
Great buckets of water with Wenham ice;
We’ve served you well up-stairs, you know;
You're a good old fellow –– come, let us go!”

I do n’t feel sure of his being good,
But he happened to be in a pleasant mood, ––
As fiends with their skins full sometimes are, ––
(He’d been drinking with “roughs” at a Boston bar.)
So what does he do but up and shout
To a graybeard turnkey, “Let ‘em out!”

To mind his orders was all he knew; 
The gates swung open and out they flew
“Where are our broomsticks?” the beldams cried.
“Here are your broomsticks,” an imp replied.
“They’ve been in the place you know –- so long
They smell of brimstone uncommon strong
But they’ve gained by being left alone, ––
Just look, and see how tall they’ve grown.”

“And where is my cat?” a vixen squalled.
“Yes, where are our cats”? The witches bawled,
And began to call them all by name
As fast as they called the cats, they came.
There was bob-tailed Tommy and long-tailed Tim,
And wall-eyed Jacky and green-eyed Jim,
And splay-foot Benny and slim-legged Beau,
And Skinny and Squally, and Jerry and Joe,
And many another that came at call, ––
It would take too long to count them all,
All black, – one could hardly tell which was which
But every cat knew his own old witch
And she knew hers as hers knew her. ––
Ah, did n’t they curl their tails and purr!

No sooner the withered hags were free    
Than out they swarmed for a midnight spree.
I couldn’t tell all they did in rhymes
But the Essex people had dreadful times.
The Swampscott(3) fishermen still relate
How a strange sea-monster stole their bait;
How their nets were tangled in loops and knots,
And they found dead crabs in their lobster pots.
Poor Danvers(3) grieved for her blasted crops, ––
And Wilmington mourned over mildewed hops.
A blight played havoc with Beverly beans, ––
It was all the work of those hateful queans!
A dreadful panic began at “Pride’s,”
Where the witches stopped in their midnight rides
And there rose strange rumors and vague alarms
‘Mid the peaceful dwellers at Beverly Farms.

Now when the Boss of the Beldams(4) found
That without his leave they were ramping round,
He called, –– They could hear him twenty miles
From Chelsea Beach to The Misery Isles;
The deafest old granny knew his tone
Without the trick of the telephone.
“Come here, you witches! Come here!” says he, ––
At your games of old, without asking me!
I’ll give you a little job to do
That will keep you stirring, you godless crew!”

They came, of course, at their master’s call 
The witches, the broomsticks, cats, and all.
He led the hags to a railway train
The horses were trying to drag in vain.
“Now, then,” says he, “you’ve had your fun,
And here are the cars you’ve got to run.
The driver may just unhitch his team
We don’t want horses, we don’t want steam;
You may keep your old black cats to hug,
But the loaded train you’ve got to lug.”

Since then on many a car you’ll see
A broomstick plain as plain can be;
On every stick there 's a witch astride,––
The string you see to her leg is tied.
She will do a mischief if she can,
But the string is held by a careful man,
And whenever the evil-minded witch
Would cut some caper, he gives a twitch.

As for the hag, you can't see her,
But hark! you can hear her black cat's purr,
And now and then, as a car goes by,
You may catch a gleam from her wicked eye.
Often you 've looked on a rushing train,

But just what moved it was not so plain.

It could n't be those wires above,

For they could neither pull nor shove;

Where was the motor that made it go

You could n't guess, but now you know.

Remember my rhymes when you ride again

On the rattling rail by the broomstick train!


(1) Herman's Woe   a reference to "The Wreck of the Hesperus," a narrative poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, first published in 1842. The poem presents the tragic consequences of a sea captain's pride and ends with a prayer that all be spared such a fate "on the reef of Norman's Woe." See

(2) Screeching Woman of Marblehead – Reference to a tale of an English woman captured by Spanish pirates in the late 17th century.

(3) Swampscott and Danvers are towns in Essex County, Mass. Danvers is the location of the Salem Witch Museum.

(4) Beldam is an old term (1500s) for a malicious, shrewd, ugly woman, especially an old one; archaic term for grandmother; also a witch.

The complete poem "The Broomstick Train," with footnotes and illustrations, is posted at 

A segment of Sarah's transcription of the poem "The Broomstick Train" by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Greetings! Cards and Notes Tell Stories of the Early 1900s

If email, Facebook, and Twitter had been around in the early 1900s, we would have no insight into communication among members of the Howe and Salyers families of Carrollton, Kentucky. Thank goodness people actually wrote notes and cards to each other – and thank goodness Sarah Eva Howe Salyers pasted so many of those notes and cards into her scrapbooks.

The most recent scrapbook I've explored contains many cards, and each one tells us something not only about Sarah but about the time in which she was a young woman. Today we'll look at some of those cards from the 1920s and 1930s.

Some cards in the scrapbook celebrate birthdays, while others are for staying in touch. Here are examples of both kinds.

These two birthday cards are pasted to old, crumbling pages, and I dare not try to remove them to see who sent them and who received them.

This birthday card was probably addressed to one of Sarah's children.
This sweet card invites someone to visit.
Someone is nudging the recipient of this card to write back. The sender, or maybe Sarah herself, tagged the dogs with the names of Sarah's children: James Richard, Bob, and Mary Alice.
Sarah's sister Leonora Alice Howe sent this postcard from Cincinnati to her brother-in-law (Sarah's husband), William Levi Salyers, while he was traveling on business.
Sarah sent this card to her husband, who was again traveling in his job as a representative of Moore Brothers Company, distributor of stoves and furnaces. She wrote a poignant note: 
"Who looks for your buttons now?"

Sarah kept many cards that have a Dutch theme. Most of them, like this one, are stereotypical – a child wearing wooden shoes, a windmill, and messages written in ethnic vernacular to simulate mispronunciation of American speech. I know from her descendants that she often used this phrase about the weather: "There's just enough blue in the sky today to make a Dutchman a pair of britches." I'll post more Dutch-themed cards in future posts, maybe with some insight about American attitudes about Dutch immigrants in the early 1900s. 
I wish I knew the story behind this card. Who sent it? Who received it?

Last but not least, this card sent by Sarah's son James Richard ("Jim") to his sister Mary Alice, suggesting that it might apply to her. It was in the early 1930s, and letters in the scrapbook reveal that Mary Alice had caught the eye of a young man named Lawrence. Jim suggested that she would jump up and run after him if he walked down her street.

Postcards and note cards tell a lot of stories. We'll look at more of them in a future post. In the meantime, I'll take a break from blogging to spend time with visiting relatives – three generations descended from Sarah's daughter Mary Alice.