History of a Wandering Yankee: Chinatown

After returning from the Cliff House, Frank and Nell visited San Francisco’s celebrated Chinatown, at that time the largest in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Asian immigrants traveled to the United States via San Francisco’s Angel Island Immigration Station and other Pacific ports in the 19th century. Many of them came to work in mines or built railroads. Like many other migrants, Asian immigrants faced routine discrimination from their neighbors. Frank makes a few comments about the “savage” customs and activities he observes in that are typical of the era. I wonder what Frank’s New York cousins thought about Chinatown and its people…

[May 1900]

To one unaccustomed to living in a seaport the shipping would be of great interest, as here all kinds of vessels can be seen, loading and unloading, going to, or coming from Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Alaskan and European ports.

The Union Iron Works employ about 2000 men in the building of war vessels for the Government.

Chinatown_Barton
Loren Barton, Chinatown Market, San Francisco, ca. 1924. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

I muse not forget to speak of Chinatown, for this is one of the most interesting places to see in all Frisco. It covers an area of about 12 blocks, and the population is variously estimated at from 20- to 40,000. Here the Chinaman lives very nearly the same as in his native cities. All the stores, restaurants and theatres are run by the Chinese. We did not attend the theatre, but were told that the performance is continuous, and that their orchestral discord is nearly always fatal to the visitor, although they themselves seem to enjoy it very much. The Chinese New Year, which occurs in January and February, is the best time to visit Chinatown. We had during this their season of festivities, visited Chinatown in Los Angeles, which is the same as in Frisco, though smaller. On that occasion, early in last February, we were part of a company setting out to see the sights of a Chinese New Year. Their streets were well lighted by the characteristic Chinese lantern, some of them several feet in diameter. From the balconies, which are built in the second story mostly, we saw and heard several bands of Chinese musicians, each endeavoring to make a more discordant noise than his neighbor: some drumming on cocoanut shells:- some striking copper plates, some blowing on a poor apology for a fish horn. While listening to this soulful music we heard a heart-rending shriek and though some one had been driven mad, or had committed suicide, but it was proved to be only a new piece of music coming in on the home stretch, a sort of cocoanut shell with a violin attachment. Continue reading “History of a Wandering Yankee: Chinatown”

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The Tragedy of Dimmock Hollow

On the morning of August 28, 1888 residents of the Dimmock Hollow area woke up knowing that it was going to be a memorable day. They couldn’t have known how right they were.

A political rally had been planned by some local Republicans to support Benjamin Harrison in his presidential campaign against Grover Cleveland. Republicans knew that the race would be close, nowhere more so than here in Cleveland’s home state of New York.

The rally was planned after Democrats raised a liberty pole near the schoolhouse in Dimmock Hollow, a tiny crossroads close to the Ostego-Chenango County border between South New Berlin and Morris. Republicans were determined not to let their rivals have all the fun.

NY State Map
Map of New York State, circa 1876. Dimmock Hollow is in the red circle. Image credit: New York Public Library.

Liberty poles raisings  were important events for local communities; enthusiastic demonstrations of patriotism and unity for like minded neighbors. The very first liberty poles in the United States had been raised during the American Revolution as an act of defiance against the British. Later generations of Americans claimed the symbol for their political parties, making liberty poles a central part of their rallies.

raising-the-liberty-pole.jpg
“Raising the Liberty Pole 1776,” Frederick Chapman, c. 1875. Image source: Library of Congress.

As was the custom of the time, Republicans from Dimmock Hollow and other neighboring towns decided to raise their own, taller, liberty pole nearby (theirs was 124 feet tall). It was also custom for pole raisings (sometimes called “jollifications”) to include a full day’s worth of revelry and celebration. It was a time when carousers could give raucous speeches, share a keg of hard cider, and make a lot of noise.

The Republicans planned, as one attendee later remembered, an “elaborate program” for the day. That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.

A picnic and grand campaign speeches for supporters and curious onlookers alike were planned to accompany the pole raising. But here is where it gets interesting:  some of the more “athletic” Republicans thought the day would be more memorable if they fired a cannon during the proceedings.

The hauled an ancient cannon to Dimmock Hollow, said to have been a relic of the Mexican War. It brought by Addison Hill, the son of a local army veteran. Hill stuck around to oversee the loading and firing of the gun, but the actual work was left some fearless young men.

Powder and dry sand were mixed together in equal parts and loaded into the old cannon. The crowd, eager to hear the cannon’s  roar, gathered around the gun. After the first discharge, one of the axles shattered from the force of the explosion. Undaunted, the men repaired it and the cannon was reloaded. “The old cannon had a vicious recoil and it didn’t take many shots for the brute to kick itself loose from its carriage,” one witness recalled. Unfazed by the shattered carriage and dire warnings from a Civil War veteran in the crowd, Hill and his assistants balanced the muzzle of the cannon on a log and prepared to fire another Republican salute at noon before they paused for lunch. Afterwards they would all return and finally raise their liberty pole.

Vera Cruz
The cannon probably looked like these ones used at the 1846 Battle of Vera Cruz. Currier & Ives, 1847. Image credit: Library of Congress.

As the band began to lead the way to the picnic ground, an extra heavy charge of powder was loaded. Crammed in with paper wadding and tamped down with sand, the charge was packed into the barrel and the fuse lit. It only took a few seconds for the festivities turn into a horrifying disaster.

An old iron gun,
Of course its gonna blow up,
Now three guys are dead.

Several jagged pieces of the cannon were hurled into the crowd of onlookers and claimed the lives of John Dixon, Fred Sage, and his cousin Albert Sargent. They were struck in the head and all died instantly. “The spectators stood as though paralyzed for a moment,” one reporter wrote, “and then the entire throng surged toward the three victims of the explosion.” All three men were local, and had been standing in the nearby crowd with their families. They were all 26 or younger.

Onlookers tried in vain to aid their friends. One jumped on a horse and hurried to find a physician. When he arrived at the doctor’s office, he discovered that his “trousers  from the knee to the bottom were bespattered with brains.”

No one ever figured out why the cannon exploded that day. Some thought the men loaded the cannon with too much powder. Others thought that it was simply too old and shouldn’t have been fired in the first place. Addison Hill was never able to give a satisfactory explanation.

Oddly enough, none of the men firing the cannon were killed or even harmed, though one man did loose part of his hat and several pieces of the barrel crashed through the wall of the nearby cheese factory several yards from the explosion.

Distraught, the men in charge postponed the liberty pole raising and abandoned the picnic lunch and other activities of the day. The next day local papers reported that “the pole still lies prostrate and it is probably that no further attempt will be made to raise it.

How could this have happened? Were presidential politics really this intense and eventful in 19th century American towns? Yes. Yes they definitely were. Though this particular rally at Dimmock Hollow’s ended on a tragic note, the day’s activities were far from uncommon.

A lot of effort and excitement went into 19th century political rallies like this one. For the citizens of Dimmock Hollow, a presidential election was the perfect opportunity to support your candidate and have a good time…at the same time. There were more connections between small town American life, politics, and entertainment back then than you might expect. Continue reading “The Tragedy of Dimmock Hollow”

History of a Wandering Yankee: Cliff House and Sutro Baths

After Frank and Nell arrive in foggy San Francisco, it doesn’t take long before they begin to explore the city. The Felters were particularly excited about visiting sights along the coastline like the Cliff House, Sutro Baths, and Seal Rocks. I like the description of the water slide (“chute”) and the different ways bathers ride the copper chute down into the pool. As Frank says, “tis a most fascinating sport!” The Cliff House and Sutro Baths were both sadly destroyed by fires in 1907 and 1966.

Cliff House and Seal Rocks
Frank and Nell could have looked out this very same window out onto the Pacific Ocean! Cliff House and Seal Rocks, circa 1905. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

[Spring 1900]

Our trunks come and we unpack and rest ourselves, ready for the morrow’s excursions.

Recollecting that we are almost alone in a great city, we get a City map and guide book, lest we may lose ourselves.

There is a splendid car service in Frisco, and one can get a good idea of the City by patronizing the car lines, on some of which, by their system of transfers, you can ride an hour of two for a nickel.

Frisco has many hills, and the cars, mostly cable, have to climb grades as steep as 26%, which is a rise of 26 feet in every 100 feet of travel.

Cliff House
Cliff House, circa 1902. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

During our stay in Frisco we rode out to the Cliff House many times. This Hotel is built on a projecting rock at the entrance to Golden Gate and can be seen many miles out at sea.

From the balcony which faces the ocean, and which is entirely enclosed in glass, one can get a beautiful view of the Pacific in all kinds of weather and look down into the water as it breaks into foam and spray against the cliff below.

Seal Rocks.jpg
Seal Rocks circa 1898. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

A few hundred feet out are some large rocks which are often covered with thousands of seals and from that fact are called Seal Rocks.

Close to the Cliff House is the entrance to the famous Sutro Baths, and the Museu, the largest salt water baths in the world. There are seats surrounding the tanks which will accommodate 10,000 spectators. The building is 500 feet by 250 feet. The main tank is 300 feet long, and this, with five smaller ones, ’tis said will hold 2,000,000 gallons of water, and will accommodate thousands of bathers.Here one can sit for hours and watch the bathers dive off the high perches, -swim about, -or slide down the chutes. The water is heated to different temperatures in the different tanks, and one can choose any degree of heat desired. Depth of water varies from two feet to eight feet in order to accommodate women and children as well as the strong swimmer. The tanks can be emptied and filled by the action of the tides. Twenty-five cents admits one to the building and pays for a bathing suit. We were particularly interested in the chutes, which consist of a slide commencing 18 or 20 feet above the water, and extending downward in an almost vertical line about twelve feet, and then gradually curving until it reaches the surface of the water  horizontally.

Sutro Baths
Sutro Baths, circa 1898. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

This slide is covered with copper plates, and when in use, a stream of water is constantly flowing over its surface which makes it extremely slippery. The bather mounts the stairs to its top, and looks down. If ’tis his first trial, he puts one foot over, then the other and holds on the sides with both hands, then after waiting four or five minutes, he either tries to get back and give it up, or else takes a long breath and lets go. In less than three seconds he has slid down and gone under water several feet. If the individual happens to be of the female persuasion she invariably screams when she starts and of course goes under water with her mouth wide open. This is more interesting to the spectators than to her, but she comes up all right, and after a while her friends persuade her to try it again, and go down head first. This takes lots of nerve, but is entirely successful, and as she comes down with tremendous speed, is shot out and skims gracefully along the surface of the water half across the tank, -all in a few seconds. Having acquired the nerve and the proper method, ’tis a most fascinating sport, and some parts of the day an almost continuous stream of bathers is shooting down this steep incline: sometimes several going down together holding to each other as in a chain.

Sutro Baths today
The ruins of the Sutro Baths as seen in 2012. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

During afternoon and evening there are concerts, and this immense building is filled sometimes with the sweet strains of a dream ragtime. Here one can find ample accommodation and amusement for several days, as there is a Hotel, a restaurant, theatre, museum, and picture gallery, all enclosed in this class covered structure.

I could write a week of the beauties and sights of San Francisco, and then not do justice to the subject. In many respects Frisco is like all large cities, having its system of Public Parks, its museums, observatories, theatres and churches, fountains, libraries, Art galleries, public buildings, cemeteries, race-tracks, etc., etc.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.

 

History of a Wandering Yankee: Arrival in San Francisco

In the beginning of his 20 page (single spaced!) letter detailing his adventures in Alaska to family in New York, Frank Felter describes why he and his wife Nell wanted to take this trip. Their journey begins as they depart from their home in Los Angeles and travel to San Francisco by steamer, where they would stay for several days before heading further north. I can imagine how exciting it would have been to see San Francisco slowly appear through the fog on that spring day!

Folsom wharf.jpg
The Felters probably arrived in San Francisco at a wharf like the one on Folsom Street. Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library.

Los Angeles, Cal. Dec. 1900

To Uncle, and to all our dear friends and relatives, East of the Rocky Mountains.

Having promised to write you something about our trip to Alaska, I will set about it without any preliminary remarks other than these:-

We did not to with the definite idea of bringing back half, or even a third of the “Klondyke Wealth” in our strong boxes, and of having a guard of thirty or forty well armed men to escort us back to civilization.

We did not set out with the purpose of melting the ice and snow with red paint, or of eventually reaching the North Pole.

We had no intention of taking the trip because it was popular, and to enable us to say we had “done” this, or had seen that wonderful thing.

We never for a moment entertained the thought of telling yarns about the frozen North, and impossible stories stories of occurences which never happened. We never considered any of the above inducements for journeying to Alaska. Our sole purpose was the somewhat selfish one of enjoying ourselves: of traveling by restful and easy stages, stopping here and there as our whims and caprices might direct us, and with the general idea of having a good time and a continuous holiday.

With this end in view we started out on the first of May,- left the beautiful city of the Angels and boarded the Steamer for San Francisco. Some of our friends went down to see us off, and they were so thoughtful and kind as to inform us that the Captain prophesied a rough trip. We kept up our spirits however, in the face of this news, and started off with the firm belief that the passage would be a smooth and delightful one.  Strange as it may seem, the wind began to moderate shortly after starting, and during the whole of the trip the weather was unexceptionable. The Captain said there must be a Mascot on board, for all the indications had pointed toward a very rough passage. We had a very pleasant time on board, reading, walking on the deck, or swapping stories with the other passengers. Continue reading “History of a Wandering Yankee: Arrival in San Francisco”

History of a Wandering Yankee

Port Chilkoot
Gil Smith, Port Chilkoot, Alaska, n.d., watercolor, Image credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

For the next several months, I will be posting parts of a travelogue written by Frank L. Felter as he traveled through Alaska at the turn of the century. Frank is a very distant relative- my cousin six times removed (he is the cousin of my great, great, great, great grandfather). After his trip, he wrote all about it in a long letter to my family living in New York. Frank lived in Los Angeles and I doubt he traveled back east often. This letter/manuscript is incredibly detailed and has been a really interesting read. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

I’ll try to post the letter a page at a time, so expect to see many more posts after this one! I’ll end this post with the introduction my grandfather, Charles Sargent, wrote when he transcribed the original copy.

Map_of_maps__Alaska_and_British_Columbia_showing_the_Yukon_Cariboo_Cassiar_with_a_portion_of_the_Kootenay_gold_fields
Alaska and British Columbia showing the Yukon, Cariboo, Cassiar, with a portion of the Kootenay gold fields. 1901. Image source: University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Over one hundred years ago, the attached travelog was written by Frank Felter describing a trip he and his wife, Nell, made in the year 1900 from Los Angeles to Skagway, Alaska utilizing steamers and railroads. His vivid descriptions and attention to details reflect the fact that he must have taken copious notes along the way. His motivation to write this travelog was to tell his upstate New York cousins (Ostego County) about his experiences on the trip.

Since my “original” copy of this manuscript suffers from successive copying, I have had it retyped with absolutely no editing.

Frank and Nell left Los Angeles on May 1, 1900 and returned to L.A. on August 26 after extended lay overs in San Francisco, Portland and Skagway. On Sept. 18, 1900, after his return, Frank wrote a letter to his upstate New York cousins Frank and Mary Sargent (my grandparents) which stated:

“Have had lots of fun and seen lots of queer sights. Someday I think I’ll write a short story of my travels and have it printed and call it ‘History of a Wandering Yankee,’ sell it for 2¢ ea., 3 for a nickel. Would it pay do you think or had I better stick to my present occupation and mend shoes.”

I hope future generations will get their 2 cents worth as I have.

Incidentally, Frank Felter was the grandson of Hiram Hammond, my great, great grandfather.

Charles R. Sargent
Baltimore
February 2004

More than an Institution: Farview State Hospital

Farview 12
The view from Farview State Hospital extends for miles. Visible in this picture is the Superintendent’s home. Circa 1920 Image credit: PA State Archives RG23.992 Farview State Hospital.

Driving along Route 6 in Wayne County, the view extends for miles. The Moosic Mountains dominate the landscape with their graceful peaks and quiet valleys. Small ponds and lakes add shades of blue to the landscape, and there are only a few small houses and farms in sight. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful scene in Pennsylvania. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that these “restful and healthful qualities” have attracted tourists and admirers since the early 19th century.[1] The area’s beauty, isolation, and healing features, however, have also welcomed another group of Pennsylvanians: the intellectually disabled. Since 1912, thousands of patients lived on top of a Wayne County mountain plateau at Farview State Hospital, Pennsylvania’s first and only institution devoted to the care of the criminally insane.

From its modest beginning of a few wards and administrative buildings, the patients and staff at Farview worked hard over the decades to expand the hospital and its grounds and turn it into a self-sufficient community with all the facilities needed for the care of mentally insane patients. By the 1960s the institution had grown to become the home of over 1400 patients from all over Pennsylvania, complete with dozens of buildings and a 300 acre farm. For 84 years, Farview served as a home and community for patients who needed care and attention unavailable in prisons or other mental institutions. The hospital’s colorful history, full of challenges and dramatic transformations, sheds light on society’s changing views regarding proper care for the intellectually disabled, as well as the experiences of Pennsylvania’s intellectually disabled citizens. Continue reading “More than an Institution: Farview State Hospital”

A Week of Meals in 1942

Two weeks ago I decided to try out a new blog post format where I inserted my own thoughts and comments into text copied from the wartime edition of the American Woman’s Cookbook. Looking back, I have decided that it wasn’t the most reader-friendly way to present information and I don’t think I’ll do that again. Too much information was crammed in there. I think the post was a little too hard to digest (pun definitely intended) easily. Here is an addendum to that post: a sample week’s worth of meals taken straight from the book. Enjoy!

Sharecropper kitchen
“Corner of Kitchen and Dining Room in Ed Bagget’s House. Sharecropper Kitchen is Screened but Otherwise Open. Near Laurel, Mississippi.” 1939. Image source: Library of Congress.

HOW TO FEED A FAMILY OF FIVE ON $15 PER WEEK

“New taxes and other additional cash outlays that occur in wartime together with definite shortages in many commodities require the sharpest kind of economy. This will be no new experience to the homemaker who has been feeding a family of two adults and three children on $15.00 a week. But for those who must learn to carry on when that figure is new to them, the following pages will help meet the challenge.”

Defense Home kitchen
Kitchen in a new defense home in Bantam, Connecticut. 1942. Image Source: Library of Congress.

“Whims and fancies break down well-laid plans for good nutrition. Everybody must eat all food prepared if there is to be a minimum of waste. This puts upon the homemaker the responsibility of careful selection and good cooking. The test of a good cook is a clean plate. And good cooking means conserving all the food values…minerals and vitamins.”

Buy Carefully

“Buy staples in quantities when permitted. Meats, fruits and vegetables need to be inspected carefully and bought in accordance with the market and the season. The woman who does her own marketing will have all the advantage over the woman who telephones and sends a child. Discriminating judgment at market is what saves money every day. Make a check list in your kitchen and then stick to it. Stay within your food budget every week. A dangerous pitfall is that of overbuying one week in the hope of making it up the next. If there is a little cash left, buy eggs or fruit. Raise a garden and poultry if you can. It will take pressure off the budget.” Continue reading “A Week of Meals in 1942”