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Oral History: Thanksgiving Traditions

November 15th, 2014

(Part Two of a Three-Part Holiday blog series) by Melissa Clifford, 2014 Kent State MLIS Museum Studies graduate student

*Please note that all speaker-clip-art1 icons are actually links to sound files so that you can hear our Oral History interviewees tell their own stories!*

I’ve been working on oral history digitization for over a year now. In that time, I’ve been fascinated by the stories that are contained on our small plastic cassettes and I’ve been eager to share them with others. I grew up in an age where computers were fairly common in homes and grocery stores were sure to carry the things you needed for a new recipe. Through listening to people tell their stories of growing up in Oberlin, I have learned that it wasn’t too long ago that it was common to raise your own livestock and grow your own vegetables. Along this same investigation, I’ve been looking into how holidays have changed. I’ve learned that it was probably quicker to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner in the past than it now is. You didn’t have to thaw your turkey for days, and you probably didn’t have to go to the grocery store to pick up vegetables!

My first job after college was at a research lab, and I’ll never forget that our “holiday bonus” every year was getting a frozen turkey to take home for Thanksgiving. These turkeys were literally as hard as a rock and took at least a week to thaw out before they were useful. Because I’ve never had to raise my own turkey, I wasn’t too aware of just how difficult wrangling these large birds could be. Luckily for me, Oberlin’s Oral History Project has left us with a great story of the perils of farming poultry:

We had chicken and then when Mama started raising turkeys of course we had turkey.
BT: Tell me about the turkeys that you raised.
MC: It’s an odd thing about turkeys. They look strong but they are very delicate. Mama had to give each one of them a pill to keep them from having worms. She would hold their heads and slightly press in on their neck so they had to open their mouth to breathe and then she’d put this pill down their neck. They had to be brought in when it was raining. We would go out and drive them in the brooder house. She had to keep the temperature at a certain degree all the time and you couldn’t have chickens when you had turkeys because the chickens would give the turkeys diseases and they would die. They didn’t kill the chickens but they did the turkeys. That is how we finally paid off the mortgage on the farm, with turkeys. They were very demanding though—you had to be home all the time.

speaker-clip-art1–Magdalene Cox (as interviewed by Betty Thomas), November 24, 1982

turkey8

Keep reading to find out why this bird was once frightening to the town of Oberlin!

Magdalene makes me very glad that I never had to raise my own turkeys! I do remember that my Grandma was always sure to make at least one thing that each of her grandchildren liked. For example, my cousin really liked a particular biscuit and I preferred jellied cranberry sauce from a can. After we all ate our feast, we then would sit around sharing stories but it wouldn’t take too long before the adults started becoming sleepy. My mom always blamed it on the tryptophan in the meat. As she began talking about tryptophan, my thoughts often drifted like the ideas that Marion Dudley’s cousin had:

We would have family gatherings. I remember my cousin after Thanksgiving day, we were all together at that home and after dinner she came into the living room, looked around and said, “I wish I didn’t have such a sleepy bunch of relatives.” Because here was this uncle there asleep and another uncle someplace else. My father always took a nap after dinner, 15 minutes. Then he was ready to go back to work. The rest of the family, more or less of that. 

speaker-clip-art1–Marion Dudley, January 23, 1987

Since my grandparents passed away, my Thanksgiving traditions have changed quite a bit. I’ve gotten married so I have in-laws to please, my parents have moved, and my uncle and cousins have also moved. While my new Thanksgiving plans aren’t the same as what I used to experience, it is still a very special time. I think this last oral history quote I am leaving you with is the best way to describe this holiday. Millie reminds us to look past the struggle of cooking a 20-lb turkey or making a roaster full of stuffing. She best describes the reason why Thanksgiving is such a popular holiday and will continue to be a favorite for years to come.

Our Thanksgivings are something like that. They’re smaller celebrations but it’s intimate family and it’s always the same Thanksgiving dinner with the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, squash, lima beans, things that certain people say, “Don’t forget.” Also rolls and pumpkin pie. To me Thanksgiving is almost the ideal holiday. It’s a beautiful time of the year. It’s the time of harvest or beyond harvest. There is lots of good fellowship and good food without the expense and the hassle of buying and wrapping lots of gifts. This is just a wonderful family time that is very relaxed and comfortable to be together.

speaker-clip-art1–Millie Arthrell, February 21, 1985

One last thing I’d like to leave you with is a more recent story of Oberlin’s past at Thanksgiving time. It was just twelve years ago that the quiet streets of Oberlin were terrorized by a ferocious turkey. Please enjoy the following news articles that include such headlines as “Foul-tempered turkey not meant for Thanksgiving feast” and “Large turkey tormenting town residents”. Happy Thanksgiving!

A Medal of Honor and a Holy… euchre deck?

November 13th, 2014

by Ron Gorman, Oberlin Heritage Center volunteer docent

November 1864 – 150 years ago this month – saw a curious spectacle in the American Civil War.  After Union General William Sherman captured the city of Atlanta from Confederate General John Bell Hood, both armies turned and headed away from each other, with the goal of bringing the hard hand of war to their opponent’s civilian infrastructure.  Sherman headed southeast on his infamous March to the Sea, intending to “make Georgia howl”.  Hood turned north on what could have been just as infamous a march, perhaps even inducing some howling north of the Ohio River.  But where Sherman’s march was a success, Hood’s march failed to even make it out of Tennessee.  An Oberlin man would earn the Medal of Honor and an interesting keepsake for the part he played in stopping him.

John Whedon Seele
John Whedon Steele
(courtesy Oberlin College Archives [1])

His name was John Whedon Steele, and he missed by only a few miles becoming one of the first citizens born in Oberlin.  Instead he was born near Akron as his parents migrated en route to Oberlin from New York in 1835.  His father, Dr. Alexander Steele, would become Oberlin’s first full-time physician.  His younger brother, George, would become an Oberlin College professor and co-founder of the music conservatory.  But it appears that John always had somewhat of a reputation as a renegade (well… by early Oberlin standards, that is).  Nevertheless he attended Oberlin College, got his law degree in Michigan, and returned to Oberlin just before the start of the Civil War. [2]

At the outbreak of war, Steele joined with Alonzo Pease (artist, Underground Railroad operative, and nephew of Oberlin’s first settlers) to recruit a company of infantry.  The company would eventually muster into service as Company H of the 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, with Pease as Captain and Steele as First Lieutenant.   They soon found themselves in the “western theater” of operations, ultimately making their way to Tennessee, and Steele was promoted and transferred to Captain of Company E.  According to the Lorain County News, this company was “made up of roystering blades from Cleveland and other cities which have made their previous commanders much trouble.  John [Steele], however, suits them to a dot and they are fast working into a state of superior discipline.”   Steele would lead this company in a “gallantly and successfully” executed charge against a rebel battery at the first bloodbath battle of the war, the Battle of Shiloh, in April, 1862. [3]

It wouldn’t be long, however, before Steele was again promoted and transferred, this time to Major, ultimately serving as aide-de-camp on the staff of General David S. Stanley’s 4th Corps.  Although we sometimes tend to think of staff officers as holding cushy desk jobs, nothing could be further from the truth for many of them.  In the Civil War, staff officers were often in the thick of battle, relaying orders from their superiors to the troops on the field, directing troop movements, and coordinating attacks.  Such appears to be the case with Major Steele.  He participated in two more epic bloodbaths, at Stones River and Chickamauga, before joining in General Sherman’s four month campaign to capture Atlanta in the summer of 1864. [4]

After Sherman took that city, the two armies engaged in two months of cat-and-mouse warfare in northern Georgia and Alabama in which they failed to come to a general engagement.  Finally they turned and went their separate ways, in General Stanley’s words, “like two school boys… each saying ‘Well I cannot whip you but I can kick over your bread basket.’”   But before Sherman turned east to kick over Georgia’s bread basket, he detached two corps under General John Schofield, with orders to join forces with Union General George Thomas in Nashville and stop Hood’s advance.  General Stanley’s 4th Corps, with Major Steele as aide-de-camp, was included in Schofield’s detachment. [5]

Hood now knew that his northward journey would be a difficult one, but being one of the most aggressive commanders in the war, he was not deterred.  His army was larger than either Thomas’ or Schofield’s detachments, and he believed that if he could isolate them and bring them to battle independently, he could destroy them in kind, then turn his attention to Ohio’s “bread basket”, or perhaps come to the rescue of Robert E. Lee’s besieged army in Virginia (see my Battle of New Market Heights blog).

Spring Hill-Franklin Campaign, 1864
(Troop movements and positions are approximated and simplified, for clarity’s sake)

Hood’s first victim was to be General Schofield, who had a vulnerable supply line leading back to the main Union depot at Nashville.  Hood devised a plan whereby he would march his army around Schofield’s flank to Spring Hill, Tennessee, where he could cut that supply line and isolate Schofield from Thomas before they had a chance to link up.

The movement was accomplished brilliantly, but when Hood’s troops arrived at Spring Hill on November 29, they were met by a division of General Stanley’s 4th Corps, which had been sent in advance with Schofield’s wagon train.  It’s not known what part Major Steele played in the fierce fighting that accompanied this part of the battle, but his comrades held their ground, and the rebels retired at nightfall.

They didn’t retire far, however.  In fact they went into bivouac right alongside the turnpike that General Schofield’s troops would have to travel to get to Nashville.  It was an “extremely perilous” situation for the federals, and Schofield decided he needed to get out of it – quick.  So he ordered a night march in which his troops would tramp as quietly as possible up the turnpike past the resting Confederates. [6]

Amazingly, it worked.  Well, almost.  Schofield’s infantry marched cleanly out of the trap.  But bringing up the rear was the slow, cumbersome wagon train – 800 wagons and caissons carrying the food, ammunition, medicines, and artillery needed to support Schofield’s infantry.  With most of the infantry already gone, the train creaked and groaned up the narrow turnpike, past the campfires of the rebel troops, escorted only by a scant guard.  It was, in General Stanley’s words, “like treading upon the thin crust covering a smouldering volcano.” [7]

Then at about 3:00 A.M. the volcano blew.  Several regiments of Confederate cavalry launched a flank attack against the head of the helpless wagon train.  Years later, General Stanley, who was “thrown into despair” by the news, described what happened next: [8]

“My two most vigilant staff officers, General [then Colonel] Fullerton and Colonel [then Major] Steele … were near the point attacked which was about four miles from Spring Hill.  Instantly they took measures to repel the attack.  They found our headquarter’s guard…  This company was about thirty-five strong and commanded by a gallant young officer, Captain Scott.  Using this as a nucleus, these gallant officers picked up from train guards, headquarter’s guards, anyone carrying a gun, a little body of men, marched up to point blank range, gave the rebels a volley which cleared the road, and very soon our big train moved on again.” [9]

Interestingly, in Stanley’s original report to headquarters, he gave all the credit to Major Steele, with no mention of Fullerton or Scott.  But by all accounts less than five percent of the Union wagons were destroyed; the rest were saved by the makeshift strike force, whose boldness apparently deceived the rebels into believing the train guard was much larger than it really was. [10]

At daybreak, Hood was furious to learn that Schofield had slipped out of his trap.  Now that his best opportunity to prevent a link-up between Schofield and Thomas was lost, he would throw his troops headlong into Schofield’s command in desperation.  That reckless assault would occur late that afternoon, November 30th, fifteen miles north of Spring Hill, at Franklin, against stout Union defenses prepared largely by another Oberlin alumnus, Major General Jacob Cox of the 23rd Corps, and supplied in part by the wagon train that had been saved by Steele’s improvised force that morning.   The result was arguably the most devastating defeat suffered by the Confederate army in the entire war.  Six Confederate generals were mortally wounded that day.  Only one Union general was wounded, and that was General Stanley, who was struck by a bullet in the  neck as he took the field to help lead a countercharge and close a dangerous breach that had opened in his lines.  Major Steele was reported to be with him; that is, until he was knocked off his horse by a rebel Minié ball (a large caliber rifled bullet notorious for its bone-shattering effects) that passed through his breast pocket.  But Hood was repulsed, and that night Schofield slipped away again, ultimately to hook up with General Thomas at Nashville, where two weeks later they virtually destroyed what was left of Hood’s army.  Ohio was saved from invasion. [11]

Jacob Dolson Cox
Jacob Dolson Cox [12]

Meanwhile, Stanley and Steele were furloughed to convalesce from their wounds.  Steele would tell the Oberlin townsfolk how his life had been saved by the contents of his breast pocket, which absorbed the impact of the Minié ball that struck him down.  But this wasn’t the classic narrative of the devout war hero saved by a bullet-stopping Bible.  Instead, Steele liked to tell how he was hit “in my euchre deck”.  (One can only wonder whether the theologians of Oberlin shook their heads in disappointment over the card-playing, cigar-smoking, renegade hero!) [13]

Steele recovered and returned to action, this time in Texas, to fight the last major Confederate hold-out, General Edmund Kirby Smith.  He received one more promotion, to brevet Lieutenant Colonel, before he was mustered out of service in 1866.

But his life of service was only just beginning.  He returned to Oberlin and became active in all aspects of community life and politics.  He served as Lorain County Probate Judge and for many years as Oberlin’s Postmaster.  At a community meeting in February, 1866, he delivered a speech and joined in passing a set of resolutions supporting Congress in its growing rift with President Andrew Johnson over Reconstruction policy.  Among the resolutions passed was one exhorting Congress “to give the control of the nation to its loyal inhabitants, and full protection to the freed men in the exercises of all rights and privileges we claim for ourselves.” [14]

He was a staunch advocate of a reliable, safe community water supply, and played a crucial role in bringing it to fruition.  He also worked tirelessly for other modern improvements, as well as community beautification.  “We’ve got to keep moving,” he told a community meeting.  “No psychology or theology will make a person who is accustomed to a marble lavatory, satisfied with a wash bowl on a stump.  Self-inflicted torture is out of date… The world moves and we have to move with it.  In fact we ought to move a little ahead of it.” [15]

He firmly believed that citizens ought to “so arrange our private affairs as not to close the door against our public duties.”  And practicing what he preached, he accepted an appointment as a trustee of the County Children’s Home in Oberlin.   In the words of Oberlin College Professor Azariah S. Root, “One had only to see the Judge as he was about the place and witness the affectionate attitude of the children toward him, to realize how much of genuine, loving service he was giving to the enterprise…” [16]

In 1897 he was awarded the Medal of Honor for “saving the train” at the Battle of Spring Hill 33 years earlier, and President William McKinley, a fellow Ohio Republican Civil War veteran, invited him to the White House.  (Interestingly, Steele’s commanding officer, General Stanley, received the Medal of Honor four years earlier for the counterattack he “gallantly led” at the Battle of Franklin in which he and Steele were wounded.)

Steele’s final public service was one of particular honor and responsibility.  He was selected to distribute the funds that had been donated by  Andrew Carnegie to students and residents of Oberlin who had been financially devastated by the failure of the Citizens Bank in the wake of the Cassie Chadwick scandal.  According to Oberlin College President Henry Churchill King, “no one could be associated with him in that work, and not recognize the great pains with which he went into the multitudes of cases, following them out with insight and tact and sympathy, carrying often their burden as though it were an individual burden of his own.” [17]

It is noteworthy that Steele, a non-religious man, should gain such a reputation for “uncompromising honesty” and trustworthiness in the devoutly pious community of early Oberlin.  He did in time, however, confess to telling one little white lie.  In an 1886 interview with a Chicago newspaper, Steele divulged that the bullet-stopping contents of his pocket on the battlefield that distant day was not a euchre deck after all.  But neither was it a New Testament or an Old Testament.  Instead it was a leather-bound memorandum book, which he kept and passed on to his family, bullet hole and all.  When asked why he had told the “staid but patriotic professors at Oberlin” that it was a euchre deck, Steele explained: “You see, I was afraid they would distort my memorandum book into a Testament, and make a text of the incident, and I had to do a little hedging to keep myself out of the pulpit.” [18]

On April 26, 1905 the pulpit caught up with Colonel Steele nonetheless, when at the age of 69 he died of a heart ailment.  The Oberlin News devoted its entire front page and much of its second page to an obituary and the transcripts of three eulogies delivered at his funeral service at First Church.  One of the eulogists was Oberlin College President King, whose words I close with:

“…In his death Oberlin loses one of her most individual links with her past, and one of her most interesting and important citizens.  Thinking himself, doubtless, sometimes out of sympathy with much in Oberlin, he nevertheless showed a persistent and an almost unmatched devotion to her interests, both in the defense of her reputation and in care for her practical interests…

We are coming to understand now what was not so clear in the days of his young manhood, that we cannot require the same kind of response from widely different temperaments.

… but his close friends learned to see that a sometimes brusque manner was the shield of a marked sensitiveness and a rare tenderness that yet could not be wholly hidden.  And those did not know him who had not seen in him that delicate courtesy that seems often to belong to the true soldier – a courtesy that was more than courtliness, full of genuine human feeling, and free from all affectation and every trace of condescension.  He was a rare friend and a rare public servant.” [19]

Steele tombstone

John Whedon Steele is buried in Westwood Cemetery, Section R, where his grave is a stop on the Oberlin Heritage Center’s “Radicals and Reformers” history walk.

SOURCES CONSULTED:

Wilbur H. Phillips, Oberlin Colony: The Story of a Century

“Another Honored Citizen Gone”, Oberlin News, May 2, 1905, pp. 1-2

David S. Stanley, Personal Memoirs of Major-General D. S. Stanley

“John W. Steele Ex ’60″, Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Vol 1, pp. 238-239

“Col. J. W. Steele”, The Elyria Republican, July 29, 1886

John K. Shellenberger, The Battle of Spring Hill, Tennessee

Dennis W. Belcher, General David S. Stanley, USA: A Civil War Biography

Jamie Gillum, Stephen M. Hood, Twenty-five Hours to Tragedy: The Battle of Spring Hill

“The 41st O.V.”, Lorain County News, April 16, 1862, p. 2

“The 41st O.V. before, at and after the Battle of Pittsburg Landing”, Lorain County News, April 30, 1862, p. 2

“The Voice of Oberlin, Its Words for the Crisis”, Lorain County News, March 7, 1866, p. 3

Official Records of the Rebellion (abbrev. “O.R.” below)

“Promoted”, Lorain County News, February 29, 1862, p. 2

George Frederick Wright, A Standard History of Lorain County, Ohio

Oberlin College Archives, “Steele, John Whedon 1851-1858″ student file, RG 28, Series 1, Sub-series 1, Box 241

41st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry (1861-1865)“, Ohio Civil War Central

Jacob Dolson Cox (1828-1900)“, The North Carolina Civil War Experience

Robert Samuel Fletcher, A history of Oberlin College: from its foundation through the Civil War, Volume 1

General Catalogue of Oberlin College, 1833 [-] 1908, Oberlin College Archives, p. 1582

“Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database”, National Park Service

“Pension applications for service in the US Army between 1861 and 1900″, National Archives.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] “Steele, John Whedon 1851-1858″ student (alumnus) file, Box 241

[2] Phillips, pp. 220, 234

[3] “Promoted”, “The 41st O.V.”; “The 41st O.V. before…”; O.R. Series I, Volume X, Part 1, p. 324

[4] “Another Honored Citizen Gone”

[5] Stanley, pp. 196-197

[6] O.R. Series 1, Vol 45, Part 1, p. 1138

[7] Stanley, p. 204

[8] O.R. Series 1, Vol 45, Part 1, p. 115

[9] Stanley, p. 205

[10] O.R. Series 1, Vol 45, Part 1, p. 115

[11] ibid.; Belcher, p. 213; “Col. J. W. Steele”; Phillips, pp. 223-224

[12] “Jacob Dolson Cox (1828-1900)

[13] “Col. J.W. Steele”; Phillips, pp. 224, 239

[14] “The Voice of Oberlin”

[15] Phillips, pp. 153, 233; “Another Honored Citizen Gone”

[16] Phillips, p. 234; Wright, p. 183; “Another Honored Citizen Gone”

[17] “Another Honored Citizen Gone”

[18] “Another Honored Citizen Gone”; Phillips, pp. 224, 234; “Col. J.W. Steele”

[19] “Another Honored Citizen Gone”

Oral History: Halloween Traditions

October 29th, 2014

(Part One of a Three-Part Holiday blog series) by Melissa Clifford, 2014 Kent State MLIS Museum Studies graduate student

*Please note that all speaker-clip-art1 icons are actually links to sound files so that you can hear our Oral History interviewees tell their own stories!*

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I can’t for sure tell you why, but I love everything about the costumes, neighborhood activity, horror movies, essentially everything that makes Halloween the event that we know today. This got me thinking, though, how has Halloween evolved? We hear every year that “Christmas is becoming too commercialized,” and “Remember the reason for the season.” This makes me question if the same thing has happened to Halloween.

Growing up, my Halloween consisted of finding the perfect Halloween costume each year (I’m not going to lie, it was a mermaid costume nine times out of ten). Then my classroom would have a Halloween party where we got to dress up in school. On Halloween night we’d wait until almost dark and then run up and down our cul-de-sac roads scooping up as much candy as we could before our neighbors ran out. I’m realizing now that some of these traditions have evolved, and it hasn’t been that long since I was the child participating in the Halloween festivities.

10399518_520063741751_3791658_n

 (Alright, I’m not always a mermaid– but then again, this costume wasn’t for Halloween!)

For some context into the evolution of Halloween throughout the years, I consulted the Oberlin Heritage Center’s oral history transcripts. I was hoping that I could find a good story that illustrates what Halloween was like in the years before I was born. As I’ve already described, my Halloween memories consisted of seeking out the biggest stockpile of candy that we could amass. Often times this quest meant seeking out the houses that left their candy unguarded. From these candy bowls we would take huge handfuls of candy to fill our pillowcases. As Patty Stetson described in her interview with Lisa Goodman in 1984, there was a time when children had a little more self control when it came to a heaping bowl of unattended candy:

I think another typical example of Oberlin youth is the lady on Morgan Street who was able to leave her basket of goodies for trick or treat night. She was going to be away, and she wanted the children to be able to have a treat. She didn’t want any tricks, so she just left a great big basket out on her front step with a note saying that she was very sorry she was out of town, but she wanted to make sure that all the children received their treats, and our children came home so thrilled that night that when they got to her house, there was a good supply left, and everyone just helped themselves to one a piece. And this was about an hour into the trick or treat [time] on Halloween night, so no one had bothered to dump them or steal them or fill their pockets. They just all took their share and went on their way.
speaker-clip-art1–Patty Stetson, January 18, 1984

 

Patty then goes on to describe another Halloween tradition: pranks. Today I think our most common Halloween pranks are pumpkin smashing and toilet-papering a house. These are fairly harmless pranks, but Patty tells a story of a less harmless Halloween prank that happened to her mother in the past.

Surprisingly enough, we very rarely hear of any pranks. I remember my mother had a terrible prank played on her. The gal, to this day—she lives in Colorado now—and this was when she was a little girl. Every time she comes back to town, she reminds me of the time she burned my mother’s wooden yard furniture… she and her two brothers. They just had decided—they all lived on East College Street, and they just decided it would be very funny to start a barn fire, and they were going to use this wooden furniture out near the [South] Park Street playground… the only prank I ever really remember. Unfortunately, they were punished, I am afraid, by the police. But it isn’t often, I think maybe twice that I can remember, out of all the years I lived here, have I gone downtown and seen soaped windows, which seemed to be the common thing to do on Halloween.
speaker-clip-art1–Patty Stetson, January 18, 1984

 

Another Halloween tradition that I fondly recall from my childhood was the events that took place after our Trick-or-Treating was done. While the adults spent time talking, myself, my brother, and our neighborhood friends would run around our backyards playing a game we called “Scare”. The game basically played like Hide and Seek except the main goal was to jump out and scare your friends once they got close to your hiding spot. Eventually once we were done playing we would then go to one of our houses and have some hot chocolate and start digging into our candy. From the next clip in our oral history collection, you can see that frightening or annoying your neighbors and then getting to spend quality time with them is a pretty old Halloween tradition:

MH: Halloween—we always put on some sort of mask and some kind of ridiculous costume and made the rounds of the neighborhood, but we were never distrusted. We didn’t have beggars’ night as they do now; the night before Halloween proper, we called it Tic Tac night; we would take a spool and notch the edges of it and put a pencil or something through it—a piece of wood—and a string around it and draw that over a window, and this made a sort of frightening sound and that was as far as we went to annoy our neighbors.
MA: And there were no handouts …
MH: And there were no handouts. And sometimes, I remember Mrs. Bear, who lived on Elm Street, would often let us come to her house, and we might have cider and donuts after we had made our rounds on Prospect, but that was fun. 

speaker-clip-art1–Mildred Haines (as interviewed by Millie Arthrell), November 23, 1982

 

As I finish up this post, I would like to leave you with a reassurance from years gone by. As we all know, and probably complain about, it seems that our holidays are starting to run together. Our back-to-school supplies are sold in retail stores alongside our Halloween decorations. Our Halloween candy is displayed right next to this year’s latest and greatest turkey roasters, and even our Christmas decorations can be bought before Thanksgiving is even over. Every year I’ve felt that our holidays are coming earlier and earlier so while researching for this post, I came across this short clip that made me a lot more comfortable with our current state of holiday planning. As it turns out, Frank Zavodsky noticed that Christmas was seeping into Halloween decades ago, so maybe this is a holiday trend that isn’t so unfamiliar after all!

Before Halloween is over or before Halloween gets here, they are starting to play Christmas music in the stores. This just turns me off.

speaker-clip-art1–Frank Zavodsky, January 29, 1987

 

Oberlin’s Business Growth As Seen In Oberlin High School Annuals

October 18th, 2014

by Linda Gates, Front Office Employee

Hello everyone!  My name is Linda Gates. I work at OHC through the Mature Services program. Mature Services helps people 55 years old and over find jobs where we can learn new skills and get back into the working world. We are placed in non-profits. I have learned many new skills at OHC. So far I have learned new computer programs, GIANT MAIL PROJECTS, research, and oral history transcription. And I am still learning.

I have been working on an ongoing project for the Museum Education and Tour Coordinator for a year now. The project is this: documenting the advertisements in the O-High annuals (year books from Oberlin High School). The oldest annual in our collection is from 1900 and I have worked my way up through 1945. The spread sheet has this information: name of annual, year, the business name, description of the business, address and phone numbers, and slogans. It is interesting how the advertisements become more sophisticated through the years. Many businesses had their business phone and their home phones listed. It is interesting to see the growth of this area in the phone numbers. The numbers begin with just two digits, then three and four digits by 1945.

Here are a few that I have selected to share with you. Some are straight forward, some are funny, and some patriotic. I hope you enjoy them.

1900 Oberlin Coal and Lumber Co.
Leading Dealers in the best of all grades of hard and soft coal
Interior finish, doors, sash, blinds, shingles, lath, plaster, hair, etc.
Office Mills and Yard 271 S. Main St., Phone 52

1900 Lee, The Hack and Liveryman
Carriages, phaetons, buggies or traps for driving
“It is the season now to go, about the country high and low, and bring back pleasant time to show, ’tis well Lee’s Livery to know.”
32 E. College Street, Phone 77

1924 Jackson Broadwell Co.
Canfield Gasoline, Wm. Penn Motor Oils
N. Main Street (On the square)

1925 Dalton Bootery
“Tis a Feat to Fit Feet”

1925 Mary E. Vanderlip, Fireside Industries
Home-woven linen and wool in sport skirts, bags, scarfs, runners, table covers, luncheon sets and pillow covers
Berea, KY

1925 Gibson Brothers
Lunch, candy, ice cream, baked goods made daily

1925 Rent a Ford Car Rental
(first car rental ad in the annuals)

1925 Ford Ad-04

1925 Ford Advertisement
Source: oldcaradvertising.com

1925 Ohly’s Corner Drug Store
“The best in drugs. Phone us your wants. We deliver.”

1925 Weiss, The Tailor
“nuff said”

1925 The Yocom Brothers Company
Men’s and women’s clothing for vacation days: knickers, khaki blouses, corduroy and suede-like jackets, “Bradley Bathing Suits” new model, reasonable prices

Bradley Bathing Suit

 

Vintage Ad for Bradley Bathing Suits
Source: Vintage Ads, a Livejournal community

1925 Severy & Sage
“The Home of the Richelieu”
(Richelieu Foods is a private label food manufacturing company founded in 1862, headquartered in Randolph, Massachusetts.)

1927 J.V. Hill
Straw Hats in all the styles, knickers, dutch trousers, sport sweaters
“Watch our windows.”

1928 Henry G. Klermund
Authorized Ford, Lincoln, Fordson Agent

1929 Pfaff & Morris
“Sell Society Brand Clothes, Florsheim and Bostonian Shoes”

Society_Brand_Clothes_Colliers_1913_Oct_4_advertisement

1913 Advertisement for Society Brand Clothes
Source: Colliers Oct. 4, 1913 / Wikipedia

1929 Haislet’s Billiard Room
All leading brands of cigars, cigarettes, tobacco and pipes

1930 C. G. Hallauer E. E. West
This is a “Dairy Service Company”
Watch for”the Cap with the Red Tab”, Pasteurized Milk and Cream
135 S. Main Street. Call 284 for Daily Service. Quality-Courtesy Satisfaction

1930 Dalton & Crowell Bootery
Shoes Fitted by X-Ray
Fluoroscopes consist of an X-ray generating tube and a fluorescent screen. In use, the patient stands between the two, and an image of the patient’s body appears on the screen. Unlike still X-ray images made on photographic film, fluoroscopes allow doctors to observe a moving body in real time.
33 W. College Street

1938 Miles J. Watson
“See the New Frigidaire with the Meter-Miser”

1938 The Ben Franklin Store
Variety Store
(1st ad appearing in annuals)

1938 Oberlin Food Store
Authorized Birdseye Dealers – Groceries

1939 The Gas Company
Servel Electrolux, Gas Refrigerator, Silent – Economical – Permanent

1939 The Oberlin Printing Co.
“Anything in printing, from a card to a book.”

1939 Sprunger’s Hatchery and Poultry Farm
“Quality chicks from blood-tested matings”

1940 Apollo Theatre
“Always a Good Show”

1942 Glenn’s Tower Lunch
Glenn Butch Bahr
“Our Coke supply is limited, And sugar’s rationed, too; Best wishes, tho, are free, and “Here’s Luck” from us to you!”

1942 Locke’s
“Good Food – Your Best Defense”
(image of a soldier)

1943 The Oberlin Savings Bank Company
“Send a Letter to Hitler… You don’t have to write anything. All you have to do is sign your name and BUY A WAR BOND. Every War Bond you buy is bad news to him. Sent this message Regularly and Frequently. Member–Federal Deposit”

1944 The O-High 1944
This 1944 annual has an airplane on the cover.  The inside has two pages with O-High written out in stars and strips and also a war plane.  The whole yearbook is very patriotic and beautiful. Pictures of men in uniform introduce a new chapter.

The Battle of New Market Heights: the 5th USCT’s “Glory”

September 24th, 2014

by Ron Gorman, Oberlin Heritage Center volunteer docent

150 years ago this week, an important, but often overlooked, battle was fought in the American Civil War.  It was the Battle of New Market Heights, fought September 29, 1864, on the outskirts of the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia.   It was important because it showcased a new strategy that Union General Ulysses S. Grant would employ successfully against Confederate General Robert E. Lee – a strategy that involved, in part, the use of African American soldiers.  With 180,000 African American soldiers joining the Union cause in the last two years of the war, this was a significant morale boost for the Union, and a bad omen for the Confederacy.  It was also an important battle for Ohio, as the victory was led by  Ohio’s first African American regiment, the 5th United States Colored Troops (USCT) infantry.  And it was especially important to Oberlin, whose influence and presence pervaded the 5th USCT.

Langston-colors
John Mercer Langston presents the colors to the 5th USCT

That influence began with Oberlin’s  John Mercer Langston.  When Congress passed legislation in 1862 that allowed African Americans to serve in the United States army for the first time in decades, Langston volunteered to recruit an Ohio regiment.  But Ohio Governor David Tod told Langston that “to enlist a negro soldier would be to drive every white man out of the service.”   Meanwhile black regiments were recruited in other states, and Langston and his Oberlin brother-in-law, Orindatus S. B. Wall, helped recruit the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, which included 18 Oberlin men and would be immortalized in the 1989 movie “Glory”.  Finally, in June, 1863, Governor Tod gave Langston and Wall the go-ahead to recruit Ohio’s own black regiments.  They diligently set about recruiting African Americans from all over Ohio, including four more men from Oberlin.  These men enlisted in the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which eventually was renamed the 5th United States Colored Infantry. [1]

WallShurtleff

Although racial tabboo dictated that the regiment be led by white officers, Langston knew the perfect candidate for its  commander, “a young man of extraordinarily high personal and social character, of strictly Christian principles and habits, with recognized reputation and influence as an abolitionist and friend of the negro race”, Oberlin’s Giles W. Shurtleff.  Shurtleff had served earlier in the war as Captain of the “Monroe Rifles” (see A Fond Farewell and Oberlinians’ First Battle of the Civil War).  When informed of his nomination, Shurtleff wrote his future wife, “I do not seek the appointment but am willing to take it if I can be of service to the country and to the blacks.”  But Shurtleff was appointed assistant commander, with a commission as Lieutenant Colonel, instead.  Several other white Oberlinites would also secure officer’s positions in the regiment, including James B. T. Marsh (quartermaster, and former publisher of the abolitionist Lorain County News), Elliott Grabill (adjutant),  and John Patton (chaplain). [2]

The regiment was mustered into service in November, 1863 and attached to the “Army of the James”, operating in the James River watershed of eastern Virginia.  There they would see much more action than their sister Ohio regiment, the 27th USCT (see my Battle of the Crater post), due largely to the Army of the James’ controversial commander, Major General Benjamin Butler, who had become one of the army’s strongest advocates of the abilities of the black troops.  And so the 5th USCT immediately began launching raids in coastal Virginia and North Carolina, capturing guerillas, destroying Confederate supplies, and freeing slaves. [3]

In June, 1864, when General Ulysses S. Grant launched the Army of the Potomac against the Confederate rail hub of Petersburg, just south of Richmond (see my  Battle of the Crater blog), the 5th USCT participated in the initial assault on its sparsely manned defenses.  Together with several other USCT regiments, they captured Confederate entrenchments, artillery positions and cannon.  With proper reinforcement they would have been in a prime position to capture Petersburg itself.  But the commanding general on the field hesitated, and to Shurtleff’s great frustration, “the next day there were confronting us instead of 2,200 of Wise’s Militia and convalescents of the previous evening, 10,000 veterans with bristling bayonets and a hundred cannon mouths all behind strong breastworks and formidable redans; and during the next three days 10,000 brave soldiers were sacrificed in fruitless assaults…”  Thus began a 9 month siege of the city of Petersburg. [4]

Nevertheless, the news of the success of the 5th USCT and their fellow African American regiments spread far and wide.  President Lincoln himself expressed “the greatest delight” with “how gallantly they behaved” and accepted General Grant’s invitation to review them a few days later.  According to Lieutenant Grabill, “the colored men lined both sides of the road and cheered”  as Lincoln and Grant rode by.  An aide to General Grant reported, “the President rode with bared head; the tears had started to his eyes, and his voice was so broken with emotion that he could scarcely articulate the words of thanks and congratulations with which he tried to speak to the humble and devoted men through whose ranks he rode.”  [5]

In fact, the accomplishment of Butler’s USCT regiments during the initial assault on Petersburg helped inspire General Ambrose Burnside’s decision to have his own USCT regiments spearhead the assault at the Battle of the Crater six weeks later.  Interestingly, the 5th USCT, now assigned to duty in the Petersburg trenches, would have a ringside seat for that battle, helplessly watching the “unspeakable stupidity” (in Shurtleff’s words) of the management of that battle, and suffering 14 casualties to friendly fire in the process.  [6]

The Battle of the Crater appears to have finally convinced Grant of two things: the futility of storming heavily manned entrenchments head-on (with or without the help of explosive-laden underground mineshafts), and the fighting mettle of the USCT soldiers.  So now he embarked on a new strategy in which the USCT regiments would play a crucial role.  In late August, the 5th USCT was pulled out of the Petersburg trenches and sent to the banks of the James River on the outskirts of Richmond, where they were to prepare for an upcoming offensive.  Grant was going to hit Lee with a one-two punch at both ends of his line simultaneously.

The Army of the James would attack the northern end of the Confederate line at the heavily fortified but lightly manned outskirts of Richmond.  Grant hoped that they could gain a foothold on the James peninsula and draw enough Confederate reinforcements away from Petersburg so his attack at the south end of the line could succeed as well.  Butler devised a strategy for a two-pronged attack against the Richmond defenses, with the western prong (comprised mostly of white soldiers) attacking Fort Harrison, and the eastern prong  (comprised of two white divisions and two black divisions) attacking a formidable position called New Market Heights.

Sept 29 offensive

The attack began at dawn on September 29, 1864.  While the western prong made solid gains against the defenses surrounding Fort Harrison, the eastern prong got off to an inauspicious start.  The consensus among military historians is that the generals commanding this prong fed their troops in piecemeal, negating their huge numerical advantage.  To make matters worse, the troops had to advance across extremely difficult terrain under fire from what one military historian called “among the best [infantry] in the Army of Northern Virginia.”  The 4th USCT and 6th USCT regiments spearheaded this assault.  In forty minutes of grueling fighting a few of these soldiers actually succeeded in breaching the Confederate entrenchments, but not enough to take the position.  Ultimately they were driven back with heavy casualties. [7]

At 8:00 AM the Union command made a second attempt, but again using the same piecemeal approach.  This time the 5th USCT, now under the command of Colonel Shurtleff, would lead the advance over the same terrain where the 4th and 6th USCT had just been so disastrously repulsed.  Exhorting his troops to erase the “stigma” of “cruel prejudice and oppression”, Shurtleff led them onto the battlefield.  The regiment had to ford a stream and slog their way through marshy bottomlands and over the bodies of their fallen comrades, during which time Shurtleff noted that enemy artillery “poured in upon us with incessant fury.”   One Confederate recounted that as the USCT troops advanced upon them, “they shouted remember ‘Fort Pillow’ & give the Rebels no quarter.  This stirred up our men and everybody seemed mad for the first time.”  Shurtleff observed that “the enemy’s infantry opened moderately upon us, and shouted in defiance and derision, ‘Come on, you smoked yankees, we want your guns’.”  [8]

But this was the easy part.  Climbing the slope out of the marshes, the troops encountered two lines of enemy obstructions called “abatis”.  At this point, Shurtleff noted, “our progress was arrested, and the most murderous fire that I witnessed during the war opened upon us.”  (Coming from a man who had witnessed first-hand the carnage of the Battle of the Crater and the Battle of Fredericksburg, this statement carries some weight.)  Shurtleff himself was struck by a rebel bullet in the hand, but receiving no order to retreat, he commanded his men “Forward, double quick”, at which time he “received a second wound in the thigh which rendered me insensible for perhaps 15 minutes.” [9]

chevausdefrise
Chevaux-de-frise” – one of the lines of “abatis” that the USCTs had to get past

Shurtleff was one of several 5th USCT officers taken out by enemy fire.  Four of the regiment’s ten companies suddenly found themselves without any officers to guide them.  In such circumstances, Civil War soldiers would often break into panicked retreat.  But four sergeants, all African American, now stepped up to take command of their leaderless companies and rally them forward.  However such grit and determination, against such galling fire, would likely have resulted only in scattering the bodies of more USCT heroes over the battlefield if it weren’t for another concurrent development.

At about the same time the 5th USCT began its advance, the Confederate commander, under heavy assault at Fort Harrison, requested reinforcements from the New Market Heights line.  So now, as rebel soldiers were systematically pulled out of the New Market Heights defenses, the amount of fire greeting the advancing USCT troops gradually diminished, until at some point it dwindled to a level where the sheer determination of the USCT troops was able to overcome it.  (There is considerable disagreement among military historians about the exact timing and scope of this. [10])  At that point, the 5th USCT, followed by two other USCT regiments, swarmed through the abatis and over the Confederate parapets.  And so it was that Colonel Shurtleff regained consciousness just in time to see his troops “chasing the rebels over a hill a quarter of a mile beyond the works they had captured.” [11]

Although a Confederate soldier would later write that “Richmond came nearer being captured, and that, too, by negro troops, than it ever did during the whole war”, the Rebels weren’t about to give up.  The Confederates had an “intermediate” line of entrenchments located about 4 miles in the rear.  This line was now manned by rebel soldiers who had been driven out of New Market Heights and Fort Harrison, which had been overrun by Butler’s western prong.  By the time the Union troops regrouped to attack these defenses, they were already being reinforced with troops sent from Richmond and Petersburg by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  The 5th USCT, already decimated at New Market Heights, would now be called on again to shed even more blood assaulting the lynchpin of these works at Fort Gilmer, but were unable to repeat their earlier success.   It became clear that the Army of the James had gone as far as it could and now would have to hunker down to hold the territory it had gained.  This it would do, despite the arrival of General Lee to personally direct Confederate attempts to retake that ground. [12]

The transfer of Confederate reinforcements from Petersburg to Richmond also aided in the success of the southern portion of Grant’s one-two punch.  Union troops there were able to capture territory up to two miles beyond the existing lines.  The Union gains at both ends of the line forced the Confederates to lengthen their own lines and spread their dwindling manpower even thinner.  Just three months later, Robert E. Lee would become so desperate for manpower that he would propose a “plan of gradual and general emancipation”, explaining that “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies, and the slaves be used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced upon our social institutions. My own opinion is that we should employ them without delay.”   And just three months after that, Lee’s thin lines would break completely and USCT troops would march into Richmond. [13]

But the New Market Heights victory didn’t come cheap.  The 5th USCT lost 236 men that day – killed, wounded, captured, and missing – out of the 540 they started with.   Among the killed were Oberlin’s Henderson Taborn and James Matthews, both of whom had to be left severely wounded on the battlefield (presumably at Fort Gilmer, where the Confederates retained control of the ground).  Taborn, a cabinet maker and father of five, was reported seen “after his death” by “comrades who were taken prisoner at the time of the assault.”   But nothing further was ever heard of Matthews, who, when recruited, had told Langston of “his desire to have his [pregnant] wife and also his child when born well provided and cared for” in his absence.  His military file states that he was captured and killed by the rebels, but this appears to be speculation. Although there were credible reports of Confederates killing black captives, the slaughter wasn’t nearly as widespread as it had been at the Battle of the Crater, and some wounded black prisoners were treated at Richmond hospitals and even survived the war.   But whether Matthews died of his battle wounds or something more sinister, the young man who had “expressed great tenderness” for his pregnant wife would never see his baby daughter. [14]

Matthews-Taborn-retouch
Matthews and Taborn: Oberlin Soldiers’ Monument

Several surviving soldiers of the 5th USCT, including Colonel Shurtleff, were awarded promotions for their heroism at New Market Heights and Fort Gilmer.  Milton Holland, one of the African American sergeants who took command of his company on the field, was awarded a battlefield promotion to captain by General Butler, only to have it rescinded by the War Department on account of Holland’s race*.  So instead Butler awarded a newly issued medal to Holland and the three other 5th USCT sergeants who led their companies, along with 10 other black soldiers from his other regiments.  (Although none of these men were from Oberlin, Robert Pinn attended Oberlin College after the war).  This new medal was the “Medal of Honor”.   Little did anyone realize at the time how prestigious this medal would someday become, but I think the full prestige of this award today is well deserved by these men for their heroic struggle in two battles simultaneously – one against the Confederate army, and the other against the “cruel prejudice and oppression” that pervaded both armies. [15]

Milton Pinn Beaty Bronson

*NOTE: It was reported that Governor Tod advised Holland that his promotion could be reinstated if he would deny his African ancestry.  Holland refused. [16]  Two bills have recently been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 3364 and H.R. 3412) to posthumously reinstate the rank of captain to this Medal of Honor recipient.

In my next and final blog in this Civil War sesquicentennial mini-series, I’ll tell the story of Oberlin’s own recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

 

Sources Consulted:

Versalle F. Washington, EAGLES ON THEIR BUTTONS: A BLACK INFANTRY REGIMENT IN THE CIVIL WAR

James S. Price, The Battle of New Market Heights

Giles W. Shurtleff, “Reminiscences of Army Life”, Oberlin College Archives, RG 30/032, Series 7, Subseries 1, Box 1, “Writings re the Civil War”

Catherine Durant Vorhees, The Colors of Dignity

Richard J. Sommers, Richmond Redeemed: The Siege at Petersburg

Official Records of the Rebellion (abbrev. “O.R.” below), Series 1, 4

William E. Bigglestone, They Stopped in Oberlin

Oberlin College Archives (abbrev. “O.C.A.” below), RG 30/151, Series I, Subseries 1, “William E. Bigglestone Papers; Files Relating to They Stopped in Oberlin; Civil War Military Records”

John Mercer Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol

Richard Slotkin, No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864

Charles Bracelen Flood, 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History

Connie Perdreau, A Biographical Sketch of Master Sergeant Milton Holland, Gen. Charles H. Grosvenor Civil War Round Table

“Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database”, National Park Service

General Catalogue of Oberlin College, 1833 [-] 1908, Oberlin College Archives

“Great Fighting about Richmond”, Lorain County News, October 5, 1864, p. 3

George Washington Williams, A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion

James M. Guthrie, Campfires of the Afro-American

 

Footnotes:

[1] Langston, p. 206; Washington, pp. 7-9; Bigglestone, p. 237

[2] Langston, p. 209; Voorhees, p. 102

[3] Washington, pp. 33-34

[4] Washington, pp. 42-43; Shurtleff, p. 13

[5] Vorhees, p. 129; Flood, pp. 155-156

[6] Shurtleff, pp. 31-34

[7] Sommers, p. 34

[8] Washington, p. 53; Shurtleff, pp. 37-38; Price, p. 71

[9] Shurtleff, pp. 38-39

[10] Sommers, p. 38; Price, pp. 69-70,77-78, 87-89; Washington, pp. 56-57

[11] Shurtleff, p. 41

[12] Price, p.86

[13] O.R., Series 4, Vol 3, Part 1, p. 1013

[14] Washington, pp. 53, 59, 60, 89-90; Bigglestone, pp. 147, 196, 238;  Affidavit (G. W. Shurtleff), “Taborn, Henderson” file, O.C.A., Bigglestone Papers, Box 3; Sommers, p. 35; Memorandum (Adjutant General’s Office, Nov 4, 1869), “Matthew, James” file, O.C.A., Bigglestone Papers, Box 2

[15] O.R., Series 1, Vol 42, Part 3, p. 168; General Catalogue, p. 771; Voorhees, p. 191

[16] Perdreau