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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

Volunteering: A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

September 6th, 2014

by Melissa Clifford, 2014 Kent State MLIS Museum Studies graduate student

What does it mean to be a volunteer? I used to ask myself that question a lot before I began working with the Oberlin Heritage Center. Previously I had done volunteer work but it was usually a one-day, one-time event. I had never had an on-going volunteer position. To me, a volunteer was the bottom of the totem pole grunt worker. You were basically the reserves that were called in to fill out space in a group. I was completely wrong. At the Oberlin Heritage Center, I have learned that a volunteer is a vital part of a team. You are the person that the staff relies on to complete projects that they cannot get to. You are the relief that can be called on when all other available docents are promised to other activities. Most importantly, you are a colleague that can be relied upon and you play a crucial role in the success of the museum.

I have been a volunteer at the OHC for a year now, and it is really hard for me to nail down just what we volunteers do here at the museum. Sometimes we are the tour guides that are greeting guests as they walk in for a tour. Other times we are the people out cleaning up leaves from walkways. We could also be the archivists working on preserving memories of times gone by. Essentially, we are flexible in roles and will do whatever is needed to further the museum’s mission. Most of my time has been spent preserving Oberlin’s history through the Oral History Project.

The Oberlin Oral History Project started in the late 1970s as a group effort to interview diverse people throughout Oberlin and to hear their personal stories. Most of the people interviewed were in their 80s, and could recollect what Oberlin was like in the 1890s and early 1900s. As time went on, more and more interviews were collected until there were eighty-one different interviews recorded, comprising approximately 170 hours of oral history. These interviews were conducted on cassette tapes, and while that media is fairly stable and it is unlikely that we will lose these memories anytime soon, it is still important to preserve them so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come. This is where I come in. IMG_0199 The volunteers (including me!) at the Oberlin Heritage Center have been spending countless hours recording, saving, and converting these cassette tapes into digital sound files. Through this process our hope is that we can not only preserve these memories moving forward, but we can also use them to provide our patrons new and exciting programs and online features in the future. This helps the museum with some of its preservation work, but volunteers such as myself learn a lot along the way too. I’d like to share some of the cool pieces of information I’ve learned about Oberlin history by working on this project.

1. Transportation now is a lot different than it used to be:

I started teaching then in Huntington, and father Sunday night would take me down to Brewster’s Corners because there was a streetcar line that went from Elyria down through Oberlin and then to Wellington, and I would get that car about 4:00 and get to Wellington, then there would be a bus in Wellington that would go down to Ashland that would take me to the center of Huntington and I would then do to Luke Chapman’s. And, so I stayed with Luke and Alta Chapman through the week, and then when Friday night came, why I could catch the bus and go to Wellington, then get the car from Wellington, to Brewster’s Corners and walk home.”—Mabel Brown, April 17, 1984

speaker-clip-art1 Click here to listen to Mabel tell her story

 

2. Matadors aren’t the only people who anger bulls:

I remember one time I was watching a herd. I had on a red sweater and whatever I did I agitated a bull. I got up into a tree, but it was a real scary adventure. But they had a ring in his nose and the guys got to him and they managed to get a hold of that and get him back up into the herd.”—Delores Carter, January 24, 1987

speaker-clip-art1 Click here to listen to Delores tell her story

 

3. Even the Oberlin elderly had a party line:

When asked about how older people spent their leisure time, “Oh, they didn’t have a whole lot. But what they did—they had no radio and no television, and the telephone was on the wall, and they’d crank up one or crank two, and everybody on the line was listening and so forth, but the people entertained themselves.”— Maynard Gott, June 23, 1986

speaker-clip-art1 Click here to listen to Maynard’s story

These stories are just snippets from some of the wonderful history of Oberlin that I have been fortunate to listen in on. Other volunteers and authors have been able to use oral histories to write books. One good example of this is the book Bonnets to Boardrooms: Women’s Stories from a Historic College Town which was edited by Eugenia Poporad Vanek. She wrote this book after compiling oral history information from the same oral history materials that I’ve been working on! (If you’re interested, this book is available online or at the Oberlin Heritage Center’s museum shop).

To end this post, I believe that my volunteering has been a mutually beneficial experience. Sure, the Oberlin Heritage Center benefits from getting their tape collection digitized, but I think I benefit so much more. I get to listen to stories that bring to life Oberlin’s history. Now I can walk down the road and know that there used to be a bakery where Subway now is, or I can picture what Tappan Square was like before automobiles drove around it. Ultimately, that is the reward you get from being a volunteer, you learn to appreciate what is around you and you know you have completed meaningful work in the process.

 

Words of Wisdom for the Incoming Class

August 28th, 2014

by Jen Graham, 2013-2014 Local History Corps AmeriCorps Member

I work in a basement. Don’t worry, though! It’s not nearly as dismal as it sounds. There is plenty of light, and I’m surrounded by objects and photographs older than my grandparents. But when you’re in a basement, surrounded by so much history, it can be difficult to keep up with what’s going on in the present. That’s why, yesterday, as I was leading a walking tour through Oberlin, I was shocked to be overtaken by what seemed like thousands of new faces.

My penchant for exaggerating numbers aside, the fact remains that summer is ending. Whether we like to admit it or not, it’s time for a new school year. A new school year means new college freshman and parents wandering aimlessly and asking questions. I’ve heard some complaints, but I love it. When you live somewhere full-time, it can be easy to take it for granted. Oberlin is a beautiful city and full of a rich, dynamic history.  Seeing the excitement of the new students and their families as they take in the sights and sounds of Oberlin reminds me that I’m pretty lucky to live here.

I wanted to give the new students some words of encouragement, but felt unqualified. After all, less than a decade ago, I was one of them. I wore a lanyard; I forgot my umbrella; I asked where the Conservatory was while standing inside the Conservatory… But! If the two years since my graduation have given me anything, they’ve given me unrestricted access to some of Oberlin College’s early documents. So, naturally, I turned to history to find the words.

In the Oberlin Heritage Center resource library, we have a small, yellow book. In crimson text, it reads: Students’ Handbook, Oberlin College, 1929-1930. The information inside is charming, if mostly irrelevant to today’s college experience. If you do not find it helpful, I hope you will at least find it funny, because, if I learned anything in college, it was the value of a shared laugh.

Without further ado, I present: College Advice from the Thirties.

They even included a helpful, fold-out map in the back!

They even included a helpful, fold-out map in the back!

“To the Class of 1933:

You will graduate in the very year in which Oberlin is to celebrate its one hundredth anniversary. That puts it up to us to give you the benefit of a hundred years of teaching experience; and it puts it up to you to prove worthy of a rich opportunity.

Oberlin is recognized nationally as one of the great colleges of the country: we count on you, giving as well as getting, to help us to maintain its high standard.

The best of luck to you, and, more than that, the best of planned and earned success!

Ernest H. Wilkins
President.”

“Whether or not you will be happy in your freshman year, and the years to follow, depends on the way in which you handle yourself. At the risk of seeming to give unrequested advice the following constructive suggestions are made:

  • Keep well physically; get plenty of sleep and enjoyable physical recreation; eat regularly and sanely.

  • Cultivate cheerful acquaintances; develop a few true friendships.

  • Be active in group social affairs; develop buoyant liking for people. Live in the world of people; learn to adapt yourself to people rather than avoid them.

  • Be thoughtful of other people, rather than thinking about yourself and your possible troubles. Project your thoughts outward—concerning other people and other situations—rather than inward, concerning yourself and your worries.

  • Live in the world of reality; face facts as they are rather than build pleasant air castles which will later bring you unhappiness…

  • Cultivate confidence in yourself without developing self-conceit.

  • Exercise your mind; stretch it for all you are worth. Hard work will not injure your mind.

  • Think for yourself; have your own opinions, but avoid obstinacy.

  • Remember…the upperclassmen will have greater respect for you if you act like grown men and women…People old enough for college are too old for childish antics.”

“Customs and Traditions:

  • Chapel services are held in Finney Chapel from 12:00 noon to 12:20 week days, except Monday and Saturday…It is traditional that the student body rise as the President enters and remain seated until he has left the platform. These meetings serve as a most effective means of achieving college unity. One carries away genuine inspiration and a sense of peace and quiet.

  • All freshman men count it a privilege to be graced with the traditional Frosh cap. Buy one early, for it must be worn every day except Sunday until spring.

  • An excellent chance is afforded first-year men to settle any minor differences with their 1932 superiors in the Annual Frosh-Soph Scrap early in the fall. Ropes are provided all men and after thrilling cat-calls from opposite sides of the football field, the men rush towards one another. The object is to tie their antagonists’ hands and feet and carry them off. Wear old clothes!

  • Early each fall freshman and sophomore women vie with one another in a good-natured “scrap” or contest to determine whether the Frosh women shall wear their distinctions until Thanksgiving or Christmas.

  • Beware of the fireplace in Peters Hall! Only juniors and seniors may stand on its sacred tiles…

  • Rallies or “pep meetings” are held before important football games. The speeches are rare and the singing boisterous.

  • Masculine vitality runs free and numerous stags given at the M.B. [Men’s Building]. Donuts and coffee, worked off by boxing and wrestling, make one sleep blissfully.

  • Senior distinctions and caps and gowns appear after spring vacation. From then on the Seniors rule the Campus with their dignity.

  • Since no autos are used by students, bicycles and roller skates have become a common means of travel.”