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Archive for the ‘Student Projects!’ Category

Oral History: Christmas Traditions

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

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

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While scouring through the oral history transcripts, I have stumbled across quite a few stories about Christmas in Oberlin’s past. To me, Christmas has always been a two-part celebration. First there is the religious celebration/observation that occurs but there is also a celebration of family and the spirit of giving. Of course, I cannot forget the fabulous decorations either! I worked at a shopping mall for six years, and during that time my favorite time of year was always the Christmas holiday. I remember being amazed at the joy people obtained by finding that perfect gift for a loved one, although there was the occasional Scrooge who seemed to be dissatisfied with everything. More than anything, though, I loved the decorations that were put up in the mall. I must admit, however, that I am glad that some Christmas decorations have gone out of fashion, I’ll let Delores Carter explain why.

 My early Christmas trees you put candles on. I remember in one of my wild exuberant Christmas moments I flew down to get a package, I bent down and my hair caught on fire. I lost my hair, my eyebrows, and my eyelashes. I was lucky—I could have lost much more. But that was an exciting experience. I haven’t seen trees with candles clipped on in many years. I don’t care if I ever do. That was a bad experience.

speaker-clip-art1–Delores Carter, January 24, 1987

Another thing I fondly remember of my childhood Christmases was the way that my brother would snoop out every single one of his presents ahead of time. He was always able to find my parents’ latest hiding place, and even if the presents were wrapped he could still tell you what the package was. In fact, even at 26 years old my brother still has an uncanny ability to “see” through wrapping paper! It is such a problem that our family has to go to extra lengths to try to surprise him because he can guess all of his gifts before he opens them. While reading transcripts I learned that peaking at Christmas presents really isn’t a new tradition at all:

 One Christmas we were at my grandparents and the cousins were there, which meant there were three boys and I was the only girl. And the doors to the din-, to the living room would shut with sliding doors here and sliding doors over on this side and we couldn’t see anything. Mother took pity on us, she let us peek through that door. Oh, I saw the doll—the baby doll I still have upstairs—and I knew it was mine. And then she felt rather guilty and she said, “Well you know, it might just belong to somebody else.” [laughter] So I had to eat my breakfast all up before we could go in and really have things around the Christmas tree. speaker-clip-art1–Stella Dickerman, January 17, 1987

As some of the other oral history interviewees described in their interviews, sometimes the best part of opening gifts is not the gift itself but the process you go through opening it. In my house my brother and I always opened our presents side by side, and sometimes he would have a few very large gifts and I would have much more smaller gifts. My husband had a much different experience because his parents always made sure that each child had the exact same amount of presents. Some families try to match up number, while some match value. Some children open their gifts at the same time, and some take turns. I found a few very interesting stories about these types of traditions that I would like to share with you.

 Usually sometimes on Christmas Eve and sometimes on Christmas that we would just have all the gifts wrapped and under the tree. That we would have sort of a ritual. Our son Bill likes to give out the gifts and one at a time so it takes a very long time. That person opens his gift and everyone admires it before another one is passed out. Sometimes it actually gets pretty tiring by the end of several hours of opening a series of gifts. But the nice thing about it is everyone tries to get gifts that they feel have meaning or something this person would particularly want. As well as fun things, like maybe bubble pipes and little children’s games that everyone gets. It seems as though everyone enjoys everyone else’s Christmas so much. Because everyone is so aware of what everyone else gets. speaker-clip-art1–Millie Arthrell, February 21, 1985

 

Well, one time when we got up our stockings were hanging on the top post of the chair and my sister found money in theirs. I didn’t find any and I put my stocking on and shoes and oh my shoe hurt me! I took it off and there was money in there after all. We went to my grandmother’s for Christmas and here my great-aunt had given myself and my cousin that was my age a doll that would open and shut its eyes and had a bisque body and it was jointed so it would sit up or stand. I thought, oh a nice doll, and it fell off the chair and cracked down the neck! But they fixed it with glue and my sister who liked to sew made some new clothes for it so I thought that was a wonderful doll and now my sister has it for her grandchildren. speaker-clip-art1–Mabel Brown, April 17, 1984

Much like Thanksgiving, stories of Christmas are not complete without some descriptions of food. What I have found out about Christmas dinners is that they all seem to have one element in common (and it isn’t food): family. I was pretty lucky growing up, I spent Christmas Eve at my aunt and uncle’s house where we would open up presents and have a delicious dinner. On Christmas morning, my grandparents would typically come over and we’d have another huge dinner. I had two parties in two days for Christmas! Looking back, holidays were one of the few times that my family would sit down at eat dinner together. It was difficult to get everyone in one place at the same time because both of my parents worked.  Sitting down and having a big family meal was a treat. I found a story in our interview collection that I’d like to share because I feel like it truly explains the Christmas spirit, from the idea of family, celebration, and surprise.

 And I remember particularly one year, when my cousin Earl was a Santa Claus, and whether we really didn’t recognize him, or pretended that we didn’t, I’m not sure, but that afternoon we had been to his home and had our supper there and I think that that was the first time that I had ever had pressed grapes. Now, they were not raisins; they were like pressed grapes and his mother had served them in connection with the dinner and so this was to throw us off so that we wouldn’t know, you know, and then we came on home and he followed afterwards and did his part. Another thing that was followed all the days, I think, that as long as my grandmother lived, on Christmas Eve she would always be at our house for supper and we always knew what was going to happen. The plates would always be turned over, and when we sat down at the table, we had to lift our plates up to be served and under each plate there would be a silver dollar. And that was our surprise and we were all surprised, even though we knew what was going to happen. speaker-clip-art1–Mildred Haines, November 23, 1982

 

spoiler-alert

SPOILER ALERT: Do not continue reading if you are a believer in Jolly Old Santa Claus!

Finally, to end this blog post I have some new information to share with you. Recently we received information from Marianne Cochran who used to own and operate the Ben Franklin Store in downtown Oberlin. She shared with us the history of Santa in Oberlin. Did you know that since 1940 only 5 different people have portrayed Santa Claus in Oberlin’s Christmas festivities? It is true and here is a summary of those gentlemen.

1940-1941: John A. Cochrane

1942-1948: John Van Bloom who started the tradition of Santa arriving via train in Oberlin

1949-1969: John Maclaughlin who was also known as Mack the Birdman due to his talking parrot Polly who would call out for Mack while children were visiting Santa.

1970: John R. Cochrane

1971-1980: Art Salo

1989-Present: John Cole as Santa along with a Mrs. Claus portrayed by Patti Brubaker

Thus concludes my holiday Oral History blog series. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed researching and writing it! Happy holidays to you and your family from all of us here at the Oberlin Heritage Center.

Kelsey’s Photo Scanning Project: Do I Know You?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Here I am organizing photos  and putting them into binders.

This is Kelsey Voit’s first blog post.

Hello everyone! My name is Kelsey Voit and I am a volunteer at OHC. I have lived in northeast Ohio all my life and have always had a deep interest in history. I like to poke fun of the fact that I live in Elyria now, since Oberlin was founded because Elyria was considered a den of sin in the 1830s. In 2012 I graduated from Ohio University with a BA in Political Science and History. Currently I am a student at Kent State University working towards a Masters degree in Museum Studies through their Library and Information Sciences program. For those of you who have read the blog, it is the same program as the great oral history transcriber, Melissa Clifford. I started volunteering at OHC back in March 2014 and have been enjoying every minute of it.

The reason you may not know I exist is because I am a basement dweller, which is more exciting than it sounds. Here in the basement of the Monroe house I am surrounded by objects, pictures, files, and people that I learn from every Wednesday I come in. And I have learned quite a bit! Learning about the history of Oberlin has become a great past time of mine and I look forward to eventually becoming a docent. A large part of my volunteer hours are spent on organizational projects that the staff of OHC simply does not have the time to get to. My first project here was preserving the museum’s pictorial history. What started out as a box of hundreds of loose photographs became an organized system of binders that told the story of OHC’s past. I should explain the process. I started this project by looking through the binders that the museum already had and just getting a feel for the pictures. These binders were organized by year and event. For example, in the 1990s the museum would put together an elaborate gingerbread house contest and this event is represented throughout the binders. After I took a look at the pictures in the binders I started organizing the loose pictures by year. This was either found by the developed date on the back of the pictures, comparing the pictures with those already in the binders, or using context clues from the content of the picture. After they were grouped by year they were organized by event. When placed in the binder it would look like a calendar that the viewer could navigate through by event (events from January in the front, December in the back etc.) After that was all said and done then the fun part began. I started to digitize photographs that were pertinent to the historical preservation of the museum itself. This means good quality photographs of people at museum-sponsored events.

This was a perfect project for me because I really did not know much about OHC when I started volunteering. Through the photo project I learned not only the events that have shaped this organization, but I learned about the people who were contributing and leading those events. I have scanned in pictures of old board meetings, of the Little Red Schoolhouse being moved to where it sits now, living history tours, parades, family fun fairs, annual meetings, and renovation projects. I had the privilege to see how the organization was born, how it changed, and the steps that were taken to make it what we see today. I had the honor of getting to know some of the people that were not only involved with OHC but truly loved it. Some of them are no longer with us and I wish I could have met them because they seem like real characters. I feel I got to know those who I was scanning in on some level because I could eventually see a picture of a large table of people from an annual meeting and pick out those I have seen before. This project did make meeting some people a little awkward because I would lead with, “Nice to finally meet you. I have scanned so many pictures of you!” Not the best way to meet someone.

Oral History: Thanksgiving Traditions

Saturday, 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!

Oral History: Halloween Traditions

Wednesday, 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.

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 (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

 

Volunteering: A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

Saturday, 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.