Weekly Photo Challenge: Heritage

We head out today from Wisconsin toward Utah, where canyonlands beckon. Steve used to volunteer for the National Park Service at Wupatki National Monument helping with archaeological and anthropological studies, and it ignited in him a passion for indigenous desert cultures. This will be our fourth trip out West together.  Here is a photo from our first trip. This is Mesa Verde in Colorado: 

Here is one I took in the Ojito Wilderness in New Mexico on our last trip: 

On the way back, we stopped at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic site in Illinois where we saw the remnants of a pre-Columbian city of approximately 10,000 inhabitants. Some of those Mississippian peoples also settled in Wisconsin at what is now Aztalan State Park, where we’ve visited several times. 

The more I learn about cultures who thrived in this country long before European settlers arrived, the more I appreciate the relationship they had with the places they lived. Our heritage as human beings is written on the landscape. We need to learn from the evidence of how we’ve impacted the resources of desert, woodland, or any other habitat. What we will pass on to the next generations of Earth inhabitants hinges on this collective wisdom. 

Heritage

Irish Roots

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  I woke up with Irish on my mind – soda bread and potatoes and cabbage soup and immigrants.  As a costumed historic interpreter at Old World Wisconsin, I told the story of Mary Hafford, an Irish immigrant, and worked in her house.  She had been widowed in the year 1868 with 3 small children and lived as a renter in a small village near Watertown, WI.  Mary Hafford worked away at her home laundry business and eventually achieved social and economic prominence in her little village.  In 1885, she had a new house constructed on the property that she had bought.  She never learned to read or write, but her children did.  Her youngest daughter, Ellen, studied dressmaking, a skilled trade, and became a live-in dressmaker.  Ellen was married in 1891, and her mother hosted a reception and dinner for 75 guests.  Three months later, Mary Hafford died of dropsy.  I imagine Ellen Hafford Thompson and wonder what stories she might have written about her life in the Little House where she lived.  I have a burning question: what happened to her older sister, Ann, who is conspicuously absent from all records from the mid-1880s on?  Did she die?  If so, why isn’t she buried next to her father & mother?  Did she go into a convent?  Did she elope with a Lutheran?  The mystery remains unsolved!

Mary Hafford’s family has died out; she had one grandson who went into the priesthood, and there her bloodline was cut off.  My children have 2 Irish great-grandmothers, one on my side and one on their dad’s side.  Marion Minto Keefe (possibly O’Keefe originally) was my grandmother.  Mabelle Claire Mahanna was my husband’s grandmother.  I used to wake them up on St. Paddy’s Day with “Top o’ the marnin’ to ya, dear!” at which they’d groan and ask me if I was going to talk in that fake accent all day.  The groans subsided at the thought of the corned beef dinner I always made.  I remind them now of their heritage via text message and think wistfully of the hint of green in their eyes — two daughters with brown eyes flecked with green, and my two middles, boy and girl, with blue-green-gray eyes.   I hope that green will remain on the land and in the eyes of its people for many years. (For a beautiful reading of an Irish Blessing poem, by a real Irishman, visit my friend Jamie’s blog here.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth

How did people in the northern land of Wisconsin stay warm through those hard winters in the 19th century, without electric blankets, natural gas furnaces or radiators?  Wood fires, wool, fur and the sauna…naturally.

Seems pretty simple to me. 

(In response to the Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

Oh, boy.  What a theme for a museum geek!  In case you’re new to this blog, let me tell you that I work at 2 museums, one being a living history museum featuring 60 historic buildings depicting 19th century immigration to Wisconsin.  In addition to that, my partner Steve & I sell books and other items gleaned from estate sales.  We have quite an eclectic collection of various ‘relics’ of the 20th & 21st century in our home.  Currently, the very home that we are renting – a duplex built in 1905 – is undergoing extensive upgrading: electrical system, roof, and paint so far.  I am surrounded by relics, and I’m always looking for more!  So….what to feature?

Perhaps a crumbling lime kiln I found at High Cliff State Park.  It was in operation from 1870 -1956 on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago….

relic 1

Maybe Steve’s hiking boots – they’re not really that old, but they got a lot of wear last year when he worked as a mail carrier for the US Postal Service…

relic 2Or how about this corner of our living room, where we display some of our favorite oddities…

relic 3

Actually, my very favorite photo for this theme isn’t one I took.  It’s one someone else took of me.  Old World Wisconsin runs a photo contest every year, and the first year I worked there, a photo of me won Best In Show.  The featured relic in the photo is the 1839 Cathedral of the Diocese of the Territory of Wisconsin – St. Peter’s Church.  The pump organ/harmonium/reed organ is from 1890.  The stations of the cross are lithographs made in Germany between 1875 and 1900.  The photographer is Jay Filter, and he gave me permission to feature his photo on my blog in 2012.  Here it is again:

St. Peter's Church at Old World Wisconsin.  Photo by Jay Filter

St. Peter’s Church at Old World Wisconsin. Photo by Jay Filter

Yup, that photo is a real winner.  Can’t claim it as mine, but it sure fits this theme!  Thanks, Jay!

Memorial Day: A ‘Hair’ Piece (part 1 of 2)

Close your eyes. Imagine someone who is near and dear to you. You have a picture of how they look in your memory, the sound of their voice, probably some associations with certain smells, and memories of a tactile nature…the texture of their hair, perhaps. Did you used to watch your mother unpin a bundle of long hair and brush it out each night before bed? Did you perch on the counter and watch your father shave, feeling his scratchy face like Judy in Pat the Bunny and then the smooth, mobile skin of his smiling cheeks? Do you have a lock of your baby’s hair tied with a ribbon and taped to a page? Do you touch the ends of that fine, feathery stuff in wonder every so often at the turning of another year?

 

Hair. An intimate part of us mammals, dynamic and changing through our lifetime and, when preserved, a vault of information about culture, diet, and ancestry. It makes a very satisfying memorial, to my mind. Some people these days may find it distasteful, but at the turn of the last century, it was quite a popular material for crafting. Think of all the time, money and material spent these days on scrapbooks and photo albums. Money and photographs were hard to come by in the 19th century, but HAIR, hair was cheap and plentiful…and personal. Why not use it?

 

I first encountered examples of Victorian era hair art (see http://textilecollection.wisc.edu/featured_textile_articles/hair_wreath.html) while staying at a bed and breakfast establishment in Plymouth, Illinois. The lady who owned the place sold antiques, ran the village bank, and opened her home to guests…and cats. She told us that she had the largest private collection of hair wreaths in the nation. I looked at the framed pieces in awe. It was hard to believe that the fine strands so intricately woven were actually human hair. I couldn’t help picturing the mass of guck that clogs my bathtub drain and lurks in the corners on my bathroom floor. It made me think of how careless we are in managing our resources these days.

 

In the Hafford House at Old World Wisconsin, there hangs a shadow box that features a crown of small, white flowers and trailing ribbon, a photograph of a young woman in the habit of a nun, and a golden braid. When a novice took her vows, her hair would be cut as part of the ceremony of transformation. Families would not see this young woman once she was cloistered, so why not save her hair as a remembrance? This is possibly what Mary Hafford did to memorialize her daughter Ann, of whom we have no record beyond her eighteenth year. The artifact we have is not actually Ann Hafford, but it makes a good illustration for interpretation.

P1040610

 

My partner, Steve, told me that his mother honors her loved ones on Memorial Day by visiting their graves. While I was growing up, my family never observed this tradition, probably because all my parents’ relatives are buried far from the states where we lived. I had considered Memorial Day a day for commemorating military casualties, but I welcome the occasion to remember three very important people in my life. My sister Alice, my husband Jim, and my father are buried in the same ground: the columbarium at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in California, where I was married. I am in Wisconsin and too far away to make a pilgrimage, so instead, I am visiting them in memory…and thinking about their hair.

(Part 2 to be posted on Friday…)

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

This week’s prompt for the photo challenge is “Culture”: a broad topic, an umbrella under which humanity sits.  I tend to spend more time with the artifacts of a culture than with big groups of people.  Steve & I sell used books and estate sales items and see a lot of different artifacts of this last century.  We work at a living history museum and handle artifacts from the 19th century.  And we find artifacts from this century around the neighborhood.  So, I thought I’d share a mosaic of shots I’ve taken showing some American artifacts of different centuries.  I hope you have fun trying to identify them!