Tag Archives: history

Civil War Sampler: White House

As promised, here is the first of my Civil War Sampler quilt blocks.

This square is called White House (read story, view pattern and other examples on Barbara Brackman’s blog). It is the first square in the book (though not so on the blog), and I am doing them in book-order.

White House, completed June 30, 2018

White House, completed June 30, 2018

As I mentioned in my previous post, I made my first two blocks before actually reading the stories that went along with them. I was too excited to start sewing to bother with any non-essential reading! Therefore, this first block is done in purple and gold simply because I love purple. I had given no thought to the title of the block or the story when choosing the colors. (If I had, I imagine I likely would have gone with something literal, involving white—although the flower print is on white—or something red, white, and blue.)

I did give special extra thought to figuring out how to do the gold pieces as single rectangles instead of the two-squares method shown in the pattern, because I wanted to use that striped fabric and not have the stripes line-up wrong. Silly me, it didn’t occur to me until I was all done that maybe I should have done the same thing with the purple flowered print as well; oh well, it’s not as obvious or bothersome in the print as it would have been in the stripes.

Something I just thought of while writing these blog posts is that, if you think about it, you could say that the colors of purple and gold were good choices for a block strongly tied to the leader of the nation.

For one thing, the color purple has long been associated with royalty because it was a very expensive color to make, and only the richest could afford it. (More on purple as royal from History.com.) And gold would go along with that, because obviously gold is expensive as well. (I picked it because it looks good with purple…probably because of that whole color-wheel thing.)

And then, using the “royal purple” as a segue: there have been many comparisons between United States Presidents and kings, usually in a negative way from opponents.

The first one I thought of was “King Andy” – Andrew Johnson, who was Lincoln’s vice president and of course then became president after Lincoln was assassinated.

“King Andy, How He Will Look And What He Will Do,” cartoon by Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, 1866 Nov 3. (Image via NewYorkTimes.com)

In looking for the above cartoon online (I had seen it before a long time ago), Google searches for “King Andy political cartoon” promptly returned first and foremost a caricature of of President Andrew Jackson from 1833.

Then, I thought, I bet somebody at some point claimed that Abraham Lincoln himself was behaving like a king and made a comic about it. *googles that* Sure enough, I found this one:

“King Abraham before and after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation,” Southern Illustrated News, 1862. (Image via Lehrman Institute, “Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom”)

The Lincoln cartoon doesn’t make much sense (or fit the royal theme) without its caption: “King Abraham before and after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.” For more on the symbolism in this cartoon, I highly recommend checking out the Lehrman Institute’s “Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom” site where I found it.

Though I’m sure just about every president has probably been negatively equated with a “king” at some point or another by somebody, a few other examples come to mind, not necessarily negative ones.

The first president George Washington is sometimes referred to as “the man who would not be king” (such as in this 1992 PBS documentary by the same title), alluding that he could have been king (Americans were used to having a king, they just didn’t want George III anymore, right?), but that he did not wish it to be that way.

I also think of a couple of 20th century presidents and something I remember Dr. Ed Haas talking about in an undergrad Modern American History course. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat) was elected to FOUR terms as president (though he didn’t serve much of the 4th term because he died). That is a long damn time to have the same president, am I right?

(Ronald Reagan was president for most of my early childhood, and I think at the time I just assumed that’s how the world was. I wonder if kids in the 1930s and early ’40s thought this about FDR?…but I digress.)

Consequently, in 1947, a Republican-majority Congress, miffed about the whole 14+ years of Democratic presidents thing, created the 22nd Amendment, limiting presidents to two terms in office. Ratification was complete in 1951. (More on FDR & the 22nd Amendment from the National Constitution Center.)

A couple years later, it sort of bit them on the ass when Republican Dwight Eisenhower became president, winning two terms quite handily over his opponents and (according to my professor) might have served even longer with popular support, but we’ll never know now, will we?

Boy, for not giving a lot of symbolic thought to the color and fabric choices in this first block before I made it (beyond, you know, “oooh purple!”), I guess I’ve sure given it a lot of thought in hindsight…

Until next time!


Barbara Brackman’s Civil War Sampler

My mother taught me to use a sewing machine when I was 29 years old. She had bought said sewing machine for me as a library school graduation gift, but I had not been brave enough to try to figure it out on my own. So, in 2012, she declared that we would make a quilt together, and so I learned.

It was all downhill after that—-fabric budget-wise, that is. What I mean to say is, I was hooked. When we go on quilt shop hops (what’s that?), I always see these shirts and bags that say, “I’m a quiltaholic [or fabricaholic] on the road to recovery…just kidding, I’m on the way to the fabric shop.” And I chuckle. And I really should buy one sometime. But that would cut into my fabric money! Haha. I digress.

So, Mom and I were on a quilt shop hop at on April 11, 2015, when I  saw this book in the store (on sale): Barbara Brackman’s Civil War Sampler: 50 Quilt Blocks with Stories from History.

Barbara Brackman's Civil War Sampler book

Barbara Brackman’s Civil War Sampler book

I had to have it. I mean, look at it! Look at all those beautiful blocks and fabrics! I tend to gravitate towards the Civil War reproduction fabrics anyway; I guess I just like the color tones and the simple designs. All I wrote in my diary about it was that “I got a new Civil War sampler quilt book—-yay Civil War fabric!”

So I bought the book on April 11, and I just now realize that the siege of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the Civil War, was fought beginning on April 12 (1861)….well, isn’t that just freaky as hell?

So that seems like perfect timing to buy a Civil War sampler book and start working on it promptly, right? Of course not. Instead, I spent over 3 years buying fat quarters and other small cuts of reproduction Civil War fabric and building up my “Civil War stash” and then becoming increasingly overwhelmed at the idea of where to begin. I think I’ll just keep buying fabric instead… (Remember what I said about my struggle with fabricaholism?)

just a few of my many MANY Civil War reproduction (or at least they looked Civil War-ish to me) fat quarters

just a few of my many MANY Civil War reproduction (or at least they looked Civil War-ish to me) fat quarters

I didn’t even really look at the text in the book until I had owned it for a few years either. I had just glanced through the patterns, decided that, yes, these all looked like patterns I would like, and be able, to do, so I bought the book.

When I finally actually read the introductory text, I learned two things, one awesome and one a little less so.

First, the awesome thing:

The first line of the introduction Brackman writes is: “I was born to blog—a skill I did not realize until recently [2011]…” Wait, this is a Civil War quilt book with history and blogging?! I love this lady! Turns out, she shared the patterns and stories on her Civil War Quilts blog throughout 2011 (the start of the Civil War sesquicentennial—we ran a lot of Civil War stuff on our blog at work from 2011-2015 as well), then she turned it into a book later.

And the slightly less awesome thing: “I chose the blocks in the book for their symbolic names. Most of them were published in the 1930s in the newspaper columns… Few of the blocks actually date from as long ago as 150 years…”

Oh. Well, that was a little bit of a bummer, that the patterns are not actually Civil War era, in most cases. But never mind, never mind! They’re still beautiful patterns, and I’ve got pretty fabrics, and the symbolic stories that she’s paired with the block patterns are enjoyable to read.

I confess, I made my first two blocks before actually reading the stories that went along with them. For instance, the first block, called “White House,” I did in purple and gold, just because I love purple; I hadn’t read the text or even paid much attention to the name of it. Then again, if you think about it…perhaps in the case of some presidents who shall remain nameless, a “royal” color such as purple could be considered a totally legitimate choice.

But since then, I’ve accepted Brackman’s invitation to “add your own meaning with symbolic color, pictorial fabrics, and inked inscriptions…” Now I always read the stories first and try to put some meaning into which colors I choose, with the stories in mind, rather than just picking colors I like.

As you may have gleaned from the previous entry, I currently have a small child, and after finally finishing up some bigger quilt projects I wasn’t quite done with before the baby came (3 weeks early), I’ve been shying away from starting a “big” project. Although a 50-block sampler quilt is technically a big project, it’s broken down into manageable, self-regulating, bite-sized little chunks—each square is different colors, a different pattern. I can finish that in a day or two, a couple hours, and if I stop for a few weeks before coming back to it, it’s not like I’ve completely lost my place in the project. It’s easy to just make a square here, a square there…so that’s what I’ve been doing.

I’ve completed 10 out of 50 squares so far, since starting last June. Hey, that’s approximately “a block a month” (another quilting thing)! Aces!

And since it might be a while before I actually finish the thing, I thought it might be fun to share the blocks here as I complete them, with a link to Ms. Brackman’s blog post (with the historical story) and also my take on it when choosing my colors (if any). Plus, to be honest, I want to get my symbolic color interpretations written down before I forget them!

The patterns are all still available on Ms. Brackman’s Civil War Quilts blog (follow the left sidebar down to the Blog Archive and click on 2011). But if you are interested in obtaining a print copy of Barbara Brackman’s Civil War Sampler (2012), you get the book at Amazon or find a copy in a library. I am doing the patterns in the order presented in the book, which is not the same order as the online version.

I hope to see you again, and I hope you enjoy this adventure!

Visiting Kindred Spirits in St. Anne’s Hill

This past weekend, I attended a holiday homes tour in the St. Anne’s Hill historic district of Dayton. They hold their “Dickens of a Christmas Holiday Home Tour” fundraiser every other year (and in the other year they do a spring tour). You have a guided tour through the neighborhood, along with admittance to 6 or so beautifully decorated and cared for historic homes, mostly Victorian era. The tour wraps up with delicious bread pudding inside the well-known Bossler Mansion on Dutoit Street.

I had been on the Christmas tour once before (in 2011, I think it was), but the homes change from year to year, and it is worth repeating. I was particularly enticed to attend the tour this year because it was approximately 60 degrees, unlike the chilling cold and snow/freezing rain that I walked in last time. (Our poor tour guides in their Victorian winter dresses and capes were sweating it though!) I also chose a daytime tour this time, instead of an evening one, which made it easier to see what I was looking at outside!

I’m not going to tell you all about everything, and I don’t even have many pictures to share with you. After all, these are people’s homes, and although we were told that we could ask to take pictures and see if the owners would approve, I was just thrilled to be allowed inside at all..and quite frankly, I probably spend too much of my “tourist” experience looking through a camera lens, so in a way it was nice to just “be.”

You’re probably wondering what I came here to write about, if I’m not going to tell-all on tour details or show you photos of these gorgeous old houses in all their magnificence.

Well, there were a few snippets I want to share — these things that have stuck with me, following the tour. Most of these things have to do with the homes’ “stories” (you know how I love stories). In the interest of privacy, I will try not to “out” the owners or the house precisely, though if you were part of the tour (or are a member of the close-knit neighborhood), you’d likely be able to figure it out.

When you first enter each home, the owners usually have a brief introduction to share with you about the house — what they know about its history, what has been done to restore it, etc.

In one of these stories, the owner mentioned that his home had been lived in for several decades by a pair of unmarried sisters, prior to his acquisition of it. He said they didn’t do anything to the house for most of that time. So, on the one hand, they hadn’t made any improvements, but on the other hand, they also didn’t do anything BAD either. They just didn’t do anything, really…so they didn’t screw it up!

This story made me think of my Dad. I feel like I’ve heard him make a similar statement. The historic home I lived in when I was little (described in the previous blog post) had been occupied for decades only by two spinster sisters, whose father had the house built so it had only ever been in 1 family for its entire life of about 80 years. When my Dad got it, not a lot had been done to it over the years. Nothing good. But also nothing bad.

People do a lot of interesting things to houses, historic or not. The older the house, the wider the window of opportunity has been for someone to have done something interesting to it. Now, my high school best friend and I had an inside joke about the word “interesting.” One of us would say something was “interesting,” and the other would say, “Interesting like chocolate-covered grasshoppers, or interesting like So-and-So’s hair?” One was good, the other bad. (I’ll let you guess which was which.) But the point is, yes…sometimes people do good things to houses, and sometimes people do bad things.

Now of course, the homes we saw on the tour were all full of interesting good things. They’ve been loved — and lived in, some for 150+ years. Some had been “rescue” jobs, but they’re looking pretty good now (wonderful even!). Anyway, the point is — all of these homes, whatever their past, they are now being lovingly cared for by people who wanted a historic house to love and care for.

Believe it or not, that’s actually not quite where I’m going with my whole “kindred spirits” thing. I love old houses…to look at. I love to look at them. But I’m not sure I would love many of the realities of actually living in one. I want insulation and drywall and central air and brand new electric. Yeah yeah, I know you can put all these things into old houses, but it’s a lot harder.

Although, at least one couple on the tour actually did all that. When they purchased their house (for less than $10,000) several years ago, they said it was the neighborhood eyesore. It had not been well-loved for many years, and it needed a total gut-job (truly). (By the way, they bought it like 8 years ago and just moved in.) They kept a lot of it looking old — and even managed to keep a few original features, like the 1850s stair railing — but they also have drywall. (I know I probably seem to have this fixation with drywall, but let’s just say I’ve had enough of plaster walls from my 1949 Cape Cod, thankyouverymuch.)

One thing I remember thinking in that house was how much fun I think my uncles would have if I turned them loose on creating beautiful ornate woodwork that was actually new but made to look old. (Now would probably be a good time to tell you that my uncles are extremely talented finish carpenters as well as general contractors.) Or, maybe they would look at me like I was crazy. We’ll probably never know.

The house with the drywall and the 1850s staircase also featured a Christmas tree with a train running in a circle under it. The man said his father bought him that train for Christmas in 1949. “I was seven months old,” he said with a grin, “so you tell me who really wanted to play with a train.” That reminded me of Dad. And as if I needed another reason to like these people who had brought a 150-year-old house back from the brink and made it beautiful again, I noticed a copy of David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers on an end table. Kindred spirits, indeed.

At another house, addressing us from a few steps up the staircase (as most of them did if there was a staircase in the front hall, which was many of them), the owner started off by saying that when they agreed to be part of the tour, they actually didn’t really know anything about the home’s history (and they hadn’t been the ones to restore it either), so she wasn’t sure what she would tell us for the introduction.

I was just making a mental note to approach her later to let her know that the library (either the one where I work at the university or the public library where I used to work) had plenty of great resources to help them learn more about their house, if they wanted to…when whipped out a piece of paper and continued, “…but then we received this letter in the mail.”

Out of the blue, the great-granddaughter of some previous owners, who had lived in the home for 50 years and raised several children there, had written to them, with memories of the house and pictures.

Of course everyone in the room, including myself, ooh’d and ahh’d. I mean, what an awesome thing to receive a letter like that! What an awesome thing to have thought to write it. I would love a letter like that. “Here, have some history of a place that’s now special to you, that has also been special to me.” (Of course you can see why I would love something like that, even just a story about such a thing; seeing as how I basically wrote a love letter to my childhood home in my previous post.)

But not everybody would care about something like that. Some people might not be interested in receiving such a thing. And far more people would even think to write such a thing, let alone actually do it. Some might even call it crazy.

But not me. And not that woman telling us the story from her staircase. And I dare say not the other 30 or so tour-goers standing around me, making the same murmurs of awe that I was making.

So, standing in that crowded living room, hearing that story and mentally telling myself don’t cry in public don’t cry in public (and I succeeded), I think that was the moment that gave me the “kindred spirits” feeling I used in the title.

Historic homes people? People who love them and live in them? People who love them enough to drop $22 for a chance to see inside just a few? Yep, these are my people, and this is our jam.

I should have probably saved that revelation for the end, but I’m writing this as it comes to me, with very few notes ahead of time. And the last two items come at or near the end of the tour, so…

At one of the last houses on the tour, the couple who lived there had actually gotten into character, portraying the Victorian doctor and his wife who had previously lived in their house. That in and of itself was great, and they both looked fantastic. They even had a little exhibit on “quack” Victorian medicine!

But something about the wife kept giving me this de ja vu feeling. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Even her name seemed familiar to me. I noticed a certificate on the wall with her name on it and checked it out to see what it was for, thinking perhaps she was a fellow library professional or something like that, who I might have heard of somewhere. Nope, totally different profession. I thought maybe she was someone I had helped when I worked at Dayton Metro Library, as I did a lot more reference desk work there than I do now; I saw a lot more people, I’m sure.

It came to me a couple of days later, while I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep (isn’t that always the way?). She had been a library patron, but at the university library where I work now, not at the public library. (Well, I expect she went there too, but it’s not where I met her…) I looked in our researcher log to confirm. Yes, that was it! She looked so familiar to me because she had come in last summer to research for this house tour—she mentioned it specifically. (I wonder now if she recognized me. She probably just wondered why I kept staring at her.)

It’s a pretty cool experience any time you get to see the amazing results of something that you, as a librarian or archivist, “helped” with — whether it’s a published book, a school project, or in this case…a performance!

That was actually the anecdote that first occurred to me as something I wanted to write about here…and then I thought of the others.

And finally, without further adieu, no post centering on the St. Anne’s Hill Dickens of a Christmas holiday homes tour would be complete without a mention of the spectacular Bossler Mansion. And that I have a couple of pictures of.

Bossler Mansion on Dutoit Street in St. Anne's Hill Historic District, Dayton, Ohio, Dec. 13, 2015 (photo by the author) (click to view larger)

Bossler Mansion on Dutoit Street in St. Anne’s Hill Historic District, Dayton, Ohio, Dec. 13, 2015 (photo by the author) (click to view larger)

As we were standing on the sidewalk in front of the home, one of the things our tour guide said about the house was that she had a special connection to it herself. In a previous life, the mansion had been converted into a multi-unit apartment building (this being an example of the “interesting” things people sometimes do to old houses). And during that era, her grandmother and her toddler-age mother had lived in one of the apartments. She said it was very emotional the first time she visited the room (yes, room, singular) that had been their apartment, and she got a little choked up just mentioning it to us. (Seriously people, stop making me almost-cry in public!)

So that’s the anecdote I have to share about the Bossler house. The true highlight of this stop on the tour, however, is the bread pudding (omigod, seriously so delicious) and the view of downtown Dayton out the little round west-facing window in the 4th story cupola. (Another reason I’m glad I chose a daytime tour this year!)

View of downtown Dayton, Ohio, as seen through the 4th story cupola of the Bossler Mansion, Dec. 13, 2015 (photo by the author)

View of downtown Dayton, Ohio, as seen through the 4th story cupola of the Bossler Mansion, Dec. 13, 2015 (photo by the author) (click to view larger)

So I’ll just leave you with that.

They all add up

Hope that you spend your days but they all add up.  -One Republic, “I Lived”

I heard this song on the radio on the way to work this morning. Usually when I hear it, I think of my grandfather, because it seemed to be getting very popular on the radio around the time he died, just before Thanksgiving last year.

This morning, I was already thinking about Howard Forrer — yes, my favorite Civil War soldier.

There are certain dates that stick with me — the ones that are important enough to remember “there’s something about today” but not quite important enough that you are consciously aware of them before they arrive (like a loved one’s birthday or your anniversary or Christmas). The birthdays of my high school friends are like that. Or the anniversary of the day I graduated from college (the first time).

July 22nd is like that.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (like 3+ years), you’ll probably remember Howard Forrer. If not, you can read about him here or  read a longer story version here in some entries from 2012.

Howard died July 22, 1864, in the Battle of Decatur, Georgia. He was a 23-year-old unmarried adjutant in the 63rd Ohio. Before he enlisted, he was a young teacher in Dayton, Ohio.

Sometimes I wonder what these long-dead people would think about my (our?) remembering them, researching them, spending any time thinking about them at all. Would they be pleased that anyone remembers them or thinks them worth remembering? Would they be annoyed (or worse angry) at our putting their lives under a microscope? Would they think we’re crazy for wasting our time — our lives, which we still have time to live — recalling theirs?

Would Howard think, Oh it’s nice that you find me so fascinating. I appreciate being remembered. I didn’t have any children, so I’m humbly pleased anyone even remembers my name.

Or would he think, What are you doing? I only got 23 years! All the things I didn’t do? You could do them! What are you doing thinking about me? I’m dead. Go out and do all the things!

(If I’d had access to more of his own writings, I might have some sense of the answer, but I didn’t…so…)

I like to think that people who in life had an interest in history themselves might “get it” — but obviously not every person a historian might research would have cared about such things.

I recently read the following lines in a novel (Rapture by Lauren Kate):

The past is important for all the information and wisdom it holds. But you can get lost in it. You’ve got to learn to keep the knowledge of the past with you as you pursue the present.

You’d think someone who gave the whole “carpe diem” spiel in her high school valedictorian speech might actually internalize the sentiment and not just understand the Latin.

But you’re also talking about the same girl who named her blog “Glancing Backwards” and remembers a certain Civil War soldier every year on the day of his death (and will remember him again in November on the day he was finally laid to rest in his hometown).

It’s hard not to get lost in things, especially when you really want to.

Intersects of History (or, a Tale of Freaky Coincidence)

History is full of intersections. The “story” of…well, everything…really is like this giant tapestry woven out of the lives and choices of people (all people), the occurrence of events, the development and course of ideas, and the circumstances of place, time, and situation. Some of the intersections of all these things can be fairly obvious, expected, or downright sequitur. And sometimes they’re not.

And sometimes, you are working in the Archives, minding your own business, churning out the day’s work—some of which, on this particular day, is rather unusual, versus what you normally do at your job on a daily basis—and you suddenly run across an intersection among two things you would have expected to be completely unrelated, and it gives you the goosebumps…

I had one of those days on Tuesday, September 17. Let me explain. (Bear with me on the “job duties” part.)

One of my primary job duties as Archivist for Digital Initiatives & Outreach at the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives is to manage and coordinate the use of social media for sharing the Archives and our collections with the world. Among the social media channels that we use for this are a couple of blogs (Out of the Box and Dayton Daily News Archive) and Facebook and Twitter (the latter two being recent additions – if you haven’t yet, you should go check them out and like/follow them! *notevensubtlehinthint*).

Part of what I do with these social media channels is plan their content. We post all kinds of things, but many times, I like to try to coordinate the social media content with a particular time period, date, or event in history. I love “today in history” posts—if we can think of them—and if they pertain to our “stuff” or our collecting areas (aviation, local history, WSU history).

So, that all being said…let’s get back to my freaky experience on September 17, which, let’s face it, is why you clicked on this post in the first place.

September 17, 1908, is widely recognized as the date of the first fatality from a powered airplane crash. (OK, maybe “widely recognized” isn’t exactly true, but everyone who works in aviation history knows this story! Or they should…) Orville Wright was demonstrating his airplane to the military at Ft. Myer, Va., when the plane crashed, injuring Orville and killing his passenger, 26-year-old Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge.


I had this on the calendar to mention on September 17 for a while, and so I did so in the above tweet. (Later in the day, we also posted a great blog post written by my supervisor Dawne about the crash and about Orville’s sister Katharine. You should check it out; plus, it has more pictures!)

OK, so…that all being done, I turned to some other tasks on my plate. One of those tasks was to either locate, or otherwise procure, transcripts of a few Civil War letters from our Wallace Collection (MS-92). Long story short, when transcripts of the Civil War correspondence of William McKinney were made, somehow a couple of letters were apparently missed. This was noticed during the migration of digital versions of the letters (and transcripts) from one system to another, and we really wanted to have ALL the transcripts ready (better for access purposes because transcripts are keyword searchable, handwritten letters are not) before the formal launch of the new system.

SO, not being able to locate any existing transcripts for these two particular letters, I located the original letters, took a look, decided that the handwriting was pretty legible and that they shouldn’t take too long to transcribe, and sat down to transcribe those few items myself, so I could get them over to the Digital folks ASAP.

One of the letters I transcribed was this letter from William McKinney to his cousin Martha McKinney, circa 1862. (You can see the original handwritten letter as well as my now-completed-and-posted transcription if you click that link. Or you can take my word for things. Aren’t original documents grand? You don’t have to take my word for it; you can see the original evidence. But I digress…)

I had a bit of trouble with a particular line on the last page of the letter where the paper had been creased right through a line of text, so it was particularly worn and faded. William had been describing some of the sights during a recent stroll through Nashville, and he mentioned coming across one of the (Union) iron-clad ships, the…Carro…Cairo…what does that say? I wondered.


Snippet from William McKinney to Martha McKinney, ca. 1862, from MS-92 Wallace Family Papers, item # ms92_9_4_08, Wright State University Special Collections & Archives.

“Cairo” made more sense, but I wanted to be sure, so I Googled it to make sure. And the first thing that seemed promising was a National Park Service web site for the U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat and Museum in Vicksburg, MS. From this site I learned the thing I needed to know—that the word on the page was in fact “Cairo.”

I also learned that the U.S.S. Cairo was sunk in the Yazoo River in December 1862. I learned that it was raised again (in pieces) in the 1960s and eventually turned into a museum.

But, mostly fascinatingly…and strangely…I learned that the skipper in command of the U.S.S. Cairo was one Lt. Cmdr. Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr.

Yes, I “encountered” two historical figures named Thomas Selfridge on the same day—one of which being rather expected as I knew about that anniversary, the other being a complete surprise.

And if that wasn’t strange enough…then I was curious. Though I don’t have the stats to back this up, I’d wager that Selfridge isn’t a terribly common name. Well, it’s certainly not like if I had run across two “John Smith”s or something, anyway! I wondered if they were related…the Thomas Selfridge who commanded an iron-clad for the Union in 1862 and the Thomas Selfridge who died in a plane crash in 1908.

I didn’t have far to look to find that, indeed, they were. All it took was a quick trip by Wikipedia. Thankfully, the site is rife with pages about military men, whether they were super-duper important like Robert E. Lee or more of a blip on history’s screen (or a footnote on the page, if you’re a little more old-school).

Thomas Ethelon Selfridge (now I want to know where that middle name came from!), 1882-1908, the casualty in Orville’s plane crash at Ft. Myer, was the son of the Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Oliver Selfridge, Jr., 1836-1924. Another weird point of coincidence? Both men were 26 at the time of the history intersects described in this little story (the plane crash and the U.S.S. Cairo sinking).

And here’s the thing that makes me really wonder: How on Earth did I just happen across these two things on the same day? I mean, what the hell, Universe? It’s so bizarre.

On any other day of the year, I wouldn’t even spend too much time thinking about Thomas E. Selfridge (sorry, mate), but on September 17, it’s the obvious choice for a “today in history” about aviation.

And I don’t normally do manuscript transcription…ever. Heck, there are plenty of days (even whole weeks) where I don’t even so much as handle an actual manuscript, because the primary functions of my position don’t always require it. But on this particular day, I not only got to work with an original manuscript—a handwritten 19th century letter, no less, which is some of my favorite “stuff”—but I got to read it…really read it…as a legitimate work activity, because somebody had to do that transcript ASAP, and it might as well be me!

And none of it had (seemingly) anything to do with each other. The tasks were unrelated. The collections were unrelated. Even the reason we HAVE those two particular collections was completely unrelated. The Archives has items pertaining to the Selfridge crash fatality because of our focus on aviation history and the Wright Brothers. The Wallace Family Papers (MS-92), where William McKinney’s Civil War letter came from, is part of our collection because of its local history significance (the family lived in Clark County, which is one of the counties about which we collect local history).

You know I could go on and on. I have gone on and on. (If you read this far, I should bake you cookies. Er, no, biscotti: they’re the only cookies I can consistently make well because they’re meant to be hard.)

I should stop wondering, stop being surprised when I find bits of history that are related, even if they initially seemed so…completely unrelated. My husband is one of those people who likes to say “everything happens for a reason.”

Maybe sometimes the Universe just wants to remind us that all of history is woven together in one big story, driving the point home by showing you the relationship between two things you never would have guessed had any ties to each other.

Whatever it was, what an interesting day!

1913 Flood Centennial

What kind of Miami Valley archivist would I be if I didn’t acknowledge the centennial of the 1913 flood on my history/archives blog?

This week marks 100 years since flood waters ravaged the Miami Valley, bringing widespread devastation to cities like Dayton, Piqua, Troy, and Hamilton, as well as many other parts of Ohio (including my hometown of Portsmouth). This particular flood was so severe in the Dayton area (which was rather used to floods) that area residents finally said, “We’re not going to just sit back and take this from anymore, Great Miami River!” Within months, a fundraising campaign generated over $2 million towards the creation what is now the Miami Conservancy District, a system of dams and other mechanisms that control the rivers and have successfully prevented flooding since its completion. (Hooray!)

I’ve worked in Dayton-area archives long enough to know that the 1913 flood has been remembered on many days and in many ways ever since, as an important event in our area’s history. But we do love anniversaries—and the 100th is a very special one, after all, since it’s such a nice, round number!

There’s been a lot going on to commemorate the 1913 flood this year. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve already been involved in so much of it that I damn-near forgot to even mention it here, because I feel like my “1913 flood commemorating” mojo is virtually exhausted by now! But like I said, what kind of Miami Valley archivist would I be if I didn’t say something on my own blog as well?

So…well…to avoid re-inventing the wheel here, I think I’ll just point you to some of the things that I and others have been working on…

Most of the 1913 flood commemoration activities that I was personally aware of are mentioned in an article I wrote for the Spring 2013 issue of the Ohio Archivist (the newsletter of the Society of Ohio Archivists- see page 28). But I certainly want to point your attention to the official commemoration web site 1913flood.com.

We’ve done some cool things where I work at Wright State, too—so much so that we’ve even dedicated an entire section of the WSU Special Collections & Archives web page to the 1913 flood. There are a couple of exhibits listed, one of which is a web exhibit done a few years back called The Flood Menace. There is also info about the 1913 flood traveling exhibit a couple of my colleagues created–what it is, pictures, how to borrow it, etc. There’s also a lengthy Resource List detailing what research materials about the flood can be found at WSU and other area archives. (Don’t forget to check out the neat flood stuff we’ve got on our Campus Repositoryinterviews with flood survivors, for instance!) Oh, and there’s also an in-real-life flood exhibit (that I just happened to make) on the first floor of the Dunbar Library from now until about June.

I think one of my favorite projects I’ve personally done to remember the flood is the transcriptions of flood diaries and letters that will be on the WSU Special Collections & Archives blog Out of the Box this week. (I just love letters and diaries; I can get lost in them so easily.) We’ll be following flood survivors Margaret Smell, J.G.C. Schenck Sr., Edward and Nellie Neukom, and Milton Wright (yes, that Milton Wright- father of the famous Wright brothers!), through their flood experiences, reading about those experiences in their own words. Where applicable, I’ve added some small explanations, and I also hunted up some great photos from our collection to help illustrate their stories. I recommend checking out this intro to the diary/letter series, and there will be daily updates from the writers from today through early April.

As you may recall, I have written about the flood here before. I wrote a blog post about it a couple of years ago: “Remembering the 1913 Flood” (March 24, 2011). Then there are those super-cool geo-tagged maps I made using Flickr and Geo-Slideshow [May 9, 2011], for the flood photos and postcards at the Dayton Metro Library (where I used to work). And don’t forget the 1913 flood before-and-after exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute, which, although mentioned in my SOA article and on the 1913flood.com web site, bears repeating because I was privileged to see it in February, and it is super-awesome.

Obviously, there’s plenty more out there besides what I’ve mentioned here. (And let’s face it, I’m going to be a little biased towards the projects that I’ve personally worked so hard on—certainly not to undercut how hard everyone else has worked on their projects, but this is my blog, so why wouldn’t I toot my own horn a bit?) There have been tons of really great articles about the flood and the commemoration activities in the Dayton Daily News (and I’m sure many other area papers) lately.

DDN writer Meredith Moss did a great spread about the flood in last Sunday’s newspaper (over one whole page in the print edition); you can read the online version here, and you might just see a few quotes from yours truly in it. (Normally, my supervisor and head of the archives Dawne Dewey answers the press inquiries, but a combination of circumstances—one being that Dawne was out that day and another being that someone told the reporter to ask me because I’d been doing a lot of flood activities lately—led to my name being the one in the paper this time.)

Well, I think that’s about all I have to say about the flood for now. I hope anyone with an interest in this particular part of Dayton’s history takes notice of all these projects and events going on this spring, because there’s lots of great stuff to experience and absorb….and it might be another nice-round-number-of-years (25? 50? 100?) before there’s so much terrific culture being dedicated to the 1913 flood once again.

Historical Sketch: St. John’s Reformed Church in Germantown, Ohio

The village of Germantown, Ohio, was founded in 1804, when several German families from Pennsylvania settled there. These families were members of the Reformed and Lutheran churches. In 1809, the settlers built a single church to be shared by both congregations. This church, built of logs, was located near the present site of Emmanuel’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Warren Street.

Initially these services were conducted by traveling ministers, but after a few years, both congregations had pastors in residence: Rev. Thomas Winters[1] for the Reformeds and Rev. John Caspar Dill for the Lutherans. The congregations shared the log church for 20 years, alternating Sunday services every other week—a Lutheran service one week, a Reformed service the next—although families of both denominations attended services every week.

In 1818, Philip Gunckel, the town proprietor, began building a large new brick church at the corner of Market and Walnut streets, on the property where St. John’s Reformed Church currently stands. He sold half of the church building to Reformed congregation and the other half to the Lutherans, for $600 each. The new church building was finally completed in 1828, and the two congregations worshiped together happily for two years in the new building. However, in 1830, a dispute arose between the Lutherans and Mr. Gunckel (a member of the Reformed church), and the Lutheran congregation returned to the log church. Thenceforth, the two congregations worshiped separately, although they shared a common burial ground until 1879.

Rev. Thomas Winters served the Reformed Church at Germantown for about 25 years before retiring in 1840, due to old age. He was succeeded by Rev. George Long, whose pastorate was rather tumultuous. Rev. Long wished to introduce new measures into the Reformed church, such as prayer meetings, and when this met with resistance, he was ousted. The Reformed congregation was then split between those who followed the Old Measures (and remained at the old church) and those who followed the New Measures (and worshiped in a new congregation led by Rev. Long).

The New Measures church was short-lived, however. About 1845, their church building burnt down a few years later and then Rev. Long departed. Rev. Thomas H. Winters led the New Measures from 1846 to 1848, and a new church was built. However, when the congregation could not pay for the new church, it was sold at auction. The New Measures congregation disbanded, with most of its members joining the Methodist or United Brethren churches.

The Old Measures congregation—which, after the dissolution of the New Measures congregation around 1848, could be simply known as the Reformed congregation again—had continued to worship at the brick church on the corner of Market and Walnut streets. They continued to use this building, which had been finished in 1828, until the year 1866. At that time, the old building was dismantled, primarily by the work of the men of the congregation, so that a new church could be built, partially on the same site and partially on new ground.

The new church took 13 years to complete, partially due to financial problems. After the first floor was completed, the project ran out of money. The congregation worshiped in this basement room in the meantime, still waiting the completion of the second floor audience room. After Rev. P. C. Prugh became the congregation’s pastor in 1876, he and church trustee Henry Hildabolt set out to solicit subscriptions for the remaining funds ($3,000) required to finish the church. In a short time, they received the necessary pledges, and construction continued. The new church was completed in 1879.

St. John's Church completed 1879

St. John’s Reformed Church completed in 1879 (From a postcard in the collection of the Germantown Historical Society. Used with permission.)

In 1891, the church trustees purchased a property on the southwest corner of Main and Gunckel streets to be used as the first parsonage. This was used until 1899, when a new parsonage property on the northwest corner of Gunckel and Walnut streets (the lot behind the church) was purchased.

Hildabolt donations, 1897

Records showing donations by church members, including Henry Hildabolt, to St. John’s Reformed Church in 1897 (St. John’s Reformed Church Records, MS-042, Dayton Metro Library)

On Sunday, April 7, 1907, a tornado struck, and the Reformed Church sustained serious damage, including being partially unroofed. The damage was so severe that the congregation decided it would be best to demolish the building and construct a new one on the same site.

St. Johns Church unroofed 1907

St. John’s Reformed Church, which was unroofed in the 1907 tornado (From a postcard in the collection of the Germantown Historical Society. Used with permission.)

The cornerstone for the new church was laid on November 3, 1907. Within the cornerstone were placed several items, including a list of church members (including 261 names), as well as several other lists and documents.[2] The grand opening of the new church was held in the Fall of 1908. The formal dedication was held on June 1, 1913, after all the construction costs were either paid or pledged. The mortgage burning was held on April 17, 1921, after the total construction costs ($37,000) were paid off.

St Johns 1908 church

The St. Johns Reformed Church built in 1908 (From a postcard in the collection of the Germantown Historical Society. Used with permission.)

The 1908 church building is still used by St. John’s congregation today, although the denomination itself has gone through some changes. In 1934, the Reformed and Evangelical churches merged nationally and became known as the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1957, the Evangelical & Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Church merged nationally and became known as the United Church of Christ.

St John's United Church of Christ Germantown

St John’s United Church of Christ in Germantown (Photo by the author, 4 Aug. 2012)

Therefore, the former St. John’s Reformed Church is now the St. John’s United Church of Christ. This congregation, over 200 years old, has worshiped at the southwest corner of Market and Walnut streets since 1828.

[1] Rev. Thomas Winters was the father of Valentine Winters, a prominent Dayton banker. Two of Rev. Thomas’s other sons, Thomas H. and David, also became ministers.

[2] For a more complete list of the contents of the 1907 cornerstone, see Annie Hildabolt’s Centennial History.


Becker, Carl M. The Village: A History of Germantown, Ohio, 1804-1976. Germantown, OH: Germantown Historical Society, 1981. Dayton Local History 977.172 B395V.

Hentz, John P. History of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Germantown, Ohio, and Biographies of its Pastors and Founders. Dayton, OH: Christian Publishing House, 1882. Dayton Local History 284.1 H52.

Hildabolt, Annie. “Centennial History of St. John’s Reformed Church at Germantown, Ohio” (1914). St. John’s Reform Church, Germantown, Ohio, Records, 1843-1914 (MSS 25), Ohio Historical Society (Columbus, Ohio).

History of Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: W. H. Beers & Co., 1882. Dayton Local History 977.172 H673A.

Kerne, Charme. History of Germantown [1804-1954]. [Germantown, OH?]: [Germantown Sesquicentennial Historical Committee?], 1954. Dayton Local History 977.172 K39H.

Montgomery County, Ohio, 1990: A History Written by the People of Montgomery County, Ohio. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Co., 1990. Dayton Local History 977.172 M78813.

St. John’s United Church of Christ. “About Us.” 21 Oct. 2008. Accessed 28 Aug. 2012. http://www.stjohnsuccgermantownohio.org/page2.html.


This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in August 2012 for the St. John’s Reformed Church (Germantown, Ohio) Records (MS-042) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654.

Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection. For more information about the manuscript collection’s contents, please see the original finding aid (which includes a name index), available in the Local History Room of the Dayton Metro Library or the OhioLINK EAD Repository entry.

Please contact the Dayton Metro Library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.