Monday, March 26, 2012

After Armistice Day

Thanks to a donation, the library now has two letters written to Dr. George T. Williams from his wife while he was serving in World War I. Williams was born in Browns Valley in 1865 and graduated from Indiana Medical College at Indianapolis in 1887. Dr. Williams practiced in Putnam County and in Frankfort before establishing an office in Crawfordsville. He is the author of the book, Pioneer Physicians and Surgeons of Montgomery County, Indiana, and was a regimental surgeon in the United States and France with the 59th Artillery, CAC. He married Mary E. Todd in 1888. George Williams was the county's oldest physician when he died at the age of 79 in 1945; he had practiced medicine for 58 years.

Mrs. Williams writes in a letter dated November 27, 1918:
"...I was so know you was well again, I just felt like you might not be well...I think one has presentiment sometimes and mine nearly always come true. I am so anxious since the Armistice was signed...Are you sure you haven't had any cooties on you, ha. Be sure and don't get a stray in your trunk and bring him across with you...It must seem very still since the big guns have ceased...I would ask you to get a French child but fear I wouldn't make a good foster mother this late in life. I might of once but my nerves have been too shattered to get back where I was when I use to want to take a little child to raise and you thought not...Hoping you have a good Thanksgiving dinner and that the Lord will bless and care for you while in a distant land. With much love and kisses, your wife, Mary. Good Night."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bischof's Rule Book

In our archives, the CDPL Local History department has an undated, original book of rules from Bischof’s Big Store. Louis Bischof came to Crawfordsville at the age of 17 and opened up his first store in 1899. By 1907, the four-story business, located at the corner of Main and Green Streets, became Bischof’s Big Store. The landmark burned down in the early 1930s.

The book of rules includes regulations for department heads, ushers, inspectors, elevator conductors, and salespersons. What types of behavior did Mr. Bischof prohibit from his employees? The book includes typical business rules, but Bishof also asks that his employees avoid dancing in the aisles, reading or writing letters, wearing extravagant clothing, and loaning one another money. 

Bischof advises, "Don’t chase customers, wait until they stop and show that they are interested in goods or some department, then approach them in a business-like manner."
Bischof requests that his "employees use the word 'Madame' instead of 'Lady' in addressing ladies who visit the store...the word 'Gent' should be avoided with reference to any merchandise in the store." Bischof also asks that the term “special” be used with care:
Department managers and others will guard closely the use of the word “special,” either in advertisement through the newspaper or on printed cards. It must mean exactly what it says in order to retain any strength as an expression.

Knowing that the Big Store is at the center of a busy downtown, Bischof urges his employees to be courteous to visitors:
We receive many visits from out of town people and the impression which is made up on them by a few moment’s interview with one of our employees remains forever in their minds. If the employee is courteous and polite, the impression is good; if short with answers or other than very attentive in actions, the impression is bad. We are particularly desirous that visitors from out of town be allowed to see that we understand how to do business correctly, and this effect can only be had when every employee treats every visitor with careful consideration.

Due to Bischof's attention to detail, training of employees, and courtesy to customers, the Big Store remains one of the most successful businesses in Crawfordsville's history.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Life in 1834

The library recently acquired a letter written by a Crawfordsville woman in 1834, making it one of the oldest documents in our collection. The town had been laid out by Ambrose Whitlock eleven years earlier, and was incorporated the same year our letter was written. Transcription of the letter is in progress and has already yielded some interesting information. The author notes as an aside that she has heard a rumor that Springfield will be made capitol of Illinois. Because paper would have been expensive in 1834, the author was frugal and  filled every inch of it with writing--she wrote horizontally, and across that vertically, then turned the paper upside down and wrote some more. Envelopes were not used at this time, so the letter was folded and sealed by itself. Letters such as this are a great resource for family historians, as they often give valuable information about neighbors and friends around town, family births, deaths, and marriages, and offer a glimpse into daily life in Indiana its early days. Check back later for a full transcription of this rare artifact.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Local History Research

Now in the Reference/Local History Department of CDPL is a display on Local History Research @ Your Library. Local citizens and library staff have always been eager and willing to pursue and publish this county's rich past . . . and this effort has never been more evident than lately. Be sure to come by to familiarize yourself with some historical research. And get ready for the upcoming publication (late March 2012)  Hidden History of Montgomery County by CDPL staff Jodie Steelman Wilson, Emily Griffin Winfrey, and Rebecca McDole. This most recent publication will certainly entertain you with stories and tales of your county's varied and unique events.

To give you an idea of what to expect, here is the Table of Contents from Hidden History of Montgomery County:

The Legacy of the Jewish Tailor of Crawfordsville
Maurine Watkins Makes Satire Out of Murder
America’s First Airmail
Nellie Coutant, Forgotten Photographer
The Sad End of Comedian Ferris Hartman
Crawfordsville's Playwright: Kenyon Nicholson
From Actress to Author: Maude Snyder
The Courthouse Tower Is Going to Fall (or Is It?)
Crawfordsville's Thomas Edison: Shirl Herr
Disgraced Doctors
Carrie Nation Cleans Up Crawfordsville
Elizabeth Boynton Harbert and the Pursuit of Suffrage
Ruth Morgan and the Waveland Vigilantes Foil a Robbery
Wabash College’s Football Fatality
Mary Oda Eglin, "Artist of the Army Air Corps"

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Divine Sarah

Sarah Bernhardt, 1891. 

The New York Review of Books called Sarah Bernhardt “the most famous actress the world has ever known.” Born in Paris in 1844, her mother was a courtesan, her father unknown. Sarah studied acting at France’s best state theater and soon surpassed her teachers. Her incredible talent earned her the nickname “the Divine Sarah.” She appeared in some of the very first silent films, including one about her daily life at home (the world’s first ‘reality’ show?). She was friends with Victor Hugo, inspired the work of Alphonse Mucha, and may have had an affair with King Edward VII. She added to her legend by sleeping in a coffin (to connect with the tragic characters she played on stage) and selling pictures. In her later years, she injured her leg and had to have it amputated after gangrene set in; she performed onstage with a prosthetic. Sarah died in 1923. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Crawfordsville Depot, circa late 1890s
At the height of her fame, Sarah Bernhardt visited America. On the way from Chicago to Louisville, Sarah’s train stopped briefly in Crawfordsville on October 18, 1891. Reclining in a chair by an open window in the grandest of her five train cars, Sarah’s “celebrated shape” was wrapped in a white robe. She slept for the duration of the stop (about half an hour) and the large crowd that gathered to stare at her was most impressed by the “mellifluous sing-song sound proceeding at regular intervals from her nasal organ.” 
In short, the divine Sarah snored.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Harbert Made History in Crawfordsville

courtesy of the Boynton-Harbert Society
     When I saw the theme for this year’s Women’s History Month (Women’s Education-Women’s Empowerment) I immediately thought of Crawfordsville’s most famous suffragist, Elizabeth Boynton Harbert. Elizabeth was born in 1843; she attended school here and in Ohio, and graduated from the Terre Haute Female College in 1862. Returning to Crawfordsville, she began writing and published her first book in 1867. Elizabeth’s work as a suffragist began in 1868 when she applied for admission to Wabash College and was denied. Throughout her life, Elizabeth was at the front of the fight for the vote and often argued that women needed education if they were to gain equal rights (an idea perhaps inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft). She lived to see the fulfillment of her dreams when the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920, giving women the vote.
     Read more about Elizabeth Boynton Harbert and other famous Montgomery County women in Hidden History of Montgomery County, Indiana, coming this spring from the History Press!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reading Lew Wallace

If you live in Montgomery County, you probably already know who Lew Wallace is--author, lawyer, Civil War general, and governor of Mexico, among other things. But if you haven’t read Lew’s Autobiography, you’re missing out on a fascinating look at the life of a complex character as well as a glimpse into the early history of Indiana. Lew’s childhood was spent enjoying the natural beauty of Indiana. Speaking of the Wabash River, Lew says, “ had a coaxing power. My fears were soothed, and I went and, as it were, laid my hand on its mane; and thence we were friends.” Lew followed his brother to Crawfordsville, evidence of the independent and adventurous streak that would eventually bring him to the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. Particularly interesting are Lew’s remembrances of Abraham Lincoln before he became president. In a bar room in Danville, Illinois, Lew saw Lincoln for the first time and called him the “most positively ugly man who had ever attracted me enough to call for study. Still, when he was in speech, my eyes did not quit his face.” Lew saw Lincoln again when he was debating Stephen A. Douglas in 1858, and despite Lew’s professed awe of Douglas, he was swayed once more by Lincoln’s words. Lew Wallace’s Autobiography is engaging, balancing the excitement of battle with the horror of its aftermath, while offering rare personal insight into the lives of political and military figures. Find Lew’s Autobiography at the library, and after you’ve read it, stop by the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum to learn more.