Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Letters from the past...

Although Log Cabin Village is most famous for its impressive hand-hewn structures, we also have an interesting and delightful collection of photographs and letters. These personal effects lend a first-hand glimpse into the hearts and minds of our 19th century Texans.

One of our collections, the Parks family letters, provides particularly amusing insight into Texas settlement. One of these letters is transcribed below:

Jacksonville Texas May 12th, 1850

Dear Brother time & opportunity afford me the good pleasure of addressing you with afew (sic) lines which will inform you that I and my little family are still enjoying good health though I myself have had afew chills this spring but in fine health at this time Milt I have not written to you since I left New Orleans but you must excuse me as I looked for you out here for a long time I did not know where you were nor what you were doing until I received a letter from Brother william some month or six weeks ago I learned from that- that you were still staying with Mother- I have nothing good to write to you nor nothing very bad more than we have had for the last six weeks almost an incessant rain together with a verry (sic) cold and backward spring which makes the farmers quake & tremble our cotton is now running on fine pasture and if the rains do not cease we will see h.ll (sic) – before we get it up of (sic) the range- our corn crop is fine though it was bit down by the frost once and covered four inches deep once in snow after being ploughed the first time a good many people about have taken blues & some not only the blues but the real mad horrors

Page 2
I had the pleasure of J.T. Hesters company last night you may guess that we spent the night very merrily in talking over old matters & ourtravels (sic) etc. etc. – he says he is pleased with the country & expects to move to it & also that you were coming this fall certain well now milt I shall look for you & impatiently await your arrival – now Milt for my sake & for your sake & for god sake & for every other sake wake up & shake the ashes of (sic) your feet & out of your hair and come to Texas where you can make a fortune with out work- or with it, as you please now is the time to come to Texas the country is fast settling up land is rising & trade runs high & every body animated with flattering prospects of future prosperity cotton is up the country is settling up land is rising the navigation of the sabine and trinity Rivers all tend to animate the Texian settlers-
I would not move back to Tennessee under any reasonable consideration whatever because I think Texas is destined to be one of the best farming countrys (sic) now west of blue Ridge- I am very sorry that brother Allen is not coming to this country because it would just suit him and I know that he would be well pleased- but A.L. I have not much faith in his coming shortly from the way he writes tell him if he goes to open a farm in owl hollow to go first & buy a constitution from a Jack--s

Page 3
Tell Brother Jess I was much disappointed to hear that he was not coming to Texas this fall I recvd (sic) his letter a few days ago which informed that M.L Parks was still knocking around with those old claims trying to collect well now I would just say that I am in hopes you will not let him chissle out of one single cent there is honestly not more than $25.00 cts. going to him except Rights note and that you have nothing to do with, and therefore if he does not settle honestly & justly let him alone he can not take the land off and it will be Redeemable in two years if sold any how or if he sells & bids it off himself do you turn round and have it sold as his property for the claims you have against him – nothing more at present –
May success attend you & love purity & fidelity ever be your motto
Yours respectfully F.G. Parks
P.S. for A.P.
Dear cousin through the medium of this epistle I take pleasure in Remitting to you that love & respect that in days gone by existed between you & I though it is not now at this time so fully developed though… (rest of page is missing)

Page 4
Of that privelidge (sic) at times makes me feel quite sad and solitary but so it is & it cant tisser (sic) - about the first of July Joel Dodson & my self expect to start to western Texas to look at the country-
I hope when this comes to hand you will site down & give us aminute (sic) detail of every thing that is werth (sic) telling all about the galls… (rest of page is missing)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is there a doctor in the house?

...because I would have gladly taken the aid of a physician, 19th century or otherwise, these past couple of days. I found myself overcome with what we delicately refer to as a "stomach virus" nowadays. Those of us who have experienced said virus know that it's anything but delicate! And while I treated myself with doses of a Gatorade/water mix, double-strength Mylanta, sleep, and plenty of whining, I wondered to myself, what would our 19th century friends have done?

While this entry is by no means exhaustive, take a look at what had to say (an excerpt from THE PRACTICALHOME PHYSICIAN AND ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MEDICINE):

Pain in the Stomach - Gastrodynia.

This is a symptom of various affections of the stomach, such as inflammation, ulcer, dyspepsia, and cancer; if it occurred only as an incident in these affections there would be no occasion for separate discussion.

There are, however, cases in which a severe pain in the stomach is a most prominent and distressing symptom, but in which no structural disease of the organ, such as ulcer or cancer, can be dis­ covered. In these cases the pains appear to be neuralgic, and the affection is indeed often called neuralgia of the stomach.

Symptoms.-The pain begins suddenly, oftentimes awaken­ ing the patient at night; it becomes at times agonizing, causing the patient to twist and groan from the severity of his suffering. There is sometimes decided tenderness over the stomach though in most cases this feature is absent, and the pain is indeed often somewhat relieved by pressure of the hand. There is sometimes a feeling of tightness or constriction around the body. In many cases violent vomiting occurs, though this is not a necessary symptom. In some instances, particularly in women, the pain recurs at intervals with especial severity, so that it is to be described as "bearing down" pain. The attack varies in duration from a few minutes to several hours, and leaves the patient sore and exhausted.

These attacks of neuralgia in the stomach rarely occur in indi­ viduals who enjoy robust health. The sufferers from this affection are usually in a state of general debility from over­work, either phys­ ical or mental, from excessive mental emotion and strain, or from neglect of sanitary regulations. In such individuals these attacks occur spontaneously, or may be induced by eating certain articles of food ; such individuals usually learn by experience to avoid par­ ticular articles of diet, which may be eaten by other people with impunity. Thus, in one instance, strawberries will be found to provoke such an attack if a patient be at all exhausted; while in another, even stewed oysters may have the same effect.

Treatment. - The treatment of such an attack comprises two measures: first, the relief of the pain; and second, the effort to avoid future attacks. The pain can of course be removed by the various agents at our command; if severe, so that the patient writhes in anguish, chloroform should be administered at once, a teaspoonful being poured upon a handkerchief and held near, not to the patient's nostrils. Meanwhile morphine should be given, a sixth of a grain, if the patient has not vomited; but if his stomach has been irritable, and rejects all medicines, an eighth of a grain of morphine may be administered hypodermically. A light mustard plaster applied over the stomach and a tablespoonful of whisky containing Jamaica ginger will often shorten the paroxysm of pain.

To avoid repetition of such paroxysms the effort must be made to Improve the patient's general health. In the majority of instances it will be found that the patient is already suffering from mental or physical exhaustion ; until this exhaustion is relieved by recreation, diet, and medicine, the attacks of neuralgia will be apt to recur. This disease appears to be confined to middle life, rarely occurring in childhood or in old age.

Hmmm. So according to this I should have had chloroform and morphine. I think I'll stick with Mylanta and whining!!

Bonus fact: Did you know that helicobacter pylori, the bacteria often responsible for ulcers was actually discovered in the 19th century? Neither did I...until I was researching some articles for this blog entry!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The more recent past...

I read an interesting article from the National Trust Historic Sites' blog this morning about interpreting history from the 1950s. That's right...I said 1950s.

We're so firmly entrenched in the 1850s (and beyond) here that it's sometimes difficult to wrap your brain around the thought that history can be so recent (and worthy of museum dedication).

As entire ways of life continually evolve (and sometimes disappear), these new interpretations become all the more critical. For example, a colleague (and friend) recently brought up two examples: Band-Aids and toothpaste. Do you see Band-Aids with the little red strings for openings anymore? How about metal toothpaste tubes? That would be a "no" on both accounts. What about cassette and VHS tapes? Rapidly disappearing as well. I, myself, still vaguely remember 8-track tapes...but my son will probably only see them in museums (or Thrift Town).

I wonder what a "Village" dedicated to life in 2008 would look like? Would we see modern brick homes interspersed with 1930s Arts and Crafts cottages? Would our only sampling of life in the "early new millenium" be those homes that are left (and then donated)? Will they be representative of who we, as a people, are?

Interesting questions...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Something old is "new" again...

Our beloved pie safe has come home again! When the Seela was converted to a hands-on cabin last fall, our curator knew it was the perfect time to send this beautiful artifact out for conservation. Thanks to donations from generous patrons, we were able to dip into our improvement fund to make this exciting restoration happen!

The pie safe is a fine example of Texas-made furniture. It was hand-built in the 1880s by a man named Alvin Haubold. He made the cabinet for his family’s food storage. The wire screens kept unwanted pests out while allowing the food to ventilate. Wire screening, which made life quite a bit more comfortable and healthier by keeping insects out of homes, was widely available by the 1870s.

The piece is built out of long leaf pine – a very sturdy and valuable wood from very old trees. These pines grew to be more than 100 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Due to logging, most of these majestic trees had disappeared from Texas by the early 20th century. Today, less than five percent of the original Texas long-leaf pine forests remain.
The pie safe is now able to be viewed in the hallway of the Foster Home, the Village point of entry. We hope you'll come see it!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What kind of museum visitor are you?

I recently read an interesting article (“Calling All Spiritual Pilgrims: Identity in the Museum Experience” by John Falk [in Museum, Jan-Feb 2008]) that placed museum visitors into five basic identity-related categories. These categories are based on an extensive body of research into visitor motivation and museum expectations.

These categories are as follows:

i) Explorers—curiosity driven, with a generic interest in the content of the museum (for us, this means they have a general interest in 19th century or frontier Texas history)

ii) Facilitators—socially motivated. Their visit is focused on primarily enabling the experience and learning of others in their accompanying social group (these are your teachers, parents, etc.)

iii) Professional/Hobbyists—feel a close tie between the museum content and their professions or hobbies (i.e. interested in building a cabin or a specific craft our museum demonstrates)

iv) Experience Seekers—motivated to visit because they perceive the museum as an important destination (i.e. visit because "if you visit Fort Worth, you HAVE to see Log Cabin Village!)

v) Spiritual Pilgrims—primarily seeking to have a contemplative, spiritual, and/or restorative experience (looking for respite and "escape" from contemporary life...)

Which of these categories do you think YOU fall under? Does your motivation change according to the needs of those around you?

The whole concept of visitor motivation is interesting because it reminds us, as a museum, that not all people visit us for the same reason. Therefore we need to ensure that we're meeting the needs of ALL our visitors regardless of their reason for visiting.

So how are we doing? What are your thoughts? How can we improve our service to you?