Transcribing: A Close Connection to the Past

In One Night in Norwalk – A Hitchhiker’s Tale, I told how I found entries in my grandmother’s diary of the night I arrived at her door after a failed attempt to hitchhike home from school.

I am lucky to have Grandma’s diaries, and other writings of hers. They have provided me an intimate window into her life – and told me what she thought of me. While transcribing them, I felt I became closer to her than I ever did while she was alive. And, while transcribing her words, I adopted a process that made her seem even closer; a process that is the subject of this post.

 

Harriott Wickham Memories

Photos: Harriott Wickham self-portrait, 1914; Commencement photo of the Class of 1907. Harriott Wickham earliest diaries: 1908-1909 (open); 1910 Tour of Europe (black cover); 1910-1914, Wooster College Years (red cover).

Early on, I formed the habit of transcribing Grandma’s letters, diaries, stories and other documents before I read them. Seeing the words for the first time as I typed them made it seem I was experiencing her thoughts as they had formed in her mind. Sitting at my desk late at night, or in the morning before dawn – my usual time for research and writing – I often felt as though Grandma was with me, directing my fingers as they moved across the keyboard of my computer.

Have you ever tried this technique? If you have not, I suggest you give it a try.

 

 

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One Night in Norwalk, Ohio – A Hitchhiker’s Tale

With all I have written about the history of Norwalk, Ohio, you might think that I grew up in that city and the Firelands. But I did not. I was born in Amherst, Ohio, and raised in Lorain and Avon Lake, all in the county east of the Firelands. In fact, to my knowledge I have spent only one night in Norwalk, Ohio: Thursday, September 27, 1973, forty-four years ago today. How do I know that, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

I had just begun my Junior year at Bowling Green State University, south of Toledo, and after two years in the dorms, had moved to an apartment on Napoleon Road, across the railroad tracks from a hog slaughter house.

I needed a car. A neighbor of my parents back in Avon Lake had a car for sale. I decided to hitchhike home and buy it. After all, it was only a hundred miles or so. No problem. So I walked to Wooster Street, hung out my thumb, and headed east. [1]Norwalk Hitchhiking Map

Rides were scarce that day, and those who picked me up did not take me very far. As dusk settled in, I found myself standing at the U.S. Route 250 exit of the U.S. 20 Norwalk Bypass. Continuing to hitchhike in the dark did not appeal to me (wisely, I think).

But, Grandma Barton lived in Norwalk. [2] She’d take me in. I abandoned my plans of getting home that night, and hiked north along Benedict Avenue toward town.

I arrived at Grandma’s home on Hester Street after dark. The lights were on. I knocked. She opened the door and stared at me with surprise.

What did she think of me showing up at her door after dark? I’ll let her tell you.

 

Thursday, September 27, 1973

Another warm day, but not as hot as yesterday. Late in the p.m. a knock at the door and there stood David. He had hitch-hiked this far on his way home, but did not want to try his luck farther, as it would soon be getting dark. I did not think he should either, so he called home to tell them he was staying here over night. Nice to have him for a little visit.

Friday, September 28, 1973

Just after we had eaten breakfast this a.m. Carrie [my mom] arrived to take Dave on to Avon Lake, where he is to finish his deal to buy a car there. Somehow it did not occur to me to lend him my car to go on to A.L.! But perhaps that would have been just as much trouble, as they would have felt it should be brought back.

Harriott Barton Christmas 1973 - Avon Lake Ohio (2)

Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, Christmas 1973

That’s it, my one night in Norwalk, Ohio. And breakfast, too!

I had wondered over the years what Grandma thought about my little adventure. (I had learned my mom’s opinion of my “antics” on the ride from Norwalk to Avon Lake that morning). Finding these entries in Grandma’s diaries a decade ago was a blessing. I’m glad she was not upset with me. But what else could I expect from someone who had homesteaded in Wyoming as single young woman, married a rancher, and raised a family on the edge of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.

Grandma was not the timid sort.

 

Diaries from our ancestors are such a treasure. In my next post, I’ll tell you how I make the transcription of these gems into a deeply personal experience.

 

Footnotes

[1] To any children (in the unlikely event any children actually read this post), do as I say, not as I did: don’t hitchhike!

[2] Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, Norwalk High School Class of 1907, whose stories of her life, our family’s heritage, and of the Firelands inspired me to publish the Firelands History Website. After my grandfather’s death, she had sold their farm south of Norwalk and moved into town.

 

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Nothing New Under the Sun

Great fire of 1908

Scene of the Devastation of the Michigan Fire of 1908 [1]

This year, it seems that the entire western U.S. is in flames. Although in Colorado, where I live, we have mostly been spared the fires, we have suffered through weeks of heavy smoke from conflagrations in Canada, Oregon and Montana that obscure the sky, burn our eyes, and weigh heavily on our spirits.

I hiked in the hills near my home south of Denver this morning. Normally, Pikes Peak, fifty miles to the south, stands out boldly against a blue sky. But this morning, I could barely make out the foothills of the Front Range, a little over ten miles to the west.

Fires like these are not new, however. One-hundred nine years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, wrote in her diary about smoke from faraway fires that blanketed Norwalk, Ohio. Here’s what she had to say:

 

Saturday, Sept 11, – The air is so full of smoke from the Canadian & Michigan forest fires that it is like a thick fog. The air is close & muggy, and the sun doesn’t even cast a shadow. It is only about four o’clock now, but you can scarcely see the sun although there is not a cloud in the sky, at least as far as I can see, which isn’t far, for I can hardly see across the valley. My, I’m glad we don’t have forests around here. It’s bad enough clear across the Lake. [2]

There is nothing new under the sun, according to the prophet. [3] And sometimes, there is no sun.

Something is different today, however – coverage of these events. These days, national and local news sources extensively cover wild fires, and cautions us of the health risks. But on September 11, 1908, the dense smoke Harriott Wickham described in her diary merited not even a mention from the Norwalk Daily Reflector or the Evening Herald. An article in the latter paper did report about a forest fire in Minnesota, but only because it threatened a town. [4] Property loss was news. The environment was not.

Footnotes:

[1] From “MAJOR POST-LOGGING FIRES IN MICHIGAN: the 1900’s.”

[2] From the unpublished diary of Harriott Wickham, Norwalk High School Class of 1907 covering May 1908 to May 1909 in the possession of the author of this blog. As it is today, there were no real forests around Norwalk in 1908. Pioneers like Harriett Wickham’s ancestors had cut them down over the previous century.

[3] Ecclesiastes, 1:9.

[4] “Forest Fires Do Great Damage,” Norwalk Evening Herald, page 3, column 5.

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Norwalk High School and the Great War

U.S. Declares War

One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany, upending the lives of all Americans living at the time. [1] Where were the alumni of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 that momentous day? How were their lives affected by this world-altering event?

robert-venus-commencement-photo-1907On the front page of The Norwalk Reflector Herald that day, just below the article announcing the war, was a small item notifying readers that one alumnus of the Class of 1907, Robert Venus, had spent two years at the Case School of Applied Science and now held “a responsible position with the East Ohio Gas Co.” [2]

Did his country’s entry into war change Robert’s life. Indeed, it did. He enlisted as an officer candidate in the Army and by July was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He would spend the next two years on active duty. I do not have any evidence that he served overseas, but no matter–he did serve. [3]

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The “War to End All Wars” disrupted lives all around the world, and ended the lives of millions. Robert Venus was not the only graduate of Norwalk High School whose life was turned upside down. As I often do when writing these posts, I turn to the diaries of Harriott Wickham, my grandmother, to see what she had to say. Here is what she wrote on April 22, 1974.

This evening have been watching a movie about W.W.I. How very long ago that seems now—like a different lifetime! It is really very clear in my memory though. Most of the boys I had known off in France! Bill [4] among them. Making bandages in the courthouse in Buffalo, Wyo. with other women. Getting a letter from my “then fiancé” [5] in France. Eleanor, [6] and I working in Columbus & Cleveland for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And especially remembering the long, long, two deep rows of rough boxes that stretched along the station platform at Columbus. Coffins filled with the bodies of boys who never even got to the front, but died of the flu epidemic at a training camp! One of the saddest sights of my life, I think! – Then, finally a night when we were awakened by the noise of sirens & shouting and chanting, — the “false armistice”! [7] But the real one a few days later, when there would not be any more “casualty lists” in the paper and the boys would be coming home alive!

It was another year before Bill would be home – but we didn’t know that then. And I think he really enjoyed that year – after the fighting had ended. He was quartered in a French home. When he had been crossing the ocean to France, a torpedo from a German submarine had grazed their ship—he heard the scrape of it! then it hit & sank another ship.

A number of our friends were killed in the war—one of them a fraternity brother of Bill’s at Ann Arbor—Lois Brush. I had been his guest at a Beta House party two years earlier. – He had no girl to ask & I was visiting Aunt Sue, [8] who was taking her doctor’s degree at Ann Arbor. A number we knew from Wooster & Norwalk were killed, though most of them came home safe. Damn Wars!! So stupid & unnecessary!

Stupid and Unnecessary! That sums about sums it up, doesn’t it?

 

Footnotes

[1] “U.S. Declares War Against the Kaiser,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, April 6, 1917, page 1, column 5. The Norwalk Reflector Herald was a successor to both the Daily Reflector and the Evening Herald which had merged in 1913.

[2] “Where They Are,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, April 6, 1917, page 1, column 5.

[3] In the U.S., Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976 Ohio Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918, 1st Lieutenant Robert Edward Venus of 45 Seminary Street in Norwalk, Ohio biography reads: 2 Lieutenant Quartermaster Corps 15 Aug 1917 from CL. 1 Lieutenant 28 July 1918. Fort Benj Harrison Ind 15 May 1917 to 14 Aug 1917. Quartermaster Corps to Discharge Cp Sherman O; Cp Johnson Fla; Baltimore Medical Department Honorable discharge 24 March 1919. Citation: The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18. Columbus, OH, USA: The F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1926.

[4] Harriott’s younger brother, my great uncle Bill Wickham.

 

William Wickham - WWI

William (Bill) Wickham in World War I

 

[5] Joe Gill. When my grandmother lived at our home near the end of her life, she told my mother that she received a “Dear Jane” letter from this man while he was in France. She said that it came as a big shock and she had a hard time getting over the rejection. I don’t know much more about him.

 

Joe Gill

Joe Gill – 1907

 

[6] Harriott’s sister Eleanor Wickham, my great aunt and godmother.

[7] On November 7, 1918, three days before the actual event, UP mistakenly reported that the German’s had signed an armistice. This sparked wide-spread, if short-lived, celebrations. How wrenching it must have been to learn that it was not true. For a detailed account of this little-known event, visit the New York Sun Blog.

[8] Suzan Rose Benedict. In 1914, she became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan.

 

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Norwalk Basketball Champions 1907: Who Were They?

On Friday, March 22, 1907, one hundred-ten years ago today, spectators crowded the school hall on the third floor of the “Old” Norwalk High School in Norwalk, Ohio for the school’s annual boys’ and girls’ intramural championship basketball games. In the boys’ match, the juniors defeated the sophomores 15 to 12 in what The Norwalk Daily Reflector described as the most exciting game ever played at the school. The match was hotly contested from the very beginning, and it was not until the final whistle that the Class of 1908 was assured of victory.

Who were the young athletes who won glory for their class and were borne triumphantly on the shoulders of their schoolmates around the hall? Newspaper accounts of the game reported the roster: Clifford Williams, Fred Harkness, Pitt Curtis, Walter Sutter, and Phil Fulstow. But those are just names. Who were they really? What did they look like, these young sporting heroes?

Well, I have good news–and I have bad news. Harriott Wickham, a member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 (and my grandmother), left in her papers a commemorative photo of those young champions. Unfortunately, unlike with every other photo I have from her, she did not record their names.

Anyway, here they are, decked out in their sporting garb.

NHS 1907 Champions

Seven young men posing solemnly for the camera–six in uniform, one in street clothes. Was the latter a player, or the coach. And what’s with the teddy bear perched on the basketball between his knees?

The rosters in the newspapers list five players, but in this photo there are six boys in uniform. I believe the additional boy in this photo is Leonard Delamater. On December 7, 1906, he played for the junior class in another intramural game, but for some reason, he did not play in the championship game.

I’ve searched the internet and genealogical sources for photos of these boys. Nothing there. However, when I looked back through Harriott Wickham’s papers, I found this photo of her and several of her friends. Fortunately, in this instance, she did record their names for posterity.

Friends - Lucy Rule, Me, Sara B. Sophie Harkness, Walter, Leonard Delamater, Fred Harkness

Front row: Lucy Rule, Harriott Wickham, Sarah Barnett, Sophie Harkness. Back row: Walter ? , Leonard Delamater, Fred Harkness

So, now we know how Leonard Delamater and Fred Harkness looked. Comparing their faces with those of the boys on the basketball team, I believe Leonard is sitting on the far left in the team photo, and Fred is standing behind him, second from left.

It’s a puzzle. But I do like a good mystery.

What do you think? Leave a comment below letting me know if you agree with me–or not–about Fred and Leonard. Also, if you have any idea of the identity of the other boys in the team photo, I’d really love to hear about it.

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The same evening the junior boys’ team defeated the sophomores, the senior girls representing the Class of 1907 defeated the freshman girls. We’ll get to that game in a couple days, but first, in my next post, we will see how the boy’s regular team fared when they played the Sandusky High School squad on Saturday, March 23, 1907 in the last extramural game of the season.

Sources:

“Senior Girls and Junior Boys are Champions,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 23, 1907, page 1, column 3.

“Decides Basketball Superiority,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 23, 1907, page 4, column 3.

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Chauquatua at Ruggles Beach

chautauqua-assemblyOn this date in 1907, The Norwalk Daily Reflector reported exciting news: a Chauquatua Assembly was to be established at Ruggles Beach.

What is Chauquatua? And where is Ruggles Beach, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

The first Chauquatua Assembly was established in 1874 at Lake Chauquatua in New York by a Methodist minister. It grew over the years, and by 1907, had assemblies all about the country, and traveling assemblies that visited towns on a circuit. These assemblies featured religious and secular lectures, musical programs, and other wholesome entertainment.

I have not found any records of an assembly being

Oak Bluff c. 1911, 1912 (Susan Orsini)

The cottage on Lake Erie where Harriott Wickham spent her summers while in Norwalk High School

actually established at Ruggles Beach in 1907, but I do know that Chautauqua programs were presented during the summer from a couple 1908 diary entries by Harriott Wickham (my grandmother and member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907). As I discussed in Summer in the Firelands on September 1 last year, Harriott and most of her classmates spent their summers on the shores of Lake Erie. Here is what she wrote about the Chatautauqua program that summer of 1908.

Wednesday, July 29, – We finally got up our nerve and went over to Chautauqua tonight for the first time. It was a sort of recital of “Madame Butterfly” by a woman in Japanese costume, and was very good. After that they had moving pictures which were not only very poor, but were also disgusting.  After the show, we all went over to the hall and danced for awhile.

ruggle-beach-dance-pavilion-the-grove

Dance Pavilion at Ruggles Beach

Thursday, July 30, – Dreadfully hot! We stayed at home and read most all day. When we went in bathing that Jerpe fellow and another had a log out there trying to dive off of it. We joined them, and so I suppose we have got acquainted with him at last. We went over to Chautauqua again in the evening, but didn’t enjoy it much. I don’t care much for lectures anyway and this was a particularly tiresome one. We went over to the hall afterwards, but there wasn’t much doing, so we came on home.

It seems Harriott was more interested in spending her summer at the beach swimming and dancing, instead of listening to lectures and or watching other “wholesome” entertainment.

There are a few Chautauqua Assemblies still operating today: for instance in Boulder, Colorado and at Lake Chautauqua. Another assembly is located at Lakeside, Ohio, and Harriott and some of her friends visited there later in the summer of 1908. In a later post, we’ll see what she had to say about in her diary about that visit to Lakeside.

 

Source: “Chautauqua Assembly,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 7, 1907, page 1, column 8.

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Homer Beattie – Post # 2 – Nickname?

Class of 1907: Homer Beattie Post # 1

homer-beattie-commencement-photoIn the post on September 18 celebrating the birthday of Homer Beattie, I mentioned that he might be a “Rastus” Beattie who is mentioned in my grandmother’s 1908 diary. A pejorative term today, it was not considered so in that day and age.

But is Rastus Beattie really Homer? Below are the diary entries that mention him. Let’s see how they might match with what the record says about Homer Beattie.

 Sunday, June 7 – . . . Oh! I forgot to say that Rastus Beattie is home. I was talking to him yesterday. I’m glad he’s home, he looks all done up, although he says he’s all right.

 Wednesday, June 10, . . . After dinner, Ed and I went over home to play tennis, but Billy had gotten ornery, and said they couldn’t use his net any more, so we couldn’t play. I had a date with Rastus Beattie to play tennis too, and he called up to see about it, but as we couldn’t very well play without a net, we called it off, and Ed & I went down town. . . .

 Rastus is home, but from where? I would think it was from college. Homer did go to college; at least later on. In 1913, he was a senior at the University of Michigan and a member of the Forestry Club (his career was in Forestry). [1] But if he was a senior, this does not equate with him being in school in 1908, but in the 1909 Norwalk City Directory, Homer Beattie is listed, with occupation student. So it is possible that he started college in 1907, straight out of high school, which would put him home for summer vacation in June of that year.

Saturday, June 27: . . . We got up home in time for supper and afterwards went down to the library. We were sitting on the steps with Rastus and Fred French when the Davidson’s walked the steps. Poor Rastus, he nearly fainted, and Fred almost went into hysterics. Then we all kindly adjourned and left Rastus to make his peace. . .

Friday, July 17 – We have had a terrible storm today: thunder and lightening, and a regular cloud burst. We were glad to see it though, for our cistern gave out a few days ago, and carrying water is no fun. I got a letter from Irene today, saying that they are going to have a progressive dinner party for Meg, as she is going away so soon. She wants me to join her in giving the fourth course. She said they would find a “grand” fellow to take me. I don’t see where they would find him, I’m sure, so that isn’t much of an attraction. Probably Ernest Rudolph or Rastus Beattie, and either one doesn’t come up to my conception of grand. . .

Wednesday, Aug 12 – More arithmetic and grammar, etc., and the hall hotter than ever. We have a pretty good time though, looking at the people. It’s a regular menagerie. This evening Sara and I were going to the band concert, so I met her down at the library and we sat on the steps waiting for it to begin. Something happened however and the concert was called off, so we still sat on the steps. Quite a lot of kids had come down & we had a regular party there. About half past eight we went home and Rastus came along with me. I stayed all night at Grandma’s so we went down there and sat on the side steps. Rastus got very confidential, and we had a real “heart to heart” talk.

More encounters with “Rastus,” but nothing that indicates he is really Homer Beattie. But this is still summer vacation, so if Home were in college . . .

For the next four months, Harriott does not mention “Rastus” at all. Then, after Christmas, he reappears:

Dec. 28 – 1908 – Went shopping all this aft. I guess I am going to the dance with Charley Yanquell. Poor child, he might as well take his grandmother. Met Rastus downtown. He is looking for a partner to the dance. Hope he’ll come around my way. Went down to the Sunday School Christmas tree tonight. They always have it on this date, Holy Innocent’s Day. I got a box of candy and an orange, and had some ice cream and cake. After that we went to the play, a stock company show, – and a fair sample. Lots of Pi Kappa girls haven’t bids, even Milly Monnett. She and Harry are off, so I hear.

Dec. 29, 1908 – I have another bid and it’s about time. Rastus Beattie asked me to go with him, and I accepted. I guess Charlie Y. is going to take Edna now. Irene stayed all night with me and we have been together all day. In the afternoon we went downtown and met Rastus. He joined us and wandered around with us all the aft., even down to Grandma’s.

Dec, 30, 1908 – Well the dance is over, and I had an awfully good time, so much better than I expected that I am quite satisfied. I think almost every one had a good time. There were more boys than girls, so there weren’t a whole lot of wallflowers.

So here we are. “Rastus” Beattie, who does not exist in any source beyond this diary, only appears in the diary when colleges are not in session, then disappears when they are in session. Is this Homer Beattie? What do you think? If you have a clue, post a comment below.

Footnotes:

[1] “Forestry Club,” The Michiganensian Yearbook, 1913, p. 298

[2] Norwalk, Ohio Directory: 1909 – 1910, Page #: 8; Publisher: The Williams Directory Company, 1909

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