Doctor’s Daughter and the Medicine Show, a Family Letter

Imagine This

Imagine that you are a 13-year-old girl living in a town of about 800 people in rural Ohio, Holmes County. It is February, 1895, so the dirt streets usually turn to mud in winter, but this winter has been mild, and a medicine show has come to town. You sit down to write a letter to your Grandma, Emeline Stout, who lives in Guernsey County.

The Letter

Vera and Emeline

(The photo of Emeline Stout below is undated, but since I have younger and older pictures, I believe this is roughly the right time period. I previously mis-identified it as being Hattie Stout because I misread a caption that said “Grandma Stout”.  Since it was my Grandmother Vera’s handwriting, it is Emeline, not my mother’s Grandma Stout–Hattie.  The photo of Vera is approximately the time she wrote the letter, but unfortunately I do not have one that is better quality.)

The Background

Your father is a doctor and, as usual, is out in the country helping a patient.  Not a lot happens in this small town except church on Sundays and other church meetings. A medicine show with a painless dentist has replaced the interest stirred by the Methodist Church revival, which has now ended. The revivals are almost as well attended as a traveling circus, and draw nearly everybody in town.  Some of those people, not already committed to your father’s chosen place of worship, the Church of Christ,will respond to the emotional sermon of the traveling minister and walk down the tent’s aisle to join the Methodist Church. After you report on the Methodist’s success, t occurs to you a that you had better also tell Grandma about the activities of the Church of Christ. (You are writing the letter on Monday, so your church yesterday occupies your mind ).

When you announced your intention to go to the medicine show, your mother, upholding the reputation of the good doctor, lets you know in no uncertain terms that you cannot go.  One can only guess how appalled she is to think that neighbors would see Doc Stout’s youngest daughter at this charlatan’s traveling show. Additionally, although you Vera might not have known, alcoholism ranks as the biggest social problem of the time. The traveling medicine man’s main income comes from selling “medicine” that is almost totally alcohol or morphine.  It would not occur to you that Grandma Stout might disapprove as much as your mother did  of the medicine show.  Emeline Cochran Stout took an active role in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

You let it slip later in the letter that you already went to the medicine show, because you were tempted to let the painless dentist pull your teeth.  But since you report honestly on both the good and the bad, you admit that you chickened out of having the teeth extracted.

Perhaps your mother did not realize you had attended before, and when she learns about your plans to go again, you see your mother’s refusal as being contrary, and you pitch a fit.  You get so angry that you even refuse to write a thank you letter to your Grandmother Stout even though your obedient older sister, Maude, has written her letter.

But when you calm down, you write the letter to Grandma and in plain terms, confess to your contrariness.

Transcription and Notes

The 13-year-old was my Grandmother Vera Stout (Anderson). She wrote the letter on her father’s stationary and filled in the date February 25 1895. In three months she would celebrate her 14th birthday. The portion in italics is what Grandmother wrote. I have left her spelling, but for clarity I added periods at the end of sentences. My notes are in brackets. I will include additional notes at the end of the letter explaining things that might not be clear.    

Printed letterhead, with fancy frame around name (see picture above):

W. C. Stout, M.D.

Office days, TUESDAYS and SATURDAYS (from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M.)

Killbuck, Ohio, Feb. 25 189 5

Dear Grandma,

I will answer your letter this evening. I was to contrary to ans when Maud {Vera’s sister} did because I was mad. I received your mittens you sent me and thank you ever so much. think they are very nice.

There is a show in town & has been here for wk and is going to stay all this week. ma got a contrary spell & would not let me go & I have been crying about it for a long time. Pa is up to Stagers. Mr. Stager was down after him to go to see his wife. she has the grip. {grippe–flu}

The Methodist church broke up last night I do not know how many members they got. I think about 30 I am not sure. Are school will be out in about 2 months & Mr. Searles is going to teach a Normal school {school for teachers} this summer. I will not attend.(1) We had church last night & two came out and three were taken in.(2) Bertie Knavel and Mrs. Williams joined and the Fox girl was taken into the church. We got Uncle Tom’s little boy’s picture & he is awful sweet. they named him after Pa. William Clarence Stout. & it make it W. C. Stout like Pa name. He is awful sweet. I expect you have one of them. he is standing by the hobby horse.(3)

Well grandma I got two teeth filled the other day . Mr. Mackey from Millersburg {County Seat, and biggest town in the county}. I only have two more to have filled & 4 to have pulled & will have good teeth. will be glad of it. The show that is here is a medicine show and the Doctor pulls teeth without pain & I am to big a coward to get my pulled. I started to and set back down. backed out.

This was a lovely day. the sun shone all day & the roads are nice.(4)

When are you coming out{?}

This is all I have to say this time so good bye. From your grand daughter Vera

Tell the girls I will write to them to. {Vera’s cousins, who were close to her in age– the nieces of her father, Doc Stout. Mary (b. 1883) and Myrl ( b. 1885), daughters of “Lib” Elizabeth Stout Cunningham.}

 

(1) If May seems early for school to be out, remember that in an agricultural society, parents needed their children on the farm during planting season.

I don’t know why Vera felt it necessary to say she would not be going to the Normal School conducted by Mr. Searles, since Normal schools were for high school graduates, not pre-high school.

(2) “two came out and three were taken in”  In Evangelical churches like the Church of Christ people “come out” and confess their  belief generally at the end of a service.  After some time passes, the minister baptizes them and they are “taken in” to membership in the church.  “Taken in” could also mean people who moved from another congregation.

(3) Uncle Tom is Tom Stout who ranched near Sheridan Wyoming.  The little boy named after Doc Stout, born in 1891, grew up, married and had a child, but was killed in an automobile accident in 1919.  Unfortunately, I have not found a copy of the picture of the child with his hobby horse.

(4) “the sun shone all day and the roads are nice”  This is the most evocative line of this letter, taking us back to a town when the condition of the roads could not be counted on to be passable, particularly in winter.

What Did I Learn About Grandma’s Life?

Now if your imagination is still in tact, and you are transported back to small town Ohio in 1895, imagine what happened after Vera wrote this letter.

My first reaction focused on how wonderful it was to have such a revealing letter from my grandmother.  I can see the plain-spoken, no-nonsense woman I knew in her later years. It brought back to me that  small town life really did include things like medicine shows and painless dentists, and the westerns that I saw in the movie theater where Grandma worked in later years were not just making things up. Did you ever see Bob Hope as a painless dentist in The Paleface?  (Remember, also, that in 1891, Ohio was still considered the West.)  Excellent description of the American phenomenon of traveling medicine show in this article.

But my second reaction was to ask, “If this letter went to Emeline Stout, why was it among my great-grandmother’s papers?”  Was Vera’s Ma, Hattie Stout still being ‘contrary?; Was Vera drop the letter in the slot at the post office, or did her mother make her recopy it and leave out some offensive lines? Perhaps I am over thinking this, because when people wrote letters by hand  in an era that prized beautiful writing, it they frequently recopied a letter and mailed the “clean” copy.

Now that you know Vera as a 13-year-old, and her mother Hattie, what do you think happened? And what do you think of my grandmother?

 

A Slice of My Life: Paradise and Doomsday on Mt. Weather

In 1945 I traveled with my family from Ohio to Mt. Weather, Virginia, a place so peaceful and beautiful that it hardly seemed real. I had become the heroine in my own personal adventure, living in a cabin like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little houses; living on a mountain like Heidi with her grandfather.

As an adult I discovered that the paradise of Mt. Weather now hides a secret even more serious than those mysteries unraveled by my other favorite literary characters, the Bobbsey twins.

The Summer of 1945 at Mt. Weather

Shenandoah

View of the Shenandoah Valley near where we spent the summer.

That summer the air was clear and the views from our modernized cabin stretched for miles.  I had just turned six years old and my little brother, Billy was only six months. World War II was winding down and the official peace treaty with Japan would be signed in September.

That summer, my father, Paul Kaser, worked for the U. S. Weather Bureau, the operators of Mt. Weather since the early 1800s.

Despite what the later news articles say, the Bureau of Mines did not control  Mt. Weather starting in the late 1930s. They might have coexisted with the Weather Bureau, but everyone my father had contact with that summer belonged to the Weather Bureau. They were busily sending up balloons into the atmosphere, not digging an underground city.

One of the men he had worked for in New Philadelphia six years before held a position at Mt. Weather, and invited him to come work for the summer.  A cabin was available on the property of a Dr. Tappan, who had a young daughter just about my age.  My father blissfully describes our home for the summer to his friend, Delmar (Red) Alderman, an old friend from Killbuck, Ohio.

Paul Kaser

Alderman Hardware back room. Paul on the right, and owner of the store, Delmar “Red” Alderman on the left.

Father starts the letter off with a bit of understatement–sneaking up on the spectacular view.

The view is not spectacular just pretty countryside miles and miles of it streached [stretched] out like a panorama. We can see Winchester about 25 miles. Our front yard looks out on the Shenandoah valley on the other side of the mountain is Bull Run valley and beyond are Bull Run Mountains. The air is so fresh you never get tired. The big thing is the peacefulness. No noise except of our own making. The cabin is a thing of beauty. The man who owns it has spent $3000 on it and has managed to keep it looking rustic. It is nicely furnished and has all modern convenience. Hot & cold water, electric refrigeration and modern kitchen except that cooking is done on a wood range or on an electric hot plate.

Although I was just six, the cabin and its surroundings made a lasting impression on me. Unfortuately, my parents did not take a lot of photos of that idyllic summer, but I have snapshots in my mind of the walks through the woods, visiting in the big house with Cummie Tappan and my fascination with the fact that the Tappans had a colored cook. (That’s how we would have described her then.)  I never had known anyone but Mommys to do the cooking!!

When we needed to buy something we went to the nearest “big” town, Berryville VA.

Berryville Main Street looking west

Sometimes Mother and I, pushing my baby brother in his buggy, would walk all the way to the Mt. Weather complex where we  visited Aileen Corwin, the wife of the man my father worked for. The Corwins also had a son my age to join me in exploring the woods.  I remember that Mrs. Corwin once  killed a rattlesnake with a broom when  it had invaded her porch. Fortunately, no snakes visited us, but each evening, mother checked me over carefully for ticks.

The Corwins lived in a simple wooden house near the edge of the complex. Beyond their house were a few two and three story wooden buildings that housed offices and “Government Building,”  a kind of dormitory for workers. We could walk anywhere in the simple complex and visit my Father at work. As I recall, roads were narrow and unpaved.

In his letter to  Delmar Alderman, my father describes how to get to the cabin.

Come to Winchester VA. You can come east on Route 40 or 50 or you can take the Penn. TurnPike and drop down to Winchester then take VA. State Route 7 and come to Berryville VA. (You can inquire there) follow 7 to the top of the ridge (10 miles or so) there you will find a cross road with a lot of signs reading Mt. Weather, Appalachian Trail and a lot of peoples names. Turn south on a gravel road and follow uphilll about a mile and a half till you come to a mail Box marked Dr. Tapppen. That’s the place. Come in and take off your things.

He also tempts his friend to visit by telling him that he can visit the Skyline Drive and Washington D. C., each only about two hours away from the cabin.  (We had gone to Washington D.C. to visit with my father’s nieces, Phyllis and Evelyn Kaser, who worked during the war in government jobs.)

I can remember walking along the sparsely traveled road with my mother, enjoying the wildflowers, learning the names of trees, and picking wild strawberries. Amazingly, although the Mt. Weather complex has changed drastically,  the area around Mt. Weather seems no different than it was 60 years ago. The Google Map street view of Route 601(the cross road off Rt. 7 that my father referred to in his letter) along the ridge of the mountain look so familiar to me, that I feel like Google must have an image of my mother and me walking along, looking for wild strawberries growing in front of the low stone walls.

But when my journey on Google Maps closes in on the Mt. Weather facility, I can’t “drive” right in. A sign declares FEMA Mt. Weather Emergency Operations Center, and a gate and guardhouse end the Google Maps journey.

Mt. Weather

The Mt. Weather Complex today.

What a surprise it was to see a Time Magazine article about Mt. Weather 45 years later. Digging into the mountain, government agencies had created a hideaway for important officials in case of atomic bomb attack. In 2011, Time magazine’s blog ran a condensation of that article from December 9, 1991, that you can read here. Although the road leading to the top of the mountain may look the same, the pastoral innocence of the Mt. Weather complex itself existed no more. The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) designation is a cover for the real mission of the place.

The title of the article, DOOMSDAY HIDEAWAY, describes a very different place than the one where my father worked and my family visited during the summer of 1945.

News items and Wikipedia have a gap in their timetables of the way that Mt. Weather morphed from a Weather Station into a secret underground hideout for high government officials in case of nuclear attack. The history the reporters dug up skips over the immediate post-war period when we saw Mt. Weather.

A more recent report, from NBC, (June 2015) indicates that the facility is no longer used as a hideout for government officials, but instead an “alternate” center of operations for Homeland Security. At any rate, the real work of the government there remains top secret.

The news sources say that in the late 1930s the Bureau of Mines started some excavations, and by 1959 the Bureau had completed an underground shelter in Pre Cambrian basalt.  Ironically, my father’s description of the place emphasizes “peacefulness” and a decade after he wrote that letter, the emphasis was on preparedness for war and disaster.

I am so glad that we had that short respite on the mountain at a moment in history when we were enjoying the prospect of long-awaited peace in the world and the peacefulness of the beautiful Virginia mountains.

Heirlooms: Wedding Jewelry

Way back in January 2016, I showed you some pictures of my mother’s “Jazz Age” jewelry, including this bracelet–possibly wedding jewelry. (Click on that link to get a description of the bracelet.)

Wedding Day Bracelet

The bracelet Harriette Anderson wore the day of her wedding to Paul Kaser.

When I wrote that article, I said that I wasn’t absolutely sure that the bracelet was a part of mother’s wedding day outfit–, but I thought that she wore this unusual wedding jewelry.

Now I know!  This newspaper wedding article features a picture of my mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser, with her Matron of Honor, Lois Duncan Feight .  The wedding took place in the home of Lois and her husband Hank in Newark, Ohio.   (This article explains why no relatives attended.)

Wedding picture in newspaper

Newspaper Article :Lois Duncan Feight and Harriette Anderson Kaser at HAK’s wedding to Paul Kaser

And just in case you cannot see the bracelet, here is a grainy enlargement.

Close up to show Wedding bracelet

Close up to show bracelet worn for wedding. Harriette Anderson Kaser wedding with Lois Duncan Feight.

I have shared some of the letters my mother and father exchanged during the years leading up to their marriage.  In one, Mother mentions going shopping for a new dress, presumably for the wedding. It does not mention wedding jewelry, though.

In March, 1938, she wrote:

I went to Coshocton tonight and bought a new dress, hat, gloves, purse and tomorrow am going to get shoes.

I couldn’t stand a chance of your looking nicer than I might. No Dear I just had the urge and saw one I liked pretty well so there was.

It is true that despite his lack of funds, Paul Kaser was a spiffy dresser, but judging by the picture above, she was keeping up with him just fine, don’t you think?

Others Blogging About Heirlooms

Jeanne Bryan Insalaco, Everyone Has a Story to Tell,  started a Family Heirloom challenge in November 2015 asking fellow bloggers to join her in telling the stories of their family heirlooms. Here are some of the bloggers who also blog about heirlooms.

Cathy Meder-Dempsey at Opening Doors in Brick Walls
Karen Biesfeld at Vorfahrensucher
Kendra Schmidt at trekthrutime
Linda Stufflebean at Empty Branches on the Family Tree
Schalene Jennings Dagutis at Tangled Roots and Trees
True Lewis at Notes to Myself  
Heather Lisa Dubnick at  Little Oak Blog
Kathy Rice at Every Leaf Has a Story
Mary Harrell-Sesniak at  Genealogy Bank Heirlooms Blog

Are you a blogger who writes about heirlooms (even once in a while)?  Let me know in the comment section and I’ll add your blog to this list.