Friday, February 28, 2014

The Old Familiar Routine

Dolly and Minerva soon fall back into the familiar pattern of daily life. Today, there is trouble with Mr. Bumble, the new butler. Bumble seems to have little patience with the demands of small children, especially when it comes to wasting food. He and little Horatio have come to loggerheads over Kitty's love of cream in vast quantities.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ackermann's, Sweet Ackermann's.

The girls are home again, and oh, how sweet it is! Father is padding about in his slippers and old banyan, savoring a cup of tea, Mother is perched on the alcove sofa with an instructive book, and Cousin Delphine has dropped in with Duchess to hear all the details of their adventure. Where to start describing the very odd events while visiting the Curriers? Perhaps it's just better to relax in the tasteful comfort of Ackermann's Respository and share profitable memories as they come up. At any rate, this has been an insight into some of Mother's quirks. It's a revelation to Minerva that she will now have quirks of her own.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Age of Steam

The early 19th century saw the practical applications of the steam engine to transportation. Steam-powered locomotives pulled lines of rail cars from factories to ports where goods were loaded onto ships bound for other ports. Boats that had been pulled up canals by horse or mule were now steam-driven. Despite the immense benefits steam engines provided, they contributed greatly to air and noise pollution. Just a look at the picture below will give you an idea how filthy passengers in the coach car could become.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Farewell Party at John I's.

In the mid-1800's, Snedecker's Roadhouse in Brooklyn, NY was the place to go. Next to the Union Race Track, it attracted the lively racing crowd. The big draw to Snedecker's, or John I's, as its devotees called it, was during the winter sleighing season. According to this article, fresh snowfall was a signal to the sleighing crowd to make the 8-mile trip from the city to enjoy the winter ride and a fun party at Snedecker's. It's hard to imagine the landscape at that time -- open fields and scattered farms. This article chronicles the downward slide of the site, ending with a photo of a 1770 farmhouse that was demolished in the 1920s.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fraternal Societies in the 1800s

The 19th century was an active time when it came to fraternal societies, those clubs which incorporated men's night out with social activism and a large dose of all the arcane ritual of boys who are allowed in the tree house. Being in a family with dedicated Freemasons, I am often reminded of Tom Sawyer, who could never do anything without incorporating a framework of symbolic meaning, incantations, and literary inspiration. Fraternal societies have dwindled in number and membership over the last century, as modern entertainment and demands on free time have rendered them almost obsolete. My aged dad belongs to a rural lodge that meets on or before the full moon of every month. Musing about this, I asked him if there was any ritual significance connected with the lunar cycle, or was it just so that farmers using horses and wagons would have a bright moon to light their ways home. He laughed and said it was definitely the latter, and more practical, option. 

Dolly and Minerva return to the Currier home where the quadruple twins are beginning to give them an uneasy feeling.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On The Right Track.

Walking home from the gallery, Dolly and Minerva pass by Lover's Lane, and spy courting couples strolling and gazing calf-eyed into each other's faces. Obviously, this is a precursor to the happy family they hope to have one day, but it does seem rather forward to follow these young lovers around until children start appearing.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Behind the Times

Dolly and Minerva are beginning to feel that their travels through other publications are not very enlightening. A visit to Harper's Weekly Magazine makes them realize just how far away from home they are.

Amazing, isn't it, how when fashions change, we look back in horror at what we we once wore with such confidence! I like to think, however, that with so many well-made movies of other times coming out, we have an appreciation of the beauty of past fashions. If actors are dressed well, not as caricatures of style, we see their clothes as people in those times did. My grandmother turned 20 in 1913, a beautiful era of fashion. Today, everyone is aware of that through the gorgeous costumes of Titanic and Downton Abbey. My grandmother grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, a neighborhood of poor immigrants, but she had the luck of being the only child of a skilled custom tailor who ran his own business. When she married in 1912 (the year of the Titanic sinking), she couldn't afford a fancy wedding dress. A stroke of good fortune arose - a woman had commissioned a very pretty dress, paid for the materials, but never returned to collect the dress or pay for the labor. It was a pale blue dress of layers, with the semi-sheer overlay embroidered in a floral pattern made of hundreds of French knots. And it fit my grandmother perfectly. Where this dress ever went, I don't know, as I've never seen it or even a picture of it, but it must have been beautiful. I look at pictures of dresses like this and think it must have been similar.

Then my mother turned 20 in 1946. When I was a child, I'd be fascinated by her descriptions of how she rolled up her hair in those amazing styles, padded out with long hair switches. She made a lot of her own clothes and would bring left over material to a hat maker, who would whip up jaunty hats to match her outfits. Mom worked in NYC and studied voice at Juilliard School of Music, hoping for a career in opera. Her publicity photos were so gorgeous, and I looked forward to the day when I was 20 and looking like a million bucks.

Fast forward to 1972. I turned 20. And it was 1972. Good Lord...seen that..., worn that..., wondered about that. There was a big "Unisex" thing going on then. I guess someone had a bee in her bonnet about gender equality, but when you go unisex, one or both of the sexes is going to come off looking not quite right. I hear people say that everyone thinks the fashions of their own day look great and the opposite sex looks great. Not true, just not true. That's when a whole generation pulled on a pair of jeans and an old shirt and just said no.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sugar On Snow.

In maple country of North America, sugaring season is an important time. When the nights are freezing and the days are warm, the first fresh sap runs up through the maple trees. By drilling a hole through the bark and inserting a small spout, sugar makers are able to draw off large quantities of sap. The clear sap is then boiled until evaporated down to 1/40th of its volume, to a golden brown syrup. Boiling it further reduces it to a granular sugar. A traditional treat is to boil maple syrup to the "soft candy" stage and dribble it on a pan of fresh, clean snow, where it cools to blobs of sticky candy. It's extremely sweet, so it is always served with hot coffee, fried doughnuts, and pickles. 

Here, Dolly and Minerva have been invited to such a party. They didn't expect the rough setting, as you can tell by their choice of dress.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Day At The Races

Dolly and Minerva have had a winning day at the race track. Plopping down a modest sum on their favorite horses, they won an unexpected trifecta. When asked for their reasons for choosing these unlikely winners, they would only reply that they listened carefully to the song. Yes, folks, it's third place to Mother-in-Law, second to Louis, and the winner is Beetlebomb at 20 to 1!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

America's Pastime.

In their search to understand men, the girls find themselves following a great crowd of men to a sporting event in a large open field. It involves a man with a large stick who attempts to hit a small ball and run from point to point around a quadrilateral path and return to his original place before someone catches said ball and touches him with it. Which everyone in the field is keen on doing. Great excitement! 

Monday, February 10, 2014


Between 1854 and 1866, Currier and Ives released a series of prints on the subject of firefighters, those brave volunteers who leap up at any hour, haul out fascinating machines, and race off to protect life and property. The main action pictures, with stirring titles, are as follows:

"The Life of a Fireman. The Fire, 'Now then with a will- shake her up boys.'"
"The Life of a Fireman. The Metropolitan System."
"The Life of a Fireman. The new era. Steam and Muscle."
"The Life of a Fireman. The night alarm.-'Start her lively boys'."
"The Life of a Fireman. The Race,-'Jump her boys, jump her!'"
"The Life of a Fireman. The Ruins - Take up - Man your rope."

Other prints were included, showing less grand action, but more personal portraits of dedication and bravery. Dolly and Minerva are quite impressed with some local firefighters, as women will be far into the future.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Man's Life

Back at the house, Hiram and Homer begin recounting the day's adventures with Mr. Smith, while Horace cleans his fish in the kitchen. Mrs. Smith offers sage advice to Dolly and Minerva.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The American Wilderness

Abandoning their sleigh, Dolly and Minerva walk back to the grandparents' house to sit by the fire and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. On their way, they observe men engaged in rugged outdoor pursuits. American men seem to thrive on dangerous, life-threatening activities. For the rest of his long life, Hiram will tell the story of shooting that bear in the nick of time, while Homer proudly displays the jagged scars of his ordeal.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Jingle Bells

Dolly and Minerva had seen a jolly group in one-horse sleighs racing past the window, and in no time, they were seated in such a vehicle, flying over the snowy roads. This was a very popular past time in pre-automobile days and still is among the few who actually own a sleigh and a horse. But as the song goes, it's very easy to get "up-sot"! How many painful and/or fatal accidents must have happened because reckless young men felt more than up to a challenge. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Serendipity: or Going The Wrong Way, But Enjoying The Trip

Dolly and Minerva explore the Currier and Ives series, The Four Seasons of Life, in their search to find out how all these happy families, crammed with adorable children, came to be. It looks like they've wandered into Old Age, which depicts a contented elderly couple with a sweet little grand-daughter at their knees. Grandpa is regaling little Lizzie with tales of how things were in his day, while Grandma goes on about how handsome Grandpa was in his youth. Lizzie is swallowing very little of it. 

Minerva is ready to backtrack through the series when Dolly notices a jolly, jingling group of sleigh-riders pass by on the snowy road. This could be fun!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Visiting A Family

Dolly and Minerva are taking Mr. Ackermann's advice and broadening their horizons. Mother has suggested a trip to America to visit the Currier and Ives prints. They are having a pleasant stay with a happy family with four energetic children. Hopefully, they will get to the bottom of this baby business!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dolly and Minerva's birthday

Dolly and Minerva are curious about where babies come from and decide that the best way to start is to find out how they came into existence. Mother's story doesn't shed too much light on the problem. Somehow it seems like just another shopping trip to Ackermann's!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Those Curriers!

Dolly and Minerva are out walking when they pass Mr. Currier and his wife, the former Miss Ives. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Where Babies Come From

Ackermann's Repository is a wonderful magazine, full of all sorts of useful information, but it does have its limits.