In a chicken coop like place

I’ve seen movies and television shows that were set during World War I, but it still amazes me how relatively primitive things were in the early 20th century. That came back to me when I started perusing a diary kept by Oscar Sandell, who served with the Ambulance Corps  in France with the American Expeditionary Forces. He did not see any action but served as an orderly and later a chauffeur for the officers at a base hospital.

Oscar Sandell's diary, with an entry about landing at Harvre, France, in January 1918.

Oscar Sandell’s diary, with an entry about landing at Harvre, France, in January 1918.

When he arrived at Havre on January 11, 1918, he wrote “stayed at rest camp over night Lived in a chicken coop like place, all lying side by side. No windows or floors in the place. Open on one side like the old places folkes [sic] used for shelter for horses & wagons at churches.” Nearly every day in January it seems to have rained and the only way to keep warm was by the fire or the wood stove–evidently no central heating. Oscar went in to town to buy lamp chimneys (oil or kerosene lamps, I presume), although they did have flashlights. In the evenings, he mentions listening to “the talking machine.”  On February 21 he received his gas mask. Transportation was also an issue. The troops still used horses so he went horse back riding. He had a puncture in his tire and no extra tubes with which to repair the flat so he drove back on the rims (no spare tire, either, I suppose).

Oscar Sandell may have drawn this cartoon about his experiences with the Ambulance Corps in World War I.

Oscar Sandell may have drawn this cartoon about his experiences with the Ambulance Corps in World War I.

With the centennial of the Great War approaching, it is timely that we should acquire the diary and some of the other souvenirs Sandell collected in France. I will no doubt be writing more about the war as the anniversary approaches, highlighting other items in the CHS collection.

Do we ever learn from history?

I am continually amazed by how history repeats itself, and not always for the better. We recently acquired a set of diaries kept by a young Waterbury man just prior to and during his study to become a doctor. James A. Root, Jr. was between college and medical school when he finally decided to keep a diary. His first entry was on August 20, 1939.

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Reflecting on the year 1965

The_Night_of_the_Iguana_posterOne of the longest diary runs we have were written by Thomas John Crockett, a Unionville resident and United States diplomat; the diaries date from 1954 to 2009. Following a brief career at the Hartford Times and in the Army, Crockett joined the Department of State where he served for 40 years. Stationed throughout eastern Europe from 1947 until the early 1960’s, he also served in the Philippines during the Vietnam War and in Tunisia and Israel during the 1970’s. The focus in his career was the diplomatic value of American culture and the liberating value of truthful reporting, and he served in the early years of the Voice of America, the U.S. Information Agency, the U. S. Information Service, and related agencies. From his experiences, he developed and nurtured a profound love of art, of music and of languages.

While I was in the stacks last week, I chose one of these diaries at random—1965 to be exact—to see what Crockett might have been up to on New Year’s Eve, since he was such a fascination person. It turns out, not much. Continue reading

Journal of occurances in a journey

Cover of an anonymous travel journal, 1800. Ms 01811.

Cover of an anonymous travel journal, 1800. Ms 01811.

In May of 1800 an as yet anonymous man traveled from New Haven to New York City and on to Philadelphia in the company of Jeremiah Day, a tutor at Yale. They took a boat from New Haven to New York, where the city was in an uproar from recent state elections. From there, the men took a stage on their way to the former capital city. He comments on the landscape and agricultural and industrial potential, gives descriptions of taverns where they stayed (one was particularly poor), and describes the other people in the stage.

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A Hannah surprise reprise

Hannah Smith's diary, Mary 10 to July 15, 1844. Ms 98476

Hannah Smith’s diary, Mary 10 to July 15, 1844. Ms 94876

I could barely contain myself when I realized what I was holding. The collection title was “Lambert Family Papers”, but here was another diary by one of my favorite young women of the 18th century, Hannah Hadassah Hickok Smith! You can read my earlier post about her here. I’ve read her earlier diary, and now, she is a grown woman of seventy-eight and the year is 1844. She notes she has been married 58 years.

Hannah has not changed much since her earlier diary, at least according to her entries. She does mention her daughters and husband which she did not in 1784, but he still is very self-deprecating, still reads voraciously, and records her daily chores, which she dismisses as lazing about. Here is a 78 year old woman hiving bees, throwing more wood in the stove at 3:00 a.m., and setting fence posts!  On June 13, she wrote: Continue reading

Henry Ward Beecher

Henry_Ward_Beecher_circa_1875In 1872 Henry Ward Beecher, a noted and popular, although often controversial, minister in Brooklyn, New York, was accused of having an affair with one of his parishioners, Mrs. Tilton. She alternately confessed and retracted her confession while Beecher consistently stated his innocence. To clear his name, he appointed an investigative committee composed of friends and supporters in the church. Their findings were unsurprising–he was innocent. Today, his guilt or innocence remains unresolved.

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Has spring finally arrived?

CHS Ms_33866_Pease_cover_1835It is May, and thoughts turn to spring. Samuel Pease of Enfield kept regular diaries between 1833 and 1851. He used an almanac within which he inserted blank pages so he could record his activities. With the beginning of a new month, I decided to take a look at what Samuel deemed important to record for the month of May. Continue reading

Dear diary

At CHS we have an extensive and constantly growing collection of diaries because of the detail they provide about  daily life of ordinary people, the ones who do not usually appear in the history books. The contrasts between diaries can be striking, as it is between the two that we recently added to the collection.

While a bit sparse, the first diary illustrates the life of a woman in the upper middle class in either Danbury or New Fairfield, Connecticut. Her husband’s  name was Ralph and they had a son Billy, whom she walked to Wooster School. I found that there is a private school in Danbury by that name. There are also frequent visits to Ball’s Pond in New Fairfield, hence the question as to their actual home.

What is notable is the number of times she recorded going to New York City to see a show or two, or going to “The Club”. She also attended performances of the Empress Stock Company, which is probably a Danbury venue.  In the page illustrated below, she (no name has yet been identified with the writer) attended a show at the Palace theater and later attended “Show Boat” on Friday. On Saturday they went to see Ed Winn in “Manhattan Mary”, but not until after her shampoo, wave and manicure

A woman from Danbury attended several shows in New York City over the course of two days. She also had a shampoo, wave and manicure. Ms 101709.

Laura Dodge wrote her diary in the midst of the Great Depression when her husband evidently was not employed and earning a wage. Ms 101708.

Contrast this diary with the one kept by Laura Dodge of Woodstock, Connecticut. On Monday, March 8, 1937, her husband Leon was a bearer at the funeral of Mrs. Howard who was only 74 years old. The next day Leon was out chopping wood. Another person is reported as dying. Leon continued to chop wood on Wednesday and Thursday. I began to think, why isn’t Leon working? Well, the year was 1937 and people were out of work during what we call The Great Depression. In fact, Leon does eventually get paid in the spring and summer for working on the roads. At the end of this year, Laura remarked that several W.P.A. men had come to work on the roads as well so maybe that is how Leon was getting paid.

Diaries make those topics we read about in history, like the Great Depression, come to life by making it personal. You are invited to come to the Research Center and read any of the hundreds of diaries in our collection. They range in date from 1780 to 1980 and were written by men, women and children. What a fun way to make history come alive!

The next question is, what will the new diary look like? Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, web sites? And, more importantly, how will we preserve them?

A Diary Beginning January 1st, 1801

Shubael Bartlett must have had an inkling that his words would be preserved for future generations. Otherwise, why would he have put so much information on the title page of his diary? In addition to the title, he also added: “The day of my birth was April 2nd, 1778 AD. I entered College Sept. 13th 1796–graduated Dept. 10th 1800. Was licensed to preach at Windsor Sept 28th or 29th, 1802. Rec’d the degree of A.M. 9th Sept 1803. Married at Hartford Wednesday evening 19th of Jany 1803. Ordained to the work of the Gospel ministry 15th Feby 1804 at East Windsor.”  And his notes continue. Oh, if only every diarist was so detailed about his/her life!

Title page from Shubael Bartlett’s diary, 1801, Ms 101633, filled with biographical information.

Shubael’s entry for January 1, 1801, captures his thoughts on the turn of the century, and for some reason, turns to the contemplation of the consequences of suicide. He wrote:

A momentous period indeed! How many thousands and millions of the present inhabitants of this earth will before another century is ended be laid in their graves? Probably not one out of ten thousand of those are are now on the face of the earth will live to see the end of the present century. “Thus rolls the tide of human “things”. . . . No one is accountable for the shortness of the time which he spends upon the stage [of life], unless he has shortened it by his own imprudence.–How will suicides appear at the great day of retribution? How will they appear when by an immediate act of violence, they have been the cause of their own deaths! Let no act of imprudence ever shorten my life or diminish my usefulness.

Reflections on a new century from Shubael Bartlett’s diary, Ms 101633.

Shubael’s second diary from this collection begins in August 1833 and ends in February 1834. Entries in this volume are less contemplative and deal more with daily life than the earlier one. For example on February 15, 1834, he noted that he was celebrating the 30th anniversary of his being ordained a minister at East Windsor. “How great accountability of a minster of Christ!” Later in the entry he counts seven people in his family and household: “this is myself and my wife, son Charles and his wife, and son Daniel, Lorenzo our man and Julia Pease our little maid. I have a precious season of prayer with my wife this eve’g for our children. Blessed be GOD.”

Barlett reflects on his 30th anniversary at the East Windsor Congregational Church, Ms 101633.

The “missing” diaries of Mr. Bartlett, those between 1802 and 1833, can be found with Ms 76589; they date from 1803-1854. Together, these collections give us a nearly complete view of the life of a minister in Connecticut. The diaries described above can be seen by calling for Ms 101633.

“The Rough Riders and the 10th Cavarly was into the game”

First hand accounts of the Spanish American War are hard to come by. So imagine our excitement when we were able to acquire a diary written by a soldier from Connecticut! William E. Jackson of Willimantic, Connecticut, entered the army late, traveling to Philadelphia to enlist in May 1898. He was sent to Cuba andtook part of the siege of Santiago. After a long illness, he was ready to come home in August.

Some of Jackson’s observations are interesting, and some are disturbing. He commented on how Southern and Western men did not swear as much as Northern and Eastern men. As his company was marching toward Santiago, they heard some yelling, and that is when they encountered the Rough Riders, who had been caught in an ambush. Cubans, he observed, often gave soldiers coconuts. He witnessed some Cubans cutting off the head of a wounded Spanish soldier instead of helping him. He also described taking a block house, and digging trenches around Santiago. His most common complaint was about the wet weather–it rained too much. As a result, he and many other men became ill. He was particularly concerned when his tent-mate was hospitalized.

One of the things I found most interesting in the diary was the reference to the Knight of Pythias. Jackson was a member of that organization and made quick friends with other men who identified themselves as Knights. There is something significant there, but I have not been able to put my finger on it. Any insights would be welcome.

This diary brings to ten the number of manuscript items we have about the Spanish American War, and the only first hand account. To read the diary, request Ms 101672.

On July 1, Jackson’s company takes a heavily defended block house, where they had to “more than fight”. Ms 101672

Spaniards ambush the Rough Riders on Friday, June 24, 1898. Ms 101672