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.

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What is this?

learn-to-can-thumbOur exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it? To find out more, Continue reading

Somewhere in France

"Soldiers letter" sent by Ellsworth Hawkes to Ben Myers. Ms 101842

“Soldiers letter” sent by Ellsworth Hawkes to Ben Myers. Ms 101842

Ellsworth A. Hawkes worked for the Aetna Insurance Company in Hartford before joining the army in World War I. On December 7, 1917, he wrote to a co-worker, Ben Meyers, from somewhere in France, where he was with the 101st Machine Gun Battalion. He reported that so far the weather had been seasonable and he had not taken ill, important facts to relay. Continue reading

What is this?

thumbnailOur exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it? To find out more, Continue reading

Lace patterns from England

We recently acquired a small leather-bound book of graph paper in which William Blore of Nottingham, England, drew patterns for the lace he manufactured. In many cases he affixed a sample of the lace for reference.

William Blore proudly wrote his name inside his book of lace patterns. Ms 101711

William Blore proudly wrote his name inside his book of lace patterns. Ms 101711

A sample page from William Blore's lace pattern book, showing the sample in the upper right corner. Ms 101711

A sample page from William Blore’s lace pattern book, showing the sample in the upper right corner. Ms 101711

In 1910, Bernard Blore (relationship still unknown) moved to America and by 1930 he was vice president of Connecticut Lace Works in Norwalk, Connecticut. Some time between 1910 and 1930, an unknown person sent the lace pattern book to Bernard from England. The book was accompanied by a note and on the verso was another pattern that the writer had critiqued. Connecticut Lace Works was formerly known as Dresden Lace Works, but in 1918 they were sold by an “alien property custodian”–German-sounding companies were associated with their country during World War I and were considered dangerous.

I find the book fascinating for several reasons. The patterns, while they make no sense to me from a technical standpoint are visually stunning. The samples may make it possible to identify Connecticut Lace Works lace on some of our costumes. And here we have a story that again illustrates our distrust of “the others.”

We have several books in our collection about lace and lace-making, but this is the first manuscript on the topic. Please ask for Ms 101711 when you come to the Research Center to take a look at this fascinating little book. And if you can make the connection between William and Bernard Blore, we would be most appreciative. It is frustrating to leave questions unanswered!

Frank Smith correspondence

How would you feel if your younger son went off to war? Annie Smith of New London, was nearly beside herself when son Frank joined the Quartermaster Corp in 1918. Her letters to him, part of the many letters sent to popular Frank, are filled with comments about how much she misses him, how she cries when she reads his letters, how she cries when she writes back to him, and how much she fears he will go “across”. Frank worked in the laundry at Forts Mead and Meigs and with the reclamation department in Ohio. His chances of going oversees were limited.

While Annie’s sentiments about her son are intriguing, so are some of the tidbits she included in her letters. She tells him one time that she had to cut the cake she made him to fit in the box.  She is also struck that there are girls working down at the machine shop! “They have to wear overall and shirts.” The flu epidemic was in full swing while Frank was in the service (yet another worry for Annie!) and she mentions that there are a lot of sick people in New London and that a lot are dying. It seems New London was quarantined for awhile during the outbreak.

As a slice of life in New London in the early 20th century, this collection is a gem.