It is a common misconception that “no one is really from DC” – and, by extension, that no one is from Montgomery County. Yes, the area is home to many newcomers . . . but ask around, and you* might be surprised by the number of people you meet who grew up here, whose parents are from here, and who can claim a few (or many) ancestral generations with ties to the DC area. I admit, even I am sometimes pleasantly surprised when I meet a fellow County native. Recently we had a minor electrical problem in the office; the technician who came out was more than happy to tell us historians about growing up in Glenmont in the 1960s.

This brings us, in a somewhat roundabout way, to today’s artifact: a wooden desk chair, believed to have been used in the Glenmont Elementary School. It was donated in 2006 by Robert Faber, who said it had been purchased by a friend when Glenmont E.S. closed, and later given to him because he’d attended the school himself.

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The chair is made of wood (pine?), with metal screws and a brass-colored metal brace where the arm of the desk meets the back. The back is 32″ tall; the little attached desk surface is 11.5″ by 12″. There is a stencil on the underside, ending in 17, but it’s not terribly legible; I can’t tell if it represents a manufacturer, or was simply an inventory number (and, sadly, it does not appear to read “Glenmont E.S.”). Based on the number of similar examples to be found online, this was a fairly standard, common school chair design in the early-mid 20th century.

F2006.21.01 underside

Ours has been refinished, sometime between the school’s close-out sale and the Historical Society donation, and it looks great – but, delightfully, the refinisher left the underside of the desk alone. Though there are no helpful names or dates carved in, there’s still evidence of the chair’s original use: scratches, pencil scribbles, and even a few faint vestiges of dried-up gum.  This was definitely a used piece of furniture, not something that sat idly in a supply closet.

F2006.21.01 desk detail

The Glenmont school was located at what is now the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road, just north of Wheaton. (On the map below, from 1948, Randolph Road hasn’t yet been extended to Georgia.) It opened in 1926, with 125 students from Aspen Hill, Glenmont, Layhill, and Wheaton in attendance. Enrollment rose over the next few decades, and the school was enlarged several times – including a 1946 addition, designed by local architect V.T.H. Bien in a modern style. By the late 1970s, however, demographic changes meant enrollment was dropping at once-bustling suburban schools. Many Montgomery County public schools closed their doors in the 1970s-80s; Glenmont was one of them, closing in 1977.

The Glenmont area, including the school (in pink, just below the "GlenmontT" name). From the 1948 Klinge Atlas of Montgomery County, MCHS Library collections.

The Glenmont area, including the school (in pink, just below the “Glenmont” name). From the 1948 Klinge Atlas of Montgomery County, MCHS Library collections.

By the 1990s some of the school had been torn down, but pieces remained; Bien’s addition, for example, was used as a commercial fitness center for many years. (Photos of the school’s various buildings, including the Bien addition, can be found in this architectural survey – although, note that the first page includes an inaccurate opening date for the school.) Construction of the Glenmont Metro Station, begun in 1993 and finished in 1998, negatively impacted the site; in the early 2000s, historic designation for the remaining buildings was denied. Today, nothing of the school physically remains – although, in development plans for the area, the corner is still sometimes called the “old Glenmont School site.”

The buildings are gone, but thanks to a devoted PTA, much of Glenmont E.S.’s history can be found here at the Historical Society. In addition to our little chair, the artifact collections include 1960s-70s trophies, awards, and plaques, likely displayed in the lobby until the school’s closure. In our archives we have PTA scrapbooks and albums, from 1926 through 1977, filled with photos, programs, handbooks, meeting minutes, dance tickets, and more – all of it giving us information on faculty, students, facilities, curricula, and student activities. What I have not yet found in this great resource is anything that shows or references our chair and its friends. One 1942 photo (detail below) from the PTA scrapbook shows similar chairs in use, but they have metal legs; perhaps that means the all-wood chairs dated from earlier in the school’s history. Do any Glenmont alumni remember sitting in wooden chair/desk combos in their youth?

Glenmont Elementary School students, 1942. From the G.E.S. PTA scrapbook, MCHS Library collections.

Glenmont Elementary School students, 1942. From the G.E.S. PTA scrapbook, MCHS Library collections.

*Unless “you” are already aware of the high number of natives, of course.

Today we have two bottle cappers for your enjoyment. They are of similar vintage, but were used in the county at different times.

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Bottle cappers are tidy little machines that use leverage to force a metal bottle cap onto the mouth of a glass bottle, thus sealing in the liquid contents. Similar items are made today for use in home beer brewing, and indeed the vintage versions are often associated with the Prohibition era, at least in the popular imagination. A patent search for “bottle capper” shows that these types of tools started popping up in the late 1910s – perhaps in anticipation of the Volstead Act? And while I did not find anything along these lines in 1890s-1900s household catalogs, a bottle capper was available from Montgomery Ward in 1922, and the 1927 Sears catalog (image below) offered several “bottling goods,” including two capper options.  Though hardly definitive, these few sources would seem to indicate that bottle cappers did become more, ah, useful to the average consumer once commercial liquor was unavailable. Keep reading for more on the liquor angle, at the end of this post.

1927 Sears bottling goods

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Standard D Since 1923

(Special appearance by non-accessioned mid 20th century soda bottles)

From our collections, first up is this sturdy bottle capper, 17” tall, made of iron, and marked “Standard D Since 1923.” (An internet search has found a few other examples with the same mark, but so far no additional maker info or history.) It was donated in 1962 by Alice, widow of Henry H. Griffith (1862-1951), along with an assortment of farm and household tools; other than noting “used at Crow’s Content,” the Griffith family home in Laytonsville, Mrs. Griffith provided no specifics.

DSC00276

 ***

Next we have a lighter, steel bottle capper, 16.5” tall; it’s likely also from the 1920s or 1930s, though it has no manufacturer’s name or other helpful marks. Donated recently by Jane Sween, this capper originally came from her husband’s family in Frostburg, but was later used in 1970s Bethesda for a Girl Scout project: bottling home-made root beer. Along with the capper, Mrs. Sween also donated the box of metal and cork bottle caps – purchased from Community Paint and Hardware in Bethesda – from the same project.

no makers mark

box of bottle caps

One gross of cork-lined metal Kerr Bottle Caps – “The perfect seal for all home bottling uses.”

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These two examples are of similar height and size, are based on the same general design (both can be screwed to a table or work surface, for example), and perform the same function, but they operate a little differently. The “Standard D” Laytonsville capper is all-in-one; the bar handle can be turned one way to raise the mechanism, and the other way to lower the capper onto the bottlecap and force it closed.  Our Frostburg/Bethesda capper has a removable ratchet-style handle, which can be slid onto the base at the appropriate height, then levered downward a few inches onto the bottle.  This 1929 patent for a similar mechanism explains some details.

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As usual I turned to the internet to find video of the artifact in action, and ladies and gentlemen, I have found a winner: newsreel footage of a bottle-capping race, circa 1920. These “home brewers” are using machines similar to our “Standard D;” the winner capped twelve bottles in nine seconds. You must watch.

As for the original usage of both these machines, let us assume that the Griffiths and our friends in Frostburg were bottling only non-alcoholic beverages – at least until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Others, of course, were not so law-abiding. Montgomery County Police records from the 1920s – early 1930s include a number of raids on home stills and arrests for “possession of intoxicating beverages with intent to sell.” For example, here is an entry from the Takoma Park Police station log, dated August 4, 1932:

1932 police log

MCHS Library collections

Aug 4, 32. Report of raiding the home of [redacted], Hollywood Park near Colesville. There we found about 150 bottles of beer and 100 empty bottles, and about five quarts of whiskey. A six gal. crock of beer was in the making which was destroyed, and some coloring. Time 11 PM. [Officers] Snyder & Barnes & Hobbs.

Though this police report does not list all the equipment discovered in the midst of this illegal operation, our anonymous whiskey entrepreneur would have needed a way to seal all those bottles. . . it seems probable that a bottle capper was involved.

Meet the newest addition to the Beall-Dawson House, and your curator’s new favorite artifact: the Walker family’s melodeon.

melodeon

This is a four-octave, lyre-leg rosewood melodeon, almost certainly made by Mason & Hamlin in the late 1850s. When upright, it measures 30” tall, 31” wide, and 17” deep. This style includes a single lamp stand (the red velvet circle at right), an engraved brass latch to hold the lid open at an angle (it’s rather loose now; the lid should be standing taller), and other decorative yet functional features, though it lacks the carved music stand that other manufacturers employed. It appears to have all original parts, and it’s almost complete, but unfortunately the missing bits – a board inside, and a broken-off foot – mean it neither plays nor stands on its own. Happily, a convenient wall helps with the latter issue, and it doesn’t need to be playable to be a lovely addition to our Parlor.

top view

The manufacturer’s label has been removed from the bellows, but it is an extremely close match – using both the catalog image and known examples in modern collections – to Melodeon No. 9, made by Mason & Hamlin in the mid 19th century. Ours is marked 605 on the case and 629 on the works, which would place it in the late 1850s in the maker’s number sequence, as noted here.

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From the 1863 Mason & Hamlin catalog. Our example matches, in octaves and size, “No. 9 Four Octave, Portable,” for $60.

A melodeon – also known as a portable or collapsible organ – is a small reed organ, an American invention that uses vacuum or suction of air over reeds to create sound . (Note that it’s the opposite, then, of the English harmonium, which uses air pressure over the reeds.) The vacuum bellows mechanism was invented in the 1830s, patented in 1846, and used by a number of organ manufacturers in the mid to late 19th century.  Melodeons have what one collector describes as “a bright reedy tone with little voicing” – see the bottom of this post for links to examples.  To this non-musician, they sound like what they are: tiny organs.

melodeon, insides

Larger reed organs, known as parlor organs, were common in middle- to upper-class U.S. homes in the Victorian era. In contrast, melodeons were small and compact, lacking the decorative tops so often found on parlor organs; as such, they were both easier to place, and cheaper to buy. Some were made in “piano style,” with fixed legs, and others were designed to be portable (relatively speaking), with a detachable stretcher and folding legs – perfect for teachers, itinerant musicians, families moving out west, or anyone who wanted organ music on the go. Here’s ours in traveling mode, with the legs folded underneath on iron hinges:

melodeon, folded

Melodeons were popular in the 1840s-60s. Two mildly famous examples: John Brown gave one to his daughter in 1857; the Alcott family had one at Orchard House. By the 1870s, manufacturers were turning their focus to parlor organs and pianos, and sales of new melodeons dropped – but that doesn’t mean the old ones weren’t still played, even into the 20th century. (Check out this website’s photo series for some lyre-leg examples in use over the decades, as well as lots of parlor organs in situ.)

Our instrument is an example of just that: use long after its manufacture. It was donated earlier this year by Joe Snyder, who knew that his grandmother, Fidelia “Della” Seward Walker Snyder (1871-1960) of Browningsville, owned and played the melodeon around the turn of the last century. The local newspaper noted several occasions when Miss Della Walker plied her talents; for example, she sang the opening hymn at Edward Watkins’ 1900 funeral, and at the 1904 wedding of Emory Purdum and Alma Molesworth, she “accompan[ied] with a popular march suitable to a home wedding.”

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The story goes, Miss Walker brought her melodeon with her to churches and events around the area – but even folded up and ready to go, the thing weighs at least 50 pounds. Thus, she had a driver, a young man from the neighborhood named Preston Snyder (1885-1967), who conveyed musician and instrument when necessary . . . and in November 1908, Della and Preston were married. After a few years in D.C., they moved to a farm in Travilah; the melodeon went with them, eventually inherited by their daughter Carol.

As if that fantastic little story weren’t enough, there’s more! Della’s father was George Washington Wesley Walker (1837-1915) of Browningsville, a well-regarded music teacher, organist, and choir director. Professor Walker was a self-taught musician, who later studied formally with William Mason*. He played the organ at Bethesda Methodist Church [which is in Browningsville, not Bethesda] for over fifty years, and his home Mendelsohn Terrace was the center of all things musical in the Browningsville/Damascus area.  Late in his life, Professor Walker summarized his career as having “taught the people to sing in 49 different churches and 69 halls during fifty years of his life.” Several of Walker’s children carried on the tradition; in addition to Della’s performances, we know that Alice Walker gave piano lessons [edited to add: She was also head of the music department at the Shenandoah Normal School], and in 1884 William Walker started the Browningsville Cornet Band, the longest-running band in Montgomery County.  (For some Walker photos (including Prof. Walker, though not Della herself), visit this family website about Della’s nephew, Wesley Day.)

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One thing that intrigued me as I researched the melodeon’s history was the fact that, as it was made in the late 1850s, it was so much older than Della Walker herself. A few sources indicate that in the early 20th century, Professor Walker had a sideline in piano and organ sales; perhaps he purchased a used instrument for his daughter? Then I found this tidbit: In a 1938 article, written by Walker’s granddaughter Mary Browning Scanlon, the author noted that “Young George decided that the hymn singing [at Bethesda Methodist] could be improved upon, so he bought a melodeon and began studying for himself. In 1858, at the age of 21, he organized his own singing class.” Aha! The timing fits! Now, it’s entirely possible that by the time Della was a young woman her home was filled with stray keyboards, and she chose one from the family stash that had the nicest sound or was the easiest to carry . . . but it would be pretty great if her little melodeon was also her father’s first major instrument.

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As noted above, Della’s melodeon is not currently playable. But thanks to the internet you are not left hanging, wondering what it sounded like. Here’s a Mason & Hamlin melodeon in use, and as a bonus here’s one by Waters, another melodeon manufacturer.  (The first-linked gentleman has lots of vintage instrument videos; you can while away many an hour if you’re so inclined.)   The piano restorers of the world have you covered if you want more mechanical information – enjoy a video tour of a restored Mason & Hamlin, or a video explanation of organ mechanics (look for “Play Video” under the heading “Organs and Melodeons”).

 

* William Mason, son of famous hymn writer Lowell Mason, taught music at the Normal School in Florida, NY, which Prof. Walker attended in 1870.  Lowell Mason’s work was important to Walker, who kept a photo of him on display at Mendelsohn Terrace, along with one of the 1870 Normal School class. Perhaps coincidentally, our melodeon’s maker, Mason & Hamlin, was founded by Henry Mason – another of Lowell Mason’s sons.

T1025 and T2373

Today we have a pair of paper folding fans, dating from the 1890s. They are both 13” long, with paper leaves over a wood skeleton; the guard sticks are pronged, and embellished with a woven cotton cord (here’s a parts-of-fans glossary if you’re interested). The printed designs are natural/floral in theme, with a vaguely Asian air. Each was owned by a young woman from the area, carried as an accessory at parties or dances, and then saved as a souvenir.

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T1025 one side

T1025 other side

In March 1894, Mary Briggs Brooke (1875-1964) of Falling Green, Olney, signed and dated her fan; she was 18 years old.

T1025 detail

“Mary Briggs Brooke March 94 -“

Though – somewhat despite the odds – it has retained its tassel and fringe for over 100 years, Miss Brooke’s fan is fairly worn and used in appearance; the paper is soft and tearing along the folds, and the ends are detached altogether (though still connected at the rivet). It’s not clear if the condition is due to a hard season of dancing and parties in 1894, or if the fan was a favorite dress-up plaything for Miss Brooke’s niece (who also lived at Falling Green for much of her life) or other younger relatives. The fan was donated to MCHS in 1964 by said niece, Mary Farquhar Green.

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T2373 one side

T2373 other side

In contrast, our other fan was clearly used often by its owner (though it, too, could have been a dress-up favorite in later years). Maude Wagstaff (1883-1973) of Takoma* Park, DC, turned her paper fan into a kind of autograph book: The folds of the paper are decorated with signatures, dates, doodles, and inscriptions from friends and family members.  Dates noted across the fan include “Summer of 96,” “Summer of 1897,” “Fall of 1900,” and “Oct. 27th 1900” (or possibly 1910).  Her own name appears near one end.

T2373 Maude

T2373 dates and lighthouse

T2373 WBA poem

Again, we don’t know the specifics of Maude Wagstaff’s social life during those years – though, since she was only 13 or 14 in the summer of 1896, we can imagine her having a grand time fluttering her giant paper fan at her first ‘grown-up’ party – but in this instance we do have a photo that could relate to a summer of autograph-fan-using opportunities: here she is (on the right) with two friends, Louise Green and May Davis, at Marshall Hall, Maryland, around 1905.

beach

In 1912, Miss Wagstaff married photographer Will Hazard; they moved to Garrett Park, and later to Takoma Park (Md). Over the years the fan was saved, and perhaps played with by her children and grandchildren; it was eventually donated to MCHS by one of those grandchildren, Patricia Barth.

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In our collections we have many elaborate and costly fans, carefully preserved by owners and descendants for a variety of reasons, and representing styles and fashions that can be found with relative ease on museum, collector, and auction websites. In contrast, inexpensive souvenir-type fans were not necessarily designed for the long haul, and while our two examples survived, many did not. The value here – for the owner and her heirs – is likely to be sentimental, not monetary, and even the most precious reminder of the past can fall victim to time when it’s simply made of paper, sticks, and string.  …In other words, so far my internet searches for like items have come up short, and I’ve only able to find one other example online: an “autograph book” fan at the Tippecanoe County Historical Association.

But when in doubt, check the Sears catalog! In 1897, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was pleased to offer two sizes of “Japanese folding fans,” featuring decorated paper leaves and a “strong split stick outside,” the ends “handsomely corded.” The 13 inch version, essentially matching both of ours, sold for six cents each. (Still a bargain today, they would cost $1.65 in 2013 money.) Interestingly, although this style was “New” in 1897, the 1902 catalog’s “Complete Assortment of Fans” does not include anything along these lines; perhaps “handsome cording” was already out of fashion.

1897 Sears folding fans

 

*Today the Takoma neighborhood of DC leaves off the “Park,” but the 1900 census puts the Wagstaff family in “Takoma Park,” Washington, DC.

Although most of the Beall-Dawson House is furnished with period-appropriate antiques – with a focus on items from Montgomery County – the museum is not filled with original-to-the-House furnishings. However, thanks to Dawson descendants, MCHS does have a number of family pieces on display throughout the House. Some are more easily overlooked than others, so let’s take a look today at one of the smaller artifacts that you may not have noticed: A silver plate cake basket, which can often be found in the Parlor.

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This pedestal-footed basket dates from the last quarter of the 19th century, probably 1870s-90s. It features a scalloped beaded edge; a flange pierced in a formal geometric design accented with leaves, which curves downward into a plain center well; and a bail handle with stylized design, centered with a plain oval cabochon. The bowl is a foot across, and with the handle raised the basket is nearly a foot tall.

Gs0003 top view

Gs0003 detail

Because there is no maker’s mark, it is difficult to pin down a more specific date. The round bowl and pedestal foot are typical of the 1870s-80s, but only in the most general sense; for example, the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog included eighteen different cake basket options of different sizes, shapes, and designs, including pieces similar to ours. There’s nothing about our basket that shouts out a particular year or fashion. That’s not to say that this is a generic or boring piece, however. The ornate design, including both engraving and piercing, would likely put this at the higher end of the price scale. A triple-plate silver basket, without piercing, in the 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalog was available for $3.25 ($83 in 2013 dollars); the 1896 Marshall Field options ranged from $4.50 ($124 in 2013) to a “silver, engraved, gold-lined” option for $14.40 ($397 in 2013).

Three of the cake basket options from the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog, showing the variety of styles. (The bottom basket's description is cut off; it's "satin [finish], bright-cut, 10 1/2 inches high," selling for $5.35.)

Three of the cake basket options from the 1896 Marshall Field & Co. catalog, showing the variety of styles. (The bottom basket’s description is cut off; it’s “satin [finish], bright-cut, height 10 1/2 inches,” selling for $5.35.)

Silver cake baskets were a common sight in upper-class U.S. and European households in the 18th and early 19th centuries. (Here’s an example from 1788, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, made by Hester Bateman of London.) With the introduction of electroplating in the mid 19th century, cheaper silver plate and mass-produced examples came onto the market, so middle-class families could think of adding a stylish, elegant cake basket to the sideboard or tea table.

The image that comes to mind today might be of a round birthday-type cake squeezed under the handle and then perched precariously on the bowl, but these dishes were used for the display and serving of small tea cakes, which are certainly a better fit for the form.  I’ve not so far found any historic images of one in use, but they’re mentioned in entertainment guides and cookbooks of the 19th century, such as the following two table/menu guides (from this handy source, compiling descriptions of appropriate ways to hold an afternoon tea):

A pitcher of ice-water, with small tumblers surrounding it, may occupy one corner, and a basket or plate of cake the other.

“Arrangement of Table, and Bills of Fare, for Tea,” from The American System of Cookery, Mrs. T.J. Crowen (1847)

Variation [on the Afternoon Tea] on a more elaborate scale is the weekly ‘At Home,’ which has grown in popularity with many hostesses . . . . The menu may include both tea and coffee or tea and chocolate. There may be one or two kinds of dainty sandwiches and baskets or plates of fancy cakes . . . . A dish of fine bonbons may also be passed.

Consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes, Christine Terhune Herrick, editor-in-chief (1905)

Although many sources suggest that cake baskets fell out of fashion in the early 20th century, the 1927 Sears catalog offered a few examples (including a $4.00 ($53 in 2013) gold-plated pedestal dish, headed “Gifts that add to the table’s charm”), and one still might bring out Grandma’s antique upon occasion:

 An old-fashioned cake basket lends a certain stately dignity to the tea table and a finely etched or cut glass plate is lovely for sandwiches.

Alice Foote MacDougall’s Cook Book, Alice Foote MacDougall (1935)

 

The basket was donated in 1985 by Amelia Somervell Farmer (Mrs. William T.) Nicholson, daughter of Priscilla Beall Dawson Farmer (1879-1947). Priscilla was the daughter of John and Amelia Somervell Dawson, who lived and raised their family in the Beall-Dawson House; Priscilla lived here until her 1914 marriage, and – since she and her husband lived in Redland, a few miles away – she stayed closely involved with the family home. When she donated the basket to the Historical Society, Mrs. Nicholson indicated that it was originally from the Beall-Dawson House; our then-Director noted “how delighted we were to have the silver compote come back to the House . . . . Each piece that has ‘lived’ here before has special meaning.”

When Margaret Dawson (Priscilla’s sister, who lived in the House all her life) died in 1937, her belongings were first inventoried, and then sold. Some of the Beall and Dawson family pieces in our collections can be found on one list or the other – for example, John Dawson’s desk was purchased at the 1937 estate sale by Mrs. Nicholson, and donated to us many years later – but this cake basket is not easily identified. Possibly Priscilla had already taken ownership of the basket before her sister’s death, though the particular circumstances aren’t known; Mrs. Nicholson told us only that it was from the House.  Was it one of many similar pieces, part of a set, or a particular favorite?  If it’s a tad earlier than I think, perhaps it was a wedding gift for Amelia and John (married 1871), passed on to their daughter; if it’s rather later than the estimated date, it might have been a wedding present for Priscilla herself (1914).  Amelia Dawson died relatively young, in 1896, and maybe her children were given a chance to choose a favorite piece, a reminder of their mother, for their own.  At this point, we really don’t know.

 

A side note on condition: Yes, our friend here is not looking shiny and new. In part this is because some of the silver plating is wearing thin, exposing the plainer metal underneath. Our previous silver curator believed that there was a deliberate gold tint to the leaves on the piercing, which now simply looks rather discolored. The basket has been poorly polished in the past (including by MCHS); in the photo below, what at first glance looks like some kind of white inlay is in fact layers of polish residue that was left behind. We have not polished this piece in some time, because over-polishing will help to remove the plating that’s left, and because cleaning, polishing, and coating museum silver requires a very particular regimen which, as the National Park Service’s Conserve O Gram notes, “should not be undertaken lightly.” For now we’ll leave it be, rather than doing a quick – but, in the end, damaging – fix with commercial polish.

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Yesterday was Maryland’s primary election. It was held in June rather than September, somewhat earlier in the year than we’re used to; despite some heated campaign rhetoric and an astonishingly large amount of pre-election mail – seemingly indicative of an exciting race and interested voters – it was greeted with low turnout. When I rolled up to the polls in the morning, the electronic voting system wasn’t working; the beleaguered election judges had to instruct me, and the other two (!) people there, on using the provisional – a.k.a. paper – ballots. (And they did a great job; all respect to election judges!)

I enjoy voting in all its forms, but there’s something unsatisfying about simply filling in a little circle with a golf pencil. We have a variety of election and voting materials in the collections here, and when I got in to work I pulled up the catalog record for this fine item: A stack of paper ballots from the Montgomery County Democratic Primary of May 6, 1940.

stack o' ballots

The ballots measure 5″ x 3″ when folded (the stack is 2″ tall) and they’re printed with “Democratic Primary – Official Ballot for Montgomery County Election, May 6th, 1940. [printed signature] Donald Bowie, Jr., President of the Board of Supervisors of Elections for Montgomery County.” Each was initialed by the judge, in this case an as-yet unidentified M.R.L.

1940 ballot front

There’s not much to the ballot, option-wise – the only question asked is about the Democratic nomination for the Senate – but the voter indicated his or her choice with a nice definitive X (so satisfying!) before placing the folded ballot into the designated box.  It looks like they were stuck onto a spike during the counting process; at some point this set of ballots was wired together and, deliberately or inadvertently, saved for posterity. Unfortunately this is one of those items donated to us many decades ago, when my earnest volunteer predecessors were, ah, somewhat inconsistent in their recording. I do not know who donated them, or why this particular group of 200-odd ballots are wired together.

Bruce

The 1940 Maryland primary was in some ways similar to the one that just occurred. There were a few contentious races, with members of the same party sniping at each other about policies and experience. There was also a rather low turnout, with just over half of Maryland’s 800,000 registered voters stepping out to the polls. The Montgomery County House of Representatives Democratic candidate ran unopposed (perhaps that’s why only the Senate appears on the ballot? Queen Anne’s County voters, for example, had more questions to answer that May), and the Senate race was really between Howard Bruce and the incumbent, George L. Radcliffe, with your man Vincent F. Gierttoski a barely-mentioned third. In the month leading up to the election, Bruce argued that Radcliffe was too quiet, “chid[ing] him for making only one speech in the Upper House in five and a half years” (Washington Post, May 7, 1940), and the candidates jostled for endorsements from their Democratic colleagues in the state and national legislature. The Washington Post ended a May 6 article on the “lackadaisical” campaign with this tidbit:

A comical note was struck in Rockville, seat of Montgomery County. When Bruce headquarters put up a large banner reading ‘Democratic Headquarters,’ the Radcliffe followers next door posted a sign reading ‘Democratic Headquarters – Main Entrance.’

In the end, although Montgomery County Democrats gave Bruce a narrow margin here, Radcliffe won the statewide nomination and went on to serve his second term in the Senate. He lost the nomination in 1946, and retired from politics.

Interestingly, the 1940 election may have been the last time Montgomery County voters used these simple paper ballots. A photo series by Marjory Collins, now in the Library of Congress (FSA/OWI collections), shows Olney voters in the 1942 general election; in the picture below, a voter is being shown how to use an automatic voting machine (the actual voting went on behind the curtains at left, don’t worry).

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Like all good archival collections, the Sween Library contains some unexpected* finds. Take, for example, our extensive family files. As you gently sort through pages and pages of genealogical charts, you’re likely to come across photographs, letters, and other primary sources tucked in amongst the research.

Prettyman anniversary booklet cover

From the Prettyman family folder, we have for you a hand-made souvenir booklet, prepared on the occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary of the Prettymans of Rockville. Elijah Barrett Prettyman (1830-1907), then Principal of the Brookeville Academy, married Lydia Forrest Johnston (1832-1917) of Rockville in 1855. Fifty years later, the happy couple was joined in celebration by their six children, three in-laws, seven grandchildren, and two of Lydia’s sisters. The family gathered at the Maryland State Normal School (now Towson University), where Dr. Prettyman had served as Principal since 1890. Naturally, they commemorated the event with a group portrait:

Back row, left to right: Albert Almoney, Miriam Prettyman Almoney, Lydia F. Prettyman Jr., Anna Prettyman, Rev. Forrest J. Prettyman, Elizabeth Stonestreet Prettyman, Eliza Prettyman, Rosetta Bouic Prettyman, Charles Wesley Prettyman. Center row: Eulalia Johnston Gardette, Lydia Forrest Johnston Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Martha Prettyman (on granddad's lap), Margaret Johnston Badger. Front row: William Forrest Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman II, Edith Prettyman, Charles W. Prettyman II, Lydia Almoney, Mary Almoney. Donated by the Brunett family.

Back row, left to right: Albert Almoney, Miriam Prettyman Almoney, Lydia F. Prettyman Jr., Anna Prettyman, Rev. Forrest J. Prettyman, Elizabeth Stonestreet Prettyman, Eliza Prettyman, Rosetta Bouic Prettyman, Charles Wesley Prettyman. Center row: Eulalia Johnston Gardette, Lydia Forrest Johnston Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman, Martha Prettyman (on granddad’s lap), Margaret Johnston Badger. Front row: William Forrest Prettyman, Elijah Barrett Prettyman II, Edith Prettyman, Charles W. Prettyman II, Lydia Almoney, Mary Almoney. Donated by the Brunett family.

June 6, 1905. Guests of honor Lydia and Elijah Prettyman are seated in the center, with Lydia’s sisters Eulalia Johnston Gardette and Margaret Johnston Badger on either side; Dr. Prettyman is holding granddaughter Martha on his lap. The other six grandkids are in front, and the Prettymans’ six children and three in-laws are in back.

Son-in-law Albert J. Almoney (1858-1939), shown in the back row at left (next to his wife Miriam), put together our little souvenir booklet to commemorate his in-laws’ Golden Anniversary, using cut-out photographs, handwritten verses, and a printed poem.  It measures 5″ x 7″, with a hand-painted cardstock cover, and was originally tied together with a ribbon. Mr. Almoney signed the back – and, as a former publisher of the Montgomery Advocate, he may have had the best access to a printer – but perhaps other family members contributed (or at least commented on) the content: an 1873 photo of the family, including servants, at home in Rockville; portraits of Elijah and Lydia as young adults, and in contemporary form; and a sentimental poem, “Golden Wedding Bells” (which I cannot find online; did the Prettyman children/in-laws write it themselves?).

Verses from Shakespeare (his) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning (hers)

Verses from Shakespeare (his) and Elisabeth Barrett Browning (hers)

 

Verses from Tennyson (his) and Shakespeare (hers)

Verses from Tennyson (his) and Shakespeare (hers)

 

Can anyone identify this poem?

Can anyone identify this poem?

This copy was donated to MCHS by the family of Albert and Miriam’s daughter Lydia Almoney Brunett; it’s not clear if this was the only copy, or if Mr. Almoney made one for every member of the party. Perhaps every family contributed something to the celebration, whether tangible or not … or maybe the other kids thought to themselves, “Ugh, Albert! Always hogging all the son-in-law points!” (Well, he was at that time the only son-in-law, but you see what I mean.)

A family member later identified this as an 1873 photo of the Prettyman house, 104 W. Jefferson St, Rockville. The verse is by Henry Van Dyke, and was a popular poem in 1904-05.

The Prettyman house, 104 W. Jefferson St, Rockville. A family member later identified this as an 1873 photo. The verse is by Henry Van Dyke, and was a popular poem in 1904-05.

These fifty years of marriage saw Elijah and Lydia through house renovations, job changes, three weddings, the deaths of three grandchildren, and the everyday strife and stresses of raising a family. The Prettymans seem to have been fairly close, with strong ties to the Rockville community even if they weren’t living there at the time, but even families that see each other every day like to make an occasion out of a big wedding anniversary; likely there were other elements to the celebration, which our photo and booklet do not show us. But these two pieces give us a nice little story, all the same.

Prettyman anniversary booklet, back cover

Today’s post is in honor of A Fine Collection’s fifth anniversary, a momentous occasion to which our host, WordPress, kindly alerted me. (Also – although this is a complete coincidence – today is my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary; if you see the Mahaffies, be sure to wish them well.) Happy anniversary to anyone and everyone who’s celebrating a milestone today!

BONUS: Fun fact! DMV residents might recognize the name E. Barrett Prettyman, which adorns a Federal Courthouse near the Judiciary Square Metro stop. (I always notice the name, anyway.)  That building was named for Elijah Barrett Prettyman II (1891-1971), grandson of EB and Lydia Prettyman, son of Rev. Forrest J. and Bessie Stonestreet Prettyman.  Extra-bonus fun fact: Bessie Stonestreet Prettyman was a daughter of Dr. E.E. Stonestreet, whose medical office is one of our museums.  Local history is so much fun!

*That is, we generally know these things are there, but the researcher gets a pleasant surprise.

 

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