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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


For many people, the first day of a new year is a time for resolutions and fresh starts.  January first has been an official U.S. holiday since 1870, when it was included in a list of holidays for federal workers in the District of Columbia.  But not everyone has the day off, of course, and New Year’s Day celebrations – if any – can be muted, quiet, and personal, whether you’re recovering from a midnight party, enjoying time off with family or friends, getting started on those resolutions, or simply taking care of business as usual.  Interested in some New Year’s activities of Montgomery County’s past? Of course you are!  Let’s take a look.  (Note: spelling and punctuation are all as written by the original authors.)


January 1, 1891
I have often wanted to keep a diary and as Mother has not written in hers for so long she has given it to me to begin in.
Was at Dr. Brookes, Rainy, so we staid in the house and played Tiddledy Winks.

Carrie Miller Farquhar (1842-1904) of Norbeck kept a diary or journal for much of her life, but rather sporadically.  She took a break between October 22, 1890 and January 7, 1891, and one of her young daughters seized the opportunity (with permission, apparently) to make a start on a diary of her own to start the new year.


Carrie’s husband Roger Brooke Farquhar, Sr. (1837-1929) likewise kept a faithful record of his daily work.  He was a farmer, and most of his new year’s entries are little different from any other day; for example, here are the first three entries in the first journal volume, begun on January 1st, 1856 (click photo to enlarge; transcription below):
Farquhar 1-1-1856
January 1856
1st  Took Jinny to shop and she kicked so that they could not shoe her. Mended the dam &c.
2nd Went to Lea’s mill with buckwheat shod colt at Perry’s, hauled wood in the evening. very sleety.
3rd  Shelled corn for cow feed, and took to mill.

In 1861, Roger indulged in a bit of timely festivity, noting on January 1st:

Set up last night at Brooke Grove, saw the old year out for the first time I remember, took Mother to Brooke Grove in the sleigh.  Bill cutting wood     had a political meeting at Rockville.


A new year can be a time for reflection on the year that’s concluded, as well as for looking ahead.  Okay, that’s a little trite, but it’s important to remember that it was as true for our predecessors as it is for us today.  As 1924 turned to 1925, recently widowed Henrietta Clagett (1848-1925) of Potomac noted sorrowfully in her diary,

Dec 31st, 1924.  Last day of old year which brought so much sorrow and loss of loved ones &c.  . . .
January 1st 1925.  New Years day dark and dreary snow on the ground from last night’s fall.  Looks like we would have more.


The Stang family of Clopper were devout Catholics, who attended nearby St. Rose of Lima Church.  On January 1st, 1912, 18 year old Marie Stang (1894-1970) wrote in her diary,
Stang 1-1-1912
We stayed up until 12:00 to see the old year out and new year in.  We had two masses – 9:00 and 10:00.  Papa went to Holy Communion and so did I.  Mamma & I went to Gaithersburg to get Bess shod, came home and played cards, Papa & I beat Miss Mary and Mamma.


Davey 1929In 1929, 23 year old W. Cecil Davey was living at home with his parents in Takoma Park, and working with his father in the plastering business.  New Year’s Day was a chance to relax.  In his red-covered “National Diary” for 1929, he noted on January 1st:

The New Year has come in decidedly damp.  It rained all day but was not cold.  fooled around the house all morning doing nothing in particular. Cleared up my room & books some so that it looks a bit tidier. Some time after dinner I went over to Dodge’s and helped Harry on his railway for a while. Stopped there playing with him & Doris till about six.  After tea Doris & Fred came over & we played cards for a while.  I took some photos of Doris over to Mrs. Johnston & she liked them.  Donald came in about 8 o’clock & we played cards with Frank & Dad till past ten.

(In the 1930 census, the Dodge family – including ten year old Harry, Jr. – are the Daveys’ next-door neighbors on Maple Avenue.  1950s records indicate that W. Cecil Davey was a professional photographer in Silver Spring; perhaps Doris’s photos were some early efforts.)


From 1801 through 1932, there was a public reception held at the White House every New Year’s Day.  In 1892, Roger Brooke Farquhar attended with his daughter Anna and friend Katherine Hall; but, as noted in both Roger’s and wife Carrie’s diaries, it was not everything they’d expected (and, yes, Roger still included some of the day’s farm work):

Roger, Anna & Katherine Hall went to Wash. to Presidents Reception – had not a very successful day.

Anna, Catherine Hall & I went to town to see the Presidents reception, shook hands with Mr. Harrison but were disappointed at not seeing foreign ministers
Carrie came home
The men plowing & spreading manure


And one last entry!  Thirteen year old Catherine Dawson (1910-1974) of Rockville spent January 1st, 1924 visiting family, doing homework and chores, and generally having a nice day.  She ends with a cheerfully misspelled good wish for the coming year – a wish that your blogger also extends to you, dear readers!

Tuesday Jan 1
Had breakfast at Willard with Uncle Wade. There were great times last night. . . . Cleaned up a while & then wrote my synopsis of “David Copperfield.” Fooled around until dinner time. Virginia was here for dinner. Afterwards we read, talked & played with the boys. She left & I read until supper. Had a light supper. Read & fooled around all evening & then went to bed. Hears hopes for a Happy New Year for all my family & friends.


Farquhar family diaries donated to MCHS by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.; Marie Stang’s diaries donated by Marie Stang; W. Cecil Davey’s diaries donated anonymously; Henrietta Clagett’s diary donated by Molly T. Keith; copy of Catherine Dawson Hill’s diary provided by Beth Dawson Rodgers.

Here’s more on the diaries, and lives, of Marie Stang and Mrs. Clagett, as well as some notes from the diaries of Carrie Miller Farquhar and Catherine Dawson.

As you probably know, this past Monday (March 12, 2012) marked the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America.  In modest commemoration of the date, here are a few things from our collections related to local troops.

This handkerchief belonged to Kathleen Sisk of Takoma Park, Md., who was a member of a D.C. troop in the late 1940s.  The colorfully printed fabric measures 11.5″ square.  The symbols around the edges correspond to badges, and appear to include everything from art to boatcraft to skiing.  (Unfortunately, we don’t have any GSA handbooks earlier than the 1970s in our collections; anyone have insight into the official badge names?)  We also have Kathleen’s green beret, which was later handed down to her younger sister Ann (who was not a Girl Scout) and the insignia was removed.  Both items were donated by Kathleen’s daughter, along with a few artifacts from the daughter’s own 1970s troop in Silver Spring.  (I love continuity!)

This snapshot, donated by Jean Case, shows members of Girl Scout Troop 59 (Rockville) participating in the 1953 Rockville Memorial Day Parade (and looking very pleased to do so).

And finally, here’s a Girl Scout pocketknife, donated by an MCHS member who led Troop 47 (Flower Valley) in the 1970s.  The knife was used by both of her daughters on camping trips.  I particularly like the fact that the can opener blade is marked “CAN OPENER” – apparently the uses of the other blades were self-evident. 

Looking for more on the history of the Girl Scouts?  Here’s the official GSA overview.  Want to get involved in local scouting?  Here’s the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.  Want to really get involved in hyper-local scouting?  Volunteer at the Historical Society!  We have history programs for Brownies and Girl Scouts, and as much fun as it is for us to lead those tours, we can always use volunteers. 

This artifact came from a Takoma Park family, who had saved many household items from the early 20th century. Included in the donation was this double-lidded wooden box, which the family speculated was some kind of ice cream maker; inside are two compartments, each fitted out with a metal container and what looks like the remains of some kind of churn or beater-type attachments, with a handle that fits through the lid (all in pieces, and fairly rusty, unfortunately).

Not knowing a whole lot about various forms of ice cream makers or churns (beyond the obvious, that is), that explanation made as much sense to me as anything else. There is a maker’s label on the front, very hard to read, but it didn’t offer too much assistance: “Thermatic, Patents Pending, Mfr’d By The Diller Mfg Co., Bluffton Ohio, USA.” I prefer things that say “Ice Cream Maker” right on the label, thank you! An internet search for the company was hampered by the fact that Phyllis Diller attended Ohio’s Bluffton College, so most hits were related to her. By chance, however (and how many things on this blog were discovered “by chance”? Maybe I should be downplaying that) I noticed a similar item in a reprint of the 1915 Gimbel Brother’s Department Store catalog:

So the whole ice cream maker/freezer idea was not quite the right direction. It’s a stove! Or rather, a fireless cooker, “perfectly sanitary and easily kept clean” (although the catalog doesn’t actually say how it worked). I’ve since noticed advertisements for other similar items in 1910s magazines, although I have not yet found one made by Diller.

There are undoubtedly some people who would recognize this artifact right away. I suspect that the majority would not, however. I’m not sure how common (or practical) these “fireless cookers” were, and clearly as technology progressed they became obsolete. Some artifact forms remain relatively constant, despite improvements; spoons haven’t really changed too much over the course of history, for example; but gadgets, fads and technological marvels often fall victim to Progress, and however familiar they are to us now, they might totally mystify our descendants. (Anyone who has tried to explain the concept of a record player to someone born after 1985 understands what I mean.) One example is the tree baler: a big metal contraption that they use at some Christmas tree farms to put netting around your cut tree. Or, say, the plastic doohickey (technical term) that holds my washing machine’s hose at just the right angle to drain into the sink. These are things designed for specific functions that make perfect sense in context, but if you found one just lying around by itself, would you recognize it? Look around your own home or workplace, and try to see all your stuff with the eyes of the future. (And then write down what it is and how you use it, in case your descendants want to donate it to a museum.)

"the cannonball"We call this “the cannonball.”  It is 18″ in circumference, and weighs 27 pounds (hence its nickname).  If I dropped this on my foot it would do some damage, but the “cannonball” is not a projectile; it’s a giant ball of gum and tobacco product wrappers, probably intended for recycling to help the war effort during one of the World Wars.

This impressive item was donated in 1986 by Miss Lona Huck, whose family came from Takoma Park. Unfortunately, while the donor was forthcoming on the history of the rest of the donation, the “cannonball” was described only (if accurately) as a “heavy ball made of foil.” One of my predecessors guessed it was created during World War II, but I think it more likely to date from World War I (at least in its inception) as it was possibly started by Joseph C. Huck (1844-1931), the donor’s father. One of Mr. Huck’s sons served in World War I; perhaps this was a father’s way of helping the war effort. Or perhaps another family member started it during the scrap-metal collecting efforts during the Second World War. Or maybe it was just a hobby, a personal collection, started by one of the Huck children and worked on for years; at any rate, if it was destined for the recycling bin it never got there.

Miss Huck has passed away, and I haven’t located any other descendants who might have some insight on the origins of the County’s Heaviest Ball of Foil. An expert on foil could probably tell me the correct timeframe, at least of the outer layer, but experts on foil are not thick on the ground. The consensus among my colleagues is that there’s no way just foil could weigh 27 pounds; maybe there’s something inside it that was used as the seed, like starting a rubber-band ball around a Superball. I wish I had a handy X-ray machine (there isn’t one in our medical collections, oh well) to do a little research, since I probably shouldn’t just start unpeeling the foil. In a thank-you note to the donor, our then-director added a postcript: “We’ve had a lovely time mystifying people with the ‘cannonball’!”  While perhaps mystifying people should not really be our goal, it can be entertaining to present the occasional “history mystery.” Not to the curator, though! Although (as this blog may make clear) I do enjoy hunting down facts and stories related to our artifacts, I prefer mysteries that can be solved with relative ease and don’t require X-ray machines or crystal balls.