In 1946 the songwriting team of Charles Tobias and Nat Simon captured the hearts, and ears, of a post-war audience with their tune, The Old Lamp-Lighter. Band leader Sammy Kaye recorded the song, featuring vocals by Billy Williams, and the haunting melody hit the Billboard Best Sellers List by November. The Old Lamp-Lighter stayed on the charts for fourteen weeks, peaking at #1. Among Sammy and His Orchestra‘s many fans was fourteen year old Marilyn Minor, a young pianist and talented vocalist living in rural Greene County, Pennsylvania. Every Friday she traveled into nearby Waynesburg, to stay overnight with her Grandmother May Minor for her Saturday piano lesson. I imagine this young teen sitting at the bench, determined to parse out the arrangement’s rhythm of dotted eighth and sixteenth notes. And I wonder if her father, Donald, sang along, “He made the night a little brighter wherever he would go…”
CHAUTAUQUA TENT WILL RISE TODAY
During the early decades of the twentieth century, the arrival of the big brown tent was the highlight of a town’s summer. Under the canvas roof, large crowds would gather for a week’s worth of entertainment and education. The Redpath Circuit Chautauqua was part vaudeville show, part educational lecture series, and at its height in the 1920s the performers and lecturers appeared in over 10,000 communities in 45 states. Crowds, far from the cultural benefits of metropolitan areas, were thus able to hear Broadway hits, watch classic plays, and learn about the social and political ideas of the day. For many Americans the Circuit Chautauqua was an important factor in molding the very character of the nation.
CHAUTAUQUA TO HAVE JUNIOR TOWN
The chautauqua wasn’t only for adults. Thousands of children had their cultural horizons expanded through programming just for them, and for hundreds of young women, the job of supervising the children’s programs offered an opportunity to work and travel. One such lucky lady was my grandmother, Kerma Pauline Bradford. In the summers of 1928 and 1929, Kerma left her hometown, Coshocton, Ohio, to set up Junior Town in a circuit that included Canton and Masillon, Ohio, and Greene County, Pennsylvania. In each community, Kerma met with the youngsters, ticket holders all, at nine o’clock the first day of chautauqua.
From among the assembled kids, ten boys and girls were elected to the Junior Town Council, which was then charged with assisting Miss Bradford. Every day the Junior Chautauqua would meet from nine until noon, to play games, listen to stories, take hikes, and, most importantly, prepare the week’s project–a minstrel show or pageant–which was performed during the last day, for the entire chautauqua.
In 1929, Kerma Bradford traveled to Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, where she reported to the Big Brown Tent each morning from her room in the Wisecarver House. Beyond her duties to Junior Town, Kerma had time for friendships, and time for romance. When the Junior Town supervisor returned to Coshocton that fall, she had many stories to recall to her kindergarten students, including the memory of a certain young man, future husband, Donald Minor.
Photographs from the Marilyn Minor Collection, archived with the author.
For more interesting chautauqua tidbits:
The Evening Repository (Canton), “Chautauqua To Have Junior Town,” July 31, 1928. http://www.genealogybank.com (accessed January 12, 2014).
Canning Charlotte, The Most American Thing in America: Circuit Chautauqua as Performance. University of Iowa Press: Iowa City. 2005.
The Redpath Chautauqua Collection, University of Iowa digital collection: http://www.sdrc.lib.uiowa.edu/traveling-culture/inventory/msc150.html.
Chasing family tales is what gets all genealogists hooked, and when we get help from previously unknown circles, it feels like Christmas. To receive such collaboration AT Christmastime is just too wonderful for words. I want to thank cousin, Linda Bell, for her holiday energy and sharing. Family lore has become another GREAT family story.
Every once in a while as I was growing up, Minor family reunions would include some reminiscing, and tantalizing bits of information would drift about. Like…Robert and May Laura Minor, my great-grandparents, had a home in Florida. Sometime. Somewhere. For some reason. Years passed. THEN came an email exchange between genea-cousins, which connected my memories and photos with her memories and documents, and whoosh!! we have a Christmas STORY!
It is December 23, in southwestern Pennsylvania, 1918. Two years have passed since President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Aid Road Act, the first comprehensive commitment to the establishment of a nationwide highway system. America has entered the age of the automobile, BUT would-be travelers have no AAA to call, no Kayak.com to click, no system of vacation organization whatever. America has 2.5 million miles of public roads, but only 11% are paved. Let’s go on a Christmas roadtrip! To Florida! By auto! SAY WHAT?
‘TWAS TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS . . . .
And Robert and May, Donald (16), Helen (24) and Alonzo Bell, were headed out, off the farm! Onward to Florida! But first to cross the Monongahela River! As told by Helen Minor Bell, my great-grandaunt, the trek proved to be eventful.
On Dec. 23rd 1918, Father, mother, brother, my husband and myself left the farm for Florida by auto. On reaching Carmichaels, we learned we could not cross the river at Crucible as the river was so high, but they were still crossing at Masontown so went back to Masontown and crossed that was we did not strike a good road until we almost to Uniontown.
The first day we only got as far as Flintstone Md. A very small hotel and no conveniences whatever. Sec. day ate dinner at HamiltonHotel, Hagerstown, Md, stayed that night at Berkley Hotel Martinsburg, W. Va. Christmas Dinner Edinburgh Hotel at Edinburgh Va. and stayed at Beverly Hotel at Staunton Va. Here we saw Pres. Wilson’s birth-place, also the Staunton Military Academy. There, next day after Xmas had dinner at Natural Bridge Hotel, Natural B Va. Here the natural bridge was one of the wonders of the world.
The drive this after noon from Natural Bridge to Lynchburg was the most dangerous and very risky trip in any afternoon. Part of the way we followed a road just wide enough for the car along an old canal, finally we came to a place which seemed to us we were driving up to some ones barn yard, we thought this as far as the road went, but asked the woman and she said you’re on the right road go straight ahead. We drove on up around the barn among the cows and up a steep hill which looked like nothing more than a rocky trail this we kept up all afternoon crossing one ridge after another of the Blue Ridge Mts. Just one steady pull and only wide enough for the car, down below hundreds of feet was the James river and not more than a foot away from the edge at any time. When we had crossed several ridges we came to a creek which we had to ford and right in the middle of it the car stopped and we were there for at least 3/4 of an hr before we got the car started, then when the car started we were wedged in between two rocks and could not go forward or backwards.
This wonderful account ends abruptly, but it is enough to get my heart racing. I have wandered among the Blue Ridge back roads, which even today are not much more than a car and half wide. I can easily imagine the cliff-hugging view. I suppose once they got through that creek they figured they could do anything, and managed on, day after day, until they crossed the state line into Florida.
Which they did reach. So wonderful was the destination, that Robert purchased a home. In Orlando. And yet another family story begins.
Make sure you check out this google map of the 1918 Christmas Roadtrip.
My grandfather’s postcard collection dates from 1906-1910, a wonderful glimpse into the life of small, turn-of-the-century boy. But Donald C. Minor’s cards also offer the simple pleasure of Christmas artwork, which I never tire of admiring.
Two red-breasted songsters perch on a sprig of holly, which is decorated with a sprig of mistletoe and a golden horseshoe. This brightly colored card is meant to bring the recipient great cheer, that is for certain. Published by the New York-based Samuel Langdorf and Company*, number 841 was one of several designs the company printed in Saxony, Germany in 1910.
Donald C. Minor received this card from Ralph on December 20, 1910.
“Hello Donal. How are you? What do you want Santa to bring you? I want a gun but mama says i can not have it so I will haft (sic) to take what ever I get. Your friend, Ralph”
There are other postcards from Ralph and his younger brother, Blair, in my grandfather’s postcard collection. Using the search engine of Ancestry.com I entered Ralph as living in South Connellsville, PA in 1910 with a sibling, Blair. The return included a interesting match: Ralph Younkin, 10, son of Milton R and May Waychoff Younkin, living with Blair, 8, and grandmother, Jennie Waychoff, in Connellsville, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. I have researched the Minor family fairly well, and the Younkin surname is unfamiliar. However, recently collected cousin memories suggest that Donald’s parents were friends with the Waychoff family; perhaps May Stephenson Minor and May Waychoff Younkin were exchanging Christmas cards, too!
Interesting how a fascination with Christmas postcards intertwines with a family history. Merry Christmas, indeed!
*The winged orb on the back of the card is identified by the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City as the trademark for Samuel Langford and Company, publishers from 1906-1918. Accessed on December 16, 2011.
The year was 1934, and though a great depression set boundaries on aspirations and dreams, folks still found occasion to bring out the good dishes and light the candelabras.
Aunt Alice Stansbury was celebrating, as was her niece, Katie Bradford. Little Marilyn was coming! The toddler, Katie’s only grandchild, arrived midday at Alice’s home in Coshocton, Ohio. After the long car ride from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, the adults lingered in the back yard, soaking up the spring sun. Marilyn busied herself in the grass, sharing her pickings with her Grammy Bradford, Grandmother Minor, Aunt Alice, and Coshocton friend, Earnest Bachert. Young Uncle Carlos Bradford hung back, laughing at the scene.
Eventually, the party moved indoors, where Aunt Alice could keep tabs on the simmering pots and roasting meats. Donald and Kerma Bradford Minor coaxed their little botanist to wash up, preparing to take her place as honored guest at Aunt Alice’s festive table.