And You Thought OUR Roads Were Bad: 1918 Christmas Roadtrip

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. 

Minor Home, Orlando, FloridaEvery 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!

IMAGINE…..  

The Minor Farm on Ceylon Lane, Greene County, PennsylvaniaIt 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.

Minor Automobile with Helen at the wheel

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.

Minor Orlando HomeMinor Home, Orlando, FloridaMake sure you check out this google map of the 1918 Christmas Roadtrip.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Christmas Cards 1910

Printed by S L Company in Saxony, Germany, 1910

Printed by S L Company in Saxony, Germany, 1910

Note the publisher's trademark in the lower left-hand corner

Note the publisher’s trademark in the lower left-hand corner

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.

Seasonal Marker

Image

Poinsettia 3

I open the door to release restless pups, and they gallop into the yard, dawn breaking overhead.  I open the refrigerator to grab peppers, onions, garlic, and ginger, with the gorgeous low-on-the-horizon beams flooding my kitchen.  I pick out dropped leaves which lie among my flame red poinsettias, no matter how carefully I attend their food-making needs.  These observations mark mid-winter.   We in the northern hemisphere are inching toward equinox, toward sprouting bulbs and passerine symphonies.

A Visit From St. Nicholas

My grandfather was born in 1902, and as a small child was the recipient of many wonderful postcards, including a sizable collection of Christmas greetings.  At least a third of this set portrays the night before Christmas, and specifically the visit from St. Nicholas.  

When I stand at a bank of Christmas cards today, any box featuring Santa will predictably show a jolly, plump, full-bearded man who is dressed in a red, fur trimmed suit.  When I gaze at the cards sent to little Donald Minor, a variety of images are included, representing the diverse origins of the great saint and his gift-giving tradition.  

Several cards take the St. Nicholas tradition of walking from house to house and add some northern climate changes. This gift-giver must trudge through snow in warm fur robes and heavy fur boots.  He is a rather stern looking old man, lean and weathered. 

Another postcard portrays St. Nicholas delivering gifts from his reindeer drawn sleigh – which remains on the ground.  

The American version of the gift-bearing winter saint was most likely brought to the United States by Dutch settlers in eighteenth century New York.  Sinterklaas – Santa Claus – wore a hat and smoked a pipe as he flew over treetops in his wagon to deliver children’s gifts on Christmas Eve.  *¹  That image was expanded upon in Clement C. Moore’s instant classic, the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, and entered the seasonal imagery throughout the Victorian era.  American publishers took advantage of the popularity of this Santa Claus when developing their holiday postcard designs at the turn of the 20th century. 


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads; and Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap, had just settled down for a long winter’s nap – when out on the lawn there rose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, gave  a luster of midday to objects below; when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, with a little old driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles hiscoursers they came, And he whistled, and shouted , and called them by name – “Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen! To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall! Now, dash away! Dash away! Dash away all! “

As the dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky, so up to the housetop the coursers they flew, with sleigh full of toys – and St. Nicholas too; and then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

 

As I drew in my head and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot. A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack. His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow! The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.  He was chubby and plump – a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.  He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!”

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*¹ Irving, Washington. A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1812. 106-07. accessed on line December 21, 2011.

*²Moore, Clement C. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1995.

The Mystery of a Purple-Robed Santa

In December of 1910 my grandfather, Donald C. Minor of Greene County, Pennsylvania received another Christmas postcard from Genevia in Morgantown, West Virginia.  She wrote:

“I hope Santa will bring you lots of pretty things and that you will have a Merry Xmas and Happy New year. Your friend, Genevia”

As a genealogist the card provides no clues about family threads; as a family historian I can find no details that shed light on a family story.  Nor are there clues and details regarding the publisher or printer, other than this Santa message was printed in Germany, as were most cards of the era.

However, the painting is remarkable in a couple of details – Santa is dressed in a purple robe trimmed in brown fur, as opposed to the red suit trimmed in white fur seen in my other cards.  This Santa also bears gifts which are wrapped and carried, not stuffed in a sack, and a decorated, potted tree.  

I wonder what traditional tales this Santa is drawn from?  If you know, dear Reader, I hope you will leave a comment below!  Merry Christmas!

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