Meet You Under The Tent

CHAUTAUQUA TENT WILL RISE TODAY

Performer with Red Path Chautauqua, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 1929

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

Junior Town, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 1929, supervised by Kerma P. Bradford

Junior Town, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 1929, supervised by Kerma P. Bradford

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.

Kerma Bradford, Junior Town supervisor, with Bill Slater, superintendent of Red Path Chautauqua, 1929

Kerma Bradford, Junior Town supervisor, with Bill Slater, superintendent of Red Path Chautauqua, 1929

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), “Woman Directs Chatauqua Event,” August 12, 1928. http://www.genealogybank.com (accessed January 12, 2014).

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.

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.

Aunt Alice’s Festive Table

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.

Marilyn pauses 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.

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On This Day: The Discharge of Captain Ira Sayles

Winter SkyAs the sun set one hundred fifty years ago, Ira Sayles glumly faced life as a civilian. The New York abolitionist had enlisted in the summer of 1862, joining Alfred neighbors and friends in forming Company H, 130th Regiment of the New York Volunteers.  Their first deployment was in Portage Station, New York, to be issued uniforms and weapons, and to elect company officers.  Private Ira became 1st Lieutenant Sayles.  The regiment traveled by train, their early legs through Williamsport and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lined by cheering children and flag-waving townsfolk.  A brief stop in Washington, D.C. was followed by passage down the Potomac, into the Chesapeake Bay, to Fort Monroe.  The soldiers, by and by, found themselves in the September humidity of southeastern Virginia, eight miles from the North Carolina border, and just mosquito-wings distance from the Great Dismal Swamp.  Camp Suffolk would soon surround the southern town of Suffolk, with earthen forts, trenches, and rifle pits.

The recruits of the 130th NY Volunteer  infantry were unseasoned soldiers, and days of shoveling red clay were followed by nights of marching.  Footsore, hungry and often wet, the companies would return from their Blackwater River escapades without having fired a shot.  By the end of September the regiment began losing soldiers to the diseases of the swamp.  And 1st Lieutenant Sayles was elected Captain to fill one such resignation.

From the Family Records of Sharon Babcock.  THANK YOU!

Captain Ira Sayles was proud to wear the officer’s sword, and to marshal the energies and courage of his men.  After all the pre-war public-speaking, after all the furtive dealings along the local Underground Railroad, Ira must have found the actual participation in slavery’s eradication a seductive reason to endure all the trials and horrors of the war.

Unfortunately, Ira’s forty-six year old body rebelled against the prolonged exposure, manual labor, and sleep deprivation.  By January, Ira Sayles, suffering from chronic debilitating pain, reported for a hospital cot instead of picket duty.  At length,  as it became evident that Ira’s passion could not overcome the frailties, his regiment’s physician, B. T. Kneeland, wrote these words :

February 19th. 1863

I certify that I have carefully examined Capt. Ira Sayles of Co. H, 130th N.Y. Vol’s. and find him incapable of performing the duties of his position, because of rheumatic disease induced in my opinion by frequent and long continued exposure and fatigue, in performing the duties of his office.  

Surely a long, sleepless night followed the examination.  The next day, after sharpening a fresh goose feather quill, Ira dipped deep into his abolitionist soul to find these words:

Sir,

I have the honor hereby to tender my Resignation of the Captaincy of Company H of the 130 Regiment, New York State Volunteers, which post I now hold.

It is with unfeigned regret, that I find myself compelled to take this step during the continuance of my country’s imminent peril; but the labors, the exposures, and the watchings of the past six months’ service here, have made such inroads on my health, that it is evident I can no longer perform the severe duties of a Captain of Infantry, either creditably to myself, or effectively for my country.  In such case, honor and patriotism alike demand, that the sword I am no longer able to wield with due energy, I resign to stronger hands.  (Please find Surgeon’s Certificate enclosed.)

Praying for my country’s Early and Honorable Peace through Victory over her Insolent Foes,

I have the Honor to be, Sir, Very Respectfully Your Most Obd’t Serv’t,

Ira Sayles

One last time, Ira proudly added:

Capt. Comd’g Co. H., 130 Reg’t., N.Y.S.Vols.

By February 26, Ira would have received notice. Special Order No. 55 had been issued by Head Quarters, Department of Virginia, Seventh Army Corps, Fort Monroe, Virginia:

The following named officers having tendered their resignations are honorably discharged from the military service of the United States

Capt. Ira Sayles 130th Reg. N.Y.Vols. on account of ill health.

By command of Maj Genl. Dix

The sun set that February night on a civilian Ira Sayles.