As summer is winding down, we will shortly be saying goodbye to this year’s summer students. Some will continue to volunteer, and others will inevitably return to visit, so it’s not a true goodbye, but we want to take this moment and thank them for all of their work this summer and sharing their thoughts about the Museum and their projects!
Shawn, Emily, and Caitlan, thank you for all of your hard work! All the best for your upcoming school year!
Hi there, it’s Emily again, and I’ve continued the transcribing of the Thomas Henry Correspondence Collection, which I mentioned in my previous post. Through the transcribing and digitizing I have looked at numerous very interesting pieces related to Thomas Henry, and the Henry Family. But there are two pieces in particular that stand out for me within this collection. One of which is a photograph taken by E.E. Henry, the son of Elder Thomas Henry. This photograph is titled a “Spirit Picture,” and contains the image of two men and one women, one of the men however is deceased, being “[b]orn again into the spirit life, July 20th, 1825.” The second piece from this collection that is very interesting is a correspondence letter, which was written by Thomas Henry, June 10th, 1873, and addressed to E.E. Henry. This letter is especially interesting because it is Thomas Henry’s response to the Spirit Picture sent to him by his son.
The elder Henry’s response to his son is a very interesting read after looking at the Spirit Picture, because being a Christian Minister, one could assume that Thomas Henry has very firm beliefs in regards to the spirit word. The correspondence letter sent to E.E. is strongly worded, long, and firm, scolding his son for taking part in what Thomas believes is unsavory activities. Thomas states in his letter, “I do not dispute but what the picture has been taken. It is not of god, in my humble opinion, But of the Divil[SIC], and show very clearly to me a falling away from God, and disbelieving his word.” Thomas Henry continues through his letter to argue to his son the abomination that is the Spirit Picture sent to him, and writes of the story of King Saul, Samuel, and the Medium at Endor.
The relationship between Thomas and E.E. Henry is very fascinating because after scolding his son through this letter, and yet Thomas ends is letter by writing, “you might have taken the old prophets picture, and now I would not wonder, but what Dr. Taylor and his medium might get a picture of some of your friends if so send me one.” In another unrelated letter from this collection E.E. writes to his father, “you well know you have left me out in the cold as it were, and I have had to paddle my own canoe for myself. You have as you say in your letter helped all the rest, but me, and now you tell me that I am the favorite. Well God knows I am glad and hope it is so.” It seems to me that parental approval was one of, if not the most important aspects of life for Victorians. And that the Spirit Picture may have been a way that E.E. was seeking that approval by showing to his father his work.
This collection has been fascinating to go through, and has helped me understand the Henry family, and Victorians, much more than I had before by the digitizing and transcribing of these letters and pictures.
Throughout the summer months the museum has been very busy with research and writing for our latest publication on Robinson House. I was writing a small part about the collection and exhibits at Robinson House throughout the years and I wanted to highlight past exhibits that had been on display from 1970 to today. Summer staff member Caitlin and myself were trying to determine what exhibitions were displayed at Robinson House so we decided to go through the old Oshawa Historical Society newsletters in the archives – we were not only successful at finding out about past exhibitions but we also found other interesting stories such as this one about the Oshawa Street Railway. This little excerpt is from an interview with Mr. Joseph Wood that took place with Norah Herd the archivist at the Oshawa Community Archives in the 1960s.
Mr. Wood retired from the Board of Works in 1964 this interview took place after his retirement.
Before the turn of the century, Oshawa’s main streets were evil-smelling mud holes filled with water after every rain. Simcoe and King Streets were unsafe to drive over because they were full of deep ruts. Large stoned were used to fill them in but traffic would displace them. Driving to the railway station from the centre of town without mishap was almost impossible. A wagon taking a load of trunks to the station might lose one or two of them enroute.
In 1920, the streetcars operated on Simcoe Street from Rossland Road to the Lake, and the fare was five cents. At that time also, the Oshawa Railway tracks ran along King Street for a block each way from Simcoe Street. The motorman would alight and switch the streetcar east on King Street and travel the one block to the Post Office where he would pick up the mail to be taken to the railway station. This was the old Post Office at King and Wellington, which later became known as Ontario Street. Then he would drive to the Commercial Hotel, one block west of Simcoe. This hotel was the biggest and best one at the time. Then the streetcar backed up to the Four Corners, switched again to Simcoe Street and then continued south the C.N.R. Station where passengers and mail were deposited, then south again to the Lake. Quite a ride for a five cent fare.
Maintaining a gentlemanly character was certainly no easy feat for those living in Victorian Oshawa. Of course, one was expected to have discipline and an esteemed manner regardless of the circumstances. Nonetheless even those of high status lost a few battles to their tempers.
One such example involved a conflict between the respectable Thomas Conant Esq. and arithmetic teacher, Mr. D. Black in the fall of 1865. Now, the twenty-three-year-old Thomas certainly did not think of himself as an expert lecturer but he found himself quite unsatisfied with the teaching style utilized by Mr. Black to portray the rudiments of figures to his younger sister, Electa. Thomas, not burdened by timidity, made himself plainly understood. However, Mr. Black quickly took offence to these comments, claiming that he would not “submit” to Thomas’ “interference and dictation.”After a few exchanges things appear to have gotten heated quickly.
After being taken aback by Mr. Black’s non-compliance Thomas pressured further, boldly stating that his behavior seemed to imply…
“…that we should shut our eyes and take no interest in the pupil’s under your charge.
I have neither time nor inclination to continue a discussion – but contend that persons having an interest in the pupils have a right to suggest as I have done and demand a gentlemanly answer.
And in a later response Mr. Black, still having none of Thomas’ intervention, replied with:
“You seem offended at the ‘tone’ of my reply to your note of yesterday and characterize it as ungentlemanly. Perhaps it was. If so, I regret it. But you will understand its tone little perhaps when I tell you that thetone of the letter to which I wrote in reply struck my mind as impertinent and dictatorial.”
It is likely Electa never quite realized the extent of the bold, quoted, and underlined words being exchanged between these two gentlemen over her education. Yet, while the language is quite appalling for these Victorian men I’m sure many can relate to their good intentions. Whether a parent, older sibling, or instructor the method of how to properly up-bring and treat those under out care still exists as a personal and potentially controversial topic. Unfortunately, Helen Lovejoy cannot be everywhere to ensure that “won’t somebody please think of the children?!” rather than their gentlemanliness in many of these times of need.
So what does a Joy Buzzer, Whoopee Cushion, chattering teeth and the old “fly in the ice cube” have in common……they are novelty items. Throughout history people have loved to play practical jokes on each other. From one of the earliest being the exploding cigar to the Whoopee cushion, which is still funny today. Novelty items became a lucrative business in the 19th and still are today.
Recently the museum received a large donation of items that belonged to Gladys Muriel Mowbray (Adelaide McLaughlin’s sister). This collection contained over 50 items that included a wedding dress, jewellery, shoes, hats and many personal items including a few novelty items that were practical jokes. At first I thought the one was a tin that resembled others that were already in the collection held at the OCM so I inspected the items further and realized they were novelty items. This is something that I do not come across often in a donation to a local museum. I wanted to find out a bit more about the two novelty items that were donated and discover more about the history of practical jokes in general.
The first novelty item is called Adams Salted Mixed Nuts also known as the “snake nut can”.
The “snake nut can” is a practical joke device that closely resembles a can of nuts but contains a wire spring covered in cloth or vinyl, some are even printed like snake skin but not this particular one, which leaps out of the can and startles the unsuspecting victim. This could have been me….. I was very thankful to the donor who actually informed me of what the tin contained before I proceeded to open the tin of “Salted Mixed Nuts”. The reason I always open the tins when a donation comes in is because quite often they are filled with little treasures that even the donor may not be aware of.
The “snake nut can” was invented by Soren Sorenson Adams, was known as Sam Adams, the king of Professional Pranksters, of the S.S. Adams Co. circa 1915. Adams’ wife Emily had been complaining about the jam jar, saying that it wasn’t properly closed or that it was sticky. Adams was inspired by her nagging, then invented a spring snake – coil of wire wrapped in a cloth skin and compressed the two-foot snake into a little jam jar so that it would jump out when the lid was removed. The snake jam jar then evolved into the snake nut can. In 1928, S.S. Adams created the Joy Buzzer, and in later years also sold the squirting nickel and fake plastic ice cubes with bugs in them. He was considered the industry leader in the field of practical jokes after creating over 650 novelty joke items. He actively managed his company until the time he passed away in the 1963 at the age of 84.
The second item was a New Shaving Kit – with the headline WHAT EVERY MAN WANTS – NO BRUSH NO LATHER NO ELECTRICTY.
Around the edge of the lid are line drawings of assorted razors but inside the box is a fake pocket knife, a few sticks of wood and wood shavings. It has a 1939 copyright date by H. Fish love & Co. of Chicago. Stamped lightly on the front is; Souvenir of Wichita, Kansas. The back of the box is a mailer label with a place for To and From and it could be mailed anywhere in the U.S.A. for only 3c. The Howard Fishlove company was known for their fake vomit called “Whoops” the company manufactured 60, 000 units per year.
Practical jokes and novelty items have been making people laugh since the 19th century I am sure these two novelty items highlighted here have brought back memories for many.
Demaris, Kirk (2006). Life of The Party: A Visual History of the S.S. Adams Company. Neptune, NJ: S.S. Adams Co.
Newgarden, Mark (2004). Cheap Laffs: The Art of the Novelty Item. New York: Abrams.
Rauscher, William (2002). S.S. Adams: High Priest of Pranks and Merchant of Magic. Oxford, CT: David E. Haversat.