Sunday, December 23, 2007

Looking ahead to the New Year

As I type this, the upper Midwest is in the midst of a modest blizzard. The snow is blowing; the wind-chill is below zero; the neighbors are blowing their driveways out at six o' clock in the morning. At the moment summer seems rather impossible: but of course the snow will eventually melt, the heat indices will eventually return, and the neighbors will eventually ditch their snow-blowers in favor of lawn-mowers.

The summer of 2008 promises to be an exciting one when it comes to "preserving and interpreting the history of the Pringle and Simmons families of Hastings, Minnesota." It was fifty years ago next year that Carroll Simmons donated the LeDuc house to the Minnesota Historical Society, and the good people of Hastings have never let an auspicious anniversary go by uncelebrated. Consequently the LeDuc Historic Estate is planning a variety of programs and activities to take place this summer, all focusing on Carroll, the antique business, and the history of the house post-1930. A preliminary meeting of the planning committee is planned for January third at the Estate. I am hoping to make some kind of contribution to the effort sometime in the new year. Watch this space for more news over the next few months.

Merry Christmas and happy new year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mary Pringle's scrapbook.

Finished a big project a couple of days ago: scanning and uploading the cards that once resided in Mary Pringle's gorgeous 1880s scrapbook. I took them out of the book about a year or so ago because I was concerned about them deteriorating in the acidic Victorian paper. They are now scanned and uploaded to the Internet and the originals are stored in acid-free sheet protectors, so I can breathe a bit easier.

You can check out the fascinating cards here. Be sure to take advantage of the magnifying feature. Most of them really are in fabulous shape for being 125 years old. Many famous Victorian card-makers - including De La Rue Co., Raphael Tuck & Sons, and S. Hildesheimer & Co. - are represented in the collection.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Great news on the researching front

Great news on the researching front.

A few days ago I was googling Marjorie Ohls in an effort to find more information on her to post on the introduction I write for each letter. (Ms. Ohls was the woman who wrote this letter in my collection.) Piecing together information from a couple of websites, I came to realize that Marjorie Ohls was also known as Marjorie Chalmers, and that realization led me to this website. Just to be sure that I was on the right track, I emailed the group that put together the website. A gentleman just wrote me back today about it to confirm her identity. His exact words:

I am writing in response to your query about Marjorie Ohls Chalmers. I am happy to inform you that yes, the Marjorie Ohls who wrote the letter in question was the same Marjorie Chalmers who worked at the Pi Beta Phi Settement School from 1936 until 1965.

Prior to traveling to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Marjorie trained at Eitel Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota (where she later served as a medical and surgical nurse) and then served as floor supervisor of the Cottage Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois. She also did family relief and child welfare work on behalf of the American Legion and received training as a kindergarten teacher.

So, after several years of wondering, I now know that Marjorie Ohls Chalmers was an important figure in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, who made a real difference in the lives of innumerable patients.

I'm so grateful to have the Internet so I can piece these fascinating puzzle pieces together.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Good news from the Old Times.

A colorful article about Carroll Simmons has been added to the Carroll Simmons biography section of the website. Today I received permission to reproduce an article about him that originally appeared in The Old Times in 1992 and was written by University of Minnesota professor Timothy Trent Blade, Ph.D. One of my favorite excerpts:

"He had a proprietary feeling about his antiques and was sometimes obsessed that they'd find the right home. In his mind, the inventory of everything he'd ever owned (and who had bought it, and what they'd paid) allowed him to construct an image of what his customers' homes looked like, even if he hadn't been invited. He knew what they needed and, especially, what they didn't. He might encourage a purchase by suggesting, "This would look nice on the table you got from me last year," or "This mirror has the same inlay as the one I sold your grandmother." Sometimes he was even more opinionated, and the words, "Your house is too small for that," or "You don't need that," were always quite final."

Thanks much to The Old Times for giving me permission to post it.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

End of the tunnel - beginning of the blog.

Wow. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. This website has been in the making for a very very long time, and it feels wonderful to know that the majority of it is up and running. As some of you know, I had a blog documenting my Hastings project before (the now-defunct, but I was always painfully aware of the limitations of the medium. I always wanted to build a real website that could help me better "preserve and interpret" the history of the Pringle and Simmons families of Hastings, Minnesota, all the while making the research easily available to whoever was interested in checking it out. A nod here to Google's Page Creator product, which made building this massive website (500+ pages if you count the photo galleries, and I'm going to) relatively easy.

Some might wonder why I'm choosing to include a blog on this site, since the Pringle-Simmons history ostensibly came to an end when Carroll died in 1992. That may be true, but if I have learned only one thing from this project, it is that although history itself may not change, our interpretation of it certainly does. And that interpretation can make all the difference in the world. When I first read about Carroll Simmons, I pictured your average, rather rich, rather staid, philanthropist. But once I dug a bit deeper, I found an enigmatic man whose intelligence and independence - and eccentricities - absolutely fascinated me, proving that he was by no means your average, rather rich, rather staid, philanthropist. Or here's another incident worthy of blogging about: in 1999, when I first picked up the letters addressed to Nellie Pringle, I had no way of knowing that she had eventually married a man named Frank Simmons. And yet, that same trip, I saw a school certificate from 1915 written out to Lucia Simmons, and I felt inexplicably drawn to purchase it. I didn't realize until a couple of years later that the certificate belonged to Frank and Nellie's daughter Lucia. I find these shifts of perception to be extraordinary: they prove that history is not dead, that something or somebody is still speaking to us today, enlightening us with new information that constantly challenges our old interpretations. It is these sorts of realizations that led me to consider hosting a blog here, to document new facts, new ideas, and new questions. The entries may be infrequently updated, since - contrary to popular opinion - I do occasionally indulge in other activities outside of Hastings research, but at least it will be here when I have some exciting Hastings tidbit to share.

It is my hope that by using twenty-first century technology, I will be able to illuminate the lives of a remarkable nineteenth-century family. I feel incredibly indebted to them, and I can only hope that I've done them all justice, and treated them with all the respect they deserve.