Darn It

Does anyone do mending anymore?

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Someone wondered what one of the props was on an old TV show.  She thought it was a light bulb.  “It’s a darning egg,” someone else said.

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Of course — a darning egg.  A wooden oblong form to jam into a sock to have something to stitch over when you’re mending a heel or toe.  In use 1905.

But we don’t mend much after supper by the fire anymore. I buy new socks and use the holey ones for dust rags. When I lose a button off a shirt, it goes on top of my sewing basket for a few months.  When pants have shrunk up and their hem needs to be let out, I hang them up and forget about them.  And if jeans have a small rip, in today’s fashion world, all the better.  Most everyone hopes it will get bigger instead of hiding it until it can be fixed.

Love this idea for fixing holes in jeans--a great way to showcase some easy needleweaving. #weaving


The rule is, for sewing on a button, use two threads; for a hem, a single.  When darning a sock (or jeans like the cute example above), stitch a row of parallel thread or yarn across the hole, and weave another row at a right angle, just like those placemats in elementary school.


It’s just not like it used to be.  Thimbles are much smaller now (Was anyone else ticked off when they took that token off Monopoly?) and they make the holes in needles so hard to find.  Manufacturers of sewing supplies must be responsible.  It couldn’t be me.





It was 1987 when my husband and I last entered the Magic Kingdom.  Our daughters were seven and ten years old, and somehow we’d been able to take them to Orlando over Christmas Break.  There was security then, but no double bag checks and X-rays.  We also remember that in order to take a picture of Cinderella’s Castle in the dark, we set our SLR camera on the top of a trash can.  In contrast, this year I pulled a smart phone out of my pocket and snapped these shots of the fireworks and light show.



So what else has changed at “The Happiest Place on Earth,” in thirty years?  Prices are higher, to be sure.  You scan your “magic band” to get in instead of presenting a paper ticket.  The customized bracelet also works as a debit card for hotel rooms, restaurants, and fast passes.



There are two more parks to visit now, but we stuck to the main ones: Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  The Muppets have been ensconced on Main Street USA, greeting visitors with a performance about the founding fathers.  Miss Piggy (who else?) represents the royalty from which our new country broke away.  Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland — all still there, with modifications such as Pixar’s Monsters Inc. “Laugh Floor.”  Peter Pan’s ride, below, is fun as ever, along with the Little Mermaid, Dumbo, Teacups and Space Mountain.  One can still float through “It’s a Small World,” and wind up with the tune in the head for the rest of the day.



At Epcot, time is best balanced among designing cars for the Test Track, navigating a mission to Mars, and taking in other countries’ shop wares and cuisine.  We had a wonderful experience at the Japanese grille, breaking bread (if not chopsticks) with an extended family from Pittsburgh.  And mouse ears of every color were everywhere: sprouting from headbands and caps; with sequins, bows, and fiber optics.  Those wearing them were all ages, all sizes, from just about everywhere, speaking their home languages.



Never changing is the fulfilled vision of Walt Disney.  Disney World is a place where you meet characters you grew up with, dance in your heart to music you’ve always loved; and dream more of what the future can hold.


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Jean Arthur and Cary Cooper in The Plainsman, 1936.  They were also paired in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.  http://www.rarefilm.net

The other night I watched a classic black and white western, The Plainsman.  Gary Cooper played Wild Bill Hickok, a gunslinger I always get confused with Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp.  I was prompted to cybersearch after the movie was over to check how facts played into it.

Facts?  Sources concur that reliable information about Hickok (1837-1876), whose real name was James, is sketchy.  He as well as Martha Cannary (Calamity Jane) seem to have spread rumors about themselves, which were perpetuated by Eastern publishing companies.

A few undisputed things about him —

  • Born in Illinois, he served as a guide and spy for the Union Army in the Civil War.
  • He knew George Armstrong Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Calamity Jane.
  • He was elected an officer of the law by citizens in Kansas towns.
  • He was quick with two pearl-handled revolvers he carried backwards in his belt.
  • He died at a poker table with black aces and eights in his hand, in Deadwood, South Dakota.

The Cooper movie and subsequent others used these facts, but wove the plot in imaginative ways.

In 1942 Bruce Cabot played him in Wild Bill Hickock Rides.

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In 1995 Jeff Bridges brought raw realities to the role in Wild Bill.

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With a masterful blend of music, cast and cinematography, TNT’s 1999 fantasy Purgatory placed Hickok with Holiday, Jesse James and Billy the Kid.  Sam Shepard had the main part in his hand.

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The most recent version of Wild Bill is played by Jeff Fahey in Wild Bill Hickok: Swift Justice, released just this year.  Lee Majors narrates the story.

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In these movies we see a bits of truth squeaked out of lives of flamboyant lawmen: they did protect us regular folks and try to uphold justice.

However stretched, it is assuring to hear along with flying hooves from an old movie in a dark room on a Thursday night.

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James Butler Hickok.  http://www.biography.com

Dwelling in History



(6 1/4 in. x 5 1/4 in. x 4 1/2 in.)

At the end of my Wordpress blog every week I read a disclaimer, “Occasionally some of your visitors may see an advertisement here.”  That’s just a fact for a free blog network, and it is fine.  But you will see an ad in the regular space this time, too.

Dwelling in History, LLC, is a venture my husband and I have begun in the last year.  It grew out of our enjoyment from learning about buildings in our country’s past.

At first, he designed scale models with CAD (computer-aided design), and printed the nets (flat patterns) on card stock paper.  They had to be cut and precisely folded, but they were very good likenesses.

We thought with all the Math involved in dimensions and the geometry of architecture, this would be a great opportunity for hands-on, across the curriculum learning for kids.  The trouble is, it was a little too difficult for kids.  And for non-model builders like me.

So, we investigated making them out of wood, and the most efficient way to produce parts was to acquire a laser to connect to the CAD program.   A business loan, some consulting with the SCORE office in Fort Wayne, and some redesigning, and we had our first model kit: the Maltese Cross log cabin which Theodore Roosevelt lived in in North Dakota in the 1880s.  It appears at the top of the page.  It looks great decorated for Christmas, too.


(7 1/2 in. x 6 1/2 in. x 5 1/4 in.)

Next project: the bunkhouse from the television series The Virginian.  We know, it’s not an actual historic building, but it was important to the show and to the memories of those who watched it.  We made them for a fundraiser called Cowboy Up for Vets in Ohio this spring, and donated some  for the tables at the banquet.


(8 1/2 in. x 7 1/2 in. x 7 in.)

The first brick home in Indiana is represented by the model above.  It belonged to William Conner in the 1820s, and has been restored for all to see at Conner Prairie Settlement in Noblesville.  The beehive oven is an interesting feature on this house.   Kits are available at the gift shop there.


(10 3/4 in. x 6 in. x 7 in.)

A similar model is the Chief’s House from the Historic Forks of the Wabash in Huntington.  Miami Chiefs Richardville and Lafontaine lived in it, and treaties were signed here.  It has been moved closer to the Little Wabash River with some log cabins, including the one below.


(6 1/2 in. x 7 in. x 3 1/2 in.)

This is a one-room log schoolhouse from Huntington County which was taken apart and reassembled on the Forks grounds.  Children on field trips troop inside to learn about how the three R’s were taught long ago.


(9 in. x 6 in. x 9 in.)

The 1877 Collins School from Steuben County is my favorite model thus far.  I posted its history a few months ago.   It could also be used as a church — the classic design was repeated many times in the Nineteenth Century.  On this particular one, the steps are at the left; the right door is non-functional since the chalkboard took up the rest of the interior wall.  Our newest version has cutout windows so the inside can be illuminated by a flameless candle.  Makes a nice table centerpiece!


(3 1/2 in. x 4 in. x 5 in.)

I’ll end with a photo of a non-historic model, our faerie garden house, which I had fun helping design this summer.  It has a clear enamel finish to help it withstand the outdoors where faeries come to visit at night.

Dwelling in History has more models in the works.  The ones you see above are available already built or in kits with instructions.  We’ll soon have a website, http://www.dwellinginhistory.com, but for the present you can email us at the address below.  We are also available for workshops, and can tie in Indiana Math and History Standards as we build them.

Prices range from $10 to $25, plus shipping if you are outside the Fort Wayne area.  Please contact us at lowmarg1@frontier.com if you’d like more information.



The Old Fourth


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“Happy Fourth of July!” Americans have said to each other for 240 years.  Ever wonder what the really early celebrations were like?  I have learned about a few in particular while researching other projects: one in Boston and the others in Indiana.  They were roughly fifty years after the Revolutionary War, about the same space in time the Viet Nam War is behind us now.

 A few years ago I sat at a table in the Pierpont Morgan Library in Manhattan looking for information about a boyhood friend of Theodore Roosevelt’s.  I had a lead that his mother’s papers were there.  While I didn’t find a lot about the boy named Freddie, I did stumble onto some very early letters written to and from his ancestors, particularly one dated July 20, 1820.


J.M. Thun, of Boston, was writing to Mary P. Cady, of Plainfield, Connecticut.  Miss Thun told of fireworks on the common in the evening, with 20,000 ladies and gentlemen present (half the population of the city at the time).  She wished her friend could “participate in the pleasure which I received in witnessing such a spectacle.”

Also in the letter she asked if the minister in Mary’s church was engaged yet.  “Ministers, you know, are in a greater hurry to be married than anyone else…If he said one girl was good, a second lovely, and a third precious it is evident he is in love with someone…”

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A little while after that great display of fireworks on the new country’s northeastern coast, there were some other Independence Day celebrations I’ve come to know.  As an interpreter at the Historic Forks of the Wabash I try to bring the Wabash and Erie Canal days to life for fourth graders on field trips.

On July 4, 1835 the canal between Huntington and Fort Wayne officially opened.  It was big news.  At 5 mph, a new, superfast horse-drawn packet was taking citizens from both cities on its first trip.  The next year, as more of the waterway was finished, they repeated the Independence Day party.  The boat Indiana transported passengers from town to town, with dancing and a little drinking of “good whiskey” on board.  Belles representing the states marched in a great parade, with Hugh McCulloch, secretary of the Treasury under three presidents, the guest speaker.

When the Wabash and Erie Canal opened, Indians still lived in the area.  But the boats that traversed it would be the beginning of the Miami people’s sad journey west in a few years.

The people of Fort Wayne celebrated the connection of the canal to Lake Erie on July 4, 1842.  A cannon captured from the British in the War of 1812 greeted guests, who included General Lewis Cass.   He’d been governor of the Michigan Territory and U.S. Secretary of War under Andrew Jackson, and would be the Democratic nominee for president in another six years.  Cass stepped off the boat onto the gangplank, acknowledging cheers and applause — and fell right into four feet of water.

A large public banquet was served in the evening.

This is an artist’s depiction of the first day of the Erie Canal, but it fits!  www.eriecanal.org

There were not many more years to celebrate canal side, however, since the steam locomotive rendered its way of traveling and transporting goods obsolete.

Boat rides.  Fireworks.  Parades and dinners.  Some summer fun, designed around the most important day in our country’s history, remains constant.  In the middle of your festivity, remember sacrifices others have made that we may have a unified, peaceful day.

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Information for this blog from the Allen County Public Library, “Fort Wayne on the Old Canal,” article from the University of Illinois at Urbana; and the Pierpont Morgan Library, Folder 212.590.0315, Papers of Maria Molestina.

Kick the Can


“Kick the Can” is a poignant episode from the original Twilight Zone television series.  I’ve come to know several of the sci-fi plots retrospectively as they’re shown on New Year’s Eve, but this one I remember seeing when it first aired in the early 60’s.

The setting is a rest home where old friends, relegated to finish their lives in rocking chairs on a porch and forgotten by most, look back on what it was like to be young.  One night some of them steal outside, find a can, and kick it around; we hear the voices of children coming from the dark grassy yard beyond the house.  The next night one man tries to get his friend to join them, but he refuses, and most of the residents disappear.  Too late the friend glimpses him as a boy, who looks up for a moment and runs off.

When I saw it all those years ago, I felt so sorry for the old man who was left behind.  He missed his chance.  Now that I’m closer to his age, I think: I’m still the kid I was.  Nobody can make me older than I want to be.  Of course, the body doesn’t cooperate as well as it used to, but I can still make a lot of choices which lead to childlike happiness.

Interacting with grandchildren, volunteering in public school and church classrooms, and playing host to fourth graders at a local history museum give me energy,  There’s nothing like sharing a good laugh with a bunch of kids.  That’s probably what I miss most about day to day residence in a classroom.

I enjoy observing them, listening and talking to them, and asking questions of them.  I’m not ashamed to say I often revisit books I read in school.  I very much like to read aloud to elementary classes —  it reinforces that children’s literature is still as good, the authors are just as wise and introspective, and the illustrations as pleasing as they ever were.

I don’t wish for going back to the time when we were young.  I pay bills and taxes and do what I can about about peace, poverty, and the environment.  But youth and its enthusiasm are all around us.  It’s not necessary to go out in the yard and kick the can to find them.

!      !      !      !      !

By the way, there are several books about the series, but highly recommended on Amazon is the one below.  I always felt there was a companion to watch the program with…I just didn’t realize it was on paper (TZ theme music).



Room for Learning, Part 2


Here are some glimpses from inside the Collins Schoolhouse on SR 120 in northeastern Indiana.  After being used from 1877 to 1943, it stood vacant for 20 years.  Then June Collins began its restoration.


More desks fill the room now than when it was operating, to accomodate the number of students who come on tours.  Miss Collins’s nieces and nephews say there used to be an open space between the two sides, where activities and games took place.


“It’s not the books that are on the shelves, but what the teachers are, themselves,” according to an old poem.  Visitors here see an array of vintage books.


The original Google: a large dictionary sat on a stand for students to reference.


Hornbooks, which preceded textbooks, displayed the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer.  They were covered with a thin layer of cow horn to protect the surface.


The school’s weathervane now overlooks its interior.


The daily schedule was all about reading!



You could get a drink of water from the stoneware cooler, or lunch from your tin pail.  For the other kind of break, the privy was out back and remains there, still fully functional.


Photo of students in first through eighth grades in the school’s heyday.


A complete record of teachers of the school is posted on a wall.


Miss Collins hit the nail on the head.  Thank a teacher for where you are today!


The Collins School is open to the public on Sundays 2 to 5 p.m. during the summer beginning June 5.  A traditional ice cream social will take place there on July 31.