Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Mortsafe

A Victorian-era grave cage or “mortsafe” was intended to keep grave robbers from thieving jewelry or organs from graveyard corpses.  When you have really rotten family members some people used this to make sure they didn't come back.  It could be used in place of the extra large and extra heavy tombstone placed on the evil person's grave to ensure they couldn't crawl out.  The next time you see a really large tombstone in a cemetery think about that.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Little Steam Saw Mill Trivia

Steam Saw Mills were often encounter in the "horse and Buggy" Days on Delmarva.  They were handy because the saw mill generated it's own scrap wood to burn in the boiler to make steam.  They did however often blow up.  One reason for the explosion was Sawyers used to use water out of a branch or creek that wasn't clean and it would stop up a valve and when it broke loose and cold water came into a hot boiler, she blow.

In 1868 W L Sirman (Sirmon) erected a steam driven sawmill on the west side of Delmar. In 1883 he moved the mill to the East side of Delmar, more specifically between First and Second Street on Grove Street. In addition to the saw mill he also had W. L. Sirmon Basket And Crate Company next to the saw mill. The saw mill was steam driven and the steam was produced by burning the waste produced from the saw mill it self. The saw mill could produce 5,000 feet per day and operated 11 months out of the year. It employed ten men plus the men in the Basket plant

From Marylander and Herald - February 15, 1916


The boiler of the saw mill of Graham and Hurley, near Mardella Springs, exploded at 11:45 last Thursday morning, killing four persons and seriously injuring three more, who are in the Peninsula General hospital at Salisbury. The dead are William Phillips, Webb Robinson and Charles Seabreeze and a negro named Emory Coulbourn. The injured are: Bradley Seabreeze, cut and bruised on the face and body; Staton Evans, both legs and arms broken, and John Seabreeze, arm broken. A man named Lloyd, who was working within a few feet of the boiler, was unhurt. Phillips, Robinson and Coulbourn were killed instantly and Charles Seabreeze who was a young son of John Seabreeze and who had taken his father’s lunch to him, died en route to the hospital in an automobile which contained his injured father.

Webb Robinson leaves a widow and six children, while Emory Coulbourn leaves a widow and five children. William Phillips was single and resided with his father, Thomas Phillips.

The boiler, which weighted several tons, was blown a distance of 150 feet from the mill. Pieces of the men’s clothing and their coats, which hung in the mill, were found in the tops of trees 100 yards from the explosion. Experienced millmen who examined the boiler after the explosion stated the boiler showed evidence that it was dry from lack of water, the supposition being that the water gauge was stopped up and that the fireman unaware, had let in cold water.

Mr. Hurley, one of the owners of the mill, just a few minutes before had gone in the woods to see about some timber and thereby escaped injury. The explosion was heard for several miles

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snake Oil


Snake Oil and Snake Oil Salesman are two great expressions from the 1800’s that are still around.

Originally the mystic of snake oil came from two sources in America.  The first was from the American Indian (AKA Native Americans for those who want to be politically correct) and the second was from the Chinese who arrive in the 1850’s.  Snake Oil was an integral part of Chinese Medicine.  Derived from the Chinese water snake it is high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a type of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (omega-3 PUFA).  But there are no Chinese Water Snakes in America, so enter the American Indian Snake Oil Lore.   Instead of  Water Snake Oil the American Indian went with rattlesnake oil. 

Before the East Coast of America became so populated, rattlesnakes were found in abundance in New York, Pennsylvania, the Delaware water gap area of New Jersey and the Carolinas.  The Indians supposedly treated rheumatism, croup, arthritis and other joint pains with the oil from rattlesnakes or grease made from rattlesnakes. Early pioneers picked up on snaked oil from the various Indians who practiced this art and the making of snake oil became a small scale seasonal occupation craft practiced where rattlesnakes were abundant.

Much like whalers who would boil down blubber to make whale oil, the snake hunters would capture the snake and boil it down for the oil. 

Perhaps the best way to describe how rattlesnakes were converted to oil is to look at various newspaper accounts of the process in the 1890’s thru 1900’s.

From the  “Spokeman review” Oct 29 1905,2552435

Cyrus J. Brownell of Worcester, Mass. Had a snake farm of about 1700 snakes,  “A fat snake five feet in length ought to produce about seven ounces of oil.” The article goes on to say that snake oil sold for a dollar an ounce.

From the Milwaukee-Journal Nov 8 1897,3537271

made from the leaves of fat that lie each side of the backbone in much the same position as the leaf tallow in a beef.  The leaves are fried out exactly as tallow or lard is and a good fat snake will produce about a half pint of clear, almost colorless oil.

From the Spokane Daily Chronicle Nov 20 1891   a pickup article from the Boston globe,5401363

Dell reeves of Portland Conn. Snake charmer and hunter.  Made oil from the eggs and the snake by;

Boiling the eggs night and day until an oily substance appears on the water this skimed off and put in a kettle a little water is added and the kettle is heated to produce steam which feeds into still (similar to a whiskey still) and the result that is distilled is pure snake oil.

From the Independent Feb 22 1926,5755855

Ciso texas Rattle snakes are dormant at this time and people hunt out rattlesnake dens then dynamite them and harvest the rattlesnakes as a crop for oil

The Daily Morning Astorian Feb 18, 1886

Delightful story of rattlesnake Tom and the catching of snakes and making oil in Tiadaghton PA.

The Spokane Daily Chronicle Oct 4 1909,3589135

In Chinatown; pour half a gallon of alcohol into a two-gallon jar, in which the rattlesnake is imprisoned.  The reptile dies for want of air after a few hours. Left in the bottom of the jar for six months the alcohol is carefully removed and dulited with another substance and sold in the market. 

Catching and making of Snake oil is but one phase of the business, selling is the main part of it.

“Snake Oil salesman” does the images of fast talking pitch artist come to mind, plus of course politicians, government employees, TV hucksters, and carnival sideshows?  In the early 1800’s snake oil sales was the area of the local druggist, who actually compounded his formulas and sold them locally.  By the late 1800’s and 1900’s, as the horse and buggy era closed down, snake oil and patent medicines hit an all time high as the expansion of newspapers and cheap advertising became available.  Hitting an area with newspaper advertising followed up by an advance man a medicine show would arrive with band and Indians and a few “employee” in the crowd to make testimonials and buy a few starter bottle sales.  Of course if you didn’t have the medicine show the snake oil was sold thru a drug store or by mail.  By the 1890’s very little of the so called snake oil sold had any snake oil in it.  By 1906, lead by Collier’s magazine, the US Congress approved the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.  This didn’t stop the sale of snake oil it just said you had to list the ingredients on the bottle. 

The Snake oil vs Pure Food and Drug Act case that got the most attention was  Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment.  Clark Stanley, aka The rattlesnake King claimed he had learned the healing powers and rendering process from Hopi Indians. He received even more attention in the 1893 World exposition in Chicago when he pulled a rattle snake out of a sack, slit it open and boiled it in a pot, making snake oil on the spot.    Long story short when the FFDA did an analysis on Stanley product it was found to contain no snake oil and he was fined $20.00.

After the food and drug administration trail, the labels changed to formerly known as snake oil.
Today science is still investigating snakes and their components.  In the Oct 2, 2013 Atlantic

 an article is about research at the University of Colorado and their study of Python plasma and it’s possible use on human hearts.




Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Black Sheep Family Tree

When you have two many black sheep in the family this is what your family tree looks like

1955 The Tropics

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Delaware whipping Post

The Delaware whipping Post from Harper's weekly Nov 18 1876

On June 16, 1952 John P. Barbieri was the last man to be whipped in Delaware.  20 lash for breating Mrs. Belle davis.

FULL TEXT: Wilmington, Del., June 16 – John P. Barbieri, 30, flinching at every stroke of the cat o’ tails, received 20 lashes on his bare back today in Delaware’s first public flogging in three years.
Barbieri, sentenced to the flogging after he pleaded guilty to beating Mrs. Belle Davis, 59, last April 18, made no outcry during the 45 seconds it took to carry out the sentence.
He walked from a small shed after the flogging to the prison infirmary where he a patient “for a day or two” while his bruises are treated. Then he will begin a six-months jail sentence.
There was no blood drawn during the lashing by Warden Elwood Wilson, who delegated himself to the unpleasant duty of inflicting the lashes.
Mr. Wilson, who explained to reporters that “you can cut a man in two with this whip” said the flogging was made as “humane as possible by starting at the shoulders, working down to the waist and then up again” to avoid tearing at any particular.
Only 20 persons, including an official party of six, were present as he was shackled to angle irons in a small shed and the sentence of the court read to him.
Wilson then stepped forward and administered the lashes … straight-armed, without bending the elbow, with a whip of nine half-inch flat leather straps attached to half a broom handle.
Barbieri sagged several times as the lashing continued. Then he was led to the workhouse.
Some welts and bruises were apparent as he was led away.
Those present included the Rev. F. Raymond Baker, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Wilmington. He made no comment.

[“Wife-Beater Gets 20 Lashes In Delaware Under Old Law – Nine-Thonged Whip Used by Warden To Flog Bare-Backed Prisoner,” The Pittsburgh Press (Pa.), Jun. 16, 1952, p7

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The China Relief Expedition and the Death of Private Frank Thompson

On August 14, 1900, an international military force, including American Soldiers and Marines, entered Peking, China to rescue besieged diplomats and civilians during the Boxer Rebellion.

During spring 1900, civil unrest in China became a violent rebellion against foreign influence. By May the violence had spread to the city of Peking, forcing foreign civilians and Chinese Christians to seek shelter on the grounds of the Diplomatic Legations and at the North Cathedral. Both locations came under siege, and in late June communications with the outside world were cut.

The United States had many trained soldiers who had fought in the Spanish -  American War and next the Philippines – American War.   From its extensive forces in the Philippines, the U.S. Army sent the 9th and 14th Infantry Regiments, the 6th Cavalry Regiment, and Battery F of the 5th Field Artillery Regiment (Reilly's Battery). Major General Adna R. Chaffee, Sr., commanded the American contingent.

Included in the 6th Cavalry regiment, Troop M, was Private Frank Daniel Thompson.  Frank Thompson had lived in Delmar with his brother William J. Thompson and at the out break of the Spanish-American War had lied about his age and enlisted in the military.  He was like many other young men from the area who also enlisted such as; William E. Carmine, who enlisted in May 1898 at the age of 21 with the 1st Regiment of the Delaware Volunteers. He was to spend his time in Camp Tunnell at Middletown, Delaware for the course of the fighting and was discharged in October. Others from the surrounding area in the 1st Regiment were; William T. Baker, Zollie C. Collins, George W. Davis, William Driskill, Harry F. Hastings, Ira E. Hearn, William L. Hearn, Emmett Hegeman, William L. Hitchens, John W. Massey, William O. McGee, Edward P. O'Neal, Joseph F. Osborn, Eugene H. Philips, Claude S. Venables, James F. Waller, Earl A. Wiley, Harry L. Wooten, and Edward M. Woott,  G.Vickers White, John H. Waller, Wade Porter, William Bensinger, Percy Brewington and Morris Hitch joined the 1st Maryland Regiment. Harry Johnson and James H Burke joined the 5th Maryland Regiment.
Frank Thompson did not last long in China.  He died on December 29th 1900, not from battle wounds but from pneumonia, a common illness that killed many.

His death was noted in the Evening Times January 7, 1901 (Washington DC) .

General Chafee today sent to the War Department the following list of casualties of American troops in China: December 29th Pekin Frank D. Thompson, troop M Sixth cavalry, pneumonia; “

His body did not arrive back into the United States until May 7 1901  on board the transport ship “Egbert”.  The “Egbert” was held in quarantined in San Francisco harbor for three additional days due to the death of someone on board of smallpox.  Pvt. Frank D. Thompson body finally arrived in Delmar May 25th and was buried at St. Stephens cemetery. 
From the Salisbury Advertiser May 25 1901
“The remains of Frank D. Thompson , who died in China on Dec. 29th.,  arrived in Delmar Tuesday night and were interred in the M. E. Church Wednesday afternoon by W. W. Ellis and Son, undertaker.  Mr. Thompson formerly lived in Delmar, and is a brother of W. J. and G. R. Thompson, of this town.  He enlisted in the United States Navy, at the beginning of the Spanish American War and served for some time after which he was transferred to the Philippine Islands, and afterward to China, where he was taken with pneumonia, dying after a short illness. “

His tombstone is in the St Stephens cemetery between Grove and State street on the far southwest corner.  It reads;
 Frank Daniel Thompson, s/o Stephen and Julia A. Thompson, Died at Pekin China in the 6th US Cavalry Troop M, born 02/13/1880 died 12/29/1900

Frank Thompson was the son of Stephen V. R. Thompson.  Stephen was born in Erie County Pennsylvania and he serived in the American Civil War.  He first enlisted with the 111 PA. Inf in 1861 and was discharged in 1863 for a disability.  In 1864 he enlisted in the New York Volunteer Cavalry and was discharged in 1865 as a Corporal.  He worked as a carpenter and he married Julia, from Baltimore Maryland.  He had three sons and three daughters. 
His oldest son William J. Thompson (1863-1925) was a locomotive engineer and was transferred to Delmar.  He was a widower and after a few years on 11 April 1899 he married Florence White from Delmar.  His other two brothers, Frank and George R., had joined him in Delmar after the death of their mother in the early 1890’s.  The family was active in church and organization events.

George R. Thompson (1875-1903) married Bertha Dunn on 15 Sept 1897.  She was the daughter of Enoch E. and Emma Dunn of Delmar.  George was a carpenter and in 1900 worked in Birdnest and later Cape Charles Va.  He died in 1903 and Bertha returned to Delmar to live with her parents and her son, George Jr.  When her son grew to manhood he moved to new jersey taking with him his mother. 
When Frank died his father Stephen applied for a pension based on his son’s death.  He was living in Delmar at the time with William J.  By 1910 William J. Thompson and family had been transferred to Cape Charles Va.  His father would go to the US National Home For disabled Volunteers in Hampton Va. Stephen would die in 1920. 

Buried at St. Stephens Cemetery are;
Stephen V. R. Thompson, Corpl, 2nd Reg NY GAH born 1838 died 1920

Frank Daniel Thompson, s/o Stephen and Julia A. Thompson, Died at Pekin China in the 6th US Cavalry Troop M, born 02/13/1880 died 12/29/1900
William J. Thompson born 1863 died 1925

Florence Thompson born 1881 died 1949 (2nd wife of William)
Hattie Thompson born 1864 died 1897  (1st wife of William)

William J. Thompson Jr  born 1900 died 1981 (son of William)
Eva S. Thompson born 1900 died 1978  (wife of wm jr)

George R. Thompson born 1875 died 1903 (brother of William)
Bertha Thompson born 1875 died 1944  (wife of William)


Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Tee Shape Farm House – An American Classic

One of the most predominate house styles on Delmarva and perhaps anyplace east of the Rocky Mountains is the Tee Shape farmhouse.  Although I refer to the house as a farmhouse it is found in towns and cities across Delmarva.  A tee shape floor plan, two stories high, one room deep, two rooms wide on all stories for a total of six rooms, stairs normally in the center of the house, side facing gables, a symmetrical fa├žade with a center door, a front porch and a porch in the ell of the tee, a tall narrow profile, this is what makes the classic tee shape farmhouse.  Additional embellishments of ginger breading may have been added and more likely were removed at the time they had asbestos siding put on.   The results are houses that are very stark and houses that are fancy folk Victorian and many of us have lived in one or visited one at some period of our lives.


These house shapes are so predominate that cultural geographer Fred Kniffen labeled them “I” house.  The “I” comes from the Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. Three states beginning with the letter “I”, in which these houses cover the country side. 


The style is so popular that even Beracah has house plans called “The Delmar”    they describe the house as;

The Delmar is a classic Eastern Shore Farmhouse with modern appeal & amenities. This 2-Story home is 2016 Sq. Ft. with 3 Bedrooms & 2.5 Baths. The 8 ft. wraparound porch is perfect for rocking chairs, porch swings and encompasses 3 sides of the home. Front & back doors are perpendicular to each other allowing you to open both for great natural ventilation. Natural lighting is extensive in this home with windows at every turn.

In typical Farmhouse fashion, the living quarters are downstairs while all the bedrooms are located upstairs. Upstairs, each bedroom has it’s own advantage (Bedroom 1 – access to the attic, Bedroom 2 – availability of a bench/window seat, Bedroom 3 – the view). With Beracah’s full roof rafter system combined with the 12/12 roof pitch of this design, you’ll have a large amount of storage space in the attic area.

The house shape evolved from a British symmetrical style called the center-hall or hall and parlor house.  The house was side-gabled, two rooms wide and one room deep with the central front door opening into a small vestibule.  When the British settled the area they brought with them the house style, here it had several modifications with the addition of a back room off the center of the house that became the kitchen being the most common change.  Thus it became a tee shape farmhouse.  As the new Americans moved west they took the style with them. 


With out the turrets and multi levels roofs of other types of houses, the house was simple in its construction and style so most local carpenters could build it.  

About the main variations of the house in this area is the direction of the base of the tee faces and the amount of embellishment.  In most cases the base of the Tee is the entrance but in some cases the house is turned and the side of the stem of the tee is the entrance.


In most cases there will be an open front porch although more than half have been closed in instead of being an open porch.    The stem of the tee will usually retain an open lean to/ shed type roofed porch on one side of the tee that serves as a utilitarian porch where family members and hired hands could enter the house.  On the other side of the tee will be a closed in lean to type roofed porch.  The closed in porch will usually be a service area for washing, possibly a bathroom, and may have the well pump or pump bench also located in it.  


The bedrooms are usually on the second story.  The three rooms on the bottom story will usually be the kitchen, a living room and the third room could be a formal parlor or in other cases it is made into a ground floor bedroom.  When built indoor plumbing was not predominate so in later years when it was added a bathroom was placed wherever it would fit.


The Death of James Otwell - 1918

From The Marylander and Herald Princess Anne Md 1918 June 4th

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Tug "DELMAR"

When one thinks of the Railroad we think of locomotives, railcars and railroad track but on the Eastern Shore the railroad had additional equipment stationed at Cape Charles and the equipment was a small flotilla of tugboats and barges used to haul railcars across the Chesapeake Bay.   At it’s peak in World War Two the barges and floats were hauling a thousand railcars a day across the 36 miles of the Chesapeake bay.   

In 1921 the NYP&N (New York, Pennsylvania and Norfolk Railroad, referred to as the “nip” and “n”) had; 9 tug Boats, 5 harbor lighters, 4 car floats, 10 bay barges, 3 passenger ferries, 1 gasoline boat, and 2 pile drivers.  When NYP&N became PRR (Pennsylvania rail road) the equipment continued to increase.  The line had a policy of naming their tugs for towns along the rail line.  There were tugs named; Exmore Norfolk, Bloxom, Cheriton, Tasley and Delmar. 

The tug “Delmar” was built in 1900 by the T. S. Marvel Company of Newburgh, New York.  The tug was 122 ft long with a beam of 27 ft, powered by two steam engines, twin screws and carried a crew of 14.  It was steel hulled with an ice-breaker bow and could operate in the shallow waters of Thimble shoals and the entrance to Cape Charles harbor. 

Information from the book; “Cape Charles; a railroad town” by Jim Lewis and photo from the Eastern Shore library website.

Delaware Potter Fields

“Currently there are three (3) active Potter’s Fields in the State of Delaware. The Potter’s Field in New Castle County is located in New Castle behind the Baylor Women’s Correctional Center and currently has 665 indigent persons buried there. We bury an average of 26 persons a year in this cemetery. The Kent County Potter’s Field is on the grounds of the Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill in Smyrna and currently has 1,182 indigent persons buried there. We bury an average of 18 persons a year in this cemetery. The Sussex County Potter’s Field is on the grounds of the Stockley Center in Georgetown and currently has 148 indigent persons buried there. We bury an average of 14 persons a year in this cemetery. Most gravesites currently have a small marker with a number to identify the deceased” From The Delaware Division of Social Services website
In 2014 the low bidder cost to the State for an indigent adult burial in Sussex County is $1,500.00 which consists of embalming, body wrapped in a plastic sheet, opening and closing of grave, a pine particle board box in a concrete vault and a grave marker.  Infants over 350 grams in weight are buried for $723.00 and infants under 350 grams in weight are cremated for $95.00