Riley’s Picks November 2020

Promissory note: United States Army to John Green, 1862


This fascinating little document is a promissory note from the United States Army issued in 1862 to John Green, promising to reimburse him for fifty-seven bushels of corn. The note does make sure to state that if Green were to fail as a loyal citizen and aid the Rebels in any way, this note would be forfeit. One can only hope that Green fulfilled his duties and the Army honored this note because according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $34.20 in 1862 was the equivalent purchasing power of $881.34 today!

Diary: Caleb E. Iddings, November 8, 1892


In a particularly topical passage from his diary of 1982, Dr. Iddings writes about the Presidential election of 1892, between Democrat Grover Cleveland and Republican Benjamin Harrison. Iddings describes a process that will be well understood for most Americans; getting up early and traveling to his nearest polling station to attempt to beat the crowds and vote. For him, he voted in Olney, and discussed how the county had universally adopted the Australian ballot for the first time, which is the system of private ballot voting to protect voters and is the system we are all familiar with today!

Club Minutes – The Neighbors, June 10, 1965


It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by small and, frankly, insignificant issues in 2020. One such problem is the bewildering amount of spam phone calls. I get around two to three each day, driving me insane. This feels like a specifically modern annoyance but as I read through these highlighted Neighbors Minutes, I noticed Ethel Thomas complaining about crank calls from a Virginian disc jockey. Apparently she was cold-called by someone asking her to identify a song. Several other members of the club had similar experiences. Poor Ethel – if only she knew that her particular frustration wasn’t going anywhere.

Directions for roasting a turkey in “Domestic Cookery…” by Elizabeth E. Lea, 1845


Found on this page of “Domestic Cookery” is a simple recipe for roasting a turkey, which is equally familiar today as it likely was when first published. I must say, however, that at one point it says to lay the turkey in salt water for ONLY twenty minutes and no longer. My father would definitely disagree! He brines his turkey in salted water and herbs for DAYS before our big Thanksgiving meal. Although circumstance is forcing many of our plans and traditions to be altered this year, I hope everyone is still able to have a good meal and enjoy the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

Lydia’s Picks November 2020

Distance table: Post road from Washington City to New Orleans, 1807


In 1804, the U.S. Congress decided to build an overland postal road from Washington D.C. to New Orleans; the year prior, Thomas Jefferson had appointed his friend (and Sandy Spring’er) Isaac Briggs as surveyor-general of the Mississippi territory to whom they turned to make preliminary observations for this new route. This table shows distances from one postal stop to the next as well as cumulative miles from Washington D.C. to the various points. In addition to towns, named stops also included taverns, fords, ferries, and businesses. While many of these places no longer physically exist, a bit of googling shows their legacies live on in local road names and historic plaques. This table also paints a vivid image of population distribution and settlement in the early 19th century. Whereas the first 10 stops covered a distance of 87 miles, barely getting further than the boundaries of today’s D.C. suburbs, the last 10 stops traversed 606 miles through the wilds of western Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and coastal Louisiana! A lonely leg to be sure. If you have a bit of time, it is really fun to try and retrace the path of this long-forgotten route.

Commonplace book: Richard Brooke, 1805


The commonplace book, like its first cousin the scrapbook, is largely a thing of the pre-digital age. It was typically a notebook in which a person recorded information they came across and wanted to keep for future reference. Commonplace books amounted to a curated collection of interesting facts, writing excerpts, quotations, and poetry that were simultaneously intensely personal and also reflective of its owner’s interests and character. This particular example was compiled by a teenaged Richard Brooke in 1805 and, as one might expect from a young man of this era, is filled largely with facts and tidbits related to geography and natural history. My favorite “fact” is on page 15 where he very precisely records that it would take, “32ys, 11mo, 1w, 2days, 12h, 8min, 12sec to go from the Earth to the moon”. I wonder, in the mind of a teenager in 1805, what exactly would the mode of transport have been?!?

Advertisement: Manchester Shoe Co., 1920s 


I wonder if Sandy Spring’s own Jack Bentley endorsing Manchester Shoes in Baltimore had a similar impact as perhaps Michael Jordan in marketing modern-day kicks. Probably not, but a fun comparison nonetheless. The phrase “only insured shoes in America” is quite intriguing but a closer read shows that this simply meant you could return a defective product, a concept we very much take for granted today. While Manchester Shoes no longer exists, you can still see the company’s name painted on the building where it stood at 9 North Howard Street in Baltimore.

Diary: Helen Leggett Thomas, 1912


Through her diary, Helen L. Thomas tells us that in 1912 she shared a snowy Thanksgiving Day with her father, brother, and sister-in-law. What is extraordinary, however, is that she and her father, Alban Gilpin Thomas, had just arrived in Washington that very same day from a three-week Caribbean journey to Panama, Jamaica, and Cuba about which we learn in her previous entries! It is easy to imagine the foursome around a festive table with snow swirling outside while the travel-weary duo regales their family with tales from their tropical adventure.

Sara’s Picks November 2020

Tribute: Dr. Jacob W. Bird, 1959


This tribute is dedicated to Sandy Spring’s famed doctor, Dr. Bird, in honor of his 50th anniversary of practicing medicine in the community. The Neighbors social club wrote this tribute and seemed honored to have Dr. Bird as one of their group’s members. When you are able to safely return to the Museum, be sure to walk around the central exhibit room, named after the same Dr. Bird and see his carriage in the WonderRoom too!

Notes: “Pig Sticker”, 1950


This page of notes about a “pig sticker” caught my eye and I had to search and discover what that was in the context of 19th-century history. A pig sticker is a type of weapon, like a long knife blade, more formally called a ‘spike bayonet’. These notes show that eventually, Jack Bentley owned this particular weapon. It reminds me that every item, no matter its use, always has a history and it’s important to pass that information down for future generations to be able to learn about it and be able to appreciate its place in the past.

Testimonial: Chicago School of Nursing for Ethel F. Farquhar


This letter of recommendation is relatable because I’ve recently had similar letters written for me in pursuit of graduate school acceptance and for other job opportunities. You often don’t get to see those letters since they go directly to the program staff or hiring managers.  Even so, it could feel a bit odd to read someone else’s opinion of you or your work ethic. This letter is a wonderful testament to Ethel’s character and ability to pursue her nursing aspirations.

Diary: Edward Stabler, 1935


This page from Edward Stabler’s diary reflects seemingly typical preparations for a Thanksgiving holiday meal. What I find intriguing is his mention of oysters for the stuffing, which is not something I’ve ever heard of. I’m not sure how I feel about adding oysters but I do like the mention of stuffing in general as that is one of my favorite parts of a Thanksgiving meal! I look forward to this holiday every year and, like Edward Stabler, I enjoy helping my family prepare our various dishes.  Though our Thanksgiving gathering will look different this year, Edward’s mention of his guests reminds me that our friends and family are the people to be most grateful for.

Patricia’s Picks November 2020

Directions for heating a brick oven in “Domestic Cookery…” by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea


Since the outbreak of Covid-19, bakers, from novice to expert, throughout the world have been busy baking bread.   After purchasing a few books, several baking supplies, and receiving much-needed encouragement and instructions from a good friend, I am now a dedicated bread baker fan.  I have to laugh at my initial hesitation to bake bread because what I read in Elizabeth E. Lea’s Domestic Cookery on page 41 would put today’s squeamish bakers to shame.  After reading Elizabeth’s instructions, you will learn that you have to know how to prepare the proper fire in the oven, from the proper wood to burn, the correct colors of flames to acquire, and above all, one has to achieve the proper temperature for each individual receipt (aka recipe).

Essay: Allan Farquhar, 1917


Allan Farquhar (1863-1944) was a Sandy Spring treasure who worked tirelessly to spread the Quaker messages of hope, civic responsibility, and compassion.  My selection this week highlights one of his essays written in 1917 in an effort to urge his readers to join the cause of justice and to fight against the evils of tyranny.  He reminds his readers that, “[W]e all know and feel that there is something to be done, that we would be recreant to our duty if we stand idly by, washing out hands of the whole retched business, and sheltering ourselves behind the comforting though that we are not responsible and it is not our affair.”

This message expressed so many years ago rings true today.  After witnessing recent vitriol and combative public dialog, Farquhar’s messages are a welcome relief in these troubled times.

Letter:  Allan Farquhar to the Editor of the Sun, 1912


In 1862 John Greenleaf Whitter penned The Ballad of Barbara Fritchie. Upon its publication, the poem was met with instant notoriety, as well as controversy.  The poem paints a vivid picture of a 95-year old woman waving an American flag out of her second-story window in Frederick, Maryland just as General Stonewall Jackson and his troops were marching past.  The well-known line, “Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, but spare your country’s flag,” still resonates today.  The particulars found within the stanzas have been debated from the moment pen met paper. This brings me to Sandy Spring native Mr. Allan Farquhar who wrote a letter to the editor of The Sun in 1912 in support of the author’s use of literary license.  As it turns out, Barbara Fritchie was not the woman waving the flag; it was someone living on the same street. To find out more, do a little searching; you will certainly be surprised.  Above all, Farquhar’s letter to the editor displays this man’s amazing wit, intelligence, and extensive literary knowledge.

Letter: Jack Bentley to Cornelia Bentley, November 28, 1918


With Thanksgiving now upon us and celebrations either canceled or reduced to a fraction of their former selves, I felt it appropriate to share one of Jack Bentley’s letters written to his mother, Cornelia, in 1918 while serving overseas in World War I.  Jack tells his mother that he believes “[I]t is the best one I have ever had — I have a lot to be thankful for, first I am alive, second I just had a nice dinner, and third I have a lovely mother and home over in little Maryland…”

I am touched by Jack’s attempt to ease his mother’s concerns regarding his safety.  This is a testament to his enduring commitment to assure his family and friends of his well-being and his unwavering faith that all will be fine.  Let us try to emulate his faith and strength in our current crisis.  Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.