As this unusual summer draws to a close, it’s the absence of season-defining social gatherings that stands out most for me. Looking to the archives for reminders of more social summertimes, my hands-down favorite are found in the journals of the Dismal Campers! This was a group of young Sandy Spring women who, beginning in 1887, embarked on an annual adventure whereby they “camped” in an empty residence. They were a very funny lot that never seemed to take themselves too seriously. I especially like the lists of silly monikers they assigned to each other and those supporting their adventure including, “Baby,” “Talker,” “Charitable Spinster,” and “Resigned Father.
For anyone who feels guilty when they don’t finish a book club selection before a meeting, Sandy Spring’s Phreneskeia Society may have proven especially vexing. In existence between 1888 and until at least 1901, this was a local literary society that expected a high degree of preparation and participation around some very weighty topics. At this particular meeting on April 18th, 1891 the group held a formal debate exploring whether the Elizabethan age or the Victorian age did more toward the advancement of the world of art and literature. Phew! In their early years, they struggled with absenteeism, especially among those with assignments critical to the evenings’ programs. As a result, they incorporated “absentee excuses” into their regular meeting itinerary, serving up a small slice of humble pie to this social group known more for its intellectual pursuits than its gastronomic extravagances.
Anyone who has helped disperse an aging parent’s belongings knows how the rediscovery of long-forgotten childhood items can melt decades away and revive timeworn memories as vividly as if they happened yesterday. In this tender story, an old trundle bed elicits recollection of nighttime prayers shared with a mother since passed but lovingly remembered.
I am endlessly fascinated when I stumble upon examples of cross writing in our collection. This fashion of writing, quite common in personal correspondence in the 18th and 19th centuries, is done by filling a piece of paper then turning it 90 degrees to create a second, perpendicular layer of text. Ostensibly done to conserve paper and postage costs, I do wonder if a simple pleasure derived from fine execution and quick decryption was also at play. I know personally, I can’t help but stop and take a quick stab at decoding the jumble of letters and words.