Notes from the White County Historical Society

By Charlene Shields

Notes from the White County Historical Society as they appear in "The Carmi Times."

Copyright ©2002 by "The Carmi Times" Permission to reprint granted to Cindy Birk Conley and the ILGenWeb by Tammy Knox, editor, "The Carmi Times."

A look at turn of the century life

The guest columnist for this week is Nita Anderson, a librarian at
Weatherford, Texas. She is a descendant of John M. Marlin and Rachel
Graham, early White County settlers.

"In doing genealogical research we often become so focused on
gathering the data to fill blanks on a family group sheet that we fail
to stop and look around. The 1900 census for White County can provide a
wealth of information on a family, but not a full picture of turn of
the century life. Look and listen.

"The most notable difference in everyday life is the presence of horses.
They're everywhere as a primary means of transportation. In the cities,
the sound of their hooves and the smell left on the streets are
indelible to ears and nose. A far more interesting difference, and
seldom mentioned, is the silence of a June enumeration day. To modern
ears, the silence would be quite profound in rural Illinois.

"A picture, both aural and visual, can best be constructed by leafing
through a reprint of the one book as common as the Bible in farm homes
of the period, the Sears, Roebuck catalogue.

"In June of 1900, summer would be coming on in White County. The kitchen
scene of daytime activity would still be warmed at mid-morning by heat
radiating from the wood cook stove. Weighing from 250 to 528 pounds, the
space-eating, black soul of the kitchen doesn't beep or buzz
independently; it clanks only when wood is added to the firebox and
twangs as too much heat escapes up the stove pipe. If ice is a
possibility, it may provide the refrigeration for the Acme in the
corner. The Acme doesn't hum as it keeps the sweet milk cool in its
provision chamber.

"In the parlor there is no sound created by television, radio or CD
player. Music exists only if the home contains a piano, fiddle or a
music box (with spring movement and key). The sounds require a human
touch, for eventually the music box needs rewinding. There are no
ceiling fans and most certainly no air conditioners. The rug is clean,
but not from the suction of a vacuum cleaner. The only sound that might
exist would be from the Dover. Manufactured by the Waterbury Clock Co.,
'polished wood case in imitation of black onyx,' it strikes the hours
and halves, requires winding every eight days and produced only a
muffled tick, tick, tick.

"The house is still. The only sounds possible are those created by
humans performing the day's chores. The snip of scissors might be heard
from a back room, where the light is better, as the eldest daughter cuts
fabric for a new ankle-length walking skirt. The only hum would come
from the wife, as she rolls out a pie crust or kneads the week's bread
supply in the kitchen.

"Out back of the house there are noises, but not of lawn mower,
roto-tiller or leaf blower. The eldest son balances small stove-length
logs on a stump, wields a hatchet and with a sharp crack creates fuel
for the stove. Son No. 2, old enough to know weeds from food-producing
plants, chops at the soil with a 'cast steel blade welded to shank' hoe
in his mother's garden. The youngest, perhaps envisioning a broadsword
or baseball bat in lieu of a rug-beater, applies steady thunks to a
bedroom rug hung on the clothesline. Mingled with these boy-made noises
might be heard an argument among the chickens, the snorting of the hog
rolling to cover delicate skin with mud and the bawling of the milk cow
mourning the sale of her calf.

"There are distant sounds, but not of diesel trucks, cars, jets overhead
or emergency sirens rising and falling. The rattle of a wagon and
dust-muffled hooves might be heard passing by on the road and rouse the
dog to bark from the comfort of a shade tree. Farther away, perhaps the
sound of a 'gee' or 'haw' as a field is plowed. Farther still, the sound
of a church bell tolling a family's loss and beyond that, the faint
sound of a locomotive as it approaches the crossing.

"It was quiet for those census-enumeration days in White County. The
sounds that did occur in rural 1900 were not mechanically regular, but
carried the rhythm of the human who produced them. All else was from the
beasts or the elements; without those, silence."

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The Coordinator for the White County, Illinois ILGenWeb page is Cindy Birk Conley

Copyright © 2002 by Cindy Birk Conley, all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright notice must appear with the information.