Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ready for Winter

It's been a quiet week at the Bush House Museum, in part because of the snow and ice that have been on the ground since Sunday evening. This is a vintage photo but it gives you a good idea of what it's been like around here.

Inside the House, the Christmas tree is up and the rooms are decorated with fresh greens, flowers, and tokens of the season. We welcomed almost 300 people during our recent Holiday Open House, which featured a visit from Santa, holiday music, a kids' activity, and homemade cookies. If you missed the event, you can still treat your visiting friends and family members to a tour of the Museum the weekend after Christmas.

We're already looking forward to 2009, Oregon's Sesquicentennial or 150th Anniversary. As a leader in the Democratic Party, Asahel Bush II was a central figure in the move toward statehood, and we plan to highlight his story in exhibits throughout the year. Although the Museum will be closed for maintenance from December 31 until March 3, we'll open briefly on Oregon's birthday, February 14, with an exhibit of vintage Valentines -- our love letter to Oregon.

For the next few weeks we will be busy behind the scenes cleaning, organizing, labeling, and working on a variety of projects. Check back with us to find out what's going on! And in the meantime, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Research Karma

Here at the Museum, we've coined the term "Research Karma" to describe what happens when diverse threads of research come together in an "aha!" moment.

One of the first instances of research karma happened a couple of years ago, during a visit from Sally Bush. That's Sally Bush Petcoff, who is a descendant of Asahel Bush II's older brother Seth; she and her husband Tom were visiting from their home in Florida. In the course of our conversation, Sally mentioned that her father, Ralph, and grandparents had driven from Michigan to Oregon in the 1930s to visit our Miss Sally and her siblings. It was the mention of Michigan that reminded me (aha!) of a little album I has seen in our archive, filled with neatly annotated black-and-white vacation photographs, that was labeled "Unidentified." When I showed the album to Sally and Tom, she recognized the photographs and her father's handwriting. The album is no longer unidentified.

The most recent moment came last week, when we were preparing our current exhibit of autograph albums. We have borrowed several albums from the Marion County Historical Society, and were looking through them for signatures of Bush family members or other prominent Salemites. One of the names, "Ella Pohle," seemed familiar to me, so I went to check the records. It turns out (aha!) the Museum owns a dress that belonged to Ella Pohle McGowan. Ella's name seemed so familiar because her dress is currently on display, and I had reviewed the collection notes at the time we dressed the mannequin. Ella's signature is now exhibited next to her beautiful, bottle-green dress. We'll have to return the autograph album to MCHS at the end of the month, but we get to keep the karma!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Darling Sugar Lump

"Sure as the vine grows 'round the stump,
You are my darling sugar lump."

"When you get married,
And your wife is cross,
Come to my house and eat applesauce."

"Remember me you must, you must,
As long as your teeth can chew a crust."

These charming rhymes come to us courtesy of a number of vintage autograph albums that are on display at the Museum through the end of the year.

Autograph albums came to the United States with German immigrants during the 19th century, and were popular especially among young women from the 1870s through the 1910s. The oldest album in our exhibit dates to 1849. It belonged to Eugenia Zieber, who later married Asahel Bush II. She was a student at a boarding school in Pennsylvania before coming to Oregon with her family in 1851. The people who signed her album copied elegant poetry in their finest handwriting; some of the entries are written in German.

Entries in later autograph albums were shorter but still sentimental, or just silly.

"I wish you health,
I wish you wealth,
I wish you golden shore.
I wish you heaven after Death,
What can I wish you more?"

"When you see a rabbit run up a tree,
Pull his tail and think of me."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Resting in Peace

We made a pilgrimage today to Salem's Pioneer Cemetery where members of the Bush family are buried. The fenced family plot is situated at the heart of the cemetery, on the brow of the hill overlooking Commercial Street. These white marble tombstones mark the locations where Asahel Bush II and his beloved wife, Eugenia Zieber Bush, are buried. Also in the family plot are the graves of the Bushes' unmarried daughters, Sally and Eugenia, and their son and daughter-in-law, Asahel N. and Lulu Hughes Bush. Their eldest daughter Estelle Bush Thayer is buried nearby with her husband Claude and their daughter Eugenia.

In the spirit of the season, we read a portion of Mr. Bush's obituary:
It is difficult to place a proper estimate upon the services of Asahel Bush to the state of Oregon, and particularly to the community in which he has been for so long a period a most potent factor. Thoughtful men who have watched the progress of the state for the last four or five decades are generally agreed that there was no individual whose personality; sound judgment in affairs of finance, trade and commerce; broad-mindedness; thoughtfulness for the welfare of the community at large; and unselfish and disinterested desire to witness the most economical utilization of the partially developed resources so abundant throughout the country in which he was a pioneer; has made so marked an impression upon the trend of events as Mr. Bush.
The cemetery's tombstones tell amazing tales: stories of women and babies lost in childbirth, or of now-curable diseases that once ravaged families, or of venerable pioneers who died at home after years of adventure. These days, thousands of South Salem commuters drive past the cemetery knowing little if anything about the people who are buried there -- the people who risked their reputations, their health, and even their lives to make our city what it is today.

(Photograph by Bonnie Hull. Thank you!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Haunted House?

At this time of year we always have visitors who are interested in the haunted history of the Bush House. A quick internet search for haunted places in Salem returns the following nugget (available on several different websites):

"The Bush House is now an Art Gallery that has a ghost from the turn of the century. She was a young woman who suffered from schizophrenia, and her family kept her in the basement in shame. She died there and now haunts the house. The owners have residents who live in the upstairs who say the ghost of a young girl plays with the thermostat."

Like many ghost stories this one has an element of truth to it: Eugenia Bush, the youngest daughter of Asahel Bush II and his wife Eugenia Zieber Bush, suffered from a mental illness; she fell ill when she was a college student living in Massachusetts, circa 1880.

But that's where the similarity ends. Rather than treating Eugenia with shame, the Bush family made sure she was cared for properly by East Coast specialists who operated private clinics for their wealthy patients. Family members wrote to her and visited her, making the arduous and expensive cross-country train trip to Boston on a regular basis. In 1914, when she was 52 years old, Eugenia returned to Salem to live in the family home under the care of her sister Sally and a full-time nurse. She died in 1932, at age 70.

So no young girl, no shame, no locked in the basement, no premature death. Admittedly, the heating system is erratic, but we blame that on the machinery and not on ghosts. We are happy to welcome visitors who come for any reason, but we would like to think that the true stories of the Bush family are more interesting, if less dramatic, than internet fictions. Come for a tour and find out for yourself.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Deine Freunde

As usual during the autumn, our current exhibit features vintage quilts on display throughout the Museum. Since this year's theme is "Quilts Through the Years" we have a little more leeway than in previous years, when our exhibits focused on crazy quilts or log cabin quilts or pink and brown quilts -- so we've been able to display a couple of quilts that haven't been out of their boxes for several years, along with some recent acquisitions.

One of my favorites, which was last on display in 2004, is a wedding quilt from 1897. It belonged to Rose Woodruff Babcock, whose heirs donated the quilt to the Museum along with her wedding dress, wedding shoes, and a photograph of the wedding party. The quilt, currently displayed in Sally's Bedroom, is made of white and sea-green polished cotton in a simple pattern of squares and triangles, tied with lengths of white satin ribbon. What makes it remarkable is the center square, a hand-inked image of a wedding procession entering a church, with the phrase "Deine Freunde" or "Your Friend" inscribed across the bottom. The names of dozens of the couple's friends are written in an elegant, tiny script on the white triangles across the surface of the quilt.

The quilt must have been precious to its owners because it comes to us in pristine condition, slightly faded but with no stains or signs of wear -- a lovely reminder of the community that nurtured the newlywed couple and witnessed the beginning of their life together. Come and see it, along with a dozen other quilts, on display through the end of October.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guest Blogger: A.N. Bush

August 21, 1912

Dear Ryth:

"The Report" seems to have suspended publication. The vacation season is on, and the substitute stenographer made such a mess of the one she wrote that I did not attempt one the next week. Much of last week was wet. It rained hard and was cold enough for fires. It cleared off in time to save the crops. Much of the wheat and oats was in shocks, and, although saved, the damage done is not inconsiderable.


This entry is taken from a sort of journal written by A.N. Bush in 1911-12 to his friend and fellow photographer Ryth Gatch (pictured, ca. 1905, in a photo by Sally Bush). Ryth's father, Claud Gatch, had worked at Ladd & Bush Bank for decades before moving the family to Berkeley, California in the fall of 1911. Ryth, who was in her early twenties at the time, sorely missed her lifelong friends; A.N. Bush wrote her these weekly epistles, entitled "The Report", to keep her up to date.

"The Report" is a remarkable record of the daily activities of one of Salem's most prominent men, members of his family, and his employees. A.N. gives detailed descriptions of his weekly walks in the countryside around Salem, to places like Sidney and Ankeny Bottom and Sleepy Hollow and Orville. He writes about hosting (and feeding) visitors, arguing politics with benighted Republicans, and collecting wildflowers. He reports on the health of his father, who was 87 years old in 1912, and of his beloved wife, Lulu Hughes Bush, who was recovering from an operation. He catalogs his growing collection of Victrola records, some of which were rejected for home use but were suitable for playing at the Salem Canoe Club. Occasionally, his reminiscences include a gem like the following:

"About eighty years ago a young chap in Westfield, Massachusetts, was a bum farmer, and they never ceased to tell of how his father said it was harder to make him hoe corn than to do it himself, but that boy beat the whole family out."

"That boy" was A.N.'s father, Asahel Bush II.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


In the spring of 1912, A.N. Bush and his wife, Lulu, spent several nights at the Bush House, the home of his father and his sister, Sally. While sleeping in the guest bedroom, A.N. and Mrs. Bush were disturbed by a brood of nine chickens who had wandered away from the barnyard and were roosting near the house. A.N. complained, "One rooster crowed all night. He would keep it going three or four times a minute till he got us awake, then would stop. No sooner had we got to sleep again that he would start up." All of this nocturnal noise was particularly annoying because, according to A.N., the home was located in the countryside and was supposed to be peaceful!

We're in the city now, and things are especially busy this weekend as the Salem Art Fair and Festival takes place in Bush's Pasture Park. Tours are half price during the Art Fair (July 18-20), so it's a great time to see our current exhibit, which features historic photographs and stories about the animals who inhabited the lives of the Bush family. We'll also be demonstrating how to make lavender wands, and we'll be selling wands to benefit our Restoration Fund. Hope to see you here!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Welcome, Neighbors!

When the Bush House was built in 1878, it was an elegant farmhouse situated outside the boundaries of the City of Salem. The nearest neighbors were located to the north, across the County Road, or to the west beyond the yet-unnamed High Street. In those days, hospitality was extended to Bush family members and friends, political allies and commercial partners, Salem's high society, and the down-and-out in search of a hot meal.

By 1953, when the House became a museum under the auspices of the Salem Art Association, the City of Salem had expanded to embrace the old home with its surrounding parkland and growing neighborhoods to the south, east, and west. The Bush House Museum opened its doors to welcome the community to view art exhibits, participate in classes, and hear stories about the family who helped shape Salem's history.

Those doors are still open, and you're welcome to stop by, especially if it's been a while since you've visited us. Since we understand that you can't come every day, we're also opening our virtual doors to the Internet community. We're here to tell stories -- and to listen to your stories -- about the Bush family and the history of Salem. We're here to show you historic photographs, to highlight objects from our collection, to let you know what's on exhibit right now and what we're learning about.

So here's our invitation to you: come back and visit again soon. Tell us what interests you, or ask us a question. You're welcome. And, thanks.