Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why We Do What We Do

We welcomed a group of local fourth grade students to the Museum today. Here's Wayne, one of our veteran tour guides, answering a question about what an item in the kitchen was used for. Along with our other guides, Wayne has led dozens of school tours over the years, though not so many this year -- we have noticed a definite decrease in the number of kids coming through the Museum this month, when we are usually booked solid with school groups.

This Victorian kitchen is so interesting to children. There's no refrigerator or microwave, there are no counter tops and only a few cupboards. Kids can't identify the wood-burning stove -- in fact, the only thing they recognize in this room is the (modern) sink in the corner. And the fascination extends to the Museum as a whole. Children are challenged to imagine what life would be like without electricity: no computers, no TV, no iPods, no videogames.

A.N. Bush was two years old in 1860 when his family moved to this property outside of the city limits. As a youth he tracked foxes in the South Salem hills and took one bath a week in the washtub beside the kitchen stove. In his lifetime, A.N. saw the invention of the light bulb, the telephone, the phonograph, the radio, and television. Transportation moved from riverboats to railroads to automobiles to airplanes. In his lifetime, the population of Salem grew from less than 1,000 people in 1860 to more than 43,000 people by 1950. That's a lot of change!

We can tell kids that things haven't always been the way they are now, but it's a lot easier for them to grasp the concept when they're experiencing it first-hand in, let's say, an old-fashioned kitchen. And that's why we do what we do.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Three Days' History of a Bogus Dollar

Guest blogger A.N. Bush, from the Ladd & Bush Quarterly, November 1912:

In 1885 Dee Howard had a butcher shop on State Street, where S.W. Thompson & Company's jewelry store is now. Oliver Higginbotham was cutting meat for him.

One Saturday afternoon Dee came into the bank with a bag of silver to deposit. Those were the days of an open counter and he had plenty of room to stack it up. When he was done he called to Claud Gatch to receive it for him. Claud's eyes instantly located something queer in one stack of dollars, and pushed back to Dee a lead dollar. It was twice as thick as a silver dollar, and almost black. It had been molded imperfectly, and was at best a crude imitation. Dee remarked with disgust that anything could be passed on Oliver.

Claud asked to have the bogus dollar returned to him, saying that he had not ordered his meat for the day and would try to see if he could pass the lead dollar on Oliver. Dee told several of the boys what was coming, and they waited about the butcher shop for Claud. Claud soon came in and picked out a dollar roast. Oliver tied it up and raked the bogus dollar into the till without looking at it. When they all got through laughing at Oliver, Claud handed him a silver dollar for the meat.

Dee then picked up the bogus dollar and invited all the boys into the alley saloon to have a treat. The barkeeper was as easy as Oliver, and the bogus dollar went into the till without a question.

Nothing more was heard of that dollar till the next Monday morning, when a prominent Salem minister attempted to deposit it, but Claud informed him that he had seen that dollar before and it was not current at our counter.

We are sorry not to be able to recount how the lead dollar got from the saloon into the contribution box, but we will leave the reader to surmise.