Yesterday I took a day trip to Cades Cove , a lovely corner of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was my first time in the cove and on the way home I remarked that it is a historian/photographer/hiker’s paradise. This beautiful valley was once home to a thriving community of Tennessee pioneers in the nineteenth century. Today the cove is part of the national park system and you can visit the cabins, barns, and churches where these resourceful people once lived, worked, and worshipped.
I talked with a wonderful National Park Service volunteer about the history of the cove. He told me the story of the first settlers, of the Civil War’s impact on the region, and about the cove’s last resident in 1999. This volunteer was extremely knowledgeable and friendly and he even indulged my questions about “Cold Mountain” and “Christy.” As a public historian I appreciated his skills in historical interpretation. Actually, the National Park Service staff and volunteers do a remarkably fine job of presenting their historic sites. If you live in the South, you should definitely visit the Great Smokies and if you live elsewhere, make sure your summer plans include a trip to your nearest national park.
The volunteer told us to look for the handprints on the ceiling of the Primitive Baptist Church. When the settlers were building the ceiling, they pressed so hard against the uncured pine that the sap ran out over their fingers and left permanent handprints on the wood. This is a remarkable sight - brown fingerprints all over the ceiling. Historical figures can sometimes seem like imaginary beings, just as made-up as literary characters. That’s why seeing those fingerprints made the Cades Cove settlers so real to me. Look - these people really did exist and here is the evidence to prove it.
Scholars often talk about historical evidence and sources like letters and photographs. I like this evidence best on the small, personal scale. Handprints on ceilings, a love letter saved in a scrapbook. In reading Halcy Tomlinson?s journal entry from June 20, 1906, I am reminded of how real she was - a fifteen-year-old girl living in the early twentieth century. In this entry she writes about her paycheck and what she bought with her money. You see, knowing that these historical figures whom I study think about some of the same things I think about makes them seem so real. Halcy isn’t a character that someone invented - she was a real person who wanted to buy clothes and who had a summer job.
“June 20, 1906 Halcy Tomlinson
Tuesday was pay day again and I got $3.65. Now isn?t that a lot for two weeks’ worth? But ‘every little bit helps.’ I got me a new white dress and a lot of other little things, or rather it was a few other things. My dress cost just a dollar. I have had another pay day and got $5.65. I think this is a little better.”
Today I am thinking about the flooding in the Midwest. This morning I listened to this podcast from NPR’s “All Things Considered” about the rescue efforts to save the special collections library at the University of Iowa. In the interview Nancy Baker, the director of the university’s libraries, talks about putting out a call for volunteers to save rare manuscripts, photographs, and film material from the flood waters. The community responded in force and volunteers formed a human brigade to rescue the archives. My heart goes out to the museums, archives, and libraries that are facing this natural disaster. I am, however, heartened that so many people were willing to pitch in to save the collections.
Today at 2:30 our campus will undergo a brief power outage so the local utility company can work on the lines going to the new science building. A student assistant and I joked that we should have a “power outage drill” when we will go outside and enjoy the brilliant sunshine during this time. Then the conversation turned serious and we discussed actual disaster preparedness. We here in the DRC are currently revisiting our emergency plan. While the federal government continually reminds us as individuals to have a plan in case of a disaster, thinking about how to save a historical collection in such situations takes on a whole new level of complexity. Hearing about the events at the University of Iowa reminds me that we need to keep working on our plan. It also reminds me that planning for an emergency involves more than having a phone tree, knowing where the high ground is and being in contact with a good paper conservator. This case at the U of I shows me that the appeal to the human heart is perhaps more important than any of those things.
Put simply: we have some really great stuff here. Wonderful, irreplaceable things like the minute book of the first general assemblies, photographs of the Spurlings and Tomlinsons, and F.J. Lee’s preaching chart. All of these things are worth saving, both in the preservation sense and in the (God-forbid) case of a disaster. If you live in the Cleveland area, keep us in mind if we ever need your help. If you live elsewhere, remember your local museums, archives, libraries, even zoos and aquariums and be willing to pitch in during times of crisis. And in times of “normalcy,” you can help out by being a volunteer - museums and archives always need volunteers.
Today I am grateful for small things: that the creek behind my house hasn’t flooded its banks, for scheduled and controlled power outages, and for the brilliant blue sky on this lovely day in Tennessee.
The spring that I wrote about in my last post has slipped away and now it is summer in earnest here in Cleveland. Three summer church camps have infiltrated the campus of Lee University. As I walked to work this morning in the warm air I passed groups of middle schoolers doing their morning devotions on the pedestrian mall. Summer camp workers were filling coolers with pint-sized water bottles, getting ready for a blistering day. This is the pattern that June and July will follow, as different camps rotate in and out. The campers arrive screaming with joy and energy on Monday afternoons and keep screaming all week until they go home on Friday, only to be replaced by other kids from other places the next week. Oh, summer camp.
Today I am thinking about how American teenagers and children spend their summers so differently in 2008 than they did in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. (Of course, I think a lot about children during the 1800s, given the nature of my research interests). The early-twentieth century marked the beginning of summer camps as the scouting movement formed under people like Daniel Carter Beard. For working class kids during that period, however, summer meant time to work on their family’s farm or to find a job that would contribute to the family’s income.
In 1906 fifteen-year-old Halcy Tomlinson got a job working at the Woolen Mill in Cleveland, Tennessee. She was very excited about the prospect of making money and being able to buy some things for herself. Halcy and her sister Iris Marea and brother Homer planned to save up their earnings to buy their family a rug for their front room. Like modern teenagers, Halcy liked staying up late, going to events, and buying clothes. Here are her journal entries from May 29 and June 4, 1906.
“May 29, 1906, Halcy Tomlinson”
“Several things have occurred since I last wrote in my journal. I am working in the Woolen Mills - have been working over a week - and I think I will like it all right after I learn, if I ever do. They say I am getting along very well, but I honestly believe I did worse today than I ever did. Now then I guess I will get rich. They tease me about it just because they know I won’t make very much. But I don’t care. A little is better than none.
“This evening had I been home I think I would have taken a big cry. I felt like it, and it was awful hard to keep from crying anyway, because it seemed just like everything went wrong. But I don’t aim for Mamma to know how bad and how tired I feel and what a bad time I had, because I am afraid she will worry about me when there is no use. I have been feeling so bad lately any way because I have had to be up so late at night. Mr. Murphy, one of our neighbors and a dear friend also, died last Saturday night, and I have been sitting up there and going to meeting when I didn’t have to sit up. There is a lady preacher, Mrs. McCanless, preaching here now and she is certainly a fine preacher, no mistake. I didn’t get to go tonight. I had to stay home and go to bed, for if I work I will have to sleep some. If I keep on writing I think it will be some time in the night before I get to bed. Good night…dear old Journal!
” June 4, 1906, Halcy Tomlinson
“This evening was pay evening at the mill, and my part was $5.00 for two weeks. Now “hain’t” I making money? I got me a hat which cost $2.00, and Papa is going to get me a pair of slippers tomorrow or some day this week. I don’t know just what they will cost. Anyway I won’t have much left. My, how people can spend money!
“Mamma and Homer are gone to the country to stay a little while and it does seem so lonesome without them. Mrs. Murphy, the lady whose husband died last week, is keeping house for us while Mamma is away. She is a dear good woman. Papa is gone to meeting. He wouldn’t let me go again tonight, because he said I needed to go to sleep. And I guess I do for I have been up a great deal since I last wrote, nearly every night.
“Sister McCanless has gone with Mamma and Brother to the country. There are just four of us here now and it seems like a small number, for there have been seven in the family for over a week. I will be glad when Mamma comes. She just went off today.”