Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Dangers of Decorating

by: Lea Hart
One of the commonly mentioned topics within the historical interviews in the W.K. Gordon Center collections is Christmas time in Thurber. For instance, during Charles Boston’s interview he mentions how amazing the Drug Store’s upper floor was decorated for the holiday and how as children they would see the decorations and toys and “drool over those things.” It seems that Christmas time in Thurber was always highly anticipated. While some residents of Thurber did not celebrate Christmas, the vast majority did. Depending on the traditions of families who immigrated to Thurber, trees were either decorated early and left up until just after Christmas, or decorated by Santa on Christmas Eve after the children were in bed. Although the decorations likely brought smiles to children and adults alike, the twinkling lights and fragile ornaments could be dangerous.

Tinsel made of aluminum and lead was a staple on many American
Christmas trees during the early 1900s.
Image Courtesy: Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection
 First off, early tinsel was made of a mix of aluminum and lead until the FDA stepped in during the early 1970’s, well after Thurber’s closing.  Despite the danger Americans decked their trees with handfuls of tinsel in addition to an assortment of ornaments. The rest of the decorations were usually handmade popcorn and paper chains, paper ornaments, fruits and nuts, pine cones, or, until the beginning of World War II, glass ornaments from Germany. Those who had their tree decorated by Santa often found smaller gifts throughout the tree as well as beneath it. Leading up to WWII German ornaments became less popular as anti-German sentiment grew in the United States. Upon this realization businessman Max Eckhardt went to a Corning Lightbulb manufacturer and pitched the idea of making Christmas ornaments. These new American-made ornaments used thinner glass and were coated in aluminum to help them shine brighter until war rationing ended the practice, leading to ornaments that resemble those we use today.

Before the invention of wired tree lights, candles balanced on
flammable branches lit Christmas Eve.
Image Courtesy: Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection
Early Thurberites lit their trees with candles secured on branches. More affluent residents used candleholders, while those who could not afford such luxuries punched holes in tin cans to let the candlelight shine though. Until the 1930’s, artificial trees were made of combustible feathers while real trees became flammable as they dried. Christmas lights as we know them did not come about until 1903 when General Electric began selling pre-wired Christmas lights which had round bulbs and oversimplified “how to” directions. These strung together lights were extremely expensive and not as safe as most of today’s lights due to the wire’s cloth covering. Before the development of pre-wired lights, bulb lit trees were either installed in wealthy homes by electricians or electricians installed them in their own homes as they had the necessary skills to do so. As the strands of pre-wired bulbs were highly expensive most stores rented them to their customers; while we have yet to find mention of this happening in Thurber we hope to uncover an answer after more thorough research. Despite the early development of pre-wired lights, rubber wrapped Christmas lights were not available until the mid-1920s from a company called NOMA because of the massive amount of fires the early, more hazardous lights produced.
Wired lights, while not entirely safe, marked an improvement
in holiday decorating safety.
Image Courtesy: Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing Collection

Despite all the dangers Thurber Christmas decorators faced, Thurber did see the rise of one of the most popular Christmas decorations known today. The tree topper, usually a star or an angel, rose to popularity during the 1920s and remains popular on public and personal Christmas Trees alike.

Both the past residents of Thurber and many of us today have happy memories of lights at Christmas. For example, Lily Gibson fondly recalled the first time they placed candles on their tree: “…we had them where you could fasten them on the limb but it was kind of dangerous if the tree was getting kind of old.” Fortunately today one of the greatest dangers we face from holiday decorations is the drive miles from our homes to tour Christmas light showings. Like both Charles Boston and Lily Gibson, the memories we make during our holidays will stick with us for as long as we tell them. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful for Artifact Preservation

by: Katie Gaudette
In the generations since the first 1621 celebration, Thanksgiving has become a time to reflect on the good in our lives. We celebrate relationships, happy events, and prosperity with feasts and parties that often bring us even closer with family and friends. During these celebrations, we bring out cherished objects, treasured for the memories they evoke: Grandma’s teacups, Uncle Joe’s turkey carving knife, the tablecloth hand sewn by Aunt Judy, each holds a special family memory. Often such treasures come in the form of family heirlooms, pictures, books, and stories that are passed down through families, but at some point, such heirlooms need special care and attention in order for them to survive for future generations.

Donations of Thurber artifacts go
through an accession process to
best care for each object
The Gordon Center staff feel deeply honored that so many individuals with Thurber ties have entrusted us to safeguard their treasures and stories. In doing so, these families have not only helped secure the object’s future well-being but have also enabled our staff to share those stories with other guests and schoolchildren in our local communities.

Every time we are entrusted with an heirloom, picture, or artifact, dedicated hands immediately determine what the object needs in order to preserve it, how best to store it, and designate a specific identification number for easy retrieval. For clothing, this requires unfolding the garment as folding can damage older textiles. Partial molds created with acid free tissue paper help retain the shape of the clothing while also preventing any acid found in fabric from degrading any other fabric it touches.

Our staff use special tools to
and solutions to mark fragile
Paper objects like letters and postcards are numbered in pencil on the back in an inconspicuous place, all staples and paper clips are removed and replaced with acid free plastic alternatives, before being classified and sorted into acid-free folders. Photographs go through a similar process, although occasionally an acid-free pen is used to number those with slick backings.
Our staff members are
meticulously trained
to mark and preserve

Three-dimensional objects like jars, tools, and geological samples receive either an acid-free tag or an identifier through a special process. A nonabrasive, noncorrosive sealant that superficially accepts ink is applied to an inconspicuous place, acid-free ink is used to mark its number, and the ink is sealed again.

Here at the Gordon Center we are devoted to the preservation of any artifact that helps to tell the story of Thurber, the people of Thurber, and the company that sustained. Continuing to retell these stories spreads interest and helps to make sure that the people who were born, died, lived, and worked here are remembered.

If you have any photographs or objects with Thurber ties and would like to consider donating them to the Gordon Center, please feel free to contact us at GordonCenter@tarleton.edu. Don’t have any Thurber materials, but still want to support the preservation of these artifacts? Consider joining our membership program, the Gordon Society. Your tax-deductible fee lets you experience the museum like a VIP with member-only benefits while ensuring the continuation of the Gordon Center mission. To join, click on the following link: https://tarleton.edu/gordoncenter/give/donations.html 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Davidson Cemetery

By Edna Tate

I have a hobby. Do you? Mine is low energy and can take you many places. Guess what it is. Mud wrestling? No! Taking guided tours of Walmart? No! My favorite hobby is touring cemeteries where you can see the events of history tied together.

A great place to do this is Davidson Cemetery in Palo Pinto County, Texas. Tall trees shade most of the grounds while a Thurber brick wall surrounds the private family cemetery. Only descendants of the original pioneer families and those married to descendants are allowed burial there. Visitors to the cemetery can walk around, read inscriptions, or take the challenge of researching the history behind the names engraved on the stones.
Davidson Cemetery

 Who is buried at Davidson Cemetery? Frontiersmen, Civil War veterans, ranchers, homemakers, and social leaders who shaped the history of Palo Pinto County found their final rest here. Locals name the cemetery after Joseph Peter Davidson who settled in the area in 1856.

Joseph Peter Davidson, known affectionately as “Uncle Peter,” worked as a surveyor helping new settlers find land for homesteading. The Davidson family played a prominent role in the civic life of Palo Pinto County, becoming the charter members of the first Methodist church in the county. He also helped organize the first Masonic fraternity in Eastland County, Alameda Lodge number 467.

Davidson died of pneumonia on March 13, 1897. After his burial near his home in Strawn, his friends S. Bethel Strawn and W. Stuart named the cemetery in honor of their friend. In 1922, the children of J. N. Stuart and W. M. Allen erected the ornate Thurber brick fence. The Texas Historical Commission erected a historical marker to Davidson outside the cemetery gates in 1978 where it still stands today.

A walk through any cemetery gives hints about the history of any area. Further research about those buried in Davidson cemetery reveals the history of the Eastland, Palo Pinto and Strawn frontier. Each grave makes a contribution to the tale of the Davidson Cemetery. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thurber's Holy Day

By Cameron Mitchell
We all know Labor Day in the United States is the last big celebration as the unofficial end of summer. Officials supervising Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company's town of Thurber, Texas, made sure all of its residents had a great time in the summertime jubilee. Instead of loading the train cars at 6 am for work in the difficult conditions the mines had to offer until 5 pm, workers had this annual three-day weekend off full of rest and recreation. Known as one of the most important days in Thurber, the company's Labor Day festivities acknowledged the hard work and accomplishments of the miners, brick workers, and company staff over the prior year.

Group of men posed beside a union float in Thurber
Thurber's United Mine Workers of America union members
pose for a photo with their Labor Day Float.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
A grand parade was the biggest Labor Day tradition in Thurber. The Labor Day “Queen of Festivities,” usually a beautiful local girl and her “Maids of Honor” led this opening event. There were many decorated parade floats, especially from the local unions. Thousands of spectators lined the street for a view of the fun. The parade route started from the quadrangle, otherwise known as downtown, and continued east on Park Row to the pavilion. Once reaching the pavilion, the area was the scene to a massive community picnic.

Although the area did not have any trees to shade away the Texas summer sun, picnickers of all kinds flocked to the grounds. It seemed like the whole town was in attendance, including: miners and their families, families from nearby counties, and even Texas & Pacific superintendent W. K. Gordon and his wife were getting in on the fun. According to former resident Lilly Gibson, the picnic even hosted air balloon rides in which the balloon would ascend then the wind would "blow 'em across the to...the big mountain where they got the clay for the brick."

Men posed on float in Thurber Labor Day Parade
The parade was a highlight of the Labor Day festivities in Thurber.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
Since it seldom rained in September, the summer heat was great for business because sweltering picnickers were met by barrels of soda pop and pink lemonade for sale with salesmen hawking, "Sweet as honey dew, and cold as ice could make it!” Alcoholic beverages could not be sold at the picnic grounds since the picnic grounds were located in dry Erath County. Barbecue was also sold for those who did not bring a picnic basket. After the picnic, the all-American celebration included baseball exhibition games between Thurber's amateur club and a visiting amateur team.

Carnivals, another Labor Day tradition, also entertained the spectators in Thurber. Company advertisements seeking amusement attractions would fill the classified sections in regional newspapers weeks leading up to the event. This gave the company enough time to book the best acts. According to former resident John Spratt, "crowds flocked to a full array of sideshows filled with freaks, strange animals, and animals." Devices for testing strength flanked shooting galleries and games of chance where carnival barkers called out for the crowd to try their luck.
Crowds of people in downtown Thurber for Labor Day
People flocked to Thurber to participate in Labor Day festivities.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center 

A firework display lit up the West Texas skyline once dusk arrived. Afterwards, a dance ended the day's festivities. Frequently held at the pavilion, the dance featured local and travelling bands ready to play the night away. Overall, Labor Day was the perfect opportunity for the company to encourage its diverse population to engage in these patriotic and Americanizing events. The company intended these festivities would unify the town's residents in order to promote loyalty, safety, and satisfaction among employees.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Double Take: Re-Opening the Thurber Mines

By Lea Hart
Historical interviews serve as a window into a past most of us will most likely never be able to fathom. Thurber interviews detail smaller bits of history not everyone thinks of: daily life. Some detail their favorite teacher with her long black skirt, white shirt with lace down the front, and hair in a bun on the top of her head (apparently a popular hair style in Thurber); others of the boy down the street who they would fight with about climbing a tree before later becoming best friends. A few interviews offer clues that lead historians on a hunt for buried history. On June 10, 2000, interviewer Curtis Tunnel sat down with a former Thurber resident Billy Gene McGinnis, during which McGinnis shared a tantalizing bit of information about the short- term reopening of the mines after Thurber closed. 
After the mines closed, steel, copper, and miners tools were left
behind, useful for later salvaging efforts.
Mine Number 1
Courtesy: Miles Hart Collection, Haley Library

Mr. McGinnis recalled that during his high school years, around World War II, a company re-opened the mines to salvage copper wire and steel left when the mines closed in 1920s.  McGinnis added that only one or two of the mines were opened and that this was done for military purposes. This retrieval process only went on for one or two years as a few people died due to the black damp (a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and other gasses) which suffocates those who inhale it. This was one of the first times some of the Gordon Center staff had heard of the reopening of the mines, sparking our interest.

An article from The Dublin Progress, of Dublin, Texas, published on January 14, 1938, sheds some light on this matter. The article, written prior to World War II, tells us that the Ab-Tex Equipment Company went into a few of the mines in order to salvage the mass amount of equipment, copper wire and other miscellaneous materials and tools left onsite when the miners left for the last time in 1923. The article lists Gomer Gower as head of the operation, as well as seven other former Thurber miners. After the mention of Gomer Gower we were able to piece just a bit more of this puzzle together with our own collections.
Gomer Gower, a former Texas and Pacific Coal
Company employee later worked for Ab-Tex to
salvage materials from the mines.
Courtesy: Miles Hart Collection, Haley Library 
In a letter to Mary Jane Gentry, Mr. Gower writes that Ab-Tex employed him from November 25 to December 31, 1937, to salvage the material left inside the mines by the Texas Pacific Coal Company; specifically in mines number 1, 3, and 10. Gower’s differences in opinion with Ab-Tex safety policies cut short his time with the company. Shortly after three deaths involving the black damp Ab-Tex packed up. He also writes that later the government took over and placed the job in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Mines.

If this is the case then not only was Mr. McGinnis correct about the opening of the mines during WWII to help with the war effort, but also that the mines were opened during the Great Depression to help provide more tools to other miners, across the nation, when needing mining  materials were at an all-time low. All this means that this long dead coal mining town was brought back to life, not once, but twice, if only for a short time. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Forgotten Traditions

By Katie Gaudette
Once upon a time, weddings were simple affairs laden with tradition that gave them great meaning. Today weddings are a multi-billion dollar industry. Every bride is convinced that she needs to spend thousands of dollars on this special event. In the rush to get every detail right, many have forgotten old wedding traditions that were once precious and meaningful. All of this comes to mind when stumbling upon a treasure in our collections vault.

Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress in Gordon Center collections
Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress, 1914.
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
This treasure is a dress that was once ivory colored. The detail is incredible, especially knowing that the wearer made it herself. Most of the dress is covered in tulle embroidery style lace. The hem catches the eye as the intricacy of embroidery lace increases. Venice lace in a Queen Anne pattern adorns cut outs all around the dress in a cascading circle pattern. The beauty of the dress is striking even with the discoloration caused by 103 years of storage. With the dress is a handkerchief that has a large “E” embroidered on one corner. This was carried by the bride on the day of her wedding.
Detailed view of wedding dress lace pattern
Detailed view of Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center

The bride wore this beautiful dress in 1914, at sixteen years old; her name was Veronica Sue Galik, one of nine children. Born in Canada she was the product of an Austrian Polish father and a German Polish mother. Her father, Jacob Galik, worked as a coal miner for the Texas Pacific Coal Company. Most likely the family lived on Polander Hill in Thurber. Veronica’s groom was a coal miner named Frank Bida, a Polish immigrant. Bida spoke only Polish. One wonders how the pair spoke to each other considering Veronica most likely spoke English while Bida spoke only Polish, unless Veronica spoke two languages. This also begs the question of how well the two knew each other at the time of their marriage.

One of the things that the wedding industry has caused us to lose from our weddings are the traditions that were once the focus of these gatherings. Because of the recent immigration of Bida and the Galik’s, Veronica and Frank more than likely observed these traditions like the blessings of salted bread and wine and the ozepiny. In the blessing of salted bread and wine, each of the parents of both bride and groom give the couple a blessing followed by the couple biting into salted bread, taking a drink of wine, then smashing the glass for good luck. The bread represents prosperity. The salt represents the difficult times the couple will face, and the wine symbolizes that the couple will never thirst again.
Frank Bida and Veronica Sue Galik on their wedding day
Frank Bida and Veronica Sue Galik
on their wedding day, 1917
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center

The ozepiny is a ritual in which single women stand in a circle around the bride, then one of the single women takes the veil off the bride. Finally a married woman pins a hat on the brides head as the circle around her becomes a circle of married women to signal the bride’s transition into a married woman. These are just a few of the many Polish wedding traditions that Veronica Galik and Frank Bida observed at their wedding.

Veronica and Frank more than likely had a simple wedding full of meaningful tradition, while most American weddings are now more about the decoration and the catered meal than the meaning of the wedding. This loss of heritage specific traditions speeds up as immigrant families assimilate into American culture with little more than their last name as a link to their family heritage. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

America’s Game on the Texas Plain

By Cameron Mitchell

As America’s favorite pastime, millions welcome baseball into their homes every season. Over the years, Thurber showed a love for the sport equal to modern-day spectators. Hershel Gibson, a former Thurber resident, once said that a woman’s hose would be sewn together to make a ball if a rubber one couldn't be found in the dry goods store for a nickel. The town boasted talented players through the generations and many experienced professional success.

      Thurber Tiger team photo. Ca. 1908-1910. Cooney Collection, W. K. Gordon Center.

Although many players earned a name for themselves, one stood out above the rest: Joe McKinnon. Thurber was excited to hear McKinnon was recruited onto the minor league Fort Worth Cats baseball team, but instead, he decided to remain working as a coal miner. Although deciding not to pursue a career in baseball, McKinnon didn't give up the sport and continued to play recreationally where his roots lay in Thurber.

When looking for experienced players in the 1920s, Thurber found one in Roswell ‘Little Hig’ Higginbotham. Before playing during the summers for Thurber, he played second base for the St Louis Cardinals. While a talented fielder, he became known for his speed as a base runner. When looking at the statistics, you could guarantee his name would be at the top for stealing bases every single year. In 1922, he held a batting average of .315 and reached 165 bases from 96 games.

Johnny Lucadello's baseball card during his time as an infielder for the St. Louis Browns. W. K. Gordon Center research files.

When it comes to big names in the area, the two Lucadello brothers - Johnny and Tony - made Thurber particularly proud of their achievements after the family left for opportunities in Chicago, Illinois. Johnny’s professional career led him to a second base position for the New York Yankees and St Louis Browns. Tony also found success in baseball, albeit as a scout rather than a player. During his time with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, Tony Lucadello was responsible for securing some of the biggest names in the game, including Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Ferguson Jenkins. Together, the Lucadello brothers spent several decades involved in the game and certainly left behind a legacy.

Thurber’s baseball stars would not be complete without mentioning Tony Venzon who worked as an umpire in Major League Baseball between 1957 and 1971. Not only was he an umpire, but he was also a successful one, leading the line in the World Series in 1963, 1965, and 1970. With many All-Star events under his belt, Venzon certainly made his own mark on Thurber’s baseball history.

From small beginnings to professional heights, these men provided a sense of pride for Thurberites!