THE GAY ‘SEVENTIES - A DECADE OF BEGINNINGS
By the year of our Lord Eighteen Hundred and Seventy, Dayton was beginning to be ashamed of being small and unimportant and was developing aspirations toward cityhood. She was in that state of emergence which every community goes through on its way to cosmopolitanism. We had left off the hoop-skirts of the past and were assuming the habiliments of sophistication. There was a gulf, however, between our ambitions and their full realization. Much building was going on. The “Commons” were closing up into streets; we were pointing with pride to one street-railway and several four-story business blocks, but the streets were still quagmires of limestone mud spattering the vehicles which lurched in and out of abrupt holes. Men and women still in complete control of their faculties do not have to dig so far into their memories of this era to recall their annoyance when a sow with a litter of pigs was ensconced in a puddle in front of the Phillips House and had to be ejected when a bus from the depot wanted to back up to the curb. It held perhaps, passengers from the East, and it was plain they would never see a sight like that in New York City. That was in the early ‘seventies. By the later years of the decade public opinion had shut off live stock from the streets, but the mud persisted. One youthful suitor whose home was on First Street, threatened to break his engagement with a girl who lived south of Third and find a wife farther north where there less muddy crossings to pollute his Sunday shoes.
It is always interesting to trace beginnings, and many things that give us pride at the present day had their inception in the ‘seventies. In spite of the Panic of 1873, and following the period of inflation, some important new manufacturing projects were established. The Ohio Rake Company, the Barney and Smith Car Company the Stoddard Manufacturing Company, the Farmer’s Friend Company all built large factories and put out products that were known far and wide. We had a new jail built west of the courthouse at a cost of $87,500. West of the city, a good four miles in the country, a smaller city was beginning to rise on the brow of the hill to shelter the soldiers who helped save the Union. This was the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, commonly known as the Soldiers’ Home. Dayton citizens raised $20,000 towards the project and commended Mr. Gunckel, whose influence as a member of the board, guided the selection of the site. It was a noble undertaking and nobly carried out. Buildings, drives, lawns, the view, all were a lesson in themselves as to how public beautification should be accomplished. It became our one attraction to sightseers from outside, but when they arrived the only way to reach the home was by little sawed-off street cars drawn by mangy mules on a single track the length of Third Street. Not seldom the car ran off the track when the passengers had to get out and push it back.
Every Saturday night the band played, and it was a good band as all military bands are. Dayton people ordered out their buggies, or hitched them up themselves (the best of them drove surreys or landaus), and started for the Soldiers’ Home. Over the river by the dark covernous wooden bridge, past cornfields on the way to Summit Street – more cornfields – then up the long hill to the gates which stood open on the pike. Round and round the band stand on the parade ground they circled, bowing to acquaintances while the old blue-coated veterans sat on iron seats at the side, and when the band played “The Star Spangled Banner” we knew it was over and drove home until the next Saturday night. It all seemed very gay and cosmopolitan, and created the impression of Rotten Row or the Bois de Boulogne.
During the winters of 1869 and 1870 a wave of religious fever swept over the country. Churches organized revivals bringing many accessions to their ranks. Every summer camp-meetings were held in the beautiful woods along the Miami, the woods first called Embury Park, then Idlewyld, still later Triangle Park, and now to become a part of our city-wide system of parks and boulevards. Tents and wooden cottages housed the worshippers who, during the month of August, met to praise and pray and sing under the oaks and elms then in their summer glory.
These meetings were both social and religious, taking the place of much that now goes on under the name of recreation. People came from all over the county and beyond. They put up tents or rented cottages and settled down to a month of combined picnicking and religion. The cottages faced a square in the middle of which was a platform where the preacher-exhorters and the evangelist choir-leader stood.
There might be a melodeon and there might not. At any rate the leader was equal to carrying on the whole musical program by means of his resonant voice and his religious fervor. Meetings were held day and night, but the night meetings were the most impressive.
The dark woods, the reverent people on rows of wooden benches, the foreground lit by gasoline flares nailed to tree trunks, the rising and falling waves of melody as voice by voice took it up and added to the whole, all made a scene which has forever gone out of our national religious life. The Moody and Sankey hymns, bad music as they are, were good religious propaganda and brought more than one sinner to the mourner’s bench. “Shall we gather at the River?” “What shall the harvest be?”, “Rock of Ages,” “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” “Beulah Land, Sweet Beulah Land,” “In the Sweet By and By” woke the echoes along the river and drowned the chirp of the katydids. As the prayers and hymns continued many were affected to tears and to action. They crowded up to the preacher’s desk and knelt in the sawdust of the ground. Those who were undecided were kept in almost silent persuasion in the rear shadows by exhorters who knew the psychic steps by which conversion was accomplished. Meanwhile the music increased in fervor, the exhortations grew in force. “Almost Persuaded” carried the weak of faith outside of themselves and straight to the mourner’s bench, “When the Roll is Called up Yonder I’ll be There” finished the work and the cottagers went to sleep that night with the happy conviction that many had been added to the fold in that one day’s work.
Did it last? There are opposite opinions, but the fact remains that those fervent experiences meant for many souls a new view of life and human obligation.
It was perhaps because of this renewal of religious faith that a meeting was held one Sunday afternoon in 1870, at the Lutheran Church on Main Street, which had far-reaching results. John H. Thomas presided and Francis W. Parker was secretary. The aim of the meeting was to perpetuate and determinize the unity of sentiment developed through the church revivals and turn it towards the benefit of young men. A committee with Thomas O. Lowe as chairman, was appoint to draft a constitution and by-laws; the formal meeting to ratify the organization was held on March 2, 1870, and thus was the Young Men’s Christian Association born. Its history and object are well known. “To provide physical intellectual, social and spiritual improvement for young men.” The first home was on the second floor of the building on the north side of the alley near the courthouse, then occupied by the Dayton “Journal” (now the Union Trust site). Later the Dunlevy residence on Fourth Street was purchased and occupied; that being replaced by what was then considered a fine building. More expansion followed and another move made to the northwest corner of Third and Ludlow on ground presented by Miss Belle Eaker. This home lasted only thirty years and now, on the bank of the Miami, rises a noble structure whose upper floors dominate the sky-line. Of Dayton and whose activities minister to the welfare of young men. At first the Young Men’s Christian Association activities were exclusively religious – holding meetings, establishing Sunday schools, etc. Gradually were added the attractions of a gymnasium, evening classes, a restaurant and sleeping rooms. Not their first secretary but their best, was David Sinclair of beloved memory, who, for twenty-eight years, held the post of leader and inspirer of young men. He had a passion for boys; to be in his Bible class was an education and training for life that was both a treat and a privilege. The citizens most responsible for the establishment of the Young Men’s Christian Association were: Robert W. Steele, E. M. Wood, G. G. Prugh, J. E. Gilbert, J. H. Winters, Josiah Gebhart, J. C. Kiefaber, J. H. Thomas, H. E. Parrott, E. T. Sweet, T. O. Lowe, W. K. Eckert, Eugene Wuichet, J. A. Shauck, and G. W. Hoglen. Their names should never be forgotten.*
Inspired by the example of the Young Men’s Christian Association, the women of Dayton decided to express on their part, the new birth that had come to the churches. In the fall following the organization of the men’s society the wives and mothers met, planned and carried out not the first but the largest and most active association that Dayton had ever had, under the leadership of women alone, the Woman’s Christian Association. Their efforts differed from the first in that they undertook no more than the relief of the poor in the most obvious ways, visiting the sick, sending supplies to the needy and offering what help they could to people in trouble. The use of rooms in the Young Men’s Christian Association on Fourth Street were offered and remained for a time their only corporate home.
A more complete history of the Christian association movement in the hands of women will be found elsewhere. It is only necessary to point to the building on the corner of Third and Wilkinson to see what good will and generosity have done for the girls of Dayton.
The aims of the association have changed with its name; now Young Women’s Christian Association instead of Woman’s Christian Association, and according to the new ideals of human helpfulness, but the early organizers should be remembered. They were Mrs. J. H. Winters, Mrs. C. L. Hawes, Mrs. Preserved Smith, Mrs. Abia Zeller, Miss Joan Rench, Mrs. George Hoglen, Mrs. David Gebhart, Miss Ellen Brown, Mrs. E. A. Daniels, Mrs. W. D. Bickham, Mrs. John G. Doren, Mrs. E. E. Barney, Miss Carrie Brown, Mrs. Leonard Moore, Mrs. G. W. Rogers, Mrs. J. B. Thresher, and Mrs. J. A. Robert.
Still another effect of the religious awakening of the ‘seventies was the effervescence of the temperance cause which swept over the country like a moral epidemic which, indeed, it was. The leading figure was a woman by the name of Carrie Nation who lived in Kansas but ended by becoming a nation-wide heroine. Her story was one well known to all communities and in all ages – the suffering of a wife and mother from the intemperate habits of her husband. Being a woman of grit and determination she gathered about her similar victims and led them to the source of their sorrows, the nearest saloon. There they held a prayer-meeting on the sidewalk, kneeling on the stones and calling down the wrath of God on the proprietor. When he was sufficiently intimidated which did not take long, they marched in through the shuttered doors and taking every bottle from the shelves carried it outside and emptied it into the gutter. Barrels and kegs fared the same way and when they left, there was not enough drink left in the establishment to hurt anybody.
The news of her exploits spread, and town after town took it up. Direct action was a new thing for women who had suffered and prayed in private. It had the hurling force of a crusade and also perhaps the stimulus. Its full force was felt here in Dayton. Many a drinking place on Sixth Street began the day with an abundant stock and after a visit from the Temperance ladies was left with nothing on the shelves. The excitement had its day and faded out before other interests, but it undoubtedly had its effect on later prohibition
*See Steele, Drury and Conover: “Dayton Saints and Prophets.”
Speaking of the beginning of things, there was another in the ‘seventies which meant
much to Dayton. One summer afternoon in 1878 a long black vehicle drew up to the office of Dr. Reeve, then on the corner of Fourth and Ludlow, and from it descended, with the deliberation taught by their order, four Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis.
they said, “We hear you have long wanted a hospital in Dayton. We are here to help you.” And that short parley between people who believed that serving the Lord was a practical as well as a spiritual concern, resulted in the founding of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. In a disreputable dirty and wretched house, on Franklin Street, those devoted women established themselves. It had been a saloon and perhaps worse. It needed scrubbing and disinfecting. Both were done. And when all was immaculate and cheerful six iron beds were put up and the Sisters were ready to take care of the sick of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. The doctors of Dayton rallied gallantly to the enterprise, giving of their professional time and skill gratis. It was not long before the demand made increased space necessary and a frame building was added on the same lot. Here forty could be accommodated and the beds were always full. No discrimination was made between the religious faiths of the patients, but all who came were cared for.
The first medical staff of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital consisted of Dr. Reeve, chief of staff; Dr. John Davis, Dr. Thomas L. Neal, Dr. E. Pilate, Dr. H. S. Jewett, Dr. J. D. Daugherty, and Dr. W. J. Conklin. Sometime in the ‘eighties six acres of ground was purchased on the west bank of the Miami River in what was then called Browntown, and a commodious brick structure erected on the old Patterson Brown farm. I t was imposing as a building and people wondered if so large a hospital were really needed in Dayton. But it has grown with the years and what was built in the ‘eighties is now merely the small core of a vast building that stretches north and south along the river bank with a chapel and large wings extending to the western side, its comfortable wards and rooms containing four hundred and forty beds.
In 1873 a metropolitan police force of thirty-five men was organized, and an ordinance passed for the election of two constables and one or more watchmen a year. There are now two hundred and three patrolmen at work keeping Dayton in order. In this decade of beginnings we must also list the Holly Water Works, probably the most important civic enterprise undertaken up to that time. The porous gravel sub-soil under Dayton might have been a good filter when only four or five thousand people lived over it but when the population doubled and trebled it became a disturbing thought to dwell upon – the number of cesspools in juxtaposition with the wells. A pump in the backyard was the best water-works our ancestors boasted in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. In the spring election of 1869 the question was put up to the people of a complete system known as the Holly system. It was started in 1870 with a very few miles of service supply but has increased with every year of the extension of the boundaries of Dayton until it now has reached the extent of over three hundred and eighty miles of water mains. A full account of the system will be found elsewhere in this history.
Whoever invented the expression, “The Gay ‘Nineties” was too young to know how gay the ‘seventies were. The Gay ‘Seventies! The far-off gay ‘seventies, laid away in the memories of fast-growing-old people amid the wrappings of over sixty years! We were gay but we were sentimental. Oh, how sentimental we were! If we had our photographs taken, we posed leaning on the back of a chair in an attitude of contemplative despair with finger to forehead and downcast eyes indicating the resent loss of our only remaining relative by a violent death. If we sang songs, they were always about death – the death of the young we seemed particularly to enjoy. “Darling I am Growing Old.” “Oh my darling Nelly Gray, they have taken you away, and I’ll never see my darling any more.” “Where are the songs that we once used to sing” Long, long ago, Long ago,” They dealt with graves and tears and weeping willows. “I am dreaming now of Hallie,” (tinkle tinkle in the high treble) “Sweet Hallie,” (more tinkles), “Dear Hallie; and the mocking-bird is singing o’er her grave.”
We always sang at picnics or around the piano at one of the homes. Saturday afternoons on a canal-boat or perhaps in a leaky skiff – anything that was available to take us beyond the city limits - in buggies up the Covington Pike on Lovers Lane which crossed Stillwater River in an old covered bridge, a grove down the River Road, the Glen at Yellow Springs – all resounded on moonlight nights to our chorused voices. “We’re Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground.” “Way Down on the Suwanee River.” “Old Black Joe” – lugubrious and mournful but punctuated by sudden bursts of laughter that belied our somber sentiments, and impressed the fact that we were eighteen and not eighty. The very titles of the old songs carry with them memories of the blessed ‘seventies. “Sweet and Low” brings back a straw ride out to a farmhouse on the Salem Pike, now well within the city limits’ “Maryland, My Maryland” of the Soldiers’ Home when it was the fashionable resort for horseback people every Saturday night. Sometimes we came back by the Germantown Pike or farther, by the Cincinnati Pike, singing “Dixie” or “My Old Kentucky Home,” the horses’ steps on the hard road putting queer stops in the music.
We were not trained singers except as Mr. Turpin and high school morning singing made us, but it was music – let no one dare to deny it! It puts “canned music” to shame for it thrilled with thoughts that a phonograph never gives – youth, and hope, and foolish yearnings. There is more to music than mere figures on a staff.
It will be put down, I have no doubt, to the usual delusions of age when I say that I do not think – I know – that young people in the ‘seventies had gayer times than those in the ‘nineteen thirties. For one thing the winter sports have quite disappeared, due to what unscientific people think is a change in seasons. Meteorologists claim that they have not changed; it is we who think they have. I bow to the dictum but maintain my points, and they are several: First, that every horse-owning family in Dayton had its sleigh, either the trim little cutter for the fast trotters, or the big family-sleigh to hold a crowd. These sleighs had their place in the barn along with the buggies, surreys or family carriage, just as necessary for getting around in the winter and more so than wheeled vehicles. Second, that from the first of November on, every hardware merchant had a string of shiny steel skates hanging outside his door, sign positive that the river might freeze up any day, when the rush demand would come. The school pupils watched the ice, reporting on it every day; that it was “freezing smooth” or “not quite thick enough yet to bear.” If snow came and spoiled the skating, it only offered another joy, that of sleighing. An icy storm that coated the streets was welcomed because it made a “good bottom” for the sleighs. Two hours of good business-like snowing and one began to hear the bells on the streets, a rapturous jungle of which no child or man now knows the charm.
The Miami River for the major part of the year was a great nuisance, breaking over the levees, drowning out farms, messing up our streets and filling our cellars with refuse. But when the mercury went down to zero it mended its ways and became the greatest playplace in the world. When word came that the ice would bear, with every boy’s cap and every girl’s coat on the hall racks in the schoolhouse a pair of skates, ready to grab and run for the river when the bell rang at the close of school. Woe to him who had not scanned his Cicero correctly or to her who lacked one necessary problem in geometry! For, making up lessons after school was an iron rule and apt to cut playtime short in the skating season. Those who did get there promptly found the river frozen from bank to bank and from bridge to bridge. In exceptional weather one could skate from the mouth of Mad River almost to the mouth of Wolf Creek – one glassy shining sheet of ice.
Everybody seemed to be there; young and old, girls and boys, for in those days everybody, except the paralytic, knew how to skate; they had plenty of chance to practice. The good skaters kept to the middle of the river, the beginners hugged the shore to keep out of the way of the long lines, who, with interlocked hands, swept up the river with swift graceful strokes. When we got skillful enough to join one of those groups what ecstasy it was to get into motion! Holding fast to hands on each side, starting with a good purchase on the outer edge of the skate-runner we swept grandly to the right as far as our combined impetus would carry us; then to the left, with each new departure getting more and more momentum from the weight of our combined bodies until, in gradually increasing curves, we covered nearly the width of the river in each rhythmical oscillation.
There were show skaters whom we learned to look for every winter, keeping a place free from the crowd to exhibit their skill. Such a one was Jesse Booher, a carpenter, always on hand at the first freeze and always surrounded by admirers. He wore, not the new-fashioned club skates, but old flat wooden ones with the runners turning up over his feet in front, and on these pre-historic utensils what glories did he not perform! Fancy outlines, “figure eights,” circles, back-strokes with crossed feet – every movement graceful, though he was a heavy man and an old one.
If the river failed us, we went to Bimm’s Park out by the water works on Keowee Street, where the ice could be kept free from snow and freeze without interference of wind or currents. We walked that long distance from the center of town every Saturday morning, we skated all day, we walked back at night, tired but ecstatic, every nerve tingling with the exercise in the cold, ready for a supper of sausage and sweet potatoes, and for lessons, some music of the family orchestra and then to bed. Movies – say you? Motor rides? Take them all away. We prefer the ‘seventies.
In the ‘seventies we knew everybody who drove a horse and buggy or wore a seal-skin coat. “The term “society” was beginning to be used to designate the frosting on the social layer cake. This was the day when Billy Franz, that Ward McAllister of Dayton, led the cotillions and Stowe Forgy was the handsomest bachelor, when McLain Smith, John Patterson, the Crane brothers and R. I. Cummin organized the assemblies which were held in the third floor of the building on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Second. Nothing, I am sure, in the decade of the ‘nineties (mistakenly called gay) equaled those assemblers. Never, I am sure, were the girls so pretty and so imposing in their long trains and big coiffures or the men so striking in their “Burnsides” and dress coats.
How fashionable we were in those days of bustles and trains! How we laughed (politely and surreptitiously I mean) at the sequestered old ladies here and there, who still wore hoops. Our outline was so very different, and of course different meant better. No girl ever wore her own hair but piled on switches, puffs and braids, the whole gathered into an immense “chignon” on the back of the head. The outline, with which hoops had been that of a bell, now resembled of a pouter pigeon, for with bust-improvers in front and a bustle behind each girl was a fair reproduction of that pompous bird. And what a marvel of dress-making was the gown of the period! Twelve to fourteen yards of silk went into it. There was the tight-fitting “basque” with darts catching all the fullness below the bust and whale-bones to keep it smooth. A skirt, long enough behind to drag six or seven inches on the floor, (or sidewalk) trimmed with rows on rows of “knife-pleating,” an over-skirt trimmed with the same and looped upon the sides, the whole tied back underneath to further emphasize the pouter-pigeon effect! Underneath were skirts on skirts, all of them long, some of silk to rustle against the lining of the dress or starched to do the same for summer dresses. This mass of heavy material was dragged behind every woman who walked on the streets of Dayton. If she were cleanly and hated to sweep with her “train” the dirty sidewalks she held it up with her right hand into a huge bunch which much impeded her walking but was accepted as are the rulings of Providence and the dress-makers. One’s dancing man, if he were clever, learned to grasp from his fair partner this unmanageable mass of substance and hold its weight himself while the two negotiated the ball-room floor and tried to keep out of the way of other couples similarly burdened. The bustle itself was a sort of bird-cage affair to tie on under the dress behind and hold the train to its proper place. Sometimes it was known to work a little on to the side, when the appearance of the wearer could only be described as an awful warning.
A modern girl might well inquire how, with clothes of this volume and description, we traveled. The question is pertinent and the answer to it is, the Saratoga trunk. It had to be “Saratoga” because Saratoga Springs was the mecca of the fashionable in the ‘seventies, and if you went anywhere it was good to create the impression that you were going there. The so-called trunks were created to hold the dresses. Standing, the largest of them, thirty inches high, long and wide in proportion, each was a job for a baggage man. Hence the term “baggage smasher.” To treat those trunks rigorously was their sole retaliation to the vanities of the female sex. Each one held from four to six trays and each tray held not more than one dress, the puffings and loopings held out with tissue paper. With four or five such trunks to accommodate the party dresses of a debutante, traveling was traveling, indeed.
It was in this sort of a costume that we went calling every afternoon. That is, we either went calling or stayed home to be called upon. There was nothing else to do with our time. We tied our tall hats on over our chignons, donned very tight gloves, seized our bunch of skirts valiantly from behind and with a silver or pearl card case started on our rounds. Since it was purely empty gesture it was not a heart-breaking disappointment to find the ladies out. We could then leave a card with the maid, mark out the name from the list and go on to the next. Or, we dressed our best and sat in the front parlor from two o’clock until five waiting for the bell to ring and usher the visitors to our plush chairs.
Speaking of calling is a reminder of the habit of New Year’s calling, at its height in the ‘seventies and a pretty custom while it lasted. It had been for many years the custom for gentlemen to make the rounds of their lady friends on January the first, to wish them a Happy New Year but in the ‘seventies it became a formal holiday observance. The men in groups of four engaged a “hack” from the livery stable for the afternoon. Arrayed in silk top-hats (called stovepipes by the irreverent), Prince Albert coats, white vests and lemon-colored “kids” these resplendent creatures made their rounds. Beginning at the extreme east of the residence section with the Andersons, the Harries, the Walters and Kitty Parmely, they progressed from doorstep to doorstep the length of First and Second and Monument Avenue (then Water Street). Just ten minutes was the extent of time offered on the altar of society, unless we may add, things were very good in the dining room, when the call might be somewhat prolonged. The girls put on their best and gathered, also in assemblages of from four to ten, in the parlor of one of the number. There, from behind the inside shutters they watched for the carriages or the sleighs of their guests. Sometimes several equipages arrived at the same time and when this happened it was proof positive that the affair was going as it should.
As the callers arrived they were invited out to the dining-room, where, on a table spread the length of its capacity, were laid everything in the nature of things to eat that an ambitious hostesses and clever cooks could provide. At one end a large block of hollowed-out ice held the raw oysters; at the other a vast cake lifted its frosted ornaments toward the ceiling, in the center a confection made of macaroons and candy, and dotted in between these pieces de resistance were moulds of jelly, bunches of celery, plates of sandwiches, cold meats and biscuits. A centerpiece of flowers in January would have been unthought of – the florists not having as yet learned to raise the flowers or promote the demand. What quantities of coffee were drunk, what piles of sandwiches disappeared! What numberless little cakes and chocolate drops were consumed, it would never do to tell at this late day.
Once in a while there were rumors that a beverage stronger than coffee was offered and accepted, but this did not happen often and made a scandal when it did. Wine or no wine, the occasion was an intemperate one in its way, for all concerned ate more than they should and had indigestion afterwards. There was rivalry on both sides. The men tried to see how many calls they could get in from noon until midnight and the girls hoped when the visiting cards were counted theirs would be seen to be the most popular group. Besides, finding it so easy to gain entrance into the best houses, men who were quite strangers to all of social Dayton, hired a hack and went the rounds, sure that every door would open to them to swell the total of calls. It was not long before hostesses, by comparing card lists, discovered the imposture and it was this, more than the change of fashion which eventually drove New Year’s calling into the social discard.
The men who were the most industrious in New Year’s calling, could also be counted on for serenades. A visiting girl was an excuse for the swains with good voices to gather, about one o’clock, moonlight preferred, on the front lawn of her hostess’s father’s house and sing with a shrill tenor and a booming bass, “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,” “When You and I Were Young, Maggie,” “The Old Oaken Bucket,” “I Dreamt that I Dwelt in Marble Halls.” Let the modern reader laugh if he will. Girls nowadays don’t know the thrill of being wakened by four good voices in the quiet night, getting out of bed, pulling down the shade and lighting the gas, a sign to those outside and below that the music was appreciated. To carry the affair to its logical (and hoped for) conclusion was to have the father get up and dress and invite the singers inside to have something from the sideboard. But fathers seldom rose to such heights of hospitality.
Late in the ‘sixties and early in the ‘seventies spiritualism had its greatest vogue. Neighborhood parties gathered in one home or another for amateur séances when they were supposed to hold converse with their dead friends. There was much talk of table-tipping and mysterious rappings all of which rather frightened the younger members of the family. I remember one old couple frequently at our house, who thought of nothing, talked of nothing, but their wonderful experiences. The fever spread until every evening was given up to it. Then as suddenly it died down and the world turned to planchette. This, not being so gruesome appealed to the younger people, who at every small gathering sat around a table with their hands on planchette while the varnished board wrote laborious screeds or galloped all over the paper. Queer, how that inanimate thing seemed to be acquainted with so many of our jokes and could even make witticisms of its own. Planchette in turn has gone into the limbo of forgotten and discarded interests, but there is no lack of successors and they appear with every new generation.
No chronicle of the ‘seventies would be complete without a story of the First Street racing when snow covered the ground. It was not an era of sports, so-called (how could it be when girls’ skirts reached the ground?) but winter brought its own recreations, and of these sleigh-riding and skating were first. When, because of the snow-covered river the crowds of sightseers found nothing to watch from the bridges they betook themselves to First Street which, from Main to the levee, was the scene of the sleighing carnival of each winter. It was wider than other east and west thoroughfares and less high in the middle so it made a straight and smooth roadway for about eight blocks. On each side the curb was crowded with on-lookers watching for their favorite drivers and the fastest horses. There were not a few of both in Dayton in the ‘seventies. John S. Lytle, among the fourteen horses in his stable on South Main Street, had a pair of blacks that could do a mile in three minutes. His was a familiar figure always in the sleighing season. So was his son, H. V. Lytle, who had a gray mare, a good saddle horse, and a fast pacer named “Trinket.” Charles Harries was a lover of good horse-flesh and drove “Alice” triumphantly to the plaudits of the sidewalk observers on First Street. J. D. Platt’s “Busy Boy” was always heralded as one of the best trotters in Dayton; so was “Daisy,” owned by Charles L. Phillips. Charles Freeman was a frequent driver but he owned no leading horse of his own. He generally was to be seen behind a gray pacer belong to Mike Nipgen – a horse that eventually took honors at State and county fairs. Another professional driver was Rube Myers a familiar figure about all the stables in town and the track at the fair grounds as well. He owned very fast horses which he paraded on the First Street track. Andy Makely, another of the same persuasion, had a flyer that passed many another on the long stretch toward the river.
These were the leading fast trotters in Dayton but there were others, not perhaps blue-ribbon horses but which added much to the gayety of bells, flying feet and glistening snow. Mrs. Edward Rowe was there and made a good time. The historic Patterson sleigh, the property of four succeeding generations, built in 1810, painted black with yellow rings, was always looked for and cheered as a part of our pioneers days. Perhaps in the back seat could be seen the venerable Mrs. Jefferson Patterson, enjoying the scene as much as if she were forty years younger.
Some of the large family sleighs were very handsome, graceful in outline, beautifully painted and with curving dashboards to keep the flying snow from the driver, the back seat hung with expensive fur robes. But First Street will never see that gay pageant again. It belongs to the vanished ‘seventies.
Domestic architecture and household decoration, it was thought, took great strides in the ‘seventies. We began to be ashamed of the old fashioned houses and had not yet learned how really beautiful they were. People who lived in dignified brick homes talked of “remodeling,” and people who were just building put up atrocities called “Queen Anne” cottages, where futile turrets, bay windows and sawed fretwork porches called the public’s attention to the taste of their owners.
Inside the houses was also revolution. The whatnots went into the attic; oil lamps on fringed mats followed. A gas drop-light with a long pipe gave illumination to evening readers. Most everybody was putting in furnaces and bathrooms. The advertisements mentioned hard wood floors and hot and cold running water as unusual attractions in their real estate bargains. We did not “do decalcomania” anymore, but we learned to make macramé lace and hung it around the marble mantels, varied sometimes by a felt lambrequin with cut edges and appliquéd horrors. We pinned Japanese fans onto the wall and hung Japanese umbrellas under the chandelier. The piano was ornamented with a plus “throw” and the mantel held vases holding gilded cat-tails. Lessons in china-painting, wood-carving and Kensington wool-work were the vogue; everything that was gildable we gilded – shovels, bread-bowls and cake-spoons – nothing was sacred.
It is not surprising that, with such aberrations on the part of consumers, producers would show imagination for beauty. In every article of use or wear the manufacturers did their utmost for the uglification of life. I cannot remember, in our part of the country at least, that the decade from 1870 to 1880 produced one simple, original, or pleasing design. There were neither artists nor craftsmen, there were only mechanics at a turning-wheel or a fretsaw. Furniture was heavy, over-ornamented and highly varnished. The beautiful old designs of the colonial mahogany were abandoned in favor of gimcrack scrolls and ornaments without meaning. Towering head-boards to beds bore machine-turned melons, peaches, rosettes and curlicues and stood on carpets of Brussels roses and lilies. Jewelry was ornate, common silverware was crass, cheap and ordinary. The stimulus given by the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 was potent in its influence but was a long while in getting universalized. We had not yet learned the charm of genuineness. It was an unblushing era of pretense, of false-fronts on stores and on dowagers, of artificial protuberances of the female figure, of mannerisms and affection of speech. Only our recreations were simple and natural.
Oh, the ‘seventies! The gay sentimental ‘seventies! The pretentious affected ‘seventies! The ‘seventies when we hung chromos on our walls and read “Lucile” and Ouida and Laura Jean Libby! The forever-vanished ‘seventies, how far away they seem – and are!
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