John Brainard creeps, 1824

October 30, 2020

John Gardiner Calkins Brainard was a poet and a friend of Samuel Griswold Goodrich in Hartford, Connecticut, in the 1820s; Brainard edited Hartford’s Connecticut Mirror from 1822 to 1827. One feature of every newspaper in early 19th-century America was poetry, and much of the poetry published in the Mirror in the 1820s was by Brainard. The unsigned pieces included reactions to local incidents, lyrical descriptions of the landscape, and a delicately creepy poem about a bit of Connecticut folklore.

The Black Fox of Salmon River (originally published in the Connecticut Mirror, 2 August 1824; p. 3)

The lines below are founded on a legend that is as well authenticated as any superstition of the kind, and as current in the place where it originated, as could be expected of one that possesses so little interest.

“How cold, how beautiful, how bright,
“The cloudless heaven above us shines;
“But ’tis a howling winter’s night—
“ ’Twould freeze the very forest pines.

“The winds are up, while mortals sleep,
“The stars look forth when eyes are shut,
“The bolted snow lies drifted deep
“Around our poor and lonely hut.

“With silent step and listening ear,
“With bow and arrow, dog and gun.
“We’ll mark his track, for his prowl we hear,
“Now is our time, come on, come on.”

O’er many a fence, through many a wood,
Following the dog’s bewilder’d scent,
In anxious haste and earnest mood,
The Indian and the white man went.

The gun is cock’d, the bow is bent,
The dog stands with uplifted paw,
And ball and arrow swift are sent,
Aim’d at the prowler’s very jaw.

—The ball, to kill that fox, is run
Not in a mould by mortals made!
The arrow that that fox should shun,
Was never shaped from earthly reed!

The Indian Druids of the wood
Know where the fatal arrows grow!
They spring not by the summer flood,
They pierce not through the winter snow!

Why cowers the dog, whose snuffing nose
Was never once deceiv’d till now?
And why amid the chilling snows,
Does either hunter wipe his brow?

For once they see his fearful den,
’Tis a dark cloud that slowly moves
By night around the homes of men,
By day—along the stream it loves.

Again the dog is on his track,
The hunters chase o’er dale and hill,
They may not, though they would, look back,
They must go forward—forward still.

Onward they go, and never turn,
Spending a night that meets no day;
For them shall never morning sun
Light them upon their endless way.

The hut is desolate, and there
The famish’d dog alone returns,
On the cold steps he makes his lair,
By the shut door he lays his bones.

Now the tir’d sportsman leans his gun
Against the ruins of the site,
And ponders on the hunting done
By the lost wanderers of the night.

And there the little country girls
Will stop to whisper and listen and look,
And tell, while dressing their sunny curls,
Of the black fox of Salmon Brook.

In honor of the month (usually) of first frost, a poem by the often-overlooked Hannah F. Gould. From the 1832 volume of The Token, which I’m now transcribing.

(Among the things we no longer have to think about is ensuring that food inside the house is protected from frost; early 19th-century folks did have such worries, as Gould points out in the last stanza.)

“Frost,” by Hannah F. Gould (from The Token, for 1832)

The Frost looked forth, one still, clear night,

And he said, ‘Now I shall be out of sight,

So through the valley and over the height,

In silence, I ’ll take my way;

I will not go on like that blustering train,

The wind and the snow—the hail and the rain,

Who make so much bustle and noise in vain,

But I ’ll be as busy as they!’

Then he went to the mountain, and powdered its crest,

He climbed up the trees, and their boughs he dressed

With diamonds and pearls, and over the breast

Of the quivering lake, he spread

A coat of mail, that it need not fear

The downward point of many a spear,

That he hung on its margin, far and near,

Where a rock could rear its head.

He went to the windows of those who slept,

And over each pane like a fairy crept,

Wherever he breathed, wherever he stepped,

By the light of the moon, were seen

Most beautiful things. There were flowers and trees,

There were bevies of birds, and swarms of bees—

There were cities, thrones, temples and towers! and these

All pictured in silver sheen!

But he did one thing that was hardly fair;

He went to the cupboard, and finding there,

That all had forgotten for him to prepare,

‘Now, just to set them a thinking,

I ’ll bite this basket of fruit,’ said he;

‘This bloated pitcher I ’ll burst in three!

And the glass of water they ’ve left for me,

Shall “tchick,” to tell them I ’m drinking!’

The unsolved solved, 1989

September 4, 2020

Ah, the power of 140 years, half a dozen reference books, and a PhD! In 1855, Calvin D. Crane submitted an enigma to Robert Merry’s Museum which was never solved—at least by subscribers to the Museum.

Instead, it was solved by a mere PhD sweating over more than one historical dictionary, some reference books, and a poetry collection. Embarrassingly, I am not very good at word puzzles, so solving this one was for me an accomplishment almost as impressive as publishing my first book (still in print! You should buy a copy.) or earning my PhD. So forgive me if I boast and take the credit and present to you the answer 12,000 Merry Cousins didn’t solve.

I am composed of 144 letters:
My 3, 20, 22, 8, 6, 15, is the name of an animal and its fur. [ermine]
My 1, 28, 17, 31, 4, 27, 13, is a tool for making rings. [triblet]
My 25, 34, 67, 5, 81, 18, 44, is the spume of sugar. [treacle]
My 29, 4, 68, 85, 10, 2, is a miry place. [slough]
My 9, 85, 35, 42, 18, 47, is to fondle. [nustle*]
My 11, 45 24, 7, 21, 39, 26, is the name of one of the prophets. [Obadiah]
My 41, 73, 56, 48, 33, has a great deal of power and use. [steam]
My 16, 54, 46, 59, 38, 80, 85, 74, is a lover or wooer. [paramour]
My 12, 50, 23, 37, is a musical instrument. [fife]
My 14, 70, 40, 58, is a part of the body. [hand]
My 19, 79, 76, 51, 63, is a river in Michigan. [Grand]
My 32, 90, 116, is a vegetable. [yam]
My 36, 143, 69, 115, 117, is a boy’s name. [Henry]
My 49, 65, 75, 66, is a ruler. [king]
My 90, 52, 84, is an adverb. [ago]
My 53, 61, 98, 92, 64, 62, 125, is a conjunction. [whether]
My 93, 83, 89, 55, 123, is a preposition. [above]
My 96, 114, 57, 103, is a verb. [toss]
My 88, 67, 104, 107, 132, is an article of furniture. [chair]
My 60, 106, 105, is to yield. [sag]
My 135, 111, 71, 110, is to throw. [cast]
My 78, 128, 77, is a boy’s nickname. [Dan]
My 43, 133, 110, 88, 97, 137, 113, is a man’s name. [Hatchet**]
My 82, 124, 121, 123, is a bird. [kite]
My 91, 90, 103, 130, 115, 106, is a sacred book among the Hindoos. [Sastra; variant spelling of “Shastra”]
My 140, 86, 87, 127, 130, is a flying rumor. [ondit]
My 95, 100, 99, 94, is a preposition. [down]
My 102, 101, 103, is a quadruped. [dog]
My 109, 119, 124, 23, 12, is a small boat. [skiff]
My 112, 122, 124, 55, 123, is a fragment of flax. [shive]
My 118, 120, 4, 16, 136, is a kind of fairy. [sylph]
My 141, 129, 5, 126, is a jag. [snag]
My 131, 140, 134, 144, 142, is obligations. [bonds]

Of my whole, the first 29 letters is the name of a well known piece of poetry; the next 12 letters is the name of the authoress, and the last 103 letters is the first stanza.: The answer, with punctuation added for readability, is “The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers,” [30 is a blank space] by Mrs. Hemans. “The breaking waves dashed high / On a stern and rock-bound coast, / And the woods against a stormy sky / Their giant branches tossed.”

* See A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, compiled by Noah Webster, 1806 edition [reproduced by Bounty Books, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1970] (I did mention the historical dictionaries, didn’t I?)

** Subscribers to Merry’s Museum really should have gotten this one: it’s a reference to “Hiram Hatchet,” the name under which William C. Cutter co-edited the magazine.

The poem is by Felicia Hemans, who was much more popular in the 19th century than she is now (though she also wrote “Casabianca,” where the boy stands on the burning deck):

The breaking waves dash’d high
On a stern and rock-bound coast,
And the woods, against a stormy sky,
Their giant branches toss’d;

And the heavy night hung dark
The hills and waters o’er,
When a band of exiles moor’d their bark
On the wild New England shore.

Not as the conqueror comes,
They, the true-hearted, came,
Not with the roll of the stirring drums,
And the trumpet that sings of fame;

Not as the flying come,
In silence and in fear,&38212;
They shook the depths of the desert’s gloom
With their hymns of lofty cheer.

Amidst the storm they sang,
And the stars heard and the sea!
And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang
To the anthem of the free!

The ocean-eagle soar’d
From his nest by the white wave’s foam,
And the rocking pines of the forest roar’d—
This was their welcome home!

There were men with hoary hair
Amidst that pilgrim-band—
Why had they come to wither there
Away from their childhood’s land?

There was woman’s fearless eye,
Lit by her deep love’s truth;
There was manhood’s brow, serenely high,
And the fiery heart of youth.

What sought they thus afar?
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?&38212;
They sought a faith’s pure shrine!

Aye, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod!
They have left unstain’d what there they found—
Freedom to worship God!

An unsolved puzzle, 1855

August 28, 2020

Puzzles and enigmas (and rebuses and wordplay and riddles and the occasional algebra problem) were the lifeblood of early American periodicals for children. Subscribers to Robert Merry’s Museum wrote puzzles, solved them, and gleefully argued about them.

Except one. In 1855, Calvin D. Crane submitted a word puzzle that no one solved. It’s a lulu. See what you think.

enigma by Calvin D. Crane (from Robert Merry’s Museum, October 1855; p. 128)

I am composed of 144 letters:
My 3, 20, 22, 8, 6, 15, is the name of an animal and its fur.
My 1, 28, 17, 31, 4, 27, 13, is a tool for making rings.
My 25, 34, 67, 5, 81, 18, 44, is the spume of sugar.
My 29, 4, 68, 85, 10, 2, is a miry place.
My 9, 85, 35, 42, 18, 47, is to fondle.
My 11, 45 24, 7, 21, 39, 26, is the name of one of the prophets.
My 41, 73, 56, 48, 33, has a great deal of power and use.
My 16, 54, 46, 59, 38, 80, 85, 74, is a lover or wooer.
My 12, 50, 23, 37, is a musical instrument.
My 14, 70, 40, 58, is a part of the body.
My 19, 79, 76, 51, 63, is a river in Michigan.
My 32, 90, 116, is a vegetable.
My 36, 143, 69, 115, 117, is a boy’s name.
My 49, 65, 75, 66, is a ruler.
My 90, 52, 84, is an adverb.
My 53, 61, 98, 92, 64, 62, 125, is a conjunction.
My 93, 83, 89, 55, 123, is a preposition.
My 96, 114, 57, 103, is a verb.
My 88, 67, 104, 107, 132, is an article of furniture.
My 60, 106, 105, is to yield.
My 135, 111, 71, 110, is to throw.
My 78, 128, 77, is a boy’s nickname.
My 43, 133, 110, 88, 97, 137, 113, is a man’s name.
My 82, 124, 121, 123, is a bird.
My 91, 90, 103, 130, 115, 106, is a sacred book among the Hindoos.
My 140, 86, 87, 127, 130, is a flying rumor.
My 95, 100, 99, 94, is a preposition.
My 102, 101, 103, is a quadruped.
My 109, 119, 124, 23, 12, is a small boat.
My 112, 122, 124, 55, 123, is a fragment of flax.
My 118, 120, 4, 16, 136, is a kind of fairy.
My 141, 129, 5, 126, is a jag.
My 131, 140, 134, 144, 142, is obligations.

Of my whole, the first 29 letters is the name of a well known piece of poetry; the next 12 letters is the name of the authoress, and the last 103 letters is the first stanza.

Answer next week.

Harriet’s riddle is a masterpiece of clues and rhyming. And letterplay. To find the answer, readers are expected to figure out the word referred to in each pair of lines and figure out how to put the words together. The last stanza not only acts as a clue to the answer, but tells the reader what it is and what to do.

Take a word that’s much used,—’t is a masculine name,
That backward or forward doth spell just the same; [ASA]
Then a verb used for dodging—a right it will claim
That backward or forward it spells just the same; [BOB]
The form of an adjective, none can exclaim
That backward or forward it spells not the same; [REFER]
Then a chief Turkish officer’s title or name,
That backward or forward is still just the same; [AGA]
Then a very queer word, ’t is a Spanish ship’s name,
That backward or forward doth spell just the same; [CARAC]
Then a word used for jest, or doth triumph proclaim,
That backward or forward still spells just the same; [AHA]
Then a verb in the imperfect, which also doth claim
That backward or forward it spells just the same; [DID]
The name of a place which geographers fame,
That backward or forward doth still spell the same; [AVA]
The name of a liquor, its friends all will claim
That backward or forward is still just the same; [BUB]
Then a verb that’s well known, I refer to the same,
That, backward or forward spelt, makes but one name; [REFER]
Then a name that is given to many a dame
That backward or forward still spells just the same. [ANNA]

A Set of initials the above will afford—
R-Ove through them in order, they form a droll word.
I L-eave you to solve it—’t will cure a disease;
De-Velop the riddle—’t will set you at ease.
D-Espair not, but hope; ’t is easily guessed:
L-Ike etching on copper in gay colors dressed,
E-Tch it down on your hearts, and there let it rest. [ABRACADABRA]


Reading down the first letter of the last seven lines and then the second capitalized letter of the last seven lines reveals “A RIDDLE SOLVE IT.”

(In the original, the two lines about liquor and the two lines about the Spanish ship were switched; the result spelled “ABRABADCBRA.)

Harriet offers a …, 1842

August 14, 2020

Puzzles and enigmas (and conundrums and riddles and anagrams and rebuses) were hugely popular in early American periodicals for children. Some were written by adults, others were created by the subscribers. The puzzle section of Robert Merry’s Museum stoked the magazine’s letter column, with readers boasting about solving puzzles or complaining about the difficulties they encountered in solving them or arguing about whether or not certain clues were legitimate (“Is a bee an animal?” kept readers arguing for months, as did how to solve an algebra problem).

Harriet, a reader from Newport (no state given), sent a puzzle in early 1842 which was published in the Museum’s June 1842 issue (page 190). Whether she wrote it herself or not, it’s a marvelous piece of rhyming and obfuscation. The original printing has two pairs of lines out of place; I’ve arranged them correctly here to give puzzle-mavens a fighting chance. (Solution/s next week!)

Take a word that’s much used,—’t is a masculine name,
That backward or forward doth spell just the same;
Then a verb used for dodging—a right it will claim
That backward or forward it spells just the same;
The form of an adjective, none can exclaim
That backward or forward it spells not the same;
Then a chief Turkish officer’s title or name,
That backward or forward is still just the same;
Then a very queer word, ’t is a Spanish ship’s name,
That backward or forward doth spell just the same;
Then a word used for jest, or doth triumph proclaim,
That backward or forward still spells just the same;
Then a verb in the imperfect, which also doth claim
That backward or forward it spells just the same;
The name of a place which geographers fame,
That backward or forward doth still spell the same;
The name of a liquor, its friends all will claim
That backward or forward is still just the same;
Then a verb that’s well known, I refer to the same,
That, backward or forward spelt, makes but one name;
Then a name that is given to many a dame
That backward or forward still spells just the same.

A Set of initials the above will afford—
R-Ove through them in order, they form a droll word.
I L-eave you to solve it—’t will cure a disease;
De-Velop the riddle—’t will set you at ease.
D-Espair not, but hope; ’t is easily guessed:
L-Ike etching on copper in gay colors dressed,
E-Tch it down on your hearts, and there let it rest.

Edward Winslow Paige solves the unsolveable, 1857

H. P. B.’s unsolveable enigma, published in the January 1857 issue of Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, was solved by 12-year-old Edward Winslow Paige after an intellectual assault that can only be described as “heroic.” One of Edward’s parents (Alonzo Christopher Paige or Harriet Bowers Mumford Paige) detailed the feat for Francis Woodworth, editor of the Cabinet. By this time, however, the Cabinet had merged with Robert Merry’s Museum; the description of Edward’s perseverance was published in the Museum’s June 1857 issue (page 190):

Francis C. Woodworth, Esq.: My dear Sir—I inclose to you, from my little boy, the answer to the enigma.

Perhaps the manner of his finding it out may not be uninteresting, as it shows what perseverance can do, even at twelve years of age. My son is not always ambitious, but he sometimes has fits of it; and no sooner did you hold forth the prize to your young friends, than he announced that he was determined to win it. That was half the battle in his case. He has been always very fond of reading—and of useful reading. History and Biography have been his delight, and particularly Natural History. Very shortly, then, after looking over the enigma, he made up his mind that “the fleet racer” must be of the ostrich tribe; and, looking through various works upon birds in the library, he came at last to Brooks’ Ornithology, and soon found the description of the Touyou answering almost verbatim to that contained in the enigma. A shout from the library announced his success. “It is the Touyou; now I have it!” But the whole victory was not yet. Day after day, out of school hours, in moments snatched from his play, his meals, and even from his sleep, he toiled on, and with but little result. At last, he came to the conclusion that the “celebrated jurist” was the only key that could unlock the mystery—especially as the Touyou indicated the sixth letter. So he went to a legal gentleman of high standing, near us, and begged him to mention to him all the distinguished jurists he knew whose names were composed of seven letters. Thurlow and some others were tried, but with no apparent success. A day or two after, his friend told him that that jurist’s name, he thought, was Bracton; because it was one which would be very little apt to be thought of, and had, probably, been selected on that very account. A wise man, was he not! So Bracton was tried, and seemed not out of place, although it did not decidedly reveal anything.

As the Touyou had pointed out one letter of the fourth item in the enigma, that was tried next; and it was made out at last by a most persevering application to the Dictionary, and a thorough examination of every word of six letters whose third was a t—a trial quite enough to exhaust the patience of Job. The reward came at last in notion, which seemed to answer very plainly to the description, and to take its place, not inappropriately, in the enigma. It required now no great skill at guessing to conclude that the hero’s Christian name might be Nicolas, his title Count, and his family name something riny; and presently I saw the whole Encyclopædia coming down, volume after volume, for A-riny, B-riny, C-riny, etc., etc., the “Encyclopædia Americana” being preferred as more easy to handle than the others: and at last, at the very last letter, we had it!—Nicholas Zriny, Ban of Croatia!

Being fairly wearied out with his toils, and sure that he now had the whole in his power, my little boy waited a few days to investigate thoroughly the separate items; and not a few works had to be consulted before he made out even them, to his satisfaction. It was a fair fight to the last.


Whew! The Encyclopedia Americana was in 1857 in its second edition, at 14 volumes. The “legal gentleman of high standing” may, in fact, have been Edward’s father, who was in the 1850s a judge in the New York state supreme court. Edward, himself, became a lawyer, practicing in New York City before moving to Schenectady, New York; he argued more than one case before the U. S. Supreme Court.

(btw, the “touyou” appears to be a name given to what is now known as a type of rhea, which does, indeed, resemble an ostrich.)

And, here’s the puzzle, with all the answers:

Read the rest of this entry »

Word puzzles were the lifeblood of more than one 19th-century American periodical for children. Subscribers just couldn’t seem to get enough of them; they enjoyed writing them; they enjoyed solving them. (An algebra problem stumped mathematically minded subscribers to Robert Merry’s Museum for months.)

One puzzle in particular was actually designed to stop puzzle-solvers in their tracks. Submitted in 1856 by a female subscriber to Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet signing herself “H. B. P.,” it was printed in the January 1857 issue and hadn’t yet been solved before the February 1857 issue was released. It was, a note in the February issue pointed out, intended to be difficult and had stymied an adult who boasted that there was no word puzzle he couldn’t solve:

About ten years ago, H. B. P. was one day conversing with a learned man, a professor in a literary institution, upon the subject of enigmas, puzzles, etc., etc. He observed that he had never seen an enigma, nor did he believe that one could be made, which he could not solve. H. B. P. politely doubted his never-failing skill in this respect, and said that she was certain that she could make an enigma which he could not solve. He desired that she would try it; and she accepted the challenge. She wrote several enigmas for his investigation, each succeeding one more difficult than the other; and one by one he made them out, although which increasing difficulty. At last this one appeared, prepared, the author admits, with great care and no little thought, and he failed to solve it. Many persons have since tried it, and all with the same result: so that it must be in truth a difficult enigma …. (Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, February 1857; p. 66)

The puzzle was solved a few months later after one subscriber mounted a siege against it which can only be described as “heroic.” (Answer next week.)

enigma by H. B. P. (from Woodworth’s Youth’s Magazine, January 1857; p. 188)

I am composed of 29 letters.

My 18, 14, 29, 3, 12, 21, 16, was a celebrated jurist and legal writer.

My 8, 24, 4, 12, 26, 5, 9, is a musical instrument used both in ancient and modern times.

The bee is said to sleep upon the fragrant blossoms of the 11, 28, 5, 2, 24, 19.

My 1, 9, 27, 15, 25, 20, may be either theoretical or practical, adequate or inadequate, distinct or confused, common or uncommon.

My 15, 5, 13, is a river in Europe.

The exquisite flowers and shells of my 22, 2, 21, 14, 28, were permitted to adorn the paintings of Domenichino and Dolci.

My 27, 4, 10, 17, 21, 10, is so fleet a racer, that he is hunted on horseback and taken with the lasso.

My 7, 6, 15, is of the order of Capuchins.

My whole is the name of a hero.

Charley F. Speck sells cigars, 1876

Charles Frederick Speck is one of the more memorable subscribers to Robert Merry’s Museum, writing a surprisingly cheerful account of Confederate soldiers invading his family’s property during their invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863.

He’s memorable for his actions after 1863 as well, especially for his poor memory regarding the year of his birth: it was 1843 when he joined the Navy in 1864; it was 1847 in various official documents in the 1870s; and it was 1846 on a document I don’t have. (It was 1845 in reality.) Charley was a challenge for me to research*, because he didn’t stick around in Pennsylvania; he quickly moved to San Francisco (1868) and then to Portland, Oregon (1872), taking up a number of careers, from journalist (1873) to cracker salsesman (1880-1881) to running “Wilson & Speck” (1876-1878) with a co-owner.

Ah, Wilson & Speck. It was a business that would have disappointed John N. Stearns—the editor of Merry’s Museum when Charley read it—who didn’t approve of tobacco products. (Charley also played billiards, which probably would have disappointed Mr. Stearns, too.) After investing in a shipment of 7,000 limes, Wilson & Speck also dealt in whatever fruit was in season; but many ads for the Abbey Cigar Store emphasized its tobacco products. With some of the most delightful advertisements I’ve seen.

The first advertisements, in 1876, are the best, column inches filled with poetry extolling the wonders of a good cigar. The format is eye-catching on an otherwise densely packed page of print, and the poems are rather charming, even if you don’t smoke. I suspect they were written by Charley, whose letter to Merry’s Museum betrays a sense of humor and a talent for a well-turned phrase.

“The ‘Weed’ Divine.” (from the Morning Oregonian [Portland, Oregon] 19 February 1876; p. 4)

There’s not another thing in life
That can so much console us,
(Except a darling little wife,)
Than a CIGAR for solace.
If life to day is clouded o’er
With trouble or with sorrow,
Just ONE Cigar from our Store
Will banish care to morrow.
We have Cigars of fragrance fine,
CIGARS to make you jolly,
CIGARS the gents say are “divine,”
CIGARS for melancholy,
CIGARS whose fragrance girls adore,
CIGARS that are exquisite,
And all we ask is, “give our Store
“The honor of a visit.”

Our choice brands of carefully selected Cigars and Tobaccos must give satisfaction and insure future patronage. A complete line of Fancy Articles for smokers’ use, etc.

WILSON & SPECK,
Abbey Cigar Store, 47 First street.

“ ‘Tell Me, Mary, How to Woo Thee!’ ” (from the Morning Oregonian [Portland, Oregon] 6 May 1876; p. 5)

Tell me, Mary, how to woo thee?
Shall I never call thee mine?
Is it vain for me to sue thee,
Can I melt that heart of thine?
I have riches, and will give thee
Everything thy heart can crave;
Say, dear Mary, you will save me
From a cold and cruel grave?

Gracious sakes, don’t talk of dying—
(Sure you love me more than life?)
If you’re certain you’re not lying,
Perhaps I may become your wife.
But being wealthy and good looking,
That don’t count with me at all.
I’ll have you if you buy your smoking
At the famous “ABBEY” hall.

Everything must give way to our elegant Cigars. They are perfectly irresistible, and win all hearts by their fine flavor.

WILSON & SPECK,
Abbey Cigar Store, 47 First street.

(from the Morning Oregonian [Portland, Oregon] 28 October 1876; p. 3)

Abbeys were suppressed in England by Henry VIII., but in those days the cloisters did not contain such elegrant brands of cigars and tobacco, and varieties of such luscious fruits as are found in the present day at the Abbey Retreat of Wilson & Speck. A pilgrimage to their place will demonstrate this, and afford joys beyond conception.

“To My Cigar.” (from the Morning Oregonian [Portland, Oregon] 27 November 1876; p. 3)

Thou matchless piece of excellence,
Leader of fashion’s sway,
Thou art my vision in the night,
My happiness by day.
I hear thy praises everywhere,
Thy beauties loudly sung,
Thy qualities and elegance
Resound from every tongue.
But when I tell its little cost,
Surprise o’ercomes them all,
Until I prove to them it came
From the note! “Abbey” hall.

Kept by WILSON & SPECK, at 47 First street, where if you call you will be astonished at yourself for not calling there sooner for your fine cigars and smoking tobacco.


*Unfortunately, my break in the research came when I found a notice of Charley’s death in 1881, at the age of 36.

One of the glories of having so many newspapers digitized is that I can obsess over more deeply research my subjects. (More info on early American periodicals for children! Thirty-plus new periodical titles to add to the bibliography!) And, having spent over a decade chasing down information on subscribers to Robert Merry’s Museum, I’m able to fill in their lives with more details.

Example: Elizabeth Cogley, who at age 12 wrote a proper and extremely mature letter describing Lewistown, Pennsylvania, in 1845. In the 1990s, I cranked through reels of microfilm to find her in various censuses, traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, to flip through paper books, and corresponded with a family historian to find out who Elizabeth’s parents were and when she was probably born and that she took a job as a telegraph operator. Other female subscribers grew up to live in luxury, because their parents were wealthy and they married into wealthy families. Elizabeth’s parents were middle-class, and she never married, so she had to earn her own living. So, in my mind, she was maybe a little boring.

Enter digitized Pennsylvania newspapers. And here I find evidence that Elizabeth Cogley, in her own quiet way, was actually pretty badass. When she took a job as a telegraph operator in 1856, she was 23 and only the second female telegraph operator in the U. S. She was famous in Pennsylvania for being the operator who received the telegram calling out the Pennsylvania First Defenders to go to Washington, DC, in April 1861. (This was mentioned in almost every article about Elizabeth, and the telegram was reproduced in one paper; she had the ugly-but-legible handwriting of someone who does a lot of writing.) And she tried her hand at running a bookstore. (It didn’t succeed.)

Elizabeth was a telegraph operator for the Pennsylvania Railroad (once, persuading someone in charge to allow a woman to stop an express train at her station so she could get home to her nursing infant) until 1900, when she retired at age 67 to … work as a telegraph operator someplace else. And knit for World War I soldiers (she was making her 28th sweater in February 1918). And vote in the 1920 election. For—because this is Elizabeth Cogley—the second time in her life.

The 1920 election must have been— Okay, I was going to say “exciting,” because, after all, women were for the first time constitutionally allowed to vote. But we all know what happens when a woman tries to assert any rights as a human being to have opinions on the internet (or other places, to be honest) or to play video games or to run for political office; so it’s easy to imagine the kind of vile reactions when women voted that first time.

So, elderly women voting for their first time were the natural subjects of stories about that election. And here we have Elizabeth Cogley, casting her first official vote for president, the second-oldest woman in Mifflin County to do so.* Elizabeth, who—quietly badass as she was—was in 1920 voting for her second time ever:

“Mifflin’s Oldest Women Cast Votes on Tuesday.” (from the Altoona Tribune [Altoona, Pennsylvania] 9 November 1920; p. 12.)

Mrs. Mary T. McCullogh, 88 years old and Miss Elizabeth Cogley, 87 years old, claim the distinction of being the two oldest women in Mifflin county to cast their ballots for president on Tuesday. Miss Cogley, who was the telegraph operator who received the telegram calling the Logan Guards, now known as part of the First Defenders, into the Civil war, April 16, 1861, and who served almost a half century in the same capacity in the superintendent’s office of the Pennsylvania railroad at Harrisburg, says she voted once before in the old days of the vest pocket ballot.

When she was only seven years old her father took her along when he cast his ballot and upon her request, he procured a piece of paper upon which she made a mark with a pencil and handed it to the clerk who sat inside the window at the old court house which stood in the center of what is now “Monument Square,” her ballot being received by the clerk with every evidence of dignity but evidently not counted.


“The vest pocket ballot” refers to early voting methods, when ballots weren’t secret and a ballot was provided by each political party, with the candidates already printed on them. A voter picked up the ballot for the party for which he was voting and handed it in when he voted. The more boastful could exhibit his ballot on the way to vote; the more secretive apparently folded his to carry in his vest pocket, where no one could see for whom he was voting. And, wow, that last sentence in the transcribed piece, so amply filling its paragraph!

* Oddly, Elizabeth’s life was a bundle of “seconds”: second female telegraph operator in the nation; second-oldest female voter in Mifflin County in 1920; second-oldest “telegrapher” in the U. S. when she died in 1922. (Oldest was Joseph Green, then age 90.)