William Arthur Hamill’s Political World

by Tom Mensik

To people in Georgetown, Washington D.C must have seemed like it was on the moon.  Prior to 1876, Colorado was just a territory, beholden to the Federal Government for a decision on statehood.  Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War was becoming very unpopular, especially with White’s who were actively preventing the newly freed Black population from voting and charting their own political courses.  William Hamill was a Republican during this tumultuous era of reconstruction and scandal.  Over his lifetime, William Arthur Hamill saw his adopted territory become a state, Presidential scandals, corrupted elections, and sadly three Presidential assassinations between 1865 and 1901 (Lincoln 1865, Garfield 1881, and McKinley 1901). All this time Hamill played an integral political role in the state and Republican party and observed an important period of rebuilding and healing in American history.

THE THREE PRESIDENTS ASSASSINATED DURING HAMILL’S LIFETIME AND POLITICAL CAREER

Prior to 1869, and Grant’s ascension to the White House, President Andrew Johnson had tried to implement his own plan for Southern Reconstruction.  Johnson had the shoes to fill with Abraham Lincoln, who was slain by an assassin in April of 1865, a few short days after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.  Andrew Johnson was a Southern Democrat that had stayed loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War.  His policies for Reconstruction were less than favorable to the newly acquired rights of the freed slaves.  He returned property’s in the South held by the Union to former owners which helped to reestablish the Southern Aristocracy.  Johnson didn’t even meet with African American leaders regarding his plans for their futures.  Due to the economic conditions of the situation, many former slaves were forced back to work with their former masters.  In addition, Black voting rights were suppressed in the South, both legislatively and with violence.  The Black population in the South had little to no say in the post-Civil War reconstruction.

President Johnson faced opposition from the Republican-held Congress.  He faced impeachment over his attempted firing of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, which violated the Tenure of Office Act, which stated the President cannot fire an appointee to the Cabinet that was confirmed by the Senate.  Johnson narrowly remained in office.  The damage had been done.  The radical wing of the Republican Party not only opposed his rejection of their act but his policies on Reconstruction.  By not enforcing the protection and rights of freed slaves, the nail in Johnson’s coffin was hammered.  Ulysses S. Grant was one of Johnson’s critics.

 

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President Andrew Johnson had one of the most tumultuous tenures in office.  He was one of two presidents to face impeachment.

 

Andrew Johnson even hoped to get the Democratic nomination for the 1868 Campaign, despite the impeachment controversy.  Instead, the Democratic nomination went to Horatio Seymour.  Seymour had been a staunch supporter of Johnson’s Reconstruction plan.  Grant and the Republicans wanted to reform the entire Reconstruction program.  The former Union General won the election in a landslide.  Despite U.S Grant’s victory, his administration was plagued with several scandals.  William Arthur Hamill was most likely aware of these political developments.  It was during this period Hamill began to get politically active and grow his fortune.  President Grant even visited Georgetown on two occasions during his Presidency.  While not confirmed, it is reasonable to think that an up and coming William Hamill met the President on these visits.

Right off the bat, Grant tried to reform several economic policies by removing some paper currency from the market and buying it back with gold.  Two shady financiers by the names of Jay Gould and Jim Fisk hatched a scheme to get Grant to keep gold within the government coffers (1). Their plan was based on the Federal Government, not selling, and Fisk and Gould buying as much gold as they could before it hit the market and make a cozy profit in the process.  To pull off their scheme they employed a go-between named Abel Corbin to get close to Grant and learn all he could about the President’s plans for the selloff(2). Corbin would introduce Grant to Gould and Fisk at party’s where they would discuss economic policy and their hope the government wouldn’t sell.  Corbin would then back Fisk and Gould when he spoke with Grant.  He even convinced the President to install General Daniel Butterfield as the assistant Secretary of the Treasury (3).  Butterfield, who was a Gould and Fisk plant, was to tell them when the Government was going to sell the gold.  The President became suspicious when Corbin began to press more and more about the gold market.  His fears were confirmed about Corbin when a letter was discovered outlining the entire plot (4). Angrily he confronted Corbin and told him to drop the plot immediately.  President Grant responded by dropping four million dollars of government gold on the market.

 

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President Ulysses S. Grant was being influenced by outside business interests of Jay Gould and Jim Fisk

 

Gould and Fisk who had been stockpiling gold investments watched as the price was blowing up.  As soon as the government gold reserves hit the market, the price plummeted (5). Almost as soon as it hit the market, investors were ruined.  Especially those who had taken loans to purchase those investments.  With the steep drop in price, many were ruined almost instantly.  One of those most affected by the crash was none other than Abel Corbin, the man who was the go-between and con artist tasked with getting cozy with President Grant (6).  Gould came out of the crisis unscathed, having sold off his gold right before more hit the market.  Jay Gould’s empire would later expand to include the Union Pacific Railroad, and the Western Union Telegraph Company (7). It was at this time in 1869 that William Hamill was beginning his career in Georgetown.  It was also during this time that the silver market in the town began to explode.  Within a couple years, Silver was queen, and gold had panned out in Georgetown.

By 1876, Colorado had gained statehood and William Hamill was climbing the Republican ranks.  He was elected to the first State Senate in the Colorado legislature.  During this integral period in Colorado history, Hamill would be responsible for guiding the new state toward its governmental identity.  The party had also guided the nation through the tumultuous period of Southern Reconstruction. The Republican party dominated the Northern Middle and Upper classes, as well as most Northern and Southern African Americans, while most Southern Whites were Democrats (8).  However, Congress was a different story, in the span of sixteen years between 1875-1891, control of the House of Representatives switched six times (9).  There were small pockets of Southern Republican’s but overall demographically and regionally, the nation was still split politically following the Civil War.  The Presidential election of 1876, would further shake up the post-Civil War American political landscape and drive a wedge between Republicans and Democrats.

One of the most contested and disputed American political elections was the election of 1876.  The United States was still feeling the psychological and philosophical injuries suffered during the Civil War.  In addition, 1876, was the centennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence.  The race featured Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio and Democrat Samuel Tilden of New York.  To all outward appearances, it looked as if Tilden was going to win the election and break the Republican grip on the White House (10).  On election night Tilden had earned 184 of the required 185 electoral votes and had a lead in the popular vote (11).  However, by the next day, neither Tilden nor Hayes was the President-elect.  Hayes carried 165 votes (12). Florida’s, Louisiana’s, South Carolina’s and Oregon’s votes were still in dispute, these states constituted twenty electoral votes which could still sway the election to either candidate.  Republican’s accused the Democrats of voter intimidation, and bribery especially of African American voters in the Southern states, while Democrats accused Republicans of defacing important ballots from Tilden held precincts in Florida that would have swayed the election for the Democrats (13).

To solve the disputed election, Congress put together an election commission in January of 1877. Five Senators, five Representatives, and five Supreme Court Judges were chosen to determine the Presidency.  As if the election already wasn’t controversial, one of the Judges recused himself and was replaced by a Republican-leaning judge.  The commission voted 8-7, for Hayes.  The result caused the widespread uproar among Democrats.  There was an even talk of a filibuster by Democrats during the count of the official electoral votes, to protest the election Hayes.  On the extreme end of the reaction, some felt the decision would cause another Civil War.  To solve the dispute, the Compromise of 1877 was forged.  In the unofficial agreement, the Democrats would accept Hayes’ election, and in return, the Federal Government would remove all Federal troops from the South, provide money to repair what was left of the infrastructural damage left from the war, and Hayes would have to appoint a prominent Southerner to his Cabinet (14).  The compromise all but ended Reconstruction in the South.  However, with no Federal intervention in the South, harsher oppression of Black voting rights and segregation increased. In the end, Hayes was awarded the 20 remaining electoral votes finishing with the required 185 to Tilden’s 184, despite Tilden’s 2.7 million vote lead in the popular vote.  Elections such as the one in 1876 further show the topsy-turvy political condition the United States was in during the post-Civil War years. During this period, William Hamill’s fortune was growing exponentially as well.  While the election may have been in doubt, the value of silver was not.  Silver Barons such as Hamill and Horace Tabor made out like bandits and often supported the Republican cause in the process.

 

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President Rutherford B. Hayes became president after one of the most contested and controversial elections in American history.

 

In addition to tainted elections and scandalous Presidency’s, industrial big business boomed during this period.  As the railroads snaked their way across the nation in an effort to connect “sea to shining sea”, and silver and gold were pouring out of hills particularly in the west, business regulation was an important political issue.  In major cities across the country, many people protested the incursion of rail lines into their cities citing safety and health concerns (15).  Railroads began to monopolize on their perception of necessity. Instead of opening up the country and providing opportunities for the movement of goods and services, the railroads privatized storehouses and raked in profits from high shipping costs and storage fees (16).  The fees and storage costs began to hurt farmers.  The argument became political when the Granger’s, a farmers organization, began to protest the high fees and lack of regulation for railroad operations.  The organization did not endorse or back one particular party.  They would endorse whichever candidate, regardless of party, who would be most favorable to toning down the exploitation of the railroad companies (17).  The strategy worked as the Granger’s were able to have majority support in the Illinois State House.  They passed the Granger Laws, which capped fees on railroad storage and shipping costs (18). However, the railroads were controlled by Congress and considered Interstate Commerce, therefore no one state could regulate pricing for a private company.  The efforts of the Granger Movement led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887.  The ICC, as it was known, regulated interstate transportation fees to reasonable prices.  Often times social and political changes converge.  This is what happened during the disputes with railroad companies and their high prices of storage and transport.  Farmers were unable to afford these exorbitant costs.  While it is not usually ideal for the government to dictate costs to a private enterprise, the railroad controversies of the Late 19th Century show the need for political intervention.  It is also reasonable to assume that William Arthur Hamill benefitted from the creation of the ICC.   His granite and mining interests would require a lot of shipping via the railroad system.

During the national political turmoil of the late 1860’s and 1880’s, William Arthur Hamill began to make moves locally in Colorado.  He would raise up as one of the most prominent Republicans in the state.  After serving a two-year term in the Colorado State Senate, he declined the nomination for the 1878 campaign (19).  His presence had been felt.  Hamill was unanimously elected to become the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. His first task was to make certain that the Republicans were victorious during the 1878 midterm elections. From the outset, it did not look good for the GOP.  The 1878 campaign was particularly nasty in Colorado.  Personal attacks were thrown from candidates on both sides.  Hamill began to shift the focus of the Republican vision from insults to policy.  He held the party together and insisted on clean and professional campaigning.  Hamill also was able to garner campaign funds even in a climate where it was believed the Republican’s had no chance of winning (20).  He believed in his message and in his party’s chances even when no one else would.  One of his best moves was to utilize “local organizers” (21).  Tapping into the community level throughout the state he hoped to hit every issue the Republicans could seize upon to win.  Despite all of the pundits and predictions of a Democratic victory, “Republicans won every state office and the congressional race” additionally, “they acquired 46 of the 62 available legislative seats, guaranteeing the selection of a Republican for the United States Senate” (22).  With the resounding success of the 1878 midterms in Colorado, Hamill established himself as one of the most influential political minds in the state.

 

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Senator Roscoe Conkling was the leader of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party.  He was considered one of the most powerful politicians of the era.

 

Hamill deftly handled the squabbles within the Republican Party to pull GOP victory out of the jaws of defeat in 1878.  However, on the National level, the Republican party had split into two factions, the Stalwarts, and the Half-Breeds (23).  The Stalwarts were led by Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York (24).  Conkling had been a Republican since the founding of the party in 1854 and had staunchly supported Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential election. The Stalwart faction considered themselves true Conservatives.  Too many other Republicans, they were considered radical in their views on Reconstruction (25).  For instance, they wanted the Federal government to seize from slaveholders private land to redistribute among freed slaves (26). This was considered an extreme measure, as Lincoln’s vision for Reconstruction was one of reconciliation and not punishment for the South.  Another aspect of the Stalwarts that set them apart was their die-hard devotion to the Spoils system (27).  The Spoils System had been in place since the Andrew Jackson Presidency.  Coveted Federal jobs would be given to political supporters of an elected official regardless of qualifications.

This system inevitably caused corruption especially in the case of Chester A. Arthur.  Conkling wanted to back Arthur for the Chief Collector position for the New York Customhouse. President Hayes did not approve of the appointment, and instead nominated tow of his choices for the job.  Conkling rallied the Stalwarts to vote against the President’s choices and give the position to Arthur.  Due to the volatile nature of the GOP, President Hayes almost immediately had the Customshouse investigated.  It was discovered that widespread corruption existed due to the massive kickbacks Arthur was receiving on the side (28).  Conkling then gave the position of New York’s Republican Chairmanship to Chester Arthur in the hopes of getting Arthur to the Senate in 1880 (29).  Conkling even tried to concoct a scheme to get U.S Grant a third term.

 

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President Chester A. Arthur.  Arthur became president with the death of President Garfield.  Arthur became Vice President due to the back of Roscoe Conkling. However, he began splitting away from Conkling once he assumed the presidency.

 

It’s entirely possible that Hamill in his dealings with the Republican party during the elections of the mid to late 1800s, that he ran into characters such as Roscoe Conkling.  Especially as William Arthur Hamill began to receive national attention from the Republican Party.  He attended the Republican Conventions of 1884 and 1888 as the head of Colorado’s Republican delegation (30).  Within Colorado and Georgetown, the first rumblings of a prohibition movement were beginning to grow during the mid-1880s.  Hamill and the GOP were staunchly opposed to prohibition and the move ruffled feathers in the town, especially from the Georgetown Courier (31).  Editor Jesse Randall was beginning to notice Hamill’s political savvy and his opposition to prohibition and used this to begin an all-out attack on Hamill in the newspaper.  During this period, Hamill’s oldest son was making a mockery of himself in town.  Randall jumped on the story and used them to attack Hamill on a political and personal level (32).  Randall’s attacks on Hamill’s politics during this attempt to paint Hamill as a political boss, in the same vein as New York and Chicago political bosses (33).  Apparently, by 1884, the attacks had become so frequent that Hamill contemplated severing ties with Georgetown altogether.  He began exploring selling his holdings and his home.

Each era in American politics builds up the previous eras faults and issues.  For instance, the era in which William Arthur Hamill fit was still reeling from the American Civil War.  Some wanted reconciliation with the South, while others desired punishment.  These issues further divided the GOP.  In many of the elections of the era, the internal fighting almost derailed several Republican campaigns.  William Hamill managed several Colorado campaigns and even rose to a level of national political respectability during this ear.  His rise to political prominence and personal wealth in Georgetown coincided with one of the fascinating periods in American political history.

Footnotes:

  1. “Black Friday”: September 24, 1869”. 2016 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/grant-black-friday/
  2. “Black Friday”: September 24, 1869”. 2016 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/grant-black-friday/
  3. “Black Friday”: September 24, 1869”. 2016 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/grant-black-friday/
  4. “Black Friday”: September 24, 1869”. 2016 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/grant-black-friday/
  5. “Black Friday”: September 24, 1869”. 2016 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/grant-black-friday/
  6. “Black Friday”: September 24, 1869”. 2016 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/grant-black-friday/
  7. “Black Friday”: September 24, 1869”. 2016 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/grant-black-friday/
  8. Joseph R. Conlin. “The American Past: A Survey of American History, Volume II: Since 1865”, Boston, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010
  9. Joseph R. Conlin, 2010, pg 415
  10. “The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876”, Digital History, 2016, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3109
  11. “The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876”, Digital History, 2016, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3109
  12. “1876 Presidential Election”, 270 to Win, 2016, http://www.270towin.com/1876_Election/
  13. “The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876”, Digital History, 2016, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3109
  14. “The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876”, Digital History, 2016, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3109
  15. Joseph R. Conlin, 2010, pg 448
  16. Joseph R. Conlin, 2010, pg 448
  17. Joseph R. Conlin, 2010, pg 448
  18. Joseph R. Conlin, 2010, pg 448
  19. Christine Bradley, “William A. Hamill”, Colorado State University, The Goergetown Society, Inc.
  20. Christine Bradley, “William A. Hamill”, Colorado State University, The Goergetown Society, Inc.
  21. Christine Bradley, “William A. Hamill”, Colorado State University, The Goergetown Society, Inc.
  22. Christine Bradley, “William A. Hamill”, Colorado State University, The Goergetown Society, Inc.
  23. Todd Arrington, “Stalwarts, Half-Breeds, and Political Assassination”, The Garfield Observer, The Blog of the James A. Garfield Historical Site, 2012.
  24. “Roscoe Conkling”, United States History, 2012 http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h706.html
  25. “Roscoe Conkling”, United States History, 2012 http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h706.html
  26. “Roscoe Conkling”, United States History, 2012 http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h706.html
  27. Todd Arrington, “Stalwarts, Half-Breeds, and Political Assassination”, The Garfield Observer, The Blog of the James A. Garfield Historical Site, 2012.
  28. Todd Arrington, “Stalwarts, Half-Breeds, and Political Assassination”, The Garfield Observer, The Blog of the James A. Garfield Historical Site, 2012.
  29. Todd Arrington, “Stalwarts, Half-Breeds, and Political Assassination”, The Garfield Observer, The Blog of the James A. Garfield Historical Site, 2012.
  30. Christine Bradley, “William A. Hamill”, Colorado State University, The Goergetown Society, Inc.
  31. Christine Bradley, “William A. Hamill”, Colorado State University, The Goergetown Society, Inc.
  32. Christine Bradley, “William A. Hamill”, Colorado State University, The Goergetown Society, Inc.
  33. Christine Bradley, “William A. Hamill”, Colorado State University, The Goergetown Society, Inc.

Images:

President Abraham Lincoln from https://www.nps.gov/liho/learn/historyculture/alincolnbio.htm

President James Garfield from https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-A-Garfield

President McKinley from https://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/mckinley.html

President Andrew Johnson from http://www.usnews.com/news/special-reports/the-worst-presidents/articles/2014/12/17/worst-presidents-andrew-johnson-1865-1869

President Rutherford B. Hayes from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/President_Rutherford_Hayes_1870_-_1880_Restored.jpg

Senator Roscoe Conkling from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Roscoe-Conkling

President Chester A. Arthur from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/48/20_Chester_Arthur_3x4.jpg/220px-20_Chester_Arthur_3x4.jpg

Scammer’s, Spiritualism, and Ghosts: The Victorian Obsession with the Paranormal

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A staged “ghost photo” of an unknown woman.  Having staged ghost photo’s was a popular trend during the Victorian era. (Photo Credit: http://media.galaxant.com)

 

The Victorian Era in England and the United States is arguably one of the most important cultural eras in human history.  During this period the clash of new scientific discoveries and religious ideals, led to a rise in occultism and spirituality.  During this time people were more and more fascinated with paranormal subjects such as ghosts, tarot readings, psychic readings, and metaphysical spirituality.  On the other hand, you had a society where religion was beginning to come under attack, and ideas about religion were changing drastically.  But as people began moving away from religion, those true believers began to entrench themselves even more.

The splintering of religious philosophy during the Victorian period showed how truly unique this era was.  The Church of England claimed other denominations were dissenters (1).  Social status in the era was partially determined upon a person’s religious affiliation.  The Church of England was viewed as an elitist organization that looked down on the multitude of other denominations such as Lutheranism, Methodist, and Catholicism (2).  The Evangelical movement began to split away from these other denominations.  It was a movement that “focused on the Gospel teachings rather than ritual, and emphasized preaching and Bible study” (3).  Religion played a role in the rise of occultism and spirituality, but so did the Industrial Revolution.  The belief in ghosts was spread by servants being hired to work in new houses (4).  They would hear creaks and cracks throughout the house and think there were spirits roaming the halls.  New gas lighting in houses caused people to see shadows in that were not noticed before.  Skeptics believed that people were merely hallucinating from the gas fumes from these new gas lights.

Ghosts have always been a part of the human psyche and experience.  Ghost stories began to permeate the pages of weekly newspapers throughout the United States and Britain during the Victorian period.  Professor Ruth Robbins, of Leeds Metropolitan University, states that publishers needed numerous stories to fill books (4).  Ghost stories were the perfect stories for magazines and dailys to fill their pages because there were so many of them.

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Charles Dickens. Author of “A Christmas Carol”. (www.biography.com)

One of the most popular “ghost stories” is Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” published in 1843 (5).  It was meant to create a secular Christmas story (6).  The main character Ebeneezer Scrooge, is shown the effects of his actions on the past, present, and future, by spirits that visit him on Christmas Eve night.  In the end, Scrooge has an epiphany and decides to change his ways.  The story would become one of the greatest ghost stories of all time.  The story was published and serialized in several newspapers and sold very well.

Not only did ghost stories become more and more popular during the Victorian era, but spiritual photography did as well.  Arguably, the most famous “spirit photographers” was William Mumler (7).  Mumler would photograph his clients and add “spirits” to the photographs.  The photographer would take advantage of families that had lost loved ones during the Civil War.  By claiming he could photograph the dead, grief stricken customers would pay to see if their deceased family members would appear.  Mumler was happy to oblige and take the unknowing client’s money.  His work became so popular that P.T Barnum bought several to display in his museum.  Mumler had been using “darkroom tricks” to add a ghostly image to peoples portraits (8).  His photos appeared in Harper’s Weekly and newspapers throughout the country.  However, something was fishy about Mumler and his ghostly images.

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Self portrait of William Mumler, with the “spirit” of his cousin.  Mumler discovered the double negative technique by mistake and began to take advantage of people who lost loved ones during the Civil War. (Photo Credit: http://www.algonquinredux.com)

 

Some of his clients discovered his trick when the same actors began appearing in multiple photos as spirits.  He was charged with fraud and put on trial in 1869.  He was also accused of breaking into clients residences and stealing photos of loved ones to superimpose as spirits.  The defense brought forth a former judge, who was known to believe and support the existence of the spirit realm.  The prosecution brought forth P.T. Barnum, who had purchased several of Mumler’s photos only to discover they were faked.  Barnum even staged a self-portrait with a ghostly image of Abraham Lincoln standing behind, to demonstrate the ease of creating such a photo.  The seven-day hearing resulted in the charges being dropped against Mumler.  Despite being exonerated, his career was effectively over.  He continued to create “spirit photographs” until 1875, when he finally went out of business.   Before his death in 1884, he destroyed all the negatives of the photos he took.  “Ghost photos”, however, were not as popular as photos of the corpses of  loved ones.

 

 

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Jesse James in his coffin, after being killed by Robert Ford. (Photo Credit: Daily Mail)

In the Victorian era, taking photographs of deceased loved ones were often the only photos a family would have.  What we would think of macabre, was considered quite normal.  Photographers would pose the corpse as best they could next to the living members of the family and attempt to create a lasting memory. One of the most famous Victorian death photos was of outlaw Jesse James.  James at one point was one of the most recognizable people in the United States.  At the time of his murder, at the hands of Robert Ford, he was a household name.  The outlaws’ death photo was sold in drugstores all over the country, next to the dime novels that spread his legend.

 

This fascination with mortality and spiritual realization led to a rise in the ways that people tried to contact their dead loved ones.  The 1850’s marked the rise of Spiritualism.  Spiritualism was the belief that the living could contact the spirits of the deceased through a séance and a medium (9). The origins of this movement began in 1848 by sisters, Margaret and Kate Fox. They claimed they were in contact with the spirit of a man that was murdered in their house before they moved in. The popularity of their story spread quickly and the sisters began doing public shows to packed venues.  These shows featured levitating objects and “rappings”, which were the sounds the spirits allegedly made when making contact.  The medium would then say out loud and word for word, what the spirit was telling them.  It was as if the medium became possessed and was speaking for the spirit.  Their rise in stardom caught the eye of writer James Fennimore Cooper, P.T Barnum, as well as famous newspaper editor Horace Greeley (10).  Greeley even paid them to attempt to contact his recently deceased son.  By the time they helped Greeley, their sister Leah had joined and a lucrative family business was born.

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The Fox Sisters (Photo Credit: http://www.diannesalerni.com)

Despite the Sisters growing fame, they were always under constant scrutiny from skeptics.  Before shows, their garments would be inspected to ensure they weren’t hiding any devices that could produce ghostly affects. The Fox Sisters would often have their hands, arms, and feet bound to prove they were not the ones making the “rapping” sounds. Despite being bound, the “rapping” would inevitably occur.  During one such session, Maggie Fox was allegedly in contact with the spirit of none other than Benjamin Franklin.  As she was talking, her concentration was broken when one of the guests blurted out that she was surprised Franklin used such horrible grammar.

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Seance in the Victorian Era. The term seance was not used until the late 1890’s to describe these events.

Maggie abruptly stopped and told the guests, that she was never good at grammar (11).  Despite outbursts like this, people were eating it up and the Fox sisters were becoming household names and their popularity was booming. Maggie Fox had had enough, and left the group to marry.  She had fallen in love with the dashing Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane (12).  Their marriage was set and the vows were given.  However, Kane’s family disapproved of Margaret and her lack of family respectability and nulled the wedding before it was never legalized.  Maggie was devastated.  To add insult to injury Kane was killed in 1857 (13).  She was left in utter despair and was broke. With her health in decline, and a growing drinking problem, Maggie returned to her career as a medium and spiritualist.   Kate Fox also developed a drinking problem.  She moved to England and helped conduct séance’s in London to crowds.  At one point, she managed to get her drinking under control and had two children (13).  She claimed her three-year old son was a medium and was even possessed by a spirit that caused him to have a glow in his eyes that was not natural (14).

By the mid 1880’s, Spiritualism was on the decline, and the Fox sisters reputation was hitting the fan.  Many of the mediums were under investigation for fraud.  Heavy drinking had destroyed the career of Katie Fox by this point.  She had lost her children because of multiple arrests, and her husband had passed away from a stroke.  She was asked to do a séance for an official investigation board to prove she wasn’t committing fraud and completely failed (15).  She moved back to New York.  Her sister Maggie, even tried to adopt her children but was unable to.  Maggie did arrange for Kate’s children to live with a family uncle who was in London.  The Fox Sisters’ careers came to a climactic end in 1888, when Maggie and Kate publicly denounced their craft, and said they faked the entire act.  They also said they were pushed into the business of public séances by their sister Leah (16).  Leah had estranged herself from her sisters by marrying into a wealthy family and pilfering off the small fortune the three sisters had earned from years of public performance.  The two sisters later pulled back their confession, saying they did it to spite their sister Leah, but the damage to their reputation was already done. (17).  Both Maggie and Katie were dead by 1893.  Katie had fully slipped into alcoholism and died alone.  Her sister Maggie, passed away all but broke.  The Spiritualism movement that started with the Fox Sisters, was still quite popular up until the 1920’s.  Eventually, the movement began to shrink away from mainstream acceptance.  Mediums and psychics still performs séances in an attempt to commune with the spirit realm.

 

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First Lady Jane Pierce, and her beloved son Bennie.  Bennie tragically died in a train accident.  Mrs. Pierce used the Fox Sisters to try and communicate with Bennie in the afterlife. (Photo Credit: History is Now Magazine)

During the heyday of Spiritualism, many famous Victorian’s utilized mediums to try and commune with their deceased loved ones.  Many think of Mary Todd Lincoln, who was famous for holding séance’s in the White House, to contact her dead son.  Another First Lady attempted to contact a deceased son through medium’s as well.  In 1853, a train carrying Jane Pierce, who was the wife of President Franklin Pierce, and her son Bennie were travelling through Massachusetts.  The train derailed and slid into an embankment, killing Bennie (18).  The First Lady was beside herself.  She brought in the famous Fox Sisters to try and communicate with her dead son Bennie.  While the Fox Sisters were unable to help Mrs. Pierce find relief, she did find peace through dreams in which she was able to contact young Bennie.  She even passed along advice on Spiritualism to Mary Todd Lincoln, while Mrs. Lincoln was grieving the death of her son Willie.  Mrs. Lincoln held multiple séances in the White House in an attempt to contact Willie (19).  It is even believed that President Lincoln himself joined in on one of the sessions.

Queen Victoria even hired a medium to help her contact her beloved husband.  This movement that took place in the Victorian era, was accepted by all strata of society all the way up to the Queen of England.  Despite having doubter’s and skeptics many people flocked to psychics and mediums to help them commune with the dead.  For many, it created a sense of peace and comfort in a time of profound loss.  Whether you believe it or not, mediums helped people deal with grief and move on from the tragic losses of family members.

The Victorian era was an incredibly unique time period.  In an era when scientific findings were clashing with religious ideals, a rise in supernatural and paranormal study was growing fast.  Victorian’s were grappling with the concepts of death and mortality.  The transition between life and death gave rise to the Fox Sisters, and photographers such as William Mumler.  The Spiritualism Movement, and death photos, macabre as they might be, ultimately helped people find comfort. Overall, people were entertained by public séances, but they were deeply personal to others as well.  The same can be said for post death photos of deceased family members.  As human beings, we are supremely fascinated by our own mortality.  Death seemed to lurk behind every corner during this era.  Everyday life was hard during this period, even if you had all the advantages of comfort.  The fact that Victorian popular culture embraced questions about death and grief, and explored those dark avenues and speaks to who they were as a culture and the ideals they embraced as a society.

Footnotes:

  1. “Victorian’s: Religion”, English Heritage, Accessed 10-31-16. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/victorian/religion/
  2. “Victorian’s: Religion”, English Heritage, Accessed 10-31-16. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/victorian/religion/
  3. “Victorian’s: Religion”, English Heritage, Accessed 10-31-16. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/victorian/religion/
  4. Kira, Cochrane, “Ghost stories: Why the Victorians were so spookily good at them”, The Guardian, Accessed 10-29-2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/23/ghost-stories-victorians-spookily-good
  1. Kira, Cochrane, “Ghost stories: Why the Victorians were so spookily good at them”, The Guardian, Accessed 10-29-2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/23/ghost-stories-victorians-spookily-good
  1. Kira, Cochrane, “Ghost stories: Why the Victorians were so spookily good at them”, The Guardian, Accessed 10-29-2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/23/ghost-stories-victorians-spookily-good
  1. “Do You Believe: The Mumler Mystery”, The American Museum of Photography, Accessed 11-1-2016, http://www.photographymuseum.com/mumler.html
  2. . “Do You Believe: The Mumler Mystery”, The American Museum of Photography, Accessed 11-1-2016, http://www.photographymuseum.com/mumler.html
  3. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  4. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  5. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  6. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  7. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  8. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  9. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  10. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  11. Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.html
  12. Carl, Anthony, “First Ladies and the Occult: Seances and Spiritualist, Part 1”, The National First Ladies’ Library, Accessed 10-28-2016, http://www.firstladies.org/blog/first-ladies-the-occult-seances-and-spiritualists-part-1/
  13. Carl, Anthony, “First Ladies and the Occult: Seances and Spiritualist, Part 1”, The National First Ladies’ Library, Accessed 10-28-2016, http://www.firstladies.org/blog/first-ladies-the-occult-seances-and-spiritualists-part-1/

 

Sources:

Carl, Anthony, “First Ladies and the Occult: Seances and Spiritualist, Part 1”, The National First Ladies’ Library, Accessed 10-28-2016, http://www.firstladies.org/blog/first-ladies-the-occult-seances-and-spiritualists-part-1/

Troy, Taylor, “The Fox Sister’s: The Rise and Fall of Spiritualisms Founders”, The Haunted Museum, Accessed 10-29-2016, http://www.prairieghosts.com/foxsisters.htm

“Do You Believe: The Mumler Mystery”, The American Museum of Photography, Accessed 11-1-2016, http://www.photographymuseum.com/mumler.html

Kira, Cochrane, “Ghost stories: Why the Victorians were so spookily good at them”, The Guardian, Accessed 10-29-2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/23/ghost-stories-victorians-spookily-good

“Victorian’s: Religion”, English Heritage, Accessed 10-31-16. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/victorian/religion/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story Behind the Artifact: The Bissell Floor Sweep No. 5

 

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One of my favorite objects in the Hamill House collection is one that you would not expect. Among the more flashy items like swords, Victorian needlework, William Arthur Hamill’s book collection, and exquisite furniture is one piece that quite possibly has one of the best stories of all. In the corner of the kitchen, sits one of the most successful inventions in American history.

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Melville Bissell

Melville and Anna Bissell two of Grand Rapids many business owners. they owned a crockery business, and created home products for the residents of the Michigan town. One of the main complaints Melville and his wife Anna had was cleaning up after a long day’s work. With sawdust and debris all over the shop getting it effectively clean was always a challenge. Melville decided to take this problem head on. He developed a revolutionary new cleaning product. He created a device that when pushed would rotate brushes that could pull fine pieces of sawdust off the floor off the Bissell shop floor. Meville went on to patent the floor sweeper in 1876. After several demonstrations of the new technology, people were very impressed. A new business was born.

 

Anna Bissell turned into the company’s best salesperson. In addition to going to door-to-door, she introduced the floor sweeper into Wanamaker’s Department Store. Wanamaker’s was one of the first department stores in the United States and was based out of Philadelphia. She also traveled extensively to market and sell the new sweeper. The floor sweeper was priced at a $1.50 (1). This price was affordable for working families that wanted an effective cleaning product.

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Anna Bissell (www.biography.com)

By 1883, The Bissell Company was officially created. Sadly, they lost their first factory to fire in 1884. Anna’s stalwart dedication paid off in the securing of several loans to help rebuild the factory and business. Tragedy would strike again in1889 when Melville succumb to pneumonia.

Anna Bissell stepped to the forefront and took over as CEO of the company. In the process she became the first female CEO in American history. It was during this period of time that the sweeper company really exploded. Under Anna’s direction, Bissell became a world-wide name. Apparently, the sweeper was such a hit with Queen Victoria that she wanted her palace cleaned with the sweeper on a weekly basis (2). She was a master of business, and “studied business, the way other men studied French” (3).
With Anna in charge, Bissell became a very progressive company. She felt strongly in giving her employees health benefits and workman’s compensation benefits before it was required by law (4). These progressive policies, and attentiveness to employee concerns made her a very popular CEO. She truly ushered the Bissell company into the 20th Century with these policies. She also masterly managed all of the companies patents, and by 1899 the company was the world leader in home cleaning appliances (5).

Anna Bissell was an ardent philanthropist. She was part of several church organizations that ensured young people could have recreational and support programs. Bissell also contributed to causes such as the Bissell House which helped improve the lives of children and immigrant women in Michigan.

For her great acumen as a business woman and philanthropist, she was inducted into the Michigan Woman’s Hall of Fame in 1989. In addition, a statue of Anna was placed on the site of the original Bissell factory to commemorate the 140th anniversary of the company.

The No. 5 Bissell Floor Sweeper is one of the fascinating items in the collections of Historic Georgetown. The story behind the sweeper and the woman who took the company into the 20th Century is an even more fascinating story. We are proud to have one of these amazing products on display in our museum.

Footnotes:

(1). Worthen, Merideth Retrieved from Biography.com

(2). Worthen, Merideth Retrieved from Biography.com

(3). Worthen, Merideth Retrieved from Biography.com

(4). Greater Grand Rapid’s Woman’s History Council

(5). Greater Grand Rapid’s Woman’s History Council

Sources:

“Anna Bissell Statue Unveiled on Historic Former Site of Bissell Corporation”. Retrieved from:  https://www.bissell.com/news/anna-bissell-statue-unveiled-on-historic-former- site-of-bissell-corporation

 

Worthen, Merideth. “Anna Bissell Biography”.  A&E Television Networks. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.biography.com/people/anna-bissell-032216

“Anna Sutherland Bissell”. Retrieved from: http://www.ggrwhc.org/seven-women-bissell

“Our History”. Date Retrieved: 9/13/2016. Retrieved from: https://www.bissell.com/about-us/our-history

 

 

“Ever Watchful”: The Story of the Georgetown Fire Department

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Fire was a constant danger throughout the Western frontier. A small blaze could easily swell and destroy an entire community within a few hours. Even today’ we hear of massive forest fires that take weeks to fully contain, and there is hardly anything we can do but watch as they consume the land around them. These devastating but powerful forces of nature could spell doom. Georgetown was extremely fortunate that there were no major fires that destroyed the town. There were several factors that led to Georgetown being spared from an incredible disaster.

To provide some context on the common nature of devastating fires I am going to describe two events from Colorado history that show how truly lucky Georgetown was.

In 1863, Denver was a booming mining town, within the Kansas Territory. Colorado would not even achieve statehood until thirteen years later in 1876. As Denver grew, so did the danger from fire. According, to the Denver Firefighter’s Museum most of the buildings were constructed from pine. The resin within the wood is highly flammable. In addition to the pine buildings, Denver’s fire codes were rarely followed. Business owners did not follow these fire codes because they altered the layout of shops and offices and it was felt that they negatively affected commerce. They went unenforced after 1862 due to these complaints.

Denver 15 and Blake

Denver circa 1860. Location of 15th and Blake. This is approximately where the Denver Fire of 1863 started. (Denver Public Library, call # X-22487)

The spring of 1863 had been especially dry in Denver. On the morning of April 19, 1863 a fire started on Blake street in the heart of downtown Denver. It was believed to have begun in the back of one of Denver’s saloons. One of the prevailing theories is that it was started on purpose. There were several small fires around this time in several saloons and brothels. It is believed to be an organized protest against the evils of drinking and prostitution. Unlike the others, this fire got out of hand very quickly. Mixed with the windy early morning hours and the dry conditions it rapidly grew into a catastrophe. The Denver Firefighting Museum states, “the fire destroyed between 70 buildings and 115 businesses. There was an estimated $200,000 and $350,000 (Roughly 5.5 Million Dollars in 2016 figures) in lost property”. In the aftermath, the city counsel took a long hard look at the events that led to the disaster. One of the main issues they faced was the lack of experience in firefighting and they were ill prepared for another major fire. By 1866, Denver had established a volunteer fire department. Within fifteen years, the department had paid full time firefighters on staff.

Cripple Creek Fire

Cripple Creek, Colorado during the 1896 fire that destroyed most of the town. (photo from Visit Cripple Creek, Fire Station #3)

Cripple Creek, another mining boom town in Colorado, suffered a catastrophic fire in 1896. The disaster lasted over a span of ninety six hours. The first event occurred on the afternoon of April 25th. when in a local dance hall, an oil lamp was accidentally knocked over. What started out as a fairly small fire quickly got out of control. According to Katie Rudolph with the Denver Public Library, “two lives had been lost and eight blocks of the cities central business district had been destroyed”(1). This was sadly just the beginning. Around One PM on April 30th, another fire broke out in a hotel kitchen in downtown. This fire was far more devastating. According to the Denver Post, “The Fire jumped at a roar like a hungry giant at his food”(2). Locals attempted to blow up buildings with dynamite to stop the fire from spreading but to no avail. When the fire was finally contained, thousands of residents were forced from their homes. Sadly much of the town that was not destroyed in the first fire, was destroyed in the second. As the snow began to fall on the night of April 30th, many of the people that lived in Cripple Creek were destitute, and camp fires could be seen in the hills surrounding the town, of people trying to keep warm in the spring snowstorm (3). In response, Cripple Creek built the Cripple Creek Fire Station #3 in 1900 to better protect the area from another disaster (4).

 

Georgetown was very unique among western frontier towns. The discovery of silver in the late 1860’s pushed the town into heights felt by towns like Golden, and Denver. Georgetown during this time rivaled these towns in wealth, power, and political sway. After the discovery of silver, Georgetown’s growth was remarkable. It was sophisticated and well planned, and not a fly by night mining camp that seemed to be popping up anywhere someone found some color. It was truly becoming a growing city with prospects for future success. Town residents began building houses to last, hotels and boarding houses with all of the finest Victorian features, schools and churches even were built in the mid-1870’s. All of these aspects lent itself to this idea of longevity. It was a communal effort spawned by the people.

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The “Old Missouri”, which still stands in Georgetown.

In the mid-1870’s it was believed that with the amount of people in town and the number of wooden structures, Georgetown required a fire department. In an effort spawned directly from the community, a pumper engine was purchased to help protect the town. The device would pull water from a water source directly, it had to be operated by about ten people. There would be five fire fighters to a side, one side would pull in water on the upstroke and push water out on the down stroke. An effective engine could spray a stream of water over one hundred and fifty feet. The device would also be pulled by the firefighter’s themselves. It would have taken too long to hook up horses to the engine in the event of a fire. After the water system was fully installed the only fire house to utilize the pumper engine was the “Old Missouri” firehouse. This house served many of the buildings that were not on the new water system.

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View of the tower from outside the Alpine Hose #2.

After the new water system was in place the fire department began utilizing a fleet of hose carts. These hose carts could be directly attached to the fire hydrants. The hose cart companies within the Georgetown Fire Department that operated hose carts, were the Hope Hose #1, Georgetown #1 aka the “Old Missouri”, and the Alpine Hose #2. Each of the hose cart buildings had towers to dry out hoses. In the Alpine Hose #2, they had a special counter weight system to pull the wet hoses to the top and drop the dry ones. The building of the tower on the Alpine Hose, was completed around 1882. Silver baron and town booster, William Arthur Hamill told the town he would fund the purchase of a bell for the tower, if the town funded the construction of the tower. The tower provided a three hundred and sixty degree view of the town. It rose sixty five feet into the sky. With its commanding view of the town, firefighters could spot any fire.

 

 

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Meeting room of the Alpine Hose #2 where debates and town functions were held.  The room also served as the Chiefs office.

One of the most impressive features of the Alpine Hose is its large meeting space. On the second floor of the building was the commander’s office and meeting room. This was a luxurious room to say the least. Gas light chandeliers hung from the ceiling, ornate Victorian wallpaper and red hand stitched carpet made the Alpine Hose an ideal location for community meetings and functions. When the building was electrified in the 1920’s, the wires had to remain exposed. They were simply too hot to be installed in the walls. The wires were wrapped with a canvas like material to provide some protection in case they were touched. The hallway wall is adorned with signatures of firefighter’s past. The oldest signature on the wall dates to 1885 with the most recent being 1980. For almost a century Georgetown volunteer firefighter’s signed the wall as a way to leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

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Star Hook and Ladder Company Uniform and Cart.

In addition to the three hose cart companies, Georgetown also featured a Hook and Ladder house. The Star Hook and Ladder Company was centrally located in the main business district of the growing town. Being in the middle of town allowed the Star’s to reach the two and three story buildings on the main thoroughfare. The men that volunteered for this house were bigger and burlier than the hose cart men. While the hose cart men were more athletic and held a runners physique. The Star men, needed to be rather strong to hold the ladders up. As most of the buildings in Georgetown around the 1870’s and 1880’s were wood. These firefighters had to be able to hold a tall three story wooden ladder up without it resting against the burning structure. Currently, the Star Hook and Ladder Company building is still standing. It stands across from the Hotel de Paris on Sixth Street in Historic Georgetown. It is currently the Town Hall and Police Station for Georgetown.

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Hose Cart Demonstration in Georgetown (Denver Public Library X-1384)

One of the biggest spectator sports in Georgetown and the surrounding area were hose cart races. In fact, hose cart teams had special carts created specifically for racing, aside from the ones that were used for fighting fires. Firefighters took great pride in their hose cart speed. Georgetown hosted hose cart races every 4th of July. Not only were these races just exhibitions between towns, but they were performed at State Firefighter conventions by teams from all over the state. During one convention, William Arthur Hamill attended to help promote Georgetown. A delegate from a rival firefighting team offered him a one thousand dollar bet that Georgetown would be beat in one of the competitions. Hamill, knowing how good the Georgetown squad was took the bet and by the end of the day walked away with an extra thousand dollars in his pocket. One of the Georgetown hose cart teams from 1876 dashed seven hundred feet in an amazing twenty six and three quarter’s seconds. During the 1902 Colorado State Fire Convention, Georgetown #1, the “Old Missouri Company”, was named the State Champions. Races also provided ample training for that moment when a fire did erupt.

Much of the reason that Georgetown has roughly 200 buildings dating to at the latest 1900, is a testament to the efforts of the early firefighting pioneers of Georgetown. It was a tough job, but the rewards were great. These brave men were highly respected and kept a keen watch to ensure the town’s survival.

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The Majestic Alpine Hose #2

-Tom Mensik

Footnotes:

  1. Rudolph, A Fire Nearly Levels Cripple Creek, 2016
  2. Denver Post, Cripple Creek Wiped out by Fire, 1896
  3. Denver Post, Cripple Creek Wiped out by Fire, 1896
  4. Visit Cripple Creek, Fire Station #3, retrieved from http://www.visitcripplecreek.com/time-travel/historic-attractions/fire-station-3/

 

 

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live! at the Hamill House!!

On Saturday, March 12, the Hamill House Museum is open for Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live! HGI will also do a soft partial unveiling of it brand new Diversity in Victorian Georgetown exhibit which tells the story of the diverse heritage of Georgetown and Silver Plume’s forefathers (and mothers!). We will highlight the life of Aunt Clara (Clara Brown), a freed slave who, as legend has it, was the first African American woman to travel across the plains to Colorado. Although Aunt Clara actually lived in nearby Central City, she had mining interests here and after the Civil War (according to at least one account) returned to her old Kentucky home and gathered up as many of her recently Aunt Clara

freed relatives as she could find (over thirty people), and brought them to Colorado, settling some in Georgetown, others in Denver and Central City. The exhibit will also look at the various immigrant communities in this area during the Rocky Mountain mining boom.

Held during Women’s History Month, this “special edition” of Smithsonian’s signature “Museum Day Live!” event* will encourage all people, and particularly women and girls of color, to explore their nation’s museums, cultural institutions, zoos, aquariums, parks and libraries—which will offer free admission for the day. Click HERE to get free tickets.

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We here at HGI feel this is the perfect way to celebrate the fifty year Golden Jubilee anniversary of the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District (NHLD) designation. Keep an eye out for all the different ways Georgetown and Silver Plume will be telling the story of this important designation and celebrating throughout the year. For more information on the NHLD click HERE. Stay up to date by following HGI’s  Facebook page.

Anne Marie Cannon

Director of Museum Collections

Historic Georgetown Inc.

 

Mourning Snow

She fumbled at the layers of mourning riding clothes and winter outerwear. The child must eat, this she knew. It did not matter that they traveled through the middle of a December blizzard, nor that the infant’s father traveled by casket in the cart behind them. Once freed, she would have to brush away the insult of frozen crystalline snowflakes from the delicate skin of her breast, before she could position Harry to feed.

 

Hannah Lord Pancoast Hamill and W. A. Hamill III

Hannah Lord Pancoast Hamill (left) William Arthur Hamill III (right)

Harry, then 2 ½ months old, was the younger of William Arthur Hamill Jr.’s two children, both boys. Willie, his father’s namesake, was no more than a toddler when his father, according to newspaper accounts, accidently shot himself through the temple while hunting mountain lion on Friday, December 20, 1889. It was a grief stricken Hannah Lord Pancoast Hamill left behind to tend to the children and delivery of W.A. Jr’s remains to Denver’s Riverside cemetery where her husband would be laid to rest. She was accompanied by three friends. The nearest train station, however was Russell (present day Wolcott) approximately 100 miles away from Diamond Ranch in present day Hayden where the accident occurred. According to the Denver Republican dated December 26, 1889 “The trip from the ranch to Russell was made through a blinding snowstorm and the vehicle containing the body was several times almost buried in the drifts, and Mrs. Hamill and the friends that accompanied her on her sad mission suffered greatly from the cold.” According to reports the road was virtually impassible and often along the journey it was necessary to dig the team out of snowdrifts.

W. A. Hamill and Henry Hamill 1892

William Arthur Hamill III (left), Henry (aka Harry) Hamill (right)

Once they arrived at the train station in Russell, the sad news was sent via telegraph to W. A. Jr.’s parents in Georgetown, Colorado, General William Arthur Hamill and his wife Priscilla. The relationship between General William Arthur Hamill and Priscilla would be irrevocably strained from that point on. Although he appears as living at the Georgetown home in the 1900 census, General Hamill is said to have moved to the Denver Athletic Club shortly after W. A. Jr’s death, where he continued to reside until his death in 1904.

HGI has a handwritten letter in its archives from Hannah Lord Pancoast Hamill to her mother-in-law Priscilla written the beginning of January, 1888. In it she thanks Priscilla for gifts and proceeds to describe her toddler son Willie’s latest milestones:

[Willie] says “pease” and “peasie” for everything he wants…for mischief he takes the premium…he is always in what he can’t reach…

There is a lot of information known about the public life of General William Arthur Hamill. For me, as I cull through the artifacts and archives…traces left behind by the Hamill family, it is the snippets of intimate memories, usually from those of Hamill women that draw me in, make me want to stay long enough to imagine how it really was. Hannah’s granddaughter, Nancy, wrote a letter to then HGI curator, Christine Bradley in 1980 in which she added a P.S.:

P.S. My mother tells me of my grandmother telling her of the trip through the blizzard with my grandfather’s body and how she had to brush the snowflakes off her breast when she would nurse the baby (Henry, k/a Harry) who was only 2 ½ months old. I always thought my grandmother was a wonderful person, and I knew she had a strength of character but I didn’t realize just how much. She had a marvelous sense of humor and she was a most loving grandmother.

In memory of the unbreakable spirit of Hannah Lord Pancoast Hamill and all the Victorian women who dealt with life head-on, whilst wearing the cumbersome costumes of the time, we share this intimate telling of history with you on December 20th, 2015, the 126th anniversary of Mrs. Hamill’s journey through the snow.

W. A. Hamill II adult from the collection of Anne McCarroll

William Arthur Hamill Jr

Anne Marie Cannon

Director of Museum Collections

Historic Georgetown Inc.

The Tradition of the European Christmas Market

By Tom Mensik

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The concept of the Christmas Market is deeply ingrained in European culture. With Georgetown’s 55th Annual Christmas Market coming up for the weekends of December 5th,6th, 12th, and 13th, how about a history of traditional European Christmas Markets.

Christmas Markets in Europe date back to the Middle Ages. They began to originate in the Germanic regions of Europe and parts of the Holy Roman Empire. While Georgetown’s is only two weekends, these festivals last almost four weeks to celebrate the Advent. One of the earliest recorded winter festivals can be traced back to Vienna’s “December Market” in 1294. Dresden, Frankfurt, Augsburg, and Bautzen all have records of winter markets dating back to the late 1300’s. As German immigrants began trickling into the United States, they brought the tradition of the markets with them.

Much like today, these markets took place in public squares. Arguably, the most important theme of early Christmas markets was the celebration of the beginning of the Advent. The Advent is the celebration of the anticipation of the birth of Jesus. These early markets would start the festivities with a celebration of the “Christ Child”. Dancing and singing would take place, as well as religious ceremonies and parades.

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Modern European Christmas Markets are massive compared to their Middle Ages counterparts. Today there are over 70 in Germany alone. Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens hosts one of the largest celebrations in the world. During the event, visitors can walk among 1,600 vendors throughout the festival. According to several travel sites one of the top destinations for Christmas Markets is in Strasbourg. Called “Christkindelsmarik”, this festival dates back to 1570.  Traditionally, European Markets last from the last week in November up until the New Years Holiday.  These are also popular destinations for tourists, as several cruise lines and tour companies offer European Christmas packages.

Domestically, Christmas markets are popular all over the United States.  in Georgetown, Colorado, the festival is modeled after Swedish festivals.  It even features a processional of St. Lucia singers.  In fact, the Georgetown Christmas  is currently ranked #4 on USA Today’s list of top Christmas Markets.  You can vote for Georgetown using the link below.  Help us get to #1.  We hope to see you on December 5th, 6th, 12th, and 13th.

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Sources:

http://www.europeanbestdestinations.com/christmas-markets/

http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/best-christmas-markets-in-europe