December 31, 2011

Why do we watch a ball drop on New Years Eve? New Year's and Time Balls

As the end of the year approaches, we are all busy preparing for parties and New Year’s resolutions.  At 11:59, we’ll look to Times Square (or watch it on TV) and anxiously watch as the ball begins to drop. But what are we really watching? What started out in 1907 as an advertising ploy has become a national tradition. 

The Times Square Ball was erected in December of 1907 to advertise for The New York Times. It has been dropped every year since except for 2 years during WWII due to mandated blackouts.  The ball has been remade 6 times since the first dropping. 

While dropping a ball seems like a bizarre custom to us today, it seemed obvious to the creators in the 1900s who were familiar with real time balls (also known as signal balls.) Time balls, wooden balls held on poles above tall buildings near bodies of water, had been used since 1829 to help seamen calibrate their marine chronometers and watches. Marine chronometers of the time were imperfect and needed to be reset each time in port to keep navigation calculations correct.  

A popular time ball, erected at Greenwich Conservatory in 1833, dropped daily at 1 pm to a sea of waiting ships. It became the standard for time. Time balls in the United States dropped at 12 PM. 5 minutes before the hour; the balls were raised half way to signal the hour was approaching.  When the hour struck, the ball was released. Many seamen would stare at the balls, waiting for the drop, like we do today counting down to the new year. 

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has a fun and safe celebration tonight. 

December 25, 2011

Virtual Christmas Tour of Longwood Gardens

 Merry Christmas!

A few days ago, a friend took me to Longwood Gardens to celebrate the end of the semester. I am a native Pennsylvanian who lives about 30 minutes from Longwood Gardens; but I haven't been there since I was little. For some reason, we tend to write off the places that we are close to as nowhere near as exciting as those places farther away. :D

I wish I could have wrote more, but it's Christmas. I hope all of you have a good holiday and enjoy the photos. 

December 19, 2011

"Kiffle" Recipe: A Christmas Pastry

Kiffles seem to be a Pennsylvanian take on a traditional Hungarian pastry called "kiflis." A kiffle is a triangle shaped piece of dough rolled will a fruit filling, baked, then topped with powdered sugar. Typical fillings include apricot, poppy seed, lekvar (prune,) nut, and raspberry. This pastry is virtually unknown in my section of Pennsylvania but is widely known in the Lehigh Valley. It seems as though, these popped up some time in the 1980s and have traveled the area by word-of-mouth and recipe swaps until they became a ubiquitous Christmas pastry in the area.

I got these recipes from Andy's Aunt Linda, who is known as the best kiffle maker in his family. She graciously taught us how to make them on Saturday and they really are delicious.   

The Recipes 

Apricot Kiffles


- 1/2 lb Butter
- 1/2 lb Margarine
- 16 ounces Cream Cheese
- 4 cups Flour 
- 4 cups Apricot Filling 

Mix all ingredients together, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day, cut the dough into 8 equal parts. Remove one piece and place the others back into the refrigerator. Roll 1 piece into a ball, then roll out thin on a floured surface. Spread 1/2 cup of filling onto the dough, leaving a half of an inch gap at the edges. Cut into 12 pieces as if you are slicing a pie. Roll up each piece and bake on parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 7 minutes on the bottom rack and 7 minutes on the top rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar directly before serving (optional.)

Combine all ingredients.
Mix with hands.
Spread with filling and cut like a pie.
Roll each piece up
Bake, sprinkle with powdered sugar, enjoy!

For the Nut Version:


-1/2 Lb Butter
-1/2 Lb Margarine
-4 cups Flour
- 2 Egg Yolks (save whites)
-1 ½ cups Sour Cream


-4 cups Ground Walnuts
-3 cups Sugar
-2 tablespoons Cinnamon 

These are made the same as the apricot ones except that the egg whites are spread on the dough and the nut mixture is sprinkled on top. 

They are surprisingly easy to make, and the nut ones look really pretty. I hope everyone is having a good holiday season so far! I can't believe the month is almost over.

December 15, 2011

Colonial Christmas Cookie Recipe

This is technically a Federal Era Christmas cookie recipe but as with most recipes, it was most likely baked prior to when Amelia Simmons wrote her book American Cookery in 1796.
At this time baking cookies was not associated with Christmas. Cookies were just a part of traditional celebration fare and there are few denoted recipes for Christmas Cookies until the 1830s. Christmas was the beginning of the holiday season that lasted until "twelfth night" or January 6th. Many of the traditions now associated with Christmas were originally a part of New Year's celebrations of people in the 1800s such as cookie baking and gift giving. New Year's cookie recipes from the 1800s are far more prevalent than Christmas ones. The recipe before this one in the book was just titled "Cookies." This recipe is generally accepted as the first American Christmas cookie recipe ever printed. 

This recipe will make a truly hard cookie. But, as the recipe says, they soften up after 6 months! :D

Amelia Simmons' Christmas Cookie Recipe

-3 cups Flour
-1/2 cup Sugar
-1 1/2 sticks Butter
-1/3 cup ground Coriander Seed, powdered
-1 teaspoon Pearl Ash (use modern Baking Soda)
-1 Cup Milk (you may need more to make the dough pliable)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cream butter into sugar and coriander seed in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients until it forms a pliable dough. Roll out dough to 3/4 of an inch and use a knife or cookie cutters to make shapes. Bake on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes.

I am thinking this is probably a good batch of cookies to make Christmas tree ornaments out of. They would probably smell delicious hanging with some gingerbread cookies.  This cookies pictured at the right were made by Miss Elisabeth at Reflections & Adventures of a Muser for their Christmas festival at the beginning of the month. It was a lot of fun and we made lots of yummy Christmas treats. 

December 8, 2011

The End is Almost Near!

Really! Finals are almost over and I can't wait to post about all of these things I've wanted to post about! This semester has been the worst and I really can't wait until it is over!

I have included an image of what college students look like at 1 am studying for finals. :(

I am so excited to finally be able to clean the house, read books that aren't for classes, research, and write again!

 The good news is that the torture ends December 16th! I look forward to hearing what everyone has been up to!

November 30, 2011

Colonial Rules for Children

A Pretty Little Pocket-book was one of the first books published that was specifically for children. It was published by John Newbery, who pioneered children's literature in the 1700s.The book teaches the alphabet using rhymes and includes a lot of images. 

The book includes a curious "letter" from "Jack the Giant-Killer" (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame) to instruct children to behave well. Even then, "favorite characters" were used to teach children valuable lessons.


The book came with a red and black, stuffed ball or "pin cushion" that was used as a behavior tool. If a little girl was good, her nanny or mother was supposed to put a pin on the red side of  her pincushion if she was bad, on the black side. When the girl got all 10 pins on the red side, it was recommended that the parents gave the girl a penny. The "ball" was the same as the pincushion but was called a ball due to gender norms of the time.

Lessons found in A Pretty Little Pocket-Book:

Rise Early in the Morning. Pg. 16
Keep themselves clean. Pg. 16
Study and learn their lessons. Pg. 16
Apologize for wrongs. Pg. 16
Not to swear or tell lies. Pg. 16
Say their Prayers. Pg. 19.

Rules for Behavior

  • “Make a Bow always when you come Home, and become instantly uncovered.”  Pg. 98
  • “Never set in the Presence of thy Parents without bidding, though no stranger be present.”  Pg. 98
  • “If thou art going to speak to thy parents, and see them engaged in Discourse with Company, draw back and leave thy Business until afterwards ; but if thou must speak, be sure to whisper.” Pg. 99
  • “Never speak to thy Parents without some Title of Respect, viz. Sir, Madam, &c. according to their quality.” Pg 99
  • “Approach near thy Parents at no Time without a Bow.” Pg. 99
  • “Dispute not, nor delay to obey the Commands of thy Parents.” Pg. 99
  • “Come not into the Room where thy Parents are with Strangers, unless thou art called, and then decently ; and at bidding go out ; or if Strangers come in while thou art with them, it is Manners with a Bow to withdraw.” Pg. 99
  • “Quarrel not nor contend with thy Brethren or Sisters, but live in Love, Peace and Unity.” Pg. 100
  • “Grumble not, nor be discontented at any Thing thy Parents appoint, speak or do.” Pg. 100
  • “Come not to the Table without having your Hands and Face washed, and your Head combed.” Pg. 101
  • “Sit not down until thou art bidden by thy Parents or other Superiors.” Pg. 101
  • “Be sure thou never sittest down until a Blessing be desired, and then in thy due Place.” Pg. 101
  • “Ask not for any Thing, but tarry until it be offered thee.” Pg. 102
  • “Find no fault with any Thing that is given you.” Pg. 102
  • “Speak not at the Table ; if thy Superiors be discoursing, meddle not with the Matter ; but be silent, except thou are spoken unto.” Pg. 102
  • “Eat not too fast or with greedy behavior.” Pg. 102
  • “Eat not too much, but moderately.” Pg. 102
  • “Eat not so slow as to make others wait for thee.” Pg. 102
  • “Make not a Noise with thy Tongue, Mouth, Lips or Breath, in eating or drinking.” Pg. 103
  • “Lean not thy Elbow on the Table, or on the Back of the Chair.” Pg. 103
  • “Blow not thy Meat, but with Patience wait until it be cool.” Pg. 103
  • “Throw not any Thing under the Table.” Pg. 103
  • “Frown not nor murmur if there be any Thing at the Table which thy Parents, or Strangers with them, eat of, while thou thyself hast none given to thee.” Pg. 10

A Pretty Little Pocket-Book Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy, and Pretty Miss Polly. With Two Letters from Jack the Giant-Killer as also A Ball and Pin Cushion; The use of which will infallibly make Tommy a good Boy, and Polly a good Girl (1787.)

November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Letter from an African American Civil War Soldier

Francisco Goya, 1787
 Civil War soldiers often wrote home about how much they missed the holidays that they used to have at home. Thanksgiving, while not an official national holiday, was still celebrated by many Americans. On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation, at the urging of Godey's Lady's Book editor Sarah Josepha Hale, making a national holiday of Thanks. After the proclamation, it was widely celebrated by the troops.    

David A. Demus of Franklin County, VA to his wife Mary Jane Demus on November 25th, 1863:

"mi Dear Wife
I take this optuity to in form you that I am Well at presn and I hope Whean thes fu lines reach you tha ma find you i the best state of healte I receve yor letter on the 25th of november i Was hapey to hear frum you and I did not Car how smole the letter Was Jest sow I got Wone but you Cant tell how sweat it Was to me to get it fer I Wod like to hear frum you ever day If i Cod get it but i must tell you of the grate time that We had on theank giving it Was the best day that We ever had sinc i lefte home..."

Read the full transcription at The Valley of the Shadow: Valley Personal Papers

In this letter, Demus describes the festivities of the day: a greasy pole competition, a blindfolded sack race and men playing ball. Sack races and ball playing are still common festivities today, but greasy pole competitions seem to have lost favor.

Climbing a greasy pole was a very basic form of entertainment. Typically a pole would be erected with a prize at the top and then greased to make it difficult to get the prize. These poles would be erected by the wealthy, although the wealthy typically did not take part in trying to climb them. Climbing the pole was for the poorer classes and the wealthy enjoyed watching the climbers. Legs of mutton, slabs of bacon, jewelery and clothing were common prizes.  Climbers were typically young boys, servants, freed or enslaved African Americans, street urchins, and the poor. They were very popular in the 1860s, Edward VII of Wales even had a greasy pole at his wedding in 1863.   

The competition may seem barbaric, but for a young servant girl, it could be her chance to own a dress as pretty as her mistress' so many people attempted the climb as the draw of the prize was typically very tempting. In Demus' case, the prize was a pair of trousers with $13.00 in the pocket, a good sum as it was as much as a white soldier made in a month.   

 Harper's Magazine gives a good description of the technique of greased pole climbing "The first who attempt the ascent look for no honor; their office is to prepare the way, and put things in train for their successors: they rub off the grease from the bottom, the least practicable part of the pole. In every thing the first steps are the most difficult, although seldom the most glorious; and scarcely ever does the same person commence an enterprise, and reap the fruit of its accomplishment. They ascend higher by degrees, and the expert climbers now come forth, the heroes of the list: they who have been accustomed to gain prizes, whose prowess is known, and whose fame is established since many seasons. They do not expend their strength in the beginning; they climb up gently, and patiently, and modestly, and repose from time to time; and they carry, as is permitted, a little sack at their girdle, filled with ashes to neutralize the grease and render it less slippery."

I hope everyone has a very good Thanksgiving!

November 18, 2011

Phrenology: Victorian Entertainment

Phrenology is the study of lumps on heads to determine personality traits. While, producing giggles from us today, phrenology started out as a scientific discipline determined to link scull size and shape with brain function. A German scientist, Franz Joseph Gall is typically credited with starting this branch of study in 1796 which he termed "Cranioscopy."

He started writing "The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System in General, and of the Brain in Particular, with Observations upon the possibility of ascertaining the several Intellectual and Moral Dispositions of Man and Animal, by the configuration of their Heads," in 1809 although it was not published until 1819. The theory was never widely accepted by scientists but had a significant following and was extremely popular with the general public in the early to mid 1800s. It also saw a revival in the early 1900s. While many people were believers, others considered it a fun parlor game.

The Bronte sisters, Edgar Allen Poe,  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Herman Melville, used phrenology references in their works or were believers. A Phrenological examination of Charlotte Bronte can be found here at

Mark Twain disdained the theory and believers. In in his 1906 autobiography he admitted to going to a renowned phrenologist under a false name and receiving an examination and chart of his characteristics. He  then went back to the same phrenologist months later under his real name. He admitted the second chart expressed his personality rather well but that it looked nothing like the first chart that he got.

The Basics of Phrenology from Mrs. Hale's Receipts for the Million (1857):

Makes you want to grab a pair of forceps and measure your head, doesn't it? This sounds like it would be a fun party game for a Victorian themed party.

November 15, 2011

A Short History of Chester County, Pennsylvania

Image of William Penn from LOC

If you look at the link bar under my banner, there is a new page link "A Short History of Chester County." This is part of a paper that I had to write for school. It's not the best paper and jumps around, due to the removal of nonessential information that I had to add to meet the requirements of the paper.  It should be interesting to people who live in the area.

I initially intended to expand upon these excerpts to make this work more meaningful for the historic sites in Chester County but have been very busy lately. This information is still interesting when trying to place a historical building  into a context.  In the future I may expand this to include some historic sites in Chester County and 18th and 19th century farming practices. Most of the additions will be focused around the Pratt House.

For those of you interested in the Pratts, here's a sneak peak:

In 1774, tax records report that Joseph Pratt:

  • Had 180 acres of land.
  • Had the most horses in Edgmont at 5.
  • Had the most cattle in Edgmont at 8.
  • Had the most sheep in Edgmont at 12.
  • Had 1 servant. 5 other men in the township had 1 servant and 1 man in the township had 2 servants.

Hope you check out the Short History of Chester County and enjoy!

November 10, 2011

The Rebel Yell: Recording of the Rebel Yell

 A quick post before I go off to take a midterm. Smithsonian put out a video of Civil War veterans giving a rebel yell in the 1930s. It was years after the war and the men were much older, but it still gives us a pretty good idea of how it sounded.

I once was lucky enough to have an older gentleman demonstrate the yell for me. Clearly he was not a veteran of the war himself, but in his childhood he frequented veteran conventions. He said that the veterans in his town taught the young boys how to do it and that the young boys had great fun sneaking out at night and using it to cause a ruckus. 

I wasn't sure if he was doing it correctly, because he was elderly but I remember that it had breaks in the sound, just like in this video. At the reenactments I've been to, the Rebels typically make it a "rolling yell" with no distinct breaks in the sound.

Click the link below to view the video:

November 4, 2011

How to Make Civil War Period Corset Ties

 "My! I'm so uncomfortable; I've broke my stay-lace, and I have not got another. You couldn't lend me one, Betsy, could you?" said a young woman to her next-door neighbour, as, early one morning, they were both cleaning their door-steps.

'No,' replied Betsy,  'I haven't got a spare one; but there's the boy we get our matches and black-lead from; I dare say he'll get you one in a jiffey.'" - Hogg's Weekly Instructor, 1845

 Been looking for period laces for your corset? Or laces for your shoes or boots? You're in luck because they are very easy to make. I've been meaning to replace those awful modern shoelaces I've been using to fasten my corset.

During the 1850s and 60s, laces were made by machines but making laces was a cottage industry for frugal families. Poor girls in charity institutions were taught to make them as a way to make a bit of money and stay laces and boot laces were  popular street vendor items.

Cast on three stitches.
Slide the stitches to the right end of the needle.
Knit into the stitches normally. Slide the stitches to the right of the needle.
Repeat until you reach the necessary length and cast off.

Stay lace made with crochet cotton.

 Boot and shoe laces were made exactly the same way. This lace can also be used for creating frog fasteners as most modern frog style fasteners are made from synthetic materials. There are numerous instructions available for knitted laces and it is pretty much a universal pattern. In modern times, we call this an "i cord." 

November 2, 2011


We got our tintype in the mail. I wish I would have thought to take off my apron. Andy doesn't like the fact that he isn't wearing his glasses and the fact that his blue eyes look white. My sister says that I didn't get the "angry stare" down. :D

I recommend getting an image taken although it is expensive, it was a lot of fun and didn't take as long a time as people say it does. The whole process is long, but the taking the image is done in a few seconds. It's a long exposure time by modern standards but not unreasonable.   

October 29, 2011

It Should Not Snow in October

This will be a very quick post as I should get right back to working on that crazy project I have for school that I am tired of doing/talking/thinking about. I know that everyone I know is tired of hearing about it. Believe me, I wish I could have a life again and spend time with my friends and family.

To clarify, this project was advertised by the professor and previous students as the project that will make you cry every night and have a mental breakdown.  Well that is exactly what it is, so thank you for systematically planning depression into your students. It’s been a real joy. You have removed the ability for me to get anything done due to this anxiety that makes me want to do nothing but sleep and cry all of the time.

But no one has time for sleep or crying so we are all insomniac zombies roving around campus pumping shots of espresso into our Red Bulls. (Alternatively, I hear that another popular drink is “double brewed” coffee, where one uses coffee instead of water to make coffee.)  Although I don’t drink anything but water, I was advised to pick up a caffeine habit for 2 weeks. :D The class has a "happy hour" planned the minute class ends on the 9th. I'd rather just sleep.   

Things I look forward to once this project is dead and buried (November 9th 2011):

-Cleaning the House. Yes, the house is absolutely disgusting and I wish I could clean it. I would probably get more work done if I just cleaned it because it is very distracting. I should really do laundry too.  

-Spending time on my other assignments. I have a lot of other big assignments but this one is huge and has been head butting the other assignments out of the way so that I am turning in a lot of subpar papers. I feel like telling my professors: “I promise you, I’m not stupid.” Anxiety is killing my brain to the point that I can’t think of names, dates, places and simple words when I need them.  Professors who know me know that something is wrong but those who don’t know me probably just think that I am stupid. 

-Going out of the house. I have been confined to the house and the library. I have a collection of errands I need to go on and no hours to go. Even more, I’d love to get to do something fun.  Not having any fun makes living pretty crappy and probably feeds the unending cycle of anxiety.  

But back to snow, I am in earnest need of getting to the library and am not sure it will be possible with this storm. 

Snow on the skylight in the kitchen.

Snow in the back yard.

I know I should look at this as a time to relax and do something not school related, but I have so much to do that I constantly feel guilty when I am doing something not related to this project.Sorry about the quality of the photos, the lens on my camera got dirty at Cedar Creek so the photos are coming out a bit smeary until I figure out how to clean it.

October 25, 2011

MAR AAS Conference at Princeton

 I was lucky enough to attend the conference on "Human Rights and Social Injustice in Asia" held by the Mid-Atlantic Region Association for Asian Studies which was held at Princeton University last weekend.

The Mid-Atlantic Association for Asian Studies, is a chapter of the Association for Asian Studies which was founded in 1941 with the goal of increasing understanding between the United States and Asia.

One of the speakers was Gyan Prakash, author of Mumbai Fables, a history of the city of Mumbai written in vignettes. I am currently enjoying the book and will write a review of it when I am done. Unfortunately, I missed his presentation due to classes but am told that it was excellent. 

Some of the panels I attended were "Human Rights of Women in India," "A Philosophical Conversation on the Meaning of Life and Death," and "Comparative Philosophy of Religions." They were all very interesting and it was very enriching to be able to be part of the discussions. We saw presentations from two West Chester students about Eastern and Western philosophy that were very interesting. One explored the meditation traditions of Descartes and Shankara and the other arguments for the existence of God by Averroist philosophers. (Sitting in on the philosophy panel gave all of the history majors a bit of a chuckle just as if the philosophy majors sat in on some history ones.)   

We spent a good deal of time when we weren't at the conference exploring the campus and town. The campus was very pretty especially with the fall leaves. We explored the local stores and hangouts and ate dinner together at Mediterra. We ate outside the restaurant and the setting was beautiful but I do have to admit that the food must have been above my palate. I thought the menu was scant and the food rather plain. We did have a great time, good company overshadows a lack of good food.  
Us students and our professor.

I am glad that I am back I have tons of schoolwork to complete and many mid-terms to study for.

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