Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tidbits from the January 20, 1888 Ypsilanti Commercial

What were Ypsilantians up to according to the January 20, 1888 issue of the Ypsilanti Commercial? Well, the Women's Christian Temperance Union met at Mrs. Buchanan's house, a shipment of ice came in on the train, and it was a bit too slippery to safely walk around.

Without screens, radio, or even (for most folks) telephones, what on earth did people do to enjoy themselves and socialize during the winter? Sleigh rides are peppered all throughout the January issues of the weekly Commercial. For the less adventurous, euchre and pedro card games were popular.

And 1888 was a leap year. In reading the old Commercial, there are several references in the January issues to the fact that this apparently presents some sort of romantic opportunity to "the ladies." I get the impression that leap years were regarded as a sort of Sadie Hawkins year. Dusty D had never heard of this before--perhaps its a forgotten custom. Here the Commercial reprints some leap-year advice from the Ann Arbor Courier.


Fritz said...

70 people for a card party. Wow!

And the W. C. T. U. met at a private house too.

I wonder if they had a lot less indoor public space per person than we have today.

Dusty D said...

Oh yeah, I've read of lots of societies that met round-robin in members' homes: Sappho club (a sort of literary society), W.C.T.U., Ladies' Aid society. Now that I think of it, most men's societies had their own lodge or building (Masons, Phoenix Lodge, &c.).

Yeah, 70 people! Mr. & Mrs. Ferrier must have had a HUGE home, and servants to boot to make refreshments for 70 people. I wonder if he was the son of Philo Ferrier; don't have a 1888 directory on hand.

Dusty D said...

OK, kwik-check of 1880 census:

5th ward Ypsi (we used to have 5)lives at 44 S. River, worked with Philo Ferrier at Ypsi Machine Works as co-proprietor

44 S. River is south of Michigan Ave on Water Street plot; there used to be some beautiful big old Second Empire homes there, three in a row IIRC, long demolished.



Ferrier Chas. P. male 33 prop. Ypsilanti Machine Works, born in MI, parents born NY

Ferrier Nancy female 20 housekeeper

Ferrier Harrie male 3 son

Smith Miss female 19 servant

Fritz said...

Very cool. I never would have guessed there were once expensive houses around there. Thanks!

Dusty D said...

Yes, at least three right along Michigan Ave in a row IIRC: resembling Quirk House (also Second Empire) just north of the Museum. I'll see if I can dig up a pic at the archives tomorrow.

cmadler said...

According to Wikipedia, In the English speaking world, it is a tradition that women may propose marriage only on leap years. While it has been claimed that the tradition was initiated by Saint Patrick or Brigid of Kildare in 5th century Ireland, this is dubious, as the tradition has not been attested before the 19th century. Supposedly, a 1288 law by Queen Margaret of Scotland (then age five and living in Norway), required that fines be levied if a marriage proposal was refused by the man; compensation ranged from a kiss to £1 to a silk gown, in order to soften the blow. Because men felt that put them at too great a risk, the tradition was in some places tightened to restricting female proposals to the modern leap day, February 29, or to the medieval (bissextile) leap day, February 24.

Dusty D said...

cmadler: Well, I'll be darned. I never knew that. Thank you, cmadler.

Made me want to know more and here's more on the topic:

According to English law, February 29th was ignored and had no legal status. Folks assumed that traditions would also have no status on that day. It was also reasoned that since the leap year day existed to fix a problem in the calendar, it could also be used to fix an old and unjust custom that only let men propose marriage.

The first documentation of this practice dates back to 1288, when Scotland supposedly passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to the man of their choice in that year. Tradition states they also made it law that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

Dusty D said...

In other words, women could really clean up on leap year...a whole wardrobe if she played it right. Not a bad tradition to bring back if you ask me.

Russ said...

I never had any idea that there was another street that S. River St. ran into. I always thought it dead-ended at some factory a short distance past Mich. Ave., just past that old Drive-Thru Beer & Wine Take-Out place.

The only contradiction to this belief is when the Carnival would come to town, my folks would take us kids. We must have parked somewhere in this area because we always went across that foot bridge to get to the Carnival. I was young and it was night time so I never saw any of the surrounding. Probably would have been too young to remember it if I did.


Dusty D said...

Russ: Now that sounds like an interesting story. I know Ypsi used to have a Fall Festival downtown and also Alley Festa, but what you're describing sounds different. May I ask, was this an annual carnival? You said "come to town"; was it a traveling show? I'd love to know more if you don't mind. Thank you.

Russ said...

I think the name of the Carnival was Happyland or Happy Land Shows. I believe they were home based in Florida and traveled all around the east. Through at least most of the 50's when I was growing up they would come to town every year. I think it was always around the 4th of July holiday. They'd be here for 3 or 4 days. All the Carnival stuff. . .Midway Games, rides and food and trailers where the people lived.

I believe the name of the park is Waterworks Park. It's the area in the loop of the river on Catherine Street. They would take up the whole park. I think there was parking on the opposite side of the street but my folks always parked somewhere at the dead end of River St. I remember going over that foot bridge to get there. There were strings of light bulbs hung to light the way at night. It made the river look real scary for a young kid. It's the only time of the year that I ever saw this area when I was young. I seem to remember hearing that that bridge was just a temporary thing back then. They would put it up and take it down when the Carnival came to town. This was done by the local service club that sponsored the event. I don't know who it was.

The Carnival had their own huge generator to run all of the rides, etc. One special thing that they had was a monstrous searchlight on a trailer. Like what they must have used during the war to spot planes. They would shine this all through the evening at the sky. It would constantly be moving and you could see it from anywhere in the city. My Dad told me that was to draw a crowd. People would want to go and find the source of the light and end up at the carnival. As soon as we saw that shining in the sky for the first time in the Summer, us kids knew the Carnival was in town and we'd start pestering our folks to take us.

It's amazing how vivid these thoughts still are for me considering how young I was at the time. In my youth, this was really a special event, and it only happened once a year.