Most of the United States was still a wide open wilderness when the Great War between the states broke out. Young men who knew little about life beyond the borders of their own farm’s fence rail were suddenly far from home and doing what was previously unthinkable.
While some boys came home with doctoring skills, others brought home the lucrative specialty title “Embalming Surgeon.” Those who were willing to abandon their post (and could stomach it) were hired away from the armies of both sides by the booming embalming service businesses.
Field embalming could be completed in about two hours, with a minimal investment in chemicals. These gruesome entrepreneurs followed behind active battles with their tents and supplies. They employed men as “pickers” to glean blood soaked fields in search of freshly dead and mostly intact men.
“Runners” were used to contact the agents whose territory included the deadmen’s hometown. With such a streamlined system in place, the embalmer’s agents often delivered the grievous news before the official Army telegrams were dispatched. No time was wasted in the rush to sell devastated loved ones services for preservation and shipping of their soldier’s remains.
By railroad rules, only embalmed corpses would be accepted for transport. No spoiled (foul smelling) cargo of any kind was allowed. At the beginning of the great conflict between the states, bodies were packed and crated in straw and ice. However, as the war continued, delays and detours became common, and iced corpses could putrefy beside other cargo before reaching home.
When Pickers ran out onto a new battlefield, officers’ remains were favored over enlisted men. Their families were likely to be wealthier. With fees around $50 for an officer, and $25 for an enlisted man ($2500 and $1250 in today’s money) there were fortunes to be made. The service’s price included packing the remains in crudely made wood transport coffins lined with zinc against leakage.
Of course there were some Agents who were just plain cheats. These swindlers set a price upon seeing the dead soldier’s home; sometimes demanding outrageous fees at large homes with the threat of discarding the body; effectively ransoming the corpse to loved ones.
After President Lincoln’s body made its fourteen day farewell tour by train, the public in all parts of the country embraced the previously rare practice of routine embalming. Still, the market for Embalming Surgeons quickly evaporated. Undertakers at home were already set up with profitable furniture and coffin making shops. They had digging crews and fancied-up funeral hacks called “hearses” to tote the departed in.
For hometown undertakers, adding this service was an easy moneymaker. Some Embalming Surgeons found work with established undertakers; most turned to farming or whatever trade they’d left off with before the war.
Can’t find an old photo of an event relevant to your Family History? Check out the Library of Congress Image Collection. You can search by collection, events, or key words. In most cases, usage availability is noted. A few will suggest a search before using the image for publication or display (like on a blog or publication). Their cache of available photos and other forms of imagery is incredible–make it a part of your writing and researching toolbox!
As everyone notices I often write about my Grandmother, who I lovingly called “Gramcracker.” She has been missing from my life for several years now. If she was still living, today would be her 104th birthday.
Recently, I was the recipient of the most fabulous gift...this photo of her my cousin found in an old box. I shared it with my dad a couple of days ago. In his 81 years, he had never seen it. Everyone recognizes it though; clearly it is the full-size version of my dad’s baby photo.
I‘m guessing, just like many young mothers today, Gramcracker had herself cropped out of the prints she shared with family. I’m afraid that says something a little bit sad about women and body image and our inner-drives for perfection. Ah, but that is another story!
Today is a day for my own quiet celebration of her life and the gift that both she and this long-lost photo were to me. Every year on July 2nd, I try to sit quietly for a while and recall the most mundane actions of our times together.
Sometimes I think about the epic, summer-long yard sales we ran together–that’s where I learned math and negotiation skills. As a result, my husband sends ME to the car dealer to make the family purchases. No one can rough up a sales manager like Mom. For all the extra nice cars I’ve driven through the years, I can thank Gramcracker for teaching me to wheel and deal before I started Kindergarten.
Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about food too.
Her house was Kid-Land-Deluxe where non-enforced nutrition was concerned. There was an enormous chest freezer out on the enclosed back porch filled with boxes of Fudgies (I believe the common and trademarked name is Fudge-sicles) and Popsicles. At Gramcracker’s house it was totally acceptable (and expected) that the red and purple ice pops were for eating…the orange and green ones were only fit for the trash or to share with our beagles on hot summer afternoons.
Other “foods” at Gramcracker’s included bowls of Lucky Charms. And by that I mean literal bowls full of Lucky Charms without the pesky bits of tasteless, vitamin enriched “cereal.” At Gram’s it was fine and dandy to eat only the good part and dispose of the rest without being forced to “at least taste it.” I ate many dinners consisting of only sliced cucumber salad without meat or other icky stuff forced onto my plate.
There were stacks of wooden soda-pop boxes filled with assorted bottles of fizzy stuff too. Flavors like Orange, Grape, and my coveted personal favorite–Strawberry–were always abundant. Oh she wasn’t all sugar and empty calories…there was always milk in the fridge…chocolate milk.
Did I mention the “cornies?” That was the house-name for cheese puffs. Chester Cheetah and I were orange-finger-tipped friends all summer, year after year. My mom used to grumble it was a wonder that I didn’t die of Rickets by the end of each extended visit.
As age and time took her mind, my grandmother slipped into a non-specified form of dementia. I was her some-time care giver during those last few years. My uncle lived with her full time and cared for her around the clock. Fortunately, she was never given to bouts of “Sundowning” like many folks with memory issues. So there was no out of character, combative fits, or terrifying times when she was scared to death because everyone was a “stranger.”
Her form of dementia had a good dose of across-the-board memory loss–with short-term and long-term lapses being about equal. And there were certainly confusion issues. Most nurturing acts such as bathing her and hair brushing she thought were being performed by her mother, no matter who was holding the brush or wiping her face.
When Gramcracker first started having issues, it was as a combo of her eyesight (may have been an early cognitive impairment marker) and her arthritis. She had worked a “man’s job” inspecting rubber tubes at Uniroyal for years. Here entire body had suffered the effects of the long shifts standing on her feet, bent at the shoulders, doing her job. As a newly divorced mother of three, she had been lucky enough to be hired during the War years. When peace was declared, she was again fortunate to retain her position because she had proven herself as a hard worker and excellent inspector.
Perhaps one of the earliest indicators of her decline was that she could no longer hold (her hands hurt) or see (her eyes were bad she said) her beloved romance novels. Over the years she must have read every single “Harley Quinn” Romance ever available at the grocer’s check out lane.
When the corner market lacked a fresh paperback for her to take home she was an avid reader of the National Enquirer–which I was also allowed to read…hmmm. That might explain some stuff 🙂
So, she began watching Soap Operas in place of her Romance novels. She called them her “Programs.” Inadvertently interrupting a “Program” by telephoning or stopping by to visit with Gramcracker without checking the time and TV Guide first could get you hurt!
After a few months, she began speaking as if she were a narrator for a real-life soap opera. It was funny, trippy, and only a wee bit worrisome.
As her body fell into a quick downward spiral, her mind followed along for the ride. Soon she dropped all social filters and spilled several very juicy family “secrets” with no cushioning or delicate prancing around the cold facts. She became brutally honest and very straight forward. A few of those tales are what I would refer to as “hair curlers” and I cannot be sure which ones were leftovers from her Soap Opera Narrative stage.
Over recent years, I have chased down the many of the stories she told me from that period and have found evidence of truth in each one–so far.
In my eyes, those few months of odd lucidity concerning the recollection of painful events was short lived. Suddenly she moved on to the last stage of her mental affliction; the “continuous loop.”
And that brings us to the day that I think I killed Gramcracker.
I know that sounds weird, nefarious, confessive…but I kind of worry that is what happened.
Let me explain
One day while my Uncle went out to a doctor’s appointment and to run a few errands, I came over to hang out with Gramcracker. Her state of “crazy” never really bothered me. I always thought of it as life in reverse. When I was little and living with her, I know that I did, said, and caused more than my share of absurdity. Like the afternoon my mom called the police because she thought I’d been snatched. I was hiding among the coats at the rack beside the telephone desk. When I heard her making the report I began to giggle. She hung up the phone and I got a heck of a whooping–Gramcracker wasn’t there to save me, she was sleeping after a night shift. I also know that I loved to sleep with her on her big feather bed. And she always let me, never complained, not a wink…even though I was a notorious bed-wetter.
The woman was a Saint in my eyes.
Her need to ask a question, re-ask, and then ask again– or to repeat the same sentence over and over didn’t annoy me in the least. Plus, among all the people she would see and not recognize–she always–always–knew me. She often couldn’t remember my given name, but she did remember that I was Goldie. Remembering me by the pet name she had given me, that was a gift for me to hang my heart on. All else aside, recognizing me as Goldie let me know she recalled our special bond.
On this particular day there were two questions that Gramcracker could not, would not let go of. Although they were nothing along the lines of what was shared between Bernadette and Our Lady of Fatima–the two things she kept asking me will never be revealed. And in reality, in the bigger scheme of things in the world, they were very small little matters, but they clearly were nagging her.
She asked me the same questions over and over in a carousel fashion.
I felt dizzy as she would ask, I would answer, she would ask the other question and before I could get the “brush it off answer #2” past my lips, she would hit me again with query #1.
And then I snapped. Even though I had been told–don’t tell your Grandmother about blahblahblah#1–I did.
She didn’t flinch. She moved on to question #2–I had been “sternly told” to not upset Grandmother with that situation either.
Well, she knew she had me cornered–I buckled–gave her the answer and then I watched as her entire demeanor changed. She relaxed, became quiet and a veil of serenity dropped over her. She was not upset. Gramcracker was a very intuitive woman and she knew she had been lied to about these two small issues for a long time. That hurt her, obviously pressing her with a great deal of unease. She was not shocked or upset. Relief is what happened. The two people and their “situtations” she had asked me about like a “ring around the rosy” were things she needed to know about. Without the truth, she could feel no peace.
When that understanding crossed the room from her adled mind to mine I audibly gasped.
Oh crap! I just killed Gramcracker!
Seeing the great weight lift off of her I sensed that these were two very important answers that she needed to have. She was always a mother to many more than her own children. She worried about and protected and fiercely loved us all. She had to know that we were all safe–that was the end game for her life–to be sure that those she loved were capable without her. I felt like I had just given her the permission that she had been seeking to leave.
Several weeks later she “took a turn” and within days was gone forever. I knew it was okay with her, because she knew the truth about two nagging questions her heart couldn’t let her relent on.
Living without her still hurts though.
But she taught me some important stuff and so I am strong. She taught me to fend for myself, only keep a man around if he was good to me and my kids, and to take good care of my hair–because it’s “a woman’s crown and glory.”
So Happy Birthday Gramcracker, I’m pretty sure you can see me–but just in case, I want you to know– I can buy my own car, I have a good husband–and my hair looks really good!
If you or someone close to you is a caregiver or love someone who is experiencing a dementia spectrum disease, do yourself a favor and check out the excellent blog “Going Gentle Into that Good Night” the information and stories there are worth a read! See it by clicking on the name. I highly recommend it.
In honor of all the Fathers out there, and in celebration of their “Day,” I’ve been saving up a small cache of poems. I love that all three are written by, or about men who are/ were fathers.
All are very different pieces, and all speak to different facets of the condition known as “manhood.” One is of the Veteran who never watched “War Movies.” One is of a man wishing to resurrect his younger years fathering his son and sharing adventures in a canoe. And the third, was written about the camaraderie and ritual of having breakfast, lunch, and “coffee” at Jack’s Place, the restaurant and small town bee-hive operated by my husband’s Coon Hound raising grandfather.
Happy Father’s day to All Dads– both here now and those who have already gone on. Know that you will live forever in the fiber that swaddles us up together as a family
#1 Sailor Man
T. D. Richards
Hope dead that it will be reborn
in this life, the canoe lays upside down in
a field of weeds.
A warped bottom proudly shows
a roadmap of its weathered history.
Anyone interested can see it has lived long.
Early on, a companion for father and son,
it now seems to be in the way. It can’t
help it wears heavy metal and is extra long.
How to compete with youngsters
who are sleek and sexy in fiberglass.
What really matters though is
who’s left to recount it’s connection
with its’ family of origin?
Who gets excited telling of its passages?
Who can thrill by reciting its blustery
as well as its halcyon days?
Who is there who can point out
which dent came from Sugar Creek
in Parke County and which came from
the West Fork of White?
Like few others she is not totally forgotten.
Some believe that there’s a river
to cross when you die.
Father to son, refit the old lady
when it’s time for my last voyage.
If it’s true, I’d like her to smooth the way.
#3 Coffee Shop routine
This isn’t the first time it’s happened–but it will likely be the last. And I suppose that makes it different, harder, odd. My Mom and Pop are selling their farm. And why shouldn’t they…they’re both past 80 now. When they bought it several years back, there were only two grandchildren. I don’t know why I feel so shaken by this. After all, I never lived there. They moved to this farm after my husband and I had been married almost 10 years. But so much of our family story is perked into that spot of ground, it’s been hard watching the Realtor sign go up next to the mailbox.
They love to tell the story of how they came around a bend in this old, barely paved country road and followed a long line of overgrown orchards mixed in with native trees. They passed over a one-lane bridge and came up a hill past the biggest Sycamore tree in Indiana. Suddenly, there, with the Sycamore standing vigil, the woods opened up and a meadow became visible. It sloped downward toward a barn lot on a gentle rolling hillside. Uphill, the tall meadow grasses and overgrown pear, apple and cherry trees hid the eaves of an old, long abandoned house.
They looked at each other and nodded. They carefully steered their city sedan up what was left of a gravel drive–more like a natural gully made by a hundred years of neglect and summer showers. Tiger Lilys grew wild, poking their fiery orange and speckled brown heads up above the wild Timothy hay. The well-house had long ago blown over in a forgotten storm, but the pump-head still stood, with the handle only lightly rusted. They looked at each other again, and stepped out into the knee deep weeds, grass and wildflowers.
The old house looked a bit ragged. It seemed the barn had fared better. The way it was sited on the hillside had probably given it some breaks against the weather. But the old house stood tall and straight. It had been built by a Quaker family in 1857 the farmer had told them. No one had lived in it for over 50 years, except an occasional Mama Coon raising her kits. It hadn’t been painted for much longer than that. At some point a porch had been added, then fallen away and removed again. So that’s how it stood, looking so plain-faced and sturdy.
My parents said they looked at each other again and smiled. My dad said–“Just looks like a Grandma and Grandpa farm doesn’t it?” they shook hands with the farmer and officially bought it the next week.
The Grand-kid population kept growing over the years, and regular weekend visits to the country were always a favorite treat. Where else could you go fishing, talk to a cow, climb a tree full of Bumblebees and cherries or walk along manger walls to the hay-rope and pretend you were a circus performer? All the flowers in sight were grown just to be picked by eager little hands, and the crop of barn kittens was an unending rainbow of variety.
So, I hope that the next family who buys it understands it for the treasure trove of childhood entertainments that it is. Maybe then they can overlook the uneven floor boards or the agony of the electrical and phone lines failing for days on end during an ice-storm or heavy snow. It’s time for Grandma and Grandpa to move on. The children are all Great Grandchildren now, and the farm is too much to keep up with. But it sure was fun mowing that grass–all 7 acres. The other 25 or so were for the big tractor
Today’s post is about the house I consider to be the most beautiful and amazing one ever built here in the heartland. I’ve enjoyed watching its restoration, meeting the amazing craftsman who had the vision and hands-on skill to do it, and shared some amazing stories. All the photos are from the private collection of Jerico Properties, and these and many more can be viewed on the company’s Facebook page. Thanks John and Jodi!
Golden Hill is not just a neighborhood or its centerpiece home. Golden Hill is a beautiful footbridge–an umbilical tether to the storied past of Indianapolis–Crossroads of America.
The makings of dreams are never easily traced. That is how I describe finding the simple entrance to Golden Hill. Tucked behind a small play park, it hides hugging a stretch of a wide urban route running between newer suburbs and the commercial hub at the city’s center. You must navigate your way past history on all sides as you try to find the magical hidden gem, Golden Hill.
The entrance cuts away to the west off a wide thoroughfare bordering Crown Hill Cemetery. Here is the final resting place for an impressive roster of celebrities, inventors, politicians and war heroes since opened in the middle 1800’s. The White River and the old Canal Towpath serve as a scenic twin boundary lines to the West.
Across these waterways, in winter time, one can glimpse a world class velodrome, a public golf course. Just beyond the line of sight a private Catholic University, the old Marian College, and the adjacent Seminary count themselves as Golden Hill neighbors.
To the north Golden Hill’s property adjoins Woodstock, arguably the city’s most prestigious Country Club. Just past the legendary sweeping greens of the old club’s golf course comes another main thoroughfare of the city, 38th Street. Rather poetically named “Maple Road” in the 19th century, overtime it was renamed with only the number “38.”
Facing Woodstock is the grand gated entrance to the Indianapolis Art Museum. Of international renown, the IMA and its acres of woodland, formal gardens, and Clowe’s Hall theater are proud neighbors as well. Even prestigious Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary are within reach of Golden Hill’s enclave. Look south as you near the entrance and you gaze upon the towering glint of the ever renewing Indianapolis skyline.
Once found, Golden Hill strikes stirrings of a miniaturized Biltmore Village in the heartland. It is an enclave of homes where the mythic Great Gatsby’s lawn parties were inspired by those hosted here in real life. The guests in attendance were the power brokers of the nation, stars of the silver screen, and darlings of the stage. Poets, playwrights, and novelists enjoyed all the ambiance of the most metropolitan cities of the world, while entertained by their Hoosier hosts and hostesses.
Houses here were inhabited by those of generational wealth like the fictitious Magnificent Ambersons. Here in Golden Hill, the long-monied lived happily next to neighbors who were new initiates to the growing Midwestern aristocracy. All the residents shared a common appreciation for finery and show.
At it’s center, the home on Spring Hollow Road is both the anchor and the original. This is a bold house; a home built for a man wealthy by virtue of hard work and an inclination towards tenacity. For years a Totem pole that once decorated the Alaskan pavilion at the 1876 Chicago Exposition–the World’s Fair in the White City–stood sentinel at the entrance. As the original, it was christened and named “Golden Hill” and then later lent the name to the neighborhood developed by the home’s owner around his own breathtaking manse.
The house DM Parry built for his family was meant to be more than an address. It is a central member of the family–a back story character witnessing growth and heartaches alongside the fortunate and privileged lives unfolding beneath its roof. The walls were built to be a sturdy rival to the massive monuments in Rome. Their purpose was well served as they were put up to impress, engulf, embrace and, yes, even protect those within them.
In contrast, the wide ornate doors were placed skillfully to invite in others of the same mind. Those who had a vision for a better way of living amid the cornfields and prairie lands along the White River found it here. The movers and shakers, the barons of the industrial revolution in the newly birthed Tin Lizzy marketplace all longed to live amid the bucolic curving lanes of Golden Hill.