Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas in Victorian America

Christmas in Victorian America (1837-1901) wasn’t always what we think of as a traditional holiday. In colonial times, Americans from different religions and national origins kept the holiday (or didn’t keep it) in ways carried over from the Old World. Puritans, for instance, tended to ignore Christmas because the Bible was silent on the topic. Many kept this attitude until the 1870s. Virginia planters took the occasion to feast, dance, gamble, hunt and visit, following what they thought were old Christmas customs in English manors. Even as late as the early nineteenth century, many Americans hardly took notice of the holiday at all.



However, we must not forget the large Dutch and German populations in the Northern colonies. These immigrants had no qualms about celebrating the winter holiday, and many of our modern traditions come from these backgrounds.

By the mid-century, improved communication, improved travel and a generally increased pace of life created the need for common customs. People longed for what they saw as traditional values, particularly centering around the family hearth. The various Christmas practices began to merge into one American holiday. Its relative lack of theological or Biblical authority “ironically allowed Christmas to emerge as a highly ecumenical event in a land of pluralism.”

Especially in the Northern cities, Christmas emerged as a tool to forge a national culture. By the 1850s, it had captured the Northern imagination and was making inroads in the South. The Civil War intensified the appeal of the holiday. “Its sentimental celebration of family matched the yearnings of soldiers and those they left behind. Its message of peace and goodwill spoke to the most immediate prayers of all Americans.”

The Northern victory in 1865 solidified many of the modern traditions, and customs and symbols of Yankee origin came to stand for the American Christmas. This new “revived Christmas” offered a retreat from contemporary life, but cast in contemporary terms. Americans varied old themes and introduced new symbols to create something uniquely their own.



Christmas rituals first got a toehold in New York, with savvy merchants quick to realize their commercial value. German bakeries began staying open late to decorate their windows with red silk buntings and holly. Holiday shoppers couldn’t resist the cakes, toys and candies displayed under glittering gas-lamps – nor could they ignore the smells of cinnamon kuchens (cakes) and sweet almond paste. By the 1870s, Macy’s was dressing their windows with Christmas displays. One window displayed dolls from Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Bohemia; another showed scenes from Uncle Tom’s cabin, with steam-powered movable parts.

The Dutch called their Santa Claus Saint Nicholas, and it is from them we learned the tradition of the Christmas stocking. As early as 1832, Harriet Martineau had identified what would become one of the most familiar symbols of the American Christmas: the Christmas tree. And by the 1850s, many Americans, not just New Englanders, had fallen in love with the German tradition.

As the tree became more popular, it also assumed a place in the market. During the 1850s, town squares began to bristle with trees cut for seasonal profits. By 1900, one American in five celebrated the holiday with a tree. At first, the decoration of these evergreens reflected the whim of folk tradition. People added strings of popcorn or beads, nuts, oranges or lemons, candies, and home-made trinkets. However, popular newspapers and magazines raised the standards for decoration (“cotton batting dipped in thin gum arbic and then diamond dust makes a beautiful frosting for tree branches”), and homely ornaments gave way to more sophisticated ones. Tree decoration soon became big business. As early as 1870, American businessmen began to import large quantities of German ornaments to be sold on street corners and variety shops. Vendors hawked glass balls in bright colors, tin cut in all imaginable shapes, and wax angels with spun glass wings.

The first Christmas cards were distributed by R.H. Pease, a printer and variety store owner from Albany, New York, in the early 1850s. A family scene dominated the small card’s center, but unlike its English forerunner (only a decade older), the images on the corners showed pictures of the bounty and joy of the season rather than reminders of poverty, cold, or hunger. It took Louis Prang, a German immigrant and “astute reader of public taste,” to expand the sending of cards to a grand scale. Prang arrived in America in 1850 and made a name as a printer. By 1870, he owned nearly two-thirds of the steam presses in America and had perfected the color printing process. When Prang introduced his Christmas cards to America in 1875, they proved such a hit that he could not meet demand.



Decorated trees and cards were only window dressing to the custom of Christmas gift-giving that blossomed in the 1870s and 1880s, clearly a product of the new world of commerce and consumerism. Presents also served more subtle ends, however. The getting and giving of gifts provided a means of dealing with social change. Personal gifts “mediated the fragile relationships of an increasingly fragmented society.” Charitable gifts provided “symbolic solutions to the problems of economic inequality that threatened social peace and individual conscience.”

“If you have money to spend on presents, do not waste on people richer than yourself, but on those poorer. Above all, in sending presents, do not send articles that cost money and are vulgar and tawdry. A piece of music, a note written on Christmas Day, wishing many happy returns, or a few flowers, entail no obligation, require no work, and do their own work of love as well as costly gifts, and show a delicacy of breeding” (The Ladies World, December 1892).

The custom had once been merely to give the gift unadorned and uncovered, but a present hidden in paper heightened the effect and helped designate the item as a gift. American stores understood the symbolism and began to wrap gifts in distinctive colored papers with tinsel cords and bright ribbons as part of their delivery service.

Handmade gifts, created months in advance, were often hung on the Christmas tree. There might be a pen-wiper in the shape of a water lily, a knitting bag worked with silk floss and matching fringe, a red rose potpourri, quince jam, and maybe a pair of embroidered bed slippers. Brown or white paper wrappings were used and sealed with wax. In many homes, gifts were exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in others they waited until after church on Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve also brought carolers, who would afterwards be invited into the home for hot beer, punch, and pennies. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843 in England, quickly became a world favorite and many families made a tradition of reading this book aloud on Christmas Eve. Storytelling of all kinds was a classic form of parlor entertainment on this night, and interestingly, ghost stories were a prime request at the holidays. 

A discussion of the evolution of Santa Claus would take another entire post, but suffice to say that the jolly old elf first appeared in the 1820s, in a semi-modern form, in Clement Moore’s “An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas.” By the 1850’s and 60s, artists and writers had given wide circulation to Moore’s interpretation of the revised saint. Thomas Nast’s artwork expanded on the American version of St. Nick, making him taller and dressed in red. Moore had already given the old fellow eight reindeer, but Nast added a workshop at the North Pole, manned by elves. By the end of the 19thCentury, Santa Claus had solidified into the version we are familiar with today.



Here’s a recipe your characters might have followed for a Christmas ham. “An excellent manner of cooking a ham is the following: Boil it three or four hours, according to size; then skin the whole and fit it for the table; then set it in the oven for half an hour, cover it thickly with pounded rusk or bread-crumbs, and set back for half an hour longer. Boiled ham is always improved by setting it in an oven for nearly an hour, until much of the fat dries out, and it also makes it more tender.” The Practical Housekeeper, a Cyclopedia of Domestic Economy, Elizabeth Fries Ellet, 1857.

The main course of Christmas dinner would, of course, have depended on ethnic background and where one lived. Anglophiles favored sirloin, beef or goose. But most Americans served turkey stuffed with oysters or a ham (sometimes both). Occasionally there were two turkeys -- one boiled and one roasted. There was also likely to be sausages, bacon, roast potatoes, and whatever vegetables might be available (turnips, baked squash, cabbage dishes). Then there was the homemade bread, preserves, mince pie or plum pudding.

J.E.S. Hays
www.facebook.com/JESHaysBooks
Sources:
Christmas in 19thCentury America (History Today) -https://www.historytoday.com/penne-restad/christmas-19th-century-america
The American Christmas (Writers in the Storm) - https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/the-american-christmas-victorian-style-and-today/

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for Deeember

This month's topic will be a bit of an unabashed, and unapologetic, plug for my latest Texas RAnger James C. Blawcyzk novel, Tough Month for a Ranger, just released by Firestar Press, an imprint of Cheryl and Livia's Prairie Rose Publications.

This is my second contemporary Texas Ranger novel, following the adventures, trials, and tribulations of sixth generation Ranger James C. Blawcyzk, a direct descendant of the first James C. Blawcyzk, the main protagonist in my first Texas Ranger traditional western series. The current day Jim is every much an old-fashioned, no-nonsense Texas Ranger as his ancestors, but proficient in the modern methods and tools of crime fighting.

That brings me to the main topic. The difference between writing traditional versus contemporary Westerns.

I find it much more difficult to write contemporary Westerns. When you're working in the time period of the old West,  you can pretty much change around settings, places, names, and any other details to suit your plot, as long as your details aren't too far fetched, or the actions of your characters too outrageous. Most people won't notice the differences in such details, except for the purists. I try to keep things as accurate as I can, but, like any fiction writer, will make changes to fit the story.

It's not that simple with a contemporary novel. You'd better get the details right, including landmarks, highways, city streets, businesses, and methods correct, or someone will be certain to point out yo u have your character, say, driving the wrong way down a one way street in Austin.Many of the locations in my novels I have visited personally, so I have photographs I've taken for reference. I used to, and sometimes still do, rely on a good old fashioned Rand McNally road atlas .However, I've found Google Maps to be an invaluable resource. You can get details of your settings from Street View, and a good idea of the geography for the satellite images.

Some other examples. Frontier Texas Rangers didn't have a dress code. Present day Rangers do. Different departments use different vehicles and weapons. And obviously, there are many more restrictions  on the olice today.

Despite the extra effort it takes, I love writing for both eras. Give it a try.

Until next year, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

"Ranger" Jim


Monday, December 10, 2018

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Suspenders by Kaye Spencer #trivia #westernfictioneers #fashionhistory

Suspenders (aka braces and galluses) have been around for centuries as a practical means of holding up one's britches, particularly because of the high waists on men's trousers before belts and belt loops became functionally popular, which was roughly around World War I, when soldiers were introduced to uniform belts. Since the 1920s, suspenders have continued to ride a roller coaster of fashion popularity.

An article on the website Time.com offers this tidbit about the origins of suspenders along with an amusing anecdote:

The first suspenders can be traced to 18th century France, where they were basically strips of ribbon attached to the buttonholes of trousers. Benjamin Franklin is said to have worn them — although it's probably best not to ask how historians know that; back then, suspenders were considered an undergarment never to be seen in public. In fact, visible suspenders were considered risqué as recently as 1938, when a town in Long Island, NY tried to ban gentlemen from wearing them without a coat, calling it "sartorial indecency."
"First Suspenders" Public Domain Image


This article goes on to explain that in the 1820s, a British designer named Albert Thurston manufactured suspenders as we know them, which brings me to Samuel Langhorne  Clemens, aka author Mark Twain, as an  inventor of an alternative to suspenders.
Samuel Clemens Public Domain (b. Nov. 30, 1835 - d. Apr. 21, 1920)

Clemens received his first patent (#1221992) on December 19, 1871 for an alternative to suspenders, which he reportedly loathed entirely as miserably uncomfortable. He called this invention an "Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments" (ADSG). However, as with many inventions, the original designs are often adapted and the inventor's intent is either lost completely or altered in new and interesting ways.

Suspenders in Hollywood:
John Wayne with suspenders*


Humphrey Bogart with suspenders**
Clemens' suspenders patent didn't catch on for suspenders. According to an article from Smithsonian Magazine (HERE):

His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” was a button-on adjustable strap that could be used to tighten garments–it could pinch a shirt at the waist, for example. “The advantages of such an adjustable and detachable elastic strap are so obvious that they need no explanation...” It would also be simple to make non-elastic detachable straps, Clemens wrote, “but I prefer to make them elastic.

An article in The Atlantic Monthly (HERE) explained it this way:

Clemens designed the adjustable and detachable strap to be used from one garment to another in order to 'fix' whatever clothing issue the wearer encountered. However, he did not elaborate on exactly how his invention should be used. He wrote that the "advantages of having a stretchy strap for any item is so obvious that they need no explanation."

Image from Smithsonianmag.com

His invention 'ADSG' did not catch on for pantaloons, suspenders, or vests. It did, however, find its niche with one particular garment: the brassiere. So, now you know who to thank, or cuss, for how a traditionally designed bra fastens.




On a side note, the other patents Clemens received were for a self-pasting scrapbook technique (1873) and a history trivia game (1875). He made $50,000 from the scrapbook invention. His other inventions either cost him money in the long run or simply didn't work. The website ThoughtCo.com has more information about his other inventions and investments-gone-wrong HERE.



Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time


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Resources/References
Shop Mr & Mrs Renaissance - https://www.mrm-accessories.com/blog/2015/1/5/the-look-and-history-of-suspenders-braces
Smithsonian.com - SmartNews - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-mark-twains-hatred-suspenders-drove-him-invent-180967577/
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office - https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/news-updates/mark-twain-granted-his-first-patent-december-19-1871
The Atlantic - https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/07/celebrity-invention-mark-twains-elastic-clasp-brassiere-strap/241267/
Time.com - http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2037331,00.html

ThoughtCo.com - https://www.thoughtco.com/what-were-mark-twains-inventions-740679
Images:
First Suspenders image Public Domain - Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Samuel Clemens - Public Domain image: UnknownUnknown author, MarkTwain.LOC, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
*John Wayne imbd - https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000078/mediaviewer/rm2120462592
**Humphrey Bogart - https://goo.gl/images/KU44HM

Openclipart.com - 'wow'

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Loading a Cap and Ball Revolver


Cap and ball weapons were all “the thing” during the Civil War and later—right up until Smith & Wesson’s patent ran out on the bored-through cylinder and Samuel Colt could get in the self-contained cartridge game. Numerous models of cap and ball revolvers were produced until 1873.

If your character is using a cap and ball weapon, there are limitations. For instance, a muzzle-loaded long gun gives you one shot; a cap and ball revolver with six shots is just that—six shots. And  it can’t be reloaded quickly. Your characters won’t be reloading it while running from the bad guys or riding to the rescue. Keep reading and you’ll understand why.

Unlike a modern cartridge, where the bullet, powder and primer are enclosed in a brass case, reloading a cap and ball revolver takes 6 steps for each chamber. That’s six steps times six chambers to fully reload a revolver.

I took most of these pictures of my friend and fellow cowboy action shooter, “Major Misalot”, reloading his cap and ball revolver cylinder. The reloading can be done while the cylinder is in place on the revolver, too.

The loading is done in reverse order of the firing process, from the barrel side of the cylinder:

1. Add powder













In this picture of “Major Misalot”, he used a reloading “station”. Another cowboy friend “Noz” used a powder flask to measure the powder for each cylinder.

2. Place a lead ball on the powder in each cylinder












3. Ram the ball home, all the way down into the chamber. 










“Major Misalot” is using his modern reloader, but this can be done using the ramming rod on the revolver, as in the next picture. The rod is firmly pressed into the chamber then the cylinder is rotated until all six lead balls have been rammed pushed into place.












4. Grease the cylinder to prohibit chain firing – where the burning powder from one shot ignites the others in the cylinder. Obviously not a good thing!











5. Cap the nipple (think blasting cap here)



Another method to “cap” the chamber is to use a capper, a spring-loaded brass disc that presents the cap. Above, “Major Misalot” hand capped his. “Noz” uses a capper. He pressed a cap into position six times then went back over all six chambers to be sure the caps seated properly.

NOW its finally ready to fire.

With practice, it doesn’t take all that long to reload the six chambers in a cylinder, but you really can’t pour powder, ram a ball, cap the nipple and grease the chamber at a gallop. I can certainly see why many who relied on a cap and ball revolver carried fully loaded spare cylinders.

And, just to remind you why someone shooting black powder can’t hide…












Tracy Garrett

Saturday, December 1, 2018

GUNSLINGER 6: Author J. L. GUIN


By Tom Rizzo


Bounty Poachers, the latest novel by J.L. (Jerry) Guin, represents the third of a four-book series featuring Deputy U.S. Marshal James P. Stone. (Pushed Too Far, Book 1, & Lawman’s Gun (Book 2).
This time, Stone picks up the trail of two brothers who hunt men for bounty. Once, hard-working farmers, the two siblings turn bounty hunters as a way to survive. 

But success heightens their hunger for bigger paydays and one of the brothers comes up with a unique idea: killing other bounty hunters and poaching their captives. 




- GUNSLINGER 6 -


1.   The name of your latest novel is BOUNTY POACHERS. Tell me a little about the title and how you came by it.




Actually, the title came about after I had written the third chapter. I felt Bounty Poachers was a perfect title because of how the story was developing.



2.   What served as the inspiration for the story? What triggered the idea for the novel or the characters?

Lots of authors write about Old West bounty hunters. I wanted something a little different. The brothers, Jasper and Jason, are two young men, who lived and witnessed their parent's failure to scratch out a living on a Nebraska homestead. 

With both parents passing, Jasper became hardened by the hand that was dealt them. He saw life as it was on the frontier, tough and demanding. Jason, being of a softer nature was used to doing as he was told by his parents. Afterward, he just went along with whatever his older brother proposed.   



3.   Antagonists play a vital role in storytelling. Yours happens to be two brothers, broke and desperate. But are they motivated by something other than mere survival? What are their good qualities?

If not for circumstance, the brothers most likely would have lived as farmers their entire life. Jasper took the temperament of his father, lashing out when things didn't suit him. 

Jason took on the qualities of his mother, quiet, reserved and agreeable. It was Jasper who came up with the idea of hunting men for bounty. He hated groveling for a mundane job for little pay. 

Later, the idea of killing a bounty hunter and poaching his captive was his too. He had no plans to return to farm life. Bringing in wanted men were paying off.



4.   Deputy US Marshal James Stone is the main character—someone you’ve written about in two other novels. Who is Stone? Why should a reader care about him?

James Stone was introduced in PUSHED TOO FAR (first in the series) He and his freighting partner were accosted and robbed in their nighttime camp in the territory. 

During the robbery, Eldon Greyson, Stone's mentor, neighbor, and partner was killed. Stone heard one of the robbers call out the name of “Laird” just before he was knocked out. After walking to safety, Stone dedicated himself to finding and killing Laird.



While chasing after a train robber, his travels take him to Eaton, Kansas where he becomes a deputy sheriff then meets Deputy Marshal Jackson Millet. 

Millet invites him to become a deputy U. S. Marshal. In Book two–LAWMAN GUN—Stone becomes a U.S. Deputy Marshal, with the idea that the position would allow him to continue his search for Laird.






5.   What was your hardest scene to write?

Coming up with a suitable ending to the book. Stone still hadn't located Laird so in order to do so required another volume to be written. Book four DUE JUSTICE will be out soon. I'd like to note that the fine folks, Cheryl and Livia over at Sundown Press have been just great in publishing this series.


6.   What is the first story you ever published and how do you think of it now?

In 1995, Douglas Sharp asked for submissions to his little magazine called Western Digest up in Calgary. I sent in my story “Caught Red Handed.” It wasn't a very good story but it was my first and I was ecstatic when Douglas sent me a check for $15.00.
I went on to write 6 more stories for Western Digest. It has been a fun ride since then and I am still learning. 


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Jerry and his wife Ginny live in northern California. A prolific writer, he has authored over 40 short stories and 15 novels. 

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