Transportation Tuesday: The B & O Railroad Museum

RL Fifield 2009.

A fantastic collection in an incredible building tell the epic story of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The 1884 Roundhouse that serves as the centerpiece of the museum complex sits on the site the birthplace of American railroading, the ground dedicated to that purpose since 1829. The museum celebrates technology, travel, and business, and its quietness is a memorial to the shrinkage of the passenger rail industry and the shift of freight handling out of the city center.

RL Fifield 2009.

I love the hulking massiveness of the 1930s steam engines in the North Shop, the dinner china, the elegant lounge cars, the scene passing by the window. We threw it all away for the speed of flight and a bag of peanuts.




RL Fifield 2009.

In 2003, the Roundhouse ceiling collapsed under the weight of an ice storm. As several engines and cars sit within the roundhouse, the damage from the collapse was significant. The museum has renovated the ceiling, and those objects that are damaged are fenced off from the public with Plexi-glass walls. Signs with the price tag of restoration sit nearby, with photographs of the objects enveloped in snow from that awful morning.

Museum Monday: Beer Here! At the New York Historical Society

Yes, beer in museums.

Now on at The New York Historical Society, Beer Here: Brewing New York History reminds the visitor of the importance of beer as an industry, food, and social lubricant. Some of the most excellent objects I saw in the show was the account book of a New York brewer supplying beer to various units during the American Revolution (63rd of Foot in there, no surprise, as well as Provincial Taylors!), images of the Atlantic Beer Hall on the Bowery, and hand-painted beer trays from the late nineteenth century.

There’s a small beer hall at the end of the exhibit. At first consideration, my collection care radar thinks that this bit of access to “the material” tips the balance of preservation. Still, there appeared to be a fair amount of controls to prevent creating a museum preservation problem (i.e. bugs). The tasting events did sound to be a bit expensive for what was offered. I’d say go to the Pony Bar instead, and enjoy amazing American craft beers for the very reasonable price of $5 each.

Check out this blog on Klein Deutschland and the Lower East Side for extra information about the German-American influence on New York City, and to enjoy some great photography.

How about switching up the sports bar scene and drinking in these environs? Atlantic Garden, at 50 Bowery, c. 1870. NYPL Digital Library Archive.

Westward Ho! My Third Great Grandfather Travels, in 1851, as a genealogical tool, is a start for many doing genealogy. I see it as a way to sketch and share only. There are a lot of problems with it, but it’s certainly quicker than cranking through all those census records on microfilm like we did in the past. It allows you to get through the basic stuff, and focus on the more difficult questions, and spend more time in the archives with wills, tax records, and the like.

It’s also a sharing tool. A distant relative of mine with whom I’m not familiar contributed a newspaper article from 1897 written by my great great great grandfather, William Keyser Kilgore, and his trip to Ohio and Iowa in 1851. Today, Castle Fin, PA is not much more than a road near Delta, Pennsylvania.

Castle Fin Station, Castle Fin, Pennsylvania. Photo:

West ward Ho!  Fifty Years Ago by William K. Kilgore, Castle Fin, Pa. May 25, 1897

This was typed from a newspaper clipping [copy] that was sent to Gail M. Kilgore by Hazel Landreth of Springfield, VA who said this article was in her great grandmother’s scrapbook. PHILLIP WISE is the son of GEORGE and KESIA KILGORE WISE of Bellaire, OH. Keziah is the sister of JOSHUA KILGORE and the aunt of WILLIAM K. KILGORE and ELLEN DOUGLAS.  ELLEN DOUGLAS and WILLIAM K. KILGORE are also the siblings of JOHN KILGORE who moved to Biggsville, Henderson Co., IL in 1878. ANDREW CUNNINGHAM KILGORE was the son of LEVI KILGORE and nephew of JOSHUA KILGORE. JAMES ALEXANDER, father of Margaret Ann and Rachel lived in Peach Bottom Township, York Co., PA Their mother ELIZABETH McGREAGOR ALEXANDER is a native of Peach Bottom Township. The Alexander family are from Belmont Co., OH. James Alexander sold his land in Fawn Township and moved to OH.

Fifty Years Ago The people of this generation have little idea of travel in the west 50 years ago; nor how wild and comparatively unsettled the country was west of Ohio, so I thought I would give an account of a trip I made as far west as Iowa, 48 years ago. On May 1st, 1851, I started on my trip for what was then the “far west”. I started from Castle Fin and went to Baltimore where I got a ticket over the B & O R. R. for Wheeling, Virginia on the Ohio River. Arriving there I crossed the river, and went out about 2 miles in Ohio to where my uncle, GEORGE WISE lived. I remained in the neighborhood till the 15th of November following. In company with three others, I then concluded to go west to Iowa City, Iowa. We went to Bellaire, Ohio where we got tickets to Columbus. We arrived there at ten o’clock that day and had to remain there till 9 o’clock that night on account of a broken bridge. In our party were PHILLIP WISE, ANDREW KILGORE, JAMES ALEXANDER, [father of MRS. T. M. CRAWFORD and MRS. CHARLES R. McCONKEY] and myself. While waiting at Columbus, we all concluded to visit the penitentiary, so we went to the office and asked leave. They sent a man with us and we got orders not to speak to the prisoners. What we saw there was a lesson for life. If all could see such places of punishment, I don’t think there would be so many criminals in prison. When our train was ready to pull out, we got tickets for Rock Island, Ill. on the banks of the Mississippi River. That was as far as we could go by rail. We crossed the river to Davenport, Iowa, from which it was still 60 miles to go down the river bottom. We started at 8 o’clock at night and placed ourselves in the care of the driver. He had a quart bottle in his pocket, which he used too freely, and about half way down he upset the stage and all that was in it. We helped to lift the old stage back on the road, but were detained about two hours. When ready to start, the driver wanted us to drink with him but not feeling in the best of humor, not one of us touched it. We got to the end of that route by daylight the next day. We took another stage out across the prairies 30 miles to Iowa City. The weather was very cold for that time of year. We got there about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. I don’t recollect setting a house from the time we left the Mississippi River till we got to Iowa City, and indeed, there were scarcely a dozen houses in Iowa City, and I know of but one railroad in the state at that time. It was the C. B. & Q. and crossed the Mississippi at Burlington. We all went to Iowa to buy land, and had considerable money with us for those times–about $3500.00 in all. The talk was when we left home, that land could be bought for $125.00 per acre; but the weather was so cold and there were so few settlers in that part of the country that we got disgusted and left. We returned to the Mississippi River, where my company left me for home. I went down the river 90 miles to Burlington, crossed the river and traveled 12 miles out through Illinois, to where my sister, MRS. ELLEN DOUGLAS lived near Biggsville. I remained there all winter and part of the next summer, and enjoyed myself very much. There were but few settlers in that part of the country at that time; houses a long way apart, wild game of all kind was abundant, such as deer, wild geese, wild turkeys, prairie chickens, wolves, and rabbits too numerous to mention. I hunted a good deal and killed all kinds of game. The native prairie was very beautiful, clear of stone and all rubbish–no sand and not a stone as big as a chestnut. I think that country must have been under water at one time. In digging a well close to Biggsville, the well digger found a log 22 feet down. The land is very black and rich. Amoung the first settlers in that part of the state was a Kentuckian. He had broken twenty acres of prairie and put in corn 20 years in succession and had a good crop last year as any other. Every thing was plentiful there except wood and water. Farmers had to haul wood 10 to 15 miles; but there is a good deal more wood there now than there was then….The prairies were burned over in the spring to give the little shoots a chance to grow into timber. Grist mills were scarce. The nearest worth anything was 30 miles from Biggsville, down the Mississippi River. My brother-in-law MATTHEW DOUGLAS, and myself went on one trip to that mill. It was a big one and did a power of grinding; never stopped day or night, or Sunday. They didn’t take toll; but ground for money. Corn was plentiful that there was little sale for it–even at 13 cents per bushel; and I was told that some had been sold for 9 cents. Not much wheat was raised, and that was of poor quality on account of the cold winters. The farmers raised big crops of corn and a great many hogs, which was their main dependence to money. One man could work 50 acres of corn. They did not cut it, but drove a team to the field and husked it on the stalk and put it in large cribs 50 to 100 feet long. They shelled it by horse power. The farmers carefully saved the cobs for fuel, and sometimes burned corn, cob and all, when they had no wood. Some of these things may seem strange to some people who read these lines but to the best of my knowledge, it is all correct. 

New York Diaries, 1609–2009

I spent a lot of time chronicling my life from the time I was 8 until I was about 21 or so. I find that when I write other things (fiction, research papers, poetry, blogs) I don’t feel the need to journal as much. It is fortuitous that those diarists captured in New York Diaries, 1609–2009, (Modern Library, 2012) did.

Teresa Carpenter does not arrange the selected snippets of text in a chronological order. Instead, she starts with January 1, and then includes diary excerpts from a variety of New Yorkers celebrating the New Year throughout time: John Bigelow in 1844, William H. Bell in 1851, John Sloan in 1906, and Judith Malina in 1953. Then she proceeds to January 2. The format is compelling, meshing the New Yorkers stories in a way that would be lost in a chronological arrangement. The editing of the diary passages is smart, as is the combination of the known and unknown: young girls, Clare Sheridan, Simone de Beauvoir, Andy Warhol and George Washington. Voices smash together, debutante, communist, labor, gay, Federalist, high wire daredevil (obviously, Philippe Petit). The snippets capture the season, the clatter, the effort, the squalor; within these carefully culled selections are the scenes and the life original to New York.

I particularly am fond of George Templeton Strong’s turns of phrase:

February 29, 1836

I have taken up my pen again after an interval of two months, caused partly by my ardor for laziness and partly by my ardor for science, exemplified in blowing up my hand. Mem[orandum]. Never to pound chlorate of potass[ium] and sulphur together again without thick gloves and never to pound them at all when I can help it.

Such is the risk of inquiry, and documentation.

Arts and Crafts Hors d’Oeurves – Meta Givens’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking

Get a sharp knife, some scissors, and good luck.

I remember the first time I opened Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook.  I laughed out loud – it was a guide to preciousness and I found the intricate directions hilarious. But the photography was so appealing, the geometry so beautiful. I can see the attraction. Within Meta Givens’s instructions for hors d’oeuvres in her Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking (1947, 1959 ed.) I can see this practice take root. Be an instant success as a hostess with a loaf of white bread and dribbles of sieved egg yolks, thin piped lines of stiff mayonnaise, pink-tinted cream cheese, anchovy coils, and “parsley leaflets.”

According to Givens, “canapes are fashioned to be eaten with the fingers, and do not have to be served with alcoholic beverages to be correct and up-to-date as some gourmands would have one believe.” Quelle horreur.

Here’s a recipe for Baked Bean Canapes: “Economical but pretty good!!” I don’t think this is what Martha had in mind.
1/2 cup baked beans
1 tbsp chili sauce
1/2 tsp prepared mustard
1/4 tsp onion juice
Dash of salt
Thin slices whole wheat or Boston brown bread
3 tbsp creamed butter
Green onion slices or chopped cucumber
Small red radishes

Drain off juice and mash beans fine. Blend in next 4 ingredients. Toast bread on one side, cut 24 strips 1″ x 2″, or cut circles of brown bread in 4 pie-shaped pieces. Spread with butter, then generously with bean mixture. Suggested garnish: Onion slices or mound of chopped cucumber for pie-shaped pieces, and a row of radish slices stuck into the strips. 20 canapes.


Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking, page 178-179.


What’s Left Behind: A Harford County, Maryland Probate Inventory

George Harrison Bowman, child of John Bowman and Ann Baker

Both of my great great great grandparents died in 1857, leaving my fifteen year old great great grandfather  (at right) an orphan. Interestingly, he never appears in the census until after his marriage in 1880 when he was nearly forty years old. Where he lived and how he supported himself up until his service in the Civil War and before his marriage to Harriet Evans of Webster (outside Havre de Grace) has yet to be discovered. While the grand era of probate inventories ended mostly by the early 19th century, my 3rd great grandparents were ill prepared for death in their early 50s. If you died with no will, your neighbors would inventory the contents of your house in order to determine your estate’s worth and satisfy your creditors. The Bowmans’ farm was likely near Rock Run, in Harford County, where Bowman descendants still live today. Rock Run is a formerly bustling industrial site and the former location of the longest covered bridge in Maryland history, which crossed the Susquehanna. Here is a transcription from the microfilm of the inventory chronicling the contents of their house after their passing. The original document was damaged prior to microfilm photography, and is lost to time.

John Bowman Inventory
d. 1857

State of Maryland to George W. Hopkins and Benjamin [damaged line] to appraise the goods, chattels, and Personal Estate of John Bowman late of Harford County, deceased so far as the same shall come to your sight and knowledge, each of you having first taken the oath of affirmation hereto annexed, a certificate whereof you are to return under and and seal annexed an Inventory of said Goods, chattels and personal Estate by you appraised in Dollars and cents; and in said Inventory you are to set down in a column or column opposite each article the value thereof. Witness John K. Sappington Esq Chief Justice of the Orphans’ Court of Harford County
(seal) Issued this day _ of August 1857.

(missing page?)
? or prejudice, value and appraise the goods chattels and personal Estate of John Bowman Deceased so far as the same shall come to our sight and knowledge, and ? in all respects perform one duty as appraisers to the best of our skill and judgement.

An Inventory of the Goods and chattels of John Bowman late of Harford county deceased appraised of the subscribers this 3rd day of August 1857.

1 Lot of old iron 1.30
8 lbs “ “ .85
1 Lot carpet rags .45
2 Ax bows (?) 1.25
1 half bus. & peck measure .37
2 Axes 1.50
1 Lot hay forks .75
1 Rake & Shovel .20
1 Mattock & hoe .75
1 Crow bar .50
1 Lot Plough gears 2.00
1 Grind Stone 1.50
1 Lot Guano & plaster 1.75
2 Corn basket .75
1 Drawing knife .75
Lot coopers tools 2.25
1 Wheel barrow 1.25
2 Stone & poker 5.00
2 Tubs & ? 2.25
1 Lot of bags 3.94
1 “ Stone and ? ware 7.50
1 “ tin ware & wood ware 1.50
1 “ Pots & kettles 6.75
1 Shovel tongs & andirons .75
2 Saddles & bridle 7.00
1 ? & spinning wheel (damaged)
1 (illg) Loom (damaged)
1 Chisel “. 57
5 lbs (Rolls?) 2.00
Rocking cradle .50
Case of Drawers 4.00
1 ?atch (watch???) 5.00
5 Bedsteads 6.00
2 Beds and (illg) 50.05
1 Clock 2.00
2 Lounges 3.00
1 Candlestand and cover .75
1 Dozen chairs 1.00
3 M(illg) 3.37

(from here is what I can read of the missing page)
1 Lot garden tools
1 Gun & appar
1 Lot window
1 “ Books
2 bottom dowl
1 Lot bee hives
1 “ Peach tree
1 mowing
1 Lot hay
“ which
1 Plough
1 Lot corn supp
1” Corn in sh
1 Lead pole & ch
1 Lot barrow
Hair? & cut
Lot potatoes
Coopers tool
1 Ox cart
1 pr Oxen & yoke
1 Horse
1 Lot milk pan
1 “ ash boards
2 Hogs
1 Cow
1 Lot black ra?
1 Spittoon
1 (illg) cask

What I Ate: Germany

It’s not all sauerbraten and rouladen. I was pleasantly surprised by incredible salads, grilled fish, and lots of mushrooms while in Germany.

Not everybody’s idea of breakfast. German hotel breakfast offering. Photo credit:

Let’s start with breakfast. I love European hotel breakfast (most of them). Most decent hotels have a pretty good spread at breakfast, and in Germany, that means aufschnitt – that would be lunchmeat and sausage to Americans. I love it. I’m not a great fan of sweet and bland in the morning, so I was thrilled to find smoked salmon, sausages and soft cheeses, rounded out with fruit, six kinds of granola, juice, and fantastic coffee.


From the cafe at K21 Art Museum, Dusseldorf.


Warm weather in Germany led to some great salads topped with grilled fish and crisp bread one evening…




and octopus and squid the next.

At the Golden Unicorn, Dusseldorf.

I did try out some heavier fare. At Brauerie Peters in the Aldermarkt in Cologne they had several mushroom dishes. After consulting the English menu and pointing out what I wanted in the German menu, a plate of slightly sweet dumpings with salty bits of cured ham within, draped in a chanterelle sauce, arrived at my table. (It turns out that Germans consume the most mushrooms per capita in the world, read here). And of course, there was Alt beer in Dusseldorf, and Kolsch in Cologne.

Mushroom dumplings with chanterelle sauce in Cologne.


Bakeries seem to be on every corner. My friend, Ms. S, hails from a town just across the river from Dusseldorf and I’ve heard her bemoan the lack of German bakeries in NYC.

This plum kuchen is for her.

Plum kuchen at the cafe at K21.

Transportation Tuesday: A Moment on the Baltimore and Ohio

I was inspired by this salted paper print from the 1850s of people posing for a photograph on a Baltimore and Ohio engine. I thought about the women in their stays and hoops, and wondered if they were boosted up onto that ledge, or if they walked out from the cab to rest upon their perch. Either way, it’s not easy with your torso confined (I had to crawl up into a 5 ton troop transport in eighteenth century stays to be transported for a reenactment once – a National Guardsman planted a hand square on my fanny and up I went). The image was taken in Oakland, a Garrett County town almost all the way to West Virginia (then Virginia). While rail fans could talk a lot more about the technology of this locomotive, I love the moment the photograph captures.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991.1151.

Museum Monday: Online Patterns of Eighteenth Century Garments from LACMA’s Collection

Speaking as a museum professional and a living history practitioner, what a great project.

Theatrical designer Thomas John Bernard and Curatorial Assistant Clarissa Esguerra work with the collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo credit: LACMA.

At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s web page, conservators and curators worked with Thomas John Bernard, a theatrical designer, to create gridded patterns of four eighteenth century men’s garments, offered online at no charge. This effort both shares the construction information of four extant garments as well as reveals the museum at work. Those of us who are collection managers know that all our preservation efforts are only as good as the access to collections that preservation affords. If providing patterns of these objects online reduces the need for handling by some researchers, then progress in the preservation of that object has been made.  Certainly, costs involved included time spent working with the objects, drawing the patterns, dressing the objects and photographing them (perhaps done in the past for another exhibition), and web development. But creating and sharing these patterns and notes online shares the knowledge acquired during one researchers visit, multiplying the impact of that session.


Geisha and Maiko – Japanese Classical Dance

RL Fifield performing Botan with Ichifujikai in 2006. My height earned me male roles, along with accompanying tummy padding under my kimono and hakama.

I used to be involved in a Japanese dance troupe in New York city. Most people aren’t familiar with the dance style, and describing it as akin to kabuki still drew blank looks.

Within the dance, there is a correct place for your feet, your head, your hands, and even your eyes – at all times. There are breathless golden moments in which you do not move, or breathe. The body of the dancer frames images that the song brings forth, views of mountains, shy looks, the power of goddesses, the joking of street minstrels, rain on an afternoon. The fan is precisely managed in the hand, the lead weights in the guards assist in righting it when the fan is tossed in the air. Your thumbs are tucked against your palm, hands curving into an elegant shape. You learn not only to place your feet for the dance, but also to use your feet to maneuver the trailing hem of your kimono. Observe her crouch, never are her knees locked – try it for a minute or two, and then try to walk while maintaining that crouch, knees always pressed together. Not only does the dancer’s body have to be strong to excel at the dance, the maiko must also gracefully carry the weight of 30-40 extra pounds of clothing, much of it concentrated in the densely woven obi dangling from her shoulder blades.

Click here for the video: Maiko dance

A different maiko and geisha dancing. They have specific characteristics to their dress that indicate their status and experience. For example, the maiko wears a long trailing obi and sleeves, while the geisha’s are short. Photo: By Joi Ito ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons