Transportation Tuesday: Fred Harvey Is Your Host

I just finished Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West by Stephen Fried (visit his website here). Combine my nerdiness for railroad nostalgia with food and you have my ideal 515 page page turner.

Fred Harvey was a British immigrant that brought high standards for trackside eating halls alongside the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad. Beginning in the 1870s, the Harvey family operated numerous restaurants and hotels along the railroad, culminating in several hotels along the south rim of the Grand Canyon, which still operate today. It also outlines the careers of many others, including interior designer Mary Colter, who was responsible for the interiors of many of the Harvey destination hotels. Some other sites to check are the Kansas Historical Society, Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library, and these NPR episodes on Mary Colter from 2000. A family business,  the end of the Harvey empire was brought on by the demise of the railroads, the death of the family heir, and family infighting.

Judy Garland in “The Harvey Girls,” a movie about the waitresses that civilized the West. Photo: Classic Movie Trivia.

Fried wraps up the book with some great appendices, including a travel log in which his Fried and his wife try to locate Fred Harvey establishments still in existence, an historical list of all eating house, hotel, and resort locations, and recipes. Baked Halibut with Lobster Sauce, Plantation Beef Stew on Hot Buttermilk Biscuits, Cream of Wisconsin Cheese Soup, and Huevos Rancheros La Fonda (for the hotel in Santa Fe) would make a patron of today’s roadside chain restaurant salivate. They’d scratch their head, considering their not-quite-clean table and wilted lettuce next to their microwaved sandwich and limp french fries.

Museum Monday: Lunch Hour at the New York Public Library

New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Photo: Wikipedia.

My mother’s favorite meal of the day is lunch. Usually those with a bent towards a particular meal time choose breakfast, but for Mom, it’s lunch. So when my parents came up to visit for the day, we went to see Lunch Hour, a new exhibition at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street.



Automat. Edward Hopper, 1927. Des Moines Art Center.


The exhibition explores the evolution of lunch in New York City. When the 19th century opened, most midday meals were still called dinner and were eaten at home (as an aside: my grandparents, both farm kids in the 1920s, ate dinner at 2pm as retirees, and my family still continues to have mid-day dinner on Sundays). By the end of the nineteenth century, lunch was in full swing in Manhattan, and would later evolve into quick lunch luncheonettes, automats, and power lunches during the twentieth century.

I’m a little wistful for the automat – not the dingy gasping establishment of the 1970s, but the shiny new mechanical fascination of the 1910s. My mother remarked in the exhibition that when visiting NYC for the 1964 World’s Fair, she took the ill-fated elevated (which I assumed was the Sixth Avenue line, the last to be torn down in 1965) to the automat with Uncle F.

It was a great day, filled with menus from the NYPL collections (check out the What’s On the Menu? project), 1980s lunch boxes, dairy luncheonettes, Sardi’s memorabilia, and lots of exclamations “look at this.” Lunch Hour runs until February 17, 2013.

Childs’ [sic] Lunch, 1900. What’s on the Menu? project, New York Public Library.

Stocking Washing

The summer is full of living history events, and moreso, the laundry that follows a hot sweaty weekend out in a field without a shower. While plenty of women I know want to get their stays (corset) off first after an event, my priority for removal are my garters (woolen tapes tied around my leg just below my knee, and most of all: my stockings.

Stockings, MFA Boston, 99,842, a-b.

Stockings, MFA Boston, 99,842, a-b.

Hannah Glasse advises in The Servant’s Directory, Improved (1762) to clean thread and cotton stockings thusly

Give them two lathers and a boil, blueing the water well; wash them out of the boil, but don’t rince them; then turn the wrong side outwards, and fold them very smooth and even, laying them one upon another, and a weight on them to press them smooth; let them lie a quarter of an hour, then hang them up to dry, and when quite so, roll them up tight, but don’t iron them, and they will look like new.


Taisho Era Postcard

In 2002, the MFA Boston acquired the Leonard Lauder large collection of Japanese postcards. The most thrilling images are Taisho illustrations, with their bold block colors and imagery that was modern and traditional at the same time. All have a sense of drama and story line behind them. I tripped over this New Year’s greeting card recently. The ladies both display stylish fashion for Japan in 1932, one woman dressed in traditional trailing furisode, while the other wears a chic short coat, the thick fur collar almost concealing her face. Check out other beautiful postcards in the MFA Boston’s collection at

MFA Boston. 2002.1474.

MFA Boston. 2002.1474.

Variety Among the 18th Century Lesser Sorts

Der Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote 9/17/1773.

As part of my research on 18thcentury working class clothing, I have been studying indentured and enslaved female servants who immigrated to the American colonies. I created a database that now houses records for 1000 women and their 6000 garments.  Runaway advertisements document not only clothing, but also physical characteristics, habits, skills, and other information. I started on this journey to study clothing, and to discover, if possible, elements of choice and fashion among women of the lesser sort.

One of my next steps in the project is to code each’s eloping servant’s dress by type. I needed a way to distinguish quickly the style each woman presented. In this way, I can study those with overall utilitarian appearances together. I can study the differences between enslaved women wearing jacket & petticoat combinations of fabrics often purchased for slaves, versus those who acquired more fashionable attire and personalized their appearances. The basic distinctions are below. The uniqueness of each woman’s attire requires me interpreting, but the below categories provide some ground rules:

F – Fashionable – silk or other fashionable fabrics, fashionable accessories, pumps, ribbons, jewelry, hair dressing, trim.
M – Middling servant – plain neat dress in better fabrics, fashionable or neat and plain accessories.
S – Standard servant dress with accessories – basic garments, coarser fabrics and/or rougher shoes, but with occasionally fashionable accessories.
N – Utilitarian – Coarse fabric and shoes, plain or no accessories.
U – Field slave uniform – jacket/waistcoat & petticoat combo.
B – Male clothing.
O – Other  – like breech clouts or undetermined clothing.

More as I work to make the information within the data more accessible!

For other posts on the Runaway Clothing Database project click here, here and here.

And NEW – read the full article here. If it doesn’t come up at first, visit and search “Had On When She Went Away.”

Devil’s in the Details – Deviled Eggs

Devilled eggs. A staple at my family’s picnics. A 1950s joke. A modern canvas for fine herbs and expensive vinegar.

bordallo_pinheiro_rabbit_green_deviled_egg_plate_P0000144771S0027T2From boiling the eggs properly to prevent the olive green ring on the yolk, to preventing the tear of a fragile white, mashing the chalky yellow into something palatable, all which will convey into your throat on the slickness of the white, little fat bombs sliding into home base.

My family recipe is much more of the 1950s bent. Mayo, mustard, ketchup (just a little for tang, lest the yellow yolk filling turn orange) salt & pepper, and secret ingredient, sweet pickle juice.

Forbidden City, 1943. What’s on the Menu? New York Public Library.

Devilled or Deviled? Devilled eggs in 1901 aren’t restaurant food. A quick check of the What’s on the Menu? Project at NYPL finds only one reference to deviled eggs (with two “l”s), and that on a catering menu from the Baily Catering Company in 1901. It’s more likely you’d get devilled sardines on toast, at five references. But deviled with one “l” yields more results – interestingly, for deviled egg sandwiches, served in the 1940s. Known in France as ouefs mimosa, there were no references for that term in the What’s on the Menu? Project.

Ann Treistman recently wrote a book Who Put the Devil in Deviled Eggs? The Fascinating Storied Behind America’s Favorite Foods that reveals the centuries old tradition of spicing and stuffing the yolks of hard boiled eggs. However, my family’s deviled egg roots more likely stem from this recipe from the 1870 Cassell’s Dictionary of Cooking:

Photo: Google Books

Wanderlust Wednesday: Chicago’s a Classy Town

RL Fifield, 2012.

As I mentioned before, there’s a certain wail of the horn still going in the Windy City. The city sprawls outward from the lake, lacking the huge geographical divides that drives Manhattan skyward. Beyond the Magnificent Mile, a staggering number of neighborhoods, all with their signature twists, radiate out from downtown. And our hosts Tina S. and Jeremy W. showed us the best the city had to offer. Dr. V and I had a great time – check out Jeremy’s posts about our visit over at Le Cafe Witteveen here, here, and here. More fun!


RL Fifield 2012.

We started our visit with lunch at Al’s Beef. Across the street is Mario’s Italian Lemonade. Tina, who has been coming here since she was a kid, introduced us to the smooth cool saltiness of lupini beans, and I had a watermelon ice with chunks of frozen watermelon and lemon in it. I immediately wanted another on that 95 degree day.


The Pump Room, Chicago. RL Fifield photo, 2012.


The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s architectural tour by boat was once again stunning, and our merry band trooped down the Magnificent Mile to see the new wing and the Lichtenstein show at the Art Institute of Chicago (and to cool off). We tried to lay low during the hot afternoons, but come evening, we emerged to enjoy great food at Chilam Balam (skatwing tacos with blueberry pico de gallo) and The Pump Room at Ian Schraeger’s Public hotel. Our group put on good duds, and realized that 5:30pm isn’t too early; it’s the perfect time to eat way too much, especially in hot weather. My favorite dish was a surprise: roasted carrots, avocado, sour cream, and a tart dressing. I hate roasted carrots, so I wondered what I had done when the salad arrived – no matter, the carrots were more rich than carrotty – it was great.

Nighttime affords the best view of the city – from the lakeside park, north of the city.      Chez S & W comes highly recommended, and their mascot Talulah is all the welcoming party one would ever need (with an occasional peering around the door by Ms. Zoe).


Museum Monday: Collections Risk Assessment

It can be overwhelming. It can hurt your brain. But it can also help you understand your collection’s preservation needs like nothing else.

Collections risk assessment. Ready? Collections risk assessment evaluates the impact of different specific risks on a collections unit. It’s a systematic way of generating data to illustrate to your administration, board, and supporters what work you need to do to protect collections.

RL Fifield illustration, 2012.

FS x LV x P x E = MR. That’s the equation.

FS = Fraction of your collection unit susceptible to the risk.
LV = Loss of value within the collection unit when risk’s full impact comes to bear.
P = Probability
E = Extent. For example, a big fire usually rates a high number, while ongoing light damage rates a low number.
MR = Magnitude of Risk.

By assigning numbers, and executing the equantion, each risk’s impact on relevant collection units line up, revealing an institution’s preservation priorities.

I am very fortunate to know Rob Waller, who developed the Cultural Property Risk Analysis Model (CPRAM). Rob’s a friendly guy (he’s from Canada) whose incredible insight into systematically identifying and mitigating risks to collections is matched by his boundless patience in helping one understand the concepts. For more information, visit the website of his company, Protect Heritage, here. There are also many resources at the American Museum of Natural History’s Paleontology Portal website.

Off to Chicago!

The cracker that didn’t crack – still, it made for good times and great photos. At Havre de Grace, where the Susquehanna turns into the Chesapeake. Photo: r25 Productions.

Dr. V. and I are headed to Chicago to see friends Jeremy W. and Tina S. for the weekend. You might know that this dynamic duo were the photographers for our wedding back in March and were the instigators of such things as jumping off the stoop of our wedding venue in Kate Spade heels and the heart-shaped balloon cracker debacle. I’m psyched to see them, meet Tallulah and Zoe, (canine and feline family members) and see their Chicago (Jeremy’s and Tina’s that is, not a favorite patch of grass by the El).


RL Fifield 2008.

I love Chicago. I had some work there in October of 2008. It’s a naturally photogenic town that loves their architecture. When I look at my photos from that trip, it just seems that Chicago really works it for the camera, and its easy to come away with good material. Something about still having elevated train service gives it a boomtown feeling, and I feel like I’m still in the 1920s while I’m there. Bring on the cloche and t-strap pumps.

A fantastic resource for seeing Chicago is the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s boat and walking tours. The boat tour had a fantastic tour guide and you got the see the city from its original front door – the river.

Parking garage, visible from the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s boat tour. RL Fifield 2008.