Transportation Tuesday: The Bridges of Cleveland

Passing under the lift bridge serving the Norfolk & Southern Railroad at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. RL Fifield, 2012.


There’s a reason they call it the City of Bridges.

The winding Cuyahoga River hems in the island on which Cleveland was founded. As the industrial mecca grew, so did the need to feed the city with rails and roads. All of these bridges had to give way to ships on the Cuyahoga. This has left the city with a large grouping of active vertical lift and turntable bridges.

You can view these bridges in action by taking a 2 hour cruise offered by the Good Time III, which leaves from behind the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, on Lake Erie.

The urban ruin of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad jacknife bridge rises above Shooters Restaurant. RL Fifield, 2012.



Two jackknife lift bridges serving defunct rails (including the Baltimore & Ohio) have been left open as a sort of urban sculpture. The area where the Cuyahoga winds is called The Flats. Restaurants and condominiums are lining the river in this area (hopefully with some sort of flooding mitigation plan!).




While we were waiting for a Norfolk & Southern train to cross a lift bridge, several adults and kids grumbled. A woman said “why don’t they make the train stop?” At least a few more people were able to observe the technology that made Cleveland happen.

Layers of Cleveland bridges from the Good Time III. RL Fifield, 2012.


Following Eleanor Ferrell: A Runaway Indentured Servant

New: see the full article online here. If it doesn’t come up, go to the home page and search again.

Abraham Emmit labeled her “an ill natured, scolding, cursing, swearing, thieving servant Woman.

I’ve been following Eleanor Ferrell began during my work with the Women’s Runaway Clothing Database. This project catalogs 1,000 runaway indentured servants and enslaved women from 1750-1790 and their over 6,000 garments. In combing through almost 100 different eighteenth century newspapers to populate the database, I found approximately forty women who ran away more than once. Even with searchable digitized databases, without cataloging the individual women, finding these multiple elopements could rely only on sheer chance.

Eleanor ran away at least six times, for which I’ve found four advertisements.  Below is a map that tracks where Eleanor lived during her servitude and the dates of her elopements, built from information given in advertisements for her return.


The table below compares the garments she wore for the various elopements. The garments in bold indicate that these might be the same garment still in Eleanor’s possession during different elopements. Women who ran away repeatedly allow us to study replacement of clothing among the working class (including procurement through theft) as well as what was worn during different seasons. The texts “had on…” below indicate what language was used in the runaway advertisement, perhaps underlining the difference between items she may have taken and those that may have belonged to Eleanor.

July 23, 1761 May 22, 1762 June 28, 1762 August 30, 1763
“Had on and took with” “Had on” “Had on” “Had on”
Gown – cross-barred dark Worsted GownShort gowns (3) – calicoShifts (3)
Apron (3) – good, speckled
Apron – white
Petticoat – red
Petticoat – striped
Petticoat – white flannel
Stockings – blue worsted with white clocks
Shoes – leather
Shoes – Yellow stuff with red binding, new
Buckles – mismatched
Caps – several
Handkerchiefs – 2 silk, plus others
Mittens – black silk
Bonnet – black silk
Cardinal Cloak – black silk, lined with silk, gimp trim
Gown – dark chintz, with red Flowers
Apron – gauze, with broad squares
Handkerchief – lawn
Bonnet – “fashionable”
Short Gown – calicoe
Skirt – red
Apron – Check
Gown – coarse calico, with dark coloured cuffs
Bed gown – spotted calico
Petticoat – white, with a calico border
Petticoat – striped Linsey
Shoes – White ticking
Stockings – Green Worsted
Bonnet – black Silk, with Gimp round the edge.

Hike up your woolen undies: A Treatise on the Propagation of Sheep

Baa. Cool it, already.

Photo: Imaginactory.

John Wily wrote the motivational pamphlet A Treatise on the Propagation of Sheep, the Manufacture of Wool, and the Cultivation and Manufacture of Flax, with Directions for making several Utensils for the Business in Williamsburg, VA, in 1765. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation reprints historic facsimiles of it in their historic area print shop.

Prompting fellow Americans to contribute to the colony’s independence through their own manufacture of textiles, John Wily entreats “For as we have got in Debt by our Indolence and Extravagancy, sure there is no better Method to retrieve ourselves than by our Industry and Frugality. And I must believe, and hope, this small Treatise will forward those Manufactures, as I have given the plainest Directions for the Performance of ever Operation in each of them.”

But what I find interesting is a short passage on in which Wily outlines how to make different types of woolen fabrics and notes a fabric of cotton and woolen to be suitable for house servants:

“If you are scarce of Wool, and have Cotton plenty, you may spin a Warp of Cotton, to run five or five Yards and a Half to the Pound, suitable to a Slay Ell wide; for it will shrink as much in the Width of the Cloth as if it was all Wool, therefore it ought to be wove as wide. The spin Wool to fill in two or two Yard sand a Half to the Pound, and weave it in the Kersey or Serge Way, or any double Woof, and have it milled, and it will appear very well until the Wool wears off, and then the Cotton will show somewhat lighter, unless you died the Cotton of the colour you want the Cloth before it is wove, for the Cotton will not take the Die so easy as the Wool, and that is the Reason it will show lighter when much worn. This Kind of Cloth will wear exceeding well, and makes very good Clothing for Boys or House Servants.” [emphasis mine]

Here’s this type of cloth worn by a runaway servant. You’ll notice in bold, the fabric of her Virginia Cloth petticoat is constructed just as Wily instructs, with a white Warping (the cotton warp) and blue Filling (the woolen weft).

Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon),
Williamsburg, July 16, 1772.

From the Maryland Gazette, 08/09/1787. RL Fifield photo.

COMMITTED to James City Prison, on Saturday the 11th Instanr [sic] (July) a Negro Woman who says her Name is MOLLY, and that she is the Property of the Honourable William Byrd; she is of a yellow Complexion, about forty Years of Age, of the middle Stature, well made, has on an Osnabrug Waiscoat, Coat, Shift, and Petticoat, and a Virginia Yarn Ditto, with white Warping and blue Filling. The Owner is desired to take her away, and pay the necessary Charges. JOHN CONNELLY, Jailer.

And in considering the long view of woolen production in America, Walker Evans captured the wool industry in decline two hundred years later in this series of photographs for Fortune Magazine, “The Twilight of American Woolen.” (1954)

Walker Evans. Metropolitan Museum of Art 1994.252.17.1-85. From Views of Massachusetts Wool Mills and Surrounding Area, Commissioned by Fortune Magazine for “The Twilight of America.n Woolen”, Published March 1954

Tenement Treatment for Tuberculosis – The Cherokee Apartments, New York City

Balconies of Gustavino tile at The Cherokee Apartments. RL Fifield, 2005.

Others have blogged about the Cherokee Apartments before, and I just have the benefit of making them my home today. In a neighborhood of sagging late nineteenth century tenements and dull white brick 1960s high rises, the Cherokee Apartments are unique. The wrought iron balconies, the Gustavino tile work, and central courtyards with exterior staircases in the corners, leading to cozy, but comfortable apartments.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Photo: Wikipedia.

I wrote a paper in Dr. K’s undergrad “Gilded Age in America” class on tuberculosis in New York. The assignment required use of the 1900 census data (then on a floppy) around which a paper of any topic could be built. I decided to work with the white plague. Most people don’t realize that tuberculosis must be inhaled in order to infect; it cannot be transferred just through mouth to mouth contact. The overcrowded tenements of the Lower East Side were perfect breeding grounds for the disease.


Early in the 20th century, Yorkville, the neighborhood in Manhattan’s east 70s, became an area for social reform.  Several model tenement projects, new parks, PS 158, bathhouses, a library, and the East River Settlement House sprung up to improve the lives of the working class. The Cherokee Apartments belong to this movement. Their glazed tiles in the stairway were easily disinfected. Seats were built into the stairways for sick residents to rest. All of the apartments are arranged so they had cross-ventilation. Built in 1912, the once-known-as Shively Sanitary Tenements are gorgeous by New York City standards. They are the Apthorp Apartments of the working class.

Comprised of four square buildings, each with a central courtyard, the Cherokee houses approximately 200 apartments. My apartment, originally a two bedroom, is now a one bedroom of 450 square feet. It’s cozy, yet bright. The triple sash windows and north and south exposures makes other New Yorkers gape.

Shively Sanitary Tenement original floor plan. Photo:

However, the primary operation, to ease the suffering of families where at least one member had fallen ill to tuberculosis, was a failure. The clinic operation closed not long after its opening, and the apartments were sold in the 1920s. Even though the apartments were small, they were still beyond the reach of many poor families. Still, their innovation in addressing one of the most troublesome public health problems led to the listing of the buildings as a New York City Designated Landmark on July 9, 1985 and on the National Register of Historic Places on September 15, 1994.

Photo: Ephemeral New York. The roof porches were later demolished, but at every shareholder meeting, someone asks when they will be rebuilt.


Wanderlust Wednesday – Siracusa

Siracusa. RL Fifield, 2007.

I conjure Siracusa, and bite my lip. It’s wonderful.

Layers of civilization created this hauntingly beautiful city on the southeast coast of Sicily. Remnants of Greek, Roman, and European pasts overlap. Pots of flowers sat on the streets around doors into houses. I visited there in 2007. Forget the Coliseum and Dionysus’s Ear, which are located nearby. The town is enough.

I had a wonderful conversation with the owner of a design shop, with very few words. I speak no Italian, and he had no English. I was able to say I had “due camera” (two rooms) in New York. Still, he spent an hour at dusk showing me his shop, and the wonderful kitchen furniture he sold.

The breakfast at the Hotel Roma in Siracusa was the best of our trip, as I wrote in my notes: “Croissants filled with honey and cereals, almond cream tart, hard boiled egg, cappuccino, pineapple juice, didn’t try half of the stuff, [the breakfast table] included German and English breakfast nods, aufshcnitte et scrambled eggs. Another cappuccino.”

Transit Tuesday – Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Communipaw Terminal

CNJRR Train Shed and Communipaw Terminal. RL Fifield, 2011.

Staring out over New York Harbor, the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s (CRRNJ) Communipaw Terminal was an early and major powerhouse of New York City transportation and where two thirds of immigrants landed after their stop at Ellis Island. The CRRNJ began operations among the first of American rail companies, in 1839.The station was built in 1889 to replace an earlier 1864 station. The train shed was built in 1914 to serve the 60,000 commuters who used this station daily at its peak.


CNJRR Communipaw Train Shed. RL Fifield 2011.

Today the station is a National Park Service site, Liberty State Park and home to the CRRNJ’s Communipaw Terminal, including one of the few European style train sheds. Entrance to the shed is now gated off for safety reasons, but the names of trains still proudly head each track. Service to this station ceased in 1967, and the CRRNJ conveyed its holdings to Conrail in 1976.

To the Trains! Communipaw Terminal. RL Fifield 2011.





The train shed was just listed on Preservation New Jersey’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey 2012 list. Once the site of frantic exchange between trains under the shed and ferries at the waterfront, the shed is now silent and overgrown with greenery. The station building itself is preserved by the National Park Service. But probably sensing little return on the preservation of the expansive train shed, the structure is in active decay. Earlier estimates for restoration of the train shed were around $50 million. Visit Preservation New Jersey to read about plans and ideas for preservation of the train shed, including rail exhibits, and other activities that could take place underneath the a renovated shed canopy, capitalizing on rail heritage.


Couldn’t we use this space again? CNJRR Communipaw Train Shed. RL Fifield 2011.

Museum Monday: Integrated Pest Management is not for Buddhists

Integrated Pest Management (IPM). It sounds like I wield a tiny whip and chair in my top hat, taming a circus of cockroaches, mice, and odd beetles.

Not quite.

IPM is a system of monitoring, housekeeping, and selective treatment used to prevent infestation and the resulting damage to museum collections. It is one of the weapons in a collection manager’s or preventive conservator’s arsenal. Why not treat everything with pesticide, you might ask?

That was exactly the approach for many decades of museum practice. Cases built for the Smithsonian Institution were originally fitted with holders for pesticide materials. But as museum staff and users go to work with those collections in the future, we have found ourselves with a great health risk on our hands. Arsenic. Cyanide. DDT. These are just a few of the hundreds of materials used to protect collections from pests, and in turn, we’ve put ourselves at risk. This is compounded by a lack of documentation – we might not realize what has been treated in the past. Protection against contamination requires proper use of personal protective equipment: gloves, labcoats, and in some instances, respirators and goggles. A rule of thumb: if you are surprised an object has survived, there’s probably a reason why.

IPM contains some integral components (and visit the excellent site for more information):

  • Regular housekeeping – this generally means vacuuming the floor. Remove the food source for insects and insects are less likely to come in.
  • Monitoring – any museum storeroom you enter is lined with sticky traps. Regular examination tells us what populations live in that space, and whether their numbers are stable, or increasing. We identify the pests (are they threatening to the collection? Are they here to eat other pests we might not be seeing?), record how many we found, and if numbers get high, we start a vigilant campaign to reduce their numbers. Right, more vacuuming.
  • Deterrents – design of the physical structure prevents passage of the pests into a storeroom space. Seamless baseboards, where the floor and baseboard are one (yes, they exist, and they are beautiful). Gaskets on doors. Sticky mats at storeroom entrances to reduce dirt and nutrient matter.
  • Policy – Making sure visitors to the collection leave their bags and coats outside the storeroom. No food and drink in the storeroom.
  • Treatment when necessary, using non-toxic methods. Treatment today often focuses on anoxic methods (sealing the object with argon to suffocate pests) or freezing.

Every once in a while, you’ll find yourself having to dispose of a live one. IPM isn’t for everybody. But it is for the preservation of collections, and the staff that work with them.

Waiting for Tomatoes

Tomatoes – it runs in my Maryland family’s veins. We had not one, but three commercial tomato packing houses in my family.

Millard Fillmore Bayless, my great-grandmother’s uncle, ran one of the family packing houses in Perryman, while her father ran one in Aberdeen. Here in the 1920 census, it lists that they canned corn, though family lore also states that they canned tomatoes.

It’s at this time of year that the waiting begins. The plants are slipped into the ground, and daily vigilance ensues. Will that one be ripe tomorrow? Or will it fall into the clutches of the groundhog, that slut who takes one bite and lets the otherwise perfect fruit fall to the ground?

Manhattan tomato and strawberry gardening. RL Fifield 2011.

I never had a store-bought canned tomato until I moved out. My grandfather’s garden, probably about the size of a New York grocery store (that’s about ¼ Target for you out of towners) yielded enough heady red goodness for my mother to can. I remember the process, the kettle boiling water for the canner, the blanching, the removal of skins, the jar sterilization, filling, sticking with a knife to remove airbubbles, wiping, and screwing on the lids. Wrinkled fingers from the acid and hot water.

When I first met Mr. V, we had a scene: he cut into an anemic shadow of a tomato used to garnish his restaurant plate, and said “that’s a good tomato.” Alas, I admit I lost a bit of my reserve! I’ve since learned that a lot of tomatoes in Puerto Rico are of that wintery Styrofoam quality. Mr. V finds the tomatoes I’ve proffered him to be quite bracing. “Really?” he asks when I pull the most ugly and deformed from the bin? “Yes, this one will be great.”

The first tomato always becomes a sandwich: the best white bread toasted, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and thin slices of dripping redness.

Potato Rolls – A Family History

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas is marked by my great grandmother Winifred’s potato rolls. For those of us who grew up in the mid-Atlantic, these are not the same as those squishy yellow Martin’s potato rolls. They are white yeast rolls, made with mashed potatoes. My great grandmother was known as a baker par excellence, and part of her and her mother’s regular routine as farm wives was to bake biscuits each morning. My dad, her grandson-in-law, met her when she was in her when she was in her late 70s, and remembers her as exceedingly gracious and the alchemist of one darn good apple pie. She passed in 1984, when I was 8.


Fifty Years in a Maryland Kitchen (1873) has several recipes for fostering yeast from potatoes, including potato and hops mixtures, on page 231. One of the recipes indicates that one pound of it makes eighteen loaves of bread. Here is another recipe:

Yeast with Potatoes

Two medium-sized potatoes, boiled soft. When lukewarm, put them through a colander, and mix them with two table-spoons of flour, one table-spoon of brown or white sugar, and one and a half tea-spoonfuls of salt. Stir in three pints of boiling water. When cool, stir in a gill of yeast.

Here is a modern recipe for the rolls, probably from The Baltimore Sun in the 1970s. Great Grand Mom Mom’s recipe was not exactly kept, but later in life she indicated that this newspaper recipe was “close” and my mother has made them this way ever since. Save part of the dough to roll out, sprinkle with butter, brown sugar, and pecans, roll up and cut crosswise, laying the slices in a bakepan for sticky buns on Christmas morning. Be sure to put more butter, nuts, and sugar in the pan before laying in the slices.

Refrigerator Potato Rolls

1 1/2 cups freshly mashed potatoes
Approximately 5 cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

Prepare potatoes according to directions on package; set aside. In a large bowl mix well two cups flour and yeast. Mix potatoes with flour. Then in saucepan place milk, sugar, shortening, and salt. Warm mixture, stirring constantly, to melt shortening. add this to flour and yeast and potatoes. Mix well. Then add eggs. Stir or beat at low speed. Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Place dough in greased bowl, cover and refrigerate several hours or even a week. Remove dough and divide in half; shape into rolls. Place in greased pan, cover and let rise until almost double. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Remaining dough keeps well in refrigerator for several days.

My great grandmother prepared the rolls for my great aunt’s wedding in 1947. Dishes of the rolls are seen in the below photograph, sitting at both ends of the table. Winifred is seated in the print dress nearest the bride.