Christmas in Holland, c.1910

Kit and Kat flattened their noses against all the shop windows, and looked at the toys and cakes.

“I wish St. Nicholas would bring me that,” said Kit, pointing to a very large St. Nicholas cake.

“And I want some of those,” Kat said, pointing to some cakes made in the shapes of birds and fish.

Vrouw Vedder had gone with her basket on an errand. Father Vedder and Kit and Kat walked slowly along, waiting for her. Soon there was a noise up the street. There were shouts, and the clatter of wooden shoes.

“Look! Look!” cried Kit.

There, in the midst of the crowd, was a great white horse; and riding on it was the good St. Nicholas himself! He had a long white beard and red cheeks, and long robes, with a mitre on his head; and he smiled at the children, who crowded around him and followed him in a noisy procession down the street.

Behind St. Nicholas came a cart, filled with packages of all sizes. The children were all shouting at once, “Give me a cake, good St. Nicholas!” or, “Give me a new pair of shoes!” or whatever each one wanted most.

“Where is he going?” asked Kit and Kat.

“He’s carrying presents to houses where there are good girls and boys,” Father Vedder said. “For bad children, there is only a rod in the shoe.”

“I’m glad we’re so good,” said Kit.

“When will he come to our house?” asked Kat.

“Not until to-morrow,” said Father Vedder. “But you must fill your wooden shoes with beans or hay for his good horse, to-night; and then perhaps he will come down the chimney and leave something in them. It’s worth trying.”

The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins

Christmas in Antarctica, 1910


“The story in this book really happened on a voyage to Antarctica in 1910. The ship was called the Terra Nova. Her captain was Robert Scott, and Tom Crean, the sailor, was a member of the crew.”

This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Tom the Sailor who is too busy to decorate for Christmas. On a very full ship, nearing the coast of Antarctica, Tom must find a nesting place for his pet rabbit. After Tom finds a place for Little Rabbit,

“Everyone sat down around the long table in the big cabin. They ate . . . tomato soup, roast mutton, plum pudding, mince pies. Then they opened little parcels from their families. They played games and sang songs. They were a very long ways away from home, but it was a good Christmas party.”

After the Christmas party, Tom goes to check on Little Rabbit, and he finds a big surprise, “the best Christmas present ever!”

The end papers tell a little, but not all, of what happened to Tom Crean and his ship and his expedition after the Christmas of 1910. Crean went with Captain Scott overland toward the South Pole, but he was sent back before reaching the pole. On the way back, he saved the life of fellow explorer, Edward Evans, who was afflicted with snow blindness and scurvy. Crean trekked 56 kilometers alone, through the snow and just ahead of a blizzard, to get help for Evans.

The men of Scott’s expedition who went on toward the South Pole arrived to find that Roald Amundsen had reached the South Pole ahead on them. This part of the story is not in the picture book: all of the men of Scott’s polar expedition who reached the South Pole died on the way back. Crean was one of the 11-man search party that found their remains.

After all of that tragedy and adventure, Crean returned to Antarctica withe Shackleton expedition of 1914. He again performed heroic feats, being one of the three men who accompanied Shackleton as he sailed 800 miles through Antarctic seas and then hiked 48 kilometers across a glacier to obtain rescue for the rest of the men of the party who were left on Elephant Island.

Crean retired to Ireland. “He put his medals and his sword in a box … and that was that. He was a very humble man.” (Wikipedia, Tom Crean) I rather doubt that Little Rabbit and his progeny suffered such a happy fate, but the story in this picture book doesn’t deal with Little Rabbit’s later life.

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The Big Burn by Timothy Egan

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan.

I remember the story from history class of how FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court by creating new justices behind Congress’s back and of how John Adams tried to fill a bunch of vacant judgeships with his own appointees just before leaving office so that Jefferson wouldn’t fill them with his people. Teddy Roosevelt tried something similar, but with forests, and he got away with it—to the everlasting benefit of all Americans.

“In 1907, an amendment was tacked onto a spending bill, a bit of dynamite in a small package. The add-on took away the president’s authority to create new national forests in a huge part of the West without congressional approval. . . .

Roosevelt felt cornered. Not so with Pinchot. To the forester, the Senate amendment was no defeat; it was an opportunity–but only if they acted quickly. The president had a week to sign the bill, and it had to be signed because it kept the government in operation. Pinchot had an idea. Why not use the seven-day window to put as much land into the national forest system as possible? Just go full bore and do in a week’s time what they might normally do over the course of four years.

Roosevelt loved it. He asked the Forest Service to bring him maps–and hurry!–a carpet of cartography, every square mile in the area Heyburn was trying to take away. . .

At the end of the week, Roosevelt issued executive proclamations covering sixteen million acres of land in half a dozen states, bringing them into the fold of the national forest system. And then he signed the bill that prevented him or any other president from doing such a thing again.”

That was 1907, and although the National Forest Service had the land, it didn’t have the personnel and equipment and funding to take care of the land, to build ranger stations, and to watch for and fight fires, because Congress still wasn’t on board with Teddy’s little conservation mania. Speaker of the House Joe Cannon declared, “Not one cent for scenery!” And a lot of senators and representatives were in agreement with Cannon. Then, Teddy Roosevelt’s two terms as president were over, and he went off to Africa on safari and left President Taft, his hand-picked successor, in charge. But Taft wasn’t Teddy, although he promised to carry out TR’s conservation policies, and then came the Big Burn.

On August 20, 1910:

“‘All h–l broke loose,’ Bill Greeley reported. For the minister’s son this was as emphatic as he got. His rangers–those still in contact–were sending dispatches that made it sound as though virtually all of the forested domain of the United States government was under attack. They wrote of giant blowtorches flaming from treetop to treetop, of house-size fireballs rolling through canyons, pushed by winds of seventy miles an hour. They told of trees swelling, sweating hot sap, and then exploding; of horses dying in seconds; of small creeks boiling, full of dead trout, their white belies up; of bear cubs clinging to flaming trees, wailing like children.”

It was the worst forest fire anyone had ever seen, and the end result was over 100 people dead, about three million acres of forest burned to a crisp, and the National Forest Service with a mandate for the future: Prevent Forest Fires.

Aside from the availability of helicopters, better communications, and some more advanced firefighting methods, this nonfiction book about the worst wildfire in U.S. history sounds a lot like the newspaper articles and stories from the Colorado wildfires that are still raging and the fires that we read about every year in California. We still don’t know exactly how to manage forests and fires in forests.

Colorado State Trooper: “Forests didn’t used to grow to the point where you have these catastrophic fires. We would have a lot of little fires all the time. We’ve got to stop trying to preserve forests. I think we should work the forest. If we’ve got a 40,000-acre area burning because we have had a lot of beetle-killed trees over a decade, maybe should have done something during those years?”

Colorado State Senator: “We need to thin this dead stuff out. A timber industry can help keep the forest healthy.”

Americanforests.org: “For quite some time, the United States’ federal fire policy focused on suppressing all fires in national forests to protect timber resources and rural communities. However, decades of fire exclusion have resulted in unusually dense forests in many areas, actually increasing the risk of intense wildfires. As suppression proved to often be more damaging than beneficial, federal policy turned to more practical measures, such as prescribed burns and forest thinning. Even these, however, must be practiced carefully to avoid damage to the ecosystem by artificially providing a process that would occur naturally.”

They were saying some of the same sorts of things over a hundred years ago: We can’t let the forests burn because we need the timber. If we just let logging companies harvest the timber, there won’t be any fuel for big forest fires. If we allow forest fires, rural communities will be endangered. We have to save the forests. We have to use the forests.

The added element nowadays is the concern that both controlled and uncontrolled fires can add to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and contribute to “climate change.” Or maybe climate change is contributing to insect infestation and dryer conditions which in turn cause more forest fires.

Yeah, it’s complicated, like everything else these days. Nevertheless, The Big Burn is a good book, and it features my favorite president, Teddy Roosevelt. If I didn’t learn how to manage forests and wildfires, I at least learned that wildfires in the forests of the United States are nothing new. And I learned the history of the National Forest Service, a bumpy start and a fine heritage.

Timothy Egan also wrote The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, the book I passed out for World Book Night in April.

1910: Books and Literature

Author Mark Twain died in on April 21, 1910. He was born in 1835 when the comet had last visited our solar system. Twain wrote in his autobiography: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'”

Important books of 1910:
Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House.
Sigmund Freud, Origins and Development of Psychoanalysis.
E. M. Forster, Howards End.

For children in 1910:
Maida’s Little Shop by Inez Haynes Irwin. One of Jen’s favorites:Maida’s Little Shop was originally published in 1910, and was the first of a series of 15 books about the motherless daughter of a magnanimous tycoon, and her close-knit group of friends.”

'Vintage Kewpie Valentine Postcard Close-Up' photo (c) 2010, Cheryl Hicks - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Andrew Lang’s last fairy book, The Lilac Fairy Book, was published in 1910. In all, Andrew Lang published twelve fairy-tale collections, starting in 1889 with The Blue Fairy Book. You can listen to all of Lang’s fairy tale collection books at Librivox.

Also in 1910, American illustrator and author Rose O’Neill’s first children’s book was published, The Kewpies and Dottie Darling. A few years later Kewpie dolls, based on Ms. O’Neill’s characters, became popular. There’s something about the Kewpie doll that I find disturbing. It’s supposed to be cute and innocent, but it seems . . . sort of sinister.

1910: The Arts

Go here to look at some amazing photographs from Tsarist Russia, taken in color circa 1910. I have a tendency to think that people lived in black and white that long ago whereas the beautiful colors of God’s world existed then, too. Look and see if you don’t have to keep reminding yourself that the photographs are of real people from the early twentieth century, not actors dressed up as Russian peasants.

Tango fever sweeps Europe and the United States as fashionable young people learn to dance the tango, a dance that originated in the slums of Argentina.

I’m not sure why this couple is dancing about on the edge of some kind of pier or marina, but you can see why many found this new dance to be quite shocking and suggestive.

1910: Events and Inventions

February 12, 1910. A force of 2,000 Chinese troops march into Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, is forced to flee to India.

February 20, 1910. Boutros Pasha Ghali, the first native-born prime minister of Egypt, is assassinated by an Egyptian nationalist. Egypt is under British control, and the Egyptians themselves have only limited power of self-rule.

'x-ray' photo (c) 2008, Tim Snell - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/February 27, 1910. U.S. surgeons find and remove a nail from the lung of a boy by using an X-ray machine.

May 6, 1910. George V becomes King of Britain upon the death of his father, Edward VII.

May 31, 1910. The Union of South Africa becomes a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. The new government will be led by Prime Minister Louis Botha who was a leader in the defeated Boer army that fought against Britain in 1900-1901. He is now a convinced supporter of South Africa’s independence and participation in the British Dominion.

June 30, 1910. Russian prime minister Pyotr Stolypin easily persuades the Duma to pass a law that ends most aspects of Finnish independence. Russia takes over Finland completely.

August 22, 1910. After defeating the Russians in war and in peace, Japan officially annexes Korea.

October 4, 1910. Republican revolutionaries overthrow the Portuguese monarchy. 20 year old King Manuel II, who came to the throne after the assassination of his father and brother two and a half years ago (1908), flees to Gibraltar.

'New York 2009 - Ellis Island' photo (c) 2009, Barbara - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/November 20, 1910. In Mexico, rebels begin the attempt to oust president and dictator Porfirio Diaz, who has ruled Mexico for over thirty years. Leaders in the rebellion include Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Victoriano Huerta, and Pascual Orozco.

More than a million immigrants enter the United States in 1910. The largest ethnic groups are Italians, Poles, Jews, Slovaks, and Greeks.

1910: Statistics and Interesting Facts

In 1910:

The average life expectancy for men was 47 years. Only 14 percent of the homes had a bathtub. Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.

There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

'1910 - Oldsmobile Model 23-24, limited, 6 cylinders.' photo (c) 2009, New York Public Library - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower!

In Old California was the first film to be made in Hollywood.

Map of the World in 1910.

The average US wage in 1910 was 22 cents per hour. The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

More than 95 percent of all births took place at home.

Ninety percent of all doctors had no college education. Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press AND by the government as ‘substandard.’

Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.

Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.

'HANCOCK Family - circa 1910' photo (c) 2007, Donna Rutherford - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
The five leading causes of death were:
1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke

The American flag had 45 stars.

The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was only 30!

Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented yet.

There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

Two out of every 10 adults couldn’t read or write and only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said, ‘Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health’.

Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.

Christmas in South Dakota, 1910

She unwrapped an unwieldy bundle, covered with newspapers. Out of it fell a giant tumble weed, its spiny leaves dried on its skeleton stalk; its bushy top mounted on a trunk made of a broomstick. “Do you think that would do fer a Christmas tree?” she asked.

Becky looked at the dry bush with softened eyes.

“I thought maybe I could use some plum brush fer a tree, went on the child. “But I just hate the switchey look of’em for Christmas. So when this whopper tumble weed came along last fall it stuck in our chicken wire, and I hung it up in the barn. It dried just that way, and I thought maybe the children would like it fer a tree. The little ones never seen no pictures of one, even, and they wouldn’t know if it wasn’t just like. I got a pail of sand to stick that broomstick down in. I could hang the popcorn and the light strings on the tumble weed, and put the rest around it. Do you think that would work, Miss Linville?”

“I’m sure the children would love it.”

~The Jumping Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely

Last night and today I have been enjoying this story, first published in 1929 and republished this year by the South Dakota State Historical Press for a new generation of readers. (The cover pictured here is from the older edition since the new paperback cover is not available at Amazon.) Little House on the Prairie fans who have exhausted Ms. WIlder’s canon and all its spin-offs, should try this story of a family of four orphan children who take up a homestead in South Dakota, determined to hold down their claim for fourteen months until they can gain title to the 160 acres of South Dakota farm left to them by their beloved Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim’s death at the beginning of the story gives the children a grief that is slow to heal, but the words and plans that he left them guide them in their new life on the prairie.

The Jumping-Off Place was a Newbery Honor book in 1930. (Laura Ingalls WIlder didn’t win her first of four Newbery Honors until 1938.) It’s a wonderful story of pioneering on the Great Plains in the early part of the twentieth century. Only one caveat: one of the characters does use the phrase “ni— work” to refer to the hard work of making a life on the prairie, a phrase I’m sure was common usage in that time and place, but offensive to modern ears nevertheless.

The book is for a bit more mature readers than those who first come to the Little House books. Ms. McNeely doesn’t sugarcoat the drudgery and suffering that those who settled the Great Plains had to endure. In one scene a baby dies of snakebite in a poverty-stricken dugout home, and fifteen year old Becky, the oldest of the four children, helps to lay out the body of the little girl and prepare it for burial. Some of the settlers are kind and helpful to the children, while others are mean and ornery. I think older children (ages 11-14 or so) who like this sort of tale will read anxiously to see if and how the children hold their claim and become part of the new Dakota society.

Other read-alikes in the pioneering children and young adults genre:

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. Another Newbery Honor book, reviewed here at Maw Books Blog.

By Crumbs It’s Mine by Patricia Beatty.

My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, A Prairie Teacher. Broken Bow, Nebraska, 1881 by Jim Murphy

West to a Land of Plenty: The Diary of Teresa Angelino Viscardi, New York to Idaho Territory, 1883 by Jim Murphy.

Any other suggestions?

Abbeville by Jack Fuller


Book #6 in Mother Reader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge.

“Until the dot.com bubble burst, George Bailey never gave much thought to why his grandfather seemed so happy.” George Bailey goes back to visit his grandfather’s Central Illinois hometown, Abbeville, and perhaps learn the source of his grandfather’s strength and resilience. The novel skips back and forth between George’s story and that of his grandfather, Karl Schumpeter. It turns out that Karl’s story is a sort of serious, more believable version of It’s a Wonderful Life. (George Bailey says he owes his name to his mother Betty’s sense of humor.) And there’s more to Karl’s life than just a tale of endurance through the trials of the Great Depression and two world wars.

This novel can be enjoyed on many levels. It’s a family/generational saga about the ups and downs of twentieth century history as they affect one town and one family. It’s a story of four generations of young men coming of age, with a fishing trip on the river to anchor and serve as a metaphor for maturation and for the financial cycles that affect the family’s lives. It’s a spiritual narrative about a man’s rise to prominence, his fall to ignominy, and his redemption in the love of small things and of work done well.

It seems as if I’m always reminded of some other work of literature when I read a book. This one reminded me of The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington, maybe because of the time period beginning in about 1910, and maybe because of the midwestern setting, or maybe because both books are about the rise and fall of a family dynasty in a small town. Abbeville is, however, filled with a grace and sympathy that Tarkington’s novel lacked.

Key quotation from a French cure (priest) to Karl during World War I:

“And as to your fear, remember that God’s grace is nothing you need to repay, nor is punishment the proof of sin. This is the first great mystery, my son, and it is only made bearable by the second, which is love.”

“You see,” the cure said, “fortune is not the outcome of a test. Good or bad, it is the test.”

Thanks to Unbridled Books for sending me a copy of this novel for review. I’ve never heard of Jack Fuller, although the back cover blurb describes him as “a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer who has published six broadly acclaimed novels and a book of non-fiction.” I don’t know about the other six, but I am seriously impressed with the novel Abbeville.