There wasn’t a prouder boy in all Steubenville when I gave mother that hat pin

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 4, 2014

As long as I can remember there has been a Spies Jewelry Store in Steubenville, OH. The one I am thinking of now was on Market Street across from Beall & Steele’s Drug Store. Spies was not ordinarily important to a boy, since it sold only a lot of worthless stuff like solid gold breast pins, shiny diamonds and jeweled combs.

Came a Christmas when I was in the money and I decided to go all out and buy mother a really fancy present instead of giving her one of those fat old pin cushions we made in school, or a button hook with genuine pearl handle for 10 cents from Billy Beerbowers.

By “in the money” I mean I had 75 cents to blow in on mother. The word “Spies” came to mind. In my family it was a solid gold word, denoting the very best. With nose pressed to glass, I appraised the costly wares in the window. Inside, everything was very dignified and quiet, like in church, as fine ladies and gentlemen fingered the watches and brooches.

My head scarcely came to the counter top, but finally Mr. Spies saw me. He was a pudgy little man, and I can still see his disembodied head peering at me thru heavy spectacles. My eye had singled out a tray of hat pins in the window. It was brought out. Some of the hat pins were modestly jeweled with tiny seed pearls, a few with fine filigree work, others plain ovals waiting to be monogrammed.

But one alone took my eye-it boasted a magnificent blazing ruby, as big as a robin’s egg, set in a fancy frame. I was sure it was absolutely genuine. Spies never sold imitations, did they? I asked the price. $1.25. The tag was old and shopworn.

I gazed longingly at the hat pin as Mr. Spies momentarily waited, then he said, “You chuss keep on looking, son, I’ll be back”. Customers came and went. The minutes melted into almost an hour, when the proprietor no doubt began to think about his supper. I told him I wanted this pin but had only 75 cents to pay for it. He suggested cheaper ones, but I said, “I want this very one. It’s for my mother and she won’t think it’s good unless it comes from your store.”

Mr. Spies glowed. He lived for words like that since he was proud of his reputation. His daughter and helper (Miss Lulu or Miss Marie) saw me and whispered to her father. He came around in front of the counter, and saw all of me for the first time.

“You Chimmie Mosel’s boy, yes?” he asked.

“Yes sir, but how about the pin?”

“Vell, I tell you vhat. You chuss give me the 75 cents and take the hat pin. Here, I put it in a fine box for you with my name on it.”

There wasn’t a prouder boy in all Steubenville when I gave mother that hat pin with the blazing ruby on top. She wore it many times, mostly at night, to visit my grandmother or Aunt Emma Ewing, but never to church where there were very many people around.

It never occurred to me to wonder why.

Under the Buckeye Trees, by George A. Mosel, publ. Hamilton I. Newell Inc., Amherst, Mass., 1962

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I tried to get her to sing all the song

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 3, 2014

John Jacob Niles
John Jacob Niles composed the Appalachian influenced Christmas carols The Carol of the Birds, The Flower of Jesse, What Songs were Sung, Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head, and Sweet Little Boy Jesus.

I Wonder As I Wander, one of his most popular carols, illustrates the working methods of this inveterate collector of homegrown musicality:

I Wonder As I Wander grew out of three lines of music sung for me by a girl who called herself Annie Morgan,” Niles explained. “The place was Murphy, North Carolina, and the time was July, 1933.

“The Morgan family, revivalists all, were about to be ejected by the police, after having camped in the town square for some little time, cooking, washing, hanging their wash from the Confederate monument and generally conducting themselves in such a way as to be classed a public nuisance.

“Preacher Morgan and his wife pled poverty; they had to hold one more meeting in order to buy enough gas to get out of town. It was then that Annie Morgan came out–a tousled, unwashed blonde, and very lovely. She sang the first three lines of the verse of I Wonder as I Wander. At twenty-five cents a performance, I tried to get her to sing all the song.

Duke Park in 1910/1911, Murphy, NCDuke Park in 1910/1911, Murphy, NC, where the Morgan family probably camped.

“After eight tries, all of which are carefully recorded in my notes, I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material–and a magnificent idea. With the writing of additional verses and the development of the original melodic material, I Wonder As I Wander came into being. I sang it for five years in my concerts before it caught on. Since then, it has been sung by soloists and choral groups wherever the English language is spoken and sung.”

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky


Christmas+in+Appalachia John+Jacob+Niles Murphy+NC appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

3 Responses

  • tipper says:

    Even though Murphy is the county seat of my county-Cherokee-I had never heard the Christmas song until I read about it in a book. After I read it was discovered in Murphy-I found a version to listen to-then I made my girls learn it and sing it for me : )

    And now each Christmas I think of the Morgans I know who live here still and I wonder if the little girl was their ancestor.

  • K says:

    I heard this story many times and every Christmas when I hear this song I wonder whatever happened to Annie Morgan and her family.

  • N says:

    I too wonder whatever happened to Annie Morgan and her family whenever I hear this haunting song. I don’t know if it is true or not, but I heard that John Jacob Niles made an effort to find her again but was never able to. Since they were supposed to be traveling preachers they may not even be related to other Morgans in the area. A mystery for the ages.

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The Creek Indians of Boiling Spring, AL

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 2, 2014

“Boiling Spring”
The Anniston Times, December 30,1932
by Bessie Coleman Robinson

Our county abounds in beautiful springs, but no other surpasses Boiling Spring in beauty. It is located on the Manning Christian Place, originally called the Caver Place, situated in the Choccolocco Valley a few miles east of Oxford. In early days this spring gushed forth from the ground in a volume of water six feet high and some six inches in diameter. The white people coming into the county when it was first opened to settlement found the Indians living in huts all about this spring.

Knowledge of the location of Indian villages within the boundaries of Calhoun County is very scant. The fact that the Indian depended very little upon agriculture for his livelihood made a permanent location for his habitation unnecessary. Instead, the Indian lived mainly by hunting and fishing, and as both game and fish were plentiful, he moved about seeking new hunting grounds.

However, the Creek Indian lived in towns and had organized governments, one of these, Tallasseehatchie, is known to have been in the western part of the county. That there were others, we are sure, but their sites have not been fixed. It is interesting to know that there are evidences that point to a permanent Indian settlement at Boiling Spring.

Burial Ground

On a hillside, not far from the spring, there is an Indian burial ground. A field in front of the Manning Christian home is believed to be the site of an Indian village. When the ground was cleared for cultivation, quantities of arrowheads, stone ax heads and pieces of broken pottery were found scattered over the field and about the spring. A ceremonial ax found here, is now in the Geological Museum at the University of Alabama. In this field also an Indian grave was plowed up, which was enclosed with large rocks, and when opened, the bones quickly shattered to dust.

Another indication that an Indian village was located here is a large mound that has attracted a great deal of attention from archaeologists. It is 200 feet long and 50 feet wide and 30 feet high. Historians of Alabama tell us that Creek Indians lived in cabins of rather crude structure scattered about in small groups within the vicinity of a mound upon which the chief lived in a more pretentious dwelling.

Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek IndiansDetail from: Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians, c. 1805. Oil on canvas, 35 7/8 x 49 7/8 in. From the collection of the Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville S.C.

The mounds have been the subject of endless speculation among noted antiquarians. Since the period of mound building was over before the Europeans settled this country, their origin and use have been obscured. Pickett, early historian of Alabama believed that the mounds were erected by Indians. Other authorities contend that the mound buildings preceded the Indians. It is the opinion of Dr. J. H. McCullah, noted antiquarian quoted by both Pickett and Moore, that the large mounds “were sites for dwelling of chiefs, for council halls and for temples, which fancy and conceit have constructed into various shapes and variously situated one to another.”

Mounds Explored

Dr. Moore, in his history of Alabama, says, “The small mounds have been thoroughly enough explored to demonstrate that they were for the purpose of sepulcher. Usually, they are five or ten feet high and fifteen to sixty feet in circumference.” In a few instances, the small mound served as a tomb for one chief, but generally it contained numerous persons. From the size of the Boiling Spring mound, it is to be inferred that it belongs in the class with the large mounds.

On 10-29-1909, some young men, interested in Indian history, including Prof. Scott Lyon, Eugene Turner, Walter Stevens, Tulane Kidd, and Duncan Houser, decided to excavate the mound. They entered it from the top, digging a trench about twenty feet long. After going down for about five to six feet, they found a pot about the size of a quart vessel. Realizing that they were not skilled enough to get relics out of the mound unbroken, they abandoned the venture.

Bessie Coleman Robinson wrote a regular column on the early history of Calhoun County, AL for The Anniston Times, which published from 1932-1943. The articles are preserved on microfilm in the Bessie Coleman Robinson Collection at the Anniston Library. This article was transcribed by Erna Evans of Anniston and is online at

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  • Tracy Lemon says:

    I’ve never shopped at Sam’s, and if Wal Mart were not the only store in this very tiny hypocrite town… I would not shop there either. I am of Creek Blood, my grandmother did not have an easy life, as she was forced to go to the Carlisle School to have the indian beaten out of her, so to speak.
    I take GREAT PRIDE in my Creek heritage as we have such an interesting history.

    I would love to see this story told all across the south eastern part of the country, then spread it to the rest of the country!

  • Mary Brayman says:

    This is an outrage! Walmart/Sam’s Club thinks they can do anything they want. I am so tired of people taking taking from our native people. If this was any other race it would be on the all the tv news .

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We are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching

Posted by Dave Tabler | December 1, 2014

Certainly if you were in Wheeling, WV or Parkersburg, WV that night you could have received it. Even as far out as Zanesville, OH or Gallipolis, OH, if you had a crystal radio set, you could have picked up the very first commercial radio broadcast from Pittsburgh station KDKA on November 2, 1920. With a power output of 100 watts on a wavelength of 360 meters, the transmitter’s signals could reach homes several hundred miles away.

“Will anyone hearing this broadcast please communicate with us,” Leo Rosenburg requested, “as we are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching and how it is being received.”

KDKA’s broadcast that night featured the Harding-Cox Presidential election returns, and occasional music, from 6 p.m. election night to noon the following day. From a wooden shack atop the Westinghouse Company’s East Pittsburgh plant, five men entertained their unseen audience for eighteen hours. Donald G. Little served as chief engineer, while R. S. McClelland and John Frazier handled telephone lines from the old Pittsburgh Post newsroom where the returns were received. William Thomas served as station operator and Rosenburg acted as announcer throughout that stormy night.

The power of radio was proven when people could hear the results of the Harding-Cox presidential race before they read about it in the newspaper.

KDKA grew out of the hobby of Frank Conrad, an assistant chief engineer at Westinghouse. Conrad was a modest man with a modest education. He didn’t have a degree from a prestigious university. He didn’t have a degree at all – (except an honorary Doctorate that he received later in life from the University of Pittsburgh). Conrad didn’t even have a high school diploma – but he did have a genius for radio.

KDKA radio station, Pittsburgh PAIn 1916, Conrad registered his amateur radio station, 8XK. The station was not an ordinary amateur station-the ‘X’ indicated a special experimental license-any more than Conrad was an ordinary amateur. Conrad, through 8XK, was in touch with other engineers who were seeking to use radio to synchronize timepieces and their accuracy, and thus he required the ability to receive the Naval Observatory radio station.

While most of the nation’s amateurs were forced to cease operations for the duration of World War I, Westinghouse was issued special licenses 2WM and 2WE and continued experimental radiotelephone work for the military throughout the war. Two stations were designed, equipped, and operated during the war. One was located near Westinghouse’s plant in East Pittsburgh, and the other at Conrad’s home.

Almost as soon as he was permitted to do so after the war, Conrad went back on the air. 8XK was relicensed as a ‘special land station’ sometime between June 15 and August 1, 1919.

On October 17, 1919, Conrad delighted hams in his network by substituting a phonograph record for their usual conversation about wireless equipment. In response to the flood of requests for particular musical selections, Conrad was forced to announce that instead of complying with individual requests, he would broadcast records for two hours each Wednesday and Saturday evening.

This twice-a-week program schedule was continued with live vocal and instrumental talent provided from time to time by Conrad’s two young sons, Crawford and Francis, who acted as announcers and played the piano. The other program material was largely phonograph records, although there were some talks as well as baseball and football scores.

Conrad’s popularity grew, and it wasn’t long before he had the interest of a local music store, and was borrowing records from them in exchange for an advertisement. That was probably the first radio advertisement on the air, and it was probably the beginning of what we think of today as commercial radio.

When Westinghouse picked up on the popularity of Conrad’s idea, they decided to create KDKA—it was licensed October 27, 1920 by the United States Commerce Department specifically for commercial broadcasting. Westinghouse, one of the leading radio manufacturers, used the station as a way to get more radios into people’s homes. Keep in mind that alternating current tubes, making possible the all-electric receiver for the home, were not introduced until 1925. The early days of crystal radio required earphones.

KDKA offered a semi-weekly broadcast from November 2, 1920, to December 1, 1920. The station’s great success led Westinghouse to increase its power output by 10-fold within one year. By the end of 1923, KDKA was heard regularly all over the United States as well as some parts of Europe, South America and the Hawaiian Islands. In four years there were 600 commercial stations around the country.

Broadcasting’s Oldest Stations: An Examination of Four Claimants, by Joseph E. Baudino and John M. Kittross
Journal Of Broadcasting, Winter, 1977, pp. 61-82

Frank+Conrad first+radio+broadcast KDKA Pittsburgh+PA appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

3 Responses

  • jill says:

    what an interesting story! we have a covered bridge at our village. just found your blog and look forward in your posts! our village shows the appalachian lifestyle through our renovated buildings and antiques that were used back in the day. would love for you to hop over and meet us. i think you will enjoy it! jill

  • Opal says:

    I heard the phrase “We are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching” today in a NatGeo program about the universe (and about how far into the universe human influence has penetrated) and I googled it to find out more. This was so interesting! I know this is an old entry and you may not see this comment, but I wanted you to know how useful and fascinating this post was. Thanks!

  • Jim Mooney says:

    I also found this after seeing the National Geo special, and googling.

    Contrary to the Big Industrial version of science, so many great inventions came from hobbies or attempts to solve an individual problem.

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By a series of good trades, they come out the winner

Posted by Dave Tabler | November 28, 2014

It has been a custom for more than twenty years to have trade days in Scottsboro on every first Monday in the month; this is also when Probate Court meets. This custom was started by the business men of the town to stimulate and encourage business and it really has had the desired effect as it is almost impossible to get along the streets, and during noon hour it is extremely hard to enter a restaurant or cafe as they are so crowded.

Main Street Scottsboro ALMain Street, Scottsboro, AL. The postmark date on the back of this postcard is November 20, 1917.

The crowd starts assembling early in the morning, coming in wagons, cars, riding horses, mules and in most every conceivable manner. People coming from all parts of Jackson County, the adjoining counties and adjoining states, bringing with them anything they wish to exchange. You would find almost anything here on these days that is grown in the country.

On one side of the courthouse square you would find the horses and mules and cattle, along with these you would find hay and straw in large quantities. There is some real horse trading and trafficking going on here. Some men make their living in this manner sometimes starting out with a worthless animal of some kind and by a series of good trades, they come out the winner; on the contrary if you are not a good judge of stock you are likely to get gyped.

On another side of the square you find the pigs and hogs and it is not an uncommon sight to see a man meandering across the courtyard with a squealing pig in his arms, or you may see them leading dogs around trying to exchange them, and then you see men carrying old guns of various makes and calibers, hunting a trade of some kind.

There are vendors of all kinds such as fruit, vegetables and home made chairs. In one corner of the court yard you find a crowd gathered to hear a preacher (probably Holiness) preach from a truck bed and again you will find the same preacher in a different part of the yard preaching.

Undated postcard (though probably 1960s). Courtesy Alabama Dept. of Archives and History postcard collection.

Undated postcard (though probably 1960s). Courtesy Alabama Dept. of Archives and History postcard collection.

In one corner you find a black faced comedian attracting a crowd for a medicine show. More than likely you would find a few darkies scattered around the town well, which is located on the square, strumming on their banjoes and guitars. You would be sure to find string music and singing of some kind on the street.

If during some political campaign you will be certain to hear some speeches, as all the candidates make it a point to be in Scottsboro on first Monday. The crowd starts breaking and going home about three or four o’clock in the afternoon, as some of them have a long distance to travel and some of them may have a difficult time in getting home some of their newly acquired possessions.

After seeing and hearing the squealing pigs, bawling calves and cows, the preaching, string music, black faced comedians, political speeches, humorous conversations and crying babies, you could not come away without a lasting impression of the first Mondays.


Sue Williams, WPA Project
Bridgeport, AL
Jackson County
Oct 5, 1938
WPA Alabama Writer’s Project Collection/Alabama Department of Archives and History

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