Telegraphy Shortcuts

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 14, 2017

When timber and coal camps started springing up throughout Appalachia in the late 19th century, they provided work for surveyors, lawyers, engineers, doctors, dentists, mechanics, railway workers, postal employees, and telegraph operators.

The telegraph offered employment to anyone who could master the technology, regardless of background. There was even a hierarchy of status, as operators moved from small, rural locations (with less traffic) to large, central offices (which had huge traffic). Telegraph operators were paid well and felt themselves part of an honored profession. It was a good way to make a living for a lot of people.

Kentucky telegrapher, WW I era

This photo from the University of Kentucky’s Nollau Collection is undated, but resides in a file labeled ‘Military Women, WWI.’ Location not specified.

However, many telegraph operators who used the key for long periods of time developed a debilitating problem, which they called “glass arm.” Today the same type of problem has a kinder name — “Repetitive Motion Disorder,” or RMD.

“The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code,” a shorthand phrasebook for telegraphers, was  published in 1891. It helped telegraphers avoid RMD by spending less time sitting at the key, but it also helped them send faster, which meant they earned more money, since telegraphers were generally paid by the word.

The book’s preface explained: “In this era of reduced postal and telegraphic rates, concessions to the important principles of economy and expedition in the means of communication by mail and telegraph, the publication of the Anglo- American Code meets an urgent demand.

“It is the outgrowth from what, at first, consisted of various special codes, adapted to special businesses, which were quite limited in scope, and later, of more general codes of wider scope. At last a demand comes for one which will embrace all subjects of correspondence, and this work is designed to meet it.

“The expense and publicity entailed in the use of the telegraph are recognized as serious obstacles. This work will cause a great diminution of these, in many cases practically eliminating them. Embracing as it does, social and domestic, as well as business and miscellaneous subjects, a large proportion of correspondence which is now conducted through the mails, can, through its medium, at slight expense, be conducted, confidentially and quickly, by telegraph.

“Its use will also be recognized as an important means of confidential communication not only in telegrams but also in letters and postal cards.

“This system will be found to be a novel one to the greater part of the public, but it is believed that its usefulness and importance will be promptly recognized while its simplicity makes it available for every one.”

The Anglo-American Code Book, as might be expected for a business guide of its era, was heavy on code phrases for various railroads running throughout the region. Very often the codes are nonsensical words, such as “renavigor,” standing for the “Mariette & North Georgia” railroad.

Other times we can imagine the code’s authors having their fun as they worked away on their manuscript; the code “boastful” stands for the “Western Maryland” railroad, and the code “banjo” for the “Ohio & Mississippi, preferred stock.”

The Anglo-American code book also has plenty of codes for commercial agricultural products.  Why on earth did its authors come up with the code of “bondwoman’ to represent the “common North Carolina sun dried apple”?

Not all 470 pages of the book are this entertaining, but there are chuckles aplenty for the patient reader willing to dig for its hidden gems.

source:  The Anglo-American telegraphic code to cheapen telegraphy, by American Code and Cypher Company, 1891, Benjamin H Tyrrel, NYC


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The Cherokee Booger Dance

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 13, 2017

The annual Cherokee Gourd Artists Gathering just convened last weekend in Cherokee, NC. Gourd design today mainly encompasses the arts and crafts world of vases, pots, and plates, but it has a politicized function in Cherokee history. Highly stylized gourd masks have for hundreds of years been an essential part of the Booger Dance, a charged ritual of reaction against outsider intrusion.

Crafted from large gourds or carved from buckeye wood, the masks represent faces of foreigners, such as Africans, Germans, French, Chinese, or other Indian tribesmen.

The Cherokee also make masks of hollowed-out hornet or wasp nests to personify mean or evil whites, or whites consumed by a disfiguring illness such as smallpox. Dyed with vegetable pigments and decorated with bits of fur to suggest eyebrows, beards, and mustaches, the masks also have decidedly sexual connotations.

For example, a mask might feature a large pendulous gourd for a penis-like nose, surrounded by a base of opossum fur to represent pubic hair. These caricatures of genitalia represent a Cherokee belief in outsiders’ obsession with sex.

Cherokee Booger MaskIn 1935 and 1936, anthropologist Dr. Frank Gouldsmith Speck observed performances of the Booger Dance at the Cherokee’s western North Carolina reservation and recorded what he saw.

The Booger Dance contains four distinct components, or “acts.” In the first act, according to Speck, after about thirty minutes of social dancing, four to ten or more masked men stamp into the performance area, a room in a private residence, in a state of general mayhem.

They wear simple costumes of ragged European-style garb, sheets, and bed quilts, draped over their bodies and shoulders, and sometimes over the head. Some of the Boogers fall to the floor in feigned convulsive seizures; others mockingly strike and push at the spectators in hopes of clumsily manhandling the women and girls.

The Boogers chase the screaming and giggling females throughout the room, all the while underscored with music, obscenely gesturing by thrusting their buttocks to display gourd phalluses. Speck notes that these phalluses sometimes contain water, which when released obviously imply ejaculation. After completing this first sequence, the Boogers compose themselves and take seats on a board or bench near the wall.

The brief second act begins when the host (“the Driver,” since he drives the action of the evening) heralds the strangers’ arrival. In whispered Cherokee, the Driver asks the Boogers’ leader his group’s identity; the leader tells the Driver that they are from a “distant land and going ‘north’ or ‘south'”.

The Driver loudly broadcasts the leader’s response and then asks what the Boogers want, to which they unanimously reply, “Girls!” More fumbling girl-chasing follows and the women respond with more squealing and giggling. The Boogers then impulsively demand a fight, but in their broken Cherokee they announce they want to dance, unwittingly punning the words “dance” and “fight,” which differ in the Cherokee language only in the placement of accent.

At the beginning of the third act, and before the Boogers dance, the Booger leader whispers his mask name to the Driver, who loudly “translates” it. The Booger name follows one of two themes: names of foreigners, such as German, Frenchman, Black or Chinese; or descriptive and obscene names of private parts of the body, such as Black Buttocks, Sooty Anus, Rusty Anus, Big Phallus, and Her [Vagina] Has Long Hairs.

Speck writes that the Boogers then each dance a personal clown dance of “awkward and grotesque steps” resembling “a clumsy white man trying to imitate Indian dancing.” The Booger is a very real threat and not a diluted caricature for the Cherokee to digest more easily. The Booger is, for the Cherokee, a local symbol, corresponding to the universal symbol or archetype water, and it represents Chaos, Chaos capable of annihilating order but also of restoring order.

The Booger’s name is taken for the first word of the song and each time the name is chanted, the audience erupts in applause and shouting. After the clown-dances, the Driver invites the Booger leader and his troupe to dance the Eagle or Bear Dance, dances of peace and honor.

The leader whispers his decision (the Eagle Dance, the usual choice) to the Driver and an intermission of five-to-ten minutes follows to prepare for the subsequent dance. The Boogers remain seated on their bench or rush outside for a break.

After the intermission, and before the peace dance, the singers chant a song demanding tobacco for their services. The Driver then fills and lights a pipe, taking a puff for himself. He offers the pipe to the drummer and the singers, who each take a puff. Once all of the musicians have partaken in the smoking ritual, the Driver puts the pipe away.

The Driver then places a deerskin on the floor before the Eagle Killer, whom Speck calls the dramatic star of the evening, indicating the importance of the Eagle Dance and of the eagle itself. The Eagle Killer, as his name denotes, killed the eagle to obtain the feathers essential for the Eagle Dance.

The Driver presents the Eagle Killer with symbolic gifts in honor of his deed. These gifts traditionally included a deerskin (for moccasins), tobacco (to calm the nerves), a knife, lead and powder (for livelihood), and buttons and pins (for the Eagle Killer’s female relations). According to Speck, however, by 1936 five cents had supplanted the traditional gifts.

The fourth and, according to Speck, most important act of the Booger Dance proper then begins. The singers chant the song of the Eagle Dance and the Boogers move onto the floor with the Cherokee men who begin to dance the peace dance.

The dancers, impersonating eagles flying higher and higher to escape the hunter’s arrows, circle gracefully with their arms outstretched, right hands clutching wands of seven eagle feathers, gourd rattles in the left. In ancient times, the Cherokee carried entire eagle tails, but as the birds became scarce they substituted wands of sourwood (believed to hold power against witches) holding feathers of the sacred number seven.

Cherokee women then join the Boogers in the Eagle Dance, one woman for each masked figure. As the women serenely dance, each carrying an eagle-feather wand in her left hand and nothing in the right, the Boogers advance upon them sexually.

They desecrate the purity of the dance, mocking the hospitality of the Indians, and, for Speck, symbolically mime the cultural “rape” of the Cherokee. They exhibit their gourd phalluses, obscenely bumping and grinding. Unperturbed, the women continue to dance with great dignity.

At the close of the dance, the Boogers boisterously bound for the door. The Boogers make one last grab for an unwary female, but fail to drag off their struggling victim. They run into the night, leaving the spectators in side-splitting laughter. The Boogers then return, sans masks and costumes, as well-behaved Cherokee men, and the social dancing and party continue.

Sources: “Returning to the Sacred:
An Eliadean Interpretation of Speck’s Account of the Cherokee Booger Dance,” by William Douglas Powers, The Journal of Religion and Theatre, Vol 1, No 1, Fall 2002

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Survival of the fittest

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 12, 2017

“In the courthouse yard a great congregation of Sparrows was rioting over scraps of bread and cake crumbs strewed round the benches by the afternoon concourse of babies and colored nurses of the day before, and in the distance could be seen a cloud of Pigeons drifting and whirling round the upper windows of a storage warehouse, where sweepings of grain lay thick. The Gray Pigeon looked at both gatherings a while, and then inquired, ‘I wonder if every city has as large a feathered population as Chattanooga?’sparrowswithcrumbs 1

“‘And if they are always made up of Pigeons and Sparrows mostly?’ added the White Pigeon.

“‘I don’t know about Pigeons,’ said the Sparrow, expanding his round little breast, ‘but Sparrows go everywhere and can live anywhere.’

“‘But the Robin, who winters in the south, says that in Florida towns, away below the frost line, their place is taken by harsh-voiced Blackbirds, called by the negroes Nassau crows,‘ said the Gray Pigeon. ‘And that traveler, the Swallow, says that in Dayton, O., the Sparrows are becoming fewer every year.’

“‘What for?’ demanded the little fellow, in alarm. ‘I never heard of my kind leaving a town where they had once made a home.’

“‘The Swallow says it is because the new civic administration allows nothing to be scattered in the streets which ought to be put into garbage cans. Then, too, there are but few horses in use there; their place has gradually been taken by automobiles. Because there is nothing left for them to eat, the Sparrows are rapidly disappearing.’

“The Sparrow’s feathers dropped. ‘That’s what this clean-up movement means–as if we were rats or flies!’ cried the little chap, disgustedly. ‘They’ll be posting Swat the Sparrow bills yet! However, the suburbs we have always with us.’ He hopped into the magnolia and thence flew away, while the Pigeons looked after him in amusement.

“‘The distribution of the English Sparrow over the United States,’ said the Fireman, ‘is a phenomenon comparable to that of the rise and growth of Israel in Canaan. In their native country the struggle for existence kept them down to a certain numerical limit. The competition between creatures of the same species, always severe and keen in older lands, hindered their multiplication. But when they were brought to the new continent they found different conditions of living; there was plenty everywhere, and problems generally not so hard. Their hardy nature and bold, aggressive ways and, even more, their familiarity with man, enabled them to overlive and drive out the native species of size comparable to theirs. Hence their extraordinary spread and increase.

“‘Something like the same thing happens when European plants are brought to the shores of this continent; innocent and pretty enough at home, they soon become in America so plentiful as to be a nuisance, a weed. The daisy, the smallest variety of dock, and the Japanese clover are a few out of many examples. The rapid multiplication of rabbits in Australia is another instance of the disturbance of the natural balance of life by the introduction of immigrant species.

“‘Only under such exceptional circumstances can a species increase. The animal population of the earth is self-balanced, automatically held at a stand. Only one pair of young can grow up to replace the pair, male and female, which have launched anywhere from twelve to a hundred thousand individuals into existence. The command to increase and multiply was never given to the lower creatures, but to man alone.’

“‘How is it, Fireman,’ asked the Gray Pigeon, ‘that man’s race increases constantly, while his birthrate is lower than that of any other creature?’

“‘That is easily answered,’ declared the Fireman. ‘It is simply due to the survival of the fittest. A thing that is fit is a thing that fits. Man, producing fewer young than any animal, alone multiplies because of his lower death rate. He survives, he lives, by fitting himself into any environment as no animal can do.

“‘Meeting with extremes of heat and cold, he changes his dress, his food and his housing accordingly. He is not dependent on a fixed diet; if vegetables cannot be obtained, he can exist after a fashion, or temporarily, on meat–in arctic regions, for instance. He can also subsist on vegetables and fruit. Of course, there are limitations set to his omnivorousness. Yellow men can live principally on rice, and black men thrive on mealies, but the white man must have wheat as a main article of diet.’

The Pigeons looked intensely interested, for they, too, are eaters of grain.

“‘The recent rise in the price of wheat,’ the Fireman went on, ‘I mean the gradual upward trend of the past few years, is not, as some thoughtless observers suppose, a transitory result of market manipulation and corners, which do sometimes force the price of necessities up to an unnatural level. It is due to perfectly natural and irresistible causes. For the first time people are beginning to feel the effect of a great natural process–the race which started away back yonder, between the population of the world and the growth of the world’s wheat supply. Of course, the population is steadily gaining. In spite of the opening of vast new wheat-producing areas in Canada and the Argentine, there is a total growing shortage.’

“‘I don’t believe the Redbird, who told us about the harvest, would admit that,’ said the White Pigeon.

“‘Maybe not. But there will come a time, nevertheless, when the world will lack bread. Bread is the staff of life; wheat, in proportion to its price, is by far the best and cheapest of all foods. A permanently higher price for it is a calamity that must be faced.’

“‘But, Fireman,’ protested the Gray Pigeon, ‘Man was here before ever he cultivated the wild emmer of Egypt and made it a grain, wasn’t he?’

“‘Not such as we know Man today, nor even as later Egypt knew him,’ said the Fireman. ‘Other races of men, vastly superior in numbers, but differing widely in material and intellectual development from the one we know, can live well enough on corn, rice or millet; but none of these grains has the food value, the concentrated health-sustaining power of wheat. And all the time the reckless exhaustion of the soil is helping forward the day of reckoning.’

“‘What will he do when it comes?’ asked the Pigeons.

“‘He might, perhaps, learn to fix the nitrogen in the atmosphere in forms on which the plant can feed. They will have to do something of the sort, or the Caucasian race will be squeezed out of existence by races to whom bread is not the staff of life. A method of sowing the bacteria which have power to utilize nitrogen of the air is already in practice in some sections. And the Mendelians promise varieties of wheat having more grains to the stalk. But, for all that, to Sparrows, microbes or men there must come a day when the Good Gray Mother can feed no more.’


Special Collections at Lupton Library/The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Special Collections at Lupton Library/The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

From April – June 1914 The Chattanooga News paid Emma Bell Miles $9.00 a week to write “Fountain Square Conversations.” The “Conversations” cleverly combined her naturalist’s knowledge and her social commentary. They featured birds and other creatures on the square conversing under the shadows of the human statues. Miles (1879-1919) is remembered primarily for “The Spirit of the Mountains” (1905), the first comprehensive study of Southern Appalachian culture.


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Cotton was his past; Angus was his future

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 9, 2017

The McPhail Angus Farm, in the vicinity of Seneca, SC, has been a locally significant farm for more than one hundred years. The farm illustrates twentieth century developments in agriculture in the South Carolina upcountry, most notably the transition from a traditional dependence on growing cotton as a cash crop to raising cattle as a major source of farm income, and growing fescue grass as both a source of pasture feed and a cash crop. The farm is also significant as an excellent intact example of an early-to-mid-twentieth century farm complex.

Walter Houlu “W.H.” McPhail (1901-1979)

Walter Houlu “W.H.” McPhail (1901-1979)

John Augustus McPhail (1876-1961) purchased the original 150-acre tract in 1902. His son Walter Houlu “W.H.” McPhail (1901-1979) acquired additional acreage up through 1931, bringing the total number of acres to almost 500. W.H. lived on the home place until his death in 1979, and the Tokeena Angus operation, run by his four sons, remains active there today.

W.H.’s interest in cows began at the age of 8 When he asked his father if he could purchase a yearling heifer. With his father’s consent and advice, W.H. purchased “Blue Bell” for a gallon of molasses and a fifty cent piece.

During his childhood, W.H. attended the elementary grades at Tokeena School #1, Which was located just a few yards from his front door. He later graduated from Townville High School, waiting on his brother so that they could begin studies together at Clemson College in 1921.

W.H.’s yearn for the farm was stronger though, and in 1922, he walked home to start the spring planting of cotton. After promising his brothers that the farm would be cared for and their educations paid for, W.H. began his profession as a life-long cattle and cotton farmer (his two younger brothers, Miyantoo (“Toy”) and Schubert, did in fact graduate from Clemson.)

In the summer of 1926, W.H. took an afternoon break from farming, just long enough to ride through a neighbor’s yard and pick up Addie Lucy Prater. Nine years later the two married and, over the years, had seven children: Mary, Hazel, Walter, Steve, Floyd, Elaine and Neil.

McPhail Angus Farm, Mule/Cattle Barn, constructed ca. 1886.

McPhail Angus Farm, mule/cattle barn, constructed ca. 1886.

By the late 1920s, overproduction had led to an agricultural depression in the Southeast, and dramatically reduced prices for both cotton and textiles.  This depression, combined with the stock market crash of 1929, dropped per capita income in South Carolina from $260 in 1929 to $151 in 1933, and many tenant farmers and sharecroppers left farms for cities and towns with mill villages that offered them higher wages and their families electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing.

During President Franklin Roosevelt’s first term, furthermore, other farm laborers found temporary or long-term employment through such federal agencies as the Works Progress Administration.

Cotton was still the farm’s main crop during this period, and its proceeds allowed W.H. McPhail to add acreage to the original 150 acres purchased by his father. Together, J.A. and W.H. McPhail purchased the original Pine Grove School lot in 1919, the Townville High School lot in 1928, and another fifty acres in 1930.  W.H. McPhail later bought additional land to increase the acreage to 468 acres by 1931.

W.H. McPhail employed many of his neighbors during what was called “lay by time.” This was the time when the crops were “laid by” or harvested for one season and the next crop was either in the ground or soon to be put in the ground. It later came to refer to the time when the mills were shut down periodically to cut production or decrease payroll. During this time, McPhail paid fifty cents per man per day to men to clean up swamp land located on the farm.

The men worked by hand to cut back plants and tree growth to keep the swamp clear enough to plant corn and to control weeds. They also dug drainage ditches by hand to reduce the water levels in the swamp as much as possible for that time.

By the late 1930s, however, laborers could make as much as $2.00 per day in the mills or on New Deal public works projects, a rate that a small farmer such as W.H. McPhail could not compete with.  McPhail was only able to continue operations with a few sharecroppers, still growing a few acres of cotton but beginning to make a rapid shift toward raising cattle for the farm’s major source of income.

W.H. saw the changes being brought about by the decline of the cotton economy and the loss of topsoil across the upstate. He was already terracing his farm but believed that cattle, not cotton, would be the crop of the future. Soon after his marriage, he bought two heifers and a bull from Mr. N. S. Black of York.

Later, McPhail purchased several registered Angus from Rabun Croft Farm in Georgia, establishing a registered Angus herd in South Carolina in 1936. This herd is one of the oldest Angus herds in South Carolina and has been designated as a Historic Herd by the American Angus Association.

In 1939, McPhail brought fescue seed from a test plot in the Anderson County Extension program home to his farm. He gradually helped established this grass throughout the area, planting acreage on his own farm and selling extra seed to neighbors so that they could increase profits through forage rather than feed. He eventually provided certified seed to such companies as Pennington and Sawan Seed, which in turn sold it to farmers across the Southeast.

Tragedy struck the McPhail’s in 1945 when brucellosis broke out on the farm.  After slaughtering most of his herd to stop the spread of the disease, W.H. partnered with John Sam Lay of Choee Valley to purchase the next two heifer crops from V.L. Lovell of Habersham, GA.

In the late 1940s, W.H. McPhail, Reese and Levis Herron, C.A. Seawright, R.A Reeves, Charles Foster, F.B. Davis and Ronnie Jones established the South Carolina Angus Association and began sponsoring their own state supported sales of Angus cattle. Mr. McPhail was active on the Board of Directors for many years, promoting the Angus breed in news articles and anywhere else he could. He believed that Angus was the top breed and said that even if you had mixed breed cattle, “you might as well have some Angus in there, so you could have the top mixed breed too.”

W.H. held the record for having the highest selling bull at the Association’s state sale for many years. He was a lifetime member of the American Angus Association, served as vice-president of the South Carolina Angus Association in the late 1960’s, and was an advisor to the Junior group until well into his ‘70’s.

In 1952, W.H. McPhail was awarded the Outstanding Accomplishment in Balanced Farming plaque from the Clemson College Extension Service; he attributed a large part of his success to his cattle. In 1969, McPhail was named an honorary member of the Block and Bridle Club.

In 1968, W.H. McPhail decided to semi-retire, since he had four sons who were interested in carrying on the farming tradition. Floyd returned home first, followed shortly by Walter. Along with Steve, they formed Tokeena Angus, and in 1977, Neil came home from Anderson College, joining the partnership by adding the Angus cattle he had acquired over the years, and pitching in to help with the work.

W.H. McPhail passed away in February of 1979, still in the habit of riding over the farm, checking daily on “the boys,” his beloved black cows.


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Wedding in an amusement park

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 8, 2017

It’s June, and what better place to hold a June wedding than next to a roller coaster? Chester, WV in the early 20th century didn’t have 6 amusement parks to choose from, the way nearby Wheeling did. But what it lacked in quantity, it made up in quality. The grounds of Rock Springs Park, close to the Ohio River, could accommodate 10,000 people, and included a carousel, dance pavilion, bath house, lake and large swimming pool. People would come by excursion boats, trains, or automobiles. This amusement park opened in 1898, though the area had long been used for picnics and family outings.

Rock Spring’s sumptuous landscaping enticed the park’s owner, Mr. C.A. Smith, to build a well appointed new home in 1905 on Pyramus Avenue, overlooking the park. There were often crowds of over 20,000 people at some of the larger picnics. On special picnic days or important holidays, the park had giant fireworks displays. And the free ice cream given away at the Golden Star picnic made that event especially popular.

Rock Springs Park, Chester WVThe back of the photo reads “Public Wedding, Rock Springs Park in 1908.”

In the early years, the park was home to three roller coasters. The roller coaster behind the couple is the ‘World’s Great Scenic Railway,’ a wooden coaster operated in the park from from 1907 to 1926. On this ride, the cars were powered up spiral tracks inside the station before beginning a mile-long descent through the forests of the park. Shortly after the scenic railway was erected, it was blown down by a great windstorm and had to be rebuilt. Renamed the ‘Cyclone,’ this basic out & back style coaster was designed by Harry Baker, opened again in 1927 and scared the bejesus out of its riders until 1970.

Rock Springs Park ride ticketAfter more than seven decades of operation, the park was closed to make way for new approaches to the Jennings Randolph Bridge on U.S. Route 30. On Labor Day 1970, the last crowds departed. In June 1974, more than 1,200 people attended a farewell dance at the park before it all became a memory.


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