History jobs aren’t limited to a classroom

Originally Published July 14, 2009

So you’ve gotten through college and gotten your teaching certification in History. But now, there’s a problem. Perhaps you’ve taught for a while and are reaching a burnout. Perhaps your district is facing cutbacks, or you’ve reached retirement age but aren’t ready to stop working yet. Or possibly even you’re finding it hard to find a job within this economy. You’re wondering, what are my options, what is there for a teacher to do?
Amazingly, a teacher or former teacher is one of the most hireable folks out there. Pretty much any job you would like to have is yours for the taking. But you want to stay in the historical field.
That too, is easier than you think. How do I know? Because that’s were I’ve gone. In 2002, the company my husband was working for cut a whole divisionand transfered him. For me, that meant I had to leave my teaching job mid year and we moved across the state. If anyone has done this, you know it can be very hard to find a new position. So I started looking for other options, and found a myriad.
Museum work is a haven for history teachers. Museums love teachers, because first and foremost, they know to handle large groups of children. Twenty or more children can be daunting for someone who has never dealt with children before, but a good teacher can get an auditorium full of children quiet and paying attention.
A teacher is boon when forming educational plans that fit the exhibits. Making an exhibit interesting to the preschooler as well as the high schooler can be a daunting task. Many educational departments are headed by former teachers.
Historical interpretation is also a place where teachers excel. Living historians and living history museums are becoming a new version of the amusement park. Many of the living history museums are now offering a hands on approach to learning history, with each museum site offering a project that every visitor can help do, from weeding a garden to sewing a handkerchief to helping plane a piece of wood. This is a very effective method of education, because many children don’t realize they’ve earned something about history, but remember it more than looking at a sign next to the artifact. However, this type of job isn’t for everyone. It often requires dress in historically accurate clothing, as well as a willingness to live and act like you come from that time period.
Like this idea but don’t want to work at a set site? A lot of historians and former teachers are creating personas to go with their chosen time period, right down to accurate clothing, and are hiring out to schools. Having a unique skill that you can demonstrate helps, especially if it’s portable, like flint knapping, or making rope out of corn husks, or even millinery. This one is a bit harder to do, because you have to market yourself well and in the economy as it stands, teachers don’t always have the budget for extras like this. Offering your services for free to build up your resume and recommendations may be the way to start. Also, look outside the schools to adult groups that may have an interest in your presentation. These groups tend to have more discretionary funds, and as your reputation builds, the more you can charge.
There are also historical fairs and events specific to time periods – these can be made into a full time career or something you only do locally and part time, depending on your motivation and willingness to travel. Choose a time period, and search the internet, you will find an event for that era. Most of these have education days, where school groups come in, as well as the general attendance. Just as you would going to schools, your fees will be dependant upon your performance and reputation. It takes time, but you can live very well off of being a participant in these events.
None of that appeals? Research. There are plenty of jobs out there for folks who can do accurate and quick research, and former history students and teachers tend to excel at research. You can work for government agencies, libraries, museums, private institutions, even hire yourself out as freelance to help people do research for books, articles, even geneology.
Of course, you can always follow your heart and combine these things, even become a writer. After all, as a former teacher, museum work, historical events, research and writing work well for me!
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is something you truly like to do.
Here’s a site for job listings in the realm of public history –http://www.ncph.org/CareersTraining/Jobs/tabid/334/Default.aspx

How you can preserve Colorado’s historic sites this summer

Originally Published July 15, 2009

This summer, when we’re out and about, enjoying the beauty of Colorado, we’re probably going to run across something somewhere that counts as an historical site – an old cabin, a ghost town, a mine, a cemetery, even just an old foundation or chimney. You can help keep that site in decent shape, so the next hiker or camper who comes along can enjoy them as much as you.

Take a Picture, Leave the Rest – it’s very tempting when you find an old cabin or ghost town to go into the buildings and look around. Sometimes you can even find furniture, kitchen wares, wall paper and all kinds of other things in these sites. Please don’t sit in the chair, tear the wallpaper off, or worse, leave graffiti. Nothing bugs me – and others – more than going to an historical site, no matter where it is, and finding that someone has carved their name into the wood or rock, or spray painted some ugly looking tag. You want people to know you were there? Then take a lot of pictures and show them to friends, post them on the internet, heck, send them to me with the information about the site, and I might even post them in a photo album here on Examiner.com – giving you credit, of course.

Pack It In, Pack It Out – it’s anther pet peeve of mine to go to a known historical site and see other people’s trash on the ground, in the trees, all over the site. Truly, we don’t need soda bottles, candy wrappers, even diapers just thrown around like it was a dump. Have a respect for other visitors, have a respect for the site, and please bring along a bag for your trash.

Careful With the Trespassing – the law says don’t trespass, so you shouldn’t. Besides, you never know what’s going to be beyond that barb wire fence; some privately owned sites, like the ghost town between Gunnison and Crested Butte, are used as grazing land for cattle. And ranchers don’t take too kindly to you being in among their cattle. Given the time of year, the cows may take immediate exception to you as well. So for your own safety, you really shouldn’t trespass. But if you really MUST see what the other side of that building looks like, or what that outbuilding must have been, then don’t tell me you trespassed to get that picture! Note, I don’t condone trespassing, but allow that sometimes it does happen – knowingly or accidentally. Often, if the site is on private property, you can ask the owner nicely if you can go look at their site if you promise to be careful and not damage or take anything. The worst they can say is no. Respect that no.

Don’t Damage the Property – no matter how curious you may be, if there are boards nailed over the window, or the site is locked, please don’t force your way in. Many historic sites are actually being researched for the materials used, how long they hold up, may even be in the process of being renovated so they can be open to the public. If you were to break in, you could cause more damage than if you just wandered around the building looking in the windows. And since most of these historic sites are on private property or government land, you could get charged with vandalism.

Mind Your Own Safety – Some of the sites may be open, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Old cemeteries sometimes have sinkholes, an old mine may have fumes in it that are no longer vented, an old house may have rotting floors. It pays to be as careful as you can while exploring the site. Some of these old buildings and mines are also being reclaimed by nature; you could very well be disturbing some animals that don’t like you being in what they consider their home now. It may just be a family of raccoons, or it could be a rattlesnake or even something larger. A couple of things to be aware of when searching these things out:

– Be aware of the smell – if there is a strong animal smell, then it’s likely become the home of something big. Quietly back out and go away.

– Don’t stick your hands in anything- snakes and spiders hide in cool dark places.

– Know if rattlesnakes live in the area you’re visiting.

– Don’t enter anywhere where daylight doesn’t go – you may end up disturbing an animal best left undisturbed.

– Wear protective clothing – that plant you just brushed against with your bare legs could be poison ivy. Use common hiking sense – long pants, heavy boots, long sleeve, maybe even gloves if you’re going to climb.

– Remember that even a mouse can and will bite if cornered. Leave the wildlife alone

– Don’t go into open mines – there is no way of knowing the condition of the mine; the slightest noise could well cause a collapse.

– Don’t camp in empty buildings for the reasons mentioned above – you could well be in something’s bedroom that wasn’t home earlier. The three little bears story could take on a whole new angle all of the sudden.

– Let someone know where you will be – this is just common sense for hikers and campers. Tell a friend where you will be, leave a note in your vehicle telling what direction you went and how far you expect to go, and for how long. That way, if an accident does happen, it will be easier for you to get help. DON’T rely on a cell phone – getting a signal in the mountains is often impossible.

Enjoy The Site and The History – if you think you’ve found something that hasn’t been seen in a while by the human eye, contact the local or state historical society and tell them about it. If you have a map, try to mark the location on the map, and take lots of pictures you can pass along. In Park areas, you can mention it at a ranger station and they may be able to tell you more about the site. In the meantime, the Denver Public Library and The Colorado Historical Society have a lot of information about most sites around the state, and they have friendly and helpful staff who are very willing to help you find any information you need.

Household costs in Denver’s past

Originally Published July 30, 2009

While searching the newspaper archives at the Denver Public Library yesterday, I noticed, as I paged through, the prices of common items and thought you might like to see what the differences were.

 The years I randomly chose (because those were the years I had the microfiche for) are 1893 and 1947 – both could be seen as years of growth for Denver, as people come west, and as soldiers who have returned from WWII are setting up households and starting their families.
Costs for 1893
The stores with their advertisements in the paper were well known stores for the time; in 1893, there was Appel and Co, Golden Eagle, McNamara Dry Goods and others.
  • Toothbrush – 3 cents
  • Four bars of bath soap – 7 cents
  • Socks – three pairs for $1.00
  • Boys cotton shirt – 12 ½ cents
  • Ladies Tea Gown – $5.48
  • Man’s Suit – depending on quality, anywhere from $8.50 to $18.00
  • Cotton fabric – 5 cents a yard
  • Eggs – 3 cents a dozen
  • Full set of Curtains – $4.55
  • New Iron bed frame and mattress set – $3.25
Denver Dry Goods on 16th St. - courtesy Denver Public LIbraryCosts for 1947
In 1947, the stores had changed a bit, becoming more specialized, though a few dry goods stores still existed. Groceries, furniture, clothing stores were all becoming individualized. Stores I found in Denver in 1947 were Denver Dry Goods, Save-A-Nickel, Millers Markets, Piggly Wiggly, Sunshine Jewelers and more. Some of these goods are directly relatable to today, since many of us still use them.
  • Large eggs, one dozen – 51 cents
  • Kraft Miracle Whip – 37 cents
  • Northern Bathroom Tissue – 7 cents a roll
  • Campbell’s Soup – vegetable based – 12 cents a can, meat based – 15 cents a can. Interesting varieties that no longer exist.
  • Velveeta Cheese – 79 cents a block
  • Hot Dogs – 45 cents a pound.
  • Peanut Butter – 42 cents a pound
  • Diamond wedding set – engagement and wedding ring – $49.50
  • Complete bedroom Set (double bed frame and mattress, vanity table and chair, dresser) – $189.00

Out of curiosity, I also checked the wages for 1947- secretaries could earn $140-$170 per week, and a college educated executive could earn a salary comparable to today. Of course, there were ads, just like today, in sales positions, promising an income up to $250,000 a year. I’m betting the likelihood of that being reality was just as plausible then as it is today.

Certain prices didn’t seem to change at all between 1893, 1947 and 2009; those on fresh produce. For example, at King Soopers this week, ears of Olathe corn are 19 cents each. In 1893, an ear of corn would have cost 17 cents, and in 1947, it cost 29 cents an ear! Possibly the price of produce can be explained by improved methods of shipping, production, and preservation as it goes from farm to store, lessening the cost to the store owner. This was the only area I found, however, where price were similar or even greater than today.
One last thing that caught my eye in 1947 – the price for a house. The listing was for Denver; a six room house, on four lots on a corner, with fruit trees and a grape vine, as well as electricity and running water. The price was $5,500.  Now I won’t tell you the address, because I’m sure they don’t want us all in their yard, but I Googled it and used the street view; this house is still there, still on four lots and in excellent condition – and I’m pretty darn sure they wouldn’t be willing to sell it for the same price today. Sorry folks!
I hope you enjoyed this wander through Denver’s financial past as much as I did.

Unusual artifacts, usual life

Originally Published August 1, 2009

As our families get older, we may (or already have) find ourselves in charge of a family members estate. The longer they’ve lived in one place, the more complex and cluttered that can be, as you go through the items in their attics, garages, crawl spaces, and even in some cases, their barns.
Of course, in this search and general clean out, you’re going to find items that you have absolutely no clue as to what they are. Some of the times may be even more complex here in Colorado; not just the common household and farming artifacts found in many places, but mining equipment may well be hidden away in barns and sheds; something either picked up along the way for its uniqueness, or something actually used by a family member.
Now once you find out what these items were, the urge to smack yourself in the forehead over the simplicity of it all may arise. Don’t do that, it just leaves a bruise! However, it is often good to know what the items are for future use, or for during an estate sale or auction so you can get full value of the item, and just for simple curiosity.
As interesting items come my way, I will be writing about them, and providing pictures and sometimes links. I won’t be assigning values to the items I discuss; I am not an antique dealer or expert in any way, shape or form, but I’m good with the research. If I happen to link you to an antiques site where they do list value, please don’t take it as I am advocating their assessments or promoting them- often it will be because they have the best pictures of what the object looks like in mint condition!
I’m always looking for new and interesting artifacts, so if you have something at home that you’re not sure what it is, or you have a good idea but would like more information, feel free to email me with photos and maybe some idea of where you found the item. You may even get the joy of stumping me!

Unusual Artifacts, usual life – the sewing bird

Originally Published August 1, 2009

Amongst my grandparents things were items they inherited from their ancestors; tin types, samplers, dishes, furniture- and two little sewing birds. What the heck is a sewing bird, you ask? Why this is:Sewing Bird

 Sewing clamps were created to provide a third hand to the person sewing – it held the fabric tightly so the sewer could pull the fabric taut while hemming or seaming. It helped the sewer create a more consistent and smoother seam or hem. This was particularly helpful, since the sewing machine was still an item of the future, and even when it did come into use, it was not a common object in all households. During that time, the average housewife was still making all of the clothing, linens, etc for the household.
Early sewing clamps, like the later sewing clamps, relied on a screw driven mechanism to attach it to the edge of the table closet to where the sewer was working. The fabric clamp was ether screw driven to hold the fabric, or had a simple spring mechanism to hold the fabric in place.
Sewing birds, a variety of a sewing clamp, became popular in the early 1800s; older versions, much larger, of sewing clamps have been found to exist back into the 16th and 17thcenturies, made mainly of wood. One of the more unique of .these I’ve seen also had a post attached, with pegs for spools or skeins of thread. In many early cases, “sewing clamp” was a misnomer, as the fabric item had to be sewn or pinned to the clamp; the only clamping part was to the table.
 Later sewing clamps were made of bone, ivory, wood or metal; most of the metal ones were of the spring clamp variety. While sewing birds became increasingly popular, the figurine on top could be of any animal or no animal at all. The type pictured here may have once been painted or gold plated; some were just polished iron or later, steel. Most sewing birds or clamps also had a pincushion somewhere on the clamp, easily accessible to the sewer, and a few even had an emery ball (used to sharpen needles and pins) on the bird’s back.
The “sewing bird” of this variety was patented February 15, 1853, by Charles Waterman, of Meridian, Connecticut, but he had already been quite successfully selling them prior to applying for a patent, as is evidenced by an advertisement in the Hartford Times dated June 5, 1852.
Finding these as working antiques can sometimes be hard – the spring is often broken on them. Often, you will find them in the condition I have here, with the fabric from the pincushion deteriorating, and the emery ball missing. Reproductions of the most basic style of bird can be purchased online, offered by several different companies who specialize in historic reproductions.
Using a sewing bird can be tricky at first, trying to get used to that third hand effect, but you will find it rapidly quite useful, especially when trying to sew on a delicate material, like lawn, or a slippery one, like silk satin.
Examples of sewing birds and clamps, as well as a brief article about them from the National Museum of American History:
http://www.mnhs.org/library/about/LibraryDisplay01/02tools.html  This shows the same type of sewing bird as pictured above, only in newer condition. You can see the emery ball on the back, and how the pin cushion would have looked.
As always when discussing antiques, I am not promoting any of the links above, merely listing them because they give excellent photographic examples of the items in question.

Unusual artifacts, usual life: kitchen tool

Originally Published August 9, 2009

I decided to put several items together this time, because it seems that they were so commonplace that trying to find the first time they were used, or who invented them, or even the item in an old catalog is nearly impossible. Yet just about every house had one!

Self wringing mop head This first item I found hanging in a tree at an acquaintances house. That’s right, hanging in a tree! The interesting part is the head, since it is not the most common of its type. Can you guess what this is? Imagine it with a lot of string on it, wet, being pushed across a dirty floor. This item is a mop, but what makes it unique is the wringing mechanism. The strings were put into the hook, the handle cranked and all the excess water was gotten out. I’m betting if you got really skillful with this item, you never had to get your hands wet!
Demonstrating the mop wringing mechanism
Dough cutter from the 1940sThe next item you may be able to find in your kitchen drawer – in fact, this one came from my grandparent’s kitchen drawer long ago. It is a dough cutter – it is used to mix lard or shortening into flour (cutting it in) to make pie crust. It’s not something I use much, because I prefer using a fork to do the same job. However, in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, this was a common kitchen tool, and one my grandmothers always used when making pie.
Over the fire toasterI found these at an auction today – another item I’ve used myself many times – a toast or sandwich cooker for use over an open fire, mainly. I’m sure you could use it over a wood stove as well.. The handles open, you place inside any type of bread or sandwich you wish toasted, and turning it over a fire, you get a nice warm sandwich. I’m sure you could use also cook small pieces of meat in it, or roast some vegetables.

As always, I cannot give any sort of value to these items, but I hope you enjoyed seeing some more of the unique items that were commonplace to our ancestors.

Colorado History 101: Researching towns

Originally Published August 17, 2009

Since I have been learning the hard way how to find some of the towns of Colorado’s past myself, I thought I’d pass along a few tips to shorten your research time and help you find as much information as you possibly can.

Your town probably had several names. You may know the name of your tow in 1890, or may know the current name, but you’re having trouble finding the information on the town – it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. Likely your town had more than one name before it settled. As I have been looking, I’ve been finding towns with five different names! Two excellent books, which you should be able to find in your local library (if not, they are at the desk on the fifth floor of the Denver Public Library)

 Colorado Post Offices, 1859-1989: A Comprehensive Listing of Post Offices, Stations, and Branches by William H. Bauer, James L. Ozment and John H. Willard. 1990
This book is quite useful in finding towns, IF they had a post office. A seemingly common practice in the mountains of Colorado was to have a post office that came and went; here for a few years, then gone, possibly moved down the road, or reissued as the area was “rediscovered” and renamed.   However, a lot of the small towns didn’t have a post office – and still don’t. The book you want next is:
Place Names of Colorado by Donald R. Elliott. 1999
This book goes through and lists all the names alphabetically, and tells you other names the town held and when, as well as when and if they had a post office.
Once you know all the names, head to the library’s card catalog – and look all those names up. Sometimes articles about the same place will be under one name and not the other. This could lead you to books, documents, newspaper articles – be prepared to spend a little time looking through things, as well as spending time on the microfiche machine.
But what if you don’t know the name, but have a good idea where it is? Let’s say you are out taking a wandering drive and happen upon a ghost town – without a sign, of course. First of all, I find Google maps highly helpful. I use the satellite view option the most of all; I can zoom in really close and find a familiar landmark, and then follow my tracks from there. Once you have a pretty good idea where it is, then its back to the library and on to the maps. The Denver Public Library (and I’m sure several other libraries as well) have an excellent collection of maps from the time the state was still a territory up through today. There is also a large collection of the USGS (United States Geological Society) maps that are satellite, so you can pull those out for comparison. You can also access these maps online athttp://store.usgs.gov/b2c_usgs/usgs/maplocator/(xcm=r3standardpitrex_prd&layout=6_1_61_75&uiarea=2&ctype=areaDetails&carea=0000001753)/.do  It walks you through how to find the map you want.
When using the maps, make sure you have a magnifying glass so you can look closely at the area in question. Remember, if you can’t find it on a modern map, perhaps you can find it on a map from 1921. Or 1887. Or even older. It can be time consuming, but the happiness you feel when you finally find the spot is wonderful!
Even with all this work, it is possible you won’t find very much at all about the area in the main newspapers. Once you know where the town is and its name, you can find out what local newspapers there were at the time- perhaps not in your town, but in towns nearby. Sadly, some of these spots were just not notable and just not around for long enough to be talked about.
Other resources you can tap – local historical societies and museums. They may not have much written about it, but they may an old journal, or best of all, a photo or two of your town. A lot of times, they have things that the bigger museums don’t.
The Colorado History Museum may also have things on file that you cannot find in the library.
If it’s possible that your town was along a railroad, The Colorado Railroad Museum library is packed full of resources. Valuation maps for the railroad bring it down to small details, including marking the buildings that were there when the valuation was done. They also have a plethora of photos, books, employee records and other things for you to look at.
Above all, have patience. You never know where some bit piece of information is going to show up. Good luck in your searches!

Books on the ghostly history of Colorado

Originally Published October 28, 2010

As the Halloween Season draws to a close, I know that I have hardly started to touch on all the mysteries and ghost tales here in Colorado. I said nothing of the more widely known stories, such as the ghosts who wander Chessman Park, or the Columbine Lady of Central City and her visits to the grave of a young man, I’ve barely spoken of the ghosts that occupy all the mining towns – you’ll just have to wait until next year! But in the meantime, in case you cannot wait, here is a list of books on the subject. Some of them are older and may be harder to find, others are readily available in most of the libraries and many of the bookstores throughout the state. This list is not comprehensive; just a list of books I was able to easily find in my local libraries- and on my bookcase already.

If you have any other books that you can recommend, that you think should be added to the list, feel free to send me a message and I’ll get them added.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, I present you – Ghosts and Mysteries of Colorado:

Colorado Ghost Stories by Antonio Garcez

Northern Colorado Ghost Stories: True Stories from Estes Park, Fort Collins, Glen Haven, Livermore, Longmont and Loveland by Nancy Hansford

GhostHunt: a guide to ghost photography & field investigations. Featuring true stories & photographs from Colorado & the U.S. by Dee Chandler

Mystery and Miracles of Colorado by Jack Kutz

The Ghosts of Denver: Capitol Hill by Phil H. Goodstein

The Phantom Train and Other Ghostly Legends of Colorado by F. Dean Sneed

Twilight Dwellers of Colorado by MaryJoy Martin

Ghost Stories of the Rocky Mountains, volumes one and two by Barbara Smith (these stories encompass the entire range, but many Colorado stories can be found in these books, especially the first volume.)

Ghosts of Colorado by Dennis Baker

Ghost Stories of Colorado by Dan Asfar

Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek by Chas F. Clifton

Haunted Boulder: Ghostly Tales from the Foot of the Flatirons by Roz Brown and Ann Alexander Leggett

Mysteries and Legends of Colorado: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained by Jan Murphy

Another interesting source for ghost stories is the newspapers. Even though the Rocky Mountain News started to refuse to print them starting in the 1880s, many of the smaller papers continued to print them for many more years.

Happy Halloween everyone!

The many ghosts of Brownsville

Originally Published October 28, 2010

The most haunted area, and the most musical, was the town of Brownsville, also known as Browns Gulch, a mining town near Silver Plume. Brownsville wasn’t a particularly prolific mining area, but by all reports, it was a happy one, and a singularly musical one. Almost everyone who came there to mine, run a business, or otherwise work in the area could play a musical instrument, and if they couldn’t play an instrument, they could sing. Many an evening the surrounding hills resounded with the sounds of violins, banjos, all sort of musical instruments; many a day the inhabitants all took part is singing an opera across the valley at each other!

Even though it was musical, it was also most haunted. Mad jack, mentioned in the last article, accidentally blew himself and his mule up, creating the first ghosts in the area. Stephen Pierce, ghostly guardian of the Mammoth Mine, was murdered on October 23, 1877. Seen by every miner in the area at one time or another, Pierce saved many lives in the mines, and even saved some men during a fire in the mine bunkhouse.

Two mules were added to the ghostly repertoire in May of 1879. Peter Moody was leading the heavily mules up the slope to the Montreal Mine when the lead rope broke and two of the mules tumbled down the side of the slope, dying instantly. After that, the braying of the mules was often heard in that area.

In 1884, a locally famous singer died and returned as a ghost as well. This singer was Kerry, a blue terrier, the beloved dog of A.E. McBride. Kerry died of intestinal distress, and his distraught owner claimed he had no right to die and ordered him back. Kerry, an ever obedient dog, came right back and was often heard making a humming sound when other music was played.

The ghosts continued to pile up. On July 4th 1885, Louis Ohio was shot and killed, his ghost later seen by some girls walking home from school. On July 31st of the same year, a former Confederate soldier named William Neff, unhappy with life in general, killed himself by blowing his head off with a stick of dynamite he’d taken from the Telephone mine. Undoubtedly the area’s most unhappy ghost, his spirit was often heard crying inconsolably in the cabin where he’d died. His lamentations were so severe that the miners considered his cabin unholy and avoided it thereafter.

Snow covers the abandoned buildings of the Seven Thirty Mine in Brownsville - 1899
Snow covers the abandoned buildings of the Seven Thirty Mine in Brownsville – 1899
Denver Public Library

The Tommyknockers of the Mamie R. Mine

Originally Published October 28, 2010

Cripple Creek, Colorado in 1949
Cripple Creek, Colorado in 1949
Denver Public Library