The Historical Society's furnace ceased functioning on December 28th, so the Society will be closed for the next couple of weeks while the furnace is being replaced. Our January program, The History of the Wentworth, will be held at the Baptist Church on Wednesday, January 5th, at 7:30pm. You can reach us by email: email@example.com. We thank you, in advance, for your patience with us during this process.
The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the December 24th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.
by Barbara Rimkunas
In June of 1896, Albert and Lucy Tyler set out from Exeter for a trip west. The two had been married just over two years earlier and must have been looking for a bit of adventure. The trip would not turn out exactly as expected, although it definitely did become an “adventure” and they would justly earn their 15 minutes of fame.
The trip appears to have begun as a pleasure excursion. The Exeter Gazette, a rival of the ExeterNews-Letter, noted that they set out from Kingston, “in a pneumatic run-about wagon, drawn by a horse, Peter. At Des Moines, Iowa, they purchased another horse and then made the rest of the trip to the Pacific with two horses. They were nine days on the Great American desert, and arrived at Los Angelos, Cal., after being on the road just 180 days.” A “run-about” was a small lightweight carriage. It was the favored type of transportation for doctors and fire chiefs because it could be pulled by a single horse and hitched up quickly. With air-filled tires, it was well-suited to town and city roads that were well maintained. But it was hardly the type of transportation one might take on a long arduous cross-country trip. It had neither fenders nor heavy tops to weigh it down and little space for luggage.
The two lingered in California for a while before heading to Seattle. It may have been the lure of gold that brought them north. Gold had been discovered in Alaska and the Yukon River basin in Canada while the Tylers were making their trip and 1897 would prove to be the summer of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Albert and Lucy were nearly there, but their finances had mostly run out. Albert had tried to support them by “trade” – perhaps dealing in merchandise as his father, Rolla Tyler, of Exeter, did back home, but it wasn’t enough. The Gazette reported that the couple found themselves, “living in a tent near the corner of Second Avenue and Virginia Street.” At this point, they decided they had to get out of Seattle one way or another and hatched a plan to get out. Mr. Tyler would later tell a railroad official that, “little obstacles to a pleasure trip across the country like those they had just encountered, did not discourage them, and that sooner or later they would go out of Seattle.” And so, they determined to head back east to Boston.
“Being without funds,“ the Gazette continued, “they hit upon the scheme of getting a piano box and fitting it out for a transcontinental trip to the bean-eating town.” An upright piano box would have been three feet deep, five feet tall and six feet long. Not roomy by any stretch of the imagination, but they weren’t planning to spend too much time actually in the box. “One side of the box was fixed so that the boards could be removed and thus allow exit. The plan was to open up the box, once on the road, and then enjoy the freedom of the car,” noted the Gazette.
Unfortunately, once they had packed themselves inside, the freight wagon delivered them to the rail station 15 minutes after the train left. The box was moved to storage where someone began to hear noises from within. Opening the top, a woman’s voice piped up and said “Hello!” “Freight Agent Allen could hardly believe his ears. He looked down into the box and discovered that the salutation came from a little woman clad only in her night gown. Further inspection revealed also a man clad in abbreviated costume. The remainder of the box was taken up with a supply of provisions, including apples, crackers, figs, bread, onions and water. The human freight was not shipped.”
Because they hadn’t actually been taken on the train, Albert and Lucy hadn’t broken any laws. Albert produced his marriage certificate as proof of their identity and they were apparently free to go. They called an express wagon, packed up their supplies and, “as they went away from the station the man waived his hand derisively toward the railroad people saying: ‘Ta, ta, I’ll see you in the Klondyke!’” perhaps to throw them off his track.
But the railroad got its revenge on Albert and Lucy, releasing the story to the newspapers. It hit the wires and was picked up by the Boston Journal, which quickly relayed the story to Exeter. When the couple finally arrived in Exeter a few weeks later – by train, no less – they were embarrassed to find themselves a media sensation. The Gazette caught up with them and asked about the incident. “This story they both deny, and say that the parties who made the attempt, were caught and gave their names, thus making it appear as if it was Mr. and Mrs. Tyler, when in fact, it was not.” But the News-Letter gave them no such denial, stating only, “Mr. and Mrs. Albert Tyler, whose attempt to ship themselves east from Seattle, Wash., in a piano box, was a recent sensation, are now at Mrs. Tyler’s old home in Kingston.” And with that, their brush with fame ended.
The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the December 10th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.
by Barbara Rimkunas
“Mom, I don’t feel good.”
These are the most dreaded words a parent can hear first thing in the morning. The day’s plans are shot, the school has to be notified, possibly a doctor’s appointment has to be made and met, maybe a workplace has to be called, coverage found, ginger ale purchased and always the potential threat looms that any other children in the family might be similarly afflicted within a few hours or days.
But except for a few rare cases, most of the time our main concern is all the inconvenience. Kids get sick. Kids get better. We take for granted this usual progression of illness. A century ago it wasn’t quite so simple. For one thing, your child was likely to come home from school with something a lot worse than a stomach bug.
In 1900, the main childhood killers were infectious diseases such as scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria and whooping cough. All of these are highly contagious and would spread like a wild fire through classrooms. There were no vaccines and no effective treatments besides supportive care. The only tried and true way to prevent an epidemic was quarantine.
By the late 1880s, most states, including New Hampshire, had created a board of health. Regulations were enacted to close down ports if cholera was detected. Sanitation systems were improved to create cleaner streets and safer drinking water. And procedures were developed to make some illnesses “reportable.” Local doctors were required to report and, if necessary, isolate any suspected cases of these illnesses.
The New Hampshire quarantine regulations from 1916 included the entire family of a sick child: “When a child is sick and suspected of having a contagious disease, other children in the family must not attend school until they produce a certificate from a respectable physician that there will be no danger of their communicating the disease to other pupils.” A sign was placed on the family’s house notifying everyone of the quarantine.
Usually, the father would escape to stay with a neighbor or other family member. His income was too important to lose because of a child’s illness. But if both mother and father were employed – and in Exeter many families had both parents working in the factories – quarantine created a financial hardship. And the quarantine period was very long. Today if your child misses three days of school it’s considered unusual. The 1916 regulations required – at minimum – a 15 day quarantine for measles and chicken pox and up to six weeks for scarlet fever and whooping cough. Why all the fuss? The following account from the Exeter News-Letter in January of 1901 illustrates the difficulties and tragic outcomes that could happen. In this case, a teacher was the first to notice that one of her pupils had missed a number of days of class:
“Miss Annie l. Davis, teacher of the Prospect hill primary noted her absence on Monday, and on inquiry of her scholars was told that she had the measles. Miss Davis promptly notified the school board, and that in turn the board of health. Dr Nute made an immediate investigation Monday afternoon, having almost to force his way into the tenement. The girl, who the father declared was not very sick, was found by Dr. Nute to have not measles, but scarlet fever in pronounced form. He promptly quarantined the house, and gave the requisite instructions to its occupants, the men being unreasonable and hard to deal with. An hour later Dr. Nute had occasion to revisit the neighborhood, and found one of the children at a neighbor’s and other violations of the quarantine. The board of health consequently invoked police aid.”
The police placed a watch on the house and the entire neighborhood, but it was too late. The children next door quickly developed symptoms and their mother and older sister, who worked in the household of Phillips Exeter Academy professor John Kirtland, brought scarlet fever into his home. The professor and his three sons developed the disease and became gravely ill. The two younger boys, aged 10 months and 3 years, both died within a week of one another.
This particular episode took place before quarantine rules were well-known among the general public and it is of note that the violators were all recent Polish immigrants who were unschooled in the newfangled rules of public health. The News-Letter’s article was meant as a cautionary tale, as the account of the events was preceded by a notice from the school board; “Even if new cases, already contracted, should develop, the teachers are on the watch for any symptoms of illness and will promptly report any case at its earliest stage.”
Parents were under advisement that the children’s health was being monitored. Sick children were reported and children who missed school were investigated. As restrictive and financially devastating as quarantine could be, there was too much at stake.