Teaching History-Up Close and Personal
In 1984 the Center for Great Plains Studies made a limited survey of 175 history teachers in Kansas at all grade levels to obtain information and solicit impressions on a variety of topics. Results of the survey revealed that although study of the unfamiliar and distant had its proponents, emphasis upon the familiar and close was strongly endorsed. This issue of Tales Out Of School contains two articles written by public school teachers who participated in an in-service program provided by the Center for Great Plains Studies for ESSDACK, a consortium of south central Kansas school districts. Both articles are illustrative of incorporating what is familiar and close into the classroom.
OUR KANSAS HERITAGE: HISTORY OF BUILDINGS
Having moved into an old house which was located in a neighborhood that was active in restoring and preserving painted ladies I became interested in the history of my "lady." After asking neighbors many questions of what they remembered about my lady I found I was not getting all the information that I desired. Obviously, many of these ambitious restorers were not around at the turn of the century and the "ancient ones" had only been in the neighborhood 40 years. As restoration took place and I uncovered dates under wallpaper along with letters and valentines written in Greek dated in the 1940s, my obsession for knowing more increased.
The two places I felt would open doors to the past were the Reno County Museum and the library. Knowing I would be distracted by the displays in the museum I headed for the library. It was my lucky day. Here I learned how to find the history of a home. This was quite an experience which sparked my interest in other homes as well. I also felt this would be an ideal way for students to learn their local history. After finding the way to the past, I was ready to share the steps with students. As I was directed, I would direct my students to look for information in the following manner.
The first stop at the public library is the reference desk. Here you need to ask for any copy or copies of the Hutchinson Historical Resources Survey(s). If your house isn't in a survey then a librarian will need to help you "dig" into the microfilm.
The microfilm covers the Reno County Directories and City Directories. The first directory to use is the 1909 book, because the first street directory appeared in this book. At this point all you are trying to establish is when your house number appeared on your street. Fortunately, houses are listed numerically and streets are listed alphabetically. If your house isn't listed, you may only assume that it wasn't built yet. Thus, you would need to check later directories. If your house is there, you're in luck. You will also discover who lived in the house.
Upon finding who lived there in 1909, you can go back further to see if the same people were there in 1907, 1906 and so on. Keep in mind that the older the date, the greater the possibility the original home was torn down, burned, or moved and a new one was built. Thus, look to see how the design and style of your house compares to surrounding houses.
In directories prior to 1909 information is listed by the individual's name and in alphabetical order, not by address. If the person you found in the 1909 directory is not at your address prior to 1909, you may go through previous directories name by name looking for your address. I was fairly successful with this, although it took quite a bit of time. The oldest directory in the library dated back to 1887. My address appeared in this directory!
To find out if my address/home existed before this, I went to the court house. First I went to the appraiser's office to get a lot number for my house. Then the next stop was the register of deeds office. The farthest these records go back is to 1884. At this point the information that is available is who owned the land, who purchased it, the date of the transaction and the amount. As the purchase price went from $500 in 1884 to $1200 in 1885, I may only assume the $700 difference was due to a house being built on it.
After getting the list of owners, an investigator may head back to the library if they wish to find out about the occupation of the owners.
I found that the owner from 1886-1892 changed occupations several times. He was originally an implement dealer, then a bookkeeper, then a fruit tree dealer.
The home was then purchased by Andrew and Minnie Renner. They both worked for the Rock Island Lumber Company; he was a manager and she was a bookkeeper. The Renners sold the house to Mattie Beal who in turn sold the house to Phillip Hostutler. Hostutler was part owner of a clothing store for men. Information was available on many of the house's owners. By using the alphabetical listing of names in the directories, it was possible to find out where each owner moved.
A final possible way to obtain information is by talking about your house. You never know who might be listening and know a previous owner, remember playing there as a child or hearing an elderly relative tell about "those old houses" on your street. I obtained many interesting stories about my painted lady in this manner. My mother happened to be working on the election board in Iola with a neighbor. When my mother mentioned that she was coming to see me in Hutchinson, Mandy, our neighbor, asked the big question, "Where does she live?" My mother rattled off my address. Mandy's chin dropped as she responded, "That's the house I grew up in."
As a result of this exchange Mandy and all her relatives came by for a visit. Mandy shared stories about the floor buzzer in the dining room, and how the maid yelled at her little friend for walking across the freshly polished floors (This wouldn't do so Mandy let Dad know--which led to carpet being installed wall-to-wall within a week), where the maid's quarters were, the parties that took place each week, what room grandpa died in and how Harry the gardener came with his mule and cart to take care of all the lawns in the neighborhood. Mandy also brought old photos. As I continued to restore the "lady," I hounded Mandy to find more recent pictures which has most recently provided us with insight on how the porch railing looked.
As I find each "piece" of the "puzzle' to the past, my pride and excitement about it increases.
Getting students interested in our past and teaching them how to research their homes or other buildings of interest may be encouraged initially through a tour of an older "historical" home. Antiques and furnishings may promote additional interest in lifestyles of the past. Also, researching and learning to identify/date antiques could lead to additional topics.
Having researched my "lady," I obtained information that will aid my students in learning where and how to begin making the past the present.
USING FOLKLORE IN TEACHING HISTORY
To set the stage for my "local' history I would like to give a little background about the area I live in. Inman is located approximately 12 miles north of Hutchinson on K-61 and 11 miles south of McPherson. In the early 1900s the area between McPherson and Inman was a series of chain lakes, at one count nearly 48 small, freshwater lakes existed in the chain. With each passing year there are fewer and fewer "old timers" that can recall this part of history. The remnants of this chain lakes area today is very minimal. Irrigation, drought and the changing face of the farm land has long left the chain lakes only a memory. Local history tells us that there is a point about 5 miles west and 5 miles north of McPherson where a raindrop will split and half will go to the northern side which is the Smoky River Valley and the other half will go south into the watershed of the Arkansas River. The south slope is very level and this is what geologists think caused the formation of the chain lakes.
The largest of the chain lakes was named the Big Basin, which ran just west of McPherson along Highway 56 where a gentle curve in the road can be detected. A natural prairie lake, the Big Basin existed until it was drained by a big ditch carved out by steam shovels in 1919. The ditch can still be seen in the area round the Big Basin. As the chain lakes headed south such names as Lake Farland and Lake Inman were given to the larger bodies of water. History recorded that the total acreage covered by the chain lakes would equal the amount in Kanopolis.
The tales of hunting and pictures that can be found in the old editions of the McPherson Sentinel show the true meaning of a sportsman's paradise. Quotes can be found in past papers that indicate where a hunter. could go out with just a handful of shells and come back with more birds than the law would allow. Maybe it was this fact that led to the legend that I would like to share with you about the chain lakes, in particular Lake Inman. It was household knowledge in the 1950s that a creature of sorts was hanging out in the Lake Inman area and as the lakes were connected by underground springs this "monster" could travel from one sinkhole to another. The local contingent reporting this monster called it "Sinkhole Sam." It first came into reported existence around 1950 when a couple of local fishermen supposedly spotted it while fishing on Lake Inman. I even have the articles from the Hutchinson News and McPherson papers that support this story (fictional no doubt). Inman was even on the nightly news on CBS in the 1950s as this monster became a threat to everyone in the community. It no doubt should be mentioned that the two fishermen were often seen visiting the local coffee house in Inman that reportedly served more than just coffee. The description of the monster likened it to a giant eel. The story attracted enough local attention that eventually it drew a few scientists in to investigate. One scientist, given the description of Sinkhole Sam was quoted as saying, "There's no doubt in my mind that this monster is a rare Foppengerkle, yes, that's right, A foppengerkle." For the ordinary person, a foppengerkle is a vegetarian eel-like creature that for hundreds of years has been extinct. (Someone forgot to tell this one around Inman).
What type of reaction did this story and legend have on the small community of Inman? It may have provided Inman a claim to fame and at the same time shown how gullible people are. In the early 1950s the story of Sinkhole Sam had circulated enough that pictures will verify that Sunday afternoons would bring a procession of cars by the Lake and Sinkholes to gaze for Sinkhole Sam. One story told by Milford Penner comes to mind when reporting this sequence. He said he would never forget some of the hot summer days that there would be cars lined up near the sinkhole watching for the monster. The people would be in their cars, windows rolled up, no air conditioning, but just waiting for the glimpse of the monster. It was a sight to see. The Hutchinson News ran a picture of a local resident, James Schierling, waiting on the bridge of the sinkhole to get a shot at the monster, if it would just come to the surface. As you can see, some did take this story very seriously. Whatever use the story served at that time, it makes a good piece of history to toss around for the local "Inmanites" today in the 1990s and surprisingly many of the locals know little of the story itself. As many times happens in smaller communities, these stories are stretched to the extremes and what is gained is a parody of comedy.