Meet the General Store Keeper

Storekeeper Pam is the lead guide at the Greteman General Store and a familiar face to many museum visitors. Let’s get to know her better!

Pam at General Store

Where are you from? I am originally from a town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Kids in Iowa grow up learning about the Ioway tribe, pioneers, raising pigs, and harvesting corn. Kids in Massachusetts grow up learning about the Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims, and harvesting cranberries and lobster. I have had fun living in and learning about both states, but Iowa has the better State Fair.

When we come to the museum, where can we find you? Most of the time you will find me behind the counter at Greteman’s General Store selling lemon drops, gum drops and sarsaparilla. I think everyone in Iowa likes lemon drops and gum drops because we sure do have lots of people asking for them every summer!

I have also worked at 1700 Ioway Farm and the 1900 Horse-powered Farm. It was fun to help play a small part in putting up one of the new buildings at the new 1700 Ioway site and I was able to learn how to use the cook stove at the 1900 Farm this summer. When I am in our 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, I can sometimes be found at the Flynn Mansion, the Schoolhouse, or making brooms in the Broom Shop.

broom shop

How did you learn how to cook and make brooms and what all of those things in the store are used for? I worked with other guides who could teach me new skills they already knew. In the summer, I also read about, research, and practice those skills every day. Sometimes you have to practice a long time to master a new skill. It took me a few tries to start a fire in the cook stove without making the room all smoky. My first few brooms came out uneven on the sides. I keep trying and eventually the new skill becomes an old skill and it’s on to something new!

The hardest, but most fun part of my job is learning how to do things the way they did in the past. Cooking at 1900 Farm without a microwave or electric appliances took a while to get used to. Every chore takes longer than what you think, so I have learned to start each task early in the day and have guests help as much as possible. Our kid visitors like to help refill the wood, wash dishes, mix biscuits, sweep floors, dust shelves, and put things away. Working as a team with our staff and volunteers also makes any job easier. If I don’t know how to do something, someone else I work with probably does and can talk me through the hard parts. At the end of the day, it is very satisfying to look at a clean, stocked, dusted General Store or a well-fed 1900 Farm.

Pam

Do you like wearing your historic period clothing? I love wearing my period clothing! The dresses for the Flynn Mansion are very fancy, but all the layers make it harder to move around. The dresses for the 1900 Farm are not very fancy, but are comfortable for doing all sorts of cooking and chores. My dresses for the General Store are a good mix of pretty and practical. Each site also has a collection of bonnets and hats for the ladies to wear and it is fun to pick one out that has a ribbon or flower that matches your dress.

General Store

What kinds of things can kids do at the General Store? When kids come visit the General Store the very first thing they can do is pull up a barrel and play a game of checkers! We sometimes have special activities like weighing dry goods, using historical tools or playing typical children’s games set up at the front of the store. Kids are always welcome to ask for a broom and help me sweep the floor. We get a lot of dust and dirt in because of the dirt road outside. Some of the items in the store are sharp or fragile, so if there is something you are interested in, ask me and I will be happy to help you see the item so both it and you are safe.

checkers

Who is your favorite person in history? Favorite person in history……That is a hard question….. I have many people from history that I admire. Esther Forbes is one of them. Even though she had dyslexia, she was able to write an award-winning biography on Paul Revere. She later took all the research she had done to write the biography and turned it into one of my favorite books of all time, Johnny Tremain.

 

Fancy Dress for Halloween!

Fall has arrived in Iowa! The leaves are changing colors. It is much cooler out in the mornings. People are pulling out their coats and sweaters. It is the time of year many people pick out our costumes to go Halloween trick-or-treating in our neighborhoods. You might not know, but the idea of going door to door for candy is a pretty recent one.

Halloween Magazine

1920s Halloween Instruction Magazine

In America, it was in the 1920s that kids really started putting on costumes to go out for candy. But, dressing up in costumes to go to a party is a very old tradition! The idea has a long history, although costume choices have changed over time.

Have you ever attended a party where everyone was dressed in a costume? While we may call this a “Halloween party”, people used to call it a “fancy dress” party. Fancy dress is just another way to say that someone is in a costume, a fanciful, dress-up costume. People long ago used to have big parties and all the guests at the party wore some form of costume. These parties were said to begin in Venice, Italy about 500 years ago! That’s before Columbus sailed to America. At first, guests would wear just a very fancy mask to cover their face. This kind of party was called a Masquerade ball.

Venetian Masquerade

As time progressed, masks began to include full costumes. In the 1500s, people in France were the first to turn Masquerades into fancier Fancy Dress parties.

costume

Party guests were encouraged to dress up like famous people in history—like the ancient Greeks, Trojans, and even shepherds. These fancy dress parties were usually just for adults—not kids. Could you imagine your parents dressed in togas like an ancient Greek?

Victorian Costumes

In the 1800s, these fancy dress parties became more for all ages of people. Adults still had fancy dress parties just for adults; but kids began to have parties with costumes too! By the 1870s, which is the time we show in the museum’s town of Walnut Hill, having a costume party was pretty common—at Halloween, and also for New Year’s Eve or even for Spring Holidays! A popular fashion magazine printed this picture of costumes for kids in 1873.

Fancy Dress for Kids

Nowadays we tend to dress up as superheroes or cartoon characters. Long ago, boys usually dressed as military officers or old historical figures and girls were dressed as things found in nature, anything from bees to snowballs.

Bee Halloween Costume Even their dogs were dressed in costume! Look at the small dog at the bottom of this picture from a magazine from 1872; the dog is dressed like a King for Halloween.

 costumes

While today you may buy your costume from a store, kids long ago had to make their costumes at home. People had to be creative and use whatever they could find. If you lived in a big city after 1900, your parents may have bought their costume from a store, but many kids still made costumes at home. This website has several photos of kids and adults dressing up in costumes in the late 19th and 20th century.

trick or treat

The biggest difference between costumes of the past and the ones we wear now is what we do in them once they are on. Today we mainly go trick-or-treating in our costumes so they need to be warm and able to go outside from house to house. Long ago, people wore their costumes inside at a party; the costume could be fancy and light because it didn’t have to travel. One good way to think about this idea is that people in the theater wear costumes for show just like people long ago. Now go out and get some candy this Halloween! Store bought or homemade costuming is fine!

costumes

If you are joining us for the Living History Farms Family Halloween event this week, we hope you will dress up in a “fancy dress” costume! But we do think it should be a warm costume so you can walk around outside and trick-or-treat in Walnut Hill!

From Field to Factory: Broom Making!

broomcornFarmers in Iowa are busy harvesting corn and soybeans from their fields. Nowadays, a lot of Iowa’s corn and crops are grown to feed to animals. In the late 1800s, Iowa farmers sometimes grew a very special plant called broomcorn for a different purpose. Most brooms in the past were made from this plant. Broomcorn is actually not a type of corn at all. It is part of a family of plants called sorghum. Farmers grew broomcorn and sold it to factories, as a way to make some extra money. The harvesting took place in the fall, along with their other crops.

But how did the long broomcorn tassels grown on the farm become a broom? In the late 1800s, brooms were made in big and small factories. Some of the factories in Iowa had only two workers and a couple of factories had over 30 workers. Most factories, like the one we show at Living History Farms, had around 6-10 workers.

broom shop Not every town had a factory, so brooms would be shipped to towns around the state, around the country, and even around the world.

One of the first steps to making a broom was to soak the broomcorn in water.

soaking the broom corn Broomcorn is kind of like spaghetti, it breaks easily when it is dry and bends when it is wet. Once the broomcorn was soaked enough to bend, it was ready to move to the binding machine (also called a kicker). bindingThe person running the binding machine used their foot to make the machine turn and their hands to hold the broomcorn under the working wire that wraps the bristles onto a handle. Brooms are made in layers.setting the wire Each layer was wrapped tight to the handle using twine or metal wire. The wire was hammered down tight around the broomcorn and handle before the next layer was attached.

Some brooms had what are called shoulders – two bundles of broomcorn on each side of the broom – which gave them a curved look at the top. shoulders on a broomThe shoulders had to be put on just right so that they didn’t flatten out. Some brooms used only a small amount of broomcorn, like the laundry/cake tester broom and the hearth broom, while other brooms used a lot of broomcorn, like the house broom. Once a broom had all of the layers on it, which could be three to seven layers, it was ready to be taken out of the first machine to dry.

drying the broomIf the broom was not allowed to dry, it could become moldy inside. At the museum, brooms are hung from the ceiling for at least a day to make sure that all the layers are dry. A laundry/cake tester broom and a hearth broom would have one less step than other brooms. Other brooms like the house broom, children’s broom, and whisk broom were all flat brooms, and in order to make them flat, they had to go into a machine called a sewing vice. sewing vice

This machine smashed the broom flat so that a worker could use string and needles to sew the broom. The sewing is what kept the broom flat once it was taken out of the vice.

All brooms ended at the trimming board. This was a machine with a very sharp blade that cut the ends of the broom to the same length.trimming

Once the broom was trimmed, it was inspected to make sure it was properly made. If it was, the broom was sent to stores to be sold. If workers had made all the broomcorn even around the handle, and if they had sewn it just right, and trimmed everything evenly, the broom would pass the test of being able to stand up straight without being held. Not every broom was made perfect in a factory, so having a broom stand up on its own was a pretty special thing.broom standing

Once the brooms were at the store, it was up to people to buy the right broom for the job they had to do! Brooms were an important part of every household and they were used for many different purposes.whisk, cake tester, hearth broomsA small laundry broom could be dipped in water to sprinkle onto clean clothes before using a hot iron. This would create steam, so wrinkles could be ironed out. A hearth broom was used to sweep ashes back into a fireplace. A whisk broom had the handle cut off, so it could get under places where handles would get in the way. A house broom was used to clean the big rooms in a house. children and house broomsA children’s broom was for the children to help clean the house. Do you have a broom to help with cleaning? If you do, just think of the steps it took to make it for you!

Plain and Fancy Quilting

Imagine a perfect, cold winter’s night. What does it look like? Is there a warm fire burning in the fireplace?

Tangen HomeAre your hands wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate? Are you cuddled up in your bed with blanket upon blanket on top of you?

Quilt

If those things sound good to you, then you aren’t too different from a kid living one hundred and fifty years ago! Living History Farms is starting to think about winter now that cooler weather is on its way. We are bringing out quilts that would have kept many children warm a long time ago. What is a quilt you might ask? It is a fancy blanket with a top and bottom and a filling in the middle, like this:

Usually the top has many pieces of fabric sewn together to make a pretty pattern like this:

crib quilt

The back might be fancy or it could be a plain sheet. The filling in the middle could have been the fleece from a sheep, combed cotton fibers, or even a thick blanket. Women put the three layers together, like making a sandwich–either by sewing small stitches through all the layers or by tying the layers together with threads.

Most early quilts had the very simple purpose of keeping people warm. So those quilts were very simply made. Like this one. Can you see the ties in the square corners?tie quilt

But as time went on, women’s lives got a bit easier when they didn’t have to make their own fabric or yarn. So they would put extra time into making their quilts beautiful. Women could take years making these works of art and they would immediately become family heirlooms–blankets that moms gave to their children who then gave them to their children. Some of these art pieces look like this:

quilt quilt detail

Living History Farms is very lucky to be able to put some of these very old quilts on display for museum visitors this week. It can be awe-inspiring to think of the women that put these quilts together and the kids just like you that were kept warm with these masterpieces.

 quilt, apron

Caregivers: The Flynn Mansion is hosting Living History Farms’ annual historic textile show from September 30 through October 4, 2015. A visit to the show is part of regular guest admission. While the historic quilts are in the house, some rooms that are actively hands-on during the rest of our touring season will have display barriers and no touch areas to protect the quilt pieces. Don’t let this keep you from visiting with younger children though! There will be a hands-on play area in the boys’ bedroom with pattern blocks, sewing cards, and stories about quilting. It’s a great time to introduce patterns, shapes, and colors to your children!quilt

Walk through the mansion with your kids and ask them to look for all the triangles or circles or stars they can find.

star quilt

Talk with them about their favorite colors and how the quilts were put together. Ask the demonstrators in the kitchen to show off the different layers of a quilt and how those tiny stitches are put in place. Explore the children’s quilts in the downstairs library. Kids and quilts are a great mix!

kids quilt

Time for School!

School has already begun for most children. Shopping for school supplies is complete, new clothes have been purchased and an introductory visit to the school is now done. Students are getting to know their new teachers, and learning what their schedule will be each day. Many students have even learned how to find the right bus to get on when it’s time to go home.    schoolhouseIn the late 1800’s, when all ages of Iowa farm children went to one-room country schools, preparation for the school day would have looked a little different:

As you milk cows and feed the chickens before getting dressed for school, you wonder if you’ll still have the same school marm (an old word for school teacher). You really liked her, and so did your brother and sister. You each learned so much with her, but you know teachers don’t always stay in one school very long.

school marm

Your new shoes feel so good on your feet as you lace them up; you are very thankful for them. The mile walk to school will be much easier. You need to hurry to the kitchen to fix your lunch. Mom just finished using up the lard in the tin so you get a new lunch pail! lunch pail

You’ll bring one of the apples that was just picked yesterday. Ham from last night’s dinner and some leftover cornbread would be great, too. And, of course, some of Mom’s delicious pound cake. You just need to strap your McGuffey Reader and slate together, and you’re ready to go. You’re almost done with this reader, so you’ll be able to use the one your brother finished last term. Your brother, sister and you take off down your lane to the road. There, you meet your neighbors, who farm just a half mile from you. You play and tell stories all the way to school. You arrive at the same time as the other two families, and you soon discover you DO have the same school marm. This IS going to be a very good school term.

You meet around the flag pole, and sing about America. As you go into the schoolhouse, you greet your school marm with a little bow or curtsy, and put your new lunch pail on the correct side of the cloak room–boys on one side, girls on the other. Inside you share a desk, again boys on one side and girls on the other. classroom

There are only 10 students in class this term. Your sister says it’s because the older boys are helping to get the corn crop in while the weather is good.

penmanship

Your lessons are on the board. You begin by practicing your penmanship. That means handwriting. You need to work on it until it’s perfect. You have a ways to go, but, “Practice makes perfect”. practice penmanship

Your sister is working out arithmetic problems on her slate. The teacher calls on her to recite her addition facts for the 9’s. 9+1 is 10, 9+2 is 11. As she continues, you realize you are learning some of them just by hearing her recite them! Soon it’s time for you to work on your arithmetic lesson. You must work hard, and be quiet all morning long, so when recess time comes, you are all ready to talk and play games. By the time it’s 4:00, everyone excitedly heads for home. Your animals will be very ready to see you. The cow needs to be milked again, and your chickens have been busy laying eggs that will need to be gathered.chores

School has gone from one room with all your friends and their brothers and sisters to many rooms in many buildings with students of mostly the same age. If you know some home-educated students, their schooling may be very similar to the way schools were run in the late 1800’s, but they are definitely using many new tools for learning. Instead of writing assignments on slates with slate pencils, do you use a white board and dry erase markers? Or do you use lots of paper and pencils, crayons or markers, and a computer? One thing has stayed the same. Students are still learning to read, write, and do their arithmetic because it is so very important for life. So study well, and learn all you can!

Shopping Trip

Have you been getting ready to go back to school? Do you have list of things you will need to take with you? Like paper, pencils, and crayons? Do you like to go shopping with your family? Maybe at the mall or the grocery store? Do you take a list with you when you shop or just try to remember what you need when you get there?

General Store

Where would you go shopping in 1875? You might visit stores in a town like Walnut Hill. There might be a drug store, a grocer, and certainly a general store! General stores were like Walmart or Target. They sold food, clothing, tools, books—a little bit of a lot of things!

General Store

Let’s pretend you live near a small town over 100 years ago. In your farm house, you watch your mom look around the kitchen with a pencil and paper in her hands. She is writing things down as she checks her shelves and bins for ingredients she will buy at the General Store. The list seems to be getting longer and longer: 10 pounds flour, 3 pounds brown sugar, 3 pounds white sugar, 1 pint molasses, 1 pound coffee, 2 pounds rice. She also has items on the list for her sewing projects: 1 spool black thread, shirt buttons, crochet thread, 3 yards red calico cloth. And then your dad adds some things he needs for the barn: 2 pounds nails, an ax handle. You want to add your own ideas to the list. You will be starting school soon and know that the General Store will also have some of the things you need to be ready for that first day. But Mom is in charge of the shopping list, so the things you want may not be on it.
General Store

When you get to town, you stop at the General Store first. As the screen door shuts behind you, you take a deep breath. The store sells many things and it all smells so good: freshly ground coffee, the open jar of pickles, leather from the shoe section, and the bottle of perfume sitting on the notions counter.checkers

Dad sits down and challenges his friend to a game of checkers. Mom walks over to the grocery section and hands the store owner her list.  general store clerk

Remember the items? Flour, sugar, and rice are measured out of barrels. You stand in the center of the store and carefully watch the store owner measure and weigh the flour, sugar, and coffee from the list. The store clerk picks out the items on the list while Mom waits and watches.general store clerk

Cloth has to be measured and cut from the bolt. Thread colors are chosen out of the spool cabinet.thread and fabric

Nails come in a barrel too! And Dad has to pick an axe handle from the store stock.nails

When everything has been bagged and boxed for the wagon ride home, your dad gets ready to load up, but then asks the store owner to take down the large box of children’s shoes from the top shelf…. Yes!shoes

You WILL be getting one of the items from your own wish list: new shoes for school. You try on several pairs and Mom chooses a pair that fits with a little room to grow. Mom also asks the clerk to wrap up a brand new school reader book and a writing slate to practice your penmanship.

slate and books

Almost your entire little list has made it onto the wagon!

Your family climbs into the wagon for the ride home. Before you get too far down the road, your parents have one more surprise for you. Dad slowly pulls a small paper sack out of his pocket and grinning, asks if anyone want a lemon drop.  candy Your smile stretches from ear to ear as you take one from the sack and pop it in your mouth. Somehow your parents guessed the last item on your list!

500px-Shopping_cart_with_food_clip_art_2_svgThis pretend visit to 1875 was very different than going to a store in 2015! When you shop today, you may push a grocery carts and pick out your own items off the store shelves. You might bring home your things in plastic bags instead of brown paper packages. Some things are the same though! There are still stores that carry all the general items your family needs, from groceries, to tools, to shoes and clothes, and school supplies. A list is still the best way to make sure all of your needed items make it home. And sometimes parents still have a fun surprise for kids on the ride home.

Houses and Homes

This summer at Living History Farms, we are celebrating houses and homes! The places people live in come in lots of shapes and sizes. Some houses are big. Some houses are small. Some people live in apartments. Some people live in farm houses. Some people live in mobile trailers. The people and things which share our living space and the things we do there together make the house into our home.

1900 farm house

Was this true a long time ago? Let’s take a walk through the past to see where people were living in Iowa a long time ago. As we look at each of these houses, think about how they compare to your house. Let’s start at the 1700 Ioway Farm. The Ioway Indian people lived in Iowa during the 1700s. They had 3 types of houses that they lived in during the year. Each house had just one room, a bedroom. Everyone in the family slept in this one room together. The summer house would be built up on the top of a hill where flooding was not an issue and where a breeze could be found. The frame of the house was made out of trees and then covered with bark taken off of elm trees. The bark would reflect the sun, making it cooler inside the house.Bark house

The winter house would be built down in the woods where it was protected from the winter winds by the trees. The frame of the house was made out of willow trees and was covered by 4 layers of cattail leaves that were sewn together into mats. The cattail mats would keep the wind out of the house and a small fire in the center of the home would heat it up to 50 degrees. (How warm is your house in the winter time?) The house would have an animal skin for the door.

mat house

The Ioway people used a traveling house for a month at a time, in the summer and winter, when they would go on a buffalo hunt. The frame was made from pine trees and the cover was made from buffalo hides sewn together. The house was lightweight enough to carry and was fast to put up and take down.tipi

What about houses for pioneer settlers? People from America and Europe started moving to Iowa in the 1840s. They had to build their homes by hand. Many of them used the trees around them to build houses. log house

Many settlers built a house with just one room that would be used as a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and storage room. There would be 2 doors on the house to go outside. If they had time for extra building, the trees might be squared off for a nicer house. There might be a loft upstairs used as a bedroom by all the children and used for storage. The house would have a fireplace on one end to heat it and to use for cooking. During cold winter months, the fireplace might have looked warm, but it could only keep the house around 40 degrees inside during the day.

Pioneer fireplace

As more and more settlers moved to Iowa, small towns like Walnut Hill were built. Life in a town was a little different from life on a farm. If your family owned one of the businesses in town, you might have a really comfortable home with many rooms.Tangen house

The Tangen House is home to the Implement Dealer’s family in our town of Walnut Hill. The house has 7 rooms on the main floor. Each room had a use. The parlor was for guests to sit in when visiting. There are 7 different doors on the main floor that go to the outside. The bedrooms would be upstairs. This house would have 5 bedrooms upstairs for the family.

If your family was one of the upper class families you might have a really fancy house, like the Flynn Mansion. The Flynn Mansion was built using bricks.Flynn mansion

This house has 7 rooms on the main floor of the house, 8 bedrooms and another room on the second floor, an attic, and a cupola on the very top of the house. The house was built with a furnace to heat it and with gas lights to light each room. There are 2 big doors on the front of the house and 5 other doors in the house that go to the outside.

A farm family in 1900 might build their house in a square shape, a T-shape, or another shape. The house on the 1900 Farm at Living History Farms is a T-shape home. It has 2 rooms on the main floor and 2 bedrooms for children on the second floor in the front of the house. 1900 farm house

The back of the house has 3 rooms on the main floor. The house was heated by a stove in the center room that was also used to cook on. The house has 3 different doors that go to the outside.

Are any of these houses like your house? How many rooms does your house have? How are the rooms in your house used? Would you want to live in one of these homes or are you happy with the one that you have? What do you think made each of these houses special to the people who would have lived there? What made it home–more than just a place to live?

Caregivers: Starting on June 15th, there will be a special traveling exhibit about what makes a house a home in the Wallace Exhibit Center at Living History Farms. The exhibit is free with paid admission to the museum. House & Home, an exhibit organized by NEH on the Road, encourages visitors to explore how our ideal of the perfect house and our experience of what it means to “be at home” have changed over time. The exhibition includes domestic furnishings and home construction materials, photographs, “please touch” interactive components, and films. Together, the objects and images illustrate how transformations in technology, government policy, and consumer culture have impacted American domestic life.

Drawn from the flagship installation at the National Building Museum, House & Home embarks on a tour of houses both familiar and surprising, through past and present, to explore the varied history, and many cultural meanings of the American home. This exhibition has been made possible through NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It has been adapted and is being toured by Mid-American Arts Alliance. House & Home was organized by the National Building Museum, Washington D.C., and curated by Sarah Leavitt. Additional support was provided by the Home Depot Foundation.