Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Fantastic Find

Hi there, Erika posting! This summer I've been working on cataloging boxes of documents that belonged to Caroline, and I've found some fantastic stuff. There are insurance policies, personal letters, and even some advertisements all mostly dating from the 1930s. One thing I was particularly excited to find was this:
 Caroline, among the numerous other organizations she donated time and money to, was a member of the Westchester Historical Society. Her love of history and dedication to preserving the past is clear, and makes me more determined to see what else I can find out about this amazing woman we owe so much to.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Diseases of the Dog"

[From Madeline, again.]

A week or so ago, my mom found a booklet from 1924 entitled "Diseases of the Dog and How to Feed" by H. Clay Glover, a veterinarian to the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club. Naturally, as an Animal Science major, I had to skim through it. Besides the old-time vernacular used, it seemed more-or-less a typical pet health care manual. However, two things caught my eye at once:

First, epilepsy was listed under the name "Fits." Apparently epilepsy was not a well known condition at the time... or, rather, its symptoms were well known but its causes and/or mechanisms remained a mystery to the general public. Without sufficient understanding of epilepsy among the general public, it seems to have simply been designated "fits." I suppose it makes sense considering the knowledge of the time; a canine (or human) having an epileptic seizure could certainly appear as "they're just having a fit" to the ignorant eye.

Second and most shocking, feeding ground glass, tin, or turpentine was the "traditional" method of controlling internal parasites. Thankfully Glover had the insight to mention that this was not a preferable method of treatment. Just imagine treating a case of intestinal worms by feeding the dog a shattered vase, a soup can, or paint cleaner... Sure, the worms would be dead, but I wouldn't doubt I if the poor dog was dead shortly after that, too. Thankfully we have anthelmintics to kill worms and not dogs nowadays.

Actually, a similar "treatment" appeared in the book I'm currently reading, The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, which is set around the time of the American revolution. (On a side note, this particular book is the fourth or fifth - I lost count - of seven in the historical fiction/Sci-Fi/romance/impressively-detailed-and-awesome-in-general Outlander series, which I highly recommend reading.) Not to spoil anything, a drunken slave turned up violently dead but without apparent injury, and it was discovered that, in addition to having been drugged to induce vomiting (already irritating to the stomach), she had somehow consumed ground glass. The ground glass caused a hemorrhage in her stomach, which ultimately killed her. Whether that was a successful attempt at murder or the well-intentioned doctor's treatment gone wrong is a mystery that it seems will remain unsolved, but either way, what passed for medicine at the time was alarming.

Also frequently mentioned in The Fiery Cross, blood-letting was common; doctors would create an incision and allow the patient to bleed a bit. The theory was that illness is caused by an imbalance of "humors" (which don't actually exist), and removing blood would remove the humor that is in excess. I would imagine that different illnesses would warrant blood letting in different areas according to whatever hypothetical humor is theoretically in excess, although I have not done research on the topic. If the prospect of allowing an ill patient to lose significant quantities of blood isn't suspicious enough, the instruments used to make the incision were not cleaned or sterilized as the concepts of bacteria and infections were still unknown. Yuck! What a medical disaster!!

A canine health manual from 1924.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

An Attempt at Research

Hi everyone, this is Madeline.

I have a thing for herbs (if my last post about the pressed plants hasn't made it obvious). As I headed off to school last semester, I couldn't help but think, "My school is a large, Land Grant, research institution with a large horticulture section in the library. I bet I can find a whole bunch of information on the herbs in our herb garden there..." And thus I set out on a mission to learn about the herbs in our herb garden.

I don't know if anyone has mentioned the herb garden yet, but I, my mom, and some other volunteers planted the herb garden a number of years ago outside of the summer kitchen. The idea was to cultivate a small garden similar to what Caroline and her family might have grown. It currently houses a number of popular plants: tansy, mint, lavender, chives, rhubarb, oregano, lemon balm, catmint, ginger (coming soon!), and supposedly some Cuban oregano from my family's own, thriving stock. We have plans to revamp the garden, too.

So anyway, off I went to the library during Finals week, armed with my list of herbs. I felt pretty sure of myself, marching past the frantic, last-minute studiers, straight to one of rows in the Horticulture section. I ended up mid-alphabet, and scanned the rows for either mint, lavender, or lemon balm. Behold! A whole section on lavender! I opened up one friendly-looking book, only to discover an unbelievably long list (like over a page of normal-sized font) of subspecies of the lavender family, each with its own, subtly unique properties. I had no idea that so many varieties of lavender existed! Needless to say, I have no idea which variety is currently growing in our garden, and the books I found on other herbs were not much less detailed. In a way, it was a loss: I walked away with no more information on our herbs. I do, however, have my next little project: figure out exactly what type of plants we have before returning for research.

On the plus side, though, I got a good laugh out of finding these potato yearbooks from the mid-1900's. Talk about a random find! Upon sharing this with Erika, she informed me that we have a similar, older one of Caroline's in the Homestead for apples. I will definitely be investigating this during the summer.

P.S. A Potato-Related Historical Nugget: Did you know that potatoes are not native to Ireland, but rather South America? They were domesticated by the Native Americans and later brought to Europe. We learned in my World Crops and Cropping Systems class that the Irish Potato Famine was so bad because Ireland was heavily relying on one variety of potato, and when I say "heavily relying," I mean that this one variety of potato constituted most of the population's diet. The potato crop failed when a blight appeared, and thus the country descended into famine. The population of Ireland has still not recovered from the massive death and emigration caused by this tragedy.

Moral of the story: diversification is key in all aspects of life.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Hidden Treasure

Hi, this is Gabriel. While working at the Somers museum on another project, I was told of other military related artifacts in storage that I might be interested in. I was amazed at the kinds of items I saw and how I have never knew even existed. These artifacts were antique firearms, swords, and even a cartridge box from the Civil War that had a label attached to it stating it was used in the Battle of Bull Run all the way to Appamatox Courthouse where General Robert E. Lee surrendered. Quite a few of these items including the swords were donated by Mrs. Voorhis though some of them had unknown donors. I would like to learn more about the Voorhis and how they got these items. Perhaps, it could be my next project. I also, would like to learn more about these objects in general and hope to consult with West Point again in the near future.

Colt Model 1860 revolver .44 caliber , donor unknown

Cartridge box from Civil War. Label reads "Cartridge box carried by a New York Volunteer from Bull Run to Appamatox"

On the left is a musket that might be from the late 18 century to the early 19th century. It was donated by Ms. Calahan. On the right is a rifle that might be from the late 19th century. 

Officer's sword with decorated with Knight's Templar symbols. It was made by the  Raymold & Whitlock company that was located in NYC.