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We are quickly drawing closer to the November 20 opening of our newest permanent exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation: Miniature Moments: A Journey Through Hallmark® Keepsake Ornaments. With just a few weeks to go, we checked in with Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life, and Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life, to collect their thoughts on our collection of nearly 7,000 Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments. Check out their answers below.

What is the oldest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


Round white Christmas ornament with image of 5 young children with fine hair holding musical instruments and sheet music around a small Christmas tree
One of Hallmark’s first ornaments from 1973, designed by artist Betsey Clark. / THF178137

Jeanine Head Miller (JHM): The ornaments in this collection date back to the first year that Hallmark produced Christmas ornaments—1973. That year, the company offered six decorated ball ornaments and twelve yarn ornaments. While the shape of Hallmark’s ball ornaments was traditional, the artwork, printed on a plastic sleeve and then heat-shrunk to the ornament, was an innovation. Hallmark’s simple yarn figures evoked nostalgic visions of Christmases long ago—the years leading up to America’s American Revolution Bicentennial celebration saw an increased interest in “early American” traditions.

Toy soldier ornament with blue yarn body, red felt hat, suspenders, and boots, and white felt face
Hallmark’s 1973 yarn ornament series included this colorful toy soldier. / THF177677

What is the newest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


JHM: The newest ornaments are the 269 made in 2009. (Yes—the number of ornaments released by Hallmark each year has grown!) These later ornaments reflect the increasing complexity of Hallmark’s designs. The vast majority of the company’s ornaments by this time were figurals (shapes that represent objects), with many being highly detailed. Ornaments sporting traditional Christmas themes were joined by an ever-evolving array of popular culture and technology-themed decorations. Customers appreciated the way that Hallmark’s designs helped them “personalize” their tree—a growing trend in Christmas tree decorating—using ornaments that reflected their own interests and experiences.  

Christmas ornament depicting a boy wearing glasses in a pink full-body bunny suit
Hallmark’s 2009 "Ralphie's Pink Nightmare" ornament from the movie A Christmas Story depicts an unhappy Ralphie dressed in Aunt Clara’s pink bunny suit gift. / THF177263

Christmas ornament showing a reindeer wearing a red tshirt, blue jeans, a backwards red-and-white baseball cap, and earphones, sitting cross-legged while looking at a handheld device
Hallmark’s 2009 "Wired for Fun" teenage reindeer multitasks as he entertains himself with up-to-date digital technology—an MP3 player and a wireless video game. / THF358063

Ornament of a snowman wearing a red apron with a spatula in the pocket and a colander on its head, holding a bowl of dough in one hand and a card labeled "Recipes" in the other
For the passionate culinary wizard, Hallmark’s 2009 "Snow Much Fun to Cook" ornament. / THF357697

What is the most common Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


Donna R. Braden (DRB): This is a bit of a difficult question to answer. There is no easily available information on ornaments that were either produced or purchased in the greatest quantities, or those that are the easiest to find today. However, we might assume that those might align with the categories of ornaments that tend to be produced in the greatest number and variety. This varies over the years, but today—according to the 2022 Dream Book (and probably characteristic of the more recent years of our collection)—they are ornaments with classic Christmas themes, series favorites, Disney ornaments, meaningful moments and milestones, and popular culture characters, including Star Wars, Star Trek, superheroes, Harry Potter, toys, Peanuts, and Barbie.

What is the rarest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


DRB: Again, this is difficult to pin down. Lots of eBay listings for Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments say “extremely rare,” but these don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. Rarity can be based on the look, the artist, the date, the number in the series (especially firsts), and the popularity of the topic. Five rare ornaments I’ve seen listed follow below. The 1973 Betsey Clark ornament Jeanie notes as one of the earliest in our collection also seems to be rare.

Ornament with large-headed , brown-haired child/angel wearing a yellow dress with transparent wings sitting on transparent cloud; green box with image of ornament sits next to it
"Mary's Angels Series: Buttercup,” 1988, is the first in its series. / THF182250

Ornament of Santa sitting in an old-fashioned open red car with "1979" on side and bag of toys in the backseat; a green box with clear plastic front for the ornament sits next to it
“Santa's Motorcar,” 1979, is the first in the Here Comes Santa series. / THF176990

Colorful ornament of a blue steam locomotive sits next to a cream-colored box with green velvet insert and clear plastic top
"Tin Locomotive,” from 1982, is also rare. / THF177179

Ornament of Miss Piggy in blue-and-white ice skating costume with long white gloves, arms and legs in dramatic pose, sitting next to box with image of the same ornament on the front
Another rare listing is “Miss Piggy” from 1983. / THF177327

Ornament of spaceship with Christmas light extending from it, sitting next to gold-and-green box with image of the same ornament on the front
"Starship Enterprise" is rare, even though it’s less than 40 years old. / THF177369

What is the largest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


JHM: Over the years, many Hallmark ornaments have grown in size—some five inches high or more—and complexity, adding narrative embellishment through visual detail, light, motion, and sound effects. Some—designed to be displayed on a flat surface—are more like figurines.

Ornament depicting Santa Claus sitting behind a desk with sign "Mr. Claus," looking at a piece of paper, with many toys on and around the desk
This large 2006 “Letters to Santa” ornament—about 5 ½ inches high and made to be hung on the tree—not only brims with charming detail, it offers motion and sound features. Pulling the bell below this battery-powered ornament causes several toys around Santa’s desk spring to life, as eight humorous recordings of children reading their letters to Santa are heard. / THF362217

Ornament depicting four men in identical black suits, three holding guitars and one seated at a drum set
This 1994 “Beatles Gift Set,” four inches high, commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Beatles’ 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show—one of the first times Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments had attempted likenesses of real people. / THF352350

Vignette of part of room, with stockings hung from mantel, a Christmas wreath above the fireplace, and a dog and cat lying on pet beds, as well as other furniture
The 2002 scene “The Family Room”—five inches high—was a group effort, with details of this homey design contributed by 19 Hallmark artists. / THF362466

What is the most valuable Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


DRB: This is difficult to pin down, as it varies by changing collectability over the years—and The Henry Ford doesn’t collect based on monetary value, but instead on historical significance. However, the one ornament that shows up over and over is a 2009 ornament representing Cousin Eddie’s RV from the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Ornament of rusted beige RV with wreath on door, dangling from round silver button reading "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," sitting next to a white box with an image of the same ornament on it
Hallmark "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Cousin Eddie's RV" Christmas Ornament, 2009. / THF361864

What is your favorite Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?


JHM: Hmmm… while I admit being partial to Hallmark’s small buildings, my favorite ornament—if I had to choose just one—is "Christmas Cookies!" from 2004. Why do I love it? This tiny stove with its charming cooking-making details immediately immerses me into happy childhood memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mother and sisters. A few years ago, my husband located one of these nearly 20-year-old ornaments online and gave it to me as a Christmas gift.

Ornament of cream-colored stove with one oven door cracked to show a tray of cookies inside; another tray of cookies, a bowl of dough, and a teapot and two mugs of hot chocolate are on top of stove
Hallmark’s "Christmas Cookies!" ornament, 2004. The lights inside the oven glow, and a fragrance insert emits the sweet scent of cookies “baking.” / THF177744

DRB: “Baby’s First Christmas,” from 1990, is my favorite ornament for personal reasons. My daughter Caroline was born that year. We were not big Hallmark ornament purchasers yet (that mushroomed later), but we saw this and it really “spoke” to us as a perfect symbol of this important milestone in our lives. We imagined being able to relive the memories of that milestone every year. And we do! More than 30 years later, it still occupies a prominent place on our Christmas tree every year.

Ornament with a baby or toddler in a walker with "Baby's 1st Christmas" written on it and "1990" on a bib around the baby's neck; it sits next to a green and red box with an image of the same ornament on it
Baby’s First Christmas, 1990. / THF177026


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford, Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, and Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

popular culture, Miniature Moments, home life, holidays, Henry Ford Museum, Hallmark, Christmas, by Jeanine Head Miller, by Ellice Engdahl, by Donna R. Braden

Graphic with a close-up of a brown coat with cravat; also contains textPoster for Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume.

Inspired by the creative thought process of founder Walt Disney, everything that the Walt Disney Company does is based upon the power of story. This can range from the plot of a film to the backstory of a theme park attraction. In all cases, the sets, props, and costumes help to provide clues for the audience about story elements and characters.

The songs in a Disney film can also enhance the story, moving it forward through emotion, detail, and nuance. Through songs, the characters become more believable, helping the audience become more invested in the story. Here are some classic examples.

Babes in Toyland


Babes in Toyland was a popular 1961 Christmas musical featuring a cast of Mother Goose characters. It starred Annette Funicello as Mary Quite Contrary, Tommy Sands as Tom Piper, Ray Bolger as the evil and villainous Barnaby, and Ed Wynn as the Toymaker. Annette Funicello later recounted that this was her favorite filmmaking experience.

The film was based upon Victor Herbert’s popular 1903 operetta of the same name. Herbert, a composer, wrote it with Glen McDonough, an opera librettist, in an attempt to outdo the extremely popular stage musical The Wizard of Oz, then playing on Broadway. (This was, of course, decades before the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.) The Babes in Toyland operetta continued to be performed for many years on the stage, where it was embraced as a children’s classic.

Disney’s was the second film version of the Babes in Toyland operetta released at movie theatres (the first was a film by Laurel and Hardy) and it was the first in Technicolor. In the Disney version, the plot was changed quite a bit and many of the song lyrics were rewritten. Some of the song tempos were even sped up.

“March of the Toys” is the best-known portion of the score of Babes in Toyland. It was used in the sequence in which the Toymaker displays his toys for the human children who have strayed into Toyland. One can almost imagine the toys coming alive in this lively up-tempo march.

“Toyland,” a whimsical song about a magical land filled with toys for girls and boys, also debuted in the original version of Babes in Toyland. This song still shows up on Christmas playlists, as it has been covered by many vocalists over the years, including Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Jo Stafford, Johnny Mathis, and—most notably—Doris Day.

Into the Woods


“No One is Alone” comes from the 2014 Disney musical fantasy film Into the Woods, which was adapted from a 1986 musical theater production. This song was created by American composer, songwriter, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. It appears at the end of Act II, as the four remaining leads (the Baker, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack) try to understand the consequences of their wishes and decide to place community wishes above their own. The song serves to demonstrate that even when life throws its greatest challenges, you do not have to face them alone.

With its universal theme, this song has been used for many other purposes, including the Minnesota AIDS Project in 1994, and a speech by President Barack Obama during the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Although this film is lesser known than many other Disney live-action films, Stephen Sondheim is one of the most important figures in 20th-century musical theater, known for tackling dark, complex, unexpected themes that range far beyond the genre’s traditional subjects. He wrote the music for West Side Story, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Beauty and the Beast


Display case containing mannequins wearing a yellow dress, simple blue jumper, and pants with elaborate jacket; large labels are posted in front of the display
Costumes from the live-action movie Beauty and the Beast in the Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume exhibit. / THF191450

The song “Beauty and the Beast” was written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken for the Disney animated feature film of the same name (1991). This, truly the film’s theme song, was recorded by American-British-Irish actress Angela Lansbury in her role as the voice of the character Mrs. Potts. Lansbury was hesitant to record “Beauty and the Beast” because she felt that it was not suitable for her aging singing voice, but ultimately she completed the song in one take. It was also recorded as a pop song for the closing credits by the duet of Canadian singer Celine Dion and American singer Peabo Bryson. It was released as the only single from the film’s soundtrack. Both versions of “Beauty and the Beast” were very successful, garnering both Golden Globe and Academy Awards for Best Original Song.

Considered to be among Disney’s best and most popular songs, “Beauty and the Beast” has since been covered by numerous artists. In the 2017 live-action adaptation of the animated film, it was sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and as a duet by Ariana Grande and John Legend during the end credits. In addition to Beauty and the Beast, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken collaborated on the music and lyrics for two other beloved Disney animated films—The Little Mermaid and Aladdin—before Ashman’s untimely death in 1991.

Mary Poppins


Mannequin dressed in a dark purple coat with an orange knitted scarf, black hat, and umbrella with carved wooden handle, posed in front of a gray wall with white clouds
Costume from Mary Poppins in the Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume exhibit. / Photo by Real Integrated for The Henry Ford

Mary Poppins was an incredibly popular 1964 Disney live-action film. All the songs for this film were written by the inimitable Sherman brothers. Robert and Richard Sherman were hired by Walt Disney himself to be his staff songwriters in 1961. While at Disney, they wrote more motion-picture musical scores than any other songwriters in the history of film, including Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all but one song from The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Aristocats. But they are possibly best known for their can’t-get-them-out-of-your-head songs from two Disney theme park attractions: “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” from the Carousel of Progress and “It’s a Small World (After All)” from the attraction of the same name.

But, back to Mary Poppins. First, the song “Feed the Birds” speaks of an old beggar woman who sits on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, selling bags of breadcrumbs to passers-by for tuppence a bag so they can feed the pigeons. The scene is reminiscent of the real-life seed vendors of Trafalgar Square in London. It is intended to be a lesson about charity and the merits of giving to others.

The song was regarded as one of Walt Disney’s favorite songs. Robert Sherman recalled:

“On Fridays, after work, Walt Disney would often invite us into his office and we’d talk about things that were going on at the Studio. After a while, he’d wander to the north window, look out into the distance and just say, ‘Play it.’ And Dick would wander over to the piano and play ‘Feed the Birds’ for him. One time just as Dick was almost finished, under his breath, I heard Walt say, ‘Yep. That’s what it’s all about.’ ”

“A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down” is an up-tempo number sung by Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins as she instructs the children, Jane and Michael, to clean their room. Although the task is daunting, she tells them that, with a good attitude, it can be fun. Story has it that Robert Sherman, the primary lyricist of the duo, worked an entire day trying to come up with a song idea for this scene. As he walked in the door at home that evening, his wife, Joyce, informed him that the children had gotten their polio vaccine that day. He asked his son Jeffrey if it hurt, thinking he had received a shot. Jeffrey responded that the medicine was put on a cube of sugar and that he swallowed it. By the next morning, Robert had the title of his song. Richard put a melody to the lyric and the song was born.

Finally,Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is sung by Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert the chimney sweep in the live-action film’s unique animated sequence—just after Mary Poppins wins a horse race. Flush with her victory, she is immediately surrounded by reporters who pepper her with leading questions and comment that she is probably at a loss for words. Mary disagrees, suggesting that at least one word is appropriate for the situation—a word to say when you have nothing to say, and that is: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

The Sherman Brothers have given several conflicting explanations for this word’s origin, in one instance claiming to have coined it themselves. But, this was disproven when two other songwriters sued the Walt Disney Company, claiming to have written a song using that word in 1949. The Disney publishers ultimately won the lawsuit because they produced affidavits showing that many variants of the word had been known prior to 1949.

These are just a few of the many memorable songs that enhance the stories in Disney animated and live-action films. Which songs from Disney films are your favorites?


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

by Donna R. Braden, popular culture, movies, music, Disney

Postcard with text and image of geysers erupting with hills in the background and a lake in the foreground
For decades, many Americans shared a common misperception that Indigenous people feared the geysers at Yellowstone. / THF120298


Until recently, much of the American public has shared a common misperception that few Indigenous people had ever ventured within the boundaries of what became Yellowstone National Park. Story had it that these people were afraid of the geysers, or that they felt that the hissing steam vents were signs of angry gods or evil spirits. In fact, the presence of Indigenous Americans was purposefully erased from the story of Yellowstone National Park, beginning with the first white “scientific” expedition there in 1871. This erasure, which lasted through most of the park’s history, is only recently beginning to change.

Black-and-white image of slope covered in water and/or calcified rock with hills or mountains in the background
Some Indigenous people, in their pursuit of the large herds of bison to the east, created a trail that passed near what is now known as Mammoth Hot Springs. / THF102351

Archaeological evidence now indicates that as far back as 10,000 years ago, several bands of Indigenous people regularly passed through this area, primarily hunting bison, bighorn sheep, elk, and deer. In historic times, the area continued to serve as a crossroads for many Indigenous groups—including Crow, Shoshone, Bannock, Blackfoot, Nez Perce, and Flathead—who followed the Yellowstone River and other waterways through what eventually became the boundaries of the park. They tracked small buffalo herds, elk, and deer in the mountains and forests during the summer months and followed these animals to the warmer geothermal area of the Yellowstone Basin during the bitter winter months. Some of these groups crossed through the area to pursue the great herds of bison in the plains farther east, creating a trail that passed through the area now known as Mammoth Hot Springs and stretching eastward across what is known today as Lamar Valley. Early white hunters, trappers, and explorers not only followed the trails that Indigenous people created, but it is from these people that they first heard the fantastic stories of geothermal wonders in the Yellowstone Basin.

Black-and-white photo of geysers erupting steam and/or water into the air in a rocky landscape with a lake or river in the foreground and forest in the background
Many early photographs of the wonders of Yellowstone, like this “Grand Group” of geysers, were probably taken by William Henry Jackson, one of the people who accompanied Ferdinand Hayden on his 1871 expedition through what would become the park. / THF120369

The process of Indigenous erasure in Yellowstone began in earnest with the Hayden expedition of 1871—a large, government-funded expedition led by geologist Ferdinand Hayden to study, collect specimens in, and map out the confines of the Yellowstone “wonderland” that had been receiving so much recent attention. Hayden and members of his expedition were able to observe firsthand the places that had been described primarily in stories told by Shoshone and Bannock people—astonishing places like “The White Mountain” (which became known as Mammoth Hot Springs) and the spectacular geysers, bubbling mud pots, and hissing steam vents situated within the geothermal area of the Yellowstone Basin. As a result of this expedition, Hayden laid claim to this unique landscape on behalf of the United States government and the American people, choosing to ignore the longstanding use of the region by Indigenous people. Instead, the expedition report pointed to Yellowstone’s wonders as proof of the country’s “exceptionalism”—that is, Americans’ long-sought evidence that the United States was unique and exceptional when compared with other nations of the world.

Black-and-white photo of Indigenous people in a dwelling or teepee
Photo of "Sheepeater" Shoshone, William Henry Jackson, 1871. / Public domain photo from National Park Service

By the time of the Hayden Expedition, the only Indigenous people still known to inhabit the area were a by-then considered poor and lowly band of Eastern Shoshone called Sheepeaters (Tukudeka or Tukadika). A wealth of recent archaeological information has pointed to the conclusion that this band had inhabited and roamed this area for thousands of years—not the mere 200 years that early white explorers surmised (a story that then became widely accepted). These people had developed a remarkably sustainable way of life, taking advantage of the once-large population of bighorn sheep for food, clothing, blankets, tools, and bows.  Early white trappers observed this band’s self-confidence, intelligence, friendliness, and willingness to trade their fine-quality hide clothing, horn bows, and obsidian arrowheads. Unfortunately, the bighorn sheep population plummeted as the result of diseases brought by white settlers’ domestic sheep. White hunters and settlers also decimated other game and polluted the streams in which these people had fished. No wonder, then, that by the 1870s white explorers of the area described these people as starving and miserable.

Postcard showing large stone gateway across dirt road through grass fields; a horse-drawn stagecoach is coming through the arch
In 1903, this monumental stone gateway was completed to mark the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The words “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” inscribed above the arch, are taken directly from the legislation that created Yellowstone back in 1872. / THF120280

The widely publicized and highly celebrated Hayden report rapidly led to the creation of a bill to set the area aside as a national park, a “resort for all classes of people from all portions of the world,” a democratic landscape of tourism. When the question of Indigenous claims to the area under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie was raised, the argument was made that the land was simply too hostile for Indigenous people to live there. Though this was not true, Hayden’s expedition report had already justified the removal of Indigenous people from the area. The bill passed easily, with the help of aggressive lobbying by the Northern Pacific Railroad and the strong desire by members of Congress to use the bill as a way to help unify a Civil War-torn nation. The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act (or, simply, the Yellowstone Act) was placed on President Ulysses S. Grant’s desk on March 1, 1872. President Grant signed it without fanfare. During the 1870s, the Sheepeaters were easily rounded up and exiled to the Wind River (Wyoming) and Fort Hall (Idaho) reservations to live with other bands of Shoshone, along with Bannock and Arapaho people. 

Black-and-white photo of horse-drawn carriage driving past a large rock formation among steep hills and valleys
Early tourists typically boarded horse-drawn carriages to view the sites at Yellowstone National Park. / THF200464

When Yellowstone became a national park, no funds were allotted to administer or manage it. But an 1877 incident involving an encounter between another Indigenous group and two groups of tourists in the park changed that. The incident involved a group of Nez Perce (Nii mi’ipuu) crossing through the park in an epic flight to avoid the U.S. Army, who was pursuing them to force their removal from their ancestral homeland in eastern Oregon to a tiny reservation in Washington. This incident, which unfortunately involved violence and hostage-taking, created a national media sensation. Many personal accounts of the episode emerged afterward, with some indication that those who were involved sympathized with the plight of the Nez Perce. The Nez Perce group managed to successfully evade the army until the soldiers finally caught up with them 40 miles south of the Canadian border—in an attempt to join Sitting Bull’s Lakota band.

As a result of the widespread publicity and furor raised by this incident, Congress finally committed some money to managing the park. As tourism increased, Congress pressured Yellowstone park administrators to control the “savages” because it was assumed that they would endanger the park’s visitors. After that time, park administrators aggressively downplayed any presence of Indigenous people, not wanting the park’s well-heeled guests to risk crossing paths with them, or to even be worried that they might. By 1882, all Indigenous groups had been banned from the park.

Angular, geometric rock cliff with loose rocks covering slope below
Sheepeater Cliff was named after the only Indigenous people that lived on in public memory as having inhabited the Yellowstone area. / Photo by NPS/Jim Peaco

Once the real presence of Indigenous people had been erased from the landscape, park superintendents, railroad publicists, and tourists alike could look back—safely, nostalgically, and romantically—on the one-time presence of Indigenous people there. For example, when park administrators came across the remnants of wickiups (temporary shelters made from poles leaned and tied together, covered with brush or grass) eight miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs, they assumed these were made and used by the Sheepeaters. Since this was the only group still in the public memory as having inhabited Yellowstone, they felt that they were honoring their one-time presence by naming the natural feature near there “Sheepeater Cliff”—though this band did not live in that area and likely did not build these shelters. Once established, the perception that no Indigenous people had ever set foot inside the current boundaries of Yellowstone National Park (except for the Sheepeaters) persisted for decades.

In recent years, however, archaeologists, historians, and Indigenous activists have begun to correct the narrative of Indigenous presence and habitation on this land. In addition, administrators at Yellowstone National Park have also been making a concerted effort to elevate Indigenous voices and incorporate Indigenous knowledge systems into their research and programs (see, for example: https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/yellowstone-150-native-american-voices/ and https://www.nps.gov/yell/getinvolved/150-years-of-yellowstone.htm).  Today, they recognize at least 27 distinct American tribes that have historic and present-day connections to the land and resources of the park.  As champions of ecological connectivity, Indigenous people have been galvanizing action to protect Yellowstone’s wildlife, helping to relocate bison culled from the park, raising awareness on living with bears and wolves in the wider landscape, and enlightening administrators and the public on other aspects of environmental conservation related to the Yellowstone ecosystem. For the 150th anniversary of the park in 2022, administrators have been “shining a light” on Indigenous people whose past, present, and future are an essential part of Yellowstone’s story. As Cam Sholly, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, proclaims, “This isn’t just about the last century and a half.  We also want to use this anniversary to do a better job of fully recognizing many American Indian nations that lived in this area for thousands of years prior to Yellowstone becoming a park…. The engagement we’re doing now will help set a stronger foundation for collaboration well into the future.”

As erasure shifts toward inclusion—through published materials, behind-the-scenes collaboration, and public programming—the historic and present-day connections of Indigenous people to Yellowstone National Park will continue to play an important role in the park’s future.


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  For recent books aimed at greater inclusion of Indigenous people in Yellowstone’s history, she recommends Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America by Megan Kate Nelson (2022) and Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon by John Clayton (2017).

by Donna R. Braden, Yellowstone National Park, nature, national parks

Rustic building lobby with several levels with walkways around the perimeter and a multiple-story stone fireplace

The photograph I came across in The Henry Ford’s archives in 1985. / THF120353

Back in 1985, I was looking through The Henry Ford’s archives for images that depicted vacation destinations to complete a museum book I was writing called Leisure and Entertainment in America. There, in our collection, I came across the most amazing photograph of a hotel that I had ever seen. It looked like the outdoors had been brought inside. A great lobby dominated the scene, featuring a mammoth fireplace made of massive boulders. Real, full-size logs supported the balconies that rose several stories. In the midst of all this grandeur, comfortable Mission-style rockers, settees, and handwoven rugs were scattered about.

What was this place? I wondered. Did it still exist? Could I go there?

This was my first encounter with the Old Faithful Inn, which is situated alongside Yellowstone National Park’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful. As it turns out, Old Faithful Inn is quite significant in its own right, as it was not only the first rustic hotel of the Western national parks, but it also set the standard for rustic lodgings and manmade structures in other national parks.

What was the story behind this unique place?

Black-and-white photo of a lake with a small shoreline with pine trees and a man fishing, with hills or mountains in the background
Photographs like this one of Yellowstone Lake, from the 1870s, encouraged early tourism in the park. Note the man fishing, lower left. / THF120349

During the first few decades after Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, accommodations inside the park were, admittedly, spotty. The small number of well-to-do tourists who could afford the trip to Yellowstone during this time expected the pleasures of the high-class, comfortable lodgings they were used to on their European vacations or nearer to home along the East Coast. The first lodgings near Old Faithful were generally ramshackle establishments, built quickly and cheaply. When a lunch station/hotel constructed there in 1884—nicknamed “The Shack”—burned down, park administrators were actually relieved. They had considered it an eyesore.

Black-and-white photo of a horse-drawn stagecoach filled with passengers in front of a building
Before the Old Faithful Inn existed, the Fountain Hotel—typical of Yellowstone hotels at the time—provided comfortable lodging 10 miles north of Old Faithful. / THF203310

Tourism increased when the Northern Pacific Railroad established the “Grand Tour” route through the park for four- to five-day horse-and-carriage tours. At key stops like Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone Lake, the railroad had built some of the nicer hotels in the park. But Old Faithful was located 10 miles south of the route, and comfortable lodgings were already available at the privately-run Fountain Hotel near the Paint Pots (bubbling mud pots) thermal feature. Railroad executives were reluctant to take a chance on building a hotel so far off the beaten track.

Black-and-white photo of geyser spewing water and steam into the air as people look on; vast pine forest in the background
Old Faithful was such a dramatic attraction, it is surprising that it was not part of the original Grand Tour route. / THF120359

But, in 1894, park administrators passed a special regulation that lodging could be situated ⅛ of a mile from Old Faithful geyser rather than the usual ¼ mile required between lodgings and natural features. This changed everything. Within a few years, Harry W. Child, entrepreneurial president of the Yellowstone Park Association (which oversaw the Northern Pacific Railroad’s transportation and lodgings), began making plans to build a respectable hotel at Old Faithful. He initially engaged Seattle-based architect A.W. Spalding, who designed a hotel much like the other Yellowstone hotels that were reminiscent of European and East Coast hotels. Spalding’s design was never built, as it apparently did not meet the expectations of railroad executives.

Black-and-white photo of two-story wooden building among trees
The Saranac Inn, a rustic lodging on Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. / THF126056

It was then that Child turned to his young friend—self-taught San Diego-based architect Robert Reamer—to design something more in the manner of rustic “great camps” of the Adirondacks. Combining the influence of California bungalows (especially the idea of bringing the roofline low to the ground) with the rustic trappings of the Adirondack lodge, Reamer designed a hotel that was radically different from anything seen before but seemed to perfectly fit Yellowstone’s exotic setting.

Postcard of large covered porch created from logs; people sit in rocking chairs beneath it
As seen in this 1908–1909 postcard of the front porch, locally obtained lodgepole pines were used for the ground floor of the Inn, while rhyolite rock (which can be glimpsed in the background) formed much of the building’s foundation. / THF120292

Reamer’s design was completed and approved in 1902, and actual construction of the building began in June 1903. It took 13 months to complete, over a long winter that was particularly bitter. About 40 skilled artisans were hired for the work, hailing from nearby Montana towns like West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Livingston. They were a hardy crew, facing many hardships while making swift work of the construction. Materials were mostly obtained nearby, including lodgepole pine and rhyolite rock (an unusual type of rock produced by Yellowstone’s volcanic eruptions). A temporary sawmill was built eight miles to the south to produce the many boards of lumber needed for the project. A Livingston, Montana, blacksmith named George Colpitts and his assistants hand-forged the wrought-iron work for Old Faithful Inn, including the massive front door hardware, the fireplace clock and tools, and all the original guest room door numbers and locks. The total cost of construction was $140,000.

Black-and-white image of rustic building with steep roof, many gables, and flags at the top of the roofline
Original façade of Old Faithful Inn, 1905, before the east and West Wings and the extended front porch were added. / THF120361

When it opened on June 1, 1904, Old Faithful Inn was a dramatic tour de force. It seemed rooted in the landscape, as if it had risen directly from the earth. On its exterior, the steep gable roof dominated (for both aesthetic reasons and the very practical one of having to withstand 20-foot drifts of snow in winter). Cedar shingles covered the roof and upper siding, with dormer windows that seemed to pop out in odd places (some were real, others just decorative). The building’s interwoven log construction not only gave it a look of permanence and solidity but also transformed it, in essence, into a gigantic log cabin.

Postcard of large rustic space with interior balconies around perimeter and multi-story stone fireplace; also contains text
Postcard of the great hall lobby, 1904–1905. / THF120294

Inside, the great hall rose 76½ feet—seven stories in all—with square and diamond windowpanes that filtered light in. Upright poles and beams supporting each balcony were made from lodgepole pine tree trunks, with thick branches attached to the trunks at Y-shaped angles. Balconies and stairways were supported by smaller pine branches found around the area, adding interest with their twisted, curved, and gnarled shapes. A trapeze-like wooden platform near the ceiling of the Inn, called the “Crow’s Nest,” originally held a string quartet—who performed before dinner so guests could mingle, and after dinner when the lobby was transformed into a dance hall. (The Crow’s Nest unfortunately closed when it was deemed unstable after a disastrous earthquake in 1959). The fireplace dominated: 15 by 15 feet at its base, with eight hearths, and rising to a tapered pyramidal shape of 41 feet high. Near the top of it was a huge 14-foot windup clock designed by Reamer. Electric fixtures simulating candlelight were placed discreetly around the space.

High-ceilinged rustic dining room with large wooden beams and tall fireplace containing long tables covered with white tablecloths
Postcard of the dining room at Old Faithful Inn, 1904–1905. / THF120296

Behind the great hall was the dining room, with split logs covering an open-pitched roof. Similar to the great hall, it was also dominated by a massive stone fireplace. Guests originally sat at long, family-style tables and could obtain a meal for 75 cents. A dinner bell atop the Inn’s rooftop summoned guests to dinner.

Man and woman sit reading in rocking chairs in a rustic bedroom with wooden walls
A typical room for lodgers in the Old House, circa 1905. / THF120355

The lobby and upper mezzanines were filled with Mission-style tables, settees, rockers, desks, and Old Hickory tables and chairs. (Old Hickory was a Martinsville, Indiana, company founded in 1892 that specialized in rustic furniture made out of hickory, with woven, hickory-rushed seats and backs.) One hundred forty log-walled rooms for lodging led off the great hall, on two floors, to the east and to the west. Rooms were furnished simply, with brass, iron, or wood beds; natural wood dressers, chairs, nightstands, and desks; and washstands with chamber pots. Some had cushioned window seats. The rooms had steam heat and sinks with running water (communal bathrooms were, and still are, available down the hall.) This original set of rooms, which cost four dollars per night to lodge in when the Inn opened, became known as the Old House.

It is believed that Harry Child’s wife Adelaide (or Addy), who accompanied her husband on the initial trip to hire Reamer, had a hand in the furnishings, decorations, and details. The delicacy of the balconies, stairway railings, window placements, and Mission-style furniture shows her influence. As a result of this collaboration, both men and women felt comfortable and relaxed here. The Inn, in essence, neutralized gender and class distinctions, encouraging impromptu encounters and informality.

Postcard of sprawling rustic building with steeply peaked roof topped with flags at center; also contains text
The radically different look of Old Faithful Inn prompted the National Pacific Railroad to justify it in its promotional materials. / THF120290

Old Faithful Inn was different from the usual lodging, and Northern Pacific Railroad promoters figured they had better explain this to potential guests. They wrote this statement in the Inn’s defense when it first opened, just in case guests rejected the notion of a rustic hotel: “The Inn is not in the least a freaky affair…. It is a thoroughly modern and artistic structure in every respect—modern in its appointments and artistic in the carrying out of an unconventional and original scheme.”

They needn’t have worried about guests’ reactions. Old Faithful Inn was an immediate hit with the public. One guest, a Mrs. E.H. Johnson, in 1905, recounted: “And then we came to the Inn, the most unique and perfect place; it is the craftsman’s dream realized. My room alone is a paradise of restfulness though in a rough and rustic fashion…. At luncheon we had another treat. The dining room has its own charm.”

Postcard showing side and sliver of front of large, steeply-roofed rustic building with a geyser erupting in the background
Old Faithful Inn after the new porch and veranda were completed in 1927. / THF120323

Old Faithful Inn was so popular, in fact, that in 1913–1914, 100 guest rooms were added to create the East Wing. And, in 1927, with the increasing number of tourists coming by automobile, 150 more rooms were added to create the West Wing. Although the interiors of these later rooms were more modern than those in the Old House, a consistent look was maintained on the exterior for an overall cohesive effect. A covered porch was added to the front of the building in 1927—again to accommodate automobile traffic—with an open veranda above for viewing Old Faithful eruptions. (For more on the impact of automobiles on the national parks, see my blog post, “Automobiles Enter the National Parks.”)

Blue pennant with text "Bryce Canyon National Park Utah" and images of rock formations and a rustic building
The rustic Lodge, shown on this Bryce Canyon pennant, was constructed in 1925. / THF239283

Old Faithful Inn really started something. The railroad companies, who had made the Western national parks accessible and controlled many of the concessions in the early parks, realized that the rustic style suited these places, and the style spread quickly—first to the upscale hotels, then to other manmade structures in the parks. The National Park Service, formed in 1916, eventually chose the rustic style as its standard architecture across the entire park system. This style, which colloquially became known as “Parkitecture,” reached its culmination with the Depression-era projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Old Faithful Inn was a very atypical hotel of its era. Most resort hotels at the time were intended to serve as civilized oases from the wilderness. Old Faithful Inn, the first rustic-style lodge of the West, was designed to fit in and become part of the wilderness experience. Somehow, Robert Reamer recognized this when he created what was truly a one-of-a-kind national park lodging.

Person stands on boardwalk over white sand or salt with trees and a building in the background
Snapshot of the author at Yellowstone National Park in 1985, standing on the Upper Geyser Basin trail with Old Faithful Inn in the background. / Photo courtesy of Donna Braden

Soon after I first viewed the image of the Old Faithful Inn lobby in 1985, my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Yellowstone National Park, and we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn. Eighty years after that photograph was taken, it was like we had entered it in real life. We stayed in one of those tiny, log-walled, chamber-potted rooms in the Old House. It was noisy but thrilling to be in that room—to become part of that place. We returned to Yellowstone National Park in 2014, almost 30 years later, and have returned year after year since then (except in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic). We have stayed at the Old Faithful Inn every year—in the Old House, the East Wing, and the West Wing. We plan to stay there again when we return to Yellowstone National Park this summer. Somehow, it always feels comfortable, welcoming, and timeless—like we’re coming home.

Woman stands on wooden boardwalk among steam, mist, or fog with trees visible in the background
Snapshot of the author at West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, 2014. / Photo courtesy of Donna Braden


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

Yellowstone National Park, travel, postcards, nature, national parks, hotels, by Donna R. Braden

Man in a suit stands before a brick building with a bicycle outside and one in the window
Neil Armstrong visited Greenfield Village on August 16, 1979, and graciously posed for several photographs, particularly near the Wright Brothers’ Home and Cycle Shop. / THF128243


Watching the moon landing on TV on July 20, 1969, was a defining moment for most baby boomers. I know it was for me. My brothers and I were glued to the TV set for hours, hanging on to every word uttered by broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, waiting for the exciting moment that the Lunar Module Eagle would land on the moon and its crew members would take their first steps into uncharted territory.

Black-and-white photograph of the moon landing on a TV set with watchers reflected in the glass
Photograph of the TV broadcast of the moon landing, July 20, 1969, with TV viewers dimly reflected on the screen. / THF114240

Three Apollo 11 crew members—Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins—embarked on this mission on July 16 and returned safely to earth on July 24. In between, each crew member contributed his utmost to the tasks at hand. But one name eternally sticks out—Neil Armstrong, the mission’s commander. As commander, he accepted his role as spokesperson for the crew and the mission. And, as commander, he became the first man to step on the moon, voicing the now-immortal words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” After that time, he relentlessly shunned the limelight and hated being singled out. When Armstrong passed away in 2012, his family released a statement that reinforced these sentiments: “Neil Armstrong was a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job.” Yet, like it or not, he was—and will forever be—singled out as the “first man.”

Magazine cover with illustration of astronaut in space suit with an American flag on the moon; also contains text
Artist Louis Glanzman captured the spirit of the momentous occasion for the July 25, 1969, cover of Time magazine, despite having no real photographs to reference (none were available yet and, in fact, no photographs of Neil Armstrong were ever taken on the moon). It became one of Time’s most popular covers ever. / THF230050

Neil Armstrong was from Ohio—as I am. I have always been proud of that connection. In the 1990s and early 2000s, when my daughter was young and we would often drive down I-75 to visit family members in Dayton, we would stop at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum (founded in 1972)—located right at the freeway exit for Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta. There we would enjoy viewing personal artifacts of his, reliving the story of the Apollo 11 mission, and reacquainting ourselves with the timeline of all the missions leading up to and following that one.

So, when the opportunity arose to write a blog post about Neil Armstrong, I enthusiastically volunteered. I figured I would enjoy reading up on him again. This time around, however, I particularly looked for insights into what made him that reluctant hero.

Armstrong was born in a farmhouse about six miles from the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930. He didn’t actually live in Wapakoneta until he was 14 years old. Because his father was an auditor for the state of Ohio, his family often moved around—in fact 16 times before they finally settled in Wapakoneta! Other small Ohio towns—like Upper Sandusky and St. Marys—were just as influential in shaping his character. As a boy, he was considered calm, serious, determined, and always on task.

Passengers sit, one on either side of the aisle, looking out the windows of an airplane
Interior of a Ford Trimotor during a passenger flight, 1929. / THF116296

Being an astronaut was not Neil Armstrong’s great ambition in life. He wanted to fly airplanes, and wistfully envied earlier pilots like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart with their record-setting flights. When he was only six years old, he thoroughly enjoyed the ride he took on a Ford Trimotor (his father was downright terrified). (For more on Trimotors, see this expert set.) A few years later, he began building and flying model airplanes; in fact, he filled his bedroom with them. He read countless books and magazines about airplanes. He also worked various jobs to earn money to take flying lessons. At only 15, he earned his pilot’s license and made his first solo flight soon after.

Neil Armstrong was different from many other airplane pilots and, later, astronauts in that he was not only interested in flying, but also in learning how planes were built and how to make them more efficient, faster, better. So, he decided to study aeronautical engineering, attending Purdue University on a Navy scholarship.

Armstrong’s college years were interrupted by his being sent to fight in the Korean War. He was assigned to Fighter Squadron 51, flying small jets off an aircraft carrier to bomb enemy bridges and railroads and to scout areas where other planes would attack later. After college, Armstrong flew high-speed, high-altitude experimental airplanes at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, California—not because he loved speed (as many other test pilots did), but because he wanted to use planes as tools to gather information and solve problems.

Armstrong loved this work, but in 1962 he switched gears and applied to become an astronaut. Some say this was because of his need to make a dramatic lifestyle change after the tragic death of his two-year-old daughter. But he himself claimed, “I decided that if I wanted to get out of the atmospheric fringes and into deep space work, that was the way to go.”

Either way, before long, Armstrong was chosen to become one of the so-called “New Nine”—that is, the second group of men (women were not allowed to become astronauts until 1978) that NASA picked to fly missions to outer space. (For more on the initial Mercury Seven astronauts, see this blog post.)

Trading card with image of seven people in silver suits; also contains text
Before the “New Nine,” there were the Mercury Seven, the first seven astronauts chosen by NASA to attempt to place a man in space through a program known as Mercury. Here they are posing in their space suits for this circa 1963 trading card. / THF230119

That was seven full years before Armstrong became a household name with the Apollo 11 mission. What did he do during all that time? In fact, a great deal needed to be figured out and perfected if there was to be any hope of meeting President John F. Kennedy’s vision to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Armstrong spent much of his time practicing, training, and undertaking the many tasks that prepared him and others to fly to outer space and attempt a moon landing. During these years, Armstrong also willingly talked to members of the media, not only because they never seemed satisfied with NASA’s updates, but also to help allay negative public opinion about the government’s focus on the space program when so many domestic issues seemed more pressing.

Poster with text and hand held up with fingers forming a "V"
Many people felt that such pressing issues as poverty, Civil Rights, and the war in Vietnam (as reflected by this 1968 protest poster) should take precedence over the space program. / THF110904

Meanwhile, Armstrong patiently waited his turn—like the other astronauts—to participate in a real mission to outer space. He finally got that turn in March 1966, when he was assigned to command NASA’s 14th crewed space mission, Gemini 8—with the goal to “dock” or connect with another satellite already in space. In 1968, he was also named the backup commander for the Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission (but did not go on that mission).

During that time, Armstrong repeatedly practiced with the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV)—the prototype module for landing men on the moon. The LLTV was an ungainly, unstable wingless aircraft, powered by a turbofan engine, which took off and landed vertically. It was highly experimental and extremely dangerous. As Buzz Aldrin later remarked, “…to train on it properly, an astronaut had to fly at altitudes of up to five hundred feet. At that height, a glitch could be fatal.”

Armstrong faced constant risks and dangers in his career as an airplane pilot and then as an astronaut—including flying 78 missions in the Korean War; piloting the world’s fastest, riskiest, most experimental aircraft; and encountering close calls while commanding Gemini 8 and while practicing on the LLTV. But he never panicked. He concentrated on the tasks and remained cool under pressure. His mind was always focused on analyzing and solving the problems, then on moving forward.

And that is exactly why he was chosen to command Apollo 11—the space mission that would finally attempt a landing on the moon. As Chris Kraft, NASA’s director of flight operations at the time, explained, “Neil was Neil. Calm, quiet, and absolute confidence. We all knew that he was the Lindbergh type. He had no ego. He was not of a mind that, ‘Hey, I’m going to be the first man on the Moon!’ That was never what Neil had in his head."

Neil Armstrong brought to the Apollo 11 mission all of his training, practice, and knowledge. His ability to keep calm under pressure particularly came in handy when he and Aldrin landed the Apollo’s Lunar Module Eagle onto the moon’s surface with only 20 seconds of fuel remaining.

Which brings us back to the moment when I—along with about 500 million other people—sat on the edge of my seat and watched on TV as the Eagle landed, and, several hours later, as the Eagle’s hatch opened, as Neil Armstrong wriggled out and began to descend the ladder toward the moon’s surface, and as he took his first step on the moon.

Poster of astronaut in spacesuit on the moon; also contains text
Neil Armstrong took this famous photograph of Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the moon. His own reflection can be seen in Aldrin’s helmet. / THF56899

The moon landing was considered a success. Americans were ebullient as they celebrated the Apollo 11 astronauts’ achievements, with only months to spare before the decade ran out. The three Apollo 11 crew members were honored and celebrated for months afterward.

Four clear glasses with white, red, and blue designs, text, and spaceflight-related images
This set of tumblers, commemorating the Apollo 11 space mission, depicts such iconic images as the Lunar Module Eagle and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. / THF175132

But most of the adulation, it seemed, was directed at Neil Armstrong. He even received the Medal of Freedom, the highest award the U.S. government bestows on a civilian. But he never liked the attention. He felt he did not deserve the fame and always attributed the success of the mission to the entire team of people who had made the dream of reaching the moon possible. Ever modest, he once tried to argue, “I was just chosen to command the flight. Circumstance put me in that particular role.”

Blue satin ribbon with gold text, topped by medallion with photo of three astronauts inside blue and red semicircles containing text
This button would have likely been proudly worn by someone attending a public celebration of the Apollo 11 astronauts. / THF189959

In the end, I believe that Neil Armstrong should be remembered for so much more than being the “first man.” For his modesty, his quiet humility, over to advance the course of human progress, he modelled values and behaviors for which we can all strive. He may have been a reluctant hero, but these qualities, to me, are exactly what make Neil Armstrong heroic.

That, and the fact that he was from Ohio (just kidding)!

Woman sits on bench next to statue of seated person, in front of a large lawn and low building
The author posing with a statue of Neil Armstrong (with model airplane fittingly in hand) on a bench in front of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, November 2021. / Photo courtesy of Donna Braden.


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

aviators, travel, space, popular culture, flying, by Donna R. Braden, airplanes

Framed color print showing a group of soldiers firing on people in a city square or street“The Bloody Massacre,” 1770, engraved by Paul Revere and hand-colored by Christian Remick. / THF8141

On March 5, 1770, in King Street in Boston, Massachusetts, several British soldiers fired into an angry group of civilians who had been taunting them. When the shooting was over, five of these civilians lay dead or dying. The first to fall, it is believed, was a man of African American and Native American heritage named Crispus Attucks.

The event, which soon became known as the Bloody Massacre, or—over time—the Boston Massacre, incensed Bostonians to such an extent that it came to be considered a defining moment in the lead-up to the American Revolution.

The more than 200 eyewitness accounts that were collected afterward agreed on some points but disagreed on many others. In the end, we have only impressions, fragments, and often competing narratives of what people remembered seeing. The sequence of events might have gone something like this: The initial angered group approached a guard in front of the Customs House and started insulting him and pelting him with snowballs and chunks of ice. The situation quickly escalated as the crowd grew larger. The guard called for reinforcements. Other British soldiers, including a captain, arrived. More townspeople joined in, throwing snowballs and insults at the troops. A soldier was knocked to the ground. He stood up, yelled, and fired his musket into the crowd. Then several other soldiers fired their weapons, killing three and mortally wounding two others.

Perhaps this is the sequence of events. We will never know for sure.

Whatever people thought they saw, almost immediately the popular press took full advantage, describing the event in endless detail and hailing the fallen victims as martyrs in the fight for liberty. Even the use of the word “massacre” implied a premeditated, cold-blooded, intentional act by British soldiers against American patriots.

This event did not occur in isolation but was an outgrowth of months of increasing tension between the British and Boston civilians, who were angered by the relentless passage of new British-imposed taxation laws. In 1768, British soldiers had been deployed to Boston to try to maintain order there.

Framed print of ships in water near docks in a town or city
“A View of Part of the Town of Boston in New-England and British Ships of War Landing Their Troops!” 1768, engraved by Paul Revere and hand-colored by Christian Remick. / THF11644

In fact, the angry individuals who had initially taunted the soldiers were not patriotic Sons of Liberty but working-class day laborers, apprentices, and merchant sailors. These individuals had a particularly personal gripe against the British soldiers: the soldiers, who were poorly paid, often competed with them for jobs, and this competition inevitably led to lowered wages.

In the end, it didn’t matter that the initial crowd who started the fracas was motivated more by economic reasons (jobs, wages) than ideological ones (liberty, independence). Nor did it matter that John Adams’ brilliant defense of the soldiers eight months later in court played to the jury’s prejudices against race and class by labeling the angry crowd as an unruly mob of young, lower-class, Black and Irish sailors. Bostonians were riled up. And the fact that all but two soldiers were acquitted at the end of their murder trial further inflamed them.

Black-and-white print of soldiers firing on people in a town square or street
Engraving of “The Bloody Massacre,” created about 1800 from the original 1770 Paul Revere print, showing a clearer depiction of the Butcher’s Hall sign than the hand-colored lithograph shown at the beginning of this post. / THF130817

One Boston patriot, engraver Paul Revere, decided to use this event to make a larger political statement (for more on Paul Revere, see “Paul Revere and The Henry Ford's Tie to Tea”). Basing his engraving upon an as-yet-unpublished rendering created by artist Henry Pelham, Revere was able to complete his own engraving ahead of Pelham’s and start disseminating a mere three weeks after the event. He gave it the dramatic title, “The Bloody Massacre: Perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regt.” This title ensured that the focus would be on the shooting, the place, and particularly on the “guilty”—i.e., the soldiers.

Revere cleverly heightened other details to make certain points—the orderly lineup of British soldiers firing into the American crowd, their actions depicted as brutal and deliberate; the colonists dressed as gentlemen rather than laborers, their behavior seen as innocent and defenseless; and, above the soldiers’ heads, a sign reading “Butcher’s Hall,” rather than the actual Customs House, to underscore the goriness of the event. All of these details—and more—were, in fact, inaccurate and misleading. But they certainly shaped public opinion. The narrative told within this print would endure for centuries—even to the present day. It was possibly the most effective piece of war propaganda in American history.

Noticeably absent in Paul Revere’s engraving is the aforementioned Crispus Attucks—generally thought to be the first casualty of the Boston Massacre. The reason for this? Likely, depicting a mixed-race, working class, itinerant sailor from out of town would not have played to the public sentiment that Revere was aiming for. Only later did Attucks emerge as the most famous of the five victims of the Boston Massacre.

What do we know about Crispus Attucks? Admittedly, not much. Historians believe he was born of an enslaved African American father and a Native American mother. He spent his early life enslaved to a man in Framingham, Massachusetts. At age 27, it is believed, he ran away (about 20 years before the Boston Massacre) and was never apprehended (he might have changed his name to avoid detection). An ad for a runaway slave that was possibly Attucks described him as 6’2”, with short, curly hair and a robust physique.

He apparently made his way to Boston, where he sought work as a sailor (one of the few trades open to non-whites), spending most of his time on whaling ships, and when on land, was a rope-maker (a typical dockside job for sailors). He was often at sea, and on this particular day, March 5, 1770, he was waiting for an opportunity to ship out. Not only could his anger at the British soldiers have been due to job competition, but he, like other merchant sailors, also faced the danger of being forcibly impressed into the British Royal Navy (for more on the lives and risks of African American merchant seamen, see “Piecing Together Black History: A Case Study”).

Accounts vary widely as to Attucks’ role in the Boston Massacre. Was he a leader and instigator of the angry crowd, as some claimed? Did he step into the fray, swinging a stick and grabbing a soldier’s bayonet, as others described? In defending the British soldiers, John Adams sought to distance Attucks (and the other so-called “rabble-rousers”) from the upstanding, respectable, solid citizenry of Boston. He described Attucks’ behavior as “mad” and declared him the self-appointed leader, chief to blame for the “dreadful carnage.” Other testimonies claimed he was not the leader or an instigator, but stood off to the side, watching the melee unfold. Rather than angrily wielding a stick, he was quietly leaning on one.

Most people at the time considered him—along with the other fallen victims—a martyr, a hero. Breaking with usual segregation customs, Attucks was accorded an honored burial alongside his fallen comrades at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. Burial rites for the victims, held at Faneuil Hall days later, reportedly attracted some 10,000 of Boston’s 16,000 citizens.

Two duplicate images of a three-story building with tower
When seen through a special viewer, the two pictures in this stereograph give a three-dimensional effect. This circa 1859 stereograph is of Faneuil Hall, the public meeting hall that was the site of the burial rites for the Boston Massacre victims back in 1770. / THF278882

Several decades later, Attucks was recast as the central figure of the conflict. During the decades before the Civil War, anti-slavery advocates memorialized him in order to garner support to end slavery—calling him the first martyr in the fight for American independence.

Page with text and print of man in chains being pulled by two other men on either side of the first
The anti-slavery press, centered in northern states like New York and Massachusetts, produced and sold almanacs like this one that featured provocative cover illustrations depicting the brutality of slavery. / THF7209

In 1855, in direct contrast to Revere’s earlier engraving, artist William L. Champney featured Attucks in a brand-new rendering of the Boston Massacre, placing him at the very center of the conflict. The rendering was turned into a popular color print by J. H. Bufford.

In 1888, a monument (still standing today) was unveiled in Boston Common honoring all five victims of the massacre, but it focused attention on Attucks and was ever after referred to as the Crispus Attucks Monument. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s–1960s, Attucks became a powerful symbol of African Americans’ struggle for freedom and equality. In his seminal 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reinforced the symbolic role of Crispus Attucks:

He is one of the most important figures in African-American history, not for what he did for his own race but for what he did for all oppressed people everywhere. He is a reminder that the African-American heritage is not only African but American and it is a heritage that begins with the beginning of America.

Book cover with text
Cover of Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1964 book, which contains the reference to Crispus Attucks. / THF266487

In recent years, Attucks’ role in the Boston Massacre has been reimagined again, this time as the first African American victim of unrestrained police brutality.

The role that Crispus Attucks played in this event was debated from the beginning. Was he the leader of an unruly mob angry about jobs? Was he a hero and a martyr, fighting for liberty? In fact, his most important role may be that of showing how perceptions of individuals can change over time. As historians and curators continue to sift through the documented details about the Boston Massacre, interpretations will change. But the power of this dramatic event, and the meaning people find within it, will endure.


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This blog post is part of a series that sheds new light on stories told within the With Liberty & Justice for All exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

African American history, Henry Ford Museum, by Donna R. Braden

Document with text and signaturesEngraved copy of the Declaration of Independence, one of only 200 copies commissioned by then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, printed 1823. / THF14572


The Declaration of Independence, formally adopted on July 4, 1776, by members of the Second Continental Congress, was America’s manifesto against British tyranny. Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress (and eventually a U.S. president), had been charged with composing the draft of this document.

Most people are familiar with these iconic lines from the Declaration:

…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

This is the statement that is most memorable. It is the passage that has been invoked repeatedly throughout our history as a call to action, the passage that is still referenced today as the rationale for upholding people’s individual rights.

But there is much more to the Declaration of Independence than these lines. Further down, within a lengthier portion of the document, Jefferson’s initial draft included a scathing denouncement of slavery. If this passage had been retained, our country’s history might have been very different. But it was deleted.

Why did Jefferson—a slaveholder himself—write this passage denouncing slavery, why was it deleted, and what was the long-term impact of that decision?

The Slavery Passage


Oval portrait of white-haired man in black coat and white shirt on a page with decorative elements and text
Print of Thomas Jefferson, 1929, based upon original 1805 portrait by Gilbert Stuart. / THF2295

The memorable first portion of the Declaration of Independence is full of soaring rhetoric derived from the Enlightenment ideals that Jefferson favored. The Enlightenment, an 18th-century European intellectual movement, stressed liberty and equality as natural human rights. The words in this first portion of the document were more philosophical and aspirational than the reality—and, indeed, they have lent themselves to reinterpretation and redefinition throughout our country’s history.

The later portion pertained to specific issues of the time. It contained a list of perceived wrongdoings against the colonists for which Jefferson blamed Great Britain’s King George III. These included the king’s repeatedly interfering with the colonists’ laws and ability to govern themselves; his placement of hostile troops in their midst; and his generally acting like a “tyrant” while violating Americans’ rights (for more on colonists’ mounting frustrations, see our post about the Boston Massacre). Nearly 30 charges were railed at King George III in Jefferson’s first draft, all intended to justify the colonists rebelling against him.

Included in this list was a 168-word passage condemning slavery as one of the many evils foisted upon the colonists by the British crown. Jefferson’s inclusion of this “evil” within this context was a tactically shrewd decision. It was easy to blame King George III for the institution of chattel slavery (that is, the buying and selling of people as property) with the rest of the “long train of abuses.”

The first part of the so-called “slavery passage” was aimed directly at the King:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither…

The second part of this passage alluded to a 1775 proclamation by British Lord Dunmore, which offered freedom to any enslaved person in the American colonies who volunteered to serve in the British army to fight against the American patriots:

…he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

Lord Dunmore’s 1775 proclamation indeed inspired thousands of enslaved African Americans to seek liberty behind British lines. It also incensed American patriots. Including a direct reference to this, Jefferson knew, would further rally colonists behind the cause for independence and their commitment to rebellion.

Deleting the Passage


Print of five men gathered around a table on which is a large document; also contains text
Engraving of members of the “Declaration Committee” reviewing Jefferson’s draft, Currier & Ives, 1876. In addition to Jefferson, this committee consisted of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. / THF97316

After four members of a small sub-committee reviewed Jefferson’s draft, the entire 56-member Second Continental Congress then debated its merits. The exact circumstances of this debate may never be known, as there is no written record of it. We do know, however, that during this debate, the slavery passage was removed.

Why did this occur?

The short answer is that too many delegates, and the colonies they represented, had a vested interest in perpetuating the institution of chattel slavery. Southern plantation owners insisted that they needed free labor to produce tobacco, cotton, and other cash crops for export. Northern shipping merchants depended upon the trans-Atlantic triangular trade of rum, sugar (generally in the form of molasses), and enslaved Africans. At the time, slavery existed in all 13 colonies, and at least one-third of the delegates to the Continental Congress (who would go on to become the signers of the Declaration of Independence) owned slaves themselves.

In addition to their own self-interest, the delegates had a larger intent in mind when they deleted the references to slavery in the document. They realized that this manifesto would inevitably lead to war. This document had to convince thousands of colonists to voluntarily risk their lives in a rebellion against the British. The grievances against King George III needed to be ironclad and compelling. They had to unify Americans from 13 very different colonies and from all walks of life.  They needed to clearly distinguish friends from enemies. Removing the slavery passage, the delegates felt, helped clarify their arguments and achieve these goals.

Scrap of paper with printed and hand-written cursive text
This Connecticut patriot enlisted in the Continental Army just before the Declaration of Independence was formally approved. / THF126080

Finally, there was also a prevailing belief at the time that slavery in America was on the wane—that the general emancipation of slaves was imminent and inevitable. Taking the path of least resistance, the delegates chose not to face this divisive issue head-on. Their delay tactic would not last for long, however, as the issue immediately emerged again during the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

Book opened to title page containing text
Copy of the U.S. Constitution, a rare survivor from 1800, including the text of the founding documents as well as the constitutions of the 15 then-existing states and the Northwest Ordinance, which regulated the Northwest Territory. / THF155864

In the end, the delegates replaced the deleted slavery clause with a passage that instead highlighted King George’s incitement of “domestic insurrectionists among us”—a direct reference to the British stirring up, encouraging, and supporting warfare between colonists and Indigenous tribes:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

This was a statement, the delegates believed, that the colonists could truly rally behind.  They made no more changes after that.

Black-and-white print of a group of men in a room looking towards a table with five men standing before a seated man
This engraving depicts the June 28, 1776, presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence from the five-member Declaration Committee to the entire Second Continental Congress. Engraving made about 1850 by J.F.E. Prud’homme, based upon an 1817 John Trumbull painting. / THF97322

And so, on the fourth day of July, 1776, with the adopted Declaration of Independence in hand, the thirteen American colonies formally declared their independence from Great Britain.

Thomas Jefferson quietly seethed about the changes to his draft of the document, especially the deletion of the slavery passage. He was, in fact, deeply conflicted about the institution of chattel slavery. He understood that his own livelihood depended upon its perpetuation and, over his lifetime, enslaved over 600 people (including his own children by enslaved woman Sally Hemings). At the same time, he bemoaned the existence of slavery and was continually frustrated that he could not extricate himself from its “deplorable entanglement.” As U.S. president in 1807, he passed significant legislation prohibiting the “importation of slaves to any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States.” But he also suspected that Black people were inferior and supported the popular notion that newly emancipated slaves should leave the U.S. and resettle in Africa or the West Indies.

Impact of the Revised Passage


What the signers of the Declaration of Independence did not realize at the time was that instead of weakening or dying out completely, slavery would become more widespread, profitable, and entrenched in American society. They did not know that slavery would become the central defining problem that would lead to the bloody U.S. Civil War.

The decision to remove the slavery passage and replace it with a passage about “domestic insurrectionists” (i.e., Indigenous tribes) also left a long shadow over the definition of who was considered part of the new republic and who was not—in essence, defining who was an American and who was an outsider (African Americans, both enslaved and free, as well as Native Americans). It consequently ensured that systemic racism against these groups would become as foundational as the American ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The deletion of Thomas Jefferson’s slavery passage in the Declaration of Independence had powerful and far-reaching consequences. Little did the Founding Fathers know that that we would still be feeling those reverberations today.


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This blog post is part of a series that sheds new light on stories told within the With Liberty & Justice for All exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Henry Ford Museum, presidents, African American history, by Donna R. Braden

Brown cover with decorative text and etching of people skating and ice-boating on a frozen lake or pondHandbook of Winter Sports cover, 1879. / THF112472


"Within the past decade we have become … a nation of sport-loving people…"

The above quote appeared almost 130 years ago in the small but richly detailed Handbook of Winter Sports. Written by Henry Chadwick, this 1879 handbook provides a fascinating glimpse into the sports that excited and engaged Americans at the time. Sportswriter and promoter Henry Chadwick spent much of his career helping to make baseball America’s “national game.” His ongoing desire to increase Americans’ devotion to “physical exercise and healthful outdoor recreation” is clear in many of the passages of this winter sports handbook.

With the Industrial Revolution cranking up after the Civil War, thousands of Americans flocked from farms and villages to cities for jobs in industry and business. The pressures and routines of the workplace caused many people to begin to view sports as a necessary outlet. Joining an amateur sports club or team provided a comforting feeling of community amidst the growing anonymity in American cities.

Some of the sports described in this handbook may seem a little unusual to us today, but they made perfect sense to Henry Chadwick and his readers back in 1879.

Skating


Blue shoebox with tan label on end and two gold and silver ice skating blades next to it
Early factory-made ice skates, made during the late 1860s by Smith Brothers, Boston, Massachusetts. / THF25566


"The great outdoor recreation of the winter season in our northern clime is, undoubtedly, the invigorating and exciting exercise of skating."

Ice skating was America's first national winter sports craze. When New York City's Central Park opened in 1858, it became a fashionable pastime, both for men and for ladies who wanted to “keep up with the times." Soon, all classes and ages of Americans were taking to the ice—on country ponds, in small-town parks, and at indoor rinks.

Tan card with text and etching of man and woman ice skating with child in background
1881 trade card advertising the roller-skating rink in Northampton, Massachusetts. / THF225132

By 1879, roller skating was considered a perfect alternative to ice skating—especially for those times when the ice was too rough or too soft, or when "the keen blasts of the winter's wind are too severe." Roller skating would become a huge craze in the 1880s, when almost every city and town had its rink. Story even has it that the upstairs of the J.R. Jones General Store, now in Greenfield Village, was used for roller skating for a time—probably in the late 1870s or early 1880s—back when the store was at its original location in Waterford, Michigan.

Curling


Large group of people on frozen pond or lake with brooms and curling stones
Match between Scottish and American curlers at Cortlandt Lake, Westchester County, New York, from Harper's Weekly, February 9, 1884. / THF700390

"Curling is a game worthy of the hardy Scots, calling into play … most of the characteristics of manliness…"

In the sport of curling, teams of players slide slightly flattened, round granite stones to a designated spot on the ice. From Scotland, curling spread to Canada—where it took permanent hold. Although this sport showed sure signs of popularity in America in the 1870s, it would never have as passionate a following as it did in Canada.

Ice-Boating


Card with text and image of people ice skating, ice fishing, and ice boating on a frozen lake; also contains text
Ice-boating is part of this idyllic winter scene, from a trade card for the Young & Striker dry goods store in Amsterdam, New York, around 1890. / THF125112

"…for thrilling excitement [ice-boating] surpasses every other [sport] in vogue."

Ice-boating probably originated in the Netherlands, where frozen canals and lakes became speedy highways during the winter months. This sport's early popularity in America centered around the Hudson River, where ice-boating became a mass spectator sport during the 1870s. Simple ice boats evolved into great ice "yachts"—designed for stability and speed.

Football


Page with labeled rectangular diagram of a football field
This is the first known diagram of an American football field, pictured the 1879 Handbook of Winter Sports. / THF231598

"The game of football is called the 'national winter game' in England, because it is played there throughout the winter season."

Americans don't generally think of football as a winter game. Even Chadwick admitted that "in all but the Southern states, it can only be played during a portion of the winter season, when the snow is off the ground." But by 1879, football was showing definite promise as an up-and-coming American sport. So Chadwick seized the opportunity to document its rules and publish the first known diagram of an American football field in this handbook.

Football, which evolved from the English game of rugby, first became popular as a collegiate sport. The rules of play for the American version of football continued to evolve into the 20th century. Professional football would not come of age until the 1920s.

Color illustration of men playing football without protective gear; insets of two men's heads in corners
This 1897 football game shows the rough nature of the sport at the time, predating the use of helmets and padding. / THF117849

The American refinements to English rugby rules included reducing the number of players from 15 to 11; assigning players to specific positions; changing rules for running, kicking, and passing the ball; and replacing the rugby huddles, or “scrummage,” with a clearly defined line of “scrimmage.” As the game became Americanized, it focused more on speed and finesse—with a new emphasis on passing—and away from brute force and roughness.

What's Missing from the 1879 Handbook?


Gold cover with blue text and blue-and-white image of bobsledding
Cover of the 1932 Winter Olympics program in Lake Placid, featuring the exciting bobsled competition. / THF125111

So what about the winter sports we think of today—like basketball, hockey, and skiing?

Basketball was devised at a Y.M.C.A. in 1891 as a way to keep athletes in shape over the winter months. This sport quickly spread to school physical education programs for both boys and girls. It did not go professional until 1946. Skiing was brought to America by Scandinavian immigrants during the late 19th century. Ice hockey came to the United States as an organized sport from Canada during the 1890s. Amateur, youth, and collegiate teams were popular before professional ice hockey gained a national following during the 1920s.

More than any other sports event, the international Winter Olympics (begun in 1924) heightened Americans' interest and enthusiasm for winter sports—especially after the Olympics came to Lake Placid, New York, in 1932.

Then and Now


The pastimes and sports described in the 1879 Handbook laid the foundation for Americans' passion for winter sports. Many winter sports became faster and more competitive. They came to be played by men and women of all ages and provided outlets for people from many different walks of life.

Some winter sports—like football, basketball, and hockey—have become mass spectator sports. However, many others—like sledding, skating, and snowshoeing—still provide opportunities for healthful recreation and, as Chadwick put it back in 1879, "a wonderful power of exhilaration attendant upon breathing the pure oxygen of a winter atmosphere."

You can read the entire handbook in our Digital Collections here.


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from the January 2007 entry in our former Pic of the Month series.

football, sports, winter, by Donna R. Braden

Portrait of man with shoulder-length hair and beard wearing suit, in ornate frame
Photograph of Dr. Alonson B. Howard, Jr., 1860s. / THF237208


How do we uncover the stories of the people who lived and worked in the buildings that come to Greenfield Village? Usually, there are no books written about them, unless they were famous—like Abraham Lincoln or the Wright Brothers. To piece together the stories of these people, we have to look at archival documents, images, and artifacts—which offer a firsthand account or a direct reference to the people and their stories. These primary sources—like census records, business records, and personal reminiscences—each provide clues. But they can be hard to interpret and difficult to piece together. Moreover, they are sometimes inaccurate and can even contradict each other. We must constantly assess the value and accuracy of each source and compare it with others.

We delved into many of these types of sources to prepare for an episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation featuring Dr. Alonson B. Howard, Jr.—whose mid-19th-century office now resides in Greenfield Village. Many of our findings are summarized in the blog post, “Dr. Howard, A Country Doctor in Southwest Michigan.” Where did we go in our search to uncover clues to Dr. Howard’s background and medical practice? Here are some of the sources that helped us out.

First, Our Own Archival Records


Typewritten page of text
First page from great-grandson Howard Washburn’s write-up on Dr. Howard, May 25, 1962. / THF627447

The first place we look when we explore the stories of Greenfield Village buildings and the people related to them is our own Edison Institute (or EI) archives. Beginning at the time that each building is first acquired and brought to Greenfield Village, the majority of the records collected by the museum for that building are kept in the archival accession EI.186—or what we familiarly call the “Building Boxes.” We were lucky that in the case of Dr. Howard’s Office, we found in this accession two folders entitled “Family History.”

These folders contain numerous typed reports, the result of years of tedious research undertaken by Dr. Howard’s great-grandson, Howard Washburn. Washburn’s study of Dr. Howard began in 1935, from which time he developed a steadily expanding notebook on the subject. In January 1946, he and his mother purchased and came to live on the family farm, “Windfall,” where the office was located. Washburn’s interest in his great-grandfather’s life and medical practice deepened in the 1950s and 1960s, involving both sifting through the materials that were still in the office and collecting numerous reminiscences about Dr. Howard from his by-then elderly family members, friends, and neighbors.

Group of people mingle outside a small, red, wooden building
Dedication of Dr. Howard’s Office in Greenfield Village, with Howard family descendants, October 1963. / THF20847

Washburn found some wonderful primary sources of his own in his search, like the extensive entry about Dr. Howard’s life that was handwritten in the Howard family Bible by his son, Camer. But most of Washburn’s material came from those previously mentioned personal reminiscences. We know that people’s long-term memories can be sketchy, especially when decades have gone by (Dr. Howard passed away in 1883). So, we planned to compare these reminiscences with other types of sources (see section below on genealogical records).

Black-and-white photo of room interior with wooden walls lined with wooden shelves containing books, bottles, and jars
Photograph of office interior, taken at the building’s original site near Tekonsha, Michigan, before removal to Greenfield Village, March 1956. / THF237188

The Building Boxes in our archives also house numerous photographs that document each Greenfield Village building, especially photographs relating to each building on its original site just before its removal to Greenfield Village. Howard Washburn’s reports informed us that when Dr. Howard passed away in 1883, his wife Cynthia padlocked his office with most of its contents intact. Sure enough, photographs of the building’s interior that were taken when Henry Ford’s assistants came to look at the building in the 1950s reveal a huge array of original furniture, bottles, casks, business records, and medical books. These came with the building to Greenfield Village. They not only helped us later recreate the building’s interior as close as possible to the original, but also furthered our knowledge about many aspects of Dr. Howard’s medical practice.

Journal cover containing text
A homeopathic medical publication from July 1868, found amongst the contents of Dr. Howard’s Office when it was brought to Greenfield Village. / THF627467

Dr. Howard’s business records and medical books (all paper items that were later removed from the building because of their fragility) were put together with other family documents to make up another accession in our archives—the Howard Family Papers. These materials particularly reveal Dr. Howard’s increasing interest in adapting a range of different approaches to treating patients.

Letter handwritten in cursive
Letter from Isaac Haines to Dr. Howard, April 18, 1877, inquiring about how to get to the doctor’s office from Fort Wayne, Indiana. / THF627457

Some particularly interesting letters from patients in the Howard Family Papers contain descriptions of ailments that people asked Dr. Howard to diagnose for them. Another of these letters, from 1877, even came from a man in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who requested directions to his office (about 75 miles away!) so he could make a personal visit.

Narrow notebook containing handwritten cursive text, some X-ed out
Two pages from Dr. Howard’s 1849–1853 account book. / THF627454

The Howard Family Papers also contain Dr. Howard’s account books, dating all the way from 1849 to 1881. These primarily record his visits to or from patients and the amount that he charged them. Unfortunately, most of the patients’ names are difficult to read. However, the 1878 account book does contain several neatly handwritten pages of patients, listed in alphabetical order, at the front—many of which are indeed legible. Some of these even mention the patients’ hometowns, including Tekonsha, Michigan (where his office was located), as well as nearby Burlington (about five miles away) and Union City (about nine miles away). We hope to delve more deeply into the backgrounds of some of these patients through genealogical records, to get an idea of their ages, occupations, and backgrounds.

Handwritten receipt with image of building on letterhead at top and cursive list of items below
Invoice from Farrand, Williams & Co., from February 15, 1881, for Dr. Howard’s purchase of medical equipment, supplies, and ingredients. / THF620458

The Howard Family Papers also contain several invoices sent to Dr. Howard from a chemical supply company in Detroit, Michigan, dated 1881. These provide valuable clues to the types of medicinal ingredients that Dr. Howard purchased to create his pills and concoctions—and help to break down the stereotype that everything he used was botanical (i.e., natural materials like plants and herbs) and homegrown or locally obtained. The invoices contain not only dried herbs and plants but also such non-botanical ingredients as quinine and alum that relate to more conventional Western medical practice.

Page with faint handwritten cursive text
Dr. Howard’s “recipe” for cough syrup, from his 1864 handwritten receipt book. / THF620470

One of the most valuable items in this collection—originally donated with the building—is Dr. Howard’s own handwritten book of receipts (or recipes) for remedies from 1864. Like the account books, the pages are difficult to decipher without some concentrated effort. But it is possible to get an idea of the types of illnesses he was trying to treat and the combination of purchased and locally available ingredients he combined in creating his remedies.

Genealogical Records


Black-and-white image of four children in old-fashioned clothing posing for camera
The four children of Dr. Howard and his second wife, Cynthia, about 1870. Front, left to right: Mattie, Camer, and Letitia; rear: Manchie. / THF109605

As mentioned before, it is important to verify the stories gleaned from personal reminiscences. So, for Dr. Howard’s background and family history, we also consulted census and other genealogical records (many, thankfully, online on websites like ancestry.com). Here we could verify the dates of the Howard family’s move to Michigan, as well as the names, birth and death dates, and places of origin of his parents, siblings, and two wives (Letitia, his first wife, passed away in 1857; he married his second wife, Cynthia, a year later), and children with each wife), as well as other interesting information, like the fact that his father, Alonson B. Howard, Sr., served in the War of 1812.

Black-and-white portrait of man with beard wearing a suit, in an elaborate frame; contains text at the bottom
Photograph of Dr. Howard’s father, Alonson B. Howard, Sr., about 1860. / THF237220

We also learned through census records that Dr. Howard listed his occupation in three different ways over the years—as a farmer in 1850 and 1860, as a physician in 1870, and as both a physician and surgeon in 1880.

Local History Records


Black-and-white photo of several wooden buildings by side of two-lane road among trees
Dr. Howard’s office on its original site near Tekonsha, Michigan, situated along the road at the front of “Windfall,” the family farm, March 1956. / THF237150

It is important for us to remember that, although a building and its story might reside in Greenfield Village today, it originally came from another place. This larger context is crucially important to creating an accurate picture in our interpretation of that building and the people related to it. Dr. Howard’s office was originally located just outside the village of Tekonsha, Calhoun County, in south central Michigan. The Howard family settled there in the 1840s, when Alonson, Jr. was 17 years old, during a period of great migration into Michigan by white settlers. A majority of settlers, including the Howard family, came from upstate New York.

Road sign next to dirt road running by fields and buildings
Road sign near original site of Dr. Howard’s office, August 1959. / THF237152

To find out more about Tekonsha in the 1840s, we consulted the voluminous History of Calhoun County from 1877. We know that the numerous county histories that were published across the country around the time of America’s centennial in 1876 are among the best sources for recounting minute details of the early settlement of various communities. Indeed, the Calhoun County history provided several valuable bits of information. But, of course, in the end, it is essentially the story of white settlers. About Native Americans, who had recently occupied the area and some of whom still lived there during Dr. Howard’s time, this county history ranged from sketchy to dismissive to outright racist.

Black-and-white image of dark-skinned woman in shawl and cap knitting and looking at camera; also contains text
We found in our research that self-emancipated orator Sojourner Truth was perhaps Calhoun County’s best-known African American resident at the time. She lived in Harmonia (Bedford Charter Township, now part of Battle Creek) from 1857 until her death in 1883. Residents in Tekonsha, located about 25 miles down the road, would have undoubtedly heard of or read about her. / THF121160

African Americans were similarly dismissed from the historical record in this county history, except as “runaways” on the Underground Railroad who were “saved” by white “conductors.” To create a more accurate picture of these marginalized groups, we pursued additional research in scholarly books and trustworthy websites. Potawatomi tribal history was particularly important for us to understand because according to Howard Washburn, Dr. Howard had a friendly relationship with members of this group and even named two of his children after “Indian” friends of his (see “Dr. Howard: A Country Doctor in Southwest Michigan” for more detail on this history).

Oral Histories


Five people with arms around each other pose for camera in front of a red wooden building
Five descendants of Dr. Howard standing in front of his office in Greenfield Village in June 2013. From left to right: Corey Washburn (North Dakota); Sue Gillies (Australia); Dawn Gunther (California); Fiona Lynton (Australia); and Angela Karaca (Australia). / Photograph by Donna Braden.

Oral histories involve the systematic collecting and recording of personal reminiscences through live interviews. They can convey a level of detail not available in other sources, and can be informative, vivid, and colorful—often with a touch of humor and a wellspring of emotion.

In 2013, we were treated to a visit from five descendants of Dr. Howard, on a pilgrimage from their homes in North Dakota, California, and even Australia, to visit the sites related to their ancestor. During a lively oral history session with us, they filled in gaps in our knowledge about the family tree of Dr. Howard’s descendants, as well as regaling us with stories they had researched and collected themselves (see “A Visit from Dr. Howard’s Descendants”).

The Building and Its Contents


Small red wooden building among green lawns, trees, walkways, and streetlamps
Dr. Howard’s office as it looks in Greenfield Village today. / THF1696

Since we know that Dr. Howard was the first and only individual to use this space as a doctor’s office, the actual building additionally becomes a unique primary source of its own for providing clues. The building spaces reveal that he divided what had originally been a schoolhouse into several partitioned rooms: a public waiting room, a private office, a working laboratory (where he mixed his own concoctions), and a pill-rolling room (where he hand-rolled his own pills).

Black-and-white photo of dresser and hutch among other furniture
Dr. Howard’s desk, in one of several photographs taken of the building’s interior on its original site before removal to Greenfield Village. The desk is on display in the refurbished building in Greenfield Village today. / THF237200

The original furnishings that were donated with the building—e.g., the cast-iron stove, a wooden storage trunk, Dr. Howard’s desk, chairs, and a daybed—provide further concrete evidence of his use of the building and its specific spaces. Finally, the wooden casks for holding extracts and the approximately 250 bottles and jars that came with the building—most with their original labels and some with their contents intact—greatly helped to supplement our knowledge about the ingredients that Dr. Howard used and the concoctions he created to treat patients (see “Dr. Howard’s ‘Medicine Cabinet’” for more on this).

Conclusion


We have described some of the sources we look at when researching the people related to our Greenfield Village buildings, and, specifically, some of our most helpful finds in piecing together the story of country doctor Alonson B. Howard, Jr. There are always more clues to be unearthed. The research on each Village building is never-ending, and we look forward to deepening and enriching the stories of Dr. Howard and other people who once inhabited buildings now in Greenfield Village.


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. She would like to thank Associate Curator Ryan Jelso for his assistance in doing the genealogical research on the Howard family.

healthcare, Michigan, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, Dr. Howard's Office, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Donna R. Braden, research, archives

Corner of simple wooden room with narrow shelves on the walls lined with bottles, jars, and papersShelves of original bottles and jars that Dr. Howard used in his medical practice, still lining the shelves of the office when this photograph was taken, just before the removal of the building to Greenfield Village in March 1956. / THF237192


During the mid-19th century, people did not know what caused disease. They didn’t understand the nature of germs and contagion, nor did they realize the connection between unsanitary conditions and sickness. The pharmaceutical industry had not yet become established and standards for ensuring safe medicinal ingredients didn’t exist at that time.

Rectangular brown paper package with decorative elements and text, along with two images of men's faces
Dr. Filkins’s Vegetable Sugar-Coated Liver Pills, a patent medicine from about 1870. / THF154650

To cure what ailed them, many people at the time chose to use “patent” medicines (whose ingredients often ranged from questionable to outright dangerous) or home remedies. (For more on patent medicines, see “Patent Medicine Entrepreneurs: Friend or ‘Faux’?”) Still, most small towns had at least one person who called himself a doctor.

Black-and-white photo of face and torso of a man with muttonchops and beard wearing a jacket
Photograph of Dr. Alonson B. Howard, Jr., 1865–1866. / THF109611

Dr. Howard’s Medical Practice


Small red wooden building sitting on a greenspace among trees, sidewalks, and streetlamps
Dr. Howard’s Office, as it looks today in Greenfield Village. / THF1696

Dr. Alonson B. Howard, Jr., whose modest office is located today in Greenfield Village, was one such doctor. From 1852 until his death in 1883, he treated patients in and around Tekonsha, Calhoun County, Michigan—practicing medicine in his office as well as traveling around to visit patients in their homes. (For more on Dr. Howard’s background and medical practice, see “Dr. Alonson B. Howard, A Country Doctor in Southwest Michigan”).

Black-and-white photo of cemetery, road, and small, overgrown building across the road
Photograph of Dr. Howard’s office on its original site near Tekonsha, Michigan, taken from Windfall Cemetery across the street, August 1959. / THF297164

Dr. Howard wasn’t the only doctor around. Several other physicians practiced medicine in and around the Tekonsha area during Dr. Howard’s career. Furthermore, visiting doctors from the East Coast made the circuit, staying overnight to administer to those who needed their specialty medicine or treatment.

Page with text
This “eclectic” medical journal from 1882 was found among the contents of Dr. Howard’s office when it was moved to Greenfield Village. / THF627461

Facing competition, Dr. Howard likely made some conscious choices about his practice. He would have been considered an “eclectic” doctor at the time, choosing from three different approaches to best treat each illness: “conventional” (also known variously as orthodox, allopathic, or heroic), homeopathic, and botanic medical practice.

Wooden box lined with red velvet, containing scissors, knives, bandages, and other implements
Surgical kit from the era of Dr. Howard’s practice. / THF188363

In the true sense of a country doctor, Dr. Howard combined the attributes of chemist, apothecary, dentist, physician, and surgeon. According to reminiscences and his obituary, Dr. Howard was well known for his treatment of chronic illnesses. His 1864 receipt book of remedies includes his handwritten “recipes” for the treatment of such illnesses as venereal disease, tuberculosis, spinal meningitis, scrofula, cancer, Bright’s Disease, dysentery, kidney problems, enlarged liver, worms, and menstrual problems, while reminiscences also include reference to his delivering children.

Hand-written cursive text on page
Dr. Howard’s “recipe” for treating kidney problems, from his handwritten receipt book, 1864. / THF620465

Concoctions, Elixirs, and Cures


Narrow room with built-in racking filled with casks and vats labeled with hand-written text
The interior of the “laboratory” in Dr. Howard’s Office today, based upon photographs of the original arrangement. The original casks are still displayed. / THF11271

Like other country doctors of the time, Dr. Howard prepared his own medicines and remedies. His niece, Etta, remembered as a little girl watching him mix powders and medicines and marveling at his speed and dexterity in folding packets.

In concocting his remedies, Dr. Howard often first ground up the raw ingredients, then carefully mixed them together using precise recipes that were his own or that he had collected from elsewhere (usually a medical treatise). Many of the medicines required careful boiling, evaporation, or distillation. Pills were hand-rolled. Smaller concoctions went into bottles and jars, while more sizable preparations of liquid extracts and syrups were stored in casks, or small barrels, and stacked on shelves in his laboratory.

Corner of room with wooden floors and walls covered with narrow shelving containing many bottles and jars
Contents of Dr. Howard’s Office today, based upon the arrangement of jars and bottles when the building was on its original site. / THF11280

The bottles and jars lining the shelves in Dr. Howard’s private office would have housed both raw ingredients for his remedies and small amounts of his homemade concoctions. Nearly all the bottles and jars that are in the building today belonged to Dr. Howard back in the 19th century. When the building came to Greenfield Village in the 1960s, many of these containers still had their original labels and contents. These provided the basis for the 2003 refurbishment of the building (after it was moved to the Village Green). At this time, many of the by-then faded labels were replaced with identical reproductions and oft-ancient contents were replaced with newer or simulated versions.

Small red wooden building on trailer behind truck next to gray wooden building among lawns, roads, and trees
Dr. Howard’s Office being relocated to the Village Green (from its original location near where the Village Playground is today) during the 2002–2003 Greenfield Village restoration. / THF19075

Perusing these labels, in combination with the ingredients listed in Dr. Howard’s 1864 receipt book of remedies, offers us great insight into exactly what ingredients and concoctions he used to administer to the sick and ailing. Just what was in Dr. Howard’s “medicine cabinet”? Let’s take a look!

These are some of the raw ingredients that Dr. Howard used in his remedies and housed in jars and bottles on the shelves in his office:

  • Dried plants (leaves, berries, petals, and roots), like lobelia, red rose petals, raspberry leaf, blue vervain, burdock root, valerian root, and dandelion root
  • Dried herbs, like fennel seeds, thyme, rosemary, parsley, peppermint, dill weed, basil, sage, and lemon balm
  • Tree roots, leaves, and bark, like wild cherry bark, white oak bark, white willow bark, slippery elm bark, birch bark, and black walnut leaves
  • Spices (whole or pulverized), like ginger, mace, turmeric, cumin, and cloves
  • Chemicals and minerals, like alum, calomel, carbonate of iron, laudanum, chloroform, carbonate ammonia, and bromide potassium

     

These are the types of concoctions that he would have mixed or prepared and stored in jars and bottles in his office:

  • Infusions (for drinking, prepared by simmering leaves, roots, bark, or berries of plants, tree bark, or herbs in hot liquid), including infusions of chamomile, horseradish, foxglove, flaxseed, hops, wild cherry bark, sarsaparilla, slippery elm bark, and valerian
  • Poultices or liniments (for applying to skin to relieve pain), including dyspepsia paste, liniment for rheumatism, liniment of camphor, soap liniment, and hemorrhoid ointment
  • Pills (would have been hand-rolled by Dr. Howard), including “female pills,” ague pills, toothache pills, anti-spasmodic pills, typhoid pills, cathartic pills, and tonic pills
  • Waters (water flavored with different substances), like orange water, camphor water, anise water, cinnamon water, peppermint water, rose water, spearmint water, saline water, dill water, caraway water, mineral water, and lavender water
  • Tinctures (concentrated substances dissolved in alcohol, which would have been added to a drink by droplet; these were stronger and more concentrated than infusions), like tinctures of belladonna, capsicum, and iodine, and chlorine tooth wash
  • Syrups, like ginger syrup, pectoral syrup, wild cherry syrup, “Dr. Howard’s Own Cough Syrup,” syrup of birch bark, syrup of juniper, and syrup of ipecac
  • Oils (for rubbing on skin, inhaling, or consuming in small quantities), including oil of roses, dandelion oil, oil of lemon, oil of lavender, oil of nutmeg, castor oil, cod liver oil, oil of dill, oil of flax seed, oil of garlic, oil of peppermint, and oil of juniper berry


Black-and-white photo of storage room containing casks on racks, barrels, and furniture
Photograph of casks for syrups and extracts on the building’s original site, taken in 1956. /
THF109607

The room next to Dr. Howard’s private office, which he called his laboratory, is where he would have mixed his medicines, hung large cuttings of plants and herbs to dry, kept equipment for creating his concoctions, and stored his casks of extracts and syrups. The extracts would have been made by steeping plants, tree bark, or herbs in water, alcohol, vinegar, or other solvent to draw out their characteristic essence. These included:

  • Extract of “lyon’s heart” (promoted digestion)
  • “W.C.S.” (as written on the cask), probably wild cherry syrup (useful for numerous ailments: cold, coughs, breathing, digestive pain)
  • Extract of butternut bark (to treat dysentery, constipation)
  • Extract of “bonesett” (for fever)
  • Extract of ragweed (reduced inflammation)
  • Extract of blue vervain (to treat severe headache)
  • Extract of skunk cabbage (helped treat asthma and rheumatism)
  • Extract of wahoo (despite safety concerns, people took wahoo root bark for indigestion, constipation, and water retention)
  • Extract of brook liverwort (for chronic cough, liver conditions)
  • Extract of snake root (to treat typhoid and other intermittent fevers)

 

Conclusion


Black-and-white portrait of man in suit sitting at table containing bottles and jars
Photograph of small-town doctor John C. McCullough, from Wheatland, Indiana, 1875, posing with some of his “tools of the trade” for mixing concoctions: apothecary and medicine bottles, a funnel, a beaker, and a scale to weigh ingredients. / THF226496

Like other country doctors, Dr. Howard administered to the sick and ailing in the best ways he knew. He used existing knowledge, trial and error, and his own intuition in diagnosing and treating illnesses and diseases. He made his own decisions about what ingredients to obtain and mixed his own concoctions.

Case lined in blue velvet with insert standing up to display many small vials; also contains text labels
The pharmaceutical industry was just becoming established when Dr. Howard passed away in 1883. This kit contains pharmaceutical samples created by Merck about 1884. Merck traces its origins to the German Merck family, who founded the business back in the 1600s. Its American affiliate was created in 1891. Lehn & Fink were New York City importers, exporters, and wholesale druggists during the 1880s. / THF167218

This was a time before prescription medicines and safe, off-the-shelf drugs were available, and before there were government safety standards on ingredients (which began with the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906). Some of the ingredients that Dr. Howard used may seem odd or unfamiliar to us today. Others appear more familiar, though these are more likely to be used today to treat such health concerns as headaches, anxiety, or insomnia than the deadly infectious diseases of Dr. Howard’s time. In all, the contents of Dr. Howard’s office—the original jars, bottles, and casks, as well as his receipt book of remedies—give us an extraordinary opportunity to look, deeply and viscerally, at the contents of one country doctor’s “medicine cabinet.”


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. She would like to acknowledge the meticulous work of Nancy Bryk, former curator at The Henry Ford, in refurbishing the office interior when it was moved to the Village Green during the 2002–2003 Greenfield Village restoration.

Michigan, healthcare, by Donna R. Braden, Dr. Howard's Office, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village