Homepage | David K Petersen

Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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In the days before Television, Radio, video games and MTV people made their own fun without contraptions, without electricity, but at times with great fanfare. Picnics and county fairs, church socials and plays at the opera house were what was in vogue. It was a time when children learned verses and recited them for company. In her book Sand Sawdust and Sawlogs Francis Caswell Hanna talked about social customs, church suppers and fashions of the nineteenth century. We quote here from her chapter on public entertainments. "Children looked forward to the Sunday-school picnic in summer and the concert and tree at Christmas time. When a bit older they would attend choir practice and church socials where they played games and ate hot biscuits with maple syrup, or strawberries with cake, or oyster soup with doughnuts, according to the season. The church supper combined with the yearly bazaar was a huge meal at which layer cakes predominated. "Home talent entertainments were frequent and well attended as were magic lantern shows. A large enough group could be depended upon to support a lecture course, though more than lectures were included-jubilee singing, concerts and, most popular of all, elocution, the name by which we refer today to readings or impersonations. "Fashion wise, the era of the eighties has been called the Mauve Decade. The Red Flannel Decade would probably have been a more appropriate name. A modern version of sack cloth and ashes, an undergarment worn by men as well as women, long-sleeve and ankle-length, was donned about the first of November and clung (literally, for flannel was shrinkable material) until the first of May. Besides its warmth-giving qualities, red flannel was credited with a curative, or at least malady-preventive, value. "Most men were bewhiskered-burnsides, beard, or fringe cut. Though black broadcloth, "plug" hat, and gold-headed cane set the standard in gentleman's attire, few occasions in Ludington required such elegance. Business suits, tailored to measurement and trim with stiff-bosom, high-collar shirts, were supplied by several efficient shops, among them John Gebhart's and F. M. Ashbacker's. Peter Mendelson's clothing store had supplied ready-to-wear suits from the early seventies. "Men wore high boots, often made to order. Groening's shoe shop "at the sign of the golden boot" was long a land mark on south James Street. In the red plush photograph album, long the chief exhibit on the marble-top center table of the eighties, and from the pages of the Delineator, the modern fashion magazine which was rapidly pushing Godey's publication into the background, the feminine form divine was imitating the lines and proportions of the hour glass. "The corset was one compound curve after another produced by whale bones and a heavy cloth known as drilling. The bustle was a contraption of this same sturdy material stuffed with that strange device, excelsior, reinforced with a wire coil. The bustle was fastened about the lady's waist with a belt and buckle. The "hoops" which had extended the skirts of Civil War days had gradually diminished in size and were on their way out. "Ladies underwear was not lingerie in the eighties. The lady of that day referred to her undergarments as "unmentionables," if she referred to them at all, and she would have blushed furiously if they had been spoken of in mixed company. Yet they, especially the trousseau, were works of art, remarkable for their fine material and the fullness thereof. Nainsook, lawn, and muslin were used, and the fine stitchery and embroidery were done by hand with a cambric needle. "Accessories was a word not used in the fashion vocabulary of the period, yet certain things "went with" a lady's costume. The parasol of pastel color, ruffled or lace trimmed, and the fan of gauze, lace, or feathers were never underestimated. The lace trimmed handkerchief was carried on every occasion, since paper had not replaced it. In milady's reticule was likely to be found a tiny glass bottle with a gold or silver top, containing smelling salts, and known as a vinaigrette. "A perfect lady fainted occasionally and the salts revived her. The gown of this period was a marvelous creation of pleats, puffs, panniers, panels, and passamenterie. If used "for best" it was very likely made of black silk, " so stiff it would stand alone," fitted "as if she were molded into it." In the world today we are much more casual in many respects, jeans and a T-shirt works in most situations and no one blushes when the unmentionables are mentioned. I wonder what the Victorian age would have thought about Calvin Klein commercials or Victoria's Secret as far as that goes. If you have any stories or photographs to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com.

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