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Mason County Memories

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Sand Sawdust and Sawlogs History column Dave Petersen Today we are going to take in a chapter out of Francis Caswell Hanna's "Sand Sawdust and Sawlogs" that addresses the social life in 1880's Ludington and the dress of the times and illustrated with period photographs from some of Ludington's best photographers of the time. "Society enjoyed dancing and attended the "theatre," entertained with pink teas and card parties, and observed the code of calls religiously. A large dancing party was a ball, a small one a hop. Low-neck gowns were frowned upon, and ladies' ankles were not exposed. Courtly manners were observed in the ball room. No lady danced more than twice with the same gentleman unless engaged to him, and she never walked across the ball-room floor unescorted. "Card parties were evening affairs. The Ludington Record of February 26,1885 reported: "Progressive euchre has struck this poor town at last. And yet they who indulged in a sweet racket say they spent a pleasant evening . . . This is the nature of the game." After explaining at length how euchre was played the item continued "the one remaining longest at the booby table is made the butt for all the jokes of the evening. This is progressive euchre." "The decade fostered the "ten-twenty-thirties." Billboards down town proclaimed that Hazel Kirke or East Lynne or Lady Audley's Secret was coming, and the arrival was eagerly awaited. If Uncle Tom's Cabin played at the "Opera House" down James Street there was a parade with "blood hounds." "The minstrel shows also gave noon-day parades with band music. Shakespeare's plays were not infrequent and often well played despite the limitations of the crude stage and ridiculous scenery. Sometimes a troupe with a week's repertoire gave a different show every night. The actor's put up at the Filer House, and some of the townspeople met them and said they were "real nice." They weren't supposed to be. Several of the churches condemned dancing, card-playing and theatre-going as works of the devil, and their members were forbidden to attend such gatherings. "The original meaning of pink tea was weak tea, but it came to apply to an afternoon gathering of ladies at which the color predominated in decorations and ice cream. The fad spread to other colors than pink until the ice cream makers were put to it to find ways of coloring their product. "Formal calls were made promptly on new comers, and etiquette required that the calls be returned within two weeks. A lady left two of her husband's cards and one of her own on the tray on the hat rack in the hall. "New Year's Day calling prevailed throughout the decade. Ladies who decided to "receive" announced in the newspapers the hours they would be "At Home." Refreshments were served and occasionally some such form of entertainment as dancing was provided. The gentlemen generally drove in sleighs from one house to another and left specially printed "Happy New Year" cards. 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." Next week we'll take a look a women's fashions in the 1880's and other local social and cultural activities. If you have any photographs or family stories to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com

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