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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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Sand Sawdust and Sawlogs part 2 History Column Dave Petersen Today we take a look at another chapter out of "Sand Sawdust and Sawlogs by Francis Caswell Hanna as she describes the conditions in the town and women's fashions. A bit of style and culture to help offset the reality of the conditions in small towns in America in the latter part of the nineteenth century. "Whatever of elegance there may have been elsewhere, there was little in the Ludington of sand and sawdust days that could be described by the fashionable adjective of the decade. The scum-covered, mosquito-breeding swamps had been but partially conquered, and on the higher ground flea-infested sand dunes spilled into the streets. "In the outlying areas of the town, plank sidewalks bordered by rank weeds, were shaded sparsely by scrawny, pine-boxed, maple saplings in various stages of growth. The beach was strewn with discarded butts of saw logs, planks and edgings refuse from the mills that had been gathered into booms, towed into the big lake, then loosed and permitted to float ashore. Yards were crowded with out buildings barns, privies, fuel-sheds, chicken coops, and occasionally a pig-sty. INSERT PIC 1 "Cows roamed at large, pasturing on the stump-littered commons and along the side streets, in search of grass. Manure piles flourished in the alleys where flies swarmed triumphantly. "Typhoid and malaria, often at epidemic stage, plagued the town. Cholera morbus took innumerable babies, and diphtheria epidemics terrorized the parents of young children. The germ theory of disease was new, and fumigation with sulphur and the occasional use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic were about as far as the medical profession had gone in the matter of controlling the spread of disease. Flies and mosquitoes had not come under suspicion. "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. INSERT PIC 2 "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. PIC 3 "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." PIC 4 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 Pic 1 take a close look at these yards and the number of outhouses, and chicken sheds in this circa 1889 photograph of Ludington Pic 2 you can see the hourglass shape and the smaller post civil war bustle and hoops in this portrait. Pic 3 Can you imagine trying to walk wooden planks through the downtown area in this white very formal dress? Pic 4 No one looks particularly happy here, the young lady in the center illustrates another good example of a dress that appears molded around her. The dresses and corsets fit so tightly that fainting was not uncommon.

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