Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack

Poem: Humanity from 1874

Two boys conspire to reach the doughnuts in a 1920s cupboard. The doughnuts sit in a large pottery bowl on the top shelf. A boy in a red and white sailor suit holds his younger brother, dressed in blue, on his shoulder. The younger boy is reaching up to grab a doughnut or two from the bowl.

Today’s poem, Humanity, from 1874, is by Harriet Bush Ewell. You may remember the first Bush family poem I wrote about, called October. Although Harriet had fewer poems published than her older sister Belle, you can see with Humanity that she also had a gift for rhyme.

Harriet lived and worked at Belvedere Seminary in New Jersey. The school accepted students from kindergarten through graduation. It offered all customary subjects plus some extras. At one time the school even had an astronomy instructor on staff. Harriet taught music. Her two older sisters ran the school.

Wedding bells

On June 23, 1870, Harriet married Belvidere Seminary’s mathematics teacher, Arthur Ewell. She was about 33 years old. Arthur was six years younger. The wedding capped a three-day anniversary celebration for the school. June 21 and 22 focused on the student’s achievements, with an address to close the celebration by suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The next day the celebration continued with wedding and cake. The newlyweds spent the rest of their careers and lives working at the school, leaving it more than 30 years later.

Harriet was a Spiritualist, and Belvidere Seminary was a Spiritualist school for children. Spiritualism became a cultural phenomenon a little after she was born, and she and her two much older sisters spent their lives as Spiritualists dedicated to teaching the younger generations.

After the school closed, Harriet accompanied her husband and her sister to New York, where they settled at a Shaker Community. Her sister Belle officially joined the Shakers before she died. However, it seems that Harriet and Arthur never did, although they lived in the community and were active participants. (The Shaker Museum Facebook page discusses

Her poem Humanity was specifically written for the Spiritualist publication Banner of Light. It was published in December of 1874.


by Hattie (Harriet) Bush Ewell

Each life on the earth is a poem,
  A volume of measure and rhyme,
With pages of truth and of beauty,
  With stanzas both grand and sublime.

Each deed is a line from that poem,
  The record of glory or shame,
That leads to a beautiful moral,
  Or covers with sorrow the name.

The chapters are wonderful stories,
  Of love, of unkindness, of hate,
Of the soul in its struggle for freedom
  Through many a battle with fate.

The leaves of this book have a gilding
  From the gold of a beautiful life;
How sad that they ever are tarnished
  By the fingers of envy and strife.

The type is full often illumined
  By the smiles of the good and the true;
And each year we may add to our treasure
  Some pages both charming and new.

This is the only poem by Harriet I could find. Her description of each life as a poem, tinged with gold, added a positive note to the day. I hope to discover more, dated later than 1875, to see how she matured as a poet.

If you enjoyed this poem Humanity from 1874, you might also enjoy Harriet’s sister Belle’s book of poetry, Voices of the Morning.

Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

A Subway Romance: Conclusion

Welcome to Part III and “A Subway Romance” conclusion. Here in A Subway Romance: Conclusion we will learn what happens to Nick. Does he throw it all away and go to Cuba? He has the money saved up for it. The Great Depression is still five years off. He could feed his wanderlust by closing his news stand and living the roaming life.

When we left Nick and his vagabond friend Shorty, they had just finished breakfast over the campfire at the Brooklyn waterfront. If you missed that section, you can find it here. To start at the beginning of the tale, begin here.

The conclusion

They strolled to a railway station, skulking along the outskirts of the crowd. They walked on through the switch yards. A truckload of baggage crowded them against a moving freight. As Nick cringed and stepped aside he felt a nudge at his elbow.

“S’long,” muttered Shorty, as he swung aboard.

“S’long,” answered Nick.

Nick hurried to the nearest railway station. It was late. He would be losing his brisk eight o’clock trade.

Dreaming on the train

Once aboard the Broadway train, however, he was lost in a dream of palm bordered roadways, of Pampas plains and tropic seas. He created vividly luxurious groves of bananas and breadfruit trees. He imagined how the moon would look shining through a notch of the Andes.

Nick came to with a start, as the crowds pushed on and off at Times Square. He moved nearer the door so as to be ready for his station. He would send his resignation in to the news agency right away. They would have no trouble getting a man for his place. Only one more dy at the stand. Tomorrow he would be free.

The train jerked to a stop.

Reaching the news stand

Nick separated himself from the crowd and went up to unlock the news stand. He was startled to see that the windows were open, and the morning papers arranged in orderly piles. He looked in across the papers and saw a curly dark head over an open magazine. Looking closer he served large gold earrings and long-lashed eyes.

He leaned over the counter.

“What––what did you do with the Gipsy dress?” he asked.

The girl started and then blushed.

“How did you know me?” she asked.

“I’d have known you in––South America,” babbled Nick. “But it’s great to fid you here. How did you get into the news stand?”

“By the door. Isn’t that the way you get into yours?”

“Into mine? Mine? Why––isn’t this mine?” Nick stared wildly.

“This is Seventy-second Street,” laughed the girl. “Did you think you were home?”

Nick looked at the huge sign, foolishly.

“My––I––” He wanted to say that his heart must have directed him here. “But what did you do with the Gipsy shawl and everything?” he blurted.

The shawl

“Oh, I want to explain to you,” said the girl. “They’re my grandmother’s. I wore them to an autumn pageant one day, when I danced a Gipsy dance. And when I came back I was very busy dreaming, and I got off at the wrong station. I––I felt rather free and reckless in my Gipsy togs. So when I saw a strange, dreamy-eyed man where I thought my news stand was going to be, I––I’m afraid I acted very silly and––nervy. I––apologize. But, it was the costume, really. And, of course, I didn’t expect to see you again.”

“I wonder what her name is,” mused Nick, as he arranged his papers, uncovered the candy and gum, and dusted the magazines. He was an hour late, but the thought failed to worry him.

The crowds surged up and down stairways and crossed and recrossed between local and express. Nick saw them not. Trains shrieked and bellowed, but he did not hea.r His lean hands juggled change or reached down a magazine from the rack behind him. His eyes were on the gray subway arch, and he was smiling at the memory of a brown roofed cottage he had seen once, away up at the end of the subway near Van Courtland Park.

His mind was busy adding a few fanciful details, among them an open wood fire and a dark-haired girl beside it, wearing a Gipsy shawl. He would be able to get home by nine o-clock in the evenings, and sh would come to meet him down a grassy little bystreet bordered with poplars. The wind would ripple the poplar leaves softly, and sometimes there would be a moon shining through a notch between the trees.

The End

This is the end of A Subway Romance Conclusion. I hope you enjoyed reading this very typical example of a magazine short story. These stories appeared in almost every magazine of the time. Stories sold magazines. I’m sure, after reading A Subway Romance to its conclusion, you can understand why.

You may also be interested in reading Cinderella’s Confession, an advertisement from 1919 that changed advertising when it mimicked the popular magazine short story.

Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

A Subway Romance Part II

A young woman stands next to a newspaper stand in this 1924 illustration. People stream behind her. Most of them are men in suits, overcoats, and hats.
The young womanl stands among the bustle of the New York subway tunnel.

When we last left our dreamer Nick, he had just met an intriguing girl at his newsstand in the New York subway system. If you missed the first section of the story, you can locate it here. Now we continue with “A Subway Romance,” Part II.

The story continues…

Her voice was rich and low, with a kind of sighing lilt in it. She seemed not to have seen the price labels.

She bought two nut bars and slipped them into a bag at her side, while Nick tried futilely to think of something to say. It had been a long time since he had indulged in social small talk. At last he found himself commenting upon the coolness of the weather and urging her to try some of the whipped creams.

The Gipsy shook her head. Her red lips smiled. Nick caught a tantalizing gleam between long lashes and stood staring helplessly as she walked away. When he had recovered his wits sufficiently to crawl out of the low side door and go to look for her she had disappeared in the crowd. Nick ran up the stairs and down. He plunged frantically into the floods of passengers streaming from local to express and from express to local. He returned to his stall flushed and baffled, and found two customers thrusting coins over the magazine counter, with no pair of hands there to return the change.

After this Nick began to look at the people around him instead of gazing dreamily at the subway vault. He began to grow vaguely dissatisfied with his life, yet unwilling to break away for one of his vagrant adventures. A wan loneliness possessed him, such as he had never known in the most isolated country places; and still he felt loath to desert his subway stand. He studied the faces that streamed past him and began to experience a faint thrill of satisfaction at discovering some of the same ones day after day. Often he watched hopefully for a flash of the Gipsy’s crimson shawl. But he watched in vain. Her voice had broken the spell of his long silence, her wild beauty had stirred the sluggish pool of his content, and then she had swept on, lost in the seething current of the subway crowds.

An old friend resurfaces

One night, a week after the Gipsy passed, Nick saw a familiar face peering in at him. It was a loose-mouthed, heavy-jawed face with no self discipline. In a flash of recollection Nick recognized this man. They had bunked together in a slum hotel in San Francisco. Nick usually avoided the out and out hoboes. Shorty had been more congenial than most of his kind. In Nick’s present mood the familiar face was welcome.

“Hello, Shorty,” said Nick.

“H’ar ye, Bo,” grinned Shorty sticking his hand in across the newspapers.

When Nick closed the stand that night Shorty was waiting for him. They had lunch at a hot tamale wagon down in Christopher Street and they sat on a park bench and watched the moon edging over the roofs while Shorty told of his wanderings. Again Nick felt the pull of vagabondage. His mind raced out along an Arizona canyon slivered with moonlight. He heard the sough of the pines, the murmur of prairie grasses, the trickle of water beside a pitch-pine campfire. He crumpled a sooty park leaf in his fingers, and longed for the smell of sage and resin.

Catching up

Nick only half heard the marvelous tale that Shorty related with profane emphasis. He was planning to pack the battered suitcase that lay covered with dust under the cot in his hall bedroom, planning to chuck the news stand and the rewards of a regular income. He had thought of it vaguely before, but the force of habit and the weekly check had held him. But tonight, with the moon rising over the roofs and Shorty chuckling at his elbow, his business acumen had sunk to almost a minus quantity.

Why had he stuck there for the last two years? he asked himself. He had money now, enough to take him to Cuba, to South America, though he had never thought of saving it for that purpose. Well, he was ready at last to leave the noisy glare of his burrow. He had hoarded his savings senselessly like a blind mole storing away food. He had watched the trains pass long enough. He had watched millions of faces without hearing a voice or touching a hand. Restless feet had surged past him, day after day, and he had quietly stuck to his cage, pushing out papers and picking up change.

Yet, under all his eager planning, there lurked a poignant regret. More than he would admit, he had hoped that the Gipsy girl might return sometime and smile and speak to him over the candy counter. It was she who had aroused him from his strange lethargy. But he had a persistent intuition that he would miss her, out along the open trails, for in spite of her Gipsy dress she had seemed a creature of the town. At the thought of missing her, Nick’s heart sank, and his bold resolution ebbed like water.

At water’s edge

“Guess we’d better move on somewheres.” Shorty’s arm was around Nick’s shoulders. Shorty’s corncob pipe was unpleasantly near Nick’s nose. Nick looked up and saw a policeman moored in the offing, swinging his club a shade ostentatiously. They moved on. Over on the Brooklyn waterfront they lighted a driftwood fire. Nick stretched on the ground beside it, unmindful of the fact that his suit had just been cleaned and pressed. In spite of the cheering blaze the wind crept up with a little nagging chill, and Shorty made a tour of investigation along a row of warehouses and returned with a dirty horse blanket. They crept under it together, after arranging some empty boxes to protect themselves and their fire. Nick sniffed the smell of the water and stared blissfully up at the stars.

He heard the waves lapping against the pier, and his drowsy wits went roving. South America, Cuba. Long roads that he had never traveled, blue seas that he had never crossed. Perhaps China and Japan a little later. Strange cities, far ports. That would be his way of life. He rejoiced at the thought of the money he had laid by. When that was gone he would work again, and then he would go on. What had he been thinking of, to sit dreaming behind a counter? He felt a sudden contempt for the Sunday afternoon hikes he had taken around Manhattan, the holiday excursions up in the Bronx. He laughed as he remembered his nonsense about that Gipsy girl.

Shorty stirred sleepily.

“What’s the joke, Bo?” he inquired.

“Nothin’. Jest a-dreamin’, I guess,” murmured Nick.

A new morning

It seemed only a few minutes until he turned on his side and peered out at the sky, reddening beyond the warehouses. Shorty had kept the fire going and Nick felt warm, even with the wind blowing up stronger from the water.

They boiled their coffee in an empty Karo can, munched sandwiches, and watched the bay flashing like a vast opal under the morning sun. Ships crept up the harbor, ferry boats steered a resolute course, motor boats chugged erratically about.

To be continued…

Find out what happens after “A Subway Romance,” Part II. Look for Part III, which brings an end to the tale.

This is a typical Twenties short story. These tales sold magazines by the thousands for a good many years. Sometimes they were serialized, and then released in book form. Often, though, they appeared like this: short, single tales that transported the reader to a different place, time, or situation.

Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

Short Story: A Subway Romance

A 1924 illustration of a woman, dressed in a blouse and skirt, stands before a news stand, gesturing. A dark shawl hangs over her skirt, knotted at the hip, and she wears a silk handkerchief on her head. Illustration from the short story A Subway Romance.
“How much are the chocolate bars?”

Today’s short story, “A Subway Romance” appeared in The American Needlewoman in December, 1924. Written by Rose Henderson, this story is in the public domain. Henderson was an accomplished writer whose stories appeared in several of the story-printing publications of the day.

Keep in mind that this is an antique story, posted as it was written. It is a product of its time. It may contain terms and ideas that we find outdated or offensive. For ease of reading the story will appear here as a three part series. This is Part I of the short story, “A Subway Romance”.

A Subway Romance

To the New York crowds pushing and swirling through the Ninety-Sixth Street subway station, the man in the glass-windowed stall behind the candy, newspapers and magazines was hardly more human than the penny-in-the-slot weighing machines, or the chewing gum boxes with dirty mirrors at their tops and a row of coin slots below. He seemed like another mechanical convenience, a pair of hands that made change deftly or reached down a magazine that somebody pointed out. In the noisy, garish gloom of the subway station people pointed at what they wanted a good deal of the time, or they merely threw down their money and took their choice.

Nick Barnes had arranged his stall to suit the haste and directness of his customers, who, in their turn, were mere marionettes to him. With thousands whirling past him, hour after hour, it was seldom indeed that anyone spoke. They knew the prices of their favorite magazines; and the packages of chewing gum and candy in the pasteboard boxes bore conspicuous price labels. Conversation with the man behind the wares was a needless waste of time and energy. They didn’t even look at him. Rushing from local to express, and from express to local, they saw only his ands and the things he sold.

Even if they waited hectically before his booth watching for the Bronx express to come shrieking in, they looked at the magazine covers and read the newspaper headlines. And their impersonal attitude seemed natural enough to Nick. He was equally indifferent to the crowd, though often lonely for a real friend.

Dreaming in the subway

If anyone had paused to study the face above the deft hands he would have been surprised at the dreamy remoteness of Nick’s long, brown eyes. Looking out over the stampeding crowds, Nick saw strange and remote scenes blossom into life down the dim arch of the subway tunnel. He saw, for instance, a pine-shaded trail leading through the Rocky Mountains, an oil-packed automobile road bordered with lupin and California poppies, a golden expanse of Dakota wheat fields, a sloping-roofed farmhouse, gray with rain. The pictures were dim and elusive, to be sure, but they held Nick’s mind with a kind of placid enchantment while his hands gathered in the pennies for papers and chewing gum.

He had always possessed this facility of detachment, of living in places far remote from his real surroundings. It was a source of much pacific enjoyment, though as a rule the tranquility was broken, sooner or later, by a sudden fling at actual adventuring.

There were boyish wanderings when he deserted the slant-roofed farmhouse and the school across the fields. At first they were one-day excursions, a fishing tour up Gipson’s creek, or blissful idleness in the great meadow behind his father’s barns. For hours at a time he would lie in the clover, looking up at the clouds that flocked across a midsummer sky. Then came the insistent wanderlust of his early manhood and his tramp from Kansas to California, his season in a fisherman’s deserted shack on the Pacific Coast, his gold-hunting period in Alaska.

Singurlarly, his love for the open road was balanced by an almost equal delight in sheltered seclusion. Sometime he had always returned to the old farmhouse, loitered through the grassy orchard, loped along the meadow, helped with the work for a time and then went on again, down the long hill to the main highway, out through the grain-covered prairies to the little town where he took the train, if he happened to have money enough, traveled to a strange neighborhood, worked, dreamed, and traveled on.

Moving to New York

In one of these home visits he found his mother stricken with a sudden severe illness. The doctors recommended a New York specialist. Nick had a little money saved from his Alaska venture. He had always adored his mother. So the two came to New York, she to linger for a year in the specialist’s sanitarium, and Nick to sit dreaming in the underground world of the subway station. She had been dead for two years. Still Nick stayed on, seldom stopping to wonder at his strange docility, only half alive to the swirling activity that isolated his retreat.

But just as it seemed that the city’s intricate energy had caught him like a dazed gnat in the corner of a gigantic web, the latent wanderlust stirred within him. He looked at the pushing mobs and longed to escape them. He became conscious of the narrow confines of this booth and felt foolishly imprisoned. The pictures of his fancy still wavered confusedly along the subway vault, but they no longer soothed him to passivity.

Colors of October

It was a day in early October when the awakening came. The magazine covers were aglow with autumn colors. Women were wearing furs for warmth instead of for style only. The wind blew fresh from the river in the early morning when Nick left his fiurnished room and went down to unlock the news stand. The air in the subway was heavy and chilling. Nick sat humped on his stool behind the candy boxes, skimming through an adventure story. The trains shrieked and clanged and roared through their black-walled caverns. Lights flashed and glared. The crowds poured up and down stairways, pushed in and out of iron doors, swirled about the windows of Nick’s booth, threw down coins for candy or reading matter and swept away, dissolving continually into new eddies and currents.

Nick closed the magazine and remembered the frost-covered leaves around his camp in a Canada forest. He looked up at the subway roof where his memories visualized most effectively, but his eyes were caught by the flare of a crimson sash like a bit of gay foliage in the dark masses of the crowd. It was a Gipsy shawl, worn about lithe hips and knotted at the side. A yellow blouse, a brown skirt, brown stockings and moccasins completed the costume, with a red silk handkerchief forming a cap set jauntily over curly dark hair. The girl was strikingly handsome in the garish costume, with huge gold rings in her ears. She returned Nick’s stare with a keen, level glance that make him flush self consciously.

Then she stepped in front of the little piles of gum and candy.

“How much are the chocolate bars?” she asked.

To be continued…

This short story, “A Subway Romance,” will be continued. Watch for the next installment. Discover what happens with Nick in the short story A Subway Romance.

Browse through another issue of The American Needlewoman at the Internet Archive.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack · The Vintage Bookshelf

Twenty Books Worth Reading… in 1921

The other day I stumbled upon an article called Twenty Books Worth Reading. It caught my eye, since I’m always looking for new vintage literature to read. I’m reproducing the list of twenty books worth reading here, along with links to online copies for each title.

As we close one year and start another (I write this at the end of December), it’s helpful to look forward to the new year. I don’t go as far as making a resolution, but I do think through the coming months. What do I want to accomplish? What do I want to learn? What new skill do I want to master this coming year?

One of those lists, of course, includes the list of books that I want to read. My To Be Read list is taller than I am, yet I can always find a new or old title worth delving into. With that in mind, I offer this list.

Twenty books worth reading

Some of these titles you will recognize. Most, however, you probably will not. I was unaware until writing this of a very popular Canadian author named Frederick Niven. He goes on my reading list for this year. I hope you will find at least one book to treasure from this list. Perhaps you will become reacquainted with an old friend.

The books include ten fiction books and ten nonfiction titles.

The fiction books

  • Miss Lulu Bett. Zona Gale. A story of a modern Cinderella, this book became a play during the winter of 1920. Zona Gale won a Pulitzer for the play version of her story. Read it at Project Gutenberg: Miss Lulu Bett.
  • Main Street. Sinclair Lewis. The story of Carol Kennicott and the town Gopher Prairie, Main Street became a best-selling commentary on small town life. You can Read Main Street at Google Books.
  • Alice Adams. Booth Tarkington. Perhaps best known for his novels Penrod and The Magnificent Ambersons, this new book received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1922. Not only did Alice Adams receive a Pulitzer, but it was made into a movie. Twice. Read Alice Adams at Project Gutenberg.
  • The Golden Answer. Sylvia Chatfield Bates. This started as a serial in the magazine Woman’s Home Companion. You can read The Golden Answer at Google Books.
  • The Brimming Cup. Dorothy Canfield Fisher. An older married woman falls in love with another man. Known in juvenile reading circles for her novel Understood Betsy, Fisher was named by Eleanor Roosevelt as one of the ten most influential women of her time in the United States. Read The Brimming Cup at Project Gutenberg.
  • Seed of the Sun. Wallace Irwin. This one is thinly veiled propaganda. You might want to read it with your blood pressure meds handy, if you have any. It seems to be a fictionalized tirade against Japanese immigrants on the West Coast of the United States. The original reviewer even used the term propaganda in his writeup. I couldn’t get through the first chapter. Read Seed of the Sun at your own risk, available at Google Books.
  • The Mysterious Rider. Zane Grey. Ah, now we are back in familiar territory. A Zane Grey western tale. Take a ride down the trail with The Mysterious Rider at Project Gutenberg.
  • Guns of the Gods. Talbot Mundy. This is a tale of India, the story of Princess Yasmini and her first love affair. Find Guns of the Gods at Project Gutenberg.
  • How Many Cards?. Isabel Ostrander. This is a detective story. Ostrander wrote many detective stories. If you like this one, you may like the others as well. Read How Many Cards? at Google Books.
  • A Tale That Is Told. Frederick Niven. This is a tale about the children of a Scottish minister, told by his son. Niven was a very popular Canadian writer, as I mentioned before. You can find A Tale That Is Told at the Internet Archive.

Nonfiction titles

  • Travels and Adventures of Raphael Pumpelly. Raphael Pumpelly, ed. by O.S. Rice. This is an abridged version of Pumpelly’s autobiography, reworked for teen and young adult readers. Pumpelly was a mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist, and explorer. Quite a bit to fit into one lifetime! Read it yourself at Google Books. Travels and Adventures of Raphael Pumpelly.
  • Roads to Childhood. Annie Carroll Moore. This book, written by a New York City children’s librarian, discusses good books for children. You can get a copy of Roads to Childhood from Google Books.
  • Health for the Growing Child. William R. P. Emerson, M.D. This is a book that discusses underweight and underfed children, a common enough problem in the early Twenties that Emerson wrote a book about it. Emerson was a pediatric specialist and faculty member of Dartmouth, and when he wrote this volume he was probably a faculty member at Tufts University. I could not find a copy of this book anywhere, but the next year Emerson published Nutrition and Growth in Children, which may be an expanded version of the earlier title. Find it at the Internet Archive. Nutrition and Growth in Children.
  • The Autobiography of Margot Asquith. Margot Asquith was a wit, a countess, a British socialite, and married to the (then) current British Prime Minister. According to the reviewer, “she writes often in questionable taste, but seldom if ever is she insincere.” This one goes on my to-read stack. You can find it at Project Gutenberg, in a two-volumes-in-one compilation. The Autobiography of Margot Asquith.
  • Margaret Fuller: A Psychological Biography. Katharine Anthony. Anthony was a college-level math teacher who was interested in both biography and psychology. She combined the two to write several “psychological biographies,” which were either celebrated or panned by the press. You can read Margaret Fuller: A Psychological Biography yourself at the Internet Archive.
  • The Famous Mrs. Fair, and Other Plays. James Forbes. The other two plays in this compilation are The Chorus Lady and The Show Shop. The Famous Mrs. Fair saw stage time as well as a movie adaptation in 1923. Obtain The Famous Mrs. Fair from Google Books.
  • The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism. Bertrand Russell. Russell was a British mathematician, philosopher, and pacifist. He wrote more than 60 books. In this one, he puts forth his thoughts about visiting Russia and seeing the beginning of Russian Communism. Read The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism at Project Gutenberg.
  • The Evolution of Sinn Fein. Robert Mitchell Henry. Henry was a professor at Queen’s University, Belfast. The year of 1921 brought Ireland’s struggle for independence to the newspapers of the United States. Sinn Fein was (and is) a political party within Ireland. This book would find interest in those who had read about Ireland’s cause. You can read The Evolution of Sinn Fein at Google Books.
  • San Cristóbal de la Habana. Joseph Hergesheimer. San Cristóbal de la Habana is the original name for Havana, Cuba. This book is a travelogue of Hergesheimer’s trip, filled with luscious descriptions of what he saw. Read San Cristóbal de la Habana from Project Gutenberg.
  • Scenario Writing Today. Grace Lytton. Want to know how movie scripts were written in the Twenties? Look no further than Scenario Writing Today, a book about how to write scripts. Retrieve your copy of Scenario Writing Today from Google Books.

The books as a whole

I was surprised I located every one of these titles without much effort. If you would prefer a printed copy, I noticed that almost every one of them appeared available in reprints from Amazon or your favorite reprint seller. Some of them, though, may only be worth one read to you.

Of course, these are all books of their time. They may contain material we find offensive today. They may also have factual information which later proved incorrect. Such is the hazard of reading 100 year old books. Much of the content, however, should be excellent. After all, several of these books became movies, and two received Pulitzer prizes.

Overall, they give a good look at the literature and nonfiction scene of 1921. This not only tells you what people were reading in the early Twenties, but also how they thought about things.

If you would like to add a twenty-first book to your list of twenty books worth reading, I suggest Daddy Long-legs, by Jean Webster. Although it dates a bit earlier than 1921, readers were definitely reading this book in the early Twenties as well.

I wish you happy reading.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack

Poem: By Loving and Giving We Live

This is not your everyday Christmas poem for December. We read lots of poems about Santas and sleighs, about snowfalls and heavily-laden tables. This month’s poem, By Loving and Giving We Live, presents another perspective to the Christmas getting and giving.

This poem’s author is Clara Haven King. I can find no references to her or to her poetry. A periodical search, newspaper search, and book search turn up nothing. Of course, the possibility exists that the magazine got her name wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time I saw that.

This Christmas poem appeared in the December edition of Needlecraft Magazine in 1922. In the interest of keeping Clara Haven King’s poetry alive, I bring you By Loving and Giving We Live.

By Loving and Giving We Live

by Clara Haven King

“Oh, Christmas is coming again!” you say,
And you long for the time he is bringing;
But the costliest gifts may not gladden the day,
Nor help on the merry bells’ ringing.
Some getting is losing, you understand,
Some hoarding is far from saving;
What you hold in your hand may slip from the band,
There is something better than having.
We are richer for what we give,
And only by giving we live.

Your last year’s presents are scattered and gone;
You have almost forgotten who gave them;
But the loving thoughts you bestow live on
As long as you choose to have them.
Love, love is your riches, though ever so poor;
No money can buy that treasure;
Yours always, from robber and rust secure,
Your own without stint or measure.
It is only love that can give;
It is only by loving we live.

Do you know this poet?

If you have heard of Clara Haven King, or know of a place where her poetry was published, please drop a note in the comments and let me know. I’d like to read more of her work.

If you’d rather read about autumn than Christmas, Belle Bush’s October offers another look at life and humanity.

History · The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Vintage Embroidery Threads: A Thread for Every Use

Various embroidery threads arranged on a table. Colors include red, pink green, and several shades of blue.
Left to right: DMC six strand embroidery floss; Anchor six strand embroidery floss; DMC coton a broder; YLI pure silk embroidery floss on top, DMC pearl cotton size 8 on bottom; vintage Wonder Art Perlene pearl cotton.

When I opened my grandmother-in-law’s stash of threads, I was amazed. Colors and types of vintage embroidery threads spilled out of the bags and boxes, left over from seventy years of embroidery. The vintage workbasket held more possibilities than you find in today’s 400 skeins of DMC floss, and Grandmother’s was no exception. In the early to mid twentieth century, needleworker had several companies from which to choose. Need six-strand embroidery floss? You could use DMC, or Bucilla, or Royal Society. What if you didn’t want to use six strand cotton embroidery floss? What then?

Half a black and white catalog page from the 1930s. Various types of embroidery and crochet threads are described with prices.
Early 1930s Frederick Herrschner catalog advertising various embroidery, crochet, and tatting threads.

Then you chose from many different thread types and a host of manufacturers. Silk embroidery floss. Imitation art silk floss, made from rayon. Pearl (perl) cotton. Wool three-strand embroidery yarns. Coton a broder, also known as broder cotton. This was a single strand of thread, available in several sizes and many colors up to about 2010. Size 16 was equivalent to two strands of embroidery floss.

Art embroidery

A bevy of bluebirds decorate household linens from 1915. Table runner, whisk broom holder, laundry bag, pillow cover, and more all feature  embroidered bluebirds.
Bluebirds in art embroidery

Embroidery used to be called Art Needlework when it was created for beauty’s sake. The person who made the family clothing always used a sewing needle. But when that needle worker used colored silks or cottons, and used the needle like a paintbrush, the work turned into art. Bluebirds sailed across household linens. Pine trees stood lonely and alone on hillsides. Flowers bloomed on everything from under linens to table runners. The vintage embroidery threads brought them to life.

Once needleworkers began to work with colors in embroidery they seldom looked back. You can see that by the current selection of modern cross stitch patterns.

The companies that released the threads also created patterns to work with them. After all, what good is a brilliant blue thread if you have nothing do use it for? Readers purchased patterns through the newspaper and monthly housekeeping or needlework magazines. They also found projects and threads from their friendly Frederick Herrschner mail order catalog, or through a flyer from their local dime store. By the 1930s it seemed that everyone was into the pattern or project by mail scheme, and needleworkers bought kits and supplies in droves.

Getting ready to begin

If the design didn’t come already stamped on fabric, the worker needed to transfer it. Then came thread selection time. Unless you planned to reproduce a lifelike flower in embroidery silks, or you worked from a prepackaged kit, colors remained up to the worker. Usually a pattern offered suggestions like brown, light blue, or dark pink. Which shades you pulled and how you incorporated the colors together was your choice. Between four or five cotton embroidery thread companies you might have ten or more shades of dark pink. This gave the worker a lot of leeway in color choice.

Often the project featured whatever threads I have on hand. An avid needleworker might have a small box of silk threads, a larger bag of cottons (or several bags of cottons), and some pearl cotton. These could be mixed into a work to create contrast, texture, and shine.

Bye bye threads

A red hank of embroidery thread, a green spool of thread, a red spool of thread, and a green hank of embroidery thread clustered together on a table.
Coton a Broder vs. Sulky Cotton Petites

Most of these vintage embroidery threads exist no longer. Some, like Corticelli and Richardson silks, are simply gone. Corticelli silks and Richardson silk mills both ceased operation in 1932. By this time companies like Bucilla introduced their synthetic art silk, often made from rayon. These threads didn’t really feel like silk, but they were shiny and inexpensive for embroidering. They too are gone, although Bucilla remains as a subsidiary of Plaid Enterprises, and embroidery kits continue to appear under the Bucilla name.

As I mentioned before, most of the coton a broder threads were discontinued in the 2010’s, at least in the U.S. It looks like this thread (also called broder special or brilliant cutwork and embroidery thread) is still being produced in limited colors by both DMC and Anchor. However, getting any of this to the U.S. can be a difficult matter. You may have to special order it from Europe if you want some. This is NOT the same as the thread called Floche. Floche is far more expensive and not as sturdy.

Good news

All is not dreary news, however. Some threads, like cotton embroidery floss and pearl cotton, still exist. You can find substitutes for many others, even though you may not find them at your local craft store. You might need to poke around a bit on the Internet to find them.

Here are some options:

  • Six strand embroidery floss: DMC, Anchor, Sullivan’s, Madeira.
  • Coton a broder/ broder special: You may be able to locate white, ecru, black in the U.S. As a substitute look at Sulky Petites, size 12. It’s thinner than the size 16 coton a broder, but it will give you the same experience of one strand that equals two strands of embroidery floss.
  • Pearl cotton: still exists. Look for DMC. Some chains have house brands in limited colors.
  • Silks: Shiny silks in the U.S. have largely been replaced by threads like DMC’s shiny satin, which is 100% rayon. For a traditional embroidery silk from France, look for Au Ver a Soie’s Alger thread.
  • Silks: Although they are not all shiny, companies have produced 100% silk embroidery threads within the past 20 years or so. Some options: Treenway Silks, Caron Waterlilies (silk variegated), Kreinik Silk Mori, Rainbow Gallery’s Splendor.
  • Stranded wools: Appleton wools have existed since 1835 in the UK and they still provide wool yarns to the needlepoint market. These work wonderfully for embroidery. Once I came across some instructions from the 1850s calling for “5 shades of apple green wool.” Who makes five shades of apple green? Appleton wools does. Their leaf green selections fit my project perfectly.

Be creative… have fun!

Regardless what threads you use, I hope you enjoy the process. Picking out various threads, choosing or drawing a pattern, beginning a project… these are exciting times. Incorporate one or two of these old-time threads into your next project, and see how you like it. You never know. You may be hooked.

History · The Magazine Rack

Ivy for Gold Star Mothers: a WWI Memorial

WWI photo of five service men clustered around an upright piano. The pianist plays a popular war tune while the there sing. One stands back, leaning on the piano, smiling.
Armistice Day: Remembering the boys who didn’t come home.

In the July 1920 issue of Woman’s Home Companion, a curious editorial snippet offered ivy to Gold Star mothers. The little article was so unusual that it caught my eye. Gold Star mothers lost their sons during World War I. The gold star established that this mother’s son enlisted, and this mother’s son died. The editorial said:

“Shortly after the declaration of the Armistice, in November, 1918, an American woman went over the Argonne battlefield with her husband. The sky was serene and the cannon had ceased to roar; but over and under and through everything was the ruin of war––the shattered, blasted trees, shallow ditches where men had taken hasty refuge, pits made by bursting shells, and mounds that still sheltered the dead where they had fallen.

The ivy

“But along with the gray desolation there was the hushed beauty and serenity of the ‘big timber’ forest itself. On the very top of one of the great hills the woman found some ivy growing. The broken branches of the trees around it were shriveled with the gases from the shells and blackened with fire; but the ivy was growing out again, a sign and symbol of life pushing forth anew in the midst of death.

He seemed so young to me, not yet nineteen, killed in action October, 1918.

a bereaved mother

“The woman dug up the ivy and carried it in a paper package on the five days’ motor trip back. In Paris, the French gardener at her friend’s house revived it. When it was time to sail for America, the ivy was at least alive. In her stateroom, homeward bound, she placed it near the air, and it suddenly began to grow. It has continued to grow ever since.

“Now there are hundreds of little ivy plants from that one shoot, and more are coming all the time.

The offer

“Any American mother whose son was lost in the war, and who would like to have one of these plants as a sign of green remembrance––and as a token from another American mother whose own sons are far too young to have been in the great war––is asked to write to Mrs. Frank Vanderlip, Scarborough-on-Hudson, New York. In writing, please give the boy’s name, regiment and number, and the mothers’ full name and address.”

The response

As I read the short editorial I felt my eyes burn with tears. And I wondered… what was the response? Did anyone take this lady’s offer and send for a plant?

Well, reading on, it seems that they did. The October 1920 editorial page contained an update on the ivy and the mothers who requested it. I’ll reproduce this part in full as well, because I think it brings us back to the real meaning of Armistice Day, and what it cost. It reads:

“Up to August 1st more than 400 mothers had asked fo these little plants, and been supplied. There were letters from every state in the Union.

With the hope that it will climb up to the window of the little room where my baby slept so few years ago. He was seventeen when he enlisted.

A bereaved mother

“A reading of these letters has been a most touching experience, and has brought a realization of the consequences of war which the dispatches from the front never did. Just what to call the little ivies seemed often puzzling, and the request might be for a spring, plant, cutting, slip, bud, seed, sprout, start, root, or shoot. But what matter? It was to ‘Plant on my dear boy’s grave’ or ‘With the hope that it will climb up to the window of the little room where my baby slept so few years ago. He was seventeen when he enlisted.’

They were so young

“Perhaps there is no thing in the letters more noticeable than the youth of those who have gone. ‘My boy was eighteen,’ the mother writes, or ‘twenty,’ or ‘twenty-two.’ There can be no quarrel with the use of the word boy. There is another term often used which tells this even more simply: my child. ‘He was our only child.’ ‘He seemed so young to me, not yet nineteen, killed in action October, 1918.’ And the brave attempt, old as sorrow itself –– which is the oldest thing in the world –– somehow to connect everything with the one one who is gone. ‘I think this piece, perhaps, may have come from the vine my boy may have seen there in the Argonne the morning he was killed.’

“The young ivy plants seemed to be good travelers. ‘It was hardly wilted’ came from as far away as Mississippi. ‘The sprout seems to be doing fine,’ writes another. And this, breathing enthusiasm and true optimism: ‘It is growing nicely. Had another leaf before a week.’ ‘I’m sure it will respond to affection. Flowers and plants know the touch of love quite as well as humans.’

“A pleasant thought cropping out in many letters is expressed by one mother when she says, ‘And when the ivy grows I will give slips to other Gold Star mothers, the same as you have done.’ In the meantime, Mrs. Vanderlip, whose ‘thoughtfulness, sweetness, and kindness’ is mentioned in almost every letter, has more baby ivy plants and she will gladly send them to those mothers who ask.”

Passing it on

Hopefully, those plants did thrive. And maybe some of the ivy for Gold Star mothers survived well enough to send cuttings to other Gold Star mothers, who treasured their little memory of green from France. Today many wear red poppies on Armistice Day to never forget. Hopefully the healthy green ivy helped these families to remember those lives cut so short by war.

Something a bit different

If the 1916-1920 time period intrigues you, you might enjoy Cinderella’s Confession. This dates from the same time period, and is an advertisement from 1919 changed the course of advertising history.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack

Poem: Autumn from 1922

Drawing of the top half of a Twenties model in a brown coat and hat with a large blue feather. She is looking at a tree branch next to her that is filled with brown leaves.

This month’s poem is Autumn, from 1922, by Laila Mitchell. Not much information exists about Laila. She seemed to be widely published as a poet. Newspapers, Ladie’s Home Journal, the American Agriculturalist, New Ideal Magazine, and more carried her poetry. I found her published in one book, from 1917: The Best Christmas Book: Recitations, Dialogues, Exercises, Plays… etc., edited by Joseph Sindelar. Definitely one to look at if you like vintage poetry and activities with young folks involved.

Although I’ve titled this poem Autumn from 1922, I have no idea when it was really written. Most of the poetry I found from Laila was printed between 1905 and 1938, and often they listed the periodical where the poem was published first. For instance, a poem about Christmas might be titled Christmasas seen in New Ideal Magazine. Whether this information was provided by Laila or the newspaper itself I have no idea.

So, in the hopes that Laila’s work will not pass from the earth, I give you her Fall poem.


by Laila Mitchell

When maple-leaves begin to show
A tint of crimson at their tips;
When clover-meadows umber grow,
And somber-hued the pheasant slips
Through copse and hedge, the truth is
We near the end of summers reign.

When chestnut-burrs have prickly grown,
And apples ripen on the trees,
When locusts hum their monotone,
And heavy-winged the laggard bees
Fly hiveward, then we’re sure at last
The golden summer-time is past.

When wild-grapes redden in the sun,
And milkweeds spill their snowy down,
When field-mice through the stubble run,
And sumacs don their crimson gown,
When birds in flocks at even meet,
Then autumn comes on flying feet.

And when we wanderers homeward turn,
Tired with the search for happier things,
When on the hearth the home-fires burn,
And in his nook the cricket sings,
We know the crown of all the year,
The gladdest, sweetest days are here.

Do you know Laila?

If you know anything about Laila or her history, or if she published her poetry in one place somewhere, I’d love to know. It seems that she started signing her poetry Laila Mitchell Thornton sometime in the late Twenties/early Thirties, but I was unable to find anything more than the few newspapers who listed her poetry with her added last name.

Laila wrote often about the seasons, the holidays, and nature. If you enjoy this type of nature poetry, you might enjoy this post about A Song of June.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack

Poem: October by Belle Bush

Magazine image of Belvidere Seminary in New Jersey, where poet Belle Bush lived and worked.

This month’s poem, October, was written by poet Belle Bush. The poem itself is nice, but nothing compared to the story of the woman herself.

One of the things I find most intriguing about these poetry posts is delving into the lives of the poets themselves. Sometimes, I find nothing. Other searches send me down rabbit trails, piecing together a jigsaw of facts that almost creates a complete picture. This is one of those situations. Once in a while I find a poem by someone like Wordsworth, who we’ve all heard of and most of us studied.

Belle Bush, however, started as an enigma. Her actual name was Annabelle, and I believe she never married. She was born somewhere in New York State in February, 1828. She had at least two sisters: Eliza, born in 1818, and Harriet, born in 1837.

A look at the Belvidere Seminary

We first meet the sisters as they head a school they call the Belvidere Seminary. Located in Belvidere, New Jersey, the school accepted both male and female students. Eliza and Belle appear listed as Principals of the school, while Harriet teaches music. In an imposing building not too far from the Delaware River, other instructors teach classes in mathematics, gymnastics, English, German, and French.

A visitor writes of the place:

There is no fuss, no noise, no birch, no rod… The studies were regular, and recreations various and often. The school has beautiful surroundings, good gardens and grounds… It is a charming sight. Birds abound, of wild and melodious song; flowers, fruits, and vegetables are all grown on the place.

The Medium and Daybreak, June 18, 1886

Each day for an hour the students break into work tasks. The girls learn cooking and housekeeping, since they will probably have to manage a household at some point in their lives. The boys engage in some type of outdoor or mechanical work.

This school is unsectarian, to use the word of one of its reviewers. In other words, Belvidere Seminary teaches no classes in Christianity, Judaism, the Bible, or Christian denominational doctrine –– somewhat unusual for the time.

A school with a twist

Why this freedom and departure from the customary school discipline and religious instruction of the day? Because this was a Spiritualist school. Belle Bush was a Spiritualist. She and her sisters believed they could communicate with the dead.

Here’s a recommendation from a parent:

I have four children in this Institute who have been there for one year, and if these children were in my own home they could not be better cared for spiritually, morally, and intellectually. I placed my children in that Institution because I feel that as Spiritualists they must receive a spiritual education.

Mrs. Prior, at the National spiritualists Assn. fifth annual convention, 1897

In addition to running a school, Belle wrote poetry for Spiritualist publications and songs for the Spiritualist songbooks. She was truly a leader in the movement: discussed at the National conventions, quoted in books. She published a book of poetry. For many years the Spiritualists bantered the idea of endowing her school, turning it into a Spiritualist university. Unfortunately, that dream never became a reality and the school seemed to close sometime around 1905.

After the school closing, Belle, her sister Harriet, and Harriet’s husband traveled to New York. There they lived with the Shaker community in Mount Lebanon. Once there, even in her seventies, Belle continued to contribute. She wrote poetry for the Shaker periodicals and assisted with celebrations. The Shakers welcomed her as a poetess and fellow traveler, and she stayed with them until her death on May 5, 1914.

And now… the poem October by Belle Bush

I located a publication of this poem in 1874, and again in 1921. However, as I researched Belle’s life I saw that she sold this poem over and over to various periodicals through the years. The 1921 version is abridged; the original poem as published contains a full dozen stanzas.

by Belle Bush

Now comes autumn's fairest moon,
And the royal purple noon
   Of all the earthly glory;
Now let cares drift far away,
While each wonder-working day
   Tells to us its story.

Scarfs of gold and crimson rest
On each mountain's plumed crest
   In a dewy splendor;
While o'er all earth's dainty things
Nature spreads her gentle wings,
   As of each most tender.

And there is a glory born,
With our life's empurpled morn,
   Stronger than all grieving;
Aye, and brighter than the days
Scarfed in gold and crimson haze --
   All of faith's fair weaving.

Leaves may fall and quick winds sigh,
Summer's beauties fade and die;
   Still faith, to us replying,
Mounts upward singing to2wards love's gate,
And bids us calmly work and wait,
   All cause fo grief denying.

Ah, if the autumn of our days
Finds but the soft and mellow haze,
   Our fading joys concealing,
Then will our hearts be full of peace,
And every hour bring rich increase,
   A life of use revealing.

If you’d like to read Belle’s book of poems, it’s called Voices of the Morning. Published in 1865, you can find it on Google Books.

Belle’s sister Harriet was also a poet, though not as prolific as Belle. I hope to cover a bit of her story, along with one of her poems, a bit later.

For a very different poem about nature, take a look at A Song in June.