Friday, May 8, 2020

Another Time When Polio Came to Grinnell

Four years ago I posted a story about how Grinnell confronted an outbreak of polio in 1952, a year that set the record for polio cases and polio deaths in the United States: more than 57,000 cases and more than 3100 deaths. Thereafter polio infections and deaths in the United States declined; 1957 recorded only about one-tenth the cases attested in 1952, and polio-caused deaths dropped even more sharply. Once public acceptance of the vaccine was common, polio practically disappeared from the United States.
Quarantine sign (Grinnell Historical Museum)
However, getting to that point proved difficult. Over the first half of the twentieth century polio regularly visited the towns and cities of the country, inciting public unease. As one report put it,
As the weather warmed up each year, panic over polio intensified. Polio swept through towns in epidemics every few years. Most often affecting children, few diseases frightened parents more than polio did ("History of Polio in Iowa,"
In 1916, for example, the US documented more than 27,000 cases of polio and more than 7,000 deaths; in 1927 there were more than 10,000 cases and over 2,000 deaths. Every year was serious, but 1927, 1931, and 1935 stood out both for the number of cases and the number of deaths. As the calendar rotated from year to year, therefore, Americans knew that, come autumn, they should expect another brutal encounter with poliomyelitis.
Quad-City Times, December 29, 1940
Iowa, too, felt these peaks in polio infections. Official data for 1910 counted 654 cases and 157 deaths, but the next year there were only 70 cases and 40 deaths; 1916, 1918, 1920, 1923, 1930, and 1937 all reported bumps in the number of cases. But it was 1940 that set the high-water mark for polio infection in pre-war Iowa: 930 confirmed cases and 72 deaths (Walter Albin Lunden, Basic Social Problems, with Selected Rural and Urban Data for Iowa [Dubuque: W. C. Brown Co., 1950], p. 133). Five of those cases and two of those deaths occurred in Grinnell, and they are the subject of today's post.
Summer in 1940 Grinnell had passed, and schools had begun when the crisis erupted. The local newspaper reported on Monday, September 16th, that a schoolboy by the name of David Peck—just twelve years old—had fallen ill the previous week while visiting grandparents in Ogden, Iowa. His condition quickly plummeted, so his parents rushed him to the Boone hospital where he died September 12th; he had been ill just four days.

The news stunned the entire community, now alert to the fact that polio had returned to Grinnell for a new assault on the city's youth. Thursday's newspaper (Grinnell Herald-Register, September 19, 1940) confirmed the sad fact by reporting that Tuesday had brought a second death to Grinnell when Raffety Greenwald, a 15-year-old high school junior, had died after a few days' struggle with polio. The newspaper report acknowledged that, in addition to the two fatalities, three other cases of infection in Grinnell were known: Ruth Jean Liggett and Jack Knowles, both of whose families lived in town, and Richard Evans, whose family farmed southwest of town.
Headline of Grinnell Herald-Register, September 23, 1940
The jolt to community well-being led officials to close school for a week. R. A. Hawk, superintendent of schools, explained that, although there was no evidence that polio had been transmitted through the schools, "persons of public school age are affected" and the parents are "in many cases panicky and hysterical" (Grinnell Herald-Register, September 23, 1940). Hawk urged parents during the school  recess to prevent children from congregating with one another, and to do what they could to make sure that their children were in the best possible health.
Grinnell's two 1940 polio deaths shocked the community, but of course they rocked the dead boys' families even more. Over the course of a few days, two local families dropped suddenly from everyday normalcy to unthinkable disaster.

David Ellis Peck [1884-1956] was a native of Taylorsville, Illinois, but attended Grinnell College from which he graduated in 1907. The following year he joined the college's music faculty where for many years he taught violin and directed the men's glee club. In 1911 he married Laura Jenkins (1883-1967) of Ogden, Iowa; she had been David's classmate at Grinnell, and had taught high school after graduation. By 1920 the Pecks were living at 1402 Elm Street with three daughters: Ruth, Kathleen, and Mary Jane.
1402 Elm Street (2013 photograph)
David Peck was busy with college duties, often performing with violin or viola as well as directing campus musical groups. Laura Peck was active in Levart Club and PEO, and also was busy at the Congregational Church. Into this active life came the family's fourth child, David Hanley, who was born June 14, 1928.
Extract from 1940 US Census for Grinnell (1402 Elm Street)
According to later reports, young David was "his father's pride and joy," "a sunny little chap" who was "very popular with his schoolmates." When census officials called on the Pecks in April 1940, David was the only child still at home, so that his death that September left an obvious hole in the Peck household. It was perhaps a good thing that Professor Peck was on leave that year; he and Laura could nurse their sorrow out of the public eye.
Gravestone for David Peck, Glenwood Cemetery, Ogden, Iowa
Raffety Greenwald was the oldest of three children born to Lois Raffety Greenwald (1898-1989) and William G. Greenwald (1896-1989), who farmed north of town.
Extract from 1940 US Census, Poweshiek County, Chester Township
Both parents were graduates of Grinnell College; Lois had grown up in Grinnell and later taught school here. They married in 1923 and had settled in New Hampton for some years before returning to the Grinnell area, taking over the Chester County farm in 1929.
Photograph of Grinnell High School Latin Club, 1940 Grinnellian; Raffety Greenwald is 3rd from right, back row
Raffety Greenwald was said to be "a conscientious student," "a quiet, unassuming chap who was well-liked." A high school junior in 1940, he took part in numerous extra-curriculars, including the award-winning band in which he played trombone. He took ill Friday night, afflicted with a sudden and obviously serious illness; he was short of breath and in obvious pain, circumstances that led his parents to summon Dr. O. F. Parish (1873-1947), who brought along his son, John (1904-1997), a 1929 graduate of Harvard Medical School who had been practicing in Grinnell. They immediately diagnosed polio, and the Greenwalds took Raffety directly to the Grinnell Community Hospital. What treatment they could provide is unclear, but the remedies proved of no help. Raff was declared dead Tuesday morning, only five days after having fallen ill. The funeral came quickly and Raffety Greenwald was buried at Hazelwood Cemetery.
Gravestone of Raffety Greenwald (1925-1940) (
In addition to their grief, the Greenwalds also had to endure quarantine on the chance that other members of the family had been infected. Raffety's younger brother, Stan, remembers that a quarantine sign was tacked onto the house by the back door; more powerful than the sign was the community information network, which shunned the Greenwalds, leaving them to deal with their grief and the suspicions of neighbors. Finally, LaVerne Raffety (1900-1995), Lois's brother, made a point of visiting, thereby breaking the social embargo on the Greenwalds. But fear of the virus continued to affect the family. Raff's sister, Ruth, learned when she returned to school that high school principal T. T. Cranny (1888-1965) had been fielding calls demanding that he get Ruth out of school. Cranny resisted these pressures, but Ruth nevertheless frequently found herself alone, other students all keeping their distance. Young Raffety was dead and buried, but his shadow lingered, his death continuing to affect the living.
The two deaths—more than Grinnell's share of Iowa's 72 polio deaths that year—put every family in town on edge. Discovery of more infections, even if not so serious as those that visited the Peck and Greenwald families, brought more anxiety to Grinnell households where polio put in an appearance. Parents inevitably asked whether their child, too, might not perish from exposure to the polio virus. Happily, all three other victims recovered, although perhaps not without harm.
Ted Liggitt (1902-1985) was a pharmacist who had been raised in Osceola, Iowa where he met Alma Stancell (1905-1995). In 1927 the couple married, and settled in Des Moines, living in an apartment on 26th Street while Ted worked in a Des Moines drug store. Their two daughters were both born in Des Moines: Ruth Jean in 1929 and Marlene Jo in 1931. By 1935 the family was living in Chariton in Lucas County, but five years later they were all resident in Grinnell, occupying an apartment at 931 High Street while Ted worked for one of the town's drug stores.
931 High Street (2020 photograph)
The Liggitts' older daughter, Ruth Jean, was another victim of the 1940 epidemic. Nothing in the public record describes the particulars of Ruth's encounter with polio. All that we know is that doctors diagnosed the eleven-year-old with what was evidently a light case from which she quickly recovered. She next surfaces as a high school student in Chariton, the town to which her family moved sometime soon after her illness.
Ruth Jean Liggitt (1947 Chariton High School Yearbook)
Ruth enjoyed singing, as the 1947 Chariton high school yearbook reports that she was a member of glee club for all four years of high school, sang operetta two years, and performed in the annual Christmas program every year. She later married Joe Seagraves and by the 1950s was living in Austin, Texas, and later in Lewisville, Texas, her parents having joined her there in their retirement. If her encounter with polio left any trace, nothing I found confirmed it. She, her sister, and her parents are all deceased, and seem to have left no remembrance of that painful September in Grinnell.
Less than one block north of the Liggitt household in Grinnell lived Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Knowles. Telling 1940 census officials that he worked as a traveling salesman, Elmer Knowles (1877-1942) was born in Michigan, as was his (second) wife, Lulu (1887-1978). Elmer's first three children—Norma; Evelyn; and Marian—had all been born in Michigan; Faith, who was born in 1915, had come when the family was living in Wisconsin. No later than 1917 they moved to Minnesota where Lois, Edwin, John (Jack), and Paul were born. Richard, the youngest, was the only child born in Iowa (1929). In 1930 the Knowles family was renting a house at 1432 Summer Street in Grinnell, but by 1940 they had moved to 1014 High Street. All the daughters except Norma (who was a local school teacher) had left the natal household to chart their own life courses.
1014 High Street (2013 photograph)
Jack Knowles was born in Stillwater, Minnesota in 1923, and arrived in Grinnell in 1927 with his family. He and his brother Paul attended Grinnell High School together; both ran cross-country and track, and Jack also participated in high school music programs. He was a 17-year-old senior when polio caught up with him. Like Ruth Liggitt, his neighbor, he recovered, although for the rest of his life he lost most use of his right arm. The disability kept him out of the military during the World War II, but did not keep him from contributing to the war during which he helped build P-51 airplanes in California. Having studied music at the University of Iowa, Jack devoted most of his career to teaching music—according to his obituary, he taught instrumental music in Oregon, Iowa, California, Montana, and Australia.
Jack Knowles (1941 Grinnellian)
Jack married twice: first in 1949 to Imogene Newcomer (1929-2012) in Grinnell, and again in 1966 to Debby Dresser. By 1969 Jack and Debby were living in Rapid City, South Dakota where Jack was band director at Rapid City Central High School. He also directed the Rapid City Municipal Band and the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra—all this with only one arm fully functional. Yet Knowles was so successful that in 2009 he won the South Dakota Governor's Award for Outstanding Service in Arts Education. On at least one occasion, however, a concert reviewer took Jack to task for using only one arm:
The orchestra conductor, Jack Knowles, plays a vital role in releasing the musicality of the orchestra. His right hand is needed for cuing and dynamic control...These visual cues not only aid the musicians...but also draw the audience's attention to the important melodies and rhythmic ideas of the music. This is not what happened Saturday night. Knowles kept time with his baton [in his left hand] while his other hand rested on the orchestral score. Occasionally, he took his hand off the score to gesture obscurely to the orchestra (Gail Samuels, "'Ritz' musicians deserve ovations," Rapid City Journal, January 27, 1997).
When readers objected to the reviewer's criticism, pointing out that Knowles suffered a disability that "anyone with the cognitive capacity of a gnat could perceive," the newspaper quickly issued an apology. However, the incident points out how Knowles's bout with polio more than fifty years earlier continued to affect him.
Rapid City Journal, January 28, 1997
Russell P. Evans (1915-1981) was born in Grinnell, and by 1940 had married, was farming outside Grinnell, and had two sons: William and Richard. Richard was only five years old when polio found him in September 1940. Apparently the initial attack was severe; his parents reported him ill on September 18th, and already the next day he was admitted to Skiff Medical Center in Newton and installed in an iron lung. Typically victims required at least two weeks of iron-lung therapy, the machine helping the weakened diaphragm. The Des Moines Register reported that young Richard was sent back home on the 22nd of September and allowed to recuperate under the watchful eye of his parents, but when recently I spoke with Evans by telephone he told me that in fact his stay in the iron lung was longer than two days. He recalled how uncomfortable he was ("it hurt like the devil!"), lying on a hard board all day. When he needed the bathroom, attendants had to open the iron lung, and then close it back up again when he returned. Friends sent him comic books, but he could turn pages only with his tongue, he said.
Undated photograph of a child in an iron lung (
I asked him whether he and his family, like the Greenwalds, had experienced any shunning from friends or neighbors. He thought not, because soon after he was released from the hospital his family moved to California. Doctors had recommended a dry climate for Richard, so his parents packed up quickly and the family settled in the Los Angeles area where they lived until Richard was about 16, moving then to Myrtle Point, Oregon, where in 1953 Richard graduated from Union High School.

Did his battle with polio in 1940 leave any trace? I wondered. The only polio legacy Richard bears today, he told me, is some difficulty with speaking; some words simply will not form, he said, but he feels fortunate that polio did no worse than that. So far as he can tell, polio did not otherwise affect him after that first brief encounter and his introduction to an iron lung.
Richard Evans (1953 Myrtle Point Union High School Yearbook)
After a one-week break, during which Grinnell absorbed the pain of two child deaths and three other polio infections, Grinnell schools reopened. As a precaution (and no doubt also to calm parental fears), each student was subjected to a physical examination before being admitted to class. Most of the town's doctors along with a clutch of nurses and volunteers inspected all students, taking temperatures and inspecting throats. About fifty students were sent to their family physicians for further examination, but not one student gave evidence of polio infection (Grinnell Herald-Register, September 30, 1940). Sixty years later one can almost hear the sigh of relief that passed through the town; the annual vigil against polio could be least until next year.
Handbook published by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., New York, [1946] (Grinnell Historical Museum, #2008.28.33)
All this makes me wonder how parents coped. In the 1940s Iowans knew little about polio, despite the almost annual crises. A Metropolitan Life Insurance handbook called Common Childhood Diseases—reprinted often in America's polio years—encouraged parents to "keep...children away from the movies, parties, crowded trains, and all public gatherings until the outbreak is over." As if this suggestion were not difficult enough, the booklet also urged parents "to keep children away from public beaches and swimming pools," and have them avoid streams, lakes, or ditches into which sewage drains. Most surprising was the assertion that "Removal of tonsils [quite common at the time--DK], extraction of teeth, or other operations in and about the nose, throat, and mouth may open new channels by which the virus can gain entrance to the body...[Therefore,] Such operations should be avoided as far as is possible during an epidemic of infantile paralysis" [p. 21].

Despite this advice, the booklet's authors had to admit that "The manner in which the infantile paralysis virus is spread is still unknown." In short, parents could only briefly celebrate having escaped tragedy in 1940; soon their eyes would turn apprehensively to next year's visit from polio.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Lone Chinese in Early Grinnell

In late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America, Chinese immigrants suffered considerable discrimination and abuse. The Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 aimed to minimize immigration from China at exactly the time when colonial powers were busily carving up China into various spheres of influence. By that time cities like San Francisco and New York already had sizable Chinese immigrant populations, but in small towns in the American Midwest, Chinese residents were rare. To European immigrants tilling the plains the "yellow peril" was mostly an abstraction, but to Chinese immigrants the "white ghosts" around them must certainly have reminded them of the "foreign devils" who had occupied much of China and monopolized the opium trade.

Yet, in many of these midwestern towns, worlds distant from China, one or two Chinese took up residence, establishing what became the original stereotype of Chinese immigrants—a Chinese laundry (Chinese restaurants came later). One of these laundries arose in Grinnell, Iowa as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth. Today's post examines the brief history of Chinese laundries in early Grinnell.
Advertisement from 1878 Grinnell Directory
Across the nineteenth-century in young prairie towns like Grinnell, getting clothes clean was a lot of work: washboards, outdoor clothes lines, and heavy irons all made for slow and difficult laundry days. And if city streets were often muddy and littered with horse manure (as they were in Grinnell), clothes got dirty fast and often. It is easy to understand, then, how a laundry business might arise.
1898 Sanborn Map of Grinnell, west side of Main Street,
showing 915 and 927 where Grinnell's first Chinese laundries operated (the forner street numbers appear above)
The 1878 city directory—Grinnell's first—knew only one laundry business—"City Laundry" at the corner of Fifth and Main—but that same directory knew ten women who identified themselves as laundresses, an indication, perhaps, of the demand and the persistence of conventional clothes washing. The next directory—1894—identified two laundries—the C. O. D. Laundry (on Broad and Fifth) and Bing Lee's laundry at 915 Main, the first Chinese laundry in town. The 1900 Grinnell directory repeated the advertisements of the C. O. D. Laundry (whose name was now qualified as a "steam laundry") and again listed a Chinese laundry. In 1900 Grinnell, however, it was not Bing Lee who operated it, but Jim Fong. The new Chinese man in town advertised his laundry at 927 Main Street (the same block as Lee's had been), where he probably absorbed some of Lee's former customers.
Laundry listing in 1900 Grinnell Directory
No Chinese laundry is recalled in the 1905, 1908, or 1910 Grinnell directory.  The C. O. D. Laundry continued to operate in these years, changing hands several times, but maintaining its hold on business. In 1908 the Grinnell Laundry at 1030-32 4th Avenue opened, and directed much of its advertising toward college students.
Grinnell Herald July 29, 1913
Into this Grinnell business environment in mid-1913 came Kim Fong, "a celestial of high degree," as the newspaper quaintly put it. Fong set up business in the basement of the Monroe Hotel Annex on Broad Street (south of Commercial), where he worked and lived until spring 1920.
Photograph (ca. 1919) looking north on Broad Street, with Monroe Hotel Annex (left) showing its awning
Early twentieth-century Iowa knew more than a few Chinese laundrymen. According to John Jung, the 1900 US census counted 75 China-born Chinese in Iowa, and all but one—a student—operated a hand laundry, at least one of which could be found in 50 of Iowa's 99 counties. Ten years later the census counted only 54 China-born Chinese in Iowa, 48 of whom worked in hand laundries spread out over 26 Iowa counties (Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain [n.p: Yin and Yang Press, 2007], p. 69). Although there was some ebb and flow among the Chinese laundrymen in Iowa, almost everywhere the men who operated these laundries were the only Chinese in town (ibid., pp. 70-71).
John Jung, "The Historical Importance of Chinese Laundries," Presentation to Portland Chinese Student Scholarship Foundation, May 5, 2013 (, slide 15)
Most of Iowa's Chinese laundrymen had originally immigrated in order to join in the search for gold in California or to be part of the work teams that laid track across the North American continent. But as American legal and social restrictions against Chinese tightened in the late nineteenth century, some of these men moved east, embracing the laundry business—not because they had learned it in China, where in fact at the time there was no commercial laundry business, but because their presence in this modest, marginal branch of the economy did not excite the same resentment among white Americans as did mining and other occupations.
We know little about the Chinese men who operated a laundry in Grinnell. Bing Lee (1863?-1952?), who owned the original Grinnell Chinese laundry in the 1890s, left town before any census asked his history, but he seems to have landed in Marshalltown where the 1900 US Census found him partnering with Fooke Woo at a laundry at 6 South First Avenue. Although his partner was married (but had left his wife in China, as was common among Iowa's laundrymen), Lee was single and said to be 37 years old. He reported having arrived in the US in 1880, and therefore probably had been engaged in some other work in the American West before he came to Grinnell. In 1900 he told census officials that he had filed papers to become a US citizen, so it may be that the Bing Lee who died in San Francisco in 1952 was the same man who once operated a laundry in Grinnell.

Jim Fong, who ran the second Chinese laundry in Grinnell, is also hard to decipher from the records. For one thing, there were so many Jim Fongs in early twentieth-century Iowa that it is difficult to know if any of them had been in Grinnell. For example, one finds a Jim Fong in 1900 in both Oskaloosa and Clarion City; in 1905 in Guthrie Center, Pocahontas, and Alto (here "James" Fong); in 1910 in Storm Lake; and in 1920 in Nevada.

Kim Fong (1865?- ), the third Chinese to conduct business in Grinnell, was not yet living in Grinnell in 1910, because that year's census does not include him. By late 1912 Fong was living in Toledo where he had opened a laundry in the basement of the "Infirmary." At that time Toledo could boast fewer than 2000 residents, whereas Grinnell had a population of more than 5000, which probably explains why in summer 1913 Fong moved to Grinnell.
Toledo Chronicle, August 7, 1913
Said to be 50 years old in 1915, Fong reported having been born in China around 1865. Described as "yellow" by census officials, Fong claimed the ability to both read and write, although he probably meant that he was literate in his native language rather than English—a 1917 newspaper article remarked that Fong had to communicate mainly by signs as he did not speak English (Grinnell Register, August 27, 1917). Like many of his countrymen who operated laundries in Iowa, Fong was married, but lived alone, his wife presumably left behind in China.
Card for Kim Fong from 1915 Iowa Census
The 1915 census card also reports that Fong had lived in the US for twenty-two years, which would mean that he immigrated in 1893 (the 1920 US census form said 1894), but he told the census-taker that he had been in Iowa only two years which was not strictly true. No later than December 1912 Fong was advertising his Toledo hand laundry (Toledo Chronicle, December 5, 1912). But by summer 1913 Fong was operating his business in Grinnell. That fall he began advertising in the college newspaper.
Advertisement in Scarlet and Black, October 15, 1913
Like most of his fellow Chinese laundrymen, Fong resided within his business quarters. No photograph of his premises survives, but it is likely that his laundry was organized in a way that mimicked his fellow Chinese laundry operators. A counter close to the door provided entrance for customers and a place to receive and dispense the laundry, and behind that the work spaces necessary for washing and pressing the laundry. A modest bunk and kitchen would have occupied the rear of the space, and might—or might not—have been made private with a curtain (Jung, Chinese Laundries, p. 132; Paul C. P. Siu, The Chinese Laundryman [NY: New York University Press, 1987], pp. 56-68).
Inside a Chinese Laundry (John Jung, The Historical Importance of Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain [], slide 5).
Thanks to the kindness of Unity Point GRMC CEO, Jennifer Havens, I recently visited the basement of the former Monroe Annex hotel, and there located what I believe was Fong's place of business. At the south end of the building was a room that opened onto stairs that emptied out onto Broad Street. The basement room showed signs of an  old tile floor, which would have been effective in protecting against the moisture that the laundry generated. Alas, no Chinese characters and no irons or other devices remained to attest to the room's former use.
Stairs from basement of former Monroe Annex Hotel (2020 photograph)
Living and working in modest, underground quarters and cut off by language from everyone around him, Fong must have led a lonely and difficult life. As Paul Siu noted, the Chinese laundryman was "a sojourner, an individual who clings to the heritage of his own ethnic group and lives in isolation" (Siu, p. 138).  If in big cities like Chicago or San Francisco he might take some leisure in the city's Chinatown, in small towns like Grinnell there was no Chinatown—there was little more than work.
..A lifetime spent sorting, soaking, boiling, washing, scrubbing, rinsing, starching, drying, ironing, pressing, folding, packaging, collecting and delivering could break the health of even the strongest worker...It required tremendous mental endurance and extreme patience (Jung, Chinese Laundries, p. 126, quoting Ban Seng Hoe).
There were no other Chinese in Grinnell until Entang Hauecheng Hou arrived in September, 1914. Hou was the first of a series of Chinese who came to study at Grinnell as part of the Grinnell-in-China program. But none of these Chinese had come from Guangdong province where the great majority of Chinese immigrants had originated. Kim Fong himself had likely come from this region, as the name is strongly associated with Taishan villages. Almost certainly, therefore, Fong spoke Cantonese; how many of the Grinnell-in-China students did is hard to guess.
Grinnell Review vol. 10 (October 1914):7
But Fong did develop some connections in Grinnell, as a 1917 newspaper report indicates.

Headline to article in Grinnell Register, August 27, 1917
According to the Grinnell Register, in late August 1917 Fong hosted "several friends at a magnificent dinner" at "his home and place of business...under the Annex hotel" (August 27, 1917). The occasion was the arrival in town of Fong Soon, a nephew who, Fong said, would soon begin school in Grinnell. It seems unlikely that Fong Soon did begin school here, however, for I found no other evidence of this young man's sojourn in Grinnell.

Three Grinnell townsmen were the only guests at the dinner: Rev. E. W. Cross (1885?-1939), then pastor of the Grinnell Congregational Church; Harry Wilkinson, who was said to be working for the Grinnell Register then; and "G. H. Heiser," the newspaper said, a man who had formerly sold cars for. T. J. Smith (1861-1918) Auto Company. It must be, however, that the third guest was George H. Hiser, who in 1915 erected the automobile garage just to the south of the Monroe Annex hotel—immediately adjacent to Fong's business—where Smith located his auto dealership. Hiser's name can still be seen inscribed in stone above the doors of the building.
Marshalltown Evening Times-Republican, February 3, 1915
How Fong got to know these men is a mystery. Both Hiser and Smith would have been next door to the Monroe Annex, and therefore likely ran into Fong often. Rev. Cross's church was only a block away, but what would have brought him and Fong together is harder to imagine. Even more difficult to understand is how these townsmen managed to befriend Fong. Given the language difficulties, we must assume that the friendship with Fong never achieved any genuine intimacy, but Fong, in his physical and social isolation, must have been glad to exchange a few laughs and the simplest conversations. By this time Fong had been in Grinnell almost four years, so this limited roster of "friends" highlights how lonely Fong's life must have been.

At any rate, Fong clearly pulled out all the stops to entertain his friends. The evening's menu included, the newspaper announced, birds' nest soup, chicken chop suey, "and other Chinese meat dishes foreign to the English language." Rice, "cooked only as the Chinaman can prepare it," was also on order, as were "fruits and nuts from far away China, tea of the richest flavor," all topped off with American cakes.  How the guests learned this much is a mystery, because "Although in this country for seventeen years, Mr. Fong speaks little English and it was necessary that he make himself understood...wholly through the sign language." Fong's newly-arrived nephew was no help: he "speaks no English."
Fong seems to have left no other footprint in the town's records until early 1920 when owners of the Monroe Hotel Annex announced that they would undertake a serious remodeling, obliging Kim Fong either to move or close his laundry. In a boxed advertisement in the Grinnell Herald, Fong reported that he was closing his business "forever," and advised customers to hasten to collect their laundry.
Advetisement in Grinnell Herald, March 16, 1920
Although Fong used the hotel's remodeling to explain his decision, it seems likely that other vectors were also driving him out of business. After the development of steam laundry machines around 1900, the hand-laundry business in America came under increasing pressure. Able to deal with larger quantities of laundry and turn it around faster, the steam laundries could under-price the hand laundries, even if their service was harder on garments. Moreover, associations of power laundry operators attempted to drive their Chinese competitors out of business, arguing for special taxes, restrictions on working hours, and by publicly accusing the Chinese laundries of unhygienic conditions (Jung, Chinese Laundries, pp. 75-89).
Des Moines Register, March 24, 1920
Strong racial overtones penetrated the public campaign against Chinese laundries. For instance, an article from the Des Moines Register (March 24, 1920) complained about the "oriental methods and...primitive hand labor" of Chinese laundries, cynically described here as "Mongolian." According to the report, "the modern laundry plant, with its up to date equipment and American business methods," was quickly driving out "the little Chinese shop with its Asiatics stooping under baskets of laundry." In its place, the writer argued, "American ingenuity and Yankee business instinct" will prevail.

I found nothing quite so boldly racist in Grinnell, but the belittling of Chinese was certainly present. For example, when the Scarlet and Black (March 20, 1920) published Fong's announcement about quitting his business, the newspaper could not resist adding an aside that made fun of Chinese pronunciation: "Ketchee allee same China-In-Grinnell Leview of Leviews, eh Kim?" Elsewhere Chinese laundrymen encountered assaults, robberies, and other violence that depended upon racist values. Fong Lee, who operated a laundry in Williamsburg, had to fight off a customer who tried to retrieve his laundry without paying, threatening Lee with the lead end of his cane. When Lee pointed a pistol at the man, "the intruder left without his linen" (Ottumwa Weekly Courier, May 27, 1902). In 1923 Nevada, Jim Fong and his family endured firecrackers thrown into their laundry (Nevada Evening Journal, June 20, 1923, p.3). Worse things happened elsewhere.
Toledo Chronicle, March 20, 1913
Fong managed to keep his Grinnell business alive, despite the increasing pressure from rivals who employed more modern machinery. As his regular advertising in the college newspaper confirms, Fong enjoyed special access to that part of the town's laundry market, perhaps because of the detachable collars and cuffs that were a standard part of "white-collar" men's wear. We know from one of Fong's advertisements in Toledo that he entertained this part of the laundry business, and it seems likely that the college personnel contributed heavily to his income.

But by 1920 many Chinese hand laundries had closed, yielding to the various pressures that they had felt since the late nineteenth century. Grinnell posed its own challenges to Fong. In 1920, for instance, Horace (1877-1959) and Louis Ent (1883-1952) announced that they were erecting a new laundry just east of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway tracks on Third Avenue. Describing the new business as "modern in every respect," the April news story reported that "most of the new and latest machinery" had already been ordered (Grinnell Herald April 30, 1920). This news appeared some six weeks after Fong announced his closing, but he may well have learned of the Ent brothers' plans as he considered his own future.
Advertisement in Grinnell Herald April 6, 1920
Moreover, the development of the washing machine and plans to market it to every home pointed to still rougher competition for Fong. Right down the street from Fong's business the Grinnell Washing Machine Company had set up its factory in 1909, so that even before Fong opened his business in 1913 the threat to the hand laundry business was visible. And newspaper advertisements in 1920 pointed out that the latest model, the Laundry Queen, "will do all the work of washing, rinsing, blueing, and wringing out of three separate tubs—it does ALL the washing." For business reasons alone, then, Fong thought it prudent to close up shop.

I found no evidence to explain where Fong went when he left Grinnell. By this time, many of his fellow-Chinese laundry operators had abandoned the US to return to China. It seems likely, therefore, that Kim Fong, too, closed his business and, after a two decades absence, returned home to China, there perhaps to relay to friends and relatives his impressions of a small town in the middle of the North American continent.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Did This Jar of Blueberries Survive the 1882 Cyclone?

The Grinnell Historical Museum holds many fascinating artifacts that reflect the town's past, but none is more intriguing than a jar of "canned" blueberries that allegedly survived the 1882 Cyclone. If you recall any of the stereograph photos taken in the wake of that horrible tornado and the total devastation that they depict, you can appreciate how amazing it is that a glass bottle escaped the fate of so many stone and frame buildings. Perhaps it is too amazing: might the owner of the blueberries have perpetrated a historical scam upon us? How can we know that this jar of blueberries was in Grinnell that dark night 137 years ago?
Jar of Blueberries Said to Have Survived the 1882 Cyclone
Grinnell Historical Museum 1968.7.1
I confess to wondering the same questions, and so I decided to see what I could learn about this apparent survivor of 1882. Today's post reports on what I discovered.
The explanatory label that stands beside the jar of blueberries in the Museum identifies the donor, Frank Pearce, whose unnamed mother evidently lived in Wisconsin, and intended to relay the blueberries as a memento of their Wisconsin origins to her unnamed sister, who was living in Grinnell. But who was Frank Pearce and who was his mother? His mother would not be a Pearce, since that was her husband's surname. Her sister might also have been married but in any case was not a Pearce. The only place to begin, therefore, is with the donor, Frank Pearce. Who was he?

The 1878 Grinnell city directory knows no Pearces, but the 1880 US Census locates a certain Andrew Pearce, then 20 years old, living with his widowed mother and doing farm work in Washington Township, just outside Grinnell. Seven years later—November 23, 1887—this Andrew (A. J.) Pearce (1860-1929) married a 33-year-old widow by the name of Delia Havens (1848-1922). Since this was her 2nd marriage, Havens reported, as required by the Iowa register, her maiden surname, which was Hatch; the names of both her father—James Hatch—and her mother—Jane Adams—also appear in the register.
Return of Marriages in the County of Poweshiek for the Year Ending October 1st, A.D. 1888, pp. 10-11
Three years later Delia—a nickname derived from her baptismal name, Cordelia—gave birth to Frank Deverne Pearce (1890-1962). Could this have been the Frank Pearce who many years later donated the jar of blueberries to the Museum?
Photograph of Frank Pearce (1890-1962) in 1912 Cyclone
Frank Pearce was born in Grinnell in 1890–eight years after the Cyclone—and attended Grinnell schools, but graduated from Tipton High School before he entered Grinnell College from which he graduated in 1912. After studying engineering at Iowa State University, Frank held positions in several Iowa locations before settling in Mason City where he died in 1962. Given his date of birth, Frank himself could not have seen the Cyclone. Was it his mother who carried the blueberries?
Delayed Birth Record for Frank Deverne Pearch
Frank's birth record reports that his mother, Cordelia Hatch, was born in Waukegan, Illinois. If this was the mother of Frank Pearce who sent blueberries from Wisconsin, shouldn't she have been living in Wisconsin rather than in Illinois?
Extract from 1880 US Census, Racine, Wisconsin: Nathan Haven Household
Actually, the 1880 US Census did find in Racine, Wisconsin Nathan and Delia Haven. "Delia Haven" is not exactly "Delia HavenS," but the coincidence of both the unusual given name (Delia) and the very close surname (Haven vs. Havens) makes tempting the conclusion that this is the same woman who seven years later married A. J. Pearce in Grinnell. True, the 1880 census reports Delia's age as 28, which means that in 1887 she should have been 35, not 33 as the Pearce marriage record indicates. However, handwritten errors on census forms and marriage records are not rare, so it is possible that the same woman who married A. J. Pearce in Grinnell in 1887 was living in Racine, Wisconsin as Mrs. Haven (or Havens) when the 1882 Cyclone blew through Grinnell.
Extract from 1860 US Census for Iola, Wisconsin: James Hatch Household
Evidence from the Hatch family makes this conclusion inescapable. The 1860 US Census for Iola, Wisconsin identifies the household of James Hatch and his wife, Jane A. [Adams?] Hatch, which included five children: Ellen, 18; Harlan, 15; Cordelia, 12; Cornelia, 12; and Adelbert, 8. Evidently Cordelia and Cornelia were twins, both born in 1848 in Illinois, as was the mother of Frank D. Pearce, the former Cordelia Hatch. Almost certainly, therefore, the 1860 census identifies for us Frank Pierce's mother who, although born in Illinois, had lived in Wisconsin where in 1880 she was living with her first husband, Nathan Haven.

The census record therefore also reveals the names of Cordelia's sisters—her older sister, Ellen, and her twin, Cornelia. This fact raised the next question: had either of these Hatch sisters married a Grinnell man? Wisconsin records do report that on December 4, 1870 Cornelia Hatch had married  Henry Pitman of Grinnell. The record also identifies the bride's parents, James Hatch and Jane A. Hatch, the same people recorded as parents in the 1887 wedding of A. J. Pearce and Cordelia Hatch Haven.
Extract from 1880 US Census for Grinnell, Iowa: Henry Pitman Household
Who was Henry Pitman? The 1878 Grinnell directory knows a certain "H. Pitman," said to be living on 3rd Avenue, east of the railroad, and working in a Grinnell market. Although the directory names no spouse for Pitman, the 1880 US Census for Grinnell found Henry Pitman on Fifth Avenue in Grinnell where he was living with his wife, Cornelia, age 32, born in Illinois. Mrs. Cornelia Pitman, therefore, was born in Illinois in 1848, just like Cordelia Hatch/Havens. Cornelia Pitman and Cordelia Havens (later Pearce) must therefore have been sisters--twin sisters—one of whom lived in Wisconsin and the other in Grinnell.

When the great Cyclone blew through Grinnell on June 17, 1882, two storms converged on Grinnell, one entering town from the southwest, moving slightly north until it reached Eighth Avenue, and another from the northwest, heading southeast, wrecking Iowa College buildings. According to the Herald, "the rain came in floods, as if a water spout had burst...The wind and rain and blinding lightning continued so furious...that it was scarce safe for those whose roofs staid [sic] over them to open their doors." As the tornado moved into town, "the northwest quarter of the town was laid flat...scarcely anything was left standing..." (Grinnell Herald Extra, June 18, 1882). The Henry Pitman house on west Fifth Avenue was one of those destroyed by the storm. According to press reports, "Pitman's house was completely leveled" (Rutland Daily Herald, June 19, 1882), and, according to The Independent, "the house and barn were split up like kindling" (June 22, 1882).
Stereograph photograph of the Henry Pitman residence after the 1882 Cyclone
Photographer D. H. Cross, Des Moines; scan courtesy of Byron Hueftle-Worley
Initial press accounts mistakenly identified some survivors as having died, and allowed that "Mr. Pitman [was] probably fatally injured" (Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1882).
Grinnell Herald, June 20, 1882
In fact, however, the only fatality in the Pitman household was Hattie, the Pitman daughter who was just a little over three years old. Her gravestone in Hazelwood Cemetery acknowledges the storm as having killed her.
Gravestone of Hattie Pitman, Hazelwood Cemetery (2019 photo)
Her older brother, Samuel Arthur (usually known as Arthur), was gravely injured—broken ribs and severe bruising—and several times over the next few days the Herald reported on the boy's improving condition. He did recover, as did his father, whose injuries were even more extensive. According to the newspaper, Pitman's "shoulder was dislocated and horribly jammed, [his] arm [was] broken, [and his] chest and hip injured. His case is extremely serious" (Grinnell Herald, June 20, 1882). Evidently Pitman remained conscious, because the Herald quoted him to help illustrate the tornado's effect: "Henry Pitman says he seemed to go up, up, as though he never would stop, then down until it seemed that he never would get back, and then he knew no more for some time" (ibid.).

Perhaps most interesting in the news of the Pitmans' disaster was the presence of Pitman's "wife's sister." The sister-in-law, as we discovered above, was Delia Haven of Racine, Wisconsin, as the newspaper confirmed (even if it mangled her husband's initials; however, it bears noting that another side of Hattie Pitman's Hazelwood gravestone remembers Louie Havens, son of "M. N. & C. Havens"):
Grinnell Herald, June 20, 1882
Alas, no newspaper account seems to have mentioned the blueberries intended for Mrs. Pitman. But there is a later reference to the blueberries, which, even if it does not prove that the blueberries were in Henry Pitman's house in 1882, does confirm the Pearce family's confidence that their blueberries had weathered the big storm.

In 1957 the Mason City Globe-Gazette published a small article about a "Jar of Blueberries." It seems that the blueberries' owner, "Frank D. Pearce, 242 Willowbrook Drive," had a jar of "canned fruit [that] came out of the ruins of an uncle's home, destroyed in the Grinnell tornado of June 1882" (Globe-Gazette, July 10, 1957). According to the newspaper, the blueberries "were brought to Grinnell by Pearce's mother from her home in Wisconsin. She was a visitor in the home of a twin sister, Mrs. Henry Pitman. This was before her own [second-DK] marriage" (ibid.). Although the article mistakenly reported that one of the Pitman sons died from the storm, this mistake must depend upon Frank Pearce's erroneous memory of an event he himself did not witness. In other respects, however, the Mason City account squares with the details we have so far been able to excavate from records.
The 1957 Mason City report also adds a few words about the jar itself, which allow us to turn our attention to the jar. Almost as a throwaway, the newspaper describes 
The "Gem" jar, of glass and with a covering which resembles rubber or plastic, [and which] appear [sic] to have been a predecessor of the Ball or Mason type of fruit jar which came into rather common use around the turn of the century (ibid.).
The lid on the Museum's blueberry jar is neither rubber nor plastic, but appears to have a glass insert tightened with a screw-on zinc band. Lettering on the side of the jar clearly announces it as a Gem jar ("THE GEM").
Side view of Museum's Blueberries Jar (2019 photo)
Jars with this lettering (as well as those that show simply "Gem," "New Gem," and "Improved Gem") were all made by Hero Glass Works for the Consolidated Fruit Jar Company.  Production of jars with this legend began in 1867 but continued into the 1900s (Bill Lockhart, et al. "The Hero Glass Firms," p. 222 [])—which means that the Grinnell jar might, or might not, have been produced before 1882.

Some help on dating the jar comes from its base. Gem fruit jars produced in the nineteenth century bore a variety of readings on the base that identified dates of patent; the earliest date recorded is November 26, 1867 (ibid., p. 220). The Museum's blueberry jar bears this oldest marking, but adds—as some Gem jars did—"PAT DEC 17 67 REIS SEP 1 68" (ibid., p. 223), although a (torn) Museum accession tag and some accumulation from a previous leak of the contents diminish legibility. In other words, this jar was produced sometime after September 1868. These particulars coincide with Creswick's Gem jar no. 1054 (Alice M. Creswick, The Fruit Jar Works, 2 vols. [Muskegon, MI: Douglas M. Leybourne, Jr., 1995], 1:66) and Roller's no. 461 (Dick Roller, Standard Fruit Jar Reference [Paris, IL: Acorn Press, 1983], p. 134).
2019 Photograph of the Base of the Museum's Blueberries Jar
Gem jar lids also frequently identified patents, as does the Museum's own Gem jar, whose glass insert and zinc screw band lid lists all the following patents along the outer rim: PATD FEB 12 56; DEC 17 61; NOV 4 62; DEC 6 64; and JUN 9 68. Around the inside, slightly depressed center the following patents are legible: DEC 22 68; JAN 19 69; SEP 1 68; and SEP [8?] 68. All these patents applied to Gem jar lids (ibid., pp. 240-42; Creswick, 1:66), indicating at least that the jar and lid were consistent with one another (rather than some different lid having been applied to a Gem jar when it was refilled), and confirm a date of origin no earlier than January 1869. The fact that the Museum jar has a screw-on lid helps establish a narrower date of origin. According to Julian Harrison Toulouse, "The Gem" jars with this sort of lid were manufactured between 1870 and 1880 (Bottle Makers and Their Marks [NY: Thomas Nelson, 1971], p. 222), meaning that the Museum jar was made before the 1882 Cyclone.

The very center of the Museum jar's lid contains a manufacturer's mark that resembles an "O" with two short wings rising left and right (or, viewed the other way, as a fancy "Q"). 

2019 Photograph of the Lid of the Museum's Blueberries Jar
The manufacturer's mark, which I did not succeed in locating among bottle makers' marks, may one day establish a firmer date for the jar's manufacture, but nothing in the patent dates (all of which precede June 17, 1882) on the base or lid contradicts the possibility that the jar was in use when the Cyclone reached Grinnell. And, since a number of later patents applied to newer versions of the Gem jar, it seems certain that this jar was made well before the Cyclone. Of course, it is nevertheless possible that a jar of this age had been saved and re-used many times, perhaps even decades after the 1882 Cyclone.
After the tornado blew through town, Grinnell tried valiantly to pick up the pieces and get back to normal as soon as possible. Funerals filled the first few days; on Monday, June 20, for instance, a mass funeral for 14 victims convened at the Old Stone Church, but other mourners gathered in other churches and in homes left standing to bid farewell to the Cyclone's victims. The many injured by the storm overwhelmed the medical facilities then available, so the high school was put into service as make-shift hospital, and city offices served as a temporary morgue. Meanwhile, a hastily-assembled relief committee was organized to collect and disburse donated funds as quickly as possible to help homeowners rebuild. Victims were urged to deliver the specifics of their losses to the committee, which then attempted to share fairly the donations that had poured into town.

The Grinnell Herald, in cataloging the reported damage, included Henry Pitman, who, along with the death of a daughter and injuries to everyone else in the household, declared that he had "lost everything. House gone, value $1250, furniture and clothing, $800" (June 23, 1882). In September the newspaper published a long list of persons to whom the relief committee had granted money. Many recipients received less than $100, mainly to replace movables lost in the storm, and none received more than $2000 to rebuild a house. Against the $2000 he claimed in loss, Henry Pitman received about half his loss—$950, not counting whatever lumber and other goods had been made available (Grinnell Herald, September 8, 1882). The money was evidently sufficient, because by August 15, the newspaper reported that Pitman's new house was one of several that were almost rebuilt. 
Out in the west part of town, in one group, stand the new houses of Arthur Neeley, Andy Foster, Mrs. Nicholson, Henry Pitman and Mr. Alexander. All of them will be neat and comfortable dwellings, and are nearing completion (Grinnell Herald, August 15, 1882).
Cornelia's sister, Delia Havens, also submitted a claim to the relief committee for personal possessions she lost to the storm. Among other things, Mrs. Havens lost her sewing machine, for which (along with other unmentioned items) the authorities allowed her $200 (Grinnell Herald, September 8, 1882). Blueberries received no mention.
Extract from a report of the Cyclone Relief Committee (Grinnell Herald, September 8, 1882)
In addition to flattening houses and killing people, the cyclone had lifted into the sky numerous items of personal property, sometimes depositing them miles away. The Grinnell newspaper noted when articles were found, and reminded locals that all "estray [sic] articles found after the cyclone are to be deposited with the authorities at the engine house for identification" (Grinnell Herald, July 4, 1882). Quilts, cows and horses, and personal papers all came to the notice of the newspaper, which advised owners to come collect their property.

One Pitman "relic" of the Cyclone that emerged after the storm did appear in the newspaper. In November the Herald announced that someone had found Henry Pitman's watch several blocks from the Pitman home.
Grinnell Herald, November 5, 1882
Discovery of the watch months after the Cyclone hit town was certainly remarkable and newsworthy. But would not readers have been equally fascinated to know that, even in a house reduced to kindling, a jar of blueberries had survived intact?

Of course, a glass jar could not easily have survived being lifted into the sky from Henry Pitman's house and dumped unceremoniously elsewhere. It seems more likely that, if the blueberries were recovered, they were found among the ruins of the Pitman home. Had he been uninjured, Pitman himself might have found them as he surveyed the wreckage, but, as he was so injured by the Cyclone, it seems unlikely that he was able to scramble among the stones and timber of his former house. Alternatively, the owner of the blueberries, Mrs. Havens, might have tried, but she too was injured, if not so severely as Pitman, so she probably did not uncover the Wisconsin memento herself. Therefore, if the berries were found as claimed, it seems more likely that some workman, attempting to clear the debris, located the remarkably unharmed glass jar, perhaps in what remained of the Pitmans' basement. Sadly, if this discovery occurred, no one got word to the newspaper.
I admit that I would like to conclude by affirming that the Museum's blueberries really did survive the 1882 Cyclone. I mean, wouldn't that be a great story—a humble glass canning jar that avoided the fate of glass windows, wooden houses, and stone basements? And that 137 years later is still here, mute testimony to survival against powerful odds?

Unfortunately, the available evidence is not sufficient to allow me to say unequivocally that the blueberries now preserved at the Grinnell Historical Museum miraculously survived the 1882 Cyclone. They may have, and certainly a 1968 report from the Museum announcing the donation of the blueberries did not question their authenticity (Grinnell Herald, September 5, 1968). 
Extract from an article about the Grinnell Historical Museum (Grinnell Herald-Register, September 5, 1968)
Other records make clear that Mrs. Cornelia Pitman's sister, the future Mrs. A. J. Pearce, was visiting the Pitmans in 1882 from her Wisconsin home, and that many years later, her son, Frank Pearce, reported that the blueberries in his possession had been his mother's and that they had survived the 1882 Grinnell Cyclone.

Moreover, nothing about the jar now in the Grinnell Museum contradicts the possibility that it was in Grinnell as early as 1882. The details of the Gem jar all point to manufacture sometime before 1880, which means that the Museum's jar could well have been here when the fearsome storm destroyed so much of Grinnell.

And nothing in the story or in the jar exposes the blueberries as a hoax. Indeed, all the evidence leans toward authenticating the Museum's jar...but falls short of absolute proof: although we might expect that discovery of an intact canning jar might have generated news in the numerous reports of the storm's impact, nothing from the 1882 records mentions the blueberries and their miraculous escape on that dreadful evening in Grinnell 137 years ago.

We are left, then, with a measure of uncertainty. Every time we look at the cloudy, dark contents of the Museum's jar, we can only imagine the remarkable history that might have seen this jar into the twenty-first century.