Author: Jeff Painter

Update on the MSU Sugar House Project: Fieldwork has Begun!

Update on the MSU Sugar House Project: Fieldwork has Begun!

After receiving permission to conduct field work in the Sanford Woodlot, Jack and I (along with Campus Archaeologist Autumn Painter) were able to start mapping and surveying the remains of the MSU sugar house. While our work was impacted by snow and falling leaves, we […]

The Sweet, Sweet Science of Maple Syrup: An Update on the MSU Sugar House Project

The Sweet, Sweet Science of Maple Syrup: An Update on the MSU Sugar House Project

While Jack and I plan our field research on the old sugar bush that once stood in Sandford Woodlot, we have continued to do background research on the site.  With help from Whitney Miller, the good folks at the MSU Archives and Historical Collections, and […]

The Sweet Side of History: Investigating an Old MSU Sugar House

The Sweet Side of History: Investigating an Old MSU Sugar House

Speaking as a person with a serious sweet tooth, maple syrup may be one of the greatest products of nature. It is tasty, versatile, and can be made by anyone with enough maple trees and a hot flame. It also has been a part of life in the upper Midwest for longer than many people realize. While evidence of prehistoric production has largely alluded archaeologists, archaeological and documentary evidence demonstrate the production of maple sugar foodstuffs by early historic Native American tribes in the 1700s, if not earlier (Thomas 2005; Thomas and Silbernagel 2003). Since that time, different people and different technologies have shaped the production process, as maple syrup and sugar became important foodstuffs across the country. While not quite centuries old, MSU also has a long history of working with maple products. This year, as part of our work for the Campus Archaeology Program, myself and Jack Biggs will be researching this history, as well as investigating an old, abandoned MSU sugarbush (a forest stand used for maple syrup production).

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The Real Scoop on Why Station Terrace Housed a Shovel

The Real Scoop on Why Station Terrace Housed a Shovel

While archaeologists are trained in a number of different skills and techniques, there is one thing that all archaeologists know and love: shovels. Shovels are just as much a part of archaeology as the ubiquitous trowel, and even lend their name to the title of […]

The Many Faces of Cowles House, MSU’s Oldest Building

The Many Faces of Cowles House, MSU’s Oldest Building

This summer, Cowles House, MSU’s oldest standing building, is due to get a facelift. As part of this remodeling, crews will remove a few trees from around and inside the building and expand the west wing.  In preparation for this work, I have been researching […]

The Life of a Bed: Not as Boring as One Might Think

The Life of a Bed: Not as Boring as One Might Think

Take a long look at the objects in the picture below. What do you think they are?

"Mystery" artifacts from Saints' Rest
“Mystery” artifacts from Saints’ Rest

I bet that your first guess was just a little bit off. They are not small hand-cuffs (as they were originally labeled in the lab!), buckles, or tiny horseshoes. They are actually hardware from a little discussed, yet constantly used, object found in every home: a bed stand! If you were wrong, don’t feel bad, I did not know the correct answer either until Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright pushed me toward the solution.

Beds have been around for a very long time. They can be found in most households, and are used every day, yet they are rarely discussed unless you have back problems (Wright 1962).  Especially in college dorms, where beds are one of the few pieces of furniture present, they are essential for every day life. Everything from eating to studying, writing, relaxing, or posing for photos with eleven of your best friends all take place on a bed. They are also the perfect platforms for pranks. Speaking from experience, nothing is better than waking up your friend once he has been thoroughly plastic wrapped to his bed. As such, beds have a story to tell about the past, a perspective that helps us to understand the experiences of early students at MSU.

Several college friends posing for a photo in an Abbot Hall dorm room, 1901.
Several college friends posing for a photo in an Abbot Hall dorm room, 1901. Image Source.

Recovered during excavations at Saint’s Rest, the objects above provide one of our few glimpses of early beds on MSU’s campus. These “D”-shaped fixtures, typically made from cast iron, were one half of a two-part system to hold pieces of a bed stand together. The circular end was fitted into a similar shaped slot in the side rail, so that the short square protrusions faced outward. These protrusions then slotted into a metal face plate attached to the bed post, forming the first tool-free bed stand (Taylor 2016). This technology, invented after the civil war, made bed stands more portable, as they were easy to break down and re-build in a different location. But, since the hardware was made of heavy metal, it was costly to ship. By around 1900, a lighter version, similar to those used today, was invented (Taylor 2011).

Example of how this “D”-shaped hardware system works
Example of how this “D”-shaped hardware system works. Image Source

In these early days, dorm rooms were often filled to the brim with students. Up to 4 students would sleep in a room in Saint’s Rest, using only two beds. Two young men would share one bed, continuing (I assume begrudgingly) the family tradition of sleeping together (MSU Archives Exhibit 2012; Wright 1962). Unfortunately, few images from within Saint’s Rest exist, so it is unknown what type of mattresses these bed frames supported, or what other activities may have taken place on them.

Image of two gentlemen admiring their handy work after stacking another student’s room. 
Image of two gentlemen admiring their handy work after stacking another student’s room. Image Source

While it is clear that they were used for sleeping, easily dis-assembled bed frames also aided in at least one early MSU tradition, room stacking. An ingenious form of initiation, freshmen new to the campus would occasionally return to their rooms to find all of their things stacked into one large tower of furniture and personal belongings (MSU Archives Exhibit 2012). Not only were their possessions stacked, but it was done in such a way as to make re-assembling the room and sleeping in it difficult.  As one student who returned to a stacked room recounts, “It was past twelve o’clock that night before I got my bed down so as to sleep on it” (MSU Archives Scrapbook Page, 1902).

Oh, the tales these beds could tell if we could only re-create a bit more of their life histories!

References Cited

MSU Archives and Historical Collections:
2012   Exhibit- Dormitory Life: The First One-Hundred Years of Students Living on Campus. Created by Kim Toorenaar.  http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Exhibit/1-6-D/dormitory-life/
1902    Scrapbook Page about Room Stacking Pranks, 1902. Created by George Newnes.  http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-1156/scrapbook-page-about-room-stacking-pranks-1902/

Taylor, Fred
2011   “Furniture Detective: Hardware on Vintage Beds Crucial to Its Design and Function” http://www.antiquetrader.com/antiques/vintage_brass_bed_hardware_design/
2016   “The Nuts and Bolts of Bedding Down Through the Ages” https://www.liveauctioneers.com/news/columns-and-international/fred-taylor/nuts-bolts-bedding-ages/

Wright, Lawrence
1962   War and Snug: The History of the Bed.  Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

An Electrifying Discovery: Early Batteries on MSU’s Campus

An Electrifying Discovery: Early Batteries on MSU’s Campus

While archaeologists are great at identifying artifacts that we recover, we occasionally find objects that are a mystery.  Even on campus, we sometimes find intriguing objects in our excavations that take some investigative work to identify.  One group of objects that has piqued our interest […]

Who Knew My Coca-Cola Addiction Could Be So Useful: Using Coke Bottles to Date Archaeological Sites

Who Knew My Coca-Cola Addiction Could Be So Useful: Using Coke Bottles to Date Archaeological Sites

Dating archaeological sites that we discover is one of the most basic tasks that archaeologists perform.  While we all must do it, dating archaeological assemblages is not always easy.  Luckily, marketing and branding, a crucial part of our consumer world, helps to make dating historic […]

Water of Life: How One Whiskey Bottle can Remind Us of an Infamous Part of Michigan History

Water of Life: How One Whiskey Bottle can Remind Us of an Infamous Part of Michigan History

In archaeology, we frequently use large assemblages of different artifacts to interpret what happened at an archaeological site.  While a greater number of artifacts is always useful, the ability of just one single artifact to tell us a story is also amazing.  I am reminded of this while researching an old whiskey bottle recovered by CAP from the Brody/Emmons Dump. Seemingly simple enough, this object has unlocked a small piece of Michigan history that I had never heard before.

Hiram Walker bottle recovered from the Brody/Emmons complex, site of East Lansings first dump.
Hiram Walker bottle recovered from the Brody/Emmons complex, site of East Lansings first dump

It all started while researching the company whose name was embossed on the top of the bottle’s lid: Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc. Hiram Walker was born in Massachusetts in 1816.  As a young man, he moved to Detroit in 1838 and began to go into business buying and selling various goods.  By setting some of his earnings aside, he saved up enough money to begin his own distilling business, starting with vinegar.  He also began producing whiskey (Chauvin 1927), whose name is an old corruption for a word meaning “water of life” (Lyons 1999).  By the early 1850’s, Walker’s whiskey had become a local favorite, but the prohibition movement threatened his success.  In 1855, a number of states, including Michigan, began to ban the sale of liquor except by apothecaries for medicinal purposes.  In response, Walker began buying property in what would become Windsor, Ontario starting in 1856 and began building new facilities.  In 1858, his new distillery and flour mill were complete and Hiram Walker and Sons was born.  Their most popular product was Walker’s Club Whiskey, which was immensely popular in the United States (Chauvin 1927).

As the prohibition movement and the Civil War shut down liquor production in the Confederacy, where most U.S. distilleries were located, Walker’s Club Whiskey was smuggled across the Detroit River into the U.S. and then distributed across the Union (Chauvin 1927; Hill 2016).  Walker’s whiskey was so popular that it was rumored that he had built a pipe running underneath the Detroit River purely for the purpose of pumping his whiskey directly into the U.S.  As alcohol production once more picked up after the war ended, Walker’s Club Whiskey dominated the market, so much so that U.S. competitors begged the U.S. legislature to require a liquor’s country of origin to be clearly marked on every bottle.   Once the law passed, his whiskey was rebranded as Canadian Club Whiskey (Chauvin 1927).

By the 1910’s, prohibition once again reared its head, this time leading to a national ban on alcohol in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933.  Prohibition hit Hiram Walker and Sons hard, but they were once again able to find outlets for their product across the Detroit River (Chauvin 1927; Hill 2016).  Al Capone, the famous gangster, was one of their best customers, who succeeded in distributing Canadian Club Whiskey across the Midwest with the aid of Detroit’s infamous Purple Gang (Pearson 2014).  Despite their rum-running success, Hiram Walker and Sons was sold in 1927 for little of its original worth.  Today, Hiram Walker’s distillery is now the largest distillery in North America and produces around 150 different products that are distributed widely.  They still make world renowned whiskeys, but their first product, Canadian Club Whiskey, is now owned and produced by a nearby competitor (Hill 2016).

1935 ad with a drawing of a bottle very similar to that recovered from the Brody/Emmons Dump
1935 ad with a drawing of a bottle very similar to that recovered from the Brody/Emmons Dump. Image Source

Aside from the name of the company, this bottle contains other information that can help us to place it within this history of Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc.  Using the free bottle dating reference guide created by Bill Lindsey (https://sha.org/bottle/index.htm, supported by the Bureau of Land Management and the Society for Historical Archaeology), I was able to narrow down when this bottle may have been produced for sale.  Present on this bottle are embossed designs and mold seams that reach the very lip of opening, which indicate that it was machine-made.  This technology first became popular after 1900, meaning that CAP’s Hiram Whiskey and Son’s bottle post-dates the Civil War smuggling days of the company.  Since there are very few bubbles present in the glass itself, it is likely that this bottle was made with more advanced manufacturing technology, further narrowing the time table of this bottle into the 1930’s or later.  The presence of an external screw top also suggests this later date, as this closure type only became popular starting in the late 1920’s.

Close up of the embossed federal disclaimer on the bottle recovered by CAP
Close up of the embossed federal disclaimer on the bottle recovered by CAP.

Our greatest piece of evidence is one simple sentence embossed prominently on the bottle: FEDERAL LAW FORBIDS SALE OR RE-USE OF THIS BOTTLE.  Post-prohibition, this message was required by federal law on all liquor bottles to further discourage illegal liquor sales.  Passed in 1935, the law was repealed and the message discontinued by the mid 1960’s, placing the manufacture and use of this bottle firmly between 1935 and 1965.  Based on all of this evidence, this bottle of Hiram Walker and Sons’ whiskey was distilled and consumed legally in post-prohibition East Lansing.  While this bottle may not have been part of Al Capone’s illegal liquor empire, it still has an incredible story to tell about Michigan’s past.

 

References Cited

Chauvin, Francis X.
1927   Hiram Walker: His Life and His Work and the Development of the Walker
      Institutions in Walkerville, Ontario.  Manuscript accessed online through the
Southwestern Ontario Digital Archive, University of Windsor.

Hill, Sharon
2016   “Hiram Walker and Sons Distillery No Longer Shy About Telling Its Story.”
      Windsor Star, Windsor Ontario.  Published Sept. 17th, 2016.

Lyons, T. P.
1999   Production of Scotch and Irish Whiskies: Their History and Evolution.  In The
Alcohol Textbook, edited by K. A. Jacques, T. P. Lyons, and D. R. Kelsall, Pp. 137-
164.  Nottingham University Press, Nottingham.

Pearson, Craig
2014   “From the Vault: Prohibition.”  Windsor Star, Windsor, Ontario.  Published Nov.
22nd, 2014.

 

Field of Dreams: An Eclectic History of the Adams Field Area

Field of Dreams: An Eclectic History of the Adams Field Area

During this semester, I have been researching the use history of the Adams Field/Music Building area ahead of proposed construction.  This work has reminded me just how complex, and sometimes odd, college campuses can be, and the many activities that take place within them.  On […]