Minnie's Diary #37: Good-by, Brown Swallow
Good-by, brown swallow; you’ll be going with
The happy summer. The pasture pools are dry,
The apples turn their red cheeks to the sun,
A little sighing wind goes wandering by.
Far in some southern clime, you will not miss
The one who for your winter absence grieves,
Nor mind the tropic beauty, give one thought
To one small nest beneath my snow-capped eaves.
— Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company, Philadelphia, Pa., October 1904, p. 351
A Trip to Company Headquarters
Saturday, September 24 - Went to Hville to draw the boys' pay.
The Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company headquarters loomed over the village of Hermansville, figuratively and literally. The three-story Victorian structure, inspired by a Swiss chalet, featured a clapboarded exterior with both vertical and horizontal wood slats. The front and side gables displayed diagonal stick work as well, while the porches featured ornate woodwork supported by sturdy columns. Every facade and every room showed off the company’s products: pine panels, cedar shingles, door frames, window frames, sashes, and -- the pride of Hermansville -- maple flooring.
With the exception of Dr. Earle’s ornate “home on the hill,” the building was unlike any other in the small village. The company-built, company-owned houses and boarding houses were plain and simple, and the commercial district featured ordinary storefronts. In comparison, the company headquarters, with its grand architecture, seemed fit for a king.
Minnie opened the main entrance door and stepped into the wood-paneled entryway. She saw the cashier window to her left and the secretaries working in a small room to her right. Beyond the cashier window, she could see the fireproof vault, filled with decades of company records and probably plenty of cash.
“Good morning, Miss Gamache.”
Minnie smiled at Justin Hayes through the window. He wore a smartly tailored suit, white shirt and bow tie. His fingers, with their neatly trimmed nails, showed a few ink spots, but they weren’t calloused and deeply stained like her father’s and brothers’ hands. Justin spent his days keeping books and counting money for the Company, while her brothers lifted lumber and breathed in smoke and sawdust in the sawmill. They inhabited the same community, but lived worlds apart.
“My wife raves about your Larkin soap,” Justin said. “Has she told you that she’s found three more customers for you in town?”
“Why, no,” said Minnie, taken aback at his knowledge of her soap business. “I’ll have to call on her soon.”
The door opened behind Minnie and two men in animated conversation entered in a hurry. Minnie recognized them as Mr. Radford, the Company’s general superintendent, and Danny Sullivan, the town policeman. Radford took off his bowler hat as they entered. The men paused behind her to finish their conversation.
“As I was saying, I sent that tramp off on the train this morning. He spent the night in jail, sobering up,” Sullivan said.
“There’s a peddler selling goods without a permit in the Italian neighborhood. We’re trying to catch him.”
“Make sure you track him down so he comes in to register and get a license. For that matter, check his goods. Run him out of town if they’re unsafe, or if they compete with the general store.”
“Will do, Boss.”
The men parted ways, with Radford heading into the back offices. Sullivan turned to walk out the door, but not before he looked Minnie up and down with a critical eye. She imagined her appearance as he might see her — wearing her long, black, woolen walking skirt; an old, tattered coat; and home-knit scarf and hat. She had on her best shoes, but they were scuffed and worn from many trips to town to do errands for her parents.
A farm girl, thought Sullivan. An attractive young woman, with striking blue eyes and thick, dark hair. But still a farm girl, as revealed by the yellow piece of straw clinging to her skirt and the lack of jewelry or any perfume, though he could detect the faint scent of sweet cream and cow manure.
"Here you go, Miss Gamache," Justin held out an envelope containing her brothers' pay for the month.
“Miss Gamache, is it?” Sullivan said to Minnie.
“The railroad porter tells me he’s seen regular shipments to a Gamache girl from the Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo, New York. Is your family’s clothing extra dirty? Or is the soap in the general store not good enough for you?”
Flabbergasted, Minnie didn’t know how to reply.
Sullivan smirked at Minnie, again looking her up and down.
“Well, I’d hope a young woman with such fair looks and fine figure is not selling in the village without a license,” he said. Without asking permission, he reached out to brush the straw from her skirt. He then donned his hat and headed out the door, not waiting for her reply.
Mortified, Minnie collected her brothers’ pay and scooted out to the street. She boarded her family’s buggy and urged the horse to make quickly for home.
Wolves Howl at Night
“Wolves are on the increase in the upper peninsula and are killing more deer than the hunters who persist in shooting out of season. The number of trappers operating in the woods does not seem to lessen the animals, and the only way out of it will be for the several counties to raise the bounty on wolves. This will be an incentive to the hunters to kill wolves instead of deer, and more deer would then be the result for the next hunting season.”
— “Wolves Destroy Deer,” Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., Sept. 17, p. 6
Sunday, September 25 - Went to Perm’s. Had a fine time.
“Did you hear the wolves howling on the hill last night?”
Perm Paquin shook her head.
“No, but I hear them many nights. Pa saw a den of cubs in the field last summer. He’s been trying to trap them all year.”
“I may have another type of wolf on my trail in the village,” Minnie said.
“Really? Is he handsome?”
“No, this is not the kind of wolf you want to trap. It’s the type that will trap you.”
Minnie told Perm about her encounter with Officer Sullivan, and her fears that it would shut down her soap business.
“You’d think they’d have bigger worries than going after a young woman selling soap,” Perm said.
“Not if it cuts into their profits at the general store,” Minnie replied.
Business as Usual
Monday, September 26 - Pa went to the flour mill. Mrs. Alore, J. Desjardines & Lena G. were over.
“Minnie, I must have some more of that cold cream. Are you taking orders?”
Mrs. Alore had become a faithful customer of Minnie’s, ordering not only Larkin laundry soap but also its Modjeska cold cream.
“Of course,” Minnie replied. “I’ll be sending out another order in a week or two.”
“Even with the company on your tail?”
Minnie was a little surprised at Jennie Desjardines’ question. She hadn’t told anyone other than Perm about Officer Sullivan’s questions. Of course, with the way news traveled in small towns, she shouldn’t have been surprised at all.
“Oh, I’ll manage. And I’m not in the village, am I? I’m on our own land out here.”
“We are still paying off the land,” Ma reminded her. “The company owns the mortgage.”
“I suppose. But what harm is it to help our neighbors clean their clothing and soften their skin? If we can make our own soap, surely we can buy it through mail order.”
Ma said nothing, but made the sign of the cross and said a little prayer that her daughter wouldn't regret her decision.
Tuesday, September 27 - Went to Hville and bought myself a new pair of kicks.
Minnie rode to Hermansville with cash in her pocket. When Pa had returned from the flour mill, he gave Minnie and her brother Freddie each some spending money for their help with the harvest. At the general store, she selected a new pair of shoes. High tops. Slight heel. Black laces. Practical, yet fashionable. Good for dancing, going to Mass, and visiting the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company offices, if she should ever need to do so again.
-- 1904 shoe advertisement, The Diamond Drill, Crystal Falls, Michigan, 02 Jan 1904, p. 4
Wonders of a Talking Machine
Wednesday, September 28 - Worked all day in garden.
Thursday, September 29 - Crowd were over. Mr. Goodel with his talking machine. Digged potatoes.
Everyone was talking about the talking machine, but few people in Hermansville owned one. Meanwhile in Chicago, complaint after complaint was coming into the police stations from residents going mad over the constant hum of music from every quarter.
“They are driving me crazy,” said one man. “And not only me, but hundreds of others. You’ll soon have to start an emergency insane asylum in my neighborhood if it keeps up much longer.”
A few people in the village owned a talking machine, but not the farmers and lumberjacks. Their nights contained plenty of peace and quiet, and their days were spent in constant toil with no time to turn a crank and listen to voices and music coming out of a machine.
That's why a crowd gathered around in the Gamache home this evening to hear the music and entertainment provided by Mr. Goodel, the talking machine salesman from Iron Mountain.
Mr. Goodel generated laughter and smiles when he played popular tunes, such as Dan Quinn singing “Glorious Beer” and “More Work for the Undertaker." The crowd dreamed of the sights and sounds of the World's Fair when he played, “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis.”
Joe Marchaterre swung his wife, Marie, around the living room, stepping as quickly as they could to “Turkey in the Straw.” The crowd howled with laughter at “Has Anybody Seen Our Cat?” by Harry Taylor.
"I never thought he'd leave his happy home
Though after the gals he often used to roam
I've sent tripe hounds out upon his track
I'm doing everything to try and get him back
Got two cods heads stuck up on a pole
And nailed up a kipper on the door
And written underneath it ‘Welcome home'
And a promise not to kick him any more.
Has anybody seen our cat?"
“Do you have any French tunes, Mr. Goodel?”
Mr. Goodel raised his index finger in the air and smiled. He dug through his box of recordings.
“Why, yes. I have this piece from the French opera Mignon.”
Minnie’s mother and the other Canadienne women wiped away tears during “Connais tu le pays?” (“Know'st thou not that fair land?”). With lyrics in French, it was one of the few songs they could understand.
“Just think,” Mr. Goodel said, as the women wiped tears from their eyes, “if you owned one of these talking machines, you could listen to concerts each night in the comfort of your own home. For just fifteen dollars, I can sell you this 25-dollar talking machine and a dozen records.”
No one spoke.
“I have a twelve-dollar machine in my wagon, and can throw in a dozen records for free. Additional records, just 25 cents each.”
-- Ironwood News Record, Ironwood, Michigan, Jun 4, 1904, Page 11
Minnie admired Mr. Goodel's salesmanship. She and her brothers hoped that Pa would use money from the flour mill to buy a gramophone, but even twelve dollars was a lot of money on the farm. Potatoes, their main cash crop, were only selling for 25 cents a bushel this fall. They would need every penny they earned to feed and clothe the family and buy supplies for the winter and spring planting. Minnie’s brothers added to the family income with their jobs at the sawmill, but the gramophone’s cost equaled about a week’s labor for them both.
“I don’t know,” Pa said, rubbing his chin.
“One never knows the pleasure of a talking machine until they own one,” Mr. Goodel said. “I'll make you a special offer. You can have one today for $1 down and $1 a week.”
Minnie and her brothers eagerly awaited Pa’s reply. Pa glanced at Ma, who shot him a disapproving look. The neighbors watched the drama, each man weighing the cost of a talking machine over the cost of daily life.
“Machines, machines,” Minnie's mother said. “Machines à battre. Machines volantes. Machines parlantes.”
Threshing machines. Flying machines. Talking machines.
“Our evenings are for sewing, praying the holy rosary, and going to bed early. Not for some noisy machine.”
And that settled it for the Gamache family. They would not own a talking machine, at least not yet.
Logging Season Beckons
“Wages in the woods this fall are about the same as last year, from $20 to $32 [per month]. There is a good demand for men, as most of the lumber companies are now preparing to start their logging operations.”
— “Lumber Jacks in Demand," Menominee Co. Journal, Stephenson, Mich., Oct. 1, 1904, p. 2
A well known cedar dealer says that the condition of the market is at present most deplorable. “Last year a man who had cedar to sell had only to let the fact be known and then sit around and the buyers would flock to him with their orders. This year the opposite is the rule. A man with cedar to sell has to run after his buyers and then he is lucky if he gets them.” This is said to be a very fair summing up of conditions.
-- Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., Oct. 1, p. 1
Friday, September 30 - Mrs. Marchaterre was over. Digged potatoes.
Marie Marchaterre, normally quick with a smile and a laugh, had a worried look on her face as she greeted Aurora Gamache with a kiss on each cheek.
“Joe says he doesn’t want to work in the woods this winter,” she confided to Minnie’s mother.
Overhearing this, Minnie was not surprised. The last time she’d seen her beau Joe, he'd said he wanted to find less back-breaking, bone-chilling work this winter.
“What else is he going to do?” asked Aurora.
“Je ne sais pas. He says he wants to find work at the mill.”
“They will be laying off men for the winter, so they can work in the woods instead,” Aurora replied.
“I know. Somehow he thinks he will get work in the office as a bookkeeper.”
Minnie knew that Joe, with his high school diploma, had set his sights higher than most men in the Camp 7 French settlement. Who could blame him? Working in the company office surely would be better than spending the winter bunking with two dozen other men in a smelly, bedbug-ridden lumber camp. Four or five months of working from dawn to dusk, six days a week. Harvesting logs and loading them onto sleds for the ride into town. Mindless, difficult work. You had to really love the woods, or have no other option, to enjoy such a life.
Minnie headed out the door as the two older women sipped their coffee. She had her own back-breaking job: helping her father and Freddie dig this year’s potato crop.
“I’d like a different line of work this winter, too,” she thought, feeling a bit trapped in her parents’ home. She’d finally come to the point of wondering, hoping, and praying for a different life, just like Joe.
For now, she had days and days of digging potatoes ahead of her before the fall harvest would be complete.
“Now the harvest days are over and the fodder’s in the barn
And the pumpkins, big and yellow, are stacked within the sheds,
And the apples and potatoes and the pickled green tomatoes,
And the luscious beets and turnips are within their winter beds.”
—Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company, Philadelphia, Pa., October 1904, p. 350
Saturday, October 1 - Scrubbed floor and read all afternoon. Had a letter from pie-face.
Minnie took advantage of a quiet afternoon to read the October edition of Ladies’ Home Journal. She’d obtained a copy during her trip to Hermansville earlier in the week. What she read was inspiring, and life-changing.
She read stories of girls earning money by creating lace collars throughout the year and other fancy work for Christmas. Girls working their way through college by opening a cafe and catering business. Girls making aprons for tradesmen. Selling seeds from their flower gardens.
“Why, there are dozens of ways to make money as a girl,” Minnie thought.
Then she found Margaret Sangster’s monthly column “Heart to Heart Talk with Girls,” which read:
“The country girl, looking around her, sees in her own neighborhood few opportunities for earning a livelihood. The farm, its stone walls inclosing the fields her father tills, seems to shut her in hopelessly to a life of unremunerative toil.”
-- "Heart to Heart Talks with Girls," The Ladies Home Journal, The Curtis Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Pa., October 1904, p. 28
“Indeed,” Minnie thought.
“Knowing as I do the city’s furious competition,” Sangster continued, “the city’s temptations, and its inevitable expense and incidental discouragement and homesickness, I always beg the young woman who has her father’s roof for a shelter to stay in her country home if she can. Stay at home, or near home, or select a small village as much like home as possible, for your entrance in business life, if you can make this course practicable. Be willing here to make haste slowly. In the end — you will not regret taking this advice.”
The wheels in Minnie’s head were starting to turn.
“The best safeguard she can have is a determination, sternly carried out, to put something in the savings-bank every week of her life. … One never knows what favorable chance may be waiting when they may be wisely invested, or enable one to take a needed long rest away from business, or a coveted journey, or perhaps be the means of setting one up in an independent line of one’s own.”
Minnie had only an eighth grade, one-room school education, but she had skills. She was good with young children, and could even teach them French. She could sew, crochet and knit. She could cook and bake. She knew how to garden. Lord knows, she could clean a home or a boarding house. She could continue selling soap, and not put the farm in jeopardy. Perhaps it was time, she thought, to strike out on her own.
At 20 years old, with no real prospect for marriage in sight, our good and ambitious Gamache girl felt inspired.
“My country girl may be timid, and not self-assertive, but she must early learn to hold her own, to take an inventory of her powers and resources, and to develop the best in herself, with faith in her purpose, her ability, the friendly hearts around her, and the God above us all.”
When the mail arrived, Minnie’s heart skipped when she found a letter from "Pie-Face." Her mind wandered to the last time she saw him and how he held her in his arms. Then she stopped herself.
“How dare he distract me from my plans to make it on my own,” she thought with annoyance.
Then she recalled, as well, how "Pie-Face" offered earnest business advice, and took her ideas and plans seriously. Opening the envelope carefully, she peered inside to see what news, advice or sweet nothings she would find there.
What she found cemented her plans.
Notes and Further Reading
Note to Readers: This episode ends with a cliff-hanger for a reason. Many of you have encouraged me to turn Minnie's Diary into a book. After attending a writing retreat in New Mexico, I'm more determined to turn her diary as a historical fiction novel. That means I need to start from the beginning and rework the narrative into something with more of a plot and more well-rounded characters. I've been working on Minnie's Diary for about two years, and now it's time to start over. Also, I don't want to give away the ending, but I did want to give you a teaser. I may publish a blog piece from time to time with interesting U.P. history, but the diary won't continue into October, November or December of 1904. I want to save that for the book. Thanks to all of you for reading. I hope you'll have a book in your hands some day!
About Minnie’s Diary: Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction, based on notes written in a 1904 daybook by 20-year-old Minnie Gamache. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in Hermansville, a company-owned lumber town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For more about Minnie and her family, read this introduction elsewhere on this website.
Company Headquarters: The headquarters building of the former Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. The application, which is available on-line, says: "The building is the best preserved example of an office and headquarters for a logging and sawmilling firm left in the entire state of Michigan -- a state that at the time this building was constructed was the national leader in lumber production. It remained the headquarters of the firm from its construction in 1882-83 until the death of the grandson of the firm's founder in 1978 and has been preserved intact complete with its historic furnishings as the IXL Historical Museum. The Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company office building is also a key example of frame, Late Victorian, office building architecture in the context of Michigan's Upper Peninsula." As I've noted before, visiting the IXL Museum in Hermansville is like stepping back in time.
Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company Headquarters
Because the Company owned all the property in the village and most of Meyer Township, it controlled all the town's affairs. Historic records show they kept a tight rein on business operations for several decades.
1909 Main Street postcard, showing Dr. Earle's home, which no longer stands,
and the village in the background.
Talking Machines: I couldn't find a "Mr. Goodell" anywhere nearby in U.S. Census records, but he must have been some kind of traveling salesman for "talking machines." These early record players must have been amazing to hear. Imagine what Minnie and her family would think today of the endless streaming audio and video, not to mention virtual reality "machines." Back in 1903, a professor with the U.S. Naval Academy predicted audio books would fill libraries and suggested that printed books would soon be out of date.
-- The Weekly Telegram, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 03 Sep 1903, p. 7
Here's some interesting local news from the fall of 1904 that I couldn't fit into this blog. Nadeau Township was hosting an agricultural fair. The new Methodist-Episcopal church in Hermansville, which had been destroyed by fire, was nearing completion. And sportsmen were concerned about fish populations.
Wishing all of you a joyous holiday season and much happiness in 2023!
Carney News: “A number of our farmers are exhibiting their farm products at the township fair at Nadeau this week."
-- Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., Oct. 1, p. 5
The new M.E. church at Hermansville is expected to be finished about November 1. The structure will cost about $3,000 and will be a neat and commodious house of worship.
--Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., Oct. 1, p. 1
“True sportsmen in Battle Creek are becoming very much alarmed at the prospect of the utter extermination of fish in the lakes in that and adjoining counties. Such a slaughter of fish was never known before as has taken place this summer. Anglers have used no judgment whatever. Frequently parties of three and four have gone out and caught from four to five hundred fish and thrown most of them away.”
— “Despoil Lakes of their Fish,” Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., Sept. 17, p. 6