Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Entering a New Chapter

Dear Readers,

I started this blog in August of 2012 and have posted 250 posts on this site. I want to thank all of you for being faithful readers, but it's time for me to start a new phase of my life.

My husband and I are on our way to Prague, Czech Republic where he will be a missionary for the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod telling people in Europe about Jesus. We fly to Prague on May 16th. Meanwhile, we have moved out of our apartment in Milwaukee and are in the St. Louis area preparing to depart.

As a result, I won't be posting any more tidbits of history on this blog any longer. I thank you for following my posts through the years. I enjoyed doing all the research for the many topics I explored during this time.

I will continue to be posting blogs on my new site called Czech Up at www.conniecortright.com My new blog post will be giving you tidbits about my new adventures in Europe.

Thanks again for reading my blog. God be with you.

I'll repost my first blog here in case you've never read it before.


Through the Milk Door?  What kind of journey is that?  What is a milk door? Why give a blog such a name?

As some of you know, I’ve been learning the art of writing a novel the past several years by working on two historical romances that are “works in progress”.  But in that progress, I’ve learned so many tidbits about early twentieth century life that our grandparents and great-grandparents lived through that I wanted to find a way to share these the many, many stories I’ve learned about life back then with my family and friends – thus, a blog.

Now, what’s with the milk door? My grandmother would’ve had no problem answering this question, and others like it, because she lived in the time when milk doors were an everyday item, probably as common as email “boxes” today. 

Milk doors were found on houses that were built before 1940 or so. About a foot square, they were located close to the side door where the milkman would deliver glass quarts of fresh milk several times during the week. Used before the days of refrigerators, these doors allowed him to deliver milk well before the occupants were awake. 

The doors opened from the outside to reveal a small area located in the walls. The empty bottles were left in the milk door with the order form for the day rolled and stuck in the neck of a bottle. The order would then be filled by the milkman (I don’t think there were any “milk ladies” back then!). There was another corresponding door inside the house that would be opened by a hungry boy or girl when it was time for breakfast. 

Milk doors have disappeared from use in these days of supermarkets and convenience stores.  Still, we have milk door in our 1928 house near the back door—a quiet and quaint reminder of days gone by. Last year when we moved in, we found the outer entrance for the milk door boarded up and several old locks placed on the door inside the house. Sadly, I imagine previous owners feared that this little door could be an entryway for thieves and sealed it up–a sad commentary on the days we live in.

I’ve read that these little doors were, in fact, sometimes used as emergency entrances for the owners when they were inadvertently locked out. A little child would be hoisted up and lifted through the milk door and unlock the back door from the inside. What an adventure for that tyke! I wonder what happened when the youngest child got too large to fit through the door!? Most of us can probably remember a time when we wished there was such a hatch out of our problems!  

In C.S. Lewis’s fantasy, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four young children travel to the magical land of Narnia by passing through the doors of a wardrobe.  I’d like to invite you, dear reader, through my magical little door, a humble little milk door, to explore with me life and living in times past.  Come and pass through the milk door each week with me to wander in simpler, homier times.  I’d love your company! 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hearing is Believing

by Connie Cortright

Last week my husband and I went to see a movie that came out last year called "Florence Foster Jenkins" about the career of a singer in the 1920s-1940s. This woman's story is very unique in that her claim to fame was her lack of talent.

Florence Jenkins longed to be a performer from the age of seven when she would play piano to entertain people under the name of "Little Miss Foster". In 1885, she married Frank Jenkins, who gave her syphilis after their wedding. She struggled with this disease for the rest of her life. At that time, the known "cure" for syphilis was arsenic (which might have affected her singing voice). She never recovered fully from this dreadful disease.

In 1909 she married St. Clair Bayfield who became her manager for her singing career. With the help of her father's trust, she used her wealth to become a benefactress for the arts in New York City, in particular musical performances at the Verdi Club.

In 1912, she started private vocal lessons to improve her singing skills. Because of her wealth, the people around her praised her singing ability just to keep her happy. She loved operatic music and, in private musical recitals, would insist on performing technically challenging music that was beyond her ability. By 1917, she performed on stage at the Verdi Club to an audience that had been hand-picked by "Lady Florence" herself.

Before long, Lady Florence became known for her terrible singing ability. "She is described as having great difficulty with such basic vocal skills as pitch, rhythm, and sustaining notes and phrases." Her accompanist Cosme McMoon had to adjust his tempo and rhythms just to accommodate her mistakes.  Her bad singing combined with her flamboyant costumes brought the audience back to see her again and again.

Her friends and hand-picked audience would cheer and applaud to disguise the laughter so as to have her continue to sing the pieces. "Jenkins was exquisitely bad, so bad that it added up to quite a good evening of theater." Cole Porter was one of her attendees during the 30s and 40s. "They say Cole Porter had to bang his cane into his foot in order not to laugh out loud when she sang. She was that bad." But Mr. Porter never missed a recital. Click on the link to hear for yourself: You Tube - Florence Foster Jenkins (she made recordings of her voice and sold record albums)

Her manager husband and McMoon encouraged her singing and avoided telling her the truth about her ability so as not to hurt her feelings. The public heard about this singing "diva" and demanded a concert open to the general public. On October 25, 1944, Jenkins finally sang at Carnegie Hall for general-public admission. The concert was sold out with 2000 people waiting at the door. However, now that the public finally heard her bad singing, the newspapers gave truthful reviews that panned her performance and in one case calling it "one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen." Five days after hearing the uncensored truth about her voice, Jenkins suffered a heart attack and died within a month.

No one was quite sure if she knew the truth about her audiences or not. She once told her friend, "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

This story is portrayed in a very amusing and interesting way by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in the movie "Florence Foster Jenkins". I highly recommend seeing it just to hear Streep's portrayal of Lady Florence's terrible voice. She did a great job of singing off-key.

Information taken from Wikipedia: Florence Foster Jenkins

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Something to Sneeze At

by Connie Cortright

The story of Kleenex facial tissue is similar to the paper toweling article from last week: both of them started out with an "oops".  Kimberly-Clark, the company that invented Kleenex, and Scott Paper Company, which we heard last week invented paper toweling, both demonstrated the greatness of capitalism. When the companies were handed a disappointment, instead of getting a bailout, they used their ingenuity to retool a failed product idea into a profitable replacement.

In the early 1920's Kimberly-Clark manufactured a paper product that did not sell on the market at the time. As a result they had a stock pile of crepe wadding that was not usable. They had to find another way to utilize the already produced materials in a different format. They changed the ingredients of the blends and used different paper pulps to come up with a softer crepe. Kleenex facial tissue was invented.

Next they had to find a way to market the product. They decided to market the tissues to women for wiping off cold cream used in removing makeup. In 1925 they drew up advertisements for magazines, such as Ladies Home Journal, with this idea. The ladies went for it in droves.

That's because earlier in the decade, women's cosmetics and women's monthly magazines were blossoming into booming businesses. The arrival of modern electrical appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and electric washing machines, made housekeeping less time consuming. Women used the free time to read women's magazines which featured advertising urging them to invest in cosmetics to stay young-looking for their husbands. Thus, the increased sales for cosmetics.

Kimberly-Clark was aware of this interest in cosmetics and piggy-backed on it with the idea for a disposable cleaning wipe. They took the opportunity placed before them and marketed a product to fill the niche. Prior to this, cloth towels were used for cleaning off make-up, so the disposable cleaning tissue - dubbed "Kleenex" - was a welcome innovation to women.

Meanwhile, a Kimberly-Clark researcher "sniffed out"another use for this product. During the hay-fever "sneezin'-season", he discovered how very convenient Kleenex was in dealing with his allergy symptoms. Kleenex partnered well with his nose while sneezing and in dealing with the, um, "after effects". Back then, everyone routinely carried cloth handkerchiefs and hankies in their pockets or purses for that purpose. But can you imagine how many handkerchiefs would be needed per day during high hay-fever days?

Kimberly-Clark's marketing department thought the researcher's idea was brilliant. Instead of being just a "women's product", Kleenex belonged in the pockets of every man, woman, and especially children as a more hygienic and convenient way to handle colds and hay fever. Introduced this way in 1930, sales of Kleenex doubled in the first year. Today, of course, the brand name has become a household word and using cloth handkerchiefs instead of Kleenex is considered gross, especially by younger people.

For myself, I can't imagine life today without facial tissues or paper toweling. We can be thankful for both of these companies who created useful products from "oops'.  You might say, it's nothing to sneeze at!

Information taken from The Kleenex Brand Story.