Saturday, 31 October 2009

Galt Hospital Hauntings

Happy Halloween! Here are two stories to set your spine a'tingling!

George Bailey

...died tragically in the Galt Hospital in 1933 while being wheeled to the operating room for a routine appendectomy. Half asleep from the anesthesia, George was pushed halfway onto the elevator when something went wrong. With the doors still open and George only half on, the elevator started to rise. The front legs of the gurney got caught on the elevator, dangling George above the elevator shaft and then dropping him head first onto the basement floor.

Unbelievably, George did not die immediately, but was up and shuffling around in the basement when people got to him. He died of head injuries the next day. Since then, reports of a presence being felt accompanied by the sound of shuffling feet and blasts of cold air with no known source have been felt throughout the hospital.

The quiet chattering and laughter of children...

A more recent tale takes place in the upper level of the museum, which once housed the nursery and children sections of the hospital, but now is home to administrative offices. In this area people claim to have heard the quiet chattering and laughter of children.

One man in particular was studying late and as he exited the museum felt an irresistible urge to turn around. As he did he looked up and spotted a young girl waving goodbye to him in the window of the room he had just left.

A Native elder working late at the museum reported seeing some Native children waving to him out of a window. He assumed the children belonged to a Native cleaning lady and forgot about it for a while, but later discussions revealed that the museum never employed a Native cleaning lady and that children should not have been in the museum after hours. The only conclusion left was that he had seen ghosts.

We dare you to visit!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Strange Happenings and Stranger Questions

Sometimes strange things happen during my job. And every so often I get a number of strange questions.

This is the strangest question I've been asked of late.
Did cave men use coal? This was asked by a grade 4 student during a class on coal mining history in Lethbridge. I'm not sure what prompted the question but I have to wonder if he wasn't trying to "stump the teacher" (I know I played that game often enough when I was a kid). So if someone asked you this, how would you answer? Did cave men use coal? I must admit, I've never given it any thought before but my answer? I let him know that as coal was dangerous to burn without having a proper stove and chimney to remove any poisonous/toxic gases, that if cave men lived in a place without proper ventilation, cave men could not use coal. But they knew coal burned (if nothing else, lightning would have started exposed coal on fire) and may have used it outside. Does anyone have a more definitive answer for the next time a grade 4 asks me this question?

Also, usually the Flashlight Cemetery Tours go off without a hitch (well, except for the uncooperative weather we had for a few weekends) but the last tour on Saturday (my 4th in a row that evening) was rather interesting. About 1/3 of the way through I noted that the entire group was looking to the side and there was a few gasps as it was noted that something was moving in the dark. For some reason on that tour a cat decided to join us and came with us for the rest of the tour. (And, before you ask, it was half black and half white) Then about 2/3 of the way through the tour coyotes started making a very loud noise. Of course sounds travel a long distance in the dark but it certainly sounded close. And in the last 4 years of tours I've never heard coyotes when I've been out in the cemetery. An interesting evening, to be sure.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Home Flooded Home -- Museum Exhibit Musings

I just did a class outside this morning in the snow (was rather fun but would have been nicer in the sun-shine) and it got me thinking about the weather of southern Alberta. A few years ago one of our volunteers put together a brochure on weird weather and weather extremes of southern Alberta. Such as the May 1903 snowstorm in which two boys perished. Or the Chinook in 1966 where the temperature in Pincher Creek rose 21 degrees Celsius in four minutes. Or January 1906 when the Chinooks warmed up southern Alberta enough that they played baseball. Or the floods of the river.

It seems that every 10 years or so the Oldman River has the “flood of the century.” Well, the 1906-1913 period was no different. In spring of 1908 the river flooded. The newspaper reported that on 10 June it had rained for 48 hours and that the river had risen 6 feet and was continuing to rise 4 to 5 inches an hour. People were forced to move out of the river bottom and the traffic bridge across the river was washed away.

Cellars were filled with water. Warehouses flooded. Sewer trenches in the streets and lawns fell in. This is an incredibly unpleasant image of Lethbridge during this time. We have to remember not only how prevalent outhouses were at this time but that the sewer system was not yet fully developed.

It was reported that the old wooden buildings were leaking like sieves and the wind was driving the rain through the roofs of even the newest and best built buildings.

In and around southern Alberta that were also a lot of damage. People were driven out of the lowlands in the Cardston area. In Raymond the reservoir broke near the Sugar Factory and took out some of the train tracks. At the Cameron Ranch the flood carried away every house and out-building on the ranch except for the main house.

And the telephone line between Lethbridge and Macleod was reported to be buried beneath 10 feet of mud in the Belly River near Macleod.

Reading and thinking about these events makes me wonder what people’s reactions were when they got to know this country they had recently come to call home. And some of these houses on the prairies would have been sod houses. In these houses one day's rain could lead to three days of leaks and drips.

You have to wonder about the conversations held in these houses. And how many wives turned to their husbands and said something like: I left my home and my family and moved thousands of miles for this?

But can I find any of these stories for the exhibit?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Long Live the Random -- Museum Exhibit Musings

Today I just have some questions and random thoughts.

First, what’s your opinion of timelines? Should there be one in the exhibit? Would it help to provided connections between the various themes? Or is that unnecessary? And too scholarly? I have a fondness for timelines but that could just be me.

Second, I was looking on-line at descriptions and information on other museum exhibits that look at the growth of the community. Many focused on the cultural growth of the community and diversity. One such, the Changing Places exhibit at Levine Museum in North Carolina, explored new and long-time traditions (among many other themes in the exhibit). This got me thinking about some of the things we do in southern Alberta that may (okay, probably do) seem strange to new people and I’ve been trying to understand why we do these.

In your kitchen cupboard or china cabinet, are your glasses stored with the open end up or down? Many people raised across the prairies (or who comes from families who have been on the prairies a long time) seem to store their glasses with the open end down. Why? The theory is that our families learned their lesson during the Great Depression and Dirty Thirties that anyone silly enough to store glasses with the open side up ended up having to wash the glasses prior to every use (because they got full of dirt). I’d be interested in hearing what your family does and your background.

The other is when you enter your house, do you take your shoes off or leave them on? This one seems to be more wide spread across Canada but I hazard a guess that most of you take your shoes off? I have no idea as to the origin of this. I have a few speculations but I would love to hear yours. Why do you think people do this?

Third (and apologies to the Museum 2.0 blog for some paraphrasing – check out this blog if you have a chance) is back to HOW to tell stories in exhibits. They suggest that one of the reasons that museums such as Creationist museums do so well is that they employ three primary areas of storytelling: passion, people and purpose and that other museums shy away from being passionate about subjects (must maintain our objectivity, after all).

As you may recall from past blogs, I believe that (while still ensuring balance) we need to let people know our opinions and beliefs. The Museum 2.0 goes further and suggests that museums tell the funny stories, show our anger and gasps of delight and help the visitor to do the same. That only in this manner can we help people new to the subject learn how and why to care about the same things that we passionately care about. And then they’ll want to learn more about the subject.

I’ve always know that it’s a good thing I’m opinionated and willing to share what I like and dislike (and why). Now I just have to make you (and the visitors to the exhibit) as passionate and as willing to be opinionated, too!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

When People Used Opium to Calm a Fretful Child -- Museum Exhibit Musings

A friend recently sent me an email titled Why Our Great Grandparents Were Happier that looked at medicines popular at the end of the 19th and early 20th century that included everything from heroin to opium to marijuana to high quantities of alcohol. It is impossible to read the newspapers of the early 20th century without coming across advertisements for all kinds of medicines. Many of them are written as “articles” and have people telling of the benefits of the different products they have taken. This all got me thinking about what medicine was REALLY like in 1906-1913 in southern Alberta and Lethbridge.

There was formal medicine through the hospitals (and there were a wide variety of hospitals including isolation for contagious diseases, maternity and general hospitals) but there was also informal, folk medicine that people brought with them from all over the world. A few years ago I had the opportunity to collect home remedies from across southern Alberta. Some of these are incredibly funny. Some scientists and doctors could probably learn from. I certainly don’t recommend or endorse any of these remedies but include these two for their historical and archival interest.

Contagious Diseases
Put saxifrage in a small cotton bag which is then hung on a string around the neck. Saxifrage has a strong unpleasant odour. Saxifrage was used to ward off disease, especially during epidemics of communicable diseases. It was used whenever you were in contact with people at school or meetings. Rhea Martin says her “grandfather prepared this remedy for his children to wear to school or church as a protection from current diseases. It was probably effective because it kept people at a distance. My mother was required to wear this.”
Saxifrage is a plant (herb) that grows abundantly in dry, chalky pastures, and is very generally distributed over the country.

Arlie Bodnar says that sulfur mixed with molasses was used to “clean you out.”
Hilda Rogers, of Lethbridge, says her father swore by licorice powder as a cure for constipation. She says it worked well, though you didn’t want to use it too often.
Epsom salts and castor oil were also commonly used to cure constipation. They gave you great belly aches but they worked.

Did certain home remedies come from particular countries? Can they be linked to immigration? Or are they more representative of the time period and not of specific cultures? But what about, as mentioned earlier, some of those various now illegal substances? Were they actually being used? And were there concerns around them?

This joke from the 17 June 1913 Lethbridge Herald highlights some of the issues regarding what was being used in medicine. Keep in mind, though, that these issues were not just related to 1906-1913 and paregoric was available over-the-counter in the States until the 1970s.
The First Born
Young Father: “I am amazed, shocked, my dear, to hear you say you intend to give the baby some paregoric. Don’t you know paregoric is opium, and opium stops the growth, enfeebles the constitution, weakens the brain, destroys the nerves, and produces rickets, marasinus, consumption, insanity, and death?”
Young Mother: “Horrors! I never heard a word about that. I won’t give the little darling a drop – no, indeed. But something must be done to stop his yelling. You carry him awhile.”
Father (after an hour’s steady stamping with the squalling infant): “Where in thunder is that paregoric?”

Should medicine (the type of information provided here) be part of the 1906-1913 exhibit? Does it warrant becoming a theme in the exhibit?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Embracing Eccentricity -- Museum Exhibit Musings

I was reading a blog and someone listed a museum’s ability to embrace eccentricity as a reason she liked museums (one among a long list of reasons she liked museums). I like that concept and I think that not only is this a reason I like some museums (though I don’t think as many embrace eccentricity as they used to) but it’s also why I like southern Alberta history – because there’s a lot of eccentricity sprinkled throughout our history (and, no, I’m not talking about me).

In the years 1906-1913 Lethbridge and southern Alberta had more than their fair share of “interesting” people and their stories give a different perspective of that time period.

George “Steamboat Bill” Messmer was one of those people. Born in Sun River, Pennsylvania in 1848, Steamboat Bill came first to Montana and then up to southern Alberta in the 1880s working as a bull whacker for the I.G. Baker Company. It is said that he could easily handle a team of 10 span of oxen. He later worked as a miner in Lethbridge and then went into sheepherding, spending his off seasons in Lethbridge.

To get to his sheepherding camp, which was in the Warner/Milk River area, Steamboat Bill would hitch a free ride on the train. Engineers were usually kind enough to stop (or at least slow down) when George got to the area around his camp. One time the engineer, Robert O’Hagan, would not give Bill a free ride. Bill said nothing but when the train left Lethbridge, he was riding on the cow catcher. This time, though, the train didn’t slow down for him to jump off. The train fireman reported that Bill rolled a long way but then got up, dusted himself off, and walked to his camp.

When he was in town, Steamboat Bill became known for his frequent altercations with the police. He also got into frequent fights. His remedy for cuts and bruises? Axle grease. He passed away in 1927 and his grave was purchased by the Lethbridge Old Timers’ Association.

Another such person was James “Coyote” Henry, who lived in the Chin Coulee area prior to moving into Lethbridge. Out there, he raised Clydesdales, which seem to have been quite well known throughout the area, and trained race horses. When he moved into Lethbridge he first lived in a dugout in the coulee just north of the Galt Hospital but was asked to move and relocated to a dug-out/shanty in a coulee just north of the railway tracks.

Not much is known about him before his arrival in southern Alberta. He was reported to be well-spoken and well-read and could quote chapter and verse from the Bible but he never talked of his past. No one knows how he acquired the nickname “Coyote” Henry but what is well known is that he bitterly resented the name “Coyote” and threatened physical harm to anyone who used it in his presence.

Also well known was his fear and obsession with mountain lions, who he thought were out to get him. Reports are that the least noise would have him grabbing for his shotgun and he often fired through the walls and roof of his house at the imaginary lions.

Following an incident where he threatened and shot at a neighbour, James Henry was committed to the asylum at Ponoka in 1911 where he died a few years later.

Include these stories in the exhibit or not? Are they case studies for how the area was changing? Or are the stories themselves just too eccentric?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Lethbridge Conservatory of Music -- Museum Exhibit Musings

A few weeks ago I asked people if they had a favourite building that was built between 1906-1913. And to also let me know what they liked about the building and what they remembered. Trish Purkis, who works in the Archives of the Galt, sent me the information below on one of her favourite buildings – the Lethbridge Conservatory of Music/Spudnuts Shop. The Lethbridge Conservatory of Music started there in 1910 (with the growth of Lethbridge it was important to the people of Lethbridge to have a community rich in the arts). As you can see, Trish is looking for some more information on the building…

Many of us remember the Spudnut Shop on 11 Street and 5th Avenue. It was a place to go for treats of spudnuts, ice cream and flavourful drinks after school, Sunday School, sports events at the Civic Centre and Remembrance Day Services. But does anyone recall the original purpose for the building?
In the beginning it was the Lethbridge Conservatory of Music, the largest conservatory in Western Canada. The conservatory started out modestly in a two-roomed studio above the Union Grocery Store located where Southminster United Church Hall is today. The Director James George Harper, proficient in all instruments taught the students the first year. When the enrolment increased, he hired other musical teachers to aid him. They remained at that location for three years and as the enrolment increased, the space decreased. It was time to find a new home for the conservatory.
George Harper along with his brother-in-lay Joseph Morgan, a School Inspector, chose a location opposite the NWMP Barracks and in the spring of 1910 opened the doors. The top floor or auditorium was used for community events, dances, parties lectures and meetings as well as dance classes. The first floor had lesson rooms, an instrument repair shop and Music shop.
The music conservatory remained in business from 1910 until the early 1940’s. It is not known when the conservatory closed it’s doors but if anyone knows please let me know.
From 1950 until 2000 the Spudnut Shop operated there and in 2006 the Crazy Cakes business opened serving cupcakes and on a weekly basis the once loved spudnut.