By Elaine and Carl Seliskar
Long before computers, e-mail, texting, and even telephones there was the written word. Except for the family bible and hymn books in church on Sundays, in the 1800s books were scarce. The accessibility of books to read for pleasure became more available by the early 1900s. To make up for that lack of entertainment many children began to keep a personal diary.
The Huntsburg Historical Society is fortunate to have access to many written records, including those of some of the younger generation in the form of diaries. Because paper and notebooks were in short supply adults as well as children used anything they could find in which to write letters, notes or shopping lists. As we can see in 12-year old Stella Alderman’s case, she found what appears to be a small book with advertisements throughout the first part and the remaining pages lined and ruled for writing. It appears to have been intended for use as an account book, probably given to her father.
Stella’s Diary: Stella Alderman
She began writing in the middle of the book where the pages held no advertising. Each diary entry begins with either “at home” or “at school” indicating where she was when she wrote. We can only wonder if her teacher knew that she was writing in her diary when she was “at school”.
Stella’s diary began on December 20, 1878 where her first entry reads, “At last I have concluded to keep a diary. I have said I was going to keep a diary for more than three years but never got at it. I am going to the Corners to night to see a play called “Uncle Toms Cabin”. I expect it is perfectly magnificent by what I have heard. It is not very good sleighing now but I am going or bust. I am at school now and I suppose I ought to be studying my lessons.” We can see by this entry alone that Huntsburg’s citizens were not out of the loop when it came to entertainment. Interesting also is the name of the play and the year was 1878 – a time when memories of the Civil War were still vividly in people’s minds. She then mentioned going by sleigh which is what most of the citizens of Huntsburg commonly used for travel in the winter when there was snow. Her confession to her diary that she should have been studying her lessons will sound familiar to everyone.
A few days later on December 23, 1878 she wrote, “poor little diary how I have neglected you but I could not help it. You were at school while I was at home so I could not help it. I went to this play [Uncle Tom’s Cabin] last Friday night and had a splendid time, would have had a better time if they had not fired off their guns so many times it made my head ache awful.”
On February 11, 1879
Stella wrote, “I keep my diary at home now, because I am afraid somebody will get into it. I went to a sale at Huntsburg Center at Smith & Pease” and on the 13th wrote “it snowed again and is good sleighing again”. On the 15th she wrote, “it is good sleighing yet, but it is quite bare in some places. Stella” Stella very much enjoyed travelling around town by sleigh! Stella’s last diary entry was on February 23, 1879.
Opal Ashelman Hale, a teenager busy with school, church, home and many friends, began her diary on January 1, 1905, using a small brown leather “account book” measuring just 2 ½ by 5 ½ inches and filling every single page with her thoughts. Most entries show only the day of the week it was written. Opal’s diary entries were very short and to the point with many names and places abbreviated so as to conserve space. She was a very busy and social girl as we can see by her many activities.
Opal Ashelman Hale, 1906
On January 17th she wrote, “We had orchestra practice after school. I took my first guitar lesson” and on the 18th “In the evening we met at the school house and practiced for literary. It rained. Was so warm in the evening that the band played in the band stand.” Monday “I took a guitar lesson of Mrs. Harry Clark tonight” and Tuesday “It snowed hard and was awfully cold. We had to wear our coats in school.”
One Sunday she wrote, “I did all the work today again. Baked the first cake today that I ever did. In the p.m. I went over to Gerties. Howard came up and we went to C.E.” Throughout her diary her comments about school were consistent and mostly said, “Went to school. Nothing in particular happened.” Apparently, school was not very exciting. On Sunday, “I went to Mr. Dewoody’s funeral. In the p.m. Gertie came over. Leon came over about 4 and we went for a sleighride. It was very cold. We went to church in the evening.” Thursday, “Leta came down and we went to prayer meeting and choir practice.” Saturday, “I was very industrious today. Worked hard. Gertie came over in p.m. I baked a cake”. The following Tuesday she confessed to her diary, “Leta and I went over town and smoked cigars.” Opal’s youngest daughter at age 92 in 2019 was much shocked and amused when she first came upon this revelation in her mother’s diary!
Opal’s teen years centered around choir and orchestra practice, literary performances, writing and receiving letters, attending Sunday School, visiting with friends, and going on walks. Throughout her diary she confided that she “worked hard” when at home and wrote, “Mamma had rheumatism so bad that I could not go to school. Mr. Erm Truman died of diphtheria.” The next day, “School closed today on account of diphtheria. I went after my books.” She next wrote, “Did a large washing. Very tired” and the next day, “I ironed.” It appears her mother was not well and she helped by doing a lot of the work around the house.
On August 2nd she wrote, “I read quite a bit today, was very tired. Hazel Culbertson got her neck broken at Elyria today. The horse was frightened at an automobile.” The next day she wrote, “Leta came down and we went to choir rehearsal. Practiced for Hazel’s funeral,” and a couple of weeks later, “Elwood Adams was killed by lightning.” An October entry was much happier when she wrote, “Saturday. Amy and I went to Chardon. I got a coat and hat. Saw all of my old friends. Had a fine time. In the evening Cora and I went to a political speech.”
Even though diaries were kept mostly by young people, they provide a rare glimpse into the lives of the people in Huntsburg and some of the happenings around town.