Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site

I typically find historical sites managed by the Indiana State Museum to be wonderful places to tour. Docents tend to be passionate about the people and history attached to the site, and it shows.

The Culbertson Mansion was a bit different. Maybe my timing was off.

I showed up, hoping to snag the first tour of the day. Normally these historic sites are buzzing with docents. Nobody was around. That was not a good sign.

A docent did eventually appear but indicated that today was going to be a day of school children. Did I mind having a tour with children? Not so pleasant images filled my head. Well, she volunteered, perhaps she could give me a quick 30 minutes tour.

I was both disappointed and thankful. Disappointed because Culbertson Mansion was well out of my way; I likely would never be in the area again. Thankful because she was willing to give me a tour, albeit an abbreviated one.

And off we went on a speed tour, ever cognizant that busses of children could show up at any moment.

The Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site in New Albany is just down the Ohio River from the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site in Madison. Both families moved to the area around the same time to make their fortunes in similar ways.

James Lanier‘s (1800-1881) father established a dry good store. James Lanier himself made his money in banking and railroads. Similarly, William Culbertson (1814-1892), slightly younger than James Lanier, made his money in dry goods and then in investments (gas, water, infrastructure, railroads).

Their houses are completely different. The Lanier Mansion is Greek Revival style. The inside is a bit restrained though the carpets and wallpaper are heavily designed as was the style of the times. The Culbertson Mansion is Second Empire style. The inside is over the top—gilded and ornate.

William Culbertson moved to New Albany in 1835 and acquired his initial wealth by 1860. His wife Eliza died in 1865, leaving behind five children. In 1867, he married Cornelia and had two children with her. Cornelia died in 1880. In 1884, he married Rebecca.

The house was built from 1867 to 1869 for his second wife, Cornelia. The 20,000 square foot house cost $125,000. (The lot itself cost $5,000.) After William died in 1892, Rebecca auctioned off the house and contents to a John McDonald for $7,100 (!). (I am not sure why Rebecca auctioned off the house and contents for so little money. William was worth $3.5 million when he died. But an economic panic lasted from 1893 to 1897. Perhaps the family was in dire financial straits due to the economic panic?)

When McDonald died after WWII, his daughter sold the mansion to the American Legion, who made numerous changes to the house. The mansion continued to change hands, and in the 1960s was in danger of demolition. In 1964, Historic New Albany purchased the mansion for $24,000 and turned it into a museum. In 1974, the mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1976, Historic New Albany gave the mansion to the state, and the mansion became part of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.

Given its history and the numerous owners, not much of the original furnishings remain. The inside of the house is a bit worse for wear but slowly the Indiana State Museum is restoring it—now in its 36th year (!) of restoration. Restoration has been completed on the first and second floors but stops at the top of the stairs where McDonald walled off the third floor. (In some respects, walling it off helped preserve the third floor.)

The walls and ceilings sport elaborate designs. However, when the Indiana State Museum acquired the property, layers of paint covered the walls. After removing the paint during the restoration, experts discovered the original designs. To protect the original designs, the renovators recreated the designs on top of boards that they placed over the original designs to protect them. So the designs you see on the walls and ceilings are not originals but conservation creations of the original designs.

The docent quickly took me through the rooms. The informal parlor contains a piano and harp, much like the Lanier Mansion. The fireplace in the dining room is Italianate marble. (All the fireplaces downstairs are original. Only one fireplace upstairs is original.) The dining room includes original gas lamps. (And I spied a stereoscope, ever-present in houses of this era.)

The formal parlor is left unfurnished because it is rented out for events. The study behind it includes a solarium.

I was warned that the rooms upstairs changed functions over the years. (For example, the morning parlor was a bedroom in a previous incarnation.) The first restored bedroom that we saw is for daughter Blanche. The second bedroom at the front of the house is a suite of rooms for daughter Annie, called the “blue room” in documents about the house. The master bedroom, the “rose room”, includes a fireplace with a large wooden mantel and scenic tiles—identical to the mantle in the study downstairs.

(Side note: I discovered that Blanche was known as “Scandalous Blanche Culbertson”. She fell in love with a man from the circus who was a womanizer to boot. She stood to lose her inheritance if she married this man, Leigh Hunt French, “a scalawag of the first water”. Her father William Culbertson died in 1892 and in 1893 Blanche married Leigh. She moved to New York and successfully sued for her part of the inheritance. On a separate note, Blanche was a suffragette and the President of the Equal Franchise League of New Rochelle.)

The third floor, which McDonald had walled off, really did feel like a time capsule. The children’s playroom would have been on one side and the servants’ quarters on the other. Only one room has been staged as a bedroom of sorts. Behind it I was shown the servant stairs and a small lattice room. (The walls of the room, or closet, are made of lattice work, of the sort that you might use to train climbing plants.) What was that? The room where they locked the children when they misbehaved. Excuse me? Yup. This was the time out room for the children. I stood dumbfounded. Some practices just do not age well.

The house required many servants in order to function. None of servants were indentured servants (as opposed to the indentured servants at the Jeremiah Sullivan House and Lanier Mansion in Madison). All were paid weekly wages plus room and board. In fact, one servant, Mary Ann, served at the mansion her entire adult life and the Culbertsons paid for her funeral.

The tour guide actually stressed how benevolent Culbertson was. In 1873, he established a home for widows a few houses down from the mansion. His will stipulated that the financial support of the home would continue after his death. In 1882, he also built a home to house and educate orphans. (One historic marker pointed out that he insisted that inhabitants follow strict rules. Ah, charity with strings.)

Due to the hurried nature of the tour, I wasn’t able to pepper the tour guide with my normal quota of questions. Given the close proximity to the Confederate south, I had to ask: what side did his sons fight for? (One of Jeremiah Sullivan’s sons presumably fought for the south; the other fought for the Union.) Only William Arthur was old enough to fight. He paid for a replacement. Ah, one of those. To be part of the wealthy definitely has its benefits.


Movie review: The Rendezvous (2016)

Hmmm. Shot in Jordan? A scene in Petra? Sounds like a movie I need to see.

The Rendezvous is not the typical movie I see at the Heartland Film Festival. I usually go for documentaries or historical accounts. But this adventure action movie was quite enjoyable. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the film was set (and shot) in a country that I have traveled to.

The story starts in the US but quickly moves to Jordan. Rachel, a Jewish-American doctor, is visited by a State Department official who tells her about the recent death of her brother in Jordan. Her brother, whom she hasn’t seen for three years but has a close relationship with, was an archaeologist living and working in Jordan. Jake, the State Department official, accompanies Rachel to Jordan to identify her brother before bringing the body back to the US.

Only his body is not being released to her. Instead she is interrogated about his gruesome murder. He had been left out in the desert to die but before dying he carved an image into his arm. What does the image mean? He was apparently involved in smuggling Dead Sea scrolls out of Jordan. Where are the missing scrolls?

Of course Rachel has no clue. But she is intent on finding out the circumstances of her brother’s death. The US government is interested in using her as bait to flush out the murderers, the smugglers, and a cult called the Armageddonites. (The Armageddonites believe that the missing Dead Sea scrolls that Rachel’s brother found will hasten the end of days, which is what they want.)

The movie shows scenes from Jordan. The shots of city streets with mosques reminded me of the morning call for prayer that I heard float over the city at dawn. At one point, Rachel and Jake set out to meet someone at the church by the King Abdullah Mosque. (I gasped. I have been to that mosque. Though it was not in a crowded part of the city with a church nearby as in the movie—I remember a lot of open green space around it.) Elsewhere in the movie someone mentioned Jerash, a city in Jordan with Roman ruins. (I gasped again. I wandered through those Roman ruins.)

The pièce de résistance was when they mentioned and then went to Petra, a collection of building carved into sandstone during the 4th century BCE. (You may remember Petra as the backdrop in an Indiana Jones movie.) I visited Petra as part of a TechWomen trip in February 2013. (President Obama then visited it a month later.)

The action of the movie climaxes in Petra. I sat on edge as they raced the narrow path with sheer sandstone walls on either side. The path (Siq, or “the shaft”) leads to the Treasury, the most popular stone cut building in Petra. I remember walking that path with tall sandstone walls all around and then suddenly catching a glimpse of the Treasury through the Siq. I turned to alert my friend with me, pointing out the breathtaking view. As I continued on the path, the sheer sandstone walls fell away and the Treasury came completely into view. The movie showed this exact progression to the Treasury.

The director, Amin Matalqa, and the author of the book on which the movie is based, Sarah Isaias, were in attendance for Q&A after the movie. The movie is dedicated to Claire, Amin’s wife who succumbed to cancer during the making of the movie. Working on the movie was both an escape and healing for him. The actress (Stana Katic) who played Rachel and the actor (Raza Jaffrey) who played Jake were a coup for casting.

The movie only took 30 days to shot, with 5 days spent in hot, arid Petra. (Amin mentioned how just seeing the Petra scene made him feel dehydrated.) How were they able to shoot in Petra? Well, tourism is down these days in Jordan so the government was more willing to encourage shooting there. They only closed off certain areas for shooting but kept Petra open. (In the movie, people were milling about at Petra, but in much thinner numbers than I remember in 2013.)

Although I did not know it at the time, the book that the movie is based on appears to tell a different story. (A Muslim poet and a Jewish physician are in search of a lost poem, which is the key to humanity’s redemption.) The author has an intriguing background that I wish I had known about so I could have questioned her about it during the Q&A. The book originally released as A New Song and was re-released as The Rendezvous. This book is touted as the first in a trilogy. Hmmm. Will The Rendezvous be the first movie in a trilogy?

The dance

I watch the water droplets
From the fountain dance,
Trying to reach the sun—
Only to fall back down,
And try again and again.

I am like the water droplets,
Involved in my own dance,
Trying to reach the sun—
Only to fall back down,
And try again and again.

Dr. William Hutchings’ Office and Museum

During my visit to Dr. William Hutchings’ Office and Museum, I felt a bit discombobulated.

The tour was a mishmash of bits that I had to cobble together. I arrived when a tour was in progress and tried to follow along. Then when that tour ended, I started back at the beginning, got partially through it when more people showed up, and the tour guide started all over again.

Even in spite of this, the explanation of Dr. Hutchings’ life and the buildings was a bit non-linear. My confidence in the information took a dive when the tour guide mentioned that the organization and she had told people misinformation for years. (For example, they relayed that the room we were standing in was an examination room and the floor was painted red so that bloodstains wouldn’t be so noticeable. In fact, after they reviewed documentation about the building and Dr. Hutchings’ practice, they discovered that the good doctor made house visits. He never saw patients in this room. The room was in fact his dispensary.)

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

I was visiting Dr. Hutchings’ office in Madison, Indiana, down by the Ohio River. This Greek Revival building was constructed between 1838 and 1848 by Michael Bright, who used it as his law office. (Side note: It turns out that after Michael Bright came to Madison, he read law with Judge Sullivan. Yeah, that Judge Sullivan—Jeremiah Sullivan. Early Indiana was a small world.)

Histories show that Michael Bright retired and moved to Indianapolis in 1850. (Another side note: Michael Bright’s brother was Jesse Bright, a Southern sympathizer, a landowner and slave owner in Kentucky, and an Indiana state senator. The good senator was expelled for addressing Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States in a letter where he suggested that the South should buy guns from Indiana gun manufacturers (!). After his expulsion, Thomas A. Hendricks, whom we met (sort of) at the Jeremiah Sullivan House, replaced him as senator in 1863. Early Indiana was a very small world.)

At some point, the building became the law office of Judge John. R. Cravens. (Cravens married a daughter of J.F.D. Lanier. Early Indiana was a very, very small world.)

But back to Dr. Hutchings.

In 1873, the doctor started practicing in Madison. In 1883, he bought this building that Michael Bright built, using the bottom two rooms as an office and dispensary. The front room—the office— has a small coal-burning stove. The back room—the dispensary—has an herb cabinet (which looks suspiciously like a card catalog to those who remember such things) and floor-to-ceiling shelves housing all manner of bottles still containing medicines.

The doctor was apparently very interested in electricity and electrotheraphy. (As a student, he saw Asiatic cholera up close during the 1849 Asiatic Cholera Epidemic along the Kentucky River. In his thesis at the Indiana Central Medical College, he theorized that Asiatic cholera was caused by electrical phenomena in the atmosphere.)

The dispensary room holds several medical devices for electrotheraphy. One is an electro-magnetic machine. I had a vague uneasiness about this. (Before dying of cancer in 2008, a friend was approached by someone who claimed that an electro-magnetic machine could cure him. Many years ago, the FDA banned electro-magnetic machines, and advocates of them were tried for fraud. I never expected to be looking at a 19th century ancestor of this machine.)

The upstairs contains two small boarding rooms. One of the rooms houses a painting by William McKendree Snyder. Apparently the doctor acquired several paintings by Snyder. (Snyder paid the doctor for his services in paintings.) The docent seemed amazed that I did not know of William Snyder—a famous Madison painter. (Seeing how I enjoy art and have encountered the works of many famous Hoosier artists, I was surprised that I had not encountered what was apparently so famous a Hoosier artist. Perhaps he is not so famous, or perhaps my familiarity with Hoosier art is not so wide. Probably the latter.)

Dr. Hutchings practiced medicine from his office in Madison until his death in 1903. (Side note: He is buried in Fairmount, Indiana, home and burial place of James Dean.) After his death in 1903, his daughter packed up everything in the office—equipment, bottles of medicine, and patient notes—and closed the office. The office became a time capsule, opened only in 1969 when the doctor’s granddaughter gave the building and its contents to Historic Madison, Inc.

Dr. Hutchings and his family (11 children—only 8 of which survived to adulthood) lived in a house next to the office and dispensary. This house was built in 1840. The Hutchings family owned it from 1882 to circa 1965. The house was torn down by the King’s Daughter’s Hospital between 1969 and 1972 to build, of all things, a parking lot (!).

At some point the hospital got rid of the parking lot and moved a historic building built circa 1840—around the same time period as the house that the Hutchings inhabited—to the same spot as the original Hutchings house. In 1999, the hospital gave the land and house to the Historic Madison, Inc. to serve as an extended museum for Dr. Hutchings.

The museum contains exhibits about different medical devices and displays information about Civil War era medicine, illness, and lives lost. One of the rooms also displays artifacts about his daughter Lida (1878-1968), who was an avid photographer and worked among the Sioux (Lakota) in the 1890s on the Lakota Sioux Reservation. (The destruction of Sioux culture is on display; Sioux children were given to white families to be raised as white.) Lida’s cameras, glass negatives, and postcards are on display.

In one respect, Dr. Hutchings’ Office and Museum was the complete opposite of the Jeremiah Sullivan House. The latter is the original Sullivan house and includes a few belongings. But Sullivan was not a hoarder and the house passed through different hands before reaching Historic Madison, Inc. In contrast, Dr. Hutchings kept everything, his daughter carefully stored its contents, and his granddaughter bequeathed it to Historic Madison, Inc. I have a feeling that Historic Madison, Inc. will be discovering new things from Dr. Hutchings’ archives for decades to come.

Schroeder Saddletree Factory

A saddletree factory. It is exactly what it sounds like, though I never really thought about how saddles were made. Or heard the word saddletree before.

Saddles were built upon wooden saddletrees or frames. Some companies made the saddletrees. Some companies took the saddletrees and finished the product by covering it with leather. (Kind of like how some early car companies made the undercarriage for cars and some companies made the cars that use the undercarriage.)

The Ben Schroeder Saddletree Factory was kind of the undercarriage maker for the saddle industry. And what an industry it was. When Schroeder started his factory in 1878, there were 12 saddletree factories in Madison, Indiana (the so-called saddletree capital). Schroeder’s factory ended up making 250 (!) different types of saddletrees.

The saddletrees are composed of wood that runs on either side of a horse’s spine (to distribute the rider’s weight on the horse, not its spine), a pommel (or not), and the cantle (the back). All of the bits could vary slightly: the length of the wooden sides, the size of the pommel, the height of the cantle. Some could be for men or women (the dreaded side saddle)—or lightweight versions for jockeys.

The factory designed them, cut and shaped the wood, added cloth or rawhide covers, dried them, and then shipped them to factories that would finish the saddles.

John Benedict “Ben” Schroeder was born in Prussia in 1848 and immigrated to the US in 1864. He started his factory in Madison in 1878. Nothing is known about his life before Madison. (Did he grow up in the saddletree industry? Was he an apprentice at a factory when he arrived in the US?)

Schroeder slowly gobbled up competitors over the years. In the 1910s, with the rise of cars, demand started to decline. And then the Great Depression hit. But Schroeder was a savvy businessman. He switched to markets in Cuba and Latin America, where there was still a strong demand for saddles. And he branched out into stirrups and hames (the collars of horse or oxen harnesses), and then other industries, such as clothespins, lawn furniture, and gloves.

He was also extremely frugal. He designed his own machinery or bought it used, and reused everything, such as the cardboard from cereal boxes, which he used to create patterns for the saddletrees.

Schroeder’s factory was handed down to his children. Six of his eight children made it to adulthood. Out of those six, four stayed in Madison to run the business. These four never married but devoted themselves to the business.

The business employed apprentices and journeymen. Although the factory was still operating into the 1970s, I do not know how many employees (apprentices or journeymen) were used in the later decades.

At its height, the employees were making 30 to 45 saddletrees per week. Altogether, from 1878 to 1972, they made 300,000 to 500,000 saddletrees.

The company came to an abrupt end in 1972 with the sudden death of the last surviving Schroeder child, Joe. One January day, Joe was working in the woodworking shop and came back to the office for something. He slipped on the ice, hit his head, and died.

Everything on the property—including the various workshops—was left as is until the city acquired the factory in 1992, twenty years after Joe’s death. Even Joe’s lunchbox that he had taken with him to the woodshop remained where it was left in 1972. As one visitor described it, the factory was like Pompeii without the lava (or the bodies, I would add).

With grants from the DOT and Lilly, the city started to restore the factory to its height in the 1940s. People from Ball State University came to inventory everything on the site, which took two years. (After seeing all the items in the workshops, I could believe that it took that long.) The restoration cost $1.2 million. The workshops look like they were just left as is with half finished products all around. The factory really is a time capsule.

The grounds consist of the house (where the family lived), a sawmill, a carpenter shop, an assembly shop, a blacksmith shop, and a drying room.

The living room is the only room of the house restored to its original use. The room includes a coal fireplace and piano. (I noticed a stereoscope, which I have been seeing everywhere in the last year or two.) The ceiling is covered in wallpaper and the gaslights have a pump for compression. (Something I hadn’t seen before for gaslights and didn’t quite understand.) The front door is a Jenny Lind door. (This was the second reference to Jenny Lind that I had heard during my trip to Madison. Clearly this PT Barnum entertainer was quite the thing in Madison…she apparently came to sing for the city for free.)

The house was flooded during the 1904 flood. (Madison is on the banks or the Ohio River.) In what points to his dogged tenacity, Schroeder painstakingly took apart the building brick by brick, raised the foundation three feet, and then put all the bricks back. I can’t comprehend doing that.

In the back of the property is the sawmill (built in 1934) with one of those large saws that made you wonder how anyone from that time period kept all of their limbs. (The docent pointed out a guy in one photo of early apprentices and journeymen at the factory who was missing a hand. Mishap in the sawmill?)

The carpenter and assembly shops look like people just finished working in them yesterday. Bits and pieces fill the workshops. Throughout the carpenter and assembly shops are radiators that the Schroeders made themselves. (Remember their frugal nature? Make what you need if you can, or buy it used.)

The carpenter shop is full of machinery to form and polish different pieces of wood—for different bits of the saddletree, clothespins, and furniture. I was surprised to learn that the clothespins required at least three different machines—one to carve the wood, another to make the notch in the clothespins, and a third one to polish them. In one corner stood the huge boiler, fed in part with wood chips from making the clothespins.

While in the assembly shop, the docent warned me to not get too close to a large bucket, which was yellow on the inside. The bucket was used to hold the cyanide-laced paint used on the rawhide covers for the saddletrees.

On one workbench in the assembly shop was a glove (sans thumb) model that fabric was fitted on for the production of gloves. I exclaimed that the length of the fingers on the model indicated that the gloves were for men. (The docent found my observation less than interesting.)

Although the saddletrees were wooden, some of them were reinforced with metal, such as the lightweight, even childlike saddletrees of jockeys. Pommels were made of metal and affixed in notches in the saddletree. Hence the need for the blacksmith shop.

One thing in particular struck me about the blacksmith shop. Not only did the shop have a furnace, which I would have thought kept it toasty even in the winter. But it also had a freestanding stove AND more of those homemade radiators!

The drying room is what you would imagine. A trap door in the floor leads to a vat with chemicals for treating the rawhide that covered some saddletrees. After a dip, the saddletrees were hung up to dry, and for lack of a better word, for the wood to cure.

Touring the Schroeder Saddletree Factory was an eye-opening experience. I had no idea what was involved in the making of saddles, that an industry revolved around the “undercarriage” of the saddle, and that such an industry could survive into the 1970s. This factory that survived against all odds claims to be the only saddletree museum in the country.