by Reub Williams
"A song for the free and gladsome life,
In the early days we led,
With a teeming soil beneath our feet,
And a smiling Heaven o'erhead."
Although I devoted considerable space to the amusements of the pioneers in my last sketch, I did not get through with that feature. The pioneer, although he led a hard, laborious life, possessed a vein of genial humor and a disposition for fun and jest very prevalent, and every neighborhood almost had its jester. I feel sure that the readers of this sketch who were early settlers, and remember the old jokers, that their minds will readily turn to "Lihu" Davis, who up to the date of his death lived in the neighborhood of the old county farm, and Newton Nye, who emigrated, along with Al Tibbitts, of this place, and the three Sloan brothers, of Leesburg, crossing the plains to California in the gold seeking days. He was the father of Thomas J. Nye, a well respected business man, who still resides here.
Both of these men were noted for their ready wit, their keen and cutting satire, and if one or both of them happened to be in a knot of young fellows, at the corner of the "old tavern," it would be well worth anyone's while who liked a jest to stop in the crowd for a short time, for something funny would be sure to happen. Davis was always in a good humor, never permitting himself to be angered at any merciless reply on the part of some victim of his scathing wit, while Nye, equally as witty and full of jests, sometimes made, perhaps, more stinging replies than he intended. It is out of the question to reproduce any of these jests, as the surroundings, and the genial laugh on the part of the bystanders, would be lacking, but it was a habit with a small crowd of appreciative young fellows to circulate the fact that "Lihu" was in town, and he would soon be surrounded with as merry a gang as any clown in a circus ever made fun for. such characters were in every neighborhood and they were the life and soul of the crowd.
In those days it was the custom for many of the townspeople to visit the maple-sugar camps in their season, and this was one of a good many means of enjoyment, fun and frolic. The country people were exceedingly hospitable, and the young people of those days were always delighted to assemble at a "wax pulling," many of the boys and girls walking several miles to participate in the fun and music that was sure to sway an evening--an all-night rather--in a sugar camp. After the sugar making season was past it became quite common to have "was pulling" parties in town. Maple sugar was plentiful, and seldom went above ten cents a pound in price. All the stores were full of caked maple sugar, and the young men would buy a few of these cakes and the girls would reduce them to thick syrup, with the resultant "wax" and the fun accompaniment. The making of the wax was only an excuse for the young people to get together, and, as in the corn-huskings, I have known of engagements to be concluded at "wax-pulling"; indeed, when a young man and a young lady have an innate inkling to become more to one another than to be on just speaking terms, a corn -husking, a camp-meeting, or a wax-pulling could easily become the locale of conquests, some of which I know to have lasted till the present time.
In the year 1847 the ladies of Warsaw, both married and single, organized a "sewing-circle," the object being to manufacture a list of articles to be sold at a fair to be held in the future, the articles being put up at auction and sold to the highest bidder, the proceeds secured in this way to be expended in building a respectable fence around what was the original burial ground of Warsaw, located then a short distance southeast of the crossing of the two railroads that pass through this city. All winter long and meeting once every day the ladies labored so that when late spring arrived they had a large amount of goods and knickknacks of many kinds ready for the contemplated fair. These included articles of all sorts; sheets, pillow-cases and everything imaginable in needlework, to which was added donations from the various business establishments to help give variety to the stock of goods to be disposed of.
The town was very small and it took two years to raise a sufficient sum of money in that way to accomplish the purpose in view. The sewing club operated somewhat like an old-time schoolmaster; it "boarded around among its scholars"--that is, the meetings were held once a week at one place and the next one at the home of some other member. John Stapleford at one point lived in a long, one-story frame house that reached form the east side of James H. White's present restaurant for perhaps sixty feet eastward. This house stood lengthwise along Center street, Stapleford using the four or five rooms fronting on that street for his dwelling place, he having a general store on the ground of the restaurant. On all of these doors in the dwelling fronting the street Stapleford had placed an old-fashioned brass knocker--such a one, I presume, as Toodles was in the habit of bidding off at auctions, along with his second-hand coffin. It didn't take a few of "us boys" a long time to discover the utility of the knocker. We were too young to be admitted in the sewing circle, but the young men of the place--older ones too, for that matter--usually dropped in among the ladies, the beaux acting as escorts in taking home the young ladies; the husbands, of course, seeing to their wives.
About 4 o'clock on the evening of one of the meetings of the circle at Stapleford's residence, the writer hunted up Bram Funk and Tom Fairbrother--all of us small boys at that time--and the arrangement was made to use these knockers on our own account; so three or four fish lines were procured and as soon as dark permitted it to be done without being seen, one end of the line was securely fastened to two of the knockers farthest apart, so that we could have "two strings to our bows." Both lines were carried across the street to the lot now occupied by Huffer Brothers' livery stable, then a vacant lot except that it was covered with oak underbrush. As there was about three inches of snow on the ground and our fish-lines were fine and small, we were quite confident that in the night-time the circle ladies and their gallants would not readily, at least, find them.
When the party began to arrive the young men would, of course, pull the knocker, and was at once admitted by some young lady. Then, safely ensconced among the bush, on the opposite side of the road, one or the other of us would pull the string, and a young lady would just as surely as the other time, open the door, only to find no one there; nor did they discover the string, for it was dark, and the string was slacked up so as to hang straight down the door, while the sidewalk was covered with snow, thus concealing it quite securely. This joke was kept up by us three youngsters until the party began to grow somewhat superstitious on the subject. Someone inside answered the knocker, certainly six or eight times, and after the first three or four had shown nobody there, several young men, confident that some trick or other was in the wind, slipped out the back way intending to watch for the person operating the knocker.
We could see them, but were hidden from their sight and when the coast became clear again, the "insiders" would again hear the inevitable "Rochester Knockings," the Fox Sisters having along about that time set spiritualism going throughout the country. The trick was not found out that night, but by the adding of new members to the "gang" it became too bold, and within the next few weeks the way the knocking was done became public property; but not before we had tied the same string to the clapper of the bell of the old court house and "raised the town as with a cyclone!
Warsaw Daily Times August 31, 1901
Back to YesterYear in Print