Paul’s Blue Ox

Note: Thanks to our museum photographer, Bo Williams, for filming Paul’s Blue Ox in action.

When cataloging an artifact, many aspects of it can be extremely helpful in determining how it was used, where it came from, and the date range of manufacture and/or use. A family history of that artifact can fill in many of those blanks. Artifacts that are stamped with company information, and, in some cases, a patent number, can give us a very specific date range to go from. However, when that patent number does not match a patent resembling the artifact in question, it becomes even more challenging to figure out a date. Such was the case with a recent donation from the Patricia Laird Vaughan estate of “Paul’s Blue Ox,” a toy made by Multipl-aktion Toy Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Paul’s Blue Ox is a “ball-actuated” toy:  marbles roll down the back of the ox until a lumberjack type figure rises up, knocks the marble off of between the ox’s horns, and dumps it on the tray at the bottom of the toy. Paul’s Blue Ox came to us in its original box. Printed on the box is patent number 1791217. A patent search on the internet linked that number to a European patent for female and male connector circuitry, not for a toy from the 1940s (that date was my educated guess).

Next I turned to a web search to find information about the Multipl-aktion Toy Company. The search engine kept trying to tell me the company name was “Multiple-Action” Toy Company, which was not the name I was looking for. I was able to find one web listing for the toy with the same patent number which dated the toy as 1931 but yielded no other new information. I also located an entry in the 1944 Minneapolis city directory for the “Multipl Aktion Toy Company” with salesmen David Ackerberg and Sidney Rivkin listed as company officers.

With nothing to show for my sleuthing but limited bits of information on the Blue Ox, I reluctantly moved on to another artifact from the same donor—a toy xylophone. The xylophone’s patent numbers proved quite helpful, and the numbers started with a “US” prefix. I finished cataloging the xylophone, then, on a whim, I went back to the Blue Ox patents. I decided to try the patent search again, this time adding “US” to the patent number. This led me to a 1929 patent for a liquid-vending machine issued to Sidney L. Long of Minneapolis, Minnesota—same location as the Multipl-aktion Toy Company, but the time period was a bit early and the patent was not for a Blue Ox toy.

I delved deeper into the other patents submitted by Sidney L. Long, and there, finally, I found a ball-actuated toy, patent number 2434571, filed August 29, 1945. That patent is for a toy that looks almost identical to the Blue Ox.

Even though an erroneous patent number led to several dead ends, it still provided valuable information for finally tracking down the correct patent for Paul’s Blue Ox.

Aaron Loehndorf is the Shiloh Museum’s collections and education specialist.

Telling Ed’s Story

Aaron Loehndorf with Ed Stilley, March 2019.

Shiloh Museum collections and education specialist Aaron Loehndorf greets Ed Stilley at the Instruments of Faith exhibit reception, March 30, 2019.

There is a saying, “all good things must come to an end.” On January 13,2020, our Instruments of Faith exhibit on the life and work of folk instrument maker Ed Stilley will close. For me, it was truly a blessing to curate the exhibit, and it will be bittersweet as I take it down.

Early in the exhibit creation process, I was fortunate enough to meet folk musicians Kelly and Donna Mulhollan, friends of the Stilley family. The assistance and support from Kelly and Donna made the exhibit possible, and they made the work enjoyable. Kelly and Donna introduced me to Ed Stilley and his wife, Eliza.  Meeting the Stilleys is still an awe-inspiring moment for me. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met as they welcomed me into their home. I have never met anyone like Ed—forceful yet quiet, reserved yet expressive. The fact that I had the chance to spend time with him during the course of the exhibit was the highlight of the entire process.

Museum exhibits frequently cover topics from the past or about individuals that are no longer with us. Telling someone else’s story, especially while they’re still alive, can be daunting. I had some concerns about how the exhibit would be received, especially since at the heart of Ed Stilley’s life story is his response to a vision he said he received from God. It’s a very personal story. I wanted to present it to the public in a meaningful, respectful way. Overall, I could not be happier with how Instruments of Faith turned out and the rave reviews we’ve received from visitors. There might be one or two minor tweaks—things I would have done differently—but all in all, I am happy with it.

Ed Stilley and Kelly Mulhollan

Ed Stilley signs a copy of his biography, True Faith, True Light, as author Kelly Mulhollan looks on. Stilley and Mulhollan were attending the museum’s Instrument of Faith exhibit reception on March 30, 2019.

While Ed Stilley stopped making instruments a few years ago due to poor health, he and his family joyfully attended the Instruments of Faith exhibit opening on March 30, 2019. Ed sang a hymn for the audience and also signed copies of his biography, True Faith, True Light, written by Kelly Mulhollan and published by the University of Arkansas Press. I think for all those in attendance, being in the same room with Ed Stilley, getting the chance to shake his hand, was a very moving experience. I believe the exhibit reception was Ed’s last public appearance. He passed away on June 12, 2019.

Soon the Ed Stilley instruments will come down, the tools in his replica tool shed will be put away, and the life-size photo of Rose the mule will find a new home. I wish I had words to do justice about what this experience has meant to me, but I am at a loss. It was truly a life changing process to be a part of, and I will carry the memories and experiences for the rest of my life. Thank you once again to all the individuals who loaned their Stilley instruments for the exhibit. Another thank you to all who came to see the exhibit and took time to share their impressions with us. (It is always nice to hear positive comments from the people that the museum serves.) Finally, a special thank you to Kelly and Donna Mulhollan, and to the entire Stilley family for entrusting me with Ed’s story. I hope you feel that I did it justice.

Aaron Loehndorf is the Shiloh Museum’s collections and education specialist.

Spring Arrivals

Cedar waxwings at Shiloh Museum.

Cedar waxwings are a sure sign of spring on the museum grounds. Photo by Aaron Loehndorf

There are many signs to the coming of spring. Here at Shiloh it is usually the appearance of spring flowers, ground bees buzzing, and wildlife returning, both human and non. One of the sure signs that happen each year around this time for several days is the appearance of cedar waxwings. These playful birds often travel in large groups. Here at the museum, one or two waxwings arrive first and are followed shortly by larger numbers. In the springtime, they pick at the blossoms of our hackberry trees; in the fall, they will return for a feast of holly berries.

Cedar waxwings at the Shiloh Museum

Three ninjas. Photo by Aaron Loehndorf

These “ninjas,” as one staff member called them, silently appear and make their presence known with their calls. Cedar waxwings have two calls. One is a high-pitched, trilled “bzeee” and the other a sighing whistle. Visit Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology for audio clips of each call.

Leucistic robin at the Shiloh Museum

A leucistic robin takes refuge on the museum grounds. Photo by Aaron Loehndorf

Another wildlife sign of spring is the occasional glimpse of a leucistic American robin. Leucism is from the German leucimus, which is from the Greek leukόs for “clear, white.” It is caused by reduced pigmentation which causes pale color or patches of reduced coloring. Unlike albinism which is caused by a lack of melanin, leucism inhibits melanin and other pigments as well.

Adjacent to Spring Creek and right on the Razorback Regional Greenway, our museum campus is a great spot for a nature walk. Bring the family, but please remember to respect the flora and fauna that call this little downtown oasis home.

Aaron Loehndorf is the Shiloh Museum’s collections and education specialist.


Plowing New Ground

Aaron behind the plow. Photo by Judy Costello

Professional development opportunities and conferences are opportunities to not only network with colleagues from across the country, but in some cases around the world. Recently education manager Judy Costello and I were fortunate to be able to travel to Mumford, New York, for the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) annual conference. This year’s conference theme was “Breaking Through Barriers: Living History in Modern Times.”

Like many other conferences, there were sessions about the work of different museums and historic sites as well as the opportunity to visit several sites in the area. But there are a couple of traditions that are unique to ALHFAM conferences. One such tradition is the Plowing Match, where conference attendees can sign up to plow a furrow. This year at Genesee Country Village & Museum the competition involved directing a team of oxen.

The finished furrow. Pretty good for a beginner! Photo by Judy Costello

There were three categories offered in the contest: novice, apprentice, and expert. Since I have never plowed before, I signed up as a novice. Matt Sanbury of Genesee Country Village & Museum walked alongside us novices as we plowed, giving  tips about which way to lean the plow as we guided the oxen team.

In the end there were over forty people who took the plowing challenge, including twenty-six novices. It was quite a surprise during the closing banquet when I was awarded third place in the novice category and was given a commemorative mug made by Mark Presher, master potter at Genesee.

The top five in the novice class. Photo by Judy Costello

While I do not expect to be plowing anytime soon here at Shiloh, being able to participate in historic trades like plowing allows us to convey what people in the Ozarks historically had to deal with on a daily basis.

Aaron Loehndorf is the Shiloh Museum’s collections and education specialist.