We love it when folks stop by our museum to look around, and when big yellow buses creep up to disgorge loads ‘o kids. All day, people come and go—they’re the reason why we’re here. I imagine that very few visitors realize that beneath their feet lies a subterranean world where folks toil with the museum’s unseen internal workings. Those of us stationed in the basement are light-heartedly referred to as “dungeon dwellers.” It’s a bit like a sensory deprivation chamber down here, a near total lack of sound, outside stimuli, and natural light. Some days we only pop up above ground for lunch and breaks, otherwise oblivious to happenings above and of weather’s capricious whims. For a few hours it’s easy to forget there’s a world of light and life above us.

zinnias outside stairwell window

Zinnias (and a butterfly) outside the museum’s basement stairwell window.

Ascending the stairs from our basement, there’s a ground-level window looking west from a landing near the summit. Whipping back a curtain that keeps afternoon sun from baking the stairwell presents a worm’s eye view of the world outside. Rising from the basement, it’s our first dose of sunlight, served with a sliver of western sky, a glimpse of weather not quite here yet. Atmospheric reality thus revealed often surprises, does not agree with expectation. Weather doesn’t care, changed its mind while we were underground. Welcome to the Ozarks.

Humans need to be outside. Failing that, those of us under the building will settle for a little sunlight. That window is important. Summer’s abundance brings no hardship on dungeon folk. But when clocks fall back and cheating winter night steals our light, the window disappoints at day’s end, provides no solace. Those few short days of both arriving and departing in darkness take a toll. Like that first gasping breath after surfacing from a deep dive, that first sight of sunlight is anxiously anticipated, finally warms the heart when escaping basement darkness. Natural light is like air—you need it, but you don’t miss it until you don’t have it.

When the curtain parts, sometimes wondrous wee creatures look back. For twenty-some years, green-white curls of ho-hum monkey grass (liriope) held sway over window’s court. Those days we peeked out at snails, slugs, grasshoppers, lizards, and spiders that dwelt therein. Passing squirrels or an occasional tiger-striped cat broke the monotony. Suddenly Marty (Powers, our groundskeeper) wrought his vengeance on that foul liriope, wielding backhoe’s jaws to overthrow despot monkey grass, banished to the compost heap. Masterful Washington County Master Gardeners Renee and Brad Baldwin graciously arrayed a varied and colorful palette, woven of plants that give succor to flutter-bys (butterflies), hummingbirds and sundry busy-buzzing pollinators. Summer’s view from our window stretched, yawned, and awoke.

Monarch butterfly on zinnia.

Closeup of a monarch near the stairwell window, taken by museum photographer Bo Williams.

Certain basement denizens have been down here for decades. As far as I can discern, our bodies haven’t yet begun to physically adapt to underground environs. No loss of pigmentation or eyesight, yet, though greying hair and cataracts laugh and hint otherwise. However, a behavioral adaptation marks the senior dungeon dwellers. They have to stop and look out that window on their way up the stairs. We wish we were outside, failing that, we’ll settle for a little sunlight.

Curtis Morris is the Shiloh Museum’s exhibits manager.


Strange Happenings

Growing up in the south, I came to appreciate the art of embellishing a story. You never outright lie; you simply over-emphasize certain aspects of the truth and leave out the boring and irrelevant bits. As both a librarian and a historian, I have also learned that often the truth is stranger than fiction—no embellishment needed. So when I come across a peculiar image or just something different in our photo collection, I often wonder just what the story behind the image is. Some of them you know had to be a good one. Who were these people? And why were they doing that? Or what is really going on here?

Below you will find some images from our collection that are just fun. A couple of them have me scratching my head a little.

Asa Barlett Coger (right) and an indientified friend. St. Paul (Madison County), circa 1918.

Asa Barlett Coger (right) and an unidentified friend, St. Paul (Madison County), circa 1918. Naomi Coger Miller Collection (S-2000-106-13)

The question here is, what would possess two grown men to climb a tree? You know that when they told this story (if they ever did!) it was likely one of those “you had to be there” moments.

Here’s what I can tell you about Asa Coger, the man on the right. He was born October 8, 1880, to Franklin Monroe and Lucinda Jane Davis Coger.  He died January 16, 1978, and is buried next to his wife, Amanda Ethel Bedingfield Coger, in Hindsville Cemetery (Madison County). He appears on the 1900 census as “H. B. Coger” and his home is in War Eagle, Benton County. He and Ethel married on January 17, 1907, in Madison County. In 1910, they lived in Hilburn township (Madison County) and he was a druggist. Asa Coger’s World War I draft card reveals that he was average height and build, with blue eyes and light-colored hair. In 1920, the Cogers returned to War Eagle. Drug Trade Weekly: A Commercial Publication for Druggists noted that in 1921, “Asa B. Coger, Huntsville, Ark., who has been engaged in the drug business for several years will erect a large drug store at Springdale.” His World War II draft card indicates a 61-year-old man who is self-employed as the owner of Coger Drug Store on Emma Avenue in Springdale.

While I was able to determine who he was and what he accomplished with his life, I still do not know why a man who was already engaged as a pharmacist was hanging upside-down from a tree limb.

Alfred Thomas Smith, Hot Springs, Arkansas, circa 1915.

Alfred Thomas Smith, Hot Springs, Arkansas, circa 1915. P. J. Smith Collection (S-87-259-18)

The alligator wearing your hat says it all, right? Here’s the thing, the photo was taken in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Who was this guy? Why was he in Hot Springs? Our database lists him as Alfred Thomas Smith. Based on another Smith family photo I found on a genealogy website, I believe our Alfred Thomas Smith was born August 20, 1861, and died August 31,1924.  He was married to Florence Eli Fitch (1866-1947). In both the 1880 and 1900 censuses, he lived in Madison County. After his marriage to Florence, they lived in Springdale, Arkansas, and, in the 1910 census, he is listed as a farmer. According to the 1920 census, they lived on Holcomb Street in Springdale and his occupation was still farming.

John Blackford (center) and friends, early 1900s.

John Blackford (center) and friends, early 1900s. Ardella Braswell Vaughan Collection (S-89-57-72)

This one is described in our database as “men on silly donkeys.” The donor of the photo, Ardella Braswell Vaughan, was born in Green Forest, Arkansas, and lived most of her life in Jasper (Newton County), Arkansas.

The only person identified in the photo is John Blackford (middle), who was a friend of Ardella’s. As far as I can tell, Blackford was born September 10, 1881, and died August 20, 1967. He married Lela E. Bishop. They lived in Johnson and Pope counties in the Arkansas River Valley.

Dr. Alonzo Everding Quinn.

Dr. Alonzo Everding Quinn. June Crane Collection (S-89-12-30)

I must admit, I was a little disappointed to discover this gentleman was a doctor. But then I wondered if he brought his own props for the photo shoot. Surely the photographer did not have a human skull just lying around, right? And did the doctor have this photo displayed in his office?

Dr. Alonzo Everding Quinn was born May 21, 1841, and died March 21, 1910. According to his obituary in the Springdale News, he was a physician in Grandview (Carroll County) for nearly twenty years. In 1860, he was living in Ohio and and was employed as a school teacher. In 1870, Quinn, his wife, and his children lived in Kansas and by 1880, he is listed as a physician in Carroll County, Arkansas.  Dr. Quinn died of blood poisoning and left behind a wife and seven children.

This photo of Dr. Quinn is part of a large collection of glass plate negatives donated to the Shiloh Museum by Dr. Quinn’s granddaughter. The negatives were found in the attic of the Quinn home.

Charles Blanchard, Edinburgh, Scotland, April 1934.

Charles Blanchard, Edinburgh, Scotland, April 1934. Charles Blanchard Collection (S-2001-49-1)

Who doesn’t love a kilt? According to information provided by Charles Blanchard (the subject and donor of this photo), he may have indulged a little too much with some friends and they all decided to go to a photo studio and have their photos taken while dressed like Scotsmen. He also noted that they had to stand very still for the camera.

Charles Theodore Blanchard Sr. was born 14 April 14, 1898, and died July 11, 1984. He was a private first class in the U. S. Army and served during World War I from  April 27,1918, to 2 June 2, 1919. On April 17,1921, he married Thelma Mattocks in Carroll County, Arkansas. After their marriage, they returned to his home state of Iowa and that is where they appear on the 1930 census. In 1940, however, they were in Berryville (Carroll County) and he is manager of an auto services shop.

I’m still kinda curious to know why the man was in Scotland in 1934. Was he serving in a military capacity or just on holiday with some friends?

Rachel Whitaker is the Shiloh Museum’s research specialist.


Restroom Recuerdos

Photo by Marcin Nowak on Unsplash

Working in and around museums for well over twenty years has jaded me somewhat. Considering all the cool and different stuff we get to experience, it’s rare that something really surprises me. Then I turned the corner into the men’s room at the Shiloh Museum and heard . . . Spanish classical guitar music? I was convinced I was dreaming or hallucinating, because there was no other way to make sense of the sound that I thought was coming from the men’s room, and here’s why.

I love to search for and listen to solo acoustic guitar performances. There are many flavors, old and new, from Spanish classical and flamenco to New Age stuff with names like “percussive acoustic” or “heavy wood.” Not what you normally encounter in Northwest Arkansas, but it’s often the soundtrack in my head. YouTube is about the only place to search for these genres. Just one performer, one instrument, no overdubs, no multi-tracks, but it often sounds like a group of players. It’s a tour de force sort of thing—musicians showing off because they can, and I love to listen. I’ll occasionally attempt to play a feeble line or two, just enough to appreciate the challenge. My family suffers much, but I digress.

Since I’m in a restroom in Arkansas and not on a street corner in Seville, my logical conclusion was that these familiar sounds were all in my head. But rounding the corner in the men’s room, I find a nicely dressed young man perched on a chair, scrunched over his Spanish Classical styled guitar, with his right foot propped on a tiny stool. He’s playing “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Francisco Tárrega, and he’s killing it. The acoustics in the bathroom are shockingly good. Startled by my sudden appearance, the young virtuoso was quick to apologize for invading my, um, space. I was quick to encourage him to keep playing, and asked if he would take requests!

In what sounded to me like a high Castilian accent, the musician explained that he had found a quiet spot to practice for a concert later that evening, just up the road at the Arts Center of the Ozarks (ACO). It wasn’t until much later that I learned he was part of a group of world-class musicians, winners of an international competition held in Ragusa, Italy. The contest is sponsored by the IBLA Foundation in New York, and the grand prize winners participate in a world concert tour. They play such prestigious venues as the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York, the Tokyo Opera City Hall, and the Tchaikovsky Bolshoi Hall in Moscow, with a sprinkling of other venues across the United States. It’s a big deal, and we’re lucky that the IBLA performers have played in an Arkansas venue for the last eighteen years, luckier still that they wound up playing the ACO in Springdale.

Turns out the young guitarrista with the intriguing accent did take requests—he played everything I could remember from my mental list of classical selections. His take on Issac Albéniz’s “Leyenda” (“Asturias”) was superb—both the traditional Segovia-styled version, AND a faster and technically precise rendition in the manner of modern Croatian artist Ana Vidovic. Wore me out just watching. I was deeply impressed and humbled.

Fate had other plans for my evening, so I was bummed about missing the concert. It’s OK though, I enjoyed a neat little micro-performance in the most unlikely of places. And the acoustics were wonderful.

Curtis Morris is the Shiloh Museum’s exhibits manager.


Taste of Tontitown

Nova Jean Fiori Watson flouring a rolled-out sheet of pasta, May 2018.

Nova Jean Fiori Watson flouring a rolled-out sheet of pasta, May 2018.

Ravioli was on my mind during a phone conversation with Nova Jean Fiori Watson. That’s not why I called her, but as we finished our business I had to ask, “Did your mother make ravioli?” I was curious because I have a circle of friends who love to cook and our next project together was ravioli.

Nova Jean has a life-long love of the Italian food she grew up with. Her paternal grandparents were Maria “Mary” Cortiana and Pietro “Pete” Fiori. Born in Italy, they came to Northwest Arkansas as young children in 1898 with their families and other Italian settlers, under the leadership of Father Pietro Bandini. Together these immigrants founded the farming community of Tontitown, west of Springdale.

Maria "Mary" Cortiana Fiori and Pietro "Pete" Fiori, 1912.

Maria “Mary” Cortiana Fiori and Pietro “Pete” Fiori, 1912. Elsie Mae Fiori Pianalto Collection (S-2003-2-736)

When she was a child, Nova Jean lived with Nona Mary and Nono Pete during the school year. In an article she wrote for the Tontitown Storia (Spring 2007), Nova Jean said that she “looked forward to the day Nona baked bread, because we would have fried bread and [home-canned] peaches for lunch.  It was sooo good.”  When Nona’s grandsons had free time, she had them kill the sparrows roosting in her brooder houses with their BB guns. “She called them ‘Chee Chee Birds.’ She would skin them, clean them and cut off just the beaks, leaving the heads. She prepared hers in the oven with oil, sage, and garlic. They were delicious. How sad that none of us bothered to learn the recipe.” In a recent email, Nova Jean recalled another specialty of Nona’s—homemade soup, which she “always started with salt pork grease from a crock in the cellar, which was replenished each time the family butchered a hog.”

Fern Haney Fiori adjusting the cake she's cutting slices from at the wedding reception for Luellen Penzo and James "Jim" Weiss, Venesian Inn, Tontitown, March 10, 1955.

Fern Haney Fiori adjusting the cake she’s cutting slices from at the wedding reception for Luellen Penzo and James “Jim” Weiss, Venesian Inn, Tontitown, March 10, 1955. Luellen Penzo Weiss Collection (S-2011-100-1)

Years later, after Nova Jean and her husband Danny Ray Watson retired and moved back to Tontitown, Nova Jean’s mother Fern came to live with them. Fern Haney Fiori grew up in an Irish family in nearby Elm Springs where, according to Nova Jean, “the teenagers and young adults mixed with the same from Tontitown.  They would mostly dance at someone’s home or any place large enough to accommodate the crowd, any place within walking distance for both communities.” In 1934 Fern married Pete & Mary’s son, Bill Fiori. Over the years Fern learned to cook a few Italian dishes from the ladies in the community.  Fern and Nova Jean had many conversations about food. In 1992 she asked her mother about the chicken filling she made for ravioli.  In a shaky hand Fern wrote, “Boil chickens pick off bone…”

I think Nova Jean and I are kindred spirits in the kitchen. Not just the joy of cooking, but exploring and cherishing the memories and histories behind the recipes.  One of the other Italian foods she’s researched is a sweet bread made at Easter, locally known as fugase. In the early 1990s she collected recipes from several Tontitown ladies including her paternal aunt, Elsie Mae Fiori Pianalto. Maybe Nova Jean and I can get together to make bread someday. Until then, I’ll enjoy making chicken ravioli. Here’s the recipe, so you can taste a bit of history, too.  Buon appetito!

Fern Haney Fiori's recipe for chicken ravioli, with Nova Jean Fiori Watson's notations, 1992.

Fern Haney Fiori’s recipe for chicken ravioli, with Nova Jean Fiori Watson’s notations, 1992. Courtesy Nova Jean Fiori Watson.

Fern Haney Fiori’s Chicken Ravioli
This is Nova Jean’s version of her mother’s recipe, scaled down from the three chickens it originally called for. Serve the cooked ravioli with a bit of red sauce (marinara) or en brodo (in broth).  Makes about 56 ravioli or four meal-sized servings.

Filling (makes 4 cups of filling)

4 cups cooked, boneless chicken meat, broken into pieces

4 tablespoons (one-half stick) of salted butter

1 celery rib, chopped into small chunks (about 1/2 cup)

1 small onion, chopped into small chunks (about 1/2 cup)

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

2 saltine-type crackers

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Salt & pepper

1 large egg

1-2 tablespoons chicken broth or water

Pasta Dough (makes 1 3/4 pound of dough)

3 large eggs

2 1/2 cups flour

To make the filling, melt two tablespoons butter in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Lightly brown half of the chicken and remove.  Repeat with the remaining chicken and butter. (If the chicken is browned too deeply, it will make the filling gritty.)  Once the meat is cool, grind it in a meat grinder, alternating with the celery, onion, garlic, and parsley.  Add the crackers last, to clear out the grinder.  (If using a food processor, pulse the meat and vegetables separately until chopped fine; do not puree.)

Add the cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper to the ground mixture and blend thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasonings, as needed. Add the egg and one tablespoon or two of broth or water to make a loose, but not wet, mix.

To make the pasta dough, place the eggs into a large bowl and whisk with a fork. Add the flour and mix until the dough comes together into a shaggy ball. Squeeze some of the dough in your hand to see if it holds together. If so, knead the dough on the counter for a few minutes until smooth. If not, for a crumbly dough, add a little chicken broth or water. For a sticky dough, add a bit of flour. The proportion of egg to flour is 1:2 (one part egg by weight, two parts flour by weight).

Roll out the pasta dough into sheets and form the ravioli, using a tablespoon of chicken filling per raviolo (the singular form of ravioli). Cook the ravioli in simmering chicken broth for 3-7 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Serve the ravioli with broth or with a red sauce.  Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Nova Jean Fiori Watson's Atlas pasta maker, bought in 1960, and the well-worn dough bowl that belonged to her paternal grandmother Maria "Mary" Cortiana Fiori.

Nova Jean Fiori Watson’s Atlas pasta maker, bought in 1960, and the well-worn dough bowl that belonged to her paternal grandmother Maria “Mary” Cortiana Fiori.

NOTE:  There are plenty of recipes and videos on the Internet for making chicken broth and red sauce (marinara), rolling out pasta dough, and forming ravioli.

Marie Demeroukas is the Shiloh Museum’s photo archivist/research librarian.


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.


Priscilla, Queen of the Vacuum

Priscilla the Fastidious Pig, probably at a Quality Feed Store in Springdale, Rogers, or Huntsville, Arkansas, circa 1950.

Priscilla the Fastidious Pig, probably at a Quality Feed Store in Springdale, Rogers, or Huntsville, circa 1950. LeAnn Ritter Underwood Collection (S-2012-31-74)

It’s always fun to look through photo donations because you never know what you’ll find—and learn. In looking through a batch of images donated by LeAnn Ritter Underwood I came across a photo which made me laugh out loud. A pig nosing a vacuum cleaner!

Quality Feed Store, Springdale, Rogers, or Huntsville, Arkansas, 1950s.

Quality Feed Store, Springdale, Rogers, or Huntsville, 1950s. Hubert L. Musteen, photographer. LeAnn Ritter Underwood Collection (S-2012-31-61)

The collection belonged to Mrs. Underwood’s father, Roy C. Ritter (1908-2001), who was born in the Wheeler community of Washington County. Ritter began raising turkeys and broilers in Springdale in the 1930s, just as the poultry industry was getting started in Northwest Arkansas. The broilers raised at his Arkansas Quality Farm were served at his A. Q. Chicken House restaurant, founded in 1947. He also opened Quality Feed stores and hatcheries in Springdale, Rogers, and Harrison. Ritter was a leader in the poultry industry, both statewide and nationally, serving as president of such organizations as the Arkansas Poultry Federation, the National Turkey Federation, and the National Broiler Council. Ritter was also a community leader, serving as Springdale mayor in the 1970s.

So why the pig photo? It took a few Google searches before I came across a reference in C. James Goodwin’s 1999 book, A History of Modern Psychology. In it he wrote about the work of Keller and Marian Breland, who, as graduate students during World War II, worked with noted psychologist B.F. Skinner to train pigeons to guide missiles.  After graduate school the Brelands opened Applied Behavior Enterprises in Minnesota, training animals for entertainment and commercial purposes. Their first contract was with General Mills, teaching hens to tap dance as a way to advertise the company’s Larro Farm Feed.

Animal trainers Keller and Marian Breland, from the booklet Animal Wonderland: The Story of the Keller Breland Educated Animals, 1962.

Animal trainers Keller and Marian Breland, from the booklet Animal Wonderland: The Story of the Keller Breland Educated Animals, 1962. Ernie Deane Collection (“Hot Springs IQ Zoo”), Manuscript #167, S-2012-136-63)

Their success led to “Priscilla the Fastidious Pig.” According to an article about the Breland’s training methods, not only could Priscilla push a vacuum, she could turn on the radio, put clothes in a hamper, eat breakfast at a table, answer quiz questions, and select her favorite food—Larro, of course—from that of competitors. From 1948 to 1950 Priscilla performed her act at feed-stores, county fairs, and on television. Except it wasn’t the same Priscilla. Every few months, as Priscilla grew in size, she was replaced by a new trained pig, one that was smaller and easier to ship.

Comparison of the stage and fencing in the Ritter photo with similar photos on the Internet help ID this pig as Priscilla, along with the feed box with its Larro decal. A notation on the back of the photo reads, “Frame and send to Quality Springdale,” suggesting that the photo might have been taken by a Larro representative at one of Ritter’s Quality Feed stores.

There’s another Arkansas connection to this story, as I discovered by looking in newspaperman Ernie Deane’s extensive research files, donated to the Shiloh Museum by his daughter Fran Deane Alexander. In the early 1950s the Brelands moved their company to Hot Springs and opened the I. Q. Zoo in 1955. Visitors could watch such animal acts as piano-playing cats, drumming ducks, high-wire hens, and basketball-dunking raccoons. The critters were trained through “operant conditioning,” a type of animal psychology which encouraged specific, desirable behaviors with food rewards.

So as a result of one funny photo I learned about Priscilla, the Brelands, and I. Q. Zoo. Who knew?

Marie Demeroukas is the Shiloh Museum’s photo archivist/research librarian.