29 August 2013

Midsummer - An 1878 Poem

Around this lovely valley rise
The purple hills of Paradise.
O, softly on yon banks of haze
Her rosy face the summer lays!
Becalmed along the azure sky
The argosies of cloudland lie,
Whose stores with many a shining rift,
Far off their pearl-white peaks uplift.
Through all the long midsummer day
The meadow sides are sweet with hay.
I seek the coolest sheltered seat,
Just where the field and forest meet —
Where grow the pine trees tall and bland,
The ancient oaks austere and grand,
The fringy roots and pebbles fret
The ripples of the rivulet.
I watch the mowers as they go
Through the tall grass, a white-sleeved row;
With even strokes their scythes they swing,
In tune with their merry whetstones ring.
Behind the nimble youngsters run,
And toss the thick swaths in the sun;
The cattle graze, while warm and still,
Slopes the broad pasture, basks the hill,
And bright, when summer breezes break,
The green wheat crinkles like a lake.
The butterfly and bumble-bee
Come to the pleasant woods with me;
Quickly before me runs the quail, 
The chickens skulk behind the rail,
High up the lone wood-pigeon sits,
And the woodpecker pecks and flits.
Sweet woodland music sinks and swells,
The brooklet rings its tinkling bells,
The swarming insects drone and hum,
The partridge beats his throbbing drum,
The squirrel leaps among the boughs,
And chatters in his leafy house;
The oriole flashes by; and look —
Into the mirror of the brook,
Where the vain blue-bird trims his coat,
Two tiny feathers fall and float.
As silently, as tenderly.
The dawn of peace descends on me.
O, this is peace! I have no need
Of friend to talk, or book to read;
A dear companion hear abides;
Close to my thrilling heart he bides;
The holy silence is His voice,
I lie, and listen, and rejoice.
August 22, 1878. Mower County Transcript 11(21): 5.

The Boblink or Bob-Lincoln - An 1841 Poem

By Thomas Fisher.
Upon New-Hampshire’s grassy hills
My cradle was a tussoc nest,
My lullaby the murmuring rills;
And there my infant dreams were blest
With visions of June’s laughing hours,
And butter-cups and clover-flowers;
And there my father's simple song
Was ‘happy as the day was long;’
I cannot tell, you cannot think,
How bravely there he sang Boblink!
How gay he sung Boblink, Boblink!
Link-link, Boblink! — Boblink, Link-link!
While yet the sunlight’s strongest hour
Sheds o’er those hills its genial power,
From day to day we nestlings grew,
And when the mowers struck, we flew:
Dreadful destruction came to pass
O’er all those lovely flowers and grass;
And when the men and maidens came
To spread and rake the fragrant hay,
You would not know the scene the same;
Vast ruin happens in a day!
I cannot tell, you cannot think,
How sad my father sang Boblink!
How mournfully he sang Boblink!
Swiftly our orb’s fixed zodiacs run,
That lift and lower the glorious sun,
And soon the slow-declining light
Fell feebly on my native height;
And summer’s scenes and gayest flowers
Gave place to Autumn’s sober hours.
Eternal Instinct’s guardian care,
That guides the wanderers of the air,
Called all the passage-birds away,
Impelled us, though we longed to stay.
The warblers in their native groves,
The web-foots by old ocean's shore,
Rallied their little ones and loves,
To trust the trackless air once more.
Albeit our native fields were bright,
And August flowers were blooming nigh,
Our kindred joined the general flight —
Glad pilgrims to a warmer sky;
We knew that Nature’s harvests there
Were spread for every bird of air:
On the free bounty of her store
Trusted our sires in days of yore.
Our beaux were not in summer dress;
They sang their plaintive autumn notes,
Not those the rattle-caps express
When love incites their merry throats;
So sad their hearts, you would not think
They ever sang Boblink—link-link!
Bright summer ripens many a seed,
But none more luscious than the reed
That robes the islands and broad shores,
Where to the sea Shanunga* pours;
Thither our countless flights repair,
Like starlings blackening all the air.
’Tis a vast festival; the sportsmen pour
A rolling volley on the shore;
Falcons are there; and all-devouring man
Feasts on fat reed-birds! as on ortolan ;
Till cool September bids our millions fly
To the warm mantle of a sunnier sky;
Then o’er Savannah's fertile delta spread,
The rice-plant waves its many-feeding head;
Your Boblink-Rice-bird takes a bounteous share,
And smooths his plumage in a genial air.
Till guardian Nature, that protects us all,
When heroes perish, or when sparrows fall,
Still bids us follow toward the southern zone,
And make the sun’s bright journey all our own.
O’er ‘lands of flowers,’ and o’er the tropic isles
Where all unblanched, perennial verdure smiles;
High o’er the sea-boy through the crimson air,
From isle to isle our myriad swarms repair;
Where Amazon’s luxuriant shores are rife,
And earth’s bright girdle teems with joyous life.
There, while stern winter's deadliest rigors blow,
Our native hills deep-whelmed in drifted snow,
Your Boblink-pilgrim, till life’s span is run,
Worships and migrates with the varying sun:
Until the day-star in his course on high
Wheels his proud chariot in the southern sky,
And strengthening sunlight on our native hills
Wakes from their winter sleep the frozen rills,
And calls the warblers from the orange groves
To the spring scenery of their summer loves:
We take Shanunga’s meadows by the way,
And there we’ll greet you on the third of May:
Our beaux and belles in summer feather,
Our mated birds, gallant and glorious,
We’ll sing for love and lovely weather,
And make the budding groves uproarious.
We stay not; for we seek again
Each his own native mountain glen;
And there, when some kind bird will share
Our fondest loves and parent care,
Near the same spot we'll build a nest,
Where erst our infant dreams were blest:
And when the mower whets his sithe,
He'll listen to the Boblink's song:
Earth cannot boast a bird more blithe,
When June's gay hours are bright and long.
September, 1841. The Knickbocker 18(3): 234-236. Only the poetic portion of this article is included.

24 August 2013

Reed Bird History for District of Columbia Area

A prominent, yet relatively unknown, history for Washington, D.C., and the District of Columbia is seasonal occurrence of reed birds and the resultant endeavors by shootists.

The birds were present in the regions many marsh environs for ages following their natural migration cycles. Indians undoubtedly hunt this numerous birds during their pursuits of game.

A first newspaper report was in September 1853, and details given in this summary represent the variety of reports through 1885.

That first report indicated that ortolan, snipe, reed birds and the "blue wing" duck (Wood Duck) were available at the Empire House.

The next month, there was subsequent article, more focused upon the ortloan (Sora), but which mentioned as well the reed bird since there were "high times" in the vicinity, as it had been a great season for both species.

Reporters for the local newspapers continued to effuse about hunting opportunities. The reportorial accounts often included references to the ortolan.

In September, 1855, on the third page of the Washington Evening Star, the story indicated that a "large number of persons" went afield and reed birds "suffered some."

The season was underway, with shootists in pursuit of reed birds and ortolans.

Carcasses of these wild birds could be purchased at the local market for personal consumption, or eaten by epicures at the cities many eateries, including hotels.

The Potomac River was a prominent feature associated with Washington, D.C. news. Among the words, there were reports of reed birds in October 1857. The article was titled "The River," and within the pages of the Washington Star.

News of bird shooting was sporadic, but intermittent as indicated upon the newspaper pages. There were reports of reed birds for sale in the market, as well as numerous accounts of hunting at Analostan Island, in the Potomac River.

A prominent feature for many reed bird reports was an indication that the birds were gathering at the local marshes. Habitats of the Anacostia and Potomac marshes along both of these waterways were especially noted as hunting grounds.

"The Marshes. — The sportsmen who are fond of shooting in the marshes, are now enjoying fine sport along the Anacostia and Potomac. The reed birds and blackbirds are very numerous, and ortolans are attracting the particular attention of 'good shots.' Little boys are making money by hawking reed birds in bunches about the streets. During the month of September there are many little fellows, and some adults, who made good money with their guns and skiffs, shooting reed bird and ortolan for the numerous restaurants of the city. The season for ortolan is but brief, and after the first frost but few gunners enter the marshes to hunt them, it is esteemed as labor lost." — September, 1860

Early the next month, another article provided a different and interesting perspective and insight into the sport.

"Sporting. — This season has not been as extensively enjoyed by the amateur sportsmen of the city as those past. The old sportsmen who for half a century scarcely missed a season, have let this go, and thereby have given opportunity for an increase of game in the season of 1861. Those who have been to the gunning localities report the game in excellent condition, though hot as plentiful as in years past. Indeed it cannot be expected that it should be, for as soon as the season arrives, the fields and marshes are peopled with gunners, professional and amateur, who seldom allow a bird to pass in range of their pieces. Though the reed bird and ortolan are plentiful in the marshes skirting the Potomac and Anacostia, it is with difficulty comparatively that they can be approached, and duck and plover are rareties where a few years ago they were abundant. The rapid growth of the city, the improvement of the fields by the erection of many squares of dwellings within a few years, of course had much to do with driving away the choice game. It has not been a quarter of a century since the entire area of what is now Swampoodle was a sporting range, and the mall from the Capitol grounds to the mouth of the Tiber was another, and plover, snipe, small ducks, & c., were abundant. The sporting grounds are now comparatively small, game scarce, and gunners so numerous and constantly on the hunt, that the game is shy and only practiced marksmen profit by the sport." — October 1860

Some of the articles indicate the numbers of bobolinks taken by shootists.

"Reed Birds Abundant. — The sportsmen in the marshes are quite successful in their expeditions after reed bird. We have heard of several gentlemen bagging over 25 birds each a shot, and last night a gentleman who had been shooting in the Eastern Branch marshes yesterday bagged near two hundred birds, and informed us that he bagged over thirty-five with a single barrel. There is certainly some sport in such gunning." ... — September 1866

This account was among the Alexandria news, as it had originally been issued by the Gazette, and then used by the National Republican.

"It is said that reed birds have been more abundant this season than usual. Great numbers of them have recently been killed by the gunners. They sell at from 37 to 50 cents per dozen, and are in fine order just now. Some are beginning to be brought to market, but they are not plentiful yet." — September, 1869

News from Alexandria regularly included brief news on reed bird and ortolan shooting.

"Large numbers of reed birds continue to be killed in this neighborhood. They sell at from 35 to 40 cts. per dozen." ... — September, 1870
"Reed Birds. — The swamps and marshes near this city now resound during the whole day with the reports of guns of all sorts that are shot at reed birds. The birds are in good condition and sell at fifty cents a dozen." — August, 1872

Court news included the costs of illegal shooting, especially before during the latter days of August.

"A Pot Hunter Fined. — R.H. Lee was charged with killing twenty reed birds, one ortolan, and three black birds in the marshes in the county, yesterday. He plead ignorance of the law, and said he had often killed birds at this season. The birds were produced in the court, and were in a fine condition. He was fined $5 each for the ortolan and black birds, but as the reed birds were not named in the law he was not fined for killing them." August, 1874

The arrests for illegal shooting caused discontent in the city.

"A Game Law Grumble. Editor Star: — A petition is being circulated and signed by a large number of our citizens protesting against arrests of parties for shooting rail or ortolan and reed birds in the District of Columbia before September 5th. It seems that some explorer into the musty and obsolete laws of the county has discovered a clause in some law which prohibits the shooting of these birds of passage during their migration south, while in the limits of the District, although the sportsmen of Virginia and Maryland can shoot them at any time. These birds make the game law for themselves; the time to shoot them is when they are here, and they are then in season; the flight is over from two to three weeks, and the people of the District are deprived of the privilege of shooting these birds until the flight is nearly over. They are here now in full force, and our sportsmen have to stand idly by and see the birds go over into Virginia for the game bags of our more fortunate neighbors. A Lover of Sport." — August, 1877

This is one tragedy of the gunning sport at the marshes.

"Accidental Shooting of a Boy. — While a number of boys were engaged this afternoon in shooting reed birds in the marshes foot of 17th Street, Otto Genzerott, a lad about fourteen years old, residing with his parents on D, between 8th and 9th streets, was accidentally shot in the back part of his head by another boy named Dick Norris. Some men, engaged at work at the 17th-street wharf, brought him in to the shore, and he was placed in a furniture wagon, owned by Lewis Wilson, colored, who with the aid of Officers Clawson and Nicholson brought him to the Central guard-house and a physician had been summoned as The Star went to press. It is believed that his wounds will prove fatal, as the whole load of birdshot entered the back part of his head and neck. His parents were sent for at once, but the sufferer was unconscious from the moment of receiving the wounds." — September, 1877

Illegal taking continued its prominence in the newspapers, despite a law being passed in 1878 which prohibits the killing of ortolan and reed bird prior to September 1st.

"A Police Raid on the So-called Sportsmen Who Kill Game Out of Season. — Yesterday morning Major Morgan instructed the lieutenant of the eighth precinct to put his men in citizens clothes and organize a party to put a stop to the bird shooting on the Eastern branch. This bird shooting has been going on for the last two weeks by a number of strolling gunners. The reed and black birds at this season are rearing their young and are very poor, being nothing but skin and bone after the feathers are stripped from them, yet these loafing gunners commence the slaughter as soon as the birds appear in our river marshes. Lieut. Boteler in obedience to orders, secured a number of boats and divided his men; a part took the boats while the others stationed themselves on either side of the branch for several miles above and below Dennings bridge. The result was that they had a lively chase, completely routing the gunners, capturing two of them and securing a large number of birds. They have got the names of about twenty men engaged in this unlawful business with sufficient proof to convict them in our courts. The penalty is severe, and it is to be hoped Judge Bundy will execute the law with vigor from the start, as it is the only way to stop this business." August, 1879

The following years, some sportsmen also got actively involved in trying to stop violations of the game laws.

"The Alexandria Game Protective Association offers a reward of five dollars for the arrest and conviction of the first person violating the game law, in killing reed birds or sora prior to the 1st of September in the counties of Alexandria and Fairfax. A committee consisting of W.F. Creighton, Joseph Beach and M.B. Harlow has been appointed to have circulars printed for circulation containing the game law of the state." August, 1880

One lad didn't get the news, and went to the D.C. Courts:

Frank Neal, a small colored boy, charged with killing three reed birds and an ortolan out of season. Frank denied the killing, and said he found the birds already killed. The court imposed a fine of $2 per bird, making $8." — September, 1880

Physical degradation of the marsh habitat was found appalling by one gunner.

"A River Nuisance. To the Editor of the Evening Star: Desiring a little pleasure gunning, I repaired to the Potomac marsh to hunt ortolan. Imagine my surprise when I found the shore covered with watermelon rinds and other garbage, which I was informed had been dumped in the Potomac opposite the Arsenal and midway between Washington and Alexandria cities. That Dr. Hamilton should become nauseated at the terrible effluvia arising from the flats is not to be wondered at, as the returning tide brings back to Washington the filth dumped in the river and lands it on the flats to breed all kinds of low fevers and poison the atmosphere of the whole city. You may talk of your tar nuisances, Mr. Editor. Why sir, it is pure and healthful to this stench malaria-breeding river front under this kind of management. Would it not be a good idea to confine the officials responsible for the above-named offenses in a cage on the river front for a few nights, so that they may get a full benefit and know how it is themselves. Give us a remedy! Warwick." — September, 1881

A spectrum of items from 1884 represent the different topics associated with reed birds following their seasonal arrival.

"Violating the Game Law. — Thomas Shelton is a hunter. Last Wednesday Officer Howe saw him coming off the marsh near the Navy yard with a game-bag in his hand, and when he reached the shore the officer walked towards him. Shelton dropped the bag and ran. The officer picked it up and found it contained 129 reed birds, which he carried to the station house. Shelton was arrested yesterday, and charged in the Police Court this morning with having 25 birds in his possession. He pleaded guilty and was fined $50." — September, 1884

He would have been caught on August 27th.

There were two reports about the opening of the legal hunting season.

From Alexandria:

"Notes. — On the neighborhood creek side and marsh the opening of the gunning season was celebrated yesterday by a constant fusilade. Scores of gunners were out after the reed birds. One killed 223 and several killed over 100." — September, 1884

From Washington, D.C.

"Reed Birds and Ortolan. — The season for reed bird and ortolan shooting began yesterday, and in the marshes around the city were many sportsmen intent on the capture of the feathered flyers. Most of the hunters could be found near the Cooley patch, just below Benning's bridge, though good gunning is to be found out as far as Bladensburg. Many of the sportsmen yesterday returned with well filled bags, and the general opinion seems to be that the birds are very plentiful this season, and that much good sport is yet to be enjoyed." — September, 1884

Two final articles will convey some other interesting tidbits about this bird and its expressed history.

"A White Reed Bird. — Mr. Armistead Scott shot and wounded a snow white reed bird in the Analostan marsh yesterday afternoon. It differs only in color from other reed birds. Mr. Scott, who is a well known gunner, and who lives on O street, between 33d and 34th streets, has preserved this unique specimen." — September, 1885
"One Dollar for Shooting a Boy. — A young man named Julian Della was on trial at the mayor's office in Alexandria yesterday charged with shooting a colored boy named James Coleman in that city on Saturday evening last. Several of the boys were examined as witnesses, and their testimony went to show that they were all near the place after reed birds, and that some of them were throwing stones at some birds which had been killed and hung on a fence. Della told them to stop, and seized the gun from a companion and shot Coleman, injuring his, however, but slightly. The shooting, it is claimed, was an accident, and was done only to scare the boys. The case was continued till evening on account of the absence of two witnesses. The culprit was then fined $1 and costs for firing a gun in the streets." — September, 1885

Other articles pertinent to reed bird history in this vicinity occur in subsequent years. It should also be noted that additional items for the period included in this article, could undoubtedly be found if the newspaper issues were browsed and visually searched in detail.

Summary of Known Records

After searching the different newspapers issued at Washington, D.C., numerous records for the reed birds were found. The following is a summary of those records, and an indication of the locality where the birds were taken.

Year Seen Observation Date Record Notes Recorded Site
1853 9/15/1853 observed a splendid lot of reed birds at the Empire House Washington, D.C. Vicinity
1855 9/2/1855 reed birds suffered some Potomac River Marshes
1856 10/2/1856 reed birds are leaving Potomac River Marshes
1860 5/12/1860 reed bird specimen at USNM, collected by Coues District of Columbia

9/8/1860 sportsmen enjoying fine sport; reed birds are very numerous Potomac River Marshes
1860 9/8/1860 sportsmen enjoying fine sport; reed birds are very numerous Anacostia River Marshes
1861 - - 140. Dolichonyx oryzivorous, (Linn.) Sw. Bob-o'-link. Reed Bird. Spring and autumn visitant. In spring from May 1 to 15; in autumn from August 20 to October. District of Columbia
1865 9/12/1865 men peppered by errant shot pellets upon approaching island to see a reed bird shaking in the wind Analostan Island, Potomac River
1866 9/9/1866 Wm. Diggs and Jas. M. Dansey fined for reed bird hunting; each fined $5.44 Analostan Island, Potomac River
1866 9/11/1866 gentleman bagged near two hundred birds; other sportsmen are quite successful Eastern Branch Marshes
1868 - - bobolink; passes in migratory journey Washington City
1868 9/12/1868 marshes and low grounds reported as full of reed birds Alexandria Marshes
1868 9/21/1868 cold weather driving off the reed birds Georgetown, Washington D.C.
1869 9/6/1869 swamps in and around the city are fairly alive with reed birds Potomac River Marshes
1869 9/22/1869 reed birds; great numbers have recently been killed by the gunners; sell at from 37 to 50 cents per dozen Alexandria Marshes
1870 9/14/1870 large numbers of reed birds continue to be killed in this neighborhood; sell at from 35 to 40 cents per dozen Alexandria Marshes
1871 8/22/1871 reed birds have made their appearance in the market Alexandria Marshes


swamps and marshes resound with reports of guns; the reed birds are in good condition and sell at fifty cents per dozen Alexandria Marshes
1873 - - no count of the reed birds taken Potomac River Marshes
1873 9/13/1873 reed birds are now in excellent condition Alexandria Marshes
1874 8/26/1874 R.H. Lee charged with killing twenty reed birds; not fined since they were not named in the law Potomac River Marshes
1875 5/24/1875 field and meadows abound with bobolinks Potomac River Marshes
1877 - - Dolichonyx oryzivorus District of Columbia Area
1877 8/23/1877 reed birds here now in full force Potomac River Marshes
1877 9/4/1877 number of boys engaged in shooting reed birds in marshes at foot of 17th street; Otto Genzerott accidentally shot in the head Potomac River Marshes
1879 8/25/1879 police raid captured gunners in illegal pursuit of reed birds Potomac River Marshes
1881 8/20/1881 sportsmen shooting reed birds out of season Alexandria Marshes
1881 9/1/1881 Charley Hutton downed 630 reed birds Potomac River Marshes
1881 9/11/1881 Dr. Ball went gunning for reed birds Potomac River Marshes
1882 9/14/1882 O.M. Ball killed a fine lot of reed birds East Washington Marshes
1883 9/1/1883 marshes along the river lively with hunters in search of reed birds Potomac River Marshes
1883 9/6/1883 reed birds at their full; birds in active demand at the market; John P. Sousa took numerous reed birds Potomac River Marshes
1883 9/13/1883 Jones took 71 reed birds East Washington Marshes
1883 9/14/1883 George Egloff bagged 41 reed birds on the eastern marshes East Washington Marshes
1883 9/17/1883 game confined to small marsh game such as reed birds Potomac River Marshes
1883 9/20/1883 William Wagner bagged 37 reed birds East Washington Marshes
1884 8/27/1884 Thomas Shelton dropped game bag near Navy Yard; it contained 129 reed birds; Shelton was arrested, pleaded guilty and was fined $50 Potomac River Marshes
1884 9/1/1884 many sportsmen intent on the capture of reed birds; most hunters found near Colley patch, just below Benning's bridge Potomac River Marshes
1884 9/22/1884 nearly all of the reed birds have left the upper oatfields East Washington Marshes
1885 9/1/1885 marshes filled with sportsmen gunning for reed birds Potomac River Marshes
1885 9/1/1885 marshes filled with sportsmen gunning for reed birds East Washington Marshes
1885 9/9/1885 Armistead Scott shot a snow white reed bird Analostan Island, Potomac River
1885 9/12/1885 Julian Della shot a colored boy; buys throwing stones at reed birds Alexandria Marshes

Reed Bird Prices in the Washington, D.C. Market

There was a lively trade in game birds at the Washington, D.C. markets. An appreciated autumn treat for gourmands and epicures, especially, were the reed birds captured at marshes along the nearby Potomac River.

As these birds arrived in latter August, gunners were in pursuit, as reported in newsy bits or more on pages of the local newspapers. The taking was a task undertaken by sporting enthusiasts, while shootists were actively involved to acquire as many as possible. They could be readily sold for cash money to a vendor at the city market.

Some of the first records of this game trade are known for September 1859, as indicated upon the pages of the Washington Star. The cost was apparently 50 cents per dozen, though the item in the paper did not indicate what the given price would buy.

Multiple market reports were just one of the two prevalent means for the newspapers to report reed birds being in the vicinity, as there were many other reports of shootists afield.

A report for primarily the Center (Centre) Market is an essential feature of this indicative bird history, since there are other first-hand reports involving birds being shot, illegal taking, shooting accidents and other particulars as discovered among the historic chronicles.

What an interesting view it conveys!

The patrons of the market dealt with unwelcome conditions. Presenting a quote from the Washington Star (December 15, 1855), the words upon the newspaper page said: "It was cheerless this morning to see the butchers at Centre Market in great coats, and their purchasers keeping their umbrellas up as they selected their supplies. When shall we have a market worthy of the Metropolis?"

On a regular basis, some of the various newspapers issued from Washington, D.C., indicated market prices for various items, sometimes given in a columnar format, and other times with the text included within a larger paragraph.

Game was a commodity, and the details can now be known because of an attentive editor that determined, so many times, that the paper should indicate what is costs to purchase various items. Usually the wild aspect was designated as game.

Most of the available reports are for the items purchased at a retail price. The market report most often presented the item, and cost per unit, but occasionally there was something extra of interest included:

  • 09/27/1862 — reedbirds plentiful and in condition, and selling at 75 cents per dozen
  • 10/03/1868 — reed birds, 50 c to $1.50 per dozen
  • 09/02/1882 — reed birds, have appeared to-day; the prices are fancy, altogether
  • 09/16/1882 — reed birds are plentiful; one dealer has 350 dozen on hand to-day; they are shipped away at $1 per dozen

Reed birds were one of several marketable birds. The terse items within local newspapers have specifics for more than fifty records which convey details and prices as reported more than fifty times. Any mention was typically limited to a indication of the species, and the cost for a purchase at the primary market. This meant the Centre or Center Market where the birds were sold, though there was no indication of the number presented at the market.

"Centre Market. — The market opened this morning with an unusual supply for the beginning of the week. The small attendance of Saturday offered a limited supply, and the increase today was in consequence of that scarcity. The high water has furnished an overstock of ortolan and reed birds; they being driver to the fields are easily killed by sportsmen. They were selling very low this morning." — September 20, 1859. Washington D.C. Evening Star 14(2067): 3.

The price was 50 c a bunch about this date, according to reports.

This was an outside market, and vendors and customers had to deal with the vagaries of the weather conditions.

A report from March 1867, indicates that the limits of the Center Market where: "beginning 15 feet from the corner of the street and Pennsylvania avenue curbatone, on the line of 7th Street, and running southerly to the canal, thence along said canal to 15 on 9th street, intersect the corner or northern side of said market, thence along the line of said market on Louisiana avenue to the place of beginning. There were regulations which applied to this market space, including permits and date when sales were allowed. It was a regulated place which got particular attention.

In 1874, a report from the Health office of the Health Department, indicated the overall extent of items sold during the year prior to the report issued, ending September 30, 1874.

Woodcocks ... 215 dozen
Pheasants ... 421 dozen
Partridges ... 3,000 dozen
Robins ... 310 dozen
Cedar Larks ... 150 dozen
Prairie Chickens ... 615 dozen
Wild Ducks ... 13,000 dozen

A few years later, further regulation reduced the extent of tainted products. The result was a perceptible improvement, and the newspaper article indicated a "spirit among the dealers to emulate each other in making the best show." Amount meat condemnation was significantly less, with several days where "not a single pound was condemned."

There was also a market dealers protective association actively involved. They indicated problems associated with their trade, and pleading for relief from administrative "burdens."

In 1878, a law was passed to prohibit the taking of reed birds prior to September 1st, which would influence when the birds might arrive in the market.

Bobolink Prices

This is a table which indicates the different prices paid for dead reed birds from 1859 to 1885, in association with the Washington, D.C. market. These birds were indicated as reed birds, usually expressed as a cost per dozen, with the expense significance for gourmands and epicures, especially at the city eateries. Not all records were extracted for this review, but typically were recorded on a bi-weekly basis. Market reports were evaluated by browsing the newspapers, and with an assist from search options for the online versions of the newspapers.

Details are summarized according to julian date and year of presentation. Obviously reed birds were an especial item in the markets, and indicated many times by the local newspapers. A summary provides the insight, but there is more to discern about this one particular topic of historic ornithology where a bunch of the reed birds cost from 60 cents to never more than $2.00 per dozen, and typically less than $1 per dozen. The value shown is the lesser price report, as often a price range was indicated (i.e., 50 @ 60 c per dozen, or, 60 @ 75 c per dozen)

These birds were available for purchase, usually from the last days of August, through mid-November.

Julian Date 1859 1860 1862 1863 1865 1868 1872 1873 1874 1877 1878 1879 1880 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885
235 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
242 - - - - - - - - - - 0.40 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
243 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - -
245 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.00 - - - - - -
246 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
247 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.40 - - - - - - - - - -
248 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - -
249 - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - 0.50 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
251 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - - - - - -
252 - - - - - - - - 1.00 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60
253 0.50 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
255 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.50 - - - - - - - - - - - -
256 - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - -
258 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - -
259 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1.00 - - - - - -
260 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
261 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.40 - - - - - - - - - -
262 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 0.60
263 0.00 - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - 0.75 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
265 - - - - - - - - - - - - 1.00 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
266 - - - - - - - - 1.50 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
269 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - - - - - - - - - -
270 - - - - 0.75 - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - -
272 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - -
273 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - - - - - -
274 0.50 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
276 - - - - - - 1.25 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - - - - - - - - - -
277 - - - - - - - - - - 0.50 - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
279 - - 0.62 - - - - - - - - 2.00 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
282 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - -
284 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
288 0.50 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
290 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - - - - - - 0.75 - -
293 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1.00 - - - - - -
294 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - - - - - -
296 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - -
304 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1.00 - -
308 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.60 - - - - - - - -
310 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - -
312 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
318 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1.00 - -
326 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0.75 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

These are unique details associated with just one species associated with the Washington, D.C. markets, as there were several other species of wild birds taken that went into the city to be sold.

Wildbirds on National Hotel Bill of Fare

Dining, yesterday, with a friend at Guy & Brigg's "National Hotel," we were struck with the refutation of the New York Herald's pert and sweeping allegations against all such Washington establishments as was embraced in the bill of fare, the capital manner in which the dinner was prepared and served, and (what is by means a matter of indifference to one who has a penchant for good living) the promptness, quiet and efficiency with which the requirements of the guests were attended to.

We publish the bill of fare to verify our assertion, that it afforded any man an opportunity of making really as good a dinner as is obtainable in any other quarter of the country — New York not excepted — at a hotel table d'kote.

Gentlemen's Ordinary — Soup — Terapin.
Fish — Baked codfish, claret sauce.
Boiled — Corned beef and cabbage, chicken and pork, smoked tongue, turkey and oysters, celery salad.
Cold Dishes — Ham, tongue, pressed corned beef, chicken salad.
Side Dishes — Fricandeau of veal, tomato sauce; oyster pies, Parisian style; macaroni, a l'Italienne; pork cutlets breaded; fillet of venison, jelly sauce, rice birds, Maderia sauce; apple fritters glacie; calf's head fried in butter; veal cutlets, a la Jardiniere; ragion saute, port wine sauce.
Roast — Beef, leg of mutton, turkey, ham, champagne sauce.
Game — Canvas back ducks, black ducks, leg of bear, redheads, mallard ducks, mongrel goose.
Pastry — Apple pies, mince pies, custard pies, charlotte Russe, cabinet pudding, cocoanut drops, ebglars a la vanilla.
Dessert — Almonds, raisins, filberts, oranges, prunes, pecan nuts, apples, lemon ice cream.
Washington Hotels. January 2, 1857. Washington D.C. Evening Star 9(1236): 2.

22 August 2013

Story of a White House Dinner-Set

The Story of a Dinner-Set

American Rivalling French Art

Theodore R. Davis Making Designs for a Dinner-Set for the White House — How the Project was Devised and Successfully Carried Out

Asbury Park, N. J., July 31.— Pleasant as a Summer resort, this place is also invested with interest as the temporary home of an artist engaged in a work designed to do credit to American industry. This gentleman is Theodore R. Davis, who has been connected many years with Harper's Weekly. I have just come from his studio, where he is engaged on a most unique work for an American artist, and one which interests every American and will challenge the attention of the connoisseurs of the Old World. He is making the designs for a State dinner-set for the White House, which Haviland, of Limoges, France, is now at work upon and declares will be the finest dinner-set ever made in Europe.

First take a peep into the studio. When Mr. Davis came down here for recuperation and work his eye settled on a somewhat isolated bathing-house containing several dining-rooms. Mr. Bradley, the founder of Asbury Park, gave him plenary powers. He appropriated three of the dressing rooms on the end facing the sea, knocked out the partitions, cut out a large space for a window affording a view of the ocean, and imported his artist's kit. The corner from which he draws his inspiration contains a box covered with a gorgeous American Indian wove blanket, of great value. Here the artist sits in his working hours with a water-color board on his knee, his colors at his hand, and the ever-changing sea before his eye. Sea tints and sea scenes enter largely into his designs, for which reason the studio could not be better located. The studio is in the shape of a letter L, and in size about 6 by 4 feet. In one corner is a basin of water-lilies. In the box is a big frog which, when there are no visitors, sits on the bench and looks with a quizzical eye at the artist, who once kept him for a model, but now boards him, for his company. Unfriendly pins hold beautiful insects and shining bugs to the walls, and a piece of dried fungus makes a delicately tinted background for a gorgeous beetle. Bold water-color drawings and engravings ornament the sides of the nook which contains the artist's throne, and over his head are shelves holding a few pieces of choice Haviland ware. A shelf holds brushes, glasses and other artist's utensils, and at one side are numerous bottles containing colors. A few days ago Mr. Davis had several large clam-shells ranged on the bench, and holding a variety of small creatures of the animal kingdom in a strong pickle. His friend Mr. Bradley put his teetotaller nose into the studio door and remarked, "It smells queer here!" "I should think it did," replied the unperturbed artist; "Mr. Bradley, it is with difficulty that I endure the smell of this liquor myself." The proprietor of Asbury Park showed that he respected art, even in pickles.

Upon a high shelf is a large photograph of the conservatory of the White House, with Mrs. Hayes in the foreground surrounded by her two youngest children, and Mr. Davis's little girl, who makes pies. In the sand outside while her father lays on the water-color. On this photograph hangs the whole story. Early last Spring Mr. Davis went to Washington on a mission for the Harpers, which was to make a picture of the President and the Cabinet,and which appeared in due time in the Weekly. Mrs, Hayes invited him into the conservatory, and after turning the camera on the group described above, the President's wife entered into conversation on a topic very dear to the housewife's heart. The china brought into the White House during the reigns of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Grant had gone mostly the way of all porcelain that servants handle at the State's expense. She found it difficult to set the table properly for a State dinner, since the china closet held only a Babel of remnants. She had ordered a new State dinner set of Haviland; the contract was signed, and Haviland was under $5,000 bonds to deliver the set by January, 1880. Mrs. Hayes regretted that she had been obliged to go to France for a dinner set. "They make very good ware at Trenton," said Mr. Davis, "but, of course, Haviland, of Limoges, makes the best. Still, if you cannot have American ware you could at least have American designs, representing the fruits, vegetables, game, fish and fauna indigenous to this country."

Mrs. Hayes caught at the idea, and acted upon it with the decision and authority of a Queen. "Scott," she said to her little son, "see if you can find brother Webb." The eldest son appeared. "Webb, will you ask General Casey to come to the conservatory?" General Casey appeared and was requested to write at the lady's dictation. She began, "Haviland & Co.: I desire to cancel the contract for the dinner set—" "But—" interrupted General Casey. "Remember, I am dictating," said Mrs. Hayes, enjoying his surprise, and continued, "and to enter into a new one similar to the first with the exception that Mr. Theodore R. Davis is to have exclusive supervision of the designs." This was the substance of the letter, which was dispatched at once.

It was now Mr. Davis's turn to expostulate. He urged that he was under contract to the Harpers not to do work for any one else. Mrs. Hayes, with a woman's faith, could see no obstacle in that contract, any more than she could in the first contract with Haviland. It may be that a President's wife can make and unmake business treaties at her will. At any rate, Haviland acquiesced with incomparable grace, and Fletcher Harper, when Mrs. Hayes's wish was mooted to him, said to his faithful artist, "I don't ask you to try to surpass everything of the kind that Haviland has done. I expect you to beat them, and I'll have one of the duplicate sets for myself."

Haviland was in this country, and offered Mr. Davis every assistance and cooperation, but at first he was disposed to doubt if anyone could surpass his favorite artist, Bracquemon. He brought out an oyster plate. "That," said he, "is the best oyster plate that was ever made." Mr. Davis didn't like it, and frankly said he thought he could do better. "If you do I will break this plate," said Theodore Haviland. A few days afterward Mr. Davis showed him the design, and the favorite plate was seized and dashed into a hundred pieces that strewed the warehouse floor. The artist has already furnished fifty designs, and Haviland grows more enthusiastic over them as they come in. There are to be twenty-five sets bearing the signature of the artist and maker; these will be similar to an artist proof engraving. Eleven of these come to this country, and the remainder will be sold in Europe. Mrs. Hayes will probably have two sets, Fletcher Harper is to have one, and Mrs. Theodore R. Davis is not to be forgotten.

Mr. Davis has had everything, his own way both as to the shapes of the pieces and the designs, and has aimed at, striking originality and strong, bold, effects of color and form combinations. Everything that enters into the designs is distinctively American. To give a running description of the different pieces: The tea-cup is in the form of a Chinese mandarin's hat, the handle being formed by a curling tea sprig, the leaves of which decorate the sides of the cup. For the oyster-plate decoration there are five Blue Point half shells in a curve. He has discarded the conventional half-dozen, adopting Emerson's saying, that nature loves the number five. Opposite the shells is a scene representing down on the seashore, a sea gull, and a tangle of sea moss bordering the picture.

The soup plates in coloring and form, are in imitation like the mountain laurel flower. There will be pictures on the bottom of the plates, such as a bullfrog croaking on a bag, in the midst of a rain storm, and an illustration of a clam-bake. The fish-plate is in form in imitation of a scallop-shell, with salt and fresh water scenes on the flat surface added to the heel of the shell to complete the oval form of the plate. In these water pictures are shown different American fishes, such as a trout lying under a lily pad, two lobsters fighting, a sheepshead nibbling at oysters fastened to a palmetto log. The platter picture represents a fine roe shad entangled in a golden net. In form the platter is nearly square with the corners turned up.

The designs for the dinner plates are very elaborate, and comprise such scenes as a bear attacking a honey tree, the antelope, the buffalo, a coon climbing a persimmon tree, with a "darky" looking for the coon; cranes dancing, with one crane beating time with his wing while the others enjoy a walk-around, which is not of the imagination but fact, etc. The platter of the bird plates will be adorned with a wild turkey, the chief of the American game birds, on the wing, with a prairie fire and its reflection in water adding color to the picture. The bird plates are placque in form and the prairie chicken, ptarmigan duck and other birds enter into the designs. The salad plates are a great novelty, the figure of a lobster being etched into the bottom of the plate, while the color will be applied underneath, the color with the varying strength of translucency, produced by the etching, uniting to form a fine effect. The dessert plates are decorated with fruits indigenous to the country. The plates for crackers, cheese and cigars will be furnished with pictorial designs intended to stimulate conversation. In form they will resemble an Indian plate, which is a stiff willow bent in a circle with thin strips of willow or reeds woven across. Mr. Davis's beautiful Indian blanket, on which he sits, will take a conspicuous place in these last designs.

September 15, 1879. The Hospital Review 16(2): 18-20.