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Friday, September 24, 2010

Philip Brand, the Man Who Shaved Lincoln

In March and April of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was in Chicago attending sessions of the United States District Court, as counsel for the defendants in the "Sand Bar" case, which involved rights over sand bars along the Lake Michigan coast. By then, Lincoln was frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for the presidency, and it was thought he would be nominated at the Republican convention in May.

Lincoln received frequent invitations to speak, and accepted one from the citizens of Waukegan as presented by his friends and fellow attorneys, Elisha Ferry (also Mayor of Waukegan) and Henry Blodgett.

The day of the speechApril 2, 1860Lincoln rode up to Waukegan on the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad, accompanied by Illinois Senator, Norman B. Judd.

View of Brand's barber shop at 57 Genesee Street, Waukegan. Circa 1870. 
Miltimore family photo,

That afternoon, Lincoln got a shave at Philip Brand’s barber shop on Genessee Street. In 1860, Brand's shop was new, since he had just immigrated from Germany the year before. How Lincoln came into Brand's shop is not known, but his patronage certainly increased the shop's business thereafter.  
Philip Brand, circa 1860. Miltimore family photo.

Brand (1840-1914) was a German immigrant from the Hesse region and came to Waukegan in 1859. His sense for business and a visit by Lincoln did a good deal to making his clientele grow. In the years to come, Brand's shop served Waukegan's elite businessmen. He eventually built a three-story building for his business interests, which included a bath house complete with bathtubs, shaving and hairdressing facilities.  

Brand was rightfully proud that Abraham Lincoln had come to him for a shave. Brand even stated that he was the last man to shave Lincoln. This claim to fame stuck with him for the rest of his life. However, it would have been more accurate had Brand said he was one of the last to shave him, since Lincoln grew his famous beard months after his visit to Waukegan. 

Lincoln was encouraged to grow a beard by 11-year old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York. In a now famous letter dated October 15, 1860, Grace wrote: " I have got 4 brother's and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin." In his reply of October 19, Lincoln wrote: "As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?" 

On the evening of April 2, 1860, hundreds of Waukeganites attended Lincoln's speech at Dickinson's Hall, including Philip Brand, William Besley (brewer), and George Lyon (store clerk). Lincoln spoke of the wrong of slavery, and that the country was half slavery and half freedom, and no government divided against itself in such manner could stand.

J.W. Hull, also in attendance, recalled that "While [Lincoln] was speaking, such was the sledge-hammer force of his logic, that we forgot the humble appearance and the squeaky voice, and were carried away by the man's simple eloquence, his power of reasoning...."

Twenty minutes into the speech, word came that there was a fire at the Case Warehouse at the North Pier. Elisha Ferry rose and said that he believed the alarm was a Democratic plot to break up the meeting. Lincoln in turn said, "Well, gentlemen, let us all go, as there really seems to be a fire, and help put it out." Local legend states that indeed, Lincoln helped to extinguish the blaze, ruining his suit in the process.

It has also been said that Lincoln promised to come back to finish his speech another time, but he never made it back to Waukegan.

A white-haired Philip Brand standing at the front of his shop on Genesee Street, circa 1895. 
Dunn Museum 2010.24

Philip Brand continued as a barber until his retirement about 1900 when he leased his building to the Waukegan Savings Bank Company. Lake County Independent, Libertyville, IL, 16 February 1900.

News of Philip Brand's death on May 11, 1914 made headlines in the Waukegan Daily Sun.

Though it seemed Brand's barber shop was lost to time, in the spring of 1964, the shop was re-discovered during excavation work on Genesee Street. J.W. Peterson plumbers were digging a hole under the street and unexpectedly found barber mugs, bearing the names of former citizens.

J.W. Peterson and Einar Christensen on site of discovery of Brand's barber shop, 1964. 
News-Sun Collection, Dunn Museum.

Brand barber mug for G.P. Fleming, circa 1890. Note cement inside the mug. 
Dunn Museum 70.83.6
Brand barber mug for George R. Lyon, circa 1890. 
Lyon attended Lincoln's speech at Dickinson's Hall and served in the Civil War. 
He took over his father's general store in 1893, served on the county board 1886-1887, and state legislature 1896-1900. 
Dunn Museum 70.83.7

Robert Vogel, the director of the Lake County Museum of History in Wadsworth was notified about the discovery. Vogel managed to dig out other mugs and barber bottles, which became part of his museum's collection. 
Brand barber mug for Chase E. Webb, circa 1890. 
Webb was a Civil War veteran, Lake County Sheriff (1886-1890), and Chief of Police in Waukegan (1891-1897). 
Dunn Museum 70.83.1

The barber shop, which had originally been on the first floor of the building, was moved at some point to the basement. It was filled in when Genesee Street was widened and paved. 

The surviving mugs are in remarkably good condition considering the circumstances, and are part of the permanent collections of the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County (formerly the Lake County Discovery Museum).

  • Currey, J. Seymour. “Mr. Lincoln’s Visit to Waukegan in 1860.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1911): 178-183.
  • "Waukegan: Doings at the County Seat of Interest to Our Readers." Lake County Independent, Libertyville, IL, 16 February 1900. 
  • "City Shocked to Learn of Death of Phillip Brand." The Daily Sun, Waukegan, Illinois, May 12, 1914.
  • "Unearth Shop of Man Who Shaved Lincoln," Chicago Tribune, May 24, 1964. 
  • Collections of the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bonner Heritage Farm, Lindenhurst

One landmark to Lake County's agricultural past is the Bonner Heritage Farm in Lindenhurst, operated by the Lake County Forest Preserves through the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County. Five generations of Bonners lived and worked this farm from 1842 to 1991, farming up to 1,000 acres of land and caring for a herd of up to 100 cows.

The farm was homesteaded by William Bonner (1815 - 1881) and Margaret Gordon Bonner (1810 - 1895) of Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
William Bonner (1815 - 1881) built the main barn, carpenter's shop and two houses on the historic Bonner Farm site. Photo courtesy of the Bonner Family.
In 1840, they settled in Somers, Wisconsin, approximately 23 miles north. Two years later, William purchased the property on Sand Lake Road in today's Lindenhurst for its "good supply of trees." William was a carpenter by trade and built many homes and barns in the area using the trees from this property.
Barn section at right with peaked roof is the original main barn constructed by William Bonner, circa 1842.
The first building William constructed on the farm was the main barn used for housing five cows and storing hay.

Bonner used hewn oak and hickory from the property to build the 40' x 44' barn. To this day it is the most important building on site, and is possibly the oldest surviving “great barn” in Lake County. The term “great barn” refers to the period between 1840 and 1910 when many large barns were constructed in the United States. East face of William Bonner's main barn.

View of north face of the great barn complex. (above) The concrete stave silos were constructed by a commercial company. The east silo (at left) was constructed in 1932 and connected to the milking hall by a small gable roofed structure that was modified when the second silo was added around 1950.

Over a 100-year time span, the main barn was expanded with five additions and two silos. Each generation added onto the barn, to accommodate more cows and refrigeration equipment, reflecting the farm’s growth from a small herd of dairy cows to a herd of up to 100 cows and heifers in the 1950s.

Other structures on site built by William Bonner include a carpenter's shop and two farmhouses (one for his family and one for his brother James’ family). A portion of the carpenter's shop (right), was used as a granary. The building also has original blacksmith forged iron hinges and handmade nails reaffirming this as one of the oldest buildings on site.

The chicken weathervane (above) was found in the carpenter's shop in 2003. "Shorty" Bonner confirmed that the weathervane belonged to William Bonner and had been on top of the cupola of the main barn in the 1800s. Its date is unknown, but pre-dates William's death in 1881. A metal conservator assessed the weathervane's condition and determined that it is beyond the capabilities of current conservation technology to repair. It is now in the museum's temperature-humidity controlled storage.

In 1965, William's great-grandson, Howard "Shorty" Bonner (1918-2009), sold off the dairy herd when his son John went off to college. The Bonners continued to actively farm the property until 1991. Shorty Bonner and his sons, Bruce and John, carving pumpkins on the porch, circa 1951. Courtesy of the Bonner Family.

In 1995, the Bonner Family donated 8.5 acres of the farm, including the buildings to the Lake County Forest Preserves. Since 2004, the public has enjoyed self-guided, interactive outdoor exhibits on site about the Bonners and the buildings, and school programs are offered on a regular basis, focusing on agricultural topics.

Bonner Farm Country Fair, Lindenhurst. Photo by Joyce Dever.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Edward Amet's Films, 1896-1898

Edward Amet’s contributions to the early motion picture industry included the invention of the first practical 35mm motion picture projector—the Amet Magniscope—and the pioneering of special effects in motion pictures.

In last week’s post, I wrote about Amet’s wonderful Magniscope, which was completed in 1894 and ready for production in 1895.
This Magniscope, made by Edward Amet, was originally owned and operated by Arthur E. Johnson (1886-1974) during his career as a theater projectionist in Minnesota. It became part of the Dunn Museum's permanent collection in 2001, and is on exhibit in the museum's galleries. (BBDM 2001.12)

Magniscope advertisements stated it was "The perfect projecting machine. The Magniscope is simple, durable and compact, the pictures sharply defined and clear." The projector weighed about 90 pounds and the "model 1898" sold for $100. Since films weren't readily available, simply selling his invention to traveling showmen wasn't enough. Amet needed films to go along with the projector.

A traveling theatrical troop used the Amet Magniscope to show the first moving pictures in the Arizona Territory in 1897. For audiences accustomed to viewing color lantern slides, anything that moved was a wonder to behold on the screen. The first silent films were short—only 2 to 3 minutes in length—and featured circus parades, a winter sleigh ride, a horse-drawn fire department rushing to a call, and even prize pigs at the county fair.

"Boxing Boys" featured Amet's brothers, Percy and Herbert, duking it out in a ring at the Scale Company in Waukegan where the Magniscopes were produced.

Like films produced by others, Amet's first films were straightforward recordings of movement, such as the "Boxing Boys," or his wife and daughter playing in their backyard in Waukegan.

But quickly, Amet began thinking more in terms of each film having a theme or story to tell. His first "theatrical" films featured a marionette and tableau vivant (motionless performance in theater).

Still from "McGinty Under the Sea," the dancing skeleton.

Growing sentiment to free Cuba from the Spanish inspired this Amet tableau vivant "Freedom of Cuba" featuring Uncle Sam, Lady Liberty and little Cuba.

One of Amet's most endearing films was called "Morning Exercise" and featured two young women from Waukegan—Bess Bower Dunn and Isabelle Spoor (George Spoor's sister).

When the Bess and Belle arrived at the inventor’s home on North Avenue in Waukegan, Amet handed each a pair of boxing gloves. Bess Dunn thought she was doing “our town inventor” a favor. “We whipped those long skirts out of the way and had a fine old time.” For several historic minutes, the girlfriends punched each other while Amet took their picture with his camera, becoming the first women in motion pictures.

In 1909, while traveling in Spokane, Washington, Bess Dunn discovered that Amet had sold prints of the film. She was recognized by an usher of a local theater as one of the “boxing girls.” Amet’s film had traveled 2,000 miles and was still being shown 11 years later.

Amet's best known films are related to the Spanish-American War of 1898.

When war broke out, Amet allegedly sent a request to the U.S. War Department asking for permission to travel to Cuba to film the battles. His request was denied, but his enthusiasm for the idea did not diminish. He used accounts in newspapers to re-create the battles.

The land battles were filmed at Third Lake, a favorite fishing location of Amet. He enlisted his brothers and neighbors to be the actors. Shown are a still from the film, and the cast taking a break. Amet Collection, Dunn Museum.

The majority of Amet's work on the theme of the Spanish-American War presented challenges, since it was mainly a naval war. Amet made a series of films showing the naval battles in his backyard, including one titled “Spanish Fleet Destroyed” or “The Battle of Santiago Bay."

Edward Amet standing in his backyard with his set for the filming of "The Battle of Santiago Bay," 1898. (BBDM 61.33)

For "The Battle of Santiago Bay," Amet constructed a shallow water tank 18 x 24 feet with a painted backdrop of Cuba. Five or six of the important naval vessels in the battles, such as the USS Olympia, USS New York and USS Oregon were reproduced at a 1/70 scale in sheet metal, 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 feet in length.

The USS Olympia model built by Amet for the film as shown on exhibit in 2007. (BBDM 61.33.2) Photo © 2007 Jess Smith/PHOTOSMITH

The models were constructed with firing gun turrets, and smoking stacks and flags. The gunfire was replicated with blasting caps, and gunpowder and camphor soaked cotton wadding, which was electrically ignited and provided smoke for the ships’ smokestacks. All of these effects were controlled from an electrical switchboard off camera. Additionally, waves were created by underwater jets and a large fan off camera.

Amet's artful use of special effects was so convincingly portrayed that he was asked to show his “war movies” at the opening of the Naval Training Center Great Lakes in 1911. Amet's "Battle of Santiago Bay" film (right)

The Spanish-American War was a popular topic in all sorts of media, including film. The American Vitagraph Company also made a version of the "Battle of Santiago Bay" in 1898, directed by J. Stuart Blackton. This film (rather than Amet's) is the one most often referenced in the history of early motion pictures, but it is a far cry from Amet's film with its pioneering use of special effects. Blackton's film features small wooden model ships in a bathtub with cigar smoke blown onto the scene by an assistant off camera. If Amet saw this film he probably rolled his eyes and laughed.

To be fair to Blackton, he was pivotal in the early years of the industry, and was among the first filmmakers to use the techniques of stop-motion and drawn animation. He is also considered the father of American animation.

Since most of Amet's films are lost, historians rely on published catalogues of films available for sale. These lists give us insight to the wide range of topics popular with motion picture audiences. Amet's 1898 catalogue listed (in part) the following films (50 feet in length, price $9.00 each):

"Passing of the Milwaukee Fliers on the C & NW Railroad" (train in each direction)
"Mamma's Pets" (old pig and ten little ones)
"Tugs Towing Barge"
"Clothes Race" (swimming contest in Lincoln Park)
"The Ducks" (seventy young ducks in a pond)
"Interrupted Tea Party on the Lawn" (comic)
"Chicago Fire Department Runs"

Amet left for California sometime after 1913, and continued working on motion picture devices. In the image above, Amet (left) is making a film using an early sound recording camera he invented.

For the museum's permanent exhibition on Edward Amet, the staff tracked down a copy of the "Battle of Santiago Bay" from the Killiam Collection* (distributed by Worldview Entertainment), which is probably the best source for silent film era movies. The collection was assembled in the 1960s by Paul Killiam through acquisition from the Estate of D.W. Griffith, and later, a large portion of the collection of Thomas Edison. 

We ordered the film (sight unseen) and crossed our fingers that it was not Blackton's version. Thankfully, it was Amet's film, and all 20 seconds of it plays in the museum's galleries everyday to the delight of visitors.

Special thanks to Carey Williams and Kirk Kekatos for years of research on Amet and his contributions to the early motion picture industry.

*The Killiam Collection was sold and no longer exists. 10/28/19