Thursday, May 6, 2021

Featured Objects: Oil Lamps

As I sat down to write this, darkness was falling so I switched on an electric light--an act so common, most of us don't even give it much thought. For centuries, however, people could have light at night by burning something.

One of the hallway display cases at the Benton County Historical Society's Corvallis Museum contains a variety of early lamps that burned oils.  The first, a small ceramic object with a turquoise glaze, dates from the second or third century B. C.  and was featured in the post of June6, 2019. 

Ancient oil lamp acquired near Nippur Iraq

The bronze triangular object dates from 1000 to 500 B. C.  Donor Louis Raymond (subject of two May 2017 posts) found both of these oil lamps in Iraq.  Oil from nuts, seeds, or animal fat was placed in the body, a wick inserted and lit. A small circular handle on the end allowed people to carry the lamps. Some oil lamps, such as the turquoise one and the round tan pottery one, have a spout which held the oil-saturated wick in place with just enough protruding for a flame.

Whale oil became a popular source of fuel by the 16th century as it burned well with less odor than other animal fats. The tall pewter whale oil lamp has a stand and a tray underneath.  Whale oil was expensive so it was important to catch any drippings.

Kerosene replace whale oil as fuel in the second half of the 19th century.  It was cheaper, burned brighter, and lasted longer. Not only were a wide variety of kerosene lamps designed for home use but a specialty lamps were made for the work place. The lamp shaped like a watering can was used by miners who hooked the lamp in a convenient place to illuminate their work in the dark mine.

The kerosene police lantern made by the Dietz Company in the late 1800s could be hooked onto a belt and had shutters which could be closed to hide the flame.  It was functioned like an early flashlight.

By the late 1930s, about two-thirds of American households had electricity and electric lamps had replaced kerosene lamps in all but poor and rural areas. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Jim Harper's Egg Collection

I recently learned that the Benton County Historical Society had added additional display cases in the hallways at the Corvallis Museum. As I was curious about the new displays, I made a reservation to visit.  This is easy to do online and costs nothing for members and only a small admission fee for others. I urge you to do the same.

One of the new displays contains a number of egg-shaped objects which are part of a larger collection donated by the heirs of noted poultry scientist Jim Harper. Harper was raised in St. Helens, Oregon and became interested in agriculture, especially poultry-raising, while working in a feed store there. He saved enough to enroll at Oregon State in 1936 and graduated with a degree in poultry science in 1940.

After earning a masters degree from Penn State University, he returned to Corvallis to fill in for faculty who were serving in the military. He remained on the faculty for 40 years.  He developed the turkey program at the research station in Hermiston and the turkey research center on Harrison Boulevard in Corvallis. He taught courses in poultry marketing, breeding and genetics as well as publishing over 100 papers. The egg collection reflects his life-long interest in poultry.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Harper has known for his rose growing and his involvement with local organizations.  He and his wife Mariellen liked to travel. They often brought home eggs to add to the collection. Some are on display in the museum but there are many more than could be shown.  Here are a few others.

This one, from Italy, is made of alabaster.

Italian alabaster egg

These colorful eggs are from the Ukraine and Mexico:

Ukrainian decorated egg

Mexican decorated egg
This one from Africa is made of soapstone, colored black, and carved with a fish design.

African decorated egg

And this one from Japan is covered with a design made of traditional Japanese washi paper. 

Japanese washi paper-covered egg

 Other hallway cases include displays of oil lamps, cloisonné, clocks, inkwells, cameras and tea cups. And the main exhibits of photographs, hats and chairs, OSU art and other items, and Benton County history remain.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Oregon Shipwrecks

Recently, I came across this photograph from the Benton County Historical Society's archive.

Galena shipwreck
I was struck by the large size of the ship in contrast to the person and automobile standing on the beach.  I wondered what the story was.  So I began to research the Galena. 
This ship was a steel and iron ship that was 292 feet long with a 24-foot deep hold that was built in 1890.  It was en route from Chile to Portland when it was caught in a storm. Instead of trying to cross the Columbia bar, the ship sailed around off-shore for several days. When they did head for shore, fog, a sudden gale, and a swift current contributed to the ship running around on the beach.

The crew were able to use the lifeboats to safely reach shore and no one was injured.  The ship's masts and spars remained intact and a split sail seemed to be the only damage.  The uninsured owners hoped they could haul the ship back to sea once the weather improved.

This was the second such wreck on the spit that month.  The Peter Iredale had wrecked on November 5 a few miles north of where the Galena ran around on November 13.

The Peter Iredale incident is far more famous in Oregon history.  At first I thought this was because the Galena was not as badly damaged as the Peter Iredale and the owners were able to tow it back to open water.  That was not the case. By the time the weather abated, water had entered the hold and the ship had moved.  In both cases, the owners salvaged what they could and then sold the rest for scrap.

The main difference seems to be that sand soon covered the Galena and so it was forgotten. The wreck of the Peter Iredale, however, remained visible for many years.  I took this picture of the remains sometime in the late 1970s. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon