Author Archives: sgolland

The most beautiful and realistic kitchen set ever made

My mother, sister, and I got together yesterday to play with a favorite toy that we grew up with, the Dream Kitchen. My mother and her sisters got the set sometime in the 1960s and after years of gentle use it was also enjoyed by their children, including my sister and I. The Dream Kitchen lived at my grandparent’s house and after many years of sitting in their basement, we decided to take it out for a few photos and to enjoy the same things that we loved about it when we were younger, especially the battery powered rotisserie chicken.

The Dream Kitchen is made of of four main modular plastic units: a dish washer, refrigerator, oven, and sink, plus a table and chairs. The sink and dishwasher have water reservoirs that allow them to really work (with some minor leaks); the oven unit has a range that lights up and a rotisserie chicken turns in the oven; and the refrigerator, well, it just looks cool. In addition to the main pieces, the Dream Kitchen also comes with a host of accessories including plates, silverware, boxes of food, and other fake edibles. In total the set was said to come with 176 pieces; I did an inventory of what we had left after all these years and I counted 150 pieces and can’t imagine what we are missing (maybe a plastic steak or two).


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Victorian hair flowers: basic technique

Wisconsin Decorative Arts

Hair wreath
Courtesy: Wisconsin Decorative Arts

In the mid-19th century, making jewelery and art from human hair was not unusual. Hairwork was considered a ladies handicraft, a category that included activities like drawing, painting, and fashioning decorations from natural objects like shells, moss, and feathers.

Many people think that hairwork was only made from the hair of the deceased as a memento of a loved one’s passing. Though some hairwork was made for this purpose, other pieces were collected from living friends and relatives, and served as a visual display of personal connections.

If you are interested in learning how to make Victorian-era hairwork, there are already some resources online, but these are fairly scarce. One of the styles that seems to have the least documentation is hair flowers, which are made by wrapping hair around a knitting needle (or something similar) and securing it with wire. In this post, I will cover one of the basic techniques for making these flowers.

First, let’s begin with primary source material. The 1860 book, Art Recreations by Mrs. S. R. Urbino and Henry Day provides a description of how to fashion flowers from human hair. Art Recreations is available in full text online via

ArtRecreations_294ArtRecreations_295The technique I will outline in this post is based on these instructions, but uses some modern materials that improve on this process.

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hair flower basic technique


  • human hair extensions, 16″ or longer
  • knitting needle, size 1
  • beading wire, 30 gauge
  • hot glue gun
  • clear nail polish
  • scissors
  • clamp

Prepare the hair

I bought a small package of hair extensions at a beauty supply store for about $20 which were grouped together with plastic tips.

hair extensions

human hair extensions from the beauty supply store

To prepare the hair, I cut the plastic tip off of one of the bundles and divided the hairs into groups of fifteen strands. I used a hot glue gun to secure the strands to keep them from slipping out later on in the process. A word of warning: this is incredibly tedious; I recommend turning on your favorite TV series as you work through this step.

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hair divided into groups of 10 or 15 strands and hot glued at the ends

Prepare your workspace

Clamp a knitting needle to a table or board. This will be your workspace.

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Wrapping technique

Cut a 10-12″ length of wire and fold it in half around the knitting needle as in the picture above.
Begin by twisting about 1/2″ of the wire in a clockwise direction.

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twist about 1/2″ of wire

Next, loop your length of hair around the knitting needle like this:


Cross the right wire over the needle, and then cross the left wire over the right. You have just completed the first loop. To make the next loop, wrap the hair around the knitting needle in a counterclockwise direction, then cross the wires over one another again. The most challenging part of making loops is to keep the hair and wire tight. If your wire is too loose, your loops will not hold fast; if your hair is not pulled tight, your loops will look uneven.

Repeat the wrapping process until you run out of hair.
To finish, twist the remaining wire and use a small amount of clear nail polish at the base of the strand ends to keep the hair from unraveling.

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Once the nail polish is dry, trim the excess hair as close to the wire as possible.

Now is the moment of truth. Gently slide the hair off of the knitting needle.2014-01-25 16.37.43

By connecting the twisted ends, you can create a simple petal.

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You can group several petals together to make a flower, or create whatever pattern strikes your fancy.

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In a future post, I will show examples of a few variations on this basic technique, including the zigzag pattern shown above.

Taxidermy 1, 2, 3

If you live in Chicago, you might have noticed that it’s been rather cold outside. Today it was about 5 degrees and it seemed warm enough to go outside without a hat on.

So the other day during our deep freeze I spotted a dead pigeon on the ground on my way to work. Somehow a frozen dead pigeon sounds more interesting than an unfrozen one. Or maybe it was more interesting because I just read this two-page guide to taxidermy from the 1884 book Art Recreations: A guide to decorative art.



Did you have any idea that taxidermy could be so easy? Obviously taxidermy experts have been hiding something from the masses by making us think that we need special training to practice their art when all we really need is some extra pillow stuffing and arsenic.

Missouri Caverns


Number: 3012.7032.1
Title: September 1968: Missouri Caverns
Description: Eight middle aged couples, visitors to the Missouri Caverns, pose for a photograph in front of a painted backdrop. A guide holding a flashlight is seated in front of the group. Judging by the footwear, attire, and facial expression of the couples, the cavern tour required minimal physical exertion which yielded maximum visitor satisfaction.

Animal Cake Carnage! The Tradition Continues.

Some traditions die hard.  Like bringing fruit cake to Christmas dinner.  There’s the off chance that one family member actually loves edible paperweights but I think most of us wonder why this dessert continues to find its way to the table.

The lamb cake is, in my opinion, the fruit cake of the annual Easter meal.  No one looks forward to eating it, yet it is always there waiting for you to take an obligatory slice.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of eating a lamb cake before, I thought I’d share some of my observations on this timeless dessert:

1) You cannot bake a lamb cake without the help of toothpicks.  Toothpicks to support the delicate ears are a must.  If you use supplemental toothpicks to support the head or body, you probably didn’t grease the mold well enough and you had to perform some sort of miraculous extraction procedure to remove the cake.  Or you decided to get creative one year and make a giant brownie lamb cake…never again.

2) Frosting and simulated “fleece” help to hide baking failures.  I prefer my lamb cake to have the “freshly shorn” look so I usually leave the frosting off.  However, the addition of frosting and shaved coconut (“fleece”) hides even the most disastrous baking failures, like the giant chunks of cake that got stuck in your mold.

I don’t think anyone would miss my annual lamb cake if I didn’t bring one next year.  Yet I think I haven’t exhausted the creative possibilities of the medium so I’m going to keep up the tradition a little longer.  For this year, readers, I present my latest creation which I’ve named “Bow & Arrow Season.”  Happy Easter all.

Bad Santa.

Blog readers, I have missed you (all five of you).

I can’t think of a better time to jump back into posting to Special Collections than Christmas time…because it is time to make fun of Santa.

Case in point:

There are several problems with this Santa:
a) Santa’s beard lacks the requisite Santa beard fluffiness
b) Santa is sitting too close to the child.  Maybe back when they took this photo Santa was actually allowed to let a child sit on his lap.  Are we even allowed to do that anymore?  If we do, it’s highly inappropriate.
c) Facial expression. I don’t even know what to say.  Way creepy.

You may be troubled to know that this bad Santa thing is not an isolated incident.

Exhibit B:
Ok.  I found both of these photos without even trying.  Can you imagine what I might find if I made an effort? I shudder at the thought.

The point here is that there are lots of bad Santas out there (including the Santa that gave me a DESK LAMP for Christmas one year…thanks for nothing).  I encourage you to call out these bad Santas, and, if nothing else, help them properly adjust their beards.

How to use your phone

In just a little over a week I’m going to start a new job at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago.  I’m thrilled, but I right now I have a lot of work to do before I leave the Des Plaines History Center!

I thought I’d share a few things that we have around DPHC while I have still have the chance.  First:

I want a wireless candlestick phone that can also connect to Wikipedia.

I’m sure that someone will figure out where this cartoon came from, but I don’t know offhand.  It has been hanging up in the copy room at work for more than five years.  It even survived the purge I did about a year ago of what I called the “wall of shame” full of embarrassing photos and weird junk we had copied.

I found this related article in one of the books on our reference shelf.  “How to Use a Telephone” was written by Angus A. Hibbard, the general manager of the Chicago Telephone Company.  The article comes from the book, “Looking Forward: Life in the Twentieth Century As Predicted in the Pages of American Magazines from 1895 to 1905” By Ray Brosseau.  I have to admit that when I first read this article I thought it was sort of ridiculous.  Then, after slowing down and taking the time to retype it in its entirety, I realized how fascinating Hibbard’s insights are.   The article suggests that on an intellectual level people understood the concept that phones allowed two people to communicate with one another across great expanses, but when it came down to the physical act of communicating via this new technology, the result was sometimes comical.  The last section of the article demonstrates how, once people did get the concept of the telephone and could use it with some ease, it could be a very powerful tool.  Today there are few times when we can call someone on the phone and get as emotional a response as the example in Hibbard’s article, and I think that’s ok.  In any event, reader, enjoy!

How to Use a Telephone
By Angus S. Hibbard

The man who knows how to use a telephone properly is comparatively a rare personage, and the observance of a few simple rules and suggestions in relation to telephone usage would accomplish, for any busy man, a great economy in money, time, and vital energy.

The telephone has done more to lay bare a latent strain of belligerency in all mankind than any other feature of modern experience, and this element offers the greatest obstacle known to the universal success of telephone operation.  But this attitude is not the only abnormal development attending the act of telephoning. A man refuses to recognize plain physical conditions that would be apparent to a child in the primary grades.  What man of affairs would willingly give a second audience to a caller who turned his back to his host and directed his body in a direction away from him? Yet the majority of business men keep their faces a foot or more from the telephone and turned away from the instrument.  To expect satisfactory results under such conditions is preposterous.  The lips should not be an inch away from the rim of the receiver and the voice should beat squarely upon the drum to which the little “sound hopper ” leads.  Give a telephone instrument a “square chance” and it will do its work, unless radically deranged or defective.

This, however, is not the main difficulty.  It is only the symptom of the disease.  Lack of mental focus is the real trouble, both in talking and hearing—or, in telephone parlance, in transmitting and receiving.  If your thought is not concentrated on the transmission of your message you will not make yourself heard or hear what is said to you. This is where a failure to realize that you are holding actual conversation is apparent.  No person understands this phase of telephonic trouble better than the operator of long-distance lines, where conversation are important and comparatively expensive, and time is limited.  He knows that, in case the two on the line do not readily her each other, he must make each realize he is not talking into a hole in the end of an iron arm, but speaking int the ear of a man.

Sometimes it takes a sound shock to effect this focus of mental faculties.  Once, when hard pushed, I resorted to a desperate expedient, which demonstrated this point with indisputable force.  That was several years ago, when prominent men were not so accustomed as at present to use the telephone.  They generally delegated the task to their assistants—a practice now much in vogue in England, where it is well-nigh impossible personally to engage the head of an establishment in telephone conversation.

But in case of calls on the long-distance wires the conversations were generally of a confidential nature.  Therefore the “parties,” although not thoroughly accustomed to using the telephone, must be made instantly to understand each other, despite the added disadvantage of the “long range.”  At that time I was in charge of certain long-distance lines in the East, and was called upon to engineer a conversation of the utmost importance between a Baltimore capitalist and a Boston financier.  Time was an essential in the transaction, which involved thousands of dollars.

The Boston man seated himself at the instrument, in my office, and waited for me to get the Baltimore capitalist properly started.  At the first sound of the latter’s voice I knew he was “not there,” mentally speaking.  Then I resorted to the usual expedients to impress on him the realization that he was talking with a person instead of at an inanimate object.

“Don’t hear a word!  This thing is—” he was saying.

“I’m not a thing, Mr. Smith,” I interrupted; “I’m a man, about thirty years old, prematurely bald, with dark hair and gray eyes.  I can hear you because I know you’re a real, live man doing business with your voice, right now.  I can hear you because I’m thinking right to the point and you’re that point!  Now listen to Mr. Jones.”

But still I heard an irascible repetition of: “Can’t hear! Can’t hear! Better give the thing up and telegraph.  No use trying this old thing! It’s no account.  I tell you I can’t hear a word!”

Meantime my Boston man was growing restless and excited.  Every moment was of great value in the affair.  Turning to him I said:
“If I were to tell Mr. Smith that he lies he’d learn how to hear every word you say in one second.  Shall I do it?”

“Yes,” was the quick response; “and I’ll square it completely, later.”

Very clearly I spoke into the receiver the words:

“Mr. Smith, you lie!”

“What’s that, sir?” came the instantaneous answer. “You call me a liar?  Why, I’ll, I’ll—”

“You will understand,” I interrupted “that I mean nothing of the kind only that you do hear distinctly every word I say and you are proving it.  Now listen, quick, to Mr. Jones!”

He had no difficulty in hearing the Boston financier and the day was saved simply because he was shocked into realizing that he was not talking at a thing, but conversing with a man.

Women are keenest to grasp the personality of the invisible conversationalist.  A phone is not a dead thing to them.  They bow and smile into it and even stop before the mirror to touch up their hair when about to answer a call on a telephone in their own rooms.

Only a few days ago a man in Chicago decided to give his wife a novel surprise on her birthday anniversary.  He arranged that, at a certain moment, her mother, whom she had not seen for years, should be at the long-distance telephone office in Philadelphia and should call up the daughter in Chicago.  There was a telephone in the Chicago house and the husband answered the prearranged call.  Turning from the instrument he said to his wife:
“Helen—here’s your mother on the wire in Philadelphia.”

The wife seated herself at the instrument and heard the familiar voice of her mother.  It uttered one word: “Daughter!”

Suddenly the young matron in Chicago gripped the instrument and poured out her heart in response: “Oh, mother! mother!”

Then, as she heard the sob that came over the wire from the aged mother, she answered in kind, still keeping the receiver at her ear.  Speaking literally, those two women cried to each other until the tolls amounted to fifteen dollars.  Later they both said it was the sweetest experience they had known since their long separation began!  Nothing could more effectively demonstrate the sympathetic possibilities of the telephone or better illustrate the vital point of realizing the personality behind the voice.

Let’s Make Toast the Hard Way!

On Monday I marched in Des Plaines’ Independence Day parade dressed in an emerald green 1950s cocktail dress as part of the Des Plaines History Center’s “Decades of Des Plaines History” marching contingent.  I actually think a cocktail dress is a very appropriate thing to wear while walking in a parade because I learned that you can’t do much except stand up straight while wearing such a garment.

Several fantastic things happened during my parade stint:

  • I convinced a kid to give me some of her candy while I was marching in the parade.  Thanks for the Sweet Tarts little girl!  And I thought kids never liked to share.
  • Governor Pat Quinn shook my hand (and said something about “local history, mumble, mumble…”)  and since I know that he has shaken hands with former governor-now-national-celebrity Rod Blagojevich I feel like I’ve been touched by greatness, sorta.
  • I almost convinced one of the Knights of Columbus to pretend to impale me with his sword for a photo-op, but that didn’t go over very well so I settled for being knighted instead.  I asked what good things I had coming to me as a knight and sadly the answer was nothing–except a great photo!

Trusty knight-in-green-cocktail-dress

No time to dwell on fun had during our nation’s birthday; onward to a new experiment!

Tonight I am trying out a metal toaster that we use at work when we talk about life at the turn of the last century.  Please don’t worry; this toaster is a reproduction.

Most people think this is a cheese grater

Bottom view

So the general idea is that heat from your wood-burning stove (or camp fire if you happen to take this gadget camping) will rise up through the holes in the bottom of the toaster and emanate out from the side slits, which will toast the bread that you lean against the wire bread supports.  Super bonus:  you can balance your kettle on top of the toaster and use it to heat water for coffee!

What I want to know is why you can’t just use a skillet to make toast.  This is a good idea because you can use butter, or even better, bacon grease, on the skillet and toast your bread while buttering it up at the same time.  As you can see from the picture, the toaster doesn’t toast very evenly but my heat source was only my gas burner so maybe this would not be a problem if I was using a regular wood burning stove.

I’m sure you have tried this at home too

Note the uneven toasting pattern

Shameless product placement

I am planning to see how long it takes to heat my water for coffee using the toaster, but not until tomorrow morning.