Our first exposure to tornadoes is often watching The Wizard of Oz as a child, though no one but Dorothy has ever reported being transported to a magical land beyond the rainbow. I was 9 when I read the Reader’s Digest account of the April 3-4, 1974 Night of 100 tornadoes, a horrific Super Outbreak of 148 confirmed tornadoes in 24 hours – more than 30 F4/F5’s – which devastated the town of Xenia, Ohio, among others. That kind of thing leaves an impression, even in a magazine.
April is in the middle of tornado “season,” which runs from March to June, when the biggest outbreaks of tornadoes are likely to occur. The United States has more tornadoes, and more violent tornadoes, than any other place in the world – killing an average of eighty people a year, despite our best efforts at early warning. Can they occur in other months? Of course they can. It all depends on the weather, and the weather, as we are aware, has been kind of wacky lately, from extreme drought in California to paralyzing snow and ice in Texas.
Why the US? When we talk of “tornado alley,” we usually mean a massive stretch of flat land in the center of the country, from Colorado to Pennsylvania, and from Texas to the Canadian border. This is where the majority of tornadoes are born. Can they occur anywhere? Of course they can – CT has had memorable destructive tornadoes (such as the EF1 that wiped out Sleeping Giant in 2018) as well as Florida, Nevada, and Portland, Oregon. Pennsylvania holds the record for the only F-5 tornado east of the Appalachians – that’s winds of 300 mph.
Why do tornadoes form? Thunderstorms form when warm, moist air (such as from the Gulf) collides with cool dry air (such as comes down from Canada). When the two fronts meet, warm air rises up through the cold, creating storms. If the winds start to rotate in the process, a tornado is formed. Spring is when the warm air starts coming north from the Gulf of Mexico, colliding with the cold Canadian fronts, setting up a highway for storms until summer’s heat chases the cold air back north.
In modern times, with doppler radar, we know when a storm is likely to be powerful enough to cause a tornado (the Wallingford tornado of 1898 killed 34 people, but they had no warning system). If you’re faced with a severe storm, or a tornado warning, if the sky gets that sickly green, get to shelter. Go to a basement if you can, away from windows, under a staircase is a bonus. If you have no basement, go to a place away from windows – a large closet, or a bathroom – many people have survived in bathtubs. If you can, take shelter under a table or something sturdy. Cover yourself with a blanket, to avoid debris or flying glass. If you’re in a car, stop and get to shelter as fast as possible – don’t try to outrun a tornado; you can’t. And no, hiding under a bridge isn’t safe – those 200 mph winds will blow you right out from under there. Please don’t leave your animals chained outside. They’re scared, too.
Whether you’re an armchair weather-watcher, or like reading about disasters, here’s a number of tornado-related stories and films you might enjoy – with one eye out the window (No, there has never been an actual Sharknado. Frogs and fish, but no sharks. Sorry).
Ancestry Library Edition is the library version of Ancestry.com and is available free to Cheshire Library cardholders. Originally available only inside the library, access was expanded to include home use when the Covid-19 pandemic closed libraries down in the spring of 2020. Ancestry has continued to allow expanded access during these times of social distancing. CPL staffer Lauren took full advantage of Ancestry’s resources to research some old photos she came across:
When my grandmother cleaned out her house, I inherited a collection of old photos, documents, and books. Many items were of unknown origins, collected by a long-dead relative and placed in a series of boxes and bags, which in turn was tucked into a closet until it emerged one Sunday afternoon. I was fascinated. I spent hours going through the pages of the books and turning over the photos to see the names. I grew to recognize them, even if I couldn’t exactly connect them to me. Here in this local history book is a Balliet: the name I carried for most of my life. This photo, a Bloss. Here’s a Schneider, a Kern. But nothing haunted me quite like the handwritten inscription that prefaced a photo album: “Presented to Kate E. Haines by her Affectionate Mother, July 18, 1866.”
There were two such photo albums, small, sturdy, and so elegant they seemed out of place. Inside the albums, the trading card-sized cartes de visite showed women in dark corseted dresses and bearded men in somber coats, all sitting or standing in professional studio settings. Unlike the faces in the black-backed scrapbook, framed in glossy three-by-fives and looking out candidly from lawns and stoops, I found no familiar features in these posed men and women. They were a complete mystery. Who were they? Who was Kate? And how did my family come to possess the remnants of her life?
Lillie, my second-great-grandmother, as a young woman in the 1890s
There are no Haineses in my family. At least, not according to the hefty History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s one of the books in my collection, published in 1884, and it sits on a shelf with the first and third volumes of the 1914 History of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Its Families. Inside their pages I traced my sixth-great-grandfather, Paulus Balliet, from his 1717 birth in Alsace-Lorraine, to his 1738 arrival in Philadelphia and his quick rise to small-town gentry in Lehigh County. The Balliet branch of my family is heavy with documents and stories. The Bloss branch isn’t as full, but I know it by its physical pieces. I have photos of my second-great-grandmother, wearing tiny wire-framed glasses and the hint of a smile. Her name was Lillie. We shared birthdays, first initials, imperfect eyesight. She married a Balliet. I have a composition book full of her handwritten recipes. The black-backed scrapbook has photos from her father’s slate quarries, captioned by her son. I put those objects in one archival box, and the Haines albums went into a separate box of photos with unknown subjects.
Another tintype probably from Kate.
Once, I removed the cartes de visite from the Haines albums. I flipped them over one by one, turning up three handwritten notes with unfamiliar, untraceable names. I tried pinpointing the time period by looking at their clothing. I googled “Kate E Haines,” hoping for the same luck I’d had with the Balliets in my family. I even documented which studios took each photo, hoping that the series of names, addresses, designs, index numbers would somehow suddenly open up a revelation. But, like the single mirrored daguerreotype in my collection of photos, Haines was a ghost.
Portrait of an unknown woman, probably from the mid-1800s. This daguerreotype’s reflective qualities distinguish it from the more common ambrotypes and tintypes.
Last spring, as covid kept us in our homes, I needed a project to occupy myself. It was announced that the genealogy database Ancestry.com was expanding access to Ancestry Library Edition. I knew from my past life as a reference librarian that Ancestry Library Edition was a trove of genealogical information that can normally be used only at local libraries. But for the foreseeable future, researchers could access the database from home. I immediately took an early lunch and grabbed my archival boxes and a fresh notebook. For the first time, I had unfettered access to vital records, grave markers, and the research that other genealogists had completed. I began to fill in the bare branches. It didn’t take me long to see how the names connected, how they flowed down to me. And, curiously, how they flowed back from Lillie. A name I recognized from an 1833 birth certificate turned out to be her grandmother, my fourth-great-grandmother. More names appeared that matched the scrawled labels on the backs of photographs. Lillie had been curiously absent from those lineups of Bloss women on front porches. But it started to make sense. Someone had been holding the camera, focusing the lens, calling the relatives to attention. Someone put those photos in the black-backed scrapbook. Someone had held onto the history books. Not a Balliet, as I’d first suspected. A Bloss. Lillie was one of my collectors.
Once I made those connections, it didn’t take me long to move on to Kate E. Haines. Google had turned up nothing a year ago. This time, though, I had the full range of records from Ancestry Library Edition. I typed in “Haines, Kate E.” A few hits, but nothing that looked right. “Haines, Kate E,” and I expanded the search to look for similar names. I got thousands of hits. I gave her a birth date between 1840 and 1855, assuming that the 1866 photo album was a teenage birthday gift, or a marriage gift. I set her location to Pennsylvania. Too many results from Philadelphia, so I refined it to Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
And then I found the death certificate for Mrs. Catherine Balliet, informed by Lillie Balliet.
1880 Census record for Ballietsville Village, North Whitewall Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
Vital records tell a story, if you know how to read them. In a census, the sudden appearance of a household member sixty years younger than the head can indicate a recently widowed daughter or son moving back with their parents, their child in tow. Inconsistent spellings of last names can point to either illiteracy or, in the case of my overwhelmingly German ancestors,* that the bearer moves between two languages. Kate’s death certificate told me that she had no remaining blood relatives.
The other records on Ancestry Library Edition confirmed my suspicion. The census entries and family trees showed her birth in 1849, and her mother’s marriage to a second husband when Kate was six years old. Her father, presumably, had died. I found a child of hers who died in infancy, a husband who died a year later. A later census places her as the wife in the household of my third-great-granduncle, a Balliet man almost forty years her senior. She is younger than the stepchildren she lives with. Before she reaches the age of 45, she will lose her mother, her second husband, her remaining daughter. She spends the rest of her years living with her unmarried, childless sisters until they, too, die. When she herself passes in 1924, it’s not her stepchildren who recount the details of her life. It’s Lillie, her niece by marriage. Lillie was only a girl when Kate was widowed a second time and her ties to the Balliet family, at least on paper, were severed.
Portrait of a young woman, possibly Kate Haines’ daughter, encased in a heart with embroidered flowers. The back reads “Handle with care – Miss Mamie Emery.”
I have no explanation for how Lillie came to know Kate, her aunt-in-law, well enough to recount her information to a medical examiner. But she did. I can imagine Lillie cleaning out Kate’s room after her death. She sees the photo album that contains the cartes de visite from decades of friends and family. She opens it up, recognizing a face here and there. She spots the second album. There’s more photos: tintypes, a daguerreotype, small keepsake hearts. She moves about the room and silently gathers them up until she holds the last traces of Kate Haines in her hands. She takes one final look around, then closes the door on the dark, still room.
Looking at the people who entered her life and left too soon, I think I understand why Kate collected so many photos. It’s why my second-great-grandmother Lillie took her albums and placed them alongside her family’s history books. She was keeping house.
The Bloss Family in the early 1900s. Lillie is at the top left.
These women that I’ve come to know through their objects and my research – women who were teachers and gifted students and descendants of prominent locals – when they married, the totality of their lives was diminished over and over again to a single line on the census: “keeping house.” And they kept house in the fullest sense of the word. Not only did they physically maintain the members of their families, their children and husbands and mothers, but they also maintained the intangible threads that held them together. They remembered the names, the stories, the histories. They kept the photos and the history books. They kept their fathers’ geography textbooks and their aunts’ albums and their grandmothers’ tiny crochet hooks and the commencement programs that listed their mothers-in-law as school valedictorians.
And I see it happening today. In my family and in so many others, the women are arranging baby showers and funerals, grocery shopping for barbecues and get-togethers, reminding everyone about upcoming birthdays and anniversaries, writing messages in cards, buying pages for scrapbooks and frames for photos, and placing their children’s school projects in a box in their closet. When the day is done, some of them are sitting down in front of computer screens and typing names of their relatives and their husbands’ relatives into genealogical databases. We all know our family histories because of the women who are keeping house. And many of us will do the same, holding our histories and passing them on to our own granddaughters and grandsons, and hoping they, in turn, will continue to keep their house.
I intend to do my part.
* When I tell non-Pennsylvanians that I’m Pennsylvania Dutch, I often get strange looks, as if they’re wondering about my Amish rumspringa. But Pennsylvania Dutch, or Pennsylvania German, refers to all German-speaking Protestants who came to Pennsylvania from the Rhineland in the 17th and 18th century. They assimilated and became farmers and wives and business owners and statesmen, and their descendants continued to speak their German dialect for hundreds of years. Insular communities like the Amish and Mennonites still speak it today, but the vast majority of PA Dutch descendants today have little to no knowledge of the dialect. My grandfather spoke it, but my grandmother knows only English, though she speaks with a strong accent. My only linguistic trace of the region is my fondness for the word “rutsch,” a verb used to describe the barely-contained energy of small children who have been sitting in one place for too long. I have yet to find a satisfying equivalent in standard English.
Today’s post is from our Head of Adult Services, Bill:
February marks the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. CPL will commemorate Presidents Day and the office of the American presidency with the Arthur Hostage Memorial Lectures – two events in late February. These programs are made possible by donations given to the Friends of the Cheshire Public Library in memory of Arthur Hostage.
Join us on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 2:00pm for “Simply Lincoln“. Being in the presence of Howard Wright as President Abraham Lincoln is an experience you will not soon forget. Dressed in precise period attire and speaking with a Kentucky accent, Lincoln’s mannerisms, speaking style, and humanity flows over the listener with each moving sentence, witty observance, or eloquent description of a tortuous time that was the Civil War. Authenticated speeches, letters, quotes, and humorous stories have been the foundation from which Howard Wright has crafted his program, giving you a sense of what it was like to have been in the presence of Abraham Lincoln.
On Tuesday, Feb. 25, 6:30 p.m., Dr. Matthew Warshauer, Professor of History, CCSU, will deliver a talk on “The Changing Nature of the American Presidency“. Dr. Warshauer’s books include, Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law: Nationalism, Civil Liberties, and Partisanship (2006); Andrew Jackson in Context (2009); Connecticut in the American Civil War: Slavery, Sacrifice and Survival (2011), all of which have received praise from noted historians. Warshauer’s most recent book publication is Inside Connecticut and the Civil War: Essay’s on One State’s Struggles (2014), in which he edited essays authored by CCSU’s Department of History master’s students.
To learn more about the presidency throughout our nation’s history, we suggest checking out the following titles:
There’s so much going on at CPL this month: two concerts, special programs honoring our veterans, a new Homeschool meetup, the big Fall Book Sale, and so much more! Check out our Event Calendar for the full roster, here are some highlights:
Play & Learn
Saturday, November 2, 2019, 10:00-11:00am
Our new drop-in play group for children and their caregivers! Explore interactive and sensory activities, encouraging the development of early literacy skills. We will have lots of movement, songs, and a short storytime during the last 20 minutes of the program. Recommended for ages 2 to 5 years old. Younger and older siblings are also welcome to attend. No registration required.
College Financial Aid Seminar
Saturday, November 2, 2019, 2:00 – 3:30pm
Jennifer Philips’ seminar, “Simplifying the Financial Aid Process, “ will provide parents and students with tips on securing the best possible financial aid package from the college of their choice. Jennifer will describe the best student loans, grants and scholarships available, explain the critical financial aid forms and deadlines and the various components of a financial aid offer. Registration is required.
United States Coast Guard Dixieland Jazz Band
Sunday, November 3, 2019, 2:00 – 4:00pm
Performing classic jazz, blues, and rags with a “New Orleans” flavor. The Dixieland Jazz Band has entertained audiences across America and around the world. Please join us for a very special concert! No registration required.
Author Talk – Formation: A Woman’s Memoir of Stepping Out of Line
Monday, November 4, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00pm
Ryan Dostie never imagined herself on the front lines of a war halfway around the world. But then a conversation with an Army recruiter in her high-school cafeteria changes the course of her life. Hired as a linguist, she quickly has to find a space for herself in the testosterone-filled world of the Army barracks, and has been holding her own until the unthinkable happens: she is attacked by a fellow soldier. Join us as the author discusses her powerful book. Registration is required.
Veterans’ Writing Group
Tuesday, November 5, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00pm
Join us for a short film and a panel discussion with members of the Veterans’ Writing Group. The Russell Library Veterans’ Writing Group has been meeting and writing stories of their incredible experiences for several years, which will be published by En Route Publishing this year. Come get a sneak peak of this fascinating book, and listen to true stories from veterans from all branches of service. Registration is required.
Veterans Day Concert with the Cheshire Community Band
Sunday, November 10, 2019, 2:00 – 4:00pm
The Cheshire Community Band will perform a variety of selections including historical and patriotic numbers in celebration of Veterans Day. No registration required.
Veterans Day Movie: They Shall Not Grow Old
Tuesday, November 12, 2019, 6:00 – 8:00pm
On the centenary of the end of the First World War, experience the Great War as never before. Using state-of-the-art technology and materials from the BBC and Imperial War Museum, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson allows the story of World War I to be told by the men who were there. Life on the front is explored through the voices of the soldiers, who discuss their feelings about the conflict, the food they ate, the friends they made and their dreams of the future. Registration is required.
Homeschool Meetup (all ages)
Wednesday, November 3, 2019, 11:00am – 12:00pm
Meet other local families who are educating their children and teens at home while sharing tips, ideas, and educational materials. Toys and sensory play will be available for young children and crafts will be provided for older children and teens. Please register each child or teen separately.
Medicare Supplement and Advantage: Q & A
Thursday, November 14, 2019, 1:00 – 3:00pm
Staff from the Western Connecticut Area Agency on Aging will present this seminar and provide vital information about Medicare, Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage. Their mission is to provide the information and assistance necessary for consumers to understand their rights, receive benefits to which they are entitled and make informed choices about health insurance concerns. Registration is required.
A Night with Georgia O’Keeffe ~ Craft night
Thursday, November 14, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00pm
Join us for a short film on the life of Georgia O’Keeffe and then create your own work of art in her style. All materials will be provided. Registration is required for this adult (18+) program.
“Are You In Your Right Mind?” – A Joyce Saltman Workshop
Monday, November 18, 2019, 1:00 – 2:30pm
Interactive and fun, this lecture will explore individual differences through left-brain/right brain research, in an effort to understand and appreciate these differences in ourselves and others. Joyce Saltman is a professor Emeritus of Special Education at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven and a former Cheshire resident. Her experience in the areas of education, therapy, and comedy has provided an outstanding background for her research on The Therapeutic Value of Laughter. Registration is required.
Fall Book Sale!
Thursday, November 21 – Sunday, November 24, 2019
Bargains galore at the big Fall Book Sale! Browse more than 15,000 books of every possible genre. Stock up on audiobooks and DVDs. You never know what treasures you’ll find. Book sale hours:
Wednesday, November 20, 6:30-8:00pm (Preview Night for Friends’ Members only)
Thursday, November 21, 9:00am – 8:00pm
Friday, November 22, 9:00am – 4:30pm
Saturday, November 23, 9:00am – 4:30pm
Sunday, November 24, 12:00 – 3:00pm
Mysteries of St. Peter’s Basilica
Tuesday, November 26, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00pm
Did you know that St. Peter’s church at the Vatican has hidden geometry pinpointing certain locations? Robert Kerson will discuss this fascinating mystery. Learn details of the current basilica few people are aware of. Registration is required.
Books Over Coffee
Wednesday, November 27, 2019, 12:00 – 1:30pm
On the last Wednesday of every month from 12-1:30p we’ll meet in the Loft to discuss the selected title. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is our November selection. Books are available in print, audio, & ebook format. You bring your lunch, we’ll provide the coffee and tea. Registration is required.
On July 21, it will be FIFTY years since mankind first walked on the Moon.
Although the Russians – with superior rocket power – managed to get not only the first satellite in space, but the first man in orbit, first woman in orbit, and smash the first man-made object into the moon, it wasn’t until May of 1961 when President John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech, challenging America that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
United for the Cause
Perhaps no other statement since Roosevelt’s “Date which will live in infamy…” speech has done more to stir an entire nation in a single united direction. Congress allotted funding. The infant technology industry ramped up. Mylar was invented. Velcro found a use. Manufacturing learned to miniaturize (in a time of bulky tubes and transistors, when each reel of magnetic computer tape could hold a whopping 184 Kilobytes of memory [for reference, an MP3 recording of the Star Spangled Banner runs around 900 Kb – half your memory]). The entire country surged forward with that dream, no doubt spurred on as an homage to Kennedy following his assassination. TV picked up the dream with serious and non-serious programs like Star Trek, Lost in Space, Dr. Who, and more. Movies gave way to huge spectacles, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, and a few thousand campy pulp films. Food wasn’t left out: the need to eat in space gave us the use of TANG, dehydrated ice cream, and Pillsbury Space Food Sticks.
The Final Frontier
The road to the moon was littered with failures – we didn’t even manage to smash a probe onto the moon until 1962. We made it through the Gemini program, only to learn that some things couldn’t be rushed or corners cut when the Apollo 1 crew – Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee – burned to death in an oxygen fire in a test module, because the pressurized doors opened the wrong way. This led to a pause – there was no Apollo 2 or 3, and 4-5-6 were all unmanned. If ever there was a lot of pressure on a crew, Apollo 7 was the first 3-manned crew to blast off Earth, period. Missions 8-10 looped the moon, giving us the famous Earthrise photo.
Apollo 11 pulled it all together. With less computer capability than an Apple watch, the lunar lander settled on the moon, Armstrong sent out the famous words, “The Eagle has landed,” followed shortly by Armstrong’s historic “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” At the end of an incredibly violent, divisive, depressing decade, the entire world came together for a few brief moments to rejoice.
Fifty years later, we sit back on our Tempur-pedic cushions with our cell phones, tablets, LED lights, and flat-screen TVs, watching through scratch-proof lenses or LASIK-fixed eyes (all outgrowths of the space program), and marvel at a time when space exploration was our future.
How do we know it wasn’t faked? Like everywhere Man goes, we left our garbage behind – landing modules, rovers, flags and plaques – more than 400,000 pounds worth, and though they can’t be seen by any telescope on Earth (you’re talking a 10-foot object from 239,000 miles away), they can by orbital satellites around the Moon. The path to space is far too complex for a blog post, so grab a good book, watch a good film (join us for a viewing of the documentary Apollo 11 at CPL on July 18), and think on just how different our lives would be if we never tried to reach for the Moon.