Summers in the early 1900s brought the organ grinder

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By Horace E. Hobbs

Hampton Union, January 11, 1984

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Fortunately, most of our entertainment we had to make for ourselves. Most of the strangers that came to our door were the agents of those companies with products to sell; the grocery man, the fishman, the ragman, the peddler with the pack on his back, the iceman, and finally the book sales man and the Fuller brush man. They were the purveyors of news near and far.

Real entertainment came from the hand-organ man, who arrived as summer approached. There were two types. One had an organ that looked like an upright piano with wheels on it so that it could be pulled or pushed about. It usually had some art decorations of a kind painted on it. The other type hand-organ man carried a much smaller, but just as noisy instrument on his back. It had a leg attached to the bottom of it, and, as he turned the crank, music came forth. He had a little monkey on a chain who performed attractive little acts. The final act was to remove his red cap and walk around in the audience to collect what money he could.

Then there was always reading to entertain. Yes, in those days in the absence of TV and radio we had learned to read for enjoyment. For magazines there were The American Boy, The Ladies Home Journal, Outdoor Life and the Youth’s Companion. I was brought up on Nick Carter, G.A. Henty and Horatio Alger, quite a select and varied choice. Nick Carter was in paperback “Dime novel” form. He was a daring, dashing English detective who always solved the problem and “got his man.” G.A. was the author who introduced us to the opening of the West and the cowboy and Indian encounters. But Horatio Alger, with such books as Paul the Peddler, Phil the Fiddler and Tom, the Bootblack gave us the example of youth who, in poor surroundings, always overcame and succeeded by hard work and honest living. These characters really founded  “we shall overcome.”

Real physically satisfactory enjoyment came when we were indulged by making our own candy (usually fudge). Popping corn over the coal or wood fire was fun and produced delicious buttered popcorn and succulent molasses cornballs.

All of these activities added extreme pleasure to the long winter evenings, as did the making of snow ice cream we would collect clean, fresh-fallen snow, outside in a large bowl mix liquid flavoring with it like vanilla or strawberry. Wow! It was good.

All of this joyous activity when done at night had to be done by lamplight. We used kerosene lamps with glass chimney sitting on a base that held the kerosene. Monday was wash day for clothes, but Saturday was wash day for lamps. That was my Saturday chore. There were three distinct steps. First the chimney had to be removed and the smoky soot smut washed off with soap and water, wiped and put aside to dry. Second, the base had to be refilled with kerosene. Third, the fabric works that went down into and absorbed the fuel for burning had to be trimmed. This was the professional job. It had to be slightly higher in the center to give more light but the corners had to be rounded so that the flame coming up the side would not smut the glass chimney. If this were not done properly, you made more work for yourself later with dirty chimneys. Now reassemble the three parts and you were all set for pleasant evenings for the rest of the week.

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