Introduction: In this article, Scott Phillips celebrates the colorful foliage of the autumn season by finding lots of leaf stories in old newspapers. Scott is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services.
I am an unabashed lover of autumn and all it brings us! It is my favorite time to go out and take photographs at cemeteries. I love the crisp mornings coupled with the still-warm afternoon sunshine, walking in the woods, and perhaps most of all the leaves as they present us with all their magnificent fall colors.
One of our family’s favorite autumn pastimes when our children were young was for me to rake the leaves into a huge pile and then allow our children to make a massive leaf “fort.”
The other day, I was enjoying the wonderful fall colors and delightful vistas—along with some wonderful autumn memories stirring in my mind’s eye—when I decided to take a look at the online historical newspapers of GenealogyBank.com to see if other folks shared my love of autumn. Let me just say it appears, much like the colors of our autumn leaves, to be a bit of a mixed bag.
Fall Fairy Tale
My first discovery was a delightful fairy tale from a 1917 South Dakota newspaper. Featuring autumn leaves, “Mr. Wind,” the “Breeze Brothers,” gnomes, and fairies, it is exactly the kind of story I would have enjoyed telling my children and I have now saved it so that I can read it to our grandsons.
Decorating with Leaves
Next I came across a name that rang a bell with me. It was “Cappy Dick” in a 1954 issue of my hometown newspaper in Cleveland, the Plain Dealer. I recall looking forward to Cappy Dick’s “Hobby Club” ideas in the newspaper every week when I was a child. In this article, Cappy instructed his young fans to take a vase and “Brush shellac all over the surface. Then stick the bits of leaf to the shellac after first applying glue to the back of each leaf.” Reading it made me laugh out loud at the thought of how my mother and grandmother might have reacted had I ever dared take shellac, glue, and autumn leaves to any one of their precious vases.
Moonshiners Make Crafty Use of Leaves
Still chuckling over my likely “shellacking” had I shellacked a vase, I came across an article from a 1928 North Carolina newspaper, during the height of Prohibition, that contained a unique take on autumn leaves. The article reported: “Officers in recent days have discovered that the moonshiners are taking advantage of the fall of autumn leaves in a unique way. A trench deep and long enough to contain about four barrels of beer is dug next to the log of a fallen tree in the depth of the woods…On top of these is (sic) laid sheets of iron roofing and then leaves are raked so that they gradually slope up to the top of the log as if blown by autumnal breezes. Four barrels like this were found during last week by the use of sticks to punch into the leaves.” I guess there were smart moonshiners in those days—but perhaps even smarter officers.
Leaves Cause Broken Ankle
Mrs. Francis M. Whitlaw evidently did not take too kindly to autumn leaves, as reported in a 1908 Missouri newspaper. While it made me a bit sad that Mrs. Whitlaw broke her ankle due to the leaves, I found it an interesting bit of time-travel to read that she was treated by her doctor at “Rose & Gordon’s drug store” and was taken “in a carriage” to the hotel where her husband was the manager.
Leaves Cause Fall Fatalities
Then I got a real shock when I read an article from an 1898 New York newspaper about a fatal train wreck caused by autumn leaves. While definitely a tragic story, I found the amazing details related to this autumn leaves event extremely interesting.
Poem about Leaves
I closed out my searching after making a delightful discovery in a 1911 Idaho newspaper. Oh what memories this lovely poem brought back! I could smell the wonderful aroma of burning leaves (now forbidden in our community) in the fall. I encourage you to read this nifty little poem. As the anonymous author writes, “such scented censer smoke” brings each of us “The glory of our olden dreams.”
I hope you enjoy the wonder of this autumn’s colorful leaf display, and indulge in some fun memories of your own as you rake the leaves. And if you have a moment, how about sharing your favorite autumn family memories here with me in the comments section? I’d certainly enjoy hearing them!