My grandmother, Agnes Bradley Kircher, was a collector. She collected hatpin holders. She collected napkin rings. She collected teacups.
Many people collect salt shakers, but I don’t have any evidence that Agnes did. She did, however, collect something salty. One of her most unusual collections in contained in a simple scrapbook. For some unknown reason, Grandma Kircher collected articles and writings about salt.
The first page of the scrapbook is a letter from Fredric J Haskin, director of the Information Bureau of the San Francisco Chronicle, with offices in Washington, D.C., dated September 30, 1939 in which he puts forth six unusual facts about salt. Was Mr. Haskin’s letter a response to an inquiry from Grandma Kircher? I have no idea, but through this letter I’ve learned, among other things, that “Salt was put into coffins because Satan is said to hate salt since it is the symbol of incorruption and immortality,” and “In heraldry the salt cellar was drawn in in the form of a covered dish. It was probably used to signify immortality.”
More pages of the scrapbook hold a hand-copied recipe from The White House Cookbook from 1898 for Salt-Rising Bread, numerous newspaper clippings including “Does Salt Determine the Complexion?”[i] “Salt serves Japanese as War Weapon,”[ii] and a bit of celebrity news about why Gloria Swanson eschews salt[iii] and why Errol Flynn picks up every grain of any salt he happens to spill because apparently a handful of salt has saved his life on many occasions.[iv]
But wait! There’s more – an article about the Exposition Flyer crossing the Bonneville Salt Flats[v] and a recipe for the “’Nightmare Special’ – in a big bowl, first a bottom layer of French fried potatoes. On top of that a scoop of chocolate ice cream, a slice of fresh pineapple, a blob of whipped cream and a cherry. Finally a generous sprinkling of ketchup, pepper and salt.”[vi]
There are six pages in Agnes’ own hand about salt, and several pages of dictionary definitions and Bible verses about the briny condiment. Pasted in the book is a picture postcard with three illustrations of Great Salt Lake Utah, complete with the attached mini cloth bag of salt from the lake.
What prompted this collection of salt-related items is beyond me, but apparently someone besides Grandma Kircher was impressed with the collection – tucked between the pages is a red ribbon “Second Prize – Hobby Show, San Rafael Fiesta, Marinita Parlor No. 198, N.D.G.W.”[vii] But I gotta ask –salt???? What about the genealogy scrapbook you might have spent your time on? Ah, well. Congratulations, you winner, you!
[Tiny follow-up. I wrote this blog post and looked through the scrapbook to find a page to illustrate the blog post. And lo and behold, tucked inside a pocket in the front cover was a card “Prize Award – Salt and Pepper Shakers, Mrs. Agnes Kircher” Maybe she did collect them after all]
[i] Clipping dated 1939 by American Weekly, Inc.
[ii] Article dated Monday, October 17, 1938 from an unnamed newspaper
[iii] San Francisco Call-Bulletin, Thursday, September 28, 1939
[iv] No identification as to date or source of this article
[v] San Francisco chronicle, Sunday, September 10, 1939
[vi] From some publication identified as “Pathfinder”, Sept. 16, 1939
[vii] N.D.G.W. stands for Native Daughters of the Golden West. For more information see http://www.ndgw.org/ Researcher’s note - maybe something to follow up on here – might the Marinita Parlor 198 of N.D.G.W. have some paperwork on my grandmother? I’ve sent off an email. I’ll keep you posted if anything interesting comes from it.
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.