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The practical and the not-so-practical of 1909
Out of the Morgue
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A set of 24 Phenol formaldehyde resin (Bakelite) buttons of various shapes, sizes, and colors; colors include different shades of green, red, white, and amber; some have brass fasteners.

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be. 

First, a note about what to expect next week. Out of the Morgue will be moving to Sundays.  It will not appear next Thursday, as it will be in the Sunday, Dec. 15 edition. 

One hundred years ago, Leo Baekland, a Belgium born chemist and inventor living in Yonkers, New York, created a compound out of formaldehyde and camphor, which he called “Bakelite.” It was the first completely synthetic plastic, and was widely used in many products for its insulating and decorative properties. His invention marks the beginning of “the age of plastics.” 

Baekland was already a rich man for the times, having collaborated on the creation of the first commercially successful photographic paper, “Velox,” which he and associates Richard Anthony and Albert Hayn sold to Eastman Kodak Co. in 1899. 

He went on to get his U.S. Citizenship ten years later on Dec. 16, 1919. He died in 1944. According to his wiki page on Wikipedia, at that time, it was estimated world production of Bakelite as 175,000 tons. Today, it is no longer manufactured, having been surpassed in versatility and ease of manufacture by several of the types of plastic. Baekland likely didn’t foresee the creation of “single use” plastics, like straws, plastic cutlery, grocery sacks and food containers. Last year, the European Union banned several types of these single use plastic items. 

Barton County Democrat

This week, we pull stories from the 1909 Barton County Democrat. In 1909, there were two newspapers that served Great Bend, the Register and the Democrat. The Register was considered the conservative paper, and its stories catered to the business people of the community. The Democrat as considered Progressive, and its stories catered to farmers and workers in the community. 

The Democrat was published in two sections. Part One included current events from around the world and what today we would consider hard news and editorial. Part Two consisted of light reading, fashion news, recipes, instructions for gardening and sewing, and fictional serials. There were several illustrations included with articles in Part Two. 

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The underground water cistern could be built by digging a hole 10 to 15 feet deep and six to eight feet in diameter, and lining it with bricks and cement mortar.
Something practical

This week’s Democrat offered instructions for building an underground brick cistern. The illustration is simply drawn. Fred O. Sibley authored the piece. 

“A cistern for the collection and storage of roof water should be underground and, for durability and the best of service, be made circular. Dig a hole ten to fifteen feet deep, and from six to eight feet in diameter, depending on the quantity of water one wants to store.”

Sounds simple enough. Cisterns were common around the turn of the century, but communities like Great Bend were beginning to invest in city-wide water works. It’s not unusual to find old cisterns around farm houses in various states of disrepair these days, and very rarely are the old ones still in use. These days, cisterns are mostly used by “homesteaders” seeking to live off grid. 

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Folding and portable poultry houses could be set up in 15 minutes.

Instructions for creating folding and portable houses for poultry were also included in the Democrat. 

“For people who are tenants or who have a large number of fowls in the summer and few in the winter this kind of a house will commend itself highly, because it can be taken apart and stored under a shed, and thus made to last many more years than it otherwise would.”

Designed to be bolted together, the report claimed they could be built at minimal cost and set up in 15 minutes. Who wouldn’t keep chickens if it was that easy? 

Christmas gift ideas 

Christmas is just weeks away, and in 1909 as now, retailers sought to entice shoppers into their stores to do their holiday shopping. One of the advertisements we found particularly entertaining consisted of just text, as though typed in a letter. 

Mr. Farmer:
While you are in Greater Great Bend doing your Christmas shopping don’t fail to drop around and let me sell you a MANURE SPREADER, or a WAGON, or a Corn Sheller or a Feed Grinder something that will be useful or beneficial on the farm. We are here to please you and have the goods that will do the work. 
L.B. Wilcos, The Busy Implement Man

What to get for a fourth anniversary? 

For the ladies, we found an answer to the age old query about what gifts were appropriate for wedding anniversaries. Be sure to clip this out, because whether or not you care to admit it, the topic still comes up today.

First year — cotton

Second year — paper

Third year — Leather

(Gotcha! — perhaps some Bakelite?)

Fifth year — Wooden

Seventh year — Woolen

Tenth year — Tin

Twelfth year — Silk and fine linen

Fifteenth year — Crystal

Twentieth year — China

Thirtieth year — Pearl

Fortieth year — Ruby

Fiftieth year — Golden

Seventy-fifth year — Diamond