Finding a Home for Lost Records: The Viglia Papers

We just don’t know what to do with them, my neighbor said. The box of photos, letters, and ephemera was found among crisp, hand-embroidered linens and stacks of fiestaware, remnants from an estate whose owner passed away. The records were inherited by a couple, who passed on to my neighbor, who in turn brought them to me. After a little detective work, we determined that the records originally belonged to the Viglia and Bonomo families, Italian immigrants who settled in Price, Utah in the early 1900’s. The photos themselves are remarkably beautiful and tell an intriguing story of religion, music, death, and celebration. But what to do with them?

While attending my Utah History class at the University of Utah, I got my answer. Taught by Professor Paul Reeve, the class is includes a public history project where students will work in conjunction with Utah State Historical Society to update its database of state historical markers. When I learned that Price, Utah had an Immigrant Monument, I knew these records could help tell the story of immigrants in a very personal way.

The Viglia and Bonomo records include over 200 pieces such as photos, letters, postcards, receipts, greeting cards, and other ephemera. As immigrants, it is an important thing to tell your own story. By contributing the Viglia papers to the public history record, they can tell it in their own words.

 

What’s in Your Closet?

Closets are wonderful places. As a young child, I hid in them during games of hide and seek. I remember quickly pulling the folding doors closed, crouching down, catching my breath while my eyes adjusted to the dark. As I grew older, I hid things in my closet: little collections of memorabilia, my diary, and secret notes. At the end of the clothes rack were my favorite clothes I could not bear to part with. My parents had stuff in their closets, too: old tennis rackets, favorite purses, candy bars, and birthday presents.

When I think back of how I began my interest in family history, it began with a closet. A few years ago, I was at my parent’s home looking through a closet in a spare bedroom. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but something on the top shelf caught my eye. It was a red and black Nike shoebox, with “letters” written in black marker on the outside. “These are mother’s,” my mom said. “I got them after she died.” I opened the box, and we sat on the bed, opening letters. Unfolding their delicate pages, I was mesmerized by the handwriting, the words, and the photos that sometimes fell out as we opened them. These were my grandparent’s love letters. I couldn’t put them down.

emc-ds-1932-05-04-1

There were more things in that closet. A hand-beaded dress made by my great grandmother June Bushman Smith. My great grandmother Ella Clark’s eyeglasses. My grandfather Ellsworth’s toy drum. I didn’t know it that day, but something in my heart changed. I became determined to not only rediscover who my ancestors were, but to find a way to share these discoveries with everyone.

Over time, this determination evolved into a path that led us to found Kindex, an online archive and transcription tool that enables families to collaboratively gather, index, and share their records. It hasn’t been an easy path, but whenever I think of giving up, I think of that red and black shoebox full of letters that inspired me so many years ago. I also think of the millions of other closets that hold family treasures. How many photos, letters, journals, and heirlooms will be lost or forgotten? How many family records will be thrown away by those who inherit our closets? Our own history is at risk. Will you be the one to rescue it?

The Flexible Flyer

The Flexible Flyer

by Leon Chamberlain

One of my fondest memories was sleigh riding on my sleigh. When I was growing up in the 1940s and into the 1950s, I believe our needs and wants were much simpler than today’s. When I was a young boy if you had a bicycle, a flipper crutch and a sleigh you had most of what it would take to make you happy.  The “Cadillac” of sleighs was a Flexible Flyer. They were strong, well-built and could take a lot of beating. Most of all, you could steer them. Back in the forties they did not use salt on the roads so usually for a good two or three months the roads around my house were snow-packed and it snowed much more back then. 

We didn’t have many hills around my house so we would “belly slam”, meaning we would get running as fast as we could down the road and then slam our sleighs down and coast. If the road was icy you could coast 100 feet or more. That’s what we did in the winter. Sometimes Dad would take us to a street with a slope and we would coast down the street often going very fast.

Sometimes we would pile snow up and make our own hills. Of course there were dangers, and a bloody nose or a skinned forehead were not uncommon and did not require a trip to InstaCare. Winter did not mean you spent time indoors. I even knew of kids who put roller skate wheels on their sleds and would belly slam on dry roads. Today it is rare to see someone on a sleigh.”

The Slingshot

The Slingshot

by Leon Chamberlain

When I was growing up there were three possessions that were critical to a boy’s happiness and survival. One was a bicycle, which I have written about. The other was a Flexible Flyer Sleigh which I have also written about. The third is a sling shot, correctly called a flipper crutch. A sling shot is a device consisting of four long cords, 18 inches to 24 inches tied to the four corners of a pouch approximately 3” square. A rock or other hard item is placed in the pouch and you would hold the cords in one hand and swing it over your head. Centrifugal force would hold the rock in the pouch. After rotating the sling around over your head several times as fast as you could, you would release two of the cords allowing the rock or other hard item to be released. The rock would travel towards its target at a high rate of speed hopefully striking the target. This is the device David of the Old Testament used to slay Goliath.

Leon and a friend getting into mischief

Being accurate with a sling requires much practice and skill. A flipper crutch is a device usually cut from a tree branch that forms a “Y”. Two rubber bands are attached to the top of the “Y” and to a pouch. You use the energy created when you pull back on the pouch loaded with a projectile to propel to its target. For rubber bands we would cut strips from an old inner tube from a car or bike. Back in the 40’s and 50’s inner tubes were made from natural rubber which has good elastic properties. The pouch was made from the tongue of an old shoe. Our “ammo” was usually some hand-picked round rocks about 1⁄2” in diameter. In a pinch we would use an old marble. We were very careful to avoid windows and people. Unfortunately we would sometimes target birds that invade our fruit trees. A well-placed rock would easily kill a bird or shoo-off an unwanted dog. We called our flipper crutch our personal protection device and you did not mess with someone who was good with their flipper crutch.

I read somewhere that the army investigated using a flipper crutch to propel a small explosive device. More modern versions of the flipper crutch are called wrist rockets and they use steel balls as ammo. As you can imagine, these devices border on being deadly. As a young boy I made many flipper crutches and spent many happy hours shooting at targets of bottles and cans. It was all we needed in those days.

Of Sleds, Slingshots, and Bicycles: the Memories of Christmas Past

Of Sleds, Slingshots, and Bicycles: the Memories of Christmas Past

A short time ago, my father and I reflected on some childhood memories, and how certain smells or songs could trigger powerful remembrances that would otherwise remain buried. “Memories,” he said quietly, “are all I have.” As the primary caregiver to our mother, he is married yet in many ways alone. His hours are filled with prolonged periods of reflection, and with that time he often writes these memories into childhood stories, life sketches, and anecdotes.

Many of these stories we already knew in the form of family folklore. At family Christmas gatherings, he would tell us the story of The Bicycle or The Christmas Tree, but until now, they were never shared in written form. This Christmas, Kindex helped Leon create a small book of these memories, three of which we will be sharing with you. The first story, “The Slingshot” coincided with a gift of homemade slingshots he presented to his grandchildren. The grandchildren had a riot on Christmas Day practicing their new slingshots on various targets around his home. No eyes were injured, no glass was broken, and amongst the fun, we wove new memories into old ones. We not only knew the story, we became it.

Someday when our parents are gone, we’ll write this story: The story of how Grandpa made 25 slingshots in his woodworking shop, shaping and sanding each one. The story of how, in his loneliest hours, he cut and sewed each suede “flipper crutch” and attached the rubbing tubing. The story of how he made each slingshot unique, painting each grandchild’s initials on the back. We’ll write about how he showed us how to shoot them, and who first toppled the giant pyramid of cups he stacked for target practice. We’ll remember Grandma watching us quietly from her bed in the middle of the family room, knowing that in her prime, she’d beat us all.

Nothing can stand up to the value of memory. It shapes our belonging like no DNA test or ancestral chart can. This year, the story of the slingshot got another chapter, and with each generation more will be added. We hope you enjoy these memories and stories as much as we did.

 


What’s in Your Closet?

I can’t remember what I was looking for, but something on the top shelf caught my eye. It was a red and black Nike shoebox, with “letters” written in black marker on the outside. “These are mother’s,” my mom said. “I got them after she died.” I opened the box, and we sat on the bed, opening letters. Unfolding their delicate pages, I was mesmerized by the handwriting, the words, and the photos that sometimes fell out as we opened them. These were my grandparent’s love letters. I couldn’t put them down.

read more

The Flexible Flyer

by Leon Chamberlain One of my fondest memories was sleigh riding on my sleigh. When I was growing up in the 1940s and into the 1950s, I believe our needs and wants were much simpler than today’s. When I was a young boy if you had a bicycle, a flipper crutch and a...

read more

The Slingshot

by Leon Chamberlain When I was growing up there were three possessions that were critical to a boy’s happiness and survival. One was a bicycle, which I have written about. The other was a Flexible Flyer Sleigh which I have also written about. The third is a sling...

read more