Old Trivia and Wives' Tales

If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle; if the horse has one front leg in the air, the person died as a result of wounds received in battle; if the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.

"We'll be there with bells on!"

Years ago, once snow had a good covering on the ground, people used horse drawn sleds and sleighs. The rural roads were not plowed and the runners of these vehicles left ruts to be followed in the deep snow cover. Many folks walked to their destinations and used the ruts as "the path of least" resistance to follow. Since these pedestrians were bundled up from head to toe against the cold, it was impossible for them to hear a sleigh coming until it was on top of them. The snow cushioned the hoof beats and made the runners almost silent. Drivers and riders in these open vehicles got the full brunt of the wind and cold in their faces, making visibility dicey at best; nonexistant in the dark. Consequently, the foot traveler was at great risk of mortal injury. Bells, hand wrought by local blacksmiths, were attached to the harnesses and leather trappings so the walkers hear them coming and could quickly "get out of their rut", before being run over.

Since each bell was slightly different in shape and size, it had it's own sound. Putting a set together meant that each person's horse harness had it's own distinctive sound and rhythm with the horses movements. People would know long before seeing them, who was coming down the lane. Inhabitants living in roadside homes could tell who was passing and in what direction they were going without looking. They also knew when there was a stranger in the vicinity or someone was using new harnesses. "Yah, I heard Jake going to town mid afternoon today, he was in no hurry". And if company was coming, they would say "We'll be there with bells on" so you knew, even in the dark, when they were coming down the lane and could meet them at the door with a smile and hug.

Everyone in the sleigh was covered with blankets or fur hides to keep warm. Sleighs were not often very roomy so it was close quarters, but added to the warmth. Quarry stones that were cut into squares or rectangles were set against the wood stove several hours in advance of a planned trip. Once heated, these were used as footwarmers on the trip, tucked in front of the seat, just behind the part of the sleigh that curled up to block snow kicked off the horse's hooves. That is also where the smallest children were nestled; sitting up front, behind the sleigh front, on the adult's feet which were on the warmer stones, under the blankets and hides. Sometimes even under the seat itself. Snug and warm, you could get a load of them in there, along with a few little gifts and some "dishes" of food. Once at their destination, the blankets were pulled off and out would tumble the giggling cargo. Older children were to bring in the footstones to place by the stove until it was time to go home. If they forgot, everyone got home "stone cold".

Rita - Oconto County http://www.rootsweb.com/~wioconto/


This was printed in Nov/Dec issue of - Bay Area Genealogical Society (BAGS) GEMS (WI). No author or source was given but it was too good not to share. Every one of us had ancestry living at that time and even if they were not in England, they probably faced similar situations. Gives you something to think about. "If they could see us now". Rita - Oconto County WIGenWeb Coordinator

HISTORY LESSON Here are some facts about the 1500's:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then the sons and the other men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty that you could actually lose someone in it-hence the saying "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water".

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs and cats and other small animals, (bugs, rats, and mice) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometime the animals would slip and fall off the roof-hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs". There was nothing to stop things from falling in the house. This posed a real problem in the bed room where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your nice clean bed. Hence a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the bed afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence the saying "dirt poor".

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in he entry way-hence, a "threshold".

They cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and add to these to start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while-hence the rhyme, "peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old".

Sometimes they would obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When a visitor came over they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man "could bring home the bacon".

They would cut off a little to share with guests and all sit around and "chew the fat". Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some of the lead to leach into the floor, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Most people did not have pewter plates, but had trenchers, a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Often trenchers were made from stale paysan bread which was so old and hard that they could use them for some time. Trenchers were never washed and a lot of times worms and mold got into the wood and old bread. After eating off wormy moldy trenchers, one would get "trench mouth".

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottoms of the loaf, the family got the middle and the quests got the top, or "upper crust". Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up-hence the custom of holding a "wake".

England is old and small, they started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up the coffins and take the bones to the "bone house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized that they had been burying people alive. So they tied a string to the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would sit in the graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell; thus someone could be "saved by the bell" or was : considered a "dead ringer."