Friday, May 26, 2017

Little Big(elow) House

I've said it before: my side of the country has less Anglo history than Marissa's. So I'm always tickled when I get to step back in time earlier than 1900. A few months ago, I had the privilege of visiting Bigelow House in our state’s capitol of Olympia. Built in the 1850s, Bigelow House is oldest house in that city, and one of the earliest still in existence in the Puget Sound area. It was the original home of lawyer and legislator Daniel R. Bigelow and his wife Ann Elizabeth White. The Bigelows were dedicated packrats. Nothing that didn’t have to be thrown out was. And that leaves us with a veritable treasure-trove of items dating to the earliest days of the territory.

Our charming docent Kristin shared a number of stories as she led us through the collection. One of my favorites involved Ann Elizabeth. She came to the Northwest with her family via wagon train on the Oregon Trail. Along the way, they spotted many graves of cholera victims. Finally, they came across a woman who’d been abandoned by her party to die of the disease. Ann Elizabeth’s family felt it wasn’t right to leave her alone to die. They left Ann Elizabeth instead, with a horse and a rifle. Ann Elizabeth was a teen at the time. She stayed with the woman until she passed away, buried her, then rode to catch up with her family, crossing miles of territory. Now, that’s a nineteenth century heroine!

Given that kind of gumption, it didn’t surprise me that Ann Elizabeth became a schoolteacher when she was seventeen, walking miles to teach her handful of students each day before returning home to her family. Docent Kristin is holding her school bell. She married Daniel when she was eighteen. He was already an influential member of territory at the time. He joined her in becoming an ardent supporter of women’s rights, hosting Susan B. Anthony for dinner when she came through on crusade (the chair at the top is where she allegedly while at the Bigelows’).  He went so far as to introduce legislation that would have given Washington women the vote decades before the rest of the nation. Sadly, it didn’t pass.

It was at Bigelow House that I saw something unexpected. Marissa and I have talked about mourning jewelry used in the nineteenth century. Often times a piece of the deceased’s hair was woven into a broach or put inside a locket. This is something different. This watch chain is woven entirely of human hair, a gift from Ann Elizabeth to Daniel, while she was still living. Waste not, want not!

Many pictures of Bigelow House are copyrighted, but you can see the exterior and some of the interior in this video:

It’s a little house with a lot of history behind it! And I appreciate that!

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