Monday, June 15, 2009

When Everyone Had A Hankie...including Governor Steunenberg

I was digging around in the back of our crowded china cabinet and came across a long-lost item, actually a couple of items, which had faded from memory long ago. One was Governor Steunenberg's hankie.
Now old hankies are not typically an item I think about collecting, but this is one of the few personal items of the ex-governor that remains in our branch of the family. As I now vaguely recall, it was given to me years ago by my mother, Brenda Steunenberg Richards, only to be tucked away into the far dark corner of the china cabinet until now. The hankie had escaped my inventorying and gathering-up of Steunenberg related items over the intervening years. Also of interest is the old tattered envelope in which the hankie was neatly folded.
The handkerchief itself is pretty non-descript, but I was delighted to find a small embroidered "S" in one corner to identify a more definitive Steunenberg provenance. The connection is further strengthened by the writing on the envelope and the family chain of ownership. It seems well made as hankies go, sewn neatly around the edges and showing no sign of significant wear.
Written on the envelope is:
“Ex. gov. Steunenberg’s hankie given J. P. S. (Julian Pope Steunenberg, my grandfather) by Frances S. “
died 1905
............49 years ago”
I am not positive if “Frances S” is referring to Julian’s wife/my grandmother Frances or to Julian’s sister, and the Governor’s daughter, Frances L. Steunenberg Eastman. The notation regarding the date would indicate it was given to Julian in 1954, 49 years after the assassination.The writing appears to be my grandmothers but I will have to do some comparing and research.
I will also have to go back and check pictures of the governor so see if a handkerchief was ever in view. As often noted, Frank Steunenberg never wore a necktie and I would not expect to find any handkerchief folded neatly in his breast pocket. Long before the days of Kleenex and Purell hand sanitizer, most folks carried a hankie for wiping their eyes, sweat from the brow and to give the nose a "country blow" when necessary. Some folks say hankies lost popularity because all that blowing and wiping with something you kept in your pocket was viewed as rather disgusting. Of course, the Kleenex Corp. came along and put on a pretty good marketing blitz for their product and hankie sales started to plummet. Click her for more Kleenex History.

In the 19th century, a hankie was a prized possession and they were laundered and neatly ironed on a regular basis. I even remember having a drawer full of hankies in the 1950's/60's and often kept one in my back pocket (the habit of keeping it regularly laundered and neatly ironed probably didn't apply in my case). I am guessing that the governor kept one in his back pocket too. It seems today, with all the emphasis on using less trees, paper products and energy, that a lot of Kleenex and the boxes it comes in could be saved by merely having a few more hankies.

Swine flu has sure created a big brouhaha and folks are being told to sneeze or cough into their shirt sleeve if they don't have a Kleenex handy. Now that sounds a lot more disgusting then using a hankie! You would think keeping a hankie in our pocket would be more sanitary then coughing and sneezing into our shirtsleeve. Instead of revving up the production of flu vaccine, would it not be a whole lot easier, more economical and greener to start ramping up hankie production? I never heard one person make that suggestion when they said blow into you shirt sleeve! Seems to me, changing hankies would be easier that changing shirts.

Maybe I will give the governor's old hankie a gentle wash to get out the decades of dust and tuck it into my back pocket. I reckon I can give a good "country blow" or sneeze, will know that I have done my part to contain germs and save energy too
and will have been as close to nose to nose with great-grandpa Steunenberg as I will ever get.

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