Armistice Day- Ethel Underwood Whitener Remembers

Grave site of Charles Underwood – Old Trace Creek Church Cemetery, Bollinger County, Missouri
Grave site of Charles Underwood – Old Trace Creek Church Cemetery, Bollinger County, Missouri


Armistice Day

Ethel Underwood Whitener always remembered where she had been on 11-11-11. (That was the 11th month, the 11th day and the 11th hour, 1918).

As a fourteen year old girl, she was walking across the field from her home down toward her grandparents home. This is probably a 20 minute walk on a pleasant day. At 11 A.M. the Old Trace Creek Church bells tolled indicating the signing of the Armistice. Although this was in Bollinger County, southeast Missouri, and in the US central time zone, it was a celebration of an event that had occurred earlier in France which officially ended World War I.

Just a few days before that she had been one of those who mourned at the burial of her uncle – Charles Underwood (1888-1918). He was a casualty of the Great Influenza Epidemic. His body had been returned to his home after service in the US Army. There had not been too many people at that service because of fear in the community of the contagion of the disease.

When she got to her grandparents’ home,  her grandmother Elizabeth Adeline (Rickman) Underwood was standing on the porch. She said, “They won’t get any more of my boys.”

(Elizabeth was the mother of Emroe, Will, John, Zach and Charles  Underwood. Ethel was the oldest daughter of Will and Nellie.)

By James Richard Whitener


Notes, Sources, and References:

1) Whitener family oral history
2) Elizabeth Adeline (Rickman) Underwood on Find A Grave:
3) The “Spanish Flu”  or “La grippe”outbreaks of  1918-1919 were more deadly than war. WWI caused the death of an estimated 16 million persons; the flu pandemic, however, killed over 50 million people worldwide, or one-fifth of the population. Young adults, a population normally not as widely affected by such viruses, were hit very hard by this influenza, as were the young and elderly. Over 25% of the US population was affected by this flu (ten times as many as were lost in “The Great War”, and life expectancy in this country decreased by 12 years in 1918. One half of the American soldiers lost in WWI died from influenza, not the enemy, as did Charles Underwood. Funerals were often regulated by the public health system to only 15 minutes, to avoid further spread of the disease.
“The Deadly Virus. The Influenza Epidemic of 1918.” A National Archives Exhibition (online). Accessed 11-12-13.
“The Influenza Pandemic of 1918.” Accessed 11-12-13.
4) Photo: Grave site of Charles Underwood – Old Trace Creek Church Cemetery, Bollinger County, Missouri.
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Copyright 2013 by Heritage Ramblings Blog, jrw & pmm.

Mystery Monday- Jasper Co., Iowa Students, circa 1899?


Ah, the delightful pictures with no names, no dates, but you just KNOW there is someone in the picture that belongs in your family…

This is another one of those pictures. It was found in with old photographs of the George Anthony Roberts (Sr.) family. After much study of this and other images over the years, I now believe the boy on the left of the picture is George Anthony Roberts, Jr. I do not know the other children, nor why they were in the uniforms they wore, nor why they had the broom handles. I wonder if this had to do with the Spanish-American War? We would love to hear from anyone who can explain this picture.

Georgie and his sisters Ethel Roberts and Edith Roberts attended a one-room schoolhouse just down the road from one of the family farms. Might this be a picture of his whole class?


[OK, this Mystery Monday post got published on a Tuesday, but I hadn’t thought of that topic when this was originally published.]


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Copyright 2013 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.

Art in Artifacts: Helbling Gravy Boat

Helbling gravy boat-2
Every once in a while, there is an object that is just SO LOVELY that it becomes a part of your soul, and the above heirloom gravy boat is one of those objects for me.

The gravy boat sat in the china cabinet in our dining room as I grew up. We did not use the dining room very often, and I don’t ever remember using the gravy boat. Maybe it was too precious, or maybe all the cracks in the glaze made it unsafe to use. We didn’t have gravy often- my mother was a minimalist cook, plus she would have had her own gravy boat to match her china. So this lovely object sat in the china cabinet, which really was a museum of our family history and reminder of times gone by. I would lovingly dust it a few times per year, thinking of my grandparents, and how life must have been for my mother growing up, the youngest in a family of eight. It was her job to dust just as it was mine, and I felt her fear of dropping such a beautiful object or even chipping such a special piece that showcased the assets of a family.

So what is a ‘gravy boat’? A gravy boat, sauce boat, or sauciere is an oval table service piece that looks like a low, elongated pitcher. Most have handles for pouring out the sauce; others, such as this, are lower and have one or two long lips at the end, and may have a handle or not. Sauce could be poured but usually a gravy ladle would be used if there was no handle on the gravy boat. Gravy boats had a matching oval plate or saucer that was attached, or it might be separate, as in this piece. The saucer would have a depression into which the foot of the gravy boat sat so it didn’t slide if slippery gravy was dripped onto the plate, or while it was passed hand-to-hand around the big table. The saucer was also important to prevent gravy stains on the nice tablecloth- and that would have been cloth of the old fashioned kind- a linen or cotton that would also need starch and ironing after washing. (They had no quick-wipe plastic or easy care permanent-press polyester tablecloths like we have today.) A matching porcelain gravy ladle might have also been used, or the family might use their sterling silver or silverplate gravy ladle. The oval shape and spout-like ends of the gravy boat are designed to pour but also to hold the ladle without it slipping down into the gravy, though proper manners dictated that the gravy ladle at least start the meal sitting on the saucer. (See source #4 for an example of a similar set with plate.) I do not remember a plate for our treasured heirloom, so it was probably broken long before my time.

Helbling gravy boat_closeup
The decoration on this gravy boat is so very delicate and pretty. Sweet pansies or violas were hand painted in two lucious purples, and the raised gold is set off by beautiful white porcelain. It is authentic Noritake Nippon Hand Painted china as it has the correct mark, plus I know the chain of custody. The gravy boat would have been made between 1890 and 1918, probably, as the McKinley Tariff Act required “Japan” be used on imported pieces after 1921, although Japan had already started using the name of their country on export china shortly after WWI.

Helbling gravy boat_mark
This lovely object belonged to Anna Mae Beerbower (1881-1954) and her husband, William Gerard Helbling (1882-1971)- or Gerard William Helbling- he switched the order of his names throughout the years as good Germans often did. They were married 24 November 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri, the year of the World’s Fair. Maybe this was a wedding gift, or a special Christmas, anniversary, or birthday gift. The family was of modest means, but such lovely objects graced their table, even if there was not enough income to buy a lot of food, especially in the tough economies of the 1920s through the 1940s.

Interestingly, a daughter of the family was named Viola Gertrude Helbling (1913-1971). I wonder if my grandmother was partial to violas, the flowers? They have always been a favorite of mine, and my mother loved them too.

Somehow, KFC gravy in a styrofoam cup with plastic lid seems even more unappetizing after thinking about this lovely heirloom gravy boat.

Notes and References:

1) Family oral tradition.

2) Noritake Nippon mark:

3) Noritake history:

4) Similar:


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Copyright 2013 by Heritage Ramblings Blog and pmm.