Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

World War I Letters of Milo H. Main: December 24-30, 1918

December 24th, 2018

In honor of the centennial of World War I, this is the second series in which we follow the experiences of one American soldier: twenty-five year old Milo H. Main, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. On Mondays we’ll post a new entry featuring selected letters from Milo to his family from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Milo Hugh Main was born in or near Pittsfield, Illinois, on November 21, 1892 to William and Rose Ella Henry Main. The family moved to Argonia, Sumner County, Kansas, in 1901. After his mother died in 1906, Milo remained in Argonia with his father and his two sisters Gladys (b. 1890) and June (b. 1899). His youngest sister Fern (b. 1905) was sent to live with relatives in Illinois.

As Milo reported to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1919, after graduating from high school he worked as a store clerk. He resigned in July 1917 and took a position at Standard Oil Company, possibly co-managing a gas station in Argonia.

Milo entered into military service on September 21, 1917. He served as a wagoner – a person who drives a wagon or transports goods by wagon – in Battery F, 130th Field Artillery. He was stationed at Camp Funston (September-October 1917) and Camp Doniphan (October 1917-May 1918). On May 19, 1918, he boarded the ship Ceramic in New York City and departed for Europe.

In his letter written on December 24th, Milo describes his Christmas in camp, providing details about a snowfall, decorations, food, and festivities. “I have much to be very thankful for this Christmas Eve,” he writes, “altho many miles from home.”


Image of Milo H. Main's letter to his family, December 24, 1918 Image of Milo H. Main's letter to his family, December 24, 1918

Image of Milo H. Main's letter to his family, December 24, 1918 Image of Milo H. Main's letter to his family, December 24, 1918

Image of Milo H. Main's letter to his family, December 24, 1918 Image of Milo H. Main's letter to his family, December 24, 1918


Xmas Eve. 9:P.M. Camp Ronde Fontaine, Near Verdun, France.

Dear Father and Sisters:-

This “day-before-Xmas” has been one ideal day and evening for the occasion. The day has been filled with warmth and beautiful sunshine, such as we seldom see now-a-days for the continual rain and gloom. About an hour ago it started snowing beautiful big flakes and now the earth is covered with a white blanket to the depth of at least two inches. Surely this day has been made as per the Order.

At the rear echelon to-nite the theatrical talent of “E” and “F” Batteries are stageing a minstrel show in the Y.M.C.A. Hut for the benefit of the boys in the 130 F.A. Having had a spell of 9 days of pleasure and amusement I didn’t care much about going down.

I remember two-years ago to nite quite well. Close of contest at J.W.’s (1).

We have our mess hall decorated very attractively with evergreen, wild red cherries, and mistletoe and will also have the Regtl. [Regimental] Colors among the decorations to-morrow. There is certainly fine material in the two flags, value $800.

Am going to send you and J.W. each a small cigar box filled with these decorations to-morrow. The mistletoe was gathered on that undesirable soil which layed between the French and German Front-line Trenches, better known as “No-Man’s-Land” near Haudemont, 15 miles south east from “Battle-torn” Verdun.

To-morrow, (Christmas) is my day on duty and I will have the honor of serving champagne galore, a big 14lb. turkey costing $1.01 per lb., or practically a $15.00 bird, and all the usual Christmas dishes.

Our officers and boys from this little Camp had a wild-boar drive last Sunday but returned without capturing any of the many young pigs which are so plentiful here in these woods. And deer too, quite often they are seen. Yesterday there were three in Camp, but our Col. would not permit us to kill them, as they are protected by the French Game Law.

While writing of deers (dears) might mention the two fair Y.M.C.A. girls who were in camp for dinner last-nite. They too, were fine game, not protected by any “Frog Laws” but instead by a Colonel and Lt. Colonel. Some feed we put on for them. Course after course did I rush in with.

I spent Sunday afternoon visiting the “Argonia Bunch. Saw Roy Hall (2), Geo. Lukens (3), Chris Jurgens (4), Merle Phillipi (5) and Alvin Warlow (6) and I found them all well and “getting by” with out doing much duty. We have not heard from Geo. Devin (7) since he left us for the hospital, but I think he is no doubt on his way back to the good old U.S.A.

Latest rumor came in to-nite from Gen. Pershing’s Chauffer to the effect that we, the 35th division are to be homeward bound with in the next 25 days. Good Xmas news at least.

My old Division, the 89th from Funston are in Germany. From all reports they are having some time. If we are to be abroad for some time yet, hope we get to go over to Kaiser Bill’s.

There are ex-prisoners returning from Germany, natives of Russia, that pass by here daily and often stop for a bit to eat, they are on their way to Verdun to be clothed and sent home. They certainly speak well of the “Yank,” especially his generosity as to food and clothing.

I received two letters from you last nite dated; 20th and 21st of Nov. But my Xmas box is among the 60% which have not arrived yet.

Speaking from a sanitary point of view, I thought it best to wash out a big woolen sock, for to-nite as my box had not arrived, but when I got it washed out this morning the day was so beautiful I decided to wash up all my wardrobe and start out pure the year of 1919.

Gladyse, I am enclosing two Masonic Papers which I will be much obliged to you if you will kindly give them to A.A. Cone (8), who will make the proper disposal of same.

You should see my pressing iron [clothes iron]. A mess kit filled with five rocks and mud. The old adage still holds true: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Father and Sisters, I have much to be very thankful for this Christmas Eve, altho many miles from home, I am quartered in a cozy little hut and well fed with plenty of the best of food, not out in the cold and wet trenches hungry like so many of us thought we would be only a few months back. And too, that I escaped the wounds and disease so many of our boys fell victim too this summer and fall, not saying anything about the unfortunate sons lying beneath the sod on these cruel and bloody battle fronts.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, I remain

Most truly,
Your son and brother,
Milo H Main

Bat F. 130 F.A.
Amex Forces.

(1) Probably J. W. Achelpohl, a storeowner in Argonia who was Milo’s former employer when he worked as a clerk. He has been mentioned in some of Milo’s previous letters.

(2) According to his World War I draft registration card, Roy Lee Hall was born in Missouri on September 7, 1894. In 1917 he was working as a laborer in Argonia. During the war he served in Headquarters Detachment, 60th Field Artillery Brigade.

(3) According to his World War I draft registration card, George Willard Lukens was born in Missouri on July 13, 1889. Argonia is listed as his home address, but in June 1917 he was working as a bricklayer in nearby Harper, Kansas. According to Army transport passenger lists, Lukens served in Battery A, 130th Field Artillery.

(4) Milo previously mentioned Chris Jurgens in his letter of August 11th. Biographical information about him can be found in that blog post.

(5) Murrell Lewis Phillippi, who Milo has mentioned previously. Biographical information about him can be found with Milo’s letter of August 11.

(6) Alvin Lee Warlow, who Milo has mentioned previously. Biographical information about him can be found with Milo’s letter of October 9th.

(7) According to his World War I draft registration card, Kansas native George Franklin Devins was born on September 8, 1889. In 1917, he was farming in Argonia. George served with Milo in Battery F, 130th Field Artillery. He was apparently in the hospital suffering from shell shock received from a high-explosive shell during the Battle of the Argonne Forest.

(8) Possibly Ashley A. Cone. Cone was born in Ohio in 1870, although his family relocated to Sumner County by the time he was ten years old. Cone worked as a mail carrier. He was previously mentioned in Milo’s letter of October 24th.


Camp Ronde Fontaine, near Verdun, Frce.

Dear Father and Sisters:- Have a letter from June and Gladyse, both dated Nov 30th.

Have not received my Xmas box yet, but about 60% of the boys are in the same straits. Aunt Nan (1) was wrong about being on way home. I too, were mistaken.

But at present all rumors are to the effect of our departure from this warring land not later than Jan. 25th. We move from our present position to rear to a little city of Some-Due. We will occupy a Chateau formerly the quarters of French Generals during the war. Will tell you all about it when we get moved.

This morning I mailed you and J.W. each a small cigar box filled with mistletoe, hemlock, and wild red French forest berries which we gathered in “No-mans-land near Haudemont for decorating our Mess Hall for our 6 o’clock Xmas dinner. Certainly had a beautiful table and room that night. Big American Turkey at $1.01 per lb was the guest of honor.

The night before Xmas it started snowing and never ceased until the day after Xmas. A more beautiful Xmas, I have never seen. No wind, and snow piled up on the tree branches 3/4 of an inch deep. It was one of those Washington snows like we read about.

But now it is raining again. The ground has only been frozen a bit on one occasion.

Just paper[ed] my corner of our little home with late Saturday Evening posts and made me coat and Shirt hangers galore and too, I promoted a bunch of fresh hay for feathers, (had a new bed + sack). But am to take every thing when we move. Wish you could see my little home. I have now learned how to brighten the corner where you are and keep up clothes up off the floor and out of the corners as I used to do at home.

All the Argonians are well, except Geo Devin and he never writes from hospital.

Tell June not to buy me a lounging robe for if I reenlist I cannot use it. Just keep your change.

Must close for this Saturday evening, as this is the physicological time for me to bathe. This is a hard life, work one day and rest one. My day off, slept until 8:30 A.M.

Am enclosing a Menu of our Xmas dinner and some pop bottle labels.

I wrote J.W.A. a letter this P.M. He offered me a good proposition on my return to the States. He has been a keen fellow toward me I must say.

May get some mail this evening. Will close for now, trusting all had a merry Christmas and wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year.

I remain
Your son & bro.

M H Main
Bat. F130 F. A.
Excuse haste and blurs.

(1) Preliminary research indicates this was Nancy Main, a younger sister of Milo’s father William. Nancy Main was born in 1869 and lived her entire life in Pike County, Illinois. The 1910 census lists her in the same household as Milo’s younger sister Fern. Milo previously mentioned his Aunt Nan in his letter of October 24th.


Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

Throwback Thursday: Christmas Tree Edition

December 20th, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

A lot was happening at KU fifty years ago! Spencer Research Library opened for researchers on December 2nd, and about a week later a dramatic, holiday-themed event took place across the terrace in Strong Hall.

Photograph of the Chancellor's Christmas tree in Strong Hall, 1968

Photograph of the Chancellor's Christmas tree in Strong Hall, 1968 Photograph of the Chancellor's Christmas tree in Strong Hall, 1968

The Chancellor’s Christmas tree in Strong Hall, December 1968. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/24/1 Christmas 1968: Campus: Areas and Objects (Photos).
Click images to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

An article in the University Daily Kansan on December 13, 1968 – entitled “Strong Hall Tree a Giant Nuisance” – describes the scene shown in the photos above.

Most people have enough trouble with the small Christmas tree they put up in their homes, but the Buildings and Grounds crew had giant-sized problems with the Chancellor’s tree yesterday.

First of all, the tree was too large for the doorway to Strong. A 20-foot tall Scotch Pine had been cute from the site of the new Humanities Building [Wescoe Hall]. The tree’s branches extended laterally about half its height, so workmen disassembled the center section of the double doors to make room for the tree’s entry.

The tree then proved too big for the ceiling of the Rotunda, so the bottom was sawed off.

Erecting the tree was accomplished by laying a scaffolding across the observation deck and hoisting the tree into position.

The tree revolves in its stell base and the balancing operation is delicate. Harry Buchholz, superintendent of the physical plant, said the balancing of the tree was the most difficult part of the entire job.

Over 475 lbs. of lead weights balance the tree as it revolves twice each minute.

The decoration process seemed easy. Workmen used a portable extension ladder to reach the topmost branches, then plugged in the tree and let it wind the lights and streamers around itself.

Spencer Research Library will be closed from December 22nd through January 1st. We will reopen on January 2nd and look forward to sharing more of our collections with you in 2019!

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

“We Will Be Ready for You Christmas Eve”: A Letter to Santa

December 18th, 2018

Spencer’s collections contain a wealth of books, documents, and photographs by, to, about, and for children. One of my favorite items is an adorable – and somewhat lengthy – letter to Santa written by a young girl named Berenice Boyd. Born in February 1903, Berenice lived most of her life in Paola, Kansas – located in the east-central part of the state.

The letter and other items from Berenice’s collection are currently on display as part of Spencer’s “50 for 50” exhibit, which will be installed in the Library’s Exhibit Space through early January.

Photograph of Berenice Boyd's letter to Santa Claus, undated

Photograph of Berenice Boyd's letter to Santa Claus, undated

Photograph of the envelope to Berenice Boyd's letter to Santa Claus, undated

Berenice Boyd’s letter to Santa Claus with its envelope, undated [circa 1910].
The letter is transcribed below. Call Number: RH MS 1366. Click images to enlarge.

Photograph of Berenice Boyd, undated

A studio photograph of Berenice Boyd, undated [circa 1910].
Call Number: RH MS 1366. Click image to enlarge.

Dear Santa Claus.

I have had a good time all summer, and wish to have a good time all winter. I have not wrote to you for a long time. That is all I have time for now.

I will begin.

Please bring me a high grade violin.
A doll as big as Edna Emery. (1)
And a large baby [bump?].
Please bring me a doll cradle.
I please want a kodak [possibly a Brownie camera].
I would like a Christmas tree If there is a enough –
I would like a white fur and muff For my doll.
And a muff and fur for my self.
And I will hang my stocking up.
I speck [expect] to see you to the church.
we will have a fine time on Christmas.
And will put my Christmas tree out for you.

I speck [expect] all your boys and girls Have all been good.
And get the presents to.

I saw in Kansas City two weeks ago that they had a Tea party and each little girl Must bring her doll.
We will be ready for you Christmas eve.

I want a postal card from you and as soon as I get Yours I will send one to you.

I will have to clouse [close] now.

Go by [good bye]. I wish you a merry Christmas.
Go night [good night].

I please want to kittys [two kitties].
And a dog.
I please want a pony.

Merry Christmas.
Berenice Boyd

(1) Preliminary research suggests that Edna Emery was a couple of years younger than Berenice and that the two girls were childhood friends.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Throwback Thursday: Holiday Travel Edition

December 13th, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

If you’re traveling this holiday season, we hope your journey is much more pleasant than what’s depicted in this week’s image!

Image of the "Off for the Holly-Days" cartoon in the Sour Owl, December 1926

“Off for the Holly-Days” cartoon in The Sour Owl, December 1926.
The humorous periodical was written and published by KU students from 1914 through 1956.
University Archives. Call Number: UA Ser 71/0/58. Click image to enlarge.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Holiday Hosting with “The ‘Home Queen’ Cook Book”

December 7th, 2018

December has arrived and with it the winter holiday season! Since the holiday season means holiday parties, I wanted to look into hosting an oft forgotten type of affair – a lovely, elegant dinner party!

Personally, I do not have much experience with dinner parties so I decided to go to the best source I could find: The “Home Queen” Cook Book. Compiled during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, The “Home Queen” Cook Book features recipes, etiquette, and entertaining suggestions from “over two hundred World’s Fair lady managers, wives of governors, and other ladies of position and influence.” Armed with the advice of these many esteemed ladies, I set out to see if I could recreate an elegant dinner party from generations past. What follows is a story of research, abandoned dreams, and a final feeble attempt to do anything I had originally hoped to accomplish.

Image of the cover of "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The cover of The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

Now, I do not know what everyone else pictures when they think of a dinner party, but I was envisioning an elegantly set table with beautiful linens and fine china to hold a magnificent multi-course meal. With that image in mind, I immediately began examining the section on “Party Suppers” in The “Home Queen” Cook Book. That sounds like the place to start, right? And what did I learn? First, a “party supper” and a dinner party are not synonymous. A party supper is much less formal than what I was expecting when I read the heading:

An evening party… would assemble quite early in the evening. This would give plenty of time for social intercourse, music and innocent amusements. Refreshments might be carried around on trays, and the guests served with cake, coffee or lemonade. Fine large napkins should first be handed around. These should be spread on the knees to receive the plates afterward furnished. Delicate sandwiches of chopped tongue, spread thinly on sandwich biscuits, or the white meat of turkey or check are very nice for such entertainments. Ice cream, confectionery, and ripe fruit of any kind may be served.

I liked the idea of this informal gathering, which was meant to “facilitate conversation, ease, and the choosing of congenial companions out of mixed gatherings at large parties.” What more could you want from a festive holiday party? However, I still had the aforementioned picture of a dinner party in my mind. This prompted me to look to the sections on “The Mid-Day Meal” and “The Evening Meal” in the book, hoping to find any information that might be of use. Lo and behold, I found exactly what I was picturing in “The Mid-Day Meal” section! In it was everything I could ever want to know about table settings, the most appropriate food choices, even how to properly invite your guests to the affair. Before spending a great deal of time on the overwhelming amount of food described, I decided to focus first on the most basic aspect of the evening: a proper table setting.

After reading the descriptions of the proper linens, plates, crystal, and silver, I realized that just setting the table would cost a small fortune. The proper “snow white” table linen made of the suggested “handsome Irish damask” would easily cost over $100 for a small tablecloth. Any attempt at recreating the quality of a proper dinner table setting was clearly out of reach.

“Ok,” I thought to myself, “If the expected quality is unmanageable, what can I do that would dress up a somewhat subpar table setting so that it at least looks elegant?” Returning to the book, I found the perfect remedy: an artfully folded napkin. Aided by the “Folding Table Napkins” section, I began my attempt to create anything that might give me the air of sophistication I had hoped to achieve when I originally formed this brilliant plan of mine.

Image of the instructions for the Escutcheon napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

Escutcheon napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The “Home Queen” Cook Book features no less than twenty-one different napkin-folding techniques to help ensure that “the dining room, the table and all that is placed upon it shall be made as attractive as possible.” With such a plethora of options – all with detailed instructions and pictures to guide me – I thought I had finally found the perfect starting point on my way to my dream dinner party. Unfortunately, my optimism and confidence were quickly destroyed after attempting only two of the possible folds: the Escutcheon (picture above) and the Chestnut Pocket (pictured below).

Image of the instructions for the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold in "The 'Home Queen' Cook Book," 1901

The Chestnut Pocket napkin fold diagram and instructions in
The “Home Queen” Cook Book, 1901.
Call Number: Galloway C35. Click image to enlarge.

The Escutcheon: Described as “the easiest of all the ornamental foldings,” the Escutcheon was the beginning of the end for me. It was here I learned that the instructions to starch and iron the napkins immediately before folding was not a suggestion but truly an absolute requirement. After close to a half an hour of intense labor and a great deal of swearing, I finally managed to produce… something.

Photograph of an Escutcheon napkin fold attempt

My attempt at the Escutcheon napkin fold. Click image to enlarge.

The Chestnut Pocket: My attempt to regaining any semblance of dignity after being so embarrassingly defeated by the Escutcheon finally yielded a positive result for me! I even took it a step beyond the Chestnut Pocket and created the Pocket Napkin. I found that the secret to success lay in finding a napkin-folding technique that did not need to stand up. With this revelation, I managed to produce the following creation:

Photograph of a Pocket napkin fold attempt

My successful attempt at the Pocket napkin fold
(a variation on the Chestnut Pocket napkin fold).
Click image to enlarge.

So after all of this – the research, the numerous disappointments, the defeat, and eventual triumph – I am sure you must be wondering: will I be hosting my envisioned elegant dinner party this holiday season? To put it succinctly, absolutely not. There is only so much embarrassment by fabric I am willing to put myself through in the name of holiday entertaining.

Emily Beran
Public Services