~ ~ ~ ~Learning All About History Through Hosiery ~ ~ ~ ~

~~~~~~~~~A Brief, Straitlaced History of the Senecka Sock Festival~~~~~~~~

In Which You Will Find Socks, Sauerkraut, Peppermint, Canal Pirates & A Frozen Body

 

So, Upstate New York didn’t have a giant Woodstock reunion.

Also, no Coachella, Lollapalooza, Burning Man, or any of the other celebrity events.

 

We don’t have Sundance or Woodstock, but we do have an old sock factory

 

But Upstate carries on with its usual rich pageantry of summertime fairs & jollifications – – mostly little-known, small-scale, and sometimes just plain odd.

One of my favorites is our hallowed Senecka Sock Fest, probably the least-known of our world-famous events.

 

I think this photo captures a bit of the wild, bacchanalian frenzy of the sock festival. “Dip Your Toes in the Finger Lakes ~ ~ And Drink Deep of Local Culture! “ was this year’s slogan. It’s better than last year’s “Follow Your Nose to the Hose,” when they had a sock-sniffing contest.

 

 

“In olden days, a glimpse of stocking ~ Was looked on as something shocking…” and Boy Scouts could only sort them with adult supervision.

Just a thumbnail sketch really, although it relates more to feet.

Focused and concise – – a straightforward guide to a typical small town celebration.

 

 

 

 

I’m telling you this in advance, so no one worries I’ve fallen back into bad habits.  You know, that slippery slope of digressions, wandering off on tangents.  Mentally gadding about in your stocking feet, instead of getting yourself organized and following a straight line of logic, trusty Hush Puppies on the well-beaten trail.

Once you start wandering, it’s all downhill.  Camel’s nose in the tent door, right?  Like sitting on the thin edge of the wedge, while dominoes topple all around you, and the tent’s pitched on that slippery slope, paved with good intentions, along a primrose path.

The slope is probably even more slippery, because of the camel.  Although, on a positive note, whenever I visit an oasis, it’s striking how the primroses flourish near the camel stables, and I read somewhere, maybe an old National Geographic, if you dry and burn it, camel dung is reckoned to be a fine mosquito repellent.

But I suppose, strictly speaking, this isn’t terribly germane, so scat!  we’ll reluctantly leave that, on the path, for another day, and on to the History of the Fair.

“Leave what has been passed, and move on to the past”

 

sometimes simple is best

 

I don’t get bogged down in that random rambling stuff anymore.  We’re just going to stick to the straight & narrow, and logically connect the bare minimum of key factors:

     retreating glaciers in the Alps

          –> pre-Bronze Age hunter-gatherers

               –> socks

                        –> peppermint, sauerkraut, canal pirates

                    –> summer festivals.

 

Socks are really the central theme, but the other elements really are relevant and inextricably intertwined, so we’re staying on firm footing, and on point.  Or en pointe, as we say in the world of socks and toes.

I know most folks don’t care that deeply about socks – – in this debauched era, many of you probably wear generic ones, that fit either foot!  And I really don’t mean to swerve off on digressions & doglegs.  It’s just that History really does bob & weave, shuttling us to random places, and sometimes socks us in the chin.

Prehistoric wanderers really are part of the warp & weft of this story.

(You can also say warp & woof – – very appropriate in some cases, there actually was a lady up the street from my upstate grandmother, who wove things using her dogs’ hair, no kidding,  although I don’t recall that she did stockings.)

Well, let’s start with the Alps, a good place for St. Bernard’s and warm socks.

 

19th c. woodblock,traders delivering socks along the Tokaido Road. Ironically, only management has socks, and the porters have to make do with woven straw sandals.

 

Interesting things are reappearing as the glaciers melt. One of the most famous is the Iceman, called Ötzi, who turned up in the Alps about thirty years ago.

We don’t really like looking at pictures of him, because he reminds us, we haven’t cleaned the refrigerator for months, and there must be some pretty awful old meatloaf in there somewhere.

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

Ötzi is looking even worse, after cooling his heels in a glacier for about  4,000 years.  I’d always thought he was from the Bronze Age, tanned like a slightly older version of George Hamilton, but he was actually earlier, so Copper Tone I guess.  And he doesn’t seem to be a shining example of CSI crime scene skills – – ten years of study and theorizing on the cause of death, and then someone noticed he had an arrow stuck in his back.

 

Another twenty years of analysis, and a new theory on his death has emerged.

The man had no socks.

He was otherwise so well-equipped for winter in the Alps.  Warm clothes, copper ax, knife, arrows, berries, mushrooms, etc.   And quite the hipster – – a bearskin cap, some dried fungus, and plenty of tattoos.  Fits right in at any trendy microbrewery in Brooklyn.  All he was missing was a Fjällräven backpack and a hemp laptop sleeve.

But he had no socks.

He’d just stuffed some grass in his shoes.

And so, just as his mother warned him, he died.

Here’s the shoes.

We know about the warning, from the tattoos on his legs, a series of symbols spelling out:

Wear socks when it snows ~~ And don’t talk to any Neanderthals.  Love, Mom

 

 

 

Which brings us, straight as an arrow, to the summer festivals of the Finger Lakes.

There’s a lot of ‘em.

Arts & crafts, motorcycles, classic cars & classical music, balloons & WWII planes, Renaissance & ethnic, antiques, speidies &  buffalo wings, fishing, beer & hops, wine, wine & jazz, jazz, all that jazz, etc.

We’re sticking to the stockings, our ever-more-famous sock fest, now so big, it’s sometimes called “The Sock-ness Monster,”  but I just want to mention two other locals, for context.

 

 

 

 

The village of Lyons, about an hour east of Rochester, celebrates Peppermint Days.

People ask, why?   Why peppermint?

And the locals respond, with that innate old-fashioned charm that only Upstaters still seem to possess, why the hell not?  Did ya think we’d make a fuss over bee balm, or lavender, for Pete’s sake?

People in Wayne County are like that, touchy, and kinda weird.  I’m from Seneca County myself.

 

Peppermint. Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh

 

Actually, the explanation is, starting in the mid-1800’s, the H. G. Hotchkiss Prize Medal Essential Oil Company  used to bottle up the finest peppermint extract in the world, and ship it out on the Erie Canal.

I have no idea what they do at their celebration, I’ve always avoided it – – peppermint is meant to relieve headaches, but for some reason, it seems to give me a headache instead.

 

 

Even closer, and even more aromatic, is Phelps and its Sauerkraut Festival.    There’s still quite a lot of cabbages around, many in elected positions, even if the local kraut factories are long gone.  But the villagers still celebrate the joys of pickled cabbage, and make a wonderful chocolate-kraut cake.

One of the largest sauerkraut factories in the world was just down the road, in Shortsville, until last year.  They make “Silver Floss,” which I’ve always felt, is a most charming and poetical name for canned cabbage.

The company shifted production to Bear Creek, Wisconsin.  That’s over a hundred miles from Milwaukee, but I swear when the wind blows from the northwest, I know it’s there.  It’s part of why I feel at home in Wisconsin, the invigorating tang of lactic acid and fermenting cabbage in the air.

 

 

 

And so we come directly, as promised, to talk about the Sock Festival.

(And continuing with the theme of scents and probiotic bacterial soups.)

 

 

 

In Seneca Falls, the National Women’s Hall of Fame is housed in what was, until twenty years ago, the Seneca Knitting Mill (1844 to 1999).  One of the few survivors of the first wave of industrialization around here, in the 1840’s, it’s a mellow old pile, made of big limestone blocks, looming over the canal.

 

When the Seneca River was modernized into a canal, there were no longer any waterfalls for power. The smokestack, steam boiler, and brick drying room were added, and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care.

 

 

The old mill isn’t that big, or scary-looking, but you’ve kinda got to use “looming” to describe a knitting mill.

Back in the day, when people stuck to their knitting, the mill specialized in socks.  The Nat’l Hockey League, the Nat’l Basketball League, and the Apollo space program, all came to the mill for their socks.

 

 

 

 

The “Sock Match” began in the 19th century, as a benefit for retired pirates, many of whom had at least one peg leg.  The local villagers got a kick out of those rapscallions – – they were local boys, and yes, they stole stuff, but only from strangers passing through on the canal.  And these freshwater buccaneers would always buy everyone a few rounds of peppermint schnapps, and sing.

 

Painting by J. L. G. Ferris. I don’t think this is an accurate depiction of our canal pirates. Their boats usually didn’t have masts, and the clothes don’t look right. There is one dead guy without socks, so that at least seems authentic. There’s way too many guns and knives, but I guess this could be Saturday night in Wayne County.

 

 

 

They weren’t  particularly vicious – – most of the “piracy” was just copyright violations, for adapting sea chanteys without permission.

Whenever they became too unruly, the lock-keepers would simply open all the gates, and drain the canal, leaving the pirates marooned, until they wised up.

 

 

The Sock Match was a chance to sell or trade socks, especially unmatched ones, and for folks, including quite a few of the pirates, to display their knitting skills.

The event raised funds for the Pirate Home, and the leftover unmatched socks were handed out to the old fellows.  Many of them were one-legged, from infected mosquito bites, or when the mules, who pulled the pirate boats down the canal, got testy and bit them.  The event faded away, as the pirates died off, or went into politics (“stumped for office“), and most of the mules migrated to Missouri.

 

 

A gas-powered sock washer.

 

A few years after the Sock Market Crash of 1929 (overshadowed by the trouble on Wall Street that same year), during the Great Depression, it was revived as a low-cost social occasion, after a couple of summers when the strawberry crop failed.  Then and now, it had a practical side to it, as everyone had single socks, especially after 1938, when electrically-operated clothes dryers were introduced.

 

1941 sock drier. Library of Congress

 

Surprisingly, until recent times, the Sock Match never seems to have been an opportunity for finding a date.  An older neighbor explained that a single woman who admitted to losing socks in the wash, was reckoned to be slovenly, spendthrift, and a poor housekeeper.  It was only socially acceptable if you could pin the wrap on a husband or child.

 

 

Why is the Fair held in July, when a lot of people are wearing sandals, and not socks?

It’s  celebrated on July 15th, Le Jour Après Bastille (“The Day After Bastille Day”), when the sans chausettes (poor people without socks) arrived in Paris.

The day before, the 14th, the sans cullottes (poor people without fancy knee breeches) had stormed the Bastille prison, and kicked off the French Revolution.

The sans chausettes arrived a day late, as they had to walk over cobblestones in their bare feet.

 

 

This is a Civil War-era design, but a start-up has retro-engineered it with capacitors, and utilizes the static electricity to recharge cellphones, and to defend against feral cats.

 

When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine anything more boring than a sock festival.  Woolen goods in July?   Itchy!  Horribly itchy.

This is why they were used as a punishment in colonial times.  Village scolds and gossips would find themselves “placed in the socks,” or “Satan’s ankle-biters,” to be ridiculed, with their hands bound, so they couldn’t itch.

 

 

If you’re going to get into sock collecting, nitrile exam gloves will work in a pinch, but better to invest in a dozen cotton gloves.

 

Inevitably, there’s still an air of tension, rivalry, and danger at any sock festival.

There’s always a “crew” crew, and a herd of others debating “mid-calf” vs “over-the-calf.”  The “wicking” and “compression” techies can be a bit, well, technical.  And aggressive, with their Extreme Performance Survival Socks (in the wilderness, they’re convertible into a hammock or eel trap, etc.)

Sometimes people snap at the organic wool dudes, if they rub their samples on you, to show it’s not that itchy.

The “Regenerated Cotton” crowd is a bit fervent and evangelical, too.

But I do think “regenerated” is a term that’s got legs.  Way superior to plain old “recycled” or “shoddy,” which is what they used to call re-using rags.  I read in one of the pamphlets, that the shoddy, sorry, “retro-virgin cotton,” has been “mechanically re-fiberized.”  I think this has been done in the Scottish mills for many years, and in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth mentioned his wife “knits up the ravell’d sock of care.

 

 

Another basic piece of sock-collecting gear. Don’t waste money on cheap plastic sock inflators – – get a decent steel straw, and make sure it comes with a cleaning rod. And of course, don’t show up with a can of compressed air, like the ones to clean your computer keyboard, they’re much too dangerous for fragile yarns.

 

The bulk of the sock’ers, podiatrists, puttee collectors, Gold Bond and Gold Toe salespeople, reflexologists, etc. are a pretty jolly crowd, happy to share their expertise, but you will of course get some snobs.  People whose toes curl at the thought of un-pressed stockings, unisex footwear, or socks that don’t differentiate between the left and right foot, etc.

 

Back in vogue, Argyles have their own dedicated tent.  The Argyles tend to be a bit snooty, and totally incomprehensible, when they affect a Highlands accent.  They’ve been hiring a bagpiper to play all day, and there’s talk of moving them to the armory in the next town, with the sock monkey workshops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My contribution to this year’s unmatched socks. It just showed up in my drawer one day.

 

A sock fair is a perfect demonstration that not everybody has the same idea of perfection.  As Carl Jung once said, paraphrasing some dead sandal-wearing Roman,

“The sock that fits one person, pinches another;  there is no recipe for living that suits all cases, or fits in all suitcases.”

Or something like that, I couldn’t find the quotation.

 

 

Why do they always serve corn-on-the-cob at the Sock Festival?

I don’t know why people always ask me that.  And it’s got nothing to do with plantar calluses or corns.  Basically, years ago they decided years that, to help preserve the old-time feel of the thing, plastic or Styrofoam feet forms weren’t allowed.  The old wooden ones have become quite collectible and scarce, so sock vendors have been using ears of corn to display their wares.

The corn is then rinsed, and steam-cooked, to keep the Dept of Health happy, and sold for a buck an ear.

They also sell coneys and hotdogs – yes, footlongs, of course.

 

 

 

Why are there so many legends of death & hauntings associated with the Sock Festival?

OK, let’s put a sock in this down-at-the-heels myth, and lay it to rest.

Stories of The Spectral Stalker in Stocking Feet along the old towpath, The Baby Bootie Bogy, etc. are just that, stories.  Yes, there have been plenty of scares, incidents, maimings, and wild tales of mayhem, as with any hosiery-related event, but there have never, repeat never, been any fatalities.

And it’s stupid to talk about the Sock Explosion of 1898, and then sightings of Crispy, The Ghostly Sock Monkey, when sock monkeys weren’t even invented until the 1930’s!  So clearly there’s no way any sock monkey could’ve been killed in 1898.

 

There’s nothing mysterious about the disaster.  Sock festivals by nature are fraught with danger. In 1898, cast iron wash pots were still in use, heated by coal.  A huge coal bin had been left untended since the previous year, and built up firedamp (methane).  There were also some barrels of sauerkraut from Phelps, that had gone bad, and were bubbling with hydrogen and ethanol.

Hotchkiss Co. had a booth, full of their highly flammable peppermint extract.  It was used to freshen sock drawers, and the canal pirates rubbed it on their peg legs, to repel carpenter ants and termites.

(The pirates were also known to carry peppermint smelling salts, to revive canal boat passengers who fainted during a stickup.)

Just at teatime, someone shifting a pile of socks caused a discharge of static electricity, and the resulting explosion set the waxed canvas tents on fire.

Like any sock fair, drinking was part of the occasion, and by 4:00 pm, most of the attendees from the knitting mills were probably weaving, but it wouldn’t have mattered – – the local firemen were all helping put up the tents, and by the time they ran back to town, hitched up and got the pumper to the canal, the fair was a total loss.

The burning wool socks, sauerkraut, and peppermint caused a dense cloud of smoke, with an appalling stench, which panicked flocks of sheep all over the county.

The village never fully recovered from the ’98 sock explosion, but aid, mostly socks, poured in, from all over the country. At least people had warm feet that winter.

 

The elderly pirates, fragrant and highly flammable, “steeped in sin and gin,” were hustled away from the flames, and there was no loss of life.

The next morning, villagers surveyed the smoking ruins, the desolate scene rendered even more distressing by the pervasive pong of burnt wool, singed pirate, and overcooked sauerkraut, which even handkerchiefs soaked in peppermint could not completely allay.  But plans were immediately afoot to reboot the festival, and placards sprang up, “Pull Up Your Socks & Shoulder To The Wheel,” and the festival stalwarts began to organize next year’s event.

 

 

The Singles Meet

The biggest draw is the three-day International Singles Meet.

It’s a chance to meet other collectors, and just regular folks, who have a lot of unmatched socks, and try to find mates.  Generally for the socks, not the people.  They sell cutesy plaques with sweethearts exchanging darning eggs, etc. but that just seems lame to me.  I suppose some romances might’ve started here, but I’ve never heard of any.

 

 

It’s increasingly difficult to locate a right-handed sock crimper in good working order.

 

There were a couple of hiatuses, during the Depression and the sandal-wearing ’60’s, but the Singles Meet has been going on since 1918, and keeps growing.  There’s the usual “celebrities” – – the guy who found a rare and incredibly valuable 1851 Knickerbockers stocking in the freebie bin, and sold it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown .  Usually there’s an Albert Einstein re-enactor walking around (he never wore socks, did you know that?), and some guy in a stocking cap, selling O’Bunion’s Brown Malt Porter.  I think one year, a Shoeless Joe Jackson.  The kids they get to play Pippi Longstocking are invariably obnoxious, I do not know why.

Well, it behooves us, even in this digital age, to pay attention to our digits, and watch our step. The continued success of these fairs, shows that a lot of folks still crave face-to-face, and toe-to-toe interactions.  There’s a warmth to these get-togethers, like a sock fresh from the dryer.  We could go on, talking about “wicking, “antimicrobial,” Spandex, microfibers, and hemp – – we’ve barely dipped our toes in the subject, but good grief, that’s quite enough about socks for one day.  Alright, best foot forward, and see ya.

 

 

Mary Cassatt “The Stocking”

 

credit for the old photo of the canal boat:  Steamer “City of Fulton,” transporting freight.  The Erie Canal Museum.  www.eriecanalmuseum.org/
The old lady darning, the Boy Scout, the sauerkraut-makers, and the sketch of the boy in knickerbockers, are from the Library of Congress.  The circular knitting machine is from the Patent Office.
The Peppermint & Sauerkraut Festivals are real events, and writing this has caused me to think of the possibility of Peppermint Sauerkraut, and how horrible that would be for our planet.  Sadly, the Sock Festival exists only in my mind.  Where it has left a considerable amount of lint in the unswept corners.  But the local Mill really did make socks for professional athletes and astronauts, and if you’re interested, there are sock museums in China, New Zealand, Alabama, and other foreign places.

 

~ ~ ~

Sitting on the Socks by the Bay

A poignant old pirate song by Captain Otis Redding:

 

   I left my home in New York

   Headed for the ‘Frisco bay

   Cause nothin’ ever matches

   Looks like a pair is never gonna come my way.

 

   I’m tryin’ on the socks day by day

   Watchin’ the tide roll away

   I’m tryin’ on the socks day by day

   Wastin’ time

artisanal, Early American History, Finger Lakes, FLX, History, NY, Socks, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

My Favorite Summer Festival ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The World-Famous ~ ~ Senecka Sock Fest

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58 thoughts on “My Favorite Summer Festival ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The World-Famous ~ ~ Senecka Sock Fest

  1. This is quite a yarn you’ve knitted together. And speaking of putting things together, why not combine two of your favorites into a Sockerkraut Festival? Attendees could take a sock at each other with a sauerkraut-filled sock. The more conventional could play soccer.

      • What enthusiasm you have! And what a wild imagination to come up with all the things in this post. Do you store the things up over time or are you more likely to write a post in one long session?

        Did you know that when the French translated the word sauerkraut from German they misunderstood which component meant ‘sour’ and which meant ‘cabbage.’ The resulting partial translation into French was choucroute, literally ‘cabbage cabbage.’

        On our way from Rochester to Moravia (where we stayed with friends) I made a point of skipping the Thruway and driving US 20 so Eve could see Waterloo and Seneca Falls, even though we didn’t stop to check out any of the sites in those towns.

        • Oh my gosh! I don’t believe you drove through my hometown, and I wasn’t around. I would’ve been happy to be tour guide.
          The village probably didn’t look like much right now, a NYC developer bought half of the old buildings, the hardware store, etc. and fixed them up somewhat, but hasn’t found new retailers yet, so a lot of vacant storefronts. Did you go through Union Springs on your way to Moravia?
          As to the post, I just noticed at fairs and flea markets, they seem to always be selling socks, which seems odd to me, so that’s the basis, but the Peppermint & Sauerkraut ones are real of course. Well I’m certainly enjoying pictures of your tour. I’m going to be spending next month on the road, recruiting for my university in India, so not sure when I’ll be back in NY

  2. George says:

    What an immensely entertaining footloose meander through piracy, peppermint and pedal sartorial aspiration.

    So many highlights but I particularly enjoyed the iceman who survived an arrow in his back but perished by ignoring his mother’s sock advice, tattooed on his unsheathes leg.

    Otis Redding’s eulogy to lost socks comes a close second.

  3. If anyone can write a blog post on socks, it’s you! Very entertaining. I never knew there was so much to know about socks. But Diabetic Socks? What the? That conjures up the possibility of Edible Socks. Maybe not worth going there. One thing you haven’t covered (yet) is the old fashion question: When wearing sandals, do you sock or not? I am firmly in the NO SOCKS WITH SANDALS camp. Especially when it’s your normal everyday grey socks. Outrageous!

    • Ha! I cannot comment on the Socks-Sandals issue, people have pretty fierce opinions! And I’m not gonna comment on Edible Socks because I don’t want to think about that! 🙂 When I started reading just a bit about socks, it’s like so many things, you realize there’s actually a huge amount of knowledge out there, and just the discussions of military socks alone was overwhelming. Thanks for visiting Denzil 🙂

  4. Ah Yes! Socks! You have done them justice. I can’t get no sockisfaction without them. And the bliss of a pair of dry socks on a hike such as the Inca Trail? Limitless!

  5. You haven’t posted in a while and I assume this has all been welling up inside you until it erupted out in all its side-splitting glory. I love good comfortable socks, mostly woolens but some wool blends atop my compression hose, but I had no idea socks had such an incredible history. And I certainly would be in size large trouble were I to happen upon a sock festival. Give my bank account the boot it would.
    Those shoes…well they look rather comfy, especially compared to some of the foot crunchers I’ve worn.

    • Thanks, Steve, that Iceman really was very well equipped for surviving in the Alps. He had a kind of cloak made out of reeds, that apparently some alpine shepherds still use. Of course, this post is 99% made-up nonsense, but it’s like so many things, as soon as you start reading about a topic, you realize there’s a lot of interesting history and stories. That Peppermint company is quite a story, I was trying to imagine hundreds of acres of peppermint and spearmint growing, and what the town smelled like, while they were bottling up the essential oil. Some of my grandmother’s uncles used to make wintergreen oil as a sideline, in NE Pennsylvania.

      • I’ve a parallel sensory memory. As I grew up, one of the things my father did was run a kosher deli. He and my mother were pretty busy at it and my brother and I fended for ourselves, mostly kosher (all beef) hot dogs and beans. To this day, after decades, I can still taste kosher hot dogs even though I haven’t had one during all those decades. No desire to either. I would guess most of the folks who lived there and then moved never wanted to see another mint plant.

  6. There aren’t too many people who can write about socks, and hold me. But you’re one of ’em, Robert. This might be the literary equivalent of wrapping oneself into a pretzel while juggling apples (and reciting Shakespeare). Good and funny stuff, what a limber and clever scribe you are. You could do wonders with the Sequim Irrigation Festival! Hope you’ve been having a good summer. Is your university starting up fall quarter/semester soon? But autumn is surely in the air.

    • Thanks for the kind comments Jason, and this pretzels, apples, and Shakespeare concept sounds really promising! It’s been a busy summer at work, without very much free time, and now I am leaving on my first recruiting trip overseas, 2 1/2 weeks in India, which I’ve never visited before.

      • That’s wonderful for you to be going over there, what a fabulous opportunity! Hope you have a productive time fulfilling goals and objectives in your role as ambassador for the university but also that you’ll have an interesting, rewarding experience on a more personal level. Safe travels to you, don’t forget your toothbrush…..

  7. Believe it or not, I once wrote about socks — specifically, the socks woven from the hair of the military camels that came to live in Texas. I don’t even remember how I learned about it now, but here it is:

    ” In a letter written to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis from San Antonio on August 12, 1856, Henry Wayne, the U.S. Army Major charged with overseeing Davis’s Great Camel Experiment, described the results of his encounter with Mrs. Shirkey as the camels traveled from Indianola to Camp Verde.

    MY DEAR SIR: I have the honor to enclose herewith a pair of socks knit for [President Pierce] by Mrs. Mary A. Shirkey, of Victoria, Texas (lately of Virginia) from the pile of one of our camels.
    In her letter to me accompanying the socks, Mrs. Shirkey says: “I have been much longer preparing the socks than I thought I should be when you left my house. I knit one, and found it too coarse. I then spun some finer, and knit the pair I have sent you.”
    “If I had the machinery, I could have made you a better specimen of what the camel’s wool could do in Texas. I have spun the first thread and made the first article of clothing out of the wool in this country. The fleece from which these socks were knit consisted of the loose dead hair of the past year that I had clipped off on the 9th of June, to relieve the animal of its weight and heat. The fact of its being dead (not living) hair may have, perhaps, some influence upon the softness of the fabric woven from it.
    The socks, at any rate, demonstrate the practical utility of the camel’s pile, and convey an idea of its probable value, should the animal live and thrive among us.
    Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
    HENRY C. WAYNE, Major, U.S. Army”

    Camels’ noses and toeses in the tent, so to speak. I can’t believe you didn’t work President Bush in here, with his love of eccentric socks — did he ever come to the festival? He should have. Wouldn’t you love to see all the presidential candidates debating the socks-with-sandals-or-not issue? At this point, that might be a worthwhile debate to have. It probably would tell us more about the candidates than we really want to know.

    All of the puns were delightful. I was going to start listing the good ones, but there are too many. I do have to ask — was any vendor hawking bagels and sox?

    Happy travels! It sounds like a wonderful trip. One of my readers was in the northern part last year, and couldn’t say enough good about it.

    • Bagels and sox!! 😅 classic! And this camel anecdote is great, Linda, I never heard about this gift before! I’d read just a bit about Jefferson Davis and his Camel Corps, which I think was abandoned in part because of the Civil War, but I never knew whether it was a promising experiment, or just a kooky idea. But I definitely have never heard about the socks!

      I searched and searched for a photograph of a painting I saw, maybe in Pittsburgh, of a pair of socks. A lady knit them and donated them for the soldiers in the Civil War, and the recipient happened to be an artist during peacetime, so he painted a portrait of them and send it to her as a little thank you.
      Well this trip is going to be pretty much all business and nonstop, no sightseeing, but I am expecting it will be very interesting.

  8. I’d rather go to the Sock Fest (or any small town fest) than some hipster Burning Man Coachella monstrosity any day. I love the unpredictable trajectories your writing takes.

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