I’m pleased herewith to publish the first new literary manuscript by Cal Stewart to come out since 1924. It’s a full-length stage play called “Hoosier Hollow,” copyrighted in 1902 but never put into print. You can download a pdf transcription of the full text here.
Cal Stewart was the most celebrated phonographic storyteller in the United States from the late 1890s through his death in 1919 and beyond, taking the role of Uncle Josh Weathersby (a.k.a. Weatherby) to share his adventures as a hayseed in the big city or the antics of his friends back home in Pumpkin Center. (If you want to learn more, check out Cal Stewart: The Indestructible Uncle Josh, a CD released in 2013 by Archeophone Records with album notes by yours truly, including a wealth of biographical detail you won’t find anywhere else.) “Hoosier Hollow” isn’t set in Pumpkin Center, and its lead character is Hiram Whetmore, not Uncle Josh, but other characters familiar from Stewart’s phonograph routines turn up in it—you may recognize Jim Lawson and Si Pettingill—and Hiram Whetmore is arguably just Uncle Josh by another name.
A hard-to-read typescript of “Hoosier Hollow” survives today as part of the microfilmed Copyright Deposits 1901-1944 (Washington, D. C.: Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1975), first series, reel 52, item 2430, filed October 10, 1902. My transcription is based on a set of photographs I took from a microform reader in the Library of Congress Manuscript Reading Room during a visit four and a half years ago—that approach seemed to work better than printing out the pages in a more traditional way, given the eye-torturing blurriness of the characters on the reel itself. Judging from appearances, the microfilmed source must have been a poor carbon copy.
The typewritten “o” and “e” can be impossible to tell apart, so my choice of “for” or “fer,” or “sot” or “set,” is sometimes only an educated guess—one made even more difficult by erratic spelling and punctuation (e.g. “do’nt” and “dont” rather than “don’t”). My transcription preserves these idiosyncrasies except in cases of obvious unintentional errors, which are corrected and described in endnotes.
So is the writing up to the standards we’d expect from The Man Who Made The Phonograph Famous, as Stewart billed himself? Well, here’s one representative excerpt:
(Jim Law.)—[T]hat puts me in mind of the time when I had a contract to build thirty miles of railroad in four days. I done it, but the work was’nt accepted and I lost nigh unto fifty thousand dollars on that job.
(Cyneel)—How was that Jim
(Jim Law.)—Wall you see we had’nt time to do any gradin and the road was so crooked it went past one station four times, why it was so durned crooked we had to burn crooked wood in the engine, wall they would’nt take it anyway.
(Eunice)—[T]his life is distasteful to me, I ca’nt live always in Hoosier Hollow. Poor Hiram deserves more at my hands than this, but what am I to do. Our dispositions are entirely different. Would I make him happy, alas I fear not. If I had someone to advise me.
(Enter Philip Norton)
(Norton)—Allow me to be that one Eunice, there is but one solution to the problem, it means a lifetime, an eternity of misery for three people, or the happiness of two, and a shade of disappointment for one. He does not love you as I do, he does not understand you as I do. Marriage with him would mean a lifetime of misery for both of you, and a lifetime of agony for me. I will have a carriage waiting at the wagon bridge, will you come Eunice?
(Eunice)—Oh Philip will you always love me?
(Norton)—Before God always.
(Eunice)—Then I will come.
In short, you shouldn’t expect to experience a great lost masterpiece of American dramatic literature here. The kindest thing I can think of to say about “Hoosier Hollow” is that it presents a mix of melodrama and humor typical of its era. The play stands out today—if at all—only because Cal Stewart wrote it. In fact, it’s unclear whether it was ever performed in Stewart’s own lifetime. He apparently intended to debut it on the stage during 1903, but I haven’t yet seen documentation of any actual performances, and such evidence as I’ve turned up is inconclusive on that score:
- The formal copyright registration was issued not just to Cal Stewart as author, but to him and Gus W. Hogan, a theatrical manager who was presumably involved somehow in plans to produce it:
- We read that “Cal Stewart is the author of a pastoral play, ‘Hoosier Hollow,’ which will be presented at the Dowling [i.e., the Dowling Opera House in Logansport] this season.” — See “Hear Uncle Josh Weatherby,” Logansport (Indiana) Pharos, Feb. 12, 1903, p. 3. Nothing seems to have come of this.
- The words HOOSIER HOLLOW appeared mysteriously alone by themselves in the advertising section of the New York Dramatic Mirror, Mar. 21, 1903, page 28, as though someone were trying to drum up interest in the title but didn’t yet have anything specific to announce about it:
- There was a report of an appearance at a private entertainment on April 17, 1903, of “Cal Stewart, the original Yankee star, ‘The Hoosier Hollow Company'”—“Gilbert Council’s Smoker,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr. 22, 1903, p. 12.
The lack of follow-up advertisements suggests that something must have arisen to put the kibosh on “Hoosier Hollow” as a live theatrical venture. However, some phonograph cylinders and gramophone discs bearing the title “Hoosier Hollow Quilting Party” were released about the same time, so that at least was definitely performed, albeit in front of a recording horn rather than a live audience (and without Cal Stewart himself as a performer). The script of “Hoosier Hollow” does in fact contain a quilting party scene in Act Four, as follows:
At rise of curtain Helen, Myra, Samantha, Nancy and neighbors discovered at quilting frames.
(Samantha)—I’ve bin intending to quilt this fer nigh unto three years, but somehow or other—hand me the shears Myra—I never could git started—Nancy whar did you put the thread—ah, here it is right under my nose, bin a snake it’d a bit me. I could’nt make up my mind—dear me what did I do with my thimble—what pattern to make it—now thar goes my needle—so at last I’ve come to the conclusion I’d make it log cabin.
(Nancy)—That’s a piece of my old delain, and that’s a piece of uncle Hi’s silk vest, aint it funny, and that there is a piece of—what is that?
(Samantha)—Why that’s a piece of the necktie your father wore the day we were married Nancy.
(Helen)—How many memories are crowded into the patchwork of a log cabin quilt. (Song by Helen)
Song Of The Log Cabin Quilt.
How many fond memories come o’er me to day,
With faces of loved ones in lands far away.
As I sit ruminating my eyes fill with tears,
And each patch seems a milestone in life’s golden years.
This piece forms a picture of she long ago
Who guided my footsteps in the way they should go.
A picture of mother my fancy has built,
In the old faded patchwork of the log cabin quilt.
(At end of song enter Hiram, Rudolph, Cyneel and Duffy)
(Hiram)—Now I spose you wimmin folks have kind of left us fellers out of the quiltin altogether, haint you Samantha?
(Samantha)—Wall if you men folks are a goin to stay in here you’ve got to do something to entertain us wimmin.
(Hiram)—All right Samantha, you’r first Duffy.
(Duffy)—Wall sor, its not knowin I am what I’ll be doin to entertain yes. Its no singer I am, and me lift leg is that bad I hav’nt danced a stip wid it this many a day.
(Hiram)—You might tell us about the time you was with Dewey.
(Duffy)—Wall sor it was a beautiful morning, the morning of May the first.
(Duffy)—It was for the Spanish, begora they was kept moving that day. Wall sor, I was standin well forward, aposite Comodore Dewey.
(Rudolph)—It vas a dewey morning.
(Duffy)—Shut up you krout eatin dootchman, shut up. Wall sor as I was sayin it was a beautiful mornin, the mornin of May the first.
(Rudolph)—Vas dis der same morning as der odder von?
(Duffy)—And I was standin well forward aposite Comodore Dewey, and he was a foine man, and a brave wan too, and he says to me, Duffy says he, sor says I, salutin him do ye moind, Duffy says he, says he, well any way we had decks cleared for action and I was standin well forward aposite Comodore Dewey, and he was a foine man, and a brave wan too, and he says to me Duffy Says he, sor says I, salutin him do you moind, Duffy says he, Duffy says he—begora I’ve forgot what the divil did he say.
(Hiram)—Wall that’s too durned bad, he’s bin tryin to tell that fer two years, and now that he’s got a good chance durned if he haint furgot it. Wall now folks you sort of set around we’re goin to have some doins here this evenin.
(Specialties. At end of specialties enter Cyneel)
(Cyneel)—Hiram that gentleman is here to see you about the land….
The question is whether this script matches what can be heard on the commercially issued recordings of “Hoosier Hollow Quilting Party.”
Columbia issued a selection under that name on cylinder (catalog number 32237, released October 1903) and on disc (catalog number 1515). It was offered, among other places, in the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog for Spring 1904, glossed there as “Rube gags in song and story”:
There goes the last stitch. Hain’t the quilt a beauty? I just tell you, wife, that picture of the log cabin in the quilt is heaps prettier than an oil painting, and I just calculate when it’s sold it’ll bring more than fifty dollars. Remember, that’s to be my pin money. Pin money? Gee, I always wondered where all the pins went to, now I know. Say ma, you pass the cider and gingerbread while Jenny plays the piano for the folks to sing, will ya? Come now Hez, we’re waiting for you to sing. Aw, I’d rather Jenny would sing, I like her voice the best. Yes, we’ve noticed, Hez, you’ve been a-keeping as close to Jenny’s voice as ye kin, I thought while ago you was a-going to kiss her! Now, quit your blushing, Jenny, Hez is going to sing that old quilting song grandma likes so much. [“Song of the Log Cabin Quilt.”] All right, Jenny, all right. Well, we must be going now, it’s getting late. Oh, sing another song for you, go boys! [“Seeing Nellie Home,” a.k.a. “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party.”] Well, good night boys. Too bad you’ve got to go. [“Seeing Nellie Home” reprise, fading into distance.] Good night boys, good night, good night.
The descriptive sketch heard on Columbia 32237 (take five) bears little resemblance to the scene in the “Hoosier Hollow” script, except that it depicts a quilting party and includes the “Song of the Log Cabin Quilt.” Nevertheless, Cal Stewart is still identified in discographies as the author of the Columbia sketch, a point confirmed by contemporaneous sources including this release announcement for the seven-inch disc in the Columbia Record for January 1904:
About the same time, “The Hoozier [sic] Hollow Quilting Party” by the Invincible Quartette was released on Zonophone 5608, in seven-inch (C) and nine-inch (P) disc versions. Here’s a seven-inch version, matrix 127, once again courtesy of the David Giovannoni collection:
The Hoosier Hollow Quilting Party, by the Invincible Quartet, Zonophone Record. Well now, I’ve been just a-puzzling my mind how I’d make this quilt, and so I’ve decided to make it log cabin. Hey, Samanthy, weren’t there a song we used to sing about the quilt? Lord sakes alive, yes—Silas, you know that song. Yes, sing it, sing it, Si. Well, I will if you’ll all help, just play it on the piano, Samanthy. [“Song of the Log Cabin Quilt.”] Hey, Samanthy, I noticed as how you only play the white keys on a piano. Why don’t you play on the black ones once in a while, there’s music in them too. Why, you durn fool, you, don’t you know the black ones are for funerals? Hey, gals, I know a right good riddle. Tell it, Ezry, tell it. Why, why—why does a mouse spin? Don’t know, Ezry, uh, why does a mouse spin? Caze [?] the fewer, the higher. I can’t see no sense in that, Ezry. Can’t neither. Let’s sing “Way Down on the Farm.” [“Way Down on the Farm.”]
The Zonophone sketch has surprisingly little in common with the Columbia one by the same name, and both sketches share only the same basic features in common with the “Hoosier Hollow” quilting scene: all three depict a quilting party and feature the “Song of the Log Cabin Quilt.” On the other hand, the riddle about the spinning mouse also turns up in “Fiddled Out of House and Home,” a play found in the posthumously published Uncle Josh Stories (Boston: Walter H. Baker, 1924)—until now, the most recent publication of any new literary manuscript by Cal Stewart:
The wording of the riddle on the Zonophone disc is all the harder to make out because it isn’t supposed to make any sense, but if the answer was “becoz [i.e., because] the fewer the higher,” I’m guessing the word that sounds like “caze” must represent some mangled attempt to deliver the word “’cause” in Yankee dialect. This nonsense riddle was (and is) actually rather widespread—Google the question or answer and you’ll turn up plenty of hits. The New York Times of April 5, 1896, describes it being used by R. F. “Tody” Hamilton, press agent for the Barnum and Bailey Circus, to frustrate a notorious propounder of conundrums, in the form “Why is a mouse when it’s spinning?…because the fewer, the higher.” But it turns up even earlier in England, as for example in Robert Overton’s Ten Minutes (London, undated, but offered for sale by late 1892)— “When is a mouse if it spins? Because the higher it gets the fewer”—and in a reference to “the old conundrum ‘Why is a mouse when it spins?’ to which the answer is ‘The higher the fewer,'” in the Leeds Evening Post of April 28, 1894, suggesting it had then already been known for a long time. In any case, its presence on the Zonophone disc in the same form as in “Fiddled Out of House and Home” is a point in favor of Cal Stewart having authored that version of “Hoosier Hollow Quilting Party” in addition to the very different one heard on Columbia.
Did he write three entirely different quilting party scenes—one for his stage play, one for Columbia, and one for Zonophone?
There may conceivably have been even more. “Hoosier Hollow Quilting Party” by the Invincible Quartette was also issued on American Record Company 031045 as a 10.75-inch disc. I wanted to track down that version to include here as well, since it was probably the longest and most complete rendition of the sketch ever recorded. After months of watching and waiting I finally won a copy on eBay at the start of May (see the Popsike record of the auction here). Unfortunately, the disc got sent by Media Mail, the notorious “we’ll deliver it if and when we get around to it” classification, and now—nearly three months after the close of the auction—it still hasn’t turned up. If it does, I’ll add the audio to this blog post as a postscript.
In general, though, it looks like the “Hoosier Hollow Quilting Party” recordings of 1903-04 weren’t based on the scene from Cal Stewart’s “Hoosier Hollow” in any but the loosest sense. That would suggest that he saw writing for the phonograph and writing for the theater as very different things: adapting one subject to the other seems to have meant starting over from scratch. It would also mean the play of “Hoosier Hollow” really has been thoroughly inaccessible until now, including the quilting party part. Here’s the link again. Enjoy!