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Writing Della: A Peek inside Deaf Education in the Gilded Age

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deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Writing is always a risk. People say to “write what you know,” which is safe advice to be sure, but fiction will inevitably push these boundaries. For me, the history is what I know, so the history is where I start. But sometimes plot bunnies lead me down dangerous plot burrows.

A few years ago, I was trying to find an American source to describe the entrance into Manila Bay via steamer ship. One of the best I found was written by a traveler named Annabelle Kent:

…we were hardly outside the harbor before it became very rough, the flying spray beat against the saloon windows, and it was necessary for our chairs to be lashed to the rail. I am never sea-sick, but once ensconced in my steamer chair, it seemed best to stay there, and it really was a delight to sit there snugly wrapped up from the flying spray and watch the huge waves thundering around our little boat, which rode them like a bird….Before [landing] I had gone down to the cabin to do the repacking for my sick roommate and myself. This was no joke; with the trunks sliding around with every movement of the ship, I had to dodge the one while I held on to the other and crammed things into it.…

— Round the World in Silence

Wow, now that’s evocative writing. Why was Ms. Kent so impervious to seasickness, I wondered? I went back to the beginning of the book to read this: “I would like to show others, as well as my deaf brethren and sisters, how much pleasure and profit one can get through travel not only in Europe, but the Orient. I am not merely hard of hearing, but entirely deaf.”

What is the connection between deafness and intrepid water travel? Apparently, those with a damaged vestibular system are far less likely to be seasick:

The US Navy ran an experiment in the 1960′s where they put a few Deaf men…in a window-less galley of a ship in the middle of a horrendous storm off of Newfoundland. As the ship tossed, the Deaf men sat at a table and played cards. Meanwhile, every Naval scientist became seasick.

There is a nice sort of justice there. As I read more of Ms. Kent’s book, I learned how she circumnavigated the globe—part of the time with friends, but mostly with complete strangers, all without a sign language interpreter. One of the most adventurous women of her era, Ms. Kent was perfect material for a romance heroine!

Gibson girls gone wild for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Heroines, heroines, everywhere! Gibson girls gone wild from the Gilded Age. From left to right: the cover of Mary H. Fee’s memoir (from the New York Society Library); a portrait of Annabelle Kent in China (from her book Round the World in Silence); the legacy of Rebecca Parish as seen through a nurses’ basketball team for the Mary Johnston Hospital in 1909 (print for sale on eBay); and the classic Gibson girl image on a music score (courtesy of the Library of Congress).

But, wait. Hold on. What do I know about deafness and Deaf Culture? Watching movies doesn’t count because they are so often written by the hearing. As blogger Charlie Swinbourne wrote about deafness in the movies:

On one hand, it’s exciting to see characters like yourself represented on screen. On the other hand, you get the FEAR.

Fear of what? Well, of the deaf character being hard to understand (especially if they’re being played by an inexperienced signer), or of their presence in the story being insubstantial and throwaway.

Worst of all, you get the fear of their appearance on screen being unrealistic, making it hard to believe in, and enjoy the story.

Swinbourne proceeds to list the top ten errors from real films. Some of the errors are obvious: a person cannot lipread when he or she is turned away from the speaker, or while sitting in the dark, or at night, and so on. And, yet, these things happen in movies all the time. If I have managed to avoid any of these pitfalls (eh…I did okay, but not perfectly), it was because of Mr. Swinbourne’s blog, The Limping Chicken, and other sources. (Also, see his own films here.)

deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Could a deaf writer have written my character, Della Berget, better than me? Yes, no doubt. Are there better books out there about Deaf Culture? Uh, like every one written by someone hard of hearing. But the story of Hotel Oriente, the opening novella of the Sugar Sun series, was grounded in history, and that is my comparative advantage. I decided to take a risk and write Della as best I could. Of course, this meant research.

I found out some interesting aspects of deaf education at the beginning of the 20th century:

  • The federally-chartered university for the hard of hearing, Gallaudet, known today for proudly teaching in two languages (American Sign Language and spoken English) was forced by Congress to teach only the “Oral Method” of communication throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. “Oralism” meant lipreading/speechreading paired with speaking. So, if you were wondering why my heroine Della does not use ASL, it is because the “experts” of her age felt it was the duty of those hard of hearing to assimilate to the hearing world, rather than acknowledging the value of their own vibrant culture. An 1880 conference of these “experts” in Milan even tried to ban “manualism,” or sign language! Though that law was not binding, it guided Congress. Even prominent hearing folks like Alexander Graham Bell got involved. (He wanted Gallaudet to stop hiring deaf teachers, whom he felt would emphasize sign language.)
deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
An early photo of what would become Gallaudet University, featuring College Hall, Chapel Hall, and Fowler Hall.
  • The emphasis on lipreading began with an incredibly patronizing idea: that all Deaf secretly wish to hear. This is not true. Limping Chicken blogger Toby Burton puts it best: “If you were to offer me a pill that would grant me [hearing], I’d be offended. Would you say to a woman,‘Take a pill and become a man, you might have more opportunities’? Of course not.” A story from Annabelle Kent’s 1911 book shows the time-tested nature of this truth: “…there happened to be a young man in the party who was totally blind. I was full of sympathy for him, but he, instead of feeling regret, thought the sympathy should be bestowed on me since I was deaf instead of blind.” You know the adage about making assumptions.
  • Gallaudet began accepting women in 1887, but they were not treated equally. In fact, the school newspaper describes a harrowing welcome for some of them: “all the [male] students would line up in rows and thus compel them to run a daily gauntlet of masculine curiosity.” Gee, that’s fun. And because women could not attend clubs and society meetings without a chaperone, they could never assume the highest positions of leadership. For example, even though women were influential in starting the school newspaper, the Buff and Blue, a young man would always be chosen for editor-in-chief because he could make the meetings without fail. This inequity is one of the reasons why my heroine, Della, an aspiring journalist, will leave college early to accompany her congressman grandfather to the Philippines: she is hoping to find fresh opportunities on the new American frontier.
deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The masthead of one of the last issues of the Buff and Blue that Della Berget might have contributed to. Notice the women bolstering up the editorial board.
  • And yet Gallaudet may have been more expensive back then. The 1900 tuition was $250, which in terms of 2016 commodity value is $19500—not so far off the current tuition of $19,852 for an undergraduate student, including a health insurance fee. But, when you consider the value of $250 as a proportion of someone’s income in 2016, it is the equivalent of $52,800—more than twice the current fee. (All inflation calculations are courtesy of Measuring Worth.)
deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
When the women of Gallaudet could not join the men’s literary society, they made their own. It still exists as Phi Kappa Zeta.

Since there are no other deaf people that Della knows in her corner of Manila, there is no real treatment of Deaf Culture and its rewards, nor would I be the best person to translate these ideas to the page. Still, I would consider Hotel Oriente a form of cross-cultural romance, like my other books. ‘Cause that’s my jam.

deaf education in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

If you want to read more about how I wrote Della, you will find an expanded version of this post on my author website, JenniferHallock.com. Thank you for reading!

The Road to Baguio

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Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

The opening scenes of Channel 4’s Indian Summers shows British families making the journey up the foothills of the Himalayas to Shimla, the Crown’s summer capital. There they will relax in the temperate climate: “dance and forget,” as one Indian observer says. “A hotbed of political, social and romantic intrigue set amid rolling hills,” the Guardian wrote, “no place encapsulates the global ambitions as well as the parochial desires of the Raj better than Shimla.”

Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

The Americans may have been late to the Great Game, but they would still have time to fashion their own Shimla in the Philippines. It was not until five years into American rule—on June 1, 1903—that the Philippine Commission officially designed Baguio as the Summer Capital of the Philippines. But the site had been chosen years before as a way to escape the heat of Manila:

There are hotter places than the lowlands of the Philippines—hotter places than Manila—but there is none where there is such a never-ending, boundless continuity of heat, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, throughout the whole cycle of the year—none so insidiously saps the vitality and relaxes the springs of energy native to men from colder climates.

Major L. W. V. Kennon, Tenth Infantry

Nestled in the Cordillera Mountain Range, this outpost offered “rolling, turf-covered hills, studded thick with fragrant pines, and swept by all the breezes.” The Americans now had a chance to create a town from scratch, one that represented everything they thought they were in the Philippines to provide: an orderly, beautiful center of transparent governance and intellectual inquiry. Yes, American colonial officials took their “City on a Hill” idealism seriously. The only problem was they did not have a way to get up the Hill.

The Yanks envisioned a railroad up the mountainside to Baguio, but they had to settle for a wagon road along the Bued River Canyon. This “simple” trail cost enough to build that by 1906 there was no money left to build a railroad—or to fully develop the city of Baguio itself. And though it was just meant to be a temporary passage, Kennon Road (Route 56), named after the American engineer in charge of the project, still exists. It is the shortest route to Baguio, and one of the most dangerous roads in the Philippines.

Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Rockwork on the first big cliff above Camp 1 in 1901.

The danger is what made construction so expensive in the first place. Initial work began in January 1901 on a cliff above what would become Camp 1. Workers needed to first climb up to dangerous heights, then set dynamite charges, and finally get to safety before the charges blew. Some workers were a little reluctant to scale the cliffs in the first place, and they had to be shamed into it:

On reaching the 50-foot ladder, the men had categorically refused to ascend, proving equally deaf to threats or appeals, and had only done so after the disgusted foreman had ordered his wife to mount: “She did so and the whole party, following her, moved on its way.”

Quoted in Greg Bankoff’s “‘These Brothers of Ours’: Poblete’s Obreros and the Road to Baguio 1903-1905”

Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

And if the working conditions did not kill you, the other workers might: “a timekeeper was attacked with bolos…and several horses were mutilated by the same means.” Having started construction in the midst of a fierce guerrilla war, recruitment was an even bigger challenge than cutting down cliffs.

The original workforce was made of impressed Igorot tribesmen, considered to be “a vastly superior animal” who could be trusted “without the necessity of a white foreman to watch him,” according to one of the American engineers. (Even when trying to pay compliments, the Yanks could not help but be paternalistic and racist.) Because the Americans disparaged the Spanish-style corvée method—after they had already used it to construct over 1,000 miles of roads in the islands—they felt the need to “raise” the Filipino by offering “fair wages, training, and education.” (Despite their grand talk, they did also try convict labor. But shackled prisoners were not great choices for cliff work. Moreover, these men were a flight risk.)

Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

The result was initially almost no workers at all. By January 1903, at the time of the official designation of Baguio as the summer capital, there were only two to four men at work on the road each day. Something had to be done. The Americans started hiring whomever they could get: Native Americans, Hawaiians, Mexicans, Peruvians, Chileans, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Germans, Irish, English, French, Swedes, Spaniards, and all the peoples of the northern Philippines, from Ilocanos to Visayans. The men were divided into three groups for bunking and eating: Americans (including all Europeans and Africans), Orientals (Chinese, Japanese, and Indians), and Natives (Filipinos). Americans were paid the most and ate the best:

Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

The Americans did try to help out their Filipino workers keep their “fair wages” by not allowing labor agents and patrons to siphon twenty percent off the top in kickbacks. Any foremen taking money from their crews in such an arrangement would be dismissed. One white foreman was sentenced to six months in Bilibid Prison for this kind of graft. Eventually, workers would be encouraged to bring their families up to the road as a way of keeping the men happy and tranquil. There were bands who played during work hours so the men could let “the dirt fly in time to the music.” And there were dances, saloons, and even a cockpit.

By October 1903, there were twenty thousand men at work on the Benguet Road, just under half of whom were Filipinos. A large number of these were folks from northern Luzon, particularly Ilocanos. Despite the full complement of workers, though, most experts predicted that it would still take at least three years to build the road. They did not count on Kennon’s eagerness to win a bet. Someone wagered him that the road would not be passable by January 1905, so on the 29th of that month, Major Kennon drove his calesa from Camp 4 into Baguio—along the most difficult and dangerous stretch of the route, a portion known as the Zig-Zag. Though the road was not quite finished, it would only take another year and a half Kennon handed it over to the Philippine Commission to administer in November 1906.

Traffic on the road was mostly mule teams and ox carts from 1906 to 1909, when Stanley Steamer cars were introduced. The next year, they brought in De Dion-Bouton petrol buses, with the world’s first 70 horsepower, 8-cylinder engines. A ride on these Benguet Auto Line buses was included in a railroad ticket from Manila, which cost P27 per person (about $365 in 2016 dollars) for a first-class fare, and P23 ($311 now) for second class.

Benguet Road Baguio location post for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The first petrol buses heading up the Benguet Road. Photos courtesy of the American Historical Collection at Ateneo de Manila, reprinted at the Surrey Vintage Vehicle Society.

That’s steep compared to the $15 bus fare today, but even a $300 ticket would not make up for the cost of building the road itself: P3,923,694. That equals $1.9 million in (gold) 1905 dollars, and $53 million in 2016 dollars. The cost breaks down to P147,895 per mile, or $2 million per mile in today’s terms. Before you call the road a boondoggle, though, know that $2 million a mile is about right for a new 2-lane undivided road in rural areas, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. (Admittedly, they are talking about a paved road that is not regularly washed out by flooding, but who’s quibbling?)

Baguio lost its accreditation as summer capital in 1913, but that did not stop Americans from living and playing there. It is still a favorite getaway for Filipinos and foreigners alike. For many in Manila, “all roads lead to Baguio”—once the Americans built them.

[This post was originally written in an expanded form under the title: “Sugar Sun series location #12: Benguet Road” by Jennifer Hallock, author of the Sugar Sun series.]

Happy Birthday Delmonico’s!

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's 44th St. and 5th Ave. N.Y., 1898
‘s 44th St. and 5th Ave. N.Y., 1898

Delmonico’s turned 180 years old this week, and its current incarnation turned up and turned out in style to celebrate the amazing milestone with Gilded Age celebrities, costumes, and food.

Granted, one hundred and eighty years means that despite the grand restaurant being synonymous with the Gilded Age, it was founded well before the robber barons and Astors and Vanderbilts turned Fifth Avenue into a rich man’s playground. It was in 1837, to be exact, that the Delmonico brothers–John and Pietro–emigrated to American and opened a pastry shop in the business district of New York. They quickly prospered, with merchants, bankers, and the like addicted to the deliciously light and airy French pastries and hot coffee that was then a novelty to many Americans. The brothers were frugal, yet visionary, and when they accumulated enough business, they opened a restaurant next door to the pastry shop–Delmonico’s.

The lavish French and Italian dishes produced from Delmonico’s kitchens matched the zeitgeist of the proto-Gilded Age of the 1840s and 1850s, where the Erie Canal and railroads created a cohort of men who were millionaires one day and paupers the next. New York’s increasing prominence as the hub of American culture and high life also helped the prominence of Delmonico’s, since visiting European entertainers, artists, writers, and royals gravitated towards finely-cooked meals that reminded them of the best restaurants across the Atlantic.

Delmonico’s entered its iconic stage in the 1860s, when nephew Lorenzo Delmonico took the reins and the famed chef Charles Ranhofer entered its kitchens. Throughout the Gilded Age, there were actually multiple Delmonico’s locations across Manhattan, though the flagship location, so to speak, was located in a luxurious building at Fifth Avenue and 26th Street from 1876-1899. As early as the 1850s, Delmonico’s was the preferred site for high society gatherings, from suppers to cotillions. Though the brownstones of Old New York’s Knickerbockers were obviously too small to accommodate large parties, the practice of relatively public events held at Delmonico’s (or its rival, Sherry’s) was retained even after wealthy New Yorkers migrated up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square, where they built astonishing mansions. The reason for this: Ward McAllister, the social arbiter and the Mrs. Astor’s right hand man until his fall from grace in the early 1890s.

Delmonico’s under the approval of McAllister, the management of Lorenzo’s nephew Charles (Lorenzo died in 1881) and later Charles’s nephew Charles “Young Charley” Delmonico, and the chef’s knife of Ranhofer, reached it epoch. The 1880s and 1890s saw Delmonico’s as the site of many of the Gilded Age’s most infamous dinners, where multimillionaires splashed out thousands of dollars for the finest food and wine, the best cutlery, and the most luxurious of decor.

This was also the period in which the most famous Gilded Age dish, Lobster à la Newburg was invented by Ranhofer. The recipe originated from a sea captain named Ben Wenburg, but when he had a falling out with Ranhofer, the Delmonico’s chef merely replicated the dish with his own tweaks–including inverting its originator’s name!

The battle of the restaurant of the Four Hundred was waged in the 1890s, when Louis Sherry opened his eponymous restaurant and specialized in the types of treats and decor that appealed to the ladies of the Four Hundred. Sherry’s was also larger than Delmonico’s, which attracted the growing number of diners annoyed by the long wait-times to get into “Del.” Young Charley responded by closing the location at 26th Street and building a larger restaurant at 44th Street in 1897–though, by this time, competition for the patronage of the wealthy and famous was stiff, with the Waldorf-Astoria opening its doors that same year, and popular night spots known as “lobster palaces” siphoned the more raffish crowd. Nevertheless, if a member of high society or a politician wished to host a stately dinner, Delmonico’s was the only proper place to do it.

Most of Gilded Age New York’s popular restaurants fell afoul of Prohibition, but as seen with the 180th birthday celebration, the spirit of Delmonico’s continues to live on!