Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Parochial Tradition


In the heart of tiny Polo, South Dakota sits a complex of Spanish mission style buildings known as St. Liborius Catholic church.  These buildings, erected in 1904, were central to the lives of the German Catholics of the area, offering everything except formal education for their children.

George & CasperIn 1923, that would change.  Casper Kluthe, along with his brother-in-law, George Lechtenberg, and William Froning, took the lead in establishing a parochial boarding school.  The parish hall building was converted into a three-room school, with the building between them used as a dormitory for the young scholars.

Casper Kluthe may have been influenced by his own parents’ deep involvement in the church at Olean, Nebraska, where they were charter members of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  The parochial school there was erected in 1893, when Casper was five years old.

School opened at St. Liborius on September 13, 1923, with an enrollment of 68.  The school was administered by eighty-eight Benedictine sisters from Yankton, South Dakota, and after 1960, from Watertown, South Dakota. The school population peaked in the 1970s, and the school eventually became a public district in 1988.


St. Liborius in recent times


Bring on the Pioneers!  History of Hand County, Scott Heidepriem.  1978.
Polo Schools: Where Memories Were Made (All-School reunion booklet)
Undated newspaper clipping on Sacred Heart church history, from the scrapbook of Jennie Schlechter Kluthe

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ugly – In the Eyes of the Beholder?

In Part One of the Ugly Baby Doll story, I wished I knew more about this piece of my history. Using Google, I searched for Ugly Baby Doll and got one hit. Apparently, when you substitute “squalling” for “ugly”, you actually get useful information.

One site about old dolls suggested that most have inscriptions on the backs of their necks. I have to warn you – if you thought the Ugly Face pictures were “Yoogly” (thanks, Greta) just wait till you see the neck pictures. Without further adieu -


Yeah, I know. Sorry.

Hidden among the cracks and discoloration were some letters.  All I could make out was “COPR LASTIC PLASTIC 49”. Turns out “COPR LASTIC PLASTIC 49” was stamped on dolls manufactured by the Fleischaker Novelty Company. It was unclear to me if this company also sold the dolls, or if they were sold by Horsman Company. Several companies produced these “squalling” baby dolls, but the Lastic Plastic ones were the earliest, dating back to 1948-49. And speaking of the Horsman company, while they apparently made some attractive dolls, someone there had a mean streak, as is evident by their Bilikin doll of 1909, or the Carnivale Kid of 1915-1918. My doll is looking more attractive by the minute.

The Doll Reference website showed a picture of what Grandma’s garage sale find looked like originally. There were molded tufts of hair, blue eyes, rosy little cheeks, and red lips. While any signs of rosiness on the cheeks or lips have long since worn away on my doll, its eyes are still a faded blue, and there are faint mounds of “hair” on its otherwise bald little noggin.

According to the Doll Reference website, two models of this doll were made: a 16” version, and a 19” version. My doll measures 16”, and at one time allegedly had the ability to make a “squeak” or “cry”, perhaps by one of those irritating squeakers implanted in its little belly. If that’s true, it would explain why Grandma quickly sewed it a new fabric body. I assumed the original body was ripped or rotten; however, Grandma was smart. We didn’t have squeaky toys over at her house. Ever.

Plush Memories even has a post from a lady who use to have a pair of these dolls as a child, and would love to be able to find one now. She says, “My favorite dolls when I was little were two of the ugliest little life size twin babies I had ever seen.” See Grandma? I’m not the only one to use the “U” word.

While I’d still have to say this is an Ugly Baby Doll, I have a new respect for it and its origins - 63 years is a long time to hang around being disrespected, especially ~55 years by the same family. Grandma, it took a long time, but I finally have an appreciation for this doll, and dare I say, it’s as precious to me now as you’d hoped for then.  Thank you.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Ugly Baby (Ugly! Ugly!)

I don’t remember the first time I laid eyes on it (him? her? We checked, but back in the 1960s, they didn’t have Him or Her baby dolls).  Grandma had procured it from a garage sale, and set us up with a little crib and all the fixins’, but nobody played with it.  One day, she asked me why.  I replied, simply, “It’s ugly.”  She said, “That’s exactly what newborn babies look like.”  I replied, “Then I’m not interested in having kids.”
Despite the fact that no one ever played with it, Grandma kept it anyway.  After she died twenty years ago, I felt strangely drawn to ask for it.  Before she left us, Grandma made it a new cloth body, but she couldn’t do anything about the rubbery, discoloring face.  Oh well.  It’s not like it’s going to get any uglier…
I found it a new blue outfit at a rummage sale this morning, so I dug it out and cleaned it up a little, and then got curious about where this doll originally came from, and if it had any ugly twins out there in the world.  A quick Google search turned up this:
Yes, I ruthlessly swiped this from a blog post of the World’s Strongest Librarian, but judging by the eBay icon in the bottom corner, it may not be his photo either.  Manners and ethics aside, I know there’s at least one more Ugly Baby out there somewhere, and its body didn’t hold up well either.  There are no markings on the head, arms or legs that I could find, so at this point, I’m out of luck.  If anyone knows anything about these dolls, or has any suggestions for finding out more, please let me know.  As ugly as my doll is, it’s about as dear to my heart as anything I own.  Grandma would be pleased. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Memories Past… Then and Now

Myself, with my grandmother, Lillian Knutz (left) and great-grandmother, Virta Knutz, sitting on the steps of a house that once was so filled with life and love. Though the house is empty, a part of so many of us will always be there in spirit.