I am a collector at heart. As a kid, it was stamps. Later, coins. That latter hobby ended abruptly with a break-in at my house some thirty years ago. A pillowcase missing from my bed told me how the felons carried off my collection. I’ve collected antique furniture for years, later expanding this to include antique tools, devices, and implements used in the past in Eastern Kentucky where I live and have made my living. As a historian, I have come to believe that how we grew and prepared our food, made our clothes, cared for our animals, and made a living was as important as any aspect of history that I might be interested in. A very large tool collection ensued which includes five spinning wheels.

             SPINNING WHEEL

About a year and a half ago during one of my frequent walkthroughs of the local flea market, I encountered a young fellow who was selling a few old can openers, and was immediately intrigued. I bought four for a few bucks and then set about trying to find as much as I could about them. Reproduction Sears Roebuck catalogues were a start, but I quickly shifted over to the internet. The ones I had purchased proved to be late 19th - early 20th century models. I also discovered that metal cans for preserving food were primarily a nineteenth Century  invention, made famous by Napoleon in the early 1800’s to supply his troops on long campaigns. They were made of heavy metal and difficult to open. Instructions read: “Use a hammer and chisel.” Stones, axes, and bayonets were also tried with questionable success.

By the time of our Civil War in the 1860’s, thin metal cans much like the present ones had been developed, but there was no efficient way to open them. Soldiers on both sides used axes, bayonets, and small arms fire. Commanders complained that valuable shot and power was being wasted blasting open the cans. One would think that stray bullets could be a problem, too.

The first practical can opener was invented by Ezra Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut and patented in 1858. Some of these openers were used in army messes during the war. Following the war, this same model was employed by grocers to open cans for customers in the store, as they were considered too dangerous for home use because of the long, sharp blades.

A few days ago in my latest perusal of our flea market, at the very last stall I visited, a vendor was displaying about a hundred badly rusted items on a long table. As a longtime flea market junkie, it didn’t take more than a  few seconds to evaluate what was there. Immediately, my eyes fell upon a tool about eight inches long that I reasoned might be an early can opener. My clue was a 3/4 inch extension that looked like what I’d seen on my oldest openers. I asked the vendor what the tool was and he said he didn’t know. He took the two dollars I offered and I went home and hurried off to the internet. After considerable searching, I found it; #95,873 in the U.S. Patent Office, October 18, 1869. It was invented and manufactured by a William M. Bleakly of Westchester County, New York and was one of the earliest can openers patented in the United States, number 25 in my collection, and in my mind, the most important addition so far.

A few years earlier, in 1855, a claw-shaped lever-type opening was patented in England, and in 1865, the Bull’s-head lever-type opener, supplied with cans of pickled beef called “Bully Beef,” appeared in America and became a standard. The first opener with a cutting wheel was patented in 1870 by William Lyman and produced in the 1890’s. Lyman’s opener was improved in 1925 with the addition of a cogged wheel that firmly gripped the edge of the can, an innovation that is still in use. In 1931, the familiar pliers-type handles were added. When squeezed, they held the edge of the can securely. Electric can openers featuring the same cogged wheel and cutter, arrived in the 1950’s.

For Army and Marine vets of World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, no opener was more celebrated than the tiny P-38 that was included in their portable meal packs. Scouts, campers, and others also, as well, embraced it.






Recently, my daughter and I took a trip to historical sites in my mother’s home state of Virginia. As a Christmas present, my daughter said she would take me anywhere I’d like to go–at her expense! How could I refuse an offer like that? I had wanted to return to Virginia to places I’d seen fifty years ago or had never visited. I told her that as a black shoe Navy vet, I would like to go to Norfolk to walk on-board the USS Wisconsin, an Iowa class battleship, the largest such vessel in our WWII navy. Along the way, I hoped we could find my Great-Grandfather’s grave. My mother had told us that he was buried in the Confederate cemetery on the University Virginia campus in Charlottesville. He died of wounds sustained at the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862.


[Editor’s Note: Of course, one cannot visit Charlottesville without stopping by Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson; who, incidentally, designed then supervised the building of the university from his front colonnade.]

We also went to Jamestown, the oldest permanent English settlement in America. The fort has been partially restored with a palisade of split logs placed vertically into the ground. The enclosed area is small, only about an acre of land.


Most of the Jamestown settlers died in the first few years of Indian depredation (plundering), disease, exposure and starvation. The native Powhatan also suffered greatly, many in a decade-long war with the settlers. On one occasion, two hundred Powhatans, invited to a treaty signing ceremony, were served wine laced with poison, and all died. Another fifty were slain. One Jamestown settler bore our surname, a “Captaine” William Tucker, whose name is inscribed on a monument there.

From there, we went to Williamsburg, that beautifully restored (some would say too beautifully restored) colonial capital of Virginia. Jamestown had been the capital until 1705 when it was moved to Williamsburg. It remained there until 1779 when it was moved to Richmond during the American Revolution.


Yorktown was our next destination, where we toured a very nice museum and strolled over the battlefield of the final great clash of the Revolution, fought in the fall of 1781.


It was a decisive victory for the Americans and their French allies. Half of the troops on land were French and all of the navy that blockaded the mouth of the Chesapeake was French, who thus prevented the reinforcement of the British forces or its evacuation.

We visited the Wisconsin in Norfolk, a permanent museum ship. One of her 16-inch gun turrets extended down to the power room weighed more than the Fletcher class destroyer on which I had served. Seventeen and one-half inches of armor plate on the main turrets was nothing short of amazing.

All of the stops were interesting to me, a retired history professor, but none was more interesting or emotionally moving than our short time at the Confederate cemetery at the University of Virginia. Here, enclosed by low walls in what we estimated to be about one-half an acre, were the remains of some one-thousand one-hundred Confederate soldiers who had died in make-shift hospital wards in houses and assorted buildings in Charlottesville and buildings on the University of Virginia campus.


Just twenty-six of these graves have been marked with the standard plain marble tombstone.


A check with the Special Collections Section of the University Library told us that we could find Captain Robert Alexander Tucker’s grave by measuring the distance from two of the surrounding walls. The dearth of grave markers may have been due to the scarcity of manpower and materials during the War or it could be that the original markers were made of wood and eventually rotted away. We intend to have a stone prepared for our Captain Tucker of the S.C. Sharpshooters. Interestingly, we were told by a woman we chanced upon in Jamestown that the Veterans Administration would furnish a marker if we could provide the required credentials. The victorious United States funding tombstones for the vanquished Rebel dead is quite remarkable. A quick check on the internet verified that claim.

Incidentally, we intend to trace the line of Captain William Tucker of Jamestown and St. George Tucker of Williamsburg to see if  we are related. If we think about it, it is extraordinary that towns named for English kings, James and William, and one king’s wife, Charlotte, managed to retain their names after a bloody, sometimes brutal, Revolutionary War that had many of the trappings of a civil war.






They came. The call went out and…they came. In Washington, yes. In Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago. In Denver, and in Austin. But also in Bethel, Alaska where the high temperature for the day was -21. They came in conservative strongholds like Lubbock, Texas and Colorado Springs. They marched in Oxford, Mississippi, and in Oklahoma City. They marched in London and Paris and Madrid and flooded the streets of Amsterdam. They marched on the tiny Isle of Eigg in the Scottish Hebrides, and by their thousands in Nairobi. They brought their children. They got up in retirement homes where even 101-year-old feet showed they could still march.

They invented chants. And songs. They created signs that were clever, arch, hilarious, artistic, defiant, angry, touching, and heartbreaking. They wore T-shirts in sunshine and coats in the driving snow. They wore those, glorious glorious hats.

It was beautiful. So beautiful that it sometimes hurt to watch–in the best possible way.

C2uIdzaUAAAt4KAAfter a day that seemed so dark, where it felt like hope had been crushed and the light had been dimmed, when optimism seemed lost and justice diminished, they showed that there is still a word that means all those things, all at once, and much, much more.


There have been large protest events in the past, such as a 1982 anti-nuclear protest in Central Park that drew a crowd of a million. There have also been protests spread across multiple cities, for example, protests over the War in Iraq that put 10 million people on the GettyImages-632327964streets of cities around the world on a weekend in 2003.

The Women’s March has surpassed many famous events of the past, taking its place as one of the greatest protests in history. While media predictions may have seemed generous at the time….

On January 21, [2017] approximately 200,000 people will convene in Washington, DC to stand up for gender equality after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The actual event has turned out to be many times larger. The crowd in Washington, DC exceeded 500,000 by 9 AM, and the crowd in other cities may actually be larger.

[Editor’s Note:  The crowd exceeded all expectations in every place.  And, quite frankly, the size of the crowds grew so large in the major cities that they were, for all intents and purposes, immeasurable. For our locals, the crowd that gathered in Charleston, West Virginia to march around the capitol was 2,800 by count.]



Born in Germany in 1920, he watched the Holocaust unfold as a youth, and he sees danger signs in the United States today.

Franz Wassermann is not the only person worried about his country. But he is among the few Americans who’ve seen a country upended by words and actions that most people didn’t take seriously, until it was too late.

Wassermann, a 96-year-old retired psychiatrist, has never considered himself to be a political activist. But this, he believes, is a moment that requires his voice, so he composed a brief letter, which he sent to Washington’s U.S. senators and shared with friends and family. His grandson’s partner sent a copy to me, and after I read it, I visited with Wassermann in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood to hear more of his story.

Here’s how the letter begins:

“I was born in Munich, Germany, in 1920. I lived there during the rise of the Nazi Party and left for the U.S.A. in 1938. The elements of the Nazi regime were the suppression of dissent, the purging of the dissenters and undesirables, the persecution of communists, Jews and homosexuals and the ideal of the Arians as the master race. These policies started immediately after Hitler came to power, at first out of sight but escalated gradually leading to the Second World War and the holocaust. Meanwhile most Germans were lulled into complacency by all sorts of wonderful projects and benefits.”



He sees similarities in our country today, early warning signs of what could happen if people go along imagining that there is no real danger.

“We can hope that our government of checks and balances will be more resistant than the Weimar Republic was. Don’t count on it.” - Franz Wassermann

In our time, he wrote, “The neo-Nazis and the KKK have become more prominent and get recognition in the press. We are all familiar with Trump’s remarks against all Muslims and all Mexicans. But there has not been anything as alarming as the appointment of Steve Bannon as Trump’s Chief Strategist. Bannon has, apparently, made anti-Semitic remarks for years, has recently condemned Muslims and Jews and he and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the pick as National Security Adviser, advocate the political and cultural superiority of the white race. At the same time Trump is trying to control the press.”

Wassermann wrote that the entire Nazi ideology is in place and wonders how far it will go here. “We can hope that our government of checks and balances will be more resistant than the Weimar Republic was. Don’t count on it.”

I want you to listen to him because he has seen it before. Wassermann was 12 when Hitler came to power in 1933. He said the German economy had been in bad shape for a long time, and no one seemed to be able to do anything about it. The Nazis were the last party left to turn to.

The party negotiated a softening of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which punished Germany for World War I, and the party was praised for speeding up construction of the Autobahn highway system and creating the Volkswagen. The nation acquired new territory. Everything seemed wonderful, Wasserman said. But it wasn’t.

Some of the worst was hidden from the public, but there were people who knew.

Wassermann’s father was a professor, his mother a pediatrician. His uncle ran a factory, but for all of them life changed, a little at first, and then it got rapidly worse. The government decided Jewish people shouldn’t be professors or hold leadership positions.

Wassermann’s father was forced to resign his position at the University of Munich in 1935. His uncle was removed as factory director and went back to his chemistry work, then after a time he was sent to load people onto trains. Eventually he himself was loaded onto a train and killed soon after.

Wassermann’s father left in 1937 to take a two-year position at the University of Chicago, but Wassermann said the government confiscated his mother’s passport and told her they would hold it for two years, essentially keeping her hostage.

Wassermann joined his father in 1938, and his mother was able to get out the next year and get his older sister from France, where she was studying, and come to America.

Wassermann kept all the letters that crossed between family in Germany and America in those years and translated them into English so that they could be a record of what happened. Actors read from the letters in two performances this year in Seattle.

And now he is reaching out in this letter of warning, which concluded with a plea:

“We have to counter this trend toward fascism in every way we can. Being alert to all manifestations in word and action. Alerting our representatives and urging them to act. Writing to newspapers. Making our friends aware. Demonstrating when appropriate.”

Could our democracy be subverted in some way similar to what happened in Germany? Only someone who doesn’t know history would say it absolutely couldn’t happen. We are responsible for protecting our democracy, which means recognizing danger signs and challenging ideas and actions that violate the ideals we claim as our own.

“I didn’t see it coming” is no longer an excuse.

[Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday in the Seattle Times.  This article was originally published December 26, 2016.  Approval Pending.]




About ten years ago, I became fascinated with stories I had heard about the so-called “Underground Railroad” in northeastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio, the region where I had come to live and work. Over several years, I developed a guide to what I have come to consider the most important sites in the area. Take this tour and I will guarantee you will be deeply moved by the experience as I was:



Your Personal Guide to the Underground Railroad in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia


Begin with the Ramsdell House in Ceredo, WV, 1108 B. Street (it contains a small museum, too).

Go to Burlington, Ohio (approximately 10 miles upriver from Ashland/10 miles downstream from Huntington) on Old 52. The old stone jail there will become an underground railroad museum.



Continue to Ironton, Ohio about 15 miles downriver from Burlington.  The John Campbell House, a large yellow painted brick house on 5th street and Lawrence in downtown Ironton, might be worth seeing. He was a noted abolitionist and a founder of Ironton.

Then on to Portsmouth, Ohio (about 30 miles downriver) on U.S. 52 to the downtown floodwall mural.  The actual house featured there is located across from the floodwall picture.  And, the Ohio Department of Transportation recently dedicated ten markers from the Ohio River in Portsmouth to Lake Erie.  Each marker gives a brief history of the Underground Railroad and each community’s part in it.  The Portsmouth Brewery, located at 224 2nd Street, and the Biggs House may have been a part of the Railroad in Portsmouth.



Then to the AA Highway in Kentucky and on to Maysville.  Turn left at Maysville on Route 68 (a major trail on the Railroad going north) and go one mile to Old Washington on the left.  See the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum located in a house where she stayed for a time, the Marshall Key House, and enjoy this history-saturated little town.

Then north on 68 about two miles to downtown Maysville to the National Underground Railroad Museum on West 4th Street.  Nora and George Marshall, a retired, delightful African-American couple, will show you around.  Call ahead, if possible (606-564-3200).  Pamphlets about slavery and abolition in and around the Maysville area can be had for $.25 each.

Then across the lovely old suspension bridge to Aberdeen, Ohio, and thence about 15 miles downriver to Ripley, an old and quaint river town, perhaps the most important stop on your tour.  Eat lunch at a Main St. or a Front Street (on the Ohio River) restaurant.  See John Parker’s house on the downriver end of N. Front Street.  It also contains a small museum.  (You may be able to see the Rankin House on top of the hill in the background.)

Drive back up to U.S. 52, go west through town until the road curves sharply to the left and take the fork on the right (there will be a sign) and drive up the steep road to the Rankin House on “Freedom Hill.”  Notice the long series of steps out back which led many slaves on the road to freedom.

Leave Ripley and continue downriver on U.S. 52 (a beautiful drive) to downtown Cincinnati and on to The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, located between the two stadiums.  Parking is beneath the Center/follow the signs. Parking costs $4. General admission is $12 ($10 seniors 60 and above), and $8 for children 6-12, and well worth it.  The hours are 11 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday.

If you have plenty of time, you may want to go to the John Gee Black Historical Center in Gallipolis, a former church, located at the corner of Second Avenue and Pine Street.  You’ll need to call ahead (740-446-6521).

You might also want to visit Salem, Ohio, a historic Quaker Community active in both the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements.  One hundred and three miles from Ashland, you begin by heading north on Route 93 from Ironton.  A number of buildings in the community have been researched and documented as Underground Railroad sites.  Salem has recently published a self-guided tour brochure of Underground Railroad sites in the town.  After touring the sites, the public is invited to visit the Salem Historical Society Museum and Freedom Hall which has interpretive displays about Salem’s Underground Railroad history.

Also in Ohio, near Wheeling, WV is an Underground Railroad Museum located at 606 High Street, Flushing, OH.  It offers tours by appointment only.  (Call John Mattox 740-968-3517).

In all cases, take some extra money with you so that you will have the pleasure of contributing to the upkeep of these places.  Most are privately operated and need our support.

Be sure to take your family. It will be a trip you will never forget.