When the future baseball legend met the Shaker Eldress

In early November this year an article appeared in the Eastwick Press about the dedication of a new athletic field in Berlin, New York, honoring Elroy Leon Face, a Stephentown native best known for his remarkable career as a professional baseball player. His career as a relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates is legendary.

Elroy Face, better known as Roy, was born February 20, 1928 in Stephentown, New York. Sometime in the early 1930s, he crossed paths with Eldress Sarah Collins, a Shaker known for her skilled and tenacious work in webbing Shaker chairs and braiding rugs at the South Family.

Chair Salesroom, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1932

Chair Salesroom, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1932, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1968.16808.1. Photographer unidentified.

Roy’s father, Joseph Face, Sr., and his mother, Bessie Rose Face, operated a boarding house owned by the Faith Knitting Mills in Averill Park, NY. Roy played baseball at Averill Park High School. Prior to this, however, Joseph worked for the Shakers at the South Family at Mount Lebanon taking care of their cows and horses. It was this work that led to the photograph shown here. The image, taken in the South Family chair showroom, shows Roy and his older brother Joseph Jr. In recent correspondence with Roy, he confirmed that he is the young boy in the photograph by answering, “It’s true!”

Baseball Card, “Roy Face, Pittsburgh Pirates, “ 1958

Baseball Card, “Roy Face, Pittsburgh Pirates, “ 1958, The Topps Company

After he finished high school, Roy served in the Army from 1946 to 1947. When he returned from service he was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies. After two successful seasons with their farm team, he was not, however, given a spot in the majors. He was drafted in 1951 by the Brooklyn Dodgers and in 1952 by the Pittsburg Pirates. His first trip to the mound in a major league game was in April 1953 and by 1956 he had become a force to be reckoned with when he set a record for pitching 68 games in a single season. He became best known as a relief pitcher and the master of the “forkball.” He was so effective with that pitch that home run master Hank Aaron said that “he hated to try to hit Face and that forkball.” In 1959 Roy Face posted a season of eighteen wins with only one loss for a record .947 season winning percentage – a record for relief pitchers that still holds. In 1959, 196-, and 1961, he played in the annual All-Star game and was a World Series champion in 1960. In all he played seventeen seasons – fifteen for the Pirates and one each for the Detroit Tigers and the Montreal Expos. For aficionados – his career stats are: career wins: 104; career losses: 95; era: 3.48; strikeouts: 877; saves: 193.

Roy now lives near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where from 1994-2012 he supported the Elroy Face Forkball Golf Tournament and raised over a half-million dollars for the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

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“You want a Christmas story. Well I can give you one, Of what happened to the Shakers in good Mt Lebanon”

Toward the end of the nineteenth century one finds a mix of the spiritual and the temporal in Christmas celebration among the Shakers. Traditionally, from the earliest days in their settlement at Niskayuna, the Shakers devoted Christmas day to spiritual matters, setting aside any unnecessary temporal duties. In preparation for Christmas day, usually during the days of Advent, the Shaker ministry designated a day of confession and reconciliation. This day of “yearly sacrifice” and fasting was meant to put aside all hard feelings one to another so the family could move ahead unencumbered into the new year. Sister Cornelia French recorded in 1897 in a Church Family journal, “The Ministry inform the family at the breakfast table that the day will be improved in the yearly sacrifice gift. The Ministry expressed their feelings in regard to an increase of peace and Union in the family with an exhortation to all to unite with them and banish all discord and hardness of heart one toward another forever from our home.” The yearly sacrifice is one of the most enduring observances in Shaker life. 

The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry,

“The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry,” (title page), Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1898, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1961.12819.1.

At the same time, some secular elements of the Christmas season crept into Shaker families. In 1898 at Mount Lebanon’s Second Family the sisters wrote a poem titled, “The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry.” The poem is hand written on narrow pieces of paper less than an inch and a half wide and eight and a half inches long. These pieces are glued together to make a twelve-foot-long strip. This and another similar poem were discovered in what appears to have been a cash box. It has a crank on its side that rotates a shaft around which a narrow strip of paper was wound. When the crank was turned a strip of paper emerged from the end of the box and a bell inside rang.

Box, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1850

Box, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1850, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.769.1.

When a sale was made, money was dropped into a hole in the top of the box and the crank turned to produce a slip of paper and ring the bell. The slip could have been used as either a receipt or, more likely, a slip on which the amount and description of the sale was written and deposited with the money in the box. The Second Family sisters modified the box so that as the crank was turned a verse of the poem emerged from the end of the box and the bell rang. This was repeated until the end of the poem. The drama of it all must have been terribly exciting. 

The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry

“The Visit of Santa Claus. A Christmas Story. Machine Poetry,” (first verse), Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1898, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1961.12819.1.

The poem begins: 

  1. “You want a Christmas story. Well I can give you one,

Of what happened to the Shakers in good Mt Lebanon: 

On Christmas eve and Christmas day in Eighteen Ninety-eight 

You all will know the story’s true which I will now relate. 

  1. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, ‘twas evening, you see. 

The door opened quick while we sat at our tea: 

Sweet Shaker sisters came in numbering four, 

Singing bright Christmas carols standing close by the door…. 

The poem continues to describe Christmas day in the family – the singing, the meetings, addresses, more singing, and the “Great Christmas tree with presents well laden, for each sister, each brother, each dear little maiden.” Of course the food and the presents are described and the appearance of none other than Scrooge who was quickly dismissed by all with much “bah humbuggery.” It is interesting that Santa Claus does not appear in the poem but apparently the many presents left behind showed that he had made his visit. 

The poem ends in good Shaker fashion at the sixteenth verse: 

“To the giver of good, the father in Heaven, 

The thanks of this family is fervently given: 

For the most watchful care from the power above, 

Our hearts should forever give the purest of love.” 

 

Drawer pulls: What’s original?

Pieces of furniture made by the Shakers do not necessarily remain in the form in which they were made. Some merely show wear and tear, some have been refinished, and some have had decorative and structural changes made to them. These changes may have been done by the Shakers themselves or may have been done after the piece left its Shaker home. For example, on pieces made during the second half of the nineteenth century the Shakers occasionally used white porcelain or brown stoneware drawer pulls instead of the more traditional wooden or brass ones.

A desk made by Elder Amos Stewart in 1873 appears in a photograph made by William F. Winter, Jr., in 1930 with white porcelain drawer pulls. By 1986, when the desk was offered for sale at auction, the pulls on the lower drawers had been replaced with wooden pulls.

Case of Drawers, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1820

Case of Drawers, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1820, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.596.1. John Mulligan, photographer.

The piece being considered in this blog post, a case of drawers with cupboards above the drawers, was similarly modified. In this instance, most likely common wooden drawer pulls were replaced by commercially-made decorative wooden drawer pulls.  This work was undoubtedly done by or for Shakers. The reason for this modification is part of a significant event in the history of the Mount Lebanon Shakers.  On February 6, 1875, the Church Family at Mount Lebanon experienced a devastating fire. It started in the family’s Wood House / Sisters’ Workshop due to the careless disposal of hot ashes and soon spread to the Dwelling, the Ministry’s Workshop, the Ice House, a Barn, the Gas House, and a Storehouse. All of these were total losses but the greatest loss was the Dwelling House with its furniture and personal possessions. Nearly 100 Shakers were displaced and the Shakers rebuilt as quickly as possible. The resulting building, completed in 1877, was built of brick with a slate roof to make it as impervious to fire as possible.

At this period in Shaker history it would have been difficult for the Shakers to replace with their own labor the quantity of furniture that had been lost. As a consequence, beds, tables, and cases of drawers were commissioned from outside cabinetmakers. These essential pieces of furniture were supplemented with older Shaker pieces no longer needed in other places. The case of drawers discussed here may have seen in service in a building not damaged by fire or possibly it was donated to the Church Family by one of the other families at Mount Lebanon. By this date, several of the families had lost significant numbers of members and it is certain that there was surplus furniture.

fig 4

Pedestal Table, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1877, Published in Shaker: The Art of Craftsmanship, The Mount Lebanon Collection, (Alexandria VA: Art Services International, 1995), p. 95, Mark Daniels, photographer.

The new dwelling house, while not built in the most elaborate style of the period, was certainly a more modern structure than the one it replaced. In keeping with the style of the building some of the older furniture was “upgraded” to better fit with the new furniture that was used. Carpenters were hired to build a number of round and oval pedestal tables for the Brethren’s rooms. Some of these tables had drawers and the pulls that were used on these drawers were more decorative than was typical of Shaker pieces. Apparently, in an effort to help the older case of drawers fit with the new furnishings, the same decorative pulls were installed on the cupboard doors and drawers of the 1820s piece.

A present day consequence of this decision by the Shakers is that this particular piece has not often been selected by curators seeking classic pieces of Shaker furniture for exhibitions. Betrayed only by its pulls, every other element in the design and construction of this piece speaks clearly to the most classic period of Shaker furniture-making. The case of drawers was acquired prior to 1947 by the Museum’s founder John S. Williams, Sr. This piece had last been used by Sister Emma J. Neale at Mount Lebanon.