Thursday, March 8, 2012

That Jazzy New Coal Oil Lamp

In his memoir as recorded in Hampshire Now and Then, Paul Delk says, "It was at Mr. A. B. Cathey's and Miss Tennessee Smith's wedding supper that the first coal oil lamp was used in this community. People were afraid to get close to it for fear that it might blow up."

Who knew that coal oil lamps took so long to catch on? Who knew that people feared that the lamps might turn into bombs? I might be naive, but I'd think I'd be more concerned about it spilling and starting a fire than I would be about an explosion.

My great-grandparents' wedding took place on September 27, 1859. (I'm not as old as you'd think; it's another story, but there are long generations in the Cathey clan). I'd have thought that such lamps were in common use by then. Apparently, that's not true. In an article by Mary Bellis about lamps and lighting, she states, "In 1859, drilling for petroleum oil began and the kerosene (a petroleum derivative) lamp grew popular, first introduced in 1853 in Germany. Coal and natural gas lamps were also becoming wide-spread. Coal gas was first used as a lighting fuel as early as 1784."

Did you also know that there is a connection between the Aladdin Lamp Company and Nashville? You can read about that here.

How the Smiths or the Catheys came to be among the first to use coal oil lamps in the Hampshire/Cathey's Creek area, I don't know. Of course, it might have been purchased to give an extra special touch to the wedding supper. I'd like to think that the light's glow matched their glowing happiness.

In my novel, A Tree Firmly Planted, I describe the wedding of the fictional Ellen Hamilton and Jonathan Blair. I pictured this sweet scene in the story as being lit by candles.

Here's just a snippet from the wedding:
The blazing candelabras on the mantle of the huge, Italian marble fireplace bathed the moment in a golden radiance. From the corner of her eyes, Ellen saw her parents’ faces shining like lights. Alexander’s beamed brightly, while her mother’s glowed softly.
Ellen thought her heart would stop when she saw Jonathan’s face. His eyes shone with awe and joy as she glided towards him. Jonathan looked so handsome, so gentlemanly in his dove gray watered-silk waistcoat and his darker gray suit. His arm was strong as he took hers, and her hand trembled as his fingers closed around her slender ones.

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