News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

April 7, 2013

Hidden treasures: Laborers phased out by machines

TERRE HAUTE — Today’s historical treasure will intone to many people an early experience of practical labor. For others, this artifact might lack a contextual notion.

The corn-husking glove pictured was crafted in the 1890s by Henry D. Christy and donated to the Historical Society by his grandson, Otto B. Christy in 1958. Gloves of this sort are usually embedded with rounded metal nubs or spikes to protect the hands while “shucking” the corn—to harvest the corn from the husks—as well as in the process of detasseling or cross-pollinating the corn’s genetic material. During the harvesting season, this requires the husker to walk one-by-one along the cornstalk rows pulling off the husks which easily rubs the hands raw without a glove. Detasseling the corn requires pulling off the tassels on top of the stalk and dropping them to the ground to be fertilized.

The general mechanization of the United States following World War II ended much of the laborious need for cornhuskers, as well as many of the neighborly cohesion practices reinforced within rural communities. This cultural cohesion was expressed in the practice of festivals, husking parties, topical songs and husking competitions based on speed and technique.

The practical purposes of this glove after more than a century the focus may have shifted from the physical to the intellectual. The origin of large-scale civilizations in the western hemisphere can be traced to the domesticating of corn in historical unison with the beginning period of classical Greek civilization.

To the multiplicity of notions this artifact might engender is a verse of thought by the folklorist Harry Everett Smith, paraphrased as, “each movement of the hand constitutes a variant universe.”

Historical Treasure

• The Vigo County Historical Society’s museum is at 1411 S. Sixth St. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through

Sunday.

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