Two that Stumped the Mythbuster

Here are some more stump-the-mythbusters that readers have sent. Can anyone shed light on any of these? 
Martha Katz-Hyman curator at the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation and active in ALHFAM has two probable myths that I haven’t been able to substantiate either way.
1) “I was at the ALHFAM annual meeting in Akron, Ohio, from 6/12-6/19, and one of our field trips was to Kirtland Village ( and Kirtland Temple (, both in Kirtland, Ohio. They are both important sites in Mormon history, with the village part of the LDS universe, and Kirtland Temple owned by the Community of Christ, a Mormon community not associated with the LDS folks. As you can imagine, their narratives are entirely different! At Kirtland Village we got a tour of the site, including the Newel K. Whitney store ( The store has been totally furnished using the store’s account books from the period, and the furnishings include a whole row of punched tin lanterns (see the pictures on the store page). In the course of my group’s tour of the site, the woman giving the tour (Mormon, of course) said something to the effect that the punched patterns were different because each family in the village had a different pattern, and that’s how, at night, you could know who was out and about.” 

2) “A friend recently attended a seminar on Civil War era quilts. The presenters mentioned that some quilts of that period had a strip of cloth sewn along the edge to protect against the oils of “grandpa’s” beard. It was stated that if you found a quilt with a yellowed  edge the stain was due to the beard and that this was a sign of a”period” quilt. Anyone familiar with this practice?” 

Can anyone help with either of these? 



15 Responses to Two that Stumped the Mythbuster

  1. Marti McCartney says:

    Quilts: One could consider consulting the Amish and Mennonite Community how their quilts wear concerning beards?

    Note: I was taught to make the bed so the sheet folded back down over the top of the quilt, therefore the quilt did not make contact with the face.

    • Melissa Nesbitt says:

      And as for discoloration–I don’t have a beard like “grandpa”, but my coverlets get a skin oil stain along the top edge. 😉

  2. Janet Seapker says:

    No, but I have heard from a notorious myth-speaker, something about a spider being sewn into quilts. I tuned out, so do not remember the rest of the story. . . . Janet Janet K. Seapker Architectural Historian & Historic Preservation Consultant 307 N 15th Street Wilmington, NC 28401-3813 910-762-6301


    • Melissa Nesbitt says:

      Can’t tell you a thing about the actual quilt myth, but…our museum DOES indeed have a few quilts with a spider motif embroidered on them–just one in a corner–not by the same maker–if I’m remembering correctly they are crazy quilts from around the 1890s.

  3. James "Jake" Pontillo says:

    Take two pierced tin lanterns, with different piercing patterns, light them and go out at night. See if you can distinguish them one from another from any distance at all.

    • Melissa Nesbitt says:

      I’m suspicious of the lantern one–I’ll ask my LDS/CofC friends if they can tell me.. As James said, take two differently pattered pierced lanterns out at night and see if you can tell the difference at a distance. I highly suspect you can’t.

    • Shannon West says:

      I had the same thought as Jake. I just now performed an experiment with index cards, a hole punch, and a flashlight. In a dark room, if you can see the difference in the patterns – as the dots shine on the walls. However, outside, on the streets the light pattern would not be clear. Also, the more intricate the patterns, the more difficult it would be to tell them apart when looking at the lantern lit up from across the street.

      • D.Feit says:

        In the winter time, travel both to and from meeting would take place after dark.
        I think that if a lantern was set on a shelf at meeting, each family would be able to recognize theirs from the pattern.
        That would mean that every family would get the correct lantern as they left for home.

  4. – As Melissa said, it doesn’t take a beard – or antiquity – to get a yellowish stain along the chin side of a quilt. Even folding the sheet over it isn’t enough to wholly protect something that spends all night in contact with human bodies and doesn’t get washed very often.
    – The spider story I heard is that embroidering a spider on a crazy quilt was good luck. I don’t know whether or not it’s true, but it’s certainly repeated with some frequency among quilting folks.

  5. janice says:

    i wonder how many people had a top sheet for their beds.
    when we were kids, we didn’t have them. mom later told me her sister-in-law said something about someone who didn’t have top sheets. mom kept her mouth shut. she was too embarrassed to say anything.she didn’t have enough sheets. i think she was happy to get the bedding washed regularly and put on the beds. she had 6 kids.
    i remember waking up with an upset stomach in the middle of the night and mom had to change the covers. and while we were sick, she had to do it often. we would occassionally miss the bowl she provided. of course it was winter! and she used a wringer washer.

  6. We just hosted a Quilt Documentation & Discovery Day at the Virginia Historical Society and although I didn’t notice the fabric attachment on any of the 136 quilts we saw that day, such a device it was a topic of conversation among the appraisers. I would contact Neva Hart at She’s an excellent source on Virginia-made quilts and a former appraiser. I’m sure she could confirm or deny this myth.

  7. Joe Greeley says:

    I’m doubtful about the lantern story, but can’t say for sure. With the quilt story, my thought is Macassar oil which was used as a hair dressing in the 19th century-as in ‘antimacassar’ which was a cloth put on the tops of upholstered furniture to keep the oil from staining it. As others have noted tho’, it doesn’t take much to soil the edges of a quilt, so I doubt that it’s a good way of dating a quilt.

  8. elbduval says:

    I’m dubious of the tin lantern theory. I work at Conner Prairie, a living history museum in Indiana where we frequently use these lanterns at night. Candles really don’t give off enough light to make the pattern punched into the lantern distinguishable from far distances. By the time you got close enough to see the pattern, you’d also be able to see the person’s face.

  9. Roger Fuller says:

    Pierced tin lanterns aren’t even lanterns as such. There is no glass or lens for focusing or concentrating the candlelight. They are for bringing fire from one site to another without getting it blown out from wind, or extinguished from lack of air. Open one up on a windy night, and it goes out. You get some light, but not a huge amount, when the door is kept closed. This I got at Old Sturbridge Village in their Lighting section.

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