Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sentimental Sunday - Thomas Edison and my Great-Great Grandmother

This is the first Sentimental Sunday where I will begin posting family stories as told to me by my mother and other family members. It is my attempt to preserve these stories so that they can continue to be passed down to my children and their cousins…the next generation of storytellers.

In March of 1880 my great great grandmother, Mariah Botkin, was a young girl living with her mother, father and siblings in Wabash County, Indiana. Mariah’s father, Isaac Botkin, was a farmer as were many in this rural community. Life on the farm followed a daily routine that was comfortable and familiar to Mariah. But by the end of March 1880 an event would occur in Mariah’s life that would change this small community forever and be told by Mariah until her death in 1953 at age 89.

On the evening of March 31 Isaac took 17 year old Mariah and headed into town. The Brush Electric Company had installed 4 arc lights 200 feet high to the top of the Wabash courthouse and at precisely 8:00 PM that evening they were to be lit. Until this time Wabash and all towns in America had been lit solely by gas lights. But in the previous year of 1879 Thomas Edison had perfected his invention of electric light. Now the little rural town of Wabash was to be the first to experiment with the newly developed arc lighting system.

When Mariah and her father reached town they joined in a crowd of 10,000 all there to see this exhibition. Special trains came from all directions and crowds of people lined the streets.

Exactly upon the hour of eight, the peal of the Courthouse bell signaled the time to start. From above the dome of the building, high on its hill in the evening's darkness, burst forth a flood of light. Mariah and her father stood overwhelmed with awe until, recovering somewhat, they joined the crowd breaking into a wild clamorous uproar expressing their excitement. “The strange weird light, exceeded in power only by the sun, yet mild as moonlight, rendered the courthouse square as light as midday. For a mile around, houses and yards were distinctly visible, while far away the Wabash River glowed like a band of molten silver.”

April 1, 1880--the morning paper carried this headline, Our City Beautiful Wabash Overnight Found Itself Famous....The editor went on to say 'thousands of eyes that were turned toward the inky darkness over the courthouse saw a shower of sparks emitted from a point above them, a loud shout went up from the crowd, the band played and a stranger was heard to say, Day dawns, what will the future bring?...

The above information came from the book:"A Century of Light: Wabash, Indiana" 1981, from various articles from the Wabash Plain Dealer newspaper and from Mariah herself as told to my mother Karen Stephens Swanson.


  1. It is a great story. Can you just imagine the wonderment of such a display.

  2. And there shall be light over Wabash! A great story of Mariah --- how she must have loved telling it!

  3. Iwonder how she told the story at family gatherings, in the living room, at your bedtime, at the table. It makes me curious to know.
    and it made me think at this moment what new things our Parents and gradparents were able to see in their life time that our children and grand children take for granted. Unless you camp or the lights go off for days, one just can't fanthom how it was.

    And the sharing of the big advent made it more than spectacular.