Chronicling America: The Key to Roller Skate Research

Marriage Iowa State Bystander 21 April 1905The February 4 Out of the Box blog, Fancy Skating, focused on John J. Christian Jr., champion “fancy skater of Virginia.” The first clues about Christian’s life came with the discovery of a broadside (to see the broadside, visit the Out of the Box blog) found in a Rockingham County chancery case. The broadside announced that Christian would give a roller skating exhibition at Mozart Hall on 5 May 1888.

Not long after the Out of the Box blog was published, alert reader Hank Trent notified the Archives of some newspaper articles he discovered in the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database which provided additional information about the obscure – now a little less obscure – John J. Christian. One article Mr. Trent found, from the 21 April 1905 issue of the Iowa State Bystander, detailed Christian’s marriage to Julia C. Wilkes of Boston, Massachusetts. “The bride wore a beautiful gown of silk voile trimmed in crepe de chiene, with hat to match,” the Bystander recounted, “She carried a very pretty bouquet of Bride’s roses.”

The article not only gives more clues to Christian’s life, but also raises some interesting questions, such as what were the circumstances that brought Christian to marry a woman from Massachusetts in Iowa, so far from their home states? Another article Mr. Trent found from the 8 March 1890 Richmond Planet revealed that Christian was from Staunton and, because he was a “Jr.,” was most likely the son of John J. Christian, Staunton confectioner and bartender.

This unfolding of information once again proves the astonishing value of using digital materials for NewspaperStackhistorical research, especially when those resources are cross referenced. The discovery of the broadside, a researcher’s curiosity and the accessibility to digital resources shed the first rays of light on the, until now, forgotten and potentially fascinating life of John J. Christian, Jr.

Out of the Box also gives a brief history of roller skating, a pastime which gained popularity in the 1880s. Below are a few articles (resulting from a search of “roller skate” in Chronicling America) from digitized newspapers about the fad that swept the nation in late nineteenth century and kept its grip firmly attached well into the twentieth.

The image gallery includes a 5 December 1941  issue of the Cavalier Skating News, published by Noble-Balcom Corporation, a member of the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association. The Library of Virginia has two issues of this newspaper dedicated to all things roller skating.

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