Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Celery field near Westminster, circa 1900

Today's image shows celery harvesting near Westminster in about 1900. It's a fairly common postcard image, so it's quite possible you've seen it before. Unfortunately, the image is usually screen-printed and colorized, which is why I was happy to find a nice clear photographic print of the same image in First American's collection. I've posted some details from that photo below, beginning with the background. (As always, click any image to enlarge.) Can anyone identify exactly where this field is based on the buildings? The next image shows how they harvested the celery. Notice the racks for stacking the cut celery. The racks have legs that fit neatly between the rows without damaging the plants. It looks like two strong men could probably pick up and carry even a full rack. Also note that some of the men have bunches of celery tucked under their arms.
This last detail is interesting because it shows how knives were used to cut the bunches of celery from the ground.
In those days, celery was expensive, making it a valuable crop. The damp lands around Westminster and Huntington Beach turned out some of the best and largest celery crops anywhere. In the year 1900 alone, Orange County farmers exported 1800 train cars full of the stuff.
When I was very young, my grandfather told me that bellybuttons were designed as a place to put your salt when you're eating celery in bed. Of course, he also told me that big thing in the oven on Thanksgiving was a giant frog.

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