MADISON, Wis. - Allen Frank Cass was born in 1881 and grew up on the family farm in the town of Carroll.
On Jan. 1, 1896, his father went to Jamestown and had three teeth pulled. Allen, 14, stayed home and went skating.
Two years later, on New Year's Day of 1898, it would have been tough for anyone to make the trek to Jamestown. It was a cold and windy day, with at least a foot of snow accumulating. Allen, now a young man of 16, had a busy day nonetheless: he milked nine cows, killed a pig, and took his grandmother home in the evening.
Using the journals seen above, the blog “The Checkered Chicken: Diaries of a Farm Boy” shares the exploits of Allen Frank Cass in a day-to-day format, with each year’s entries being published on the corresponding day of the calendar.
Submitted photos copyright The Checkered Chicken
These are just the first two entries in an online account of the journals of Allen Cass, eight volumes of which - spanning the years 1896 to 1904 - have been preserved through generations and are now being published online by two of his great-granddaughters, Jennifer Townsend of Madison, Wis., and Diana Leavengood of St. Petersburg, Fla. The two women are maintaining a blog on which they are releasing the entries daily, along with Mrs. Townsend's analysis and musings.
''The Checkered Chicken: Diaries of a Farm Boy'' lists Allen's exploits of those years - with the exception of 1897, for which his diary is missing. The blog does so in a day-to-day format, with each year's entries being published on the corresponding day of the calendar.
What results is an insight into how Allen's life changed over the course of eight years, and how it stayed the same.
''It's a guilty pleasure, in that it's like a soap opera,'' said Mrs. Townsend, who hasn't read any of the journals in advance of their posting - with the exception of 1900, the year in which Allen gets married - despite having had them in her possession for years. ''Then I get to find out the secrets, piecing it together. ... I love that.''
A NORMAL YOUNG MAN
While many of Allen's journal entries consist of his day-to-day activities - going to school, doing chores, working various jobs - he also dealt with many of the same personal problems faced by people in modern times.
Before settling down with his wife, Alice, Allen had dates with several girls who are referenced in his journal entries. In the days leading up to Valentine's Day in both 1898 and 1899, for example, Allen's journal entries mention him speaking with several different girls about accompanying him to holiday parties, but he couldn't seem to find the right one.
In 1898, he chose not to attend the party to which he was invited; in 1899 - after giving his photo to a girl named Mabel as a valentine - he attended a get-together and ''had a fair time,'' but reports that no one in particular caught his eye.
Allen had a disability, but he never let it get him down - a trait Mrs. Townsend said she finds admirable about her great-grandfather.
''He does have this leg that is so much shorter than the other one, and yet he never has a problem for a woman,'' Mrs. Townsend said. ''He's completely masculine, always playing football. You would think it might limit him in some way, but it doesn't bother him at all.''
After Allen and Alice were married, he discovered that wedded bliss isn't always as blissful as it is made out to be. Allen, in his brief entries, reports on a few occasions that his wife is upset with him, though he often doesn't know why - a predicament husbands of any era know all-too-well.
''I think their life got very hard, very quickly, once they got married and moved out on their own,'' Mrs. Townsend said of how things changed for Allen and Alice. ''He was still sort of fumbling in 1902.''
Allen's relationship with his father, Frank, is also mentioned regularly in the journals. The two seemed to get along well enough, as Allen helped his father around the farm and tended to him when he was ill. However, a pair of entries two days apart in January 1899 show that their relationship had its ups and downs - as any teenager's relationship with a parent is bound to have.
On Jan. 15, Frank found a pipe and tobacco that his 17-year-old son had been hiding. Even though Allen insists in his journal that he ''hadn't used hardly any,'' he reports that his father gave him an ultimatum: quit smoking, or leave home.
Then, on Jan. 17, Allen got into a fight with his younger brother, Rollie. His father responded by saying he ''was going to cuff (Allen's) ears,'' the journal entry reports.
''He didn't hurt much, as he only hit me once,'' Allen wrote in the entry. ''Think he better take a few lessons in boxing.''
Mrs. Townsend said she has no doubts from reading the journals that Allen and his father loved each other a great deal. However, she and her sister theorize that Allen felt as though he was living in his father's shadow.
''We always sort of joked in the family that (Frank) was the County Squire or whatever, because he started buying up all this land and renting out farms to people,'' she said. ''Allen just doesn't have the same sort of aspirations - he just is going along, going to find out what pretty girls are in the church that night. He doesn't have a direction the way his father seems to, and I do think that's a very common conflict.''
Allen did eventually go on to become supervisor of the town of Carroll from 1928 to 1947. This was long after his father had passed away, Mrs. Townsend said, and perhaps he felt comfortable enough to step out from his lengthy shadow.
MORE THAN NAMES
Allen grew up on Lone Pine Farm at the corner of Kennedy (now Route 62) and Page roads in the town of Carroll. After he was married to Alice, the couple moved to Valley Gate Farm - newly built in 1895 - on Ivory Road. Mrs. Townsend said the Casses founded Ivory Baptist Church, which also is a common destination of the family in the journal entries.
Allen and his family traveled to downtown Frewsburg regularly - almost exclusively referred to in his entries as ''the burg.'' They go to Jamestown for appointments, such as medical visits and to have their photos taken.
His visits to Frewsburg are often to pick items up from the store or, after he has been married to Alice, to take his wife to lectures from traveling speakers.
Allen reports that his father took some lengthier trips, such as to Sinclairville to make a land purchase and to Mayville to participate in a trial. Allen himself didn't travel too far outside of Frewsburg - at least not in the first seven weeks of the year, which have been published on the blog thus far.
Mrs. Townsend said that though they didn't grow up in the area, she and her sister visited their grandmother on the family farm many times in their youth. And now, though they live many miles apart, the sisters have been able to connect with each other through the blog, as Mrs. Townsend is in possession of the journals and her sister is in possession of other artifacts passed down through the family, including photos.
''That's what's making this even more fun for us,'' she said. ''I'll read an entry and say, 'Listen to this: he and Rollie went to Jamestown and got a picture taken. Would you have a picture where Rollie is about 10 and Allen is 18?' And she's say, 'Oh, I have that.'''
The sisters have also managed to connect with a distant cousin through the blog, a descendant of cousins of Allen.
''We got to send her a picture of her great-grandmother that she wouldn't have ever seen if it weren't for all the stuff that my grandma saved,'' Mrs. Townsend said.
Mrs. Townsend said with very few exceptions, these ancestors of hers would have just been names and expressionless faces in photographs to her and her sister - and to the world - had these journals not been preserved. Now she is enjoying sharing their personalities with readers, she said.
''It's kind of wonderful to be able to experience this young man's thoughts, even though they're not always deep,'' she said. ''You still can glean an idea of what he was like, and I do like to give it thought. I love stepping back into this time.''
To keep up with Allen's journals and read Mrs. Townsend's thoughts about his entries, find ''The Checkered Chicken: Diaries of a Farm Boy'' online at thecheckeredchicken.blogspot.com.