Today I’ve been sitting here, staring at this computer screen, contemplating what to write in the Whaley blog. Then I began wondering what Mrs. Whaley and Florence may have done on a hot, muggy, Michigan summer day, such as the one we are currently experiencing.
I walked through the House and, first, was incredibly thankful for air conditioning. Then, however, I pictured Mrs. Whaley sitting in the informal parlor, working on her embroidery. Perhaps it was a pillow case or a hand towel with a lovely Whaley “W”. We have several examples of Mrs. Whaley’s handiwork throughout the house. Or maybe the heat would’ve inspired Florence to work on a painting of a yacht or the sea.
Of course we can’t know exactly what Mrs. Whaley or Florence would have done today, but we can begin to guess based on the evidence we have. The sources from Mary Whaley and Florence are limited, but we do know that Mrs. Whaley embroidered, because several examples of her fine artistry have been left for us to admire today. We also know that Florence liked to paint. We know that because we have several paintings signed by her in the House. We also know that she was interested in yachts; we even have a toy boat that was her son’s, modeled after her own yacht.
That is the job of the historian. We take a variety of disparate sources, pair it with other research, and come to an educated conclusion. So, when we find paintings signed by Florence Whaley, a toy boat modeled on her own, and notice that one of her paintings could be of a person who appears to be some kind of Caribbean islander or pirate, we can imagine that she might enjoy painting a picture of the sea when she had time. The job of the historian is something like that of the detective; we piece together bits of evidence to better explain an age that has passed.