Tag Archives: church

Will the Real Russia Please Stand Up?

26 Sep

Karen, a long-time reader of this blog, asked a question about Isabella’s novel, Interrupted.

Twice in the book, Isabella used the term “real Russia.”

The first instance occurs when our heroine, Claire Benedict, and her Sunday school class take it upon themselves to renovate the church, and they turn their attention to fixing up the cast-iron stove that heats the sanctuary.

As the ladies try to decide what improvements to make next, one of the girls says:

“Look here! Don’t you think our very next thing, or, at least, one of the next, ought to be a furnace? I don’t like those stove pipes, if they are Russia. A furnace would heat more evenly, and with less dust.”

That’s the first mention of “Russia” in the book, referring to the pipes that vent the stove.

An 1899 newspaper ad for Siegel Cooper Department Store (New York) featuring Russia iron heating stoves.

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Later, Isabella used the same Russia reference in describing the stove after the ladies cleaned it up:

And really, the stove pipe, though it wandered about according to some wild freak that was considered necessary in order to “draw,” did not look so objectionable now that it was real Russia; and nothing could glow more brilliantly than the stove, which smoked no more.

No wonder Karen was curious! “Real Russia”—whatever that is—played a big role in the ladies’ efforts to beautify the sanctuary.

Men gathered around a cast iron heating stove in 1886.

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So, what was “real Russia”?

Isabella was referring to Russia iron. It was produced in Russia and was highly prized throughout the world for its ability to resist rusting and protect engines, boilers and stoves.

Another key feature that made Russia iron the wonder of its time was that it did not flake or lose any of its protective properties when it was bent, as American iron did.

For many years Russia iron could only be obtained from Russia. The manufacturing process was highly secretive, which kept demand high and prices even higher.

In the mid-1800s American engineers finally cracked the code for manufacturing Russia iron; and by the latter part of the century, American foundries were gearing up to produce their own version of the much-sought-after sheet iron.

Ad from Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania-Their Industries and Commerce, published in 1885 by the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce; found at Penn state Universities library.

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There was, after all, real money to be made from such a product. Sheet iron was used in the manufacture of many things, such as parlor stoves and cooking ranges.

An 1867 ad for Peerless kitchen stoves.

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In addition to stoves, consumers used iron pots and pans on their iron cooking ranges.

Portion of a Macy’s Department Store ad in the New York Journal, November 21, 1897

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Commercially, sheet iron was used to clad boilers and the engines on locomotives.

Even though American business was producing a creditable version of Russia iron by the 1880s, most consumers and industries were not fooled. They often referred to American iron products as “imitation Russia iron.”

A 1906 postcard showing a portion of the sprawling Carnegie Steel Works in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

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But as more and more American-made products began to be advertised as made of Russia iron, consumers had a difficult time distinguishing between “real Russia” and the imitation. In many cases, the only way to tell the difference between the genuine product and the American version was to find the tell-tale Cyrillic characters embossed on the original full sheets of iron. Click here to see a sample of those Russian characters.

It took many years for American industry to overcome the stigma of producing “imitation” Russia iron; but in 1885, when Interrupted was written, Russia iron was still the gold standard by which all other iron was measured.

So when Isabella wrote that the stove pipes in the church were made of “real Russia,” she was actually commenting on the high quality of the improvements Claire Benedict and her friends made to the church sanctuary.

Would you like to learn all the ways Claire and her friends beautified the church sanctuary in Interrupted? Click here to read the post.

You can also read about other unique terms Isabella used in her different novels. Just click on “Pansy’s Dictionary” under the Categories header on the right side of this page.

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A Palace Built for God

19 May

Theydon Garnon Church_Essex 1907 ed“Girls, don’t you think our church is just dreadful?”

That’s the question Claire Benedict asked the students in her music class at Mrs. Foster’s academy. As the new music teacher in town, Claire was appalled when she saw the condition of the church for the first time.

Bare floors, faded red curtains, smoke-covered walls, cobwebs, and a table covered with dust that did duty as a pulpit—that’s what greeted Claire when she first took a seat in one of the hard, un-cushioned pews.

Interrupted Old Swedes Church ed

Claire knew the town residents were poor and had little to look forward to, but she didn’t believe that justified abandoning the care of their church.

High Beech Church_Essex 1906 ed

She had seen at least the outside of several of the homes in South Plains, and nothing like the disorder and desolation which reigned here was permitted about those homes. How could Christian people think they were honoring God by meeting for his worship in a place that would have made the worst housekeeper among them blush for shame had it been her own home?

Stanford Church_Leicestershire 1906 ed

“A palace built for God!” her heart said in disdain, almost in disgust. “It isn’t a decent stopping-place for a respectable man.”

Her students agreed with her.

Interrupted Baptist Church ed left“Dreadful? It is just perfectly horrid! It fairly gives me the blues to go to church. Girls, mother has almost spoiled her new cashmere sweeping the church floor with it. She says she would be ashamed to have our wood-shed look as badly as that floor does. I don’t see why the trustees allow such slovenliness.”

“It is because we cannot afford to pay a decent sexton,” sighed one of the others.

“We are so awful poor! That is the cry you always hear if there is a thing said. I don’t believe we deserve a church at all.”

Claire had partially turned back to the piano, and she touched the keys softly, recalling a long-forgotten strain about “Girding on the armor,” before she produced her next startling sentence.

“Girls, let us dress up that church until it doesn’t know itself.”

If the first words had astonished them, this suggestion for a moment struck them dumb. They looked at one another, then at the resolute face of the musician. Then one of them gasped out:

“Us girls?”

“You don’t mean it!” from two dismayed voices.

“How could we do anything?” from a gentle timid one.

But the girl who had found courage to speak before, and to volunteer her opinion as to the disgraced church, sounded her reply on a different note:

“When?”

Interrupted Parish Church in Hampshire 1911 ed

From that tentative beginning, Claire and her students marshaled their wits and their resources to take on the responsibility for maintaining the church. In fact, they became the new sextons.

Parish Church_Derbyshire 1905 edThe Sabbath following the installation of the new sextons marked a change in the appearance of the old church. The floors had been carefully swept and cleansed.

Not a particle of dust was to be seen on that Sabbath morning anywhere about the sanctuary. From force of habit, the men carefully brushed their hats with their coat-sleeves as they took possession of them again, the service over; but the look of surprise on the faces of some over the discovery that there was nothing to brush away, was a source of amusement to a few of the watchful girls.

When they took on the project, Claire and her students wanted nothing more than a respectable and pleasant place to worship God. But their efforts resulted in changes they didn’t anticipate. Soon others joined their work group to make even more church improvements, and their minister found renewed inspiration for his sermons. People who hadn’t attended church in years began to show up on Sunday mornings, and the community took notice.

Before long, the little church in a poor area became a beacon of hope for the entire town.

Interrupted Christ Church Alexandria VA 1907 ed

The photos of church interiors in this post were taken between 1900 to 1911 and show what Claire’s church might have looked like. Click on each image to see a larger version.


Cover of InterruptedYou can find out more about Claire Benedict’s story and the way God used her to change her neighbors’ hearts and souls. Click on the book cover to read more.

Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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