February 12, 1914: Ellen Potter, on the steamship Panama, wrote her daughter Mabel:
At 7 a.m. a swell struck us and we have rocked up and down all day. I’ve watched it with fascination and haven’t needed the little stove yet. We reach Hatteras about 5 p.m. & then will see!
When I first read Ellen’s letter and came to “little stove,” the word made no sense to me. Handwriting on shipboard is often uncertain. I wondered if it meant some kind of anti-seasickness potion, but I couldn’t see that I’d made a mistake on the spelling. I read on to the part written by Charles:
Mother had considerable trouble getting dressed but accomplished it with a little assistance—had to sit on floor to put on shoes. Slept with the little stove within reach last night, and coming from state room window this a.m. said “I never thought I’d come to this, and worst of all enjoy it” which she asserted! She was one of two women at table this A.M. and the other did not remain long. Got her out on deck between the snow showers in the lee of the pilot house to see the ship pitch into the surges, I holding her with one hand and the hand rail with the other.
“High on the knight-head flies the spray
As we meet the shock of the plunging sea”
Mother is now curled up on the cushion in one corner of the social hall alternately reading and sleeping and the Capt. and stewards as they go by tell her she is a good sailor. The [stewardess] hurries from state room to state room and is currently having her hands full…
The smoking room where I am writing is almost depopulated and I feel that it may be wisdom for me to go to my stateroom for a nap.
February 13, 1914, from Charles:
The storm increased in strength yesterday so that locomotion was difficult and uncertain. The passengers vanished to their rooms and the tables were almost deserted. I became aware of an uncertain feeling at the stomach which I felt might be premonitory symptoms of sickness so remained quiet most of time in berth. Mother remained on her cushions in saloon till night—then went down to state room, and not feeling just right, I lighted Japanese stove which she placed on her stomach and went to sleep and slept all night. Also loaded one of the little stoves for myself. It proved surprisingly hot—so burned a blister on my chest—through underclothing, and the heat lasted about three hours. This A.M. ship rolls and pitches pretty bad though I think the swells are longer and that motion of boat gradually decreasing and some of the passengers appearing.
Now I know it is a “stove.” The word “Japanese” is the key. A search shows not only cooking stoves, but handwarmers! That leads me to the following item from Good Housekeeping, Volume 46, published in 1908:
“Sudden death is said to be the only infallible cure for seasickness, a prescription not likely to be tested, even by the most unfortunate victim. Let those who are subject to nausea try a Japanese hand stove. These convenient little things can be found at almost all Oriental stores. They are small, metal boxes, velvet covered, in which is placed a lighted punk which burns for one hour. Their use on two voyages has made them indispensable to me. I always carry three packages of punk. Each contains ten pieces. I also take two sheets of wadding, cut in strips a little wider than the stove. These I wrap around the box, as dust sometimes sifts out. Placed over the pit of the stomach, the stove will keep the stomach warm and often prevent seasickness. Even if one is sick, it is a comfort. The little stoves are curved to fit inside the hands, and for toothache, neuralgia, or stiff neck the dry heat is far better than the moist heat of a hot-water bottle, and the boxes have the advantage of being lighter. The cost of stove and one package of punk, in my city, is but thirty-five cents, and ten cents for additional package of punk. A.K.”
February 15, 1914: Ellen’s note to Mabel:
But Friday? I finally got down to stateroom where I told papa to get out a stove “quick and hurry up!” Then I flopped onto my birth, & tell Miss Sherryman the stove saved the day, for I weathered the storm and wasn’t seasick! Father took that other stove and stood it through, too! Hurrah for Miss Sherryman & the stove!
The Capt., stewardess, and numerous young men complimented me on being “a good sailor.” Most of the women succumbed. Fri. a.m. only one little girl and myself went to breakfast. Then I fasted till Sat. noon, when a dish of hot soup and stewed peaches were enough. But this a.m. they all scrambled out and felt better.