Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Immense 6-Pound Radish

You may very well wonder what a six-pound radish is doing on a family history blog. I'll tell you.

A few years ago, when I was still new to family history, offered all their databases free for a week or a weekend. I was not a subscriber so I was thrilled to be able to search so many databases for so many ancestors. And search, I did - morning, noon, and night.

The most exciting prize of my search was the following article, published in the Steubenville Herald-Star on October 15, 1898. When I found the article and looked at it on microfilm I realized that it was, in fact, a very tiny article, which made it all the more thrilling that found it for me.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is the article about Henry's radish.

"A Big Radish.

"There is on exhibition in the HERALD-STAR window an immense white radish which weights six pounds. It is one of many grown by Henry Meinzen on the Bair farm in Cross Creek township, near Mt. Calvary cemetery, and is from seed purchased at C. E. Blackburn's drug store in this city. The radish grew to its present size without any cultivation."

After the excitement of "wow, my great-grandfather's famous" dimmed, I started to think about his radish. I couldn't help but chuckle. Henry Meinzen's son, W. C. Robert, grew a healthy garden for years, but he loved to see the vegetables grow to their largest and most beautiful size -- which is often beyond the most tender time to eat them. Did son take after father?

There are a few questions I wish I could ask Great-Grampa Henry, pictured at right:
Were your immense radishes round or long?
Exactly how large (in diameter, length, or both) IS a 6-pound radish?
Who ate them and how were they prepared? Or were they too woody to eat? Were they very hot?
How did you happen not to notice the radishes growing so large in your garden?

Imagine with me the story in picture book format (illustrated in the style of Patricia Polacco) about the events surrounding this newspaper article. Imagine: Henry, his wife, Lizzie, and 9 children still at home, sit at the kitchen table discussing what he will plant in his garden and where he will buy his seeds. He hitches the horses to the wagon, Lizzie gets the children and herself ready, and they all drive to town. We see him and several of the children walk into the store, then out of the store with their bag of seeds. We see Henry tilling his garden, preparing the soil - possibly with the help of some of the children. He makes neat rows and plants early crops, then some later crops. And he watches them grow. Lizzie comments that she really likes the vegetables best when they are young and tender and asks Henry not to let them get too big. Henry harvests some of the early vegetables. He and Lizzie make sauerkraut from the early cabbages. The other vegetables are harvested as they mature and Lizzie cans some to preserve the harvest. Perhaps Henry sells some of the vegetables in town. In late summer Henry plants a second crop. Later in the fall he begins to turn over the soil so it will be ready for next spring. Suddenly he finds the radishes he planted months ago. Oh, they are large and beautiful! Radishes to be proud of! The children are excited about these prize radishes. He drives them to town to show them off at the newspaper office and they put one in the window. When he digs up the rest, rinses them off, and takes them into the house for Lizzie to use, she, too, is surprised and amazed. They decide to enjoy a radish with their lunch. We have to laugh at the faces they make as they gnaw on the hugely overgrown and tough radishes. Lizzie silently remembers how she told Henry that she likes the vegetables young and tender. The last image in the story is Henry finding the tiny article about his big radishes in the newspaper and thinking about how tough it was to eat.

A great children's book, huh?

I hope Grampa Henry has a sense of humor and doesn't mind my chuckling about his radishes and sharing the story far and wide. I certainly wouldn't want to offend him. And, of course, he must have enjoyed the limelight or he wouldn't have taken a radish to the Herald-Star office or agreed to let them put it in their window. All of literate Steubenville read about his radish when the paper was published. Now all who find this blog can read about it again.

Aside from the humor of the 6-pound radishes, I realized that this brief article put my g-grandfather in a specific place at a specific time, which is always a good thing for a family historian. I've had little success locating Bair Farm or information about it, but Mount Calvary Cemetery is still there, west of the city of Steubenville. The 1900 census tells me that Henry was a gardener living in Cross Creek Township and that he rented a farm. Cross Creek Township surrounds the west and south sides of Steubenville. With this article, I have a better idea where in all of Cross Creek Township he lived.

One additional note of interest is that while searching on microfilm for the article about Henry and his radish, I also found an advertisement for seeds from C. E. Blackburn's drug store where Henry purchased his seeds. It was published in The Steubenville Herald-Star, Friday, March 4, 1898, p. 5. The print is very small here but if you click on the image it will enlarge and be legible.

Now, if only there were a photograph of Grampa Henry with one of his immense white radishes....

Photo of round radishes (White Hailstone variety) is from Garden Stuff. Photo of long radishes is from Suttons.


  1. How did you find the article? By going to the newspaper webpage?

  2. Debbie, I found the article by searching the newspapers at I put "Meinzen" in the search box. Because it's such an unusual name it's an easy search in some ways (unlike Smith or Jones would be). On the other hand, it is so often misspelled that I'm sure I miss some articles that use name variations.

  3. If he was German, they would most certainly be long radishes.

  4. I love the image this post gives me! Such a fun thought! I cam imagine him being so proud of his big radish- he seemed like a small man and I can picture him lugging his radish to the office. I wonder if he ate it afterward...

  5. Christine, Henry was, indeed, German. Thanks for the information. So how do you know about radishes in Germany? For some reason, I assumed that long radishes were fairly new and Oriental and, therefore, probably not an option for 1898. Thanks.

  6. Natasha - yes, me too. In fact I can imagine a 32-page children's picture book telling the story about Henry and his big radish. Wish I could draw! Do you suppose Patricia Polacco would take it on if I wrote it?


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