The Artifact of the Month is a large green, wooden basket that resemble an ordinary picnic basket. But it is not a picnic basket, and it is not an ordinary basket. This is an artifact with a unique story to tell and a history all its own.
Over a span of 32 years, one midwestern family used this basket to hold and carry two generations of babies. From 1929 to 1961, and from Kansas to Illinois, this basket held nine different babies of the Lupton family. Infant girls and baby boys slept and rested, and were carried and toted in this basket.
What makes the basket particularly special and unique is that the name of each baby who used the basket is written on the bottom. The Lupton family handed down the basket to two generations, each taking care to document their babies right on the basket, making it a unique family record.
Frank and Yvonne Lupton donated the basket to the museum in 1988. Frank Lupton, now a retired professor from Western Illinois University, remembers the basket fondly. He says back in 1988, he and his wife were involved with the museum, and they decided that they wanted their family basket to be preserved and appreciated for the story it tells.
Frank Lupton thinks writing the names of the babies on the basket was his father’s idea. Frank’s father, Frank Lupton, Sr. was a clerk for the railways. As Frank Jr. describes his dad, he notes, “as a clerk he was a great one for keeping records!” It is thanks to Frank senior that there exists such an unusual chronicle of the Lupton family babies.
Eighty-four years ago, the first Lupton baby laid his head to rest in this basket. The list of names on the bottom of the basket helps us today to see who, where, and when the basket was used. The information recorded on the basket includes the names of the babies, their birth dates and their birthplaces. The first baby to use the basket was Laurence Bert Lupton, born May 12, 1929, in Osawatomie, Kansas. The next arrival to use the basket was the second Lupton baby, younger brother, Frank DeHaven Lupton Jr., born April 21, 1932, in Paola, Kansas. This is same Frank Lupton, who in 1988, at the age of 56, decided to donate the basket to the museum.
After baby Frank used the basket, it was passed on to Frank Jr.’s fathers’ sister (Frank Jr.’s aunt) for her baby, Richard Lee James, born September 9, 1935, in Kansas City, Missouri. Richard is Frank Jr.’s cousin and was baby number three to used the basket.
The fourth baby to use the basket was a child on the maternal side of Frank Jr.’s family. His mother’s sister gave birth to Frank Jr.’s cousin, Gary Leon Alexander on April 15, 1936, in Atchison, Kansas. The basket stayed in Atchison, Kansas, with the Alexander family and was used by the fifth baby, Gary’s little sister, Judy Kay Alexander, born August 3, 1938.
When asked about the sixth baby’s name listed on the basket, Frank Lupton is not too sure and he thinks that this is the only non-family member to use the basket . Included on the list on the bottom of the basket is Wayne Michael Wood, born June 16, 1945, and this name is not familiar to Lupton. He thinks that the basket might have been shared with a close family friend.
The last three baby names noted on the bottom of the basket Frank Lupton knows well. Baby seven, eight and nine are the names of his own three daughters, Christine, Catherine and Cynthia.
Fondly, Frank Lupton remembers using the green basket for his very own babies. His parents handed down the basket to him and his wife, Yvonne. At the time of the birth of their first daughter, they were a young couple. He was a graduate student studying at the University of Illinois in Champaign, and they did not have a lot of baby equipment. Frank and Yvonne remember using the basket to carry their babies around, as well as a place for their baby girls to sleep. The basket was well-used and well-loved. The Luptons appreciated using the basket for their children, because they knew its history, as it had carried Frank and other babies from the previous generation. The basket’s past made it special to them.
Twenty-eight inches long and about 15 inches wide, the green-painted basket is the ideal size for a newborn infant. For thousands of years, since civilizations have made baskets, they have been used to carry babies. Easily portable and light, baskets are perfect for carrying babies from place to place and keeping them snug and safely contained. Many cultures still carry babies in baskets.
Most know the most famous story of a baby in a basket comes from the Bible. From Exodus 2:1-10 is the story of the baby Moses who was left in a basket among the reeds along the shores of the Nile. Moses’s mother had placed him there and one of the pharaoh’s daughters finds him and keeps him. To this day, oval shaped baby baskets are referred to as Moses Baskets.
This baby basket now serves to show museum visitors a unique family heirloom, an everyday object that transcended its everyday use. It is now more than just a basket, it is an artifact that was handed down in a family and plays a role in telling their history. By recording names and dates and places, this basket becomes a chronicle of one American midwestern family and it illustrates a slice of Americana – a simpler time when folks carried their babies in baskets.
The baby basket will be on display at the museum from April 1-30, 2013.
From an essay by Heather Munro.