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Staff Favorites: The Shocking Tale of Leon Plante

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A broadside picturing Leon Plante and the churn in which he lives, accompanied by explanatory matter
A broadside picturing Leon Plante and the churn in which he lives, accompanied by explanatory matter

We are often asked which Library of Congress primary source is our favorite. We could never choose just one, but this week I highlight an especially intriguing primary source from the Library’s online collections.

When the blogging team asked for a favorite or weird primary source from the Library’s collections, I didn’t have to think about it very long. I have long admired Leon Plante – and the churn in which he lives. I like the simplicity of the photograph and accompanying text, but both raise so many questions, too. First and foremost, I wonder why anyone would choose to live in a churn. What is the story?

Then, I also wonder what it means to shock twine. I know a bit about shocking corn, so I can make a guess, but I don’t actually know. A quick foray into my usual search engine wasn’t much help; when I entered “shock twine” it inquired, “Did you mean: shook twins, shop twine, shock wine, shoptwine?” If I ever get curious enough to seriously search, I might have to do it the old fashioned way, with reference librarians and books.

Where did I find this gem? It’s in one of my favorite collections, An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to search or browse the collection, you can also find it in the Library’s primary source set for Minnesota.  (Primary source sets are sets of primary sources on popular topics for use by teachers.)

I was a high school English teacher, and I think Leon Plante would have been an engaging writing prompt, but I also think the page generates interesting questions for further research and investigation. Leave a comment, please, and let us know what possibilities you see.

Comments (4)

  1. LOVE it! This source is new to me. Now I have a ton of wonderings as well, namely, I wonder if it’s the true start to “small house” movement? Great post.

  2. This fun post reminds me of the tiny house movement! As for shocking twine, I’m stumped, although it could be how much twine Mr. Plante used when shocking corn. While I’m on the subject of twine, if you’re ever driving through Kansas, you can visit a roadside attraction in Cawker City, “Home of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.”

  3. I think you’re on to it, Mary. In a 1918 Missouri yearbook of agriculture (, it stated that the average amount of twine per acre of wheat was 1.88 pounds and oats was 2.2. So if we say the average was 2 pounds/acre, that would mean Plante’s record would be 45 acres of crops shocked in 10 hours. Now that’s shocking!

    For more clues about this fascinating character, check out the 1940 census listing:

    Thanks for this enlightening and entertaining post Cheryl!

  4. The photo is an interesting piece of ephemera. In the 1940 census he lists himself as ‘lodger’ in category of relationship to head of household; I wonder if he was still living in the churn and who was the head of the household?

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