This month we welcome AgitArte, an organization of working class artists and cultural organizers, who added the scroll, one of their community art projects, at left. Almost unbelievably, the Medford Historical Society & Museum has added several hundred more Civil War photos and the Chicopee Public Library has allowed the harvest of two more collections.
As last month, I want to highlight one of Digital Commonwealth’s mainstays, the Boston Public Library. The Press Photography from the Brearley Collection has grown exponentially. The 1,222 items added this month nearly double the size of the collection. The BPL also added a new collection of 394 items, the Edmund Blampied (1886-1966) Prints and Drawings collection, which includes the exquisite crayon drawing, Beach Scene (10) below.
Agitating for the community or a virtual beach visit may warm you up this December. Happy holidays to all!
Sometimes when I write these blog entries, I mention in passing that, ho-hum, the Boston Public Library or UMass/Amherst have added – again – to their extensive holdings. I like to shine the spotlight on the little guy, like Northfield Mount Hermon or the Sandwich Town Archives.
Then I see this month’s addition by UMass/Amherst of two – count ‘em, two – collections totaling 9,135 items. Wow. Words fail me.
In the meantime, even if you didn’t attend Sandwich High School, you should enjoy a look at the class photos from the 1940s-1970s. (See left.) It is interesting to note the growing population and, always, the change in hairstyles and fashion. If you follow this blog, you know that I love a good map and the Massachusetts Archives has added more town plans. The plan of Monson by Aaron Bliss is jarringly colorful. (See below.) Once you zoom in, it looks like a town plan. In the thumbnail, I keep thinking abstract expressionism. Very Picasso.
Written by Anne Berard, Reference& Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library
While the earliest advertising cards first circulated in London, Lyon and Paris in the late 17th century, advances in color lithography and printing in the 19th century made them easier to produce and more ubiquitous. Everything from soap, thread, perfume, hats, shoes, coffee, candy and more were marketed in these stylized cards. Digital Commonwealth has more than 3700 unique images in its collection. Some of the most entertaining and possibly alarming, cards were for tonics and health remedies that might belong in the annals of medical quackery. Blood-purifying agents were all the rage.
Hunt’s Remedy (above, left) claimed that it was“never known to fail” and cured dropsy (edema), liver, bladder, kidney and urinary problems. It was produced by William E. Clarke of Providence, Rhode Island. The graphics show a shirtless man fighting off the Grim Reaper.
Boasting of health and sunny hours, an Ayers Sarsaparilla (above, center) card from 1902 featured a lovely woman in Victorian dress holding a tot on her shoulder. Dr. J.C. Ayers operated in Lowell, MA. Sarsaparilla root is still used today in some herbal medicines to treat psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Touting itself as the “purest and best medicine in the world” for overcoming dyspepsia, debility, and wasting diseases was Malt Bitters of Boston, MA. (above, right) Their detailed card also promised “stimulation without intoxication.” Playing off the theme of the House that Jack Built, the card has charming artwork, attractive lettering and tells a complete story.
In time, radio ads were a more modern means to reach a larger audience and trade cards fell out of fashion. Larger companies still produced catalogs and smaller enterprises converted to smaller business cards and matchbooks.
To see the complete collection of 19th Century American Trade Cards, begin here.
This month’s total items added is 6,077. That includes a couple of substantial collections: The Boston Public Library’s Press Photography from the Brearley Collection at 1,138 items and the Historical Society of Old Newbury’s Snow Historical Photograph Collection at 1,279 items.
Dennis Brearley collected the works of Boston photojournalists from the 1920s-1970s. A representative photo is the Cocoanut Grove entrance photo. (Left) What’s been added from the Snow Historical Photograph Collection is only a fraction of what the Historical Society holds. The Moulton Castle photo (Below right) is one to whet our appetite for more.
Digital Commonwealth also has re-harvested over 1,700 items from the City of Boston Archives, but sometimes the smaller collections contain gems, too. The Thayer Memorial Library added a history of Lancaster and the Milford Town Library added 200 photos from the Paul E. Curran Historical Collection, including one of the largest piece of granite ever quarried in Milford. (Below center)) That’s a big rock.
by Mary Bell, Assistant Director
Wilbraham Public Library
This unassuming photograph of a couple in a horse-drawn carriage and two men standing outside is the best proof I have of Wilbraham’s involvement in the Underground Railroad.
Handwriting on the photograph describes this scene as part of a pageant during Wilbraham’s 150th anniversary in 1913, and identifies the couple in the carriage as Elsie Farr and C.E. Edson. The Springfield Union, Friday evening edition of June 20, 1913, describes the celebration in the language of the day as follows: “The children sang ‘The Prison Cell’ and as they were closing, the audience was surprised to see coming down the hill, pursued by men, old-time slaves, who, just as they were about to be seized by their masters, were rescued by Glendale people and borne away to safety. This was intended to typify just such scenes as occurred in the North 60 years ago when Glendale was a famous underground railroad station.” Elsie and C.E. were playing Lucia and John Calkins, abolitionists who – rumor has it – were early conductors on the railroad.
The photograph was taken on June 20, 1913, the third day of the Sesquicentennial celebration of Wilbraham’s incorporation. The bulk of the day’s events was the unveiling of a boulder at Glendale Cemetery honoring the town’s veterans, especially American Civil War veterans who were present at the ceremony. The photograph is fascinating as a celebratory moment in time – and what would have been considered an acceptable pageant a century ago – in addition to a hint of the past.
In the Civil War period, the Glendale section of Wilbraham would have included what are now two towns, Wilbraham and Hampden. The people of Glendale established a Methodist church and an abolitionist movement, which included a few neighborhood families – notably the Ames and Calkins families – who are said by local historians to have been conductors on the Underground Railroad. When this photograph was taken sixty years after the fact, several people were still around who could have contradicted the story of John and Lucia Calkins as told in the pageant but did not. While the evidence is circumstantial at best and may not convince the skeptic, this photograph reveals an early story in Wilbraham history about involvement in the Underground Railroad.
by Mary Bell, Assistant Director
Wilbraham Public Library
The Glendale Collection is a treasure-trove of local history and genealogy, and is the newest in the Wilbraham Public Library’s collections in the Digital Commonwealth.
The collection was in an unlabeled box of miscellaneous photographs found among our uncatalogued collections. We gave it the name Glendale Collection because several of the people and places featured were from that section of town, up the mountain on Glendale and Monson roads.
Genealogists especially would be interested in the portrait photographs of families that lived in that area. Seavers, Bennetts and Benedicts are among those featured. This one of Allyn Delos Seaver and his brother-in-law Cassius Benedict is one of the oldest in our collection, as Cassius died in 1872. They were both trustees of Glendale Methodist Church. In addition to the men’s dapper dress, I love the detail of the patterned floor they’re standing on.
Most of the photographs in the collection are from the early 1900s. Several feature the ceremony on June 20, 1913, unveiling a memorial boulder for Wilbraham veterans at Glendale Cemetery, an event that served as the third day of festivities during Wilbraham’s 150th celebration. Though unnamed, the men in this photograph were veterans of the Civil War, and were honored in the ceremonies that day.
These are just a few highlights that can be found in these and other photographs in Wilbraham’s local history collection. We only digitized photographs we were reasonably sure were in the public domain, so if you’re interested in seeing more come to the Wilbraham Library during our regular hours and we’d be happy to give you access to the full collection.
It’s the quirky collections that will delight you if you give them a chance. Not that there isn’t incredible value in six collections added by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Canton Public Library’s Canton Historical Commission Photos or the Boston Public Library’s Thaxter/Fields correspondence. Some people will be so pleased yet more nautical charts have been added by the Atwood House Museum of the Chatham Historical Society or yet more Sacco-Vanzetti materials – this time from the Harvard Law School Library.
For my money, though, there’s a certain fascination with the Lawrence Public Library’s 724 items from that city’s Engineering Department on city sewers. It sounds ridiculous and then you look at them. They’re maps of the sewer system. (See left.) You get to see the city’s streets at a micro level. They even show where the manholes [sic] are! They’re hand drawn with lovely, legible script. There are notes on why the sewer was laid on this street, at this elevation. What a wealth of detail. File it under things you never knew you wanted to know.
Now, I don’t want to leave you down in the dumps, so let’s welcome the South Hadley Public Library to the Digital Commonwealth by highlighting their two new collections: Canal Park Committee Collection and Scott Family Photographs. While the latter is a pretty traditional, but still wonderful collection of 19th century photos, the former is a collection of slides the Canal Park Committee used for talks on the history of the Canal and related sites and institutions. The images cover a range of historical eras and subjects. In addition to locks and gates, power plants and buildings, there are some lovely landscapes. Let us leave the industrial behind and spend a few moments with nature. Ah, the flowering crab – much more attractive than its name suggests. (See below.)
Although summer slips away too quickly for some of us, those of us who wilt in the heat and humidity are happy to see the end of July. If you’re not, don’t fret. August is promising more of the same.
The Boston Public Library was busy this month, adding to the Leslie Jones Collection as well as adding over 100 items of Thomas Wentworth Higginson Correspondence. Fans of the 2013 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Anders Zorn exhibit will be happy to see the BPL’s Zorn etchings. Allow me to draw your attention to the Stow Wengenroth Prints and Drawings, though. The exquisite Two Small Birds on a Bough (left) is from this collection, which includes other bird drawings and some lovely Maine scenes.
Medford Historical Society & Museum has added significantly to its already impressive Civil War Photograph Collection. The Lawrence Public Library has also added more photographs plus a new collection of World War I-related items. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Library began the harvesting season early with 64 new items to their collections.
The heavy hitters this month are the Massachusetts Historical Society (4,161) and Springfield College Archives and Special Collections (5,181), who re-harvested 4 new collections. I’m not sure that the Arthur and Madeline Slicer Turnvereine Stein Collection is one of the newly-harvested collections, but I offer the jovial barrel-shaped character stein image below because we all need a cool drink of something during the dog days of August.
This post was written by Anne Berard, Reference & Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library
Say the names of the infamous duo, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and most people immediately think of the bank-robbing couple and their fatal shootout with police. Their guilt and defiance were never in doubt for either the public or the law. Another of history’s infamous duos, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, conjures up far more complicated associations. There’s the 1920 armed robbery and double murder at a shoe company in Braintree, the contentious trial in Dedham with blatant anti-immigrant bias and a hostile judge, the lengthy incarceration in Charlestown, and finally, their execution in 1927.
The case of these two Italian-American anarchists gripped the nation and the world in real time and has continued to be debated and studied by scholars nearly 100 years later. The Aldino Felicani Sacco-Vanzetti Collection available via Digital Commonwealth is a massive compilation of photographs, court documents, correspondence, and protest materials all related to Sacco and Vanzetti. More than 1000 items are available for either browsing by topic or for doing a deep dive into the world of these men. Governor Michael Dukakis in 1977 – on the 50th anniversary of their execution – issued a proclamation in both English and Italian stating that the pair had not received a fair trial and that lessons should be learned from their unusual case.
Among the most poignant pages in the collection are the hundreds of letters Sacco and Vanzetti wrote to their families, compadres, and each other while imprisoned. Also worth a look for the sheer size of the crowds are the photographs of their funeral procession where over 200,000 people poured into Boston streets in a show of solidarity with the men. The funeral route passed by the State House before arriving at Forest Hills Cemetery where the bodies were cremated.
After being sentenced to death by electric chair by Judge Thayer, Nicola Sacco spoke out in court, declaring, “You know I am innocent. Those are the same words I pronounced seven years ago. You condemn two innocent men.”
The Boston Public Library continues to add to existing collections, although a brand new collection – 32 items from John Sullivan Dwight’s correspondence regarding Brook Farm – snuck in while no one was looking. Needham Free Public Library added more than 3,500 items to its historical house collection as well.
The largest addition was from Historic New England (HNE) – 139 new collections, over 54,000 items. Here be treasures: clothing, photos, architectural drawings (left), samplers (below right), quilts, furniture; everyday objects and priceless art. Browsing these collections is almost as good as touring the HNE collections storage facility in Haverhill – or one of the many HNE house museums. I highly recommend doing both. Until you can, though, browse these great collections.