Every year there is a first substantial snow of the year. As I type this, snow has just started falling in Boston. Over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, the prediction has gone from “up to 12 inches” to 6-12″, to 4-6″ to “wintry mix”. I have no idea how much snow we’ll get in the end. It definitely will make a difference if you’re in the Berkshires, Greater Worcester or south of the Pike.
Two things I do know: media forecasters will talk as if this is a never-seen-before event in Massachusetts and drivers across the state will drive like they’ve never seen snow before. Come on, people. We have snow every year. Some storms are historic, like the Blizzard of ’78 or the Blizzard of ’88. This time, though, the timing is everything. The Blizzard of ’78 occurred in February, in 1888 it was March.
This time it’s Thanksgiving weekend. One of the busiest travel days of the year. No matter how much snow we get, it couldn’t come at a worse time. So be smart, slow down, be careful and be safe.
We have no newly-added collections this month (the dreaded technical difficulty prevented this), but we do have formats that you may not have checked out yet. Go to the Explore tab on the Digital Commonwealth home page and select Formats. These are arranged by the numbers, so Photographs are at the top of the list followed by Letters/correspondence and then Documents.
But scroll down and you soon come to Film/video. Of the 28,400 items here, 23,135 are from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection. This collection of public media was amassed by WGBH and the Library of Congress to preserve at-risk materials. There are also tapes from local TV news programs and Boston City Council meetings.
Next on the list are Objects/artifacts. These range from clothing/costumes to furniture to jewelry to samplers. Some items are unique, like the Aeolian harp from Historic New England or the Native American beaded pouch from the Perkins School for the Blind’s Tad Chapman Collection.
Proceeding further down, we come to Audio recordings (nonmusical). These are easy to spot by their speaker icon (right). Most of these are also from the American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection, but there are several local oral history collections, too. What about music? Well, keep scrolling. That’s listed as Music (recordings). While some of these also have speaker icons, some are pictured with images of old-fashioned audio cassettes.
Digital Commonwealth: it’s not just pretty pictures.
David Akiba, a local photographer and teacher, passed away on August 24, 2019. The Boston Globe published a front page appreciation of his work and career on October 6. After reading it, I, like many, felt the loss of an uncommon talent. We at Digital Commonwealth are very proud that we host over 100 of Mr. Akiba’s photographs. The Globe quoted Mr. Akiba saying he “…liked the railroad yards…” and spent time in “…half-destroyed urban parts of town…”
These interests and his role as mentor are represented by his participation in the Along the Elevated: Photographs of the Orange Line exhibit at the Boston Public Library (and now on Digital Commonwealth), which paired professional photographers with students. Each pair was given the assignment to chronicle the elevated Orange Line public transit just before it was demolished.
If you spent any time riding the elevated Orange Line or living under it, you’ll want to take a look at what David Akiba captured with empathy and art.
The Beacon Hill Times reported on historic iron fences in Boston central neighborhoods on August 22, 2019. In addition to explaining how to care for existing iron fences, the Times advised readers:
If a historic fence is non-existent, he [Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission] suggested looking for historic images at the South End Historical Society, backbayhouses.org, Historic New England, the Bostonian Society, Digital Commonwealth, and the City Archives. [Emphasis added.]
To prove that the Times and Joe Cornish are not misdirecting you, see fences (like the one on the left) on the Digital Commonwealth website – which includes images from Historic New England and the City Archives, too. You’ll find fences of iron, wood, concrete, you name it.
Thanks, Beacon Hill Times and Joe, for spreading the word.
Too many people think history is as dry as dust. All dates and wars and people in funny clothes with funnier hats. Show them their street 100 years ago or a 50-year-old yearbook for their high school and you have their attention. Ask them if they can identify a house on their street or its former owner and you have a Watson and the game’s afoot.
With the Granville Public Library’s collection digitized, Dick Rowley took advantage of other services offered by Digital Commonwealth. He took an Omeka workshop on creating online exhibits. The Granville Historic Image Library is the result. The images are the main attraction, but there’s also an ongoing project to upload the Catalog of Historic Document Collections and Books from the Granville Public Library’s Historical Room with links to already-digitized versions of the Historical Room collection on websites like Internet Archive.
Dick also started posting Mystery Monday and Flashback Friday photos to the Granville Forum on Facebook. He encouraged Forum members to contribute information and photos. He got both. Posters identified one old house as the original Baptist church that was moved across the street, so the new church could be built. Even better, this wonderful wedding photo shows multiple generations of Granville residents at the wedding of Helen Alvina Hansen and Charles Louis Drolett, Jr. Dick reports the photo owner had no idea who the people in the photo were. By posting it, Granville’s “village elders” were consulted and able to identify everyone. Amongst the “elders”? One of the little girls in the photo.
Find A Grave is one of the most popular websites for genealogists and local history buffs. Dick has used the website to spread the wealth of resources in the Granville collection. A distant relation will be thrilled to find a photo of Nathan Fenn on his Find A Grave page. Although, my favorite has to be the Weekly Report on the Conduct of… Melissa Phelps. What a delight for any descendant of Melissa Phelps Gaines to discover this gem.
Some of the stories are more poignant. In trying to locate the oldest house in Granville, Dick was sent a photo of a 1934 copy of the Granville Center News. The News is a story in itself. It was published by Newton kids who summered in Granville. They report on a resident of the purported oldest building, Chapin Brown, who was “slightly crazy”. A little research uncovered the man had served in the Civil War. Post-traumatic stress disorder? Perhaps. We don’t always get the full story, but a lot more of Chapin Brown’s has been restored because someone asked about the oldest house in town.
A more inspirational story comes as a result of Dick’s collaboration with the Woodlands Cemetery Association (WCA). This is my favorite. The Granville Historic Image Library, Historical Room, Granville Public Library provides the images and the WCA provides the profiles of the interred in their newsletter. Susan A. Phelon Barber was born and raised in Granville. She was educated in Westfield and became a teacher. She moved to Maine to study nursing and joined the U.S. Army nursing corps during World War I. She served in Europe until 1919. She then moved to Los Angeles to serve as a private nurse. Eventually, she returned to live in Granville and work as a nurse in Westfield. She married a high school classmate in 1930 at the age of 45.
These remarkable people lived in a small town, but hardly had small lives. If they were lost for a while, they have now been restored. You can do the same for your small Massachusetts town and Digital Commonwealth can help. Give us a call. Let’s restore some more stories.
A year ago, I got the listing of new collections added to the Digital Commonwealth. I expect the Boston Public Library and UMass/Amherst to have extraordinary collections on Digital Commonwealth. I am much more impressed when a small institution, like the Granville Public Library (GPL), uploads a collection that is impressive in its depth and breadth. So naturally, I asked how this happened.
Mary Short, director of GPL, directed me to Dick Rowley, dedicated volunteer and raconteur. It has been a fun and educational year of discovering where Granville started and where they’ve gone. Dick has done all he could on his own, through crowd sourcing and with partners to restore the story of Granville’s history. My apologies to all concerned for my tardiness in posting this report.
Dick and his cousin, Thom Gilbert, were researching family history independently. They decided to meet up halfway between Dick in Connecticut and Tom in eastern Massachusetts in Granville, the family’s old hometown. They had discovered that the family had a connection to the Noble and Cooley Drum Company in Granville. (See payroll book, right.) This led them to the Noble and Cooley archives. That is, if you define archives as boxes and boxes of materials in no particular order.
Luckily, Dick and Thom “stumbled” onto the Massachusetts State Historic Records Advisory Board Roving Archivist program. If you are starting from scratch in organizing your historic collections, Dick says this is the program for you. Rachel Onuf was extremely helpful in getting the Noble and Cooley Center for Historic Preservation (NCCHP) on the right track. (Rachel has moved on and Sara Jane Poindexter is the current roving archivist.) Dick’s first experience with Digital Commonwealth (DC) was with the digitization of the NCCHP collection. They started with the company’s catalogs, which were a big hit with collectors, including Jay Leno. They went on to add correspondence, employee records, etc. And were they able to confirm the family connection with Noble and Cooley? Long lost payroll records dating back to 1890 were discovered showing that many ancestors had worked at the drum shop at one time or another, some from the age of 15.
Like any good genealogist, Dick and Thom became interested in the local history that went along with the family and corporate history they had already discovered. They realized for Granville history they should ask at the Granville Public Library. And there they came across a treasure trove of photos – of Granville people, places and things cared for by Rose Miller, long-time curator of the library’s Historical Room.
Dick recommended GPL contact Digital Commonwealth to digitize the collection. He was able to vouch for the helpful and patient staff. Dick had nothing but compliments for Nichole, Jake and Eben. All of whom he said went over and above the standard service. Still, GPL was hesitant to ship its original documents. The DC staff drove out to pick up and return the collection it, so GPL could relax.
GPL was even more reluctant to part with its photos. Dick offered and came through with a system whereby he digitized the photos using his personal camera, a home-made stand and extra lighting for the best TIF format images possible. Then he sent a USB drive to Digital Commonwealth. Although they were working with photos of photos, Dick thinks the images DC harvested were pretty close to the “gold standard” for digital images.
Not being trained archivists, Dick and Thom didn’t know much about metadata. However, they got a crash course from DC staff as well as attending New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) training events. They were then able to send spreadsheets with basic metadata and DC “did the rest.” In the end, the collaboration was a great success on all fronts.
Dick believes that restoring the story of Granville has two parts. Part I, as we have discussed here, was the organization and preservation of the historical source materials. Part II is documenting the stories of these materials, but that’s a story for another post.
Earlier this month, the Taunton Daily Gazette began a new, occasional series called Taunton: Then and Now. The Gazette is providing all the Now photos, but the Then photos come courtesy of Digital Commonwealth. I leave it up to you to decide if the no difference public library photos are more remarkable than the totally different post office buildings.
If you’ve been taking photos of your home town, try to find some Then photos of your town on Digital Commonwealth to match your Now photos. Don’t let Taunton have all the fun.
LebTown, an independent media organization in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, has discovered Digital Commonwealth – big time! In a posting entitled, Wish You Were Here: Lebanon County postcards of decades past, LebTown uses over 20 postcards from the Boston Public Library’s Tichnor Brothers Collection. This collection includes approximately 25,000 office proof postcards from across the United States. LebTown, naturally, has extracted many postcards of interest to residents of Lebanon County. They advise any viewers to go to “Massachusetts Digital Commonwealth” for postcards for the rest of Pennsylvania and “other states”.
If you need a little inspiration for planning your vacation this summer, Tichnor Brothers concentrated on views of vacation spots. Take a look at California, the Grand Canyon, or Vacationland itself, Maine.
The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA) headlined its A GOOD AGE column on January 21, 2019, “Discovering a 20th Century Boston ‘camera man’“. The ‘camera man’ is Leslie Ronald Jones of Digital Commonwealth’s extremely popular Leslie Jones Collection from the Boston Public Library. The Patriot Ledger highlights photos of interest to their readership, like shipbuilding in Quincy. But even they could not resist one of Jones’ more humorous Fenway Park photos – Jones himself with camera emerging from a tarp rolled up on the field. There really wasn’t anyplace he wouldn’t go for a good photo!
The Digital Commonwealth Outreach and Education Committee is responsible for all the workshops and classes that Digital Commonwealth offers to the cultural institutions of Massachusetts. While DC has offered workshops on metadata, the digitization process and understanding copyright, the popularity of the digital exhibit workshops took us by surprise.
We started with a workshop on Digital storytelling introducing attendees to various options. As a follow up, we offered a hands-on workshop specifically on Omeka. The Building a Digital Exhibit workshop had to be limited in size to allow for the hands-on instruction and they filled up fast. Ken Liss, Brookline Historical Society president, attended the Omeka workshop in Worcester in October. He was so pleased with what he learned that he wrote the committee that he wanted to, “…share what I’ve done with Omeka.net thanks to what I learned at the workshop. I moved content from an old website into Omeka, where it will be much easier to maintain. (I actually created my Omeka account in 2014 with this project in mind, but was not able to make it work until I learned so much more at the workshop.)”
Another attendee suggested we follow up yet again with a showcase of the exhibits that attendees have organized since taking the workshop. This might be an option – if the conference committee doesn’t steal it for a session at the annual conference – but in the meantime, you can take a look at Ken’s exhibit on Blake Park, a Brookline neighborhood and the people who lived in it from its development after World War I until the end of World War II. It is still a work in progress and the photos are from BHS’ collection (i.e. not on Digital Commonwealth – yet), but it will give you an idea of what’s possible.
Our last Omeka workshop in December is fully booked. Let us take a breath and regroup, and then we hope to offer more of your favorite workshops in the New Year.