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.
Every town has one. The general store where everyone discusses local politics. The church where the community has potluck dinners. The community center where the schools and amateur theater troupe put on shows. They’re gathering places that you can’t imagine losing because they’ve always been there. Until they’re not.
Someone retires, a weather disaster occurs, an owner gets an offer too good to decline and that local institution is gone. What can you do to preserve it? In Boston, the latest example was the closing of Doyle’s Cafe. Doyle’s was an institution in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, known for attracting politicians and generations of families. And for the memorabilia on its walls. When the decision was made to close, the owners held an auction of its contents.
As reported on the Irish Central website, Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library are teaming up to digitize any item purchased at the auction. So, if you are losing a local institution and you can’t add its contents to your collections, think about having them digitized. Chances are you have an image, maybe a map, that includes the institution, why not have a digital image of the furnishings, the banners, the costumes? Enrich the memories and your collections before they’re lost.
The Boston Public Library went to town in October, adding three new collections and adding new items to three existing collections, for over 1,000 items total. But Digital Commonwealth did not neglect its smaller members. Boston Latin School, Sturgis Library, Weymouth Public Libraries and Wilbraham Public Library all added from 1 to 952 items to the Digital Commonwealth universe.
This includes the image on the left. We know these five young men and two coaches were champions in 1917, but of what? No matter how much I enlarge the photo, I can’t make out the inscription. The athletes are wearing heavy wool sweaters with their shorts plus pretty gnarly socks. The only hint is the surprisingly-impressive-for-a-high-school trophy. The Roman (Greek?) god appears to be holding what looks to me like a crew oar crowned with a laurel wreath. I vote for crew champions. What do you think?
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.
Scenes from the yachting life of the early 20th century in Marblehead come alive through the Herman Parker Collection of Glass Plate Negatives (Parker Collection). These images, along with the voluminous Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Negatives (Cousins Collection) were recently added to Digital Commonwealth by the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). We spotlighted the Cousins Collection in a previous post and both collections are well worth perusing.
Herman Parker and his wife Lillian (Percival) were listed in the Social Register of Boston and were active in the active yachting scene in Marblehead which kept and still continues to keep Marblehead Harbor hopping. Parker was an architect and clothier in the Boston based Macullar Parker Company. His side pursuits included sailing and photography.
A defining feature of Parker’s photographs is the sense of movement and immediacy he managed to capture– which given the challenges of the glass plate negative process is all the more remarkable. Schooners and boats on the open sea almost appear to be flying and the water churning. Yacht clubs are thriving and races are still going on in Marblehead. Current sailors should take a look at these vintage photographs.
Is yours one of the 175 Massachusetts communities that have adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA)? Then maybe you, like Bourne, should consider applying for CPA funding. The Bourne Enterprise on September 6, 2019 and Wicked Local Sandwich on September 9, 2019 reported that the Bourne Archives applied for $28,000 to train staff and volunteers and for new computers and software, specifically to continue to add material to Digital Commonwealth. Wait, aren’t Digital Commonwealth’s services free?
Yes, Digital Commonwealth’s services are free. And the Bourne Archives has contributed two collections to Digital Commonwealth already. But they want to do more and they know their staff and volunteers need training to do more research and data creation before sending materials to Digital Commonwealth. And who among us couldn’t use a new computer and up-to-date software? The point is if you’ve been reluctant to add new collections to Digital Commonwealth because your organization lacks these same elements,maybe a CPA grant is the answer for you, too.
Check if your community has adopted the CPA here. If it’s not, the Community Preservation Coalition overview will explain the steps it needs to take.
Written by Michael Lapides, Director of Digital Initiatives, New Bedford Whaling Museum
The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World is one of only a few surviving American moving panoramas. Panoramas were a popular art and entertainment form that reached their peak in the mid-19th century. In many ways, they were predecessors to the massive popularity of World Fairs in the latter half of the century, most notably those of Paris, London, Chicago, and New York. Much like the extraordinary adventure writings of authors like Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, panoramas played to the spectacle of the exotic and the unknown to eager audiences.
Completed in 1848 the Grand Panorama was painted by sign painter Caleb Purrington (1812-1876) and Benjamin Russell (1804-1885), a self-trained entrepreneurial artist and whaleman. It is a grand and rare example of American panoramic folk art, created as a commercial traveling public spectacle.
Painted in water-based paint on cotton sheeting, the Grand Panorama is over 1,275 feet long and 8 feet high, separated onto four spools. Its journey begins in New Bedford harbor and travels the route typical of Yankee whalers in the mid-19th century, landing spectators in the Azores, Cabo Verde, Rio de Janeiro and numerous ports of the Pacific. At one time there was an additional section, but it was lost before the artifact came to the Whaling Museum 100 years ago. The Grand Panorama, as displayed on Digital Commonwealth, and on our dedicated website (https://arcg.is/1fv9mm), was “stitched” together from 240 separate photographs captured over the course of two years, after textile and paint conservation processes had been completed.
Those lazy, hazy days of August brought us some fascinating new collections. Appropriately, the Falmouth Public Library contributed over 2,000 postcards. If you’re missing the beach already, take a look. The Winsor School added close to 200 items from its Fine Arts Collection, including this Jacob Lawrence print of the school library (left).
The Brockton Public Library added 7 illustrations from the Shoe Industry in Brockton, Massachusetts. The Boston Public Library uploaded a few small collections plus over 2,000 photographs from the Richard Merrill Collection. Richard Merrill was fascinated by radio, which explains the interestingly titled photo below. Spreading New England’s Fame was a program on the old WNAC radio station in Boston.
Finally, the University of Massachusetts/Boston re-harvested over 12,000 items in 4 collections. Speaking of radio, the Lecco’s Lemma collection within the Massachusetts Hip Hop Archive is comprised of demo audio tapes for rap artists sent to the Lecco’s Lemma radio show as well as some audio tapes of the program. Not to mention the W. Arthur Garrity chambers papers on the Boston Schools Desegregation Case – always of interest to students and historians.