Image of the front page of The Woman's Era newspaper, which includes a story on and photograph of abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone.
The Woman’s Era, Vol. 1 No. 1, March 24, 1894

It will come as no surprise that there is widespread, urgent demand from institutions across the state to digitize historical newspapers, especially local titles that provide invaluable local coverage of daily history and titles with underrepresented perspectives and histories. There is an incredible amount of important material in need of access and preservation, and making these resources available will require a robust, sustained effort.

The Digital Services team at BPL has been working on increasing capacity for newspaper digitization and dissemination; here’s an overview of recent efforts from the last year:

Digitization at BPL

The BPL obtained a Mekel Mach 5 high-capacity microfilm scanner in March 2021, but the pandemic resulted in a significant delay with scheduling the necessary setup and training needed for operation. Mekel’s imaging technicians were finally able to help get this machine up and running in the fall of 2021, which has since been used to digitize several short runs of historically significant newspapers, including The Woman’s Era and The Tocsin of Liberty. The main current project, which is still ongoing, is scanning a major run of the Lawrence Evening Tribune (1890-1929).

While the scanning work is proceeding well (over 96,000 pages to date), imaging is only the start of any newspaper digitization project – there is significant manual work needed to collate and group the scanned pages into issue-level folders, and to identify missing pages, duplicate pages, and other anomalies.

There are also technical steps involved in processing the scanned images to create derivative files (such as using optical character recognition to extract text and word-coordinate information to support full-text searching and highlighting keyword matches on the page image), as well as developing the pipelines, workflows, and scripts to ingest the content into the digital repository. The library hopes to make significant progress on these latter steps during the second half of 2022.

Screenshot of a search box field in the Digital Commonwealth repository, with the heading "Search inside: The Tocsin of liberty"
“Search inside” view
Screenshot of the word "emancipated" highlighted in the text of a newspaper article.
Keyword searching

National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) Grant

Through the assistance of the Boston Public Library Fund (https://bplfund.org/), BPL was awarded a grant in September 2021 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to join the National Digital Newspaper Program (https://www.loc.gov/ndnp/), a long-running effort coordinated by the Library of Congress to build and maintain a free online digital library of historical newspapers from all U.S. states and territories. During the last few months, Digital Services staff has been working with an advisory committee of scholars and experts to identify significant newspapers from the library’s microfilm archives for inclusion in this national collection, which will then be digitized and made available via Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/), which provides access to over 18 million pages from over 6,000 newspaper titles published from 1777 to 1963, and in Digital Commonwealth. The project, which will run until October 2023 and produce 100,000 pages of scanned newspaper content, is currently nearing the end of the title selection process, with imaging scheduled to contracted out to a digitization vendor in the fall of this year.

MyHeritage & Boston Neighborhood Newspapers

In 2016 BPL established a partnership with MyHeritage to provide access to BPL-held microfilm for digitization and display on their online genealogy platform, with the condition that BPL will receive a copy of all digitized page images produced. To date, this partnership has resulted in the digitization of approximately 7.5 million pages from a wide variety of Massachusetts newspapers spanning the late 1700s to the mid 1900s. However, the deliverables include the image scans only, and not any of the derivative files required to support discovery and display in Digital Commonwealth (see the “Digitization at BPL” section above). Producing the necessary derivative files at this scale will require additional capacity and funding support.

To evaluate the logistics, costs, time, and effort needed to ingest the MyHeritage-digitized materials into Digital Commonwealth, BPL is currently undertaking a pilot project using a vendor specializing in newspaper digitization to process a subset of these titles, highlighting Boston’s neighborhood newspapers. The titles selected for this project span from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, representing many newspapers that currently have limited online availability, including the Roxbury Gazette, Hyde Park Times, East Boston Free Press, South Boston Gazette, Charlestown News, and the Dorchester Beacon, to name just a few. This project will produce approximately 170,000 pages of content; processing is scheduled to be completed by the end of June, and the goal is to integrate this content into the repository ingest workflow in the latter half of the year.

Looking Forward

The projects described above will no doubt provide increased access to historical newspaper content, but to make a significant impact, these activities need to become part of a curated, sustainable program with dedicated funding, equipment, and staff. The BPL is committed to continuing participation in Library of Congress’s NDNP program, which can be renewed every two years. The Digital Services team is also actively investigating other ways to increase capacity, including grant programs, advocating for more funding from the state legislature, adding staff to help manage digitization projects, and providing guidance to institutions that want to take on their own digitization projects. As with all things Digital Commonwealth, collaboration will be key to success!

Paul Revere, “The bloody massacre perpetrated in King-Street Boston : on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th regt.”(1770), Boston Public Library, Rare Books Department.

Paul Revere’s engraving, “The Bloody Massacre,” is part of Boston Public Library’s “Colonial and Revolutionary Boston”, one of Digital Commonwealth’s “Collections of Distinction”.

Scholars agree that Revere copied the arresting image in “The Bloody Massacre” from an engraving by Henry Pelham entitled “Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre” (1770).  Pelham wrote to Paul Revere complaining about the theft of his intellectual property. “If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so.” (Clarence Brigham, “Boston Massacre, 1770, ” Paul Revere’s Engravings (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1954) ) .

While Henry Pelham may have felt that Paul Revere would be chastened for his appropriation of another man’s work, the world felt otherwise. “Certain it is that Revere was an outstanding patriot and saw the opportunity of furthering the patriot cause by circulating so significant a print.”(Brigham, p. 56).

Pelham, the artist who first rendered the image, was a Loyalist. In a letter to his sister-in-law, Susanna, the wife of John Singleton Copley, he wrote “Now we see this Country arming themselves and unsupported by any foreign Power ungenerously Waging War against their great Benefactors, and endeavouring to Ruin that State to whom they owe their being. . . “ ( Letters and Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham, 1739-1776 , Massachusetts Historical Society, 1914, p. 344)  The Copleys had left Boston for England in 1774, and Henry would follow them in 1776.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, “The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid, or ‘The Executions’” (1814), Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Call to Arms or Lamentation?

On the one year anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere put together a striking exhibit in the windows of his home, displaying work depicting the “Tyranny of the British Administration of Government.” “The Bloody Massacre” was included in the illuminated display. The Boston Gazette reported that “the Spectators, which amounted to many Thousands, were struck with solemn Silence, and their Countenances covered with a melancholy Gloom.”

Goya’s monumental work, “The 3rd of May 1808” has been compared with Paul Revere’s engraving. While the scale of the works is very different, the subject matter and the composition are very similar. The 82 prints in Goya’s series, Los desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), published 35 years after Goya’s death, argue that Goya was painting about the horrors of war, not trying to create propaganda. Paul Revere’s engraving poses more of a question, asking his fellow citizens to respond. “The prints were intended as propaganda. . . “( Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere, American Antiquarian Society online resource, 2020).

Say Their Names, compassion for the victims

Samuel Gray. Samuel Maverick. James Caldwell. Crispus Attucks. These men were victims of members of a British regiment on King Street in Boston on March 5, 1770. James Caldwell and Crispus Attucks had no family or home in Boston, and Samuel Adams organized a procession to transport their caskets to Faneuil Hall, where they lay in state for three days before their public funeral. The people of Boston held a funeral procession for all of the victims, and they were buried in Boston in the Granary Burying Ground.

Crispus Attucks was a sailor of mixed African and Indigenous ancestry. The significance of his death has been a matter of debate for the last 250 years, argued in three different intertwining threads:

  1. He was the leader of a mob. This was John Adams’s argument in a Courtroom in 1770 when he defended William Wemms and seven other British soldiers. Adams described Attucks as “a stout Molatto fellow, whose very looks, was enough to terrify an person” (Adams Papers, Digital Edition, volume 3, p. 269, Historical Society) . This was also the (unsuccessful) position of the Massachusetts Historical Society when they opposed a monument to Attucks on the Boston Common in 1887 (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. 3, [Vol. 23 of continuous numbering] (1886 – 1887), pp. 313-318).
  2. He was an African American hero who should be acknowledged and memorialized. This was William C. Nell’s argument when he advocated for an annual celebration of Crispus Attucks Day on March 5 and wrote The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution in the 1850s.
  3. He was an American hero. John Boyle O’Reilly’s poem at the 1888 dedication of the memorial on the Boston Common (p.56) captures the idea that Crispus Attucks represented all Americans:

“And so must we come to the learning of Boston’s lesson to-day                                                                                                                                                                                           

The moral that Crispus Attucks taught in the old heroic way,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

God made mankind to be one in blood, as one in spirit and thought. . . “

Paul Revere, engraver, [Four coffins of men killed in the Boston Massacre] (1770), Revere Collection, American Antiquarian Society.
“Digital Commonwealth provides support for the creation, management, and dissemination of cultural heritage materials held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives.”

from the Digital Commonwealth Statement of Values, Adopted by the Board on October 19, 2021.

“The study of history can be an effective tool against racism and can support better understanding of the experience of Black people. However, archives are not neutral; they are created by people and reflect the power structures that those people are influenced by and participate in. We must choose what our non-neutrality means. In this moment, we specifically affirm that Black lives matter and that we support efforts to dismantle oppression and injustice.”

from Statement from Digital Commonwealth Board on Black Lives Matter, Adopted by the Board on June 16, 2020.

Barbara Schneider, Member Outreach and Education Committee

Drawing of octopus devouring a ship [ca. 1828-1840]
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
“The wife of Edward Hitchcock ( (1796–1864)  geologist, theologian, professor and for a decade president of Amherst College), Orra White Hitchcock  produced dozens of striking watercolors of native plants, picturesque lithographs of the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers, symbolic compositions and drawings of prehistoric fossils as well as large, colorful geological designs for her husband’s lectures. Self-taught, she rose to become the principal female illustrator of her generation in the United States.”

From Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science , the title of a 2011 exhibition at Mead Art Gallery at Amherst College and a exhibition catalogue by Robert L. Herbert and Daria D’Arienzo. Thumbnails of the art work in the exhibition are available online in an  Orra White Hitchcock Checklist; the images show the range of her work. Hitchcock’s watercolors of native plants deserve particular note. Between 1817 and 1821, she created Herberium Parvum Pictum, a 64 page album of watercolors depicting approximately 175 flower and grass specimens from her husband’s native plant collection.

Autumnal Scenery , View in Amherst
Hand-colored lithograph created from the original painting by Orra White Hitchcock (1833)
Jones Library, Amherst, Special Collections

“In 1830, Edward [Hitchcock] was appointed state geologist for Massachusetts and over the next two years, Orra prepared drawings for the lithographs for his massive Report on the Geology, Mineralogy, Botany, and Zoology of Massachusetts, published by the Commonwealth in 1833.”

From Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science by Robert L. Herbert and Daria D’Arienzo, distributed by University Press of New England, p. 31.

“Orra White Hitchcock Classroom Drawings” is a Digital Commonwealth Collection consisting of 61 drawings by Orra White Hitchcock, made for use in her husband’s geology and natural history classes at Amherst College.

Orra White Hictchcock drawing of woolly mammoth skeleton [ca. 1828-1840]
Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
 “Given the obvious compatibility – indeed, synergy – between art and science, it is puzzling that the two fields have been perceived over the centuries as polarized. Fortunately, this divide is beginning to narrow. Journals as prestigious as Nature now carry regular reviews of art exhibits with relevance to science, for example. Orra White Hitchcock was one of a handful of plucky and observant women in her time whom we know bridged science and art. She can continue to provide inspiration for creative people, unencumbered by traditional roles, who want to celebrate the natural world – and all the wondrous discoveries still to be made.”

Elizabeth Farnsworth, “A Scientific Illustrator Looks Back at Orra White Hitchcock” in Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863): An Amherst Woman of Art and Science, pp. 47-48.

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of valleys [ca. 1828-1840] Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA
Through collaboration with institutions like Amherst College and the Jones Library (Amherst), Digital Commonwealth brings together curated collections of materials in a wide variety of formats. Digital Commonwealth (DC) provides a single online point of access for collections from over 200 member institutions.  DC is the host for Amherst College Archives & Special Collections’ “Orra White Hitchcock Classroom Drawings” .  Over fifteen hundred collections can be searched online on the DC website.

 

“A Pictorial Map of Loveland” by Ernest Dudley Chase, [ca. 1943], Boston Public Library, Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.

Pictorial maps are a genre within the larger field of cartography that present a geographical area embellished with illustrations related to the places shown. The actual locations shown may be imaginary lands, and the pictures could be of people, buildings, historical events, or modes of transportation. The maps might contain humorous or whimsical touches, and they inevitably reflect the values of the time in which they are made. Pictorial maps with themes of love and marriage have been created since the 18th century. On this Valentine’s Day, we can take a look at some of these maps.

“From the 18th century onward, when the commercial print industry started to get involved in the celebration of the Feast of Saint Valentine, maps with themes of matrimony and love became popular. Printed in 1777 by Breitkopf in Leipzig, Germany, the map below situates Das Reich der Liebe (The Kingdom of Love) amid the “Land of the Happy,” the “Land of Lust,” the “Land of Youth,” and, alas, also the lands of “Mourning Love” and “Fixed Ideas.””

Nancy Rosin, “Unpacking A Box of Love,” February 13, 2018, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Map of the Kingdom of Love (Das Reich der Liebe), 1777, Breitkopf & Härtel, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Digital Commonwealth Images from the 19th Century

Augustus Kollner: M.H. Traubel, “The Hymenial Expositor, or, Matrimonial Chart”, (Philadelphia: 1849), Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library

The “Description” on this pictorial map reads “The Great Ocean of Love represents a period of life that all persons are supposed at some time or another to pass. By an examination of the Chart, the voyageurs will be enabled to avoid the dangers that beset them, and arrive safely at the haven of felicity. . . ” Lovers are encouraged to avoid such places as the “Whirlpool of Impetuosity,” the “Shoals of Perplexity”, the “Quick Sands of Inconstancy” and numerous other traps.

Also included in Digital Commonwealth’s collection of material from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center is a “Map of a Woman’s Heart” by Joseph Husson. This is a manuscript map in ink and watercolor depicting  the characteristics of a woman as geographic features of a heart. “Ideal Isle” is at the center of the map, surrounded by “Affection”, “Generosity”, and “Gayety”, but also, “Vanity”, “Avarice”, and “Hatred.”This map might be telling us more about the man who made it than about the woman’s heart.

Joseph Husson, “Map of a Woman’s Heart”, (1840-1860), Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.

It may be that Husson got the idea for his sketch from seeing D.W. Kellogg’s “Map of the Open Country of a Woman’s Heart,” published prior to the middle of the nineteenth century. One of Digital Commonwealth’s member organizations, the American Antiquarian Society, owns a copy of this print and features it in an online exhibition, “Beauty, Virtue and Vice: Images of Women in Nineteenth Century American Prints”   . The introduction to the exhibition reads like a mission statement for Digital Commonwealth. The prints are “useful to historians who would like to understand how nineteenth –century Americans thought about the world in which they lived. . . When read carefully and conscientiously, prints can be very useful documentary sources for understanding the past.”

D.W. Kellogg & Co, lithographer, A Map of the Open Country of Woman’s Heart, (Hartford, Conn: ca. 1833-1842), American Antiquarian Society

Digital Commonwealth Images from the 20th Century

Pictorial maps in the twentieth century are less puritanical, less prescriptive. They are more whimsical. The genre evolved into a kind of popular culture art form. Ernest Dudley Chase’s “Pictorial Map of Loveland” shown at the beginning of this post is a perfect example. It is a “fictitious map of a heart-shaped place called Loveland [merging] the sentimentality of greeting cards with standard cartographic conventions.” Digital Commonwealth’s collection of the work of Ernest Dudley Chase includes 38 pictorial maps from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. These maps range from drawings focusing on geographical locations in the Americas or on other continents to topical maps such as  “Stamps of America” or “The Story Map of Flying: being a chronicle of man’s conquest of the air.”

“Born in Lowell, Ernest Dudley Chase (1878-1966) worked for Rust Craft Publishers, which printed greeting cards at its plant in Dedham. . . Chase’s maps were an extension of his work as a graphic artist for Rust Craft and also reflected an international trend toward pictorial mapmaking. These decorative maps, which experienced a resurgence in public popularity after 1913, are a genre in which the cartography is animated with illustrations of buildings, people, and animals. Often including historical references, the maps also frequently depicted airplanes and other modes of transportation. Borrowing from typical Renaissance cartography, Chase and other pictorial mapmakers used embellishments like compass roses, ornate cartouches, and decorative borders.”

Biographical information from the State Library of Massachusetts’s announcement for the 2009 Exhibit “Ernest Dudley Chase: A Worldview in Maps.”

Digital Commonwealth’s Pictorial Maps

Other pictorial maps in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center’s collection are available online from Digital Commonwealth. Happy Valentine’s Day!

13 Minutes After Guilty Verdict
“13 Minutes After Guilty Verdict”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

Leslie Jones Collection

The Leslie Jones Collection is one of the crown jewels of Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library. Jones was a press photographer who worked for the Boston Herald-Traveler from 1917-1956. During his career, he saved many of his negatives, and by the time he died in 1967, he had kept a collection of nearly 40,000 negatives. The negatives covered decades of his work, including major and minor events in and around the city of Boston.”

From the Boston Public Library’s blog post “Featured Collection: Leslie Jones Collection”, July 13, 2018.

The collection is organized into various series, including a Crime/Police series that includes 324 photos of the notorious Millen-Faber murder case. In 1934, Murton and Irvine Millen and Abraham Faber went on a crime spree which included robbing the Needham Trust Company and murdering two Needham police officers.  They were the first to use a machine gun in a bank robbery in Massachusetts. The police acted quickly, and within 18 months of their crimes, the brothers Milen and Faber were tried, convicted and executed. The murder case drew national attention, and Leslie Jones was there to photograph it all.

Crime/Police: Millen-Faber [Murder Case] from the Leslie Jones Collection with Commentary

“While Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde terrorized America, Murt and Irv Millen, along with MIT-educated Abe Faber, did their best to contribute to the mayhem by shooting up Massachusetts. Their criminality reached its crescendo shortly after Murt married the Rev. Brighton’s very beautiful teenage daughter, Norma. By the time they were caught in 1934, movie theaters and banks had been robbed and people killed in Fitchburg, Lynn and Needham.”

From a synopsis of the case by Former Massachusetts Appeals Court Judge R. Marc Kantrowitz, based on his reading of the book Tommy Gun Winter (2015) by Nathan Gorenstein. Gorenstein is a Massachusetts native, a veteran journalist, and a distant relative of the Millen brothers.

“In February 2, 1934, at about half past nine o’clock in the forenoon, the three defendants [Murton Millen, Irvine Millen, and Abraham Faber] came to the trust company in a Packard automobile operated by the defendant Murton Millen. Each defendant was armed and one of them wore a mask. They went into the trust company.

“Needham Bank Murder and Robbery”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

The defendant Faber carried a shot gun which he fired wounding one Bartholomew, who was employed by the company as a guard. The defendant Irving Millen fired an automatic pistol while taking money from the cashier’s cage. The defendants took from the trust company about $15,000. An employee of the trust company caused an alarm bell outside the building to ring, and Officer McLeod, who was on duty near the building and heard the alarm, hastened toward the bank. Murton Millen, armed with a machine gun, fired through a window and shot McLeod, three bullets striking him and causing his death within a few hours. The defendants then entered the automobile, which was operated by Murton Millen, and drove away, compelling Arnold Mackintosh, the treasurer of the bank, and John D. Riordan, the teller, to go with them, standing on the running board. After going a short distance Riordan jumped off, and when he did so was fired upon by the defendants.

As a result of a telephone call one Salamone, a lieutenant of the fire department, was talking with Officer Haddock, and the Packard automobile operated by Murton Millen, in which the two other defendants were riding, came down the highway in front of the Needham fire station going in the direction of Boston; when in the vicinity of the fire station the machine gun was fired by Murton Millen, two of the bullets striking Haddock and killing him, and other bullets striking one Coughlin, a member of the Needham fire department, who was standing nearby. The defendants continued on for several hundred yards beyond the fire station when the automobile slowed down and Mackintosh Jumped from the running board. On February 7, 1934, this Packard automobile was found in the town of Norwood. It had been partly burned and the number plates had been removed, and there was other evidence that an attempt had been made to destroy its identity.

“Auto and inside garage used by Millen brothers and Faber after Needham bank murder”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

 

“Millen/Faber Case”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

The storage battery showed that it bad been recently repaired. There was evidence introduced at the trial that the defendants Millen previously had possession of this battery and that they had taken it to a certain shop to be repaired. As a result of this information the police learned that Murton Millen was living in Boston.”

From a synopsis of the crime in Commonwealth vs. Murton Millen & Others, 289 Mass. 441 (1934-1935), a judgment in an unsuccessful appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court of the Millen and Faber trial held in Norfolk County.

“[The Millen/Faber] trial lasted longer than any other murder-one in the history of the commonwealth. During the proceedings, the notorious Bonnie and Clyde were shot dead in Louisiana. The Boston press reported it below the ongoing Millen-Faber proceedings. After 37 days, the all-male sequestered jurors, who had been allowed to shower once a week, got the case. It took them six hours to render a verdict. Guilty. The sentence: death. While awaiting their fate, Murt and Irv, with help from the outside, tried a daring escape that failed. On June 7, 1935, the brothers and Abe sat in the electric chair. It marked the first time two brothers were put to death on the same evening.”

From a synopsis of the case by Former Massachusetts Appeals Court Judge R. Marc Kantrowitz, based on the book Tommy Gun Winter (2015) by Nathan Gorenstein.

The Gun and Early Attempts at Gun Control

“The [Thompson] machine gun used in the first machine-gun bank robbery and murder in Massachusetts yesterday in Needham is that stolen from the State Police, in the opinion of experts.”

From “Bold Gunmen First to Employ Machine Gun in This State Staging Bank Holdup”, The Boston Daily Globe, Feb. 3, 1934, page 1.

“Van Amburg – Ballistics expert with gun used in Needham murders”, 1934
Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library

“An amendment to the Firearms law which would prohibit the sale of shotguns, rifles and other firearms without a license, was drafted yesterday by Police Commissioner Joseph J. Leonard.  . . The amendment is a direct development of the futile attempt of Edward C. Frye of Dorchester to free the Millen brothers from Dedham Jail Thursday morning. Frye bought a shotgun on Hanover st and later fired it through a Dedham Jail window peppering Irving Millen with pellets. Under the present law a person may buy a shotgun or rifle without being questioned.”

From “Would Tighten Firearms Law”, The Boston Globe, June 12, 1935, page 20.

Digital Commonwealth provides access to Boston Public Library’s Leslie Jones Collection

The Leslie Jones Collection of photographic images from roughly the first half of the twentieth century has been digitized by the Boston Public Library, and made available to the public through Digital Commonwealth’s website. The nearly forty thousand pictures cover a wide variety of subjects. Strengths of the collection include images of baseball and of maritime activities, as well as photographic documentation of criminal trials. We can use a photo-journalist’s eye to reconstruct the story of the Millen brothers and Abe Faber’s crime spree in 1934 and gain a deeper understanding of the events that shaped our history.

“The Birthplace of Robert Burns” found on Jones’s Cabinet Edition of Select British Poets, Vol. 2,
Boston Public Library, Rare Books Department

To honor the Scottish poet Robert Burns on his birthday, we present two delicate works of art painted on the fore-edges of books of his poetry.

Digital Commonwealth’s Massachusetts Online Collections include Boston Public Library’s collection of Fore-Edge Paintings. The paintings are ”visible only when the pages of the book are carefully fanned, in the same manner as when the artist was painting the picture. When the book is closed the painting disappears under the gold leaf of the edge . . . The work itself is done in watercolor, very dryly.” The books with fore-edge paintings were collected by Albert H. Wiggin between 1945 and 1951, and donated to the Boston Public Library at the time of his death in 1951.

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland. His birthday is celebrated all over the world with Burns suppers and Burns Night activities.

“A View of the Bridge of Ayr” found on Jones’s Cabinet Edition of Select British Poets, Vol. 1,
Boston Public Library, Rare Books Department
Dr. Matteo Caradonna administers polio vaccine

In the last blog post, we mentioned that with more people being vaccinated, crowds would once again be gathering. Not so fast, said COVID.

As we enter our third pandemic year now with the fierce Omicron variant infecting even fully vaxxed individuals, we need to re-adjust our activities once again. Additional booster shots will probably become the norm in the months and years to come. More vaccine drives and clinics will be held. Our featured image at left shows an Everett Public School student begin vaccinated against polio in 1954.

In 2021, changes at Digital Commonwealth have also been in the works. New collections have been on pause while conversion to an enhanced storage platform is in process. As Digital Commonwealth nears the 1 million item mark, this upgrade is essential.

Our longtime Membership  & Conference Manager Glynda Benham has retired and new Operations Manager Anne Callahan has joined Digital Commonwealth. Thanks, Glynda for your expertise and fantastic management of both in-person and virtual annual conferences. Enjoy your well deserved retirement! Welcome, Anne!

This blog welcomes a new contributor, Barbara Schneider of the Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries. Barbara retired from full-time work but continues at the Law Libraries on a per diem basis. Barbara currently serves on the Outreach and Education Committee. She’s got some intriguing posts planned in the next several weeks. Welcome, Barbara! Have fun exploring Digital Commonwealth.

As for me, I’m stepping away from the blog but will remain on the Outreach and Education Committee, chaired by colleagues Andrew Begley and Matt Amory. I’ll continue to post on social media, finding and sharing hidden gems within the treasure chest that is Digital Commonwealth.

Anne Berard, Member Outreach & Education Committee

Reference & Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library

 

Mayor Kevin White is mobbed by Golden Agers at the annual club picnic on Castle Island, South Boston
Bird’s eye view of crowds in Post Office Square

 

Massachusetts’ high COVID vaccination rate means that gatherings and crowds will once again be a common occurrence. For the best in vintage crowd photography, be it parades, demonstrations, protests and rallies, The Brearley Collection is the place to browse.

Recently, some additional images were added to the already voluminous collection of photographs and negatives from Boston press photographers from the 1920s to the 1970s. The collection’s namesake, Dennis Brearley worked among the photojournalists and he amassed a huge amount of material. He and his wife ran a gallery at Faneuil Hall from 1978 to 2012, selling prints of Boston’s History.

Boston Public Library

 

 

by Anne Berard, Reference & Outreach Librarian, Milford Town Library, member Digital Commonwealth Education & Outreach Committee

When I first saw the name of the recently added collection, Knapp Family Financial Records from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, I must admit I was expecting something else altogether.  I thought I might find wills, codicils, estate documents, tax filings and the like. Imagine my surprise and delight to find instead an intimate and workaday glimpse into the life of a middle class family from JP during the first half of the 20th century.

While I’ve never met the Knapps of 15 Holbrook St., by perusing their receipts for life insurance premiums, their notices from the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston, billing statements from the Centre Street Public Market, and their deposit books from the Eliot Savings Bank of Roxbury, I somehow slid into their lives. George, Emma, Robert, Daisy are there in the details. Robert’s Navy Plaid Suit, cleaned at Lewandos, with  starched vest. A  Degree of Pocahontas Resolutions of Respect from the Baboosic Council # 7 of Roxbury issued in Daisy’s memory.

Aside from the sartorial and emotional elements in these records, there is much economic detail here proving that the inflation rate has always a part of consumers’ lives. For example, in 1910 for the grand sum of $116.05, you could buy two tables,  five chairs, a bureau, a bed,  and  a rocker from Jordan Marsh Company. Today, those same items would cost thousands of dollars.

I encourage other history geeks like me to spend some time with the Knapps, looking through these records, living vicariously on Holbrook St. for a little while. So much is different in 2021 from 1921. Still, the necessities: food, shelter, clothing, utilities and plaid suits remain the same.

 

 

 

Pond Street. Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Oak View Terrace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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