Last night yours truly and Kristi Chase of the City’s Historic Preservation department gave a presentation on genealogical and house history research. Since most people remember research processes when they’re given concrete examples, we took one house in Somerville and explained how to use library resources and local government document to find out how the house had been altered over the course of its existence and to find out who lived there since it was built. So technically, the presentation was “Researching the History of Your House and the People Who Lived There.” I demonstrated how to use resources such as the census, deeds, and military service records to gather information on who lived in a specific house, and Kristi was impressive as she showed how one can use maps, historic photos, and building permits to uncover radical changes to the house (in this case, a rather spare house built in the 1850s had been converted into an example of Queen Anne fancifulness).
Our talk was one of the final events of Somerville’s Historic Preservation Month. We’ll be giving it again next year and hope you’ll attend.
As usual, there’s a lot going on at the Library and all over the City this weekend!
* Saturday at the Central Library from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., we invite you to join us for the Somerville Reads Potluck Celebration featuring great food, prizes, and music by the Michael J. Epstein Library. This is part of the Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Initiative – you can read about related events happening around the City here.
* Sunday at the Walnut Street Community Garden at 1:00 p.m., Cathy Piantigini and Jim Boyd host an all-ages discussion of Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks. Full information can be found here.
* Also on Sunday, at the Central Library at 2:00 p.m., Paul and Rachel Revere will ride again, in a performance by Lee Riethmiller and Jessa Piaia. More information on this program can be found here.
Will the weather cooperate? We don’t know, but either way, it’s SPRING!!! and that in itself is something to be glad about. Here’s a spring song to get you in the mood:
Join us at the Central Library this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. as Paul and Rachel Revere ride again!
Set in 1805, the dramatization animates the “Spirit of the Day,” as Paul and Rachel recount the exciting tale of life in Boston’s North End when America was still a British Crown Colony. Paul Revere married Rachel Walker in 1773, following the death of his first wife, Sarah, who died after the birth of their sixth child. Rachel took on the care of the children, and with Paul had six more of their own. Hear about the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the stirring events that led to Paul’s famous Midnight Ride in April 1775.
Clad in period attire, Lee Riethmiller and Jessa Piaia portray this early 19th century couple of “forthright hospitality and remarkable good humour,” as they relive the drama of Colonial unrest that culminated in America’s Revolution, and what followed afterwards during our collective journey from colonist to citizen, when Paul Revere ventured from being a respected artisan into being a successful industrialist in Canton, Massachusetts, during the early days of the new Republic.
This performance in appropriate for people ages 12 and older. The program is funded by the Friends of the Somerville Public Library and all are welcome.
Since it opened in 1912, Fenway Park has become an iconic destination for baseball fans everywhere and a source of great civic pride for generations of New Englanders. Home to the Boston Red Sox—as well as many important non-baseball events over the decades—it is consistently among the most visited and toured sports arenas in the country. Published in association with the Boston Globe, Fenway Park is the product of an all-star cast of writers, photographers, and baseball historians. It includes more than 250 classic and never-before published photographs, a removable poster featuring the rare blueprints of Fenway’s historic 1931 renovation, a double gatefold of Fenway’s famous Green Monster, a foreword by Jim Lonborg, and a special introduction by former Globe publisher Benjamin Taylor. With a decade-by-decade narrative detailing the remarkable history of the Red Sox—plus over 100 intriguing illustrated sidebars covering memorable events like concerts, political rallies, papal visits, people profiles, and much more—Fenway Park is a collector’s item as well as the perfect gift for any fan of baseball or Boston.
All are invited to attend this free program. Copies of this beautiful coffee table book will be available for purchase from The Harvard Coop Bookstore for $30. Light refreshments will be served.
Fall might just be the best time of year for exploring the outdoors in New England. I love walking in beautiful natural places like Mt. Auburn Cemetery and Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary. I used to be a regular visitor to the Arnold Arboretum too, but haven’t wanted to go back there since the demise of Corky, the Arboretum’s much-loved cork tree. Running a hand over Corky’s smooth bark and sitting on that inviting low branch that parallelled the ground was always the highlight of an Arboretum walk. I’ve been thinking about that lately, and wanting to see a picture of Corky, so I checked our Massachusetts Newstand database and found this article: Remembering an Irresistible Tree. A search of the Arboretum’s website also turned up an article entitled Requiem for a Cork Tree from Arnoldia, their quarterly magazine.
Corky is gone, but at least there’s a small bit of consolation in having these articles and photos, and the technology that enables us to enjoy them. Amazingly, it’s been sixteen years since a class of 6th graders gave Corky his last group hug. That’s much too long to have stayed away from the jewel that is the Arboretum. And anyway, I heard that those kids planted a new cork tree as a way of making amends. I really should go back soon and see how that one’s coming along.
However, one of the best places to seek out unusual reading material is the Local History Room at the Central Library. It’s used primarily by genealogists, historic preservationists, and people with interest, professional or otherwise, in some aspect of Somerville history. It contains various city records, some of which can provide an interesting window on the concerns of people in the past.
In an age when kids are wired into multimedia of various sorts 24/7 and they use text message acronyms in written school assignment, this passage from the 1859 School Committee Report shows how much things have changed:
Latin and Mathematics constitute the bulk of the study in the High School. The experience of the past….is in favor of these studies, as affording the best means for giving thorough mental discipline, and thus preparing our children to discharge most creditably the active duties of life.
I’m sure a thorough knowledge of Horace and Catullus was of great help to male graduates of the High School 4 years later when they were dodging bullets at Gettysburg.
The Local History Room also has one of only two known copies of A Brief History of Somerville 1630-1842. A local named Isobel M. Cheney wrote it to fulfill her thesis requirement for a master’s in history at BU. In its pages you can learn about little-known men of Somerville & Charlestown’s past such as Col. Samuel Jacques, the proprietor of Ten Hills Farm. Jacques became famous for the remarkable quality of livestock he bred and the produce he cultivated. And he seems to have had a reputation as a veterinarian as well:
In 1840 the first orang-outang known to America was on exhibit in Boston. When the monkey became ill the Colonel was called upon to see if he could make him well. He had a two-floor dwelling made for the animal and after a year the monkey was restored to health.
The kickoff for Somerville Reads is this Saturday from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the East Branch Library. There will be lots to see and do – a dance performance, henna art, music, yummy food – but one of the things we’re most excited about is the communal art project we have planned.
We’re going to work together to create a paper immigration “quilt” that will tell the stories of the people who make up our City. Everyone is invited to make a square – or more than one – to add to the quilt. Above are a few examples to inspire you. The one on the right represents the Ganguli family, the protagonists of this year’s Somerville Reads book, The Namesake. The one on the left shows some of my own ancestors. We’ll supply all of the materials you need, but if you’d like to include personal items – photos, maps, documents – please bring them along. Make sure the things you use are copies (we have a copy machine at the East Branch if you need it) because we won’t be able to return them. They’ll become part of the quilt which will be displayed at all Library locations over the coming weeks.
We hope you’ll add your own family’s immigrant story to the quilt – the more the better! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!
The laboratory in which Alexander Graham Bell (left) conducted the experiments that led to the invention of the telephone was on the top floor of a Boston office building belonging to Somerville resident Charles Williams. And on April 4, 1877, the first outdoor telephone line was set up, connecting Williams’ office to his home on the corner of Arlington and Lincoln Streets. Soon Roswell Downer of Somerville, James Emery of Charlestown, and James R. Osgood of Boston followed Williams’ example. They had telephones installed in their homes with connecting lines to telephones in their offices (and in Emery’s case, his brother’s house).
The telephone was in its early stages so there were some details that still needed settling. For example, how do you know when you’re getting a phone call? As Thomas Watson, Bell’s assistant, said “It dawned on us that people…couldn’t be expected to keep the telephone at their ear all the time waiting for a call” (eventually they came up with the idea of a bell on the telephone ringing to announce an incoming call). And as use of the telephone spread beyond New England, a minor detail of phone usage led to a dispute between two of the greatest technical minds of the nineteenth century. Alexander Graham Bell always said “Ahoy!” or “Ahoy Ahoy!” when he answered the phone. According to some sources, he also sometimes said “Ahoy-hoy,” which is how Montgomery Burns (whose age is a matter of some speculation) once answered the phone in an episode of The Simpsons. When the first telephone exchange opened in New Haven in 1878, the operators were trained to answer the phone by saying “Ahoy Ahoy!”
Thomas Edison (at right), however, felt that anyone answering the phone should say “Hello.” At the time telephone receivers transmitted the caller’s voice into the room automatically whether the recipient picked up or not, and Edison went so far as to argue that if a caller said “hello” in a robust enough manner it would be unnecessary to enable telephones to ring. In late 1877 Edison wrote to T. B. A. David, President of the Central District Printing and Telegraph Company of Pittsburgh, who was planning to introduce the telephone to the city, “Friend David, I do not think we shall need a call bell as Hello! can be heard 10 to 20 feet away.”
Edison got his way with “Hello.” It soon caught on as a telephone greeting, and “Ahoy ahoy” fell by the wayside. Bell, however, persisted to the end of his life in saying “Ahoy” when he answered the phone.
Of course, Bell and Watson got their way on the question of the “call bell,” never dreaming that the idea of a bell announcing phone calls would set us down the long, odd road that ends in Justin Bieber ringtones.