Friday, February 29, 2008

Deerfield Massacre - 1704

On Leap Day in 1704, the Abenaki Indians attacked the settlement of Deerfield on the Massachusetts frontier, killing over 50 colonists, taking captive over a hundred others.

King Philip’s War of the previous century had lately evolved into a more peaceful state for the English settlers of New England. But the Abenaki made an impressive encore by their assault on the Connecticut River valley towns.

On the evening of February 28th, a group of about 40 Abenaki men, slipped into Deerfield and routed the villagers, smashing doors and windows, setting fire to homes, killing livestock. The call to alarm brought the sleeping colonists awake, and some managed to leap from windows and run into the fields and woods for cover, even escaping to other settlements. It was reported that Goodman Allison and his wife ran all the way to Hatfield.

Some hid in cellars. Others were killed, including two small children of minister John Williams, and a woman named Parthena, who was the family slave of Williams.

Williams, his wife, and surviving children were taken captive. His wife and others were killed on the forced march to Canada. Between the Indians and the French, and the English who negotiated for release, many captives were released over the next few years. John Williams and two of his children were released and returned by ship to Boston in November 1706. He eventually returned to Deerfield, and wrote an account of his captivity. His daughter Eunice, taken at 7 years old, settled with the Mohawk community at Kahnawake, married, and would not return to New England except for visits in the later years of her life.

Starting today and continuing on Saturday and Sunday, Historic Deerfield will host a weekend of commemorative activities, including a reenactment of the skirmish. There are 13 museum houses in Old Deerfield, built between 1730 and 1850, and objects on display from the two hundred years from 1650 to 1850 which illustrate the lives of the settlers on this frontier outpost.

Stop by if you can, and re-live this lightning rod event in New England history, and learn about the clash of the cultures between English, French, and native people which met at a crossroads with tragic results in the wee small hours of February 29, 1704.

For more information on Historic Deerfield and this weekend’s colonial encampment, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Alcott on Thoreau

This stream pictured above is not the Concord River. It’s located in Gilbertville in the central part of Massachusetts. I don’t think Henry David Thoreau ever roamed about here, but it looks like a spot he would have enjoyed. Here is a tribute to Thoreau by one of his earliest devotees, Louisa May Alcott:

“Thoreau’s Flute”
We sighing said, "Our Pan is dead;
His pipe hangs mute beside the river;
Around it wistful sunbeams quiver,
But Music's airy voice is fled.
Spring came to us in guise forlorn;
The bluebird chants a requiem;
The willow-blossom waits for him;
The Genius of the wood is gone.
Then from the flute, untouched by hands,
There came a low, harmonious breath:
For such as he there is no death;
His life the eternal life commands;
Above man's aims his nature rose.
The wisdom of a just content
Made one small spot a continent,
And turned to poetry life's prose.
Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild,
Swallow and aster, lake and pine,
To him grew human or divine,--
Fit mates for this large-hearted child.
Such homage Nature ne'er forgets,
And yearly on the coverlid
'Neath which her darling lieth hid
Will write his name in violets.
To him no vain regrets belong
Whose soul, that finer instrument,
Gave to the world no poor lament,
But wood-notes ever sweet and strong.
O lonely friend! he still will be
A potent presence, though unseen,--
Steadfast, sagacious, and serene;
Seek not for him--he is with thee.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Powers' Sculpture of George Washington

Having celebrated Lincoln’s birthday last week with views of statues of Lincoln created by New England sculptor Daniel Chester French, we celebrate Washington’s Birthday with another New England sculptor immortalizing George Washington.

Hiram Powers, originally from Woodstock, Vermont, had a studio in Florence, Italy where he was part of a generation of American sculptors whose celebrity became part of the post-Civil War art world. Among his works are a series of busts in honor of great men, and his neoclassical image of George Washington is part of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Many, of not most bronze sculptures made in 19th Century America were founded in Chicopee, Massachusetts, first at the bronze foundry of the Ames Manufacturing Company, and later at Chicopee Bronze Works, which was established by founder and sculptor Melzar Mosman, who had once apprenticed under his father Silas Mosman at the Ames Company.

The above photo is a working model of Powers’ Washington sculpture, with as elusive a history as the enigmatic Washington himself. Donated by Melzar Mosman to the Chicopee Public Library upon its opening in 1913, information on the origins of the bust and its sculptor became lost throughout the following decades. This important artifact of a celebrated period of American art history was unknowingly relegated to the periodicals room where gentleman perusing the newspapers and magazines would sometimes casually plop their hats on George’s head, using him as a hat rack.

It took the detective efforts of Chicopee reference librarian Annette Delude and Donna Hassler, a research associate at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1987 to discover the name of the sculptor, Hiram Powers.

The valuable model has since been restored and put in a protective glass case, still at home on display at the new Chicopee Public Library, but now free from the indignity of being used as a hat rack.

For more information on the career of Hiram Powers, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

With Presidents Day just yesterday, we note the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is the only one of the 12 Presidential libraries administered by the National Parks Department to be located in New England. It is an impressive venue with stirring exhibits evocative of the administration of President Kennedy, and is a window on the era of his Presidency.

If you’ve never been there, it is a remarkable resource where multimedia exhibits recreate the early 1960s era of change, and drop you into a world you may have forgotten or never knew. Some exhibits, like the section of the Berlin Wall on display, illustrate the legacy of those years and of the Kennedy administration.

For more on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Still have your original Nash Rambler with the Kennedy/Johnson bumper sticker in your garage? Let us know.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sugaring Off Time - Maple Syrup

See this maple tree with the metal buckets hanging off it? This is where your maple syrup comes from. Not all of it, just some of it. There’s other trees around with buckets on them, too.

Tapping trees for sap to boil into syrup was something the Native American people devised, and later taken up by European settlers in the northeast as a way to produce a local sugar crop. Tapping these days begins earlier, due to either a temporary cycle of warmer temperatures or possibly long-term global warming. Traditionally begun in March and lasting for several weeks, this annual harvest of maple tree sap often begins for many farmers in February now.

Several weeks of below-freezing temperatures, and then a period of cold nights accompanied by warmer days is necessary to create the perfect conditions for making sap. Some farmers are taping even earlier than February, and many are using plastic tubing rather than buckets to collect the sap.

Vermont produces the most syrup, followed by Maine, then New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

It’s a labor-intensive process, where it takes about 40 gallons of sap to boil down into one gallon or pure syrup. Sugar shacks, where this process takes places, are very popular places to visit this time of year, with many farmers attracting tourists by opening sugar houses, demonstrating the work, and selling the various products made from their syrup.

If you buy syrup for your pancakes, make sure it’s the real stuff, not imitation. And make sure it’s from New England. Just because.

Been there? Done that? Ate all the leaf-shaped maple sugar candy in the car on the ride home? Let us know.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lincoln Statues by Daniel Chester French

The photo above of a statue of Abraham Lincoln is a model for famed sculptor Daniel Chester French’s other Lincoln sculpture. His more famous statue of the seated Abraham Lincoln you see now at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated in 1931. This standing figure represents his earlier work on Lincoln for the state capitol of Lincoln, Nebraska, dedicated in 1909. On this Lincoln’s Birthday we pay tribute both Lincoln statues and the New England sculptor who created them.

By the turn of the 20th century, Lincoln’s memory had seasoned from the contentious days of the American Civil War when most Southerners branded him a villain and quite a few Northerners did, too, to finally become a hero and champion of American democracy and benevolence. Today he is recognized as one of our finest Presidents. At the time he made this standing figure, and the later seated Lincoln, Daniel Chester French was one of our finest sculptors.

Born in New Hampshire, French lived in Concord, Massachusetts and was taught early in his artistic career by artist May Alcott, youngest sister of author Louisa May Alcott. Mr. French is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Mass., along with the Alcotts, Emerson, Hawthorne, and what seems to be much of the artistic creativity of the Nineteenth Century.

French’s studio where he worked on the famous seated Lincoln, (pictured here in Washington, D.C. with a National Parks employee, poignantly an African-American, giving Abe a scrub, having climbed up there by the ladder between The Great Emancipator’s legs) is located on the other side of the state in the western Mass. town of Stockbridge. Called “Chesterwood,” Mr. French’s summer home in the 1920s, is now a museum, where models of his works can be viewed, including the standing Lincoln. Chesterwood is not open for the season until May, but have a look at this official website and plan your visit for the coming spring or summer.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Lowell's Mills

This is the Boott Cotton Mill in Lowell, Massachusetts where thousands of workers, mostly women, worked from the early 1800s at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution to the mill closings of the mid-20th century.

Now the Boott Cotton Mill Museum, part of the Lowell National Historic Park, this building and its detailed exhibits of life for cotton textile workers, including a working weave room, illustrates the colossal hardship, and hopefulness, of the mill worker in an era of great change, great promise, and great exploitation.

The park contains other mills, museums, and tours of the canal system that fed the mills. It is a fascinating place to visit, and should be stop on anyone’s tour of New England. Famed English author Charles Dickens came in 1842 to Lowell for a tour of the mills, with which he was quite impressed.

New England is not just cozy Currier and Ives illustrations of village commons and seaport towns. It is muscular and not always pretty industry, red brick bastions that fueled the economy of America and of the world at one time, where New England products reached everywhere on the globe, and whose industrial prowess helped win a bitter Civil War, and brought new vitality to a Depression-worn economy at the onset of World War II, helping to win that war also.

Have a look at this National Parks website. And take a visit to Lowell.

Been there? Done that? Bought one of those souvenir loom shuttles in the gift shop? Let us know.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Skiing in New England

This shot taken is from the ski lift chair at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. There are nearly 70 ski resorts in New England, some larger operations with more challenging conditions, and a share of smaller ski areas that are less challenging to the advanced skier, but just fine if you rarely ski.

Ski areas in New England, particularly southern New England, were hit hard in the years of warmer temperatures and less snowfall, and some, like Mt. Tom in Holyoke, Mass., went out of business. These were neighborhood ski areas. Not the grand resorts with challenging slopes one might find in the western states, but the kind where from the top of the hill you can see the grammar school you attended.

New Hampshire leads among the New England states with the most ski resorts, followed by Vermont of course, and then Maine. But you can find skiing in all six New England states, as even Rhode Island, where the highest elevation in the state is only 812 feet, has one ski area.

For more on the early days of skiing as an American popular pastime, have a look at “Skiing in Massachusetts” by Cal Conniff and E. John B. Allen. It can be obtained from the publisher’s website.

Been skiing in New England? Let us know.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ice Skating in New England

This photo was taken in the 1930s, and it could be any pond anywhere in New England, anywhere on the continent where it gets cold enough to skate. This old family photo was not taken by me, but I wish it had. I wish I had been there for at least that afternoon, my skate laces tied together, and skates suspended over my shoulder on the walk to the pond.

This used to be a universal scene in the winter. Skating was not just for kids on double runners being toted to indoor rinks by dads who used to play hockey in college, who zoom around like sharks among the minnows, proving they’ve still got it.

Skating was a social activity, like a town picnic in summer or an ice cream social. It was about community, and was a cheaper way to fight cabin fever in January than flying down to the Caribbean.

Also, since TV was not around when these good folks took to the ice, they had no reason to stay home and become couch potatoes. It was sunny, and evidently not too bitter, so they took themselves to the pond to skate with neighbors. He’s wearing a tie. She’s wearing a skirt. They weren’t athletes. They had no pretensions to speed and nothing to risk or prove by turning a Sunday afternoon diversion into an extreme sport. They linked arms and took a proper turn around the pond while a loudspeaker played “The Skater’s Waltz.” They stopped at the warming house for cup of hot chocolate and a bit of gossip. It was all very polite and very social.

New England has its share of Olympic figure skating heroes, and an important innovation in figure skating was developed by Everett H. Barney of Springfield, Mass., whose Barney & Berry company manufactured early ice skates. Mr. Barney invented the little metal clamp devices that would allow you to clamp your skate onto your shoe, relegating the old cumbersome leather strap to history. His invention helped ice skating become an extremely popular winter pastime in the late 19th century.

Later on the boot as part of the skate was developed. As you can see, the lady wears black skates, similar to the gentleman’s. It wasn’t until Sonja Henie’s flashy adoption of skates with white boots that led to their popularity for women and girls.

Been there? Done that? Able to skate backward? Let us know.