Friday, November 28, 2008

Massasoit of Plymouth

Here is a statue of Massasoit in Plymouth, Mass. Massasoit was the sachem of the Pokanoket, part of the Wampanoag Confederacy, and his place in history is to be a hero of two opposing nations. It is a unique position, few men ever achieve the position of being hero to both sides, and he leaves a complicated, but equally important legacy to both.

This man visited Plymouth in 1621, with the allegiance of a handful of other Wampanoag sachems behind him, negotiated a treaty with the English settlers who were tenuously, and so precariously attemping to establish themselves in the tract of land they called New England. Their sea crossing on the Mayflower was hellish, and their first winter here even moreso.

In exchange for the promise of the English to ally themselves with the Wampanoags against the Narragansetts, Massasoit promied them security and land. He also prevented them from dying of starvation during those early years of settlement. There was peace, an often uneasy peace, but still peace, between the new Plymouth settlement and the Wampanoag all the remainder of Massasoit’s lifetime. After his death, the bloody King Philip’s War altered the political landscape, which is a subject for another time.

For now, between the rather classic Roman-like monument with its gates that shields Plymouth Rock from further damage by tourists, and the magnifcent Mayflower II, the replica of the ship that brought the English settlers, Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims, we have somewhere in the middle the statue of the man of the hour. He determined that his people, who had been descimated by smallpox in the handful of years before the treaty with the English, would not be left helpless. Because of him, they, and the English settlers survived, both for that day, and in history.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cadillac Mountain - Maine

Here the morning mist shrouds the top of Cadillac Mountain. Watch your step on the bare granite face, and watch everything around you. There is a serene stillness.

Part of the Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, Cadillac Mountain at just over 1,530 feet is the highest point on the US Atlantic coastline.

Here you stand not only on a rugged rocky crest, but on the topmost part of an island on which there are 16 other hilltops to explore, and ocean all around. An auto road built in the 1930s will take you to the top. The weather will grow quite inhospitable soon. If you want to be one of the first in the US to see the sunrise, better do it while you can.

For more on Acadia National Park and Cadillac Mountain, have a look at these websites.

Been there? Done that? Let us know.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mineral Springs at Stafford Springs, CT

Here are some views of Stafford Springs, Connecticut. It is a quiet community now, but long before the quiet of this autumn day, long before its rise as a manufacturing town, even before it became known for the mining of bog iron ore, this place had the interesting reputation as a resort town based on the healing properties of its mineral springs.

The young lawyer and future President John Adams traveled west from Braintree on horseback in 1771 after overwork and exhaustion left him in a precarious state of health. He wrote in his autobiography,

“I was advised to take a journey to the Stafford Springs in Connecticutt, then in as much Vogue as any mineral Springs have been since. I spent a few days in drinking the Waters and made an Excursion, through Somers and Windsor down to Hartford and the journey was of Use to me, whether Waters were or not.”

One of the first published accounts of Stafford Springs as resort location is noted in Connecticut Historical Collections by John Warner Barber, (self published, New Haven, 1836). “The Indians first made themselves acquainted with the virtues of these springs…It has been their practice, time immemorial, to resort to them in the warm season, and plant their wigwams round them. They recommended the water as an eye water; but gave their own particular reason for drinking it, that it enlivened their spirits.”

By 1899 when another account of Stafford Springs was published in The Minerals Waters of the United States and Their Therapeutic Uses by James K. Cook, A.M., M.D. (Lea Brothers, NY, 1899), we are informed that the area was known as a resort since at least 1750 for travelers seeking to restore their health. The author notes, “During the latter part of the last and for many years of the present century the place was held in high favor throughout New England and the neighboring states.” At the time of this publication, the author notes that the spring water was now being bottled.

“The water is clear and sparkling and excellent for table purposes. It has attained its greatest reputation in the treatment of blood and skin infections. It is said to be actively diuretic.” This publication lists the mineral contents: sodium chloride, potassium sulfate, sodium sulfate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium phosphate, iron peroxide, iron protoxide, alumina, lime, silicic acid, and magnesia.

By 1938 when the WPA state guidebook for Connecticut was published, the heyday of the mineral springs were long past, and we are informed only that there had been two mineral springs around the Hyde Park area from which the town got its name, and which were “in the early 19th century the center of a flourishing health resort.” The unique feature which brought native people, colonial settlers and future Presidents to visit on a health pilgrimage is reduced to a single line of type.

Stafford Springs is still as charming a town as you will find on a country drive, but there is no longer a flourishing health resort to restore you to vigor. But a quiet walk across the bridge up along Spring Street to Hyde Park and the remnants marking an old springhouse may certainly enliven your spirits.

For more information on Stafford Springs, have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Let us know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hammond Castle - Gloucester, Mass.

Here is the Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Mass. This museum, once a home to inventor John Hays Hammond, Jr., was built in the late 1920s. A replica medieval castle, it remains one of the most unusual structures on the New England seacoast.

Reportedly second only to Thomas Edison in the number of patents awarded him, over 800, Hammond worked on the development of remote control radio waves. The Hammond Castle website refers to him as “The Father of Remote Control.”

The castle, which you enter through a drawbridge, houses a collection of Roman, medieval, and Renaissance artifacts. Just closed for the season, however, you’ll have to wait until next May to visit. In the meantime, play with your remote control toys and plan a trip to the Hammond Castle.

For more information, have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Let us know.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poets Seat - Greenfield, Mass.

Here is a view of the Poets Seat tower in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The rocky ridge that bestows a lovely view of the Connecticut River Valley has a reputation of being the inspiration of poets and writers.

An original wooden tower constructed in 1873 was replaced by this sandstone structure in 1912, and is dedicated to one poet in particular, Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. You can see on the plaque that Tuckerman is lauded for being “a gifted, solitary poet much admired by Emerson, Hawthorne and Tennyson.”

Tuckerman (1821-1873), though known to these giants of 19th century poetry and literature and corresponding with them, appears to have had only one volume of his own poetry published in his lifetime, along with several poems as contributions to magazines. A minor poet in his day, perhaps, but anybody who climbs to the top of the spiral staircase in this simple tower reaches a very pleasing perspective on the world, and becomes a kind of giant, as perhaps Mr. Tuckerman was in his own way.

Located at Mountain Road and Maple Street as part of Rocky Mountain Park in Greenfield, the Poets Seat is a fine place to visit on an autumn weekend drive.

Been there? Done that? Let us know.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

World War I - 90th Anniversary

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. Pictured above are nurses outside Evacuation Hospital #1 in Sebastopol, France. The photo is taken from the World War I Collection of the Massachusetts National Guard Museum and Archives in Worcester, available through the Digital Treasures of The collection is part of the Massachusetts National Guard 26th Infantry Division.

This was taken on May 7, 1918, at the beginning of those last horrible months before the Armistice. In two weeks, the American forces would make their first offensive at Catigny. That summer, battle after desperate battle brought more men under the care of these women. The Second Battle of the Marne, the shattering of the Hindenberg line. As Europe calls out separate declarations of independence from new or re-born countries with the crumbling empires, there is still Saint-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne to be endured.

Then on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, we had the still and silent end of the war to end all wars, not as much as by mutual agreement as by mutual exhaustion.

We may remember the battle names, and armies, and empires that fell, and the new countries that took shape on the new map of Europe. Remember also the women, whose nursing service was bleak and bloody and fraught with danger.

As we can see by this memorial plaque on Nantucket, by World War II, there were not only nurses, but WAVES and SPARS flanking the list of names of male Marines. All together, one nation, indivisible, but in a second world war that was not supposed to happen. The biggest legacy of World War I seems to be its failure to be the last war fought. We may forgive that generation its naïve idealism. We might envy it a little, also.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Berkshire Ramble

It is already brown, gray, leafless and November-y in New England, but here is a last look at the color of autumn, and word by Herman Melville, former resident of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who ruminated on life in the Berkshires in his 1855 novel based on the autobiography of Revolutionary War soldier Israel R. Potter: “Israel Potter: His First Fifty Years of Exile.” The character finds himself a soldier under Washington, a sailor, a captive of the British, a Rebel spy, who longs above all to return to peace, seclusion, and isolation of the Berkshires of western Mass.

"The traveler who at the present day is content to travel in the good old Asiatic style, neither rushed along by a locomotive, nor dragged by a stage-coach; who is willing to enjoy hospitalities at far-scattered farmhouses, instead of paying his bill at an inn; who is not to be frightened by any amount of loneliness, or to be deterred by the roughest roads or the highest hills; such a traveler in the eastern part of Berkshire, Mass., will find ample food for poetic reflection in the singular scenery of a country, which, owing to the ruggedness of the soil and its lying out of the track of all public conveyances, remains almost as unknown to the general tourist the interior of Bohemia."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Palmer's Washington Elm

On this voting day, no views of polling booths or campaign signs. Instead, the photo of an elm tree taken in Palmer, Massachusetts in 1906. Locals called it the Washington Elm.

It was part of local lore that George Washington rested under this tree while traveling the Boston Post Road, now Route 20. The magnificent old tree toppled in the Hurricane of 1938 (see blog post here).

The photo, part of the Palmer Public Library collection, was taken by D. L. Bodfish of Palmer. George Washington was a man who became an icon. The tree became folklore. The democracy represented by the icon and the folklore outlasted both.