Friday, February 26, 2010

Fall River Carousel

Grabbing the brass ring, in reference to reaching for and achieving goals, may not be a phrase quite as popular as it once was, but fans of carousels know what it means.

Here’s the Fall River Carousel at Battleship Cove, Fall River, Mass. Once upon a time it stood at Lincoln Amusement Park in North Darmouth, Mass. from 1920 to the early 1990s when the park closed. Fall River saved it, restored it, and proudly showcased it in a beautiful Victorian style pavilion at Heritage State Park overlooking the battleships.

For more on the Fall River Carousel, have a look at this website. And for information on famous carousels lost and found, have a look at this website for the National Carousel Association, which seeks to preserve these unique and magical structures of the past.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Washington Memorial Tablet - Hartford, Connecticut

This memorial tablet to George Washington stands in the shadow (literally in this photo), of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Washington came to Hartford a few times during the crucial years of the fight for American Independence, and then once as President.

General George Washington first passed this way in 1775 on his journey to take command of the Continental Army.

He met Comte de Rochambeau, the French ally of the fledging American revolutionaries at the Hartford home of Jeremiah Wadsworth in 1780, along with Lafayette and General Knox.  The site is now where the magnificent Wadsworth Atheneum stands. See this previous blog post on the Wadsworth Atheneum, and this one on the Rochambeau memorial in Rhode Island as a tribute to Rochambeau's valuable aide.

He returned to Hartford the following year, and made his final visit as President on a tour of the Eastern “States” in 1789. The memorial was dedicated in 1932 by the Connecticut Daughters of the Revolution “in abiding reverence”.

We have many memorials to heroes and events of the past, some magnificent structures and works of art, and some, like this, more modest tablets. It does not matter the size, or perhaps even a location of convenience. What matters is the abiding reverence.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Albert Sands Southworth - Photographer

(A typical "tintype" of the period where a photographic image is developed on a thin tin plate. Not believed to be Southworth's photo - see note at bottom.)

People today take photos with their cell phones. Constantly. There was a time, however, when taking a photo was a much slower process. Much slower. What it lacked in convenience, it made up for in creating an intimate and thoughtful record of a world that may not have moved as fast, but would disappear all the same.

In the late 1840s, it was called daguerreotype, and a shopkeeper in the village of Cabotville (see this previous post on the mills girls of Cabotville in Chicopee, Mass., also this post on the Ames Manufacturing Company), was destined to make an enormous contribution to the future of photography.

Albert Sands Southworth was born in West Fairlee, Vermont, 1811. He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and after a short stint at teaching, came to Cabotville to open a drug store in 1839.

In “The Spirit of Fact - The Dauguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes, 1843-1862” by Robert A. Sobieszek and Odette M. Appel (David R. Godine, Boston, 1976) a book on the partnership of Southworth and Hawes, the authors quote from Southworth’s letters to his sister Nancy about his life in Cabotville and his “little office.”

Cabotville was still the northernmost village of Springfield at the time (until its separation in 1848 to form the Town of Chicopee), fairly quiet except for the stirrings of its new industrial life.

Southworth is described as adventurous, and ambitious. Cabotville must have been too quiet for the outgoing young man of 28, or the daily occupation of his drug store too dull, for he reported to his sister of his restlessness.

But, something was on the horizon that would change his life.

In the year Southworth came to Cabotville, a French scenic painter and physicist named Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre made a new invention public at the Academy of Sciences in France. It was a daguerreotype, a photograph produced on a silver-coated copper plate treated with iodine vapor.

In 1840, a series of lectures was given by Francois Gouraud in Boston, Providence, and New York. Gouraud was a student of Daguerre’s, and he represented the company licensed to sell Daguerre’s camera and manual.

Southworth was interested. Through these lectures, he discovered his future occupation. He traveled to New York to visit Joseph Pennell, his former roommate at Phillips Academy to discuss daguerreotype and the telegraph. Southworth studied under Morse in his New York studio, after which he and his friend Pennell returned to Cabotville to begin further experiments in daguerreotype.

They began their partnership in this new field with a capital of less than $50, and their new venture would prove quite costly. But, there was a market. Once photography became known to the public, everyone wanted his daguerreotype taken.

In those very early days, having your picture taken was exciting, and very fashionable, but a little like going to the dentist. Because the process of reflecting light onto a sensitive chemical plate was still crude, the shutter had to remain open for long periods of time. The sitter was posed against a plain background, using natural light and often taken outdoors.

It took anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes of sitting or standing absolutely still.

The subject's eyes often remained closed, because of the torture of staring without blinking. Absolutely no movement.

However, for the first time in history, average people could keep a likeness of themselves or their loves ones looking completely realistic. In sentimental Victorian days, this went over big.

Southworth, enthusiastic about his new trade, constantly experimented to improve the quality of his work. He was the first to use reflective lenses in his cameras, made for him by a Southwick, Mass. manufacturer. He later invented the Grand Parlor Stereoscope or stereopticon, without which no mid-19th century home was complete. Ancient View Master to you Baby Boomers.

In the spring of 1941, Southworth left Cabotville for Boston and the prominent figures he would photograph with his new partner, Josiah Johnson Hawes. He would photograph Daniel Webster, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, educator Horace Mann, and popular singer Jenny Lind, and President Franklin Pierce, among others.

Nearly ten years after he had arrived in Cabotville, three daguerreotypists were operating in that town within a few blocks of each other.

Now the power of photography is in everyone’s hands. Or phones.

NOTE: The above tintypes are not, to my knowledge, by Albert Southworth, only used for examples of the style of photography of the day. For more on Southworth, have a look at his photos on this website of the American Museum of Photography.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Barbarous Massachusetts

“Do you know,” Madame Roland commented in a letter written about 1790, “that Massachusetts is very barbarous name?”

Van Wyck Brooks, whose reputation as a chronicler of New England literature has rather diminished in the several decades since he published his books on 19th and early 20th century greats, recounts Mme. Roland’s charge in his “From a Writer’s Notebook” (EP Dutton & Co, Inc., NY, 1958).

Mme. Roland continued her tirade, “A man of fashion was never known to utter such a word (Massachusetts!) when saying soft things to the fair sex…I have heard of a lady who was so shocked at the sound of Transylvania, which was quite new to her, that she desired the impertinent speaker to leave the room.”

To be sure, Mme. Roland, who, despite her support of the French Revolution, was nevertheless carted off to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror, has a more famous quote attributed to her: “Oh, liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!”

Still, my sentimental favorite is the one about Massachusetts being a barbarous name. Evidently, she was not alone in her opinion.

According to Mr. Brooks, literary scholar Léon Bazalgette “could not endure the word (Massachusetts!), but …was obliged to use it, called it “le Mass.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

Old First Church, Bennington, Vermont

Here on Route 9 in Bennington, Vermont is the Old First Church, formed by separatists from Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, and is today considered Vermont’s Colonial Shrine.

The organizers were "Separatists," influenced by the Great Awakening, from Connecticut and Western Massachusetts in the 1760s. This church building dates from 1806. That it was the first church in Vermont dedicated to the separation of church and state is no small thing, and deserves a visit for that as much as for a look at the beautiful architecture.

Poet Robert Frost is buried in the churchyard here, another reason for a pilgrimage here, and we’ll have more about that another time.

For more on the history of this church and congregation, have a look at the Old First Church website.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

You Are Here - Rt. 47, South Hadley, Massachusetts

You are here on Route 47, South Hadley, Massachusetts. This Connecticut River Valley town has seen its share of floods, and this weather totem pole brings that point home. Come visit this beautiful part of Western Massachusetts. Bring your boots.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Adams Library - Adams, Mass.

The names Washington, Grant, and Lincoln are engraved in stone on the frieze at the top of the Adams Public Library in  Adams, Massachusetts. The Civil War had barely ended when monuments and memorials took the form of Americans’ most fervent and serious expressions of patriotism. In this case, General, later President Grant, and President Lincoln joined Washington in the Valhalla of yet another small town’s consciousness.
NOTE: This post originally mistakenly included information from the Houghton Memorial Library of North Adams with the Adams Library in Adams, Mass.  The Houghton Memorial Library information is now removed and will be reposted with the proper photos in a future post. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Campanile - Springfield, Mass.

This is the Campanile in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. This neoclassical clock tower stands between the Greek Revival Symphony Hall (formerly Springfield Auditorium - where the Trapp Family performed, see this previous post) and City Hall. The 275-foot tall structure, built from 1911-1913, was the tallest building in Springfield until 1973, when it was surpassed by a modern glass and steel office building, followed by others in the next decade.

Interesting how in the early years of the last century architecture reflected on a classic past even in that era of a self-professed progressive future. Our modern architecture seems less inspiring today, at least the examples of it that seem to deny we even have a past.