Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Henry Clay Work - Middletown, Connecticut

Middletown, Connecticut hosts a statue on its town common, Union Green, to honor Henry Clay Work.  This self-taught 19th century song composer was born in Middletown.  His songs were extremely popular around the time of the Civil War, probably most famous of which was the spirited “Marching Through Georgia.” (Listen here on YouTube.)

Mr. Work’s family moved to Illinois when he was a small child, and were ardent abolitionists.  His father was once arrested and imprisoned for helping runaway slaves to escape; his home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.  After his release from prison, the family, now penniless, moved back to Connecticut.

Henry Clay Work started as a printer’s apprentice as a young man, but composed songs, without a piano, but with meticulous precision in his head.  “Kingdom Coming” was another hit, and the sorrowful temperance ballad -- now lampooned in parody -- “Come Home, Father” (Father, dear Father, come home with me now…).

His last huge hit was “My Grandfather’s Clock” in 1876.  (Listen here on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHvOyuwJZnE)
Though Mr. Work’s music sold well in his lifetime, copyright as we know it did not exist, and poor investments made money a constant worry.  He died in his 50s of apparent heart trouble in 1884.

Popular music today may generate fame and fortune, but rarely has the social impact that it had in the 19th century.  Henry Clay Work’s songs reflected their era, spoke for a generation, and affected change as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

States of Mind: New England


This is to announce the publication of STATES OF MIND: NEWENGLAND, a collection of essays from my New England Travels blog, which has reached its fifth anniversary this autumn.
The smashing cover was created by Casey Koester, your friend and mine from the blog, Noir Girl.
The book has nearly 200 photographs.  It covers events and experiences from the early 19th century through the middle of the 20th century.  It’s currently available on Kindle (with a move toward other ebook publishers in the new year) and the paperback version will be on sale in December.  It’s going to be a coffee table-sized 8½x11 book, so I wouldn’t call it a stocking stuffer, but it could make a nice holiday gift.
The Kindle version will be offered FREE for five days only starting this Thursday, Thanksgiving, and running through Monday, November 26th.   Have a look and see what you think.  After that, it goes back to its list price of $7.99.
Here’s a blurb from the foreword:

This is a collection of essays I posted on my New England Travels blog (and a couple from another blog on theatre: Tragedy and Comedy in New England), which at the time of this publishing has just passed its fifth year.  Some of the articles were also previously published in magazines and newspapers. 

This book is a small slice of New England Travels, but there are no travelogue posts here, no photos of lighthouses or covered bridges.  Perhaps that might do for a future volume.  This book is not about New England the place as much as it is about New England the idea, and the ideas that came out of New England, specifically events that happened in the 19th century that shot us into the 20th century.

The photo on the cover is of the Mark Twain statue that stands in front of the library in Hartford, Connecticut where he made his home in later years and wrote his most famous novels.  It’s a good image, and a good metaphor for what this book holds for the reader: a titan of American literature, and in the rugged image hewn in bronze, a representation of the artistry and industry of this region.  I like how the 19th century figure is flanked by the modern 20th century steel-and-glass Hartford Public Library. 

“My subject is the New England mind, as it has found expression in the lives and works of writers,” Van Wyck Brooks wrote in his preface to The Flowering of New England 1815-1865, which like its sequel, New England: Indian Summer 1865-1915, has gone out of fashion as literary criticism, but that did not stop me from enjoying them in younger years.  My subject, too, is the New England mind, but though some writers are represented here, such as Louisa May Alcott, they are not given preference over industrialists or inventors, or soldiers.  All are presented in the context of greater things going on around them, or greater things yet to be.

Alcott is shown not as the famous author of Little Women, but as a young Civil War nurse.  Francis Lowell is shown not just as one of the founders of America’s industrial revolution, but in the context of how that revolution gave women a rise in society and economic and political power.  He was the first, after all, to give preference in hiring women over men in his mills, ostensibly so that he could pay them less. 

Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller are not presented as Teacher and her severely handicapped pupil, but as a New Englander and a Southerner whose partnership was the first and most successful union between North and South after the Civil War.

Melzar Mosman, largely forgotten as one of the foremost founders of bronze statuary in this country, is shown not just as the foundryman, artist, and sculptor, but as a Union Army private, an experience he would re-live with every bronze statue of a solider standing picket duty that came out of his foundry to find a home on town commons across New England, and of generals across America.  Mr. Mosman, incidentally, will be the subject of a future book.

The 19th century chapters seem to illustrate the spawning of ideas and inventions which made history; the 20th century seems to show us reacting to events, like hurricanes, and juggling consequences. In the 19th century, through the Industrial Revolution, we drew upon a new workforce (women), and created a market for manufactured goods.  In the early 20th century—we shopped—in grand, family-owned department stores just as paternalistic as the factories of the previous century.

 These then are slices of New England, not just the place, but the idea and social movement, and the force that largely determined what America would be like in the 19th and 20th centuries.  You can find its representation in the bricks and mortar of a factory building, or in the hobnailed boots of the mill girl who found both exhaustion and independence there. 

Thank you for your kind attention.  Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Steiger's Recipe Book -- Reader's Question:

Recently a reader contacted me about an item offered from Steiger's, the family-owned department store that had originated in Springfield, Massachusetts -- see our previous post here.

"I wonder if you know anything about a recipe book put out by Steiger's in the 40's? The title across the top is: "Steiger's Wishes You a Gingeriffic Christmas" and a picture of a gingerbread man below that with the following under the gingerbread man: Wake up! it's Christmas

The book contains recipes for cookies. If you could direct me to where I could find this book on line I would appreciate it."  

If anyone has any information about this recipe book so we can help this reader out, please contact me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com.   Thanks.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Old Covered Bridge - Sheffield, Massachusetts

Of the handful of covered bridges that remain in Massachusetts, the oldest, built in 1832, was burned down by vandals in 1994. Here is its replacement, constructed in 1998 as a reproduction of the original.

This bridge, however, is closed to vehicular traffic. It’s a 91-foot span in the Town Lattice style crossing the lazy Housatonic River in the Berkshire County town of Sheffield.

south side of the bridge

Interestingly, the WPA Massachusetts Guidebook of 1938 mentions two covered bridges, both over 100 years old, standing only a half-mile apart. Both bridges were still in use. What happened to this other bridge?

north side of the bridge