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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blackout - December 1942

It’s beginning to look a lot like…darkness. This public service announcement in the Springfield (Massachusetts) Daily News reminds us about the blackout procedure for tonight. First the horn will sound, next the street lights will go out. Next another short blast and all traffic should stop, all lights in private homes and businesses should be extinguished. Finally, the all clear horn will sound. Hopefully.

And all freakily juxtaposed next to the announcement “20 shopping days till Christmas!”

December 1942, and we remember our priorities.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Dinner at the Sheraton, Springfield, Massachusetts

December 25, 1941, with the U.S. only two weeks into its involvement in World War II, the future might have been forboding, but no rationing or shortages had struck us yet.  It would be, if not the last peacetime Christmas, then the last Christmas of pre-war style celebration. 

Here at the Sheraton Hotel in Springfield, Massachusetts, Christmas Dinner, a spread of several courses from fruit cup to appetizers such as chopped chicken livers, to soups, to the main course, your choice of several (roast turkey, baked whole lobster, etc.), green salad of iceberg lettuce and your choice of French, Rocquefort or Thousand Island dressing.  Desserts include mince pie, green apple pie, pumpkin pie, or Indian pudding.  Something also called a Santa Claus Parfait, as well as lemon or raspberry sherbet.

All yours for two bucks.  In the decades since we've gone less regional with our dining choices and with much less plain fare.  The changes in price, well, we won't go there.  Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December Sale at Steiger's, Springfield, Massachusetts

On sale at Steiger's, downtown Springfield, Massachusetts in December, 1941.  Got to get those "socks for skating" for 39 cents a pair. 

For more on Steiger's, have a look here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Palmer, Mass. boy at Pearl Harbor

Springfield Daily News, December 8, 1941

Frank A. Hryniewicz, of Palmer, Massachusetts got his name in the paper 69 years ago. He was a member of the crew of the USS Oklahoma, and he held rank of Seaman First Class.

His ship was sunk in Pearl Harbor, and he died along with over 400 of his shipmates. Today, his name can be found on the USS Oklahoma Memorial, which was dedicated only three years ago today in 2007.

Remember Frank today, and remember Pearl Harbor.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review - Meet Me in Nuthatch

Kindly have a look at this review of my novel “Meet Me in Nuthatch” by Grace Krispy on her book review blog, “MotherLode”, and check her blog for an impressive collection of new book reviews.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sarah Josepha Hale's Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving had been celebrated in New England for a couple of centuries before Sarah Josepha Hale fought to have it made a national holiday. She first came up with the idea in the 1820s, but it took 17 years of concentrated pestering beginning the 1840s, letters to five Presidents, as well as several governors, congressmen, and orchestrating a national letter-writing campaign, before President Lincoln signed the Executive Order in 1863 to make Thanksgiving a national American holiday, partly as an effort to find a common thread to unite the nation again.

Mrs. Hale shared Lincoln's enthusiasm for uniting the nation under common symbols. She also worked for the restoration of George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, as a similar symbol to unite North and South with a powerful reminder of our shared roots and shared national interests.

Sarah Josepha Hale was born in the Guild section of Newport, New Hampshire, as this historic market in Newport tells us. Her personal achievements are numerous, from teacher, to novelist, to editor of the prestigious 19th Century magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, that there are many facets to her life we can discuss in future posts. For now, let us give thanks that she gave us a national Thanksgiving Day.

Below, an 1859 editorial, one of many she wrote, that expresses her still as yet unrealized dream of the Thanksgiving holiday.


"All the blessings of the fields,

All the stores the garden yields,

All the plenty summer pours,

Autumn's rich, o'erflowing stores,

Peace, prosperity and health,

Private bliss and public wealth,

Knowledge with its gladdening streams,

Pure religion's holier beams --

Lord, for these our souls shall raise

Grateful vows and solemn praise."

We are most happy to agree with the large majority of the governors of the different States -- as shown in their unanimity of action for several past years, and which, we hope, will this year be adopted by all -- that the LAST THURSDAY IN NOVEMBER shall be the DAY Of NATIONAL THANKSGIVING for the American people. Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY of our nation, when the noise and tumult of wordliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart. This truly American Festival falls, this year on the twenty fifth day of this month.

Let us consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and of rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories sit down together to the "feast of fat things," and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all men. Then the last Thursday in November will soon become the day of AMERICAN THANKSGIVING throughout the world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bull's Bridge - Kent, Connecticut

Bull’s Bridge in Kent, Connecticut attracts a few photographers on an autumn day, and hikers to the nearby Appalachian Trail.

The Bull family built an ironworks hereabouts sometime around 1740, but the exact date of the first covered bridge here is unknown. Possibly the current bridge design, restored and updated for automobile traffic, dates from the mid 19th century. It crosses the Housatonic River, which is harnessed near this location by a dam and canal system, providing power to the hydro-electric plant.

If you don’t really need to cross the Housatonic, then just come for the photo-op.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Belle Skinner, Hattonchatel, and World War I

(Photo lifted from the Wikipedia website, original from Wistariahurst collection.)

Today in remembrance of Veteran’s Day and its original celebration of Armistice Day, we have a look at one woman from Holyoke, Massachusetts who took it upon herself to rebuild a devastated French village after World War I. Her name was Belle Skinner, and she was awarded, among other honors, title of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government.

An earlier version of this article was previously published in Chickuppy & Friends Magazine.

Belle Skinner was of a grand age. Her personality, a mixture of childlike bravado and formidable elegance, made her a long remembered figure in Holyoke. The daughter of one of the community’s most important industrialists (we’ll have more on the Skinner family and the Skinner silk milks in a future post), her family home, called Wistariahurst, still graces the city of Holyoke now as a museum, and much of that mansion bears the flourish of her personality. She made numerous contributions to its decoration and architecture. A woman of many talents she left her mark on the many lives she touched.

Belle was not like her father, manufacturer William Skinner. Where he followed his ambitions in a careful and dogmatic manner, Belle's efforts were more stylish, yet she had his strength and sense of purpose; she needed it for her most important achievement: the rebuilding of the French village of Hattonchâtel.

Where her mother was gracious and sympathetic, Belle was grandly beneficent, yet she inherited her mother's diplomacy. She needed it for Hattonchâtel. She came from a large family of individuals, and this was perhaps the reason she was not swallowed up by either their accomplishments or their company. Her personality, however, was molded by their company. If she was a cross between a sprite and a grand dame, she was also every inch a Skinner.

“My dear Belle

Libbie (her sister Elizabeth) did not return last night so I must do the letter writing for today, although I have very little to say…” So her mother, Mrs. Skinner, wrote to Belle in January of 1882, while Belle was a student at Vassar College.

Actually Mrs. Skinner usually had a great deal to say, and most of the surviving Skinner family correspondence includes generously long letters, affectionate and intimate, full of news of family and friends. The above passage illustrates the Skinner family's approach to letter writing. Family members were always traveling, and it was up to somebody to remember to write almost every day. The bonds between parents and children, brothers and sisters extended across many miles and many years.

In the late 1800s when Belle attended college, the art of letter writing was in its glorious last days, soon to become a lost art to the growing use of telegraph and telephone. By 1920 when she was working on the Hattonchâtel project. Belle wrote to her brother from France:

My dear William: -

I have to send you a dictated letter, it looks so cold and unsympathetic, if I don't dictate. I'll not write anything at all…

Belle was born in 1866, and was christened Ruth Isabel. She would be second to the last of seven surviving children of William Skinner. As she grew up, she became influenced by her dynamic father's philanthropy. As an adult, she knew how to give freely of herself. Perhaps she benefited most from the lifelong support and concern of her mother, whose letters to her daughter are filled with admonitions to mind her health. In 1901 when at 35 years old, Belle made a grand tour of Europe, her mother's protective manner let a grown daughter know that she was still her mother's child.

My dear Belle, as I was enjoying myself out training my vines over the fence (by the way, whose participation vines are growing splendidly and if the boys let them alone I hope to get the fence nicely covered before, you see it) Kitten (Belle’s sister Katherine) sent Paul out to remind me that this was the morning for me to write to Belle - I soon left my work to come in and interest you for a while. First I must ask after your health and expect very soon to get a letter telling me what the doctor at Aix (Aix-le-Bains, France) had said - Ah yes, here is a letter just come. So I will hear…K read it. I'm glad the doctor thinks you look better, but sorry that they think your cramp incurable but I almost expected that - for others have given us that impression the but lots of things are worse than that for you write very well with your left hand…I think we are to blame for that insisting upon your writing such long letters…

…asked about you not long ago, and I said, I blame Vassar college for her illness and I also believe it goes back to the time of that sunstroke…

Well, K is waiting to take this to the mail so I will say goodbye with lots of love from all to our dear Belle.

Affectionately Mother.

Whether the illness to which Mrs. Skinner refers in this letter was a definitely diagnosed ailment or a series of periods of indifferent health, we do not know. It is certain that her health was an almost constant worry to her mother.

At home in the company of an army of brothers and sisters, whose family was one of the most important and influential in the city of Holyoke, a child might learn to compete for attention and leadership within the group. However, her brother William presents a contradiction to the assumption of gregariousness in his comments at one of the Skinner family reunions.

Now I come to Belle, the organizer of this party, Rebuilder of Hattonchâtel, Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. One would scarcely believe that Belle was a timid child, but on one occasion, having accepted an invitation from a Holyoke young man to go on a sleighing party. She became so frightened as the time approached, that she refused to leave the house unless Joe (her other brother Joseph Skinner) was going on the same party would carry in his pocket a flask of brandy to revive her in case of need.

Though he was only teasing his sister at a family gathering, his estimation of Belle’s timidity is echoed by his sister, Katherine, who in a letter to Belle comforts her that it was not just Belle, but that all the brothers and sisters felt much more at ease in the family group, than with outsiders.

The only reason why you would not talk at the luncheon was because the people were not congenial. You know, you can talk just as well as ever, only not one of us ever had much experience in society. We don't know what to say…

Not much experience in society? Children of one of the most wealthy and influential families of Holyoke, who were familiar in social circles in New York and in Europe?

The Skinner family reunion held at irregular intervals, but most often at Christmas time. Belle found rising to the occasion at the Christmas party an easy affair, even if social obligations intimidated her. She took delight in its preparation. According to the 1922 reunion accounts compiled by Martha Hubbard Skinner:

Such an elaborate series of entertainments as this necessitated, of course much preparation, and naturally on Belle herself was the first person to arrive at Wistariahurst. She brought with her from the New York house a big retinue of servants, and for a full week beforehand was hard at work carrying out her plans.

Belle so enjoyed her family that one wonders what it must have been like for her, sometimes frail and sometimes timid, to leave home for Vassar College in the autumn of 1881. She was 15 years old when she left to attend Vassar Preparatory. Her first letters home to Wistariahurst are filled with typical homesickness and the gradual adapting to an interesting new world apart from her family.

A Holyoke Transcript-Telegram article published in 1929 looked back on Belle’s college career:

Generous in the classic sense is the attribute that came to mind in thinking of Miss Belle Skinner. The tall and graceful Ruth Isabelle (sic) that came to Vassar in 1881 was instantly popular. Like most girls of tall, a distinguished beauty floor at the same time, the imaginative in vivid in personality, she was conscripted for men's parts and college plays.

Belle was elected president of her senior class and on class day in 1887. She delivered the class day address “full of pleasant prophecy of the future.” Her course of study was music, and she performed at various school recitals. She cut such stunning impression among her peers that 40 years later her classmates on the 40th reunion paraded and Alsatian costumes in honor of her Hattonchâtel achievement “following their gay and happy leader, an unforgettable picture as they passed the president's house….”

After college, Belle and assumed her position in Holyoke society in the late 19th century. She joined her mother and brother Joseph as a teacher in the Second Congregational Church Sunday school. She frequently financed trips to New York or Boston operas for local college girls, acted as patroness to many young musicians and also enjoyed traveling, and she seemed to identify most with France.

Her father, William Skinner died February 1902. While her brothers William and Joseph continued the management of the Skinner silk mills, Belle became her mother's devoted companion until Mrs. Skinner died in 1908. Belle and Catherine founded the Skinner Coffee House for mill girls (more on this charitable organization in a future post).

With both parents gone, Belle was in her early 40s. Katherine was the last to be married in 1904 and Belle, who did not marry, was left with a great family legacy and no family of her own with whom to share it.

These were not idle days, however. Belle’s extensive renovations to Wistariahurst were magnificent, her famed rose garden had 365 varieties of rosebushes ranging in color from pale pink to crimson. Her collection of antique musical instruments contained rare treasures, which she chose with her characteristic eye for authenticity and beauty. Serge Koussevitzky, conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra proclaimed her instruments “a collection of superlatives”. The medieval-gothic musical she added on to Wistariahurst was called a Mecca for students of music.

Belle was much more than just a patroness, and soon an opportunity presented itself that enabled her to truly share her magnificent resources. There were people in the other side of the world who needed her sympathy and bravado as much as they needed her patronage. Belle’s biggest adventure was ahead of her.

When World War I broke out, Belle Skinner was one of the first Americans in a still neutral United States to support the economic relief of Belgium and France. France, the land of her Huguenot, forebears had grown especially dear to her, and in the years to follow it would be her second home.

Belle went to France during wartime, and her desire to help was recalled her friend, Mrs. Ford, who spoke at the Skinner Coffee House after Belle's death.

It was a desperate time, and we had need of all the faith we could muster. The battlefront was creeping always nearer to Paris. The refugees in the north were pouring in. Often 50,000 in a single day shells from Big Bertha (nickname for a long-range cannon) were landing by day and bombs from air raids by night.

Belle found she was not able to accomplish much in the midst of chaos. She decided instead to plan positively and presume victory for the Allies. She would return to war-torn France after the Armistice as head of the Villages Liberés movement, a privately organized drive for the restoration of French villages.

She spoke on behalf of this organization, not so timid now, in Holyoke in October 1919 and urged the city fathers as well as private citizens to contribute. Holyoke became the first city in the United States to adopt a French town under this organization. The amount required to accomplish this was $30,000. Holyoke adopted Apremont-le-Foret, where so many Massachusetts men fought. A plaque was placed near the town’s restored water works on which was inscribed in French, “These waterworks are dedicated to the sacred memory of our boys who fought and fell here, as a gift to you, people of Apremont Wood, from us, the people of Holyoke, Massachusetts, USA, 1922.”

A few miles from Apremont was a village called Hattonchâtel. Belle toured the area and adopted the entire village herself in 1919. Hattonchâtel rested on the crest of a hill, and it was reported that the location reminded her of Mt. Tom and Holyoke. The Kaiser’s army held the village for four years until U.S. troops conquered the stronghold late in the war.

Hattonchâtel was a 10th century village, a farming community, and at Armistice were left with nothing. Belle became their sponsor, and they probably could not have had a better champion. The New York Tribune splashed the headline:

Rich American Woman Adopts an Entire French Village

Belle Skinner spent more than one million dollars rebuilding Hattonchâtel, France, the homes, village church. She created a water system, and fed and clothed its people.

According to Mrs. Ford:

It meant many trips back and forth, and the exercise of endless patience and good humor. The government department she had to deal with were almost collapsing under the strain of war…

She was utterly self-effacing, and she knew better than almost everyone else how to do things in the way the French most wanted them to be done.
As a memorial to the village and its people, Belle erected a statue most unlike the war monuments of soldiers would consume spring up on the European landscape. She chose instead a statue of a peasant woman who stands with hands folded, head bowed, and patient expression.

Mrs. Ford visited France in 1920 and inspected Belle's work on Hattonchâtel:

As we walked through the streets I think I came to realize the full stature of her greatness was not a great lady from overseas walking graciously among her people. She was a neighbor walking humbly among her humble neighbors, never intruding, never expecting anything return, but knowing their needs and watching over their lives with an intimate and sensitive and personal affection.

While working on Hattonchâtel, Belle stayed in the house of the parish priest, the curé.

A charming thing occurred that evening…there was an air of suppressed excitement and much secrecy, and then we heard the scuffling the feet of the stone-flagged corridor outside and in came all the children of the village big and little.

The children were carrying the two flags, and they promptly sang the “Marseillaise”. Then came the surprise. The Curé had been training them for weeks and weeks and they burst into “The Star-Spangled Banner” in French. They called her their fairy godmother.

In a letter to her brother, William, Belle wrote more of a formal ceremony:

Those who had automobiles went down the Hill with me to the monument at Vigneulles, which marks the junction of the French and American troops, and there we placed a wreath.

The French musicians played “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The wreath is carried by French and American soldiers, while the two American officers and I stood at attention.

I forgot to mention the decorations. They were simply lovely. Green arches with garlands and French and American flag. Simple, but beautifully arranged.

Well, this will be my last letter home, probably. My boat is due Sunday, October 2nd, and I should be glad to see you as usual at the Dock, but insist upon it please that Kitten shall not try to meet me.

Heaps of Love


In 1919, Belle was decorated by Premier Millerand of France with the Medaille de le Reconnaissance Francaise at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris for her wartime aiding of refugees. In 1921, she was presented with the Cross of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the highest honor the French government can bestow, for her rescue of Hattonchâtel. She was the first American woman to receive the honor. It was given to her in their New York home by representative of the French government. Her brothers, and her sisters Elizabeth, Eleanor, and Katherine were present.

Though the initial work on the village was being completed, Belle continued to restore the damaged chateau in the village for herself to occupy. Just as she prepared to move into her new home, Belle died of pneumonia in April 1928. She was 62 years old.

The Denver Post was only one of hundreds of newspapers that carried the story:


French papers like the Paris Journal and Le Figaro of course reported the news.

“We have lost not only a benefactress but a friend as well,” said the village mayor. “Her kindness and good humor won all our hearts here. She was rebuilding the old Hattonchâtel Castle and intended to come here and live among us. We were preparing a great welcome for her when we heard the news of her death. It is a hard blow.”

Next to the memorial of the Peasant Woman, the village of Hattonchâtel placed a marble tablet:

To the lamented Miss Belle Skinner, their sweet godmother, their munificent benefactress the inhabitants of Hattonchâtel vow unending gratitude.

In 1933 her brother William donated the Château she never lived in to the Bishop of Verdun to be used as a house of retreat for the clergy of the diocese. He also donated a recital hall building to Vassar College, Belle’s alma mater. The Belle Skinner Hall of music was dedicated in 1931.

Belle Skinner left a great and varied legacy to thousands who had benefited from her charity, which included the inhabitants of an entire French village, to her friends, former classmates and to her family.

Her family mourned her most. How often for years, had she been called home by them to renew her membership in that unique group.

“Here for a few days,” Belle said of Wistariahurst at one reunion, “we put aside our individual occupations and endeavors, and so to speak, pool our interests. Within these walls together, do we feel the grip of our inheritance.”

Family friend Mrs. Hammond recalled an image of Belle for a Skinner Coffee House tribute to her memory in November 1928. She describes how Belle tended her mother's wisteria that covered their home.

I have watched her, hour after hour directing and the men how to train each separate twig or branch. How each was to be tied back, or bent forward, or trained to grow in a certain direction, always knowing just how she wished every part of that vine look - that vine to which she jokingly used to refer as ‘my monument posterity’.

Her ‘monument’ still grows around the mansion on Pine Street. It is elegant and lovely.

For more on Belle Skinner, the Skinner family, and the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, Massachusetts, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"The Spring Ghazals" by Jack Hayes

There are splinters of imagery, of memory, that weave a complicated pattern from very simple triggers of thought in the latest book of poetry published by Jack Hayes, called “The Spring Ghazals.” We skip from

a transistor radio crackling a Red Sox game thru a
Rockingham VT hemlock green spring evening a screened-in porch in
1966 listening to balls & strikes with a man whose breathing was
labored – he did sit quiet in hemlock green air rising from the green
Connecticut River the house built into it had hemlock green

To images of San Francisco and of Idaho, where this Vermont-born poet now lives.

A ghazal is a particular kind of poem structure that has its roots in 6th century Arabic verse, and traveled about the globe through Persia and Asia, and in 19th century Europe, where Goethe introduced this poetic form that became very popular in Germany. A ghazal is defined not just by its formal structure, but by the subject. It deals with the pain of lost love or love unrequited, or separation.

Mr. Hayes, whose previous volume of poetry, “Days of Wine &, Roses” we discussed in this post from March, also performs as a blues musician, and writes the blog (as John Hayes) “Robert Frost’s Banjo.” “The Spring Ghazals” is a deeply personal journey through decades, and geography, through memories so sharp and clear we seem to share them.

Poem titles such as “what can we talk about that will take all night?” and “Pasta Alleluia” evoke intimacy in the mode ordinary of settings where the mind, and heart, wanders to other days and back again.

to the splinters of imagery in language that is simple, but precise:

A cigarette butt in a puddle outside the hospital


A portion of silence


The blue scar of morning’s twilight a tightrope you’re walking between the day &  night

Skipping back to Vermont, by way of Charlottesville, Virginia, by way of an Idaho kitchen. We skirt by

A Quonset hut hulking in January drizzle


A chowder shack in Bodega Bay.

It’s a long way to go, but we always end up back at the beginning, if only to marvel how far we’ve come.
In his post on his other blog dedicated to “The Spring Ghazals”, John relates the bittersweet real-life story behind this collection of poems. Have a look here. You can also hear him read aloud a few selections, which I recommend as he has an excellent voice and timbre for reading poetry.

“The Spring Ghazals” is available on this website.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Springfield WitchTrials

Some forty years before the infamous Salem Witch Trials, a husband and wife were put on trial for witchcraft in Springfield, Massachusetts. They were innocent of witchcraft, but one of them was guilty of murder.

It happened in 1651. Hugh Parsons was a bricklayer on lower Main Street, who by his neighbors’ accounts, could be a bit moody at times. A neighbor woman, named Blanche Bedortha, criticized Mr. Parsons in some manner, and he retorted with the threat, “I shall remember you when you little think of it!”

The ruffled Goodwife Bedortha blamed Hugh Parsons for the sudden zing of static electricity she felt on her nightgown, since no one knew what that was or had a scientific explanation for it. She claimed he hexed her.

Then his second child, Joshua, died, and Mrs. Parsons’ went insane. The neighbors accused Mr. Parsons of having murdered the child. Mrs. Parsons did not help much when she, by now hysterical, confessed that she and her husband both were witches. Hugh was her third husband. I don’t know what she thought of her earlier two husbands.

Hugh got it from all sides now, as neighbors blamed everything from a cow’s having no milk, to cuts, nightmares, and minor illnesses on him being a witch.

Hugh was arrested and marched by the constable through the streets, and taken to Boston where the trial was held. The court found him guilty of witchcraft.

Fortunately for Hugh, about this time, Mrs. Parsons pulled herself together and confessed that she killed her son. They sent her to Boston for trial. Hugh was set free in May 1652. Mary was convicted of murder. All charges of witchcraft were dropped, possibly because things had just gotten too complicated and everybody was probably sick of the Parsons by now.

On the morning she was to be hanged, Mary was found to be too ill to be taken from prison. She died in her cell the next day.

Hugh never returned to Springfield, and may have left Massachusetts. He probably couldn’t wait to leave.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meet Me in Nuthatch - A Novel

This is to announce my book.

"Meet Me in Nuthatch", a novel of humor, warmth, Christmas tree farming, dressing up like it was 1904, and selling your small town to a theme park conglomerate is now issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle, and on Smashwords, available in a variety of formats.

Here’s the blurb:

A publicity stunt to attract tourists to a small dying town (population 63), results in the entire community turning the clock back to 1904. It is local Christmas tree farmer Everett Campbell’s idea, after watching the film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” his young daughter’s new favorite movie. What begins as half practical joke and half desperate ploy initiates the rebirth of Nuthatch, Massachusetts. Tourists do come, along with the media. Everett’s resentful teenaged son rebels at living in the pretend past. His wife, a medical transcriptionist who works at home, a self-employed and self-professed loner, has panic attacks when tourists stop to take her picture. The town’s unofficial historian, a genteel septuagenarian, supports Everett’s scheme, but for personal gain.

To Everett’s dismay, his campaign to save their community results in also attracting representatives of a chain of theme parks who want to buy Nuthatch 1904. Everett now stands to lose his town in a way he never imagined, and the community is divided on which alternate future to choose. On the sidelines but ever encroaching toward the center is a local drug dealer, the longtime enemy of Everett and his best friend Bud, who discovers a new opportunity to threaten them and exploit the town, or its new owner.

The novel is mainly humorous, a bit poignant, a little sad, briefly scary, incidentally educational, and so gosh darn entertaining if you like that sort of thing.

You do not need a Kindle or other e-reader device, as both Kindle and Smashwords versions can be downloaded to your computer. It sells for $2.99.

MEET ME IN NUTHATCH is available here on Amazon, and also available on Smashwords.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Miss James and the James Pharmacy - Old Saybrook, Connecticut

This sign is on the front of the James Pharmacy and Soda Fountain building in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Built in 1790, it originally served as a general store attached to the Humphrey Pratt Tavern. The Marquis de Lafayette, French hero of the American Revolution, evidentially found it a convenient place to shop.

This building, and the lives which crossed its path, represent a rich tapestry of local history in this small village that sometimes reflected, and sometimes influenced, a wider world.

In the late 1870s, the building was moved a little farther down Main Street and became a pharmacy. Peter Lane owned the pharmacy later, and it was he who added the soda fountain in the 1890s, where a person could grab a sandwich and coffee in those days before chain fast foot restaurants snagged our attention on and off the interstates.

His sister-in-law, Anna Louise James, worked for him, and took the business over from him when he went off to World War I. Miss James, as she became formally known by all and sundry in the village, was destined to make history in her own quiet way.

Historical significance and riding the crest of changing times was nothing new to her family. Her father had been born a slave in Virginia. When he was 16 years old, he escaped. He made his way, like so many seekers of freedom from southern slavery, to New England. He stopped his journey in Connecticut, and made his home here. His daughter Anna was born in Hartford, but while still a small child, the family moved to the Connecticut shore village of Old Saybrook.

Miss James, in 1908, was the first female African-American to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy. She took over the management of her brother-in-law’s business, changing the name to the James Pharmacy, and was the first female African-American pharmacist in the state of Connecticut.

Highly independent, and highly respected, Miss James served that community until 1967 when she retired. She lived in the back of the store until her death in 1977. One story told about Miss James in a documentary currently running down the street at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, notes that teenaged Kate, who frequented the shop (her family maintained a summer home not too far away), plunked herself at the counter and bemoaned that her parents would not allow her to run off to an acting audition in New York City. Miss James, from her exalted position behind the Vermont marble counter, considered the youngster’s plight, and plunked down bus fare for Kate. Miss James, in her capacity as the only grown up present, gave her permission to try to be an actress.

Another young person who was undoubtedly influenced by Miss James, was her own niece, Ann. Ann Lane Petry also became a registered pharmacist and worked at the James Pharmacy, but discovered that her path led away from prescriptions to career as a writer. She wrote several books, including “The Drug Store Cat” based on her childhood memories of her father’s, and later her Aunt Anna’s pharmacy. She is perhaps best known for her passionate and thoughtful novel “The Street”, which tells of an African-American woman’s struggle for survival, and for integrity in World War II-era New York City.

Though by most accounts, the Lane-James families settled quite successfully in the predominantly white population of Old Saybrook, Ms. Petry wrote an interesting passage in “The Street” describing her character Lutie, a New York woman, taking a job as a domestic for a well to do Connecticut family and encountering her first exposure as the only black person in the community. She discovers that the wealthy white women look at her with suspicion because she is young and beautiful, and they assume she will try to flirt and seduce their husbands, because they think that is what black girls do.

“It was, she discovered slowly, a very strange world that she had entered. With an entirely different set of values. It made her feel that she was looking through a hole in a wall at some enchanted garden. She could see, she could hear, she spoke the language of the people in the garden, but she couldn’t get past the wall. The figures on the other side of it loomed up life-size and they could see her, but there was this wall in between which prevented them from mingling on an equal footing. The people on the other side of the wall knew less about her than she knew about them.”

As much a pioneer as her pharmacist aunt, Ann Lane Petry was the first black female author to write about the struggles of African-American women in the city. “The Street” was published in 1946.

She had grown up in Old Saybrook, and when she married writer George Petry, she moved with him to Harlem, publishing many short stories, articles on the Harlem experience, and winning accolades as a unique voice among her generation. But celebrity, with all its trappings, was not for her. She took the money she’d earned from “The Street”, which was a best seller, and headed back home to Old Saybrook, where they did the typical New Englander thing and bought a 200-year-old house. After her daughter, Elisabeth was born, Ann Lane Petry turned her focus to historical novels for children.

She died in 1997, still living only a little ways away from her Aunt Anna’s pharmacy. It was, after all, home.

Today the James Pharmacy still stands, though it has been closed for certain periods and has undergone ownership change a number of times in the past few decades. There is currently still a soda fountain there, where you can, as I did this summer, enjoy an ice cream. The Vermont marble counter is still there, too.

The current owners run an adjoining shop featuring Moroccan imported goods. Have a look here for their website, Tissa’s Moroccan Marketplace. See this website on the history of the James Pharmacy, and look here for more memories about the inimitable Miss James.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Covered Railroad Bridges - Newport, New Hampshire

At first we see what appears to be a covered bridge partly blocked from view by the overgrowth of scrub and trees on the bank of the river it crosses. This end of the bridge meets a dirt road, a recreational trail.

On second glance, there is more to understand. This is a railroad bridge, one of only two covered railroad bridges in the state of New Hampshire. The other is a short way down the road. There are only about eight of them left in all of North America.

These two railway bridges are called the Pier Bridge and Wright’s Bridge across the Sugar River in Newport. I think this one is the Pier Bridge, but I hope someone out there can either confirm that or set me right. We can see it is under renovation. We may assume the portable toilet will not be a permanent part of its restoration design.

The Piers Bridge was built in 1907 by the Boston and Maine Railroad to replace an earlier bridge from the 1870s. It is the longest covered railway bridge in the world. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the citizens of Newport have been working diligently to raise funds to preserve their covered bridges as historic treasures and as examples of their own personal heritage.

That is the emotional pull towards historic treasures we must have to truly value them: a sense of personal pride of heritage when we have them, and a sense of personal loss when we lose them.

Have a look at these two websites for more on the Pier and the Wright’s covered railway bridges.

UPDATE:  Thanks to the correction of one reader who sent me an email on the subject, my remark above that there are only two railroad bridges in New Hampshire is incorrect.  While the Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology  department currently recognizes eight covered railroad bridges in the U.S., among those listed there are indeed more than two in New Hampshire as I had stated.  There appear to be five in their guide.  I'd love to know if there are more that are not on the government's list.  Here is a link to that website:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quaker Meeting House - Yarmouth, Massachusetts

The Friends Meeting House in Yarmouth, Massachusetts was in use by the local Quaker community for a century from 1809 to 1909, but then awakened from dormancy in 1955 by an active Quaker community.

After World War II, newcomers started to call Cape Cod home, and among these a growing number of worshipers of the Society of Friends, who also joined Quaker communities established in nearby towns of Sandwich and Falmouth.

This Yarmouth Meeting House, which along with an adjoining one-room Quaker schoolhouse are on the National Historic Register, continue to serve the community with “silent” worship services (this meeting house has never in its history had a minister), and First Day School for children and adults.

For more on the history of Quakers on Cape Cod, have a look at this interesting website.

Have a look at this previous post for more on the Quaker Meeting House in North Adams, Massachusetts on the other end of the state.

And so I find well to come
For deeper rest to this still room
For there the habit of the soul
Feels less the outer world's control
The strength of mutual purpose pleads
More earnestly our common needs;
And from the silence multiplied
By these still forms on either side,
The world that time and sense have known
Falls off and leaves us God Alone.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Charles Dickens on a Connecticut River Steamboat

Above we have a shot of the “Becky Thatcher”, a replica “steamboat” on the Connecticut River operated by the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat out of Essex, Connecticut. More on that in a future post. For now, let’s travel by a real 19th century steamboat with Charles Dickens.

The noted English author toured America in 1842. We noted his observations on the Lowell factory system in this previous post about the mill girls of Lowell and Chicopee.

A later stop on that trip brought him to Springfield, Massachusetts where he boarded a steamboat for Hartford. It was February, and the winter had been so mild that year, that the first steamboat trip of the year was scheduled early.

That is not to say the river was completely without ice.

The river was full of floating blocks of ice, which were constantly crunching and cracking under us; and the depth of the water, in the course we took to avoid the larger masses, carried down the middle of the river by the current…The Connecticut River is a fine stream; and the banks in summer-time are, I have no doubt, beautiful; at all events I was told so by a young lady in the cabin.

The cabin, he notes, was very small, and the passengers all stood in the middle of it for fear of tipping the boat over to one side or other.

After two hours and a half of this odd traveling (including a stoppage at a small town, where we were saluted by a gun considerably larger than our own chimney), we reached Hartford.

It rained heavily, but “being well wrapped up, bade defiance to the weather, and enjoyed the journey.”

His party stayed in Hartford four days, and later went to New Haven by railroad.

Mr. Dickens makes no mention of their maneuvering through Windsor Locks, Connecticut, so-called because the canal locks on the river built there in 1829 make navigation accessible.

The reason they took the steamboat, so Dickens was informed, was because though Hartford is only some 25 miles south of Springfield, the roads (in February 1842) were so difficult to travel that the trip would have taken 10 or 12 hours by stage.

And that was in the fast lane on Route 91.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lynde Point Lighthouse - Old Saybrook, Connecticut

Here is the Lynde Point Lighthouse of Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Standing at the mouth of the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound, this sentinel on the Connecticut shore was built in 1838, to replace an earlier wooden tower built in 1803.

The structure is octagonal shaped, and made of brownstone currently painted white. It’s fifth-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1890. Automated in 1978, the light is still under the operation of the Coast Guard, and is not open to the public.

For more on the Lynde Point Lighthouse, have a look at this website, and also this one.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Airport Diner - Manchester, New Hampshire

Here is the Airport Diner, part of the Common Man chain, located next to the Holiday Inn on Brown Avenue in Manchester. The Manchester Airport is down the road, so here explains the airplane theme. Opened in 2005, this retro diner also has a 1950s theme.

Listen to Lesley Gore singing “It’s My Party” on the jukebox, and look up to the many large models of airplanes (including, to my delight and surprise, a replica of the 1930s-era GeeBee “City of Springfield” - more on the story of this plane and the Granville Brothers of Springfield, Mass. another time).

Then look down to your plate of comfort food. Go ahead. Dig in.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Third Blog Anniversary

View from Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.

Tomorrow marks the 3rd anniversary of New England Travels. Thank you for the pleasure of your company on the journey.

For at least the near future, this blog will post only once per week on Tuesdays. See you next week.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Millie the Mill Girl - Manchester, New Hampshire

photo by J. T. Lynch 

Here is “Millie”, the Mill Girl. She stands in a place well known to her, for she has crossed these brick portals many, many times. This is the world of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, what was and what is. We are in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Photo by J. T. Lynch

We mark Labor Day next Monday with a look at this evocative statue sculpted by Antoinette Schultze and dedicated September 9, 1988.

The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company created Manchester, as much as did Samuel Blodgett, who in 1807 constructed a canals and locks along the Merrimack River that would open this area by Amoskeag Falls to industrial development. His idea was of a kind of textile manufacturing center similar to the city of Manchester in Great Britain. In referring to this project as “The Manchester of America”, the nickname stuck, and Manchester, along with the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, which produced cotton and woolen textiles, became a planned industrial city in much the same way as Lowell, Massachusetts.

The first jeans put out by Mr. Levi Strauss were made from cloth manufacturered here.

Photo by J.T. Lynch

With its orderly grid of streets and any amenity of civilized village life the old paternalistic system could bestow, it was a world unto itself. The world came crashing down on Christmas Eve, 1935, when the Amoskeag closed it doors. There were many contributing factors, the Great Depression obviously being among them, but aging technology in a fast-changing world had a lot to do with it. River-powered turbines were not needed in the newer plants of the South when the oil which powered those mills seemed so plentiful.

There is a very old cycle to creating industry and watching it become obsolete, a pattern we have yet to fully understand, let alone break.

Visit the Amoskeag complex of 19th century factory buildings today, and you find a number of small businesses including software companies, stores, and the very interesting Millyard Museum, which holds the story of Amoskeag, among them.

Millie the Mill Girl stands here stoically reflecting on the past. The plaque mounted on the side of the building above her contains a moving tribute to our mill girl:

She stands here, for thousands
Of 19th century working women:

Industrial revolutionaries who broke
With the past to earn their living
Making history and creating the future.

For more on the 19th century mill girls, have a look at this previous post on Millie’s sisters in Lowell and in Chicopee.

For more on the Millyard Museum, have a look at this website.

                                                                        Photo by J.T. Lynch

Friday, August 27, 2010

More Postcard Scenes of Mt. Tom, Holyoke, Massachusetts

In this previous post we visited a couple of turn-of the-twentieth century postcard scenes of Mt. Tom in western Massachusetts. In this other post on my Tragedy and Comedy in New England blog, we discussed the Valley Players summer stock theater on Mt. Tom.
Here are a few more postcard views from the early 1900s of summertime fun on the summit of Mt. Tom.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summertime in Newbury, New Hampshire

Town meeting’s come and gone in Newbury, New Hampshire, yet on a warm, lazy summer day like this, there is something eternal about the banner across the country road.

Or the checkerboard put out on the sidewalk in front of some shops.

Or the flowers on the bridge over the southernmost cove of Lake Sunapee, where motorboats pull up to the dockside restauraunt, called The Anchorage.

But, change does come here, too. Newbury, incorporated in 1837, had taken a fling at being “Dantzic”, “Hereford” and “Fisherfield” before the final moniker. Change comes, but maybe it’s just a little slower. Or, maybe it just seems that way in summer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Flood of 1955

(Don't forget to scroll down to the bottom of this page to mute the music so you can hear the newsreel.)

The Flood of 1955 came from the residual rain of two hurricanes, and yet because of its suddenness in striking in the wee hours on August 19th, seemed to come out of nowhere.

Hurricane Connie, and Hurricane Diane, neither of which actually entered New England, nevertheless pushed a couple of feet of rain, a deluge in a very short span of just over a day. The sodden ground could take no more, and the rivers morphed into monsters and took property, and lives, away.

There seemed to be less havoc on the Connecticut River, which had the benefit of flood control projects inspired by previous flood disasters, but the smaller rivers and tributaries were not protected quite so well.

The Westfield River in Western Massachusetts, and especially down the Naugatuck River valley, Connecticut’s industrial center, was hammered by the swift, destructive current. In Connecticut, over 90 people were dead or missing and presumed dead. In a report in the Connecticut State Library, “The Connecticut Floods of 1955: A Fifty-Year Perspective” we note that over 85,000 people were left without jobs, several thousand suffered flood damage to their homes, or were temporarily left homeless, or lost their homes altogether.

Another flood in October would make 1955 a very memorable and tragic year for Connecticut. In these days before suburban industrial parks, most industries were built on, and were powered by, rivers. Our towns created by the rivers in the 16th and 17th centuries still thrived as 20th century “downtowns” where most of the commerce, if not still many of the homes before suburban sprawl, were situated.

There is a duality to rivers. They give birth to communities, and whole civilizations; and they sometimes take it away.

Have a look here for facts and figures, and photos, of the Connecticut flooding in this Connecticut State Library site, a 50-year perspective on the 1955 floods. Have a look here for a series of articles by Jim Shea of The Hartford Courant also done on the 50th anniversary in 2005, particularly for the vivid memories shared by readers.

Also have a look here for a Western Massachusetts perspective from one of my favorite blogs, On Larch Lane.

And here on yesterday’s Another Old Movie Blog, we discuss Rosalind Russell’s movie premiere and homecoming to her hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut hours before the flood destroyed much of the aptly named Waterbury.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vaughn Monroe at The Meadows

Maybe you recall The Meadows in Framingham, Massachusetts and danced to Vaughn Monroe’s big band.

Here is the cover of sheet music for a jingle written for The Meadows by Jack Edwards and Johnny Watson. We see a photo of this nightclub on the front, and on the back, a photo of Vaughn Monroe, who owned The Meadows and broadcast his national radio show Camel Caravan here for a while in the late 1940s.

Mr. Monroe, for the uninitiated, was a singer and musician, and big band leader. He formed his own band in 1940, appeared in Boston and on The Terrace Gables in Falmouth on the Cape, and in several other cities around the country. After he took up ownership of The Meadows on Route 9, his band still toured quite a bit.

Those of us who are fans will remember his hits like “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “Ballerina”, “There, I’ve Said it Again,” “Sound Off”, his signature tune, “Racing with the Moon.”

Other spots in New England where Vaughn Monroe played were Seiler’s Ten Acres in Wayland, and the Surf Ballroom in Revere, Massachusetts. He performed at the Carousel Ballroom in Manchester, New Hampshire; at the Canobie Lake Ballroom in Salem, NH, as well as the Hampton Beach Casino.

Maybe you weren’t lucky enough to see him, but listened to his Camel Caravan on WBZ from Boston. Later the show moved to television.

The Meadows burned down in 1980.

For more on The Meadows and the career of Vaughn Monroe, have a look at this website, and here for some memories. Special thanks to Gail Watson for hunting up this bit of Route 9 memorabilia.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wells-Ogunquit Historical Society

Route 1 through southern Maine seems more built-up each year with new businesses, and summertime traffic. Here in Wells, the Historical Society of Wells & Ogunquit observes the changes through the windows of the Meetinghouse Museum.

It’s the old First Congregational Church, on the National Register of Historic Places, over 140 years old, but continuing service in a new way for a town that is now 357 years old. New development on Route 1, whatever it brings, is just a blink of the eye in the timeline of this seaside community.

The museum here contains various exhibits on daily life throughout history, and illustrates the changes and opportunities that the people of the Wells-Ogunquit area witnessed or created by hand for themselves.

For more on the Meetinghouse Museum and the Historical Society of Wells & Ogunquit, Inc., have a look at this website.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Graves Lighthouse - Boston Harbor

Photo by Detroit Publishing Company, 1906.  Library of Congress collection, now in public domain.

The Graves Lighthouse stands on a rocky ledge in Boston Harbor, an outpost perhaps more rugged than romantic, but romantic enough to be used as the Cape Cod lighthouse in the 1949 film, “Portrait of Jennie” with Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones.

We tend nowadays to think of lighthouses as cozy and quaint icons of a romantic past. Perhaps something to do with the fact that automation, and a decreased reliance on ship travel, makes them seem remote and anachronistic. The story of Jennie and the starving artist, first made popular in Robert Nathan novella, is based upon anachronism and the impossible reaching out for the past, a doomed attempt to meld it with the present.

The actual history of the Graves Lighthouse is more prosaic. Built from 1903 to 1905, it is one of the younger lighthouses in New England. It replaced buoys to mark a busy shipping channel in Boston Harbor. With granite cut from Rockport, Massachusetts, it began operation in September 1905 with what was then the most powerful light of any Massachusetts lighthouse. Its enormous lens rested on 400 pounds of mercury (a spill of this material in the 1970s required the lighthouse to be shut down temporarily for decontamination). The light was automated in 1976 and its gigantic lens was sent to the Smithsonian Institute.
Photo by Detroit Publishing Company, 1906. Library of Congress collection, now in public domain.

For more on the Graves Lighthouse, have a look at this website, which also features a brief candid home movie of Joseph Cotten at the time of filming “Portrait of Jennie”. Note that it is the distance shots of the lighthouse in the film that are of the actual Graves Lighthouse. The close-ups were shot on a set back in Hollywood.

Here is another site with more information on the lighthouse.

For more on “Portrait of Jennie”, have a look here at my post on Another Old Movie Blog.

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